The Goethean method as a complement to conventional science

Modern science is in danger of fragmentation and of becoming a study of artificial abstractions which become increasingly severed from reality.

As translated from Maurice Merleau-Ponty in  L’Œil et l’Esprit

 

“Science manipulates things and gives up living in them. It makes its own limited models of things; operating upon these indices or variables to effect whatever transformations are permitted by their definition, it comes face to face with the real world only at rare intervals. Science is and always will be that admirably active, ingenious, and bold way of thinking whose fundamental bias is to treat everything as though it were an object-in-general – as though it meant nothing to us and yet was predestined for our own use.”

 

Introducing the Goethean method brings back the connection between the investigator and the subject under investigation.

This review by Bo Dahlin investigates science education in relation to a phenomenological approach.

An example of the two approaches to investigation can be seen in the contrast between Newton and Goethe in their methods of studying colour. There has been much debate about the rights and wrongs of these approaches with sides being taken. Would it not be more fruitful to look at both, not as competing theories but as two different ways of looking at the phenomena. Newton is trying to exclude the investigator from the processes while Goethe is trying to understand how things stand in relation to the investigator. They are not investigating the same thing. Goethe was studying colour while Newton was studying optics.

With the advances in knowledge brought about by modern science we can now apply the Goethean participatory method to the world around us with added wonder. By including the pole of Goethean science, modern science is rescued from its one-sidedness and we get science which is unified in its polarity.

233 thoughts on “The Goethean method as a complement to conventional science

  1. CharlieM: Dynein “motors” walk along microtubules carrying their cargoes. Where is the external control of this movement?

    Dynein motor proteins are made of passive matter, which in itself cannot be responsible for the activities we observe in these assemblies. Hence the control of this movement must be provided by an inner activity.

    This is your position right? It is NOT the same as merely stating there is a difference between living and non-living systems. Also, this position is rejected by virtually every researcher in the biological and medical sciences, so if this is a finding from Goethean science then it is not compatible with “conventional” science.

    CharlieM: So in order to use the scientific method I am required to become a scientist and start publishing papers? So there is one advantage of the Goethean method, it can be practiced by anyone.

    So in order to become a painter I need to make paintings? So in order to become a mechanic I need to fix cars?

    What is it that makes the Goethean method a scientific endeavour? Publishing isn’t compulsory as far as I am concerned, but “learning about yourself” doesn’t really cut it either IMO.

    CharlieM: Me: Are you doing science when you get to know your wife intimately? Do you mind if your peers try to reproduce your findings?

    Charlie: Very amusing. But if they were to try to love and respect her then physical intimacy would be out of the question.

    Sorry if that offended you, but I was trying to get a point across: I completely agree that learning about yourself and knowing that your wife loves you is valuable knowledge. However, I think it is nonsensical to try and acquire that knowledge using a scientific method, “Goethean” or otherwise. Experimentally ascertaining one’s spouse’s affection is very bad for the relationship.

    Conversely, I see no requirement for scientists to learn about themselves in order to be able to study, say, receptor-ligand binding.

  2. graham2:
    CharlieM, This is my last try at this … can you provide an actual, real-world, specific example of the Goethean method in action, ie: actually being applied to produce results.
    Please don’t just give a link to a person, try to make the small effort to describe some activity in your own words.

    There are examples of this approach from the fields of medicine, architecture, agriculture, education, and much more.

    Medical results such as from this trial can be fould. And the integration of art and science iis demonstrated in the design and building of the two Goetheanums in Switzerland.

    Here is a description of the first Goetheanum:

    The building of the First Goetheanum was conceived like a living sculpture. The interiors and exteriors were mainly carved by hand, the domes covered with murals, natural light flowing into the building through stained glass windows that projected their colors into its space. The main material used in the construction was wood. The building featured an unusual structure of two intersecting domes of different sizes, yet this duality formed an integrated unity. The big dome covered the main hall, or auditorium, and the smaller one the stage, where dramatic, eurythmic, and musical performances took place as well as lectures and meetings.

    And this gives us an understanding of how the domed roof compares to similar, previously erected structures .

    Steiner’s biological approach unfolded during the erection of the two intersecting domes of the First Goetheanum. He insisted on unity and fluidity of the interior space with no inclusion of structural elements separating the domes, and rejected the application of “massive interior arches that supported the intersection of Byzantine domes,” hidden bindings, or separate belts conventionally implemented in construction of large-scale cupolas. 42 Local engineer Englert, the former director of the Basel building association that developed the concrete base for the building, responded to the challenge by inventing a unifying principle of reinforced bands and a single massive tension ring jointly holding both domes and anchoring the two cupolas mutually supporting each other. 43 The magnitude of the double-domed structure of the First Goetheanum was unprecedented because of this pioneering engineering as well as its remarkable dimensions. The larger dome of the Goetheanum with its inner diameter of 110 feet surpassed in size the dome of the St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (102 ft.) and the dome of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (108 ft.). For Steiner, however, the most important element was the experience of living architecture and not the symbolism of a giant dome.

    I could fill pages here with examples of practical applications of the Goethean method.

    Personally I would summarize the method as a phenomenological, participatory, holistic, engaging, interaction between the researcher and the field of study which treats the phenomena as it would treat a loved one when gathering information about them, by listening to their story. Studying nature as it is in its fundamental completeness and complexity, and not setting up unrealistic artificial conditions in the hope that it will somehow produce insightful results about the reality of nature.

    There is a place for taking things apart to see “how they tick” and there is also a place for studying the living processes.

    Shooting birds and dissecting them will tell us a great deal about their anatomy give us some information about their lifestyles, But observing their lives and behaviours in their environments and their interactions with other organisms will tell us so much more.

    The practice of science according to the latter is more in line with the Goethean method.

  3. CharlieM,
    [Splutter!]
    You cite the unabashedly reductionist analysis of the effect of mistletoe extract in pancreatic cancer. Is that really the best example of Goethean science that you can manage, outside of architecture?

    “All good architecture leaks.”

  4. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: Mathematics is an essential tool of science and in order to apply it quantities have to be measured.

    Neil Rickert: But you mostly misunderstand that.

    In what way?

    Neil Rickert: Measurement itself is not mathematics. Measurement is observation.

    I agree it’s not mathematics. But measurements can be manipulated mathematically. For instance we can measure a second angle of a right angled triangle and then work out the size of the third angle without the need for further measurement.

    We could observe a triangle all day long without obtaining any measurements. We would need to actively measure to get a measurement from it.

    Neil Rickert: Mathematics is very useful in science, because science is systematic. Numbers are used, because numbers provide a systematic way of naming what we observe. And if the systematic structure of the names matches the systematic nature of the observations, then mathematics will be useful.

    Maybe you had a bad experience with mathematics and that is confusing you. However, it still the systematic nature of science that is important here. And you criticize the use of mathematics because you do not understand that.

    Generally I love mathematics although I’m not to keen on statistics and probability. 🙂 Why do you think I have criticized the use of mathematics?

    Neil Rickert: Should science be done systematically? Or should it be done haphazardly? That’s really what you should be asking.

    And I would answer that it should be done systematically.

  5. DNA_Jock,

    I now have the mental image of “local engineer Englert” doing some old-fashioned structural calculations to work out the load bearing for the structure, while softly cursing Steiner under his breath.

  6. Alan Fox:
    graham2:
    CharlieM, This is my last try at this … can you provide an actual, real-world, specific example of the Goethean method in action, ie: actually being applied to produce results.
    Please don’t just give a link to a person, try to make the small effort to describe some activity in your own words.

    Alan Fox: Charlie?

    Another example would be Camphill communities instigated by the paediatrician Karl König, where vulnerable people can live as valuable, active, happy members of the community. Dawkins would prefer that these people had never been born.

  7. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: So it can be argued legitimately that rather than darkness being just the absence of light, dark rays produced coloured effects when transmitted through a prism.

    Kantian Naturalist: Except that physicists have discovered photons but not “skotons“.

    I don’t know about skotons but dark photons have been hypothesised.

    It could be said that physicists manufactured photons rather than discovered them.

    The quantum theory held that to obtain photons all that would be necessary was to continue splitting a beam of light until the stage was reached which resulted in single photons being present. But no matter which conventional source of light was used it never produced an anticorrelation effect which is required if light is reduced to a single particle. No matter how much they are split traditional light sources always produce the interference effects common to waves.

    Researcher had to obtain photons via using an atomic cascade or parametric
    down-conversion of photon pairs. And even after single photons could be used in experiments they still produce both anticorrelation and interference patterns depending on how the experiment is set up.

    If darkness is just the absence of light how do we account for zero-point energy? This topic throws up many interesting questions.

  8. CharlieM: Another example would be Camphill communities instigated by the paediatrician Karl König, where vulnerable people can live as valuable, active, happy members of the community.

    Now you seem to have changed from Goethean methods for science to Goethean methods for ways of living.

    I’m pretty sure that the objections people have had were with respect to doing science. That’s just not where Goethe properly belongs.

  9. CharlieM: Dawkins would prefer that these people had never been born.

    That’s a serious allegation for which I challenge you to find some justification.

  10. Alan Fox,

    That was my initial reaction too: I thought people might be making an is/ought error over stuff he wrote in chapter 7 of The Selfish Gene about the unnatural nature of the welfare state.
    However, the git did also tweet (in response to someone describing the ethical dilemma of learning your fetus has Down’s) “Abort it and try again, it would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”, which does strike me as proffering a preference.
    So, to me it’s a justified, if completely irrelevant, potshot.

