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: I think we will never have a complete model, but we will always have useful models.

    There's a joke by standup comic Steven Wright: I have a map of the United States. It's actual size. It says "one mile equals one mile".

    A model is a simplification of nature. It must be complex enough to be meaningful but simple enough to be useful. The actual size map, is a model that perfectly matches the United States but it's of course useless.

    A model can be refuted and still prove very useful. We have decisively rejected the earth centered solar system, but in every day life, we use still use it: we say the sun rises and the sun sets. We have refuted Newtonian mechanics but we still use his model when designing cars, calculating ballistic trajectories, etc. It wouldn't be practical to use Einstein's model, unless of course we are dealing with extreme values, where Newton's model breaks down.

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