‘at the door of science anthroposophy has hitherto knocked in vain’

this — the post title — is a statement by Jost Schieren in a recent article in the waldorf journal, RoSE. [PDF.] The article’s intriguing title: ‘The scientific credibility of anthroposophy’. It contains a few very interesting passages; I’ll come to them. A friend sent me the link to this little gem of an article some weeks ago (thanks!) and, since then, I’ve noticed, it has, quite understandably, made the rounds on facebook and elsewhere. But let’s start from the beginning. Schieren says that while the

fruits of anthroposophy find ever wider social acceptance and appreciation,

(Do we know this for a fact?)

the tree itself is generally avoided or ignored.

That is certainly true. He goes on to say

Anthroposophy continues to be regarded as an obscure body of spiritual teaching. Apparently what people want – as the magazine Der Spiegel said a few years ago – are Waldorf Schools without Steiner. And it is in fact the case nowadays that this demand has already become reality in many schools and other anthroposophical institutions. The success anthroposophy has had in many areas of modern life seems to have gone hand in hand with a sell-out of its own basic principles.

With which I agree. Just look at — this is only one example — how waldorf schools try to distance themselves from anthroposophy and Steiner. They almost try to erase anthroposophy or at least downplay it and its importance. Yet, oddly, keeping it at the same time. Which is a confused situation.

Anyway, he talks some about the relationship between science and anthroposophy as well as accreditation for anthroposophical courses (eg, pedagogical courses). The Science Council of Germany has been reluctant to accredit anthroposophical courses as accreditation would mean ‘basing the work of a university-level institution on an extra-scientific theory of education involving methodology influenced by a particular worldview’; the way to address this issue, according to Schieren, cannot be

in the usual manner of putting forward a vigorous apology for anthroposphy as science, but rather by means of an open discussion, that would at least begin the job of giving anthroposophy its place in the scientific landscape.

That is very wise, although I do doubt suspect that ‘giving anthroposophy its place in the scientific landscape’ may be a futile pursuit. I recommend you to read this article as a whole, but I’m now going to proceed to comment a few things — out of context and in a summary fashion. Sorry.

The problem is the notion of supersensible knowledge, based solely upon untestable assertions made by Rudolf Steiner. Anthroposophists bridge this gap by a gesture of trust, but this cannot be expected of everyone.

No, definitely not. And it’s more than trust; it’s faith. (Now, Jan Luiten, would say something different: no trust is needed. Anthroposophy  is a ‘path of inquiry’, right? A path which should not build on trust, but on individual knowledge and experience gained on said path. Schieren might agree to some extent I guess, because later in the article he wants to describe anthroposophy as ‘a path of knowledge that offers a perspective on the truth and holds out the possibility of approaching it, rather than reducing it to an ingredient of a particular individual’s store of knowledge.’ There, again, we have the contrast between what it would be or could be and what it actually is to anthroposophists who work with anthroposophy in practice, for example in waldorf schools.)

To try and use the esoteric pronouncements of Rudolf Steiner as a basis for justifying the scientific nature of anthroposophy is – for the foreseeable future – not a recipe for success.

No, definitely not.

In such an undertaking it may be sensible, in principle, to demand a different concept of science, centred upon an inner empiricism or inner evidence; but to do so would necessarily imply a complete paradigm shift of the whole scientific enterprise …

ah! only that and nothing more! (It won’t happen easily, not through the work of anthroposophists alone, he admits. Personally, I don’t wish for a science devoid of… scientific thinking and reason.)

It is much more likely that the currently ruling paradigm of science will of itself come to an end, because the technocratic worldview built into it will have caused ever more disasters and destruction …

The question is, though, if what anthroposophy offers would cause less disasters and destruction. When applied to reality, would it work any better? I quite doubt it. Knowledge about the real world, not the supersensible, still seems the surest path to success.

In an earlier essay, [Heiner Ullrich] states: “In contrast to the conscious detachment, plurality and unresolved openness of scientific method, Steiner and his disciples desire dogmatic knowledge, or visionary experience, of the world as a well-ordered whole resembling an eternal, unchangeable truth. [ … ] Their way of thinking is degenerate philosophy, mere worldview. [ … ] With the formulation of the anthroposophical ‘occult science’ Steiner fell prey to all the dangers of such a way of thinking. Here the pre-modern, dogmatic-metaphysical speculation of neo-Platonism is transformed into the contrived, re-mythologised world picture of theosophy” (Ulrich, 1988, p. 174). As profoundly felt as these reproaches are, it would be wrong to suppose – as anthroposophists are sometimes wont to do – that behind them lurk the dark intentions of an “organised enemy”. What we have here is simply a contrary position, which quite naturally has attracted much argumentative attention from the anthroposophical perspective.

I think the quote is interesting, because I can’t remember having read the essay. (Is it online somewhere? In case anyone knows, I’d be happy to read it.) But, also, I like Schieren’s approach. He is so right: it is a contrary position. The world needs not fall apart because of it. This is very welcome. (Schieren’s discussion following this quote is interesting, too.) Getting back to eternal issue:

The problems with its cultural profile that anthroposophy habitually encounters do not normally stem from Steiner’s works; they are “home-made”. They reside with anthroposophists not with anthroposophy.

… we have discussed it numerous times on the blog. I brushed upon it above, because it’s a discussion we had with Jan Luiten just days ago. The intelligent, reasonable (et c) poster-people for anthroposophy aren’t always the most typical. If they ever are. Perhaps the following is more representative of the implementation of anthroposophy in, e g, waldorf schools?

A serious problem demanding mention is that of the uncritical use of Steiner’s utterances, with no attempt made on the part of users to test them for themselves or to bring their own observational ability to bear upon them. Here what counts is belief in Rudolf Steiner’s words, rather than any personal striving for knowledge.

Absolutely to the point. He continues, and this is actually even better, it’s somewhat surprising — surprisingly good –, coming from an anthroposophist and coming from the journal RoSE:

When this then leads to the issuing of compilations from Steiner’s works embellished with speculations arising from them, the sure ground of scientific rigour has been entirely vacated. A large proportion of the publications of anthroposophical authors treat the utterances of Rudolf Steiner as indubitable facts. There is much musing done upon such subjects as reincarnation sequences and conditions in the so-called spiritual world, with no apparent concern about the obvious lack of any independently thought-out contribution to the content. Even worse: the decades-long habit of studying Steiner leads to the belief that one is completely clued up and in the picture about the things he presented and consequently can (and should) instruct others about them. Through years of reading Rudolf Steiner’s works the individual ability to reserve judgement with regard to their knowledge content is usually undermined. This is rather like spending a lot of time in galleries and as a consequence fancying that one could paint like Raphael. This lack of awareness of the rational detachment necessary in relation to the utterances of Rudolf Steiner is not the source of anthroposophy’s being regarded as unscientific, it is what actually makes it unscientific.

On the other hand, if these ‘believer’ anthroposophists are in the majority, who’s to say they’re wrong? It may be more reasonable, at least for academic credibility, to focus on what wisdom can be derived from Steiner’s early works, rather than on his extraordinarily concrete pronouncements about the facts of the higher worlds — but would it be more ‘right’? And maybe, what waldorf teachers (to use this group as an example again), too, are doing, is treating Steiner’s utterances ‘as indubitable facts.’ There is a saying that goes: ‘you don’t get the anthroposophists you want’ — isn’t there? If there isn’t, there should be. You don’t actually get the ideal guys, the ones you could parade in front of the public and they’d behave impeccably and reasonably. The guys you get, communicate telepathically with imaginary penguins on the south pole and with other strange beings. And write books about it. They bleed like Christ or are afraid of computers.

An interesting exposition follows, and then a conclusion:

Epistemology thus becomes ontology. In relation to the natural world – the reality encountered by the senses – anthroposophists usually have no problem concurring with such an argument, and it is not unfamiliar to them. Applied to the spiritual world, however, it will often provoke in them the naïve realism that Steiner was so keen on superseding. They persist in believing in a self-existent spiritual world, and thus fall into outworn modes of spirituality.

This seems a bit tricky though (later in the article):

In the foregoing the attempt has just been made to outline a new, epistemologically justified concept of mind, which combines a spiritual view of man and world with the modern claim to complete human autonomy and the perspective of individual growth towards freedom. Outside of anthroposophical circles, however, such an attempt will find little acceptance. However important and decisive this concept may be in the long term, it nevertheless seems more sensible in the meantime to approach the question of the scientific status of anthroposophy by looking at its areas of application with a view to validating these scientifically.

I don’t quite like this, although I may be interpreting it in a negative way. On the other hand, it is similar to how testing whether a medicine works is different from knowing how it works. Or something like that. But I still don’t like it, not in this case (somewhat later, Schieren sort of confirms my suspicions as he writes: ‘Using the scientific approach to anthroposophy presented above generates various, medium-term, strategic advantages.’). What is it that they’re going to validate scientifically in the areas of application though? You’ve got to come up with very specific anthroposophical practices and see how they compare. That would require scientific stringency to yield any reliable results. Can we hope for that?

Schieren then mentions an example that seems a bit suspect to me (it would be interesting if someone with knowledge of medicine would like to investigate that further — I’m speaking of the reference to the thesis by Heusser, see p 6 in Schieren’s article). Schieren explicitly states that he’d rather see the question of whether anthroposophy is a science or not in the background, because then ‘It is no longer a question of whether anthroposophy is any use as a science, but of how it can be used scientifically.’ It seems an odd thing to do — push the most important aspect of anthroposophy (the most important in this particular context) in the background, in order to… validate its usefulness? Or is it impossible to discuss (science) the actual method of anthroposophy itself, because it would be scientifically untenable? But, in the end, the method should matter. Because anthroposophy isn’t just the results. In fact, following some of the arguments, the method itself might be more important, if it is to be, as Jan says, mainly a method of inquiry. The results are the fluff. It’s the method that matters. Not only for the individuals spiritual path — but it should be so also for the scientific inquiry. (Or am I wrong here? Aren’t the results a bit like gnomes — icing on the cake?)

