Science Group of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain

Newsletter - September 2000

(HTML version of print version) 

Contents

News.............................................................................1

Comment......................................................................1

Future meetings............................................................3

Reviews........................................................................3

Publications..................................................................9

Next Issue.....................................................................9

News

News from The Nature Institute

In their editorial to In Context1 Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott write:

"At The Nature Institute it is part of our role to respond as creatively and effectively as we can to current events. When new developments in genetic engineering startle the public, or when government, charitable foundations, and commercial enterprises push computers in the schools, we are often asked for comment. Difficult as it sometimes is to communicate through the mass media, we feel obligated to respond to most requests of this sort.

More recently, however, we have found ourselves in a less accustomed role: not merely responding to the news, but also helping to make the news. For example, in this issue of In Context you will find mention of a New York Times feature story about our electronic newsletter, NetFuture,2 which has been attracting more and more attention in the online world. We also tell you about the founding of the Alliance for Childhood, which has likewise sparked national news coverage.

On another front, we are playing an active role by organizing a series of local workshops. Some of these (like the one held last September on "Gene Technology and Nutrition" and co-sponsored by the Hawthorn Foundation) are public events. But we are now also planning the first of what we envision to be a series of private workshops devoted to the furthering of our central research interests. The initial gathering, scheduled for next Fall, will bring together a small group of researchers to explore the concepts of biological evolution in the light of a qualitative and contextual science. The "newsworthiness" of such events may be hard to measure, but we feel certain that their seeds will bear fruit for the future.

We feel privileged to work in a young institute (barely two years old!) that is already thriving and vigorously engaging the world. Not that we can escape the more or less continuous pressure of securing the Institute's future. But this pressure is easier to endure when we are also immersed in important and rewarding work. These days we frequently find ourselves counting our blessings.

There's one way you can easily add to these blessings. Simply let us know of anyone else who you think would appreciate receiving In Context. Or else request extra issues to pass along to others yourself. Our supply is not unlimited, but reaching those who share our passionate interest in the renewal of science is the whole point of the publication."

1. Full details of the latest issue of In Context and the Institute's address can be found in the 'Publications' section below.

2. Subscription details for NetFuture are given in the 'Publications' section below.

Phenological Study

Nearly 200 people throughout UK – amateurs included – are participating in a phenological study coordinated by Tim Sparks at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (formerly the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology). Recording forms (one A4 page) are available from him at the address below. Participating in it is a helpful aid to sharpening one's awareness of seasonal changes in the flora and fauna of one's neighbourhood.

CEH Monks Wood, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire PE28 2LS, UK. Tel: 01487 772400 Fax: 01487 772461. Email ths (at) ceh.ac.uk.

Criticism of anthroposophically-oriented science

A web site has been set up criticising anthroposophical approaches to science, and in particular material published on evolution by Herman Poppelbaum in the 1960s. The author is M. Alan Kazlev and the direct URL is http://www.kheper.auz.com/gaia/biosphere/evolution/Anthroposophical.html. The author's own domain is http://www.kheper.auz.com/.

Comment

Rudolf Steiner's Complete Works on Compact Disk (CD)?

The executors of Rudolf Steiner's estate asked me if I would advise them about producing a machine readable complete works together with a text search function..1 The executors hold the copyright for producing a CD containing the complete works published in book form. Anyone who wishes to offer anything in this context needs the agreement of the executors. There already exists a possibility, accessible by email, of having searches for key words carried out.2 The executors have not yet decided whether to produce a CD version of the complete works. So far they have decided only to put the texts in a computer accessible form and develop appropriate search functions for them. These texts will then form the basis for future editions of the books.

The search function will be used by archivists in their research. When both functions are ready, it is of course possible without excessive cost to develop a CD version and if required to market it. Marketing it offers several possibilities ranging from a CD for all which can be freely copied but after a fixed period (e.g. 1 month) becomes inaccessible unless the user buys a license from the executors, to a copy protected CD at a moderate price without the possibility of printing out lengthy texts from it unless one pays a significant surcharge, to an expensive research CD priced at a level corresponding to the complete works in book form. I shall assume that in the next few years the complete works will be on CD. This fits in with the way things are going. But the question is, who will be responsible for it? If the executors do not publish a CD then others could nevertheless obtain a license from them to produce one.

What are the advantages of a CD for all? With some 100,000 pages the complete works are huge and thus call for cataloguing and access facilities. Initial efforts were made in this direction while Rudolf Steiner was still alive by dividing the works into 50 lecture cycles.

Also while Steiner was alive, Adolf Ahrenson published his key themes to these cycles, by making key words into short summaries and indicating the particular place in the cycles.

In the course of time various bequests of key word card indices belonging to individual anthroposophists appeared but these are mostly not accessible by the public. Some specialist indices were published, e.g. a medical index. Already the executors had extended the bibliographic overview to three volumes in which Emil Mötteli and others had made available a keyword index for all contents indices. What is now lacking is the possibility of freely searching words and phrases within the complete works. As an example for the application of such a search function I looked for a citation in Theosophy which, as I remembered it, went: 'whoever reads this book as they normally read books will not have read it'. To find the exact wording I searched for 'read' (as past participle) and found: 'This book cannot be read the way people usually read books nowadays'. This citation is the basis of the approach that argues against putting the complete works on CD (see below).

Pro CD: With a good search algorithm one can help those who are not familiar with the complete works to achieve their research objectives. This could make Rudolf Steiner's work accessible to people who would otherwise not bother themselves further with it because of the lack of a particular entry point. Frequently, when preparing a presentation, people look for places where Rudolf Steiner has spoken on the same theme. With the search facility already mentioned they would find much that would have otherwise escaped them. And a particular book that is not on one's own bookshelf and is the subject of a search for a specific place could be thrown up onto the screen and the particular place studied as to its significance for the subject in question. I do not share the fear that the texts would then be read from screens instead of books. The screen for a long time to come will not be able to offer the leisure afforded by reading printed works. And moreover, a CD would be a great advantage to the visually handicapped because there are programs which convert such texts to Braille.

