A mechanical engineer told me Science isn't useful?

  • #26
D H
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It's a different field, but I have observed that people with degrees in sound engineering and music management have absolutely no clue how to do sound or manage business.
Well, of course. One way that professors in engineering and science deal with students who have absolutely no business becoming engineers or scientists is to gently suggest they change their majors. "Oh, so you have an interest in music? Maybe you should think about a career in sound engineering or music management."

=================================

Back to the topic at hand: In a sense, the person referenced in the original post was correct. He/she was correct in the narrow sense of what knowledge is useful in the field of mechanical engineering. Most of the upper level undergrad and almost all of the graduate level courses that a physics major takes are more or less useless knowledge in the realm of mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineering is, for the most part, applied Newtonian mechanics, and I mean Newtonian mechanics strictly.

Even the sophomore/junior level classical mechanics course taken by physics majors isn't particularly useful to mechanical engineers because that course typically spends a good deal of time on Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulation. Useless information! Then it wastes even more time (MechE perspective, of course) in deriving special relativity. Mechanical engineers live in a low-speed world of forces and torques.

So. Physics is not particularly useful to the everyday work done by working mechanical engineers. So, big deal. The person is over-generalizing from what is immediately useful to hima to what is useful to society as a whole.

---------------

aYes, I'm being sexist, by saying "him", but years of work as a physicist-by-training, engineer-by-practice combined with a mental image of a hard-nosed, pointy-haired engineer combined with Bayes Law says that I'm probably right. That said, I have had two bosses in the past who emulated Dilbert's boss to a T. One was male, the other female. Women can be just as dumb, hard-headed, narrow-minded and as can men.
 
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  • #27
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I've encountered quite a few "engineers" who believe that theoretical knowledge is useless in the "real world". These guys should take up plumbing and leave science/engineering to the smart kids.
From my experience, a skilled plumber or electrician or machinist is valuable resource who should be listened to carefully. My father was a master electrician at the factory where he worked. The Chief Electrical Engineer would have his new engineers follow my father around to learn how to do their job.

Engineering is what you learn after you graduate from school.

A smart engineer knows to listen to the machinists or electronic technicians who are building his brainchild.
 
  • #28
Astronuc
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I talked to a mechanical engineer the other day, and he said "Science and physics isn't all that useful." :confused::confused:

I'm curious what a good response to that would be?

He said when he works on his projects, the "big picture" is the project, and Science and other aspects are only small details or parts to the whole. He said physics ignores very important details when he works on his projects, such as "friction", etc. He said if you get lost in the details like physics you'll miss the forest from the trees. He said, "We'll leave theories and hypotheses to the physicists. I'm a no nonsense type of guy who likes to be practical. If something's not useful and is 'theories', I don't care."

Any ideas for comebacks?
I wouldn't bother with a comeback. That will not change his mind.

Science and physics are of course useful. Engineering is nothing more than applied physics, and practicing engineers and technicians practice their trade with the tools and methods developed by scientists and those engineers who understand the physics.

We apply theory and develop methods. One can't do one without the other.
 
  • #29
BobG
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We apply theory and develop methods. One can't do one without the other.
Knowing how things behave in the world isn't the same as knowing why things behave the way they do. Reading some of the posts in this thread remind me of how Kepler developed his laws of planetary motion without any idea why those laws might be true.

In fact, not understanding the reason behind his laws is the reason it took him about 10 years to go from the first 2 laws to the 3rd law, in spite of the fact that the 2nd and 3rd laws are so closely related they're practically just different aspects of the same law.

Of course, that 10 year lag shows there are disadvantages to not knowing the 'why' behind the 'what', even if it's possible to function just knowing a lot of 'whats'.
 
  • #30
Astronuc
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Knowing how things behave in the world isn't the same as knowing why things behave the way they do.
True, but knowing how works for a limited number of situations, especially if it's a periodic and repetitive phenomenon.

Knowing why a phenomenon happens allows one to extend the range of applicability.

If an engineer uses a tool or method that he or she didn't develop, it's because someone else learned the 'why' and developed the tool or method.
 
  • #31
drankin
You know what they call the person that graduates bottom of his Engineering class don't you?
They call that person an Engineer.

That's the joke anyway. The same applies to doctors.
 
