“You don't see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it.”
Robert Shaw

Chaos: Making a New Science

Christopher Alexander on Inert Matter


” … our view of matter is flawed … The substance which the 20th century world was made of remained the inert, mechanical space-time of Descartes, Newton and Einstein, of quantum mechanics and the string theorists. This mechanical substance is our cake. So far, our spiritual views and ethical views are only frosting on this cake, which do not penetrate or affect the way the cake works.

… It is this ongoing rift between the mechanical picture of the world (which we accept as true) and our intuitions about self and spirit (which are intuitively clear but scientifically vague) that has destroyed our architecture. It is destroying us, too. It has destroyed our sense of self-worth. It has destroyed our belief in ourselves. It has destroyed us and our architecture, ultimately,by forcing a collapse of meaning.

… I have finally come to believe that it is just the prevailing views we hold about the mechanical nature of the universe which have led directly to a situation in which great buildings – even buildings of true humility – almost cannot be made [… the infection which comes from our mechanistic cosmology, is mainly one of arbitrariness – and the arbitrariness breeds pretension. In the presence of pretentiousness, true humility is almost impossible.]”

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


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Christopher Alexander on Tat Tvam Asi


I have been looking forward to book 4 … and then this in its preface:

Early in my life as an architect, as first I was confused or deceived by the teaching I received from architectural instructors. I thought that those things which are important – and perhaps the things which I aspired to make – were ‘other’, outside myself, governed by a canon of expertise which lay outside me, but to which I gave due.

Gradually the older I got, I recognized that little of that had value, and that the thing which did have true value was only that thing which lay in my own heart. Then I learned to value only that which truly activates what is in my heart … I sought, more and more, only those experiences which have the capacity, the depth, to activate the feeling that is my real feeling, in my true childish heart. And I learned, slowly, to make things which are of that nature.

This was a strange process, like coming home. As a young man I started with all my fancy ideas … Then from my teachers I learned things even more fantastic … sophisticated taste, cleverness, profundity, seriousness. I tried to make, with my own hands, things of that level of accomplishment. That took me to middle age.

Then, gradually I began to recognize that in the midst of that cleverness, which I never truly understood anyway, the one thing I could trust was a small voice, a tiny soft-and-hard vulnerable feeling, recognizable, which was something I actually knew. Slowly that knowledge grew in me.

Usually the things which embodied this knowledge were very small  … in ordinary discourse they might have seemed insignificant, like the fact that I felt comfortable when my back sank into a pillow arranged in a certain way …

Then in my later years I gradually began to recognize that this realistic voice, breaking through … was my own voice, the voice that had always been in me, since childhood …

But this knowing of myself, and what was in my own true heart, was not only childish … I also began to recognize it in very great things, in works made by artists centuries away from us in time … Somehow I began to realize that the greatest masters of their craft were those who somehow managed to release, in me, that childish heart

I begin to realize that what I come in touch with when I go closer and closer to myself is not just ‘me’. It is something vast, existing outside myself and inside myself, as it if were a contact with the eternal, something everlasting existing before me, in me, and around me.

… Yet even though I am next to nothing in the presence of all this force, I am free there. In such a place, at such a moment, I am crushed to understand my own smallness, and then understand the immensity of what exists …

Actions and objects increase or decrease my connection to this vastness, which is in me, and which is also real. A concrete corridor without windows and with an endless line of doors is less likely to awaken it in me than a small apple tree in bloom …

It is at once enormous in extent and infinitely intimate and personal.

… The essence of the argument which I am putting before you … is that the thing we call ‘the self,’ which lies at the core of our experience, is a real thing, existing in all matter, beyond ourselves, and that in the end we must understand it, in order to make living structure in buildings. But it is also my argument that this is the nature of matter. It is not only necessary to understand it when we wish to make living structure in buildings. It is also necessary if we wish to grasp our place in the universe, our relationship to nature.”

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


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Christopher Alexander on Our Birthright


deep sigh … there’s a book ending to contemplate … architecture!!!

“I should like to make one last comment on the buildings I have shown, the processes, the forms. Throughout, in all this material, we touch on a birthright. Yet this birthright that I speak of, it is in the mind, in people’s minds. And it is almost gone.

