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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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As I read this next section about the fifteen properties in nature, it occurs to me that my '"cognitive" interpretation' stops at the mind when it could go a step further -- the mind is this way, yes, but why? It seems to make sense that the mind's pattern-recognition should have some purpose. Basic human-nature aesthetics must come from somewhere. It must be based on perceiving something for gain.


P. 261 - 262, on POSITIVE SPACE in nature
In the majority of naturally developed wholes, the wholes and spaces between wholes form an unbroken continuum. This arises because the wholes form "from the inside" according to their specific functional organization . . . illustrated in the next page, [in the example] of ink flowing in gelatin, the river of ink has its own laws and its own pressure, as does the gelatin. The same thing happens with the crystals which take on coherent polyhedral shapes as they butt into each other while they grow.
. . .
In the crazing of porcelain . . . As the surface cools, the glaze shrinks, forming cracks. The areas bounded by cracks are coherent in shape because the cracks follow maximum stress lines and form in such a way to relieve maximum stress. As a result, the areas bounded by the cracks all turn out to have good shape, more or less compact, and all about the same size.

P. 267, on LOCAL SYMMETRIES in nature
. . . these symmetries occur in nature because there is no reason for asymmetry; an asymmetry only occurs when it  is forced. Thus, for instance, a water drop, falling through the air, is asymmetrical along its length, because the flow-field is differentiated in the direction of the fall,  but symmetrical around its vertical axis, because there is no differentiation between any one horizontal direction and any other. In short, things tend to be "equal" unless there are particular forces making them equal.


There is something from an earlier page itching at me. I enjoy producing and observing simulations... the idea has occurred to me that the 'real' way to produce such a 'natural'-feeling thing is to, indeed, simulate such flow fields, such natural symmetries in the forces at play in the work.

Whereas Alexander puts these 'properties' first, supposing that the properties themselves are what 'create life'. In other words, Alexander seems to propose that these properties are the source of life, rather than signifiers of life.

I do not mean to minimize the significance of signifiers of life: it is truly remarkable to think that art arises from an appeal to the innate human sense for life, not merely pattern recognition, but a form of pattern recognition evolved to find life beautiful.

What does it even mean for something to 'have life'? If we (humans) possess an inherent ability to detect features which signify 'life' that has a highly sophisticated rate of success, why should I care whether a thing truly has 'life' or whether I am simply learning the art of crafting false positives?

These false positives may very well be a deep and profound sense of beauty. Supposing we all live on the same, or similar, software as the creatures we relate to most, an appealing place which is recognized as having 'life' will in fact attract life, draw it in, make it feel welcome and . . . indeed, alive.


P. 210 - 212, on ROUGHNESS
. . . we probably attribute this charm [the charm of ROUGHNESS] to the fact that the bowl is handmade and that we can see, in the roughness, the trace of a human hand, and know therefore that it is personal, full of human error.
     This interpretation is fallacious, and has entirely the wrong emphasis. The reason that this roughness in the design contributes so greatly to the wholeness . . . throughout the design the subtle variation of the brush-strokes and their spacing, are done in such a way that each brush-stroke has a size perfectly suited to its place . . . exactly where it needs to be to create the most beautiful and positive white space between the strokes . . . this simply could not be obtained if the brush-strokes were all exactly the same size, or placed at exactly equal intervals.
. . .
The seemingly rough arrangement is more precise because it comes from a much more careful guarding of the essential centres in the design. . . . Roughness can never be consciously or deliberately created. Then it is merely contrived. To make a thing live, its roughness must be the product of egolessness, the product of no will. . . . in a spirit of childish abandon --- certainly not with a careful, contrived desire to make it "interesting." In this sense, roughness is always the product of abandon --- it is created whenever a person is truly free, and doing only whatever is essential[.]