  • #32
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the "big picture" is the project, and Science and other aspects are only small details or parts to the whole.
This is often true. The science underlies everything and is critically important, but it is only one aspect of an engineering project. Funding, meeting cost estimates and budgets, meeting schedules and timelines, design issues, meeting specifications, testing, safety etc are all important too.

He said physics ignores very important details when he works on his projects, such as "friction", etc.
Physics generally tries not to ignore anything important, but some topics in physics can be limited for some applications. For example I took a classical mechanics class in the physics department, it used the Lagrange formulation and completely ignored friction. This class is critically important to understand higher level physics, but is almost useless to a mechanical engineer doing real world problems. I took dynamics in the ME department and friction was considered critical to any calculation.

He said if you get lost in the details like physics you'll miss the forest from the trees.
This can sometimes happen in engineering. An approximation that is simple and gets you in the 1-10 percent regime is more useful than a complex theory that gets you to 0.00001 percent and takes years to calculate on a computer.

He said, "We'll leave theories and hypotheses to the physicists. I'm a no nonsense type of guy who likes to be practical.
So, he doesn't care about general relativity, but certainly finds Newton's Laws useful. It's hard to understand his point of view from a few statements taken out of context.

If something's not useful and is 'theories', I don't care."
Well, he only cares about getting the answers. I don't agree with this approach, but I often see it among some engineers. They worry about missing the forest for the trees, but they miss that the forest is part of a continent, which is part of the earth, which is part of the solar system, which is part of a galaxy, which is part of a universe. I find that very sad.
 
  • #33
So, he doesn't care about general relativity, but certainly finds Newton's Laws useful. It's hard to understand his point of view from a few statements taken out of context.

Well, he only cares about getting the answers. I don't agree with this approach, but I often see it among some engineers. They worry about missing the forest for the trees, but they miss that the forest is part of a continent, which is part of the earth, which is part of the solar system, which is part of a galaxy, which is part of a universe. I find that very sad.
It's interesting, when he said he doesn't find Science all that interesting or useful, he said one exception was he found special relativity interesting in school.

Something I didn't include, he's actually a relative. The other day I was watching TV with him and some others. The character was a scientist who was acting very excited because he wanted to make some scientific discoveries. My relative started laughing and said, "What a nerd!"

My relative would also make fun of me when I was younger because I've always been interested in Science.
 
  • #34
One way I was thinking of this "Big Picture vs. Details Thinker" is an analogy. Isaac Newton was a big picture thinker. He saw an apple fall from a tree. Everyone else around him would think about the here and now detail, "The apple fell from the tree." Newton instead saw something more universal, gravitation, a big broad picture. Now let's say I'm a head coach in a NBA Finals game. The big picture is the game. The laws of physics are details, even if more universal. The economics are more universal, even if more universal. The same for mitochondria and biology. If you focus on one of these you loose sight of the big picture. Then the big picture vs. details again gets reverse when you look at the perspective of an economist or biologist, they think the basketball game is a here and now detail.

Or someone hears a geologist on the news say how plate tectonics will be in 200 million years from now. Most viewers will probably think of these as details, while their families and jobs are the big picture. However, from the same type of deal most now would say Galileo was a big picture thinker while those who opposed him were looking at here and now details. However, from their perspective they probably thought whether the Sun revolves around the Earth or vice versa was a detail they didn't care about, and that their families/harvest time was the big picture.

Just pondering things here. Anyway, I'm just curious how you defend yourself against people who say you're a details rather than big picture thinker because you're very interested in Science?
 
  • #35
Dembadon
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... My relative started laughing and said, "What a nerd!"

My relative would also make fun of me when I was younger because I've always been interested in Science.
I'm sorry, but your relative sounds like a pompous jerk with a falsely elevated self-image. Next time he makes fun of you, tell him to grow up.
 
  • #36
Dembadon
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... Just pondering things here. Anyway, I'm just curious how you defend yourself against people who say you're a details rather than big picture thinker because you're very interested in Science?
I doubt the "big pictures" to which he is referring are anywhere near the size of a galactic cluster. :biggrin:

Honestly, quit spending time with him if/when you can. If all he is going to do is insult your passion, deny him the privilege of your friendship. That can be hard with family, but doable nonetheless. Come hang with us! :cool:
 
  • #37
I can't help but think there are mechanics who hold mechanical engineers in similiar distain as this guy does Scientists.
 
