“The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”
Albert Einstein

Everyone’s just about out of gumption


“My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all. God I don’t want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There’s place for them but they’ve got to be built on a foundation of Quality withn the individual involved. We’ve had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it’s just about depleted. Everyone’s just about out of gumption. And I think it’s about time to return to the rebuilding pof this … resource … individual worth.”

Robert Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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David Graeber on Creating Each Other


imagining economies in which we primarily create each other … and along the way some “things”:

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Vortex – Bladeless Wind Turbines


I remember seeing this a while back … nice to them making concrete progress and speaking of commercial version:


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Poor Decisions


Scarcity impinges on your mind. People behave differently when they perceive a thing to be scarce.

… Scarcity narrows your focus to your immediate lack, to the meeting that’s starting in five minutes or the bills that need to be paid tomorrow. The long-term perspective goes out the window.

… Compare it to a new computer that’s running ten heavy programs at once. It gets slower and slower, making errors, and eventually it freezes — not because it’s a bad computer, but because it has to do too much at once. Poor people have an analogous problem. They’re not making dumb decisions because they are dumb, but because they’re living in a context in which anyone would make dumb decisions.

… There’s a key distinction though between people with busy lives and those living in poverty: You can’t take a break from poverty.

… It all started a few years ago with a series of experiments conducted at a typical American mall. Shoppers were stopped to ask what they would do if they had to pay to get their car fixed. Some were presented with a $150 repair job, others with one costing $1,500. Would they pay it all in one go, get a loan, work overtime, or put off the repairs? While the mall-goers were mulling it over, they were subjected to a series of cognitive tests. In the case of the less expensive repairs, people with a low income scored about the same as those with a high income. But faced with a $1,500 repair job, poor people scored considerably lower. The mere thought of a major financial setback impaired their cognitive ability.

… in addition to measuring our gross domestic product, maybe it’s time we also started considering our gross domestic mental bandwidth.

poverty is not a lack of character. It’s a lack of cash.

source via James Wallbank

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Artificial Intelligence: Game Kills Players


A bug in Elite Dangerous caused the game’s AI to create super weapons and start to hunt down the game’s players. Developer Frontier has had to strip out the feature at the heart of the problem, engineers’ weaponry, until the issue is fixed.

… The AI was crafting super weapons that the designers had never intended.

Players would be pulled into fights against ships armed with ridiculous weapons that would cut them to pieces.

… weapons have been removed from the game, giving the dev team time to investigate what’s been causing the bug.


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Christopher Alexander on Despair


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Christopher Alexander on Essential Awe


“… In this conception, value is not something merely grafted onto space, as a passenger might be who carries no weight and does no work. It is part of the same nearly mechanical picture of space that we have come to believe in, and respect and trust. Yet, at the same time, in a most subtle way, it is also not mechanical. After all, what we observe is life emerging from space …

It is a structure, we can (tentatively) calculate with it, and it fits our structural understanding of space and matter. Yet it carries a bridge to life, feeling, and to our own experience of what it is to be a person: the self, which all of us contain, and are connected to …

I believe that one day it will be possible to demonstrate an experimental connection, where it will be shown exactly how the field of centers does open a door between space and self, and how, ultimately then, self and matter are permanently intertwined through the construction of this mechanism.

… Even today, we continue underestimating the degree to which we are prisoners of the present mechanistic cosmology; we have a strong tendency to underestimate the effect that this interior mechanistic view can have on us.

Consider, for example, three elementary facts: (1) in our immediate world, at normal temperature and pressure, nearly everything is made of atoms; (2) atoms are little whirling mechanisms which are spinning constantly; (3) people are largely made of atoms too.

Nearly every schoolchild learns these fats in school. We all learnt them. They are, by now, virtually a part of us … As a result, in the western world at least, there are few people alive who do not believe (‘know’) that they are mechanisms made up of millions of tiny whirling mechanisms.

… But if you believe … [this] mechanized reduction is accurate, how can you take seriously the kinds of ideas which I have described about the life of buildings, and walls, and rooms, and streets? The answer is you cannot. You cannot, because if you believe the three elementary-school facts, then mentally, you are still living in a universe in which nothing matters, and in which you do not matter. And then the life of the environment is not real either.

Ideas about the personal or spiritual nature of reality, no matter how desirable they seem, cannot affect you deeply, even if you think they do, until they can be embodied in some new picture which leaves the facts of physics intact, and also paves the way to a more spiritual understanding of the world

The whole point of the concept which I have described – of wholeness seen as a calculable, recursive, bootstrap field of centers with the consequences that follow from this view – is that within the framework this concept creates, things really are different, and the differences are visible as new aspects of the structure of space and matter. This newly seen structure not only says that things are different. It shows, through the properties of the structure, exactly how things are different.

… we can reconcile the face of being a a mechanism of whirling mechanisms, because we know that each atom it itself a field of centers, and that in the emergence of these fields, the self comes into view. We … you … I … are this instances of the field of centers

Armed with this view, we can unite our personal intuition of religious awe with our sensible scientific understanding of the world … And in this view, the work of building takes on entirely new meaning … we … realize … [that] When we make something, its selfness, its possible soul, is part and parcel of our own self.

There is, then, something very like a religious obligation to allow this self to reveal itself … It arises as a supreme spiritual obligation, which is our obligation to the matter/spirit we ourselves are made of …  it arises now, not as a religious or superstitious belief, but as a result of a new understanding of the structure of the universe.

A few years ago I went to mass in Salzburg’s great cathedral. It was at that time, one of the only places left where Mozart and Haydn’s masses were still sung every sunday. There was a Haydn mass. The church was filled with people thronging, crowding, pushing, to be there while the great mass was sung.

The high point of this mass was the sanctus. Full choir, slowly increasing rhythm, deep sound of the organ and the basses … the air became tense with the presence of this mass … At the most awe-inspiring moment, a young man pushed forward to a telephone mounted on one of the columns of the nave. He picked it up and listened. The telephone was tied to a tape-recording, giving interesting dates and facts for tourists. He listened to the tape-recording of dates and facts, while the Sanctus blazed around him.

This man became a symbol for me of the loss of awe and of our loss of sense. Unable to immerse himself … unaware of the size and importance of the sounds that he was hearing … For a while, during the 20th century, this had become our world: a place where the difference between awe and casual interest had been sanded down to nothing.

… All the efforts I have made have, at their heart, just this one intention: to bring back our awe … and to allow us to being to make things in the world which can intensify this awe.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground


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Summer 2016 Allergy continued: disturbanced, sleep, tick


After the first few days there was a drop in my sense of well-being. An initial blow came when I allowed a disturbance to take places – a visit to the city. I came back feeling tired, with a slight head-ache and agitation. The next day I was somewhat contained, I was able to get on the mat, but my breathing compromised. I adjusted my practice to accommodate this state of being.

Shortly after that came another disturbance – a first jam making of the season. The preparations (cleaning and cutting strawberries) were made during an evening and the next morning (usually my time of being and practicing) we got on with preparation. I thought to practice later in the day but that did not work out. The cooking, though spacious, was agitating, lighting and keeping the rockets going for a few hours added some smoke … practice did not find me after that. However I was able to settle … and the next day I was able to engage my practice fully and pleasantly.

