One of the 15 fundamental properties.

Boundaries is the way in which the field-like effect of a center is strengthened by the creation of a ring-like center, made of smaller centers which surround and intensify the first. The boundary also unites the center with the centers beyond it, thus strengthening it further.

Living centers are often — nearly always — formed and strengthened by boundaries.


  1. Focus attention on (and help produce) the bounded center
  2. Unite the bounded center with its surroundings

The purpose of the boundary which surrounds a center is two-fold. First, it focuses attention on the center and thus helps to produce the center. It does this by forming the field of force which creates and intensifies the center which is bounded. Second, it unites the center which is being bounded with the world beyond the boundary. For this to happen, the boundary must at the same time be distinct from the center being bounded, must keep this center distinct and separate from the world beyond it, and yet also have the capacity of uniting that center with the world beyond the boundary. Then the boundary both unites and separates.

Boundaries do the complex work of surrounding, enclosing, separating, and connecting in various different geometric ways, but one vital feature is necessary in order to make the boundary work in any of these ways: the boundary needs to be of the same order of magnitude as the center which is being bounded. If the boundary is very much smaller than the thing being bounded, it can’t do much to hold in or form the center. […] In general it is necessary to think of boundaries as very large.

The next thing that is needed to establish the interlock and connection, coupled with separation, is that the boundary itself is also formed of centers. […] Essentially [the boundaries] form centers, or systems of alternating centers, which look both ways: they face in and they face out; they create connections to the outside, by establishing new centers that span the two. Some work by pure interlock (e.g., border of reversed arrows). Sometimes the border has a motif like a running vine, or alternation, which first relates to one side, then the other, creating ambiguity. At other times, the border is simply made of large square tiles, each one containing flowers: it has no special interlock but a feeling of similarity with what is on either side in terms of shape and color.

The boundary rule does not apply only to two-dimensional areas. Even a one-dimensional thing may be bounded by one-dimensional zones at its ends. […] The rule also applies to volumes. A three-dimensional volume may be bounded by a smaller volume around its edge.

Taken by itself, the boundary rule seems simple. But the rule does not merely refer to the outer boundary of the thing. If we apply the rule repeatedly, it says that every part, at every level, has a boundary which is a thing in its own right. This includes the boundaries themselves. They too have boundaries, each of which is a thing in its own right. What seems like one rule, then, is a pervasive structural feature of enormous depth, which is in effect applied dozens of hundreds of times, at different scales throughout the thing.

The limited idea of a main boundary by itself completely fails to convey the shimmering sense that is created when a thing has boundaries within boundaries, which are boundaries of boundaries, and that all together permeate its structure.

When the functions of the centers that form the boundaries are correctly chosen, this allows the smaller centers forming the boundary zones to intensify the functioning of the major centers being bounded.

In nature

In nature, we see many systems with powerful, think boundaries. The thick boundaries evolve as a result of the need for functional separations and transitions between different systems. They occur essentially because wherever two very different phenomena interact, there is also a “zone of interaction” which is a thing in itself, as important as the things which it separates.

The boundary between two phenomena, instead of being merely a dimensionless interface, is itself a solid zone with its own distinct coherent properties and shape.

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/5 Fifteen fundamental properties#

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

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