TED Conversations

Josh Mayourian

Student , Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art


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Will we ever truly be able to model nature?

My Bioelectricity professor Nina Tandon recently gave a TED talk “Caring for engineered tissue” and I was amazed how we are able to copy the environment of artificially grown cells. There are many techniques used to reduce error and create accurate results. Such amazing replications allow us to grow artificial hearts and bones, enhancing research opportunities on these
parts of the body. This made me wonder how successful we are at modeling
other living systems, so I watched the TED talk “Robert Full on engineering and evolution.” Many years ago, engineer's claimed bees shouldn't be able to fly, dolphins shouldn’t be able to swim, and geckos shouldn't be able to climb from their calculations. However, in the past few years we've been able to explain these phenomenons, showing how much we have progressed. Through watching these great talks, I was curious: How close are we to modeling nature and making predictions without ideal assumptions? Will we ever be able to reach this point and truly copy nature?


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    Mar 1 2012: I think the fact we abuse the reductive -> deductive process in science makes us miss out of a lot of realities...

    I read an interesting article a while ago about the difference between the metaphysics of the East and West in historical fashions. The author suggested that in the West we dominated primarily on the idea matter is static - matter is constantly the same. While in the East they developed the idea of Chi into their matter - matter is constantly changing.

    Recently Alfred Whitehead coined the term "process philosophy" yet this idea of philosophy is evidently not new. The idea that "all is change" is an ancient one from Heraclitus. Less ancient would be the Chan Buddhist or Zen Buddhism.

    We can "copy" nature, but we need to seriously change our methods. Einstein had to create practical geometry in order to conclude relativity theory. Indeed we are all not creative-academic geniuses, but 3 or 4 or 10 minds can do what one man could never do today with our amount of information.

    We need fuzzy logic and process philosophy as our primary tools of interpreting nature (reality), just like the ancients suggested, just new vocabulary and new methods. Look at how much psychology is going in circles due to lack of new methods...

    We still seriously believe there is one intelligence rather than multiple (in the majority) and such phrases as "you are intelligent" cripple our interpretation of others, because we are all intelligent in something; even if it's building a car from scratch or creating a theorem.

    Finally, education needs to change... Filling little kids up with useless facts is child abuse to me... Because it cripples them of learning how to think and being a true individual anarchist (Thoreau) - not this Generation Me crap I have to deal with in my age group.

    If all is change than we should be taught how to adapt perceive that change...which takes education; without training in the mental realm we are slaves to our physiology.

    Good topic.
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      Mar 1 2012: Nicholas,

      You bring up so many great ideas as to what methods we need to change in order to truly model nature. I have always felt strongly about the last point you make, and it was definitely something I was considering when posting this question. In my high school and middle school math and science classes, the goal was mainly to make sure one remembered and regurgitated ideas. I would take a class and forget everything I learned by the time the summer break was over!

      As an undergraduate engineering student, I have taken many math and science courses. However, the approach taken is very different to how it was in high school, and I've gotten to appreciate it greatly. There are so many derived formulas in courses, but professors don't find it vital for us to memorize them. They find it most important that we understand the basics, and are able to think to become true problem solvers. It's great that I now come out of classes remembering the basics, and always keeping the problem solving techniques that could apply to these topics and beyond. Hopefully one day we change the approach to education to advance even more than we are today. Did you have any specific educational experience leading you to such an idea?

      You also bring up "psychology is going in circles due to lack of new methods". Coming up with new methods is so challenging, yet it is essential for the ever changing nature around us. Psychology is one of the most difficult fields to experiment for, and going in circles shows that at least many different approaches and thoughts are being used in explaining phenomenons. Through enough experimentation, and creative methods, hopefully one day theories can be made in psychology and other fields that will not be dis-proven at all! Einstein took ideas that were yet to be dis-proven, and used those as basics. That is definitely a method taht should be used more.

      The background you give on metaphysics is a nice new piece of information. Thanks for the comment!
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        Mar 1 2012: As far as psychology it is the bad type of circling.... But you are right in a longer context. I still believe we are completely misguided on what intelligence is, and on that note personality.

        *Did you have any specific educational experience leading you to such an idea?

        Of course, my memory is terrible and anything past trig might as well be mandarin. I use to think something was wrong with me... But then I looked around and saw I was not alone, in fact I am a huge majority. Logical-math ability has been argued to be it's own intelligence... So we are literally educating on the grounds of one type of intelligence (maybe two, memory)...

        Children's minds are SUPER active as young as 2 - 4 because their physiology is telling them they need to adapt in this environment FAST to survive. If we taught kids how to think instead of dictating knowledge... We would have a generation of minds unlike ever before. Piaget is being acknowledged in education theory, but as far as applying his theories... No.

        thanks for the response.
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          Mar 1 2012: Nicholas,

          Thanks for sharing your own experience, and you definitely are not alone. You bring up a key point: certain educational values should be taught at a very young age. Hopefully we exploit that more to be able to accomplish some more amazing feats

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