  • #38
turbo
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I can't believe this thread is still running. It's like an MBA has said that basic accounting isn't useful though s/he may need a lot of those accounting stats to craft a new strategy for their company. Fundamental sciences and maths inform the people that use them (engineers) and guide their decisions. For an engineer to baldly deny that is a bit hard to swallow. (Though I have known some engineers that were heavy glad-handers, and used people on their research projects to make them look lots smarter than they were.)
 
  • #39
378
2
Why people are making conclusions about a third person who is not present here to defend himself? OP might be taking his words out of context.
academia_vs_business.png

xkcd..
 
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  • #40
Who people are making conclusions about a third person who is not present here to defend himself? OP might be taking his words out of context.
academia_vs_business.png

xkcd..
Dude, that's what he told me!

I'm not saying that I look down on him for that, I'm just curious how you defend yourself with people who say that.

Another example, I've been reading scientific peer-review journals for fun ever since high school. I meet a person who says she's working on a project with a researcher and the researcher told her to forget what's in the science research methodology books because that's not how it works in the real world. However, I felt like saying to her that we need to put it into context, the big picture of the project that researcher is working on may not use many concepts from textbooks of methods of research, however there's another big picture involved. When I look at scientific peer-review journals I keep on seeing over and over again different vocabulary words of concepts from these research methods textbooks, so as a general pattern researchers do use these concepts, even if you have to adapt to the "here and now big picture", if that makes sense? Looking at general universal patterns can also help you think outside of the box past just the "here and now details" (notice how big picture vs. details gets swapped around just by changing "context of the situation"). Who's more of a big picture thinker, and more of the details thinker? It looks arbitrary to me, but I don't think I should be forgetting what I know about Science because this mechanical engineer relative who likes sports a lot more thinks Science is just details.

Does that make sense where I'm getting at?
 
  • #41
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Dude, that's what he told me!

I'm not saying that I look down on him for that, I'm just curious how you defend yourself with people who say that.

Another example, I've been reading scientific peer-review journals for fun ever since high school. I meet a person who says she's working on a project with a researcher and the researcher told her to forget what's in the science research methodology books because that's not how it works in the real world. However, I felt like saying to her that we need to put it into context, the big picture of the project that researcher is working on may not use many concepts from textbooks of methods of research, however there's another big picture involved. When I look at scientific peer-review journals I keep on seeing over and over again different vocabulary words of concepts from these research methods textbooks, so as a general pattern researchers do use these concepts, even if you have to adapt to the "here and now big picture", if that makes sense? Looking at general universal patterns can also help you think outside of the box past just the "here and now details" (notice how big picture vs. details gets swapped around just by changing "context of the situation"). Who's more of a big picture thinker, and more of the details thinker? It looks arbitrary to me, but I don't think I should be forgetting what I know about Science because this mechanical engineer relative who likes sports a lot more thinks Science is just details.

Does that make sense where I'm getting at?
It is just inappropriate to make judgments about a person behind his/her back IMO.
 
  • #42
It is just inappropriate to make judgments about a person behind his/her back IMO.
I'm sorry.

So how would you do it differently in finding out ideas of what to say to people who say Science is details and not the big picture? Details vs. big picture in this situation seems arbitrary, but don't you think there's a way the perspective of where scientists come from could possibly be shared in a socially constructive way.
 
  • #43
Well, he only cares about getting the answers. I don't agree with this approach, but I often see it among some engineers. They worry about missing the forest for the trees, but they miss that the forest is part of a continent, which is part of the earth, which is part of the solar system, which is part of a galaxy, which is part of a universe. I find that very sad.
Yes, as far as being objective, by definition a detail is a part to the whole. So no matter how big of a picture person you are, all you have to do is change the context of the situation and 99% of everyone on planet earth will think that "big picture" person's perspective no more than a "small detail".

When you see an apple, most look at it and think "apple". They think that's the big picture. If someone's like, "It's red, it's round," most everyone else will think there's something wrong and that person is a details person. Then you switch things around. That "it's red" person studies colors for a living. To him, the apple is a here and now detail which will be gone in five minutes. From that perspective, colors are much more universal, or broad perspective. As far as reality goes, in five years from now no one will even care about that apple, while colors will still be around. I don't know if my thinking is on the right track, but it's like there are polar opposites, the big picture vs. details of a situation, and then the more universal broader principles big picture vs. the here and now details.

I would think for more efficient thinking it's best to look at more than just one big picture, but it seems like there's a lot of people out there who appear arrogant and brag that they're a big picture thinker while everyone else isn't.
 

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