“There is a significant difference between not getting a deal signed and having your head cut off. Business is mental. War is mental and physical. The true warrior has not difficulty understanding this difference regardless of all the hype suggesting that ‘business is war’. It absolutely is not.”
Stephen F. Kaufman

The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings

Christopher Alexander – Seeing Wholeness

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“Learning to see … wholeness … not muddled or contaminated by words and concepts, is extremely difficult, but it is possible to learn …

When we see wholeness as it is, we recognize that [its] seeming parts … are merely arbitrary fragments which our minds have been directed to, because we happen to have words for them. If we open our eyes wide, and look at the scene without cognitive prejudice, we see something quite different …

Although one may be misled into thinking about design, the features which design seems to deal with are minor, have less importance. The centers – the coherent entities which form the whole – are life affirming, massive in their effect, and tremendously concrete, so that minor changes in a design could not sway them, or upset them, or change them.

… What does it mean to see all this from the point of view of wholeness? I notice the sunny part of the garden itself as a space. The place where the roses are climbing near the kitchen catches my eye. The path to the front door, and the steps from the back porch, and the door itself … of the house … all work as a unit, as a continuous center about 40 feet log. The sunshine and the roof edge, with the rafters repeating under the eve, together form a pattern of light and shadow which leads my eye, and forms a boundary of the house against the sky …

All this is much more like a pulsating unity than the ‘conceptual’ or intellectual image of the house. In our conceptual picture of the house we have things called street, garden, roof, front door, and so on. But the centers or entities which hit my eye when I take it all in as a whole are slightly different …

The difference is deeply functional, not just a matter of visual perception. The centers we see when we look at the thing in its wholeness are the ones which are responsible for its real behavior.

… the centers …. control the real behavior of the thing, the life which develops there, the real human events which happen, and the feelings people have about living there. The house-garden complex seen in its wholeness is truer perceptually and more accurate functionally than any analytic vision of the house or lot or garden taken by themselves.”

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

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Christopher Alexander – Wholeness is Subtle and Fluid

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“The wholeness in any given part of space is highly fluid, and easily affected by very small changes of geometry. Indeed wholeness changes continuously through time … [and] changes in the configuration in it and around it.

… wholeness … is induced in the whole. It cannot easily be predicted from the parts, and it is useless to think of it as a relationship ‘among the parts’ …

… we must learn to avoid the danger of trying to see centers made up of parts … The key aspect of this belief is the idea that the parts come ‘before’ the whole … the parts exist as elements of some kind, which are then brought into relationship with one another, or combined, and a center is ‘created’ out of these parts and their combinations as a result.

I believe accurate understanding of wholeness is quite different … The center is not made from parts. Rather, it would be more true to say that most of the parts are created by the wholeness … This is analogous to the way a whirlpool is created in a stream. The stream whirls, and the centers we see as the whirling (vortex, stream-lines, etc.) are created by the larger configuration of banks, rocks and so forth. So, within this whirling, we observe a whirlpool which has formed.

… centers … are induced within the wholeness, and come from the wholeness. And because of this, the parts are adapted and modified, in shape and size, by their positions within the whole.

… The flower is not made from petals. The petals are made from their role and position in the flower.”

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

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Christopher Alexander – Centers

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“We may consider any configuration in the world, a building, a street, a room full of people, a forest. Each has its wholeness. By that I mean that there are visible within that thing, a huge number of entities, at different scales … and that the totality of these entities with the way they are nested constitute the wholeness of the thing. We may think of these entities as parts (as they may sometimes seem to us) or as local wholes or sub-wholes. But, as I have illustrated in the case of the sheet of paper and the dot, these parts and entities are rarely pre-existing. They are more often themselves created by the wholeness. This apparent paradox is a fundamental issue in the nature of wholeness: the wholeness is made of parts, the parts are created by the wholeness. To understand wholeness we must have a conception in which ‘parts’ and wholes work in this holistic way.

… I have learned to call them … ‘centers.’ What this means is that each one of these entities has, as its defining mark, the fact that it appears to exist as a local center within a larger whole.

There is a mathematical reason for thinking of the coherent entities in the world as centers not as wholes. If I want to be accurate about a whole it is natural for me to ask where that whole starts and stops. Suppose, for example, I am talking about a fishpond, and want to call it a whole. To be accurate about it in a mathematical theory, I want to be able to draw a precious boundary around this whole, and say for each point in space whether it is part of this set of points or not. But this is very hard to do. Obviously the water is part of the fishpond. What about the concrete it is made of ..? the air which is just about the pond? … the pipes bringing in the water? These are uncomfortable questions … The pond does exist. Our trouble is that we don’t know how to define it exactly. But the trouble comes from referring to it as a ‘whole.’ That kind of terminology seems to make it necessary for me to draw an exact boundary … That is the mistake.

When I call a pond a center, the situation changes … the fuzziness of edges becomes less problematic. The reason is that the pond, as an entity, is focused towards its center. It creates a field of centeredness. But, obviously, this effect falls off … the organization of the pond is caused by a field effect in which the various elements work together to produce this phenomenon of a center. This is true physically … and it is also true mentally in my perception of that pond … The same is true for window, door, walls, or arch. None of them can be exactly bounded. They are all entities which have a fuzzy edge, and whose existence lies in the fact that they exist as centers in the portion of the world which they inhabit.

… if I call it a center, it already tells me something extra … it makes me aware of the larger pattern of things, and the way this particular element … fits into that pattern.

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

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Christopher Alexander – The Idea of Wholeness

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The pictures embedded in this excerpt (and their locations in it) were drawn (and placed) by me in an attempt to replicate those that are presented in the book (and should therefore not be considered as belonging to the original work).

