PatternTheory is a theory based on the work of ChristopherAlexander. It deals with the phenomena of life and how they grow and develop. This includes a kind of system theory (theory of centers and wholeness), empirical knowledge about the properties of living systems and possible transformations, of course patterns and PatternLanguage’s as part of processes of unfolding systems. And how we, as humans, can be in resonance with that and be happy and creative in a very down-to-the-earth sense.

The original theory very much focuses on architecture, but it is immediately clear that it can be used as a general theory. This has been used in various application domains, e. g. for “software design patterns”. It is questionable, though, whether the original wisdom and richness of the PatternTheory is still recognizable in these secondary sources.

Gradual Life

The PatternTheory is, first and for all, a holistic theory about life.

Life is seen as anything unfolding, not only biological organisms, but every structure in space that grows to increasing complexity. So life in the sense of the PatternTheory is not a binary, logical thing, but a gradual property that - at least in principle - all systems have, more or less.

Humans resonate with other systems according to the degree of life they have. Walking through a forest, looking at a sunset, listening to the breaking of ocean waves strenghtens us. Concrete walls do not. Why? If traditional science would tell us why and help us to create environments, architectures and societies where people are happy … then we wouldn’t need PatternTheory.


There is no final consensus about what science is. Popper gave a concept that fits to natural science, as an incremental process of building theories that make predictions about reality that can be tested. As a background one should accept that the character of all knowledge is hypothetical and that a positive test doesn’t mean that a theory is proven, but only that it has worked in certain situations and can be trusted to some extent.

Most natural scientists agree with that, including prominent scientists like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking. But many other people are unhappy about that because it excludes certain types of scientific work that can’t create predictions and be tested and measured, like science about history or literature. So it is probable that Poppers concept is too strict, fitting to causal-mechanistical science primarily.

PatternTheory may be an example of a different type of science that may be accepted as useful and testable, but is not based on formulas and predictions and causal relationsships primarily. As a picture: if you grow plants from seeds you will not be able to predict which seeds will actually grow and you will not be able to predict the size, number or position of branches, leaves or fruits. Still the knowledge and work of a gardener is of tremendous importance and can be done with scientific seriousness. Consider that growing a community or an economy is a similar process.


There is a paradigmatic change in thinking. The picture used is that of an organism that unfolds by growing in complexity and adapts according to surrounding forces and internal needs. This fits to systems like e. g. a community, an ecology, a human, … naturally. The observation is that people resonate with systems that “have life”, that are “beautiful”, that they can feel this quality and that creating living systems and being with them makes us stronger and more happy.

Compare that to traditional science: causal thinking can only end in explaining everything as a kind of predictable mechanism. In this concept there can no place for values, freedom or feelings, except as some illusions that accompany the “human machine”. If happiness is conceptualized at all then as result of a measurable consumption.

System theory

As a system theory, the PatternTheory names the smallest unit of interest a “center” (other theories might use names like “element” or “object”). Everything is a center that you can perceive, locate, name or remember. Even the void in a balloon may be considered a center. There are even latent centers (the parent’s wish for a child).

Every center is part of a larger wholeness, that is also a center. Every center may contain a sub-structure of other centers. “center” means that we can put our focus on any part of universe and look at it, its internal structure and its external environment as well. This is effectively an abstract recursive or fractal picture of the universe.

Centers come into existance by single-step transformations which can be considered part of multi-step processes. With organisms and man-made objects this is often the result of solving a problem. Reusable solutions to problems are named patterns and they are collected as PatternLanguages. This is the cultural knowledg of mankind, conscious or not.

Centers are considered to from structures in which they strengthen or help each other. The more they do, the more they get the “quality of life”. At some point of complexity life gets biological.

Living systems

In studying living systems, ChristopherAlexander found fifteen recuring properties. They occur in natural structures, like mountains or flowers and they occur in artefacts like paintings or buildings.

Producing or increasing these properties, this means that there are fifteen corresponding types of transformations.

In unfolding, the ordering of transformations is crucial for the success. Sometimes this is obvious (like making the base of a house before the roof), sometimes this is difficult and requires mastership (like choosing the best move to develop a game of chess).

Nature give many examples of successful unfolding, making best use of what is available, choosing least energy paths of development. Step by step. PatternTheory is to a large extent advocacy to “learn from nature”.

Feeling of Resonance

The whole concept would fail, if there were no way to handle the “quality of life” in a reproducable, shareable, objective way. An abstract architect or artist has to make decisions on that when creating something.

