Seeing Red

The human being is complicated. Obviously. Just for the fun of it, let’s look at how we see a red apple—not in all its detail, however, because we would never be able to consider here all responses to visual stimuli, etc., and all that this activity entails. So, we will leave alone all the structural properties of the eye and the optic nerve that communicate from our eyes to our brain.

Anyway, if we are not blind, we perceive the apple through our eyes; if we are not color-blind, we perceive its redness. If our brain works properly, we have the concept red apple that we match to the perception of the red apple. Our sense of smell may be stimulated, also taste and touch. We attach the concepts firm and sweet and crispy, which then may cause us to salivate. Thus, we get a glimmer, in an elementary way, of what the organ of the eye does in relation to its message to the brain and how the organs and bodily systems work together to “see” the red apple.

Additionally, we can also know that the apple has a particular atomic and chemical arrangement. The color red lies in a visual spectrum that appears at a particular frequency.

The color red is a symbol of danger. Red apples may be seen as a symbol of original sin, but also viewed as a student’s gift to a teacher. Each layer of understanding requires the activity of thinking. Even if we want to know about thinking itself, the only way to do it is through thinking. What, then, is thinking?

Let’s see what Rudolf Steiner has to say:

Man can only come to a true understanding of himself when he grasps clearly the significance of thinking within his being. The brain is the bodily instrument of thinking. A properly constructed eye serves us for seeing colors, and the suitably constructed brain serves us for thinking. The whole body of man is so formed that it receives its crown in the physical organ of the spirit, the brain. The construction of the human brain can only be understood by considering it in relation to its task—that of being the bodily basis for the thinking spirit. This is borne out by a comparative survey of the animal world. Among the amphibians the brain is small in comparison with the spinal cord; in mammals it is proportionately larger; in man it is largest in comparison with the rest of his body.

There are many prejudices prevalent regarding such statements about thinking as are present here. Many people are inclined to undervalue thinking and to place higher value on the warm life of feeling or emotion. Some even say it is not by sober thinking but by warmth of feeling and the immediate power of emotions that we raise ourselves to higher knowledge… In the case of thoughts that lead to the higher regions of existence… [t]here is no feeling and no enthusiasm to be compared with the sentiments of warmth, beauty and exaltation that are enkindled through the pure, crystal-clear thoughts that refer to the higher worlds. The highest feelings are, as a matter of fact, not those that come of themselves, but those that are achieved by energetic and persevering thinking.

Excerpt from Theosophy, The Essential Nature of Man: Chapter 4. “Body, Soul and Spirit”. 1904 by Rudolf Steiner


Steiner is saying that thinking is inescapable; every field of learning involves thinking. The only way to gain understanding of anything is through the activity of thinking—and the only way to understand thinking itself is to think about it, too. Period. So, spiritual science is understood through the same means that everything else in the world is understood.

We may put lots of instruments in between what is being observed and us as observers; we may imagine we can remove the “human element” from the process, but we can’t because we can’t eliminate thinking from the process. And if you’re thinking of AI now, you’re overlooking the thinking that went into the creation of that technological achievement. (If you need to know more about that, look up AI and Qualia.)

Steiner is saying that the processes of learning about the spiritual world are meditation, contemplation and grasping the concepts of the spiritual world. He has given us methods of meditation and contemplation and has provided concepts about the spiritual world in his books, articles and lectures. If we do pursue these suggestions, the “instruments” of spiritual perception we all possess will begin to open up.

Thinking is the basic activity by which we understand the physical world. It’s so obvious; it’s right under our noses. Our sense of reality comes through thinking. Our sense of anything comes through thinking. So, it should come as no surprise that thinking is also the basis by which we come to know and understand the spiritual world. Reading Steiner makes this clearer.


“Human Vision and Color Perception”

“The Dynamic Representation of Scenes,” Ronald A. Rensink

AI and Qualia

Infinite Possibilities

It is thought that Plato learned geometry from the Pythagoreans, members of a secret society in Greece. The Pythagoreans traced their origin back to Pythagoras, a mystic, who is said to have learned geometry in Egypt.


During this time in Egypt, science, religion, and magic were not separate subjects at all; they were one subject, and those who taught this subject believed that an invisible order indwelled and formed the visible world. Pythagoras’ school, therefore, taught geometry and mysticism.

Pythagoras is respected still today, thousands of years later, for the Pythagorean theorem. But do we respect him as a mystic? Why did the study of geometry drop its mystical significance? Are we just smarter now … are all of us smarter than Pythagoras because we don’t believe in the mystical stuff?

Let’s see what Rudolf Steiner* has to say:

If we study human evolution impartially, we cannot fail to be impressed by the exceptional progress made in recent times by the sciences concerned with the outer world… [T]housands of years ago the sun rose in the morning and passed across the heavens just as it does today… The course of the sun was the same then, for external observation, as it was in the days of Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Copernicus, and so on. Can we suppose that the modern knowledge of which we are so justly proud has been gained by merely contemplating the external world?
If the external world could itself, just as it is, give us this knowledge, there would be no need to look further: all the knowledge we have about the sense-perceptible world would have been acquired centuries ago. How is it that we know so much more and have a different view of the position of the sun and so on?
It is because human understanding, human cognition concerning the external world, has developed and changed in the course of hundreds or thousands of years. Yes, these faculties were by no means the same in ancient Greece as they have come to be with us since the 16th century.
… [Human beings] have learned to see the outer world differently because something was added to those faculties which apply to the external sense-world … a study of human evolution will show that something evolves within man; the faculties for gaining exact knowledge of nature were at first asleep within him, and have awakened by stages in the course of time. Now they are fully awake, and it is these faculties which have made possible the great progress of physical science.
Is it then inevitable that these inner faculties should remain as they are now, equipped only to reflect the outer world?

