21.375 merely engineering

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2007 08:10:48 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 375.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Norman Gray <norman_at_astro.gla.ac.uk> (26)
         Subject: Re: 21.374 merely engineering?

   [2] From: Neven
Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic_at_ffzg.hr> (58)
         Subject: Re: 21.374 merely engineering?

         Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2007 07:52:28 +0000
         From: Norman Gray <norman_at_astro.gla.ac.uk>
         Subject: Re: 21.374 merely engineering?

Willard, hello.

On 2007 Nov 27, at 06:14, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of
Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

>I'd be most grateful for attribution of a remark by a theoretical
>physicist, who when asked about the implementation of his work said
>disparagingly something like, "all the rest is merely engineering".
>Was it Werner Heisenberg?

You may be thinking of Rutherford, who famously said that 'all
science is either physics or stamp-collecting'. I've heard it
in a couple of variants, including one which has him refer
specifically to nuclear physics, but a couple of online mentions of
the quotation refer to J. B. Birks "Rutherford at Manchester" (1962).

>I'd also be interested in collecting other such remarks directed
>against practical work, to the effect that it is merely the
>application of knowledge gained through "pure" reasoning.

There's Eddington's famous one, 'it is wise not to place too much
confidence in experimental results until they have been confirmed by
theory', though I don't think this quite comes out _against_
practical work, as much as regarding its products with a proper

Eddington had a fine turn of phrase, and there are few other remarks
collected at <http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/ Sir_Arthur_Eddington/>


Norman Gray  :  http://nxg.me.uk
eurovotech.org  :  University of Leicester, UK
         Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2007 08:03:15 +0000
         From: Neven Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic_at_ffzg.hr>
         Subject: Re: 21.374 merely engineering?
1. the Net attributes the phrase to Feynman: "maybe Feynman would have
agreed with me on that, since he even said that what was going on on the
Manhattan project was merely engineering."
Source is a blog:
2. There is an application of the saying to biology:
Perhaps it might be said that molecular biology has no use for theory, and
biology is now merely engineering in the sense that it takes things apart
to see how they work? The possibility that biology is in the predicament
of having lost its status as a speculative science is proposed by Shostak
in Death of Life, and presumably he would like to correct this state of
Source, an article by Michelle Speidel:
3. a nice one on digital archiving:
Only one fundamental problem impeded digital archiving until
recently -- how to preserve information through technology changes.
This was recently solved, but the correctness and practicality of the
solution are still to be demonstrated.  The other challenges are merely
engineering and solution deployment issues.
Source: Digital Document Quarterly
4. another on building a wiki:
Are you saying methods of building a successful wiki are so well known
that it's not science, it's merely engineering and technology to set up a
wiki properly and, if you follow the rules, it is guaranteed to work?
5. one on classification research:
Obviously we have not solved all the classification problem in the world
-- new applications bring new challenges, many of which are still
beyond reach. But do these require fundamental breakthroughs in
classification research? Or are these "merely engineering
problems" that will eventually be solved with more machine power, or
more likely, more human power to find better feature extractors and fine
tune the classifier parameters?
6. a different take on the figure ("not just, though..."):
Macroscopic classical electrodynamics is practically useful. Not just
merely engineering (though used to torment many an EE student in their
most difficult of courses), since it's essential to many fields of
applied physics. OK, it's an engineering approach, but so what? You teach
A and B, either in a separate QED course, or as decorative fluff in an EM
course, before you get to the gritty details of actually solving the
Maxwell equations (EDHB), and the Laplace, Poisson, vector Helmholtz, and
scalar paraxial wave equations.
--- Of course, anybody interested can google for themselves, just as I
did.  But I like what vox populi out there says -- in the usage there
seems to be another opposition present: not only engineering versus
science, but also engineering versus culture / society (not that it is
useful to you, I know).  Also, people seem to be using the phrase more in
a negative, or interrogative way -- "is it really...", or "it is not..."
Neven Jovanovic
Zagreb, Croatia
Received on Wed Nov 28 2007 - 03:29:34 EST

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