“It is evident that the more complex organisms have not evolved simply by adapting themselves to the environment. Instead, according to Whitehead, “the upward trend has been accompanied by a growth of the converse relation. Animals have progressively undertaken the task of adapting the environment to themselves.” The primary evolutionary function of Reason is thus to set to work transforming the environment so as to promote the art of life. In the case of human organisms, this task takes form through our building practices. Human architecture is one of the most advanced arts yet invented by earthly life. For much of our species’ history, architecture has functioned to shelter and enhance our various cultural activities so as to afford us not only more safety from untamed nature, but more social cohesion and religious awe. Structures were built for the purpose of facilitating human flourishing. But in the modern age, with the shift out of the ancient world-picture into the mechanistic view of the cosmos, a new approach to architecture has taken hold of our building practices. Because our modern imaginations have lost the ability to perceive the life animating the earth and wider cosmos, our built environment has been designed without life in mind. As the architect Christopher Alexander warns us…the more we deaden our environment by surrounding ourselves with non-living structures, the less capable we become of perceiving our relationship to the living earth. Worse, the more these dead structures are allowed to proliferate across the planet, the less life it is able to sustain.”
The above passage comes from a recent essay written by process philosopher, Matt Segall, on the subject of the function of human reason and it’s role in human architectural design. The buildings (and philosophies) we create end up shaping our environments, for better or worse…. It’s a brilliant essay. Here is Matt again on the human invention we call the skyscraper:
“The function of the skyscraper is not to facilitate human flourishing, but to accumulate capitalist profits. Built of glass and steel, their structure is generally a standardized, repetitive series of floors designed to reach the maximal height with a minimum of materials. They are an expression of modern humanity’s technological power and dominance over nature. Indeed, no other built environment compares to the skyscraper in its ability to alienate its inhabitants from the life of the earth. Rather than dwelling on their alienating consequences, 20th century architects and their financiers understood these mammoth structures in terms of the Darwinian doctrine of the survival of the fittest. The taller the building, the more successful the builders. From their perch in the clouds, businessmen look out, godlike, upon the world below, which from that height resembles a game of Monopoly. In Whitehead’s terms, the skyscraper embodies Reason in its function as “[the director] of the attack on the environment.””
Matt is a very astute, intuitive thinker and is such a good writer to boot; I’ve got to say that on more than one occasion I’ve had “aha moments” of enlightenment while reading his stuff.