Biomimicry Misconstrued

From “Fight Science: Fight like an animal”

This blog post relates to some of the content of my last post, “Biomimicry Book Translated in Traditional Chinese.”

When discussing biomimicry, we hear these kinds of questions a lot:

“What is biomimicry?”

“Is it a philosophy, a paradigm, a mindset, a methodology, an innovation tool, a thinking process, a science?”

“What is it, really??”

I would like to offer another possibility here…biomimicry could be all of the above (and more).

“But how could that be?” you ask

Well, depending on how and to what degree you apply biomimicry in your personal or professional life, it becomes different things. This answer will frustrate some.

“That makes biomimicry a parametric snake oil…a pseudo science!”

“Biomimicry can’t be everything to everyone.”

A pseudo science is a practice mistakenly believed to be based on a scientific method. For me, biomimicry’s intrinsic properties can’t lead to its categorization as a pseudo science. The way people present/describe/discuss the concept is what leads to that determination. Besides, it’s not uncommon for a term to have different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Biomimicry’s newness causes people to overthink it.

If biomimicry is used in the context of scientific research, then of course it’s a science, and biomimetic research should be held to the same standards as any other scientific research. But biomimicry is not only used in the context of scientific research. For a mechanical engineer who builds robots, biomimicry might just be another innovation method/tool. Biomimicry may lead them to study the locomotion of a particular natural model, but fundamentally, the “science” guiding their work is physics. For some architects, designers or artists, biomimicry might just be a way to find inspiration. The concept might be treated more loosely in this case, as a thinking process rather than a hard science. For others, biomimicry is a philosophy or a mindset, a lens through which to view the world that can have a profound impact on an individual’s lifestyle or society’s perception of the natural world.

The bottom line is:

Biomimicry, like anything else, can only be rightly categorized as a pseudo science if the person applying biomimicry claims to be using it as a science, in the strict sense of the word, but in actuality, is not basing their work on the scientific method.

I’m going to dedicate the rest of this post to telling you a short story (and it’s a real story) that will elucidate my point. Following my last blog post I received the following message from one of my Facebook friends.

Friend: “What a coincidence, my sister and I just watched a TV program on National Geographic channel that was also about the use of biomimicry in Chinese Martial Arts!

Immediately, I smelled something fishy. I never claimed in my post (nor do I think) that Chinese Martial Arts are biomimetic. So I asked my friend which program it was, and I watched it. It’s an episode in the series “Fight Science” called “Fight Like an Animal.”

Many TV show are purely for entertainment. But the problem is, National Geographic channel is a science channel, so the audience expects to learn about science. And, the name of the series – “Fight Science” – suggests it’s about “real” science.

But it turns out, at least this particular episode, is complete pseudo science. Sure, it features some top professional Chinese Martial Artists (I even recognized one of them), professors from top research universities, and fancy equipment to record and analyze data. But the “science” experiments conducted on this show are poorly designed, and subsequent data analysis completely flawed.

This show basically uses high seed camera tracking/analysis and sensor technologies to compare the performance between the animals and the Kung Fu that imitates those animals performed by professional Kung Fu athletes.

Flaw #1. Arbitrarily assigned testing attributes with the animal style Kung Fu.

For example, snake for testing speed, crane for balance and counter strike, praying mantis for accuracy and timing, monkey for agility. Those are totally random assignments without proper justifications.

Flaw #2. No control group, no repeating experiments and the sample size is too small.

Tanglangquan (Praying Mantis Kung Fu) on the left vs. The real praying mantis capturing a fly on the right. – From “Fight Science: Fight like an animal”

This is a major flaw throughout the whole episode which is particularly apparent in the praying mantis experiment. Assuming the goal of the experiment is to test “accuracy and timing,” it doesn’t make sense to put a man trained in martial arts in an enclosed space with 1,000 flies and see how many he can catch. Where’s the control? I bet if you put an ordinary person with no training in martial arts in a space densely packed with flies he’ll also be able to catch some flies just by waving his cupped hands! Instead, they should have put maybe 10 flies in an enclosed space and recorded the amount of time testing subjects need to catch one fly. And if I were designing the experiment, I wouldn’t collect data for just one attempt by one person, but rather many attempts by many different people, who each perform the test several times.