Contra CD: What are the arguments against a CD for all. Some years ago Der Spiegel wrote 'The computer separates work from its content'. In fact technology in general creates a distance between me and the thing to which my attention is directed. Abstracting the process from the human being is the basis upon which my surroundings become objects whose coming into being is concealed from my consciousness by technology. Indeed, technology frees consciousness connected with stereotypic processes (conveyor-belt work), but at the same time the feeling for the process itself gets lost. And the above citation from Theosophy indicates that in studying anthroposophy, participation is essential for deepening one's understanding of the texts. The dilemma of 'computer-aided' involvement with anthroposophy lies in the fact that technology creates abstraction and hinders participation and enthusiasm. That also applies to work in front of a screen.

One could respond to this that the book versus the spoken word is already heading in this direction. Yet Rudolf Steiner agreed to printing books and even wrote them himself. These help put some distance between the teacher and the pupil of the spirit in order to get rid of the old guru relationship. Nevertheless the screen (at least by current reading habits) in contrast to the book does not invite contemplation of what is read, but promotes a 'surf-consciousness' ('surfing' = travelling over the surface) and this is diametrically opposite to the purpose of the texts.

Furthermore, in meeting a particular place in a text one can see a biographical hint which the reader can be led to by his spiritual guides. A search function for all texts would seem to compromise this possibility.

Hitherto inaccessible texts would not only be available to spiritual researchers but also, without great expense, to ill-willed critics. Although the latter would also come upon other relevant texts and realise that Rudolf Steiner usually discussed themes from many angles, frequently even in a contradictory way.

Finally, this form of indexing would make quoting easier and this does not always contribute to the authenticity of what is being presented.

What is to be done?: In my opinion, as I said at the outset, the CD will come. Who will be responsible for it? Preferably those who do not take their responsibilities lightly. We could imagine a sticker put on the CD: 'Warning! Using this CD could endanger your spiritual development! (see introduction)' and then in the introduction set out the various points of view mentioned above. Such a sticker would be so unusual that probably everyone (at first amused) would have a look at the introduction to find out what the danger is. This way one or two might for a moment consider their reading habits, thus enabling them to take responsibility themselves for their actions. Andreas Heertsch

_________________________

1. As I put a large part of my biography on computer and at the same time tried to account to myself for it (see Ahriman eine Weltmacht, Urachhaus 1996, http://www.goetheanum.ch/news/ahriman.htm) I experienced this request as a responsibility, which was of course technically stimulating, but spiritually burdensome. It was precisely this discrepancy that moved me to co-operate, accompanied by the awareness that whichever direction my advice went it would not make friends for me amongst those of the opposing view. As a fair amount of know-how is needed for putting such technology in place, it needs a certain enthusiasm for the whole technology, in order to gain the necessary knowledge and skills. This enthusiasm is however also a risk to unprejudiced consideration of the project because the enjoyment of its development can easily obscure one's view of the spiritual-scientific issues connected with it. Therefore I should like here to offer the opportunity to participate in the consultation broadened by further points of view.

2. see http://www.team.com.pl/fenix

Author's address: Wochenschrift, Goetheanum, CH-4143, Dornach, Switzerland. Email: heertsch (at) goetheanum.ch

Evolution

An important contribution to the phenomenological study of evolution has recently been made by Jos Verhulst with his book Der Erstgeborene. Paul Carline introduces it in the 'Review' section of this issue of our Newsletter. In the light of this I present here a couple of items about an alternative view of evolution which was clearly present in minds such as Alfred Russell Wallace (1823 – 1913) and his contemporary Karl Snell.

Alfred Russell Wallace (1823 - 1913) was co-discoverer with Darwin of the theory of natural selection, but unlike Darwin recognised the spiritual and saw the special position of Man in relation to the animals.1 Wallace's split between materialism and spirituality was recognised by Rudolf Steiner who made numerous references to him.2 Snell was a professor of physics and mathematics at the University of Jena, where Ernst Haeckel was a professor at the same time. Craig Holdrege has made a rough translation for teaching purposes of a passage from Snell's 1877 work3 and has kindly agreed to it being printed here:

'We must realize that creatures belonging to a fully developed type... live wholly in the sense world and in the present. Their needs and interests are satisfied therein, because they do not bear within themselves what will be realized only in the future. They are meaningfully organized for the small world that encompasses their needs.

Their inner world matches their purposeful organization. This state... is opposed to a state of a still undeveloped principle of organization, whose life bears within it future ideals... The bodily organization will in this case be unfinished and embryonic; it will be awkward in its relation to the outer world because it is directed to a different, larger horizon of life.

We must therefore affirm an antithesis among creatures in the theory of evolution: an antithesis between such creatures that are finished and complete, to which access to a higher level of organization is closed off, and those creatures that do not represent complete adaptation to the external world and still possess access to a higher level of organization.

We can ask the unwieldy question: Has the human being developed out of the animals or the animals out of the human being? The second alternative seems absurd if one thinks of the fully evolved human being.

When one considers, however, the gradual evolution of the whole organic world and asks: Has that which is capable of becoming human, finally culminating in the universality of reasoning species, in short, humanness, developed out of the constraints of strongest limitations? Or has, rather, animalness developed through limitation out of humanness that was maturing toward its universality? We do not hesitaate for a moment: the limited has arisen out of the universal, animalness out of humanness.' David Heaf

1. Wallace, A. R. (1910) A World of Life.

2. In general: GA 30, 52, 56, 203, 291, 325. Specific lectures: GA 52 (01.02.04); GA62 (14.11.12), GA266c (09.12.13); GA67 (07.03.18); GA72 (l1.12.18). Data obtained by Jerry Haslett from the 4-vol. index to the Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe (Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, CH) and posted to anthropos-science email list on 12 October 1999.

3. Snell, K. (1877) Die Schöpfung des Menschen. Vorlesungen über die Abstammung des Menschen. Ed. Friedrich A. Kipp. In the series Schriften des frühen Goetheanismus, Sonderausgabe 1989. 6 volumes, boxed. 1547 pp. ISBN 3-7725-1190-2. Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart. ( http://www.geistesleben.com )

 

Future Meetings

The Culture of the European Landscape as a Task

6th to 9th September 2000. We announce this event again – even though most readers will receive this Newsletter as the conference begins – because the main product of the conference, a Discussion Document with the same title as the conference title will be widely circulated to regulatory, executive and other public authorities concerned with European landscape. A detailed conference proceedings will also be published.