[PINGBACK: ugly feelings, post #32]


A Rorschach blot is symmetrical as a whole, but possesses no significant symmetries at lower scales. This kind of form, random at lower levels but symmetrical in the large, is relatively uncommon in nature. Contrast it with snow crystals which [are symmetrical in the whole but also] display symmetries at many levels.


P. 298
. . . you may agree, I hope, . . . that the nature of order as I have defined it, in principle at least can finally bridge the gap that Alfred North Whitehead called "the bifurcation of nature." It unites the objective and subjective, it shows us that order . . . is both rooted in substance and rooted in feeling, is at once objective in a scientific sense, yet also substantial in the sense of poetry, . . . It means that the four-hundred-year-old split created between objective and subjective, and the separation of humanities and arts from science and technology can one day disappear . . . in a synthesis which opens the door to a form of living in which we may be truly human.
     Above all, this is the threshold of a new kind of objectivity.


P. 308 - 309, on SIMPLE HAPPINESS
life --- because of its structures, the field of centers --- is inextricably connected with human feeling. . . . things [with life] are important. We cannot separate them, or our awareness of them, from the fact that they have feeling and induce feeling in us.
     This deep feeling is indeed a mark of life in things. . . . we become happy in the presence of [this].
. . .
     In this idea, we shall cross the nearly uncrossable gulf created by the Cartesian view of things and extend our grasp to a new post-Cartesian view. In the Cartesian view, the objective structure of the world is one thing, our own happiness is something entirely different and remote from it. In the post-Cartesian view, the wholeness of the world and our feeling of happiness together are understood to be two complementary things which form a single unity.


The post-Cartesian view... Alexander is making more and less sense to me again. Especially under the next header, FEELING AS THE INWARD ASPECT OF LIFE, he reasserts his position suggested by this last sentence that he really is speaking about reality as... to me, it sounds like some kind of place that really is made of "person-stuff" (he uses this term), while also insisting that this is not an anthropocentric perspective...

But I love so much of this. I feel as though an anthropocentric perspective is what is needed, is what I need. Not a naively pre-Cartesian perspective, but a self-aware anthropocentrism. This is what the post-Cartesian represents --- not a rejection of the truth of the 20th century mechanistic viewpoint, but a rejection of the centrality of that truth to human lives and values. Our human lives and values must be their own center, marrying Cartesian logic with some pre-Cartesian centering.

The universe does not revolve around us, but we must still revolve around us.

Our understanding of the universe must still revolve around us.

EDIT :: I mixed up Cartesian with Copernican. Some of these thoughts are likely wrongly constructed as a result.


"life . . . is inextricably connected with human feeling."


P. 312
Centers which have life increase our own life because we ourselves are centers too. . . . we, like other centers, are intensified by them.


Chapter seven ends with this long piece concluding in the revelation that the fifteen properties apply to us -- that because centers and properties are about life and are applied to nature that we can apply these properties, and this idea of centers, to ourselves. So far . . . I get it, I love it. I am a center. All the things that Alexander says about centers, which I immediately felt applied to a great number of things, as a deeply powerful abstract concept, have intuitively applied to my thinking about the self, about consciousness, about life, about art, about many things.

But I'm glad that he says it here outright.

"we, like other centers, are intensified by them."




P. 316
Suppose you and I are discussing this matter in a coffee shop. I look around on the table for things to use in an experiment. There is a bottle of ketchup on the table and, perhaps, an old-fashioned salt shaker, . . .
I ask you: "Which one of these is more like your own self?" Of course, the question appears slightly absurd. You might legitimately say, "It has no sensible answer."

P. 317
I am asking which of the two objects seems like a better picture of all of you, of the whole of you: a picture which shows you as you are, with all your hopes, fears, weaknesses, glory and absurdity, and which --- as far as possible --- includes everything that you could ever hope to be. In other words, which comes closer to being a true picture of you in all your weakness and humanity; of the love in you, and the hate; of your youth and your age; of the good in you, and the bad; of your past, your present, and your future; of your dreams of what you hope to be, as well as what you are?

