limited-edition 100-page offset printed book containing 50 illustrations

An exegesis on ways that thought – and the phenomena that spark it –
shapes culture by a scientist-turned-artist.

Half of the edition of 250 copies were purchased via a crowdfunding campaign in Aug/Sept 2013.
Print copies are still available as of October 2015.

Excerpt below - longer excerpt at

field guide to philosoprops




"Alyce Santoro's Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide is radical (meaning "proceeding from the root") in the truest sense. What at first seems like an account of her personal process of creation unfolds into a manifesto about the paradoxes of self-consciousness. We learn that her "philosoprops" give contemporary form to perennial conundrums. Long associated with Zen koans and ancient attempts to square the circle, her artworks playfully re-invent time-honored techniques for inducing illumination through befuddlement. Yet the book also reveals her intention of going far beyond celebrating the novelty of riddles. She seeks to give voice to the unclassifiable heretics that occupy the liminal realms at the boundaries of art, science, religion, and spirituality. Instead of succumbing to modern society's push towards specialization and categorization, she uses philosoprops to encourage pulling the rug out from under paradigmatic assumptions to examine the complex unities of existence. By documenting the decades-long nucleosynthesis of her own creative process, Alyce has managed to provide a touching insight into her own ongoing epiphanic supernova. Her explorations of the complementary possibilities of intuitive reason, gentle empiricism, and precise speculation have not only produced delightful objects, they have also enabled her to make a compelling case that embracing multiple perspectives on the world is essential for cultivating empathy, compassion, and reciprocation. Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide is an open invitation to her fellow astronauts aboard the magnificent Spaceship Earth to embrace the playful nature of a mutually beneficial cosmos: in her words, to believe in everything instead of nothing."

David McConville, cosmographic hermeneut and Chairman of the Buckminster Fuller Institute

"Alyce Santoro is best known as the inventor of the most creative advance in textiles in the past few millennia. Her Sonic Fabric brought cloth and clothing into an entirely new sensory and indeed ontological realm. Dialectical materialism may have gone out of style in recent times, but Sonic Fabric has assured that dialectical material has a great future. Now, with Philosoprops, Santoro dedicates her impressive creative energies to the cause of making sure that dialectical philosophy, and indeed, philosophy as a whole, also has an auspicious future. Her new book is a kind of “Guide for the Unperplexed.” If you fear that you may be lapsing into some kind of dogmatic slumber, Philosoprops will shake you up a bit and render you more creatively perplexed. What is a philosoprop? It’s a prop, something that helps you philosophize, and it’s also an op, an opportunity to have fun doing it. Santoro says that philosoprops are like philosophical toys. This is one of their most admirable qualities. They help bring play, and maybe even joyfulness, back into philosophy. It’s often been said that the origin of philosophy is in childlike wonder. But has this truth been taken seriously, or seriously unseriously, enough? Santoro thinks not, and wants to do something about it. Philosoprops is a guide to engaged philosophizing, to doing, and not just thinking about doing. It helps return philosophy to everyday life. Philosoprops takes philosophy out of the hands of the philosopros and philosoprofs and puts it back in the hands of the philosopeeps. Who knows what will happen when you get hooked on philosoprops? They may help you notice how you notice what you notice! If you do enough philosopropping, you may discover that in the end wisdom is just a mountain to be plucked, or a flower to be climbed, step-by-step! Whether or not you accept Santoro’s invitation to “choose determinism,” I certainly hope that you will be determined to get this book!

Max Cafard, surregionalist writer, psychogeographer, Zen anarchist

Alyce Santoro (a.k.a. Alyce B. Obvious) is keen at pointing out with graphic grace, material beauty, and steampunk sensibility what should be obvious to us all: that the universe is marvelous, and that a down-to-earth, resilient lifestyle is immediately available to anyone who is willing to tune in, unplug, and DIY. Philosophical apparatuses and instruments – philosoprops – are the tools of Alyce’s obvious multiverse. Informed by a love of wisdom and an absurd sense of humor, these material propaganda draw attention to human behaviors and the social, political and environmental ramifications of our beliefs and actions. Alyce’s instruments broadcast a hopeful message: that changing the world for the better begins the moment we realize it is possible. When we reach out with open arms, an open mind and an open heart, simple actions (like hanging laundry in the sun to dry instead of relying on a machine powered by coal, fracking, or nuclear fission) take on transformative power. By raising questions like “Is magic real?” “Are we separate from one another?” and “Can we create a more just, egalitarian system?” philosoprops disarm us, make us smile, and show us a path towards participation in the wonder of it all. Whether we decide to notice what we notice, embrace paradox, follow our instincts and intuition, or live simply…the choice is ours.

