Three in One Page 2
Plants (Goethe's perspective) continued
Useful in his investigations was his attitude towards apparent aberrations in nature. These were not ignored as oddities - embarrassing exceptions to the usual rule, to be ignored as inconvenient - but as clear examples of possibilities. The fact that many tulips exhibit colour in their leaves can be seen as an indication that the condition normally associated with a petal can exist in the leaf; indeed they are the same organ exhibiting a mixture of expressions. Frequently flowers are found which have petals growing where stamens are expected.
The Threefold aspect of the leaf
It requires effort to see things differently. The suggestion here is that to observe, and truly understand, living nature, we must use and develop our holistic mode of consciousness. By so doing, and by practising this, we consequently develop latent organs of perception within us. We have developed our analytical mode of consciousness as a necessary consequence of the scientific revolution. But the scientific approach that began with Francic Bacon back in the seventeenth century, and has resulted in a staggering increase in the pace of technological advancement and the consequential improvement in peoples' lives, started with the investigation of the non-living, material world. This has led to the assumption that living organisms can be equally successfully investigated as complex arrangements of 'matter in motion'; that the analytical style of investigation will eventually lead us to an understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved. Indeed, that the mere organization of matter can give rise to life. Genetics continues on this road, with genetic engineering its technological equivalent; and there can be no doubt that many benefits of this approach will accrue. It is doubtful that it alone will be sufficient to explain the phenomenon of life. We should be aware, as the atomic physicist, Heisenberg, stated 'when we observe living organisms as physical and chemical systems, they have always to act as such'. Goethe realised this and his approach is now receiving somewhat of a revival with more and more eminent scientists looking back at his work, and seeing that it still has much to offer in the organic sciences. It has come to be known as 'Goethean Science'.
Let us look closer at his investigations of plants.To keep things simple Goethe chose to consider, in the main, annual plants. By doing so he could observe their development from embryonic conditions right through to setting seed. When we 'participate' in the plant's process of becoming we can start by imagining ourselves to be within the growing plant. There is, firstly, the sense of an initial expansion as the shoot and leaves burst forth sequentially from the highly contracted form of the seed, followed by a contraction as the calyx (the group of sepals radiating from the stem) forms. Then an expansion occurs whereby the 'leaves' emerge as petals, followed by a contraction as the reproductive organs form. Then a third expansion occurs as the fruit develops, followed by a contraction to the seed. It is as though the organism needs to take a breath in, before making an out-breath.
So the living plant organism develops through a series of three fundamental changes of form, brought about by three processes of expansion and contraction. We can see the material effects of these expansive and contractive forces acting within the plant by observing a sequence of the leaf-organs on a growing plant. These are easiest to see in plants that exhibit relatively large changes of leaf-form during the growing period; for example the leaves of a dandelion, paeonia, poppy or groundsel.
Having selected your plant (Helleborus foetidus is shown here) remove the leaves one at a time, in order, starting at the bottom of the stem and place them in order on a large sheet of paper. You will see that, typically, the leaves start small and simply-formed, become larger and more complex, and then reduce in size and complexity as the leaves approach the flower. The expansion and contraction can be clearly seen. A case of nature's hidden secrets being made visible. It is interesting to note that, once again, the leaves may be viewed, statically, one at a time; or the sequence, the development, of the leaves can be seen in one complete, holistic, sweep. Also the leaf shapes cannot be attributed to adaptation (à la Darwin) but arise from an inner expression of the plant itself.
Also, it should be noted (and tried out!) that, should the leaves drop on the floor, and become mixed up, there is every chance that you can intuitively place them back within their original order of development.
This idea can be extended by arranging typical leaves of different species into an intuitively derived sequence; this would come closer to creating a natural system for the grouping of plants (according to the intuitively perceived relationship between forms) than the usual botanical, and seemingly arbitrary, classification based on the number and distribution of sexual organs within a flower, established by Linneaus.