see also the story of the Grandmother Tree
as well as
Electricity and the Spirit in Nature
The Quiet Suffering of Nature
Joel A. Wendt
" And while they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessing it, he broke and
gave it to them and said, "Take; this is my body." And taking a cup and giving
thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank of it; and he said to them "This is
my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many..." Mark 14: 22-23
Where is humanity without the Earth? Without air, water or food we die. What then is the true name of that extraordinary Earth-Being whose nature it is to sacrifice itself for us, and in whose own living substance we are nurtured from birth until death?
For many people today, within the environmental movement and without, the treatment of the Earth, by much of humanity, is understood to be a terrible tragedy. The destruction of the rain forest, the over fishing of the oceans, the casual production of toxic wastes, the continuation of atomic testing - the list is almost endless of the crimes committed against the natural world and not coincidentally, also against humanity.
More recently we have had to face the possibility of even worse as the arguments over global warming and climate change of taken center stage in our political life. Unfortunately, passion is insufficient and real knowledge is needed. Below I will address those issues more carefully.
A central thesis of those concerned is that these excessive activities are unnecessary; those who carry them out have alternatives. Yet, if we honestly look at what is being done, and especially at the conceptual context in which these deeds are carried out, in most cases we will have to admit, that from the point of view of the apparent destroyers, their acts are necessary. The truth is that the conflict is over what these acts mean, not over the acts themselves.
Most of the time those, who seem to be abusing the natural environment, are acting in pursuit of their self interest. They are business people, whose obligation to their corporate stockholders is to maximize profits. If they don't act, they lose their jobs, their livelihood and all that that implies. For example, loggers and tree lovers collide over national forest policy. One wants to use in order to continue an existence already set on a certain course, the other wants to preserve out of an appreciation of what will be lost when it all is gone. In an odd kind of way both are conservationists. One wants to conserve and existing way of life, the other, a rapidly disappearing kind of life. Both are expect-able moral and human responses to a situation where no agreement is possible, because the contexts of meaning, in which the situation is viewed, are opposed. Each, given the quite different assumptions under which life is pursued, acts forthrightly. At the human level both sides are right.
This is not to say that there are not individuals and/or companies who act immorally or criminally, who take what they want in defiance of convention or good sense. But these aberrations are the exception. For the most part, the conflict over environmental policies owes its existence to opposing life paths and world conceptions, and not to any intrinsic or objective truth about what is right and what is wrong. Both sides, being human, can be understood.
However, there is something missing. While one can understand the human elements - how each view is appropriate to its adherents - there is something that is not understood. Nature is not understood, because neither side grants to the natural world the same effort at understanding they could grant to each other.
It is the thesis of this essay that the environmental movement, for all its passion and good intentions, is simply not radical enough in its understanding of the natural world. Concepts, like ecology and preservation and save this and save that, are impotent before the truth of Nature. What Nature truly is, is quite beyond such an incomplete idea as "save the rain forest", or "stop global warming".
Nature is more than a living environment which we find necessary for our survival as just another species. In solemn and sacred truth, Nature has consciousness and being. As a consequence, the environmental movement will only begin to do that which is needed, in the face of the terrible tragedy befalling the natural world, when those who would lead it realize that the Nature they wish to save is filled with just as much will and intention as a human being, and is just as much deserving of being treated with personal dignity and respect. Environmentalists need to find a new way of approaching Nature; namely to come to Nature as someone, rather then something. The only relationship which will be effective for achieving the quite worthy goals of the environmental movement, is the relationship of I and Thou. For there is an immense unasked question: what does Nature want? And no human being has the right to impose their personal point of view over that of Nature Herself.
We must again learn to approach Nature as someone with whom one can communicate, and who is better able to advise us about what to do than we can imagine. We need to begin to recognize how trapped we are in the confines of the lifeless and materialistic mental images (conceptions) provided by the one-sided scientific education of Western culture. Even the Indians, the aboriginals, the original peoples still living within the bosom of Nature, have lost, for the most part, that intimate connection and conversation by which the Spirit of the Natural world is perceived, appreciated, understood and listened to. What is left, namely tradition, although quite wonderful in its wise conception of the Earth as our Mother, as a conscious being, this tradition is itself inadequate for the tasks which need to be done.
Moreover, this consciousness, this being of Nature is not singular, is not simple. The being of Nature is multiple and complicated, diverse and specialized. What has been conveyed to us out of the deep past is not superstition. Stories and tales of the elemental beings, of undines and gnomes and fairies and sprites, all this seemingly legendary material owes its existence to the fact that in the past human beings did in fact experience more directly the world of the spirit, the world which lies presently separated from humankind by a kind of veil. And recognition of these Nature beings is just a beginning, for the world of the spirit extends quite beyond that realm of mere earthly Nature, but to cosmic Nature as well.
Even so, this bold assertion of the consciousness and being of Nature in itself is insufficient. The reader of this essay is entitled to more. It becomes necessary, then, to explore not only the sterile quality of the conceptions of the natural world provided us by the processes of Western science, but also to suggest the means by which these ideas can be overcome and a true communion with the Spirit of Nature reestablished.
