Hey Dan, I really appreciated listening to this conversation, and the follow up with Tyson! I wanted to share something I’ve found helpful – distinguishing between decolonising and de-colonial -ising. I think MPS is doing the later for permaculture.
Decolonsiation being about colonised people reclaiming & healing their land and culture.
and decolonialisation being about settlers giving back what was stolen, dismantling the dominating power structures, unlearning habits of control, entitlement, separation etc. learning to be humble, reciperocal participants in the creative unfolding of life. MPS is ever refining and enriching my perspective with that worldview/habituation stuff, so thank you 🙂
Hey Rowan and thanks for this distinction and my pleasure!
Hey Dan, you are doing important work reaching people that HM wouldn’t reach. I often share the podcast with you and Allan to people thinking that permaculture and HM is incompatible.
Thanks Gustav and glad that lovely chat with Allan hit the spot!
We have used the David Jacke process and found it really helped us with the design of our site, we had become bogged down with functions and elements and pulling out to loook at the overall patterns and broader concepts of the ‘whole’ site freed us up to progress the design.
From Inquiring into Systems Thinking with the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community (E64)on
What a very stimulating conversation. So pleased to be able to be a fly on the wall for this. Thanks all for sharing this out.
I’d love to comment on all sorts of stuff in there (and share my play-along at home with Dan’s question prompts), however I’ll limit my commenting in this go by sharing that when the conversation moved into discussion about “field-thinking” it reminded me of a book I had read by Peter S. Stevens called “Patterns in Nature” where he came back several times in the book around the idea that what is common to all patterns and their manifestations is not the ‘stuff’ itself, but the space between (more specifically the energy that flows/ebbs/eddies/creates turbulence, vortices, etc. that shapes them).
From the chapter entitled ALL THINGS FLOW in the section called The Turbulence of the Universe, Stevens begins.. “It is no coincidence that the milk poured into a wet sink imitates the design of galaxies.. ”
Soon after in the section called Stress and Flow.. Stevens quotes physicist Richard Feynman, who had posited:
“[.. could it be that] the thing that is common to all phenomena is the ‘space’.. the framework into which the physics is put? .. What is common to all our problems [in the study of ‘physics’] is that they involve space.”
When I had read this years ago, I never forgot how profound that idea was.. can’t say I comprehended fully or knew what to do with it (and it was framed as a question after all), but so intriguing!
On another note:
The conversation about “systems” that commenced this recorded session conversation reminded me of this great quote:
“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” ~Carl Sagan
I’d love to comment more about how I can also see that a ‘zoo’ is an ecosystem (of a different but no less relevant sort) and how a bicycle is actually alive (if looked at differently.. and isn’t really much of bike until it is ridden by a living breathing creature!).. but will leave those thoughts for another round.
All the best to the MPS inquiry community.. really enjoyable to hear what you are up to!
From Inquiring into Systems Thinking with the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community (E64)on
Thanks so much Adrian – that apple pie quote is a gem and I’m glad to learn of Stevens work. Now I must implore you not to hold back on another round! – I for one really want to hear your thoughts about riding a bike through a zoo!
From Inquiring into Systems Thinking with the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community (E64)on
I have been listening to your podcast with great interest over the last several months whilst taking part in Geoff Lawton’s online PDC. (Although I have been exploring permaculture for many years) I am also a supporter of and very excited about the reading Landscape film, congratulations on making the goal. I was prompted to send this note when I heard the most recent podcast you released regarding a conversation with your core group about systems thinking and more. In that podcast you encouraged your listeners to hit pause and answer the question(s) themselves prior to continuing to passively listen which led me to engage with the conversation more actively and I thought there may be a value in sharing a perspective.
I agree with you that when you prod systems thinking, it quickly dissolves back to parts, and I believe this is because it evolved from parts thinking (or mechanistic thinking) in the first place. However generative or regenerative thinking is totally different (until the word gets co-opted). I come at permaculture from the perspective of a cultural and spiritual root which is Kongo-Taino out of the Caribbean. When we look at something (be it a person, place, river, mountain, event), the first thing we acknowledge is that it is “Un Misterios” (effectively a spirit) and we know that we cannot possibly understand it fully and if we pull it into its parts, the essence of it (the spirit) will disappear on us. The mode of approach is one of listening and sensing and letting it tell us about itself, knowing that this process could be indefinite. Over time that place (or person, animal, what have you) slowly reveals different aspects or understandings of itself to us, if we continue to pay attention (or “follow the trail”).
For sake of illustration, let’s say we are talking about a particular land, it could be a “property” a landowner has purchased. Your typical permaculture designer is going to go in and analyze it for water, access, structures and the various desires the landowner expresses interest in. This is a big improvement on blindly going in a throwing structures and access wherever. However, the land itself has its own spirit, as does everyone who lives on it. I really do not see that permaculture as taught even tries to understand this. The reason is simple, it cannot be measured, easily seen, or “proven”. This is where Indigenous or Re-indigenized culture clashes with Permaculture. I understand that people want to shy away from terms that cannot fully be defined such as “spirit” (or even essence). However geometry is built upon three undefined terms- a point, line and plane.
I do understand why permaculture teachers do not want to get into these waters, (there would be a big backlash and accusations of pseudoscience). Yet, permaculture wants to cosy up with Indigenous cultures (and it should do this to reach its potential). However, if you do want to cosy up with Indigenous cultures, then you have to be ready to see life as infinite worlds within worlds, each one essentially Un Misterios.
Keep up the good work!
Laura thank you so much for your beautiful comment – everything you share resonates with and inspires me deeply. Isn’t it such a muddle how we find ourselves trying to force the deep beautiful mysterious and sacred essence-spirit of a place into our puny little mechanical containers and how in doing so we cut ourselves off from perhaps the most deeply nourishing and soul-warming energies there are to access as a human being (namely relaxing back into the larger pattern of life).
Un Misterios. Love it.
Warmly, do stay in touch, and thank you again for reaching out and for supporting the Reading Landscape film!
I was listening to your podcast on systems thinking and among the tensions I heard was one about ‘how do we teach field theory to novices?’. Mollison not surprisingly beat us to the punch. I just relistened to his lecture on patterns from the 1992 PDC that’s easy to find on YouTube. Replace “media” with “field” and think you’ve basically got it.
Even though Mollison definitely slips into “parts to wholes” mechanistic systems thinking at points when he’s dealing with pure ontology like he is here he basically sounds like Deleuze. We have a sequence of events in a field. You have some differences. This is darker than That. This is saltier than That. Because difference tries to equalize there is a pressure against the boundary of This and That. This pressure creates movement, events, processes.
Difference based ontology (as opposed to the ontology of the One which comes from the Neoplatonic and Christian tradition) seems to be the trick. Alexander, Deleuze, probably Mollison are all Spinozists. There’s something about Spinoza that gets you out of mechanistic thinking. God or Nature is simply that which entails itself. It’s simply the totality of difference or a body of the whole multiplicity of all difference.
Which brings us to patterns. What’s easier to communicate? Field theory or patterns? Consider your example of the jelly over a garden. I get it but would it be easier to talk about patterns? We already have a language of patterns. If you have a black line and a white line how do you make a whole? A field of lines that is more than random? Are there parts? Perhaps there are motifs, refrains, themes but the pattern is always the whole of differences, the field of differences, the map of immanance, the positive force of good shape and the affordances and possibly of the Void.
Anyway here’s some annoying rambles for you to wake up to. Good night from the other side of the world.
Awesome ramblings Aaron and I will check out Mollison’s 1992 thing for sure!
I take your points re patterns especially given that field theory is completely undeveloped in this field (well, maybe I’ll take that back after listening to Bill) though I find that “pattern” very quickly becomes a synonym for “system” again, as much in Mollison’s writing as anywhere.
Hey can I put your comment on the site as a comment on the ep please?
Sure. Feel free to post it. I’d do it myself but I’m a little overwhelmed with farm things.
Here’s a link to that lecture. I find, aside from an off joke that didn’t age well, it’s really Mollison at his finest:
Did you ever get into Deleuze in your philosophy days? I find he’s built this incredible toolkit for ontological thinking, especially for getting out of the machinic ontology. They (as Deleuze and Guattari) famously use the image of desiring machines but these are coupled with the flows of pure immanance from the body without organs.
A final thought on machines. If we take Donella Meadows definition of systems being purposeful then the bicycle itself is not a system. It has certain affordances but to have purpose it needs a rider. In a sense a desiring agent makes a system. At a minimum we would need something that entails itself, the way a river is self entailing (and a bicycle is not). Maybe that’s why D&G are talking about desiring machines? A bicycle and rider and pavement is like their image of the nomad which they call an agencement (usually translated as assemblage but I think this is incorrect because the agent is lost). In the bicycle and rider is, historically, the becoming of pavement and paved roads. Cyclists were the first to advocate for paved roads which then ironically becomes the affordance for modern car culture. The point is that the authors drew the boundary around the system in the wrong place. The bicycle as a system is not the machine. It’s the agencement of bicycle, rider, and the becoming of roads. It’s the set of connections that becomes self entailing.
I sniffed around into little Deleuze and Guattari in my day. Wild ride! I remember appreciating the critique of arboreal metaphors in favour of the rhizome (actually Alexander’s essay A City is not a Tree overlaps at least somewhat in my recollection and the overall dissolving of the subject-object dualism). Wasps-becoming-orchids-becoming-wasps and all that. I hadn’t picked up on the notion of agencement which rings better that assemblage to me.
I’m reading The Spell of the Sensuous at the moment and enjoying his coverage of Merleau-Ponty which I think of in reading about flows of pure immanence etc. Also Henri Bortoft has much of relevance to offer. The sensuous pre-conceptual experience of undivided flowing wholeness and all that. And distinguishing-relating as something we do prior to analysis and synthesis (which is where the whole idea of connected elements comes in).
Finally your last paragraph resonates hugely with Gregory Bateson’s famous line about the blind man with the stick:
“Consider a blind man with a stick. Where does the blind man’s self begin? At the tip of the stick? At the handle of the stick? Or at some point halfway up the stick? These questions are nonsense, because the stick is a pathway along which differences are transmitted under transformation, so that to draw a delimiting line across this pathway is to cut off a part of the systemic circuit which determines the blind man’s locomotion.”
Interesting conversation… it left me wondering about what is indigenous in Europe? “White people” have a right to being indigenous to somewhere as well and to have traditional practices. Concerning ourselves with how endogenous or exogenous people are to place is, in my view, a way of compartmentalizing the perception of human experience and relativizing value. The role one claims in the whole is much more important than the inheritance you have a right to claim. Furthermore, we are always assuming who owns what even if we relentlessly go revising our history through archaeological evidence – and even that can be misinterpreted and is inherently based on human perception.
My answer to Scott up there would be that his concerns are well-founded. We do not need to claim possession over our cultural lineage and to reflect that technologically – the philosophical effort would render any regenerative development process completely impractical if we are always concerned about being offensive for simply claiming possession of ideas that are not our own.
That being said, there is a need to compensate people and cultures who were subject to the injustice of forced or imposed colonisation (there are other kinds in my opinion). However, it is hard to relate to this discourse being an “indigenous person” from Portugal (if that even is a reasonable claim in a continent that has been through consecutive civilization shifts, wars, etc.). Portraying myself like that makes me feel like a nationalist of sorts, which is something I abhor.
