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Discussion of the Method

Conducting the Engineer's Approach to Problem Solving

Billy Vaughn Koen

Publication Date - 20 March 2003

ISBN: 9780195155990

276 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

"The best description of engineering that I have ever seen, and one of the most provocative hypotheses about science and nature that I have ever seen!"--Dr. William A. Wulf, President, National Academy of Engineering


"While the study of the engineering method is important to create the world we would have, its study is equally important to understand the world we do have."
--Billy V. Koen, Introduction, Discussion of the Method

Discussion of the Method outlines the heuristic-based reasoning used by engineers and generalizes it to a universal method for problem-solving. Delving into the connection between engineering and philosophy, this ground-breaking text illustrates how the theoretical and the practical can merge to form real-world solutions. Furthermore, the methodology covered in this innovative book is extremely user-friendly, and easily synthesized with individual approaches to problem-solving. Discussion of the Method is an ideal supplement for introductory and advanced courses in engineering, philosophy, and other disciplines, as well as a compelling read for general audiences.


  • Part I describes the problem situation that calls for the talents of the engineer and emphasizes how frequently this situation is encountered.
  • Part II defines the heuristic and the engineering method.
  • Part III lists examples of heuristics and techniques used to implement the engineering method, describes several alternative definitions of the engineering method, and renders the method in its final form.
  • Part IV generalizes the engineering method to a universal method.
  • Part V gives a concise, justifiable statement of universal method.
  • Part VI delivers a specific example of the universal method in use.

  • About the Author(s)

    Billy V. Koen is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and a fellow of both the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE). He has received fifteen awards for teaching excellence, including the W. Leighton Collins Award, (the ASEE's highest honor for pedagogy), and the ASEE Centennial Medallion for his lasting impact on the field of engineering education. He is a pioneer in the application of artificial intelligence to nuclear reactor reliability and the introduction of self-paced teaching strategies in engineering education. He has written more than 125 technical publications and has contributed to numerous textbooks and engineering journals. Included in his body of work is the classic treatise, "Definition of the Engineering Method," published by the ASEE in 1985.


    "The best description of engineering that I have ever seen, and one of the most provocative hypotheses about science and nature that I have ever seen!" --Dr. William A. Wulf, President, National Academy of Engineering

    "Koen has both mastered and melded a number of seemingly imiscable disciplines - philosophy, linguistics, theology - with his own professional field of engineering. It is reminiscent of the way that Thomas Aquinas reconciled Christianity with Philosophy." --Michael Murphy, Toronto, Canada

    "Professor Koen's book suggests a startling, explicit statement of a new way to think about engineering and life.If we, as educators, wish to prepare our students for engineering practice, the techniques indicated in this book provide a philosophical underpinning for dealing with risks associated with engineering actions and designs, when there is insufficient applicable science."-Dendy Sloan, Chemical Engineering Education, Volume 38, Numer 3, Summer 2004 "Koen illuminates a path to greater understanding. His prose is very engaging and the book is well suited for general audiences. It is one of those book that begs to be read and re-read." --Michael Murphy, Toronto, Canada

    "The book touches on so many topics that it is hard to imagine philosophers, mathematicians, linguists, physicists, and scientists of all stripes not having an opinion about it." --Julio M. Otto, Nature

    "I found the book to be incredible. I am amazed I didn't even know what engineering is until now." --Howard Duhon, P.E., Chief Process Engineer and Decision Analyst, Gibson Applied Technology and Engineering, LLC

    "A profound agglomeration of philosophy, mathematics, eastern mysticism, and very practical engineering." --H. Felix Kloman, GARP

