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: Your easy as profound question "truly copy nature" sparks two answers in me.

    1.) Epistemological - the science of knowledge, so to speak - it has been proven that we can never proved any thesis in a positive way. We can only falsify (Habermas, Heisenberg) - show that it is wrong. As long as a thesis or theory is not falsified, we call it "true" in our daily lifes... and we all know the saying: true until proven wrong. "truly" is a concept in time and circumstances. it is a relativity concept, relative to our horizont of knowledge. This is the standard of Epistemology research since 1960 - at least it was thought so in university.

    2.) My second answer is more irritating, maybe: why should we try to copy nature?
    I would have never thought of it as an aim. nature is about difference and diversity itself. learn from nature and all sourroundings... yes. but copy? to me you posted a "wrong" question. Sorry - to say this. This is a hard sentence to write for me. In the end it is good you put the question up - a chance to clarify and argue.

    So thanks - though I really have a quite different approach.
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      Mar 1 2012: Bernd,

      No need to be sorry about your second thought. I'm glad your honest about how you feel about this. How would you phrase this question? Also, please do think about the following:

      Another concept we try to understand and model is the human body. Bioelectricity, and more generally, biophysics and biomathematics, are subjects highly studied. Why? Many people may simply do so out of curiosity. Others may believe that by being able to model the body well, humans are able to advance and improve the health of the population.

      Many people may find it just as important to model nature, as there can be many applications that could help the population worldwide. While we have advanced so well that we can make robots and machines as seen in the TED talks posted above, there are still more ways to improve. Again, please do share how you would phrase the question, as I'm sure it could definitely help answer a question that I'd be interested in as well.

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