Pat Williams talks to Henri Bortoft about Goethe’s Approach to Science

Henri Bortoft

Henri Bortoft

I received today this interview from the journal Human Givens, Volume 8, Number 4, 2001 from my friend Ezra Hewing. Ezra, like Maria and myself, has a great interest in the work of Henri Bortoft, and how his philosophical insights can be applied in business settings.

This interview leads on from the great dissertation by Richard Widows I have just published, in that Henri discusses the many ways in which entering into Goethe’s way of seeing can help us discover solutions to many organisational problems we face in business today, such as the limitations of a bureaucratic mindset and the need to move into a more intuitive form of perception.

You can download a copy of the interview here:

FFT – TNT – Casting New Light HGJ Vol8 No2 2001-2

Ezra Hewing is the community development manager at Suffolk Mind. His previous roles include coordinating community mental health services, teaching young offenders and adult prisoners, and working in substance misuse. He gained the Human Givens Diploma in 2006. You can read more about Ezra’s work in this article I published early last year:

Work and the mental health continuum – Ezra Hewing’s work on changing perceptions in organisations

You can find more about Human Givens here: www.hgi.org.uk

Goethe as a Pathway to Meaning and Connection – A Dissertation by Richard Widows

Richard Widows

Richard Widows

As I am sure some of you will know, in our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, we delve into Goethe’s way of seeing through his work on colour, his work with plants, and from the phenomenological and hermeneutical approach of Henri Bortoft.

Maria and I did so to emphasise the dynamic way of seeing, and exploring both the dynamic conception of wholeness and the importance of understanding appearance of phenomena in economics and business. As we tell people, Holonomics is about putting the wholeness back into economics, not just analytically, but through a sensory-intuitive reconnection with the livingness of life.

I am therefore extremely pleased to be able publish this second dissertation by Holistic Science student Richard Widows who examines Goethe’s way of science as a pathway to meaning and connection.

Goethe as a Pathway to Connection and Meaning

Goethe as a Pathway to Meaning and Connection

In this excellent dissertation, Richard explores Goethe through his work on plants. As Richard explains, Goethe’s way of science can not be easily understood simply by studying:

In Goethe’s approach to science, we have a thoroughly developed and delicate empiricism, designed specifically to overcome the barriers that Goethe perceived as preventing our deeper connection to the natural world. But one of the greatest barriers to Goethe’s approach is that it cannot be easily explained, it can only, genuinely, be experienced.

And so it is that this dissertation represents an exploration into the world of Goethe and his science, from a personal perspective, reflecting on the question – is Goethe a pathway to connection and meaning in the world?

Richard also explains what he means by “connection and meaning” in relation to science, economics and ecology:

At a time when I believe our disconnection from the natural world around us represents possibly the single biggest threat to our survival as a human species, does Goethe’s specific philosophy and approach to science offer a pathway towards reestablishing that lost connection?

From my own perspective, the rewards of a profound study of Goethe’s science, and continual practice, is the way in which Goethe leads us towards the experiencing of intuitive insights. This notion of intuition is central to Richard’s exploration:

What Goethe is referring to here is the previously mentioned concept of intuitive knowledge or knowledge in beholding. Goethe believed that man, via the strict adherence to his thoroughly developed scientific method, could align himself with the phenomenon of study, thereby allowing it to communicate with him via insight and intuition. This central thesis will form the basis of my exploration of Goethe’s delicate empiricism.

The difficulty though is that Goethe in his lifetime did not lay out explicitly any exact process for future Goethean scientists to follow. Richard discovered this during his year at Schumacher College, and so in this dissertation Richard makes the effort to describe the process, dividing it up into three concrete steps, and then two further stages which are more about creative insight that actual doing.

Goethian Science teaching building

Maria at Pishwanton

In coming to his own realisation of the meaning of Goethe’s way of science, Richard was taught first by Craig Holdrege, and then by Margaret Colquhoun who like Maria and I, he visited at her Goethen science centre Pishwanton in Scotland (see my article: A Sense of Place: Pishwanton for more photos).

The essence of Richard’s dissertation is an unfolding of his understanding of Goethe’s process of knowing a phenomena. Different people have explored this process in different ways, and the value in this dissertation is in the clarity of Richard’s description of how he understands them:

Step 1: Preparation, Meeting the Phenomenon, and First Impression

Step 2: Exact Sensorial Perception

Step 3: Exact Sensorial Imagination

Stage 4: Seeing in Beholding

Stage 5: Being One with the Object

I would not want to give one stage more prominence than another, but for me Richard manages to capture the objective of this method in terms of the scientist coming to know the livingness in nature. It is this livingness that is missed in more traditional scientific approaches to the study of nature, and is where we can find our re-connection to nature:

Goethe, in his writings on morphology said – “If we wish to arrive at some living perception of nature we ourselves must remain as quick and flexible as nature and follow the example she gives” (Goethe, in Miller, 1998, pg.64). Essentially, what I feel Goethe is saying here is that we cannot hope to perceive the constantly evolving world of living nature simply by gathering up information relating to a specific and static point in time, as we achieved in step 2, and as is the practice in science more broadly. If we are to achieve a living perception of nature we must learn to think in a way that reflects the living world.

Studying the dynamic growth of the tree with Margaret Colquhoun at Schumacher College. Photo: Simon Robinson

Studying the dynamic growth of the tree with Margaret Colquhoun at Schumacher College. Photo: Simon Robinson

I have repeated myself many times in telling people that the masters degree in Holistic Science at Schumacher College is a learning journey, one that at times can be emotional, frustrating and challenging. I feel that Richard is to be commended in articulating this aspect explicitly in his study. As you read the dissertation, Richard talks more about both his battles and discoveries and insights that this Goethean approach to science rewards the enquirer with. It is however, as Richard notes, a spiralling journey to ever more depths of understanding:

Simultaneously the most wonderful and challenging aspect of Goethe’s epistemology is that every time I have felt that I have begun to understand a concept, I have, in actuality, only dropped down to a deeper level of understanding, at which point I have found myself similarly perplexed once again. This richness, so unique to Goethe, makes him both difficult and extraordinarily compelling at the same time.

I really enjoyed reading Richard’s dissertation, and am grateful for him to allow me to share it with you. It connects well with Louise’s dissertation which I published last week, concluding with some observations about the role of myth in holistic science, an aspect which itself is the basis of Louise’s own journey (see What if Human Beings Could Experience Life and Death Simultaneously? A Dissertation by Louise Pardoe).

Richard ends his dissertation with a new beginning, and I wish him well on his next steps in his career and life, enriched with a hugely transformative year at Schumacher College.

Notes

To find out more about Holistic Science at Schumacher College please see: www.schumachercollege.org.uk/courses/msc-holistic-science

Related Articles

What if Human Beings Could Experience Life and Death Simultaneously? A Dissertation by Louise Pardoe

A Sense of Place: Pishwanton

Book review: Thinking Like a Plant: A Living Science for Life by Craig Holdrege

Quick Reminder – Maria and I discuss Holonomics, authentic leadership and sustainable strategy with Olivia Parr-Rudd on Quantum Business Insights today

Quantum Business InsightsThis is just a quick reminder to say that Maria and I will be on Quantum Business Insights today discussing Holonomics, authentic leadership and sustainable strategy with the show’s host Olivia Parr-Rudd. This show goes out live this lunchtime on VoiceAmerica at 12.00 ET, 5pm UK, 6pm Europe, and you can listen in here: VoiceAmerica Business Channel

In this show we explore the inspiration behind the dynamic concept of wholeness in Holonomics, which is of course the philosophy of wholeness conceived by Henri Bortoft, who in the 1960s studied the problem of wholeness in quantum systems under David Bohm.

In the second segment of the show we discuss how to give people in business an experiential sense and intuition of the dynamics of wholeness, and so Maria explains two of our techniques – modelling blindfold with clay and her meditation on starlings.

And in the final section of the show we explore the role of universal human values in organisations. This was a great dialogue with Olivia, and we discuss how human values provide the ultimate foundation not just for resilient and sustainable businesses, but also for agile processes, since when human values are present, very little bureaucracy is required.

We hope you enjoy the show, and do please check out the podcast if you are not able to listen in live: Holonomics: Developing Authentic Businesses and Sustainable Leadership with Simon and Maria Moraes Robinson

This is our second appearance on the show with Olivia. You can listen to our first show which went out in May here: Holonomics: A Holistic View of Our Economy with Simon and Maria Moraes Robinson

 

 

What if Human Beings Could Experience Life and Death Simultaneously? A Dissertation by Louise Pardoe

Louise Pardoe

Louise Pardoe

I am very pleased to be able to introduce this profound enquiry into holding conflict by Louise Pardoe. Please click on the picture or link below to download a copy.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.54.38

Louise Pardoe – MSc Dissertation

Louise has just completed her masters degree in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, and introduces her work as:

 …a spiralling movement of experience which demonstrates how it is possible to hold opposites together. By combining the discourse of holistic science with the creative art of storytelling I explore the idea of the simultaneity of life and death, emerging into a space of creative tension where our idea of ‘reality’ is transformed.

Louise has had a career in the counselling, mediation and therapeutic professions, and when she arrived at Schumacher she was carrying a question which had dominated her entire life – why does there appear to be so much conflict in the world? As she says, this idea of conflict had been an integral part of her life for as long as she could remember, “witnessing arguments between people at home, school and work, seeing crises reported daily in the news across all genres of life – all seemingly caused by the clash of opposing viewpoints”.

What makes this dissertation so valuable is its exploration of the tension we as human beings hold between a traditional fixed view of reality and the world which we are coming to know as uncertain, complex and dynamic:

Chaos theory revealed that nothing in existence was predictable; and pointed to the idea that we must learn to live in an everyday reality which we ordinarily perceive to be fixed and replete with opposites, while at the same time living with a measure of uncertainty, paradox and ambiguity.

Just as Holistic Science is a transformative learning journey, Louise’s paper leads us into the experience of holding a paradox through a number of movements in thinking. These movements explore the philosophical foundations of Holistic Science, focusing on both the philosophical work of Henri Bortoft and dialectical method:

The dialectical method involves thesis, antithesis and synthesis; i.e., a way of looking to transcend opposites (antithesis and thesis) by combining components or elements to form a connected whole (synthesis).

The antithesis and thesis both have something in common, and an understanding of the parts requires an understanding of their relationship with the whole system; viewing the whole of reality as an evolving process. For example, in quantum physics, the superposition principle can be creatively discussed using the dialectical method of thinking.

Likewise, in biology, researchers Richard Levins (a mathematical ecologist) and Richard Lewontin (evolutionary biologist) approach biological research dialectically, focussing on the ‘whole’ rather than the ‘parts’ – “[...]part makes the whole, and whole makes the part.” (Levins & Lewontin 2009, p.272) They posit that a biological system is a collection of heterogeneous parts which contribute to the character of the whole, and at the same time, the whole has an existence independent of the parts and feeds back to affect and determine the nature of the parts. This back-and-forth (dialectic) of causation, implies a dynamic process.

This dissertation is an excellent introduction to the dynamic concept of wholeness articulated by Bortoft, but what is so excellent is that Louise develops her own exploration of his phenomenological approach by seeking to determine if there is a hidden myth within Holistic Science. Louise explains why this question is so important:

It could therefore be posited that an inability to see the wholeness and interconnection in nature could be the source of humanity’s distorted mythology, which manifests itself in the form of conflict, separation and ‘wrong thinking’ which Zimmerman, Bateson and De Quincey highlight.

In answering her own question, Louise presents us with a new myth for Holistic Science, a story in which the heroine Sophia is invited to solve a riddle:

By accepting the invitation she was exposed to new ideas within the discourse of holistic science, presented to her in a phenomenological way (sensory participation combined with objective reasoning). Through open discourse, she was able to perceive her reality differently until finally, she was able to hold opposing viewpoints at the same time; looking at phenomena from different angles over and over again at differing levels of scale. While there was no one answer (the answer was one and many at the same time) she discovered a deep sense of connectivity to a greater mystery of which she, and all of creation, was a part.

In her concluding comments, Louise truly captures the sense in change of perception entailed by all those who undertake the challenge of Holistic Science:

To see the world as a realm of interrelated ideas, where each phenomena carries its own individual ‘truth’, yet is not ‘the one absolute truth’, places us gently into open dialogue; connecting us directly with BOTH/AND, able to perceive reality as a continuous flowing unfolding. Indeed, seeing really is in the eye of each beholder, and each one of us (part) brings a priceless piece of information to the whole conversation; essentially placing us on speaking terms with the entire Universe, and inviting a different relationship with it.

As Louise comments:

Through the discourse of holistic science we are invited to hold apparently contradictory ideas as an essential part of understanding ourselves and the world; learning to see in contradictory ways the ever changing and flowing movement of reality – learning to see the world, and be in the world, differently.

This is one of Louise’s great contributions to helping us understand the way in which each and every one of us takes part in dialogue with all those we have relationships with. It is a huge lesson, by no means easy, but one of great value for those not only seeking to understand scientific phenomena, but in business too seeking to understand how dialogue and creative conversations can contribute to the development of authentic organisations with genuine propositions, leading to lasting sustainability and resilience.

I would like to congratulate Louise on this extremely important dissertation, for making it available for everyone to read, and I wish her all the very best as her adventures continue.

Developing Authentic Businesses and Sustainable Leadership – Maria and I discuss Holonomics with Olivia Parr-Rud

Maria and I had a great time last week discussing Holonomics with Olivia Parr-Rud, host of Quantum Business Insights, a show which is broadcast each Friday at 12 noon Eastern Time on VoiceAmerica, the number one internet radio channel in the US.

Quantum Business Insights

The show goes out this week, Friday 28th August (5pm UK time), and there will also be a podcast for those who are not able to listen in live:

Listen and download the podcast: Holonomics on Quantum Business Insights

Back in May when we first appeared on the show, we introduced Holonomics as our book had just launched, discussing its relevance to strategy, organizational design, change management, innovation, sustainability, human resources, brand management, and communication (listen here).

In this second show we were able to explore a little deeper the inspiration behind the dynamic concept of wholeness in Holonomics, which is of course the philosophy of wholeness conceived by Henri Bortoft, who in the 1960s studied the problem of wholeness in quantum systems under David Bohm.

In the second segment of the show we discuss how to give people in business an experiential sense and intuition of the dynamics of wholeness, and so Maria explains two of our techniques – modelling blindfold with clay and her meditation on starlings.

Human Values

In the final section of the show we explore the role of universal human values in organisations. This was a great dialogue with Olivia, and we discuss how human values provide the ultimate foundation not just for resilient and sustainable businesses, but also for agile processes, since when human values are present, very little bureaucracy is required.

We hope you enjoy the show, and do please check out the podcast if you are not able to listen in live.

Links

Holonomics: A Holistic View of Our Economy with Simon and Maria Moraes Robinson

Holonomics: Developing Authentic Businesses and Sustainable Leadership with Simon and Maria Moraes Robinson

A introdução da sustentabilidade na estratégia das organizações

chamadaJATOBAS

Valores Humanos

O painel do Strategy Execution Summit apresentará empresas que ganharam o conceituado Prêmio Eco da Amcham, e entender como elas atuam na prática de acordo com seus princípios norteando todas as esferas de sua atuação.

