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.” [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]


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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.


-◊-


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.


-◊-


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 this:

“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:

“[H]eat 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.


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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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Use the following link to go to

the second part of "Steiner's 'Science'".




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[R.R., 21st century.]






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Footnotes for the Foregoing Sections


[1] Steiner sometimes asserted that science and "spiritual science" (Anthroposophy) are consistent with one another. He sometimes said there are no fundamental contradictions; he said that science would eventually confirm the findings of spiritual science. Anthroposophists usually stress these apparently affirmative, science-friendly claims. However, a very different view of science often emerged in Steiner's statements. The antiscientific nature of Anthroposophy often burst through.

◊ "Scientific simpletons": “I have demonstrated to you the connection between a myth such as the Baldur myth and great all-encompassing manifestations of human evolution. [paragraph break] Our scientific simpletons who conduct research into myths and legends can go no further than to maintain that they are an expression of creative folk imagination. In reality, however, they encompass deeply significant truths….” — Rudolf Steiner, THE KARMA OF UNTRUTHFULNESS, Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 276.

◊ "Scientific trash": “[T]he philosopher Mach…was a fanatical enemy of working with children’s youthful fantasy. He did not want any fairy tales told to children, or to teach children anything other than scientific trash about external sense-perceptible reality.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), pp. 93-94.

◊ "Pedantic proof of things": “Supersensible knowledge can be described as a transformation of ordinary abstract knowledge into a seeing knowledge that points to experiential knowledge. It is nonsense to require the same sort of logical, pedantic, narrow-minded proof of things in higher realms as is desirable in the crasser realms of the sciences, mathematics, and so on.” — Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 240.

◊ "Primitive concepts": “In ancient times man could survey the world, because he entered his body at birth with memories of the time before birth … Now the human being confronts this world bringing nothing with him, and he must work with primitive concepts like those, for instance, of contemporary science.” — Rudolf Steiner, HOW CAN MANKIND FIND THE CHRIST AGAIN (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), p. 54.

◊ "Demonic Mars forces": “It is because the Moon Beings remain so firmly entrenched in their fortress that modern scientists know nothing essential about heredity. From a deeper insight, and in terms of cosmic language, it could be said that when at the present time heredity is discussed in one or another domain of science, the latter is ‘Moon-forsaken’ and ‘Mars-bewitched’. For science speaks under the influence of the demonic Mars-forces and has not even begun to approach the real mysteries of heredity.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Spiritual Individualities of the Planets” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, Hawthorn Press, 1988).

◊ "World-ruling divinity": “The greatest contrast to electricity is LIGHT. If we look upon light as electricity we confuse good and evil. We lose sight of the true conception of evil in the order of Nature, if we do not realize that through the electrification of the atoms we transform them into carriers of evil; we do not only transform them into carriers of death, as explained in my last lecture, but into carriers of evil. When we think of them as atoms, in general, when we imagine matter in the form of atoms, we transform these atoms into carriers of death; but when we electrify matter, Nature is conceived as something evil. For electric atoms are little demons of Evil. This, however, does not tell us much. For it does not express the fact that the modern explanation of Nature set out along a path that really unites it with Evil … [W]hen we listen to a modern physicist blandly explaining that Nature consists of electrons, we merely listen to him explaining that Nature really consists of little demons of Evil! And if we acknowledge Nature in this form, we raise Evil to the rank of the ruling world-divinity.” — Rudolf Steiner, "Concerning Electricity", ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET, No. 23/24, June 9, 1940.

Steiner sometimes acknowledged that ordinary, real, "materialistic" science can produce real knowledge, “facts.” But even so, he said, the scientific attitude is deadly. He associated the scientific attitude with “materialistic thought,” which cannot penetrate into the spiritual realm that he claimed to know through clairvoyance.

“Both generally and in particulars, there is hardly anything more intolerant in human life than the ‘scientific attitude.’ I do not, of course, refer to scientific facts, for they are presented in a way which does science the very highest credit ... I am speaking of the ‘scientific attitude’ which arises on the foundation of these facts. The attitude of materialistic thought today is an example of almost the greatest intolerance to be found in history.” — Rudolf Steiner, EARTHLY AND COSMIC MAN, “‘Chance and Present-Day Consciousness” (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, 1948).

On other occasions, Steiner denounced science as presenting not facts but illusions. Sometimes, he said, such illusions are necessary, at least if we are to understand the universe as described in modern mathematics and science. But they are illusions nonetheless, he said, and thus ultimately false.

“For modern education we need these illusions of a mathematical nature about the universe, we must acquire them, but we must know that they are illusions ... A right attitude in regard to the whole of modern science, insofar as it thinks along these lines, will recognize that its knowledge is illusion.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE AHRIMANIC DECEPTION (Anthroposophic Press, 1985).

On still other occasions, Steiner decried science in absolute terms: he called it “scientific trash.” (The greatest problem for Steiner's followers is that science has not in fact confirm the "findings" of spiritual science. Indeed, the gap between science and spiritual science has inexorably widened. If Steiner's teachings had a certain plausibility when he first broached them, they have become less and less plausible as science has advanced. The "trashiness" of science increases yearly.)

In a remarkable passage, Steiner said that modern science arose from myth. He argued that modern scientific truths will be overturned by future discoveries, which is quite probably true, but he quite mistakenly argued from this that science is equivalent to myth and superstition.

"Everything connected with modern science has grown from myth; myth is its root. There are elemental spirits [nature spirits, low invisible beings such as goblins] which observe these things from the other worlds and they howl with hell's own derision when today's mighty clever professors look down on the mythologies of old, and on all the media of ancient superstition, having not the least idea that they and all their cleverness have grown from those myths ... Myth relates to our ideas just as the scientific ideas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries relate to what will be a few centuries later. They will be overcome....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FALL OF THE SPIRITS OF DARKNESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2008), p. 158.

Steiner stated this as if producing a startling insight, when in fact all scientists would agree with at least part of his assertion: Science is an evolving body of knowledge, and in the future we will presumably know much more than we know today, so some of our current theories will be supplanted by more advanced theories. Steiner’s only contribution was to place the matter in the context of his own superstition and ignorance, such as his belief in elemental beings, alongside his unceasing opposition to real knowledge such as that provided by the “mighty clever professors” he derided. In reality, science has no connection to myth; it arises from careful observation and scrupulous experimentation. It is factual, in precisely the way that Steiner's teachings are not.

