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The Scientific Study of Rudolf Steiner's Clairvoyant Observations


In the 1890's, while working on a compilation of the scientific writings of Goethe, Rudolf Steiner crystallized the contrast between scientific approaches appropriate for inorganic decaying nature, and those appropriate for living organic nature. The crux of modern science's problem, epitomized today by myopic scientific data fed into ever greater computers, was summarized in a statement of Haeckel's, quoted by Steiner (Readings in Goethean Science, 1972, pg. 50). “If the psychic mechanics were not so infinitely complicated, if we were in a position to survey fully the historical evolution of the psychic functions also, we should be able to reduce them all to a mathematical soul formula.” Over against this attitude (one that has exploded over the planet!) Dr. Steiner had to insist on a method that more directly involved the human mind and spirit - themselves derived from and representative of the “infinitely complicated”. He pointed out that organic reality is not passively determined by external circumstances, as is mechanical-physical phenomena, “...but actively determines itself under their influence.” This fact requires the study and conception of “...a general form of the organism which includes within itself all the particular forms.” (Readings in Goethean Science, 1972, pg. 52)

“The ideal of inorganic science is to grasp the totality of all phenomena as a unitary system, in order that we may approach each phenomenon with the consciousness that we recognize it as a member of the cosmos. In organic science, on the contrary, the ideal must be to have in the utmost entirety possible, in the type and its phenomenal forms, that which we see evolving in the series of the single beings.

“Every single organism is the moulding of the type in a specific form. It is an individuality which governs and determines itself from a centre outward. It is a totality in itself - which in inorganic nature is true of the cosmos alone.” (Readings in Goethean Science, 1972 pg. 62)

Steiner's Work as Scientific Evidence

Anyone who is serious and doubts Dr. Steiner's understanding and ability as a serious research scientist can be eventually reassured by careful review of his early works on the methods of science and the nature of knowledge. These will not be discussed here. When the time came for him to begin reporting the results of his purely spiritual researches, he was well aware of the scientific requirement. At the turn of the 20th century, he noted: “My knowledge of things of the spirit is a direct result of my own perception, and I am fully conscious of this fact. In all the details and in the larger survey I had always to examine myself carefully as to whether every step I took in the progress of my perception was accompanied by a fully awake consciousness. Just as the mathematician advances from thought to thought without the unconscious or auto-suggestion playing a role, so - I told myself - spiritual perception must advance from objective imagination to objective imagination without anything living in the soul but the spiritual content of clear discerning consciousness.” (An Outline of Occult Science, 1972,).Scientifically, I have spent decades researching, and producing, detailed environmental surveys and reports of vegetation, wildlife, soils and landscapes and this background makes it clear that (despite the unusual to astonishing facts presented) Dr. Steiner was consistent with the requirements - and limitations - that precise observational organic science entails; except that supporting physical documentation was not an option!

However, Steiner's work is open to testing, and he made his feelings on this point very clear: “Although the book deals with the results of research that lies 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 experience of their own lives. (Here is not meant the spiritual scientific test by supersensible means of research, but primarily the test that is possible by healthy, unprejudiced thought and common sense.) He would like to have above all cautious readers who only accept what can be logically justified. 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.” (An Outline of Occult Science, 1972)

Representative Sampling

Rudolf Steiner is perhaps the definitive holistic researcher. Although his few dozen books lay the foundation of this holism, the vast details relating to all pertinent topics are spread throughout some 6,000 lectures. These lectures are a large data base of facts that are reported (like environmental details) only when available to be observed, not in a merely convenient way. Steiner described this scientific quality very pointedly, on 22 Oct, 1915: “It is very necessary to gather together carefully the items of concrete knowledge that have been given and to correlate them. And that is why - how shall I put it? - that is why it has such a jarring effect (although this does not quite express what I mean) when one who is trying to speak about the spiritual world with full responsibility, is asked all kinds of questions about this or that point after the lectures. These people want to know everything, but on the other hand one has been endeavoring to speak only of what has been thought through to the end. One is forced, then, to speak about a whole number of matters into which there has not yet been opportunity for thorough investigation. It is, of course possible to give some reply, for the science of occultism is there; but when one has laid it down as a fundamental principle to speak only of what has been tested and verified, this kind of talking goes against the grain.” (The Occult Movement in the Nineteenth Century; 1973, pp. 130-131)

