Tag Archives: integral theory

Permaculture Design - Needs Products Behaviors & Intrinsic Characteristics

Connecting the Dots: Integral Types in Permaculture

In our past blog posts we have explored holons, quadrants, and states. The next aspect of integral theory we’d like to examine with a permaculture eye is the concept of types.

What are types in integral theory?

Paraphrased from Integrallife.com in an overview of integral theory, types are the variety of consistent styles that arise in the different aspects of our lives. They are stable and resilient patterns that can overlap and may even be incongruous. For example, Myers-Briggs personality types, masculine and feminine genders, and even astrological signs are different typologies that we can use to attempt to understand people.

A simplified way to think about types can be seen in human language. We organize our very existence by giving names to objects and concepts, allowing us to access and communicate layers of information by understanding a simple pattern – nouns, adjectives and verbs. Words are therefore types: the connection between the abstract and concrete, internal and external realms. However, types are not so much the definition of something as they are a framework for how we organize and communicate about the world by identifying patterns and shared characteristics. And in language, it is how we stitch the types together in functional relationships that creates meaning.

The productive edge: relationships between types

Each element in any permaculture design is essentially a type. Permaculture uses a mapping technique known as needs, products, behaviors and intrinsic characteristics to help flesh out what we know about the elements (types) in our designs. This exercise helps us discover the edges of our elements, revealing the potential relationships between them. Once we know this information, we can connect our elements to each other in a functional network. In other words, these relationships define the functions that a type can provide to the design.

Permaculture Design - Needs Products Behaviors & Intrinsic Characteristics of an Oak Tree

Needs Products Behaviors & Intrinsic Characteristics of an Oak Tree

 

For example, a group of trees which primarily function as a windbreak can also produce firewood, create microclimate and serve as wildlife habitat. These functions all are dependant on the connections to other elements in the design: a windbreak needs another element to protect, firewood needs someone to burn it, etc. In permaculture we want each element to serve multiple functions and have multiple connections to other elements. The more connections between the needs, products, behaviors, and characteristics of elements, the stronger and more resilient the design. Once we’ve made an initial connection, we need to continue to observe the elements to ensure the relationship is functioning through time.

While the details will be different from situation to situation, types give us a rough framework of patterns from which to stitch our design together. Ultimately, the possibilities of types that we could work with are not as important as how they connect and relate with one another.

People are the most complex element in the whole design.

By definition, permaculture is designing for people. Culturally, we have a habit of not considering people enough in the first place in all the things we do, let alone integrating them into any sort of permaculture design. We need to make an attempt to take into account all aspects the design, starting with creating an awareness of for whom and within what social contexts the design is occurring, and of the broad patterns that people create within and surrounding the design.

People are not as simple as a chicken or a windbreak, but have layers to their lives owing to the different life experience, roles and responsibilities they take on. In other words, just as in the definition from integrallife.com, people are a combination of many overlapping types, and the types can even be conflicting or contradictory. This greatly increases the complexity of the design.

Adding to the complexity, all of these types will change through time: a design for a bachelor would be completely different than one for a family, and in time, the bachelor could eventually have a family. Through time the design has to have the flexibility to change as both the landscape and the lives of the participants in the design change.

Connecting the Dots

Knowing what types of people are present, what types of lives they lead and what type of community surrounds them does give us some guidance as we create a design. But we need to keep in mind that with all the potential complexity that people bring to the table, actually creating a working, static design is very improbable. Instead, we need to create feedback loops that allow us to emergently understand and be more sensitive to the needs of a particular person, group of people, or place.

Permaculture tells us to carefully observe all the elements of our design, which includes the people involved. We must open our eyes to all the myriad things that that support us as humans, as well as see and change the things that don’t. We can increase our ability to do this by recognizing that designing for a place and a person are reflections of each other. Crafting an element for a space also requires room for that element in the person – and conversely, a design for a person requires the support of a place. At the end of the day, if the place does not support the person – or the other way around – it is not a permanent (permaculture) solution.

A permaculture design cannot exist apart from the rest of the world, and especially not from people. Not only does the physical world require constant exchange of materials and energy, but our mental and social selves need that exchange too. Our permaculture designs are supported by systems and structures not only within our human selves, but also in the outside world, and we need to be aware of and connect to those elements.

Perhaps striving for the perfect self-contained permaculture design is the opposite of what we need to do; it can only create a bubble that will ultimately stagnate and become irrelevant. People are a major agent for change, and the more connections we make to and through them creates more possibility for change. Therefore, people are the most important asset to any design. When we create as many connections within and outside our design as possible, we can become truly sustainable and create real change in the world.

