STEINER’S “SCIENCE”

The Real Lowdown



Rudolf Steiner opposed “scientific simpletons” with their “scientific trash” and their “logical, pedantic, narrow-minded proof of things.” He deplored “primitive concepts like those...of contemporary science.”

What is wrong with science? "[S]cience speaks under the influence of the demonic Mars-forces." Hence, "[W]hen we listen to a modern physicist blandly explaining that Nature consists of electrons...we raise Evil to the rank of the ruling world-divinity.”

What hope can we have for the future? "Zeus is no longer possible, but in his place we have the steam engine. Another race will succeed us, which will find the way back again." [1]





I.


Rudolf Steiner claimed that his new creed, Anthroposophy, constitutes “spiritual science.” By developing and employing clairvoyance, Steiner asserted, Anthroposophists can scientifically investigate mysteries in both the spiritual and physical realms. The truth, however, is that Steiner’s “spiritual science” is thoroughly unscientific.

By insisting that his doctrines were produced scientifically, Steiner sought to distinguish Anthroposophy from ordinary belief systems. He and his followers could claim that Anthroposophy is not a religion, dependent on faith, but an objectively verifiable body of factual descriptions. In a weak stab at subbstantiation, Steiner insisted that he developed his doctrines not through reading or speculation but through his own clairvoyant observations, as when he wrote

“[M]y knowledge of spiritual things is the result of my own [psychic] perception.” [2]

Steiner also laid out elaborate procedures that he said would enable devotees to develop clairvoyant powers that could be used to confirm his “findings.” [3] [See "Knowing the Worlds".]

Steiner went so far as to assert that “organs of clairvoyance” can be developed. [4] These are invisible to the physical eye; you know that you have organs of clairvoyance only by using them to exercise your new powers of psychic vision. The existence and use of clairvoyance are absolutely central to Steiner's teachings, including his educational dicta. And this is precisely the point where Anthroposophy falls to the ground. There is virtually no evidence that clairvoyance is anything more than delusion and/or deception. To substantiate his entire system, Steiner needed to show that clairvoyance is, in fact, possible. But he didn’t — because, in fact, he couldn't. [See "Clairvoyance".] Indeed, Steiner's descriptions of reality provide significant evidence to the contrary. Below are a few examples. If Steiner’s “clairvoyance” led him to such conclusions, than his “clairvoyance” was faulty, at best. More likely, he had no clairvoyant abilities of any sort — although he may have convinced himself that he did. Such self-delusion is not uncommon. [5] The alternative is even less seemly: Perhaps Steiner simply lied, claiming to possess a power that he knew full well he did not possess.

British psychiatrist Anthony Storr, an Honorary Fellow at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has argued that Steiner exhibited traits consistent with paranoia. Comparing Steiner to Georgei Ivanonvitch Gurdjieff, another self-appointed guru, Storr explains that Steiner arguably had delusions of grandeur, which is evident both in his claims of psychic power and in his antiscientific, fantastical vision of the universe.

“Gurdjieff and Steiner, though neither suffering from paranoid schizophrenia nor being psychotic in the sense of being socially disabled, share certain characteristics with patients whom psychiatrists would designate as paranoid ... [I]t is indeed grandiose to create one’s own cosmogony [a theory of the origins of the universe] in total disregard of accepted scientific opinion ... Steiner, in addition to inventing his own history of the universe, believed that he had special powers of observation which revealed the spiritual reality which lay behind material appearances ... Such people...are propounding belief systems which are wildly eccentric: they are narcissistic, isolated, and arrogant....” [6]

-◊-

While dismissing Steiner’s teachings, Storr is at pains to avoid categorizing Steiner as psychotic. I would be even more cautious. We cannot know Steiner’s inner state, nor can we absolutely reject all of his assertions. However, we can note the obvious scientific errors Steiner made, and on that basis we can reasonably question whether his approach was scientific in any way. The following constitute a tiny sampling of Steiner’s demonstrable errors. [For many more examples, see “Steiner’s Blunders”.]

◊ Steiner was not a biologist, yet he claimed to understand the human body far better than mere physical science would allow. For instance, he said that the heart does not pump blood:

“[T]he heart is indeed a sense organ for perceiving the blood’s movement, not a pump as physicists claim; the coursing of our blood is brought about by our spirituality and vitality.” [7]

Note that Steiner specifically sets himself up in opposition to “physicists,” for which we can probably read scientists and physicians. Either Steiner is right about the heart or science is right; they cannot both be right. There is, of course, overwhelming scientific evidence that the heart is a pump which sends blood coursing through the body. Steiner’s “clairvoyance” led him to assert something quite different. He was wrong.

