Chs. VIII & IX – On Gestalt Psychology and the Theory of the Physical Gestalten & The Nature of Biological Knowledge

Epoché (VIII), 10. 9. 2020

A synopsis of our reading of The Organism by Kurt Goldstein

VIII. “On Gestalt Psychology and the Theory of the Physical Gestalten” (pp. 285-304)


IX. “The Nature of Biological Knowledge” (pp. 305-324)

Abridgment by: Sebastjan Vörös
[his outline and commentary of the whole book can be found here]

Chapter VIII: On Gestalt Psychology and the Theory of the Physical Gestalten

Goldstein says that, in many respects, his basic view agrees with Gestalt psychology. However, he is adamant that the conception that he is trying to develop is not simply “a psychological physiology” based on Gestalt principles, as other scholars (e.g. Matthaei) are trying to develop. In general, he is quite skeptical of applying views and laws from one field of research to another; but he is particularly skeptical in the present instance, because he feels that psychology could be well regarded as a special field of biological knowledge, but not vice versa.

Although he finds many things in Gestalt psychology useful, Goldstein points out that he has built his conception around a different guiding principle:

“[T]he ‘whole’, the ‘Gestalt’, has always meant to me the whole organism and not the phenomena in one field, or merely the ‘introspective experiences’, which in Gestalt psychology play quite an important part.” (285)

The difference in their respective guiding principles entail certain other differences. To begin with, there is the difference in how the appearance and the nature of preferred events, of “good Gestalten”, is understood. According to G-psychologists, “we are dealing with a self-organization of the ‘excitation’ field occasioned by a stimulus, with a ‘segregation’ that is determined by the events in the field and that takes place according to certain laws of organization”. It is said, for instance, that factors such as “similarity” and “nearness” lead to a distinct patterning in a unit. Simple and regular figures seem to form more easily and more usually than irregular forms, etc. The process of self-distribution has a distinctive “preference” to correspond to definite field requirements (285-6).

Now, if one were to ask: How does this preference come about? The answer seems to be twofold.

(1) G-psychology is primarily based on phenomenally given experiencesand seeks to determine experiential Gestalten and the laws which govern them.

(2) G-psychology points to certain objective factors of Gestalt formation, e.g., Wertheimer’s criteria: nearnes, homogeneity, simplicity, symmetry, closure, etc. (286)

In contrast, Goldstein’s main concern is in gasping not merely the actual “givenness” of Gestalt phenomena, but also their corresponding objective stimulational factors. What will turn out to be a Gestalt for an organism depends predominantly on the organism’s structure. The structure of the world, Goldstein adds, is not indifferent to it, but it would seem that, in his view, it is not crucial (286).

Preferred Behaviour and Gestalt

(x) Good Gestalt as a definite form of coming to terms of the organism with the world

The “preferred situations” [!], to which the good Gestalten belong, reveal characteristics that include not only a reference to the organism in general but also to a very definite kind of activity of the organism. In preferred situations, (i) the performances are executed in the prompest, most correct manner, and with the best possible self-assurance; (ii) the sensory thresholds are the most constant and the lowest; (iii) the movements take place in the most adequate and most definite way; (iv) the distribution of “attention” occurs that provides the best apprehension of the world in accordance with the situation. From all this it follows that preferred behaviour (= good Gestalt) represents a very definite form of coming to terms of the organism with the world – the form in which the organism actualizes itself according to its nature in the best possible way(286-7).

If we construe matters in this way, we can do more than simply state that good Gestalten are directly given experiences (as G-psychologists do); rather, they become intelligible as to their causation. More specifically: tendency toward preferred behaviour means self-organization of the system by means of which the tension equalizes itself toward the “adequate mean” that alone makes possible the phenomena described above (the constancy of thresholds, of the performances, etc.). Thus, in Goldstein’s view, the apprehension of the essential nature of an organism is a sine qua non for the proper evaluation of what constitutes a good Gestalt.

It would seem that a variety of possibilities, which the world in its entirety offers, are of such a sort that the greatest variety of creatures can find adequacy. Yet on the other hand, it is probably that, corresponding to the inherent properties of the world, only a limited number of Gestalt possibilities (= potentialities of patterning) really exist, i.e. that only creatures of definite organization can “be”. Now, since – for many creatures – certain characteristics of the “good Gestalt” are qualitatively the same, it is, at least to a certain extent, possible to deduce the Gestalten from the structural organization of nature. Consequently, investigation of the Gestalten does not merely teach us something about the functional patterning of the organism, but also about the essential features of nature (287).

As long as we limit ourselves, as G-psychologists do, to the material of phenomenally given experience, the Gestalt can just be described as “given”. In general, it could be said that such an approach is based on an observational method, which takes place during a certain perceptual isolation. Thus, the perceptual Gestalten, by which the theory was originally guided, show a number of characteristics that indicate a great conformity with the typical peculiarities of somatic reactions in isolation (287).

What are some of these peculiarities?

(a) Ambiguity

The first peculiarity is the ambiguity in the reaction to an objectively constant stimulus constellation. G-psychologists tend to emphasize that this ambiguity is dependent on the Gestalt process itself. For instance, the alternation of F/G in the figure of Rubin is said to be depend on the choice of the observer (288).

Goldstein replies that this may hold true for this (and similar) experiment(s), but does not indicate that this emergence of reversal of F/G is a characteristic of “normal” or “naturalGestalt processes. In fact, it is possible that this alternation is the consequence of the special situation in which Gestalten appear in this case. As with the so-called reflex reversal it is possible that it is the result of stimulus reaction “in isolation” (laboratory setting) (288).

And just as it has been observed that reflexes vary when changes in the rest of the organism take place, so we can alter the perceptual Gestalten experienced in one sensory field by varying the excitation state in the rest of the organism. The good Gestalt in one field can be changed into a bad one through all kinds of sensory, motor, etc. changes in the organism, and vice versa (288-9).

Example: objective vertical: The objective vertical no longer corresponds to the normally preferred configuration if we, together with the visual presentation, stimulate the subject’s labyrinth or apply ice to the surface of his neck. What happens then is that a line, somewhat tilted to the opposite side of the stimulation, is experienced as vertical (289).

In sum, it could be stated that the Gestalten, which are given in perception through one sensory organ, are Gestalten that belong to a very definite condition of the organism, namely, to an isolated stimulus utilization in one part, while the rest of the organism is artificially kept relatively constant. This means that, while it is feasible to regard them as the expression of self-organization of the nervous processes, they can be regarded as such only in a part of the system. The constancy of other processes is a prerequisite for the “self-organization in a part”, which is the main focal point of Gestalt psychologists.

