The Wholeness of Nature

Goethe’s Way toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature
By Henri Bortoft
Lindisfarne Books, Renewal in Science series, new edition 2004
ISBN 0-940262-79-7
420 pages; paperback; $24.95




“Occasionally books appear that dispel the mists surrounding a mode of perception whose time has come but whose form is still in shadow.  Henri Bortoft’s volume on Goethe’s method of holistic, participative science is such an achievement.  By locating Goethe’s insights and methods within a conceptual framework that reveals their distinctness from, but compatibility with, analytic science, Bortoft shows how the contemporary impulse for a participatory science of wholeness can be realized.  What’s more, the book is beautifully written.” 

                        ―Brian Goodwin, author of How the Leopard Changed its Spots



 This stimulating, highly readable book is probably the most articulate presentation of Goethe’s scientific method in the English language.  With penetrating clarity, Bortoft shows how analytic and phenomenological sciences are complementary ways of knowing.

 Approaching the dynamic relationship of the whole to its parts through diverse examples, Bortoft leads us to a concrete experience of wholeness as an organizational principle. Deftly and incisively, he demonstrates the inability of the abstract intellect to grasp this experience, which is accessible only to an intuitive mode of consciousness which perceives the whole as it reveals itself in every part.  In Goethe’s study of color, for example, each color is seen as a direct expression of a dynamic generative principle through which the whole circle of colors arise in meaningful order. In Newton’s theory, on the other hand, the sequence of colors in the spectrum is arbitrary, corresponding only to an angle of refraction and the resulting speed of hypothetical particles.  Turning toward the organic realm, Bortoft shows how, in Wolfgang Schad’s Goethean view of mammals, each facet of an animal’s physiology reveals an essential quality of the animal as a whole and how each species brings a specific aspect of the greater mammalian “type” to expression. Thus mammals are no longer seen as arbitrary results of accidental mutation and natural selection but as meaningful expressions of a dynamic potential, which reveals itself in the multiplicity of mammalian forms.

 The book contains three essays:  Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness,” Bortoft’s brilliant seminal essay; Authentic and Counterfeit Wholes,” dealing primarily with the relationship between wholes and their parts; and “Understanding Goethe’s Way of Science,” a further deeply insightful elaboration of the role of the organizing idea in perception, cognition, and science.




I. Authentic and Counterfeit Wholes


Two Examples of Wholeness:  Holograms and the Universe of Light and Matter

The Hermeneutic Circle

The Whole and the Parts

Encountering the Whole:  the Active Absence

Wholeness in Science

Goethe’s Way of Science

The Ur-Phenomenon


II. Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness

1. Introduction

2. Making the Phenomenon Visible

      Newton’s Experiments

      The Primal Phenomenon of Color

      Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness

             Knowing the World

            Unity without Unification

            Modes of Consciousness

           The Depth of the Phenomenon

3. Goethe’s Organic Vision

        The Unity of the Plant

                The One and the Many

        The Unity of Animal Organization

                The Necessary Connection

4. The Scientist’s Knowledge

III. Understanding Goethe’s Way of Science

1. Introduction

2. The Organizing Idea in Cognitive Perception

3. The Organizing Idea in Scientific Knowledge

        The Organizing Idea in Observational Discoveries

        The Organizing Idea in Theories of Science

                 Copernicus and the Moving Earth

                 Galileo and the Moving Earth

                 The Idea of Inertial Motion

       The Organizing Idea of Modern Science

                 The Quantitative Way of Seeing

                 The Metaphysical Separation

4. Understanding the Science of Color

       Newton and the Mathematical Physics of Color

       The Physics of Goethean Style

5. The Goethean One

      Modes of Unity

      Seeing the Dynamical Unity of the Plant

              The Unity of the Plant Kingdom

              The Unity of the Organism

6. Seeing Comprehensively

        The Twofold

7. The Possibility of a New Science of Nature



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