Decolonisation doesn’t seem to me to be a good thing per se. , but then again I am white, so it could just be my cognitive dissonance. It reminds me of the broader biological/ecological debate between restorative/adaptive approaches to ecosystem regeneration. Should culture be preserved too, or should it just adapt to its place and time, unhindered by conservatism?
This whole-parts conversation reminds me a lot of the book Phenomenology of Perception by Merleau-Pointy, the works of David Seamon, and many others.
Even if there is a whole, you always have a fragmented perception of it. Even if you are convinced about the indissociable nature of reality, it is very hard for you to operatively use that knowledge. Interdisciplinarity has been a beacon for the hope of bringing forth holistic processes within science, technology and design for the very reason that it should *somehow* bind those fragments into (nested?) wholes – holistic processes of development and design.
However, because omniscience is kind of a remote skill for any human to hone, one is prone to disregard the usefulness of studying the undivided flowing wholeness of reality unless they can afford it. On the other hand, we all pay the cost of generalised ignorance of such matters. It is very important to understand though, how exactly can such a thought-process or state-of-being be investigated/developed, how can it bring forth or regenerate value.
Here in Denmark, this very issue within Architecture design is so breathtakingly broad that people are developing all types of criteria for performance indicators and quality levels to keep track of the value creation their designs can bring forth. (through Danske Ark’s – Danish Archicture Firms Association – and DK-DGNB (German Sustainable Architecture Certification System in Denmark influence mainly). However, it just looks like a constellation of interlocking synergetic parts.
I mean, their efforts are commendable, but they seem to go in the opposite direction of what is being discussed here. Is it though? And how so? What could be changed? What is really so different between fields and systems? Between living systems (or beings?) and systems and general? I think the time is coming to peer-review some definitions.
Thanks Manuel and right on. I would so love to see a converted collaborative inquiry in these directions.
Hi Dan, I’ve been wanting to get to this for a long while now. Busy summer for me. I have to say I’m so damn grateful to your podcast for continually pointing to relevant and necessary considerations. Tyson Yunkaporta’s interview got me straight to a local bookstore to buy Sand Talk. I read it one chapter at a time and had some serious time to contemplate it recently. He cuts through social/personal-paradigm systems with a sharp, witty, and simultaneously loving blade. I have not felt this way about a book in a few years. There were times when I felt like he was explaining parts of myself to myself, and times where I realized how short of wholeness I can fall. There were also times that reenergized me about permaculture’s own true nature. Lot’s to come from this, and I just wanted to reach out over the lightening speed of the web and say thank you for all your efforts Dan. They are recognized, appreciated, and incredibly useful to my life as a designer, thinker, and nature immersed critter.
So good to see your comment Jason. I have been thinking it is high time for a catch up with your latest adventures! Thanks for your appreciation and so glad to hear Tyson’s book and style hit the spot for you.
Absolutely! I’ll reach out via email. Definitely missing our conversations.
From On honouring Indigenous Tradition, Ancestors, Spirit and Intuition in our Permaculture Design Processes with Laura Adamson
Thank you Dan and Laura for a great conversation. A few ‘pings’ for me on particular things, I feel Laura was able to articulate quite well some of the niggles I am personally trying to grapple with such as the use of intuition, in which I have no doubt every designer is using but perhaps not always aware of or even admit to. The part about the brain/body at 36 mins in, how dominant is “thinking” vs “feeling”, which I know is a focus for you too. When talking about energies, and lack of sensitivity which is so dominant in the culture we live in, it reminds me of what Alanna Moore writes about in her book on “Sensitive Permaculture” where she uses dowsing to understand the energies of a land (although I know very little about this practice). I also loved the reference to the Gingko tree, millions of years old and the sense of time she was conveying in various parts of the conversation with reference to what has occurred in the history of a place and people, before, now and in the future. I was also wondering how she enters conversations with her prospective clients about process, what she offers goes against the grain culturally.
From On honouring Indigenous Tradition, Ancestors, Spirit and Intuition in our Permaculture Design Processes with Laura Adamson
I agree wholeheartedly! I advise those developing land to spend at least one year, preferably more, in and on and with that land, gaining a deeper understanding of it in all senses, building intuition, BEFORE any design work. My experience is that designs are absolutely to be changed and evolving as understanding of a property deepens over many many years. Developing land is a form of succession, with the cycle of observation, implementation, observation, reflection and review, and further implementation. I believe that we need to move very slowly as permaculturists, slow and small! Love this discussion. cheers jo
From On honouring Indigenous Tradition, Ancestors, Spirit and Intuition in our Permaculture Design Processes with Laura Adamson
I listened to this podcast right after an interview with the complexity economist Brian Arthur on the transition from noun based thinking (arithmetic, algebra) to verb based thinking (algorithm, process). I wonder if some of our issues in relating to process and having a design process of unfolding and of structure preserving transformation come from having to think in largely a noun based way. Most of the eastern woodlands people where I live in Canada speak an Algic language ( for example Annishinaabemowin) which is largely verb based. Take ‘miini-baashkiminasigani-biitoosijigani-bakwezhigan’ which is blueberry pie. Literally translated it’s something like cooking down blueberries and putting them between bread. The word is the process not the object. It’s also notable as a language because the two genders of Annishinaabemowin are animate and inanimate (not say male and female like French). So a stick is inanimate but a tree is animate (interestingly related to the discussion on bones rocks are animate in the sweat lodge are refered to as grandfathers).
There’s something here about the process of transformation or a becoming of forms. Would we be better at thinking in becomings if we thought more in verbs? Thinking as Brian Arthur suggests more algorithmically? It might suggest a mechanistic world view but if we remember that algorithms are simply step wise processes which affect form and have memory (and can be done on an almost infinite number of media as Turing showed) we’re talking more about the way in which nature thinks and computes. Even this theory of a panpsychic would where nature thinks through physical computation is making a few inroads into the firmly mechanistic thinking of the sciences. What’s interesting is it’s quite resonant with certain ideas of spirit and the spirit of the living world.
Thanks Aaron. Love that blueberry pie example and the gender thing is fascinating! Years ago a friend and I started developing what we called VOS – where we would practice formatting all our sentences starting with the verb, then the object, then the subject. I think of statements like “the river is flowing” or “it is raining” where we have to invoke a non-existent noun-thing to be ‘doing’ the verb and yes how much this messes with any attempt to move into more of a process-as-primary orientation. And transitions from the likes of “I/we did the design” to “I/we am/are designing” to something like “designing is happening and we are participating within it” :-). Thanks also to Evie and Joanne for chiming in here!
After 4 years, I finally noticed the discussion 🙂
In the end, what conclusions or learnings did you come to about the relationship between agile and permaculture design?
I wish I could have participated in the discussion in real time.
Your curiosity and inquisitiveness is so great.
Thank you Dan and the core group for sharing this talk. The analogy of flowing water with the shapes, patterns of eddies and whirlpools really helps with accepting that fields contain everything, and is the primary reality. As one in the group expressed, contemplation of the living world rather than observation allows to tune into this primary reality and detach from the mechanistic, dualistic lens we interpret it through. I have always used this intuitive aspect when doing design work, but have resisted putting words on it for fear it’d sound too woo-woo for the client! And I think it is essencial we integrate it into permaculture practice, both to teach westernminded permies what the world actually is, and of course to be able to understand indigenous people’s view.
Enough ramblings, thanks for a great episode (as always)!
Thanks Linnea and right on!
Thanks for a fantastic podcast episode. I’m quite new to permaculture and found this discussion very interesting! The discussion of a bicycle (and agencement as in the comments above) seems like a deep well to explore. A bicycle does not have emergent properties because its constraints/relationships are fixed. In a forest or river, the constraints are much looser, more fluid, and have an element of chance. It is dynamic in a way that a bicycle cannot be.
Very interesting to consider what/how one can use field thinking into design. One idea that comes to mind is how one’s expectations might change for seasonal/annual/longer cycles. E.g. the banks of the river will change, the quality of the water as well (and the life within it!). To create an eddy I can place a rock in a certain place – but the eddy is not guaranteed to be there always….
Wow, Dan! You’re going in! I love this post because you reveal further questions. Your energy is vibrant with inquiry.
I watch new permaculture titles carefully, and I confess to seeing this book title some months ago and dismissing it immediately (no diss to the authors, who I know do positive work for our wondrous life community). I’ve never looked at this book beyond the cover. This requires a full stop.
What I saw in the title however, if you’re still willing to entertain that this thought has value knowing I’m making a snap judgement by only looking at the cover, was a fundamental misunderstanding of permaculture itself. I don’t believe there are such things as “permaculture properties” so my interest in the book was never lit up.
What I mean by that is I see a fundamental error in the use of the term permaculture to refer to a thing as permaculture instead of a process (I promise not to go down the rabbit hole of nouns and verbs and adjectives as that’s not my intention here). What I mean is materialistic worldview. With a deep immersion in living processes one can’t hold on too long to material. I don’t think there is a thing called permaculture or property. And combining the two together doesn’t help either.
So if we can’t ‘grasp’ permaculture, what is it? I think I’ll just leave it at that for right now (I have a lot more work ahead to articulate what I think here).
Thanks Jason and yes, I am going in! This stuff matters to me too much not to :-). I am happy to hear that you are in the process of working out your thoughts (and, no doubt, your feelings) about what permaculture is if not a graspable thing we can point to out there on the ground. When you’re ready let’s record a chat about this and it would be great to be able to repost any writing you do about it.
In my case, the first thing about the title of Building Your Permaculture Property: A Five Step Process to Design and Develop Land that stood out as odd was the narrow focus of the leading verb – building. I have discussed this a little with Takota and Rob, and will go into it more the third instalment in this series. Questions about the phrase “permaculture property” aside, is building the main thing we do when in engaging in permaculture processes? Any and all thoughts welcome and we’ll pick this thread up in a few posts time.
It’s great to read this from you.
I’m listening along regularly and was interested to see you were offering a different format this time – the ‘audiobook version’ of your written essay.
I really appreciate being along for the ride on your mission to expand the permaculture design process. I’ve studied both design and permaculture, but I’m only now developing my own practice.
I got the impression that you were interested in feedback, so I thought I’d write in.
I was intrigued by the examination of metaphors, as they don’t tend to be something I use very much. But they can be a powerful tool by way of explanation. I wonder if land based culture use metaphors to share knowledge? I suppose a parable is a kind of extended metaphor. The example you gave from the book seemed to complicate the principle of patterns to details.
When it come to dualities and the way they influence our experience – living/mechanistic could equally be replaced with romantic/classical, relationist/survivalist or indigenous/colonial.
As supremely adaptable beings, the way we view the world is influenced by the relationships that sustain us – traditionally that has been with family and community, and with land and plants. But these days can be dominated by phones and computers and cars (among many other machines).
I hope as permaculture designers we can bring a stronger understanding of living and holistic worldviews, for ourselves as well as others. That comes from how we design spaces, how we communicate ideas, and even how we relate to people. It even comes from how we see ourselves.
It’s a really powerful idea, and thanks for getting into it.
Looking forward to Part Two.
Thanks for chiming in Ben and I loved your observation that “As supremely adaptable beings, the way we view the world is influenced by the relationships that sustain us – traditionally that has been with family and community, and with land and plants. But these days can be dominated by phones and computers and cars (among many other machines).”
It is becoming more and more clear to me that the machines that make up the foreground of modern life, and that many of us spend most of our time looking at, kind of restructure the eyes through which we then view the living ecologies out there in the background. I sure hope there are folk looking into this phenomenon, which happens so insidiously we barely notice it.