◊ Another example. In discussing astronomy, Steiner taught that Earth does not orbit the Sun. To explain this point to the teachers at the first Waldorf school, Steiner drew a helical line. He positioned the Sun at about the midpoint of the line. He strung out Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn on the left half of the line, and he put Mercury, Venus, and Earth on the right half. Steiner said:

“Now you simply need to imagine how that [i.e., the line] continues in a helix. Everything else is only apparent movement. The helical line continues into cosmic space. Therefore, it is not that the planets move around the Sun, but these three, Mercury, Venus, and the Earth, follow the Sun, and these three, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, precede it.” [8]

◊ In discussing geography, Steiner said the following:

“[A]n island like Great Britain swims in the sea and is held fast by the forces of the stars. In actuality, such islands do not sit directly upon a foundation; they swim and are held fast from outside. In general, the cosmos creates islands and continents, their forms and locations.” [9]

Such fallacious descriptions do not reflect powerful, reliable clairvoyance. Rather, they are undeniable errors. If Steiner believed what he said, then he was deluded. If he did not believe, then we are justified in suspecting that he subjected his followers to what we today would call a classic brainwashing technique. He convinced Anthroposophists that all of their previous opinions (about hearts, the solar system, the structure of the Earth, etc.) were utterly wrong. The universe is vastly different from what they thought, he told them. To learn the truth, they had to turn to him. And when he told them a “truth” (for instance, that islands float), they had to accept it on faith, unless they developed clairvoyance (improbable, to say the least) or equipped themselves with elaborate appliances such as submarines (unlikely, to say the most). For pronouncements about invisible, spiritual realities, no appliances are available, so the only option for Steiner’s followers in these cases is clairvoyance. But trustworthy clairvoyance is unavailable. Hence, Anthroposophists ultimately must have faith in Steiner and his astonishing, often mistaken, assertions. Accepting things on faith is, of course, the polar opposite of the scientific method. And Steiner’s great error is the flip side of his followers’ mistake. Offering “scientific” explanations of phenomena without providing real evidence is utterly unscientific. Steiner’s claims to being a “spiritual scientist” have no merit.



II.


Clairvoyance is a crucial subject in any consideration of “spiritual science,” so I will return to it along with a discussion of the related forms of thought Steiner advocated. First, however, let’s examine how the classical sciences are presented in Steiner’s Waldorf schools.

Steiner’s appropriation of the term “science” does not mean that he had high regard for true science (physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc.) or for the rigorous discipline of the scientific method. In fact, Anthroposophy is fundamentally antithetical to science: It attributes everything in the universe to supersensible spiritual agencies than cannot be measured or recorded, while it dismisses physical phenomena as having virtually no intrinsic value or meaning. Ponder, for instance, Steiner’s comments about the physical phenomenon of gravity. Steiner thought gravity essentially meaningless because it is phenomenological (i.e., in and of the physical realm). This remark was addressed to a Waldorf teacher:

“It would be wonderful if you could stop speaking about gravity. You can certainly achieve speaking of it only as a phenomenon. The best would be if you considered gravity only as a word.” [10]

At the Waldorf school I attended, the study of science occurred in the context of a pervasive antiscientific bias. The shortcomings of science were conveyed to us in many ways, in discussion groups and even in what were nominally our science classes. Our physics/chemistry teacher recommended the book SCIENCE IS A SACRED COW, which aims to debunk science and the scientific method. [11] I read it and reread it. Our headmaster assigned us the book THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY, which became the subject of our senior discussion group for several weeks. The book’s subtitle is “Perfection without Purpose”; the thesis is that a technologist’s “preoccupation with facts...blocks his approach to that more spiritual wisdom which cannot be reduced to mechanics.” [12] Our discussion reiterated several lessons we had already absorbed deeply: we should doubt “facts” (i.e., physical phenomena), distrust science and its practical applications, and seek instead “spiritual wisdom.”

For my classmates and me, Anthroposophy’s devotion to pseudo-information meant that the line between verifiable truth and woolly speculation could become blurred. Our school’s small library found space in its scanty collection for books on flying saucers, dragons, yetis, and other undocumented phenomena, generally presented as if they were not merely plausible but almost certainly true. [13] One of our science teachers directed me to ON THE TRACK OF UNKNOWN ANIMALS by crypto-zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans. The author of that book argues that numerous fabulous beasts — including various types of ape men — may well roam the Earth. He chastises scientists for failing to credit anecdotal reports about such creatures. [14] To my young mind — and presumably the minds of other students — such books were persuasive. And for at least some of us, they reinforced the effect created by all the myths we heard and studied in class. We were led farther and farther from a rational appreciation of reality.

“Gurdjieff and Steiner, though neither suffering from paranoid schizophrenia nor being psychotic in the sense of being socially disabled, share certain characteristics with patients whom psychiatrists would designate as paranoid ... [I]t is indeed grandiose to create one’s own cosmogony [a theory of the origins of the universe] in total disregard of accepted scientific opinion ... Steiner, in addition to inventing his own history of the universe, believed that he had special powers of observation which revealed the spiritual reality which lay behind material appearances ... Such people...are propounding belief systems which are wildly eccentric: they are narcissistic, isolated, and arrogant....” [6]

-◊-

If the Waldorf approach to science is not always dull, it is almost guaranteed to be bizarre:

"[I]f schools follow Steiner's views on science, education will suffer. Steiner believed that materialism was insufficient for the understanding of nature. He believed that science needs to 'go beyond' the empirical and consider vitalistic, unobservable forces, a perspective also common in 20th century New Age healing approaches. Anthroposophical medicine, similar to homeopathy but even less scientific, claims that disease is caused only secondarily by malfunctions of chemistry and biology, and primarily by a disturbance of the 'vital essence.' Anatomy and physiology a la Steiner are unrecognizable by modern scientists: the heart does not pump blood; there are 12 senses ('touch, life, movement, equilibrium, warmth, smell,' etc.) corresponding to signs of the zodiac; there is a 'rhythmic' system that mediates between the 'nerve-sense' and 'metabolic-muscular' systems. Physics and chemistry are just as bad: the 'elements' are earth, air, fire, and water. The four 'kingdoms of nature' are mineral, plant, animal and man. Color is said to be the result of the conflict of light and darkness. Typical geological stages are Post-Atlantis, Atlantis, Mid-Lemuria, and Lemuria." — Eugene C. Scott, "Waldorf Schools Teach Odd Science, Odd Evolution".

Dan Dugan, who sent his son to a Waldorf school, pulled him out in part because the science instruction was so poor.

“In a chemistry lesson, the teacher burned different substances and the students drew and described the qualities of the flames, smoke, and ash. No mention was made of oxidation or, for that matter, any chemistry at all. In a lesson on the physics of light, they were taught that Newton was wrong about color and Goethe was right. White light is a unity and cannot be divided into the colors of the spectrum; the colors are merely an artifact of the prism. I thought perhaps these mistakes were due to the ignorance of particular teachers, but when I obtained Waldorf curriculum guides, I discovered that the inadequate and erroneous science was part of the Waldorf system.” — Dan Dugan, "Why Waldorf Schools Are Unsuitable for Public Funding".

Anthroposophy and Waldorf education incline toward "Goethean" science, which contradicts true modern science. We will return to this subject presently.



III.


Steiner’s blunders are hard to overlook or excuse. The whole point of being a soothsayer, after all, is to say sooth: speak truth. Yet Steiner repeatedly failed this paramount test of his “profession.” Steiner's doctrines can be compared to a castle made of cards. Once the the function-of-the-heart card, and the Earth-doesn’t-orbit-the-Sun card, and the floating-Britain card, etc., are pulled out, the entire castle of cards comes crashing down.

Steiner’s statements about the spirit realm are more difficult to evaluate than those about phenomena that we can actually detect, measure, and test. But some of his spiritualistic revelations certainly invite skepticism. Consider, for instance, one of his comments about Christ, which includes information that is not found in the Bible. Steiner said he possessed this information because he had access to the Akashic record — a supersensible storehouse, imprinted on astral light, of all events, knowledge, memories, feelings, etc., since the beginning of the universe. [15] [See "Akasha".] Various occult traditions refer to the Akashic record (or records — sometimes they are said to be multiple). Individuals aside from Steiner who claim to have consulted the record(s) include Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce. [16] As you might expect, information gleaned from astral light contains many surprises. Steiner’s special knowledge of Christ is surprisingly intertwined with paganism and magic:

“It is...important that the deeds of Christ Jesus are always seen in relation to the physical sun, which is the external expression of the spiritual world that is received at the point where Christ’s physical body is walking around. When Christ Jesus heals, for instance, it is the sun force that heals. However, the sun must be in the right place in the heavens: ‘That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.’ It is important to indicate that this healing power can flow down only when the external sun has set but still works spiritually.” [17]

Compared with many of Steiner’s spiritual revelations, this one is relatively open to rational consideration. At least it deals with a recognizable physical phenomenon, the Sun, and with a religious figure, Christ, about whom most of people in the Western world possess a fair amount of knowledge. So, let us ask: Is it true that when we look toward the Sun, we are seeing the present or former abode of Christ? And is it true that when Christ heals, “it is the sun force that heals” — could this be true now, and was it ever true in the past? And can it possibly be true that the “healing power” of Christ or the Sun “can flow down only when the external sun has set”? Unfortunately, Steiner did not supply any evidence to back up these propositions. All we have is his word, which most of us must find insufficient.

As I stated earlier, Steiner urged his followers to test his assertions. Some of his books include instructions on how to attain esoteric knowledge, enter higher states of being, etc. For example,

“The student must first apply himself with care and attention to certain functions of the soul, hitherto exercised by him in a careless and inattentive manner. There are eight such functions ....”

And so on. [18] Presumably, such directions could, themselves, be “tested” by interpreting them properly and then following them step by step. But such testing would have little probative value. Positive results would necessarily be subjective: one or more people claiming supernatural visions, etc. Such claims would not constitute solid evidence — they would be anecdotal evidence or eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously unreliable, often resulting from self-deception or deceit. On the other hand, negative results could be dismissed as mere procedural failures.“Gurdjieff and Steiner, though neither suffering from paranoid schizophrenia nor being psychotic in the sense of being socially disabled, share certain characteristics with patients whom psychiatrists would designate as paranoid ... [I]t is indeed grandiose to create one’s own cosmogony [a theory of the origins of the universe] in total disregard of accepted scientific opinion ... Steiner, in addition to inventing his own history of the universe, believed that he had special powers of observation which revealed the spiritual reality which lay behind material appearances ... Such people...are propounding belief systems which are wildly eccentric: they are narcissistic, isolated, and arrogant....” [6]

-◊-

Let’s take this a step further. In seeking evidence for Steiner's "spiritual scientific" teachings, is there any way we can get beyond take-it-or-leave-it subjective testimony? Perhaps demonstrations of clairvoyant powers could be arranged. Seances? Mind reading? Fortune telling? Unless the demonstrations went far beyond what is typically seen in magic acts — and were validated by strict scientific controls — they would be unlikely to tell us much.

