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Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Review - The Nature of Order, Book 1 by Christopher Alexander

All artists, designers, builders, landscapers, and Objectivists interested in art would likely benefit tremendously and most likely enjoy reading this book! Though it is really long.

I love how Alexander’s books are beautiful. It made me happy every time I picked up this book because I was holding something so lovely in my hands. And it annoyed me that other books written about beauty don't try to be beautiful. Also, this book reads as if it is written in NVC. The author writes so respectfully and so compassionately. So not only does the book look lovely and wholesome, it feels lovely and wholesome to read it.

This book is a study of how architecture enriches our lives or diminishes our lives, it is a study in how we can feel more alive, how we can feel more free in our daily lives, and how we can feel more awe when we look at the world.

Alexander argues for an objective rather than a subjective worldview and especially for an objective defintion of beauty. (WOO HOO!) He laments the loss of objective definitions that happened about a hundred years ago. He understands the history and ramifications of the subjective “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” philosophy that took over, but he does not argue against them from a philosophical standpoint but rather a physics/mathematical/biological standpoint and sometimes a psychological one. “Not all nature is equally beautiful. Not all of it is equally deep in its wholeness. Some of nature may be “better” than other parts of nature.”

He argues that there is no dichotomy between head and heart, just people not trained in consciousness, that there is no difference between form and function (the moral is the practical...) but there are people who can see beauty and people who can’t. But seeing beauty is a skill anyone can learn. It is also a skill we are all born with that is taken from us due to our schooling or socialization. He makes the claim that children are better at seeing beauty, so I did a test on Anders, age 3, who I have always thought has very good taste. Anders he did well, choosing what Alexander would have called the objectively beautiful picture 80% of the time.

From a child psyc point of view: what Alexander refers to as their ability "to see beauty," and his art students' ability "to blur in order to see beauty," is perhaps what has been studied in children and is called “lantern consciousness” versus “spotlight consciousness.” This is the skill many Western adults lose that prevents them from "seeing" beauty in its wholeness as opposed to its pieces. And yes, this is one of the goals of education.

His essay, “The personal nature of order” is his version of Ayn Rand’s "The Romantic Manifesto." Her’s is better though because: he argues that we all feel the same about a given work of art (or building or whatever) whereas she argues that we will all feel the same about a given work of art BUT that we will all feel differently about that feeling, so our response to the art will be different. So whereas he insists that beauty would make everyone feel at peace, she would argue that beauty would make everyone feel at peace, but there is a secondary emotion and that is how we feel about feeling at peace. When some people feel at peace they feel deeply happy and content. When others feel at peace they are troubled, like something is wrong, and seek a stimulant. So whereas Rand recognizes this psychological issue of secondary (and tertiary emotions--that can hopefully be fixed with consciousness), Alexander doesn’t. Though both would agree, “If you are properly educated you will feel the correct thing." Alexander calls this “real liking” as if to say: "You may think you know what you like, but I really know." All that being said, to a certain extent Rand writes arrogantly and Alexander writes compassionately, making Alexander much more accessible.

Alexander argues that freedom is the most important thing for human happiness, that freedom IS happiness, the freedom to act and pursue our goals. He says, “True freedom lies in the ability a person has to react appropriately to any given circumstance… A person actively solving problems is more alive.” Anything that gets in the way of your pursuit (like the government) hampers life. Rand and Branden agree when they say: "It is not the pursuit of happiness, but the happiness of pursuit. The freedom to pursue the achievement of our values is happiness." Alexander reminds me of Schopenhaur in his Freedom of the Spirt chapter—happiness can only be experienced when we are free from pain--and oh how rare that is!

Being surrounded by life (energy centers) increases our life because the outside world is our mirror. Our outer world creates our inner world and vice versa. You can know all about a person’s psychology by seeing their home—how cluttered, how bogged down, how dusty. The space you create IS your inner life as represented by you. This is why people, clear people, energetic people, are those people we all want to be around. Because of the mirror neurons. Happiness, peace, joy--they ARE literally contagious. As are misery, sadness, anger.

Our mirror neurons work not only with people, but with the outer world.

He marries Objectivism to the hippie "we-are-one" philosophy quite well as he doesn’t believe seeing the world as individual entities is helpful, so so much as seeing the world as “life centers.” He argues that for something to be beautiful all energy centers which are not absolutely required must be avoided—form and function are one. Which means--goodbye government!

Great quote: “I am more likely to succeed in creating a thing that a Japanese person truly likes by making a thing that I truly like than by following a handbook of modern regulations and Japanese style.” But remember he is a qualified "liker". Most people are not.

A few times in this book Alexander makes cutting, uneducated remarks about money and businessmen, and how they have destroyed architecture. Sigh. He would really benefit from studying Austrian economics. He has no idea how perfectly his worldview fits with theirs.

Therefore: Alexander is like an Objectivist-Anarchist who thinks he is a Hippie.

I want someone to create a Pattern Language line of jewelry and clothes SO BAD.

On his efforts to explain what he wants to explain I think studying psychology would help. For example:
-I would use the word “energy” instead of “life” as I think “energy” more easily conveys what Alexander means. He says, "There is a certain amount of life in every rock," but it may be more accurate to say, "There is a certain amount of energy in every rock, e.g. emanating from every rock, every center, has an energy field that has more or less energy, everything has different energy frequencies emanating from it." That was "life" can define organisms that live and "energy" can describe that feeling we get about everything being alive.
-He also uses the word “feel” when I think using “feel connected to” or “relate to” would make his message more clear.
-He talks about people who “radiate life,” but I would call it "presence" and "vibrance."
-He talks about art trying too hard and ending up feeling fake. I would use the word "authentic" and "inauthentic."
-He uses the word “personal” when “beautiful” or even “peaceful” would work better.

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