Alan Chadwick and the Arcadian Garden: A Memoir and a Tribute

by Paul A. Lee

Platonic Academy Press
131 Spring St.
Santa Cruz, California


for Charlene over a caffe latte

to be read as an online accompaniment to [amazon asin=1583945598&text=THERE IS A GARDEN IN THE MIND], Alan Chadwick and the Origins of the Organic Movement in California,

by Paul A. Lee
North Atlantic Press, Berkeley, California, 2013

“Nature, too, mourns for a lost good.”



Alan Chadwick and the Salvation of Nature was the working title of the book I intended to write about the UCSC Garden Project, until I changed my mind. It led me down a garden path I had misgivings about. I was afraid of losing my way. I was inspired by a sermon with that title by my teacher, Paul Tillich: “The Salvation of Nature”. He made reference to the then newly formed science of survival and the endangerment of just about everything–the end of nature and the end of us. It was the late ’50’s, when scientists announced the formation of such a group, as if science could get us out of the fix, although even they must have had doubts about any recovery given the responsibility science has for the predicament. It must have confirmed for Tillich his description of “the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society”, a phrase I learned from him that became, for me, a kind of negative mantra, a fancy way of referring to an obsessive preoccupation–the fate of the social order I had to call my own. Tillich makes clear that the scientists didn’t mean the survival of humans, or the survival of endangered species, or the oceans, or the forests, or the air–they meant the survival of the earth as we know it, our planet, largely ruled, as it is, by industrial society. It meant the fall of a very large order–bigger than the Roman Empire.

Tillich mentions how the first time things turned sour, in the Biblical myth of the flood, God regretted–the word used is “repented”– what had come to pass with creation and caused a flood to wipe out almost everything; now, this time, we are doing it to ourselves. It is the Flood the second time around with ourselves to blame. Tillich was the only one I knew who used the phrase–“the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society”–our society–what he called “the world above the given world of nature”, long before the science of survival was proposed or environmental awareness had taken on anything like a national character, after the Earth Day event in 1970.

His formulation stuck in my mind. As a world above the given world of nature, industrial society is a sub-world, a reduced world, where science and technology are in charge as agents of self-destruction, under the ideological sway of Physicalism, the opponent of Vitalism. Physicalism is the reduction of everything to physical and chemical properties; Vitalism argues for the integrity of organic nature against the reduction. Physicalism defeated Vitalism in the early 19th century and now Vitalism has re-appeared in the environmental movement and a host of allied movements, what could be called a Neo-Vitalist revolution. The struggle has been re-enjoined even though Physicalists, or most scientists, having enjoyed a century and more of victorious rule, are reluctant to admit it. They see themselves as servants of industrial society devoted to its continuation, no matter what the cost. Universities are where these servants of industrial society are trained.

This is a bleak view. No wonder that instead of destined to direct history we think it our fate to suffer it.

The Chadwick Garden opened my eyes to the bleak view of the deep conflict in the culture–industrial society and organic nature. Two trends in the history and philosophy of science–Physicalism and Vitalism turned out for me to be the best way to conceptualize this conflict.

I needed a key to exemplify the historical process of self-destruction in order to account for it, a descriptive case that told the story. I found it in the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict, a major issue in the history and philosophy of science, now largely forgotten or simply taken for granted.

The Physicalist takeover (1828) and the attempted and largely accomplished elimination of Vitalism, reveals the full scale of the predicament we are in. It was the major lesson I learned from the Chadwick Garden Project. The Physicalist take-over, in league with industrial society, still determines what counts for knowledge. Much of what follows will be devoted to describing and interpreting this conflict.

A line from Schelling stuck in my mind: “Nature, too, mourns for a lost good.” It was the line that came to me when I was told that Chadwick had died. He was the lost good. Tillich, a devoted student of Schelling, used to talk about how nature, as well as human beings, participated in the Fall. When God made the covenants, God made one with nature, as well as with human beings. The universe, as we know it, is involved in the dynamics of self-destruction or what the Bible calls the wrath of God. It is a larger theological issue than just the fate of industrial society, as a world above the given world of nature. The Greek word for the wrath of God, driving us to our self-destruction, is thymos, an old Homeric word, meaning wrath, rage, as well as courage and vitality. It is best symbolized by fire. In the biblical usage, it is our vitality directed against ourselves, driving us to self-destruction. It has prompted me to think about the tragedy of culture as the history of self-destruction, where all our effort, all our striving, stands under the curse of the Preacher–vanity.

The Apostle Paul had a lyrical vision of the bondage of nature under the curse of vanity–all creation groans with eager longing for redemption from decay and shares with us the message of salvation: it is a cosmic message. We know this groaning with sighs too deep for words.

I thought of the words of Schelling and the vision of the Apostle Paul when I got the word of Chadwick’s death. I was on the phone with Baker-roshi, my Zen priest friend and Abbott of Zen Center, who had taken Alan in to care for him after Alan had become ill with cancer, and he told me Alan had died. I put the phone down and was swept out of my home on a rush of mourning, a trajectory of some irresistable force that shot through me, as I burst out of the front door and into the front yard, where an invisible sky-hook came down and picked me up into the air for one enormous somersault of death, and then let me down again. In this burst of grief, this paroxysm of nature, I knew what nature had lost.

I have thought a lot about the salvation of nature and how bleak the prospect looks, so I dropped it from my title in favor of another image of nature–the Arcadian garden and the affirmation included in the slogan: Et in Arcadia Ego. After all, it was the slogan we had taken for our garden at the university, derived from Goethe’s “Italian Journey”, a motto from the 18th century, a retrospective affirmation of the goodness and sweetness of life. I wanted to express my gratefulness for the renewed affirmation many of us found in Chadwick’s gardens where ancient themes were restored and renewed. This is the power gardens have over us, because the garden is the symbol of the salvation of nature, where paradise is remembered and anticipated. Gardens are affirmations of the goodness of creation.

Tillich knew how to put it:

“The “garden” is the place where the curse upon the land is overcome. In it vegetable nature is liberated from chaos and self-destruction; “weed” there is none. This “”garden of the gods,” of which every human garden is a symbol and an anticipation, will reappear in the salvation of nature.”

Paul Tillich: The Meaning of Health

Chadwick’s Arcadian Garden was the place where the original affirmation of the unambiguous goodness of creation was made again–he gave us all a second chance. It was definitely a place where nature was healed, as well as those who practiced the method –I saw that with my own eyes and experienced it myself. Nevertheless, Chadwick, a force-fit almost everywhere he went, was most definitely a force-fit at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Force-fit is a pun, especially for those who suffered the brunt of Chadwick’s temper tantrums, the force of his fits. And yet, over forty years later, in spite of all odds against it, the Chadwick Garden is still there, albeit an unintegrated appendage to the University; a mute but eloquent testimony to the unresolved character of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict.

This story is the fate of organic nature generally–this fate of a Garden Project at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


I tried to write this material in a conventional book form but I found that my mind skips unaccountably, otherwise known as free association and I always wound up with multiple books in a jumbled mess. The interview form released me from the serial order of paragraphs into chapters. I could just let it flow in response to simple questions I could put to myself. It made things easy because I knew all the answers. And I could speak in my personal voice rather than the neutrality of academic prose, although there is still plenty of that. (I am happy to note that the book:  There Is A Garden In the Mind, Alan Chadwick and the Origins of the Organic Movement in California, will be published this year, 2009, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of Chadwick’s birth, 1909.)

I could have concentrated exclusively on Chadwick and his work. I know that this aspect has been submerged in my own narrative of his influence on my life and thought which takes up the greater part of this interview. I hope the spirit he brought to Santa Cruz and transmitted to me is expressed in all I have to say in this tribute to him and this memoir of mine.

There are many acknowledgments to make. I hardly know where to begin. Thanks to everyone who has played a part in this effort to renew the integrity of organic nature in the glory of gardens. Never give up hope in the ultimate fulfillment of the Arcadian and Edenic paradise in the promise of the salvation of nature.

On the Interview

The interview was conducted from December, 1995, to April, 1997. It bears the brunt of that historical period with projects underway that never came to fruition, such as Ecotopia, a design strategy for the new millennium for Santa Cruz.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.


Paul Lee was educated at St. Olaf College, where he studied philosophy with Howard Hong. He attended Luther Theological Seminary and the University of Minnesota and received his divinity degree (S.T.B.) and PhD from Harvard. He taught at Harvard in the humanities program and was Paul Tillich’s Teaching Assistant (1960–62). He has taught at MIT, UCSC, and as guest lecturer at a number of colleges and universities. He was denied tenure at UCSC, for not publishing, when Page Smith, who came to his defense, resigned in protest. They formed the William James Association, a nonprofit corporation, in Santa Cruz, in 1972, devoted to voluntary work service as a moral equivalent of war. Page Smith died in 1995.

Paul Lee was a member of the Board of the Citizens Committee for the Homeless, which he began in 1985, with Page Smith and Paul Pfotenhauer, now the Homeless Services Center.  The Paul Lee Loft is named for him and provides shelter for over forty homeless clients.

He is Executive Director of United Services Agency, which he began in 1970, with the Rev. Herb Schmidt. He has scored Santa Cruz as Ecotopia, the ideal point of destination for the eco-tourist, a design strategy for the new millennium, with the aim of solving the problem of homelessness.  This has not come to realization.

He has written two books on the homeless issue: The Quality Of Mercy, and Florence the Goose, both published by the Platonic Academy Press.  He is finishing his book on Chadwick:  There Is A Garden In the Mind, which should appear in late 2009, to celebrate the centennial of Chadwick’s birth.   He has written a play:  A Lullaby For Wittgenstein, which he has submitted to the Yale Drama Competition (2009) and he has almost completed his book on faith:  Paul’s Letter to the Athenians, the letter St. Paul wished he had written but didn’t.  He is working on a number of projects for his website,, with his grand daughter, Camille Zajac, Evan Schaffer and Bradley Allen.

He lives in Santa Cruz with his wife, Charlene, and happily gardens in his backyard, where the Tower of Jewels he got from Roy Rydell (Echium) have almost taken over. He still lives under the motto: Et in Arcadia Ego, which, roughly translated, means: Let my garden be my grave.

Et In Arcadia Ego

Trees, plants and flowers—of virtuous root: Gem yielding blossom, yielding fruit,

Choice gums and precious balm;

Bless ye the nosegay of the vale,

And with the sweetness of the gale

Enrich the thankful psalm.


Christopher Smart from A Song To David

The text for the Trial Proof for Alan Chadwick and Paul Lee of the UC Santa Cruz Student Garden Project   A Broadside designed by Jack Stauffacher

22 Jan. ’72 The Greenwood Press

Where did you first meet Alan Chadwick?

We met at the Cowell College Fountain, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, sometime in the Spring of 1967. It would be better to ask what it was like–he hit me like a ton of bricks, although the impact was felt later, partly because of the force of his temper, which did not show up right away. Freya Von Moltke warned me about it. He was impressive. A great shock of hair, fine features, enormous hands, tall and dramatic in bearing, he carried himself like a ballet dancer. In terms of looks, he was a cross between Samuel Beckett, Ronald Reagan, and Danny Kaye. He was a stickler for deportment and elocution, because he had been a professional actor on the British stage and toured with a theatre company in South Africa. For some who weren’t taken in by him he was a complete ham. He appeared to be in awe of professors but it was more of an act, a kind of formal deferential courtesy. He always made a point of calling me “Professor Lee”; privately, his nickname for me was “Sausage”, a term popular among actors, which I detested.

How did you meet?

I had started a Garden Project, completely off the top of my head. I must have anticipated meeting Chadwick; it’s the only reason I can think of why I had the impulse. “Impulse” is a lead word in the Rudolf Steiner vocabulary and Chadwick gardened in the Steiner tradition of Biodynamics, so the word easily comes to mind. Chadwick turned out to be the “imp” in that impulse, let me tell you. I thought of certain influences later that had some bearing on the impulse. I wasn’t really interested in gardening, although “Flower Power” was in the air, wafting down from Haight Ashbury. I was interested in the idea of a garden. I was busy teaching philosophy, religious studies and the History of Consciousness, an innovative graduate program, but something, an impulse, prompted me to found a garden on the campus: The Student Garden Project.

So you acted on the impulse?

I organized a walk with the Chancellor–Dean McHenry–who turned out to be an old farm boy, whose father planted by the moon; he was sympathetic and willing to play along. We went for a walk through part of the campus with about seventy-five people to look for a possible garden site. I remember carrying my daughter, Jessica, on my shoulders. It was the first time we walked out behind the campus into the rough and beautiful landscape that had been fenced off with No Trespassing signs.

And then Chadwick arrived, as though on schedule?

Weeks later, on schedule, indeed, the fulfillment and the reason for my impulse. I wanted a garden and here came the gardener, as if providentially arranged.

Who told you about him?

Countess Freya Von Moltke, who was visiting the campus.


Who is Freya Von Moltke?

She is a very special person, the widow of Helmuth Von Moltke, the great resister to Hitler, who was executed near the end of the war for conspiring about the future of Germany in the famous Kreisau Circle. She heard I wanted to start a garden and Chadwick was on the way to visit her in Santa Cruz. She said: “I hear you want to start a garden.” I said, “Yes, Countess.” So she told me a remarkable man who was a gardener was coming and she would set up a meeting with Chadwick the day he arrived for his visit.

They were friends?

They had known one another in South Africa, where Freya fled after the fall of Germany, at the end of the Second World War. Chadwick was at the Admiralty Gardens in Cape Town, if I remember correctly. Freya gave him to me as a gift and he was received in the same spirit. I had no plan, no resources, I thought the thing would spontaneously combust and we’d have a garden. And it did. Chadwick was the spontaneous combustion.

Can you point to the influences working on you?

There were three that come to mind:

1. George Huntston Williams had been my Church History professor at Harvard Divinity School and he had written a book: Wilderness and Paradise, tracing the motifs of desert and garden in the history of Western thought with sources in the Bible. I helped him a little and he mentioned my name in his acknowledgments, the first time my name appeared in print. The second half of the book is about the origins of higher education in America, acting out the motifs of wilderness and garden, when pioneers from the East Coast went out into the wilderness to sow the seeds of a garden and start a school. So the book is a scenario of what happened historically as a result of the biblical themes. I wanted to plant a garden on this new campus to commemorate the origins of a school in this spirit. I had no idea what I was up against.

2. Donald Nicholl and I shared an office at Cowell College in the fall of  1966. He was a visiting professor of history from England and had a rare sense of the fate of the human spirit at an institution like UCSC. He worried about how any kind of real community could happen under the reign of the obtuse bureaucrat and bent upon the training of servants for industrial society. He gave a lecture: “A Sense of Place” about the British poet and artist, David Jones, and it had an impact on me in its relevance for Santa Cruz. We had a long talk before he left to return to England about how “lacerated” he was, in the sense of Dostoievsky, over the spiritual vacuity of the campus. He planted the seed.

3. Page Smith was the deep motivational source, the guiding spirit of Cowell College, where I taught the first year before moving to Crown College. He was the reason Freya Von Moltke was visiting the campus, but there is a long story here which I will go into later. It goes back to the Civilian Conservation Corps and Camp William James, a leadership training camp for the Corps, where Page was the Director, in 1940. At UCSC, Page was a major influence in his bearing on the spirit of the place: he put his stamp on Cowell College as the first Provost of the first college. We had a five year grace period and then the institution clicked into place–it was almost perceptible.

What do you mean by “the click”?

I had the same experience of “the click” when I read: The Way Of All Flesh, by Samuel Butler. There is a moment in the novel where your worst fears are realized, a perceptible click, when the children of the parents, so vital and spontaneous in their youth, suddenly become as restricted and repressed as the adults. Donald Nicholl intuited and predicted this “click” and he was right. It can happen’ to institutions just as it happens to people. Max Weber called it the “routinization of charisma”.

Was there anything to prepare you for this experience?


I remember talking to someone at the Harvard Coop about going to Santa Cruz to teach and he asked: Do you know anything about the California ssssystem?” He hissed the ‘s’, as though it was a snake in the grass. I said “no”. It was my first warning.

What prepared you for wanting to start a garden?

I come from Norwegian immigrant farmers, my ethnic background on my father’s side, although I was a city boy, raised in Milwaukee, with no ostensible affinity for gardening, let alone farming, although farming left an indelible impression on my father.  It formed him in a way that never left him even though he became a doctor.

Do you regret it–joining the faculty of UCSC and eventually being denied tenure?

Of course, it ruined my academic career. Once bounced, it is almost impossible to find another job–the denial of tenure becomes a stigma. Page Smith, as I said, departed with me in 1972, so that was a consolation. We thought the Garden Project should have been equal to a bad book, in terms of publish or perish, but we were wrong. Years later, Page wrote Killing the Spirit, his indictment of higher education. We were on the same wave length on that one, along with our colleague, Mary Holmes, Professor of Art History at UCSC. She was also part of the Chadwick network and we eventually formed a trio, leading a downtown discussion group called the Penny University, which Page and I started, over twenty years ago, in 1973. Now Jim Bierman, Professor of Theatre Arts, has joined us, after Page’s and Mary’s death.

How was Mary Holmes part of the Chadwick network?

She gave Chadwick his first place when she was living out on Empire Grade. A small cottage. It was perfect for him. Then he bounced about until he found a more permanent place, although Chadwick was impossible to live with. The University eventually gave him an apartment at Cowell College. He acted up. Whenever you flushed the toilet, for instance, the noise in the pipes was orchestrated just to set Chadwick off, he couldn’t stand the sound of the water flowing through the pipes. A faculty couple we know, with two boys, lived in the apartment upstairs from Chadwick. He terrorized them if they flushed the toilet after 5:00 pm. It was absurd. She was the only one I know who said “Good” when I told her Chadwick had died.

But you were very moved by his death?

He had a Pieta of Raphael and a Shakespeare Sonnet, Number 15, pinned up next to his bed.

When I consider every thing that grows

Holds in perfection but a little moment,

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows

Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

When I perceive that men as plants increase,

Cheered and check’d even by the self-same sky,

Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,

And wear their brave state out of memory;

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,

Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay, To change your day of youth to sullied night;

And all in war with Time for love of you,

As he takes from you, I engraft you new.


He put up a vase of flowers and kneeled down next to the bed to pray. And he died.

So there were all these connections?

I can easily catalogue them. Let’s give it a try. Page and Eloise Smith, Donald and Dorothy Nicholl, Roy and Francis Rydell, Jack and Josephine Stauffacher and The Greenwood Press. Eva Fosselius. Michael Stusser. John Powell. Phil Armour. Stephen Decatur. Rory. Jim and Beth Nelson. Michael Zander. Kate Stafford. Will David. Tom Whitridge. Ann Arnold. Ann Fabian. Angie Kuper. Linda Jolly. Ramon Chavez. John Dotter. Chris and Stefanie. Jodi. Agaja. Allen York. Craig Siska. Putney and Perry. Alfred Heller. Filoli. Sim Van der Ryn. The Farallones Institute. Sunset Magazine. Huey Johnson and Nature Conservancy. Richard Wilson and Covelo. Betty Peck and Saratoga. Bernard Taper and the New Yorker Magazine. John Jeavons and Ecology Action. Francis Edmunds and Emerson College. The Homeless Garden Project. The Farm Apprentice Training Program. Chez Panisse and Alice Waters. The Greens and Deborah Madison. E. F. Schumacher. Edmund Brown, Jr. Frank Davidson. The Civilian Conservation Corps. Boyd Homer. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. Freya Von Moltke. Rolf and Elsa Von Eckartsberg. Camp William James. The Peace Corps. The Zen Center. Richard Baker. Virginia Baker. Acacia. Wendy. Sir George Trevelyan. Paolo Soleri. Paul Hawkin. Stuart Brand. The Whole Earth Catalog. Louis and Virgina Saso. Kent Taylor of Taylor’s Herb Garden. Fukuoka. Robert Rodale. Wendall Berry. Jim Robertson and the Yolla Bolly Press. The Wild Thyme Restaurant. The Whole Earth Restaurant. Count Helmuth Von Moltke. Kreisau, Pudleston, Richard Senior, etc.

It turns out to be a big memory network and these are names that just come to mind in the moment. I’m so sorry I can’t remember everyone. They know who they are. And I don’t know the half of it. These are all connections I could draw and everyone has their story.

Didn’t Findhorn–the famous garden in Scotland–also begin out of a Steiner impulse about the same time?


Did you ever think of yourselves as Findhorn West because of the tie to Rudolf Steiner and Biodynamics?

Of course, but only later. We didn’t know about Findhorn at the time. Chadwick kept quiet about Steiner, although his influence was indicated through Biodynamics. Francis Edmunds visited a number of times. He was the Principal of Emerson College, the Rudolf Steiner College, in Forest Row, England, where they had a biodynamic training center under Koepf. So that was more of a professional tie than Findhorn. In 1976, I was in residence at Emerson for a month and gave lectures. They sat in stunned silence for a very long time after I gave my Physicalist/Vitalist spiel, showing where Steiner fit in the historical context of the defeat of Vitalism, which made a big impression on me. It was the most amazing response I have ever had.

Was there any reciprocity between The Garden Project and Emerson?

We eventually sent student apprentices there for additional training. .

But no interchange with Findhorn?

We didn’t know about Findhorn, even though we were contemporaries. It was a kind of morphic resonance, I suppose. They were more airy-fairy, with devas lurking behind the plants and huge vegetables you could choke on. We were more practical and had to cope with a fairly conventional academic institution, although UCSC had a reputation for being far-out. We were the far-out, I’m afraid, even though we played down the Steiner connection for political reasons. Even so, we were branded as a cult, just because Chadwick planted by the moon and eschewed the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in his affirmation of the organic in his use of compost for soil fertility. That’s how ideologically touchy it was.  It was Paul Hawkin who wrote the book on Findhorn and then when he located in San Francisco, took an interest in Chadwick and decided to start Smith and Hawkin in order to import the Bulldog tools Chadwick used.

You mean just launching an organic garden was far-out?

An Agriculturalist Emeritus, that’s how he signed it, which I took to mean ‘Old Fart’, wrote a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Agricultural Sciences at UC, complaining about a cult that had fixed itself on the campus at Santa Cruz and wanted it shut down immediately because they didn’t use chemicals which was against the scientific approach the University was supposed to promote. The Vice- Chancellor, I think his name was Kendrick, wrote back and said it would be a better learning experience not to shut it down but to let the students watch stuff die because they didn’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. I thought that was pretty Solomonic.

But Chadwick employed another system as well: the French Intensive.

The French Intensive system was almost a shield or screen for the Biodynamic aspect. Steiner is like a carefully guarded secret you only find out about if you are interested in the occult or the esoteric, which means digging under the surface. It is an interesting issue, now that I think about it, as it relates to the discussion of “occultation” in Heidegger’s discussion of the Greek word for truth–aletheia--which he translates as “unconcealedness”, an almost unintelligible English rendering, although it simply means that what is revealed is still concealed, if you can take that in, as if remembering what is still forgotten or mostly forgotten. “Garbled” might be an interesting way of putting it. “Lost in translation”. Hide and seek.  Anyhow, the Steiner system was definitely an occultation, with the French Intensive acting as a front. It was a great amalgamation of two systems.

So the scientific establishment at the University would have opposed, in principle, any “occultation” no matter how effective or meaningful, especially an occult form of food and flower production.

You would think they could have chilled out over that one, but not so. I laugh now over a surreptitiously occult garden sneaking in under the unsuspecting noses of the Physicalists, most of the scientists on the campus, who were sleeping at the switch.

What do you mean?

Well, I remember going to dinner at a colleague’s home and a chemist, one of the guests, stepped it off with me as we proceeded in to dinner and telling me that the garden had done more to ruin the cause of science than anything else on the campus. I was dumbfounded. What was the cause of science that an organic garden should ruin it? I would like to underline the importance of this moment because of the consequences as it sent me into a lifelong quest for the answer. I know now what I would have answered then. It was the first moment in my eventual discovery of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict. I’ll bet he was an organic chemist, complaining about an organic garden as if he owned the word, which is the argument between Physicalism and Vitalism. So you have to understand the rubrics of the argument to catch the drift–the two paradigms in conflict–the Physicalist and the Vitalist–personified by the experimental laboratory organic chemist and the organic gardener.

You mean Kenneth Thimann and Chadwick?

Exactly. One was my boss at Crown College–an internationally renowned experimental laboratory botanist and the other was the organic gardener I had hired. One had won at the expense of the other–historically– and grave and disastrous consequences followed for all concerned. Thimann represented the Physicalist botanist and chemist and Chadwick the Vitalist organic gardener. They embodied the two conflicting paradigms. The conflict has a clearly delineated history. I have studied it for a long time: the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences, from 1828 to the present, although it has earlier roots in Galileo and the rise of modernity, when mathematical physics began to call the shots, by way of the mathematization of nature, carried through from Galileo by Descartes and Newton and the rest of the early Physicalists.

So the garden opened up a critical view of modern science?

That it did, indeed. I don’t mind science as science, which I define in a large sense as ruled cognition, cognitive work with propositional content, but the definition of science has hardened into experimental laboratory protocols under the pressure of the immense success of physics and chemistry, in alliance with mathematics, the so-called hard sciences. This is the reference point for what counts for knowledge ever since the Physicalist takeover. Every other kind of knowledge is a descending path from there. You begin to lose your way in the social sciences and by the time you get to the humanities, forget about it. It’s like climbing the Tower of Babel, or the Pit of Babel, as in Kafka?s Parables.


The natural sciences? Why `natural’?

“Natural” is a little misleading, isn’t it? Especially if you know their role in undermining organic nature. A sea change occurred in the definition of nature under the influence of modern natural science. They should be called the Material Sciences. It would go a long way to clearing up the confusion.

What would that sea change be?

Originally, nature, the Greek word physis or phusis, meant “what grows”, what emerges in organic nature, a garden, a plantation. I first learned this from Rosenstock-Huessy in a section on “Nature”, in an essay on “Liturgical Thinking”:

“Physic meant “plantation” in Greek; Plato called God a planter or physis! The word comes from a verb, which means “living growth”! Physics, however, in the Renaissance, became what it is today: the science of dead matter. For the first time in the history of thought, dead matter was held to have preceded living growth. In a living universe, too, we may have to cope with corpses. But the mechanical “natural science” after 1500 tried to explain life out of its corpses by making nature primarily a concept of dead mass in space! Only recently have we discovered that the term “nature” between 1500 and 1900 was used in a sense or with an accent unheard in any other epoch: mass, quantity, space, i.e., dead things, filled the foreground of scientific thought. Physics was held to “explain” chemistry, chemistry biology, biology psychology, psychology theology! Dead things were to explain the living. This new horrid degradation of the term “nature” itself made all personality values appear as the result of some drop of adrenalin in the glands.” p. 3

To continue the line of thought, hyle, the word for matter, which is what underlies physis, originally meant forest. The latter I learned from a remarkable book: Forests, by Robert Pogue Harrison. Even he has to press home the point when he says:

“Let us repeat that: hyle is the Greek word for forest.”

These are such important steps rather buried in linguistic considerations that bells and whistles should go off emphasizing the points.  I hope you see what I mean. After Newton and Galileo and the new physics of the Renaissance, the word nature–took on what appears to be an opposite meaning: nature took on the meaning of “dead things in space”, under the influence of geometry, where Galileo is the reference point. So the word for nature, a plantation, physis, becomes dead things in space, mathematical physics, and the word for forest, hyle, becomes matter, the underlying dead stuff of the dead things in space, a kind of dead substratum. If you can digest this issue without spitting it out you have one of the cenral points in my line.  Then came Organic Chemistry, with the fatal blow, the argument that synthetics or laboratory productions, are equal to what is produced by organic nature. You see, once dead things in space took hold, they started making them in labs, and then in factories, also known as “plants”. Factories are called plants as a result of this seachange in terminology and perception.  You can hardly keep a straight face.

So this is at the basis, this conflict in definition, of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict?

To go back to the first paragraph in the quotation from Rosenstock-Huessy which we could pause for a long time, to reflect on what he says, echoed in countless other passages by other authors.  The science of dead matter needs elucidation which is easy to give. My favorite source is the book by E. A. Burtt:  The Metaphysical Origins of Modern Science. You see, so much of this is buried in the literature.  You can tease it out and find the pithy quotes to elucidate the case but you have to retrieve them from their context.  The shift of meaning in given words, as described, with the key terms, physis and hyle, tells the tale. Who controls the definitions? Who decides?  What side do you take in the conflict over meaning and the conflict in interpretation? Take the following as an example. I worried about this conflict in interpretation when I entered the herbal industry as a second career after leaving the University. Physic is an old word for medicine or herbal therapy, which still carries the old meaning of natural products of organic nature that cure and heal. And materia medica was another one, an old term for herbal medicine. Why materia? Harrison answered that for me, as well. Here is what he says:

“Yet there is one word that Aristotle could not avoid using when he spoke about the unspeakable–hyle. He is the first to give the word its philosophical meaning of “matter.” But hyle in Greek does not originally mean matter, it means forest. The cognate of hyle in Latin is silva. The archaic Latin word was sylua, phonetically close to hyle. It is strange that the Romans should have translated the Aristotelian hyle with the word materia when the Latin language possessed such a cognate. But even the word materia did not stray very far from the forests. Materia means wood–the usable wood of a tree as opposed to its bark, fruit, sap, etc. And materia has the same root–yes, root–as the word mater, or mother.” (p.28).

I also noticed the point in a book that means a lot to me in my work on Santa Cruz as ecotopia: The Architecture of Paradise, by William Alexander McClung:

Hyle, Aristotle’s term for the chaos that is informed by nous, or mind, literally means “forest”, so Virgil … signifies by silva a psychic realm of violent and primitive passions.” p. 16.

There is a line of thought that goes something like this–when we moved out of the forest and founded cities, the forests became the forbidden place of the fearsome, the uncanny, the demon haunted. In fact, the psychic realm represented by forests is thymos and epithymia, the dynamic realm of the passions which have to be repressed and suppressed in city life in order for people to order their lives. This is the remarkable line of thought developed by Harrison in his book. I was delighted to read about this meaning of hyle as I had guessed this or intuited it when I was trying to think of hyle as `root’, in terms of the “vital roots” of herbal medicine. I picked up the thread when I tried to think about the meaning of “materia medica“, the traditional term for herbal medicine: the hyle of the physic. Why materia, I thought. It was as though I could hear these old connotations reverberating in the word. Medicinal herbs are the vital roots of what grows in the forests.  And I would like to add here that Aristotle’s father was an herbalist and a court physician so that Aristotle learned about materia medica, or herbal medicine, from his father and carried it into his thought which is materially grounded in the nature of things, the famous conflict between Aristotle and Plato on the problem of mathematical forms which Aristotle is said to have brought down to earth from Plato’s heaven of ideas. I blush to admit that I have been working on an herbal cookbook in the tradition of Aristotle:  Being and Thyme.  I have hoped to spark a new national cuisine based on culinary herbs where herbs are featured instead of throwaway accompaniments, like parsley.

So just as the Latin binomials for medicinal herbs gave you the legendary origins of the herbal tradition in Ancient Greece, you have also found the key terms in the shift of meanings according to your theme.

And don’t forget–thymos–my guardian word in all of this etymological retrieval.

So this shift is what you call a move from an ontology of life to an ontology of death?

Yes, terms I picked up from Hans Jonas and Tillich. They make the same point when they refer to the elimination of psyche from psychology under the sway of reductive behaviorism.

You seem to be interested in the history of conflicts: organic gardening versus laboratory chemistry, herbal medicine versus industrial or synthetic medicine, and so on.

Conflicts tell the story. In a way, the old conflicts between the oral and the rational/literate cultures, the conflict between poetry and philosophy, the conflict between “the ancients” and “the moderns”, the conflict between sapientia (wisdom) and scientia (science), the conflict between the so-called cultural or spiritual sciences (geisteswissenschaften) and the natural sciences (naturwissenschaften), as well as what is called the warfare between science and religion, are involved here. It is a big debate. These conflicts represent the larger theoretical level. I like bringing it down to the case level of Physicalism and Vitalism in terms of the content of the structure of scientific revolutions when the major revolt in the early decades of the l9th century took place, say, with the formation of the Physicalist Society in Berlin, on the heels of the artificial synthesis of urea.

Sounds like the old C. P. Snow routine on the “two cultures” conflict.

This is the best example of the larger theoretical level, which never got to the historical case. In other words, the old two-culture debate that C.P. Snow made famous is where the scientific hegemony erupted and the debate was enjoined, except Snow turned it around and made the humanities guys feel ashamed because they didn’t keep up with the developments of science. They didn’t know the third law of thermodynamics. Now there is a whole school of literature and science to make up for this and it is an interesting development.  Marjorie Nicholson was an early anticipation of this. But Snow touched the nerve of the issue and it was a cause celebre for a while even though the discussion never cut to the quick, but remained on the academic level of the sciences versus the humanities. I saw all this at first hand when I taught humanities at M.I.T.

So you are really interested in the political ideology of science.

All of this is germane in terms of a big discussion of what counts for knowledge and who counts! Snow was talking about University culture where the split and the consequent disadvantages are most pronounced–the split between the humanities and the natural sciences, with the social sciences as a kind of disputed buffer in between. The takeover by the Physicalists was so wholesale no one seems to notice anymore. Why shouldn’t it be obvious to everyone how knowledge is organized and structured at a University and the power relations that this entails, as well as the history of it? Well, it isn’t. In spite of all the effort to expose it, there is a kind of conspiracy of silence–the show must go on, although there is a growing literature on the subject now that institutions of higher learning have turned into research centers.  A recent book:  The Last Professor tells the story even though it is still a story to be told, although there have been a lot of stabs at it. The contraries line up in such a way as to expose the problem–Physicalist/Vitalist; experimental lab/botanic garden; artificial synthesis/organic nature, the sciences versus the humanities, etc.

Is there a tell-tale reference point in the story?

The artificial synthesis of urea, in 1828, has been the classic reference point as the historical triumph of Physicalism over Vitalism. There is a straight line from there to the “elimination of metaphysics” by the Logical Positivists in the philosophy of Physicalism, a slogan that became their battlecry, a clever move to mask their own metaphysical position and to assume the argument with Vitalism was won as a foregone conclusion.

Hold on. You jump from an experiment in chemistry and the origins of what is called Organic Chemistry to Logical Positivism. Can you give a little background?

They are directly related. The urea experiment is credited with the defeat of Vitalism. That is the main historic point. It takes almost a century for the philosophical foundations of the experiment to show up in the school of the Vienna Circle under Carnap, a kind of mop-up of the gains of Physicalism. The movement goes from the Physicalist Society in Berlin to the Logical Positivists in Vienna. Logical Positivism is just another name for the Philosophy of Physicalism, which is how the Circle members thought of themselves. They were in charge. They were going to establish the foundations of modern science on a system of mathematical logic to which all right thinking scientists could subscribe–it was the 20th century version of a ma thesis universalis, an effort begun by Leibniz and Descartes to develop a universal calculus or system of signs on which to ground the sciences in terms of a mathematical foundation.

So the Logical Positivists play a key role in your sketch.


They have always represented to me the hardening of the arteries of the Physicalist position, so they are a good place to look as a reference for the Physicalist victory over Vitalism, which is what the Positivists meant regarding the elimination of metaphysics. For metaphysics read Vitalism. They tried to shift the argument to mathematical logic which hardly anyone understands. It was like Von Neumann telling Shannon to use the term “entropy” in information theory because no one knew what it meant and he would always have an advantage in any discussion.

That’s funny.

The irony is that the Positivists hosted Kurt Godel, as a student in their midst, who wrecked their whole program with his undermining the foundations of mathematics, which, according to the expectations of the Physicalists, was going to provide the ssure and certain foundation for a unified science. Godel pulled the rug out from under their pretensions with his incompleteness theorems and his undecidability problem. He’s one of my heroes. I corresponded with him and even talked to him on the telephone in a memorable conversation.

I can see that we are going to have to unpack much of this, which for you seems obvious, but for the uninitiated is pretty obscure. We don’t have to go into it now, but be prepared to elaborate on the points you make. You jumped rather fast from the reference point–the artificial synthesis of urea–to Godel?

I know. I have lectured on this for so long it is second nature to me. The sequence is very clear and I can delineate the moves, as well as the supporting literature. It is the consequence of decades of study on my part–it is my line of thought. The whole point of this book, this interview, is to get it off my chest. Books are divestitures. I’ve been carrying this load for a long time.

It interests me that you talked to Godel? Before you answer, I think it should be mentioned that Kurt Godel, who, as you say, came out of the Logical Positivist Circle under Carnap, was probably the foremost mathematical logician of the 20th century You called him at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Research?

Yes. I had already written to him after I was told he had formulated a new proof for the existence of God, in the tradition of Leibniz. I had heard about it from Jay Greenberg, a mathematician friend at Crown College, at UCSC. I can still remember the moment when we were chatting in the hallway outside the steno pool and he told me Godel had developed a new proof for the existence of God. It had a great impact on me.

What year was it?

The year was 1970. I immediately realized “Godel’s Proof “ could make existence a predicate again, and refute Kant, who more or less commanded the field with his view that existence is not a predicate so there were no valid logical proofs for the existence of God, given the finite limitations of the human mind.

This sounds like a technical problem within philosophy–logical proofs for the existence of God. I don’t see what you mean by Kant’s notion that existence is not a predicate, either.

This is a classic problem in philosophy, but it has had profound implications for the meaning of existence in the 20th century. I see the roots of existentialism in this problem in Kant. For Kant, existence is a term empty and devoid of meaning. It is just a word with no predicative value, more or less what Quine says about being–it is just the function of an arbitrary variable–which is what it looks like when you look at how the word “is” is used in any sentence, just like this one. According to Kant, existence is always assumed and therefore the word existence doesn’t add anything to what is already assumed. To say the table exists doesn’t add anything to the concept of a table the existence of which is already assumed to exist if only in thought. You might as well say the table tables. And if you say the table exists, the thought doesn’t suddenly appear in time and space as a tangible or empirical thing. Kant used the illustration of money. Imagine a hundred dollars (thalers) as in the concept of a hundred dollars. Now say the hundred dollars exists. Dollars don’t suddenly appear in your pocket, so what good does it do to say they exist when existence is already assumed in the thought of a hundred dollars. Therefore, existence is not a predicate.  It doesn?t add anything to what is already assumed.

So you think this deflating of existence actually sets up the problem of existence in the late 19th and 20th century in the movement of thought known as Existentialism.

Well, if you want a philosophical background, this is it for me–I see it as an extension of the theme of the “Kantian recoil”. He bracketed existence in his transcendental idealism which Husserl continues in his transcendental phenomenology. The recoil is a powerful metaphor for the problem as if existence became too hot to handle in the emerging industrial society. So existence became a thing, a means of production in the labor market, a commodity to buy at a starvation wage. I have always been vexed by this issue, which I see as part of the origins of Existentialism, as if Kant recoiled from existence for some reason, with strange consequences. Heidegger says as much when he talks about the Kantian recoil from the unknown root of the transcendental imagination, which is where I picked up this theme.

How is anyone to understand these issues unless they have some prior understanding of these themes? You act as though these buzz words are common parlance.


I know they are peculiar to a philosophical context. It’s true that I have picked them out as symbolic of the issues. Kant “recoils from the unknown root”, as Heidegger puts it. When I read about the Kantian recoil, I thought I had found a clue to my thematic which made existence problematic, a theme that haunts the last century and a half–from Schelling and Kierkegaard to Sartre and Heidegger. And “the unknown root” is the metaphor for my concern over organic nature. It is probably a good clue to what Heidegger means by “unconcealedness”, the unknown root that is closer to us than we are to ourselves, all too familiar and yet unknown. If this is the case, then I can interpret this arcane or obscure line in Heidegger–his interpretation of the Greek word for truth–aletheia. It is a meditation on the fate of the vital root of existence in the 20th century, as the heritage of Kiekegaard, whom I definitely prefer to Heidegger and whom Heidegger himself revered. Envied even.

And this carries through to Godel’s Proof for the Existence of God.


I thought Godel’s Proof for the Existence of God would be a new point of departure for philosophy. In other words, to find the root again. I was wrong in terms of any major impact, because it has been thirty years since he formulated the proof and not only do few people know about it at all, it hasn’t made any impact except for a few Godel scholars. Godel was right when he made it clear that his proof was a technical issue in the history of mathematical logic, following Leibniz. He didn’t know what I was talking about in terms of its historical significance when we spoke on the telephone. In fact, a rumor was circulated that this proof was an example that Godel was nuts. There was a period in his life when he was mentally ill. He was exceptionally paranoid and was institutionalized for a while. He thought he was going to be poisoned. I could make hay on this, but I’m going to pass.

I don’t understand. Let what pass?

Oh, I was just thinking that here is the most famous mathematical logician of the 20th century, trained in the school of Logical Positivism, undermining their entire program, formulating a proof for the existence of God, as if to rub it in, and then worrying about being rubbed out. It’s too much.  He almost starved to death because he thought he might be poisoned.  It is reminiscent of Simone Weil and her Waiting For God or the Need For Roots and Beckett making a play out of it.  Waiting For God- oh!  Simone starved herself to death out of despair over World War II.  They were all waiting for Godel/Godot to finish the proof.

You mean Carnap could have hired a hit man. But you were interested in the Proof and wrote to Godel about it.

I was trying to put together a Journal for the History of Consciousness Graduate Program, called Thymos, my favorite Greek word, meaning spirit or courage or vitality. So I wrote to Godel and asked him if I could publish his Proof. I thought if I could publish his Proof, it would get me tenure, as if only an argument for the existence of God could save me. He wrote back and said it was incomplete, which some people thought was funny, as Godel was already famous for his Incompleteness Theorem. It was like waiting for Godot, only here it was Godel, to finish the Proof. Kierkegaard has great things to say about waiting for someone to finish such a proof in his critique of Hegel. Godel did say something even I thought was funny, when he wrote to me: “what does theology have to do with consciousness?”

What did he mean by that?

Well, I was looking at the Proof within the context of the history of philosophy and the history of Western culture and he thought of it as a technical exercise in the tradition of Leibniz. He didn’t seem to get the implications of what he had done outside of professional mathematical logic.  I should say that one has to be very careful about these issues and not extrapolate from them willy-nilly, as I tend to do.  Godel is very technical and at a level I cannot aspire to.  So these are just musings on my part.

Then what?

Then I wrote to him again after I intuited that he had written the proof of the existence of God to ground Einstein’s unified field theory. He and Einstein were great pals at the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study. After Einstein retired he still went to the Institute every day just to walk home with Godel, he had such esteem for him. He didn’t answer my reply, so I had an occasion to call him one time when I was visiting a friend in New York who had a brother teaching economics at Princeton. She was on her way to visit her brother. She is a wonderful photographer, so I told her to get in touch with Godel–the smartest man in the world, next to Einstein, and take his picture. She told me to set it up. Well, I hadn╒t expected that. So I called the Institute and asked for Herr Professor. He said “hello”. I said: “Professor Godel?” He said: “Yes.” I said: “This is Professor Lee. Do you remember me? I wrote to you about your Proof for the Existence of God?” “Yes.” “Did you get my second letter?” “Yes.” “Was I right about Einstein’s field theory.” “Yes.” Then we chatted briefly about the issue as I saw it and I could tell that he didn╒t know what I was talking about, so I stopped, and said: “Can my friend, Adelaide, come and photograph you?” “No.” “Why not, she is a wonderful photographer.” “I have three perfectly good photographs of myself.” That stopped me. So I said good-bye. This also was funny because there is a very famous photograph of Godel, by Arnold Newman, a very famous photographer, sitting next to a large empty blackboard, as if posed by Sy Twombley, who is famous for his slightly erased blackboards, one of which my friend, Earl McGrath once owned and which I enjoyed looking at over the dinner table.

So, what did you make of it?

Godel confirmed my hunch about Einstein and we had a nice conversation. He was wary about my embroidering his proof, as I said, which he saw as a technical issue in logic. The reason he hadn’t published it, I found out later, was that he didn’t want to make it seem that he was a believer. Can you beat that?

Didn’t you tell this story to Octavio Paz?

Yes, I met him a few days later in Cambridge, through my friend, Bob Gardner. We had dinner together and were having an espresso afterwards at Paz’s apartment and I told him the story and when I got to the punch line about the proof for the existence of God, Paz spilled his espresso in his lap. I thought, ah ha, the poet is startled about existence becoming a predicate again.

It was a dramatic moment. I had a similar experience with Buckminster Fuller. He came into my Wild Thyme Restaurant, in Santa Cruz, and I sat down and wanted to discuss Godel with him. He had never heard of him. I was somewhat dumbfounded, so I gave him my Godel spiel. He had a young student in his party who got so excited, he kept jumping up and down and hollering–did everyone understand the importance of what I was saying. I was rather pleased that he thought I was so smart but I started to think I didn’t even get it, when he got up and ran out. I was a little worried about him and went to check and he was booking a flight to Princeton the next day. He wanted to show Godel some scheme he had in his pocket that he refused to show me. I never found out what happened. This is material for a Kierkegaard or a Kafka or a Beckett. In any event, as far as I’m concerned, Godel wrecked the Positivist plan to unify science in the philosophy of Physicalism, one of the greatest dumb-down efforts in the history of modern thought, and I am grateful to him for that.

Can you elaborate?

The Physicalist/Vitalist conflict taught me what was at stake in the deep cultural conflicts of the 20th century, in terms of our introducing an organic garden with a tradition going back through Steiner to Goethe, a tradition that had been discounted, refuted, and rejected for over a century and a half. In current parlance, Vitalism was so politically incorrect as to be almost ludicrous. The University, as the servant of industrial society, stood for Physicalist science, not for organic gardening, let alone a tradition that went back through a clairvoyant (Steiner), to a poet (Goethe), who thought he was smarter than Newton. We had stepped right into the conflict without knowing anything about it at the time. It was nothing less than a struggle over what counts for knowledge and the direction a culture should take. The trend was in favor of industrial society, even though in its late stage of self-destruction, which only very few were willing to admit. Looking back, it is easy to see how the cards were stacked against a vision of organic integrity and representatives of the old culture, like Goethe. All you have to do is listen to Schubert’s “Songs of Goethe” and his lieder cycles and you have the music for the end of European culture–swan songs.  They are filled with the pathos of the realization of the end.  Goethe knew it all too well.

Sung by Fischer-Dieskau, of course. And Chadwick represented this old culture, which is what made him unique. But wait a minute. First you talk about the self-destruction of industrial society and then you skip to the destruction of old European culture.


Sorry. Industrial society was built upon the ruins of the old culture. It also helped destroy what it superseded. Look at what happened in England: from verdant fields to mill towns. Vitalism was a name for what was lost–the integrity of organic culture. Many sensitive individuals at the time anticipated it. They could see it coming, like a storm cloud on the horizon. They were already looking back, as it were, over the loss of Western culture, as if looking back on a great garden that was to be abandoned. The slogan throughout Europe was Et In Arcadia Ego, a retrospective affirmation of the goodness and sweetness of life in a culture that was about to die. A voice from the tomb: “I am in Arcadia”. Curtains. It was a life and death struggle, the throes of which we are still in up to our ears, a struggle for the soul of the 20th century.  And now the 21st where it hangs in the balance.

Time is running out.

