Cosmos Café [2021-04-15]: The Wholeness of Nature 3

Session Introduction

This is the third of seven planned sessions (currently scheduled every two weeks) encompassing a collective reading of Bortoft’s book. Planned are the last two chapters – approximately the second half – of Part II “Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness”.

The first half of this essay focused on a comparative study of Newton’s and Goethe’s approach to their study of light and color, highlighting the cultural-historical influences which deeply influenced both approaches. We should remember that these are not competing ways of seeing the world, but rather should be understood as complementary to each other. In the second half of this essay, though, the focus shifts more specifically to Goethe’s organic vision, including both plants and animals. This leads necessarily to a summary discussion of Goethe’s understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge itself.

Goethe saw nature much more holistically than we have been raised and educated to see it. Whereas elementary botany considers the flowering plant as an external assemblage of different parts – leaves, sepals, petals, stamens, etc. – which are separate and independent of one another, what Goethe discovered is that it could be described as continuity of form (pp. 77-78). All parts are manifestations of what he called an Urorgan (a primal or archetypal organ) which is neither a mental abstraction (internally subjective) nor externally objective (a primitive organ). It was his achievement to see the plant in terms of itself. Instead of comparing numerous examples in search of their common elements, a static, inflexible unity in multiplicity, Goethe is describing the dynamical, infinitely flexible multiplicity in unity (analogous to the hologram, described in the first essay to the volume).

Goethe coined the term “morphology” to describe the study of form in both the plant and animal kingdoms. As with his study of plants, Goethe discovered that the mammal, for example, is disclosed as well in terms of itself, thereby becoming its own language (p. 99). The connections between the various characteristics of a given animal are not just contingent, as they are seen for example in Darwinian terms (any given feature could randomly mutate into something else), but are rather necessary, incapable of being otherwise without altering the animal itself into something other than it is.

For Aristotle, knowledge is not knowledge of what happens to be true, but rather what cannot be otherwise and hence must be true (p. 104); and the same applies to Goethe. Knowledge should not be understood as a mere subjective state of the knower independent of phenomenon in question. Instead, for Goethe, “the state of ‘being known’ was to be understood as a further stage of the phenomenon itself” (p. 108). In this state of knowing, it is clear that the knower and the known cannot be considered external to each other, but rather constitute an indivisible whole. Consequently, Goethe’s view could be called “organic” since it sees knowledge as a further development of the phenomenon itself, and as such it is particularly well-suited for studying Life.

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), II. Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness, Chapter 3 (Goethe’s Organic Vision) & Chapter 4 (The Scientist’s Knowledge) (pp. 77-115).

  • (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

  • The notion of “intuition” continues to play a significant role in Bortoft’s presentation of Goethean science. How has your own understanding of the notion perhaps shifted in the course of your reading? Do you think this is the best term for what is being described?

  • What do you think of Bortoft’s contrast between “unity in multiplicity” and “multiplicity in unity”? Is the distinction clear and meaningful for you? Is it a helpful distinction?

  • The theme that the whole can only be understood in terms of the part and vice versa is recurrent throughout this reading. One distinction which Bortoft highlights in relation to this is between “extensive” and “intensive”, especially as the latter term is used in a way that is most likely new for most of us. What do you think about this part of the discussion? What new insights have you gained as a result of it?

  • The notions of “contingency” and “necessity” play an important role in this reading as well. What are your thoughts on the notions of “evolution” that these imply? Did the contrast impact your own understanding of evolution in any way? If so, how?

  • The analytical way of knowledge of modern science has brought about many technological developments which are impacting our lives in many ways, both positively and negatively. In which practical ways do you think Goethe’s organic way of knowledge might have positive effects on our lives? Do you see potential for less than favorable developments as well?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics


Common Sense, An Interview with Peter Kingsley Parabola Conversations

Sense we’ve been talking about Senses,I Felt moved to Flashback to this article & the Cafe’ we engaged in:

Peter 's piece on the Senses seems to have some parallel to Goethe?



Ah yes, I missed that one (had just got back from our America trip and was dealing with some health issues), besides, I hadn’t read any Kingsley at that time.

In the meantime, I have engaged him some (Reality, In Darker Places of Wisdom, A Story Waiting to Pierce You), and I would concur that he is trying to get us to take another look at what the Ancients, in particular the pre-Socratics but also up through Plato and Aristotle, were telling us. I have long been suspicious that the “received wisdom” we’ve been fed about the Greeks may have been a somewhat lopsided diet. Kingsley was the first one I read who called that wisdom into question.

In the meantime, some more exposure to Steiner has shown, he was pointing the same direction. Bortoft, of course, is quite open about it, and the sources he quotes, who I’ve also been looking at (e.g., Barfield, Toulmin, and more notably even Heidegger, but particularly Gadamer) all resonate well with Kingsley’s reading.

My current side-read, Toulmin’s Cosmopolis, takes a very detailed look at the when-did-we-actually-go-modern question, and takes a very close look at the state of consciousness which was dominant yet shifting just prior to and after Descartes. The book provides a lot of nuance to Gebser’s own description of the mutation to the deficient Mental, that is, Rational structure of consciousness, but emphasizes, moreso than Gebser, the shift in attitude toward the senses in particular that appears to have been a central theme in the transition.

Thanks for the pointer, Michael … I had completely missed that one.


Thanks, Michael, for your flashback. I had forgotten about this episode and so it refreshes what is left of my memory system. I’m amused that I refer to Shakespeare and Joni Mitchell and the use of cloud imagery.

Antony.** Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish;
A vapour sometime like a bear or lion,
A tower’d citadel, a pendent rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon’t, that nod unto the world,
And mock our eyes with air: thou hast seen
these signs;They are black vesper’s pageants.

And Joni-
*I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all"

This cloud fantasia was inspired by Marco’s explication of illusion and allusion. This seemed all a bit fluffy until I read in Bortoft’s Taking Appearances Seriously that Goethe was thrilled by Luke Howard’s essay On the Modification of Clouds. Howard’s taxonomy of clouds, was a breakthrough for Goethe, who composed a poem in tribute. Imagine what Goethe would have thought about fractal geometry and chaos theory?

This taxonomy is one of the very few bits of information I still remember from my education. Here it is.

High clouds (CH): Cirrus, Cirrocumulus, Cirrostratus

Middle clouds (CM): Altocumulus, Altostratus, Nimbostratus

Low clouds (CL): Stratocumulus, Stratus, Cumulus

What I didn’t know then ( in the cafe) was that the Covid Pandemic a few months later would upset everyone’s apple cart. This is the undercurrent, I believe, of many of our Cafe discourse events. We were seeking to create conditions for a new mind that we all felt is required and long over due. I still feel this way but have much less a sense of urgency about it than I did then. What was a source of angst that was on the margins is now center stage in everyone’s perceptual world as we wash hands, wear masks, and debate whether to submit to medicalization techniques that may have disastrous ecological consequences.

I pulled Toulmin’s book down from the shelf and noted that I underlined this sentence, which struck me as relevant then and relevant now.

" futures which do not just happen by themselves, but can be made to happen, if we adopt wise attitudes and policies." p. 2

Does this ring a bell? I have asked many of us And what would you like to have happen?

I want to create conditions for new minds and new futures!

I’m not sure about wise attitudes and policies…maybe that is what we are doing already. Can we do it on purpose? Toulmin seems to think so.

I round off these reflections to share a dialogue with Bryan Magee ( Bortoft’s favorite living philosopher) and Iris Murdock, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In her opening statement she demonstrates the split in her world between philosophy and fiction. Her description fits in with Iain McGilchrist’s recent theories. I would say this preparation for a new mind is a widely shared desired outcome and has been under way for a while now… The interview is very, very highbrow British but a lot of fun. And Murdoch is very cool and prickly, a bit paranoid and also really smart.


I enjoyed that talk between Murdoch and Magee, though I agree with you Murdoch’s worldview is quite split and she is speaking of narrow version of Philosophy that is/was popular in the UK, namely Analytic Philosophy. I think the thinkers identified with Continental (mostly French and German) thought would see philosophy and literature being a lot closer than analytic philosophers are generally comfortable with. (And yet Plato, who is regarded as a founder of the tradition, was a perfect of example of literature and philosophy, with hugely generative creative tension, working together.)

Having double-majored in Philosophy and (and theory-heavy) Comp Lit, I have always been interested in the philosophers with a literary bent and creative writers with a philosophic one—though I agree with Murdoch that ideas themselves (in abstraction) are not a great basis for literature but on the other hand the holistic way that ideas and life intertwine I find most interesting. Where the brain harmonizes, the work of art is its own theory. (I believe this paraphrases Goethe.)

It’s still really wonderful to hear this caliber of dialogue, which is made possible by Magee having deeply read Murdoch, and the interlocutors sharing an obvious both intellectual and personal rapport.


Heads up: this post is off-topic.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the Murdoch-Magee clip, and I agree with John that it is lusciously highbrow. That is a word, of course, that I haven’t heard for some time now, but it was so fitting to the occasion.

At any rate, I just ran across an essay which picks up the “brow” theme – The Strange Undeath of Middlebrow – and for that reason, and that reason only, I wanted to share it with whomever might be interested. It is not a terribly important read, but I found it fascinating and thought-provoking in places.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program …


Unable to participate today.
Efforts to process the recording will be made.
Morph well together :butterfly:; play nice :sunflower:!


Great conversation today, gang. I loved the mind jazz and the heart space, a wild beauteous whole to play a part in. It felt like at our best we were doing something like this:


We morphed a lot and sorry you weren’t there. I do hope you will post any meta-divine commentary if you get a chance. We are working with group memory dynamics and I believe this can help us to navigate the big waves that are coming at us.


Miles Davis said jazz was social music. You can feel that vibe catching us.



This recording, on point without making a point to even introduce the topic :upside_down_face:, is quality listening (I chose the audio option). I listened twice and hardly took notes or noticed the passing in time as I was engrossed in the notes in some strange musical notation in the navi-directional embrace of the flow. Sea-jazz.

In your conversation you bring to life the aptitudes of the apt pupil of Nature; the bodies electric and capable; the navigators, the guides of these bodies and steer-folk of the crafts. Michael with the back pain, the deep interactive awareness with this brilliant other. He entered the dragon (there was a kung-fu spoof called “Enter the Fist”) and encountered the invisible other head on. Lisa speaks of “no one having her back” and then the turn-around once she altered metaphors and altered perception, the universe has her back. Marco Masi speaks truth to power when he bridges the gap between the self as being and the self as Being or the self as being a part of Being with other beings. The guidance towards the intuition and feeling behind the physical perception. We receive signals from Nature (our body seen and unseen). We use these as stars. They influence us. Metamorphosis. And we can influence the stars if intentions/intuitions align.

I was unable to attend as I had spent a week away from the ole laptop and had a backlog of responsibilities interfering. During this week away I went on a spontaneous sequence of outings in nature. From time with family in TN; a talk with Reighn and we decide, as the children spend a week with my parents, to go exploring. Brother suggests we borrow his kayaks. We sleep, eat, and find ourselves in the van-craft next morn’n, two kayaks strapped down, aiming the stern towards the high-lit stars on our Google map. Dale Hollow Lake, our destination, interacts with the Tennessee and Kentucky state line. I had assumed I had reserved a drive-in campsite but we ended up unable to access it. We decided to park the van-craft in an open-air, lined concrete docking facility and carry our kayaks to the water. Our landing site is paddle-in only. We are inexperienced with this craft but it is not a matter of survival so we paddle forth along the shoreline our campsite supposedly marked some mile or two on the other side of this inlet.

I am reminded of the fractal measuring of the coastline described by Kerri Welsh, in which one can have a big measurement from a distance but once you go in and measure the coastline with a ruler you will obtain an ever-larger circumference. Go in further and there will magically be more distance measured. We continued hugging the curves where the islet and the waters met and our perception of time dilated. In a similar but non-apocalyptic mode, we entered a Stalker-like zone. Our experience with nature fluctuated. We had no map; we had no guide; we did not know the territory from the trees. I soon learned to look up, look far, and use my imagination. I became a bird with my aerial view (a technique aided both by examining birds and examining 2-D electronic mappings) and perceived that we had much longer to go before we reached our campsite.

We eventually docked and stayed on the shore and were enchanted by nature. It is all around you. All the time. We were greeted by a butterfly. A tiger swallowtail. Slow. Its wings are not wings; moreso paper as this paper tiger wafts and oozes with ease. It led me to some fish bones and to this beautiful piece of driftwood.

We both, Reighn and I, identified this as a turtle. But I began to see a vulture head, a rodent, a brain. A modern duck-rabbit?

We went kayaking on multiple occasions, for multiple hours. I spent some of my activity seeking ur-phenomena. And some not seeking it. I came out of this brief journey with a movement. This art was created a few days after the event. Unfinished as most all of my attempts remain, there is a perceivable movement; perhaps even a piece of perceptible color schema tied into Goethe’s color theory.

We once spoke of the Polynesian sailors during our exploration of The Minor Gesture. The attuned sailor, as Johnny clarified when referring to the Polynesian sailor, feels the flux in his connection with the waters - craft - scrotum - vibrations within the body. Or from Lisa in “Before Speaking from Oneness, Feeling It”: “you just feel what needs to be done and do it without having to think about it. You let your consciousness merge with the sail, and you don’t even have to analyze all those signs, your body just responds to what the sail needs. You become one with the spinnaker.”There are courses available to learn to do as the Polynesians do. Studies of star charts; geography, mapping, triangulation techniques, seasonal changes. But nothing will substitute the immersive experience.

Immersion is the depth digger, the receiver of the depths of truth. Immersion may not be the exact word. Practice, training, repetition, deep reception. All of this is a good way to segue into that thing we call Nature. To nurture Nature.

I think “group memory” is a crucial component. When John asks Ed “what happened right before you asked the question ‘what kind of tree?’” (which John linked to an exercise in memory . . . it was over two weeks since the question was asked!) I would like to imagine everyone in the conversation transported themselves back into that time two weeks ago, the story, the question. John’s simple question about a question permitted us access to Ed’s delightful dialogue on trees and recent tree readings. Our small group has a delightful memory archive. I am thinking of the culture that we could create through this creative immersion.

Immersion involves a conscious awareness. What permits, allows, grants access to this connection with nature? Or discussed in Lisa’s CEL: how do we enact the integral?

When I was immersed in the activity here on Infinite Conversations (when I am immersed at my best) I am able to tune into others metaphors. I come up with my own. In 2017 I came as an undercover agent. I was playing the role of a social worker with extra office time to kill, spend, expand. I used this extra opportunity to go undercover. To see what was out there to better my time. In 2018, introduced to Erin Manning and The Minor Gesture reading I became an undercover agent uncovering agencement. In 2019 there was a decision to remove this undercover moniker and seek that which is present when fully surfaced. In 2020, the year of the viroidal life, I sought hibernation, exploring the internal realms, feeling time stop; feeling into the earth and the body and the non-rational minding. In 2021 I surface again into life, this wholeness of nature, seeing such life and Life all around me all around you. We only need to know where to look, or hear, or sense. How to navigate.

(remind me to ask next session . . . What exactly is nature (Nature)? What do we mean when we talk about or utter the word Nature? This I feel is important as we are talking about the wholeness of Nature (is it our nature, if not then whose; if not able to be claimed or possessed, then how? For how long? And why? What for?) questions for another time. . .)


This an exquisite example, Doug, of that future culture that can create from the duck/rabbit/nature/culture way of coming-into-being from far upstream. I don’t think we need to leave all of it up to chance. It is far from random as your notes from nowhere cohere into a location with sizes and shapes, a somewhere that we can take delight in together.

You are working with a wide angle and a sharp, clean focus at the same time, and the head ache that I woke up with this morning, which felt like a crooked staircase carved into the left side of my cranium, has become, as I read your script, a soft, white, scarf floating in a breeze. I can hold the tension of the aching head and the images that are evoked without wishing the ache away. It is not pain, a solid noun, but pain-ness, a certain style of performance that highlights grief.

And we humans have much to grieve, much to celebrate as the Tarkovsky zone is re-entered again and again, and we bring back from that imaginal visit a sketch, a stone, a memory of an old, oak, tree, with knotted limbs that clings to the earth and whisper to us an invitation, " Climb." And I can climb, if I desire to, that memory tree. That is what the imaginal is for.

And if we thrive in the future ( even as we are modeling this adjacent possibility in the resonant word-games we employ) we could be re-entering the duck/rabbit memory palace of our coherent group symbolic modeling exercise, the looping effects could have impacts on the sensory-motor and ecological systems that we came here to this odd life to explore and actually know the place for the first time.

I will be glad to remind you and I may even craft a few questions about your questions. My dream for our social dreaming sessions has been to co-evolve a group that can ask questions about their questions and create a process for a language/nature expose. That is when we can enter a resonating wholeness that has no boundaries, except of course the ones we want to make. Conversation, according to Goethe, is an art form. I think this can become true if we train our attention to follow the uncertainties and the undercurrents.


Bottom of Multnomah Falls Oregon

Top of Multnomah Falls

A Hike on the Friday after the Cafe’,of 1 Mile to the top,with switchbacks like the Labyrinth.
Three Young Ones 14,20 &30 years,Parents each 40 & the Wise one 67.
As everyone started off together,it soon changed into young ones lead the way up the trail to the Source of Water,I was in the Middle slow & steady,&
then the Parents following. What I found interesting is the pain in the lower
part of my back began to diffuse through body as if the walking Uphill was Massaging the Tight spot.There was still a tension in the Pain-ness .

All this to is Say the Thursday Cafe’ seemed to Be Rippling in & out of my Day to Day Vacation Life in Oregon, ( outside of Portland). This Rippling continued through the weekend of a Baby Shower & Birthday Party for the 14yr old.

This is my Call & Response to Doug, who so well picked up the Sea-Jazz of
the Cafe’. Thank U for Playing your Solo back to our Cafe’.



Hi all,
Just a quick note to tell you about a video from the Rebel Wisdom channel in which our friend Jeremy Johnson is talking about Gebser. It just went up today.

He mentions Cosmos Cafe, so you might see more traffic here. Marco, there might be a better place to put this link than here… feel free to repost it elsewhere.


We do have a dedicated #metapsychosis:gebser channel, as it happens. :slight_smile:

I’ll throw it up somewhere there later, after I’ve had a chance to see/hear the recording, unless someone else beats me to it.

Or if anyone would want to submit a blog post or write-up that responds, that would add value to the video—especially if it draws out themes or questions that could be worth further discussion. Thanks for the heads up, Lisa!


Going with Intuitive/Imaginative Mind here: this poem appeared as part of my response to this bounty and beauty. There is the present…and there is The Ever-present. Becoming present we find it’s possible now and again, to enter The Ever-present. In this strange present here with you all, I feel the nearness of Ever-Presence.

Mockingbird Night

Silence, the simplest prayer, falls at dusk

when blue dark comes fast, and we sing what we hear,
you and I, our last late repertoire—

and for a time, all is concord.

But soon our themes diverge, you gush on—
wedding chants, boasts, jokes, even

parakeet and cockatiel mourning the other’s
distant company, back and forth

from separate cages—

harsh piercing furious you exult in every state
of soul, love or torment, echoing note

for note, while I beg for the mercy of sleep.

Near dawn, heaven and ground stunned
in the crack! of thunder

then silence. That silence
after the end and before the beginning—

storm, orgasm, concussion

without any promise of rain.

Inside the shockwave
inside my pulse, your green desire…

nothing can stop you
canta y canta y canta para nadie