THE CHANCES are you have heard a good bit more about the National Museum of History and Technology in the past few years than seems likely, and one reason NMHT is all over the place is Brooke Hindle.

Hindle is newly retired as director, and it occurred to me he may be the most modest man in Washington (not that many are competing for the title). You can talk with him at some length over several years and when you look back on it, his conversation has always wound up affirming the brightness of something or the excellence of some other fellow's work. I think that is what they mean by positive thinking. He is everything a soprano is not.

At lunch he said it's odd that so many fathers of ingenuity - the creators of new technologies or at least of new and priceless gadgets - are not scientists but artists and enlightened amateurs.

We have always known that in our hearts, of course, but ne'er heard a museum director say it. There is a nonverbal wisdom learned by the hands and the muscles of the body, and suddenly one day the design of a new ax springs full-blown at the front of the mind.

It is not the case that the mind has set itself a problem, called on all resources of reason and solved it. It is rather the case of the body's saying, "Is this all the ax there is?" and silently devising a better one, which is announced in due time to the brain.

The museum s far more than the exhibits we see there. It publishes books, articles in journals, holds scholarly symposia (it is a national center for various learned societies) preserving, collecting, cataloging and so forth.

Otto Mayr, chairman of the department of the history of science and curator of the division of mechanism, has become acting director to succeed Hindle.

Hindle will continue his own studies in nonverbal thinking and the role of technology in the social history of America, and will work on developing even further ties between the museum and universities and societies and other museums. He says a friend of his at the Smithsonian has described his four-year directorship as a pastoral one, with more than usual attention t people who work at the museum. Not many prouder titles, of course, than good shepherd.