‘Gravity stool’ by dutch designer Jólan van der Wiel is on show as part of imm cologne 2012's [D³] talents programme. The project takes into consideration the laws of physics, departing from the idea that everything is influenced by gravitation. For the series, van der Wiel manipulates this natural phenomenon which has a strong shaping effect, exploiting its own power: magnetism.
The designer has developed the 'magnet machine’, whereby he positions magnetic fields above and below a container of polarized material. in order to form and determine the shapes of his furniture pieces, the hanging units are pulled down and then released, in which the substance follows, drawn upwards by magnetic force, letting nature determine the shape of the stool. The material cures within half an hour.
Does Kuhn’s story of the exemplar mechanism apply as well to engineering as it applies to pure science? Interestingly, in an article entitled ‘The Essential Tension’ in a book of the same title, Kuhn himself suggested not. In so doing, Kuhn inverted common stereotypes of scientists and engineers. The common stereotype of the pure scientist is a kind of Einstein figure, wildly intelligent and unconventional, full of new ideas that come from nowhere. The common stereotype of the engineer is rather different, of someone earnest and hard-working, but much more intellectually conservative. Kuhn proposed that the truth has in a way to be the opposite of this, because it is the pure scientist who can very often afford to be intellectually conservative and it is the engineer who must sometimes be unconventional. The reason the scientist can afford to be conservative is because she gets to choose her own problems. So she can use the exemplar mechanism as a mechanism of problem selection. She can choose new problems which seem to her to be similar to the problem that she has already solved, so she can afford to be conservative in the techniques that she applies to solve those new problems. Engineers, by contrast, have their problems imposed from without, as argued earlier. So they have no reason to suppose that the problems they have to solve will be all that similar to the problems they have already solved. It is therefore the engineer who may have to be more adventurous, and more of an intellectual opportunist. The exemplar mechanism will have less force and power for the engineer, therefore, than for the pure scientist. And we might expect that the dramatic contrast that Kuhn finds between normal and revolutionary science is considerably attenuated in the case of engineering, in part because, if Kuhn’s suggestion is along the right lines then ‘normal’ engineering is more revolutionary and ‘revolutionary’ engineering more normal than those periods are in pure science.
I read most of this during the travel moments of a Switzerland trip. To make this sound less braggy, I should point out that I went with my dad and his Air Force buddies to watch a rudimental drumming competition.