The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture

By John H. Lienhard | Go to book overview

17
Being There

W e come at last to the forbidden first person, the I am. No story is right until the teller is part of it. Yet a peculiar mischief is abroad in the land of science and engineering. It is a mischief born out of the noblest of intentions. For decades it has spread like the flu, far beyond the technical journals that gave it birth. The intention is to let us stand like blindfolded Justice—pure, objective, and aloof. To do this, we write about our work without ever speaking in the first person. We try to let fact speak for itself. Instead of saying, “I solved the equation and got y = log x, ” we write, “The solution of the equation is y = log x.”

We turn our actions into facts that are untouched by human hands. To some extent we must do that. Our facts should be sufficiently solid that we do not need to prop them up with our desires. Third-person detachment has its place, but my own person is not so easy to erase.

Suppose I think another engineer, whom I shall call Hoople, is wrong. I am not objective about Hoople, but I must appear to be. So I write, “It is believed that Hoople is incorrect.” That's a cheap shot. I express my thoughts without taking responsibility for them. I seem to be reporting general disapproval of Hoople. In the unholy name of objectivity, I make it sound as though the whole profession thinks that Hoople is a fool. Now radio and TV journalists are doing it. I cringe every time I hear, “It is expected that Congress will pass the bill.” Who expects that? The announcer? The Democrats? A government official? Maybe the soy sauce lobby is the expectant source. So instead of objectivity we get obfuscation. If our work really occurred in objective isola

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The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface vii
  • The Engines of Our Ingenuity *
  • 1 - Mirrored by Our Machines 3
  • 2 - God, the Master Craftsman 20
  • 3 - Looking Inside the Inventive Mind 35
  • 4 - The Common Place 55
  • 5 - Science Marries into the Family 70
  • 6 - Industrial Revolution 86
  • 7 - Inventing America 96
  • 8 - Taking Flight 115
  • 9 - Attitudes and Technological Change 126
  • 10 - War and Other Ways to Kill People 139
  • 11 - Major Landmarks 153
  • 12 - Systems, Design, and Production 167
  • 13 - Heroic Materialism 179
  • 14 - Who Got There First? 193
  • 15 - Ever-Present Dangers 209
  • 16 - Technology and Literature 219
  • 17 - Being There 229
  • Correlation of the Text with the Radio Program 241
  • Notes 243
  • Index 255
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