“The only past which endures lives wordlessly within you.”
Frank Herbert

God Emperor of Dune

Christopher Alexander – Material and Light

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When I collected this quote, the words “ultimately material and light” shimmered for me. Yet I decided to skip them, I felt that they may not be nourishing for a reader who is not as involved with the text as I am. Yet as I continued collecting the quote the words came back to me. I realized that they have a striking similarity to another structural teaching I have received … in Yoga. How can you tell if an asana (a physical posture) is good for you and that you have done it well? The answer, from (I believe) the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is that it makes you feel “steady and light”.

“… nature teaches us that what is truly simply – a waterfall say – is vastly complex – as a structure – and yet vastly simple in its essence. Thus we must strive for something which is utterly simple, in the sense that there is nothing unwanted there, nothing extra …

In architecture … Although the real content is there all the time, in the background – and although it is real human life, ecological life, and social and spiritual life which is at stake – still too careful … a regard for these practical problems will always produce trivial results. What matters is … the geometric organization – and the ability of this geometric organization to penetrate to the core of being human.

… My effort, in making the building, must constantly be to create, and activate, a pure pattern of physical geometry – ultimately material and light – and the depth of the impact which this pure pattern of organization has on me, on my self, on my soul – to what extent it mobilizes my feeling.

Even knowing this, as I do, it is such a struggle to keep on with the geometry. In painting, I try to make a realistic scene … I try to paint what I see. But I have to shout at myself, all the time, play, play, play, stop worrying about realism. Just make sure the actual shapes are beautiful, and that the geometry works, that the arrangement of the shapes is beautiful. This means all the shapes, the space between things, and the things, and the shadows … Each shape must be beautiful, supporting the other shapes … This is why the idea that the spirit and life , in the end, lie only in the geometry, has to be repeated every day, every morning, every afternoon.

In building, the same thing … I try to make the building right. I pay attention to the passage, the width, the length, the feeling, the light … Always I am trying to make it comfortable. But again, what I have to do, to make it live, every shape must be beautiful. The window sill. The top of the column. The door. The window over the door. The wall between the windows. The edge of the roof. Is it the most beautiful I can make it? Just don’t forget. Just don’t forget. Keep doing it. It is only when I do that, have joyful fun, do nothing else, just keep on doing that, to make each shape beautiful, that the thing begins to gain its life. It ought to be easy. But it is so hard.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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Christopher Alexander on Simplicity and Symmetry

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“… Complexity (in the bad sense) consists of distinctions which unnecessarily complicate structure. To get simplicity, on the other hand, we need a process which questions every distinction. Any distinction which is not necessary is removed. To remove a distinction we replace it by a symmetry … Gradually we get just that syncopated system of local symmetries … that is typical of all real life.

… This means that the geometry of a wholesome living structure will be almost entirely made up of LOCAL symmetries, while yet being mainly asymmetrical in the large.

Very often, when we look at something, we have an immediate, intuitive sense of its rightness or wrongness. This … comes directly from the symmetries we see and our sense about these symmetries.

The essence of this rightness or wrongness hinges on the issue of necessity … Everything in nature is symmetrical unless there is a reason for it not to be. When this law is violated, we feel that something is unnatural, and that is the way in which symmetry plays such a fundamental role.

… Imagine you are looking at the sky … see a cloud which is perfectly square. Without even thinking, you would that is was not a natural cloud.

the symmetry structures in the world are very close to us. We perceive them instantly and subconsciously, without even knowing it. This mode of perception gives us an intuitive sense of which symmetry structures are appropriate or not appropriate in various situations.

… Each thing in the world is subject to various influences. It has various degrees of similarity and difference compared with other things, according to its situation. And in itself it also has various degrees of similarity and difference. This is what we call its symmetry structure. Symmetry is a precise way of talking about similarities.

We observe that in any thing, there must be just the right amount of similarity and difference …

When we make something which is just right, we have hit the degree of similarities ad differences … just right. On the other hand, when we are wrong we can also analyze the wrongness … Either the symmetries are less than the situation requires … or … more. To understand the idea that the symmetries in a structure are “just right”, consider for example the flow of electricity in two parallel wires. Other things being equal, the current will flow equally in the two wires. Why is this? If we want to, we can invoke some rule like Ohm’s law or the principle of least action … But the deepest explanation, the most profound one, is simply this: There is no reason for the two wires to carry different currents, because the situation is symmetrical … Asymmetries occur only where there are reasons powerful enough to generate them.

things which are similar must be similar, and things which are different must be different

Successful life which creates unity in a building and hold it together is generated by the balanced, syncopated, off-beat quality that the natural system of symmetries creates…”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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Christopher Alexander on Simplicity

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“Our modern conception of simplicity has gone wrong. Simplicity as depth has been replaced by a mechanical idea of simplicity as the geometrically banal…

The things we call simple in design – cubes, spheres – appear simple conceptually because they can be represented by simple mathematical schemes. But they are not, in any real sense, the simplest thing which can be created at a given place and time. The simplest thing which can be created, in real terms, is that thing which goes furthest to resolve, complete, hence to elaborate and underpin the structure of the world, its wholeness, which exists at that place. In this sense a volcano, a cobweb, an oak tree are truly more simple … because as nearly as we can judge, they perfectly resolve the forces, processes and conditions at that place, with the greatest economy of means and the greatest economy of form.

… ‘doing the simplest thing,’ only the thing which is required and nothing beyond what is required, is a practical and efficient necessity. When an unfolding process has succeeded – when a living process has succeeded – we may always recognize its results by a visible simplicity in the geometry and character of what is produced …

Any good example of living structure always has a very high density of sustaining relations among its parts. These … occupy a great deal of ‘space’ … there is room for all of them when they are extremely compressed, when their density is great. This kind of compression … can only be attained in a thing when that thing is extremely simple …

The geometry of living structure … is the result of a process in which a complex system becomes at one and the same time both richer and simpler. Each new bit of structure, each new center, adds new differentiations. But each time, as soon as we get the new differentiations, we at once try to boil the garbage away so that the structure is simplified and concentrated. We try to keep it continuously simple, even while we fill it with more and more structure.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Christopher Alexander on Form Language

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” … we do not start each new design from scratch. Somehow, we learn, over years, the ingredients that make a building good … the form language we use to speak the words that come out as buildings.

… at any given period of history, in any particular society, there are a certain number of schemata which provide rules of thumb for desining and constructing buildings. The form language is the (usually unspoken) combinatory system of these schemata (social, technological, geometric, stylistic, etc.) which architects adn builders have in their minds about how buildings ought to be organized, how built, how they must look. We may even call form-language a repository of style.

… At any given time in our history, we are able to create only what can be “made” from the schemata which we already have in out form-language …

… it is imperative that the form languages we use, and the form languages available to us, help us and support us in this task [to reach the goal of livign process in our highly modern and technically sophisticated society] …

… Why did the experimental form-languages of the 20th century not work? The reason is not hard to see. It is rather as if someone gave you a ruler and a T-square and said “Use these drawing tools to draw a human face.” You would say, “But that is almost impossible: the ruler and the T-square create the wrong kind of geometry. A human face is made of different shapes and different relationships than can be drawn with these tools.”

Just so with building that have living form … The kind of shapes which appear as a result of unfolding when it is done right … are mainly rectilinear, but they include roughness, they include shapes in which angles are nearly square but not quite square; they necessarily include imperfect repetition … requiring that things are bent, adjusted, made carefully to fit the nature of an emerging whole. Twentieth-century form did – and could do – none of this”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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Sound as Substance

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… an improvised session … a beautiful example of unfolding wholeness and emotional substance … to realize that the entire piece was present in the initial ambience.

… as if he can touch the sound in the air … and shape it and reshape it .. . by touch

… and the beautiful attic space in which this happens

beautiful-attic

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Christopher Alexander on Holding the Feeling Constant

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“… our ability as artists depends very largely on our ability to experience, formulate, and carry such a feeling – first to feel it and witness it, then to carry it forward, remember it, keep it alive within us, and insist on it …

… you hold the feeling constant … you keep it alive in you, this formless feeling which is o vivid, so particular, that you can judge all your form-making as you make the thing, by matching it against that feeling …. emotional substance – something more solid than a feeling, but less formed than a thing – is guiding the process of design and making at every step.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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The Wild Edge of Sorrow

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Some months ago Charles Eisenstein published this conversation with Francis Weller and I got around to listening to it a couple of days ago. I resonated deeply with some of the things Francis said. It was also, of the podcasts Charles has done that I have heard, the most vibrant and clear conversation as it touched and moves Charles too.

