Scientific Method

Know It All

The vault of the blue sky arching over snowcapped mountain peaks in the distance invites the soul to expand out to meet the beauty we behold. The sound of a rushing stream that accompanies the visual complexity of water flowing over boulders and cascades fills the soul with feelings of abundance. We are alive and present in the moment. We may begin to notice the tiny flowers sparking the green banks with a multitude of colors. What are they called? How did they get there? We move naturally from our observations to our thinking.

The first of the six steps of the scientific method states: “Make an observation or observations.” This presumes that we possess the faculties and abilities necessary to observe the world around us. Every further step presumes that we possess a rational mind—that we can think. It is thinking itself that is implicit and fundamental to the scientific method. The scientific method, formalized by Francis Bacon back in 1621, is still the way we do science. Rudolf Steiner uses this method as his means for investigating and reporting on the spiritual world.

Let’s see what Dr. Steiner has to say:

In sequence of time, observation does in fact come before thinking. For even thinking we must get to know first through observation... Everything that enters the circle of our experience, we first become aware of through observation. The content of sensation, perception and contemplation, all feelings, acts of will, dreams and fancies, mental pictures, concepts and ideas, all illusions and hallucinations, are given to us through observation.

Excerpt from: Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter III: Knowledge of Freedom revised edition: 1918.

Critical thinking is essential to the five remaining steps of the scientific method. A definition for critical thinking formulated by Michael Scriven and Richard Paul reads: “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

 Back to Dr. Steiner:

When we consider the significance of natural science in human life, we shall find that this significance cannot be exhausted by acquiring a knowledge of nature, since this knowledge can never lead to anything but an experiencing of what the human soul itself is not. The soul-element does not live in what man knows about nature, but in the process of acquiring Knowledge. The soul experiences itself in its occupation with nature. What it vitally achieves in this activity is something besides the knowledge of nature itself: it is self-development experienced in acquiring knowledge of nature. Occult science desires to employ the results of this self-development in realms that lie beyond mere nature. The occult scientist has no desire to undervalue natural science; on the contrary, he desires to acknowledge it even more than the natural scientist himself. He knows that, without the exactness of the mode of thinking of natural science, he cannot establish a science. Yet he knows also that after this exactness has been acquired through genuine penetration into the spirit of natural-scientific thinking, it can be retained through the force of the soul for other fields.

Excerpt from: Esoteric Science: An Outline, Preface to the 1925 edition 10/01/25 by Rudolf Steiner.

Natural science can tell us what type of flower is growing by the stream and how it probably got there. We can investigate its physiology, structure, genetics, ecology, distribution, classification, and economic importance. Natural science struggles to explain, however, why the flower gives us joy; why the sky, the mountains and the stream invoke the feelings they do.  We need to further science into those realms as well—the realms beyond what we can perceive through our senses. We believe that understanding botany is a worthwhile endeavor; shouldn’t we pursue the science of the spirit with equal vigor?  This is what Anthroposophy does. Reading books like The Philosophy of Freedom (also translated as Philosophy of Spiritual Activity) can be a good first step.