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I don't know much

David Walsh

Posted on Monday 17 December 2012

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I don’t know a lot about permaculture, but I know that the reason it works is that it increases the number of interactions between the species in a given plot. This makes the system less prone to disruption by an impactor on any given species and thus the system is more robust. This resilience is in stark contrast to the many ‘single points of failure’ that a monoculture has.

In fact, a permaculture is better than merely robust, it is antifragile. Robust systems are impervious to impactors; antifragile systems actually improve when perturbed. We design very little of our world to be antifragile. We should do that more, at least if a new text by Nassim Taleb has any merit. And it does.

Some years ago my formerly sick friend Martin told me about permaculture, and he made the observation that such a system improved on robustness. He had an inkling of antifragility. I mostly missed the point at the time. Sorry, Martin. I gave you credit, but not enough.

Martin is my ‘formerly sick friend’ because he is dead, as of last night. Bugger. But not really bugger because dead is not really that much worse than dying, when dying is a process ‘undertaken’ as a result of the terrible intervention of a tumour (are there any nice interventions by tumours?). The bugger was the diagnosis, not the dying. Nevertheless, I shed a tear. And am seeking consolation in these words.

Many years ago, but not so long at all really, Martin and I had an argument. It concerned who should get credit for a particularly clever way of grouping a list of trifectas into boxes, a faster but less precise way to take them. I gave Martin credit, but not enough.

A few months later, in June 1991, I was at Caulfield Racecourse, filling in for my brother, Tim. Betting on the last race of the day, I ran out of time. I used the box trifecta algorithm and put on only one bet, a box of seven horses. That probably means nothing to you but, in the event, I won $19,000.

Later, I told Tim of our win (he had a share). He quipped, ‘I am dying within my means.’ This was three months before his cancer mediated death. That’s why I know the date.

Martin and Tim you may not know. But a small part of these things that I can share, Mona and these thoughts, I can share because they lived. Because an idea is not held in the dominion of one, but many.