Why do some engineers think that people who have studied the humanities don’t really contribute to our society?
Why do some humanists (as I may call people who have studied a subject of the humanities) look down on engineers as dumb and unfeeling people without a sense for art and beauty?
May be they haven’t really understood the importance of the other group, respectively.
The humanist, to begin with, in many cases writes his/her essays on a PC; listens to his/her music on a stereo and enjoys the pleasure of working late at night with electrical lumination – all certainly invented, improved and installed by engineers and technicians.
On the other hand, any engineer needs some diversion. It is hardly imaginable that there could be an engineer or scientist who never reads a book, goes to the cinema, a theatre or an art exhibition or never listens to music.
It is, of course, clear that the engineer’s contribution to society can be measured more easily: if he/she develops a product that the company will sell the company will make some profit and then pay taxes – and the economy grows. The humanist’s contribution is not to be measured that way. Of course, if he/she writes a book or records a song, then the number of sold items can be counted. But this is not the case with an artist who creates a statue or a painting or with an actor who plays Shakespeare in a theatre.
The effect, however, that their work has for society and economy is another, very important one: they create diversion, pleasure and thereby the possibility for recreation – which are enjoyed by the whole population.
Similarly, the engineer’s contributions have other effects than making the economy grow – they make living easier. Have you ever considered what it would mean to live without a washing machine and having to wash by hand? No time for reading or the movies anymore, that’s for sure!
Why did I write this? Well, as I am being a student of Electrical engineering and English and in my spare time Musician, I come in contact with both groups and have often encountered prejudices:
‘Humanists just have to write useless essays and can babble their way through university without ever really studying.’
‘Engineers are strange people who live in laboratories where they just twist the knobs of oscilloscopes without being interested in anything else.’
I have often encountered these prejudices and I can tell you, having seen both sides, they are just not true. The work of both sides is of immeasurable value for the well-being of a society and, moreover, the work that both groups are doing is very complex, demanding and complicated (if done properly…) on a closer inspection.
So, Mr. Burkhard Rauhut, scientist and Dean of my university, please consider giving the department of humanities more money. All the bright and shining engineers you want to educate will be in need of good linguistic skills (provided by the English, French and German departments), of being able of ethic consideration of the products they will be developing* and of diversion (music, novels, movies etc.) to become useful parts of society. It is therefore necessary to support the humanities and the engineering sciences in equal measure.
And for the rest of you: Please, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF ANY PART OF OUR SOCIETY. May be you just haven’t thought about its contribution properly yet.
*especially of importance in Germany – given the fact that during two world wars many engineers just developped weaponry without thinking for whom and for what purpose they were doing it.