Will Any Old Model Do?
Thomas Kuhn argued that science progressed from one ‘ruling paradigm’ to another through periods of ‘revolution’; and also that science was concerned not so much with truth, but with theories (agreed upon by scientists) that explained phenomena. While most scientists would be uncomfortable with such a relativist and non-realist view of science, engineers could probably appreciate this perspective. This is because engineers are more interested in dependable models for fabricating safe artefacts than in the truth (i.e. correspondence with reality) or even accuracy of their theories. The fact that many different design paradigms produced safe structures in the history of structural design is also a testimony to this.
KeywordsParadigm Revolution History of design Engineering models Accuracy versus dependability Truth versus safety
Adapted from The Structural Engineer 86(2), 33–38, Paradigms, revolutions and models: some insights from Thomas Kuhn for an engineering outlook by W. P. S. Dias, 2008, published by the Institution of Structural Engineers, London.
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