2015/07/04 17:00 Panel, “Christopher Alexander’s Ethics: An Ethic of Design”, Purplsoc

Plenary panel at Purplsoc: David West, Peter Baumgartner, Christian Kohls, Helmut Leitner, Hajo Neis, Till Schummer.

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted on the Coevolving Innovations web site by David Ing.

At PURPLSOC (Pursuit of Pattern Languages for Societal Change) 2015, Danube University Krems, Austria

Introduction by Christian Kohls


[David West, New Mexico Highland University, at InfoQ, on O’Reilly]

Purplsoc: panel

Alexander at OOPSLA:

  • Only 10% of world is impacted by architects
  • Software developers, however, will impact 100% of the world
  • Doing a horrible job
  • When was the last time someone liked the software they use in the office

[Peter Baumgartner, Danube U. Krems]

Found the book in the library, why is it so special?

  • Vision:  to build a society that is alive and whole
  • Vision, yet open

[Hajo Neis, University of Oregon]

Alexander works with participation

  • On other projects, different situations
  • What are you really responsible?   More for the building, or the owner?  For architects, it’s the building.

[Helmut Leitner, HLS Software Development]

Feeling of wholeness

  • Working on generalizing
  • People as part of nature
  • If think outside of architecture, there’s a conflict
  • Everyone is a designer
  • Hundreds of contexts

Purplsoc: panel

[Till Schummer, FernUniversität in Hagen] As computer science, ethics from pattern definition

  • Most computer people read solution to a problem in context, and they’re done
  • Without ever doing the same way twice?
  • Taking the intelligence of the business seriously.
  • When we think aobut creating reality, remind us of our limitations

[Christian Kohls, Cologne University of Applied Sciences] Responsibility to the design, or to push the design?

[Till Schummer] Can get a new start to communications

  • From people, to people
  • Better for describing their needs
  • Patterns as an ethical solution method
  • See all viewpoints, then see most important
  • Would be better as wholistic

[Helmut Leitner] Responsibility is shared, in higher or lesser degree.

  • How to codevelop, be co-responsive in processes

[Hajo Neis] Alexander was pushing the building to better, beyond limits, where clients didn’t want to go

  • Pushing the envelope for fantastic buildings
  • One for the homeless people
  • Cutting edge of new technologies, pleasant designs like fountains, trees
  • Dining hall with truss, in the middle of concrete that was shotgun, never done before, not expensive
  • Was done in ways for only rich clients, but in this case, was building for poor people
  • Chris was pushing:  is that ethical to push clients to the limit?
  • In the end, building is unique

[Christian Kohls] Was hearing about participation, everyone being a designer

  • What if conflicts are not resolved?

[Hajo Neis] In architecture’s office, of 10 projects, only 2 get built

  • Chris pushed, beyond client’s wants
  • Chris refused to work with developers, it’s contention
  • Success came with multiple projects, always pushing the envelope in some direction

[Peter Baumgartner] Push the envelope, stick with ideals

  • Way to success in the long term

[David West]:  Recent

  • Computer science is 60 years old
  • Psychology is a bit older
  • Political theory is maybe 100 years old
  • Everyone wanted to be like physics
  • Wanted to be computer science, not computer arts
  • Wanted laws
  • Unfortunately, they are still stuck on pure science, the fact that they blast people out of the sky doesn’t matter
  • Computer science the same:  it doesn’t matter if I build a system that will be hacked, I was just doing my job
  • Computer science is inward-looking, only interested in the computer, not interested in the domain
  • Making everyone’s life miserable
  • Work with a friend who is creating programs who put tweets out in the world that are created by machine; clients are governments and corporate; he says he’s just doing pure science
  • Everyone is a designer, has a responsibility

[Christian Kohls] Can you really say something is ethical or not?

