Landscape perceptions and experiences

The aims of this blog is
1) to gather material which helps us to view 'Landscape' from many different perspectives (Science, Phenomenology, Aesthetics, Ethics etc)
2) and secondly to record 'Landscape experiences' from our workshops (Reports) and my own experiences (Diary).
For our workshops see our website


On this page you will find several articles from various writers in relation to natural science, which will form partly the background of our approach. Mainly they are from Goethean scientist. Goethean Science is, so far I can see, phenomenology before the word was more commonly used since the time of Hussler and Heidegger. 

Excerpt from a letter written by F. Wemesfelder (accessible at letter)

"Academics in the natural sciences tend to be unaccustomed to reflecting on the moral values embedded in their research, and tend to assume that the language they use is ‘objective’ and morally neutral. However in the social sciences this view is regarded as outdated, and it is well-recognised that there is no such thing as ‘value-free information"

Science as Conversation

Extract from the article Doing Goethean Science (Janus Head Vol 8.1, 2005) by Craig Holdrege from Nature institute. Here, expressed in fairly general terms, are some of the elements of Science-as-Conversation.

1) When I enter into a conversation with nature my interest has been sparked by some experience, my attention has been caught. I’m presented with a riddle and begin asking questions, observing, and pondering. In this way I give the conversation an initial focus. If the interaction between me and nature has no focus it can easily become chit-chat and not a conversation.

2) But if the focus I bring is too narrow and too rigid (for example, a narrowly defined hypothesis), we don’t have a conversation, we have a drill (one-sided questioning). In any productive conversation the process itself is paramount. It’s not just about me answering my pre-formulated questions, but centrally about what happens along the way. There will be surprises, moments of silence, tension. The back and forth between me and nature is dynamic and I attend to this process as an integral part of the conversation.

3) Taking the conversation-as-process seriously means realizing that it is open-ended. I don’t know where we’re going to arrive. With this awareness present at every moment, the conversation is imbued with an atmosphere of openness. I could also describe this attitude as a kind of animated looking forward to things unexpected that may arise.

4) Nature is my partner in the conversation. If I truly mean this and don’t take the statement as a feel-good cliché, then I’m acknowledging that nature is something in its own right. I may not, at the outset, be able to say more than that. But the recognition of the other as something in its own right is a pre-condition for any conversation. This recognition infuses respect into the conversation and gives it dignity. In saying this I don’t mean that geologists will no longer crack open rocks with their hammers or botanists will stop pressing plants. However, knowing that I am involved in a conversation makes me more circumspect and I become more sensitive in what I think and do. I may ask, for example, whether I may be going too far and transgressing boundaries. I’m not talking here about abstract, prescriptive directives—since the conversation is a process, I can’t know what will emerge out of it beforehand. But in any case, it is carried by an attitude of respect.

5) An essential feature of the conversation is that I listen to what nature has to say. Receptive attentiveness allows us to hear and see with fresh ears and eyes. It’s the quality of open interest in what the other has to say. But it would not be a conversation if I only listened. I respond and interject. I am actively giving form to the conversation through my questions, observations and the new concepts I bring in. A vibrant conversation needs the movement between receptive attentiveness and active contributing.

6) In the course of any real conversation the partners change and evolve— they are in a different place than they were at the outset. It is easy to see that I as a scientist change in this conversation. I have gained new experiences, taken new qualities into myself and gotten to know the world more deeply. But what about nature? In a simple sense, any time we interact with nature through an experiment, we change nature. Field ecologists have recently discovered that even touching and marking plants in the field can affect their growth. Goethe’s seminal essay “The Experiment as Mediator Between Object and Subject” shows his keen awareness of science as a way of interacting with nature. Experiments don’t “prove,” they mediate a relationship. We are interwoven with nature and weaving new fabric when we do science. There is another dimension to nature evolving in the conversation. Inasmuch as nature—the phenomenon I’m engaging with—has been recognized, worked with, and taken up into the human mind, it is appearing in a new form. Nature finds a new expression through the process of human knowing. This may seem to be a radical idea, but it is actually just a description of the process itself. Unfortunately, most of us are held captive by the notion of the world “out there”, separate from us “in here.” The moment we wake up to the fact that we are part of the world and engaging in a conversation with her to get to know her (and ourselves) better, the captivity of a dualistic world view ends. We are freed to engage as participants in the world.