“Intuitively we may guess that the beauty of a building, its life, and its capacity to support life all come from the fact that it is working as a whole. A view of the building as a whole means that we see it as part of an extended and undivided continuum. It is not an isolated fragment in itself, but part of the world which includes the gardens, walls, trees, streets beyond its boundaries, and other buildings beyond those. And it contains many wholes within it – also unbounded and continuous in their connections.

… wholeness has been widely discussed by many writers in the 20th century: it is one of the main themes of contemporary thought …

… local parts exist chiefly in relation to the whole, and their behavior and character and structure are also determined by the larger whole in which they exist and which they create.

… no one has yet formulated a way of understanding just what this wholeness is …

The general idea is that the wholeness in any part of space is the structure defined by all the various coherent entities that exist in that part of space, and the way these entities are nested in and overlap each other.

To come to grips with this idea, I start by considering a very simple structure, and examining it from the point of view of its wholeness. On the right is a sketch of a blank sheet of paper. Then I place one dot on it. Although the dot is tiny, its impact on the sheet of paper is very great.

… As a whole, an entirely new configuration has come into being, and this configuration extends across the sheet of paper as a whole.

Any reasonable description of wholeness must capture this subtle and pervasive effect. But how does it work?

What is the configuration which exists after I place the dot? It may be described like this: around the dot there is a kind of halo

… Also, on each side of the dot … rectangles of  white space become  visible, as further ‘latent’ entities

There are four of these rectangles, and where they cross four other rectangles are formed in the four corners of the sheet … These corner rectangles are formed by the overlap of the other rectangles, but are also induced by the presence of the dot. In addition there are rays visible: four white rays going out from the dot parallel to the sides and forming a cross

and four other rays going from the dot to the four corners. These four rays are not all equally strong. Their relative strength depends on where the dot is on the paper.

… Therefore, including the main entity of the sheet itself, there are at least twenty entities created in the space of the paper by the dot.

… The basic idea of the wholeness, ad I define it, is that these stronger zones or entities, together, define the structure which we recognize as the wholeness of the sheet of paper with the dot.

The entities that come into existence in a configuration are not merely cognitive. They have a real mathematical existence, and are actually occurring features of the space itself … And they have different degrees of strength.

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

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Christopher Alexander – An Enormous Fact

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The following excerpt mentions and relates to two images that are presented in the book and are helpful in relating to the excerpt. After some searching I found these two images which I feel carry a spirit similar the images shown in the book:

“I was lecturing to architecture students … and put on the screen the Bangkok slum house and the post-modern octagonal tower … I asked the students to choose which of the two, for them, seemed to have more life.

For some people the answer was obvious. For others, it was at first not a comfortable question. Some asked ‘What do you mean? … What is your definition of life?” … I made it clear I was not asking them to make a factual judgement, but just to decide which of the two, according to their own feeling, appeared to have more life …

Eighty-nine said that the Bangkok slum house has more life.
Twenty-one chose to say that the question didn’t make sense to them, or that they couldn’t make a choice.
No one said that the octagonal tower has more life.

To repeat, out of those 110 people, not a single one of them wanted to say (or was willing to say) that the postmodern building had more life than the Bangkok house. This shows an extraordinarily high level of agreement.

… Several of the architecture students among the twenty-one who said they could not judge the issue later came to me and told me that they had felt that the slum had more life, but did not feel comfortable saying so.

… I believe that these students were embarrassed by a conflict between the value they were being taught in architecture school, and a truth they perceived and could not deny.

… Indeed, I think there is no doubt that the students – many of them anyway – found the question disturbing, almost as if a secret, a hidden truth, were being dragged from them in spite of themselves.

… Simple though it is, the question has the power to bring perverted values into doubt.

… It would almost appear, then, that the present fashion in architecture is so hollow that its adherents need to prop it up by refusing to see the life in things, or by refusing to apply this criterion to decide what is good, bad, better.

…students sometime become uncomfortable when facing this question, because the moment it is asked, they already sense that most people will answer it the same way …

… if this life i things really exists as I am claiming, that fact along has enormous ramifications, it implies that many things in our society and way of life may have to change. Fear or a natural reluctance to consider these changes makes us intellectually timid, and less open to the fact itself.

… If typical examples of good design by 20th-century standards have less life than a slum in Bangkok … [then] any architect who wishes to defend modern and postmodern architecture will almost have to say, ‘This questions doesn’t make sense,’ just to defend his profession and his own self-worth as a professional.

Of course, the question ‘Which one makes you feel that it is more alive?’ is at root simply empirical. But that is exactly why it is so disturbing. Whatever the question means, it seems to probe an area of though which may have devastating results for the image-based style of architecture current toward the end of the 20th century.

… It is strange that a phenomenon of such power and of such generality – if true – should be missing from our general way of understanding the world. … We seem to have a fundamental observation – so far unexplained – that among pairs of events, bits of space, places, and particles of existence, we can usually judge that one has a greater degree of life and the other less, at least according to our feeling. And we have the observation that our experience of this life in things is roughly consistent from person to person.

… It is had to see how society could form a proper conception of its own existence without being cognizant of this fact. Yet, for the last hundred years, modern society has existed almost without this knowledge – and has even built institutions, organizations, and procedures on the basis of conceptions which are absolutely at odds with it.

… hypothesis: What we call ‘life’ is a general condition which exists, to some degree or other, in every part of space: brick, stone, grass, river, painting, building, daffodil, human being, forest, city. And further: The key to this ideas is that every part of space … has some degree of life, and that this degree of life is well defined, objectively existing, and measurable.”

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

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