An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 20, 2017
Issued from Rancho Regenesis near Ek Balam ruins 20kms north of Valladolid, Yucat√°n, Mexico

GOETHE'S "TRAVELS IN ITALY"

I've been reading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Italienische Reise, or "Travels in Italy," chronicling the writer's wanderings during 1786 and '87, when he was in his 30s. I like Goethe's descriptions of life in Italy over 200 years ago, and I like his approach to traveling, and living life in general.

Goethe always struggled to see things clearly, and to form opinions independently from commonly accepted opinions. Standing before architecture or paintings the world may have regarded as the most perfect representatives of what they were, sometimes he wasn't too impressed. Conversely, he'd get excited about works the rest of the world ignored. First he got general impressions from books, and then he went to see for himself, and either agreed or disagreed with what others were saying.

Balancing this confidence in his own judgment , he paid close attention to his own deficiencies for making such judgments. Often he admitted that he just didn't have enough understanding about something to form his own opinion. During his travels in Italy he critically studied himself as rigorously as he did the world around him,and where he felt himself lacking, he set to work studying.

And he believed that understanding basic principles of Nature was necessary before mastering more abstract or ethereal notions. His familiarity with marble's geological formation and its physical properties greatly enhanced his appreciation of Italy's classic ruins and statues, and knowing about human anatomy informed his appreciation for carvings of the human form.

Goethe also recognized that he himself constantly changed in lockstep with his learning. In Rome he gained so many new insights into so many new fields that he declared himself as reborn. Rome enlarged him and elevated him to a higher level of aesthetic and philosophical development.

To me, here are the main features of Goethe's strategy for dealing with new experiences:

And, why are these notions appropriate for a Naturalist Newsletter? It's because the Earth's natural environment, its biosphere, is being destroyed by humanity at an ever-increasing rate, plus in many places enormous social and political changes are happening. Humans everywhere need to be thinking more clearly about the issues at hand. Goethe's approach to thinking and experiencing is worth considering.