Francis talks about grief and sorrow as doorways into a rich experience of being. He talks about different kinds of grief: personal loss – intimate attachments that are withdrawn from our life (family, friends, etc.); ecological loss – dealing with the dark ecological outlook that is in the ar; ancestral loss – that are culturally inherited (in my case I would probably give the Holocaust as an example); loss that comes from a gap between the world we feel was promised us (a world of rich social life) and the world we live in. He talks about loss and grief being an integral part of life and that rituals to experience and express grief and loss need to be a regular part of life that is best served in a communal setting.

This is a subject near to me. I feel there are more aspects of grief – the death of ideas being a prominent one in my life – it is a subtle form of loss that can go unnoticed. Kind of like the difference between soldiers who have suffered amputated limbs (a clear artifact of war) and soldiers who suffer PTSD which has no visible markings but manifests in so many subtle ways in day-to-day life.

I have not yet experienced a kind of social-supported form of grief having lived much of my life either on my own or in very intimate settings … and I do wonder abotu the effect that has had on me. I do feel in touch with experiences and emotions of touch and grief …. I wonder how much they have informed and shaped me … and how Francis’ ideas would meet me in my life.

I look forward to reading his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow.

This short video touches on some of the ideas but most were better expressed in the podcast:

Francis Weller’s website is WisdomBridge.net

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Christopher Alexander on Deep Feeling and Emotional Substance

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“… The Word “feeling” has been contaminated. It is confused with emotions – with feelings (in the plural) sch as wonder, sadness, anger – which confuse rather than help because they make us ask ourselves, which kind of feeling should I follow? The feeling I am talking about is unitary. It is feeling in the singular, which comes from the whole …

What I call feeling is the mode of perception and awareness which arises when a person pays attention to the whole … It is an intelligent and practical way forward.

… In any living process, or any process of design or making, the way forward, the next step which is most structure-enhancing, is that step which most intensifies the feeling of the emerging whole.

… During the early part of the 20th century there was a school of thought where a great deal was said about artists expressing their feelings, as if this was supposed somehow to be the purpose and pathway of art. Artists sometimes tried to do this by placing paint to record their emotions, throwing paint at the wall, pouring their emotions into the work. In each case the artist tried to send his feeling into the work, in the name of: “I am expressing my feelings.” In all these cases the idea was that the feeling goes from the artist into the work while the work is being made.

Producing a building which has feeling is something different … What matters is that the building – the room, the canyon, the painting, the ornament, the garden – as they are created, send profound feeling back towards us … The feeling comes from the object back to me after it is made, does not go from me to the object while I am making it.

… before we take an action, we can grasp the latent structure as the emotional substance … a dimly held feeling which describe where we are going, but is not yet concrete, in physical and geometrical terms. This means we can sense, ahead of time, the quality of the completed whole – even when we cannot yet visualize it. We then keep this quality alive in our minds and use it as the basic guiding light, which steers us towards our target. The final target, then, has the feeling which we anticipated much earlier, but often has an unexpected unfamiliar geometry.

The feeling … is not … arbitrarily invented. It is … emotional substance … It is … reasonably accurate, reliable, and stable. We can get it, and then keep coming back to it. It evolves, as the project does, and as our concrete understanding evolves. Thus, as the geometry develops, the feeling is kept intact, but becomes more and more solid

Using our own feeling as a way of grasping the whole, we can put ourselves in a receptive mode in which we grasp, and respond to the existing wholeness – together with its latent structure. This is not an emotional move away from precision. It is, rather, a move towards precision.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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Yoga on the Mat Practice – Winter 2015: Rediscovering Maha Mudra

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As a result of a consultation (November 12th) with my teacher, my asana and pranayama practices were updated.

Asana

asana-nov-2015

The practice offers me two paths to explore. I’ve tasted the inverted path twice … but have gravitated more towards the, similar to my established practice, maha mudra sequence. Some slight life-instability has expressed as a slight agitation in my right-lower-back and the inverted practice aggrevated it. I am taking more time for life-settling and am looking forward to continuing the inverted-path exploration.

