[pcdb] [Fwd: Re: [permaculture] Wikipedia's Permaculture Problems]
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lfl at intrex.net
Tue Dec 19 23:30:02 EST 2006
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [permaculture] Wikipedia's Permaculture Problems
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2006 11:03:37 -0600
From: rrandall1 <rrandall1 at houston.rr.com>
Reply-To: permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
To: permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
One of the problems in defining "permaculture" is related to the
problem of defining anything. Years ago when I was studying a part
of linguistics known as ethnosemantics (essentially an effort to
understand the meaning of words especially in exotic languages where
concepts including activities themselves had no English close
equivalent), it was generally acknowledged that word meanings have
quite different structures even in the same language.
This is best illustrated by some English examples
1. conjunctive attribute definition:to call something X, it has
certain necessary and sufficient traits. Example, "An apple is the
fruit of a member of the species Malus ....
2. Disjunctive attribute definition: item has either these traits or
some others: Example: a wild card is either a two or a joker
In terms of the way people think and speak however, these types of
definitions are fairly rarely found in real languages and tend to be
the result of literate activities rather than everyday thought
3. Prototypic definitions: something is defined by a best example
with other examples being more or less like the best example. For
example, "a real forest" has a complex species diversity with climax
conditions and multiple connections etc. and for some people may be
"like the one I saw in Mindanao" or on the Vancouver Island Coast or
whatever This allows for a lot of other examples to be more or less
forests including a Houston "urban forestry" unit. For me "real
trees" are maples while in some parts of California, palms are.It is
certainly possible to think about better and worse permacultural
examples. I have heard city planners say Houston isn't really a city
because of sprawl.
4. Schematic definitions: something is defined as part of a complex
of ideas and really cannot be understood unless the whole schema is
discussed. The common examples are "a shortstop" and "steal a base"
which area totally meaningless concepts outside of a schema for
baseball. But it is also true of common actions. Try to imagine
explaining "xeroxing" or "googling" to a person in 1910 or even 1955.
So how do we define permaculture? My ambivalence toward answering
that question in classes or elsewhere is that it is a name for a
design activity--as Paul says a complex one-- we do in relation to a
schema that the listener often has almost no knowledge of. I think it
is an error to seek a conjunctive attribute definition for a complex
schema-- though listing the traits and attributes of a permacultural
design certainly helps the beginner get an idea. Graham says it is "a
set of ethics, principles, and design methods." I would say rather
it is not a set of anything, but an activity or its mental
representation as a schema we do as part of a complex plan best
learned through much guided practice. We can tell you about the ideas
that characterize it, but understanding permaculture's meaning comes
out of the engaged educated practice.
In short, I can't tell you what the word "xeroxing" really means if
you have never done it or seen it. We would be better off telling
people that pc is a complex design activity whose purposes are ...,
that like reading, calculus or Arabic, it cannot be understood
clearly except by a lengthy course of study and practice. We could
add that we believe with justification that it is the only likely way
our of the mess the planet is in. So everyone should become a
practitioner and learn what the word means.
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