Working Hot Iron

For four of decades I've worked with hot iron, a medium that grudgingly takes on an envisioned form under the coercion of many hammer blows. The striking of those blows is a time-consuming and sometimes tedious task, offering time for reflection on the process. I have come to think of forged objects as "embodiments of mind", a notion inspired by Warren S. McCulloch's collection of essays so titled.

The central mystique of blacksmithing is that iron, prototypically hard and refractory, is soft, plastic and malleable in the hands of the smith. A pleasing, possibly inricate object forged from a bar of hot iron is an embodiment of the process that engenders it, of the coupling of the dynamics of body and tool with the physics of the medium.

Through their results, dynamics modify the setting for subsequent dynamics. Dynamically created forms, if somhow consolidated, become molds for the course of further activity.
-- Paul Weiss, 1 + 1 != 2
The results of each blow, consolidated by the iron, set the stage for the next and offer the mind a few score milliseconds to modify the dynamics of body and hammer.

The smith begins with a vision of the finished object and strikes each blow with an updated vision of its effect. It has been shown that the dynamics of motion of traditional craft workers are not as computationally complex as might be imagined, only a few terms of a Fourier series being sufficient to approximate them. The vision in mind, passed through this computation, is embodied first in a few neuromuscular events which couple with skeletal constraints and the dynamics of the hammer. With stochastic components added, the vision thus embodied in process is imposed on the iron in the form of a single impact.

Updated: October 2009 -- Mike Spencer