Eve Andrée Laramée, interdisciplinary artist, ecological activist



The word philosoprop is a portmanteau of philosophy (love of wisdom) and either prop (theatrical property) or propaganda (influential communication), depending. A philosoprop is a device, implement, or illustration – crafted or discovered ready-made – that can be used for the purpose of demonstrating a concept or sparking a dialog. I began collecting and contriving them many years ago, quite by accident.

I didn’t set out to become a maker of philosoprops, per se – my path has led through science, scientific illustration, conceptual art, and social activism, ultimately becoming an amalgam of all of these things.

After noticing that, more than anything else, my work consisted of multimedia social interventions and apparatuses as catalysts for discussion, reflection, and action, I felt compelled to invent a word to describe the associated artifacts. The term art felt too ambiguous; philosoprop seemed more precise.

I am by no means the only person making philosoprops. In fact, it could be argued that they are everywhere, contained in nearly every facet of human endeavor throughout history: many works of art, music, poetry, and literature; religious icons; shamanic implements; acts and signs of resistance and protest; some scientific instruments; and even some culinary delicacies could be thought of as philosoprops. Anytime we need to express the ineffable, make the invisible visible, or connect with the intangible, we may find that a philosoprop comes in handy.

There is evidence that as far back as the 1600s European “experimental philosophers,” opticians, and mathematicians (the label scientist to encompass all of these disciplines hadn’t yet been established) began defining the tools of their trades – inventions such as the prism, camera obscura, sundial, barometer, ruler, and the telescope and microscope – as philosophical instruments.[i] Devices such as stroboscopes, stereoscopes, and kaleidoscopes that were used as much to provide entertainment as to lend insight into the ways in which we perceive space and/or time fell under the subheading of philosophical toys. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that the term scientific became associated in particular with laboratory equipment.[ii]

Implements of research into the natural world have long provided inspiration for artists, scientists, philosophers, and the public at large. From beakers, flasks, and test-tubes, cabinets of curiosity, and planetariums to the Hubble Space Telescope and the Large Hadron Collider, scientific and philosophical instruments spark the imagination and “provide metaphors for writers and poets, they have an important pedagogical role in illustrating and confirming theory, and they define for the public what is acceptable science.”[iii]

Revolutionary historical examples of philosoprops – illustrative works that have caused profound shifts in the way entire populations envisioned their place in the universe – might include Leonardo da Vinci’s famed “Vitruvian Man” (or “Proportions of the Human Figure”) around 1500 or Copernicus’ drawings of the heliocentric solar system published a few decades later. In the mid-1300s a French thinker by the name of Nichole d’Oresme developed a coordinate system by which to plot units of time against space along intersecting horizontal and vertical axes. With the advent of the graph, both “experimental philosophers” and artists were able to visualize and consider abstract data – such as the movement of objects through space and three-dimensional perspective – in new ways.[iv] More recently, the double-helix model of the DNA molecule (1952) and the “Blue Marble” photograph of earth from space taken by the Apollo 17 crew (1972) have been noted for their widespread cultural impact. (Although, as journalist Naomi Klein recently pointed out, gazing down at an abstracted image of earth from high above may have done as much to reinforce humanity’s sense of separation from nature as it has done to remind us that we are all sharing one small, stunning planet.[v])

In 2000 I attended an exhibition titled Unnatural Science at Mass MOCA in western Massachusetts. Among the pieces, all in some way inspired by scientific investigation, was a work titled “Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions,” by Eve Andrée Laramée, consisting of an outlandishly intricate arrangement of laboratory glassware etched with “unscientific” words and phrases such as HANDFULS, PARADOX, UNSPECIFIED, and UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES. Upon experiencing Eve’s piece I realized that I was part of a tradition of artist-scientist-philosophers: I would not have to pick a discipline – it would be possible to work in all at once.

