The Henri Bortoft Lectures

An Introduction to the Henri Bortoft Lectures

Simon Robinson

I am extremely happy to be able to announce the publication of Henri Bortoft’s 2009 lectures at Schumacher College, a long-desired project which has been made possible through the support of Jaqueline Bortoft and Schumacher College.

Henri Bortoft (1938 – 2012) was a physicist and philosopher who studied the problem of wholeness in quantum physics as a postgraduate student under David Bohm. He then went on to work with the philosopher J.G. Bennett where he would extend his studies of wholeness into the areas of phenomenology and hermeneutics.

Henri would then take a deep interest in the scientific work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, resulting in the publication of his 1986 monograph Goethe’s Scientific Consciousness. This work was expanded into what is now regarded as one of the greatest articulations of Goethe’s approach to science in The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science published in 1996. Henri would then spend the next years working on his final book Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought published in 2012.

Henri’s teachings formed the basis for the masters degree course in Holistic Science which is taught there, and which Henri helped to develop more than twenty years ago along with ecologist Stephan Harding, Goethian scientist Margaret Colquhoun and the late visionary biologist Brian Goodwin.

Henri was able to push language to its limits and explain philosophy in a verbal manner which had the effect of drawing attention to the meaning of what he was saying in a manner which is almost impossible to replicate in written form.


As one of the students in Holistic Science in the 2009 I had the huge privilege of spending this particular week with Henri, a week which provoked one of the most profound shifts in my thinking I have ever experienced.

It was in this same year that a decision was made to film Henri’s week of lectures since it was clear that due to his long-term illness it may well not have been possible for him to be able to continue lecturing for too much longer. While his lectures from subsequent years were recorded in audio format, these recordings were the only ones from Holistic Science to be videoed.

Although the main video files had been stored at Schumacher College, over time I believe that they had become lost. Some years ago I went back to copies of the recordings that I had made, but unfortunately the audio had become corrupted to the point where it was almost impossible to listen to.

However, a couple of weeks ago I discovered a different set of the recordings on my computer and to my surprise the audio was in perfect condition. Given that the reason for making the recordings was to ensure that as many people as possible would have the opportunity to hear Henri in full flow, I sought permission to make them publicly available.

As these lectures are so precious, I wanted to provide this introduction to Henri and his work. Over the coming weeks I will be releasing the complete set of lectures, and I will also be providing short introductions to each one to help provide a little narrative and additional context. The introductions also include suggestions for suggested readings for those people who may not yet be familiar with Henri’s work.

The videos are being released on my Youtube channel The articles introducing the lectures are being published on Please do feel free to subscribe to them so as to be notified when each one is released. The first introductory lecture from Henri is already available to watch on-line.

Henri’s work is powerful because it provides us with a radically different and powerful new way to understand systems. When his dynamic conception of wholeness is truly understood, it changes our way of seeing, and takes us into an understanding of experience, meaning and being. These are not just questions for science and philosophy, but for helping us understand our relationship to other people, to nature, to design, to architecture and to the development of new organisational structures.

It was Henri’s dynamic conception of wholeness which inspired Maria Moraes Robinson and I to write our own book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. In this book we introduce readers to Henri’s philosophy of wholeness, and show how it can be understood in relation to systems thinking and complexity science, the development of new business models, and also how it relates to changes in our mental models, leadership and the transformation of consciousness in organisations.

Our second book, Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design, extends these insights from Henri’s work, notably the dynamic way of seeing, into the area of customer experience design. In this book we introduce our tool, the Holonomic Circle, which articulates the meaning of soul in a design, business and branding context. This framework takes its inspiration from the hermeneutic circle, an approach to understanding meaning in texts and works of art developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer which Henri explored extensively.

I would like to personally than Jaqueline Bortoft and Annie Adams (Schumacher College) for their support in this project.