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: The question posed is in need of a terminological clarification. This is because conceptually modelling is different from actually reproducing/copying nature. Better yet the former is the prior step to the latter, as the former deals mostly with our subjective/objective perception of nature, whilst the latter is a practical procedure that employs it in order to reproduce both the theorem and nature itself.

    On the first account of modelling, it will depend on the capacity of technology to produce ever more complex equipment to perform the calculations necessary to model natural systems (social systems are considered subsystems), as well as developments in mathematics and statistics. In this direction we are still quite far away from truly modelling nature due to the number of factors that we need to take into consideration.

    On the second account of copying I would say we are already very close. Technology, physics, chemistry and mechanics are already cooperating on many facets of replication of nature ranging from abstract general laws to real world events and objects. For the moment we are essentially able to copy nature by using alternative materials. It is within reason that at some point we will be able to exactly copy nature, as we are indeed striving to decode the underlying mechanisms linking its various components.

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