[David West]:  Studied cultural anthropology, understand there are not absolutes

  • However, we can recognize Quality Without a Name across cultures:  it’s beautiful or ugly
  • Suggest there some similar things in the ethical realm
  • Amongst friends, know when someone crosses the line (including the person that crosses)
  • Don’t have to bring a standard, just work as human beings on what makes us happy and sad

Purplsoc: panel with Hajo Neis, Helmut Leitner, Till Schummer

[Till Schummer] Computer science students seem to be getting more disconnected from ethics

  • See this in physics-driven attitude
  • Just doing what is asked, not looking at values
  • Wish it had been more explicit
  • Alexander’s last book:  some passages become very personal, very religious
  • If had put this in the first book, it would have made a big difference

[Audience] As soon as split matter and mind, ethics is something you add on

[Hajo Neis] Physicists working within their framework

  • Christopher Alexander would say doing this, trying to get to a higher order
  • Might take a risk: someone might not get paid
  • Was never going that direction implied

[David West] Often wished that patterns had gotten a wider audience, outside of computer science

  • It’s a lot of an issue with computer science
  • Education system is a problem:  almost all universities have abandoned their pre-1900 principles (while Europe still hides it)
  • Ethics doesn’t come from me, it comes from us
  • Alexander says this:  people build their own houses
  • Few work on complex problems alone

[Helmut Leitner] In worst case, people could take pattern language for profit, rather than quality without a name

  • Search problem:  need a way to figure out which are better, and which are worse
  • Most patterns are found, not written
  • Heritage doesn’t belong to a single person
  • A tool can be used in the way intended, or misused

[Audience] Early in Alexander:  value is not outside the world, apart

  • Turnstiles at BART station
  • Value of country?
  • Work is not a process that is relaxed, often conflictual within the group, and with forces outside the group.
  • This is something that is welcome, and important
  • Truth gets out
  • Alexander got accepted at Cambridge, for an experiement everyone else was fudging the result

[Christian Kohls]  Is there a truth?

  • Not my quality?
  • Both sides are wrong, in a small way.  Just not smart enough to accommodate, in another solution out there, that no one else is searching for.

[Peter Baumgartner] A common objective, we are torn apart

  • The issue of wholeness
  • Agenda;  wholeness and decision isn’t important
  • This may be important in the future
  • Correspondence from Alexander:  he opens the door, and asks to explore
  • We have to explore what wholeness really is

[Audience] Responsibility

  • Work at IBM, are situations where responsible acting is difficult
  • Higher bureaucracy makes it less important
  • It’s a character of large organizations, e.g. military or government
  • If acting on a business basis, easier to hide responsibility in large organizations

[Audience] Things that are value-free, and the value comes from the culture?

  • Don’t think that that’s true
  • In any object, there’s value
  • It’s not the truth, it’s a truth
  • Could have many truths
  • When talking about a project, we are superficial and convenient to find a result for the value
  • We need fast results, we forget about the search for truth
  • We are very convenient, and pressed to be fast
  • It’s still worthwhile to look at these things
  • e.g. financial systems:  what is the material, what are they doing, it’s not just about quick fixes and wins
  • What is money for?  It’s not a simple thing
  • There is a truth, not just one truth
  • There are things worth searching for

[Christian Kohls] Culture or situation?

[Audience] Hard to find one truth

  • Was looking for the quality without a name
  • A piece of work, health, in building a time
  • Bring in more life:  keep within this?
  • Easier to test for life, than for truth
  • Comparison
  • Not enough in ethics in the pattern language
  • We don’t have to discuss ethics?
  • Does it create life, or foster life?

[Dave West] The truth is not a fixed thing

  • Not only is it contextualized
  • First called fit, then quality without a name, living, then unfolding wholeness
  • Unless have a history of ideas, then it’s easy for Alexander to say that this was the truth
  • Christians and Muslims gradually elevated women from property to individuals, but if don’t know that history, then will read it wrong

[Hajo Neis] Modify the question?

  • In buildings we do, rank it as four-star building?
  • A lot of people respond to buildings
  • They may think it’s old

[Audience] Money or help the world?

