Category Archives: life philosophy

Slicing the cake equally or engineering justice

Decorative photograph of sliced chocolate cakeIn support of the research being performed by one of the PhD students that I am supervising, I have been reading about ‘energy justice’.  Energy justice involves the equitable sharing of the benefits and burdens of the production and consumption of energy, including the fair treatment of individuals and communities when making decisions about energy.  At the moment our research is focussed on the sharing of the burdens associated with energy production and ways in which digital technology might improve decision-making processes.  Justice incorporates the distribution of rights, liberties, power, opportunities, and money – sometimes known as ‘primary goods’.  The theory of justice proposed by the American philosopher, John Rawls in the 1970’s is a recurring theme: that these primary goods should be distributed in a manner a hypothetical person would choose, if, at the time, they were ignorant of their own status in society.  In my family, this is the principle we use to divide cakes and other goodies equally between us, i.e., the person slicing the cake is the last person to take a slice.  While many in society overlook the inequalities and injustices that sustain their privileged positions, I believe that engineers have a professional responsibility to work towards the equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of engineering on the individuals and communities, i.e., ‘engineering justice’ [see ‘Where science meets society‘ on September 2nd, 2015].  This likely involves creating a more diverse engineering profession which is better equipped to generate engineering solutions that address the needs of the whole of our global society [see ‘Re-engineering engineering‘ on August 30th, 2017].  However, it also requires us to rethink our decision-making processes to achieve  ‘engineering justice’.  There is a clear and close link to ‘procedure justice’ and ‘fair process’ [see ‘Advice to abbots and other leaders‘ November 13th, 2019] which involves listening to people, making a decision, then explaining the decision to everyone concerned.  In our research, we are interested in how digital environments, including digital twins and industrial metaverses, might enable wider and more informed involvement in decision-making about major engineering infrastructure projects, with energy as our starting point.


Derbyshire J, Justice, fairness and why Rawls still matters today, FT Weekend, April 20th, 2023.

MacGregor N, How to transcend the culture wars, FT Weekend, April 29/30th, 2023.

Rawls J, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 1971

Sovacool BK & Dworkin MH, Global Energy Justice: Problems, Principles and Practices, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.


The Earth is only about 20 years old

Recently I have been writing a research proposal with two collaborators who live in two different time zones which has made arranging on-line meetings challenging.  There was a brief period last month when the USA had shifted to summer time or daylight saving time a couple of weeks ahead of the UK which made life even more complicated.  Our time zones are based on the sun crossing the local meridian at noon, or in summer moving an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening (a meridian is a great circle joining the celestial poles).  Actually, our whole time system is heliocentric with one day being the period of time between instants when the sun passes over the local meridian and an Earth year being the period of orbit of the Earth around the sun.  A galactic year is the time period the sun takes to orbit the black hole at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, which is 230 million Earth years.  On this basis, the Earth is only about 20 years old, that’s galactic years and based on current estimates of the age of the Earth as 4.5 billion Earth years. In Swahili culture, time has two dimensions, Sasa and Zamini.  Zamini might be measured in galactic years because it refers to the far and immeasurable past whereas Sasa describes the present and recent past.  Sasa is about the period that people can remember so when someone dies they remain in Sasa until the last person who can remember them also dies and then they move to Zamini.  Just as the Western concept of time is experienced differently by individuals [see ‘We inhabit time as fish live in water‘ on July 24th, 2019 and ‘Slowing down to think (about strain energy)‘ on March 8th, 2017], so are Sasa and Zamini since in my perception my paternal grandmother is in Sasa time but for my children, who never met her, she is in Zamini time.


Thomas Halliday, Otherlands: A world in the making, London: Allen Lane, 2022.

Enuma Okoro, Ways of seeing, ways of knowing, FT Weekend, Saturday 11 March/Sunday 12 March 2023.

Mind-wandering on the hills

It is the Easter vacation for our undergraduate students and I am taking a week’s leave to wander the hills, digitally detox and return with my consciousness revived by sensory experiences.  So just two sentences and a picture this week though if you want to read more then follow these links: ‘Walking the hills‘ on April 13th, 2022; ‘Digital detox with a deep vacation‘ on August 10th, 2016; and ‘Feed your consciousness with sensory experiences‘ on May 22nd, 2019.The author stood next to a trig point on top of hill

A view from the middle

Red tulips in a window boxI was schooled to compete in the classroom, in examinations and on the sports field in preparation for life in, what Mary Midgley described as, the ‘intense competitiveness of the Western world’.  Many of us are obsessed with winning, believing that life is not worth living unless we are at the top of the hierarchy.  As result, we strive for the top where there are only a limited number of places so most people remain in the middle or bottom no matter how hard they strive.  If they are led to believe that they are despised for their position in the hierarchy then they will be miserable and make those around them, both above and below, miserable too.  It took me some time to realise that happiness was not the exclusive property of those at the top of the hierarchy but can be found anywhere through supporting and valuing others.  As a young naval officer, I was trained to look after those under my command and to gain their respect.  I hope that as a leader in academia I have learned to blend the competitive and compassionate elements of the training I received as a young man to create happy and successful communities in which individuals can thrive.  It is ongoing challenge that requires constant vigilance [see ‘Leadership is like shepherding‘ on May 10th, 2017].


Mary Midgley, Beast and Man – the roots of human nature. Abingdon, Oxon. Routledge Classics, 2002.