  11. CharlieM:
    I asked you to describe some application of the Goethian method, in your own words, and you provide a link to a study of Pancreatic cancer.

    And then some blather about Architecture.

    Like, WTF man.

    Now I give up.

  12. PS

    I’ve been watching “The Man in the High Castle”. There’s a difference between bad advice and compulsion that stems from power or lack of it.

  13. DNA_Jock:
    Kantian Naturalist,

    And Dear Prof Olaf L. Müller promised to generate purple photons within two years…
    It’s been very quiet.

    How much attention did you give to the video? He made no such promise. He said that Goethe’s polarity theory:

    “predicts that it should be possible to produce purple particles and the purple particles that are not heterogeneous but homogeneous with one identifiable property, the colour purple. And now I must tell you please wait a couple of years until we have identified them. We had a little workshop in Berlin a few weeks ago, and there were a few nice physicists, they were orthodox physicists, theoreticians and experimentalists and after the papers we were sitting in the pub and had quite some nice food and enough wine. And it turned out the experimentalists and theoreticians agreed that it is possible according to modern quantum mechanics to produce the purple particles.

    And that will be my next project, I want to see them. It will be difficult to make them, I need quite some money to get it done and so on. But what I want to tell you now is that, the search for the symmetry which I’ve done ages ago with rather banal experiments goes on and on and on. Maybe it finishes somewhere. But it is interesting to observe that we have modern means, modern quantum mechanics that even predicts that the things should be able to be done. And with that I leave you. Check my home page in two years, four years, or five years. Maybe then we have the paper about the purple photons.”

    He cannot put an exact figure on how long it will take, but he sounds fairly confident that he will demonstrate purple to be homogeneous.

    Charlie’s musings on optics are, in a word, wrong.

    It would help if you were a bit more specific.

    DNA_Jock: On the other hand, I am enjoying his “No True Scotsman” bit — claiming that any decent scientist is in fact practicing Goethean science, even if they don’t realize it.
    graham2 is right to insist upon an example of the practical benefits of the Goethean approach.
    This too, has been rather quiet.

    If somebody becomes ill, can you see the benefit of treating the person rather than the illness? That would be the Goethean approach. Also treating people with conditions such as Down’s Syndrome as valuable members of the community. That would be the Goethean approach.

  14. Corneel:
    CharlieM: Dynein “motors” walk along microtubules carrying their cargoes. Where is the external control of this movement?

    Corneel: Dynein motor proteins are made of passive matter, which in itself cannot be responsible for the activities we observe in these assemblies. Hence the control of this movement must be provided by an inner activity.

    This is your position right? It is NOT the same as merely stating there is a difference between living and non-living systems. Also, this position is rejected by virtually every researcher in the biological and medical sciences, so if this is a finding from Goethean science then it is not compatible with “conventional” science.

    Where do you think the inner activity of living systems originates? dynein–dynactin complex motility is well researched and documented from the aspect of chemical and mechanical forces but this does not address the flexible behaviour of these complexes in how they deal with obstacles in their path for instance.

    CharlieM: So in order to use the scientific method I am required to become a scientist and start publishing papers? So there is one advantage of the Goethean method, it can be practiced by anyone.

    Corneel: So in order to become a painter I need to make paintings? So in order to become a mechanic I need to fix cars?

    What is it that makes the Goethean method a scientific endeavour? Publishing isn’t compulsory as far as I am concerned, but “learning about yourself” doesn’t really cut it either IMO.

    Goethe’s phenomenological approach to studying nature, a “gentle empiricism” is a science of qualities that examines living processes in great detail in their natural surroundings. It requires a keen observation and love of nature.

    For anyone who would like to familiarize themselves with Goethean science, whether out of pure interest or from wishing to criticize it, I would recommend taking a close look at The Nature Institute. They have much more thorough and accurate descriptions and examples of it than I have provided.

    Me (Corneel): Are you doing science when you get to know your wife intimately? Do you mind if your peers try to reproduce your findings?

    Charlie: Very amusing. But if they were to try to love and respect her then physical intimacy would be out of the question.

    Corneel: Sorry if that offended you, but I was trying to get a point across: I completely agree that learning about yourself and knowing that your wife loves you is valuable knowledge. However, I think it is nonsensical to try and acquire that knowledge using a scientific method, “Goethean” or otherwise. Experimentally ascertaining one’s spouse’s affection is very bad for the relationship.

    Your okay, I’m not offended.

    But you have misunderstood my point. I would never dream of turning my love for someone into some sort of scientific experiment. But when investigating nature, II do wish to show it the same loving consideration that I would give to a loved one. The object is not to amass personal knowledge, the object is to understand the world around me.

    Corneel: Conversely, I see no requirement for scientists to learn about themselves in order to be able to study, say, receptor-ligand binding.

    I wonder how many instances of receptor-ligand binding I have brought about by my activities in composing this post? I imagine it would be a very large number. I may not be aware of them taking place, but I know they would not have come about without the thinking and willing I have expended in writing this reply.

  15. DNA_Jock:
    CharlieM,
    [Splutter!]
    You cite the unabashedly reductionist analysis of the effect of mistletoe extract in pancreatic cancer. Is that really the best example of Goethean science that you can manage, outside of architecture?

    I wasn’t asked for the best example. I picked these examples at random.

    And it wasn’t so much the trial but the treatment itself, that I was pointing to. Trials such as these are necessary if one wants to abide by the rules.

    DNA_Jock: “All good architecture leaks.”

    Do termite mounds leak? I know that wasps use saliva to waterproof their nests. I enjoyed reading this piece on paper wasps:

    A protein found in the saliva of these wasps is actually so effective at waterproofing their nests that it has been used by scientists to construct a biodegradable drone.

    The wisdom of nature!

    I was amused by how wasps have been used to produce art as in the image below. Last year I found a wasps nest that was striped with grey and a brown colour. I recognized the colour as a popular wood stain obviously taken from a treated fence or shed.

  16. Corneel to DNA_Jock,

    I now have the mental image of “local engineer Englert” doing some old-fashioned structural calculations to work out the load bearing for the structure, while softly cursing Steiner under his breath.

    Everyone likes a challenge. 🙂

  17. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: Another example would be Camphill communities instigated by the paediatrician Karl König, where vulnerable people can live as valuable, active, happy members of the community.

    Neil Rickert: Now you seem to have changed from Goethean methods for science to Goethean methods for ways of living.

    You don’t see any room for science in health care? König was a paediatrician and he applied his paediatrics in forming the Camphill community.

    Neil Rickert: I’m pretty sure that the objections people have had were with respect to doing science. That’s just not where Goethe properly belongs.

    So he doesn’t fit in your pigeon hole. 🙁

  18. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM: Dawkins would prefer that these people had never been born.

    Alan Fox: That’s a serious allegation for which I challenge you to find some justification.

    It’s easy to find his views on this if you look. For instance, here

  19. graham2:
    CharlieM:
    I asked you to describe some application of the Goethian method, in your own words, and you provide a link to a study of Pancreatic cancer.

    And then some blather about Architecture.

    Like, WTF man.

    Now I give up.

    What! I thought everyone liked a challenge. Maybe you give up too easily. 🙂

  20. CharlieM: Where do you think the inner activity of living systems originates? dynein–dynactin complex motility is well researched and documented from the aspect of chemical and mechanical forces but this does not address the flexible behaviour of these complexes in how they deal with obstacles in their path for instance.

    So “the etheric life principle” does serve as a non-physical explanation for the behaviour of certain protein complexes. Can we then finally agree that contra your previous claim, it is NOT merely the observation that living and non-living things differ from each other? Will you concede that this is a concept that most researchers deny actually exist?

    CharlieM: But you have misunderstood my point. I would never dream of turning my love for someone into some sort of scientific experiment. But when investigating nature, II do wish to show it the same loving consideration that I would give to a loved one. The object is not to amass personal knowledge, the object is to understand the world around me.

    Darn, I have been doing science wrong all this time. I thought I just had to amass a lot of knowledge without understanding any of it. LOL! You really have a strawman view of scientists, I will let you know.

    So, the impression I get from reading your posts is that you believe current science to be out of balance. You dislike its reductionism, mechanical thinking and you shudder at the thought of dissecting animals. Fair enough. Yet I will let you know that science already has room for holism, empathy and interest as well. We don’t need Goethean science to supply these things.

    What conventional science does NOT have room for is complete nonsense like “the etheric life principle” (regardless of whether it has a pleasant peach-blossom color). You cannot smuggle such gibberish in on the back of “we need a bit more holism”. Do you understand that this makes it a no-go?

  21. Corneel:
    CharlieM: Where do you think the inner activity of living systems originates? dynein–dynactin complex motility is well researched and documented from the aspect of chemical and mechanical forces but this does not address the flexible behaviour of these complexes in how they deal with obstacles in their path for instance.

    Corneel: So “the etheric life principle” does serve as a non-physical explanation for the behaviour of certain protein complexes. Can we then finally agree that contra your previous claim, it is NOT merely the observation that living and non-living things differ from each other? Will you concede that this is a concept that most researchers deny actually exist?

