“Just as it is more moral for a doctor to kill a germ than a patient, so it is more moral for an idea to kill a society than it is for a society to kill an idea.”
Robert Pirsig


Alexander Grothendieck


“One cannot invent the structure of an object. The most one can do is to patiently bring it to the light of day, with humility.”

Alexander Grothendieck

This article both attracted and repelled me. I felt like it was describing a special being, yet it was doing it within a mechanistic life-consuming mindset. I wouldn’t be surprised if Grothendieck retreated from the exact mentailty manifested in this article. From the article:

“… A hallmark of Grothendieck’s hypermentalistic thinking was his idea that the environment was a sentient being in need of protecting. He nursed tiny shoots collected in his garden, bringing them indoors to tend individually. Toward humans, though, he was more mercurial … He believed himself to be in communication with Plato and Descartes, and even with God himself. The belief in signal transmission is a signature psychotic delusion.”

I believe that, in time, we may discover that the belief “that signal transmission is a signature psychotic delusion” was itself a delusion of a destructive, narrow, misdirected mindset that misunderstood more than it understood.

Reading this made me feel sorrow towards Grothendieck and anger at the writer and the academic field she represents. I can understand why Grothendieck nursed tiny shoots and was volatile towards other humans.

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Paul Krafel: Tracks of Change


“A rock broke from the cliff and bounded down the snowfield. Snow sprayed out from each crunching impact. creating white scars of freshly exposed snow. As the rock slowed, its bounces became shorter, until the rock rolled to a stop.

Other dark rocks lay on the snow. Upslope of each lay a similar trail of white scars. Each trail could be traced back up the snowbank to a fresh scar on the cliff where its rock had broken …

Many changes pass quickly but the ending state of that chnge … remains for some time. Therefore ending states are easier to see than the changes themselves …

Tracks of change cover the world with stories …”

Paul Krafel – Seeing Nature

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Roughness: Christopher’s Corners


Christopher Alexander, in The Nature of Order, frequently references ancient Turkish prayer carpets. I wasn’t, and still am not a fan of these artifacts, but as I was searching for an example to use in this post, I was surprised to find, that though there are many images online, finding one that is good was difficult. I was finally able to find one that demonstrated the idea of corners, but not one that felt beautiful … so this will have to do:

Following is a cutout section (marked in the picture above):

Borders are one of the key features in these carpets and this particular carpet illustrates how patterns are used to created borders. These specific patterns (there are four borders depicted in the image) are weak and uninteresting (because I could not find good ones with enough resolution for this demonstration) but they are enough to demonstrate corner. What happens when you continue these patterns? when you repeat them and eventually reach the corners? Here is what happens:

Roughness appears. They do not match up perfectly and each corner needs to be specifically and locally resolved. This king of roughness is typical in living structures. When an underlying pattern comes into being in a specific context it meets and responds to that context. A leaf on a tree is has a specific underlying pattern, but every leaf grows on a specific place on a branch that is exposed to light and wind and in relation to other leaves and other branches. It grows uniquely in response to its settings and conditions.

When we approach this with a mental / logical mindset (and a correlated sense of aesthetics) we do not arrive at such results. Imagine a graphic designer using software to mimic such a carpet. What is likely to happen is that when the pattern does not converge perfectly in a corner, the designer will go back and change the pattern or overall scale … find some way to make the corner work out (continuing the pattern but generating exacting / symmetric / repeated results). The result is that the carpet (or design) becomes defined by the corners instead of the pattern (its source of life). The corners are no longer a natural meeting place of patterns. The corners become the center. Leaves become mathematically identical … and life diminshes.

I find this kind of mental-overriding of naturally emerging patterns is … well … something we need to be attentive to when shaping the tapestry of our individual and communal lives.




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Paul Krafel: Gradients and Edges


“We live within gradients. A gradient of thinning atmosphere intervenes between my lungs and the vacuum of outer space. Just as a gradient of vibrations along the web can guide the spider to the struggling fly, so a gradient of increasingly wider, busier roads can guide me from my driveway to the nearest highway. … I sense that I am approaching a stream through gradients of smells, bird songs, and larger leaves. I sense that I am approaching a city through gradients of increasing traffic, billboards, radio stations, and night glow in the sky.

… something inside me tends to concentrate these gradients into edges that break the world into many independent objects. This is an acorn; over there is a rock …

But when I practice focusing precisely on the edges, a world of separating edges becomes a world of interconnecting gradients. Gradients merge realms I once thought of as distinct. Where is the edge between land and sea? Perhaps the edge is where the waves meet the land. But where is that meeting place? …

A university professor installed a seismograph at the park in Texas where I worked. One day, the seismograph printed out a series of rhythmic pulses, hour after hour. Something was causing the bedrock to vibrate – though only a sensitive machine could detect it. The professor called to tell us that the vibrations were being caused by massive storm waves smashing against the Alaskan coast. Where is the edge between land and sea?”

Paul Krafel – Seeing Nature


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Paul Krafel: Fit


“I once interpreted ‘the survival of the fit’ using ‘fit’as a adjective that described the kind of life that survives: strong animals, well-camouflaged animals, or intelligent animals. Now I thik of ‘fit’ as a noun. The survival of the Fit. Both life and its environment might change but the Fit between them will survive.

… When a bird lands on a perch, they generally glide in lower than the pirch and then swoop upward. This final upward swoop slows the bird so that it can land lightly upon the perch .. We can watch and rate these landings the same way a judge watche a gymnast’s final dismount. How well does the landing fit with the physical laws of gravity and mometum? How skilled is this individual?

Young birds score 3s and 4s … most adults score 8s or 9s (or they would not have survived to adulthood) … Watching for the constantly adjusting Fit between an animal and its world has changed the way I see animals. When I first atarted watching animals my standard questio was ‘What is the name of that animal?’ … Many years later my standard question has shifted to ‘What is this animal doing?’ … Searching for the answer leads into other questions, such as ‘How does this behavior fit?” …. Focusing on names deflects from the moment, whereas watching for the Fit probes the moment’.”

Paul Krafel – Seeing Nature

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