"Clairvoyance is the necessary pre-requisite
for the discovery of a spiritual truth...."
"Not every Waldorf teacher has the gift of clairvoyance,
but every one of them has accepted wholeheartedly
and with full understanding
the results of spiritual-scientiﬁc investigation
concerning the human being."
— Rudolf Steiner
Such investigation depends on clairvoyance.
A Second Look at Second Sight
Waldorf schools base their methods on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. But Rudolf Steiner’s entire system depends on the existence of clairvoyance. And there's a problem: Clairvoyance does not exist.
Can I prove that there is no such thing as clairvoyance? No. Proving a negative is nearly impossible.
A more cautious statement would be: There is little or no persuasive evidence that clairvoyance or other psychic phenomena exist. This statement is easy to defend.
There is, of course, a huge backlog of claims made by self-described clairvoyants such as Rudolf Steiner. Sylvia Browne, a famous "psychic" of own our times, has written: "My first indisputable sign that I was a psychic was a clairvoyant experience...." — Sylvia Browne, PHENOMENON (New American Library, 2005, p. 67. But such reports can be disputed, which is the point. Anecdotes and claims are not evidence. They may well be lies or delusions. We need real evidence, and there has been almost none supporting the claims for clairvoyance.
Here is a brief summary of various authorities disputing or questioning the existence of psychic phenomena. Waldorf faculty members, if they are true to Steiner, will generally reject the sources I cite, because these sources reflect real science rather than "spiritual science," which is a form of occultism. But this returns us to the core problem in the thinking behind Waldorf schools: It requires rejection of real knowledge about the real world.
I have added a few comments to some of the entries.
Let's begin with a Q & A taken from PROCEEDINGS OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY. Following it, I'll list quote after quote from numerous other sources. I'll make each source clear, and wherever possible I'll provide links.
Read as little or as much as you like. Going through the entire list at one sitting could be wearying, so feel free to explore, hop around, skip some entries now and — if you feel like it — return to read more some other time.
"Q. Why is the possibility of telepathy, clairvoyance and other psychic phenomena ignored by official science?
"A. This possibility has not been ignored ... Each time a new technique appears in the psychic field, it has been studied and evaluated by scientists.
"Q. Why it is that personal experiences are not accepted at face value?
"A. Official science has developed a set of rules, known as the scientific method, for evaluating the objectivity of personal experiences ... [O]fficial science...provides ground-rules for the observers which, when properly applied, tend to free them from psychological sources of error.
"Q. The Parapsychological Laboratory is located in a great university [Duke: see below]. Why is it, then, that official science has still not accepted ESP [extrasensory perception, clairvoyance] and psychokinesis [the ability to move objects by mental power]?
"A. The methods used [at the Parapsychological Laboratory] in collecting data are open to serious question ... [T]he majority of investigators who obtained positive results were ‘believers’ ... [S]cientific data which are sensitive to the preconceived convictions of the experimenter are always suspect.
"Q. In what ways can bias influence the scientist?
"A. [B]ias will seek out and capitalize on loop-holes ... Bias will determine the selection of experimental procedures ... Preconceived belief will make the scientist less critical of his own methods than he should be.... [Scientists properly using the scientific method avoid these errors.]
"Q. If there is uncertainty concerning ESP and PK [psychokinesis]...what should be done about it?
"A. This is a question which properly should be directed at the scientists who are convinced of the reality of ESP and PK. Official science adopts the attitude that it is the responsibility of the promoter of a new scientific discovery to satisfy all critics as to the authenticity of the discovery ... Claims for the reality of psychic phenomena have generated a long history of disappointments.” — John L. Kennedy, “An Evaluation of Extra-Sensory Perception”, PROCEEDINGS OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, Vol. 96, No. 5.
• The Duke Parapsychology Laboratory has since gone out of business, having been thoroughly discredited. See the entries, below, on J. B. Rhine. • "Official" is an unfortunate choice of words. There is no "official science" — there is real science and there is pseudoscience (or pathological science, as it is sometimes called). • Parapsychology and Steiner's "spiritual science" are two examples of pseudoscience, each associated with the fallacy of clairvoyance.
"clairvoyance - knowledge of information not necessarily known to any other person, not obtained by ordinary channels of perceiving or reasoning — thus a form of extrasensory perception (ESP). Spiritualists also use the term to mean seeing or hearing (clairaudience) the spirits of the dead that are said to surround the living. Research in parapsychology — such as testing a subject’s ability to predict the order of cards in a shuffled deck — has yet to provide conclusive support for the existence of clairvoyance." — clairvoyance. (2009). ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 02 Sep 2009.
Seeking to be impartial, the BRITANNICA says that no conclusive support has "yet" been found. A more definitive statement would be that no conclusive support has ever been found.
"precognition - supernormal knowledge of future events, with emphasis not upon mentally causing events to occur but upon predicting those the occurrence of which the subject claims has already been determined. Like telepathy and clairvoyance, precognition is said to operate without recourse to the normal senses and thus to be a form of extrasensory perception (ESP).
"There is a long tradition of anecdotal evidence for foreseeing the future in dreams and by various devices such as observing the flight of birds or examining the entrails of sacrificial animals. Precognition has been tested with subjects required to predict the future order of cards in a deck about to be shuffled or to foretell results of dice throws, but the statistical support for it has generally been less convincing than that from experiments in telepathy and clairvoyance [which is very weak; see above - RR]." — "precognition." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 02 Sep. 2009.
"telepathy - direct transference of thought from one person (sender or agent) to another (receiver or percipient) without using the usual sensory channels of communication, hence a form of extrasensory perception (ESP). While the existence of telepathy has not yet been proved, some parapsychological research studies have produced favourable results using such techniques as card guessing with a special deck of five sets of five cards. The agent may simply think of a random order of the five card symbols while the percipient tries to think of the order on which the agent is concentrating. In a general ESP test the sender concentrates on the face of one card at a time while the receiver tries to think of the symbol. Both subjects are, of course, separated by a screen or some greater obstacle or distance. Scores significantly above chance are extremely rare, particularly as testing methods have become more rigorous." — telepathy. (2009). ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 02 Sep. 2009.
