Holistic Science and the Two Modes of Consciousness – A Dissertation by Ben Hanbury

Ben Hanbury
I am very pleased to announce the publication of Ben Hanbury’s Holistic Science dissertation “Holistic Education and the Two Modes of Consciousness”.

Holistic Education and the Two Modes of Consciousness

The two modes of consciousness that Ben refers to are the holistic vs the analytical, or what Ben refers to as the conceptual vs non-conceptual. In his dissertation, Ben guides us through two key texts to help understand these two modes of consciousness more deeply. These two texts are Henri Bortoft’s The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science and Iain MaGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary.

This dissertation sets out to explore the two modes of consciousness, the conceptual and the non-conceptual, to see how they interact in the process of holistic learning. It explores them from many different points of view and discovers that they are in fact two different realities that we inhabit. These realities are integral to our human experience but have fundamentally different values and are involved in a kind of struggle for dominance. The analytical mode is currently winning and this is leading to many of the problems that we now face. Goethean science, the two modes of consciousness and the concept of wholeness are used to look at education in an archetypal way and ask “what is the fundamental purpose of education?” I discovered problems in the world today are an outward manifestation of this inner struggle and any solution needs to come from, understanding and, utilizing the relationship between the two modes of consciousness.

I have previously published papers by Ben, including Wholeness which is an exploration of wholeness as taught by Bortoft. If you are not familiar with Bortoft, then you may want to read this shorter essay first, before launching into Ben’s dissertation.

I am particularly pleased to be able to publish this dissertation, as at this moment in time I am thinking about how to apply the insights we can learn from Bortoft into a business strategy context. Ben’s focus is one of education, but then of course these insights as to how we can improve our educational practices are just as relevant when teaching business strategy to business executives, as it is when creating an educational environment which enables children to really learn from their encounters with nature, as opposed to just teaching the natural sciences from an abstract and analytical perspective.

According to the relationship between the whole and the parts the whole is present in each of the parts but the whole comes most fully into presence through the totality of the parts. In this dissertation the whole can be thought of as representing ‘a deep understanding of holistic learning’ or of ‘how the two ways of knowing relate to each other.’ The parts can be thought of as the different manifestations of this relationship, the hermeneutic circle, the poet and engineer, the child and adult, and I will introduce more as we go along. My theory is that if I present enough different manifestations of the two ways of knowing, distinct in there own context, then the meaning and implications for the way we think about education will naturally emerge.

Another thing I am trying to do is of course develop a new way of thinking in business that is at the same time holistic and more creative. Our worldviews are dominated by the scientific worldview, and if we can understand the limitations in scientific thinking, then we can become aware of news ways of perceiving phenomena and problems that will perhaps lead us to creative solutions previously not conceived of. Ben brings home this point too:

The problem with using concepts is also present in cutting edge science. According to Bortoft our current language structure becomes inadequate to describe the discoveries being made in modern physics. ‘A basic structure of modern languages is their subject-predicate grammar, which has the effect of dividing experience into separate elements which are then treated as if they existed independently of each other. For example, “I see the tree” seems to entail the external union of a disjoint set of elements comprising subject, object, and the act of seeing which links them together. But the experience indicated by this sentence can only artificially be considered to be put together like this, because in the case of cognitive perception there is no seeing without somebody there to see and something to be seen…… the grammatical structure of language articulates the world analytically. It discloses the analytical world. But we believe this to be “the way the world is,” independent of language, because language itself is transparent in the act of disclosing this world. It is this analytical structure of language which has made it inadequate for describing the domains which have been discovered in modern physics’.