The reader should be cautioned that in this single essay there will no proof of what is asserted. Such a task would be impossible. What can be done, however, is to show briefly how it is that science came to such a narrow view of the natural world, what personalities resisted this process, and how then that resistance matured so that today one can find once again a way toward an intimate conversation with Nature, yet remain fully within the rational. There is already existing much work about Nature by those who have begun this difficult and much needed task.
Even though this essay will endeavor to show that the conceptions of modern science have failed to find their way to the truth of the natural world, this is not to be seen as a criticism of that science. In the main, scientists follow quite rigorously and with great diligence a path of seeking which shows every chance of leading them to the truth. Science stands upon an excellent moral foundation when it says: anyone who asserts the truth of a thing, must be able to show others that means necessary for them to find this truth for themselves. Experiments must be reproducible. Theories must be testable.
It is also necessary to be brief, so to the extent the reader may wish for more the author at once apologizes. Many books and certain websites will be referred to, however, which if read and appreciated will more than satisfy the questing human spirit.
We all will perhaps remember from school, at least somewhat, what has been called the "Copernican revolution", the early struggles of science against the doctrines of the Catholic Church. This often resulted in various practitioners of the new discipline called natural philosophy (eventually to be called science) being excommunicated, and in some instances burned at the stake. We may think we are past this now, but anyone with an ear for these things is aware that even today those who espouse views sufficiently outside main-stream science (the Church of our time) are rebuked by their peers, shunned in the communities of their specialization, and at risk for having their funding, i.e. their livelihood, taken away. Some of these "arguments" are more public, e.g. "cold fusion", creationism vs. Darwinism, climate change and so forth. Less perceivable to the general public is what can happen to someone who looks today for the spirit in nature, or otherwise seems to think that some "superstitions" may have been based upon the truth.
In the beginnings of science the problematic philosophic problems were more out in the open. But since the materialistic ideas won the day, theirs are the views in the histories of science in which the ordinary person is educated. As in politics and war, so in science: the winners write the histories. Several of the "romantics" and the "transcendentalists" had grave problems with the course science was taking. The poet Goethe was a vigorous opponent of Newtonian optics (Newton, oddly enough, was an alchemist). The poet Coleridge had a much different approach to early biology. Emerson wrote in his essay Nature: "Nature is a thought incarnate, and turns to a thought again as ice becomes water and gas. The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is forever escaping again into the state of free thought." Kepler, who gave us the fundamental laws of planetary dynamics was also an astrologer, and warned repeatedly about the danger of "throwing out the baby with the bath water", i.e. abandoning whole-sale all the hard won wisdom of the previous ages in the rush to make everything "scientific". One could go on...Ruskin, Howard, Faraday, the list is long of those who opposed a completely mechanistic view of Nature.
For an excellent examination of the whole flow introduced into scientific thinking with the idea of Nature of a mechanism, and related problems, the reader of this essay should become acquainted with Evolution and the New Gnosis: Anti-establishment Essays on Knowledge, Science, Religion and Causal Logic, by Don Cruse, with Robert Zimmer. See also Cruse's website.
The essential thing to realize here, is that, as this "war" over what was the true picture of Nature was in its beginning stages, there were few "pure" scientists. That Goethe is remembered mainly as a poet is true only because the winners wrote the histories. He was in fact an extraordinary scientist, as anyone will realize who studies his Theory of Color. That Kepler and Faraday had a lot more to say then what is taught in school today is a simple fact. Faraday gave us the fundamental laws of electricity and magnetism, but he did so in the context of observations which lead him to consider that a distinction between "ponderables" and "imponderables" in Nature, i.e. between matter and spirit, was essential. Both were present, both were necessary.
Clearly one view won the day. The "why" of this is not simple, and cannot be found in the idea that one was true and one was false. We can perhaps get a slight feel for the underlying dynamics by realizing that at the time when all this was happening, the whole of Europe was emerging from a world view dominated by the ideas of the Roman Church. Thus, for many, to strive for a spirit-free view of nature was to also strive for freedom from a no longer desired authority which had for centuries been telling people what was true and what was not. To find spirit in Nature would have been to grant power back to an institution many were violently struggling to leave behind.
More crucially, scientists were lead in directions that were determined by the yet unknown nature of what they discovered. Ultimately, with the discovery of electricity, scientists, understandably following carefully the trail as it appeared before them, were lead rapidly into what one author has called "a country that is not ours". As part of this process a concept concerning "force" arose, which was very different from the way past ages looked at the problem of causation. This new concept of force was abstract, and completely divorced from any idea of being or consciousness. No longer were the happenings in the natural world the product of the activity of beings, the product of intended activity. Thus more and more the possibility, that Nature may have a spiritual foundation, disappeared. For depth of historical detail, read Ernst Lehr's remarkable Man or Matter.
