Review of The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems

I think like an engineer, not a scientist. That’s why they always called me “different”.

I picked up this book from the library yesterday and I couldn’t put it down. Having been online since the late 80s (in the form of BBSs’ and such) and evolving personally through the evolution of the Internet, I’ve gotten into many discussions with scientists and people interested in science through the years.

But I would always hit the same stumbling blocks. Their obsession over prediction and single answers drove me nuts – couldn’t they see that the world is more complicated than that? That you can’t predict everything – which makes attempting to tackle compexity as it stands all the more important?

What I didn’t realize in all of this time, is that I think like an Engineer. I don’t think like a scientist.

The subtle distinction of the brainstorming and the “how” and the “do we have enough time, money, resources” and “what will its effects be on the environment, people, the future?” are in the realm of the engineer moreso than the scientist.

I’ve always been the “fix it” guy around here and bold proclamations by scientists about “I know the Universal Truth here”, by averaging out reality always felt more religious than ‘scentific’ in nature.

And now I know why. I think like a hacker, like an engineer, like a technician. But when I am thinking about the science, and the whys of things – I know that I’m delving into an arena less of fact than of fiction, of stories not so different than Noah’s Ark; explanatory tales of history that teach basic principles – but may or may not be true to reality.

Engineering takes a more honest approach and creates something out of nothing. Dreaming drawing, planning, doing.

it doesn’t predict the future, but tries to anticipate and is always self-conscious that failure is always looming over the shoulder but it makes the pressure to do the best you can with the resources you have at hand a fantastic metaphor for approaching life.

Thanks for a great book, one of only 2 on engineering in my whole library – at least the philosophical side.

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