Hans Poser (Technische Universität Berlin)

An Engineer’s Ignorance and How He Knows It


1. Introduction
2. Knowledge and...
1. Introduction

Why is it important to analyse the engineer’s ignorance?

1.     Ignorance is the starting point of each ...
Ignorance as an epistemological question means
asking for the conditions of possibility of ignorance, i.e.:

What are the ...
2. Knowledge and ignorance

Types of knowledge of an engineer

•            Know that as fact knowledge,
•            Know...
Types of knowledge of an engineer:

•            Know that as fact knowledge,
•            Know why as theoretical and cau...
Kinds of ignorance due to Smithson:

   S1 Ignorance as encountered in the external non-social world.
   S2 Ignorance as e...
An engineer’s ignorance has a typical structure
depending on epistemological connections:


An engineer’s ignorance
•     ...
3. Ignorance as a knowledge of fundamental limits of knowledge

IGNORABIMUS: Ignorance as a knowledge of fundamental limit...
4. Ignorance as a problem to be solved
An engineer’s ignorance means: There is a problem to be solved.
A problem to be sol...
Engineer’s ignorance means:                   There is a problem to be solved.
A problem to be solved means:              ...
Object level               Knowledge content                      Epistemological
                                        ...
5. Kinds of ignorance in engineering

   I. Classical civil engineering –
   a. The ignorance leads to questions,
      fo...
START                                      RESEACH & DEVELOPMENT


 AIM SETTING                                  SOCIOTECH...
I. Classical civil engineering –
a. The ignorance leads to questions,
   for which classical methods of problem solving ar...
I. Classical civil engineering –


      b. New problems of ignorance:


      - Creativity needed for new solutions: pred...
II. Biotechnology
      a. Classical forms (e.g. beer production) follow classical methods as above


      b. New problem...
III. Information technology
      a. Classical tasks (e.g. telephone production and installation)
              follow cla...
Result:
      Kinds of ignorance:
      Classical case:                   Adoption of heuristic methods to the special sit...
6. The transformation of technological knowledge problems into value problems
         as a transformation of the structur...
Individual    Society
                                               development    quality


                            ...
Enlargement of engineer’s ignorance:
      2. To minimise risks and dangers, feasibility studies are used
      to select ...
Conclusion I

        The engineer’s ignorance has a structure and a content:
        • It is a kind of meta-knowledge (kn...
Conclusion II

      Elements of Ignorance
      Missing knowledge as                        solution              epistem...
Hans Poser TU Berlin   fPET-2010 Golden, CO   24
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An Engineer's Ignorance and How He Knows It

