Are we to change the world?
To begin answering this question, we must first understand what it is that we are changing.
In the greater sense, there is no need to change the world. The world has and will continue to change, with or without our priggish impressions about what should be. If we truly want to make impact, our aim shouldn’t be to change, but to restore the world, aka ourselves, back to its original design.
Perhaps the most inspired application of this idea is called biomimicry, which essentially means looking towards nature to provide the blueprint for human life and all its challenges.
“Biomimicry brings us novel solutions that have evolved over 3.8 billion years…”Janine Benyus
For this task, we look towards nature – the grand artistry of creation. If we open our eyes to the sublime patterns scattered across our natural world, we may see how they point to a greater intelligence that propagated the code of life across the universe. It’s a sequence ripe with beauty and immaculate design.
Let’s take a look at how biomimicry manifests throughout various industries.
Macro termite mound structure inspires energy-saving climate control systems
A close look at these termite mounds suggests that they act a lot like mammal’s lungs that facilitate necessary gas exchange. Hence, their design is used to inspire eco-efficient climate control systems and reduce C02 emissions.
Initially, the bullet trains in Japan were making explosive booms! when leaving train tunnels. A birdwatcher noticed a kingfisher bird effortlessly diving down, cutting through the air and into the water with minimal splash impact. The train’s shape was then modified to emulate the beak of the kingfisher to create a much quieter, more aerodynamic design.
Using the skull of a bird to inform the shape, design, and efficiency of the shoe, Marieka Ratsma creates a provocatively beautiful concept shoe that also boasts superior, lightweight strength.
In the field of medicine, efforts are being made to mimic the mosquito stinger in order to design a more painless medical needle.
Virtually every other industry (agriculture, architecture, construction, sanitation, energy, and innumerable others) has benefited from the wisdom and pragmatism of biomimicry. But what about biomimicry for human relationships, and the more elusive elements of our psyche?
Biomimicry in psychology and interpersonal health
According to Professor Freya Matthews, nature teaches us 14 distinct patterns of communication, ranging from strategies to enhance sender-listener correspondence, improving timing, and increasing efficiency and sustainability in our communication.
What this means is that the common gripes and quarrels we humans have as we relate to one another has a potential solution encoded in the blueprint of nature. For example, the concept of inclusiveness can be found in the ancient shamanic practices of the Andeans.
They called this idea ayni, which means being in reciprocity and in harmony with one’s environment. Wherever we are, we can be in a symbiotic, inclusive relationship with our surroundings and its inhabitants. It doesn’t take more than common sense to understand why this is a fundamentally helpful idea.
Structural Relationships and Organization
According to both Harvard Business Review and Integritus Prime, nature has inspired the greater efficiency and organization of myriad processes and hierarchical structures designed to generate greater productivity, effective leadership, and enhance collaborative flow.
Some of the essential concepts include nested systems, modularity, and feedback loops. Using nested systems can help someone understand the many layers of their personal identity and how they are connected to their family, community, and even across time (intergenerational, era of society). Utilizing this self-knowledge, one can better connect to others in an organization while understanding their uniquely inextricable role in an interconnected system of people.
The idea of modularity is useful in human systems since it helps us understand how smaller parts of a whole are both independent and dependent from other parts. This concept is analogous to the concept of gestalt in psychology. Modularity can be found all across nature: the bee’s honeycomb structures, the cellular networks inside each living organisms, the impossibly biodiverse Amazon rainforest. Understanding the nested systems and modularity concepts can offer a greater sense of altruism and cooperation in our everyday relationships – both to self and others.
Space and Design Informing Human Emotion
Renuka Deshpande explains how location, well-engineered cities, roads, buildings, and shelters could elicit positive emotions and behaviors like curiosity, safety, balance, belonging, excitement and harmony. This idea encourages us to think about the everyday spaces we inhabit (bedrooms, offices, creative studios, restaurants) in more than a functional way. Once we learn that our very sense of curiosity, inspiration, belonging, safety, and harmony can be affected by the aesthetic (look, feel, energy) of a place, would we second-guess how we maintain our spatial hygiene? We’d most likely strive to keep our spaces clean, comfortable, inviting, robust, and feeling alive, in every sense of the word.
Understanding Natural Cycles
We can apply the fundamental idea that all processes and systems of nature work on an intricately balanced cycle. A general understanding of how the moon-sun-stars, human bodies, and the circadian rhythm can inspire us to look at the specifics of what we do, how often or long we do them, and where we are most likely to do them. Once we understand this, we can begin to understand the why behind our actions.
Simply put, if we understand how our behaviors are largely based on repetition, pattern, and unconscious drives, then we become more aware of how we can architect and control our lives.
Big Picture / Small Picture
There is a modality of psychotherapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy that helps people understand that two seemingly opposite ideas or things can be true simultaneously. To better our lives, we are called to hold the tension between seemingly opposite, paradoxical ideas to form a more complete understanding of ourselves.
One of the ways we do this is by shifting (widening+/- closing) the window of perception. The window of perception is simply the limits of what we can be aware of at any given time. If we visualize our thoughts and mental images as a window, we can also visualize it opening wider or closing in. We can close in narrowly on an idea to see the various nuances. But when we need to step back to discern the bigger picture, we can use a wider lens of perception to see the general idea vs. the finer details.
This is a lot like the distinction between a mantis shrimp (which has ultra-fine vision that can see hundreds, if not thousands, more shades of color than a human) and an eagle (which has a powerful visual acuity that helps it locate prey miles away).
As we shift from Big Picture, to Small Picture, and then back and forth between these windows of perception, we get to experience things from a vast array of perspectives and grasp a deeper understanding of whatever it is we are thinking about or looking at. This is also one of the ways Mindful Awareness is applied.
Finally, Marilyn Cornelius beautifully wraps up how biomimicry can impact us on the most elemental levels. She writes about the 5 Pillars of Biomimetic Wellness, which includes:
- social biomimicry – returning to nature and re-connecting with indigenous wisdom
- epigenetics and biology – honing insight from cellular and genetic information
- ecological connection and mental health
- Biomimicry in design, civil engineering, and architecture
- social innovation through cooperation, diversity, and effective communication
As we continue to understand this quandary of human experience, it helps to re-frame our mindset to be more expansive, curious, and inquisitive towards nature and its immaculate design. As we may apply the principles of biomimicry, we start to view problems as challenges that have yet to be overcome rather than things that need to be eliminated or escaped from.
Until we see the final picture, may we continue to gather the puzzle pieces that are reflected through the animals, fauna, landscapes, mycelium, immaculate patterns, and all the other members of this magnificent planet.