In instances where Steiner’s statements can be openly tested — such as a) the Earth does not orbit the Sun, and b) islands float — Steiner is often flat-out wrong. In instances involving the “supersensible world,” the “Akashic record,” the spiritual powers of the Sun, etc., no objectively verifiable tests seem possible. Rational people must acknowledge the chance that someday there will be a convincing demonstration of a Steiner claim. But what are the odds?

The scientific method has its limits. It cannot deal adequately with unique (i.e., unreproducible) events or with materials or forces that cannot be measured and tested using our ordinary senses and/or scientific apparatuses. So if any of Steiner’s depictions of things spiritual are true, they probably lie outside the reach of science. But two points need to be made. One is that Steiner was not a scientist, in any sense — he was a mystic. The other point is that despite its limitations, science shines brighter with each passing year. As scientific discoveries continue accumulating, expanding our comprehension of the universe, the power and truth of science are increasingly vindicated. Einsteinian physics are repeatedly confirmed. Ditto quantum mechanics. And string theory appears to be inching toward a reconciliation of the two in the form of a “theory of everything.” The limitations of science fade, while alternative approaches to truth — including Steiner’s — grow ever wobblier. [19]



IV.


Scientist Max von Laue won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1914. Eight years later, he wrote a paper in which he assailed Steiner’s scientific errors. [20] Here are some excerpts. When reading them, bear in mind that von Laue’s scientific knowledge is now a century old and thus parts of it are outdated. But we can rely on him to know what scientists understood early in the twentieth century, and thus what Steiner misunderstood. Anthroposophists might attempt to defend Steiner by arguing that Steiner was not restricted to the scientific knowledge available in his lifetime: He possessed psychic powers that enabled him to see beyond scientists’ petty, materialistic thinking. Judge for yourself whether Steiner makes any more sense now than, according to von Laue, he did then.

Von Laue cites Steiner's teachings about Atlantis. Steiner taught that

"for the million years up to 10,000 BC in those parts of the world that now constitute the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean there existed an absolutely unique culture of people that in body and soul thoroughly differed from humans today. These people had aircraft which they flew close to the ground ... In those days the air was much thicker, the water was much thinner; it moved more artistically and let itself be guided, etc... [ellipses by von Laue].” [21]

Von Laue explains that none of Steiner’s statements about Atlantis, low-flying ancient aircraft, the constitution of air and water long ago, and so forth, have any basis in scientific fact. Steiner’s remarks, he says, “can only provoke a smile” — presumably a smile of contempt. [22]

Von Laue quotes Steiner as arguing that science cannot tell us “anything about...what is possible and impossible.” [23] Von Laue replies that

“one would do better to select science over the ‘occult observations of the esoteric scientists’ [such as Steiner]." [24]

The data of science are firmly founded, von Laue contends, whereas Steiner’s claims are cleverly designed to be untestable.

“Steiner must feel a warm glow of self-satisfaction; a smugness, derived from his astute caution and discretion in transferring this entire culture to a now submerged part of the earth...[that is] fairly safe from excavations. Unfortunately geologists have credibly asserted that 12,000 years ago nothing like a separate continent between Europe and America could have existed.” [25]

Turning to Steiner’s book, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Leipzing, 1920), von Laue quotes Steiner saying

“light appears in seven colours, and sound appears in seven tones, the undivided nature of Man appears in seven limbs.” [26]

Von Laue pours ridicule on this remark, saying

“What prevarication! From the innumerable colours that can be perceived by the eye, human language has perhaps given especially simple names to a random seven (and these are only approximately defined), and if Steiner is ignorant of the names of any other colours we recommend that he asks any good dressmaker.” [27]

Von Laue disposes of the notion of seven sounds with similar swiftness, and as for “the seven parts of Man,” he has no patience at all. [To consider what Steiner taught about human physiology, see "What We're Made Of" and "Our Parts". Concerning Steiner' interest in the number 7, see "Magic Numbers".]

Von Laue then quotes Steiner at length on differences and similarities — now and in the distant past — between the states of gaseous, liquid, and solid matter, including Steiner’s assertion that heat is a form of matter:

“heat possesses the same concrete meaning as do gaseity, liquidity, and solidity. To [the observing spiritual scientist] it is a finer substance than gas.” [28]

Von Laue says that if Steiner’s description

“had been written a hundred years ago, in the light of the condition of physics at that time, one could have possibly taken it as a fanciful possibility”

— but thanks more recent knowledge, von Laue confidently asserts that Steiner's statement is nonsense. [29]

Von Laue is especially incensed by Steiner’s claim to possess a “psychic organ” (which Steiner elsewhere called an organ of clairvoyance).