Note that as testing has improved, apparent cases of psychic powers diminish. This pattern has been found over and over, as subsequent entries will show, below. If a phenomenon is real, improved tests should show the phenomenon more and more clearly. Just the opposite happens with psychic phenomena, which clearly suggests that they are unreal.
"A scientific panel commissioned by the National Research Council to study this area [i.e., psychic phenomena] concluded that '...despite a 130-year record of scientific research on such matters, our committee could find no scientific justification for the existence of phenomena such as extrasensory perception, mental telepathy, or 'mind over matter' exercises ... Evaluation of a large body of the best available evidence does not support the contention that these phenomena exist.' Ray Hyman, a psychologist who has devoted much of his career to evaluating claims of paranormal phenomena. similarly states that '...there is no scientifically acceptable basis, as of today, for accepting the reality of psi [i.e., psychic phenomena].' Even many of those who fervently believe in the reality of psi can sound a similar theme. Stanley Krippner, a firm believer in psi and an articulate advocate for parapsychology, nevertheless states that 'since Charles Richet first applied statistics to psychical research data nearly 100 years ago, no experimental procedure has emerged which would invariably produce the same results no matter who followed it. Furthermore, no mechanism underlying psi has been discovered ... Finally, no practical use of ESP or PK [i.e., psychokinesis — moving objects by thought alone] has been validated by laboratory research.'" — Thomas Gilovich, HOW WE KNOW WHAT ISN'T SO (Free Press, 1993), p. 160. Footnotes identify the sources Gilovich quotes: • National Research Council (1988, January), AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION MONITOR, p. 7, • R. Hyman (1985), in P. Kurtz (Ed.), A SKEPTIC'S HANDBOOK OF PARAPSYCHOLOGY (Prometheus), and • S. Krippner (1977), ADVANCES IN PARAPSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH, I (Plenum).
"Distraught cancer victims make pilgrimages to the Philippines, where 'psychic surgeons,' having palmed bits of chicken liver or goat heart, pretend to reach into the patient's innards and withdraw the diseased tissue, which is then triumphantly displayed. Leaders of Western democracies regularly consult astrologers and mystics before making decisions of state. Under public pressure for results, police with an unsolved murder or a missing body on their hands consult ESP 'experts' (who never guess better than expected by common sense, but the police, the ESPers say, keep calling). A clairvoyance gap with adversary nations is announced, and the Central Intelligence Agency, under Congressional prodding, spends tax money to find out whether submarines in the ocean depths can be located by thinking hard at them. A 'psychic' — using pendulums over maps and dowsing rods in airplanes — purports to find new mineral deposits; an Australian mining company pays him top dollar up front, none of it returnable in the event of failure, and a share in the exploitation of ores in the event of success. Nothing is discovered. Statues of Jesus or murals of Mary are spotted with moisture, and thousands of kindhearted people convince themselves that they have witnessed a miracle.
"These are all cases of proved or presumptive baloney. A deception arises, sometimes innocently but collaboratively, sometimes with cynical premeditation. Usually the victim is caught up in a powerful emotion — wonder, fear, greed, grief. Credulous acceptance of baloney can cost you money; that's what P. T. Barnum meant when he said, 'There's a sucker born every minute.' But it can be much more dangerous than that, and when governments and societies lose the capacity for critical thinking, the results can be catastrophic — however sympathetic we may be to those who have bought the baloney." — Carl Sagan, THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD (Ballantine, 1996), p. 209.
"Clairvoyance, ability to see or visualize objects and events beyond the range of normal sight. Clairvoyance is a form of extrasensory perception, or ESP, which includes any ability to gain information by psychic means, rather than through the physical senses. According to belief, clairvoyance usually occurs when a person with clairvoyant powers is in a state of trance, during which that person can describe the objects or events that appear in his or her mind. Most scientists, however, deny that claims of clairvoyance have been supported by any substantial evidence.
"There are several explanations for clairvoyance among people who believe it occurs. Some people believe that a clairvoyant person gains psychic visions through communication with spirits. Others claim that clairvoyance comes through telepathy, the ability to communicate with others using only the mind. Another explanation says that clairvoyant people get their information through their own special abilities, without direction from another person or spirit." — ENCARTA, http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761564635/Clairvoyance.html 9/2/09: Note: ENCARTA was planning to shut down not long after I gathered quotations for this page. If the plan was followed, links to ENCARTA will presumably fail after the shutdown. (Apparently the Japanese edition will stay open.)
"Extrasensory Perception (ESP), knowledge of external objects or events without the aid of the senses. Since ancient times, people have wondered about various so-called psychic experiences that seem to defy scientific explanation. Often these phenomena have been associated with communication with the dead ... In 1930 Joseph Banks Rhine, a psychology professor at Duke University, founded a parapsychology laboratory at the school. The laboratory became a famous center for investigating ESP. Rhine’s investigations focused on what he called psi, or psychic phenomena. He believed that there might be natural, although unknown, causes of mysterious occurrences, and he attempted to establish their existence by use of experimental and mathematical techniques ... Rhine’s investigations led him to believe that ESP underlies clairvoyance, the perception of external things without sensing them; telepathy, the perception of another person’s thoughts; and precognition, the ability to predict events. However, later scientists criticized the methodology of Rhine’s studies, noting some subjects could identify the symbols by physical marks on the cards.
"More recently, computers and other instruments have been used in the study of ESP. However, most scientists do not believe that ESP exists. These scientists note that thousands of controlled studies have failed to show any evidence of psychical phenomena, and that no person has ever successfully demonstrated ESP for independent investigators. Despite these findings, surveys indicate that a substantial portion of the public believes in ESP. See also Psychical Research." — ENCARTA http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761552170/Extrasensory_Perception.html 9/2/09.