Shortly after that (a day or two later) there was a sudden change in my sleep. I woke up around 2:30am and had to leave bed to keep my breathing from deteriorating. That effort required (as it has in the past) two main ingredients: warm tea and alertness / attention (being awake). After that nights continued to be disrupted. It seemed that as long as I was awake I could somehow keep my breathing together (sometimes with relative ease, sometimes with difficulty) … but lying down and fading to sleep seemed to lead to deterioration. 2:30 soon felt like a regular thing. I was able to find some rest in the night, but almost no sleep.

For a couple of days, despite the sleeplessness, I was, to my surprise, still able to be with my practice with quality. I was surprised at being able to engage the new pranayama ratios (and I was very grateful that the technique was anuloma ujjayi instead of pratiloma). It took quite some hours until I could approach practice (usually not before 1pm). My appetite was also affected by all this, I wasn’t eating much before practice and I was (still am) drinking a lot of tea and that too reduces my appetite for food.

At some point (fortunately early in the unfolding) I recognized that tea may also be effecting my sleep. Iulia made for a me a mix with about 10 supportive plants … however some of them, I believe, were detrimental to my sleep … so while I still drink it, I drink less of it and only in the first half of the day.

Then a few days ago a last disturbance kicked in. During the night I felt a nausea coming on … the next morning my bowels emptied completely … and for the next 36 hours I ate almost nothing … only teas. I had no appetite for food at all. This completely drained me. A couple of days later I found a tick attached to me (not sure how long it was there)! I don’t know if the nausea is related to the tick (it may be) … but when I think of the tick … the most prominent feeling I have is that its presence is of a healing intention! Strange, I know!

Anyways the nausea knocked me completely off the mat. Only today (its been 4 or 5 days), after a gradual return of my appetite and some sense of physical strength (at the peak of this cleansing walking was a challenge) and a couple of night with some sleep I am curious about re-engaging the mat.

This year, it has been a strange meeting with allergy. Overall, I feel that my allergy symptoms are lesser. But still I feel like I’ve been through a storm … and I don’t feel it is over. A qualitative change which has not yet revealed its narrative to me.

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Christopher Alexander on an Extended Physics


“… In physics, the effort has always been to take the geometry of a material system and to derive from it, predictions about the dynamic behavior, forces, and causal interactions … which follow from a particular configuration.

In art and building … Again we have geometry, but here we seek especially to derive from it, or predict from it, the harmony, gracefulness, and quality of life, which different geometries may have.

Further, still, in the study of living systems – ecosystems and organisms – we have yet a third problem . Here we have geometric structures, and we seek to derive from their geometry both the behavior of the systems (in that regards it is like physics) and the health or degree of life and coherence of the systems (in that regard it is like art and architecture).

In what follows now, I am taking the view that all three cases are to be included in a single view of matter … our picture of the matter-space of the universe must be modified in a way that is consistent with the insights of 20th-century physics … matter-space must have certain additional features, not provided for by contemporary physics, which allow us to see the wholeness as it occurs in space, thus forming an extension of the present picture.

The existence of centers and wholeness

… wholeness – a pervasive multi-leve structure created by centers throughout space, together with the idea that different centers have different degrees of life and centeredness…

Value and life as part of space itself

… each spatial region, at every scale, has a relative value, and a relative degree of life.

Time asymmetry: Structure preserving transformations as the origin of the laws of physics and biology

One of the most unsatisfactory aspects of Cartesian physics has been the so-called symmetry of time: the fact that classical equations do not, for the most part, distinguish between forward and backwards. Like a clock mechanism, the mechanistic universe can run backwards and forwards equally well … However, our world picture would be far more satisfactory if there is an overall and natural sense in which ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards’ are essentially different.

The world picture which I have been describing provides such an asymmetry in a natural way. In the physics contemplated for a world picture based on wholeness and its transformations, all laws will (I believe) fall out as natural consequences of the principle of unfolding wholeness … That principle will say, only, that the next step after a given configuration will be the one which does most to preserve and extend the structure … for the first time the possibility occurs of a natural way for understanding time-asymmetric laws as the foundation of all physical processes.

The personal quality of space

… a personal link with our own self is connected to each region of space, in that degree to which that region of the space has life or is centered … feeling – also appears in space.

The Ultimate I

To reconcile the vision of matter with the experience of personal relatedness we feel when in touch with living structure, I have, in addition, introduced the conception that living centers open some kind of window or tunnel to a ground and to an ultimate I which constitutes this ground … as the matter-space becomes organized it becomes more and more strongly linked to this ultimate ground which lies beneath it, or inside it, or throughout it.

… this … would incorporate most present-day physics a it is. However, it would add essential new features making it capable of allowing our world-picture to include both contemporary physics and crucial issues of value, feeling, and mystical experience … [it] might have the capacity to contribute substantial insights to the biologists’ long standing search to find a coherent and deep of what life really is when it arises in organic nature. It would, furthermore, provide a new basis for discussion of the profound question: Why does consciousness occur in some living systems?

In order to move our discussion away from abstract speculation, and towards experience, I would like the read to consider an experiment. Dwell briefly – and for the sake of experiment only – on the possibly that you are indeed, part of some greater I. In this frame of mind, try, next time you are playing with a favorite animal, to consider this: I have found that if I look at a cat, a favorite cat, and imagine that this cat is part of the very same I that I am made of, then the cat seems entirely different, and my relationship to it, even its relationship to me, seems entirely different … the sense of wonder I feel in the cat’s presence, is enormously multiplied, and I begin to see the cat, its beauty, its familiarity, and its strangeness, almost as not cat at all, but rather as something wondrous to which I have the cherished relationship that endears me to it, and makes it part of me. One can do the same with any beloved creature … One can do it, of course, with another person (oddly, this is harder). And one can do it with a plant or a flower. It is most poignant with an animal.

I shall try complete my sketch of this difference by writing down some new cosmological assumptions somewhat analogous to the ten ‘bad’ and tacit assumptions described in chapter I, but consistent with the view of matter I have put forward.

NEW ASSUMPTION #1.  Matter space is an unbroken continuum which includes everything, both matter and the so-called space around it, all at the same time.

NEW ASSUMPTION #2. In varying degrees, any given portion of space may be more whole or less whole, more alive or less alive, more healed or less healed, connected or broken, separated or not separate.

This assumption implies that the relative degrees of life of different buildings, neighborhoods, paintings … woodlands, part of the ocean’s edge, mountains, fields, gardens, streets, chairs and spoons – is largely fact.

NEW ASSUMPTION #3. Whenever we undertake an act of construction we have the ability to make the world more alive or less alive, more harmonious or less harmonious.

… No action, and no act of building, no matter how small, is exempt from this fundamental aspect of our existence. It is there when we paint the front door. It is there when we lay out the plates for breakfast. Is is there when we choose a location for a new freeway, and it is there we when decide to pick a single flower.

NEW ASSUMPTION #4.  Everything matters.

… Our present cosmology has built into it a definite refusal to assert the importance of anything, a refusal to define any value, a refusal to define any human reality. It is value-free.

… in this [alternate] picture, portions of the world can be less alive or more alive, and because the life of a given center has a transcendent quality in which the I of the universe becomes manifested, the degree to which living self occurs in our actions then becomes a matter of immense importance.

In this world everything matters.

