May 25, 2005

Organic design

You can't look at this picture and tell me there's not a bizarre resemblance between the two.

And yes, Vulgar Wizard outed me on it in the comments section yesterday, if you read that sort of thing, because I showed her the picture at work yesterday of just the wasp, hoping she'd make the connection on her own, and she did, instantly. I'm so proud of her! It's true, though, the resemblance is rather frightening, when the wasp is shown close up and you take the motorcycle as sort of a gestalt, rather than looking at it as a collection of little fiddly bits. And in looking at the two-as-one picture this morning I realised that a lot of what I was seeing was just in my head, but I think the resemblance is still there and is quite strong.

The one is, naturally, the dirt dauber I was talking about yesterday. The other is a Yamaha YZF R-1. I think what we're seeing here is proof that form may follow function but also that there's an elegance to certain forms. Form has followed function since Man first became a tool user. When it's time to make flint knives we make flint knives, and no matter how separated the different tribes of Man are, you can look at a flint knife from the Amazon Basin and one from the North American Plains Indians and they're both flint knives, no question. There's a certain 'knifeness' about them, a basic design that cannot be changed, or it is no longer a knife. Blade, place to hold it, it's a knife.

Naturally, as we've evolved and developed, form has followed function but we have let a lot of extraneous creep in; decoration, improvements, widgets, you name it. But looking at the first powered bicycle and the most advanced motorcycle today and you'll see that there are still certain bits that are unalterably part of it's function: two wheels, one in front of the other, a saddle or place to sit, a motor of some sort and a drivetrain, and handlebars or a tiller to turn the front wheel. A motorcycle in simplest terms is still a motorcycle, even with yards of fairing and ultra-lightweight components.

So then we look at the wasp, and I realise that my enthusiasm of yesterday is hard to get across in words, but you begin to see the basic form of a sport bike there. Very thin waist where the saddle is located, somewhat bulbous rear quarter, the mass of the object toward the front of the machine, both organic and inorganic, etc. The form of the wasp has been designed from thousands of years of trial and error, and has resulted in many many different forms, but all of a certain line. Three body sections, wings on top, bulbous eyes, long legs. Basic form following basic function--that of an efficient flying machine.

You can't look at those pictures without seeing something else if you're a man, and I'm not talking about horsepower. Curves. Both objects follow the 'coke bottle' shape of a woman's figure. Ever heard the term "wasp-waisted?" Granted, to have a waist that small a woman would be forced to forgoe the use of all of her internal organs below the ribs and above the pelvic girdle, and maybe even skip on most of her spinal column, but that shape is unmistakable to the male of the species.

So we then beggar the question--"Why?" For the wasp, it's the end product of Nature filling a niche. There was a need for a flying insect that could paralyse or kill with a built-in hypodermic injector, and that insect developed to fill that niche. Or if you're the other way 'round, there was a bug who made for itself a niche. Either one works for me. I just think they're incredibly elegant. The wasp more so than the bike, but still.

So why did it happen this way? Did I just happen to stumble on one of the few nature/manmade item comparisons that works this way, or did I finally realise conciously that Man as Designer takes the natural world as his cue? Or was this in the back of my mind for a very long time and I just now got around to writing about it because it's wasp season again and I'm on a rampage to kill every red wasp around here and I wrote about it while it's still fresh in my mind?

Who was the old dead Greek who said that Man was the measure of all things? I'm not so sure about all that, as I'm the sort of irrelephant that believes that we're integral with, not separate from nature, but we're tremendous copiers, and nature has had a very long time to perfect certain designs. So next time some guy goes humming past you on a Hayabusa, don't swat at him, and next time you see a dirt dauber carefully building an adobe hut on your wall don't knock it down. The Hayabusa guy is just following certain natural instincts, and so is the wasp, and at least the wasp is managing to keep the black widow and brown recluse spider population down.

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