One of the 15 fundamental properties.
Roughness is the way that the field effect of a given center draws its strength, necessarily, from irregularities in the sizes, shapes and arrangements of other nearby centers.
Things which have real life always have a certain ease, a morphological roughness. This is not an accidental property. It is not a residue of technically inferior culture, or the result of hand-craft or inaccuracy. It is an essential structural feature without which a thing cannot be whole.
Roughness is not merely an accidental feature of […] living things. It is an essential feature of living things, and has deep structural causes.
It is intuitively clear that this subtle variation is partly responsible for the charm and harmony of this bowl — but once again, we are apt to misunderstand it, misinterpret it, because we probably attribute this charm to the fact that the bowl is handmade and that we can see, in the roughness, the trace of a human hand, and know therefore that it is personal, full of human error. This interpretation is fallacious, and has entirely the wrong emphasis. The reason that this roughness in the design contributes so greatly to the wholeness of the bowl is that a perfect triangular grid of the kind used here, cannot be made to fill a spherical surface properly. […] Indeed, throughout the design the subtle variation of the brush-strokes and their spacing, are done in such a way that each brush-stroke has a size perfectly suited to its place, and each one is placed, by eye, just exactly where it needs to be to create the most beautiful and positive white space between the strokes. When the painter painted the strokes, he could so this almost without thinking, because his hand and eye were so well coordinated — it does not require very intense intellectual effort — but still, it is this which makes the bowl so perfect, and this simply could not be obtained if the brush-strokes were all exactly the same size, or placed at exactly equal intervals.
This gets at the heart of my struggle with Life and imperfection: so it is clearly not imperfection that is the point here, and it is the focus on giving each element its best place in relation to the context, which perfect copies obviously ignore.
Typography seems to be a good example: good typography often can’t just follow precise mathematical measurements and individual glyphs need to be adapted, often purely based on visual feel, to balance the font.
Does the subtle delay in the iOS Messages app when scrolling through messages count as a form of roughness?
Software: if we reuse the same components, we avoid thinking about the context much, apart from answering the (binary) question, “Is this component useful here?”, but not in a way that allows us to think about _how_ useful that component can be specifically in _this_ context. We would need components that are not just configurable and customizable, but adaptable to their context — something I haven’t seen outside of visual adaptation (skinning).
The seemingly rough solution — which seems superficially inaccurate — is in fact more precise, not less so, because is comes about as a result of paying attention to what matters most, and letting go of what matters less. […] The seemingly rough arrangement is more precise because it comes from a much more careful guarding of the essential centers in the design.
It a man-made thing, another essential aspect of the property of roughness is its abandon. Roughness can never be consciously or deliberately created. Then it is merely contrived. To make a thing live, its roughness must be the product of egolessness, the product of no will. […] In this sense, roughness is always the product of abandon — it is created whenever a person is truly free, and doing only whatever is essential, whereas the artificial, excessively formal, careful, calculated quality in a thing always comes about when the person is not sufficiently abandoned, and not free.
“I patch it,” says the old man, calmly, and goes on with what he is doing. That is all. It does not mean that the old man doesn’t care about the bowls he makes. But he is deeply relaxed about it, not panicked. And in this state where nothing is quite so important, nothing is so terribly, heart-twistingly vital, he knows that he can let the greatest beauty show itself — and this is the only state of mind in which the property of roughness and the breath that lies in a thing which has the “it” in it can ever come to life.
Roughness does not seek to superimpose an arbitrary order over a design, but instead lets the larger order be relaxed, modified according to the demands and constraints which happen locally in different parts of the design.
It is certainly noticeable that all great buildings do have various small irregularities in them, even though they often conform to approximate overall symmetries and configurations. By contrast, buildings which are perfectly regular seem dead. This arises because real things have to adapt to irregularities in the exterior environment correctly. They become partially irregular in response.
If I have a paintbrush loaded with paint and want to make a line of dots, I will splash them down, and indeed create a rhythmic line. But of course, the spacing is imperfect, the line is not perfectly straight, because I don’t need those things. By paying attention to the global structure only to the extent that is needed, a much more fresh and vital line comes into being.
There are many indications that too careful a plan, too rigid an order in which each thing is supposed to take its proper place, actually works against function and inhibits proper adaptation.
[Roughness] appears as a result of the interplay between well-defined order and the constraints of three-dimensional space.
An irregular world struggling to be regular always achieves a certain level or regularity which is interrupted by unusual configurations created by the very forces that produce the regularity as they act against a framework of three-dimensional constraints inherent in space.
The quality of roughness, far from being caused by inaccuracy or “sloppiness”, instead occurs where there is a partial misfit between a very well-defined order and the space or configuration where it occurs. This forces an apparent irregularity, not for its own sake but to create a greater regularity.
#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#