Craftspeople vs seers

Some discussion with my advisor the other day entailed some tasks on my part and a train of thought on the difference between what craftspeople do and what seers do. What distinguishes engineering and science? What is the distinction between engineers and scientists? Between scientists who are craftspeople and scientists who are seers? Which category do I belong to and which category do I long to be in? Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics led me to draw the conclusion that engineering is based on being able to carry out sophisticated techniques to solve problems but only within a certain paradigm of thought, whilst science is based on being able to generate new paradigms of thought. Granted, there is much overlap between science and engineering, but within engineering, just like in accountancy, and a portion of mathematics, one only needs to be shrewd, together with much persistence, in using the rules of a certain paradigm to solve a problem, and sometimes one needs just to go through the motions mechanically. I even hear so much of the phrase “the name of the game” among my professors and seniors, which makes me cringe every time I hear it. Perhaps many scientists are craftspeople these days. Perhaps a big portion of science is overlapping with engineering these days. But to me, science will always be a quest to understand the truth about our physical universe, and not merely a game to be played.

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~ by musafiremes on April 26, 2007.

2 Responses to “Craftspeople vs seers”

  1. If you can find it in a library Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge contains some wonderful discussion about the distinction you’re making. Using your terms, Popper takes Kuhn to be saying that science works largely because of its craftspeople, whereas the latter are for him merely third-rate scientists. Kuhn replies by saying that if all were seers, as Popper seems to wish, science couldn’t function.

  2. Thanks much for the suggested text. I found it in my school library, and will go through the discussion. For the time being, I do recognize the fact that a scientist needs to master his craft sufficiently, as a craftsperson does, in order to be good and contributive to the advancement of knowledge, and that, similar to the thesis Lee Smolin advocates in his book, at any point of time in the progress of science, both types of scientists are needed, but at different times, one may be needed more than the other. However, at this point, I cannot bring myself to believe that being a master craftsperson should be an end in itself for a scientist, although pragmatically, a scientist who is a master craftsperson may, as an end result, enable science to progress during certain periods of its development.

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