7) This realization helps us to see one more facet of science-as-conversation: I become aware that I am taking on a responsibility. I’m engaging in the world and whatever the outcome of the conversation, it will bear in part my stamp. I put to rest once and for all the comfortable specter of something called “value-free” science engaged in by some detached being called a scientist. Science is all about participation, and I can’t distance myself from the process and its results. So much for an introductory overview. The idea of science as a conversation grows out of the doing. But once you’ve become conscious of it, it becomes a kind of scientific conscience—an inner guide—for all further work: Am I aware enough of the process? Is a back-and-forth occurring? Am I listening or pushing an agenda? When your work becomes infused with a circumspect attitude of questioning wedded to a strong desire to engage in the phenomena, you can see what Goethe wanted to express with the phrase, “delicate empiricism.” And you can also understand why he added that its practice belongs to a “highly evolved age,” since it is dependent on transformation within the human being. Goethe’s science involves the consciously evolving scientist.

Practising Goethean Science

Another extract from the same article Doing Goethean Science (Janus Head Vol 8.1, 2005) by Craig Holdrege from Nature institute. Here, expressed in fairly general terms, are some of the elements of Practising Goethean Science

The Riddle.

This is the beginning of any investigation. I am drawn to a particular phenomenon and want to get to know it better. I’ve met something in the world that is a riddle I want to attend to. And because each person has a different biography—carries a unique world within herself—and is drawn to different features of the world, there is an endless and beautiful array of possible questions and areas of focus. I have colleagues who are physicists, chemists, ecologists, botanists, and zoologists. They are not only investigating different realms of phenomena, but take somewhat different approaches based on who each of them is. This does not make the work "subjective," but merely points to the fact that in any scientific endeavor the subject as a particular being is actively at work. And the riddle that draws a particular person is the beginning of a pathway into the world that is specific, but can be shared with others. (We live, after all, in one world.)

Into the Phenomena.

This is exploration, getting to know the phenomena. As Goethe wrote in connection with his work in optics:The greatest accomplishments come from those who never tire in exploring and working out every possible aspect and modification of every bit of empirical evidence, every experience.
You really have to get to know the phenomena you’re dealing with from as many sides as possible. If you’re doing experiments, then it’s a matter of varying them in a methodical way to build up a rich picture. It’s not about proving (or falsifying) a particular hypothesis. In studying a living organism, you want to gain a many-sided picture of the life of the organism and its relation to its environment. In this work you make your own observations, but you also interact with and utilize the work of others (which may entail doing a good amount of separating out of theory and interpretation). Here is where a research community evolves.
As Goethe writes "What applies in so many other human enterprises is also true here [in science]: the interest of many focused on a simple point can produce excellent results.... I have always found working together with others so advantageous that I have every reason to continue doing so.
Since the phenomena are endless, this work is also without end. I can never get "all the facts," but my goal is also not an encyclopedic totality of information. It’s more that I never cease to be interested in what the phenomena—perhaps some unassuming, seemingly esoteric detail—may reveal to me about the world. In my own work I often find that we don’t know nearly enough about the animal or plant I’m studying. I do extensive literature searches and speak with experts, am enriched by all I find, but am usually left feeling I’d love to know much more. I also discover how theory-burdened so much of science is, with a small number of facts being marshaled to apparently support grand ideas.

Exact picture building

While getting to know the phenomena, I intensify my experience through exact picture building—Goethe’s exact sensorial imagination. At first this may be a completely separate activity from being out and observing. I retreat from observation and quietly build up a precise inner picture of what I’ve experienced. The more I’ve done this, the more I find that my observing and perceiving becomes dynamic and full of life. I become active while perceiving, following inwardly the shapes, colors, smells, or tones as I observe. I sculpt the shapes while looking.
This is where you notice how the picture-building as an exercise becomes integrated into your concrete interaction with the phenomena. You begin to see more intensely. This work helps me to enter more deeply into the phenomenal world. It also gives my experience of the organism more continuity. The connectedness of all the details within the organism itself also becomes a connectedness within me.
I have come to see this activity of exact sensorial imagination to be the counter pole to theory building in traditional science. In both cases one is inwardly very active. But in exact sensorial imagination, the work of picturing—building images and letting the one transform into the other—keeps us close to the phenomena. We close the gaps that are given through our discrete observations and in this sense go beyond what perception gives us, but our whole intention is to take in the world. In theory building, I construct a picture or concept out of myself which fits the phenomena to a greater or lesser degree. Often, because we can know our own thoughts in such a transparent way, we become more interested in the theory than in the things the theory is supposed to explain. The tendency to reify concepts—which Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness—is widespread in contemporary science. Theories tend to take on a life of their own and we may begin to see only the theory in the things. In this way a theory can become, in Goethe’s words, "lethal generality." Concrete picture building has the cathartic effect of re-orienting our attention to the phenomena, while dissolving hard-and-fast ideas through mental molding and remolding.

