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Permaculture: a design science

This article by Bill Mollison is published on the Tagari website


The aim of science, as defined by Tansley (1923), is to determine a situation first by careful observation and intelligent description, which is followed by an investigation of causation. (A process of forming, and testing hypotheses follows the observation phase, and leads to a clarification of causation).



Thus, says Tansley (sic.) the ultimate aim of science is to discover how things come to happen in the way they do.  Or, as Barry Lopez has it, science is devoted to the discovery of patterns that we can rely on; that apply across many situations.

The next step, for designers, hunters, fishers, gatherers, and permaculture freaks is to create the conditions for, or supply an initiator to, a process of benefit to the system or its members, in order to cause beneficial natural processes to occur. We move from a study of causation to a process of creation or initiation. We take part in causation.

While we may never achieve the creation of valid life forms, we may often use the characteristics of existing life forms to control, initiate, or direct a process or to develop a stable state in nature. Humanity, by the use of fire and the transfer of specific propagules or animal species, and the intelligent shaping of soils and drainage, has created vast ecotones (buffalo deer rangelands; coppice, selva, swamps and dykes) over enormous areas, and thousands of years. It is now doubtful if any pristine, self-evolved state of nature occurs on any continent; we have been here for 100,000 or more years, and managing change over large areas. Even in the jungles of central Africa, there are clear traces of historic management, culture, and design.

And very large areas of Australia were managed as yam farms, eel farms, or productive fire seres of benefit to marsupial browsers, and predator birds. None of these systems, (as they were strange to Europeans), are recognised or described by them. Only in recent years have we traced the archaeology of such productive systems. We have not, as yet, duplicated them.

But, as many thousands of us have worked for up to 40 years in the field, we have perhaps thousands of self-perpetuating systems now developed. This I believe, is the very basis of self-sustaining design science, and design science is at the root of any definition of Permaculture or put simply, Permaculture is design science.


Footnote from Angus Soutar:  Bill's reference to Tansey could refer to Practical Plant Ecology published in 1923, but I have been unable to find the relevant section. Can anyone help pin down this quote? Tansley was one of the first to promote the concept of eco-systems and his title "The use and abuse of vegetational terms and concepts", from a book published in 1935, was borrowed for a documentary from Adam Curtis exploring the use and abuse of eco-system patterns in human society.



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