21.384 merely engineering

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 2 Dec 2007 09:21:06 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 384.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: amsler_at_cs.utexas.edu (59)
         Subject: Re: 21.374 merely engineering?

   [2] From: maurizio lana <m.lana_at_katamail.com> (35)
         Subject: Re: 21.382 merely engineering

         Date: Sun, 02 Dec 2007 09:03:09 +0000
         From: amsler_at_cs.utexas.edu
         Subject: Re: 21.374 merely engineering?

I have a different take on this quote. It isn't as disparaging as you seem to
imply. The contrast is between "undiscovered scientific principles" and
"execution of known techniques". If, for example, we are faced with closing a
hole in the Ozone layer, or having a spacecraft survive a landing on Venus to
radio back information from the surface, or finding a means to neutralize
radioactivity, (or from the past, seeing aircraft in the night sky far away
from land (i.e., radar), then the first task it to understand enough of how the
universe works to have a plausible theory of what can be done to perform such a
task. Once a "theory" exists, then it is "merely a matter of engineering" to
build and test a device to perform the task.

Now, admittedly, we have had remarkable inventions (e.g., electric light) that
resulted JUST from engineering methods. Edison had next to no "theory" of what
he needed in a filament for electric light bulbs. He tested everything he could
think of. This was a breakthrough by "merely engineering". So, I
guess one could say theorists disparage such an approach unreasonably
because there is no way toprove a theoretical insight couldn't reach a
satisfactory solution.

I guess it comes down to a belief in the existence of theoretical knowledge as
adequate to find an answer. Perhaps this is what plagues "String Theory" in
Physics. There is so much theoretical knowledge that practitioners cannot
believe that they can't reach a theoretical solution--and persist even when
there is almost no testable experimentation that can be used to validate one
theory vs. another. The physicists believe in a sense of beauty to the universe
that will become apparent when the right theory is proposed. I.e.,
the math will not be ugly if the theory represents truth. Engineers, however,
tend not to believe so strongly in truth forcing beautiful solutions.

         Date: Sun, 02 Dec 2007 09:08:34 +0000
         From: maurizio lana <m.lana_at_katamail.com>
         Subject: Re: 21.382 merely engineering

At 07.15 30/11/2007, Humanist Discussion Group \ wrote:
>I include the abstract sent to me subsequently and
>a link to the article, i.e. to a login page.

the given link to the Bulletin of Science Technology Society
want you to login; if you don't login you can't read the article, obviously.

but if you go to
you find a speech with same title given some
years ago by g. bugliarello. it's quite old but
this way you can have an idea of the matter, at no cost

Maurizio Lana - ricercatore
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici
Universita degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale "A. Avogadro" a Vercelli
via Manzoni 8, I-13100 Vercelli
+39 347 7370925

[I attach below the abstract to this article --WM]

Today's conflicts between the views that the humanities
hold of science and engineering and the views science
and engineering hold of the humanities weaken
the very core of our culture. Their cause is lack of integration
in today=92s education among subjects that hark
back to the medieval trivium and quadrivium. A new
trivium is needed to provide every educated person
with a basic understanding of the endeavors and instruments
that help us address our world and shape a
new morality -- the humanities, in the noblest sense of
the word, to civilize, science to understand nature, and
engineering, broadly defined, to encompass the kindred
activities that modify nature. Integration of these
endeavors is urgent. It involves, in turn, an intimate interaction
(the "biosoma") of biological organisms,
society, and machines -- a new quadrivium. No domain
can any longer be considered and learned in isolation.
Received on Sun Dec 02 2007 - 04:38:03 EST

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