Engineering and humanities might be as far apart as any two disciplines can be. On one side, the engineering side, there are problems and knowable answers. On the humanities side, there are questions that only serve to spawn more questions.
If engineers lived in a world where only cold, hard facts existed, humanities might not be important at all. But the human condition affects everyone, even engineers. And so humanities help broaden the horizons of even the most highly educated people in the world.
Here are 4 reasons why engineering students need to study humanities:
#1: Some Things are Uncertain
Engineering is about certainties, finite solutions to problems and hard facts. It’s actually about the process of finding those certainties. But the goal is always the same – to find the answer. The humanities don’t work that way.
A course in humanities teaches engineering students that with all of the answers, there are still problems and questions for which there can be no single, final solution. Inside the world of an engineer, those uncertainties might be avoided like the plague. But John Horgan, science writer for Scientific American, says they’re no less real.
#2: Questioning Answers is Good
There is a point where an engineering problem is solved. You can underline it twice and be finished. But outside engineering, the double underline is really only reserved for accounting totals in checkbooks.
Answers can always be questioned. It’s healthy. It’s good. It’s normal. Humanities tug at the edges of the protective shield that covers non-engineering problems, reminding the engineer that some questions can never be fully answered.
#3: It’s Impossible to Know Everything
One of the qualities of a good engineer is ego. At least according to the Boulder Community Network. That’s not as bad as it might sound. Engineering needs intelligence, confidence and determination. And with successes under the belt, it’s natural to rely on those abilities as defining characteristics.
The humanities pull the chair out from under ego and reminds that it’s impossible for everything to be known. The human condition isn’t finite. And engineering can’t answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?”
#4: The Human Condition is a Moving Target
Horgan suggests that in this age, science is surpassing religion as the go-to source for answers. Time was, the unknown was answered with theology. But as more of those questions became answerable scientifically, reliance on religion waned.
Certainly, humans want answers to what is knowable. But Horgan also believes that the very answers science offers about humans creates change in humans, which, ironically, introduces a brand new need for a new set of answers. As soon as we are defined, we no longer fit that definition. Humanities, on the other hand, teach that not knowing is ok.
Engineering and the humanities might seem far removed, but maybe that’s why they complement each other so well. Working too far in one direction or the other leaves a person off balance. Adding a little skepticism and acceptance of the unknowable makes for a more well-rounded individual in any field.
Engineering is a never ending quest for knowledge. Part of that is professional development hours, which PDH Academy offers in a convenient, online format. When your next requirements are due, check out our courses and see how simple it is to fulfill them.