I have been a listener for a long time (like episode 10 or so?) and just listened to your latest podcast about your feelings about the DYPP book. I agree with your assessment that they are approaching it from a mechanistic framework. I got a copy of the book as soon as it was released. As I read it, I found it a very good step by step way to explain the things you DO to create a design but mostly lacking in the things you must UNDERSTAND to create a living system. I am also an engineer by education and it was something I would have written when I first started doing permaculture design and was still very immersed in the engineer’s world view. After some years of living a permaculture life and teaching PDC’s, my thinking (like yours) has evolved past this point and I now see it as very limiting and really only half the story.
I guess I am writing to validate how you feel and to let you know that while I don’t comment or write, I am walking this same journey with you. How do we convey a connection with a living system to a person who has not yet learned to even see that there is one there? How to translate this deeper appreciation and understanding for a mind that hasn’t used that language before? I don’t have the answers, but I’m trying things and learning from everything you put out. Thank you for your work and please keep it up!
Amber I’m so happy to make your acquaintance and yes these questions you ask are so alive for me right now. Good thing I like leaning into a challenge :-), and I look forward to benefitting from your explorations and discoveries too now we’re in touch. One thing I will share is I have found it quite doable to a) bring folk into an experience of living process dancing with living systems by actually experiencing being inside one together, and b) to have folk resonate with my best attempts to talk or write about it when they have themselves already tasted it (you being a case in point), but that it is very hard and maybe even impossible to get it across to someone who is not yet familiar with the experience of what I’m talking about. Which is not going to stop me from trying :-). And which is also not to say I’m particularly well-experienced in this realms. I have had a taste though, and there is no turning back from that!
It is like as a culture we got caught inside a mechanistic cage or shell that nonetheless floats in an ocean of life. Where the thing to do is to find the cracks and keep pecking, pecking, pecking :-).
Dan, your honesty here is refreshing and courageous. Honest critiques are essential for the evolution of permaculture design. I have a few thoughts:
I agree that the metaphors one uses very often indicates one’s world view, and would add that we should not need to water these down to mechanistic metaphors simply in order to communicate a concept. I think that underestimates our listeners capacity for understanding.
Permaculture’s first ethic is “Earth Care”, based on the fact that Earth is Living, Dynamic, Complex, and beyond anything we can fully understand, a Living world view is the appropriate approach to aspire to. A mechanistic worldview (view of the world- assumably Earth and Universe) lacks the capacity to embrace the Living World with which we are aspiring to collaborate, cooperate and harmonize through permaculture design. We have to remember that tools (which led to machines (which are still tools)) are not possible without the Living Earth. A mechanistic view is great for designing machines, aspects of buildings, and other built structures (irrigation etc). However it is subordinate to the Living Worldview which should inform our design decisions. I think we can all see where mechanistic thinking applied inappropriately to a worldview has led us.
The metaphor you shared from the book which you said was a Living metaphor (the watershed) was used to explain a way to categorized and take in information “data” and “file” it in order to inform one’s design ideas. While the watershed is a living metaphor, I found the comparison of our minds to a filing system to be totally mechanistic. Yes the watershed is a living metaphor, but it is being used in conjunction with reducing our minds to having a limited capacity, like a computer, and being unable to absorb information beyond it’s saturation level. The physical brian is not a machine, and the mind is absolutely not mechanistic. A machine is built by humans who understand all its parts. It is dangerous and foolish to apply this arrogant assumption to our beautiful Living Earth, and it is not my understanding that permaculture is about approaching the Living world from a mechanistic viewpoint at all.
Understanding that we have been “educated” into a mechanistic view of many aspects of our lives, it is not surprising that we fall into using these metaphors, but I feel it essential continue to shine the light on these blind spots, and encourage each other to a greater awareness of our thought processes with regard to permaculture design. If we allow mechanistic views to dominate permaculture, it will stagnate, no doubt.
Thanks Laura and yes I agree with your assessment and I shout an emphatic YES to your final sentence! To me this is already becoming a tragedy I can’t help but try and bring into the light of day.
Also I set the bar low to focus on where the metaphors were sourced, but did notice how quickly that watershed example segued into comparing the human mind with a computer, which of course is another example of projecting a mechanical metaphor onto something alive.
I think I was, like you, trained in seeing the importance of criticality but I’ve also come to realize that criticality only tends to define the problem. Somewhere in the back and forth of sensing and experience we start to feel where there is a misfit or tension. In traditional criticism just identifying the tension is sufficient. What’s interesting though in design is that identifying a tension or pain point or misfit is only the most preliminary step. In design we have to create something that is better fit to the context. Contradiction and negation do not produce form. And if they do produce form it is the form that exists is the remainder that the process of negation eroded. I often think about how Deleuze approached critique and how he considered all contradiction as a waste of time. Like permaculture his method of critique was creating something that completely replaces the concept that he found lacking. Difference and repetition is critique of Hegel that barely mentions Hegel but completely replaces any need for his worldview. I think this is the challenge. We don’t get anywhere reacting to the dominant Cartesian mechanistic worldview. We get somewhere by replacing it with a living world view. Like design this requires the work of creation and action not reaction and contradiction. For me whenever I feel myself reacting to some difference i think of Deleuze listening patiently and then simply saying what he wanted the other person to say instead. Letting their difference not be something that needed to be contradicted but rather something that provokes a better thought, a better concept and better form. Not needing to battle for the One right idea but seeing difference as a productive force. That the desire that difference provokes doesn’t need another’s voice to speak it but that it is our call to create.
I hear a lot of myself in how you are fighting through these ideas but I also see in myself how much wasted energy can go into critique and reactivity. When I do have the bandwidth to come back to philosophy that helps I find it immensely useful. Of course sometimes I’m just a little shit and need to dig in for a fight. When I’m better it’s more about seeing where difference takes us.
Aaron given how closely your comments resemble some of my own inner dialogue I wondered for a moment if I had actually written this comment myself in my sleep or something!
Having reigned in and redirected the little shit inside of me that wants to fight and contradict and critique (while achieving nothing but hard feelings and closed doors), one question I have been sitting with is the relative merits of:
a) Fuller’s line “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete,” which I am pouring a lot of life-force into, such as the upcoming books laying out the theory and practice of more living processes, and
b) the idea of immersing in the difference or tension between two (or more) views to both see what new form might want to be born directly of the difference (activating force, restraining force, reconciling force style) and to experiment with seeding this difficult yet desperately needed form of dialogue like yogurt starter inside the broader permaculture milk jar. The place this would happen is not here but in my upcoming dialogue with one of the authors.
Right now I’m making an evolutionary gamble and playing it both ways, where part of my story is that this book landed right in front of me on the path MPS is walking, where me walking around it as if it didn’t exist, or superficially acknowledging it without sharing some of my deeper impressions of how it is relevant or otherwise to MPS’s intent, didn’t seem like authentic options.
MPS also experienced a mini existential crisis, where I sat with the possibility that permaculture is so deeply and unconsciously bedded down in a mechanical rut that I’d best pack up my things and go play some place else. What is more, a colleague familiar with my work and who has attended courses with me had told me about the book suggesting that its ideas were very similar to those I am developing. Once I got a look at the book and reached a different conclusion, I wondered to what extent a) folk in permaculture were able to appreciate the difference and b) I was nuts to passionately believe there is one and that it really, really matters. Where I am happy to report that the comments and private messages coming in so far have affirmed there is comprehension and resonance out there and hence have supported my decision to stick around, for now :-).
Anyway thanks Aaron, even if I do get this weird sense that in talking to you I am talking to myself. Like when you say “Somewhere in the back and forth of sensing and experience we start to feel where there is a misfit or tension” gosh this is exactly where all my projects have started, where as you say this is only the very first step toward the creation of new form better fitting with the context. Anyone out there wanting more on this go read Alexander’s “Notes on the Synthesis of Form” (1964).
Also, by the way, coming back to your last line, where is the difference taking you?
I think for me it’s that in understanding my difference, my singularity, my unique place in a vast network that I have some purpose to nurture. I was chatting with a friend recently about Darwin and how Darwin wrote these books on what we’d call niche construction; about how earthworms create the conditions and context for earthworms to thrive. We were talking about queerness and how the queer community created the conditions for queerness to thrive very quickly in very much the same way that earthworms rapidly transform the soil ecology. ‘Everything gardens’ is an underappreciated permaculture principal especially now that niche construction is having a scientific renaissance. I think of what you’re doing here as tending a garden. Which isn’t about a passive love of every bit of life that wanders in and grows into thriving weeds or a mechanistic conventional farm that destroys all life but GMO corn. There’s weeding to do along with the planting. There are cycles of disturbance and cycles of planting. What’s important to hold onto is the uniqueness of the garden as its own singular community. Not unlike what you’ve built here. You’re creating a community where these ideas about permaculture can thrive.
Something I was listening to just now talked about inviting doubt in for tea, thanking it for drawing your attention to something and then saying “it’s ok. I appreciate you’re concern but I think we’re ok”. Thank doubt for drawing your attention but don’t let doubt become the focus of your attention. Let your focus come back to the work and where you have some power change some small part of the world.
Thanks for sharing Aaron. These are helpful gems!
I really enjoyed this podcast/article and think that a change in view point is what we need. I also think the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see” holds true. An interesting exercise and maybe future article would be rather than just pointing out the mechanical references is to create a Living alternative (although in saying this my mind is bursting with contradiction). Maybe an exercise for the MPS community and the Permaculture community in general is to start to build a library of alternative Metaphors that describe design in a Living way.
From Further Exploring the Contrast Between a Mechanical and a Living Worldview/Paradigm with Jason Gerhardt (E67)on
Can you provide the link for Ethan Soloviev’s newest regenerative agriculture doc that Jason brings up? The non-whitepaper doc of his, though a link to the old one would also be useful to see the evolution, history. The other beautiful chart of his is Agriculture: A Continuum from 2011.
From Further Exploring the Contrast Between a Mechanical and a Living Worldview/Paradigm with Jason Gerhardt (E67)on
Thanks for sharing Ethan’s prequel “Paradigms of Regenerative Agriculture” here Jason.
By the way the link to the other “Levels of Regenerative Agriculture” and “Lineages of Regenerative Agriculture” can be found there within too on page 3 (if you click on one of the words “here, here or here”.. though they don’t look like hyperlinks).
And thanks Louis for the “continuum” article link too.
From Further Exploring the Contrast Between a Mechanical and a Living Worldview/Paradigm with Jason Gerhardt (E67)on
See the chart I mention above, “Agriculture: A Continuum” by Ethan, in this article:
View at Medium.com
Hi Louis, here’s the link to Ethan’s new piece. I can’t find the old one and am guessing he took that down. https://ethansoloviev.com/paradigms-of-agriculture/?fbclid=IwAR28M9jezI_jpdBD1y56tjR5YAg9o-61HwPJ6U5AiXSiQKX864Fo358bl3k
Thanks Jason. I checked it out and wrote Ethan inviting him onto the show to explore this together. Fingers crossed!
Thanks for sharing this conversation Jason and Dan. Really loved your example of emergent design Jason around the essence of the farm project that came through the community. Appreciating the value of this (given that good branding and marketing is very important.. and can be costly.. and can be a fragmentary process), it would be a fun opportunity to re-tell that story in community.. to share it back in some way that is meaningful and allows for all to grow in the living design/regenerative paradigm lesson of this.
