A re-printing of E S Russell’s seminal 1930 text exploring issues around Geothian science, as published at nature institute.org. Renowned author and thinker Stephan Harding will give a paper on the principles of Goethian and Batesonian approach to scientific discourse at the conference in the opening session on Day 2.

From Mechanistic to Organismal Biology

The Process of Abstraction

If we consider the various ways in which, for the purposes of science, abstraction is made from the living reality of the organism, we shall see how the different theories of development have arisen, and how their character has been determined by the mode of abstraction they adopt.  Biology occupies a unique and privileged position among the sciences in that its object, the living organism, is known to us not only objectively through sensory perception, but also in one case directly, as the subject of immediate experience.

It is therefore possible, in this special case of one’s own personal life, to take an inside view of a living organism. When we conceptualize this living experience, we arrive at a definition of organism which, though it is abstract and schematic as compared with the experienced reality, is yet rich in content as compared with the still more schematic representations commonly employed in biology. The concept of organism which we derive from a study of direct experience is that of a continuing psycho-physical unity or individuality, which acts as a whole in relation to its environment.

The first stage of abstraction from the concrete reality of organism as experienced is the concept of organism as a psycho-physical unity or individuality. The second step along the path of abstraction—namely, the elimination of the psychical—is one which nowadays is almost universally taken as a matter of course. It is a step of immense importance, for it introduces at once a dualism of matter and mind, and creates between them a dividing line which can never be crossed. To reintroduce mind into living things, to reconstitute the living unity, it is necessary to have recourse to such lame expedients as psycho-physical parallelism or psycho-physical interaction, or to adopt some form of dualistic vitalism. With the psychical aspect eliminated, the organism becomes a material system, similar in nature to, though more complex in structure than other material bodies.

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