ProjectGrundl. der Bionik – Learning from Nature: Epistemological and Ontological Foundations of Biomimetics

Basic data

Grundl. der Bionik
Learning from Nature: Epistemological and Ontological Foundations of Biomimetics
01/04/2022 to 31/03/2025
Abstract / short description:
The interactions between biology and engineering are increasing, but poorly understood philosophically. A paradigmatic example is biomimetics, which is a fast-growing field of research that aims at learning from biology for applications in engineering. Its theoretical foundations, however, are still under-researched. Although much practical work has been invested in the development of market-viable products, only a few biomimetics researchers have investigated the field from a theoretical point of view, and only very few philosophical investigations are dedicated to biomimetics. Working towards a theoretical foundation of biomimetics, the present project addresses both the epistemology and the ontology of biomimetics: How does biomimetics acquire knowledge, and about what?
In order to do justice to the enormous scope of biomimetics, we will compose a corpus of examples covering its huge variety. From this, we intend to work in two directions. First, we investigate the epistemological characteristics of biomimetics. We examine whether biomimetics can be considered as a unified scientific discipline with a specific epistemological profile comprising a common object of research and a shared research approach, specific methods and objectives, and a coherent body of knowledge generated. For this purpose, we analyse our collection of examples with respect to their epistemological profile, contrast biomimetics with other areas at the intersection between natural science and engineering, and examine selected historical examples. Our guiding hypothesis is that biomimetics is unified through the search for functions and working principles to be transferred from biological to technical systems. Accordingly, we expect to identify general patterns of knowledge generation and transfer in biomimetic projects.
Second, we will ontologically systematise the categories that biomimetics researchers refer to in their research. Based on our epistemological analysis, we develop an ontological account of functions, working principles and constructions adequate for the specific challenges of biomimetics. We will formalise our ontological analysis by means of first-order logic and the Web Ontology Language (OWL), such that automatic reasoning programmes can be used with a computer-processable formalised version of our ontology. This will not only allow to automatically check the formalised ontology for consistency and for its implications, but potentially also allow our ontology to serve as a future data model for knowledge transfer between diverse research groups across disciplinary boundaries. This will help to systematise biomimetic knowledge and make the exchange of knowledge of biomimetics researchers from different fields more productive.
Philosophie der Biologie
Philosophy of Biology
Philosophy of Technology
Angewandte Ontologie
Applied Ontology

Involved staff


Institute of Evolution and Ecology
Department of Biology, Faculty of Science
Faculty of Science
University of Tübingen
Institute of Evolution and Ecology
Department of Biology, Faculty of Science

Local organizational units

Institute of Evolution and Ecology
Department of Biology
Faculty of Science


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany


Akron, Ohio, United States

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