This essay introduces my work Holotropic Landscape through the lens of phenomenology, directed toward photography, the landscape and the fabric of reality.

I begin by elucidating the concept of holotropy and relate it to Bergson’s concept of intuition and the phenomenology of perception of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, positing the differences and similarities between holographic and the phenomenological ontology. Subsequently, I describe how phenomenology and other lines of thought inform the idea of landscape in cultural geography through the writings on landscape of John Wylie. In the third section, I highlight the historical reasons for the predominance of Cartesian perspectivism in the discourse of vision and the critical reading of photographs, investigating the potential for phenomenology to be a viable alternative for an ontologically productive way to understand photography. In the final section, I illustrate how phenomenology informs the methodology and technique applied to create the images contained in Holotropic Landscapes.

Copyright 2012 ©marcocaterini

Phenomenology and Holotropy: An Intuitive Account of Reality

The word holotropic is derived from the Greek language and its etymology reveals us that it is composed from the root words “holos”, which means “wholeness” or “totality”, and “tropic”, which means an “orientation” or “movement towards something”. In relation to my visual work, I use the term holotropic in association with the word landscape to stress how both the act of photography and the reading of representation encompass the vision of the whole which is felt during the experience of looking into a landscape.

The way Thomas Mitchell(1) conceptualises this act of looking, by capturing the total gestalt, is emblematic of the conception of Holotropic Landscapes; as he suggests in the introduction of his book “Landscape and Power”, “the invitation to look at landscape is an invitation not to look at any specific thing, but to ignore all particulars in favor of an appreciation of a total gestalt, a vista or scene that may be dominated by some specific feature, but not simply reducible to that feature”(2). This statement by Mitchell summarises the position of gestalt theory in relation to the landscape, where the wholeness of the perceived is different and richer than the sum of all its components, and included in a structure which is comprehensible only on the level of its entirety. In fact, the German term gestalt does not have a singular equivalent in the English language and is often translated as meaning the “shape”, “pattern” or, more importantly, “essence” and “wholeness” of a phenomenon.(3)

As far as I am aware the term holotropic has not been used yet in reference to photography, and visual art in general, with the exception of a small art association (International Holotropic Art Association) which uses this word in relation to inner states of consciousness that are transposed out into art rather than to the visual representation and reality itself.

The term holotropic was in fact first used by Stainslav Grof(4), a psychiatrist who worked in the ambit of Transpersonal Psychology, who utilised it to refer to the mind and its altered state of consciousness, such as when one is drawn into a sense of spiritual opening towards wholeness.

Grof derived the term from the research of David Bohm(5) in physics and from the research of Karl Pribram(6) in psychology. In his research, Bohm used the metaphor of holography(7) to create a model that could account for the paradoxes found in quantum physics and to articulate the concept of “holomovement” in relation to his “Theory of Implicate and Explicate Order”. With this theory he informed us that the reality we perceive with our senses and technological instruments is just a small part of reality, and it cannot be contained by the Cartesian three-dimensional grid, or by the four-dimensional curvilinear space of relativity, but instead it is structured over the dual, or possibly more, layers of implicate and explicate order. In this way, he posited the existence of an undivided underlying whole that manifested reality through a continuous entangled process of becoming, which he defined as holomovement.

Turning back to the hologram metaphor, it is possible to say that the world we perceive is the projected holographic image – the explicate order – which is produced on a deeper level in the implicate order and an integral and indivisible part of the whole, where a part of the whole – as in the hologram – can still contain the whole. This assumption posits that space, matter and consciousness are not separate entities, as it was for Newton(8) and Descartes(9), but are an entangled substance generated from the same order.(10)

In his writings, Bohm(11) posited the concept of order in relation to creativity and art and assumed that it was responsible for generating structures and substructures on the level of reality from the implicate level. He noted that the implicate order could be accessible to human experience, and he claimed that the artist, for example, was able to access this level and was capable of grasping structures embedded in reality, transposing them into an artistic form, through what Bohm called a “perceptive act of intuitive reason”(12). For Bohm intuition was fundamental to the act of perception because the infrastructure of general consciousness could not properly respond to such a deep and extended genre of order; the mind needed to be freed from any rational thought and opened to a receptive state of perception. This brings us back to the assumption made in gestalt theory about the landscape, of a certain order of things, which could be grasped from our internal vision in a pre-conceptual act of perception toward and from the whole.(13)