Goethe suffered a nervous collapse over it and he was not alone. Jacob Burckhardt saw what was coming. Nietzsche went mad over it. It is exactly what he meant by the death of God. Max Weber, one of the greatest minds of Germany, fell into an unaccountable depression and sat looking out the window picking at his fingers. William James had an apparitional visitation of pure despair. Strinberg. Ibsen. Hamsen. Munch. As I mentioned, this is the Existentialist motif, this lament over the place of the person and the life of the spirit in technical and industrial society. Husserl was one of the most penetrating commentators on the Physicalist takeover as developed in his famous Vienna Lecture and his essay: “The Crisis Of Western Science”.  Soren Kierkegaard, some decades before, knew it in the depths of his being and produced the greatest literary achievement as a cultural critique: the end of Christendom. Kafka continued the meditation even to the point of writing parables in the tradition of Kierkegaard. All of this presentiment segues into Existentialism and a full-scale revolt against Industrial Society which turns a person into a thing, a loathsome thing, like Gregor Samsa, who doesn’t go to work one day.

How does this relate to Chadwick? Was he a Luddite?

That’s not a bad association, if you think of the Luddites as the protest against industrial society. There is a book I mean to read I just noticed in the New York Times today: Kirkpatrick Sale: Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age. Chadwick was the representative of organic integrity and against all of the denial and exploitation and manipulation of organic nature. He was a unique hold-out against the overwhelming trend of industrial society. He knew the meaning of organic integrity and he wanted to smash the notion that synthetics were “equal in dignity” to organic nature, the great swindle in the decline of authentic taste. He knew that soils were alive and nurtured by living organisms not by synthetic fertilizers loaded with synthetic urea. And this was all on the level of food–what persons put in their mouths. I remember how he jumped on the quote from Robert Graves, in a speech he gave at MIT, about the decline of taste as symptomatic of the decline of culture: “The decline of a true taste for food is the beginning of a decline in a national culture as a whole. When people have lost their authentic, personal taste, they lose their personality and become instruments of other peoples’ wills.” Chadwick would often begin a talk with this quote and then refer to strawberries.

Why strawberries?

Oh, come on! If you think the supermarket stuff and the effort to develop a berry for shelf life is to be compared to a true organic berry then you still have to be converted or you have lost your sense of taste. But I have to admit that strawberries are now part of the organic movement and it is possible to get edible strawberries again. We pick strawberries with our friends, the Kubeks, on a farm in Northern Michigan every summer, and it is a sacramental event. I’m of Norwegian ancestry and a good strawberry to a Norwegian is a gift from God, practically equal to the pearl of great price, what cheese is to the French. On a visit to relatives in Norway, when I was a teen-ager, I went to a carnival and saw a Norwegian, who had won a pint of strawberries at some booth walking around and savoring them. It is an unforgettable image.

Name another.

Wilderness waters would be another example. Rolf and Elsa Von Eckartsberg and Chadwick and I, went on a wilderness trek up in the Trinity Alps, above Covelo, in Northern California, and the waters up there were the waters of life. They were baptismal waters, so radiant with the vital power of being. I have never forgotten it. In fact, I saw a new meaning to Heraclitus’ saying: “You can’t step into the same waters twice.”

Because they were such vital waters?


Exactly. Once was enough! Although someone recently told me that those waters are gone;  they are polluted and you can’t drink them without worrying about some parasite.

So you took these experiences into a cultural analysis encompassing the last two hundred years and more.


Listen to this quote from Goethe, where he prophesies the impending barbarism in the destruction of Old Europe:

“Mankind will grow more astute and more perceptive, but not better, happier, or more vigorous–not permanently, at least. I see a time coming when God will not enjoy it any more, when he will have to smash everything once again, to rejuvenate his creation. I feel sure that everything tends in that direction, and that the starting time and hour of the rejuvenation period are already appointed in the distant future. But there will be plenty of time yet.”

Quoted in Karl Lowith: Nature, History, and Existentialism.

He said that on October 23, 1828, maybe on the same day as the discovery of synthetic urea, anyhow, the same year.  Isn’t that amazing.  You know they met once, Goethe and Woehler, in a rock shop in Frankfort.  I think Goethe intuited that he had met Faust in the flesh and went home and finished his poem.  This is one of the most amazing encounters in the history of thought as far as I╒m concerned.  Goethe and Woehler.  It is worthy of a play.

And how does this relate to Chadwick? Is this your replanting the vital root of existence theme, what Goethe calls rejuvenation?

Yes. Here’s another quote, this one from Lewis Mumford:

“One day a book will be written that will expose the contradictory workings of mechanism and vitalism as profound religious influences from the sixteenth century onward. This book will show that even while the mechanical complex was consolidating its control, it was being modified willy-nilly by the growing appreciation of organic nature in every aspect: witness the better regimen of child-care, hygiene, and diet introduced by the Romantic movement, mainly through Rousseau’s writings, if not his practice; witness the growing interest in play and sport which modified the harsh attitude toward such relaxation introduced by Calvinism and utilitarianism: witness the kindly teaching practices introduced by Froebel’s Children’s Garden (Kindergarten)–the precise antithesis of Comenius’ mass-organized drill-school; while at the same time the growing love of nature expressed itself in zealous amateur gardening, in landscape design, in rural sports, and outdoor exercises–hunting, fishing, rambling, mountain-climbing. In some degree these activities cushioned the impact of mechanization, and for over a century they have been opening the way for a more organic culture. When that book is written it will show further how this growing appreciation of all that distinguishes the world of organisms from the world of machines gave rise, at a given point in the nineteenth century, to a fresh vision of the entire cosmic process. This vision was profoundly different from the one offered by those who left out of their world picture the essential qualitative attribute of life: its expectancy, its inner impetus, its insurgency, its creativity, its ability at singular points to transcend either physical or organic limitations. The name given to this new vision of life was bestowed belatedly, only when it began to be systematically pursued: it is now known as ecology.”

The Pentagon Of Power, “The Organic World Picture”, Lewis Mumford, p. 385

So the Chadwick, Steiner, Goethe tradition was what Mumford was talking about? And your book is that book?


Yes, as far as I’m concerned, although I would be surprised if Mumford had Steiner explicitly in mind. He could have been thinking about Frank Lloyd Wright. This interview is about that book:  There Is A Garden In the Mind.

So Chadwick was your wild hair in terms of the University?


Unwittingly, with Chadwick, we had brought a neo-Vitalist critique–the renewal of organic nature–right into the imperialist, hegemonic, stronghold of the Physicalist victory, like I say, under their unsuspecting noses–the Science Establishment of the University of California. Had they been forewarned or realized what was happening, they would have shot Chadwick on sight, or bagged him and dropped him in Winnemucca. The Garden was a Trojan Horse. Chadwick was our Achilles, only with a Bulldog spade, instead of an ash spear. He had the temperament of an Achilles, so the comparison is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The word for that kind of temperament is thymos, a peculiar blend of vitality and rage or wrath. As I said, it’s my favorite word. The wrath of God is thymos, creative and destructive, purging and renewing. There was something of the Old Testament Prophet in Chadwick. He liked to rant.

Physicalists are what you call scientists?

It’s a code word for me. Physicalism is a characterization of a specific philosophy of science which I consider generic as a general ideological position. There is a cluster of associated names and positions, all related under the Physicalist banner–determinism, empiricism, mechanism, materialism, positivism, scientism, etc. They all have their respective characterizations and should not be confused with each other but they all represent the trend. As I have mentioned, it came to prominence in the 19th century and found its major expression under Rudolf Carnap and the Logical Positivists, in Vienna, at the turn of the century, and before them, in Comte, and the Philosophes, in France. Saint Simon is the most absurd, only because he is so extreme in his views about the new priesthood–the monks of science. But, more formally, the trend refers to the Physicalist refutation of Vitalism and the rejection of the Vitalist argument in behalf of the integrity of organic nature. This is shorthand for a very long retrieval of the issue. It is my scholarly domain–the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences, from 1828, to the present, although, as does Husserl, it can be taken back to the network of Galileo, Newton, Descartes and Kant. The Physicalist/Vitalist conflict is the great key, not to everything, but to practically everything. It is the deepest conflict in our culture.

What is some of the literature on the subject?

Johannes Merz has done the overview in his two volume work on science and philosophy in the 19th century. It is very instructive in a kind encyclopedic way.  Ernst Cassirer discusses it in his: The Problem of Knowledge. Erich Voegelin has the hardest hitting critique of it in an essay: “The Origins of Scientism”, and he continues the discussion in his Anamnesis. Husserl is brilliant on the issue in his famous essay: The Crisis of Western Science. Polanyi discusses it in his book: Personal Knowledge. And, of course, Kuhn did the formalistic critique in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, without, unfortunately, ever mentioning the historic case that nails his theme. But what would you expect from someone who did his work under the auspices of the Physicalists, namely, Carnap, so Kuhn was in the Physicalist camp, which is why he assumes the victory without mentioning the historic case that illuminates his thesis, the victory, the revolutionary victory of physicalism over vitalism .

But hasn’t science superseded this old conflict? It sounds old hat.

That’s a good question. In some ways “yes” and in most ways “no”. There is this perception that cracks have opened in the Physicalist ranks, there’s no question about that. Arthur Koestler’s last book: Janus, A Summing Up, has a good discussion of the cracks. Immunology, one of my favorite subject matters, plays a role here, especially in terms of immune memory. Koestler was very cognizant of that as a Vitalist surd in a Physicalist science. But it is piecemeal, at best. The tired old ideology of Physicalism is like a secret bolshevism of Western science, with its attendant apparatchiks, all in a row.

Much of Koestler’s authorship has a Neovitalist drift. The Ghost In the Machine is one title that comes to mind. As well as The Sleep Walkers.  He had an unusual grasp of the issues you adumbrate.

It would take some organizing to indicate the literature on the debate. Here’s a quote by Adolf Meyer, who, in 1934, saw Physicalism and Vitalism as merely “worthy old ideologies” that no longer have any real theoretical validity:

“One cannot escape the impression that these highly respected ideologies have fallen behind in the development of the special biological disciplines; in any case they have nothing more to teach those who pursue them. Vitalism negates the modern Galilean-Newtonian-Kantian ideal of a mathematical natural science and thereby robs biology of unquestionably fruitful possibilities of knowledge, while mechanism degrades it to a special and meaningless appendage of theoretical physics.” p. 212

It is vexing to science to have this debate continue. There has even been an attempt to debunk the urea legend as a spurious piece unworthy of its reputation as responsible for the defeat of Vitalism. Not so. The conflict is very deeply imbedded in our culture of industrial society. Once you see the significance of the Physicalist victory over Vitalism, you understand the grounds for the environmental protest and especially the Earth First gang who are the neo-Luddites.

So you encountered the conflict at Santa Cruz and it was not old hat.

It was not old hat in the 1960’s at UC Santa Cruz, believe me, three decades after the quote from Adolf Meyer, given the reaction to a simple organic garden project; how this plays in the 1990’s and on, is open to question. Lots of important issues have intervened. What inroads they have made is another matter. I think very little. Look at the inclusion of Environmental Studies in the university curriculum as an example of a neo-Vitalist critique of industrial society. The development of Environmental Studies in the curriculum after Earth Day was a symptom of what crawled through the cracks in the Physicalist armor as the proponents of industrial society. The example of UCSC is a case in point. Although one would have to make a specific study of it in order to figure it out, my hunch is that Environmental Studies is not much more integrated in terms of what counts for knowledge than the Chadwick Garden, as far as I can tell. The Physicalists still hold the cards. Neo-Vitalist Environmental Studies is grudgingly tolerated.

You mean Environmental Studies smacks of a covert Neo-Vitalism?


That’s one way to put it and so it is grudgingly tolerated by the power-block of Physicalists who are still in charge and call the shots. They refuse to believe that this old dead view reared its ugly head and had to be accommodated. They simply had to acquiesce to the political pressure of the Environmental movement and open up a new subject matter. The representatives of what should be a brand of neo-Vitalism –Environmental Studies–have to suck up to the Physicalist scientists in order to gain some self-respect, which is like pandering to the enemy, so it is a very contradictory situation to be in.

This is a snide way to put it.

It is difficult to remain emotionally neutral on the issue when there is so much at stake. Careers are ruined because of the interest one takes in certain themes or points of view.

Can you give an example?

I encouraged students to ask scientists if they were Physicalists or Vitalists just to register the look on their faces. They found one closet Vitalist in biology, who admitted to secret Vitalist sympathies. He was a botanist.  It would be interesting to study the conflict and the impact on careers. It goes all the way to the conflict between Christianity and secularism. Page Smith and I always referred to Rosenstock-Huessy as a prime example of being scapegoated by the University establishment. He had a notable career at Dartmouth, but within the ranks he was rejected by modern scholarship even though he was one of the best ever. He shows up the split as well as anyone. When he was at Harvard, the elder Schlesinger said either he goes or I go. So they kicked him out. He was too much of a Christian for Schlesinger, Sr.

Didn’t Page Smith have a hard time getting into Harvard just because he was his student at Dartmouth.

Yes, they rejected him at first, but he managed to get in under a different subject. His career as a narrative historian put him under attack by the establishment historians who had no interest in the big picture as opposed to monographic studies. He was ostracised.

Any other examples?

Socio-biology is another good example. I just read E. O. Wilson’s autobiography: Naturalist. His title is an example of his bravery, because it is an example of Vitalism. Rachel Carson was a Naturalist, which immediately struck me as her booby prize appellation because of her Vitalist sympathies.

And you mention Agnes Arber as another example.

Yes. I remember broaching the subject to Kenneth Thimann, the Provost of Crown College, at UCSC, who hired me, and he said, “Oh, yes, Vitalism, what was that woman’s name?” And he meant Agnes Arber. That was a tell-tale response. It reminds me of my looking up Vitalism to see what was in the literature and there was Hilda Hein and I thought, I’ll bet she’s a Roman Catholic, and she was.

So, what about E. O. Wilson?

He tells the story of how biologists at a major conference tried to vote the subject matter of socio-biology out of existence. They wanted to out-law it so nobody could do it any more. Can you believe it? Margaret Mead got up and shook her cane at everyone to protest this rear guard reaction of conservative Physicalists to a new field that looked too neo-Vitalist even for biology. She valiantly carried the day. The vote lost by a narrow margin. This is for me a prime example of the problem. On the other hand, you have many scientists who manage to negotiate the territory without losing their soul–they find a balance in their work that overcomes the split.

What about Rupert Sheldrake and his offer of a monetary prize for experiments that confirm his morphic resonance theory.


That’s a good one. I have always worried about the terms for such an offer. I still hold with Polanyi that a conversion is necessary even to look at the facts. We have a local psychologist at Cabrillo, our community college, who has offered a small award for any evidence that would confirm a psychic event just to parade his scepticism. Obviously, he wouldn’t know a ghost if he saw one. The effort to try to demonstrate the superiority of organic farming to industrial farming is another sad commentary. But, I suppose, it’s a game that must be played in the world of contending ideologies.  I might mention a complex of literature that portends a new appreciation of what got lost with rejected vitalism.  Ralph Abraham has introduced me to it in his work on the quantum vacuum and consciousness.  One of the key figures is Irvin Laszlo and I have just started reading him.  It is too complicated to comment on here and I am at the beginning of my attempt to study and understand it, but it picks up on my introduction to Dirac decades ago and the theme of the monopole which I immediately thought might be the physics the old vitalists lacked.  We can get to more on this later.  The important theme is the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict.

So the Chadwick Garden opened up this conflict for you?


Yes, Chadwick represented the lost or rejected Vitalist tradition, in need of recovery. He brought it to the campus when he broke through the Physicalist hardpan with his Vitalist spade and started an organic garden. The key word is “organic”. It so happened that the Provost of Crown College, where I taught, was Kenneth Thimann, whom I mentioned, a renowned Physicalist Botanist, what should be an oxymoron, but for the scientific revolution. His domain was the experimental lab. He did the work on Agent Orange, the Vietnam defoliant, which was a little hard to swallow even as a defining symbolic piece of work for a Physicalist. He was the precise counterpart to Chadwick, the Vitalist Gardener, right within the field of botany, if you include horticulture and agriculture. It was a point I could not miss. They personified the split. It is remarkable to me, now that I review these themes, what shook out under their example. I had a world-renowned Physicalist botanist, as my boss, the head of my college, and Chadwick, who, according to E. F. Schumacher was “the greatest gardener in the world”, my Newton of the grassblades.

So they defined the problem you have now spent decades working through. Vitalism, for you, means the integrity of organic nature?

Well, I say that, but now that you ask, not exactly. Nature doesn’t need an ‘-ism in defense of it’s own vitality. Vitalism is a position within the system of the sciences, an ideological stance, opposite to Physicalism and the reduction of all living things to their physical and chemical constituents. Vitalism is the affirmation and defense of organic nature against the reductionist stance of Physicalism, which thought that “life-force” or “vital force” were nonsensical combinations of words, with no defensible reality, no physics or chemistry to back it up. There was no physics or math for the “life-force”; therefore, it was thought to be “metaphysical”, in the bad sense of the word, which came to be almost every sense of the word–empty and vain speculation without empirical confirmation. Metaphysics became associated with spiritualism, as in Ouiji Boards. Vitalism is the ghost in the machine. It sounds abstract, but it is a very real issue. I am hesitant about the word ‘integrity’, but I don’t have a better term. The vital root of organic nature would be a good metaphor.

But you see the artificial synthesis of urea as the key point in the undermining of organic integrity and the refutation of Vitalism.


When Vitalism was refuted, the organic collapsed into the inorganic. Organic integrity was subverted when you could simulate it in the lab from inorganic sources. Chemical structures were all you needed to know and they were reciprocal. Once they were determined you could artificially synthesize anything found in organic nature from inorganic sources. This is a key point because the Physicalists argued that inorganic simulation or synthesis was identical to organic nature. Organic nature faded into the background in favor of the experimental lab. It brought about a cluster of words that are confused with the organic, said to be identical to the organic, and so on, such as artificial and synthetic and virtual. They are approximation substitutions for the real thing. Physicalist science proclaimed it and people bought it.

This, for you, is the Big Lie, as you call it, the identity of the synthetic and the organic.

Yes. It comes down to Tang is Orange Juice and all such swindles. I found this quote from Descartes: “All the things which are artificial are natural as well.” (Prin. Phil. 4.203) Lachterman refers to this pairing of mechanization and symbolization as the advent of radical modernity, an effort of outwitting “Nature”. “From now on the “natural” will be measured by its accessibility to artifice”. The Ethics Of Geometry, p.125.

Was Steiner aware of this split and the significance of the urea experiment?

I’m glad you asked. Yes, he was. Here is a particularly penetrating quote from his quite remarkable history of philosophy:

“An example that shows how the results of natural science took on forms that could be of a deeply penetrating influence on the conception of the world is given in Woehier’s discovery of 1828. This scientist succeeded in producing a substance synthetically outside the living organism that had previously only been known to be formed within. This experiment seemed to supply the proof that the former belief which assumed that certain material compounds could be formed only under the influence of a special life force contained in the organism, was incorrect. If it was possible to produce such compounds outside the living body, then one could draw the conclusion that the organism was also working only with the forces with which chemistry deals. The thought arose for the materialists that, if the living organism does not need a special life force to produce what formerly had been attributed to such a force, why should this organism then need special spiritual energies in order to produce the processes to which mental experiences are bound? Matter in all its qualities now became for the materialists what generates all things and processes from its core.” The Riddles of Philosophy, p. 263-4

So the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict is a deep split in our culture?

I think it is the deepest split in our culture. It is certainly a key to the split. I have organized my thought around it.

What other example could you give?

It sets up a confusion in authentic taste, as Robert Graves points out. Tang is confused as orange juice. Add the sense of smell. Are synthetic scents (perfumes) the same as organic scents? No. Aroma therapy fights in defense of the healing power of organic herbal essences against synthetics. As a Platonist, I have to laugh over the notion of “synthetic essences”, another oxymoron, if I ever heard one, although it is a version of an issue that concerned Socrates, when he wondered about the essence of slime. Sartre has a fix on this in his phenomenology of slime. I can hardly believe I know such stuff.

I see how tangled it gets.

But it works right on down the line. Herbal medicine versus synthetic drugs; aroma therapy with organic essences of herbs versus synthetic perfumes; artificial fertilizers versus organic compost; synthetic fibers versus cotton and wool and linen; my grandmother, Ome, I called her, I am amazed to report, sold synthetic vanilla and synthetic flavorings–orange, grape, cherry, etc., made by a little chemical factory in Milwaukee where she worked. Customers would come up the back steps and buy bottles out of her kitchen. She always had a quart of synthetic juice in the fridge. My mother always hid the fact from her mother that she preferred genuine vanilla to the synthetic stuff. Maybe that’s where I first picked up the distinction. I’m sure it is.

How about a cotton versus a dacron or nylon bathing suit?


OK, ok. I worried about the logic, especially when I found George Washington Carver arguing for “the synthetic” as another order of God’s creation. That threw me. He was a very affirmative guy.

You suspected he had developed medicinal uses for the peanut.

In fact, he had found a medicinal use for peanut oil–polio. He was so inventive about the uses of the peanut, he made it his life’s work. Over one hundred uses, if I remember rightly. Some were medicinal and then I get his affirmation of the synthetic as another order of creation. Like I said, that threw me. I had already been worrying about a theology of the inorganic, which Tillich calls for. A theology of the inorganic stumped me and then I find the quote from Carver about a theology of the synthetic. Stumped again.

It would be interesting to know if people who are allergic to perfume are also allergic to synthetic scents and not organic ones.


I don’t know if this has been pursued, although one would think so, given the problem of environmental sensitivities and the onslaught on the immune system.

Can you give another example of the Physicalist/Vitalist split?

Here is one of my favorites: Vitalist Ode and Physicalist Oath. The split goes through Freud and characterizes the conflict in his career and in his authorship, very representative of the times. Freud goes to a public lecture, as a young man, and hears the lecturer recite: “Goethe’s ‘Ode To Nature’.” He is so moved, as he tells this story in his Autobiography, he decides on his career in that moment–to enter the medical sciences in order “to unveil nature’s mysteries”. A rather tell-tale phrase. Sounds to me like indelicately lifting the chemise of a goddess, in fact, the goddess, Natura, the subject of the Ode. Ironically, he enters the laboratory of Bri cke and has to take the Physicalist Oath. According to Julian Jaynes, the Oath was taken in blood! The Oath was already one of my favorite themes even before I found that out.

Taken in blood?

Taken in blood. Freud moves from the Vitalist Ode to the Physicalist Oath! How symbolic of the issue! I would characterize the mixed discourse in Freud’s authorship as his inability to deal with this split which goes through him. He had a nervous breakdown over it. It is deeper than the cocaine issue, which is interpreted as the great crisis in Freud’s career. No, it is the Physicalist/Vitalist Crisis.

So, for you, the crisis is marked by four stages: 1. the Ode to Nature, 2. the Blood-Oath of the Physicalists, and the Fliess Period, and, 3. after the Cocaine Episode, precipitating his nervous breakdown, 4. the Founder of Psycho-analysis and the rediscovery of consciousness, especially the unconscious.

He wrote a monograph on cocaine which he thought would make him famous. He was wrong. Instead, he was kicked out of the experimental lab. Erikson calls this Freud’s “psychosocial moratorium”, a neat phrase. He is forced to analyze himself in his distress and out of this self-analysis psychoanalysis is born, but the mixed discourse persists, the mixed discourse of Physicalism and Vitalism. Paul Ricoeur has the best discussion of this mixed discourse in his Freud and Philosophy, a book I was proud to edit. He calls it the conflict between “energetics” and “hermeneutics”, or the conflict between a “play of forces” and a “play of meanings”. It is a version of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict. There is much to be said about this, including the strange fate of the Ode.

You helped edit Ricoeur’s book?

I worked on the English with my friend, Denis Savage, who translated it. Ricoeur is an old friend of mine. We met at Harvard. I heard him lecture and liked the way he said “spot”; it sounded like a champagne cork going off, which, for a Frenchman, is pretty good. He was lecturing on the symbolism of evil, which, eventually, became one of his best books under that title. I did my thesis on Freud at Harvard under Erik Erikson and that set me up for Ricoeur and my help with his book on Freud. I also consider him to be the successor to Tillich in terms of philosophical theology and his philosophy of finitude, what he calls “Fallible Man.”  He was given the Paul Tillich chair at the University of Chicago, which confirms this.

So, you think Freud exemplifies the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict?

It goes straight through him. His nervous breakdown is symptomatic of this conflict in the culture. He wanted to make a

career in the Physicalist lab after taking the Oath, formulated by Brucke and DuBois Remond, and he is dismissed and has to re-discover the psyche, from the unconscious to the conscious, after consciousness had been eliminated from scientific psychology as a Vitalist entity: the ghost in the machine. The history of psychoanalysis as a science is riddled with this burden of refuted and rejected Vitalism and the dilemma of consciousness in an industrial society ruled by Physicalism. Consciousness had become psycho-physics with an emphasis on the physiology of perception, a specialty of Helmholtz. Freud partly broke away from this straight-jacket, but he had to pay the price in terms of psychoanalysis as a suspect science, rather like Wilson’s difficulty with sociobiology, when the hard-liners try to close ranks and draw a line in the sand.

So this accounts for your interest in Freud’s Letters To Fliess.

Freud’s Project For A Scientific Psychology, is one of the items in the letters he sent to Fliess. This only came to light in the early fifties and became for me a critical piece in the Physicalist tradition. It was Freud trying to develop a Physicalist theory of consciousness and even he thought it was a force fit. He never gave up Physicalist models: electrical, hydraulic, chemical, mechanical, topological. But he transcended them. Erik Erikson wrote a critical review of the correspondence when it was published which is very insightful. I foolishly traded my copy of the correspondence some years before, when I was at Luther Theological Seminary, for a beautiful hand knit black v necked sweater. Now there is a new edition.

You mean he was still theorizing from the neurone.


He was trying to develop a neuronic concept of consciousness–it defined the field–the attempt at an anatomical or molecular theory of consciousness. It turned out to be as banal as Oparin, as leaps go.

You mean qualitative leaps?

Don’t forget that point. “The Project For A Scientific Psychology” has always represented the watershed for Freud. He calls it a golem, this little consciousness-machine; kick it and maybe it will run, the switch was stuck, this qualitative leap in the neurone. Behaviorism is Physicalist psychology on the condition of the elimination of consciousness, which is psychology without the psyche. Try as he did with his mechanist models, Freud could never make the rediscovery of consciousness fit in with strict science because Physicalism naturally precludes consciousness. That’s how dumb it is.

The leap is too qualitative. What about Goethe’s Ode?

It is a rather odd story. Goethe didn’t compose the Ode, but he thought he had. It entered his authorship uncritically, you might say, when he included it in his canon late in life. It was an old Orphic Hymn to the goddess Natura. Goethe thought he had composed it. That’s what happens when you write a lot, I guess. And if you’re that good you confuse your own stuff with Orphic Hymns. This is a good story in terms of grist for my mill, because it involves Rudolf Steiner. I mean where would you stick him in? He is the Editor of Goethe’s Scientific Writings in the Goethe Archive and he finds this Ode and did the literary-critical work on it showing that Goethe didn’t write it.

It was an Orphic source? Remind me, what is Orphism?


The religion of Orpheus. It is a strong mythical tradition in the West, part of the Platonic Theology. It was a reformation of the Dionysiac orgies–enthusiasm in the service of the god. It has an affinity with Christianity in terms of the Shepherd of Being, a wonderful mythical figure of speech that Heidegger picked up, and the salvation of nature where the lion lies down with the lamb to listen to the songs.

Isn’t that one of your main interests–the Platonic theology?


We can’t go into that now, it would take all our time, but the Eden/Arcadia themes exemplify it. Athens and Jerusalem, Jesus and Socrates, Paul and Dionysius the Areopagite, Orphism and Christianity, these correspondences and relations are my chief interest. Tillich showed me the way in his Columbia University. Lectures: Biblical Religion and the Search For Ultimate Reality. I was a summer student at Union Theological Seminary when he gave the lectures. I was so excited I could hardly breathe. He put the two cultures together for me and they have only become stronger ever since, although when I want a corrective cold shower I re-read Rosenstock-Huessy.

It helped you overcome the Humpty-dumpty problem. the split in the culture which is hard to put together again, But let’s go back to the Orphic Hymn.


I have a great footnote on it from Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages:

Natura is cosmic power. She stands between Zeus and the gods, governs marriage and generations, and through her complaint can intervene in the course of history. Claudian is here close to a late antique theology which has been best preserved for us in the Orphic hymns, a collection made in the third or fourth century by an unknown author, presumably in Egypt or Asia Minor. The tenth hymn is dedicated to Physis. Over eighty predicates of the goddess are compressed into its thirty hexameters. She is the age-old Mother of All; father, mother, nurse, sustainer, all-wise, all-bestowing, all-ruling; regulator of the gods; creator; first-born; eternal life and immortal providence. This universal goddess is not the personification of an intellectual concept. She is one of the last religious experiences of the late-pagan world. She possesses inexhaustible vitality. But what varied masks the Orphic Physis can assume! Among Goethe’s writing on the natural sciences there is a celebrated “Fragment on Nature,” which first appeared anonymously in 1782 or 1783 in the “Tierfurter journal,” which was circulated in manuscript. Goethe writes to Knebel (March 3, 1783) that he is not the author. A few weeks later Frau von Stein announces that the fragment is by Tobler, of Zurich, who had visited Weimar in 1781. In 1828 Goethe saw it again. On May 24 he wrote to Chancellor von Muller: “Although I cannot remember composing these observations, they are quite in accord with the conceptions to which my mind then soared.” Georg Christoph Tobler (1757-1812), however, had translated the Orphic hymn into hexameters. The fragment which appeared in the “Tierfurter Journal” is an analysis and amplification of this translation–with additional matter from Shaftesbury.” pp. 106-7.

See what I mean in terms of what is revealed by an Ode to Nature?   I simply introduce this as part of the scholarly record. Such references and texts can be adduced endlessly, as we speak.

Do you have other examples of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict?

Yes, what Goethe called the Urpflanze or urplant, a kind of metaphysical principle of plant evolution, what I call “the vital root of existence as we mentioned, in terms of the Kantian recoil, a suggestive way of translating urplant and transposing a botanical concept into a metaphysical one as a way of suggesting the symbolic background of Goethe’s quest.

Well, you’re getting a little ahead of me. Let’s back up a bit. Chadwick was a Vitalist in his affirmation of organic nature. Say some more about that.

Think of organic gardening and farming as opposed to industrial or synthetic chemical gardening and farming and the respective methods and procedures they represent. It all turns on soil fertility, organic quality, or organic compost versus synthetic urea. The key is organic as opposed to artificial in the development of synthetic soil additives in terms of fertilizers and pesticides. There is a world of difference, which many people want to play down or disguise. Here’s what Bette Midler has to say about compost: “My whole life had been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that lets you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap.”

You should get a picture of her with her compost pile. My sister-in-law used to play tennis with her.  I could ask her.  Joseph Beuys thought compost piles were works of art. I have a picture of one of his art piles.  And my old friend, Ernst Winter, I have to mention him here, ran a biodynamic training center in Austria in an old castle or schloss and when he had to give it up and move all he took were his compost piles.

Synthetic urea?

It’s part of the key. Synthetic urea is the basic component in artificial fertilizers and goes back to the actual experiment Physicalists refer to in the refutation of Vitalism. The experiment conducted by Friedrich Woehler in 1828. Everyone who knows me knows this date.

There is nothing like a date.

I found the discussion in the literature as though waiting for me. It explained everything. A date. An experiment. A chemist. A place. A refutation. A defeat. Bingo. The key reference point for my account.

What is the importance of 1828?

I have nailed all my fortunes to this date. It is my main bet. It is the year of the inception of Organic Chemistry, the chemistry of artificial synthesis, the subversion of the integrity of organic nature, the defeat of Vitalism, the triumph of Physicalism, the victory of industrial society, and the problematic of synthetics and artificial productions.

The artificial synthesis of urea?


It is the year in which Friedrich Woehler artificially synthesized urea in Germany. It is the year Vitalism was refuted and everything shifted to Physicalism There were a few hold-outs, like Albert Schweizer, in darkest (Vitalist) Africa–he was practically driven there in his defense of reverence for life, which could be understood as a Vitalist version of the defense of organic integrity, undermined in his time. He is a symbolic figure in this context. He went into penitential retreat over the conflict and the crisis in Europe.

There were others, as you mentioned, especially Frank Lloyd Wright.

Bergson, in France, and his elan vital, and Whitehead, in this country, and his process philosophy, after he had had his fill of Bertrand Russell. Frank Lloyd Wright, of course, and organic architecture, but the trend shifted overwhelmingly in favor of Physicalism and the reduction of all living entities to their physical and chemical constituents. It was all that mattered, pardon the pun. You might as well defend arguments for the existence of God, as defend the Vitalist integrity of organic nature, after 1828. The path was laid out and pursued with ruthless determination. They meant business, hence the blood oath.

I don’t understand. You mean the integrity of organic nature was logically undermined? Can you explain that further?

Logically and then practically. Organic chemistry and industrial society in cahoots. Until Woehler, it was thought you needed an organ to get an organic product; in this case a kidney, to get urea, the nitrogen waste part of urine. Woehler heated up an inorganic substance–ammonium cyanate–and at 100 degrees c., he thought he got organic urea. Guess what he said?


Urea! I found it!

That was it?

That was it. The Archimedian point in the conflict with Vitalism. and the triumph of industrial society. It not only was bought at the price of Vitalism, it was the foundation for the formulation of the notorious blood oath for all of the initiates: “So Help Me Helmholtz!” There was so much blood shed they eventually dropped the Oath as a condition for becoming an Experimental Laboratory Scientist. It was assumed as a matter of course.

You’re kidding.

I’m kidding. But there was an Oath, taken in blood; that I know, from Julian Jaynes. How he knew, I don’t know. He mentions it in his famous book: The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Hard to beat for a title. A Loyalty Oath of Physicalists, taken in blood, to smoke out any closet Vitalists who were caught crossing their fingers behind their back. It is reminiscent of the McCarthy inspired Loyalty Oath of the 1960’s, which haunted academics and made many cave in. The Physicalist Loyalty Oath already had been in effect without much attention. As I said, it was assumed you had taken it even if you hadn’t heard of it. Now we would call it a Mission Statement. The key deformation subject is Organic Chemistry, my favorite oxymoron, the chemistry of artificial synthesis. The double-talk gives it away. There is a tell-tale deformation in language when some major obfuscation is needed in order to obscure or dumb-down the issues and confuse things. Here it is the obfuscation between the organic and the inorganic, thanks to the blur of carbon compounds in-between.

In between what?

In between the organic and the inorganic. The distinction collapsed. Chemists like to tell you that artificial doesn’t mean artificial and synthetic doesn’t mean synthetic. Or that synthetic

is identical to organic. That’s another good one. The Big Lie of Physicalism. It’s worthy of a TV Blooper Series. Even Linus Pauling fell for it with Vitamin C, arguing the identity of chemical structure, although I was told recently that he conceded, late in life, the difference between organic and synthetic. Until then, he bought the Tang is Orange Juice line, which follows from factories are plants. I always get my biggest laugh from that one–when they started calling factories plants. Why can’t you make orange juice down at the plant? It is funny, when you think about it, until you get to the squash court in Chicago, where they smashed the atom and took the risk of destroying the universe. That event became the absolute zero point for me.

Aren’t you writing a play about the smashing of the atom?

I’ve thought a lot about it and I actually started a play, with music by the Kronos Quartet, but I haven’t carried it out. The account of Arthur Holly Compton, who headed the project, lends itself to a play, so I put him on the witness stand and incredulously interrogate him. “What do you mean you decided not to tell the Chancellor of the University of Chicago of the risk of destroying the universe and assumed the responsibility on your own?” Questions like that. I became obsessed with the smashing of the atom as the apotheosis of the Physicalist victory when I found out that Fermi was worried about a possible wayward reaction. So he did the math for it in order to determine the risk factor which for me is the mathematical formula for the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society.

You could add that formula to the formula for synthetic urea. So you are fascinated by the chance they took?

Of course. Compton mentions in his memoirs, Atomic Quest, that the worry was there from the start. A nuclear chain reaction, liberating enormous energy might be uncontrollable and blow up those who attempted it. In later calculations, Compton made an error corrected by Kistiakowski–it was a question of straightforward thermodynamics which Compton had used before in calculating the forces that explode flash bulbs in photography. “It is to me a matter of no small interest that the same theoretical formula includes equally a tiny flash bulb and a hydrogen bomb.” p.58. Do you mind if I expand on this some? It is a very telling example of the power of science and technology to destroy the universe.

O.K. Expand away. Then go back to Woehler.

Oppenheimer, who had been recruited to the project, gathered a group of scientists in Berkeley, in 1942, to discuss how the bomb might be made to explode and what its effect would be. He was worried enough to journey to Chicago to see Compton who had gone up to his summer cabin in Northern Michigan, not too far from where my wife and I spend our summers at Cisco Point. He called Compton who invited him to come up to the lake.

“1 will never forget that morning. I drove Oppenheimer from the railroad station down to the beach looking out over the peaceful lake. There I listened to his story. What his team had found was the possibility of nuclear fusion–the principle of the hydrogen bomb. This held what was at the time a tremendous unknown danger. Hydrogen nuclei, protons, are unstable, for they could combine into helium nuclei with a large release of energy. To set off such a reaction would require a very high temperature. But might not the enormously high temperature of an atomic bomb be just what was needed to explode hydrogen? And if hydrogen, what about the hydrogen of sea water? Might the explosion of an atomic bomb set off an explosion of the ocean itself?

Nor was this all. The nitrogen in the air is also unstable, though in less degree. Might it not be set off by an atomic explosion in the atmosphere? These questions could not be passed over lightly. Was there really any chance that an atomic bomb would trigger the explosion of the nitrogen in the atmosphere or of the hydrogen in the ocean? This would be the ultimate catastrophe. Better to accept the slavery of the Nazis than to run a chance of drawing the final curtain on mankind!”

Compton and Oppenheimer agree that unless a “firm and reliable conclusion that our atomic bombs could not explode the air or the sea, these bombs must never be made.” Then comes Compton’s appraisal. “In due time, the calculations gave the firm result that while the nuclei of hydrogen are indeed unstable, the conditions under which they can explode are far removed from anything that can be brought about by atomic explosions. In this sense atomic explosions are safe.”

The key phrase is “far removed”. Not to mention “safe”, now that we know better in terms of the disposal problem of nuclear waste.

O.K. Back to urea. If I understand you rightly, you mean that synthetic urea was a breakthrough rather like artificial intelligence?


Very good analogy. They are on a continuum. Organic nature could be replaced, I like to say, supplanted, pun intended, by Organic Chemistry, as the chemistry of artificial synthesis, just as the human mind can be superseded by computers, a kind of synthetic brain, or artificial intelligence. The whole debate about whether machines can think is part of this confusion between organic and synthetic which the Physicalists try to argue is identical. It is as if they try to impute a kind of virtual or synthetic or artificial “life” to their ontology of death, just to get the sucker to move.

And Woehler began the confusion with his synthesis of urea?


Woehler said his synthetic urea was “absolutely identical” with organic urea. The stupidity is compounded by a continuing array of nonsense formulations palmed off as truth, such as: “Life is nothing more than physical and chemical constituents”, which is all that matters, emphasis on matter. It is the reductionist dumb-down syndrome again. Or “Life is a qualification of dead matter”, in the definition of Oparin, the Russian biologist, which is a variation on Freud’s failed definition of consciousness as a qualitative leap in the neurone. You can hardly believe the wool pulled over your eyes. And yet these failed formulae are axioms for the Physicalists.

So you see the defeat of Vitalism as the loss of the dimension of organic nature?

Vitalism was the hold-out for organs or structures that distinguished organic entities from artificial and synthetic ones as a product of laboratory or manufacturing procedures. Vitalism was defensive about the distinction between organic and

inorganic in the realm of nature, the difference between a carrot and a stone, or, Tang and orange juice.

So organic chemistry ruined all that?

Organic chemistry collapsed the distinction–it was simply a matter of chemical structure with no attention to realms or spheres such as organic and inorganic, in terms of qualitative differences. In fact, it is a fallacy known as metabasis eis allo genos, confusing one realm or dimension with another, the old mixing of apples and oranges. At least they’re fruit.

But are they organic? Ha ha.


You see how silly it can get? Vitalist qualities were considered “occult” which is only worthy of contempt. Think about it: occult qualities? It is reminiscent of the notion of life as “a subtle hoax of nature”, a term I learned from Hans Jonas. It is a great way of putting this issue. I would like to know where he got that from. He makes it clear that the entire movement of science in the modern period is an ontology of death, where life is the great mystery. Science doesn’t know what to do with a mystery like life. The lab and the factory took over from organic nature and the garden. We can mimic it, they said, and you won’t know the difference. So shut up about it. Factories are plants.

Can you give me an illustration?

I just did. How can you beat the factory/plant confusion? “Where are you going, honey?” “Oh, down to the plant”. Call it an identity, if you will, so it can work both ways. Plants became little factories for the making of chemicals, just so you didn’t argue for some life force or vital principle to distinguish them from the big factories which really turned out the stuff. Tang is orange juice. Velveeta is cheese. Remember when they tried to palm off a bread made of wood fiber? It’s one of the few failures in the ersatz column. Ersatz coffee, at least, is called ersatz. Or is it Postum? Substitutions are made on the principle of identity which is a hoax. You see the turnabout? First they call life a hoax of nature and then they give us the hoax of synthetics as the real thing. Synthetic urea, artificial intelligence, mystico-mimetic psychedelics, virtual reality, are all symptomatic key terms for the progression of the Big Lie, based on a series of eliminations: the elimination of Vitalism or the vital force, the elimination of metaphysics and meaningful discourse about aesthetics, ethics, and anything unverifiable, according to experimental laboratory protocols, the elimination of consciousness in reductive behaviorism, and so on. The major event, I have come to appreciate, was the smashing of the atom and the risk they took. This is the Physicalist trend I am keen to identify.

And now there is the possibility of cloning a human being after Dolly, the sheep, and the monkey.

Well, that would do it wouldn’t it. Clinton has tried to put a hold on such research and made some moral pronouncements, but it will happen. Someone once said if there is a door science will open it. The smashing of the atom and the bomb are perfect illustrations, at the risk of destroying the universe. Fermi came in one day and said, “Nah, I don’t think it will happen. Let’s do it!” Kirkpatrick Sale, the author of the Luddite book, had this to say in the Times today:

“But neither he (Clinton) nor Congress will be able to ban the technological imperative that is inevitable in a culture built on the myth of human power and the cult of progress. The essence of this imperative was perhaps best defined by two men who crafted its apotheosis, the atomic bomb.

“When you see something that is technically sweet you go ahead and do it,” said Robert Oppenheimer.

“Technological possibilities are irresistable to man,” said John von Neumann. “If man can go to the moon, he will. If he can control the climate, he will.”

These men were creating a weapon they knew could obliterate the earth. They couldn’t stop.

If the cloning of human embryos is possible–and no one really doubts anymore that it is–it will happen. In a world that not only permits but also commodifies gene-splicing, amniocentesis and in vitro fertilization, there cannot be any lasting legal restraints on any breakthrough in reproductive technology. The history of science is the history of the dominance of technology, establishing its own definitions and boundaries, over settled human societies and ordered perceptions. Nothing suggests that the President or Congress has the power–or ultimately the will–to defy that relentless juggernaut.” New York Times, Friday, March 7, 1997.

So you think science and technology are a relentless juggernaut?

That is exactly what I think.

Is there another illustration you can give?

O.K. Take Kant. He stood there with Goethe at his side, and played dumb, what he would have called “Critical Ignorance”, in a tradition I happen to love, going back to Socrates and the

confession of self-delusion, through Dionysius the Areopagite and Negative or Apophatic Theology, and Nicholas Cusanus and Knowing Ignorance, but which hits the wall with Kant, which we have already mentioned, when Heidegger discusses how Kant recoiled from the (unknown but all too known) vital root. That’s hyperbole of a high order if you know what is meant. Kant tried to line up with the consequences of Newton and Galileo and the mathematization of nature and the philosophical basis for industrial society. It is in figures like Kant that the trend gets its mind, the mind it deserves, it is a very great mind, one of the greatest in the history of thought, but it is a fundamentally flawed mind, one that recoiled from the vital root. I would say that Kant recoiled from the vital root of organic nature, although in Kantian studies it is the vital root of the transcendental imagination, where most people would draw a blank unless they can make their way through the Third Critique: The Critique of Judgement. We have been living out the Kantian Recoil ever since, which I see as an accommodation to industrial society and experimental laboratory science. Husserl is the one who understood this recoil and Heidegger tried to follow it through. I wish I was smart enough to write a book with that title–The Kantian Recoil– following Husserl’s and Heidegger’s lead. Here is something I wrote that I found in my notes:

“Kant’s estimation of Newton is expressed in his elevation of physics and mathematics as the primary science, with biology unequal in scientific status. According to Kant, there was no hope for a ‘Newton of the grass blades.'”

That’s a good reference for Chadwick. For you, he really was a “Newton of the grass blades”.


But for the tide running against us, maybe so, but we were small potatoes, believe me. Newton was probably the smartest guy who ever lived, so he deserves the honors. But Chadwick as a “Newton of the grass blades” is a lovely moniker. If I could only do it over again and if I could have understood what we had in our hands, namely the organic revolution, back to affirming organic integrity, if national recognition had come to Chadwick and what he tried to do in teaching his method then he would have been a “Newton of the grass blades”. The title is so ironic I can hardly bear it. To continue what I wrote:

“Kant stated this as an antinomy of judgment, as though Physicalism and Vitalism were the names for the antinomy: Mechanistic Physicalism without purpose, or purposive Vitalism without Mechanistic Physicalism. It was the conflict of cause and form. As a logician, Kant wanted to make the point clear and he accomplished this to the disadvantage of Vitalism in his celebrated distinction between regulative and constitutive principles, a distinction in value between two sorts of concepts. Causal concepts are constitutive–they cut the mustard, just as they ‘count’ for knowledge; rmal concepts are regulative, merely regulative, inasmuch as purpose or form is only an “idea” or a “heuristic maxim.” We’ll take it is up again in the debate between Goethe and Schiller on the meaning of the urplant which Schiller called “only an idea”.

Is there more?


One more paragraph:

“Therefore, in the Kantian tradition, Physicalism and Vitalism is the conflict between physics and biology, with physics calling the shots, inasmuch as biology is a less objective science.

“He could dwell on the special rights and value of biology but could not assign it the same rank or the same objective value in the hierarchy of knowledge as mathematical and physical knowledge. The latter possessed, and would always possess, a true objectivity, and this distinction could be neither belittled nor disputed.”

Cassirer: The Problem Of Knowledge, p 211

Doesn’t one have to be a student of philosophy to follow these thoughts.


No. Any student will do. I think any intelligent person can see what I am trying to bring to bear on the case I am trying to make. Philosophy provides the formulations germane to the issue, which is what philosophy is for. Why can’t anyone interested in these matters be a student of philosophy? It is open for everyone. It is a field of inquiry and disclosure. So go ahead and be a student of philosophy, no one is stopping you. Read the books. Enter the discussion. Take part in the debate. It is all there for your perusal and enlightenment. Transcend yourself. Don’t get stuck in your little domain where they pull the wool over your eyes. The stakes are so high now as to be insurmountable. As Sale says at the end of his letter: “It will be a chaotic future. Better get used to it.”

So Kant leads to Husserl who leads to Heidegger?


