Raghu's Weblog


Creativity is a quality without a name

Note: This is also a book review of The Timeless Way of Building.

I have said this time and again, in various forms and various places and I will say it again if there is anything that I find solace in besides reading, it has to be writing. Mostly prose, but it doesn't necessarily have to be prose. Of late, I have come to realize that any form of creation, whether it be writing code, or writing a heartfelt essay, everything fills my heart the same way. It is as if the reward for creation is creation itself. Or as James Richardson would say (See: Aphorisms and Poetry - James Richardson):

"Who would be a slave to his passions if they did not also feel like freedom?"
—James Richardson

To me, the essence of creation lies in the excitement of being able to explore the unexplored, in the connection that arises from the glossolalic waving of your metaphorical hands in the search for that numinous entity, or in the joy of seeing that which only you could see take shape and form. To put it simply, creation or creativity to me is to be unburdened by what came before, or by what is yet to come, while maintaining the innocence of knowing not what it is but a manifestation of child-like curiosity — stateless, formless, and irreverent. And my definition of creation is pretty specific, in it doesn't allow anything formal for the sake of being formal. At least, in my opinion, anything that is mechanistically injected/indoctrinated into you is not creation.

"What I learned on my own I still remember."
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb

It is in this creative space that I feel life is born, or as Christopher Alexander says in his timeless book—The timeless way of building—a quality without a name is born i.e., what has a name becomes finite.

Strange attractor

Fig1. Dejong Attractor. (Keeping clicking on the canvas or hover over it; and wait for it to emerge)And no this name does not define its finitude, in fact, it (fails to) define its infinite and unknowable nature, that is why it is called a chaotic map

He says, that it must emerge and not be forced into existence, for anything that is forced will inevitably return to where it belongs(or perish). (Related note: Never look for ideas for the sake of it)

I seriously can't tell you how much this resonates with me, for modern education in general (at least here in India) runs counter to this. From soulless injection of concepts into a child's mind to mechanistic batching of kids with varying abilities into a single pool, to whatnot. It is as if these kids are sent to these educational institutes only to be stripped of that quality without a name. It is as if the primary purpose for the existence of these institutions was to suppress the inner-child and the glossolalic caveman by turning them into the soulless zombies. So, I guess maybe the book is indeed timeless and for what it's worth all-encompassing too.

The unsatisfied vertex

Fig2. The unsatisfied vertex. (Click on the part inside the canvas to force a vertex into existence and see it to return to where it belongs)When forced you either perish or go where you rightfully belong

Although the idea of the book seems to be to talk about the timeless wisdom on architecture and buildings that Christopher himself has acquired throughout his illustrious career, it feels more than just that. If you just gave me the book stripped of its illustrations, I am pretty sure that I couldn't have said this from Hume's Treatise, or for that matter Kant's Critiques.

The entire book is weaved around this idea of what Christopher likes to call a pattern language. Although what he says could be understood in several different ways, to me the entire idea of a pattern language at least from life and philosophical standpoint was about emergence and numinosity. He likens the pattern languages to the natural language that we speak, in the sense that just as natural languages help us create wonderful prose that is full of personal insights and creativity, pattern languages he says, allow us to form such emergent rules that exhort creative endeavors on their own, which I think aligns just fine with my numinously emergent take. To relate to the theme of our essay, the pattern languages here could be the temporal and ontological patterns that we see around us and go on to build upon it through our social interactions, which again I feel is one of the primary drawbacks of modernity in it completely strips you of the nuances of life by introducing the either/or mindset. To give an example, we needn't look further than what constitutes our mental patterns (a form of pattern language) i.e., our biases. Modernity calls them bad while Christopher rightly acknowledges the antifragile nature of these biases, in it is these biases that constitute our mental patterns and our ability to form a structural component around ourselves like society, family, friends, etc.

Islamic radial patterns

Fig3. Pattern Language. (Click on the canvas and wait for a pattern to emerge)This is a generative art trying to emulate the patterns seen in mosques. So I guess patterns do help with creative endeavors.

All said I feel this is a book that must be read, re-read, and revered by anyone who wishes to make any sort of lasting impact in the world for the good of others and themselves; The impact that brings life and joy to anybody who comes in contact with their creation. Among the books that strive to create clarity through articulating even the minutest details to the point where nothing is left to the reader to enjoy and ponder over, the beauty of this book lies in the fact that it is open to interpretations. In my opinion, it is this quality of leaving loose-ends for the readers to interpret the inner meaning of the statement that allows this book to transcend domains. To exhort creativity. And mainly show us the quality without a name.

References

[1] Christopher Alexander. (1979). The Timeless way of building.

[2] Nicholas Nassim Taleb. (2012). Antifragile.

[3] James Richardson. (2001). Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays

[4] Nick Sousanis. (2015). Unflattening.