Cosmos Café [2021-03-18]: The Wholeness of Nature 1

Recorded 18 March 2021

In attendance:

John Davis
Douglas Duff
Ed Mahood
Lisa Maroski
Marco Masi
Marco Morelli
Sotirios Papavasiliou
Michael Stumpf


Many are familiar with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as a German poet and dramatist, but only few people are aware of or familiar with his scientific work. Henri Bortoft’s insightful book, The Wholeness of Nature provides a readable and fascinating look at Goethe’s scientific theories. Though largely rejected as a dilettante in his time, Bortoft succeeds in showing that Goethe’s way of doing science was in fact a deeply meaningful and authentic alternative to the dominant scientific paradigm.

This paradigm, as generally understood, believes itself to be an objective and impartial way of perceiving and explaining reality based on deductive logic, empiricism, and experimentation, using purely sensory data as input. In other words, it is a perhaps more comprehensive expression of our general, everyday understanding of reality: a collection of separate “things”, “out there”, which we encounter, manipulate, and control.

Bortoft presents us with a genuine, albeit participatory, way of doing science that overcomes this separation, enabling us not only to “see”, but, more importantly, experience the wholeness of nature. The hermeneutic phenomenology that Bortoft describes is a refreshingly new way of seeing and participating in the scientific enterprise. Goethe’s way of science is not merely a dusty 18th century artifact, but rather a practical and applicable solution of many of the problems of science today.

Session Introduction

This is the first of seven planned sessions (to be scheduled every two weeks) organizing a collective reading of Bortoft’s book. Planned are the Preface and the first of the three essays comprising the book: Authentic and Counterfeit Wholes.

In this essay, he explores two phenomena to help elucidate the difference between the two kinds of wholes, namely holograms and the universe of light and matter. He also uses the example of the hermeneutic circle – the process by which we understand texts when reading – to further clarify how the parts and the whole interrelate to yield meaning and understanding. The notion of the “active absence” is introduced to illustrate how what is not readily observable in the phenomenon can be included through the active participation of the observer in the process. Bortoft wraps up this essay, then, with a description of Goethe’s way of science and the important role played by the Ur-phenomenon (that is, the archetypal phenomenon).

Reading / Watching / Listening

  • Bortoft, Henri (1996) The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way Toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature. (Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Press), “Preface” (pp. ix-xii) & “I Authentic and Counterfeit Wholes” (pp. 3-26).

  • (Alternately: Bortoft, Henri (1996) The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 6th printing 2018.)

  • Bortoft Reading Schedule_The Wholeness of Nature, v21.pdf (82.7 KB)

Seed Questions

  • What do you think of Bortoft’s distinction between “authentic” and “counterfeit” wholes?

  • Do you think that Bortoft was successful in making this distinction?

  • How has Bortoft’s presentation helped you in enriching your own understanding of wholeness?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics


Another Goethean scholar brings forth a new elaboration upon the weirdness of Holographic Theory.


A New Way of Making Contact, where Inner & Outer
Play,Fight,Share with the Wholeness of Mystery!


A brief reminder that this side of the pond (America) proceeded with Daylight Savings Time, pushing clocks forward one hour. I do not know how this affects each individual based on the “in your time zone” feature on this site. We will likely benefit from discussing when we would ‘officially’ prefer to meet.


Since some mentioned “body electric” theories, here a more mainstream science perspective. The scientists involved are mainly reductionist and some of them staunch physicalists, but I have a feeling that it is only a matter of time, things are slowly but steadily converging.


Thanks for the reminder, Doug.

When I set up the page, I used the 11am MT as the already agreed starting time for our get-togethers. As far as I can tell, the in-your-time-zone function is working properly. The only ones affected by the change in the US are @MarcoMasi and me, and I have psychologically adjusted to the fact that we’ll meet an hour earlier than usual. It only affects Thurday’s meet-up as we’re turning our clocks in Europe ahead this coming weekend; then we’ll all be back on the same sheet of music.


While I would agree that there may be a shift in thinking emerging, I’m not convinced it’s going to come from thinkers of Dennet’s ilk. To phrase it perhaps in Bortoft’s terms: they still see the organism as a system, not organically. Hence, all the parts are external to each other: separate, independent entities which much be considered on their own, any of which is capable of mutation-based evolution completely independent of the rest of the organism. That all of these “parts” haven’t evolved on their own in the two million years or so of proto- and human history probably only means to them that the time scales are still too short. It makes me wonder.

What also struck me was in a phrase such as “It’s cognition, all the way down,” we have a notion of cognition that is strictly one of information processing, an exceedingly limited view of the process.

While there are many cognitive scientists who are no doubt becoming more open to alternative modes of thinking, I am having a difficult time imagining someone like Dennett changing his mind.


I was waiting for this… :wink: Yes, that’s for sure. I always considered Dennet a shallow thinking philosopher whose theories could be debunked easily. I was thinking more of the research of Micheal Levin, than the philosphical musings of Dennet. And I would not look so much at who is who and thinks what, but at the science that is emerging from modern findings. Statements that would have been outrageous only few years ago are entering the mainstream. They speak of a “bodyplan during embryogenesis”, of “goal anatomy”, “large scale anatomical pattern formation regulated by very complicates networks of bioelectric signaling among cells”. In developmental biology old and despised concepts as the “morphogenetic field” has been revived –that is, the idea that a group of cells leading to the development of specific morphological structures must be envisaged as an in space and time long-range dynamical information processing Whole rather than mere individual units executing an internal genetic program. That’s still not Sheldrake… and also not Goethe… but a step forward. Interestingly, they themselves now admit that the pervading “teleophobia” that avoided “intentional idioms” which attribute goal-directedness to a system, turned out to be an “all-or-nothing thinking” that “has prevented discovery” and which “has gone too far, putting biologists into a straitjacket that prevents them from exploring the most promising hypotheses.” Frankly, that was unheard from the physicalist’s side until now.

This does not entail that we will see them anywhere soon embrace a less materialistic worlview. Nevertheless, the concession is interesting and, after all, who cares what Dennet & co. think? They are going to become obsolete anyway because of these and future findings (and possibly even their own findings) they will be forced to accept, willing or not. My main point is that I’m glad to see that things are going in the direction of a science that is recognizing that the old paradigm is crumbling and is, even only cautiously, opening at least to a somewhat less reductionist approach.


" to see the plant organically as a hologram in time, with the whole emerging within the whole instead of unit as if the plant were a pile of bricks or the accretion of a crystal. By actively looking at plants, plunging into the plant visually, followed by exact sensorial imagination, it is possible to learn to see the plant world in this way. This develops an organ of perception which is turned towards the organic, and does not represent it conceptually in terms of the logic of solid bodies, Goethe said that " every process in nature, rightly observed, wakens in us a new organ of perception."- Bortoft, notes, page 344

What can be said of the plant world, can be said of the music world and …

Last night in a dream ( this is my pattern again…) I woke up in a strange room that was unfamiliar. I was not frightened but I was confused. I looked around. It was a huge room. I was in the corner of what looked like a large curved space, the wall on my left with a curved window covered by thin white curtains, the wall on my right a mirror. The other walls were too dark. The room was not lit from the inside but there was a glow that emanated through the curtains from the outside. I was on a bundle of fabrics stacked in the corner. There was another person ( invisible) who was with me. A man, with a bad complexion, and wearing a uniform, appeared. He was rude and official and demanded that I answer his questions. I asked," Who are you?"

He was shocked by my impertinence. He ignored my question and proceeded to try to intimidate me. I felt the room move around, quite weirdly. My body was stable but the room moved as if it was alive. I stood up and faced him. He said, as if he was a border guard, " Where are you from?"

" I am from God." I said, in a clear, calm voice," and Jesus ( an invisible presence on my right) is my brother." Behind me I felt the presence of an invisible diabolic figure, threatening me. I realized that I had softened towards this figure and had no need to defend against him. This was my old friend, Satan. And with this soft but clear presence I said," I suggest that everyone go to their original nature."

I woke up in my “normal” waking condition in Manhattan, with a pleasant experience of an exact sensorial imagination. Am I perhaps tuning into the dreaming mind as a whole? Am I meta-dreaming within the style of Goethe?

I don’t insist upon this but I share the idea as a way of creating bridges between different kinds of sensorium that may be operating in various styles of communique.

And when enough persons can dream with plants and animals and other intelligences what happens to Science?

Obviously, the hard core materialists like Dennett are not there, yet, nor do they need to be. We can persevere without them while noting their critique. We can easily critique their critique and
re- direct our attention to other features of our cultural landscapes.

For example, Gagliano and McKusick are working directly with acoustics and biofields. I would claim Dr. Zach Bush, offers another stunning critique of the materialist quagmire in medicine, In this excellent tutorial on the new Biology, we are witnessing the overthrow of the sterile genecentricism that Dawkins and Dennett have promoted for over a generation. Dr. Bush offers us some new facts.

We are at the cusp of an enormous cognitive evolution, with new narratives emerging out the rubble of gross materialisms. Zach illuminates this research. The Human cell is no longer the solid unit that it once was considered to be and is not the center of health in the human. 50 % of our genome is made up of viruses. Germ theory, the dominant theory of current medicine, makes no sense. There is no linear progression, and the old battle field metaphors are badly applied. As we continue to shoot the messengers, modern medicine is devolving into a nightmare scenario. We have always been collectively in creative relationship with viruses and microbes, which we try to kill at our own peril. Like shooting your self in the foot and trying to run a relay race.

Another interesting fact. 90% of those with the HIV virus ( 432 million) have integrated that virus. They are asymptomatic. Less that 1% get AIDS. How does this fact sit with current science of the CDC and NIH? It is ignored or ruthlessly suppressed. What kills us is not viruses but polluted water and air, fossil fuels, pesticides, and the overuse of pharmaceuticals. Our economy runs upon wide spread destruction of the environment. These distortions take a terrible toll on our immune systems.

If we want to move towards the new kind of science, then Bortoft’s books invite us to become re-conceivers, and to re-embody what we re-conceive. We have lots of ways to enter the weave. We are here in the biologic form and we are also 4D and 5D beings…who are we really ?..we are getting ready to find out.

Let’s keep our eyes on the prize!


We can embody our language and our metaphors by making a representation that makes sense to us, enhancing participation. Matt does a good job of demonstrating this meta-skill. Thanks again to us all for another infinite conversation.


This is a wonderful octoconvocation! Am in the midst of listening…3/20 almost 5pm.