We have all heard the jokes: ‘a physicist, an engineer, and a mathematician walk into a bar…’. But have you heard about the time that a physicist, an engineer, and a mathematician were locked in separate burning buildings? Here’s what happened. The Physicist runs to a chalkboard, calculates exactly how much water they will need to put out the fire, runs and finds that amount, puts out the fire, and survives. The engineer pulls out a calculator, calculates exactly how much water they will need to put out the fire, runs and finds exactly ten times that amount, puts out the fire, and survives. The mathematician runs to a chalkboard, calculates exactly how much water they will need to put out the fire, declares, “There IS a solution!”, and then burns to death.
If you have a younger sibling, or if you are one, then you are more than familiar with this experience. The love-hate relation between physicists and engineers dates back to the philosophers of Ancient Greece. They considered the reality of their surroundings to be perfect, but resented the man-made elements of the physical world as a sheer abstraction of that original elegance.
This conduct extended to the stone-workers, who were believed to be unable to create perfect stone shapes and were referred to as ‘mere artisans.’ It was considered offensive if the ‘artisans’ used a beam in, for example, building a bridge, since the idea of the ‘beam’ was not originally theirs.
The artisans had few tricks up their sleeves as well. For example, one of the earliest engineers, James Brindley, an English Canal Builder, was practically illiterate. Despite this,he designed and built the first aqueduct, bringing the canal out of the river, which the brilliant minds of his time considered to be impossible.
Physicists believe that engineers lean on their achievements, using old ideas to develop something useful.The advancements in physics are what allows engineers to experiment with new “toys”.
The engineers, on the other hand, believe that it is in fact them who facilitate the physicists to make new discoveries and that it is through their efforts that unfeasible and wild ideas can be transformed into useful and intractable things.
Whether you believe that:
All engineers ever say is:”Just give me the formula!”
OR whether you believe that:
“If it’s green and wiggles, it’s biology.
If it stinks, it’s chemistry.
If it doesn’t work, it’s Physics.”
Either way, the arguing remains futile, since the point isn’t about who is RIGHT (they both are), but that they are also BOTH necessary.