Patrick Geddes - "By creating we think, by living we learn"
The quotation that headlines the University of Dundee homepage is by Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), from a paper he gave at a Town Planning Conference in Amsterdam in July 1924. The motto was more often used by Geddes in Latin: 'Vivendo Discimisus' (by living we learn) and 'Creando Pensamus' (by creating we think). The sayings are thought to reflect his core ideas that learning should be rooted in real life experience and that the best original thinking is a creative process.
Geddes held the Chair of Botany at what was then University College Dundee between 1888 and 1919, becoming one of the select group of dynamic young talents that formed the University's early teaching staff, joining the likes of D'Arcy Thompson, J E A Steggall and J A Ewing. Geddes quickly established a reputation for the interdisciplinary quality of his lectures - one former student remembered that the topic "might quite as likely have been Ancient History or Fine Art or Political Economy, as a note about the structure or habits of one of the prescribed plants." Geddes's post required him only to teach in the summer term, and the rest of his time was spent in Edinburgh, London, France, America, India and Palestine, developing his ever-increasing interests in art, social welfare and town planning. When he finally left Dundee after more than 30 years it was to take up the chair of Civics & Sociology at the University of Bombay.
Dundee University links
Here is an extract from Patrick Geddes' farewell lecture to his Dundee students which may shine some light on why we chose it:
How many people think twice about a leaf? Yet the leaf is the chief product and phenomenon of Life: this is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves. By leaves we live.
But growth seems slow: and people are all out for immediate results, like immediate votes or immediate money. A garden takes years and years to grow - ideas also take time to grow, and while a sower knows when his corn will ripen, the sowing of ideas is, as yet, a far less certain affair.
Star-wonder, stone and spark wonder, life-wonder, folk-wonder, these are the stuff of astronomy and physics. Of biology and the social sciences... To appreciate sunset and sunrise, moon and stars, the wonders of the winds, clouds and rain, the beauty of woods and fields - here are the beginnings of natural sciences.
[But] We need to give everyone the outlook of the artist, who begins with the art of seeing - and then in time we shall follow him into the seeing of art, even the creating of it. In the same way the scholar and the student may be initiated ... into the essential outlook of the astronomer and the geographer, of the mathematician and the mechanic, the physicist and the chemist, the geologist and the minerologist, the botanist and the zoologist, and thence more generally, of the biologist. Next, too, the anthropologist ... and the economist.
But this general and educational point of view must be brought to bear on every specialism. The teacher's outlook should include all viewpoints... Hence we must cease to think merely in terms of separated departments and faculties and must relate these in the living mind; in the social mind as well - indeed, this above all.
And so with art inspiring industry, and developing the sciences accordingly, beyond the attractive yet dangerous apples of the separate sciences, the Tree of Life thus comes into view.
[For the full text see Amelia Defries, The Interpreter: Geddes, London, 1927. This selection by Professor Murdo Macdonald.]