Technical problems caused a slight delay in getting this to you, but at long last, here’s the last half of my interview with Design in Nature author Adrian Bejan. Catch the first part here.
Is there a practical application here? Could someone with a good understanding of Constructal Law anticipate the growth of social organizations or natural phenomena such as rivers?
Definitely. I think that all of these things are important domains in which a knowledge of the Constructal Law, once possessed, empowers the mind to predict the future a lot better than in the absence of the Constructal law. What I was doing accidentally in the nineties is now an evolution in engineering. Many people – most of them my competitors – are now designing vascular designs. They are configuring them heat exchangers and fuel cell packages. They are configuring them to have the flow architectures that are tree-shaped, either two dimensionally tree-shaped, or three dimensionally tree-shaped. This is an entirely new direction in engineering that is happening because of the Constructal law as stated by me in 1996. So that’s one thing. In geophysics it is important to know why measurements happen in certain ways, for example, the architecture of a river basin is very well-known from calculations that state on average a river basin has four tributaries. Now, with the Constructal law, one can make that particular book chapter as thin as one page by showing how to predict the number of four channels from one bigger channel. That’s what the Constructal law does: it compresses the book of science. It’s the same with biology with the movement of animals. In the space of one page one can predict, broadly speaking, that all animals should be faster if they’re larger. They should move their bodies – leg stride, wings flapping – when they’re larger. Not qualitatively, but in accordance with precise formulas that are derived if one manipulates the pencil and paper animated by the Constructal law, so once again, the book of zoology get’s thinner because of the Constructal law. Science is really an evolutionary design: The book is getting thinner and thinner even though we know more and more. I said in the book that we know more not because our heads are getting bigger but that the organization of what we know is improving. A stronger, or simpler, support structure for the many details that assault our vision and hearing. Now I’ll get to the last part of your question, whether one can predict social orders, and the answer is emphatically “Yes”. It’s important to know the direction in which our movement on the landscape is evolving. First of all, it has a design which is predictable, but now we should be able to sleep more easily, untroubled by the fact that the traffic in the city is going to get not only more efficient but faster if possible. It will spread, one cannot contain the spread of the so-called urban sprawl. Sooner or later, like those levies on the Mississippi in New Orleans, the natural tendency of the flow system empowers the system to revolt. That’s the way things will be: either naturally if allowed to morph freely in steps, or cataclysmically with hiccups if they are temporarily prohibited from morphing freely. This is known now because of the Constructal law. We mention many of these things in the book, but sometimes you have to detect them by kind of reading between the lines because it’s not about me being Nostradamus! It’s about telling a story about how much fun I’m having with this particular secret! I have a secret I want to tell everyone!
It seems that many artists, particularly some Japanese artists, seem to have intuitively understood that there are these natural patterns in the world around them. Could people, before now, stumbled upon some aspect of the Constructal law without seeing all of it? Could it have influenced anything, perhaps religion or art?
I think that this connection is right on the money. In fact, I detected this in that first story that you wrote. I was actually surprised by this myself. In the first years of all of this Constructal law, I received a lot of correspondence, and a significant amount of it was from people in Japan, Korea, China and India. Many of them wanted to know my origins and how I came to think this way. I would respond with the truth, that I’m from Romania, and that would be a conversation stopper! I became curious, and I asked during my travels to those regions about this initial curiosity, and basically I was told that Eastern cultures have had this ideal or appreciation for the fact that life is movement and flow; that it is never-ending and always morphing. It is all these things that were for me an accidental discovery in 1995. So I sort of get in your column and I agree with you. That’s why, I’m quite positive, that my book will be embraced in that part of the globe.
What about this part of the globe? Do you find that many Westerners willing to think this way?
Even before this book the reaction that I got from my audiences was one of ‘Gee, this is so familiar. I have been thinking this way’ or ‘Everyone knows.’ The version that I like the best is one that comes from high school audiences. The kids confess that mom and dad told them to “Go with the flow” or “If you can’t beat them, join them” or “All roads lead to Rome”. These are words of wisdom that would not be spoken unless the speaker recognizes the design through the branches of which things are flowing. It’s a design that it is not static, not still art, but an architecture that is morphing, that is alive. These are the words of wisdom our ancestors have given us through the centuries. These are things that the Constructal law takes and puts together and says “These are laws of physics. Let’s move on.”
Is there room for free will in a world that is determined by the Constructal law, or are we all part of the flow?
The beginning of your statement is correct. If you’re talking about individuals, you still have free will to make decisions. However, these decisions, according to the Constructal law, are the same “decisions” of everything else that moves. You have to facilitate the movement of the individual or the landscape: It is through this natural tendency that all of us have the will to live longer, more healthily, more safely and with the knowledge of medical care and of course with the happiness of the soul which is known through art and music and things of that type. All of these things are good and I see them as contributing to better and better movement to our animal mass on the landscape, because at the end of the day our legacy on the Earth’s crust is no different than the water from the basin. We have taken mass from here and put it somewhere else. We have contributed to reshaping the Earth’s crust like all of the other things that move on the landscape. Animal migration is a very obvious example of this.
Are you a happier man now that you’ve discovered this law? Has it made your life simpler or happier in some way?
Well, no. I was a happy man from the beginning. No, really! I was lucky at every turn, the big one being coming to America. I didn’t have any problems with depression or being pessimistic about my future, that of those around me or the country. What is true is that because of the Constructal law is that this happy life of mine has become more interesting. I’m talking with a lot of interesting people now. These people aren’t like me, meaning that they’re not mechanical engineers. They are biologists, sociologists, philosophers, civil engineers, and people with programs who don’t have any titles. People want to participate in this interesting discussion. Just last month we had the seventh Constructal law conference in Brazil. It’s not organized by me; it’s organized by this movement that has just come from nowhere! Books are coming out written by other people. I get invited out more than I used to, and I have a lot more friends that I used to. This is fun! Life is a lot more interesting that it used to be.