Generative Process

Many years ago, I had a brief relationship with a physical university. I was studying science. I remember that the rhythm was intense and frustrating. There was a constant dance between physics and math (different courses with different teachers). Many times the physics lessons were relying on math lessons that had either not yet taken place or that were so fresh I had not yet been able to assimilate. I eventually lost in the race to keep up. I fell so far behind that I gave up, lost interest and dropped out,

The commentaries on the Samkhya Karika seem to present a similar challenge. They have a recurring tendency to present early mentions of things that have not yet come up but will be explained later in the text. Though unlike the university professors, the commentaries do have the courtesy to say “this will be explained later.” For me, this is neither productive nor pleasant.

Note: I was taught that learning stands on three pillars: a teacher, and teachings. It may be that the presence of a teacher in this process would have mitigated some of this tension.

To mitigate this, I am approaching the text as an experiment in generative processes. I am assuming that the verses of the original text are gradually building up a step-by-step description that does not require jumping around and making future promises. I am assuming that the text is, in its essence, a generative description. With this assumption in hand, I am filtering out parts of the commentaries which are reaching out to a future that is not yet present.

Christopher Alexander introduced the term “generative process” to my vocabulary:

A descriptive program, like a blueprint or a plan, describes an object in some detail, whereas a generative program describes how to make an object

consider Origami … by folding a piece of paper in various directions, it is quite easy to make a paper hat or a bird from a single sheet. To describe in any detail the final form of the paper with the complex relationships between its parts is really very difficult, and not of much help in explaining how to achieve it. Much more useful and easier to formulate are instructions on how to fold the paper …

Lewis Wolpert – Principles of Development quoted in
Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life

A good generative description should feel like an unfolding wholeness at all times. Unfolding wholeness is the fundamental process of creation in nature. A flower is never “under construction,” it is always whole. It grows from bud to flower to fruit from the inside out. The bud is always whole and the flower and fruit are present in the bud. The flower is always whole and the fruit is present in the flower. The fruit is always whole and carries the seeds which carry the potential to regenerate the cycle. There are never external parts that are attached or added on, there is never a part that isn’t whole. Growth is a subtle evolutionary movement towards greater and more refined wholeness.

Can the Samkhya Karika be experienced in this way, as if it were a budding flower?

  • As I go through the text-as-a-process it should conjure up a clear image in my mind.
  • Anywhere I stop in the process, the image that it conjures should feel whole. It should be as if there is nothing missing from it. It may even hint at what may come next.
  • Every additional step I take into the process should feel natural and sensible. It should feel as the next step was already there, known, just waiting to happen.
  • New elements that are introduced should feel like they arise from and fit nicely into what was already established. There should never be a feeling of “parts being assembled.”
  • I should never get a feeling of “where the hell did that come from?” and I should never feel lost.

This is how I have tried to approach the text. I am finding that this perspective applies to (at least) two aspects:

  1. The text itself is a generative description and the commentaries may obscure that.
  2. It holds a story of how the world comes into being rather than a description of what the world is.

Despite my efforts, it still feels like a challenging process to follow. It is a long unfolding and it may challenge (I would say that it is designed to challenge) some unspoken, unexamined, and yet established notions of what is that live in me.