Seeing the Whole.

This is the "step" that we’ve been preparing for in all the other work. Or, stated more accurately, this is what can reveal itself in the course of one’s striving to get to know the phenomena. As I said above, it is an experience of seeing unifying relations, which may or may not happen during any investigation. When it occurs, it fills you with the greatest joy and you realize: "now I am knowing." We can use the word intuition here as long as we don’t think of something vague, but rather a non-discursive form of seeing connections that is comparable to the experience one can have most purely in mathematical insight.
If you imagine this mode of cognition applied on a larger scale, you come to what Goethe writes about as the "archetypal phenomena" in his color work, or the "type" (Typus) and the archetypal animal or plant (Urpflanze; Urtier) in his biological studies. (He also speaks of "entelechy," or "idea.") What term one uses is much less important than the quality of knowing itself. Here’s how he describes the whole process, brilliantly condensed into a few sentences, that leads to a seeing that goes beyond, but is fully rooted in, empirical observation: If I look at the created object, inquire into its creation, and follow this process back as far as I can, I will find a series of steps. Since these are not actually seen together before me, I must visualize them in my memory so that they form a certain ideal whole. At first I will tend to think in terms of steps, but nature leaves no gaps, and thus, in the end, I will have to see this progression of uninterrupted activity as a whole. I can do so by dissolving the particular without destroying the impression.... If we imagine the outcome of these attempts, we will see that empirical observation finally ceases, inner beholding of what develops begins, and, at last, the idea can be brought to expression.
If you don’t pay attention to the process and context out of which Goethe speaks about bringing an idea to expression, you could imagine "idea" to be something abstract or bloodless ("just another theory"). But it’s not. It has much more the nature of seeing a being. That’s why Goethe was so distraught when Schiller reacted to his description of the archetypal plant by stating, "that is not an observation from experience. It is an idea. " Goethe responded: "Then I may rejoice that I have ideas without knowing it, and can even see them with my own eyes". So when Goethe says there is "delicate empiricism which makes itself utterly identical with the object, thereby becoming true theory" , then "theory" is to be understood in the sense of the ancient Greeks as a "seeing of the mind" or "beholding" and not as the abstract "theory" as we know it from modern science. If we use the term "idea" then we must think of an idea that Goethe could, in the end, see sensibly/supersensibly in every plant. Reflecting on his botanical studies, Goethe writes near the end of his life, A challenge... hovered in my mind at that time [1787] in the sensuous form of a supersensuous plant archetype [Urpflanze]. I traced the variations of all the forms as I came upon them. In Sicily, the final goal of my [Italian] journey, the conception of the original identity of all plant parts had become completely clear to me; and everywhere I attempted to pursue this identity and to catch sight of it again..... Only a person who has himself experienced the impact of a fertile idea...will understand what passionate activity is stirred in our minds, what enthusiasm we feel, when we glimpse in advance and in its totality something which is later to emerge in greater and greater detail in the manner suggested by its early development. Thus the reader must surely agree that, having been captured and driven by such an idea, I was bound to be occupied with it, if not exclusively, nevertheless during the rest of my life.
So finding the fertile idea is at once a completion of a process and the beginning of a new one. As an end, it brings us full circle to a more conscious glimpse of the being—the riddle—that formed the starting point of the investigation. As a beginning, it is the soil for further work and vital new insights. Goethe’s approach to science is itself a fertile idea that still has ample life to unfold.

The next article are notes from a lecture by J Bockemühl  during a landscape week with Petrarca in Holland.(pictures will come!)

Dialogue with nature
How can we meet the world around us as a living organism?
At first I call your attention to two ways of seeing the world: Firstly to meet and to become aware of things as objects of the world, like stones, plants etc. Secondly to meet the atmosphere of something, especially of a landscape.

