Coevolving Innovations

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Negotiating Order with Generative Pattern Language

Positioning “A Pattern Language” more like “Creating Order of”, then “The Timeless Way of Building” more like “Negotiating Order with”, was a productive framing to discuss the systems theory inside Christopher Alexander’s thinking (as well as positioning “The Nature of Order“).

The purpose of a workshop on “Negotiating Order with Generative Pattern Language” at PLoP 2017 was to open up discussions that could deepen the foundational understanding in linkages between pattern language and systems thinking. At least three of us routed to Vancouver BC for a Monday morning start, in a quick trip from the Purplsoc meeting in Austria that finished on Saturday.  The PLoP program emphasizing writers’ workshops meant that our 90-minute dialogue didn’t conflict with any presentations.

On the audio recording, active participants in the sensemaking included Helene Finidori and Christian Kohls.  With a more relaxed pace, the open time after the slides were completed allowed some pattern language novices to also have questions answered.

PLoP 2017

The frame for discussion was slides that had previously been posted on the Coevolving Commons.

The digital audio recording has been matched up with slides, for a less ambiguous viewing as a web video.

For observers who prefer to be mobile, video files can be downloaded directly on a device.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM
Digital video
(1h38m45s)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder HD 537kpbs m4v]
(HD 537Kbps 379MB) [on the Internet Archive]
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder nHD 214kpbs m4v]
(nHD 214Kkps 151MB)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder HD 348kpbs webm]
(HD 348Kbps 245MB)
[20171023_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder nHD 168kpbs webm]
(nHD 168Kbps 119MB)

The downloadable audio recording includes the conversation of all participants.

Audio
Digital audio
(1h38m45s)
[20171023_1700_PLoP_Ing NegotiatingOrder mp3] (90MB)

There’s some richness in the conversation. A digest with some timecodes may help a listener to jump to a key point.

— begin digest —

[06m40, on Creating Order of … HF]:  Emergent

  • Will never have a complete pattern language
  • Eishin school, patterns in the building, patterns on the land

[….]

[13m40 … HF]:  Pattern language that generates the building, or the generates the building that generates something else

  • Generating from the design into the world?
  • Schumacher autopoiesis versus allopoiesis
  • Unfolding and enfolding
  • Evolution cutting off future branches, requiring some enfolding in advance

[….]

[28:40 Negotiated Order With … HF] Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language, one as the theory and the other as the practice, conveying the same thing?

  • In systems theory, structure is arrangement in space, process is arrangement in time
  • A Pattern Language is primarily about structure, and Timeless Way of Building is primarily about process
  • At Purplsoc, talking with Max Jacobsen, The Timeless Way of Building is volume 1, 1979, whereas A Pattern Language was published in 1977, issued out of order
  • Max said that Alexander was slowing down the release of the Timeless Way of Building, because he wanted more pattern language (structure) done in A Pattern Language before publishing the process

[….]

[31m30 … HF]:  In creating order of, you’re in the structure, and in “negotiating order with”, you’re in the processes.

  • Problem with systems theory:  which comes first, structure or process?
  • CK:  Alexander says the pattern language is the gate, and there’s a way to go through the pattern language.
  • Structure as the slowest changing process, as then structure generates process
  • Design activity to create structure, and then there is emergent structure in addition to the deliberate structure (at the same time)

[43m30 on Six General Elements … HF]: General systems and the pursuits of isomorphies (working across all types of systems, biology, ecology, etc.).

  • Metaphors versus models — general systems theory is about models, not metaphors

[45m30 on A Straw Man … Cognitive Elements … CK] :  Timeless way of building tells you how to do it, patterns tell you how they worked before (for a master)

  • Have to have some form of mastery, e.g. playing an instrument well, so that you can improvise
  • Non-material world:  does medicine rely more on the kit of parts, or on the process?
  • Negotiating order with allows you to deal more with ambiguity
  • Flu symptoms as context
  • Dr. Google (more like the kit of parts) or the real doctor (more like process)?  Take medical history, because doctors don’t trust the previous doctor
  • CK:  Patterns at one point were written like medical, with symptoms

[53h00m on A Straw Man … Cognitive Elements … CK]: Using new pattern languages each project

  • One of the shortcomings that patterns always have to be generalized, whereas they’re really good tools to create new projects
  • HF:  pattern language as a set of requirements
  • … (so more like rules, than negotiating)
  • Helene:  requirements taken literally
  • Requirements as pass-fail, where negotiated things are not pass-fail
  • CK:  Forces

