Talking Permaculture and Design Thinking with Gordon from Rune Soup

Thanks to Gordon White for a fascinating chat I look forward to continuing in future. As Gordon put it on his release page:

This week we welcome to the show permaculture designer and theorist, Dan Palmer. Dan is the host of the podcast, Making Permaculture Stronger, where he facilitates fascinating discussions on what’s right and what’s wrong with permaculture and where it might be headed next. And the tl;dr is that what’s wrong with permaculture is, in the main, what’s wrong with everything else.

So we have a great discussion on the theory of design in general, the shortcomings of western categorisations and their dualist implications and, somewhat improbably, merging with a chicken.

It’s a truly fantastic chat. Download the episode directly here or listen along on YouTube above.

Also some really interesting comments have shown up on that release page too. I reproduce this one from Haig only in that it is not so often that you see Alfred North Whitehead and Bruce Lee referenced in the same paragraph!

As a Processian (Processist?), I’m compelled to at least chime in with a word of approval anytime Whitehead is mentioned! Whitehead moved into philosophy and formulated his metaphysics out of the failure of trying to mechanize mathematics; he saw deep and far what the implications of that failure really meant, and the metaphysics that came out of his searches just so happens to have rediscovered so much of what ancient esoteric traditions have been telling us all along. It’s a shame contemporary science and philosophy have ignored him (and them).

From this “flow model” as you call it, we see why the design process is irreplaceable, we can’t just shut up and calculate our way into new modes of being, the edge of the process wave is pure creative potential that refuses to be tamed into a deterministic mechanism until it’s settled past the peak into the trough. This design process at the edge of reality is formless, and does not submit to a particular style, it’s what Bruce Lee aspired to, form without form, style without style, when creating his martial arts system Jeet Kune Do. I bring Lee up because he was in the same situation, birthing a system that aimed to detach itself from all the rest that came before it by pruning away the built-up detritus which was constricting potential. Jeet Kune Do never became too popular, it was more of a conceptual success than a practical one, but it did help create the mixed martial arts movement, a fighting system that has seen enormous success, mainly because it eschews theories and styles for what actually works, and that is only known through real-world feedback and interaction.

Feedback and interaction over a priori theory points us back to an intellectual movement in science which can be viewed as a parallel to Whitehead’s work in philosophy called cybernetics, but, as with Whitehead, it’s become all but forgotten except for the superficial pop culture prefix cyber. Cybernetics uses a flow-model of science (though still mostly materialistic) and prioritizes pragmatism over theorizing (except when trying to theorize pragmatism!). You really can never remove theory completely, even if it’s just a sublingual intuition, or a subconscious drive, theory is the membrane surrounding our ordered mental model, keeping it safe from the chaos of the environment. The problem with theory, like all problems of extremes, is when it is too undeveloped or too calcified, the trick is to remain balanced, to be semipermeable (as nature understands), and to have it evolve ecologically.

I guess then the proper advice, it would seem, is Bruce Lee’s admonition to “become like water my friend.”

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