"Psychical Research, IV, CRITICISMS
"Although parapsychologists are increasingly employing and refining scientific methodologies for their observations, one of the chief criticisms of their work is that experiments in psi [i.e., psychic] phenomena can rarely be duplicated. Under the most rigorous laboratory controls, for example, experiments on phenomena such as out-of-body experiences — in which individuals demonstrate an apparent ability to locate their center of perception outside their bodies — indicate that even reputable psychics are rarely able to duplicate earlier, high-scoring performances. The scores of such individuals, in fact, tend to drop to the level of probability the more the experiment is repeated. Nonparapsychologists find psi experiments even more difficult to repeat, and a majority of conventional scientists dismiss parapsychology findings as unscientific or at best inconclusive.
"A similar criticism is based on the claim by most parapsychologists that psi phenomena occur beyond the law of causality, which is one of the fundamental premises of any scientific investigation. Indeed, results of psi experiments often turn out to be far from or even contradictory to the original predictions. Parapsychologists admit that psi phenomena fall so far outside ordinary comprehension that they are often unsure whether an ESP event or a PK event has occurred; Rhine himself stated that one kind of event could not occur without the other. Because these phenomena are difficult to define or isolate when they appear to happen — and, further, because the phenomena occur only for a select group of observers — most scientists think that psi investigations fall far short of the rules of objectivity required by the scientific method." — ENCARTA http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761566266/Psychical_Research.html 9/2/09.
"parapsychology, study of mental phenomena not explainable by accepted principles of science. The organized, scientific investigation of paranormal phenomena began with the foundation (1882) of the Society for Psychical Research in London. Such early efforts attempted to dissociate psychical phenomena from spiritualism and superstition, and particularly to investigate mediums and their claims of evoking spirits or apparitions. The society also studied automatic writing, levitation, and ectoplasmic and poltergeist activities. One of its principal founders, Frederic William Henry Myers, summed up the society's early efforts in Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (1903). An American Society for Psychical Research was also founded, with James Hervey Hyslop as its leading spokesman. Considerable experimentation has been conducted, perhaps the best-known being that of Joseph Banks Rhine at Duke Univ. The Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, created in the early 1960s, has since replaced the Duke program. In Great Britain the work of Whately Carington and Samuel George Soal paralleled that of Rhine. The great majority of parapsychological studies have focused on the area called extrasensory perception (ESP), which includes telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition. The popular press often reports stories that are parapsychological in nature. Many scientists criticize the claims made by parapsychologists, arguing in particular that there can be no proof of such phenomena." — THE COLUMBIA ELECTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, 6th ed. Copyright © 2007, Columbia University Press. http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/sci/A0837604.html.
"Clairvoyance...is an awareness of events, objects, or people without the use of the senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, or touch. It is a major form of extrasensory perception (ESP) ... Clairvoyance supposedly is not affected by time or distance. A person may 'see' an accident in a dream before it happens or sense an event taking place far away. Awareness of an event before it occurs is known as precognitive clairvoyance. Clairvoyance is under scientific investigation, and the question of its existence remains open. However, most scientists are skeptical. The relationship of clairvoyance to telepathy, if any, is not known." — THE WORLD BOOK MULTIMEDIA ENCYCLOPEDIA, Mac OS X Edition, Version 6.0.2.
"Extrasensory perception, Debate About ESP. One of the most noted American ESP researchers was J. B. Rhine...[whp] conducted a number of card-guessing experiments to test clairvoyance, precognition, and telepathy. Some researchers claim that evidence based on the work of Rhine and other investigators has established beyond question the existence of ESP.
"But other researchers believe that the evidence is questionable. In the early days of ESP research, when fairly crude experiments were used, some people put on rather remarkable telepathic or clairvoyant performances. Today, however, when experiments are more carefully controlled, similar performances are rare. In science, the trend should generally be in the opposite direction. That is, if the phenomena under investigation are real, improved experiments should produce more significant and well-defined results.
"Another reason for skepticism is that after more than a hundred years of research, no scientist has been able to produce a repeatable demonstration of ESP that can be performed before a group of neutral scientists." — THE WORLD BOOK MULTIMEDIA ENCYCLOPEDIA, Mac OS X Edition, Version 6.0.2.
"The existence of ESP and other paranormal powers such as psychokinesis (PK), are disputed, though systematic experimental research on these subjects, known collectively as psi, has been ongoing for over a century in a field known as parapsychology.
"Most of the evidence for ESP, however, is anecdotal. The anecdotes consist of two parts: the experience itself and the interpretation of it. A story may be true, but the attempt to make sense or give psychic meaning to the story often seems to the skeptic to exceed the bounds of reasonableness." — THE SKEPTIC’S DICTIONARY, http://skepdic.com/esp.html.
"I do marvel at their [parapsychological researchers’] tenacity, however, for they labour in search of psi [parapsychological phenomena] despite a lack of the evidentiary and other rewards that are earned by mainstream scientists in their research. Yet, that being said, and as I have stated before (Alcock, 1985; 1987), I continue to believe that parapsychology is, at bottom, motivated by belief in search of data, rather than data in search of explanation." — James E. Alcock, “Give the Null Hypothesis a Chance: Reasons to Remain Doubtful about the Existence of Psi” http://www.imprint.co.uk/pdf/Alcock-editorial.pdf.
"Among all the sciences, there is one known as parapsychology ... [U]nlike in other sciences, none of the parapsychologists' experiments have both shown positive results and have been replicated by independent researchers. Even the Guinness Book of Records, listing the single most astonishing performance in ESP, apologizes and reports that the episode fails to meet even their standards. Data in some important basic parapsychological experiments that yielded apparently positive results have been shown to be falsified — though parapsychology is not alone in this respect ... Psychologist Dr. David Marks, who has done extensive investigation of the parapsychologists' work, has said:
"'Parascience has so far failed to produce a single repeatable finding and, until it does, will continue to be viewed as an incoherent collection of belief systems steeped in fantasy, illusion and error.'
