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An Outline of Occult Science


PREFACE

FIRST EDITION

IN OFFERING to the public a book like the present one, its author should be able to anticipate, with utter calmness, any kind of criticism that is possible in our time. Someone, for example, might begin to read the presentation given here of this or that matter, about which he has thought in accordance with the results of research in science, and he might come to the following conclusion: It is astonishing how such assertions are at all possible in our age. The author treats the simplest scientific concepts in a manner that shows the most inconceivable ignorance concerning even the most elementary facts of scientific knowledge. For example, he treats concepts, such as “heat,” in a way only possible for someone who has permitted the whole modern mode of thinking in physics to pass over his head without having the least effect. Anyone who knows even the elementary facts of this science could show him that what he says here does not even deserve the designation “amateurishness,” but can only be called “absolute ignorance.” Many sentences could be quoted that express this kind of possible criticism. One could imagine that someone might arrive at the following conclusion: “Whoever has read a few pages of this book will, according to his temperament, lay it aside either with a smile or with indignation, and say to himself, ‘It is certainly queer what eccentricities can be brought forth by a wrong trend of thought in the present day. It is best that such expositions be laid aside with many other freaks of the human mind.’ ” — What, however, does the author of this book say if he really experienced such criticism? Must he not, from his standpoint, simply regard the critic as a reader lacking the faculty of judgment or as someone who has not the goodwill to form an appreciative opinion? — The answer to that is emphatically, No! the author does not do that in every case. He is able to imagine that his critic may be a very clever person and also a trained scientist, someone who forms his judgments in quite a conscientious way. For the author of this book is able to enter with his thinking into the soul of such a person and into the reasons that can lead the latter to such a judgment. A certain necessity arises to clarify what the author really says. Although in general he considers it highly improper to discuss anything of a personal nature, it seems essential to do so in regard to this book. To be sure, nothing will be brought forward that is not concerned with the decision to write this book. What is said in such a book would certainly have no reason for existence were it to bear only a personal character. It must contain views that every human being may acquire, and these must be expressed without any personal coloring as far as this is humanly possible . The introduction of the personal element is only to make clear how the author is able to comprehend the above-mentioned criticism of his expositions, yet nevertheless was still able to write this book. There would be one way, to be sure, of avoiding mention of the personal element: that of presenting, explicitly, every detail that proves that the statements in this book really agree, with every forward step of modern science. This would necessitate, however, the writing of many volumes of introductory matter. Since this at present is out of the question, it seems necessary for the author to describe the personal circumstances through which he feels justified in believing himself in agreement with modern science. — Never, for example, would he have undertaken to publish all that is said in this book about heat phenomena were he not able to affirm that, thirty years ago, he was in the position to make a thorough study of physics, which had ramifications into the various fields of that science. The expositions belonging to the so-called “Mechanical Theory of Heat” (“Theory of Thermodynamics”) occupied at that time the central point of his studies in the field of heat phenomena. This theory was of special interest to him. The historical development of the interpretations associated with such names as Julius Robert Mayer, Helmholtz, Joule, Clausius, and others, formed a part of his continuous studies. He thus, laid the proper foundation and created the possibility of being able to follow — right up to the present — all the advances of science in the domain of the physical theory of heat. Hence there are no difficulties to overcome when he investigates what modern science has achieved in this field. His confession of inability to do this would have been sufficient reason for leaving the matter advanced in this book unsaid and unwritten. He has truly made it a principle to speak or write only about those subjects in the field of spiritual science about which he would be sufficiently able to say what modern science knows about them. This statement, however, is not meant as a general prerequisite for everyone. Others may, with justice, feel impelled to communicate and publish what their judgment, healthy sense of truth, and feelings indicate, although they may not know the point of view of contemporary science in such matters. The author of this book, however, intends to hold to the above expressed principle for himself. He would not, for example, write about the human glandular or nervous system as he does, were he not at the same time in the position also to discuss these matters from the point of view of natural science. Thus in spite of the fact that it is possible to conclude that anyone who discusses “heat” in the manner of this book knows nothing about the fundamental laws of modern physics, the author believes himself fully justified in what he has done, because he is striving really to know modern research, and he would have refrained from speaking in this way were the results of this research unknown to him. He knows that the motive for stating such a principle might easily be confused with lack of modesty. In regard to this book it is necessary, however, to state such things, in order that the author's true motives be not mistaken still further. This further mistaking might be far worse than to be accused of immodesty.

