Engineers and a belief in magic

Recently I wrote about my need to understand things in the world around me. I have been considering this some more and have come to the conclusion that there are 2 kinds of people in the world:

  • engineers
  • people who believe in magic

This is not a value judgement – just an observation …

I was discussing this with my hairdresser, Jane. Although it says “hair stylist” outside her shop, I regard her as a therapist who happens to cut hair [and does not charge $100+ per hour]. She wondered how I would go about categorizing an individual. That is easy. Here is our conversation:
Me: Do you have a TV?
Jane: Yes, of course.
Me: Do you know how it works.
Jane: I just press the On switch and choose a channel – easy.
Me: But do you know how the picture and sound gets from the TV studio to your living room?
Jane: No idea. Not a clue. And I don’t care, so long as it works.
Me: You believe in magic.
Jane: (nods)

This is the crux of the situation. She does not care how the TV works. She can just enjoy it. [How people get enjoyment from most of the material that is broadcast is another mystery that I have yet to solve.] I, on the other hand, have to know. This does not mean that I am smarter than someone who just uses stuff, without being concerned about how it works – someone who believes in magic. Possibly the reverse. I am actually burdened by this obsession. The old saying “ignorance is bliss” seems to make sense. I would love to believe in magic.

But I have realized that there is room for hope. My level of understanding of how things work is bounded. In a TV I know basically how the signals encode the video and audio and how they are broadcast etc. However, if you quizzed me on the fundamentals of how a chip works, down at the transistor level, I would be stumped. The mathematics of quantum mechanics is beyond me, so, when I hear about what happens on this sub-microscopic scale, I can only conclude that it is actually magic.

So, what I now believe is that all of us have a certain percentage of “engineer” programming in our brains and a certain amount of “magic belief”. The proportions differ from one person to another. So maybe there is a way that I can train my brain to adjust the proportions and let me just accept stuff – to believe in magic. As the world gets more and more complex and I get older and more stupid, my need for a new mindset increases. I guess I will have to go for some more therapy …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2016/01/28/engineers-and-a-belief-in-magic/