An engineer is a problem solver. A cultural engineer uses culture (philosophical, material, social, political, artistic) to solve problems. In that sense most humanities or “soft” fields of study can all be considered cultural engineers as they use do not use purely scientific or mathematic solutions to solving problems. They work inside other bodies of theory.
These “solutions” take their cues from anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and aesthetics for the most part. Here are some rough examples:
- Aesthetic designers who use “good” design as a means of increasing product longevity (and slowing done consumerism) to help either benefit underprivileged communities or help the environment. The theory embraced here is that concerns of beauty, usefulness, and design create better solutions than merely solving for mechanical issues.
- Anthropological how airlines design status systems to increase customer spend taking cues from generally accepted ideas around status and gift giving. But human behavior or “cognitive biases" can also be used to promote better health and more just societies. Problem solving in this vein owes its theory from twentieth-century anthropologists.
- Sociological this is perhaps the easiest to pull from because essentially most policy makers, lobbyists, and governments use sociology — with its cherry-picking of mathematics and psychology — as the most “scientific” of the humanities to cull from. It is also a very popular field of study for liberal arts graduates, so many can relate to its vocabulary later on in life.
- Philosophical the work of Marx or Kant may be considered a systematic approach (like an engineer’s approach) to solving issues of the the present and future. Philosophy offers the most formalized system for the humanities, as it attempts to define semantics and the structure (of language) itself used by the discipline; concerns that also occupy many a computer engineer when dealing with computer languages.
These are merely top-of-the-head categories, which are useful insomuch as I jotted them down in this post. The more important point is that these fields of study borrow from mathematics and science but ultimately don’t need to obey their rules. They don’t need, for example:
- Empirical evidence
- Repeatability of findings
- Testable hypotheses
- Strong arguments
- Proofs necessary for validity
In fact, the idea of proving anything is debatable. Indeed, and especially, for aesthetics, proof is nearly a non-issue. Personal agency and force are more legitimate.
In anthropology and sociology, a single incident or case, or study, can pave way for validity and general acceptance, even without repeatability. By the very nature of the communities studied in anthropology, often repeatability of findings is impossible.
And in philosophy — a field I know little about — I will venture forward and say that many things have been argued quite elegantly in the course of time: from forgotten scrawls to major systems of thought like religion. These can range from highly systematic and “scientific” to requiring Kierkegaardian “leaps of faith” when some things are left unexplained. But all of which have seemed to find someplace in the philosophical canon as “legitimate” or “true.”
But rather than make this seem like I am pointing my finger at these broad fields of study to exclaim, “Look! Look at their fallacies, imprecisions, and false idols. Can they be trusted?” What I really mean to say is that their approach to problem solving is different from science and math (the original bastions of an engineer’s thought process), but not at all necessarily weaker or less valid.
And I cannot emphasize enough, these are certainly not a replacement or usurper to math or science.
In fact, that is why a cultural engineer is a particularly relevant position: they are poised to transform technology from a scientific and mathematic phenomena of problem solving into an uncharted world of culture and social significance only because they draw on the rules of those fields — and not math and science — as further areas of understanding for the engineer: as their points of departure, and as their tools to solving greater engineering problems than previously encountered.
And it is my hope, that by pulling from cultural systems of understanding that technology can be transformed in unforeseen ways but hopefully in ways that better humankind. I feel like the well of science has run dry in helping to guide technology to make us better, and perhaps we should feel free to take cues from elsewhere when solving issues of the engineer.