Later in the conversation it was very interesting to notice that when you (Dan) mentioned about the distinction between worldviews and paradigms and that there were more than two variables, the spell really broke. Of course there were other factors going on I’m sure, but my brain fainted a little too at that moment as I tried to grapple my thoughts with the immensity of it all…
(Which image you ask represents the lens I look through and hence the world I see.. I’d like to think the verdant river image.. though to be honest and to think more deeply about this, I’d say that I modulate between both and sometimes see one through the other.. I see mechanisms in living beings and processes; as well as the Life in/of “machines”… I feel that these conversations here have really broadened my perspectives and that sometimes I’m just dangling from the edge of the universe feet swaying below me over the infinite unknown..)
Hi Adrian, thanks for the comment. The storytelling piece you mention has definitely been developing for the organization that holds that farm project. I want to share more about the project because it’s truly amazing, but we’ve had a tight-lipped approach so far so we don’t come out of the gate only three years in sharing big promises and visions. Basically we’re waiting for the story to form before telling it. 🙂 Your comments are great. I just read your comment on Tyson Yunkaporta’s interview and resonate with so much of it.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful pattern.
Since hearing this in your conversation together it has been imprinted in my mind when meeting other beings individually or in groups as well as when hiking or being introduced to spaces new to me (such as in my permaculture work).
A colleague of mine and I also applied this pattern to hold space for a meeting several weeks ago. I felt that it went profoundly well (though still need to follow up to hear how the others felt about it).
I like this pattern also for it’s complimentarity to the dipole one of
Immersion>>><<<Emergence you have shared before Dan (nice to have that simple one to carry around, but of course also to be imaged in 4+ dimensions such as in Sonja Hörster and Jascha Rohr's Field Process Model)
Tyson's mentioning of how the quality of larger systems can be evident in the smaller details nested within (his Bracken Fern example) reminded me of Adrienne Maree-Brown's writing about this as an emergent strategy principle: "Small is good, small is all (The large is a reflection of the small)" in her book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. https://static.6seconds.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/06205440/emergent-9-principles.png
This got me thinking (only seemingly contrarily) about what Carol Sanford has said about the idea of scalability.. that what works in one scale can't just be scaled up or down to the same effect (because that would be a formulaic approach.. because this is not working with 'essence' and instead applying leverage.. and a lever, particularly when used metaphysically in complex situations is very powerful and can break all sorts of things!).
With these two ideas in mind I felt that something shifted in my understanding of scale and scalability.. in particular about capitalism (or rather, with corporate capitalism as my thought experiment).
Up until this I always felt that "capitalism" is evident in all scales and occurs 'naturally' (and that of course that capitalism as we know it did naturally occur through the events of time and biophysical phenomenon..).
But then after hearing this episode I began to be able to image this in a much more nuanced way.. to see how capitalism is not just like in the forest or the gut, etc. But that corporate capitalism is founded on the core impetus of greed and arrogance.. which must obviously be rooted in dis-eases (insecurities and emotional/biophysical lack). It is no wonder that when this essential core is "scaled up" that it re-presents such tension in the world.
With this shift in perspective I also thought about how it has been said that the US constitution was based on the democratic principles and ideas originating in the Iroquois (Haudensosaunee) Confederacy's "Great law of peace" (https://thecollege.syr.edu/anniversary-issue/taking-root/haudenosaunee-peoples-longhouse/)
Yet these original (Haudensosaunee) ideas and principles were evoked through a process specific to it's place, time and people. On one hand I'd like to think that with a core of love, trust, respect and peacefulness that there must be a permeating effect on the largeness of the US constitution (in a way that regenerates this love, trust, respect and peace).. however I also wonder if in the scaling up of these originating bioregional ideas and processes is even possible when applied to an empire (the scale of many thousands of bioregions and nations) could ever have worked out as intended (eg: Sanford's reasoning around the phenomenon of applying a formula to other situations or scales).
As you may be able to tell, I've been stewing on these thoughts for a while and was hoping for an easier way to share them here in as simple a way as possible, though had to get them out as they kept rattling around my mind.
("Dancing With Systems" by Donella Meadows: The Dance, principle #3: Expose your mental models to the open air)
So appreciating your thoughts Adrian.
Kia ora Dan
As you know I’ve been a (happy!) listener of MPS for a while now, although I tend to listen to the eps in clusters and ingest 4 or 5 eps all in one go haha… so my brain is a little overflowing right now.
In this ep, I answered your proposed questions at the beginning and listened with interest to the discussion and, at the heart of it, I agree with your inquiry and critique of Systems Thinking, or at least how the majority apply it or define it; I agree that it seems really to have come from mechanistic thinking and this idea of reconstructing the previously deconstructed reality and calling it a whole, with analysis arising from there. Which is never going to give us a truthful or accurate understanding of any whole (in my humble opinion).
I found it interesting when you got to the jelly analogy because where you eventually lead the group to is the place where I began: in my definition of “what is a system” I started with an acknowledgment of the elements in a system, the relationship between those elements and the space in between the elements as all forming what that system is. It went on from there but I really just want to make the point that some of the things you’re talking about feel intuitive and somehow in my cell memory as a way of knowing the world (and all the infinite worlds within it!).
Of the latest round of episodes I particularly enjoyed the conversation with Tyson Yunkaporta (as you suggested I would!) and felt so much affinity with, and deep understanding of, much of the kōrero. In a way I felt deeply heard, seen and acknowledged in that conversation. It was the delivery too which was bullshit-free and also playful.
I also really enjoyed your kōrero with Jason Gerhardt as I always do. I’m always happy to see when you post another kōrero with him and I need to emphasise that it’s not only the perspective and āhua he brings to the wānanga but the quality of the interaction between the two of you… the mutual respect is palpable and out of that some real gems of wisdom emerge! There’s that ‘space in between’ and that relational energy at play!
Keep up the great work Dan.
Thanks so much Ngāriki and as per my email I’m feeling it might be time to get YOU on the show! 🙂
This was such a thoughtful conversation. I have only recently discovered your podcast and have very much enjoyed the thoughtful approach you take to your dialogues with others who are exploring permaculture. For my part–I am mostly a musician–music teacher, composer, organizer of community music happenings–but I am also using some things I learn about permaculture to work with my little piece of ground in Northern New Hampshire.
I loved the description of ASC project in St. Louis. Building and re-building community remains a deeply held focus for choosing what I do with my time. The description of land as healing resonates deeply with me.
You asked for some music at the beginning of this episode. I spent the last year or so working on a musical project called “This Forest is Alive.” It was a compilation of compositions, spoken word and visual art that rejoiced in the idea of the life of a whole forest–perhaps of the whole earth. Perhaps this contemplative fugue from the project might strike your fancy. I will look for a way to send you a link. Thank you for your thoughtful work and your respectful way of engaging with others.
Your music project beautiful! I looked it up by clicking through your hyperlinked name in your post. Upon listening I was immediately spellbound.. so delightful and so profound. I particularly enjoyed when your spoken words juxtaposed in my mind with the explorations at Making Permaculture Stronger over the forest imagery in the video. I look forward to listening to more of your creative work. Thank you so much for sharing what you do with us.
Listening to Bill’s analogy of a a blind and deaf child listening to a symphony made me think of the joys that child could experience with a strength based approach. They have a taste, smell and touch. Imagine them in a garden or kitchen. They could thrive:)
I’ve only listened to the first half of this episode but had to pause it (as others who came in the room were not interested and so it would be disruptive).. however the topics of discussion on this episode (so far) had me wanting to read more about what qualifies as Alive (eg: if processes are to be considered alive)..
I then felt that reading about that old chestnut about whether or not viruses are alive would be a good analog to follow..
That then led me to reading this article (they had me in the title! I love a good play on a classic quantum physics thought experiment anyday!)
Schrödinger’s Virus – Dead or Alive?
This then prompted me to post this comment there –and I am sharing it back over here because of its overlap of relevance:
“I really enjoyed to read this in the context of my (hobby) research about whether or not a ‘process’ can be alive (why should qualifying aliveness be constrained to the physical-biological world?). This interest of mine (and others who are exploring it like Dan Palmer at https://livingdesignprocess.org/) is in regard to explorations of what a design process (a creation process) might mean to be a conscious expression of/as living processes.. as compared to the conventional go-to of procedures and mechanistic assembly (informed by the prevailing mechanistic worldview).
(And of course there are other epistemologies and ways of knowing that do not need science to tell them that a rock or clouds or the wind are not alive).
Ecological designer Ian McHarg had wondered in his book “Design with Nature” (1969) about the precedence of living processes that beget biological life. He quotes Lawrence Henderson from his book “The fitness of the environment”:
“.. it is at least worthy of mention that the regulation of the ocean in general bears a striking resemblance to a physiological regulatory process, although such physiological processes are supposed to be the result of organic evolution alone.”
I feel that we need to expand our understanding of what is alive and let the biological sciences have their best current definition and criteria to nest within.
Thanks for this Adrian. Short of writing an enthusiastic and very long comment for now I’ll share I’m so looking forward to co-creating shared clarity about this as my focus moves more and more toward the dynamics of more alive processes. Bring it on!
Curious why you associate step wise processes with the machine paradigm? Alexander quite frequently talks about the necessity of building in steps rather than master planning. Is it more that you have a tension with the idea of a linear step by step process? I feel like, while it’s true that it’s never a clean step wise progression there definitely things that need to be done in a certain order (build the garden before the house for example). With Alexander there’s more of a nonlinear stepwise process but there’s also a lot of importance in getting the right sequence and making sure that what is dependent for the next step is in place.
Perhaps part of the rigour that we need to bring into teaching is making the distinction between parts of design that are foundational and irreversible (water, earth works, house siting etc) and reversible decisions which can be more playful and experimental? It’s important not to confuse the two or to use the long careful decision making process for irreversible decisions for easily reversible ones (where to plant annual crops for example is easy to change later).
One of the genius ideas in Alexander’s process is using step wise progressions to turn irreversible decisions into moments where they can be more playful and experimental. I’m thinking about how he places windows by building the walls first and then deciding where the windows go or designing sites and structures with flags. Rather than turning the process of placing windows into the massive irreversible decision of a plan that gets handed off to a contractor the process of placing windows is turned into a discrete step where the building is paused and there is time to make reversible decisions with cardboard and tape. By breaking down the design process into moments where there is time to interact and experiment we get to create better fitted forms. We also get to make constrained choices which have more focused and relevant information.
Anyway it’s just something that’s come up a few times in your podcast and I was curious about it.
I’m so happy you picked up on and are asking about this Aaron. I am writing an in depth exploration into the step metaphor in relation to design and creation processes I will share as a blog post and episode within the next month or so. Very much look forward to what you make of those explorations then! My interest is in clarifying how the mechanical worldview hijacks the beauty and power of the step metaphor so we can rescue and redirect that beauty and power toward the more living sense of a stepwise process that Alexander is all about, that I am all about, and that you are talking about here (which for me is related to but distinct from the important conversation about step reversibility). In the meantime I’d invite anyone interested to reflect on the essential criteria that make a step a step (feel very free to share them here!).
It all comes from an epiphany I had when engaging with the Building Your Permaculture Property book – I’m excited to have had it and to be soon sharing it where I’ll invite one and all to help me beat it with a stick :-). It regularly amazes me how fuzzy our use of basic concepts is and how much is to be gained by the occasional clean up!