NEW ASSUMPTION #5. Value is a definite and fundamental part of the universe, and of the scheme of things.

… Each action is valuable, or not, according to the extent that it preserves, and extends, and enhances the wholeness which exists, or does not do so.

… different values which exist in different human cultures … appear different because each one tries to create wholeness in the context of different conditions (including those created by culture, people and society) … At root, though, what is valuable is always the same thing: is it that which does most to enhance the structure of what is.

NEW ASSUMPTION #6. Ornament and function are indistinguishable.

Once we understand that wholeness is the most essential structural feature of the world, there is no room for a narrow distinction between legitimate and non-legitimate forms of wholeness, and there is no moral or practical distinction between the ornamental and the functional …

NEW ASSUMPTION #7. Matter itself is not a mechanism: It is a potentially soul-like materiality which is essentially what we call self.

… Although this may seem to be the most fantastic of these new cosmological assumptions, it is this assumption which, in the long run, has the greatest capacity to stimulate experiment … The world is emphatically different it if is true, and if it is not true …

NEW ASSUMPTION #8. If self or I is woken up whenever living structure appears in matter, what we think of as value may then be described as the protection, preservation, nourishment, of the precious self of the universe.

… We then treat all creation … as the protection of the personal which resides in matter, and which, through our actions, may see the light of day.

NEW ASSUMPTION #9. The nature of space-matter, being soul-like, is such that the more whole it becomes, the more transparent, the more it seems to melt, the more it realizes itself, releases its own inner reality, the more transparent it becomes, the more transcendent.

If it is true that the ground of the universe reveals itself whenever order is produced  … then this … is the single most important thing that is at stake, whenever anything is being made.

NEW ASSUMPTION #10. Thus art is not merely pleasant or interesting. It has an importance that goes to the very core of the cosmology.

… the task of buildings things and shaping things is fundamental to the spiritual condition of the world, and to our own spiritual development …

NEW ASSUMPTION #11. The unfolding of the field of centers, and the unfolding of the self, is the most fundamental awakening of matter.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground


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Christopher Alexander on A Gift from Art to Science


What is, truly, the ultimate nature of matter? … I have expressed my conviction that architecture cannot be good so long as we try to to do it within a mechanical conception of matter … I have argued … that we must have a vision of the world in which life, as the foundation of all architecture, is understood as something objective and inspiring … But it cannot be understood, or used, successfully, I think, without making changes in our concept of the matter from which the world is made.

The fact that such a modified world-picture might arise in part from architecture, not only from physics, is significant. Our present picture of the universe, which does come mainly from physics, is hamstring by the unavoidable narrowness of physical investigations. The character of wholeness, one of the major unsolved problems in 20th-century physics, is more easily revealed by consideration of architectural problems than by consideration of problems of physics.

Thus, architecture, previously the recipient of cosmological conceptions that originated in physics, might perhaps itself now become a contributor to cosmology.

… We now believe that the world is made of an extended material which we cal the matter-space continuum …The detailed structure of the matter-space is under daily investigation, and is not certainly or completely known. Some physicists use models in which this stuff is mathematically continuous; others use models in which it is discrete – hence string-like or granular …

In contemporary cosmological theory, the matter-space continuum is assumed to be inert … It is above all dead.

Even the matter-space of quantum mechanics – which assumes that most events are influenced by the whole, perhaps even by the act of observation, and where events can interact without strictly Newtonian causal interactions – even this quantum matter-space is still conceived as mechanical in nature … any life which appears in it is held to be created only be assemblages and configurations of the inert material. Scientifically speaking, the inertness of the matter-space is the most essential part of its nature, and of its definition in the current physical scheme. Being inert is an essential feature of the Cartesian and mechanistic picture, and it must be inert – because the basic idea of our Cartesian model of science is that you pretend that it is inert in order to understand how it works

Can we create a picture of matter which will one day become adequate to give us a world not only profound in its mechanical successes, but which also explains our nature, our agony, our relationship to matter, and the existence of the soul?

An idea that has recently begun to appear in physics is that wholeness itself is a real structure, something geometrically concrete, not merely a general appreciation for the unity and connectedness which exists in things. It is rather, nearly a substance, a definite structure, which appears all around us.

We have all had the experience of remembering a human face. We may have experienced sometimes the fact that we can remember the feeling of this person’s face, its gestalt, its effect on us, its kindness or its ferocity, without being able to summon up, in memory, the detailed features that generate this gestalt. Even in such a memory lapse, it is plain that we do remember the most essential thing, the overall feeling quality of the face, which allows us later to say, unhesitatingly, ‘There he is,’ or ‘He’s the one,’ if shown a picture … that is the wholeness.

… Possibly the most important discovery of the 20th century was that in physics, too, the behavior of matter depends on the wholeness, not merely on point by point phenomena … That was the essence of quantum mechanics … for this reason it was necessary to attempt mathematical descriptions of this wholeness. And, indeed, in the case of quantum mechanics, the gestalt or wholeness was successfully described by a variety of mathematical formalisms: formalisms so powerful that they predict accurately to many decimal places, the detailed behavior of quantum mechanical systems.

However, although the mathematics of quantum mechanics works, it is, even to this day, almost impossible to understand … how it works or what it means. For seventy or eighty years, a struggle has gone on to find a way of looking at these phenomena and their mathematical representations which makes them understandable. But the mathematics has outstripped our cognitive grasp of what is happening … Indirectly the wholeness has been described by mathematics But what this gestalt really is is still not grasped …

I believe … Quantum mechanics has appeared undecipherable because, altogether, people alive in the 20th century had the greatest difficulty coming to terms with the idea that it is indeed the wholeness – just the very same structural gestalt-as-aspect of the experimental apparatus which in another case determines the kindliness of ferocity of a human face – that determines where the electron is going to go.

This hurdle to comprehension has occurred because we have not had an adequate way of depicting, in our minds, what – in general – wholeness is like, and how it might be depicted …The actual meaning of these mathematical descriptions seemed (and I emphasize ‘seemed’) to lead to paradoxes so great that it became common to speak of cats that were both dead and yet not dead, of multiple universes spawned from each even and going forward indefinitely into the future in parallel, and so forth. These strange interpretations, seeming to defy reality, came about in my view, because it was just too difficult to create workable pictures of just the wholeness itself. In cases of art or buildings, we can feel the wholeness sometimes, intuit it sometimes, grasp it with an artistic eye, but up until now we have had no concrete language for it in the world of everyday phenomena.

Recently, a few adventurous physicists began to see that the ‘meaningless’ mathematical interpretations of quantum mechanics could be given up and replaced by a more realistic picture of the wholeness which makes sense in a more ordinary meaning … they gave the wholeness itself a different role and started with the assumption that the mysterious phenomena of quantum mechanics come about because of interactions between things which are extended wholes in the world of space and matter

For an artist or an architect the task is a little easier. For us, it is more everyday, more commonsense to experience wholeness, easier to see it, and perfectly clear that the phenomenon of wholeness is real … in this context, talk of disappearing cats, multiple worlds existing in parallel, and collapsing wave functions, though typical fo the physics of recent decades, makes no useful sense, and makes no contribution to the solution of real architectural problems.

