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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  • E Pines

    • +11
    Mar 7 2012: Some 32 years ago, Prof. Stephan Berko of Brandeis University introduced his Quantum Mechanics course with the following question: “Why do we know that there is a law of conservation of energy (or more generally, ‘mass’ – combined matter and energy)?” After patiently listening to my class’s answers, he responded that they were all wrong. “We do not know logically that there is such a law, rather we perceive the same pattern repeatedly, so we assume such a law.” It was a seminal insight.

    The “theory of everything” or TOE remains a myth even as the ever-growing plethora of multidimensional “string” models in physics vie for this holy grail. Even where predicting aspects of perceived reality beyond those upon which it was predicated, a TOE certainly doesn’t account for itself. It is claimed that the “ultimately” refined “true” TOE will be shown to require itself. A physical object turned in a complete circle will come back into itself, a cleverly constructed circular logic would do the same for a TOE. It would be worse than meaningless, however, as now that circular logic created would need explanation by the TOE. Further, the notion that translating perception into theorem creates any new information at all, much less complete knowledge, is plain wrong. [Even in pure mathematics! – see Gregory Chaitin’s “Omega and why maths has no TOEs,” at: http://plus.maths.org/issue37/features/omega/]

    No theory could deal with “Everything” unless it contained it, and only Infinity itself can do this. Absolute Infinity, however, has no definition, no boundaries, no rules, and so no exclusions. There can be no laws of chance, no laws of causality, but therefore, certainly no TOE.

    Our goal then must be to perceive with greater accuracy and ever improve model. The true possibility to the next step in this is the joining of Humanity as a whole, a single mind like natural communities in Nature.. The Internet and true mutual responsibility may be all that we need.
    • Mar 7 2012: Great analysis E Pines.

      One thing I'd like to do is address the last overlying question Josh asks above: "Will we ever be able to reach this point and truly copy nature?"

      And the question I have for this is, "What is the intention for wanting to do so?"

      Because since civilizations beginnings man has built collective stories, throughout all the various cultures of the world, which distance mankind from Nature, pit us above her, or in some eternal struggle against her.

      So, it seems that if we are to come to copy Nature then we will have to resolve this outlook. And that's where new education can come into the picture: To wipe away the old myths we have about Nature and each other.

      And like E Pines says, "... the next step in this is the joining of Humanity as a whole, a single mind like natural communities in Nature." And that's another fundamental element that can't be separated from the search to copy Nature.

      So I think that the first step in this process, of wanting to copy Nature, is proceeding according to how we see Nature operate: As an all inclusive system. And from my perspective, we are the only ones out of balance in this system.

      So if we want to copy Nature (and yes please), then we must learn to adapt ourselves to Nature. And, given our collective history as a species, this doesn't come naturally to us. We need new education, devised with the goal of, "adapting us to Nature," to be created and then distributed to everyone (so not just education for children or young adults; but for everyone, since it takes a united humanity to come into balance, or to copy Nature).

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