Maha Mudra is back (after years of absence) in my practice sequence. I am again taken by the richness of engagement this posture has to offer. Here are some of the things I encounter as the posture and I get reacquainted.

  1. It starts in my  arms, shoulders adn shoulder-blades as they are activated coming into the posture. I look for length, full activation and spaciousness.
  2. As I bend forward into the posture my attention travels down my spine and arrives in my lower back with engaged lengthening and hips with surrendered opening.
  3. I then focus on my hands and their contact with me leg (unlike in the picture, my hands are placed further back on my leg). I try to create a good engaged hold … not too soft not too strong.
  4. That projects up my arms where my shoulders and shoulder-bladed join the effort.
  5. I am learning to discern between my shoulders and shoulder blades.
  6. I try to allow my shoulder blades to be active while relaxing my shoulders, allowing them to move back and down without sagging forward.
  7. When I try to relax my shoulders my hands sometimes also relax and so my attention travels back to my hands (and then back up to my shoulders – in numerous cycles) to re-engage the grip while trying to relax my shoulders.
  8. That exploration brings me to my upper back. I sense a vector that starts in my hands, travels up the length of my active arms, passed through my open shoulders and active again in my shoulder blades which invites my chest to open which in turn actvates my upper back.
  9. That causes my neck to arch a bit and my head to move back … which I then adjust by re-lenghtening my neck and tucking in my chin.
  10. Though the breath is there all the time throughout this journey, after this physical settling I am able to settle into my breath, refine it within the physical setting and allowing it to inform and refine the physicality.
  11. The first thing to settle in my breath is my attention to it and its length (equal inhale and exhale, currently ~8 seconds each).
  12. Next comes a steadying of abdominal engagement, gradually (in each practice sequence and between practice sessions) finding more stability in the abdomen and gravitating towards an uddiyana sthana form.
  13. As the breath takes shape it projects first into my spine. Inhales engaging the hands-arms-shoulders-shoulder blades -chest-upper back vector – leading to a sense of expansion and intensification. Exhales engaging the abdomen (steadily holding and strengthening) and lower back (opening/lengthening) to create a foundation for the inhale-expansion.
  14. When that settles I find myself back in my hips … more softness and surrendering.
  15. The hips then project me, through my legs, into my feet. The foot on the folded leg relaxing. The foot on the straight leg flexing and engaging.
  16. If all this happens in time (before my 6 breaths are up) I get a taste of a present wholeness.

So much dyanmic exploration in what appears externally like stillness. It has taken almost a month of practice for me to feel an opening up in this intriguing mudra.

Pranayama

My Pranayama practice starts with resuming the last practice sequence (one I had skipped because of memry error) in my previous prescribed path:

8.0.8.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
10.0.10.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
12.0.12.0 x12br pratiloma ujjayi
8.0.8.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi

It continues with these practice sequences:

  1. 8.0.8.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
  2. 8.0.8.0 x4br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.4.8.4 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
  3. 8.0.12.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
    8.4.12.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
    8.4.12.4 x6br anuloma ujjayi
    4.0.8.0 x6br anuloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi

A bhavana my teacher offered in resuming the last step from the previous set was the 1.0.1.0 ratio throughout the sequence. It was an interesting experience. The most notable difference I could best describe using a metaphor for climbing steps. The 1.0.1.0 ratio felt like more demanding (higher) steps to take compared to a more gradual process that comes from assymetrical steps (wher the exhale is lengthened before the inhale). Then the 1st practice sequence in the new set continued that theme by increasing the step size – removing the 10 second breath and going directly from 8 seconds to 12 seconds – making the steps even higher. The most notabel development for me in taking these steps has been in attention. They are all well within my breathing capacity, yet my ability to traverse them is very much effected by the quality of my presence and attention.

I am now transitioning to the 2nd sequence in the new set.

 

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Christopher Alexander on Uniqueness

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“Almost the most distinctive mark of living process lies in one aspect of the geometry of the results. Simply put, Every part of the world that has life, and every part of every part, becomes UNIQUE. It becomes unique because each part is adapted to its context and because, in the large, no two contexts are ever the same.

