“Finally, I don’t understand humans. We line up and make a lot of noise about big environmental problems like incinerators, waste dumps, acid rain, global warming and pollution. But we don’t understand that when we add up all the tiny environmental problems each of us creates, we end up with those big environmental dilemmas.”
Joseph Jenkins

The Humanure Handbook

Christopher Alexander – The Fifteen Properties in Nature

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I chose to do a brief summary of this section, giving preference to the wholeness of the theme of the properties in nature (over giving more attention to each property). It was a journey, first reading through it, not knowing how/what to extract. By the time I read through, certain excerpts popped out of the latter properties and gave shape to this whole summary. All the images are inspired by the text though collected from the vastness of the internet (so inspired by and similar, but not the same as those in the book).

“If we are to use the theory of centers – and the concept of life – as the basis of all architecture, it would be reassuring to know that wholeness, together with the properties which bring centers to life, is a necessary feature of material reality, not merely a psychological aspect of things which arises during perception of works of art.

… According to a ‘cognitive’ interpretation, the centers could merely exist in the mind’s eye … and the fifteen properties … could also exist merely as artifacts of cognition …

… I shall argue that nature too is understandable in terms of wholeness … I shall try to show that the structure of centers I call wholeness goes deeper than mere cognition, is linked to the functional and practical behavior of the natural world … and is as much at the foundation of physics and biology as it is of architecture.

1: Levels of Scale

… in any system where there is good functional order it is necessary that there be functional coherence at different levels, hence necessary that there are recognizable hierarchies in the organization of these functional systems.

electrical discharge

 

mud cracks

2: Strong Centers

Many natural processes have centers of action. The action, or development, of force-field radiates outwards from some system of centers … In physics we hae the fact that electric, magnetic, gravitational, and nuclear forces are created by spatially symmetrical fields, thus often creating centrally and bilaterally symmetrical structures.

 

common spotted orchid

 

coral

3: Boundaries

In nature, we see many systems with powerful, thick boundaries. The thick boundaries evolve as a result of the need for functional separations and transitions between different systems. They occur essentially because wherever two very different phenomena interact, there is also a ‘zone of interaction’ which is a thin in itself, as important as the things which it separates.

the sun’s corona

 

Rio Negro joins the Amazon

4: Alternating Repetition

In nature most of the repetitions which occur are alternating … Repetition itself of course occurs simply because there are only a limited number of archetypal forms available, and the same ones repeat over and over again, whenever the same conditions occur … In most of these cases of natural repetition, the repeating units do alternate with a second structure, which also repeats … The defining feature for alternating repetition lies in the fact that the secondary centers are coherent in their own right, are not left over.

fern leaf

 

muscle fiber

5: Positive Space

In the majority of naturally developed wholes, the wholes and the spaces between wholes form an unbroken continuum. This arises because wholes from ‘from the inside’ according to their specific functional organization … the positiveness of the space – what we might also call the convexity and compactness of the centers which form – is the outward manifestation of internal coherence in the physical system.

crazing in porcelain glaze

 

soap bubbles

6: Good Shape

Good shape is a geometrical figure – often curved – which has in it some major center that is intensified by various minor centers.

Tulip leaf

 

Chladni figures

7: Local Symmetries

In general these symmetries occur in nature because there is no reason for asymmetry; an asymmetry only occurs when it is forced … In addition, the existence of local symmetries in nature corresponds to the existence of minimum energy and least-action principles. In the majority of these cases, it is also the presence of layer upon layer of subsymmetry at smaller scales which is important.

crystal growth

 

Dwarf Dogwood

8: Deep Interlock and Ambiguity

Deep interlock comes about in many natural systems because neighboring systems interact most easily along extended or enlarged surfaces, where the surface area is large compared with the volume … Ambiguity, a similar phenomenon, comes about when a subsystem belongs to two different overlapping larger systems. One of the most important and dramatic example … exists in the case of the molecule … the molecule is given its structure by the overlap of the electrons in the outer electron shells of the component atoms … the stability of the molecule … is determined by the depth of overlap or interpenetration of the electron shells.

cross section of a cerebellum

 

magnetic domain

 

a giraffe’s coat

9: Contrast

Many – perhaps all – natural systems obtain their organization and energy from the interaction of opposites … It would be extremely hard to show, from first principles, why contrast must arise, necessarily, as a property of any naturally occurring system, and one wonders whether the matter is not merely cognitive. We read contrast; our cognition depends on it; therefore we think its important. And yet, the fundamental contrast of dark and light, positive and negative, can hardly be an artifact of our cognition.

