Permaculture Designers Manual




Section 2.1 –

Concepts and Themes in Design Introduction


“The world teeters on the threshold of revolution. If it is a bloody revolution, it’s all over. The alternative is a design science revolution… Design science produces so much performance per unit of resource invested as to take care of all human needs.”
(Buckminster Fuller)



“All living organisms … are ‘open systems’: that is to say, they maintain their complex forms and functions through continuous exchanges of energies and materials with their environment. Instead of ‘running down’ like a mechanical clock that dissipates its energy through friction, the living organism Is constantly ‘building up’ more complex substances from the substance it feeds on, more complex forms of energies from the energies It absorbs, and more complex patterns of Information… perceptions, feelings, thoughts… form the Input of Its receptor organs.”
(Arthur Koestler,1967,The Ghost in the Machine)



“Most thermodynamic problems concern ‘closed‘ systems, where the reactions take place in confinement, and can be reversed; an example is the expansion and compression of gas in a cylinder. But in an open system, energy is gained or lost irreversibly, and the system. Its environment, or both are changed by the interaction … the second law of thermodynamics (states that ) energy tends to dissipate and organized systems drift inevitably towards entropy, or chaos. In seeming violation of that law, biological systems tend to become increasingly complex and efficient.”
(Newsweek , October 24, 1’177, on the Nobel Prize awarded to llya Prigogine.)



“Lovelock shows that the biosphere, or Gala as he calls it, actually created those conditions that are required for its support… and systematically builds up the stock of materials that it requires to move… towards increasing complexity, diversity and stability.”
(Edward  Goldsmith, 1981,”Thermodynamics or Ecodynamics”, Tile Ecologisit)



“Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself… to harm the earth is to heap contempt upon the creator… contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.”
(Chief Seattle, 1854, responding to a U.S. government offer to buy Indian land.)





It is alarming that in western society no popular body of directives has arisen to replace the injunctions of tribal taboo and myth. When we left tribal life we left with it all guides to sensible behavior in the natural world, of which we are part and in which we live and die. More to the point, by never having the time or commonsense to evolve new or current guiding directives, we have forgotten how to evolve self-regulating systems.



Hence, the call for a society in which we are all designers, based on an ethical and applied education, with a clear concept of life ethics.

The Gaia hypothesis, as formula ted by James Lovelock, is that the earth less and less appears to behave like a material assembly, and more and more appears to act as a thought process.



Even in the inanimate world we are dealing with a life force, and our acts are of great effect. The reaction of the earth is to restore equilibrium and balance. If we maltreat, overload, deform. or deflect natural systems and processes, then we will get a reaction, and this reaction may have long-term consequences.

Don’t do anything unless you’ve thought out all its consequences and advantages.

Aboriginal cultures used myth to show how unnecessary acts and unthinking destruction of elements brings about catastrophe and suffering.


The usual structure of myth has these sequences:

1.    A willful act of an individual or group.
2.    A transmutation (animate to Inanimate or the reverse, e,.g, Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt). This is by way of a warning.
3.    Invocation of an elemental  force (fire, storm, earthquake, flood, tidal wave, plague) as a result of any set or willful acts.
4.    Necessary atonement by suffering, isolation, migration, or death.
So the act of a child or individual is given a meaning which relates to the whole of nature, and rebounds on the society. Reared on such myths, we go carefully in the world, aware that every unthinking act can have awful consequences.


Because we have replaced nature-based myth with a set of fixed prohibitions relating only to other people, and unrelated to nature, we have developed destructive and people-centered civilizations and religions.



In life and in design. we must accept that immutable rules will not apply, and instead be prepared to be guided on our continuing exploration by flexible principles and directives.

Thus,we emphasizes self-reliance, responsibility, and the functions of living things. Within a self-regulated system on earth, energy from the sun ran be trapped and stored in any number of ways. While the sun burns, we are in an open system.

If we don’t destroy the earth, open-system energy saving will see us evolve as conscious beings in a conscious universe.



A Policy of Responsibility (to relinquish power)

The role of beneficial authority is to return function and responsibility lo life and to people; if successful, no further authority is needed .

“The role of successful design is to create a self-managed system.”