And in his concluding comments, Ben brings home just how important it can be to achieve a truly holistic way of thinking, or consciousness:

There are many individuals and organizations working for good causes and positive change in the world today but many of them are nowhere near as effective as they could be if they utilized the right ~ left ~ right hemispheric relationship in a form of Bio-Mimicry. Currently their way of viewing the world is dominated by the analytical mode of consciousness. The outer world is considered to be real, as is the self-entity which co-arises in relation to it. This is natural because it is what we all experience on a day to day basis (we also experience the earth as stationary, but it doesn’t mean that in reality it is). This commonsense view gives rise to a left ~ right ~ left way of working. We start with the ‘real world’ and the ‘autonomous self-entity’, then we try to use the holistic mode of consciousness to divine meaning which often gives rise to concern and caring for an ‘other’ (the other could be people, animals, the ecosystem or even ourselves). An attempt is then made to feed this concern and caring back into the left hemisphere analytical mode of consciousness. So even though an individual or organization may have good intentions their analytical way of viewing means that the emissary is still claiming dominance over the master. Therefore attempts to solve problems often produce unforeseen consequences or lack the power that would be available to them if they adopted a holistic way of working.

I would of course encourage you to read Bortoft’s book, The Wholeness of Nature, but to be honest when I read it the first time, before I had embarked on my own MSc in Holistic Science and before I had spent a week being taught by Henri, I failed to really grasp what he was saying. I would therefore encourage you to read both of Ben’s papers, which may then provide you with an introduction to the scope of Bortoft’s teaching, inspiring you to go into his teachings more deeply.

Bortoft himself has been inspired both by the late David Bohm, who he studied under in the 1950s, when examining the issues of wholeness in quantum physics, but he has also been inspired by the scientific methodologies of Goethe, of which Bortoft teaches today. Ben too provides us with an introduction to Goethe’s scientific methodology, or way of seeing the world, and again suggests that perhaps the time has come to really begin to appreciate the depth of Goethe’s science, how it can overcome the issues associated with too analytical ways of thinking, and how it can assist in helping us find deep solutions to world problems:

The law of unforeseen consequences is a natural by-product of the analytical way of viewing the world; the ends are used to justify the means and the means produce unforeseen consequences. However if the world was viewed through the holistic mode of consciousness then maybe one would see that there is only one fundamental problem albeit with many different manifestations. This would be similar to Goethe’s Ur-phenomenon, which he discovered through his work with plants and which I outlined when talking about the primal quest and how all questions could be thought of as manifestations of an archetypal or primal question. When the concept of the Ur-phenomenon is applied to the many problems we face in the world today then maybe we can see that there is one primal or archetypal problem of which
all the individual problems are manifestations. The archetypal problem is, in fact, a problem of relationship. How we relate to the natural world (the ecological crisis), how we relate to other human beings (social injustice) and how we relate to ourselves (the crisis of the human spirit). Like the Urpflanze, the archetypal problem only comes to presence through its many manifestations. Thinking in this relational way can help to holistically address the cause of the problems and can help to avoid any unfavourable unforeseen consequences occurring as a result of our actions.

All I can say now is that I hope you enjoy Ben’s dissertation, and that it helps you on your own path to finding ways in which you can begin to transform your own consciousness and awareness, and deepens your own understanding of your place in the world and nature.

6 responses to “Holistic Science and the Two Modes of Consciousness – A Dissertation by Ben Hanbury

  1. I discovered this blog serendipitously during a search on Bortoft , Goethe and science. As a biologist in and out of academic research for over 25 years, I will be leaving this fall. Probably for good. Science is a way of thinking, and that is how my brain works. However, classical and modern Cartesian science has never sit well or found a permanent place in this brain. Instead I feel like the little boy in the movie ‘Sixth Sense’ that sees disconnected scientists and they don’t even know they are disconnected. More importantly, the Cartesian Way in science is largely responsible for many of our global problems. I leave because an individual scientist can’t buck the Machine and survive.

    My time and expertise will be devoted towards the Transition, both at the personal, scientific (biological) and political levels. I applaud you, your blog, and all others like you, putting forth alternative ways of thinking and seeing. Yes, we have a long hard battle in front of us. But the more we group together to form a cohesive organism, the stronger we become and the more join us to institute change.

    Thank you.

    • Macrobe

      Thank you for your kind words. I have been very lucky to have spent an entire week being taught by Henri Bortoft, as were all the other students whose papers are published on here. I am glad that some of the writings here have been of interest to you.

      Kind regards


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