Philomimetics: a new Perspective on the Overlap of Biosphere and Technosphere

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Philomimetics: A New Perspective on the Overlap of Biosphere and Technosphere
Mark Dickson1
1 George Whitefield College, Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa.
Technological applications of structures observed in nature (biomimesis) have increased dramatically in the past few decades. Engineers drawn into the study of natural design notice a conceptual issue arising from biological emphases on etiology. The gap between biosphere and technosphere can be narrowed via a recognition of the anticipation of human designs that exist (and have existed) within the living world. The fullness of such anticipated natural design is termed Philomimesis.
Keywords: biomimesis, engineering, biology, philomimesis, bioinspiration, design, optimal, interdisciplinarity, ingenious, copying, nature, technology
Man has always tried to copy nature. The Wright brothers like many before them were inspired by bird flight, and became the first pilots in history to fly a powered aircraft. The various designs in the living world have always impressed inventors, and with the advent of the industrial revolution, the possibility grew ever more attractive for new technological implementations of nature’s ‘solutions’. This ‘copying’ has been called biomimesis.
In 1948 Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral examined the burs that clung to the fur of his dog after a hike in the local hills. Based on the biological structure he could observe, he developed a system of hooks and loops which became available commercially in 1955 as Velcro. The arrival of Velcro unwittingly gave expression to the dawn of a new mood. One way of observing the beginnings of this shift is to consider the neologisms that came into use mid-century. New terminology can be a window for viewing or tracking a rising trend. The word ‘biomimetic’ has been linked to zoologist and engineer Otto Schmitt who developed in the 1950’s what electronic designers later dubbed the Schmitt trigger based on the zoologist’s PhD research into nerve signalling in squid.
Perhaps the biggest instigator for a technical turning to nature as a realm of ready prototypes for copying or inspiration was the United States military. As the cold war intensified, and aware of the arms race, America’s military generals became anxious to sustain a technological advantage. The navy turned its attention to biosonar with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) agreeing to fund the work of Donald Griffin and others into researching animal echolocation. One could almost say that the word ‘bionics’ owes its birth to the US military. Historian of science D.G. Burnett (2012:541) writes: “It is difficult to capture the hold that bionics appears to have had on a significant number of biologists and engineers in this period, particularly those linked to military funding.” The ONR also bankrolled the first of several symposia on bionics, the inaugural one being held at the airbase in Dayton Ohio in 1960 and organised by air-force major Jack Steele who is credited with the first use of the term ‘bionic’ probably around 1958.
A key figure in the Dayton conference was MIT neurophysiologist Warren McCullogh who two years later was the first to use the term ‘biomimesis’ . Clearly both the US air force and navy needed no persuading that the biosphere was brimming with ‘technology’ which if understood and applied could enhance existing designs, and lead to the discovery of new ones, and so by 1963 had invested over 100 million USD in bionic research. The amount of money spent would be inexplicable in the absence of a strong belief in the ‘copyability’ or ‘inspirational’ ideation available in the living world. Military funding for biomimetic research continues to this day with the ONR as well as the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency underwriting the work of units like the Center for Biologically Inspired Design based at the Georgia Institute of Technology. That first symposium at Dayton sponsored by the navy and attended by 700 delegates from many diverse fields had as its logo the Greek sigma used for integral calculus, with one end terminating in a scalpel and the other a soldering iron. It was an ambition ahead of its time, presaging a future that would only dawn 40 years later. Till then, the world of biology and the world of technology for most people would remain separated like titans staring at each other across a chasm. In the civilian academy and among science journalists the idea fixe up until the 21st Century was that whilst Nature was helpful for inspiring thoughts on design, she nevertheless embodied a realm that simply cannot overlap human technology in any foundational way.
But change was underway. In 1990 Janine Benyus coined the word ‘biomimicry’ (Benyus, 2009). She realised that the living world was instinct with harnessable design. Science and technology in her view had come of age, and accompanied by a better understanding of ecology, human designers now enjoyed a requisite level of sophistication for improving their designs in the light of observation of the relevant context of any biological analogues. The upshot was that technology could be altered to become more sustainable as designers mimicked nature and produced technology that was less of a threat to the environment. In 1997 Benyus published Biomimicry and wrote (1997:2): “Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of life’s genius”. In that same year while visiting a local bookshop to check if her book was on the shelves, the store assistant expressed incredulity that a serious piece of writing could bring together what he thought were two mutually exclusive realms: “Look lady,” the man exclaimed, “you’ve got Nature and you’ve got Technology; you’ve got to choose one” (Benyus, 2009). Benyus recalls the sense of the “deep, deep separation between those two ideas in our culture” (Benyus, 2009).
In the almost two decades that have since elapsed, the economic potential of a greater overlap between technosphere and biosphere captured the attention of start-ups and industries especially in the USA. The growth has been meteoric. Economist Lynn Reaser, based with the Fermanian Business and Economic Institute (FBEI) in San Diego, developed what she called the ‘Da Vinci Index’. In recognition that the renaissance inventor was inspired by his study of biology, the Da Vinci Index measures how frequently bioinspiration terms (like biomimesis, biomimicry, bionic etc.) make an appearance in grant applications, various patents and in scientific journals. The index provides some idea of how rapidly the field of bio-inspired research and innovation is growing. Reaser’s estimates published in the 2013 report by FBEI show a 5-fold increase in the Da Vinci Index since 2000, and predict that by 2030, “bioinspiration could account for $425 billion of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in terms of 2013 dollars” (Gallagher et al, 2013).
It is intriguing to ask why the world should have waited so long for biomimetics to come of age. There are several reasons, but the most interesting one is also the most unsettling. This has to do with how we all view Nature. We assume we know what we see when we look at naturally occurring designs but the ever increasing overlap between the biosphere and the technosphere in the area of design implies that there is something wrong with our vision.
At much the same time as Biomimicry appeared, Steven Vogel published Cats paws and catapults. An influential scientific thinker and author, Vogel gave expression to the essential separation between engineering and biology just as Benyus was calling on the two disciplines to begin a new dialogue. For Vogel the two disciplines in principal each speak a different language whereas for Benyus the communication problem existed due to a certain type of ignorance of the living world. In 1998 Vogel was quite jaundiced about the future of biomimesis and seemingly unaware of the huge shift towards its acceptance that was beginning to take place. He was scathing of anyone who suggested that the realm of nature is brim-full of arrangements that can greatly aid the human architect or engineer.