    Table of Contents

      Figures and Tables
      1. Some Thoughts on Engineering
      1.1. The Engineer
      1.2. Characteristics of an Engineering Problem
      1.2.1. Change
      1.2.2. Resources
      1.2.3. Best
      1.2.4. Uncertainty
      1.3. Example Engineering Problems
      2. The Principal Rule of the Engineering Method
      2.1. Definition of Engineering Design
      2.2. The Heuristic
      2.2.1. Definition
      2.2.2. Signatures of the Heuristic
      2.2.3. Synonyms of the Heuristic
      2.2.4. Examples of Engineering Heuristics
      2.3. State of the Art
      2.3.1. Definition
      2.3.2. Evolution
      2.3.3. Transmission
      2.3.4. An Acronym for State of the Art
      2.3.5. Example Uses of the SOTA Comparison of Engineers Rule of Judgement Engineer and Society
      2.4. Principal Rule of the Engineering Method
      3. Some Heuristics Used by the Engineering Method
      3.1. Definition of Engineering Design
      3.2. The Heuristic Method
      3.3. Nature of Our Argument
      3.3.1. Induction as a Heuristic
      3.4. Representative Engineering Heuristics
      3.4.1. Rules of Thumb and Orders of Magnitude
      3.4.2. Factors of Safety
      3.4.3. Attitude Determining Heuristics
      3.4.3. Risk-Controlling Heuristics
      3.4.4. Miscellaneous Heuristics
      3.5. Alternate Definitions of Engineering
      3.5.1. Engineering and Morphology
      3.5.2. Engineering and Applied Science
      3.5.3. Engineering and Trial and Error
      3.5.4. Engineering and Problem Solution
      3.6. Nature as a Designer
      3.7. Preferred Definition of the Engineering Method
      3.7.1. Time as a Heuristic
      3.7.2. Derivation to a Curve
      3.7.3. Reduction to a Preferred Form
      3.7.4. Justification of the Heuristic Definition of the Engineering Method
      3.8. Engineering Worldview
      3.8.1. Coordinate Systems
      3.8.2. Turtle Graphics
      3.8.3. Consistent Engineering Worldview
      4. The Universale Organum
      4.1. Difficulties in Explaining the Koan
      4.1.1. General Difficulties
      4.1.2. Language as a Heuristic
      4.2. Compelling Belief in KOAN
      4.2.1. Basic Approach to Compel Belief
      4.2.2. My Program
      4.2.3. Weaving a Tapestry Arithmetic as Arithmetic Mathematics as Mathematics Deduction as Deduction Certain as Certain Position as Position Logic as Logic Truth as Truth Progress as Progress Causality as Causality Consciousness as Consciousness Physical Reality as Physical Reality Science as Science Perception as Perception
      4.2.4. Experto Credite Argument as Argument
      4.2.5. All Is Heuristic
      4.2.6. Reduction of Koan to a Preferred Form All Is Heuristic
      4.3. Comparison of Heuristic and Skeptical Positions
      4.3.1. History of Skepticism
      4.3.2. Differences between Skeptic and Engineer Génie Malin Coherence Home Field Advantage Skeptic's Pride Reification of Doubt
      4.3.3. An Impregnable Defense
      4.4. Overall SOTA
      4.4.1. Synonyms
      4.4.2. Partitioning Overall SOTA Concepts as Subsets Fuzzy Subsets
      4.4.3. Personal SOTAs Compelling Nature of Personal SOTA Incoherence of Personal Sota Rules of Judgement and Implementation Engineer's Ataraxia
      4.5. A Discourse on Method
      4.5.1. Method of Descartes
      4.5.2. Problems with Descartes' Method Universal Comprehensive Prior Philosophical Commitment Self Sufficient
      4.5.3. Universal Organum
      4.6. Engineering, Philosophy, and the Universal Method
      5. Summary of the Method
      6. Application of the Method
      6.1. Traditional Utopia
      6.2. Utopia as a Program for Change
      6.3. Eutopia
      6.4. Mundus Institute of Technology
      6.4.1. Origins
      6.4.2. Architecture
      6.4.3. Personnel Abstractors Professors Students
      6.4.4. Research in Progress Research in the Vestibule Research in the Corridors
      An Anachronistic Preface

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