Recently, on the patterns mailing list and elsewhere, there has been a fair amount of talk about "the definition of patterns." And about how we pattern-folk are "scientists."
And I suppose that, to some extent, these are good things to discuss.
A definition, even if it is like WittgensteinsLadder, can be a useful thing.
And viewing oneself as a scientist can also be a positive thing. After all, at least in our age, the image of scientist as inquiring soul, penetrating deep into the mysteries of the universe, is a powerful one.
When confronted with the choice of being a scientist or being unscientific, it is hard to say "Hmmm. I'll be irrational."
And yet. If we follow Alexander, we might get some.
QWAN: The QualityWithoutaName. Isn't this a deliberate proclamation that, at least in part, what we're talking about is beyond definition ? That the holy grail might never (should never ?) be quantified ?
And aren't most of Alexander's patterns really about how people interact with their environment ? "Small Work Groups" talks about how people feel oppressed; "Window Place" talks about how badly situated windows lead to unresolved conflict and tension; "Pools and Streams" talks about how water plays a fundamental role in our psychology.
Is this the stuff of science ? Can the pursuit of an undefinable quality, what we might as well 'fess up to and call arete, be part of a scientific endeavor ?
Where do "design patterns" lead, anyway? Now that I'm firmly following the yellow brick road, can somebody tell me what Oz is like ?
I glanced through TheTimelessWayOfBuilding for the first time last night. What struck me was how Alexander says that architecture the Quality elicits an emotional response from the viewer. I have often heard JimCoplien talk about this emotional response also.
I have seen and constructed designs that made me "feel good" and defeinately caused an emotional response: awe, appreciateion, pride, excitement. When I feel this way about software, I feel that it has the QualityWithoutaName.
I have long felt that patterns point the way to software that "feels right"; but beyond that, patterns also tell why it feels right.
Yes, I feel that this is the stuff of science, or at least mechanics. So, in my future efforts at PatternMining, when I find software that "feels good", I'm going hunting for the patterns involved.
As a fellow traveller on the yellow brick road to QWAN-land, I think that claiming that QWAN cannot be defined does not necessarily place it outside the realm of science, or into the realm of irrationality or subjectivity. Perhaps it is just that instead of starting from the definition and building theory on top of it, the theory is what we discover while we are searching for the definition. Patterns are observed, formulated, refined, and validated by a community, as a means of describing what is experienced in the process of creating buildings, software, etc.; whether the experience is physical, mental, or emotional, the method of inquiry remains valid.