Book Reviews
Genetics & the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor of Context, Craig Holdrege, 1996, Lindisfarne Press, ISBN 0-940262-77-0.

This is quite an important book. Ask yourself this question. Does that which appears in the general press actually tell us what scientists really know about genetics, DNA, cloning, gene therapy, heredity, and other related matters, or do scientists and biotech companies have press conferences and give out press releases with just as much spin as politicians? This is not a book by an investigative journalist by the way.

If you want to know about "reductionism', that process by which science gains knowledge through excluding data; If you want to know about how genetic experiments are actually conducted, and how truly successfull they are; and, If you want this kind of depth of information, which not only asks very crucial critical questions, but also shows a way to an even deeper understanding of biology and heredity and related matters; this is the book for you.

The thesis is rather simple in a way (but much better said when surrounded by lots of facts and examples - as in the book). Beginning with Mendel, the scientific investigation of how "traits" are transmitted from one biological organism to another has been based on constantly separating the organism out of the environment, out of its equally active biological context. The result is that the "ideas" generated by this style of research have not had to do with the organism itself, but rather reflect the "state of mind" of the researcher. The researcher in biology is constantly "inventing" the meaning of his experiments, by falsifying the data through excluding context. (Not all research, but the major trends are in this direction. There are some awake scientists, but they are a small minority)

Thus, traits, genes, DNA and all the related ideas are not reflections of the actual conditions of the organism, but rather the reflection of the "object-related" consciousness of the researcher. Ultimately this leads to serious moral questions. As this research proceeds into the future, while at the same time trying to ignoring that it has a falsified picture of the meaning of the processes in biological organisms, it is a great danger to us. Work with embryos, and genetic engineering of the basis of the human food supply - these current activities by the profit driven biotech industries, are not based on a real understanding of biological organisms, especially the human being, because all the contextual realities have been eliminated.

DNA is not the ultimate definer, or cause, of anything. Manipulating it can only fix traits, much the same way we train bonsai plant forms by savagely controling their growth with wires and clippers and other tools. Genetic engineering is just micro-bonsai on an organism. It can be made to work, but its methods are not based on actually understanding the organism, and are ultimately, when applied to the human embryo, a very dark science. Since this work actually doesn't understand organisms (having eliminated the contextual factors and their meaning) if is even more dangerous then has been previously imagined. Its application to the human food supply seems almost certain to bring disasters that will far exceed even our current ecological crisis, which itself has arisen from toxic waste and other chemical alterations of the environment, thoughtlessly placed throughout the living worlds. This initial polution was created in a culture of profit driven science, and far too much work on DNA is driven by the same base motives.

These last few ideas are my own. Holdrege was much more polite in his assessment of the implications of the future of "genentic engineering".

The above book could be placed within the thought-stream called goethean science. I have written about that scientific work, in some detail, in The Quiet Suffering of Nature, which is part of my section on: The Possible Futures of Science, Both Dark and Light. In this essay (The Quiet Suffering ... )are many references to books, the reading of which I highly recommend. I am listing these books below, as a group, and the cyber-traveler should view the above essay on Nature as a comprehensive review of the significance of these books.

Theory of Color, Goethe; The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn; Realism and the Aim of Science, Karl Popper; Natural Selection and the Criteria by which a Theory is Judged, (an essay) Ronald H. Brady; Darwin on Trial, Phillip E. Johnson; Scientist of the Invisble: Rudolf Steiner, a biography, A.P. Shepard; A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception, Rudolf Steiner; The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, Rudolf Steiner; Sensitive Chaos (The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water & Air), Theodor Schwenk; Man and Mammals, Toward a Biology of Form, Wolfgang Schad; Physcial and Ethereal Spaces, George Adams; Projective Geometry, Creative Polarities in Space and Time, Olive Whicher; The Plant Between Sun and Earth, George Adams and Olive Whicher; The Field of Form, Lawrence Edwards; Man or Matter, Earnst Lehrs; The Four Sacrifices of Christ and the Return of Christ in the Etheric, Valentin Tomberg. Publisher information will also, in most cases, be found in the text of the above mentioned essay.

At the Grave of Civilization: a Spiritual Approach to Popular Culture, by Sevak Gulbekian, Temple Lodge Press, ISBN 0 904693 78 3.

This is not a good book, and the fact that several of the essays (it is a collection of essays) were published in Das Goetheanum, a leading anthroposophical publication, is not a good sign. The essays are uneven, some okay, some very poor, and by the way I am not talking about the writing.

The idea of looking at a symptomology of modern culture is basically a very good idea, and this book proposes to make such an attempt. Its realization in this text, however, lacks a great deal. The central mistake is one very common in anthroposophical circles and is described immediately below.

All of us born in this age begin "thinking" in accord with the kind of consciousness natural to the time, which is a kind of half sleep, in that we think, but we pay no attention to the "how" of our thinking. Moreover, given most modern forms of education, our thinking will tend to be highly abstract. This "normal" kind of thinking is unable to take hold of civilization because that which civilization is, in its fundamental nature, can't be understood by abstract, semi-conscious thinking.