Design expert Victor Papanek is one such person singled out for harsh criticism. Papanek had written in 1971 : “One handbook that has not yet gone out of style, and predictably never will, is the handbook of nature. Here, in the totality of biological and biochemical systems, the problems humankind faces have already been met and solved, and through analogues, met and solved optimally”. Vogel cites this paragraph and says that such thinking made him cringe. Half a century later it seems clear that Papanek had been anticipating biomimicry, and partly due to that prescience encountered a great deal of opposition driven by an entrenched view of nature and natural design.

Vogel’s position arises largely from the commitment to a certain take on ‘naturalistic design’ which assumes that designs in nature cannot be all that good since nature ‘seeks’ a design that merely works; she doesn’t want a perfect solution. From this perspective, ‘perfect’ means optimal. Engineers shouldn’t be able to see too much ‘perfection’ or optimality owing to the fact that living systems in Vogel’s view only needed to evolve their designs just enough to survive. He writes (1998:9,10):

I want to inject an element of sobriety into our romantic view of living things. The elegance of natural design seduced a lot of us into becoming biologists. Nature does what she does very well indeed. But - and here’s the rub - why should she do so in the best possible way? And, why should she provide a model for what we want to do? I want to ruffle our tendency to view nature as the gold standard for design, and as a great source of technological breakthroughs…

Vogel as the father of biomechanics thus helped incline educated opinion away from thinking that engineers should spend time analysing nature because the process that biologists are so committed to places limits on the product. In this view engineers could and should be told by biologists (scientists) that the evolutionary process places strong constraints on what engineers can see .

In the 21st Century this changed. Engineers found themselves deciding that if they could observe optimality and genius in nature (and observe it with increasing clarity), then they should speak up. Chris Calladine, an engineer, writes (1998:66): “When we contemplate some biological structures, at whatever scale, we see designs that compel description by adjectives such as ‘ingenious’, ‘sophisticated’ or ‘subtle’, and which may act as a stimulus for our own design thinking and activity.” A new mood was on the rise substantiating Daniel Dennett’s conclusion (1996:187) that: “…the engineering perspective on biology is not merely occasionally useful, not merely a valuable option, but is the obligatory organizer of all Darwinian thinking, and the primary source of its power.”