Flaw #3. Misused words. Overstated findings. Drawing conclusions without enough supporting evidence.

This show misused words like “emulate.” Really this show was just about imitating animals’ movements, not even accurately mimicking, and nowhere near emulating. Emulating implies, not mimicking, but abstracting a design principle from a natural model and applying it appropriately to a human context. The conclusion of the show left people with the false impression that with enough practice, watching and imitating animals’ movements will allow people to achieve performance levels that are equal to or even exceed the animals’ performance levels.

I hope this story makes my point about how biomimicry can be misconstrued as pseudo science. This happens everywhere, not just in biomimicry. Common sense and critical thinking is necessary to pinpoint when and where pseudo science happens. If all your understandings about biomimicry are derived from sources like this show, filled with false advertising, I won’t blame a person for thinking biomimicry is “parametric snake oil.” However, there are lots of “real deal” biomimicry examples out there, so I encourage you to defer judgment for a while, keep an open mind, and take a look at those examples; then maybe your opinion of biomimicry will change.

P.S. As a Chinese Martial Art practitioner with over 20 years experience, I can assure you that the exaggerated animal-like movements demonstrated in “Fight Like an Animal” are for performance only, with little or no practical value. In a real fight, the animal form is concealed. We don’t take on the shape/appearance of the animal in our movements; we just apply the principles we learn from animals about how to achieve speed, balance, etc. That’s the real animal style Kung Fu.

Aquaporin Membrane Technology

Due to a growing global population and increasing pollution of our fresh water by industrial activities, the supply of clean drinking water will be one of the main challenges for upcoming generations. New water purification technologies are required to solve this problem. Currently, evaporation and reverse osmosis are the two main strategies used to purify and desalinate water. Both processes are highly energy intensive and thus less economical. At this point it might be helpful to ask ourselves if we could learn from nature by applying water management strategies of biological organisms to our technical systems.

Various plants and animals live in highly saline environments. For instance mangroves are plants that grow in pure sea water, filtering out all salts by a process called ultrafiltration. Also, marine birds, are able to excrete a highly concentrated salt solution via specific salt glands. All of these organisms make use of the same underlying strategy called forward osmosis. The excretory systems of biological organisms use osmotic gradients to transport water through membranes. Since membranes are moderately permeable to water this is quite a slow process, thus nature came up with specific protein channels which increase the transport rate of the water molecules. These protein channels are called aquaporins and are ubiquitous among all living organisms, from bacteria and plants to humans.

Aquaporins are trans-membrane protein channels with a transport rate of approximately 3 x 109 water molecules per channel per second. The highly selective nature of transporting only water molecules, excluding all other solutes, is realized by the proteins three-dimensional structure. Six trans-membrane domains and two short pore forming loop domains form a constriction of around 30 pico-meters, which equals the width of a single water molecule. Additionally, positively charged amino acids form the channel’s inner part which attracts water molecules due to hydrogen bonding.

The Danish company Aquaporin makes use of nature’s strategies by using a forward osmotic system incorporating aquaporins to increase the water transport rate. Aquaporins are embedded into artificial membranes simulating the natural behavior of biological membranes. Since aquaporins are ubiquitous among all living organisms they can easily be produced using bacteria or algae for instance. One approach is to use aquaporin-membranes to produce gel-filled vesicles, which are introduced into a saline water phase that has to be purified. The gel inside the vesicles has to have a higher osmotic potential than the saline water phase for the water molecules to enter the vesicles. This leads to a swelling of the vesicles. The swollen vesicles can then easily be filtered out of the saline phase. The second step is to introduce the swollen vesicles into a secondary draw solution, which has to have a higher osmotic potential than the vesicles inner gel-filled matrix. Thus, water inside the vesicles will exit and enter the secondary draw solution which leads to a shrinking of the vesicles. It is important that the secondary draw solution is separable from the purified water. Sugar or CO2/ammonia draw solutions could be used, for example. This approach might have a huge potential in revolutionizing water purification technology. Further information are available on the official website of Aquaporin.