Contact address: Hans-Christian Zehnter, e-mail: h.c.zehnter (at) goetheanum.ch. Naturwissenschaftliche Sektion am Goetheanum, Hügelweg 59, CH-4143 Dornach. Tel.: +41 61 706 42 10; Fax: +41 61 706 42 15. Internet: Progress on conference publications will be posted on the home page: http://www.goetheanum.ch/sektion/nws/landschaft.htm.

UK Group of the Science Section of the School of Spiritual Science

The next meeting for members of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science who have a practical involvement with science or wish to take responsibility or initiative in a scientific context will take place at Alder Bridge School near Reading on Saturday 21st October 2000.

The following meeting will be on 24th February 2000 at Elmfield School, Stourbridge, West Midlands.

If you intend to attend either or both these meetings please contact Richard Swann at Orchard Leigh Camphill Community, Bath Road, Eastington, Stonehouse, Glos., GL10 3AY. Tel: 01453 825617. Fax 01453 823811. Email raswann (at) callnetuk.com.

A Forum on Resonance

Thursday 9th to Monday 13th November 2000, Aros Hall, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland. Organised by Anthro-Tech Association. Phone/Fax: Philippe Rigal, 01688 302532 or Hugh Whistler, 01688 302116. Please see flyer enclosed with this issue for details.

Reviews

'Der Erstgeborene: Mensch und höhere Tiere in der Evolution' by Jos Verhulst, Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart, 1999. ISBN 3-7725-1557-6. 408pp. (DM 88.00, öS 642.00, SFr 82.00)

It is to be hoped that Jos Verhulst’s new book Der Erstgeborene: Mensch und höhere Tiere in der Evolution (Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 1999) will soon be made available in English translation to a much wider readership. The new century and/or – depending on your point of view – millennium has hardly begun. Yet it is already apparent that the question of human origins and of the validity of the Darwinian model of evolution will be a central focus of both scientific and public debate. On the scientific side, the ‘canonisation’ of Darwin, in which not a little English jingoism plays a role, proceeds apace. A poll last year put Darwin among the five most important personalities of the preceding millennium. Evolutionary explanations of every aspect of animal and human life are routinely presented as objective science, reinforced by the appeal to an extremely suspect theory of gene function. Anything and everything is claimed to be subject to the explanatory power of Darwin’s hypothesis and the genetic ‘blueprint’.

In large part as a reaction to the overweening claims of natural science, in particular regarding human origins, literal Biblical interpretations of human and animal genesis are being adopted by more and more Christians, especially in the U.S. Polls indicate that around 40% of the American population believe in ‘young Earth creation’ i.e. the literal 6-day creation by God of the universe and all the forms of life on Earth within the past 10,000 years. (Another 50% believe in some form of divine creation.)

Both sides tend to exacerbate the sterility of the confrontation by selecting the easiest targets in the opponent’s armoury. Thus creationists seize on the weakness of the fossil record and the clear absence of intermediates among current species, as well as decrying the tendency of the more outspoken neo-Darwinists to stray into philosophy and metaphysics in proclaiming evolution to be blind, directionless and purposeless. Evolutionary scientists, for their part, point to the absurdity of the ‘Young Earth’ scenario and the creationists’ belief that all the sedimentary rocks of the earth and their fossil remains were laid down in a single (Noah’s) flood.

This opposition of two fundamentalisms, which finds its parallels in global political, ethnic and religious conflicts, tends always to generate more heat than light. Worse, it clouds the debate by both distorting and ignoring crucial evidence – the sort of evidence painstakingly assembled by Verhulst. There are almost 400 pages of it (Verhulst told me he has much more!). He examines in great detail those characteristic anatomical features which distinguish humans from our ‘closest relatives’, the anthropoid apes – features which, as I have also pointed out, appear in the foetal and neonatal stages of development not only of the apes, but, remarkably, of all mammals and the appearance of which cannot be reconciled with a Darwinian explanation of evolution.

Verhulst’s preface (my own translation) serves as the best introduction and I quote it here in full, with the hope that the complete text of this most important book will soon be available in English.

"The origins of this book lie in the biology lessons which as a ‘non-biologist’ (i.e. without formal qualifications) I gave over many years to the pupils of the Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner schools in which I taught.

Thirty years previously, as a pupil myself, I had been struck by the fact that virtually all biologists consider man as an accidental (by)product of animal evolution. Neo-Darwinists see the course of evolution itself as deriving from processes which are ultimately of a purely material-mechanical nature. Ernst Haeckel, the great apostle of the materialistic theory of evolution on the continent of Europe, had written as early as 1866:

'There is neither chance nor purpose in Nature, nor so-called free will. Rather, every effect is necessarily determined by the preceding causes and every cause necessarily produces effects. In our view, chance, purpose and free will are all replaced by absolute iron necessity.'

For Darwinism, moral impulses can only be either instincts or conditioned reflexes. For the consistent materialist, moral rules are mere conventions. But at the same time, human thinking is ‘reflexive’: we can observe our own thought processes, ‘think about thinking’. That means that at the very moment of seizing upon a moral impulse and declaring that we have unmasked it as a mere instinct or reflex, we interfere drastically with that impulse and prevent it from realising itself according to its own nature: we can no longer preserve a harmony between the impulse and our thoughts about it. A materialistic view of the world has a morally and psychically destructive effect, leaching away the moral basis for our actions.

It does not automatically follow from this that materialism is wrong. Respect for the truth is paramount, even if the truth is unpleasant and hard to follow: even if it undermines or destroys morality. But what does follow is that it is extremely important to determine whether materialism is in fact flawed and, if so, where exactly the flaw(s) lie.

So the question must be: Is the materialistic view of man, is materialism itself true – and does Darwinism provide a sufficient explanation for human evolution? I do not believe this to be the case. I set out my reasons for this conviction in my earlier book: Der Glanz von Kopenhagen: Geistige Perspektiven der modernen Physik (Verlag Freies Geistesleben 1994). If the materialistic view of the world and of man is false, it should be possible to find evidence of the falsity in the facts of nature, including biology. Detecting the error would also be important for the whole teaching of biology.

