Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Taking seriously the 'science' in Rudolf Steiner's Spiritual Science

The work of Rudolf Steiner contains great (perhaps indispensable, at least for some people) wisdom and insight; but also over-confidence, folly and error - and the reason was, I believe, that he failed to take seriously that his method of Spiritual Science was (by his own account) a Scientific discipline and therefore, as such, as difficult as any other science.

Science is not some kind of standard, algorithmic technique which may be generally-applied, neither is it a machine for generating truth from data, neither does it reliably yield valid answers for any question (however ill-formed) you care to ask of it.

On the contrary; making a genuine breakthrough in science typically requires prolonged effort ('brooding') - intense and repeated attempts over a considerable timescale.

Unfortunately, especially later in his career, Steiner seems to have assumed that answers were to be had for the asking; and he got into a habit of using his 'method' of meditation to answer questions about anything which came to mind, or questions that were put to him by almost anybody - and he came to expect, and generated, rapid and copious answers to these questions.

Steiner became somewhat like a machine - speak or write a question, he would go-through the 'spiritual science' process, and he unfailingly gave forth a detailed answer.

Unsurprisingly, most of what he produced in this fashion comes across as artificially manufactured, arbitrary, and often clearly invalid. This, at any rate, is my explanation for Steiner's vast and hyper-precise schemata of multiple thousands of years of world spiritual and physical history and future inevitabilities, details about many specific human reincarnations, and schemes for the practise of pretty much all the major human political and societal activities...

(This mechanical productivity also comes across in Steiner's spiritual 'exercises' for meditation which are often on arbitrary topics without any personal significance for the trainee. This is to assume than anybody can do science on any topic, is motivated to do science on any topic; when almost the opposite is the case - each individual can only do good science on problems in which he has a genuine, deep and spontaneous interest.)

In real science (whether natural or spiritual) there has to be a genuine, strong inner-motivation to know the answer - to know the truth about some-thing. Only some people have this motivation - and of these, only some of them have the ability (and 'luck') to reach the answer.

Also, a large part of science is learning the correct question to ask (and the exact nature of the answer being sought - typically this is unclear in the early stages) - since most questions are badly-constructed because containing false assumptions; hence they are un-answerable. The process of trying to find an answer usually takes a long time - because the necessary pieces of evidence must be assembled, and often re-interpreted.

Quite often, after prolonged brooding, the properly-formed question and its valid answer arrive in the mind together, simultaneously.

My conclusion is that for Steiner's Spiritual Science to achieve its great potential - and to take its part as part of Man's individual and social destiny (but only if he chooses to embrace it) - requires a greater awareness of the requirements of Science; especially that each must find his own problem which most deeply concerns him.

This specific problem then becomes the basis for learning, developing, applying the general method of Spiritual Science - which especially includes a particular kind of Thinking*

(*Note: See the blog post below for more on this 'Thinking'.)