The scientific way to answer questions is to gather together and correlate items of concrete knowledge. But the huge task of reviewing some 6,000 lectures is made impossible for us working in English, with about half of these available in translation. Still, as a true data set, representative sampling should be possible, and I believe that it is. Broad sampling is also required because although lectures on specific topics were given, the nature of Steiner's holistic vision meant that many facts on all topics were related when pertinent to qualify any given topic. For example, a search for astronomical-astrological data has currently reviewed about 170 books and lecture cycles, of which 60 % had directly useful observations; and this group could not be predicted by main topic or title.

Another reason for the need of broad, representative sampling is known by everyone dealing with living reality in the open environment, and was expressed by Steiner on 17 Apr. 1909: “Taken superficially, you may find a number of apparent contradictions in the one or other lecture cycle. This is because in these lectures it is my task to speak not of speculative theories but about facts of clairvoyant consciousness, which appear in a different way when viewed from this or that angle. To use a comparison, the picture of a tree drawn from one side will look quite different from that drawn from another and yet, it is one and the same tree.” (The Spiritual Hierarchies and Their Reflection in the Physical World, 1970, pg. 96).

Imagine counting all the trees along a survey line, and because they do not look exactly the same on the way back, thinking they were different trees! And yet, if two metals are not exactly the same, they are different metals.

One important method, again sharing similarities with environmental science, can be called “Reading Past Facts”. Just think of a walk in the woods, how many different trees, shrubs, flowers, animals and their signs are presented to consciousness. To absorb, identify and relate all these quickly, or even eventually, is impossible. The species or events are seen, but identification proceeds only over time from the known to the unknown for each investigator or observer. If we stopped to identify every unknown, we would never make it through the woods!

The student of Steiner's reports is confronted with a similar situation. His holistic reviews contain many fruits on topics that may or may not be recognized. The context for understanding can only be achieved by not getting “hung up”, but by going forward to establish what is familiar and develop a framework to understand what we do not yet recognize.

Rudolf Steiner described his methods of clairvoyant training on many occasions, and for scientific purposes these supply the requirement for an open and repeatable method - as these are in the study of a living open environment rather than a dead, closed laboratory. These methods are open to study and attempted duplication, but as shown here, Steiner repeatedly noted that the directly important thing is to carefully study the facts that he presented with our open minds and common sense. I have found no more stark expression of this need than that mentioned 15 Dec. 1922: “This is the agonizing experience that is the natural corollary of the materialistic age for one who has true insight into Initiation-Science today. He sees how men on Earth lapse into materialism; but he also knows what this lapse means for the spiritual life. He knows that it means the eradication of the eyes, that in the existence awaiting them after death, men will only be able to grope their way about. In olden times when there was instinctive knowledge of the supersensible world, men passed through the gate of death able to see. That old, instinctive supersensible knowledge is now extinct. Today, spiritual knowledge must be consciously acquired - spiritual knowledge, I say, not clairvoyance. As I have always emphasized clairvoyance too can be attained, but that is not the essential here. The essential thing is that what is discovered through clairvoyant research shall be understood - as it can be understood - by ordinary human reason, healthy human reason. Clairvoyance is needed to investigate these things, but it is not needed for acquiring the faculty of sight in the supersensible world after death......

“However powerful a man's clairvoyant faculty might be in earthly life, however clear his vision of the spiritual world, if he were too easy-going to bring into the form of logical, intelligible ideas what he sees in the spiritual world, he would still be blinded in the spiritual world after death.”(Man and the World of Stars, 1963, pp. 60-62) The emphasis was given by Steiner.

The most meditative expression that I have found, of what is the focus of this paper, was spoken 1 May 1920: “What is of moment is to study the conclusions of Spiritual Science, not to satisfy a curiosity for clairvoyance.” (Man - Hieroglyph of the Universe, 1972, pg. 144)

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