“I have actually seen people contemplate their navels.”
John Heilpern

Conference of the Birds

Christopher Alexander – More of a Person


For the last months, I have been reflecting about this phenomenon from a slightly different perspective – using erosion/nourishment as a metaphor (I thought I had written something about this on the blog, but I couldn’t find it, so it could be that I spoke it out but didn’t put it in writing). I feel that some life experiences nourish me and that some erode me. Some experiences may generate both nourishment and erosion … but there is a sum experience … overall did it nourish me more or erode me more.

I tend to stay at home at Bhudeva because the overall experience here is nourishing for me. When I leave, even though I may go to something pleasurable and nourishing, the overall experience is usually one of erosion – I end up lesser (and requires a period of healing). I believe that this process is accumulative – that there is a sum experience of nourishment or erosion (which can express itself in many ways). I feel that unless I am attentive and caring with my life, erosion will dominate. Reading Alexander’s words (below) validates my experience.

Another interesting observation for me about this excerpt is that the integrated experience Alexander talks about of expansion/contraction is, as I was taught about Yoga, inverted. The feeling of expansion comes from a collected/contracted energy field while the feeling of contraction comes from a diffused (expanded) energy field.

” … the extent to which the observer experiences his or her own humanity rising or falling, expanding or contracting … If I pay careful attention to own state, from instant to instant during the day, I can notice that at different times I am more humane, or less: at one instant lethargic, at another filled with loving kindness and appreciation of the world; at another I am a son-of-a-bitch; at another loving  … I can watch, in myself, the continuing expanding and contracting of my own humanity.

For example … I was … on my way to a record store. I Stopped on the street to speak to a homeless man who often sits there. I sat down on the sidewalk with him … Something hard had happened to him just before – I could feel it in him; we sat and talked about it. Then, all of a sudden he put his hand on mine, pressed three fingers into the back of my hand. He left them there for a few seconds, without speaking. Then, slowly, he took his hand away. During those moments, I felt in my a great expanding of my humanity,,, For a few moments of silent communication, I was more than I usually am: more of a person.

Of course, it didn’t last. When I left him, as I walked away, my humanity started dropping down again. I went into the store. A few minutes later, I bought a record and went to the front desk to pay for it. I had a few words with the clerk. He took my credit card. Chit chat. Nice guy. Nothing out of the ordinary. But it was a mechanical transaction. The credit card. It was OK. But, very slightly, my own humanity was diminishing, just a little bit, while I went through the motions of paying with that card.

These things are happening in each of us all the time. At each instant, as I go through the world, because of what happens to me, and because of what I do, my humanity is expanding and diminishing all the time; sometimes for a an instant it is a little greater, sometimes for an instant it is a little smaller.

… So, the life in things that I have been writing about has a direct effect o me.”

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



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Christopher Alexander – Experience Beyond Descartes


“The factual character of modern science – what we call its objective nature – arises chiefly from the fact that its results can be shared …

What is vital, then, about any objective phenomenon is that the observation of its essential points lead to shared results …

To see the phenomenon of life as it really is, the methods used cannot be tied to the crutch of mechanism as the basis for the sharing of observations and results …

For example, when I was working out, and observing, issues of wholeness and life in a thing … I did not try to observe things as if I myself did not exist. Instead, again and again I tried to discern which of two objects was more like a mirror of my own self, which one had more feeling, which one seemed to have more life, which one made one experience greater wholeness in myself … then tried to find out what was correlated with the thing that I observed …

Thus it is not a question of opening the door to subjective fantasy. The matters in this book … extend and supplement the arena of permissible scientific observation in such a way tha the self of the observer is allowed to come into the picture in an objective way …

Yet the facts of experience that I have shown and used to build up my new picture of space/matter are available to anyone. I refer especially to the fact that different parts of space are seen to have different degrees of life. But precisely because the observational method of Descartes forbids us from seeing these facts  – or indeed these kinds of facts – these observations and these observed facts have dropped out of awareness in the modern era. That is essentially how our defective and anti-life view came into being in the modern era.

… I used a method of observation that allowed me to check the relative life of any given work as an objective matter … this method of observation, like the method of Descartes, still refers always to experience. It is empirical in nature. It dismisses fantasy and seeks constantly to avoid speculation … But where Descartes only allowed observation to focus on the outer reality of mechanisms in the world, my method requires that we focus on the inner reality of feeling as well.”

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


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Christopher Alexander – The Mirror of the Self Test


This section includes many visual examples (not shown in this excerpt) of applications of the methodology described in this excerpt

“To decide objectively which centers have more life and which ones have less life, we need an experimental method that allows people toe escape from the trap of subjective preference, and to concentrate instead on the real liking they feel

The methods I propose make use of the fact that each one of us, as an observer, is directly tuned to the phenomenon of wholeness … It accomplishes this awareness of wholeness, by asking people for a judgement which comes directly from their own feeling. I do not mean by this that we ask someone ‘Which one do you feel is best?’ I mean that we ask, specifically, which of the two things generates, in the observer, the most wholesome feeling? … to what degree each of the two things we are trying to judge is, or is not, a picture of the self …

As far as I have been able to discover, we can apply this question to virtually any two things whose degree of wholeness we are trying to compare …

… The question forces a kind of internal development and growth in the observer, so that he or she gradually comes face to face with what wholeness really is, and is able, step by step, slowly to give up his or her own idiosyncratic ideas about what is beautiful, and replace them with a lasting accuracy of judgement.