“His psychic organ of cognition amply provides him with names” to attach to things (colors, sounds, and so forth), but not with any real knowledge of those things, von Laue asserts. [30]

Von Laue mockingly asks:

“What then is the foundation for Steiner’s dicta, including those that touch on natural science? By means of a spiritual preparation, a human may develop inside himself special organs for inner observation ... This is not so easy ... In that we do not have the distinction of belonging to the illuminati...our knowledge of the scientific outcomes of the esoteric science is of course somewhat fragmentary.” [31]

Anthroposophists will take von Laue’s words, here, as a confession of his spiritual blindness. Rationalists will see these words as a sharply pointed jab that deflates Steiner’s balloon.

Von Laue’s words are occasionally so sarcastic as to seem intemperate. Yet von Laue, a Nobel Laureate in science, was writing about a subject he knew well. I must admit that I like von Laue’s tone, since it parallels my own raillery. Thus, von Laue writes,

“Lovers of unconscious humour are recommended to make a study of pages 53-55 [of AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE].” [32]



V.


Steiner hung various trappings of science on his creation, Anthroposophy. He argued that we can confirm his “discoveries” through the simple expedient of becoming clairvoyant ourselves. Short of clairvoyance, other forms of thought such as imagination also can lead us toward Steiner’s truths, according to Steiner. To bolster his claims for the scientific nature of Anthroposophy, Steiner taught that his followers and successors might make additional discoveries of their own. Like any good science, in other words, Anthroposophy is a work in progress and will someday be supplanted by an even more complete explanation of the universe.

Some of what Steiner said sounds almost like science. But let’s linger awhile on the types of thinking Steiner advocated. They do not include rational investigation. In fact, they very nearly preclude it.

◊ Clairvoyance purportedly offers the ability to gain knowledge that is inaccessible to our normal senses or reasoning brains. It sounds great. But does it exist? Serious investigations have been made for many decades, generally with — at best — inconclusive results. In a typical experiment, a “clairvoyant” is asked to identify an object that is hidden behind a closed door. Some results are a bit better than any average Joe could achieve simply by guessing, but some results are worse, occasionally much worse. Such experiments cast serious doubt on the existence of paranormal perception. If clairvoyance is no better than random guessing, what good is it? [33]

A clairvoyant purportedly sees what is not visible and hears what is not audible. Normally, seeing or hearing absent phenomena are indications of insanity or fraud. But let’s assume that some clairvoyants sincerely believe in their psychic experiences. Two problems would remain. First, we would have no reason to believe the clairvoyants’ reports. They would attest to invisible, inaudible events or presences, but these would remain invisible and inaudible to us. All we would have are the clairvoyants’ unsupported claims, which — being unsupported — would remain nothing but possibilities, not established facts.

The second problem is that even sincere clairvoyants would have no good reason to believe their own psychic experiences. Subjectively, the clairvoyants have seen or heard something out of the ordinary, as we all do, sometimes — in moments of confusion, in dreams, in reveries, and the like. When the brain is confronted by sensory signals that make little sense, it tries to impose sense on them. We’ve all experienced illusions of various kinds, usually briefly, usually cleared up quickly. But some illusions persist, and our memories of them may last a lifetime. Of course, memory itself is highly unreliable, so weird experiences recollected in tranquility prove nothing. What I’m driving at is that we are all prone to delusions, small and large. How can clairvoyants be sure that their subjective “visions” are anything but vivid delusions? They cannot. The need for firm evidence — to clarify matters for the professed clairvoyants as well as for the rest of us — remains unfulfilled.

-◊-

Imagination can be found in at least three forms. Nowadays, we tend use the word "imagination" as a synonym for fantasization, as in Disney cartoons. But a second, genuine form of imagination has real worth. For instance, imagining the possible results of your actions can help you to avoid disasters. Imagining yourself lying dead after jaywalking across a busy city street might convince you to wait for the “Walk” signal.

Steiner sometimes used the term “imagination” in that second sense. He went so far as to say that thinking is a pictorial activity (which is, in itself, wrong: Many thoughts, true and false, deal with abstractions that cannot be visualized — for example, “Many thoughts, true and false, deal with abstractions that cannot be visualized.”) Imagination linked to rationality can produce helpful pictures in our minds, but unlinked it can produce illusions and fantasies — it retreats to Disneyland.