Despite Steiner's repeated assertion that ordinary science and spiritual science are compatible, his underlying opposition to ordinary science is reflected in such statements as this:

“[S]cience and logical thought can, owing to their inherent attributes, never say the final word as to what is possible, or impossible.” — Rudolf Steiner, ATLANTIS AND LEMURIA (Health Research Books, 2000), p. 18.

The Waldorf approach to mathematics is not always as hostile as some of Steiner's statements suggest. Steiner himself found spiritual value in geometry, arithmetic, and numbers. Waldorf math classes are often structured around the notion that the order found in math reflects the orderly structure of the universe: the design created by the gods. Math, as taught at Waldorf schools, may be fun for many students: Emphasis is often placed on such things as magic squares, the golden mean, sacred geometry, and so forth (although some of this terminology may be avoided). The students may be assigned to create paper cones and polyhedrons as well as colored geometric designs. The purpose, often not stated openly, is to penetrate through math into the "spirit" behind math, that is, the structured hierarchy of higher worlds inhabited by the gods. Steiner went so far as to state that geometry leads to clairvoyance. Still, in Waldorf schools, mastering math in and of itself is often de-emphasized, just as sciences in general are de-emphasized. [For more on math in Waldorf schools, see "Mystic Math".]

[2] Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 6.

Steiner made the same claim several times. For example:

“[T]he purpose of this book is to depict some portions of the supersensible world ... It is only through knowledge of the supersensible that our sense-perceptible ‘reality’ acquires meaning ... In compiling this book, I have included nothing I cannot testify to on the basis of personal experience in this field. Only my direct experience is presented here.” — Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY: An Introduction to the Spiritual Processes in Human Life and in the Cosmos (Anthroposophic Press, 1994), pp. 7-8.

The term “supersensible” applies to things we cannot perceive with our ordinary senses. By supersensible faculties, Steiner meant clairvoyance and its precursors. By supersensible world(s) or realm(s), he meant the spirit realm.

Despite his claim, it is apparent that Steiner drew his doctrines from his extensive reading and other non-clairvoyant activities. When critics and reviewers pointed to his sources, Steiner revised his works, slightly, and insisted all the more firmly that his insights came from his own psychic study of the spirit realm. Innumerable volumes affirming or dissecting mysticism, magic, spiritualism, and the like, were available in Steiner’s time. Helena Blavatsky, a founder of Theosophy, published THE SECRET DOCTRINE in 1888 — Steiner, who for a while headed the Theosophical Society in Germany, adapted many of his doctrines from it. Other influential volumes of the period were Richard M. Bucke’s COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS, which came out in 1901, and Rufus M. Jones’ STUDIES IN MYSTICAL RELIGION, published in 1908. There were many more, in English and in German, some have roots extending deep into the past. (Max Heindel's THE ROSICRUCIAN COSMO-CONCEPTION came out in 1911. It may have influenced Steiner a bit, but Steiner claimed that Heindel actually cribbed from Steiner.)

Note that in claiming to practice "spiritual science," Steiner was drawing on Theosophical tenets. Theosophy, too, claims to be "spiritual science," and Steiner began his occult career as a Theosophist. Blavatsky was Steiner’s greatest source. Steiner’s Anthroposophy is, to a great extent, a reworking of Blatvatsky’s Theosophy. [See "Basics".] The link is clear, for example, in the book mentioned above, Steiner’s THEOSOPHY, which “begins by describing the threefold nature of the human being: the body, or sense-world; the soul, or inner world; and the spirit, or universal world of cosmic archetypes. A profound discussion of reincarnation and karma follows, concluding with a description of the soul's journey through regions of the supersensible world after death.” — SOCIAL ISSUES (SteinerBooks, 1991), p. 151.

In brief, THEOSOPHY outlines the path to "higher knowledge" that lies at the core of Anthroposophy. After Steiner broke from Theosophy, he developed variations to Theosophical doctrines; but his debt to Blavatsky remains clear.

Here are a few more of Steiner’s vast array of sources.

◊ Steiner was a student of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — he read Goethe's works devotedly, beginning early in his life.

“Then for the first time I read Goethe’s FAUST.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE STORY OF MY LIFE (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1928), p. 37.

Having read FAUST once, Steiner read it many more times, or so he claimed. He claimed to be well acquainted with much of Goethe's work. He reported being powerfully stirred when he came again upon favorite lines he remembered from earlier occasions.

“I cannot tell you what I felt when this came before my soul and I read again these lines by Goethe: From heaven through the earth they're pressing!” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUR SEASONS AND THE ARCHANGELS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 65.

Goethe’s work reverberates throughout Steiner’s books and lectures — a point I will return to.

◊ Steiner was influenced, as well, by the “nature philosophy” of Friedrich Joseph von Schelling.

“Rudolf Steiner...uses his first visit to Vienna ‘to purchase a great number of philosophy books’” including works by Schelling. — Editor's note, A WAY OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE (SteinerBooks, 2006) by Rudolf Steiner, p. 156.

Steiner strove to learn whether Schelling was right that one can penetrate to the Eternal, and he claimed success. “I discovered this capacity in myself.” — Ibid., p. 157.

◊ Steiner claimed deep knowledge of gnostic Christian writings. When critics said he “was merely reviving the ideas of Christian Gnosticism,” he asserted that he proved gnostic truths by using his clairvoyance. See Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 12.

◊ In his lecture "The History of Spiritualism" Steiner names various spiritualists whose work he claims to comprehend. He mentions Robert Fludd, Emanuel Swedenborg, Justinus Kerner, Johann Friedrich von Mayer, among others, and he alludes to their writings — e.g.,

“Mayer, who wrote a book from the standpoint of spiritualism about Hades...." — Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUALISM, MADAME BLAVATSKY, AND THEOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 69.

Of course, Steiner disparaged various forms of spiritualism if they diverged from his own doctrines.

◊ Steiner professed knowledge of Johann Valentin Andreae’s manuscript, THE CHYMICAL WEDDING OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ, which presents Rosicrucian secrets.

