The School for Spiritual Science
At the heart of the Anthroposophical Society is the School for Spiritual Science, an institution intended to be an esoteric school for spiritual scientific research and study. This School is organized into sections for the purpose of conducting spiritual-scientific research within various professional fields. Each Section administers its own study and work. Representatives from the Sections meet together as a Collegium.
As one of these sections, the Natural Science Section carries as its objectives:
- To foster research conducted according to methods developed by J. W. Goethe and Rudolf Steiner – phenomenological, participatory methods that lead from careful observation of the sense-perceptible phenomena through inner participation in their processes and qualities to insight into the forces or principles that manifest within them. Such research is often referred to as ‘Goethean’ or spiritual-scientific’ research.
- To foster the development of the capacities required for one to undertake such research.
- To stay abreast of the current findings of mainstream science and examine the extent to which they are compatible with the results of Goethean and spiritual-scientific research.
- Facilitating an exchange for research while forming and promoting a network to discover colleagues and collaborate.
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A Brief History of the Beginnings of Anthroposophical Science
[The following was written for the Anthroposophical Society in Ireland and is republished here with some edits].
Anthroposophy and its relationship to Science can be traced back to when Rudolf Steiner was asked by Joseph Kürschner to edit a publication of the scientific works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for the Deutsche National-Literatur. This appeared in five volumes between the years 1883 and 1897. It was during this time that Steiner also published his own epistemological writings which included his doctoral thesis Truth & Science (1892), A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception (1886), Goethe’s World View (1897) and, what many agree is his most important written work, The Philosophy of Freedom (1894). The latter is subtitled The Basis for a Modern World Conception : Some results of introspective observation following the methods of Natural Science. With this work Steiner went beyond ‘Goethean’ science and planted the seed of what he later would term Anthroposophy.
Many scientists attended Steiner’s lectures and were influenced by his work. Some scientists also worked with Steiner at the research institute of the Kommender Tag AG in Stuttgart, Germany and the research laboratories at the Goetheanum School of Spiritual Science in Dornach, Switzerland. The Kommender Tag institute was shortlived, however, and came to an end in 1924 due to financial difficulties. Most of the scientists at the Kommender Tag research institute were closely associated with the School in Dornach, which was founded in 1923. Of the Stuttgart scientists, Rudolf E. Maier (1886-1943) and Hans Buchheim (1899-1987) continued their research at Einsingen, near Ulm. Lilly Kolisko (1893-1976) stayed at Stuttgart until 1936 under the auspices of the Stuttgart Goetheanum Biological Department.
Those who established themselves at Dornach included the physicist Dipl. Ing. Paul Eugen Schiller (1900-1992) who transferred from Stuttgart; the head (from 1924) of the Science Section of the School, Dr Guenther Wachsmuth (1893-1963), a lawyer by training and pioneer of research into etheric formative forces ; Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer (1899-1961), a chemist who was later awarded an MD for his research on the early diagnosis of cancer with his ‘sensitive crystallisation’ method; researcher and physician Dr Eugen Kolisko (1893-1939). Colleagues include: physicist Dr Hermann von Dechend (1883-1956); Dipl. Ing. Wilhelm Pelikan (1893-1981); Dipl. Ing. Henri Smits, fibres research; Dr Hans Theberath (1891-1971); Dipl. Ing. Karl Lehofer (1897-?), fibres research; the chemist Dr Johann Simon Streicher (1887-1971), plant pigments research; and among the close associates Dr Walter Johannes Stein (1891-1957) and Dr Ernst Lehrs (1894-1979). Research in agriculture — later known as biodynamic agriculture — was pursued from the outset by the ‘Experimental Circle’ formed after Steiner gave his agriculture lectures in Silesia in June 1924.
By far the dominant research theme of the early 1920s in this group, and a theme which continues at the Goetheanum research institute to this day is finding ways to experience and understand what Rudolf Steiner referred to as the etheric and etheric formative forces.
The Mathematical-Astronomical Section of the School under the leadership of Dr Elizabeth Vreede (1879-1943) added a second approach to the sciences. Dr Vreede was, with Wachsmuth, part of the founding Vorstand (Executive Council) of the General Anthroposophical Society, based at Dornach. And a third member of the founding Vorstand who made a contribution to research in the medical sciences was Dr Ita Wegman (1876-1943), leader of the Medical Section.
So far as the development of this scientific stream in the UK is concerned two approaches to understanding the etheric are of particular interest. The first concerns ‘sensitive imaging’ techniques which are designed as aids to the mode of cognition needed for grasping the etheric, namely Imagination.
Lilly Kolisko developed one form called capillary dynamolysis. This is a form of qualitative chromatography in which aqueous extracts of biological tissues are allowed to move either radially or vertically through chromatography or filter paper, followed by drying and repeating the process with a metal salt, e.g. 1% silver nitrate, in daylight.
Considerable experience of the coloured patterns formed is required to ‘read’ the processes going on in the organism from which the sample was obtained. Pfeiffer, as already mentioned, developed sensitive crystallisation. The biological material is mixed with a metal salt, most commonly Copper(II)-chloride, the latter allowed to crystallise in shallow dishes. The huge variety of crystallisation patterns formed allows the condition of the biological fluid (blood, plant extract, food etc.) to be ‘read’. Both methods are conducted under elaborately controlled conditions. Later, Dipl. Ing. Theodor Schwenk developed the ‘drop picture’ method which involves photographing under carefully chosen illumination the pattern formed when a drop of water is allowed to fall onto the surface of water. The condition of the water or the substances added to it is ‘read’ from the picture that is obtained.
“Not so long ago it was still possible to believe that natural science – which is by no means unappreciated by spiritual science but is as regards to its great advances fully valued – had the means to solve all the great riddles of human existence. But those who have entered with heightened inner faculties into the achievements of modern science have been increasingly aware that what natural science brings as a response to the great questions of human existence are not answers but, on the contrary, ever new questions” – Dr. Rudolf Steiner –