Wholeness and Finding the Spirituality in Science

Our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter introduces the reader to a dynamic way of seeing and thinking about systems. It is a way of seeing which expands our mode of consciousness from the analytical to the intuitive; one that not only is able to understand the parts of a system, but at a deeper, intuitive level of perception, is also able to understand the relationships and processes within that system – not from the perspective of a whole which is superior to the parts, but from one which is able to encounter the whole through the way in which it comes to presence in the parts. (‘Intuition’ as we use the word should not be confused with ‘feeling’ as it is used in everyday language, but as a higher level of cognition to that of our intellectual minds).

This mode of consciousness sees each part in a system as an expression of the whole, the whole of which can only be the whole because of the parts, and the parts of which can only be parts because of the whole. It is a mode of consciousness which, while acknowledging the importance of the analytical-logical-symbolic aspect of our minds, fully embraces intuition, feeling and sensing so as to enable us to encounter and comprehend systems in their entirety.

Photo: Simon Robinson

In Holonomics we aimed to capture the essence of Holistic Science and the philosophy of Schumacher College, in order to lead the reader’s thinking into the dynamic way of seeing, that they may truly be able to comprehend the world and reality in a new light, perceiving new relationships in the systems in which they participate, and so inspiring new insights and solutions to the many entangled and complex economic, business, social and ecological problems that we are now facing across the globe.

I therefore wanted to publish this extract from Holonomics below as it discusses the role of feelings when actually doing Holistic Science, a gentle empirical approach to science which places as much emphasis on dwelling withing the phenomena under study as the quantification and modelling of the phenomena. In this manner, the scientist experiences what could be describes as ‘an opening of the heart’ – a profound experience which develops empathy, connection, and a sense of the spiritual.

Feeling itself becomes an organ of perception

Henri’s work was based on leading us to a point whereby we can come to realise, through our own experience, the limitations in our thinking that have come from both Plato and Aristotle, or as Henri suggested, a misunderstanding of these philosophers. In his classes at Schumacher College, Henri told us that it took him many years of philosophical work before everything became clear to him. He also told us of his own struggles with his ego as he battled to move into this new way of seeing, even though he felt that he had had some staggering insights in those instances when he had made that shift.

Henri Bortoft at Schumacher College

During these classes with Henri, our friend Rebeh asked him about the role that feelings and thoughts played in this concept of science, and Henri’s reply was fascinating. In terms of your thoughts and feelings, you have to just leave them where they are. Rebeh then asked him about how you should look when making observations. Were we meant to begin this work with an open and focused appreciation and attention? For Henri, this work, or mode of science, is not a neutral experience:

Feelings and appreciation develop, and I find that what happens to me is I get an expansion of the heart. Sometimes I experience it as if it is written into the heart. But that comes later. It can happen spontaneously. Your feelings are not just being subjective; it is feeling, not emotion.

This is a key thing. Feeling becomes an actual organ of perception itself. This is beyond exact sensorial perception. Feeling itself becomes an organ of perception and that is what it should be. When it is emotion it is not. When we are emotional our feelings are screwed. We do not actually have perceptive feeling when we are emotional, but that is the time we think we really are.

When it calms down, there is perception through feeling and it is very fundamental. This is when we pick up the more subtle things that are there. This is when the feeling of acknowledgement comes.

Acknowledgement is a feeling that grows, and you should leave it at that, and you should not then say ‘I acknowledge it’ as that is not there in the feeling, as you have put a separation there.

This also relates to another point that Henri has made about our rational and logical minds, which when working in a Cartesian manner can only relate to solid objects. A phenomenological approach can help us to become more attuned to what is alive and what is living. For Henri, with his radically different way of seeing, one that is upstream and which focuses on the coming-into-being of things, modern science as we know it has no access to the livingness of organic life. Modern science is only a science of dead objects:

The big thing about the sensory world is that this is where the livingness is, and you become more attuned with what is alive and what is living. The verbal intellectual mind cannot reach this. The verbal intellectual mind brings us into contact with what is dead in things; but we often think it is the most wonderful thing of all. You come to this understanding of this dynamic movement in life. The verbal intellectual mind is perfect for dealing with the logic of solids and finished objects.

This insight has huge implications, allowing us to begin to understand just why humanity is so destructive towards nature. Trapped in our logical and rational minds, all that we are able to perceive is our separateness from nature, a disconnection which arises from our being lost in our abstract and conceptual way of thinking; we have long since discarded any reverence for our sensory experiences through which we experience an intense connection to nature, not just in our thoughts, but in our hearts too.

Emma Kidd

It is not enough just to study complexity and complex systems using only one part of our minds, through logic and abstraction. A deeper way of knowing is required, allowing us to break free from the traps of our perceptions. ‘Re-cognition’ is a term coined by Emma Kidd, a phenomenologist and practitioner of Goethean science, who is helping people to reconnect back to the natural world. She introduces this new term in the following way:

We are so caught up with what we ‘know’ that we forget to be amazed by the mystery, and all that we as of yet do not ‘know’. In my dissertation I explore a holistic, phenomenological way of seeing through the work of Goethe, which challenges this separated knowledge; inspiring and reinvigorating a sense of wonder with the world, and re-connection to nature.

I feel that the re-cognition of the world which is achieved through this holistic way of seeing is fundamental for any attempt at ‘Sustainability’ and that only through inspiring wonder and deep connection with life, will we collectively imbue our actions on the Earth with the respect and reverence needed for us to survive.

In re-cognising the wholeness of nature, we are re-cognising the nature of wholeness and what it truly means to be whole, and part of a whole, on this earth.

This concept and process of ‘re-cognition’ is extremely powerful, but it can only be fully appreciated once it has been experienced. At Schumacher College, Goethe’s work really comes alive for students when studying the dynamic nature of plants in the beautiful gardens of Dartington Hall where the college is based. Few of us have the opportunity to dedicate such a large amount of time to this way of studying. In the final section of this chapter we will describe an exercise which we run with business executives over the course of hour or so, which gives the participants an opportunity to experience holonomic thinking for the first time.

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Extract taken from Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson (2014)

Simon Robinson is the co-founder of Holonomics Education, a strategy and innovation consultancy based in São Paulo whose mission is to help organisations to implement great customer experiences, powerful and effective strategies, and develop purposeful, meaningful and sustainable brands. He is the co-author of Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design and his research examines how the dynamic conception of wholeness in hermeneutics and phenomenology can deepen our thinking on innovation, customer experience design and the circular economy.

2 responses to “Wholeness and Finding the Spirituality in Science

  1. Pingback: Holonomics @ Schumacher College: Designing Flourishing Businesses with Soul | Transition Consciousness·

  2. Pingback: Customer Experiences with Soul at Schumacher College – Customer Experiences with Soul·

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