Think about the symbolism of the terms involved. Heidegger’s mourning over “the oblivion of being”, and his concept of “the cancellation of being”, follows in this line. He writes the word–“being”– as crossed out. Kant started it with his argument that existence is not a

predicate. Husserl brackets existence in his famous phenomenological reduction. All of this, to me, reflects the fate of “existence” in industrial society and leads to Existentialism as the protest movement against this fate and the outcry of this fate. In such technical tangles you have major symbolic events illustrative of the course of history and the fate we are supposed to suffer. Here is my point: hardly anyone sees the symbolism because they get stuck in the technical points. I am working this out in a detailed way as a preface to a philosophy and mathematics of chaos. I see chaos thought as a neo-Vitalist development and an unforeseen consequence of the trend of deconstruction and spiritual deformation. It is a key part of the central shake-up and characterizes the age we live in. The affirmation of chaos is a good thing. I hope. We are going to have a lot of it.

Whoa, this is getting more dense than I expected. The Kan tian recoil from the unknown or vital root….? You see this in connection with his famous argument that existence is not a predicate. Let’s get that straight before we go on to chaos.


That’s right! We talked about this. We have touched on that before. These issues turn into philosophical problems but that’s my metier. It all comes out in the wash. I can gloss every point at length, chapter and verse, including graphics. Just keep asking questions. Think of it as a revelation with a variable lag: it will get said! I have twenty-five years invested in this line. I can provide the literature, bibliographies, footnotes, reference works, chapter and verse, you name it. It is a line of thought.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t count your chickens. Forget Kant and the philosophers for the moment. How did you meet Chadwick?


Freya von Moltke arranged it. She said he would do my garden for me. I completely accepted it, as I said. It was a gift. Chadwick was coming back from Australia where he thought he might settle. She knew he wouldn’t like it and she was right. She was his muse. He was very devoted to her. So when we met, I simply asked him: “Will you do a garden for us?” He said: “Yes.”

Then what?


He went downtown, bought a spade and started to dig. He didn’t ask me anything, not where, not when, not how. I found him there digging, in the space he picked, a slope below Merrill College, where the soils seemed terrible, as only poison oak and wild chaparral grew there, but he wanted a slope for a number of reasons, exposure to the sun, drainage, etc., and it was a perfect one. He turned that space into the most fertile garden in the world. He dug and he dug.

How long?

Eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, for two years, before we persuaded him to take a week-end off. You see what I mean about replanting the vital root…? He was on a mission.

And then?

And then, two years later, we took him to Tassajara as a reward–the Zen Mountain Retreat in the Carmel Valley, my friend, Baker-roshi, had started. For a week-end.        loved which The water, the river, the baths, the pool, the Narrows, tI the lfood, it. The bread. It was Shangri-la prepared and ready and waiting.

And he proposed their putting in a garden for him. food needs. garden to supply their basic

That’s when he met Richard and Virginia Baker? .

Yes. They became devoted members of the Chadwick Memorial or whatever you want to call it, morial important part of the history, a very

Chadwick is buried at Green Gulch, the Zen Farm at Muir Beach? .

Yes. They brought a stone up from Tassajara to mark his grave.  They took care of him in a way for which I will be eternally grateful after he contracted incurable cancer of the prostate. They took him back.           ey

Let’s go back to UCSC. OK


You had your garden going/growing by the time of Earth Day One in April of 1970?


Yes. It was a big triumph for us. The garden began anticipate and celebrate Earth Day and the awakening though to environmental movement which was a neo-Vitalist upsurge, a re-affirmation of the integrity of organic nature in the recognition of the dangers posed by industrial society. It was a personal triumph because I had met Gaylord Nelson, the Senator from Wisconsin, during the summer of 1969, on a wilderness wild river canoe trip in Northern Wisconsin. We summer there every year and I was on a sabbatical through the rest of the year. A few months later, I saw him announce Earth Day while watching the TODAY show. I was invited to speak at UC Berkeley, the day before Gaylord spoke, on that great and epoch making weekend of April 22, 1970.

Then what?

Exactly. Life returned to (ab)normal. Now we have celebrated the 27th anniversary. Time marches on. I hate to say it, but in my darker moments I think of Earth Day and the environmental/ecology movements as the death rattle of defeated  Vitalism. The Physicalists thought they had nailed down the lid on the corpse of dead and defeated Vitalism, but the coffin unglued, and the corpse sat up, and made this awful sound for  some decades: unh, unh, unh, unh unh unh.

This is your way of characterizing the environmental movement?

In my despair over the future. It nails my case, to reverse the metaphor: The Environmental Movement As the Death Rattle of Defeated Vitalism. We have a Club of Despair, in Santa Cruz, sort of a cultural Hemlock Society–Mary Holmes, Ralph Abraham, and a few others, are members, but only through affinity–it is not something you would recruit for. We are not exactly without hope–there is always the unexpected to watch out for, as Heraclitus said, but this is hoping against hope, where hope can break the heart, hope can be too strong. I’m thinking now of the lines from “A Lady Is Not For Burning.”

What precipitated this despairing line of thought?

Existentialism. I studied this philosophical movement when I was in school. My teacher–Tillich. was a major exponent and interpreter of it and I was influenced by him. He spoke of the outcry, the protest against industrial society, on the part of Existentialism, in all of its forms–philosophy, literature, drama, the arts. I began to think about the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society, the phrase became a mantra, the leitmotif of my thought for four decades. When the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict opened up for me, as a result of the Garden Project vs. the University, I came to see how Existentialism was chief mourner for defeated Vitalism. No one had seen it in this light and it fit perfectly into my sketch.

So existentialism is the movement of thought that picks up where Vitalism left off, mourning, as it were, the consequences for existence of the triumph and then self-destruction of industrial society.

Don’t forget –“the world above the given world of nature..”

Devoid of vital roots.

And the smashing of the atom, in the squash court in Chicago, when Fermi worried about the destruction of the universe, in a possible wayward reaction, that did it for you.

That did it for me.

The zero point of the sketch. Then Existentialism was superseded by the environmental movement?


Exactly. 1970 is as good a year as any to announce the end of Existentialism, especially in its role as chief mourner for defeated Vitalism. First 1828 and the refutation of Vitalism. Then comes Existentialism as Chief Mourner. From 1841-42 to 1970. Those are the dates for the beginning and end of Existentialism. From despair to a very fragile renewed hope. The struggle was re-enjoined. The outcry took on a different note. It was a moment of renewed hope as though something could be done and the age of environmental activism was ushered in. But the extent of self-destruction, just take the single problem of the disposal of nuclear wastes, now seems so intractable, so pervasive, so all-consuming that the re-affirmation of the integrity of organic nature takes on the character of an historical episode, a passing fancy, like the health food movement and medicinal herbs, for instance.

Wait a minute. Before you explain what you mean by that, tell me whether you think the wayward reaction happened anyhow, only in a different form.

I wondered if you would catch that. I have thought about it, partly because the concept of a “wayward reaction” is so compelling. So, in a way, they did their destruction anyhow and the wayward reaction has taken different forms, beginning with the bomb and now the problem of the disposal of nuclear wastes as well as all of the attendant health issues for those who have been exposed to radiation and so on. We’re not out of this destructive path of the wayward reaction by any means. It is a good term for suffering the consequences of what Fermi and Compton did. It sets the standard for the measure of self-destruction and when I found that Fermi had a mathematical equation for the possible wayward reaction, I thought I had found the equation for self-destruction.

Although you are still looking for it. Why is the trend so strong?

The Physicalist stronghold and the grip it has on us is the driving power of our culture, for the most part, and withstands any and all critical assaults. No one is equal to it. It is basically business as usual, with some minor modifications or concessions. Look at the history of the Superfund, as a good example, and the effort to clean up industrial society seepage. It is a juggernaut.

You don’t paint a rosy picture. What did you mean about health foods and herbs as a passing fancy.? Do you mean they are a fad?

The herbal industry has definitely been on a roll and lots of people have made lots of money, but as for the restoration of the botanical basis of health care, forget about it. Hardly a dent. I still wait for the return of the subject matter to the curriculum of the training of health professionals. This would change my mind about the fad phenomenon. Until then, it is still fringe and suspect, in terms of the structure of health education and delivery. There is little hope for an integrative medicine.

You said you see hope in the Chadwick Garden. You said it gave you and others a second chance and yet you despair.

Chadwick did give us a second chance. I don’t deny that, just when we thought it was all over. We were able to step outside of the self-destructive trend and become neo-Vitalists and step into an organic garden and affirm this best of all possible worlds, in spite of the destruction going on around us, and take Goethe’s motto for our own–we were in Arcadia.

Even though you are still a part of the self-destruction?

Of course! Everyone is who lives in this social order. How can you escape it? Now it is worldwide. Look at the effect of Chernobyl on the Lapps and the reindeer, just to juxtapose an ancient native people with an industrial society disaster. The destruction of the rainforests. Acid rain. Mercury contamination. Oil spill. Endangered species. Massive pollution everywhere you look. Think of the difficulty of transforming the oil and gas economy, which is soon to run its course, in order to effect the transition to electricity and solar power–that gives you a good idea of how entrenched the current industrial power structure is. I’ve been involved in electric vehicle technology for about five years and it is very slow in coming about.

Give me an example from your own experience of the self-destructive trend.

One comes immediately to mind. Finally, under Chadwick’s influence, we turned our backyard lawn into a garden and we grew lots of vegetables and salads. I noticed my wife was buying them from the supermarket rather than picking them in our own backyard and I thought, my god, I have to get a supermarket cart and a check out stand in order to go into my own back yard and pick the produce to eat for dinner that night.

You mean you were programmed so completely to buy produce from the store.


Exactly. It was a horrible realization.

Chadwick understood all this?

Completely. He was old-fashioned about it, almost a Luddite. He ranted and raved about the destruction of taste as a symptom of our decline. He ranted and raved about all of the shortcomings we all took for granted. But most of all he would talk about the marvels of natural processes. He would talk about the little electrical-like veins in strawberries and their relation to our taste buds, and on and on. He loved revealing mysteries of nature like the nuptial flight of the Queen Bee which he would act out before a startled audience. There was a quality of a wizard about him. John Cage perceived it. Norman O. Brown recognized it. Jacqueline Onslow-Ford communed with it. John Jeavons was drawn to it. Countless students committed their lives to it. Birds came and sat on his shoulder–I saw it with my own eyes.

Did he drive a car?

It’s one of my best stories. He drove a bicycle. A sturdy Raleigh. Then someone gave him a car and on the driver’s door was painted: ╥This Too Can Be Yours╙. One day he was going down Bay Street from the campus and a policeman stopped him for speeding, five miles an hour over the limit. Chadwick got out of the car, flipped him the keys, pointed to the sign on the door, and said, “You can read!”, and stalked off. The officer told him to stop and pulled his gun on Alan, who proceeded to walk over, disarm the officer, hit him, knock him down, throw the gun away, and leave. Well, he had to appear in court. When the judge heard the story and looked at this Shakespearean thespian in his finest blue serge suit that actually looked like a reject from Good Will, he called the officer over and bawled him out–“You arrested this distinguished gentleman, you drew your gun on this distinguished gentleman, you were disarmed by this distinguished gentleman–he took your gun away? You should be ashamed of yourself.”–and dismissed the case.  We all cheered and should have carried Alan out on our shoulders.

Didn’t you box with Chadwick once in a while?

Much to my regret. He was like a Tasmanian Devil. He came at you like a windmill gone mad, arms all flailing with a wild fury. He liked throwing clumps of soil at students just to be a mean tease and I remember when Rory lobbed one back and hit Chadwick right on the bean. It was a moment. Chadwick liked him after that. He liked it when you stood up to him, took in the fire, got some steel in your spine. He tested your mettle and almost no one at the university even knew what that was. I watched boys become men under the pressure.

What were the main influences on Chadwick?

His mother was an Anthroposophist, as the story goes, and Rudolf Steiner visited their estate called Puddleston, which we thought no longer existed, but has been restored by a wealthy family.  My friend, Alan’s grand nephew, Richard Senior, visited there and showed me photos of its restoration. Chadwick told me he received some lessons in raspberry production from Steiner when he was a boy, although you didn’t know if he made it up, he was such a Baron Munchausen. I didn’t really think that, other people did.  I enjoyed the Chadwick Myth and reveled in the legendary.  The Steiner influence was infra dig; he never made much of it. The Garden spoke for itself. It was a place of incomparable beauty and fecundity–you could see the Great Chain of Being there and climb right up to heaven. I used to get up early and go up at sunrise and pick flowers with the students. Those were the days. All the flowers were set out in a kiosk across from the garden and anyone could pick up a bouquet for their office on their way in to the campus and students would come down and get bouquets for their rooms. Once you saw the sacrifice behind this give-away you never got over it–it initiated me into thinking long and hard about an economy of gift. Everything was given away. It was my initiation into an economy of gift which returned to me in the Homeless Garden Project.

What did you think of the students at UCSC.

They were wonderful. I called them “Oceans of Desire”. It was a good metaphor, expressive of the ’60’s, when an awesome longing went up from so many, albeit with a psychedelic edge. It was another lament for me because the institution was not in tune with it. The longing went unsatisfied. The University was simply waiting for critical mass when the place would click as another campus in the system of campuses. And, of course, the Vietnam War politicized it and the repression set in. I went back up a few years ago, sort of sneaked back in and gave a course with Ralph Abraham in the History Of Mathematics, on one of our favorites–John Dee, the philosopher, mathematician, and visionary, of the British Empire, under Queen Elizabeth I.

It must have been strange for you.

I felt like Rip Van Winkle. Over twenty years had passed. And my red beard had turned white. It took me a few days to get the new metaphor that described the new generation of students and then it came to me like a revelation–“Abandoned Waifs”. To effect the look, they get their clothes from discard boxes at laundromats. Grunge is in. My nephew, Willard Ford, who was in the class, took me aside after the first lecture and told me to watch out what I said. He wanted to caution me. I innocently asked why. He said everything was monitored for racism, sexism, and class. He said it like an ideological formula. I thought I had stepped into Brave New World or Animal Farm, the University had become a negative utopia. I said you mean the content of the course is incidental to my stepping on a politically incorrect land mine or into just plain dog shit? “Sure”, he said. “Wake up, Rip!” From then on, I hallucinated a snapped shut sphincter hovering over the students’ heads in the classroom, like a surrealist painting, as if taunting me to poke it to see just how snapped shut–a far cry from the openness and generosity of spirit of decades before: from “oceans of desire” to “abandoned waifs”.

So your career was sacrificed on the altar of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict?

That’s what people tell me. How could I be tolerated at a college devoted to natural science and pursue the line of thought I had discovered? Besides, I was identified with Religious Studies as the Founding Chairman, which almost none of the scientists at my college wanted to support, and I taught in the Graduate Program-the History of Consciousness–which the scientists thought was just more frou frou. So I had three strikes against me.

It sounds like the entire knowledge production system was organized against you.

It looks that way. It was a bitter pill to swallow to get drummed out over publish or perish as the cover story for my starting an organic garden, after I had cut my teeth at Harvard and M.I.T .

So you have developed the Physicalist/vitalist conflict into a major critique of the organization of knowledge, the fate of botany as a science, the hardening of what counts for knowledge under the model of experimental laboratory protocols and the sequence

of events in terms of the steps characterizing the Physicalist victory.


The history is pretty clear. There is an account given by Hayek in his: The Counter Revolution Of Science, although we can begin the thread of our historical narrative with an account of the development of botanic gardens in the Renaissance and the establishment of scientific academies. The development can begin with Francis Bacon and his reorganization of knowledge–The Great Instauration– which we can pursue when we develop the theme of the rise of botanic gardens in the Renaissance: from the Garden of Eden and the recreation of paradise in great civic botanic gardens in the transition from medieval herb gardens to the development of scientific academies and the eventual triumph of Physicalism. Hayek describes how the French technical schools created a new type of human being– the technical engineer of industrial society. This was the outcome and triumph of the Physicalist trend: the French engineer.

So the Botanic Garden/Arcadian/Edenic beginnings of the modern period in the European Renaissance prepared the way for the development of industrial society and technocracy?

Precisely. These are the critical themes for my sketch. Francis Bacon is a key figure as is John Dee. The English Renaissance is a focal point because the themes are so powerful, given Elizabeth I as the guiding light of the movement. It was an incredible period. Dee is the tail end of the hermetic tradition and Bacon is where it turns around, although the esoteric symbolism is still intact, represented by the alchemy of Newton. It is as if the esoteric, occult side, is a symbol of the historical ferment, out of which a new world was being born, the brave new world that would lead to industrial society, the world of science and technology. Bacon was an initiate into these mysteries, the secrets of Arcadia, nurtured by a brotherhood of poet-scientist-adepts of which Dee is the relatively unknown central symbolic figure. All the occult streams, indicative of this brotherhood, converge in him. He is the Renaissance Magus. I take great pleasure in saying I know something about this period and its meaning because it takes a long time for the meaning to come clear. Much of it is still unknown territory for me, the ciphers, the actual practise of alchemy, and angel-conjuring, but there is so much information and interpretation available it is now possible to enter this arcane world and not get completely lost.

Why was Dee consigned to obscurity and everything he represented?

It is a question of the occult and the esoteric going underground, being repressed, and rejected. King James is a good example in his effort to suppress witchcraft. It is definitely a turning point. Causabon, the editor of Dee’s angel-conjuring diaries, is a good example of the debunking that set in with his accusation that Dee was a dupe as well as a charlatan, especially in his angel conjuring and his subordination to Kelly, his skryer–the technical term for crystal ball gazing or angel conjuring–Dee’s sidekick, who had a very bad reputation and was punished by having his ears cut off, so he wore a funny cap to cover the holes on either side of his head. It didn’t help that Dee was imprisoned under Queen Mary for being a sorcerer. He was lucky to have survived.

So the trend is a reductionist trend, leading to the French engineer who knows nothing of these occult streams in his service to industrial and technical society.

Once you focus on Dee as the end of the occult stream, the end of the polymath and the adept, in almost everything and go through Newton, who, even though he was a devoted alchemist, kept it all in the closet and away from public view, as if he knew the times had changed and occult sciences had to go underground or be abandoned, and then on to the French, after the Revolution, the stage is set with the scenes and actors in place. When they put the image of Athena, as the goddess of wisdom, on the altar of the Royal Abbaye of St. Denis, after emptying out the royal tombs and throwing the bones of the Kings and Queens of France in the surrounding ditches, that was it. Sacrilege was the order of the day.

So the plantocrat anticipated and preceded the eventual technocrat and there is a direct line from the botanic garden to the experimental laboratory anyhow.

I’ll get to that. We’ll go back to the establishment of botanic gardens in the European Renaissance and their ambiguity in terms of the conflict between the restoration of paradise or Eden and the origins of natural science which gives us the transition from plantocrat to technocrat. Note the irony. First, the theme of Eden and Arcadia, represented in world-wide exploration and the period of the plant hunters, who are looking for Eden and every new species they can find, especially plants of medicinal and commercial value. Second, the civic botanic garden as the compromise when they failed to locate the geographical Eden. Build your own Eden right here in the middle of town and plant it with the new species brought back by the hunters.

Third, the development of science within the botanical gardens as the seed beds for astronomy and chemistry. The trend is clear. Once you get to the French Academies and especially the development of the Ecole Polytechnique, as stated by Hayek and others, the curriculum precluded the humanities and thus eliminated what makes a person educated in the classical sense.

Hence, the obtuse engineer of industrial society, basically a know-nothing when it comes to culture, who could care less about the consequences.  Just give me a bridge to build.

So the technical or Physicalist trend had an effect on the organization of knowledge already in the 18th century?

A wholesale effect. In fact, it set up the bargain counter sale of the humanities. Hannah Arendt has a great phrase for the sell-out sale on the bargain counter of Western thought–the humanities end up at a garage sale; it sounds terrific in German, but I can’t re-locate it or I would quote it. I have pieced together the narrative line of my account from a variety of sources. Once you get the drift you can find the missing pieces–they appear as though summoned. The sequence of the literature is one of my best efforts. There is a story to be told and a host of scholars who have contributed to it. The key made it possible for me to elaborate the line, key added to key, from the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict and the synthesis of urea , to the themes of the Ontology of Life versus the Ontology of Death, to the role of Existentialism. It is one finely explicated cultural history with the history of great botanic gardens as a backdrop, including the themes of Eden and Arcadia. Finding Armytage was a big help. And then Hayek. They gave me the development of the garden academies and the plantocracy into the technical education of the Ecole Polytechnique and the Industrial Engineer. The French botanic garden is where they come together. It is one of the highest triumphs of French culture.

Continue the line.

“Technology had found its clerisy in the academies –220 of them by 1790. …Collecting, measuring and examining everything they could see or lay hands on, these academicians devised telescopes and microscopes, experimented, travelled and wrote.

Though such groups appeared at the same time and in the same places as the botanic gardens, they were in every sense, discrete. And they become more discrete as they wrote about, as well as to, each other. In the eighteenth century theirs was truly a commanding world view. …’an international general staff endowed with a strong esprit de corps’. ”

This is Armytage, who tells the story up to Hayek, whom he quotes, in The Rise of the Technocrat. Hayek makes it clear that it was in France that the scientific intellectual appeared as a new type of man of the emerging technology, with training at the Ecole Polytechnique, a school set up to produce and train the new type. The military metaphors are not just arbitrary either–it was a type of war and it laid the foundations for the military-industrial combine, Eisenhower is famous for exposing. A war against nature and then a war between contending super-powers. Here is what it took to produce such a human being to serve such a machine or The Pentagon of Power, as Mumford calls it:

“Its physico-centric curriculum (students studied mathematics, physics and chemistry exclusively) produced a new type of man, ‘appearing’, according to Professor Hayek, ‘for the first time in history’. Having never learned to interpret human life or growth in terms of mankind’s literary past (since their training did not include history, literature, or languages), they tended to see life in scientific terms. As its self-appointed spokesman Count Henri de Saint Simon (1760-1825), expressed it: ‘We must examine and co-ordinate it all from the point of view of Physicism’. ‘Physicism’ according to Saint-Simon would need a new physical ‘clergy’ to both interpret and organize society on scientific lines.” “Thus a whole generation grew up to whom that great storehouse of social wisdom, the only form indeed in which an understanding of the social processes achieved by the greatest minds is transmitted, the great literature of all ages, was a closed book. For the first time in history that new type appeared which as the product of the German Real Schule and of similar institutions was to become so important and influential in the later nineteenth and the twentieth century: the technical specialist who was regarded as educated because he had passed through difficult schools but who had little or no knowledge of society, its life, growth, problems and values, which only the study of history, literature and languages can give.” Hayek: p. 196

“It has been well described how the whole of the teaching at the Ecole Polytechnique was penetrated with the positivist spirit. The very type of engineer with his characteristic outlook, ambitions, and limitations was here created. That synthetic spirit which would not recognize sense in anything that had not been deliberately constructed, that love of organization that springs from sources of military and engineering practices, the aesthetic predilection for everything that had been consciously constructed over anything that had ‘just grown,’ was a strong new element which was added to–and in the course of time even began to replace–the revolutionary ardor of the young politicians.” p. 202-3

You must jump in your seat when you find such passages. They are like buzz words for your synthetic construction versus organic growth.

Yes, it’s true. It is like a treasure hunt. The step from Williams to Prest to Armytage to Hayek to Voegelin is one fine progression of thought, let me tell you, all grist for my mill and don’t forget, I went from Harvard to M.I.T., to teach humanities because they wanted to put a little frosting on the nerd, so we gave them Homer.

Who do you recommend for the clearest presentation of the spiritual deformation under Physicalism?

I think Eric Voegelin is the best for the most succinct understanding. He makes it clear why the spiritual dimension, the dimension of depth, as Tillich called it, the dynamics of ultimate concern, flattened out and became banal. Tillich was equally prescient and so was Rosenstock Huessy. They make one rare trio of thinkers on this issue and I consider them my finest teachers, along with Howard Hong, at St. Olaf, the great Kierkegaard scholar, who was my first teacher of philosophy and my guiding light.

What does Voegelin have to say?

Here is Voegelin’s summary:

“The symbols of ideological dogmatism dominating the contemporary thought of Western societies do not express the reality of knowledge but the rebellion against it. They do not attempt to draw men into participation by persuasion; rather, they constitute a language of obsession designed to prevent the contact with reality, a language developed by men who have closed themselves against the ground. The access to consciousness as man’s center of order is blocked massively by the ideologies of Positivism, Marxism, historicism, scientism, behaviorism, also by means of psychologizing and sociologizing, by world intentionalistic methodologies and phenomenologies. For in the symbolism of the rebellions one cannot find the logos of the reality of knowledge, unless it be in the mode of second reality which is present even in the rebellion and its symbols, but which can be recognized as such only from the reality of knowledge. The nihilistic rebellion cannot be overcome on its own level of experiences and symbols, for instance, by means of a criticism of ideology, culture, or the times, as attempted by intellectuals who no longer feel easy in their situation. Such attempts can lead only to a confused stirring around in the nothingness of lost reality. The non-noetic thought about order of the kind that rebellion produces offers no point of contact to the noesis. Anamnesis, p. 187-88.

What does noesis mean?

It is the Greek word for knowledge. Logos and noesis are structurally related. Logos is the rational order of reality which makes language possible and noesis is the rational faculty for knowledge. This classic order is now under attack by deconstruction and its criticism of logo-centrism and the onto-theological tradition–my tradition! I can see now how Kierkegaard is a key figure in this development. His pseudonymous authorship takes on a new meaning in the light of Voegelin’s remarks, as though hypothetical or fictitious figures appear on the scene who have no reality or I should say no historical actuality. They are representatives of the disturbed bourgeois intellectual who are devoid of the inwardness and spiritual subjectivity his Edifying Discourses address. Once you get the sense of the damage done to human spirituality you start to wonder about the dark side of the science establishment.

Do you think science is evil?

I have thought about it for a long time. It is an irresistible conclusion, once you get the drift. Clearly, not science as such. But this specific ideological trend within science generally, what is known as scientism: the ideological stronghold of science that has become all-consuming and is now under a strong attack–Physicalism. There is clearly an evil side to it in its anti-spiritual revolt. And it has brought us to the late stage of the self-destruction of our society–industrial society. Karl Jaspers is the only one I know who has addressed the problem head on. He has an essay entitled: “Is Science Evil?” He backs off and doesn’t carry it through. Erich Voegelin has more courage. In his “The Origins of Scientism”, he gets positively nasty. He calls the Physicists eunuchs, having undergone castration of their spiritual life in order to enter the ranks and take the Oath, the castrati of Saint Simon’s clerisy, the version of a modern priesthood. Instead of a monastic vow, they take the Physicalist Oath. He puts the issue as well as anyone in his formulation of the scientistic creed:

1. the assumption that the mathematized science of natural phenomena is a model science to which all other sciences ought to conform;

2. that all realms of being are accessible to the methods of the sciences of phenomena;

3. that all reality which is not accessible to sciences of phenomena is either irrelevant or, in the more radical form of the dogma, illusionary, nonsense, in terms of technical logic.

4. (I would add a fourth) constructed models that are self-referential as no one has a clue about a real reference–reality is what anyone thinks it is–it is up for grabs.

He would be the first to go on record in the affirmation that science is evil in this precise sense of positivistic scientism, what is known as Physicalism. He calls it an intellectual attitude that draws on the prestige of the mathematized sciences in the service of an antispiritual revolt for the purpose of civilizational destruction. That is as well as the matter can be put. It is what Page Smith meant by killing the spirit, even though he restricted his critique to the University and higher education.

Voegelin also cites Hayek’s: “The Counter-Revolution of Science” and “Scientism and the Study of Society.” Economica, vol. 8 and 9-11.

He makes it clear that “we are still far from a full comprehension of the social and political disaster that scientism has worked and still is working, and we are equally far from a full understanding of the sources from which the movement draws its strength.” This is exactly what I have concentrated on for the last forty years.

Didn’t you know Voegelin at Harvard?

Yes, I was teaching at M.I.T., when he was giving courses at Harvard and I went over to hear him lecture. You had the sense that he could communicate sources like no one else. Aristotle is very difficult to understand and Voegelin could deliver him on a plate. Blue plate special. He had been a big influence on me because I was at sea at Divinity School, studying for my exam in Old Testament theology, which was a mass of confusion, when his first volume of Order and History came out: Israel and Revelation. It was the answer to a prayer. He is one of the best interpreters of the history of cultural symbolism I have ever read. As I mentioned, I have had a series of great teachers: Howard Hong, Paul Tillich, Paul Ricoeur, Erich Voegelin, and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, and Hans Jonas, all of whom I had the good fortune to know personally, with the exception of Jonas. I had coffee with Voegelin after every lecture when he would hold court with a few graduate students who would ask him if so and so was a gnostic, which I found very tiresome. Voegelin had a bad side which was his politics, a very profound version of William Buckley, whom I abhor and he had a big stick to hit the spooks with and the spooks were the gnostics, all the know-it-ails in the history of thought, but for him. I should probably be more careful about this as I have not made a study of his political thought and my uninformed opinion is an impression made on me from Voegelin’s critics. I don’t want it to cloud my appreciation for his work in cultural symbolism.

Would you say that Voegelin is your best interpretive source for the theme of the self-destruction of industrial society?

Yes, thanks for asking that. It has vexed me for years-how to adequately describe the dynamic or even demonic structure of self-destruction, which is actually how Tillich defines the demonic. Here is just one quote from Voegelin that expresses the point well:

“Under the impact of the modern advance of science, however, this core [of rational-utilitarianism] has acquired the characteristics of a cancerous growth. …the mass creed that the utilitarian dominion over nature through science should and will become the exclusive preoccupation of man, as well as the exclusive determinant for the structure of society. In the nineteenth century this idea of utilitarian exclusiveness crystallized in the belief that the dominion of man over man would ultimately be replaced by the dominion of man over nature, and that the government of men would be replaced by the administration of things. At this point we have to guard against the error into which critics of the totalitarian movements have fallen so frequently–the belief that an idea is politically unimportant because philosophically it is stark nonsense. The idea that structure and problems of human existence can be superseded in historical society by the utilitarian segment of existence is certainly plain nonsense; it is equivalent to the idea that the nature of man can be abolished without abolishing man, or that the spiritual order can be taken out of existence without disordering existence. Any attempt at its realization can lead only to the self-destruction of a society.”

This is the evil that is science or Physicalism?

As Voegelin says: “Here we can see in the raw the fascination of power that exudes from the new science: it is so overwhelming that it blunts one’s awareness of the elementary problems of human existence; science becomes an idol that will magically cure the evils of existence and transform the nature of man.”

And then to add insult to injury, the notion prevails that obvious calamities which accompany the age of science must be cured by more science. I’m sure that Kenneth Thimann, the Provost of my college at UCSC, Crown College, thought this about the consequences of Agent Orange. Science produced it and more science will take care of it. Just be patient. Which is difficult to

tell a patient suffering from its effects.

Is there an evil side to Vitalism?

That is an interesting question. On a trip to Pittsburgh, while visiting my friends, the Von Eckartsbergs, a friend of theirs who is into philosophy of science starts to chat and I tell her about my interest in the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences and she says: “Oh, you’re interested in Nazi Science!” That was a jaw dropper. Nazi science was Vitalist. It skewed everything for a moment. There is a recent book, very muddled and wrong-headed, almost a caricature of a scholarly work, as if done by a perverse comedian, on the involvement of the Nazi movement in Steiner’s biodynamics through Rudolf Hess who was an Anthropop. So you see how hard it is to keep things straight or your head screwed on right.

Wait a minute. You didn’t ans wer the question. Is Vitalism evil or does it have an evil


If Vitalism was restored in Nazi science, then, of course, there were evil aspects. Nazi science was evil. I don’t know enough about it, but for the book I mentioned, which is so garbled it is impossible to untangle. I refer to Vitalism as the representative of organic nature and what Physicalism refuted and renounced. You asked and I can think of a counterpart example which I gave, but that doesn’t falsify the central meaning as I use the term, although anything touched by Nazism is tainted. It is undoubtedly partly why the term is difficult to reclaim.

But don’t you make that judgment about Physicalism, which you seem to see as a unitary


This is a very important opener. I can see a whole nest of issues through the opening which I would have to think through and have not done so. I gave you the original lump, the various affiliated trends or points of view, early on. To enter into a critique of Physicalism would entail a very detailed study. I have two recent books on the subject with an enormous bibliography. It would take some months just to get up to speed on the literature of Physicalism, but I don’t have the interest to enter the technical discussons. It is boring to me. I would have to study Willard Van Ormand Quine, who is considered the leading philosopher of the subject, my enemy. I would rather eat tripe, the only food that makes me sick. So it is a standard philosophy of science subject matter. I admit I gloss over all that and mostly use the term as a key to the subject matter at its most formal, which is why I was dismayed that Kuhn, whose death was announced today, by the way, did not fill out the historical case. His New York Times obituary even mentions his interest in the historical case; he used simple anecdotal or illustrative examples rather than the broad sweep of the two contenders I see as paradigmatic. It is too bad because Physicalism and Vitalism would have given such teeth to his work, although, as I said, I can see why he didn’t do it because he would have been so partial to Physicalism. His formalistic account lacks the cultural context of the sociology of knowledge.

So you sweep up the issues into a generalized discussion of Physicalism and Vitalism hoping not to distort the issues too much through over-simplification.

That’s a good way to put it. I hope I succeed. But at what? At this level, this interview, it is simply a matter of talking about it. I would have to write a carefully constructed account in order to make my case. This interview is the easy way. Here I can sketch it out and hope the reader takes it from there or waits for any improved sequel. It is more a matter of opening the issue, looking down from above, reluctant to enter the fray, although that should be done, but it would take so much time, painstakingly working out the issues step by step, from either side. I have to admit, I don’t have time for that. I give the schematic and that provides a basic orientation.

I can see that there is a certain level of discussion you have carved out for yourself, a certain level of cultural analysis, where it is not necessary to exhaust the meaning of key terms in order to know what they mean. It is like using the word idealism, hopefully correctly, which is seldom the case, without entering the ocean of materials on the debate over what it is and what it means.

Most academics have their guns cocked ready to shoot as soon as someone says the equivalent of “bird”. Tillich can help here in his distinguishing between two types of meaning: definitional and configurational. I like the second type even though it is not as esteemed as the former. It is the old conflict between univocal and equivocal, to which Paul Ricoeur has devoted so much thought in his work on hermeneutics and his interest in symbol and metaphor. Specificity of meaning and a gestalt of meaning are the two sides: nail it down versus let it breathe. Meaningful pictures of issues are often more instructive than formal definitions, although that’s where cognitive knowledge in the form of propositional content nails the point. Unfriendly interlocutors can always play dumb and say: “I don’t see it.” They don’t get the picture. I would prefer one illuminating anecdote to one verifiable proposition, but I have always been more daydreamer than logician.

I also see that you try to reach a larger audience than a strictly academic one and address yourself accordingly to bring them into the story or the account, and then they can go peruse the literature however they care to and make up their own mind.

I don’t see this material taught within a university context because there are too many vested interests involved to get a free hearing and besides it is too generalist, as you say, too interdisciplinary and that is completely against the trend. So my only hope for a hearing is with a wide and fairly well-educated audience who will take me at my word and, as you say, make up their mind. The university is like a prison when it comes to ideas like these.

I suppose you are familiar with Foucault’s discussion of society as a prison?


Yes, it is germane here. I was thinking of him, in fact. I am fond of the superb summary of this theme in Habermas and his discussion of Foucault–how the French, in a given year in the 17th century, over a few months, rounded up all the social undesirables in Paris and locked them up and how the penal institution became the measure of social structure. Voegelin ends his piece on scientism on a reverse Foucault note–the insane have succeeded in locking the sane in the asylum. He notes that the “scientistic utilitarian dream of transforming society into a prison from which no escape was possible began to take shape after the middle of the eighteenth century in the works of Helvetius and Bentham.” (p. 494.) The possibilities of personal escape into the freedom of the spirit was what Chadwick’s Garden represented to a generation of students. This was the liberating effect of “flower-power” and an “economy of gift”, based on an “ethic of superabundance”.

Isn’t there a Chadwick style garden at the San Francisco Prison?

Yes. It is a famous project run by Catherine Sneed, although none of the convicts can eat any of the produce they grow. Can you beat that? The prison only allows for pre-processed institutional food, which, when you think of it, sounds consistent. Why give criminals good organic produce even if they grow their own? All of the organic farm produce is sold on the market. Although it defies belief, it is what you might expect.

So Chadwick was a gift and he gave it all away as a gift.


He taught me the meaning of the principle of plenitude in an economy of gift, where you have it spilling over in your lap, heaped up, more than enough for everyone, as in the words of the Apostle Paul: the ethic of superabundance. I take this very seriously. The slogan for this economy of gift is “too much zucchini”, which is always the case if you have ever grown any.

Doesn’t “too much zucchini” refute theories of the limitation of food production like Malthus?


Chadwick and his food production system–the Biodynamic and the French Intensive– is the refutation of Malthus. But you have to remember, the Chadwick System is dependent on an economy of gift, not the economy of greed and scarce resources that Malthus depended on in his population theory. Malthus is the bad penny in the capitalist camp. Paul Ricoeur describes the Chadwick economy of gift in his essay on “The Golden Rule.” I was looking through an old manuscript I started and didn’t finish about our first nonprofit–U.S.A. (University Services Agency). It is called “How To Become A Spiritual Millionaire, Where Money Is No Object.” I was amazed to find some of the seeds of these themes in the text which is over twenty-five years old. I plan to finish it and put it on my home page on the Internet.

I know that this leads into your association with J. C. Penny and the Golden Rule theme and so on, but let’s leave that for later. What about Goethe? You refer to him as the source for the Chadwick tradition.


Goethe was one of the major Vitalist figures of the 18th- 19th centuries, which makes him a central reference point. The link to Goethe, for us, was Rudolf Steiner, whose system of food and flower production–Biodynamics–Chadwick practiced. This represented the Vitalist tradition I am at pains to elaborate. Goethe was the inspiration for Steiner, so we had a Vitalist line from Goethe through Steiner to Chadwick. We should have had a baseball team; we could have specialized in triple plays.

Wasn’t Steiner an editor of Goethe’s writings?

Steiner was the editor of Goethe’s scientific writings as a young scholar at the Weimar Archive and because Goethe was a great botanist and wrote extensively on botany and even coined the term “morphology”, Steiner picked up Goethe’s botany as the source for his Biodynamics.

This is an inference on your part?

Of course. I assume that Steiner, as Goethe’s editor, familiar with his botanic writings, developed Biodynamics out of this interest. Think of the symbolic aspect. Goethe loses in his effort to refute Newton on optics and a theory of color and tries to stabilize botany against the Newtonian assault and he gets a clairvoyant–Rudolf Steiner–one of the most controversial figures of the next century– to carry the ball with his botanical interests. This spiritualist direction of Vitalism is very difficult to assess as Steiner is such a mixed bag as is the case with anything occult and esoteric. To anyone unsympathetic, it looks like a form of insanity. But, in Steiner’s case, there was such a strong creative impulse in so many diverse areas, he commands a certain measure of respect. I am always drawn to the analogy in architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright and the theme of the organic. I was amazed to learn long ago that Olgivanna, Wright’s last wife, was a student of Gurdieff, who was another representative of the esoteric tradition and even more controversial than Steiner, partly because he was a tyrannical bully.

But you seem to emphasize the scholarly side of Steiner and his relation to Goethe as the source for the Vitalist stream that came to Santa Cruz.


Steiner was very much aware of the Vitalist orientation of Goethe, as evidenced, for instance, in his effort to refute Newton’s Optics, in his experiments with prisms and his theory of color. Steiner wrote a good book called: Goethe The Scientist. I’ll bet it isn’t read by anyone in higher education today where Steiner is universally ignored, let alone the scientific interests of Goethe, although there is some scholarly literature on the color theory. Goethe saw Newton as the bad guy–the Arch-Physicalist, in spite of his closet alchemical interests, which Goethe would have shared. Here there is a funny cross-over. Goethe trying to be a scientist and expending vast effort on it with painstaking experiments and Newton spending more time in the closet on alchemy than anything else and trying to keep it all secret because it defied the law of gravity.

I can see how these themes lead into endless tributaries and unending inquiries.

You have to realize that some of this is my own construction built upon what I have learned from the sources over the years. I can pretty well pinpoint what I have formulated and what I have relied upon in the literature as the foundation for my studies. I have a good retention of the scholarly discussion which I continue to pursue. After twenty-five years, the list of references gets to be a burden, although I have an appetite for it that grows by what it feeds on. I was just thinking of a book I recently read about the Newton/Goethe color/optics conflict, a great early instance of the Physicalist/Vitalist theme. The bibliography has item after item I would like to read, just on the color theory issue, some of which I have pursued. When you are teaching you get the chance to offer a course or a seminar on such subjects and that gives you the chance to work up the material. I lost that opportunity over twenty-five years ago, so much of my discussion is cursory and lacking in scholarly acumen which research for courses provides as well as discussion with students and colleagues.

What did you learn about the Goethe/Newton conflict?

I remember finding out that Edward Land thought Goethe was right and Newton was wrong and that he had spoken and written on the issue. I called Polaroid to get copies of his articles but they never arrived. Anyhow, I know where to find them. This is an example of the never-ending character of two major ideologies, one victorious in the defeat of the other–the discussion has no end. It is not my interest to penetrate any of the technical discussions, partly because I lack the competence to do so, but it is my interest to be informed of them and pursue them sufficiently so I am familiar with the issues and the scholarly discussion.

So the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict has had great organizing power for your studies?

Very much so. I think it is the key development in the history and philosophy of science and it is so neglected because most scholars line up with Physicalism and the victory over Vitalism as a foregone conclusion. There is no contest. It was decided over a century and a half ago. The defeat and refutation of Vitalism is like beating a dead horse which is a terrific metaphor especially if one thinks of the paper by Freud and the description in Dostoievsky. Physicalist scientists don’t see the implications for the undermining of organic nature and the move from the garden to the lab, from organic integrity to artificial synthesis. It is the classic case of paradigm formation in the structure of scientific revolutions: this is the revolution, which Kuhn never specified in his famous book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, as we mentioned. He formalized it as though he acceded to the fait accompli. of the victory of Physicalism over Vitalism. He wasn’t going to get caught up in a defense of Vitalism as an acceptable paradigm in order to dramatize and exemplify the revolution in the very historical cases that are the point. I wrote to him about his ignoring the historical case that exemplified his thesis but he never responded. Hardly anyone wants to defend Vitalism, as such, because it is the name of a defeated and rejected point of view–a dead horse. Then it revived in the environmental and ecology movements as the great criticism of industrial society after the Earth Day celebration in 1970.

Do you ever wonder if you’re wrong?

I’m reminded of a talk I gave on the subject at Barnard, at the invitation of Elaine Pagels. Her husband, Heinz Pagels, was in the audience. He was a famous physicist, very tall, very imposing. He was the first to raise his hand and I thought to myself, “oh boy, here it comes”. He got up and said: “Professor Lee, the reason Vitalism lost is because it was wrong!” He said the last word as if it was a winning world series pitch, although for me it was a bean ball. I didn’t know what to say and I was too tired to duck.


I guess I didn’t make a very good case for my view. It is hard to defend a defeated point of view such as Vitalism, especially against a smart physicist. And right and wrong is not the issue for me. This question could open up a larger discussion which leads to one of my favorite themes–the confession of self-delusion. I have learned about the meaning of this confession from Mark’s Gospel and Socrates and the tradition of Negative Theology, also known as Apophatic Theology, represented by Dionysius the Areopagite and Nicholas Cusanus. But this is a particular theme in terms of a special tradition of mystical theology, where self-delusion is a consequence of original sin. I may be wrong about certain facts I have tried to memorize by carefully checking again and again to make sure I have the date right, like 1828. If I had that wrong, say, it would be stunningly embarrassing to me. Such things happen. I may be more off base than wrong about the identity of synthetic and organic urea. I have worried about that and haven’t been able to carry it through to my satisfaction.

You mean synthetic and organic urea could be identical? Wouldn’t that ruin your case?

It would be the difference between arguing at a theoretical level regarding the fate of the integrity of organic nature and a particular aspect or experiment in the history of science. The drift is clear to me even without the hold-out over the identity or difference of synthetic and organic in the case of urea or anything else. I have to penetrate to a level of comprehension of the issues which I feel I have not achieved.

Where else might you be wrong?

I may be wrong about interpreting certain key events and themes, such as Fermi’s supposed formula for the wayward reaction. I have tried to check where I found out about it in Richard Rhodes’ book on the making of the atomic bomb and I couldn’t find it on the first re-read. So you begin to wonder if you dreamed about it. I corresponded with Philip Morrison, who is the Book Editor for Scientific American and one of the members of the Manhattan Project. I asked him about the formula and he wrote back and corrected me but he misunderstood what I was after–I wanted to know about the Chicago event and not the Los Alamos event, the smashing of the atom not the detonation of the bomb. He said there was no risk. He even did the math, himself, he said. I wrote again, but he didn’t respond. Just this one point has been a sore spot with me. I have Fermi’s Collected Works–I bought the two volumes just to have them, one is in Italian, but the equation was not there. I have called the University of Chicago Physics Department, the Fermi Lab, the Fermi Archive. To no avail. They told me to hire a graduate student to go through the material and that’s where it ended. So I’m stuck on that one. There are a few such examples where I have made symbolic hay out of whatever and I╒m not sure if the facts are right.

Like what?

Goethe’s Urplant in the Paduan Garden. The Italians may have made it up. Goethe was there, that is known, but whether he designated the palm tree–the Chaemerops humilis– in question, as the urplant, is suspect. This could be confused with their naming it “Goethe’s Palm”, as a simple tribute to his visit. On Goethe’s own testimony, he thought of the metamorphosis of plants in Sicily when he was in Palermo. I keep thinking that the issues raised are somewhat independent of the occasion that illustrates them. They are illustrative anecdotal accounts independent of their factual bases. But I worry about it. The Physicalist/Vitalist conflict, at least, is perfectly clear.

Who else has written on this besides the list you have already given?


I mentioned Michael Polanyi, who has a nice section on “Scientific Controversies” in his Personal Knowledge, which is to the point. He makes clear that it is a matter of conversion from one paradigm to the other, almost like two religions or ultimate concerns. This is what makes them ideologies. You have to enter a very carefully traversed field of thought at this point where much discussion has gone on in the history and philosophy of science. Ernst Cassirer has a chapter on Goethe and Vitalism in his The Problem of Knowledge. Paul Feyerabend is one of the most symptomatic in his tweaking the debate. He was an anarchist in thought and liked calling scientific method: “the rule of thumb”. I like that. I wish I was as smart as he was. He was able to enter the debate with all the power of his intellect as a professional expert whereas I have a kind of bird’s eye view of the issues. A cock robin’s eye view.

So Goethe is seminal as a representative of the Vitalist tradition?

Absolutely. His Faust is a parable of the coming age and selling your soul to the Devil to unveil nature’s mysteries–what a way to put it–what Voegelin means by spiritual castration–more like selling your spiritual balls to the Devil. I tried to make the point that it goes right straight through to Freud, who mentions, in his Autobiography, how he had to check his Faustian tendencies in order to enter the experimental lab, which is a kind of double negative. But more than the Ode to Oath example, my favorite is the urpflanze or urplant, a typically German construction, a primal or archaic plant, a metaphysical plant, the plant of plants, the morphological exemplar of all plant evolution. It’s tricky to put it just right but one can take off from the idea and play with it. There is a book on Goethe’s alchemy, where the urplant is an alchemical idea related to the transformation of the human spirit analogous to plant formation. That’s why I call the urplant “the vital root”, exactly what industrial society would uproot and what Kant recoiled from, because he bought into the Physicalist trend of reductionism. The Vital Root of Existence–what a nice ring it has to it, especially since I developed a second career in the medicinal herbal industry and actually became a vital rooter in my role as cheerleader for medicinal herbs.

Isn’t there some old tradition of thought on “roots’?

