Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Review: Discovery of Design

I got the chance to review Discovery of Design by Donald DeYoung and Derrik Hobbs.  I just knew that my 13 year old son would love it, and I was right.

The basic idea of the book, as stated by the publisher:
The Discovery of Design is a book that looks at nature from the microscopic to the stars in the heavens. This book shows how many useful and innovative products have been modeled after the wonders of creation. In these pages, you will see the elements of design in nature, and how on a limited scale, we have been able to utilize these in modern technology.
We took a look at the book, and decided that we would go through the book together and talk about the fantastic features present in nature, and discuss the ideas or products that were inspired by them.  We have not finished the book yet, but have had some great conversations.

Let's look at the ant... since Connor is fascinated by entomology, the fact that the insect section is one of the longest ones thrilled him.  But our time spent on the two-page spread about ants was particularly fun.

First, we learn about swarming behavior, which is common not only to ants, but many birds, fish and other insects.  In the discussion of swarming, we learn that no single ant is directing the behavior of the whole group, instead it is the countless interactions between individual ants that steers the overall group behavior.

Then, we see how these interactions have inspired computer programs that do things like control airport management or other instances of complex scheduling.

Finally, there is a section with a couple of questions for further study.  We have chosen to just read the questions, try to answer them from our own knowledge, and then go read the answers provided in the back of the book.  The questions here include:
  1. How many legs does an ant have?  We knew the answer (6), but in the book, the answer section provides the additional information that the study of ants is called myrmecology, from the Greek word for ant (myrmex).
  2. How does the total number of ants compare with other animals?  Again, we knew/guessed that ants are one of the most plentiful creatures on the planet.  But the answer section stunned us... not only are they the most numerous animal in the world, but they make up 15-25% of Earth's total animal biomass.  Yikes!
  3. What did King Solomon say about ants?  Connor's answer?  "Something wise."  <eye roll>  My answer was only slightly better... I could quote "Go to the ant, ye sluggard..." which isn't quite right.  The answer guide referred us to Proverbs 6:6-8 and that King Solomon describes how diligent the ant is in planning for the future.
The best part, though, was that we actually went and read Proverbs 6:6-8.  Verse 7 says: "Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,"  (ESV)  Connor said, "Solomon was even wiser than people thought, since the book is telling us that not having a ruler is a pretty recent discovery."

And it got even better.  We pulled up a commentary on Proverbs (A Handbook on Proverbs) and that reflected on Proverbs 6:7 in the following way:  "It is apparent that the teacher’s understanding of the elaborate structure of an ant colony is quite limited in terms of present-day knowledge."  Connor's statement -- "Instead, it is apparent that this author's appreciation for the knowledge of Solomon is quite limited in terms of present-day knowledge."

We are loving this book.  Many of the entries have far more interesting human applications, and there are so many great tidbits about the natural world.  This is a fantastic addition to our schooling.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review. 

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