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- Man or Matter - 4/74 -
thinking which the new science of nature demands. Rudolf Steiner agreed with this, and it was not long afterwards that I joined the school where I was to work for eleven years as a science master in the senior classes, which activity I have since continued outside Germany in a more or less similar form.
This conversation with Rudolf Steiner took place in a large hall where, while we were talking, over a thousand people were assembling to discuss matters of concern to the Anthroposophical Movement. This did not prevent him from asking me about the details of my examination work, in which I was still engaged at that time; he always gave himself fully to whatever claimed his attention at the moment. I told him of my experimental researches in electrical high-frequency phenomena, briefly introducing the particular problem with which I was occupied. I took it for granted that a question from such a specialized branch of physics would not be of much interest to him. Judge of my astonishment when he at once took out of his pocket a note-book and a huge carpenter's pencil, made a sketch and proceeded to speak of the problem as one fully conversant with it, and in such a way that he gave me the starting point for an entirely new conception of electricity. It was instantly borne in on me that if electricity came to be understood in this sense, results would follow which in the end would lead to a quite new technique in the use of it. From that moment it became one of my life's aims to contribute whatever my circumstances and powers would allow to the development of an understanding of nature of this kind.
1 The speaker was the late Dr. Elizabeth Vreede, for some years leader of the Mathematical-Astronomical Section at the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland.
2 The activities mentioned above do not exhaust the practical possibilities of Spiritual Science. At that time (1921) Rudolf Steiner had not yet given his indications for the treatment of children needing special care of soul and body, or for the renewal of the art of acting, or for the conquest of materialistic methods in agricultural practice. Nor did there yet exist the movement for religious renewal Which Dr. Fr. Rittelmeyer later founded, with the help and advice of Rudolf Steiner.
Where Do We Stand To-day?
In the year 1932, when the world celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Goethe's death, Professor W. Heisenberg, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of modern physics, delivered a speech before the Saxon Academy of Science which may be regarded as symptomatic of the need in recent science to investigate critically the foundations of its own efforts to know nature.1 In this speech Heisenberg draws a picture of the progress of science which differs significantly from the one generally known. Instead of giving the usual description of this progress as 'a chain of brilliant and surprising discoveries', he shows it as resting on the fact that, with the aim of continually simplifying and unifying the scientific conception of the world, human thinking, in course of time, has narrowed more and more the scope of its inquiries into outer nature.
'Almost every scientific advance is bought at the cost of renunciation, almost every gain in knowledge sacrifices important standpoints and established modes of thought. As facts and knowledge accumulate, the claim of the scientist to an understanding of the world in a certain sense diminishes.' Our justifiable admiration for the success with which the unending multiplicity of natural occurrences on earth and in the stars has been reduced to so simple a scheme of laws - Heisenberg implies - must therefore not make us forget that these attainments are bought at the price 'of renouncing the aim of bringing the phenomena of nature to our thinking in an immediate and living way'.
In the course of his exposition, Heisenberg also speaks of Goethe, in whose scientific endeavours he perceives a noteworthy attempt to set scientific understanding upon a path other than that of progressive self-restriction.
'The renouncing of life and immediacy, which was the premise for the progress of natural science since Newton, formed the real basis for the bitter struggle which Goethe waged against the physical optics of Newton. It would be superficial to dismiss this struggle as unimportant: there is much significance in one of the most outstanding men directing all his efforts to fighting against the development of Newtonian optics.' There is only one thing for which Heisenberg criticizes Goethe: 'If one should wish to reproach Goethe, it could only be for not going far enough - that is, for having attacked the views of Newton instead of declaring that the whole of Newtonian Physics-Optics, Mechanics and the Law of Gravitation - were from the devil.'
Although the full significance of Heisenberg's remarks on Goethe will become apparent only at a later stage of our discussion, they have been quoted here because they form part of the symptom we wish to characterize. Only this much may be pointed out immediately, that Goethe - if not in the scientific then indeed in the poetical part of his writings - did fulfil what Heisenberg rightly feels to have been his true task.2
We mentioned Heisenberg's speech as a symptom of a certain tendency, characteristic of the latest phase in science, to survey critically its own epistemological foundations. A few years previous to Heisenberg's speech, the need of such a survey found an eloquent advocate in the late Professor A. N. Whitehead, in his book Science and the Modern World, where, in view of the contradictory nature of modern physical theories, he insists that 'if science is not to degenerate into a medley of ad hoc hypotheses, it must become philosophical and enter upon a thorough criticism of its own foundations'.