The highest form of imagination is, according to Steiner, the use of deep soul powers to create images or “imaginations” of spiritual truths, including truths we brought into this life from our past lives in the spirit realm. (Steiner taught that we pass through a long process of reincarnation and evolution. For more about childhood intuitions carried over from past spiritual lives, see “Thinking Cap.”) In considering “spiritual science,” the question becomes whether this third type of imagination can be considered reliable. [34]

It cannot. We can imagine almost anything about spirits (this room is full of angels, this room is full of demons, angels are demons, demons are the spirits of elephants, elephants are the souls of fish — we can imagine anything) without coming anywhere near to truth. Of course, some of our images of spiritual matters may be true, but we cannot know which. Perhaps the room you now occupy really is full of angels, but then again maybe not. Ultimately, relying on imagination for spiritual insight means relying on hunches. You imagine something, it seems right to you, so you believe it. You accept your hunch as Truth. This is deeply subjective and obviously unreliable. It certainly is not a scientific process. [35]

Imagination can easily lapse into hallucination and insanity. [36] Steiner’s high “Imagination” may reflect derangement — if Steiner actually had the astonishing “clairvoyant” visions he claimed, he almost certainly was hallucinating. [37] Steiner taught that after humanity completes its earthly evolution, it will move along to Future Jupiter, where it will evolve further. During the Future Jupiter stage of evolution, all of humanity will become capable of true Imagination, or the Jupiter consciousness:

“On the planet which will replace the Earth, the whole of humanity will have this psychic-consciousness or Imagination, the ‘Jupiter’ consciousness.” [38]

I am inclined to consider Steiner a charlatan, deceitful but rational. But we cannot overlook the possibility that he was mentally unbalanced. A statement like the one we have just seen certainly seems loco.

At Waldorf schools, fostering imagination may be considered preparation for clairvoyance. [39] Kids are led to produce vivid mental pictures, an ability that — according to Anthroposophical belief — can smooth the way for conjuring clairvoyant images of the spirit realm. The educational goal of developing such imagination, then, amounts to an effort to develop clairvoyance.

Anthroposophists would argue that my analysis here — everything I have said here — is mistaken, because I have not employed the sort of deep spiritual powers Steiner advocated. I have not seen what he saw, and I have not developed the abilities he possessed. Thus, I know nothing. Fine. That is a possibility. But do clairvoyant powers really exist, for anyone, anywhere? Prove it. Or let's ask this: Steiner spoke of the need to develop organs of clairvoyance. [40] Are these possible? Prove it. The burden of proof lies with anyone who claims that such powers and/or organs exist. The only rational posture for the rest of us, as we wait, is skepticism. Deep, questioning skepticism. We must hold open the possibility that Steiner's position will be substantiated someday, somehow. But until it is, we should hold onto our rational doubts. What Steiner called "higher knowledge" may be little more than falsehood tricked out in fancy clothes.




[SteinerBooks, 2009.]




Inspiration is the form of consciousness Steiner said we will all possess when we leave Future Jupiter and proceed to Future Venus. During Future Venus, as during Future Jupiter, we will recapitulate prior stages of evolution (cycles), and then we will move on to new, higher stages or cycles. We will develop inspiration, otherwise known as Venus consciousness, during our Future Venus evolution.

"[O]nly during the fifth cycle of Jupiter does man attain the stage which has been described above as the real Jupiter consciousness. In a corresponding manner does the 'Venus consciousness' appear during the sixth cycle of Venus.” [41]

Some people eagerly look forward to the life Steiner forecast for Future Jupiter and Future Venus. Others are a bit skeptical. What is your opinion?

At least in advocating inspiration, Steiner placed himself within a long, widely affirmed spiritual tradition. To be inspired, in the religious sense, is to be filled with spirit. In Christianity, the spirit is usually said to be the Holy Ghost. True believers who feel that God has inspired them usually do not think that their beliefs and actions require any further justification. But the rest of us, standing apart, may wonder whether the believers’ beliefs and actions are truly based on truth. We want to see evidence. People of faith may not need evidence, but followers of Steiner ought to want it, since Steiner insisted that his system is a science, and in science, evidence is always crucial. So where is it in this matter?

Artistic inspiration surely exists, as do other forms of worldly inspiration. But are any of them dependable investigative tools? Do they lead us dependably toward truth? An artist may be inspired to write or sing or paint in a particular way, but the inspiration in such cases is nothing more than an excitement or motive arising from personal associations, experiences, and preferences. Likewise, a scientist may be inspired to conduct experiments different from those conducted previously — but any scientifically valid data that results will come from the experiments themselves, not from the initiating inspiration. At root, inspiration is like imagination, it is subjective and untrustworthy. At root, in reality, inspiration is simply the condition of feeling an urge. We are stimulated to do something or to feel something. Sometimes we are inspired to do something good; sometimes we are inspired do something bad. Inspiration itself is morally neutral, just as it is cognitively neutral. Whether an inspiration is good or bad, true or false, depends on its results. A great artist is often inspired to do something lovely; a mass murderer is similarly inspired to do something horrific. Inspiration, in and of itself, is not meritorious. No action is justified by the claim, "I was inspired to do it." And no statement or belief is justified by the claim, "I am inspired to think this."

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According to Steiner, inspiration is higher than imagination, and intuition is higher than inspiration. Intuition is an extremely high form of direct spiritual knowledge, he said.

Broadly speaking, intuition is the claimed ability to understand something without the need for evidence or a laborious chain of reasoning. Most people — perhaps all people — are inclined to yield to their intuitions, at least sometimes, at least to some degree. But are we justified in doing so? Is intuition for real? Let's momentarily turn our gaze far from Anthroposophy. Las Vegas is a good venue for observing intuition at work. Roulette requires you to guess, or intuit, where the little ball will next come to rest. Many gamblers rely heavily on their intuition. Many lose their shirts thereby.

