Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Covering the design company IDEO's product design process, the host of the documentary called “IDEO Deep Dive” said something to the effect of “everything besides nature was designed.”

The Gear

Consider the lowly gear – classically an iconic element to indicate human technological progress and design. We all have seen them - mundane right? Actually no. Gears aren't interesting because of their boring shape, but rather because of the design criteria needed for proper function. Nor are they arbitrary or haphazardly designed and fabricated. Teeth and gear spacing, proper alignment and material type, and optimal size and shape are all essential.

As ancient as almost any other human technology and as human of a design as they come, I think we would be stunned if nature contained a beautiful geared system. One is technology, the other is biology. Gears are very mechanical and systematic, seemingly very different than the organic nature of life.  I want to changeable this notion.

The Nymph

An unremarkable English insect took the biological world by surprise some time ago, the Issus nymph (1). Interlocking gears studs the trocantera this insects hind-legs (above image hosted by

Synchronizing the jumping legs, these gears coordinate the action of simultaneous movement in both legs (first image below, hosted by The design is essential for this little creature so its jump is synchronized. Moving at high rates of speed through the air, the insect would spiral out of control without this arrangement (second image below from

Best Explanation 

As you study these beautiful images, reconsider what the host of that documentary expressed. Now tell me, what's your gut reaction, do these gears look designed or do the demonstrate mindless origins? I'm not asking what you think, but rather your first reaction? If you are like most, you have to agree, they appear designed.

A method that many use to answer historical science questions is to observe the present to understand the past events. While not every historical event may be deduced this way, many concepts can be elucidated. Every new design from our experience has been agent designed. I can' think of an exception. So why wouldn't we expect agent causation in the design in nature? Isn't the most reasonable explanation for the design in nature a mind?

It seems that biology has an habit of surprising us, why? We are stunned with the design we find in nature. Many times technology and biology overlap in design. We infer design in technology, is it not logical to infer design in biology as well? The design in nature seems to jive well well with our presuppositions of design, not chance and random like process. Intuitively we can detect design.
In addition, designs in nature seem to be optimally designed for the function intended. In fact, the designs are so good that we, in our quest for technology, copy biological designs in a field of study called biomimicry. We look in awe at biological artifacts and let them inspire us for tools we make. Technology, while amazing, is clumsily and klutzy in comparison to biology. Brilliant minds spend hours, days and years on designs that are far inferior to what we find in nature.

Elegance At Its Best

Again, let me ask you, from your intuition and from experience, can't you infer design? Your gut reaction is awe at the beauty of the gear design, you don't automatically infer randomness in mechanical like structures like this, do you? The only source of new design, from our experience, is intelligence. In fact, we can even learn from optimal designs in nature, including this gear. We are able to copy these structures, even though they are more elegant than our own mindful designs. From our intelligently designed technology, we come short. Biology has very advanced designs, while it seems illogical to infer origins from mindless process, it's not only natural but also logical to infer design on biological structures - even this gear.

(1) Burrows and Sutton. "Interacting Gears Synchronize Propulsive Leg Movements in a Jumping Insect"

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