Some biologists too began to realise that the systems they were scrutinising embodied rather clever mechanisms that required engineering expertise for analysis. Zoologist Frank Fish had the inkling that the tubercles on the leading edges of humpback whale flippers held out the possibility of a new discovery. However, demonstrating more adequately the workings of these sinusoidal shaped structures as well as dreaming up a bioinspired application clearly required the involvement of engineers. Fish teamed up with Laurens E. Howle, a mechanical engineer and expert in fluid dynamics, who in turn enlisted the help of engineers working for the US navy (Miklosovic et al, 2004:39). In the process Fish and Howle discovered that the physics of airflow behaviour over a leading edge needed adjustment. It could now be confirmed that the bumps produced an 8 percent improvement in lift when compared to the smooth leading-edge flipper found on other cetaceans.

In another example, zoologist Malcolm Burrows teamed up with engineer Gregory Sutton to investigate the jumping mechanism in a small planthopper. An animal possessing functional mechanical cogs certainly suggests the merit of engineering scrutiny. After providing close analysis of the gear operation in the insect, Burrows and Sutton conclude (2013:1256): “The gears in Issus, like the screw in the femora of beetles, demonstrate that mechanisms previously thought only to be used in human-made machines have evolved in nature.”
The technosphere’s growing enamorment with the biosphere is rooted in the notion that ‘living machinery’ demonstrates the very best design pathway. Researcher into marine adhesives Herbert Waite writes (2010:v): “Like many graduate students before and after me I was mesmerized by a proposition expressed years earlier by Krogh (1929) – namely that ‘for many problems there is an animal on which it can be most conveniently studied.’ This opinion became known as the August Krogh Principle and remains much discussed to this day, particularly among comparative physiologists.”

An intriguing idea begins to surface: what if the biosphere in some way mirrors the technosphere not just occasionally, but throughout the totality of design space? What if biomimetics is the subset of a much greater and more profound relationship? This certainly would explain why engineers contemplating natural design today are so ready to look and learn despite the strong voices in the latter half of the 20th century that have attempted to provide a dissuasion.

The unsettling reason mentioned earlier for the impediment to the biomimetic impulse resurfaces at this point. Our view of Nature has been inadequate. This state of affairs has arisen because of a very old assumption that what we see must always be qualified by what we think we know. Biomimetic researcher and engineer Jessica Currie writes (2010:21,22): “Having a preconceived idea about whether or not a specific biological phenomenon is useful could conceivably lead to the premature dismissal of potentially useful phenomena.” As expressed by someone in another context : “We think what we are seeing is objectively true, but actually we are constantly curating our experience to fit in with what we already know.” Up till the dawn of the 21st Century (and even up till the present for some) we have thought we know that the results of evolution must always be incomplete. The theory demands that evolution never halts, and that organisms continue to develop and change as time goes by. If we choose an organism to examine, we are only looking at a snapshot that belongs to a vast series, or so we imagine. When a biologist looks at an animal she doesn’t allow herself to see a static completed pattern or ‘design’, but instead a provisional ‘end product’ of a whole line of evolutionary precursors leading up to the animal we now see, and which itself will give way to yet another form as time goes by. In this way there is no such thing as perfected or optimal design.

As Vogel said: there is no gold standard. Biologists Fish and Beneski concur (2014:308) and write:

It is necessary to understand evolution with its inherent limitations to all possible designs. The technology that nature has evolved is not always ahead of the technology of human ingenuity (Vogel 1998). Only by understanding evolution and how organisms have adapted to their present and past environments can one avoid the pitfalls of overstatement regarding biomimicry.

Fish and Beneski (2014:269) have also said that people in general mistakenly think that natural systems will be optimal, and explain that the reason for this is because those same people don’t really understand evolution. Anyone who nods in agreement to the repeated claim in the literature that perfect or optimal biological solutions have been arrived at in the laboratory of life over millions of years will be surprised to hear from Fish and Beneski that this kind of thinking betrays a deep misunderstanding of evolution (2014:288). These biologists argue that since evolution is not a conscious process it is simply not possible for it to reach what is optimal or perfect. They prefer the term ‘out-perform’ instead of ‘optimal’ and they use the former to explain the situation where a natural system could be more advanced than the engineered system.

