Very good plasters, based on microscopic hairs that geckos stick to the walls. Solar cells derived from plant photosynthesis. Algorithms for self-driving cars, based on how ants move in poles while keeping their distance from each other (ants rarely get stuck in traffic jams).
“Biomimetic technology”, in which nature is mimicked, is rapidly emerging in various branches of science, among designers and in product development. According to a growing group of thinkers, biomimetics can help solve global problems, from climate change to biodiversity to resource consumption.
This is also the view of Vincent Blok, who, as a technical philosopher at Wageningen University & Research, is widely published on the subject and who recently published the book. From the world to the earth Wrote. “Biomimetics are kind of my love for my baby,” he says, during a digital chat from his home office.
In his work he argues that we as a society and as individuals should not orient ourselves from a human perspective – man is central – but from an ecological standpoint: nature is central. In the book he explores the philosophical basis for such a different world view. Biomimetics plays a major role in this. If you look curiously at nature to learn from it rather than take advantage of it, you already have a very different point of view. “The dominant view is now the world’s view of the terrestrial spaceship,” Block says.
Meaning that many people see the Earth as a kind of spaceship, where people have the steering wheel in their hands and with all kinds of buttons and levers on the dashboard can adjust the conditions on board and thus allow the spaceship to change its course.
command and control-to think
The Earth is too complex and unpredictable to control and operate, Block says. Careful thinking that this is possible, he said, leads to “paranoia command and control-Thinking ‘about how to tackle the climate crisis and the environmental crisis through new inventions. It is the way of thinking that drives the development of machines to convert carbon dioxide2 Absorbing it from the air, “geoengineering”, such as space mirrors to reflect sunlight or pulling a veil of sulfur particles into the air to cool the Earth’s surface. Some of these techniques are being tried on a small scale. The assumption is that if we use enough technology, we will bring back climate control.
Also read more about biomimetics: Squid-inspired medical tools
According to Block, it is time to ask radically different questions about our relationship with nature and technology. “The question should not be: Can we turn nature into a tool? But: Can I use technology to improve living nature? To liberate nature rather than exploit it?” He believes biomimetics is one way to do this.
But biomimetic techniques also make nature a tool, right? With these gecko patches, you can borrow an idea from nature to maximize human benefit. The way athletes wear air suits depends on the texture of sharkskin’s skin. And the main example of biomimetics: Velcro, copied from the hair with which some plant seeds stick to the fur of animals. But what if the world got so much better than all those consumer goods with Velcro? It just depends on how you use biomimetics.
“You can also use biomimetics to help with ecological processes,” Block says. He points to recent successful experiences in which coral reef recovery has been accelerated by placing artificial reefs between them. It is easier for marine life to stick to it, and it attracts more and more life. “It could give corals a nudge in exactly the right direction.” Recently, in one experiment, sound was recorded on healthy corals, which was then played by underwater loudspeakers on the degraded corals. Researchers have found that the sound of life in healthy ecosystems attracts fish and other animals and can help restore coral reefs.
Block also mentions a project in the United States, where private oak trees were planted with the help of gentic and planted in forests where they have largely disappeared, in order to restore soil and forest diversity. “Planting and replacing those trees is not done to make more money, but to strengthen the ecosystem.”
Nature as a dear mother
According to Blok, you can therefore use these types of biomimetic and regeneration techniques to enhance processes in nature, rather than trying to control them. “He. She Pay of ecosystems”, as he calls it. This way you make sure that technology works with nature to solve problems rather than against it.
Block is not exactly the first philosopher to suggest that it should not be about ourselves but about ecosystems, and that humans are not outside nature, but rather have a deep connection to it. Books on philosophical ideas such as overlap (the idea that life exists only in relation to all other life forms), deep environment (the philosophy that all life is valuable, regardless of its use for humans) and coexistence (a utopian era of coexistence with the rest of life on earth) is advancing. Central to these philosophies is that man is an equal part of nature and must strive for a state in which man and earth will once again live in a kind of pre-industrial harmony.
But Block disputes this in his book. “In many of these ideas, nature is seen as a kind of sweet mother, who would take better care of us if we were kinder to her. While nature is tough, complex and unpredictable.” In nature, you have to deal not only with ecosystems and the human world, but also with the Earth itself, which can erupt, tremble, rupture and cause tsunamis, he argues in his book.
Moreover, “there is often an anti-technology attitude in many of those environmental philosophies,” he says. Longing for a normal life without technological developments that alienate people from each other and from nature. He believes that technology is also part of human beings – and therefore part of nature.
“The steam engine is not just a machine, but a technology that shakes up all social, social and ecological relationships.”
He argues that you cannot separate people and nature on Earth from technology. But it doesn’t matter how we use this technology. “There are many other possible ways.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of March 4, 2022
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