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Christopher Alexander Fifteen Properties of #Wholeness applied to Mental Models #systemsthinking

I think you will spend 411 seconds reading this post

It’s been a while since I’ve been pondering the fifteen properties of wholeness as expressed by Christopher Alexander. Although I have yet to read one of his book, his work has transpired up to me already through the well know pattern languages.

Being found of Systems Thinking and the transdiscplinarity this permits, I couldn’t help but wonder how these 15 properties could apply to mind and mental models as well, and how it could inform our feeling of wholeness or explain when we feel like being one and belonging to a bigger, encompassing one as well. Sounds like spirituality to me, although I consider myself an atheist!

Of course, feeling also attracted to radical constructivism and social constructionism, I can safely affirm that you both are influenced by what you distinguish in the world around you and that you construct what you’re looking for. So, I hope the interpretation I give below (which is purely empirical… or my own construct) may be useful both as a way to construct that feeling of wholeness than as a way to find where it may exist when you didn’t feel it in the first place. Now, back to constructivism: where’s the difference between building and finding-and-constructing at the same time?

Here is my inner travel through the fifteen properties of wholeness. Fancy a trip with me? Here we go…

  1. Levels of Scale: maybe the most important thing in wholeness might be the capacity to distinguish between oneself (and others) and the bigger things. So scale there must be and our ability to appreciate it. Of course, seeing oneself as an encompassing entity above smaller ones, be them children or ideas is just another way to see it. I’m connecting this to the idea of Sub-system, System and Sur-system of systems thinking and the S(ystem) of DSRP.
  2. Strong Centers: once you’ve distinguished yourself or the concepts that matter to you, the strongest they are, the better you can apprehend them. Fuzzy concepts don’t do well for wholeness, you need do think them through and clarifies them.
  3. Boundaries comes logically just after you’ve segregated the scales and identified “centers”, because you’re now able to define a boundary. For ideas, it means that your idea has precise fields to which it applies, specific modes of application and not others, etc. Even transdisciplinarity is a bounded idea in itself, that of unbounded things (by opposition to bounded or field-based theories). Here we’re dealing IMHO with the D(istinction) of DSRP.
  4. Alternating Repetition is when, after having define the center out of the swamp of your ideas, you search for it around you. Again, whether the idea preexisted or is constructed at the time you search for it is, to me, irrelevant: in the end, it will be there provided you search long enough. It’s one of the extraordinary capacity of the mind to be able to connect concepts one to another, even if both are initially alien one to another… at first glance. Even “alien” is a connecting concept.
  5. Positive Space: of course, having defined centers with boundaries, then having found repetitions of them, like echoes, you can look in-between and find a space shaped by the boundaries of the centers around it. Sounds like the R(elationships) of DSRP. What underlying concepts and principles (patterns?) are present though hidden in plain sight that allow you to connect your ideas (centers)? What does your ideas tell you about your underlying living principles and what drives you in life?
  6. Good shape: now all is identified in the big picture: the centers with their boundaries and the space or principles in-between. We’re back to our own initial ideas (centers): what make them feel good to you? How well are they structured? What justifies them? For a boundary to your concepts to exist, they need to have structure and a good shape to keep them upright. A form of  rationalization, explanation, justification, articulation. I see this also as all the surrounding positive spaces (what I called underlying principles) intersecting or connecting in the form of the Good Shape. The Strong Center emerges out of the Positive Spaces (and with the latter also being defined by the former of course. We’re talking Maturana‘s structural coupling here!)
  7. Local Symmetries are another look at how the centers (ideas) are articulated. yin/yang, mirroring principles, parts of a center… all these make for a nice structure of your mental ideas. It sort of help you orient yourself into the windings of your own mind, by finding the commonalities, similarities that simplify your mental models.
  8. Deep Interlock is when those symmetries are connected one to another. And of course they need to because they form a Strong Center (otherwise we would be speaking of something else). They form a little whole in themselves. Interlock is also between other components of what make a Center a Center: some part of it are symmetrical, some are not, but all are tightly connected (interlocked). And it’s because some parts are symmetrical, related to one another, that we may distinguish those that are not, and then identify the different component of the Center.
  9. Contrast is just another way of separating the components of a center: where Symmetries allowed to find echoes (we’ll come back to this) between some parts, Interlock allowed to spot the beginning of a thread of ideas (because the interlock starts or ends into an idea, it must lead somewhere else)… and by following the thread, we end up into another idea. Contrasted means that this idea is different from the other one to which it is connected/interlocked. The more the contrast, the more different it is… yet, because we’re speaking of wholeness, the more interlocked it needs to be to make the Center a center… and not a loose web of fuzzy concepts.
  10. and then of course, when you followed the strong links and found the Contrasted ideas, what’s left are Graded Variations rippling around what you’ve noticed already. It might be less important concepts and ideas, or loose connections, but they’re the less contrasted, important, elements of what makes your mental model what it is; the subtleties of the mind’s complexity.
  11. Speaking of Graded Variation, you inevitably end up in the Roughness of empirical stuff, the kind that hasn’t been polished by your will and organized into the coherent whole. Despite being like the unpolished rock, these parts of your mental model are also what makes it genuine and somehow legitimate because it grounds your ideas into real experience and not like theoretical scaffolding. Like raku ware.
  12. We’ve almost finished our wandering through your mental model construction and we finished where we begun: in the real world, outside your mind. Having thoroughly explored it, we’re now more conscious of it and are now ready to find Echoes of it outside ourselves. The upper level recursivity can now start because noticing and looking for these Echoes, we’re ready to start another round of analysis (starting again at #1 above). By deeply listening to others, we notice these Echoes and start to find similarities (or merely construct them? who cares…)
  13. The Void, hidden in plain sight, is when insight strikes: your wholeness (yourself, inside, connection to outside) is revealed to you. That moment where you realize you exist yet you’re also what your environment made you as much as you made it by sheer will. Meaning you’re void of yourself, because you’re just an echo of the environment. Or the other way round. This of course leads to…
  14. Inner Calm once you realize you are nothing more than your environment, as well as your environment is what you decide it to be. You can choose to be Void as well as a Strong Center, it’s up to you. You’re both and none. Others named it before, can you find your connection toward them: TaoPratītyasamutpāda…?
  15. Not-Separatedness is the insight that comes once you’ve awaken from that inner trip.

Hello you.

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