"The U.S. National Research Council in 1988 concluded a well-funded two-year study by a special committee and published a report, Enhancing Human Performance, which concluded:
"'The committee finds no scientific justification from research conducted over a period of 130 years, for the existence of parapsychological phenomena. In the committee's view, the best scientific evidence does not justify the conclusion that ESP — that is, gathering information about objects or thoughts without the intervention of known sensory mechanisms — exists. Nor does scientific evidence offer support for the existence of psychokinesis — that is, the influence of thoughts upon objects without the intervention of known physical processes.'" — James Randi, AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CLAIMS, FRAUDS, AND HOAXES OF THE OCCULT AND SUPERNATURAL (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995) http://www.randi.org/encyclopedia/parapsychology.html.
"After thousands of experiments, a reproducible ESP phenomenon has never been discovered, nor has any individual convincingly demonstrated a psychic ability. A National Research Council investigation of ESP similarly concluded that ‘the best evidence does not support the contention that these phenomena exist' ... And in 1995, a CIA-commissioned report evaluated 10 years of military testing of psychic spies. Twenty million dollars had been invested. The result? The program produced nothing." — David G. Myers, PSYCHOLOGY (Worth Publishers, 2004), p. 260. This is one of the most widely used and authoritative psychology texts.
The first sentence in this item is by far the most important, and indeed it may stand as a summary for all the items quoted here: "After thousands of experiments, a reproducible ESP [i.e., psychic] phenomenon has never been discovered, nor has any individual convincingly demonstrated a psychic ability." For our consideration of Waldorf education, the key psychic phenomenon in question is clairvoyance, and Myers — like all the other experts cited here — says there is no real evidence for the existence of any such phenomena.
"A psychic is an actor playing the role of a psychic." — Psychologist and magician Daryl Bem — see Myers, PSYCHOLOGY, p. 260.
"The study of paranormal activities and phenomena has been riddled with controversy since its conception. It is claimed that some people, utilizing senses beyond the ordinary, exhibit powers that cannot be explained by traditional science. Skeptics of the paranormal point to the fact that in over a century since the first serious studies of the paranormal began, usually dated to the opening of the Society for Psychical Research in London in 1882, no replicable demonstration of any such powers has ever been conducted. Yet many people continue to believe in the existence of the paranormal." — ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PSYCHOLOGY, http://www.enotes.com/gale-psychology-encyclopedia/parapsychology.
"Clairvoyance was the first paranormal phenomena to be seriously considered by scientists, probably because devising tests to prove or disprove its existence was easy. In the late 1920s, many such tests were devised by J.B. Rhine, a psychology professor who had left Harvard University to help found the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University. Rhine's tests often produced positive results for clairvoyance, and at the time his work was seriously regarded. In recent decades, however, much of Rhine's work has been discredited as being biased, careless, and, in some cases, utterly fraudulent.
"Recent studies have proven more reputable but far from conclusive. One such study revealed statistically significant telepathic abilities among 100 men and 140 women tested in Scotland over six years in the mid-1980s. In the tests, 'senders' focused on images or video clips and attempted to send those impressions to a 'receiver' in a sensory-isolated room. The researchers reported that one in three sessions led to a 'hit,' meaning that the receiver reported visualizing images similar to those being sent. A hit is expected to occur by chance in one in four instances. On the other hand, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States discounted the existence of ESP after conducting its own experiments in 'remote viewing.' The agency concluded that there were not enough evidence for its existence.
"...There are other phenomena studies by parapsychologists, including hauntings, UFOs, near-death and after-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, psychic healing, and many others. All of these share the curious nature of ESP and PK [psychokinesis] in that, anecdotally speaking, occurrences are widespread, believed by members of many cultures, and discussed throughout history. Yet none have been scientifically demonstrated or reproduced ... One of the reasons the scientific community is skeptical about paranormal phenomena is that there is no apparent basis in physical laws for such phenomena. In every other scientific discipline, it is possible to speculate reasonably that events occur as they do because they follow a recognized natural law, such as gravity or conservation of energy. Parapsychologists have failed to develop adequate theoretical reasons for the existence of the phenomena they purport to demonstrate." — JRank, PSYCHOLOGY ENCYCLOPEDIA , http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/471/Parapsychology.html Note: This is taken from essentially the same text as the entry immediately above.
"After [a] promising beginning, Psychical Research languished for some twenty-four centuries ... [I]n the course of those twenty-four centuries there was a great deal of Occultist theorizing, and a good deal of Spiritualistic practice ... But neither Hagiography, nor Occult theory, nor Spiritualistic practice, nor witchcraft can be regarded as a form of scientific investigation." — H. H. Price, “Some Philosophical Questions About Telepathy and Clairvoyance”, PHILOSOPHY, Vol .15, No. 60, pp. 363-364.
"The present study, based on the 1984 General Social Survey, tests whether or not religious orientation, religious behavior, and structural strain predict the odds of reporting telepathic and clairvoyant experiences. The results indicate that more frequent prayer is associated with higher odds of reporting telepathy, and that great financial dissatisfaction is associated with higher odds of reporting clairvoyance ... [F]urther testing must be done in order to determine whether cultural source can be extended to explain demographic variation in the reporting of paranormal experiences." — William L. MacDonald, “The Effects of Religiosity and Structural Strain on Reported Paranormal Experiences”, JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION, Vol. 34, No. 3. p.. 366.
"Rhine presented neither a physical mechanism nor a psychodynamical model or anything else to make sense of telepathy and clairvoyance ... [I]t remains one of the frustrations of parapsychologists today, forty years later, that they can devise no satisfactory unifying theory for their data." — Michael McVaugh and Seymour H. Mauskopf, “J. B. Rhine’s Extra-Sensory Perception and Its Background in Psychical Research”, ISIS, Vol. 67, No. 2, p. 189.
"Before psychology became established in science, it was popularly associated with extrasensory perception (ESP) and other paranormal phenomena (phenomena beyond the laws of science). Today, these topics lie outside the traditional scope of scientific psychology and fall within the domain of parapsychology. Psychologists note that thousands of studies have failed to demonstrate the existence of paranormal phenomena." — ENCARTA http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761576533_8/Psychology.html#p105 9/3/09.
