Workshop: The Foundations of Biomimetics

On March, 5–7, 2024, we met at the university guest house in Tübingen with members of our advisory board, other biomimetics experts and philosophers to discuss the foundations of biomimetics. Researchers from the US joined in via Zoom.

Tuesday 5.3.2024
9:00-9:15 Welcome
9:15-10:45 Object of Research and Research Approach: Manfred Drack, Oliver Betz
10:45-11:15 Coffee break
11:15-12:45 Methods and Objectives: Henry Dicks, Petra Gruber
12:45-14:00 Lunch
14:00-15:30 Body of Knowledge Generated: Henry Dicks, Manfred Drack
15:30-16:00 Coffee break
16:00-17:30 Differences to other Fields and History of Biomimetics: Anita Roth-Nebelsick, Marco Tamborini

Wednesday 6.3.2024
9:00-9:15 Organisational announcements
9:15-10:45 Discovery of Biomimetic Knowledge: Wilfried Konrad, Olga Speck
10:45-11:15 Coffee break
11:15-12:45 Justification of Biomimetic Knowledge: Ille C. Gebeshuber, Marco Tamborini
12:45-14:00 Lunch
14:00-16:00 Working principles, Design, and Constructions: Ille C. Gebeshuber, Thomas Speck
16:00-16:30 Coffee break
16:30- 18:00 Functions in Biomimetics (hybrid): Olga Speck, Julian Vincent, Emilie C. Snell-Rood

Thursday 7.3.2024
9:00-9:15 Organisational announcements
9:15-10:45 Introduction to Applied Ontology, Q&A: Dilek Yargan, Ludger Jansen
10:45-11:15 Coffee break
11:15-12:45: Models and Reality in Biomimetic Research: Petra Gruber, Anita Roth-Nebelsick12:45-14:00 Lunch
14:00-15:30 Experiences with Ontologies and Other Tools: Julian Vincent, Dilek Yargan
15:30-16:00 Coffee break
16:00- 17:30 Evaluation Criteria for Ontologies and Other Tools (hybrid): Jeremy Thomas, Ludger Jansen

Following Nature: Ontological, epistemological, and ethical remarks on a current phenomenon in the Anthropocene

Online Talk by Philipp Höfele on Monday, 13. November 2023, 20:00 CET

Abstract. The diagnosis of the Anthropocene, according to which humans, through their technological actions, are irreversibly and in part ecologically irresponsibly inscribing themselves in nature or, more precisely, in the geological strata, is currently being widely discussed in almost all sciences and beyond. Against this background, the sciences see themselves increasingly obliged to present new approaches to solutions in response to the challenges indicated by the term Anthropocene. In this debate, the potential and the special position of nature-imitating technologies is increasingly emphasized, that they offer promising approaches to solve many of these challenges. From an ontological, epistemological and ethical perspective, however, the question arises as to the reasons why such imitation can be accompanied by normative claims such as the so-called ‘biomimetic promise’. Natural phenomena and processes can neither be understood as sustainable per se, nor can they be ascribed normativity, if one does not want to succumb to a naturalistic fallacy from what is to what ought to be.

It seems to be promising to broaden the view for the evaluation of this nevertheless widespread opinion and to ask for the ontological-ethical approaches to justification and their validity as a basis for such an assumption by going back to the nature-ethical ‘naturam sequi’ argument, which has already been advocated several times and discussed intensively. Here, two things have to be considered: on the one hand, what is axiologically understood as having value, i.e. the ‘object domain’ of ethical appreciation. But the principle ‘to follow nature (naturam sequi)’ is at the same time to be understood as guiding action; it is, in other words, at the same time deontologically relevant, insofar as duties or at least orientations judged as ‘good’ are to be derived from nature for ethically right action.

Dr. Philipp Höfele is an Assistant Professor at the Seminar for Philosophy at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg since 2023. Previously, he was a Postdoctoral Researcher within the interdisciplinary Cluster of Excellence livMatS (2019-2021) as well as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Freie Universität Berlin and Visiting Scholar at Pennsylvania State University (2021-2023). His main topics are practical philosophy and ethics of German idealism and post-idealism as well as ethics of nature and technology in the context of the Anthropocene discourse. At the same time, he is a board member (secretary) of the International Schelling Society and co-editor of the international journal “Schelling-Studien” (Karl Alber). Major works: “Wollen und Lassen. Zur Ausdifferenzierung, Kritik und Rezeption des Willensparadigmas in der Philosophie Schellings” (2019), Das Böse im Anthropozän? (Special Issue in “Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie”, ed. with Lore Hühn, 2021), Nature in the Anthropocene (Special Issue in “The Anthropocene Review”, ed. with Lore Hühn and Oliver Müller, 2022).

Join in via Zoom

The map is not the territory: Remarks about simulation

Online-Presentation by Klaus Kornwachs on 5 June 2023, 20:00 CEST (Berlin time)

Abstract: Sometimes the rationale for “Bionically” driven design of technology is seen as a kind of transfer from technical models to models of natural processes and structures, particularly in biology.  This is true, of course, because historically and methodologically technology – as a mode of cognition – is older than science. But I would like to turn the tables and show that the “imitation” of nature, especially in biology, is rather a simulation of technical functional hypothesis, for which a scientific understanding is no longer necessary. The key to distinguish between structural similarity and functional similarity, which can be generated in a simulation. The wrong conclusions arise when one tries to deduce from structure similarity to function similarity and vice versa. And it becomes difficult when, data-based models are created on pattern recognition and learning systems, which then are used as the basis for a simulation. Here, misinterpretation of the results is possible because they cannot be evaluated within a proper context.

