The Problem With Modern Engineering (According to an Engineer)*

Eddie Ejjbair
3 min readJan 16, 2024

*Co-Written with Nada E.

Edward Dutton begins his book, At Our Wit’s End, discussing the discontinuation of the Concorde, and why it might indicate a general decline in intelligence: ‘In the 1950s, some of the world’s most intelligent and creative people were put to work’ to connect Western Europe with the U.S. much faster, and on the 2nd of March 1969, ‘Concorde was in the sky’. It took just three and a half hours to get from London to New York. However, in 2003, the Concorde was discontinued due to exorbitant fuel costs, but also, a crash in 2000 that undermined public confidence. According to Dutton, this crash was ‘essentially due to incompetence’:

Concorde crashed; all because an earlier aeroplane hadn’t been maintained properly. There had been problems with Concorde before — such as part of the rudder breaking off on a 1989 flight — but never a crash. The system had always worked. The pilots, in the heat of the moment, had always realised how to save the plane; the ground crew had never made any major mistakes. Public confidence was shaken and, by 2003, Concorde was permanently grounded. We were back to how it used to be.

The question is, why has the Concorde not re-launched or been improved upon? Dutton’s answer is that ‘we are becoming less intelligent’, which is why, he argues, we have also not been back to the moon.

I just happened to be reading Dutton as Boeing was back in the news for yet another aircraft malfunction. Was this further evidence of Dutton’s thesis? Perhaps. But what we can say for certain is that modern engineering is not as dependable as it could be, and these are some of the reasons why:

1) Over-Specialisation

This is arguably the case with all STEM subjects. A systems approach, which considers things as a whole, is neglected, and specialisation is encouraged. This is not necessarily a bad thing as you need people who understand complex parts. However, what’s missing is engineers who understand the system as a whole. Descartes said of scientific thinking that it aims to divide a difficulty into as many parts as are necessary to solve it. (This is also the function of the ‘systemising’ right hemisphere). What is needed is an emphasis on holistic

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Eddie Ejjbair

‘Gradually it’s become clear to me what every great philosophy has been: a personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’