Alexanders states, and he backs this with experiments, that the “quality of life” can be felt. That one can experience and train the ability to make reliable judgements in comparison situations when one focuses on a kind of - my words - “personal resonance”.

This is probably the focal point, where most ideas and arguments have to join together.

(1) A decision may be wrong, however hard you try to make it right. If you find out that it was wrong, you should be able back-track and reverse its effect. (if you build a pre-planned house, you can’t. with death penalty, you can’t)

(2) When unfolding a living system, there is no abstract perfect decision. There is no “best painting” or “best house” or “perfect flower”. What you are looking for is the best possible adaptation to the needs of the individual situation. ROUGHNESS (or individuality) is a property of life. A certain imperfection is part of the beauty.

(3) In actual projects, the way to communciate the necessary knowledge to the user, is by patterns. These are simple descriptions of the solutions available. Patterns are collected in pattern languages. There are many optional elements: one can chose a pattern or not, patterns are adapted to the situation.

(4) Good decisions will only be possible if they follow a natural ordering of process steps. Step by step, according to a natural priority or hierarchy. Therefore process knowledge is at least as important. This is something that the architect must provide. (you shouldn’t decide location of a living room within a house, before you’re clear about the budget and the size and placement of the house itself).

(5) Judgement will fail, when personal interests of outsiders interfere. Therefore decisions must be made by the actual users (customers) in their situation according to their needs or by some ego-less architect, better by both in consensus. This is a central fact, tightly connecting PatternTheory to the ideas of democracy, transparency and participation.

(6) It is too difficult to make complex decisions or to choose between many options. Always make decisions as a simple choice between two clear alternatives.

(7) Fundamental test questions are “which alternative will strengthen me more in my life? Which will make me feel more whole? Which is a better expression of my self?”. Don’t go for status or beauty or other criteria which are overloading by what we have been told to prefer.

Discussion: Beating down on hard science?

I like it, because I’m looking for things that describe “science that is not science,” and that has “a human touch.”

But I get cold chills when I read things that are easily interpreted as beating down on hard science.

Consider: “If happiness is conceptualized at all then as result of a measurable consumption.”

It doesn’t say it explicitly, but it sort of sounds like it’s saying: “Science makes people into Walmart shoppers,” which I don’t think is the case. I don’t think Science, as described here, says anything about happiness. We could talk about what psychologists and sociologists and “social scientists” say about those things, but “hard” scientists use the pejorative “soft science” to talk about them, and generally exclude them from the realm of science. “Too many variables. No control possible,” etc., etc.,.

Science does, in fact, say that everything is deterministic. People are making errors, though, when they believe that “they don’t have to think,” though in response to the deterministic reality of the universe described by science.

Part of the problem is the word “deterministic.” Does it mean that everything is pre-determined, or does it mean that humans can determine it? My understanding is that it’s the first, but critics focus on the second. The first we could call UniverseDeterminable, and the second we could call HumanlyDeterminable. I think that everything in the universe is UniverseDeterminable, but humans are wrong if they believe that it is HumanlyDeterminable.

Should the practice of science be blamed for the mistakes that lay people make, in interpreting Science? That doesn’t seem right to me. I could see a case for blaming scientists themselves, for mis-presenting things. But it’s not clear to me that it’s the practice of science that is to blame. If there is a systematic error, it would be corrected by making some changes to how science is interpreted by scientists, but not by changing the core practice of science (the scientific method) itself.

I think this is an important point. I’m an educated natural scientist, did my MS on theoretical chemistry at the Technical University of Graz, Austria. So I’m very positive about what hard science can do. I’ve always been a big fan of KarlPopper, who conceptualized scientific work, based on the model of the Newton - Einstein development process.

Alexander is somewhat anti-traditional-science because he blames mechanistic thinking to be responsible that science doesn’t deal with phenomena of life. So he replaced the basic model of a “machine” by his model of “organism” and says “everything is an organism, really”.

I’d like to be more cautious and more bold, and deviate from Alexander and Popper. I’d say that science about knowledge and methods that (1) are useful, at least in the end (2) that can be shared, e. g. learned (3) can be tested in some way, so that it is more than a belief. Science seems to result in knowledge that has some status, e. g. untested, tested, or - contrary to Popper - even expected to be true. Popper would say that everything is an hypothesis (0/1), I’d say that it is absolutely true that the earth moves around the sun and the human bodys consist of molecules. People like to fight against or about ideas like “absolute truth” so it may be a valid strategic decision to avoid such concepts. Popper’s position is good as a defensive hold.