Criticism could also be possible from a philosophical standpoint. It might occur in the following way. A philosopher who reads this book might ask himself, “Has the author entirely neglected to study the present day achievements in the field of epistemology? Has he never heard of the existence of a man named Kant, according to whom it is simply philosophically inadmissible to advance such views?” Again, we could continue in this direction. The following critical conclusion, however, might also be drawn: “For the philosopher, such uncritical, naive, amateurish stuff is unbearable and to deal with it further would be nothing but a waste of time.” — From the same motive indicated above, in spite of all the misunderstandings that might arise from it, the author would again like to advance something personal here. His study of Kant began in his sixteenth year, and today he believes himself truly capable of judging quite objectively — from the Kantian standpoint — what has been advanced in the present book. From this aspect also, he would have had a reason for leaving this book unwritten did he not know what moves a philosopher to find naive what is written here if he applies the measuring rod of modern criticism. It is, however, possible really to know how, in the sense of Kant, we pass here beyond the limits of possible knowledge. It can also be known how Herbart might discover in this book a “naive realism” that has not yet attained to the “elaboration of concepts,” and so forth. It is even possible to know how the modern pragmatism of James, Schiller, and others would find that this book has gone beyond the bounds of “true representations” which “we are able to make our own, to assert, to put into action, and to verify.” (see Note 1)1 All of this may be realized and in spite of that realization, indeed because of it, one may feel justified in writing the expositions presented here. The author has dealt with philosophical trends of thought in his writings: The Theory of Knowledge Based on Goethe's World Conception (Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung); Truth and Science (Wahrheit und Wissenschaft); Philosophy of Freedom (Philosophie der Freiheit); Goethe's Conception of the World (Goethe's Weltanschauung); Views of the World and Life in the Nineteenth Century (Welt- und Lebensanschauungen im neunzehnten Jahrhundert); Riddles of Philosophy (Die Raetsel der Philosophie).

Many kinds of possible criticism could still be cited. There might be critics who have read the earlier writings of the author, for example, Views of the World and Life in the Nineteenth Century, or perhaps the brochure on Haeckel and His Opponents. Some such critic might say, “It is incomprehensible how one and the same man can write these books and then, besides the already published book, Theosophy, also write this present book. How is it possible that someone can defend Haeckel and then turn around and discredit what results from Haeckel's research as healthy, monism? It might be comprehensible had the author of this Occult Science combated Haeckel ‘with fire and sword,’ but, that he has defended him, indeed, has even dedicated Views of the World and Life in the Nineteenth Century to him, is the most monstrous thing imaginable. Haeckel would have unmistakably declined this dedication had he been conscious of the fact that the dedicator might some day write such stuff as this Occult Science with its exposition of a more than crude dualism.” — The author of this book, however, is of the opinion that while it is possible to understand Haeckel very well, it is, nevertheless, not necessary to believe that he is only to be understood by one who considers nonsensical everything that is not derived from Haeckel's own concepts and hypotheses. Furthermore, he is of the opinion that it is possible to come to an understanding of Haeckel only by entering upon what he has achieved for science and not be combating him “with fire and sword.” Least of all does the author believe that Haeckel's opponents are right, against whom, for example in his brochure, Haeckel and His Opponents, he has defended the great natural philosopher. Indeed, if the writer of this brochure goes far beyond Haeckel's hypotheses and places the spiritual point of view of the world alongside Haeckel's merely naturalistic one, his opinion need not therefore coincide with the opinion of the latter's opponents. If the facts are looked at correctly, it will be discovered that the author's present day writings are in complete accord with his earlier ones.

The author also understands quite well the critic who generally regards the descriptions in this book as an outpouring of wild fancy or a dreamlike play of thoughts. All that is to be said in this regard, however, is contained in the book itself. It is shown there how, in full measure, thought based on reason can and must become the touchstone of what is presented. Only the one who applies to this book the test of reason in the same way he would apply it, for example, to the facts of natural science, will be able to determine what reason proves in such a test.

After saying so much about personalities who from the outset refute this book, a word may also be spared for those who have reason to agree with it. For them the most essential is to be found in the first chapter, The Character of Occult Science. Something more, however, is to be said here. Although the book deals with the results of research that lie beyond the power of the intellect bound to the sense world, yet nothing is offered that cannot be comprehended by anyone possessing an unprejudiced reason, a healthy sense of truth, and the wish to employ these human faculties. The author says without hesitation that he would like, above all, to have readers who are not willing to accept on blind faith what is offered here, but who endeavor to examine what is offered by means of the knowledge of their own soul and through the experiences of their own lives.2 He would like to have above all cautious readers who only accept what can be logically justified. The author knows his book would have no value, were it dependent only on blind faith; it is only useful to the degree it can be vindicated before unbiased reason. Blind faith can so easily mistake the foolish and superstitious for the true. Many who are gladly satisfied with a mere belief in a “supersensible world” will perhaps find that this book makes too great a demand on the powers of thought. Yet concerning the communications given here, it is not merely a question of communicating something, but that the communication be in conformity with a conscientious view of the sphere of life in question. For it is indeed the sphere in which the highest things and the most unscrupulous charlatanry, in which knowledge and crass superstition so easily meet in actual life, and where, above all, they can be so easily confused with one another.

Anyone acquainted with supersensible research will, in reading this book, notice that it has been the endeavor of its author sharply to mark the limits between what can and ought to be communicated from the sphere of supersensible knowledge at present and that which is to be presented at a later period, or at least in another form.

RUDOLF STEINER    

December 1909.

 


Footnotes:

  1. This includes an earnest consideration and study of the philosophy of the “As If,” the Bergsonian philosophy, and the Critique of Speech.

  2. Here is not only meant the spiritual scientific test by supersensible methods of research, but primarily the test that is possible by healthy, unprejudiced thought and common sense.




Last Modified: 17-Oct-2017
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