What Schieren then says about ‘critical detachment’ is absolutely true, and it should be practiced even if (which I suspect) there’s never any hope of getting anthroposophy to be more scientific — or accepted in a scientific context — or science more anthroposophical. Under the heading ‘Systematisation’ there’s a quite comical statement: ‘There will then remain a tiny percentage of statements by Rudolf Steiner, that according to the current climate of thinking will be considered inconceivable.’ — Only a tiny percentage, huh? I’m not sure about that. And although I welcome any attempts at exploring the first point — ‘Verifiable statements. What is meant here are statements by Rudolf Steiner that can be substantiated by normal scientific methods. In my estimation, this will apply to a relatively high percentage of them’ — I doubt that these statements constitute a high percentage of Steiner’s work. (You really need to look at this — I’m not just saying so. It gets a bit entertaining, and I can’t copy all the entertaining bits!)

Another truth follows almost immediately:

Trust in the possibility of an appropriate scientific approach to anthroposophy grows among non-anthroposophists to the extent that anthroposophists throw off the habit of “we know better”. For the fact is that they do not know better; they have simply invested their trust in the fact that Rudolf Steiner knows better. This, however, is a personal decision, open to anyone, but obviously possessing no scientific validity.

I think he’s so right. It is very rare to find an article, by an anthroposophist, which makes me say: he’s so right. And to say it so often. There are so many parts of this article I really agree with, and I find Schieren’s approach sympathetic. However, I can’t shake off the feeling it’s… it’s still about putting up a facade of academic respectability… in front of a house of woo. Even though I like it (and distrust it at the same time), and think Schieren is on to something important — what about the rest of anthroposophy? What about all those religious believers? They’re the ones responsible for the practical applications. They are the ones truly in need of a facade. Schieren is not. And I agree with him also about this:

The quest for knowledge, that does not rest upon dogmatic articles of faith, but upon the individual’s own mental effort, is foremost. Anthroposophists are among those who often tend to ideologise topics which could actually be given a thoroughly objective treatment. Occasionally credence is given to an “adversary-myth”, which renders all objective debate impossible. A further cultural advance would accrue from the uncompromising rejection of all kinds of esoteric presumptuousness and unjustified uses of esoteric terms. Authentic insights arrived at by the efforts of individuals would then be the hallmark of anthroposophical discourse.

Perhaps it would, or should, but maybe, if that’s what Schieren wants, he’d do better to look elsewhere, than to anthroposophy, for it. Because, although this is definitely some great stuff, it isn’t what you’d expect from anthroposophy.

Last but not least, there’s also a small nugget in this article for everyone who relishes the racism debate:

… it is already apparent that many of the attacks upon anthroposophy – for instance, the longstanding charge of racism – are now sounding hollow. Representatives of science at university level (e.g. Heiner Ullrich) attest to the fact that Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy have nothing to do with racism.

Now — is that true, my dear friends? (Jan Luiten shouts: Yes!! Despite the fact that anthroposophy is a path of inquiry and not a set of doctrines… or?)

__________

Jost Schieren is coming to Sweden — for the waldorf teachers’ conference in January. That is, in two weeks. Here’s the program. He’s talking about anthroposophy and science (probably similar to the questions he deals with in the article), but, more intriguingly, one evening he’s going hold a lecture entitled: ‘Between Day and Night’. (I guess there’s no point in making this appeal, because I’m not going to hear anything from anyone attending the conference, but please… if anyone feels inclined to tell me more, I’m curious. I want to be between day and night. All the time.)

110 thoughts on “‘at the door of science anthroposophy has hitherto knocked in vain’

  1. This a great find. I have read it twice and will surely read it many more times. It is interesting that at after all the praiseworthy objectivity we get the blind spot about racism. I don’t see how anyone can NOT see the ‘Lectures to the Workmen’ as racist. But that piece of racism doesn’t then invalidate the rest of Steiner’s revelation.
    T. S. Eliot is now suspected of anti-semitism, but this doesn’t render his whole poetic output invalid.

  2. The observation didn’t even seem to fit in, was absolutely unnecessary in the context and seemed slightly desperate because of that. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it to there — but, when it is, and in such a way, it almost appears as though he’s falling into a trap he’s just been warning against.

    Re Eliot — true. Only difference — his racism wasn’t inserted into a worldview that people take up in a different way than anybody reads poetry. The racism is internal, not external as it is to E’s poetry. Makes it trickier to deal with. Adherents — or even believers — behave differently than poetry readers. Or they wouldn’t get so bonkers trying to deal with. Also from Steiner’s point of view it’s another thing — he’s presenting his insights about… evrerything. That said, it would be a lot more clever to try dealing with RS’s racist utterances in such a manner as to make it less dramatic. But, unlike with the poetry, one can’t ignore their place in the teachings. It shouldn’t be that difficult, though, to acknowledge they exist and evaluate them… and conclude he was mistaken. It happened (not just then) and isn’t the end of the world.

  3. Alicia, you really have a talent for finding new interesting angles on anthroposophy :) The article is really worth reading, and very well written. Apart from the short racism part where he suddenly changes style from intelligent reasoning to practicing one of the sins he warns fellow anthroposophists about, he just appeals to a person with authority. The rest of it raises much more valuable questions. I have two.

    If I make a really exaggerated caricature of the aricle, I would say that what he recommends is: “Forget anthroposophy, do your science like everyone else and if you are lucky your findings will not be incompatible with your own ideal interpretation of what anthroposophy should be”. He doesn’t convince me that anthroposophy has something to offer science. But that might not be his primary concern, or I cuóuld hav nissed something.

    The other question is whether other anthroposophist will really buy his attitude. I was absolutely sure that he advocates a “Mission Impossible”. Then I saw how completely he and his fellow academics dominates the conference. So this must be a really hot issue for the movement, At least in Sweden where they lost important academic credentials some years ago when their teacher education was thrown out of the University of Stockholm.

  4. I’ll be back later but short comment: it’s a particularly nice piece for this journal… It’s academic and peer-reviewed… Supposedly… But it’s 100% anthro/waldorf. The peer-reviewers are anthro. Anyway — there’s more re the stockholm uni waldorf dabacle: Bo Dahlin (co-)founded the journal after that happened. There’s clearly a concerted effort to gain academic credibility for waldorf… and I suspect they saw the need for that after what happened in stockholm, among other things. So — knowing peer-review is *it*, start your own anthro-based research journal with peer-review. None of this dininishes the value of Schieren’s article, but RoSe is certainly a publication whose background and purpose one might be skeptical about…

  5. A question to those of you who are more familiar with Steiner and anthroposophists; is there anywhere a discussion of “reductionism”? The idea that you begin research by studying the smallest identifiable parts of what you want to investigate, commonly contrasted with “holism”. Or is “holistic” used just as a modern fuzzy marketing slogan for Waldorf education, opening the doors for all kinds of funny pedagogical ideas?

    If anthroposophy should have anything “extra” to add to science as it is practiced today, it might be in overcoming the limitations of a) the reductionistic approaches, and b) the division of the world in separate subjects like physics, language studies, different kinds of behavioral sciences etc. Many people actually believe that e.g. “Chemistry” or “Psychology” really exists out there, not only as tools for thinking or doing research. Schieren might say that we have an “essentialist” attitude to those kinds of scientific concepts.

    Many kinds of “interdisciplinary research” today generates a lot of new and surprising knowledge, but universities – and school education – is organized in ways which makes such kinds of inquiry and learning very difficult. This leaves room for science and education approaches which integrates more holistic thinking. But perhaps Steiner and anthroposophists doesn’t have anything original to add here? At least Schieren doesn’t write much about it, which is quite OK, it is just one article and if you want to open university doors it’s probably not so smart to stress what is different. I’m just wondering whether anthroposophy has some deeper analysis of issues around holism in science and/or education.

  6. That’s an interesting question — I think that the word ‘holism’ is a fairly modern catch-phrase that waldorf schools use because, well, it works. It’s in. And, yes, as far as I know, Steiner often talks about modern science (modern for his day of course) in a way that much resembles the criticism against reductionism; for example, they’re onesided, materialistic, and so forth. (He’s talking a lot about materialism. And overcoming materialism. It’s not exactly the same thing, but I think there’s some overlap. Anthroposophists today frequently complain about both — although materialism can be complaiend about more generally, but reductionism is limited to the scientific context.) Also, he thinks that his anthroposophical angle on science, medicine, et c, will enhance these disciplines rather than replace altogether.

    Also he talks about things like the whole person (meaning all the ‘bodies’ or aspects and that stuff) which is also important to waldorf… holistic in general new age lingo may not mean the same thing, but I guess waldorf folks can use the word holistic and think about Steiner’s conception of man while the parent hears the word holistic and thinks whatever suits her/him.

    In the end, your first point, to overcome the limitations of reductionism, would have to, I think, imply a more spiritually attuned science. Whatever that would look like in reality… (I suspect anthroposophists aren’t sure about that either.) But, again, it’s more about moving away from materialism. In the end, that would be the goal. And I suppose that reductionism would slowly disappear of its own, in an anthroposophical view, if research was less materialistic and more in tune with anthroposophical ideals. Of course, they would see this as adding something extra to science — enhancing it. If other, non-anthro scientists would agree it’s an enhancement, well, perhaps not ;-) Some might possibly find something good about anti-reductionism, but still not find value in a specific anthroposophical approach, because that’s probably going to have to be a different thing even if it incorporates some kind of anti-reductionism. Inter-disciplinary — I don’t know, and I’m not sure they would bring anything new there.

    Not a great answer perhaps… I’m tired and just babbling, really, so forgive me! (I hope Diana sees this question — she might have a more intelligent reply!!)

    But I can recommend some Steiner works to you; this is the science section:
    http://www.rsarchive.org/Science/

    I’m guessing now, but the first lecture series in that list may be relevant.

  7. “I hope Diana sees this question”

    Ha, I was just thinking good thing you’ve got this under control, ‘cus I’m clueless …

  8. Hmm, these are difficult areas to explore, but the rs.archive link is very helpful. And the RoSE journal has some other interesting articles too. Exploring this might take some time, but I’ll be back sooner or later …

  9. It is! Fascinating I mean. I can now understand better how academic pedagogues can become interested in anthroposophy. E.g. in Steiner’s questions about how experience/observation is related to concepts/knowledge. “Phenomenology” is one of the pedagogical university approaches here. One problem, from a Waldorf education point of view, is that even if Steiner might have been ahead of his own time, there is now a lot more interesting “materialistic” research about similar subjets. From a sceptic’s point of view, a problem is that if you already know what pupils will and/or should discover, the idea of an open-ended inquiry loses much of it’s inspirational qualities. This happens more easily if you have a “holistic” view of the world and of history. Like in many religions, bolshevik-type communism and theosophy. I also find Schieren’s discussion of “essentialism” a bit worrying. I guess he is trying to find a more posh label for what most people would simply call “religious research”.

