Holistic Science

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MSc, PG Cert

“Science is a dangerous gift unless it can be brought into contact with the wisdom that resides in the sensual, intuitive and ethical aspects of our natures. Mainstream science, powerful as it is, has made us clever, but it has not made us wise. Holistic science develops our thinking, sensing and feeling and intuition as one whole so that we touch base with the transformative power of nature.”
- Dr Stephan Harding, Coordinator of Holistic Science, Resident Ecologist and founding faculty member of Schumacher College.


This is the only MSc Holistic Science programme in the world.  It integrates aspects of reductionism and mainstream science with a more comprehensive basis for seeing and knowing the natural world.  At the heart of Holistic Science is Goethe’s systematic way of involving deep intuitive appreciation of nature’s qualities and intrinsic value integrated with the cognitive study of complexity and emergence. This more holistic approach allows to more effectively tackle challenges in many areas, including ecology, biology, earth system science, physics, organisational development and health studies. Learn More about The Arne Naess Scholarship Award for Holistic Science and bursaries that are available for this programme

What is Holistic Science? 

Western scientific methodology is dominated by silos between disciplines and by ‘reductionism’ – the idea that natural phenomena can be explained and understood in terms of their smallest parts.

The scientific revolution disconnected Western civilisation from nature by teaching us that we can gather reliable knowledge about the world only through rational thought and objective methodologies.

Now, 400 hundred years later, while this knowledge has transformed our lives, it has also contributed to the potentially catastrophic consequences of our unsustainable lifestyles. Specialism and reductionism have been highly successful and have led to a great many scientific breakthroughs, but the dominance of this approach in science is now being called into question.

A reductionist explanation of nature is not only incomplete, it can also be dangerous. It leads us to assume that by analysing the mechanical workings of nature we can predict and therefore manipulate it. In genetic engineering, for example, contemporary scientists believe that genes are of primary importance in determining all the characteristics and behaviour of organisms. Holistic Science recognises that a methodology that ignores complexity, emergent properties, ecological contexts and the intrinsic value of life cannot capture the whole story.

Holistic Science offers an approach that enhances traditional scienctific understanding for relating to the problems of environmental degradation, spiritual crisis and collapsing communities (both human and non-human) that we face today.   Holistic thinking is already revolutionising many aspects of contemporary science. It is generating increasing interest from scientists in fields such as earth system science, ecology, plant and microbial science, epigenetics, evolutionary biology, medical science, human organisational development and physics, and it is especially significant to those concerned with issues relating to sustainability.

Faced with our current uncertainties, we desperately need to develop a new, deeply ethical attitude towards nature and life. To help us do this we need another scientific revolution, a Holistic Science revolution that expands science to reconnect us via our feeling, thinking, sensing and intuition to our animate Earth and to the whole of nature.

This field of study is suitable for scientists and non-scientists alike.  Our MSc Holistic Science programme, validated by Plymouth University, was the first of its kind and is offered at no other college in the World.  Since 1998, when the programme was pioneered at Schumacher College, students and faculty have developed coherent methodologies for holistic enquiry, providing a rigorous and ethical framework for a mature science. The programme seeks to amplify contemporary science by integrating useful aspects of reductionism with other ways of knowing such as a sensitivity to qualities, values and interactions, helping students to explore nature by combining experiential and quantitative approaches, covering areas such as phenomenology, Goethean science, chaos and complexity theories, Gaian science and deep ecology.

This course helps students to view the world as an interconnected whole rather than as a series of isolated fragments, offering methodologies that explore the dynamics of complex systems from individual organisms to human organisations, from ecosystems to the Earth. Students learn how to apply these holistic methodologies to a wide variety of phenomena in order to understand relationships between parts, wholes and emergent properties. This different way of knowing involves a complete shift in emphasis: from objects to relationships, from measuring to mapping, from objectivisation to contextualisation. 

This MSc takes students on a profound transformative learning journey, introducing them to a growing group of international alumni contributing positively to ecological, economic and social change.

