Engineer It

Fernando Perez spoke on campus today.  With a mind focused on a mission to transform the way software tools interact with science, he had one particular message that has left me thinking; if we can replicate science for ourselves, we can validate its truth.  The idea of needing to make something happen in front of me to understand it and know it to be true seems to center on the fundamental needs of discovery.  At its purest form, discovery is dependent on replication.  Its why faith and reason collide.  Faith is personal, whereas reason is communal.  It seems when we can make faith and reason meet with replication, we find a breakthrough, though.  They live on a spectrum.

If that’s the case, then the street of the spectrum must be paved by engineers.  Who else can maintain the roads best, but the builders themselves?  Maybe you can pass off the blueprints of discovery to a maintainer, but the maintainer will not know the pavement in the intimate way that the engineer has.  The engineer grabbed faith in one hand, reason in the other, and after being told they couldn’t meet, she paved the road.  Maybe the road split at first, so she iterated over her design and fine tuned it so that it became a more direct path over time.  Maybe she pulled all-nighters to understand the reason why the fork happened in the first place, only to realize there was a pebble in the way of the direct path that existed the whole time.  It’s a painful process, but sometimes the rewards are worth it.

So many players in the game of open source technology with so many forces attempting to marry, and so many times the solution is to write an agreement that will keep the forces civil because the marriage wasn’t destined to work from the beginning.  But the engineer found the need for the contract.

Fernando Perez claims to be a scientist by background, but scientists don’t procrastinate on their dissertations because the vision for a transformative scientific tool is brooding.  I didn’t get a chance to ask him my question at the end of his talk, but if I had, I would have exposed his secret engineering super hero powers.  Take off your scientific disguise, Perez, I’m onto you.  One of these days, people will know you to be who I know you to be.  For now, I’ll play your game.  Keep making those scientific impressions to the world.  Keep making reason and faith get along; it’s inspiring.  For now, this will be our little secret.

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