• Welcome to droqen's forum-shaped notebook. Please log in.

The Nature of Order // Book Two // The Process of Creating Life

Started by droqen, January 04, 2023, 05:17:11 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


At first chapter sixteen appeared to be discussing embracing formal limitations, or at least the idea of being aware of them.

"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. . . . even with the best will in the world, we shall only be able to reproduce versions and combinations of what can be "reached" by that form language." (433)

I need to go back to Alexander's definition -- so what is a form language . . . ? Did I misunderstand?

". . . we do not start each new design from scratch. Somehow, we learn, over years, the ingredients that make a building good. . . . more important than anything, in our work, is the combinatory system we grow in our own minds, the form language we use to speak the words that come out as buildings
     And what format must this form language have? It is the box of tricks, the elements, rules, ways of making roofs, edges, windows, steps, the ceiling of a room. . . . The shape of the edge where the building meets the sky. The ways . . . [by which a work] can be built, in our time, by means we understand, control, and can execute for not impossible amounts of money." (432)

I suppose the disconnect is that Alexander describes past form languages as different from, not lesser than, the present form language. If this is true it is painful to accept but I suppose it must be true. There are things we can no longer do today, things that are more expensive and more painful to do today than they were in the past.

"the kind of geometry which is needed for living structure, and which must emanate from proper use of any living proces, is not necessarily attainable within the combinations of today's form-language. There are reasons to believe that the form languages of traditional societies helped people to work in living process. . ." (433)


Alexander plainly states that our form language may not be sufficient and calls for us to develop new kinds.

Yes, I am here for this.


"What kinds of new form language might help us achieve this might let us create simple and unconscious, unfolded form . . . ?" (439)

Tools that are easy, comfortable, happy to use, intuitive human tools, unconscious tools? Tools like fingerpainting? Tools like pixel art?


(Quotes from P. 440)

In looking at the "traditional huts of New Caledonia" Alexander identifies that their "shape is imperfect" and their "symmetries are imperfect. They are not gross asymmetries, but imperfect symmetries." The roughness here is a result of an interaction with "some unpredictable reality."

I love this stuff . . . when I study game design, when I look at games, I enjoy peering into the cracks to determine what 'unpredictable reality' lead to some given development turning out the way it did. I have written in Paradise about my ongoing struggle with perfection, and what I like here is this feeling of imperfect perfection. Try . . . try to accomplish something perfectly realized, try to accomplish something impossible, but do it in a relaxed way, in a way that responds to the everyday texture of doing the work.

In Alexander's architecture, this is mostly the physical reality of physics, the pre-existing beauty of the land.

In something like poetry, we have the limitations of language at least, and many more things as well (I am not a great poet, just a minor one from time to time).

In game design . . . Around the time of the assembling of Issue 1 of Paradise Zine, although the phrase does not appear in the zine itself, I remember many Paradisean conversations about 'good game design' and our non-belief in it . . . Recently I have been thinking about good game design and how it does exist, how there really are good or best practices. Patterns? Forms? I don't know. But these are the things I ought to be relaxed about, the natural shapes of the land; the landscape of games is the culture of games, is players' expectations of what games are.

It is impossible to make a perfect game; I could eschew all forms of player desires and quality-of-life and all these things. I could strive to perfectly realize a vision and ignore the player.

But perhaps the real design is having that perfect vision, striving always for it, and yet also doing so in a relaxed way which responds, always, to the landscape. A perfect vision roughed by the landscape of expectations, of player promises, of 'good game design'. Not the good game design you'd read in a textbook, but the good game design that becomes obvious after decades of designing and playing games. The good game design that one must expend more and more effort in order to reject. The good game design that adheres to common feeling.

The good game design that feels good.


"Good feeling."

One of the fifteen properties from Book 1 is "good shape," and I think I can understand it better, in the context of game design, when I transform it into "good feeling." What did that book have to say about it? I didn't write it down! But I do have a quote from this book, Post #35:

QuoteExaggerate the characteristics of an existing center or system of centers.

But in Book 1 I am sure Alexander wrote that he could not exactly describe it. Good shape is something you feel. You take something that has some shape (some feeling) and exaggerate its characteristics. Not too much. It still has to have the same shape (the same feeling), just a little bit more. Taken to a comfortable maximum. A local maximum.

~ #35, on GOOD SHAPE


One of the fifteen properties of a living game is "Good feeling". Hmm.


These properties are with regard to . . . "how centers work together to produce life". I am not sure how, or if, good shape is about working together with other centers, but at least I can remember that a center must have "good shape." In a game which is to be a living game, one ought to pay attention to the "good shape" of its centers, or I might say the "good feeling" of its centers.

