Bicycle a combination of bi-, the prefix for ‘two,’ and the Greek root word kuklos, meaning ‘ring’ or ‘circle.’ The word kuklos later evolved into the Latin cyclus and finally the English cycle. The dictionary defines the word as the following:
a vehicle composed of two wheels held in a frame one behind the other, propelled by pedals and steered with handlebars attached to the front wheel.
But I still argue the image above is a bicycle.
Do you believe me?
You are right to be skeptical. It doesn’t look like a bicycle… it has no seat, no horn, no handlebars, no wheels, no chain… nothing that we would typically be associate with a bicycle. In fact it looks and awful lot like, well, a television. But by sitting on top of it and pumping your legs, you-assuming adequate balance and practice-could hit a top speed of 30 mph and choose the direction of you travel by leaning your weight to either side. Well now that sounds more like a bicycle.
Do the traits determine what something is or does the use?
What I am arguing is the ‘form’ does not determines what makes a bicycle, it is the ‘function.’ In the hypothetical example a television is given all the functionality of a bicycle with out any of the form. Thus one could use it as a bicycle without it actually being a bicycle.
Concept of functionality against form appears everywhere in day-to-day life. Take the conversation I had with my roommate for instance. I typically wear blue jeans, a solid colored shirt, plain shoes and a beanie. You could say my roommate is much more… flamboyant. He enjoys wearing loud colors, mismatched styles and clothing that is more expensive. The discussions we have about this topic always ends with us taking separate camps. He, after politely saying I need to improve my style, lands in the camp of ‘doesn’t matter how much it costs as long as it looks good’ while I, after saying style isn’t important, land in the camp of ‘as long as it’s clothing.’
I see clothing as purely function. It is there to shield my body from the elements and allow me to be decent in public. For me it does not matter what it looks like as long as it performs this function, which is why I tend to buy the cheaper more basic clothing. For my roommate clothing carries more value then its inherent functionality. He believes the form (in this instance meaning the style not the shape, both of our shirts look like shirts but have different styles) matters and thus it influences what he buys and, as a result, the amount of money he spends.
For me most object’s only have one type of value: functional value. This is why I’ll buy the generic brand cereal over the name brand. They are nearly identical and contain (mostly) the same ingredients but the generic brand has a lower monetary cost. So in my eyes I am getting the same function for less money.
There are two other forms of market value: social and psychological. Social value is the extent to which owning a product or engaging in a service allows the consumer to connect with others while psychological value is the extent to which a product allows consumers to express themselves. These values are both derived from the form of the object. For me though the monetary value (the amount I am willing to pay) of an object is only dependent on it’s functional value. While my roommate judges the monetary value almost entirely on social and psychological value i.e. the form.
More notable brands have more prestige, more recognition, more familiarity. Buying a name brand elevates your social status as there is a stigma against people who buy generic. You pay for the extra social value by paying the monetary cost. The form of the name brand also functions to increase your social status.
(That is not to say that more expensive objects always have more social and psychological value. A plain shirt may cost $15 while a graphic tee with your favorite team’s logo on it may only cost $10. The graphic tee has more social value as it allows the wearer to inform and connect with other people who enjoy that sports team. It is important to remember that these values CAN be related but are not DEPENDENT on each other.)
This is also not to say function against form is a binary topic. Function and form are never separate from one another. I may have said things like ‘I only buy for function’ and ‘he only buys for form,’ but of course that isn’t true. If I have two shirts of equal price I am going to buy the better looking one, the one with better form. My roommate also can’t buy clothes that are extremely stylish but lack any function, that is in of itself a contradiction.
Form and function is also a heavily discussed topic in biology. In a broad sense this relationship is the entire idea behind Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the book On the Origins of Species Darwin comments on how the native finches of the Galápagos Islands bare a striking similarity to the finches of [South] America yet are different enough as to comprise distinct species. Darwin would later reason that these finches originated in America before traveling to the Galápagos Islands. Then through adaptation over many successive generations the finches with the traits best suited for survival in the new habitat would prosper and go on to share their genes with the next generation.
This is the an example of function influencing form. The form of the finch’s beaks slowly changed over time growing to different shapes and sizes. This allowed them to function better in the new environment using their new beaks to exploit the natural resources of the Galápagos Islands.
Form can also influence function. Take your thumb for instance. Its unique design allows it more greatly varied movement as compared too the other digits. It derives its opposition and apposition from the combination of its bone and muscle structure. (Opposition and apposition are just the terms defining the unique movement of the thumb.)
It is suspected that 1:25,000 live births are born with a complication called Triphalangeal, a malformation where the thumb forms with three phalanges instead of two. This leaves the thumb looking similar to the rest of your fingers which all naturally have three phalanges. A surgery can be performed to correct the deformation and return the thumb to normal. However in cases where it is not corrected the thumb, as a direct result of its unusual form, loses all functionally; its opposition and apposition. The thumbs function is tied directly to its form.
(this is their right hand)
Form and function are also a useful topic in the field of biochemistry. Your body has many important parts but the most important may be proteins. Proteins are long macro-molecule chains of 21 distinct units called amino acids which are held together by chemical bonds. A single protein can have upwards of 33,000 amino acids and every unique arrangement constitutes a unique protein.