(x) Stability and reality, or (b) Stability

In addition to ambiguity, G-psychologists emphasize the stability of certain phenomena. Köhler maintains that certain “field parts” segregate themselves as forms experienced as, and adequate to, the real. However, one must ask oneself why is it that precisely these field parts segregate themselves? Köhler tries to explain this stability by the self-organization in the field. We have met this stability two times so far: (a) in reference to the stability of the conditioned reflex; (b) in reference to the ordered, normal coming to terms of the organism with the world. Clearly, in our context, (a) is inappropriate, which leaves us with (b). But (b), Goldstein stresses, is a phenomenon of stability that is related to the whole organism (289-90).

From this it follows that stability and adequacy (“real form”) are not to be explained by self-organization in a part of the system, but rather by an adequate reaction of the whole organism:

“One may put it in other words: Stability and ‘real’ form are to be explained by self-organization of a field, in this case, of that field that is the whole organism in a given situation. Stability would then be the expression of the fact that something is experienced by us as real. Reality means that something features in the adequate stimulus reaction of the whole organism, that such a form of reaction prevails that makes ordered behavior possible and, with it, the realization of the essential nature of the organism. In other words, a thing is not real because of its stability; rather it is stable because of its ‘reality’.” (290)

Goldstein walks us through several examples to demonstrate various degrees of reality/stability. If we focus merely on pure sense perceptions, as, for instance, the visual phenomena of Gestalten in the laboratory, we find both stability (akin to that of the conditioned reflexes) and instability (akin to alternating phases of the reflex reversal). The visual phenomena, under such lab settings, appear to us relatively unreal. Yet if we regard a figure on paper as a drawing of an object, then it becomes a little more real. Further, von Hornbostel’s “inverse figures” show an even greater character of reality, because the individual mental set already necessitates a participation of the whole organism. However, since even here the relation to the whole organism is somewhat artificial, these object formations appear strangely real and unreal at the same time, “uncanny in their realness”. This parallelism between reality and stability & unreality and instability becomes especially pronounced in Rubin’s figures, which are characterized by our being able to alternate between an attitude of reality and unreality (290).

[1] The favourable condition in which perceptual things appear stable is the condition in which the organism as a whole fits itself into its environment, i.e., the one in which the world appears real. [2] The unfavourable conditions appear when this is not the case, and one major factor in this is isolatedness. It is thus important to try and understand stability and lability as definite forms of the organism’s coming to terms with the world:

Reality, then, arises when a single event is embedded within the functional organization that corresponds to an organismically ordered reaction.” (291)

Any alternation and equivocality is always the result of the fact that the whole organism has not yet established the preferred situation. At the same time, however, we have to bear in mind that a certain degree of instability is always present because of the imperfect state of centering. This instability is not imposed from without, but corresponds to the unfixed pattern of the determining inner factors. The better centered and integrated a personality, the more definite and stable the “Gestalten” (291).

What does all this tell us about the results gained by G-psychologists? On the one hand, there is no doubt that the laws found by G-psychologists often approach reality very closely. The reason for this lies in the fact that G-psychology was particularly apt in discovering phenomena that have the character of “constants”. On the other hand, it can be seen that these results have been achieved more through the ingenuity of the experimenters than through a systematically grounded conception of the organismic whole. Such a foundation, however, is indispensable, for only on such a basis can “deviations” (e.g., instabilities, etc.) become intelligible (291-2).

Goldstein concludes that the tendency toward the good Gestalt must be accounted for in organismic terms. More specifically, the explanation lies in the tendency toward preferred behavior, which is the prerequisite for the existence of a definite organism. It is a special expression of the general tendency to realize optimal performance with a minimum expenditure of energy, as measured in terms of the whole. The operation of this tendency encompasses the so-called prägnanz, the closure phenomenon, etc [!].

(x) Simplicity and minimal expenditure of energy in good Gestalten

If we take on the organismal view, the meaning of “simplicity” and of “minimal expenditure of energy” become intelligible. All we need to realize is that the best Gestalt means the best for a coming to terms of organism and world, of adjustment in a definite situation, i.e., during a definite task. Thus, simplicity can be defined only in terms of the demands of the individual task. Similarly, we are not dealing with equalization and “minimal energy expenditure” per se, but with minimal energy expenditure for performance of a definite task (292).

This means that the good Gestalt is a simpler kind of performance for the task in question than the performance of the bad Gestalt. The latter is more difficult because it would imply realization and maintenance of “inadequacy” (293).

Finally, Goldstein points out that many hypotheses put forward by Koffka in Principles of Gestalt Psychology and Wertheimer in Denken der Naturvölker tend toward the principle of prägnanz in the more holistic sense of “fitting together” of the organism and the environment, which are quite similar to Goldstein’s own endeavours.

The Theory of Physical Gestalten

The reason why the atomistic approach was endorsed by psychologists was because it proved so successful in physics. However, when the Gestalt character of mental events was disclosed, a gap seemed to have opened between the physical and the mental, for it was hard to see how one could compare mental phenomena (structural/holistic in nature) and physical phenomena (atomistic in nature) (293).

In order to bridge this gap, Wertheimer, when engaged in the investigation of perceptual Gestalten, attempted to develop a theory of the processes in the brain that would correspond to the Gestalt processes in the mind. In doing so, he deviated from the then-prevalent atomistic ideas, and introduced the notion of a (i) holistic excitation process. Further, he maintained that this excitation process was (ii) dynamic in nature. Similarly, Goldstein and Hirth have also described a brain event as always taking its course as a whole, and have emphasized that the brain correlates of certain mental phenomena must be construed as systemlike, structured, functional wholes of dynamic character (294).

However, all these conceptions were but analogous images derived from the model of the mental events. There was no proof that the brain processes were actually like that. For this reason, Köhler, in his book on physical Gestalten, tried to show the holistic character of physical processes. For instance (example), he claims that the distribution of electrical charge on the surface of a conductor has a Gestalt character (in the sense of the “Ehrenfels criteria”):

“The physical Gestalt, according to Köhler, is just as little the sum of its parts as the melody is the sum of its notes. Physical Gestalten are transposable just like mental Gestalten, that is, they are independent of the size of the charge of a conductor, as well as of the size of the condutor itself. They merely depend on the form of the conductor, the topography.” (294)

Driesch was the first to note difficulties in drawing such analogies, emphasizing the difference in nature between the physical Gestalt and the organism: the topography of the physical Gestalten that is essential for them depends on the external conditions, whereas for the topography of the organismsuch a dependency cannot be shown (294-5):

“One could say that the topography of a physical system depends on the ‘limiting conditions’, that the structure of the topography is not given with the material. […] The topography of the organism on the other hand is relatively autonomous, a given fact. Within certain limits, the organism can remain intact by virtue of its nature in spite of great differences in environment; it selects autonomously, so to speak, the milieu that is adequate to it within the world. In any event, the processes within the organism are not exclusively determined by the environmental variations. And what is more, no matter how much they are codetermined by the environment, they would be utterly unintelligible if considered from the environment alone.” (295)

The process of regulation, which Köhler delineated in physical systems, differs in the same way. According to Köhler, it is possible that physical systems, similar to organisms, modify themselves according to the direction of lowering potential when the tension is changed. If the conditions permit it to do so, the system will again reach the initial situation. The organism, however, does not have to return to the initial state of equilibrium, but it is important for it to return to a very definite state. This return, in turn, is possible only by procuring a special topography (295).