Thank you for what you are doing to challenge us to evolve our thinking. I wanted to offer just a quick comment related to the comments and replies so far. I agree that Permaculture is not a thing that you do, rather it is a way of doing what you already do and it is a lens through which we can shift our understanding of the world. If what you do is related to a particular physical piece of land (farming, market garden business, etc.), or if you live on a piece of land and wish to steward it in a regenerative way, then I think this book provides a context for helping you do that. My understanding is that the information flow that is discussed in the book is related to a dendritic pattern – the diagnosis informs the design and vice versa. It is iterative. I think it is also key to understand that the authors emphasize that the ultimate goal of any design (land-based, community-based, etc.) is well-being, related directly back to the 3 permaculture ethics – this requires a person to understand fundamental things about living systems that are not meant to be taught in this book. I believe it is meant to be supplemental to a broader/deeper permaculture learning.
I look forward to your future episodes on this and other topics!
~ Leigh Anne
Nothing useful to contribute, Dan. I just wonder if other people who are a bit/lot invested in permaculture are having weird dreams? My own dreams are troubled, don’t think I’m alone.
Little about permaculture feels good right now. How can we tell young people that permaculture is a smart way forward? David H is anti-vax and he defends his Pc-bannered marches in Melbourne, even after being informed that he appears to be embracing people of the far right
Don’t want to detonate a bomb here, but would very much like to hear a commentary away from fb.
Thanks Angela. For me the controversy around David Holmgren attending that march is a symptom of deeper patterns I’ll be looking into in an upcoming post.
I’ll take a look.
Thanks Rick and so lovely to see you pop up here!
I’m really excited to have found this podcast! I am currently taking the permaculture class she mentioned right now. I love it!
Global redesign is definitely what needs to happen and it starts with us.
Thank you so much Dan for sharing.
Lovely conversation! Somewhere around the point of talking about the oranges and mandarins, Penny noted that this is a common “pattern” she see when working with people. Looking at the “patterns” that emerge in working with people as a designer is something that I am not sure is being addressed fully, it certainly is not a component of the classic Mollison designers manual. I am curious as to what other patterns exist within our relationships as “designers” and “clients?
I agree, Laura. This work (and being functional in general) requires a lot of awareness of human archetypes and characteristics. That goes for ourselves and others. When I used to teach permaculture with Joel Glanzberg (ep.20) of the Regenesis Group, he always made a point to discuss being aware of the quality of our being as a designer and to be aware of the quality of being of our clients simultaneously. Examples could be anything from having a negative interaction that impacts ones mood right before a meeting or not being aware of a bias we hold that impacts how we show up. What we’re not addressing fully in permaculture is that we need to develop our capacities for awareness and intuition. I think we often talk about intuition and awareness as if they are mysterious forces that one is either born with or not rather than something that we develop through practice. I am working with a few others on a new permaculture curriculum that contributes to this.
Right on Jason and yes Laura mapping recurring people-patterns in design work would be a worthwhile exercise. On intuition and awareness Jason I’m excited to be recently experimenting with an educational resourcing format where I give people realtime coaching on them practicing immersing in the world of a client. A big part of this is staying present and using both energetic and emotional cues to shift focus as you go. Sounds like a theme for our next conversation to me!
That’s super exciting coaching work! Something I could see us having a great conversation about!
Let us make it so :-).
Hi Jason, Are you talking about mythological archetypes, Jungian ones? Penny mentions patterns and Bill’s curriculum on patterns being something she has steered away from in her own courses (if I am understanding her correctly). Certainly it could be easy to get stuck in spirals and waves in our designs without really understanding patterns, especially patterns over time. Since patterns actually are woven over time, it seems that a deeper study of time would help. Then you have human patterns which are pretty much unexamined a lot of the time. I am sure a long term designer or collective of long term permaculture designers could have an interesting conversation about the human patterns they have been able to see through their work. What are the fairly predictable short cycles of a pattern, what does it look like in terms of the overarching longer cycles, what are the archetypes of so called “clients”, “students” (or folks who attend courses), what are the patterns of what people are searching for in being attracted to permaculture design?
Hands up any volunteers for a roundtable discussion on this!
Hi Laura, you name great questions to engage with. Dan and I have discussed some of the patterns we’ve noticed in people showing up to permaculture. I’ve certainly noticed trajectory patterns of permaculture practitioners too. Dr. Roslynn Brain McCann of Utah State University has conducted and published social research touching on this.
I use the word archetype in a non-static way, as we tend to flow in and out of different ways of being. I’m generally interested in human patterns that have been identified through all kinds of lens, though have less exposure to the western mythological and psychological perspectives. Most of my experience is with buddhist psychology and the land-based cultures that influenced it.
It’s great to hear Penny again. She’s been such a bright light in the America’s for so long. What Penny had to say about permaculture’s originating impulse was particularly interesting. She said Mollison’s rage about the state of human behavior toward the planet played a big part. I think this is true AND that we’re better off transforming rage. I hold deep amounts of anger about the state of the world too (with a lot of reasons and experiences acting from it), but anger isn’t a very effective strategy beyond creating an initiating spark in my experience. I like how Penny said it “was” a force for her, which had a distinct flavor of her having seen through it as well. Anger serves a purpose to motivate action, but has very low potential to motivate lasting action. Here’s another sector in the invisible structures of permaculture work that we should develop awareness of.
Something else I’d love to explore with you Jason is the distinction between unconscious and conscious rage (not to mention sadness, fear and joy). As well as providing an initiating spark I’m realising conscious anger can be then used more subtly in changing direction or pace and also in pruning away what doesn’t belong or serve and knowing when it is time to stop or jump ship.
I am curious about what the “cage” may represent from a living worldview and ask also, how might this cage (or whichever is happening) be something that is actually real and alive?
It seems that the ‘cage’ is as much about a very real mental constraint and feeling as it is a metaphor or mental model because it can absolutely be physically/experientially constraining –whether aware of its existence or not.
However with this in mind (and in pondering the idea of a cage as a machination itself), I am curious about when one becomes aware of this mental/cultural constraint and begins to be able to wander out beyond this metaphoric ‘cage’ into perhaps a developmental/process field worldview (looking back on these proto-cyborgian/parts-systems/solutionary worldview confines).
With potential for “liquifaction” of one’s personal mechanistic worldview of the cage via inner and outer revelations, might the cage then cease to be understood as such because its essential process, value and purpose may become known as an aspect or appreciable expression of a living being/force/field/process?
And now that I think about it, one might just as easily slip out of the cage into yet another belief or worldview altogether. Perhaps we may come to find out that we are indeed a weak and frail civilizational organism being held together and protected only by a sort of mechanized lobster shell! (Heehee, I didn’t make that up, but found it somewhat amusing as a metaphor on the Wikipedia page on the subject “cyborg”.. but do beware of the lobster traps! 😉
Thanks Adrian I really appreciate having ideas and metaphors like this lovingly beat with a stick :-). I am working on a substantial series of articles and episodes going more into these questions. Maybe I can run some drafts past you for your input pre-publishing!
For sure Dan, happy to.
And yes, definitely prodding the cage at least (real and metaphoric)!
After posting that I felt a little insecure that I had distracted from the theme of the conversation (Sourcing our Creation Processes Outside the Mechanical Cage).. though I just felt that I needed to immerse in the context of the idea of the cage for a little more while first.
And thanks Jon B for your comments about hospitals as not being limited as merely machines. As mechanistic as their ideation and function can feel, it would seem that life prevails therein, although it can be severely obscured from sight and mind through a mechanistic worldview.
I am finding lately that I am imagining so-called ‘machines’ with a lot more life than I used to. Like a “bicycle” as a punctuation point in an ongoing dynamic history that eventually rusts, weathers and melts (again) and all the lives, organisms, people and families involved in its creation; the meals, laughs and tears shared by factory workers; the joys and hardships of bicycle riders; the movement and evolution as mineral, hydrocarbon, energy, culture.
Thanks again Adrian. I am also feeling a strong urge to immerse in the context of the idea of the cage (and whatever other metaphors help highlight the various dimensions and layers of the mechanical worldview) for a little more while first. Meaning a bunch of posts and eps are about to do just that, starting with the release of my fourth chat with Carol Sanford in a week or so. I also enjoy imaging machines (the simpler the easier) within life, even if a dominant aspect of the prevailing worldview seems to be that life ought to be imaged as within machines (more on this in upcoming posts, though googling Jeff Bezos’ visions for future space colonies will get you started).
Yikes.. thinking about space colonialism does indeed set me off!!
From Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger: Collaboratively Developing Permaculture's Potential (E28)on
I’m joining this party very, very late and hope there is still room in the mosh pit for me! I was taking a piss around the back and the bus took off without me!!
I am a practising permaculture designer and I also have quals in engineering and landscape architecture, plus hold memberships to the Institutes of LA and Horticulture. I applaud your position on ‘coppicing the tree’, and have felt for a long time that permaculture practice should be informing the traditional built environment professions, not the other way around! Those professions are intellectually dead.
My own design journey has been about conciously disentangling my thought processes from the madness of the rational reductionist logic of the design schools. I reckon designers need to ‘feel’ just as much as think. Engineering, LA, Architecture – they all have good intentions but you just have to look at the worlds those disciplines have and are creating to see they are all next to fucking useless. A big part of that story I think is that they have been captured by neoliberalism, and design fundamentalism, which permaculture must stridently avoid.
I also like your ‘new’ phase two approach of looking forward not back. See you in the mud down at the bottom of the mosh!
From Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger: Collaboratively Developing Permaculture's Potential (E28)on
Dear Gav – a very warm welcome. If you are okay to jog a few blocks, you’re all good, given the bus has only made it a few blocks, where we’ve been hanging out on the threshold into Phase Two for years now, sharpening our gear and accessing better maps and clarifying on these maps both where we are and where we’re heading. Where I am oh-so-ready to get this party started, though right now I am taking a breath before sinking more deeply into the mudpit we are all already in up to at least our armpits (the mechanistic worldview), and seeing how close I can get to the bottom and then how much we can get the hell out and away from it misleading us at every step. Catch you down there, and I appreciate how you cut to the chase on the, ahem, usefulness of the existing built environment professions and also how dead they will remain without feeling. I’d love to hear more about your disentangling process too – I have the sense that maybe we ought to jump on a call and record a chat toward a podcast ep!
Is it ‘The Matrix’ rather than the cage? After all we do not perceive a cage….
(Also as a very minor point, hospitals are NOT machines. While I haven’t worked in one, I have some understanding, having spent a fair bit of time in them. It’s people who make them work – lots of machines, but the people are what count. They are complex adaptive systems)
Hi Dan, great conversation. Some offerings to the ideas discussed…
Page 2 of Bill Mollison’s Designer’s Manual “I believe that unless we adopt sophisticated aboriginal belief systems and learn respect for all life, then we lose our own, not only as lifetime but also as any future opportunity to evolve our potential”. We designers could be studying this. I’m reading Tyson Yunkaporta’s “Sand Talk” at the moment – it offers rich material for permaculturalists to reflect on in my view.
David Gilpulil, quoted in the Designer’s Manual on page xi: “To this day Aborigines are careful not to disturb the Rainbow Serpent, as they see him, going across the sky from one waterhole to another”. We need to learn how to ask for permission to create on the lands that we live and work on. My design process includes asking “What is the Spirit of this Place?” “What does this land want from us, from me, from the client?” THIS IS A FEELING PROCESS.
Laura’s reading landscape example with the yukka’s and daffodils reminded me of the field of “Cultural Landscape” related to cultural anthropology, particularlyethnobotany. As designers I feel we must be careful not to disturb spirit and ancestors of Country. In Australia we must remember that the whole continent is a cultural landscape, “The Biggest Estate on Earth” as Gammage put it, shaped (designed) by over 200 indigenous nations over tens of thousands of years.