    Rather than non-physical I would say that it is bordering on the physical. The observation of the life principle recognises that living systems must be treated as whole and cannot therefore be explained in terms of their parts alone. Unlike the chemical and physical attributes of non-living systems, the parts of living systems, for example nucleotides, phospholipids, proteins, have meaning only in relation to the whole. And the lowest, most basic form of any living system is the cell. Living forms are never built up in the manner of the construction of machines. They appear through inner orchestrated activity.

    CharlieM: But you have misunderstood my point. I would never dream of turning my love for someone into some sort of scientific experiment. But when investigating nature, II do wish to show it the same loving consideration that I would give to a loved one. The object is not to amass personal knowledge, the object is to understand the world around me.

    Corneel: Darn, I have been doing science wrong all this time. I thought I just had to amass a lot of knowledge without understanding any of it. LOL! You really have a strawman view of scientists, I will let you know.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, you haven’t been doing anything wrong. 🙂 Modern analytical science has advanced our knowledge immeasurably.

    Corneel: So, the impression I get from reading your posts is that you believe current science to be out of balance. You dislike its reductionism, mechanical thinking and you shudder at the thought of dissecting animals. Fair enough. Yet I will let you know that science already has room for holism, empathy and interest as well. We don’t need Goethean science to supply these things.

    That fair enough. You don’t see the need for what you understand to be Goethean science. But many others have found it to be extremely enlightening and beneficial to their understanding.

    Corneel: What conventional science does NOT have room for is complete nonsense like “the etheric life principle” (regardless of whether it has a pleasant peach-blossom color). You cannot smuggle such gibberish in on the back of “we need a bit more holism”. Do you understand that this makes it a no-go?

    Have you looked at the link to The Nature Institute that I posted above?

    More information on the subject can be read in the articles “Complementing reductionism: Goethean science” parts 1 & 2, found here.

    If you wish to read these at least you will be able to make some informed criticisms.

  22. I don’t know enough about Steiner to add to this conversation, and I don’t care to — the few bits of Steiner I’ve read were enough to convince me that Steiner isn’t worth reading.

    But, that aside, it’s worth noticing that Goethe’s influence on science and philosophy of science is substantial — far more so than what CharlieM seems to be aware of.

    Goethe’s emphasis on holism and experience found appreciative uptake by Kurt Goldstein, whose book The Organism (1939) was a landmark of early 20th century biology. Goethe also influenced Gestalt psychology, second-order cybernetics, and Brian Goodwin’s structural biology.

    Currently I’m reading (among several things) “The Return of the Organism as Fundamental Explanatory Concept in Biology” by Daniel Nicholson (Philosophy Compass 2014). Nicholson doesn’t say anything about 19th century biology but I’m inclined to say that the return of the importance of the organism, along with sub-organismal biology (e.g, molecular biology) and supra-organismal biology (e.g. ecology) vindicates much of Goethe’s philosophy of science.

  23. Kantian Naturalist: it’s worth noticing that Goethe’s influence on science and philosophy of science is substantial — far more so than what CharlieM seems to be aware of.

    Not sure why you think I’m unaware of his influence.

    Did you know of Steiner work at the Goethe/Schiller Archives in Weiner ?

    Steiner

    “…in the autumn of 1889 I was summoned to collaborate in the Goethe and Schiller Archives at Weimar, for the preparation of Goethe’s scientific writings, which I have then brought out for the larger Weimar edition of Goethe’s works, the so-called “Sophia Edition.” My task was to study in the documents left by Goethe — everything connected with his anatomical, physiological, zoological, botanical, mineralogical, geological and also meteorological studies.”

    I’m pleased to see that you are interested in Goethe’s scientific works.

  24. CharlieM: Not sure why you think I’m unaware of his influence.

    Because in a thread about Goethe’s alternative to “conventional science”, you only mention Steiner and none of the actual scientists, past and present, who were influenced by Goethe.

  25. CharlieM: That fair enough. You don’t see the need for what you understand to be Goethean science. But many others have found it to be extremely enlightening and beneficial to their understanding.

    Good for them.

    CharlieM: Have you looked at the link to The Nature Institute that I posted above?

    More information on the subject can be read in the articles “Complementing reductionism: Goethean science” parts 1 & 2, found here.

    Why do you make your interlocutors do so much work? Please, if you think there is something worthwhile in those pieces, then surely you can summarize the essence into a few sentences here?

    CharlieM: If you wish to read these at least you will be able to make some informed criticisms.

    The only thing I got from a cursory reading of the pieces behind those links is that Goethean science is practiced by stuck-up gits who believe themselves to be world champions “making careful observations” while constantly failing to take extremely basic things into consideration.

    This one is priceless:

    In a college botany course I learned why plants that grow in shady places have broader and larger leaves than plants that grow in full sunlight. The reason given is that plants growing in shade don’t receive as much light to do photosynthesis. Therefore they grow larger surfaces with which they can capture more light and produce more organic matter via photosynthesis. Plants have developed this strategy to survive and reproduce in shady habitats. This is a typical functional explanation that makes perfect sense — until you think the matter through a bit further. The larger the surface area a plant creates, the more substance it needs to build up and sustain its larger body. Wouldn’t it be just as effective for the plant to stay very small with narrow leaves? In this way it wouldn’t have to do so much photosynthesis since it could stay small. Both explanations make sense. I have yet to find a functional explanation of a phenomenon for which one couldn’t find equally plausible alternatives. Such evolutionary explanations always fall short.

    Sure, those small plants are going to do really well competing for light while being completely overshadowed by their broad-leaved competitors. I guess Craig forgot to take his holism-pills that morning, since he managed to forget about the entire ecosystem in which those plants need to thrive.

    There might be a risk of amassing knowledge without understanding, but it is far worse to to pronounce understanding without having the appropriate background knowledge. Goethean science seems to excell at the latter.

  26. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: Not sure why you think I’m unaware of his influence.

    Kantian Naturalist: Because in a thread about Goethe’s alternative to “conventional science”, you only mention Steiner and none of the actual scientists, past and present, who were influenced by Goethe.

    You are wrong to claim that I only mention Steiner. In an earlier post I talked about Olaf L. Müller. He has been influenced by Goethe but I haven’t come across anything to suggest he has been influenced in any way by Steiner.

  27. CharlieM: You are wrong to claim that I only mention Steiner. Inan earlier post I talked about Olaf L. Müller. He has been influenced by Goethe but I haven’t come across anything to suggest he has been influenced in any way by Steiner.

    Based on those papers, Müller is not a scientist — he’s a philosopher.

    Do you know of any practicing scientists influenced by Goethe? Because I do & it seems to me that you don’t.

  28. Corneel:
    CharlieM: That fair enough. You don’t see the need for what you understand to be Goethean science. But many others have found it to be extremely enlightening and beneficial to their understanding.

    Corneel: Good for them.

    Yes, I do think it’s good for them. 🙂

    CharlieM: Have you looked at the link to The Nature Institute that I posted above?

    More information on the subject can be read in the articles “Complementing reductionism: Goethean science” parts 1 & 2, found here.

    Corneel: Why do you make your interlocutors do so much work? Please, if you think there is something worthwhile in those pieces, then surely you can summarize the essence into a few sentences here?

    I did summarize what I believe to be the essence here

    Personally I would summarize the method as a phenomenological, participatory, holistic, engaging, interaction between the researcher and the field of study which treats the phenomena as it would treat a loved one when gathering information about them, by listening to their story. Studying nature as it is in its fundamental completeness and complexity, and not setting up unrealistic artificial conditions in the hope that it will somehow produce insightful results about the reality of nature.

    I’m not making you do any work. I was merely suggesting that if you want to criticize something it would be a good idea to get to know it first and a good way to do that is by reading the material.

    CharlieM: If you wish to read these at least you will be able to make some informed criticisms.

    Corneel: The only thing I got from a cursory reading of the pieces behind those links is that Goethean science is practiced by stuck-up gits who believe themselves to be world champions “making careful observations” while constantly failing to take extremely basic things into consideration.

    This one is priceless:

    (Craig Holdrege): “In a college botany course I learned why plants that grow in shady places have broader and larger leaves than plants that grow in full sunlight. The reason given is that plants growing in shade don’t receive as much light to do photosynthesis. Therefore they grow larger surfaces with which they can capture more light and produce more organic matter via photosynthesis. Plants have developed this strategy to survive and reproduce in shady habitats. This is a typical functional explanation that makes perfect sense — until you think the matter through a bit further. The larger the surface area a plant creates, the more substance it needs to build up and sustain its larger body. Wouldn’t it be just as effective for the plant to stay very small with narrow leaves? In this way it wouldn’t have to do so much photosynthesis since it could stay small. Both explanations make sense. I have yet to find a functional explanation of a phenomenon for which one couldn’t find equally plausible alternatives. Such evolutionary explanations always fall short.”

    Corneel: Sure, those small plants are going to do really well competing for light while being completely overshadowed by their broad-leaved competitors. I guess Craig forgot to take his holism-pills that morning, since he managed to forget about the entire ecosystem in which those plants need to thrive.

    There might be a risk of amassing knowledge without understanding, but it is far worse to to pronounce understanding without having the appropriate background knowledge. Goethean science seems to excel at the latter.

    I think Holdrege’s point was that if small leaves are just as efficient there would be no need for large leaves in the first place. But as there are both large and small leaved plants then there is more to it than just competition for light. As Holdrege is frequently pointing out context matters. In the wild patch in my garden, docks with their large leaves do not outcompete the dog violets, buttercups or forget-me-nots.

