“He did not know why he chose this particular moment to emerge from hiding except that it fitted him into an acceptable flow of human movement.”
Frank Herbert

Heretics of Dune

Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 15: Not-Separateness

… this one touched me personally. As I collected  it I sensed a poignant self-critical voice rising up “this so describes, separate from the world” … but I didn’t like or resonate with the “egocentric” implication. As the initial impact passed, I came to realize that “no, this does not describe me” … that my feeling separate is not just about me but about the surroundings in which I reside. There are settings that make me feel separate, but there are settings that make me feel integrated. Granted, there seems to be in my life more of the former than the latter … but that very difference is a testament to non-separateness … there is no “me” without a context.

… I wonder how Christopher Alexander felt when he was trying to work true to his approach in a professional environment that resisted living structures … and what it was like for him to fight for the right to teach this to students … did he experience being separate in these hostile environments?

“… What not-separateness means, quite simply, is that we experience a living whole as being at one with the world, and not separate from it …

In a center which is deeply coherent there is a lack of separation … between that center and the other centers which surround it, so that the various centers melt into one another and become inseparable …

… when a thing lacks life, is not whole, we experience it as being separate from the world and from itself. It stands out … This house is utterly isolated. It is intended to stand out. And it does stand out as an awkward triumph of egocentricity. It fails, thoroughly, to be not-separate.

The “X” house, New York. Not-separateness entirely missing: separate and ego-filled

This is, finally, perhaps the most important property of all. In my experiments with shapes and buildings, I have discovered that the other fourteen ways in which centers come to life will make a center which is compact, beautiful, determined, subtle – but which, without this fifteenth property, can still often somehow be strangely separate, cut off from what lies around it, lonely, awkward in its loneliness, too brittle, too sharp, perhaps too well delineated – above all too egocentric, because it shouts ‘look at me, look at me, look at how beautiful I am.’

Those unusual things which have the power to heal, the depth and inner light of real wholeness, are never like this. They are never separate, always connected. With them, usually, you cannot really tell where one thins breaks off and the next begins, because the thing is smokily drawn into the world around it, and softly draws this world into itself. It connects. It asserts the continuity of space, the continuity of all of us …

Not-separateness in an ancient English wheat barn

… The correct connection to the world will only be made if you are conscious, willing, that the thing you make be indistinguishable from its surroundings, that, truly, you cannot tell where one ends and the next begins, and you do not even want to be able to do so.

The sophisticated version of this rule, which comes about when we apply the rule recursively to its own products … which ties the whole together inside itself, which never allows one part to be too proud, to stand out too sharp against the next, but assures that each part melts into its neighbors, just as the whole melts into its neighbors, too.

A path which is connected to the earth

… This quality, geometrically, depends especially on the state of the boundary. In things which have not-separateness, there is often a fragmented boundary, an incomplete edge, which destroys the hard line … Often, too, there is a gradient at the boundary, a soft edge caused by a gradient in which scale decreases … this is why things get smaller at the edge – it destroys the hard edge. Finally, the actual boundary is sometimes rather careless, deliberately placed to avoid any simple complete sharp cutting off of the thing from its surroundings … “

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

Nature of Order - Table of Contents"