In relation to Aaron’s comment, I think one of the problems I have with language is that communication these days is dominated by written text, rather than spoken word. My feeling is that the process of communication shapes our creation process. Is it a coincidence that the most successful sustainable societies did not use written word but rather spoken story, song and art to communicate ideas? Could permaculture designers learn and apply those skills?
Cheers Gav. That is a beautiful Mollison quote. I’m going to go back and read the surrounding paragraphs. Did you see my interview with Tyson? So much gold in his offerings.
I am currently reading The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram which is all about exactly what was lost with the transition from oral languaging cultures of place (where language was something closer to spoken by place through people as the mouthpiece) to the written word as having directly created a severance of humans from the living landscape. I must write a review and share a bunch of quotes sometime – it is an incredible book. The Biggest Estate on Earth is a must-read also, especially for every Australia permaculturalist.
Loved this conversation, Dan, including your singing! Thank you.
I’m reading Tyson’s book now, and am learning so much, and resonating with much as well.
SPIRIT, HEART, head, hands!
Your reference, Dan, to people coming to permaculture looking to free themselves from a “cage” only to find themselves still entrapped and therefore disillusioned (?) (my paraphrase) also jumped out for me as it evidently did for other listeners. For me it links back to other conversations regarding patterns or archetypes within permaculture in terms of people becoming permaculture ‘designers’ and their ‘clients’.
Here is a question: How is that “second level of cage” different from the original starting point of “cage”? Does it go from being an external cage to an internal one? Could that be part of the process of growth as not a “permaculture designer” but of oneself as a human being who is utilizing the concepts and impulses of permaculture to understand, enrich, and find meaning, direction and purpose within the human experience within the web of life?
As human beings coming out of an era of industrialization with its tail end of hyper tech and rote educational system, I feel we have a mental entrapment to the idea of “solutions from above” and we treat “permaculture” as that. However, it seems to me that permaculture only works as a concept if we work with it as a “solution from within”. That is really tough, since to a great extent it is taught and marketed as a “solution from above or an external solution”.
I have noticed a pattern in terms of “breaking through cages”. Identify the cage (Realize one is entrapped), break the cage (this could be a prolonged struggle), feel elated, motivated, full of energy (productive, active, engaged), identify the cage (again? Or is it a different cage? Was a new “blind spot” revealed? Is this a process of growth or a dead end?) No one wants to make all kinds of efforts to wind up at a dead end.
Appreciate these rich reflections Laura. Reminds me of Clinton Callahan’s work on escaping the eight prisons.
I listened to two fairly recent recordings of Carol Sanford from mid-late 2021 and noticed a few points she was underscoring more than I’d noticed in the past (very likely I just wasn’t picking up on them before).
1.) Regeneration as revelation
Carol describes that she feels the core of the idea of “regeneration” is that of a process of simultaneous ‘revealing’ of the self, the beings we work with and those we nest within (and their nodes and field/s), yet with the idea of renewal or regrowth as an effect of regeneration. She credits her grandfather for imparting this nuanced understanding (that she continues to grow with).
2. Instrument or tool?
The other thing that struck me was when interviewer asked her about the “tools” she uses and she immediately interrupted to clarify that she doesn’t use tools, but that she uses “instruments”. I’d have to look up the exact wording of her corrections, but she explained something about how tools can be crude devices to achieve goals and instruments are more precise and provide ability to calibrate and measure..
Wow! That threw me on my mental backside; having now to work at understanding what she meant and then to reinterpret so much of what I had believed to understand before.
Well, I thought those were interesting and worth sharing here. Looking forward to hearing your upcoming podcast chat with Carol about her new book “Indirect Work” very soon Dan.
Thanks so much for this Adrian. Can you share the links to these recordings please?
I love seeing regeneration as equally including revealing and renewal/regrowth. Also I shared your comment with Carol, and she replied:
“You have pretty sophisticated listeners.
Instruments have depth, dimensions and adaptability to many uses and aims. e.g. musical instruments can play cross genres of music and settings. a microscope can be used to see and experiment with an infinite number of materials. a framework can be applied to anything we need to think about. a model is a tool for one proscribed use.
Tools have a shallower, predefined us to achieve one purpose. e.g. a hammer hits and drives nails.” Carol Sanford
So very much appreciate Carol’s response to my comments.. WOW! couldn’t have predicted that happening, but so great! Your rock and roll approach Dan really stirs things up.
Here are the links regarding my earlier comment:
“Inside Ideas: Educating & communicating ‘Regenerative’, with Carol Sanford”
Bionutrient Food Assoc.: Carol Sanford — A Quantum Paradigm: Seven first principles of living systems”
(Hey Dan.. on a technical side note: I had replied to this weeks ago and posted from my phone and the post did not ultimately appear here.. I suppose because I may have hit the ‘back’ button after posting (??), yet before the time that is offered to make an edit had lapsed.. and I believe this may have happened at least 1 other time in my use of the MPS comment field)
Thanks Adrian. I think the issue is that when a comment includes links the site withholds it for my approval and I don’t get notified until I happen to take a look!
First, well done, Dan! I felt like this conversation with Carol was incredibly useful as a listening and learning experience. There’s a lot in this episode and I made notes as I went along, some of which I’d like to share.
Two things about design process that I feel are worth communicating: 1. I’m not sure it’s an either or thing on master planning versus developing capacity of people on a project. For the time being at least I think both are needed. It’s goes to what Carol says about job descriptions in one of her books, that you have to be careful when working with an organization to not rip out from underneath people what they need to be doing while they develop their capacity. 2. I would venture to say most design processes in permaculture aren’t taught in a way that one step is left behind as another step is embraced. That’s not been my experience. It doesn’t mean people are using it well, but it also doesn’t mean it’s practiced so linearly either.
I’m so glad to hear Carol talk about movements and the danger of them. This is why I think it’s imperative to not describe permaculture as a movement. It’s just not what it is.
I think the core of what Carol is saying is that the work before us is in developing ourselves and teaching self-development. I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad to hear her extrapolate on that by saying that people need to have an aim, something I put a lot of emphasis on. I think this is the source of my deepest frustration though. I too often find that people don’t have an aim or that their aims aren’t rooted in anything other than the shifting fads and trends of the times, often inspired by colonizing media sources themselves. I think not having an aim in life is the epitome of the colonized mind, and incredibly pervasive. My question is (and I’ve posed this to Carol before, with no direct answer of course lol), how do you get people to develop an aim? How do you work consciously with aimless trend and habit followers?
Last, I’d like to share my aim in life because I think this is essencial: I want to be fully alive, to revere life, and to preserve the possibility of life. That’s why I’m here.
Thank you Carol and Dan for a wonderful experience!
So appreciate your comments Jason. Yes to ripping the rug out in manageable chunks and to your point 2. I have an upcoming post and episode exploring this further I look forward to enjoying your reflections on. Would like to hear more about what you mean by this. For instance do you mean that as the next step kicks in the existing one keeps going also? Or that you jump back as needed?
In her free morning meetings, Carol goes through the process of articulating then upgrading an aim: https://vimeopro.com/user6308836/the-regenerative-life/video/404661450
Thanks also for sharing your aim!
Hi Dan, I appreciate the Carol share. I always like those. She reflects a lot of my buddhist teachers at this point.
In regard to design process, as I teach in more and more PDC’s that other teachers are leading, I see the design process taught like there’s a central axis that the designer can rotate around to whatever point in the design process is needed at any particular time. I agree “steps” aren’t helpful as a way of articulating it because it indicates one step starts and then stops. It probably has more to do with paradigm though (same with master planning). Does the designer see that it’s all one staircase or are they only looking at individual steps unable to see the whole? Design never really begins and ends. It all just context in motion. What I see Carol working toward is training ourselves to join in the flow of life. Lots of ancient traditions have been pointing to that place. We need more and more people saying it from their own position and place, which is what I appreciate most about Carol’s work.
Right on Jason. That flow of life is always there, waiting for us to relax and drop back in. I only know from the times I got my toe in there, and I delight in encountering those fully immersed. Part of my quest is this question of what would it mean for our design and creation processes to drop their baggage, undress, and re-merge with that waiting river :-).
Also I look forward to developing and sharing some in-progress stuff about repurposing the step metaphor (which is so valuable in its rightful place) and what might take its place in terms of describing the different generic aspects or activity centres within a process and how they dance and flow together…
I’m definitely eager to learn more ways to describe design process. Keep it coming!
Many lovely thoughts in this podcast. I always love capacity being a central question and a great clarifying question. Am I doing this to build capacity or for another motive? For example am I discipling a child to build their capacity to become a socialize person or because they are defying my will (and therefore my ego)?
One huge caution however is in using the quantum level of scale to give a veneer of science to a concept at the human and biological scale. In numerous places I have been taught that the organizing principles of nature (laws of nature if you prefer the more problematic turn of phrase) only extend to three phases of scale. So quantum > atomic > molecular is a relevant scale but quantum > atomic > molecular > chemical > biological is well beyond where quantum weirdness extends. So care and rigour need to be taken on this point.
This is not to invalidate the thinking but rather that we need to be aware that we’re doing philosophy and not science when we talk about Heisenberg. Perhaps we’d be better off grounding our ideas in William James from whom the concept of superposition was lifted? Or perhaps if we want to confront the billard ball model we could draw on Ilya Priogine or Alan Turing or Stewart Kaufmann all of who offer compelling models of far from equilibrium systems that show that the billard ball model of Boltzmann is not a complete description of a living world (Steward Kaufmann’s ‘Reinventing the sacred’ is a good read on autocatalytic sets and Priogine and Strangers ‘Order out of Chaos’ is a book too wild not to be read. Turing’s paper on reaction diffusion reaction or the theory of why animals have stripes is also a beautiful thing).
But I digress (as usual I suppose). The final thought is that like complex systems permaculture, I think, needs to develop a comfort at moving between scales. I think of David Holmgren reading the landscape and how he can move between the chemical, geological, biological, cultural influences on a piece of ground. We develop this by knowing which constants apply so we can rapidly ground and orient ourselves. However part of that is learning how the emperical science of these constants apply (even if we may have issues with the ontologies that underline them).
Thank you for another lovely episode
Many thanks Aaron and that point about extending too many scales resonates with me. It would interesting to know what Einstein and Bohm would have made of Carol’s work! As for Strangers ‘Order out of Chaos’ etc darn it I already have a backlog of books to read but you make this one sound like it belongs in there also :-).
Also thanks for that wildly free-ranging zoom cal today – I look forward to the next iteration!
Fantastic! What an amazing conversation. More please.
Love the energy of this conversation and your ambitious spirit Eloisa.. “an experiment in being” for sure! Keep it going.
Also, super impressed to listen to you Dan as you practice your craft, your focus, deeply sourced care and receptiveness.
I quite liked the middle of the conversation about philosophy, holding a multiplicity of worldviews, the poetry of dialogue and logical debate and the machines of our lives.
I’ve been wanting to bring up the work of Tim Ingold on this program for quite some time, and I think that Eloisa (and others) would really enjoy checking out his work which snorkels all through the coral reefs of philosophy, ecology, logic, worldviews, ontology and epistemology… and with the thread of “bringing dualities into oneness” throughout all his writing and public speaking with love, whit and whimsy.