List of links about Biomimicry

The first cohort of fellows has been given the great opportunity to do an internship at a design firm, Balance, Inc.., located in Cleveland. Design is an important aspect of biomimicry because it is about finding connections between scientific knowledge and human applications. Looking through a designer’s lens, biomimicry is a great tool for innovation. So this collaboration was put forward with the goals that we (Biomimicry PhD students) would learn how designers work in a setting with real-life challenges, and in return we would bring the designers a different perspective.

I was the first to kick off the series of internships. Time has passed by too quickly; it’s already my last day. I enjoyed spending time surrounded by creative people that all seem to really like their job. A month wasn’t long, but I was able to get a sense of how designers work and how a biomimetic approach differs from a more ‘traditional’ design approach.

Obviously, the biggest difference between a biomimetic approach and a ‘traditional’ design approach is that the biomimic seeks inspiration from nature. After having defined the problem to be solved (i.e. function to be fulfilled) the biomimic starts digging in his or her brain for biological realities he or she has been exposed to that will inspire solutions to the challenge at hand. The ‘traditional’ designer is also digging into his or her memory for design inspiration, but in this initial brainstorming phase I saw a big difference between what a ‘traditional’ designers vs. a biomimic finds inspiring. Ideas the designers at Balance were shouting out were all related to existing products, designs and services that they have encountered in their lives, from impressive working engineering solutions, greatly designed products, to small tools they sell at the local store. I was honestly impressed by products and services they knew about that I couldn’t even imagine existing. On the other hand, very few were thinking about how spider webs or even our own human body could help solve the challenge.

I realized that in both cases, creativity is based on what you already know and highly limited to how you could connect those things together. Limitations of your own imagination can be widely extended by exposing yourself to more fascinating things. The designers at Balance shared many great websites I can use to get inspiration; they told me to go “shopping” to see what crazy things are out there. Well, this is essentially the same manner in which a biomimic could get more exposure to natural inventions. If you don’t have time to go “shopping” in your backyard or on that local trail, the internet is a great source too. I’m not saying you should always use the internet as an alternative to venturing outside, as your brain activity is drastically better after walking outside versus sitting quietly, staring at your computer screen (but we do appreciate you staring at your computer screen to read this).

Image

But the internet is a good source of inspiration when getting outside is not an option.  To make your lives easier, and honestly mine too because writing this post has forced me to compile links gathered through the past years, I made this list of interesting links for reading about biomimicry. I encourage you to visit these links when you want to get inspiration from nature (indirectly!).
Hope this helps to inspire you and motivates you to use nature for solving that challenge on which you are working!

And of course, please feel welcome to share links I haven’t included. The biomimetic community should work together to build upon this list.

Websites:

-      How does nature…. http://www.asknature.org
-      Biomimicry 3.8 – Case Studies: http://biomimicry.net/about/biomimicry/case-examples/
-      Global access to knowledge about life on Earth: http://eol.org
-      The nexus of science and design in the field of biologically inspired design, using case studies, news and articles: http://zqjournal.org
-      BCI is offering a radical new way of doing business; a way that is both inspired by and in harmony with Nature: http://businessinspiredbynature.com
-      Curated by Janine Benyus: http://www.scoop.it/t/biomimicry-3-8
-      This book takes us into the interesting world of biomimetics and describes various arenas where the technology is applied. The 25 chapters covered in this book disclose recent advances and new ideas in promoting the mechanism and applications of biomimetics: http://www.intechopen.com/books/biomimetics-learning-from-nature
-      The Next Nature Network explores how our technological environment becomes so omnipresent, complex, intimate and autonomous that it becomes a nature of its own: http://www.nextnature.net [their theme tap has some good ones]
-      Integrating Ecological design. Their practitioner guide is truly helpful and all-inclusive: http://www.okala.net
-      Is there a biologist on your team? http://www.driversofchange.com/convergence/biomimicry/

