The Natural Science Section

As of the 20th century, it has been possible to turn to anthroposophy for help with boundary issues that arise in the course of one's work in natural science. One might also encounter anthroposophy earlier in life in a different arena and later try to understand it from a scientific point of view. Still others meet anthroposophy through science after becoming increasingly aware of the results of anthroposophy in practical arenas like agriculture, medicine and pedagogy.

As soon as one, as a scientist, begins to examine anthroposophy, certain questions arise. On the one hand, we find that Rudolf Steiner's work is built on a scientific methodological foundation. In his own life, Steiner began with scientific and philosophical studies, and in his later works he emphasized this foundation again and again.

On the other hand, some of his statements seem to contradict findings of natural science – or at least to propose radically new perspectives. Therefore the first objective of the Natural Science Section is to examine how anthroposophy is compatible with the findings of natural science. It is not a question of compatibility with scientific theories, hypotheses and models, as much as with experimental results and the context of their interrelationships. A commitment to contemporary science and the maintenance of ongoing exchanges with its adherents are essential to the pursuit of such questions.

An attempt to penetrate further, to a deeper understanding of anthroposophy, elicits a variety of research questions for the scientist. What does Steiner mean when he speaks of the elements (solid, liquid, gas, warmth) and the so-called ethers (warmth, light, chemistry, life) and how can we gain understanding or insight about them? How can we come to know the essential nature of life through the "appearances" of the living – not just in generalities but in order to truly comprehend, for example, a plant species and its particular significance. Can we do so without falling back on reductionist ideas? How can we extend this to animals and human beings? How can we find an appropriate conception for evolution (without falling into materialistic or "creationistic" simplification), or for the connections between terrestrial and cosmic processes, which Steiner so frequently makes reference to?

A multiplicity of additional scientific research questions can arise out of a growing awareness of the results of anthroposophy in practical arenas – agriculture, medicine and pharmacology, or pedagogy,  as mentioned.  One can add to this the specific scientific research tasks proposed by Steiner himself. Only through contemporary scientific research can these practical realms of anthroposophy be developed responsibly and carried beyond the application of traditional methods and formulations (however effective those might be.) This applies also to anthroposophy itself. Such research can be regarded as the second objective of the Section.

A fruitful beginning for such research can be found in Goethe's methods. Goethe did not start by seeking models but was concerned instead with letting appearances express themselves and making the viewpoint dependent on what was being viewed. He opened a way to a deeper understanding of nature, valid for both inorganic nature (Theory of Colors) and organic nature (Metamorphosis of Plants.) Steiner himself took this method as a starting point. However, this by no means requires us to only consider phenomena that were accessible to Goethe. Indeed, modern fields of research can be enlightened by Goethe's approach.  Furthermore Goethe's methods can be enhanced and expanded by the meditative schooling provided by anthroposophy. In this context we also find the content of the School of Spiritual Science as indicated by Steiner.

Thus the third objective of the Section is the work on contemporary spiritual schooling for scientists. Realization of the other objectives is hardly possible without it. Considering that in this day and age, the consciousness of every human being is largely influenced by scientific conceptions, it becomes evident that overcoming outdated concepts while maintaining an exact method as a working direction is significant beyond the confines of science itself.

Of course, none of these tasks are worked on exclusively in Dornach. There are scientists, research groups, and institutions worldwide taking up these questions and issues. A common aspiration to work from an anthroposophic point of view on substantial contemporary questions means that the more individualized the research becomes, the more important it is to share experiences and results.  Facilitating this exchange, and forming and promoting a type of network is the fourth objective of the Section. To this end, a Collegium from the Section, made up of scientists mostly from Europe, meet and collaborate regularly.


Johannes Kühl