“Possibly the most basic and necessary feature of any living process is the fact that it goes gradually.”
Christopher ALexander

The Nature of Order Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

Christopher Alexander on Gene Snippets


“… the structure of social processes we created during the 20th century, again and again create a mental catch-22 situation where the means needed to escape from the anti-living process, are prohibited by the very process we are trying to replace.

… The key to the idea that will allow a system of workable morphogenetic sequences to evolve in a not-too great length of time, is highlighted in the genetic ideas of John Holland.

Holland has shown how an information system which guides a real world system may evolve and “learn” by gradually building effective models of functioning, in the form of “genes” … he describes the genes which we know in organisms as a special case of a much more general phenomenon …

…his discovery … mathematical reasons why the learning, and spreading, and successful evolution of … genes, will occur most successfully to the extent that the genes are small and independent … One example of his argument, is simply the fact that at the time of meiosis, when male and female chromosomes cross over and intermingle, the shorter the genes are, the less likely they are to be damaged at the crossover point, and the more likely, therefore, to survive and be passed on to later generations … merely one example of a more general argument … small independent “lumps” of coherent problem-solving information, the smaller they are, and the more independent, the more likely they are to survive and spread into the gene pool …

What is essentially remarkable about the genetic system is that, individually, genes are small … and largely interchangeable. Amazing, but true, that a gene which causes a certain desirable kind of enzyme activity can be transplanted from a fish to a person, sometimes even to a mushroom. Most genes are highly general in what they do. What they do is limited, but “snippable” – each one can be cut out and used, individually, by itself. The “snippet” – the individual genes … are effectively almost context-free …

This is the secret of biological evolution. I believe it will also turn out to be the secret of the evolution of the genes controlling the living structure of the earth and the built world on Earth.

… It is difficult to find the social conditions in which all the features of the construction process can change at the same time, hence extremely difficult to introduce such a new process as a whole. But suppose that the same improved process of contracting is broken up into, say, twenty separable sequences … each one … separable from the nineteen others, and can therefore be successfully injected by itself into an otherwise normal or mainstream system of construction. If the snippet works well, it may be adopted, and may spread to new construction methods …

What was difficult or impossible as a larger act of social transformation, becomes possible when one uses a genetic approach to achieve the same aims. What is needed is simply a way of ‘cutting up’ the original innovative process, into a small set of process genes or small sequences that work individually, and that are robust enough to work in a wide variety of contexts, even when not supported by others part of the new system.”

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

… the first example, that came to my mind, of this are the now common-in-Transition-practices of check-in in the beginnings and check-out at the ends of meetings … a “gene”from the “inner-transition chromosomes” introduced by Sophy Banks

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Christopher Alexander on a Pursuit of Wholeness


This reminded me of Pirsig’s thoughts on contrarians:

“… you risk a great deal when working within a new paradigm which includes a) human relationships of trust, b) on-going decisions about trade-offs, c) the overall wisdom of how to spend a given modest amount of money to get the best from your money. It is risky within the current system based on a) legalisms, b) blueprints and contracts that preclude sensible adaptation, c) profit and gain, and d) too little human trust.

people who attempt to do these things will be in jeopardy when they attempt to do them within the present system.

… All in all, for more then 40 years I have had the experience that – on any given issue – three times out of four, what I instinctively wanted to do because I thought it was right, was at odds with somebody’s picture of how things ought to be. For years this seemed like a coincidence. Sometimes it seemed to my friends that I was just plain stubborn,,ornery, ‘against everything’ – that I had a built in desire to be in conflict with people. But then, gradually, – and only fully in the last ten or fifteen years – it began to sink in that this apparent source of conflict had a straightforward origin. IT came about, because my instincts were governed, as often as I found possible, by respect for life, respect for wholeness in the world (at least up to the limitation of my ow ability to see it). What I did came from my desire to see the whole, and my desire to build according to the whole, and my refusal to give up on the whole.

… The pursuit of wholeness, pure and simple, was at odds with virtually every institutional and social reality of the 20th century.

… Of course the adventures which I have been living for more than forty years, now, and the observations I have made, might still be attributed to the monomania of a solitary individual, overzealous, who had a blindness to the format and procedures that are proper in the worlds of architecture and society.

… we need to preserve the sacred quality of our life and the life of our cities and our planet, and to seek a new form of processes in which we can be whole.”

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


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Svatantra: Entering the Temple of the Heart


My teacher reflecting on Svatantra … which is the theme that has most touched and informed my own path of practice

“As his pupil my teacher worked at guiding me towards becoming increasingly independent in developing and refining more and more my personal practice skills so I became less and less dependent on him being the vehicle for if, when, where, what and how well I practice.

…. Thus he guided me into self-inspired and self-motivated practice without the need for neutral or even conducive surroundings to influence the mood, or please the eye, ear or nose. Of course adding these factors may arise as a fruit in terms of creating a supportive environment, but the message here was that the ‘temple’ we need to enter ultimately sits within the heart rather than within some external room or building.”

