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About Horses That Can Count and Calculate

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About Horses That Can Count and Calculate

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

Lectures Section

The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner at Stuttgart on the 18th of February, 1913. It is a previously unpublished, typewritten transcription of a lecture that is from an unknown GA. It is London reference number NSL-164.

A Lecture given by
Rudolf Steiner
Stuttgart, February 18, 1913
Unknown Bn/GA

The following lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner at Stuttgart on the 18th of February, 1913. It is a previously unpublished, typewritten transcription of a lecture that is from an unknown GA. It is London reference number NSL-164.

This lecture was translated from shorthand reports, unrevised by the lecturer, by an unknown translator. And, it was transcribed by an unknown typist! It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

This e.Text edition is provided through the wonderful work of:
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Donated by the Los Angeles Steiner Library, this lecture has been made available to everyone.

July 26, 1936

About Horses That Can Count and Calculate

Lecture by Rudolf Steiner:Stuttgart, February 18, 1913.

The question has been raised as to what lies behind the now so famous horses of Elberfeld which are able to count and do sums, and also possess other kinds of wisdom. Let me say from the very outset that I am not personally acquainted with the facts relating to the horses of Elberfeld that can calculate and do other tricks, for I have never been there, but I have made the acquaintance of Herr von Osten's “clever Hans”, a horse similar to those of Elberfeld which caused such a sensation in Berlin for a long time.

Indeed, it is surprising to see that while the whole of Berlin was at that time really interested in “clever Hans” for quite a long while, this interest should have died out so soon. The short duration of people's interest in something is a very characteristic feature of the present time.

Very interesting experiences could be made in connection with this horse. To begin with, all who heard of such things for the first time were quite skeptical, until they decided to observe these facts more closely, since the information concerning the fine things performed by “clever Hans” seemed to be quite reliable. He could do excellent sums, extract roots, etc.; he also found out the right card in a card trick, and so forth. In fact, we may say that gradually it became impossible to deny that something extraordinary was taking place. The owner of the horse called in strangers, experts, trainers, tamers of wild animals, etc. He also invited a commission of philosophers. Finally a pamphlet appeared, written by a philologist, a certain Dr. Pfunge — a most interesting pamphlet. After rejecting everything that the people who were present had said, the philologist came to the following conclusion: “It is of course obvious that ‘clever Hans’ cannot do sums, but Herr von Osten, or others who set him a task, influence him in some way.” And these influences had to be explained as materialistically as possible. That an influence can actually pass from soul to soul was something which modern professors no longer admit, for philologists have already entirely forgotten the soul. Our honorable philologists nevertheless admit that there can be certain influences — namely, influences which are as materialistic as possible. They assume, for instance, that a person may make an almost imperceptible gesture, which influences the animal. For instance, the animal may be set the task of finding out the square root of 16. Very slight gestures are made, expressing what the person thinks, expressing what the square root of 16 is. The horse perceives these gestures and by stamping his foot it indicates the square root of 16. This explanation is entirely realistic. Herr von Osten then called in animal experts. These experts, versed in every trick and gesture of the finest kind, were not able to perceive anything of the fine shadings which according to the professors, might influence the animal. These people who were really able to understand how an animal obeys at a glance, could not discover such gestures, so that we must say: These almost imperceptible gestures can only be perceived by someone who has worked for years in a physiological or philological laboratory! For the deep explanation had been given that only a professor who has worked for years in a laboratory can perceive what horses are able to perceive! Such an explanation, however, rescued materialism. This is truly a curiosity — to question every psychic influence, and to assert that a horse knows immediately when a professor learns to know after years of work in a physiological laboratory!

This question should however be considered more seriously. I should like to explain to you the conclusion which I have reached. Nevertheless I must point out that what I shall now tell you must be described absolutely as a hypothesis, just because this question is so extraordinarily complicated. Nevertheless it is a hypothesis, but I think that further a occult investigations will support it. If we consider the whole matter, we shall find that it is really a most complicated thing, and we shall come across extraordinary phenomena. Consequently I have the courage merely to draw up a kind of hypothesis, and occult hypothesis concerning the whole question, as the result of observations which I was able to make while watching Herr von Osten at work with his horse. I feel sure that later on this hypothesis will be confirmed by a occult investigation.

