In an age when it’s so easy to answer pretty much any question with a reference to the internet, being able to make an accurate educated guess off the top of your head is becoming an impressive skill.
The secret, according to Sanjoy Mahajan, is to think like a human and not try to approach a problem like a machine. Whereas computers can cope with an amount of data that would overwhelm the average person, our advantage lies in being able to forget about absolute precision and instead use our insight to connect seemingly disparate bits of information into a simple picture.
So if you want to be able to impress friends and family by casually estimating the flight range of birds and planes and the strength of chemical bonds, not to mention getting to grips with the physics of pianos and xylophones, ‘The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering’ is your friend.
Mahajan, who is associate professor of applied science and engineering at Olin College of Engineering and visiting associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, puts 15 years of teaching at both institutions, not to mention Cambridge University, into practice to create an approachthat he believes can help solve any technical problem.
Starting with techniques for organizing complexity, he then distinguishes the two paths for discarding it either with and without loss of information. The result is a three-part toolkit, supported by example questions that walk readers though solutions without using complicated mathematics.
‘The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering: Mastering Complexity’ by Sanjoy Mahajan is published in print by The MIT Press, RRP £20.95, ISBN 9780262526548. It’s covered by a a Creative Commons Noncommercial Share Alike licence and is also available for free download from http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/art-insight-science-and-engineering.