The Crying Engineer

Janine Benyus tells a poignant story illustrating how schools have focused on what humans can do with technology while ignoring how to learn from nature’s technology.

Conversation With Janine Benyus by wfarren

Transcript, starting at 8:40

I had gone to the Galapagos. One of the perks of this job as a biologist is that we do our workshops in amazing places where there are lots and lots of habitat types to expose architects, designers, engineers—the people who make everything that you’re sitting on—who make our world… We bring them into natural areas and we bring them from one habitat to another and we show them that, you know, no matter what their question is…if their question is, “How does nature filter?” I Had taken this group of waste-water engineers to the Galapagos. They had no idea why they were there. They were a little hesitant to be there actually; they were a little miffed. You know, they’re engineers, they solve problems for a living and they didn’t like to be told that maybe an octopus could teach them something. It’s interesting. Anyway, we worked through that. They said, “Why are we here?” I asked them, “What [do] you do?” and they said, “We filter.” And I said let’s go snorkeling because everything in the ocean basically is filtering salt out of the water. Everything lives on freshwater. Everything [in ocean] lives in salt water but has fresh water within it including plants like mangroves. They’re filtering; they’re filtering mechanisms.

So one day I came upon this guy Paul, this engineer, this very reserved guy and he was crying. He was looking at a mangrove plant crying, standing there, the tears coming down his eyes. And I said, “What’s going on?” And he said, “Why have I never learned in all of my education about mangroves? Why don’t I know or have ever considered that these guys are a solar-powered desalination plant? They have their roots in salt water and are living on freshwater.” He said, “We use 900 pounds per square inch to force water against a membrane to get salt out of it and we wonder why it clogs. And this is silent, solar powered, desalination.”

He said, “Tell me how it works.”

Engineers are trying to make tools for living–technology. Nature has technologies too, only engineers never learn about nature’s technologies. They learn how to domesticate nature, learn sort of how to use nature when we need it but they don’t learn how to learn from nature.

Posted on September 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm by admin · Permalink
In: Nature As Teacher, Thinkers · Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by William Farren, Alltop Education. Alltop Education said: The Crying Engineer […]

  2. Written by Charlieroy1977
    on October 10, 2010 at 9:14 am

    @ Bill
    Thanks for sharing. I'm passing this along to my science teachers.

  3. Written by wfarren
    on October 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Hi Charlie: There's definitely a lot there for science classes to look at. An easy way to get them involved in cross-disciplinary topics.

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