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Sunday, February 14, 2010

The engineers

Emmanuel Sivan, a Professor of History at Hebrew University, explores the fascinating question of why so many terrorists seem to be engineers.
I am among those who attribute this phenomenon first and foremost to what is described as engineering thinking or an engineering mindset. The concept includes an assumption, which has been raised in psychological research, that engineering as a field of study and a profession tends to attract people who seek certainty, and their approach to the world is largely mechanistic. So they are characterized by a greater intolerance of uncertainty - a quality that is evident among extremists, both religious and secular.

Those with engineering mindsets are also characterized by an approach that requires society to operate "like clockwork" and abhors democratic politics, which requires compromises. It's clear that this is a cumulative tendency and not a stereotypical generalization.

I raised a similar thesis years ago at a Technion conference, where the presidents of similar institutions from around the world were invited to discuss "The image of the engineer in the 21st Century." A lively debate took place between supporters and opponents of the thesis. According to the organizer of the conference, the late physics Prof. Paul Singer, the number of those in favor and those opposed was about equal. If this is the case, it's possible to offer additional explanations, completing or overlapping this thesis.

Read the whole thing.

By the way, the cell phones at the top are dedicated to a Hamas terrorist who was known as 'the Engineer' until one fine day in January 1996 when he answered one cell phone call too many.


At 3:44 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

I've worked with engineers for decades now. I would say it isn't that engineers are terrorists in a greater percentage. It is rather that engineers are the people in the world who actually get things done, whether it is to land on the moon or to field food production that can feed our billions. Or to provide low cost weaponry to co-philosophists to blow up city streets. Somebody pointed out to me one time that the R&D budget of the bombers in Iraq (2006 vintage) was higher than the U.S.'s R&D budget. So, in general, the engineers aren't terrorists at a higher percentage; it is that the rest of the potential terrorists are not capable of actually accomplishing the activity.


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