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

By John H. Lienhard | Go to book overview

3
Looking Inside
the Inventive Mind

A n inventor—any creative person—knows to look under the surface of what things seem to be, to learn what they are. I have been able to find only one constant in the creative mind. It is that surprise is the hidden face of the coin of invention. In their operetta Pinafore, Gilbert and Sullivan warn us:

Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream; Highlows pass as patent leathers; Jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers.

For example, an engineer designing a highway system wants to include crossroads between the major arteries. Common sense says that crossroads will increase driver options and speed traffic. Only very keen insight, or a complex computer analysis, reveals that crossroads tend to make matters worse. They often create localized traffic jams where none would otherwise occur.

We are caught off guard when common sense fails us. Yet it is clear we would live in a deadly dull world if common sense alone were sufficient to lead us through all the mazes around us. If what we learn is no more than what we expect to learn, then we have learned nothing at all. Sooner or later, every student of heat flow is startled to find out that insulation on a small pipe can sometimes increase heat loss. Common sense is the center of gravity we return to after our flights of fancy. But it is the delicious surprise—the idea that precedes expectation—that makes science, technology, and invention such a delight. 1

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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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