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Anthroposophy and Science


Anthroposophy and its relationship to Science can be traced back to when Rudolf Steiner was asked by Joseph Kürchner to edit a publication of the scientific works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for the Deutsche National-Literature which appeared in five volumes between the years 1883 and 1897. It was during this time that Steiner also published his own epistemological writings which included his doctoral thesis Truth & Science (1892), A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception (1886) and what many agree is his most important written work The Philosophy of Freedom (1894). The latter is subtitled The Basis for a Modern World Conception : Some results of introspective observation following the methods of Natural Science. With this work Steiner went beyond 'Goethean' science and lay the seed of what he later would term Anthroposophy.

Many scientists attended Steiner's lectures and were influenced by his work. Some scientists also worked with Steiner at the research institute of the Kommenden Tag AG in Stuttgart, Germany and the research laboratories at the Goetheanum School of Spiritual Science in Dornach, Switzerland. The Kommenden Tag institute was shortlived, however, and came to an end in 1924 due to financial difficulties. Most of the scientists at the Kommenden Tag research institute were closely associated with the School in Dornach, which was founded in 1923. Of the Stuttgart scientists, Rudolf E. Maier (1886-1943) and Hans Buchheim (1899-1987) continued their researches at Einsingen, near Ulm. Lilly Kolisko (1893-1976) stayed at Stuttgart until 1936 under the auspices of the Stuttgart Goetheanum Biological Department.

Those who established themselves at Dornach included the physicist Dipl. Ing. Paul Eugen Schiller (1900-1992) who transferred from Stuttgart; the head (from 1924) of the Science Section of the School, Dr Guenther Wachsmuth (1893-1963), a lawyer by training and pioneer of research into etheric formative forces ; Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer (1899-1961), a chemist who was later awarded an MD for his research on the early diagnosis of cancer with his ‘sensitive crystallisation’ method; researcher and physician Dr Eugen Kolisko (1893-1939). Colleagues include: physicist Dr Hermann von Dechend (1883-1956); Dipl. Ing. Wilhelm Pelikan (1893-1981); Dipl. Ing. Henri Smits, fibres research; Dr Hans Theberath (1891-1971); Dipl. Ing. Karl Lehofer (1897-?), fibres research; the chemist Dr Johann Simon Streicher (1887-1971), plant pigments research; and among the close associates Dr Walter Johannes Stein (1891-1957) and Dr Ernst Lehrs (1894-1979). Research in agriculture -- later known as biodynamic agriculture -- was pursued from outset of the 'Experimental Circle', formed after Steiner gave his agriculture lectures in Silesia in June 1924, in close association with the Science Section and eventually formed a department within this section.

By far the dominant research theme of the early 1920s in this group, and a theme which continues at the Goetheanum research institute to this day, is finding ways to experience and understand what Rudolf Steiner referred to as the etheric and etheric formative forces. This refers to something perceptible which living organisms have compared with minerals. But it cannot be conceived in the same physical terms as the forces of nature, as was erroneously done by the 19th century vitalists.

A second sphere of scientific activity was instituted in the Mathematical-Astronomical Section of the School under the leadership of Dr Elizabeth Vreede (1879-1943) who was, with Wachsmuth, part of the founding Vorstand (Executive Council) of the General Anthroposophical Society, based at Dornach. A third member of the founding Vorstand who made a contribution to research in the medical sciences was Dr Ita Wegman (1876-1943), leader of the Medical Section.

So far as the development of this scientific stream in the UK is concerned two approaches to understanding the etheric are of particular interest. The first concerns ‘sensitive imaging’ techniques which are designed as aids to the mode of cognition needed for grasping the etheric, namely Imagination.

Lilly Kolisko developed one form called capillary dynamolysis. This is a form of qualitative chromatography in which aqueous extracts of biological tissues are allowed to move either radially or vertically through chromatography or filter paper, followed by drying and repeating the process with a metal salt, e.g. 1% silver nitrate, in daylight.

Considerable experience of the coloured patterns formed is required to ‘read’ the processes going on in the organism from which the sample was obtained. Pfeiffer, as already mentioned, developed sensitive crystallisation. The biological material is mixed with a metal salt, most commonly Copper(II)-chloride, the latter allowed to crystallise in shallow dishes. The huge variety of crystallisation patterns formed allows the condition of the biological fluid (blood, plant extract, food etc.) to be ‘read’. Both methods are conducted under elaborately controlled conditions. Later, Dipl. Ing. Theodor Schwenk developed the ‘drop picture’ method which involves photographing under carefully chosen illumination the pattern formed when a drop of water is allowed to fall onto the surface of water. The condition of the water or the substances added to it is ‘read’ from the picture that is obtained




"Not so long ago it was still possible to believe that natural science – which is by no means unappreciated by spiritual science but is as regards to its great advances fully valued – had the means to solve all the great riddles of human existence. But those who have entered with heightened inner faculties into the achievements of modern science have been increasingly aware that what natural science brings as a response to the great questions of human existence are not answers but, on the contrary, ever new questions"
- Dr. Rudolf Steiner -