"We live in a world that is increasingly shaped by and bathed in science ... [But] modern societies are also characterized by high degree of belief in a variety of pseudoscientific claims that have been thoroughly debunked or otherwise discarded by scientists ... A partial explanation for this state of affairs may be that scientific factual knowledge has little bearing on people’s understanding of the evidence in favor or against pseudoscientific claims ... [S]cience education...focuses on the teaching of facts at the detriment of explicit treatment of methodological and conceptual issues surrounding the practice of science ... It is not at all clear why educators expect that massive factual knowledge of science should translate into conceptual understanding of the nature of science and improved critical thinking skills, allegedly the true targets of science education ... [Among students we polled] a low degree of skepticism was found for claims concerning the healing power of magnets, the presence of aliens in a government facility known as Area 51, and the existence of telepathy or clairvoyance.” — Matthew Johnson and Massimo Pigliucci, “Is Knowledge of Science Associated with Higher Skepticism of Pseudoscientific Claims?”, THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER, Vol. 66, No. 8, pp. 536 & 542.
In brief, many people believe pseudoscience because they haven’t been taught the real methods of science or the needed skills in critical thinking. This problem may be especially severe for Waldorf school graduates, since science instruction may be worse there than in many other schools.
"Society today seems to be pervaded by a deep, unconscious, anti-science bias. Scientists are represented in movies, television, and books as heartless, humorless nerds ... Perhaps even more important is the dismissive attitude toward science...and — the flip side of the coin — the welcoming of so-called 'mysteries' such as after-death experiences, alien abductions, crystal channeling, crop circles, telekinesis, clairvoyance, extrasensory perception (ESP), or remote viewing ... I have no quick fixes ... All I can do is look on in sadness and worry about the future of rational inquiry....” — Douglas R. Hofstadter, “Popular Culture and the Threat to Rational Inquiry”, SCIENCE, Vol. 281, No. 5376, p. 513.
Pseudoscientific “mysteries” may be especially celebrated in Waldorf schools. They were given prominence at the Waldorf school I attended. Our small library had multiple books about UFOs, abominable snowmen, and the like; and our headmaster complained, in print, about the “blight of critical thinking.”
"There are ways of examining the validity of experimental evidence offered to prove the existence of ESP ... [Here is a] list of symptoms of pathological science [i.e., pseudoscience] : ‘(1) The maximum effect that is observed in an experiment is produced by a [force] of barely detectable intensity ... (2) The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability... (3) Claims of great accuracy [are made]. (4) Fantastic theories contrary to experience [are advanced]. (5) Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses... (6) Ratio of supporters to critics rises up to somewhere near 50% and then gradually falls to oblivion ... Some believers in ESP when confronted with demands for verification of their claims by well-prove scientific methods...state that ESP is ‘beyond’ science. This is a sorry state of affairs ... [Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman said] ‘It is too bad that mathematics...is hard for some people ... If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language she speaks in.’" — Richard I. Land, “Comments on Hypothetical Extrasensory Perception (ESP)”, LEONARDO, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 306-307.
"Whether or not you believe in the paranormal may depend entirely on your brain chemistry.
"...Peter Brugger, a neurologist from the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, has suggested before that people who believe in the paranormal often seem to be more willing to see patterns or relationships between events where sceptics perceive nothing.
"To find out what could be triggering these thoughts, Brugger persuaded 20 self-confessed believers and 20 sceptics to take part in an experiment.
"Brugger and his colleagues asked the two groups to distinguish real faces from scrambled faces as the images were flashed up briefly on a screen. The volunteers then did a similar task, this time identifying real words from made-up ones.
"Believers were much more likely than sceptics to see a word or face when there was not one.
"...The researchers then gave the volunteers a drug called L-dopa ... Both groups made more mistakes under the influence of the drug, but the sceptics became more likely to interpret scrambled words or faces as the real thing.
"That suggests that paranormal thoughts are associated with high levels of dopamine in the brain." — Helen Philips, “Paranormal Beliefs Linked to Brain Chemistry,” NEW SCIENTIST, July 2002 http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2589.
"After the ESP experiment, one woman followed me out of the room and said, 'You're one of those skeptics, aren't you?'
"'I am indeed,' I responded.
"'Well, then,' she retorted, 'how do you explain coincidences like when I go to the phone to call my friend and she calls me? Isn't that an example of psychic communication?'
"'No, it is not,' I told her. 'It is an example of statistical coincidences. Let me ask you this: How many times did you go to the phone to call your friend and she did not call? Or how many times did your friend call you but you did not call her first?'
"She said she would have to think about it and get back to me. Later, she found me and said she had it figured out. 'I only remember the times that these events happen, and I forget all those others you suggested.'
"'Bingo!' I exclaimed, thinking I had a convert. 'You got it. It is just selective perception.'
"But I was too optimistic. 'No,' she concluded, 'this just proves that psychic power works sometimes but not others.'" — Michael Shermer, WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS (Henry Holt, 2002), pp. 71-72.
"Most telling of all was the failure of other experimenters to replicate Rhine's findings. The early trials were condemned by one critic for being 'largely free-wheeling and off the cuff'. Indeed, he added, 'A well designed, rigorously executed test was the exception'. Too often, the subjects had tested themselves without any witness present to verify their findings ... 'The Duke experimenters seem to have fallen into pitfalls that an intelligent schoolboy should have avoided,' sniffed on British critic, and his reaction was echoed by many others in the orthodox scientific community." — John Farley & Simon Welfare, ARTHUR C. CLARKE'S WORLD OF STRANGE POWERS (Collins, 1989), p. 76.
"[H]aving looked high and low for ESP, and having chased it around many corners, we are no closer to a genuine discovery than ever before. Psi remains a tantalizing dream, an artifact of subjective validation [i.e., self-deception], lacking real substance in nature. Believers in psi could be forgiven for abandoning their search, never more to chase the rainbow of psi. However, it can safely be predicted that they will never do so." — David Marks, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE PSYCHIC (Prometheus Books, 2000), p. 95.