… Towards the end of the 20th century, once a new picture of matter began to come under consideration … for the first time clues began to form that somehow the matter, the space-time continuum, might after all be made of animate material, not just inert stuff

George Wald … Professor of Biology at Harvard … and winner of the Nobel Prize … wrote in 198415:

‘It takes no great imagination to conceive of other possible universes, each stable and workable in itself, yet lifeless. How is it that, with so many other apparent options, we are un a universe that possesses just that peculiar nexus of properties that breeds life? It has occurred to me lately – I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities – that both questions might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality – that the stuff of which physical reality is composed of is mind-stuff.’

… in 1955 the physicist Wolfgang Pauli16 wrote:

‘It would be most satisfactory of all if matter an dmind could be seen as complementary aspects of the same reality’

… in 1959, Erwin Schrödinger gave a brief argument … demonstrating what he considered as rather conclusive proof that there must, somewhere in our universe, be a single ‘One mind’17  in which we are all participants.

The identity hypothesis formulated in 1980 by C.F. von Weizsacker18 says:

‘Consciousness and matter are different aspects of the same reality’

David Bohm … explicitly came to believe about 1980 that the universe is close to being made of a non-material ground which he called a plenum, and that both matter and consciousness arise from that ground.19, 20

… in 1985, Brian Josephson, the discoverer of quantum tunneling, speaking of new physics said21:

‘… we might hope that appropriate mathematical tools will be developed, so that in not too many years from now we’ll have a new paradigm in which God and religion will be right in the middle of the picture …’

John Bell, the originator of Bell’s theorem, wrote in 198622:

‘As regards to mind, I am fully convinced that it has a central place in the ultimate nature of reality’

And in 1994 Roger Penrose published a book arguing (for nearly the first time in the literature of physics) the necessity (his word) of accepting that consciousness is materially different from the other entities of physics – and cannot be viewed as emergent from them.23

… But in spite of this growing consensus, nevertheless a huge problem remains. We do not yet know how to make sense of this idea. Just having this idea, by itself does not really solve any problem … How can a relationship of mind and matter make a useful and testable contribution to physics itself? How can such a picture enlarge our understanding practically and change, for the better, our view of how matter works?

Here I may have made a small but useful contribution. I have shown how the existence of centers in matter-space … has a recursive character … The intensity of centers and wholes arises within the wholeness, purely, as a results of the mathematics of the space itself, as new centers proliferate and concentrate themselves … the intensity of these centers … can be recognized empirically when the observer appeals to feelings of wholeness within himself. And the degree of organization can also be calculated by systematic measurement of the symmetries and subsymmetries appearing in space …

The conclusion that there is some actual relatedness between the observer’s self and the centers which arise in the field is reasonable … But to make fullest sense of such arguments we need to know the ultimate substratum, the ultimate material out of which the space-matter is made … this … would be that ground of I which has been described throughout Book 4. It would be the source of the power we experience in works of art, and would be the same thing which has at different times in history variously been called the great self, or the ultimate source of being, or the void. But it would enter the picture now, as a graspable component, with a clear function, and a clear way of helping the generation of life.

  1. Professor George Wald, ‘Life and Mind in the Universe,’  INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF QUANTUM CHEMISTRY: QUANTUM BIOLOGY SYMPOSIUM 11 (1984), 1-15, abstracted in Margenau and Verghese, COSMOS, BIOS, THEOS, p. 219,
  2. Woflgang Pauli … in Carl Gustav Jung and Wolfgang Pauli, eds., THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE AND THE PSYCHE (New York: Bollingen, 1955), pp. 08-10.
  3. … Erwin Schrodinger, MIND AND MATTER (Camrbidge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), pp. 52-68 and 88-104.
  4. … C.F. von Weizsacker, THE UNITY OF NATURE, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1980), p. 252.
  5. … David Bohm WHOLENESS AND THE IMPLICIT ORDER (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980) pp. 192-213, and D. Bohm and B.J. Hiley,  THE UNDIVIDED UNIVERSE (London, Routledge, 1993), pp. 381 – 390.
  6. Bohm and I met, originally, because he had been told that I had some special ability to see wholeness. Based on that, in 1986, he and I spent two days together at the Krishnamurti Center in Ojai California, in public discussion …
  7. Brian Josephson, in THE REACH OF THE MIND, NOBEL PRIZE CONVERSATIONS (Dallas: Saybrook Publishing Company, 1985) p.178.
  8. J.S. Bell, ‘Six possible World of Quantum Mechanics,’ PROCEEDINGS OF THE NOBEL SYMPOSIUM 65: POSSIBLE WORLDS IN ARTS AND SCIENCES (Stockholm: August 11-15, 1986). reprinted in SPEAKABLE AND UNSPEAKABLE IN QUANTUM MECHANICS (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 194.
  9. Roger Penrose, SHADOWS OF THE MIND (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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Christopher Alexander on a Gift to God


This felt like a demanding excerpt to put together.

“When the field of centers appears in something, its deep feeling appears and it is … spirit made actual, spirit made manifest … It is not an indication of God living behind all things, but it is actually God itself … As we understand this more, we recognize that a building, or a building detail, or a painting, is, to some degree or other, spirit …

Once I accept that what is happening is actual spirit, it helps me to make a whole thing … a necessary state of mind. The core of this necessary state of mind is that you make each building in a way which is a gift to God … It is not a pious extra. I believe it is a necessary state of mind without which it is not possible to reach the purity of structure needed to create a living thing …

The essence of this state of mind is that the building must not shout. Emotionally, it must be completely quiet. It is very hard to allow the wholeness to unfold. To do it, we must pay attention, all the time, only to the wholeness which exists in what we are doing. That is hard, very hard. If we allow ourselves the luxury of paying attention to our own ideas, we shall certainly fail. The things which can and do most easily get in the way, are my own idea, my thoughts about what to do, my desires about what the building ‘ought’ to be, or ”might’ be, my striving to make it great, my concern with my own thoughts about it, or my exaggerated attention to other people’s thoughts …

The reason why I must try and make the building as a gift to God, is that this state of mind is the only one which reliably keeps me concentrated on what is, and keeps my away from my own vainglorious and foolish thoughts … This problem potentially affects every single one of the 100,000 steps which I go through to make the building … the effect is tiny but the impact is enormous …

In order to get it right … I must be truly concerned to make it more whole, I must truly abandon my own desire to make a good impression or to make a vivid impression on the other people in the world.

It is certain that life is not something local … it is a relation between the thing where it occurs and the world beyond. It is a phenomenon which depends on the whole universe, and the extent to which the larger order of the universe penetrates and soothes, the order of the part whose order we are looking at. In such a world, the order springs fundamentally, and ultimately, from the connection of each part to its surroundings

This state of non-separateness … is a state in which the world is melted … The more any portion of space is unified, the more inseparable it becomes from all the rest. So in the end, the intricacy and richness o fa beautiful thing does not arise from the desire to make something rich or intricate, it only arises from the particular desire to make it perfectly ont in itself, and with the world.

It is perhaps surprising, but necessary to recognize, that I cannot make a thing which has this not-separateness, unless I honestly want it … For this, I must lose my preoccupation with myself and keep it only with the thing … there must be no desire at all for separateness …

Thus, to make a thing which is one, I struggle – myself, the maker – to become one with the world. … I have to catch each flash of ‘wouldn’t this little detail be great’ and kill it … I must genuinely seek, and want, and open my arms to begin not separate. Most of the time I fail. I fail because, to do it, I must honestly give up every last trace of wanting to be distinct, separate, identifiable

This is why, from a practical point of view, there is a connection between building and religion. The connection is not historical. It is empirical, because the religious disciplines are just those which have taught people how, practically speaking, to lose themselves. Not only how to become not-separate but – far harder – how to become willing to become non-separate

This idea cannot be realized in a building without a change, a quietness, in the maker. It requires absolute removal of the individual ego, because what is created can no longer stand out and be separated from everything else, and therefore loses its personal identity. And yet, paradoxically, in the moment where this absolute identity and non-separateness is attained in a thing, and it truly become one with the things which surround it, it stands out shining with an extraordinary power which could never be reached under any other circumstances.

This is, perhaps, the central mystery of the universe: that as things become more unified, less separate, so also they become most individual, and most precious.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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Christopher Alexander on Never Truly Beautiful


“What kind of beauty could go so deep that a person would be afraid of creating it? …

Working with architects, I have experienced it again and again. Many traditional shapes, especially the most profound shapes with deep and serious centers in them, for some reason trouble modern architects profoundly. Even when an architect does want to borrow a traditional shape for a building … he often feels he has to make the shape ‘modern’ in order to feel comfortable with it …

The history of the 20th century has been one in which people do not want to see God, nor, therefore, true beauty either. The role of religion has, for many, become uncomfortable. Many people want no part of it … And for that reason, they also do not (cannot) want, in their lives, any kind of true beauty – the beauty which brings something in touch with the I – is, in effect, something in which we cannot avoid, in some part, seeing God. For this reason the underlying vocabulary of the 20th century … asserted that designers would create structures which are ‘interesting,’ ‘pleasing’, ‘fantastic,’ ‘exhilarating,’ … anything but beautiful – indeed never truly beautiful. That word has unalterable meaning, cannot be contaminated, and during the temporary insanity of the 20th century, struck a nerve which people could not tolerate.

Is it even permissible, today, to please yourself? … Much of the 20th century difficulty occurred because the vast changes that have occurred in society led ultimately to one conclusion: a person was not allowed to be comfortable with his own self. And it is this which makes wholeness so hard to achieve.

… To do that thing which comes only from the heart is so hard not only because others may laugh at us when we do it, but because we may even sneer at ourselves, and wince when we see it, and cannot face the depth and ordinariness which it encompasses. For the sense of that … feeling, when expressed in its true form, is the I which faces us.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground


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Christopher Alexander on Gauguin’s Cow


After reading this, I invite you to repeat an experiment I did: do an online search for both pictures and see what you get!

“The cow is more basic still. This one is less knowing that Gauguin’s other works. When I saw it at Christie’s, the junior auctioneer told me it was a ‘very nice minor Gauguin,’ it will go below the estimate. Such a patronizing tone.


Paul Guaguin – Kneeling Cow

If we compare this picture with a great picture by Gauguin – Parahi te Marae, for example (The Sacred Mountain) … we find that the cow is more direct. The Sacred Mountain took work, it was a considered construction, carefully done, reaching a profound effect … But, to some tiny degree, Gauguin, without a doubt I think, was aware when he made Parahi te Marae, aware what he was trying to do, aware of the gallery in Paris where he was sending the painting …


Paul Gauguin: Parahi te Marae (The Sacred Mountain)

But the cow is more innocent, perhaps more truly something that Gauguin liked … in this picture he was, I think, only trying to please himself. He drew and painted this cow for his own pleasure. It was what he saw, what he wanted, not so knowing – constructed, yes, but far more innocent.

It is even possible, I think, that Gauguin himself was slightly ashamed of this picture, just as my students were sometimes ashamed  of their greatest works, because they were too naive, too direct, too innocent … In my mind, this cow is a greater work, because it penetrates deeper, it has more grace, it is more that ultimate thing which Gauguin did to please himself.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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Christopher Alexander on Nolde’s Sunset


“If we look at a sunset, we have all seen one; what more basic, more primitive response is there, than to dip the brush in yellow, scrawl yellow, yellow, yellow, all over the central sun? But who would dare to do it? It would have taken enormous daring to be so absurdly basic. And then to do that hard work after being so basic, to fill in the painting, make the crimson, the blues, the grays, and the white light on the boat in just the right place, by obeying, following that most primitive instinct without inhibition, doing the most obvious thing, most directly.”


Emil Nolde: Sonnenuntergang (Sunset)

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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Breath and Allergy – Spring 2016


A few days ago allergy symptoms started to appear and have been gradually increasing. A itchiness in my throat, eyes … and sometimes sneezing sequences. This morning, for the first time this season, I had to get out of bed at 5:45 to move myself into a vertical position (lying down aggravates the symptoms) and start my day-long, relieving tea-drinking. This is already different from last year where the allergy symptoms erupted all of a sudden.

Another difference is that the symptoms (so far) are not continuous. They come and go in waves. Tea, relaxation, attention … all seem to help to some degree in reducing the symptoms. I am staying outside more (now that the deck is available), but I am also avoiding some things which may cause aggregation. Fortunately most of the hay has been cut and stored so I am not going to be exposed to much of that in the coming weeks. Also, thanks to Iulia’s presence, I will be staying away from things like harvesting elder-flowers.

Another difference is, maybe due to a gradual appearance of symptoms, that I am able to get on the mat and practice. It may take two cups of tea instead of one. It may take a few hours of relaxation when I wake up with increased symptoms like this morning. But, so far, I have been able to make my way onto the mat and THAT has been an informative exploration. I have felt that  asana practice has absorbed allergic disturbances and that, as a result, pranayama practice (that has recently changed) has been steady and undisturbed.

Being on the mat right now is an interesting convergence. I am arriving at the allergy well established in practice. I am enjoying an overall softening and expansion of the body and breath due to the warmer and brighter days … and at the same time incorporating the effects of the allergic response.

There has been a a prominent expression in breath during practice, specifically on exhale. I have felt exhales get a bit shorter but I also felt a more subtle change. It is as if there is a certain tension in the exhale. I experience more difficulty in surrendering to it, more tension. This morning, during practice the word “distress” came to me … and I felt it touches on the core of allergic response.

Reflecting on this made me appreciate the revealing qualities of breath. As my breath has lengthened it has had a kind of slow-motion effect on observation. Simply put, there is more time for me to observe, taken in, experience. As a result, I have experienced this subtle distress in my breath as a physical presence … almost as clear as I would feel a strained muscle.

Lengthening of breath also brings with it a qualitative change that I have experienced in two ways. A longer breath acts as an attention funnel, it keeps me more focused and more steady in my focus. An exhale of 12, 15 or 20 seconds holds my attention more firmly … or I could just as well say that if my attention is not stable my exhale cannot extend this way.

Another qualitative change is softness. This has become especially tangible for me due to the recent change in my pranayama practice. Moving to a 10 second inhale and the relative increase in exhale has coaxed out of me more softness. When I initially approached the new practice I could not arrive comfortably af 15 seconds (even though I knew that I had the capacity). It took me a few days (this is all very recent) of staying with a ratio (instead of and settling in it before I was suddenly and smoothly able to soften my breath and arrive at 15 seconds. It is hard to put in words this quality of softness.

