“The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”
Albert Einstein

Christopher Alexander – It Must Be Us

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This quote comes at the end of another significant section which I did not draw quotes from (as was the case with sequences). It describes life-creating sequences can be interlinked into process-networks … it struck me as a fascinating balance between something specifically mechanical and yet filled with life. Ready-made quotes did not jumpt out at me, I could probably describe it, but I don’t want to yet. These are the (almost) final words of this section:

“If we are to imagine a process which can allow all of us in society to create our communal life together, then this process must – to an extraordinary extent – allow these ordinary feelings, our ordinary thoughts and passions, to enter the world and therefore to enter the processes by which the world is made. No bureaucrat can handle this for us. No well-meaning master-architect, along, will do it for us, not if what matters in the end is the tone of the jukebox, the smile of the waitress, the slightly raucous atmosphere in which the locals lean on the bar and eye each other, swapping tales, stifling their loneliness.

For all that to be contained, captured, brought to life, it must be us, mustn’t it – we ourselves – who do the deciding and at least some of the building, so that it is ours when it is finished, and we can still feel what it means to be alive in that thing, built, unfinished, but nevertheless open to our ordinary stories and our ordinary human life.

Well, now we can see why a refined and politely worked-out process will not do, why something conceived in the planning department, or in the professional pages of legislation, or in a professional code of ethics, will not sufficiently catch the glint of that something that engages us, here, in our life on Earth.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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David Graeber and David Wengrow: Ritual Seasonality and the Origins of Inequality

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Another gem from David Graeber (and friend) …

the core idea is that politics was a seasonal thing … during spring/summer (periods of abundance) society would fragment into small(er) groups of hunter-gatherers who went out on their expiditions and that formed one kind of social-political stage … and during winter they came together into larger social constructs – cities or states. These cyclic experiences gave our evolutionary ancestors an opportunity to experience a range of social structures from egalitarian (based on ideas of equality) to hierarchical ones … an opportunity to see different qualities, different benefits and downsides … and as a result an ability to navigate between the two … maybe some societies avoided hierarchical structures not out of ignorance but because they experienced the inherent problems with them …

David Graeber and David Wengrow: Palaeolithic Politics and Why It Still Matters 13 October 2015 from Radical Anthropology on Vimeo.

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Christopher Alexander on Gene Snippets

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“… the structure of social processes we created during the 20th century, again and again create a mental catch-22 situation where the means needed to escape from the anti-living process, are prohibited by the very process we are trying to replace.

… The key to the idea that will allow a system of workable morphogenetic sequences to evolve in a not-too great length of time, is highlighted in the genetic ideas of John Holland.

Holland has shown how an information system which guides a real world system may evolve and “learn” by gradually building effective models of functioning, in the form of “genes” … he describes the genes which we know in organisms as a special case of a much more general phenomenon …

…his discovery … mathematical reasons why the learning, and spreading, and successful evolution of … genes, will occur most successfully to the extent that the genes are small and independent … One example of his argument, is simply the fact that at the time of meiosis, when male and female chromosomes cross over and intermingle, the shorter the genes are, the less likely they are to be damaged at the crossover point, and the more likely, therefore, to survive and be passed on to later generations … merely one example of a more general argument … small independent “lumps” of coherent problem-solving information, the smaller they are, and the more independent, the more likely they are to survive and spread into the gene pool …

What is essentially remarkable about the genetic system is that, individually, genes are small … and largely interchangeable. Amazing, but true, that a gene which causes a certain desirable kind of enzyme activity can be transplanted from a fish to a person, sometimes even to a mushroom. Most genes are highly general in what they do. What they do is limited, but “snippable” – each one can be cut out and used, individually, by itself. The “snippet” – the individual genes … are effectively almost context-free …

This is the secret of biological evolution. I believe it will also turn out to be the secret of the evolution of the genes controlling the living structure of the earth and the built world on Earth.