  10. ‘is that even if Steiner might have been ahead of his own time, there is now a lot more interesting “materialistic” research about similar subjets.’

    True. And they shouldn’t ignore this research; keeping anthroposophy more as a source of inspiration than as a source of scientific truth. (Sorry for brain-dead answer, I’m very tired… but I agree.)

  11. Re/ Steiner’s Racist comments, Alicia says, ‘It shouldn’t be that difficult, though, to acknowledge they exist and evaluate them… and conclude he was mistaken. It happened (not just then) and isn’t the end of the world.’ I very much agree with this point of view. It accords Steiner the status he wished for himself, that of a real human being, not some all wise guru.

  12. I am slightly interested in the bit of the thread about Reductionism. The thing is, it is not the sort of thing that working scientists waste time thinking about. They get on and do their research within a framework of generally accepted theory, using accepted and proven methods. It’s only people who are not creative scientists who worry about whether an explanation is ‘Reductionist’ or not. Though Einstein’s theories were revolutionary they still were incubated within the framework of Newtonian science and were aimed at achieving an explanation of certain phenomena which Newtonian gravitational theory could not account for.

  13. It boggles my mind that something — some research, some explanation — aimed at expanding our knowledge could be seen as reductionist. And that, instead, stuff that doesn’t (necessarily) explain much — but is frequently fluffy, non-specific and (supposedly) nice… and (surely!) open-minded — can be regarded as non-reductionist.

  14. I still find Schierens article very rewarding to study! Here are some observations.

    ” … in tune with the predominantly positivist slant of modern philosophy the contemporary epistemology of science has rejected all forms of essentialism. By essentialism is meant any form of philosophy that seeks to ground itself upon ultimate truths.”

    Schieren contrasts essentialism with the views of Karl Popper, who is a well-known science thinker:

    “In essentialism Popper sees a social danger, for any philosophy claiming the truth automatically defames any approach contrary to it as untrue. Herein lies – as he sees it – the source of tyranny, dogmatism and fanaticism.”

    Wikipedia is helpful in describing Poppers views on this rather complex issue.

    ” … anthroposophists are faced with a clear task, namely, to take Rudolf Steiner’s realist, essentialist position and develop it further in terms of scientific epistemology.”

    He seems to doubt that this is at all possible. So what is?

    “It seems, therefore, more appropriate to describe anthroposophy as a path of knowledge that offers a perspective on the truth and holds out the possibility of approaching it, rather than reducing it to an ingredient of a particular individual’s store of knowledge. A possible term that suggests itself for this would be *perspective-based essentialism*.”

    I think here we can read the best anthroposophy can come up with at the moment, as to how anthroposophy could be seen as a science. Is he trying to say that it is impossible? Perhaps he has realized that with the common view of science, even among many religious groups, anthroposophy can never be seen as a science. What is left is to have anthroposophical “perspectives” on scientific findings. Which is similar to what most christian people I know are quite happy with. But fortunately for them no theories of child development based on the magical number seven have been recorded in the sayings of Jesus.

    Schierens conclusions should perhaps be regarded as a “bomb” in anthroposophical circles. Hasn’t Steiner promised them a real spiritual science? What is this nonsense about “perspective.based essentialism”? Maybe Alicia is speaking about something similar:

    “What about all those religious believers? They’re the ones responsible for the practical applications. They are the ones truly in need of a facade. Schieren is not.”

    One last observation. Anthroposophy might have missed an historical chance as a “spiritual science”. Much of what Schieren hints at as areas where anthroposophy could add something “extra”, has actually been developed in mainstream science at least since around 1980. Investigations of cultural phenomena, cognitive science, ideas like the “social construction of reality” or “narrative construction of reality”, research on meditation etc. In the first part of the tventieth century even social and human sciences were much more crippled by a positivistic and mechanistic view of science. Now, there are many examples of open-minded researchers already inside the doors of universities, doing science I am sure would inspire even the ghost of Rudolf Steiner.

    PS I’ll return to questions around “holism” later.

  15. An important characteriscic of science is that when a scientist follows a certain method, another scientist following the same method, should come to same results as the first scientist.
    That is also valid for the anthroposophical method, as mentioned by Schieren and described by Zajonc.

  16. Jan’s observation is an interesting one. The difference I would see is that with every step of the way, we could all understand what the conventional scientist was doing and and she would have a whole host of colleagues who could easily monitor, check the validity of observations, etc, and their personal beliefs would be completely irrelevant to the whole enterprise.
    Does anything comparable happen with the anthroposophical method?
    I have never quite been able to understand what this ‘method’ is. Can I see someone using it, the way I watched my father (a pathologist) working in his laboratory?
    By the way, if anyone reading my comment doesn’t follow this blog very often they may not know that I am a committed anthroposophist, I just don’t take everything Steiner said as gospel. (Nor as science – but then I think there is an awful lot more to life than either science or gospel)

  17. Falk, when you say you are a committed anthroposophist, what do you mean by that? Would you see it as a religious or as a philosophical position?

    I’m genuinely interested btw, in other words I’m not teasing you.

  18. What is the anthroposophical method?
    The best explanation I found in Arthur Zajonc’s book, namely chapter 6.
    Zajonc knows both the conventional scientific method as the anthroposophical scientific method, which he develops further and calls it method of “contemplative inquiry”.
    Now to describe it here, I am afraid, will not do justice to Arthur Zajonc.
    I have to wrestle very much with my English to write about it, because I read the book in Dutch and I want to use the right terminology. (This is one of the reasons I also want to read it in English)
    He develops the method but also places it in a broad historical and cultural context.
    We need the context to understand the method.
    I want to be careful, because it could easily be misunderstood.
    .

  19. Jan,
    I will have a look at Chapter 6 of Zajonc’s book.

    Ulf,
    I could not make head or tail of Witzenmann when i tried to read him – a good few years ago.

    Melanie.
    When I say I am an anthroposophist I mean I have faith in Rudolf Steiner. I trust that he speak the truth when he sees with his clairvoyant insight. I believe he could see into the spiritual world and he brought objectivity to that insight. What he saw was not simply his subjective fantasy.
    This does not imply that he is always right.
    I think he was sometimes mistaken.
    The stuff he said about race is an obvious example.

    My trusting him to speak the truth does not imply that I give his revelations the status of science.
    I think they have existential significance, a little bit in the way that moral truths (for which there is no evidence) have huge significance and a bit in the way poetry, music, the arts and religious life can have significance for us.
    It is a realm to do with how life has meaning. What is sometimes called, ‘Teleology’. A realm which the physical sciences try to completely exclude from consideration.
    For me the insights Steiner brings are more like religious insights but there is no question of HAVING to believe any particular thing that he said.

    I regard it as a blessing that the kind of revelations Steiner brought do NOT have the status of science.
    Many anthroposophists will say that what is significant in Steiner is his image of the human being – what sort of being a human is.
    I say thank God this is not science or we would all have to believe it in the way that we have to believe that water always boils at a certain temperature (allowing for atmospheric pressure, etc.) Anyone who denied such a fact would be plain silly.
    Whereas the way things stand we can say, “I don’t care a jot about your image of the human being, Dr. Steiner,- I don’t feel myself to be like that” – and there is no scientific proof one way or the other. We are free to accept his image or not.

    One of the things I like about you and Alicia, Melanie, is that you know what you don’t want.

    By calling his revelation spiritual science Steiner wanted to claim a certain objectivity for it. He wanted to be able to say, ‘I have left aside anything with a personal element in it. What I see does not merely spring from my own imagination’. He was well aware that people claiming to see into the spiritual world are prone to fantasy!
    But it clearly isn’t what we normally mean by science.

    Why do I trust him? Because, over a long time I have found that the path of inner development that he described helps me to be a better human being, and my experience has been that the fruits of his work in agriculture, education, medicine and social care can be genuinely nurturing and healing. Because, despite all his mistakes, I believe he was a good man.
    I realise this is just anecdote but I am speaking of myself and what I mean by saying I am an anthroposophist – as Melanie asked.

    This does not imply that things don’t go wrong – they clearly often do – just as in other situations where the human element comes in.

    Sorry to go on so much. I can’t say it anymore briefly.

  20. Falk, you say: ‘a bit in the way poetry, music, the arts and religious life can have significance for us.’

    I’ve imagined this is the way you see it. Of course I think anthroposophy IS a religion, about which you may not agree, or at least that it’s a faith. I don’t begrudge individuals their faith.

    On the other hand I think what Steiner saw WAS his subjective fantasy, but I don’t think it’s without value because of that. We would be the poorer without fantasy.

    To be bold and perhaps impertinent – your idea of Steiner is an extension of your own character, it’s one of the ways you see yourself. That isn’t a criticism, in fact it’s the opposite.

  21. Thank You, Melanie. I quite like ‘bold and impertinent’, it must be my Irish heritage coming out! I agree that for me Anthro is more like a faith.

  22. Yes, that is what I was thinking, anthroposophy is a religion. As a newcomer to this debate, I wonder why this is not acknowledged more widely, since faith is generally acceptable. Surely the Steiner group would gain more credibility if they just admit it is a religion.
    I assume most people (including falk?) are anthroposophists because they were educated within the system.

  23. Helen, I think you would find that very few anthroposophists ‘were educated within the system’. I was educated at catholic schools and only came into contact with anthroposphy as a young adult
    Of the many Anthros I have known over 40 years contact with the movement, I can only think of a handful who went themselves to a Steiner school or whose parents were anthros.

    Anthroposophists tend to be people who are ‘spiritual seekers’. people seeking for an explanation of how life has meaning. Many old hippies from the 60’s (like me!), alternative types, new-agers etc.

    It has also been my experience over 20 years close contact with a Steiner school that very few of the pupils become involved with anthroposphy. Of my own children’s class mates I cannot think of even one, though now that they are having children of their own there are some who want their child to attend a Steiner school.

  24. I can see why a Catholic education would leave young people open to ideas such as anthroposophy. If you have been brought up with such a strong faith it would be difficult to see that there is no need for life to have a meaning, and such indefinite spiritual ideas would be attractive, a sort of half -way house.
    But it is a shame that scientific progress is the loser in all this, as some people are more willing to accept unproven imaginings than fact- based research.
    One of my local Waldorf Colleges calls itself the Waldorf College of science and Art(presumably for funding purposes) When I telephoned to enquire what science courses were taught, I was told the students learn science during pottery lessons. The woman I spoke to said that science is not fact and we only know facts from our own experience.

