Artifice and Agency

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nothing like a scroller in nature, but is there something like a mouse? [Not 'my post', but a post]

I thought to post the following from the How would a Biomimetic Revolution come about? portion of the "Biomimicry Explained" section of
Echoing nature is where we actually try to mimic what we discover. Echoing nature will take a cross-fertilization of ideas. The technologists who invent products and systems need to interact with biologists so they can match human needs with nature's solutions. Task forces and formal societies would allow for periodic interactions, but for more permanent collaborations, we should design university departments in biomimicry.

I can also see using the Internet as a place to store our information. A giant database of biological knowledge would serve as an innovation matchmaking service. An engineer charged with designing a new desalination device, for instance, could easily review the strategies of the mangrove-a tree that filters seawater with its solar-powered roots.
In both instances, it seems Benyus is calling for a type of human involvement in science that is as instigator, rather than discoverer. The scientist sets herself a specific niche within biomimicrous scientific research and her interest in borrowing others' research, along with everyone else's niche, creates collaboration on a colossal scale. This colossal collaboration is analogous to Benyus' characterization of nature's evolution within massive timescales as a massive cross-breeding cognitive process, "genius". The new science is submission to the genius of the mass.

I see the spirit of this submission to a sprawling genius in her dedication of the book to the mentors of the Tangled Bank. Come to find out this means dedicating her book to both identifiable people and unidentifiable future people:
Welcome to the Tangled Bank, a version of the "Carnival of the Vanities" for science bloggers. A Carnival is a weekly showcase of good weblog writing, selected by the authors themselves (that's the vanity part). Every other week, one of our crew will highlight a collection of interesting weblog articles in one convenient place, making it easy for everyone to find the good stuff.
Anyone may be the author of the Tangled Bank from week to week, and so the Tangled Bank has no author. Mentorship from the Tangled Bank is far more idea than identity-based in that sense. (I think it's a pretty fascinating idea, over and above my rhetorical meditations here.)

Benyus' dedication to those 'mentors' is a submission to the collaboration with their ideas. The form of her ideational collaboration is as science writer. The following is Darwin's passage of the the tangled bank, quoted at the top of the Tangled Bank blog:
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms.
How far are Benyus and TB carrying the comparison of their scientific/rhetorical work to the work of nature's laws acting around them? How do we make sense of or how do we feel about "insects flitting, worms crawling, and birds singing" --these verbalizations of nature-- being collapsed into the causal phrase "produced by laws around us"? Is this a turn from expansive language to collapsing Law? It might be the great straddling of the human subjective and the scientific, especially to call pop-science writing biomimicry:
Together, we biomimics are setting out on a voyage to learn what nature's "long and enchanted roster" already knows. It's the way home, and I'm as eager as the geese to go.
Is this 'home' a different dimension of the interfaced reality of the notorious BIOT? Benyus' description of the internet as a store of knowledge of nature could be analogized to Sterling's characterization of the self/cross-referencing world of the spimes. The becoming like the goose could be like being the BIOT in the interfaced spime circus.


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