While this book serves as a sort of history and field guide to mostly my own philosoprops, it is my hope that by putting a name to the genre others will feel compelled to add to it. By telling the stories of the inspiration behind many of my works (with historical references to science, art, and philosophy), I explore the causes of current social, political, and environmental crises and suggest that the way forward will require profound shifts to our collective vision of culture, to the conditions we accept as “normal” within our society. I believe that through the cultivation of all forms of personal creativity, everyone can play a role in the urgently needed re-envisioning of our relationships with one another and our surroundings.

PHILOSOPROPS: A UNIFIED FIELD GUIDE is equal parts art exhibition catalog, cultural critique, autobiography, and invitation to reconsider the standard compartments into which we are taught to divide our world. It also serves as a long answer to the question I am most frequently asked: What made you think of that?


There are likely to be as many answers to this question as there are artists and art appreciators – indeed, as there are human beings. Each of us is experiencing this phenomenon we call reality in an infinitely unique way; each of us possesses a different range of aptitudes and sensitivities, which, when recognized and cultivated, can be channeled into highly creative, sharable forms of expression. Through the purposeful transmission of impressions and moods, we can convey abstract experiences and begin to perceive ineffable aspects of reality through lenses other than our own. This opportunity to see or hear the world from the perspective of another may cause us to feel less alone in our own existence, or it may “move” us to approach life with an altered, more profound sense of depth, richness, meaning, or empathy.[vi]

Perhaps shamans were the first artists as well as the first scientists. Since time immemorial shamans have understood that the first step to bringing something out of the realm of the imaginary and into the world of the “real” is to give it physical form. There is power and what could be called “magic” in an idea that begins to take shape at the hand of the human who gives it life as a line, a rhythm or melody, or a bit of molded clay. The mental materializes. The invisible becomes visible and transmittable when it is drawn, sculpted, expressed in words, sound, or the design of an experiment – suddenly, it exists.

In ways not entirely dissimilar from these simplistic examples, when collective imagination is not allowed to flourish, the visionaries who garner the most power literally shape the world around us. Where pharaohs rule, pyramids appear; feudalism brings castles and walled cities; the influence of the church results in cathedrals; capitalist domination produces generic box stores surrounded by acres of tarmac upon which to park private low-occupancy vehicles. In previous eras, architects and urban planners might have, by design, encouraged reflection or brought the community together. Here in the early 21st century, however, the visionaries in power have a very different, remarkably effective agenda: create spaces that make people feel distracted and alienated from one another and from nature, accompanied by the illusion that the most effective way to assuage this discomfort is to purchase a manufactured product. The creative and content individual requires fewer trappings, and fewer trappings mean reduced profits for the CEO of the alienation alleviation widget corporation. Popular imagination is the enemy of the mogul, and the enemy of the consumption-based economic system in general – in the interest of keeping the wheels of consumerism greased, creative thinking must be suppressed and/or manipulated by any and all means possible.

Who will oppose these malicious, shortsighted visionaries? In my view, the artist is the shaman ­– or superhero – of our age, serving to remind the public of the power of personal and collective imagination. By carefully noticing the ways our lives are influenced by the sights and sounds that surround us, we can begin to create alternatives, re-appropriate the spaces in which we exist, refocus the activities to which we willingly devote our time, and make choices that are healthier and more constructive for ourselves, our communities, and our planet. Fostering imagination for the purpose of transforming the prevailing collective vision is the inherently subversive function of the creative practitioner.


Art is the science of the intangible. Science is the art of the tangible. Humans rely on empirical data for all manner of existence management, planning, and development. But we are also equipped with a complex, often-underestimated, and little-understood sensory system capable of processing an infinite range of subtle sensory input that is also essential and integral to our perception of reality. If we have come to regard art and science as anything other than two halves of the same vital coin, both necessary for certain purposes under particular circumstances, this is little more than a foible of contemporary thinking.

I can’t recall a time when the competition between disciplines to establish the most advanced or sophisticated one made sense to me, but in the Northeastern United States, I certainly remember it being implied throughout my education, beginning in elementary school in the 1970s. Science is something that smart, serious people do, and art is something people do for fun or as a hobby but not to serve an essential function. ­

From as far back as I can remember I wanted to prove this harsh thesis incorrect. I would make it my life’s mission to find ways to bring art and science together.

