Engineering is a practice of changing the physical world for the better

We use an engineering practice when creating new systems that never existed before and changing some existing ones. Sometimes “changing” can mean demolishing if it changes the world for the better in some way. How do we understand “change for the better”? There are several variants:

  • Ethical answers to what “change for the better” means (ethics is a fundamental practice, included in the transdisciplinary intellect-stack and enabled by the role of conscience).
  • Changes for the better are multi-level evolutionary continuous optimizations, reflecting the frustrations from conflicts between systems levels (more details — in the course on Systems Thinking). The key thing here is understanding that an engineering project develops as a part of techno evolution, a part of the continuous development of civilization, and a part of active (world changing!) cognition; thus, it does not end with one-time running some system through its life-cycle, but continuously puts new and new changes into operation. The process of putting into operation is continuous, it does not happen just once within a project, it is not a “multi-phase waterfall” for one organism, but it is evolution of a technical species (and it does not matter how many organisms there were in the course of evolution: one, with interchangeable parts, or many successive). In engineering, same as in biological evolution, there are many “almost identically profitable” solutions, profit is always multi-level; deteriorations are frequent, neutral solutions are rare, major improvements are very rare.
  • Changes for the better are actions on minimizing the free energy of a system-of-interest and/or its supra system, according to the theory of active inference. It is another thing that frustrations in the systems-of-interest will inevitably remain and even multiply (evolutionary growth of complexity, increase in the number of systems levels!), and we have to engineeringly/actively/practically, over and over again, solve a complex optimization problem at many systems levels; again it boils down to the continuity of these changes. The key “for the better” here is a longer term of maintaining the integrity of a system at the account of continuous changes of this system’s state in the face of many times superior external influences. Roughly speaking, “for the better” is when there are lower expectations of unplanned destruction of the system, fewer of the Bayes’ unpleasant “surprises” like “you’ve been eaten”, “you’ve starved to death”, “you failed to breed” (of course, it is just a metaphor for engineering systems, but go ahead and ask serial entrepreneurs to what extent they perceive such statements as metaphors in relation to their businesses on changing the world for the better, and you will understand that each joke has only a grain of a joke. We will recollect this grain of a joke many more times in this course.)

Of course, there are a lot more other variants of understanding “for the better”, but we will stop at this. The main thing is that all these understandings stipulate physical changes in the world as the end result (appearance, change, or disappearance of some system or the whole number of systems, and also the notion that this change was “for the better”, that is, it was purposeful but not just a random change.

This is an excerpt from the “Systems Engineering” course. Enroll to learn more:

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