Note: Please note that I have written quite a long article on my blog “Encountering Henri Bortoft” which you may also find interesting.
Earthlinks have generously made the paper “The Transformative Potential of Paradox” by Henri Bortoft which was published in the first issue of Holistic Science Journal available to download. The article is interesting as it provides one perspective on how going deeply into a phenomenological investigation of nature can catalyse our own personal transformations.
The practical value of paradox is that it can be a doorway to a new perception. To think of it as a sign of failure, or reduce it to a form of intellectual puzzle, greatly underestimates its real significance. Through paradox our coarse perception and understanding can be transformed into something finer and more subtle.
I was first introduced to this possibility in the 1960s by JG Bennett, for whom the attempt to hold opposites together at the same time – i.e. not oscillating from one to the other – was a key to the transformation of psychological life to a greater degree of freedom in which real choice and action (instead of just reaction) becomes possible. As he put it, we have to try to hold ‘yes’ and ‘no’ together at the same time (e.g like and dislike, agreement and disagreement, etc.)
Bennett also believed that, as well as in psychological life, paradox was very important in philosophical work, where it could lead to a less coarse and more subtle form of understanding. He pointed out that the basis of Jacob Boehme’s Realdialectik was his insight that “In yes and no all things consist” – which should certainly not be reduced to “all things consist of yes and no”. He thought that this was the real basis of Hegel’s dialectic – and it is interesting that, in his lectures on the history of philosophy, Hegel says that Boehme is the true founder of modern philosophy, not Descartes (one reason why this looks so strange is that most people don’t understand what Descartes was really trying to do, but don’t realize this).
This made a deep impression on me at the time, and it has greatly influenced my own work and understanding ever since. I will try to give some indication of this.
If this article was of interest, you may also want to see these other articles of mine referring to Bortoft:
Henri Bortoft is an independent researcher in the philosophy of science. He did postgraduate research on the problem of wholeness in quantum physics with David Bohm and Basil Hiley at Birkbeck College. Subsequently he worked with J.G. Bennett at the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy, and the Sciences, on the problem of language and the perception of wholeness. His Institute for Cultural Research monograph, “Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness”(1986,second edition 1998), has been published in German (1995) and French (2001)translations. Author of a comprehensive book on the philosophy of Goethe’s science, “The Wholeness of Nature”(1996), he has given many seminars, workshops, and courses, on Goethe’s way of science and the evolution of scientific consciousness, both in the UK and in the USA. He also contributes to the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College.