Future Care

Future Care

Permaculture as a design science is unique among other systems because it makes use of ethics. What are ethics? On his website permaculturist David Holmgren says, “Ethics are culturally evolved mechanisms that regulate self-interest, giving us a better understanding of good and bad outcomes.” Essentially, ethics are a tool that allow us to evaluate our actions and guide us toward a desirable end result. In permaculture, there are three ethics by which we design landscapes and other systems. Earth care and people care are always the first two, but over the years of permaculture’s development, there have been multiple interpretations of what the third ethic of permaculture is. We think future care should be the prefered choice.

In Permaculture: A Designers Manual, written in the early years of permaculture’s development in the 1980s, Bill Mollison states the third ethic of permaculture as, “Setting limits to population and consumption.” On his website and in his 2002 book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren similarly states the third ethic as “Fair Share: Set limits and redistribute surplus.” Starhawk has a slightly different way of articulating the third ethic: future care. Examining these three interpretations more closely, we see that setting limits and/or sharing the surplus are not the same as future care. They all are grasping for a similar concept, but which version should the permaculture designer use?

With this in mind, this is an instance where an integral approach, specifically the notion of the holon, can provide clarity. In short, holons allow us to hierarchically order elements and determine their relative order of importance, causal relationships, and dependencies. A simple exercise is to make the statement, “If we did away with x, there will be no y.”

Looking at the earth and people in this way, “if we did away with the earth there would be no people” is true while the reverse, “if we did away with people there would be no earth” is false. This tells us that people are a subset of and therefore dependent upon the earth, not the other way around.

The statement, “if we did away with limits there would be no earth” is not necessarily true; at the same time “if we did away with the earth there would be no limits” is also not true. They do not demonstrate a holarchic relationship.  It is the same with the statement, “if we did away with fair share there would be no earth” and its inverse. Both are untrue. If we substitute “people” for “earth” in the latter statement and its inverse, both instances are again untrue.

However, we can truthfully say, “if there was neither earth nor people there would be no future.”  The future is dependant on both the existence of the earth and of people. It should be clarified what is meant here by the use of the word “future.” The future in general (to our human understanding) will always continue to exist, whether humans are there to see it or not. What we are specifically speaking of when we say “future” in permaculture is the future of this planet Earth and the future for humans living on it.

People are dependant on the earth; they are a subset of our planet, not independent from it. Without the earth (earth care) or people (people care) there will be no future for either. So holarchically speaking, caring for the future rests on the first two permaculture ethics, which allows us to more clearly see the relationship between these three elements.

Fair share can still be understood as a part of caring for people. In order to care for people, we need to shift to an abundance mindset that allows us to freely redistribute surplus. However, it is easy to forget that the earth also needs its fair share. In order to care for the earth, we must not completely consume it (even if people have their fair share amongst themselves). Additionally, the future needs its fair share. Living well today at the expense of future generations is not a viable option.

Similarly, setting limits and sharing surplus are part of caring for the earth, people and future. They are directives toward the goal of future care, actions we can take toward that desirable outcome. It is possible that fair share, setting limits, and sharing surplus may not be enough to accomplish the goal of caring for the future. More or altogether different actions could be required. It is important to understand that these ideas are directives moving us towards a goal, but are not the goal in and of themselves.

Starhawk explains:

Permaculture’s approach to climate change let’s [sic] us avoid short-sighted errors and find true solutions, because it is rooted in three core ethics: care for the earth, care for the people, and care for the future. The three ethics work together.  We cannot truly care for the earth unless we take into account the people and the long term impact of our interventions.  Ecological solutions that ignore issues of justice are doomed to fail.  And we cannot care for the people if we don’t take into account the life-support systems of the earth that sustain us all.  Social and economic justice movements that ignore the environmental constraints and ecological realities cannot truly improve peoples’ lives. To care for the future, we must share the surplus we create and limit our consumption.

When we bring people care and earth care together with an eye to future generations, we create a synergy that has immense power for healing and regeneration.

In permaculture, small changes can have large effects; these are the leverage points that designers look for. Shifting the phrasing of the third permaculture ethic to future care, more clearly defining our goal, better fits the pattern set by the other two ethics. This change will make the ethics more effective as design tools, make it easier to achieve our goals, and ultimately increase the likelihood of the desired outcome: a future for this planet and its people.

Earth Care – People Care – Future Care

Expanding Zones and Sectors in Permaculture: Integrating New Perspectives

What is integral theory in a nutshell?

