Last month I extolled the virtues of ‘mind-wandering’ (see also the original posting entitled ‘Mind-wandering’ September 3rd, 2014) and I have written in the past about the benefits of taking short walks to improve creative thinking (see my post entitled ‘The Charismatic Engineer‘ on June 4th, 2014). Recent research by Greg Bateman and his colleagues at Stanford has shown it is better for your mental health to take those walks in the countryside. Walking in a natural environment reduces rumination more effectively than in an urban environment. Rumination is repetitive, negative and self-critical thinking that is often damaging to mental health. Of course, this will not be news to many outdoor enthusiasts and ‘pastoral crazes’ are not new. Helen MacDonald has described how in 1930s people used to enjoy long walks in the countryside, including moonlit rambles. For instance, in 1932 the Southern Railway Company offered an excursion to a moonlit walk along the South Downs in England. They expected to sell three or four dozen tickets but one and half thousand people showed up. This 1930s pastoral craze was described by Jed Esty as ‘one element in a wider movement of national cultural salvage’ following the economic disaster of the Great Depression and the instabilities in Europe. Maybe it’s time for train companies to offer moonlit excursions again?
Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk, Vintage Books, London 2014
Jed Esty, A shrinking island: Modernism and National Culture in England, Princeton University Press,2003.
If you look up the word engineering in the dictionary then the first few definitions will probably refer to engines, structures and such like, but the third or fourth definition might describe it as ‘the action of working artfully to bring something about‘. The origins of the word ‘engineering’ lie in the Latin word ‘ingeniare’, which means to contrive or devise. Unfortunately, engines have been a phenomenal success and are now synonymous with our profession. I say unfortunately, because it hides from the general public that we do far more that contrive and devise engines as sources of power. The vast majority of engineers have nothing to do with engines and instead work artfully to bring about all of the other things in our man-made world.
The Roman poet, Lucretius in his poem De Rerum Natura (On the nature of things) wrote ‘Nothing in the body is made in order that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use’. In other words things did not evolve in nature to meet a demand but instead uses were found for what evolved. Engineering is the reverse of this: its use is the cause of the existence of everything. Well, perhaps not quite because people find uses for devices which were not thought of by even the most artful designer.