The Engineering Method and the Heuristic: A Personal History
Billy V. Koen
The identification of engineering heuristics with engineering method and the generalization of engineering method to universal method was published in a book by Oxford University Press in early 2003. I have often been asked for a history of this nexus by students, colleagues, and practicing engineers.
From the genus of the idea in the spring,
1965 to this new book at
1965 My initial idea of linking engineering method and the heuristic was made in this year. As told in the Oxford book [Part II],
While I was learning chess and studying artificial intelligence in the spring of 1965, my major professor* tossed a little, buff-colored book** by Nagel and Newman describing this proof [Gödel’s Proof ]across the desk and suggested that I look it over. My first reading ended at ; my second, at I was astonished. Montaigne may have had his Sextus Empiricus and Kant his Hume to usher in their skeptical crises, but I had Gödel to usher in mine. . . .
With a bit of serendipity, within the week, I, along with the other students in my artificial intelligence class, was required to program a computer to demonstrate a portion of Gödel’s Proof, and my crisis deepened. Imagine how unnerved an apprentice engineer becomes as he sees, both theoretically and computationally, the certainty of mathematics dissolve before his eyes. Still, I knew I had to complete my engineering homework for the next day, and I badly needed mathematics to do so. Fortunately at the time, the same course in artificial intelligence was developing a peculiar, non-algorithmic way to program a computer called heuristic programming. I had my answer: arithmetic was an heuristic! Arithmetic might only be an heuristic, but clearly it was a good and very necessary one. All the while I could not help wondering—“If arithmetic is in doubt, what is not?” Slowly, the phrase All is heuristic was born, and this discussion some thirty-six years later is the result.
This was the beginning of the quest to find one thing that was not an heuristic.
*Dr. Kent Hansen
**Gödel’s Proof, by Nagel and Newman
1969 I joined the faculty of The University of Texas in January, 1968 and soon afterwards began teaching a small freshman tutorial (TC 301.1) in engineering method to a class consisting of one-half liberal arts students and one-half engineers. Although not politically correct by today’s standards, it was entitled “The Man-made World” after a series of books by Dr. John Truxal. Unsatisfied with yet another traditional course in the history of technology, survey of engineering accomplishments, or random musings of a resident engineer for the un-washed, I immediately developed a theory of what an engineer really does based on my study of the heuristic. This course soon became a General Studies course and later a University Course taught in a large auditorium on the university campus. The thrust of the course was that engineering design was identical to the use of engineering heuristics.
1970 The first public disclosure of this view was in a presentation entitled, “Description of an Engineering Course for Liberal Arts Honor Students,” Gulf-Southwest Section Meeting, American Society for Engineering Education, 1970.
1980-81 I received a grant for $20,000 called "Discussion of Method: The Theory of Engineering Design," Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant, 5/21/80-8/31/81, $20,000. Dr. James Koerner had somehow heard about my course and wanted to ensure that the theory contained in my class was committed to paper.
1981-82 A second grant likewise entitled "Discussion of Method: The Theory of Engineering Design," Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant followed the next year, again for $20,000. The final report was submitted soon afterwards. The Sloan Foundation was the essential ingredient that allowed this theory to see the light of day.
1985 In this year, a small monograph entitled
"Definition of the Engineering Method" was extracted
from the first section of the Sloan report and published by the American Society
for Engineering Education (ASEE). This
monograph has gone through an estimated six printings and has been used in
introductory courses in engineering throughout the
2003 Koen, Billy Vaughn, Discussion of the Method: Conducting the Engineer's Approach to Problem Solving, Oxford University Press, March, 2003.
Representative Invited Lectures:
"Description of an
Engineering Course for Liberal Arts Honor Students,"
"The Teaching of the Methodology of Engineering to Large
Groups of Non-Engineering Students,"
"Les Nouvelles Techniques d'Ingéniere dans les Ecoles aux U.S.A., Ecole Centrale, Paris, France, December, 1976.
"Technological Illiteracy," Austin Rotary Club, 1980.
