Dreams, Mistakes and Uncomfortable Decisions

I woke up at 3am today again.  It was the same dream, or similar dream to what I have been having over the last decade.   I forgot to check something.  I missed something in the code or I missed something more structurally egregious.    This latest dream was something that surprised me because I was actually wrong, I did check it!   I came to work early to discover that I did check this beam for additional load due to this or that, so no big deal.   Sometimes my dreams help me, I get a sort of eureka moment and I am better able to tackle such and such problem.   Other dreams are harmful, and they make me nervous and anxious and I can’t get back to bed.   There are two main themes to these dreams:  (1) Mistakes, whether real or imagined, and (2) Uncomfortable Decisions.  Uncomfortable decisions are by far the most common of my dreams.  These are engineering decisions that are made without the best understanding of how the part or system will perform (very common daily decisions when unique details or structures are developed).  This is why engineering is a profession.   We need to pull things out of a hat sometimes and live with them.  Part of the anxiety of a structural engineer is that we are solving problems that never existed before, we are inventing something new.    Yes, physics doesn’t change, but that is about the only thing that doesn’t.   Every building has traits that no other building in the world has, and have we verified everything?   Of course not.   But have we verified everything we know how to verify?  After all the calculations are applied, we still have to make a decision about whether it should be built a particular way or be changed.  Eventually we have to say yes, “no exceptions taken” and live with it the rest of our lives.   Crazy things get built and amazing engineers are the creative force behind all of them.  How many structures out there do we lose sleep on?  Maybe 2-3 per year on average?

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