Conspectus, in brief: to modern consciousness, the world appears to consist in material entities entirely under the government of the laws of physics and chemistry. Such a world is utterly bereft of soul and spirit. Silent are the gods who once spoke to human hearts, ever since scientific investigation has revealed them to be coinages of feverish brains. This condition represents the result of a developmental arc in the evolution of consciousness. The latter spans the period of recorded history, but has increased with exponential intensity since the Scientific Revolution. This evolution consists in an increasing capacity for, and reliance on, the cognitive capacities of analysis and abstraction. The reason that the world appears as disenchanted as it does to the human consciousness of today is that habits of modern scientific thought have conditioned human beings to (1) artificially circumscribe their field of investigation to a survey of only a single aspect of the world—that aspect in which soul and spirit cannot be found (i.e. its purely quantifiable aspects)—and (2) subsequently to extrapolate this barren condition to the total reality. A resolution of this mechanistic fugue must consist in restoring those living aspects of reality which our modern cognitive habits first effaced. In this piece, I hope to provide further context for our present moment and introduce an alternative to the method that has defined the physical science since the Scientific Revolution. Why, one may wonder, do we need a new scientific method? I will allow the father of the old and de facto scientific method to speak for himself and allow the reader to infer the planetary consequences of this sentiment in its diverse applications:
My only earthly wish is… to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds… [Nature will be] bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets….
I am come in very truth leading you to Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave… the mechanical inventions of recent years do not merely exert a gentle guidance over Nature’s courses, they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations. (21)
As we attempted to indicate above and to portray in other pieces, the relationship of the human being to the world has evolved over the course of history. The words of Francis Bacon of Verulam provide an expression of a particular moment in this development, which began approximately with the Scientific Revolution and has largely persisted to the present day. Only a superficial evaluation would condemn the spirit of Baconian Science in a categorical manner. Instead, it must be our position that an evil becomes such only when a good is done out of its time. In other words, the scientific manner of thinking was entirely appropriate to a particular period in the development of humanity and insofar as it obtained during this period it was good, while insofar as it has exceed this period it has become destructive. Consideration of world affairs today indicates that the latter is indeed the case and therefore, that the exigencies of our moment demand an alternative. We hope to offer a possibility with this piece.
If one weighs the works of Shakespeare against the works about Shakespeare, a difference will be patent. Indeed, an order of magnitude might tip the scales to the latter if volume alone were the measure. Nevertheless, as a pound of feathers is to a pound of gold, so might we conceive of the relation between creative thinking and thinking about creativity. These distinct activities, in turn, represent expression of two distinct states of consciousness. We might refer to these modes of consciousness as poetic and prosaic, or generative and reflective. I attempted to employ words with origins in the Greek language, plump and full of vigour as the latter tends to be, to indicate the first aspect of these pairings, and a Latinate word, in contrast, as the counterpart in order to invoke the austerity, or rigour, that the latter tends to connote. The first term of these pairings, respectively, is youthful and begets literature. The second terms is seasoned, and produces literary criticism. Similarly, as Wordsworth indicated, “the child is the father of the man,” and thus the second term is always predicated on the first, which is its necessary condition.
As examples of how these states of consciousness appear in modes of thought, consideration will reveal that lógos is necessary for logic.
As the Sun is ☉
to the Moon, ☽ or to the myriad forms of plant life upon the Earth,
so is the creative spirit, the intellectus agens, the nous poietikos
to the reflective soul, the intellectus possibilis, or the nous pathetikos.
Finally, the analytic mind may retrospectively describe, in a discursive manner, the forms that this sacred marriage first engendered. Such an analysis may only be accomplished, however through an anatomising of sorts. We quoted Goethe in the prior piece to this effect:
Who would know aught that’s living and describe it well
Seeks first the spirit to expel.
He then holds the component parts in hand
But lacks, alas! the spirit’s band…
We might also cite Wordsworth again, who summarily observed that “We murder to dissect.” The images above, like the contraposing word-pairs before and after it, have their being as symbols and signs, respectively, whose potential unfolds insofar as they manage to evoke their intended meaning in the soul of the reader (signs indicate a given meaning while symbolsembody (i.e. participate) it). For this reason, I have tried to employ many different pairings. As a rule, the more perspectives from which one describes a given meaning, the more accurate will be one’s communication. Thus, words may be pictured as fingers pointing at the Easter moon, which in turn refers to the light of the sun itself. More indicators designate the meaning in question with increasing precision through a dialectical triangulation of sorts, in cognitive space.
