A world that never existed

Perhaps you find it strange that the previous definitions do not treat engineering as a science, but as processes that take advantage of it to generate their applications – an “applied science”. In general, engineers don’t “do” science, they use it. The word science refers to discovering how nature works. Engineering is the creation of the artificial, as aerospace engineer Theodore Von Karman (THE NATIONAL AVIATION HALL OF FAME, c2011) wrote: “Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world that never existed. ”

Source: Dr. Theodore von Kármán (black coat) sketches out a plan on the wing of an airplane as his JATO engineering team looks on. From left to right: Dr. Clark B. Millikan, Dr. Martin Summerfield, Dr. Theodore von Kármán, Dr. Frank J. Malina and pilot, Capt. Homer Boushey. Captain Boushey would become the first American to pilot an airplane that used JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off) solid propellant rockets. NASA JPL 2021.

Engineers are often confused with scientists, probably because we all had some science courses in high school, but no one had engineering courses. For example, a survey conducted at the turn of the 2000s in the United States (NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING, c2015) showed that only 18% of respondents associated travel to outer space with engineering, while 68% made this link with scientists. In fact, 67% of the astronauts trained so far were engineering graduates. But why create the artificial?

Human beings have among their basic instincts the search for individual security, for example, against climatic and environmental rigors (avoiding starvation, fleeing from floods, remedying droughts) and counterattacks from other predators or rival tribes, or even to defend against microorganisms and diseases.

Another characteristic is the desire to be able to do things that go beyond our natural or genetic limitations, such as: crossing a river without getting wet, drowning or turning over an alligator meal; walking at 120 km/h without having to run or get out of an armchair; do not freeze to death when the ambient temperature is freezing; or being able to fly without having wings and diving to great depths without having gills. These are objective motivations for creating the artificial, linked to our individual preservation.

As civilization equips itself with artificial elements that keep the individual “safe” and “powerful”, secondary and, in some cases, subjective motivations begin to emerge, which can reinforce the previous ones or create a new world of needs, some even no rational nexus.

Engineers are motivated to create the artificial to defend and overcome limits that the human body does not have, as well as to satisfy functional or aesthetic needs.


Cocian, Luis Fernando Espinosa. Introdução à engenharia. Bookman Editora, 2016.

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