online: 17 november 2002
modified: 19 november 2002

16 november 2002 good forms

16:55 Eating and writing outdoors - a mild autumn afternoon, almost clear sky with a pinkish purplish clouds near the horizon. A tall tree with twisty branches and few leaves is silhouetted against the sky as I look up at it from the tea garden, which is at a lower level. Many people here today, dressed in winter clothes, and most of them talking and talking...

As I walked here a well-built and self-possessed-looking man smiled and said hello as he passed me. I thought as I walked on that he could be one of those capable and perceptive people on whom human life and history depends. Though of course I believe it depends on everyone - given the good conditions that are presently absent for many of us. To improve those conditions is to me the purpose (of living?) - though I realise more and more that 'purpose' is itself artificial. Even suspect.

The air is getting cool and the light is fading. Before I go I drink some water and look up at a noisy jetplane of an earlier generation directly above - and now there is another. Both had engines on the fuselage near the tail. That was the form before the newer 'whisper jets' in which the (more silent ducted fan) engines have reverted to the wings in a form reminiscent of the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3* of the late 30s - which was one of those designs which have an inevitable rightness that comes of deep understanding of the many forces or tendencies, visible or invisible, temporary or long-lasting, that determine the form of anything.

How does this aspect of design, or artificial evolution, relate to the spontaneous evolution of nature? Perhaps it doesn't?

On the way back, in the dark, I met about twenty people with small children, most of whom carried paper lanterns on sticks. I asked the reason for this unusual sight and the person I spoke to said it's a German pre-Christmas festival - for St Martin I think she said. Are you all from Germany I asked - and she said no but some of us are.

And then I thought this is an entirely different 'design' from the DC-3, or from the 'non-intentional design' of nature - equally 'good' in its way, and furthermore it conveys feelings this case of human warmth, or even sadness, to see these fragile lanterns, and people, expressing faith in themselves, and in their god or saint, in the face of all else... But essentially cheerful.

The DC-3, a propellor-driven air liner, with low swept-back** wings and swept-back tail surfaces, with engines in or beneath the wings... amazingly this form seems to have survived the change from propellors to jet engines (and the much higher speeds resulting) despite the attempts for about two decades to shift the engines to the back of the fuselage or to embed them in the tail (as if the aeroplane was becoming a rocket?). I remember the designer of one of the first rear-engined aircraft saying how difficult he found it to reeducate his perceptions to seeing rear-engined aircraft as 'right'. And now, perhaps, they are seen to be mistaken, or 'wrong'?

** But only the leading edges of the wing and tail surfaces are swept-back.

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© 2002 john chris jones

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