Monday, May 22, 2017

Beetle Origami

One of the countless fascinating examples of engineering in nature that defies explanation in terms of random mutation and natural selection is the ability of insects, such as beetles, to fold and unfold their wings. It's an astonishing ability since the folds are quite complex as this video of a ladybug beetle shows:
If the metaphysical view called naturalism is true, such processes are the result of fortuitous accidents and coincidences throughout the history of beetle evolution, yet one might rightly wonder how accident and coincidence, acting with no goal or purpose in mind, can produce a feature that, were it found in some other context, would certainly be attributed to the design of an intelligent agent.

David Klinghoffer at Evolution News quotes from an article on this phenomenon from USA Today:
Japanese scientists were curious to learn how ladybugs folded their wings inside their shells, so they surgically removed several ladybugs’ outer shells (technically called elytra) and replaced them with glued-on, artificial clear silicone shells to peer at the wings’ underlying folding mechanism.

Why bother with such seemingly frivolous research? It turns out that how the bugs naturally fold their wings can provide design hints for a wide range of practical uses for humans. This includes satellite antennas, microscopic medical instruments, and even everyday items like umbrellas and fans.

“The ladybugs’ technique for achieving complex folding is quite fascinating and novel, particularly for researchers in the fields of robotics, mechanics, aerospace and mechanical engineering,” said lead author Kazuya Saito of the University of Tokyo.
The highlights are mine.

It's truly remarkable that our most brilliant engineers are being taught design by what they are seeing in living things. It's not something that would be expected given a belief in a mechanistic, purposeless, atelic natural world. On the other hand, it's not at all surprising that the natural world would be infused with engineering marvels if the natural world is itself the product of intelligent engineering.