Modern science has increased our knowledge of the external world a great deal, but even it has reached the point where it finds it impossible to exclude ourselves from the picture.
Modern natural science is the science of the quantitative, Goethean science is the science of the qualitative.
This does not mean that Goethe did not value the qualitative approach.
Here is Steiner on Goethe:
…he says: — “Even where we do not require any calculation, we should go to work in such a manner as if we had to present our accounts to the strictest geometrician. For it is the mathematical method which on account of its thoroughness and clearness reveals each and every defect in our assertions, and its proofs are really only circumstantial explanations to the effect that what is brought into connection has already been there in its simple, single parts and in its entire sequence; that it has been perceived in its entirety and established as incontestably correct under all conditions.” Goethe wishes to understand the qualitative in the forms of plants with the accuracy and clearness of mathematical thought.
E. F. Schumacher likens quantitative science to a “one-eyed, color-blind observer,” because it treats our experiences such as perceiving colour as subjective and its practicioners would like only to deal with the purely objective. But if we think about it, when we imagine a scene from say, the cambrian era, we see it as a world full of colour and sounds. In other words we see it from the perspective of a modern human and not from the colourless, silent world of objective, quantitative science.
Stephen Harrod Buhner, in “The Secret teachings of Plants,” writes:
The primary mode of cognotion that the practitioners of science have used during the past century – analytical, linear, reductionistic, determininstic, mechanical – has begun to reach the limits of its assumptions… There is, however, another mode of cognition, one our species has used as our primary mode during the majority of our time on this planet. This can be termed the holistic/intuitive/depth mode of cognition.
The difference being that in the past this type of knowledge was more instinctive and less conscious. We are now in a position to begin to aquire this holistic outlook in a fully conscious way.
Buhner quotes Masonobu Fukuoka:
In nature, a whole encloses the parts, and yet a larger whole encloses the whole enclosing the parts. By enlarging our field of view, what is thought of as a whole becomes, in fact, nothing more than one part of a larger whole. yet another whole encloses this whole in a concentric series that continues on to infinity.
He then writes:
The Subjectivity of Science Any measurement of Nature that smooths out its irregularities in order to allow measurement is not objective. It is, in fact, highly subjective. The observer, by determining the degree of measurement (or magnification) that will be used, and thus how the lines will be smoothed out, interferes with what is being measured. The observer intervenes in any resultant description of Nature by subtly altering its description, a description that depends on a preference for one level of magnification over another. It is an error that is not rectifiable – not correctable – because the error comes from the way of thinking itself. It comes from applying a linear, static mode of cognition to a nonlinear, always changing and flowing reality.
In the lecture, The Position of Anthroposophy among the Sciences Steiner says:
<blockquote>“In the moment when I learnt to know the inner meaning of what is called modern or synthetic geometry.” You see, when one passes from analytic to synthetic geometry — which enables us, not only to approach forms externally, but to grasp them in their mutual relationships — one starts from forms, not from external co-ordinates. When we work with spatial coordinates, we do not apprehend forms but only the ends of the co-ordinates; we join up these ends and obtain the curves. In analytical geometry we do not lay hold of the forms, whereas in synthetic geometry we live within them. This induces us to study the attitude of soul which, developed further, leads us to press on into the super-sensible world.</blockquote>
Analytical geometry moves away from the actual forms to coordinates and algebra goes one step further in abstraction by replacing the actual forms with symbols which can be manipulated without regard to the forms themselves.
Our modern way of thinking has encouraged us to regard the objects around us as real and the concepts we hold in our minds as representations of this reality. I see it the opposite way. The objects of sense are the representations and the concepts give us the reality.