“… but it was the saxophone soloing that challenged credulity, it’s length and perhaps its unwillingness to tell a traditional story… If there’s one thing the facile critic needs to do his job, it is some verbal personality from the bandstand, some words to transcribe into the review – anything to make a thoroughly musical endeavor more literary or conversational. Coltrane would not provide it.”
Ben Ratliff

Coltrane - The Story of a Sound

Christopher Alexander on Uniqueness


“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


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


“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


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


“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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