Articles:

-      Best of Biomimicry (2013) http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/best-biomimicry.html
-      Nature knows best: A biologist and a designer take creative direction from the Earth’s operating system http://blog.ted.com/2014/02/07/nature-knows-best-a-biologist-and-a-designer-take-creative-direction-from-the-earths-operating-system/
-      http://www.fastcompany.com/biomimicry/engineering
-      Biomimicry – finding design inspiration in nature http://www.designboom.com/contemporary/biomimicry.html
-      How Biomimicry Can Help Designers and Architects Find Inspiration To Solve Problems (2012) http://inhabitat.com/how-biomimicry-can-help-designers-and-architects-find-inspiration-to-solve-problems/?goback=%2Egde_1485297_member_195634792
-      University of Akron’s research into geckos’ natural stickiness may pay off in companies and products: http://www.cleveland.com/science/index.ssf/2012/09/university_of_akrons_research.html
-      Aspiring to improve the world by crafting a career in sustainable design: http://www.core77.com/blog/sustainable_design/aspiring_to_improve_the_world_by_crafting_a_career_in_sustainable_design_part_1_a_new_way_of_thinking_26536.asp
-      Bringing Biomimicry to market: Impact investing inspired by nature (has great links for books, genius of biome report!): http://www.maximpact.com/Newss/Blog/TabId/125/PostId/78/bringing-biomimicry-to-market-impact-investing-inspired-by-nature.aspx

Videos:

-      http://www.ted.com/topics/biomimicry
-      http://www.youtube.com/user/Biomimicry38/featured
-      Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature (3 episodes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv1iOD7yui4&list=PLV8mEllZd4vtTervARexSiL-i1DTGw24C
-      David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things, episode on Biomimicry: http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/the_nature_of_things_biomimicry_part_1
-      PBS NOVA – Making Stuff Wilder (S41E04, Oct. 23 2013): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi4ygJO_hYs&feature=youtu.be
-      Videos on Animal and plant adaptations and behaviors: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/adaptations
-      Planet Earth: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/collections/p00fxg1n
-      http://www.bloomberg.com/video/63600024-innovators-episode-3-designed-by-nature.html?goback=.gde_1244207_member_128449512
-      The story of solutions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpkRvc-sOKk 

Blogs:

-      The Biomimicry column blog: http://www.greenbiz.com/engage/featured-blogs/the-biomimicry-column
-      Digging deeper to understand and apply biomimicry as innovation methodology: http://www.biomimicrist.com
-      Emerging design ideas of biomimicry, critical creativity, sustainability and strategic thinking: http://bouncingideas.wordpress.com
-      A key to good design is a sense of responsibility: http://biologytodesign.wordpress.com
-      The book of the mimicry of the living: http://biomimicron.wordpress.com
-      Nature + Design for a Sustainable Future: http://biomimeticdesign.wordpress.com
-      Sprouting sustainable, nature-inspired ideas in Northeast Ohio: http://germinature.com

Networks:

-      Biomimicry Education Network: http://ben.biomimicry.net
-      The Bio-Inspired Design (BID) Community promotes the practical application of bio-inspired design, emphasizing the ‘challenge to biology’ approach: http://bioinspired.sinet.ca
-      Centre for bioinspiration: http://bioinspiration.sandiegozoo.org
-      The Biomimetics for Innovation and Design Laboratory (affiliated with the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto): http://www.mie.utoronto.ca/labs/bidlab/
-      BiomimicryNYC is a consortium of individuals from all industries, sectors and backgrounds dedicated to fostering a community of nature-inspired practice in the New York City metro region: http://biomimicrynyc.com/category/resources/
-      The University of Akron Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center: http://uabiomimicry.org

“Aerial Jellyfish” in The Economist

A recent issue of The Economist included an article in the technology section titled “Aerial jellyfish.”  The article praises NYU researchers for their design of a tiny, robotic flying machine inspired by a jellyfish.  The flying robot has four wings, each of which is a few centimeters-long and leaf-shaped.  Opposite wings beat simultaneously and out of phase with the other pair of wings to provide lift.  This design proves to be more dynamically stable than past designs for tiny flying robots modeled after birds and insects.  The video below shows the robot in action.

