Toward a Science of Qualities

Already with Galileo, modern science was pursuing a resolve to ignore the qualitative aspects of the world. Carried forward (and even strengthened) into our own day, this resolve has resulted in a science well adapted to the machine-like aspects of the world. But it is not at all adequate to the active becoming, the contextual relatedness, and the living wholeness we discover in the world's phenomena.

Given that the central scientific enterprise has moved so resolutely away from qualities, any attempt to explore the terms of a new, qualitative science promises to be radical — and not at all easy. At the same time, there really is no escape from qualities; subtract all qualitative content from your thoughts about things, and there will be no things left. Try to imagine a tree without color or visible form, without sound in a breeze, without the smell of sap and leaf, without felt solidity, and the tree will have ceased betraying any sign of its existence. If you are inclined to redeem the situation with talk of molecules or subatomic particles, try to characterize those without appealing to qualities!

So the qualities are there in science. It's just that they go largely unacknowledged, and therefore their treatment escapes the normal discipline and rigor associated with science. The issues relating to their recovery are vast and largely unexplored. The new, qualitative science — which means, a science more adequate to the world we actually live in — is young and untried. Virtually all the work of The Nature Institute bears on this science in one way or another. But here are some pointers of primary interest:

Seeing Nature Whole — A Goethean Approach

This research program, spearheaded by Nature Institute Director, Craig Holdrege, includes the "whole-organism studies" for which he has become so well known. See, for example, his studies of the sloth and of the elephant. See also our guide to the entire "Seeing Nature Whole" program.

From Mechanism to a Science of Qualities

The papers gathered here are the early representatives of an ongoing project by Steve Talbott to offer a critique of the foundations of conventional science, demonstrate the necessity for a new, qualitative science, and show the character of this new science. Articles available to date include:

"The Language of Nature"

"The Reduction Complex"

"Do Physical Laws Make Things Happen?"

Other Articles

Our online newsletter, NetFuture, has a topical index of many articles related to the critique of inappropriately mechanistic thinking and the nature of a qualitative science. Most centrally, look under these headings in the index:

Holistic science
Mechanistic and reductionist science

Many articles under the following headings will also be relevant:

Genetic engineering
Health and medicine

A few articles inaccessible by the foregoing routes:

"From Two Cultures to One: On the Relation Between Science and Art," by Vladislav Rozentuller and Steve Talbott, In Context #13.

"A Way of Knowing as a Way of Healing," by Steve Talbott, In Context #1.

"Seeing Things Right-side Up: The Implications of Kurt Goldstein's Holism," by Craig Holdrege, In Context #2.

An Important Book

You will find on our website the full text of "Being on Earth", published in 2006 by two physicists (Georg Maier and Stephen Edelglass) and a philosopher (Ronald Brady). This extremely valuable work explores the epistemological, aesthetic, social, moral, and educational aspects of a qualitative science -- that is, a science properly grounded in the irreducibly participative relation between human being and world.

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