As everyone is aware, it is pretty much assumed today that older conceptions of Nature are purely superstitious; that a Nature with being and consciousness is an impossibility. With the arrival of DNA research and genetic engineering, the difficult problems in biology are believed to be mostly solved, and few new conceptions are needed. Physicists routinely act as if the mind of modern man has little problem forming true concepts of events billions of years in the past. Zoologists accept Darwinian evolution as a settled matter, and resent deeply the struggles of the "creationists" to suggest otherwise. Neuro-physiologists are convinced that the secrets of the mind are shortly to be theirs. While the clockwork is complicated, Nature is clearly a mechanism, made up of very small parts acting in understandable ways leading from a remote "big bang" through a long period of evolution to the arrival of life, and ultimately consciousness (mind). Unfortunately, they've probably got it mostly wrong.
It would be possible to make an argument about this "wrongness" solely from the history of science itself. In Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it is established that science, rather then being a carefully built up structure, erected on a sure foundation, is instead a succession of points of view, the newest one substituting for the preceding, rather then being built out of it. Science is somewhat like a rat in a maze, convinced at every point it has solved the puzzle only to discover another dead end which has to be abandoned. Based merely on behavior one would have to assume that what is believed to be true now about these great questions (what is life and consciousness, where did they come from, how did the universe begin) will, in its own time, be found false and replaced by other views.
Or to take another tack, one could argue that most of what is said, about these big questions (does Nature have consciousness or mind, and which comes first in evolution, mind or matter), by modern day science, is itself pseudo-science, i.e. a modern form of superstition, because the theories are not testable. See in this regard, Karl Popper's Realism and the Aim of Science; also, Natural Selection, and the Criteria by which a Theory is Judged, (now called Dogma and Doubt) by Ronald H. Brady, Systematic Zoology, 28:600-621, 1979), and Darwin on Trial, Phillip E. Johnson, (Regnery Gateway, 1991).
While the above discussion has been unnecessarily brief, it should have hints enough so that the reader wanting more can find his own way. In any event, the work of the Nature Institute should be taken into account.
It remains then to find some process by which these questions can be answered in ways which satisfies our human desire for testable and reliable truths. What can be said about this, as briefly as possible, will be related next.
We can perhaps begin by asking what kind of an approach to the spirit would be necessary, what pathway to finding out the truth about Nature and Spirit, will meet the quite reasonable demands of science for reproducibility and testability. In a sense we need a science of the spirit, or perhaps to put it another way, a spiritual science.
Those who know the foundations of science are aware that science stands basically upon two touchstones, one being a philosophical point of view, which at one time was called logical positivism, and the other being mathematics, which provides a rigor and discipline to the practice of science which is very beneficial. So we can anticipate as well that our spiritual science needs a testable philosophic basis, and a reproducible mathematical structure (or perhaps better said, skeleton).
Another aspect of modern science which supports its reliability is the technology which proceeds from it. This suggests then that our spiritual science will have to show some results, will need to have produced observable effects, somehow people will have to have been able to take from this spiritual science and acted upon and changed the world.
Well, that is quite a lot, and I believe enough. We should now, perhaps, cut this spiritual science a little slack, and not expect some other things. We ought to allow it to be different in certain ways, after all that is exactly what it has to be given the basic assumptions. Certainly we can't expect it to be widely known or popular; for mainstream science has to have been constantly resistant to such ideas. Therefore, we ought to allow it to be young. How could it be otherwise, or wouldn't we already know of it?
Certainly we have to allow for some controversy, after all the ideas it produces will be different from the mainstream. As well, we should not expect to understand it immediately, nor expect that we will come to the necessary understanding without some, in fact perhaps, a great deal of effort. After all we have been educated into the mainstream. We think those ideas automatically, and most of our words take their meaning from this quite dominate way of thinking about the natural world. Let us take a sample problem, and see if it can help us better appreciate what a spiritual science will need, how it will be different and the kinds of struggles necessary to understanding what it might be able to communicate to us about the natural world. With this problem, by the way, I am not attempting to do something definitive, but rather to use it to give us a more concrete sense of what such a science needs to be, and how it might be different.
Consider for the moment the idea of space. When we think this idea on a very large scale we usually think of the great universe of stars; and, having been influenced by television and films we will have an image of movement between stars, as if we were a starship traveling at light speed across the cosmic spaces. While the "spacial" world is three dimensional, and seemingly endless, for the modern physicist, there are certain problems. Was there "empty space" before the "big bang", before matter erupted from its supposed birth point and exploded into the evolving universe? Or to put it another way, was space "created"?
For all of humanities history, up until the last four or five hundred years, very different ideas of cosmic space existed. To the naked eye the starry heaven is a remarkable vista; a place we cannot go, a place of mystery whose rhythms and movements seemed to announce great and small events in the lives of peoples and kingdoms. Our ancestors did not have the idea of endless three dimensionality; for them the heavens were the abode of the Gods. But the early natural philosophers thought otherwise, and with the new tools, first the telescope, and then later the spectrometer, the computer, and so on almost endlessly, the old vision was shattered. The theory of parallax gave us distance, red shift gave us velocity, the universe was expanding and enormous. And we? We were small and insignificant. The Earth as the Center of the Universe? Hogwash!
