Simplifying the disciplines

Here’s what I’m thinking.

Science is all about gradually figuring things out by trial and error — making predictions and see if they hold up. You hope to be surprised. Engineering is all about clever hacks — breaking the rules while following the real rules. Design is about constraints — tradeoffs, compromises, and innovative solutions that manage to support all of the constraints. Art is about free association — thinking outside the box at all cost and doing something simply because it is new.

What is liberal arts? I think liberal arts is all about critical thinking — pushing an argument to its full logical conclusion. This is important in all of the above areas. For example:

  • Science: if light travels at a constant speed, the logical conclusion is that time slows down as objects speed up (special relativity).
  • Engineering: if transistors can perform a basic bitwise operation, then lots and lots of transistors can produce artificial intelligence (or at least Windows Vista).
  • Design: if computers are good for organizing information but bad for portability, pocket devices should be fully managed using a computer (iPod).
  • Art: if everyone paints only important or unusual objects, why not paint objects that are fully mass-produced and pedestrian? (Andy Warhol)

Do you see what I mean? It’s just another vindication of the liberal arts. I kind of got sidetracked from my original point, though, which was just new thinking about the essence of science and engineering.