Well, I do like it. The feeling, the deep feeling, that can be bad --- unpleasant, painful, frustrating, anything.

But the centers must have good feeling.


Feelings of play. The thought occurred to me -- what feelings are the deep feelings of a building? The feelings of a place. You think about how a place feels and then you enhance that feeling, respect it, grow out of it . . .

So, then, the feelings (the 'correct' feelings?) which a 'living' game ought to grow out of . . . those are feelings of play.

~ Feelings of Play, stickied post of the new Feelings of Play subforum contained within the 'Feelings' subforum.


P. 442

. . . Noam Chomsky . . . coined the phrase transformational grammar. [He, and Emil Post, a mathematician giving a precise formal definition of "language", both had ideas where] the basic idea was this: a string-creating system was defined; the starting point was usually a null sentence consisting of a single character, or word, or the null string. The language provided a series of rules which allowed certain kinds of transformations which would elaborate a given string, and turn it into another string which was allowed (hence the term transformational grammar). Typical allowed transformations might include substitution, inversion, concatenation, etc.
     The rules of the language were then these transformations. . . . You can see how similar this is to the idea of differentiation as defined in chapter 7.


P. 449-450
. . . the accompanying sketches [of imaginary but possible building projects] should be taken rather literally. I do not mean them as rough drawings of a more pristine reality. Instead, I mean that their actual ROUGHNESS, and the visible soft morphological character they have because of this roughness, are of the essence of the fact that they are living. . . . to be truly living structure, it must actually be built with this character as I have shown it


When I think about . . . structure-preserving transformations, I think about the strong sense of life that I do get from a sketch that I feel is almost always lost in a final image. What is it about a finished thing, a polished thing, that is so lifeless? I have almost always felt this way, about most things, and it's often frustrated me --- I've felt like I'm seeing things in a wrong way, that the polished image is "better." But Alexander saying this makes me think about it differently. I think I am allowed to feel that a sketch is in fact better, and that the final image is missing something. The translation from sketch to final form may in fact reduce the whole feeling in a way that is destructive and negative.


What is simplicity?

Given a forest, what is simpler: a tree, or a perfect sphere?


In this chapter the pursuit of simplicity is stated to be the same as the pursuit of life. One of the headers reads, "MAKING LIFE" AND "BEING SIMPLE" ARE THE SAME. Rather than simplicity of result in a vacuum -- a mathematical primitive, a cube or a sphere -- the idea of a process of simplicity is proposed. . . What is the simplest transformation? In a forest, it is much simpler to envision another tree than a perfect sphere, even though a tree is a very un-simple thing, and a sphere is very simple by many metrics.

What is simplicity?


"In painting, I try to make a realistic scene. I look at the life there. I try to make the picture come to life, and half of me is asking, What makes it real? What makes it real? I try to paint what I see. But I have to shout at myself, all the time, play, play, play, stop worrying . . ." (490-491)

"In building, the same thing. . . . 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." (491)


I look at the life there.

. . . half of me is asking, What makes it real? What makes it real?
I have to shout at myself, all the time,

. . . play, play, play, stop worrying . . .
Just don't forget. Just don't forget.
make each shape beautiful,
have joyful fun,
do nothing else;

It is only when I do that . . . that the thing begins to gain its life.
It ought to be easy. But it is so hard.


I don't think I've written a proper post about it yet but I have returned to this idea of perfection over and over, lately.
I think this idea of simplicity is the same as my idea of perfection.
Or, they are both becoming one another.

~ simplistic art, elegant art may be relevant?

I'll need to go back for another quote from earlier, something I found very evocative, at least in context.
I will strip the context from it and hope it maintains its force when I come back to it later.

Alexander is writing about symmetry.

P. 475

. . . things which are similar must be similar, and things which are different must be different. Or . . .
. . . more precisely: The degree of similarities which exist in a structure must correspond exactly to the degree of similarity of the conditions there, and the degrees of differences which exist in a structure must also correspond to the degrees of difference in the conditions there. . . .

P. 472, 474-475

. . . a harmonious structure . . . is one whose internal similarities and differences correspond exactly to the degrees of similarity and difference that exist in its conditions. That is the best definition of simplicity. Consider the shape of a soap bubble. When . . . floating in the air, it roughly has the shape of a sphere. . . . there is one simple explanation [for this], more fundamental than all the others. It is simply this. The air pressure on the inside of the bubble presses out with equal force in all directions. The same is true of the air pressure outside the bubble, pressing in. It presses with equal strength all over the bubble. Under these circumstances the bubble must take on the form of a sphere, because a sphere is the only volume-enclosing shape whose surface is the same at every point.