However, engineers increasingly can see optimal design in nature. Along with physiologists, engineers who study living systems are pushing back against the old hegemony and now insist they no longer need to qualify the world of observation with constant recourse to a particular theory of incremental change over deep time. Engineers who analyse living things have no need for the Crickerian mantra: “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved”. To all intents and purposes, designers in the 21st Century propose that they should treat the living world as though the ‘watchmaker’ were closer to what Paley thought he was: clear sighted, and not quite as blind as Dawkins has described. Even leading physiologists like Denis Noble are beginning to accord the watchmaker with sight again (Noble & Noble, 2017).
But what about bad design (dysteleology) in nature? Is it not the case that the textbook examples of maladaptation provide a strong counter to the arguments so far? Surely suboptimality points in the direction of a blind designer? The inverted retina is a classic as Dawkins (1986:93) points out:

Any engineer would naturally assume that the photocells would point towards the light, with their wires leading backwards towards the brain. He would laugh at any suggestion that the photocells might point away from the light, with their wires departing on the side nearest the light. Yet this is exactly what happens in all vertebrate retinas. Each photocell is, in effect, wired in backwards, with its wire sticking out on the side nearest the light. The wire has to travel over the surface of the retina, to a point where it dives through a hole in the retina (the so-called 'blind spot') to join the optic nerve. This means that the light, instead of being granted an unrestricted passage to the photocells, has to pass through a forest of connecting wires, presumably suffering at least some attenuation and distortion (actually probably not much but, still, it is the principle of the thing that would offend any tidy-minded engineer!)

Dawkins had no idea in the 1980’s that further study of the eye would eventually reveal truly marvellous engineering. Vertebrate eye researchers Franze et al (2007:8291) write:

the optical properties and geometry of Müller cells are consistent with those of optical fibres so that they serve as low-scattering conduits for light through the retina…the end-feet of Müller cells cover the entire inner retinal surface and have a low refractive index, allowing a highly efficient entry of light from the vitreous into the Müller…at the same time, the increasing refractive index together with their funnel shape at nearly constant light-guiding capability make them ingeniously designed light collectors… Müller cells in the retina assume the role of optical fibers and reliably transfer light with low scattering from the retinal surface to the photoreceptor cell layer.

As time goes by, tidy-minded engineers are becoming increasingly impressed with the engineering design of the eye, along with its ingenious use of fibre optic cabling. No wonder we see so well! A clever human designer who had the job of designing the eye and who had access to fibre-optics might well choose the inverted system given that such an arrangement solves all sorts of engineering problems!

In commenting on the intention of his book Cats Paws and catapults Vogel writes (1998:19): “So is this a book about copying nature? Emphatically not. As we'll see, on surprisingly few occasions has copying proved useful.” This has been a natural reflex for biologists. When researcher Sharon Gerbode says that “few people have studied biological mechanisms from the point of view of a physicist or an engineer” she in essence laments a situation where previously people in the academy thought that the world of living things should be studied and delineated only by biologists.

In discussions about biomimesis it is often said that copying nature is nearly impossible to do. However, the issue is: what is meant by ‘copying’? It should be obvious that exact mimicking is pretty near impossible since that would imply reproducing in the copy the precise chemical and biological structure of the original. No one really expects that sort of copy. But the transfer of an idea from biology to technology – well, is that copying? Much of what happens in biomimesis turns out to be just that. The originators of a new technology may say that they were bioinspired but in reality they have ‘stolen’ the idea from nature. An author may claim that she was inspired by a certain piece of literature, but on inspection the examiner may suspect ‘inspired’ is a euphemism for plagiarism. Although her wording might be different, her ideas clearly come from another source.

In 1995 Hoy, Robert and Miles published their amazing discovery of the novel miniature mechanism at work in the audition of a tiny parasitic fly . The researchers found an ‘intertympanal bridge’ joining the two pits which house the fly ‘eardrums’. This mechanism proved to be a novel mechanical amplifier unknown to engineers up till that time. Engineer Ronald Miles who had conducted the original research into the fly acoustical amplifier led a team who in 2013 produced a prototype hearing aid based on this discovery. When compared to other hearing aids, the one inspired by the fly is strikingly superior.