Objects of the world
Here you see a stone (picture 1). Now I invite you to ask yourself: How do I become aware of the stone? ‘It appears in front of me’, ‘opposite to me’, ‘separated’, ‘ in a certain form’. Are we aware that in the moment when we see an object in such a way we create the separation between inside and outside in our consciousness?
It is our self-consciousness that starts to wake up opposite to the objects. Do we really know what we mean when we say ‘I am’? Nobody can say this to me except me. If we feel this relationship to the earth we sometimes feel ourselves lost, as a nothing. What we touch in such important moments is a kind of inner infinity. We feel a need to fill this inner hole. With an adequate awareness forgotten occurrences of the past can rise within us.
To become conscious, the own biography can help to find rest in oneself but this does not open us to the needs of the world. Often we are satisfied to know the name of the object and some qualities we are interested in. In this case we only presume to know what it is. We take this as given in further dealing with it. That is our daily behaviour. It helps us to become successful without having to bother about the world behind the names.
But why do we say ‘this is a stone’ and not ‘a piece of bark’? Stone relates us to a whole context of mountains and rocks, to other substances and also to cosmic relationships. Bark relates us to trees in a certain landscape and to life between growing and decaying etc. These are different physical and spiritual worlds. Can you feel your change of attitude when you look at the object as a stone or as bark? The outer appearance for the senses does do not know what the objects are, we start feeling and thinking to experience the world to which the perception belongs.
Answers to what we perceive from outside always come from inside ourselves. If we try to open up to the appearance very exactly then we increasingly feel the depth of the riddle which is given to us in that moment of perceiving. The riddles relate us to future understanding of the being which speaks and activates our interest. If we use names and concepts like ‘this is this or that’ we often take them for answers. But they are only like shadows in our thinking. We take them normally unconsciously for the whole physical and spiritual context which belongs to the piece we are looking at. But if we take them as questions – what do I really mean with the names and concepts – then they open our view into a certain unexpected spiritual direction. The dialogue begins. The concept becomes a tool to anticipate a being and to experience what speaks out of the appearances to us.

Atmosphere of the landscape
When we approach nature we do not meet only objects like stones, trees, animals etc. We also meet the atmosphere of a landscape. Single appearances belong to it. But they are not the landscape. With the intention to meet a landscape we turn our attitude of awareness into the opposite direction than we do when we meet objects. In this case we are not focused from outside on a certain point seeing the stone but we try to enter into a wholeness to feel the landscape. The mood which we perceive then is like coming from all sides. The two pictures (picture 2 and 3) of South-English landscapes should illustrate two of such impressions. You can experience them yourself when you imagine walking into the landscape of chalk hills with meadows and grazing sheep close to the sea (picture 2) or into a misty heather landscape (picture 3).
Here I can only illustrate by pictures what appears to our senses when we see the outer world. But the pictures also help us to become aware of our own participation in the different ways of perceiving. Even when we look only at a picture with a frame we get inspired to take what is inside the frame as a whole, as an atmosphere.
The two kinds of perceiving the world, as objects and as atmosphere, belong together, and they come together in us by our inner activity to relate them. Trees, meadows etc., become parts of the image of the whole. Each one has its own atmosphere but always in relation to the whole which grows in us, becoming familiar like a friend. It might be obvious that the world becomes richer and richer when we participate in that way in the life of such a place like Bleijendijk. Nature and human beings grow into a living organism as far as the consciousness of the whole is growing in one self.
We can symbolise this rhythmic life process of uniting ourselves with the world around us by a lemniscate:
The crossing and turning point is like our heart which is the organ to keep the balance between inside and outside and between thinking and will activities.

Understanding the inner nature of the four elements as the first step to relate us to the spiritual past of the world
Normally we understand earth, water, air, and fire (or warmth) as only existing in the outer world. But you can experience them yourself: Your own attitude to look at nature is the inner complement to the reality of the elements. With Picture 3 you can feel the atmosphere as you would see the sky. When you turn the picture you will experience that it does not give you any orientation.
Air: The atmosphere normally appears very little as a kind of material substance. The atmosphere, together with the outer light and our inner light, allows us to see the appearances of the world, and through this to meet the cosmos (cosmos meant in its original understanding ‘brightness, beauty, order and infinity’).
That experience changes if we add the second picture (4). Only if we put it horizontally, that means related to our own uprightness, it gives us the feeling of seeing water. It relates us to an infinite wideness while standing on an indefinite point. Water we don’t see directly. The impression of
water appears for our consciousness by interweaving pictures of the sky and of the earth.
When we now introduce a certain formed object like an island (picture 4) into the picture, our attitude to see the landscape is changing again. By this earthly impression of an island we now experience ourselves as standing on a certain locality on earth.
Because these are only pictures we can discover that we complete them by our intention to look at them. The way the pictures appear inspires us to look at them in a certain way. Both belong together.
Warmth does not only come from outside. We live in warmth and we warm up by our interest for the world to unite us with it.
From these steps of experience we start to wake up for our own participation in nature and in the whole social world. We become inspired to actively contribute to it. As far as we look closely into the world with the intention described here we can meet ourselves and thus become aware of
what appears in us. We learn to take part in the world around us.