(x) The problem of topography in Gestalt theory

In reply to such criticisms, Köhler took a closer look at the problem of topology. He states that, in physical processes, two sorts of factors determine events: (a) the actual forces of the process (dynamical aspect); (b) properties of the system (constant conditions) (295-6).

One of the conditions in (b) is the topography. Systems differ in the relative influence which (a) and (b) exert upon the course of events. In particular, Köhler distinguishes two types:

(i) Systems in which topographical conditions are dominant: In the most extreme cases, the preestablished topographical arrangements exclude all processes except one. These are, says Köhler, the mechanic contrivances we set up; also, we most of the prevailing conceptions concerning the structure of the nervous system are centered on such arrangements. However, Köhler maintains that mechanistic models do not fit the idea of processes in the nervous system, which the phenomenal facts compel us to develop.

(ii) Systems in which topographical conditions are relatively irrelevant: There are also systems, in which the course of events is not completely determined by topographical arrangement. Example: movement of a particle of water in a narrow tube moves in a different way than a particle in a larger body of water. The reason for this is that, in the second example, there are no special local arrangements which fix one single direction of movement as the only possible one, so the path of the particle becomes dynamic, i.e., determined at each instant by the resultant forces at its respective place, and thus dependant on the total situation of the whole system at a given moment (296-7).

Köhler does not overlook the fact that, in (ii), this larger body of water has a boundary and thus a topography, but regards them as irrelevant/inessential in comparison to the inner dynamic effects (Goldstein makes a point that this is not yet a resolved issue, but refrains from making any determinate pronouncements on the topic) (297).

If (ii) is true for certain physical systems, then the following question arises regarding the organism: Could this self-distribution (= dynamic aspect) not stem from the fact that, although the process in a part is not directly determined by the processes in the rest of the organism, it is still indirectly guaranteed in its course by being embedded in a certain excitation pattern of the rest of the organism? Put differently, the process may only take place undisturbed in a circumscribed field because the rest of the organism is kept constant. Now, inasmuch as it is this constancy in the rest of the system, which alone could guarantee the ordered behaviour in the circumscribed field, one might designate the condition of the rest of the organism as “topography”. Instead of  (i) a topography in the sector (i.e. the circumscribed field) itself, which governs processes in it, we would here have to deal with (ii) a topography constituted by the condition of the surrounding field (i.e., the rest of the organism). This topography, of course, cannot guarantee a full-blown stability, for it cannot bar several alternatives of order (“instability”) from arising, i.e., it cannot secure and and the same constant order (297-8).

If the rest of the organism is not constant, then instability of behaviour can occur in its parts. This, Goldstein points out, clearly indicates the dependence of the parts on the system as a whole. Köhler does not overlook this, and thus speaks of events covering the total field and bringing about a mutual equilibration of tensions. But Goldstein finds his conception inadequate: the “equilibration” means a return to a definite state of tension, which, in turn, corresponds to the respective situation and which, in its particular pattern, can be understood only by considering the “essential nature” of the organism. It is this nature, in its specific qualitative structure, that represents, so to speak, the topography that codetermines the behaviour(298).

Again, this is not a fixed and rigid topography, as the common view would have it (e.g., a specific anatomical structure in the nervous system). It is rather a topography that is dynamic in its character, a topography which changes according to the various situations that the self-actualization makes necessary. The individual organizations that this organismic topography takes on are held together by the continuity of the organisms’ pattern of self-actualization, i.e., they are nothing other than the factors of the organismic being itself (298).

If Köhler was right and the regulation of the organism was premised on equilibration of tensions, this would, at best, lead to an equilibrium that is bound to the changing milieu and could, at best, lead to a release of tension. Behaviour, then, could alternate between disturbance and rest, but could never result in performances that require the return to an adequate state of tension, relatively independent of the milieu, but dependent on the whole(298-9).

All events in the organism, says Goldstein, are holistic. The more they take place in isolated parts, the more mechanistic they become, and the more they become similar to “physical Gestalten” (in Köhler’s sense). The reason for this is that they occur in parts that are relatively isolated from the whole and that are embedded in a relatively stable and constant topography (= the rest of the organism). The regulation in such parts is akin to that in physical systems. The “topography” in isolated parts is a structure that has been artificially segregated from the whole topography of the entire organism and has thus become relatively fixed. In the normal activity of the organism, on the other hand, every part has a topography that changes according to the functional situation of the whole organism.

Thus, we can differentiate two essentially different formations of the whole field:

(a) Isolated activity: Here, we are dealing with the so-called isolated activity in one sector during artificially maintained constancy in the rest of the organism Corresponding to this type of formation is the lawfulness that is pertinent to patterns of responses during isolation.

(b) Holistic performance: Here, we are dealing with the activity of the entire organismic field. Corresponding to this type of formation is the orderliness that is characteristic for the performances within/of the organism when operating as a whole (299).

In (a), the structural parts of a given process are imperfectly (= not wholly) determined by the whole organismic field, which is why it is delivered to its own inner dynamics (= to the “topography” of the circumscribed field). The consequence of this is a relative inconsistency and lack of orderliness in the performance, which is exemplified, among other things, by an alternation of opposite phases (e.g., in reflexes or Rubin’s ambiguous figures, etc.). From this perspective, what Köhler refers to as the self-organization of the field is basically an expression of behaviour in defective topography (“defective” in light of the topography that represents the whole organism) (299-300).

(x) Summary of the two holistic notions

Goldstein provides a summary of characteristic differences between the two holistic views discussed.

(1) Equalization: Köhler’s notion of “physical Gestalt” refers to states of dynamic equilibrium, whereas Goldstein’s organismic concept refers to an equalization toward a level adequate to the organism’s functional self-actualization.