… It is difficult to find the social conditions in which all the features of the construction process can change at the same time, hence extremely difficult to introduce such a new process as a whole. But suppose that the same improved process of contracting is broken up into, say, twenty separable sequences … each one … separable from the nineteen others, and can therefore be successfully injected by itself into an otherwise normal or mainstream system of construction. If the snippet works well, it may be adopted, and may spread to new construction methods …

What was difficult or impossible as a larger act of social transformation, becomes possible when one uses a genetic approach to achieve the same aims. What is needed is simply a way of ‘cutting up’ the original innovative process, into a small set of process genes or small sequences that work individually, and that are robust enough to work in a wide variety of contexts, even when not supported by others part of the new system.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

… the first example of this, that came to my mind, are the now common-in-Transition-practices of check-in in the beginnings and check-out at the ends of meetings … a “gene” from the “inner-transition chromosomes” introduced by Sophy Banks

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Christopher Alexander on a Pursuit of Wholeness

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This reminded me of Pirsig’s thoughts on contrarians:

“… you risk a great deal when working within a new paradigm which includes a) human relationships of trust, b) on-going decisions about trade-offs, c) the overall wisdom of how to spend a given modest amount of money to get the best from your money. It is risky within the current system based on a) legalisms, b) blueprints and contracts that preclude sensible adaptation, c) profit and gain, and d) too little human trust.

People who attempt to do these things will be in jeopardy when they attempt to do them within the present system.

… All in all, for more then 40 years I have had the experience that – on any given issue – three times out of four, what I instinctively wanted to do because I thought it was right, was at odds with somebody’s picture of how things ought to be. For years this seemed like a coincidence. Sometimes it seemed to my friends that I was just plain stubborn, ornery, ‘against everything’ – that I had a built in desire to be in conflict with people. But then, gradually, – and only fully in the last ten or fifteen years – it began to sink in that this apparent source of conflict had a straightforward origin. It came about, because my instincts were governed, as often as I found possible, by respect for life, respect for wholeness in the world (at least up to the limitation of my own ability to see it). What it did came from my desire to see the whole, and my desire to build according to the whole, and my refusal to give up on the whole.

… The pursuit of wholeness, pure and simple, was at odds with virtually every institutional and social reality of the 20th century.

… Of course the adventures which I have been living for more than forty years, now, and the observations I have made, might still be attributed to the monomania of a solitary individual, overzealous, who had a blindness to the format and procedures that are proper in the worlds of architecture and society.

… we need to preserve the sacred quality of our life and the life of our cities and our planet, and to seek a new form of processes in which we can be whole.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Svatantra: Entering the Temple of the Heart

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My teacher reflecting on Svatantra … which is the theme that has most touched and informed my own path of practice

“As his pupil my teacher worked at guiding me towards becoming increasingly independent in developing and refining more and more my personal practice skills so I became less and less dependent on him being the vehicle for if, when, where, what and how well I practice.

…. Thus he guided me into self-inspired and self-motivated practice without the need for neutral or even conducive surroundings to influence the mood, or please the eye, ear or nose. Of course adding these factors may arise as a fruit in terms of creating a supportive environment, but the message here was that the ‘temple’ we need to enter ultimately sits within the heart rather than within some external room or building.”

I too:

“am eternally grateful to the initiation into this process”

 

 

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Christopher Alexander on Frederick Taylor

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Frederick Taylor

Frederick Taylor … was one of the individuals who had the greatest influence on the 20th century. An American machinist working at the very end of the 19th century, Taylor conceived the idea of time-and-motion studies … which make the repetitive production of objects more efficient.

Taylor first inspired Henry Ford’s factory at Dearborn, the first highly efficient moder factory. Ford employed Taylor as a consultant while he planned and built this factory. Later, as a direct result of Taylor’s work, almost all natural and organic processes throughout the world which relied on judgment, participation, and common sense were replaced by a way of thinking about process, which relied on rules, rigidly applied, codification of category, task, function. What we know as the modern organization with machinelike repetition of processes, came from Frederick Taylor. What we know of as modern bureaucracy … came from the application of Frederick Taylor’s ideas to large human institutions … modern construction … modern agriculture …

It is amazing to realize that Taylor himself very well understood the positive social and human conditions of the living process he was trying to replace. Here is a quote from Taylor himself:

”Now, in the best of the ordinary types of management, the managers recognize frankly that the workmen who are under them possess a mass of traditional knowledge most of which is not within the possession of the management. The most experienced managers frankly place before their workmen the problem of doing the work in the best and most economical way. They recognize the task before them as that of inducing each workman to use his best endeavors, his hardest work, all his traditional knowledge, his skill, his ingenuity, and his good will, in a word, his initiative, so as to yield the largest possible return to his employer”

Taylor understood all this extremely well. And then, for reasons of money and efficiency, he deliberately set out to destroy it. Three principles of Taylorism are: (1) Disassociate the labor process from the skills. Labor must be independent of craft, tradition, and knowledge … (2) Separate conception from execution. (3) Gain monopoly over knowledge to control labor process … As Taylor himself wrote:

The full possibilities of my system will not have been realized until almost all of the machines in the shop are run by men who are of smaller caliber and attainment, and who are therefore cheaper than those required under the old system”

… I have given a short summary of Taylor’s ideas because even those of us who are thoroughly sick of the bureaucratic and machinelike character of modern society, will, in general, not be aware of the extent to which it all started with the work of one man, nor the extraordinary extent to which these changes were deliberate, conscious, willfull. Obviously, if all this was created by the deliberate thought of an individual – as indeed it was – it becomes easier for us to conceive the possibility of changing it.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

When I read the words “men who are of smaller caliber and attainment” I thought to myself … and then we set about creating systems of education which created (1) such men and (2) men educated to create such men more efficiently.

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Christopher Alexander on a Horizon for Architecture

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” … fundamental practical innovations of process are inevitable consequences of thinking correctly about the nature of living structure in buildings, and of facing honestly the task of creating living structure in the world.

‘A client … once asked me to plan a small town for about a thousand people, on the banks of the Sacramento River. As part of this work, I began working out a money-flow process for the first twenty-five years of the project, but one day she phoned me to say that she was worried about mis-using my genius as an architect. She didn’t want me to spend so much time thinking about the money flow, since other people could do that, but she wanted me to think more about he ‘design’. By that she meant the static pattern of buildings, streets, shapes, and so on. It took me quite some time to convince [here] that the flow of money, year after year, and they way this works to create a flow of construction in the town, are essential features of its life … and that is his process were put in someone else’s hands (an accountant for example …), it would become separated from the building forms, and therefore almost certainly wrong and inimical to the life of the place. The notion that beauty is the result merely of ‘design’ deeply pervades our contemporary consciousness … Although she had recognized the beauty of the buildings my colleagues and I had sometimes managed to build, and wanted that beauty for her own project – that inner thing which catches life – she was simply unaware that what made our buildings live was the process we used to create them.’

… it is precisely these innovations which attempt to change the system of processes most deeply, that are hardest for society to accept … really deep changes are ones which change jobs, and which therefore actually alter the capacity of the social system to let people create wholeness in the world, or to allow it to be created …

… that social process must necessarily be architectural process, and that architectural process must necessarily be life-creating…

That requires not merely that we improve the sequences and processes of our society. IT requires, specifically, that we make these processes architectural. That means they must be morphogenetic [creating or generating shape] … What I call morphogenetic is not different from ‘living’ – but it places emphasis on the form creating aspect … It is, therefore, ‘architectural’.

… Our built environment … is formed by the interaction of thousands of day-to-day rules, procedures, habits of thought and action. It is these processes, embedded in society, which create the form of the world…

… the larger task of making these processes genuinely morphogenetic – so that they generate deeper and more coherent living structure – still lies on the horizon.

… It may even be said that we could approach anew point of view in which THE primary function of society would be understood as the function of generating a healed structure in the world through morphogenetic processes – and that this primary function is to allow us, the members of society, to adjust progressively all the small processes in such a way that individually, and together, they will more and more effectively create a living world.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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Christopher Alexander on an Architecture Studio Class

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Reading this brought Itsik to my heart and mind. I know, and on a couple of occasions have witnessed him deal with this specific challenge, the studio class.