… The birthright being lost is not only the beautiful Earth, the lovely buildings people made in ancient times, the possibility of beauty and living structure all around. The birthright I speak of if something far more terrible; it is the fact that people have become inured to ugliness, that they accept the ravages of developers without even knowing that anything is wrong. In short, it is their own minds that have lost, that core of them, from which judgment can be made , the inner knowledge of what it is to be a person, the knowledge of right and wrong, of beautiful and ugliness, of life and deadness.

And since this inner voice is lost, stilled, muffled, there is no possibility – or hardly any possibility – that they can cry out, ‘oh stop this ugliness, stop this deadness which floods like a tide over the land.’ … the source of such a cry has almost been stilled in them.

That process, it seems to me, is nearly irreversible since, at least to an extent, this knowledge is culture-borne.

What has been lost is the inner language which connects you to your own soul, which makes you know, with certainty, which way is likely to be right, and which way is likely to be wrong. To be more clear about it. To feel it , as a real thing. To know, listen to, the voice that is in your own heart.

But that is becoming harder and harder. Even as people are becoming more and more sophisticated, and education is increasing, this inner voice is falling further and further into the background.

That is what I mean by the loss of birthright.

Is there some chance – now that these matters have been brought into the open and that living process has been partly defeined – that this birthrgith may be saved, and that we can come back to what is ours again?”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World

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Christopher Alexander on Archetype


When everything is going right, when the fundamental process is used well, what comes out is not only natural, not only simple, not only living structure. It has too an archetypal quality – something savage [wild, untamed, original, direct, ‘as it comes forth’ … unweakened by sophisticated thought or culture]

…. It is always the same substance. Technology changes continuously as society changes … the eternal forms are continually refreshed and given new character, new implementation. That is the temporally changing part we know as style. But the core, the unchanging core, is the expression of ancient and eternal truths of unity.

… Every time the fundamental process is used, not matter at what scale, we get a structure in which local symmetries are so densely packed that the highest possible density of local symmetries occurs, but without having an overall symmetry.

In the best cases, when the symmetries come forth unconsciously from adherence to the feeling of the whole, and from the process of symmetry-production in the small, then something almost awe-filled occasionally comes into being. This is a thing which strikes fear into the heart, yet creates a peacefulness and solidity that we can rest upon. It gives us nourishment because it is so strange and so indefinite and well-found in its uniqueness  – which we did not create.

It is possible to use the word archetype in two different ways. On the one hand there is the weak archetype  … really just the whole class of buildings that have living structure. But there is a narrower class … more awe-filled forms which go to the root, forms which affect us so powerfully, which reach, somehow, the core of what it is to be a person.

… This takes more. This does not come about merely from the fundamental process. I believe this second, strong archetypal core comes when the search for living structure is combined with a conscious desire, and a half-conscious search, for the origin of all things. That topic is taken up in Book 4, The Luminous Ground.

… In the best cases, in the cases which have the most life, the building form will most often be interwoven in some fashion with nature itself. In the best cases it will seem, almost indistinguishably, to be a part of nature, this forming a seamless whole.

… It will … seem extremely ordinary … It will, not at all, then, seem like the work of an architect’s hands.

… Thus the morphogenesis of what is truly living, will have a character that, in our present way of thinking, will hardly look like architecture at all … it is achieved through painstaking attention to the ordinary.

… The naturalness, the ordinariness will then place before us, a target, an aim, which is very different from the things that architects have worshipped today and yesterday.

Something truly relaxed, truly made for human comfort, truly arising from an egoless and unencumbered wish to make things right, and nothing more.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World


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Christopher Alexander on Color


This is merely an opening for a subject that is covered in more depth in book 4

“I believe that color, like music, holds the key to life as it appears in art; it is, perhaps, the most fundamental way in which things in geometry – that means real physical things in the world – make contact with God. It is the blue of the bell, the deep green of the sea, the yellow of the crocus, the white of the snowdrop, the awesome darkness of the mountains at night, which reveals their wholeness, and lets us reach God.

As a maker of things, I found that it is through color, above all, that one has the chance – however slight – of reaching this domain.

… In the search for color, when you really pay attention and try to find out what produces inner light, step by step, the result is often very surprising.

… Color is a fundamental human experience. It is natural to put color on things, and to make things out of colored material. It is, for many people, the most natural thing …”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 3: A Vision of a Living World


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