Thursday, March 26, 2009

Permaculture / Currency as Language

I spent two years working on a small organic family farm, and was certified in permaculture while I was there by Scott Pittman (who is in THE MONEY FIX). Scott taught us to see biological systems in terms of flows and patterns. If you want to describe the state of a non-living system (such as air in a balloon), you use Newton’s laws, the laws of Thermodynamics, and chemistry. Once a system becomes living, however, these laws are insufficient to explain its behavior.

Ilya Prigogine coined the term “dissipative structure” and used it to describe life (among other phenomenon). A dissipative structure is a pattern that is stable in conditions far from equilibrium. To understand this, think of your body. Your body is still you, even though every atom will be completely replaced every few years. What constitutes you is not your physical “stuff” but rather your pattern. This is the realm of the biosphere. Patterns. And permaculture helps us understand and interact with these biological patterns of flow.

However, there is another layer when we talk about human behavior, and that is the layer of meaning or mind (Noosphere). If we want to grock human behavior, an understanding of biological patterns is insufficient in itself. Humans base their behavior on concepts in addition to biological needs. How would I use biology to describe or predict the effects of the Constitution? Shakespeare’s plays? The Beatles? All of these phenomena exist in the domain of meaning, and as such have a powerful affect on our behavior.

In the domain of meaning, we need the structure of a language to interpret those meanings and resonate with each other. Fundamentally, we use language to coordinate our behavior as a group. There has been a great deal of research on the deep structure of natural language (spoken or written word), but there are many other kinds of language. Music, art, dance, etc. are also types of language in that they provide a framework for mutually understood (and extensible) meanings between artist and viewer, and that those mutually understood meanings allow a resonance. Does that make all of these things currency? No.

We all think of speech as language, and many of us think of art as a language, but how many of us think of currency that way? If we do start thinking of currency as a language, we quickly see that it is much bigger than just money. We see that the same thing that gives money its linguistic qualities also bestows those qualities on grades, reputations on Ebay, movie tickets, etc. In fact all of these social systems can be unified by a single deep structure. I think Eric’s definition for currency hits pretty darned close to the mark: “formal information systems that allow communities to interact with flows.” Think of it as permaculture of the mind. ☺


Nitin said...

Alan - wonderful. I completely feel what you're saying - I've also thought of money as similar to a language. It's a system of communication that is mutually understood. It is the form through which transactions flow.
Lietaer says that money is like a central nervous system of an economy. He also says that money was the first information system, affecting the development of writing. In the digitized world it will be like neural networks that provide the medium for "trading" information, like in a brain. Lietaer talked about the noosphere and that the cybersphere is a bridge in the noosphere.

Eric Harris-Braun said...

This is great Alan. For another language related view on currency folks might want to check out this post:

which describes how the evolution of currency can be thought of as parallel to the evolution of writing, but in a different domain. Where writing is an expressive capacity for concepts, currency is an expressive capacity for wealth building, or, even deeper, for flow.

Katin Imes said...

Well said, Alan. A great path into the perspective we are exploring in this blog.

What springs to mind for me after reading it is that our own perspectives, connections and meaning we personally assign is what brings all these thigns together. I've heard people reference, "the money dance" as a perspective of watching economic flows and worker motivation and participation - an interesting meld of languages and meaning.

Which has me say, from the same mood as laying in the soft spring grass on a warm sunny day watching the clouds form creatures and stories in the sky, that some amazing exploration could be launched from the idea of applying sythesthesia (the cross-mapping of senses) to everything you've mentioned in the post.

What would economic velocity sound like? What is the color of millions and billions of transactions flowing around the world? What is the smell of a ponzi scheme in the fields of stalks and vines of commerce? And what temperature are the economic seasons?

Just an idea for right-braining on the huge ideas of currency, living systems, language and meaning.

Fernanda Ibarra said...

Beautiful post. Katin response is an invitation to currency as part of the poetry of existence.