In general I’d argue for a wider view of science. Just as Alexander argues that life is not a 0/1 phenomenon but grdual, I’d argue that science is not a 0/1 phenomenon but that there are different qualities of theories, results and methods. We have to work more about the quality of knowledge.

The types of models that can be used are (1) “machine/clock” for deterministic, causal, mechanistic systems (2) “chaos/cloud” for stochastic systems and (3) “organism/tree” for unfolding living systems (Alexander). I think it depends on the system and the situation which one can be used. One should look at the results and the types of understanding.

I think that hard science has fallen to the “if you have a hammer, everthing looks like a nail” problem. Our problems in society come from that, to a large degree. We have no problems with jumbo jets (clocks). We have problems with social peace, freedom and happyness, for which no good models exist and for which science didn’t care for, for whatever reasons, for hundreds of years.

Wow! OK, Helmut!

I get it!

This inspires a lot of thought for me.

I’m going to be figuring implications of this argument for a while now. I don’t think I’ll refute it; But rather, try to flesh it out.

Discussion: Determinism and indeterminism / the wave-particle is cloud hypothesis

(abbreviated to parts about “determinism”)

Science does, in fact, say that everything is deterministic. People are making errors, though, when they believe that “they don’t have to think,” though in response to the deterministic reality of the universe described by science.

Part of the problem is the word “deterministic.” Does it mean that everything is pre-determined, or does it mean that humans can determine it? My understanding is that it’s the first, but critics focus on the second. The first we could call UniverseDeterminable, and the second we could call HumanlyDeterminable. I think that everything in the universe is UniverseDeterminable, but humans are wrong if they believe that it is HumanlyDeterminable.

Maybe that’s a big part of the problem. When you say “Science does, in fact, say that everything is deterministic” this is actually wrong, because the foundation of all physics - quantum mechanics and quantum chromodynamics - model an highly dynamic, unpredictable, indeterministic foundation of the universe. Empty space is (Wiltcek, nobel price 2004) is conceptualized as a dynamical field of Gluons where elementary particle can be conceptualized as stable fluctuations.

Einstein at 1920 was traditional deterministic and he had to give this up.

In fact I’d like to make a hypothesis to resolve that wave-particle dualism and assume that this dualism is just the result of the phenomena actually being clouds. A stochastic cloud should sometimes displays itself as an particle (deterministically-individually) and sometimes as a wave (deterministically-statistically). So the wave-particle dualism is imho not a finding of knowledge, no deed of science, but a hint that science is using the wrong paradigm (hammer) to understand its most fundamental phenomena. This is just an hypothesis, but it comes out naturally, from knowing physics and Alexander, almost trivially.

Fact is that the world becomes causal only in certain abstractions and deterministic only in certain situations, e. g. when a stone of 10^27 elementary particles falls without that their individual dynamic nature plays a role.

It also seems probable, that the structural elements of what Alexander sees as “organism” or “life”, actually mirrors the “wave” in elementary physics. The granular structures (e. g. cells, organs, humans, but also suns, planets) probably results from resonance phenomena, e. g. like the bubbles in boiling water, for which no theory yet exists. In this interpretation, life and humans are basically a resonance phenomenon within the highly dynamic medium of empty space. Of course this is somewhat trans-Alexander.

Wait– okay, my bad. Science doesn’t say that it’s UniverseDeterminable.

But, you’ve commit a bad, as well: Science doesn’t say that it’s indeterminable, either. We just know that, at the lowest level we can perceive, (and perhaps the lowest we can perceive ever, with any amount of technology, a la Max Planck,) things are not HumanDeterminable?.

But there’s nothing in Quantum Mechanics that says it is or is not UniverseDeterminable. The speculation of interpretation is just that – speculation and interpretation. There are plenty of purely deterministic interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. It’s a shame that we can’t look smaller, to see if it’s really one or the other.

I don’t quite understand this position and argument. We know that the foundation of all processes is not-knowable, is stochastic. E. g. we can not predict the position of an electron within an atom, we can not predict the decay of an instable nucleus, we know that a neutron is not something like a billard ball but is is a fluctuating phenomenon of quarks in the field of gluons that is called empty space. We know that we can’t measure small phenomena because measurement changes them. Only when we go to fuzzy statements like “the brick will fall down” we can make save predictions. Sometimes this is all we need, but sometimes we’d like to know more “will it break, in how many parts?”. We are used not to ask the questions that we are unable to answer.

