The Henri Bortoft Lectures: Day Five, Part One

I am very happy to be publishing this lecture from the final day of Henri Bortoft’s 2009 Schumacher lectures. If you have not already seen it, you may wish to read my introductory article which explains the background of context of this series of lectures: The Henri Bortoft Lectures: Introduction.

In this lecture Henri discusses the way in which the dynamic conception of wholeness is found in Plato, and the manner in which the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer attempted to correct what he saw as people’s misunderstandings of Plato, particularly Parmenides.

In our book Holonomics we include this quote from Parmenides, one of Plato’s final works.

The one itself, then, having been broken up into parts by being, is many and infinite?
Then not only the one which has being is many, but the one itself distributed by being, must also be many?
Further, inasmuch as the parts are parts of a whole, the one, as a whole, will be limited; for are not the parts contained by the whole?
And that which contains, is a limit?
Of course.
Then the one if it has being is one and many, whole and parts, having limits and yet unlimited in number?

In this lecture Henri discusses the way in which this dynamic conception of wholeness has in general been missed in people’s studies of Goethe’s scientific writings. He does so in his inimitably humourous style.

Henri notes the that are quite a few contributing factors:

1) The dynamics of thinking leads us away from it. Our attention becomes focus on what is seen. Experience has a vector quality, it goes outwards, and goes towards what is seen and misses the seeing. Attention goes to what is said. The dynamic of experience is to go to the finished product. By latching on to the outcome we overlook the dynamics. Henri expresses this as “the dynamics of thinking promotes its own eclipse”.

2) Goethe does something different from the normal way of thinking, redirecting attention into the sensory experience. He brings attention into the sensory and away from the verbal and intellectual mind. Normally we are fairly passive in our seeing but the dynamic way of seeing demands that we are actively intentional in our seeing.

3) Our egos can get in the way, in the intellectual mind. This kind of work sidelines the ego, and you are telling the ego that it can’t understand life. To make the transition to the experience of the truly dynamic needs a different way of working. This is what Margaret teaches us how to do.

This form of visualisation was introduced to Henri by J.G. Bennett in a much different context to Goethean Science. Although being a great philosopher and teacher of visualisation, as Henri reveals, Bennett himself never experienced visual imagery in his own mind. As Henri explains, you are not visualising an idea, you are actually thinking it.

Ultimately, as Henri reflects, “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 thinking can not reach this. the verbal intellectual mind brings us into contact with what is “dead” in things. By taking the time to practice philosophical work, we develop what Goethe referred to as a new type of “organ of perception”. We come to an understanding of the dynamic movement in life. But we cannot discuss this form of consciousness and thinking intellectually. We have to initiate it. It is a participative activity, and one which Henri through his lectures and writings has always striven to take us into.

Suggested Readings

These references can be read to accompany this lecture:

Henri Bortoft, The Goethean One, The Wholeness of Nature, pp247-289

Henri Bortoft, Catching Saying in the Act, Taking Appearance Seriously, chapter 1, pp90-127

Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson, The Holonomic Circle – The Transcendentals, Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design, pp111-162

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These lectures are ©Jacqueline Bortoft and has been made available with the kind permission of both herself and Schumacher College (

2 responses to “The Henri Bortoft Lectures: Day Five, Part One

  1. Pingback: The Henri Bortoft Lectures: An Introduction | Transition Consciousness·

  2. Pingback: Deepening our Approach to Customer Experience Design – Customer Experiences with Soul·

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