"The Theory of
"The Theory of Engineering Design,"
Its Definition, Implementation, and Rule of Judgment," International
Seminar on Modern Design Principles,
Philosophy of Technology: Generalization of Engineering Method To Universal
Method," local Mensa Group,
"Quo Vadis Design - An American Council on Engineering
Design?", NSF Engineering Design Conference,
Thumbs: An Engineer Looks At His Role in
Society or A Theoretical Analysis of the Interaction Between The Engineer and
"The Theory of
"Definition of the
Engineering Method," talked to an ME Design class taught by Professor
The University of California by
Design," 1992-93 Effective Teaching Luncheon and Seminar, The Bureau of
Design: A Case Study in Behavior
Behavior," presented to the Faculty of Colorado School of Mines, Golden,
"A Definition of the Engineering
Method", Honors Symposium,
of Universal Method: An Engineer’s Journey”, Society of Plan II Engineers, The
University of Texas at
Generalization of the Engineering Method, The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGM) of the Province of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, October 13, 2001, Keynote Speaker
Generalization of the Engineering Method, Design Colloquium and Seminar, Engineering Talk #10, The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGM) of the Province of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, October 15, 2001
Koen, B. V., “An Engineer’s Quest for Universal Method,” Keynote Address, Norms, Knowledge, and Reasoning in Technology Conference, Boxmeer, The Netherlands, sponsored by the Philosophy and Ethics of Technology Department, Technical University of Eindhoven, Netherlands, June 3-4, 2005
Koen, B. V., The Definition of Engineering Method and Its Implications for the Liberal Arts, Ethics, and Religion,” Role of Engineering at Catholic Universities (RECU), Keynote Speech, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH. September 22, 2005.
Koen, B. V., “In Search of a Philosophy of Engineering,” Philosophy and Engineering Planning Group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, October 19-20, 2006.
Koen, B. V., “An Engineer’s Search for Universal Method,” Engineering and Technology Studies at Illinois, Engineering, Technology, & Culture, An Interdisciplinary Lecture Series, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, January 24, 2007.
Koen, B. V., “Philosophy of Technology and/or Philosophy of Engineering,” Globalization and Technology, Biennial Meeting, Charleston, S.C., Society for Philosophy and Technology, July 10, 2007.
Koen, B. V., “Quo Vadis, Humans? Engineering the Survival of the Human Species,” Workshop for Philosophy and Engineering, Technical University of Delft, Delft, The Netherlands, Oct. 29-31, 2007
Koen, B. V., “Towards a Philosophy of Engineering,” Workshop on Philosophy and Engineering Conference, Keynote speech, Royal Academy of Engineering, London, England, November, 2008
Koen, B. V. “What Should Everyone Know about Technology,” panelist session 2588, sponsored by Technological Literacy Constituent Committee, ASEE National Conference, Austin, Texas, June 16, 2009
Koen, B. V., “Debunking Contemporary Myths Concerning Engineering,” Forum for Philosophy, Engineering, and Technology Conference, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, May 9-10, 2010
Koen, B. V., “Defining and Distinguishing Engineering as a Unique Intellectual Discipline,” Texas Academy of Science Symposium, St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas, March 4, 2011
Koen, B.V., “An Engineer’s Search for Universal Method,” keynote speech (by video) with Q. and A. (by Skype), Solution Engineering Seminar, 12th Annual Invitation Gilb Seminar, Deutsche Bank, London, June 20-24, 2011
B. V. Koen, "Toward a Definition of the Engineering
Method," Proceedings of the
ASEE-IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference,
B. V. Koen, "Toward a Definition
of the Engineering Method,"
B. V. Koen, "Toward a Definition of the Engineering Method," The Bent of Tau Beta Pi, Spring, 1985, pp. 28-33. (Reprint of #63 above.)
