Journal Entry Dated Weimar, April 23, 1817

I am not the first man to have lost his way only to find, if not a gate, a mysterious hole in a hedge that a child would know at once led to some other dimension at the world's end. Such passage-ways exist, or man would not be here. Not for nothing did Santayana once contend that life is a movement from the forgotten into the unexpected.
[Editor's Note: This passage appears in Lauren Eiseley's The Unexpected Universe.]

My encounter with Goethe is such an unexpected gate. I have yet to meet a more extraordinary man, and our conversations strike a chord of kinship deep within. Yesterday he told me of his friendship with Schiller, and from there he proceeded to outline parts of his scientific methodology. Although opposite spirits, the two men had a mutually enlivening effect on each other: Goethe, the intuitive, synthetic mind, and Schiller, the philosophical, analytic one. It was not an emotional friendship; the two never used the intimate "Du" to each other, and there were inevitable frictions. ...But the bond was a literary and personal alliance, faithfully maintained by both poets until Schiller's death in 1805. At its best, it was a marriage of true minds. At first, however, their relation was cool, even hostile: Schiller, ten years younger, still struggling against poverty, naturally envied the established poet. For his part, Goethe distrusted Schiller as the wild author of The Robbers and, as such, a painful reminder of his own Storm- and- Stress days.
"Schiller offended me because his powerful but immature talent had poured out over our homeland a completely overwhelming flood of ethical and theatrical paradoxes, the very paradoxes from which I had been attempting to free myself,"
Goethe remembered.
"Where was the least hope of stemming this tide, imbued with genius and wild in form? You can imagine the state I was in! I had striven to encourage and disseminate the clearest of perceptions, and now I found myself hemmed in between Ardinghello and Franz Moor."
He avoided Schiller, although he was in Weimar and lived close by. But at some meeting of a society for scientific research, Schiller was also in attendance.
"We happened to leave the meeting at the same time,"
Goethe continued,
"and a conversation ensued."
Schiller criticized the fragmented way of dealing with nature presented at the lecture they had just heard, and Goethe offered an alternative, its efforts directed from the whole to the part.
"I gave an enthusiastic description of the metamorphosis of plants, and with a few characteristic strokes of the pen I caused a symbolic plant to spring up before his eyes. He heard and saw all this with great interest, with unmistakable power of comprehension. But when I stopped, he shook his head and said, 'That is not an observation from experience. That is an idea.' Taken aback and somewhat annoyed, I paused; with this comment he had touched on the very point that divided us. My old resentment began to rise in me. I collected my wits, however, and replied, 'Then I may rejoice that I have ideas without knowing it, and can even see them with my own eyes.' "

Even at the risk of irritating Goethe as Schiller did, I had to ask him what he meant by seeing ideas. Far from being annoyed, he was actually quite forthcoming with his explanations. He began by outlining his concept of the archetypal phenomenon and the progression from empirical observation to intuitive perception.
"In general, events we become aware of through experience are simply those we can categorize empirically after some observation,"
he explained.
"These empirical categories may be further subsumed under scientific categories leading to even higher levels. In the process we become familiar with certain requisite conditions for what is manifesting itself. From this point everything gradually falls into place under higher principles and laws revealed not to our reason through words and hypotheses, but to our intuitive perception through phenomena. We call these phenomena 'archetypal phenomena' because nothing higher manifests itself in the world; such phenomena, on the other hand, make it possible for us to descend, just as we ascended, by going step by step from the archetypal phenomena to the most mundane occurrence in our daily experience."

The archetype is the creative source of all the countless forms found in nature, pushing our perceptual ability to its limits by merging subjective and objective, inner and outer. During his journey to Italy from 1786 to 1788, Goethe's intense studies of plant forms led him to identify the plant archetype in leaf metamorphosis. Later, he discovered a skeletal archetype in vertebral metamorphosis. He read to me a clear description of the archetype, from Outline for a General Introduction to Comparative Anatomy, written in 1795, where he postulates an anatomical archetype "containing the forms of all animals as potential." I copied a short paragraph which I found particularly poignant:
"Hence we conceive of the individual animal as a small world, existing for its own sake, by its own means. Every creature is its own reason to be. All its parts have a direct effect on one another, a relationship to one another, thereby constantly renewing the circle of life; thus we are justified in considering every animal physiologically perfect."
Almost 200 years after it was written, this statement has lost nothing of its convincing power.

An important measure of progress in Goethe's science is the degree of self-development of the scientist. In the 20th century this might be a strange point to consider. We have the modern vandal totally lacking in empathy for life beyond his own, his sense of wonder reduced to a crushing series of gears and quantitative formula, the educated vandal without mercy of tolerance. But Goethe realized that proper scientific work should bring a change in the scientist himself; a change in his mode of perception which in turn affects the practice of science. To be able to participate in natural processes actively, objectively, and imaginatively, the scientist has to develop new organs of perception. Goethe described to me his own imaginative gift:
"When I closed my eyes and lowered my head, I could imagine a flower in the center of my visual sense. Its original form never stayed for a moment; it unfolded, and from within it new flowers continuously developed with colored petals or green leaves. These were no natural flowers; they were fantasy flowers, but as regular as rosettes carved by a sculptor. ... Here the appearance of an afterimage, memory, creative imagination, concept, and idea all work simultaneously, revealing themselves through the unique vitality of the visual organ in complete freedom and without intention or direction."
Compared to our standards of technology and specialization, Goethe's views seem either too radical or too quaint. But may his voice be the only sane one amidst a cacophony of madness?
"Insofar as he makes use of his healthy senses, man himself is the best and most exact scientific instrument possible. The greatest misfortune of modern physics is that its experiments have been set apart from man, as it were; physics refuses to recognize nature in anything not shown by artificial instruments, and even uses this as a measure of its accomplishments."
Such as the nuclear bomb, for example.

Go to Goethe's Letter I; Letter II
Go to Eiseley's Second Journal Entry
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