Dr Stephan Harding:

“I’m very excited about holistic science because it gives us a deep sense of participation with nature which is fundamental for any ecologically sound activity.  The course provides students with an opportunity  to experience a deep  transformative journey of the soul informed by this new science-based approach.  It helps students connect with a tremendous sense of purpose at this time of crisis, helping  them to transform into real Gaian citizens.”

Course Update

The 2018 course has been reconfigured to incorporate a greater emphasis on a direct connection with nature.  In addition we have introduced new approaches to offering pastoral support to students during their learning journey.  There are three new Associate Lecturers, who will teach Goethian science, chaos and complexity theories, and who will assist the teaching of ecology and Gaia theory.  Two of the new faculty are alumni of the programme, the third has much biological knowledge and facilitation skills to offer the programme.  Join us in the transformative experience of taking part in our updated, refreshed and renewed adventure into holistic science.

Career Opportunities

Former students have taken up a variety of positions within the fields of climate change advocacy, education, scientific research, ecological design, healthcare, green business, protection of indigenous cultures, ecological restoration and sustainable agriculture.  In additon many have gone on to set up up their own projects and enterprises.

Previous dissertations have pioneered the application of holistic science principles in many areas, including:
• Investigating the medicinal properties of plants
• Indigenous and mainstream science perceptions of coral reef health
• Education in schools
• Ecosystem assessment and management
• Banking systems based on insights from Gaia theory
• Creating sustainable food systems
• Forest gardening
• Developing holistic field guiding in Southern Africa
• Fire management in the USA
• Creating holistic money systems
• Organisation development
• Fostering creativity amongst leaders
• Understanding the dynamics of language

Overview of the Programme

During this programme you will:

  • develop an understanding of the pros and cons of using western science as a tool for gaining reliable knowledge about the world
  • learn how contemporary sustainability issues have come about and how we can successfully address them by combining rational and intuitive ways of knowing
  • gain an understanding of the importance of sensing, feeling and intuition for an expanded science
  • learn about a range of cutting edge alternative methodologies which integrate qualitative experience and quantitative measurement
  • develop an understanding of the emergent properties of whole systems through the lenses of chaos, complexity and Gaia theories, and discover how these approaches can help us deal with ecological, social and economic problems
  • understand how Holistic Science is being applied in the worlds of business, economics, health and mainstream science in the creation of a more sustainable world
  • develop a clear understanding of your own rational and emotional states and processes in the study of nature through experiential and reflective group enquiry

Former contributors to this course have included: James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Henri Bortoft, Tim Lenton, Antonio Nobre, Philip Franses, Francoise Wemelsfelder, Rupert Sheldrake, Patricia Shaw, Satish Kumar, Craig Holdrege, Mark Reigner, Mike Wride, Shantena Sabbadini, Jules Cashford and Bruce Lipton.

What previous students said:

“The MSc certainly opened my eyes to new ways of doing business in a complex world. Both the formal teachings and the tremendous networking potential of the College have helped me in forging a professional life that I feel reflects my ideals.”
- Sophia Van Ruth, co-founder Urban Edibles.

“What I learnt and experienced from the MSc is that everything is ever changing. Working with the concepts of holistic science I experienced living with complexity and change as a way of life rather than as a stage I had to survive. This has taught me to more effectively think, act and live with the tension of transitions through multidisciplinary approaches.”   - Anne Solgaard, Green Economy for UNEP/GRID-Arendal.

“During my MSc in Holistic Science I learned a comprehensive qualitative approach to science that binds natural and cultural phenomena. It was a unique experience that transformed my own inner way of relating to complex circumstances and empowered me with the tools necessary to develop the way of life I’ve always dreamed of.“
- Sebastian Eslea Burch, founder of Gaia y Sofia.

Dr Stephan Harding FLSCourse Coordinator and Senior Lecturer in Holistic Science/Estate Ecologist

Stephan oversees the MSc in Holistic Science, teaching on the core modules on many short courses at the College. Stephan was born in Venezuala in 1953 and came to the UK at the age of six. After studying Zoology at the University of Durham he then did a doctorate on the behavioural ecology of the muntjac deer at Oxford University.  He also taught field ecology at the National University in Costa Rica from 1986 to 1989, followed by time in Nepal studying Buddhist thought and practice.  Stephan is a founding faculty member of Schumacher College which opened in 1991. 