Who would dare doubt this? To suggest otherwise, to some, would be evidence of an unstable mind. To believe that this endless emptiness might have consciousness and being...get a life, better yet, go see a psychiatrist.
One hesitates to bring bad news...but... First off, most of astronomical-physics, or what is sometimes called cosmology, is not testable by the ordinary means we have and use, say in geology or zoology. We can't go to the nearest star and see if it is in fact made up the way spectrometry suggests. We can't go there in such a way that confirms whether the distance we develop from parallax is accurate, nor can we go off to the side, so to speak, and measure in some other way the velocity to confirm what we think the red shift tells us.
Our methods are limited. What certainty of belief there is comes in large part from the fact that each step has been rigorously examined by many scientists, and carefully repeated over and over again, and whenever possible each part was worked upon in such a way that it could, if possible, be used as a double check against any other part. If it isn't true, it isn't because our best efforts haven't been spent working it out. If it isn't true it's because we missed something, or haven't yet discovered something or maybe assumed something was a certainty that will later turn out not to be so.
The point to note is this: our idea of space, even to the extent developed by modern cosmology, does contain speculation (although as sound as humanly possible) and elements that can't be confirmed directly, but which have to be inferred. Anybody got a better one?
At this point we should perhaps examine a particular aspect of this discussion a little more closely. By and large for the ordinary person, that cosmic space is a three dimensional endlessness is an idea, or better yet an imagination created through education and further developed through the experience of films and television. We don't have a direct personal experience of this seeming fact. Our whole culture believes it. We are raised to think it. For a detailed examination of this question, go to: The Misconception of Cosmic Space as Appears in the Ideas of Modern Astronomy.
In this, it (the idea) bears an odd relationship to an older idea, that of the flat earth. For the naive consciousness of the time in which people believed in a flat earth it was an obvious fact. The earth was observably flat. Yet the time came when people became convinced the earth was round, and thus a different belief was taught and became part of the general cultural imagination of what was real. Only after this did humanity receive the gift of seeing from space the beautiful blue-white globe of the world.
Now what we are trying to notice here is not the particular fact of the three dimensionality of cosmic space, but rather that we know it as an idea, as part of the general cultural imagination of the world's reality. We do not know it as an experience, but rather as one part of a very complex system of ideas in which we are indoctrinated through education. This complex of ideas, of which large parts are believed to be absolutely true, constitutes for modern educated humanity a new myth. Just like the ancients, whose myths we now call superstitions, we have our world view, our socially indoctrinated concepts of what the world is, how it is organized, what fundamental principles caused it to be, and how those principles cause it to behave in the present. The most comprehensive name for this myth is scientific materialism, and even though many scientists understand the limitations of their work and ideas, for the ordinary person, these ideas are reality.
To say that the modern scientist is similar to the old priests of the ancients is not to overstate the case. For the ordinary person the protocols and methodologies of science are a protected mystery. Only after long preparation and education is one admitted to the sanctuaries of modern science as a co-worker. And there are secrets, things kept hidden from the general public. For example, Darwinian evolution (i.e. natural selection) is in serious trouble, but the "priests" don't want the creationists to know it. The physicists studying quantum theory are beginning to use the word "intention" in describing the quantum behavior of certain kinds of small "particles". No one should be surprised if scientific materialism is slowly coming apart, because as long as the scientist is rigorous in his pursuit of the truth he is bound to discover the role of spirit in Nature. It's there and thus it must be eventually found.
Hopefully we will now have sufficient preparation to look at what exists today of another point of view, another "imagination" of the world that again finds mystery in the processes of the natural world. Again, this caution. At best all this essay can do is expose this approach to the natural world to the reader. Its fundamental works can be cited, its relationship to the general trends of science noted, and its basic ideas and principles briefly referred to. Beyond that one cannot go. It remains for the reader to investigate this ongoing work with an unprejudiced eye and an open mind, for its is a certainty that nothing new will be discovered if one already knows the questions and the answers.
I am going to approach the following more in the form of a narrative story then as an expository essay. This personality lived and did this, this other personality did that. The pictures conveyed will necessarily only be partial. Our problem is not unlike that of the five blind wise men who chanced to meet an elephant. One, who touched the tail, thought of it as like a twig. The one, who touched the ear, believed it was a large leaf. To the one, who touched the leg, it was a tree, to the one, who touched the side, it was a rock and to the, one who touched the trunk, it was a...well I can't remember all the story, but I think you get the point. If you draw instant conclusions from this article you will not get the understanding you otherwise might if you instead investigate carefully and directly for yourself.
I would also like to add a special contextual fact, one which many in the environmental movement will have some awareness of. Many today look to aboriginal peoples for an example of a healthy relationship to the natural world. Among such peoples are a number of prophecies, and I would like to direct the attention of the reader to a particular one: that of the Hopi Indians of America's Southwest. Part of the Hopi Prophecy is an expectation that there will arrive someday among them someone or some group which they call the Pahana, or the True White Brother. This individual or group is to bring purification, to inaugurate the Day of Purification, and to provide the "life plan for the future".
