The Nature of Order: The Phenomenon of Life (Book 1)

Summary

  1. In these books, I have tried to show that there are shareable areas of human experience which lie beyond the areas presently touched by science. I have set myself the task of trying to raise these new matters – the deeper issues which mechanistic science has not so far dealt with – to the level of knowledge we are used to, from having a culture based on science…This is valuable because it is based on the same high standard as science, but in a new realm of social existence. We only allow ourselves to claim we know something if that “something” is shareable – in principle – even if it is in the realm we call feeling or experienced wholeness. That is the breakthrough I may perhaps have made. If I am right, the world of science has been extended. I have simply found a way of taking the scientific standard of shared knowledge based on common observation, and extended this idea so that it covers inner realities, not only outer ones

Key Takeaways

  1. In what follows I shall try to show that there is a way of understanding order which is general and does do justice to the nature of building and of architecture. It is a view which, I hope, is adequate to understanding the intuitions we have about beauty and the life of buildings. It is a view which tells us what it means for a building to be a great building, and when a building is working properly. It is, I believe, a common-sense and powerful view, with practical results. The life which appears is an attribute of space itself, life is structural
  2. One of my key claims is that all space and matter, organic or inorganic, has some degree of life in it, and that matter/space is more alive or less alive according to its structure and arrangement. Another claim is that 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. If either of these claims comes, in future, to be considered true, that would radically change our picture of the universe. Indeed, one might then say that the universe as we have known it for the last 400 years, even in the exciting and fascinating versions of physics and cosmology which have come under discussion in recent decades, would then have to be replaced by a fundamentally different and more personal view of matter.
  1. I managed to identify 15 structural features which appear again and again in things which do have life…The 15 ways in which centers can help each other come to life. In effect, the 15 properties are the glue, through which space is able to be unified. The 15 properties provide the ways that centers can intensify each other. Through the intensity of centers, space becomes coherent. As it becomes coherent, it becomes alive. The 15 properties are the “ways” it comes to life
    • Levels of scale
    • Strong centers
    • Boundaries – help product and maintain the core (stability and coherence)
    • Alternating repetition
    • Positive Space
    • Good shape
    • Local symmetries
    • Deep interlock and ambiguity
    • Contrast
    • Gradients
    • Roughness
    • Echoes – designs which are deeply familiar, fractal, but we’re not quite sure why
    • The void – at the heart of perfect wholeness is a void, like water, infinite in depth, surrounded by and contrasted with the clutter of the stuff and fabric all around it…The calm is needed to alleviate the buzz
    • Simplicity and inner calm – Wholeness, life, has a way of being simple. In most cases, this simplicity shows itself in a geometrical simplicity and purity, which has a tangible geometrical form. It is a quality which is essential to the completion of the whole. It has to do with a certain slowness, majesty, quietness, which I think of as inner calm…The quality comes about when everything unnecessary is removed. All centers that are not actively supporting other centers are stripped out, cut out, excised. Wheat is left, when boiled away, is the structure in a state of inner calm. It is essential that the great beauty and intricacy of ornament go only just far enough to bring this calm into being, and not so far that it destroys it…Simplicity and inner calm is the Occam’s razor of any natural system: each configuration occurring in nature is the simplest one consistent with its conditions. The surface of a boiling fluid takes the shape which has least energy per unit mass. Many naturally occurring forms are given by minimum principles of this kind
  1. Life occurs to the degree that centers help each other and cement their wholeness: the helping between centers is caused by 15 properties, and on the recursive appearance of these properties among the centers from which wholeness is made
  2. 90% of what all humans feel are all the same, 10% is different
  1. Wholeness
    • Wholeness = local parts exist chiefly in the relation to the whole, and their behavior and character and structure are determined by the larger whole in which they exist and which they create…The whole, the wholeness as a structure, always comes first. Everything else follows from this wholeness, and from the centers and sub-centers which are induced within it. The wholeness is entirely distinct from the parts which appear in that wholeness. It is a field-like structure, a global, overall effect.