B. V. Koen,
"Alternate Definitions of Engineering," ASEE 1986 Annual Conference
B. V. Koen, "Engineering Method and the
State-of-the-Art," Proceedings of l985 Frontiers in Education Conference,
B. V. Koen, "Engineering Method and the State-of-the Art," Eng. Ed., April l986. (Reprint of #69 above.)
B. V. Koen, "A Theoretical Basis for Judging the Engineer,"
ASEE l986 Annual Conference Proceedings,
B. V. Koen, "Generalization of Engineering Method to
Universal Method," Proceedings of
1986 Frontiers in Education Conference,
B. V. Koen, "The Theory of
Engineering Design: A Strategy for
International Congress on Planning & Design Theory Proceedings,
B.V. Koen, "Engineering Method:
Its Definition, Implementation, and Rule of Judgment," Proceedings of 14th
International Conference on Improving University Teaching, June 20‑23,
B.V. Koen, "Engineering Method: Its Definition, Implementation, and Rule of Judgment," Modern Design Priniciples in View of Information Technology, K. Jakobsen (ed.), Tapir Publishers, 1988, pp. 27-40.
B.V. Koen, "Toward A Definition Of The Engineering Method," European Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1988, pp. 307-315.
B.V. Koen, "An Heuristic Look at the Difference in
Engineering Design in The
B.V. Koen, "A Heuristic Look at the Differences in Engineering Design," The Intl. Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 7, #6, pp. 487-489, 1992.
C.A. Fisher, T. Cochrane, B.V. Koen, J.D. Lang, R.V. Pieri, H.J. Sneck, J.R. Dixon, J.F. Lardner, H.R. MacKenzie, F.B. Prinz, and D.S. Ullman, "Design Methodology and New Paradigms for Design," Innovations in Engineering Design Education, A Compendium to the 1993 ASME Design Education Conference, March 24-26, 1993, Orlando, Florida, ASME 1993, pp. 81-84.
B.V. Koen, "Teaching Engineering Design: A Case Study in Behavior Modification," Proceedings of ASEE Gulf-South Section Annual Meeting, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, Vol. 1, pp. 17-21, April 1-2, 1993.
B.V. Koen, "Toward a Strategy for Teaching Engineering Design," Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 83, #3, pp. 193-201, July 1994.
Billy Vaughn Koen and Yasutaka Shimizu,
"Heuristics for Internationally Distributed Collaboration (IDC) between
Representative Books, Monographs, and Chapters in books:
Koen, B. V., Definition of the Engineering Method, monograph of the American Society for Engineering Education, 1985.
Koen, B. V., "Engineering Method: Its Definition, Implementation, and of Judgment," Modern Design Principles in View of Information Technology, K. Jakobsen (ed.), Tapir Publishers, 1988, pp.27-40.
Koen, B.V., "The Engineering Method," Critical Perspectives on Nonacademic Science and Engineering, Paul T. Durbin (Ed.), Associated University Presses, Inc. 1991, pp. 33-59.
Koen, Billy V. and Shimizu, Yasutaka, Heuristics for Internationally Distributed Collaboration Between Japan and the U.S.: A User’s Manual, Japan Industry and Management of Technology Program, The University of Texas at Austin, 2001.
Koen, Billy V., El Metodo De Ingenieria, monograph, Universidad del Valle, Colombia, Presentacion a la Edicion Especial de ACOFI, September 19-22,2000, Cartagena, Colombia.
Koen, Billy Vaughn, Discussion of the Method: Conducting the Engineer's Approach to Problem Solving, Oxford University Press, March, 2003.
Koen, Billy Vaughn, "Engineering Method," contribution to Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics, Carl Mitcham, Editor, MacMillan Reference Books, August, 2005.
Koen, B.V., "The Engineering Method and its Implications for Scientific, Philosophical, and Universal Methods," The Monist, vol. 92, no. 3, essay 3, July 2009.
Koen, B.V., "Quo Vadis, Humans? Engineering the Survival of the Human Species," Vol. 2, Philosophy of Engineering and Technology: Philosophy and Engineering: An Emerging Agenda, Van de Poel and Goldberg editors, Davis, Koen, Mitcham, Vesilind, assoc. editors, Springer, 2010, pp. 313-341