I’m reminded of “the roots” of Empedocles in the Presocratic tradition. He was the first to speak of the four elements as the “roots” which are also the divinities–Zeus, Hera, Aidoneus, and Nestis, which shows the transition from mythic imagery to rational concept in a very nice way, inasmuch as these divinities represent earth, air, fire and water. There is a recent book on the tradition by Peter Kingsley: Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic, Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition.

Expand on Goethe’s urplant.

Goethe dreamt up his urplant as the exemplar of botanical morphology and then wanted to find one–he went in search of it in his famous Italian Journey in the late 18th century. Now this is partly fanciful and partly based on the literature and the evidence–he had discussions with Schiller on just this topic, which are well known. He walked to Padua, where the oldest botanical garden in the Western world was established, in the long line of great civic botanical gardens, an effort to re-establish paradise, or the garden of Eden, so indicative of the European Renaissance.

So you see this journey as symbolic of your themes?

Yes, it has a great relation. The anniversary of Goethe’s walk–the bicentennial anniversary–was celebrated in 1988 and I organized an evening gala and gave a talk. Jack Stauffacher did a beautiful commemorative broadside. The motto, as I said, became important to us, as we took it as our own, which gave me the Arcadian theme. Goethe was even enrolled in the Arcadian Society in Rome and gives a detailed description as well as the text of his initiation. So that was an impressive association with his motto–his Arcadian journey. He was definitely looking for the urplant, just as he was looking for the roots of classical culture in the ruins of Rome and elsewhere. He also had a vision of the urplant in the botanical garden in Palermo while he was thinking about the Odyssey. Think of the great epic tradition, ending with Goethe, beginning with Homer, and then Virgil and Dante, the great national epics of Western literature, add Milton and Shakespeare, who divide the honors for England, or, more appropriately Spencer, as the Fairie Queen is part of the Arcadian thematic, with Goethe thinking about Odysseus’ bed as a kind of ur-tree, vitally rooted in Ithaca, where one of the bedposts is a living olive tree, around which Odysseus constructs his bed and his bedroom, to give himself a sense of place. The Homeric vital root: Odysseus’ olive tree bed, the secret sign he shares with Penelope, so that she knows it is indeed her husband who has returned–to their bed.

What were the discussions Goethe had with Schiller about the urplant?

They are famous. Erich Heller wrote about their encounter and discussions in The Disinherited Mind. Schiller was a kind of empiricist and had a hard time following Goethe’s more Platonic way of formulation. Even though Schiller was a poet, he seemed to lack the imagination for the concept of the urplant. When Goethe described it to him he called it “just an idea”, which to a Platonist is absurd. He said: “But that is no experience, that is an idea.” It annoyed Goethe. Ideas are experiential and existential, which is what Goethe answered. He said: “Then I can only be too glad to have ideas without knowing it, and to see them with my very eyes.” He could see his urplant in the plants he looked at just as Plato could see the forms in Socrates. It is a removal of veils. A revelation. Schiller couldn’t see it or grasp it or be grasped by it. “How can there ever be given an experience which would be adequate to an idea? Surely it is the very essence of an idea, that an experience can never be equal to it!”

So Schiller was a Kantian. What about subsequent thinkers. Is anyone interested in the urplant theme?

Heisenberg writes about the urplant idea in an essay on Goethe, as if Goethe were after a kind of early version of DNA in terms of the plant kingdom. It is a fascinating theme and many issues come to bear on it. I would urge you to read Heller’s book–The

Disinherited Mind— because it is right on the mark. Incidentally, in a dream last night, I was thinking about Husserl’s Origins of Geometry and suddenly made the association with Goethe’s urplant. Goethe was interested in what Husserl calls “idealities” and their structural meaning. So, in this sense, Goethe was a phenomenologist and the urplant was what could be called “an a priori of plant structure”. What Husserl has to say about the nature of geometry and the figures of pure space and time could be transposed to Goethe’s urplant. It is a high level of abstraction, but no less meaningful for all that–you have to learn the language, which I have been struggling with for a couple of years. What obviously applies to geometry and mathematical structure would not seem appropriate for botany, but I think Goethe saw idealities in this way. He did not want to mathematize botany or nature as Husserl accuses Galileo of doing, but he wanted to formulate the meaning of ideal forms for botany in terms of plant structure. This is one of the problems in mathesis universalis, whether conceptual idealities can or should be reduced to mathematicals.


Or in what sense they exist?

Yes, another perplexity, which is why Goethe presumably went in search of one. The existence of ideal entities is a good way to think about it. I have thought a lot about this in terms of Socrates rendering the forms existential–he embodied them–he was transparent to them in his confession of self-delusion, which opened him, as it were, freed him for true idealities, so that Plato could see them in him, masked, as they were, by his ugliness. So little attention is paid to this in favor of flattening the meaning. Socrates the saviour is a tradition almost entirely lost, certainly among philosophy departments, where the Greeks are looked upon as the first thinkers, understood mainly as logicians, and the first scientists, which really dumbs it down. Plato coined the term theology because of his insight into the being of Socrates, the bearer of the forms as well as the pharmakon, the bearer of the remedy, who is the wounded healer, or the scapegoat. Incarnation is a good word to describe these existential idealities which can only be expressed symbolically.

What interests you about Goethe’s Italian Journey besides the urplant theme? Say some more about the Arcadian theme.


The slogan for his journey, which, as you know by now, we adopted for the garden project: Et in Arcadia Ego. “And In Arcadia I Am”. And I am in that paradise garden where the affirmation of creation and the goodness and sweetness of life is made, especially if there is a pear tree with ripe pears. Eden and Arcadia link the two traditions–biblical and classical–Israel and Greece–in the vision of the original garden–the ur-garden. One of the central themes of my scholarly work is this link between the Biblical and the Greek Classical traditions. The Arcadian theme is pictured by Poussin, in his famous “Shepherds of Arcadia”, at the Louvre, where the Arcadian inscription is the voice from the tomb announcing the affirmation of the goodness and sweetness of life from the point of view of death. I should say retrospective affirmation, in keeping with the nostalgic passing of the old culture. The affirmation of the goodness of creation is another theme gardens represent. In the painting by Poussin, four youths ponder the inscription on a tomb in the wilderness, what could be in an abandoned garden. They look at that the voice from the tomb is Western culture speaking to them: Arcadia Entombed. There you have it with a kind of pained recognition in an image and a phrase.

So retrospective here means at the end of Western culture and not just one’s personal death.


So the story goes that Goethe designated a palm tree (Chaemerops humilis) in the middle of the Paduan Garden as the Urplant. The Paduans were so honored by the visit, they named it “Goethe’s Palm” and built a glass tower to encase it. When I saw it in the 1970’s, on a visit with my friend, Rolf Von Eckartsberg, I thought, what do you know, the vital root of existence, squirreled away under glass, in the oldest botanical garden in the Western world, to wait out the rise, triumph, and self-destruction of industrial society, as a world above the given world of nature and therefore devoid of vital roots. That’s what I thought when I saw the urplant. There you have the whole thing in a nutshell. And then Goethe goes on from Padua to Rome where he is initiated into the Arcadian Society. It must have been one of the high points of his life. And then on to Palermo, Sicily, where he had another vision of the urplant in a reverie about Homer and Odysseus’ olive tree bed.

So, for you, the urplant is a philosophical principle and you engage in the same interpretive exercise, thinking through the permutations or metamorphoses of the principle, in the spirit of Goethe. So Goethe’s Urplant is Heidegger’s Unknown Root.


And even part of the quest for a mathesis universalis, which is usually restricted to mathematical logic, but could include botany as well, especially if you want to think through the metaphysical meaning of metaphors like “vital roots” and “grounding” and “the earth”. The urplant is a spiritual substance given to me in the form of thought, although in this case, I visited it, rather like visiting the relic of a saint. The urplant is a relic of Vitalism. It reminds me of the counterpart example–urea. They actually have some of Woehler’s original stuff in a Museum of Science in Munich, another order of relic.  I saw it with my own eyes on a visit there.

What do you mean by the quest for a mathesis universalis?

What is universally true. The word basal comes to mind, I don’t know why. Basal concepts, does that make sense? Rock bottom. Euclidean geometry is the model–true for everyone everywhere no matter what. Goethe tried to make the urplant something like that. Fundamental. The a priori of botanical thought, but also an insight into the fundamental principle. Transcendence toward the ground is the phrase Voegelin uses. Thought in pursuit of its own axiomatics, would be one way to put it, a set of propositions that sums up or formulates the cognitive content. Theses full of sense.

I still don’t understand.

Mathesis universalis is a theme in the history of Western thought made famous by Descartes and Leibniz. It relates to the mathematical foundations of thought generally, as in Leibniz’s unsuccessful attempt to develop a universal calculus. I am interested in the relation of

mathesis universalis as a system of signs establishing the fundamental principles or axioms of any structure of thought whatever; not only mathematics, but any of the sciences or divisions of thought seeking their own foundation through basic axioms that are constitutive of the subject matter. Goethe was after something like this with his urplant that I see related to the search for a universal system of meaning. He saw it in botany whereas Leibniz and Descartes saw it in mathematics and logic. Kant thought it was restricted to math and physics.  Another association is the search for a universal language.  There is an excellent review of the historic theme by Umberto Eco.

But this cascade of terms, … “squirreled away under glass…” Anyhow, you see the urplant or Goethe’s Palm under glass in the oldest botanical garden as a thematic expression of your concept of vital roots and the danger industrial society poses for organic nature. I now see what you mean by a constellation of ideas or configurative thought.


I tried to make an acronym of the whole line of thought, but it didn’t spell, although I have summed it up in the old children’s story and song: “Who Killed Cock Robin?” The point is you could have a potted Chaemerops, which I have in my backyard and some synthetic urea, which I have in my herbarium, under glass, in fact, and you have the two icons of my Vitalist/Physicalist conflict.

The imagery is compelling. I see the palm under glass next to the tomb in the Arcadian wilderness.

That’s a more salubrious coupling than the urplant and urea. So get the sequences here. Goethe meets the young Woehler in a rock shop in Frankfort and goes home and finishes Faust, having met him–the Faust-to-be– and Woehler grows up to synthesize urea and becomes one of the fathers of organic (synthetic) chemistry. I’m in London and go to a bookstall and find a book entitled: Crucibles: The Lives and Achievements of the Great Chemists. I experience a small shiver and think, “whoa, maybe there’s a chapter on Woehler”, and I open to the Woehler/Goethe meeting. That’s a rare find about a chance encounter of a most unusual kind. The champion of Vitalism meets the kid who will subvert everything he stands for when he grows up–the Faust-to-be! Goethe was stuck in terms of finishing Faust. I imagined him going home to complete it, after seeing Woehler in the rock shop and intuiting who he would become. Urea is synthesized in 1828 and Vitalism is refuted. Newton triumphs over Goethe the second time (the first time was in the Optics/Theory of Color debate) through the chemistry of artificial synthesis, if you want to see it that way. The Physicalist juggernaut of mathematical physics picks up Organic Chemistry and a dead head of steam. Goethe dies in 1832, and Existentialism begins in 1841-42, in the Berlin Lectures of Schelling, which were a kind of civic sensation. Engels, Bakhunin, Jacob Burckhardt, and Soren Kierkegaard are sitting in the class, because they got there early. Some class. Think of looking down on those guys dozing off.

I see now why you call Existentialism chief mourner for defeated Vitalism, following, as it does, on the heels of the defeat and refutation of Vitalism, after the urea experiment. I suppose you carry through the subsequent steps of the Physicalist victory.


Yes, they mostly fell into place. I was amazed. This is the inner drama and content of the structure of scientific revolutions, the shift to Physicalism, as the triumphant paradigm, in league with industrial society, and the elimination of Vitalism and everything associated with it, as the price to be paid. There is a lot to be said about Schelling, partly because he was my teacher’s main influence, where Tillich picked up the Vitalist refrain in the tradition of German Naturphilosophie, which has a very bad press in the literature because it is associated with Vitalism and because of the contempt for it on the part of Physicalism.

So Schelling and Kierkegaard become the inheritors of the Goethean tradition and the founders of Existentialism.


It is interesting that Tillich calls the Berlin Lectures of Schelling, the “ur-text” of Existentialism: urplant and urtext. We have about seventy-five pages of notes in Kierkegaard’s hand, translated by Howard Hong. The lectures represented Schelling’s turn against Hegel–the Germans have a word for such things–“kehre”–in Greek it would be “metanoia”–a change of mind tantamount to a sea change. Metanoia also means repentance, precisely in the sense of the confession of self-delusion. Kierkegaard was disappointed in what he heard in Schelling’s class and went back home to Denmark to carry through the more substantial and radical program of Existentialism. He was the greater influence, especially in Germany, when he was discovered in this century. He is a very major figure for me because of Howard Hong and his wife, Edna, who are the great translators of Kierkegaard. I still remember vividly when Tillich came to St. Olaf, in 1953, when I was a senior and gave three lectures on Existentialism. It was the beginning of a long journey. I remember arguing with my roommates late into the night that what we heard was important even though we hadn’t understood a word of it. They disagreed because they didn’t get it. I thought a little humility was appropriate in the face of the truth that was over our head.

You have already indicated what these subsequent steps are in the Physicalist takeover, as you call it. Do you want to elaborate on them now?


The list is easy, although the respective cases generate a lot of material. Here is the list in a nutshell. I can elaborate on any or all later. Helmholtz is the big cheese at the end of the 19th century, probably the most famous scientist in the world, the formulator of the law of the conservation of energy, neither created nor destroyed, so much for God. Helmholtz takes His place. He is the background for the Physicalist blood-oath formulated by his students, Brucke and DuBois-Reymond: “…so help me Helmholtz! Freud is the student of Brucke, when he enters his lab and works on the nervous system of a certain order of fish and worries about the neurone, so the sequence continues very nicely in Vienna, where, contemporary with Freud, the Circle, under Carnap, is organized as the philosophical foundation for Physicalism and mounts the effort to develop a unified science as the Physicalist mop-up. They call for the elimination of metaphysics even though they have their own which they hide like a mentally ill relative.

Doesn’t Lamarck and the conflict over the inheritance of acquired characteristics form part of this sketch?


Kammerer and Bateson fit in here in the discussion after Lamarck on the question of inherited characteristics, considered to be a Vitalist violation of the Central Dogma of molecular biology as Mr. Crick calls it, one of my favorite Physicalists, who is so transparent as to be laughable, to wit, his recent book on consciousness, rather like Monod, who tries to smuggle in purpose, with his notion of teleonomy, which Koestler ridicules. I am stunned at how such smart guys make such fools of themselves when they venture where angels fear to tread. Chargaff, a great molecular biologist, thought Watson and Crick were two circus cons–I think he called them “pitchmen”, with a very low intelligence, so much for them. Koestler has a wonderful account of the Kammerer/Bateson issue in his: The Case Of the Midwife Toad. This is a more technical discussion in the fields of genetics, molecular biology and immunology. But I was amazed to find how close Koestler was to understanding the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict and how cleverly he could interpret it. I carried through my interest in his work when I heard about E. J. Steele, who, inspired by Koestler’s last book: Janus, A Summing Up, tried to show the inheritance of acquired characteristics in the immune system of mice, which dovetailed to some extent with my interest in the work in cancer of Dr. Leonell Strong, who was the breeder of the famous oncomouse strain, known as C3H.

You met Dr. Strong through your interest in thyme.

Yes, he had written the only paper in the literature, in 1935, on the effect of oil of the (thymol) on mice with cancer, so I went to visit him and we became friends. I became an advocate of his cancer research but it came to nought. He introduced me to John Dee and the Voynich Manuscript. He was an authority on Francis Bacon and worked with Baconian ciphers and had successfully turned his ability to the challenge of the Voynich and deciphered it–the most mysterious manuscript in the world, the summit of cypher studies. As John Dee was connected to the manuscript as a one-time owner, I took an interest in Dee. Strong’s work on cancer and his development of the C3H mouse prepared me for following the career of Steele and the excitement in the air when he teamed up with Sir Peter Medawar in England which came to nought.

Didn’t this kind of controversy flare up again a few years ago in Nature and demonstrate the bias of the Editor in selecting articles that exposed his Physicalist prejudice?

Yes. You get the sense that there is a conspiracy to sabotage what could be called neo-Vitalist research, anything that conflicts with the Physicalist canon, which Rupert Sheidrake has exposed. Steele was heralded as the new Iamarck by Sir Peter Medawar, a Nobel prize winning immunologist, who wound up with egg on his face when the whole thing fizzed.

An egg cream.

I happened to be in London when a comparable case hit the press, the one you refer to, in a next installment and it reminded me of the Steele controversy. It was over the AIDS virus issue. The Editor of Nature refused to discuss or allow for the discussion that AIDS is not a virus. This takes us far afield, although it is a good example of the politics involved and who holds the cards, in this case the editor of the most prestigious scientific journal. There was a big review of the problem in the New York Review of Books. They have just found the protein link in the transmission of the virus so maybe the case is closed on the AIDS controversy. I don’t know.

Didn’t your friend, Callahan, the monopole detecter, have some line on the AIDS problem?


Yes, as a matter of fact, he did. I went to the Conference in Wichita the following year and there was Callahan with a paper he had written on the character of the AIDS virus as an antenna phenomenon. It’s a bizarre story, but typically Callahan. He saw the blow up photo of the AIDS virus on the cover of Scientific American and noticed the antenna-like character of the symmetrical balls surrounding the virus and then flying into an airport looked down and there was the same configuration in the radar landing device. To Callahan, they looked identical. Upon doing the math for both they turned out to be exactly equivalent to scale, so he started to think about frequency problems as a way of defusing the virus given the antenna phenomenon. I sent the paper to Elizabeth Taylor, in her role as an AIDS advocate, but I never heard from her. Another one of those.

Go back to the sequence.What comes after Lamarck and Freud and the Logical Positivists in Vienna?

Then comes reductive behaviorism and the elimination of consciousness: from Pavlov to Skinner. It is the elimination of consciousness from psychology. No more psyche. Only observable behaviors. Freud is ignored and deemed unscientific. It takes Timothy Leary’s flip from a behaviorist psychologist to the High Priest of psychedelics to resurrect consciousness, but the volatility of the rediscovery forces Leary and company out of established academics and conventional science. He is a good example of the split and the penalty paid when you try to mediate it or cross over.

How do you mean?


Tim was a behaviorist psychologist, which, to me, is psychology without the psyche. He was also a game theorist, applying the concept of games to behaviors. Then he took the mushroom in Mexico with Frank Barron and discovered consciousness, big-time, not unlike Freud after his break with the Physicalist lab of Brucke: Freud on cocaine precipitated a similar career break–he was kicked out of the Brucke lab, just as Tim was kicked out of Harvard, for fooling around with drugs. When I teased Tim about being honored by the American Psychological Association just a few years ago and only referring to his behavioral work in the section devoted to him at the meeting, so that his psychedelic work was ignored, he was annoyed and called me mean-spirited. It took me off-guard. I thought he had rejected this past, but he hadn’t. He still thought of himself as a Physicalist scientist as well as a High Priest.

So you see psychedelics in this line of Physicalist imperialism.


Why not? You could call Leary the qualitative leap in the neurone, if you want a funny one. If the issue is the artificial synthesis of mysticism or psychosis, it continues the synthetic line going back to urea. But it involves consciousness and no one in science knows how to deal with it. Consciousness is too Vitalist? Physicalist behaviorism had eliminated it and now it returns with a vengeance. It was a big shake-up. One of the reasons Tim was dismissed from Harvard was for violating an experimental protocol by taking a small dose of acid with his subjects, as did his team–Alpert, Metzner, Litwin, Katz, and Weil. This meant they couldn’t be objective, which is absurd when it comes to consciousness, but the scientists at Harvard were horrified over the transgression in experimental protocol. And then in order to effect behavior change in criminal convicts by utilizing religious themes in an attempt to model the experience as mystico-mimetic

rather than psychoto-mimetic, as in whacko, namely, a model psychosis or training psychosis for psychiatry students, only added insult to injury.

Isn’t that where you came in as a student of theology?

Tim wanted to recruit some divinity students to take the drug and to evaluate the so-called religious experience issue. So Huston Smith, the reknowned authority on world religions, who was teaching at MIT, called a meeting and I was invited. My wife and I took LSD on a memorable Saturday at Huston’s and I joined the Leary entourage and became the Editor of the Psychedelic Review, along with Ralph Metzner and Rolf von Eckartsberg.

But your view that an imitative or synthetic mystical experience only follows in the line of the artificial would prompt you to discount it.

Well, now you touch on a sore point. We have here another example of the organic/synthetic problem.

This is where my ability to think the scheme through fell down. I didn’t know what to make of it. There are natural psychedelic substances used as sacraments going way back–they are now called entheogens, inducing an encounter with god or the holy or the sacred. We have that tradition to wonder about in terms of drug-induced mystical experiences. It is a fascinating tradition involving shamanism and curanderos and sorcerers, as well as the Eleusinian mysteries in Greece where it looks like ergot, the mold on grain, was the LSD delivery substance. Wasson and company have mined this field in their Road To Eleusis and his own work: Soma, and now carried on by Terence McKenna. So scientists have synthesized and produced all kinds of variations of psychedelics. Some of us tried to distinguish between natural substances and synthetics in terms of their side-effects, like psilocybin and the mushroom, or peyote and mescalin, etc., but it is a very provisional distinction in terms of making sense of the experience. Basic to the problem is the definition of hallucinations which no one knows what to do with. Our language is not equal to the task, it seems, especially after a century and a half of the Physicalist hegemony. This muddle is indicative of the confusion our whole culture is in.

By provisional you mean a thin line between organic or natural products and synthetic or laboratory produced products or chemicals.

Yes, exactly. This is my complaint with synthetic urea when Woehler called it absolutely identical to organic urea. That made me suspicious–the word absolutely. But now that they have produced a lamb synthetically, namely through laboratory manipulation, an exact clone of the original, the confusion continues. Once they clone a human being this trend I am depicting will have been brought to its Frankensteinian conclusion. It is only a few years away. A nice way to celebrate the millennium. With my clone. What a thought.

Puts a lie to the song: “There never will be another you”. So Leary’s behaviorism left him untroubled by your Vitalist concerns.

Seems so, which is why he took so strongly to artificial intelligence and cybernetics, let alone freeze-drying his head, which I was glad to see he finally rejected.

But psychedelics, as they defined the ’60’s, proved to be a kind of watershed.


That’s for sure. Before Leary there was artificial intelligence or cybernetics and eventually virtual reality. Then the artificial synthesis of mysticism (or psychosis) in the psychedelic explosion. I see this as the internalization of the smashing of the atom in the squash court in Chicago, where Fermi and company took the chance of destroying the universe, in a possible wayward reaction. Psychedelics de-structured consciousness, smashed it, really, in a way not unlike the bomb. I thought I had been bombed when I took LSD and used the metaphor in my report of the experience. Likewise, the de-structuring of consciousness in the psychedlic experience is the background for Derrida’s deconstruction and the chaos revolution. It was the un-hingeing of consciousness, a term Derrida likes to use. However, the turning point for me was 1970 and Earth Day I and a new ball game as far as a neo-Vitalist critique is concerned, emerging in the environmental movement and the reaction to industrial society and the late stage of its self-destruction. So the sequence is the artificial synthesis of urea and the Physicalist refutation and elimination of Vitalism; the elimination of LaMarckianism and the inheritance of acquired characteristics; the elimination of metaphysics by the Logical Positivists; the elimination of consciousness by reductive behaviorism; artificial intelligence in the computer revolution, leading to virtual reality; and then, after the smashing of the atom, the de-structuring of consciousness in the artificial synthesis of mysticism (or psychosis) with psychedelics. I get the drift. The sequences are compelling. They are all consequences of the relation of the history and philosophy of science to industrial society. When I took LSD, I thought I had been bombed internally, it was as though my consciousness was the atom that was smashed and then exploded. Their respective historical occurrences were in the same period of time, if you go back to when Albert Hoffmann discovered LSD, so the analogy is a good one. Frank Barron agrees with me on this.

So we’re back to Chadwick and the Neo-Vitalist upsurge in the renewal of organic integrity.


Like I said, right on time.

What was it like working with Chadwick at UCSC?


I wish I knew then what I know now. It doesn’t seem fair for it to have taken so much time to figure it out. I was completely unprepared for the entire effort. Chadwick mostly had to fend for himself. I was not much help when it came to organization, although I supported the Garden Project as much as I could and spent an enormous amount of time on it. Even so, there was no organization, no budget, no support, and I had no experience with a bureaucracy such as UCSC. I was young and dumb. We received no help from anyone at the administrative level to begin with. Buildings and Grounds considered us unwanted interlopers.            What do you mean you want to borrow a shovel? What? And a rake? I don’t think so? Who said you could enter our turf? How do we write up this expense on our re-charge forms? What do you mean he doesn’t observe an eight-hour day? Who is this guy? What do you mean he is divinely ordained from on high to replant the vital root of existence in the late stage of the self-destruction of what? Not on our campus. What would the Regents say?

Didn’t they see the Garden as an improvement, as a benefit for the campus?


I built a stone wall as a terrace at the front of the garden with some student help from Organizational Climate, a class I taught, which was devoted to investigating the University bureaucracy and the only thanks we got was a memo from Harry Tsugawa, the campus landscape architect, absolving himself from responsibility when it sloughed out in the first heavy rains, because we did not follow proper engineering practices, or whatever. Thanks a lot, Harry. It’s still standing thirty years later.

But wasn’t there some good publicity connected to the Garden?

Yes, it was featured in a Life Magazine article on the campus and it was featured in Sunset Magazine and so on. The public relations aspect was milked for what it was worth but with little attendant support for the project itself.

But you said the Chancellor defended the project.

Yes, eventually, but with almost no initial support. He liked getting a box of organic produce from Chadwick every week. Bureaucrats don’t initiate; they impede. That’s been my experience. If you enter their self-serving loop, you do so at your own peril. I should have just kept my head down and minded my own business. Innovation is counter-productive in a highly institutionalized environment such as UCSC. McHenry called me in for a talk a few months after the Garden had begun and as much as told me my goose was cooked, because I didn’t know how to organize the project. Where was the budget? Where did I think the money was going to come from? I thought that was his province. He had all the resources; it was just my idea. He could have cooperated and told me what resources were available and how to tap them but instead he wanted to spank me. He was basically a bully. An ex-Marine, with a bald head like a small bomb. His smile was like a muscle flexing in the rear end of an ape. A black cloud followed me out of his office–remember the character in L’il Abner, the guy with the black cloud over his head?– and I knew that my career was over. It was as obvious as that. I had done something innovative and without initial support already in place. Therefore, I was going to have to pay for my smart ideas with my career on the line. The garden was not going to count as a bad book, so the rubric for my demise was publish or perish. I became my own compost.

Why didn’t you publish?

I’m a late bloomer. They would have found some other reason. My smile. I had a 7th Grade Teacher who told me every day to wipe that sickening smile off my face. She was just trying to tell me something; warn me, I guess. It finally caught up with me. I have a friend who thinks I’m the prototype for the “Have A Nice Day” face, which is enough to make anyone hide. When the Faculty Committee met to discuss my tenure, the Chairman did not bring the file of support letters. It was already decided. Page Smith, who was at the meeting, had to tell him to go back home and get them. Page resigned in protest over the process, saying: “Any place that doesn’t have room for Paul Lee, doesn’t have room for me.” That has a nice ring to it even today. My years with him exceeded getting tenure–he was my tenure. He stood by me. How often does that happen in a lifetime?

Eventually, I want you to detail the relation of Page to Chadwick.


O.K. It is a good story. We were all in it together. And he wrote the epitaph for Chadwick, which I consider the last word.

So how did Chadwick manage?


He never made any demands. He just went about his business. He dug beds. He finally received a couple of hundred dollars a month and he lived on that with the most modest needs. He grew his own food for the most part right in the garden.

Wasn’t there a time when he was almost dismissed?


Oh, that’s a good one. The University, actually Howard Schontz, an administrator, called one tray and said he thought Chadwick would have to leave. He was sorry. I asked why. Because he was an alien (a British subject) and there was a law on the books of the University that no aliens could work on the campus–a hold over from removing Japanese from gardening positions during the Second World War. I said Chadwick wasn’t Japanese. Didn’t matter. A law is a law. I asked if they would try to work it out. I should have known better. Howard called back a few weeks later and said they had come up with a solution. Chadwick could enroll in a dummy class at Cabrillo College (a local community college) and that would make him a student and as a student he could continue to work in the garden. I couldn’t take it in, but I didn’t say a word. I went over to Cabrillo, paid his fee and enrolled for him. I don’t think I ever told him. I think it was $73.00. I thought of it as a blood tax for cooperating with the obtuse bureaucrat.

Chadwick sounds like a free spirit.

He was. How many free spirits do you get to meet in your life? There were no strings on him. It was the ground for his being a representative of an economy of gift. That’s the great thing Chadwick taught me. There is always more than enough. Who hoards the resources? And because he worked such hours he had almost no leisure time. He just went home to bed and got up before sunrise and was back at it. It wasn’t all work. We had our share of parties–Alan was a great cook and would prepare banquets with the greatest of care. He loved putting on a grand show. My wife and I marvelled at his stewpot, the way he would layer fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, etc. Then, when it was time to sit down and enjoy, something would set him off and he would split. So the party went on without him. His temper tantrums often got in the way of his enjoying a good time. It was a great strain for everyone. No one had ever met such a tempestuous and preposterous person, but there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. He had been on a mine-sweeper in the Second World War and had broken his back and the strain of it all had made him neurasthenic, an old fashioned word for very neurotic. His nerves were permanently jangled, which is why he resorted to gardening. Other people were the problem. A loud cough could set him off. He could have a fit if you sneezed. Everyone had to get used to it, which was impossible; I should say, ignore it, which was impossible; O.K., live with it. It was impossible. Steve Kaffka, who worked with him the most, Chadwick called him “Cherubim”, would often come down to my house and complain that he couldn’t take it any more and I would give him my standard lecture on the distinction between idiosyncratic display and institutional process, and then send him back up into the lion’s maw. It worked for a while.

Didn’t Kaffka finally break with Chadwick?

Yes, he turned his back on Alan and became the student Director of the Farm Project and Alan was more or less stuck in the Garden, so he began to make plans to leave.

What was the story about going to New Zealand or Australia?

First of all, he repeatedly threatened to leave. There was always a small group of disciples who were willing to go off with him no matter where. The Seychelles, which no one had ever heard of before, was the first destination. Then New Zealand. He actually booked passage. One woman was going to leave her husband and a rag-tag of students were going to trip along. It seemed preposterous. I decided to subvert it. Huey Johnson, the head of the Trust for Public Lands, was coming to the campus to meet the Chancellor. I asked him to meet with Chadwick and tell him how important it was for Alan to continue to do his work in California. It did the trick. Huey was very persuasive and Alan changed his mind and decided to stay.

Where did he go when he did leave?


He went to Saratoga and began the garden there behind the Odd Fellows, which was pretty symbolic in itself, with the support of Betty Peck. She invited him to come over and she made a place for him. It was one of the best gardens Alan designed and it served the Saratoga school system. Everythime I went to see it, I was impressed and inspired. It was an idyllic scene, a kind of small utopia. Everyone who entered that space was enchanted and transformed, somehow even more so than the UCSC garden. He had free rein for his magic and Betty Peck was his muse and she brought school children in and offered instuction. We had started that process somewhat in Santa Cruz. I got Alan to put in a little garden at West Lake School, where my daughter was a student. Eventually LifeLab, which is a national gardens in schools movement, using gardens as a science lab, developed out of this impulse. Now we hope to do the same with our Americorps grant, using homeless gardener labor to put productive organic gardens into local schools.

How did his departure come about.

Out of complete despair. I was at my wit’s end. He started sleeping on the floor in the little garden chalet. There was no bath room, no bed, no nothing. I remember lugging my grandmother’s refrigerator up there. I gave him a fancy horsehair mattress, Bill Russell, a student friend of mine from Harvard, had given me, which his grandmother had owned. I built a toilet and bath and paid for it myself. I hardly believe it looking back. Alan slept on the floor and I thought my god he has become Bartleby in the story by Melville. There was a great refusal going on and finally he left. Another play on words–refuse, refusal, and refuse, what you would throw away or what isn’t wanted anymore, garbage. Chadwick ended up like refuse. Compost. He suffered his own fate. His theme was life into death into life. So he left and went to Saratoga.

Then after Saratoga he went to Green Gulch, the Zen Farm at Muir Beach.


Yes. Alan was very fond of Richard and Virginia Baker, close friends of mine, as I said, and he started the famous farm at Green Gulch, which eventually became the supplier for Chez Panisse and the Greens, the great restaurants in Berkeley and San Francisco. I happened to be visiting the Bakers when Alice Waters showed up to discuss buying produce and I met her then. Deborah Madison, who trained at Chez Panisse and was the chef at the Greens, acknowledges Alan in her second Greens Cookbook. All of this is wonderfully connected for me–I think of Alan as having a central significance in the formation of California cuisine, which is associated with the success of Chez Panisse and the host of restaurants who have followed in Alice’s example. Chadwick’s produce, partly because of the French intensive system he employed, a system which supplies the Paris restaurant market, was a natural for a new high-quality restaurant trend in California. Strictly organic and of very high quality.

But your herbal theme still goes begging.


I would like to see this carried through with a major emphasis on herbal cuisine. No one has made culinary herbs the central feature of a new menu, but for a few herb garden restaurants, like the one outside of Seattle–the Herbfarm–with Ron Zimmerman and Jerry Traunfeld, at Fall City, which is a national model. I’m waiting and biding my time. It will happen. It is one thing I can predict as the obvious next step in terms of restaurant trends. There will be a new herbal cuisine where vital roots in the form of culinary herbs come to the dinner table and everything is subordinated to them. The menu will be organized around the herbs. That’s my dream cuisine.

No more sprig of parsley as throw away garnish. Aren’t there restaurants in China that operate on this herbal theme?

Yes, they’re called Public Health Restaurants and the menu is organized according to ailments and recipes with special herbal ingredients appropriate to those ailments. That’s the idea. In our country, this would be difficult because of the division between food and drug, where medicinal herbs constitute a kind of no man’s land in-between, thanks to their rejection by the medical profession and the suppression by the FDA, although this has lifted somewhat in the last few years due to legislation favorable to the health food industry. Medicinal food is an oxymoron to the Food and Drug Administration.

Didn’t you run a restaurant in Santa Cruz with such an herbal theme?

It was called The Wild Thyme. And it was. Page was the maitre d’ in his Gary Cooper shoes–he bought Gary Cooper’s loafers from the sale of his effects after his death. He was smashing, pouring coffee and seeing people to their tables, in his blue blazer and rep tie, the foremost American historian and one of the handsomest men I have ever known. He loved it. We had a great time, although I was out of my depth. Another example of “call my bluff’, which will be inscribed on my tombstone, as one of my two epitaphs. Eloise Smith and my wife were in the kitchen. Marta Gaines was our hostess with the mostest. We had fun, but I got sciatica from the strain, an admission that I was out of my depth.

You must have had some highlights.

When Buckminster came in he told me it was the greatest restaurant idea he knew of but for one in New York he was writing a book about. When someone like that resonates with your ideas you can put up with a lot of boobs. I had a whole story line about thyme and the thymus gland (we served them as Sweetbreads or Ris de Veau) and thymOs, the old Homeric root term. I happily gave my Physicalist/Vitalist spiel to anyone who would sit still for it. Jack Stauffacher designed the table text which included the main ideas. Virigina Baker was my big fan and goaded me into table-side recitations, which I finally could make to fit any time frame, from five minutes on. I had it all diagrammed on a large display card. It went well with dessert, like a vintage sauterne.

Why didn’t you launch your herbal cuisine from there?

I tried, but it was too early. And I was too inexperienced as well as too pre-occupied with the day-to-day strain. And nobody I was involved with shared my thematics. We had taken over a failed operation and it was all we could do to pull it up and make it a success, which we did. The cooks we inherited were basically fry cooks and thought I was a crank. Now it would work. I remember demanding from the kitchen that they make a hamburger to a Julia Child recipe, which included thyme. I thought that would be terrific–a thyme burger. Customers complained about the pork. There wasn’t any, but they associated the thyme flavor with pork sausage. So they all laughed at me. I made them serve Sweetbreads–thymus glands– which Joanne LeBoeuf made, a wonderful dish. Ris de Veau.

Why thymus glands?

I was a devoted student of immunology and was studying the relation of herbs to the immune system, e.g., thyme and thymus. Thyme is Thymus vulgaris in Latin which is what set up the whole line of thought–my Thymos Doctrine. Thymos is the Greek root word for both the herb and the gland. I learned about thymos from Tillich as “the courage to be”, which makes additional sense when you understand the thymus as the organ of courage, the center of the immune system, the defense against illness and disease. I still think this is one of the best connections I ever made.

What made you think this would work as a restaurant theme although I can see that this is a spectacular example of your associative abilities?

My ideas were fairly clear, but executing them was another matter, especially on a menu. I was still more professor than restaurateur. I thought the thymOs theme was perfect for a restaurant. I was just a little ahead of my thyme.

You started the Whole Earth Restaurant on the campus? That was before the Wild Thyme?

Yes. In 1970. So I already had some experience under my belt, although I was not involved with the day-to-day operations once it was set up. It was a good project and the purpose was to have the Chadwick Garden supply the produce. I returned to Santa Cruz, in January, of 1970, ready for Earth Day, just off of my sabbatical, knowing my days were numbered, as I was coming up for tenure. I had suffered a mild nervous breakdown while on sabbatical because a good friend and colleague of mine in philosophy went mad and shot himself and I had to fly back and bury him. I took Alan by surprise and showed up at the garden before the funeral just to say hello. He saw me and ran down the path and jumped full tilt into my arms. I don’t know how I kept my balance, his legs around my chest. It was a typical stunt. Then he looked into my eyes for the longest time as if searching my depths knowing the despair I was in. He sensed what this death meant to me. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was dead as far as my career at Santa Cruz was concerned and my colleague had acted it out for me by putting a pistol to his head. I took it personally.

What prompted him to take his life?


His suicide was a result of the Chancellor ruining his career over a Vietnam Teach-in talk he had given. He was singled out by the Chancellor as the scapegoat for the event–there must have been thirty of us who spoke– and the Chancellor brought censorship proceedings against him which was the death knell for his career. His death meant I could no longer avoid the end of my career at UCSC. I knew I was dead so I had to resurrect myself. I needed a new life free of the institutional confines of the obtuse bureaucrat. So I dreamt up a nonprofit corporation called USA–University Services Agency. I was going to reconstitute the US of A in myself, out of dread and concern over what was going to happen to me. It was the beginning of free fall and I didn’t have a parachute, golden or any other color.

What prompted you to think of starting a nonprofit corporation?

I had heard the Rev. Ike, on midnight radio, in Northern Wisconsin and had sent for his prayer cloth. He was one of the Black prosperity preachers. “You can’t lose with the stuff I use!” “The lack of money is the root of all evil.” That sort of thing. (I just read that he has died. His  obituary was in the New York Times for July 31, 2009).  I had visited Father Divine, another   prosperity preacher, when I was at Union Theological Seminary, which was my introduction to the type. It sounds nuts to me, as well, but it’s what happened. I fingered this little piece of serrated cut red prosperity prayer cloth in my pocket and up came a million dollar non-profit corporation, so I said to myself, “O.K., let’s do it!” Upon my return to Santa Cruz, I ran into Herb Schmidt, the campus chaplain and a great friend of mine, we’re fellow Lutherans. It was January 3, 1970. He was the first person I met when we first visited Santa Cruz before we moved there. He met us at his front door on a Sunday afternoon, barely wearing a black bikini and holding a martini, my kind of guy.

So you fell in with him?

He was on his way to the administration to get the only public restaurant on the campus, so I nailed him and we started USA (University Services Agency) as the corporate entity and the Whole Earth Restaurant, our first of many affiliates. The Chadwick Garden supplied the restaurant. We couldn’t get Chadwick produce into the food services at the colleges, even though we tried, because organic was still out to lunch and sometimes his lettuce had a bug in it, which was unacceptable to an institutional food service, like Saga, where everything had to be pre-packaged and homogenized, not unlike a prison.

So who ran the Whole Earth Restaurant?

It started out as a group effort. My wife and I, and Jerry Lasko, who was the Roman Catholic Chaplain, and Herb Schmidt and his wife, Grace. We started it and then we hired Sharon Cadwallader, who wrote The Whole Earth Cookbook and sold a million copies. We celebrated the 25th Anniversary in 1995.

You should have franchised it?

I forget the name of the guy who started the Good Earth Restaurant chain, which I guess was very successful, as an organic restaurant effort. Yes, I thought of it, but I had no business training. The restaurant was the first in a series of nonprofit entities or project affiliates?

We lucked into a vein. I invited Stuart Brand, the Editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, to come and gave a talk at the restaurant and he spoke about the hip sub-economy that was going to appear in the 70’s as a consequence of the 60’s. He was part of the Briar Patch Trust, which was very much like our effort in Santa Cruz, another nonprofit umbrella for all kinds of entrepreneurial enterprises. Dick Raymond was the guiding light; they had a better sense of the economics involved, whereas I was just dabbling in community development, not knowing it was going to be my future career, even though I put myself deliberately on this path. I should have trained myself for it. I regret now not having gone to Harvard Business School as well as Divinity School.

So you added affiliates to USA.

It happened almost immediately, just as Stuart said it would. We started the Child Day Care Center at the University and then some hippies came up and talked to me and Herb about a food store downtown and I remember we looked at each other and bang!–we had a sense of what we had launched. We eventually had twenty affiliates. Herb applied his prodigious energy to the effort, his Lutheran manly chestiness of conviction, his thymos, which he has in abundance. We eventually passed the million dollar mark, on up to almost three million in cash flow. I wrote it up as How To Become A Spiritual Millionaire, Where Money Is No Object, but I never published it. I took an interest in the historical background of nonprofits and realized I had been trained to it anyhow at Harvard Divinity School by two professors–George Huntston Williams and James Luther Adams. George was the historian of the radical reformation and I learned from his book on the subject that the radical wing of the reformation included the Anabaptist movement which started on a given evening, I forget the date, when a priest was re-baptized. I do remember his name–Joseph Blaurock. This event established the right to assemble for the freedom of worship, in other words, a voluntary association, for which the nonprofit corporation is the legal form. I remembered the spiritual roots of the work we were doing in Santa Cruz when USA became a dynamic force in the community and it was extraordinary that the three of us running the show were all ministers. James Luther Adams was my professor of social ethics and taught the history of voluntary associations. Adams and Williams were Unitarians, so they were part of the free-spirited left wing of Protestantism, which had established a center at Harvard, which was in decline when I was a student there, the tail end of a great tradition. I found a book recently called: Knights of the Golden Rule, which tells the story of the great social reformers in the American tradition of the social gospel who preceded J. C. Penny, who was a great exponent of the Golden Rule. I learned about some of them from Jim Adams, who was the translator and interpreter of my teacher, Tillich, I might add.

Tillich had a social activist side, didn’t he?

Yes, he was a Religious Socialist in Germany between the two world wars out of concern for social action and he was President of SelfHelp, in New York, where he maintained an open door for all the refugees from Germany who beat their path to him for advice and aid. I include his wonderful essay on “The Philosophy Of Social Work”, in my book on homelessness–The Quality of Mercy.

So your nonprofit experience was another initiation into the Golden Rule and an economy of gift?

Exactly. I saw the nonprofit as the vehicle for addressing not only economic development but any social need. Ideally, it is the institution of free spirits. Adams was fond of mentioning that nonprofits, or an office with a phone and typewriter, was the first thing Hitler shut down when he came to power. Free spirits are anathema to dictators, in politics and religion.

How come the role of the nonprofit is so overlooked in terms of its importance for American life?

It is astonishing. There are millions of nonprofits in the U.S., representing every conceivable interest. It is the big institution between family and government and a kind of silent structure, drawing very little attention to itself. It is easy to start one, rather easy to run one, and mostly very rewarding in ways altogether different than the economy of greed. You almost never get rich in a nonprofit unless you are the former head of United Way, that jerk with the perks.

Doesn’t Malthus come in here again?

Yeah, another jerk. When I read about his population theory and the impact on capitalism and the starvation wage and the piling up of enormous profits for the business tycoon, the Captains of Industry, I put two and two together.

Wait a minute. Elaborate, if you please, on the themes you mention.

Well, Malthus argued that the food supply would always be out of phase with the population, inasmuch as population proceeds exponentially and the food supply arithmetically. There would always be more people than food and jobs. It was an argument regarding population theory applied to capitalist exploitation, the basis of Social Darwinism. If there would always be more people than jobs, you could pay a starvation wage and therefore build up enormous profits, which is what happened.

So what did they do with the money?

They made so much money, they had to find a means of giving some of it away, so they started charitable foundations of which the nonprofit corporation is the recipient in terms of tax-deductible grants. So you have a major structure of twin institutions–the charitable foundation and the nonprofit corporation, as the triumph of Protestantism and the capitalist spirit–the old Max Weber theme in action.

Does that bother you?

Not if I get some of the grants. You know the ad for scotch: “While you’re up get me a Grant.”

Why didn’t you institutionalize the garden as a nonprofit?

It never occurred to me. Sometimes it is better to let a project go its own way and not impose a structure on it. The nonprofit has a lot of disadvantages and is rather cumbersome in terms of hands on activities. In other ways, it would have helped, I can see that now. We just never thought of it. Chadwick would have found it stifling, just as he eventually found the University stifling. We received a few donations along the line, but not much.

Isn’t there a story about the first donation?

Oh, you mean the Easter Event. Putney and Perry run an auto repair firm in Santa Cruz and Vern Putney took an interest in Chadwick and wanted to make a contribution. I think it was $400, which in those days was considerable. So I staged a little ceremony. It was Easter Sunday and it hailed and Chadwick went bananas. He thought it was some kind of bad omen, big hail, snowballs of ice, busting through the garden. He ran and hid in his fury and I had to send Jasper Rose to look for him so we could receive the contribution. Chadwick finally reappeared and I gave a little speech and Vern stood there with the check and then Chadwick ceremoniously opened his hands very slowly–he had these enormous hands–and looked at everyone and said: “Do you see these hands? Do these hands look like they would touch money?” He meant to say filthy lucre. We were all a little dumbfounded. I grabbed for the check and missed, but we eventually got it. It was a typical Chadwick stunt. The dramatic note squeezed for all it was worth. One time I was going to have him record something and we went over to the studio on campus and he stood in front of the mike and was about to speak and suddenly said the hell with it and left in a huff. That’s how unpredictable and skittish he was, although he did perform in some theatrical works on the campus and did that as a seasoned professional.

Are there any good memories of events?

Oh, lots of them. One of the best was when I wanted to read the “Smokey the Bear Sutra”, by Gary Snyder. I knew Gary through the Zen Circle around Baker-roshi. I got my dad to dress up as Smokey the Bear, in an actual bear costume. It was hilarious. My father always reminded me of a bear–there is a poem by Delmore Schwartz–which begins with a line from Whitehead: “The withness of the body”. My father was that line. I had Chadwick present him with his shovel. an came forward at his stentorian best and intoned in a loud voice–“I do believe, no, do I perceive, no, could it be, will wonders never cease–is it Mickey Mouse?, No!, Donald Duck?, NO!–it’s SMOKEY THE BEAR!” And with the greatest Shakespearian flourish, he presented the shovel to my bear-dad and then I read the Sutra, in the courtyard of Crown College. My daughter was along for the show.         *

She was still on good terms with Chadwick?


