Mechanical-rationalist world view

Alexander believes that most of us have a picture of the world that’s mechanical and rationalist, which mostly prevents us from creating beauty.

I believe that we have in us a residue of a world-picture which is essentially mechanical in nature — what we might call the mechanist-rationalist world-picture. Whether or not we believe that we are subscribing to this picture, whether or not we are aware of the impact of its residue in us, even when we consider ourselves moved by spiritual or ecological concerns, most of us are still — I believe — to a greater or lesser extent in the grip of some residue of this mechanical world-picture. Like an infection it has entered us, it affects our actions, it affects our morals, it affects our sense of beauty. It controls the way we think when we try to make buildings and — in my view — it has made the making of beautiful buildings all but impossible.

Architecture depends on our picture of the world.
How we build is closely connected to our picture of the world.

I have reached the conclusion that the strange fantasies, the private in-house language about architecture, the strange nature of 20th-century gallery art, deconstructionism, postmodernism, modernism, and a host of other “isms”, all of which affect our physical world hugely, are created because of an entanglement between the nature of architecture, the practice of architecture, and the mechanical conception of the universe.

-> Consequences of the mechanistic view

Descartes’ “trick”

In the 17th century, Descartes provided us with a method:

If you want to understand how something works,

  • pretend that it is a machine,
  • isolate it from everything else, and
  • invent a mechanical model (a mental toy), which
    • obeys certain rules and
    • replicates the behavior.

Thus we carry forward a blithe and rather simple mental assurance that it is all created by the pushing and pulling of events, very much the way we also understand the pushing and pulling of 19th-century atoms.

This method was supposed to be a mental trick, but it works so well that over time for us it has grown into a representation of how reality works.

Although Descartes’ trick has brought us far, we are starting to see its limitations. Or not. I guess not seeing them is the problem.

Connection to software

I’m not sure how much the nature of the universe concerns us as software engineers. The other two — the nature of software and the practice of software development — for sure are similarly entangled, for us software engineers perhaps more with the perception of software, the experience of using it, and its cultural impact on society.

Other reflections

Building things is hard. It is difficult to do a good job. We have to learn a lot before we even get to do it. Is it possible that we have mostly given up trying to understand the overwhelming complexity of the world and that this robs us of seeing the connections between things that are necessary to create beautiful things?

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/Preface/2 How architecture depends on our picture of the world#

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/Preface/5 Descartes#

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