Integral theory is a framework for understanding life, the universe and everything, developed by Ken Wilber. We think that integral theory provides an additional toolset that is useful in permaculture and want to develop and explore how it can enhance permaculture design. You can see our other posts on integral theory here. For a more in-depth explanation, here is Wikipedia’s article on integral theory.  

What are the four quadrants in integral theory?

The quadrants describe four aspects or perspectives inherent in every holon (for more on holons, see our post on holons). Every holon has both an internal and external perspective to its identity, and these two perspectives have both an individual and a group aspect to them. Another way to define the quadrants, which we find to be particularly useful for permaculture, is to think of the internal and external perspectives in terms of “what” we are doing versus “why” we are doing it. Integral Quadrants Basic - Creative Commons License

How is the idea of the integral quadrants useful for permaculture?

One of the difficulties of understanding permaculture is that it resides in the internal singular quadrant (why I do), while the design is usually manifested in the external singular (what I do). Designs that are made using permaculture – or the elements in a design (e.g. swales and herb spirals) – are commonly mistaken for being permaculture themselves. We think that using the quadrants can help illuminate not only what permaculture is, but lead to better designs through a more thorough observation of the design site.

Typically in permaculture we use the concept of zones and sectors as a way to organize our thoughts on energy inputs and expenditures. Zones are a way to place elements in our design based on the amount of energy needed by us (the permaculturist) to have an influence or make a change. Sectors denote flows of energy that we can capture or deflect, coming into and through our permaculture designs: like sunlight, wind, water, wildlife, views, or noisy neighbors. The current permaculture concept of zones 0-5 fits neatly into the external singular quadrant, the “what I do” quadrant. These zones are external to our person, but generally end at the border of our property or sphere of personal influence.

Permaculture Zones and Sectors - Creative Commons License Because we want to make sure that we are mindful of all of the potential influences on our design and our design’s effects in the world, we can use the quadrants as a tool to expand our model of zones and sectors. This expanded tool can help us more clearly identify where we can make changes to improve the success of our designs. These changes could include: adjusting our intentions, thought patterns and conceptions of our own designs (why I do); educating other people about what we are doing, how we structure contracts, or advocating for or against laws (why we do); changing behavior patterns or doing physical work in the landscape (what I do); working together with other people to build a specific project, or the sum of the changes that humans make in the landscape (what we do).

The internal singular quadrant, the self, is the overarching conceptual framework for the real-world manifestations of a person’s intentions (e.g. their permaculture design), which is constantly influencing and being influenced by what’s happening on the ground. In our visualization, the self completely encompasses zones 0-5, like the glass dome encasing the contents of a snowglobe.

Surrounding the self and zones 0-5 of our permaculture design are the external and internal plural zones, what we will call the world and culture, respectively. These are the sources from which the flows of energy (sectors) coming in to our permaculture designs originate.

The world is the societal and ecological “super-infrastructure” that encompasses “what we do” as a particular society, as a human species, and as a planetary community with all other life forms and natural forces. This super-infrastructure forms the physical basis for “what I do” in our individual daily lives and in designing for permaculture. In our visualization, zones 0-5 of a permaculture design sit atop this infrastructure and are dependent upon that base in order to exist (much like holons, and our holon mountain visualization). Sectors that come into our permaculture designs from “the world” include sunlight, wind, rain, water, climate, people, wildlife, plants, materials, pollution, views, and roads.

On the internal plural side, we have culture, the “why we do.” This cultural zone encompasses the world, the self, and all of the external zones within our permaculture design. Sectors that originate from this cultural zone include: business and economics, laws, politics, tradition, concepts of property, and cultural identity or bias. Integral Quadrants & Permaculture Zones - Creative Commons License

It should be said that in practice, zones are not some monolithic, perfectly concentric construct, but instead are messy and reflect the interaction of many people in the real world. We have also considered expanding this model to include multiple people or locations, but thought that it would quickly increase the complexity beyond usability.

Permaculture expanded

What we’ve done is taken the idea of zones and sectors and expanded it so that it can encompass more than it previously did, including the concept of permaculture itself. This model makes clearer the nature of permaculture design as the “why” rather than the “what,” and thus allows us to better communicate what permaculture is. In addition, by incorporating integral theory’s quadrants, we are better able to conceptualize, understand, and design for all the influences that affect our site and the effects we cause in the world. This gives us a holistic view of how individual elements fit into the entire design, and allows us to see the environmental and socio-economic context within which they exist. Because we gain this holistic view, we reduce our wastage of energy and time by having a full picture of not only what an element does and where it should be go, but also why we are using that element from a personal and cultural perspective, and what its effects in the world will be before we place that element in our design. With this understanding, we can expect our permaculture designs to be more successful – giving us a broader, system-wide view of what and why we do something not just for the benefit of us humans, but for the rest of the landscape and its non-human inhabitants.

