Sunday, March 15, 2015

Steiner's Philosophy and an Alternate View of Spiritual Context


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Goetheanum by rosmary
Rudolf Steiner is a largely forgotten thinker in virtually all circles of Western philosophy. Even many in esoteric circles who know the names Crowley or Blavatsky often fail to recognize his name. Despite this, Steiner’s influence is felt today in Waldorf schools, biodynamic farming, social finance, and prisoner outreach, and his school of anthroposophical thought is still debated and taught in Rosicrucian style organizations like the Anthroposophical Society in America. I was first introduced to Steiner through Gary Lachman’s excellent book, Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work, which detailed the life and work of Steiner in such a way as to be easily approachable. Lachman’s recommendations included Robert McDermott’s The Essential Steiner (later updated as The New Essential Steiner), and there were enough similarities between my own personal philosophy and Steiner’s, that it was an easy purchase to further devour this great thinker’s expansive writing.

Steiner had a great impact on me personally because of his views on geometry and other mathematics are pure, and his insistence that any spiritual belief or experience could be met with the same scrutiny with which the hard sciences were met—essentially, Steiner believed that scientific inquiry could penetrate the spiritual. Steiner’s refusal to tell his readers/listeners to take things on blind faith, and his insistence on additional inquiry, made him different amongst his esoteric peers—less a guru and more an advisor. On a philosophical level, he was well-verse with the great German philosophers, and even upon disagreeing with others, took it upon himself to diligently argue from another’s perspective in order to better understand their point of view. His writings in support of Nietzsche (for Nietzsche’s daughter) are case in point for this. Steiner wasn’t searching for followers. His goal was the pursuit of knowledge; something that can be appreciated, whether you agree with his more esoteric philosophy or think they are just outlandish.

Steiner understood the principles of evolution as they were during his time. The difference was that he applied evolutionary principles to the spiritual as well as the physical—even spiritual entities such angels. Everything evolved. Although scientists don't assume that evolution "ceases" they also don't seem to contemplate whether the consciousness of today is the same as the consciousness of older times, or at the very least, it isn't something that is highly contemplated when examining historical context. So, for example, when we examine the literature of ancient cultures, we take a lot of what those cultures say to mean literally how they said it, but their descriptions have been written within their own consciousness, and their consciousness could have been quite different back then.

Steiner talks about the positioning of the astral body (which also evolves) through the evolution of the human being to show how insight into the spiritual has changed, but he's quick to note that stories and statements made that seem far-fetched for our physical reality are likely to be glimpses of the spiritual world that those individuals could still see, and most importantly, interpret. Many today look upon ancient cultures and think that they believed what they did because they weren't "as smart as us," but we really don't know "what" they truly believed. Steiner also makes the comment that older cultures believed these spiritual things because they weren't that far removed from ancestors that could see directly into the spiritual, and some of their own people still could. He gives them the benefit of the doubt, whereas modern science and history assumes them often ignorant, misled, or not as culturally evolved.


Think of ayahuasca: it brings on visions that are not physical events, but they carry information to us in a way that we can understand. We might, however, write it all down as something that "happened." For Steiner, stories like the ones in Genesis might not have been ones that occurred on the physical plane, but were "seen" in the spiritual plane by ancient people with those faculties. It's an experience of the living myths that run through the timeless spiritual plane.

Myth has always been a form of living storytelling. Myth is different from fiction because the story has legitimate truth in the past, present, and future, for all individuals. The Genesis myth provides us with the keys to creation and the relationship between humanity and the universe. Steiner’s take is that these universal myths have their origin in the timeless spiritual realm, formerly accessible by all, but currently only accessible to those who have developed the appropriate faculties (or glimpsed it in dreams).

There is a biological approach to all of this, however, and it's an approach that I spent several years researching in order to come up with an adequate hypothesis that might eventually be investigated through scientific inquiry. This approach links Steiner’s ideas on consciousness, perception, and spiritual experience with the physical examination of brain biology and biochemistry that results in hallucinations, whether brought on by psychedelic drugs, stress, or meditation. Such an examination shows how Steiner’s conceptualization of the “miracles” of the New Testament could fit with the idea that such experiences and visions were the result of stress induced hallucinations, while other miracles were simply misinterpretations of mystery rites. Once this is taken into consideration, and applied to works such as Jeremy Narby’s, we get to a point where we have to question whether or not these visions contain real world information that wasn't available to us internally.

The biological approach is to show how biological processes might be responsible for "seeing" spiritual things. If this is true, and Steiner is correct in his speculation that evolution has slowly disconnected us from this "sight," it shows a possible correlation between the drop-off in everyday spiritual sight and evolutionary changes, giving a new perspective on ancient peoples, but also connects many spiritual events with a "chemical overload" in the brain. The only question then would be if these "visions" are internal only, or hold actual value in the so-called external world. Narby's work seems to indicate that real information can be gathered from such visions, and thus, they might be a part of a greater communication system between organisms: information delivered through signals, processed by the brain, and ran by the conscious mind as recognizable visions to be interpreted in context.

Much of what I've gathered from researching Steiner and the potential for a biological aspect to the spiritual realm was presented in pieces at two different psychology conferences over the last few years: the Psychology and the Other conference, and the American Psychological Association’s annual convention. The idea was to develop a hypothesis that could later be tested; first with qualitative research, then later with quantitative research. This examination was recently published by Mythos Media as an introduction to possibilities. It is my hope that Steiner will begin to become more familiar in the West, and hopefully his ideas will help to create alternate understandings to spiritual events documented in ancient texts, while also suggesting the possibility of a biological connection.

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