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A Tribute to Henri Bortoft

henri bortoft
Saturday, 29 December, 2012

It was with great sadness that we learnt of Henri Bortoft’s passing away on the 29th December 2012.

Henri was a hugely important philosopher of science, and, in his earlier days, an outstanding physicist who had worked closely with David Bohm on the implications of quantum mechanics for our understanding of wholeness.

Henri was much more than an intellectual; he was an alchemist of the imagination. His work was concerned with the dynamics of life as it is lived, rather than with mere ideas. He went beyond a purely physical understanding of wholeness to explore a living sense of how we can truly experience the world in a manner deeply inspired by Goethe, as encapsulated in his first book The Wholeness of Nature (Floris Books, 1996).

Henri was a founding teacher on the college’s MSc in Holistic Science with his friend and colleague Professor Brian Goodwin, the principal instigator of our groundbreaking postgraduate degree. Henri faithfully taught on the course each year from its inception in 1998 until 2012, when, already quite unwell, he made the huge effort of travelling to the college to teach for three days, a contribution that was hugely appreciated by the MSc students and indeed by everyone at the college.

Henri’s work is the foundation not only of the MSc itself, but also of the expanded science that is so sorely needed in this time of global crisis – a science that values an intuitive knowing of nature’s qualities as much as conventional quantitative approaches.

Henri’s intellectual and intuitive grasp of science, and of its history and philosophy were extraordinary. His presence, his powerful dynamism and his eloquence brought his considerable insights to life within the minds and souls of the many students who were privileged to learn with him over the years here at the college. During his sessions we knew that we were in the presence of a truly great philosopher whose understanding of the nature of wholeness, the history and philosophy of science, of phenomenology and of Goethe’s way of science were deeply original and transformative.

Henri’s new book, Taking Appearance Seriously, published in October 2012 by Floris Books, brings to a culmination Henri’s 40 years of innovative exploration and understanding of life on its own terms. It is fitting that so many of the formative ideas he worked on in his teaching at the college are now out in the world, and that he finished this hugely important work just before his passing. We will continue to work with Henri’s ideas here at the college, and we are deeply grateful for his dedication to our MSc in Holistic Science.

Stephan Harding
Philip Franses
Patricia Shaw