The Foundations of Holonomics 12: The Dynamic Way of Understanding

We now come to Henri Bortoft’s final lecture of 2011 which he gave at Schumacher College in which he brings to a close his exploration of phenomenology, hermeneutics and the dynamic conception of wholeness in science, philosophy, art and nature.

The main part of this lecture explores the scientific and phenomenological approaches to the study of colour and light of Isaac Newton and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This discussion has been covered in part seven of this series which explored the question What is a Phenomenon? I wanted to locate this question prior to the exploration of Goethe’s theory of colour which examined the phenomenological concept of the coming-into-being of colour.

Credit: Holonomics

In this lecture Henri explores the mathematical approach to science and how it applies to theoretical conceptions of light. As Henri explains, “the empirical fact is that light is invisible, you cannot see it. But the phenomenological fact is that you can see the idea that light is invisible.”

Part 10 of this series then explored Goethe’s theory of colour in detail, and showed how we can carry the very same experiments that Goethe created in the development of his ideas and realisations. In this lecture Henri explains how Goethe could well have discovered his theory not only through the development of these experiments, but also by reading Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in which the same theoretical explanation for colour can be found:

“If you produce a small quantity of smoke from dry wood and the rays of the sun fall on this smoke, and if you then place behind the smoke a piece of black velvet on which the sun does not shine, you will see that all the smoke which is between the eye and the black stuff will appear of a beautiful blue colour.

And if instead of the velvet you place a white cloth smoke, that is too thick smoke, hinders, and too thin smoke does not produce, the perfection of this blue colour. Hence a moderate amount of smoke produces the finest blue. Water violently ejected in a fine spray and in a dark chamber where the sun beams are admitted produces these blue rays and the more vividly if it is distilled water, and thin smoke looks blue.

This I mention in order to show that the blueness of the atmosphere is caused by the darkness beyond it, and these instances are given for those who cannot confirm my experience on Monboso.”

Source: Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

Bringing these lectures to a conclusion, Henri cites philosopher Ernest Cassirer: “The mathematical formula strives to make the phenomenon calculable. That of Goethe strives to make the phenomenon visible. Surely the phenomenon is already visible? Now we have seen that it is not. It has only begun to be visible. It is like an iceberg – there is a bit above the surface and there is the rest which can be made visible by working in this way. This is what Goethe does – he strives to make the phenomenon visible. What does that mean? It means that the phenomenon appears! So we are back to appearing. And the appearing is the seeing which sees it. That is the astonishing thing. There is no separation there. Appearing is the seeing which sees it. There is no subject-object separation or any of that. You have to go right upstream, and that is where phenomenology brings us. So we are coming to a completely dynamic way of understanding.”

I very much hope you have enjoyed this series of lectures which has explored the dynamic conception of wholeness, one of the core underlying foundations of the Holonomics Approach. Maria Moraes Robinson and I have now applied our Holonomics approach in many different businesses and organisations in many different contexts, from cultural transformation, mergers and acquisitions, innovation, dialogue, customer experience design, communication, storytelling, strategy development and leadership coaching.

The reason that the Holonomics approach is so powerful is that it provides a very alternative way to explore systems in social, organisational, ecological and cultural contexts in a manner that the majority of people have previously been exposed.

Photo: Simon Robinson

If you have enjoyed this series and really wish to develop this applied understanding of how you personally can work with Holonomics, the suggested next step is to read both Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter and Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design which provide the frameworks, case studies and applied exercises which highlight these different contexts and uses.

I will soon be compiling all of these lectures into a single page which you can use as a reference point for further study, and should you have any further comments or questions, please do feel free to get in touch.


These lectures were recorded at The Old Postern, Schumacher College, Totnes, Devon, in September 2011. The lectures are ©Jacqueline Bortoft and have been made available with her kind permission.

All extracts from Henri Bortoft (2012), Taking Appearance Seriously, have been reproduced with permission from Floris Books, Edinburgh.

Recommended reading to accompany this series:

Henri Bortoft, The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science, Floris Books, Edinbugh
Henri Bortoft (1996), The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science, Floris Books, Edinbugh
Henri Bortoft (2012), Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought, Floris Books, Edinbugh
Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson (2014), Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, Floris Books, Edinbugh
Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson (2017), Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design, Holonomics Publishing, London

3 responses to “The Foundations of Holonomics 12: The Dynamic Way of Understanding

  1. Pingback: The Foundations of Holonomics: Exploring Wholeness in Nature and Organisations | Transition Consciousness·

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