Klaus Kornwachs is one of the most prolific philosophers of technology in Germany. Till 2011, he held the chair for “Technikphilosophie” at the BTU Cottbus. He was guest professor at the Budapest University of Technology and Economy (BUTE), at the Technical University of Vienna and the Technical University of Dalian, China. Since 1990 he is Honorary Professor for philosophy at the Humboldt Centre for Humanities at the University of Ulm and since 2013 Honorary Professor at the China Intelligent Urbanization Co-Creation Center of the Tongji University, Shanghai.

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The power of translation: From natural to biotechnical form

Online-Presentation by Marco Tamborini on Monday, 13. March 2023, 20:00 CET (Berlin Time)

All are invited. Link will be posted on our mailing list.

Abstract: In this presentation, I explore how bio-hybrid forms can be created and combined when starting out from organic forms. The thesis I advance here is epistemological: the combinatorial practice of bionics, biomimetics, biorobotics, and all design strategies inspired by nature is based not on biomimetic inspiration (i.e., on a kind of imitation of nature) but on a practice of translation. To develop this thesis, I focus on the practices of contemporary biorobotics. I examine the practice of translating natural forms into technical artifacts, as developed by Raoul Heinrich Francé during the early 20th century. I then analyze the making of robots capable of replicating complex systems of locomotion. Finally, I investigate the interaction between robots and living organisms (fish). In the concluding part of the paper, I reflect on the philosophical payoff and broader conditions of possibility for this translational practice. I discuss when and to what extent a translation of biological forms into biotechnical ones is acceptable, and also highlight the conception of form that underlies this practice. I additionally seek to draw attention to the need to philosophically investigate what happens between different domains of knowledge – especially between science and technology. Thus, this talk invites philosophers to develop a philosophy in the interstices of knowledge production.

Marco Tamborini teaches and researches in the field of philosophy of science, philosophy of technology and history of technology at the Institute of Philosophy of the Technical University of Darmstadt. He is a member of the Junge Akademie der Wissenschaften und Litteratur | Mainz. He was a Pre-Doc at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall College for Advanced Studies University of Cambridge, as well as a Visiting Scholar at the Scuola Normale Superiore Pisa and at the BioRobotics Institute – Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies.
His research focuses on the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology, morphology, robotics, bionics, bioinspired architecture, AI and paleontology, and the history and philosophy of technoscience. Recent publications: The Architecture of Evolution: The Science of Form in Twentieth-Century Evolutionary Biology (University of Pittsburgh Press 2023), Entgrenzung: Die Biologisierung der Technik und die Technisierung der Biologie (Meiner Verlag 2022).



Virtual Talk by Henry Dicks on Biomimetic and Other Epistemologies

We are happy to welcome Henry Dicks in our series of online seminars on the philosophy of biomimetics on Monday, 12. December 2022, 8 pm CET / 7pm UCT / 2 pm EST.

Abstract: Implicit in Janine Benyus’s influential exposition of biomimicry is the idea that it embodies a new epistemological relation to nature. Nature is no longer simply what we learn about, the object of our knowledge, but what we learn from, the source of our knowledge. As it stands, however, this insight remains under-theorized and has yet to be brought into sustained dialogue with contemporary epistemology. In this talk, I will first develop the contrast between conventional epistemology (learning about nature) and what I propose to call “biomimetic epistemology” (learning from nature), before comparing and contrasting biomimetic epistemology with various different alternative epistemologies, including naturalized epistemology, externalist epistemology, social epistemology, feminist epistemology, environmental epistemology, and indigenous epistemology. By way of conclusion, I will spell out the various ways in which I think biomimetic epistemology is significant.

Henry Dicks is an environmental philosopher, currently teaching environmental ethics and environmental political philosophy at University Jean Moulin Lyon 3. His research focuses on the philosophy of biomimicry, which he analyses in its ontological, technological, ethical and epistemological dimensions. Following the completion of a DPhil at the University of Oxford on Heidegger and environmental philosophy, he has held two post-docs at the Institute of Philosophical Research of the University of Lyon, the most recent one in a collaborative research project of the University of Lyon’s urban studies research centre, IMU (Intelligence des Mondes Urbains), on the emerging concept of “biomimetic cities”. He runs the website Philosophy & Biomimicry.

His new book, The Biomimicry Revolution: Learning from Nature How to Inhabit the Earth, will be published with Columbia University Press in March 2023.

Virtual Talk by Thomas Zoglauer (in German)

Modellübertragungen zwischen Natur und Technik aus wissenschaftstheoretischer Sicht

Date: Monday, 12. September 2022, 20:00–21:30 CEST

Zoom-Details: (now deleted below, or on our mailing list)

Abstract: In der Biologie werden oft technomorphe Modelle zur Erklärung biologischer Vorgänge verwendet. Methodisch betrachtet handelt es sich dabei um Modellübertragungen von der Technik auf die Biologie. Ich werde Modellübertragungen aus wissenschaftstheoretischer Sicht analysieren sowie ihre Möglichkeiten und Grenzen aufzeigen. Am Beispiel des Informationsbegriffs in der Biologie werden die Probleme diskutiert, die mit Modellübertragungen verbunden sind.

BERLIN, Germany
20:00 Mon, Sep 12 2022
22:00 Mon, Sep 12 2022

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14:00 Mon, Sep 12 2022
16:00 Mon, Sep 12 2022

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18:00 Mon, Sep 12 2022
20:00 Mon, Sep 12 2022