The numinous experience
To what extent do I feel a personal relationship with it? To what extent does it serve as a pool in which I can see my dreams, sorrows, the beauty of the world?
It is an unusual frame of mind. We look at one stone set against the hedge and it has this element to a greater extent than another. One patch of wall with peeling paint and broken plaster has this quality. Another wall, freshly stuccoed, and of uniform color, has it far less. Another wall, peeling and broken, merely looks crummy: it does not have this quality.
The base assumption is that there are places in the world which have more of this relation with our own selves, and there are places that have less. The primitive spoke of certain spots in the forest, or on the hills, which were sacred. We have dismissed this as something fanciful. But, from the perspective I am taking, it is not fanciful at all. It is just fact, consistent with what I have described in Books 1 to 3, and empirically verifiable. Some places in the world carry the relationship with our own selves more deeply than others. (I use the word “place” very loosely. Some of the places I mean are very, very large, hundreds of yards or miles across. Others are tiny, no bigger than a brick or two.)
Human beings have, in the past, recognized such places as numinous. They are places which carry the spirit. They are places which carry the soul. That language may or may not be useful. But what I want to insist on, is only the one thing: some places, some things, are of such a nature that we feel more intensely related to them, we feel a relationship with them, a direct relationship between our own self and that thing, that place. We feel it most strongly, and when we feel it we feel that we are connected with all things, with the universe.
In the language of Book 1, the wholeness of the world may be seen as a vast system of centers, each one induced by the existence of others. Some of these centers are transitory (ripples in a pond or forces in a beam); some are hard to see (the centers induced in the sheet of paper with a dot); some are normal to the functions in a building but only visible in the hidden structure (the centers that make up a living room); others are clear, tangible, and distinct (tables, chairs, houses, people, cars, benches and trees).
In this view of living structure, each center which exists has its own degree of life. Otherwise stated, it has more or less existence “as a center”. Within those centers which have intense life the component centers themselves also have intense life.
The more deeply a particular center has its centeredness or intensity of life, the more it resembles me or you. In a building which has great intensity of life, not only the building itself seen as a center has this quality, but all the centers which exist within it and all the centers it induces in the world, all of them have this property of being pictures of self.
Such a world will have an almost perfect relation to ourselves. Since everything with an intense field of centers is also a picture of the human self, it is a world in which every single part we encounter is somehow a picture of the soul. The self-like character which is pervasive, produces unity. It is a comforting world. It is also, in a fundamental sense, a normal world.
The recently constructed world is often abstract — and for those who have eyes to see, deeply frightening — by comparison with the traditional world. Terrible. Empty. Deserted. Is it too much to expect that men and women may become insane in they second kind of world? Yet this is the reality of the conditions under which a great majority of human beings live today.
The two worlds are not only physically different. They also communicate images of two different kinds of universe… images of two different cosmologies, two different conceptions of the universe. One is a world in which the universe is friendly — human-related — and in which we are related to the universe. The other is a world in which the universe is unfriendly, alien, and we are unrelated to it.
When there is living structure, it is related to me, to you, to every person. You look out, around you, and you see things in which you see yourself; it is astonishing, absorbing. It is the most fundamental experience. No other experience is as comforting. It is beyond what the phrase “living structure” suggests. Path, tree, sunset, are related to me. They contain a presence, the presence of some I-like thing. All of it, when it has the right structure, is undeniably related to you. It is related to YOU: A matter of degree, but the degree is not the main issue. The main issue is the fact of the relationship. We love one thing more than another.
In a world which has deep life, the world belongs to me, and feels like mine, when it has a structure of wholeness, deeply within it. It becomes alien, or dead, when it is made of impersonal structures, abstract structures, and when self-like qualities are no longer present.
If programming is mostly abstract, like math, then it is not surprising that we feel that it is impersonal, and alien to us. In a way, programming languages could be the attempt to instill a sense of relatedness into a purely abstract concept: introducing concepts that feel more friendly to us, concepts more compatible with our intuition, concepts easier to grasp, and thus making a language that is more related to our selves.