[pingback: telling stories to remember life]

[pingback: SYNAPSE ~ The Mirror of the Self]


I think this is a powerful question, and I, from my mechanistic perspective, wish to explain it in mechanistic terms. It has to make mechanical sense, even if I don't want to think about it mechanically, I need to have the mechanisms in mind in order to put them aside. I'm not happy with a magic trick.

First, it certainly is pleasurable, comfortable, meaningful, to encounter an object in the world which speaks to as many facets of me as possible. I like this thing that Alexander is doing! I can relate it to many times when I've encountered deeply resonant works, which are specifically resonant because they connect to more parts of me. My fears, my hopes, my future, my past, everything that is inside of me.

Second, I think that this is some incredible unconscious pattern recognition in action, like when you smell something that reminds you of a time in your life when you smelled the same thing, that's your olfactory pattern recognition --- this is some other pattern recognition, perhaps visual, perhaps conceptual/spatial --- What does it even mean for something to be a picture of you? Of an aspiration, of a sadness? Alexander's wholeness elides the problem of "what symbol represents what?" by focusing on the bigger picture, on the larger cloud of entities full of centers, where centers are symbols, where symbols signify, remind, evoke, something. He doesn't care specifically what it evokes, but targets the cloud of emotions that connects the largest number of people: being human, being alive, being anything at all, existing. Most theories of art I've been exposed to are taking a very mechanistic viewpoint, saying that A evokes B, and having trouble with the inconsistency of that. One thing never makes everyone feel the same emotion.

The pattern-recognition-overwhelm of Alexander's field of centers, of his "wholeness", combined with his stated aesthetic goal of "life", "aliveness", "wholeness" but always in the context of life, produces a richer macro-perspective, a focus on an artistic aesthetic so large and impossibly vast, hugely emergent. His criterion for determining which thing has more life may be restated, "Which makes you feel the greater number of emotions relating to being human?"

It is no great stretch to say that all emotions pertain to humanity, though some would disagree and call a person "inhuman" for feeling a certain way (though often it is more about not feeling a certain way, furthering my argument), so we can simplify this criterion further:

"Which makes you feel the greater number of emotions?"

I cannot say what it means to have a "number" of emotions. If I feel sad today and then sad again tomorrow, is that one emotion (i.e. it is the variety we are counting) or are they different, separate, emotions, because they are in different, separate, contexts? Or might two sadnesses felt on two days be "two emotions" or "one emotion" depending on whether the surrounding emotional context has changed?

Alexander speaks to this a little bit here with regard to the temporal nature of feeling:

P. 342
[Real liking] has a simple empirical meaning. Each thing that we like or do not like may be tested for its staying power. If I look at two drawings for the first time, I may like A more than B. But if I pin the two drawings above my bed and look at them every day, live with them hour after hour, day after day, month after month, gradually I will find out which of the two gives me a more permanent, more lasting satisfaction.


I am tempted to specify the requirement a bit. "Which makes you feel the greater number of desirable emotions?"

But what word really fits here? Positive, desirable, constructive . . .

So many feelings that ought to be captured are not exactly positive, but there is a positiveness to the cloud of emotions -- emotions that feeling make you more . . . oh, I'm using his words now . . . more whole.


In any case, I still like his original question. Which one of these is more like your own self? Or this different take on how to ask this question (which seems to reveal to me that Alexander does not think of this as truth (as I keep being concerned about) but as tightly bound to the perceptual field, with the idea of 'objective truth' a sort of framing that has a "primitive" and "operational" effect):

P. 320
We can put the question in a more primitive sense, perhaps, by asking: which one of these two things would I prefer to become by the day of my death?
 . . .
A student of mine formulated the question in another useful operational way. He said, "Assuming for a moment, that you believed in reincarnation, and that you were going to be reborn as one of these two things, then which one would you rather be in your next life?"