So in terms of science, these are the hard facts. A hypothesis “universe determinable” would have to be kind of testable to become science. As it is not, it is wishful thinking of those that prefer a safe deterministic universe. It’s MetaPhysics or - as I prefer - metascience, sometimes “science entertainment” or “science hype”.

I think its mainly a false religious motivation, which makes people (like Einstein “God does not play dice”) believe that a universe must be predictable because otherwise God couldn’t know everything that will happen. I think, especially if one believes in God, one must believe in an indeterministic universe, so that not even God knows what will happen in his creation, because otherwise it would be boring and non-sense for him to do the universe and there would be neither freedom nor a real relationship between humans and God possible. This is when I choose to use a Christian perspective, which I do occasionally.

Sure: If scientists say that it is certain that the universe must be deterministic, we know that that’s only a hope, and a “false religious motivation.”

However, the same exact thing is true of anyone who would have us believe that Science Says that the universe is indeterministic. It does not. And there are perfectly workable, deterministic interpretations that simply include hidden variables that we cannot see. Why can’t we see it? Is it magical pixie dust? No; Rather, it’s the physics equivalent of having fingers that are too big to look at the little things, and it being physically impossible to aquire smaller fingers. So, we have to resort to probabilities. It’s reasonable to believe that we have to use probabilities not because the universe is fundamentally probabilistic, (unknown,) but because we can’t look at such a small scale, because our fingers are too big, and cannot be made smaller (known.)

New Age communities loove to talk about what “Science Says,” but when I talk with my Ph D particle physics friends, they just cluck and shake their heads: What can they do? Yeah, sure, they wish they knew what was going on at smaller scales. And physicists are not divorced from curiousity, and they form interpretations. But they never confuse their interpretations with fact; leave that to the New Age community to do.

Granted: We don’t know if it’s deterministic or not. But to think that it’s one way or the other, or that “Science makes it clear that it’s one way or the other,” is utterly bogus. We just don’t know.

By the idea that we don’t occupy a special place in the universe, and by the observation that most everything is deterministic, and that when it’s not, it’s because we can’t conceive of how to make instrumentation that can work without influencing these things too much, well: I’m inclined (and it is just an inclination) to think that it’s deterministic down there, too.

I know that there are reams upon reams upon reams of books, shouting the message: Quantum Mechanics is magic pixie dust! “Quantum Mechanics says that the world is indeterminate!” All of this, all of it, is just so much noise; QM says nothing. There are magical interpretations, but science doesn’t say they’re true, or anything like that.

If we are in integrity with reason and scientific discovery, we will refrain from saying: “This is what QM says.” Now, I violated that rule when I said, “The universe is guaranteed deterministic.” Granted, it’s not. (And I retract that.) But it remains out of integrity to say: “QM says that the universe is indeterminstic.” It does not. Humanly indeterminable, yes, but it doesn’t say anything about the universe.

(Incidentally: None of this is MetaPhysics as described on the page, because our beliefs about whether the universe is deterministic or not have no affect on the truth of whether or not the universe is deterministic or not.)

I am not persuaded by your argument that a deterministic movie must necessarily be boring; I see movies, yet never believe that they’ll come out differently than they do for anyone else watching the movie. Yet, they remain interesting.

I think about God very different now, having experienced a conversion a year ago to EvolutionarySpirituality. I think that God is alive in all of us, because we are all alive in God, the Universe. The Universe does not “know” something, until there are minds constructed that can “know.” We are some such minds; Yet, we do not appear to be bored with the Universe, and I suspect whatever life lives in the untold number of other galaxies (because we do not know even the size of the Universe) is also not bored. But I don’t think that God has a mind existing temporally (capable of boredom or otherwise) and yet also exists outside of our timeline. If there were such a God, it would be influencable by the dynamic system of the total Universe, drawing interpretations, considering ideas and so on, and such a God would then just be a component of the system of the Universe, regardless of any “initial priviledges” at the beginning of the system, or even omnipotent powers over the system..! But if God does not have an intelligence, then there is nothing that can become bored.

Whether religious or not, it seems a highly emotional question. Wonder why this is the case with you.