“[H]ow is it that as a quite young man he composed a document in THE CHYMICAL WEDDING that he published as information concerning true Rosicrucianism? ... There is no need to connect the content of THE CHYMICAL WEDDING with Andreae’s age at the time he wrote it....” — Rudolf Steiner, CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 71.

Steiner affirmed Rosicrucianism (as described by himself) as the correct path for modern humans. [See "Rosy Cross".] He criticized such Rosicrucians as Max Heindel, however. (To criticize Heindel, Steiner presumably had to have read Hinder. Or so we would hope.)

◊ Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, an apostle of numerology and magic, wrote in the 16th century. Steiner said he knew his work.

“In his writings, Agrippa assigns to each planet what he calls the Intelligence [sic] of the planet. This points to traditions that had existed from ancient times....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 262.

◊ Nostradamus, an astrologer and seer, wrote at about the same time as Agrippa. Steiner discussed Nostradamus’s writings, including one comfortably accurate forecast.

“Nostradamus...was able to foretell the future. He wrote a number of prophetic verses ... The Theosophical Society is nothing less than a fulfillment of this prophecy of Nostradamus.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE TEMPLE LEGEND (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 27.

◊ The Egyptian Book of the Dead predates Christ by approximately 1,500 years. Steiner was able to discuss its contents; he had presumably read, or read of, the book.

“When it leaves the body — so The Egyptian Book of the Dead testifies — it enters the realm of Osiris....” — Rudolf Steiner, ISIS MARY SOPHIA (SteinerBooks, 2004), p. 96.

◊ Steiner's racial theories were influenced by writers such as Alexander Pilcz. [See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/22078.]

◊ Steiner’s explorations included works of poetry and fiction, which he used as illustrations of his ideas but also, evidently, as sources of ideas.

“One could cite many examples of how the inspiration of the Knights Templar has been drawn into souls. I will read you a passage from the poem ‘Ahasver’ by Julius Mosen....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007), pp. 61-62.

Note that Steiner claimed to be acquainted with the doctrines of the Knights Templar, a religious order dating from the Crusades. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (c.1090-1153) wrote a famous eulogy to the Knights Templar, IN PRAISE OF THE NEW KNIGHTHOOD (c. 1136). Steiner claimed knowledge of Bernard:

"I tried to illuminate for you the soul of Bernard of Clairvaux." — Rudolf Steiner, A SOUND OUTLOOK FOR TODAY AND A GENUINE HOPE FOR THE FUTURE (transcript, 1954), lecture 5, GA 181.

Steiner taught that after death, our passage into the spirit realm is blocked by "The Guardian of the Threshold." In fact, he said there are two such guardians. He evidently got the idea from a novel, ZANONI, written by Edward Bulwer Lytton.

“Central to [our] spiritual work on inner development is what Rudolf Steiner calls (following Bulwer Lytton, who introduced the term in his Rosicrucian novel ZANONI) the 'Meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold.'” — Note by editor Christopher Bamford, START NOW! (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007), a collection of texts by Steiner, p. 243.

◊ Steiner was well acquainted with numerous myths, legends, and fairy tales that he argued are essentially true.

“Myths and sagas are not just 'folk-tales'; they are the memories of the visions people perceived in olden times ... At night they were really surrounded by the world of the Nordic gods of which the legends tell. Odin, Freya, and all the other figures [i.e., Norse gods] in Nordic mythology were not inventions; they were experienced in the spiritual world with as much reality as we experience our fellow human beings around us today.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 198.

Steiner gathered myths and other fabulous tales from his reading and also, evidently, from various mentors (from whom he sometimes requested books).

“Reinhold Köhle had roved around with unique comprehensiveness in the myths, fairy-tales, and sagas ... I came in once and asked for a book....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE STORY OF MY LIFE, pp. 151-152.

Conceivably, Steiner learned the contents of many texts through the use of clairvoyance rather than through the more straightforward process known as reading. But there is scant reason to think so. Steiner, a Ph.D., was a bookish man.

◊ Steiner had a personal library, and he reportedly brought books or pages from books with him on lecture tours. He would not have needed these resources if he truly relied on clairvoyance to supply the knowledge he required. Unfortunately, the contents of Steiner's library have not been fully documented.

"One significant gap in the anthroposophical literature is a study, or even an inventory, of Steiner's library. There are [only] fragmentary indications of Steiner's sources scattered throughout the notes to various volumes of Steiner's collected works as well as the publications of anthroposophist archivists and such ... Steiner [took] pages from various books along with him on lecture tours. Helmut Zander describes several instances in his history of anthroposophy in Germany. It isn't an unusual practice, much less an objectionable one (except perhaps to strict bibliophiles horrified at the thought of removing pages from books), and indicates Steiner's willingness to incorporate a wide spectrum of sources into his own teachings. Some anthroposophists nonetheless find it troubling, because it disrupts the naive notion of Steiner as a herald of Timeless Truths and clairvoyant wisdom and returns Steiner to the status of a historical figure." — Peter Staudenmaier, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/22085.

◊ Steiner also gathered information by visiting museums, although presumably this should have been no more necessary for him than reading, if knowledge was open to him through clairvoyant means.

“At this point, let me make a personal remark. When...we go into a natural history museum we are confronted by something really miraculous ... I visited the museum in Trieste....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GODDESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001) pp. 32-33.

Here are just a few of the terms and concepts that Steiner derived from his reading, museum hops, etc., and then recycled in his books and lectures.

◊ Karma is originally a Hindu concept.

◊ Reincarnation is a belief shared by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists.

◊ Ahriman was introduced to the world by Zoroaster.

◊ Vulcan was originally the Roman god of fire.

◊ The legend of Atlantis began with Plato.

◊ Lemuria, or Mu, was an even more ancient lost continent; geologists of the 1860's and '70's hypothesized such a continent. (The hypothesis was later abandoned, but occultists such as Steiner clung to it.)

◊ In classical mythology, Lucifer (or Phosphorus) was the herald of the dawn; Christians later adopted “Lucifer” as the name for Satan as he was before man’s fall.

◊ The war of all against all is a conception of Thomas Hobbes (he meant the primordial strife that preceded the institution of civil government). Steiner adopted the term by applied it quite differently. [See "All vs. All".]

