Reversible Universe

Implications of Affordance-based Reverse Engineering of Complex Natural Systems

  • Dominic Halsmer
  • Michael Gewecke
  • Rachelle Gewecke
  • Nate Roman
  • Tyler Todd
  • Jessica Fitzgerald


Recent advances in the field of engineering design suggest the usefulness of the concept of affordance for reverse engineering of both man-made and natural systems. An affordance is simply what a system provides to an end-user or to another part of the system. With the current recognition that engineering concepts are playing a key role in deciphering the workings of complex natural systems such as the living cell and the human brain, affordance-based reverse engineering procedures should be considered as appropriate tools for this work. Such an approach may have important implications for philosophy and theology.

Procedures for reverse engineering and design recovery have become well-defined in several fields, especially computer software and hardware, where pattern detection and identification play important roles. These procedures can also be readily applied to complex natural systems where patterns of multiple interacting affordances facilitate the development, sustenance and education of advanced life forms such as human beings. Thinking about the human condition in terms of affordances leads to a new and fruitful interaction between the fields of science and theology, in which the field of engineering plays a key role in the dialogue. Proper understanding of the interplay between both positive and negative affordances in the context of engi- neering design under necessary constraints leads to a clearer worldview and a better understanding of mankind’s place and purpose in the universe.