  25. Helen — I fixed it. Also, welcome! Nice to see you.

    This thread is very interesting, I am reading and will continue to read (must make myself and mr Dog dinner now)!

  26. Helen, I don’t see why ‘science is the loser in all this’.
    I am greatly interested in science and support genuine scientific endeavour wholeheartedly. Where I would differ from some people who call themselves scientists is when they set up their way of understanding the world as excluding all other types of understanding.
    Rudolf Steiner was greatly interested in the science of his day. His intention was not to counter the findings of genuine science but to set them in a spiritual context.
    There are scientists and technologists who are committed anthroposophists.
    I guess Peter Schnell of Software AG Stiftung knows a good deal about computer science.

  27. Well…my husband is a software designer, but he would not call himself a scientist. However, he does know what is real and what is imaginary, and I am convinced that people’s willingness to accept things on ‘faith’ restricts their ambitions to want to improve the real world.

  28. @ falk
    Even my very limited reading of Steiner which makes me beleive that he was very interested in the science of his day. Like Zajonc, Schieren and you.

    But when you look at waldorf education, there are important things presented as science which in the normal use of that word, is not. I would call them myth, fiction or superstition, but if someone made them part of their religion I would happily agree. I have three examples.

    1. The seven year cycle of child developmen which is the rationale for delaying reading instruction. That’s the most dangerous myth.

    2. The “personality psychology” of Steiner with the four temperaments. Again with these too beautiful aesthetic correspondences. That’s the most funny one. Unless teachers actually use it, which would seriously limit their openness to the pupils as living, complex individuals in rapid change. I’m not too impressed by the “Big Five” personality traits of current psychology either (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) but at least teachers in normal schools usually have a healthy scepticism of such things.

    3. The Cultural Epochs which are superficially similar to normal history in “historical time” but starts in Myth and ends in Myth. This is, according to the website of the swedish waldorf federation actually taught, which can even be unlawful. You are allowed to teach “confessional” subjects at a school but not within the normal curriculum, and parents and children should have the right not to participate.

    Now this is probably old news to many here, but I think it should be mentioned in the anthro/science context.

  29. falk wrote:

    ‘I think there is an awful lot more to life than either science or gospel’

    Exactly!

    ‘I think they have existential significance, a little bit in the way that moral truths (for which there is no evidence) have huge significance and a bit in the way poetry, music, the arts and religious life can have significance for us.’

    I wouldn’t disagree with this either actually. Seen this way, his works has value, depending on what you make of that. Trying to squeeze it into the box that says ‘science’, with the rules that apply there (mostly for good reason), is futile, in my opinion — and more likely to make anthroposophy useless as anything. (As you say, a paragraph later, if the concrete tenets of anthroposophy that Steiner presented were properly scientific, they would be truth… that would have to be trusted. At least until the results were superceded by other results.

    ‘…but there is no question of HAVING to believe any particular thing that he said.’

    Of course, lots of christians treat the bible the same way. In practice. Or their lives would become really difficult…

    ‘Sorry to go on so much. I can’t say it anymore briefly.’

    It was a lovely comment, thank you very much for writing it.

    Helen wrote:

    ‘I assume most people (including falk?) are anthroposophists because they were educated within the system.’

    Falk answered you already, but… although there are anthroposophists who have been educated within the system, many aren’t. As said, most are probably spiritual seekers of some kind, though. (Some may even get into it because they’re attracted to the aesthetic aspects of it.) There’s a chapter in Geoffrey Ahern’s book Sun at Midnight — it’s about interviews he did with young anthroposophists in London, about what made them get into anthroposophy. Quite interesting.

    ‘When I telephoned to enquire what science courses were taught, I was told the students learn science during pottery lessons. The woman I spoke to said that science is not fact and we only know facts from our own experience.’

    Oh dear Dog. They — the waldorf education movement — really needs to come to terms with stuff like this, and do something about it, or their ability to conduct science education must certainly be questioned. I suppose it’s fine to explore whatever scientific aspects there are on pottery, but it’s so not enough. And who’s teaching pottery? Most likely some arts person who knows little about science.

    Ulf:

    Good points. And one might also ponder this: people who have thought a lot about the temperaments or the 7-year cycles, people who have questioned them, people who have been taught other alternative ways of seeing things (people who are familiar with psychological and pedagogical theories, scientific research and so forth), people who have done all this may be capable of separate what’s useful and not useful in Steiner’s ideas and put whatever stays into practice, or more likely use it as some kind of inspiration. What scares me is that Steiner teachers study what Steiner taught and not much else. And I doubt there’s a lot of healthy questioning. Add to that: most people — if not all — who train to become waldorf teachers are spiritual seekers. This gives a whole other meaning to their training. It’s not just professional training. And, I suspect, they’re not as prone to questioning and criticism as they should be — moreover, these attitudes are not encouraged.

  30. Ulf. My understanding of Steiner education is that the three things you mention are not thought of as science, but as pedagogical tools which are derived from a particular image of what a human being is.

    The seven year cycle can be observed to match approximately to stages in child development, the change of teeth, the changes associated with puberty, but I would not call it science.

    There is evidence from international studies which shows that countries which do not start formal schooling until after the 6th birthday (Ie the seventh year) do not experience the same percentage of children having difficulty in learning to read as those which start earlier, particularly England, where we start them at 4, and a significant percentage have difficulty. Waiting until the child is more mature has never been shown to be detrimental whereas starting too soon does appear to be.

    I have always understood Steiner schools to teach myth as a precurser to history. In the school my children attended many children chose history for A level with very good outcomes. None of the pupils were confused by Myth vs History. Indeed one of them is now senior lecturer in history in a good university. I realise that this only anecdote but I know of no study which shows Steiner pupils unable to distinguish Myth from History.

    I would grace very little of the methodologies used in all and any schools with the description ‘scientific’. Having been an educational researcher I know from experience how nearly every teaching method involves value judgements and preconceptions. This does not mean it is not worth evaluating methodologies, but the process is not scientific – at best it is analytical and observational. One has to take into account that value judgements and preconceptions are present. Ethical issues are always to the fore when dealing with children. They cannot be the subject of experiment.

    I don’t agree with Helen’s notion, ‘that people’s willingness to accept things on ‘faith’ restricts their ambitions to want to improve the real world.’ I would have thought there is a lot to be said for the contrary. I have always found Popper’s great work, ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’ to be instructive in this respect. It is, according to Popper, precisely utopian idealists, whether Platonic (Where I would include Steiner), Marxist, Socialist or Fascist, who are intensely interested in ‘improving’ the world.

  31. When you have this strong believe that there is not, and cannot ever be, a spiritual world, you can only approach anthroposophy with prejudices, and you will never understand it.
    We need an other science-paradigma as the conventional. Don’t be afraid of it.

  32. Jan: ‘When you have this strong believe that there is not, and cannot ever be, a spiritual world, you can only approach anthroposophy with prejudices, and you will never understand it.’

    Well, then, maybe anthroposophy has no room in education? If it can’t be understood and can’t be explained so that a person of normal intelligence can understand, then there’s no way to evaluate its usefulness. There’s no way for the ordinary parent to decide if this is what s/he wants or not.

    ‘We need an other science-paradigma as the conventional.’

    No, we need to understand when science is worth calling for, and when it’s not.

    falk: ‘The seven year cycle can be observed to match approximately to stages in child development, the change of teeth, the changes associated with puberty, but I would not call it science.’

    Yes, well. But it’s all very arbitrary. One could choose other points in a child’s life and say: these are the important times. When baby teeth are lost. When the child says the first words. When the child can jump on one leg. When the child can eat with a fork. When the child asks: what does these letters say? Thing is, Steiner puts spiritual emphasis on certain events that are chosen for whatever reasons. And, inspired by this, man waldorf teachers think, for example, that teeth are more important than willingness to learn to read.

    If all we want to say is: children develop, there are stages in this development, well, sure. The problem is the consequences of the development Steiner has described (in some detail).

    ‘I don’t agree with Helen’s notion, ‘that people’s willingness to accept things on ‘faith’ restricts their ambitions to want to improve the real world.’’

    I think it depends on what we’re talking about. If we’re talking about researching a cure for HIV, having faith that god (for example) will cure is no way to go; you have to seek knowledge, to seek the facts. But, certainly, there’s something to be said for humans’ faith in their ability — otherwise we may be paralysed, thinking everything impossible –and so forth. Well, not a good example. In other contexts, accepting something on faith is different. And schools should not teach children to accept things on faith — but to question everything. That there are still things we can’t know but have to guess or even believe, well, that will be apparent anyway.

    ‘I would grace very little of the methodologies used in all and any schools with the description ‘scientific’.’

    The bottom line is that, despite training, some teachers are good teachers. Some are bad teachers. Brilliant teachers may not be as dependent on methodologies than bad teachers — it’s the worse teachers who really need them. Still, research on education and on how to improve it is of course important. On a general level, knowing what works and does not work (rather: what works better and what works worse) can’t be but helpful. And knowledge may enable the teacher to easer adapt the methods to fit the situation. (Which is one reason why only learning about Steiner’s ideas is a bad idea, even for waldorf teachers to be.)

    ‘None of the pupils were confused by Myth vs History.’

    (Sorry, I realise I’m replying to comment backwards…) That’s because they can think. Even in first grade, when most of everything was just fairytale fluff, the children didn’t believe all the stuff the teachers told them. Not even in kindergarten. I’d say most normal-brained children get that teachers are telling myths (even when the teachers believe some of it themselves, actually…). There’s still a lack of real history education, at least in early grades. You could have more of that.

    Re the reading — early vs late — that may have several explanations that have little to do with reading. Sweden starts late too as does Finland. Finland is succesful, Sweden is not. Perhaps it’s possible to find countries that start as early as England and do it successfully. I wouldn’t advocate sitting down and literally struggle with reading with a four year old child who isn’t mature enough, that would be silly. There’s probably no reason to be alarmed if a four-year old is not so interested in this stuff, yet. But then… there are four-year olds who are, and I’m sure that those four-year olds can not sustain any harm from exploring this are of life. Why not give the opportunity and see if the child chooses it? (Waldorf doesn’t want to do that — I find that a loss.)

  33. Jan, speaking only for myself here of course, but I certainly doesn’t exclude the possibility of spiritual dimensions in human life.