"Sadly for those taken in by its claims and promises, the new religion of the paranormal is totally fake. It has untrustworthy prophets, phony miracles, and foundations of quicksand. Unproven claims cleverly mask the truth with false doctrines about nature's workings that distort unsuspecting perceptions of reality. New Age prophets exhort their sheeplike followers to carry out all sorts of home truths that beggar the imagination of any thinking person." — Ibid., pp. 205-206.
"Many people, having heard about ESP and related phenomena in the popular media, tend to think that there is a considerable body of scientific evidence for such phenomena. This is simply not so. The major problem in parapsychology is the lack of any repeatable paranormal phenomenon.” — Terenece Hines, PSEUDOSCIENCE AND THE PARANORMAL (Prometheus Books, 2003), p. 116.
"Everyone has had the experience of thinking about something, person or event, only to hear someone else mention it the very next instant. Or a tune may be going through one’s head, and suddenly someone starts to sing or whistle it.
“There is, of course, no need to postulate telepathy when this sort of thing occurs. There are several ways of explaining such coincidence. A remark, or casual incident, is quite likely to set off a similar train of association in two people’s minds ... [P]eople who are interested in the occult will always tend to read telepathy or clairvoyance into simple verbal coincidences.
“... People who are convinced of their psychic powers are often fond of telling others that they ‘knew’ of some future happening or distant event before they themselves were told about them. Such supernaturally acquired knowledge generally boils down to vague surmises, emotional intuitions, or mere guess-work; those which prove incorrect are naturally forgotten, and those which prove to be right are remembered and become invested with an aura of certainty which the original ‘hunch’ never possessed. Many a correct ‘hunch,’ of course, can be explained by subconscious inference, subconsciously perceived cues, or cryptomnesia [spontaneous, subconscious revival of a partial memory].” — D. H. Rawcliffe, OCCULT AND SUPERNATURAL PHENOMENA (Dover, 1988), pp. 367-368.
“When proponents of ESP accuse orthodox psychologists of having ignored psi phenomena, the answer is that it isn’t true. Many careful experiments have been made, and with negative results.” — Martin Gardner, FADS AND FALLACIES IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE (Dover, 1957), p. 308.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. it is simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” — Carl Sagan, THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD (Ballantine, 1996), p. 241.
"In Rosicrucianism [which Steiner claimed to have revived] there is an essential difference between the actual discovery of spiritual truths and the understanding of them. Only those who have developed spiritual faculties in a fairly high degree can themselves discover a spiritual truth in the higher worlds. Clairvoyance is the necessary pre-requisite for the discovery of a spiritual truth, but only for its discovery. For a long time to come, nothing will be taught exoterically by any genuine Rosicrucianism that cannot be grasped by the ordinary logical intellect. That is the essential point. The objection that clairvoyance is necessary for understanding the Rosicrucian form of Theosophy is not valid. Understanding does not depend upon the faculty of seership."
— Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 1, GA 99.
"[T]he gift of seership leads beyond the immediate Present. What is the way, the only way, of reaching out beyond the Present? It is to have ideals. Ideals, however, are usually abstract: man sets them before him and believes that they conform to the realities of the Present. But instead of setting up abstract ideals, a man who desires to work in line with the aims of the supersensible world tries to discover causes lying in the womb of the ages, asking himself: How do these causes express themselves in the flow of time? He approaches this problem not with his intellect but with his deeper faculty of seership. True knowledge of the Past — when this is acquired by the operations of deeper forces and not by way of the intellect — calls up before the soul pictures of the Future, which more or less conform to fact. And one who rightly exercises the gift of seership today, after having pondered the stream of evolution in olden times, will find a picture rising up before him as a concrete ideal."
— Rudolf Steiner, "Prophecy — Its Nature and Meaning" (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1950), a lecture, GA 61.
"It is the time when the Spirits of Personality, who reached their human level upon Saturn, rise to a higher stage of perfection, thus transcending the stage of humanity. They attain a consciousness which, in the regular course of evolution, present-day man does not yet possess. He will attain it when the Earth — the fourth of the planetary stages in evolution — has reached its goal and the next planetary period will have begun. At that time, man will no longer perceive around him merely what the present physical senses communicate to him; he will be able to observe in pictures the inner soul-condition of the beings that surround him. He will have picture-consciousness, still however retaining full self-consciousness. For in his picture-vision, there will be nothing dim or dreamlike. He will perceive things of the soul — in pictures it is true, yet so that the pictures will express realities just as physical colors and tones do today. In our time it is only by spiritual-scientific training that man can raise himself to this kind of seership."
— Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963), chapter 4, part 4, GA 13.
"Not every Waldorf teacher has the gift of clairvoyance, but every one of them has accepted wholeheartedly and with full understanding the results of spiritual-scientiﬁc investigation concerning the human being. And each Waldorf teacher applies this knowledge with heart and soul, because the child is the greatest teacher, and while one cares for the child, witnessing the wonderful development daily, weekly, and yearly, nothing can awaken the teacher more to the needs of education. In educating the child, in the daily lessons, and in the daily social life at school, the teachers find the confirmation for what spiritual science can tell them about practical teaching. Every day they grow into their tasks with increasing inner clarity. In this way, education and teaching in the Waldorf school are life itself. The school is an organism, and the teaching faculty is its soul, which, in the classrooms, in regular common study, and in the daily cooperative life within the school organism, radiates care for the individual lives of the students in all the classes.
— Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), Vol. 2, pp. 224-225.
Rudolf Steiner prescribed certain meditative exercises that he said will lead to the attainment of clairvoyance. See his book, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT [summarized in "Knowing the Worlds"]. He repeatedly stressed his claim that clairvoyance is attainable by anyone who follows his instructions. "Whoever wants to acquire imaginative clairvoyance develops this force through meditation and gradually attains it." — Rudolf Steiner, SLEEP AND DREAMS (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 124.]
