[permaculture] Permaculture as science
paul.cereghino at comcast.net
Fri Jan 26 13:06:59 EST 2007
Thanks Jedd & Greg -- perhaps I am just distracting myself from spending time working on the garden...
> Permaculture practitioners and scientists .. do you mean?
Good clarification. It reduces the importance of generalities. I
recently went through a 3 year intensive science training and have been
working in a 'science-driven' legalistic resource management policy
world ever since. I have met scientists that are open minded and closed
minded, but as a group they seem both open-minded and reflexively doubting.
>slightly disturbed by the faith-based approach
> adopted by some people,
I have had interesting discussion with horticultural scientists who
ridicule "faith-based gardening". Not because of what garden techniques
they employ, but rather because they pretend to be 'science-based' but
have no data or their experimental designs are seriously flawed.
>This may be based on my desire for it to be science based, and for it to appear science based.
I have encountered the term 'science-based' in many policy circles as
well. It is a term I increasingly distrust. Scientists simply do
science -- to gradually and incrementally grow a body of theory that
explains how things work. Then cultural groups with some material
interest other than 'the truth' takes that information and uses it to
develop policy. They call their policies 'science-based'. However,
when you freeze that policy and the power games, and take the time time
time to break it down, and track back to the science... the science
doesn't necessarily support the policy, but the policy solution just
used science to gain cultural legitimacy. Permaculture practitioners
can follow the same path.
There is a world of difference between saying "science says I'm right"
to saying "science suggests this course of action may work, but we are
going to move forward humbly and continue assessing the situation so we
can continue to learn". The latter is a more mutually useful
relationship between science and policy be it regulatory policy,
programmatic policy, or permaculture policy.
> I'd also suggest that scientific theories (or rather the developers
> of same) aspire to be useful in all situations
I'd adjust this by saying that people who do science aspire to finding
mechanisms and explanations that are big and important. However, in
studying ecosystem dynamics, where there are multiple factors
interacting to form patterns, theories are increasingly small and
situational. An observed pattern is relevant to the combination of
circumstances that shape that pattern. The results of individual
studies are not earth shattering -- and many mistakes are made by
extrapolating from one setting to another. It brings to mind a series
of studies I read related to recruitment of conifer seedlings in
shrublands. These folks observed that were there was thick salmonberry
(Rubus spectabilis; rhizomatous cane fruit) new conifers were not
coming. They then inferred that competition (for light?) from the
rhizomatous shrubs was preventing conifer seedlings recruitment.
Another scientist looked closer and looked for patterns of conifer
recruitment in these floodplain shrubland, and found that seedlings did
pop up, but only within around 80m of seed trees -- dispersal was also a
strong control. But in a drier climate perhaps competition (for water)
would be a bigger factor. And these observations are all averages
across a population of places, and don't tease out the secondary
patterns that cause deviation from the master pattern (microclimate
effects, soils, herbivory etc...). So in acting on a piece of land you
are necessarily in the world of intuitive 'policy development'. We make
decisions between alternatives based on available information. I have
not met many permaculture practitioners who do science... make
systematic replicable observations (perhaps quantitative) within a
theoretical context for the purposes of infering how things work. This
is a problem in ecological restoration as well. When the people who are
doing the work are not helping build the theory on which the work is
built this is a weakness... in permaculture terms, the experiential
output of the worker is not connected to the inspirational input of the
scientist. I have heard some on this list point at academia and say
they are disconnected from reality.
> This is very bad news for anyone who's ever read a permaculture book,
> or done a course, and then tried to replicate or transfer what they've
> learnt to their own plot of land !
That's not exactly what I ment. In my experience, permaculture teaches
people to develop intimate relationships to places, and to creating
patterns based on an intuitive OR emperical understanding that place to
retain and reuse resources, energy, water, nutrients, etc...
Permaculture also teaches us to look at natural systems for those life
increasing patterns and to replicate functional patterns in our
creations. If someone goes out and makes a herb spiral in the shade...
they will be dissappointed in the muted microclimate effect. If they
spend lots of energy creating earth structures to infiltrate surface
water when infiltration of surface water is not an issue in their system
they will be dissappointed. The practical nature of a place keeps you
humble. Observe place... than apply humbly... keep learning... all news
is good news.
>Observation is one of the cornerstones of both pursuits. Not sure
> how well intuition...
I would expand this to say that observation and intuition are
fundemental human resources, critical in ALL endevors.
>I'd happily argue that most
> scientists are intimately aware of things going on in their field of
> research .. it's a bit of a necessity.
I think there is a substantial difference between understanding of a
'field of research' and 'understanding a place' encouraged by
permaculture. I regularly work with fish scientists working in forested
environments but who are not aware of what is going on in forest
research. Threads of science move forward in isolation, often to their
detriment, while permaculture is integrative. It can be that
integrative because it moves fast, scavenges useful information, and
leans heavily on intuition.
> It's a bit early on to be deferring to Godwin's Law, isn't it?
What is Godwin's Law?
> the altruism doesn't really exist
> theory, and all that.
Eeek! lets not go there... :)
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