Fact is that I was a student of quantum mechanics and I did simulations of quantum mechanical systems. This does not mean that I feel as an authority, but as far as I understand the real authorities, QM and especially QCD (quantum chromo dynamics) has an indeterministic conclusion.

If we look at we see (the German version is clearer) that there is a principle hindrance to know about the exact state of a single particle. It’s not that we have not yet found the right tools to do so, it is impossible as a general principle. If this holds for a single particle, then the more for the whole universe.

Let’s assume for a moment that the universe is indeterministic, what exactly is the problem?

Universal indeterminism is not a “problem,” but it makes for poor science, which approaches “How does the natural world work?” by looking for causal patterns. To believe that there are not causal patterns, or to work backwards from desired uncausality, and decide not to look because we hope that there aren’t causal patterns: I think it harms the scientific spirit: to look for causal patterns, and to find them, as possible.

I agree this it is a useful working hypothesis to think that everything is deterministic. But this is also a trap. Because if you interpret anything that has no causal explanation as “causal science just not done” then you immunize against finding other ways of science.

When you do experiements and don’t get reproducable results, then you have a problem with causal science. With PatternTheory you can build a pattern language and look at the transformations and understand how systems unfold. For example, there is hardly any useful causal knowledge about wikis, but there is a lot of useful knowledge in term of patterns and process knowledge which can be used for indeterministic unfolding of systems.

Of course, patterns and PatternTheory also contain logical and causal elements, as far as possible and available. But they are not dominant, you do not need a complete logical or causal chain to apply the theory.

Recently I got interested in the “theory of writing novels”. Shouldn’t this be a science topic, not exactly rocket science? I didn’t get far, but I found a book that talks about 700+ existing theories about writing novels. If we would dig into this, we would probably find that these scientists were up to find the “one best logcial causal theory of correctly connnecting all phenomena in novel writing to a single model” … and failed. Doing this with pattern theory would be much simpler, because different aspects would go into different optional patterns and a novel would not be expected to follow a theory, but unfold as a sequence of a small subset of all existing novel writing patterns. So PatternTheory would yield a common view that people can contribute to and use as a toolset for their individual projects, while traditonal novel writing theory is probably - I’m writing this as a complete layman just speculation - an ego-tourism of literary know-it-alls.

This discussion, rather than the discussion of whether there’s indeterminism or determinism underneath the covers, is much more interesting to me: We clearly need a term for the knowledge in our heads and in our conversations and in our groups. It’s clearly not hard science, but I don’t think it’s nonsense, either.

This is squarely in the universe of wiki.

I believe that you would like to call the study of novels a “science.” I’d rather not.

I would like:

  • a general inquiry into: “What kinds of knowledge are there?”
    • the inquiry would use as seeds, the prototypes we’ve identified: know-how, theory models people hold in their heads and share, “hard” science, psychology, perspectives, and so on.
    • subquestion: “What is the extent of the validity of the knowledge? Where does the validity break down? Where does it build up?”
    • subquestion: “What are the methods that found (X) kind of knowledge?”
    • subquestion: “What types of knowledge have been underutilized? What types of knowledge have been overplayed?”
    • subquestion: “What maps do we need to understand and share, in order to fit together our understanding of the world, from these different domains?”
  • a TensionMap, or other applicable visualized diagram or map or model, that shows the types of knowledges, and that can be used to say, “This is that kind of knowledge, and this is how it relates to humans and other types of knowledge.”

This, I think, would be an extremely valuable inquiry, and I would be happy to contribute my thinking to such an inquiry. I would hope that someone would commit to being a PageMaintainer for such an inquiry, and be actively collecting the fruit of the conversation. It would be a shame for it to be figured out, and then just rest as a bunch of conversations on some wiki, resting as somewhat DarkTheory.

It’s possible that someone has already performed this inquiry, and I’d make my first contributions by performing a brief (few hours) search. If it turns out to be DarkTheory (can’t read it on the web somehow,) or if it’s similar but different, then I’d start making initial stabs into the questions, and making some rough cuts to be fleshed out…

I think these are extremely valuable questions, though, because: This is what is emerging. Tons of people are doing intellectual work, knowledge is becoming transparent, and an understanding of what that knowledge is backed by is becoming very important. Further, it is clear that we have mis-valued our knowledge system: We are putting lots of emphasis on hard science, and discounting most everything else. Everyone’s trying to get their study to be “as hard as a physicists,” with tragicomic results. I don’t think we should be striving for that, and I don’t think you think that, either. I think what we really need to do, is put a solid foundation underneath those other kinds of knowledge.

