Holistic Science Online Talks

A series of free online talks from experts in the field

Join us live (or catch up online) with this series of free monthly talks on the subject of Holistic Science, organised by Schumacher College in collaboration with the Field Centre


These events are part of the outreach programme for the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College. 

Talks take place on the first Thursday of the month. Where possible talks will become available to watch shortly after broadcast below.

about our holistic science msc

Previous talks


With With Dr Isis Brook
Thursday 7 October, 4pm

More about this talk

The evidence is now well established that natural environments, nearby nature, and just being with plants can improve mental wellbeing. This is now driving social developments such as school gardening, therapeutic horticulture, increasing green spaces in urban environments, and doctors prescribing time in nature. How does it work? What is happening in human beings when we have plants around? And could that be deepened? Drawing on my experience of working with Colquhoun, Goodwin, and Bortoft (who all drew on Goethe’s scientific work) this talk will focus on one of the shifts in consciousness that they believed was required to explore plant-ness. This shift relates closely to concepts important to holistic science, such as non-duality, and concepts important to ethics and aesthetics, such as unselfing. However, unlike concepts as ideas one might read about, the plant realm itself can lead us to these beneficial experiences.


Isis Brook completed a PhD on Goethean science whilst training with Margaret Colquhoun in the early 1990s. She has been a university lecturer for over twenty five years mainly teaching environmental philosophy and aesthetics and is author of numerous research papers in these areas. Her most recent post was with Crossfields Institute, in Stroud UK, where she was involved in designing and teaching on their innovative Masters programme ‘Researching Holistic Approaches to Agroecology’. Isis is now semi-retired and as a Research Fellow continues to write on phenomenology, plants, landscapes, and Goethe’s approach to nature. However, a lot of her time is now spent in the garden and on her allotment.

Restoring the Vertical: The Contemporary Relevance of Schumacher’s Guide for the Perplexed

With Jonathan Code
Thursday 2 September, 4pm

More about this talk

E.F. Schumacher is perhaps most well known for his book Small is Beautiful, his challenge to the often still-dominant idea that ‘bigger is better’ in technological innovation, developmental terms and economic realms. He is less well known for his book Guide for the Perplexed even though he regarded this text as his most important achievement.

The manuscript which we can now read as Schumacher’s Guide was given by him to his daughter just before he died, and as he handed it to her he spoke these words; “this is what my life has been leading to”. This talk explores the contemporary relevance of Schumacher’s Guide – and argues for its importance at a time when any number of perplexing events meet us today for which we seem to lack adequate compasses, maps…or guides.

As a contribution to this brief exploration of Schumacher’s Guide for the Perplexed this talk will draw on the work of Jan Meyer and Ray Land and the research they instigated in threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge.

about the speaker

Jonathan Code is a lecturer in sustainable land management at the Royal Agricultural University (Cirencester), a senior lecturer with Crossfields Institute and an independent workshop leader and teacher. Jonathan’s areas of interest and research include agroecology, sustainable and regenerative agriculture, social and environmental education, the history and philosophy of science, the arts and crafts (particularly as they feature in pedagogy).

Jonathan is the author of Muck and Mind: Encountering Biodynamic Agriculture (Lindisfarne) and editor/co-author of Crafting: Transforming Materials and the Maker (HandsOn Press). Jonathan is completing his PhD at Bath University in the department of Education.

Goethe’s Polemics against Newton: A Morphological Approach to History of Science

With Troy Vine
Thursday 5 August, 4pm

More about this talk
Newton’s and Goethe’s approach to colours are usually presented as diametrically opposed. Heisenberg, for example, contended that Newton and Goethe investigated separate domains, namely physical and psychological colours respectively. Wittgenstein is more extreme when he claims that “phenomenological analysis (as e.g. Goethe would have it) is analysis of concepts and can neither agree with or contradict physics”. The problem with such an interpretation, however, is that it renders Goethe’s polemics against Newton misguided and mistaken.

