Biomimicry and Metaphors

I recently finished reading The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel, the sixth book in a series that took place about 30,000 years ago. Ayla, the heroine, was a Cro-Magnon in the Upper Paleolithic era. The author’s extensive research, particularly related to botany, herbal medicine and hunting always fascinated me. Their cultural practices, though described with creative license by the author, reflected a reverence for nature and a balanced, interdependent community. After closing the book, I was pondering how distant we are to the sources of our food and medicine today. I certainly wouldn’t suggest we return to caves, but I also know that our culture needs to be more grounded and respectful. The concepts in the book were important, but I didn’t know what to do with them.

Yesterday, while waiting for an appointment, I was skimming (of all things) an old Reader’s Digest and saw an article about biomimicry, a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Intrigued, I looked up the Biomimicry Institute.

 In biomimicry, we look at nature as model, measure, and mentor.  

Like the viceroy butterfly imitating the monarch, we humans are imitating the best adapted organisms in our habitat. We are learning, for instance, how to harness energy like a leaf, grow food like a prairie, build ceramics like an abalone, self-medicate like a chimp, create color like a peacock, compute like a cell, and run a business like a hickory forest.

Our current metaphors are about war — nature as the enemy to conquer and dominate. This world view has led us to global warming, water shortages and the extinction of species. It has created human solutions that are disconnected and short-sighted. If we consciously looked to nature for new metaphors as a starting point for solving problems (“scientific” or otherwise), what a fertile ground for innovation! We’ve seen Mother Nature’s work – it’s pretty darn good. Let’s not re-invent the wheel. (Ayla would be groaning at this pun if she were real.)

I am excited to delve more into this field to see if I can apply their knowledge. I’ve added to the Related Links for reference (right sidebar). Certainly, there are a lot of parallels — examining the stages of growth for a flower can be just as instructive for a scientist creating a power source as it is for a person trying to move beyond a personal crisis. Metaphors open up new thought patterns and anything can emerge.

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