I think Quantum Mechanics is the cheap way out; That’s just vying for the physicists game. I think that there are far stronger roots than that, rooted more in things like epistemology, the structure of reason, and so on.

So I think that the inquiry I described above, that that’s the inquiry to go for. I think that ChristopherAlexander’s philosophy has a solid place on the map that doesn’t exist yet. A kind of place that you could teach from, and even get funding, because it enables collections of techniques for thinking about things and making more lively buildings, that attract people and give them strong centers to work from.

I am reminded of what Push Singh (RIP) says (paraphrasing:) “Today, we worry about which libraries are we going to use. Tomorrow, we will worry about what kinds of intelligences to use.” [1]

Yes, I agree that this is important and interesting to know more about the status of our knowledge.

I do not agree with a simple use of the word “science”, though. Apart from Popper’s view of natural science, which is very restricting (probably too restricting), there is very little clearness.

I think that every inquiry (about quantum mechanics, patterns or novels) can be done in a scientific way. I sure that the pattern method, if done right, is scientific.

I’m sorry that I have no additional energy to dig into these questions. Unless someone takes the role of a PageMaintainer, I’d suggest to start WhatIsScience and WhatIsKnowledge but go to something like NatureOfScience and StatusOfKnowledge. Perhaps we can do this in the old wiki piecemeal approach.

Discussion: Freedom and responsibility

Lion, in what way are you a free and responsible person, when you are part of a clockwork-like universe that is determined in every detail from the first to the last second of its approx. 100 billion years of existance?

Easy: You make decisions, (free,) and you are held accountable (responsible.)

That your thoughts are determined by your nature makes no difference. You can think whatever thoughts you choose, whatever you desire. What do you choose? What do you desire? The whole is determined by nature: Your nature, and the world around you. You can change it, you can adapt it, and so on. The universe constantly manipulates itself.

That it’s all determined, (assuming universal determinism,) it doesn’t change any of the above.

It’s just a grand misunderstanding that universal determinism would mean that we’d have to somehow change our concept of human rights and responsibilities. (It does not.)

I think it changes everything.

Okaaay… Then, how so?

I think this leads us away from PatternTheory into DeterminismAndEthics.

Discussion: Technology and science

It’s interesting that you bring up gardening, because to my mind, gardening is not a science, but rather, a technology.

Pottery, gardening, weaving, and so on: These are all techniques, or technologies. And there is a long history of taking technology quite seriously.

We tend to focus on the HardTechnology (“Here’s a kiln, here’s a rake,”) and I can see making a strong case for emphasizing SoftTechnology more, and even performing a greater inquiry into technology itself.

What are history and literature?

I have no good answer. My first thought was, “Well, they’re techniques, too,” because there are techniques and technologies used in history (techniques: cross-referencing from multiple sources, technologies: radioactive dating,) but then I realized, “Gee, that sounds an aweful lot like science.”

One thing I’ve done frequently, is used QuestionsTheory? (see the middle of ThePowerOfQuestions until I fill that page out) to define Science. “Science is any field of inquiry that is a child of: How does the natural world work?

“If it’s not How does the natural world works, it’s not Science.” End of story. Following: Literature and History and Gardening are not science.

Technology: “Technology is any field of inquiry that is a child of: How can I make this process faster?” However, I don’t see how to explain that radioactive dating technology is a technology, because really, it’s about answering, “How can I increase my powers of perception?”

I see this a bit differently but this is not very important, a language issue. I think that technology is about tools and improving them - knowledge / science support that. “tool” means that you have something you want to achieve, a goal. The goal is at the center of technology. Methodology is the other side of the coin, the “how-to” - also supported in knowledge / science.

I would describe gardening as a craft. A craft is both tools and how-to, both technology and methodology, both tools and process simple enough that normal people still can handle it.

The PatternTheory wants to keep things simple, at the stage of a craft, so that people can participate to make their own things and environments autonomously. That’s the political agenda.


I can conceive of a unifying framework for science and technology that is focused on questions, since all fields of human thought (science, technology, history, and so on,) persue answers to questions. (See the mid-page text on ThePowerOfQuestions.) Perhaps more broadly than questions, might be desires.

