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The Nature of Order // Book One // The Phenomenon of Life

Started by droqen, December 10, 2022, 05:47:43 PM

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On P. 393 Alexander uses the phrase "the lethal disembodiment of the human being" to describe what is done by inhuman architecture, and an inhuman world, which removes 'real problems' from the realm of humans. That is, in more recent times people are "not suffering from a real problem, more from a lack of engagement, a loss of connection to the earth, to their fellow creatures, even to themselves."


P. 427
. . . life --- an emergent thing in the space itself --- appears as the space wakes up. When something works, or is "functional," its space is awakened to a very high degree. It becomes alive. The space itself becomes alive.
. . . I do know that it simply is so.
     The fundamental functional insight is to realize the mechanistic functional analysis is all a myth anyway --- since there is no stopping in the endless regression of reasons for why something works.


I have not found any simple quote to capture Alexander's idea/argument that 'ornament' and 'function' are inseparable parts. As with Kastrup, I find the appeal to ontology quite extravagant. I have thought of these as lenses, not ontologies. E.g. MDA is a way of thinking about things, not a way to believe things fundamentally are. Perhaps this very approach to ontology is bound up in the 20th century mechanistic viewpoint? What is the meaning of 'ontology' itself, under the mental world model, or the world composed entirely of centers? I'll have to revisit this idea.

Here Alexander moves on from the unity of ornament/function to an argument which I find more compelling - the unity of space/function, which I believe comes close to the nature of patterns, which are the unity of problem/solution. As a lens, and bearing in mind that lenses are in some senses temporary ontologies, it is useful to perceive the entire system (the object and its living usefulness) as a whole, rather than dissected necessarily into the physical and the conceptual parts.

P. 428
We do not have function on the one hand, and space or geometry on the other hand. We have a single thing --- living space --- which has its life to varying degrees.


 There is a wonderful idea earlier that I failed to quote-capture, that artisans often produce good work by following intuitions which Alexander says follow his properties, his idea of life. I am inclined to agree... is it strange that I'm beginning to believe that strong centers are a great metaphor that following produces better physical work? I expect a nontrivial portion of this is that we do better work when we do work that appeals to our natural pattern recognition. Work that suits our brains. Human work.


P. 431
1. Each center gets its life, always, from the fact that it is helping to support and enliven some larger center.
2. The center becomes precious because of it.


Teleology and the mechanistic viewpoint, or top-down VS. bottom-up.

Why is anything? Why does a flower grow?

The mechanistic viewpoint says that a flower grows because of what is smaller than it, interpreting the question as a prompt to explain . . . the mechanisms at play. What causes the flower to grow?

This other viewpoint says that a flower grows because of what is larger than it, interpreting the question as one of purpose, of teleology . . . the systems which the flower serves and which serve it. For what reason does the flower grow?

The simple question, "Why?" is ambiguous between these two cases. This ambiguity is something.


Why is the sky blue?

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I've arrived at the end of book one. I think I'll make a new thread for book two--I've already got a hold on it at the library.

. . . the last hundred years in architecture . . . lack . . . a coherent basis which is rooted in common sense, in observation, and which is congruent with human feeling.
. . . modernism, postmodernism, organic architecture, the architecture of the poor, architecture of high technology, critical regionalism --- the different positions [taken by modern architecture] --- have been discussed much as one might discuss the latest clothing fashions [and "not, on the whole, been pursued by experiment, or logical reasoning"].
. . . in the intellectual atmosphere of pluralism, celebrated in the 20th century, it has been easy to say what one believes, but nearly impossible to say what is good or true.


     I am proposing a new basis, . . . based on what most people experience as true or real --- it is rooted in observation.
. . . a core of judgement must be found which appeals to the deepest instincts in everyone, . . .


I have tried to suggest --- to prove --- that life is a phenomenon which is more profound than a self-reproducing machine, that it attaches to the very substance of space itself. . . .
I have suggested that living structure lies at the core of all life. This living structure is in the very mathematics of space. . . .
We may say that, for the sake of our own welfare, the world must be made so that it contains, and is built from, living structure.


. . .This is not merely a poetic way of talking. It is a new physical conception of how the world is made and how it must be understood.


The Nature of Order presents more useful information than The Idea of the World and more beautifully, so it is unfortunate that I find myself comparing the two, but the conception of the material of the universe, and the dedication to proving it according to science, is present in both.

It tugs at my mind: Alexander's idea that "living structure is in the very mathematics of space" and Kastrup's that the universe's essence is (literally) one experiencing mind are so similar in their overreach. Both make arguments based on, as Alexander put it at the end of book one, "based on what most people experience as true or real". Kastrup suggests that the only thing we can possibly know for sure is our experience, not the things we experience, but that we experience at all. Alexander roots his perspective in human feeling.

When Alexander writes that "for the sake of our welfare, the world must be made so that it contains, and is built from, living structure", I feel that so deeply in my bones, in my heart. He belies his own motivation whether he knows it or not; he literally says that we must "make" the world contain, we must "make" the world built from, "living structure," "for the sake of our welfare".

My belief is that as humans we are capable of processing information and abstract concepts, but that ideas can hurt us. There are a lot of ideas about how the world works, and about what the world is. These ideas can be both very true and very hurtful. Some of the most true ideas we have are not going to be beautiful, but painful, damaging. The only exception is if we do in fact live in a Ptolemaic paradise after all, where the truest ideas coincide with our most positive emotions. It is my strongly-held belief that we do not.

It seems to me that Alexander, although he is also very interested in discovering truth, wants too much to produce a truth. He writes, and I believe him, that it is "for the sake of our own welfare". His words are meant to communicate that for our own good we must be sure to build a world that suits us, suits our human feelings. His words also tell me that he has constructed a worldview upon this foundation and not upon truth. I agree with him completely. I agree with him so much that it hurts. But knowing this I cannot borrow his worldview; I cannot hold a worldview built upon such a noticeably shaky foundation.

I can only borrow parts of his wisdom. Thank you, Christopher Alexander.