    It just so happens that in the paragraph following the one you quoted Holdrege writes:

    I can formulate the problem in another way. Every biology student learns that the fundamental question of biologists confronting a phenomenon is: what is the underlying mechanism? It may be a Darwinian survival strategy or a hormonal or genetic mechanism. In the search for such mechanisms two essential things happen. First, you isolate the phenomenon out of its context within the organism as a whole and, second, you seek to explain it in terms of a reduced set of quasi-mechanical processes. In the end what you come up with is a simplified picture of a phenomenon caused by an abstractly conceived underlying mechanism. (The neurologist Kurt Goldstein has elucidated this problematic side of science in his seminal work on holistic science, The Organism).

    Maybe Kantian Naturalist will lend you the book. 🙂

  29. CharlieM,

    Just a general point here.

    I have not been criticizing Goethe. What I have criticized, is CharlieM’s obsession with Goethe.

    Science is very broad. There are many different way of looking at things.

    Sure, reductionist methods can miss the big picture. But Goethean methods can miss detail. Science is broad enough to encompass both. The mistake that CharlieM appears to be making, is thinking that a Goethean approach could work for all science questions.

  30. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: You are wrong to claim that I only mention Steiner. In an earlier post I talked about Olaf L. Müller. He has been influenced by Goethe but I haven’t come across anything to suggest he has been influenced in any way by Steiner.

    Kantian Naturalist: Based on those papers, Müller is not a scientist — he’s a philosopher.

    Do you know of any practicing scientists influenced by Goethe? Because I do & it seems to me that you don’t

    Do you consider carrying out experiments to try to discover homogeneous purple “particles” to be science or philosophy? In the video that is what Muller says is his project and I would class that as a scientific endeavour.

    I know that Brian Goodwin cannot be described as a practicing scientist as he is sadly deceased, but I did quote and link to a video by him here

    Also in the seventies, physicist Henri Bortoft, biologist Margaret Colquhoun and mathematician turned biologist Brian Goodwin began a dialogue about wholeness in their respective areas of research. All great admirers of Goethe.

    In a review of Bortoft’s book, “The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science” Brian Goodwin wrote:

    ‘Bortoft shows how the contemporary impulse for participatory science can be realized. What’s more, the book is beautifully written.’

    I have admired Goodwin and his work for quite some time.

    I do know of a few others, for example those mentioned here

    Most modern scientists relegate these very little known works of Goethe to the dust heap of history, regarding them as of no consequence. There are, however, a few exceptions, such as Ribe (1985), Sepper (1988), Goodwin (1994) and Portmann (1956) (for a discussion of the educational possibilities inherent in Goethe’s theory of optical colours, see Dahlin 2003).

    The CIIS in California and Schumacher College in the UK have had many staff members, both permanent and visiting, who have been greatly influenced by Goethe.

    Do practising scientists who have been influenced by both Goethe and Steiner count? 🙂

  31. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM,

    Just a general point here.

    I have not been criticizing Goethe. What I have criticized, is CharlieM’s obsession with Goethe.

    Science is very broad. There are many different way of looking at things.

    Sure, reductionist methods can miss the big picture. But Goethean methods can miss detail. Science is broad enough to encompass both. The mistake that CharlieM appears to be making, is thinking that a Goethean approach could work for all science questions.

    Then why did I use the “compliment” in the title of this thread?

  32. CharlieM: Then why did I use the “compliment” in the title of this thread?

    Because you can’t spell.

    Actually, you got it right in the thread title, but wrong in the post to which I am replying.

  33. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: Then why did I use the “compliment” in the title of this thread?

    Neil Rickert: Because you can’t spell.

    Actually, you got it right in the thread title, but wrong in the post to which I am replying.

    Well spotted, but it doesn’t answer the question.

  34. Goethe’s compliment to science was in considering himself a scientist, albeit a scientist who confines himself to departments of science which are independent of geometry.

    It was in science and not in poetry that he believed his greatest achievements lay.

    He did not regard his conflict with Newton’s work on colour as an attack on science. It was a criticism, by a scientist, on the methods employed by a fellow scientist. And internal conflicts are and always have been a healthy feature of the scientific method.

    Anyone who practices Goethean science should not have to, and indeed must not give up their legitimate conventional scientific practices.

    In this presentation by Isis Brook, she summarizes the four stages of Goethe’s approach:

    1. Exact sense perception;
    2. Exact sensorial fantasy;
    3. Seeing in beholding;
    4. Being one with the object.

    The first stage is one of getting to know the object of study through the senses. Careful, detailed observation, and in the case of plants, smelling, listening, touching and possibly tasting.

    The second stage has nothing to do with how the word “fantasy” is usually applied. In the Goethean way the object can be understood in its dynamic transformations. It is a process in time which can be experienced in the imagination but not perceived by the senses. Although it uses that which is gained through the first stage.

    In the first two stages the investigator is active. In the third stage it is required to become still and to let the object communicate its being to the investigator.

    Reaching the fourth stage creates a feeling of unity with the object under study. Subject and object unite.

    As Brook says:

    The fourth stage uses intuition to both combine and go beyond the previous stages. In terms of a Goethean methodology each of the stages is dependent upon those which precede it. Therefore it is not surprising that each stage is more difficult to explain outside of the context of having experienced the previous stages.

    When Troy Vine was asked to reflect on what holistic science has come to mean, he began by quoting Goethe:

    “The great and so important sounding task ‘know thyself’ has always seemed suspect to me […] A man knows himself insofar as he knows the world, which he perceives only within himself, and himself only within it.”

    Goethe was always looking for polarity in wholeness. He sought to know himself through the world and to know the world through himself. This was his mission.

  35. CharlieM: Every biology student learns that the fundamental question of biologists confronting a phenomenon is: what is the underlying mechanism? It may be a Darwinian survival strategy or a hormonal or genetic mechanism. In the search for such mechanisms two essential things happen. First, you isolate the phenomenon out of its context within the organism as a whole and, second, you seek to explain it in terms of a reduced set of quasi-mechanical processes. In the end what you come up with is a simplified picture of a phenomenon caused by an abstractly conceived underlying mechanism.

    Which rightfully earns one the Nobel prize.

    Notice the difference? “It depends on context” versus Nobel prize? “It’s all so very very complex” versus “This is how it works”?

  36. Corneel:
    CharlieM (quoting Craig Holdrege): Every biology student learns that the fundamental question of biologists confronting a phenomenon is: what is the underlying mechanism? It may be a Darwinian survival strategy or a hormonal or genetic mechanism. In the search for such mechanisms two essential things happen. First, you isolate the phenomenon out of its context within the organism as a whole and, second, you seek to explain it in terms of a reduced set of quasi-mechanical processes. In the end what you come up with is a simplified picture of a phenomenon caused by an abstractly conceived underlying mechanism.

    Corneel:Which rightfully earns one the Nobel prize.

    But these scientists did much more than what Holdrege quoted above. For example, finding the link between the sensation caused by thermal influences and that caused by chemicals such as the constituents of hot peppers and menthol. Seeing things in context between physical and chemical influences.

    Corneel: Notice the difference? “It depends on context” versus Nobel prize? “It’s all so very very complex” versus “This is how it works”?

    There is no “versus” there. It would be more appropriate if you had used “and” instead of “versus”.

    It is very complex and they have added some further knowledge but there are still many questions to be answered. As they say, The same ion channels are opened by both chemical signals and temperature or pressure signals and it will be a challenge to figure out how this comes about. Very many of the body’s cells use this pressure sensing including red blood cells.

    Also regarding the sense of proprioceptionPatapoutian said:

    The sense of proprioception, your sense of where your limbs are compared to your body. Most people don’t even think of as an important sense. Without it you cannot walk, you cannot stand up so it’s a very important part of physiology.

    Of course Rudolf Steiner was not “most people”. Over a century ago he recognized more than the standard five senses. Actually twelve in all as per his rough and ready diagram pictured below.. Proprioception is often ignored and most people don’t even know about it.

    He said

    If the organ of our sense of balance is destroyed, we do fall over; we cannot then balance ourselves, any more than we can gain a contact with colour if the eye is destroyed. But not only have we a sense for the perception of balance, we have further a sense for our own movement, whereby we can tell whether we are at rest or in movement, whether our muscles are flexed or not.

  37. CharlieM: But these scientists did much more than what Holdrege quoted above. For example, finding the link between the sensation caused by thermal influences and that caused by chemicals such as the constituents of hot peppers and menthol. Seeing things in context between physical and chemical influences.

    Are you saying David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were unwittingly using the Goethean method? Did they smell, listen to, touch and taste a sample of their cell cultures, you suppose?

    CharlieM: It is very complex and they have added some further knowledge but there are still many questions to be answered. As they say, The same ion channels are opened by both chemical signals and temperature or pressure signals and it will be a challenge to figure out how this comes about. Very many of the body’s cells use this pressure sensing including red blood cells.

    This will undoubtedly be resolved once the researchers create a feeling of unity with their study object.

    CharlieM: Of course Rudolf Steiner was not “most people”. Over a century ago he recognized more than the standard five senses. Actually twelve in all as per his rough and ready diagram pictured below.

    Let me add my nonsense-sense to that list , which (what coincidence) just happened to get triggered when looking at that figure. Incidentally, I wonder what type of receptors give rise to the “ego sense”. Time to get crackin’ for those Goethean scientists.