More than half a century before Bohm, the French philosopher Henri Bergson(14) wrote extensively about intuition, and, surprisingly, he wrote in very similar terms to Bohm…

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Descartes detached the subject and the consciousness form the world by giving a completely different meaning to perception. The Cartesian epitome cogito ergo sum(21) exemplifies the scission with phenomenology by proclaiming knowledge as fundamental for human existence. Indeed, Descartes believed that before any experience of existence was realised “the subject must first experience himself as existing in the act of apprehending it”.(22)

Following Descartes’ idea, without the subject’s consciousness of its own existence there would be no subject and no world to apprehend. Indeed, the philosopher believed that the senses were deceptive and not suitable for knowing reality, and that only our consciousness and our active thought made us able of being human and able to understand reality. The predominance Descartes gave to rational thought in relation to the senses and to the body introduced a long series of dualisms which became deeply embedded into many disciplines and into common beliefs. Phenomenology merges two of the most important dualities for the analysis of landscape and its photographic representation: the conceptual division Descartes built between mind and body, and subject and object.(23)

Contrary to Descartes, Merleau-Ponty stated that “all knowledge takes its place within the horizons opened up by perception”(24). Indeed, phenomenology re-established a naive way of looking at the world and returned the senses and perception to primacy over consciousness, a pre-conceptual intervention in our existential relationship with reality, preceding any form of analytic thought and science.

Merleau-Ponty attributed ontological importance to perception, as an immediate and principal way for us to enter into contact with the world, because we know reality through our senses before any intellectual act can take place. The senses operate through our bodies, and the cognitive dimension of knowing the world as a result of perception reunites the body and consciousness in an inseparable union which culminates in a sentient body, which has two qualities at the same time and in a continuous reciprocal flux, of being created and be part of the world, and creating the world with its own consciousness – be a part and be the whole – as in holography, at the same time.

For Merleau-Ponty our bodies were not simply the containers of our thoughts or an agglomeration of organs, but a total configuration that presided over a synthesis of senses and a layer between the world and our ability to conceptualise it. In the act of perception there was no space for a subject thinking about an object, or a subject thinking about himself thinking about it, but within the “sensorius synthesis” the body merged with the world. The subject was brought back to “things”, to discover the true essence of the world and the primordial, existential bond it had with it. The formula “being-in-the-world” tries to conceptualise this bodily attitude toward the objective and the cultural world, indeed, unifying the Cartesian scission between subject and object, man and the world, it tries to inscribe the subject in the process of the world becoming a whole.(25)

The chiasmus(26) is a rhetorical figure central in Merleau-Ponty’s work and assisted him in constructing the ideas of “being-in-the-world” and “flash-of-the-world”, because it structured the relationship that the senses and perception established between the body and the world. To exemplify this relationship he used the example of two hands touching one another…


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Table of Content

  • Phenomenology and Holotropy: An Intuitive Account of Reality 
  • The Landscape: A Cultural Geography Perspective
  • Phenomenology, Vision and Photography
  • Holotropic Landscapes and Photographic Practice

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NOTES


(1) Mitchell, W. J. T. (1994) Imperial landscape, in Mitchell, W.J.T. (ed.) Landscape and Power, London: Routledge. 

Mitchell, W. J. T. (2002) Landscape and Power, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

(2) Mitchell, W. J. T. (2002) Landscape and Power, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press – p. vii.

(3) Bohm, D. Hiley, B. J. (1993) The Undivided Universe, New York – London: Routledge.

Grof, S. Bennett H. Z. (1993) The Holotropic Mind, HarpersCollins e-books.

Mitchell, W. J. T. (2002) Landscape and Power, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Talbot, M. (1991) The Holographic Universe, London: HarperCollins.

(4) Groff, S. Groff, C. Holotropic Breathwork: A New Approach to Self-Exploration and Therapy, Albany: State University of New York Press.

Grof, S. Bennett H. Z. (1993) The Holotropic Mind, HarpersCollins e-books.

Groff, C. (1994) The Thirst For Wholeness: Attachment, Addiction And The Spiritual Path, HarpersCollins.

