“Life is a mask through which the universe expresses itself. We assume that all of humankind and its supportive life forms represent a natural community.”
Frank Herbert

Children of Dune

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

Nature of Order - Table of Contents"