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.


Access to Inner Worlds said...

Where a lot of the work of inner explorers tends to break down is the lack of mutual explorations. If it's only one person then there is only that experience.

FOLKWAYS said...

Be interested to read your further musings on spiritual science. I only cam across this idea of Steiner's recently when researching for an interview on fairy tales.


Bruce Charlton said...

@F - If you word search this blog you can find some other things I have written about Steiner.

JP said...

From his piece on the "Work of the Angels":

Ahrimanic beings too are working to obscure this revelation. They are not at pains to make man particularly spiritual, but rather to kill out in him the consciousness of his own spirituality. They endeavour to instill into him the conviction that he is nothing but a completely developed animal. Ahriman is in truth the teacher par excellence of materialistic Darwinism. He is also the great teacher of all those technical and practical pursuits in Earth-evolution where there is refusal to acknowledge the validity of anything except the external life of the senses, where the only desire is for a widespread technology, so that with somewhat greater refinement, men shall satisfy their hunger, thirst and other needs in the same way as the animal. To kill, to darken in man the consciousness that he is an image of the Godhead — this is what the Ahrimanic beings are endeavouring by subtle scientific means of every kind to achieve in our age of the Spiritual Soul.

You were formerly an atheist / materialist who no doubt had little or no consciousness of your own spirituality. You were convinced that you were nothing but a completely developed animal. How did you achieve the consciousness of your own spirituality that you have now? Has this enabled the Angels to operate?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - It was many things acting over a while, preparing the ground. But one 'straw' was the sociological work of Rodney Stark - when he describes how he decided to write the history of religion on the basis that revelation was a possibility (rather than having the assumption that all claims for revelation *must* be mistaken, because it is impossible).

This led to to recognize that I was being compelled by my assumptions, not by the evidence - and that it was not-irrational to assume that there was a deity communicating with Men.

Also I read Stark's book on Mormonism as a consequence of seeing reference to the fact that Mormons were integrated modern people (who use contraception) but who uniquely chose to have above replacement number of chidlren, and the wealthier and more devout, the more children -- I found it strange that people who were supposed to be irrational and deluded were the only people in the modern world who were actually behaving adaptively (in the strict, biological sense).

Since a delusion is (more or less) defined as a false and maladaptive beleif - this would imply 'biologically' that Mormons were right and everybody else (in the modern world) was deluded and wrong.

I have always been spiritual in the sense of prone to mystical feelings, synchronicities, and intuition - but this shift reframed that kind of thing into reasonable belief - at least as reasonable as science, which was good enough for me.

Once I was faced with the recognition that my nihilistic assumptions were not compelled, then I turned to intuition, prayer, mysticism, bedrock feelings to discern the truth; I began to pray, on two occasions prayers led to micro-personal miracles, and I was then a (Mere) Christian.

The main change after that was to shift from Classical Metaphysics and trying to find a home in mainstream Christianity, to become a (theoretical) Mormon and to acknowledge thet truth and authority of that church - which was about three years ago. That decision, or recognition, was again based on personal revelations and feelings of love.

Olasvi Koskela said...

I have dismissed Steiner's writings as a gross and an uninviting form of German metaphysics, little if anything to do with science. Prof Charlton points out that there 'there is no method to science'; yes, with one word added: 'there is no ONE method to science'. Honesty and (elsewhere praised) coherence are the hallmarks of science (others exist) that I personally cling to, up to the possibly bitter end.

Bruce Charlton said...

@OK - Steiner was certainly honest and coherent, and he was brilliant, vastly learned and a decent and good man - the problem is that *so much* of what he wrote is arbitrarily wilful nonsense, or at least unique to his own subjectivity. But - if somehow he can be read in the right spirit - I feel there is potentially great wisdom to be found there.