Philosophy, Engineering, and a Literate Brother

This previous Christmas my brother gave me two books, Desert Solitaire and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which was refreshing as I previously thought that he didn’t read…or maybe he couldn’t! Recently I was reading Atlas Shrugged, which was a couple of books into my recent pursuit of philosophical knowledge. Thinking back on it, I believe that I have been seeking philosophical knowledge for a lot longer than recently, probably since I found Coelho’s The Alchemist in Borders when I was a freshman in high school, or even back to elementary school when I wanted to learn everything about the Greek, Norse, and Egyptian religions and Pantheons. I digress, perhaps engineering and philosophy go hand in hand. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pretend to be a philosopher, understand philosophy, or even know how to participate in a philosophical debate…although I do enjoy debating thought, religion, and why we do the things we do. As I was saying, both engineering and philosophy deal with the pursuit of understanding and knowledge. In the current book I’m reading, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the author is a former mental patient who went through a successful treatment of shock therapy and is on a motorcycle trip back to where he lived prior to the treatment explaining philosophy and the thoughts that his previous alter ego, Phaedrus, was struggling with prior to his mental break down. The book is explained in a series of Chautauquas, or lesson learned by experience, and provides many thought provoking theses upon philosophy, which I am learning is the pursuit of why we do things, why we think, how we explain the world around us, etc. These Chautauquas aren’t just about higher thinking and miniscule points, but about everyday actions and considerations. For example, one of the points that keeps coming back to my mind is when the author (Robert M. Pirsig) describes the difference between classical and romantic ideologies. He explains how classical thinking considers functional items a thing of beauty, regardless of the outward appearance, and romanticists only rely upon the external properties of an item to gauge its beauty. This point was relevant to me because since August I have been designing and building a miniature Baja Car for the Society of Automotive Engineer’s collegiate competition. Our school is a small engineering school at the foot of the Rockies, we have had very little funding from the school and only vague interest from outside companies, this made designing our car a greater challenge than larger schools with dynasties of SAE Baja teams. So, in response to our lack of funding, we have spent many hours in the machine shop learning how to craft the majority of our parts. This has allowed me to experience the classical side of life, I have personally machined a large portion of the car and have seen beautifully clean pieces of metal be brazed into dark masses of romantically hideous parts that are classically beautiful. I’m stilling passing my way through the book, but every point seems to create a new way to ponder life and thought. Sometimes I ponder too hard, and the result is a need to get words out there; put my thoughts to the world and let them meander, change and be disputed, to be formed by influences both literary and physical.