My own thoughts on how to talk about sciences of gardening, sciences of community building, and so on, has been to label it MetaPhysics, which I admit, is not a good label (easily confused with Astrology, for example,) but which is the closest term I could think of to common use PlainTalk that I could find. I talked about it, to talk about the way in which these “pre-scientific” ways of understanding the world have a normalizing effect upon the world.

But the content of the MetaPhysics page is different than the content of this page.

Part of the Hard sciences is their “single-ness” aspect. There’s only one right way that something could come out. (Though, consider: Thalience. There can be multiple models that describe the same outcome.)

I’m asking myself, “What questions am I asking or attempting to answer?”

  • “Why does Lion feel ambivalent about what’s expressed here?”
  • “Is there animosity between PatternLanguage and Science?”
  • “What kinds of predictions does Science make about people?”
  • “Why are we reconsidering how we think about science, technology, and human thought?”
  • “How should we think about science and technology?”
  • “How should we think about the whole frame on human thought?”
  • “What makes hard science special and unique?”

Of these questions, I suspect the most important to me is:

  • “Why are we reconsidering how we think about science, technology, and human thought?”

This is not a skeptical question– I don’t mean to say, “It’s not worth rethinking how we think about science, technology, and human thought.” It’s a sincere question, and I suspect that there is a good and fruitful answer.

Some of the fruit may be:

  • Revaluing – Society pays attention to things it has been undervaluing. People encourage their children to understand metaphysical ideas that encourage human creativity and peace at all levels of existence (individual, group, social network, state, between states, globally.) An industry of process methodologies and peacefully interconnected human value systems blossoms forth. A second enlightenment.
  • ???

I think you could say “Technology is any field of inquiry that is a child of: How can I make this process better?” – for the “more useful for me” meaning of “better”. This would fit my understanding of the term. I don’t know why you actually used “faster” – many technologies are there to answer “How can I do it at all?”.

On the other hand, science seems to be tied with some technologies or rather techniques as well – for instance, to the “scientific method”. Are they the techniques for building theories?

Yeah; “How can I do it at all” conflicts with “How can I make this process (better, stronger, faster.)” – the radioactive carbon dating technology meets the first, improvements meet the latter, but it’s technology the whole time through.

If business is defined by “How can I make more money?” …then it’s categorizable as a technology (“How can I do this thing?”), which, is not actually all that bogus.

I just remembered something: TomAtlee? reminded me that definition is most often prototype based. In a PrototypeBasedDefinition, you start with “prototypes” – you say, “A computer is a thing like an IBM, a Macintosh, but not like a telephone.” People don’t start defining things based on lists of features. (This strikes me as similar to how TensionMaps work, and the development patterns leading into MetaPhysics.) We can discover a flowchart for reaching degrees of matching in the definition pool, after analyzing prototypes and people’s judgements. “What is a lie?” can be decomposed into, “Well, does the speaker believe it is false?”, “Does the speaker intend to deceive the listener?”, “Is the statement actually false”, in that order. (Mark Johnson, Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics. Sadly, I can't point you to where I learned this. It’s hidden behind a veil… DarkTheory. sigh)

So in asking “How should we think about science and technology?” …this is a consideration: “By prototype.”

Unfortunately, I fear I’ve pulled away from PatternTheory.

One of the questions I neglected is: “What is Helmut trying to tell me? (And you, and the rest of us.)”

I see this, and the 15 characteristics, as a MetaPhysics.

That is, you can take the ChristopherAlexander concept of the universe, and then address situations with it– it will find some way of understanding and ordering them, and suggesting questions and feelings and actions and so on. And it will work, it will get results that you’ll like.

We can even build expertise in it’s concepts, and layer on understandings on top of it. The world can be made to conform to this vision, and it’ll be able to see itself (quite factually) in the mirror.

I think that MetaPhysics is a term with problems, opverloaded with definitions. The only good one is by Popper who basically said “metaphysic is a theory that can’t be tested by comparisons to future reality (experiments)”. But one can argue about that, because metaphysics is a term that is in long use.

If arguing today, it would make more sense to talk about metascience. Physics was only an example for “good science” anyway. Then, we just have to find a new criterion to make a difference between science and metascience. And I’d say that both are about theories, and a theory is an abstraction with the intention to help understand the world. So there is a clear difference between a story (no abstraction) and a theory.