The paradox is that the more we make Goethe’s approach differ from Newton’s, the less effective and more mistaken his critique of Newton becomes. It seems we can’t have both. Yet if we take a morphological approach and place Newton in a sequence between Descartes and Goethe, we can indeed give an account that allows Goethe’s approach to radically differ from Newton’s whilst also preserving his critique. In this talk I will present such an account and therewith an example of what could be called a morphological approach to history of science.

about the speaker

Troy Vine received his doctorate from University College London based on experimental research at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago. After studying Goethean science in America and Germany he moved to Berlin to do a second doctorate, this time in philosophy, at Humboldt University. In his research he is developing a morphological approach to history and philosophy of science based on Goethe and Wittgenstein. He has published articles on Newton, Goethe, Wittgenstein, Barfield and Bortoft, and has edited and translated a number of books on Goethean science including the forthcoming edited volume Goethe, Ritter und die Polarität. He is programme lead for the Holistic Science MSc at Schumacher College and co-editor of the Holistic Science Journal.

Deep Ecology and the Healing of the Earth

With Stephan Harding
Thursday 1 July, 4pm

More about this talk

The term ‘deep ecology’ was coined and developed in the 1970s by the eminent Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer, Arne Naess as his contribution to solving the global ecological crisis.

The word ”ecology” originates in the science of biology, where it is used to refer to the ways in which living things interact with each other and with their surroundings. For Arne Naess, ecological science, concerned with facts and logic alone, cannot answer ethical questions about how we should live in relation to the natural world. For this he said that we need to develop our own individual ecological wisdom, or ‘ecosophy’ as an evolving but consistent philosophy of being, thinking and acting in the world that embodies ecological wisdom and harmony.

In this talk we will explore how deep ecology encourages each of us to develop such wisdom for ourselves by focussing on three interconnected aspects of depth: deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment which give rise to and support each other. In the process, we’ll focus on the life and work of some key ecological thinkers and activists and we’ll embark on a journey to Arne’s cabin in the high mountains of Norway to explore how we can apply his insights to develop our own ecosophy to help us ponder our own contributions for helping solve the accelerating planetary crisis.

about the speaker

In 1990 Stephan was one of the founding members of Schumacher College where he worked closely with James Lovelock, with whom he has maintained a long-lasting friendship and scientific collaboration. Stephan coordinated and lectured on the college’s MSc Holistic Science for nearly two decades, teaching on the core models of the programme, as well as on several short courses at the College. They were jointly appointmed as founding chair holders of the Arne Naess Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo. At Schumacher College Stephan has taught alongside many of the world’s leading ecological thinkers and activists, including Arne Naess, Fritjof Capra, Brian Goodwin, Vandana Shiva, David Abram, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. He is now the Deep Ecology Fellow at Schumacher College.

watch now: Alfred North Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism

With Matthew D. Segall
Thursday 3 June, 4pm

More about this talk

This talk introduces Alfred North Whitehead’s “Philosophy of Organism,” a novel metaphysical scheme that he articulated in the first half of the twentieth century not only as a protest against the lifeless Nature imagined by scientific materialism, but also as a rejection of the narrow linguistic analysis and sterile logical positivism of his philosophical contemporaries. His was an attempt to make natural science philosophical again by asking whether physical causes and motions need be so violently segregated from the conscious reasons and emotions by which we apprehend them. We will explore the major themes of his magnum opus, Process & Reality, wherein Whitehead attempts to construct an organic system of the universe that not only brings quantum and relativity theories into coherence, but gathers up scientific truths, aesthetic feelings, and religious values into an integral vision of reality.

About the speaker

Matthew D. Segall is a process philosopher whose research focuses on process-relational thought (especially Alfred North Whitehead) and German Idealism (especially Friedrich Schelling). He is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA (CIIS.edu). He has published articles on a wide-array of topics, including metaphysics, Gaia theory, religious studies, psychedelics, and architecture. He also blogs regularly at footnotes2plato.com.  

Photo credit: NASA


With Oriane Petteni
Thursday 6 May, 4pm

More about this talk*

Notes on the above film: Due to a technical error with Zoom, Oriane’s talk on 8 May is unavailable to watch back. However, we have procured a recording of another of Oriane’s talks (entitled ‘Goethe Now: From Morphology to Artificial Life’) from 8th April at the conference on The Concept of Nature in German Idealism, organized by the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Many thanks to Luis Felipe Garcia for kindly allowing us to make this recording available online as part of the online Holistic Science Lecture Series at Schumacher College.

