“One day I found out that personal history was no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped it… Little by little you must create a fog around yourself; you must erase everything around you until nothing can be taken for granted, until nothing is any longer for sure, or real. Your problem now is that you’re too real. Your endeavors are too real, your moods are too real. Don’t take things so for granted. You must begin to erase yourself.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Christopher Alexander – Centers


“We may consider any configuration in the world, a building, a street, a room full of people, a forest. Each has its wholeness. By that I mean that there are visible within that thing, a huge number of entities, at different scales … and that the totality of these entities with the way they are nested constitute the wholeness of the thing. We may think of these entities as parts (as they may sometimes seem to us) or as local wholes or sub-wholes. But, as I have illustrated in the case of the sheet of paper and the dot, these parts and entities are rarely pre-existing. They are more often themselves created by the wholeness. This apparent paradox is a fundamental issue in the nature of wholeness: the wholeness is made of parts, the parts are created by the wholeness. To understand wholeness we must have a conception in which ‘parts’ and wholes work in this holistic way.

… I have learned to call them … ‘centers.’ What this means is that each one of these entities has, as its defining mark, the fact that it appears to exist as a local center within a larger whole.

There is a mathematical reason for thinking of the coherent entities in the world as centers not as wholes. If I want to be accurate about a whole it is natural for me to ask where that whole starts and stops. Suppose, for example, I am talking about a fishpond, and want to call it a whole. To be accurate about it in a mathematical theory, I want to be able to draw a precious boundary around this whole, and say for each point in space whether it is part of this set of points or not. But this is very hard to do. Obviously the water is part of the fishpond. What about the concrete it is made of ..? the air which is just about the pond? … the pipes bringing in the water? These are uncomfortable questions … The pond does exist. Our trouble is that we don’t know how to define it exactly. But the trouble comes from referring to it as a ‘whole.’ That kind of terminology seems to make it necessary for me to draw an exact boundary … That is the mistake.

When I call a pond a center, the situation changes … the fuzziness of edges becomes less problematic. The reason is that the pond, as an entity, is focused towards its center. It creates a field of centeredness. But, obviously, this effect falls off … the organization of the pond is caused by a field effect in which the various elements work together to produce this phenomenon of a center. This is true physically … and it is also true mentally in my perception of that pond … The same is true for window, door, walls, or arch. None of them can be exactly bounded. They are all entities which have a fuzzy edge, and whose existence lies in the fact that they exist as centers in the portion of the world which they inhabit.

… if I call it a center, it already tells me something extra … it makes me aware of the larger pattern of things, and the way this particular element … fits into that pattern.

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

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Christopher Alexander – The Idea of Wholeness


The pictures embedded in this excerpt (and their locations in it) were drawn (and placed) by me in an attempt to replicate those that are presented in the book (and should therefore not be considered as belonging to the original work).

“Intuitively we may guess that the beauty of a building, its life, and its capacity to support life all come from the fact that it is working as a whole. A view of the building as a whole means that we see it as part of an extended and undivided continuum. It is not an isolated fragment in itself, but part of the world which includes the gardens, walls, trees, streets beyond its boundaries, and other buildings beyond those. And it contains many wholes within it – also unbounded and continuous in their connections.

… wholeness has been widely discussed by many writers in the 20th century: it is one of the main themes of contemporary thought …

… local parts exist chiefly in relation to the whole, and their behavior and character and structure are also determined by the larger whole in which they exist and which they create.

… no one has yet formulated a way of understanding just what this wholeness is …

The general idea is that the wholeness in any part of space is the structure defined by all the various coherent entities that exist in that part of space, and the way these entities are nested in and overlap each other.

To come to grips with this idea, I start by considering a very simple structure, and examining it from the point of view of its wholeness. On the right is a sketch of a blank sheet of paper. Then I place one dot on it. Although the dot is tiny, its impact on the sheet of paper is very great.

… As a whole, an entirely new configuration has come into being, and this configuration extends across the sheet of paper as a whole.

Any reasonable description of wholeness must capture this subtle and pervasive effect. But how does it work?