But the exact criterion has still to be found. For example, when the Greek philophers said “either there are smallest parts of matter = atoms, or not” this was clearly an act of science. They saw a problem space and created language for the problem. It took about 2000 years to get to the experimental decision about that questions. But a day or thousand years can’t make the difference between science and not-science. Popper would have called that MetaPhysics B.C. and science now, which is clearly wrong.

This is all really awesome. I need to take some time to re-read, and also take notes before I try to enter the conversation.

But I had one question for Helmut: would you say that PatternTheory is (at least part of) the inspiration for your idea of WikiFractality?

Sam, I’m not sure but I don’t think so. Both ideas came from outside.

Fractality came from PeterNausner?, an Austrian theoretician of project economy, probably about 2002-2003.

PatternTheory is ChristopherAlexander, of course, and I only got interested when TheNatureOfOrder was known to be published and I took a subscription offer and started to read the books as they came out, I think 2003-2005, one after the other.

The only thing that led me to ask that was the section above, about “System Theory”, and the part about the “centers within centers”. I guess that it is not exactly the same as Fractality, but it is close.

Yes, quite right, it is pretty much the same.

Lunch Discussion: Austin King & Lion Kimbro

AustinKing & I discussed The Nature of Order today at lunch. I’d like to tell a little bit about it, but, very quickly: Here’s a very useful link Austin presented:

I was given a brief overview of Centers, Wholeness, and Sequences, what is Alive and what is Dead, and ChristopherAlexander’s architecture & building set. Sadly, offline, and therefor “dark,” but such is our technology, and such was our conversation.

One major question that came up in our discussion, was: How does Christopher Alexander answer the following challenge: Put a Japanese artwork on the left, and an African artwork on the right. Which one is more lively, and which is more dead?

We speculated that he would not answer one or the other, or make it context specific.

But then things get closer to home for me:

A cell phone tower. Is it alive, or is it dead? Does it contribute to life?

I have many eco-housing, eco-friendly, bicycle riding activist friends. They hate cell phone towers, these phallic symbols of American Greed & Capitalism, white power, and the ever-dreaded: technology.

But when I see the spider web electric silk distribution lines in the city, powering the transit systems that literally transports walking manifestations of hopes and dreams, and when I see the cell phone towers, and the satellite drums atop the skyscrapers, and when I see baby buildings being scaffolded out, I see a thing of great beauty, that is alive, and vibrant.

Now my eco-housing friends say, “Well, you’re just not in touch with your true self.” Or: “That’s just the ego getting in the way.”

It reminds me of the love between a man and a woman: Is it pure love, loving the other person for what they truly are, or is such love just a collected jumble of kinks and perversions, piled one on top the other. “You only love her because of the way she wears butterfly jewelry,” or something like that.

I feel that my love of artifice is as sincere as my love of nature, and my love of kink (the particular) as sincere as my love of the whole person. In this way, I feel whole.

The theory is beautiful, and I see applications in wiki and software and aesthetic. But I worry: Will bioconservatives wield ChristopherAlexander as a weapon?

With respect to Japanese and African artwork, I am sure that Alexander would make a decision, depending on how he would feel towards the two artifacts A and B and independent from their origin. So it would not be an Japanese vs. African decision but A vs. B.

I don’t know about the cell phone towers and satellite drums. To condemn them is easy, based on ideology, but that’s a reason Alexander denies. Actually it is bare naked technology, fit for use. Their form comes from techological requirements and the need of commercial efficiency. It depends on the situation, there can be no general answer like “all X are bad”.

I don’t think that one person loves the other for some simple specific reason. There is surely something deeper, that maybe surfaces in such situations.

Probably there is the danger that Alexander is misused, because it’s easy to talk about the quality of life. But the point is in the method and process. You should be able to decide whom you love and what you love and how you want to have your environment autonomously. If this is given then its in your interest to listen to your real feelings and be not deceived. If other people try to make your decisions or tell you what to feel, excert power on you on way or the other, then this is not Alexander. Even a blade of grass, every leaf on a tree, makes its own decision how to grow and adapt to its environment, no-one else can.

Personally, I’ve noted that many different types of theories have an inherent danger of being misused. In fact, I have witnessed them being misused many times. To the point where I almost believe that it is virtually inevitable that any theory that begins to spread through cultures and society will eventually become misused and/or weaponized as ammunition in ideological and/or polarized debates.

MuzaferSharif? ( created a theory called The AssimilationContrastEffect? ( that describes these dynamics.

So I have always intuited and viewed these dangers as inherent in almost any human theory.


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