My trail began with certain ideas presented by two anthroposophical authors, Friedrich Kipp and Hermann Poppelbaum. This present text can be seen as a continuation of the ideas contained in their work. From Kipp and Poppelbaum the trail then led on the one hand to Rudolf Steiner, on the other to the Dutch physician and professor of comparative anatomy Louis Bolk (1866-1930). Arnold Gehlen’s 1986 book: Der Mensch. Seine Natur und seine Stellung in der Welt brought Bolk’s ideas to public attention, at least in the German-speaking world. In the English-speaking world, the debate was re-invigorated by Stephen Jay Gould’s Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Harvard University Press 1977).

Although Bolk and Steiner were apparently unaware of each other’s work, being active in quite different areas of cultural life, they developed views on the relationship between man and the animals which display a remarkable congruence. The shared theme is that the human form is archetypal in respect to animal form: that the animal form derives from and diverges from the human form i.e. that the animals have descended from Man and not vice versa. Man is present within the whole of animal evolution as the central, co-ordinating idea, the human form – the manifestation of the idea – emerging gradually with greater and greater clarity during the course of evolution. The human being as leitmotif expresses itself within animal evolution like an Aristotelian final cause, a coordinating and guiding principle. The current book represents my attempt to investigate this thesis – a thesis which appears in a germinal form already with Goethe.

But how, if at all, can we scientifically prove the existence of a factor or principle in evolution which ‘aimed at’ the appearance of man? Bolk’s "internal developmental factor", like any other final cause, operates not in opposition to the laws of inanimate nature, but ‘between’ them. It manifests in the appearance of material substances and forms which do not contradict natural laws, but which cannot be derived solely from them. In just the same way that one can deduce from a purely natural-scientific examination of a human corpse that one is dealing with the now defunct remains of a once living being, it is possible to deduce from a comparative study of human and animal morphology that it is the human form which represents the only logical reference point and that the animal forms must therefore be seen as specialized metamorphoses of the (ideal) human one.

Natural science is simply not capable of directly investigating a possible non-material reality. But it can investigate the material effects of such a non-material factor. The scientist then finds himself in the position of a wayfarer who finds in the snow the tracks of an unknown animal. He will reasonably conclude that the tracks cannot have been produced by the snow itself, but must have been caused by a passing animal; from a careful study of the tracks he may even be able to draw some conclusions about the nature of this unknown creature. The phenomena and research findings of comparative anatomy and of palaeontology can be held to represent the field of snow. It is then our task to investigate whether the creature which has left its traces in the snow did not after all have a human form." (Quoted/translated with the kind permission of Verlag Freies Geistesleben – www.geistesleben.com) Paul Carline

'Fundamentals for a Phenomenological Study of Chemistry' by Frits H. Julius. Association of Waldorf Schools in North America, 2000. ISBN 1-888365-22-6. Translated by D. G. Ruarus from the German edition. Edited by John Petering. AWSNA, 3911 Bannister Road, Fair Oaks, CA 95628, USA.

Until the appearance of the works by Manfred von Mackensen and others on teaching chemistry in Waldorf schools, Frits Julius's two books dating from the 1950s and originally in Dutch were pioneering efforts in the field. Indeed, von Mackensen acnowledged his debt to Julius, who was his teacher. Until this year a published English translation of Part II of Julius' work, aimed at Class 10 upwards was not available. Although this is a secondary translation, i.e. via the German language, having studied the German edition in depth, I am of the opinion that it rings true and is thus suitable starting material for an English version. I reviewed the book in detail in my as yet unpublished book on a Goethean approach to chemistry from which the following two extracts will have to suffice to give the flavour of Julius's work.

'In the second volume of his work Julius devotes the first chapter to a new phenomena-oriented way of looking at nature. This covers several themes which have been dealt with in our foregoing discussion including the tria prima, the polarity concept, a Man-centred world view and the four elements. Here, I should like to select for special mention what he has to say about the mood we should adopt when approaching phenomena. He advises that a great deal of care should be taken to maintain the feeling of being a pupil standing at the beginning of the way leading to the true being of Nature. If the feeling of having reached one's goal arises she withdraws. If the right attitude is maintained however, the phenomena will always come to the fore in all their ordered clarity. A phenomenon always includes more than we can explain at the moment, so we should always be prepared for it to tell us more. We should always feel that phenomena want to reveal to our thinking what is hidden to our senses. It is not I who explain the phenomena, but they herald a being that would reveal itself in my thoughts.

Julius emphasises the need to approach chemistry through its connection with life and especially with Man. In discussing life, he points out that not only do living organisms appear adapted to their physical surroundings and the substances in them, but these substances, water for instance, are in their turn well suited to the requirements of life. Here he touches on the idea of the anthropic principle long before it became more widespread. He argues for a shift of emphasis from seeing life adapting from what it just happened to have available to regarding life as primary. He even heralds the Gaia hypothesis by asking whether the whole of nature might not be some organic whole rather like a living organism which has all its individual parts in tune with one another. These trains of thought will of course be familiar to anyone who has studied anthroposophy.

I feel that there is a great deal we can learn from Julius especially in the chapter devoted to the art of experimentation and demonstration. We should show the phenomena in such a way that they are enabled to speak for themselves. He advises doing experiments on as large a scale as possible, for instance with reactions in beakers, 3 – 5 litre capacities should be used. To show the colour and other changes off to their best he advises using appropriately placed and screened bright incandescent lighting. Light or dark backgrounds should be chosen according to the situation. He gives details for the construction of a lighting apparatus for illumination from below. He warns that details are lost through dim light and that fluorescent tubes falsify the colours. A very useful piece of apparatus, as I am sure anyone who has tried to do class demonstrations where toxic fumes are produced knows, is his demonstration fume hood. This allows all-round visibility and should be constructed to deal with heavy vapours.

