Tuesday 14 November 2023

Leadership and Subjectivity

When Moses arrived on the top of Mount Nebo in Jordan, how did he know this was the land he had announced to his people, the Promised Land? The objective truth is: he didn’t know. Perhaps the view is magnificent as we can see on the picture, but there were other people and other armies down there. It is reasonable to assume Moses got tired roaming through the desert for forty years. Otherwise, there was no objective fact indicating this was the end destination for his people.

The book of Exodus, which tells the story of Israel’s people leaving Egypt under Moses and his brother Aaron’s leadership, is a splendid manual on leadership. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t read the scriptures because they are useful. I read them because I love them. I love them because they are beautiful and because I feel like they could make me a better person. But for those of you who don’t love the scriptures, beware the book of Exodus contains all you need to know about leadership.

The Bible says Moses knew from God. But how does God speak to man? It never happens through objective reasoning. Moses didn’t have any useful objective data that would have allowed him to make a reasonably good decision. Moses knew almost nothing about the land in front of him and the strength of its armies. He needed to rely on his inner voice, through intuition, prayer, belly feeling, dreaming, sense of responsibility and love for his people, in short through his own subjectivity.

If good leadership in difficult circumstances requires subjectivity, it has a serious implication for the leader. The people need to believe him. They need to give him the authority to rely on his personal subjective feelings. They will only do this if they believe he is good, wise and integer. And this belief is usually based on some common experience in extremely bad conditions, such as the experience in the Sinai desert. If the people’s belief gets lost through some negative experience, the leader becomes extremely vulnerable. The leadership crisis we observe today, is due to a lack of common experience in the desert and a lack of willingness to grant authority to someone else, usually because of our own narcissism. The conclusion of this blog is that in leadership, subjectivity is objectively required.

I also refer to my Dutch blogs Leadership and Love and Dreamers Who Do.

Picture: Mount Nebo, Jordan, 2023 Courtesy of Patricia Deneffe

Tuesday 17 October 2023

The Engineer’s Social Role

There is a history of the technical marvel IMEC in presentation form. In it, Professor Hugo De Man characterized his closest colleague the late Professor Roger Van Overstraeten as a ‘visionary Fleming’. According to Professor De Man, it had always been the intention "to put Flanders on the map of the industry of the future by training a generation of engineers who, in addition to a solid scientific basis, also have an eye for the social and economic progress of the people."

We did indeed have some professors at our University of Leuven who gave a little more than the sober lessons. On the one hand they tried to teach us a kind of entrepreneurship and on the other hand they reminded us of our social role and our social responsibility. Entrepreneurship was not an end, but rather a means to improve the socio-economic fabric of society and the common good. This may all sound rather obvious, but it never was, on the contrary. Not all colleagues showed the same interest in social themes. Deep specialisation threatened to suck many fellow engineers into the deep oblivion pit of the professional nerds. It didn’t end up that bad, however. The problems to be solved became so complicated that only good teamwork proved to have a chance of success. Furthermore, new developments are now being evaluated very thoroughly in terms of their social relevance. After my studies, at the engineering association and at the European Young Engineers,  I met many like-minded people.

The profession of engineer is indeed a wonderful profession, although it sometimes takes courage. It certainly deserves promotion among the various groups that are still underrepresented in this profession. But the beauty of it all is that I became more and more aware that I did not have a profession but a vocation. In "Science as a vocation" we already saw that this vocation can be described as a kind of apostolate in the industrial landscape.

I also refer to my blogs: "The Why of Technology” and to “The Trap of Technology".

Picture: Brussels Airport Runway, courtesy Jan Straus

Tuesday 19 September 2023

The transformative power of berserker rage

The theme of anger or rage has only been discussed once in my blog. However, rage can be constructive and life-saving, because in certain cases it generates the necessary combativeness. In our country, the police were only properly reformed after the population was first inflamed in rage. We are talking about the white marches of 1996.

The Normans called that life-saving rage berserker rage. They discovered that in the heat of battle, especially when the situation was completely hopeless, they could fall into a 'level two' fighting spirit, a kind of trance in which they threw all remaining energy into the battle and in which they felt neither fear nor pain.

In fact, berserker rage is a survival instinct. A Viking warrior then turned into berserker, literally bearskin warrior (implicitly also 'without-armor' warrior) and was deemed invincible, which earned him Odin's mercy and eternal fame. In English, the expression 'to go berserk' still exists. The film Erik the Viking made use of it with the inimitable Tim McInnerny as Svein the Viking. The Normans discovered that they could also put themselves in a trance before battle with all kinds of rituals and hallucinogenic substances. But why is this berserker rage so interesting? Because it has a transformative power. It pushes boundaries. It moves the thin grey line between the feasible and the unfeasible.

