Thursday, August 10, 2006

Contrasting Philosophy And Technology...

This is not one of those areas that I generally would think of in my idle hours. Nor am I those thoughtful-kinda-philosophical researchers who would think windingly on whatever issues they encounter in casual talks. But it kind of ignited this desire in me to look for what people think in this arena: and that was after we, three colleagues had this heated thoughtful brainstorming on the philosophical aspects to be nurtured in a PhD student of engineering (I was although reticent, just digesting whatever they were putting forward).
The problem is that engineering and philosophy are typically conceived as two mutually exclusive domains. In the minds of most people, engineering and philosophy do not have much to do with each other. They are, as it were, giant islands separated by a large body of water.
In fact, from the perspective of some members of the engineering community - not to mention those of the philosophy community - the situation is even worse. Engineering is customarily divided into a number of different branches: civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, etc. Something similar goes for philosophy. It too includes different branches: logic, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, etc. Representatives of some of these areas of the philosophy world, especially ethics and aesthetics, seem to have mounted canons on their areas of the philosophy island in order to fire away at selected domains of the engineering world.
Since quite a while, members of the philosophical community or its fellow travellers have been accusing engineers of building nuclear weapons that could destroy civilization, manufacturing transportation systems that are a blight on urban culture, designing communication technologies that can enhance central or authoritarian controls by both governments and private corporations, creating computers that depersonalize human life.
Insofar as they have become aware of such attacks - and to understand and defend against them - philosophy is crucial to engineers. Philosophy is thus important too, in a second instance, because engineers actually face problems internally or professionally that they admit cannot be resolved simply with engineering methods alone.
There are times in the engineering world when engineers ask themselves questions about what they should be doing or how they should do it that cannot be solved by technical expertise alone. Questions of safety, risk, and environmental protection are only the more obvious manifestations of variables that call for ethical judgment in assessing their proper influence on design decisions. Philosophy (especially ethics) is an internal practical need of engineering - and is so recognized by the professional engineering community.
What is mean is not that philosophy and engineering are two geographically distant islands anymore, as is hyped of. Both the parties actually realize the need for a symbiotic relationship in between. And whenever one party would try to let down the other and falsify the symbiosis, 'existence' would lose existence in the real sense...


candid diary said...

Please have a look at ‘The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism' by physicist Fritof Capra. 2000: ISBN 1570625190

Munmun said...

Candid Diary, Thanks for the reference!