Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner was born in 1861 into the old and heterogeneous Austro-Hungarian Empire, the son of parents who loved their country backgrounds.

His father had entered into the growing railway system, high tech of the 1860s, and was rather a free-thinker in a still traditional and religious environment.

Gifted with “second sight” or clairvoyance as a child, Rudolf found himself alone with experiences of spiritual beings and extra-sensory perceptions. He turned to the modern sciences to find ways for others to understand such experiences.

Geometry was an entry point. Its forms are “ideal”—they are never perfectly revealed in the physical world—yet its applications to everyday life are immense.

If the politics of Austria-Hungary were out of date, its capital Vienna fostered a dynamic modern intellectual-artistic culture. It was a major center in the great flowering of a thousand years of European culture. All that history would be cut off by the “Great War” of 1914-1918.

While moving into this world at the Technical University, Rudolf also made contact with some of the last bearers of earlier wisdom and consciousness, including a nature mystic and herbalist named Felix Koguski.

Scientist of Mind and Spirit

Early on, dealing with the “second sight” which revealed worlds to him that others did not perceive, Steiner had found a bridge in geometry. A geometric point has no depth, width, or height; a geometric line has no breadth. And while such entities cannot be part of a physical world, they can be present in human consciousness. They show that there are realities we can meet in thinking which are never physically present.

This was a beginning for Steiner’s development as a researcher in and of consciousness. When he was 21, a noted German academic named Wilhelm Dilthey called for a foundation for the sciences of mind and spirit (Geisteswissenschaften) which were beginning to be developed. History, psychology, sociology—these, said Dilthey, could be developed rigorously, but they needed another basis than the one provided by Francis Bacon and others for the physical sciences.

This Geisteswissenschaft was a new term; Dilthey said it had only previously been used to translate from English the term “moral science” of John Stuart Mill. It was taken up in German-speaking countries and is now aligned with the English “humanities” or “human sciences.” However, no shared foundation has been established or acknowledged for these human-centered fields. Steiner embraced the term Geisteswissenschaft and used it to the end of his life; his use is rendered as “spiritual science” in English translations.

Whether called “humanities” or “human sciences” or “spiritual science,” the foundation Steiner developed begins with consciousness and with the nature of thought. We cannot “see” or think the activity of thought because thought itself is that “seeing” or thinking; it cannot directly see itself, only reflect back on the experience. However, thought is central to our individual human experience, and only when we place human nature and its thinking consciousness back in the center of our worldviews can we develop any certainty about the foundations of reality.

This research remains very challenging. We actually have to strengthen our attention and thinking even to enter into the conversation. But as Steiner asserted, what is found in the research and reported accurately can then be understood with ordinary common sense. As in physical science, once the hidden patterns are revealed, we can all begin to work with them.

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