  • People criticizing the machine, the game
  • It’s hard to be part of that system, but are still in it
  • Alexander was outside the system
  • As philosophers say leadership that doesn’t come from the outside, it comes from people who are willing to play.
  • Trying to bring in money, rather than saying just won’t be involved
  • Are we really playing the game we espouse?
  • If not involving self, don’t have the right to change

[Audience] Comment on book

  • When making the money, pushing the envelope or pushing the system?
  • Deterministic or holistic value
  • From computer, everything as numerically defined
  • From architecture, wasn’t as well described, except for Alexander
  • The value systems switch from time where controlling more and morea about the natural world, and consuming more is part of the natural world?
  • Producing ever more with ever less
  • We’re stuck inside systems

[Till Schummer] it’s all about fixing the separatness

  • Estrangement, hope to be fixed
  • Would like to see toolkit
  • No universal truth, there’s individual culture
  • Patterns could very personal, e.g. type of world that I’m associated with

[Audience] Changing philosophy

  • Alexander shift over the years
  • When Quality without a Name was being presented, the idea presentended the idea that human of a whole
  • Patterns not telling you what to do, it allows you to do what you want
  • Cities were build for people to make money, and also live life
  • Need a primary motive

[Audience] Role of System A to destroy the foundations on earth

  • Not relativistic
  • Role of System B has to be broken for systems to survive
  • Easy to get eaten up
  • Hard to get system A and system B to cooperate
  • Needs a place to grow, outside of a system A
  • Things can grow without permanent properties

[Helmut Leitner] Thoughts about truth as a concept

  • Philosophy is 100s of years old
  • Nature of society, Karl Popper can’t
  • Truth is what you write down

[Audience] Alexander asked, what are you good at?

  • Good at listening
  • Then asked, what makes you feel good?
  • Know what the truth is

[Hajo Neis]:  Asking a question outside scope

  • System A goes to large projects, it’s started to destroy the world
  • Then can argue with good or evil
  • e.g. climate change has a different set of values

[Audience] People have flown from all around the world to this conference

  • Can’t separate from the world

[Audience] System A and System B will be with us for a long time

  • Question of balance
  • At Berkeley, was doing a class in software development
  • Highest investment
  • Wrote a paper, had to do a development project
  • Did a design that seemed reasonably whole, then did calculation
  • But wouldn’t get acceptance
  • e.g. 15% to affordable housing

[Audience] There are people who will take less than 5%

  • Don’t have to say developers don’t exist, they should be okay with less thtn 205

[Audience] Basic rule of management, every project begins with a divergent system, ends iwht convergent.

No system works by itself

[Audience] Don’t believe young generation has less cultural force

[Dave West]  Questions shifted to human and social systems, which are complex, and easy to destroy

  • How do you know if the systems changes will destroy the system, or improve
  • Case where replacing stone axes with steel axes destroyed the culture
  • Utopia societies don’t survive 3 generations, some survived 2

[Till Schummer] Utopia, not as a total world system, it’s a potential being in this life

  • Related to the personal environment
  • Doesn’t require top-down change, can be bottom-up
  • Started off thinking about patterns as recipes, could quickly follow and make good software
  • Then, discovered it’s about communications towards learning
  • Now, even learning is not the main focus
  • it’s a catalog towards developing a personal utopia
  • Not a fixed utopia, it’s an interest that you’re moving towards

[Audience] Human beings are an invasive species

  • It’s great to try to improve systems, but it will take some destructive force to bring us back to equilibrium
  • Life will become harder

[David West] Try to figure out how to rise from the ashes?

[Audience] Believe in intentional community, we are the children of a great community of 20 years

  • Community has taught strategy-seeking
  • May not have freedom that I used to, but to have choices
  • Pattern language was an educational and interactive tool
  • Should go back to pattern language development projects, and ask if the people living there are happy
  • Think about generating choices, not just designing choices

[Audience] How do you influence a complex system?  It’s a living thing, like a child.  You don’t direct it, you influence its environment

  • In sustainability, money hasn’t been part of the solution, it’s taboo

[Christian Kohls] How can Christopher Alexander help the world?  Wholeness?

[Till Schummer] The invitation to believe the world doesn’t have to be perfect

  • Connection between people, and with environment

[Helmut Leitner] Christopher Alexander gives us a way to think about systems

  • Could take some time, maybe generations
  • Basic orientention given by Christopher Alexander, supporting life as best we can

[Hajo Neis] Best from Christopher Alexander:  go off by yourself, and find out for yourself

  • Deep structure

[Peter Baumgartner] Community growth is important.

[Dave West] Challenge

  • Christopher Alexander was conflicted
  • Scientist, and Catholic mystic
  • Can you really understand Alexander, without understanding the mystical order?
  • Can you attain the experience of truth and he saw it, and then hear him say “everything I told you was wrong”
  • Embrace your inner mystic.