[Life] Why Engineers Shouldn't Like Maths

by Sulaiman Patel | IndeterminateBlog Team

Who likes shoelaces?
Or paper clips?
Or brooms?
I'd guess not too many affirmatives, right? Well, what do all of these things have in common? They're functional; not particularly exciting or special.
See, in the engineering world, what I've come to realise is that maths is just like all these little things.
It's a tool.
It's functional.
Don't get me wrong, in an engineering world, mathematics is probably the most useful and powerful tool we have; but at the end of the day, it is still just a tool. Engineers aren't mathematicians, solving a fifth order differential equation should not give us a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction... that would be just plain weird. Our job is not to go around developing new ways and techniques of modelling reality or re-writing "1+1=2" in fancier notations. That's why we have little bald hobbits with shiny heads - uh - I mean mathematicians.
The whole point of engineering is to develop the future. A lot of engineers (and engineering students) seem to lose track of this.
Be it mechanical, civil or computer, an engineer is the wormhole sucking the theoretical realm of mathematics into the practical world we inhabit. Engineering itself is the infinitesimal pinpoint at which art and science find balance. Where imagination, creativity and wackiness meet reason, logic and practicality... where supercharged ideas arc across the barrier between dreams and reality until, eventually, they become indistinguishable.
No, engineers shouldn't like maths. Liking tools is dumb.

It helps though, if you appreciate the power of maths in making your job easier. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle explains that in everything we do, there is a measurement error that cannot be avoided. Think about it, if we look at the sky and see a shooting star, we're witnessing a celestial event that took place years ago but the light from it has only reached us now... even closer to home, light has a certain speed and that means there will always be an error in our observations, because we can't see into the future and we are always seeing things split-seconds after they actually happen! (Welcome to the world of quantum mechanics)
Getting back to the matter at hand, we can never observe things instantaneously, but we can predict them by modelling them mathematically. That's where graphs come in - and along with them, the whole of the calculus syllabus. As old Heisenberg said, we can't measure instants in time but we can measure what happens over a period - if we control this period (make it as short as possible so that it is closer to an instant). The change in a quantity with respect to a period of time... as the period nears zero. A derivative.
Once we have derivatives, integration, differential equations, Laplace transforms and the copious other bits and pieces that haunt the nightmares of engineers.
Thankfully, I'm not a mathematician, so I'm not about to harp along further about what mathematics is really all about. As an engineer though, it's crucial to identify the necessity for maths and to become astute and competent in it.
So yeah, I don't like maths... and I shouldn't...
... but I couldn't do anything without it.


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