I too:

“am eternally grateful to the initiation into this process”



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Christopher Alexander on Frederick Taylor


Frederick Taylor

Frederick Taylor … was one of the individuals who had the greatest influence on the 20th century. An American machinist working at the very end of the 19th century, Taylor conceived the idea of time-and-motion studies … which make the repetitive production of objects more efficient.

Taylor first inspired Henry Ford’s factory at Dearborn, the first highly efficient moder factory. Ford employed Taylor as a consultant while he planned and build this factory. Later, as a direct result of Taylor’s work, almost all natural and organic processes throughout the world which relied on judgment, participation, and common sense were replaced by a way of thinking about process. Which relied on rules, rigidly applied, codification of category, task, function. What we know as he modern organization with machinelike repetition of processes, came from Frederick Taylor. What we know of as modern bureaucracy … came from the application of Frederick Taylor’s ideas to large human institutions … modern construction … modern agriculture …

It is amazing to realize that Taylor himself very well understood the positive social and human conditions of the living process he was trying to replace. Here is a quote from Taylor himself:

”Now, in the best of the ordinary types of management, the managers recognize frankly that the workmen who are under them possess a mass of traditional knowledge most of which is not within the possession of the management. The most experienced managers frankly place before their workmen the problem of doing the work in the best and most economical way. They recognize the task before them as that of inducing each workman to use hist best endeavors, his hardest work, all his traditional knowledge, his skill, his ingenuity, and his good will, in a word, his initiative, so as to yield the largest possible return to his employer”

Taylor understood all this extremely well. And then, for reasons of money and efficiency, he deliberately set out to destroy it. Three principles of Taylorism are: (1) Disassociate the labor process from the skills. Labor must be independent of crraft, tradition, and knwledge … (2) Separate conception from execution. (3) Gain monopoly over knowledge to control labor process … As Taylor himself wrote:

The full possibilities of my system will not have been realized until almost all of the machines in the shop are run by men who are of smaller caliber and attainment, and whoare therefor cheaper than those required under the old system”

… I have given a short summary of Taylor’s ideas because even those of us who are thoroughly sick of the bureaucratic and machinelike character of modern society, will, in general, not be aware of the extent to which it all started with the work of one man, nor the extraordinary extent to which these changes were deliberate, conscious, willfull. Obviously, if all this was created by the deliberate thought of an individual – as indeed it was – it becomes easier for us to conceive the possibility of changing it.”

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

When I read the words “men who are of smaller caliber and attainment” I thought to myself … and then we set about creating systems of education which created (1) such men and (2) men educated to create such men more efficiently.

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Christopher Alexander on a Horizon for Architecture


” … fundamental practical innovations of process are inevitable consequences of thinking correctly about the nature of living structure in buildings, and of facing honestly the task of creating living structure in the world.

‘A client … once asked me to plan a small town for about a thousand people, on the banks of the Sacramento River. As part of this work, I began working out a money-flow process for the first twenty-five years of the project, but one day she phoned me to say that she was worried about mis-using my genius as an architect. She didn’t want me to spend so much time thinking about the money flow, since other people could do that, but she wanted me to think more about he ‘design’. By that she meant the static pattern of buildings, streets, shapes, and so on. It took me quite some time to convince [here] that the flow of money, year after year, and they way this works to create a flow of construction in the town, are essential features of its life … and that is his process were put in someone else’s hands (an accountant for example …), it would become separated from the building forms, and therefore almost certainly wrong and inimical to the life of the place. The notion that beauty is the result merely of ‘design’ deeply pervades our contemporary consciousness … Although she had recognized the beauty of the buildings my colleagues and I had sometimes managed to build, and wanted that beauty for her own project – that inner thing which catches life – she was simply unaware that what made our buildings live was the process we used to create them.’

… it is precisely these innovations which attempt to change the system of processes most deeply, that are hardest for society to accept … really deep changes are ones which change jobs, and which therefore actually alter the capacity of the social system to let people create wholeness in the world, or to allow it to be created …

… that social process must necessarily be architectural process, and that architectural process must necessarily be life-creating…

That requires not merely that we improve the sequences and processes of our society. IT requires, specifically, that we make these processes architectural. That means they must be morphogenetic [creating or generating shape] … What I call morphogenetic is not different from ‘living’ – but it places emphasis on the form creating aspect … It is, therefore, ‘architectural’.

… Our built environment … is formed by the interaction of thousands of day-to-day rules, procedures, habits of thought and action. It is these processes, embedded in society, which create the form of the world…

… the larger task of making these processes genuinely morphogenetic – so that they generate deeper and more coherent living structure – still lies on the horizon.

… It may even be said that we could approach anew point of view in which THE primary function of society would be understood as the function of generating a healed structure in the world through morphogenetic processes – and that this primary function is to allow us, the members of society, to adjust progressively all the small processes in such a way that individually, and together, they will more and more effectively create a living world.”

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


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