And yet, people came back to him with complaints. They had followed his instructions, but nothing happened. Nada. Zip. Well, Steiner replied, it was their own fault. "Many people object they have tried to meditate in all kinds of ways but are still not becoming clairvoyant. This lack of clairvoyance simply shows they do not want the strength and activity I have just described." — Rudolf Steiner, THE PRESENCE OF THE DEAD ON THE SPIRITUAL PATH (SteinerBooks, 1990), p. 6.
Really, Dr. Steiner, this will not do. You must not blame the victims, your gullible disciples. They have not attained clairvoyance for a very simple reason: Your instructions on how to attain clairvoyance do not work. And why do they not work? For a very simple reason: They aim at an impossibility. Clairvoyance doesn't exist — as you may very well know. No one (including yourself) is clairvoyant. You are either a conscious fraud or a deluded fantasist. Either way, the blame for the failure of your system lies squarely with you, no one else.
Here are items from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
The following is from the "Waldorf Parent's Master Checklist"
The list is meant to help parents as they try to evaluate
the Waldorf schools to which they have sent their children.
Rudolf Steiner's Clairvoyance
1. Did Rudolf Steiner have any important or unique abilities?
2. Are there any teachers or parents in this school who believe Rudolf Steiner's claim to be clairvoyant? Do they believe his clairvoyant visions are true? Do you believe Steiner was clairvoyant?
3. Is the fact that Rudolf Steiner was clairvoyant an important thing about him?
4. Where is this discussed in the school literature? How is it introduced to parents? Where can I find out more about it?
5. How do Steiner's clairvoyant revelelations [sic] inform Waldorf education? Could Waldorf exist as it does today without Steiner's clairvoyant knowledge?
6. When do Steiner's clairvoyant visions contradict generally accepted knowledge? How is this resolved at Waldorf?
7. Does the philosophy of Waldorf accept all of Steiner's clairvoyant visions as true? Is there any of Steiner's clairvoyant knowledge that Waldorf disagrees with?
8. Is it OK if our family does not believe that Rudolf Steiner had clairvoyant powers?
Actually, of course, you should ask such question before you send a child to a Waldorf school.
Waldorf education depends absolutely on clairvoyance. Rudolf Steiner claimed to possess it,
and he said that Waldorf teachers should either have it or accept the guidance of their colleagues who have it.
[See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".] Essentially everything about Waldorf education
is the product of clairvoyant investigations of the invisible spirit realm.
The problem is that clairvoyance is a fantasy — it does not exist. [See "Clairvoyance".]
The sad corollary of this truth is that there is no basis for Waldorf education.
Waldorf education is built on a fantasy, an illusion, hot air.
It is divorced from reality.
“The plant realm is the soul world of the Earth made visible. The carnation is a flirt. The sunflower an old peasant. The sunflower’s shining face is like a jolly old country rustic. Plants with very big leaves would express, in terms of soul life, lack of success in a job, taking a long time with everything, clumsiness, and especially an inability to finish anything; we think that someone has finished, but the person is still at it. Look for the soul element in the plant forms!
“When summer approaches, or even earlier, sleep spreads over the Earth; this sleep becomes heavier and heavier, but it only spreads out spatially, and in autumn passes away again. The plants are no longer there, and sleep no longer spreads over the Earth. The feelings, passions, and emotions of people pass with them into sleep, but once they are there, those feelings have the appearance of plants. What we have invisible within the soul, our hidden qualities — flirtatiousness, for example — become visible in plants. We don’t see this in a person who is awake, but it can be observed clairvoyantly in people who are sleeping. Flirtation, for example, looks like a carnation. A flirt continually produces carnations from the nose! A tedious, boring person produces gigantic leaves from the whole body, if you could see them.” — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 128.
Note that Steiner made these remarks when addressing Waldorf teachers. Equally important, the remarks depend upon belief in clairvoyance. (Only belief in clairvoyance prevents these remarks from being utterly absurd; and even then...)
Steiner speaks as a clairvoyant, telling Waldorf teachers what his clairvoyance reveals, and the teachers evidently take him at his word. Waldorf education — like its underlying belief system, Anthroposophy — depends on belief in clairvoyance. If clairvoyance is a fantasy, if in fact it does not exist, then the rug is pulled out from under Waldorf education and Anthroposophy. And, as far as anyone reliably knows, clairvoyance is a fantasy, it does not exist. A "clairvoyant" is either deceiving him/herself, or attempting to deceive us, or both. [See "Clairvoyant Vision", “Clairvoyance”, “Exactly”, "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness", and “Fooling”.]
From a lecture Rudolf Steiner delivered on this date, March 18, in the year 1921:
"Frequently, what can quite correctly be designated as clairvoyance is confused with phenomena that can arise in the human constitution when conscious functions are suppressed so that they fall below the level of everyday consciousness — as in hypnosis, under the influence of suggestive mental images, and so forth. This suppression of consciousness, this entering into a subconscious realm, has absolutely nothing to do with what is meant here by the attainment of imagination. For in the case of imagination we have an enhancement of consciousness, we go in exactly the opposite direction from what is often called clairvoyance when the term is used in a trivial sense. As it is commonly used, the word is not given its correct meaning ('clear vision,' or 'seeing in the light'), but rather 'a reduced vision' or 'dim vision.' At the risk of being misunderstood, it would not be incorrect to describe the upward striving toward imaginative knowledge as a striving toward clairvoyance." — Rudolf Steiner, ANTHROPOSOPHY AND SCIENCE (Mercury Press, 1991), lecture 3, GA 324.
Waldorf schools are often praised for emphasizing imaginative thinking. This praise is largely misplaced. In the Waldorf/Steiner belief system, “imagination” — the forming of mental images — is a type of clairvoyance. Waldorf teachers often consider themselves to be clairvoyant, and they try to lead their students down a path leading toward clairvoyance. They disguise their intention by saying that they encourage imagination.*
Exaggerating only slightly, Rudolf Steiner said that all Waldorf teachers either are clairvoyant or they accept the guidance of their “clairvoyant” colleagues: “Not every Waldorf teacher has the gift of clairvoyance, but every one of them has accepted wholeheartedly and with full understanding the [clairvoyant] results of spiritual-scientiﬁc investigation concerning the human being.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), Vol. 2, p. 224.
