Wholeness and real liking
We live in an era where people’s likes and dislikes are controlled by dubious intellectual fashions — often supported by the media. This is only a more extreme form of the way that in all human societies people’s likes and dislikes have always been controlled by the opinions of their supposed betters. It is only with maturity that we learn to listen to our own heart and recognize what we truly like.
I assert, as a matter of fact, that the things which people truly and deeply like are precisely these things which have the mirror-of-the-self property to a very high degree. This implies further that as we mature, and as we get rid of the idiosyncrasies and fears of youth, we gradually converge in our liking and disliking. We find out that what is truly likable is a deep thing that we share with others.
The gradual convergence is a hard pill to swallow. Definitely interested in taking a closer look at differentiating opinion from true liking.
The fifteen properties play an enormous role in helping me to distinguish A and B. If I determine that A has more of these properties, then gradually, over time, I may notice that it has more staying power. As I begin to be aware that the structures have predictive power, then my confidence increases, my ability to judge is refined, and my ability to feel accurately is increased.
This is the remarkable thing. The knowledge of the structure, when used in this way, purifies my ability to feel accurately. It does not supplement my feeling as the basic criterion for life. It helps me overcome the lack of feeling which I have in me as a result of opinion and ideology. I am then in a position to deepen my awareness of life in things and to discriminate or distinguish more finely.
It can often happen that B, which I like most at first, turns out to have a short life in this kind of experiment, and that A, though I did not recognize its value at first, has a more lasting quality which allows me to come back to it again and again and again.
The life in things, or the wholeness in things, is not merely an abstract, functional, or holistic life. The things which are alive are the things we truly like. Our apparent liking for fashions, post-modern images, and modernist shapes and fantasies is an aberration, a whimsical and temporary liking at best, which has no permanence and no lasting value. It is wholeness in the structure that we really like in the long run, and that establishes in us a deep sense of calmness and permanent connection.
Alexander clearly tries to tie wholeness to our experience and at the same time focus on that part of our experience that is universal across cultures, but he lacks the vocabulary or depth of a model like experientialism. I think here this shows as a somewhat unconvincing hand-wavy attempt to explain a phenomenon which could probably be better grounded in both science and experience with embodied cognition and kinesthetic image schemas.
The wholeness is real, and you do gradually approach convergence as you find out whether a particular thing is whole or not, or how much wholeness it has in relation to another thing — but it is very hard to find out. That is the experimental and empirical reality.
This is not a process in which our subjective preferences are merely shifting (though that can happen too). It is a process in which you gradually find out which one of a group of things is the most alive.
The confusion, the gradual separation of preferences from living structure, the difficulty of comparing notes and sorting out cultural bias and opinions foisted on us by others — getting through this maze does pay off in the end. There is a real quality which gradually emerges as the true thing which can be identified and relies upon.
Our own minds are confused by opinions, images, and thoughts. Because of these, we often fail to see accurately the relative life or degree of wholeness in different things. Nevertheless, their degree of life may be gauged by the degree to which the thing resembles our own self. However, even in making this judgement, we can again be confused, because our idea of our own self is also confused by images, thoughts, and opinions. Gradually, as we mature, we learn to recognize our own mind or self as merely a part of some greater thing or self.
As I try to perform this test, as I look at things and ask to what extent they are pictures of my self, as I encounter the contradictions and difficulties which this test exposes in me, gradually I start to get rid of all the things which seem good because of images and opinions — and retain only those which really are full of life. As this process continues, it sandpapers away my opinionated conceptions of my self and replaces them, slowly, with a truer version of what my self really is.
I’m getting a little Marie Kondo vibe from this: is that what you look for when you ask yourself if an item “brings you joy”?
The idea that a given thing is to be measured, for its life, by the degree to which it is a picture of the self of the observer — or by the degree to which is makes the observer feel wholesome — would appear, at first sight, as the most rank form of subjectivity — just the kind of thing which the Cartesian method was designed to exclude.
Clearly, Alexander is struggling with the limited set of world-views of either objectivism or subjectivism, just as Lakoff is carefully arguing in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things that these two world views are insufficient to explain many phenomena that have been empirically proven to occur. I wonder what insight we can get from combining Alexander’s theory of wholeness with Lakoff’s theory of experientialism?
I am profoundly aware of the differences which arise from culture to culture, climate to climate, place to place, and have built buildings which reflect these differences hugely. I have no doubt at all that these things must be understood and that the most elementary rules of architecture are (1) ask people what they want and (2) give it to them almost without question, so that the dignity of their inner response is recognized, preserved.
But, when all is said and done, it is my view that this matter of the self, the mirror of the self, lies still deeper. I believe that, in all contemporary cultures, people have been robbed of their heritage, not so much because ancient culture has been destroyed, but more because today’s prevailing culture robs people of the feeling that is inherent in them, their true feeling, their true liking.
The fact is that the worldwide advance of money-based democracy has created a profound sameness which is (so far) based on falsehood, on a denial of what it really means to be human. The proper acceptance of what it means to be human, the work of creating living structure which respects that true inner structure of human beings, is a deeper and more serious matter, by far, than the minor variations which culture creates.
If we get this inner truth right, we can then afford to introduce cultural variation — indeed, it will come naturally, just because when people do what seems like “self” to them, it does come automatically. But following the mechanical objective criteria of modern participatory democracy, or of technical society, or of the money-based economy that has driven out true value from our hearts — that is only cant and hyperbole, something dressed up as good to mask something that is deeply bad.
#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/8 The mirror of the self#