What is the configuration which exists after I place the dot? It may be described like this: around the dot there is a kind of halo

… Also, on each side of the dot … rectangles of  white space become  visible, as further ‘latent’ entities

There are four of these rectangles, and where they cross four other rectangles are formed in the four corners of the sheet … These corner rectangles are formed by the overlap of the other rectangles, but are also induced by the presence of the dot. In addition there are rays visible: four white rays going out from the dot parallel to the sides and forming a cross

and four other rays going from the dot to the four corners. These four rays are not all equally strong. Their relative strength depends on where the dot is on the paper.

… Therefore, including the main entity of the sheet itself, there are at least twenty entities created in the space of the paper by the dot.

… The basic idea of the wholeness, ad I define it, is that these stronger zones or entities, together, define the structure which we recognize as the wholeness of the sheet of paper with the dot.

The entities that come into existence in a configuration are not merely cognitive. They have a real mathematical existence, and are actually occurring features of the space itself … And they have different degrees of strength.

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

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Christopher Alexander – An Enormous Fact


The following excerpt mentions and relates to two images that are presented in the book and are helpful in relating to the excerpt. After some searching I found these two images which I feel carry a spirit similar the images shown in the book:

“I was lecturing to architecture students … and put on the screen the Bangkok slum house and the post-modern octagonal tower … I asked the students to choose which of the two, for them, seemed to have more life.

For some people the answer was obvious. For others, it was at first not a comfortable question. Some asked ‘What do you mean? … What is your definition of life?” … I made it clear I was not asking them to make a factual judgement, but just to decide which of the two, according to their own feeling, appeared to have more life …

Eighty-nine said that the Bangkok slum house has more life.
Twenty-one chose to say that the question didn’t make sense to them, or that they couldn’t make a choice.
No one said that the octagonal tower has more life.

To repeat, out of those 110 people, not a single one of them wanted to say (or was willing to say) that the postmodern building had more life than the Bangkok house. This shows an extraordinarily high level of agreement.

… Several of the architecture students among the twenty-one who said they could not judge the issue later came to me and told me that they had felt that the slum had more life, but did not feel comfortable saying so.

… I believe that these students were embarrassed by a conflict between the value they were being taught in architecture school, and a truth they perceived and could not deny.

… Indeed, I think there is no doubt that the students – many of them anyway – found the question disturbing, almost as if a secret, a hidden truth, were being dragged from them in spite of themselves.

… Simple though it is, the question has the power to bring perverted values into doubt.

… It would almost appear, then, that the present fashion in architecture is so hollow that its adherents need to prop it up by refusing to see the life in things, or by refusing to apply this criterion to decide what is good, bad, better.

…students sometime become uncomfortable when facing this question, because the moment it is asked, they already sense that most people will answer it the same way …

… if this life i things really exists as I am claiming, that fact along has enormous ramifications, it implies that many things in our society and way of life may have to change. Fear or a natural reluctance to consider these changes makes us intellectually timid, and less open to the fact itself.

… If typical examples of good design by 20th-century standards have less life than a slum in Bangkok … [then] any architect who wishes to defend modern and postmodern architecture will almost have to say, ‘This questions doesn’t make sense,’ just to defend his profession and his own self-worth as a professional.

Of course, the question ‘Which one makes you feel that it is more alive?’ is at root simply empirical. But that is exactly why it is so disturbing. Whatever the question means, it seems to probe an area of though which may have devastating results for the image-based style of architecture current toward the end of the 20th century.

… It is strange that a phenomenon of such power and of such generality – if true – should be missing from our general way of understanding the world. … We seem to have a fundamental observation – so far unexplained – that among pairs of events, bits of space, places, and particles of existence, we can usually judge that one has a greater degree of life and the other less, at least according to our feeling. And we have the observation that our experience of this life in things is roughly consistent from person to person.

… It is had to see how society could form a proper conception of its own existence without being cognizant of this fact. Yet, for the last hundred years, modern society has existed almost without this knowledge – and has even built institutions, organizations, and procedures on the basis of conceptions which are absolutely at odds with it.

… hypothesis: What we call ‘life’ is a general condition which exists, to some degree or other, in every part of space: brick, stone, grass, river, painting, building, daffodil, human being, forest, city. And further: The key to this ideas is that every part of space … has some degree of life, and that this degree of life is well defined, objectively existing, and measurable.”

