Readings for class on Wed. Nov. 14th
3. "Theory of Wholeness for Beginners" (see below)
Additional recommended links
2. Christopher Alexander, "New Concepts in Complexity Theory" (A more technical summary of the theory of wholeness)
The Theory of Wholeness for Beginners
§1. WHAT DISAGREEMENTS ABOUT WIND FARM AESTHETICS ARE ABOUT.
Despite the beauty of their ecological rationality, large-scale wind farms still jar many visual sensibilities with their industrial look. The truth contained in that nimby response is that industrial infrastructure, and often modernist architectural icons, tends to have a fragmenting effect on the unity of natural landscapes and the systems which unfold that unity or wholeness in stable patterns following multiple patterns of least resistance through time. Everyone is in perceptual agreement: fragmentation is objectively ugly. Vice versa, wholeness is objectively beautiful. Life is objectively beautiful.
§2. A NEW CONCEPT OF BEAUTY: THE THEORY OF WHOLENESS.
Construed ecologically, from the standpoint of the holistic science of natural, evolving systems, the perception of beauty is the perception of wholeness. Wholeness is an objective property of nature and natural systems. This is a very deep objective quality of a place, a work of art, an organism,that affects us deeply. For a place, it is a sense of belonging, a sense that everything feels right, natural, stable, alive – most especially a feeling of life, and a feeling of being yourself. The architect/complexity scientist Christopher Alexander has developed a comprehensive theory of wholeness in his revolutionary study, The Nature of Order. The following is an encapsulation of his theory as it pertains specifically to the Meaning of Beauty.
§3. OBJECTIVE MEASUREMENT OF BEAUTY AS WHOLENESS.
The new scientific/mystical understanding of beauty, as the cognizing of wholeness, can be explained in three, related ways.
To be beautiful is:
1. To be a coherent system (to exhibit a high degree of relatedness.)
2. To exhibit living structure. (to come to exist through a continuous process of unfolding.)
3. To manifest the (transpersonal) Self, to be “personal”.
§4. FIRST ASPECT: WHOLENESS AS COHERENCE.
In a system which is good: (a) any identifiable subsystems would be in good condition, and (b) any larger systems which the system is a part of would be in good condition. That is, a system is good if its activity helps both the systems around it and those which it contains. Reciprocally, a good system is helped by the systems it contains and the larger systems which contain it. Wholeness is about the harmonizing of beings within a region of space/time. Such patterns of interaction are perceived as beautiful by us. The beauty is not in our eye, it is in the pattern. An example of a coherent system: a healthy ecosystem.
"When we speak of "healthy" eco-systems, we mean stable eco-systems: that is, both tending toward diversity and not subject to cataclysmic drops in diversity. Such conditions, also called balanced, create relationships--ever more intricate relationships-- that increasingly locate the inorganic elements necessary to life in cycles that make those inorganic elements increasingly available to life. The more extensive these relationships, the more consistently available the nutrient-elements will be to the life forms within those relationships. Expanding diversity of life forms is, relatively speaking, a low entropy enterprise. The more diverse the forms of life, the more matter and energy are kept available for use, or "work," and the less they are lost to use or work through either irretrievable dissipation or unresolvable mixing." - Abby Rockefeller
§5. SECOND ASPECT: WHOLENESS AS LIVELINESS. To exhibit wholeness is to exhibit living structure. The wholeness of a structure is the degree of life it has.
What determines degree of life?
(a) The difference between living and non-living form has to do with the process through which the form came to be. What kind of process? To have a living geometry is to come to exist through a continuous process of unfolding. One can see, just by looking, that something with living form came to be by way of a process of unfolding, where each step of the growing grew out of the prior steps, and where each development enhanced the structure (the wholeness) that already existed. What lacks living form has the look of something that was put together. Its structure did not unfold out of itself. (e.g. Frankenstein) Because something that is beautiful is alive, it makes one feel alive – feel deeply human. Industrially-produced structure seldom has this quality of being alive, and so of creating a sense of wholeness.
(b) Biological versus geometrical concept of Life. This theory implies a broad concept of life: The narrow biological concept of life is: To be alive is to be a kind of Mechanism (Reactive, constructed, reducible) - Life as mechanical structure explicable in terms of chemistry, physics and: either a) god, or b) natural selection –organized chance, and/or c) symbiosis. Machine behavior which is reactive (vs. active) and constructed (vs. self-generated). A broader systems theory concept of life is found in General Systems Theory - Life as any self-organizing structure. A still broader concept is the geometrical/spatial concept of life: To be alive is to exhibit a certain kind of geometrical structure. Life is a metaphysical process intrinsic to space/time, not something that begins with biology, but which reaches a new and higher level of intensity and harmonization with biological systems.
(c) The specific geometry of Life. Degree of life in a structure has to do with the ways it embodies the geometrical properties of stable natural systems.
There are fifteen properties universally found in stable, natural processes. In fact, they are actually geometrical properties of reality found in any complex system:
1. LEVELS OF SCALE, 2. STRONG CENTERS, 3. BOUNDARIES, 4. ALTERNATING REPETITION, 5. POSITIVE SPACE, 6. GOOD SHAPE, 7. LOCAL SYMMETRIES, 8. DEEP INTERLOCK AND AMBIGUITY, 9. CONTRAST, 10. GRADIENTS, II. ROUGHNESS, 12. ECHOES, 13. THE VOID, 14. SIMPLICITY AND INNER CALM, 15. NON-SEPARATENESS.
§6. THIRD ASPECT: WHOLENESS AS BEING FILLED WITH SELF.
To be beautiful is to manifest the (transpersonal) Self. Not ‘Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder’ but rather ‘The Eye of the Beholder is in (is an extension of) the Beauty’. Beauty does not exist because there is a consciousness there to perceive it. The consciousness is an extension of the Beauty which already exists. Consciousness is created by the Beauty in order for the geometry underlying the Beauty to be fully actualized. At the level of physical nature, every being (e.g. an electron, planet, cat, galaxy) is attracted to every other by the force of gravitation. This mysterious ability of two entities to exert an instantaneous force on each other, even if they are billions of light years away from each other, is still unexplained by cosmology and fundamental physics. At a different dimension of reality, every point of space/time embodies a degree of consciousness, of selfness as an intrinsic feature of the universe. And like the law of gravitation, there is a cosmological law of the integration of awareness: every point or ‘center’ of space/time has an instantaneous impulse to bond with every other center, to attain a more comprehensive, deeper level of cosmological awareness. Beauty is the perception of a moment of integration of awareness of centers of space/time.
"The environment is good, or bad, according to the degree that its thousands and thousands of centers are pictures of the self, what we might call ‘beings.” The practical matters of fire, cost, family structure, wall construction, structural efficiency, ecology, solar energy, wind, water, pedestrian traffic – all these have their place. Function must be at the core of everything. But what governs the life of the buildings is not to be found in these matters, alone, but in a single question, always built on the foundation of these matters, but elevating them to a different level of understanding: To what extent is every building, and the whole building, and every garden, and the whole street, all made of beings?... Every center in the matter of the universe starts this tunneling towards the I-stuff. And the stronger the center is, the bigger the tunnel, the stronger the connection to the I. That means, that every beautiful object, to the extent it has the structure which I have described, also begins to open the door towards the I-stuff or the self." – Christopher Alexander, The Nature of Order