By Anastasia Lawson, Andrew Meador, Beth Remmes, and Daniel Simons
Group Project for Biology Taught Functionally, ASU Biomimicry Master’s Program
The essential elements of biomimicry Ethos, (Re)Connect, and Emulate are often the pathways into practice. These elements do not follow a linear progression, rather they mutually reinforce and strengthen biomimicry as a whole.
The element most immediately associated with biomimicry is Emulate, which seeks to replicate nature’s genius. While the end goal of the emulation element of biomimicry is to create innovative products or social transformation, a large amount of time and energy is spent in an information-gathering phase where we explore questions like, “What would nature do here? What wouldn’t nature do here? How does nature…?” Hours of research uncovers organisms with diverse survival strategies, including functions and adaptations that contribute to their success and reveal time-tested strategies present across taxa.
For example, there is much we can learn from trees. They clean air, create homes for smaller creatures, and can outlive most other organisms. These features exemplify every organism’s use of biological traits and strategies to realize its inherent potential as a living entity. Furthermore, the study of these features enhances our understanding of what is currently known about nature’s genius and reminds us that genius is not reserved for humans alone. In fact, many of our most successful designs occur when we quiet our cleverness, engage our curiosity, and focus on knowing an organism especially well.
A true emulation design spiral requires deep knowledge of an organism’s strategies. These strategies cannot be fully understood without recognizing the abiotic and biotic context in which the organism thrives. Imagine trying to develop a branch-like, wind-resistant design while ignoring root structures and local weather conditions— focusing solely on a feature without its context restricts the effectiveness of the design and results in weak biomimicry. And even the most rigorous research can fall short of fully comprehending nature’s genius if we fail to acknowledge that many features are multi-functional and many organisms have mutualistic, intertwined relationships with others. This teaches us to appreciate the intrinsic value of the living entity regardless of their instrumental use to humans. From this lesson, we also learn to respect the underlying powers of the universe that nurture this life into existence.
The second essential element, (Re)Connect, is the strengthening of our connection to and positive engagement with nature. Trees cannot live on sunlight and water (abiotic factors) alone; they also rely on other organisms to facilitate nutrient distribution and pollination. Similarly, humans rely on trees for shelter, warmth, food and critical environmental services. These interdependencies quickly reveal a complex web of natural relationships and connectedness that creates the foundation for human life. This reminds us of our own biological nature, connectedness to other living entities, and the system upon which all life depends. Like Indra’s Jeweled Net, seeing the beauty of life in one organism reflects the beauty of the world and inspires the inevitable realization that all life is connected in this cosmic matrix.
The third essential element of biomimicry is Ethos—our motivations, intentions, and the spirit with which we approach learning from nature’s genius. An incredible amount of harm is wrought by the built environment and our unnatural approaches to many facets of manufacturing and design. This element ensures that the emulation phase does not just end at the mechanics, but rather it is a holistic approach that includes life’s ability to operate at ambient temperatures and pressures and does not create toxic byproducts. Authentic biomimicry presents an opportunity to learn from nature as a mentor, model, and measure, to assess how well we are “fitting in” with the rest of Life.
As Taylor discusses in The Ethics of Respect for Nature, in the human-centered view of life, the value of animals and plants is considered exclusively in terms of their satisfaction of human needs or interests. There is no evaluation or questioning of whether humans were promoting the well- being of other creatures when they felled old growth trees for lumber or burned forests for farmland. Through biomimicry’s Ethos, we are challenged to reflect and act upon the harmful ripples of our present designs. We learn that we must evaluate our actions, and their consequences, against the aim of promoting the well- being of all creatures.
With so many complex, modern challenges, humanity must work for the good of the biosphere to ensure the survival of all species [where “good” is marked by the ability to maintain itself through generations, and the average good is at an optimum level for the given environment (Taylor, 1986)]. Just as the acorn is encoded with the potential to become an oak, we too have the potential to follow a life-enhancing trajectory. The practice of biomimicry, arising from the three essential elements of Emulation, (Re)Connect, and Ethos, holds the tools and promise of helping us rediscover our role in the community of life and to create a lasting, positive impact as a keystone species for the good of all living organisms.
Taylor, P. (1986). The Ethics of Respect for Nature. Available from: https://rintintin.colorado.edu/~vancecd/phil308/Taylor.pdf
I had the privilege of representing Georgia Interfaith Power and Light at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta for their Earth Day service today. Rev. Taryn Strauss gave an inspiring sermon about care for creation. She referenced Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s All We Can Save Project, and her Venn diagram to help people find their place in climate action.
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions aren’t always obvious, which is why I love facilitating the Work That Reconnects. It helps us to recognize our unique gifts and move through despair and into joy. It also connects us with possibilities in the Great Turning and a supportive community of changemakers.
Nuclear Watch South and Green Friends at Atlanta Friends Meeting, have joined together to sponsor a full-day workshop on Saturday, June 4th. We are also holding a Council of All Beings at the Lake Clair Community Land Trust on Sunday, June 5th. Both events are free and open to the public, although it would help us if you could register here so we have an idea of how many people to expect.
I hope to see you at one or both of these events!
Spirals abound in nature. They are seen in galaxies, weather patterns, sunflowers, fiddle head ferns, pinecones, snail shells, and even in the shape of DNA – to name a few.
Spirals embody a creative life force. There is movement and evolution, yet everything is contained in its’ own system. Within this spiral I have repeated the patterns found in the forest; soil, seeds, wood, fungi, leaves, decomposition, and the repeated cycle over and over gaining in complexity. Towards the end of this spiral there is a magnolia pod, hydrangea flower, bird’s nest, feather, and then back to leaves and soil. There is no waste in nature’s system. Energy and matter are reused in a closed loop system, which is a powerful example of life creating conditions conducive to life.
I took a picture of this sculpture and then used an app to overlay and merge it with a picture of a spiral galaxy. It makes it look like it is woven with stardust, which is also in all of us. This reminds us that we are connected to these spirals and regenerative systems. By enhancing the natural design with a technological process, it speaks to the human potential to evolve to not only survive, but thrive.
Created for Life’s Principles Class in Arizona State University’s Biomimicry Program