    CharlieM: Proprioception is often ignored and most people don’t even know about it.

    I learned about it from reading Oliver Sacks’ “The Disembodied Lady“. He might actually be coming quite close to your ideal, as he always was very compassionate with his patients. Marvelous writer as well. May he rest in peace.

  38. Corneel:
    CharlieM: But these scientists did much more than what Holdrege quoted above. For example, finding the link between the sensation caused by thermal influences and that caused by chemicals such as the constituents of hot peppers and menthol. Seeing things in context between physical and chemical influences.

    Corneel: Are you saying David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were unwittingly using the Goethean method? Did they smell, listen to, touch and taste a sample of their cell cultures, you suppose?

    They are working in the sprit of Goethe. For instance David Julius relates:

    I was looking at these shelves and shelves of basically chili peppers and extracts (you know, hot sauce) and thinking, “This is such an important and such a fun problem to look at. I’ve really got to get serious about this.”

    He was making connections between the sensations we get from chilis and how it could be related to the sensation of pain.

    CharlieM: It is very complex and they have added some further knowledge but there are still many questions to be answered. As they say, The same ion channels are opened by both chemical signals and temperature or pressure signals and it will be a challenge to figure out how this comes about. Very many of the body’s cells use this pressure sensing including red blood cells.

    Corneel: This will undoubtedly be resolved once the researchers create a feeling of unity with their study object.

    Their urge to understand spurs them on.

    CharlieM: Of course Rudolf Steiner was not “most people”. Over a century ago he recognized more than the standard five senses. Actually twelve in all as per his rough and ready diagram pictured below.

    Corneel:Let me add my nonsense-sense to that list , which (what coincidence) just happened to get triggered when looking at that figure. Incidentally, I wonder what type of receptors give rise to the “ego sense”. Time to get crackin’ for those Goethean scientists.

    Have you applied your “nonsense sense” to the words of Oliver Sacks?

    The “ego sense” is no different to what Sacks describes as “our sense of ourselves”.

    From your link, Sachs wrote:

    (Sherrington) named it ‘proprioception’, to distinguish it from ‘exteroception’ and ‘interoception’, and, additionally, because of its indispensability for our sense of ourselves; for it is only by courtesy of proprioception, so to speak, that we feel our bodies as proper to us, as our ‘property’, as our own.

    Do you really need to find some bodily organ or receptor before you will admit to experiencing a sense of self?

    Sacks also mentions our sense of balance in ” The Disembodied Lady”.

    CharlieM: Proprioception is often ignored and most people don’t even know about it.

    I learned about it from reading Oliver Sacks’ “The Disembodied Lady“. He might actually be coming quite close to your ideal, as he always was very compassionate with his patients. Marvelous writer as well. May he rest in peace.

    It is obvious from what Sacks says that he believes that the public are generally ignorant of proprioception.

    Another interesting piece from Sacks is related in the link below

    In A Modest Epistemological Exercise Steven Talbott informs us of a story by Oliver Sacks about a blind man who regains his sight. and at first everything for him is just a chaos of disconnected images. This, confirms as Steiner told us, that before thinking sets to work the perceived world appears as nothing but disjointed unconnected impressions.

  39. CharlieM: In A Modest Epistemological Exercise Steven Talbott informs us of a story by Oliver Sacks about a blind man who regains his sight. and at first everything for him is just a chaos of disconnected images. This, confirms as Steiner told us, that before thinking sets to work the perceived world appears as nothing but disjointed unconnected impressions.

    First, let’s not give Steiner credit for an idea he “borrowed” (but badly misunderstood) from Kant.

    Second, I think it’s not really clear if this example confirms Kant’s thesis. If I remove the spark plugs from my car’s engine and it doesn’t turn on, what am I entitled to conclude? I might say “ah, so it’s the spark plugs that make it work!”. But if I put the spark plugs back and then disconnect the battery, would I say, “nope, sorry, wrong about the spark plugs, it’s the battery that makes it work!”

    My point here is that we should always be very careful in inferring from an unusual case (e.g. a brain learning how to make sense of visual stimuli for the first time) to “what’s really going on” in the “normal” case.

  40. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: In A Modest Epistemological Exercise Steven Talbott informs us of a story by Oliver Sacks about a blind man who regains his sight. and at first everything for him is just a chaos of disconnected images. This, confirms as Steiner told us, that before thinking sets to work the perceived world appears as nothing but disjointed unconnected impressions.

    Kantian Naturalist: First, let’s not give Steiner credit for an idea he “borrowed” (but badly misunderstood) from Kant.

    Can you enlarge on and clarify these claims?

    Kantian Naturalist: Second, I think it’s not really clear if this example confirms Kant’s thesis. If I remove the spark plugs from my car’s engine and it doesn’t turn on, what am I entitled to conclude? I might say “ah, so it’s the spark plugs that make it work!”. But if I put the spark plugs back and then disconnect the battery, would I say, “nope, sorry, wrong about the spark plugs, it’s the battery that makes it work!”

    My point here is that we should always be very careful in inferring from an unusual case (e.g. a brain learning how to make sense of visual stimuli for the first time) to “what’s really going on” in the “normal” case.

    Which Kant thesis and who is trying to confirm it?

    Have you read any of Steiner’s books on philosophy?

    Steiner:

    The object of the following discussion is to analyze the act of cognition and reduce it to its fundamental elements, in order to enable us to formulate the problem of knowledge correctly and to indicate a way to its solution. The discussion shows, through critical analysis, that no theory of knowledge based on Kant’s line of thought can lead to a solution of the problems involved. However, it must be acknowledged that Volkelt’s work, with its thorough examination of the concept of “experience” provided a foundation without which my attempt to define precisely the concept of the “given” would have been very much more difficult. It is hoped in this essay to lay a foundation for overcoming the subjectivism inherent in all theories of knowledge based on Kant’s philosophy. Indeed, I believe I have achieved this by showing that the subjective form in which the picture of the world presents itself to us in the act of cognition — prior to any scientific explanation of it — is merely a necessary transitional stage which is overcome in the very process of knowledge.

    Even though there is no time in our lives when this actually holds good, any theory of knowledge must consider a point which is free of all presuppositions. As can be seen from his assertions, Kant failed to do this.

    What do you mean when you say the brain learns how to make sense of things? How does a brain come to an understanding of its own activity? Brains do not come to understand, people do. You have begun with the undemonstrated assumption that the brain can make sense of things.

    The case of the blind man is not an unusual case, it is an extreme example of the normal state of affairs. Thinking leads us from a state of confusion to a deeper understanding.

    The image below Is taken from this video by Henri Bortoft.. Some people will see a confusion of shapes and others might quickly recognize a distinct image among the shapes. This demonstrates the distinction between visual perception and cognitive perception. On receiving his sight the blind man had immediate visual perception but he then had to learn cognitive perception before he could make sense of what he saw.

  41. CharlieM: Can you enlarge on and clarify these claims?

    You mentioned the case from Sacks as if it showed that the mind plays an active role in structuring the world as we experience it, and that without the mind’s organizing activity, what we experience would be sheer meaningless chaos.

    That’s Kant’s transcendental psychology.

    Have you read any of Steiner’s books on philosophy?

    I’ve read every except you’ve posted and linked to here, and I regret every second of my life that was thereby wasted.

    any theory of knowledge must consider a point which is free of all presuppositions.

    Why should anyone believe that? What we want from a theory of knowledge is normative guidance about how we ought to regard our beliefs, how to distinguish good reasons from bad reasons for holding a belief, why reasons are important, etc. Why do we need a presuppositionless point of view in order to do that?

    As can be seen from his assertions, Kant failed to do this.

    Firstly, Steiner is hardly the first philosopher to point out that Kant’s transcendental philosophy relied on presuppositions that he held rather dogmatically. This is exactly what we find in the whole history of German Idealism, including Maimon, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. So perhaps you give Steiner more credit than he deserves because you don’t know much about the history of German philosophy.

    Secondly, Steiner is just badly mistaken to say that the problem with Kant is his “subjectivism”. Steiner follows Schopenhauer in taking Kant to be an updated version of Berkeley. This is why he says that naive realism is the converse of transcendental idealism, and both are equally “dogmatic.” But this is simply not correct: transcendental idealism does not aim at refuting naive realism. It would have that aim if one were to confuse Kant and Berkeley, as Schopenhauer does quite deliberately and maliciously.

    The aim of transcendental idealism is to undermine the kind of metaphysical materialism that threatens organized religion. Kant’s target is Spinoza. This is why Spinoza becomes such an important figure in the subsequent history of German Idealism: what preoccupies Fichte and Schelling is that Kant didn’t succeed in refuting Spinoza, and accusations of “Spinozism” against one another were rampant in this period.

    The idea that transcendental idealism aims at refuting naive realism is just bonkers.

    What do you mean when you say the brain learns how to make sense of things? How does a brain come to an understanding of its own activity? Brains do not come to understand, people do.

    Would you say that “the stomach doesn’t digest, people do” or “the heart doesn’t pump blood, people do”?

    You have begun with the undemonstrated assumption that the brain can make sense of things.

    I have neither the time nor the energy to construct an entire epistemology with every single post I make here.

    The case of the blind man is not an unusual case, it is an extreme example of the normal state of affairs. Thinking leads us from a state of confusion to a deeper understanding.

