Pattern Language and Learning through Music

Bill Mollison believes that today, “we are the worlds most ignorant people and society, whereas former societies were well informed through song and patterns”. Ironically, this was one of the first things I remember learning in my PDC and from the very beginning I started getting right into the ideas of pattern understanding and non-linear systems of learning. When we were given the task of preparing a ‘non-linear’ class presentation on a permaculture principle, my friend Katrina coaxed me into writing a song on my ukulele. Still turned off by the idea of being a musician and somewhat horrified at the notion of writing some inevitably daggy song about permaculture, I resisted, but eventually after enough pressuring and threats of “no dinner until you write the chorus”, I came up with a little ditty called “No Such Thing As Waste”. The class was singing it for the rest of semester. We never forgot that permaculture principle!

The process made me realise that the creation of meaningful music, dance, art and story/myth is an essential step toward creating an all-pervasive ‘culture’ of permaculture.
Consider this sentence: “Non-linear patterns in the form of songs, dance and stories are by far some of the most efficient, effective and enjoyable ways to encode and distribute complex information pertaining to the ethics and principles on which we can base the design of integrated, regenerative and diverse communities and societies extending far beyond the spheres of permaculture…”, versus this verse:

“Sing the songs of a-bun-dance,
that plant the plans and plan the plants.
Affirming joyous circumstance,
gives human beans and peas a chance.”

While it may sound supremely nonsensical and silly, the second passage ultimately has the same meaning as the first, but which one are you more likely to remember?

With pattern understanding and non-linear, whole-systems thinking at the core of permaculture design, music and rhyme are some of the most powerful tools we have with which to ‘program’ our way of thinking and perceiving the world. Just think about how many TV commercials you can remember due to their infuriatingly repetitive jingles, or nursery rhymes you learned as a kid that you could recall at any moment’s notice. Imagine if they were designed to actually teach us something of use!

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