Feeling

In the contemporary Western world, feeling and thinking are generally seen as the two primary cognitive or perceptive modes, with feeling - the intuitive - being the realm of the feminine, and thinking - the rational - as being the realm of the masculine. There is a current of thought that has developed in recent years, which argues that our society's patriarchal orientation - and the concordant emphasis on rationality - is in large part responsible for our current ails. These polemics pose the theory that the diminution of feminine values in our culture - values related to intuition, compassion, nurturing, healing, the body and the home - have resulted in the cold, impersonal world so many deplore. The Jungian analyst Robert Johnson points to the 'wounded male':

It is a wound intimately connected with his feeling function and affects every sense of value in his psychological structure. This is the price we have paid for the cool, precise, rational, and scientific world that we have won at so high a cost. We are trained that objectivity, scientific thought, and dispassionate reasoning are possible only when feelings are dis-counted. We rarely differentiate feeling from emotion, and most people cannot tell the difference.

It is this distinction between emotion and feeling which is important in under-standing Alexander's argument that feeling has an objective basis as a standard for judgement. As we have seen, Alexander feels that our capacity to feel, and our trust in feeling as a guide, has broken down in modern times:

It is current dogma that you may like what you wish, and that it is an essential part of democratic freedom to like whatever you decide to like...All this occurs at a time when the mass media have taken over our ideas of what is likeable to an extent unknown in humkan history. Thus, if one were pessimistic, one might even say that there is very little authentic liking in our time. What people like can often not be trusted, becuase it does not come from the heart.

In a sense, we have been hypnotized or brainwashed by the media, which is a reflection of the underlying rational, mechanistic cosmology which permeates our culture. As a result, we no longer have the ability to judge what we really like, on deep levels. And it is this ability to know what we really like, which Alexander feels is at the core of his entire argument:

The essence of the whole matter is this: If you want to create unity - transcendent unity, in a building, you need to please yourself. And you need only please yourself. But you must please yourself truly. And to do that you must first discover your own true self, come close enough to it, to listen to it, so that it can be pleased.

It has been Alexander's attempt to reintroduce some of these values into architectural culture. He does this by placing a person's feelings in a position of authority in matters of judgement. One can feel the value of a thing.

This feeling is a sense of the wholeness. It is an awareness of the existing wholeness which takes in what is, and extends it to cover what is missing, what might be, what continuation or development of that wholeness will do most to heal the world, which complements what is, and which will be the quality of life, in that place, or in that thing, after it is finished. This is the essential perception which always precedes a definite act of making. We have a clear vision of the substance, as a feeling, in advance of actually trying to find its form, or shaping it.

Here we confront the basic hinge upon which Alexander's theory turns: a person's feelings, at their core, are an objective matter and as a result they can be discussed and are shareable. We do, in fact, share them with other people to a large extent. This goes against the grain of contemporary life where people value their individual right to have a personal opinion, or feeling, about something. Personal opinion is valued above sharing a collective vision and consequently goes a long way toward destroying community and a cohesive quality to the built environment. Jung, in defining 'intuition', helps to illuminate Alexander's use of the term 'feeling':

Intuition...is, according to my view, a basic psychological function...which transmits perceptions in an unconscious way. Everything, whether outer or inner objects or their associations, can be the object of this perception. Intuition has this peculiar quality: it is neither sensation, nor feeling, nor intellectual conclusion, although it may appear in any of these forms. Through intuition any one content is presented as a com-plete whole...Intuitive cognition, therefore, possesses an intrinsic character of certainty and conviction which enabled Spinoza to uphold the "scientia intuitiva" as the highest form of cognition.

Alexander has developed a methodology for establishing the objective nature of a feeling about something. He calls it "The Mirror of the Self Test."

In the method of observation which I propose, the observer asks, for each of the two things we are trying to judge, to what degree each one of them is, or is not, a picture of the self - and by this I mean your and my wholesome self, perhaps even our eternal self...a picture which shows you as you are, with all your hopes, fears, weaknesses, glory and absurdity, and which - as far as possible - includes everything that you could ever hope to be; in short, which comes closer to being a true picture of you in all your weakness and humanity; the love in you, and the hate; your youth and your age; the good in you, and the bad; your past, your present, and your future; your dreams of what you hope to be, as well as what you are.

This is his method for getting at what people really like, on a deeper and more profound level. It is an attempt to get past the superficial level of current style, what people think they are supposed to like, to be current and sophisticated. By focusing the judgement on a deeper basis Alexander seeks to bypass the contem-porary problem of subjective and objective value differentiation. This is the cornerstone of his claim to universal validity. Instead of seeing our feelings as reflections of our taste, our subjective opinion, the judgement is reflected on a common basis, what Alexander refers to as our "eternal self" or "original mind."

Our own minds are confused by opinions, images, and thoughts. Because of these, we often fail to see accurately the relative life or degree of wholeness in different things. Nevertheless, their degree of life may be gauged by the degree to which the thing resembles our own self. However, even in making this judgement, we can again be confused, because our idea of our own self is also confused by images, thoughts, and opinions. Gradually, as we mature, we learn to recognize our own mind or self, as merely a part of some greater thing or self. I can refer to this larger self as original mind.

The intention to disolve the individual understanding of the self as an independent entity is at the core of Alexander's approach. By focusing the mind on the fact of our interconnected relationship with the 'other', with what seems 'outside' of our self, one begins to bridge the gap that creates the alienation so many people feel today. The great spiritual leader Krishnamurti teaches a similar attitude to the self. He lists a long serious of thoughts and actions which he believes identifies the individual self, such as "the idea...the conclusion...the conscious endeavour to be or not to be, the accumulated memory of the uncon-scious...", and condemns them as "evil."

I am using the word 'evil' intentionally, because the self is dividing; the self is self-enclosing; its activities, however noble, are separative and isolating. We know all this. We also know these extraordinary moments when the self is not there, in which there is no sense of endeavour, of effort, and which happens when there is love.

Alexander's formulation of pleasing the self, while knowing the self to be some-thing greater then the individual ego, is the mechanism by which he hope to engender more beauty, more good in the world. This has much in common with the methods of the various religious and spiritual practices, as noted by Huxley:

The nature of a man's being determines the nature of his actions; and the nature of his being comes to manifestation first of all in the mind. What he craves and thinks, what he believes and feels - this is, so to speak, the Logos, by whose agency an individual's fundamental character performs its creative acts. These acts will be beautiful and morally good if the being is God-centered, bad and ugly if it is centered in the personal self.

It is Alexander's contention that when one is focused on the actual structure of reality beyond the personal self, on the 'wholeness' that preexists our perception, then one has transcended the subjectivity of the small mind for the truth of the 'eternal mind'. Without such a reference it is impossible to make judgements about the relative value of something, about itŐs relative 'goodness' or 'badness':

Before the age of enlightenment there was, in most cultures, some single value to which one could appeal, and to which people did appeal when building any part of their world. The source of this value was different in different cultures. In some it was thought to be "God," in others "ancestors," in other "tradition" or "law."

This mindset allows for discussion about the relative value of something like a building. There can be a dialogue about it's merits and faults and some conclusion might be shared among people. Alexander feels that, to some degree, there is resistance to this idea today on selfish grounds:

But the idea that there might actaully be issues of right and wrong there, that the good of the whole might be discussed in terms which are not political, but moral, or objective - that is firmly suppressed, because even the possibility of such discussion is too dangerous to settled interests.

Alexander argues that in concentrating on the eternal self, which he also calles the "I," we cannot help but experience the deep feeling that the world manifests. And we can follow this feeling toward the creation of 'life' in buildings: