Thursday, December 01, 2011

It's not rocket science

One of my pet peeves these days is the phrase "It's not rocket science". Because rocket science is not complicated. You take chemicals that produce a large amount of gas on chemically reacting; you duct the gas out in one direction -- and you immediately move in the opposite reaction.  It's so simple that even ancient peoples had working rockets -- before they even knew what a technical paper was. I hereby take a vow: I will NOT use the phrase "It's not rocket science" ever again. Because that's an insult to my intelligence.

Let's think of something more apt. Manned flight? Meh. An undergrad who's been paying attention in fluid mechanics class can draw a couple of control volumes and prove the Kutta-Jukowski theorem. If an undergrad can explain something, I refuse to use that to signify a complicated situation.

Before I learnt how microprocessors worked, it was all greek to me. But now, I see how circuits of transistors trading in 0s and 1s essentially run the internet. While all this is remarkably complicated, it is not a philosophically closed book. I can wrap my head around it. But this is significantly more complex than rocket science.

I've a;ways found understanding avian flight to be a much more difficult prospect. It's considerably more complex than how an airplane generates thrust and lift -- but it's not impossible to explain. As a matter of fact, this site does a good job of it. If you say "It's not bird flight", you will earn a little more of my respect than you would have, had you gone with "It's not rocket science".

But one thing that does scream complexity to me is theoretical physics. I've sort of sold-out by getting a PhD in engineering ('cause that's where the monies are), so there's almost no chance that I can make head or tail of how a neutrino traveling faster than light can allow for time travel. My understanding of the world starts and stops with classical mechanics (like most engineers). What would intimidate me is the math and physics of string theory. Hell, even quantum theory.

Long story short -- if you say "It's not rocket science", I will either lose all respect for your intellectual faculties, or interpret it as "it's not as simple as rocket science". For a particular task to gain my respect you probably will have to claim that it's not bird-flight --- or, what the hell, the theory of faster-than light neutrinos.

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