◊ During the nineteenth century, if evolution was accepted at all, it was often reworked as a scheme of divinely directed progress. Steiner adopted this view.

◊ Etheric bodies and astral bodies are Theosophical concepts.

◊ Other Theosophical concepts Steiner adopted include nature spirits (deriving originally from pagan nature worship) and root races. (In Western folklore, goblins are mischievous or malicious sprites; gnomes are deformed goblins living underground and guarding treasures.)

◊ The four temperaments were first conceived by the ancient Greeks.

◊ In occult tradition, the Akashic records are a celestial encyclopedia written on Akasha, a universal ether, which mediates clairvoyance.

◊ Steiner’s pantheon is inhabited by beings taken from Norse myths and similar sources (see Odin and Freya, mentioned above).

[For much of this information, I am indebted to the ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA.]


Anthroposophists often cite the work of other mystics and thinkers as confirmation: Steiner must be right, because his work contains themes and patterns also found elsewhere. But Blavatsky and Steiner specifically sought to sweep up elements from multiple sources, working to affirm apparent parallels and to reconcile apparent conflicts. The recurrence of various themes and patterns in sundry traditions may reflect underlying truths, or it may simply reveal the process of borrowing and mutual influence, as well as the unconscious predispositions of human psychology. Steiner’s work naturally reflects the sources from which he drew, but often the results are discordant, as in his effort to reconcile reincarnation and Christianity.

A project meant to identify Steiner's sources and trace the develop of Steiner's thinking is being led by the scholar Christian Clement, editor of the "critical edition" of some Steiner texts.

On the question of belief:

Despite claiming that Anthroposophy is a science, not a religion, Steiner repeatedly stressed the importance of belief and faith. Thus, he equated the seat of faith, the "faith body" with the astral body, one of our essential spiritual members. Losing faith would mean losing the means of evolving upward spiritually:

“[T]he forces expressed in the word ‘faith’ are necessary to the soul. For the soul incapable of faith become withered, dried-up as the desert ... If we do not possess forces such as are expressed in the word ‘faith’, something in us goes to waste ... Were men in reality to lose all faith, they would soon see what it means for evolution. By losing the forces of faith they would be incapacitated for finding their way about in life; their very existence would be undermined by fear, care, and anxiety. To put it briefly, it is through the forces of faith alone that we can receive the life which should well up to invigorate the soul. This is because, imperceptible at first for ordinary consciousness, there lies in the hidden depths of our being something in which our true ego is embedded. This something, which immediately makes itself felt if we fail to bring it fresh life, is the human sheath where the forces of faith are active. We may term it the faith-soul, or — as I prefer — the faith-body. It has hitherto been given the more abstract name of astral body. The most important forces of the astral body are those of faith, so the term astral body and the term faith-body are equally justified.” — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY AND THE MISSION OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 162-163.

Belief must be paired to spiritual knowledge, Steiner said — his system, Anthroposophy, is intended to provide such knowledge. But belief is nonetheless indispensable; indeed, it is the "fruit" of Christ's cross:

“Out of the womb of time there is born for us human beings that which is beyond time. If we stand on this firm support, we base upon it, not a blind belief, but a belief permeated by wisdom, truth and knowledge, and we may say: What must, will come; and nothing prevents us from throwing our best energies into what we believe to be inevitable. Belief is the real fruit of the cross.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST (Kessinger Publishing, 1999), pp. 2-3.

Belief is a requirement of religion, not science.


[3] See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944).

Publishing reproducible results is a basic requirement of science. Accepting new results that may modify or overturn accepted theory is another. Steiner made gestures toward both requirements, telling adherents how to see what he had seen, and holding open the possibility that further discoveries might be made. But these gestures do not rescue his absurdities. Steiner’s clairvoyant visions are indistinguishable from subjective imaginings — we cannot know that they are accurate reflections of reality, and neither could he. [For more on these matters, see “Thinking Cap” and “Steiner’s Illogic”.]

In truth, whether or not Steiner had (or thought he had) clairvoyant visions, he derived most of his doctrines from Theosophy and other occult sources. Some of Steiner’s successors in the Anthroposophical community have offered their own avowals of clairvoyant powers. Yet most work done by Anthroposophists today consists of poring over Steiner’s books. So we find today’s Anthroposophists trying to glean a priori insights from a “scientist” who gained his a priori tenets from earlier mystics. This enterprise has nothing in common with genuine science.

[4] Ibid., p. 28.

[5] See, e.g., "Why? Oh Why?" and "Fooling (Ourselves)".

[6] Anthony Storr, FEET OF CLAY (Free Press, 1996), pp. 170-171.

[7] Rudolf Steiner, AT HOME IN THE UNIVERSE: EXPLORING OUR SUPRASENSORY NATURE, (Steiner Books, 2000), p. 84.

T. H. Meyer edited a fascinating book that contains, among other treasures, messages Rudolf Steiner said he received from a dead German general: LIGHT FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997). In his introductory comments, Meyer attempts to substantiate the claim that “spiritual science is just as exact and objective as any science which really deserves the name.” [p. xxvi]

“Generally speaking, any results of spiritual scientific research may be verified in basically three ways: 1) As to the inner logic prevailing in the research presented; 2) By relating the results of spiritual scientific research to ordinary life and asking whether the latter becomes more comprehensible by taking them into account; 3) By adopting the methods given by Rudolf Steiner to develop the spiritual faculties of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition for oneself.” [p. viii]

Let’s dispose of these tree forms of “verification.”

1) The “inner logic” of Steiner’s system is that everything apparently falls into place, it is all "logically" interconnected. Steiner spoke of many designs and patterns in the universe; his teachings impress his followers in large part because they seem to reveal this divine inner logic of creation. There are seven planets, for instance, and seven human cultural epochs, and seven notes in the musical scale, etc. Problem: The solar system actually has eight planets (nine if we count Pluto), human history can be subdivided into any number of phases, varying musical scales have varying numbers of notes, etc. Steiner imposes an arbitrary order, he does not find an inherent logic.