Purple Emperor butterfly

10: Gradients

… Any time that a quantity varies systematically, through space, a gradient is established … The idea of regular gradient-like variation is fundamental to the whole integral and differential calculus, and it is the fact that these mathematical tools are closely mirrored in many phenomena of nature that is essentially responsible to the success mathematical physics has had.

Spider Web

 

Nautilus Shell

11: Roughness

An irregular world struggling to be regular always achieves a certain level of regularity which is interrupted by unusual configurations created by the very forces that produce the regularity as they act against a framework of three-dimensional constraints inherent in space … Roughness, far from being caused by inaccuracy … occurs where there is a partial misfit between a very well defined order and the space or configuration where it occurs. This forces an apparent irregularity, not for its own sake but to create a greater regularity.

A raft of bubbles, representing crystal dislocations, shows that roughness is inevitable in crystal growth under natural conditions

 

zebra stripes

12: Echoes

In all natural systems, deep-lying fundamental processes ultimately give geometric forms to the static structure of the system. These processes repeat certain typical angles and proportions over and over again, and it is the statistical character of these angles and proportions which determines the morphological character of the system and its parts – even within parts which seem superficially different.

x-ray of a lily

 

Everest – North Ridge

13: The Void

The void corresponds to the fact that differentiation of minor systems almost always occur in relation to the ‘quiet’ of some larger and more stable system. Thus smaller structures tend to appear around the edge of larger and more homogeneous structures.

eye of storm

 

Void in river valley

14: Simplicity and Inner Calm

Simplicity and inner calm is the Occam’s razor of any natural system: each configuration occurring in nature is the simplest one consistent with its conditions.

ginko leaf x-ray

15: Not-Separateness

Not-separateness corresponds to the fact that there is no perfect isolation of any system , and that each part of every system is always part of the larger system in the world around it and is connected to them deeply in its behavior.

edge of a lake

Summary

From the examples in this chapter, we see that the fifteen properties appear again and again throughout nature. They occur and recur at every scale … Virtually always, the specific structure of centers in a given case can be explained as a result of forces and processes which are mechanical in the conventional sense … However, such mechanical explanations do not explain why the properties themselves keep showing up.

… The reason that a human blood cell has a thick boundary is that it ‘needs’ a processing zone, where inputs to the cell are filtered and distributed before reaching the nucleus … The reason that the Rio Tapajos has an immense boundary when it enters the water of the Amazon is that the silt deposits which come down the river are hurled out into the water of the larger river, creating a chain of islands along both sides of the stream, for nearly one hundred miles … the reason that the sun has a thick boundary – the corona … is a temperature gradient from the hot interior of the sun to the cold of outer space … It does not seem possible to dismiss the appearance of thick boundaries as meaningless or as a coincidence. One guesses that there must be some higher order explanation …

… One wonders, then, if there might be a more general language for talking about function than the one we are used to …”

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

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Christopher Alexander – The Family of Living Systems

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“Together, the fifteen properties identify the character of living systems…

The things and systems in the world which are most dead – the most image-laden buildings and artifacts, the most sterile housing projects, the most damaged ecological systems, the most poisoned streams – will have these properties to the least degree.

Thus, although these properties define a vast family of possible placed and objects amd systems, all the member of this family have life in some degree … the fifteen properties define the enormous family of systems, among all possible systems, which have life in them.

The fact that it is possible to characterize this family at all is surprising. The family which is so defined is very complex morphologically…

… It is not too much to say that any building which has life in it, must be a recognizable member of this family. Any doorknow whichhas life, any window, any garden path, which has life in it, must be a recognizable member of this family.”