Though as I read this I also thought about the “competition” format that was (probably still is) so prevalent and normative and the source of so much difficulty in his work as an architect. Where in other disciplines contractors bid on projects (another example of life destroying processes), in architecture (as I got to know it through Itsik) the norm is that architects “apply” for a project through a competition in which they submit a design – a VERY complete and mature design process that isn’t paid for, unless you are the winning architect. It always struck me as a highly abusive (in almost every possible way) process … and now reading this text makes me wonder if the foundations for this process were not laid in this ill-conceived teaching process described by Alexander where the teachers (often professional architects) teach and do to students what customers to do them as professional architects:

” … almost any social process can have a relatively more living character, or have a relatively less living character … even the typical process which take place in an architect’s mind – these are all originally socially defined processes, and these are all capable of being relatively more living, or less living.

Suppose, for instance, that a group of architecture students are asked to make designs in a studio class, and are then asked to bring their drawings for presentation to a jury of several faculty who will make comments about all the designs. This process was widely used in 20th-century architecture schools. It, too, is a process, a process traditional in contemporary architectural circles and part of the process of design which these students are being taught. Unfortunately, this process is harmful, and has a strong tendency to work against creation of living structure in building design. It is harmful because it encourages students to focus on image more than on reality. In the first place they learn to equate design with drawing, and are not taught that it is the quality of the building more than the quality of the drawing which matters most. Second, the jury system encourages presentation: Those who draw the most beautiful and slick images tend to gain sympathy from jurors who only have a few moments to study each design. Further, the process is far too quick, and too casual. Jury members sit in judgment, often without understanding the schemes they are judging; the whole procedure encourages a trivial attitude to buildings.

All extant processes may be scrutinized, tested, examined for the degree to which they are life-creating or not … and … all types of processes, since they have some impact on the formation of the environment, should be made more living in order for our towns and buildings and our outdoor landscape to come to life. In short, not one of the processes in any of these categories should escape scrutiny.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Christopher Alexander – Kitchen Sequence

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There was a section in book 2 dedicated to the idea of sequences … about how important the order is in which structure preserving transformations steps are taken. There wasn’t a sweet and succinct quote that shimmered for me and in a way it (ironically) is a missing step in the overall order of quotes that I’ve collected. I’ve also wanted to link to this non-existing post about sequence numerous times from other quotes and could not because it isn’t there to link to.

I may go back and see if something there shimmers for me, however for now I do want to make a note of this fascinating example of two kitchen design sequences. They are mentioned within a text about how CAD design could be improved to support creation of living structures. The first is a typical mechanistic process, the other on that places more emphasis and value on centers and a sequence that creates a living space:

“Typically, for example, consider the following kitchen layout process that is available commercially:

  1. Take the kitchen floorplan.
  2. Decide where you want the outer wall.
  3. Decide how long to make the counter.
  4. Decide where to put the refrigerator.
  5. Decide what color to put on the walls.
  6. Decide what tiles to put on the floor.

… Why do I say that this is not a living process? I say this because the process does not encourage the use of structure preserving transformations. It does not encourage the creation of living centers. It does not even draw the user’s attention to the idea of living centers, nor to the possibility of making centers, stronger and more living in the kitchen, so that the user can direct himself to this aim.

… a kitchen design sequence, which does focus on centers and their emergence, and on the adaptive process which allows a person to use these centers for themselves. This sequence has the following steps:

  1. Think about the activities in your kitchen and formulate them as generic centers.
  2. Decide the size and shape of the kitchen.
  3. Place windows in the kitchen, to bring beautiful light into the room.
  4. Place a big kitchen table as the main focus of the kitchen.
  5. Place a fireplace to form a secondary center in the room.
  6. Place an outdoor kitchen garden, according to sun and wind and view.
  7. Place a door leading to the outdoors.
  8. Place the kitchen counter and your workspace in a good relationship to the main centers.
  9. Put in thick walls around the room, to supplement the table, fire and counter.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

I don’t know if reading this out of context of the entire work is useful to others, but for me this is a vital example and reminder.