Those who find themselves in a hopeless situation (e.g. of exploitation, injustice, misery, depression,..) can therefore do well to cultivate that berserker anger in order to transcend the situation and put an end to the misery and injustice. This is especially useful where the hopelessness has to do with one's own fears and one's own complacency. But beware: berserker rage is a dangerous weapon. You can only use it once and then you have to win.

Shouldn't our society also cultivate some berserker anger to get out of the negative spiral of some lingering problems? I refer to my blogs Day of Wrath and Failed State. This blog should be used with caution.

Image by Mattias Styrman from Pixabay

Tuesday 8 August 2023

On the Origin of Time

This book by professor Thomas Hertog reveals the latest discoveries made in theoretical physics and cosmology. The author summarises his latest discoveries with Stephen Hawking of which Stephen could not see the publication anymore.

So far, reading an exciting book and not being able to put it down only happened to me with fiction books. It is the first time this happens to me with a nonfiction book. The book reveals the history of our universe and our time and the story is so fascinating not only because of the findings themselves but also because of the way the researchers got there.

It looks like existence, creation and evolution are one and the same trinity. Our universe and its evolution are not carved in stone but in soft qubits, the measurement of which is affected by us observers, carriers of truckloads of qubits ourselves. Not all concepts are easily accessible but the author made a wonderful attempt as he is a good storyteller too. People who can combine the highest level of scientific research with good science popularising skills deserve the greatest admiration.

I refer to my English blogs on science, my Dutch blogs on science (not a translation of the English blog) and to Deus Absconditus (not a blog about science, rather about our tradition concerning our creation).

Tuesday 25 July 2023

Fear Of Missing Out – Verpassungsangst

There is no Dutch word yet for FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. Germans have the word Verpassungsangst, but the literal Dutch translation 'misangst' doesn’t sound well and could give rise to ambiguities. Anyway, there’s no better time to feel FOMO than vacation time.

Vacation time never brings us what we hope for. We hope to have a chill time, enjoying the magic of places. This is rarely the case. The reason is we think we will be alone at our destination. Everyone we know, seems to go elsewhere. We want to visit another place as an observer; we want to see the place as we imagine it to be and we think we will come back with a unique experience, displayed on unique pictures. Be aware however, if everyone wants to visit this unique place, you will not be alone. You will also belong to the thousands of people who change the image of this place. This is already the case for Venice, Bruges and Barcelona.

It is like in quantum mechanics. If the object is small, the observer influences the observed object. If we don’t want this, we should consider a more ecological way of travelling, the most ecological one being to stay at home and travel in our head by reading books. Immanuel Kant travelled like that.

I refer to my blog Leaving Lazy Tasty Land.

Picture: St Christopher statue and tower of Ulmer dom 2018©Wim Lahaye. St Christopher is the patron saint of the travellers.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

The legacy of Georges Lemaître

George Lemaître enjoys a late but high recognition. We can admire him for several reasons. First of all, Georges Lemaître must have been an extremely gifted mathematician. Perhaps he became this in artillery during World War I. Also remember that all calculations at that time were still carried out with the help of a fresh head, calculation slats, tables and millimetre paper. It is true that George Lemaître was one of the first users of early computers.

We can also admire him for his clear vision. He developed a cosmological vision that is extremely modern. Even when he is under pressure, he does not succumb to the temptation to make theological statements about the cause of the Big Bang. He does not desire to see his God intervene in the early existence of the universe. It's all in line with the blog Deus Absconditus. Georges Lemaître saw it almost as a blasphemy if God needed his finger to set the cosmos in motion. Perhaps he saw that there was no point in associating the world of Roman Catholic religion with the world of science.

I also refer to my Dutch written blogs science as a vocation and ode to physics.

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Quo vadis, Europa? (2)

Today is Europe day and next Saturday I intend to speak at the 50th European Young Engineers (EYE) conference. This may surprise you as I am not so young anymore at 58 years old. European Young Engineers is a very dynamic engineering association which I was fortunate to be one of the founding members of, back in 1994. When EYE started, we could not imagine the UK ever to leave the European Union. We could not imagine countries like Hungary and Poland to be reluctant to adopt certain European guidelines in relation to fundamental human rights such as the separation of the political powers.

I am not suggesting one or the other EU member nation is right or wrong I am just considering the fact there was no doubt at the beginning and that there is a great degree of doubt today. Europe has become too much of an administrative power and did not get decently into the hearts of everybody. Moreover a general fear of globalisation originated. It happened because the European construction was too much oriented towards unification of markets and free competition. Europe suggested a commissioner of free competition could bring fairness in European markets but this is impossible as long as member states conduct their own fiscal and social policy.

The truth is European construction is incomplete and we need more Europe not less Europe. Above all, we need a new generation of European politicians who see beyond the daily struggle and who are prepared to fight for the general European interest, not for their own survival. We may find good candidates for this new generation among European young engineers.

I refer to my earlier blog Europe, quo vadis?

Picture: Market Square Sankt Pölten, Austria