Groff, S. (1985) Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death And Transcendence In Psychotherapy, Albany: State University of New York Press.

Groff, S. (1998)The Transpersonal Vision, ebook

Groff, S. (2000) Psychology Of The Future: Lessons From Modern Consciousness Research, Albany: State University of New York Press.

(5) Bohm, D. (1965) The Special Theory of Relativity, New York: W. A. Benjamin.

Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London: Routledge.

Bohm, D. (1980 [1957]) Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Bohm, D. Krishnamurti, J (1985) The Ending of Time, San Francisco: Harper.

Bohm, D. (1989 [1951]) Quantum Theory, New York: Dover.

Bohm, D. Hiley, B. J. (1993) The Undivided Universe, New York – London: Routledge.

Bohm, D. (2005) On Creativity, New York – London: Rutledge.

Bohm, D. Peat F. D. (2010) Science, Order and Creativity, New York – London: Rutledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library.

 (6) Pribram, K. H. Broadbent, D. (1970) Biology of memory, New York: Academic Press.

Pribram, K. H. (1991) Brain and perception: holonomy and structure in figural processing, Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pribram, K. H. (1993) Rethinking neural networks: quantum fields and biological data, Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Pribram, K. H. (1994) Origins: brain and self organization, Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Globus, G. G. Pribram, K. H. Vitiello, G. (2004). Brain And Being: At The Boundary Between Science, Philosophy, Language, And Arts, John Benjamins Publishing.

(7) “Holography is a photographic process that uses laser-coherent light of the same wave-length to produce three-dimensional images in space. A hologram – which might be compared to a photographic slide from which we project a picture – is a record of an interference pattern of two halves of a laser beam. After a beam of light is split by a partially silvered mirror, half of it (called the reference beam) is directed to the emulsion of the hologram; the other half (called the working beam) is reflected to the film from the object being photographed. Information from these two beams, required for reproducing a three-dimensional image, is “enfolded” in the hologram in such way that it is distributed throughout. As a result, when the hologram is illuminated by a laser, the complete three-dimensional image can be “unfolded” from any fraction of the hologram. We can cut the hologram into many pieces and each part will still be capable of reproducing an image of the whole.” in Grof, S. Bennett H. Z. (1993) The Holotropic Mind, HarpersCollins e-books.

(8) Newton, I. (1729) The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, London: Benjamin Motte.

(9) Descartes, R. (1996) Metaphysical Meditation, Cambridge: Cambridge Univerity Press.

Descartes, R. (1960) Discourse on Method and Meditations, New York: The Liberal Arts Press.

(10) Bohm, D. Hiley, B. J. (1993) The Undivided Universe, New York – London: Routledge.

Grof, S. Bennett H. Z. (1993) The Holotropic Mind, HarpersCollins e-books.

Talbot, M. (1991) The Holographic Universe, London: HarperCollins.

(11) Bohm, D. (2005) On Creativity, New York – London: Rutledge.

Bohm, D. Peat F. D. (2010) Science, Order and Creativity, New York – London: Rutledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library.

(12) Bohm, D. Peat F. D. (2010) Science, Order and Creativity, New York – London: Rutledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library – p. 147.

(13) Bohm, D. Peat F. D. (2010) Science, Order and Creativity, New York – London: Rutledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library.

(14) Bergson, H. (1999) An Introduction to Metaphysics, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.

Bergson, H. Mitchell, A. (2003) Creative Evolution, Kessinger Publishing.

Bergson, H. (2004) Matter and Memory, Dover Pubblications.

Bergson, H. (2008) Time and Free Will, New York: Cosimo.


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(21) English translation: “I think therefore I am”.

(22) Toadvine, T. Lawlor, L. (2007) The Merleau-Ponty Reader, Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press – p. 57.

(23) Merleau-Ponty, M. (2005) Phenomenology of Perception, New York – London: Rutledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library.

Toadvine, T. Lawlor, L. (2007) The Merleau-Ponty Reader, Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

(24) Merleau-Ponty, M. (2005) Phenomenology of Perception, New York – London: Rutledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library – p. 241.

(25) Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964) The Primacy of Perception, Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2005) Phenomenology of Perception, New York – London: Rutledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library.

(26) The chiasmus is the rhetorical figure in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point, that is, the clauses display inverted parallelism.