The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture

By John H. Lienhard | Go to book overview

1
Mirrored by
Our Machines

A mirror is a strange device. Stand in front of one and what comes back is not the you that you know. Rather, it is you, turned about and shown to you in a crazy literal way. You see the exact reverse of what others see when they look at you. If a photographer hands you a picture (taken in just the right way) of me standing before a mirror, you might have a hard time telling which is the reflection and which is the reality. Mirrors put us off balance by being both literal and subtle at the same time.

When I call our technologies mirrors of ourselves I do not do so lightly. An alien looking at Earth for the first time would certainly seek to know us by gazing upon our reflection in our machines. Indeed, that is what anthropologists do when they examine the alien skeletons of our ancient forebears. Before anthropologists identify a particular primate skull as human, they search the area where they found it for evidence of toolmaking.

The very word technology helps us understand this process. The Greek word t´xnh (or techne) describes art and skill in making things. T´xnh is the work of a sculptor, a stonemason, a composer, or an engineer. The suffix - ology means the study or the lore of something. Technology is the knowledge of making things. Some people have argued that we should not call our species Homo sapiens, “the wise ones, ” but rather Homo technologicus, “they who use t´xnh, ” for that is who we are.

-3-

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The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface vii
  • The Engines of Our Ingenuity *
  • 1 - Mirrored by Our Machines 3
  • 2 - God, the Master Craftsman 20
  • 3 - Looking Inside the Inventive Mind 35
  • 4 - The Common Place 55
  • 5 - Science Marries into the Family 70
  • 6 - Industrial Revolution 86
  • 7 - Inventing America 96
  • 8 - Taking Flight 115
  • 9 - Attitudes and Technological Change 126
  • 10 - War and Other Ways to Kill People 139
  • 11 - Major Landmarks 153
  • 12 - Systems, Design, and Production 167
  • 13 - Heroic Materialism 179
  • 14 - Who Got There First? 193
  • 15 - Ever-Present Dangers 209
  • 16 - Technology and Literature 219
  • 17 - Being There 229
  • Correlation of the Text with the Radio Program 241
  • Notes 243
  • Index 255
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