Evolving Morphology Conference 2017

As an attempt to encompass most of the nuances in the evolution of morphological thinking, the program of the conference was diverse, ranging from lectures, panel discussions with the speakers, research presentations, open space for specialised professional meetings (Symposium) to artistic workshops for nature observation and eurythmy with the interaction of the participants.

On Wednesday evening (4.10), Wolfgang Schad kicked off with an opening lecture on the phenomenon of temporalization of nature in the evolution of human consciousness, expressed in works of art and science, and its implications in the development of the idea of metamorphosis. Over the next four days, the theme of the conference evolved from historical and methodological aspects, passing through the philosophy of morphology, and diving into contemporary morphological research in Botany, Zoology and Medicine.

In such way, the conference was taking shape into a threefold-integrated whole by keeping with the intentions, content and nature of Goethe’s morphological notebooks:

  1. The History of Morphology: In Goethe's time, scientific writings were usually accompanied by much-appreciated historical and autobiographical treatments. The eminent historian of science and Goethean scholar, Dorothea Kuhn, stressed this aspect of Goethe’s scientific writings, calling it the principle of the autobiographical form. Bearing that in mind, João Felipe Toni explored in his keynote the original intention and meaning of morphology as an independent and auxiliary scientific discipline in Goethe’s Zur Morphologie.

  2. The Philosophy of Morphology: Central to Goethe's conception of Form is his “anschauende Urteilskraft.” This epistemic principle permeates the entire Zur Morphologie, prescribing the methods of morphological research (“vergleichende und entwickelnde Methode”) and encompassing the 9 philosophical world-views presented by Rolf Sattler. Other aspects of Goethe’s method were exemplified by the lecture of Peer Schilperoord on the model of the perennial plant as an aid to expanding the horizons of the concept of plant metamorphosis. Michaela Glöckler provided us an account on Steiner's philosophy of the seven life processes as a method of approaching the Goetheanistic mode of observation and its implications in medical praxis and training.

  3. The Science of Morphology: Malte Ebach, Johannes Wirz, Rolf Rutishauser, Mark Riegner, Susanna Kümmel and Craig Holdrege addressed the content of morphology through presentations of contemporary work and evaluated the relevance of these concepts in current scientific fields like taxonomy and systematics, plant evo-devo, the social behaviour and biology of the honeybee, and the evolution of tetrapods, frogs, and birds.

The keynote lectures were then supplemented by research presentations on special topics: geomorphology ( including landscape, agriculture and geography), plant morphology, animal morphology and anthropology. Historical and philosophical questions also continued to be addressed and deepen in the presentations, especially regarding the scientific debate in the Academy of Paris between Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Goethe’s participation in the dispute.

Moreover, two Symposia were offered as an open space for people to meet, make connections, share ideas in smaller groups regarding certain topics and also for existing groups to present their research topic and open for potential participants. It was a remarkable moment for the BELLIS and FLO-RE-S research groups to join the conference and to meet during the Symposia for an enlivening exchange on the topic of Floral Morphology. Since most of the members of both groups are engaged not only with research but also with teaching, it was a great opportunity to gather and set up a conversation to introduce their work, approaches, and to bring forth potential collaborations that could lead into new questions regarding the conceptual framework, methodology and praxis in the research and education of floral morphology.

Keynotes and contributors in the closure of the conference.

First row below, from left to right: Craig Holdrege, Malte Ebach, Peer Schilperoord, João Felipe Toni and Rolf Rutishauser.

Second row above, from left to right: Rolf Sattler, Ruth Richter, Mark Riegner, Susanna Kümmel, Johannes Wirz and Louis Ronse De Craene.

Craig Holdrege rethinking 'origins'