(2) Ultimate field: Köhler’s conception is based on the notion of “field forces” that are determined by the surrounding “field”. However, Goldstein points out these fields themselves can be understood only by their embeddedness in a larger whole, which cannot be simply understood as a more complicated field, as each field varies constantly according to the varying situations. Instead, since the functional significance of “field forces” depends on the respective “task”, dependent on the potentialities of self-actualization, we are referred back to the organism as chief determiner of the “field forces” (300).

(3) Determinative factors: In Köhler’s view, the functional significance of “field forces”, preferred Gestalten, and constants is determined by a physicalistic-causal sense of objectivity. In Goldstein’s view, on the other hand, determination is only possible from the specific organization of the organism that, in turn, can be inferred from its forms of coming to terms with “stimuli” (301).

(4) Status of constants: In Köhler’s conception, the constants or good Gestalten seem to be (semi?)universal (different across species?). Goldstein, on the other hand, argues that, since functional significance is always interrelated with specific organization, constants in different species and even in different human individuals are not necessarily identical. Whenever similarities are found, they point to similarities of structural organization. This is not a defense of “arbitrariness” and “meaningfulness”, but simply of shifting the emphasis from the law of the physical field to the above-mentioned interrelatedness.

(5) Principle of isomorphism: According to Köhler, there is a direct parallelism between physical Gestalt processes and mental configurations. From Goldstein’s organismic perspective, this is inadequate: Every event – be it mental or physical – refers to the whole; and only by way of the whole is it related to the other event – again, be it mental or physical. The whole of the organism supports all partitive phenomena of either aspect, which are but different expressions of that unitary (organismic) “meaningfulness”.

(6) “Abstract behaviour”: Köhler’s conception is unable to provide a positive account of “abstract behaviour”, which is one of the core attributes of human beings – the ability of voluntary shifting, of reasoning discursively, oriented on self-chosen frames of reference, of free decision for action, of isolating parts from a whole, of disjoining given wholes, of establishing connections -, whereas Goldstein is able to explain it in terms of organismic activity. Crucially, human behaviour will never become understandable in its specific complexity if one does not realize that the very organization of the human being consists in the potentiality to behave both partitatively and holistically (301).

(7) Scope: What counts as a “figure” in the sense of G-psychologists, is already a partitive phenomenon in Goldstein’s account. If, he says, the scope of holistic events were enlarged so as to include the entire organism, then the Gestalt principle would become sufficiently broad to fit all the facts (302).

The Problem of Parts and Whole

Here, the question presents itself: By what right can we ascribe to the organism properties entirely different from those which we ascribe to its parts? After all, is not the organism only a part of a greater entirety?

Goldstein believes that we have to answer this in the affirmative. Concomitantly, it is wrong to suppose that the superindividual whole is in some sense completely different (and thus insignificant) than the individual whole. From this it follows that our knowledge is relative: we halt with the individual as a preliminary whole simply because we here arrive factually at a relatively satisfactory result, or at least, a much better result than if we started from the parts (302).

However, there is another aspect to the above question: Are parts of the organism any less alive than the organism itself (302-3)? Goldstein admits that this is a difficult question. It might be said that (i) parts are alive and also (ii) that they are not alive. They are alive only insofar as they are supported externally or from the whole. Example: Animals with certain essential defects will die unless they are supported by human beings. Human beings, on the other hand, can support themselves – we can “bear” the defect. When this is no longer possible – when the defect can no longer be borne by the remaining organism – the defective organism lacks the power of self-regulation, loses its autonomy, and is nearer death: it is no longer the organism with which we were dealing before, it is somewhat a negation, a privation, it is “sick” (303).

However, Goldstein is skeptical of the more radical (vitalist) views, based on Driesch’s famous experiments with the sea urchin eggs, which would like to invest parts with a full-blown vitality. Goldstein contends that there are many open questions concerning the currently available data on the topic, but finds the vitalist position ultimately unconvincing (303-4).

Chapter IX: The Nature of Biological Knowledge 

All disputes of antiquity and modern times, up to the most recent time, are caused by the divisions of that which in its nature God has produced as one whole.
(Goethe, Analyse und Synthese)

Characterization of the Nature of Biological Knowledge

Goldstein contends that, by determining the organism’s constants, we have come much closer to the essential characteristics of an organism than we would have by, say, reflex investigations. Yet our knowledge is still far from complete. For (a) we never know whether we have taken into account a large enough number of constants, and (b) (more importantly) the constants themselves are still somewhat equivocal because they also are obtained by an isolating procedure (the determination of constants depends on the ordered condition in other parts of the organism) (305).

This brings us to the question of the nature of biological knowledge: what is it and how do we obtain it? To begin with, Goldstein delineates some of the most crucial issues concerning this question.

(a) Facts. It is not possible to gain biological knowledge on the sole basis of phenomena that can be determined by the analytic methods. It is indisputable that we can obtain a lot of useful facts with these methods. However, the significance of these facts – i.e., their value for our understanding of the organism – depends on our conception of the latter. Thus, what biology generally believes to be the foundation of its body of knowledge, the “facts”, becomes the most problematic. It is for this reason that, in the history of science, many facts have proved meaningless for the progress of our knowledge. Such “skepticism towards so-called factseliminates bias by preparing the ground for the fundamental question about relevancy: Which phenomena are biologically relevant, and which are not? Which phenomena are biological “facts”, and which are not? According to Goldstein, the criterion of that relevancy can be offered only by a conception of the organism in its qualitative organization and holistic functioning.

(b) Methodology I: induction: For obvious reasons – namely, those of begging the question -, this conception of the organism cannot be obtained by a mere synthesis of the separate phenomena or a simple inductive method (i.e., it is not a question of generalizing or of applying to other circumstances the results of previous observations).

(c) Methodology II: deduction: However, Goldstein also maintains that the process of biological knowledge is not a deductive procedure, i.e., an a priori method of preconceived categories applied to nature, to the differences between animals and man, etc. (curiously, he does not elaborate on this) (306).

What, then, is the character of this conception (or picture, as Goldstein also puts it) of the organism that we are seeking?

“It is not by a mere addition of brick to brick that we try to construct this building, but it is rather the actual Gestalt of the intrinsic architecture of this building that we try to discover, a Gestalt from which the phenomena, which were formerly equivocal, would now become intelligible as belonging to a unitary, ordered, relatively constant formation of a specific structure. We are seeking a whole in which one can differentiate, among the observed phenomena, between the ‘members’ that really belong to it and the less relevant, contingent connections of arbitrary parts. We do not look for a ground in reality that constitutes Being but for an idea, a reason in knowledge, by virtue of which all particulars can be tested for their agreement with the principle – an idea on the basis of which all particulars become intelligible, if we consider the conditions of their origin. We can arrive at this picture only by a form of creative activity.” [!!!]

