“The Nature of Order: The Luminous Ground” by Christopher Alexander

The Nature of Order

From the Ground Up

A mind-boggling work. I don’t know of any other works that provide a more coherent and meaningful worldview framework in which questions about matter, space, beauty, inspiration, value and even life itself are answered, or at least can be discussed. Ever the architect-builder, Alexander dug deep to reach the Ground on which he was able to build a framework that bridges the gaps between science, art, religion and spirituality.

I’ve read eight of Alexander’s books, which I guess qualifies me as a fan, but I was a little wary reading “The Nature of Order” series. I tend to think that science and religion deal with different realms and do not overlap, and therefore any effort to bridge the two would be futile. It is like watching someone climb Mount Everest for the first time. You question his sanity and competence, and worry that he may not survive.  And yet when he does succeed in the end, you are relieved and happy for him, and at the same time, envious of him, his conviction, courage and strength, knowing that he has overcome enormous difficulties and achieved something truly priceless.

The Degree of Life

Life extends, beyond living organisms, to all things to a certain degree. Alexander defined fifteen properties that characterize any system (nature or artifact) or any work of art that has life. A living structure creates a connection between that structure and the human self and is in some definite sense “self-like”.  We feel more alive, and have a heightened sense of life, of beauty and of belonging when we are in the presence of living structures.

Wholeness and The Ground

The connection between ourselves and living structures points to a deeper Source, the Whole, which we are all part of and connected to. A living structure is a window that reveals the Whole behind/underneath all things. The concept of God, or the Ground, is directly linked to the concept of wholeness. The eternal Self lies in each one of us and manifests itself in living structure. Any entity which appears in space to some extent opens a window to the Self. The degree of life in the entity is the extent to which it reveals the Self, which also determines the value of the entity.

Matter-Space Unfolding from the Whole

As longs as space/matter remains undifferentiated, the Self “which stands behind it remains incommunicado, not reachable”. It becomes manifested (incarnated) only when living structures develop through an unfolding process.  “Living structures form when centers unfold from the whole and form complex binding schemes in which larger centers emerge from the whole, intensify the life of whole, and are built from smaller centers that are created.”


In the same vein, consciousness may also arise from the unfolding of matter-space from the Whole, the Source of all consciousness. This would also explain why we experience the most intense feeling of identity between ourselves and nature or a great work of art.


The Eleven Color Properties of Paintings that Have Life

1. Hierarchy of Colors (Levels of Scale)

A rule of proportion among colors which creates a clear hierarchy of relative size among the areas of different colors in a picture.

2. Colors Create Light Together (Positive Space, Alternating Repetition)

Use colors that are complementary, i.e., sum to white, such as red with green,  blue with yellow or, turquoise with orange, orange with purple. Areas and densities of the different colors complement each other and make each other shine. The interaction intensifies one color by means of another adjacent color. The field of centers becomes intense, the feeling and unity increase.

3. Contrast of Dark and Light (contrast)

If we take a black and white picture of the colored patterns, the pattern of the dark and light alone must be beautiful. In shape, black and white must each form positive space. In amount, the quantities and ratios of dark and light must be enough to electrify each other.

4. Mutual Embedding (Deep Interlock and Ambiguity)

Each major entity in a living structure must contain references (shapes, structures, colors, motifs, reflections) of the other major elements, so that each element is also within the other elements.

5. Boundaries and Hairlines (Boundaries)

6. Sequence of Linked Color Pairs (Gradients, The Void)

When the inner light is present, the colors in the hierarchy have a definite spatial sequence, built out of linked pairs, so that the eye moves through the thing from color to color, up and down the hierarchy. Each color in the field is built as a reaction (an arrow), or counterpart, to some other particular color that it works with and forms a pair with. The pairs themselves are linked, and the network of linked pairs form the sequence, the structure. The sequence (path) of linked colored pairs must be chosen to intensify the existing colors, and culminate in the glowing inner light.

7. Families of Color (Echoes)

It requires a hidden similarity among the elements which appear in a given whole.

8. Color Variations (Roughness)

The whole will be more profound, if the individual color in the plane varies with local circumstances, instead of being homogeneous.

9. Intensity and Clarity of Individual Color (Strong Centers, Good Shape)

10. Subdued Brilliance (Simplicity and Inner Calm, Not-Separateness)

It happens in two ways which are usually combined. The first way involves the use of apparently muted colors, but in a way where each color intensifies the others. The second relies on very intense, brilliant colors to produce a muted whole, or an overall unity so profound that nothing stands out, colors seem to melt into each other.

11. Color Depends on Geometry (Local Symmetries)


  1. Synopsis of the Nature of Order

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