Think of each amino acid as a different type of Lego block. Some are square, some are rectangles, some are blue, some are really big, some have weird shapes, etc. Now imagine you have a bin of Lego blocks and you can build anything you want. What you build would be the protein and what it can do depends on the way you build it. If you only use three blocks you’re going to have a very simple and light proteins. If you stack them all on top of each other you’re going to have a very long protein. The thing that is true for all of them is this: the functionality of the protein, the stuff it can do in your body, depends on how you build it. Change one Lego block and the protein will now do something completely different.
Hemoglobin is the protein in your red blood cells that allows you to carry oxygen through out your body. The sixth unit on this protein is a glutamine amino acid (just imagine this amino acid as pink square block on your Lego structure). A mutation carried by 70,000 people in america causes this gultamine amino acid to be traded out with a valine amino acid (the pink square block gets traded out with a dark green rectangle block). That is the only difference between someone with healthy red blood cells and someone with sickle cell disease. That’s how heavily dependent the functionality of proteins are on their form. Change one of its 30,000 blocks and it no longer works correctly.
(This shows the error in the protein, pink is the glutamine amino acid and dark green is the valine amino acid.)
We can also think of this from a social aspect. Let’s examine satire. Satire is a great example of how two objects with similar form can have extremely different functions. An object and its parody, its satire, often share very similar structure. They both implore similar language, similar writing styles and discuss the same ideas. The difference is piece of writing A is authentic and thus is used and received as media that is trying to promote a cause. Piece of writing B is not authentic it is satirical and it is used against the cause. Although both pieces share a similar form they function as opposites to one another do to the authenticity or lack there of.
You can also think about this through the lens of media. For instance, is Pokemon an anime? It undoubtedly has many characteristic design forms of an anime. The disproportional eyes, the uniquely stylized hair, colorful and fluid animation style. Pokemon also makes use of all eight of the common canon of iconic facial expression. (i.e. sulking expressed expressed by cruciform popping veins, sadness expressed by tears welling in the eyes corners, sweat beads to represent frustration, etc.)
However that is just the form of the anime but does Pokemon function like one?
In my opinion, no. Anime typically involves deep plots, coming-of-age issues, violence and blood, attraction, love and even death. Characters in anime-well no always in real time-do age or at least mature and learn from previous experience. Pokemon explores very little of these issues and features characters in isolated stories which only reference previous events through earned badges and captured pokemon. So well it may have the form of an anime it does not function as one.
(There is a reason pokemon doesn’t feature these adult themes and that’s because it is for kids. Westerns tend to call any animation media out of Japan an ‘anime’ even though they can span a wide range of genre. Imagine lumping Dora the Explore, Family Guy and Rick and Morty all in the same category and then pointing out that Dora the Explore doesn’t have any sexual jokes in it. Well of course it doesn’t it has a completely different intention from the other two. It is still interesting to do this type of analysis but remember there is a reason these shows don’t all function the same even if they are all Japanese ‘anime.’)
The last topic I’d like to discuss is family form. We all grew up in unique family settings: some of us have the traditional working father and homekeeping mother, some have a single working parent, some were raised by extended family, some have two working parents, some have two moms and some have two dads, all family forms are different. However they all have a similar function. I am not talking about the dynamics and interactions between members of a family when I say function I mean it as the over all purpose of the family.
For children a family sets an example of how to act, gives an identity through heritage, provides moral, social and economic support as well as providing security. For married or unmarried partners they gain additional happiness, wealth and life longevity as well as emotional support. For extended family members they have people to share their life with and a younger generation to carry on their memories. Family forms may differ greatly but all can provide these functions.
The relationship of form and function is a complicated one. They can be brought about by one another and can be the result of one another. A bicycle can be defined by its shape or by the way it operates. Things with similar form can function differently such as satire and anime. Things with different forms can have similar functions such as a family. I’ll buy cheap clothing to cover my body while my roommate with go the extra dollar for the style. Changing the form of a thumb or protein results in altered function or total loss there of function.
Form and function have a unique and fascinating relationship.
Alright so those were just a bunch of thoughts I’ve had in my head for the last few weeks and it feels good to write out and organize them. What did you guys think? Was this interesting? Did you enjoy it? Did you learn something cool? Do you prefer I focus on creative writing instead of this technical research type piece? Leave a comment and let me know!
I have some big ideas and events planned out for the next 6 months or so and I’d love for you all to be a part of it. Follow my blog if you don’t wanna miss out.Like this post if you enjoyed it or, if you really want to help me out, share it on Facebook. Check out some of my old stories while you’re here. I’m set to release the second chapter of Relics of the Past next weekend so read the first part here to prepare.
Now on to some housekeeping stuff.
- So it was my intention to post twice a week but that was biting off more than I could chose so I’ve dialed it back to once a week.
- I have a second author coming aboard. His name is a Jacob Edwards and he currently runs Atomic Scribbles. He’s an excellent writer and will be posting an exclusive story on here once a month.
Make sure you follow me on Facebook so you don’t miss all the things I am planning for this site. I will also be posting a different interesting wiki article that I find every week on the Facebook page.
Also I have a Twitter now so be sure to follow me @BFandMG. I’ll by tweeting out whenever I post as well as picking a theme each week and tweeting something interesting on it everyday.
Lastly if you’re really enjoying my work it’d mean the world to me if you’d consider pledging on Patreon. Two dollars a month is nothing for most of you but for me it is a chance to make a living as a writer.
Finally some sources and cool stuff:
Never stop creating,