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I am special

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I am special
that thought was with me when I got off the mat this morning
it was softly present
and in the background there was another softly present lurking thought
that it is wrong to think so
as if it is un-humble, arrogant, self centered

I think that’s a remnant from an old and established story
I remember a kind of unofficial conflict inside me
I was never really competitive
I could never bring myself to sincerely play a sport like basketball …. forcing myself past others to get a ball in a hoop
it wasn’t in my nature
yet I was in many ways assessed and measured and compared to others
so for me to be good meant being better than others
the highest grades …  the most appealing resume … the highest salary
for me to be special I had to be able to do thing differently than others
it was never just me, it was always in comparison
and since there are only so many jobs available
and only so much money available
for me to be good had to come at the expense of others
that made me judgmental toward myself and others
to assess and be assessed

through endless clues and cues
I came to believe that being good or special is something achieved, something earned
I had to prove to myself, to my father, to my bosses, to my partners that I was good
by achieving good, by doing good, by doing better than others
by others being lesser

for a while I succeeded … at least partially …
but it was too heavey a burden to carry
and when I realized I was carrying it I could’t figure out why
fortunately carrying it is heavy and tiring …
so I got tired

and the more tired I get
the more just me I become
me that doesn’t do anything
me that doesn’t achieve anything
me that doesn’t succeed or fail
me that is special just because … I am

even now a part of me is tempted to tell you why I am special
that I am special because of this or that
but I am not special because of anything
I am special
not more than, not less than
not like anyone else
not like you
because you too are special

it is a fact of nature
if a snowflake is a recording of its journey from cloud to earth
then can you and I be anything but special?
we are of parents and siblings and friends and foes
we are of cultures
we are of climate
we are of sights and sounds
we are of ideas
we are of emotions
we are of food and starvation
we are of touch
we are of so much that it is impossible for us to be anything but unique and special

I am special
because a heart beats inside me
and breath flows through me
and eternity lives throughout me

I am gradually leaving a discomfort that arose from trying to be special
and gradually getting comfortable in being … well … special

 

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Christopher Alexander on Architecture in Democracy

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This is from the opening text of the third section of book 2 … looking forward to diving into it 🙂

“Processes which are living ones, are step-by-step structure-preserving adaptive processes whose main characteristics is their ability to focus on the whole, and to improve and deepen the whole … And the sequence in which the steps occur is always vital to their ability to be effective …

In order to work these living processes – especially when applied to the large urban areas … require freedom of action, freedom within the process …. each process must allow every step of each adaptive sequence sufficient latitude to go wherever it needs to go, IN THE CONTEXT OF THE WHOLE, to make the whole more alive …

For the most part, the necessary freedom of action cannot be provided within the context we came to know in the 20th century as totalitarian democracy  … the system of thought and action which is prescribed by the rules, procedures, lock-step processes of the modern democratic state … freedom of the kind necessary to create profound wholeness is hampered by our institutional norms and by the normal processes of our society …

… our own democracy, though originating in the ideal of freedom, has nevertheless created a system of thought and action, [in the sphere of architecture], which makes living structure all but unattainable – at best BARELY attainable.

… To create living structures, we need a kind of freedom which the founding fathers of the American constitution (for example) did not dream of, because the issues involved in the creation of life in the environment simply were not visible to them .. we must now find ways of turning society beyond its too-regimented path, and towards paths of design and planning and construction which allow the life of every whole and the life of every part to emerge freely from the process by which we make the world.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Christopher Alexander – First Hint of the Ground

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hmmm ….

“For the time being, you may think of the Ground as the substrate of everything …

… Within the structure of nothingness there is an endless system of repeating centers, all rather weak, but all equally weak, overlapping continuously … We may … call it simply emptiness. In any case, emptiness or nothingness is not without structure … A natural thing is a transform of nothingness. A beautiful thing is a transform of nothingness …

If we imagine a mountain stream crashing and rumbling and then reaching a still pool, we may see the water in that pool as dark, and slightly turbulent. As the surface of the pool becomes quieter and quieter, we see further and further into the darkness of the water. In the same way, as the steps which make a building let it become simpler and simpler, we see further and further into the Void. Our connection with the Ground becomes more tangible. Our glimpse of the Self which is the Ground becomes more definite.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

… to be elaborated in Book 4

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Christopher Alexander – Material and Light

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When I collected this quote, the words “ultimately material and light” shimmered for me. Yet I decided to skip them, I felt that they may not be nourishing for a reader who is not as involved with the text as I am. Yet as I continued collecting the quote the words came back to me. I realized that they have a striking similarity to another structural teaching I have received … in Yoga. How can you tell if an asana (a physical posture) is good for you and that you have done it well? The answer, from (I believe) the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is that it makes you feel “steady and light”.