    And like Alicia I find falks expression “I think there is an awful lot more to life than either science or gospel” very wise. I too think that you need som kind of “point of practical wisdom” from which you can decide how to act on scientific or other ideas.

    It is also a good move to clarify that education or evaluation of teaching methods cannot be scientific in the same way that e.g. DNA research could be called scientific. I’m not sure which words and concepts are best to use here. Which do you suggest?

  34. I know we’ve been over this before, but I guess we can stumble upon that threshold, fall and hurt ourselves again, just for fun… but lots of this hinges on the definition of ‘spiritual dimension’. That definition, in itself, is not at all apparent — neither is it apparent what conclusions to draw from accepting or rejecting it, once the definition is established.

    Sometimes, if you ask people, they don’t actually know know more about that ‘spiritual dimension’ they’re accepting and I, presumably, am rejecting.

    Some people think of archangels, some people think of the mind. Some people may think Steiner’s fantastic universe of stages and beings and experiences was a metaphor for human mind stuff (sorry I’m getting tired; eloquence has abandoned me); others think he spoke actual facts about other worlds outside our minds.

    Some people think the spiritual dimension is a personal god; other people that it’s the experience when looking at a piece of art. Some people think this is spiritual: https://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/lost-in-the-woods-again/. I think it’s trite crap. Some people think telepathic communication with penguins is spiritual; I’d probably prefer good literature, although that may be just good literature and not spiritual at all.

    Some people think that rejecting the spiritual world — whatever that is — means thinking everything valuable and useful can be measured. Or seen. Else it doesn’t exist. Or something. Utter bollocks. But if you claim capacities that can be measured, that can be proven, if they exist — then why should it not be done? The point of the archangel, though, is that if we dissect him, physically, he no longer belongs to a supersensible world.

    If all there is to the spiritual dimension is this: the human mind is a rather marvellous and lots of stuff — even the fantastic — seems to take place there, well, allright.

    If the archangels are ghosts of the human brain — then, sure, they ‘exist’.

    If the spiritual dimension is: having to accept on faith what should be possible to explore with science… that’s a waste… and if it’s to be done, then it’s got to have beauty, otherwise it’s junk and should be thrown on the garbage dump for stupid and ugly ‘spiritualities’ that humanity doesn’t need anymore.

    Moreover, if we’re talking education, why not give the children knowledge, skills and experience (in all areas: science, history, art, language, language et c) and let them explore their own spiritual needs — whatever those are — as they see fit? Because, after all, it is individual. Some people may choose to get lost in the woods, others to read poetry.

    I’m going to stop, because I’m falling asleep. (Sorry for unsanswered… everythings. I haven’t been keeping up.)

  35. Do supersensible elemental beings have physical sheaths that can be damaged by what humans do with natural resources? https://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/elementals-and-fuels/

    Now, that quote, in the post, is about waldorf education science. If these beings have physical sheaths, then, certainly, they can be explored scientifically. We’re talking about physical reality here, and not even I would deny the existence of such undines and sylphs. If you say elementals are spiritual entities, well, fine. If you say they’re symbols, metaphors, fine too. But then they don’t have physical sheaths. They exist as psychological constructions. Or something. The only physical about them would be what happens in our synapses, and that’s just boring now; we’ll leave that out for the moment. What’s interesting is our thoughts, our experiences, our visions, or whatever, of these beings. I don’t see, however, why science education — on fuels — needs to be bogged down by worries about the physical sheaths of the spiritual beings created by our minds either as fantasy or as metaphor or as description of some subjective experience… or any such thing, because there is no physicality… or they’d be as material as my couch or my fingers or that cheese in my kitchen or some of the (more real ones of the) bunnies mr Dog wants to chase.

    (Sorry, REALLY have to sleep now.)

  36. NOW I got it! Why canineosophic science demands bunnies (an observation from the Hereford thread). It’s a chase, Like following a white stag temptingly disappearing further and further into the dark forest, searching for enlightening patterns and theoretical models to guide your next steps …

  37. Jan writes:

    ‘We need an other science-paradigma as the conventional. Don’t be afraid of it.’

    You mean we need Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science as our dominant ‘paradigm’?

  38. ‘there’s something to be said for humans’ faith in their ability — otherwise we may be paralysed, thinking everything impossible ‘

    I would not call that faith, it is learning from experience, that problems can be solved eventually by scientific endeavour. Belief that problems can be solved by prayer, on the other hand, shows delusion.

    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com

    I nearly said sorry if that sounds rude to believers, but I will not, as I think showing respect to religion accounts for it’s survival in an age when we no longer require it.

  39. Yep.

    I’m happy to state that we can’t deny the possibility of the existence of a ‘spiritual’ dimension (ie one existing outside the natural world) but I can’t see why such a thing is necessary – nor why it would be desirable. It just looks like another layer of hierarchy, in fact it looks suspiciously man-made, in Steiner’s case a bizarre import from the middle-ages.

  40. ‘Some people think the spiritual dimension is a personal god; other people that it’s the experience when looking at a piece of art.’

    I spent last evening playing in a string quartet, and would in no way describe this as a spiritual experience. It takes all my concentration and the violin is the result of many years of effort and skill by craftsmen. For me there is nothing unexplained or mysterious about it and yet it is one of the greatest pleasures of my life.
    I add this just to explain that being ‘non spiritual’ does not exclude someone from inspirational experience.

  41. Helen — that’s exactly the kind of experience that *some* ‘spiritual’ people think those who don’t recognize a spiritual world can’t have. I say some, because it does depend on the definition they make of ‘spiritual’. There are anthroposophists who believe that if you reject the ‘spiritual dimension’ (whatever they take that to be, it’s not always clear, given the supposed implications of this rejection), you are unable to find meaning in art, music, literature. That the inevitable outcome is a poor, meaningless existence, based solely on what can be measured. That, according to them, is how it’s got to be.

  42. ‘NOW I got it! Why canineosophic science demands bunnies (an observation from the Hereford thread). It’s a chase, Like following a white stag temptingly disappearing further and further into the dark forest, searching for enlightening patterns and theoretical models to guide your next steps …’

    YES!! Mr Dog and I are so happy that this kiosk is graced by such perceptive bipedal people!

  43. Alicia – yes it is an argument I have heard. Whilst working in a Waldorf school many years ago I was made to feel that their world was something I was not privy to as an outsider. I had never heard of anthroposophy(!) and was not even particularly interested in what their philosophy was at the time, but definitely felt the rest of the staff regarded themselves as privieged in their ‘spirituality’,.

  44. Hope I’m not destroying the whole charm with canineosophy by trying to ascribe certain ideas to it … Actually I had an unexpressed idea with the fairy-tale image of following elusive quadropeds into confusing realms; I think science and religion share some important roots in the search for explanations, for some sense of order in a chaos. (BTW Alicia, you’ve got mail)

  45. Oh, definitely not, canineosophy is full of ideas. In addition to being a path of course. A path of wisdom and a method of inquiry (mostly by nose).

    (I know. Too many right now, unfortunately. Or maybe it’s a permanent laziness, last week I dealt with unanswered emails from december. Then, unfortunately again, had to waste much effort writing emails that were unpleasant to write — not anything to do with anthros at all — and everything else has been very delayed again this week. I feel almost as though I’m fleeing to the blog ;-) But I will get to it. Hopefully today.)

  46. I was running through the churchyard this morning, Ulf, watching my dog & a large husky gambolling amongst the gravestones – chasing each other and so on, and I thought of life and death, and canineosophy, and what it might mean – and I decided: dogs just want to have fun.

  47. >I feel almost as though I’m fleeing to the blog ;-)

    Well many people gain when you flee to your blog :)

    Hear hear, to Helen about the music … it is a common theme with anthroposophists, that if you reject spirituality you must hate all things artistic or cultural or beautiful. I think the truth is the opposite. People who can’t REALLY appreciate music or art or literature or beauty for its own sake have to invent a lot of mystical pseudo-explanations to explain what it all “means.” They tend to be missing the point spectacularly. But if you are seriously into your music you are busy playing or practicing and don’t have the time or the need for the mystical extras that the less-talented feel the need for.

  48. Melanie writes
    “”Jan writes:
    ‘We need an other science-paradigma as the conventional. Don’t be afraid of it.’
    You mean we need Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science as our dominant ‘paradigm’?””

    Do you think I am a sectarist?

  49. Alicia wrote:
    “”Jan: ‘When you have this strong believe that there is not, and cannot ever be, a spiritual world, you can only approach anthroposophy with prejudices, and you will never understand it.’
    Well, then, maybe anthroposophy has no room in education? If it can’t be understood and can’t be explained so that a person of normal intelligence can understand, then there’s no way to evaluate its usefulness. There’s no way for the ordinary parent to decide if this is what s/he wants or not.””

    Alicia I don’t understand your question here: “Well, then, maybe anthroposophy has no room in education?” I think you really don’t have to possess more than an average intelligence to understand the anthroposophical method and the anthroposophical inquiry results. The question is more: to what extend can people approach anthroposophy without prejudices and assumptions. You don’t have to become an anthroposophist to try to judge anthroposophy from inside out and not laying over it an frame of your own believes.

  50. Jan you ask “: to what extend can people approach anthroposophy without prejudices and assumptions. ”
    But you are saying we have to have a belief in the spiritual world to understand anthroposophy.
    Belief in a spiritual world is an assumption in itself. So you are saying we have to make an assumption in order to understand it.
    I think.

  51. @Helen, it is a task of the anthroposophical method to understand as much as possible and to explain as much as possible, in a language we can all understand. No mystifications, no vagueness.
    I don’t see anthroposophy as faith or a religion, because it isn’t..
    A person can conceive it as such (and unfortunately many people do) but the anthroposophy is not meant as such.

  52. Helen, I wrote my comment before reading your last one, so my comment is not yet an answer to you. That is coming up.

  53. secularist? No. I have lost all hope of that. Sectarian – a member of a sect? Yes, you certainly seem to be. But I imagine you’re going to say any old spiritual paradigm would do for you, it doesn’t matter which variety as long as it involves ethereal beings in long floaty garments and some kind of stuffed ape.

  54. When you read closely I did not say that you have to beleive in a spiritual world.
    I did say that you should not deny the existence of a spiritual world.
    Many sceptics are a priori excluding the existence of the spiritual world. There is no scientifical or philosophical basis for such a denial.
    Then, when you are completely satisfied with explanations you get from the materialistic science it is of course o.k. But leave those alone who are not satisfied with these explanations.