Oh, you know that one, as well? That was another bad episode. We had an open house at the garden and my wife and daughter came up with me–there were lots of people milling about. Chadwick had a pet bird in a cage and my daughter, who was about five, opened the door and reached in to pet it or hold it and squeezed it to death. It was inadvertent. One of my favorite words for such occasions. As opposed to criminal negligence. Chadwick came a moment later and had a fit. I pretended to spank her and got her out of there and she never went back. When Chadwick had a fit it had a lasting effect.

In spite of the temper tantrums, Chadwick was a generous person?


Yes, he was. He was very patient with students. The first talk we had I remember telling him about the drug problem on campus, what with students experimenting with psychedelics. I told him the Garden would probably function as a therapy station and I was right about that. Students would stumble in coming off of a wayward LSD high and Chadwick would patiently show them how to dig a bed and plant seed in a flat and prick out into double-dug beds after germination. The garden played a crucial role in this respect and some students actually dropped out of school to work in the Garden because it was more meaningful for them. Turn on, tune in and drop out. Chadwick became the flower power guru for that generation of students who were trying to find the root again.

What is your best memory?

There are two. One is the picture of Alan taken by Lucy Kennard, when she was a student at UCSC, now a famous photographer, sitting among the delphinium, columbine and foxglove. It was a breathtaking setting, one of my favorite memories of the glory of the garden. The other is getting up early and going up and picking flowers with the students at sunrise, practically to Hayden’s Oratorio: Creation. I can hear the music now, the dawning of the day on the Third Day of Creation, when God planted a Garden. You can’t beat bending over to pick daisies or tulips at daybreak with beautiful coeds who also had the bloom. You could hardly tell the difference between them and the flowers. All of the flowers would be put out in a kiosk across from the garden, so University people and students could stop and pick up a bouquet for their office or room. It was the economy of gift in action. Chadwick never wanted money for it–he wanted to give it away. It was an uncompromised principle of his. It was the principle of plenitude and an economy of gift. That’s where I learned it in practice, although Erik Erikson first told it to me in theory.

How was that?

He came over one day shortly after my daughter, Jessica, was born and we were chatting in the study and he said: “Do you know how I define my theory of identity? I said, “How?” He said: “You have it to give it away!”

So gardens are this image of self-sacrifice and transcendence toward the ground and therefore gardens are associated with creation?

Of course. You put it well. I have been struggling with Voegelin’s phrase–“transcendence toward the ground” as a term for spirituality and you could almost take it literally in terms of the symbolism of gardens and their association with creation and paradise and our essential being. It is a little complicated, but not if you understand the metaphorical meaning of “rooted” when applied to spiritual life. Think of transcendence toward the ground and the restoration and reaffirmation of vital roots in juxtaposition with industrial society as a world above the given world of nature and you have a good contrast.

And the garden has always suggested the horizon of original goodness in creation, more original than original sin.

The theme of the unambiguous affirmation of the goodness of creation, a theme I learned from Paul Ricoeur, came alive in the Chadwick Garden. It is complicated because the first account of creation (Genesis 1–2:4) is the unambiguous goodness account; the second account (Genesis 2:4 ff.) is the ambiguous one, where, on the Third Day, the Garden of Eden comes in and the prohibition not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge That Everything Is Possible, otherwise known as the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This would take us into a disquisition on the Genesis account of Creation and the Myth of the Fall, and the two texts involved. I learned about it from Kierkegaard, Buber and Erich Voegelin, as well as Tillich and Ricoeur. Gardens, nevertheless, are reminders of paradise and anticipations of the Kingdom of God, so that’s enough for me.

Why did you change your title?

It has to do with this theological problem. The salvation of nature, where nature participates in the Fall, is a theme I picked up from Tillich, although it goes back to the Apostle Paul, and the Paradise/Arcadian Garden theme. I thought the latter was simpler and more direct. I hesitate to get into the theology of the salvation of nature. It is part of my despair over the future, I guess. I was going to include Tillich’s sermon on the salvation of nature, but I gave that up, as well. I regret it, because the title spoke to me and I wanted to think it through. It was important to me because Tillich spoke of salvation as an act of cosmic healing, where nature and society, as well as human beings, are saved. This goes against the Protestant dumb-down where only our souls are the object of salvation, a kind of terrible effect of Cartesianism. Nature and the social order can go to hell. The manipulation and control of nature in industrial society and modern Physicalist science and technology has contributed to this view even though most scientists would deny the meaning of the soul let alone saving it. Spiritual life is at such a flat stage, I didn’t know how to carry through the theme of the salvation of nature.

Like Rosenstock-Huessy said: “The sound of the axe is the natural philosophy of America.” Only now it is the chain saw. There is a need for a new philosophy of nature, with a theological dimension.

Isn’t there another sermon of Tillich’s that relates to your theme?

Yes, it is the line from Schelling, that I thought of when Chadwick died, which is the title of Tillich’s sermon in The Shaking Of the Foundations: “Nature, Also, Mourns For A Lost Good.” Tillich begins with the words of Paul, which are profound, to say the least:

“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Romans 8:19-22.

This ecstatic Pauline meditation on nature has had a great play in what you call the theological dimension of the environmental movement.


As well it should. Lynn White, Jr., opened the debate with his obtuse attack on the Christian or biblical tradition in a famous article on the historic roots of the environmental crisis, and the theme of stewardship of creation which he took to mean domination and exploitation which is an absurd distortion of the biblical meaning and then tried to make up for it by extolling St. Francis as the patron saint of the environmental movement. Anyhow, there is a great resource for reflection in the biblical tradition, foremost being the garden/wilderness theme that George Williams elucidates in his wonderful book–Wilderness and Paradise–which, as I mentioned, figured so centrally as an inspiration for me.

So you took the easy way out by using the slogan of the Garden derived from Goethe’s Italian Journey, which gave you a quasi-pagan reference rather than a biblical one.

True. It did make it easier and it was our motto. Arcadia is a great theme and serves me well. There is a nice essay by Bruno Snell in his Discovery Of the Mind, I should reread: “Arcadia and the Discovery of the Spiritual Landscape.”

Wasn’t there a movie made of the Garden?

Michael Stusser was a student and I obtained a small grant and he shot a half hour film. There is only one brief glimpse of Chadwick in the entire film, which is odd; he was so dramatic he should have been the star. But Stusser focused on the Garden and the students working in it. The remarkable part was the night he went to the studio to look at the rushes and coincidentally Norman 0. Brown, our big shot professor at the time, was recording his meditation on the garden, which he called “My Georgics” and it happened to come over the loud speaker in Stusser’s studio. Stusser ran around looking for him and talked him into letting him use it as the sound track for the film.

Eventually, Chadwick ended up in Covelo?

Yes. Huey Johnson was riding on an airplane with Richard Wilson, who was an environmentalist-rancher in Round Valley, or Covelo, in Northern California. Huey asked Richard Wilson to take him on and move him up to Covelo. Baker had to move him out–they

couldn’t take him any more at the Zen Farm at Green Gulch. He thought they sat too much and rode around in fast cars, when they should have been gardening. So Wilson took him and set him up with a garden project in Covelo, a small town in Round Valley, in Northern California. Dennis Tamura and Steve Decatur and Ramon Chavez went up with him and they carved out a garden only to watch it wash away in the odd flash floods in Covelo. Then he moved to a small farm area and developed a wonderful garden and an apprentice training group. It was a further consolidation of the Chadwick network where many young people were coming to receive the training and the discipline from the Taskmaster. He took on the role of a Master and proceeded to reveal mysteries. Richard Wilson was devoted to Alan and provided for him and the remarkable community that gathered, including woodworkers and crafts people, as well as gardeners. It was a very powerful time and Chadwick came into his own, much more so than at the University. We have over a hundred fifty lectures, all of them on tape, in an archive preserved by Wilson and Craig Siska and Virginia Baker, which we have developed at UCSC Special Collections.

You must have visited him there.

Yes, Page and I made a number of trips over the years. They

were memorable. Page was fun to travel with because he was like a shield and he always paid for everything. He was generosity personified.

What do you mean by “shield”?

He was “larger than life”, as the saying goes, so he opened up this space for you, which was very protective and nurturing and inspiring, at least it was for me. He made you feel invulnerable by following in the swath he cut. I remember the little motel where we stayed the first time we went up to Covelo, which, you have to realize, was like Shangri-la, a perfectly intact round valley you drop into, about thirty miles in diameter, surrounded by the Trinity Alps. We venture into the Buckthorn Bar, a redneck hangout, where you had to be careful. Page ordered a double bourbon with a particular flourish. I never knew anyone who routinely ordered a double, so I was impressed. We had a wonderful trip there one Easter and I arranged for an Easter egg hunt and have this photo of Page proudly showing off an egg he found which is special because Page referred to himself as a chicken rancher. He had taught a seminar and written a book-The Chicken Book–which he was proud of. I remember one episode where we stopped at the edge of the valley on our way home and Page bought some bantam chickens from an old Indian woman. He was a connoisseur of chickens. Late in life, under the influence of his wife, Eloise, he became an artist and did etchings of chickens and barnyard foul.

He illustrated your childrens’ book on the homeless–Florence The Goose.

Yes, he did. I was thinking who I might recruit in Santa Cruz to do the illustrations and one day I realized that Page had all these etchings of geese, so I asked him for them and they just fell into place for the book. It was magical. There was Florence in all manner of poses.

You brought Chadwick into your C.C.C. connection with Gov. Brown.

We had a C.C.C. Encampment at Covelo and Frank Davidson, who had been instrumental, along with Page, in starting Camp William James, in 1940, came out from Boston. We slept out on the lawn in front of Chadwick’s house and I sneaked in and slept in Chadwick’s bed and he had a fit when he found out–I should say FIT. He was also outraged over our cleaning the fridge which was filthy, which must have embarrassed him. I found a book from the UCSC Library taken out in my name: Goethe The Scientist, by Steiner, so I put it in my car to return. This all made him mad. Freya Von Moltke was there visiting and they had been up at Richard Wilson’s place in the mountains. We were going to have a great banquet in Freya’s honor and Chadwick stalked off in his temper and we were left to carry on without him. That was the last straw for me, so I didn’t speak to him for a year. I was just fed up. He finally came down to Santa Cruz and called me and we had a reconciliation and he told me about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and so on and I didn’t have a clue. He was telling me about the future of his work and my role in it and speaking in Arthurian Round Table riddles and then asked me if I understood what he was alluding to and I sort of nodded my head and then he hollered at me knowing I didn’t get it at all. It was embarrassing.

But this was an entry point for your interest in the Elizabethan Arcadia, including Dee and Bacon.

I knew nothing about it at the time. Now we could talk. Chadwick would have loved to have re-established the Entertainments which were famous in England, beginning in the summer of 1575, in a kind of aesthetic outburst of these themes. The Entertainments revived the Order of the Round Table and introduced the Faerie Queen who is Astraea or Gloriana–the Virgin Queen and the British Minerva. All of these associations were intact in a kind of morphic resonance–they were alive in their meaningfulness with Queen Elizabeth as their embodiment. The Good Shepherd (Poimandres) and the Hermit (Hermes) or wise man were incorporated in the Entertainments and set the scene for the Arthurian and Arcadian imagery of Sydney’s Arcadia and Spenser’s Fairie Queen. So my current interest in Arcadia and Ecotopia is another version of this kind of utopian thought of the Golden Age, “which permeated and influenced the whole development of Elizabethan pageantry, culture, learning, politics and national belief’, as Peter Dawkins puts it in his essay: Arcadia.

Then Chadwick fell ill, didn’t he?

Then he got cancer and he left for parts unknown. He lived in a cabin for a while with a friend and then he went to West Virginia on a hooey hooey venture, where he was taken in, in both senses of the phrase, by a spiritualist teacher named Paul Solomon, both names assumed–the Apostle and the King– in a remarkable act of self-aggrandizement. Talk about an egomaniac. It was in the Shenanodah Valley, the place of my favorite song, sung by the St. Olaf Choir. It was a New Age center, a spin-off from Edgar Cayce, who was Solomon’s guru, where the esoteric and occult were available for breakfast. Paul Solomon had a belly like a basketball and I was so shocked when I met him, I asked him how he could be a New Age Guru and not be able to tie his shoes. He didn’t think it was funny. Tara Singh was there, an Indian mystic, who was as delicious looking as a chocolate bar. At the Conference, Tara spoke about the two masters in residence, one false and one true, and we were supposed to guess which one was Chadwick and which one was Solomon.

What was the occasion for your going there?

I went there to give a lecture at the Conference Solomon organized. I knew Alan was dying and I wanted to see him. When I went in to see Alan I saw the Angel of Death hovering over him. It was heartbreaking. Bucky Fuller was there and gave a talk so it was nice to see him again although this time I don’t think he remembered me. Sir George Trevelyan was there, a famous Anthroposophist, from England and Barbara Marx Hubbard. My great friend, Rolf von Eckartsberg went with me and I remember driving up into the mountains for breakfast and having a shorty beer and the people around us talking as though they had won the Civil War.

Did Alan seek any medical treatment?

Alan refused conventional medical therapy, but I had heard that he had undergone psychic surgery and I found a woman who had witnessed it and asked her to tell me about it. I should have taken

notes. It was very bizarre. She told me in detail about the “entities” who entered the room and did their bit and then sat in a row against the wall. She was able to see them. She described them to me. It was not successful. Alan finally left when it was clear he was dying and he came back to Green Gulch, along with Acacia, his devoted nurse-attendant, who saw to his every need. I arranged for his return with the Bakers and they were willing to care for him. People lined up to hear his last words, including Jerry Brown. There was the Governor of California, with hat in hand, waiting to go in to hear him. Why not? Chadwick revealed nature’s mysteries from his deathbed.

Didn’t you have a final conference meeting before he died.


Yes, I organized a good-bye at Green Gulch. Jack Stauffacher did the broadside for it. I asked Alan to speak. I had seen him do it in West Virginia, where he was already so ill, it was curtains. He got himself up in his powder-blue Good Will suit, and came in to tell

us, again, the fairy tales of Rosemarinus and Calendula and the Nightingale and the Emperor. Everyone was moved, except for one guy who thought Alan was a ham, which I thought was ungenerous, given the circumstances. There was a huge storm, you could hardly move, as though nature itself was acting up, a horrendous ocean storm, a stage setting for Alan as King Lear, to rage against the coming night and the dying of the light.

Are you glad you knew Alan?

I have regretted meeting some people in my life, but not Alan Chadwick. It was a fate. There is no subjective opinion about it. That’s what I meant about institutional process–what we had to do with one another, small scale conceded, was far beyond our personalities or our own subjectivities. That was idiosyncratic. Even though it kept getting in the way as it usually does.

Wasn’t there some other event involving a psychic?

Yes, the lady in Santa Barbara. I went down to see Lotus Land, a fabulous garden developed by Ganna Walska, who was a famous Russian beauty and an opera singer. Her garden is very famous, especially for the Blue Garden section and the planting of Euphorbias around the house–unforgettable. This was some years after Alan had died. I met this woman psychic there. She saw an aborigine lurking behind a tree. She looked like she sold shoes at a military commissary, one of those utterly dumpy women with psychic powers. Somewhat later, I received a tape of her seance with Alan and it was quite remarkable. I don’t have any reason to believe she knew Acacia, who took care of Alan during his illness and she refers to her by her other name. Alan had asked after her and had a message for her. He had a message for me. He described me standing on the great greensward or meadow in front of the Pogonip Club, overlooking Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay and said something about how one day I would save it or be involved with it in some special way. There would be a garden there on a great scale. I was amazed because I went on to organize the Greenbelt Initiative to save Pogonip and have plans for a large-scale botanical garden there in Chadwick’s memory which may still come to pass with our Homeless Garden Project. So what do I know?

Tell about the opening of the Whole Earth Restaurant.

Sharon Cadwallader, was doing filing for me and she said she was writing a cookbook. We had just taken on the Whole Earth Restaurant Project and we needed a manager and chief bottle washer and Sharon was willing to do it. That was a big success. She made a career out of it as a famous cookbook author.

How come you were so good at getting other people jobs?

He saved others but he couldn’t save himself. One of my favorite lines. Ironically, one of our most successful projects–The William James Work Company, found about thirty thousand jobs for people during the late ’70’s. Page and I were very proud of that achievement. It was the preparatory training for our homeless work.

Isn’t there some other story about the opening of the Whole Earth?

Oh, that. We had the Red Mountain Boys play and the party went on to two in the morning. I completely forgot that Chadwick’s apartment was across the street. We hollered good-bye to everyone in the parking lot hanging out over the balcony as they drove away. After everyone left, my wife and I got into our Volvo Station wagon and started up the hill and here came Chadwick in his bathrobe, like a Banshee Owl, he seemed to be flying. He jumped up onto the hood of my car and looked into the window and said: “I knew it was you! You miscreant! You blackguard! Don’t move! You are under arrest! This is a Citizens’ Arrest! Wait here for the police!” I thought this guy has gone apeshit. I speeded up and swerved. He swung off and we were gone. That was a thriller. We had escaped the clutches of the Mad Gardener. The next day he acted like all was forgotten.

Didn’t something similar happen with Page Smith?

You mean acting like it never happened? It had to do with a reception my wife and I gave for Alan at Cowell College when we began the Garden to introduce him to the university community. We served watercress sandwiches, with watercress from our stream, which, if it had been polluted, might have killed someone. Polluted watercress. Nobody told me. Fortunately, it was o.k. We get so soon old and yet so late schmart. And we served champagne, which we thought was pretty fancy. I got a letter from Page congratulating me with the greatest sarcasm about thinking myself a pretty smart fellow for breaking the rules about alcohol. I didn’t know that a terrible, near fatal, accident, had occurred the year before after a cocktail party and everyone was up tight, as a result. He, if anything, was personally more cordial and gracious to me in person, after that. I still have the letter.

Didn’t you organize some lectures for Chadwick?

Yes, I was on to the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict and I thought it was important to tell as the context for Alan’s work at the University, so I talked him into giving a series. I gave an opening lecture: “Up With Goethe and Down With Newton”. We started in a classroom and wound up in the Quarry, which was a perfect setting for Alan, a large amphitheater in a natural setting on the campus where commencement and special events are held. Jack and Josephine Stauffacher had become friends by then and they brought a group from the City, including the artists–Gordon and Jacqueline Onslow-Ford and people from the opera and the theatre. Alan was charmed and it reminded him of his theatre days in London. We had wonderful lunches at the Whole Earth Restaurant after his lectures. It was the period of the Chadwick Salon and some of the happiest events as an was on his best behavior. I had to go away one weekend and Jack Stauffacher introduced him. His son, Mario, took some wonderful pictures.

These lectures are available?


Yes. We have audio tapes and transcribed texts. We made a false start at publishing them. Virginia Baker and I fell in with Sam Francis, the famous painter, who started the Lapis Press, with Jack Stauffacher, as the typographer and designer and we were going to do a book, but they were impossible to edit. Virginia is trying her hand at it again and they may come out after all. It is the perfect example of the dead letter versus the living voice or Chadwick versus Derrida.



Derrida is the French philosopher who makes so much of the distinction between writing and speech. It is a very large contemporary discussion. Jack Stauffacher and I developed a perfect friendship over the Chadwick Garden. He is the fine printer and typographer of the Greenwood Press, in San Francisco and a Goethean, so when I told him about our Goethean Garden at UCSC, he was eager to meet Chadwick. He did a series of Greenwood Press Broadsides commemorating our work, utilizing the theme of Goethe’s Italian Journey–Et In Arcadia Ego. The first was executed on Jan. 22, 1972. He did another for the last meeting with Chadwick at Green Gulch and he did one for me when I gave a talk commemorating the 200th anniversary of Goethe’s “Italian Journey”. They are treasures. So our collaboration on this book is the culmination of a great friendship.

Tell about meeting Robert Rodale and Wendall Berry.

I can’t remember the year. Whether I was still teaching or not. It was around 1972. I heard they had come. I knew about Rodale, of course. His father had single-handedly restored the integrity of the organic in the true meaning of the word, although credit has to be given to Frank Lloyd Wright, as well. They were two voices crying in the wilderness of industrial society, affirming the theme of the organic, against all odds. Rodale made a publishing empire out of it. I was first introduced to Rodale and Organic Gardening Magazine, at St. Olaf College, by Mrs. Julius Larson. She received grain from some organic wheat farm in Montana and made the best bread I ever had. She lived in a home designed by her son, Les, a good friend of mine, in the Frank Lloyd Wright style, called “Wheatledge”. Edna Hong’s bread was just as good, as I remember. She may have used the same source for flour. This was my second experience with the “organic”, in terms of the staff of life, after synthetic vanilla. It was 1950. The bread was an epiphany. It was a way of life. The Hongs lived it with the utmost consistency. They had an enormous influence on me as witnesses to the good life. We had Thursday afternoon philosophy discussions at their home on the campus which they had built and designed out of native stone and Edna would bring in freshly baked bread and cheese and it was heavenly to an impressionable young student sick of cafeteria food and Wonder Bread.

So you had an early understanding of the organic/synthetic confusion.

Then, years later, Robert Rodale, the son, and Wendall Berry, the poet; arrived to pay homage to Chadwick. Robert and Wendall had come to Santa Cruz, because Robert’s daughter, Heidi, was working in the Garden. They made the mistake of first going to the Farm and meeting Kaffka and then going up to meet Chadwick at the Garden. He refused to see them. It was a breach of protocol. So I intercepted them and brought them down to my house–I live just below the campus– and we had a talk. I gave my Physicalist/Vitalist spiel and Robert got it in a flash.

So you told Robert Rodale how his father re-constituted the integrity of the organic?


It was no news to him. Can you imagine single-handedly restoring the meaning of a word and the word is ‘organic’? I was keen on giving the philosophical and historical context which was news to him. He appreciated that. We kept up contact over the years until his tragic death in Russia. He called me before he went to China and we talked about the future of organic food production in China. I see Wendall every once in a while and revere him as the poet of organic integrity. He exemplifies it and he defends it as well as anyone I know. He should get the Nobel Prize just for the stand he has taken and the voice he has given to it: the witness to the organic. His book on the decline of the family farm–The Unsettling Of America– is an important contribution to the discussion.

You have as good a view as anyone of the Chadwick legacy–what can you say about it?

Well, the meeting with Alan before he died was designed to establish his legacy in some organized form: the Chadwick Archive, which would be a deposit of his tapes and memorabilia, the Chadwick Apprentice Network or Guild, namely, everyone who carried on the work, and the Chadwick Society, devoted to Alan’s memory. We did it for a while, with Virginia Baker as the Director, but we never found any money to sustain it. We did a fancy newsletter. It finally faded. Now we are trying to establish an archival deposit at UCSC Special Collections, at the McHenry Library, with Carol Champion. Craig Siska has over one hundred fifty tapes, as I mentioned, and is willing to donate them and we have other things to include. Siska is just now securing 1300 acres in North Carolina in order to fulfill the legacy of Chadwick in a project he calls Verdant Earth. It is a wonderful vision. Doug Boyd has joined him there–the biographer of Rolling Thunder. He came for a visit recently and we had a discussion of mutual interests and concerns.

The John Cage Mushroom Library Collection is at UCSC isn’t it?


Yes. Cage came to visit around 1969 and I introduced him to Chadwick. We took him mushroom hunting and it was one of those legendary days. Alan was in great form, leaping like a deer down Marshall Field, jumping in the air and clicking his heels. Robert Duncan, the poet, came along. We found bushel baskets of mushrooms, a few varieties Cage had never seen before. He was completely charmed by Chadwick and even wrote a piece about it. * He came back to my house afterwards and we had a bottle of wine and he said he’d like to give his collection of mushroom books to Alan and the Garden Project. So he did. The collection wound up in the McHenry Library in Special Collections.

You had met Cage in New York before you moved to Santa Cruz?

Yes. My former student at Harvard, Jake Brackman, who is famous for writing the cult film, “Main’s Gardens” and songs for Carly Simon, was a friend of his and he arranged for us to have lunch at Barbetta’s, a wonderful restaurant in New York. Jake was writing for The New Yorker and he put the following anecdote about the lunch in “The Talk Of The Town”:

Overheard at Barbetta’s Restaurant:

`My father recently died and my mother was depressed, so I told her to go out to California and visit our relatives and have a good time. She said, Oh, John, you know, I’ve never enjoyed having a good time.’

It was pure Cage.

So the Chadwick legacy lives on?

Oh big time!  John Jeavons has done as much as anyone to carry the Chadwick message to the world. Meeting him was an event. It was Sunday night about 10:00 p.m.. The doorbell rang and there was Jeavons looking like a gypsy vagabond with a couple of wives out in the van. He wanted to know if we could speak in private. I was alone in my front room. I thought of looking behind the couch. We went out into an adjoining patio. He whispered something I couldn’t quite hear. After repeated “what’s?” I finally heard him. “Did I understand the importance of what was happening”, he kept muttering under his breath? What? Our standing out in the cold and whispering? He meant Chadwick. He was an efficiency engineer and he decided to apply his skills to the Chadwick Method. I remember delivering his slide show on the Chadwick Method to Madam Deng, Chou En Lai’s widow, who was probably the most powerful woman in the world at the time, when I was in China, in 1988, leading an herbal delegation. I continue to get John’s newsletter–Ecology Action– and keep up with his work. He is incredibly energetic and devoted to the cause. I talked to Jerry Brown on the phone today about his interest in homeless gardens and he told me about Jeavons advising him on a roof garden he has begun in Oakland. I hear from time to time of old apprentices and what they are doing. We have many Chadwick disciples in the area devoted to organic gardening and farming. Alan touched many people’s lives with the message and quite a number have made it into a life style. Jim Nelson’s “Camp Joy” is my favorite local example, as well as Dennis Tamura’s “Blue Heron Farm”. This is where the Chadwick legacy lives in the students who have assumed the lifestyle of organic integrity.

Would you say that the Steiner connection opened up some remarkable lines of thought, what chaos theory would call “strange attractors”?

Yes, that’s true. Once you get unstuck from the University, you become more open for otherwise taboo-type influences. It is one of the unfortunate aspects of reductionism, where openness is sacrificed for an ever more specific accuracy, so a requisite narrowing of vision is demanded. Page Smith always deplored this tendency even in historiography, e.g.,”The History of the Wisconsin Dairy Industry From 1899-1900.” He poured scorn on monographic history and marshaled his energy for the big picture narrative view.

What would be a theme you consider controversial?

I suppose the monopole is one example of a far-out theme that has grasped me and fascinates me.

What is the monopole?

It could be the physics of the life-force or vital-force of the old Vitalists, for which there was no physics, unless you resort to “occult qualities”. The monopole is a strict extrapolation of quantum theory, formulated by Paul Dirac, in 1931, the year I was born and the same year of Godel’s “Incompleteness Theorem”. The monopole is a magnetic force with only one pole which contradicts the definition of a magnet and undermines the distinction between magnetism and electricity. I have followed the work of Phil Callahan, the entomologist, whom I mentioned, who did the monopole detection and has worked out detailed experiments and an elaborate theory which interests me. You can get a pretty good summary of Callahan’s work from Christopher Bird’s book: The Secrets of the Soils.  If you google Phil Callahan and look for his publications with Acres USA, you will see what I mean.

Didn’t he write: The Secret Life of Plants?

Yes, with Thompkins. Both volumes are concerned with the esoteric or Vitalist scientific side of botany and related fields. Remember how Clive Baxter had to hook up plants to a lie detector and then threaten to burn them with a cigarette to find out they were alive. That was cute. I met Baxter at the same time I met Callahan at a conference in Witchita, organized by Hugh Riordan, at the Garvey Center. Callahan has a number of books which are a good read, published by Acres USA, in Kansas City, Kansas.

Callahan’s monopole work reminds me of Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance”.

Rupert Sheldrake could be added to this mix, as one of the main philosophical exponents of neo-Vitalism. When we met, he told me his father had been an herbalist, which I was happy to learn. Sheldrake would go so far as to endorse pan-psychism, also known as hylozoism, in his effort to renew organic integrity. He is like a PreSocratic Greek in his understanding of life forms and his theme of morphic resonance. He has reversed the trend of an ontology of death, characterizing modern science ever since Newton and Galileo and has recovered an ontology of life. No mean feat.

What other figures follow in this tradition?

Arthur Koestler preceded him in this vein and his last book: Janus. A Summing Up, is a great testimony for neo-Vitalist themes cracking open the physicalist shell of modern science, which Koestler humorously calls the Trojan Horse syndrome. Koestler had a keen understanding of the issues. It’s very exciting stuff and I have enjoyed following it. Fritjov Capra is another neo-Vitalist scientist who has turned from physics to the green revolution. His Tao of Physics was a pioneer effort in the reaction to Physicalism. Sim Van Der Ryn, as an architect, is another example of a heroic dedication to organic integrity and environmental awareness and sustainability. He was the innovative genius as State Architect under Jerry Brown and a visionary environmentalist as a founder of the Farallones Institute. He arranged for a debate between Chadwick and Paolo Soleri which I had the pleasure of attending–I introduced Chadwick. I have lectured on the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict to Sim’s design classes at UC Berkeley over the years and we enjoy a close collaboration. Chadwick would have been delighted to know of these subsequent projects and these representatives of a modern Vitalism.

Who is your favorite writer on the issue?

The best single piece I know of on this larger issue of the Physicalist/Vitalist theme, taking into account the history of Western cultural thought altogether, is by Hans Jonas, who taught at the New School, in New York. He discusses the themes of “the ontology of life” versus “the ontology of death” in a very insightful way in the first chapter of The Phenomenon of Life. The Philosophy of Life or Lebensphilosophie was a strong tradition in Germany and has had some play in this country.

Are there allied influences?

William James’ Pragmatism has affinities with it, as well as with Existentialism. The same with Whitehead under the theme of organicism and process philosophy. Frank Lloyd Wright is very comparable to Steiner in his concern for organic architecture and was a beacon of light throughout this century. I bemoan the fact that Wright didn’t have an even greater influence, but it is remarkable that he was a force at all given the trend. Corbusier would represent the Physicalist or industrial side of the coin. The Bauhaus movement, as well. I wish I could give a course on this material because you learn something new in collaboration with students.

Can you give a summary of what Jonas puts forth?

The question is a little daunting inasmuch as the essay deals with the entire history of Western thought, but there is a page or so that gives a good capsulated version. The essay has a very strange title–you would hardly know what lurks there–“Life, Death, and the Body in the Theory of Being”–what an awful title! He should have called it “The Physicalist/Vitalist Conflict In the History of Western Thought” or “An Ontology of Death versus an Ontology of Life–the Role of Science in the History of Western Culture”.

Here is what he says:

“Modern thought which began with the Renaissance is placed in exactly the opposite theoretic situation. [From the ancient view which is a concentration on life, with death as the great mystery]. Death is the natural thing, life the problem. From the physical sciences there spread over the conception of all existence an ontology whose model entity is pure matter, stripped of all features of life. What at the animistic stage was not even discovered has in the meantime conquered the vision. of reality, entirely ousting its counterpart. The tremendously enlarged universe of modern cosmology is conceived as a field of inanimate masses and forces which operate according to the laws of inertia and of quantitative distribution in space. This denuded substratum of all reality could only be arrived at through a progressive expurgation of vital features from the physical record and through strict abstention from projecting into its image our own felt aliveness. In the process the ban on anthropomorphism was extended to zoomorphism in general.           at remained is the residue of the reduction toward the properties of mere extension which submit to measurement and hence to mathematics. These properties alone satisfy the requirements of what is now called exact knowledge: and representing the only knowable aspect of nature they, by a tempting substitution, came to be regarded as its essential aspect too: and if this, then as the only real in reality. This means that the lifeless has become the knowable par excellence and is for that reason also considered the true and only foundation of reality. It is the “natural” as well as the original state of things. Not only in terms of relative quantity but also in terms of ontological genuineness, non life is the rule, life the puzzling exception in physical existence.

Accordingly, it is the existence of life within a mechanical universe which now calls for an explanation, and explanation has to be in terms of the lifeless. Left over as a borderline case in the homogenous physical world-view, life has to be accounted for by the terms of that view. Quantitatively infinitesimal in the immensity of cosmic matter, qualitatively an exception from the rule of its properties, cognitively the unexplained in the general plainness of physical things, it has become the stumbling block of theory. That there is life at all, and how such a thing is possible in a world of mere matter, is now the problem posed to thought. The very fact that we have nowadays to deal with the theoretical problem of life, instead of the problem of death, testifies to the status of death as the natural and intelligible condition.

Here again, the problem consists in the collision between a comprehensive view and a particular fact: as formerly panvitalism, so now panmechanism is the comprehensive hypothesis; and the rare case of life, realized under the exceptional, perhaps unique conditions of our planet, is the improbably particular that seems to elude the basic law and therefore must be denied its autonomy–that is, must be integrated into the general law. To take life as a problem is here to acknowledge its strangeness in the mechanical world which is the world; to explain it is–in this climate of a universal ontology of death–to negate it by making it one of the possible variants of the lifeless. Such a negation is the mechanistic theory of the organism, as the funeral rites of prehistory were a negation of death. L’Homme machine signifies in the modern scheme what conversely hylozoism signified in the ancient scheme: the usurpation of one, dissembled realm by the other which enjoys an ontological monopoly. Vitalistic monism is replaced by mechanistic monism, in whose rules of evidence the standard of life is exchanged for that of death.” p.11.

You could hardly get a more succinct formulation with greater clarity. I have been studying Husserl and his Crisis of Western Science, which is a superb critique of Physicalism. He talks about the mathematization of nature by Galileo as the beginning of the massive effort to control and exploit nature. I didn’t realize that Phenomenology was a correction and major critic of Physicalism until I read this essay. Now I have a great appreciation for Husserl even though he is rather old-fashioned in his belief in Western rationality and science. Jonas continues the critique of Physicalism with his discussion of an ontology of death. The entire essay is so tightly formulated it is a classic, in my estimation. This is intelligence at work at a very high level of conceptual ability. I add organic nature to his use of the term life. It is hard to believe that a revolution in physics and then chemistry should have presaged the entire reorganization of what counts for knowledge, but this is exactly what happened in what is known as modernity. We are going through a comparable re-organization now, under the theme of post-modernity. I’m sorry I never had the chance to meet Jonas. He and Tillich must have been friends.

Does Jonas say anything about the organism or the organic?

Yes, he does.

” …what the general nature of the world is, has been decided in advance: mere matter in space. Therefore, since organism represents “life” in the world, the question regarding life now poses itself thus: How does the organism stand in the total context already defined, how is this special order or function of it reducible to its general laws–how, in short is life reducible to non-life? To reduce life to the lifeless is nothing less than to resolve the particular into the general, the complex into the simple, and the apparent exception into the accepted rule. Precisely this is the task set to modern biological science by the goal of “science” as such. The degree of approximation to this goal is the measure of its success; and the unresolved remainder left at any time denotes its provisional limit, to be advanced by the next move.”

I wish I could put it as well. His essay deserves a book length elaboration and interpretation.  I have thought of doing a Jonas Reader where I would put together his discussion of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict along with a commentary.  His discussion is rather embedded in various essays and he never attempted a systematic approach to the problem even though he has the best formulations I have read.

One more sentence says it all:

“Today the living, feeling, striving organism has taken over this role (of the corpse in ancient thought) and is being unmasked as a ludibrium materiae, a subtle hoax of matter. Only when a corpse is the body plainly intelligible: then it returns from its puzzling and unorthodox behavior of aliveness to the unambiguous, “familiar” state of a body within the world of bodies, whose general laws provide the canon of all comprehensibility. To approximate the laws of the organic body to this canon, i.e., to efface in this sense the boundaries between life and death, is the direction of modern thought on life as a physical fact. Our thinking today is under the ontological dominance of death.” p.12

I see what you mean. In other words, Oparin’s definition of life as a qualification of dead matter is just a more formal pronouncement of the ludibrium materiae, a subtle hoax.

Exactly. Life as a “subtle hoax of matter”, what a perfect way to put the Physicalist view. Freud’s qualitative leap in the neurone as the origin of consciousness is of the same conceptual ilk. I was reading Habermas today: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity and he has something very similar to say:

“The cognitive-instrumental one-sidedness of cultural and societal rationalization was also expressed in philosophical attempts to establish an objectivistic self-understanding of human beings and their world–initially in mechanistic and later in materialistic and physicalistic world views, which reduced the mental to the physical by means of more or less complicated theories. In Anglo-Saxon countries to this very day, analytical materialism keeps discussion of the mind/body relationship alive; to this very day, physicalistic or other scientistic background convictions underwrite the demand that everything intuitively known be alienated from the perspective of a natural-scientific observer–that we understand ourselves in terms of objects. For objectivistic self-understanding, what matters, naturally, is not any explanation of detail but the unique act of inverting the natural attitude to the world. The lifeworld itself is to be brought into the perspective of self-objectification in such a way that everything that is normally disclosed to us within its horizon-

performatively, as it were–appears from an extramundane angle of vision as an occurrence purely and simply foreign to all meaning, extrinsic and accidental, explicable only in accord with natural-scientific models.

As long as mechanics, biochemistry, and neurophysiology have supplied the languages and models, we have not been able to get beyond general and abstract correlations and foundational discussions about mind and body. Descriptive systems stemming from the natural sciences are too remote from everyday experiences to be suitable for channeling distantiating self-descriptions into the lifeworld in a differentiated manner and along a broad front. This changes with the language of general systems theory that has developed from cybernetics and with the application of its models in various life sciences. The models derived from intelligent performances and tailored to organic life come a lot closer to the sociocultural form of life than classical mechanics.” pp 384-5.

Well, that’s mostly technical jargon, following in the tradition of Husserl and his effort to recover the Lifeworld or Lebenswelt, but the point is made for our side. It is reassuring to know that the discussion is there, if you know where to look for it. Systems theory is a way of overcoming the Physicalist/Vitalist split. Likewise, organicism.

How do you find your way with these themes unless you know a lot about Western philosophy, let alone all the other fields you read in?

Well, start reading. The history of Western humanities is now an endangered species. The entire spiritual tradition, beginning with the presocratic philosophers and culminating in Socrates and the witness to him on the part of Plato, and then Aristotle, coupled with the biblical tradition and their eventual confluence in the late Ancient and early Medieval periods, is now so dead and buried we can hardly account for the death of the human spirit in modern times. The spiritual outburst of Greek culture, the origins of rational self-consciousness, the experiential context on which the meaning of reason depends, all of this is in need of restoration once the attack on the Dead White European Male has spent itself and is overcome. I am hoping the course I did with Tillich at Harvard in the early ’60’s eventually will be published as the restoration of the classic Core–what every intelligent person ought to know, but it will probably not happen. It would be nice to anticipate another Renaissance renewal of the ancient sources of Western culture at the end of the self-destruction of industrial society with all the attendant renewal of creativity in cultural and spiritual life this entails sometime in the next millennium. If it only happens every five hundred years we are about due.

Let’s go back to the monopole. I don’t get what the monopole has to do with anything.


You’re not alone. My association with the life force of Vitalism was just a guess but everything developed by Callahan bears this out. It is just that almost no one, I mean almost no one, pays attention to him. Callahan draws the implications for soils in his work, so you would have to look there for that line. I found out about the monopole in a completely fortuitous way. I was in Wisconsin campaigning for Brown for President when a reporter from the L.A. Times asked me why I was interested in Jerry Brown and I launched into my urea pitch only to show that Brown was the only politician who took into account the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society, until someone kicked me. The reporter quoted me, making me look like a jerk: “When asked why he was campaigning for Brown, Herb Guru, Paul Lee, said, ‘In 1828, a German chemist’…”, and so on, and this guy reads about it and calls me up from Lockheed. His name was Dr. Randall Frost. I thought it was my friend, Earl McGrath, playing a prank on me and I kept saying, “O.K. Earl. I know it’s you.” Well, it really was Dr. Frost from Lockheed. Dr. Frost was involved with urea in the aging of metals, which was news to me. We fell into an interesting talk. It must have lasted for an hour. I thought this might be the guy I can ask about the difference between organic and synthetic urea. He told me about Lehninger, who wrote a classic text on organic chemistry and then we proceeded to discuss the difference. I remember the call as if it happened yesterday. Here is my retrieval of the main part:

Lee: What’s the difference between organic and synthetic urea?

Frost: Oh, that’s well known. The formulae are given in Lehninger’s text on organic chemistry.

Lee: Well, that’s news to me. The assumption is that they are identical, which is the basis for the refutation of Vitalism.

Frost: No, I’ll send you the pages from Lehninger.

Lee: If Lehninger gives the different formulae for organic and synthetic urea, how do you account for the difference?

Frost: Oh, that’s an interesting question. It is due to the monopole.

Lee:    at is the monopole?

Frost: It is a magnetic force, with only one pole, postulated by Dirac as a strict extrapolation from quantum theory. It is infinitely long and infinitely thin.

Lee: Infinitely long and infinitely thin?  What is it? God?

Frost: I’ve wondered about that myself.

Lee: Is it the life-force of the old vitalists?

Frost: That’s interesting. You might say so.

Lee: How do monopoles make the difference?

Frost: Monopoles don’t link to synthetics; only to organic entities. Lee: How do they do that?

Frost: Through soliton particles.

Lee:    What are soliton particles?

Frost: This is getting complicated. I’ll send you articles on the monopole and soliton particles from Scientific American.

Lee: O.K. Nice talking to you.

So that was when I became interested in the monopole. I was teaching a class on philosophy to high school students at the time and told them about the monopole and they took an interest in it and so we invited Dr. Frost to come and talk to us and it was one of those magical evenings where the subject caught fire. The next morning, the San Francisco Chronicle announced the detection of the monopole at Stanford. The next morning! Another remarkable coincidence. Then I met Phil Callahan at a Wholistic Health conference in Kansas and he handed me his paper on the detection of the monopole as we shook hands. He detected monopole events by hooking up a Ficus benjaminus tree in his front room and got monopole fluctuations over a seven year period, especially on the equinox and especially the summer equinox, or St. John’s Day, June 22nd. Keep it in mind next June and go with the flow.

You have developed contrasting examples right down the line, haven’t you? The monopole filled the bill as the physics for the integrity of organic nature with soliton particles as the link between monopoles and organic entities?

Yes, although this is still at such a preliminary stage of discussion and formulation all it does is open a door to a possible line of inquiry of which I am incapable of pursuing. It would take some collaboration the nature of which I have as yet to invite or find. Ralph Abraham has taken an interest in the theme, so we’ll see what he does with it. Rupert Sheldrake acted bored when I brought it up, but it is a natural for his morphic resonance theme.

Maybe this discussion will elicit some response.


Wouldn’t that be nice. I have an e-mail address:  although I prefer:

And I have a web site: and a home page:

You seem to be in a difficult position in terms of everything you think not just your demise at the university.


Tell me about it. What has opened up is a long discourse which I can only outline. Maybe after this gets out I can turn my mind to it. I have already started thinking about it.

What is that?


Well, I formed a kind of study program three years ago when Ralph Abraham asked me to sketch out the philosophical origins of chaos theory. He was working on a new edition of Euclid as a result of our studying John Dee. Dee had been responsible for the first English translation of Euclid by Billingsley and had written a famous introduction to it which could be cited as an effort at a ma thesis univeralis, namely an attempt to develop a mathematical system of the sciences or a mathematically based system of the sciences. Dee’s introduction became the ground plan for mathematical studies for subsequent generations. It was even used at Harvard. Inspired by the confluence of Dee and Euclid for Elizabethan England, Ralph decided to go back and chart the transmission of the Euclid text throughout Western culture from its origins up to Dee and the 16th century. Then he decided to do a new edition of Euclid, complete with computer graphics. So this gave us the theme of the origins of geometry, which is practically the axiomatic science of all sciences, the reference point for a ma thesis universalis.

Didn’t Tillich write a System of the Sciences?

Yes, he did. He was always apologetic about it, as though it was a kind of aberration of his over-ambitious youth, but it is an interesting effort in the tradition, although instead of

mathematics, he utilizes theology as his thematic ground, the very subject matter to be excluded and rejected by Physicalism and Positivism and now the target of Derrida’s “Deconstruction”, in terms of onto-theology and logocentrism, which Tillich represented as well as anyone.

So you were able to supply the philosophical antecedents to chaos theory?

Yes. It turned out that a very interesting discussion was ascertainable, beginning with Husserl, who wrote two important essays: The Origins Of Mathematics and The Origins Of Geometry. The latter was distinguished by a very long introduction by Derrida, his doctoral thesis and his first published piece. This brought up all kinds of problems to think about. It took me to Husserl’s last work, the famous Crisis, which is his great commentary on Descartes, his critique of Galileo and the mathematization of nature, and his discussion of the telos of Western culture as the inner aim of history, beginning with the “Greek eccentrics”, as he calls them and their theme of thaumazein or wonder. This is all great stuff, because in the course of discussing all this, Husserl beats up on the Physicalists as dumb-down guys, much to my delight.

Where did this take you?

Well, I knew that Heidegger, as the student of Husserl, whom he betrayed after Hitler came to power, tried to carry through these themes, where they pretty much foundered, compounded as they were by his flirtation with Nazism, which introduced a virus or a taint into his thought, which no one can ignore, now that it has come to light. But he is so central to much of modern or post-modern thought, the line goes through him. Derrida picks it up and incorporates Godel, which is very important for me, as Godel is a key figure.

So this is where deconstruction and the incompleteness theorems and the undecidability problem prepare the way for chaos thought or chaos philosophy.


Exactly. It is a logical progression. You can see how the decks were cleared for chaos theory just by the sequence of terms which are symbolic of the trend: bracketing of existence (Husserl), cancellation of being (Heidegger), incompleteness and undecidability (Godel), and deconstruction (Derrida).

So you utilize the theme from Heidegger on the recoil from the unknown root in his critique of Kant and you play with his discussion of the Greek word for truth–aletheia–or unconcealedness.


It is one of the most obfuscating words anyone could imagine, but his discussion, especially in his lecture series, published as Parmenides, is compelling, because he takes it into a discussion of “The Myth of Er”, at the end of Plato’s Republic, one of my favorite texts, so I had to pay attention. And he is a very uncanny commentator. I have learned a lot from him. It’s just that he is controversial and practically impossible to apologize for.

Because he extolled Hitler as the savior of Germany.

Can you imagine making a mistake like that–as the nation’s foremost philosopher– and then never a word about it, afterwards, as the mistake of a lifetime? Karl Jaspers asked him

why he was so interested in Hitler–someone with such a low and vulgar intelligence– and Heidegger said: “But he has such beautiful hands.” Now that is one of the weirdest responses in the history of 20th century thought.

Doesn’t Derrida have an essay on Heidegger’s hands?

Weirdness compounded. Holding hands with Hitler. What is important for me in all this is the theme of what is hidden and revealed at the same time. The word for it is “occultation”. I am fascinated by it. I recently read Horkheimer and Adorno on The Dialectic of the Enlightenment and they have a handle on it which is very interesting to me because they utilize the myth of the Song of the Sirens, in the Odyssey, which I am fond of because of the parable of “The Silence of the Sirens”, by Kafka. Their discussion is a commentary on Kafka’s Parable, although they didn’t know of it, as far as I can tell. It is one rare coincidental juxtaposition of text and commentary.

This is related to your interest in the historical origins of rational self-consciousness, as you call it.

Yes, it is. From the Archaic Smile, through Homer, to the Presocratics and Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. It is a laboratory for the evolution of rational self-consciousness, predicated on literacy.

How did you get on to the theme?

Tillich introduced me to the whole sweep when we did the Harvard Course. It was a fabulous panoramic view of the Western cultural tradition. Then Havelock, whom I knew at Harvard, published: Preface To Plato. It was a bombshell. I remember John Finley, a rival classics professor, at Harvard, told me he stayed up all night reading it straight through in a fit of envy. It’s that kind of book. Havelock set the theme of the transition from native-oral-tribal Homeric culture to rational-literate-civic Socratic/Platonic culture. It is the classic study of the rise of rational self-consciousness and builds upon a school of thinkers, including Bruno Snell, E. R. Dodds, and the oral tradition scholars at Harvard–Milman Parry and Albert Lord. I was ready for Havelock because of the work of Bruno Snell on oral society and Homeric anthropology. All of this lead to my interest in thymos as a key term for vitality, courage and spirit or spiritedness, the bridge between reason and desire and the unreflective striving for what is noble (eros), as Tillich translated it in his study of thymos: The Courage To Be.

So thymos became your reference point for the evolution of rational self-consciousness on the track from Homer to Socrates/Plato.


As I said, it is my favorite word. In a way, thymos comprehends life in the biological spirit and life in the rational spirit. It is the linguistic basis for “soul” and represents exactly what we have lost. I have the model clearly in mind, as characterized by Socrates in the Republic. It is the basis for understanding the meaning of philosophy as the love of wisdom, the friend of Sophia.

And Tillich gave you the history of the term in his Courage To Be.


Tillich also alerted me to the theme of the two types of reason in his distinction between receiving or revelatory reason and controlling or technical or instrumental reason. He was friends with the Frankfort School members, of which Horkheimer and Adorno were foremost, so they were on the same wave length. I am trying to organize a line of thought on these themes and have been working on it every summer for the past three years. I am interested in the theme of  mathesis universalis and what is universally true. It raises so many issues it makes one’s head swim, but I am getting clearer about it. What interests me is the progression of thought from the Kantian problem of “existence is not a predicate”, to Husserl’s “bracketing of existence”, to Heidegger’s “cancellation of being”, to Derrida’s “deconstruction” and Godel’s “incompleteness” and “undecidability” themes. It is a continuous clearing of the decks, as we have said, in the preparation for chaos thought which characterizes the current trend as well as the age.

You think this is the Age of Chaos?

Look around. It’s as good a term as any.

You seem to have a renegade streak that makes you gravitate to far-out or controversial subjects and movements, such as your involvement in the herbal industry. Your herbal interests followed from your interest in the theoretical issues and your involvement with the Chadwick Garden?

When I entered the herbal industry, it was a logical progression for me from Chadwick’s Gardena I was slightly bemused over being denied tenure and kicked out of my teaching career and ending up identified with the most despised and rejected subject matter–herbalism.

Why is it rejected and despised?

Oh, come on. It practically disappeared for fifty years, because it was identified with quackery, as a result of the Physicalist influence on the medical sciences. Here is a good quote from a novel I stayed up reading most of the night–The Cunning Man, by Robertson Davies:

“The spirit of the medical school was firmly hierarchical; you crept upward, begging acceptance of the greater ones above you, questioning only when questioning seemed to be asked for, and if you had the makings of a True Believer, a Saved Soul, in you, you acquired a detestation of patent medicines, of osteopaths and chiropractors, of homeopaths and herbalists, of all quacks, midwives, and pretenders to medical knowledge, which was the property of your botherhood, and you knew with whatever modesty lay in you, that you were a measure apart.” p. 164.

So herbalism, for you, was another example of the elimination of Vitalism?

An example that practically defines the split.A direct consequence. I saw how herbalism, the botanical basis of health care, with thousands of years of tradition behind it, was practically wiped out by industrial allopathy or modern medicine, as a Physicalist form of health care, the direct consequence of the synthesis of urea and the development of Organic Chemistry. Synthetic drugs supplanted medicinal herbs, just as allopathy replaced homeopathy. In one stroke medicine became predominantly curative rather than preventive in terms of focus. Allopathy is big dose medicine–.millions of units of penicillin, as opposed to the inverse dose principle of homeopathy, which is about the best example of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict I know–Physicalist bomb versus Vitalist trace.

So homeopathy is the Vitalist counterpart to Physicalist allopathy and your best illustration of the split.


Homeopathy and herbalism represent the Vitalist side and they practically had to go underground for half a century. Now there is a big revival, but only with healthcare consumers, influenced by the organic movement and the return to natural products, as they are called. As I said, there has been almost no impact on professional health care training and practice on the part of what I call the herb renaissance, the rebirth and recovery of the botanical basis of health care. Conventional medical science, which is industrial society medicine, thinks of herbalism as quackery thanks to the implicit identification of herbalism with defeated and rejected Vitalism. There is nothing like a good explanatory line of thought to bring these ideological grudges to the surface. Herbal health care versus synthetic drug health care, or traditional medicine versus industrial medicine, or homeopathy versus allopathy, are my favorite illustrations of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict. The contrasts are practically self cancelling they are such logical extremes of the theme.

So you pursued your theme of “vital roots” from the Chadwick Method into the field of herbal medicine, which carries through your understanding of the move from the Vitalist garden to the Physicalist lab?


It was providential for me, a perfectly natural sequence. It all happened because of my obsessive interest in the herb thyme and the ThymOs Doctrine, as I call it, and the three components: vitality, herbs, and immunity.

Chadwick introduced you to herbs?

I knew almost nothing until he opened my eyes, partly by teaching me the significance of the binomials, the Latin names for herbs, and the legends they include.

How do you mean?

Well, Chadwick would delight in telling fairy stories about Rosemarinus and Lavendula, rosemary and lavender, and everyone would become a child, listening to him. It was “Let’s Pretend”, all over again, a radio program I adored when I was a child. It played every Saturday morning. I can even hum the tune and hear the magic whistle that transported you to the land of make-believe.

So you pursued the meaning of herbal nomenclature in Latin?

And Greek. It is one of my best memories in learning this new subject matter. I had to sit down and develop a repertoire of herbs after I became the Executive Director of the Herb Trade Association with responsibilities for organizing the national industry.

How did you get the position?

Ben Zaricor, of the Finali Herb Company, in Santa Cruz, was one of the founding members of the Herb Trade Association and he sponsored me for the position when I was working for him. I was the only one with a Ph.D. from Harvard, although it wasn’t in botany or traditional medicine. When I was in the Leary Group at Harvard and Editor of the Psychedelic Review, I knew Richard Schultes, an authority in ethno and psychedelic botany, because he came to our discussion group. He was the main figure in traditional or herbal medicine at Harvard, known as ethno-botany, the use of medicinal plants by native peoples and he specialized in the psycho-active ones. That was it.

So psychedelics were an introduction to herbalism.

Some of the guys in the industry dealt marijuana before they got into the other medicinals, so that was kind of an in-joke, although they were the first to admit it. All I knew about was thyme, Thymus vulgaris, so I set myself the task of developing a repertoire, beyond the few that Chadwick had introduced me to. I needed to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. I sat down and wrote a self-instructional manual which I called: The Long Lost Herbal of Cabeza de Vaca. I was much taken by his story, this Spanish conquistador, who landed on the coast of Florida with a large expedition of hundreds, which was reduced to


Was that his name? Head of a cow?

His full name was Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. Cabeza de Vaca, or Head of a Cow, is his noble title going back to a shepherd, named Alhaja, who helped the King of Spain beat the Moors in a decisive battle by staking out a remote mountain pass with the head of a cow. The King’s forces went through the pass and were victorious and the King knighted the shepherd with the title: Cabeza de Vaca. The title descends to Alvar Nunez through his mother. As the only survivors, he leads the other three on an eight year walk to Mexico City. In the area of El Paso, they were told by the natives there, who were naked and starving, either heal our sick, or die. So Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca prayed over the sick Indians and they were healed. He was initiated into the herbal medicine of the tribe and became a curandero. The transformation is stunning–a miracle: from conquistador to curandero. There is a wonderful literature on all this, not least his own letter to the King of Spain, which he wrote when he reached Mexico City, called Los Naufragios, the Shipwrecked Ones or the Castaways. It is an existential theme, made famous in philosophy by Karl Jaspers and his concept of “foundering”. I was very moved by this when Rolf Von Eckartsberg sent me a tape, reading the story of Cabeza de Vaca, by Haniel Long, a kind of imaginative update, as if Alvar Nunez wrote again and said what was between the lines in the original letter. It is a remarkable piece. Henry Miller wrote the Preface to it: An Interlinear to the Letter of Cabeza de Vaca to the King of Spain. Page Smith and I happened to go on retreat with students in a class we were teaching on the thought of Rosenstock-Huessy, to an Episcopal Monastery, in Santa Barbara and I listened to the tape in my cell. It was a great experience. “I am that Alvar Nunez, Cabeza de Vaca, who….”

Isn’t there a fairly recent Mexican movie on his life?

Yes, it is very surreal and exotic. I saw it in Santa Cruz. I thought about doing a film script myself but never got around to it.

So you wrote your self-instructional manual in his spirit?


Yes. I invoked a form of guidance. I asked for the blessing of his healing power on the herb renaissance and on my project to develop a self-instructional manual under his inspiration. I started with the question: what is the origin of the herbal tradition in Ancient Greece? My motive was to reconstitute the herbal tradition in myself–to receive the transmission of the spiritual substance of herbal lore and practice from its origins in ancient Greece all the way up to myself–and thereby overcome the short-circuit that had occurred as a result of the loss of the botanical basis of health care in the last generation in this country.

Your father was a doctor wasn’t he?


Yes. He was the son of immigrant Norwegian farmers in Wisconsin, which is important to me, as the family lineage is very strong–it’s where my vital roots are– and he practiced medicine in Milwaukee for fifty years. He died in 1995, at the age of one hundred. I was supposed to go to medical school, but I was too clumsy and inept for chemistry, so I transferred from pre-med to philosophy, at St. Olaf College. I felt I had betrayed my father’s hopes that I would eventually assume his practice. The herbal career was a kind of make-up, although he was mostly amused by it.

Was your self-instructional manual a success?

Let me tell you. I sat down with my sources and opened a Master’s Thesis from the University of Texas on the medicinal herbs of Texas that Mark Blumenthal found for me. I thought these were herbs Cabeza de Vaca could have used, herbs he was introduced to as a result of his initiation as a curandero in that very region. I started with the first herb–yarrow. I was going to fill out the culinary and medicinal uses and effects of about one hundred of the most popular herbs. I looked at the binomial–Achillea millefolium. I was stunned. I had the herb of Achilles as an opener. Remember, I asked to have the origins of the herbal tradition in ancient Greece revealed to me and the first herb I pick bears the name of the hero. of the Iliad. I found out Achilles used the herb to stop the wounds of his comrades at Troy, because yarrow was a styptic and coagulated blood when topically applied. I remember a slight shudder of bewilderment and wonder at the find. The next herb was wormwood. The binomial was Artemisia absinthium. I knew it was used to make Absinthe which does not make the heart grow fonder, because it stimulates the brain, leading to brain rot if you drink too much, as painted by Toulouse- Lautrec. Another stunner. I had the herb of Artemis. She was the goddess of the hunt, the woods, and the moon. A wild goddess. This was her herb. It glowed in the moonlight. It was the first herb I planted, in her honor, when I turned my backyard lawn into an herb garden. It grew to about fifteen feet in height which no one had ever seen before. I have had other such experiences with herbs planted or appearing as volunteers. She turned out to be the first in the genealogy, the source, the herb goddess of the ancient Greeks.

Who did she teach?

She taught Chiron the Centaur, who opened the first herb school in his cave at the foot of Mt. Pelion, where all the Greek heroes were apprenticed in their youth, beginning with Achilles. I was on a roll. The next herb, believe it or not, was Centaury which is the herb of Chiron, the medicinal gentian. There is a wonderful depiction showing Chiron receiving Achilles and Peleus, (or Plato and Asclepias, the attributions are a dispute), which adorns the herbal of Apuleius-Platonicus. Then came milkweed, the herb of Asclepias, the Greek god of healing and I had the first four, the Fab Four of the Herb Renaissance, right there in my garage, which was the office of the Platonic Academy of the Herb Renaissance. My prayer was answered. As I said– I had prayed for this in the name of the healing power of Alvar Nunez, which I wanted him to bestow upon me, vouchsafe to me, and it came to pass. I added Odysseus, just for fun, and gave him garlic: Allium sativum. I made up a story about how all of the heroes, upon successful completion of their herbal studies, at their graduation ceremony, were given an herb by Chiron that would forever after bear their name.

So Achilles got yarrow and Asclepias milkweed. Why did Odysseus get garlic?


Odysseus was such a smart-alec, Chiron gave him an herb as a task, one that was not named after him, but would figure in the prophecy given him by Tiresias in the Underworld when Odysseus is told that Hermes will give him a special form of yellow flowering garlic–Holy Moly–to ward off Circe’s snares. So Odysseus was given garlic and the task of planting it wherever he went on his extensive travels. It is not widely known that after Odysseus returned to Ithaca he sailed again after he killed the suitors and reclaimed his kingdom, the second sail that lead to his discovering America and winding up in Gilroy. Very few people know about it. He landed just north of Watsonville, on the Monterey Bay Coast, south of Santa Cruz, and walked inland over Mount Madonna, into Gilroy, where he met a Gilroy Indian, who

asked him why he was carrying a winnowing fan (an oar) over his shoulder.

Why did the Gilroy Indian ask him that?

Tiresias, the blind prophet of the Underworld, had told Odysseus his fate, how he would have to sail forth again after returning to Ithaca, West, beyond the sun, where eventually he would land and walk inland with an oar over his shoulder, until someone

asked him about the winnowing fan, mistaking the oar for a fan. This was the prophesy.

So that’s what the Gilroy Indian asked him?


He was then to plant the oar in the ground and that would be the point where he realized his destiny. At the very moment he planted the oar, he remembered that garlic literally meant “spear” or “oar shaped” (because of the leaves) and he had some in his pocket–some of the original stash given to him by Chiron– and that was how Odysseus discovered America and planted garlic in Gilroy.


Isn’t there a famous essay by Hermann Brock on this second voyage of Odysseus and how he discovered America.


Yes, there is. It is one of my sources for the legend.


Have you ever communicated your story to anyone?

I read my story at the Nickelodeon Movie Theatre in Santa Cruz when they showed Les Blanc’s film: “Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers”. My reading bombed because no one wanted to hear it–they wanted to see the movie. There was no light at the front of the theatre and they had to run around and find a flashlight for me to read by. People became restless. They threw paper airplanes at me and booed. My wife refused to walk out with me and met me in the parking lot. She just waved me on and acted like she did’nt know me when I walked up the aisle to pick her up. Can you believe it? It was one of those nights. I had to go back and do it the next evening, so instead of reading it, I recited it from memory running up and down the aisles. That didn’t help much but at least they didn’t boo. Energetic presentations carry a lot of weight.

Didn’t you want to re-enact it for the Gilroy Garlic Festival?

You would think I would have learned my lesson. I thought it would be a great ritual for opening the festival which is very famous. I called the Director of the Garlic Festival, he had gone to school with my friend Burney LeBoeuf; this is years ago, and told him the story over the phone and he said: “Odysseus who?”, in a very incredulous tone, like I was representing some pushy Greek in the wholesale business, so I knew he was more interested in portable toilets than my landing somewhat north of Watsonville and walking over Mount Madonna in a dress with an oar over my shoulder and a pocketful of garlic. It wasn’t the first time my best laid plans went nowhere.

What was another?

I wanted to introduce the citizens of Santa Cruz County to their thymus gland–it was before people knew they had one as the central organ of their immune system. This was over twenty years ago. I was going to give them a thyme ointment to rub on their thymus, called a Thyme Balm, so they could commune with their thymus after being introduced to it. I wrote to John Travolta and asked him if he would come and introduce “the Thymus Thump” as a new disco dance step. I thought that would catch everyone’s attention. He wrote back and said “no”. I thought we could lower the incidence of cancer by just that much. I thought it was an interesting application of the placebo effect. I wanted everyone in the County to eat a little thyme a day, to keep cancer away. I still think it’s a good idea.

Would you say your ideas are a little too imaginative for your own good?

I’m definitely before my thyme.

So you had the herb tradition at its origins. Then what?

The rest was easy. All I had to do was look it up. Hippocrates was born into the priestly family of doctors that took their direct descent from Asclepias, in order for the myth to enter history. From there, the sequence is clear. I found an herbal by Apuleius-Platonicus, linking the herbal tradition to Plato, who is famous for thinking of philosophy as therapy (overcoming the anxiety of having-to-die) and who thinks of Socrates as the phal makon or the poison/remedy/scapegoat. This is a brilliant theme that Jacques Derrida opened up for me in his essay on “Plato’s Pharmacy”, in Disseminations. It is one of my favorite essays in the philosophical literature. I have been a student of Derrida’s ever since, although I am an onto-theological exponent and a defender of everything he stands against. It is good to learn from your sharpest critical enemy. Derrida is one of the last steps on the way to chaos philosophy, which I am working on. The scapegoat theme is also pursued in a brilliant way by Rene Girard in his: Things Hidden From the Foundation Of the World. It is easy to think of herbalism as the scapegoat of industrial medicine seeing how the theme is part of the meaning of the word for drug or medicinal remedy or pharmaceutical.

How did scapegoat get to be part of the meaning of the word for drug?


Well, you have the tradition of the poison/remedy. Poisons in proper doses are medicines, that’s the ambiguity. And then you have the tradition of the wounded healer, for which the Crucified is the primary exemplar, which is where the scapegoat theme enters, the sacrificial one, who takes away the sins of the world. In the Greek case, it is to rid the city of pollution that the festival of the pharmakon was celebrated every year on the 6th Day of Thargelion in the Athenian calendar, the day on which Socrates was born, the one who was scapegoated by Athens. It is an extraordinary association for Derrida to have made–this conjunction between the scapegoat festival and the birth and death of Socrates.

Where does the herbal tradition go from Plato?


Aristotle’s father was an herbalist and ran an herb shop in Athens and was a physician to the King. Aristotle delivered herbs for him and hung out at the shop. Botany is the big theme for Aristotle which he conceptualizes as the transition from potentiality to actuality as in a seed to a plant, or an acorn to an oak. I can just see Aristotle’s father showing him an acorn when he was a boy and saying if you want to become a philosopher make this potential oak tree–this acorn–the center of your thought. Aristotle never forgot it. His philosophy is one of botanical dynamics which is what he meant by bringing the Platonic ideas down from heaven where they had been mathematized forms. I found an unknown text by Aristotle–his secret herbal that he wrote for Alexander the Great.

How did that happen? What does it contain?


It’s a secret.

You won’t disclose it?


No. It wouldn’t be a secret anymore, would it? But I can say this. I found out that Aristotle’s Metaphysics is another secret herbal, albeit abstract.

How is that?


He wanted to write an herbal, a public one, to honor his father and the influence herbalism and botany had on his work He saw it as a critical piece in his authorship–a kind of herbal theology, a meditation on the vital roots of being. His father talked him out of it because he knew herbalism would be suspect. Even in Ancient Athens, herbalism was a dubious enterprise, which mostly referred to the rhizotomists, the root-pickers. We would call them Simplers. They were a dirty lot, dirty feet, dirty hands and fingernails. Aristotle’s father found them repulsive and thought they gave herbalism a bad name, so after they talked about it his father thought of a compromise. He told Aristotle that he should write the herbal, but every time he used the word herb he should substitute the word–being. And to tuck it into his writings after the Physics, as a play on physick, as in herbal medicine or health care. So it became the Metaphysics, which literally means the book after the Physics. It is the original meditation on vital roots or being as such. This was a big eye-opener for me. The vital roots of being. Kind of puts a new twist on the text. It is as much of the secret as I can disclose. Metaphysics is good for you. Take a (meta)physic (powder).

Then who follows in the sequence?


Theophrastus. He was the great student of Aristotle, who helped tend his herb garden at the Lyceum, Aristotle’s school, the site of which was just discovered, by the way. Theophrastus went on the expeditions of Alexander the Great, another famous student of Aristotle’s, for whom Aristotle wrote the secret herbal, or the Secret of Secrets. Theophrastus collected medicinal plants along the way on these travels. He wrote the first great herbal in the tradition. Then comes Dioscorides who up-dated it. His herbal became classical up until the modern period. I include Mithridates Eupator the Vlth, because I like his name, although he was one of the worst rulers ever. A monstrously despicable tyrant. He was worried about being poisoned, as well he might have. He had a Court Physician, Krateuas, who is known as the father of botanical illustration. They cooked up the first immune enhancer, a tradition that interests me, as I helped establish the contemporary interest in herbs that promote immunity–it was probably my biggest contribution to the herb renaissance. It came off of my thymos, thyme, thymus connection, which formed the conceptual basis for my notion of herbal immunity.

What you call your Thymos Doctrine.

Right. The concoction that Krateuas cooked up became known as the Mithridate. The King took it in graduated doses, thus building his immunity to poison. He lost an important battle to Pompey and tried to commit suicide by taking poison and it didn’t work, because he was immune. So the recipe became famous and was improved upon if you could call it an improvement. Anyhow, added to. The Mithridate was made up in formal civic ceremonies throughout Europe until the 18th century. I have a broadside or poster showing the recipe from the University of Strasbourg, which Ralph Abraham obtained for me on a visit there. It is gnarly, as our surfers would say, the oddest combination of stuff, from vipers to opium.

What are your sources for this information?


After my own discovery of the mythical and legendary sources, I turned to Charles Singer, a famous medical historian, who gave me the ancient and medieval sequence, in an excellent article, although he expresses his complete contempt for modern herbalism, calling it a “perversion at fortieth hand”, given the generations involved, from Ancient Greece, until now. Thanks a lot, Charles. You could hardly put the herbal tradition in a worse light. His bias is so obvious as to be absurd. Agnes Artier has the classic study of herbalism–Herbals–which follows upon Singer, from the Renaissance on up, although she is completely sympathetic, just the opposite of Singer in attitude. She was an interpreter of Goethe’s botany and a wonderful scholar. It’s odd to have the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the herbal field, but Singer and Arber represent the two sides in terms of the history of medicine. There are other examples.

What is another one?

The field of pharmacognosy, which is the herbal basis for medicinal products, within medicine. Varro Tyler is a great example of someone who represents the split in himself. He is a Physicalist in pharmacognosy, where he considers the herbal basis as merely the source for synthetic derivatives, in the strict line from Woehler, his hero. With his left hand, he wrote an herbal, called The Honest Herbal, one of my favorite books to dislike. He comes from a line of Hoosier Herbalists, whom he betrays, such that “honest” means more or less “useless”, as far as efficacy is concerned. Honest means disabusing people of the notion that herbs are effective for anything. “It used to be thought that…but now we know better…” That kind of line. He has softened up over the years and his contribution is important now that he has become more sympathetic and somewhat liberated from his Physicalist bias. He is an excellent exemplary case of my theme, as he occupies both camps.

Did you ever publish your manual?

No, but I had a strange experience, one of my best, as a consequence of writing the manual. I put it in my file and forgot about it. A year or two later, I was introduced to Hanne and Maurice Strong, of Crestone, Colorado. Hanne was interested in starting an herb school as part of her new age development in Crestone, so I was asked to go and talk to her. Baker-roshi introduced us. His Zen Center is now located there. I was eager to go, because I was born near there–in La Veta, Colorado, some miles away, where my father began practicing medicine. It was a strange coincidence.

Isn’t there a LaVeta pass, through the mountains, over to Taos?


Yes, there is. It was a great place to be born, because LaVeta nestles at the base of two twin-capped peaks, the Huajatollas, or Spanish Peaks. It means woman’s breasts. So the first day I go to LaVeta to see where I was born and look at the breasts. You can see them right down the main street in front of the house where my folks had a small residential hospital. The next day we sat down at the Ranch to talk. The Strong ranch is called “The Baca Grande Ranch”, so I innocently asked what Baca means. Hanne says “cow”. I say, “no, that’s vaca”. Hanne says “v’s and b’s are the same in Spanish and interchangeable in English”. I say, just to be funny, “Cabeza de Vaca?” and Hanne says: “Yes! This is his ranch!” That was a show stopper. It took a couple of hours before I stopped vibrating from that hit.

Was it really his ranch?

It was a direct descendent, but it was good enough for me.

Did you do the herb school?

Not in Crestone, but I did in Santa Cruz and Hanne sent her daughter and her friend to enroll. We ran a two year course. I think it was one of the first such efforts in the country, although Rosemary Gladstar was ahead of me in terms of herbal education. We had grant support from Kit Tremaine, bless her heart, but we terminated it after two years because the money ran out and it was too difficult to sustain. I didn’t like being an administrator.

It was at least ten years before it’s time. I was keen on training a new generation of American herbalists as basic health care providers in the spirit of the Bare-foot Doctor of China. I even took Norman Bethune as our guide or bridge.

Who was Norman Bethune?

He was a Canadian doctor who went to China during the Revolution and worked for Mao at the front and was eventually martyred. His name still rings a big bell there. In fact, I took a copy of his film biography made by the Canadian Film Board and presented it to the Academy of Traditional Medicine in Beijing on my first trip. It was shown after my talk to a large audience of health professionals and most of them were weeping when the lights came on. Bethune is a communist saint.

You have mentioned the thymos doctrine a couple of times, particularly in terms of your theme of herbal immunity.          What is the Thymos Doctrine?


I can give you a partial summary. It is built upon the meaning of the Greek word thymos, meaning courage, vitality, spirit, in the sense of biological spirit–it is exactly what we have lost or are deficient in–the middle ground of our being in the structure of consciousness. Thymos is the background word for Vitalism. It is Vitalism at its source, it’s linguistic vital root in Ancient Greek culture, beginning with Achilles, in Homer’s Iliad.

Why Achilles?

He has the most thymos, which accounts for his manslaughtering vitality and his rage or wrath. Thymos is in the middle, between brain and groin, associated with the region of the actual thymus gland, in the throat, in the upper chest. Because it is in the middle, it can go both ways, which makes it is a dynamic center–up or down. The upward vector is “the unreflective striving toward what is noble” (Eros) and the downward vector is “the impulse to self-destruction” (Ate).

Can you give an illustration from Homer?

Think of the moment when Achilles has the impulse to run his sword through Agamemnon because Agamemnon threatens to take his mistress away from him. Athena appears and stops him. Achilles has to internalize his aggression by suppressing it. He turns black with rage. This is the downward stroke of thymos, the self-destructive stroke, vitality suppressed, turned against itself.

Where does Ate come in?

The Greeks were masters at characterizing the self-destructive nature of impulses. The Greeks personified the “imp” in impulse as a goddess–Ate–who leads everyone astray. She figures in the confession of Agamemnon in the Iliad, where he tells her myth about how she once deluded Zeus. She is the figure for internalized aggression, the inability to carry out the aggressive impulse. This internalized aggression is what Nietzsche called ressentiment, which is French for Ate, the self-destructive part of thymos.

Hold it. Let me see if I follow you. The Greek Ate is the French ressentiment, because it means internalized aggression, impulsive forces that are self-destructive. There is a compact meaning here that needs more careful differentiation.

Nietzsche develops the concept of ressentiment in his essay on the Genealogy of Morals. The best translation of ressentiment, besides the obvious cognate–resentment– would be our expression–“eat your heart out”. It is Freud’s “death instinct”, which he simply called:

thanatos, after the Greek word for death, but he meant thymos in the downward stroke-the impulse to self-destruction, what Homer personified in the goddess, Ate . This is a wonderful line of thought–I remember listening to a talk Aldous Huxley gave when he came to MIT, where he mentions this theme, which forms the basis or background for the theme of the confession of self-delusion, which I hope to work out at some point. The Socratic confession of self-delusion, misunderstood as ignorance, is in a direct line from the confession of Agamemnon and the Myth of Ate.

Ate is a goddess and her myth or story is told in the Iliad, in what is known as “Agamemnon’s Confession” and you call her the “imp” in impulse, or the motive force leading to self-destruction, the opposite of Eros, another god, who is the upward striving toward what is noble. That much I understand as the dynamic of thymos, which sits in the middle, between the head and the groin, or between reason and desire.

Ate is Freud’s death instinct–although he called it “thanatos”. Ate is much more to the point. So the inability to carry out the aggressive impulse is resented, internalized, and is developed in Nietzsche’s famous notion of ressentiment, the checking of impulses, which he descried. All of this is given such graphic treatment by Homer because these themes are viewed as mythical forces acting on the subject who is like a playing field at their mercy. So let me repeat the dynamic conflict again, as I want to make this line of thought crystal clear. It is one of my best discoveries and it leads directly to the Platonic structure of consciousness as adumbrated in the Republic.

So repeat the double vector of thymos. It is a little hard to take in because this middle ground, as you say, is not well understood, because it is missing from contemporary models of consciousness determined by the Cartesian cogito and the subject/object relation.


Think of vitality in the service of the erotic flight to self-transcendence and self-fulfillment as the upward vector, personified by the god–Eros. Think of vitality that drives us to self-destruction, our vitality turned against ourselves, the wrath of God, as the downward vector, personified by the goddess, Ate These two vectors constitute the dynamic of thymos, the dynamism of the middle ground between reason and desire.


This sounds like the ancient basis for our sense of self-conflict or our being in opposition to ourselves.

Exactly. The Greeks gave us the classic model. Now it is just this double-vectored middle region that has dropped out, after Descartes, with the enthronement of the subject-object split that set up the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict I’m fond of saying that thymos became the hyphen in the subject-object split, after it was dropped as the middle ground, between reason and desire.

So the elimination of Vitalism is the consequence of the subject-object split in the doctrine of knowledge?

And the loss of the thymos base which is biological spirit! You can see the sequence here quite clearly. Once the middle ground of vitality was eliminated from the classic concept of the structure of consciousness, the self-world correlation, as Tillich called it, was minimized or cancelled in favor of the subject-object split: the epistemological subject, over and against extended objects, is the Cartesian program of the Cogito, the “I think”. The Lebenswelt, Husserl’s term, was disregarded. In fact, with the rejection and elimination of Vitalism, it was proscribed in favor of objectifying science or Physicalism.

So the history of Western rationality is the history of an ever narrower understanding of reason with an accompanying diminution in vitality or the sad fate of thymos.


It is worth while to pursue the diminution of vitality from Homer on, where it is paramount, especially in Achilles, through to Socrates, with the rise of rational self-consciousness and the model of the self in Plato, where thymos is prominently in the middle, the upper chest, the sphere between reason and desire or the head and the groin. This is Nietzsche’s complaint. He favors Achilles over Socrates because of his native vitality, his impulsiveness. Nietzsche favored heroic action over rational deliberation. Think of Hamlet as the greatest dramatic expression of this conflict whom Nietzsche would have despised for his brooding inaction.

So Nietzsche was a proponent of thymic vitality. Go on with the characterization.


Thymos is the dynamic middle ground of the centered self, the seat of vitality and the region of courage, understood as the vital root of virtues. The dethronement of thymos from Descartes on, due to the subject-object split and the enthronement of the Cogito, or epistemological subjectivity, means that the calculating part of reason takes over and mathematical reasoning becomes the model to the exclusion or the subordination of other forms of reason such as intuition and imagination or reason open to revelation. The middle sphere drops out and we inherit this truncated self. It is why Nietzsche called men hollow, with no chest–the thymos has gone out of them. The middle sphere is filled with ressentiment, best translated as “eat your heart (thymos) out”.

So you see a decline in vitality as a consequence of the rise of rational self-consciousness? You first learned this line from Tillich?

Tillich, most of all, but also his pals at the Frankfort School of Social Research, such as Adorno and Horkheimer. They wrote about The Eclipse of Reason and about The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, in this vein, that reason establishes the conditions for its own self-destruction. It is a very interesting line of thought which must have had an influence on Tillich. I recently gave a lecture on the Enlightenment in Ralph Abraham’s Euclid Class which gave me an occasion to review this theme. I was amazed, as I mentioned, at how the Adorno/Horkheimer line worked as an interpretation of Kafka’s parable of “The Silence of the Sirens”, which is a brilliant expression of the ambiguity of reason. Here is the critical quote from Habermas’ exposition of this theme in his interpretation of Adorno/Horkheimer.

“Man’s domination over himself, which grounds his selfhood, is almost always the destruction of the subject in whose service it is undertaken; for the substance which is dominated, suppressed and dissolved through self-preservation is none other than that very life as a function of which the achievements of self-preservation are defined; it is, in fact, what is to be preserved.”

Dialectic of the Enlightenment, quoted in Habermas: “The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Horkheimer and Adorno”, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p. 109. It is reminiscent of Karl Kraus’ famous mot which Wittgenstein took up: philosophy is the disease of which it should be the cure.

So what about Tillich?

He was aware of these themes in his epistemology, where he calls Horkheimer’s instrumental reason, controlling or technical reasoning, as opposed to receiving or revelatory reason, in tune with the logos. He brought his therapeutic analysis to bear on the trend of technical reason in his analysis of the pathology of anxiety. He characterizes our present day mood as the anxiety of meaninglessness and emptiness, which is as close to the mark as you can get, especially if you see it as the loss of vitality: courage in reference to self-affirmation–the loss of the courage to be, the loss of thymos. Tillich pursues this line in his historical account of the philosophical meditation on thymos– –The Courage To Be, which I was delighted to hear is included in a New York Public Library display of the hundred most important books of the 20th century.

This obviously provides the background for your account of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict.

By the time you get to the Physicalist/Vitalist controversy, there is almost no thymos left and the thymus gland itself has shrunk in size, which it does after puberty, an anomaly of the gland, which no one understands. I have associated this atrophy of the organ of vitality, the central organ of our immune system, with the rise of literacy, the corollary and practical basis of rational self-consciousness: the culture of the book. You sit at a desk and read a book with your chin almost pressing on your chest which suppresses the thymus gland and it atrophies. I should add you sit still at a desk.

You don’t mean this literally.

This is fanciful, of course, but it illustrates the point. It is why we associate vitality with pre-literate or non-literate peoples. It is what is called ‘soul’. They don’t sit still for most of the day and read; they dance as the natural grace of their bodily being. They have not moved up into their heads to occupy their brains at the expense of their bodies or their vital center–the thymic region of affective vitality. When I found out that the thymus was the central gland of the immune system, the master organ of immunity, all of this fell into place as a field for speculation. My formulations are metaphorical and heuristic. I am well aware of that, but it is still a line of thought where I am trying to pursue the implications. I can see this as the basis for chaos theory, this dynamic center is the chaos center of the human psyche and it is being restored. This partly accounts for my interest in chaos theory.

What does heuristic mean?

It is a speculative formulation serving as a guide in the investigation of a solution or problem.

Thanks. Go on. Have you tried to pursue your ideas with empirical research?

I have thought about inquiring after the size of pre-literate thymus glands, but I don’t know where to go and it probably would not yield the results I would want. The metaphor works without empirical confirmation. I would very much like to link this to some deep structure in order to develop a code that would account for such phenomena. I am very interested in the work of Carl Schuster, based on the scholarly efforts of Edmund Carpenter, who has published a twelve volume work of Schuster’s thesis on paleolithic iconography and now a one volume summary: Patterns That Connect, which, by the way, I edited. I see a possible convergence of linguistics, in terms of the origin of language, paleolithic iconography, and the origins of mathematics, in this context. It is the task of deciphering a deep code, one that is transmitted through these branches before it all breaks up into independent and discrete fields of thought, where it is very difficult to comprehend the whole. Umberto Eco has just published a book on the origins of language which I have as yet to read. He probably would debunk the effort as do most scholars who are against unitary themes, in favor of discrete lines of research. Goethe was one of the unifiers with his urplant theme. I only have a dim sense of the possible unitary themes involved her. I was inspired by the Nobel Prize speech of Niels Jerne, whose work is in immunology, where he talks about language as a biological phenomenon after the model of the immune system, which is a kind of language, in its ostensibly infinite diversity, like all the possible variations of words in sentences. A language to the power of ten or more.

I don’t follow.

Jerne understands the immune system as a proto-brain, which I had already perceived when I found out about immune memory as a function of the thymus, which makes it a proto-brain because it demonstrates cognitive function–memory. The Homeric hero, for instance, is an exemplar of this thymus or thymos driven dynamic, before the rise of rational self-consciousness and literacy, which we all take for granted. The Homeric hero gave me the model of the deep structure I am looking for, an innate structure of consciousness, before it is covered over by brain function. Homeric culture is a memory culture which is the same as an Oral Culture, namely, preliterate. So Jerne’s speculation on the immune system was of great interest to me.

So this is all grist for your Thymos Doctrine mill?


There is an excellent scholarly line on these ideas relating to thymos, from Onions to Bruno Snell to Havelock, that turns into the larger issue of the relation of pre-literate or oral societies, native cultures, to literate rational self-conscious or civic societies, what we understand as Western culture. A major transformation took place when we became literate and rational in the Greek sense and acquired centered selves, dominated by the mind, with the move up from the thymus to the brain. Along with the anthropological literature, there is a large feminist literature on this theme–a kind of ideological attack on this history as if it were just a male conspiracy–the Riane Eisler line. It has great critical merit but I’m afraid they often throw the baby out with the bath.

What do you mean?

It involves such a complicated review of the history of Western thought. First, there is the supplanting of native society by rational self-conscious society, what is called the transition from oral to literate. Rational society seems to drive towards industrial and technical society, the Max Weber theme on bureaucracy, unique to the West, and this includes the racist component, to the extent that `white’ represents rational and `black’ represents native. I have just finished reading David Malouf: Remembering Babylon, a superb rendering of the problem, set in 19th century Australia. The theme of domination and violence is obvious. Second, there is the gender issue, which has come to the forefront of the debate in terms of deconstructing Western thought. I had to wince at the title Tillich gave to his lectures at Harvard when I recently proposed them for publication–“The Self-Interpretation of Man”–and, characteristically, not a single woman is mentioned in the four semester survey of Western thought. No wonder Hannah Arendt called him “old mutton legs”. But it was par for the period when gender was not an explicit issue and uppermost in everyone’s mind. In fact, it wasn’t in anyone’s mind.

But, as you say, you owe Tillich for introducing you to the thymos theme.


I can remember the first paragraphs on the subject in the article, which I must have read in the late ’50’s and later published in The Meaning of Health–“The Relation of Religion and Health”, where Tillich discusses the loss of the middle or thymic region of the self. You see, we’re really talking about the convergence of vitality and spirituality, something we hardly associate, because we think of spirit as non-vital, an old ghost. Tillich gave me the concept of biological spirit in his discussion of thymos.

As you develop this, I can see why soul and spirit are so easy to confuse and difficult to define, because the biological basis was abandoned in favor of the bloodless intellect.

Here is the quote from Tillich in the essay I remember copying out by hand when I found it at the Union Theological Library, when I was a summer student there in l955:

“`Psychic’ is here used, as it always should be, (1) not in the sense of occultistic, and (2) not in the sense of consciousness, but (3) as designating the sphere between the biological and the mental, as representating a middle sphere in which both these participate. This middle sphere can no longer be called “soul,” since the Augustinian-Franciscan-Cartesian separation of soul and body has led to an indentification of soul and mind.” The Meaning of Health, p. 26.

Didn’t you anticipate the field of psycho-neuro-immunology with your Thymos Doctrine?


I think so, although it’s a little vainglorious to put it that way. I could have predicted the field, but it never occurred to me in those terms. I thought I was a lone wolf out there with an eccentric fix on three words, the Greek root, the herb, and the gland. I remember the moment at Cisco Point, our summer home in Wisconsin, when I put it all together in a formulation: “there is an herb code in the immune memory of DNA.” This formulation unites immunology, herbology and molecular biology, or genetics. It was the beginning of trying to ground these ideas in a quasi-biological way. Immune memory as a genetic principle fascinates me and the notion of a code where we have imprinted in our deep (immune) memories our affinity for certain plants selected by the race or our ancestors for their medicinal properties is irresistible, although it is Lamarckian and therefore difficult to argue, given the current climate, but I don’t care.


The inheritance of acquired characters is supposed to be a refuted Vitalist theme, but the immune memory has restored it. I bemoan the fact that we suffer from a kind of immune amnesia as a result of our departure from the botanical basis of health care to the near exclusive dependence on synthetic drugs.

Immune amnesia?

We have forgotten the herb code in our immune memories. It is a form of amnesia. The entire profession of conventional health care in America neglects this botanical basis in favor of synthetic prescription drugs. Their Physicalist bias prevents them from re-discovering it. They think this Vitalist form of health care represented by botanicals is the superstition that Physicalism rejected in order to be scientific. They accept the side-effects of synthetics and their deleterious consequences. A friend of mine told me yesterday how he got a bleeding ulcer from taking aspirin as a preventive for stroke and when he had to undergo a second angio-plasti, his mouth filled up with blood on the operating table because blood leaked through the ulcer when they thinned it. This shouldn’t happen. There are thousands of deaths due to aspirin poisoning every year and they tell you to take it every night as a preventive. And yet hawthorne or Crataegus as the perfect heart tonic is almost completely unknown by health professionals, not to speak of the National Heart Association. I give up. If you could overcome this amnesia regarding the botanical basis of health care among health care professionals you could make a great contribution to public health, but it is beyond my capabilities. At least the health consumer has awakened; hence, the herb renaissance.

An herb code in the immune memory of DNA: do you have any evidence for this? It sounds like Rupert Sheldrake’s work on memory and morphic resonance.


This is exactly what a smart looking Chinese physicist in the front row asked me when I gave a talk in Beijing to a group of health professionals and scientists on my first trip in 1982. He was the first to raise his hand. “What evidence do you have for an herb code in the immune memory of DNA”, he asked. I told him I made it up. Everyone gasped.

Why did they gasp?

I guess because you’re not supposed to admit to being the instigator of a new idea. It was another example of the heuristic. I was proud of the gasp, because it is a good idea. It is a good example of what Polanyi calls an idea without empirical foundation, but one that might lead to the discovery of such a foundation. Most scientists turn their back rather than help in the effort to think the issue through to a possible experimental confirmation. Heuristic is a bad word among experimental scientists. They want it up front. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut until the empirical data is in. Smart ideas are a dime a dozen in this state of affairs. Sheldrake is a perfect example of this pilloried process. He offers prizes to anyone who can empirically confirm his notion of morphic resonance after the science establishment in England called for the burning of his book.

So you opened a restaurant to promote these views? You could have called it “Rupert’s”.


I didn’t know him then, although I am a keen admirer of his work and his effort to develop a neo-Vitalist point of view. He is one of the best theoreticians in this regard along with Koestler, Capra, Van Der Ryn, Abraham, Bohm, Nick Herbert, Theodore Roszack, on and on, a converging line of thinkers who have this affinity. One day we may come into our own. The restaurant, if you want to think of it as another type of laboratory, was an experiment in these ideas. It’s amazing what you’re handed in the course of your life. I’ve done everything I can think of to promote these ideas, this side of standing on a street corner with a sign. That could be next.

Wasn’t there an episode at the Wild Thyme Restaurant where someone found an essay for you on the three terms: thymos, thyme and thymus?

Yes. That was a wonderful event. Nilo and Patricia Lindgren were devoted patrons of the restaurant and got a kick out of my theme. Nilo asked me if I had ever done a computer search on the Thymos Doctrine and I said no, I had never done a computer search on anything. It never dawned on me that someone else was on to the same line. It was 1974. Nilo was associated with Xerox and so he said he would do one. He came back a week later, rather shamefaced, as if he hadn’t found much and he handed me a three page essay from the Journal of the American Medical

Association (JAMA). I was stunned when I read the title: “A Thymos Primer”, by Dr. Everett Spees. There it was: a column on the Greek root, a column on the herb, and a column on the gland, with a nice little bibliography. I learned that Rufus of Ephesus had named the gland.

Now, really, I have to say that things like this are very rare. What did you do with that information?

It took me a while to locate him, but I finally met Dr. Spees in Washington, D.C., where he was a transplant surgeon at Walter Reed Hospital. He looked like Jack Armstrong in his Navy whites. We had a great talk and he agreed to conduct an experiment for me to demonstrate the efficacy of oil of thyme on the incidence of cancer in mice. I asked Henry Hilgard, my colleague at the University, whose field is immunology, to do the same. Within a week, a student involved in the process, handed me a paper by Dr. Leonell Strong, from the American Journal of Cancer, 1935, entitled: “The Possible Effect of the Oil of Thyme on the Incidence of Spontaneous Cancer in Mice,” showing a substantial reduction in spontaneous tumors in mice fed with oil of thyme in their diet.

What happened then?

It took a while to locate Strong. He had been at Yale, but was long gone, had linked up with Salk, where he had discovered the genetic correction for cancer in mice, but Salk put him out because of a lack of funding. He was more interested in Picasso’s mistress. Leonell sued and won a judgment and set himself up with his C3H mice, so we finally found him operating a cancer research lab in San Diego. I went down to visit him. Nothing came of the my research project because I was distracted by Strong’s own work in cancer and his introducing me to the Voynich Manuscript and John Dee.

You mentioned this before. Tell the rest of the story.


This is a very long story, but I can give you a short version of it. I was in San Diego to interview for the Herb Trade Association position, which I obtained, which launched me on my new career. I met Dr. Strong during the same weekend and he told me about the Voynich as the summit of cipher studies and that he had deciphered it. I thought of the Voynich as my gift for entering the herbal field. It is a secret herbal, from the 16th century, now at Yale University, in the Beineke Rare Book Library, of unknown authorship, thought to be by Roger Bacon, probably not, or a forgery by John Dee, probably not, or by Anthony Askham, most likely. Dr. Strong had deciphered it and had established the authorship, but had not divulged the key to the full decipherment. He only had access to three pages at the time he worked on it, although he had successfully deciphered them. Robert Brumbaugh, a philosopher at Yale, whom I knew from his work on Plato’s mathematics, had written a book about the Voynich, called The Most Mysterious Manuscript, detailing the failed attempts and announcing that he had succeeded, but it was premature. He had worked hard on deciphering it and had come close–verbs and nouns, but not entire sentences.

Where does John Dee come in?


John Dee had owned it and had sold it to the Holy Roman Emperor, the bizarre, Rudolf II, whose interest in the occult and the esoteric is well known. Dee received a considerable amount of gold for it. It was thought to be a secret treatise on the Elixir of Life, by Roger Bacon. You see, it follows in the tradition of the secret herbal of Aristotle, of Pseudo-Apulieus-Platonicus and even Albertus Magnus. A secret about a secret elixir, an herbal concoction, an elixir of life, an immune enhancer, a Mithridate. I might as well mention Hildegard of Bingen, who is also included in this line of famous herbalists. She received herbal remedies from the Christ in prayer. I discovered her in the herbal field before she became known for her music. You see the tradition operating here.

So Dee sold it to Rudolf.


Dee received a large amount of gold for it. In the tradition of the Secret Herbal of Aristotle.

In that tradition. So I took a deep interest in Dee, whom I had never heard of and he turned out to be one of the most important but relatively unknown figures in the history of Western thought. Philosopher to and favorite of Queen Elizabeth, he was the visionary of the British Empire and Britannia, a term he coined, through his angel-conjuring or skrying, which he did with his side-kick Kelly or Kelley.



You heard right. That’s partly what accounts for his obscurity.  History conspired to forget him, as it were. I brought Ralph Abraham into the project and it renewed our friendship–almost twenty years ago. Leonell called the cipher “a reversed arithmetical progression”; he drew this circle in the air with his finger and then bisected it, I’ll never forget it, so I thought Ralph, as a mathematician, might help. Instead, we took on Dee as a subject matter to study and eventually we organized the John Dee Society to revive interest in his work, which we have up on the World Wide Web.

So this is a result of your collaboration with Ralph Abraham.


Now we know a lot. Ralph decided to teach a course on Dee in the history of mathematics, because Dee was an accomplished mathematician and helped introduce Euclid to England and applied Euclid to navigation. I helped teach the course–the one where I felt like Rip Van Winkle, as it was my first return after a fifteen year absence. It was enjoyable going in under cover, so to speak, to teach a course in mathematics on an angel-conjurer.

Did you get any angel-conjurers?

Believe it or not, they were in the front row for the first lecture and then introduced themselves. I thought “uh, oh, now what?”, as they walked up with a knowing smile on their face, made up and dressed like Goths. They were followers of Aleister Crowley, which was spooky. He thought of himself as the re-incarnation of John Dee. They put on an angel-conjuring evening for us, but no one came. No angels, that is. I think they were on acid. The conjurers, not the angels. I wouldn’t have come either, if I were an angel.

What happened to the Voynich?

A friend of mine–Tim Rayhel–who had studied ciphers in the army, picked up the project and has worked on it for years. I think he has finally succeeded in deciphering it, although he lacks scholarly credentials, so it may be difficult for him to publish his results. The last I heard he turned it over to some guys in Texas. He took all of Strong’s work and confirmed it. The text turns out to be by Askham, just as Strong said, who wrote an herbal. So the Voynich is simply a cipher of that herbal and an almanac, according to Rayhel, which is very disappointing. No elixir of life, I’m sorry to note. It is another strange episode as a result of my herbal interests.

Do you realize how –I don’t even know the right word for it–bizarre, odd, strange–this all sounds? And you owe all this to Chadwick?


He introduced me. It would not have happened without him. He opened the world of herbs to me. He thought herbs were the key to any garden and planted herbaceous borders accordingly. I became interested in Padua, as the first botanical garden in Italy, after I found out that Goethe had visited there. Chadwick and his apprentices designed an herb garden on the Paduan example in Covelo–great astrological concentric circles. Chadwick was the original vital rooter, as far as I was concerned. He had the closest affinity to the meaning of organic nature and thought of himself as the custodian of it. What he created in his gardens was pure magic, no one could match him. Life forms grew from his finger tips. He had the greenest of thumbs. And all of this he freely transmitted to anyone who wanted it.

You have had more than your share of strange experiences.


Just enough, as John Cage might say.

Tell me about your herb garden.

We had a nice backyard lawn with a stream running behind it and one day I thought, I own this yard, I can dig holes in it if I want. So I dug beds in the lawn and planted herbs and it became a wonderful herb garden. I collected varieties of thyme and eventually found out there were over three hundred, although I never had more than two dozen. It has been a stunning experience, watching the garden metamorphize over the years. It definitely has a life of it’s own. I should have kept track of its various moments, but c’est la vie. When I dug my first bed, I decided to plant Artemisia, in honor of Artemis, as the first herbalist in the Western tradition and it grew to about fourteen feet in height, the biggest one I have ever seen, a sort of omen. One day I discovered the Eupatoriums growing in our stream–the spring of Spring Street. That was an event! They just appeared there after I discovered Mithridates Eupator the Sixth. Knocked me out. We found a great liver tonic in milk thistle–Silybum marianum , and, lo and behold, it volunteered in my garden. It just appeared and announced itself. I once had a marijuana plant, I think it was a volunteer, and it grew into a twenty foot tree. No one knew what it was it was so big. How’s that for a weird kind of confirmation.

Of what?

If you don’t know, don’t ask.

Wasn’t your garden featured in a number of publications?


Yes. It made it’s way into Rodale’s magazine and in a book written by Steven Foster on herb gardens: Herbal Bounty. He lived with us for about six months and helped with the garden. It has gone through successive transformations, however. We used to keep a grid of the plantings in each bed, but now it just grows by itself and we go out and watch. It is Spring and all the bulbs are starting to show and the trees are budding out and the Orris root or Iris are about to bloom and the foxglove I brought back from the Island of Madeira are looking good. It is one of my chief delights. My garden.

Any other Chadwick influences?

Of course. Old species roses. He loved them. We learned about them from his plantings at the garden and he introduced us to Tillotson’s, now known as Roses of Yesterday and Tomorrow, in Watsonville, a source for old roses. I found the Goethe Rose there. We have large plantings of Cecil Bruner, Banksia, Seven Sisters or Rose of Seville, Lavender Lassie, Charles DeMille, Celsiana, Rosa Moisea, Mermaid, Iceberg, Perle D’Or, Queen Elizabeth, American Beauty, Bourbon Queen, the Chestnut Rose, on and on. My wife and I share a passion for them with Virginia Baker. It is another issue of vital roots versus hybrids, although developing a phobia for hybrid roses is a little extreme, but it happened to me, although we grow a few.

What’s your best rose story?


One of my friends went to Tibet and sent me seeds from a Tibetan rose and told me to propagate them. I had never grown a rose from seed; it is very hard to do. But I went ahead. I called our rose lady–who told me about the mixture which was very simple, some sand and some peat and some potting soil. Then I ran into this guy from Minnesota, I forget his name. He was promoting bird song as a way of getting big yields. You play taped bird song to your plants or crops and they think it’s morning and they make an extra effort and grow like mad. Yields times ten. And he had an algae spray. So I played the tape and sprayed the seed. Waltz of the Flowers. I kid you not. And by god the seed germinated and I got three plants. One finally bloomed three years later on Easter Sunday. How about that!? Easter Sunday!

Wouldn’t you like to design and develop a major rose garden at Pogonip?


It is my chief dream, part of my vision of Santa Cruz as Ecotopia which is a continuation of the Chadwick legacy. I want to say right now that this format, this interview, is such a relief to me. I am enjoying this chance to get my ideas and the history of this work expressed, finally, after many fits and starts. The last time I tried to write up the story it was three books in one and just didn’t work. It is very hard to develop a straightforward narrative when so many associations occur. This format is just right.

I’m glad you like it.    What is Pogonip?


It is a large parcel lying just below the University campus with views overlooking Monterey Bay. Partly because the Chadwick Garden adjoins the property and partly because I rode my horse, Xanthos, there almost every day for years. I formed the Greenbelt Group, in 1977 and we laid the groundwork for the Greenbelt Initiative, in 1979, which saved Pogonip. Mark Primack, who first told me about the London Greenbelt, and was part of our original group, drew the poster which included the sacred oak, my great tree, which stands in the middle of the property. It is now a 612 acre city park, although the Greenbelt, as such, cuts a swath across the upper region of the City. Pogonip is the perfect site for a botanic garden of the order of the great gardens of Europe. An effort on that scale, of course, is impossible now, but with various plantings, you can make a paradise. Chestnut or Linden allees as at Vaux le Vicomte and St. Germaine en Laye, and roses, roses, roses. A labyrinth hedge in box. An herb garden that wouldn’t quit. All of the thymes in one place. It would put Santa Cruz on the map, so to speak, and fulfill our vision of Arcadia, or Ecotopia, as I now call it, the point of destination for the eco-tourist. It’s interesting how Arcadia is the past garden and Ecotopia is the future garden. Parterres. Avenues. Clairvoyees. Words I learned from Chadwick and saw for myself, in the great French formal gardens, on a trip my wife and I recently made, a trip of a lifetime.

You have big dreams.


You have no idea.

Do you think you can bring it off:

It isn’t just up to me. It is a combination of events, a gestalt, a constellation, with all kinds of players and circumstances and resources. It either comes together or it doesn’t. All I can do is hope and work towards its actualization which I have been doing. I have been biding my time. Something has to click. I like orchestrating it. It is a magic wand effect. Something that Page Smith taught me. He gave me the sense that whatever we wanted to do we could do because he was behind it. He had that kind of power. Now I have to do it without him.

Tell me about Page.

O. K. He was my great friend. He was a little bit older, part older brother, which I never had, I was an only child, and part father and wise uncle. We could never be equals, although he was as diffident as anyone I’ve known about his own power and authority. Diffident is the right word, even though he lorded it over me, just because he was a lord. Everyone recognized it. He was a leader. He was a Major in the army at the Italian Front, the 12th Mountain Division, which was a ski corps. He stepped on a land mine and blew his legs up, but not off. He was paralyzed from the waist down for some months and then spontaneously recovered, although he walked with a kind of swaying movement. He played tennis until late in life. He played with Alan and got such a kick out of Alan jumping over the net to retrieve the ball, as if Page was too old or crippled to do it himself. Alan was a nut. It was all part of the fun. There is too much to say about Page and his wife, Eloise, they formed such a major part of our life. Page and I were left-handed Virgos, so we took one another for granted and just coasted into all the stuff we did. We jumped into the stream together and the current carried us. There was never a plan or a feasibility study–we just did it. I am proud of the fact that I gave him the time and occasion to write his history–his eight volume Peoples’ History of the United States–one of the great achievements of historiography of this century. I liked calling him America’s Greatest Historian. He always shrugged it off. He dedicated his Dissenting Opinions to me. I loved him for saying there is nothing as contemptible as a fact.

You were going to mention his connection with Chadwick through the Civilian Conservation Corps.


It’s a connection I was only able to make later. It has some strange permutations. If you think of experience as somewhat occult, forces operating under the threshold of consciousness, an intuition of which occurring only now and then, you can get my meaning. Freud talks about consciousness as a mystic writing pad. It’s like that. A palimpsest is another metaphor, a text written over a text, where it is hard, but not impossible, to discern the hidden text. It has a certain opaque depth to it. Occultation is another word for it, a term from astronomy, where one heavenly body passes in front of another, obscuring it from sight. What a great word. I am trying to understand its meaning in a number of philosophers such as Husserl and Heidegger, who talk about the concealed and the unconcealed. It is question of hide and seek. I wish I had been more attentive to it, more equal to the task, while it was happening. It is a great sorrow. But “we get so soon old and yet so late schmart”. This was a motto in the Herbel’s market and butcher store across the street on Villard Avenue, where Igrew up, in North Milwaukee.

Isn’t this also your personal versus archive distinction?

It is very hard to keep open two channels at the same time, namely a participation in the events as they occur and a recording or collecting of them in order to preserve them, especially if the events are very dynamic and don’t give you much time to discern what’s going on to the extent you are absorbed by them. This usually comes later in retrospect and then one realizes through the advantage of hindsight all or some of the influences at work. It was impossible for me to be the archivist and the participant at the same time. You either live it or observe it in the tension of participation and detachment. Some people can do both, but I couldn’t. Tillich used to talk to me about “the personal Tillich versus “the archive Tillich”, which is a version of the same problem, although there were plenty of people who kept a record of what he did and who he was and published books of their account. There is a Tillich Archive at Harvard Divinity School. I would like to start a Chadwick Archive at UCSC, although I wasn’t even careful of letters Alan wrote to me or various documents that were important. There was a letter from the Chancellor that gave the land to the garden in perpetuity and I don’t know where it is.

How about cleaning up your garage. No telling what you might find.


There you go.

It sounds like you think you should have lived your life backwards, knowing it all already.


Yes, that’s a good way to put it. Sartre calls it “the retrospective illusion” or anticipating the outcome as if it has already happened. His negative is my positive. He called it an illusion because it involves the Holy Spirit, his term for the occult force. It is being guided by the Spirit with sighs too deep for words which has meaning for me. Sartre says he smashed the illusion by throwing the Spirit out of the cellar, which is why he was such an asshole, otherwise known as a sophist.

What do you mean?

Well, the Sophists were the first in the history of philosophy to say that existence precedes essence in the question of universals. Sartre was famous for saying that and added the dumb theme that man makes himself. As well as other such caffe themes. I had the best cup of coffee in my life at his Caffe–the Deux Maggots–last year, when we were in Paris. So I have to give him that.

Wouldn’t Sartre call your slogan–Et in Arcadia Ego–a retrospective illusion?

Good point in terms of the issue of retrospective. Sartre thought he was clever in saying that existence precedes essence, as I said, the position of the Sophists, in Ancient Greece, the nemesis of Socrates. Sartre is against the Perfect Tense of epic action, as I see it, where the essential dimension of one’s life is under guidance. For me, the sign of the perfect tense, is seeing one’s life in the epic dimension, epics are the genre of the perfect tense, the tense of accomplished action, which, when retold, happen again in the perfect tense, so that at every point you know the whole–past perfect, present perfect, future perfect. Augustine’s Confessions is a good example of the perfect tense in the form of autobiography in the life of the Spirit–he is the exact counterpart to Sartre. Socrates understood philosophy as perfect tense meditation and comprehension, which he called having-one-foot in-the-grave, so that you comprehend your life as a whole, from birth to death, looking back over the whole of it. As Beckett says in Waiting For Godot:  “We give birth astride a grave. The light gleams for an instant and then no more. Isn’t that enough for you?”

You thought of the garden as your grave.

It was another slogan associated with the Arcadian theme: Let my garden be my grave. The raised bed, dug to scale. Gardens began on graves. I went to visit J. B. Jackson at Harvard, a famous architectural historian, and he told me about gardens and graves, when I told him about Chadwick and his raised bed technique. Speaking of garden/graves, the first resurrection appearance of Jesus is as a mistaken gardener. I like that. I have a Rembrandt woodcut of him wearing a large gardener’s hat and carrying a spade, as if he had dug himself out of the grave. Life into death into life. Adam was a gardener, so was the Second Adam. We should loosen up on these themes and learn how to live them. Jesus as the Christ–the child who grows up to be crucified–was born in the grave, which might just as well be symbolized as a garden bed: “Lo, How A Rose Ere Blooming.”

You know the Legend of Seth?

Of course, one of my favorites. The dutiful son of Adam and Eve. He re-traced his parents’ footsteps, when his father–Adam–died, to the entrance to the Garden of Eden, where the Angel still stood guard with the flaming sword. Seth begs the Angel for seeds from the Tree Of Life, access to which was denied when the expulsion from the Garden occurred, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations, the Tree that overcomes our natural mortality, not to be confused with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or better translated–The Tree of the Knowledge that Everything is Possible! The Angel relents and grants Seth some seeds from the Tree of Life. Seth returns and plants the seeds in his father’s mouth, when he buries him. From those seeds sprang forth the Cedars of Lebanon which were used in the construction of Solomon’s Temple, one tree being saved to be made into the Cross of Christ, who was crucified on the precise spot where Adam and Eve sinned.

What do you make of legends like that?

The mythical symbolism is so tight, so perfectly musical, if I may use such a metaphor, that such legends provide the inspirational basis for what Voegelin calls “transcendence to the ground”. They orient us to the ground and power of being, the underlying symbolic matrix of our spiritual lives. Without them we are lost.

So the Eden/Arcadia theme is this “transcendence to the ground”?

Eden/Arcadia is the symbolic matrix for the original affirmation of the unambiguous goodness of creation, although every time I repeat this I realize I have to correct it. The first creation account, in Biblical criticism known as the Priestly account,  Genesis 1 – 2:4, is the unambiguous affirmation; the Eden account, which is the second account, attributed to the Jahwist, is the ambiguous affirmation account, as it includes the prohibition not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge that Everything Is Possible (Good and Evil), which arouses the desire to transgress and leads to the Fall. I have to mention this every time I use the term unambiguous. They are two distinct accounts each with their own symbolism.

Wasn’t there some relation of Arcadia to the Santa Cruz Mission?


I was amazed when I found the only book on the mission: Mission Santa Cruz, by Torchiana, where I read that it was the first in the mission system to be secularized. He has a chapter on “California Arcadia”, the period of the flowering of Mexican culture in California, after the mission period, the “Completion of the Secularization of the Missions”:

“California developed into a semi-modern Arcadia; that is to say, a Spanish Arcadia, as exists today in the district of Andalusia, southern Spain, where under the azure skies a smiling countryside offers a lovely sight of palms, orchards, orange groves, banana groups, olive trees, loaded with fruit, and what not.” p.354

It was the time of the great ranches, the haciendas, the maidens in their mantillas, the proud caballeros, before the gringos took it over, presumably before the arrest of Isaac Graham, a Santa Cruz pioneer, who was the nephew of Daniel Boone, and a fur trapper, who came west and settled in Santa Cruz and became Mayor, and opened a whiskey distillery near Watsonville.. He was arrested by the Mexican authorities and imprisoned in Mexico, so California was annexed, lest that ever happen again to another American citizen. Thus ended California Arcadia, only to return in Chadwick’s little garden, at least for those of us who were involved. Chadwick continued the great English tradition of naturalists represented by Gilbert White, whose The Natural History of Selborne, published in 1789, is one of the most widely read books.

So more about Page.

When Page was a student at Dartmouth, he came under the influence of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a unique figure from European culture, a German professor, a polymath, who knew everything and knew it in a way that was unique to him. He was a kind of academic clairvoyant unique in his century. Tillich was comparable but different in many ways. At least we both had teachers who were summits and we both were equally devoted to them. Eugen’s central work, Out of Revolution,

Autobiography of Western Man, is one of the great books of the twentieth century but very little known, which is a shame. I would like to say that he was the greatest teacher in the history of American education, but I would have to know too much to make such a claim. I have been reading his lectures on Greek philosophy and it is a treat. There is no one like him. His insights are like beads on a rosary–you simply want to pray them–repeat them over and over–in order to commit them to memory. Some of the most important things I know I have learned from him, especially his caution about the Greeks and the history of philosophy and falling for rationalism. Eugen is like a cold shower in terms of my love of Socrates and Plato. Page’s relation to him was extremely close, an immensely profound spiritual tie, so much so, Page got tears in his eyes just at the mention of his name, the sentiment was so strong.

Wasn’t Freya Von Moltke the companion of Rosenstock-Huessy when he came to Santa Cruz?

Yes, that’s how we met. Page invited Eugen to teach at Cowell College after Eugen retired from Dartmouth and Freya accompanied him. We invited them to lunch and our fates were joined.

So you see the Garden as related to the past efforts of Camp William James and voluntary work-service?

All of these inter-connections eventually were disclosed. Eugen had been involved in voluntary work-service camps in Germany, with Helmuth von Moltke, before Hitler came to power. Hitler turned them into Hitler Youth Camps. Eugen came to America, taught at Harvard and then went to Dartmouth. He was interested in William James and the theme of “the moral equivalent of war through voluntary work service”–it is an incipient economy of gift, as I have come to understand it. You learn the spirit of self-sacrifice by devoting yourself to some cause for a couple of years, sharing the burden of the shit-work, so you get a sense of what some people have to suffer for a lifetime. It is the wedding of idealism and pragmatism, in an effort to alleviate the lot of those less fortunate or at least share their fate. It is at the core of American volunterism and the basis for civic virtue, contributing to your community.

How did Rosenstock-Huessy get involved in the C.C.C.?

Somehow, I forget how, Frank Davidson, a student at Harvard, came under Eugen’s spell and wanted to open the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) to middle-class youth, in the spirit of William James’ vision, as well as Eugen’s vision of planetary service. Up until then, you had to be a delinquent or a poverty kid to get into the corps, a practical alternative to jail or indigence. There was a means test to gain entrance to prove your predicament. Frank prevailed upon Eleanor Roosevelt, the Roosevelt’s were family friends, to support the opening of Camp William James, as a leadership training camp for the C.C.C., under Eugen’s direction. Dorothy Thompson, the famous journalist, also was an advocate. Page was the first Camp Director, in Tunbridge, Vermont. Then the war started and Page and others were drafted off into the army and the camp was stillborn. Eugen writes about this in an uncanny way about how what was started there would

eventually realize itself–he had a remarkable sense of timing. (include quote)

So the prediction proved true when you started the Garden at Santa Cruz and from there, with Page, helped start the California Conservation Corps with Jerry Brown.


I came to realize that the Chadwick Garden was the successor, the eventual realization of what Eugen pointed to–comparable forces were at work–it had the same impulse. But I realized this only after Page and I left the University and started the William James Association in order to re-establish the Conservation Corps.

You went to Washington, D. C. and lobbied for it?


We did and some of the old camp guys came, Frank Davidson himself, who took us to the Cosmos Club for lunch, and Jack Preis, who wrote the book: Camp William James. We went around and met with senators and lobbyists, like Don Eberly, who were working in behalf of the voluntary work service theme. I remember going into Ted Kennedy’s office and meeting the most beautiful strawberry blonde receptionist I ever hope to see. But nothing really came of it and then Jerry Brown announced the formation of the California Conservation Corps. We linked up with Governor Jerry Brown and helped start the California Conservation Corps, so all of these forces connected again for us.

The Peace Corps would be another example of what you mean by voluntary work service.

I should mention that the Peace Corps was Page’s idea. He wrote a long letter to Hubert Humphrey proposing it and then Humphrey championed it. I have tried to locate the letter in the Humphrey Library in Minneapolis, but to no avail. Sargent Shriver refers to Camp William James in an encyclopedia article on the Peace Corps, so he may have known of Page’s proposal. It is an important text still to be retrieved.

The California Conservation Corps was one of Brown’s favorite accomplishments as Governor.

It was all scripted for us and we were dazzled by it. Page and Eloise were in Brown?s office when he announced it, because Eloise was about to be named Chairman of the State Art Council, which I helped arrange because I knew Baker-roshi, who recommended her to Brown. Brown was informed of our interest and invited us to help with the planning. We organized some encampments and even had Chadwick come and speak at one. It was my dream to utilize the Corps as an extension or training program for the Chadwick Method. That never happened, even though the California Corps became the inspiration for the inauguration of comparable state corps throughout the nation. Now almost every state has one and Clinton has done his best, against Republican opposition, to promote voluntary service at the Federal level. So the wheel turned and these forces came into a certain confluence even if they were not realized as I had hoped. Then came the homeless problem.

You and Page opened the first public shelter for the homeless in Santa Cruz in 1985.

Yes, it was the greatest work we did together. We had already run the William James Work Company, which found some thirty thousand jobs for those in need of short-term, part-time, employment. That was the problem in the ’70’s. No one heard of homelessness, which became the issue in the mid-80’s. We opened the first public shelter in Santa Cruz in l985,and then organized churches to take in the overflow–the Interfaith Satellite Shelter Program– and eventually we started the Homeless Garden Project, with support from personnel trained in the Chadwick program at the University. So the wheel turned again. I am hoping we might link the C.C.C. and the Americorps with our Homeless Garden effort and extend it accordingly. We hope to get 24 positions funded by the Americorps this year. We thought of turning our homeless guys in the shelter into the Santa Cruz Conservation Corps and give them public works projects but it never happened, although we did take a group out on two successive Saturdays and police the banks of the San Lorenzo River. I would still like to see the homeless as a potential conservation corps.. A shirt and a patch and their name over their pocket and a new identity–no longer homeless. So, if we get the Americorps positions, this hope will be realized.

Why didn’t you do it earlier?

It takes more organizational savvy than I have been able to muster. Everything in its proper time.

And now you have the Page Smith Community House.

Yes. It is a forty person transitional facility with a very tight rehab program and support system in order to help people get back on their feet, although this will be mitigated by our having twelve of our Americorps recruits living there, inasmuch as we will provide training that will offset their need for support services. They will be service providers as well as recipients as part of their work/service duties.

Don’t you despair of the effort to help the homeless in terms of their re-entering conventional society?

Of course. But one success makes it worthwhile for me. We have a fellow who found his way into the Homeless Garden Project–Bill Tracey–who would most likely be dead by now and he is the first to admit it. He put his life back together and became one of our best workers with remarkable talents in terms of public spokesman and a writer for the Garden Newsletter. One like him in ten years is all I need to make it worthwhile. The Homeless Garden Project provided an alliance with the Chadwick Garden and Apprentice Training Program at UCSC and closed the loop for me. We have had good ties with the program and have hired trained apprentices who practise the Chadwick method.

You still think some kind of spiritual force seems to be operating under the surface?

I wish I could discern it better. The great example for me is the fate of Kreisau, the home of the Von Moltke’s in Silesia, now Poland. It fell when Germany fell; the communists took it over. Now, after the fall of communism, it is a center for voluntary work-service, which is a return to the youth work service camp effort of Von Moltke before the war. It is a miracle, pure and simple, although unlike Job, the Von Moltke’s don’t want it back; they don’t want it returned to them, although they support the work-service camp effort and Freya is the Honorary Chairperson. Helmuth Kohl, in his wisdom, selected it as the place to meet the Polish Prime Minister for talks about border relations between Poland and Germany. He provided funding for the center and the restoration of the schloss. It has great symbolic significance, not only because Helmuth held talks there about the future of Germany, after Hitler, for which he was executed as a traitor, for his ideas about the future of Germany, but also because the old German General, his Great-Uncle, is buried there, the founder of the modern German army under Bismarck.

You have written a play about these themes?

I wrote a play about the early part–the relation between Helmuth Von Moltke and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian and pastor, who was already a hero of mine and a great influence when I was at Harvard Divinity School–and their involvement in the assassination of Hitler; Helmuth con and Dietrich pro. It is called: “A Lullaby For Wittgenstein”. It was a great event to have Freya come to Santa Cruz some years ago when I staged a reading at my home where everyone took parts and we read the play. It was an amazing experience. A. R. Gurney, the dramatist, is an old friend of mine and he told me he would help if I staged a reading and then rewrote it. After listening to it, there was only one line I liked in the whole play, so the rewrite proved to be too daunting. He was right. I got it out the other day and read it in anticipation of hearing Elie Wiesel that night who was speaking in Santa Cruz. Now I like it. It is available on my home page. I sent a copy to Mr. Wiesel after he said he would read it.

Why is Bonhoeffer important to you?

Bonhoeffer represents to me the notorious Third Use of the Law in Lutheran dogmatics, thought to be a Calvinist heresy, which I think is odd. It presumably sneaked in under Melancthon when he wasn’t looking. I define the Third Use as “the free spontaneous behavior of the redeemed”. That’s a bit much for Lutherans, who, by and large, are a grim lot, willing to knuckle under to authority, in spite of their namesake, who was condemned by the Roman Church for being contumacious. One man’s contumaciousness is another man’s free spontaneous behavior. Nietzsche hit it on the nose when he said: “His disciples should look more redeemed.” However, I’m still Lutheran to the core thanks to my Norwegian-German heritage and these themes mean a lot to me. Bonhoeffer was a breath of fresh air when I was in divinity school. His Letters and Papers From Prison was a revelation for my generation of students. He sketched out a secular Christianity that described our situation.

What about the Two Kingdoms principle of Luther?

The issue of authority and domination versus freedom in the Spirit relates to Luther’s theory of the two kingdoms, his line-up with the nobles against the peasants and his rejection of Thomas Muenzer, who was an example of the free spirited rejection of imposed authority in the peasant revolt during the Reformation. Bonhoeffer notes that the Germans were very good at civil obedience and sacrificing themselves for a larger cause. Where they fell short was in the deed of free responsibility in taking unlawful actions for moral reasons. This is the great theme of the 20th century, announced by William James in his speech at Stanford in 1906: “A Moral Equivalent of War” and picked up by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and everyone involved in civil disobedience in the name of justice. Bonhoeffer writes extensively in great epigrammatic paragraphs about the free spontaneous behavior of the redeemed in a world come of age and therefore devoid of God, in his Letters and Papers From Prison. I met Bonhoeffer’s friend and translator–Eberhard Bethge–at Harvard and he summed up Bonhoeffer’s position as “justified godlessness”, a brilliant term, given the tradition of “justification” in Paul, Augustine, Luther and Kierkegaard and Tillich. It is a theological understanding of secularism, where God is teaching us how to live in a world without God, as Bonhoeffer put it.

In your play, you have a play within a play, written by Bonhoeffer.

I was astonished to find in his papers from prison that he had written a little play, about a deserter, back from the front, being interrogated by his insolent prison officer, where he has to face the music for his desertion, even though he had won the Iron Cross, a very sour note, indeed. Then there is another episode about a guy who had his face shot off and is returned to duty at the prison and no one can stand looking at him and while I read it I looked up at my Max Beckmann lithograph, hanging on the wall, from his “Hell” series, of Beckmann himself, looking at a soldier in the street with his face shot off. That was a moment! Two different world wars but the same destroyed face.

So you include the Bonhoeffer play as a scene within your play.


It fit perfectly. It is an inspired piece, so I set the context for it in terms of a debate over the need to assassinate Hitler. The play is inspired by the courageous example of Freya Von Moltke, as she writes about the last days of Kreisau, as well as this dramatic episode from Bonhoeffer’s prison experience.

You make me wonder at what people carry into their graves as a result of their death.


You can say that again. Many of us have a lot of balls in the air–it is one great juggling act, and then the balls are put to rest. Tillich has a wonderful sermon on the theme: “Fogetting and Being Forgotten.”

Do you think there is some great collective memory where it is all retained in spite of individual human forgetfulness.


No,I?m afraid not. There are no Jungian collective archetypes as receptacles for these matters, as far as I know. The Collective Unconscious as a kind of memory? Who knows? It is why the anxiety of being forgotten is the sting of death. It makes for great melancholia. The early Greeks were the masters of it, they talked about how it would have been better never to have been born, if one’s fate is to be forgotten.

Do you agree with that?

I sympathize with Greek melancholy. You can hardly be a philosopher and not be bitten by that bug. The Norwegian in me is prone to it. When Norwegians or descendants, relatives of mine, sit in a room they go “yah yah” in that peculiar way of sucking in their breath–it is the eccentric sound of Scandinavian melancholy. A kind of hic without the cup. I prefer another attitude. When the Apostle Paul envisaged the ultimate end of things in his famous ?Confession of Weakness? also known as ?The Thorn in the Flesh?–he refers to the vision of “the Third Heaven”, which no one may dare utter, the final mystery, when “God will be all in all”. He formulated this problem as well as anyone. So maybe our memory is taken up into God’s omniscience.

Another secret.

On pain of death. I heard Robert Thurman speak in Santa Cruz recently about death and dying from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective. He is such a consummate performance artist as a professor of religion he set me to thinking. I think “life after death” is a nonsensical combination of words, just as he said he thinks “nothing after death” is nonsensical. He re-translated The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which was a kind of bible of the psychedelic movement, thanks to the edition of Leary and Metzner. He read some passages from it about the “in-between”, which rings a bell because it is a great concept of Plato–methexis. I loved his talk, but I don’t believe it. Christianity is often misunderstood as supporting the immortality of the soul, but this is a mistake. Eternal life is something. else. The symbols are difficult to articulate properly, although Tillich makes a good attempt at it in a lecture he gave on the subject. As with most things theological, I follow him: “Symbols Of Eternal Life”. What a topic. It would take us into my long fascination with “the Myth of Er”, at the end of Plato’s Republic. I recommend it as required reading. I give it an existential reading, with Socrates as the unnamed prophet. There are fine commentaries by Voegelin and Heidegger. And then there is the discussion by Ricoeur in his autobiography about God remembering us.  It is a beautiful reflection.

Can you tell us more about “an economy of gift”. It seems to be related to your other themes, like the Third Use of the Law. and redemptive behavior.


You’re right. Thanks to this interview, I’m beginning to see some new connections myself. I had another strange experience I’ll tell you about. I was on my way to New York to visit friends and I wrote ahead about an economy of gift and how I wanted to discuss this with him. I knew about Marcel Mauss and Levy Strauss. It is a great anthropological theme–the gift–or the potlatch– and my friend, who I was going to visit, is an anthropologist–Edmund Carpenter. He gave me the preface of Levy Strauss to the writings of Mauss. It is a very dense piece. Then Derrida came out with his interpretation–Given Time–and I picked it up at his favorite bookstore in Manhattan, on Madison Avenue. I saw the chair on the second floor where he sits for hours while they feed him books. That I would like to watch. The trouble with reading Derrida is that not much sticks after a reading, even multiple readings, but I have notes, and I can always go back and reread the book. There is usually such a flood of associations it is difficult to sort them out. One is more dazzled than informed. Ricoeur is better for me, much more straightforward and conceptual and the economy of gift is really his theme.

Another chapter and verse. What about redemptive behavior? I never thought of it before, but I can see what you mean.


Sometimes, the concepts get in the way. I’m amazed how I hang on to mental baggage, like so much ballast. This is one way to deliver oneself of it. Here’s a bag full of ideas on the relation of the third use of the law to the free spontaneous behavior of the redeemed. I think I need help.

Do you know where to turn?

I can annotate it all.

So Derrida turned his attention to an economy of gift.

His essay is an interpretation of Mauss and Levy-Strauss.. It is more food for thought. I found the inspiration for an economy of gift and the term itself in an essay on “The Golden Rule”, by Paul Ricoeur.

You were a student of his?

Yes, I mentioned how we became friends at Harvard when he was a guest in our home and then he and Madame Ricoeur visited us in Santa Cruz. When he stayed with us in Cambridge, he sat up all night reading our art books. A wonderful, indefatigable man, he is now one of the foremost philosophers in France. He is the true successor to Tillich. I edited the English for his Freud and Philosophy, with Denis Savage, who translated it. I have learned a lot from him We are on the same wave length with thymos and he has written about it astutely as “affective fragility”, which works better in French, in Fallible Man. He knows full well about the middle ground between reason and desire. His Symbolism Of Evil, I might add, is one of my favorite books and a superb introduction to Western thought.

Tell me about the Golden Rule.

Well, I had a snotty attitude toward it, as if it represented grade school ethics, before you learned the good stuff, like Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” and Kierkegaard’s “Teleological Suspension of the Ethical”. It went back to a joke I heard at Harvard that James Luther Adams, my Professor of Social Ethics, told, about riding on a plane and his companion turns out to be a physicist. He asks Adams, after he learns he is a professor at Harvard Divinity School, if religion can’t be summed up by the Golden Rule and Adams says, “sure, if you think physics is just twinkle twinkle little star”.

That fixed the Golden Rule for you?


That did it. Then I met Carol Guyer, the daughter of J. C. Penny, whose, daughter, Cynthia, was a student of mine in Organizational Climate, an innovative class I taught at UCSC. And then I met Mrs. Penny, the great-mother-of-us-all, who turned out to be one of the most vital and high-spirited women I have ever met, the embodiment of female thymos. Mr. Penny was a passionate practitioner of the Golden Rule, as the central principle of his Christian businessman’s ethic. He first called his stores “the Golden Rule Stores”. So the example of the Penny family continuing on through successive generations was a great inspiration on this very theme of generous giving of oneself in service to others.

Didn’t you wind up winning a J.C. Penny “Golden Rule Award”?


We won three in succession–Lynne Basehore Cooper, Paul Pfotenhauer, and me. When Lynne and the Homeless Garden won the J.C. Penny Golden Rule Award for Voluntary Service and we got a free lunch and a check, within the week, I was sent Ricoeur’s essay on “The Golden Rule”, where he very subtly develops his concept of an economy of gift and the whole thing fell into place, as if it was arranged. I am very grateful for it. I haven’t fully worked it out, as yet, but the rudiments, the contours, are clearly in mind. It will be an integral part of Ecotopia because it has been the inspirational source.

What is Ecotopia?

It is an economic development plan I have hatched to make Santa Cruz a point of destination for the eco-tourist in order to make enough money to solve the problem of homelessness for the first time in the country. By “solve”, I mean a definite plan and a design strategy. So the solution is realistic within specific parameters and goals. I have until 2000 to work it out on the Internet as a virtual design strategy and then implement it.

Do you have a web server?

Yes, at the Visual Math Institute in Santa Cruz. You can get http://ecotopia. org. for the asking.

Is Ecotopia a type of utopia?

As an economy of gift it would have to be. I’m happy not to share the cynical or sceptical reaction to utopia as wishful dreaming and a waste of time. I have an interest in the utopian literature which relates to my despair over industrial society–one might as well

dream of a better state of things now that things seem irretrievably bad. Tillich has given some brilliant lectures on utopia now available in Political Expectations and Ricoeur has a book of lectures he gave at the University of Chicago: Ideology and Utopia. There is a good literature on the topic, both primary and secondary. Frank Manuel and his wife did a big reader on the subject. It is definitely food for thought. I know that utopia means nowhere or no place.

Has Ecotopia ever happened?

Formally, it means nowhere. I like the Ecotopia twist because it could happen somewhere, like Santa Cruz. The ‘u’, which is the negative, is dropped in favor of ‘eco’ which means household, after the Greek oikos: what is “inhabited”. So the ‘nowhere’ becomes a possible ‘somewhere’, as far as what is inhabited. But there are cultural approximations to utopia. The Italian Renaissance is as close to utopia as one might get. It was a utopian renewal of Western culture from its roots in ancient Greece. So Classical Athens would be another example of a utopian culture, with Plato’s Republic as the working text. And, remarkably, the Paradise Garden is at the center in the Italian development of great civic botanical gardens in the Renaissance, starting with Padua and Pisa, just as Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum were located in gardens. This, again, is George Huntston Williams’ theme of wilderness and paradise or garden and desert, the place of retreat for the refreshment and recreation of the soul.

Didn’t Mark Primack inspire you in terms of his botanic architecture?


That was the beginning. It never dawned on me to think of vegetation as habitation, partly because of my own estrangement from nature. I remember when my wife and I lived in Newburyport our first year, on a salt marsh, in a barn apartment. It made me nervous to be out in a natural setting, with the tide bringing in and taking out the ocean every day. I was a city guy. Nature made me nervous. I was living in my head, in my mind, where I was completely taken up. So gardening was my way back, under Chadwick’s influence and I discovered I had a green thumb. I wasn’t nervous any more. And summers in the North Woods of Wisconsin have helped a lot. But nature as habitation has become an important theme. The key is the classic orders–the columns of Ancient Greece. They were once trees. The Corinthian is the most obvious, with the Acanthus leaf. I developed a love for Palladio which I will go into later. I entered a door through him, through his villas, and had to discover why the attraction was so strong. I just trusted the impulse and enjoyed going with it. Show me, I thought. And I was shown. The Palladian columns are emblematic of his restoration of classical architecture. And then the whole sequence opened up for me when a series of books fell into place, beginning with The Architecture of Paradise, with illustrations from Viollet-le-duc and other French writers, showing the goddess of Architecture sitting there and watching the men struggling with the first habitation in a tree, tying some branches together, and then branches cut and tied in a teepee, and then in a rectangle, and then houses. Adam’s House, The Primitive Hut in History, was the next book, with many of the same illustrations, and then the tree into the classic columns, and I had the key and the evolution right up to Palladio. With this came the garden city idea and utopian thought about the ideal city–the history of city planning–from Plato to Frank Lloyd Wright. All of this became grist for my mill for ecotopia and Santa Cruz, which would serve as a perfect garden city. I am reminded how Lisbon became a garden city, with great garden boulevards, after the famous Lisbon earthquake which sent a shock wave through Europe. Plant your garden in this best of all possible worlds is the way Voltaire satirizes Leibniz in Candide in his discussion of the earthquake and then lo and behold it became a reality.  They made Lisbon into a garden.

Bernstein’s great chorus at the end of his Candide is one of your favorite pieces of music: “Let your gardens grow.” Botanic gardens or philosophic gardens are a great interest of yours, aren’t they?

Of course. I want to be the philosopher of gardens, bringing philosophy of nature up to date. It used to be a great enterprise and was given up when nature was taken over by mathematical physics, beginning with Galileo and the mathematization of nature. The very word for nature in Greek is physis, which is the word for physics. In Greek, it meant what grows, or a “plantation”; since Newton and Galileo it means– “dead things in space”. One can hardly take in the reversal–it is so inside-out or upside-down. Husserl is the great commentator on this development in his Crisis. Naturalist used to be a dignified scholarly designation and then under the sway of Physicalism was relegated to the Vitalist garbage pile, but it composted; Rachel Carson made it respectable again, right through to E. O. Wilson at Harvard.

What do you know about botanic gardens?


We went through all this, but I’ll recapitulate. Padua was the first great Italian botanical garden, along with Pisa, and then civic gardens sprang up throughout Europe. The renaissance was expressed and celebrated in a great civic garden, the extension of the medieval herb garden. It was the age of the Plantocrat, a veritable plantocracy, where plant hunters went out worldwide to look for new specimens to be brought back to the civic gardens as collection centers. The initial motive was to look for the Garden of Eden. It was to be the locus for the New Adam and the Brave New World of Shakespeare. Columbus had Eden in mind in his search for the new world. When it wasn’t found, the civic gardens became Edens on their own, the reconstitution of paradise. Then, ironically, the gardens also or subsequently became seedbeds for modern science. Garden academies, which sprang up everywhere as centers of free inquiry, sponsored scientific investigation, beginning with botany. Astronomical observatories were added for the development of physics, as were chemical laboratories. It was only a matter of time before everyone went into the lab and stayed there, to the neglect of the garden. This shift in focus proved critical for the triumph of industrial society and the loss of organic integrity. The plantocracy became technocrats and the plantocracy a technocracy. Attention was re-focused. Modern science was on its way to the triumphant victory of Physicalism, as if they locked themselves in the lab and threw away the key. There is a famous etching depicting life in the lab where everyone is dressed to the nines, some wearing top hats, looking like they are at some great celebration, getting ready for the synthesis of urea on the way to smashing the atom and discovering DNA and cloning sheep. There’s no stopping them now.

You mentioned that Francis Bacon played a role in this?

Yes, a decisive one. He wrote a famous essay on gardens. I happen to have an original edition of his book on nature, a deliciously beautiful book, as though printed for a prince. Bacon saw the garden as an incipient lab. Here are some quotes that perfectly illustrate this line of thought:

“Aware of the botanic garden as a seed-bed of science, young Francis Bacon wished to improve it. He suggested the idea of collecting a library in a house with ‘a spacious and wonderful garden and a huge cabinet, and a still house furnished with mills, instruments, furnaces and vessels.” Bacon rang the bell for the scientific intellectual, of which he is the first major example, it’s very type and form. “Nature cannot be conquered by obeying her. Accordingly these goals, human science and human power, come to an end in action. To be ignorant of causes is to be frustrate in action.” So the “garden academies” sprang up everywhere in Europe, where Bacon’s program was put into effect. “This movement was given a name: ‘technology’. The word, significantly enough, was coined by Johann Beckmann (1739-1811), a former student of theology, who turned to mathematics and the natural sciences.” Armytage in The Rise of the Technocrat.

Here’s a good quote from one of my favorite books: The Garden Of Eden:


“For the first time since the Fall, thanks to the discovery of America, a truly encyclopedic collection of plants could now be made that would offer a complete guide to the many faces of the Creator. Since each family of plants was thought to represent a specific act of creation, that scholar would come to understand God best who found room in a pulvillus for every genus. This, then, was the Garden of re-creation into which the wise man would retire, and shut the door upon the busy, disfigured. world outside. Plants were restful things, free from motion, and, so it was generally imagined, from the perturbations of sex. In this they resembled God himself. Not only that: the leaves of the various plants having been appointed by God for physik (or medicine), a complete collection of plants from all over the world, must, it was supposed, supply a ready remedy for every injury and infection. Thus it was that, in a Botanic Garden, beside the fountain in the middle, a man could enter into communion with what was green and full of sap, recover his innocence, and shed his fear of decay.  Some of the brightest hopes of mankind thus came to lie in principles of recreational gardening associated with the Botanic Gardens and with what was written about them. But these ideals could be adopted by other gardeners, both great and small, with notions of their own as to the many ways in which to recreate a ‘perpetual spring’. After the relative hopelessness of the medieval world view, and the division of Christendom at the Reformation, these attempts to recreate the Garden of Eden, backward-looking as they were, came as a sensitive, and immensely optimistic interlude in Western European history, before the march of modern science and of the industrial revolution began.” p. 10

You recently gave a four hour lecture on the history of gardens.


Yes. To the Master Gardener Class at UCSC Extension. I have a strong interest in the history of gardens and have collected some fine books, along with my herbal collection. I almost bought an original edition of the Padua Garden Book, because it was the first, although this is disputed, and because Goethe visited it and the urplant was identified and enshrined there, but it was too expensive. I do own the Pisa Garden Book, an exquisite folio, which was reasonable. It is a wonderful field of study. My wife and I made a tour of French Formal Gardens with the famous historian of French Gardens, Howard Adams, in October of 1995. It was the trip of a life-time. The four hour lecture gave me time to cover some of the major aspects of garden history.

Say something about the history of gardens.

Well, the first book for beginning one’s studies is the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. It takes a while to memorize the name, but it’s worth it. It is the source of many of the motifs of formal gardens and it is particularly distinguished as a publication of the Aldine Press of Aldus Manutius in Venice, the most important press of the Italian Renaissance. I can give a good bibliography of the basic books, many of which I have collected, in terms of modern studies. They seem to come out weekly. There is an excellent bookstore in San Francisco devoted to architecture and gardens–Stout’s. I always go there when I go to the City and there is a great restaurant down the alley–Bix’s–which makes a great martini. There are three major national garden traditions in the West–the Italian, the French and the English. They have their respective styles and motifs and reflect their national origin. I was struck by the achievement of the French formal garden as the highest attainment of French culture, if you are sick of steak tartare or foie gras. I’m still stunned. It was a personal pleasure because of working on the Euclidean tradition with Ralph Abraham. I would not have had an appreciation of the relation of geometry to gardening but for that project, just as I developed an appreciation for the geometrical perspective applied to painting and architecture in the Renaissance, especially by Brunelleschi and Palladio. It gave the French an understanding of the metaphysics of infinity which they designed into their gardens. There is a very good book on the subject: The Metaphysics of Infinity: The French Formal Garden. It was a natural progression from Chadwick and herbal studies to take an interest in garden history, a wonderful scholarly field. It set me up for Palladio.

How is that?

I suddenly became a Palladio fanatic, which is the application of geometry to architecture. I fell in love with the sound of his name, which I like to repeat out loud. I bought every book I could find. I dreamt about buying one of his villas–there are some actual Palladian villas for sale, although I have retreated to the project of renting one which I plan to do–Villa Saraceno, owned by the British Trust and restored by them. Palladio is the greatest architect of the Italian Renaissance and his villa is the residence for an accompanying garden. The greatest Italian gardens are on estates other than Palladian but the whole context of Italian villas and gardens is the issue. The same for France and England. It is the architecture of paradise, both residence and garden together. Then I heard about how he got his name and that clinched it.

How did he get his name?

He was a stonemason by the name of Andreas Gondola and he was working for Trissino, a great Renaissance Man, a poet and so on, with a large salon. He recognized Gondola to be the greatest architect-to-be who ever would have lived (how?s that for an example of the perfect tense?) and took him into his salon to begin his training and renamed him Palladio. The name goes back to Pallas Athena, the Patron Saint of Athens who was represented by a large wooden statue of her which Aeneas brought from Troy to Rome to be housed in an underground chapel known as the Palladium. So just as Aeneas brought the goddess, Pallas Athena, representing classical culture, to Rome, so Palladio revived the principles of classical Greek architecture for Renaissance Italy. If anyone says that’s just a myth they should have their head examined.

Palladio aside, continue the history of garden line.

There is too much to tell. And there are any number of excellent books on the subject, as I mentioned. Now that I have toured the French gardens, I want to re-visit them, and take some more time to experience them. I want to plan a trip to Italy and then England, to complete the European experience. I also want to go to Kyoto and visit the Japanese gardens there. Then I would die happy.

You have given the references for some of your main sources such as Williams, Prest and Armytage, are there any others you would like to mention?


There are good bibliographies available in most of the major garden history books, such as Lazzaro, etc. And there is the Journal of Garden History, which is an excellent publication for keeping up to date on current scholarship in the field.

O.K. Malthus.

The enemy of an economy of gift. He is a basis for capitalism, as I look at it, and an economy of greed, because of scarcity of resources, as a presupposition. Dog eat dog. I got the point from George Herbert Mead, in his wonderful book: Movements Of Thought In the 19th century. Mead is so clear and concise, he must have been a superb teacher. He has a lecture on Malthus, the population theorist, who argued that because of the exponential development of human beings and the arithmetical development of jobs and the food supply, there would always be more people than food and more people than jobs. Food and jobs were linked on the short side. Therefore, you could pay a “starvation wage”, talk about a pernicious term, because there would always be more people than jobs; O.K., near starvation, you didn’t want your labor force to die. Thanks to the starvation wage, you could build up enormous profits. It is the guts of capitalism and it is heinous. The economy of greed. Darwin read Malthus and thought up the survival of the fittest, so we have social Darwinism on top of Malthus as the inner rationale of capitalist and industrial society–no wonder it is self-destructing, just as it is self-destructive. I saw a piece on the evening news last night detailing the salaries of some of the top C.E.O.’s in the country, with annual incomes from $10,000,000 to $100,000,000 and the argument that they are worth every penny, which makes you laugh out loud, while the downsizing and laying off of workers continues to increase. It is a major piece of evil. Chadwick showed me the way out of this impasse with an economy of gift through “too much zucchini”. The Chadwick Method could grow more than enough food for everyone–all you have to do is dig it. Now we are proving it with the Homeless Garden Project and our Community Supported Agriculture program, which I would like to see extended throughout the county.

Wasn’t that your inspiration for Ecotopia?


That’s what did it for me. I found out we were recruiting about 150 people to pay $400 for a share in the coming harvest of the garden and they wound up getting more than they paid for– the economy of gift was right there in practice. That’s when I made up the slogan of “too much zucchini”! From there, I started to think of Ecotopia, wanting to extend the spirit to the whole community if I could and have it serve as an example for everyone. I have four more years, having set myself the goal of 2000, to develop this plan. Santa Cruz is perfect for it. The right scale. And we have the momentum mounting to the next millennium. At least I’m counting on it. I’ve been wrong before. Not much seems to happen, and even what happens goes unnoticed, but I’m still hopeful.

So you think you can refute the Malthusian view.


China already has. They lost 100,000,000 people to starvation in the 19th c. That’s a million a year. I don’t know how many starve now, but I do know they grow food on every square inch of land and they utilize the French Intensive method, the raised bed and the double digging, for increased yields. I took a long train ride when I was there in 1982, and watched how the farms and gardens came right up to the tracks, reminiscent of the Schreber Gardens in Germany, which are all along the railroad tracks. I suppose it’s easy for me to talk, living in a sub-tropical climate, with no frost, almost never, and no snow. We can grow salads year round. It can be December 26th and I garden all day with temperatures in the high ’60’s, typical Santa Cruz weather.

Did you see anything similar in France?


Yes, there were allotment gardens in a number of places. Howard Adams, our tour guide, would stretch his neck and point them out–he had a kind of radar for them–as we were driving through the countryside.

How do you see this playing out in Santa Cruz?

It is an organizational problem. I have only thought about it in the most superficial way, playing with numbers, not much else. I need someone to carry it through who has the energy and the ability to work out the details and find the funding. This is how I started thinking about it. Take 10,000 social security recipients in Santa Cruz County and recruit them to the Community Supported Agriculture Program. That would mean about a million dollars @ $100 a share. Start with that. How many gardens would it take at what size, say, an acre or two per garden, plenty of space, with two or more gardeners working a site. There are all kinds of variables and intermediary considerations. Eventually, one could build to a two or three million dollar effort, providing organic, highly nutritious food to people on a fixed budget. County-wide.

How can you manage that?

I’m trying to see how we can extrapolate from our present model–the Homeless Garden Project. You could have asked me that ten years ago–how are you going to take care of the homeless? At that point, I didn’t have a clue, except to give them a place to lie down at night that was warm and dry–minimal shelter. That didn’t seem like a terribly complicated need to meet and yet the forces of opposition were humungous even for a small town like ours. I couldn’t have done it without Page. He took charge and we did it. Now I can point to the Homeless Garden, which is my particular project, and argue the shift in focus from liability to asset. How to see the homeless as an asset, as a contribution to the community, that’s the trick.

In other words, the bottom line of the Ecotopian vision is the resolution of homelessness–about as utopian as you can get.


As long as I have ten years into this effort, I might as well try to make the most of it. I would like to be the first person in the United States who claims the end to homelessness in his community. That’s my goal. I had to think big–Ecotopia–in order to get a handle on a solution, because the problem seems so intractable, so insoluble, and it gets worse every year. I fluctuate between despair and hope. I had to envisage a half billion dollar economy in order to even consider a solution possible. That’s how bad it is.

In other words, turn the economy of homelessness to an advantage.


Exactly. If I had to do it over again, I would issue annual reports of the Citizens Committee for the Homeless in order to show the economics of the effort. I am going to issue a decade report for the Citizens Committee for the Homeless and our projects in order to give an accounting of the economics of the effort. We have already spent millions of dollars over the past ten years. Where did that come from? What contribution did that make to the Santa Cruz economy? Our decade report will focus on our financial statements and our budgets. It’s time to get smart and argue on a level where everyone looks up instead of down.

Would Chadwick have gone along with such a scheme?


Absolutely. What could be an easier solution to homelessness than gardens and garden cottages? And yet in Santa Cruz at this point in time you can’t even pitch a tent because they have passed a law which prohibits sleeping. There is no homeless campground on the entire West Coast.

But there must be plans or design strategies that would meet this need.


I was thinking today of Chadwick’s relation to Frank Lloyd Wright. We could have created Wright’s utopian city here in Santa Cruz and Alan would have scored the garden aspect which was integral to Wright’s design. I mentioned the book: The Architecture of Paradise, which is a kind of design text for my idea of Ecotopia, especially in terms of the illustrations. The Muse of Architecture, watching the first attempt on the part of a man to make a tree house for habitation by tying some branches together is one of the best illustrations. It is a wonderful book and it lead me to Wright’s Garden City plan–Broadacre City, as well as his Usonian houses. Wright is another of my heroes. My grandparents settled in Wisconsin not too far from Taliesen, so it is very close to my roots, near the Kickapoo Valley and the Wisconsin River.

You mentioned the influence of your friend, Mark Primack, who calls himself a botanical architect.

Yes. He knew of the book and the illustrations when I brought it up recently. We did the Greenbelt Initiative together which saved about five thousand acres in Open Space in Santa Cruz. Andrew Morin, whom I recruited as an Environmental Studies student at UCSC, ran the project, which lead to Measure 0. Pogonip, now a city park, comprises 612 acres of the Greenbelt. It is the jewel of the belt. I see a major botanical garden being developed there–it would be a prime tourist draw.

Then you did the Circle Trail?

Yes, with the help of Don Weiss and Sylvia Knapton. It was her idea and she asked me to take it on. We signed it last June (1995). It is a seventeen mile circle walk on the West side of the San Lorenzo River and a 12 mile circle on the East side. The West side unites a series of environmental and recreational and educational attractions and resources–West Cliff Drive, along the ocean, where I walk every morning, the Greenbelt, the University, including the Arboretum, and the Chadwick Farm and Garden, Pogonip, as a City Park, the San Lorenzo River, the Homeless Garden Project, Lighthouse Field, Long Marine Lab, Antonelli’s Pond, and the Seaside Corporation Amusement Park where you can ride on a wooden roller coaster, the very same as featured in a Clint Eastwood film made here.

How did you bring that off?

We had a team, with sponsorship from National Parks and Trails. Without their help it would have been hard. They gave us a staff person who knew exactly how to do it–Susan Harris. And they paid for the brochures and the signs. It was a project of USA, now called United Services Agency, which is my nonprofit umbrella.

Ecotopia is your vision for these projects?


My big economic development scheme. I hope I’m riding a wave into the next millennium. Now we are planning a major event–an EcoThon–to bring attention to the Circle Trail. It turns out both circles are equal to a marathon, so we will have all sorts of athletic events and an EcoFair and hopefully unveil the first stage of the Ecology Hall of Fame. All of this is proceeding nicely and we still have almost three years to go.

Let’s go back to your sketch of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the history of the sciences as you put it. Fill out some of the ideas.

The inclusion of Existentialism as chief mourner for defeated Vitalism was my own insight, a natural and obvious fit. I am astonished at how scholarship operates on discrete lines. I never would have learned about Aristotle’s father being an herbalist from the history of philosophy. I had to find that out when I studied the history of herbalism. It is very difficult to think across fields in a systematic way and yet the gains are enormous. Associative thinking is hard to come by and it’s what I have too much of. Anyhow, the conjunction of Physicalism and Vitalism with Existentialism nailed the thesis for me. It was the key link in the sketch, as far as I was concerned. No one has seen the link because the history of chemistry has almost no overlap with the history of philosophy and therefore the relation of Existentialism to refuted Vitalism as the result of synthetic urea has never been put together.

What was your source for “chief mourner’?

The “chief mourner” metaphor came from “The Ballad of Cock Robin”. Who will be Chief Mourner? I said the Dove (Existentialism) because of my love.

So the ditty summed it up? The Ballad of Cock Robin.

Who killed Cock Robin         (Vitalism)?

“I”, said the Sparrow             (Physicalism).

“With my bow and arrow”    (Artificial synthesis of urea)

Who will be chief mourner?

“I”, said the Dove                 (Existentialism)

“Because of my love”.

And all the birds in the sky fell to sighing and sobbing

When they heard of the death of poor Cock Robin.

When they heard of the death of poor Cock Robin.

The ditty summed it up. It is a memory device. Cock Robin is Vitalism and the Sparrow is Physicalism and the Bow and Arrow is the artificial synthesis of urea. Who sang the Ballad of Cock Robin? Rachel Carson, of course, in her Silent Spring, the lament over the death of robins from DDT, where she coined the term “eco-system”. She was my second inductee into the Ecology Hall of Fame, after Chadwick.

And Existentialism came to an end with Earth Day I, in 1970.

Yes, with the celebration of the environmental movement, which Rachel Carson ushered in with her book. Therefore, the environmental movement is seen as Neo-Vitalism, which the Physicalist Establishment, i.e., Modern or Industrial Science and Technology, thought they had laid to rest, once and for all, over a century and a half ago. Dead and buried. The lid was nailed down. I know the name of every nail. And then the coffin came unglued, as I like to put it, much to the surprise of the Physicalists, who thought they ruled the playing field. Until these forces and trends are clarified there is a pervasive confusion over the issues.

So this is your version of what some call Deep Ecology?

It is the underlying text. I was in on the origins of Deep Ecology, because I know Arne Naess, not the guy married to Diana Ross, who is his nephew, but the Norwegian philosopher. He wanted to call it “ecosophy”, but you have to be a native Norwegian to swallow that one.

You said the rest of the sketch fell into place?


I can’t remember how the subsequent steps came to my attention, but it was a logical sequence and a historical sequence. I’m willing to concede it is my construction. There may be better examples of the Physicalist takeover, but I have fixed on the ones that make sense to me. Helmholtz was a big one. The most famous scientist of his time, he wrote a couple of appreciative essays on Goethe, although they are condescending in tone, as if to say, what is a poet and a man of letters doing fooling with hard science where he can only be a softie, i.e., a Vitalist. And the gall of Goethe, to go up against Newton. Please. Aside from that, they attempt to be appreciative. Heisenberg’s essay on Goethe is more penetrating and understanding. Helmholtz is a perfect case for illustrating the attitude of the Physicalist after the victory. Then when I found out about the Oath, it nearly knocked me out. I knew about Brucke from Freud studies–I did my thesis on Freud at Harvard and concentrated on the early periods–the Brucke and Fliess periods–they were very much in the air at the time, because of the discovery of Freud’s letters to Fliess. Erik Erikson, who was my thesis advisor, wrote a very perceptive review of the publication of the Freud/Fliess correspondence, in which the notorious Project For A Scientific Psychology was published.  It was Freud’s effort to make good on his Oath to unveil nature?s mysteries by referring to consciousness as a qualitative leap in the neurone, which sounds like a salto mortalis, a somersault of death. He sent it off to Fliess and there it remained among his papers. Brucke was Freud’s mentor in the experimental lab where Freud dissected the nervous system of a certain order of fish. That would have been fun to watch. Brucke was one of the formulators of the Oath with DuBois-Reymond, a vigorous ideologue in the Physicalist cause, otherwise known as a philosopher of science. Then I read in Julian Jaynes that the Oath was taken in blood. I don’t know how he knows that. I actually tried to call him the other day to ask him but I couldn’t find him. Eventually, everyone will have an e-mail address and information will be more available if not instantaneous. So that was the next step. From Helmholtz through Brucke to Freud.

Yes. And that puts us in Vienna, Freud’s hometown, where the Vienna Circle was forming around Carnap and Neurath–the Logical Positivists of the Vienna Circle, the philosophers of Physicalism.


I would have commissioned Max Beckmann or even better, George Grosz, to draw them. Neurath wrote the manifesto for the group, a kind of mission statement, which, when I found it, gave me the quintessential expression of the philosophy of Physicalism, which is what he calls it. It’s only a few pages long and therefore very succinct. After all, these guys were logicians at heart, so propositions were mathematical in principle. He rejects all “theses devoid of sense”, a rapier-like phrase and that, of course, meant all Vitalist-type statements. It was the death knell for everything incapable of verification through experimental laboratory protocols. Wittgenstein comes out of the Circle and so does Godel, two of the most brilliant cognition beamers of the century. I never understood Wittgenstein, but Godel is my hero.

Because he undermined the Physicalist program?


Precisely. His incompleteness theorem showed that math was incomplete and inconsistent and therefore without foundation so how could it be a foundation for the sciences. The Physicalist empire was undermined in a stroke. In 1931. It has taken a long time to assimilate. Derrida is one of the few philosophers who incorporates Godel, on the way to Chaos Philosophy, as I see it.

The year you were born.


Proudly. A left-handed Virgo with an afflicted Uranus. It is also the year when Dirac postulated the monopole.  I like that.

Why was Physicalism undermined?

It is a long discourse and we can’t do it justice here. Husserl is a key player, for me, especially his Crisis of Western Science. There was an effort to consolidate the gains of Physicalism on a firm mathematical/logical footing or foundation, in order to erect a system of unified science, with the exclusion of Vitalism, which is what they meant by metaphysics. An enormous amount of work was done on the foundations of mathematics. Hilbert comes to mind. It was a concerted effort to bring to fruition the failed effort of Leibniz to develop a universal calculus. Now there is a theme worth pursuing. I would love to take a class from someone who knows the subject matter known as mathesis universalis. Derrida could do it–he is the erasure of the effort and I have read what he has written on it in his Of Grammatology which is very germane. I’ve developed a tendency to formulate what is universally the case, I suppose, to overcome the relativistic and willfully arbitrary.

What do you mean?

I can’t stand it when someone says “well I think that blah blah blab” and doesn’t have a clue. I. F. Stone on Socrates comes to mind, a book I hate as much as anything I have ever read. He took a course in philosophy in college and never got over it and late in life he writes the worst drivel on Socrates anyone has muddled up in print just to fulfill his sophomoric nonsense. I was stupefied by the success of the book and wanted to buy copies just to destroy them. Anyhow, I see universals in Socrates, just as Plato did. Plato has revealed them to me as they were revealed to him. It is a spiritual transmission. Plato talks about it in his Seventh Epistle, where a spark is ignited from teacher to student as a metaphor for philosophical enlightenment. There’s nothing like it when it happens. Socrates is for Plato what Jesus is for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is the axiomatic substance of a spiritual transmission carried in a tradition of those who receive it and pass it on. If you don’t get that, you don’t get it at all. The Platonic Dialogues, the Gospel According to Plato, is practically equivalent to the Four Gospels in the New Testament. Something revelatory happened in both cases and the response is the reception of the revelation. In both cases it has universal significance. With Socrates, it was the appearance of rational self-consciousness, as an historical event, with saving power. He is the carrier and the occasion. There is a line of thought on the universal significance of this event which I have learned from Euclidean geometry, which is obviously true for everyone everywhere no matter what. Nobody argues about the definition of a triangle. It sets the standard for what is axiomatic. Apodictic is another word I like. Well, we would have to spend a long time laying out the material. I start with Husserl’s essay on The Origins of Geometry and Derrida’s Introduction. That opens up the line of thought to Husserl’s Crisis, which is an attack on Physicalism, a gold mine of stuff for me. I’m trying to work this out, as I said, as a prelude to chaos philosophy, so it will have to wait for the completion of that effort.

It sounds like more than anyone can handle.

As long as it is a mapping procedure it is not so difficult. To bring the material up into the right and proper formulations is another matter. Thought takes unexpected and sometimes arbitrary turns which eludes the point. I am prone to tangents. And there is the question of what is defensible and what is simply superseded or no longer the case. Husserl fascinates me in this regard. His lament over the telos of Europe and his very long stride from the Ancient Greeks, through Galileo, to the present period, based, as it is, on European hegemony, is difficult to argue now. There is a move from the global to the local in the context of theory formation. Pluralism is a good word, not hegemony, a very bad word in modern parlance, although I don’t mind it, is de rigeur. I suppose I have to admit I was trained in the old school, where the Western tradition of humanities and science was the light of the world. Well, there are grave reasons for seeing the bankruptcy in terms of the present muddle we’re in, but I don’t fault the tradition as such for this state of affairs. It as more a departure from the true spiritual meaning of the tradition than a negative fulfillment of it. It is a very deep well to draw from. But fewer and fewer seem to be interested. Like George Steiner fears, one day soon people will read the Book of Job the way they read the newspaper–for information.

You must have faced that before.

I remember exactly when. I was teaching in the Humanities program at Harvard and we were reading Augustine’s Confessions which had just clicked for me–the entire text lit up like an illuminated manuscript with the appropriate organ music and every part was related to every other part in one great symphonic whole. I was ecstatic. And a student came up to me after class, very exasperated–I think he was from Detroit–and said: “What do we have to read this crap for?” I was speechless when I should have kicked him and said: “for your edification, you dumb shit!”

But you can’t force edification on anyone.


No. But you can lead the horse to water.

But you can’t make her think.


I was stunned a couple of years ago when a former Radcliffe student, who was in the Harvard Humanities class I mentioned, looked me up. I remembered her well. She was as bright and lively as they get and she told me how bitter and resentful she was over her experience of those years and how intimidated and humiliated she felt taking classes at Harvard and how much this was shared by her whole generation of women. I never sensed it at all. So the guilt is painful now that the worm has turned. That’s why Husserl, for instance, reads like a target text for the accusation of white old Western European male hegemony. And yet I still try to extrapolate and re-interpret the truth of it. The substance. What is of worth and value in human self-interpretation.

So this interview can be read as an introduction to a host of themes, some of which we can expect you to deliver on.

God willing. Sim Van der Ryn has urged me to write up the Physicalist/Vitalist theme under the title of Who Killed Cock Robin?, so I may do that next. It is an account that should be given its own due.

Did you ever worry about over-inflating the importance of Chadwick?

Are you kidding? Over-inflating is my middle name. We were talking about Chadwick yesterday at the Penny University. Mary Holmes was cutting him down to size with her sharp tongue. I suppose you could easily make my formulation seem ridiculous–he replanted the vital root of existence in the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society, etc., that one, but I don’t care. I was trying to formulate what it meant to me, what the renewal of a garden meant to all of us related to it. It carried a symbolic overload, which I try to express. But I know it sounds inflated. Every once in a while I think– that little piece of land, a couple of acres, and it meant what…? I finally found the word “orotund” and thought it characterized my tendency toward over-inflation. I should have the word tattooed on my forehead, although it is obvious enough.

Orotund isn’t your only problem. I’m surprised by the mix of scholarly and personal and anecdotal and factual, as well as the tangle of ideas from multiple fields of discourse. I can see why you have had a hard time doing a straightforward account.

I could never find my scholarly voice in terms of writing papers and publishing. I never read a lecture in all my years of teaching. I like thinking on my feet and now I can do it without notes. The spontaneous inspiration of the moment is my cup of tea, even though I am clear about the subject matter at hand. It’s not as though I am unprepared. But I know what you mean about the tangled net. It is hard to separate out the mix I have brewed for years–Lee’s stew. With a great big bouquet garni.

I suppose that brings us back to Ecotopia.

Better now than never again.

What is Ecotopia?

Why do you ask again? I gave you an initial response. It is the summation of all my hopes and dreams, no matter how dashed and squashed. I managed to perk up, let the juices flow, and out it came. It just popped into my head one day. I was inspired by the Homeless Garden Community Supported Agriculture Program, but it was a long slide going all the way back to Chadwick and beneficent productivity–the “too much zucchini” syndrome and an economy of gift. I had forgotten I had worked out the rudiments of it when we did University Services Agency. I wrote it up as: How To Become A Spiritual Millionaire Where Money Is No Object. “Spiritual millionaire” is a good way to put it. Ecotopia is a design strategy for the next millennium. I had to take it on the chin when I made a bet on land reform as the theme for the Bicentennial (1976). I was misreading the causative power of certain ideas–the timing was off. I was trading on Page Smith’s first two volumes on the American Revolution, which were written for the Bicentennial. I thought land reform would be the Next Big Theme. I was wrong. I organized a Conference on Land Reform at the Civic Auditorium in Santa Cruz, anticipating the Bicentennial and the only people in the audience were the speakers. I had this sequence in my mind of Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave and then Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, so I thought land reform was the logical sequel to civil rights and what happened in India could happen here. Riis Tijerina was another major figure at the time. Whatever happened to him? And Fred what’s his name, who ran for President. I was his local campaign organizer and I can’t even remember his last name. Fred Harris! So the conference was an expression of these forces, but I was unable to bring it off. Nobody came. I was embarrassed, but only a little. Fortunately, I invited about thirty speakers, so it wasn’t a complete bust. I knew then that I would have to lay low for a couple of decades and then bet again on the next millennium. So I have one more chance at a big one. It remains to be seen if I can bring it off this time.

Bring what off–your vision of Ecotopia?

Yes, I have initiated a process, basically a design process, to turn Santa Cruz into Ecotopia, as a point of destination for the ecotourist and I have myself in mind. Where would I like to go if I wanted to stay where I am–Santa Cruz–of course! I am shortening the American Express slogan to: “Don’t Leave Home…” period. I always liked coming back here. I go away for the summer to northern Wisconsin and I’m always happy to come back to Santa Cruz. The first thing that hits me is the quality of the air–there is an ozone lift here that is unique to my experience. I’m into coming without leaving or arriving where you started. The point of destination is the take-off point. Come to Santa Cruz without leaving home. It is the fulfillment of those rather  dopey lines from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Why dopey?

Well, it has a trite and sentimental ring and it is reminiscent of G. K. Chesteron’s book: Orthodoxy.

You don’t mean the orthodox believer, you mean the virtual ecotourist.


When I thought of 2 million ecotourists coming to Santa Cruz at my invitation, I started to worry a little about the infrastructure, but not a lot. I developed the Circle Trail, a seventeen mile walk, with this in mind. That could accommodate a bunch every day. I even had an auxiliary trail of ten or twelve miles for the overflow on the East side of the River. Another major point of destination, the next phase in the design is The Ecology Hall of Fame. That could accommodate a bunch. But the whole problem was solved for me when I asked Ralph Abraham if I could get 2 million to come on the Internet and the World Wide Web and they wouldn’t have to leave home, and he said: “Yes!” The Virtual Ecotourist! That initiated the design frame, not unlike Bucky Fuller’s Design Decade, only this was half the time. Now we’re down to three years. I think it will work. Critical mass is essential. And then like the Lutheran Reformation, it will take care of itself.

While you drink your beer?

Just like Luther said to Melancthon about the Reformation.

So Ecotopia is a design strategy?

Yes, on a big scale for a small community like Santa Cruz, where there is a profound need for a vision of the future. I learned that the hard way with the Greenbelt Initiative. There is enormous environmental sympathy in Santa Cruz. A large ranch had been saved called the Wilder Ranch which became a State Park and then Lighthouse Field was preserved as open space and then the Greenbelt and Pogonip, and now Grey Whale, an additional four great victories for the environment. This helped feed the vision.

Does ecotopia have a theme?


Frank Lloyd Wright gave me some of the slogans. The quote from Tennyson and the one about the idea leading to the plan, but mostly the one about poor people and the Day of Regeneration–no more mitigation, no more postponement. If we can’t use the energy the new millennium should provide to solve some of these problems, then I give up. I’ll be dead eventually anyhow, so the give up is inevitable. But while I live, I hope to see this come to pass. I am inspired by the example of Cosimo de Medici, who was honored by Florence as the greatest private citizen in the history of the human race.

They actually conferred it on him?


They did, indeed.  There is a plaque in his honor in Florence that reads to that effect.

You see homelessness in your community as a problem to be solved?

No, I don’t. I’m glad you picked up on that terminology. I don’t really mean that. I mean design strategy. Turning human misery and human suffering into a problem to be solved is terrible in those terms. I don’t know what to do about that and never will. But as far as providing the basic necessities of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for some thousands of people in need, that I can think about and plan for and design and try to implement. There is no solution for human suffering–leave that up to God. I have to consider a reasonable goal, albeit a partial solution, and then try to achieve that. We already have a huge record of accomplishment to refer to if statistics matter at all. After ten years, it adds up. So many nights of shelter for so many people. We are close to half a million shelter nights. I abhor such figures, although I am trying to get over it. I recoiled from the notion of becoming a “shelter provider”. I was reminded of the old FTE terminology of the university which is pernicious through and through. FTE means Full Time Equivalent in terms of a faculty position. Of what? That was the big ha ha. Of what, indeed. It is obtuse bureaucratese. As soon as you capitulate to such jargon, your goose is cooked. You might as well put your member in a

meat grinder. Then, at least, you could get the FTE of pork sausage. Or chopped liver.

So you look to utopia as the rescue point from such bureaucratese?


Utopia, Arcadia, and Gardens. That’s my pot au feu for city planning: The Architecture of Paradise.

You mentioned you found a book with that title?


Yes, it was a confirmation of everything I thought and yearned for. I bought all these books from my favorite mail order bookstore in Philadelphia and it was worth all the rest–that one book. And it was illustrated. It gave me exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t know such a book existed, which is how I felt when I found an earlier book on the history of the great botanic gardens by John Prest: The Garden Of Eden.

So these two books head up your bibliography?

Yes, and Adam’s House in Paradise by Joseph Rykwert. But,

I would give George Huntston Williams the pride of place and then these three.

You mean Wilderness and Paradise?

Yes. Here’s my favorite quote from the book:

“…we know with St. Paul that the whole creation has been in travail together with us until now. Only amidst the cicumambient wilderness of tundra with its musk oxen, of the sea with its whales, the mountain fastness with its condor and its puma, the jungle with its tiger, the woods with its warblers and crows, the

veldt or prairie with its gnu and its bison, can man [and woman] tend the garden …

Unless some believers in every generation can, through that poverty by which we divest ourselves of all lordliness, join with St. Francis in his canticle addressed to the sun and the bears as brethren, to the snow and to the swallows as sisters, then in the present stage of mankind’s awesome capacity for enforcing lordship over nature–whether in ruthless urbanization of the countryside, or in exploitation of natural resources heedless of generations to come, or in any careless experimentation in the realm of life, disease, and death–we shall presently find that we can no longer address even one another as brother and sister and that a utilitarian view of nature will have blasted our human nature. We shall find that the garden of culture, like the garden which is the Church, will wither or bewilder when it is by artifice fenced off from the ground of our creatureliness.” p. 137

You said “Call My Bluff’ was one epitaph for your tombstone. What is the other one?


“The Sap Is Rising.”

Page Smith has the last word?

Here it is:

Alan Chadwick

1909 — 1980

Dylan Thomas wrote to his father: “Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Alan Chadwick went greatly into the good night at Green Gulch, surrounded by people who loved and cared for him in a beautiful setting where he had started one of his great gardens. The “dying of the light” that Alan raged against was the light of our twentieth century civilization so heedless of the rich bounty of the earth. More than an inspired horticulturalist, Alan was like a furious Old Testament prophet, warning of the wages of our sinful treatment of the land. A visionary, he looked at a barren plot of ground and saw it bloom; the herbaceous border would go just there, opening to an enchanting view of the mountains or the ocean. The herb garden, the garden’s soul, would be here, in inviting terraces. The arbor would be over there. And magically, and by incredible labors, they appeared in time, or at least anticipations of them–at Santa Cruz, in Saratoga, at Green Gulch, Covelo, New Market, Virginia, wherever he paused in his flight from the unendurable realities of our technological society, or simply the obtuseness of humankind. Every garden contained a penance, concrete like hardpan, often the result of ceaseless tractor tracks, which had to be broken up so that the soul could breathe. This nourished that. That looked like a weed but drew necessary nutriments up from the deeper levels of the ground. Something rested in the shade of something else; and it in turn encouraged another flower or vegetable. It was all a marvelously intricate world of interdependent growing things: nature lovingly domesticated. In an age of “collective leadership,” Alan Chadwick was as imperious as a king. In a day of carefully modulated tempers and self-conscious “interpersonal relations,” he stormed and raged not just at abstractions like laziness or indifference or inattention but at the poor frail flesh of those who were the destined instruments of his terrible, unflinching will. And then suddenly, being the consummate actor for whom all the world was a stage, he would be as sunny, as playful, as irresistable as the prince of a fairy tale. An exotic past lay dimly behind him–British naval officer, Shakespearean actor, painter of pale watercolors, the remnants of Puddleston china and silver brought out for state occasions, reassuring evidence that he had not, after all, come from outer space as one was sometimes inclined to suspect.

Everything about him was remarkable and distinctive. His physique, his height and angularity, his face, his hair, his walk. Those who fell under his spell had generally to put up with a good deal. That so many were willing to do so is the best possible testimony to the power of what he had to teach, which was inseparable from the way he taught it and the person he was. Mystic, seer, creator, lover of fine wines, coffees, caviar, and champagne, man of prodigious energy and prodigious fury–his life taught us that “nothing great is accomplished without passion.” We will find his spirit in the gardens he or his disciples built, exhorting us to do better, to care more, to work harder, to recklessly expend love on an intractable world, to make the world a garden. And we will find his spirit in his vision of gardens never built but only dreamed of.”

Page Smith


The following list of annotated books is a study guide of sorts for the themes discussed in this book. I have read all of them and they have directed me to more than I could possibly read in my lifetime, but I still try, in this unending quest to find the fullest measure of truth vouchsafed to me in this dispensation.


UCSC: The Chadwick Archive, Special Collections, Santa Cruz, Ca.

Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, UCSC, Santa Cruz, Ca. They have an alumni directory–1967 to 1997–covering thirty years of organic gardeners and farmers, listing 444 names representing over half of the 700+ to 1996.

The Greenwood Press, 300 Broadway, San Francisco, Ca. Wes Jackson: The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas

Fukuoka: One Straw Revolution

John Jeavons: Ecology Action, Willits, California

Cabrillo College Botanic Garden

Organic Farming and Gardening, Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania

Biodynamic Farm and Garden Association, Box 550, Kimberton, Pa. 19442

Community Alliance of Family Farmers, Box 464, Davis, Ca. 95617 Emerson College, Forest Row, England

Findhorn, Scotland

Craig Siska: Verdant Earth

Homeless Garden Project, an affiliate of the Citizens Committee for the Homeless, Box , Santa Cruz, Ca.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) %Indian Line Farms, Box 85, Great Barrington, Ma. 01230


The following books are a sample of the reading I have done in connection with the garden. The list reflects my impulse to cross disciplinary boundaries in order to think through issues. It is impossible to come to terms with the many themes involved in this effort within any given discipline. In fact, one of the shortcomings of modern thought is this inability to cross boundaries, transcending a narrowly defined point of view, the ostensible goal of scientific effort, ever narrower and narrower, ever sharper and sharper. Systems theory tries to overcome this through an integrative approach and I regard this effort as one way to resolve the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict.

I am a voracious reader and enjoy pursuing leads. I almost prefer footnotes and bibliographies to texts. Therefore, I have taken

pains to give the reader a sense of the literature behind this book to peruse at your leisure.

Life Magazine

California Tomorrow Sunset Magazine

Tom Cuthbertson: Alan Chadwick’s Enchanted Garden, Preface by Page Smith,

Let the Crops Rejoice,

Video: The Garden Garden Song

Planting Hope, The Homeless Garden Project, Narrated by Harrison Ford

John Jeavons: How To Grow More Vegetables on Less Space

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Organic Certification

Rodale Press

David Smith:

Smith and Hawken Tool Co. Catalog

Radical Agriculture

Rachel Carson: Silent Spring

Since Silent Spring

Reich: The Greening of America

Charlene Spretnak: The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics

Capra and Spretnak: Green Politics

Theodore Roszak: Where the Wasteland Ends, Vintage Books, New York, 1969

Unfinished Animal, Harpers, New York, 1975

Max Scheler: Man’s Place In Nature, Noonday Press, New York, 1962

Ressentiment, Free Press, Illinois The Courage To Be

Systematic Theology

Theology Of Culture

“How Has Science Changed Man’s View Of Himself, M.I.T., Cambridge, Mass.

System of the Sciences

Theology of Culture

The Protestant Era, Chap. “The End of the Protestant Era”, U. of Chicago Press,

Erich Voegelin: “The Origins of Scientism”, Social Research, Michael Polanyi: Personal Knowledge

Ernst Cassirer: The Problem of Knowledge

The Logic of the Humanities

Jacques Elul: The Technological Society

The Technological Order, Wayne State U. P., 1963 Ernst Robert Curtius: European Literature and the Latin

Middle Ages, Bollingen Foundation, Pantheon Books, New York, 1953

Werner Heisenberg: Across the Frontiers

Alan P. Cottrell: Goethe’s View of Evil

Humphrey Trevelyan: Goethe and the Greeks

Wolfgang Leppmann: The German Image of Goethe Evan Thompson: Colour Vision, Routledge, New York, 1995 D. L. Sepper: Goethe Contra Newton: Polemics and the

Project for a New Science of Color, Cambridge University Press, 1988

Edward Hyams: Great Botanical Gardens of the World Helmholtz: Collected Papers

Julian James: The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Ralph Abraham: Chaos, Gaia, Eros: The Orphic Trinity, Harpers, New York, 1994

Johannes Merz: A History of European Scientific Thought in the Nineteenth Century, Two Vols., Dover, New York, 1904/1965

Journal of Chemical Education

A critical journal for the running discussion of the urea

controversy, culminating with the article by McKie, in Nature, debunking the whole affair: “Wohler’s `Synthetic’ Urea and the Rejection of Vitalism: A Chemical Legend, by Douglas McKie,

May, 1944

Bernard Jaffe: Crucibles: Lives and Achievement of the Great Chemists, Jarrolds, London, 1931

“There is first the groping after causes, and then the struggle to frame laws. There are intellectual revolutions, bitter controversial

conflicts, and the crash and wreck of fallen philosophies.” Francis P. Venable. Quoted by Jaffe.

B. Farrington: Francis Bacon Philosopher of Industrial Science, London, 1951

Charles Webster: The Great Instauration Science, Medicine and Reform 1626–1660, Holmes and Meier, New York, 1975

Jacques Monod: Chance and Necessity

George Herbert Mead: Movements of Thought in the 19th Century, University of Chicago Press,.

G. F. McCleary: The Maithusian Population theory

Augros and Stanciu: The New Biology, Discovering the

Wisdom in Nature, New Science Library, Shambhala, Boston and London, 1987

Erich Heller: The Disinherited Mind

Armytage: The Rise of the Technocrat

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The Essential Tension, U. of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill, 197

Hans Jonas: The Phenomenon Of Life, Toward A

Philosophical Biology, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1966/1982

The first chapter is the best single piece in the literature on the

Physicalist/Vitalist conflict, here understood as the ontology of death and ontology of life.

Jurgen Habermas: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Twelve Lectures, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1990

Turgid but informative summaries and interpretations of major figures.

Ernest Becker: The Denial of Death, The Free Press, Macmillan, New York, 1973

Robert Lilienfeld, The Rise of Systems Theory, 1978

Paul Feyerabend The great anarchist who knew how to throw things without getting into the ring.

Richard Olson: Science Deified & Science Defied, The

Historical Significance of Science in Western Culture, Two Vols. U. of California Press, Berkeley, 1990

Godel: Collected Papers, Three Vols.

Who Got Einstein’s Office

Hofstadter’s review of

Derrida: Introduction to Husserl’s: The Origins of Geometry Carl Mitcham and Robert Mackey, Editors: Philosophy and Technology, Readings in the Philosophical Problems of

Technology, The Free Press, Macmillan, New York, 1983.

A good bibliography. Includes the chapter by Gunther Anders, a

meditation and manifesto on the occasion of the atomic bomb. He understood what had happened.

George Huntston Williams: Wilderness and Paradise

H. Paul Santmire: The Travail of Nature, The Ambiguous

Ecological Promise of Christian Theology, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1985

J. Christian Beker: Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1980

Richard Heinberg: Memories and Visions Of Paradise,

Exploring the Universal Myth Of A Lost Golden Age, Jeremy Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1989

Paul Ricoeur: Freud and Philosophy Metaphor

The Symbolism of Evil Fallible Man

The Voluntary and the Involuntary Conflicts in Interpretation

“The Golden Rule,”

N. A. Dahl: “The Parables of Growth,” Studia Theologica, 5:2 (1951): 132-66.

David Channell: The Vital Machine, A Study Of Technology and Organic Life, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991

Right topic, wrong author. This should have been a good book. It isn’t.

Two Great Scientists of the Nineteenth Century, Correspondence of Emil Du Bois-Reymond and Carl Ludwig, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1982

Arthur Koestler: The Case of the Midwife Toad,

Janus, A Summing Up. This is one of my favorites in terms of a good read, which Koestler always is, a very learned account of the problem with terrific metaphors.

Ronald Gray: Goethe the Alchemist; A Study of Alchemical

Symbolism in Goethe’s Literary and Scientific Works, Cambridge U. P., 1952

Rudolf Steiner: The Course of My Life

Goethe’s World View

Goethe, the Scientist

Lectures on Agriculture the philosophy lectures

Wolfgang Treher: Hitler, Steiner, Schreber, Ein Beitrag zur Phanomenologie des Kranken Geistes. Emmendingen i. Br. Selbstverlag, 1966. My old pal, Rolf von Eckartsberg referred me to this one. I can’t read German.

Heiner Stachelhaus: Joseph Beuys, Abbeville Press, New York, 1987

I mention Beuys not only because he was one of the weirdest figures of the 20th century but because he thought compost piles were sculptured art objects, which is not weird at all.

Phil Callahan: Ancient Mysteries, Modern Visions–The Magnetic Life of Agriculture, Acres, U.S.A., Kansas City

“The Detection of the Monopole”, Speculations in Science and Technology, vol. 9 (1), pp 51-59,1986.

Nature’s Silent Music, Acres U.S.A., Kansas City,

Bird and Thomkins: The Secret Life of Plants The Secret of the Soils

Marion Shoard: The Theft of the Countryside

Tom Cuthbertson: Alan Chadwick’s Enchanted Garden, Introduction by Page Smith, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1978

Robert Howard and Eric Skjer: What Makes the Crops Rejoice? Contains an appreciative chapter on Chadwick.

Fukuoka: One Straw Revolution

Seigfreid Gideon: Mechanism Takes Command

Werner Heisenberg: Across the Frontiers. Contains his chapter on Goethe.

Lewis Mumford: The Pentagon of Power

One of the best books on the Physicalist hegemony.

Richard Merrill, ed.: Radical Agriculture, Harpers, New York, 1976

Inspired by Chadwick, Merrill has been the seminal force at the Cabrillo College Garden Project.

Wendell Berry: The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1977

Home Economics, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1987

Wes Jackson, Wendall Berry, and Bruce Coleman: Meeting the Expectations of the Land, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1984

Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, Harper, San Francisco, 1980

Lynn White, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis”, Science 155, pp 1203-7 (Mar. 1967). A lopsided view of the role of Christianity in contributing to the crisis with an odd tribute to St. Francis.

Clarence Glacken: Traces on the Rhodian Shore, Nature and Culture in Western Thought From Ancient times to the end of the Eighteenth Century, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1967

Francis A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge and Kegan-Paul, London, 1964

The Eighth Day of Creation is a superb account of the discovery of DNA and describes the continuity of experimental laboratory chemistry and molecular biology and immunology from synthetic urea to the secret of life.

The Making Of the Atom Bomb is enough to make your hair stand on end and provided me with the anecdotes about Fermi and the reference to the mathematical equation for the self-destruction of industrial society.

Arthur Holly Compton: Atomic Quest, A Personal Narrative, Oxford University Press, New York, 1956

Karl Jaspers: The Atom Bomb and the Future of Man, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1958/1963

Joseph Schwartz, The Creative Moment, How Science Made

Itself Alien To Modern Culture, Harpers, New York, 1992

Francis Fukuyama: The End of History and the Last Man, The Free Press, Macmillan, New York, 1992

Hegelian concepts swamp the effort but he has a remarkable

account of thymos and adds a new dimension to the word–the ability to say “no”, which he says he got from Joan Didion Dunne, which is fine with me.

Nils Jerne, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech for Immunology, 1988 Edelmann

Everett Spees, “A ThymOs Primer”, Journal of the American Medical Association,

Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind Onions, The Origins of European Thought

The Origins of Psychoanalysis: The Freud/Fleiss Correspondence

Carl Pribram and Merton Gill: Freud’s `Project’ Re-assessed, Basic Books, New York, 1976

Erikson’s review of the Fliess Correspondence

John Prest The Garden of Eden: The Botanic Garden and the Recreation of Paradise,

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy: I Am An Impure Thinker Out Of Revolution

Planetary Service

CCC Addresses

Jack Preis: Camp William James

Sargent Shriver: `The Peace Corps”, Colliers Encyclopedia Page Smith: A People’s History of the United States Dissenting Opinions

Killing the Spirit,

Von Moltke: Letters To Freya

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison Paul Lee: A Lullaby For Wittgenstein, A Play in three acts

“Hermeneutics and Vitalism” ReVision, 10 (3) pp. 344 (Winter, 1988)

“On the Wings of Thymos,” in the Supplement to The Phaedrus, Greenwood Press, San Francisco “Vitalism and Hermeneutics” in Revision,

Introduction to Paul Tillich: The Meaning of

Health, The Platonic Academy, Santa Cruz, Ca. 95061, 1981

Metaphors of Consciousness, Von Eckartsberg and Valle,

“Goethe’s Italian Journey”, Festschrift for Frank Barron, edited by Montuori. 1996

“The Wayward Reaction”, Festschrift for Timothy Leary, edited by Robert Forte and Nina Graboi

The Quality of Mercy, Platonic Academy Press, 1983

Florence the Goose, Illustrations by Page Smith, Platonic Academy Press, 1983

Ralph Abraham: Chaos, Gaia, Eros: The Orphic Trinity 226

Dynamics, The Geometry of Behavior, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Ma., 1992

Abraham, McKenna and Sheldrake, Trialogues at the Edge of the West, Bear, Santa Fe, NM, 1992

James Gleick, Chaos, The Making of a New Science, Viking, New York, 1988

Morris Berman: The Reenchantment of the World, Cornell, Ithaca, NY, 1981

Rupert Sheldrake: A New Science of Life

The Presence of the Past


The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening Of Science and God, Bantam, New York,


Hans Peter Duerr, Dreamtime: Concerning the Boundary Between Wilderness and Civilization, Basil Blackwell, Oxford; 1978

David Mamout: Remembering Babylon

Fritjof Capra: The Role of Physics in the Current Change Of Paradigms, 1987

Mark Davidson, Uncommon Sense: the Life and Thought of

Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972),

Father of General Systems Theory, J. P.

Tarcher, Los Angeles, Ca., 1983

Mary Hesse, Models and Analogies in Science, U. of Notre Dame, Bloomington, Indiana, 1966

W.H. Leatherdale, The Role of Analogy, Model and Metaphor in Science, North-Holland, Amsterdam,


Hilda Hein, On the Nature and Origin of Life, McGraw-Hill New York, 1971

Hayek: The Counter Revolution of Science

Donna Jeanne Haraway, Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: Metaphors of Organicism in Twentieth Century Developmental Biology, Yale, New Haven, 1976

Max Horkheimer: The Eclipse of Reason

Robert Lilienfeld, The Rise of Systems Theory, 1978

Erich Jantsch, Design for Evolution: Self-organization and Planning in the Life of Human Systems, Braziller, New York, 1975

The Self-organizing Universe: Scientific and

Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution, Pergamon, New York, 1980

Jantsch was one of the first to understand the need to move from homeostasis (Cannon) to homeolability, introducing a dynamic theme: the ability to self-organize was based on the thermodynamics of the unsteady state–Max Eigen, Ilya Prigogine, Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, and Ralph Abraham have pursued their work in this vein, especially in reference to chaos dynamics.

Ernst Schrodinger: What Is Life?

C. H. Waddington: The Nature of Life, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1961

A. N. Whitehead: Process and Reality, Macmillan, New York, 1929

Henri Bergson: Creative Evolution, Macmillan, London, 1911

F. A. Lange: History of Materialism

William Irwin Thompson, ed., Gaia, A Way of Knowing: Political Implications of the New Biology,

Lindisfarne Press, Great Barrington, Ma (1987)

David Spangler and William Irwin Thompson: Reimagination of

the World, A Critique of the New Age, Science, and Popular Culture, Bear and Co., Santa Fe, 1992

James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of the Living Earth, Bantam Books, New York, 1988

Edward Shils: “Daydreams and Nightmares”, Sewanee Review, reprinted in

Allan Bloom: The Closing Of the American Mind, John Taylor Gatto: Dumbing Us Down, The Hidden

Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, 1992

Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. by Paul Edwards, various articles, such as “Logical Positivism”, and especially “Joseph Popper-Lynkeus”, etc., Macmillan, New York, 1967

Theodore Adorno: Negative Dialectics

Herbert Marcuse: One Dimensional Man

Norman O. Brown: “My Georgics”

Life Against Death

Love’s Body

John Cage: Silence

Kurt Godel: Collected Papers, Three Vols. The argument for the existence of God is in Vol. 3.

Erwin Panofsky: “Et in Arcadia Ego” in Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer: Philosophy and History

Johannes Merz: Scientific Thought in the 19th Century, Two Vols., Dover, New York

Ernst Cassirer: The Problem of Knowledge

An excellent discussion of Goethe and the problem of Physicalism and Vitalism.

Erich Voegelin: Anamnesis, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1990

Polanyi: Personal Knowledge

A. Meyer:

E. O. Wilson: Confessions of a Naturalist

Donald Worster: Nature’s Economy, A History of Ecological Ideas, Cambridge University Press, 1996

He has a nice chapter on Gilbert White under the title “Science In Arcadia”, as well as a discussion of leading American environmentalists.

Frank Barron: An Ecology of Consciousness Knights of the Golden Rule

Alice Waters: Chez Panisse Cookbook Deborah Madison: The Greens Cookbook

Lorenza De’Medici: The Renaissance of Italian Gardens Charles Singer

Nils Jerne Noble Prize Acceptance Speech 1988 Onions:

Erich Havelock: Preface To Plato

Bruno Snell: The Discovery of the Mind Agnes Arber: Herbal

Peter Dawkins: Arcadia, The Francis Bacon Research Trust Journal, Series I, vol. 5, 1988

5 replies on “Memoir”

Have a look at Phina Borgeson’s blog “Just Gleanings” ( on Food security, agriculture sustainability, wholesome local and seasonal eating from a faith perspective

Thinking now, myself, on the connections to make between indigenous cultures and community gardens – thinking of the Tohono O’odhum section of the Tucson Botanical Garden (, the Native Seed/SEARCH project ( and of the biodynamic vineyard in the hills above Yakima – Wilridge Vineyard (

Great article, really made me think. Such incredible depth thank you for taking the time to write this. Even after years this story is so meaningful to me.

It is hard to over-estimate the importance of Alan Chadwick, both in his horticultural work promoting organic approaches to gardening and farming, and in his profound and tranformative effects on a large number of students who worked with him over the years. The following website fills out the picture a little more, and is well worth looking at for those who want to understand Alan in all of his facets.

Alan Chadwick

Many thanks to Paul Lee for his role in facilitating Alan Chadwick´s work in the USA during his time with us.

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