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: My question is why we are trying to model nature, why we want to do the nature's job. In one hand we destroy it and on the other hand we want to model it, to copy it, to do something like it and finally to fix it . who are we? We are just part of it.
    Is it time to leave the nature alone and let it do its job? not to destroy it, no to copy it and not to model it.
    • Mar 6 2012: I think the answer is that it is incredibly useful to have an accurate model of nature. If I want to know how to stop a building from being demolished by an earthquake or a tornado, I need an accurate idea (or model) of how earthquakes and tornadoes generally cause their damage.

      There are a lot of things in the world that could be better, and we want them to be better. In the end, that requires accurate information, which can be expressed in terms of models, as well as the general rules used to build those models.

      So I guess my answer is that we model nature because we hope to use the rules we find to improve our lives and the lives of others around us: cure disease, improve the quality of food, build structures, the list goes on.
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        Mar 7 2012: It's interesting the two different effects of modeling nature you both discuss. In a different post, Soheila, you bring up a very important negative result of our knowledge being applied to nature (pollution). However, Anthony discusses how modeling nature can lead to resolving some of the greatest problems faced by individuals.

        This theme of effects of modeling nature seems like a great topic, and I'd love to hear more people's views on this!
        • Mar 7 2012: My thoughts would be that we as humans must exercise our ability of freewill as a core part of our human nature. Our ability to grow knowledge is secondary, yet equally as important since we are too far into history to just 'walk away and pretend like nothing happened'.

          So, if we are to grow our ability of freewill (choice), some would say that we must first have knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, correct and incorrect etc.

          Surely though, growing our willpower to choose good, right, correct choices that will be best for the planet and the human species as a whole, does not require us to experiment with every other option until our resources are exhausted.

          Hmmmm.... perhaps this all sounds more like gospel than ideas, but will there ever be a time in history where humankind will become perfect? And what would humankind do with the key of life if it became ours? If we were able to replicate and manipulate any aspect of nature, would we use it for good or evil? Creation or destruction?

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