“This time, however, my fear was a true novelty. It came from an unknown part of the world and hit me in an unknown part of myself.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Christopher Alexander – Freedom of the Spirit

A discussion of svatantra

“Can it really be true that something as elusive as freedom – and perhaps the even deeper capacity to be human – depends in some way on the environment? Is it possible that the rude form of walls, windows, and roads could affect something so subtle and precious as the freedom, or the wholeness, of a person?

The effect I suggest is large, but subtle, and resembles the effect of trace elements in the human body … certain vitamins … and … even certain rare metals – have a disproportionate impact on the health of a human body … they are necessary in tiny quantities, since they make possible the construction of crucial enzymes, which themselves catalyze crucial and highly repetitive components of protein synthesis …

… They are used again and again and again in reactions which happen millions of times per day. Without this catalysis, the major and more gross processes of the body simply break down. The impact of the geometry of our environment … has a similar, nearly trace like effect on our emotional, social, spiritual, and physical well-being.

A healthy human being is able, essentially, to solve problems, to develop, to move towards objects of desire, to contribute to the well-being of others in society, to create value in the world, and to love, to be exhilarated, to enjoy. The capacity to do these many positive things, to do them well, and to do the freely, is natural. It arises by itself. It cannot be created artificially in a person, but it needs to be released, given room. It does need to be supported. It depends, simply, on the degree to which a person is able to concentrate on these things, not on others. And this steady-mindedness, even in joy, is damaged by the extent to which other unresolved or unresolvable conflicts take up mental and physical space in the person’s daily life.

Such damaging interference from extraneous factors can take many forms … hunger … disease … physical danger … dysfunctional family … More subtle issues can also create preoccupation, hence damage, to the individual … conflict in the workplace … personal tragedy … family problems … money problems … And still more subtle … a chance remark can throw off a person’s functioning for a day or two; a badly fitting shoe, a headache … irritating noise …

Of course, it is often said that challenge makes us more alive … The nature of interference caused by hardship and conflict must therefore be very well understood … before we can say that we have a clear picture of its effects – either negative or positive.

… It will be accepted, I think, that the best environment would be one in which each person can become as alive as possible – that is as vibrant intellectually, physically and morally …

The psychologist Max Wetheimer once wrote a short article called ‘A Story of Three Days,’ in which he proposed a simple, and extraordinary definition of freedom … true freedom lies in the ability a person has to react appropriately to any given circumstance … anything which causes a blockage of this ability … causes a loss of freedom.”

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



Nature of Order - Table of Contents"