… uniqueness … is a necessary aspect of living structure … possibly the most fundamental …

Indirectly, then, the love that we can feel for a place … is made possible by living process … It is the uniqueness of each mountain, building, person, spot that makes it possible to love it, or him, or her … By creating uniqueness everywhere, the living process touches, directly, the issue of whether the world will be a world we love, or not.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

… so it isn’t just a quality of snowflakes 🙂

 

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Dan Carlin on Mind Control

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In Dan Carlin’s recent Common Sense episode The War on Bad Thoughts he, once again, explores the subject of terrorism and the dilemma of a (prevalent) short term view that leads to narrow-minded responses vs. a long term view in which the root of this problem (and potentially many other problems) is “bad thoughts” … and he starts to delve into a potentially interesting domain of changing minds. However this creative opening led to what was in my mind, a narrow and limited exploration … of “weapons of thought control”.

What follows are some reflections in the spirit of the challenging direction that the show touched on … nothing nearly as coherent as the show itself!

A general “scientific” assumption behind “mind control” seems to be that the mind itself is a kind of storage device for thoughts which implies that if we could somehow get into it, remove some thoughts, add some new ones, etc … we would have a technology with great potential. Well … what if that core assumption “the mind as a storage device” is unfounded. Rupert Sheldrake may have something to say on that.

Changing minds and hearts” is also a phrase that came up … and I wonder if it too opens a door to an interesting path of exploration. Why are we so focused on changing minds …. what if our hearts turn out to be more responsive to change … what would changing our hearts look like? How quickly can a man with anger in his heart from, say, work  transform into a soft, loving father when he comes home and embraces his little girl?

I am a practitioner of Yoga. Though its popular image is that of a physical practice, I was taught and trained in a tradition that views Yoga as a science of the mind. It therefore has A LOT to say about how mind works and how to go about changing it … though much of what this view has to offer would likely be rejected in a modern / mechanistic / supposedly scientific conversation.

Dan also talked about what happens when we come together as a herd … how we tend to revert to more basic, animalistic, responses. What if there too is a potential exploration … what if we could come together and instead of reverting to somethign primitive we could become something more advanced … a intellectual / social construct that would not only harness our potential in a better way but also nourish us in such a way that our minds would change in some that we could not as individuals?

I would say that there are plenty of ongoing experiments of mind-control that we may not appreciate for their mind-control aspects:

  • An obvious one would be mainstream media and how its continuous flow has altered now just what we think, but how we think.
  • Another obvious example would be social media and how it has had effects on both what and how we think.
  • A less obvious example though may be viewed as belonging to the “chemical weapons” realm. I believe that the typical American diet has effected the way American’s can and do think. I believe it has both short term and long term accumulating effects … a form of self-inflicted chemical warfare the USA has been waging with itself. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food may be a good start on that subject.
  • An even more subtle example would be capitalism itself – not judging it, just pointing out its effects on thoughts and thinking. Consider for example: the “herd dynamic” Dan speaks of, how is that phenomenon shaped by capitalist (individuals seeking personal gain in a zero sum game = at the expense of one another) thought. Are we just naturally fearful or have our social-technologies given rise to almost rational fears? What do we fear more, our hunters or our other herd members?

If I were to continue this list it would seem that many of our typical day-to-day technologies are in fact altering how we think and what we think about. What if what we need is not a radical”weaponized” change but a subtle change in underlying attitudes and intentions. Could it be that because of their obviousness we overlook them and are tempted by the drama of “weapons of thought control”?

Finally … what if the underlying attitude of war and weaponry limits our view on this subject? What if mind-control is a process that is too variable for control and direction? Maybe the fact that it failed in the 60’s or 70’s wasn’t because of immature technolgies (that have now, 40 years later, matured) … but an immature understanding of the mind and thought itself (which is still immature in mainstream society, though there are many more small pockets on the fringes of society with developed insights)? What if mind-control is a natural organic process that we can tap into and partake in better than we have been doing so far?

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Christopher Alexander – Illuminated by Existence

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“I am not trying to be clever. I am not trying to follow any special archetype, ancient or modern. I am just trying to make that thing, which, when its centers have been created, will most honestly make me feel a tremor, make me feel that my life is (even if only slightly) illuminated by the existence of this thing.

And at each step … I had to keep asking myself this: Is it going in such a direction? Does it start to make me feel that life can be worth-while? Does it make me tremble, and feel on the edge of the chasm of life, so that all the uncertainty and fear of everyday life, is wrapped up, made worth something, summarized and justified, by the existence of this thing?