Ingold’s explorations of what it means to ‘correspond’ along lines.. that is to ‘image’ life and living “things” as an entanglement (meshworks and nodes) of lines.. as a confluence of time, movement, flow, materials, energy and becoming rather than a world of isolated blobs with naive and lifeless connections (as depicted in the fragmentary, imposed and facile constructs of ecology ‘schematics’ and imagined in the mechanistic mind while trying to grapple with a world that can’t be schematized).
I came across a description of the refreshing effect of Tim Ingold’s ontological explorations of life in the opening of an article by Sue-Ann Harding.
“I well remember reading the opening chapter of The Life of Lines (Ingold 2015), and how the revelation of lines and knots instead of blobs and connections made me stop, look up and see for the first time the invisible lines of people (past, present and future) coming and going through my house, of air moving in and out of the open windows, of the insects and arachnids that make their way in and find their way out. This was, like poetry, a transformative moment, in which I suddenly saw the familiar in an unfamiliar and powerfully intriguing way”.
About an evolved project name for MPS, here were a few ones I tried:
— Re-Sourcing Permaculture (to really maintain the focus and commitment of this project to permaculture’s regeneration specifically.. as you did cut the tree down after all! A cut and run would be unsavory)
— Designing for Life ~regenerating design process together (to simply broaden the scope by merging with your umbrella project Dan.. with permaculture as an aspect, but no longer the core thread)
— Permaculture is Alive! ~re-sprouting a living design process together
— Nodes and Fields of Permaculture Design
— Tales and Trials of “the New Emergent Permaculture”
— Permaculture Emergence
— The New Living Design podcast
.. SO hard draw out a name that honors the project’s spirit while not constraining its growth and evolution! However, perhaps it needs only be something that serves the next phase (3 years?). My gut check is that this project needs to have “permaculture” in there somewhere otherwise it would be a betrayal of its deepest core intentions and community.
Thanks Adrian. I have dipped into a little of Ingold’s writing over the years and always found refreshing and profound framings therein. I found a link to a free pdf of “The Life of Lines” here, it would be fun to have an episode exploring the lines and knots / blobs and connections distinction. Maybe with a group of us who read then come together to see where it takes us – get in touch if anyone wants in.
Appreciate your reflections on names too. “Re-sourcing Permaculture” really grabs me as so accurate to what the intent has become, and I also totally get how it would be a bit of a crime to cut down the tree then run off and leave the exposed stump untended and the betrayal aspect of ditching the world “permaculture” also. Where these forces at play are taking me right now is to look at tightening up the title to Re-Sourcing Permaculture (or Re-Sourcing Permaculture Design) and then creating a new podcast with a wider scope where some of the episodes of that new podcast are co-released here for those more focused on how this work bears on permaculture specifically.
Keep your reflections coming all. It really helps!
Happy to partake in a discussion about blobs, lines, weaves, knots/nodes, nests and meshworks if there’s other interest in this.. and just how this may apply practically in our design work.
I’m already enjoying to read from the link you sent (“the life of lines” sample pdf).. though may get my hands on a printed copy soon.
.. And so glad that some of my draft project names have been generative. I tried a few more poetic variations that I didn’t submit, but they seemed to lack the aim and focus that a more functional name offers (something I think is needed in the case of this project).
Great show.. I listened twice so that I could take notes:
Gold stars: I catch myself giving those to my kids and had always felt that it was about celebrating and going along with their successes rather than as an act of coercion.. how to better understand the difference? (Perhaps I’ll have to read Carol’s next book too).
Newtonian Physics: Carol seems to mean this literally, but also as analogy or metaphor and sometimes back and forth between all of those in a close span of conversation. This can be jarring in ways that are mentally generative but also has the potential to diminish the veracity her statements (could be taken as like ‘cherry picking’ to make your point stronger or creating a misleading logic or predicate).(I don’t want to be accusational here as to be fair, it would require some closer attention to examine what is going on there.) However, a metaphysical analogy to Newtonian physics is a slippery but fertile ground depending how you think about it (or what you get from it).
On the broaching of the topic of the correlation between Indigenous ways/culture (ie: a generic reference to an unspecified human culture and experience that abstracts people/s, places and time/s) and Quantum Science: I noticed that Carol made a disengaging chuckle sound when this was brought up that seemed to say ‘not gonna go there right now’.. and you didn’t.
When I try to imagine how it may feel if someone would reduce to generic comparisons my own unique life experience, culture, ancestry and present potential, something just feels like a betrayment of the very ontology of which the regenerative paradigm is supposed to root from. I am interested in this subject but have concerns about how it may be handled in discussion.
Racism: I think I can grasp what Carol is getting at by saying that she would not be working on racism directly with Colgate in South Africa at that time period (as it could merely perpetuate and amplify it by feeding into it), however I am left to wonder if there was not room made for folks at Colgate and in the local Colgate community place to engage with the realness and complexities of racism there.. if the very topic was made taboo at Colgate it seems potentially highly repressive (and denying) to closet such a frustrating physical and emotional lived experience. Cultural dysphoria comes to mind. How did this play out beyond the world of Colgate as it was nested within the greater politics, people, local community and economy? (I am reminded of Joel Glanzberg’s story about how he had an epiphany in the middle of the night that his ‘greening the desert’ work he was staking his success and achievement on had remained as just a green spec in the desert).
On social and mental ‘constructs’: “our constructs form the world we see” (about pixels on a TV vs. the images in motion we ‘go along with’ to see). Carol seems to critique the idea of ‘constructs’ as an illusion; while naming them and even repeating their categorization in order to get traction to make her differentiations (eg: gender, race, tribes, she mentions our language as being within a construct, etc.). It can feel like such contradiction of the regenerative paradigm, however there is also great generativity in the contrasts.. how such different paradigm ideas be discussed otherwise from the predominant paradigm and worldview. Nora Bateson describes this as transcontextualization.. how one context may describe and understand another (I believe Nora gives credit for this idea to her father Gregory Bateson).
On Categorization: Very often I feel insecure and confused about when Carol speaks of wholes and ‘categories’ to the point where I move further away from my own internal understanding of such.. thus I tend to want to outsource what she meant rather than have confidence in the idea from within.. this confidence in understanding is a capability I’d like to grow and perhaps it is a capability that could be worked on some more epistemologically from those who are doing this ‘work’ (thinking of the ‘regenesis group’)
Process Phases (compared to steps): I think about the moon phases and wonder: does the moon itself have phases, or is it we and the earth that have phases in our experience of the moon. The fact of the moon’s different appearance each night has only to do with its coincidence of being out of sight for a time.. the moon’s waxing and waning would be absolutely gradual but is only phased by the earth’s daily axis rotation and thus our experience of it (do I have that right?). Love to hear more about phases as it may relate to ‘the work’ in the regenerative paradigm.
I am going to be the unpopular voice.
A snowy day allowed me to delve far deeper into this podcast than I usually would be able to. I listened to a pleasant interaction between you and Brianne, but remained quite unclear on “possibility management” as I had never previously encountered this term. Diving into the maze of Clinton’s websites was like (I imagine) video gaming (something I never have personally engaged). In spite of its maze like quality, I recognized it as promoting the sale of trainings and associated books for “possibility management”. The techniques and objectives appeared similar to other psychological techniques that have arisen here over the same time frame of 40 or so years.
Wanting to keep the focus on permaculture, and overlooking obnoxious mechanistic metaphors and sci-fi creatures. I ventured onto the “whole permaculture” page at your suggestion. There was a lot there to explore, but the opening sentence was a good place to start:
“Either permaculture ‘pheonixes’ itself and starts over with personal transformation at its core, or the evolutionary needs of people will drive them elsewhere and the Permaculture gameworld will collapse like a chocolate Easter bunny, sweet on the outside and hollow on the inside.”
Several things jumped right out at me: (1) an assumption, (2) a veiled threat and (3) a solution.
Let’s start with the assumption: a “Permaculture gameworld”.
There could be an issue with semantics with the word “gameworld”, but I will do my best here. Gameworld indicates to me a programmed world (much like a video game, and the burgeoning tech world), everything is algorithms, code and so on. Permaculture has to do with life itself, which is not programmed. So these things would seem to be in total opposition. Perhaps gameworld refers to a shared set of beliefs and habits concerning “what is permaculture” that is limited in nature (limited or still in a simplistic form). This has got to be an erroneous assumption, as I am sure if you dive deeply into the consciousness of an experienced permaculture practitioner what you will find is not limited nor simplistic. A case in point would be the glimpse the “Reading Landscape” project with David Holmgren is giving us into David’s complex and evolved understanding of the landscapes he encounters.
Continuing to the veiled threat: if permaculture does not start over with personal transformation at its core, it will collapse.
So, if permaculture doesn’t become first and foremost about personal transformation (the self help guru’s gold mine, which also exploded in the 70s), it is empty? Never mind that its concepts have ecological grounding in reality, never mind it provides for clean water, healthy soil, healing damaged landscapes, reversing desertification, providing nutrient dense food, giving domesticated animals healthy lives, regenerating depleted pastures, practicing appropriate agricultural techniques in various climates and so much more. This in and of itself is healing for our various psychological traumas and habitual patterns formed in childhood. If we need more healing than permaculture can provide, I suggest we seek out that healing in other ways. Permaculture never claimed to be able to heal deeply held psychological, emotional, physical or spiritual dis-ease. It can certainly help but may not be sufficient for major issues or for all people. It is good to remember that threats (veiled or not) are usually designed to manipulate our thinking and associated behavior.
The solution is Clinton’s “possibility management” a series of workshops, exercises and literature which appears to me to be largely tapping into psychological ills of modern, first world, society with the typical promise of a new society rising from the old. If you take his trainings you can become leaders within this new utopian society and live your best life, spontaneously etc etc.
Can someone show the sleazy salesman the door? At what point do we draw the line in terms of disrespect of permaculture’s originating principles and ignorant misunderstanding of those principles? The point that many of permaculture’s practitioners are falling short in terms of manifesting its potential does not in any way delegitimize its foundation. There is a saying we have “quitate tu pa ponerme yo” which basically means “move out of the way so I can come in”. That is what I see when I see (1) a false assumption, (2) a threat, and (3) a convenient new remedy.
I could go further into the analysis, but the comment will be too long.
I’m so appreciative of the space that is held here for these kind of conversations to happen. Thanks so much Laura for the heartfelt and passionate comments you shared. I really needed to hear your thoughtful comments there and it really helped me to stay grounded.
“Use edges and value the marginal”.. yes, edge effects are certainly rich here.
I spent some time on a walk today and listened to Dan’s interview with Clinton Callahan and I can’t deny how sober and resonant the ideas shared were in that conversation.
I tried to listen for ‘guru’ complex there and I thought if Callahan is in this to be some sort of cult leader it just doesn’t register with my gut that way..
.. yes, the recursive knotwork of viral websites and what one can only be left to interpret as “remixed” and appropriated ideas (with very long cultural histories whose respectful acknowledgements are missing or very hard to find); does send big red flags to me too. The topic of “spiritual bypassing” came up in this latest podcast and I think that that subject at the scale of ‘movements’ needs much more exploration.
The effect of the dizzying Possibility Management web content of is for sure destabilizing.. not entirely the same; nor completely unrelated to how Carol Sanford uses this.. however I would distinguish PM (from my limited experience of it through the internet) as very monopolizing and needy of one’s attention to a (I feel) domineering degree.. Whereas my limited experience in hearing about Carol Sanford’s destabilizing effects are that of explicit, focused and aimed support for one to take the ideas or leave them, but never to trust her alone (thus letting us know she is not interested in being a ‘guru’ or any of the epistemologies of such).