Julius gives a number of example demonstrations. The one that follows is quoted from him:

"Place a 3 l. beaker of tap water on the lighting box (bottom illumination) and slowly add portions of saturated cupric sulphate solution. The water first turns light, but gradually a pale blue brightly shining precipitate forms (hydrolysis). Now add a portion of hydrochloric acid. The precipitate gives way to a clear solution. It can be helped along by gently creating vortices with a stirring rod. Strange forms arise reminiscent of cirrus clouds. Now add some sodium hydroxide solution. Lovely shining pale blue flakes of cupric hydroxide appear. With a bit of hydrochloric acid these can be made to dissolve again. Then carefully add some ammonia to the solution. A dark blue vortex forms, surrounded with a pale blue precipitate which rises again and forms a dark though transparent layer near the top of the beaker. At this point, sodium hydroxide can again be added, again producing cupric hydroxide, more beautiful than before. Now add some concentrated sulphuric acid. It sinks immediately to the bottom, where it brings about a surging to and fro which dissolves some of the precipitate leaving the rest suspended. Thus a magical picture can be built up out of several layers. If it is then left a while a series of changes take place sometimes passing through exceptionally beautiful stages. With this experiment it is clear that one must take the various densities of the solutions into account, using them to achieve the desired result." (Trans. DJH)

Doubtless this is a playful approach to chemistry and a long way from a National Curriculum chemistry that would have pupils tabulating measurements and producing bar-charts or graphs. However, an essentially artistic approach can discover that the beauty in nature need not be excluded from the chemical laboratory.' [...]

'12 selected elements are taken as representatives of all the realms of nature and a 'circle of elements' scheme is applied to an overview of the properties of the twelve elements as they reveal themselves in natural processes. This approach is clearly one way of interpreting the ideal of developing a Man-centered chemistry but is seems greatly oversimplified. First of all, why only twelve elements? The exlusion of the halogens, the exclusion of zinc in favour of silicon and the substitution of aluminium for iron are hardly justifiable. Like the periodic table, it is no less a scheme, albeit weighted in favour of those elements which are more abundant in the earth's crust. Worse still, as von Mackensen1 points out, it is based on analyses which can only be carried out after death and has recourse to a model which sees the human being as composed of the elements chosen. This risks regarding them as preconditions for the human being rather than its partners. To illustrate that Julius does not escape this way of thinking, von Mackensen quotes the following sentence from the book "How can substances be brought into the sphere of life forces and be changed in such a way that they stand in the service of the whole organism?" (p.304) However, despite these reservations a richness of phenomena are dealt with in an imaginative way.' David J. Heaf

1. Mackensen, M. von & Reinhard Schoppmann (1994) Prozesschemie aus spirituellem Ansatz - Chemische Grundstoffe als Impulse in Natur und Mensch, zugleich ein Konzept zur Gestaltung von Chemieunterricht, mit Versuchsanleitungen. Pubs: Bildungswerk Beruf und Umwelt e.V. an der Freien Waldorfschule Kassel, Bildungswerk, Lehrmittelabteilung, Brabanterstraße 43, 34131 Kassel, Germany.

'Deep Time' by Henry Gee (Fourth Estate, London 2000)

This is a most interesting book. Henry Gee, now a Senior Editor at Nature and formerly Regent’s Professor at UCLA with a background in zoology, became involved with the newly emerging discipline of cladistics when he took a summer studentship at the Natural History Museum in London in 1983. Head of the Fossil Fish section and member of what was known as ‘The Gang of Four’ (a group of cladists) was Colin Patterson, who had played a leading role in designing a 1980 exhibition at the Museum entitled Man’s place in evolution, which had provoked a storm of protest from the scientific establishment.

At the entrance to the exhibition there was a sign in flickering lights which said:

"Have you ever wondered why there are so many different kinds of living things? One idea is that all the living things we see today have EVOLVED from a distant ancestor by a process of gradual change. How could evolution have occurred? How could one species change into another? The exhibition in this hall looks at one possible explanation – the explanation first thought of by Charles Darwin. Another view is that God created all living things perfect and unchanging."

The protest of course was against the suggestion that evolution by natural selection was only one of a number of possible explanations.

If Gee is right, despite the daily diet of evolutionary myth from journalists and popular science writers, ‘behind the scenes, in museums and universities, a quiet revolution has taken place… most professional palaeontologists do not think of the history of life in terms of scenarios or narratives… they rejected the story-telling mode of evolutionary history as unscientific more than thirty years ago’. The architects of this revolution, including Patterson and the notorious Gang of Four ‘sought ways to discover the pattern of the history of life that are free from subjective, untestable stories’. If, as Gee says, ‘it is fair to assume that all life on Earth shares a common evolutionary origin, it follows that every organism that ever existed must be related to every other. We are all cousins….. This must be true, even though we can neither tell who was whose direct ancestor, nor justify any scenarios to support assertions about ancestry and descent’.

Thus, Gee correctly observes, ‘it is invalid to pluck a string of fossils from Deep Time [geological history], arrange these fossils in chronological order, and assert that this arrangement represents a sequence of evolutionary ancestry and descent…. such scenarios are subjective. They can never be tested by experiment, so they are unscientific. They rely for their acceptability not on scientific test, but on assertion and the authority of their presentation’.

Cladistics, Gee claims, preserves evolutionary science from this unscientific subjectivity. The topology, or branching order of the tree of life can be found without having to make any prior assumptions about cause and effect, or ancestry and descent. ‘These branching diagrams….are proper scientific hypotheses that can be tested by examining the strength or likelihood of alternative orders of branching – different orders of cousinhood – in the light of the anatomy of the organisms in whose relationships we are interested’.

The only scientific ‘test’ which Gee presents seems rather crude: it is ‘Occam’s Razor, or the Principle of Parsimony’: ‘if you have to make a choice between explanations, you should choose the simplest. The simplest or ‘most parsimonious’ cladogram is the one that assumes the smallest amount of evolutionary change’. Gee later admits the weakness of this test: ‘It is important to realise that the principle of parsimony does not select the ‘right’ answer – for that is unknowable – but only the best one to be getting on with first’. But this is precisely the argument which has maintained the supremacy of materialist reductionism and prevented the exploration of alternative hypotheses. Philosophical naturalists, in what has been called "promissory materialism", can always claim that they are still ‘getting on with’ the most parsimonious explanation (materialism) and do not need to consider anything else since, as the heirs of Descartes, they can trust with him that all temporarily puzzling phenomena will eventually submit to their theories, for ".. there exists nothing in the whole of nature which cannot be explained in terms of purely corporeal causes devoid of mind and thought". ( Principles of Philosophy)

While Gee’s former discipline does appear to cut through much of the under- and overgrowth of assumption and unsubstantiated assertion which bedevils current evolution theory, the end-result seems rather less than triumphant. Whilst there is every reason to curb the explosion of wholly unsubstantiated and often merely fatuous ‘just-so’ stories peddled by the socio-biologists and evolutionary psychologists, Gee’s version of cladistics seems to leave us with no story at all, in a relativistic universe of permanently isolated phenomena.

