1 - Rationality  pp. 1-28


By Wynn C. Stirling

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Rationality, according to some, is an excess of reasonableness. We should be rational enough to confront the problems of life, but there is no need to go whole hog. Indeed, doing so is something of a vice.

Isaac Levi, The Convenant of Reason (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

The disciplines of science and engineering are complementary. Science comes from the Latin root scientia, or knowledge, and engineering comes from the Latin root ingenerare, which means to beget. While any one individual may fulfill multiple roles, a scientist qua seeker of knowledge is concerned with the analysis of observed natural phenomena, and an engineer qua creator of new entities is concerned with the synthesis of artificial phenomena. Scientists seek to develop models that explain past behavior and predict future behavior of the natural entities they observe. Engineers seek to develop models that characterize desired behavior for the artificial entities they construct. Science addresses the question of how things are; engineering addresses the question of how things might be.

Although of ancient origin, science as an organized academic discipline has a history spanning a few centuries. Engineering is also of ancient origin, but as an organized academic discipline the span of its history is more appropriately measured by a few decades. Science has refined its methods over the years to the point of great sophistication. It is not surprising that engineering has, to a large extent, appropriated and adapted for synthesis many of the principles and techniques originally developed to aid scientific analysis.

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