At one time in humanity’s distant past, language still pulsed with a heartbeat of poetic magic, as did all beings in nature. Words had no need, therefore, to refer to anything outside of themselves to evoke such meaning. Over the course of history, however, human consciousness has evolved towards an increasing capacity for abstraction. Because the attainment of any new condition comes at the expense of the old one, this immediate experience of the living word has been sacrificed on the altar of intellectual development. The information content of language is abstracted from its life and words are now merely used or spoken but no longer experienced. This is the reason, for instance, that in order to attain the effectual power of mantra, one must employ artificial methods to invoke the pre-reflective state of consciousness that was once general to humankind. We still experience such a condition immediately as dreams, whose images only refer to anything other than themselves once we have awoken to self-consciousness and begun, if we so choose, to analyse them and draw abstract correlations. As darkness disappears into light every morning, so this pre-reflective condition was gradually superseded by the sunrise of individual self-consciousness, whose first light was discernible in the teachings of Gautama Buddha in India and the Socratic tradition in Ancient Greece, and whose first rays struck the human soul with immediacy some two-thousand years ago* at the beginning of the Common Era.
We should clarify our image of a dawn of self-consciousness, however. Just as sunrise on the Western hemisphere implies a sunset on the Eastern one, so the personal awakening had as its correlative the gradual darkling of the transpersonal. Thus, while the speech, deeds, and sufferings of the gods once resounded in the human soul from all quarters of nature, they have slowly withdrawn behind a seemingly impenetrable veil of matter and physical laws, even as innumerable stars slowly fade with the approach of the day. As a consequence, the human being finds herself today in a world bereft of the active powers that once coursed through it and originally fashioned it according to the eternal Lógos. Over a centuries, and with geometric intensification since the Scientific Revolution, human thought has increasingly fixated on the quantifiable and measurable aspects of nature at the exclusion of all else. As Friedrich Schiller once admonished: “Is Nature only great because she gives you something you can count?” The educated modern reply would have to be that “Nature,” so-called by the Romantic poet, is now proven to consist in chemistry and elementary particles. Moreover, the experience formerly known as “life” (Greek bios) in the outer sense is now known to be a process of oxidation and concentration of thermal gradients as a sort of combustion engine to drive the meaningless process of perpetuating genetic material.
Furthermore, Soul (Greek psyche)—life in the inner sense—is an epiphenomenal repository of subjective “secondary qualities.”
Finally, Life (Greek Zoë) in the transcendent sense is a religious superstition of primitive Man for which scientific investigations have refute through an utter absence of evidence and which is, ipso facto, evidently absent.
In this way, the modern human being is confronted by a cold and alien world of the physical sciences that is the product of her own analysing and abstracting intellect, but which she fails to recognise as such. Thus, as the gods have gradually divested their creative powers and passed this mantle of responsibility into humankind, the latter has failed to receive this charge. Humanity has relied only on the calculating and analysing mind and failed to recognise that the latter is predicated on something being there to analyse, which must have first been generated, creatively. By abstracting away all life, morality, and value from our conception of the universe and then treating this schematic model as if it were the original, we can only say more and more about less and less. As a consequence, the meaningful world disintegrates into dust with every new advancement in scientific knowledge. We have traced this process in The Sunrise of the Idols and arrived at the nihilistic impasse of post-modernity, whose diagnosis Nietzsche famously pronounced in 1884: “God is dead.”
Nietzsche was no pessimist but rather an advocate of human freedom. Since Nietzsche’s day, however, humanity has collectively employed its freedom to continue this course of descent into materialism or meaninglessness, which are the same thing. They are the same thing because if matter is as the physicists tell us, it cannot possibly bear any meaning immanently, in which case it would have to refer to a meaning which was transcendent. Transcendence being “dead,” however, as Nietzsche indicated, or an “epiphenomenon of particular brain processes,” as a neuroscientist might express it, ergo scientific materialism and meaning in the world are mutually exclusive.
Fortunately some seventy years before Nietzsche enunciated this diagnosis of the human condition, another eminent thinker had already prescribed a remedy of deliverance. Goethe, no less-keenly aware of the human condition than the greatest of existentialist philosophers, offered an alternative to resolution by ecstasy and dynamite, as Nietzsche was endearingly prone to advocate. Nietzsche encouraged “doing philosophy with an hammer” to smash the old idols withal, but we must turn to Goethe to discover the new direction once achieved the iconoclasm is complete. Goethe attained the sacred marriage of the poetic and the scientific minds in his own soul, and, in outlining a scientific method that joined these counterparts in a dynamic polarity, planted the seed for a future science which may sprout and flower amidst the ashen ruins of the old idols. Goethe’s most concentrated investigations concerned the subject matter of plant morphology and colour theory, but the method that he developed through his work in these discrete fields bears germinal promise which may unfold over future generations. I shall allow the great thinker’s own words to speak for themselves in the excerpt to follow. I have published several expositions of Goetheanum science on The Lizard-press (Anthroposophia & the New Participation, Many Pools, One Moon: An Epistemology of Four Season, etc…) and I would earnestly refer the reader to works by several ingenious interpreters of Goethe’s method, all of which are also cited in the bibliography at the bottom of this page.
