Goethe’s phenomenology

I’m living in Munich, Germany these days and I have been learning a lot, or maybe it just seems that way when the inaccuracies of our stereotypes are revealed to us. I thought something I picked up recently about Goethe (I didn’t know he was a philosopher/scientist) might be of interest to you, it is about the recent resurgence of Goethe’s scientific theory of phenomenology.

It seems Goethe’s theory has never been widely popular but it may now be emerging as an element of counter-culture against the cold, rational process of ‘modern’ science. Reading about how Goethe advocated for an immersive, experiential method of learning struck me as being aligned with a recent MOOC I participated in from MIT on Theory U and its application to creating societal change, as well as the Agile Manifesto and Quest Augmented Strategy.

Goethe’s phenomenology is being put forward as a scientific means of ‘fostering openness toward the living presence of the natural world..and it’s sensual presence as expressed, for example, through light, darkness and colour’. As far as I can tell this openness is expected to come from Goethe’s phenomenological scientific method more so than our modern, cold, laboratory based method of examining phenomena because Goethe’s advocates for an immersive, experiential examination in the natural environment of the phenomena rather than within the vacuum of a laboratory.

Theory U, the Agile Manifesto and Quest Augmented Strategy all seem to have the same thing in common – they advocate at some level for an emphasis and prioritisation of experiential learning over theoretical learning. Granted, in most cases they argue for this because of the increasing rapidity with which the world is changing and the increasing redundancy of the past, but they still trumpet the benefits of immersive, experiential learning over and above theoretical knowledge. Also, it is worth noting that is only one element of the above concepts, they are all worth exploring further.

Based on the recent success of these three concepts, is there then hope that a move towards experiential learning  in general will teach us better how to be open to different cultures and be more adaptive to technology and changing climates? Rudolph Steiner, the creator of the Waldorf/Steiner School certainly seems to think so, but that is not new. These schools have been in operation since the early 20th century. The movement of people, the diversification of the workforce and our ideas and the openness of our leaders and society to these changes seems more and more critical and required as changes occur more rapidly. Despite what some might think, the election of BREXIT and Trump as USA president are unlikely to slow the pace of change. Regression is change also, and if the global financial crisis showed us anything, it was that our economic and social systems are already vastly interconnected. Decisions or actions in one place will create a ripple effect around the world that can compound rapidly to create severe and unexpected implications, and change, where it originated.

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