Goldstein continues:

Biological knowledge is a continued creative activity, by which the idea of the organism comes increasingly within reach of our experience. It is a sort of ideation equivalent to Goethe’s ‘Schau’, a procedure that springs continuously from empirical facts and never fails to be grounded in and substantiated by them.” (307)

However, one might object: Doesn’t such a construal of biological knowledge lead us into metaphysical, even mystical fields? Goldstein doesn’t think so. In order to substantiate his claim, he tries to show how a similar procedure can be found in a fairly trivial biological phenomenon, such as the acquisition of any performance by learning – say, bicycling.

Example: cycling: When learning how to cycle, we execute inappropriate bodily movements, such as are determined by partitive aspects and are only partially relevant for the correct activity, until suddenly we are able to maintain our balance and ride the bike in the correct way. All these initial attempts have only an indirect connection with the final performance. Of course, they are not aimless, but they are still ultimately incorrect movements that, in themselves, never lead directly to correct movements. Nevertheless, they are necessary because, by continuous modification of the movements, the correct performance will be reached. The correct movements appear suddenly when a state of adequacy (!) between the procedure of the organism and the environmental conditions is attained. This adequacy is experienced by us. The procedure in this situation also includes insight (!) into the correct procedure in riding a bicycle (307).

According to Goldstein,

“[t]he attainment of biological knowledge we are seeking is essentially akin to this phenomenon – to the capacity of the organism to become adequate to its environmental conditions. This is a fundamental biological process by virtue of which the actualization of the organisms is made possible. Whenever we speak of the nature, of the idea, picture, or conception of the organism, we have in mind these essentials for the realization of adequacy between the organism and its environment. And these are the principles of composition of that picture that biology has to grasp. In so doing, the cognitive process of the biologist is subject to practically the same difficulties as the organism in learning; he has to find the adequacy between concept and reality.” (307-8) [!!!]

Goldstein believes that in practice the difficulties that seem to spring forth from this method are not as great as they appear in theoretical reflection. Why not?

“Because, in practice, we usually proceed in such a way that, from the facts gained by analysis, we sketch a picture of the whole organism, which in turn instigates further questions and investigations, so long as we encounter discrepancies between this picture and factual experience. On the basis of new inquiries, the picture of the whole is again modified, and the process of discovering new discrepancies and new inquiries follows, and so on. By such an empirical procedure, in a dialectic manner, a progressively more adequate knowledge of the nature of the organism is acquired, and an increasingly correct evaluation of the observed facts, as to whether they are essential to the organism, is obtained.” (308) [!!!]

(x) “Analytic” and “synthetic” approach

Goldstein notes that it the difference between his holistic approach and that based on the reflexes does not coincide with a difference between analytic and synthetic method. Scientific method, he emphasizes, is always founded on analysis and will, on the other hand, never proceed without a certain synthesis (308). [!]

In order to make his views clearer, Goldstein distinguishes two types of synthesis:

(a) weaker synthesis: provides merely a preliminary summary of the analytically gathered facts; pros: it useful for further research, particularly because it reveals the mistakes of the prevailing views (the breaches in their theoretical bulwark); cons: it is similar to analytic procedure in that it furnishes very little insight into the true nature of things;

(b) stronger synthesis: tries to provide a coherent and adequate picture of reality; pros: to those who are convinced by it, it offers a view into the “true nature” of phenomena; cons: it is ultimately false: it treats the analytically found facts as partitive facts of the “true nature” (i.e., “reality”) that it investigates, but since the facts themselves are problematic, the same must hold true for the synthesis of such piecemeal material (308-9). [vitalism?]

However, Goldstein is also critical of some of his fellow holists who share his skepticism toward synthetic approaches. For instance, Weizsäcker says that, instead of the “ambition of the synthesis” the investigator should revert to “the surrender to that which is” (which is a vague statement, as will be seen below). In Goldstein’s view, Weizsäcker’s critique is premised on the faulty understanding of both analytic and synthetic approaches, and thus leads to methodological confusion (309).

The reason why Goldstein is critical of Weizsäcker and holistic thinkers is because he wants to make a holistic approach utterly univocal, so as not to discredit the entire point of view. In order to make his viewpoint clearer, he illustrates it by means of the “reflexconcept.

Example: reflex: the critique of the notion of “reflex” does not entail that reflexological investigations should be discarded. Far from it. What is important, however, is that we get a clear understanding as to what is denoted by the term. To begin with, Goldstein feels that it is wrong to suggest that “reflex” is “unreal” in the sense of “being a mere theoretical posit”. However, the fact that the reflex is a process in the organism does not mean that it belongs tothe real nature of the organism. It is in this sense – as “unnatural” (i.e., as not being one of the “performances”) – that the reflex can be seen as “unreal”. Thus, the research question of a biologist cannot be (Q1): What can we learn from the reflex for the performances of the organism? Instead, the question must be restated as (Q2): What does the reflex mean viewed from the performances of the whole organism? (309-10)

Q1 assumes that our knowledge can advanced only in this direction: reflex→performance, whereas Q2 assumes the opposite: performance→reflex. In the latter (holistic) view, the knowledge of the performances of the organism is a necessary prerequisite for our understanding of the reflex. Thus, the holistic notion challenges the assumption that the reflex possesses a character of “reality” for the organism:

“It charges any attempt to understand the performances as being composed of reflexes, with not ‘surrendering to that which is’, with intellectual preoccupation and with having leanings toward a false synthetic approach” (310)

(x) The concept of adequacy and reality

It follows from the preceding analysis that the term “real” is equivocal. On the one hand, it can mean (a) “not (merely) theoretical” or “not (merely) conceptual” – and in this sense, reflexes can be called “real”; on the other hand, it can mean (b) “belonging to the nature of ‘things’” (i.e., “belonging to the nature of the organism”) – and in this sense, reflexes are more appropriately referred to as “unreal”.

The same ambiguity can be found with regards to the notion of “adequacy”. On the one hand, (a) one can speak of “adequacy” when a stimulus evokes a movement corresponding to the organization of the organism – and in this sense, reflexes can be called “adequate”. On the other hand, (b) one can speak of “adequacy” when stimulus and movement correspond to the nature of the organism – and in this sense, reflexes cannot be called “adequate”. Reflexes, as we have seen, represent unnatural reactions of the organism (or – to put it more precisely – reactions that occur in very specific [artificial, pathological] contexts) (310-11).