Intuitive knowledge just comes to you, out of the blue, as it were. You “feel” that something is right. Anthroposophists, for example, may feel — deep in their souls — that Steiner’s descriptions of the universe are true. There’s no arguing with such intuitions, but there’s also no corroborative value in them. They are private, inner states. They are often inexplicable, even to the people who have them. Pow! You just know! You feel it! But can you really rely on the power of this pow? A proposition may feel right to you for any number of reasons, including experiences you had in the cradle, the sort of church your parents took you to, the sorts of TV you watched as a child, the traumas and joys you have experienced, the lessons you absorbed from your parents and teachers, and so forth. None of this actually means anything conclusive. You are sure — and yet you may be quite wrong. Take an invidious but illuminating example. Adolf Hitler relied on his intuition in setting strategy for the German military. Early in World War II, the result was a string of stunning German victories. So Hitler continued using intuition until the end of the war, by which time Germany lay in ruins, with virtually every inch of the Fatherland overrun by Allied forces. The end came when Hitler, deep in his command bunker, shot himself. Perhaps, being evil, Hitler had flawed, evil intuitions (and yet they worked out so well in the early part of the war). Perhaps good people have better intuitions. But there is no reason to think that any form of intuition, bad or good, is reliable. For every intuition that pans out, there will be others — possibly a great many — that don't.

Still, let's not be too hasty. Defining terms is essential. Sometimes the word “intuition” is used to describe the informed insights that an expert may have in her/his field of expertise — a physicist, for instance, who has a brainstorm, suggesting a new line of inquiry or a new experimental approach. This form of intuition is often better than the blind guessing of a gambler. Beneath the surface, it is a swift logical process, leading rapidly from a base of knowledge to a plausible conclusion. When an expert mechanic has an intuition about what is wrong with your car, you probably should listen. But, still, in the end — before shelling out too much of your hard-earned cash — you will need something more than just the expert's guess. Experts can be wrong, after all; the intuitions of experts can be flops. Ultimately, even an expert's intuition needs to be verified, and that brings us back to the mundane issues of evidence and logic. Intuition, in and of itself — even an expert's intuition — is never enough. In the end, intuitions need to be tested against reality, and the bad intuitions must be tossed out.

Steiner’s form of “intuition” is elevated beyond any normal definition, and it explicitly runs counter to reasoning. Intuition with a capital “I” is the consciousness all humanity will share when we ascend from Future Venus to Future Vulcan:

“The seventh state of consciousness is the ‘spiritual consciousness’ or Intuition, the very highest, when man has a universal consciousness; when he will not only see what proceeds on his own planet, but in the whole cosmos around him.” [42]

Here, in summary form, are the types of consciousness Steiner said we have had and will have during our evolution. (The "planets" that he names are actually phases of evolution, not the planets that we see in the sky today. They are the planets or, more correctly, the entire solar system as it existed and will exist, according to Steiner's doctrines.)

1. Old Saturn = Deep trance-consciousness

2. Old Sun = Dreamless sleep-consciousness

3. Old Moon = Dreaming sleep or picture consciousness

4. Present Earth = Waking consciousness or awareness of objects

5. Future Jupiter = Psychic or conscious picture-consciousness

6. Future Venus = Super-pyschic or conscious life-consciousness

7. Future Vulcan = Spiritual or self-conscious universal consciousness. [43]

Steiner’s “Intuition” (i.e., "universal consciousness") is essentially indistinguishable from clairvoyance, in that it produces immediately accepted perceptions of Truth, no proof required. One who has attained that level of enlightenment is very nearly omniscient (as Steiner very nearly claimed to be). At Waldorf schools, an effort is made to lead students toward such thinking in the here and now. As one Waldorf educator has written, the objective of Waldorf education is to

“transform thought from what it is at present — the capacity for abstract hypothesis — into the capacity for self-evident spiritual experience.” [44] Steiner himself said “Let now these intimations come/To claim their rightful place,/Supplanting thinking’s power....” [45]

The difficulty is that “thinking’s power” is essential to real knowledge; indeed, gathering evidence, forming “abstract hypotheses” about them, and then testing the hypotheses, is a good description of the scientific method (and remember, Steiner claimed to be a scientist). This is how we gain actual knowledge, not through unsubstantiated, potentially delusional “visions.”

The varieties of "higher thought" Steiner espoused — imagination, inspiration, and intuition (clairvoyance) — fail to yield the firm, testable facts required for science. As a consequence, Steiner’s “spiritual science” is a hollow shell. It is fraudulent. It has about as much substance as "Future Vulcan." [For more on Steiner's teachings about Vulcan, see "Vulcan".]

Some brief portions of this essay were adapted from “Unenlightened.”

— Roger Rawlings



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TEST CASE:


WALDORF CHEMISTRY



[Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2004]



Poking around in

Anthroposophical publications

can be rewarding.