However, there are weaknesses in his argument. When it comes to exposing the Darwinian story to the cleansing scalpel of cladistics, Gee’s critical rigour deserts him. This is one story he cannot afford to ditch. In an act of self-contradiction – since cladistics says nothing about the how of evolution - he assumes the truth of Darwinism as a given and uses this to justify his repeated assertion that the fact of Deep Time (the immensity of geological history) allows neither a narrative nor the assumption of progression: Darwinian evolution based on random mutation cannot have a direction.

Whilst we can agree that no specific detailed evolutionary narrative can ever be told (we would ideally need to have evidence of every ancestor), it is surely going too far to claim that no narrative at all is justified. The evidence surely attests to a clear progression from a) simple to more complex organisms; b) a progressive internalisation of organs and systems, in particular of the reproductive system; c) an increasing degree of independence from the external environment; d) a progressive increase in consciousness.

Unfortunately, it becomes obvious during the course of the book that Gee belongs to that group of scientists and writers who take a particular pleasure in ‘knocking mankind off its pedestal’, debunking any notion that humans are in any way special or represent the acme of creation. Ultimately, Gee’s book ends up being an example of the ‘pot calling the kettle black’: he does exactly what he criticises others for and bases his narrative (he does have one, despite what he might assert) on his own subjective preferences rather than on the objective facts.

Pursued consistently, cladistics has much to offer: its approach is primarily phenomenological, the sort of approach recommended by Goethe. If, following his own precepts, Gee were to take an unprejudiced look at the facts of comparative anatomy, physiology and embryology, he would be forced to acknowledge the centrality and primacy of the human form, the ideal archetype which is spread out in the rest of nature and gives it its focus and meaning. For comparative embryology reveals that all mammals, and possibly all animals, including our ‘nearest relatives’, the primates, pass through a ‘human’ stage of development before falling into their individual specialisations. The eminent embryologist Sir Gavin de Beer conceded long ago (in his book Embryos and Ancestors, 3rd ed. 1958) that ‘Evolution therefore [i.e. Darwinian theory] does not explain embryology’. A new theory of evolution is required, one which accepts the reality of human spiritual evolution. Occam’s Razor will not help us here, for the truth is anything but simple. Paul Carline, Newhall 12.04.00

'The new science of life: Quantum Evolution' by Jonjoe McFadden (HarperCollins, London, 2000)

Johnjoe McFadden is Reader in Molecular Biology at the University of Surrey. The subtitle of his extraordinarily well-written book "Quantum Evolution" (Harper Collins, London 2000) is "The new science of life". The book jacket summary states: "Life is an extraordinary phenomenon whose existence requires an extraordinary explanation. Living organisms are controlled by a single molecule - DNA. Yet the study of physics tells us that the behaviour of single molecules is controlled not by classical laws but by the strange laws of quantum mechanics. The implications of this for biology have never been fully explored. Until now."

Despite its own reductionism, its often explicit claim that biology is adequately explained by physics and chemistry, and its frequently expressed ‘physics envy’, it is a curious fact that mainstream biology has so far fought shy of integrating the quantum revolution into its understanding of life. Indeed, it has in a sense even gone the other way, generating a new form of atomism based on its own treasured "fundamental particle", the gene.

McFadden's attempt to drag biology into the 20th (let alone the 21st!) century is therefore to be welcomed. As early as 1930, German biologist Günther Wachsmuth observed: "It is astonishing that whereas in modern physics, for example in the quantum theory of Plank, Schrödinger, Heisenberg and others ideas about the nature of matter - the physical substantiality of both the inorganic and the organic worlds - have been almost completely transformed in recent years, biologists, zoologists and others in the life sciences continue to work conceptually with a 'matter' that has actually ceased to exist in this form for the physicist".

After the high hopes of an 'extraordinary explanation' raised by the dust jacket blurb, McFadden’s first chapter - entitled appropriately "What is life?" - gets off to an unpromising start. On page 2 we are informed that "all life forms are essentially rocks - made of the same materials, obeying the same laws, as the rocks, stone and sand that surround us. We are rocks that run and swim, climb and leap; that hear, touch and see; rocks that can look out into the vastness and grasp for an understanding of ourselves and the universe that made us". Hardly an inspiring image, despite the obvious attempt to lend poetic wings to the description.

Fortunately, McFadden recovers somewhat from this bathetic image of organisms as animated rocks by quoting Dylan Thomas, who asked what was "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower". He then states: "..to understand the nature of this force, we must explore life at its most fundamental level". The rest of the book is devoted to an examination of what contemporary materialist science considers to be this 'most fundamental level'.

The pattern set in the first few paragraphs - a roller-coaster ride between elevated, poetic images and a bathetic reductionism - characterises the whole book. On page 9, for example, we find the author quoting Aristotle: "the soul creates movement", McFadden explaining that in Aristotle's view "all living organisms possess an internal will that allows them to initiate and perform actions such as growth, regeneration, procreation and movement. Aristotle, like Thales, ascribed this internal will - the cause of independent action - to the eidos, the soul or psyche", and he correctly observes that for Aristotle "this soul was clearly a much more functional entity than the Christian moral guardian".

However, Aristotle's understanding is simply, but erroneously, placed within the 'vitalist tradition', which allows McFadden to dismiss it as a concept to which "no serious scientist" of today subscribes. McFadden notes that even Descartes still accepted the existence of an immortal soul in humans and that it was only after the appearance of La Mettrie’s ‘L’homme machine’ in 1748 that "the way was now open for science to delve into the very substance of life. Technical advances in analytical chemistry and microscopy naturally drove the life sciences towards reductionism….. This marriage of mechanistic philosophy and reductionism led to the great triumphs of 20th century biology".