“… nature teaches us that what is truly simply – a waterfall say – is vastly complex – as a structure – and yet vastly simple in its essence. Thus we must strive for something which is utterly simple, in the sense that there is nothing unwanted there, nothing extra …

In architecture … Although the real content is there all the time, in the background – and although it is real human life, ecological life, and social and spiritual life which is at stake – still too careful … a regard for these practical problems will always produce trivial results. What matters is … the geometric organization – and the ability of this geometric organization to penetrate to the core of being human.

… My effort, in making the building, must constantly be to create, and activate, a pure pattern of physical geometry – ultimately material and light – and the depth of the impact which this pure pattern of organization has on me, on my self, on my soul – to what extent it mobilizes my feeling.

Even knowing this, as I do, it is such a struggle to keep on with the geometry. In painting, I try to make a realistic scene … I try to paint what I see. But I have to shout at myself, all the time, play, play, play, stop worrying about realism. Just make sure the actual shapes are beautiful, and that the geometry works, that the arrangement of the shapes is beautiful. This means all the shapes, the space between things, and the things, and the shadows … Each shape must be beautiful, supporting the other shapes … This is why the idea that the spirit and life, in the end, lie only in the geometry, has to be repeated every day, every morning, every afternoon.

In building, the same thing … I try to make the building right. I pay attention to the passage, the width, the length, the feeling, the light … Always I am trying to make it comfortable. But again, what I have to do, to make it live, every shape must be beautiful. The window sill. The top of the column. The door. The window over the door. The wall between the windows. The edge of the roof. Is it the most beautiful I can make it? Just don’t forget. Just don’t forget. Keep doing it. It is only when I do that, have joyful fun, do nothing else, just keep on doing that, to make each shape beautiful, that the thing begins to gain its life. It ought to be easy. But it is so hard.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Christopher Alexander on Simplicity and Symmetry

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“… Complexity (in the bad sense) consists of distinctions which unnecessarily complicate structure. To get simplicity, on the other hand, we need a process which questions every distinction. Any distinction which is not necessary is removed. To remove a distinction we replace it by a symmetry … Gradually we get just that syncopated system of local symmetries … that is typical of all real life.

… This means that the geometry of a wholesome living structure will be almost entirely made up of LOCAL symmetries, while yet being mainly asymmetrical in the large.

Very often, when we look at something, we have an immediate, intuitive sense of its rightness or wrongness. This … comes directly from the symmetries we see and our sense about these symmetries.

The essence of this rightness or wrongness hinges on the issue of necessity … Everything in nature is symmetrical unless there is a reason for it not to be. When this law is violated, we feel that something is unnatural, and that is the way in which symmetry plays such a fundamental role.

… Imagine you are looking at the sky … see a cloud which is perfectly square. Without even thinking, you would that is was not a natural cloud.

the symmetry structures in the world are very close to us. We perceive them instantly and subconsciously, without even knowing it. This mode of perception gives us an intuitive sense of which symmetry structures are appropriate or not appropriate in various situations.

… Each thing in the world is subject to various influences. It has various degrees of similarity and difference compared with other things, according to its situation. And in itself it also has various degrees of similarity and difference. This is what we call its symmetry structure. Symmetry is a precise way of talking about similarities.

