ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET 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 soulelement and the soulelement
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.