In sum, the term “adequate” becomes useful in the context of reflexes and performances only if the concept “naturalness” is introduced into our narrative. We must therefore clearly differentiate between:

(i) reflex reactions, characterized by a constant relation between stimulus and movement (→ unnatural, unreal);

(ii) adequate performances, which cannot be understood on the basis of reflex constancy (→ natural, real); during these performances rather natural conditions must prevail, and they can be “understood biologically” on the basis of the organism (311).

Goldstein’s point is that criticism of the reflex concept must be radical and fundamental, or else it misses the mark, or even creates confusion, by entailing equivocality(that is the main reason why he criticizes Weizsäcker, with whose approach he otherwise feels close affinity) (312):

“The use of the term ‘adequacy’, in connection with the greater naturalness of a situation, suggested itself when it was discovered that the usual reflex definition was not sufficient in cases where the same stimulus leads to different performances. The reflex appeared modifiable when one investigated variations under different situational conditions; and that modification was designated as adequate, which corresponded to the natural condition. Finding that a circumscribed reflex reaction can be changed through added stimulus conditions is itself no argument against the reflex theory and does not invalidate it. This leads, as the literature shows, only to the hypostatization of more complex reflexes. Whether we shall ever reach an understanding of the performances in this way and be able to determine adequate reactions – that is the question. I do not believe so, and, moreover, I think Weizsäcker does not believe it either.” (311)

(x) The principle of exactness

One of the reasons why many scientists would like to retain the reflexesis the assumption that they alone can permit exact, rigorous determinations. However, Goldstein points out that this exactness holds only for fictitious life processes transformed actively by intervening forces. We must therefore ask ourselves, what good is accuracy if the results are unsuited for comprehension of the living organism. Organic nature cannot be understood with the tools of mathematical, natural science. Thus, the approximation that the biologist can attain is not one in the mathematical sense but one in the sense of approaching aprototype, or Urbildof the organism. Goldstein is adamant that we must take this into account or, alternatively, forgo the concept of “adequacy”, as the latter means nothing but adequacy in regard to the “essence” of the organism, as we recognize it in the prototype” (312) [!!!].

The basic dilemma confronted by biologists and life scientists is as follows:

“Either [a] one forgoes any reference to an organismic prototype, and thereby avoids any reference to adequacy, and makes only piecemeal statements of ‘what is’, or [b] one subscribes to the organismic reference, and thereby faces all phenomena as ‘they really are and what they mean’.” (313)

The Epistemological Relationship between Biological and Natural Science 

(x) The symbolic character of knowledge in general

Goldstein is aware that those who adhere to the more classical conceptions of natural science might object to his conception of biological knowledge on at least two grounds:

(i) the postulate of the prototype character of the organism; and
(ii) the incompleteness and imperfection in the determination of that prototype.

With regards to the first claim (i), Goldstein points out that his approach does not deviate essentially from that which competent scholars have regarded as the essence of knowledge in natural science. Drawing on works by Hertz, Cassirer, and Duhem, he points out that it was precisely in the domain of mathematico-physical science that the clear realization of the symbolic character of scientific knowledge presented itself. Hertz, for instance, states that “it has become more and more the task of natural science to create images or symbols” which are “suited to gain a coherent understanding of the empirical facts”. In Hertz’s view, the aim of the natural science is to predict future experience, but in order to do so, it has to construct “fictitious images or symbols of the outer objects”, which “coincide with things in one essential point which lies in the fulfillment of the stated postulate”, but don’t have to “coincide with the objects in any further way” (313-4).

Crucially, there is (pace empiricism/inductivism) no direct transition from collecting and ordering facts and physical knowledge. The latter, Cassirer believes, is a matter of metabasis eis allo genos, a transition to a new perspective: “Instead of the concrete data, we use symbolic images, which are supposed to correspond to data on the basis of theoretical postulates which the observer considers as true and valid […] The significance of these concepts is not manifest in the immediate perception, but can be determined and secured only by an extremely complex process of intellectual interpretation.” This “conceptual interpretation”, says Goldstein, represents the character of physical theory (314).

Goldstein’s conception of biological knowledge agrees in its fundamental tendency with the epistemological approach propounded by Cassirer, Duhem, Hertz, and others. In biological, like physical, knowledge the “creative power of imagination” is indispensable: there is no direct transition from empirical findings to the objective of biological knowledge (= comprehension of the prototype of the organism) (314).

However, there is, in Goldstein’s opinion, a crucial difference between the two kinds of knowledge.

(a) Physics: The physical symbols are characterized by the fact that diverse systems of symbols can coexist and are in practical use at the same time. Thus, in the most extreme cases, physicists can content themselves with a system of fictitious “signs” (mere/pure models) and laws of relation between completely underdetermined theoretically assumed elements. This is strongly related to the fact that, in physics, theory and practice are generally independent.

(b) Biology: The biological symbols are of a different kind: they have to be closely linked to the observed phenomena: what is needed is a more complete image of an individual concrete character that must, as much as possible, match the particulars from which it was built up. This stems from the fact that, in biology, knowledge and action are intimately interrelated, and that what is needed as a basis for knowledge and action is that they have to do justice to the whole organism (symbols that correspond to part process are therefore inadequate). Further, biological knowledge cannot satisfy itself with laws of relation between fictitious signs, but must include quality and individuality in its determinations. In other words, the symbol must have the character of “Gestalt” (314-5) [!!!].

Thus, in spite of the agreement in the basic procedure, natural science may see itself in opposition to Goldstein’s holistic method. This contrast has led to different tendencies within biology, as exemplified by the debate between Goerges Cuvier and Goeffroy Saint-Hilaire, as described by Goethe. Goethe speaks of two different ways of thinking as represented by these two scientists: (i) dissective or analytic attitude (Cuvier) vs. idea of the guiding principle or organismic principle (Saint-Hilaire). According to Goethe, these two ways of thinking are hardly to be found in a single scientist. However, Goldstein wonders whether it is not precisely a hallmark of a competent scientist to be able to combine both points of view (although he might at times not admit it). After all, wasn’t this true of Goethe himself? [!!!]

(x) The incompleteness of biological knowledge and the acausality in cognition of natural science (ii)

One of the consequences of Goldstein’s approach is that our biological knowledge can never be final, that we must content ourselves with an increasing approximation to the truth. However, this approximation must not be understood as the approximate value of a mathematical series that increases in correctness. For in principle, it is of an entirely different kind. How so? Biological knowledge is not advanced by simply adding new individual facts: facts that eventually become included to the “whole” as parts cannot be evaluated simply quantitatively, but always have a qualitative significance. Thus, a single, new fact may potentially revolutionize the entire conception and demand an entirely new idea, in the light of which the old facts may have to be evaluated in a radically different way (316) [!!!].