Among the scientists who have felt this need, and who have taken pains to fulfil it, the late Professor A. Eddington obtains an eminent position. Among his relevant utterances we will quote here the following, because it contains a concrete statement concerning the field of external observation which forms the basis for the modern scientific world-picture. In his Philosophy of Physical Science we find him stating that 'ideally, all our knowledge of the universe could have been reached by visual sensation alone - in fact by the simplest form of visual sensation, colourless and non-stereoscopic'.3 In other words, in order to obtain scientific cognition of the physical world, man has felt constrained to surrender the use of all his senses except the sense of sight, and to limit even the act of seeing to the use of a single, colour-blind eye.
Let us listen to yet another voice from the ranks of present-day science, expressing a criticism which is symptomatic of our time. It comes from the late physiologist, Professor A, Carrel, who, concerning the effect which scientific research has had on man's life in general, says in his book, Man the Unknown: 'The sciences of inert matter have led us into a country that is not ours. ... Man is a stranger in the world he has created.'
Of these utterances, Eddington's is at the present point of our discussion of special interest for us; for he outlines in it the precise field of sense-perception into which science has withdrawn in the course of that general retreat towards an ever more restricted questioning of nature which was noted by Heisenberg.
The pertinence of Eddington's statement is shown immediately one considers what a person would know of the world if his only source of experience were the sense of sight, still further limited in the way Eddington describes. Out of everything that the world brings to the totality of our senses, there remains nothing more than mere movements, with certain changes of rate, direction, and so on. The picture of the world received by such an observer is a purely kinematic one. And this is, indeed, the character of the world-picture of modern physical science. For in the scientific treatment of natural phenomena all the qualities brought to us by our other senses, such as colour, tone, warmth, density and even electricity and magnetism, are reduced to mere movement-changes.
As a result, modern science is prevented from conceiving any valid idea of 'force'. In so far as the concept 'force' appears in scientific considerations, it plays the part of an 'auxiliary concept', and what man naively conceives as force has come to be defined as merely a 'descriptive law of behaviour'. We must leave it for later considerations to show how the scientific mind of man has created for itself the conviction that the part of science occupied with the actions of force in nature can properly be treated with purely kinematic concepts. It is the fact itself which concerns us here. In respect of it, note as a characteristic of modern text-books that they often simply use the term 'kinetics' (a shortening of kinematics) to designate the science of 'dynamics'.4
In the course of our investigations we shall discover the peculiarity in human nature which - during the first phase, now ended, of man's struggle towards scientific awareness - has caused this renunciation of all sense-experiences except those which come to man through the sight of a single colour-blind eye. It will then also become clear out of what historic necessity this self-restriction of scientific inquiry arose. The acknowledgment of this necessity, however, must not prevent us from recognizing the fact that, as a result of this restriction, modern scientific research, which has penetrated far into the dynamic substrata of nature, finds itself in the peculiar situation that it is not at all guided by its own concepts, but by the very forces it tries to detect. And in this fact lies the root of the danger which besets the present age.5
He who recognizes this, therefore, feels impelled to look for a way which leads beyond a one-eyed, colour-blind conception of the world. It is the aim of this book to show that such a way exists and how it can be followed. Proof will thereby be given that along this way not only is a true understanding achieved of the forces already known to science (though not really understood by it), but also that other forces, just as active in nature as for example electricity and magnetism, come within reach of scientific observation and understanding. And it will be shown that these other forces are of a kind that requires to be known to-day if we are to restore the lost balance to human civilization.
There is a rule known to physicians that 'a true diagnosis of a case contains in itself the therapy'. No true diagnosis is possible, however, without investigation of the 'history' of the case. Applied to our task, this means that we must try to find an aspect of human development, both individual and historical, which will enable us to recognize in man's own being the cause responsible for the peculiar narrowing of the scope of scientific inquiry, as described by the scientists cited above.
A characteristic of scientific inquiry, distinguishing it from man's earlier ways of solving the riddles of the world, is that it admits as instruments of knowledge exclusively those activities of the human soul over which we have full control because they take place in the full
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