 I was excited to see biomimicry receiving attention in the popular press. (One and a half million people subscribe to the print edition of The Economist, and many more read the same content online.)  UNTIL I read the last few sentences of the article. NYU researchers “Dr. Ristroph and Dr. Childress seem to have solved an important problem…and in doing so they have also shown that evolution, though clever, is not always as clever as human engineers – for as far as is known nature has neither now, nor at any time in the past, come up with the equivalent of aerial jellyfish.” WTF?!

First off, nature is not an engineer, so comparing the “cleverness” of natural evolution and human engineering makes no sense.  Organisms are not engineered for the future.  Selective processes only respond to immediate environmental cues. Second, the fact that a jellyfish only inhabits the sea and not the sky is completely irrelevant. Yes, air can be compressed more easily than water, but freely flowing air acts very much like water. Both air and water are fluids. The jellyfish models dynamically stable movement through a liquid medium.  Nature conceived the design of the jellyfish, and human engineers repurposed it for use in a different liquid medium. That’s what biomimicry is all about, making “big picture” connections; finding new contexts in which to apply nature’s time-tested design principles.

I should emphasize that in no way do I intend to devalue the contribution made by Dr. Ristroph and Dr. Childress.  Quite the opposite, in fact; their design of this flying robot is impressive and demonstrates the value of a biomimetic approach.  I’m encouraged to see mainstream scientific developments reinforcing biomimicry’s potential. I’m just bummed that the author decided to conclude an otherwise enjoyable read with the wacky claim that the aerial jellyfish design proves humans are cleverer than nature. Instead of comparing human engineering to natural selection, the author should have considered whether the outcomes of natural selection – surviving biological models – have anything to offer us.  The aerial jellyfish shows not that humans are better than nature, but that biological analogies stimulate human creativity in new ways and enhance our problem-solving ability. It is unlikely human engineers would have envisioned this innovative, jellyfish-like, flying robot had there not already been this natural model upon which to base its design.

The Shark’s Paintbrush – The English Version!

When Bill and I were discussing blog posts a couple weeks ago and he mentioned writing about The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and how nature is Inspiring Innovation, I was extremely excited – First to hear that the book was in Mandarin so quickly, but also because this book is quite special to me.  I had known about Janine Benyus’ pinnacle book Biomimicry:  Innovation Inspired by Nature for a long time, but it wasn’t until I read Jay Harman’s book that I realized that Biomimicry didn’t have to be just an idea– I, and many others inspired by nature, can actualize these great ideas.  I’ve heard the phrase “Aha moment” quite a bit in Biomimicry (and elsewhere, but for me, seems to be quite prevalent in this niche, perhaps because there are so many great ideas and innovations at such a quick pace).  Reading The Shark’s Paintbrush was a great “Aha Moment” for me in that I realized I had to explore Biomimicry in a more formal way and use it as a tool to improve the destructive environmental trajectory we humans are currently on.

The Shark’s Paintbrush is a fascinating read for just about anyone interested in Biomimicry – from the seasoned scientist to your mother who wants to understand what you’re now up to professionally.  The book encompasses a notable array of fantastic examples sweeping across a wide range of disciplines, whilst peppered with humorous anecdotes of Harman’s personal experiences from working on fishing observation vessels in Australia to openly discussing some of his business failures in the U.S. and most importantly – the lessons learned from those.

