STUDY DIARIES: Dances with Cars

Since 1970 I, along with an old university friend, have wondered just why some people love speed.

In my younger years I used to race karts and until recently my conclusion had been that it was the experience of mastery – the wonderful feeling when you managed to power drift through a corner on just the right line, or that oh so elusive relaxed attention when a lap came out just right at a faster time than before.

But now I think I have found the answer, and surprisingly it has links to dance.

In a previous post I talked about how dancing, at its best, uses conscious movement to express our ‘true’ movement of thinking. Notice the use of the use of the word thinkING instead of thought, which could be construed as a fixed item rather than the mobile and dynamic activity that I am describing.

This ‘true’ movement is something some people want to express and dance is one form.

The other can also be driving or flying well.

In line with the previous post, to me it makes sense that we have an inner experience of our thinking being able to move instantaneously, and we feel good when we can manage to express it physically, whether it be with our bodies, or through a technological construct such as a car – or an aircraft. Indeed Ayrton Senna has been described as someone who could dance with the car.

So now I have a far better explanation of why I am such a petrol head, dancer and lover of flying!

But why is this post in the section of the study diaries?

If you read Scaligero or Steiner, their wisdom is predicated on developing a true experience of such a living, mobile, dynamic thinking. It is not something you can really put into words, which are fixed entities.

However it IS something we can experience.

The difficulty is that any characterization of it in fixed form, whether it be in words, pictures, or a materialistic science, will always – always – miss the point. Such expressions can dimly point to the living idea but the listener or spectator will always need to be active. They will have to re-enliven such fixed and dead forms with their own thinking in order to reproduce the living experience.

As I have said before, this is why Steiner and such authors are so hard to understand. In their writing they are purposely trying to short-circuit your analytical brain, which likes fixed constructs,  in order to try and help you move into the living experience of the idea.


My thoughts recently have turned to teaching beginners Argentine Tango at TLC in Southampton.

Afternoon Milonga

Afternoon Milonga by Pat Murray

In preparing for this I experienced an interesting case of synchronicity as I was reading a book by Massimo Scaligero called ‘The Secrets of Space and Time’. In this book Scaligero talks about ‘true’ movement, an idea that smacked me right in the forehead as I saw its relation to the essence of dance!

Most of the time we move normally without much thought. We think functionally: I want to pick this object up; I want to move my hand to here etc, and our bodies do this for us.

If you wish to truly understand just how much is automatic go and talk to someone with Parkinsons, a disease which afflicted by father. Even now I remember his tears as this once amazing dancer tried to will his body to do the simplest tasks.

During this unconscious movement our bodies move us. But there is a different form of movement where we can learn to be more conscious as WE move our bodies. The former is something we cannot take responsibility for, and cannot truly individually own. The latter is where we can truly express ourselves.

This second form of movement is not purely a physical phenomenon – it has its source in our thinking. True conscious movement is the physical expression of our Thinking – capital T.

Try the following exercise and you might just be able to experience how different this movement is from our normal unconscious mode:

1: Stand up in a space where you have room to stretch your arms straight above you without hitting any ceiling. Stand with you arms down your sides.

2: Raise your arms to the horizontal position as you would normally do – unconsciously, without giving it much thought. You might experience this as a pushing feeling. You should be able to feel that you do not own the movement, just its result.

3: Now return your hands to your sides and imagine that there are infinitely long threads (and I mean infinite!) extending straight out from the ends of your fingertips. Imagine that these threads are raising your hands as they pull outwards and upwards. With your thinking imagine how, as those strings traverse space, you are cutting the universe in half out from your centre to infinity. You may need to do this quite slowly and might experience it as more of a pulling feeling.

This takes conscious practice and requires a disciplined – yet relaxed – imagination. Properly done it will feel totally different to step 2. It will be as if your Thought is moving you, as if the body need do nothing but attend to the Thinking movement you are trying to realize.

This is the essence of the movement of a good dancer

They will be centred in themselves.
They will be poised in space.
They will seem to move with a graceful lack of effort.

They are doing nothing less than touching the infinite with their own Thinking movement as it expresses their individuality into their bodily movement.

They will be collapsing that infinitude to a singularity in their thought and thus, given the relationship between time and space, they can bring us to a timeless point of awareness. According to Scaligero this is the true awareness of space and time and it will take some practice.

Tango Sketch 2

Tango dancers sketch by Pat Murray

Bringing this back to dance, and Argentine Tango in particular where we learn to consciously walk with a partner, it is noticeable how difficult it is to re-learn something we normally unconsciously do. In this case something we learnt in our formative toddler years before our ‘I’ became present (usually around 3 years old).

If we can individually achieve this consciousness and attention it can be very enlightening and life enhancing.

If we can do this with our dance partner then it becomes a truly creative, artistic and sublime experience.

Happy dancing!

ACCU2016: Talk on Software Architecture Design 5: Active Design Ideas

In the last post I highlighted some specific design problems and associated solutions. Now I want to look at these solutions a little more deeply.

To refresh our memory the solutions were as follows:

  1. Separating Mutex Concerns.
  2. Sequential Resource Allocation.
  3. Global Command Identification.

I want to characterise these differently because these names sound a little like pattern titles. Although we as a software community have had success using the idea of patterns I think we have fixed the concept rather more than Christopher Alexander may have intended.

I want to rename the solutions as shown below in order to expressly highlight their dynamic behavioural aspect:

  1. Access Separation.
  2. Sequential Allocation.
  3. Operation Filtering.

You might have noticed in the third example the original concept of “Global Command Identification” represents just one possible way to implement the dynamic issue of filtering operations. Something it has in common with much of the published design pattern work where specific example solutions are mentioned. To me design patterns represent a more fixed idea that is closer to the actual implementation.

Others may come up with a better renaming, but I am just trying to get to a more mobile and dynamic definition of the solutions. Looking at the issues in this light starts to get to the core of the issue of why it is so hard to develop an architectural awareness.

If you can truly understand, or ‘grok‘, the core concept of this characterisation, regardless of the actual words, you will see that they do not really represent design patterns – not in the way we have them at the moment.

This is where there is a difference between the architecture of buildings – where design patterns originated – and the architecture of software. Although both deal with the design of fixed constructs, whether it be the building or the code, the programmer has to worry far more about the dynamic behaviour of the fixed construct (their code). Yes – a building architect does have to worry about the dynamic behaviour of people inhabiting their design, but software is an innately active artefact.

Let me recap the debugging and design fixing process in terms of the following actions that are carried out in order:

1: Delicately Empirically Collect the Data.
Here we have to be very aware of the boundaries of our knowledge and collect information in a way that does not disturb the phenomenon we are looking at. Awareness of our own thinking process is vital here.

2: Imagine into the Problem Behaviour.
We have to imagine ourselves into the current behaviour that the system is exhibiting. (This is the hard bit when you are under pressure and is what requires a strong focus in order to understand what the existing design is doing)

3: Imagine into the Required Behaviour.
We need to imagine into what the required behaviour of the system NEEDS to be and it is here that we start to meet the ‘gap’ between problem and solution. It may indeed only need a one line fix, but quite likely there is a deeper design problem. Again here is a point where our self-awareness is important. Do we have the discipline to make ourselves stop and think more carefully and widely about the presenting problem?

4: THE GAP. Cognitively Feeling for the best Solution Concept.
In this stage there is a very fine “Cognitive Feeling” in action to decide what is a good fit to the problem. For the experienced programmer this is more than just a question of “Does this solution fit the requirement?”

There is the consideration of whether the proposed solution idea is going to be a sustainable fix during the future lifetime of the project.

This question is much like asking myself if I will still find
this painting beautiful in 10 years time.


There is a current widely held belief that the best procedure for coming up with a design solution is to produce many possible alternatives and evaluate them in order to choose the best one. In practice I have found that this very rarely – if ever – happens.

I usually arrive at a single design solution by trying out the multiplicity of possible solutions while in the ‘gap’ where I am considering various alternatives – imagining each of them in operation, possibly ‘drawing’ the thoughts out on a whiteboard as I think.

In this part of the process the more experienced programmer will slow things down to the extent of even putting in a provisional simple solution that gives them some breathing, or thinking, space. This is the idea of provisionality mentioned by Marian Petre, because this mode of design thinking requires time and reduced pressure.

It is amazing how often this happens in the shower!

Of course this is predicated on the fact that I have done the required detailed groundwork, but as I mentioned in the poem, our logical thinking can only take us to the boundary of what we know. Trying to push to go faster results in inadequate and buggy designs that are based on immature thinking.

This is the central conundrum of software development. The more we dive down into detailed analysis, the more we encounter these ‘softer’, heuristic elements.

5: Implementation.
Finally we get to the implementation. As you will have seen it is far too easy to jump into “premature implementation”. It is hard, if not impossible, to teach people just how small a part the coding is of the whole process. It needs to be experienced. Until you have seen how a good design triggers an amazing collapse in code complexity, the importance of taking the time to search for that great design is not an obvious conclusion. This is a fundamental eye of the needle that all programmers need to go through.

This is the main reason I like programming:

I get less code.
I get something I can reason about.
I get something that does the job!


In the next post I am going to show how the dynamic design solution ideas and the human analysis process link to what I will call the “Organising Principle”, a term I have borrowed from Rudolf Steiner’s lexicon.

ACCU2016: Talk on Software Architecture Design 6: Organising Principles
ACCU2016: Talk on Software Architecture Design 4: A Design Example

STUDY DIARIES: Truth & Knowledge Commentary

I have just come across a truly masterful treatise that gives a very cogent commentary of Steiner’s epistemological dissertation Truth & Knowledge, as well as some pointers to The Philosophy of Freedom.

Having concluded that it would be impossible to précis my own study work of the text I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this paper. It is written by Ron Brady and was near publication when he died in 2003. The folks at the Nature Institute have published it in their Ron Brady Archive.

It takes the reader step by step through one of Steiner’s foundational texts and is written much more for the modern reader so is more approachable that Steiner’s original text, though you still need to keep your wits about you!

So many thanks to Ron and to the folks at the Nature Institute.

I am playing with the idea of perhaps itemising the main points in a future blog post.

STUDY DIARIES: Misplacing Egotism

My study partner, Paul, and I are currently thinking about the best way to précis the books we have studied over the years. This is still work in progress and I will give an update on this in a future post. The first book “Truth & Knowledge” took a good many years for us to get through so this could be a difficult process. Watch this space but follow the link to read the text.

Despite the fact that our current study book is the “Study of Man” lecture series – given to teachers just before the first Steiner school was started – our main topic of conversation for this session was Steiner’s Threefold Social Order. This is a very very tricky subject at the best of times but it has been popping up regularly in many of our study sessions so we felt we had to deal with it.

The point that came up that makes it worth posting here now is a recent insight dealing with how we are misplacing the human egotistical drive.

First let me give some background to Steiner’s Threefold Social Order. It gives a characterization of human endeavour into three primary areas:

  1. The inner spiritual or cultural sphere where we are all different.
    This is a realm of liberty where we should be completely free to follow whatever inner path we wish.
  2. The political or rights sphere where we are all the same.
    This is the realm of equality of rights, although our lives will of course play out differently.
  3. The economic sphere where we all work together.
    This is the realm of fraternity where, working with others and for others, we add value to a commodity for a consumer of that commodity.

If we misplace human drives into the wrong area then it was Steiner’s assertion that we would have problems.

In terms of my current understanding, it makes sense that we should separate the first two. This relates to the need to separate Church and State for instance, as well as realizing that even though someone may have a different culture or religion, they should still have the same political and legal rights. Also inversely just because someone is considered to have the same rights we should not assume that they should follow the same path or religion for example. The liberty relates more to an inner liberty to develop ourselves as we see fit, that is the spiritual/cultural sphere, but of course within the boundaries of leaving others free and not curtailing their rights.

Another aspect here is that although my actions may be individual, Steiner’s philosophy (called anthroposophy) posits that the impulses for truly free actions come from a unified world of spirit. Thus our free deeds will be in harmony with the free deeds of others. I will return to this idea in subsequent posts since it is dealt with more in Steiner’s book “The Philosophy of Freedom”.

I can understand the separation of culture and rights since as a modern democracy we have gone through that separation process. But the kicker here is that ANY pursuit that involves our personal inner growth is within the cultural sphere. That’s easy to see for the arts, but one of the big insights for me has been that it also involves software development! Or indeed any area in which we are dealing with the generation or creation of knowledge, i.e. any area dealing with true research. This has made sense of all the problems I have seen throughout my career of trying to marry software development to economics.

As ever with this sort of categorization, I can always feel my inner critical analytical self wanting to strictly delineate life into these areas. Suffice it to say that the reality will always have blurry edges. Although the three areas are quite distinct, each with their own dynamics and lawfulness – the difficulty arises because of course they are interdependent and every social situation will likely involve all three spheres.

As a background to our recent conversation our thinking is still a work in progress with regards to the economic sphere, but here my friend Paul recently had an insight that we felt cleared things up a lot.

Namely that our current way of working in the economic area involves a misplaced egotism.

Rather than saying we should eradicate egotism, his thought was that we should rightly place it in the cultural area. Currently it has been gracelessly shoved into the economic and rights areas and has turned an inner human need to improve oneself into a drive towards greed and power over others. Working economically means that we should be more demand-based, i.e. adding value by supplying a service or product to someone because we have the requisite skills. Currently it is too easy to get an inversion where we think it is alright to create markets and try and drive demand from the supply side, usually by appealing to consumer’s egotistic desires and fears. This is just not sustainable if we want a healthy world.

Of course there are cases where a new market is created that does truly meet a need, but that, to my mind, is still a demand led process. What has happened is that someone has bothered to listen in the right way and has actually responded to a need that may not as yet have been articulated. A lot of software development, properly done, is like this because it is a conversation between a user and a technical person, both of whom are trying to map out the area of the user’s needs, a map that is frequently unknown even to that user.

The insight that egotism has been misplaced into the wrong area, i.e. economics, makes sense of this drive towards “greed rather than need”. But rather than vilifying it, we should realize that egotism is a basic inner drive that is healthily placed when it is used for our own inner development.

I really like this because it means:

  • Accepting an egotistical drive as a valid human one, rather than wasting good energy trying to achieve an impossible ideal of eradicating it.
  • Realizing that its manifestation is only good or bad depending upon which threefold realm you use it in.

The hard part here is truly seeing how the three spheres are meshing within a given human activity and it is fair to say that it is rare that they are seen clearly. But trying to get this turnaround in thinking in the economic area would be a start.

Well, I hope that provokes some thinking.

Until the next update…

STUDY DIARIES : Introduction

Over 20 years ago I was a parent of 2 young kids, and we wanted to find a decent pre-school provision that was more about creativity and play rather than about cramming kids heads with facts. My wife and I found a gem of a kindergarten that was run on Steiner principles and so impressed were we that we joined with the other impressed parents and got on with founding a Steiner lower school. I even became trustee Chair at the time!

But there was more to it for me than just the education of the children. I connected strongly to the underlying philosophy that Rudolf Steiner brought to the world. He had a different take on epistemology – or the theory of knowledge – i.e. how we come to know things, that very much resonated with how I felt about the world. For the past 20 years this has resulted in me studying – on & off, though more on than off – some of Steiner’s prodigious output.

It is this that I want to start blogging about now in these Study Diaries. I have been shy about this until now – primarily because Steiner covered some fairly tricky areas, namely the generation of what he called a spiritual science and what it had to say about a spiritual world and associated beings.

So I want to start by making it clear how my path has been into his work.

Initially Steiner was an expert on Goethe’s work and hence was asked to edit the Goethe archives at Weimar in 1888. As some of you will know from my previous posts about Goethe and phenomenology, it was Goethe who began raising warning flags about the problem of over-hypothesizing , something that has become endemic in our modern scientific method and something which badly affects those of us who work with modern technology.

It was from this philosophical foundation that Steiner started his work, coming out with his seminal book: The Philosophy of Freedom, which addressed the issues of being truly free in our thinking. He named this sort of freer thinking: “Living Thinking”, and he characterized it as a spiritual activity.

It was his philosophical work that attracted me first, along with his adamant stance that no one should just believe what he said. He wanted people to listen and consider for themselves what they could take on and understand. He was deeply uncomfortable with anyone who treated him as any sort of guru, and it was this that caught my imagination since it is congruent with his wish that people remain free in their thinking. Indeed a foundation of his ideas on ethics is that human morality is defined internally, not imposed externally, but more of that later.

Thus I have always felt that I could respect the man – despite there being a lot of his output that I cannot take on or understand. And this respect is something that has not changed over those 20 years as I have learnt more.

The studying I have been doing – usually on a Friday evening – has been on a very small percentage of Steiner’s work. Though it is the quality of the study that matters, not the quantity, and there is a very definite ‘holographic’ nature to it – i.e. it doesn’t matter which part you cover you can still get to the main ideas. I have also been working with someone I met during the early years of founding the local Steiner school and we have since become close friends as we have traveled on this study path together over the last two decades. I am no longer involved with the running of the school, though my friend is, since it quickly became apparent that understanding Steiner’s philosophical thought, so radically different as it is, was going to need some focused work.

It is worth noting that Steiner touched many areas of human endeavour, I consider in a positive way, though of course there are some detractors who would contest that. Such areas have included: Education, Medicine, Architecture, the Arts, Social reform and Economics to name a few.

I have decided to start writing about this aspect of my life, and you are welcome to read along or not, but I must mention the initial disclaimer that, although I am not a religious person and do not go to church, I do think we have a spiritual aspect to our nature. Now in my experience this is not something you can prove or disprove, you either can go with it or not. If not, then perhaps these Study Diaries will not be for you.

But all I would ask is that you hold an open mind and – just as Steiner would wish – take on only what makes sense to you. Hopefully, in whatever small way, you might even find something helpful in the Diaries.

Thanks for reading.