People wishing to play down the importance of biomimesis usually emphasise the disconnect: we can’t copy i.e. we can’t build two tympanal pits, with membranes, and with a tympanal bridge as an exact bioreplication. Of course this limitation is true, provided one insists on a rigorous exact copy. But the mechanism instantiated in the Ormia design is so ingenious, that once understood by an engineer it doesn’t take long to think of ways to implement the basic idea using different materials and a human-designed system. Yet when engineers do this, even though they claim to have been bioinspired, they have nevertheless copied from nature. Bio-inspiration has occurred, but it is also more than that. Nature retains the patent. The way in which the problem of direction finding is solved (in the case of Ormia) by amplifying the differences between two ‘microphones’ via a mechanical coupling, this design originated in nature.

Attention has been drawn to the distinction between strong and weak biomimicry proposed by Blok and Gremmen (Dicks, 2017:198). The latter authors write (2016:207) that the key idea in strong biomimicry is the notion of ‘copying’ due to nature’s prior possession of all the solutions to human problems:

The strong concept of biomimicry is represented by Janine Benyus. She conceptualizes biomimicry in a naturalistic way as imitation of nature’s models in order to solve human problems. The main objective of biomimicry is to ‘‘echo’’ the ideas of nature in our own lives: biomimetic scientists ‘‘are exploring nature’s masterpieces—photosynthesis, self-assembly, natural selection, self-sustaining ecosystems, eyes and ears and skin and shells, talking neurons, natural medicines, and more—and then copying these designs and manufacturing processes to solve our own problems

Blok and Gremmen (2016:207) go on to outline the weak form of biomimicry which emphasises ‘bioinspiration’ as the key idea. However, the way bioinspiration is defined arguably does not distinguish it categorically from the strong view.

An interesting exercise is to list all the ‘solutions’ or anticipations of human technology undertaken by nature. The result is a seemingly endless repository of optimal designs covering every single aspect of engineering. Living systems abound in the actual examples or functional analogues which Dawkins (2004:450) cites as “echo-ranging (bats – this is sonar), electrolocation (platypus), the dam (beaver), the parabolic reflector (limpet), the infrared heat-seeking sensor (some snakes), the hypodermic syringe (wasps, snakes and scorpions), the harpoon (cnidarians) and jet propulsion (squids).” This list can be extended to include: automatic focus lens, wheel, axle, gears, clutch, brake, ratchet, Archimedean screw, nut and bolt, springs, pulley, shock absorber, gasket, trigger, ballistic missile, gun, machine gun, explosive, bomb, pulsed jet, drill, pump, chemical catalysts, electric motor, radiator (and heat exchange), parachute, wings, winglets, propeller, helicopter, outboard motor, rudder, ballast tank, compass, gyroscope, strain gauge, paper, telephone, microphone, amplifier, stereo, fibre optics, fibre optic plates (FOP), trichromatic resolution, electric battery, barbs, iron-plated armour, taser, radar (sonar mentioned earlier), megaphone, countermeasures, optical tracking, conveyor belt, light polarizers, segmented mirror, antireflective coating, antibiotics, gardening, farming, thermostat, architectural climate control, clock, calendar, face recognition, codes, Turing machines (which are computers), error checking and correction – the list goes on and on.
This repository could be termed a ‘‘fullness of design’, by which is meant a set of elements that could approach completeness: a full exploration of the design space, especially if summed over the history of the living world. Many structures of course have gone extinct thereby limiting current observation and analysis. However, biomimetic insight gleaned from fossilized remains suggest a previous biosphere more richly endowed with design . This fullness of design past and present is connected to something that is here denominated by the term Philomimesis. Philomimesis describes a view that argues that all human technological designs have been anticipated within the natural realm, at least in principle. In this way one could equate the technosphere with the biosphere via the term ‘philomimesis’ which means ‘love to copy’. Whereas biomimesis describes the activity of actively ‘copying’ a feature or design principle from a living system, philomimesis speaks of a situation where the entirety of human design can reveal nothing ontologically novel in a design space already fully explored in nature. Whatever is produced by the human mind by way of engineering design will in fact have a philomimetic counterpart in the totalised realm of natural design.

Philomimesis could extend to mathematical formulation as well, and may be another way of describing Eugene Wigner’s famous 1960 paper `The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences.’ Philomimesis envisages an even bigger idea than what Daniel Dennett had in mind when he mused: “there is just one Design Space, after all, in which the offspring of both our bodies and our minds are united under one commodious set of R-and-D processes” (Dennett, 1996:189). If technosphere and biosphere are mapped in this way, one could say that we are presented with a situation where so to speak mind meets ‘mind’. That is not to say that all inventing is conscious copying. Instead, simply put it is that after human minds have invented, it is later discovered that nature invented it first – at least in principle. Educated thinkers and scientists have often felt that their discoveries are something that have already existed in the world but which the investigator has merely uncovered. Nobel Prize physicist Chandrasekhar (1987:ix) writes: “In some strange way, any new fact or insight that I may have found has not seemed to me as a discovery of mine, but rather as something that had always been there and that I had chanced to pick up.”

I said earlier that philomimesis argues for the idea that ‘all human technological designs have been anticipated within the natural realm, at least in principle’. The phrase ‘in principle’ might seem problematic at first. If living systems are said to closely resemble their technological counterparts, it can be asked: how closely?

Take the case of the weevil Trigonopterus oblongus. The insect has a nut and bolt system for attaching each leg to its body. The similarities between natural design and engineered design impressed researchers van der Kamp et al. Their paper (2011) begins with this comparison: “In many animals, movement relies on joints between skeletal features, analogous to joints between moving parts of mechanical machines. Some, such as ball-and-socket joints, are readily found in both living organism and mechanical engineering, whereas others are restricted to one of these realms.” They go on to say (Van der Kamp et al, 2011:52): “the apical portions of the coxae closely resemble engineered screw nuts”. Attention is also drawn to the fact that there is a stabilising hole in the inside of the coxa which transforms the rotating trochanter into what could be seen as an axle. The engineering reason for this bit of innovation is arguably to prevent jamming or relieve undue stress on the screw thread. All of this is the language of engineering. The thought-world of engineers and engineering permeates the paper.

One can ask: how closely does the weevil nut and bolt system resemble human technology? Engineers would say that the resemblance is uncanny . But what about the axle effect? To a biologist the weevil leg at its tip has a sharpened point which goes through a hole in each coxa. To an engineer, the weevil leg once fully turned into its coxa requires a stabilising anchor hole so as to reduce the turning moment being exerted on the screw thread. This latter arrangement is an axle in principle even if it doesn’t look like an axle at first blush to biologists.
There are benefits to the notion of Philomimesis. The first is that it draws the technosphere and biosphere much more closely together. With the illumination provided by philomimesis, human technology can be seen as deeply linked instead of alien to the world of living things. Over time, humans have produced what nature has anticipated for ages. In profound ways, human designers are only copiers. Some of our designs reveal a copying that is deliberate and obviously ‘inspired’ by what we see in biosystems, but most of our designs did not arise through conscious emulation. Yet despite the latter we find that nature has gone ahead of us and explored all of human designs prior to their emergence as artifacts. The natural world it seems is a storehouse of patents. A new picture of human inventiveness becomes nascent, one that finds profound ‘like-mindedness’ to natural design, as well as an inexplicable deep affinity. Lyn Reaser’s Da Vinci index may have ontic overtones.

The second benefit is that philomimetic biomimesis offers enormous spin-offs and rewards for study and analysis. All sorts of ‘technologies’ exist in the fullness of natural design that if ‘discovered’ would enhance knowledge and human industry. Young minds that make a study of biomimesis or biomimicry will find the Krogh principle to be pretty robust and able to repay the effort expended.

The third benefit to accepting the notion of philomimesis is the accompanying stimulation of new dialogue between biology and engineering. In regard to evolutionary theory, the notion of philomimesis suggests that not all animals are able to undergo evolution any more. Many natural designs show an engineering optimisation that cannot be improved upon. Perhaps this partly explains the morphological stasis of so many animals over time, even deep time. In regard to analysis of living systems, biologists should see the need to learn something about engineers and engineering. This would mean that interdisciplinarity becomes a desideratum for tertiary training.

The fourth benefit is the philosophical import of interdisciplinarity. Human knowledge cannot remain in silos of independent disciplines. Almost every month someone in the world uncovers a new facet of the living the world that reveals its unbelievable ‘technology’. Nobel laureate May-Britt Moser’s discovery of the brain’s grid cells which create a spatial geometry for navigation elicited her exclamation: “no, this isn't possible. This isn't biology – it's crazy!” Such exclamations are part and parcel of the world of the polymath.

What scientific discovery needs is a new stereoscopy combining two perspectives (biological and engineering) into one, thereby producing a new vision: a clear view of the biotechnosphere that underpins philomimesis.
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WATT SMITH, T. 2018. Schadenfreude. London : Profile Books

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