The Metamorphosis of Plants Johann Wolfgang von Goethe MIT Press ISBN 978-0-262-01309-3
Goethe's botanical essays attempted to ensure science recognized the beauty and joy of human life, and equally took responsibility for recording human failings towards the natural world. This perspective seems strangely out of place in today's scientific technologically centered world. This beautifully produced edition has been lovingly created by Gordon Miller's introductory text and photographs, to mark Goethe's contribution to the evolution of the botanical sciences.
`I cannot tell you how readable the book of nature is becoming for me; my long efforts as deciphering , letter by letter, have helped me; now all of a sudden it is having its effect, and my quiet joy is inexpressible'. Goethe to Charlotte von Stein, 1786
There has been a continuing if sporadic dialogue of sorts between science and art, born out of the European enlightenment of the 18thcentury. During this period `reason' as opposed to `superstition' was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority. Goethe was one of the principal philosophers who attempted to temper the prevailing scientific mood that rational enquiry did not represent the only legitimate currency. He believed that the concept of moving from a `fixed form' system to a more `functional' alternative paradigm offered benefits. His proposal recognized the inherent change within living systems, and their interrelationships with other systems. This perspective required a change of mental gearing to allow accommodation. Goethe's contributed to the evolution of science to allow alternative, subtle influences to be recognized as valid, are his legacy.
His writing during this period integrated the symbolism of art with the discipline and precision of science. He claimed that the happiest moments in his extraordinary life were during his time living in Italy, from 1786 to 1788, conducting botanical research having established his reputation as a foremost authority in European philosophy.
`The Understanding will not reach her; man must be capable of elevating himself to the highest Reason, to come into contact with the Divinity, which manifestsitself in the primitive phenomena (Urphänominen), which wells behind them, and from which they proceed'.
He called the two cognitive faculties involved in initiating his concept of the scientific adventure "understanding," which fuses rational thought (the accepted instrument of conventional science), and "reason," which embodies the intuitive perception of unconscious thought and the source of poetry and religious sensibility.
Recent investigation of religious belief and its compatibility with `reason' provides an insight into the metamorphosis of human consciousness. Perhaps it is only those who are able to incorporate Goethe's method of seeing the world, who can truly call themselves `scientists', and value the supreme level they have attained in human society?