Tag Archives: pragmatism

Episode 87 — Existential Engineer

existentialMechanical engineer Jack Reid joins Adam, Brian, Carmen and Jeff to discuss the philosophical aspects of engineering, and to review Samuel Florman’s book, “The Existential Pleasures of Engineering.”

  • Jeff is pretty sure his life is not a syllogism, although he’s not completely sure what the term means.
  • Our guest for this episode is Jack Reid, a mechanical engineer who recently graduated from Texas A&M with a dual degree in philosophy.
  • Jack notes that he had the opportunity to read Newton and Leibniz in his philosophy courses, as well as make use of their mathematical tools in his engineering classes.
  • Back in Episode 12, we talked about the Ethics program at Texas A&M; Jack took this class while studying abroad in Qatar, and found his international classmates provided beneficial insights on the subject.
  • One of the lessons of the Challenger explosion is that engineers need to recognize when to wear an “engineering hat” and when to wear a “management hat.”
  • Although repairs to the Citicorp Center had a positive outcome, the communications involved in implementing those repairs have made the project a classic case study for engineering ethics courses.
  • Brian suggests young engineers search for “engineering disasters” on YouTube, and watch the videos to learn about what can go wrong in engineering projects.
  • The Arabic word “wasta” has various meanings, including the use of one’s connections and/or influence to get things done.
  • Philosophy literally means “the love of wisdom,” and encompasses a number of sub-fields, including epistemology, logic, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics.
  • Logic includes the sub-categories of inductive reasoning, abductive reasoning, and deductive reasoning.
  • Metaphysics attempts to explain the fundamental nature of being, with the sub-category of ontology focusing on what entities exist or may be said to exist.
  • Epistemology is the study of knowledge, and what is knowable.
  • Aesthetics investigates the nature of beauty and taste.
  • Ethics considers how one should live life, and the meanings of right and wrong.
  • Considering reality ultimately unknowable, pragmatists consider thought a useful tool for progress and action, rather than a viable means for comprehending absolute truth.
  • Existentialism promotes the viewpoint that truth is found through being, and not through reasoning.
  • Nassim Taleb developed the black swan theory to describe the potentially huge effect of unexpected events.
  • Publishing in the late 1700’s, Immanuel Kant moved philosophy from the abstract ideals of Plato and Aristotle into considering individual perceptions and free will.
  • Jack recommends the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to those wanting to learn more about philosophical concepts.
  • One of Rene Descartes’ philosophical thought experiments led to the development of the Cartesian coordinate system.
  • Kant was followed in the 1800’s by German philosophers Hegel and Nietzsche.
  • Nihilism considers life to be without meaning or intrinsic value.
  • We turn our conversational focus to Samuel C. Florman’s book, “The Existential Pleasures of Engineering.”
  • Rationalism may be seen as the counterbalance to existentialism, in that rationalism views thought as the primary means for accessing truth.
  • Florman compares the engineer’s lot in life to that of Sisyphus, who was forever condemned to roll a large boulder to the top of a still hill, only to have the boulder roll back to the bottom each time the summit was approached.
  • In the book “Soul of a New Machine,” engineers talk about their work being like playing pinball, in that the reward for doing a good job is getting to work on another project.
  • Brian suggests the podcast team launch a Kickstarter project to create Utopia.
  • Listeners can contact our guest via email: jackbreid -=+ at +=- gmail.com.

Thanks to Kellar Wilson for use of the image titled “Anodized Golden Engineering Marvel.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.