An only child raised in a log cabin in the woods, I was enthralled by every detail of the living world around me and felt compelled to learn all I could about it. In a “modern” society if an inquisitive young person craves a deeper understanding of her surroundings, the available options are likely to be drawn from the socially accepted, career-focused menu of -ologies. Vision quests, walkabouts, traditional planting and harvesting methods, and other, more immersive and holistic forms of nature study exist, but these are most often taught (when referenced at all) in passing as strange or “alternative” customs practiced by other, less “developed” peoples with different concerns and different standards for determining what should be deemed “practical.”

Though I relished the elegant concepts behind chemistry and math, when conveyed in the classroom as dry abstractions divorced from everyday life, I found English, art, and music more engaging and easier to grasp. Upon learning theories about the bi-hemispherical brain and its purportedly different functions, it seemed evident my own brain was bent toward the creative side. Determined to get the analytical half up to speed, I chose science as the focus of my higher education. Without much guidance on how or where to look for an interdisciplinary education, I decided to study science first, art later.

As an undergraduate marine biology student in the late-1980s, I frequently found myself overwhelmed by the astonishingly intricate processes that life entails. Creating meticulous drawings of the creatures I was investigating became an exercise in detail awareness and appreciation. I became intrigued by the role of the scientific illustrator, able to translate data into forms that can be easily accessed by trained and untrained audiences alike.

My first research project as a freshman undergraduate was conducted in a tropical lagoon off Uepi, a tiny jungle-covered island in the South Pacific. I was drawn to groups of five-lined cardinalfish that I’d repeatedly observed hovering within the spines of the long-spined black urchin. In order to learn whether the urchins were providing a source of nutrient or some other benefit aside from protection for the fish, I designed an experiment involving several model urchins constructed out of halved coconut shells fitted with spines made of broom straw. Upon deployment, the fish immediately began to populate the ersatz urchins. The thrill derived from creating forms that the fish seemed to find useful, then documenting the experiment with drawings, proved to be a harbinger of things to come.

coconut urchin experiment

In a flash of insight during the final semester of my senior year, my grasp of genetics, biochemistry, physics, and calculus suddenly deepened when I began to perceive these not as distinctly separate subjects, but as variations on a single theme: the dynamics of systems on a rare and vital planet. I was having what could be described as a mystical revelation – a sensation I was not able to reconcile until many years later, already well down the path to becoming more of a philosophical illustrator than a scientific one. I wondered why it had taken four years to arrive at this realization and why the interrelationship of everything had not been emphasized at the outset. Perhaps, like the riddle in a Zen master’s koan, the wisdom was there all along, obscured until the student was ready to receive it.

I was already a practiced skeptic when I arrived at college. Without any formal spiritual practice, my parents encouraged me to respect the beliefs of others, to question everything, and to choose the models, if any, that seemed most sensible. I recall a moment in grammar school when my fellow students erupted in laughter at the idea of Muslims making a pilgrimage to kiss the Black Stone at Mecca; my mind immediately flashed to a classroom full of children in the Middle East, learning at precisely the same moment about Christians who ritually turn bread and wine into human flesh and blood, then ingest it. To me, kissing rocks seemed perfectly reasonable, especially by comparison. By the time the lesson on the Crusades came along, I was finding the harm caused in the name of a purportedly just and loving God absurd. I decided to reject religion outright in favor of a scientific understanding of the world.

It seemed to me that those were the available choices: religion or science, not something in between, and not something else altogether. When I first learned the word atheist, it seemed to fit – it’s perfectly logical that belief should be preceded by evidence. Later, the slightly less definitive agnostic seemed more apropos – perhaps things can exist that are beyond the human capacity for understanding. It would be many more years before I came to realize that labels are little more than convenient, imprecise – and often completely inadequate – forms of linguistic shorthand. For me, the overwhelming intricacies of the Krebs cycle (the astoundingly complex series of biochemical feedback loops that turn food into forms of energy that can be used by cells), the structure and function of the DNA molecule, and the process of photosynthesis evoked profound feelings of reverence and awe. Ironically, my quest for rational understanding was leading directly into metaphysical territory.

As far as I was concerned, if the 13.8-billion-year-old universe with its elegant smattering of a trillion swirling galaxies each filled with 50 billion stars and their respective orbiting planets (at least one of which is known to support trees, jellyfish, and scientists) can come about through some combination of random operations, serendipity, natural selection – along with any as-yet undiscovered, or at least unverifiable factors – then this process is no less miraculous, and no less worthy of veneration, than anything else referred to by some as divine.