O Painel terá a presença de:

  • Denise Lana Molina – Schneider Electric
  • Daniela Rodrigues Alves – Tetra Pak
  • Daniela Hollo Aiach – AMCHAM

summit2014.com.br

Strategy Execution Summit 2014

The 3 most important old-school business skills in the new economy

This article has been on my mind for some weeks, and so I thought I would just jot down some thoughts with a view to provoking some ideas in you all.

Credit: VCU Arts Creative Disruption Lab

Credit: VCU Arts Creative Disruption Lab

I have a background in user experience design, product marketing and business development. I have had the great luck in my career to be involved in some very cutting edge products and services, such as the launch of the Nokia 9000 communicator, the first location-based service in the UK – Traffic Master on BT Cellnet, Barclaycard’s first mobile phone with – gasp – a smart menu, Genie Internet and countless others.

The Barclaycard BT Cellnet phone

The Barclaycard BT Cellnet phone

In this era there was no such thing as design thinking, business model canvasses, disruption and all these kinds of thing. But my gosh we had innovation in spades. We kind of just got and did innovation.

What has changed, and what is great to see, is such a growing understanding of issues relating to sustainability.

BT Cellnet had no concept of sustainability for example in the 90s, and yet now, O2 (the new name of BT Cellnet), just to cite one example, is doing excellent work, with many other networks, handset manufacturers and innovators such as Dave Hakkens all envisioning a new generation of eco-friendly mobile technology.

Credit: Dave Hakkens

Credit: Dave Hakkens

As some of you will know, I have actually reviewed Business Model Canvas. It took me a while to decide if it was too simple to be truly useful, or if the visual codification of the value proposition was actually groundbreaking, and in the end I decided that the canvass really is helping people develop a better understanding of their propositions, and is helping communicate this across whole teams and organisations.

There is a BUT and it is quite a big BUT. It doesn’t matter how good the canvass or tool is, and it does not matter how revolutionary your idea is, if you are still lacking basic business, even in the new economy, things are not going to run smoothly. So what are the top three business skills we still need, and why are they important?

1) Business Development

It seems that Business Development is a role no one wants to talk about nowadays. It’s all about the word Design, which is so much sexier than plain old Business Development. But the truth is, the new economy is all about relationships, and no matter how visionary you are, you are going to really need these networking skills. Whereas a lot of business development used to be done on the golf course, I can see many organisations looking to have more women enter this role, as we move from vertical value chains to authentic ecosystems.

2) Product marketing

A massive problem in many organisations is still a bunker mentality. Product managers still have a monumental role to play in the management of the whole product life-cycle, and organisations really need to recognise the difference operationally a good product manager can make.

Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

What does change in the new economy is the shift to the circular flow of materials, both organic and technological. The old skills are still vital, it’s just the life-cycle which changes, from one where old products are thrown away as waste, to a new cycle where old products are recycled back with near-zero waste.

3) Business Cases

A business canvas with pretty coloured post it notes is one thing. But no matter how pretty the canvas, the proposition still requires a business case and this is no easy thing to write. At BT Cellnet I was just one member of a huge team making contributions to the business case for the purchase of 3G licenses, but most of you will probably not be involved in this level of business case. But the necessity is still the same, no matter what your project and even if it relates to sustainability.

In the new economy, there will still be investors and they will still be looking for a return on their investment. The nature of money may be different, with bit coin and the like, but what changes is not the necessity for old school measures such as return on investment, but the level of consciousness of the people making the investment.

Money is not evil. The concept of exchange of value is amazing. It is your own attitude and feelings towards money that will matter in the new economy, and if you practice universal human values.

In the new economy, we have to understand that the world is more complex, so writing business cases that have a ten year span are going to be less meaningful, as we cannot predict that far into the future. In case you are asking, yes, I have written business cases that go this far out.

Human Values

What changes is our ability to continually make sense of the new reality, and the ability to pivot, self-disrupt, innovate and be agile. If we can achieve all of this, while practicing the human values of peace, truth, love, non-violence and right action, then no matter how choppy our seas become, we will prosper, grow (in all the right ways) and make this world a better place. Just don’t throw out those old school business skills which you know, are still quite useful.