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 6 2012: At very specific levels we're already coming close, as you've mentioned, but the wider we cast our net the more uncertainty we have to put up with and the more error there will be in the modeling. I've spent a fair amount of time modeling ecological systems, and there the complexity and uncertainties are almost infinite, so I don't see us coming close to really reproducing real events. But we can isolate specific parameters, such as energy flow through the system, and come pretty close. At least close enough to gain some understanding.
    • Mar 6 2012: I agree that we will never be able to model nature 100% accurately because of all the nuances and variables in whatever it is that is being investigated. However, we can come close and in that process we do learn many valuable things about nature. In this publication about modeling, http://www.rand.org/pubs/notes/2007/N3027.pdf, the author says that modeling is an essential, instinctive part of being human. The truth in this can be seen in today’s world in which advanced computer simulations and AI are now used to make the complexities of reality more understandable. The author suggested that modeling was important for the future so that humans can make intelligent decisions, and I think as long as this is kept in mind, we will not have to worry so much about copying nature exactly and coming close is just fine.
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        Mar 6 2012: Hi, Andrew
        It is a great article about modeling, I agree with your and Paul's point. Intuitively, I think perfect modeling of nature is impossible given how many parameters should be considered and the degree of their effectiveness. According to chaos theory, a system behavior is hardly predictable, as the random elements are getting involved included into the system. I agree that it is getting close is sufficient for most of the cases.

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