Beyond cognition

If we are to use the theory of centers — and the concept of life — as the basis of all architecture, it would be reassuring to know that wholeness, together with the properties which bring centers to life, is a necessary feature of material reality, not merely a psychological aspect of things which arises during perception of works of art.

Alexander might have left behind the mechanist-rational worldview, but he still seems to subscribe to an objectivist worldview, not the experientialist view that his theory would fit so well into. I can only assume that he wasn’t exposed to the works of Lakoff and Johnson and the findings of late 20th-century cognitive science?

According to a “cognitive” interpretation, the centers could merely exist in the mind’s eye (as products of cognition), and the fifteen properties, which apparently make the centers work, could also exist merely as artifacts of cognition. According to such an interpretation, it might be said that buildings and works of art look good when they are made of centers in the way I have described, simply because they correspond somehow to deep cognitive structures — that is, to the way human perception and cognition work. In this interpretation, these explanations would be a powerful way of understanding the psychology of buildings and works of art — and would tell us something important and significant about visual phenomena in the world. But they would not have implications beyond the psychological — certainly not for the way the material world actually works. By themselves, they would certainly not support my claim that this new view of architecture is necessarily linked to a new view of space and matter and to the fundamentals of the way the world is made.

This seems to address subjectivism, but doesn’t acknowledge more complicated but more accurate models like experientialism.

Now, to suggest the unity in which atoms, rivers, buildings, statues, trees, paintings, mountains, windows, and lakes are all part of one unbroken system, I shall argue that nature too is understandable in terms of wholeness, and must be understood this way. I shall try to show that the structure of centers I call the wholeness goes deeper than mere cognition, is linked to the functional and practical behavior of the natural world, not only the architectural world, and is as much at the foundation of physics and biology as it is of architecture. This will, later, give new insights into the character of nature, how the unfolding of the wholeness which occurs in nature is responsible for the character of natural structuresand how, finally, the unfolding of wholeness might one day be understood as a single law which underlies the entirety of everything we know as nature.

It is simply part of the way the world is made that the non-homogeneity of space leads to progressive differentiations, which then allow different kinds of systems and boundaries to develop. The zones where conditions are relatively more constant tend to be identified as zones of a single “type”. Then, by contrast with these zones, the transition areas between them tend to become boundary zones.

This kind of differentiation, which occurs continually throughout the physical world, is not a matter of our perception. It is real physical organization, which manifests itself in the world and has functional consequences in the behavior of the systems.

Further, the wholeness or integrity of each subsystem creates a center. When a cell, which has a nucleus and an outer boundary zone, acts as a center within the organism, it becomes stronger than either the boundary zone or the cell nucleus itself. It becomes mechanically more coherent as a result of its role in the larger system.

In general, the “strength” of any center — its degree of life — is a measure of its organization. One might measure this by its lifetime as a structure, or by its ability to resist disruption, or by its influence on the wholes around it. By almost any of these measures, the stronger a center is, the more powerful its impact on other nearby centers, and the more it will influence the behavior, motion, coagulation, organization, and reorganization of the other centers which come under its influence. Thus the system of powerful centers in the world has a practical and immediate physical influence on the behavior of other nearby centers.

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/6 The fifteen properties in nature#

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