Here is a Waldorf teacher stating,

more or less openly,

that Waldorf schools train

students in forms of thought

that lure them to Anthroposophy:




"When a foundation of observation and disciplined thinking is established, the high school science teacher now introduces a new type of thinking ... [T]his 'new' thinking is called phenomenological thinking ... [F]irst a phenomenon is carefully observed; second, the rigors and laws of thinking and science are applied ... third, everything up to now is laid to rest, the mind is cleared, and the phenomenon itself is allowed to speak. The student observes what comes forward while keeping the mind from straying ... This activity opens on up to new possibilities ... This type of thinking is freed from the senses and allows the universe to speak through the individual. It is a type of thinking which is truly moral and can be the fertile ground for the 'new' science of the twenty-first century." — David S. Mitchell, THE WONDERS OF WALDORF CHEMISTRY (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2004), pp. 12-13.


The "new" thinking is a form of meditation ("the mind is cleared...keeping the mind from straying").* It is the sort of thinking Steiner advocated for producing clairvoyant powers.


◊ "Whoever wants to acquire imaginative clairvoyance develops this force through meditation and gradually attains it." — Rudolf Steiner, SLEEP AND DREAMS (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 124.


◊ "This kind of meditation may reach any of a number of stages, from the smallest gain in moral strength to the highest attainments of clairvoyance. " — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. p. 222.


◊ "Many people object they have tried to meditate in all kinds of ways but are still not becoming clairvoyant. This lack of clairvoyance simply shows they do not want the strength and activity I have just described." — Rudolf Steiner, THE PRESENCE OF THE DEAD ON THE SPIRITUAL PATH (SteinerBooks, 1990), p. 6.


The "new" thinking described by Mitchell is "freed from the senses" because, according to Rudolf Steiner, clairvoyance is seated not in the physical brain but in nonphysical organs of clairvoyance.


◊ "And just as natural forces evolve the physical eyes and ears of the physical body, out of living matter, so will the organs of clairvoyance evolve themselves from the spiritual feelings which are thus evoked." — Rudolf Steiner, THE WAY OF INITIATION (Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., 1910), p. 83.


◊ "Out of these feelings and the thoughts that are bound up with them, the organs of clairvoyance are formed." — Rudolf Steiner, HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS (Wilder Publications, 2008), p. 26.


Waldorf students who attempt the "new" kind of thinking may not leap straight to clairvoyance (in reality, they cannot, since clairvoyance is a fantasy). But by using "phenomenological thinking" as described by Mitchell, they will be on their way (or so their Waldorf teachers hope). Phenomena and/or the universe itself will "speak through the individual" as through a clairvoyant or seer.


The thinking Mitchell refers to is hardly new. It is an approach advocated by the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and embraced by Steiner. [See "Goethe".] So-called "Goethean science" is meant to be an alternative and corrective to conventional science. And as Steiner arranged matters, Goethean science leads to "spiritual science," i.e. Steiner's own doctrines, i.e. Anthroposophy.


"[T]he science [Steiner] spoke of was not conventional science of the abstract mechanical-materialist type. Modern science in this sense was, in fact, a deviation ... The corrective was to create an alternative science based on different assumptions." — Anthroposophist Christopher Bamford, introducing Steiner's WHAT IS ANTHROPOSOPHY? (Anthroposophic Press, 2002), p. 19.


But Goethean science is not real science at all; it is a misconstruction of scientific procedures and values. In this sense (pace Bamford), the form of "science" found in Waldorf schools is the deviation from truth and from the search for truth. Yet it is close to the heart of the Waldorf enterprise. Waldorf schools try to inculcate a meditative form of thought that leads students toward accepting Anthroposophy. Students taking a class that may seem to be centered on conventional science (chemistry) wind up being introduced to a form of thinking that leads them into Goethean science ("Waldorf chemistry") and, by indirection, it leads on to "spiritual science" (Anthroposophy). Waldorf schools exist to promote Anthroposophy. This is what Mitchell and Bamford and Steiner have told us, without meaning to be quite so direct about it. (Although sometimes they have come close.


"Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.


And when will the material — seen through the "new" way of thinking — call for it? Just about always.)



* The essence of meditation is emptying the mind, attaining openness and peace. Each time this cleared consciousness is violated — that is, each time the mind strays — the meditator puts the entering thought aside and returns to meditative stillness. Peaceful, clear, open/empty-mindedness is the desired state. [See, e.g., AN INTRODUCTION TO ZEN BUDDHISM, by D. T. Suzuki and Carl Jung, SPIRITUAL DIRECTION AND MEDITATION, by Thomas Merton, and (at the pop level) 8 MINUTE MEDITATION: Quiet Your Mind, Change Your Life, by Victor N. Davich.]


“It is usually better to remain quiet, to be still ... The most important thing is to seek silence, tranquility, recollection and peace.” — Thomas Merton.


I have nothing to say against meditation. I meditate daily. But the Waldorf approach — believing that meditation can lead to clairvoyance — is deeply flawed. Clairvoyance is a delusion, and most of Steiner's occult teachings are wholly unsupported by any form of real evidence. People should be clearly informed that Waldorf schools aim to lead students toward the forms of "thought" advocated by Rudolf Steiner. Parents who like what Steiner said may find Waldorf schools to be just what they want for their kids. But parents who see dangers in Steiner's occult doctrines may want to look elsewhere.

— R.R.











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