Monday, 29 February 2016

If Rudolf Steiner's Spiritual Science (Anthroposophy, 'clairvoyance') really is a science - what does that imply?

Rudolf Steiner advocated a discipline, path or way he usually termed Spiritual Science - and was absolutely insistent that it was a natural science.

If this is accepted, then we can see what went wrong with Steiner's legacy was partly a consequence of misunderstanding the nature of Science.

The most common false understanding of science is to suppose that it is a method - specifically that there is such a thing as The Scientific Method - and if you do this method, then what comes out of the other end is Science: it is conceptualized rather like a sausage machine.

Indeed, this misled Steiner at times into assuming that whatever he discovered as a consequence of his method of Spiritual Science was thereby and necessarily valid. This led to the vast reams of extremely detailed and apparently factual nonsense which emerged from his clairvoyant activities, and make reading Steiner so difficult a process. 


But actually there is no method to science, nor (therefore) to Spiritual Science.

So, Steiner's long descriptions of 'how-to-do meditation' are fundamentally wrong. They are how Steiner did meditation, probably/ perhaps; but they are not generalizable to Spiritual Science in general - any more than it would be valid to say that science must be done by electron microscopy, or X-Ray diffraction photography, or involve particle accelerators... these are just specific methods for specific jobs.

That this is an error is confirmed for me by Steiner's superb (but difficult) work on JW von Goethe's science. Although Steiner discusses what distinguishes Goethe's 'method' of science from that of other's - the reality is that for Goethe there is no method.

Goethe's comments on the need to pay close attention, to be intuitive, empathic towards the phenomena etc. simply translate to meaning that there is a proper attitude to science, but there is no method to science. 


If Spiritual Science really is a science (and I believe it is) then there will be other ways to meditate, and other non-meditative ways of doing the science.

And Spiritual Science will need to have the general properties of known examples of scientifically-successful science.

1. Science is a social activity, which means there must be a social (i.e. objective, publicly share-able) means and mode of communication. Of course an individual can do the activities of science - can 'be a scientist - alone; but 'science' is implicitly the public activity based on communication between scientists, or else we would not be discussing it.

2. There must be honesty in all things - the motivation of truth-seeking and a habit of truth-speaking (truth in all things, small and great). The habit of truth in a group of communicting people is real science's secret weapon - lacking which, what remains is not science but something else. (By this definition, 99% of professional 'science' is not real science - and that is true.) 

3. And the progress in science usually (but there is no guarantee at all) comes from some combination of A: sustained and B. focused attention on the matter of interest. Breakthroughs come, IF they come, from the fact that nobody had previously given sustained, focused, honest attention to a phenomenon.

Plus, if the scientist is knowledgeable, able and creative, then obviously that helps enormously - but it is still 'science' even when done by mundane, uninformed persons. 


So, Spiritual Science must share these very basic properties of any science - that is to be a social, truthful, focused activity of understanding. But with but no specific nor common method.

That's all - but it is enough. It is what science is.