About Oriane’s talk on 6 May

This talk approaches the Goethean Morphology as the forerunner of contemporary techniques of pattern generation via natural computing and computer graphics. I propose to read Goethe’s Morphology as an original device of reduction, departing from the phenomenological realm to intuit nature’s self-generating processes. In this context, the main remit of reduction is not to simplify complexity, as is usually the case in modern natural sciences, but rather to let visually emerge the autonomous processes that superintend the generation of complexity itself. In this sense, I understand Goethe’s main gesture as an attempt to comprehend the logic of nature from within, instead of merely trying to represent or mimic it. I show how this very methodological gesture paved the way to some of the most innovative branches of natural computing and Artificial Life: namely, how the use of computer graphics and computer simulation in natural computing context can be seen as a contemporary actualization of Goethe’s research program. Finally, I ask how the later can contribute to change the definition of the notion of life itself.

About the speaker

Oriane Petteni is Dr. in Philosophy. She specializes in Post-Kantianism, Naturphilosophie, Post-Structuralism and Speculative Realism. Her dissertation, titled “The Semiotic Cut and the Representation Crisis : Three Answers from Classical German Philosophy (Hegel-Goethe-Schelling)” was mainly concerned with mapping the different strategies offered by prominent Post-Kantian thinkers to overcome the nature-culture modern dualism, tracing their rhizomatic effects in cross-disciplinary fields such as cosmology, epistemology, aesthetics and politics. Her most recent work extend this line of research by trying both to develop an ecocritic approach of the Naturphilosophie corpus and a reevaluation of the role it played for the development of late modernity.

Photo credit: from “The Algorithmic beauty of Plants” by Aristid Lindenmayer and Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz

Goethe and the Evolution of Science

With Craig Holdrege
Thursday 4 March, 4pm

More about this talk

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was both creative artist and scientist. He viewed and practiced science as a participatory endeavor – an evolving dialogue between the human being and nature. He believed the human being needs to develop ever more refined capacities to do justice to the deeper nature of nature. In this talk, Craig Holdrege will present key features of the Goethean approach to science, based on Goethe’s own research, and discuss its relevance for the present and future. 

About the speaker

Craig Holdrege, Ph.D., is the founder and director of The Nature Institute in Ghent, NY, which is dedicated to research and educational activities using phenomenological, contextual methods to understand nature and the place of humanity within nature. An educator and biologist, he carries out research applying Goethean phenomenology to whole organisms and also critically examines scientific thinking and new developments in the biological sciences. His most recent books include Thinking Like a Plant: A Living Science for Life (2013) and Do Frogs Come From Tadpoles? — Rethinking Origins in Development and Evolution (2017). 

The Beaver, My Teacher: A study in holistic zoology

With Judyth Sassoon
Thursday 1 April, 4pm

More about this talk

The reintroduction of beavers to the UK is attracting much attention and their capacity to modify ecosystems is especially significant. Here I present a multi-perspective, organismic study of these captivating creatures, showing how their characteristic “signatures” reveal themselves at multiple organisational levels: morphological, physiological, behavioural, ecological and evolutionary. The holistic methods used here are inspired by the scientific studies of German polymath, J.W. Goethe and the work of neurologist Kurt Goldstein.

About the speaker

Judyth received her doctorate in biochemistry from Oxford University. She spent the next ten years in academia, working on the structure of antioxidant molecules at the University of Bern (Switzerland) and at the RIKEN Institute, Japan. On returning to the UK, she shifted her research focus to whole organisms and since 2009 has worked at the University of Bristol on the comparative morphology of fossilised aquatic vertebrates. She teaches biology to pre-university, undergraduate and postgraduate students and joined the Ruskin Mill Field Centre to pursue studies of Goethe’s morphological works.

Image credit: David Hudson

This monthly series is a collaboration between Schumacher College and the Field Centre.