Have you ever wondered why Einstein is so frequently quoted on so many topics? I have cited him seven times in the past on this blog [https://realizeengineering.blog/tag/einstein/] and only four occasions relate to his scientific breakthroughs. Robbert Dijkgraaf has suggested that Einstein pretty much invented that concept of a scientist as a public intellectual. Although Einstein may not have been reticient about commenting on world affairs, his remarks and aphorisms were as carefully crafted as his contribution to science which is why they are so frequently quoted.
I have remarked before about the tendency of engineers to hide away and avoid communicating with society, in part because we are trained as problem-solvers and solving problems often requires a degree of solitude and silence that is incompatible with public profile [see ‘The Charismatic Engineer‘ on June 4th, 2014]. However, there are many potenting existential challenges facing society for which the solutions involving engineering or an understanding of technology [see ‘Poetasting engineers‘ on March 4th, 2015]; engineers have a responsibility to follow Einstein’s example and become public intellectuals taking as much care over their remarks as their engineering.
Naturally, I and my engineering colleagues will worry about making mistakes and will be tempted to use it as reason for keeping quiet; however, even Einstein made mistakes. Carlo Rovelli in his book ‘The Order of Time’ provides a reassuringly long list of six things that Einstein got wrong or about which he changed his mind. On that note, I feel I should end with one of Einstein’s quotes: ‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new’.
Robbert Dijkgraaf, ‘The World of Tomorrow’ in The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge by A.Flexner, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2015.