In Defense of the Human Engineer

Tiffany Chang - 1B Chemical
Posted on: July 3, 2016

It’s a day like any other day: I’m scrolling through my Facebook timeline to see if anything interesting has happened in the world.

Brexit, an analysis of Game of Thrones in The Economist…the usual.

One story, however, catches my attention. A sweet 91-year-old woman gave her Muslim doctor some crocheted stuffed animals she made, to show that she would stand in solidarity with him and other Muslim-Americans in response to what she called “hurtful” comments made by Donald Trump on a radio show.

This uplifting news got me thinking: On a fundamental basis, why is there so much conflict in the world right now? Where did we go wrong?

Are we getting dumber? Quite the contrary, really. In many countries, increasing numbers of people are receiving post-secondary education. Results on IQ tests have been consistently going up, a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect.

But is what we know enough to keep us out of trouble? How about what we feel and what we think?

When was the last time you critically thought about something? And I’m not talking about trying to solve a calculus problem—I’m referring to deep contemplation about something that has happened to you, or, if you’re willing to delve a bit deeper, a world issue of some degree. Why did this event happen? Who’s involved in it, what stance does each involved party take, and for what reasons?

Personally, what comes to mind is an English assignment from over a year ago. I knew what evil was—or so I thought before the assignment. After having read ten essays and news articles attempting to define or exemplify evil, you don’t really know what stance to take. You want to be honest, but you don’t want anyone—at the time, this was my teacher—to think you’re immoral or politically incorrect at any point in your own thoughts.

So I went for the tempered approach. And, honestly, conceding with statements that you personally disagree with or devising counter-arguments to refute statements that you personally agree with but contain logical fallacies is difficult as hell. In fact, if I attempted to write the same essay again at this very instance, I would definitely hit a brick wall before even formulating a thesis statement since I’m so accustomed to thinking in black-and-white terms of right and wrong nowadays.

After all, hard subjects (e.g., sciences, engineering, and mathematics) tend to be in terms of right and wrong, whereas soft subjects (i.e., the liberal arts) tend to involve mental gymnastics of an entirely different sort where there is often no single right answer.

As much as I love the hype for STEM subjects (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), —it’s why I’m here for university, after all—I’m an advocate for an appreciation of the softer side of human knowledge regardless of what education or career we pursue.

In the end, we’re all people—not robots. We all have the capacity to emote, empathize, understand, have compassion, and—most importantly—think for ourselves.

Now, I’m not suggesting to any of you to drop out of engineering. Keep chasing your passions in this area of society. But do make an effort to seek the softer side of being human and apply it to everyday life. Question all that is going on in the world according to the media. Question my argument—perhaps 1B has finally driven me bonkers, which wouldn’t be too extraordinary of a statement.

Make an effort to seek out the positive things we are accomplishing in the world, and think about how we can bring positive change to areas in which we are not doing so well.

Remember that math and science—though considered hard subjects—are merely the tools used by engineers to accomplish tasks and projects. Engineers do not serve their tools, but rather other human beings, in the form of products, ideas, and services.