    • My argument is that the existence of wholeness is something real in the world, whether we choose to see it or pay attention to it, or not. It is a mathematical structure which exists in space. I believe that a holistic view of space – which shows how structure appears in space as a whole, as a result of local symmetries and centers – follows from careful observation of what exists
  1. The danger of over-education is that it tends to lead to a mechanistic mindset which diminishes the ability to see wholeness.
    • You don’t search for wholeness, it comes to you. The ability to see wholeness requires an unfocused view in which we do not select what we pay attention to or force attention in a certain mental direction. Instead we see, watch, drink in the configuration of the wholeness which we can see before us. Words, concepts, and knowledge all interfere with our ability to see wholeness as it is. To see wholeness accurately, we must not pick out those artificially highlighted centers which happen to have words as names, since these are often not the most salient wholes in the real wholeness. What we must do instead is to watch, quietly, receptively and in an unfocused state, for those centers which are most salient in the real configuration as it is
    • which we meet in the world, the more deeply it affects our own personal feeling
  1. The right kind of physical environment, when it has living structure, nourishes freedom of the spirit in human beings. In the wrong kind, lacking living structure, freedom of the spirit can be destroyed or weakened. If I am right, this will suggest that the character of the physical world has impact on possibly the most precious attribute of human existence. It is precisely life – the living structure of the environment – which has this effect. The best environment is one in which each person can become as alive as possible – that is as vibrant intellectually, physically, morally, and in which people can reach, as far as possible, their own potential as human beings. One may assume, too, that each person naturally does everything possible, to be alive. Freedom lies in the ability a person has to react appropriately to any given circumstance. The perfectly free human being is a person who, no matter what she or he encounters, can act appropriately
  1. There is, in effect, a stress reservoir in the body. The amount of stress being coped with fills this reservoir, to different levels at different times. But as the stress reaches the top of this reservoir, the organism’s ability to deal effectively with the stress decreases. This then gives rise to the “stress” as used in its popular meaning. The organism is overloaded…Perhaps the most important finding of modern research on stress is that this stress is cumulative, because it is all in one currency, so each seemingly disparate stress effects fills the same stress reservoir. Almost any unresolved problem, even when small, adds to the reservoir of stress, and can reduce a person’s ability to function well. So long as challenges faced are within the limits of the stress reservoir, a person is actively solving problems, and becomes more alive, more capable, more rewarded in the process of meeting the challenges.
    1. Thus life itself is a recursive effect which occurs in space. It can only be understood recursively as the mutual intensification of life by life. The field of centers, which intensifies centers by virtue of their pure geometry, then creates life through this helping action in the geometric field
  2. Mach’s Principle – behavior of any one particle is affected by the whole universe
    1. Dostoevsky had a similar belief where every human was responsible for every other human and their actions. It’s insane, but to me there also seems to be something disturbingly true about it
  3. Thus the bootstrap effect – the way that centers affect one another, and mutually intensify each other, conceived as the basic property of space and matter – may give us a coherent understanding of the way that life, a new and non-mechanical phenomenon, can be created within only so-called dead matter – the “awakening” of space
  4. Things tend to be “equal” unless there are particular forces making them unequal. In addition, the existence of local symmetries corresponds to the existence of minimum energy and least-action principles. Many – perhaps all – natural systems obtain their organization and energy from the interaction of opposites. We see this in a fundamental way with elementary particles and on a biological level we see it in the contrast of male and female which exists in almost every kind of organism. It appears in the cycle of day and night. It appears in the contrast of solid and liquid phase which provides the action and catalysis in chemical reactions. More informally, it exists in the contrast of dark and light in the surface of a butterfly, which attracts the mate

What I got out of it

  1. A beautiful and quite radical book discussing truth, value, quality, beauty, design. If he is correct in his ideas, it would change how we’d have to think about nearly everything, from architecture to philosophy