The courage of an engineer

The courage of an engineer
: Just watched the press conference from the hiker who had to cut off his own arm to escape a bolder, Aron Ralston.

This guy is unbelievable.

He’s an engineer, he explained, and so he reduces things to problems to solve — even living, even dying.

He tried all kinds of engineering tricks to try to get the boulder off his arm (I never did do well with pulleys on those damned Iowa standardized tests).

He carefully got ready for cutting off his arm, putting everything out: “I got my surgical table ready.”

His knife was so dull he couldn’t even get through the skin at first. So he had to regroup and figure out how to get through the bone. He used strenth, torque, angles, and broke his own bones.

And he did it with the cold calculation of an engineer.

  • A really smart engineer would have known that going alone in such terrain was asking for trouble; how smart is that ??????

  • Catherine

    I can’t imagine…I don’t think I could ever do what he did.
    Mommabear – if he was driving his car alone, or was riding alone his bike and became pinned under something after an accident, would you still consider him stupid?

  • Jay

    As an engineer, I would say that we are trained in how to solve problems, not necessarily how to anticipate unforseen events. For example, when an engineer is told to design an airbag so it will stop a 200 lb. adult traveling at, say, 40 mph within 18″, then that’s what he does. He does not necessarily anticipate what that will do to a 20 lb. child in a car seat. But once that problem is discovered, the engineers will figure out a way to handle that. And wait for the inevitable next problem.
    I think this engineer had a lot more fortitude than I would have in the same position.

  • Deb

    I’m not an engineer, and I don’t play one on TV, but I think the essence of the engineer was captured nicely in a version of “top ten reasons to date an engineer” that I saw on a t-shirt once upon a time: 1. We define the coordinate system.
    That said, I think the more likely explanation is that only an engineer would be crazy enough to be able to do what this gentleman did.

  • Shalegrey

    Mommabear, would you rather that he sit in his safe, sound city cubicle? The man was doing something somewhat difficult to do in a city; feeding his soul. Also, if you’ve ever done any significant amount of hiking or climbing (both amazingly intellectual sports, by the way), you’d know that the unpaved wilds are full of interesting and often nasty little surprises. I have nothing but the highest of praise for this man who rather than bitch, moan, and rail against the heavens for his misfortune, chose to take a course of action most modern people would shun completely. The fact that he did it in the most organized and clearheaded of manners is just the icing on the cake. Would that the rest of us keep it together half as well in a crisis…

  • MommaBear represents the feminization of America. The same attitude that has ruined Europe. The sit-at-homes, the safety-crats, the histrionic heavy-breathers. Losers, one and all. Superfluous, unnecessary, poorly formed protoplasm, the genetic material of the no-can-do’s. The worthless, faded, ghostlike semi-living who all congratulate one another for wearing bicycle helmets while coasting fearfully on their sidewalks.
    The wretched nobodies. The soon-to-be-forgotten. Zeros. Nada. Zip. Snore…

  • Harry

    I’m with Mommabear on this one. People who rock climb alone are like people who SCUBA dive alone: fools. Those who do these things without even telling someone where they’ve gone are STUPID fools. There’s no analogy here to driving, bicycling, or — in deference to Misanthropyst — nose picking.

  • Shalegrey

    Harry, do you only go in the pool when there’s an adult to supervise you? Our hero of the hour wasn’t doing heavy climbing. Canyoneering is primarily hiking with a bit of easy climbing and swimming here and there as the situation calls for it, not exactly an assault on Mt Everest. The point is that he was not an amateur and kept well within his limits.
    Misanthropyst, I’m gonna have to differ with you on your terminology. It should be Wussification rather than Feminization. I’ve been on some pretty badass excursions where tiny little women have not only kept up with us big, strong men, but have walked us into the ground. And that’s not even getting to the ones who have a something to prove.
    By the way, I’m sitting in my living room in Springfield, Mass. That way if a huge rock should happen to fall on me while I pick my nose (unsupervised, no less) Harry can tell the rescue team where to find me.

  • Misanthropyst doesn’t know MB for squat! Anyone who knows her can vouch for her being anything BUT timid or sit-at-home!
    MB simply recognizes the Law of Consequences! Any engineer who breaks that Law is not a really good engineer, just a problem-solver. As an old hand at computer coding, one has to anticipate consequences, so that what is done at step A doesn’t foul things at step W2061.
    If that engineer had come out and said anything about having placed himself at risk, then one might be inclined to say, Indeed and Well Done. However, with the connivance of the media, he’s being hailed, carte blanche, as a hero. Heroes are those who take risks on behalf of others, not self-satisfaction.

  • Harry

    Shalegrey — No, I swim in my own pool alone all the time. (I’m a strong swimmer.) I also go for walks on city streets without a safety chaperone. But there’s a vast gulf between the risk of taking a walk and the risk of solo rock climbing or diving, to reuse my examples. Even military SCUBA organizations, not known for being risk-averse, conduct their operations in diver-diver or diver-tender teams.
    I suppose there are some people who don’t see the difference. I wouldn’t recommend their judgment. In this case we had an apparently educated, experienced man with a lot of backwoods savvy, who knew the risks, but elected to take them alone — without even telling anyone where he was going! I would think his infamous fate would help reinforce the lesson.
    Of course, your mileage may vary.

  • boy

    Engineers don’t have any girlfriends to tell where they are going. (or even boyfriends for that matter)
    Anyway, he seems upbeat like he has no regrets. So problem solved. Stupidity isn’t part of the issue.

  • His surgeon says that even if there’d been people with him, his arm would still have been damaged beyond repair.
    While it’s true that canyoneering doesn’t have the same hazards as Mt. Everest, and I haven’t yet tried it, it would seem to me that it can be quite dangerous, considering things like flash floods, rappelling, the chance of getting stuck on a ledge, etc.
    Maybe if he’d had someone with him he wouldn’t have been in the position where a boulder could fall on him.
    Maybe he should have cranked it back a notch considering he was alone. That’s what I would have done.

  • IvyMike

    In the press conference, Aron admitted that the first mistake was going alone without even leaving an itinerary with anyone else. Don’t you think he probably spent the five days thinking of that exact thing?

  • Pyecraft

    His first mistake was choosing to be an engineer. Had he become a carpenter, he would have been used to avoiding such situations on a daily basis. But if trapped, his hacking might also have been skillful enough to have afforded a re-jointing of severed limb.
    Engineers are all theory, no application.