2) One may subjectively consider any belief system illuminating, but this does not mean that the system has any scientific validity. E.g., “My factory job is awful because, as Karl Marx explained, we have not yet established the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Many people have accepted Marxism because it makes the world comprehensible to them, but this does not mean that Marxism is scientifically sound. Ditto Anthroposophy.

3) If one develops clairvoyant powers and then sees everything Steiner saw, one might then convince oneself. But how can s/he convince others? On what basis would others believe him/her? There would be no scientifically sound basis. A new “seer” would tell us about the spiritual realm, but we would have no evidence, no proof. Even the “seer” should be skeptical of the “seer’s” observations, since the human capacity for self-deception is well established.

In brief, none of Meyer’s three methods of verification is valid or scientific.

[8] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 30-31.

Steiner sometimes contradicted himself on this matter. He repeatedly said that the planets don't orbit the Sun, but sometimes he said that they do. His followers are at a loss to explain this contradiction. [See "Deception".]

[9] Ibid., p. 607.

[10] Ibid., p. 29.

Steiner didn't deny that dropped objects tend to move downward, but he came close.

“Gravity is...perceived only by those beings that live on a solid planet ... Beings who could live on a fluid planet would know nothing of gravity ... And beings who live on a gaseous planet would regard as normal something that would be the opposite of gravity ... [B]eings dwelling on a gaseous planet instead of seeing bodies falling towards the planet would see them always flying off ... Gravity begins when we find ourselves on a solid planet.” — Rudolf Steiner, SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press 2003), pp. 136-137.

Steiner denied gravity’s significance, calling it “only a phenomenon.” He explained that in observing the acceleration of a dropped object, we can “develop what people call a law, but is actually only a phenomenon.” He extends his disparagement of physical phenomena to electricity:

“Today, you can certainly speak about electricity without speaking about [higher] forces. You can remain strictly within the realm of phenomena.” — Ibid.

Steiner's point, here, is that physical phenomena like gravity and electricity should not be elevated to the status of laws or forces, terms that should apply only to higher truths. In MAN IN THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE & THE SUN-INITIATION OF THE DRUID PRIEST AND HIS MOON-SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), Steiner presented what he called ancient wisdom:

“It was known that man is not just a clod held fast by the Earth’s gravity ... [F]or him as an earthly man it is the Earth which holds the upper hand. But as regards his head-activity, the effective influence on it is the negative gravity that draws him away. Thus though man might not be able to fly, at least he could raise his spirit to the starry spaces.” — p. 39

As a poetic sentiment, that last sentence isn’t bad. But as science, the entire statement is junk. NASA got to the Moon not through mere aspiration — wonderful though aspiration certainly is — but through understanding and use of the physical sciences. Steiner’s “spiritual science” has produced no comparable achievements. (Indeed, some spiritualists — including some of Steiner’s followers — prefer to think that the Moon landings were faked precisely because they do not wish to acknowledge the truth and potency of physical science.) Coming back down to Earth, here's how Steiner wrapped up the subject of gravity for Waldorf teachers:

“Over there is a bench and on it is, let us say, a ball ... [T]he ball falls to the ground ... Saying that the ball is subject to the force of gravity is really meaningless ... But we cannot avoid speaking of gravity; we must mention it. Otherwise, when our students enter life they may some day [sic] be asked to explain gravity ... Just imagine what would happen if a fifteen-year-old boy knew nothing of gravity; there would be a terrible fuss. So we must explain gravity to children; we must not be foolish enough to close our eyes to the demands of the world as it is today. But by working on their subconscious, we can awaken beautiful concepts in children." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophical Press, 2000), pp. 116-117.

The "beautiful concepts" are antiscientific fantasies.

[11] Anthony Standen, SCIENCE IS A SACRED COW (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1950).

[12] Friedrich Georg Juenger, THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY (Henry Regency Company, 1956).

[13] Steiner's followers are sometimes quite willing to believe in flying saucers, for example, although they generally say that saucers are not spaceships from other worlds. From an Anthroposophical reference book, we learn this:

"Flying Saucers [are] technically described as U.F.O.'s, or unidentified flying objects. There is general agreement about the saucer shape with three spherical supports beneath. Sound evidence can be found for the existence of these unheralded objects...." — George Riland, THE STEINERBOOKS DICTIONARY OF THE PSYCHIC, MYSTIC, OCCULT (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1973), p. 85.

A later edition of this book modifies this view somewhat:

"Flying Saucers [are] technically described as U.F.O.'s, or unidentified flying objects. However, after thousands of sightings the world over, the famous saucer shape (once universally regarded as its only design) has now been discovered to be but one style among a number. Sound evidence for the prevalence of U.F.O.'s has been presented by some contemporary astronomers...." — George Riland, THE STEINERBOOKS DICTIONARY OF THE PARANORMAL (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1980), p. 102.

Some Anthroposophists argue that flying saucers are spiritual beings or objects misinterpreted by the uninitiated. They also say that belief in saucers as physical objects is a delusion promoted by the enemies of human spiritual evolution:

“[S]ome people may be experiencing the first beginnings of the new clairvoyance [foreseen by Rudolf Steiner], without understanding what is happening. Through this lack of understanding, through a materialistic outlook, what should be true imaginative pictures of the etheric realm may well be distorted and clothed in images of physical objects — flying saucers and ‘little men’ ... [M]any of the UFO’s are real phenomena. But they need not be solid objects. Certainly they are not space-craft from other planets. We are not being watched nor visited by physical space men. The important thing to realize is that what we are experiencing in our time is the powerful activity of adverse spiritual forces which seek to bring about a state of fear and bewilderment. We need to be awake to the fact that it is an attempt to distract and confuse man, and to divert him from his true task, which is a new spiritual development, an attainment of higher faculties [through] a deeper study of Rudolf Steiner’s Spiritual Science.” — Georg Unger, FLYING SAUCERS: Physical and Spiritual Aspects (New Knowledge Books, 1971), pp. 35-41.

[14] Bernard Heuvelmans, ON THE TRACK OF UNKNOWN ANIMALS (Hill and Wang, 1959).

[15] See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, THE FIFTH GOSPEL: From the Akashic Record (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995).

[16] See, e.g., http://www.enlightenedbeings.com/ and http://www.edgarcayce.org/about_ec/cayce_on/akashic/ . I last checked these sites in 2007.