Excerpt from Metamorphosis of the Soul, Paths of Experience, Lecture 1, 14/10/1909 by Rudolf Steiner.

Steiner shows that over the course of time, humanity lost its connection to the spiritual world even as it gained its capacity to contemplate the world of the senses. It is now possible once again to find a living relationship with the spiritual world, but we must seek it ourselves; it is no longer provided to us as a gift. But to whom do we turn to seek it? Well, we can turn to those who, like Pythagoras in his time, are the scientists and philosophers of our day.

Right now, in 2018, we can major at Yale University in a field called  Mathematics and Philosophy; we can take a course at Oxford by the same name, and many other universities offer a course called Philosophy in Mathematics.

We can find many books on the subject of science and philosophy such as the 2017 book by H. Chris Ransford, God and the Mathematics of Infinity: What Irreducible Mathematics Says About Godhood or the 2006 book by George Greenstein and Arthur Zajonc, The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Physics and Astronomy).

So, apparently, science actively connects with philosophy. Let’s take a quick look at the prologue of the Greenstein/Zajonc book: “… the challenges to our understanding posed by quantum theory extend all the way to our conceptions of the nature of physical reality and of the proper function of science itself. The research we describe has made abundantly clear that the conventional view is entirely inadequate … modern research on the foundations of quantum mechanics has generated an extensive philosophical literature…”

What do they mean by the nature of physical reality? The proper function of science? Is our understanding of science itself evolving? Does Steiner’s revelation of a world beyond our physical reality need to be taken seriously? If you’re interested in knowing more, you can read Steiner.


“Intuitionism in the Philosophy of Mathematics”

“Holism and Reductionism in the Entwined History of Light and Mind”

Plato and Pythagoreanism

Trivial Pursuit

What do we want most in the world? What motivates us to get up in the morning? If one thing could be granted us, what would it be? We have to wonder how many people these days would ask for the chance to understand the purpose of human life.

Or how many people even think it matters if there’s a purpose to life? Or believe that the idea of a purpose to life is naïve and ridiculous? Is it just easier to have a drink or take an anti-depressant? What do we take the time to think about now?

 34041361 - close up of a business man using mobile smart phone

We are distracted, preoccupied by the trivial. Whenever a screen isn’t provided for us while we’re in line somewhere or waiting for a friend, etc., we can always turn to the one held in our hand. We find ourselves turning away from the physical world we live in at every opportunity in order to embrace a virtual one. Our cell phones sit on the table when we do take the time to be with family or friends and yet, no matter how engrossing the conversation, we can be called away by a mere vibration.

We know this, of course. We have heard the warnings against the ubiquitous presence of these distractions, but we don’t change. We watch our funny or gross or cute or violent or sexual videos, or 24-hour “news” feeds or a whole range of sporting events –– but to what end?

What if we are meant for more than this? What if our lives do matter? What if it’s important to know why we matter? What if one of the reasons for living is to pursue the kind of knowledge that would reveal why we matter—a kind of knowledge beyond the senses; a supersensible knowledge?

Let’s see what Rudolf Steiner* has to say:

It is by inner exertion of the soul that the human being is able to reach the supersensible world…. Before it can be known, the longing must be present to find what lies more deeply hidden in existence than do the forces of the world perceived by the senses. This longing is one of the inner experiences that prepare the way for a knowledge of the supersensible world. Even as there can be no blossom without first the root, so supersensible knowledge has no true life without this longing.
It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that the ideas of the supersensible world arise as an illusion out of this longing. The lungs do not create the air for which they long, neither does the human soul create out of its longing the ideas of the supersensible world. The soul has this longing because it is formed and built for the supersensible world, just as the lungs are constructed for air.
There may be those who say that this supersensible world can only have significance for such as already have the power to perceive it, but this is not so. There is no need to be a painter in order to feel the beauty of a painting, yet only a painter can paint it. In the same sense, it is unnecessary to be a researcher in the supersensible in order to judge the truth of the results of supersensible research. It is only necessary to be a researcher in order to discover them. This is right in principle.

Excerpt from Theosophy, Preface to the Revised English Edition, 04/1922 by Rudolf Steiner.

We are in danger of drowning in trivialities, of ignoring the longing arising in our souls to know the deeper aspects of ourselves. In comparing George Orwell’s 1984 to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Neil Postman says in the Forward to his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, “… Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

Postman wrote this before smart phones even existed... How are we doing now?

Steiner indicates the need for “an inner exertion of the soul” in order to penetrate into the spiritual world, yet many of us can’t be bothered—we don’t have time. We believe that everything that takes time, wastes time. With our ever-expanding reliance on technology to get us what we want without waiting for it, whether it’s goods or answers, we may actually be losing the will and capacity to strive for deeper knowledge. Yet what could possibly be more important than this? You may want to read Steiner.


“How Can I Focus Better?”

“Smartphones and Cognition: A Review of Research Exploring the Links between Mobile Technology Habits and Cognitive Functioning”

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman