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Goethean Science

Goethean Science

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Published by: ana_maria_nichita5708 on May 19, 2009
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I conducted a Qualitative Ecological Study of piece of land adjacent to a farm inSebastopol, CA. The piece of land was situated around a recently built cob bathroom,between the kitchen/barn and the commercial freezer. At the time of the study, onlyherbaceous "weeds" and grasses grew there. I chose this piece of land for two reasons: 1.The farm owners and the residents would like to see this space become somethingdifferent. 2. Because it is very typical of "fallow" or disturbed land throughout theregion and perhaps other parts of the world.Many believe that the greatest problem humanity has ever faced is our currentglobal ecological crisis, and there is as of yet no easy solution. One the one hand youhave an economic system that creates scarcity for short term profits and is methodicallydestroying the planet and its resources. There are huge amounts of displaced peopleswith economies and cultures completely out of balance with their ecology. TheAmazonian rain forest continues to be destroyed at an incredible rate, despite the world'sscientific understanding that this is very dangerous to global environmental systems.We even have deep ecologists that have disproportionately large ecological footprints. Inan interview, Bill Mollison, coiner of the term "permaculture," laments that deepecologists are his "enemies" -- in his experience they all take papers (sometimes morethan one), drive cars, and do not have gardens. (Mollison & Vlaun, 2001.) Even a largedegree of ecological knowledge does not guarantee one's actions still are notenvironmentally destructive. Nor do good intentions as illustrated in the following story:Kimmy Johnson, professor at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, California,once told me of turtle she found when she was a child. It has a hot summer day in theMidwest and with a warm, good heart, thought she would do unto the turtle what shewould have the turtle do unto her. So she placed the turtle in a pool of water thinking thatthe turtle would like to cool off. The turtle drowned. Indeed there are no easy answers.In the face of this crisis (or challenge), I feel that it is necessary to be able tofurther develop our ability to conduct ecological studies. I feel that the traditional or"conventional" scientific method only paints part of the picture and is not accessible oruseful to many scenarios. One such scenario comes from the theory that the real causeof our ecological crisis is the separation in our own consciousness. This separation hasmany forms -- separation of mind/body, subject/object/, nature/humanity. The list goeson. Finding out about the niche a parasite plays in the food chain is not going to addressthese issues.I conducted a Qualitative Ecological study using a combination of thePhenomenological method (laid out by Moustakas -- based on Husserl) and Goethe's wayof science. I hear the call of James Lovelock (1988) in
The Ages of Gaia
when he saysthat we are in need of planetary physicians. I think that by using Goethe's holistic modeof consciousness, so that you can see the "universal shining through the particular",(Bortoft, 1996, p.179) it might be possible to access the thoughts of Gaia -- as to discover
pathways that lead us to becoming planetary physicians. In assuming this, I studied theecology around the cob house in Sebastopol, California and asked the following questionof it: "What are you striving to be and how can I best help you?" From this I hoped notonly to gain local ecological knowledge that could be useful in landscaping appropriately,but also to gain more universal knowledge of Gaia.
Starting Assumptions:
I assume that the Earth is one living organism, called Gaia, and is self-regulating just like any animal, plant, or human. I also assume that through holistic modes of perceiving as laid out in Goethe's way of science, it is possible to access the thoughts of Gaia, if you will -- to perceive the universal in the particular and expand our knowledgeof ecology. It is also an assumption that my interpretation of 
exact sensorialimagination
and allowing myself to be an
organ of expression of the phenomenon
areaccurate.I subscribe to animism, the belief that all things are alive in their own way andhave spirit. I believe that all things (animals, plants, microbes, fungi, rocks, water) haveconsciousness and intelligence. I believe that the bracketed ecology (and elementswithin) in the study should be approached as a sentient being(s) with its (their) ownintelligence and awareness, and should be treated with respect. I assume not only this,but also that it is possible for me to converse with the ecology in intersubjective dialogue.Beyond this, I hold the assumption Mother Nature knows best, in the sense thatthe system knows how to get its needs better than I can provide for them. I assume thatnature is wiser than I, and that "benign neglect" is the best strategy -- the less I interfereand the more I provide the system with the means to help itself, the better.Finally, it is my belief that archetypal expressions can be discovered, as well asgeneral principles illuminated, that can help balance an ecology with human need, wherethe action taken by humans can be "determined
by the landscape itself 
" (Hoffmann, 1998,p. 167). A farm or garden can be an organ of the landscape, and can rebuild soil andwater ecology.I think these assumptions are necessary in order to be able to discover the type of knowledge that I am seeking, rather than inhibiting the study. Assumptions must bemade before any study, no matter what methodology is being employed. For instance,mathematics cannot be applied to nature until nature has been mathematized andquantified. First there must be an assumption of nature as being made of up of things allexternal to themselves and quantifiable. The assumptions that begin the study create aspace for the results of the study to emerge. I think of doing a study without assumptionslike trying to catch rain water without a bucket. The water being knowledge and thebucket being the assumptions. Indeed, the consciousness of assumptions is what I think 22
the discipline of Phenomenology brings to the field of research that is most often lackingin "traditional" scientific studies. In the latter, the scientific researcher catches water in avery high tech bucket that has become invisible to him.
A Review of the Literature:
One of my primary introductions into ecological studies was throughPermaculture. Bill Mollison coined the term from a combination of "permanent" and"agriculture" because "there was no word in the English language for sustainableagriculture." (
Global Gardener 
, 1991). It is a way of working with nature rather thanagainst it. It's principles include Earth care and attention to the entire system. It is apractical approach to designing homes, farms, and gardens -- but also for changingourselves to perceive holistically so that we can enter a participatory relationship withnature. In many ways it is subversive to the mainstream, and permaculture has beenreferred to as the "Quiet Revolution." (London, 2001). Chris Storey (1998) writes,"Ecology is subversive because its basic premise is holism." (para 3).The mainstream referred to here is greatly influenced by modern scientificthinking, which is concerned only with one mode of consciousness -- theverbal/intellectual/analytical mode. Our culture has nearly adopted this modeexclusively and the results have been psychological fragmentation and global ecologicaldestruction. A large portion of this unquestioned embracing of thescientific/intellectual/analytical mode comes from the myth that science is absolute truth,like an "autonomous activity standing outside history" (Storey, 1998, para 4). ThomasKuhn, amongst others, have laid this belief to rest, at least philosophically. Indeed,Goethe, centuries before Kuhn, was recorded as saying, "We might venture the statementthat the history of science is science itself." (Bortoft, 1996, p. 121.)This mainstream approach is not the only way to practice science, however. Goethe,amongst others, have provided us with more possibilities. "If science is freed from thedogmatic scientism of the past, and if nature can manifest in different ways, then there isthe possibility of a different kind of science, which is complementary to mainstreamscience." (Storey, 1998, para 4). This other way of doing science as laid out by Goetheinvolves a different mode of consciousness -- the holistic/intuitive mode.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) viewed nature as a undivided whole, aunity that could only be understood from engaging it with active participation. Ratherthan removing the observer from the phenomenon (as is the aim of "mainstreamscience"), Goethe sought to engage it on an intimate level, "through the educable powersof human perception." He endeavored to utilize "firsthand encounter directed in a kindlybut rigorous way to know the thing
in itself 
." (Seamon, 1998, p.2). The goal of science inGoethe's view is the metamorphosis of the scientist. (Amrine, 1998, p.37). In applying33

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