If we want to attain a living
understanding of nature, we must become as flexible and
mobile as nature herself. - Goethe
Many of us were introduced to biologythe science
of lifeby dissecting frogs, and we never learned anything
about living frogs in nature. Modern biology has increasingly
moved out of nature and into the laboratory, driven by a
desire to find an underlying mechanistic basis of life.
Despite all its success, this approach is one-sided and
urgently calls for a counterbalancing movement toward nature.
Only if we find ways of transforming our propensity to reduce
the world to parts and mechanisms, will we be able to see,
value, and protect the integrity of nature and the interconnectedness
of all things. This demands a new way of seeing.
Our methodology is inspired by integrative thinkers and
scientists, such as
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rudolf
Steiner, and Kurt
We develop ways of thinking and perception that integrate
self-reflective and critical thought, imagination, and careful,
detailed observation of the phenomena. The Nature Institute
promotes a truly ecological understanding of the living
We study the internal ecology of plants and
animals, elucidating how structures and functions interrelate
in forming the creature as a whole. Our interdisciplinary
approach integrates anatomy, physiology, behavior, development,
genetics, and evolution.
We investigate the whole organism as part
of the larger web of life. By creating life history stories
of plants and animals, we open up a new understanding of
our fellow creatures as dynamic and integrated beings.
Through this approach, the organism teaches us about itself,
revealing its characteristics and its interconnectedness
with the world that sustains it. This way of doing science
enhances our sense of responsibility for nature. No one
who has read, for example, Craig Holdrege's paper on the
sloth, thereby coming to appreciate this animal as a unique,
focused expression of its entire forest habitat, will be
able to tolerate the thought of losing either the sloth
or its habitat.
Goethe so beautifully expresses it, all of nature's individual
aspects are interconnected and interdependent:
We conceive of the individual
animal as a small world, existing for its own sake, by its
own means. Every creature is its own reason to be. All its
parts have a direct effect on one another, a relationship
to one another, thereby constantly renewing the circle of
life; thus we are justified in considering every animal
Our purpose is to carry out research, produce publications
and offer education
programs that foster this new, qualitative approach
to nature. We also give off-site talks and workshops on
Click to view Upcoming
talks or Past
Goethe's Delicate Empiricism: A special issue of the interdisciplinary
journal Janus Head is on the topic of Goethe's approach to science. Fourteen
essays discuss Goethe's "delicate empiricism"
from a variety of perspectives. This is the most thorough
collection of papers on Goethe's way of science that
has appeared in recent years. Nature Institute director Craig
Holdrege was one of the volume's guest editors.
The volume is available online at http://www.janushead.org/8-1/index.cfm and the bound version may also be ordered through
To read Goethe's seminal essay on the nature of scientific knowing and experimentation, "The Experiment as Mediator of Object and Subject" click here.
The following publications, written by Institute Director
Holdrege, illustrate the Goethean approach within the
Giraffe's Long Neck: From Evolutionary Fable to Whole
This 104 page booklet is part of our Nature
Institute Perspectives series.
This book provides a comprehensive picture of the giraffes
biology and ecology and also discusses the complex and
controversial issue of its evolution. It gives a unique
portrayal of the giraffe while also exemplifying the Goethean
approach to understanding animals and evolution. Click
here for more information about this booklet
The Flexible Giant: Seeing the Elephant Whole
This 65 page booklet is part of our Nature
Institute Perspectives series. Doug Groves, Chairman
of Living with Elephants Foundation in Botswana, Africa
"Your marvelous mini-monograph
on "the Flexible Giant" is momentous and inspirational!
Please accept my wholehearted congratulations and thanks.
For the past thirty plus years I've been sharing my daily
life with elephants which I think puts me in a pretty
good position to appreciate your fresh, succinct, thoughtful,
holistic and principle-centered approach to seeing the
elephant. By taking small groups of international visitors,
local village children and school kids for interpretive
walks in the bush with three habituated African Elephants
we try to achieve what you have managed to do very nicely
with words in your booklet."
here for details about this booklet
"Phenomenon Illuminate Phenomenon" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #26, Spring 2011
"The Story of an Organism: Common Milkweed" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #22-24, Fall 2009 - Fall 2010
"The Forming Tree" by
Craig Holdrege. In Context #14, Fall 2005
Giraffe in Its World" by Craig Holdrege. In
Context #12, Fall 2005
Giraffe's Short Neck." In Context #10,
Does a Mole View the World?" In Context
#9, Spring 2003
a Meadow." In
Context #8, Fall 2002
Forms an Animal?" In Context #6, Fall
Cabbage." In Context #4, Fall 2000
Do Organisms End?" In Context #3, Spring,
and Life: The Need for Qualitative Understanding."
In Context #1, Spring/Summer 1999
as Process or Dogma? The Case of the Peppered Moth."
Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, Vol. 70, 1999:
Does it Mean to be a Sloth?"
the Animal Whole: The Example of the Horse and Lion."
In Goethe's Way of Science, edited by D. Seamon
and A. Zajonc Albany: SUNY Press, 1998, pp. 213-232
the Cow." NetFuture
#43, March 20, 1997 (Also published in Orion Winter
For articles about the methodology of the goethean approach see:
"Learning to See Life: Developing the Goethean Approach to Science", Renewal, Fall 2005.
"Doing Goethean Science" Janus Head, Vol. 8.1, 2005
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