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. ☺