We observe that in any thing, there must be just the right amount of similarity and difference …

When we make something which is just right, we have hit the degree of similarities ad differences … just right. On the other hand, when we are wrong we can also analyze the wrongness … Either the symmetries are less than the situation requires … or … more. To understand the idea that the symmetries in a structure are “just right”, consider for example the flow of electricity in two parallel wires. Other things being equal, the current will flow equally in the two wires. Why is this? If we want to, we can invoke some rule like Ohm’s law or the principle of least action … But the deepest explanation, the most profound one, is simply this: There is no reason for the two wires to carry different currents, because the situation is symmetrical … Asymmetries occur only where there are reasons powerful enough to generate them.

things which are similar must be similar, and things which are different must be different

Successful life which creates unity in a building and hold it together is generated by the balanced, syncopated, off-beat quality that the natural system of symmetries creates…”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

 

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Christopher Alexander on Simplicity

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“Our modern conception of simplicity has gone wrong. Simplicity as depth has been replaced by a mechanical idea of simplicity as the geometrically banal…

The things we call simple in design – cubes, spheres – appear simple conceptually because they can be represented by simple mathematical schemes. But they are not, in any real sense, the simplest thing which can be created at a given place and time. The simplest thing which can be created, in real terms, is that thing which goes furthest to resolve, complete, hence to elaborate and underpin the structure of the world, its wholeness, which exists at that place. In this sense a volcano, a cobweb, an oak tree are truly more simple … because as nearly as we can judge, they perfectly resolve the forces, processes and conditions at that place, with the greatest economy of means and the greatest economy of form.

… ‘doing the simplest thing,’ only the thing which is required and nothing beyond what is required, is a practical and efficient necessity. When an unfolding process has succeeded – when a living process has succeeded – we may always recognize its results by a visible simplicity in the geometry and character of what is produced …

Any good example of living structure always has a very high density of sustaining relations among its parts. These … occupy a great deal of ‘space’ … there is room for all of them when they are extremely compressed, when their density is great. This kind of compression … can only be attained in a thing when that thing is extremely simple …

The geometry of living structure … is the result of a process in which a complex system becomes at one and the same time both richer and simpler. Each new bit of structure, each new center, adds new differentiations. But each time, as soon as we get the new differentiations, we at once try to boil the garbage away so that the structure is simplified and concentrated. We try to keep it continuously simple, even while we fill it with more and more structure.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Christopher Alexander on Form Language

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” … we do not start each new design from scratch. Somehow, we learn, over years, the ingredients that make a building good … the form language we use to speak the words that come out as buildings.

… at any given period of history, in any particular society, there are a certain number of schemata which provide rules of thumb for desining and constructing buildings. The form language is the (usually unspoken) combinatory system of these schemata (social, technological, geometric, stylistic, etc.) which architects and builders have in their minds about how buildings ought to be organized, how built, how they must look. We may even call form-language a repository of style.

… At any given time in our history, we are able to create only what can be “made” from the schemata which we already have in our form-language …

… it is imperative that the form languages we use, and the form languages available to us, help us and support us in this task [to reach the goal of living process in our highly modern and technically sophisticated society] …

… Why did the experimental form-languages of the 20th century not work? The reason is not hard to see. It is rather as if someone gave you a ruler and a T-square and said “Use these drawing tools to draw a human face.” You would say, “But that is almost impossible: the ruler and the T-square create the wrong kind of geometry. A human face is made of different shapes and different relationships than can be drawn with these tools.”

Just so with buildings that have living form … The kind of shapes which appear as a result of unfolding when it is done right … are mainly rectilinear, but they include roughness, they include shapes in which angles are nearly square but not quite square; they necessarily include imperfect repetition … requiring that things are bent, adjusted, made carefully to fit the nature of an emerging whole. Twentieth-century form did – and could do – none of this”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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Sound as Substance

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… an improvised session … a beautiful example of unfolding wholeness and emotional substance … to realize that the entire piece was present in the initial ambience.