It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus (1921)

walt whitman miracles

– Walt Whitman, "Miracles", from An American Bible, published in 1911 by The Roycrofters



"CHANCE?", lithography and letterpress, 11” x 15”, edition of 3, year 2000.

As wary as I’d become about the capacity of the dominant organized religions to divide people against one another, I was equally intrigued by the principles upon which they are ostensibly founded: namely, reverence toward the causative agents of existence.

During the fall semester of my junior year I ventured off alone to backpack around Western Europe with the goal of learning all I could about art, history, and culture – subjects that were markedly absent from a rigorous science curriculum. Expecting to concentrate on museums and art institutions, I was surprised to find myself captivated by cathedrals and other sacred sites, such as Stonehenge. I realized that over the course of millennia humans had been inspired to build exquisite monuments to a force I could neither see nor comprehend: soaring architecture, gilded altars, relics depicting moments of otherworldly sorrow, passion, ecstasy. I longed for access to such realms, beyond the reach of conventional detection systems.

In Venice I took in the torn canvases of Lucio Fontana, in Vienna the early scores of Mozart. At the Musée Picasso in Paris the multidimensional magic of cubism revealed itself to me for the first time, providing a perfect segue to David Hockney’s faceted photomontages at the Musée D’Orsay. I began to see parallels between the cathedrals and the museums; both are dedicated to explorations into the great mysteries of existence. Artists and prophets throughout the ages have been impelled to see beyond the ordinary and to craft their visions into tangible, sharable forms.

But aren’t many scientists also responding to an urge to understand the ultimate nature of the universe? While there are important differences in the approaches taken by art, science, and spiritual pursuits, as highly specialized platforms for examining the mysteries within which we find ourselves, they have in common the capacity to provide dimension and meaning to human existence. As much as science might care to think of itself as detached and unbiased, it too is practiced by individuals who are passionately – often completely inexplicably – driven toward the study of nebulae, mycelia, squid, or subatomic particles.

partcile accelerators cathedrals art studios
"THE SOURCE", lithography and letterpress, 11” x 15”, edition of 4, year 2000.



While it would be difficult to determine precisely when humans began wondering about and seeking ways to shape the world around them, it’s clear that by the late 1500s scientist-philosophers such as Descartes, Galileo, Newton, and Bacon (building on knowledge derived from their predecessors in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Islamic world, Persia, China, and India) were working to improve the accuracy of knowledge using experiments based on observable phenomena and reason. New, refined instruments such as telescopes and microscopes unlocked vast and transformative insights into physics, mathematics, biology, medicine, navigation, and transportation.

These new empirical methods stood in contrast to the hermetic, alchemical, and other esoteric forms of study also practiced at the time, which combined both the physical and the mystical. The animistic beliefs of the Renaissance Naturalists were seen by the group of emerging European rationalists as a threat to their bourgeoning methods of inquiry.

Many people in the West were becoming convinced that the universe is less alive and more akin to a machine. Descartes, for example, held that the physical universe “consists of nothing more than the mechanical collisions of inert material particles,”[vii] (“mind” being something altogether separate) and felt that the success of all future study depended upon the abolishment of the notion that the forces that animate humans are in any way related to the forces that drive the rest of nature.

Descartes, a brilliant contributor to the field of mathematics, also played a pivotal role in the widespread acceptance of the notion that the human sensory system is unreliable as a means of gathering data. He believed that the most God-like (Descartes is thought to have been a deist – a Catholic, to be precise) form of knowledge is that derived by deductive reason alone.[viii]

Descartes inadvertently did the thinking for forthcoming generations when he famously declared in his 1637 Discourse on Method, “I think, therefore I am.” But exactly who or what is this entity commonly referred to as “I”? And might not feeling also play a significant role in our sense of being? One might infer from Descartes’ axiom that thinking is an endeavor carried out in complete isolation, contained within one’s body, and entirely disconnected from the outside world. Reconsidering any limitations we may impose on our definitions of “thought” and “mind” now will help us to evaluate whether our philosophical and scientific, analytical and intuitive, creative and mathematical paradigms are ultimately constructive. Moving forward, necessary adjustments can be applied as we strive to cultivate a more peaceful, sustainable existence on planet Earth.