Foremost of these thinkers is the inestimable Rudolf Steiner, whose contribution to all fields of human knowledge exceeds all description and whose work I consider it one of my highest and most solemn aspirations to understand and share. His books on Goethean science include The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception, and Goethean Science, also titled Nature’s Open Secret.
Henri Bortoft’s Taking Appearances Seriously and Wholeness in Nature are also consummate expositions of Goethe’s way of thinking. Arthur Zajonc, Dennis Klocek, David Seamon, Ernst Lents, and Craig Holderidge furthermore offer very lucid and well-considered interpretations of Goetheanum science.
Therefore, as Goethe enjoins us in Part I of Faust
The spirit world is not closed off
Your mind is closed, your heart is dead
Go, neophyte and boldly bathe
Your mortal breast
In the roseate dawn.
Goethe continues in an introduction to his scientific studies of plant morphology in a section titled “Formation and Transformation”:
If we become attentive to natural objects, particularly living ones, in such a manner as to desire to achieve an insight into the correlation of their nature and activity, we believe ourselves best able to come to such a comprehension through a division of the parts, and this method is suitable to take us very far. With but a word one may remind the friends of science of what chemistry and anatomy have contributed to an intensive and extensive view of Nature. But these analytic efforts, continued indefinitely, produce many disadvantages. The living may indeed be separated into its elements, but one cannot put these back together and revive them. This is true even of inorganic bodies, not to mention organic ones. For this reason, the urge to cognize living forms as such, to grasp their outwardly visible and tangible parts contextually, to take them as intimations of that which is inward, and so master, to some degree, the whole in an intuition, has always arisen in men of science. How closely this scientific demand is tied to the artistic and imitative impulses need not be worked out in detail. One finds, therefore, numerous attempts in the course of art, learning, and science, to found and develop a study which we call morphology. The varied forms in which these attempts appear will be discussed in the historical section. The German has the word Gestalt for the complex of existence of an actual being. He abstracts, with this expression, from the moving, and assumes a congruous whole to be determined, completed, and fixed in its character.
But if we consider Gestalts generally, especially organic ones, we find that independence, rest, or termination nowhere appear, but everything fluctuates rather in continuous motion. Our speech is therefore accustomed to use the word Bildung pertaining to both what has been brought forth and the process of bringing-forth. If we would introduce a morphology, we ought not to speak of the Gestalt, or if we do use the word, should think thereby only of an abstraction —a notion of something held fast in experience but for an instant. What has been formed is immediately transformed again, and if we would succeed, to some degree, to a living view of Nature, we must attempt to remain as active and as plastic as the example she sets for us.
*on Easter morning, April 4, in 33 A.D.
Works cited, thanks to:
Bacon, Francis. The Great Instauration and New Atlantis. Arlington Heights. Illinois: Harlan Davidson: 1980
Barfield, Owen. Romanticism Comes of Age. Middleton: Wesleyan University Press: 1986.
—Saving the Appearances. Middleton: Wesleyan University Press: 1988.
Bortoft, Henri. Taking Appearances Seriously. Floris Books, 2012.
—Wholeness in Nature. Lindisfarne Books, 1996
Dennis Klocek. Seeking Spirit Vision. Fair Oaks: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998
David Seamon & Arthur Zajonc, editors. Goethe’s Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998
Von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. Faust. Translated by A. S. Byatt. Penguin
—“Scientific Studies.” From Goethe: The Collected Works. Translated by Douglas Miller. Princeton University Press, Princeton: 1995.
Holeridge, Craig. Thinking Like a Plant: A Living Science for Life. SteinerBooks: New York 2013
Lehrs, Ernst. Man or Matter: Introduction to a Spiritual Understanding of Nature
on the Basis of Goethe’s Method of Training Observation and Thought. 1951.
Steiner, Rudolf. Goethean Science, Mercury Press, Spring Valley, N. Y., 1988. translated from the German by William Lindeman,
—A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception, Anthroposophic Press, New York and Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., London, 1940, 118 pp. plus notes, translated from the second German edition of 1924 by Olin D. Wannamaker