His work focusses on ways of translating scientific concepts and understandings about nature into deeply experiential learning which helps students to feel the earth as their own body and psyche,  giving them the inspiration, motivation and insight for acting sustainably in the world at this time of severe crisis.  Stephan has collaborated with many of the world’s leading ecological thinkers and activists, including James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Arne Naess and Fritfof Capra . He is the author of Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia.

Harding S.P. 2017 Harding SP, Burch S.E., Wemelsfelder F. 2017. The Assessment of Landscape Expressivity: A Free Choice Profiling Approach. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0169507. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0169507
Harding S.P.  2015 Towards an Animistic Science of the Earth.  In: Handbook of Contemporary Animism. G. Harvey (ed.) Routledge.
Harding S.P. 2011 (ed.) Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College.  Floris Books.
Harding S.P and Margulis, L.  2010 Water Gaia: Three and a half thousan million years of wetness on planet Earth.  In: Gaia in Turmoil. MIT Press.
Harding S.P. 2009  Animate Earth. (2nd ed.). Green Books, Dartington, UK. (also published in Brazil, Catalonia, Italy ,Germany, USA, South Korea and Thailand).
Harding S.P. and Lovelock J.E. 1996 Exploiter-mediated coexistence and frequency dependent selection in a numerical model of biodiversity. J.Theor. Biol. 182: 109-116.

Associate Lecturers

Joana Formosinho

Joana is a zoologist who has a passion for exploring ways of knowing that are relational and rigorous.  As a research student at the University of Cambridge, Joana spent time with baboons in the Namibian semi-desert. Tracking a troop from dawn to dusk, day after day, she aimed to understand how their behaviour evolved in relation to landscape over evolutionary time. She cites the experience as a unique opportunity to glimpse a rich world of understanding that comes from active participation in life.

Joana's career has included applied animal behaviour research at the Universities of British Columbia and Bristol, as well as working as a writer for the animal welfare NGO sector and as a developer of science training courses for corporate business. In 2013/14, Joana arrived at Schumacher College as a student on MSc Holistic Science, specialising in Goethean Science. She speaks Portuguese and Spanish.


Jamie Perrelet

Jamie has a BSc Physics from Imperial College in London and is a graduate of Schumacher College MSc Holistic Science.  He continues to pursue his research within the fields of quantum information theory and complexity theory. Jamie describes himself as a ‘Storyteller of Science’ and seeks to bring the latest discoveries in science into the context of the feeling body.

Over the past eight years he has developed an immersive teaching style that weaves together both analytical and intuitive ways of knowing. In 2015 he co-founded ‘The Meadow’, a wild pollinator sanctuary on the Dartington Estate that aims to increase local biodiversity and facilitate a deeper understanding of native ecology. Jamie is also known for taking his algorithms to the dance floor, sharing his work internationally at events such as Burning Man and Boom Festival; projecting cinematic environments that reflect the enigma of nature’s divine paradox.

Phoebe Tickell

Phoebe is a biological systems scientist turned independent scholar. She is motivated by translating scientific knowledge into an understandable language that helps create a life-sustaining society.
After exploring the potential of solutions in science and technology, she is now applying them to human systems. This means experimenting with new ways of learning, working and teaching.  She studied first at the University of Cambridge, specialising in plant, algae and microbial systems and the symbioses between them.  She then carried out research into algal genetics at Imperial College, London which led her to study the behaviour of biological networks, communities and symbioses - in effect the biology of relationships, large and small.

Phoebe is part of various systems-change projects outside of her college role where she puts her understanding of networks, systems and cooperation into practice   These include Future Farm Lab which creates learning opportunities and experiments with alternative approaches to our food system and Enspiral, a de-centralised, DIY social enterprise network. She is also a facilitator of Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects.

The Arne Naess Scholarship Award for Holistic Science and Bursaries Available For This Programme - learn more

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Last updated 09/02/2018