… A thing about which we choose to say … ‘That looks just the way I feel’ is always one-sided, has our peculiarity in it. It will be in no sense universal and this is because, in our immaturity, we try to forget the so-called bad things about our selves … But when we look for a thing which reflects everything, both our weakness and our happiness, our vulnerability and our strength, then we enter an entirely different domain. The question takes on a different meaning, and we find that different people do usually choose the same things.

… I assert, as a matter of fact, that the things which people truly and deeply like are precisely these things which have the mirror-of-the-self property to a very high degree …

… it is not so easy to find out what we really like. It is a skill and an art to become sensitive enough to living structure so that we see it accurately …

… It can take years and years to learn to perform this test correctly. Also in the process of learning it, one is forced to learn more and more about one’s own self. Thus even one’s understanding of one’s own self is changed by the task of learning to perform this test.

… the experiment is real and legitimate, but it is taking place within an immensely complex process in which you are both finding out about the relative degree of life in different things in the world and, at the same time, also finding out about your own wholeness and your own self …

… It is deep and difficult. The confusion, the gradual separation of preference from living structure, the difficulty of comparing notes and sorting out cultural bias and opinions foisted on us by others – getting through this maze does pay off in the end. There is a real quality which gradually emerges as the true thing which can be identified and relied upon.

… This is an arduous task.”

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


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Christopher Alexander – Liking from the Heart


“… contemporary ideas about what is likable are extremely confused. It is a current dogma that you may like what you wish, and that it is an essential part of democratic freedom to like whatever you decide to like. This occurs at a time when the mass media have taken over our ideas of what is likable to an extent unknown in human history. Thus if one were pessimistic, one might even say that there is very little authentic liking in our time. What people like can often not be trusted, because it does not come from the heart.

On the other hand, real liking, which does come from the heart, is profoundly linked to the idea of life in things. Liking something from the heart means that it makes us more whole in ourselves. It has a healing effect on us. It makes us more human. It even increases the life in us. Further, I believe that this liking from the heart is connected to perception of real structures in the world, that it goes to the very root of the way things are, and that is the only wat in which we can structures as they really are.

  1. The things we like … make us feel wholesome
  2. We also feel wholesome when we are making them
  3. The more accurate we are about what we really like … the more we find out that we agree with other people about which these things are.
  4. … As we get to know the ‘it’ which we like … we begin to see that this is the deepest thing there is. It applies to all judgements …
  5. … it is not easy to find what we really like, and it is by no means automatic to be in touch with it …
  6. The reasons for the existence of this deep liking are mysterious … [and] empirical … It is not a private matter.
  7. … the experience of real liking has to do with self.
  8. When we find out the things we really like, we are also more in touch with all that is.

… The main breakthrough in understanding will come when we are able to distinguish the everyday kind of liking (where we obviously do not agree about what we like) from the deeper kind of liking, where we agree, that forms the basis for good judgement …”

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

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Christopher Alexander – A Universal Personal


The picture in this excerpt is one of mine.

“In our present world-view, the word ‘personal’ is often taken to mean ‘idiosyncratic.’ Something is personal if it reflects the peculiarities of a given individual …

To my mind, this is a very shallow interpretation of what ‘personal’ really means. A thing is truly personal when it touches us in our humanity.

… from the point of view of the world picture in this book, ‘personal’ is a profound objective quality which inheres in something, It is not idiosyncratic but universal. It refers to something true and fundamental in a thing itself.

… When we deal with the field of centers, we are dealing with a realm of personal feeling in which feeling is a fact – as much a fact as the radiation from the sun, or the swinging of a pendulum.

When the field of centers is authentic, it is always personal. It if appears to have the right structure but is not personal, it is empty structure, only masquerading as life – and, in every case lke this, it will turn out that we have misjudged it structurally.

… Few things in the world are quite as moving as a meadow full of wildflowers  … why? … A flower is one of the most perfect fields of centers that occur in nature. And flowers in groups create highly complex living fields of centers, perhaps among the most beautiful in nature …

… The field of centers exists in a thing to that degree to which the thing has personal feeling …

Perhaps we are beginning to see that life – because of its structure, the field of centers – is inextricably connected with human feeling … This deep feeling is indeed a mark of life in things ..

Although within the canon of normal contemporary science we cannot imagine a kind of objective truth which is also personal in nature, thsi combination if sone of the most extraordinary and important aspects of the new structure which I call the wholeness. As the centers deepen, the personal feeling of the structure increases. It its personal feeling does not increase, its structure is not really getting deeper.

… we become happy in the presence of deep wholeness …

This theme … can in no way be regarded as proven … I merely take a first few steps toward the possibility that it may be so, and that it may oen day be recognized …

I believe the personal feeling I have touched on in this cahpter, which si directly connected to order and life, is a mobilization in which my vulnerable inner self becomes connected to the world. In increases my feeling of connection and participation in all things. It is feeling, not emotion. It does not – directly – have to do with happiness, or sadness, or anger.

… The external phenomenon we call wholeness or life in the world and the internal experience of personal feeling and wholeness within ourselves are connected. They are, at some level, one and the same.

… The ultimate criterion for whether something works in nature, just as in buildings, therefore also depends on the extent to which it resmebles the healthy human self.

… Wholeness and feeling are two sides of a single reality. Within the modern era, we have become used to the idea that feeling is something we experience subjectively – while life, it it exists, is something that exists objectively out there in the world of mechanics. In such a mental framework, the idea that feeling and wholeness are two sides of a single thing can hardly even be understood.

But as we study the phenomenon of wholeness, as I am trying to do, it teaches us to change our understanding, and to reach a reorganization of our ideas about the world in which this equivalence of living structure and deep personal feeling is not only makes sense but is also the most fundamental fact of our experience. “

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

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