Mankind's loss of conscious knowledge of the being of nature, as that has occurred over the course of our history, is also the descent of a kind of darkness. It should surprise no one, who bothers to think carefully about it, that the return of such an understanding, a kind of broad social enlightenment, must necessarily be accompanied by an extended, and cultural-wide rite of passage - quite aptly named by the Hopi: the Day of Purification.". Without going into the very complicated details, I would like to suggest that the following will eventually be understood to be part of the fulfillment of this ancient prophecy.
In 1861, while the American Civil War was just beginning, in Kraljevec, a village on the border between Hungary and Croatia, a man by the name of Ruldolf Steiner was born. By the time he had died in 1925, he had laid securely the foundations for just that spiritual science we have imagined must need to exist, if we are to find our way again to the being of Nature in a modern scientific fashion*. Among the several biographies of Dr. Steiner can be found this one, written by A.P. Shepard: Scientist of the Invisible, Rudolf Steiner, a biography. To those who know and clearly understand his work, this is a most apt title.
*[Obviously this is not the only way. Here we are looking at science, while other Ways are possible and the internet is full of them, for example Robert John Stewart and Stephen Clarke, both of whom, in related ways, approach the Realm of the Divine Mother in more traditional, and less scientific, ways. Both seek to know the truths of the Natural World as Spirit, and both also seek to do this without leaving behind the rational aspect of our own being.]
We can get an early measure of Steiner's genius by noting that at the age of 23, he was invited to edit and write the introduction to Goethe's scientific writings. For those of us raised in the cultural West, it is difficult to realize what a remarkable honor this was, because Goethe has not the same significance for us that he has for Central European culture. To appreciate this, just imagine a 23 year old being asked to edit Einstein's writings. During the course of this work, Steiner realized that Goethe's views of nature depended upon a philosophical position quite different from that of main stream science, and one which Goethe himself had never articulated. Steiner therefore undertook to remedy this situation and produced in 1886 a remarkable philosophic text: A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception.
In 1894, in a more formal way, and also fully cognizant of the philosophical ideas and temper of the time, Steiner produced a deeper philosophic text, which was an expression of his own personal work and not just the elaboration of something implied in Goethe's scientific books and papers. Called The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, it also carried the intriguing subtitle, "some results of introspective observation following the methods of natural science".
What is expressed in these two books it would be quite impossible to even summarize. In one sense they approach the same fundamental question: how do we know what is true? The basic difference between modern philosophy and Steiner's may be broadly painted this way: For the mainstream, the activity of human consciousness, of the mind, is subjective in nature and, in combination with our senses, is not a reliable way to the truth of the world. For Steiner, as for Goethe, the opposite is true. The human being is so designed that our senses, when properly trained, can give us all of Natures secrets as long as the mind is disciplined as well. For the human being is of nature, and what appears inwardly to a properly trained human thinking is the essence of Nature Herself. Here are Steiner's own words from Theory of Knowledge:
"It is really the genuine, and indeed the truest, form of Nature, which comes to manifestation in the human mind, whereas for a mere sense-being only Nature's external aspect would exist. Knowledge plays here a role of world significance. It is the conclusion of a work of creation. What takes place in human consciousness is the interpretation of Nature to itself. Thought is the last member in a series of processes whereby Nature is formed." (emphasis added).
The central question, these books pose and proceed to answer in a quite empirical way, is: what do we make of human thought? The approach, while expository, if read carefully, reveals that the reader is challenged at each step to observe in his own mind those universal processes leading to the production of thoughts, so that by an empiricism of thinking and observation about thinking the human being finds that in the activity of thinking one stands upon the threshold to a yet unknown world. An internal process, which once stood in darkness, and which went on without any thought given to its nature or meaning, now begins to unfold new possibilities. When this is pursued fully one comes to realize that the Inside of the human being is a thing much greater and more significant that the outside of things as these appear to the senses.
Let us try to work with an analogy. Imagine opening up the hood of an automobile. There before one is a mass of complicated wires, hoses, machines and other strange and unknown devices. That is for most of us. For the master mechanic, the view is something else altogether. We both see the same thing, but the ideas we bring to what we see are quite different. The master mechanic's understanding and experience allows him to identify and see relationships where to most of us there would just be chaos. The reality and significance of those man made objects is not in what appears to the senses at all. Only to the mind does the essential arise.
It was Goethe's insight to realize that something similar was true of our relationship to Nature. With this very significant difference. Man made objects are created according to our intentions; we give them purpose. This can itself be taught. But what is the purpose of a flower; who is to teach us that?
Over many years of work Goethe came to realize that one could trust the senses if one did not add ideas to what was observed. Rather one observed all the manifestations of the object of study (for example the world of plants), until one could recreate in ones own imagination the observed processes. For example, over the course of its birth from seed to its flowering end, a bush will produce a variety of types of leaves. The early ones quite often different from the last. What Goethe did was to recreate in his imagination this process of movement, from the earliest form of the leaf to the latest. (This is very much an oversimplification of his work, by the way.) Over time, Goethe began to experience something which seemed to stand behind the transformations from one form of leaf to the next, but which did not arise from his own activity. In a way his mind became a sense organ into another realm. Through the discipline of his thought life, and the devotion to what came to him through the senses, Goethe began to experience inwardly what he called the Ur-Plant, the spiritual Archetype from which all plants are formed.
