The Phenomenon of Life: book one the Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and The Nature of the Universe Christopher Alexander

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The Phenomenon of Life: BOOK ONE
The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and The Nature of the Universe
Christopher Alexander (a "hard-boiled empiricist" [3])
[ec] So what is this? Alexander is trying to describe architecture in Whitehead-ian terms of entities (living) (with values)? I think it might be interesting or useful to use Alexander as championing the 'everyday' order of things - non-mechanistic. [/ec]
[ec] Why might this be useful? I think it might be nice to live in Christopher Alexander's world as he describes it. I think that that is enough. [/ec]

About understanding order ... and understanding order in Architecture can effect our understandings of order in biology, physics, etc...

"The activity we call building creates the physical order of the world, constantly, unendingly, day after day. ... Our world is dominated by the order we create." (1)
"But although we are responsible for the creation of order on this enormous scale, we hardly even know what the word "order" means." (1)
"Issues which were straightforward in other ages such as spirit, for example, or the life that can exist in stone – are inadmissible for us." (2)
The Nature of the Universe: Alexander claims that:

(i) all space and matter, organic or inorganic, has some degree of life in it, and the matter/space is more alive or less alive according to its structure or arrangement.

(ii) all matter/space has some degree of "self" in it, and that this self, or anyway some aspect of the personal, is something which infuses all matter/space, and everything we know as matter but now think to be mechanical. (4)
"I have come to believe that architecture is so agonizingly disturbed because we – the architects of our time – are struggling with a conception of the world, a world-picture, that essentially makes it impossible to make buildings well." (6)
this world view is the mechanist-rationalist worldview (7)
"More precisely, I believe that the mistake and confusion in our picture of the art of building has come from our conception of what matter is." (8)
"Our idea of matter is essentially governed by our idea of order. What matter is, is governed by our idea of how space can be arranged; and that in turn is governed by our idea of how orderly arrangement in space creates matter. So it is the nature of order which lies at the root of the problem of architecture." (8)
"Although 20th-century science gives us a way of seeing order as a producer of effects – in particular because the scientific view of things shows us the geometry of matter as if it were part of a machine, a machine which can do certain things – we still do not have a way of seeing the order of a thing which simply exists." (15)
With the 20th-century mechanistic viewpoint: the picture of the world as a machine doesn't have an "I" in it. "Of course it is still there in our experience. But it isn't part of the picture we have of how things are." (16) Also, "The picture of the world we have from physics, because it is built only out of mental machines, no longer has any definite feeling of value in it; value has become sidelined as a matter of opinion, not intrinsic to the nature of the world at all." (16)
"The real nature of this deep order hinges on a simple and fundamental question: "What kinds of statements do we recognize as being true or false?"" (16)
In mechanistic world view, this question can only be answered are statements about mechanisms. Alexander wants to include statements about "relative degree of life, degree of harmony, or degree of wholeness – in short, statements about value."
? so he is transforming continuum to binary t/f ?
Example: where to put a door in a wall. The statements, "One door creates more life in the room than another door." or "A pale yellow on this door has more life than a dark gray." are not those that can be considered true or false. They are thought of as opinions. "As a matter of principle within the 20th-century mechanistic view, statements of this kind may not be considered potentially true or false. We have learned to live with this principle simply because we are used to it. But consider how bizarre it really is. As architects, builders, and artists, we are called upon constantly – every moment of the working day – to make judgments about relative harmony." (17) If this is true "then in principle, rational discussion about buildings should be impossible." (17)
"All of this sounds abstract. But its impact on our world has been enormous. It has created a mental climate of arbitrariness, and has laid the foundation for an architecture of absurdity." (19)
"Architects make different idiosyncratic choices because within the mechanistic worldview it is not possible to function mentally without making some private choices of this kind." (20)
value is treated as thus "Science only tells us about facts. When it comes to figuring out what one ought to do, that is a private matter of art or ethics. It is your natural right to work out your own values. Not only will our scientific world-view not tell you anything about value, it is your democratic obligation to do it for yourself." This "makes cooperative work, collaboration, and social agreement very difficult in principle. It has a superficial permissiveness which seems to encourage different opinions. But what is encouraged, really, is only the essential arbitrariness of ideas rooted in a mechanical view of how the world is made." (21)
"What we need is a sharable point of view..." (21)
"Life is a quality of space itself." (60 and other places)
(101 - 103) cultural or social "centers" ???
"... we have the idea of whoelness as a neutral structure that exists in every part of space. Wherever we are in the world, there is wholeness. Each wholeness, at whatever scale, is made of centers: the coherent entities which appear in that space, and the way that they overlap. To form a wholeness the centers are rank-ordered by their degree of coherence. Mainly the wholeness is formed by the top centers, the most salient centers." (110)
"life is structural" (110)


1. Centers themselves have life.

2. Centers help one another: the existence and life of one center can intensify the life of another.

3. Centers are made of centers (this is the only way of describing their composition).

4. A structure gets its life according to the density and intensity of centers which have been formed in it..
" (110)
refs Rudolf Arnheim, The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts an Roger Joseph Boscovich, A Theory of Natural Philosophy. --- a theory of abstract point centers being the fundamental entities. (footnote 3, 116)
"A center is a kind of entity which can only be defined in terms of other centers." (116)
"Centers are always made of other centers. A center is not a point, not a perceived center of gravity. It is rather a field of organized force in an object or part of an object which makes that object or part exhibit centrality. This field-like centrality is fundamental to the idea of wholeness." (118)

+++ footnote 6 (141) quoting Alan Watts, "The Individual as Man/World"

"Theoretically, many scientists know that the individual is not a skin-encapsulated ego but an organism–environment field. The organism itself is the point at which the field is focused, so that each individual is a unique expression of the behavior of the whole field, which is ultimately the universe itself. But to know this theoretically is not to feel it to be so."
"(Circularity) is the essential feature of the situation." (118)
(141) footnote 7 - defines 'field'


1. Centers arise in space.

2. Each center is created by a configuration of other centers.

3. Each center has a certain life or intensity. For the time being we do not know what this life "is." But we can see that the life of any one center depends onthe life of other centers. This life or intensity is not inherent in the center by itself, but is a function of the whole configuration in which the center occurs.

4. The life or intensity of one center is increased or decreased according to the position and intensity of other nearby centers. Above all, centers become most intense when the centers which they are made up of help each other. Exactly what "helping" means in this context remains to be defined.

5. The centers are the fundamental elements of the wholeness, and the degree of life of any given part of space depends entirely on the presence and structure of the centers there.
" (122)
[ec] his theory is very painterly and compositional --- every part must be considered to make a whole. Uses the metaphor of getting a certain green by having red spots in it. Although the green paint may be exactly the same with or without, the green with it is different and can't exist without the red. [/ec]
Fifteen Fundamental Properties (144)















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