In general, the idea of completeness and definiteness of cognition is only possible if one adopts certain metaphysical presuppositions – reductionism, atomism, etc. – which Goldstein rejects. However, such presuppositions come at a price. For instance, if one considers biology only as the knowledge of phenomena that have been determined by the analytic method, then one has fundamentally two options: (i) to renounce the understanding that comprehends the organism as a whole, and thus ultimately to renounce the possibility of genuinely biological knowledge; or (ii) to resort to metaphysical and speculative doctrines in order to comprehend the doctrine. This latter approach, Goldstein tells us, has been in vogue lately, but he himself shuns it completely, for it introduces, often unintentionally, the “factor of irrationality” and pseudoscientific terminology into its narrative. Such a procedure not only goes along with concepts that are empirically unverifiable and are often merely negative (e.g., “inhibition”, “higher centers”, etc., or even entities of a significantly more metaphysical kind), but it invites all sorts of speculations and fictitious explanations (316-7) [!!!].

Goldstein contends that his is a fundamentally different approach:

“Although it aims to gain knowledge of the organism’s nature by a method deviating from that of the analytic-synthetic procedure, and although it considers it the very task of biology to gain a true vision of the various organisms in their specificity, nevertheless it springs from the conviction that this method is as accurate as the so-called exactness of natural science. It belongs to the nature of such an epistemological viewpoint that cognition be relatively incomplete and ultimately undefined.”

The biologist must always keep this incompleteness before his eyes and must be prepared to change his theories as newly arising facts may demand it (317) [!!!].

One of the important factors of biological cognition is “acausality”. In Goldstein’s view, biology does not fundamentally conflict with natural sciences in this respect. Quite the contrary, it is remarkably close to the views endorsed by eminent natural scientists working in the field of quantum theory. According to these scientists, processes on the “microscopic level” are governed by probability laws, not strict causal principles (317).

Goldstein notes that, recently, some quantum theorists have formed conceptual models of the atomic structure that are quite similar to those prototypes that he himself has postulated for biology. They are similar particularly in respect that they are not equivalent to strictly causal relations and exhibit a somewhat individualized character. As Pascal Jordan puts it, any prediction of a physical nature faces a certain amount of acausal free play. And Niels Bohr emphasizes the fundamental discontinuity of quantum processes (317-8).

Both Bohr and Jordan have mentioned parallels between physical and organic processes. In Bohr’s view, the reactions of the organism can be divided into two spheres. (a) The sphere of macroscopic causality, in which all processes occur according to causal, mechanical, and chemical laws. (b) The sphere of directing activity at the microscopic level, which, although not causally determined in their course, set the macroscopic events going. The behaviour of the organism thus always lacks causality (in the strict sense), according to Bohr.

Goldstein sees important parallels between his own and Bohr’s view. In Goldstein’s own conception, determination is also only possible by probability. However, here determination by probability takes on a specific qualitative characteristic through the relatively constant individual structure of the organism (a fact which, incidentally, Bohr also points out in his discussions on the nature of the organism) (318).

However, it might be objected that, if acausal phenomena need only be assumed on the level of microscopic processes, the organism, as a macroscopic phenomenon, might be driven by causal principles (318-9).

Goldstein refrains from passing any final judgements on the question whether organic processes are macroscopic or microscopic. But if we assume that we are, in fact, dealing with strictly macroscopic phenomena, we would still not find causality in the strict sense. Namely, as has been amply demonstrated above, all physico-chemical investigations and inferences pertaining to the organism – i.e., domains where we would most expect to find definite causal relationships – fail to yield results of absolute constancy, and provide us only with averages or probabilities. That is to say, the results are always influenced by a causally “intangible” personal factor (example: digestion in stomach can be understood as a strictly physico-chemical process only in very artificial context of isolation, fixed background values, etc.; and the same holds true in all other physico-chemical applications to the organism). If we consider phenomena during adequate functioning of the organism (and not during artificial isolation in the experimental setting), it is impossible to find strict causal relations between them (319).

(x) Entelechy and “reasons in knowledge” [vitalism]

But is it necessary to conceive this acausal process as the expression of peculiar forces/entities, e.g., entelechies? The entelechy theory takes on different guises and can be found not only in natural philosophy (Driesch) and theories about the organic world, but even in speculations about the nature of the inorganic world (e.g., Herman Weyl’s Agenstheorie) (320-1).

Goldstein claims that he does not feel competent to pass judgement as to whether such a view is necessary for understanding inorganic events, but he is highly skeptical of its utility in the domain of organic events. He states that, within the framework of scientific method, we must confine ourselves to such assumptions as are requisite for making the facts intelligible. This requirement is met by the holistic reference, which deals with the “essential nature”. The issue with entelechies is not that they are metaphysical, but that they are much too general and undefined. They are required only if we stick to the mechanist view and simply try to fill in the cracks in its theory, when in fact a much more radical revision is required. However, if we move from the mechanist to holist view, it is possible to account for biological facts, without thereby stipulating any such additional hypothesis (321) [!!!].

Crucially, what we call the essence of nature is not to be understood as having metaphysical existence, but only as a basis for cognition, as a “reason in knowledge”. It is of an exclusively positive character, the determination of which becomes more precise as science advances. It never has a negative function (as entelechy has, for instance). This “science of nature” cannot be dissected mechanistically into parts, but is a structurally articulated organization(321). [!!!]

(x) Whole and “members”

Scientific investigation also involves taking wholes apart, which leaves us with a mixture of artificial “part elements” and real “whole members”. According to Goldstein, what is crucial is that we learn to discriminate, in that mass of phenomena, the true “members” from the artificial “parts”. But what exactly does that mean: are not such members merely the result of the isolating procedure, and thus devoid of any “real” existence (321-2)?

Goldstein begins by enumerating ways in which, he feels, we should not visualise the relationship between the whole and its “parts”. First off, it is wrong to think of this relation as a relation between *(i) “lower action units” and the higher unit of the organism. But neither can one see in them *(ii) the manifestation of “lower entelechies” as compared to the “higher entelechy” of the organism. Similarly, it is not *(iii) a matter of “polarity relations” (Emil Oldeskop), i.e., a polar tension between the “tendency towards unification” of the superordinated action unit and the “tendency towards self-preservation of the members” (322).

Goldstein believes that all these conceptions overlook the fact that even the members themselves are, ultimately, artificially separated parts of the organism, which stand out only under the isolating view:

“One overlooks that the organism is, of course, articulate (differentiated into members) but does not consist of members: the members that we distinguish neither compose the organism, nor are they antagonistic to it, because the organism is nothing but the members themselves. There is neither a struggle of the members among each other in the organism, nor a struggle of the whole with the members. Whenever any such phenomenon appears it is either due to an illusion or to an isolating consideration, as in the so-called antagonism, or it is the expression of an improper centering that reaches far into the ‘normal course of events’.” (322-3) [!!!]