In a like manner Goethe examined the animal kingdom in addition to the kingdom of the plants. He found his way of working there to be successful as well. He called his activity: "learning to read in the Book of Nature". What Nature presents to the senses, if appreciated in a disciplined way, "spoke". Even so, the history of science passed this work by, and other ways of thinking became the established methodology.
It remained then for Rudolf Steiner to rescue this overlooked work and restore it to its deserved place in the history of human thought. As a consequence of Steiner's activity there has come to be born: Goethean Science. Its practitioners are few, and the number of its published works also small. But in their own way these works offer the beginning of a whole new way of understanding, and teaching, about Nature. And when Goethean Science is put into relationship with Steiner's more mature work, Spiritual Science, the means to commune with Nature emerges as well.
Let us at this point simply become aware of a few of the published works of Goethean Science. Many readers of the various versions of the Whole Earth Catalog will be aware of the book: Sensitive Chaos, (The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water & Air), by Theodor Schwenk, Anthroposophic Press. Here, with beautiful text, pictures and drawings, some of the basic laws by which form arises in Nature are uncovered, simply through the careful exploration of how water and air move. I will say no more here, for those who genuinely want to investigate Goethean Science will trouble themselves to become acquainted with its basic works.
About the realm of the animals can be found this: Man and Mammals, Toward a Biology of Form, by Wolfgang Schad, Waldorf Press. Here is expressed one of the most profound ideas, first put forward by Steiner, yet consistent with Goethe's studies, about the relationship between function and form which appears everywhere as a threefoldness, a remarkable law of organization of both the organic and the ideal according to laws of polarity.
With the idea of polarity we brush up against one of the things we noted above as a precondition for a new, yet spiritual, science, namely an appropriate mathematics. The Goethean Science movement and its more spiritually complex relative, the Anthroposophical Movement, have produced many works exploring a remarkable form of mathematics called Projective Geometry. Here are just a few of the available texts: Physical and Ethereal Spaces, George Adams, Rudolf Steiner Press. Projective Geometry, Creative Polarities in Space and Time, Olive Whicher, Rudolf Steiner Press. The Plant Between Sun and Earth, George Adams and Olive Whicher, Rudolf Steiner Press. The Field of Form, Lawrence Edwards, Floris Books.
With these and other related texts, as well as with the two philosophic texts of Steiner noted above, our new science stands upon all the necessary foundation it needs, as we indicated earlier - that is an appropriate mathematics and philosophy of knowledge.
For those who legitimately may need to understand how main-stream science took the path it did, and what can be done about it, there is: Man or Matter, Ernst Lehrs, Anthroposophic Press (already mentioned above). The description, in the Anthroposophic Press Catalog about this book, reads as follows: "Now a classic, this is the fundamental text for those seeking a spiritual understanding of nature on the basis of Goethe's method of training observation and thought. Working out of a detailed history of science, Lehrs reveals to the reader not only how science has been inescapably lead to the illusions it holds today, but more importantly, how the reader may correct in himself these misconceptions brought into his world view through modern education."
It remains for us then to link up Goethean Science, and Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophy, or Spiritual Science. This, however, is not so simple, for in really considering the spiritual we run also into the religious, which for many is either a grave difficulty or a profound and untouchable belief. If we proceed carefully, we can nevertheless walk through this potential mine-field without too much harm. Hopefully these guidelines will help.
It is not the intention of this essay to argue for or against any religious belief, including, broadly speaking, agnosticism or atheism. The point is to remain true to the principles of modern science which require reproducible experiments and testable hypotheses. However, when we approach the spiritual we have to be realistic about what is involved in "reproducing" and "testing". In the realm of the spirit such matters a more difficult because in large part they require of the individual a far greater effort and self-mastery than ordinary experimental science.
Consider this analogy. If I were to attempt to reproduce current work in particle physics, in a scientific way, I would need access to the appropriate devices (regardless of how complex and costly). Further I would need an appropriate education and familiarity with the current work and theories. These are all a given. So it is with research in the realm of the spirit. One needs to develop the inner capacities and to have mastery of the ongoing work. Thus, to attempt to dispute or criticize spiritual science without such effort is to defy the scientific spirit of the age, and to make a mockery of reasonable human discourse.
With this needed understanding in mind let us begin to enter more deeply into the realms of a modern spiritual science.
