January 21, 2013

The Constructs of a New Idea

I've just finished reading a book called 'Design in Nature'. And by sharing what I've learned from that book I am practically validating its premise--that everything in the universe has a tendency to flow--even information itself. Good ideas flow and I am happy to act as a conduit for another great idea to flow onwards via the constructs of social media: That idea is called the Constructal Law.

I will list 4 major ideas from the book in a short and concise manner and then provide my own comments. I hope I captured the main ideas well enough to stimulate your own mind to explore it further. There were plenty of ideas that captured my attention but I am still reeling from the fresh new eyes I got after reading that book and I am scrambling to write down as much as I can to share it, understand it, and articulate it.
I promise you that I will post more ideas in bite-sized format soon. But for now you may consider this post as a preview.

1) The Constructal Law makes Design a Concept of Science.
"The constructal law accounts not only for the emergence of design but also its evolution. Design is a spontaneously arising and evolving phenomenon in nature. Design is a phenomenon that emerges naturally as patterns..."
In my opinion, the Constructal Law has done a good job of explaining the trouble that has arisen with the word 'Design' in scientific circles. And I wholeheartedly agree that it is time for Science to embrace Design. And I re-iterate that Constructal Law does not give credence to Intelligent Design. As a matter of fact, it clarifies the fact that design arises without any need for a "designer".
Now in terms of planets, I think that the subject of "Planetary Design" will be a very interesting field for future terraformers.

2) The Constructal Law Can Predict
"We use the constructal law to predict what should occur in nature--that designs should emerge and evolve in time to facilitate flow access."
This part is what I'm quite excited about because we may have the beginnings of a systematic way to predict the morphology and structure of lifeforms. There are sections in the book wherein the possible configurations of animals (and vegetation and trees) are explained and predicted along with some basic equations and charts to prove it.
Thus, I would assume that these equations, given different environmental parameters that correspond to different planetary characteristics (such as gravity, atmospheric density, etc) can allow us to predict the likely shape of alien lifeforms on another world.

3) The Constructal Law Challenges Scientific Views
"An irony of the constructal law is that it is a scientific principle that challenges scientific orthodoxy while confirming impressions of the world held by nonscientists."
It is a breath of fresh air to read about science improving on the previous ideas and creating new ones. The author of Design in Nature, Adrian Bejan disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's idea that if we replay of the tape of life, the lifeforms that would arise would be different. The Constructal Law on Animal Design says that even if we replayed the tape of life, the animals (and vegetation) would still turn out to be similar to the animals we see today in their basic configuration. This is because nature has a tendency to facilitate the movement of mass in the most efficient way possible, and that is where design arises.
The Constructal Law also challenges the Darwinian concept of winners and losers by saying that all the players are not competing against each other but are in fact, working together as components of a larger global organism. I consider this as a nod to Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis, which is itself has been challenged scientifically.

4) The Constructal Law Unites the Animate and Inanimate. Everything is Alive!
"Life—flow, with freely morphing configuration—was there from the start"
I love this idea. Primarily because up until now I've been having a hard time defining what life is in a broader sense. It makes it so much simpler when you look the universe and see that everything is alive.
Just like the Copernican Revolution it may seem to strip us off a pedestal once more--that we have no right to claim any difference from the inanimates. I am actually relieved to think of it that way. And I can feel that it opens up my mind to mentally explore what other sort of 'life' there may be on planets elsewhere.
Although the idea that "everything is alive" brings constructal law a little bit in the camp of mysticism, I am sure there are plenty of good ways to mitigate this, such as assigning "levels" to life.

Moving Forward...
The Constructal Law covers a lot of disciplines. And it will have plenty to contribute to Exoplanetology. For one, I can see that the Constructal Law can validate the idea that smaller planets are more numerous than larger ones, aside from the obvious fact that there are more grains than pebbles, more pebbles than rocks, more rocks than boulders.
It was not discussed in the book, but I am sure that its proponents will come up with the equation to seal it soon enough in a scientific way. And my hunch is that its explanation will have something to do with the idea that clumps of matter can flow much easier, farther, wider, when they are in the form of smaller planets. Therefore, smaller planets must form first and should have higher distribution than larger ones around a star system.

To Sum it up...
The Constructal Law has an extraordinary claim, that it is a "first principle", at par with The Second Law of Thermodynamics. It says that "where the second law describes the universal tendency to flow from high to low, the constructal law describes the universal tendency to generate evolving configurations that facilitate that flow." The evidence for its claim seem to be extraordinarily clear and visible all around us. It has a lot of potential. Adrian Bejan may have hit upon a great idea right on the spot with the Constructal Law.