January 16, 2016

ALL ART JUST REFLECTS THE BEAUTY OF CREATION:

MAKING THE GARDEN (Christopher Alexander, February 2016, First Things)

It has taken me almost fifty years to understand fully that there is a necessary connection between God and architecture, and that this connection is, in part, empirically verifiable. Further, I have come to the view that the sacredness of the physical world--and the potential of the physical world for sacredness--provides a powerful and surprising path towards understanding the existence of God, whatever God may be, as a necessary part of the reality of the universe. If we approach certain empirical questions about architecture in a proper manner, we will come to see God.

Only in the last twenty years has my understanding of this connection taken a definite form, and it continues to develop every day. It has led me to experience explicit visions of God, and to understand, in some very small measure, what kind of entity God may be. It has also given me a way of talking about the divine in concrete, physical terms that everybody can understand.

There can be little doubt that the idea of God, as brought forth from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has ­slowly become tired . . . to such an extent that it has difficulty fitting into everyday twenty-first-century discourse. As it stands, it is almost embarrassing to many people, in many walks of life. The question is: Can we find a way to mobilize, afresh, the force of what was once called God, as a way of helping us to recreate the beauty of the Earth?

The view put forth here does not leave our contemporary, physical view of the universe untouched. Indeed, it hints at a conception which must utterly transform our conception of ourselves and our place in the universe. It shows us, in a new fashion, a glimpse of a beauty and majesty in the smallest details of human existence.

All this comes from the work of paying attention to the Earth, its land and rocks and trees, its buildings, the people and ants and birds and creatures all together, and the blades of grass. It comes from realizing that the task of making and remaking the Earth--that which we sometimes call architecture--is at the core of any commonsense understanding of the divine. [...]

As my colleagues and I continued experiments in which we did our best to apply these principles to real building projects, it became more and more clear that we needed to sharpen our idea of health and clarify the target of this work. It was urgent to develop a more solid conceptual and experimental foundation that could provide us with practical ways of judging which environments, and which kinds of environments, were indeed most successful in sustaining or promoting health.

This task began to lead, for the first time, to empirical hints of the presence of God. In effect, we began to discover a new kind of empirical complex in buildings and works of art that is connected with the human self, spirituality, social and mental health, God, ways of understanding the role that love plays in establishing wholeness, the role of art, and ­conscious awareness of the human being as part of some greater spiritual entity. These arguments were later conveyed in the four books of The Nature of Order.

I would like to summarize our work by explaining this new kind of empirical complex in the following way. In any part of what we call nature, or any part of a building, we see, at many levels of scale, coherent entities or centers, ­nested in each other, and overlapping each other. These ­coherent entities all have, in varying degree, some quality of "life."

For any given center, this quality of life comes about as a result of cooperation between the other living centers at several scales, which surround it, contain it, and appear within it. The degree of life any one center has depends directly on the degrees of life that appear in its associated centers at these different scales. In short, the life of any given entity depends on the extent to which that entity had ­unfolded from its own previous wholeness, and from the wholeness of its surroundings.

When one contemplates this phenomenon soberly, it is hard to imagine how it comes about. But what is happening is, in effect, that life appears, twinkling, in each entity, and the cooperation of these twinkling entities creates further life. You may view this phenomenon as ordinary. Or you may think of it as the Buddhists of the Hua-Yen canon did, when they viewed it as the constantly changing God-like tapestry that is God, and from which life comes.

In this view, architecture contributes to the world to just that extent to which it plays its role in this tapestry, and that, in turn, comes about as a result of the extent to which a building, or an outdoor place between buildings, or a doorway, is composed ­entirely of entities that are themselves whole and entire, and which--each one of them--make us feel whole and entire. This is, in any case, an attempt to make a picture of the whole.

With this, with a searchlight focused on the whole, I could no longer really avoid the topic of God.

I suppose it is fair to say that there are two approaches to the reality of God. One is faith; the other is reason. Faith works easily when it is present, but it is luck, or one's early history in family life, or a blinding insight of some kind, that determines whether one has faith. Reason is much harder. One cannot easily approach the reality of God by means of reason. Yet in twentieth- and twenty-first-century discourse, reason is almost the only way we have of explaining a difficult thing so that another can participate.

It is reason--the language of science, and its appeal to shareable, empirical observation and reasoning--that has given our modern era its strength. Yet one is unlikely to encounter God on the basis of reason. There can, however, be a persuasive logic that deals with the whole, and with the deeply enigmatic problems that the concept of the whole opens.

My life began with childlike faith. After then going through the dark forests of positivistic science, to which I gladly gave myself for so many years, I was finally able, through contemplation of the whole, to emerge into the light of day with a view of things that is both visionary and empirical.

It is a view that has roots in faith, and from it builds bridges of scientific coherence towards a new kind of visionary faith rooted in scientific understanding. This new kind of faith and understanding is based on a new form of observation. It depends for its success on our belief (as human beings) that our feelings are legitimate. Indeed, my experiments have shown that in the form I have cast them, feelings are more legitimate and reliable, perhaps, than many kinds of experimental procedure.

It is in this way that I was led from architecture to the intellectual knowledge of God. It was my love of architecture and building from which I slowly formed an edifice of thought that shows us the existence of God as a necessary, real phenomenon as surely as we have previously known the world as made of space and matter.

During my years at Berkeley, I never taught or spoke about God explicitly as part of my work as an architect. As professor of architecture, I tried to teach and write in ways that were consistent with my background in science and mathematics. It would have seemed incongruous to bring God into my discussions of architecture because I was simply trying to find out what was true and write it down. A fairly straightforward process, I thought, following well-tested methods of scientific inquiry. So that is what I set out to do, and that is what I did. In my heart, I was always dimly aware that I did maintain an inner knowing that the best way to produce good architecture must somehow be linked to God--indeed, that valuable architecture was always about God, and that this was the source of any strength I had in being able to identify the real thing. But in the early days these stirrings were very much private, interior to me, and subdued.

You see, then, how it is that the careful study of architecture led me--and I believe would inevitably lead any careful and empirical thinker--to thoughts about the nature of things, and the simultaneous existence of what we may call the objective (outer) nature of things, typically dealt with in science, and at the same time of what we may call the subjective (or inner) nature of things.

What is new is the discovery that the so-called subjective, or inner, view of things is no less objective than the objective or mechanical view of things. When questions about the subjective are asked carefully, and in the right way, they are as reliable as the experiments of physics. This understanding has led to a new view of experiment that uses the human being as a measuring instrument and leads to reliable, shared results when properly done.

This has all come to light because of my intense interest in and focus on architecture. In conventional philosophy, there is nothing that allows one to test the reality of God, or of visions inspired by God. But we ask people to compare two buildings, or two doorways, and to decide which one is ­closer to God, different people will answer this ­question in the same way, and with a remarkably high ­reliability.

All this has a unique ability to point to the reality of God. In theory, other disciplines such as ethics might seem to have more claim to illuminate discussion of God. But the tangible substance of architecture, the fact that in good architecture, every tiny piece is (by ­definition) suffused with God, either more or less, gives the concept of God a meaning essentially translated from the beauty of what may be seen in such a place, and so ­allows it to disclose God with unique clarity. ­Successful architecture ultimately leads us to see God and to know God. If we pay attention to the beauty of those places that are suffused with God in each part, then we can conceive of God in a down-to-earth way. This ­follows from an awareness in our hearts, and from our ­active effort to make things that help make the Earth ­beautiful.


All "modern art" is reactionary and the reaction is against beauty. 

Posted by at January 16, 2016 12:55 PM

  

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