I've been wondering recently about "orders". Could someone explain what it means to want to put things to "higher order" functions. I suppose this is important both in using resources internally within your system and what use they go to when they exit the system.
Does anyone have any practical examples of this to help me get unconfused?
Is a discussion about the use of Prickly Pear (Nopales) in hugelkulture. Although I knew you could eat cacti, I didn't think of putting it to that use BEFORE using it as a wood substitute.
So for this example, edibles are a higher order of use than substituting wood in a hugelkulture.
I'm imagining that something being edible is #1 on the priority list of uses, but I guess it depends on the situation. In that case, if you had a huge surplus of edible cacti, putting it underground might be okay, even if it is lower on a hierarchy of use.
There's also that list of the seven f's: food, fuel, fiber, fodder (food for animals), fertilizer and "farmaceuticals".
I'm just thinking of how to decide generally and/or within a design what uses should be privileged and which should be discarded.
Coming from an engineering background, I've always assumed that order in this context is referring to some mathematical function describing the system. In a mathematical sense, order describes a type of differential equation. First order equations contain first derivatives, second order equations contain second derivatives and so forth. Often, engineers will talk about a 'first order approximation' of a system that doesn't include 'higher order effects'. For example, you might be trying to mathematically model the air flow over some terrain. A first order approximation might look at the gross aspects of fluid flow, i.e. the air velocity is low in the boundary layer close to the earth, but increases with height. In this model, you might ignore turbulence. This would be a fine assumption for flow over a flat plane where there is no roughness to induce turbulence, but over a forest, higher order effects like turbulence can cause drastically different behavior. So that is one way to think of it - more complicated, possibly small scale aspects of a system model.
Another way that Bill Mollison uses the term is in describing patterns. He will talk about the order of harmonics in a wave. Check out the wikipedia page on harmonics for a detailed description. In essence, when talking about higher order harmonics, Mollison is talking about higher frequency, more intricately undulating shapes within a pattern. This is compared to, for example, a simple curve or straight line.
Used in this manner "higher order use" generally refers to the degree of complexity/energy one puts into/derives from an item. As an example take a log. No matter what use it is put to there is the initial energy put into cutting it. You can then burn it to remove it from the land as in hack n slash agriculture, you can use it as a fence post, you can turn it into lumber, turn the lumber into furniture or a house etc... With each use the product has more energy/complexity built into it and the intention is for the product to last and be useful for longer. Though often not done each "order" of increase, the material can often be re-purposed to a lower order eg; the lumber in a house can be reclaimed and built into another house/used as a fence post or burned for heat. Another example could be corn used as fodder, people food, canned, HFCS etc... Note higher order doesn't necessarily mean better.
Dan and Max,
Great explanations. How do you figure I can work that knowledge into a design. I can see this concept's real-world application in the example of
Are these mostly self-explanitory, or do you have to really sit there and think about it/design for it.
Question: perhaps they can work "upstream", such as if you had enough furniture you could build a house (ack?!1?!?!)
Also, aren't uses of a given product of nature really numerous?
1-how do you access the knowledge of all these uses?
2-how do you know which ones are really "useful" to your design? Is it just based on your own desire? What if you're interested in a use, but it's really on a low order of use (prickly pear example)?
Upcycling is certainly a possibility, for example taking pallets and turning them into birdhouses/furniture. How do you use the idea of orders. Well, it really does depend on your needs. Use your resources as high up the scale as you can based on need. For example I once saw a beautiful huge cherry tree turned into firewood. The guy had all the furniture he needed and didn't want to pay someone to cart it away so that was his use. I just about cried as much of the wood had a curly figure which would have made magnificent furniture. Similarly for food stuffs. Beets can make wonderful pickled food but can also be use as fodder for animals. If you have tonnes of them I doubt you'd pickle them all. The question is really, what is the best use I can put this to (or my neighbours). With the cherry tree example if the guy had put in a little effort to make known what he ad available he could easily have gotten twice the firewood delivered by someone wanting the cherry for woodworking and each would have profited.
Using order, as I've described it, in a design could be done in a variety of ways. One might be to take 'low order' patterns and make them higher order to increase edge effect along their boundary. For example, instead of straight hedgerows or row crops, use a sine wave. This increases the amount of linear edge (at the expense of land surface area), and has many potential benefits over a straight edge. A higher order pattern also might involve fractals or complex arrays. For example, maybe you are trying to catch and slow runoff/debris from storm situations. I don't know, but it would be worth investigating whether a series of small catchments would be more effective (per amount of effort you put into building them) than larger features like long swales or ponds. The catchments could be arranged in a cascading array or fractal pattern, requiring less total digging but giving a similar benefit. Just speculating there.
Using the other sense of order I described, you might use the higher order effects of fluid flow to do something useful. For example in the Permaculture Designer's manual, Mollison talks about creating turbulence in swirl basins (I forget the exact name used) to oxygenate and sanitize water. Fluid flow is the best example I can think of now (because of my familiarity), but I'm certain there are more. Basically any physical system will have higher order effects that can sometimes be ignored, sometimes not. The trick is knowing when those effects are important and how they can be used for your benefit.
I was just thinking about the concept a little bit more. In the context of polycultures, one could think of the higher order effects of planting multiple plant types together in a guild. Together they are greater than the sum of their parts due to the interactions between the plants.