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Engineering Why?

by Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2006 by RDFollendoreIII

Within the field of cryptography there are reasons why we are stagnating. Some of us are fearful about the material that we are working with. Maybe we don't want to understand the reasons why we seem to be constantly producing reconstituted formulas for organized catastrophic failure. We have formed the opinion that avoidance of the questions 'why?' somehow protects us or perhaps it's distance somehow makes us more rational. I don't agree and here are some of my reasons why.


April 6, 2006

Of course the notion that 'why' is fundamentally how we learn.  We have seen that science s to define our differences with animals in terms of our opposing thumb, or the use of tools. I believe that the true difference is actually our ability to reason 'why' we do things. 'Why' is actually a sensitive and delicate question because answering it honestly requires a response concerning ones motives.

In the context of this course I am speaking here about the motives of both the analyst and the designer. If one asks why we gain insight into both the sources and methods of the person asking the question as well as the person being questioned.  To refuse to ask such a fundamentally obvious question becomes a statement, just as much as the refusal by the person questioned to correctly address the answer.

The only response left to disguise the notions of truth from others is the process of plausible denial. From the questioners perspective that comes out as this.... "I didn't see a reason to ask the question 'why?" "I forgot to ask the 'Why?' question." "There was not enough time." "It seemed inappropriate." "I wasn't interested in asking such a pointless philosophical question."   From the person giving the response it comes out like this... "I don't know." "I have never thought about why." "Why is not important at this point in time."

There is more than just ambiguity to these kinds of responses.

The problem with both of these postures is the obvious fact that the scientists and engineers involved are essentially pleading their ignorance and incompetence. Nowhere in engineering is this ignorance more prevalent than within the field of cryptography. This is a field without a true formal philosophy. Functionally it remains disconnected from basic fundamental science. Cryptographers have been largely operating through the guise of obscuration, transposition and permutation without understanding the reasons why. Without the notion of 'secrecy' for secrecy sake the justification for cryptography is almost always lost. Cryptographers as a whole simply don't (or can't) think past their logical tricks.

This in turn has largely had a lot to do with the job descriptions that we allow HR administrators to place on the 'cryptographer' job descriptions. In a practical sense, we forget that we engineer the expected results as we engineer the roles and responsibilities of positions. In a programmers sense of the universe this failure to deal with the reasons why we are failing our responsibilities is a form of recursion. We are essentially calling upon an irrational set of conditions to establish an irrational response to future conditions.

This is something that each of us can personally benefit from learning, regardless of whether you are working or shall be working within the field of cryptography. There is a rational and philosophical maintenance requirement for all engineering endeavors. Any engineering domain that is abandoned by the rationality of reasoning stemming from the question 'why?' is doomed to catastrophic failure.




Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved