Cosmos Café [2021-05-13]: The Wholeness of Nature 5

Session Introduction

This is the fifth of seven planned sessions (currently scheduled every two weeks, till mid-June) encompassing a collective reading of Bortoft’s book. This session’s reading encompasses roughly the second quarter of Part III “Understanding Goethe’s Way of Science”.

The focus of this third essay thus far has been what Bortoft calls “the organizing idea” as a determiner of perception; and this remains in focus in this reading, even if the emphasis shifts from the historical to the modern, so to speak: the organizing idea of modern science and how this played out in the Newtonian physics of color are given closer attention.

Modern science, as most of us understand it, and as it most often presents itself, is characterized by its quantitative way of seeing. The notion of quantity goes back at least to Aristotle who defined it as “that which has parts external to one another. It is an instance of what he calls a category, which is really to be understood as a mode of illumination by virtue of which the world becomes visible in a particular way” (p. 173). That is to say, there is a focus – almost to the exclusion of all else – on the mathematization of all its statements. What is sought are the mathematical formulas that give expression to realities, whereby the realities themselves fade quickly toward illusion.

This methodological separation took on new force as skepticism arose as to the reliability of the senses. By the time of the British empiricists, the senses had fallen more or less into complete disrepute and were no longer considered the capable basis for acquiring scientific knowledge. Ultimately, Cartesian dualism became the only acceptable way of seeing science and his desire for a unified language of science found its realization in the mathematization so strongly advanced by Galileo and others. What could be measured mattered, and all that mattered was matter.

A prime example of this was, of course, Newton’s mathematical physics of colors, which he asserted in his reports to the Royal Society, as being derived solely from inductive experimentation. As Bortoft points out, however, his public description does not necessarily match his private journal entries. What Goethe noticed, though, and what Bortoft draws our attention to is that this physics may explain the phenomenon of color, but it does little, if anything, to further our understanding of the phenomenon. Quite apparently, different ways of seeing lead to very different ends.

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), III. Understanding Goethe’s Way of Science, the last section of Chapter 3 (The Organizing Idea of Modern Science) and the first section of Chapter 4 (the opening remarks and Newton and the Mathematical Physics of Color) (pp. 172-212).

  • (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, v22.pdf (82.6 KB)

Seed Questions

  • The mathematization of reality, as expressed in the domain of scientific investigation still plays a dominant role in our thinking, but in recent years, we have begun to see a loosening of its absolute grip. Do you agree? Why or why not? Do you think approaches like Goethe’s – as described by Bortoft – are becoming more prevalent?

  • What do you think we stand to gain as a result of shifting our attention from quantity to quality?

  • A good portion of Bortoft’s presentation centers around the metaphysical separation between what is real and what is illusion. What is your own approach to the issue? Do you have your own conception of what constitutes reality and our knowledge of it?

  • Have you been able to obtain a prism and conduct any of Newton’s experiments for yourself? If you have a prism, when you simply look through it, how does this affect your understanding of Bortoft’s descriptions of Newton’s theories? Do you think there is any advantage to playing around with a prism for yourself?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics


Definitely yes! But most scientists do this still subliminally, without being really aware of this (most have no idea what Goethe said and may react with shoulder shrugs when you begin talking about seeing things “holistically”.) An example could be what these people do in this YT video. I would call this “Goethian microscopy”. :slight_smile:


I like the Title of this in regards of the In-Between & “The Wholeness of
Nature”.( Also,The Content).


That’s also Goethe’s seeing in disguise…

“Some scientists were having trouble with this: Why would a tree send photosynthetic sugars to another species? And to me, that was so obvious. They are all helping one another to create a healthy community that is of benefit to everyone.”
"I had learned so much more by listening instead of imposing my will and demanding answers.”
“I call the system “intelligent” because it is the most analogous word that I can find in the English language to describe what I am seeing.”


Attention,Attention, Attention,a Zen teaching that seems to
parallel a topic within our reading…


Lyric thinking comes out of lyric living. And then one day, when you are old and gray, you have to remember what you loved and re-express that love. That’s lyric thinking. When did Eros arrive? How long did he stay? What happened next?

The summer of '84, Gary and I took the van on a grand tour of literary New England. We saw the fireplace where Melville warmed himself, as he wrote Moby Dick, we took a walk around Edith Wharton’s elegant mansion, we ate lunch at the grave of Emily Dickinson.

At night we went up to the Vermont mountains, found a shack, where lonely, queer men , sat on barrels around a pot belly stove, ( it gets chill during Vermont at night), and we got drunk and we ran through the misty fields, under a full moon and from the shack through the woods, we could hear Nina Turner howling from the juke box what’s love got to do with it? And from this rural moonscape, we had broken up memories of the Big City, and the boys in the backrooms, the booze, the lust, and the AIDS terror that had swept so many of us into the jaws of death. I can no longer remember how many lovers I lost.

The next morning, pleasantly hungover, we drove to New Hampshire, and climbed Mt. Monadnock. Then, when we reached the summit , I danced ecstatic as a dervish, upon grand, old Mt. Monadnock. Look! There I am!

That was a year that was lived so lyrically.


And just so happens, in “Vrikshasana” or the Tree Pose…

As history rhymes to bring attention to the lyric heart.


and then what happens?

And then what happens?

Lord Shiva makes you touch the blue flame in the center of his head and you go mad and are blown to smithereens! No one can endure such ecstasy. But you forgo enlightenment until everyone and everything gets a chance to become enlightened. Every blade of grass. And your brains are fried and the magic is gone. Life sucks but you do your duty. And then, old and abandoned, after great betrayals and injustice, you go to the park and do your breathwork and spin around just like you did when you were a little kid,. Nothing has changed, everything has changed. You know the place from which you spin for the first time…and again and again.


May This Be a Mother’s Day within All of Us of whatever Gender!!!


My mother, aged 90, is being monitored carefully. It’s her heart. My brother is with her, advocating on her behalf, dealing with the mixed news. Our brother, Craig, died last summer. That was hard on her. But she wants to live. She wants to continue painting. My mother is a fine painter, and she loved that I was talented, and taught me how to pay attention to beauty. She paid attention to me when I performed, but the rest of the time she didn’t notice me much. A classic stage mother, she sewed the seeds of narcissistic discontent in my troubled mind. She was very hostile to my becoming gay but got used to it. Luckily, she has lived long enough to evolve out of her past into something I would not have predicted.

My brother and I riffed on creativity. A classically trained pianist, he has recently taken up karaoke just for fun. Also, he reminisces about the pleasures of playing basket ball when he was a teen. He said it feels like ballet, that time actually slows down, while you are in midair. He took up piano to get off the basket ball court. Our father was a crazy lunatic at basket ball games. Daddy treated my brother like shit at public games, ranted at him, humiliated him. Daddy died years ago. I was glad to hear he was gone. I didn’t shed a tear for my father, but when Craig died suddenly last summer, I wept for days.

We talk about many things, my brother and I, the hidden things, what is on the surface, what is moving from the depths. When loved ones are ill we feel the threads in the tapestry are unravelling. This is necessary as we learn how to re-weave the tapestry of our battered family’s mind. What moves from the possible/impossible as something new becomes actual?

Becoming whole is agony.


I enjoyed our conversation today and would like to go back to the sessions you mentioned about education. I have a deep interest in education, probably because I felt so thwarted as a child. At least, through it all, I have managed to hang on to my curiosity. And I surround myself with other curious beings (yes, read that polysemically!) so, together, our individual curiosities fuel each other.

When I was in high school I wrote an essay for English class on a “better educational system” and the comment I got from the teacher was “yeah, that would work for you, Lisa, because you are intrinsically motivated, but it wouldn’t work for most of the other kids.” More than anything, that made me sad. Why weren’t they as curious as I was?

My interest continued through college, where finally I had a little more freedom and other students “like me” and teachers who got excited about the things I was curious about. So much so that one helped me get a grant to do a study about student question-asking. I noticed that in some classes, students asked more questions than in others. I wanted to find out why. The results weren’t that surprising, but it did teach me how to do research… Also in college I read Summerhill and about that college in Washington State (Black Mountain College, I think, which was also a working farm). I read about Montessori but somehow I missed Rudolf Steiner. Fortunately, a friend here in California was a Waldorf teacher and has “caught me up” on his philosophy of education.

@MarcoMasi, if you are interested (and anyone else, too), I really love what my friend Lynnclaire developed for schools/teachers. (Lynnclaire presented to the cafe several years ago, but it seemed to be too much squished into the time frame, in my recollection.) Anyhow, I would enjoy sharing her project with you, as it is more about giving children/people an empowered sense of belonging such that they take responsibility for their class, classmates, learning, etc. It frees the teacher to facilitate more and manage the classroom less. I would also like to hear more about the experiment in Europe of “soccer schools” (or that’s how I remember it explained to me by my German/Swiss friend). To capitalize on the desire of kids to learn/play soccer, they developed schools based on that, while slipping in academics with the sports. That model has been used for decades in ballet schools in Russia and Europe.

Lastly, I have a friend here who is very involved in getting Emotional Intelligence taught in schools. She thinks that our factory models really stunt emotional development.

I am still very passionate about this issue, but it is not an area where I have had the opportunity to DO anything. I am very supportive of people who are doing something!


The content of this post was left in editing mode from our fourth session. I had a tick bite (an alternate wholeness of nature) that left me with flu-like symptoms and additional physical and mental confusion (in the sense that I could not focus on reading or typing for more than a few minutes at a time, hence the lack of forum interaction last week). Much of what I was inspired to share at that time trickled into our conversation this session.

On Education, Edugenic Harm and Rebellion

One of my personal mottos when confronted with the static brick walls of school and work and those that (un)willingly or (un)intentionally place yet another brick in the wall has been “a respectful breaking of the rules” . . . you won’t find me jailed or out on the streets in protest yet I have been one to hold my stance when the wall tries to take over my space. I have been fired twice for stepping outside of boxes and walled spaces and take that as a compliment. Children love to rebel and I take that as nature.

Here is the mentioned podcast with Eric Weinstein. His take is similar to most of what we have discussed and I appreciate his passionate intellect that seeks to push the subversive envelope. I like that neurodiversity is a phrase that is coming into its own.

… I wanted to share that senior year in AP calculus, my friend and I had checked out of the whole mathematical game. The last two months of the class consisted of taking practice tests to ace the final placement exam. Funny thing is my friend and I, who would not be taking the final exam, performed better on the practice exams than our peers simply by learning the test patterns. We could see through the questions and made an educated guess that performed higher than the students actually working their minds off to learn the abstract calculations. I learned a bit about education then! :man_student:

@lisa: the conversations that honed in on education can be found on these various Cafes:


Patterns of Play,a Delightful Listening Experience…

A voice from Memories on the Cafe’ & upon first reading these words when I was 26yrs old,
Pattern that Connects

The World is a Changing,Trouble Times There Be,this is not about WAR,It’s about a BIRTHING & A DEATH into …

I am Relaxed/Alert as I Walk into the Unknown with You Fellow-Friends
on-in this Human Experience…


Lisa, I don’t know her and can’t say much … can you provide a link to that project?