Expanded - Zones and Sectors - Creative Commons LicenseAdaptability and self-regulation are the keys to the persistence of any system, be it an ecosystem or a permaculture design. By more thoroughly observing our site beforehand and evaluating the context in which our permaculture designs exist, we can better design our sites to adapt to change and are able to consider the impacts that our design decisions may have as they ripple outwards. This allows us to increase the adaptability and self-regulatory capacity of our designs toward the goal of their continued success. Our expanded, integral model of permaculture zones and sectors is a useful tool in our permaculture toolbox allowing us to do just that.

The Holon

What is integral theory in a nutshell?

Integral theory is a framework for understanding life, the universe and everything, developed by Ken Wilber. We think that integral theory provides an additional toolset that is useful in permaculture and want to develop and explore how it can enhance permaculture design. You can see our other posts on integral theory here.  For a more in-depth explanation, here is Wikipedia’s article on integral theory.

What is a holon in integral theory?

A “holon,” a term coined by Ken Wilber, is a “whole part.” For example, we can describe an atom as a holon – a whole entity made up of smaller parts (protons, neutrons, and electrons). The atom itself can be part of a larger holon: a molecule (multiple atoms chained together to make a new entity). The molecule is a holon that can be part of a cell, which can be part of an organ, which can be part of a human being. Thus holons have a dual nature: they are complete, autonomous individuals, but they are also parts of other wholes.

Holons form “holarchies,” where a whole is part of another whole, similar to a hierarchy but one in which the levels are concentric and build upon each other. We can determine whether anything can be considered a holon by looking at its prerequisites for existing. For instance, cells could not exist without the existence of molecules, and humans could not exist without cells. If any of the prerequisite holons is destroyed, all the other holons further up in the holarchy is also, by default, destroyed. However, if molecules were destroyed or could not exist, atoms (the lower, prerequisite holon for molecules) would still exist.

How is the idea of holons useful for permaculture?

Using the idea of holons to think about elements in a permaculture design allows us to organize our observations. Permaculture already has a similar concept — tessellation, meaning a whole created by one or more patterns — but holons allow us to hierarchically order elements and determine order of importance, causal relationships, and dependencies.

For example, observing an especially green area on our land leads us to observe the dependencies of that green area: it is first dependent upon water that pools in the area, and the fact that water pools in that particular area is dependent upon the shape of the land.

The holon hierarchy for permaculture - Creative Commons License

The image of a mountain is useful for thinking about holarchies, showing each holons’ dependence upon the holons preceding it. In this example, the earth is the base holon that holds up the rest of the mountain, with the human-created economy at the mountain’s peak. In between are the holons of climate, biosphere, human beings, and culture, each supporting the next level above it. All of these holons and the earth holon are prerequisites for the human economy to exist. Take any of the lower holons away or damage them enough, and the economy cannot maintain itself, and thus crumbles.

The following image plainly shows that our current human society, in damaging the biosphere, climate and planet upon which it depends, is undermining its own existence.

The holon hierarchy for permaculture, when the economy consumes what it is dependent on - Creative Commons License

Another example is to compare the idea of having a single employer versus having a more diversified approach to making your living. In the former, in return for working at a job you are compensated with money so you can buy the things you need to live; the necessities of life are dependent upon the job, and losing that job leaves you unable to provide for yourself. With a more diversified approach you could directly provide some of the things you need to live — like food, water, shelter, or sanitation — and develop multiple small income streams to supplement this livelihood. Anything that you could not directly provide for yourself could still be bought, but the loss of any one element or income stream would leave the rest intact, leaving you more resilient and requiring less energy to return daily life to normal. In reality, having a job is dependent on living, but when we perceive that our livelihood is dependent on a single job and let that job be our only means of providing for ourselves, we are perceiving the importance of holons out of order. Applying the concept of the holon helps us to realize this distorted perception and to see that our priorities are upside-down, leaving our lives vulnerable to disruption — and helps us to see how we can fix that problem.

Correct our perception, identify our priorities.

The concept of the holon can be useful to help determine the relative importance, causal relationships, and dependencies of any given element in our design, and of the design itself, which is of course a holon. Visualizing holarchies in a “mountain” shape can help us understand the state of our design, evaluate its logic, and see where we might be undercutting elements that hold up the rest of the system. Holons can help us to correct our perception of reality and see the way things actually exist and relate, and identify when our priorities are out of order.

This post is just part one in a series on integral permaculture. You can follow our discoveries here.