Why study Holistic Science?

by | Dec 18, 2020

In this blog we delve into the thinking behind our Holistic Science course, its pertinence in relation to the current global crises we’re facing, and its enduring relevance as one the foundational courses here at Schumacher College.

Put simply, Holistic Science teaches a broader, more colourful approach to science and knowledge than has become conventional today. It argues that there is much more to science than just numerical or measurable data, important though that is to developing our understanding of things.

As Dr Troy Vine, Lecturer on the programme, explains, “we’re interested in exploring what the relationship is between human beings and the world and how we understand the world. All of these different crises seem to be coming at the same time and one of the reasons for this I think is partly because we are trained or have become accustomed to thinking in a certain kind of way. And on the Holistic Science programme we want to really investigate what that thinking is, how it arose and also whether it’s not possible to think in different kinds of ways.”

Troy is joined by Dr Stephan Harding, our Deep Ecology Research Fellow and author of the forthcoming Gaia Alchemy, who teaches a core module on the course. One of the co-founders of Schumacher College, Stephan gives the following insight into the thinking behind the course he founded 30 years ago. “What we do in Holistic Science is to recombine what was split apart in ourselves during the scientific revolution, in other words quantities and qualities. We’re very familiar with quantities, it’s what we can measure and what we can model mathematically about the world. It’s very important and has given us a lot of useful information and technologies. But we’ve lost complete touch with the qualities of the world. The qualities are things like what it feels like to be in front of a great mountain, or the feelings you get when you look at a flower, so it’s a more poetic sensitivity, which we’ve completely abolished in science. And that’s made science very dry and unfortunately very destructive of nature.”

Why study Holistic Science at Schumacher College?
Troy Vine again: “So the course in a way is like a pendulum that swings back and forth between going into nature or going into the experience of a particular phenomenon, like colour or plants, and then looking at what famous scientists might have said about them, looking at theories about the phenomena that have been developed in the past and in a way assessing those theories in light of our own experiences. It’s a truly interdisciplinary course. We look at the history of science, we look at philosophy, but we also do the experiments that these scientists have done. And by combining the sciences and the humanities on a daily basis we then build up a real understanding of science, and so the whole question of what science is we approach in a holistic way.”

In terms of what you will be doing during your time with us here at Dartington, it’s a mix of experiential learning informing theory, and a strong emphasis on community. As Stephan explains, “If you decide to join the programme in January 2021 you’ll be part of a very tight knit Holistic Science learning group, as well as joining the broader community here at Dartington Trust, with its two faculties, Schumacher College and Dartington Arts School. Students learn together sometimes all in a class, sometimes on your own out in the woods, sometimes with a partner or two other partners. You’ll be doing things like attending lectures but you’ll also be giving your own presentations, you may be doing art work, you may be working with your hands, you’ll be working the gardens, you’ll be cooking and cleaning. We’ll be doing expeditions into the nearby wild places here on the estate and also on Dartmoor and you’ll have a lot of very careful pastoral care given to you by the community as a whole. It’s a very nurturing community you’ll feel really at home you’ll really feel you’re part of a family.”

“So it’s a very rich mix. Also the college is imbedded within the Dartington estate, a very beautiful estate with a beautiful medieval hall where there are often concerts and events, there’s a cinema on site, a restaurant and bar. Totnes is not far away, a really lovely Elizabethan town, one of the most beautiful towns in England, with all sorts of interesting things going on. There’s also Transition Town Totnes, which started the whole transition movement here. There’s a rich hive of activists thinkers and ecologists in this area so you’ll be coming to one of the centres of light I would say for ecological regeneration and for developing a real Gaian consciousness.”

By way of conclusion, we asked Pavel Cenkl, Head of Schumacher College and Director of Learning at Dartington Trust, to sum up how Holistic Science fits in to the broader learning programme at the College, and to explain what he feels makes this course so central to what we do here. “Holistic Science is a foundational course for anyone interested in exploring ways that we can re-think how we approach the world around us. In a time of extreme environmental and social challenges, it’s important to challenge our assumptions about how we relate to ourselves, to one another, and to the more-than-human world. With roots in the study of complexity and systems thinking, Holistic Science is a cornerstone of Schumacher College’s approach to challenging preconceptions, fostering new ways of seeing, and developing new frameworks for building a regenerative and ecologically-centred future.”