  55. Jan – well ok you are asking me to suspend my disbelief. I still call that an assumption, since to allow the possibility would for me be irrational.
    But as for anthroposophy not being a religion, I am afraid all the prayers and references to God in what I have read rather contradict this.

  56. @ Melanie writes
    “secularist? No. I have lost all hope of that. Sectarian – a member of a sect? Yes, you certainly seem to be. But I imagine you’re going to say any old spiritual paradigm would do for you, it doesn’t matter which variety as long as it involves ethereal beings in long floaty garments and some kind of stuffed ape.””

    I should say this is the symptomatic comment of someone from the sceptical movement towards people who leave the possibility open for the existence of a spiritual world.
    Namely: respectless.

  57. ‘I think you really don’t have to possess more than an average intelligence to understand the anthroposophical method and the anthroposophical inquiry results’

    It’s perfectly possible to understand the anthroposophical method and yet not like it, want to pursue it or think it’s a good idea. ‘Results’ have to exist outside your own head, otherwise they are just fantasies. This is religion, or fiction. Anyone can do it if they want, but they can’t demand to be taken seriously.

  58. ‘leave those alone who are not satisfied with these explanations.’

    Jan, you can’t expect to say such things and not be challenged. Don’t play the victim. Over and over again we tell you that we can’t disprove there is a ‘spiritual realm’, any more than you can prove there is one. I’m happy to leave you alone, you’re at perfect liberty to think whatever you want. But I don’t have to agree with you.

  59. @Helen wrote:
    ” Jan – well ok you are asking me to suspend my disbelief. I still call that an assumption, since to allow the possibility would for me be irrational.
    But as for anthroposophy not being a religion, I am afraid all the prayers and references to God in what I have read rather contradict this.”

    Helen your beleive is: there is no spiritual world. You are saying this is a rational believe. But it stil is a believe. You can not scientifically prove that there is no spiritual world.

    I do not understand fully what you mean by your last sentences.
    The anthroposophical method is a path, also called method of Contemplative Inquiry by Arthus Zajonc. Every person is free to go this path, and you can do this without prayers.
    there are no dogmas here.

  60. Jan:
    >I think you really don’t have to possess more than an average intelligence to understand the anthroposophical method and the anthroposophical inquiry results.

    Agree with you there.

  61. “But leave those alone who are not satisfied with these explanations.”

    We’d be happy to … if they’d only leave our children alone.

  62. “Many sceptics are a priori excluding the existence of the spiritual world. There is no scientifical or philosophical basis for such a denial.”

    You misstate the skeptical position. I think I’ve explained it to you before.

    The skeptical position is not to a priori exclude anything. It’s to ask for evidence before believing something. In the absence of evidence, the skeptical position is to assume, for practical purposes, that it doesn’t exist. The skeptical position is always open to changing views when or if new evidence becomes available.

    Very much so, for practical purposes, we would prefer our children not be taught one particular guru’s spiritual doctrines. There are lots of them out there, how would one even choose? The guru says trust me, the skeptic – or frankly anyone with a lick of sense – says why in the world should I trust you, there are literally thousands more where you came from, so give me some REASON to trust you first – some evidence what you say might conceivably be true. Steiner’s defenders, plainly, cannot do this for most of Steiner’s pronouncements.

    But you don’t have to take my word that this is the essence of the skeptical position. Go and look this up. Check some sources other than strangers on the Internet. Honest, you will see I”m not making this up.

    Please check into it before you repeat, here or in other discussions, that skeptics refuse to believe in anything a priori.

  63. Jan — only anthroposophists ‘understand’ anthroposophy from the inside; you can’t expect that from the non-anthro parent. Thus: it’s not for them. And — you’re the one who keeps saying that despite all our reading, we can’t — don’t — understand. I think I can safely say that neither Melanie nor I nor anyone else here posess below average intelligence.

  64. Jan – I can’t prove there is no spiritual world and I can’t prove there is no Father Christmas or Thor either.

    Anthroposophy was a philosophy founded by Rudolph Steiner who applied this practically to Waldorf Steiner education, which is what concerns me. In his directions for this brand of education he sets out the prayers to be said and describes how religion should be taught.
    And God certainly comes in to it. Reincarnation and Karma do not feature in a life without religion.
    In my town one of the largest churches is the Christian Community smack bang in the centre of a mushrooming set of at least 10 Steiner establishments. A look at their website indicates the Steiner nature of their activities. Just to confirm it they have funny shaped windows.
    It is becoming obvious that Steinerism is just another sect. Don’t say Steiner is not anthroposophy because what would one be without the other?

  65. @Melanie writes:
    “It’s perfectly possible to understand the anthroposophical method and yet not like it, want to pursue it or think it’s a good idea.”

    I don’t think this is the case. I think you can not value this method without trying it.

    ‘Results’ have to exist outside your own head, otherwise they are just fantasies.
    That is the question. Aren’t we dealing with a dogma here?

    “This is religion, or fiction. Anyone can do it if they want”
    .
    Yes everybody can go the path of cotemplative inquiry. But why should this be religion or fiction. When you have a relgion there is no need to go this path and also when you want to have fantasies you can do without.

    …”but they can’t demand to be taken seriously.”

    To take someone seriously is mere depending on ethics and morality..

  66. @Alicia
    Alicia writes: “Jan — only anthroposophists ‘understand’ anthroposophy from the inside; you can’t expect that from the non-anthro parent. Thus: it’s not for them. And — you’re the one who keeps saying that despite all our reading, we can’t — don’t — understand. I think I can safely say that neither Melanie nor I nor anyone else here posess below average intelligence.”

    Again, it is no question of intelligence, but of prejudices standing in the way.
    But of course parents should be told in understandable language where a school is standing for.

  67. Helen, Christian Community is not the same as the anthroposophical method.
    Anthroposophists should not need the Christian Community. I know that the practice is different.

  68. @Diana
    Diana said:
    “Many sceptics are a priori excluding the existence of the spiritual world. There is no scientifical or philosophical basis for such a denial.”
    You misstate the skeptical position. I think I’ve explained it to you before.

    Is there just one skeptical position?
    I don’t think so.
    See how they operate.

  69. Jan – Are you trying to distance anthroposophy from Steiner communities? It is all one and the same. one cannot exist without the other.

  70. Jan – I’m not talking about individuals, I’m talking about ideas. I respect you as an individual (otherwise I wouldn’t bother to argue with you). Since we’re discussing this in English I appreciate that it’s not as easy for you to say exactly what you mean as it would be in your own language.

  71. Diana,
    I have visited many skeptic sites, it is everywhere the same:
    dogmatism and enlightenment fundamentalism and of course arrogance.

    Sorry to this, but you are very patronizing.

  72. I’m sorry if it sounds patronizing, but you have a strong tendency in these discussions to repeat the same positions over and over and simply not respond, or not change your position, in the face of posts showing you very clear and factual misunderstandings.
    I will not be surprised to find you a year from now, repeating here that “skeptics deny the existence of a spiritual world a priori.” If you mischaracterize someone’s position you can expect them to repeatedly correct you, patronizing or not.

  73. Jan says: ‘But of course parents should be told in understandable language where a school is standing for.’

    Absolutely. And none of them do.

  74. ‘Again, it is no question of intelligence, but of prejudices standing in the way.’

    Actually, that was not at all apparent, and I don’t think you said it before. You said Melanie et alia don’t understand. Then you say all that should be needed is normal intelligence.

    ‘But of course parents should be told in understandable language where a school is standing for.’

    Ok, we agree. So they should be told about anthroposophy. Not in a dumbed-down way — definitely not. They should be seen as equals, in intelligence, and should be expected to understand straight and honest information — and make decisions based on it (even if the decision is to reject waldorf education). So, how then would you prefer anthroposophy to be presented to parents so that they will understand? Are you still with, let’s call it the Zajonc version, even though Zajonc is far from the reality of waldorf education, far from what is actually practiced by anthroposophists (who are doing it wrong, according to you)? Or should we go with the experts https://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/lost-in-the-woods-again/ ?

    Sure, I’m not saying Zajonc can’t be a recommendation. But parents need to know what goes on in the schools — where anthroposophy is not a method (for the teachers in their own spiritual paths) but a set of dogma applied to children and education. They are, after all, entrusting their children to waldorf schools, not to Zajonc. They are much more likely to risk entrusting their children to zealots, rather than to professors of physics.

    What is relevant, in this context, is what anthroposophy is in waldorf. How it’s applied. What kind of anthroposophical attitudes are put in practice, if you will.

    You can’t say all these people, who are also anthroposophists, are doing it wrong and you’re doing it right. I may prefer your way of doing it to that of the zealots. But whom should we call on to represent the most typical waldorf?

    I’m interested in the thoughts and ideas and paths and inquiries and whatnot of anthroposophists; and I agree there are far more interesting things than dogma and zealotry. But in the context of schools, and of how anthroposophy is presented in that particular context, we have left what’s perhaps best called personal paths of individuals. Something else is going on. Other people are involved. Anthroposophy is used ‘professionally’ (and unprofessionally, for that matter) by people who follow their anthroposophy — people who have been taught anthroposophical dogma as fact during their teacher training. That’s what parents need to know. Not, primarily, that there’s a clever dude called Zajonc who wrote about some people’s ideal anthroposophy. Again — look at the Woods’ couple and their presentation of themselves. There really is an ocean separating these two from reason and rationality.

    Jan, two more things:

    1) what about that definition of the ‘spiritual dimension’? You talk a lot about it, and you talk about people rejecting it. But you don’t say what it is? How can I know I ‘reject’ your understanding of a ‘spiritual dimension’ if you don’t explain it?

    2) I do think you’re having prejudices about skeptics. And about enlightenment ideas.

    You could do with a little more doubt yourself, Jan!

  75. @ falk

    How bad is waldorf pedagogy?

    “having been an educational researcher” makes you uniquely qualified to help spot any errors in my analysis of the statistics in the Dahlin report:

    http://www.kristofferskolan.se/bilder/RAPPORT%201.pdf

    I hope this link works. On page 20 they say that according to the most relevant comparison, 8% fewer waldorf pupils continue to higher studies within three years. They also say that this figure probably is higher because those who didn’t pursue their studies are less likely to answer (32% didn’t). And if you compare with all programs, the percentage rises to 15%.

