Symmathesy = Learning Together

A new word: Symmathesy, from this long article.

I think this is an interesting idea, to coin a new word. Or, even a bit presumptuous? It’s a move in the right direction. Perhaps the word itself will one day become quite functional. At the very least the author has captured the motion of life as it moves through space and time. We’ll see how things turn out.

Whatever the end result will be,  I’ve pulled out a few of the choice quotes of the article to simplify and sharpen the message a bit and added my own comments to the mix.

I would like to propose a new word for “System” that refers specifically to living systems – that is, to systems which emerge from the communications and interactions of living vitae…

Vitae essentially are tessellations, any whole that can be reasonably observed within a pattern. 

I want to put the Greek prefix Syn/ Sym (together) + Mathesi, (to learn):

Symmathesy = Learning together.

Say it 20 times. It starts to mean something, doesn’t it? Essentially a living system where the components change through time in response to each other, a sort of learning.

Our conceptual understanding of the living world can be elevated with a new terminology that better describes the processes we are referring to within it. The viability of this new term is a step toward a clearer understanding of the way we describe the difference between what we can “control”, i.e. in material terms, and that which requires another approach, i.e. interacting with the complexity of evolving living systems.

What is the difference between learning and life? None.

 When is something living NOT learning? Never.

I think this is the core of permaculture and something that lots of people miss. Living systems surround us but we interact with them as if they are mechanical, dead ones that serve only to fulfill our needs and wants. 

…It is difficult if not impossible to find a subject to study in the living world that is definable within a single context. Transcontextual research offers multiple descriptions of the way in which a ‘subject’ is nested in many contexts.This information provides descriptions of interactions that seem to erase the boundaries of what we might have previously considered to be parts and wholes. Medicine is entwined in culture, food, environmental conditions, education, economic stability, and more. Economy is formed through culture, transportation, resources, communication and media, education etc. To study the biological evolution of a pond it is imperative that other contexts in which the pond exists be included in the study. These might include the geological history of the region, human interaction (including food culture, sport culture, economics of tourism etc), chemical balance, weather patterns, concentrations of various species. Research without the study of multiple contexts renders the information about a given subject as though it were isolated from the many systems it is within, and therefore a great deal of data is not visible.

And this is why permaculture dabbles in so many different realms. How can we hope to interact with the world if we have no understanding of all the different realms of cause and effect?

Education: an education in the world as a mutual learning process would look at the interconnections between what we now call “disciplines” or subjects. Forests are interactions, food is culture, and so on. The ability to study both the details (existing disciplines) and the relationships of learning between them will increase our students’ ability to see and interact with a level of complexity that is necessary for future generations’ survival. As it stands our “knowledge” often prevents us from seeing the interdependencies in our complex world, which we therefore disrupt — to the detriment of our wellbeing and that of the biosphere we live within.

Indeed, for future generations survival. Education is where we need to start. 

What if we look at the interlocking, interdependency of our institutions as an ecology in and of itself? Ecology can be loosely defined as a totality of patterns of interrelationship that form interdependencies. In this sense our institutions function very much like a forest or an ocean. The infrastructures of our institutions reinforce and balance each other, and our socio-economic system develops in patterns that fit the characteristics of any ecology. Are we not, in that case, contributing perfectly to an ecology that we live within? Perhaps humanity is not so un-ecological after all. The difficulty we face is in the fact that the larger ecology of biosphere is at odds with the ecology of our institutions, and right now we believe we need both to survive.

And so on to our so called “invisible” structures. If we only interact with the world mechanically we miss out on the multitude of interconnections that weave themselves throughout. There is no simple fix. All we can do 

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Published by Milton

C. Milton Dixon is an permaculturist, forager, educator, and and all around computer savvy guy. He is a farm consultant for Polliwog Farm and co-manager at the emergent The Cooperative at Dawn Farm. You can reach him at or 773.789.8887.