    Are you really trying to say that there’s no difference in kind between acquiring a novel perceptual modality and arriving a new conceptual articulation of some phenomenon?

  42. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: Can you enlarge on and clarify these claims?

    Kantian Naturalist: You mentioned the case from Sacks as if it showed that the mind plays an active role in structuring the world as we experience it, and that without the mind’s organizing activity, what we experience would be sheer meaningless chaos.

    That’s Kant’s transcendental psychology.

    Maybe so. But it doesn’t alter the truth of what Steiner said. Without thinking, we are confronted by a chaotic confusion. But unlike Kant, Steiner claims that rather than constructing a phenomenal realm of experience, our thinking connects the separate entities into the true reality. There is no unknowable and unreachable “thing in itself”.

    CharlieM: Have you read any of Steiner’s books on philosophy?

    Kantian Naturalist: I’ve read every except you’ve posted and linked to here, and I regret every second of my life that was thereby wasted.

    How would you feel if one of your students began to criticize your teachings through second hand information and a few quotes of what you were teaching from other students? Would you not stipulate that if they insisted on criticizing you then they should attend your classes?

    Reading the works of those people with whose views I am opposed, I consider to be a valuable lesson and not a complete waste of my time. We obviously differ in that respect.

    CharlieM: any theory of knowledge must consider a point which is free of all presuppositions.

    Kantian Naturalist: Why should anyone believe that? What we want from a theory of knowledge is normative guidance about how we ought to regard our beliefs, how to distinguish good reasons from bad reasons for holding a belief, why reasons are important, etc. Why do we need a presuppositionless point of view in order to do that?

    If someone has already made up their mind that we cannot get at the truth through knowledge of the world the, you are right, it would be pointless to try to find this starting point.

    CharlieM: As can be seen from his assertions, Kant failed to do this.

    Kantian Naturalist: Firstly, Steiner is hardly the first philosopher to point out that Kant’s transcendental philosophy relied on presuppositions that he held rather dogmatically. This is exactly what we find in the whole history of German Idealism, including Maimon, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. So perhaps you give Steiner more credit than he deserves because you don’t know much about the history of German philosophy.

    If you read Steiner’s works such as “Riddles of Philosophy” you would see that he acknowledges this.

    A few things I took from that book. Both Kant and Jacobi were troubled by the relationship between revealed truth and truths of reason. Kant decided that our knowledge of the world does not come from reality but from the phenomena and is thus limited. There is an unknowable noumenal realm beyond the phenomenal realm. We apply our idea of causality and connections to the phenomenal realm and it is restricted to this realm. He was inspired into this way of thinking by Hume. So for Kant the phenomenal world was just the construct of our own minds. For him the highest truths cannot be obtained through knowledge but we do have access to moral truths in the form of duty. He saw no certainty in the revealed world but he believed he had found it in the moral realm. What we perceive in the world around us is not reality.

    But if our idea of causality is restricted to the phenomenal realm then the way that Kant thought about the noumenal realm as being the cause behind the phenomenal realm is contradictory. And people like Fitche were well aware of this contradiction.
    As Steiner said:

    One thing is certain; Kant offered his contemporaries innumerable points for attack and interpretations. Precisely through his unclarities and
    contradictions, he became the father of the classical German world conceptions of Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Herbart and Schleiermacher. His unclarities became new questions for them. No matter how he endeavoured to limit knowledge in order to make place for belief, the human spirit can confess to be satisfied in the true sense of the word only through knowledge, through cognition. So it came to pass that Kant’s successors strove to restore knowledge to its full rights again, that they attempted to settle through knowledge the highest needs of man.

    Goethe was on a divergent path to Kant, he did not care for philosophizing, he was more interested in the living thinking that was making the world knowable to him.

    Kantian Naturalist: Secondly, Steiner is just badly mistaken to say that the problem with Kant is his “subjectivism”. Steiner follows Schopenhauer in taking Kant to be an updated version of Berkeley. This is why he says that naive realism is the converse of transcendental idealism, and both are equally “dogmatic.” But this is simply not correct: transcendental idealism does not aim at refuting naive realism. It would have that aim if one were to confuse Kant and Berkeley, as Schopenhauer does quite deliberately and maliciously.

    The aim of transcendental idealism is to undermine the kind of metaphysical materialism that threatens organized religion. Kant’s target is Spinoza. This is why Spinoza becomes such an important figure in the subsequent history of German Idealism: what preoccupies Fichte and Schelling is that Kant didn’t succeed in refuting Spinoza, and accusations of “Spinozism” against one another were rampant in this period.

    The idea that transcendental idealism aims at refuting naive realism is just bonkers.

    Kant’s aim might not have been to refute naive realism, but one cannot be a transcendental idealist and a naive realist at the same time.

    I may not know the subtleties philosophers apply to what is meant by “naive realism”, but I do know what Steiner meant by the term. He wrote his philosophical works not for philosophers but for anyone who cared to read them. For him a naive realist was anyone who took the world that they experienced to the real world without any further thoughts on the matter.

    And Steiner was arguing against how Eduard von Hartmann had tried to demonstrate the truth that “the world is my representation” as an irrefutable Kantian claim. In his demonstration Hartmann was treating the brain in as a naive realist would.

    CharlieM: What do you mean when you say the brain learns how to make sense of things? How does a brain come to an understanding of its own activity? Brains do not come to understand, people do.

    Kantian Naturalist: Would you say that “the stomach doesn’t digest, people do” or “the heart doesn’t pump blood, people do”?

    Digestion and the movement of blood are physical processes, understanding is not. We know that brains transmit and receive electrical and chemical signals, but we cannot say that it understands these processes. We can say that the stomach takes in and excretes matter, but we cannot say that it digests these processes.

    CharlieM: You have begun with the undemonstrated assumption that the brain can make sense of things.

    Kantian Naturalist: I have neither the time nor the energy to construct an entire epistemology with every single post I make here.

    I can understand that, but thankyou for the effort you have put in.

    CharlieM: The case of the blind man is not an unusual case, it is an extreme example of the normal state of affairs. Thinking leads us from a state of confusion to a deeper understanding.

    Kantian Naturalist: Are you really trying to say that there’s no difference in kind between acquiring a novel perceptual modality and arriving a new conceptual articulation of some phenomenon?

    When it comes to understanding reality that is basically what I am saying, yes. We don’t get closer to reality by increasing the number of senses we possess. We get closer by connecting our perceptual world with their corresponding appropriate concepts. Who knows a loved one better, their blind lover or the stranger who can see her or him?

  43. CharlieM: Maybe so. But it doesn’t alter the truth of what Steiner said. Without thinking, we are confronted by a chaotic confusion. But unlike Kant, Steiner claims that rather than constructing a phenomenal realm of experience, our thinking connects the separate entities into the true reality. There is no unknowable and unreachable“thing in itself”.

    So you keep saying. But this is nonsense. On this view, the act of mere thought has the power of transcending sensory images and reaching all the way into things in themselves. This cannot be demonstrated or verified. It’s an appeal to magic.

    How would you feel if one of your students began to criticize your teachings through second hand information and a few quotes of what you were teaching from other students? Would you not stipulate that if they insisted on criticizing you then they should attend your classes?

    I don’t know what “teachings” you imagine I have.

    Reading the works of those people with whose views I am opposed, I consider to be a valuable lesson and not a complete waste of my time. We obviously differ in that respect.

    I have no idea how you formed the impression that I don’t read the views to which I’m opposed. I read stuff I think is wrong all the time. The difference is that I read academic philosophy that is rigorous and careful enough to avoid obvious mistakes.

    If someone has already made up their mind that we cannot get at the truth through knowledge of the world the, you are right, it would be pointless to try to find this starting point.

    I have no idea how you think this works as a response to my question as to why we need a presuppositionless starting point.

    Kant decided that our knowledge of the world does not come from reality but from the phenomena and is thus limited. There is an unknowable noumenal realm beyond the phenomenal realm. We apply our idea of causality and connections to the phenomenal realm and it is restricted to this realm. He was inspired into this way of thinking by Hume. So for Kant the phenomenal world was just the construct of our own minds.

    This much is right. Kant thinks he can vindicate objectivity by the assumption that all finite minds have the same basic constraints in how they construct experience.

    For him the highest truths cannot be obtained through knowledge but we do have access to moral truths in the form of duty. He saw no certainty in the revealed world but he believed he had found it in the moral realm.

    That’s not right.

    What we perceive in the world around us is not reality.

    That’s not right, either. What we perceive is not independent of the mind’s contributions to experience, but it’s not an illusion or fiction.

    But if our idea of causality is restricted to the phenomenal realm then the way that Kant thought about the noumenal realm as being the cause behind the phenomenal realm is contradictory.

    This isn’t right. Kant never said that “our idea of causality is restricted to the phenomenal realm.” In fact he explicitly insists that we use the categories, including causality, in conceptualizing things in themselves. The difference is that such conceptualization cannot count as knowledge, because it cannot be verified by experimentation. We are rationally entitled to think that things in themselves are causally affecting us, as long as we rigorously demarcate that kind of claim from the kind of knowledge that we get in the empirical sciences.

    And people like Fitche were well aware of this contradiction.

    It’s Fichte, and no, that’s not Fichte’s complaint against Kant. His complaint against Kant is that the categories of the understanding are dogmatically asserted rather than logically deduced.