[17] Rudolf Steiner, THE UNIVERSAL HUMAN: THE EVOLUTION OF INDIVIDUALITY, Lectures from 1909-1916 (Anthroposophic Press, 1990), pp. 65-6.

[18] KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, p. 84.

[19] Anthroposophists sometimes jump on the term "theory," as if it shows that science is shaky. But in science, "theory" does not signify deep uncertainty; rather, a scientific theory is a testable, systematic explanation of phenomena. All scientific theories may eventually be supplanted by later, more advanced theories, but all stand on solid evidence. An Anthroposophist can test the "theory of gravity," for instance, by jumping out of a high window.

Newton and Einstein have provided complementary accounts of gravity, one applying to the world as we normally experience it, the other applying most clearly at cosmic scales. According to both accounts, gravity is a universal phenomenon that causes physical objects to fall "down" or "inward." Steiner dismissed both Newton and Einstein, and his followers have tended to follow his lead (as they almost invariably do). Thus, for instance, we find such statements as this:

"We should learn to recognise that the fluid organism upon earth bears within itself moon character, and not that it is attracted by the moon according to Newton's theory of gravity. If we think that the same force which makes the apple fall from the tree holds together the whole universe, then nothing is left of a spiritual force." — E. and L. Kolisko, SILVER AND ITS CONNECTION WITH THE HUMAN ORGANISM (Kolisko Archive Publications, 1978).

As we have seen, Steiner rejected the classical scientific account of gravity (which reflected the work of Newton): “Gravity is...perceived only by those beings that live on a solid planet ... Beings who could live on a fluid planet would know nothing of gravity." — Rudolf Steiner, MAN - HIEROGLYPH OF THE UNIVERSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 15, GA 201. Steiner likewise taught that Einstein's "theory of gravity [should] be overcome." — Rudolf Steiner, MAN - HIEROGLYPH OF THE UNIVERSE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 15, GA 201.

Steiner rejected Einstein's work overall. Here is a strikingly odd instance:

"[A] passing comment on the present state of our civilisation, for I cannot avoid pointing out how many harmful ideas live in our culture (such as the theory of relativity, especially in its most recent variation). These ideas run a ruinous course if the child becomes a research scientist." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 117.

We will return to Steiner's view of Newton, below.

[20] Max von Laue, “Steiner and Natural Science” (Transition no. 61-62, Collingwood, Vic, Australia, 2000) {translated from “Steiner und die Naturwissenschaft,” Deutsche Revue, 47 (1922), pp. 41-49}. I am indebted to Peter Staudenmaier for providing me with a copy.

Sal P. Restivo gives the following brief account of von Laue’s essay [THE SOCIAL RELATIONS OF PHYSICS, MYSTICISM AND MATHEMATICS (Springer, 1985), p. 82]:

“Max von Laue, for example, took note of the charges brought against natural science by the Rudolf Steiner school. Planck applauded von Laue’s counterattack on Steiner, and went on to complain about the widespread antiscientific currents of the time, manifested in such forms as spiritualism, occultism, and theosophy.”

The “Rudolf Steiner school” is the first Waldorf School or, more generally, it is Anthroposophy, which is Steiner’s version of “theosophy.” Max Planck won the 1918 Nobel Prize in physics. (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1918/planck-bio.html .) For more about von Laue, see http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1914/laue-bio.html .

Without referring to von Laue, Steiner attempted a rejoinder to von Laue's criticisms — see OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), pp. 58-59. There, Steiner reiterates the claim — which he often made — that his spiritual science is consistent with the known findings of ordinary science. But as we have seen, this is clearly false.

[21] Max von Laue, “Steiner and Natural Science,” p. 163.

[22] Ibid. p. 163.

Steiner frequently urged Waldorf teachers to teach the students about ancient "realities" or "wisdom" while disavowing modern science: For example:

“[W]e should not be afraid to speak about the Atlantean land [i.e., Atlantis] with the children. We should not skip that. We can also connect all this to history. The only thing is, you will need to disavow normal geology since the Atlantean catastrophe occurred in the seventh or eighth millennium.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 25.

[23] Ibid., p. 163. (As we have seen, on p. 18 of ATLANTIS AND LEMURIA , Steiner says

“[S]cience and logical thought can, owing to their inherent attributes, never say the final word as to what is possible, or impossible.”)

[24] “Steiner and Natural Science,” p. 163.

[25] Ibid., p. 163.

[26] Ibid., p. 164.

On p. 58 of OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE, Steiner says this:

“As light appears in seven colours and the musical scale in seven notes, so does human nature — for all its singleness and unity — appear in the seven members discussed here.”

The “members” are the physical body, the etheric body (or life body), the astral body, the I (or ego), the spirit-self, the life-spirit, and the spirit-man. [See "Our Parts".]

[27] “Steiner and Natural Science,” p. 164.

[28] Ibid., p. 164.

On p. 117 of OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE, Steiner says the following:

“The researcher in spiritual science sees the matter differently. Warmth, to him, is something of which he can speak in the same sense as of a gas, or of a liquid or solid body. It is only a yet finer substance than gas.”

The translation here diverges from that in “Steiner and Natural Science,” but the meaning is the same.

[29] “Steiner and Natural Science,” p. 164.

[30] Ibid., p. 164.

Steiner spoke of psychic or clairvoyant organs both in terms of initiation and in terms of evolution. On p. 28 of KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), he says this:

“[J]ust as natural forces build out of living matter the eyes and ears of the physical body, so will organs of clairvoyance build themselves....”

On p. 88 of ROSICRUCIAN WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), he says

“You will have a more highly developed organ, a psychic organ, on Jupiter; on Venus there will be an organ through which the human being will be able to develop physically the consciousness possessed by the initiate in the Devachanic plane. And on Vulcan, the spiritual consciousness will prevail....”

The “Devachanic plane” is a Theosophical concept, standing for a mental/heavenly stage or state. Vulcan is a nonexistent planet, as we have discussed.

[31] “Steiner and Natural Science,” p. 163.

[32] Ibid., p. 164.