The book is also characterised by the clearly painful internal struggle between McFadden’s admirable honesty and candour and his genuinely poetic appreciation of life and the awful attraction of the superficially plausible simplicity of a materialist reductionist explanation. Thus, having noted the apparent triumph of the mechanistic-reductionist view, he nonetheless feels compelled to concede: "several centuries since the mechanistic manifestos of Descartes or La Mettrie each claimed that living organisms were mere machines, we have not succeeded, despite numerous attempts, in synthesising life in the laboratory…. No-one has ever made a tree or a flower or an animal or an insect or even the lowliest bacterium….. As a means to explaining life, the unrelenting reductionist approach is doomed to failure….. We cannot hope to understand life by dissecting it…. Life is reduced to a collection of parts which, in isolation, have lost their essential livingness".

The parochiality of this reductionist approach is revealed in the definition of life used by the Exobiology [search for alien life] programme of the American Space Agency at NASA, which McFadden quotes: "Life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution"! (modern biology revealing itself yet again conceptually strait-jacketed by its blind faith in Darwin's unproven theory of evolution). In challenging this reductionism, McFadden identifies the capacity of life for internally directed action, contradicting the determinism which is the bedrock of classical science. "We cannot account for life with classical science alone. In particular, we cannot account for how living creatures are able to direct their actions according to their own internal agenda. For higher animals, such as ourselves, we call this ability our Will. The ability to will actions is a profoundly puzzling aspect to living organisms… This capability to direct motion in response to an internal will appears to escape classical determinism, and is why biological systems are so unpredictable".

We seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough in understanding. But no, McFadden - getting too close to the sun on his Icarus’ wings for his own comfort - plunges himself and us back to solid earth: "I should emphasise at the outset that I will not be invoking any mysterious forces to account for our will, only the normal laws of physics and chemistry. I am not suggesting any return to vitalism….At its most fundamental level, life is a quantum phenomenon. We will go on to explore the implications of this realisation for our understanding of life's origin, its nature, evolution and consciousness. I hope, by the end of this book, you will have a new and exciting insight into what it means to be alive".

Does the rest of the book live up to this hope? Well, no, though McFadden repeatedly seems to be on the verge of new and exciting insights, only to take fright at the awesome consequences and retreat into the safer, more familiar territory of materialistic explanations.

The heart of the book is an extremely clear and well written exposition of the discoveries - particularly of Niels Bohr and his colleagues - which led to what is known as the 'Copenhagen' interpretation of quantum mechanics, and especially of the puzzling double-slit experiments with single photons. McFadden does not shrink from describing the consequences of adopting Bohr and Wigner's conclusions about the nature of physical reality:

- the 'classical' world of 'material' phenomena "depends on unrelenting quantum measurement to maintain its reality"; in Bohr’s formulation: "No elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is a registered (observed) phenomenon". A phenomenon does not exist until "closed by an irreversible act of amplification" - the measurement process.

- no independent reality is attributed to the quantum objects themselves. There is no such thing as an electron or proton in the absence of measurement - they do not exist.

- the fundamental units of our existence are not atoms, electrons or protons, but phenomena, which are the interaction between quantum objects and measuring devices.

- physics can only go as far as these phenomena. Anything other than phenomena is metaphysics - philosophy or theology.

- the state of a photon depends on whether or not there is a conscious human observer to watch it/measure it: "A being with consciousness must have a different role in quantum mechanics than the inanimate measuring device". (Wigner)

- this requirement for the presence of conscious observers seems to define a world with ourselves acting as arbiters of reality. Without us, photons, electrons, protons and bigger objects such as measuring devices, living cells - and possibly even cats (Schrödinger’s or others!) - are supposed either not to exist at all, or as some kind of fuzzy quantum potentiality.

McFadden describes Bohr’s fascinating debate with Einstein, who was reluctant to accept Bohr’s radical conclusions. According to McFadden: "Bohr won the debate, but the price of his victory was extraordinary - nothing less than an abandonment of our notion of objective reality - that there is a world out there independent of our experiences". As McFadden notes, the physicist John Wheeler has taken the ‘consciousness-dependent reality’ view "to its logical conclusion, proposing that we live in a ‘participatory universe’, wherein the universe depends for its existence on conscious observers to make it real, not only today, but retrospectively right back to the Big Bang".

Unfortunately, Wheeler’s valid hypothesis that consciousness is the key to reality is corrupted by the false logic: the collapse of the wave function requires conscious observers?conscious observers means human beings?human beings do not appear in earth history until very recently?therefore "the universe existed in an undetermined ghost state until the first conscious being opened its eyes to collapse the wave function for the entire universe and bring into being its entire history, including the geological and fossil record recording its own evolution". (McFadden)

Understandably, McFadden finds the apparent conclusion preposterous: "Are we really supposed to believe that the entire biosphere existed as a massive superposition of every possible state until humanity, and therewith conscious observers, evolved? .….. As far as we know, consciousness is a very recent invention [sic] …… this consciousness-participatory approach is perilously close to Descartes’ solipsism ‘Cogito ergo sum’.

At this crucial point of the exploration, an acquaintance with Steiner or Barfield would have helped. Even without their assistance, the step might conceivably have been taken to accept the persuasive implications of quantum mechanics regarding the pivotal role of consciousness and at least to speculate on the possibility that a different (possibly non-human) form of consciousness might exist which could have been observing the universe before the appearance of physical human beings. The creation myths of the world are full of conscious beings involved in varying degrees in the transformation of original potentiality (usually described as ‘chaos’) into substantiality. The myth of Adam Kadmon even resolves the dilemma completely by having Cosmic Man involved in the creation of the universe and all its creatures – including Earthly Man – from the very beginning.

But the implications of such a hypothesis are too much for the modern scientist weaned on the progressive demotion of Man from the centre of the world: "The consciousness-participation interpretation of quantum mechanics seems to allow the human psyche to play a pivotal role in defining the external world…. Most scientists are very reluctant to reverse the triumphs of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton and place man, once again, in the centre of the universe".