  1. 1. Hans Poser (Technische Universität Berlin) An Engineer’s Ignorance and How He Knows It 1. Introduction 2. Knowledge and ignorance 3. Ignorance as knowledge of knowledge limits 4. Ignorance as knowledge of a problem to be solved 5. Kinds of ignorance in engineering 6. The transformation of technological knowledge problems into value problems as a transformation of the structure of ignorance Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 1
  2. 2. 1. Introduction Why is it important to analyse the engineer’s ignorance? 1. Ignorance is the starting point of each design and development: “There is a problem!” 2. Problem solving often needs creativity, which excludes predictions – a hard case of ignorance. 3. R & D departments have to communicate on ignorance as problems. 4. Unknown possible consequences of technology – i.e. hard cases of ignorance – have to be evaluated by means of methods of TA. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 2
  3. 3. Ignorance as an epistemological question means asking for the conditions of possibility of ignorance, i.e.: What are the conditions, which allow to conclude from ignorance as a non-knowledge, what the problem is, which has to be solved. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 3
  4. 4. 2. Knowledge and ignorance Types of knowledge of an engineer • Know that as fact knowledge, • Know why as theoretical and causal knowledge, • Know how as practical action knowledge, and • Know wherefore as normative value knowledge. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 4
  5. 5. Types of knowledge of an engineer: • Know that as fact knowledge, • Know why as theoretical and causal knowledge, • Know how as practical action knowledge, and • Know wherefore as normative value knowledge. Corresponding forms of ignorance seem to be: • Unawareness concerning facts • Nescience concerning theoretical reasons • Disability to achieve something • Blindness or non-knowledge concerning norms and values. But this is inadequate concerning the engineer’s ignorance! Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 5
  6. 6. Kinds of ignorance due to Smithson: S1 Ignorance as encountered in the external non-social world. S2 Ignorance as emergent, constructed, and imposed by agents, at least partly socially constructed. S3 Managing under ignorance: How people think and act in uncertain environments. S4 Managing ignorance: How people think about ignorance and how they act on it. Result: For engineers, S1 and S4 are important - S1 concerning R & D, S4 concerning TA Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 6
  7. 7. An engineer’s ignorance has a typical structure depending on epistemological connections: An engineer’s ignorance • is a knowledge of non-knowledge, i.e. a meta-knowledge • has a content, • leads to a problem, • and can be formulated as a question. Result: An engineer’s ignorance has a structure and a content Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 7
  8. 8. 3. Ignorance as a knowledge of fundamental limits of knowledge IGNORABIMUS: Ignorance as a knowledge of fundamental limits of knowledge • no complete axiomatization of mathematics – i.e. of technology, too • no perpetuum mobile – i.e. we need energy • no entrance to the region o inside the uncertainty relation – important for nanotechnology – o outside the light cone – important for signal transmission • no prognosis in complex systems without complexity reduction (knowledge by an abdication of knowledge) • no criteria for the adequateness of complexity reduction • no absolute or rational foundation of norms and values Result: There are inevitable kinds of IGNORABIMUS Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 8
  9. 9. 4. Ignorance as a problem to be solved An engineer’s ignorance means: There is a problem to be solved. A problem to be solved means: There is an aim to be reached. Therefore the engineer needs as a problem solving knowledge • a knowledge concerning means for an aim as a functional compliance, • a knowledge how to gain and to use such a means, • a knowledge concerning values behind the aim. • a knowledge how to modify the aim in the light of values, if there is no adequate means at hand to reach the originally intended aim. Epistemological remarks: - Means, ends, functions can’t be observed - they are teleological interpretations. - An artefact is materialized knowledge and instantiation of values – which demands a hermeneutic interpretation. - Ignorance fixes the direction of the aim, not a specific end. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 9
  10. 10. Engineer’s ignorance means: There is a problem to be solved. A problem to be solved means: There is an end to be reached. The problems represent an ignorance as questions: • What are the reproducible effects (functions) as a means to the intended aim? • What to do (to learn, to organize) to use these means? • Which are the norms and values to be respected? • Which are the more general values behind to modify the aim adequately? Result: The problem solving knowledge is part of the ignorance structure. It constitutes the content of the ignorance. This warrants to communicate on ignorance. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 10
  11. 11. Object level Knowledge content Epistemological preconditions Ignorance Knowledge of non-knowledge Reflection imagination ⇑ thinking in possibilities knowledge of (theoretical reasoning) ⇓ - ignorabimus - facts thinking in means and ends - causes (teleological reasoning) problem narrowing down: thinking in norms and values (practical reasoning) ⇑ interpreted as - aims, means, functions abilities: ⇓ - values, needs - hermeneutic ability question specification: - ability to learn - methods - creativity ⇓ - creativity presupposition: - free will solution actualisation: - life experience know how Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 11