    Kant’s aim might not have been to refute naive realism, but one cannot be a transcendental idealist and a naive realist at the same time.

    Of course you can. Naive realism just means that we’re entitled to believe that veridical perception discloses objects that exist in space independent of our minds and bodies, as distinct from the phenomenalistic view that what we perceive consists of mind-dependent sensory states. That’s perfectly consistent with transcendental idealism, which holds that space and time are the formal structure of sensible intuition.

    For him a naive realist was anyone who took the world that they experienced to the real world without any further thoughts on the matter.

    Put that way, it sounds like Steinerian naive realism is the refusal to think philosophically.

    Digestion and the movement of blood are physical processes, understanding is not. We know that brains transmit and receive electrical and chemical signals, but we cannot say that it understands these processes. We can say that the stomach takes in and excretes matter, but we cannot say that it digests these processes.

    Understanding may not appear to be a physical process, but that doesn’t mean that it really isn’t. Understanding could be related to the transmission and reception of electrical and chemical signals in the same way that digestion is related to the secretion of enzymes.

  44. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Maybe so. But it doesn’t alter the truth of what Steiner said. Without thinking, we are confronted by a chaotic confusion. But unlike Kant, Steiner claims that rather than constructing a phenomenal realm of experience, our thinking connects the separate entities into the true reality. There is no unknowable and unreachable“thing in itself”.

    Kantian Naturalist: So you keep saying. But this is nonsense. On this view, the act of mere thought has the power of transcending sensory images and reaching all the way into things in themselves. This cannot be demonstrated or verified. It’s an appeal to magic.

    Well we know that thought does have the power to transcend sensory images. Owen Barfield gives two maxims in his book, “Saving the Appearances”, first do not confuse the percept with its cause, second, I do not perceive anything with my senses alone but with a great part of my whole being. He believes these maxims to be true or any theory of perception he has ever heard of, save possibly Berkeley’s. He gives an example of hearing a thrush singing.
    In his philosophical works, Steiner goes into great depth as to why we should not just blindly accept that there is an unknowable “thing in itself” behind the phenomenal world. We perceive entities in the external world and by adding the the relevant concepts which belong to them reality is restored. These concepts are not inventions of our subjectivity. And what better than the simple example “triangle”? The reality of any perceived triangle is gained by way of the concept, triangle. We need not look behind this for any “thing in itself”

    CharlieM; How would you feel if one of your students began to criticize your teachings through second hand information and a few quotes of what you were teaching from other students? Would you not stipulate that if they insisted on criticizing you then they should attend your classes?
    Kantian Naturalist: I don’t know what “teachings” you imagine I have.

    By “teachings” I meant the subject of your lessons.

    CharlieM: Reading the works of those people with whose views I am opposed, I consider to be a valuable lesson and not a complete waste of my time. We obviously differ in that respect.

    Kantian Naturalist: I have no idea how you formed the impression that I don’t read the views to which I’m opposed. I read stuff I think is wrong all the time. The difference is that I read academic philosophy that is rigorous and careful enough to avoid obvious mistakes.

    Prior to reading that stuff how do you know it is rigorous?

    CharlieM: If someone has already made up their mind that we cannot get at the truth through knowledge of the world then you are right, it would be pointless to try to find this starting point.

    Kantian Naturalist: I have no idea how you think this works as a response to my question as to why we need a presuppositionless starting point.

    Because it is only if we are seeking truth that we need to try to eliminate all bias.

    CharlieM: Kant decided that our knowledge of the world does not come from reality but from the phenomena and is thus limited. There is an unknowable noumenal realm beyond the phenomenal realm. We apply our idea of causality and connections to the phenomenal realm and it is restricted to this realm. He was inspired into this way of thinking by Hume. So for Kant the phenomenal world was just the construct of our own minds.

    Kantian Naturalist: This much is right. Kant thinks he can vindicate objectivity by the assumption that all finite minds have the same basic constraints in how they construct experience.

    CharlieM: For him the highest truths cannot be obtained through knowledge but we do have access to moral truths in the form of duty. He saw no certainty in the revealed world but he believed he had found it in the moral realm.

    Kantian Naturalist: That’s not right.

    I
    If not moral certainty then moral freedom which connects us to the Divine.

    CharlieM: What we perceive in the world around us is not reality.

    Kantian Naturalist: That’s not right, either. What we perceive is not independent of the mind’s contributions to experience, but it’s not an illusion or fiction.

    I’ll amend that to what we perceive in the world around us is only partial reality.

    CharlieM: But if our idea of causality is restricted to the phenomenal realm then the way that Kant thought about the noumenal realm as being the cause behind the phenomenal realm is contradictory.

    Kantian Naturalist: This isn’t right. Kant never said that “our idea of causality is restricted to the phenomenal realm.” In fact he explicitly insists that we use the categories, including causality, in conceptualizing things in themselves. The difference is that such conceptualization cannot count as knowledge, because it cannot be verified by experimentation. We are rationally entitled to think that things in themselves are causally affecting us, as long as we rigorously demarcate that kind of claim from the kind of knowledge that we get in the empirical sciences.

    According to Nicholas F. Stang he did restrict the categories to the phenomenal realm. Stang wrote:

    The issue of things in themselves affecting us raises another problem for Kant’s theory, for Kant also argues that categories like cause-effect cannot be meaningfully applied to things in themselves. Without an intuition “[the category] has no sense, and is entirely empty of content” (A239/B298). Since things in themselves cannot be intuited, categories (including cause-effect) have no sense or content when applied to things in themselves. Jacobi and others thought this was yet another inconsistency in Kant’s philosophy: he denies that categories can be applied to things in themselves, but then he applies the category cause-effect to them!

    But you may have a point. I’ll need to think a bit more about what you have said.

    CharlieM: And people like Fitche were well aware of this contradiction.

    It’s Fichte, and no, that’s not Fichte’s complaint against Kant. His complaint against Kant is that the categories of the understanding are dogmatically asserted rather than logically deduced.

    Oops, I was having a dyslexic momant 🙂
    Again from the above source, Stang wrote:

    Jacobi raises yet another problem about Kant’s theory of experience. He notes Kant’s definition of sensibility as the capacity “to receive representations through the manner in which we are affected by objects” (A19/B33) and poses a dilemma: are the objects that affect our sensibility appearances or things in themselves? They cannot be appearances, Jacobi argues, because that would involve applying the categories to things in themselves. And they cannot be appearances, because appearances exist in virtue of the very experiences they are (allegedly) causing. He concludes that Kant’s system is inconsistent (Jacobi, Werke, vol. II, 291–310; Fichte raises the same objection in the Second Introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre; cf. Fichte, Werke I, 488).

    I know that understanding Kant can be difficult and I can rely on you to point out my glaring mistakes in interpretation, so I am enjoying this little chat. 🙂

    CharlieM: Kant’s aim might not have been to refute naive realism, but one cannot be a transcendental idealist and a naive realist at the same time.

    Kantian Naturalist: Of course you can. Naive realism just means that we’re entitled to believe that veridical perception discloses objects that exist in space independent of our minds and bodies, as distinct from the phenomenalistic view that what we perceive consists of mind-dependent sensory states. That’s perfectly consistent with transcendental idealism, which holds that space and time are the formal structure of sensible intuition.

    But doesn’t Kant believe that space and time are mind dependent entities?

    CharlieM: For him (Steiner) a naive realist was anyone who took the world that they experienced to the real world without any further thoughts on the matter.

    Kantian Naturalist: Put that way, it sounds like Steinerian naive realism is the refusal to think philosophically.

    No not “refusal” as that very position would involve thinking philosophically.

    CharlieM: Digestion and the movement of blood are physical processes, understanding is not. We know that brains transmit and receive electrical and chemical signals, but we cannot say that it understands these processes. We can say that the stomach takes in and excretes matter, but we cannot say that it digests these processes.

    Kantian Naturalist: Understanding may not appear to be a physical process, but that doesn’t mean that it really isn’t. Understanding could be related to the transmission and reception of electrical and chemical signals in the same way that digestion is related to the secretion of enzymes.

    Being related to something is not the same as being something. Do you believe your thoughts and decisions are not just accompanied by, but determined by electrical and chemical signals?

  45. CharlieM: They are working in the sprit of Goethe. […]

    He was making connections between the sensations we get from chilis and how it could be related to the sensation of pain.

    So everytime someone has a bright insight it doesn’t count as conventional science any more? I am sorry, but the research by Julius and Patapoutian is standard molecular genetic. Why do you keep trying to recruit obvious reductionist research into the “Goethean science” camp?

    CharlieM: Do you really need to find some bodily organ or receptor before you will admit to experiencing a sense of self?

    That wordgame may work in English and German, but in Dutch we make a distinction between “zintuig” (sense) and “besef” (also sense).

    I have a sense of self, meaning that I am aware of myself, but I do not have any specialized bodily faculty for perceiving my “ego”. I do have biological systems for perceiving pain, heat and in the case of proprioception, muscle tension. Those are different senses of the word sense. You anglophones really need more words, lest you keep confusing yourselves.

  46. Corneel:
    CharlieM: They are working in the sprit of Goethe. […]

    He was making connections between the sensations we get from chilis and how it could be related to the sensation of pain.

    Corneel: So everytime someone has a bright insight it doesn’t count as conventional science any more? I am sorry, but the research by Julius and Patapoutian is standard molecular genetic. Why do you keep trying to recruit obvious reductionist research into the “Goethean science” camp?

