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Working in the Penumbra of Understanding
A friend forwarded this link in case I had missed it
This is not a new issue but engineers need to do a much better job of educating the public on what engineering is and how it is much more than just applied science. The authors do this for engineering in general but how do we do it for civil engineering?
Dear William, I really enjoyed reading this article. It is a great overview of how engineering differs from pure science. The first citations said it all: "Scientists study the world as it is, engineers create the world that never has been." (Von Kármán, 1962).
In civil engineering, I noticed that we are growing very slow in design and construction methods. We have worked with the same materials for several years; new materials are not considered still safe or sustainable. I guess that new design and construction methods and solutions should be considered to accomplish the sustainable cities (and lives) that we want for 2050.Regards,Andrés
Following the thought of Dudley McFadden for something to ponder about – here are some of my takes on the topic (thanks to Bill Kelly for providing the link to the nicely written NAP newsletter article).
Process vs Goal. An engineer is a scientist first, only then he or she is better poised to become an able engineer – otherwise there is the risk of an engineer drifting to more of a technician. This science ↔ engineer process lets one to better understand a problem – equipping him or her to find a smart solution. But, while a scientist enjoys the freedom to create pros and cons, if need be; an engineer is mandated to deliver definitive answer/solution by looking into other non-technical things (the nature of which depends on the type of the project). This leads us to say that the pursued processes or methods may differ very marginally or not at all; but the goals or objectives are substantially different between these two professions.
Heuristics – to What Extent One should Rely on It. One may ask: whose heuristics is it? Heuristics, rule-of-thumb, common sense or simply gut-feeling becomes relevant only when it matures with enough knowledge and experience. Without such maturity, heuristics has little value. A ripened heuristics is a very strong tool – certainly in the initial phase of an undertaking – but one that asks for validity at a certain time. It is widely used by all, beyond the engineering profession – only that there is a limit to what extent it can be applied.
Philosophy without being a Philosopher. One can philosophize an issue/problem without being a philosopher. The advantage with this line of thinking is that – it opens/broadens the horizon of one's mind to be more creative – to see things from all different angles – their solutions, effects and implications – both short and long term. Of course, the approach is not the end by itself – but a way to get to the end. That's why, as we have discussed before on other contexts, an engineering student's exposure to liberal education comes in handy – not only for philosophizing but also for effective communication to forcefully emphasize issues/bottlenecks – an engineer considers important (note that engineering projects are increasingly becoming interdisciplinary).
Small, Routine Project vs Large Project. All the questions/issues discussed above become more pertinent on the premises of small vs large projects, and routine vs exciting/challenging projects.
Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M.ASCE