[33] See, e.g., Kendrick Frazier, editor, SCIENCE CONFRONTS THE PARANORMAL (Prometheus, 1986); Kendrick Frazier, editor, THE HUNDREDTH MONKEY AND OTHER PARADIGMS OF THE PARANORMAL (Prometheus, 1991); Martin Gardner, HOW NOT TO TEST A PSYCHIC (Prometheus, 1989); and Carl Sagan, THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD (Random House, 1995). As of now (2008), the ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA devotes all of 288 words to the topic of clairvoyance, ending with this:

“Research in parapsychology — such as testing a subject’s ability to predict the order of cards in a shuffled deck — has yet to provide conclusive support for the existence of clairvoyance.” — "clairvoyance." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 18 Oct. 2008.

According to the U.S. National Research Council, "'the best evidence does not support the contention that these phenomena exist.’" — David G. Myers, PSYCHOLOGY (Worth Publishers, 2004), p. 260.

“After thousands of experiments, a reproducible ESP phenomenon has never been discovered, nor has any individual convincingly demonstrated a psychic ability.” — Ibid., p. 260 [italics, for emphasis, by Myers].

[34] At Waldorf schools, the word “imagination” sometimes means clairvoyance or a precursor to clairvoyance.

“In three stages, through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition, we gain access to the supersensible world.” — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 79.

Steiner insisted that while he employed nonrational modes of thought, he simultaneously maintained a rational perspective. In other words, he denied that he was disconnected from reality. I examine this contention in the present essay as well as in such essays as “Steiner’s Illogic".

In discussing imagination, inspiration, and intuition, I have adopted fairly strict definitions of these terms. I do not mean to deny that much productive thinking is irrational and subconscious. The human brain is complex. According to a widespread current account, the left hemisphere of the brain is generally logical and the right hemisphere is generally not. But much good thinking occurs in the right hemisphere and then pops out, as if from nowhere. There’s nothing spiritualistic in this, it is merely how some parts of our brain work. The results of right-brain thinking can be useful and true. Defending science from charges that it is cold and inhuman, mathematician Gregory Chaitin has written,

“[I]n discovering and creating new mathematics, mathematicians do base themselves on intuition and inspiration, on unconscious motivations and impulses, and on their aesthetic sense, just like any creative artist would.” — Gregory Chaitin, META MATH (Pantheon Books, 2005), p. 8.

Chaitin is not referring to spiritualistic “revelation” but to right-brain thinking. Note, however, that any scientist who gets a new idea from the right brain must then submit it to the careful logic of the left brain. A discovery cannot be accepted until it is rationally defined and supported by objective evidence from which logically impeccable conclusions are drawn. An artist does not labor under the same requirements, but a “spiritual scientist” such as Steiner should be held to these standards.

In his book, THE BLIND WATCHMAKER (W. W. Norton & Co, 1996), Richard Dawkins discusses what he calls "Argument from Personal Incredulity": the tendency to reject ideas that we personally find hard or impossible to believe. The flaw in such arguments is plain: We may not know enough about a subject to form a rational conclusion; our disbelief may arise from ignorance. Then, too, even if we are well versed in a subject, our personal, emotional needs may lead us to disbelieve something regardless of the facts. In sum, it is a fallacy to decide that something is wrong simply because we don't believe it.

Taking a cue from Dawkins, we might consider a form of argumentation I'll call "Argument from Antipathy." Most of us are prone to it. Confronted with an idea we dislike, we reject it. This is a natural response, but it is clearly illogical. You tell me that human beings utterly cease to exist when they die. I dislike this idea intensely. Therefore, I reject it. Such thinking may, indeed, lie at the heart of many belief systems. Averse to harsh possibilities, we turn to alternatives that we like better, possibilities that comfort us. (This is often called credo consolans: I believe what consoles me.)

The flip side of Argument from Antipathy might be called "Argument from Appeal" — we embrace ideas that appeal to us. I want to live forever. Therefore, there must be an afterlife. This, too, is a very human response, and it is also very irrational.

Steiner advocated Argument from Appeal, although he did so without appearing to understand what he was doing. He argued that we must cultivate our subjective, emotional responses, we must find our way to "truth" through the use of heartfelt imagination, and/or inspiration, and/or intuition. These are the forms of thought advocated in Waldorf schools. But the hazards should be plain. What we feel to be true — what we imagine or intuit or are inspired by — may be utterly wrong. We may like something very, very, very much — but it may be poppycock nonetheless. Indeed, if the main reason to accept an idea is that we find it congenial, then the idea should be extremely suspect.

This is how Steiner's followers, trying to heed his directions, often reason: To them, a statement is true because they find it congenial or appealing. It rings their bell. They feel its truth and see no need to argue the matter out; or, if they engage in argument, they only offer statements that ring their bell, while they reject all statements that don't. Indeed, they may have come to Steiner in the first place because his statements rang their bell.

Sadly, finding truth may often be very different from finding what is appealing. The truth may not appeal to us — but if it is the truth, then we need to have the strength to accept it, no matter how much it may inspire antipathy in our soft, quailing hearts.

The difference between Steiner's admirers and his critics is not that we disagree about the kinds of ideas that are unpleasant, on the one hand, or appealing, on the other. Here's an idea that I find very unpleasant: When Roger Rawlings dies, he will be snuffed out, gone forever, kaput. No! my heart cries. No! God wouldn't do that to ME! It makes no sense! So here's an idea that I find quite appealing: Roger Rawlings is immortal. When he dies, he will go to a higher realm, and thereafter he will rise higher and higher in glorious wisdom and bliss. Yes! my heart cries. Surely that is true! Surely, oh, surely!

But when I present these heartfelt truths to my rational mind, it most annoyingly asks for evidence. You don't want to die, it says. I understand. But so far you have given me no reason to believe in the eternal survival of said Roger Rawlings.

Drat.

[35] Steiner preferred subjectivity. He often claimed to advocate thinking and intellection, but he often contradicted this claim. He taught that emotions or feelings are superior to thinking in that they link us directly to the spirit realm.

“[T]hinking is oriented to the physical plane. Feeling really has a connection with all the spiritual beings who must be considered real ... In the sphere of feelings, human beings cannot liberate [i.e., separate] themselves from the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), p. 70.