A personality not mentioned so far, and, in the view of many, certainly Steiner's peer in the science of the invisible (spiritual research), is one Valentin Tomberg. In his remarkable lectures published under the title: The Four Sacrifices of Christ and the Appearance of Christ in the Etheric, (Candeur Manuscripts), given in Rotterdam in the turn of the year 1938 to 1939, we can find the following:
"You see, the transition from all that is most prosaic produced by the nineteenth century to what the future holds is offered by the spiritual manifestation of Goetheanism - Goetheanism is, in fact, a bridge on which the transition can be made from the quantitative thinking of the nineteenth century to a qualitative, characterizing thinking. Now, where this transition leads is to Spiritual Science. Here it is not only a matter of being able to think qualitatively, but of placing the moral element in the thinking into the foreground. And by way of comparison, one could say that Goetheanism is related to Anthroposophy, to Spiritual Science, in the same way as the organic world is related to the soul world. The organic calls for qualitative thinking; the soul world, for the formation of moral concepts*." (emphasis in the original).
*[See my: Living Thinking in Action, for certain details: http://ipwebdev.com/hermit/liveT.html ]
For some readers, right at this point there will be a difficulty. Having used the word "moral" at once we encounter all kinds of preconceptions about what that means. If there is anything which seems to lie outside of the realm of the scientific, of the objective, it would be the question of what is moral. (Although, interestingly enough, there are some who think there can be an objective "ethics".)
However, in the understanding of Steiner and Tomberg and their many students, the core need of modern humanity is freedom. And not just political liberty, but more importantly freedom in thought, freedom of spirit. Steiner's The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is sometimes called The Philosophy of Freedom, the problem being how to translate from the German, Die Philosophie der Freiheit. One translator invented a new English word to stand in for Freiheit: namely Freehood, which is obviously very clumsy and unattractive. My poet-self leans toward a freer translation, namely The Philosophy of Free Becoming.
The key to this problem lies in a general confusion of our time regarding human inner life and the role of conscience. An objective introspection of human consciousness comes to realize that there is an equally objective experience which is the "voice of conscience". Just as the darkness, which inhibits us from truly understanding the production of our own thoughts, can be lifted, so can the darkness which makes dim the "voice of conscience" be eliminated. "Conscience" is an aspect of our spirit, and it is this higher element of our nature which knows what in any given situation it means to be moral. This places morality outside the realm of doctrine, dogma or rules or anything other then our own higher judgment. Steiner's The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity calls this part of human potential: ethical individualism. Morality then becomes as much an act of freedom as any other.
There can be difficulties here. Freedom, Steiner pointed out, is something different from license. Of course we can do anything, but whether we should or not is a whole other question. In the past the problem has been who is to make the judgment of what we should or should not do. In Goetheanism and in Spiritual Science, it is the individual himself who makes that judgment. Given the gift of "conscience" we have a capacity for certain moral knowledge. The difficulty is whether we pay attention or not, not whether we can know what is moral or not. Conscience can be ignored and often is. But that is a whole other issue.
Hopefully this discussion will have helped some regarding the confusion that can arise when one suggests that with Goetheanism we leave behind quantitative thinking for qualitative thinking, and that with Spiritual Science we go onward to moral thinking. In each case it is a question of what is to be the object of our search for knowledge. With quantitative thinking we gain a mastery of the material-mechanical aspects of existence, thus our civilizations technological successes. With qualitative thinking we gain a mastery of the living aspects of existence and with moral thinking we gain a master of the invisible aspects, the aspects of soul and spirit. In each case we can have an "objective" knowledge, because we chose a method appropriate to the purpose we pursued, and because we acted in a disciplined way, so that our investigations remained "empirical", reproducible and testable.
It is then with Spiritual Science that we enter on that path that can lead to a real knowledge of the being and consciousness of Nature, to a communion with that which lies behind the veil of the sense world. From one point of view, anthroposophy or spiritual science, as founded by Steiner, has two main themes. The first theme is how to attain knowledge of what aboriginal peoples might call the world of the invisibles. The second theme is the results of that research. In the literature of both goetheanism and spiritual science one finds both these themes well elaborated. Yet, when criticism of these disciplines is presented, it is usually made by ignoring the how and arguing instead with the what, the results. This is rather easy, because the results very often contradict what is already thought by the main streams of both science and religion.
A good way to appreciate this problem is to imagine that what is being experienced today, by the arrival of these disciplines, goetheanism and spiritual science, is the way of thought of the future making its first beginning appearances in our present. Think what it would have been like to have been a contemporary of Galileo. What he taught directly contradicted the views of the time. Think what it is like to change our habits, say ways of writing and speaking, for example. For most of Galileo's contemporaries to change their habits of thought is impossible. And not just because they are habits, but also because of the social pressure. The habits of our way of thinking and the social dynamic which supports them are extremely powerful forces. No one, therefore, should expect these new disciplines, goetheanism and spiritual science, to overcome the modern version of this mental and social inertia very easily.
These problems are made all the more complex by the fact that even within those groups which struggle with spiritual science (such as the Anthroposophical Society) in an attempt to learn it, there is not a uniform approach. The groups which support and practice these new disciplines are made up of human beings and there are many difficulties, disagreements and confusions. I point this all out, so that those, who might choose to investigate more closely these disciplines, will approach goetheanism and spiritual science with a certain carefulness.
If what has been written so far, especially as regards the possibility of learning to commune with the spiritual realities behind the natural world, has meant anything for the reader, then I will close with these words of guidance.