I discovered that mathematical thinking, the whole mathematical conception, is something far more objective than one generally thinks. The whole mathematical thinking is something which works like a kind of automaton, namely in the following way: The foundation of mathematical thinking can be explained by the fact that all mathematical concepts are contained in the structure of the whole earth. The earth is not that undifferentiated body theoretically thought out by people. It has an extraordinarily fine structure and influences from inside the beings inhabiting it. In a human being, the mathematical ability is principally dependent on three channels situated in the middle ear, which are connected with the sense of equilibrium. In the case of man there is a kind of connection between this organ situated in the ear and the whole nervous system constituting the spinal cord. If a human being arrives at mathematical conclusions, we are able to observe that he is really a spectator to a far greater extent than we generally imagine. For mathematical conclusions are formed, as it were, by themselves, and particularly in the sphere of mathematics the human being is more a kind of automaton. Hence it is a peculiar feature of mathematics that we really feel impelled to develop it as it were a kind of automaton. In our system we count as far as 10. Then we count the tens, etc. In this way a whole system of reckoning becomes inwardly automatized. Numbers really contain an inner system of laws which is connected with the Earth through a kind of mathematical automatism. This automatism does not work so strongly in man, because the human being is lifted out of it through his power of judgment, which keeps in check the whole mathematical automatism. Now it is strange to see that in “clever Hans” the whole spiritual atmosphere of the horse acts in such a way that at the slightest instigation, with the slightest tap, the whole atmosphere of the earth is struck, as it were ... Through the different positions of his spine, as compared with man's, the horse participates in the life of the earth, and the force which really thinks in him is, after all, the earth. The earth thinks through the whole instrument of the horse. Thus we really obtain the following impression! On the one hand is Herr von Osten, who does not need to calculate the various mathematical problems which he gives to the horse, but merely touches upon something mathematical. In doing so, he becomes incorporated within the mathematical automaton of the earth. This passes into the horse's spine and the horse is then able to express it quite independently through its soul life. But the earth is the one that transmits this soul element. Never have I become aware so strongly of the way in which the mathematical automaton can be transmitted, as in the case of “clever Hans.”

Thus we may see the cooperation between Herr von Osten's soul-element and the soul-element of the whole earth. I could not help thinking: If we run a wire to the ground, in the case of a telegraphic apparatus, all we need is another wire in order to connect it with another apparatus. Now the earth cooperates as a whole, as a totality. All we need is to install the connecting wire, in which case the earth as well will be involved as an apparatus. In the mechanical sphere the result would be that a definite signal which retransmits through the keys of one apparatus will appear again as a signal on the other apparatus. But in the case of what fills the earth, in the case of the mathematical automaton, there will be a connection which may really be termed as subterranean, a kind of connecting wire between Earth and the one who is in contact with the horse. The horse must allow itself to be connected with the whole apparatus of the earth.

Let me add, for the sake of comparison, something which I was able to observe in this connection many years ago. I made the acquaintance of several small boys — not all at once, but successively. One of them was a very stupid boy in every subject, but if he was given an arithmetical example — for instance, to extract the root of a number consisting of six or seven figures — he was able to solve this problem. He could multiply very large numbers together. A famous professor of mathematics once set him the task of raising a number of four digits to square. The professor had to work out the solution, but the boy was able to answer almost immediately, and had no difficulty in extracting the roots of numbers consisting of 10 and even 12 figures. Suddenly he became restless. He could not reckon anymore. In fact, he became quite wild. He felt that he was being connected in a very strange way with the mathematical automaton. Why? Because the professor had raised a wrong number to the square.

It must in fact be considered that the earth is the chief factor in this particular spiritual activity. If we succeed in bringing about a contact through the special psychic connection existing between the trainer and the horse, which has a certain amount of affection for the man, no thinking will then be required in order to solve a problem which has been set. The horse may be given in arithmetical problem, and it is not necessary at all that it should pass through its head. The only thing that will be required is to teach the horse the programme; this will be enough, for the whole of mathematics is a totality — consequently, all roads, squares, etc. are connected. And just because there is this connection between all mathematical things, it will be sufficient to give the animal a tip, if we have trained it up to the point of being able to express something; the rest will come by itself. This is based on the connection between the human soul and the animal soul. The earth has a transmitting role. In its conscious life the animal is merely concerned with sweets which it receives, and while its whole attention in the conscious life goes toward the sugar, the most curious things take place in its subconscious life. But all these processes take place entirely in its subconscious regions. In its consciousness the horse knows nothing of all this. Besides, owing to the delight it feels in munching constantly at the sugar, it has no time to observe anything else.

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