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Paranoid Engineers

:: We received a copy of Essays on the History of Mechanics: In Memory of Clifford Ambrose Truesdell and Edoarda Benvenuto in our library this week. The book is published by Birkhäuser, and edited by Antonio Becchi, Massimo Corradi, Federico Foce, and Orietta Pedemonte. I began leafing through it before adding it to the collection, and started to read the first essay, "Truesdell and the History of the Theory of Structures", by Jacques Heyman, of the University of Cambridge. I don't know anything about mechanics, or about Truesdell or Benvenuto, but was fascinated to read the abstract of the article:

There is an established heirarchy in the field of physical science: the mathematician tops the physicist who in turn tops the engineer. Further, the historian of science knows that he is operating on a higher plane than those whose history he is studying. This is not a view shared by working scientists, and Truesdell was aware of the contempt he was in danger of arousing by defecting from his proper work to study its history. But mathematics developed so rapidly that only a practising mathematician such as Truesdell, not a professional historian, can give a proper description of, for example, the work of Euler.
That certainly got my attention, so I continued to read the first paragraph, which noted that:
All engineers suffer from paranoia: but even though an engineer is paranoiac, he may in fact be low man on the totem pole. Certainly a physicist knows that he is measurably superior to the engineer - so much so that engineering problems are hardly worth the physicist's attention. Indeed, the problems are so trivial that they are, for the large part, invisible to the physicist. In the same way the mathematician knows that the problems of physics, if only they were properly formulated, could be solved without ugly recourse to real experiment, or without the need for virtual experiment by computer.
I wasn't aware of this pecking order. I wonder if there are jokes along the lines of, "An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician are in boat, and ..."


Maybe the hierarchy exists because we have such a fine division of labor nowadays. In IT field, there is also a similar hierarchy. Also starts with the mathematicians, then the theory guys, then the developers, then the admins. The last time I heard from a professor, who's from the philosophy department, claim that it's the logicians who are on top of the mathematicians.

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