Most often the answer is, No. Ten times the answer comes back, No. But sometimes, if I feel even a little tiny bit of yes, I can move … more towards the yes. And if I keep on looking for that direction, gradually it does come into existence.

But I haven’t done anything until, because of the existence of the center emerging in my care, my life is more worth while than it was before, and my knowledge of the meaning of existence has become more real.

That is a tall order. It is a great demand. Perhaps too great a demand. But that is the demand, anyway, that I must make of things, while I am making them.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

 

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Christopher Alexander on The Void

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This is out of reading sequence. In thinking about Annelieke in the very present moment, the Void came back to me from book one:

“In the most profound centers which have perfect wholeness, there is at the heart a void which is like water, infinite in depth, surrounded by and contrasted with the clutter of the stuff and fabric all around it …

This emptiness is needed, in some form, by every center, large or small. It is the quiet that draws the center’s energy to itself, gives it the basis of its strength. The fact that the void does not exist so often now … is the result of a general disturbance in our capacity to make wholeness …

The need for the void arises in all centers. A cup or a bowl rests, as living structure, on the quiet of the space in the bowl itself, its stillness …

The void corresponds to the fact that differentiation of minor systems almost always occurs in relation to the “quiet” of some larger and more stable system.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

“Part of the process of structure preserving requires cleaning out from time to time … When a situation appears where there are too many centers, too crowded together, in a confusion of structure, a structure preserving process must be applied … the process must act to discern the deep structure, the most important structure beneath the confusion …

… a crowded complex structure often ends up living at the edge of a much larger homogenous void, and that the contrast between the intricate structure and the vast emptiness is needed to maintain the structure of the intricacy.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Christopher Alexander – Move with Certainty

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“As the living process goes forward, repeating the fundamental process again and again … one feature is built up at a time …

How do you determine these steps which must be taken, and their sequence? … The most basic instruction I can give you as a guide for a living process, is that you move with certainty. That means, you take smal steps, one at a time, deciding only what you know. You try never to take a step which is a guess or a “why don’t we try this?” …

As far as the scale of the decisions is concerned – that, on the contrary, should be rather large. At the beginning, especially, you need to work mainl with the largest questions. Many of the issues you need to settle , in the early stages of your work, have to do with the whole, the global quality of the design.

… A numerical comparison is useful. Suppose, for example, that at a given stage in a process there are e hundred possible next steps … more of these possible next steps are likely to be bad than good … 90 or 95 next steps which will make the thing worse … 5 or 10 next steps which wil make it better … How, then, do we find the few good ones? There is no special reason that we should be lucky enough to hit one of the small number of good steps …

If we reason this out, we may then draw the following conclusion. It is more likely that the first possibilities that present themselves to our minds will be bad ones … We should therefor be extremely skeptical about the first possibilities …. we should run through the possibilities very fast and reject most of them … If we do accept one … [it should be] only when we finally ecounter something for which no good reason presents itself to reject it, which appears genuinely wonderful to us, and which demonstrably makes the feeling of the whole become more profound.

The vital point is that this is an empirical matter. It can be discovered by experiment … But it will not be discovered unless the experiment is done … The one exception occurs when the designer is deeply in touch with the wholeness that is there and can summon up, very rapidly, a genuine structure preserving transformation as an intuitive response which springs directly from the wholeness, in the designer’s mind.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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Christopher Alexander on First Steps and Ripples in Design

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“… As any designer will tell you, it is the first steps in a design process which count for most. The first few strokes which create the form, carry within them the destiny of the rest.

How then, in a living process, do we take the first steps of design so that a beautiful, coherent whole begins to take shape?

In the early stage we must concentrate, of course, on broad structure, on the emergent structure of the whole… The notation that architects traditionally use is a language of drawing or computer representation … But such a sketch aways includes too much information, too early, so that the sketch (or computer drawing) is invariably over-specific … if only 20% of the information in a sketch is based on real decisions that have been taken by a living process in the designer’s mind, and the remaining 80% si arbitrary stuff entered into the drawing only because the notation (sketching) requires it, trouble inevitably follows.

We therefore need a notation … which stays closer to what is actually known at each moment. Here I wish to introduce the idea of morphological “ripples” … a partially generated form … not yet clearly located, or dimensioned, or even characterized … which, though fuzzy … plays a decisive role in giving character and feeling to the end result.