This softness is also projecting into my attention … off-the-mat. In the last few years I have already shifted my relationship and approach to my allergy with soft acceptance and curiosity. I feel very little residue of control or change … I do not feel inclined to neither diagnose nor cure my allergy. This subtle softness feels like an affirmation of that relationship … a soft support 🙂


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Christopher Alexander on Pleasing Yourself


“In order to create living structure, we must please ourselves … And you need only please yourself. But you must please yourself truly. And to do that you must first discover your own true self, come close enough to t, and to listen to it, so that it can be pleased.

Does this sound absurd? And does it sound too easy? It is not absurd. And it is that kind of ‘easy’ which is so hard that on most days it is almost undoable, because to do it we have to break down every resistant force that remains in us …

If true, and it if can be made practical, this would be amazing. Having grown up in an era of moralistic prescriptions, of laws, rules, theories, regulations, prescriptions – all well-meaning, but all ultimately incapable of creating living structure – it would be astonishing, truly amazing, to find out that if we can only learn how to please ourselves, tha prescription by itself will always create living structure.

… we are so mired in the subjectivity of value that we have lost all connection with the fact – or the idea – that what truly pleases us is always living structure, and that living structure might even be defined as ‘that which pleases us,’ that which truly pleases us. And there, in that one word, ‘truly,’ lies the whole space of these four books.

… We cannot perform the unfolding process without knowing how to please ourselves – truly .. The social processes of unfolding comes about as society learns how all its men and women may, in the going about of daily life and in the creation of their world, know how to please themselves.

… What I have said about ‘I,’ what used to be called the religious basis of existence, the contact with that world, and the respect for the ultimate, spiritual nature of matter – all this, too, may be encapsulated through the idea of our pleasing ourselves.

To some traditionalists, this might seem almost like blasphemy or heresy. Yet I believe – indeed, I am nearly certain – that when we learn and practice this pleasing oneself at the very deepest level, that is the same thing, then, and leads to the same thing, that was once related by the most mystical religious art, seeking union with God, creating the greatest and most holy things on Earth … and in doing it, we might be led to the forms of art, the forms of buildings, which are most like nature, most nearly in touch with the nature of the universe.

… We will never be able to contribute to the world’s horrible buildings – too prevalent in recent years – if we make things that we like.

… I was invited by a fellow professor of architecture …. to be a critic in the final review of his masters’ class. His students were in their last year, and they had spent the year working on a project for an office building … the students’ drawings were all around the walls. Other jury members began making comments, but, for a long time, I kept quiet. I hate juries … After half an hour or so, I felt that I couldn’t go on keeping quiet … I felt, I said, that the students did not really like their buildings … ‘I realize that you have done your best, done work that on some level you like; but it is not really liking, you do not really like what you have done, in the same ordinary sense that you like a hamburger, or a rose. That is what I mean. I am convinced.’ …

The students were angry with me … my discussion with the students lasted about half an hour. Gradually, by the end, I had led them to admit that, in the sense that I meant it, in the ordinary sense, they really did not like that they had done, or what they had been doing – that indeed, the conditions of their work had never emphasized this point at all … That was just not part of the professional discipline being taught to them … And yet, I said to them, ‘How terrible! This means you can expect to live your life making buildings that you do not really like.’ And, even worse, that the others in society, who live with the buildings, made in this loveless spirit, will spend hours, days, years, living with these products of an unliked and unlikable architecture, done only because it was the thing to do, the way to get jobs, the way to impress one’s fellow architects.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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Christopher Alexander on Making as Healing


“When the I-stuff is created, it nourishes the maker – not only the viewer, but the maker too. For some reason, the process of making things which are alive enlarges us, deepens our experience. I feel more alive for having done it. It is like food … What is the reason for this ‘food-like’ character of the making process?

It is amazing to fully grasp the impact of making something beautiful. Have you experienced the fact that when you make a beautiful thing, you feel happy for days, sometimes for one or two whole days, the feeling that something wonderful and important has happened in you, live on in you? And the reverse is true, also. When you make something ugly, you may be depressed for days. A feeling of gloom and dissatisfaction hangs over you. You can’t get over it.

This little discussed effect is, from an empirical standpoint, extraordinary … Why should such a deep effect exist? Why is beauty so much connected with our well-being, our happiness?

… When I manage, at some level, to make life (in a big thing or a small thing), I feel more alive. I feel more whole, myself. On the other hand, so long as I am making stuff that does not have life in it, I feel dull, listless oppressed. And even then, when I am feeling dull and listless like that … the tiniest success … all at once I wake up, I feel joyful and happy … It seems that the smallest success in making life extends and fills my experience for hours or days. The absence of it starves me.

The positive feeling I have described does not come merely from the activity of making. It comes about only when the field of living centers is actually achieved. Indeed, cases of making where living structure is not achieved have a tense, unresolved feeling associated with them, that is more like frustration than satisfaction, even when a thing is actually made and finished.

… There is a direct connection between the living structure of the world and the achieved person-ness we experience in ourselves.

This connection is similar to the typical relation between centers in any system of wholeness. The intensity of one center (its degree of life), is directly dependent upon the intensity of other centers within that wholeness.

Now, of course, a person is also a living structure, also a field of centers, also a wholeness. This field, like any other, is therefore also linked to the intensity and wholeness of the other centers and other fields immediately round about. Thus, the relation between a person’s own wholeness, and the wholeness of things in that person’s immediate environment, is a direct consequence of a thing which he is trying to make.

… The patterns in A Pattern Language and the fifteen properties in The Phenomenon of Life [The Nature of Order – Book 1], help to create a mental state in which you are allowed to experience and develop your most vulnerable personal nature. The properties open the door to feelings which you have, but which are suppressed. Thus, although the mechanical application of the fifteen properties is not very desirable, even that mechanical process has some positive role. The more you use the properties, the more you find out that they create structures which correspond to your feeling. And this gives you permission, more and more, to liberate your feeling, to rely on it.

… Thus, paradoxically, it is only when you finally are personal, when you really put your humanness into the things you make, that you genuinely reach the wholeness we call order … But first you need access to the structure of wholeness in order to be human, in order to be personal, and to be able to place your personal feeling out into the world.

… Just as the centers on one part of the world nourish the other living centers near them, so the person who is also a center, is nourished by this appearance of wholeness. It is as if each contribution to the I enlarges each other window to the I … Each of us participates in the I. Each enlargement of the I enlarges each of us.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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Christopher Alexander on Tears, Sadness and Unity


This resonates deeply with me. A pursuit of happiness has never appealed or worked out for me. If what Alexander is true, then the oh-so-popular notion of “pursuit of happiness” is bound to hit a wall. My experiences of happiness seem to expire quickly, while my experiences of sadness seem resonate deeper and longer … as if they carry more information, guidance, direction … a deeper sensibility.

“Unity ties everything together – including joy, happiness and laughter, but also including loss, death and betrayal. A thing which truly has unity partakes of everything. And through that everything, there must be sadness. The making of this sadness, then, must come through a process where land, details, rooms, form an indivisible whole. Always trying to tie it together, to unify it, to make it disappear.

