The Constuctal Law of Design and Evolution in Nature
A public lecture by Professor Adrian Bejan, Duke University held a Portsmouth University on 1st May 2013.
“The recurring patterns of nature have long puzzled even the most devoted proponents of chance and Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the Constuctal Law changes the terms of this debate, and shows that a single law of physics governs the ‘design’ behind everything that moves – whether animate or inanimate. According to the Constuctal Law, shapes and structures arise because they facilitate movement in animal design, river basin shape, traffic patterns, social dynamic, technology and the evolution of sport
I spent a highly enjoyable hour and a quarter in the company of Professor Bejan, an MIT trained, Romanian gentleman scholar who is currently the J.A.Jones Distinguished Professor at Duke University as he delivered an engaging and wide-ranging lecture showing how certain principles apply not only to engineering but also to many fields of design, construction and understanding. His exposition is that there is a definite, measurable connection between science and art which most normally expresses itself in ‘ drawings, images that whilst art-like, also underpin his law, expressed in 1996, ‘for a flow system to persist in time it must evolve freely such that it provides greater access to its currents.
To fully comprehend this it is critical to understand that in Professor Bejan’s view of the world, design in nature is a phenomenon, in the same way that gravity is a scientific phenomenon. Design is a ‘flow’, a fractal division of one substance or substrate by a force, such as water. Imagine a ‘new’ river growing across a sandy desert. Observation of a model of such short system where the water is flowing fairly slowly will be noted to create a pattern comprised of both simplicity and complexity. The simplicity is that each channel will be observed to form four tributaries. The complexity lies in the distance along each channel that the next tributary forms, in which direction and at what angle to the main channels from which it branches. Design is a matter of pattern and diversity, complex and subtle but with definite patterns contained within itself.
Professor Bejan’s fairly obvious contention is that ‘broadly speaking’ in sport, as in life, bigger ~ faster. For example in the 100 metre sprint Ursain Bolt is bigger than most of his competitors,.and so is the blue whale and the antelope. OK the cheetah may be faster over a short distance but for the long haul, where power is best defined as “burning fuel to a purpose”, the bigger animal will burn fuel most efficiently. Velocity ~ (mass)1/6 whilst length ~ (mass)1/2 and this is true for the human and machine ‘species’. An example is that slavery, which had existed since the very start of recorded human history, was only (mostly) abandoned when the recent invention of an effective steam engine meant that humans could ‘afford’ to abandon slavery for a more effective burning fuel tobacco purpose system.
Using the ‘S’ curve familiar from the growth of yeast, Professor Bejan’s story now investigated the ‘design in time’s model, from which he concludes that a combination of ‘fast and long’ combined with an equal time allocation of ‘short and slow’ travel underpins much of our world. Using the model of European and North American hub airports and local transport systems and the ‘perfect’ model of Atlanta airport. This idea rewritten as few large and many small systems works for oil delivery to and from Rotterdam, and even the food chain where few predators prey on many much less efficient smaller prey animals.
A series of questions followed including one where, by using pure grammar, the Professor managed to disarm an ‘intelligent design’ argument that a design implies a designer. Was I convinced, yes but I think that in the states such an argument might run into more fundamental and critical audiences, however as a Philosophy of Science lecture this was excellent use of time and his book, free he argues from equations (which must be a unique statement for a physicist), Design in Nature, has to be worth a look.