Be methodical and patient. Face the challenge of the philosophical problem contained in the books mentioned concerning it. Do not fear encountering the mathematical aspect, projective geometry. It is usually presented in ways far easier then we can imagine - not by abstract algebraic formulation, but through drawing and visualization. At the same time become acquainted with the practitioners, the people carrying out the various fruits of this work. Remember what was said regarding the need for a new science, a spiritual science, to have produced results, just as materialistic main-stream science has? Have you heard of Waldorf Schools, biodynamic agriculture, Camphill Communities, Eurythmy, anthroposophical medicine, curative education, the Christian Community, astrosophy, psychosophy, rhythmic massage, Werbeck singing, anthroposophical nursing?
Beware skipping past goetheanism. That way leads to an illness. Thinking must go through a transformation, from the quantitative, to the qualitative and then to the moral. It is a process of inner metamorphosis. Each stage is essential. The goal is spiritual science, which stands upon the philosophic work and the mathematical work. Out of this disciplining of the thought life, then can be grown a disciplining of the sense life, the life of perception.
Expect obstacles. The moral thinking depends upon that moral training which only arises from the life we live, the immediate moral challenges of our own personal existence. There is nothing abstract here. It is all too painfully real.
Do not become confused by and in love solely with the results of spiritual research. It is much more important to master the how. With the how we are then free to choose just what we will think about. If we become too involved in the what, the results, it is possible to become captured by the rich conceptual world there unveiled, and then to lose sight of the necessity of making all concepts our own work product. Those, who encounter the Anthroposophical Society in their search, will meet many who have fallen into this error. Remember, the only ground on which we can stand as a free spiritual being in the world of the material and the immaterial is those qualities of being that arise from The Philosophy of Free Becoming.
Let me sum up with a brief look at global warming in a new way.
Everywhere we see what appears to be environmental degradation. Loss of species, shrinking of glaciers and so forth. A kind of war has broken out in science itself, and certainly politically, as various interests vie for dominance. There is a lot of undisciplined and superficial thinking. Some examples:
When we have extreme winter weather conditions, some will say this proves there is no warming, for in their superficial thinking and the elaboration of their political ideologies, they look for any evidence that supports the already assumed bias. Factually, we have to step back from the idea of global warming, and appreciate better the idea of climate change. The former is not necessarily a consequence of the latter.
The idea of global warming suggests a process which continues to the point of grave consequences, but the evidence for it may in fact be an indirect effect of climate change. When complex systems undergo basic changes in the nature of their given present state of equilibrium, they oscillate wildly for a time, before acquiring the new steady state. To have the idea of long term continuous warming, we have to make assumptions that are not really justified. What happens if we consider the possibility that the Being of Nature is in a kind of dialog with the human beings.
Some people think that human beings are a kind of virus, and that Nature would continue in a better way if we were all gone. But aboriginal peoples have all understood that the Earth is our Mother, and we are Her children. Our Mother is not out to kill us - challenge us yes, but not kill us.
We are immortal spirits, whose very existence is the point of the Creation. But like a true Mother, the Earth will not tolerate our laziness or insolence. The Hopi Prophecy considers this problem in detail, and in advising us of the coming time of the True White Brother, this Prophecy lets us know that in such times as these, where grave consequences arrive to our immature actions, we will still be loved by the appearance of new wisdom - new revelation - to go with the challenges of the time. The Mother speaks to us even now.
Yet the thesis of many in the global warming point of view is that environmental degradation is human caused and can by human beings be corrected. This is itself a grave arrogance. This view still finds itself unable to form and I and Thou relationship with Nature. We are not listening, but instead interpreting all according to our own biases, wants and desires. Opposing corporate choices, and thinking our judgment superior to that, it does not occur to us the our shared Mother loves all, the environmentalist and the polluting destroyer.
If we read (see the meaning of) ordinary motherhood, we will see a manifestation of the Divine Mother as well. All that is great in the Cosmos, exists in a small way also in the individual human being. Mothers give away their being to their children, willingly. She will let die in the body of Her Son (the physical Earth), but both will endure in the Spirit, just as we do.
In reality, the climate change crisis is designed to slow civilization down, and to put the breaks on our tendencies to excess and a too fast - too immoderate - way of life. Climate change is a gift.
The purpose of this essay has been to introduce a question into the environmental movement (What does Nature want?). The secondary purpose has been to point out an ongoing work which is laying the foundation (goetheanism and spiritual science) for answering just that question - a foundation which does not require the abandoning of the principles of science. To those who may wish to travel this path, I add this: You will not travel it alone. Many there are who seek to reunite the Circle and the Cross. See The Mystery of the True White Brother, and The Songs of a True White Brother on these pages.
Then, as a free spirit among other spirits we will come to that communion with Nature, which we seek and desire, a silent Eucharist of the Invisible.
(Here are some essays on the website of someone
who has fully realized this new way of working with Nature,
here is a link to Adonis Press, which specializes in books
concerned with this new way of looking at Nature.)
home page -o- next in sequence -o- back to source page -o- e-mail