But feelings do not have the power Steiner attributed to them. They come from the intermediate level of our brains, the paleomammalian brain. [See, e.g., Temple Grandin, ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION (Scribner, 2005), p. 54.] All other mammals presumably experience emotions similar to ours, arising from similar brain circuitry. If animals, ruled largely by their feelings, often behave foolishly, so do we when we submit to the dictates of our feelings. As we all should know from daily experience, feelings are unreliable guides.

Steiner’s advocacy of subjective states helps explain his devotion to the “science” of the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In considering phenomena, Steiner said, Goethe included the inward spiritual reality, whereas Isaac Newton and modern scientists in general operate only on the external, physical plane.

“Here we have the quintessence of the contrast between Goethe and the modern scientists as represented by Newton. The scientists of modern times have only looked in one direction, always observing external nature in such a way as to attribute all things to centric forces....” — Rudolf Steiner, SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 97.

By “centric” forces, Steiner meant forces arising from a phenomenon itself, whereas “peripheral” forces flow in from the cosmos, or from the spirit realm. [Ibid., p. 78] The difference between Goethe’s approach and Newton’s shows up in all investigations, such as inquiries into the nature of light and color:

“A person must really have lost all knowledge of the spiritual world to speak of Newton’s color theory. People who are still inwardly stimulated by the spiritual world, as was the case with Goethe, will resist it ... Goethe never censured so severely as he censured Newton.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SECRET STREAM (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 200.

And yet today Newton stands with Einstein as mankind’s premiere scientific geniuses; Goethe’s contributions to science are essentially nil.

Inquiring into spiritual phenomena is, of course, important for any thinking person. But notice that, by Steiner’s own account, Goethe’s subjective predisposition determined the sorts of conclusions he would draw — he was “inwardly stimulated by the spiritual world.” He didn’t objectively find spirit, he imputed it. This is not science, a point that Steiner simultaneously understood and rejected. He claimed to be a scientist, and he claimed that Goethe was a scientist, yet he persistently derided science because it functions differently from faith by emphasizing objectivity rather than inclination.

“Scientifically, man tore himself loose from his god, and thus from the spirit ... What happened here explains why a man like Goethe found it impossible to go along with Newton on any point ... Goethe always had the feeling that man has to experience everything...that the cosmos was only a continuation of what man had inwardly experienced.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ORIGINS OF NATURAL SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1985), p. 52.

The celebration of subjective experience is attractive, perhaps; the idea that we have an innate inner awareness of transcendent truths is attractive, certainly; the difficulty objective science has in coming to grips with spiritual questions is vexing, for sure — but reality is reality, our limits are our limits, and wishing otherwise doesn’t make it so.

The teaching of science at Waldorf schools is always potentially problematic. Parents should carefully investigate the science curriculum at any Waldorf they are considering for their children. The title of a lecture announced in February, 2009, may suggest the challenge: “Teaching Sensible Science in the Waldorf School.” [auburnbuzz.com] We can’t know, from this title, what is being proposed. “Sensible” science may be an excellent concept — or it may indicate departures from real science. Parents should inquire whenever they are confronted with such concepts at Waldorf schools.

[36] See, e.g. James Phillips and James Morely, IMAGINATION AND ITS PATHOLOGIES (MIT Press, 2003).

Steiner said that hallucination exists on a scale extending from error caused by the body to true clairvoyant insight attained by the spirit:

"Hallucinations, pictures that appear before human consciousness and that do not reveal a corresponding reality upon closer, critical examination — such hallucinations, such visions, are something diseased if we consider them from the standpoint of human life as it unfolds between birth, or conception, and death. When we describe hallucinations as something abnormal, however, as something that certainly does not belong to the normal course of life between birth and death, we have in no way grasped the inherent nature of hallucination.

"... If the body conceptualizes as body, it conceives hallucinations; that is, it brings hallucinations into consciousness. If the spirit conceptualizes as spirit, then it has imaginations; if the soul, which is the mediator between the two, begins to conceptualize, that is, if the soul conceptualizes as soul, then neither will the unjustified hallucinations pressed out of the body arise, nor will the soul penetrate to spiritual realities. Instead it will reach an undefined intermediary stage; these are fantasies. Picture the body; between birth and death it is not an instrument for conceptualizing. If between birth and death it conceptualizes nevertheless, it does so in an unjustified and abnormal way, and hallucinations thus arise. If the spirit conceptualizes in really rising out of the body to realities, then it has imaginations [i.e., it produces true images]. The soul forms the mediator between hallucinations and imaginations in faintly outlined fantasies.

"If the body conceptualizes as body, hallucinations arise.

"If the soul conceptualizes as soul, fantasies arise.

"If the spirit conceptualizes as spirit, imaginations arise."

— Rudolf Steiner, THERAPEUTIC INSIGHTS (Mercury Press, 1984), lecture 3, GA 205.

According to this schema, hallucinations are false, imaginations are true, and fantasies occupy a middle ground (sometimes mostly false, sometimes mostly true).

[37] For a discussion of Steiner’s strangest visions, see "Everything" and the essays that follow it.

[38] Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p. 30.

When Steiner spoke of life "on" "planets" such as Jupiter, he meant life during evolutionary stages that bear the names of planets. In a sense, he meant that we will literally go to the named planets, but only in the forms that those planets will have in the future. Thus, "Jupiter" will be the new incarnation of the entire solar system, largely suffused with the influence of the gods of Jupiter. We will live "on" Jupiter in the sense that we will live in the new Jupiter phase of evolution.

[39] For a sympathetic presentation of Waldorf education, see Todd Oppenheimer, “Schooling the Imagination,” THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, Sept. 1999, offprint distributed by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, p. 7. Note the title of the article.

[40]

“From the stone there flows into the soul one kind of feeling, and from the animal another ... Out of these feelings and the thoughts that are bound up with them, the organs of clairvoyance are formed.” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press. 1947), chapter 2, part 3, GA 10. (See our previous discussion of these organs.)

[41] Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), chapter 8, GA 11.

[42] UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING., pp. 30-3.

[43] Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 24, GA 93a. I have adapted the terminology slightly.

For more on the "planets," see "Everything" and "Planets".

[44] A.C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 23-24.

[45] Rudolf Steiner, THE ILLUSTRATED CALENDAR OF THE SOUL (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2004), meditation #7.