I am a big fan of Naomi Klein and upon reading her books, specifically, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, I was left with a sinking, depressive feeling (both highly recommended, by the way – I know I sold those both very well).   The biggest takeaway I received from Naomi Klein’s anti-capitalist, anti-globalization books was this:  Big business and globalization is bad and completely trashes the environment and tramples human rights so that one can buy a $5 shirt at Old Navy.  After reading those some years ago, the notion of “business” left me a bit jaded.  I see businesses extracting and using natural resources, often times to the detriment of the environment and future generations and I want nothing to do with businesses….until I discovered two things:  1.  Corporations are so powerful that they are the ones that have the power to shift mindsets and alter “business-as-usual” and 2. Biomimicry as a tool.

Tom Toro CartoonCartoon by Tom Toro

It was during this time time of revelation for me, whilst reading The Shark’s Paintbrush, that I’m not reading something on the depressing and heavy side of business.  Rather, it’s quite inspiring and left me hopeful that Biomimicry is a great tool for businesses to use, not only to reduce the amount of materials or waste, but also ways to give back to nature.   In reading this book, Harman takes the reader on a trip to various locations meeting different organisms and their amazing functions and abilities along the way.  You’ll also be inspired by the biomimetic product innovations,  as well as corporations that have improved their organizational processes and systems by taking inspiration from nature, and are actively working to integrate nature into their bottom lines.

Happy reading, and if you have any particularly inspiring books to you – let us know!  We’d love to hear!

Biomimicry Book Translated in Traditional Chinese

     shark_EN          大黃蜂飛得比波音747還快_全書封_M

Less than two weeks ago, a new book in Taiwan caught my attention.  Actually, it’s a traditional Chinese translation of a book published in the US last year.  The English title is “The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature is Inspiring Innovation”.

When I saw the translated book title:  “大黃蜂飛得比波音747還快?:仿生科技-來自大自然的下一波工業革命”,  I didn’t realize that it was actually a translated version of “The Shark’s Paintbrush” until I saw the English title in fine print on the cover.  That’s because if I were to translate the Chinese title back to English, it would read “Does Bumblebee Fly Faster Than Boeing 747?: Biomimetic Technology – The Next Wave of Industrial Revolution Coming From Nature”.  This is just a showcase of how difficult it is to transmit ideas across language boundaries.  (As a TED Volunteer Translator and Language Coordinator, trust me, I know.)

With that being said, I’m amazed by how fast this book has been translated into traditional Chinese.  Only Taiwan and Hong Kong are still using traditional Chinese as a main form of written communication (mainland China mostly uses Simplified Chinese, same as in Singapore and Malaysia).  That roughly converts to a market of 30 million people – not a particularly big market.  Because so few people still use traditional Chinese as a main form of written communication, traditional Chinese publishers are very selective about which books they translate and publish.  They prioritize translation of the most impactful texts.  The fact that “The Shark’s Paintbrush” got translated and published in about six months time tells me one thing:  biomimicry is getting major traction and momentum moving forward around the world.  More and more people are being made aware of biomimicry, even in Taiwan and Hong Kong!

In my personal opinion, if you’re interested in biomimicry, this book is a “must read.”  I know that Kelly is going to post more about the content of this book in the near future, so I’m not going to do that today.  Instead, I’m going to talk about one particular idea that the author of this book, Jay Harman, and his company, PAX Scientific (hereafter, PAX), use a lot – that is, “nature moves in spiral.” Below is a collection of my thoughts and summary of discussions that I’ve had about this topic over the past few years.  I don’t have answers to the questions that I ask, so comments and discussions about this blog post are very welcome!

1. Are the rotors from PAX modeled after whirlpool “biomimetic”?

Some say that because the word “biomimicry” uses the root “bio,” which means “life,” that modeling a non-living system can’t be “biomimicry”.  If PAX Scientific’s spiral rotor was inspired by spiral galaxies, storm systems, or whirlpools, then it was modeled after non-living systems.  They are physical phenomena that only involve physics, hence they can’t be “biomimicry”.  The distinguisher is that living systems evolve whereas non-living systems don’t.  However, some use “nature inspired …” as an alternative expression for “biomimicry”.  Since the laws of physics determine the rules/operating conditions of nature, natural evolution is governed by physics.  Living systems evolve towards “physical” perfection.  In this line of thought, isn’t modeling the physics of non-living systems in nature a part of “biomimicry”?

