Doing Goethean Science

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Doing Goethean Science

Craig Holdrege


Quote:Abstract: Practicing the Goethean approach to science involves heightened methodological awareness and sensitivity to the way we engage in the phenomenal world. We need to overcome our habit of viewing the world in terms of objects and leave behind the scientific propensity to explain via reification and reductive models. I describe science as a conversation with nature and how this perspective can inform a new scientific frame of mind. I then present the Goethean approach via a practical example (a study of a plant, skunk cabbage) and discuss some of the essential features of Goethean methodology and insight: the riddle; into the phenomenon; exact picture building; and seeing the whole.



Quote:I can formulate the problem in another way. Every biology student learns that the fundamental question of biologists confronting a phenomenon is: what is the underlying mechanism? It may be a Darwinian survival strategy or a hormonal or genetic mechanism. In the search for such mechanisms two essential things happen. First, you isolate the phenomenon out of its context within the organism as a whole and, second, you seek to explain it in terms of a reduced set of quasi-mechanical processes. In the end what you come up with is a simplified picture of a phenomenon caused by an abstractly conceived underlying mechanism. (The neurologist Kurt Goldstein has elucidated this problematic side of science in his seminal work on holistic science, The Organism (Goldstein, 1939/1995).)



Quote:The problem is that both the trait and the gene are products of abstraction, so that one is explaining an abstraction with an even greater abstraction. The red flower color of a strain of pea plants is much more than a genetic trait, and the biochemical component of inheritance is much more than the genetic code. This is becoming increasingly clear even within the field of genetics, so that some geneticists question the value of the concept of the gene altogether. Geneticist William Gelbart writes:

Quote:For biological research, the 20th century has arguably been the century of the gene. The central importance of the gene as a unity of inheritance and function has been crucial to our present understanding of many biological phenomena. Nonetheless, we may well have come to the point where the use of the term “gene” is of limited value and might in fact be a hindrance to our understanding of the genome. Although this may sound heretical, especially coming from a card-carrying geneticist, it reflects the fact that, unlike chromosomes, genes are not physical objects but are merely concepts that have acquired a great deal of historic baggage over the past decades. (Gelbart, 1998)

It’s interesting how reality tends to catch up with science at some point.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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