(x) So-called purposiveness

Just as he rejected vitalism, so Goldstein also rejects the teleological approach. In his view, to be opposed to strictly causal reference does not mean one should endorse teleology. At most, the so-called inner purposiveness (in the sense of Kant) could be taken into consideration. However, because of the ambiguity of the term “purposive”, Goldstein, following Emil Ungerer, says that we should avoid it altogether, and perhaps use Ernst von Baer’s notion of “end” instead. According to Baer, “purpose” is an intended task, whereas “end” is a given direction of activity, an intrinsically predetermined effect. In Goldstein’s opinion the idea of an intended task is superfluous for the understanding of the organism, whereas that of a definite end (= the actualization of its essence) might be very fruitful. However, the idea of “end” must, again, be taken only as a guiding notion for the procedure of knowledge rather than in a metaphysical sense (as it appears in von Baer).

Clématis was Ancient Greek term for climbing plants. With few exceptions, species in genus Clematis in Slovenia are woody climbers (the most common species, traveller’s joy (Clematis vitalba, sl. navadni srobot) can be found in urban areas as well as in the woods). Among the exceptions is solitary clematis (Clematis integrifolia, sl. celolistni srobot), an upright herbaceous perennial, rarely found in Notranjska (e.g. it can be spotted flowering from June to August by the intermittent lakes in Pivka).


The following topics were pointed out during the discussion:

I) In order to make the principle of Prägnanz better applicable to living beings, Goldstein suggests taking the privileged behavioural patterns for its criteria. By thoroughly observing an organism, its optimal behavoural, psychical and physiological states may be discerned. The organism organizes itself according to the constants that are defined by its nature. In favourable conditions it forms a stable Gestalt – it acts according to its goals/intents, fitting itself in its environment as an organismic whole and thus perceives the world as real, or, as Goldstein writes, “reality arises when a single event is embedded within the functional organization that corresponds to an organismically ordered reaction.” Hence why does the lability in perception (the Gestalt shift) appear? Goldstein considers it to be a figure taken out of the context that is relevant for the organism. Frequently observing its occurence in their experiments, Gestalt psychologists assumed it to be equally regular in everyday perception. This, however, points out that they were still very much indebted to the mechanistic tradition: an organism behaves as a physical Gestalt only when it is sick or finds itself in unfamiliar circumstances, e.g., in a laboratory experiment. Then the world appears to it as ambiguous and unreal.

II) What would be the best way to describe an organism? Goldstein criticizes the use of stronger synthesis and analysis in biology, arguing that the whole cannot be obtained through summation of its parts, since it is impossible to know what the parts are without the whole. Hence, induction in biology results in naïve empirism while deduction leads into speculative spiritualism or vitalism. Goldstein is not interested in uncovering the structure of reality (ontological Seinsgrund) but searches for an idea that would integrate the particulars into a meaningful whole (epistemological Erkentnissgrund). He refers to Goethe’s Schau, a phenomenological method that results in an insight and thus yields more than a fragmented description of particularities. The procedure is essentially no different from the acquisition of any performance by learning. Here Goldstein offers an analogy with learning how to cycle: The initial attempts consist of bodily movements that are similar to the ones used in the final performance. They are nevertheless only partially relevant for the correct activity since they have not yet acquired a specific meaning. The correct movements appear suddenly, with an insight.

Biological knowledge consists of prototypes [Urbilden] that are developed in the process of biologist’s coming to terms with the world. As such, knowledge is always normative (it is a product of biologist’s adequate Auseinandersetzung) and not the opposite, as in the case of various sciences that (redundantly?) try to establish their own terms of normativity. Behaviourism, for example, entices many with its aim for precision and thus certainty. Founding biology on prototypes, on the other hand, means that the objective of our research must no longer be its closure. As Goldstein writes, a biologist might never understand the subject of their investigation to its very last detail, as here the progress is not linear (like in case of improving the precision of results) but dynamic. It is a perpetual series of insights, i.e., holistic transformations of knowledge (Gestaltungen followed by Umgestaltungen). The nature of the observed organism is becoming intelligible in a manner similar to a limit.

We compared the research methods used for physical and living Gestalten. The latter cannot be modeled in the same way as the first since their nature/essence is of a different character. The nature of living Gestalten is comprised of what is meaningful for them. The same is not found in physical Gestalten. In (modern) physics the symbolic models consist of laws between fictitious signs and therefore several of them can coexist. In biology the symbols that are used have to conform to the observed phenomena – the nature of each organism forms its distinct net of meanings.

Biology is not a construction of models but an embodied knowledge. One could, however, question the scope of so defined biology: given that the biologist’s self-actualization is their sole means of determining the living phenomena, do they ever determine any organism other than themselves? Goethe suggested that every living being forms a relationship with the world in the same way, namely, through a fundamental dynamic of unity/duality. (This dynamic is also prominent in Goldstein’s characterization of living organisms as capable of action and hence of becoming adequate to the environmental conditions.) This universal trait makes it possible for us to relate to other living creatures and therefore to make relevant observations on their nature.

III) Goldstein disagrees with Goethe’s belief that a scientist can be either analytical or holistic, but not both. Jung, similarly to Goethe, described the scientists’ approaches as pertaining to the individual’s dominant mode of functioning: a scientist can either be fact- and detail-oriented (dominant sensation) or holistic and intuitive (dominant intuition). Goldstein seeks for a balance of the two. We raised a question whether that is achieveable, and if it is, would it be of any benefit? Are there any historical figures in science who were a proportionate combination of both?

IV) An organism can only live if it comprises a whole with its environment. But how is this whole delimitated and why do we usually refer to the whole of the organism as to its body? One could argue that an individual body is the first adequate source of information we reach when describing/trying to understand a living phenomenon. Others would imply that, on a long term, it is crucial for the organism to be in a dynamic interaction with its environment, so not considering the latter in the description of an organismic phenomenon gives us an unrealistic image of it. An interpretation that allows for both of these views takes the individual body as the basis for the organismic whole and then ventures into more expanded (or smaller) wholes the living phenomena can form. For example, in mystical experiences the boundaries between an individual and the world fade. Goldstein similarly describes the sphere of immediacy as “the deepest character of the world” and “surrendering ourselves to the world.” The sphere of immediacy might be the organism’s means of entering the wholes that exceed its individuality. Further inquiry into such phenomena can be found in works of Hans Driesch, Jakob von Uexküll, F. J. J. Buytendijk and Helmuth Plessner.