A special edition of the magazine Janus Head (summer 2005) was devoted on Goethe, which you can find at Janushead   Here follow some abstracts.

'Place, Goethe and Phenomenology: A Theoretic Journey'

by John Cameron
This essay is a journey into the phenomenology of place and Goethe’s science of nature by an Australian lecturer on the philosophies and practices of place-based education. It takes the form of a series of encounters with leading figures in the field – David Seamon, Henri Bortoft and Isis Brook, as well as an application of Goethean science to some granite outcroppings on the Cornish coast of England. The profundity of the phenomenological concepts of ‘natural attitude’ and ‘lifeworld’ is discussed together with ideas behind Goethe’s participative and intuitive practices. Goethean science and phenomenology have enormous potential to deepen the experience, understanding and expression of place relationships, but they put challenging demands upon students and lecturers within the structure of a university subject.

'Zarte Empirie: Goethean Science as a Way of Knowing'

by Daniel C. Wahl
This paper explores the ‘delicate empiricism’ proposed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s scientific work provided an alternative epistemology to that of conventional science.The author discusses the Goethean way of knowing. Particular emphasis is given to the changed understanding of process, form and participation that results from employing the epistemology expressed by Goethe. A methodology for Goethean science is introduced and its applications and their implications are explored. Goethe’s “zarte Empirie” – his delicate empiricism - legitimises and organizes the role of imagination, intuition and inspiration in science. It may contribute significantly to the emerging participatory and holistic worldview, and to providing knowledge that is in tune with nature. This paper explores how and why.

'Goethe’s Way of Science as a Phenomenology of Nature'

by David Seamon
In this article, I argue that Goethe’s way of science, understood as a phenomenology of nature, might be one valuable means for fostering a deeper sense of responsibility and care for the natural world. By providing a conceptual and lived means to allow the natural world to present itself in a way by which it might speak if it were able, Goethe’s method offers one conceptual and applied means to bypass the reductive accounts of nature typically produced by standard scientific and humanist perspectives. I illustrate this possibility largely through examples from Goethe’s Theory of Color (1810).


'New Organs of Perception: Goethean Science as a Cultural Therapeutics'

by Brent Dean Robbins
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s approach to science is a radical departure from the Cartesian-Newtonian scientific framework and offers contemporary science a pathway toward the cultivation of an alternative approach to the study of the natural world. This paper argues that the Cartesian- Newtonian pathway is pathological because it has as its premise humanity’s alienation from the natural world, which sets up a host of consequences that terminate in nihilism. As an alternative approach to science, Goethe’s “delicate empiricism” begins with the premise that humanity is fundamentally at home in the world: a notion which forms the basis for a Goethean science that gives primacy to perception, offers a more organic and holistic conception of the universe, and has as its goal the cultivation of aesthetic appreciation and morally responsive obligation to the observed. As an antidote to nihilism and as the basis for a more fulfilling and morally responsive science, Goethean science may serve as a kind of cultural therapeutics, a project which is necessarily interdisciplinary since it requires the integration of multiple ways of seeing from the natural sciences, the human sciences, and the humanities.

'Goethe and the Refiguring of Intellectual Inquiry: From ‘Aboutness’-Thinking to ‘Withness’-Thinking in Everyday Life'

by John Shotter
Central to the paper below, is an emphasis on the spontaneously responsive nature of our living bodies, and on the special intertwined, dialogic, or chiasmic nature of events that can occur only in our meetings with others and otherness around us. As participants in such meetings, immediately responsive ‘withness-understandings’ become available to us that are quite different to the ‘aboutness-understandings’ we arrive at as disengaged, intellectual spectators. I argue that Goethe’s “delicate empiricism”, far from being an arcane form of understanding, is a deliberately extended version of this kind of withness-understanding – an anticipatory form of practical understanding that gives us a direct sense of how, in Wittgenstein’s (1953) terms, to ‘go on’ with the others and othernesses around us in our daily lives.