Interwoven Meanings of the Word “Feeling” In a Living Process


Since the word “feeling” has several different interwoven meanings in relation to a living process, I shall recapitulate the different ways that feeling and living process are connected. 1. I am talking about feeling as a way of grasping the wholeness of a situation. We grasp wholeness by feeling it, we obtain a nearly visceral feeling of the whole which puts us in touch with the whole.

2. I am also talking about a feeling of what to do next – at any given instant in the unfolding of the whole. The feeling, too, is generated in us as a feeling. We confront the whole, look at it, in the state it has reached, and we can feel where it wants to go or where it should go as its unfolding continues.

3. I am also talking about the importance of the idea that a building or any made object, when it has life, creates – generates – deep feeling in the person who encounters it. This principle that a thing, given life, has the obligation and function in the world to induce deep feeling in people – that is a third ingredient of my discussion.

4. Fourth is the fact that while making something, and when it is begun, or not yet finished, sometimes before it has begun, we carry the feeling in the form of a dimly held vision of emotional substance. We begin with a dim awareness, and we carry that dim awareness with us, as we move forward through concrete acts of structure-preserving unfolding to generate a new and vigorous whole.

5. Fifth is the fact that this feeling or vision of emotional substance comes into our minds from the whole which exists. It is the existing whole that inspires the feeling or vision of what it might become as it unfolds. This is why feeling helps us to perform structure-preserving transformations. By following the feeling, we are able to come close to the process of structure-preserving unfolding that must characterize the living process.

6. We have the fact that as artists, or as citizens, we need to be aware that any made thing – building, room, street, or ornament – has the obligation to create experience of deep feeling in us. We may think of this by saying that the thing itself has feeling when it lives.

7. Finally, there is always a structure latent in any given wholeness. This latent structure is the weakly held system of centers that are not quite defined yet, only partly articulated as a structure – yet which carry the inspiration of what this thing might be, where it might go. Every wholeness carries within it this “vector” in time, pointing in some direction, and indicating where it might go. This is the most important aspect of wholeness, and the reason we must try to “feel” the structure when attempting structure-preserving transformations, hence every step of a living process. That, too, is experienced by us as feeling.

Christopher Alexander

Excerpt from The Nature of Order: The Process of Creating Life, Book 2, page 373 (MS Word Download)

Dan Klyn