    These are not the camps of opposing armies. There is no sharp delineation between Goethean science and conventional science, in fact there is a good deal of overlap.

    CharlieM: Do you really need to find some bodily organ or receptor before you will admit to experiencing a sense of self?

    Corneel: That wordgame may work in English and German, but in Dutch we make a distinction between “zintuig” (sense) and “besef” (also sense).

    I have a sense of self, meaning that I am aware of myself, but I do not have any specialized bodily faculty for perceiving my “ego”. I do have biological systems for perceiving pain, heat and in the case of proprioception, muscle tension. Those are different senses of the word sense. You anglophones really need more words, lest you keep confusing yourselves

    A translator gives “zintuig” (sense) and “besef” (also sense). as “sense” and “awareness” in English, “bewusstsein” and “sinn” in German.

    You seem to have just one dominant word for describing a human, “body”. I would describe a human as consisting of body, soul and spirit. And the twelve senses reflect this distinction. Actually, as Steiner explain the sense of the ego is not a sense of one’s own ego but a sense of the ego of others.

    Each of the twelve senses are related in specific ways to the interrelationships between body, soul and spirit. For instance eyes are the physical organs through which we see the outer world but our sense of sight involves much more than these bodily sense impressions. It also involves feeling (soul) and thinking (spirit).

  47. CharlieM: These are not the camps of opposing armies. There is no sharp delineation between Goethean science and conventional science, in fact there is a good deal of overlap.

    Let’s see how the work of David Julius is described:

    Julius and his co-workers created a library of millions of DNA fragments corresponding to genes that are expressed in the sensory neurons which can react to pain, heat, and touch. Julius and colleagues hypothesized that the library would include a DNA fragment encoding the protein capable of reacting to capsaicin. They expressed individual genes from this collection in cultured cells that normally do not react to capsaicin. After a laborious search, a single gene was identified that was able to make cells capsaicin sensitive.

    The work from the Patapoutian lab from the same site:

    Patapoutian and his collaborators first identified a cell line that gave off a measurable electric signal when individual cells were poked with a micropipette. It was assumed that the receptor activated by mechanical force is an ion channel and in a next step 72 candidate genes encoding possible receptors were identified. These genes were inactivated one by one to discover the gene responsible for mechanosensitivity in the studied cells. After an arduous search, Patapoutian and his co-workers succeeded in identifying a single gene whose silencing rendered the cells insensitive to poking with the micropipette.

    You characterized the Goethean method as

    […] a phenomenological, participatory, holistic, engaging, interaction between the researcher and the field of study which treats the phenomena as it would treat a loved one when gathering information about them, by listening to their story. Studying nature as it is in its fundamental completeness and complexity, and not setting up unrealistic artificial conditions in the hope that it will somehow produce insightful results about the reality of nature.

    Emphasis mine.

    Now correct me if I am wrong, but the research from the Julius and Patapoutian labs strikes me as completely antithetical to your description of the Goethean method.

    CharlieM: Each of the twelve senses are related in specific ways to the interrelationships between body, soul and spirit. For instance eyes are the physical organs through which we see the outer world but our sense of sight involves much more than these bodily sense impressions. It also involves feeling (soul) and thinking (spirit).

    The interpretation of the signals from the eyes is performed by certain areas of the brain involved in the processing of visual information. As I recall, the brain is part of the body. Now, soul is a pleasant style of music and I certainly enjoy the occasional drop of spirit, but I don’t see why you put them forward as part of a scientific explanatory framework (as the title of this OP would have it): supernatural phenomena have no place there.

  48. Suppose I’m looking at a coffee cup. I perceive the various sensible qualities it has, unfolding over time as I look it, reach out my arm, prepare my fingers to grasp the handle, prepare the right muscular tension in my arm for lifting it, wrap my fingers around the handle, and bring the mug to my lips, where I slowly tilt it until the desired amount of coffee is gently poured into my mouth.

    On the Steinerian story, the job of the intellect is to take all of the sensory images and combine them in order to yield an exact replica of the real, mind-independent object. My question is, how can we ever verify that we have done so correctly? How can I ever determine whether the coffee mug as I have reconstructed it in my imagination based on sensory images exactly matches the real coffee mug?

    It seems to me that this would require that the intellect has a capacity to veer around the sensations, and look at the world directly without any sensory or imaginative component, and thus be able to compare the real mug with the imagined one.

    But unless the intellect has such a capacity, there is no way of comparing the imagined mug with the real mug, and thus no entitlement to say that one does or does not correspond to the other.

    If not moral certainty then moral freedom which connects us to the Divine.

    If you want to say that moral freedom connects us to the Divine, by all means. Only that’s definitely not at all Kant’s view.

    I’ll amend that to what we perceive in the world around us is only partial reality.

    Well, if we’re talking Kant’s view, then the reality that we perceive is the only reality that we can know anything about.

    But doesn’t Kant believe that space and time are mind dependent entities?

    “Entities’ isn’t quite the right word here. Space and time are forms of sensible intuition. Here Kant is very Aristotelian: to say that space and time are forms is to say that they are structures. Their content or “matter” is the sensory qualities.

    So he would say that time and space are the structures of sensible intuition. But that doesn’t help unless we know what sensible intuition is.

    He contrasts sensible intuition with “intellectual intuition,” is what God and angels would have (if they existed): the capacity to be directly affected by an object’s essence, without any sensory mediation.

    I think it’s tolerably clear why space and time are structures of sensible intuition. But it’s much less clear why those are the only structures of sensible intuition, or indeed if Kant has analyzed sensible intuition correctly.

    As it so happens, when it comes to the structure of sensible intuition I far prefer Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of lived embodiment, and his analysis of the interdependence between body, movement, and perception.

    Being related to something is not the same as being something. Do you believe your thoughts and decisions are not just accompanied by, but determined by electrical and chemical signals?

    My thoughts and decisions could be determined by electrical and chemical signals only if they were separate things, which is what I am denying.

    Rather, my view is that what I experience as my thoughts and decisions are the same as what a neuroscientist could observe as fantastically complex electro-chemical signals.

    So I accept a real distinction between what’s conceptually in view from the first-person and second-person perspectives, where we necessarily regard ourselves and others as agents, bound to epistemic and ethical norms — and what’s brought into view from the third-person perspective, where we can be conceptualized as fantastically complex dynamical systems.

    It’s because I accept this distinction between phenomenology and naturalism that I share your admiration for Goethe.

    But I do not think this distinction does any ontological work, and that is why I am opposed to Steiner.

  49. Corneel:

    CharlieM: These are not the camps of opposing armies. There is no sharp delineation between Goethean science and conventional science, in fact there is a good deal of overlap.

    Corneel: Let’s see how the work of David Julius is described:

    “Julius and his co-workers created a library of millions of DNA fragments corresponding to genes that are expressed in the sensory neurons which can react to pain, heat, and touch. Julius and colleagues hypothesized that the library would include a DNA fragment encoding the protein capable of reacting to capsaicin. They expressed individual genes from this collection in cultured cells that normally do not react to capsaicin. After a laborious search, a single gene was identified that was able to make cells capsaicin sensitive.”

    The work from the Patapoutian lab from the same site:

    “Patapoutian and his collaborators first identified a cell line that gave off a measurable electric signal when individual cells were poked with a micropipette. It was assumed that the receptor activated by mechanical force is an ion channel and in a next step 72 candidate genes encoding possible receptors were identified. These genes were inactivated one by one to discover the gene responsible for mechanosensitivity in the studied cells. After an arduous search, Patapoutian and his co-workers succeeded in identifying a single gene whose silencing rendered the cells insensitive to poking with the micropipette.”

    You characterized the Goethean method as

    […] a phenomenological, participatory, holistic, engaging, interaction between the researcher and the field of study which treats the phenomena as it would treat a loved one when gathering information about them, by listening to their story. Studying nature as it is in its fundamental completeness and complexity, and not setting up unrealistic artificial conditions in the hope that it will somehow produce insightful results about the reality of nature.

    Emphasis mine.

    Now correct me if I am wrong, but the research from the Julius and Patapoutian labs strikes me as completely antithetical to your description of the Goethean method.

    Rhesus macaques can be studied in the field or they can be studied in a lab. These are two different methods of investigation and a researcher can do either or both of them. It is the same with Goethean and conventional science.

    Both Goethean and conventional science begin with observation and their results should be repeatable.

    CharlieM: Each of the twelve senses are related in specific ways to the interrelationships between body, soul and spirit. For instance eyes are the physical organs through which we see the outer world but our sense of sight involves much more than these bodily sense impressions. It also involves feeling (soul) and thinking (spirit).

    Corneel: The interpretation of the signals from the eyes is performed by certain areas of the brain involved in the processing of visual information. As I recall, the brain is part of the body. Now, soul is a pleasant style of music and I certainly enjoy the occasional drop of spirit, but I don’t see why you put them forward as part of a scientific explanatory framework (as the title of this OP would have it): supernatural phenomena have no place there.

    In order to understand brain processes you had to learn about them. In composing the paragraph above you have used thinking to bring the knowledge you have gained into a conscious relationship. Certainly brain processes were involved in this conscious activity, but what was it that was using these processes?

    I look up at a thrush singing in a tree. Where in the brain is the coordinated impression of the sights and sounds that enters my consciousness as the meaningful ideation of the thrush?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.