This is the crunch point for McFadden, as it seems to be for many materialist scientists. The logical conclusions of quantum theory are philosophically unacceptable – so the conclusions must be wrong. Instead of grasping the nettle of consciousness, both in terms of quantum mechanics and of epistemology – the ‘thinking about thinking’ on which Steiner based his ‘philosophy of freedom’ and which leads to the recognition of the truth of Goethe’s claim that he had found a way of breaking through Kant’s barriers to knowledge – McFadden joins those who take a strange pleasure in denying any special place in nature to Man, insisting that we are the insignificant accidents of a blind, purposeless evolution.

Having balked at the hard question, McFadden has to find some other way of completing his book. He chooses the soft option, devoting the rest of the book to an examination of the preposterously silly ‘Many Worlds’ hypothesis (according to which quantum events produce an endless proliferation of ‘parallel universes’), on the scarcely admirable grounds that "once you accept it [the ‘many Worlds Hypothesis’], the interpretation of quantum phenomena is much simpler". Predictably enough, the final part of the book offers nothing but wild speculation. Nowhere is there a glimpse of the promised ‘new and exciting insight into what it means to be alive’.

Johnjoe McFadden seems to me like a mountain guide who promises to lead one to the top of some great peak – an Eiger or a K2, if not an Everest. We set off through the foothills, occasionally catching glimpses of the distant, snow-capped peak. Perhaps we even get as far as base camp. The assault on the summit is promised. However, on the morning of the proposed summit climb, our guide suddenly confesses that he suffers from vertigo. In fact he hates heights. He suggests we return to the plain and amuse ourselves making sand castles instead. Paul Carline, Newhall 18.08.00

Planète Transgénique by Jean-Claude Perez Jean-claude Perez, prefaced by D. Van Cauwelart (Goncourt prize), Editions "L'Espace bleu" 91 rue de Seine 75006 Paris (1997), ISBN 2-86766-027-6.

This book offers a mathematical look at DNA and an extraordinary discovery if corroborated. The proportions of bases in DNA appear to follow the Fibonacci series. During evolution DNA sequences increasingly follow the Fibonacci series, i.e. longer stretches of DNA comply with it. Perez calls this 'resonance'. In genetically modified organisms the resonance is dramatically reduced, as if pushing the organisms backwards in evolution. Put another way, the Fibonacci resonance of DNA could be used to assess the evolutionary status of the manipulated organism. Whether a rise or fall in status is good or bad is debatable. Such considerations can also apply to the effects of artificial selection in conventional breeding over millennia.

Perez also claims that the virulence of HIV (determined in cell cultures) is related to their genomic Fibonacci resonance. Long sequences of resonance seem to correlate with less virulence than short sequences. More on Perez's work can be found at www.multimania.com/genum (in construction) and www.genum.com. The author is reachable by email at Jcperez134 (at) aol.com. These notes are by David Heaf following correspondence with Johannes Wirz about the book.

'Model-Free Optics: Instruction Themes for Physics in the Twelfth Grade with Scientific, Pedagogic, and Experimental Commentary' by Manfred von Mackensen

Although written primarily for Waldorf upper school science teachers, Manfred von Mackensen's booklet Model-Free Optics: Instruction Themes for Physics in the Twelfth Grade with Scientific, Pedagogic, and Experimental Commentary may be of interest to those who are interested in furthering the phenomenological approach to science. Only 85 pages long, the book was translated by Charles Gunn in 1977 and published in manuscript form in 1996. After a sympathetic review of George Berkeley's work on vision and a discussion of Rudolf Steiner's pedagogical indications for the twelfth grade, Mackensen considers photometry, shadows, Mach band phenomena, mirrors, refraction, lens, prisms, and diffraction patterns. His primary goal is to cognize the phenomena without reference to reductionist models involving rays, waves, photons, or the like. Readers who can penetrate Mackensen's familiar, dense, sometimes cryptic, aphoristic prose will find a wealth of original ideas, interesting demonstrations, and helpful indications for developing phenomenological optics. The booklet is available from Pädogogische Forschungsstelle Kassel, Branbanter Straßse 43. D-34131 Kassel, Germany.

Mikko Bojarsky

Publications

Archetype

Issue 6, September 2000: Geometric Crystal Morphology on a Projective Basis: Towards the Complementarity of Morphology and Structure Theory, Renatus Ziegler (45pp). Review article: Capillary Dynamolysis, David Heaf.

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Elemente der Naturwissenschaft

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Il Divano Morfologico – Magazine of Morphology

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In Context – The Newsletter of the Nature Institute

No. 3, Spring 2000 Towards a Final Theory of the Sloth, Steve Talbott. News items from The Nature Institute. What do experiments prove? Craig Holdrege. Experiential Physics, Steve Talbott. Where do organisms end, Craig Holdrege. The straitening of science, Steve Talbott.

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NetFuture is a newsletter and forwarding service dealing with technology and human responsibility. It is hosted by the UDT Core Programme of the International Federation of Library Associations. Postings occur roughly once every week or two. The editor is Steve Talbott, author of The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst.

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Proceedings of a colloquium held in Lexington, Mass, USA, February 2000. 186pp. Available from AWSNA, 3911 Bannister Road, Fair Oaks, CA 95628, USA. Email contact, David Mitchell at davidm (at) awsna.org.

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Nr. 12 (2000): Beweglichkeit und Gestaltbildungen im strömenden Wasser als Qualitätsaspekt – Verhaltensforschung des Wassers mit der Tropfbildmethode, Wolfram Schwenk. (Based on a lecture given at a symposium on 10-12 September 1999, in Herrischried titled Positive Charakterisierungsmöglichkeiten des Wassers als Lebensvermittler. Alexander Lerois Engagement in der Wasserforschung, Wolfram Schwenk. Alexander Leroi – der Mitbegründer des Forschungszentrums in Herrischried, Gisela v. Canal. Aus dem Tropfbildlabor: Parameterversuche, Franz Metzler. Gestaltungsbewegungen reinen und verunreinigten Wassers – Vergleich anhand von Willenbildungen, Wolfram Schwenk.

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