However, perhaps the web-face of Possibility Management has been an attempt (successful or not) to go to a ‘node’ (as agriculture was for permaculture) and although it doesn’t appeal or work well for me or others perhaps it’s a node for many who could find it useful.. if so what paradigm and ultimate aim is the intent to destabilize* and monopolize our attention operating from?
(*In the Possibility Management sense.. to liquify our certainty and provide “clear-eyed” seeing as titular viral memes while claiming that they are sourced from “reality”.. as opposed to what we thought we were living before.. gotta say, this does sound fishy when you put it in those terms and reminds me of the polarities created when fascists speak of the media as fake news)
Or perhaps the PM webwork has gone rogue and is not serving it’s full purpose?
I’ve often joked that permaculture will know it’s made the mainstream when it gets its own Q-anon conspiracy.. could the liquid state of Possibility Management leave it utterly vulnerable to co-option and evangelism
Could it be that to want to light a fire of evolution, just for the sake of evolution in and of itself without say a motivation of growing health, vitality and viability (or at least without a careful aim and lots of ‘getting to know you’ first) may have to be motivated from the ‘do good’ paradigm?
I’m sure I don’t fully know enough to be commenting here about Possibility Management as a whole, and so I frame all of this in the curious sense of just what I’ve seen so far and what’s been shared on this project (Making Permaculture Stronger).
Thanks for these reflections and for your curiosity Adrian!
Dear Laura – thanks so much for sharing – your perspectives and analyses are always welcome here, as is the creative tension different perspectives create. While, after several years of thorough, critical investigation, I personally have reached different conclusions regarding the integrity, relevance, and value of Possibility Management generally, and Clinton’s work specifically (where I consider Clinton a friend and senior colleague), I accept that different folk will reach different conclusions. I am happy to be more publicly acknowledging the value I have gained from this body of work (just like from permaculture, Christoper Alexander, and Carol Sanford’s work) and to be bringing some more voices exploring the edges between Possibility Management, Permaculture, and Living Systems Thinking into the mix as part of my wider quest moving forward. Let’s all bring our critical questioning whole-body intelligence to the table and let the chips fall where they may! All best, Dan.
… “There must be some way out of here”
Said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief
… Business men, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth
… “No reason to get excited”
The thief he kindly spoke
There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
… But you and I we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour’s getting late
… All along the watchtower
Princess kept the view
While all the women camE and went
Barefoot servants too
… Outside in the distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
The wind began to howl”
Songwriter: Bob Dylan
Adrian, I’ve always loved Jimi’s rendition of this song, but never seen any analysis of either the song or Jimi’s musical interpretation . Thank you for communicating this.
The image of the Joker and Thief having this discussion outside castle walls as a wild storm is kicking up is deeply compelling, and although it is not explicitly stated in the song, I envision the scene as night, as indicated by the line “the hour is getting late”. If we follow along the interpretation you shared, the castle is the established order, and the Joker and Thief are outside it, much like permaculture is outside of established order. The Joker and Thief are somewhat different characters, yet share an understanding and agreement that the established order is devoid of value for life. The established order values control over or power over. The Joker is someone who works inside that establishment, yet holds opposing values to it, expressing that resistance through his or her art. The thief works outside of the establishment and has perhaps a much greater clarity than the Joker who may get swayed by his or her involvement with the establishment.
For me, Permaculture is born from a radical impulse against the established order. However, permaculture has become commodified through its interface with the established order. My observation is this commodification has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. This is not unlike what has happened to a number of Indigenous spiritual traditions over the same time frame and longer (or musical traditions for that matter).
“Appropriation” is a word, a concern, and an accusation that today is very much under discussion. Dan did a couple interviews last year (E61) and (E62) with Leah Penniman (Soul Fire Farm) and Tyson Yunkaporta which touched on this issue. Leah accused Bill Mollison of appropriating Indigenous Culture to create Permaculture, whereas Tyson astutely observed that as soon as you “name” something, it gets appropriated or distorted (my paraphrase of what I understood he said). While most of us would agree appropriation without credit is wrong (and I do not necessarily agree with Leah’s take on Bill at all), my observation is that appropriation leads to distortion and commodification (along the lines of what Tyson was expressing). The appropriator ends up losing contact with the spirit of what he or she was appropriating in the first place and then ends up with a shell or remnant of that tradition or spirit.
The Thief steals from the established order but is loyal to the value he or she holds for the wilds (both human wilds the wilds humans are nested within, the “natural” wilds). The thief takes those tools and techniques that will benefit those “wilds”, much as in the way the essence of permaculture will take whatever tool or technique benefits its expression and exploration of living within the wilds as a wild element. The establishment appropriates those elements from the wild that it can commodify as seen over thousands of years:
– raw materials (wood, stone, metal)
-the fertility of the soil and its vegetative products
-the products and fertility of livestock
– the labor of human beings
– fossil fuels
-rare minerals and elements
-the human psyche
We are at the point where the human psyche is one of the largest commodities on earth, and the hour is indeed getting late.
Thanks to Adrian for sharing then Laura for exploring this sparse, profound poetry in a permaculture context, glad to have the energy and brilliance of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix in the mix here.
Laura I wanted to say I resonated with your statement “For me, Permaculture is born from a radical impulse against the established order. However, permaculture has become commodified through its interface with the established order.” My main concern is how the design and creation processes of the established order have (I believe unconsciously) infused and undermined or co-opted permaculture’s radical originating impulse. I am very much looking forward to diving more into the originating impulse question and where it will lead this project in the coming months. Feels it has been a long time coming, but we will get there!
Hey Dan, I appreciate your willingness to engage this tension. I greatly admire the range of podcast episodes you have here, containing deep insight and stories from diverse and profound minds. In my estimation, Permaculture can greatly benefit from these types of contributions, analysis, and variety of perspectives.
While I continue to struggle with the PM concepts of “gameworlds”, “gremlins”, “brain zippers”, “clickers”, “grounding cords” and so on, it is important not to allow language to block understanding. So I dove deeper into the PM world to try to understand it better, and try to grasp how this could benefit strengthening permaculture.
I found a possibility management youtube channel that had extensive videos, showing everything from one on one coaching sessions to the larger ‘possibility lab groups’ including the season 2 mage training and gameworld incubator labs in which you, Dan, were involved.
The gist of it, that I was able to understand, is that everyone is involved in gameworlds, mostly unconsciously, and mostly are involved other people’s gameworlds in which they are pawns. PM allows you to gain clarity to create your own gameworld which you are ultimately in control of and which reflects your values. PM does this through “Emotional Healing Processes” and other initiatory experiences that are lacking in modern society.
While I agree that emotional healing is beneficial and genuine initiatory experiences can be very important points in our lives, I would not trust PM personally (just to be honest here). That’s ok, we all trust who we trust with our emotional, mental and spiritual needs. We will gravitate towards a language that resonates with us on a deep level.
However, there were several moments in the videos where Clinton is denigrating Indigenous Cultures, such as this one in Gameworld Incubator Week #2/12
At 18:32 Clinton says:
“You have to remember that Indigenous Cultures were not regenerative. In addition Indigenous Cultures were also not aware of themselves as a culture in general. They do not understand the idea of cultural relativity which says that every culture on this planet is bullshit including mine. This is not taught in Indigenous Cultures. In Indigenous Cultures the name for foreigners is the same thing as the name for the edible ones, the ones you can eat. Anyone who is not in your tribe you can invite them to lunch as your main course, you can just eat them because they are not human because they don’t wear the same beads or speak the same language, or have the same clothes or worldview, you can just eat them, they are not even human. So this is Indigenous Cultures around the world.”
This statement is so odious on so many levels, that are so obvious. I can’t even seriously ask “where is he getting his evidence from”? Is Clinton seriously saying Indigenous Cultures are cannibalistic and unconscious of themselves as a culture? It sounds like a statement straight out of a playbook on justifying colonialism. How could anyone say Indigenous Cultures are not regenerative? Yet the whole virtual roomful of people said nothing. This saddens me deeply that these types of (white/ western/ modern?) supremacist statements continue to go unchallenged.
Later in the video, you are speaking, Dan, at 1:33:30 about your gameworlds, of which this permaculture podcast is one of them. I found this informative, and a window into where you are going with all this. I appreciate you wanting to help people bring forth more alive creations and processes through your various endeavors. I do have a question about this whole thing: Is your whole construct (gameworld) going to be played within or under the umbrella of PM? It feels a little like you have been trying to pull us into PM without us being aware of it, so I am really relieved that you have made this public. I think it is important to make people aware of what is behind the various interfaces you have created. Your honesty in bringing this forward will, I think, bring a lot more clarity for both you as the “spaceholder” and us as “players” in your gameworld. I would however ask you just to clarify if this is played under or within PM.
MPS exists to open and hold space for collaborative inquiry and dialogue into permaculture design processes, in a way that supports these processes to become more conscious and alive, so that permaculture is supported toward more fully accessing and expressing its potential.
I would additionally say that MPS is currently:
• sourced in Christopher Alexander’s sense that processes can be more alive or less alive
• being carried out through the medium of permaculture
• infused with helpful gems (distinctions, frameworks, practices, processes) from many places, including The Field Process Model (Jascha Rohr), Living Systems Thinking (Carol Sanford and colleagues) and Possibility Management (Clinton Callahan and colleagues).
Where I aspire for MPS to be an ongoing invitation and beyond that a challenge to myself and fellow permaculture designers to ask their own difficult questions, make their own inquiries, and to contribute to the above purpose in whatever way resonates and works for them. If anyone out there is in touch with anything that rigorously, reliably and repeatedly helps enhance the life of design processes and their outcomes, then I want to know about it!
Possibility Management has for me been like one of multiple treasure chests conveniently materialising beside the path from which valuable goodies are feeding in. For instance, I personally would not have been aware of, or had access to, clear, intensely practical methods for:
• Harnessing the power of feelings arising freshly inside a process in the moment (and distinguishing these from previously unprocessed feelings simply being reactivated by current circumstances).
• More generally engaging with creation processes not only mentally but physically, emotionally and energetically.
• Consciously choosing to take more responsibility in the moment for bringing more life to a process.
In my experiments, these three things alone demonstrably help enhance the life of design and creation processes for myself and others. Which is not to say that PM is their only source, nor to in any way reduce PM to these three aspects. Which are nestled among countless other valuable goodies sourced from Alexander, Sanford, Rohr, Bortoft, Savory, and many others.
I also want to share my appreciation for your engagement and your sharing of concerns here. You have inspired me to write some longer articles about the value of various approaches (including PM) to my life and work in permaculture.
Finally, as for Clinton’s statement about indigenous peoples, which landed/lands for me as absurd and somehow bait-like, I have no idea what was up with that, and will ask him.
Thank you very much Dan for clarifying MPS purpose and sources. While I continue to be highly dubious of Possibility Management and some of the underlying ideology concerning evolution and ‘next culture’, I do find a great deal of value in your other sources. I also subscribe to the wisdom that understanding and wisdom can be gained from many unexpected (even distasteful) sources. Above all, we are all involved in this messy process called ‘life’ and we are born without a map, manual or memory! I respect and appreciate your willingness engage tension and resistance as well as harmony and agreement.
Thanks Laura :-).
Thank you for this loving tribute to Christopher Alexander. The fifteen properties of a living process are something that I’ve been intrigued with for years, though to be honest, I’ve not really engaged with actively however a few of them did ‘stick’ (like positive space, gradients, deep interlock, local symmetry). It was really interesting to hear your personal account of these in your work with your parents.