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

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Power and Love


“Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

Martin Luther King via Adam Kahane


…  ha-tha yoga

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Christopher Alexander – Degrees of Life


“In the 20th-century scientific conception, what we meant by life was defined chiefly by the life or an individual organism. We consider as an organism any carbon-oxygen-hydrogen-nitrogen system which is capable of reproducing itself, healing itself, and remaining stable for some particular lifetime … There are plenty of uncomfortable boundary problems: For example, is a fertilized egg alive during its first few minutes? Is a virus alive? Is a forest alive (as a whole …) …

… We have have, it is true, begun some extrapolations of this idea of life … For example, we have somehow managed to extend the mechanistical concept of life to cover ecological systems (even though strictly speaking an ecological system is no alive, because it does not meet the definition of a self-replicating organism). We consider an ecological system … though not alive itself,certainly associated with biological life.

… But this extrapolation will not do to help us understand truly complex systems as living things. The mixture of natural and man-made … raises complicated questions of definition, which we have hardly begun to answer.

… Throughout this book, I shall be looking for a broad conception of life, in which each thing – regardless of what it is – has some degree of life. Each stone, rafter, and piece of concrete has some degree of life. The particular degree of life which occurs in organisms will then be seen as merely a special case of a broader conception of life.

… In the present scientific world-view, a scientist would not be willing to consider a wave breaking on the short as a living system. If I say to her that this breaking wave does have some life, the biologist will admonish me and say, ‘I suppose you mean that the wave contains many micro-organisms, and perhaps a couple of crabs, and that therefore it is a living system.’ But that is not what I mean at all. What I mean is that the wave itself – the system which in present-day science we have considered as a purely mechanical hydrodynamical system of moving water – has some degree of life. And what I mean, in general, is that every single part of the matter-space continuum has life in some degree, with some parts having very much less, and others having very much more.

… If the conception of life is completely general, we shall then be able to extend it from the purely natural (such as conservation of a beautiful stand of trees), to the cooperation between natural and man-made (roads, streets, gardens, fields) and then also to the building themselves (roofs, walls, windows, rooms) … we can then simply proceed with the general idea that all of our work has to do with the creation of life and that the task, in any particular project, is to make the building come to life as much as possible.

… I shall … try to persuade you, by example, that we do feel that there are different degrees of life in things – and that this feeling is rather strongly shared by almost everyone.

… it is undeniable – at least as far as our feeling is concerned, that a … breaking wave feels as it if has more life as system of water than an industrial pool stinking with chemicals. So does the ripple of a tranquil pond.

… A fire, which is not organically alive, feels alive. And a blazing bonfire may feel more alive than a smoldering ember …

Gold feels alive. The peculiar yellow color of naturally occurring gold, so different from pyrites, or from the gold in the jeweller’s shop, has an eerie magical essence that feels alive. This is not because of its monetary value. It got its monetary value originally because it had this profound feeling attached to it. Naturally occurring platinum, comparable in value … [does] not have the same feeling of life at all.

… We often see a piece of wood and marvel at its life; another piece of wood feels more dead ….

… We shall see later that this feeling that there is more life in one case than the other is correlated with a structural difference in the things themselves – a difference which can be made precise, and measured.

… One person may be glowing with life, which transmits to everyone around. Another person is drooping … different organisms, all alive in the strictly mechanical sense, impress us as having more life or less life.

… it is this feeling of life and love of nature which stimulated the young discipline of ecology … we recognize degrees of life, or degrees of health, in different ecological systems … one meadow is more alive than another, one stream more alive … one forest more tranquil, more vigorous, more alive, than another dying forest … we experience degree of life as an essential concept which goes to the heart of our feelings about the natural world, and which nourishes us fundamentally, as a fact about the world.

… The ‘Life’ which I am talking about also includes the living essence of ordinary events in our everyday worlds … a back-street Japanese restaurant … an Italian town square  … an amusement park  … a bunch of cushions thrown into a corner window-seat … This quality includes an overall sense of functional liberation and free inner spirit. It makes us feel comfortable. Above all it makes us feel alive when we experience it.

… It has nothing to do with images. It occurs most deeply when things are simply going well, when we are having a good time, or when we are experiencing joy or sorrow – when we experience the real.

Under these circumstances, we are free of our concepts, able to react directly to the circumstance we encounter, and least constrained by affectations, concepts, and ideas. This is the central teaching of Zen and all mystical religions. It is also the condition in which we are able to see the wholeness which exists around us, feel it directly, and respond to it.

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



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