IT is important that the first steps – the morphological ripples – should focus only on the broadest, most global features of the emerging design … At each step, another “ripple” inroduces one more feature of the whole. To contain these ripples, I find it best to work … in the mind’s eye, preferably while standing in the real place itself …

More important still, as a first stage in the design process, I usually make a word picture of the building. THat is, I spell out, IN WORDS, what the buiding is like, what it is like to arrive to it, what the space in front of it is like, how the building forms the space, what happens as you enter, what happens inside the building, where its main rooms are, what their special beauty is, what is it like to go out, from those rooms, to the outdoors. All in all, a vision of the finished building IN WORDS – as beautiful as I can make it.

… Words and interior visions, when seen with your eyes closed, are more labile, morefluid, transformable and three dimensional … They allow the unfolding to go forward more successfully … If I say that a building towers above me, when I approach it, this says something qualitative about its height, but does not yet  describe the exact height … if I make even the most rudimentary drawing … the drawing has an actual height (implied by proportion), and it has many features of shape, width, volume, articulation, which have not in fact been generated by the fundamental process.

… The vision in the mind’s eye contains little that is not actualy generated by the living process … what it does add is real, and germane, and flexible … The vision floats in your mind, a hovering clear picture  …

… You start by saying to yourself, and seeing, one thing, the most important thing about the building … the first global holistic aspect of the building which you see, when you close your eyes and imagine the building as the context requires that it should be.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Iceland’s Fastest Growing Religion

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A short story overflowing with the beauty of evolution:

“In Iceland, tax-authorities collect “parish fees” from all residents and remit them to churches based on the stated religious affinities of those residents. … A new church, the Zuists, claim to worship ancient Sumeran gods, and promise to rebate religious fees to anyone who registers … Iceland’s tax authorities say that the Zuist church can do whatever it wants with the money, but that adherents who receive rebates on parish fees will be charged income tax on them.”

source

 

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Christopher Alexander on Feedback

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“To make the feedback meaningful in a step-by-step process, the process must be open ended, hence partly unpredictable. It must lack a fixed predetermined end-state. This is necessary because adapatation itself means nothing if changes cannot be made in response to the process of adaptation. By definition, such changes cannot be foreseen.

… For a variety of reasons – legal, financial, and procedural – under modern conditions the thing is fixed tooe xactly, too far ahead, an has far too little freedom to unfold … It thereby shut off, nearly altogether, the possiility that useful testing or adaptation could occur …

This mean not only that the end-result of a building project must be unpredictable during design. That is obvious. But to be effective in creating living structure, it cannot help also being unpredictable during construction.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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George Lakoff on Framing and American Politics

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This is a good (not great) talk about underlying thought frameworks that shape the way we view the world. The talk is built around American politics – demonstrating how conservatives and progressive are founded on two family prototypes a “strict father” and “nourishing family”. On the one hand I would have liked to hear a more general view on the subject. However, when he did get a it theoretical I felt that his underlying theories (brain structures) were outdated and I suspect would not survive the test of time (they are of little interest to me). The talk is not complete until he answers the first question.

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Christopher Alexander on Vinyasa

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“Possibly the most basic and necessary feature of any living process is the fact that it goes gradually. The living structure emerges, slowly, step by step, and as the process goes forward step by step there is continuous feedback which allows the process to guide the system towards greater wholeness, and coherence, and adaptation.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

Posted in Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 2 | Tagged | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Generative vs. Descriptive

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“Does the DNA contain a full description of the organism to which it will give rise? The answer is no. The genome contains instead a program of instructions for making the organism – a generative program …

A descriptive program, like a blueprint or a plan, describes an object in some detail, whereas a generative program describes how to make an object … consider Origami … by folding a piece of paper in various directions, it is quite easy to make a paper hat or a bird from a single sheet. To describe in any detail the final form of the paper with the complex relationships between its parts is really very difficult, and not of much help in explaining how to achieve it. Much more useful and easier to formulate are instructions on how to fold the paper … a generative program for making a particular structure.”

Lewis Wolpert – Principles of Development
quoted in
Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

Posted in Expanding, inside, Nature of Order, Nature of Order Book 2 | Tagged | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours