Making the Garden

written by Christopher Alexander

It has taken me almost fifty years to understand fully that there is a necessary connection between God and architecture, and that this connection is, in part, empirically verifiable. Further, I have come to the view that the sacredness of the physical world—and the potential of the physical world for sacredness—provides a powerful and surprising path towards understanding the existence of God, whatever God may be, as a necessary part of the reality of the universe. If we approach certain empirical questions about architecture in a proper manner, we will come to see God.
Only in the last twenty years has my understanding of this connection taken a definite form, and it continues to develop every day. It has led me to experience explicit visions of God, and to understand, in some very small measure, what kind of entity God may be. It has also given me a way of talking about the divine in concrete, physical terms that everybody can understand.

There can be little doubt that the idea of God, as brought forth from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has slowly become tired . . . to such an extent that it has difficulty fitting into everyday twenty-first-century discourse. As it stands, it is almost embarrassing to many people, in many walks of life. The question is: Can we find a way to mobilize, afresh, the force of what was once called God, as a way of helping us to recreate the beauty of the Earth?

The view put forth here does not leave our contemporary, physical view of the universe untouched. Indeed, it hints at a conception which must utterly transform our conception of ourselves and our place in the universe. It shows us, in a new fashion, a glimpse of a beauty and majesty in the smallest details of human existence.

All this comes from the work of paying attention to the Earth, its land and rocks and trees, its buildings, the people and ants and birds and creatures all together, and the blades of grass. It comes from realizing that the task of making and remaking the Earth—that which we sometimes call architecture—is at the core of any commonsense understanding of the divine.

In 1956, I began for the first time, consciously, to try to find out what architecture is. I had received a degree in mathematics, at Trinity College, Cambridge, and, as I had always intended, began a second degree, this time in architecture, also at Trinity. As I took in what I was being taught, I felt that the then-prevailing idea of architecture was rootless and arbitrary, mainly governed by styles and pointless quirks of style, and that what architects typically said about it was peculiar, often meaningless and egocentric. In 1958, as early as I could after completing my architecture degree, I left to go to the United States, to do a Ph.D. in architecture at Harvard. That was the moment when I first got my feet on the ground, and began trying to define the nature of architecture from first principles.

To have something solid that I could be sure of, I started by examining the smallest particles of functional effect that I could discern in buildings, paying attention to small and sometimes barely significant aspects of the ways that buildings affect people. My purpose in doing this was to focus on the smallest particles of fact that I could be certain of: something that was extraordinarily difficult given the porridge of mush that then passed for architectural theory. In those early years, my studies were based on the most ordinary, miniscule observations about usefulness and the effect of buildings on the people who lived in them, always keeping the observations modest, reliable, and detailed—small enough and solid enough that I could be sure that they were true.

At first I included very small particulars of functional effect of any kind that made a practical difference to daily life . . . a shelf beside the door where one could put a packet down while searching for one’s keys, for instance, or the possibility of a sunbeam coming into a room and falling on the floor.

I soon realized that some of these details were very much more significant than others. Those like the first (the shelf) tended to be pedestrian, even though useful; while those like the second (the sunbeam) were more uplifting, and clearly mattered more in some obvious but profound sense. They had a greater impact on people’s mental and emotional health. And they had more to do with beauty. So I began to focus on those miniscule points that mattered more, in the sense of the second example. Gradually, then, I was able to see how buildings support human ­well-being—not so much mechanical or material well-being, but rather the emotional well-being that makes a person feel comfortable in himself. And as I studied these small effects carefully, gradually I was led to a conception of the wholeness and wellness that might, under ideal circumstances, arise between buildings and human beings.

Starting with these humble and detailed pictures of what seemed to matter in a building, for fifty years I have struggled to provide a basis for architecture that can sustain human feeling and the human spirit. I made an effort to penetrate the logic of architecture, and the logic of architectural value, in the hope that I could alter the devastating effect on human beings and on human society of what had become known as “modern” architecture. I hoped to replace this faceless thing with an idea and practice of architecture that would help us sustain the sanctity of life, both in our hearts and in society.

During my years as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, I encountered considerable resistance from the faculty and administration. Even though the religious content of my work was certainly not articulated in those early years, my colleagues in the department of architecture made continuous efforts to diminish the importance of my work, and did their best to dissuade students from taking my classes. The spiritual content and underlying message of my approach, though always presented in a form acceptable to common sense, struck them (rightfully) as an attack on the prevailing forms of thought and practice in fashionable twentieth-century architecture.

I could not knuckle under. To protect my ability to teach and to protect my students, I was obliged during the period of 1985 to 1992 to undertake a First Amendment lawsuit against the university, since the university was undermining my right to teach what I believed to be true. I was by then a full professor in the department, and my work was in large part empirical, but it took seven long years before I prevailed in my right to teach the approach I had formulated, and was able publicly to go ahead with research and further reasoning that seemed empirically adequate to me.

During all these years I still had not formulated an explicit way of understanding the connection between God and architecture, nor had I found it necessary to do so. But half-consciously, it was always at the heart of what I was doing. Questions about the nature of God, the relation between God and our concepts of modern physics, the apparent disparities between the various views of God presented in different cultures and religions, were with me every day. For one or two decades, I also immersed myself in various forms of practice—Zen Buddhism, psychotherapy, private forms of meditation—to do what I could to sharpen and clear my mind. As a practicing Roman Catholic, I learned much from Christian mystics (especially The Cloud of Unknowing); Sufi saints (Mevlana, Ibn Arabi); Buddhist and Taoist writers (Chuang Tzu and Lao Tse, especially the Tao Te Ching); Zen poets (especially Bashō); south sea anthropologists Gregory Bateson, Ruth Benedict, and Jane Resture; the Sanskrit classical canon; Western writers such as the French psychiatrist Hubert Benoit; Aldous Huxley; and the Enlightenment (especially Spinoza).

As time went on, I also began formulating practical and modest theories, which enabled me (and others) to build better buildings. Some of my works became widely read, and translated into many languages. These theories were focused on the search for a deeper sense of well-being—not thermal comfort or energy saving, but a deeper psychological and emotional comfort, in which people could feel their own existence as human beings. These theories gradually became widely accepted, but also continued to raise discomfort in the profession. They plainly were at odds with the stark and ego-centered view of buildings that was then being taught by most teachers of architecture, and that was commonly accepted in late-twentieth-century society as the “correct” view.

As a result of struggling to understand these things at a deeper level, while establishing a foundation that seemed ordinary and practical, I found it more and more difficult to fit together a well-defined scientific or intellectual model of what was going on in a way that could encompass these simple matters. And yet it was also clear to me that the empirical reality of these simple matters could not be denied, and certainly could not be abandoned.

In the period from 1979 to 1990, I found to my surprise that I was gradually forced to wrestle with questions about the nature of reality, of space, of value, and of human freedom. As I moved forward, the need to clarify these issues became more and more apparent. I also found that within the positivistic, scientific canon I had grown up with while studying at Cambridge, it was virtually impossible even to formulate adequate concepts that would be capable of solving the more profound issues that lie at the root of architecture.

Up until that time, I had accepted the academic, positivistic, scientific philosophy and practice of my youth. I had been trained in physics and mathematics, and assumed, virtually as part of my educational birthright, that these scientific disciplines could be relied on, and that I should not step outside the intellectual framework that they provided. But to solve the practical and conceptual problems in architecture, I now embarked on a study of a series of concepts that, though formulated more or less within scientific norms, nevertheless opened ways of ­thinking that were highly challenging to the academic establishment:

  • Wholeness
  • Value, as an objective concept
  • Unfolding wholeness
  • Connection with the inner self
  • Centers
  • Structure-preserving transformations
  • Degrees of life

I introduced these concepts and a few others only because I found them essential to the task of thinking clearly about the life of buildings. Yet they were almost undefinable within the terms of contemporary scientific thinking. This was true to such a degree that even raising these topics as matters for discussion in professional architectural circles caused raised eyebrows, obstructive reactions, and little sincere effort to get to the bottom of the issues.

One by one, then, I allowed these new concepts into my everyday way of thinking, doing my best to hold to scientific rigor and clarity, yet trying to formulate models that would adequately portray the needed concepts in a way that made sense of them.

During 1978–1985, I went as far as I was able in laying the groundwork of a new model. One might say that this new model relied heavily on new forms of experiment, in which a person would attempt to judge the quality of an action, building, painting, or place by consulting his own self as to the degree of wholeness that appeared in the items under discussion or investigation.

This was the beginning of a very new way of thinking about architecture, which viewed the environment and its structure as an instrument interacting with human beings in such a way that people could heal themselves. In short, it was the beginning of a practical theory of healing environments—still far from the subject of God—but now perhaps beginning, subtly, to point in that direction.

My coworkers and I put forward this theory in a number of books, of which the most important was probably A Pattern Language, which has (I am told) become the best-selling architecture book of all time. Companion volumes included The Timeless Way of Building ; A New Theory of Urban Design ; The Production of Houses ; The Linz Café ; and The Oregon Experiment , all published between 1975 and 1987. These six books laid out a theory with which people could produce well-functioning environments for themselves.

As my colleagues and I continued experiments in which we did our best to apply these principles to real building projects, it became more and more clear that we needed to sharpen our idea of health and clarify the target of this work. It was urgent to develop a more solid conceptual and experimental foundation that could provide us with practical ways of judging which environments, and which kinds of environments, were indeed most successful in sustaining or promoting health.

This task began to lead, for the first time, to empirical hints of the presence of God. In effect, we began to discover a new kind of empirical complex in buildings and works of art that is connected with the human self, spirituality, social and mental health, God, ways of understanding the role that love plays in establishing wholeness, the role of art, and conscious awareness of the human being as part of some greater spiritual entity. These arguments were later conveyed in the four books of The Nature of Order.

I would like to summarize our work by explaining this new kind of empirical complex in the following way. In any part of what we call nature, or any part of a building, we see, at many levels of scale, coherent entities or centers, nested in each other, and overlapping each other. These ­coherent entities all have, in varying degree, some quality of “life.”

For any given center, this quality of life comes about as a result of cooperation between the other living centers at several scales, which surround it, contain it, and appear within it. The degree of life any one center has depends directly on the degrees of life that appear in its associated centers at these different scales. In short, the life of any given entity depends on the extent to which that entity had unfolded from its own previous wholeness, and from the wholeness of its surroundings.

When one contemplates this phenomenon soberly, it is hard to imagine how it comes about. But what is happening is, in effect, that life appears, twinkling, in each entity, and the cooperation of these twinkling entities creates further life. You may view this phenomenon as ordinary. Or you may think of it as the Buddhists of the Hua-Yen canon did, when they viewed it as the constantly changing God-like tapestry that is God, and from which life comes.

In this view, architecture contributes to the world to just that extent to which it plays its role in this tapestry, and that, in turn, comes about as a result of the extent to which a building, or an outdoor place between buildings, or a doorway, is composed entirely of entities that are themselves whole and entire, and which—each one of them—make us feel whole and entire. This is, in any case, an attempt to make a picture of the whole.

With this, with a searchlight focused on the whole, I could no longer really avoid the topic of God.

I suppose it is fair to say that there are two approaches to the reality of God. One is faith; the other is reason. Faith works easily when it is present, but it is luck, or one’s early history in family life, or a blinding insight of some kind, that determines whether one has faith. Reason is much harder. One cannot easily approach the reality of God by means of reason. Yet in twentieth- and twenty-first-century discourse, reason is almost the only way we have of explaining a difficult thing so that another can participate.

It is reason—the language of science, and its appeal to shareable, empirical observation and reasoning—that has given our modern era its strength. Yet one is unlikely to encounter God on the basis of reason. There can, however, be a persuasive logic that deals with the whole, and with the deeply enigmatic problems that the concept of the whole opens.

My life began with childlike faith. After then going through the dark forests of positivistic science, to which I gladly gave myself for so many years, I was finally able, through contemplation of the whole, to emerge into the light of day with a view of things that is both visionary and empirical.

It is a view that has roots in faith, and from it builds bridges of scientific coherence towards a new kind of visionary faith rooted in scientific understanding. This new kind of faith and understanding is based on a new form of observation. It depends for its success on our belief (as human beings) that our feelings are legitimate . Indeed, my experiments have shown that in the form I have cast them, feelings are more legitimate and reliable, perhaps, than many kinds of experimental procedure.

It is in this way that I was led from architecture to the intellectual knowledge of God. It was my love of architecture and building from which I slowly formed an edifice of thought that shows us the existence of God as a necessary, real phenomenon as surely as we have previously known the world as made of space and matter.

During my years at Berkeley, I never taught or spoke about God explicitly as part of my work as an architect. As professor of architecture, I tried to teach and write in ways that were consistent with my background in science and mathematics. It would have seemed incongruous to bring God into my discussions of architecture because I was simply trying to find out what was true and write it down. A fairly straightforward process, I thought, following well-tested methods of scientific inquiry. So that is what I set out to do, and that is what I did. In my heart, I was always dimly aware that I did maintain an inner knowing that the best way to produce good architecture must somehow be linked to God—indeed, that valuable architecture was always about God, and that this was the source of any strength I had in being able to identify the real thing. But in the early days these stirrings were very much private, interior to me, and subdued.

You see, then, how it is that the careful study of architecture led me—and I believe would inevitably lead any careful and empirical thinker—to thoughts about the nature of things, and the simultaneous existence of what we may call the objective (outer) nature of things, typically dealt with in science, and at the same time of what we may call the subjective (or inner) nature of things.

What is new is the discovery that the so-called subjective, or inner, view of things is no less objective than the objective or mechanical view of things. When questions about the subjective are asked carefully, and in the right way, they are as reliable as the experiments of physics. This understanding has led to a new view of experiment that uses the human being as a measuring instrument and leads to reliable, shared results when properly done.

This has all come to light because of my intense interest in and focus on architecture. In conventional philosophy, there is nothing that allows one to test the reality of God, or of visions inspired by God. But we ask people to compare two buildings, or two doorways, and to decide which one is closer to God, different people will answer this question in the same way, and with a remarkably high reliability.

All this has a unique ability to point to the reality of God. In theory, other disciplines such as ethics might seem to have more claim to illuminate discussion of God. But the tangible substance of architecture, the fact that in good architecture, every tiny piece is (by definition) suffused with God, either more or less, gives the concept of God a meaning essentially translated from the beauty of what may be seen in such a place, and so allows it to disclose God with unique clarity. Successful architecture ultimately leads us to see God and to know God. If we pay attention to the beauty of those places that are suffused with God in each part, then we can conceive of God in a down-to-earth way. This follows from an awareness in our hearts, and from our ­active effort to make things that help make the Earth beautiful.

This is not a pastiche of pseudo-religious phrasing. In technical language, it is the structure-preserving or wholeness-extending transformation (described in The Nature of Order and capable of being precisely defined) that shows us how to modify a given place in such a way as to give it more life. When applied repeatedly, this kind of transformation is what brings life to the Earth, in any place.

Earth—our physical Earth and its inhabitants—sand, water, rocks, birds, animals, and trees—this is the garden in which we live. We must choose to be gardeners. We must choose to make the garden beautiful. Understanding this will give us intellectual insight into the nature of God, and also give us faith in God as something immense yet also as something modest, something which lies under the surface of all matter, and which comes to life and shines forth when we treat the garden properly.

The most urgent, and I think the most inspiring, way we can think about our buildings is to recognize that each small action we take in placing a step, or planting a flower, or shaping a front door of a building is a form of worship—an action in which we give ourselves up, and lay what we have in our hearts at the door of that fiery furnace within all things, which we may call God.

We will only see God in the world around us if the quality of the architecture is right—an almost unattainable condition in today’s world. Why is it almost impossible? Because in an epoch when God was not acknowledged, it became virtually impossible for people to build the kinds of buildings where God appears. The whole purpose of the work I have done is to show that the presence of God in a matter-­configuration is an objectively existing condition, and that there are specific paths and methods and habits of thought through which we may create buildings where the presence of God can be seen and felt.

The two go hand in hand.

We cannot make an architecture of life if it is not made to reflect God—an objective condition. And, by a surprising twist, the search for a true architecture, that is to say, a real architecture that works, and in which this feeling of rightness is present in every bone, in an irreligious era has the unique power to bring back the reality of God to center stage in our concerns.

My work has proven this to me: There is available to us a form of transformation that, each time it is applied, extends and enhances the wholeness of the land, whether rural or urban. The act of transformation also puts us in touch with ourselves by making the land of the Earth become more and more deeply connected to our selves. An environment, when made in this way, may even be regarded as a vision of our inner selves.

The best state for the land—our best actions on the land, in the land, and in the buildings—will come from our awareness of its wholeness and from our awareness of its connection with our own selves—that is to say, with God, the substrate of the universe that is the origin of who and what we are.

As I have said, grasping the wholeness, awakening our ability to see it and to adhere to it—these are all profound and often difficult. In order to understand these operations from a practical and mathematical point of view, we need to be guided by an inner voice, and I believe that voice is tantamount to a vision of God. Thus, although it is formless and shapeless, nevertheless it is this vision of God that draws us on.

That new vision can become a new source of inspiration and motivation. I call it new not because it is at root genuinely new. Of course it is not—it is ancient. But it is entirely new in our era to take such a thing with full seriousness, and to be able to derive from it well-fashioned, scientifically endowed conceptions of what is needed to heal a given place. It will not be governed by money or profit; it will not be governed by social politics; it will be governed simply by the desire and firm intention to make beauty (which is to say, true life) around us.

Perhaps that sounds as though it is not solid enough for sober and enlightened action. Quite the opposite is true. The vision of God we hold in our inner eye, which we draw from the hills and mountains, from the cities, towers, and bridges, from the great oak trees, and the small and tender arbors, from the stones and tiles that have been carefully laid, it is that which is God, and which we encounter as we try to find a vision of God in the world. It guides us, as if with a certain hand, towards a future which is yet more beautiful.

The capacity to make each brick, each path, each baluster, each windowsill a reflection of God lies in the heart of every man and every woman. It is stark in its simplicity. A world so shaped will lead us back to a sense of right and wrong and a feeling of well-being. This vision of the world—a real, solid physical world—will restore a vision of God. Future generations will be grateful to us if we do this work properly.

Taking architecture seriously leads us to the proper treatment of tiny details, to an ­understanding of the unfolding whole, and to an understanding—mystical in part—of the entity that underpins that wholeness. The path of architecture thus leads inexorably towards a renewed understanding of God. This is an understanding true within the canon of every religion, not connected with any one religion in particular, something which therefore moves us beyond the secularism and strife that has torn the world for more than a thousand years.

Christopher Alexander is emeritus professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of A Pattern Language; The Nature of Order, Volumes I-IV; and The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth. This article downloaded from Firstthings


Tahun Baru? Rekonstruksi Kalender

Diskoneksitas manusia-alam begitu akut, sehingga tanda-tanda alam tidak lagi menjadi bagian integral dari kalender dan penanggalan. Manusia modern membentuk kalender berdasarkan tatatan chaotik industrial, seperti hari kerja, hari libur dan hari cuti. Libur-libur keagamaan, dengan demikian sering tidak terkoneksi dengan dunia industrial, sehingga masyarakat harus menyesuaikan diri terus menerus tanpa ujung pangkal. Ini seperti siasat-siasat absurd, yang membuahkan kemacetan, stress, bahkan kematian sebagai refleksi ketidaksinkronan manusia dengan alam.

Kita memerlukan kalender yang benar. Dan oleh karena itu mungkin bukan kalender yang seragam bagi tempat yang berbeda-beda.

Kita memerlukan kalender matahari secara utuh sebagai pengamatan atas siklus matahari. Perhitungan Justinian atau Gregorian diambil manfaat dan semangatnya, bukan produk “mati”. Sehingga kita bisa menata kembali pranoto mongso dengan perubahan klimatik yang ada.

Kita memerlukan kalender klimatik untuk konteks-konteks klimatik yang beragam. Di dalam dinamika perubahan iklim, yang lebih banyak dipengaruhi perilaku manusia, limbah dan emisi, polusi dan beraneka kerusakan, juga gaya berlebihan dengan geo-engineering, harus disikapi dan ditata dengan etika dan adab. Apakah geo-engineering itu cukup beradab?

Kita memerlukan kalender bulan dengan pengamatan seksama atas siklus bulan, sehingga kita bisa menyusun kalender tanam dan koneksitas alam sesuai dengan siklus bulan dan bintang-bintang, serta rasi-rasi seperti pada biodinamika Steiner.

Pada akhirnya kita harus mengadaptasikan diri dengan alam, bukan dengan industri. Atau tepatnya dunia industri yang harus mengubah kalender kehidupan mereka berdasarkan kalender alamiah, bumi, bulan, matahari dan bintang-bintang.

Penataan kalender adalah penataan diri manusia dalam koneksitasnya dengan alam, sehingga bisa memahami makna-makna mertibhumi, mertisamudro, mertigunung, natal Yesus as dan maulid Nabi Muhammad saw, dan ulang tahun dirinya. Memahami Sabbath dan Jum’at, dan hari-hari besar keagamaan dan tradisional. Karena upacara-upacara tersebut dibangun berdasarkan pranotomongsonya.

Mushrooms Played a Truly Surprising Role in Forming Our Planet’s Atmosphere

by Michelle Starr

Who knew we wouldn’t be here without fungi?

Without plants, Earth would never have developed a breathable atmosphere for us all to thrive in. But now it turns out that plants got there with a little help from some of our planet’s most peculiar lifeforms – fungi.

According to new research by scientists at the University of Leeds, fungi bridged a very important gap between plants and the soil.

When Earth first formed 4.6 billion years ago, it had almost no atmosphere. As it cooled, an atmosphere developed, but it would have been very toxic to humans, being made up of hydrogen sulfide, methane and carbon dioxide.

Then the planet grew cool enough for liquid water – and with that liquid water came cyanobacteria, which started the process of transforming Earth’s atmosphere into an oxygen-rich one.

But it wasn’t until the evolution of land-dwelling plants that the atmosphere became rich enough to support animal life, sometime around 400 to 500 million years ago.

And, according to a team of researchers from the University of Leeds, those early plants weren’t developed enough to do it on their own. They had not yet evolved roots or vascular systems like plants have today.

Instead – and not dissimilar from symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi today – fungi in the soil transferred phosphorus from the rocks to the plants, which in turn powered plant photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis by land plants is ultimately responsible for about half of the oxygen generation on Earth, and requires phosphorus, but we currently have a poor understanding of how the global supply of this nutrient to plants works,” says one of the team, biogeochemical modeller Benjamin Mills.

“The results of including data on fungal interactions present a significant advance in our understanding of Earth’s early development. Our work clearly shows the importance of fungi in the creation of an oxygenated atmosphere.”

And, it’s important to note, the earliest fossil of a land-living organism is one of a mushroom. Fungi have been around a long time, perhaps even longer than plants.

This is perhaps because fungi have an ability to extract minerals from rocks, whereas plants rely more on organic matter.

There wasn’t a lot of that around in those early days of terrestrial life. But when plants photosynthesised carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they produced carbon – which they passed on to the fungi. The arrangement was mutually beneficial.

The team used a combination of lab experiments using ancient fungi that have survived to the present day and computer modelling.

By observing the fungi in action, they were able to determine that different fungi conducted the phosphorus-carbon exchange at different rates, which in turn influenced how quickly the plants produced oxygen.

This affected how quickly the atmosphere became infused with enough oxygen to be breathable.

“We used a computer model to simulate what might have happened to the climate throughout the Palaeozoic era if the different types of early plant-fungal symbioses were included in the global phosphorus and carbon cycles,” says study co-author , plant biologist Katie Field.

“We found the effect was potentially dramatic, with the differences in plant-fungal carbon-for-nutrient exchange greatly altering Earth’s climate through plant-powered drawdown of CO2 for photosynthesis, substantially changing the timing of the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere.”

Thank you, little slime mould.

The research has been published in the journal

Philosophical Transactions B.

Is the Age of Free Energy Already Upon Us?

Era many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point of the universe. Throughout space there is energy. — Nikola Tesla, 1892

When Tesla invented the first wireless communication device, he also discovered a form of free energy radiating throughout the whole universe.  He planned on displaying wireless electric power with his Wardenclyffe Tower until it was sabotaged by financier J.P. Morgan.

Tesla conceded that his World Power System project was “retarded by laws of nature. The world was not prepared for it. It was too far ahead of time. But the same laws will prevail in the end and make it a triumphal success.”

Perhaps the the world is now prepared for this technology as small applications using Tesla’s discoveries are finally being revealed to the public.

In a 1900 magazine article, The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, Tesla discusses a machine that can gather heat from the ambient air and other forms of harvesting energy from the natural world.

Just a short 112 years later, in March of 2012, scientists in Hong Kong built a graphene battery that turns ambient heat into electric current. This technology was picked up by UCLA researchers who claimed this same discovery as their own, seen in the video below:

More interesting Tesla technology came out in 2013 when a German university student invented a device that harvests electromagnetic waves to charge a battery.

Two more significant achievements have also been recently announced. One was seemingly being rolled out to acclimate the public to this coming technology, while the other quieter story is one where similar technology is already being used to power space propulsion.

Researchers from Washington University unveiled a wireless communication device called Ambient Backscatter that requires no battery.

They describe their device as:

Ambient Backscatter transforms existing wireless signals into both a source of power and a communication medium. It enables two battery-free devices to communicate by backscattering existing wireless signals. Backscatter communication is orders of magnitude more power-efficient than traditional radio communication. Further, since it leverages the ambient RF signals that are already around us, it does not require a dedicated power infrastructure.

They included an informative video explaining the technology and its possible uses:

Now try to imagine this type of self-harnessing power technology used on a larger scale. It’s currently being tested on the International Space Station.

On August 12th, 2013, the University of Maryland announced their success in powering the propulsion of satellites and the space station with a renewable electromagnetic power source. The project, sponsored by DARPA and NASA, is called RINGS (Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System).

Besides testing electromagnetic propulsion, they also intend to use RINGS to demonstrate wireless power transfer (WPT). “WPT may offer a means to wirelessly transfer power between spacecraft and in turn power a fleet of smaller vessels or satellites.”

According to their press release:

New electromagnetic propulsion technology being tested by the University of Maryland’s Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory (SPPL) on the International Space Station could revolutionize the capabilities of satellites and future spacecraft by reducing reliance on propellants and extending the lifecycle of satellites through the use of a renewable power source.

Because a finite propellant payload is often the limiting factor on the number of times a satellite can be moved or repositioned in space, a new propulsion method that uses a renewable, onboard electromagnetic power source and does not rely on propellants could exponentially extend a satellite’s useful life span and provide greater scientific return on investment.

Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering Ray Sedwick and his research team have been developing technology that could enable electromagnetic formation flight (EMFF), which uses locally generated electromagnetic forces to position satellites or spacecraft without relying on propellants. Their research project is titled Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System, or RINGS.

RINGS was sent to the International Space Station on August 3 as part of a payload launched on Japan’s HTV-4 Cargo Ship from the Tanegashima Space Center. The project is scheduled for four test sessions on the research station. Astronauts will unpack the equipment, integrate it into the test environment and run diagnostics. From there, RINGS will undergo three science research sessions where data will be collected and transmitted back to the ground for analysis.

RINGS is composed of two units, each of which contains a specially fabricated coil of aluminum wire that supports an oscillating current of up to 18 amps and is housed within a protective polycarbonate shell. Microcontrollers ensure that the currents oscillate either in-phase or out-of-phase to produce attracting, repelling and even shearing forces. While aluminum wire was chosen for its low density in this research prototype, eventual systems would employ superconducting wires to significantly increase range and performance.

In the spring of 2013, RINGS was tested for the first time in a microgravity environment on NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft. UMD graduate students Allison Porter and Dustin Alinger were on hand to oversee the testing. RINGS achieved the first and only successful demonstration of EMFF in full six degrees of freedom to date.

“While reduced gravity flights can only provide short, 15-20 second tests at a time, the cumulative test time over the four-day campaign provided extremely valuable data that will allow us to really get the most from the test sessions that we’ll have on the International Space Station,” said Sedwick.

In addition to EMFF, the RINGS project is also being used to test a second technology demonstrating wireless power transfer (WPT). WPT may offer a means to wirelessly transfer power between spacecraft and in turn power a fleet of smaller vessels or satellites. Having the power to support multiple satellites, and using EMFF as a propellant-less means to reposition those same satellites, provides the flexibility to perform formation control maneuvers such as on-orbit assembly or creating synthetic aperture arrays. A synthetic aperture array uses a network of smaller antennas to function collectively as one large antenna. Larger antennas are capable of producing higher resolution images and better quality data.

And these are just some of the recent examples of the unveiling of this technology which seemed to have been largely under wraps until now.

Is the age of free energy upon us?  Will some of this technology escape and go open source?

**This article was originally featured on Activist Post, and was used here with permission.**

Gagasan tentang Sekolah untuk Anak-anak

Ali, anakku tertua, masuk SMP. Menyelesaikan bangku SD (di MI Swasta di sebuah desa, sekolahnya di tengah sawah) dengan nilai rata-rata saja. Sesuatu yang aku banggakan, sehingga tidak memiliki beban sebagai ‘anak luar biasa’, ranking, pemenang lomba ini itu, olimpiade, juara, dll. Aku ingin anakku biasa-biasa saja.

Sejak masih duduk kelas 6, SMP yang dipilih pun memiliki kriteria sederhana. Suasana sekolah di desa, di mana hubungan sosial masih kuat, kurang terjamah modernitas, dan mudah diakses (jarak dekat dengan pesantren di mana ia belajar menghafal Quran). Ini memang di luar rencana. Karena awalnya berpikir menyekolahkan ke Inggris, dan menyelesaikan pesantrennya ketika tamat SD/MI.

Mengapa Inggris?

Mudah saja, seorang teman yang sudah berpengalaman menyekolahkan ke Inggris. Jadi tidak ada alasan spesifik Inggris. Alasan yang dipilih sebetulnya “asal bukan Indonesia” dan “memungkinkan belajar dengan pergaulan multinasional”. Selain karena kemungkinan untuk mengakses Sekolah Waldorf. Tapi urung karena beberapa alasan. Di antaranya adalah kemunduran Eropa itu sendiri.

Waldorf School atau Waldorf Education memang pilihanku yang pertama, karena imajinasi pendidikannya sangat cocok denganku.

Dalam tulisan lain sudah kutegaskan sikapku untuk “berhati-hati” dan cenderung tidak menerima pseudo-concept seperti Kecerdasan Spiritual (Spiritual Quotient), Otak Kanan, dan model-model pendidikan yang dijual seperti Quantum Teaching atau Quantum Learning, Multiple Intelligent, Fun Education, Total Recall, dll.

Sekolah Rumah

Inipun berbeda dengan rencana ketika masih kecil sekali untuk bisa membuat sekolah rumah (home schooling). Akan kujelaskan lebih detail.

Yogyakarta sebagai Sekolah Rumah?

Mudah saja. Jika kita menilik Yogyakarta sebagai sekolah, betapa luarbiasanya.

  • Ada museum batik, wayang, biologi, gunung berapi, dll…
  • Ada candi, situs-situs bersejarah, ada taman pintar dll…
  • Ada jutaan ebook, ribuan metode, ratusan sarana belajar di rumah yang bisa dikembangkan.
  • Ada banyak desa wisata, desa batik, desa bambu, dll…
  • Ada ribuan perpustakaan komunitas, perpustakaan desa, dll
  • Ada ratusan sekolah dengan pelbagai metode, yang bisa kita tempel untuk belajar

Sehingga soal kita menyusunnya ke dalam dan menjadi progam belajar anak, sistematis, reflektif dan tentu saja kerangka evaluasinya.

Sebelum akhirnya memutuskan mencari SMP. Seorang teman mengajak ke teman lainnya, menengok sebuah inisiasi sekolah baru, yang konon berwawasan internasional, sehingga guru dipanggil mister dan miss. Bagiku, sebuah bentuk panggilan dekaden, kemunduran. Ada perubahan mendasar yang memungkinkan saya tertarik, yaitu bahwa salah seorang gurunya telah belajar permakultur dan memiliki keinginan kuat untuk “sekolah berkebun“. Poinnya bukan berkebun an sich. Yang lainnya saya sama sekali tidak tertarik, seperti multiple intelligence, quantum learning/teaching, brain recall atau semacam itulah untuk memperkuat daya ingat anak, dll. Meskipun saya tertarik dengan pendidikan karakter, yang sebetulnya sebagian besar sudah ia didapatkan di pesantrennya sekarang, dan meski pesantren pun mulai kehilangan ini.

Pendidikan Karakter

Ada berapa karakter yang sebetulnya mesti ada pada anak usia SMP? Dan apakah sekolah+pesantrennya bisa memberikan kemungkinan itu secara paripurna? Bagaimana dengan lingkungan sebagai determinan yang sangat mempengaruhi?

Saya tidak akan mengkaji jawab satu per satu. Faktor lingkungan sebagaimana ditanyakan di atas adalah faktor yang sulit dikelola. Setidaknya alam pedesaan lebih baik daripada umumnya kota. Tetapi ada beberapa faktor yang menjadi concern saya.

  1. Televisi. Televisi adalah media terburuk yang semestinya saya bisa komunikasikan dengan pesantren untuk ditiadakan di pesantren.
  2. Internet. Warnet memang masih merupakan akses yang sulit dikontrol sekolah dan pesantren (termasuk orang tua).
  3. Pergaulan. Anak setengah kota mengidap gegar budaya, sebagaimana orang tua mereka, yang telah menekuni profesi setengah kotanya, dan keterikatannya pada uang, mendekatkan pada kemungkinan-kemungkinan. Perlu dicatat: saya tidak mengkhawatiri kenakalan remaja, apapun definisinya, selama kapasitas dialog dimungkinkan dan bukan merupakan eskapisme.

Pendidikan Hidup

Pendidikan dibagi tiga domain: 0-7 meniru; 7-14 berimajinasi dan eksplorasi; 14-21 ilmu kehidupan (skill).

Saatnya untuk anak SMP belajar seni kehidupan. Mari kita definisikan hidup seperti apa yang akan dijalani hingga akhir hayat.

  1. Makanan (menanam, mengolah/memasak, menyimpan)
  2. Survival dan Resilience (meliputi sikap, pengetahuan ketahanan hidup dalam kondisi mendesak, kemampuan adaptasi cepat, dll)
  3. Skill dasar di rumah (mengelola air, mengelola sampah, mengelola kebun sekitar rumah, mencuci baju, mencuci piring, menghormati dan melayani tamu, memperbaiki genteng dan talang, mendesain tata ruang rumah, mengelola sinar matahari, mengelola angin di rumah, menata energi rumah dll)
  4. Berkehidupan sosial yang baik (bertetangga, berteman, dll)
  5. Karakter dasar (jujur, amanah, kerjasama, tidak patah semangat, motivasi, rajin, tekun, sabar, merasa cukup/qona’ah, sumeleh, dll)
  6. Skill tambahan (memperbaiki sepeda, meja kursi, sepeda motor, main musik atau gamelan, bercerita dan berekspresi, menulis cerita, membuat lelucon, berkreasi, melukis, berpuisi, dll)

Saya ragu itu semua ada di sekolah… yang lebih mementingkan nilai matematika 😀

Lalu Mengapa Sekolah?

Mudah saja. Karena kita malas. Sebagian besar sudah mengikat kontrak untuk dimiliki yang lain, demi uang, dan gaya hidup, dari Hari Senin-Jum’at, terkadang Sabtu bahkan Minggu. Sehingga peran kita sebagai pendidik harus digadaikan dan digantikan oleh sekolah.

Betul, sekolah sejatinya adalah “tempat penitipan anak” ketimbang tempat belajar. Sebagai tempat belajar, itu predikasi tambahan yang mati-matian para guru, pejabat kependidikan dari pemerintah, pengamat dan konsultan, bahkan organisasi non pemerintah, mencoba memperbaikinya, menjadi benar-benar tempat belajar. Saya tidak mengecilkan upaya mereka itu, mempertahankan idealisme, mengembalikan citra ideal sekolah, sebagai wahana belajar yang sesungguhnya. Ada yang menggunakan pendekatan “menyenangkan”, ada yang menggunakan pendekatan “akselerasi”, ada yang menggunakan pendekatan “terpadu”, ada pula “inklusi”, “integratif” dll.

Ada yang memulai dari metodologi, memperbaiki kurikulum, pendekatan, cara mengajar, ruangan belajar (seperti sekolah alam), yang sering luput memperbaiki sistem evaluasi, yang hingga saat ini masih tersentral, dan berpusat pada “angka dalam ijazah”.

Ada pula memulainya dari sudut pandang yang berbeda, misalnya kualitas guru, sarana prasarana, dll.

Kembali ke pokok, mengapa sekolah? Yah… kita malas dan tersita habis waktu kita. Kita lebih fokus sebagai mesin pencetak uang ketimbang pendidik. Ketika harus memilih, banyak orang akan memilih menjadi pendidik, di mana sistem, akan membuat kita tidak mudah. Lalu makan apa? Ini adalah pertanyaan sederhana yang tidak mudah dijawab. Meskipun seringkali pertanyaan itu menjadi pertanyaan bersayap pada “makan yang seperti apakah untuk keluarga dan/atau anak-anak saya?”. Jadi tentang pilihan gaya hidup ketimbang bertahan hidup per se.

Jadi keterjebakan sistemik ini tidak mudah dipecahkan para orang tua yang telah kadung, bahkan ketika akan menikah, memilih menetapkan mapan ekonomi atau berpenghasilan tetap sebagai prasyarat membangun rumah tangga. Sebuah kategori yang membayangi para calon mertua terhadap calon menantunya.

Apalagi ditambah “fakta” bahwa hidup tidak sekedar makan. Semua hal itu, termasuk dan terutama makan, hanya dan jika hanya, diperoleh dengan memperoleh uang dan membelanjakannya, sesederhana apapun, hatta hanya untuk membeli garam.

Lalu Bagaimana?

Sekolah rumah memanglah opsi terbaik. Tetapi lagi-lagi ini bukan sikap eksklusif. Haruslah ini upaya bersama. Karena lingkungan adalah determinan penting terhadap rumah dan tentu saja sekolah-rumah. Artinya ini seharusnya sikap budaya. Atau setidaknya sikap komunitas. Maka penting semenjak awal “ada komunitasnya” di mana secara bersama membangun sebuah lingkungan yang memungkinkan mensubstitusi sekolah ke rumah, atau lebih esensial lagi, mengembalikan ranah pendidikan berpusat ke rumah dan lingkungan, bukan ke sekolah.

Sehingga sekolah hanyalah “tindakan antara”, yang membantu proses sosialisasi anak, yang secara perlahan mesti ditransformasikan, kembali ke rumah.

Sekolah rumah harus mengambil peran penting di dalam komunitas. Yang dalam konteks jangka panjang menjadi substitusi paripurna terhadap sekolah, yang juga mampu menjembatani lingkungan sebagai sekolah di luar rumah.


Sekolah menawarkan apa yang tidak dapat ditawarkan yang lain, yaitu ijazah. Ijazah adalah lembaran legitimasi normal dan formal yang membayangi orang tua yang (seolah) harus dimiliki anak agar dianggap terdidik, dapat melanjutkan, kemudian mencari pekerjaan layak. Banyak sekali orang pintar tanpa ijazah yang akhirnya kalah dalam kehidupan, hanya karena tidak dapat mengakses pekerjaan.

Tetapi sistem pendidikan kita mengenal pendidikan nonformal yang dikelola Pusat Kegiatan Belajar Masyarakat, yang dipandang dari sisi konsepnya, berasal dari masyarakat dalam mengembangkan pendidikan nonformal, dan menjadi jembatan akses ijazah dengan pendekatan penyetaraan yang dikenal Paket A, B, C.

Sayangnya tidak ada sistem hibrida. Selama ini inisiatif yang ada justru bagaimana mereka yang belajar nonformal dapat mengakses sekolah formal, dengan model dan pendekatan transisi. Padahal yang diperlukan adalah pendekatan hibrida dan juga sebagai pendekatan transisi dari sekolah ke sekolah rumah. Siasat ini belum ditemukan.

Jika ada sekolah yang bersedia untuk mengurangi “beban” dirinya dan melimpahkan kepada orang tua secara sistematis dan berangsur-angsur, sembari mengembangkan pendidikan rumah, maka hal ini menjadi model transisi yang baik.

Dan mainstream, arus utama, perbaikan sistem pendidikan, adalah masih mempusatkan diri pada pendidikan formal, dalam hal ini sekolah. Di mana parenting telah menjadi bagian dari pendekatan pendidikan formal, di mana orang tua ikut berperan dalam proses pendidikan (di) sekolah.

Oleh karena itu, melihat hal ini, parenting adalah hal niscaya dalam pendidikan formal, tetapi bukan itu yang dimaksud. Sudah semestinya sekolah itu dimulai di rumah, bukan di institusi yang dibangun khusus untuk itu. Dan oleh karenanya perubahan sistemiklah yang harus dilakukan. Bagaimana mungkin jika ketergantungan kita akan uang belum dipecahkan kita membangun sebuah pendidikan di rumah?

Walhasil “financial freedom” adalah prasyarat dalam pendidikan!

Asimilasi dan Adaptasi Kelompok Belajar

Saya sangat merekomendasikan untuk kelas belajar dalam Homeschooling. Sejak awal niat saya menyekolahkan anak ke sekolah umum dengan suasana desa adalah sosialisasi dan rekulturasi.

Kelas belajar dengan dua anak saja akan menjadikan anak kurang memiliki pilihan dan tiga anak juga masih terlalu kurang. Dengan jumlah kelompok belajar lima sampai tujuh anak menjadikan proses belajar optimal.

Proses mimikri dengan asimilasi dan adaptasi, anak akan memilih berkelompok dengan siapa, relatif berpindah kelompok atau tetap memilih, atau memilih sendiri saja, atau kecenderungan lain


Sekitar tahun 2008 diinisiasi sebuah kelompok kerja kreatif ‘mengo’. Setelah menangani setidaknya beberapa mitra seperti Aceh Partnership in Health, Dinas Kesehatan Bireuen, Working Group Beusaboh Pakat, OXFAM, American Red Cross, dll setidaknya core competence layanan mengo sesuai untuk pilar perubahan paradigma organisasi yaitu:

  1. Inklusi dan Gender
  2. Akuntabilitas dan manajemen
  3. Entrepreneurship atau Kewirausahaan
  4. Pembangunan berbasis Hak

Keempat pilar ini dapat mendorong perubahan perilaku organisasi dan menggeser paradigma organisasi, baik pemerintahan maupun nonpemerintahan.

new governance paradigm 2012

Keempat pilar tersebut diejawantahkan ke dalam tools-tools terpakai dan teruji, dan dapat pula ditumbuhkembangkan dalam pengembangan progresif organisasi dalam coaching atau tailor made.

The Human Rights-Based Approach: UN introduction

The UN Secretary-General’s Programme for Reform (1997), and its second phase, An Agenda for Further Change (2001), called upon UN Agencies to make human rights a cross-cutting priority for the UN system. In 2003, a group of UN agencies committed to integrating human rights into their national development cooperation programmes by adopting the Common Understanding on a rights-based approach.

Before 1997, most UN development agencies pursued a ‘basic needs’ approach: They identified basic requirements of beneficiaries and either supported initiatives to improve service delivery or advocated for their fulfilment.

There is a critical distinction: A need not fulfilled leads to dissatisfaction. In contrast, a right that is not respected leads to a violation, and its redress or reparation can be legally and legitimately claimed. A human rights-based approach to programming differs from the basic needs approach in that it recognizes the existence of rights. It also reinforces capacities of duty bearers (usually governments) to respect, protect and guarantee these rights.

Governments have three levels of obligation: to respect, protect and fulfil every right.

  • To respect a right means refraining from interfering with the enjoyment of the right.
  • To protect the right means enacting laws that create mechanisms to prevent violation of the right by state authorities or by non-state actors. This protection is to be granted equally to all.
  • To fulfil the right means to take active steps to put in place institutions and procedures, including the allocation of resources to enable people to enjoy the right. A rights-based approach develops the capacity of duty-bearers to meet their obligations and encourages rights holders to claim their rights.

Rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The human rights-based approach focuses on those who are most vulnerable, excluded or discriminated against.

The human rights-based approach constitutes a framework of action as well as a methodological tool in the context of reforms in a changing world. This approach is also expected to achieve results: sustained progress towards respect of human rights, development, peace, security, eradication of poverty, and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Religion between Discrimination and Tolerance

In a state of tolerance in America, an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case Against Christians, Jews and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days. The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring,”Case dismissed!”

The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, “Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays.” The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, “But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant.” The lawyer said, “Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists.”

The judge said, “The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, ‘The fool says in his heart, there is no God.’ Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned.