Frog at Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park in Illinois

The Nature Institute

Viewing Nature, Science,
and Technology in Context

“The question is not what you look at — but how you look and whether you see.”   (Thoreau)

Welcome!  We hope our publications and education programs inspire you with fresh and radical perspectives on nature, science, and technology.

What’s The Latest?

* “Encountering Nature and the Nature of Things” — our 2020-2022 foundation course began in July 2020 with 22 participants. No further applications are being accepted for this course. Read more.

* “Why We Cannot Explain the Form of Organisms” — this chapter of Steve’s book (Evolution As It Was Meant To Be) immediately follows the previously posted “What Is the Problem of Form?” Read the chapter.

* In Context #43 is now available! — and it contains a new whole-organism study by Craig, “The Intertwined Worlds of Zebra and Lion”.
Read In Context.

* “Viruses in the Dynamics of Life” — fresh reading to inform you while you are mainly staying at home. In this article Craig looks at viruses in their larger, living context. Read the article.

* To the Infinite and Back Again — this beautiful and thoroughly engaging workbook in projective geometry by Henrike Holdrege is available in our bookstore. Read more about the book here.
A pdf of the book is now freely available online.

* In Context #41 is now online! — and it is packed full with three feature articles: excerpts from Wolfgang Schad’s new, two-volume masterwork, Understanding Mammals: Threefoldness and Diversity; a look at the life of the dairy cow from a forthcoming book of whole-organism studies by Craig; and “The Sensitive, Muscular Cell” by Steve. Plus the latest news from the Institute. Read In Context now.

Where Do Organisms End?

American bison

Ants, giraffes, and bison reveal how inappropriate it can be to draw rigid lines between organisms and their environment. This article first appeared in our publication, In Context, nearly 20 years ago and yet its message — to stay near the vibrancy of phenomena and not drift into much easier atomistic formulations — is ever more relevant in our times.

Craig writes in his article that “Each species — bloodroot, giraffe or bison — appears as a unique member of a habitat or landscape, like tissues or organs within an organism. In turn, we can study habitats and landscapes as dynamic members of larger ecosystems and bioregions. Finally, we are led to the concept of the whole earth as an organism.”
Read more.

A Phenomenological Approach to Water

Laura Rubiano-Gomez standing in a stream

Scientist Laura Rubiano-Gomez is currently working on an independent project at The Nature Institute to develop her vision of a hydrology curriculum on water, as understood through a Goethean lens. A graduate of MIT in environmental engineering and oceanography, Laura recently worked as a physics and math teacher at High Mowing School in New Hampshire. Her experience in 2018 at the institute’s Foundation Course inspired the new curriculum project.

“In college I was taught to do research in a very utilitarian way,” Laura says, “but in the course with Craig and Henrike, I learned what it is to be truly present to phenomena. With this new syllabus, I want to develop ways for students to study water holistically, outside the classroom. My hope is to bring not only understanding, but also a sense of wonder to the subject.” In her research at the institute, Laura spends a lot of time at a local creek, knee-deep in water. “Every time I go to the creek, I discover something new about the water,” she exclaims, “there is so much subtlety in its surface and movement.”

Of Humans and Our Microbial Guests: A Dynamic and Living Balance

the bacterium Enterococcus faecalis, which inhabits the human gut

A rapidly swelling literature testifies to human dependence upon the diverse microorganisms — collectively, the microbiome (or microbiota) — our bodies play host to. Yet can we resist the overwhelming temptation to “thingify” every particular microbiome, treating it as if it were a statically definable entity with fixed causal significance? Stephen Talbott makes the case for nimble thinking. Read more.

From a reader ...

“I was wondering why there are so many seeds in a milkweed pod, when the pod seems to come from a single flower. And why there are so few pods developing from an umbel of milkweed flowers. And why some of the milkweeds I’m watching (especially Asclepias purpurascens) don’t seem to spread and colonize as much as I’d think they would.

So I googled around and quickly found your 2006 article, “The Story of an Organism: Common Milkweed.” Seldom have I experienced finding such a satisfying discussion. Some of my questions you completely answered. Others you commented on, validating what I have observed and musing about why it is the way it is. Put it in context.  Thank you for writing that and making it available online.” 

Diane Porter

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    You'll receive our twice-yearly, free magazine, In Context, and occasional brief notices about courses, events, and other publications. Just send an email to asking to be kept informed, and please include your postal address to receive In Context by mail, if you live in the U.S. International readers and others who prefer email only will receive email links to new issues of In Context.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Sloth?

sloth in tree

This article by Craig Holdrege paints a vivid picture of the sloth — a remarkable animal that expresses slowness in so many of its characteristics and even slows down processes in the rain forest in which it lives. Originally published in 1998, this article, can now be read in revised form on our website. Enjoy getting to know this remarkable creature. And maybe it will even help you slow down in our hectic times! Read the article.

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