Book of the Week: The Existential Pleasures of Engineering
This week’s selection is “The Existential Pleasures of Engineering” by Samuel C. Florman.
This is an unusual selection for Fabbaloo’s book of the week, as we typically select either technical tomes describing some matter relating to 3D printing in exquisite detail, or perhaps a fictional piece that involves the use of 3D printing in a futuristic setting, one that exhibits possibilities and inspires forward thinking.
This book is neither, although it does provoke considerable thinking. It’s a philosophical text that deals with a conflict you may have not even noticed.
The title, “The Existential Pleasures of Engineering” hints at what is written in the book. It focuses on the differences and similarities between the discipline of engineering and the philosophy of Existentialism.
Readers of this publication are most likely of the engineering persuasion, so the concept of existentialism may require a definition.
According to Wikipedia, existentialism is:
“Existentialism is a tradition of philosophical inquiry associated mainly with certain 19th and 20th-century European philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. While the predominant value of existentialist thought is commonly acknowledged to be freedom, its primary virtue is authenticity. In the view of the existentialist, the individual's starting point is characterized by what has been called "the existential attitude", or a sense of disorientation, confusion, or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.”
Ok, that is a mouthful. But what it’s saying is essentially that the focus should be on how one feels, rather than any other factors.
That might sound like a good idea, but to an engineer, it is not appropriate. An engineer uses scientific principles and methods to design and certify a construction. Numbers, facts and process are the focus, much different than what one might “feel”.
Thus you might think the two disciplines are ever separated.
But it’s not so. Author Florman takes the reader though a series of neatly-written chapters exploring the difference between the disciplines in a way that attempts to bring them together.
It is possible to build something that feels good. In fact, that should be the way most of the time.
This book is certainly not for everyone, but I suspect some Fabbaloo readers will enjoy the thinking behind this writing.