To set the stage further for understanding unity in a building, I go back to the emotional underpinning of the living structure, its personal character, its rootedness in feeling … The I, the blazing one, is something which I reach only to the extent that I experience, and make manifest, my feeling. What feeling, exactly? What exactly am I aiming for in a building, in a column, in a room? How do I define it for myself, so that I feel it early, so that it stands as a beacon to steer me in what I do every day?

What I aim for is, most concretely, sadness. I try to make the volume of the building so that it carries in it all feeling. To reach this feeling, I try to make the building so that it carries my eternal sadness. It comes, as nearly as I can in a building, to the point of tears.

… I cannot do it in a trivial way. I cannot literally make the building laugh and cry. And it is not gloomy either. This sadness of tears, when I reach it is also joy … What makes it sad is that it comes closest, in the physical concrete beams and columns and walls, as close as possible, to the fact of my existence on this earth. It reminds me of it, it makes me take part in it. So when it happens, it is also a kind of joy, a happiness.

But to recognize it, I concentrate most on my sadness, and my tears.

Although social pressure – the desire to please others – sometimes makes it hard to reach the I, the difficulty is not mainly a social difficulty. It is mainly an artistic difficulty.The difficulty arises simply because it is so hard to find that shape, that substance, which actually makes tears well up in me. … To many people a roof is just a roof. A column is just a column. It takes great effort ot perception, conscious work, and concentration, to see that the subtle changes of the column makes a difference to its sadness, or to its capacity to hold,and reflect sadness.

I look at the shafts of the columns … I move them, change them, cut cardboard, modify the shape. At first they seem merely nice … I stand back in the room, a few times, to check it, also looking at the base. Simpler seems better. Gradually, as I achieve a more harmonious shape, … I begin to see something which nearly works … I begin to be aware that this column which I am making can be more austere – and that, as I strip away every bit which is too sweet, that I slowly eave the bare bone of something which can affect me, can make me – almost choke tears in my throat. Of course, it is just a sensation, not actual tears. It is so slight, I have to watch the growing thing in the room very intensely to notice it all.

But if I pay very careful attention to the feeling which is welling up in me, I do notice tiny differences, small sensations, and I do notice that threat of tears, that harshness in the back of my throat which moves me towards the shape of the column which will ultimately have a more serious meaning which will enlarge life in that room, which will then, through its austerity, make more likely the experience of joy.

… A thing does not get its unity from being ‘beautiful’. The unity comes from the fact that the various centers are harmoniously connected, and that every center helps every other center … But above all, it comes from the fact that in the thing, throughout the thing, we see the I in every part, at eery scale. We see only one I, the same I, shining out from every part.

In some cases this results in something which we may call beautiful in the ordinary sense of the word. In another case, the result of the helping between centers is beautiful only in the sense that it fills us up with life, reminds us of ordinary everyday things, reminds us of the messiness and goodness of everyday life – but is not beautiful in the sense that it would make a great picture in an architectural magazine.

… it is a unity of the most fundamental kind, which goes to the raw reality and which has, when it occurs, a highly unexpected, sometimes rambling, sometimes ferocious, sometimes friendly, even sometimes absurdly crude or comfortable character.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground


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Christopher Alexander on Schrödinger’s Yellow


“Schrödinger, the physicist who discovered the matter-wave equation of quantum mechanics, has a great deal to teach us about color and its real existence. He outlines [in his short book Mind and Matter] the following argument.

‘You and I, both see yellow. But according to the prevailing view of science, there is no way of knowing whether the interior experience you have when you see yellow is the same as the interior experience I have when I see yellow. Of course, we know that we shall both say the word yellow when we look at a buttercup, or at light of 5,00 angstroms. But this says nothing about the inner experience we have.’

Schrödinger goes on to say, that although this point of view is logically consistent, it seems intuitively absurd. Intuitively it seems to him that the inner experience of yellow, its yellowness, is something real. He guesses that we all experience it in the same way – in short, that ‘your’ yellowness and ‘my’ yellowness are one and the same thing, not two different things … If it is indeed true – as many people probably believe intuitively … then this would imply that there is some domain where this yellowness actually exists. Where is it?

After thinking carefully about this problem, Schrödinger says that he has been able to find no other possible way of explaining this except to say that there is, in the world, only one single mind where the yellow occurs, and that our individual minds are all part of this one mind, and somehow all have access to it. This would explain why we all have the conviction that the yellowness we see is not private, but objectively real and shared.

… Schrödinger talks about color sensation in general without reference to good or bad, shallow or profound. He says, in essence, that when we see color, we experience some domain beyond the immediately material one.

.. I extrapolate from Schrödinger’s argument, go beyond it, and reach my own conclusion. I suggest that inner light, which is revealed, seen, when very great color occurs … allows us to experience the great self, in greater degree or in lesser degree, and that our experience of inner light is the experience of the great self directly and openly seen, openly experienced.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground


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Christopher Alexander on Color Properties of Inner Light


This post is an except from an extensive chapter about color. As I was reading through the chapter and excerpting from it the subject of relationships was on my mind and in my heart. When I speak of relationships between people, especially between myself and people close to me, things tend to get personal(!). However when I speak about colors things are inherently less personal … it doesn’t even cross my mind that red likes or dislikes yellow or that green is angry at purple while pink loves it. This is a spirit with which this chapter met me. It has subtle insights into relationships (between colors) and how these relationships conjur up an experience of inner illumination. I kept projecting these realizations about colors into reflections about people, about how I relate and how others relate to me.

Again, where possible I have included images that are included in the original text. One image has been selected in the spirit of the text because I couldn’t find an image from the text to include. Sections where a sample is missing are due to the subtly of colors which are carefully replicated in the printed book, but not clearly visible in online images. In these cases, poor digital replicas would do injustice to the ideas being discussed.

“subdued brilliance and inner light only occur when certain definite things are happening in the color field. These ‘things’ … are very similar to the fifteen geometric properties described in Book 1 … whatever we do intuitively to make light happen, we find these eleven color properties coming, of necessity, into our work where we are trying to induce the inner light.

1. HIERARCHY OF COLORS (levels of scale)

… to make inner light occur, we are led to use unequal amounts of different colors … inner light is caused first and most strongly by a rule of proportion among colors which creates a clear hierarchy of relative size among the areas of different colors in a picture.

… a succesful composition in which there are equal areas of several different colors is extremely rare.


Henri Matisse: Arab Coffeehouse

Henri Matisse: Arab Coffeehouse

2. COLORS CREATE LIGHT TOGETHER (positive space / alternating repetition)

… Suppose we have a swatch of color. I look at it and ask myself what second color will produce light if I bring it towards the first … This is the fundamental experiment of all color work, and of all painting …

There are four main variables involved: What is the hue of the second color? How much of it is there?How light or dark is it? How grayed is it?

… In many cases the light comes from colors which are roughly complementary … But … there are also much more sophisticated cases where one color is made to shine by something quite near it …

All we know is that sometimes colors together create a glow of life … one color is made more intense as a center by the other color. The field of centers becomes intense; the feeling and unity increase. there is no reliable mechanical rule which can predict just what color is needed … The possible colors that are needed are objectively and experimentally defined.

Henri Matise: Madame Matisse

Henri Matise: Madame Matisse


… One of the basic things we have to do while we are making something colored is to squint at it, half close our eyes so that we see only grays, and see if the inner light is still there … if it isn’t visible in the dark-and-light pattern of what is in front of me alone – then it will never be there when I open my eyes fully again and the colors come back in. We have to work out the overall pattern of light and dark as if the colors weren’t even there in order to get them right.

