Under the sun

“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don’t know.” - Ambrose Bierce

I study the history of science and technology, especially the history of my field, because I want to know about the old things and the people who did them. I want to know for the intellectual pleasure of knowing, because I’m curious, but there are more practical reasons as well.

Knowing about the past helps me be a better professional in the present. I can understand the larger context and nuances of a problem by understanding how people have tried to solve similar problems in the past. I can avoid reinvention and adapt old ideas to suit new situations. I can mentor the next generation of engineers to do the same. I can better relate to previous generations whose ways of solving problems are out of fashion but are no less valid for that.

In my mind it’s not enough to understand “how”. I also want to understand “why”, which requires studying a lot of things that are not technical in nature. It’s worth the time and effort.