Physicist David Bohm stated in Wholeness and the Implicate Order:

“Indeed, to some extent, it has always been both necessary and proper for man, in his thinking, to divide things up, and to separate them, so as to reduce his problems to manageable proportions; for evidently, if in our practical technical work we tried to deal with the whole of reality at once, we would be swamped. So, in certain ways, the creation of special subjects of study and the division of labour was an important step forward. Even earlier, man’s first realization that he was not identical with nature was also a crucial step, because it made possible a kind of autonomy in his thinking, which allowed him to go beyond the immediately given limits of nature, first in his imagination and ultimately in his practical work.

Nevertheless, this sort of ability of man to separate himself from his environment and to divide and apportion things ultimately led to a wide range of negative and destructive results, because man lost awareness of what he was doing and thus extended the process of division beyond the limits within which it works properly. In essence, the process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical, and functional activities (e.g., to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e. to his self-world view), then man ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments. Being guided by a fragmentary self-world view, man then acts in such a way as to try to break himself and the world up, so that all seems to correspond to his way of thinking. Man thus obtains an apparent proof of the correctness of his fragmentary self-world view though, of course, he overlooks the fact that it is he himself, acting according to his mode of thought, who has brought about the fragmentation that now seems to have an autonomous existence, independent of his will and desire.”[ix]

It is one of the most profound paradoxes of the human condition that under ordinary circumstances we experience ourselves as separate entities, while occasionally, under extraordinary circumstances (during extreme states of bliss, love, duress, meditation; during a near-death experience; or with the aid of hallucinogens, perhaps) we come to the clear realization that separation is a temporary, convenient illusion, while interconnectedness is the true nature of being.

Certainly the value of reason and logic as a cultural “advance,” one that serves to dispel ignorance and fear, cannot be underestimated; many of the challenges faced by modern society are caused by a dearth of rational, critical thinking. But it is possible to attach oneself so wholeheartedly to reason that healthy forms of multisensory analysis and expression become diminished. Perhaps the alchemists had some ideas worth saving:


1. The Principle of Mentalism.

ALL IS MIND. THE ALL is SPIRIT which in itself is UNKNOWABLE and UNDEFINABLE, but which may be considered and thought of as AN UNIVERSAL, INFINITE, LIVING MIND.

2. The Principle of Correspondence.

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW; AS BELOW, SO ABOVE. This Principle embodies the truth that there is always a Correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of Being and Life. And the grasping of this Principle gives one the means of solving many a dark paradox, and hidden secret of Nature. There are planes beyond our knowing, but when we apply the Principle of Correspondence to them we are able to understand much that would otherwise be unknowable to us.

3. The Principle of Vibration.

NOTHING RESTS, EVERYTHING MOVES, EVERYTHING VIBRATES. This Principle explains that the differences between different manifestations of Matter, Energy, Mind, and even Spirit, result largely from varying rates of Vibration.

4. The Principle of Polarity.

EVERYTHING IS DUAL. Everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are Identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.

5. The Principle of Rhythm.

EVERYTHING FLOWS. Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.

6. The Principle of Cause and Effect.

EVERY CAUSE HAS ITS EFFECT; EVERY EFFECT HAS ITS CAUSE. Everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a name for Law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the Law.

7. The Principle of Gender.

GENDER IS IN EVERYTHING. Everything, and every person, contains the two Elements or Principles, or this great Principle, within it, him or her. Every Male thing has the Female Element also; every Female contains also the Male Principle.


wavy line

With the scientific revolution well under way in 18th century Europe, scholar and author Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe recognized that valuable animistic, alchemical, and hermetic technologies were being lost, discredited by those choosing to abandon the esoteric entirely in favor of modern systems that emphasize the rational, reasonable, and measureable. Goethe felt that the old and new systems were not entirely incompatible and should not be perceived as diametrically opposed; rather, they should be drawn upon under separate-yet-complementary circumstances. He developed techniques intended to enhance and deepen the study of nature beyond what is possible by objective analysis alone. He called his preferred approach delicate empiricism: "the effort to understand a thing's meaning through prolonged, empathic looking and seeing grounded in direct experience."[xi]

“Goethe argued that it is not enough to train only the outer senses and the intellect. He maintained that, as a person’s abilities to see outwardly improve, so do his or her inner recognitions and perceptions become more sensitive: ‘Each phenomenon in nature, rightly observed, wakens in us a new organ of inner understanding.’ As one learns to see more clearly, she or he also learns to see more deeply. One becomes more ‘at home’ with the phenomenon, understanding it with greater empathy, concern, and respect.”[xii]

Inspired by Goethe, 20th century German conceptual artist and educator Joseph Beuys’ life and work focused on the profound socially transformative potential of personal empowerment and creativity that emerges when one engages one’s sense of intimate interrelationship with the biosphere.

Beuys believed that “only from deep, sustained reflection upon the nature and purpose of creative activity could social change arise.”[xiii] He felt that “man is a being who needs nourishment for his spiritual needs, and that if he could cultivate and train this primary nature, this spiritual nature, he could develop whole other energies.”[xiv]

Even small, routine gestures, when performed from a deep sense of compassion for and responsibility toward one’s place and community, enhance the lives of all those who experience them, including one’s own. For this reason, Beuys famously declared, “Everyone is an artist.” He called work that has transformative potential “social sculpture.”

To make people free is the aim of art. Therefore art for me is the science of freedom. – Joseph Beuys

The practice of permaculture – an integrated system of design and cultivation by careful interpretation of one’s environment ­– is based on similar principles. In the words of Bill Mollison, co-developer of the original framework, permaculture is “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating elements as a single-product system.”[xv]

The permaculturist strives in all ways to minimize waste and input of energy and resources while maximizing efficiency and yield, striving always to sustain oneself in ways that not only reduce harmful impact, but also serve to enhance the surrounding land and community if possible.

Modern science as it is currently practiced, for all its transformative power, includes no such tenets. Its overwhelming influence is accompanied by the compelling impression that it is above reproach and that civilization’s “progress” depends on it.

However, it may behoove us to examine the repercussions of many of the things we have come to accept as technological “advances.” While we have remained focused on the miracle of humanity’s boundless curiosity, we tend to lose sight of the fact that so much of today’s research is funded by corporate interests driven by little more than the urge to discover that which commands profit and power.

In art, attempts are made to distinguish between “fine” and “commercial” forms, fine being that which is (ostensibly) motivated by a desire for aesthetic and/or conceptual enrichment, and commercial being that which is created to serve an economic function. A straightforward label that communicates the intended purpose of a work of art can help us to gauge an honest, accurate, and appropriate response to it. Nowadays, when we say “science,” it is difficult without a similar clarifying term to understand exactly what we mean. Due to funding pressures “fine scientists,” ones who are able to practice out of an earnest sense of curiosity and concern for nature and humanity entirely unswayed by the interests of their sponsors, are fewer and farther between than ever.


[i] Nicholas J. Wade, Destined for Distinguished Oblivion: the Scientific Vision of William Charles Wells (1757-1817), (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2003). 208-209.

[ii] Liba Taub, “Introduction: Reengaging with Instruments,” Isis, Vol. 102, No. 4 (The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society, December 2011). 694

[iii] Albert Van Helden and Thomas L. Hankins, Osiris Vol. 9: Instruments in the History of Science. (University of Chicago Press Journals, 1993). 5

[iv] Leonard Shlain, Art and Physics: Space, Time, and Light (Harper-Collins, 1991). 52

[v] Jason Mark, “Conversation with Naomi Klein”, Earth Island Journal, Autumn 2013

[vi] An example of one of the many lenses through which I feel better off for having viewed my life is Oregon’s album Music of Another Present Era.

[vii] Henri Bortoft, Taking Apperance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought (Floris Books, 2012). 45

[viii] Bortoft, 44

[ix] David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (Routledge, 1980). 2-3

[x] Three Initiates, The Kabalion (Yogi Publication Society, 1912). 25-41

[xi] Arthur Zajonc and David Seamon, Goethe's Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature (State University of New York Press, 1998). 2

[xii] Zajonc and Seamon, 3

[xiii] Michael Tucker, Dreaming with Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture (Antiquarian/Harper San Francisco, 1992). 287

[xiv] Tucker, 287

[xv] Bill Mollison, Introduction to Permaculture (Tagari, 1991). 1



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