Buckminster Fuller recognized that “the answers to the problems of our world are all around us in the beautiful design of the universe…nature reveals to us the state of the art in design and technology, if we will look.”
This insight came over 20 years after Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay “As We May Think”, in which he described his vision of a future world of networked and connected knowledge. A world where our private libraries of books, records, and communications would be stored on high-capacity microfilm, at our fingertips, and ready to recall, access, and connect. His was a futuristic vision, inspired by the natural workings of the human brain.
Bush wrote, “The Human Mind operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps, instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. The intricacy of the trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe inspiring beyond all else in nature. Man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process artificially, but he ought to be able to learn from it.” The vision described by Bush was a mechanized version of the intricate web of synaptic connections found in the brain.
We’re now living in a world with devices that give us immediate access to all of those books, records, and communications. The devices are more elegant than Bush imagined. And we have access to much more than our own private files and libraries – we have access to anything available on the open web, plus anything that resides behind locked internet doors to which we hold a key. And we can tap into that information from just about any place – not just the mechanized desk described by Bush. We’ve surpassed the vision. And, now we must wonder, what is beyond?
Just as the architecture of our associative brain inspired Bush’s vision, possibly the wisdom of Bucky can serve as a guide into our future. Maybe we should again look to nature – to the beautiful design of the universe – to reveal the state of the art in design and technology. If we do, what will nature show us?
Like Bucky, our indigenous populations have also recognized the intelligence and soul of the natural world. In her book “Gathering Moss”, which blends science and Native American spirituality, Robin Wall Kimmerer cautions that “it’s going to take the most selfless kind of love to do right by what we cherish and give it the protection to flourish outside our possessive embrace.” Every living being – plant, mineral, microorganism – is endowed with certain gifts, its own intelligence, its own spirit, its own story. One way to learn of a living being’s particular gifts is to be sensitive to its comings and goings. If left to freely move according to its own will, a living being will find its way to to the place where it is most needed. Through this truth, nature reveals to us a connected web of reciprocity – with each taking only what it needs to flourish in the space where it can best give its gifts in the way most needed.
This picture of our natural universe illustrates an open design based on trust and sharing. One that does not seek to control, enclose, exclude, or subjugate. A world designed for openness, connections, and mutual benefit.
In their article, “Fifty Shades of Open” Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek explored the different approaches to “open”, and in the process described ways that our human world is beginning to follow the lead of the natural world. They concluded that “this snowballing growth of openness is socially beneficial and, we believe, will make the world a better place.” I agree. And, I’ll add – it will make the world the better, more beautiful place that nature has shown us is possible.