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« The Systems Science Book is here! | Main | How Does Nature Manage Complexity? »

August 30, 2014


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Don Stewart

Dear George

I have a modest proposal for teaching sapience. Indulge me and entertain the notion that we all have some latent capability to exercise sapience, but we are mostly just woefully out of practice.

Then the solution is to provide more practice.

Suppose that, in order to earn a high school diploma, a student had to demonstrate the ability to design, construct, and manage a plant polyculture (along permaculture lines). Ideally, a small group of students would be given a plot of land at the beginning of high school and be required to have achieved an increase in the ability of the plot to yield free energy by the time they are seniors.

I’ll use a few quotes from Integrated Forest Gardening by Wayne Weiseman, Daniel Halsey, and Bryce Ruddock.

Page 32: ‘Plant roots are not simply absorbing nutrients from the soil; they also excrete minerals, vitamins, hormones, and the like back into the soil for uptake by other plants in the guild and food forest. These are known as root exudates; in guilds this constant sharing and exchange is key to balance harmony among the plants. The ongoing ingestion and excretion of organic matter by soil fauna makes this possible. As the soil fauna ingest organic matter and digest and poop it out in a simpler form, plants promptly take it back into their structure. This consists of chemicals needed to support plant life. The circulation of carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen is constant in a guild system…It’s important to understand how carbon cycles through the system and to set up the best possible scenario for this cycle to remain intact: lots of biomass and organic matter infused into the soil. This is food for the livestock in the soil.’

Page 35: ‘We, as human beings, have the uncanny ability to think, recall, conceptualize, and design a structural matrix, a foundational web that can support infinite plants with infinite functions. From the active whole to the active part, the great guild circle encompasses all plant life, and, through our ability to conceive functions and interrelationships, we can help create thriving ecosystems.’

So the charge to the students is to create a thriving community in a confined space which is generating a lot of free energy, some of which can be harvested by humans. The answer would not be to put Miracle Grow on a purchased substrate and plug in purchased plants. I won’t try to work out the exact rules that would delineate acceptable and unacceptable intervention on the part of the students….as, for example, whether purchased shade cloth is permissible.

The goal is that every high school graduate would have practical experience with a cybernetic system using biological mechanisms. If a student internalizes the lessons, then they would be better-prepared for dealing with the issues in a human society and an economy which uses fossil fuels and nuclear energy and burns forests and tills the soil and confronts them with constant distraction in an effort to maximize profits.

Don Stewart


Thank you for putting in the time and effort to write a very interesting and informative post.

A few questions:

1) Does your work on sapience influence how you view the current situation regarding the Islamic State? I have been wondering how a basically altruistic and cooperative society would deal with the growth of memeplexes that are founded on radically different values and assumptions, that have no qualms about using every mean at their disposal to spread themselves (extortion, threats, violence, theft).

2) Do you think it would be possible to develop a modified democratic system, in which different weights are given to each vote according to certain factors (such as factors of age and expertise, which you mentioned in your post) in order to optimize the outcome for general well-being? If so, how could such a system work, or which sciences would be helpful in developing such a system?

3) What place would the arts and intellectual property have in the energy-based economy you sketched?

George Mobus

@Don S.,

Spot on! I heartily agree. Sometime back I wrote several pieces linking education and permaculture in a sapient society following a Noetic hierarchy. For example: A Dream of Education for the Future (links to other musings inside). Thanks.


WRT: ISIS (or whatever name it goes by now). I largely view much of what is going on in the world today as the mental illness produced by living in our stressed-out world. ISIS is just one extreme, but the same mental problems are showing everywhere (e.g. Ferguson MO. where I happened to go to my first year of high school!) Homo sapiens is not yet sapient enough to have strong mental capacities to deal with the kinds of stress that we have created in our world. The West's mucking about in parts of the world that could barely sustain a population just to keep the oil flowing is an example of the lack of wisdom creating situations that lead to madness.

AFA: democracy and different weights go, I'm afraid the distribution function of sapience is skewed too far to the low end (I am predicting based on evolutionary theory) so that it would eventually work out that still only a minority of people would have effective voting. The problem is how would society assess the competency of individuals. And with such an overwhelming part of the population suffering from low sapience wouldn't the majority rebel anyway. As sorry as I am to say it, I think the only solution is an evolutionary bottleneck and that will happen pretty much automatically.

And for arts: Given that the economy I sketched is an ideal and only feasible if all the citizens possessed sufficient sapience, the existence and pursuit of fine arts would automatically follow from people being able to achieve self-actualization. And most would engage I suspect. With all hands helping to meet the basic energy needs of the society and that society not based on them mega-energy model of today's industrial culture, there should be plenty of time and resources for people to engage in creative endeavors. As for intellectual property, the whole idea of property ownership for the benefit of profit making simply goes away. I sometimes think that the most sapient people I suspect are also those who share without thought of personal gain.

Perhaps I am just a dreamer though.


Molly Radke

Thank you for your typically thoughtful, informative post. IF ONLY reason played a larger role in the decision making of this STRANGE land.

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