Rudolf Steiner in his book, Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception, laid the ground work for a new kind of thinking, a thinking which could take hold of the facts of civilization and inwardly behold it. The thinking Steiner had in mind had to progress from the abstract analytical, to a kind of organic-imaginative, and then to a moral-spiritual-redemptive thinking. This metamorphosis of thinking cannot be found in Gulbekian's book, and the theme undertaken suffers for the lack of these missing thinking qualities.

The author is only to be faulted for having implied in the beginning of his text, to have undertaken a symptomology. That his thinking lacked the necessary qualitative capacities is clear from the way the material is approached, but the author should not look so much to himself for the error, because the failure is endemic within the anthroposophical movement. I will discuss this next.

It is clear, in how the sciences are approached within anthroposophical circles, that an organic-imaginative thinking is needed in order to take hold of much that must be understood. This is called goetheanism and is well understood. In the social sciences, the development of a goethean approach is less clear, and those who write about social life frequently are unable to transform their thinking accordingly.

In the absence of this organic-imaginative thinking, or its successor thinking, the moral-spiritual-redemptive, social life cannot be understood. Yet within anthroposophical circles many look at the modern world and attempt to form a symptomology, using only abstract thinking. The result is that the thinker carries within their own soul, two sets of abstract concepts. The first set is the factual ideas formed about modern society, usually from the reading of modern sources of media, and the second set is the ideas formed about the world under the influence of the reading of Steiner materials. What then happens is that this weak thinking will then allow associations to form between the two groups of materials, the ideas about modern society and the conceptions taught by Steiner. These associations can only be abstract formulations, having much more kinship with a kind of anthroposophical dogma and sectarian understanding, then that kind of thinking which penetrates the surface of modern life to discover the underlying meaning.

One of the principles of goethean thinking, the organic-imaginative, which is the necessary first stage in the transformation of thinking to the moral-spiritual-redemptive, is to not go beyond the facts. Facts are raised into pictures in this kind of organic-imaginative thinking. There is no analysis, no associative connections. The idea is not to bring to the phenomenon of modern social life any theories or other abstractions. When Steiner conceptions are brought to bear, this principle is violated.

This last is the basic structure of the book. It looks at certain aspects of modern culture, collects a lot of facts, but makes no pictures and only imports from Steinarian dogma the conceptions used to outline the supposed meaning of the social facts. Steiner is used basically as a theorist, who has no peer and is not to be doubted, and then associations are made between his world conceptions and the modern world. It is this that passes for symptomology within mainstream anthroposophy. In this form it is nearly useless, unless one is already a true believer, in which case it is positively dangerous.

The reader, who may wonder what this writer has done along these lines is invited to read: Waking the Sleeping Giant: the Mission of Anthroposophy in America, and Strange Fire: the Death, and the Resurrection, of Modern Civilization.

Let me just take one example of the kind of "analysis" in this strange and useless book. The author takes an interest in the television cartoon, Beavis and Butt-head, which appears on a television channel dedicated to music videos (MTV) and also was made into a movie. The author then proceeds to use these two completely fictional characters as examples of a certain kind of disease of consciousness possible in the modern world, and further, as an example of how modern American teenagers might actually be. That is to say, the author invents out of whole cloth an inner condition and then acts as if he is describing something real and which has meaning in either understanding modern culture in America, or in understanding modern young people in America.

That this was published in Europe tells us a lot more about the prejudices by which America is viewed, then it does about modern social life. Nothing more needs be said.

In the Name of the New World Order: Manifestations of Decadent Powers in World Politics, Amnon Reuveni, Temple Lodge Press, ISBN 0 904693 81 3.

This is a much better book then the last, because the author seems to better understand his own limits, and has a better command of the facts.

In Lectures given around the beginning of World War I, Rudolf Steiner referred to the existence of certain Occult Brotherhoods, many of which were English, and which attempted to control the course of events in the world through various kinds of direct and indirect interventions in those events. This book aims to give an update to this problem, and uses material not available to Steiner (historical records and so forth).

I won't go into the details, because I recommend this book be read, by anyone who wants to have a sense of some of the more hidden players in modern times, and their connections to modern social/political realities.

I don't believe this book answers all the questions one can have about modern civilization, but it does add, in a clear fashion, matters not discussed at all in modern sources of media. It represents essential background material. If it has a weakness, it is that is a somewhat one-sided, looking only at the macro-phenomenon, political leaders and ideas and so forth, and not at ordinary lives. The author does recommend the reader engage in a deeper kind of thinking about these things, and has clearly offered this material as an aid in that quest.

The Bodhisattva Question: Krishnamurti, Rudolf Steiner, Annie Besant, Valentin Tomberg, and the Mystery of the Twentieth-Century Master. By T.H. Meyer, Temple Lodge Press, 1993 (includes two lectures by Elizabeth Vreede) ISBN 0 904693 50 3.
This review has been retired from this list for personal reasons.
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