Thermodynamics expert Bejan (Engineering/Duke Univ.; Porous and Complex Flow Structures in Modern Technologies, 2011 etc.) claims to have discovered a new scientific principle called the “constructal law.”
With the assistance of columnist Zane, Bejan takes the evolution of “finite-size flow system[s]” as a model to exemplify his unifying principle that allegedly explains the design of all natural systems—both inanimate and animate, biological or social. The author conflates life and motion, writing that “anything that flows… is 'alive' because it evolves”—whether it be a river or a human being—and that the “hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere are a tapestry of engines attached to brakes.” Bejan compares himself favorably to Newton and Darwin, and he suggests that a law similar to the constructal law applies to the way that tributaries flow into rivers, increasing the speed of the flowing water; to highway systems and athletic competitions, in which athletes achieve record-breaking performances; and to the military, which channels soldiers, supplies, vehicles, strategies, etc. Lest the title suggest that he is a supporter of theories of Intelligent Design, the author explicitly rejects the existence of a designer. He also opts for hierarchical social systems and the concentration of power and wealth.
Bejan provides clear explanations of basic design principles as they apply to fluid flow, the design of computer chips and the function of animal circulatory systems, but his broader claim to have discovered an umbrella theory about the universe is unconvincing.