Phenomenological and analytical approaches underline biomimetics as a science

Manfred Drack, University of Tubingen, Germany

Most research efforts in biomimetics are directed towards developing specific applications or methods to efficiently reach defined application goals. The theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of the field, however, remain poorly investigated. These underpinnings need to be considered to complete the field and anchor its scientific status. Biomimetics is characterised in different ways: (1) a phenomenological approach can be distinguished from (2) describing biomimetics via necessary criteria and (3) an analytical approach. In all cases several terms have been used to qualify biomimetics more precisely. These include biology push, technology pull, technical biology, biomimetics in a narrow sense, and reverse biomimetics. Such terms are used to describe the field of research on a phenomenological level. Some of them can only be applied post hoc or denote a certain method that adds some heuristic value. Other terms – such as inspiration, abstraction, application – are used in a normative manner. They denote criteria that must be fulfilled in order to talk about biomimetic products proper, and they loosely describe phases that have to be transitioned in the respective work processes. Analysing biomimetics in greater detail raises terms such as function, working principle, or boundary condition. The latter set links to a larger body of knowledge investigated by theoreticians and philosophers to analyse the “form-function-relationships” in biology and engineering with respect to basic conceptual categories. Concepts in these three different approaches to characterising biomimetics are used to tackle the question whether biomimetics can rightfully be called a science. Historically, several criteria have been developed to demarcate the border between science and non-science. Among them are own method, falsifiability, own field of research. These criteria are used here to answer the question and clarify the scientific status of biomimetics. According to many criteria, biomimetics is a science.