Courses Overview >> Short courses >> Physics of the World Soul - Examining Contemporary Scientific Cosmology

Physics of the World Soul - Examining Contemporary Scientific Cosmology

Course dates: 
Monday, 18 June, 2018 to Friday, 22 June, 2018
There are 2 spaces remaining
earth from space

“Now that the existential threat of planetary ecological collapse has dawned on our species, the study of life can no longer remain a merely theoretical affair” Matthew T. Segall

How do we make sense of the latest scientific discoveries in cosmology, quantum physics and biology? Is the world inert and devoid of meaning, or is nature creative and full of emerging possibilities? Can philosophy help us unravel the mysterious question of what life is?

In this short course we will study a neglected branch of philosophy – the philosophy of organism – to see whether we can square scientific understanding with our experience of the world as alive, aware and full of novelty. Can philosophy put meaning back into the world? Can we find a physics of the world soul?

At a glance:

• study a little known branch of philosophy, the philosophy of organism
• discover how philosophy can lead us deeper into an understanding of what life is and what it means to be alive
• unravel the complexities of the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead

According to a dominant mode of thought in Western culture, the world about us, in all its teeming complexity, can be reduced down to particles of matter moving and interacting according to the laws of physics. The world is inert; consciousness, an epiphenomenon or even an illusion.

But this line of thinking jars with our experience that the world is brimming with ‘aliveness’.

In this course we will examine a very different, but no less rigorous, branch of philosophy, one that attempts to square our experience with our scientific understanding of the world: the philosophy of organism. Starting with the Naturphilosophie of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, we will touch on Henri Bergson and his ideas of a creative evolution, before diving deeply into the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.

Whitehead – a British mathematician turned philosopher – was the mentor of Bertrand Russell, but rejected Russell’s atheism in favour of a metaphysics that accommodates spirituality.

As we now begin to pose questions about our future, Whitehead’s complex thought is making a comeback amongst avant-garde thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic. He presents us with a vision of the world as alive, creative and constantly emerging into novelty.

If Whitehead is correct in saying that “as we think, we live”, then this branch of philosophy may yet provide us with new ways to respond to the many ecological challenges we face.

This short course forms part of the module in Evolution and Spirituality in the West, in the Ecology and Spirituality MA programme. We recommend that participants are at least familiar with the broad trends in modern philosophy, and come prepared to join the MA students in active study and rich discussion. Classes will take place in the Elmhirst Centre at Dartington Hall, set amidst the glorious Grade II listed gardens.  

Residential spaces are extremely limited and we recommend early booking.

Dr Andy Letcher

Dr Andy Letcher is writer, performer and scholar of religion who began life as an ecologist, completing his D.Phil in Ecology at Oxford University. After a spell as an environmental activist during the 90s, especially during the anti-roads protests, he moved across to the humanities, completing a PhD at King Alfred’s College Winchester. He is an expert on contemporary alternative spiritualities, especially modern Paganism, neo-shamanism and psychedelic spiritualities. A writer known for his critical approach, he is the author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom and a range of academic papers on subjects as diverse as fairies, animism, folklore, bardism and Druidry. He wrote the companion volume to The English Magic Tarot. A folk musician, he plays English bagpipes and Dark Age lyre, and for ten years fronted psych-folk band, Telling the Bees.

Matthew T. Segall

Matthew T. Segall

Matthew T. Segall is a process philosopher who teaches courses on process-relational thought and German Idealism for the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA. His most recent course is ‘Process and Difference in the Pluriverse’, which applies process-relational metaphysics to the present social, political, and ecological crises. He has published articles on a wide-array of topics, including philosophy, Gaia theory, religious studies, psychedelics, and architecture, and his most recent book is titled Physics of the World-Soul: The Relevance of Alfred North Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism to Contemporary Scientific Cosmology (2016). He blogs regularly at

Joana Formosinho

Joana is a zoologist with a passion for knowledge that is both relational and rigorous, and does not objectify living subjects. As a research student at the University of Cambridge, she spent time with baboons in the Namibian semi-desert. Tracking a troop from dawn til dusk, day after day, she aimed to understand how their behaviour evolved in relation to landscape over evolutionary time.

Joana's career has included applied animal behaviour research at the Universities of British Columbia and Bristol, as well as work as a writer for animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming.  She has also developed science training courses for the business sector. In 2013/14, Joana arrived at Schumacher College as a student on the Holistic Science MSc, specialising in Goethean Science. Joana is an associate lecturer on the forthcoming 2018 MSc Holistic Science programme and she facilitates wildfulness workshops helping people develop their personal relationship with the natural world.


£ 595.00
Course fees include all vegetarian meals, field trips, materials and all teaching sessions. The programme will run from Monday to Friday and includes private accommodation with shared bathroom. This course will join an elective on Schumacher College's MA Ecology and Spirituality postgraduate programme.