[56ms20 on A Straw Man … Reality Tests … CK]:  Testing the theory, versus testing the design (the process)

  • Patterns as a setup of chair, it’s good for the group, or more about the result
  • More difficult to test the process
  • [Female voice]:  prioritizing for collaboration, versus prioritizing for comfort
  • CK:  different qualities, materiality may have been proven in the past, non-materiality can only be tried where the good solution isn’t yet known
  • Competing goals when things get built
  • Competing goals are more negotiating with
  • CK: someone experimenting, but accident we have the right pattern
  • Patterns as something might be copied from a previous situation, versus the new, or change

[1h01m10s on A Straw Man … Reality Tests … male voice]:  New to the pattern language community

  • Creating Order of is more like the Pattern Language book
  • Negotiating Order with is more like The Timeless Way book

[1h01m40s:  HF]: Creating order of, as more goal-directed?

  • Piecemeal growth comes out of Timeless Way
  • CK:  The problem with The Nature of Order is that the goals are very abstract
  • How to make this place more beautiful, start with any property, but then have to test if it’s better, improving the system properties
  • People choosing where to put their chairs themselves:  forces

[….]

[1h06h00: on A Straw Man …  Domain of Inquiry]: Negotiating with is more like creating a pattern language with the clients

  • As a consultant, would come in without patterns creating in advance What is the nature of order?  What is creating order of, … and ?
  • Creating order of the parts of the systems, and negotiating order with parts of the environment (although not strictly, as there’s a lot of ambiguity)

[….]

[1h11m10s on A Straw Man … Metaphors]:  CK:  Timeless way as method?

  • Timeless way meaning no time, so universal
  • Helene:  Timeless as meaning dating back from immemorial times, using tacit knowledge to build
  • No, as soon as you look back in time, you put back time into it
  • Ackoff, idealism, no room for time
  • A timeless way of building as a universal way of building
  • A timeless way of building (for Indonesians)?  Universal?
  • David Hawk likes Building the Unfinished, can’t be building towards an ideal if it’s unfinished

[Open discussion beginning 1h26m30]

Checking understanding:  Alexander uses “A Pattern Language”, and then “The Timeless Way of Building”?

  • APL in 1977, Timeless Way in 1979, 1985 Eishin Building then 2012 published that
  • In between, published the Nature of Order
  • Christopher Alexander, on what to do:  ACM conference, said don’t know anything about software
  • Some people say pattern language works in buildings, it will work in software — but then Grady Booch says it’s like a river

Alexander’s way of thinking?

  • Max Jacobson said it’s all about beauty:  Visiting Eishin Campus, was it beautiful?
  • Pause in responding to answer:  wow, if Alexander did all this work, and you didn’t find it beautiful?
  • Land is beautiful, but classrooms in dark wood, construction for medieval Japan
  • New classroom was bright
  • For Purplsoc talk:  1964 Notes on a Synthesis in Form, wrote as a scientist, as he knew, then changed language as he learned
  • In Nature of Order:  changing language from structure-preserving, to wholeness preserving
  • Own work, not just Alexander, but also Horst Rittel and West Churchman (maybe next year’s PLoP)

We don’t get the opportunity as a community to come together to discuss the underlying assumptions

  • As a community, we should address

1h33m00s: Purplsoc talks

  • This talk is focused on inside the system; Purplsoc was outside the system
  • Max Jacobson said pattern language is NOT for wicked problem
  • Teaching Shanghai, with affordance language

1h35:30 HF:  Coming to pattern language, and thinking it’s one thing, and grasp some things

  • When you’ve grasped it, then it branches
  • It’s great to see two sides, can see the contradictions
  • Could be a third column:  ontological design, from a language-action perspective?
  • Christopher Alexander at OOPSLA, you’re not using your code to change the world for the better?

— end digest —

One of the findings from the workshop was that participants had not yet read Christopher Alexander’s 2012 book, The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems, that I have recommended as the best publication to start. Alexander documented as a scientist, and thus captured his position at each point in time, leading to changes in vocabulary. Workshop attendees agreed that the Alexander’s final publication could be used a the last word on his thinking, and said they might prepare for next year’s meeting by reading it.

For the proceedings, a formal revision of the outline was written as a reflection piece, summarizing the richer audio recordings available digitally.

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