Introduction: Setting The Scene
“We can see, more clearly than ever before, how nature works her miracles. When we stare this deeply into nature’s eyes, it takes our breath away, and in a good way, it bursts our bubble. We realise that all of our inventions have already appeared in nature in a more elegant form and at a lot less cost to the planet”. (Benyus,1997, p6)
This is one of the core messages from a relatively new field of scientific endeavour called “Biomimicry”. (Benyus, 1997.) The etymology of the term “biomimicry” is, “from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate”. (Biomimicry Institute 2010 (a)). It represents an approach to science which focuses on “the science and art of emulating Nature's best biological ideas to solve human problems”. (Biomimicry Institute 2010 (b))Two core principles of Biomimicry are firstly that evolution has already solved many of the human problems with which science is currently grappling, and secondly that in order to solve the human problems we identify we must “interpret them from a biological or natural ‘perspective”.
While the concepts and principles associated with this new field have resonated with those who have been trained in disciplines which are derivative of the natural sciences (i.e. the “hard sciences” like physics, biology) , there seems to have been scant interest from those who work in the more socially oriented domains of inquiry which focus on human behaviour in society, such as education, psychology, sociology, anthropology, (i.e. the social sciences).
As an educator who has spent the previous forty years trying to develop an educationally relevant, ecologically valid theory of learning to read (Cambourne 1988. 1995, 2000, 2009), Biomimicry has provided me with new insights to bring to this quest. (Cambourne, 2007)
One is that learning to read is also a ‘human problem’ with which the social sciences (especially psychology, education, and cognate domains) have been ‘grappling’ for about a hundred years. Another is that during this time it’s been interpreted from a psychological rather than a biological perspective. Yet another is that a hundred years of ‘grappling’ with the problem using a psychological lens had been a failure. At the time of writing, we’re not even close to identifying or agreeing on a definitive theory of learning to read.
Why? This state of affairs prompted me to pose these four (Biomimicry-related) questions :
In the next Blog post I will address the following questions
1. Is it possible to apply the basic principle of “emulating Nature's best biological ideas to solve a human problem” to an area of the social sciences, (in this case learning to read)?
2. What does it mean to adopt an “interpretive perspective” in scientific endeavours?
3. What’s involved in interpreting the human problem of learning to read from a biological rather than a psychological perspective?
4. What does a “biological perspective for addressing the problem of learning to read” look like?
The more I read in the field, the more I was convinced it was possible to address each of these questions in ways that would add to our understanding of issues with which Reading Education had been “grappling” for as long as I can remember.