Shorter, improved, updated Wikipedia page on Goethean Science

Cover DRAFT holistic-psychology-20-16kHi friends, around mid-2014 the Wikipedia page on Goethean Science received a complete re-write from a knowledgeable but unknown Anthroposophist.  This blog had already started so I paid attention.  The existing Wikipedia page retains a number of my comments and revisions.

For the coming Holistic Psychology 2.0 book, I needed to work with this article again.  This version has hundreds more additions, revisions, etc. than the current Wikipedia page.  Posting it as it’s much more accessible, reader-friendly and woman-friendly.

Wikipedia’s page on GS is here:  Feel free to upgrade it if you can.

Why did Goethe feel a new way of seeing was needed?

By 1750 Western philosophy had reached an ethical and epistemological cul-de-sac. The Enlightenment or Age of Reason was based on a static view of human nature, an increasingly mechanical view of the universe (based on Copernican astronomy, Galilean mechanics and Newtonian physics) and a linear view of the progress of scientific knowledge (based on a mechano-material, reductionist approach). This rationalist approach, what one commentator has termed the ‘one-eyed, color blind’ perspective of the world, raised fundamental issues about “God, freedom and immortality” (Kant) of growing concern to a culture undergoing significant economic, political and cultural transformation.

<ref name=Lehrs>{{cite book|last1=Lehrs|first1=Ernst|title=Man or Matter|date=1951|publisher=Faber and Faber|location=London|url=|accessdate=22 November 2014}}</ref>

The scientific method that had worked well with inert nature (Bacon’s ”natura naturata”), was less successful in seeking to understand vital nature (”natura naturans”). At the same time, the rational-empirical model based on the predominance of mentative thinking via the intellect started by Descartes and advanced most notably in France, was vulnerable to arbitrariness. Equally rational arguments could be made for widely divergent propositions or conceptions, leading to confusion and doubt rather than clarity.

The more empirical approach favored in England (David Hume led to the view that reality is sense-based, including the mind. What we perceive is only a mental representation of what is real, and what is real we can never really know.

As one observer summarizes, there were two ‘games’ being played in philosophy at the time – one rational and one empirical, both of which led to total skepticism and an epistemological crisis.

<ref name=””>{{cite journal|last1=Amrine|first1=Frederick|title=The Philosophical Roots of Waldorf Education|journal=Waldorf Research Bulletin|date=2012|volume=17|issue=2|url=|accessdate=22 November 2014}}</ref>

== The Kantian Problem ==
Immanuel Kant in Germany is widely considered to be a central figure of modern philosophy. He argued that fundamental concepts structure human experience, and that reason is the source of morality. His thought continues to have a major influence in contemporary thought, especially the fields ofmetaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics.[2] He attempted to put an end to what he considered an era of futile and speculative theories of human experience, while resisting the skepticism and dark pessimism of thinkers such as David Hume.

He undertook a major rescue operation to preserve the validity of knowledge derived via reason (science), as well as of knowledge going beyond the rational mind, that is of human liberty and of life beyond simply an expression of ‘the chance whirlings of unproductive particles’ (Coleridge).

Kant’s solution was a dualism: we cannot know the thing-in-itself (”Das Ding an Sich”) beyond our mental representation of it. While there is a power (productive imagination – ”productiv Einbildungskraft”) producing a unity (“transcendental unity of apperception”), we cannot know or experience it in itself, but can only see its manifestations and create representations about it in our mind.

The realm beyond the senses also could not be known via reason, but only via faith. To seek to do so would amount to what Kant termed an ‘adventure of reason’.<ref name=””/>

Kant’s writings had an immediate and major impact on Western philosophy. They also triggered a counter philosophical movement known as German idealism (Fichte, Hegel, Schelling), seeking to overcome and transcend the chasm Kant had formalized between the sense-based and the super-sensible worlds. Kant’s attempt to ‘save the appearances’ (Owen Barfield), that is, the validity of objective-sensory scientific-rational knowledge as well as that of faith resulted in “killing off” the faith and supesensible patient.

== Goethe’s Approach to Vital Nature ==

Goethe undertook this ‘adventure of reason’, starting with the crisis in botany (the merely and purely mechanical classification-taxonomy of plantlife), and in so doing also “wagered a sweeping theory about nature itself.”

<ref name=Wellmon>{{cite journal|last1=Wellmon|first1=Chad|title=Goethe’s Morphology of Knowledge, or the Overgrowth of Nomenclature|journal=Goethe Yearbook|date=2010|volume=17|url=|accessdate=22 November 2014}}</ref>

Goethe was concerned about the narrowing specialization in science and emphasis on accumulating data in a merely mechanical manner devoid of human values and human development. Linnaean botanic taxonomic system represented this in his day, a ”Systema naturae.” Goethe intuited a narrowing and contracting of interplay between humanity and Nature. For Goethe any science based only on physical-material characteristics and then only selected external traits, led to epistemic impoverishment and a reduction of human knowledge.

What was needed was increased ability to derive meaning from voluminous external data by looking at it from a different perspective (a new ”theoria”, from Greek for “way of seeing”).

For Goethe, the production of new knowledge is inseparable from the story of thinking and conceptualization accompanying experimental observations.

For the cold thinkers, knowledge was all and only about facts, the more isolated teh better. For Goethe knowledge is not about separating it from teh context of Nature and our own thinking; rather, about how observed facts associate in our thinking, the conclusions and laws we penetrate to; as well, as errors in our own thinking associations, corrected by rigor and precision in the practice of our exeprimentla metnod. Coleridge also was at pains to explain this in his ”Essays on Method” (see Romanticism and epistemology).

While arranging material phenomena in logical linear sequence is a valid scientific method, it cannot and should not be carried out in isolation from a humanistic organizing idea allowing for, among other things, growth in teh experimenter’s powers of observation, self-correction of faulty conclusions, ethical and moral development.

If you get out your time machine again and bring Goethe to the Manhattan Project, I think you see him making notes for Faust Part Three. the one-sided thinking of the A-bomb scientists would have been a wonderfully tragic illustration to Goethe of thinking devoid of interest in growth of teh experimenter’s powers of observation, self-correction of faulty conclusions, ethical and moral development.

For Goethe, this organizing idea or archetype could be discerned via a living interaction with Nature “the labor of experimentation”.<ref name=””/>

We can infer Goethe was aware in his own words how the intent to define and explain Nature is ‘cold thinking,’ abandoning Nature, divorcing humankind from Nature.

Goethe would have known well teh danger of superstition, teh dangers of ‘too warm’ thinking, with no emphasis on consistency, rigor or precision.

Goethe’s middle way between cold and warm thinking was a living interaction with Nature “the labor of experimentation”.

I imagine Goethe seeing only very occasional use for the cold machine of first coming up with an abstract hypothesis; then, setting up an artificial expeiment to test the hypothesis ‘to see if it works or not.’

Today we recognize this kind of one-sided experiment as vulnerable to narcissism, arranging facts and observations to line up with our own hypothesis. Alternatively, we recognize this kind of one-sided experimenting as having the sole intention to invent new products corporations can market, the hijacking of experimental method for commercial purposes.

Goethe’s criticism of Newton’s color hypothesis can be summed up as ‘an artificial experience that tears certain manifest phenomena out of meaningful context of the whole.’

Since 1970s at least we recognize the usefulness of “whole system analysis” seeing the parts within the natural whole.

This leaning towards more holistic scinece indicates the evolution of human thinking, in teh educated West, away from the ultra-cold thinking of Descartes-Newtom and towards whole-brainedness, towards Goethe and his experimental metnhod.

While in its altered value system regarding quantification, Goethean Science stands apart from Cartesian-Newtonian Science, Goethean Science is nonetheless rigorous as to experimental method and the matter of qualities.

50 years after Goethe’s death, Rudolf Steiner became Goethe’s student and editor of his scientific works. RS applied Goethe’s living approach to Nature and humanistic approach to experimenters to many topics including performing and fine arts. This gives Anthroposophic visual and performing arts their air of going beyond the mere outer form of things (”natura naturata”) to discern a more inner nature (”natura naturans”). Steiner hoped to relate the human sphere with all of Nature thru the arts. This is partly why Goethean Science has been perceived more as a warm cultural gesture moreso than applied and employed where most needed and practiclaly useful, the development of holistic health, healing and Energy Methods, that entered mainstream culture in the USA in teh 1970s.

== Essence and Ur phenomena ==

For Goethe if scientists adopt a more living, more humanistic, approach capable of entering into the living essence of Nature expressed in the phenomenon studied, this leads the experimenter towards a face-to-face meeting with an essence of nature, the crucial underlying archetype-pattern (”Ur-phänomen”).

The Goethean Experimenter does not try to define or explain the essence; she reads teh essence, appreciates teh essence as you would gradally get to know the character and preferences of your own nwborn child, revealed over some time.

The inherent order and logic of a very young child’s character, talents and preferences while invisible, are clearly objective not subjective, not invented by the experimenter. The very young child is not defined or explained; they are “read.”

For Goethe objective essence began with movement, activity first, materialization only later, physical objects only later.

Goethe discerned a ”geheime Verwandschaft” (hidden relationship) of parts that explains how one form can transform into another form whilst being part of an underlying archetypal form (”Ur-phänomen”). This organizing idea-form guides the consideration of the parts; it is a ”Bild” or virtual image. Since the 1970s, we talk about these as archetypes, Goethe touched the face of several living archetypes. See his study of the dandelion for example.

Goethe’s nature (”natura naturans”) is in constant flux and flow; nonetheless, governed by law, logic and intelligence higher than mere mind chatter and mundane thinking. To approach vital nature–here we go beyond Goethe to more modern language–archetypes are perceived by a two-fold operation, above merely logical thinking. Our creative imagination reaches up to envision the outline, depth, color, temperature, sound and taste of the archetype. Our soul intelligence reaches down from Soul and Above to cognize archetypes in the upper etheric, above teh mind but lower than soul.

== Scientist and Experiment as interactive experience ==

The Linnaean system of plant classification, like classical physics was fixed and rigid. It’s primary focus on distinctions broke down increasingly, leading to increasing confusion, as growing numbers of plant forms were being brought forward to fit into the Procrustean Bed of a merely physical-material classification system. The hard science methodology used on inert substances in physics and chemistry (leading eventually to the periodic table) was not working for plant study.

Goethe writes in ”Story of My Botanical Studies” (1831):

The ever-changing display of plant forms, which I have followed for so many years, awakens increasingly within me the notion: The plant forms which surround us were not all created at some given point in time and then locked into the given form, they have been given… a felicitous mobility and plasticity allows them to grow and adapt themselves to many different conditions in many different places.Frank Teichmann (tr. Jon McAlice) “The Emergence of the Idea of Evolution in the Time of Goethe” first published in ”Interdisciplinary Aspects ofEvolution”, Urachhaus (1989)

Goethe’s uncovery of an underlying plant archetypes, directly challenged the fixed, static view of nature of the Linnaean taxonomy based on choosing certain plant features and ignoring others.

Goethe challenged the view experimenters can look on their target devoid and naive of their own theoretical and personal context. He likewise challenged the assumption of shared common neutral language in science research and innovation. In more modern language, Goethe at least intuited each person perceives uniquely; therefore, scientists talking and using language as if everyone thinks and perceives the same was dangerous illusion.

Goethe believed every act of looking at a thing turns into observation, every act of observation turns into mentation, every act of mentation turns into associations. Thus it is evident we theorize every time we look attentively out into the world.”

For Goethe, the ultimate aim of science is nothing other than the metamorphosis of the scientist . In Goethean Science, experiment is the ‘mediator between object and subject.’ Experiments are two-fold, revealing more about the natural world; at the same time, revealing more about the experimenter to him or herself.

Goethe’s methodology is based on mutual and intimate interaction of observer and observed; and, what is perceived evolves over time. As the experimenter’s knowledge evolves from his study of natural phenomena, so does his consciousness, his capacity for inner expansion, insight and personal revelation.

Where Cartesian-Newtonian science accepts only a single, practical syllogism about experimenters and research topics, Goethe stood for and demonstrated the practice of science as an art, an artistic practice directed towards partnership with Nature and refining the experimenter’s perceptions over time towards Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition.

Goethe’s method of science as art, of experiment as mediator between experimenter and Nature, can be applied to studies of every kind.

Goethe previewed the growing friction between Cartesian-Newtonian science and progressive culture, as one evolved and the other did not. In the absence of a modern understanding of Goethean Science, endless, often fruitless discussion, of the discoveries of quantum mechanics and the writings of Hanson and Thomas Kuhn|Kuhn (”Structure of Scientific Revolutions”) became the an outlet for the lack of evolving and humanistic values in Cartesian-Newtonian science.

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.