Before the rise of science-based engineering in the late 19th century, what we would today call engineering was done by craftspeople with little education.  They used hands-on knowledge and ingenuity, not the scientific theories or mathematical analysis that were developed by scientists.  Craftspeople learned from experience, not from systematic, objective experimentation.

Hands-on knowledge is knowledge that one has picked up, makes sense, and happens to work.  It has not been gained through systematic reasoning and experimentation designed to isolate the variables established in scientific laws, and therefore it is not scientific knowledge.

Bear in mind here that historians want to understand how people acted based on what they understood at the time.  We can today give scientific explanations about why something works, but if they didn't have a scientific explanation back then I wouldn't consider that that person in the past used science.

The dictionary definitions of science and technology are often dreadful.  (You can find an on-line dictionaries to search at: or go straight to the OED though the Clemson library web site.  For example, the American Heritage Dictionary, Office Edition, definitions:

Technology= 1. The application of science, esp. in industry or commerce.  2. The scientific materials and methods then used.

I think this is a terrible definition--technology is much more than just the application of science.  Much modern technology may involve the application of formal science, but before the industrial revolution technology did not grow from science (see Florman chs. 3 and 4).   Scientists in the 18th and first half of the 19th century were coming up with new theories of chemistry and physics, but engineers were still improving technology by trial and error, not using the theories of the scientists.

The American Heritage Dictionary definition of technology makes more sense when you see their definition of science:

Science= 1. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.  2. Methodological activity, discipline, or study.  3. An activity regarded as requiring study and method.  4. Knowledge gained through experience.

Now that really is a terrible definition (if you don't believe me ask a scientist).  By #3 you could certainly say that theology or art was a form of science, and many people would say that by #4 their belief in God was based on science.  I think you need to define science much more narrowly (#1 might be ok if you specified that a science must have all these characteristics).  Science is what scientists do, it does not include all forms of knowledge about nature.

Here are some better definitions:

An old-fashioned definition that is still useful:  Tredgold, 1828: "Engineering is the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man." (Florman p. 66.)

My own definitions:

Technology= ideas and techniques for manipulating (or modifying) the environment.

Science= knowledge about the physical world that is generalized (scientific laws--not individual observations), mathematical (or at least predictive), and based on systematic experiment or observation (it must be all of the above to count as science).

I am attempting to define science in a way that is limited to what scientists do.  There are other ways of knowing about nature, but I would call them unscientific.  For another approach see: What Is Science

The definition of a profession:

A profession (as opposed to other kinds of jobs) has three characteristics:

  1. its members have specialized knowledge
  2. they are certified in some way (usually by other members of the profession: this kind of self-definition is called gatekeeping)
  3. they have a responsibility to serve the public good.

Quote of the day: "Imagine if every Thursday your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all of the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining." Jeff Raskin

last updated 8/24/05
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