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The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe's Way of Science Paperback – 24 Oct 1996

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Floris Books (24 Oct. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0863152384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0863152382
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2.4 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 276,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Henri Bortoft is one of the world's foremost experts on Goethean science.' David Lorimer, Scientific & Medical Network 'This is a gem of a book. Bortoft has made Goethe's thinking available in a particularly clear way.' -- David Peat, author of Blackfoot Physics 'Bortoft shows how the contemporary impulse for participatory science can be realized. What's more, the book is beautifully written.' -- Brian Goodwin, author of Nature's Due and How the Leopard Changed Its Spots

About the Author

Henri Bortoft (1938-2012) was a physicist with an interest in the history of science and continental philosophy. He also authored Taking Appearance Seriously (Floris Books, 2012).

Customer Reviews

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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful By I. Oberski on 10 July 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An absolutely fascinating read, at a level suitable for both professional scientists and academics but easily accessible to the layperson as well. This is essential reading for anyone with an interest in holism, holistic science and the limits of science. Bortoft provides an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s approach to science, clearly showing the contemporary relevance of his entirely different way of coming to an understanding of the natural world. He underpins this analysis by his own philosophical research on the relationship between the whole and its parts.
In our daily thinking we tend to be stuck in what Bortoft calls analytic consciousness, through which we try to understand the phenomena in our world by analysing them into parts and then building them up again from those parts. In this way, the whole becomes an entity, which stands alone, albeit constituted from its parts. Goethe’s way of science, however, draws on a very different conception of the whole, as being intimately entwined with its parts, in such a way that, in a sense, the whole comes into being through the parts, while at the same time the parts come into being through the whole. We can only really understand this by experiencing it and drawing on our intuitive mode of consciousness.
Bortoft shows how Goethe dwelled in the phenomena he studied to such degree that he was able to understand these phenomena, without needing to explain them. Moreover, Bortoft does an excellent job at showing how this mode of science is objective in the exact same way as conventional science is objective, in that it is verifiable by others, but dependant on a shared way of seeing the world.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Jun. 1999
Format: Paperback
'The Wholeness of Nature' is a work of the most patient exposition and extraordinary luminousity. Bortoft brings us the essence of Goethe's way of science, which has been lost on many previous commentators. But this book is much, much more than just a historical essay: it is a primer for a holistic consciousness, built on a profound insight into the nature of human perception. It sheds fresh light on some of our most pressing preocupations, in a way that is both erudite and highly accessible. 'The Wholeness of Nature' revitalised my intellectual and imaginative life, causing me to see things I had previously taken for granted in a wholly new way. This is one of very few books I feel really privileged to have come across. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Erland.Lagerroth on 10 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
Henri Bortoft's powerful book The Wholeness of Nature. Goethes Way of Science from 1996 is pregnant with ideas:
1. Goethe hoped to be remembered more as a scientist than as a poet (in the year 1987 there had, as a matter of fact, been published 10.000 works about him as researcher).
2. Goethes"way of science", his way to see and think, is an alternative, an intentional counterproject, to Galilei's, Descartes' and Newton's science.
3. Goethe does not force nature to answer reason's questions; instead he enters deeply into the sensuous impressions of its motions and life. He is not judge but participant.
4. He does this, not by examining phenomena as they exist "ready-made", but instead by contemplating how they come into existence and are further developed.
5. In this way he can approach for example the growing plant's "authentic whole", which is not the sum of its parts but, on the contrary, its"diversity in unity". Thanks to this diversity in unity, the plant by its own force is able to blossom out in stem, blades, flower, and fruit. He can not observe all this in one and the same moment but he is able to see it for his "inner eye". In this way he can apprehend the plant's whole project, and for that reason he rejects any idea that there should be another world hidden behind the material world. What he sees is another dimension of the same phenomenon, its dimension as a whole. The whole is not an abstraction only (nominalism/empirism), but neither an independent, separate reality (Platonism).
6. In this way Goethe is more empiric than most people, but at the same time he realizes that all observations contain something that exceeds the testimonies from the senses, namely the phenomenon's unit.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Starlight on 21 July 2010
Format: Paperback
Goethean science is a phrase probably known to a minority; and in part to followers of Rudolf Steiner of whom Bortoft is well aware.From the point of view of those people the book does a great favour ,for it takes Goethe's way of ideation and puts it in a context of scientific evolution up to the present day ,and takes it away from an atmosphere of eccentricity and anti-scientific amateurishness which unfortunately can dog such a group,(no doubt to the frustration of its founder)
On the other hand it brings seminal Goethean apprroaches and ideas into a modern philosophical context showing with exact epistemological description just what Goethe meant by "primal phenomenon " "archetypal plant ' etc.
The author is at pains to exemplify the difference between different types of conceptual unity;the abstract ,"one -over -many' of much modern and less modern science ,and the type of ONE 'within -the -phenomena 'which Goethe meant .This is excellently described.
Perhaps the most interesting parts are those which describe the way in which scientists like Newton or Copernicus or Galileo are popularly imagined as experimenting almost at random and suddenly coming up with insights into the whole of their observations as if from above ..a bit like a spiritual revelation...,whereas in fact ,he shows that their investigations were guided by leading ideas which they held BEFOREHAND and which guided their observations in other words they saw what they were readfy to see.And in many ways created theory accordingly.
One can expect to see some Godlike figures come down to size if one gets really into this boo ,(which does very subtly follow Steiner's approach to natural science 0, and is extremely illuminating.
Only in one point do I feel adrift from other reviewers.
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