2. Does nature really move in spiral/curvature?

I think this question is purely dependent on your perspective, and your scale of observation.  We know that theoretically speaking we can treat a circle as infinite, short, straight segments.  A line in the film Prometheus (2012) says “God does not build in straight lines.”  Some people disagree, but this idea resonates with me on a philosophical and experiential level.  I believe it is fairly correct to say that nature moves in spiral.  I don’t think the people voicing their disagreement in the link above do a good job of presenting examples of straight lines in nature. (Can anyone give me some other examples?)  Firstly, a chemical bond isn’t “straight,” we just use straight lines to represent chemical bonds for our own convenience.  For example, a long carbon chain is never straight, it is zig-zagging.  On the other hand, it is relatively easy to find examples of things in nature that spin or move in spirals.  Electrons spin; bullets spin and move in curvature; golf balls need to be spun to go further; the Taichi (yin and yang) symbol in Chinese culture incorporates no straight lines.  Taichi symbol is thought to represent how nature works in Chinese society.  Taijiquan (Chinese martial art) and Aikido (Japanese martial art), which follow the same philosophy and have circular movements, are considered very efficient and effective martial art styles.  Even in Shaolin, do you think they’re punching in a straight line?  Look closer, they actually turn their fists when punching….forming a spiral through space and time.  In Qigong, it is taught that rotating and spinning the acupoints cultivates the energy. (Nobody really knows why, but I believe it is not merely a coincidence. Qigong originates from Taoism and follows nature’s way.  It is the core value of Taoism.)  With that said, do you believe “nature moves in spiral” or “God does not build in straight lines”?  If not?  Why?  I would like to hear your thoughts, too!!

Garbage Warrior

GAGarbage Warrior is a 2007 documentary about the American architect Michael Reynolds, which was directed by Oliver Hodge. Reynolds is known for his unconventional methods of building houses called Earthships. Those Earthships are built from recycled materials – such as old car tires, used bottles, or cans – and are practically energy independent. Energy is harvested by solar panels, the buildings’ architecture provides geothermal cooling, potable water is collected from the rain and most or all of the food can be grown inside the house. According to Reynolds a family of four could easily survive in such a building without ever going to the store or paying for utilities like water or electricity.

The documentary shows Reynolds in his every day life, building Earthships in Taos, New Mexico, with his team. It also points out Raynolds’ struggles when he had to face state regulations and federal building codes. Critics point out that Reynolds’ Earthships do not comply with conventional rules of safe architecture since the buildings are not connected to the electricity and water grid and room temperatures cannot be regulated sufficiently. Criticisms have resulted in Reynold losing his architect license, thus his Earthships have been shut down for more than 7 years. Reynolds always admitted that none of his buildings are perfect. Mistakes are important to learn from in order to evolve better solutions. Much like biological evolution, architecture continues to evolve as well. This is why Reynolds requested permission for building earthships on controlled test sites in order to optimize their design. Reynolds’ need to fight against conventional laws in order to build carbon neutral housing, shows the insanity of the bureaucratic obstacles to passing progressive environmental bills in New Mexico and the US in general.

After Reynolds failed in getting his bill passed, which would have allowed him to build on controled test sites in the US, he and his team travelled to the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean to build Earthships for people who lost everything due to the tsunami in 2004. Architects, engineers, and the general population tried to learn from Reynolds’ methods and were grateful for his help. Within a few weeks Reynolds and his team built up Earthships from local waste materials, which were also able to collect potable water from rain. In 2006, the US board of architects heard about Reynold’s work on the Andaman Islands and invited him to reapply for his architect license. Finally, in 2007 Reynolds’ request for permission to build on controlled test sites was approved by the State Legislature.

Garbage Warrior is a very impressive and inspiring documentary about a visionary man who wants to make a change in sustainable living for the good of humanity and our planet. The full documentary is available on public video platforms such as YouTube.