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

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 15: Not-Separateness

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… 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

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Yoga Practice Reflection – Sping 2018

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted a practice review. I am not much inclined to doing so. I am in a period of relative silence, not inclined to talking too much (especially if not asked to). So this is mostly note-taking for myself.

This is what my current practice looks like this (this is a short-hand anotation that presumes familiarity with this style of practice):

It’s built around the same skeleten is has been for ~3 years. A couple of new ideas were introduced last year when I met with Paul face-to-face. It has been through continuous unfolding.

Last year was a hectic year and felt very disruptful to my practice: my trip to Hawaii, my yearly allergy, Iulia injuring herself, my attempt to be involved in Ceptr/Holochain … and other “life happenings”. Whenin fall, I felt settled into practice I felt like I had a long journey of recovery ahead of me. I chose to skip my yearly visit to Israel to meet my teachers, preferring to enter a prolonged period of undisturbed practice. Sometime in early January I felt that I “caught up with myself” – that I reconnected with an experience of stable containment and vitality.

Gradually I felt I was able to inhabit a full practice (as described above) and it too has been continuously unfolding. In the initial phase (first half of winter) I felt a return to presence-in-body. Then I felt a return to a beath-development cycle. When I felt vitality returning I re-introduced back-bends. I then gradually extended seated forward bends to include stays in maha-mudra (initially staying for 2 breaths, then 4) until maha-mudra became its own place.

The last piece added to the puzzle was the seated-twist. Though I already had a relationship with it last year, I felt that I did not have the vitality to hold it, that it drained me. When I finally felt welcome to bring it in, the meeting was soft and welcoming.

During this time I also did a 1-on-1 training with Paul around chanting. I’ve been familiar with chanting from my years of training with Paul, but I never studied it officially. Now I have, and I feel drawn in. I feel softness and spaciousness at the notion of softening my grip on my physical body and acquainting myself with my vibrational body. In chanting Paul has invited me to focus less on the meaning of the words and more on an experience of sustained vibration generated through subtle aspects of sounded-sanskrit.

The practice is now about two hours long. It occupies the first part of my day (unless life diverts my attention elsewhere).

Pranayama

When I met Paul 14 months ago I received 4 practice variations:

  1. 10.0.10.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    15.0.15.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
  2. 10.0.10.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.4.12.4 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
  3. 8.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.0.12.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    12.4.12.4 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    8.0.8.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi
  4. 12.0.12.0 x16br pratiloma ujjayi
    6.0.6.0 x8br pratiloma ujjayi
    4.0.4.0 x4br ujjayi

I explored almost the entire set last winter/early spring. After settling back into practice I started over. I started with variant 3 and then moved to variant 2. By mid-January I felt that I was ready to move onto variant 1, but then experienced blockage coming and going mostly in my right nostril. I was able to hold variant 2, but not to move on. I feel I’ve learned something about my blocked nasal passages (its subtle and I may try to go into more detail in a separate post). I am now transitioning to variant 1. It is my default practice, though on days where I feel blocked, I may still revert to variant 2.

I feel that I have an increased breathing capacity (that I could softly transition also to variant 4), but that the nasal blockage is holding me back.

 

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Christopher Alexander – Fundamental Property 14: Simplicity and Inner Calm

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“Wholeness, life, has a way of being always simple …

It has to do with a certain slowness, majesty, quietness, which I think of as inner calm. It is present in this Shaker cabinet … but is almost totally missing from the peculir stylized Italian chairs from the 1920’s.

The quality comes about when everything unnecessary is removed. All centers that are not actively supporting other centers are stripped out, cut out, excised. What is left, when boiled away, is the structuer in a state of inner calm. It is essential that the great beauty and intricacy of ornament go only just far enough to bring this calm into being, and not so far that it destroys it …

Simplicity and inner calm is not only to be produced by simplicity … the wild Norwegian dragon … has inner calm even though it is so complex … So it is not true that outward simplicity creates inner calm; it is only inner simplicity, true simplicity of heart, which creates it.”

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

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