… as if he can touch the sound in the air … and shape it and reshape it .. . by touch

… and the beautiful attic space in which this happens

beautiful-attic

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Christopher Alexander on Holding the Feeling Constant

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“… our ability as artists depends very largely on our ability to experience, formulate, and carry such a feeling – first to feel it and witness it, then to carry it forward, remember it, keep it alive within us, and insist on it …

… you hold the feeling constant … you keep it alive in you, this formless feeling which is so vivid, so particular, that you can judge all your form-making as you make the thing, by matching it against that feeling …. emotional substance – something more solid than a feeling, but less formed than a thing – is guiding the process of design and making at every step.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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The Wild Edge of Sorrow

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Some months ago Charles Eisenstein published this conversation with Francis Weller and I got around to listening to it a couple of days ago. I resonated deeply with some of the things Francis said. It was also, of the podcasts Charles has done that I have heard, the most vibrant and clear conversation as it touched and moves Charles too.

Francis talks about grief and sorrow as doorways into a rich experience of being. He talks about different kinds of grief: personal loss – intimate attachments that are withdrawn from our life (family, friends, etc.); ecological loss – dealing with the dark ecological outlook that is in the ar; ancestral loss – that are culturally inherited (in my case I would probably give the Holocaust as an example); loss that comes from a gap between the world we feel was promised us (a world of rich social life) and the world we live in. He talks about loss and grief being an integral part of life and that rituals to experience and express grief and loss need to be a regular part of life that is best served in a communal setting.

This is a subject near to me. I feel there are more aspects of grief – the death of ideas being a prominent one in my life – it is a subtle form of loss that can go unnoticed. Kind of like the difference between soldiers who have suffered amputated limbs (a clear artifact of war) and soldiers who suffer PTSD which has no visible markings but manifests in so many subtle ways in day-to-day life.

I have not yet experienced a kind of social-supported form of grief having lived much of my life either on my own or in very intimate settings … and I do wonder abotu the effect that has had on me. I do feel in touch with experiences and emotions of touch and grief …. I wonder how much they have informed and shaped me … and how Francis’ ideas would meet me in my life.

I look forward to reading his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow.

This short video touches on some of the ideas but most were better expressed in the podcast:

Francis Weller’s website is WisdomBridge.net

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Christopher Alexander on Deep Feeling and Emotional Substance

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“… The Word “feeling” has been contaminated. It is confused with emotions – with feelings (in the plural) such as wonder, sadness, anger – which confuse rather than help because they make us ask ourselves, which kind of feeling should I follow? The feeling I am talking about is unitary. It is feeling in the singular, which comes from the whole …

What I call feeling is the mode of perception and awareness which arises when a person pays attention to the whole … It is an intelligent and practical way forward.

… In any living process, or any process of design or making, the way forward, the next step which is most structure-enhancing, is that step which most intensifies the feeling of the emerging whole.

… During the early part of the 20th century there was a school of thought where a great deal was said about artists expressing their feelings, as if this was supposed somehow to be the purpose and pathway of art. Artists sometimes tried to do this by placing paint to record their emotions, throwing paint at the wall, pouring their emotions into the work. In each case the artist tried to send his feeling into the work, in the name of: “I am expressing my feelings.” In all these cases the idea was that the feeling goes from the artist into the work while the work is being made.

Producing a building which has feeling is something different … What matters is that the building – the room, the canyon, the painting, the ornament, the garden – as they are created, send profound feeling back towards us … The feeling comes from the object back to me after it is made, does not go from me to the object while I am making it.

… before we take an action, we can grasp the latent structure as the emotional substance … a dimly held feeling which describe where we are going, but is not yet concrete, in physical and geometrical terms. This means we can sense, ahead of time, the quality of the completed whole – even when we cannot yet visualize it. We then keep this quality alive in our minds and use it as the basic guiding light, which steers us towards our target. The final target, then, has the feeling which we anticipated much earlier, but often has an unexpected unfamiliar geometry.

The feeling … is not … arbitrarily invented. It is … emotional substance … It is … reasonably accurate, reliable, and stable. We can get it, and then keep coming back to it. It evolves, as the project does, and as our concrete understanding evolves. Thus, as the geometry develops, the feeling is kept intact, but becomes more and more solid

Using our own feeling as a way of grasping the whole, we can put ourselves in a receptive mode in which we grasp, and respond to the existing wholeness – together with its latent structure. This is not an emotional move away from precision. It is, rather, a move towards precision.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

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