    In the final report which should be available online also in english, they seem to have forgotten their previous choice of preferred comparison group and managed to find a group (including programs which doesn’t prepare pupils for university studies at all!) where waldorf is 11% better. “Embarrassing” is the kindest word I can come upp with to describe this …

    What would you say is the most relevant figure here? I would say that according to the Dahlin study, waldorf education is at the very least 8% worse if you want your child to continue to higher education. Would you agree, or do you think I or the researchers missed something?

    Then again, I think most educational researchers would say that it’s probably much worse than that because children with parents who choose a free school should perform significantly better than pupils in ordinary schools. I would say that it’s not unlikely that the swedish waldorf pedagogy is 30 – 50 % less successful than just “ordinary” teaching. But this is of course more or less informed guesswork and much more difficult to discuss here.

    So what do you say falk? Prepared to get you hands dirty in some data? If the discussion gets too boring or technical we could take it off-list for a while.

  76. This was the research when they compared the outcome of waldorf high school (which supposedly prepares students for academic studies) with all other high school programs (like hairdresser, nail therapeut, building worker, car mechanic, circus artist… or whatever there is — programs for those who do not intend to pursue higher studies) — right?

    A lower percentage of waldorf students go on to higher studies — yet, I’ve seen numerous claims to the opposite.

    And, as you point out, the background of waldorf students ought to mean the outcome should be a lot more positive. Perhaps even more so then — these waldorf students must be students from the time when waldorf was still more of an ‘elite’ choice. They don’t take in to account this social and academic background. (A very high percentage of waldorf students, at least when I was in waldorf, had parents with an academic education.)

    Plus, there’s no accounting for this: only children who’ve finished high school are surveyed. Since many students who begin first grade in waldorf leave, it’s reasonable to think that many of the high school graduates have only spent a portion of their education in waldorf. Perhaps even a small portion. I would like to know the ‘successes’ of those who were failed by waldorf and quit before they finished. And I would like to know how successful the students are who spent 1st grade all the way through and graduated from waldorf. And I’d like to see family background taken into account. That would be interesting.

    The Dahlin study is not very useful — and yet it shows failure… while still being hailed as triumph. Quite puzzling, actually.

    ‘If the discussion gets too boring or technical we could take it off-list for a while.’

    Oh, no, don’t! This is very useful.

  77. There are two things Falk writes which I’d like to highlight.

    ‘Ethical issues are always to the fore when dealing with children. They cannot be the subject of experiment.’

    they so often are the subject of experiment – one educational experiment after another – many of these driven by the particular ideology of an education secretary or government. As far as I’m concerned Steiner Waldorf, which is primarily a personal development course for ‘spiritual seekers’, and which suffers a large turnover of students (and teachers) – cannot claim the high moral ground in this regard. The casualties don’t get mentioned, but how many education systems have a survivors group?

    Steiner teacher Richard House, who is ever-present at the post-modernite twaddle end of writing about Steiner ed, advises parents contemplating a Steiner initiative:

    “Starting up a study group is very worthwhile – and a great place to start is to study Rudolf Steiner’s excellent and accessible lecture series The Kingdom of Childhood or his book The Child’s Changing Consciousness and Waldorf Education. It is also useful from the outset to read together some of the anthroposophical (Steiner-inspired) literature on community building, as you will inevitably encounter ordinary human difficulties and challenges in the course of building your initiative. In this sense, participating in building a school is very much a personal-developmental path for everyone involved.”

    http://www.hawthornpress.com/articles/Human%20Scale%20Education.pdf

    Obviously quite a few parents would be quite surprised at the ‘spiritual path’ appearing before them when they actually just wanted to help start a school, which is why it would be a very good idea for Kevin Avison and co. to make it very, very clear at the beginning – in the very first consultation meeting for the public at the launch of even the idea of a Steiner Free School, that this is exactly the sort of thing they SHOULD expect. So that if they don’t intend personally to ascend the spiritual ladder, they at least know what they will have to ignore/pretend isn’t there/talk their way out of at dinner parties.

    Falk adds: ‘I don’t agree with Helen’s notion, ‘that people’s willingness to accept things on ‘faith’ restricts their ambitions to want to improve the real world.’ …….. It is, according to Popper, precisely utopian idealists, whether Platonic (Where I would include Steiner), Marxist, Socialist or Fascist, who are intensely interested in ‘improving’ the world.’

    Indeed it is. Save us from utopian idealists.

  78. Ulf, You comment, ‘waldorf education is at the very least 8% worse if you want your child to continue to higher education.’ On the face of it the statistic you quote relates to how many pupils choose to go on to higher education. That statistic alone would not tell us whether the pupils COULD perform effectively in a higher education context.
    My Swedish is not good enough to read such a technical report but if I have understood you correctly, the statistic you quote is a measure of social behaviours. That does not tell us about the effectiveness of Waldorf pedagogy. Maybe in Sweden going to Steiner School makes you tend to choose alternative career paths!
    Statistics relating to something like the german Abitur, the english A level, or the International Baccalaureat are needed- I do not know what the precise equivalent in Sweden is. In England one has to do well in the public exams in order to gain access to a university.
    If Waldorf pupils were entered for public examinations and it was found that Waldorf students performed poorly in these public exams then it would point to the ineffectiveness of Waldorf methods.

  79. ‘Statistics relating to something like the german Abitur, the english A level, or the International Baccalaureat are needed- I do not know what the precise equivalent in Sweden is. In England one has to do well in the public exams in order to gain access to a university.’

    I have entertained a hypothesis that the german abitur makes german waldorf schools shape up compared to swedish ones — they know they have to provide their students that option of doing the abitur (their parents want it). In sweden the school grades the students’ performance. Thus they can graduate with grades that in no way correspond to their knowledge. (A big problem in general, it’s worth pointing out, not just with waldorf education.) Would be interesting if something like that applied to england — but hearing what I think I’m hearing, the english waldorf schools don’t perform that well (when they have to show some of their results, like the hereford school)… which leads me to think these students might not do so well in A levels… unless their parents pay for private tutoring (and option available to many waldorf parents… which may be the thing in germany, come to think of it). Another thing: many UK steiner schools don’t provide the opportunity to graduate at all — they stop around 8th/9th grade, don’t they? With some exceptions. Still, who knows how the students perform who have to go on to ordinary education these last few years. I don’t, but based on other knowledge, I guess they would have some catching up to do.

    (In Finland, when my mother was young, the steiner schools had to send their students through the same abitur procedure as other schools. This made her think these schools weren’t as bad, because the students weren’t doing that badly, not worse than other schools. Could be several reasons behind that, not necessarily excellent teaching. So she got the wrong impression (also did not know the steiner schools closely, not even in finland); waldorf schools in sweden had no obligations at all. And the relative success of these finnish schools came as a consequence of government regulation, not of the pedagogy itself. Conscious parents who have a system with an abitur to reckon with won’t accept that their kids won’t be able to achieve it.)

  80. Thanks falk, for your views! As you say, the figures in question are measures of behavior. Without more qualitative data, like interviews, we can only guess why fewer waldorf pupils choose not to continue with higher studies. For all I know they might be well on the path of reaching higher goals in life than their friends who already successfully knocked on the doors of higher education. But I’m sure that both swedish parents, school authorities and politicians would be worried enough to act differently if they knew about this. Which they probably don’t, because a misleading interpretation of the Dahlin report has been promoted.

    The figures also don’t tell us how well waldorf students perform. Waldorf schools avoid the National Tests as far as they can get away with. Dahlin says that according to the data they have, waldorf students perform slightly below their peers, but the researchers can’t control for the effect of those who didn’t take them. So it could be much worse. You can also argue that waldorf education isn’t designed for such tests. But quite a few good teachers I know say that these test are becoming better and better. In contrast with mindless multiple-choice tests, they try to measure “understanding”. Which hopefully will make schools less narrowly focused on unrelated and relatively meaningless facts.

    But what would you say, falk, should waldorf education be compared with “studieförberedande”, “preparing for study” or “yrkesförberedande”, “preparing for a profession” or both? In the revised interpretation 2006 Dahlin says they are both, because they have arts in the curriculum. Depending on how you think here, waldorf pedagogy is either 15 % worse, or 11 % better. The core of the issue is, when you leave high school, do you need some further education or can you begin practicing a profession immediately? There are high-school programs like “hotell och restaurang” which some employers are quite happy with. But what profession could waldorf prepare you for?

  81. @ alicia

    Maybe “högskoleprovet” is a bit like the Abitur? Perhaps only a state examination can help clean up the mess created by the current confused market economy in the school area, where headmasters could get a bonus if they could get their teachers to hand out higher grades …

    I know I could be accused of national stereotypes here. But what I have heard from teachers suggests that finns would be more comfortable with lessons which swedes might find boring. That applies also to the finnish-speaking and swedish-speaking groups within Finland. So they would be less likely to “engage in low-level destructive behavior” as Her Majesty’s Inspector reported from the Herefordshire school.

    So perhaps the waldorf schools should emigrate to Finland? Or might that compromise their PISA ranking?

  82. @Diana
    Diqana wrote:
    “I will not be surprised to find you a year from now, repeating here that “skeptics deny the existence of a spiritual world a priori.” If you mischaracterize someone’s position you can expect them to repeatedly correct you, patronizing or not.”
    Suppose you are right, then you have to explain why many skeptics disregard this principle.
    They can’t see evidence for anything supernatural. So until there is evidence for it (that tehy can accept) they are reckoning without the existence of a spiritual world. This I can understand.
    But see how many skeptics are operating. They are saying: no evidence ergo: no spiritual world. According to their own principle this is not correct. It is a step too far.
    This means in practice: denying of the spiritual world. See?

  83. which skeptics are you talking about? Your first statement describes the common position: ‘until there is evidence for it (that they can accept) they are reckoning without the existence of a spiritual world.’

    And you have to clarify ‘spiritual world’.

  84. @Melanie
    For what I see all of them.
    When there are “unusual claims” (other than the conventional) skeptics go at work according to their reductionist science-model. “No we did not find evidence for anything spiritual”
    But when you are a real skeptic you should also question your own model of science.

    Spiritual: See your own spiritual experiences, Your inspirations, from which you are thinking they are coming out of your own brain. Discover it yourself. A nice skeptical principle.

  85. @Alicia
    Alicia said:
    “(Jan said: )” Again, it is no question of intelligence, but of prejudices standing in the way.’
    Actually, that was not at all apparent, and I don’t think you said it before. You said Melanie et alia don’t understand. Then you say all that should be needed is normal intelligence.

    I try my best, but I think my English is simply not good enough to make my points clear. I estimate the intelligence of the participants here very high. I would not be surprised when you are Intellectually gifted (I hope this is English).

    Was I unable to make clear that out of the Anthroposophical method totally different schools could arise? But what do you buy from that? You can only point to the existing schools. I understand.

    Skeptics insulting anthroposophy and Steiner, I am sick and tired of it.
    Say, “we do not have evidence for it”. But don’t say : “it is an edifice of nonsense”, like the paternalistic professor DC does.

  86. @Jan –

    but the people here agree with your first statement. They have said so, several times.
    ‘until there is evidence for it (that they can accept) they are reckoning without the existence of a spiritual world.’

    It’s the ‘reckoning without’ which is significant. I can’t live as if there’s a thing I don’t believe in impacting in any real sense on my life. Let’s say you tell me there’s a giant rabbit at the entrance to my house. I can’t see it, and you can’t produce the slightest evidence for its existence. And yet, perhaps because of the sheer number of people who also say they have seen the rabbit, or who believe the rabbit is essentially a good thing (and ought to be there even if it isn’t) I am expected to start leaving my house through a window.

    No, I refuse to act like an idiot. I am going to live my life as if the giant rabbit isn’t there, until you can prove to me it is.

    If this sounds ridiculous to you, it gives you an idea of how I feel about anthroposophy.

    I just read the first post on a new blog by a climate scientist I’ve been following for a while. Her blog is called: ‘All models are wrong’. And she’s right. Models are always up for question. But if you have a better scientific method than the current one – offer it up.

    It generally comes back to this question: do we exist outside our own brains – or bodies? I don’t think we do, but then I don’t think we need to. We also exist for a time in the thoughts and memories of others or in our work. Eventually all this disappears too. And that’s how it is. None of this means we lack imagination.

    You still haven’t said what you mean by ‘spiritual world’.

  87. ‘Skeptics insulting anthroposophy and Steiner, I am sick and tired of it.’

    I can understand that. But that’s the thing with ideas, philosophical positions, political positions – not everyone agrees with them or even takes them seriously. You can have an expectation that people will respect you, but not that they’ll respect your belief system. I could add: ‘Jan insulting skepticism and science – I am sick and tired of it.’ But I don’t have a right not to be offended.

  88. Ulf — in all other contexts, except when they want to compare themselves favourably (ie, not display worse performance than other types of education), they claim to prepare students for uni. At least in the sense that they claim their students have the same opportunities as all other students from other programs aimed at an academic path rather than a practical one. (When I was in school, these programs where called ‘teoretiska’ as opposed to ‘praktiska’ like hairdresser, but the names have probably changed by now. What waldorf seems to be offering is the former — but with more arts added as a bonus. Sometimes they claim(ed) to be something between — sorry swedish terms — naturvetenskaplig/samhälls/humanistisk/estetisk. They claimed to give their students more of the natural sciences than you would get in a public/state high school offering the latter three programs mentioned.)

    ‘Maybe “högskoleprovet” is a bit like the Abitur?’

    Yes, but the abitur is compulsory, as I understand it, for entering higher studies. In Sweden, it’s enough that someone get high grades — you don’t have to do the ‘högskoleprov’ — and those grades don’t necessarily correspond to reality. It’s up to the school to grade the student. And the school’s got nothing to do with the ‘högskoleprov’, does not prepare for it, and does not administer it. The grades are completely independent of it, and if you have the grades, you don’t need the test.

    ‘Perhaps only a state examination can help clean up the mess created by the current confused market economy in the school area, where headmasters could get a bonus if they could get their teachers to hand out higher grades …’

    I actually suspect so. It isn’t working. They also want to hand out high grades because then students and their parents are going to want to go to that school, which in turn makes money on the number of students they enroll.

    It seems as though in Finland, people expect school to be school and that some work is needed. And teachers are professionals who behave like professionals.

    Jan— ‘Spiritual: See your own spiritual experiences, Your inspirations, from which you are thinking they are coming out of your own brain. Discover it yourself. A nice skeptical principle.’

    The first part is sufficiently general for anyone to say, well ok about… Yes, I recognize there are inspirations (in the ordinary or in Steiner’s sense?) and I recognize that I’m thinking and things are happening in my brain. What causes what — inspirations causing thinking, thinking causing inspiration, et c, well, that’s of course an issue too. But basically, you’re here talking about rather mundane phenomena, which you don’t need to be spiritual — either in the sense of Glenys Woods or Arthur Zajonc — to recognize. But then… what’s interesting, when you talk about spirituality is the meaning you are giving the word… not what Melanie would discover, were she to discover it for herself. Also, she knows thinking and she knows inspiration (in the ordinary sense) — yet doesn’t seem convinced about the spiritual world, much less about some versions of it than others, but still.

    In addition, it’s difficult to carry out a discussion about the values and merits of the spiritual world if the participants in the discussion are talking about very different things.

    If the spiritual world does not mean anything more, in the context of education, than that children have brains and these brains are active and children think and so forth… well, then, I find nothing to object to. But then… this isn’t the kind of ‘spiritual world’ waldorf education reckons with, is it? Because all education, heck, even all reductionist, materialistic science, builds upon the assumption that thinking happens, that it’s got to do with your brain and that inspiration is essential and takes place in your brain/mind.

    ‘Was I unable to make clear that out of the Anthroposophical method totally different schools could arise? But what do you buy from that? You can only point to the existing schools. I understand.’

    Yes, of course, different schools could arise. It’s just that they haven’t. One reason might be the pretty detailed indications Steiner gave, and the propensity of teachers to follow doctrine closely. (Because, among other things, they have a job to do and can’t really be expected to do their own spiritual research. Perhaps they aren’t independent enough, not critically thinking enough, not… good enough. But finding the best teachers isn’t easy — and it must be even more difficult if you have to find them within the ranks of a tiny spiritual community.)

    ‘Skeptics insulting anthroposophy and Steiner, I am sick and tired of it.
    Say, “we do not have evidence for it”. But don’t say : “it is an edifice of nonsense”,’

    Yes. But sometimes I call him dr Nonsense. Fondly. He likes it. It’s a nice relief, he says, from all those people who take him seriously all the time and leave their independent thinking unused outside the doors of the Steiner seminary! ;-) (Btw, I completely agree with what Melanie wrote in her reply; the comment just above this one.)

    Melanie — We love the story about the bunny! Of course there’s a bunny outside your door, mr Dog says, you have to leave through the window. Or he’ll be very disappointed. You may not want to believe in the bunny, but he does!!

  89. The giant rabbit occurs to me all the time now, but not in a remotely spiritual way. And it is still not there.

    I have had ‘peak’ experiences, of course, which other people might call spiritual. I am not unusual. But there’s a difference between having ‘spiritual’ or ‘profound’ experiences and believing in a precise cosmology of spiritual or supersensible beings and one’s place within that cosmology, or that by investigations of some internal sort humans are able to develop certain supernatural faculties – clairvoyance for example. That kind of fantasy does not rock my boat.

  90. Thanks for reminding me of the word “peak experience”, Melanie. It brings back fond memories of a quite successful hunt for “extraordinary” experiences with my fellow young psychologists in the seventies. Inspired by the concept spreading at that time in “humanistic psychology” circles. To us it held a promise of expanding your mind without drugs or religion, it was an almost “scientific” voyage. And I just happened to read a blog post about the originator of the concept, Abraham Maslow, here:

    http://mindhacks.com/2012/01/20/the-peak-experiences-of-abraham-maslow/

    If you allow me some lazy kitchen-table theorizing here, I think you can respond quite differently to experiences which can be described in extremely broad terms as “extraordinary” (meaning they don’t completely fit within your scientific or “ordinary” understanding of how the world works.)

    1. You can make nothing special about them, just ENJOYING them like other funny or “inspirational” moments of your life.

    2. You can feel a more or less serious need for EXPLAINING them. There you are faced with the choice this thread is about, how do you investigate these phenomena? There are many paths open here, more or less scientific or religious.

    3. You can feel a need to talk or write about them, to COMMUNICATE. Science fiction, fantasy, poetry, music – or in a broader sense Art. The swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer is a personal favorite of mine here. Perhaps Steiner’s preferred media was lecturing.

    4. You might want to ACT on what you think of as knowledge. Practicing Zajonc-type inquiries is perfectly OK with me. But just don’t start a school based on something which you can’t or won’t share with other’s. Please keep children out of harm’s way!

    And please forgive me for stating some quite trivial observations. Which made me discover one interesting article about Tranströmer and the problem of communication:

    http://www.cprw.com/Coyle/transtromer.htm

    And here is a musical interpretation, as well as a text and an english translation of his rather well-known “Romanesque Arches”

    http://www.ellenlindquist.com/ellen/?p=520

    For visitors understanding scandinavian languages I recommend the poem in Tomas’ own voice:

  91. Yes, I got it from Maslow too.

    I would very much like you to continue making observations, however trivial they may seem.

  92. ‘The giant rabbit occurs to me all the time now, but not in a remotely spiritual way. And it is still not there.’

    You’re offending my spiritual sensitivities. What proof do you have it isn’t there?! /mr Dog.

    I agree with Melanie — please continue making observations, Ulf! They’re brilliant.

  93. I really want to go on to an investigation of the “holism” discussed in the RoSE journal. But before I leave the essentialism subject I´d like to add some links about Susan Gelman who has studied the “essentialism” in child development. Now this has a very weak association to what Schieren is talking about. How do we categorize and why? Seems impossible to get rid of dogs and cats when discussing these things ;-)

    This is an interview with Susan:
    http://thebrowser.com/interviews/susan-gelman-on-essentialism

    And here is an article from 2004:
    http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~lds/readinggroup/Gelman2004tics.pdf

    Finally, here you can watch to a 74 minute lecture:
    http://www.cognitionandculture.net/the-study-of-cognition-and-culture-today/2359-the-origin-of-essentialist-reasoning

    Recommended prinarily to those who want to explore the psychological and anthropological aspects of this subject (race categorizations is discussed quite frequently)

  94. You only need to get rid of the cats, reminds mr Dog. Then, when all other animals except dogs are gone, we can view the animal kingdom holistically. Or something. I don’t quite understand what he’s saying, to be honest.

    Thanks for links!!

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