  12. 12. 5. Kinds of ignorance in engineering I. Classical civil engineering – a. The ignorance leads to questions, for which classical methods of problem solving are at hand Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 12
  13. 13. START RESEACH & DEVELOPMENT AIM SETTING SOCIOTECHNOLOGICAL IDENTIFICATION Existence of an NO actual system? YES PLANNING INTEGRATION OF THE ACTUAL SYSTEM ACTING PRODUCTION OF THE ACTUAL SYSTEM CHECK PLANNING OF AN ACTUAL SYSTEM Success? NO YES STOP Process-structure of techno-genesis (Günter Ropohl, 2009, p. 262) Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 13
  14. 14. I. Classical civil engineering – a. The ignorance leads to questions, for which classical methods of problem solving are at hand Result: The ignorance structure leads to sequences of questions as cases of ignorance, tentative and controlled answers (trial and error) including - evaluations of the means - evaluations of the sub-means and sub-aims The approach corresponds to Smithson’s S1-type Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 14
  15. 15. I. Classical civil engineering – b. New problems of ignorance: - Creativity needed for new solutions: predictions are impossible: IGNORABIMUS concerning the content of future creativity - Missing basic knowledge in the area of nanotechnology Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 15
  16. 16. II. Biotechnology a. Classical forms (e.g. beer production) follow classical methods as above b. New problems of ignorance: Biofacts as living beings - are growing – results take time (if required: generations) - are complex autopoietic systems – prognoses for manipulated systems are highly problematic - live in an ecological environment – ramifications are unknown Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 16
  17. 17. III. Information technology a. Classical tasks (e.g. telephone production and installation) follow classical methods as above b. New problems of ignorance: Information • is neither matter nor knowledge; why needs its manipulation artefacts? • transforms society; but how? • means power; how to get a balance of it? Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 17
  18. 18. Result: Kinds of ignorance: Classical case: Adoption of heuristic methods to the special situation Need of new solutions: Creativity Need of basic theoretical knowledge: New research Missing knowledge in a moral perspective: Moral reasoning Ignorabimus concerning forecast in complex systems: Parameter reduction The new technologies lead to new forms of ignorance: Ignorance management - Smithson’s S4-type - is the task of TA Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 18
  19. 19. 6. The transformation of technological knowledge problems into value problems as a transformation of the structure of ignorance Enlargement of engineer’s ignorance: 1. From the very beginning of planning and developing, the engineer has to include the whole area of technological, economic, social, environmental values and their tension. This implies: Contents and structure of the engineer’s ignorance have been extended, since they have to include values as elements explicitly: They are part of the problem constitution. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 19
  20. 20. Individual Society development quality Environment Welfare quality (whole society) Profitableness Health ( (individual case) Common instrumental Funktionality Safety relatioships Common competitive relationships Values of TA as a structuring element of engineer’s ignorance: VDI Guideline 3780 Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 20
  21. 21. Enlargement of engineer’s ignorance: 2. To minimise risks and dangers, feasibility studies are used to select the best scenario for actualisation. This depends on complexity reduction – otherwise predictions would be impossible. This implies: Complexity reduction is no elimination of ignorance, but the introduction of a new type of it, since there are no criteria for the reliability of the problem reduction. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 21
  22. 22. Conclusion I The engineer’s ignorance has a structure and a content: • It is a kind of meta-knowledge (knowing the non-knowledge), • it characterizes a problem (knowing the direction of an aim), • it leads to a question (asking for means to an end), • it has as a background technological and normative knowledge. • The engineer’s ignorance is characterized by an Ignorabimus: • Creative solutions are never predictable. • Complex developments are never predictable. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 22
  23. 23. Conclusion II Elements of Ignorance Missing knowledge as solution epistemic condition I adaptation of given methods heuristic imagination know how teleological reasoning reflective judgement II new method development creativity III basic theoretical knowledge know why research theoretical rationality - in nanosciences empirical and - in biosciences theoretical reasoning - in social sciences social epistemology IV consequences in a moral ethical reasoning practical rationality perspective know wherefore V complex system parameter reduction theoretical and combination of I – IV in feasibility studies practical rationality, to avoid Ignorabimus reflective judgement Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 23
  24. 24. Hans Poser TU Berlin fPET-2010 Golden, CO 24

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