… If we take a black and white picture of that colored pattern, the pattern of the dark and light alone (without the color) will still be beautiful.

In the world of black and white, where things are monochrome, the vital importance of contrast is obvious … But because color is so fascinating, it is easy to become mesmerized by hue and to forget about dark and light

In making a painting (or in placing colors in a building, which is ultimately my main concern). I find it useful to make a thumbnail sketch in black and white – just to see if the basic composition of light and dark  has life in it … The black and white come to life when they dom something similar to the way the yin-yang symbol works. The two establish a polarity in which each is something solid and established in its own right, and where the two together create a sort of electric tension.

In shape, the two things, black and white, must each form a positive space … the quantities and ratios of dark and light must be enough to electrify each other.

Fra Angelico - Shipment of Grain

Fra Angelico – Shipment of Grain

4. MUTUAL EMBEDDING (deep interlock and ambiguity)

Imagine, if you like, that you have a color composition half worked out. You struggle towards making more light in the picture. You seek harmonies which tie things together. At this stage, you will often find, that the thing you have to do to make more light in the picture is, in effect, a process in which you put one color inside another … Immediately a connection is formed, and the field becomes more unified …

We may say that each major entity in a living structure must contain references (shapes, structures, colors, motifs, reflections) of the other major elements, so that each element is somehow also within the other elements.

Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room on the Garden

Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room on the Garden

5. SEQUENCE OF LINKED COLOR PAIRS (gradients, the void)

.. colors essentially work in pairs … When inner light is present, the colors in the hierarchy have a definite spatial sequence, so that the eye moves through the thing from color to color, up and down the hierarchy. In each case, the spatial sequence is built out of linked pairs … The pairs themselves are linked, and the network of linked pairs or arrows forms the sequence … the actual path of the sequence … is also important. When the path has a beautiful feeling, it jumps in an interesting way – in a cascade, or in a circling motion moving inward …


… You will often find that you can intensify colors by making boundaries between them … As one tries to reach inner light, one is in effect trying to create a deep kind of unity … Where two colors meet, there is an imperfect unity just because the two colors, by being different create a divide. To bridge this divide, it is helpful in the vast majority of cases to have a third color, much smaller in extent and carefully chosen in color, which forms a link across the boundary. That is why hairlines and boundaries originate.

… In general the boundary color must be to do the same as any good geometrical boundary does: that is, to both unite and separate the two colors on either side of it.


Henri Matisse : Odalisque in Red Trousers


… to achieve inner light … develop a family quality among the different colors we are using. This unifies the space.

The simplest way in which colors become members of one family is similar to the process of mutual embedding. If we want to place a read near a green so as to produce inner light, it is necessary that very small amounts of the read are mixed into the green, and that very small amounts of the green are mixed into the red. This softens the contrast and allows the piece to glow …

Sometimes this family exists simply as a feeling, which is complex and not easy to explain at all. I work on the palette, and I can tell when I am making colors of the same family: but they are not necessarily related in obvious ways at all.



Giotto: Flight into Egypt



Page from the Book of Durrow

8. COLOR VARIATION (roughness)

Inner light also requires a certain roughness of individual color, a lively variation within the field of a single color … In colors which have light, there are rarely areas of perfectly flat color, the inside of these areas vary immensely from point to point so that the overall color is created from blending or interaction of many slightly different hues.

Both in paintings and in buildings, I have found that this color variation comes about most easily from a process in which you mix the colors on the thing itself, not on the palette.

… Sometimes I do the same thing more geometrically. If we have a particular color, say light red, and we mix black with it, we get brownish dark red … These colors may easily become muddy. But suppose that instead of mixing … we put a fine black tracery of points, dots, lines and curves over the lighter red. This has the same overall effect on the red … but it leaves it far more brilliant, with sparkle …

This is really how, and why, the variation of roughness works: by creating a mixture out of purer colors, so that we keep the purity of the component colors and their interaction.

9. INTENSITY AND CLARITY OF INDIVIDUAL COLORS (strong centers / good shape)

Here is an almost paradoxical ambiguity. Clarity of color is something inherent in the individual color. Yet, its effect is also created by the color interactions and by the impact of other colors on the individual color. Both are true.

… When you are in the middle of painting, you can often concentrate only on the color you are mixing, and with great care and concentration, make that color by itself carry meaning, and be as beautiful as possible … Is the color you find … itself really a quality of the individual color by itself? Or is it a quality of this color in the interaction with its surroundings?

… it turns out the two ideas are interwoven. As I begin to master the idea of trying to make colors fuse together and glow with inner light, I find out one thing which is rather surprising: to do it, I am really trying to make each color shine out as strongly as possible, itself.

… In centers, a strong center is one which stands strong by itself, and yet makes other nearby centers strong … Just so, a color which shines strongly is a color which makes other colors nearby shine strongly, too.

10. SUBDUED BRILLIANCE ( simplicity and inner calm / non-separateness )

… Let us imagine that at a certain stage in the development of a colored thing … we have gained a wonderful bright feeling where the colors work together, they are brilliant. But they are perhaps too bright, too vulgar, not profound … We have to subdue the influence of the whole thing. We quieten it, gently. We quieten it a little more. Then. when we are just to the edge of feeling that we have taken away its brilliance, we put something back – and all of a sudden the color really shines, and the deep meaning shows itself.

This is subdued brilliance.

It can take two different forms. The first form is quiet. Sometimes, to do it, I reduce the intensity of colors by making them more white or gray. Then the actual pigments are subdued, but I keep the overall brilliance of the field of color – only now somehow it is more profound. That is the first form.


Pierro della Francesca: King Solomon receiving the Queen of Sheba

The second form is almost opposite. I have pigments which are intense, very bright. But in their interaction they become muted, because they are so carefully chosen, that they melt together and seem quiet even though, individually, as colors they are bright …


Pierre Bonnard: Marthe in a Red Blouse

Subdued brilliance, when it goes to the extreme, is both gloomy and brilliant, like a smoldering fire,embers glowing, other parts dark or dead, fire waiting to burst forth.

11. COLOR DEPENDS ON GEOMETRY (local symmetries)”

… behind all these color phenomena, it is the field of centers itself which is working to produce the life. The geometric structure of the field is necessary to produce the light within the framework of geometry.

… We can never achieve inner light when the field of centers is not present geometrically. And the reverse is true: We cannot achieve the unity of the field of centers geometrically, unless it is supported by wholeness of color and inner light.

… Thus the geometric wholeness is not merely beautiful in itself as an accompaniment to the beautiful color. It is essential, necessary, for the release of light. Color, far from being an incidental attribute of things, is fundamental to the living structure of wholeness. Inner light is not merely a phenomenon, but the character of wholeness when it ‘melts.’

… It is not so surprising that space has teh power to affect color. But that color affects space – that the two are somehow deeply interlocked – that is truly surprising, and poses many unanswered questions … It is as though the space and the color together create a world of structure, a type of structure, that we cannot define at all – as though the very oneness of space which we seek to define lies in the very inaccessible realm. It is this fact which makes me suspect that the color phenomenon itself is actually happening in the I.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

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