Thursday, August 14, 2008

Brain as composter

In reference to "On Being Certain": Ginger Campbell interviews the author, Robert Burton MD:

Now I remember where I first had this brain/compost idea, which is a recurring one... here is a link to an old thread on SomaSimple, Permaculture/Natural Brain Systems: "Eight Principles for Designing Natural Systems."

In this thread, which went on for several days (during a seasonal affective disorder episode in December 3 years ago, a good time to think about composting perhaps...) I compared an article I'd saved for a long time about permaculture called "Four Pairs: Eight Principles for Designing Natural Systems" by Dan Hemenway, and a book I was reading at the time called Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton.

The writing in both is so evocative I could easily see the parallels, or maybe I was just easily evoked in that state, but whatever, the two seemed to me to be a perfect fit. (Still do actually, even though it's summer.) Underlining all of this paralleling is the fact that what I work with, every day of my life, is the human being and human body; no matter how fancy he or she may have become, or separated from his or her physicality intellectually, a human being is and will always remain a bit of nature, comprised of 100 trillion or so cells.

What the heck. I'm going to bring the principles here, as a series of blog posts. No.. I'll do better, I'll bring the whole article here. Here is Dan Hemenway, from an article published in 1985 in a publication called Whole Earth Review, with excerpts from the introduction:
"I owe a special debt to my friend and teacher, Bill Mollison, whose coined word, "permaculture" I use to describe much of my own work. Bill's emphasis on human participation in the design process of nature fitted together for me the pieces I was gathering.

Working with these guidelines, I found that the patterns I observed fit within eight principles of design. None of these four pairs is likely to surprise anyone familiar with the wisdom within the various grounded religions and philosophies our species has articulated."

I think he's referring to yin and yang and all that.

"...we, especially those of us who are North Americans, rather routinely fail to observe them in our daily lives. I find their articulation helpful in evaluating my own lifestyle and seeking to correct my course.

While each of the principles is familiar in sense, if not practice, there is value in stating them together as part of a whole. That is perhaps the ninth principle: Everything is part of the whole."

I wouldn't disagree with that.

"Problems which occur together often have common solutions. Ecologies are efficient and durable when all parts support capture, transformation, and storage of energy by the whole... There is a sense, then, in which each principle is an aspect of the others. The appearance of the connections between them is a function of our vantage point, where we stand at the moment... conservation goes further, and restores broken cycles. That is our real work: to design many pathways for this renewal, based on a design that connects us in our diversity of resource and perspective."

He's discussing farming, of course..

I'll be bringing large chunks of the thread here probably, including the thoughts about Guy Claxton's book on his way of thinking about the unconscious and conscious. It will be a long blog series I'm afraid... A lot of it will no doubt seem kind of round-about, but the first thing to realize is that nothing is more roundabout than nature is. If we want to develop a good new metaphor for what is "human" about thinking, one that includes biology, we can't very well leave out nature.

Next up, the first pair of principles from Dan's article.

1. Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison (who is mentioned by Dan Hemenway in the intro)
2. Dan Hemenway's webpage

No comments: