He was sitting in his mother’s garden at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, probably contemplating some profound philosophical idea, when while vaguely gazing at the horizon, he saw an apple fall from his mother’s apple tree. This prompted him to ask: “Why sh[oul]d that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground […].” This is the myth around Sir Isaac Newton’s first contemplations of his law of universal gravitation. This is also one example of how nature can inspire us, lead us and teach us about ourselves, our surroundings and our potentials.
When we look at the scientific advances we have achieved as a species, it is easy to discount the role nature played and continues to play in pushing forward these developments.
We have built our planes by first observing birds, manufactured our submarines by learning from whales and tuned our sonars by listening in to bats and dolphins. This is what is generally referred to as biomimicry, the practise of looking deeply into nature for solutions to engineering, design and other challenges. We simply try to figure out where our challenge can be found in nature, and what strategy or pattern nature developed to overcome or transcend it. This process of observation is the first step to learn from nature truly.
The second step is to creatively scale up nature’s solutions to fit our human frameworks. While working on this, we must be aware of the challenges this scaling and fitting processes may present. Generally, it is not difficult to transpose nature’s solutions to fit our needs. What is challenging is to achieve this without violating nature’s laws of interconnectedness, interdependence and sustainability.
The story of morphine, for example, has gone through the steps described above. The pain-relieving qualities of opium have been known and exploited for centuries. These qualities had always been extracted from the natural plant itself. In our modern age, however, “the pharmaceutical industry believed nature could not provide enough of the actual raw materials, to grow enough poppies to feed an opiate market. Much easier [they thought] is to synthesise the molecular structure”, explains the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Ecology Group, Owen J. Morgan.
Synthesised morphine was the result of the pharmaceutical industry’s attempts to take something that nature provides and fit it into a human framework of consumption. However, as explained by Brook, Bennet and Desai in their paper entitled ‘The Chemical History of Morphine: An 8000-year Journey, from Resin to de-novo Synthesis’, “our attempts to synthesise morphine, despite our advanced knowledge in synthetic chemistry, are still no match for the plant-based extraction of morphine from the poppy plant”. As we are part of nature, “if we put a synthetic into our body, it doesn’t matter how close we have replicated nature, we have missed parts of those building blocks, because we don’t understand all those building blocks”, explains Owen.
Nature is filled with examples that can benefit us, from healing plants to creative, cooperative networks. The mass scaling of nature’s solutions has always been the problematic sequence in our attempts to learn from nature.
How do we bridge this gap? Only by always respecting nature’s laws of interconnectedness, interdependence and sustainability. If our mass scaling claims to be “independent” from nature, this is a first sign that we are off track. If we do not consider the impact of our innovations on us, our environment, other species and the future, it is then a sure sign that we need to reconsider our steps. In the words of Owen, “nature can provide us with all these life-giving and healing properties, why don’t we figure out how to work with nature to actually have a beneficial relationship, so that we coexist?”
GEG seeks to do precisely that. Our research and development, as well as our innovations, such as Ennea and the Harvester, are inspired by nature. We apply this inspiration to human needs by respecting our interconnectedness and interdependence with nature, and by working sustainability for the future of our species and our planet.