Steiner taught that humanity once had natural clairvoyance, but in recent centuries we have it lost. Waldorf teachers, he said, need to reacquire the powers of clairvoyance. He called this the Waldorf teacher’s consciousness. ”[W]e must work to develop this consciousness, the Waldorf teacher’s consciousness, if I may so express it ... We must realize that we really need something quite specific, something that is hardly present anywhere else in the world, if we are to be capable of mastering the task of the Waldorf school ... [We need] what humanity has lost in this respect, has lost just in the last three or four centuries. It is this that we must find again.” — Rudolf Steiner, DEEPER INSIGHTS INTO EDUCATION (Anthroposophical Press, 1983), p. 21.
Advocates of Waldorf education today continue to affirm the need for teacherly clairvoyance: "Must teachers be clairvoyant in order to be certain that they are teaching in the proper way? Clairvoyance is needed...." — Waldorf educator Eugene Schwartz, THE MILLENNIAL CHILD (Anthroposophic Press, 1999), p. 157.
The fundamental error in all of this is that clairvoyance is a delusion. There is no evidence that clairvoyance or any other psychic phenomenon — telekinesis, telepathy, etc. — exists. "After thousands of experiments, a reproducible ESP phenomenon has never been discovered, nor has any individual convincingly demonstrated a psychic ability." — David G. Myers, PSYCHOLOGY (Worth Publishers, 2004), p. 260 — emphasis by Myers.
Waldorf education is built on a false vision of the world and a false vision of human capacities. It is built on delusion, in other words, and it seeks to lead children into this delusion. The resulting harm it can inflict on children is almost boundless.
* Not all Waldorf teachers are consciously aware of the deceptions they practice. Often, a significant degree of self-deception is involved. [See, e.g., "Secrets" and "The World of Waldorf".] Often, too, there is a degree of naivet.é among Waldorf faculties. Some Waldorf teachers are well-versed in Anthroposophical doctrines, but others — especially newcomers — may know little about Anthroposophy.
For information on the use of clairvoyance
in Waldorf schools, see "Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".
For Steiner's claims of "exact clairvoyance"
and some indications of the wonders it produces,
To examine some of Rudolf Steiner's statements
about ordinary forms of thought or intellect,
please use this link: "Thinking".
For a look at the psychological mechanisms
that may underlie claims of clairvoyance,
People's capacity to believe the unbelievable is itself almost unbelievable.
Of course, there are always skeptics.
In an effort to win over the skeptics, some "seers" have produced miraculous
"spirit photographs" that make clairvoyant visions visible to the ordinary eye.
Such photos had more persuasive power in bygone days
before we all learned about darkroom tricks, special effects, and Photoshop.
[Lewis Spence, AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OCCULTISM (Dover, 2003), facing p. 385.]
"[S]ome people can hallucinate so perfectly that even the electrical patterns in their brains agree with their visions." — Arthur C. Clarke, BY SPACE POSSESSED (Victor Gollancz, 1993), p. 54.
The research Clarke drew upon has become a bit dated, but his basic point holds true. Many people who sincerely think they have had visions have actually suffered from hallucinations. This certainly applies to people who think they are clairvoyant. They are deceiving themselves, sometimes down to the level of brain activity. Many Anthroposophists think they are clairvoyant, and more than a few teach in Waldorf schools. If you send a child to a Waldorf school, then, there is a good chance that s/he will have at least one teacher who is subject to hallucinations. This may not be in your child's best interests (to put the matter mildly).
Thomas Gilovich's book, HOW WE KNOW WHAT ISN'T SO (Free Press, 1993) rings true.
Consider the chapter "Belief in ESP".
Gilovich gives several examples of the typical pattern that develops in parapsychological "research": A researcher or team of researchers announces startling findings that seem to prove the existence of one or more psychic powers such as clairvoyance. There is substantial media coverage, many people eager to believe in psi embrace the new findings, while skeptics scratch their heads and begin poring over the trumpeted proof. And gradually, the skeptics begin to find significant flaws in the research. Sometimes outright fraud is detected (e.g., G. S. Soal was found faking test results). More often, honest but significant errors are discovered — errors in methodology. The experiments turn out to have been done poorly, without adequate controls; bias was built into the experiments; the researchers fooled themselves (e.g., Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ unintentionally included tiny but crucial pointers in their experiments). The experiments wind up being debunked, the claimed proof evaporates, and paranormal phenomena retreat again into the realm of pure speculation.
The very claim that parapsychology is a real discipline, a genuine science, is weak. "Ultimately, it is the inability to produce a replicable experimental demonstration of psi that is most damaging to the contention that it exists." [p. 168.] Parapsychology fails a fundamental scientific requirement, which is that results produced by one researcher must be confirmed by other researchers. This rarely happens in parapsychology. The results of psi experiments tend to be highly unreliable; often only the original researchers can produce them; and even those researchers may have great difficulty reproducing their own results. Parapsychologists often recognize the gravity of this problem for their "discipline": Adrian Parker, for instance, has said "The present crisis in parapsychology is that there appear to be few if any findings which are independent of the examiner [i.e., only that researcher can get the claimed results]." [p. 169.] And Irving Child has said "On the question of the reality of psi phenomena, no demonstration has been devised that is dependably repeatable." [p. 169.]
If psi phenomena are real, then experiments in them should be easy to confirm. But they aren't. Why? One defense offered by some self-described psychics is that the mere presence of a skeptic can cause psychic powers to shut down. If skeptical scientists try to confirm psi results, they inevitably fail, because their skepticism undermines their work. A skeptic produces bad vibes, s/he emits a negative spirit that destroys the ambiance needed for psychic phenomena. There is — just barely — a trace of plausibility in this defense, but it creates additional problems. Parapsychology cannot be a genuine science if it rules out skeptical inquiry. And the failure of a psi experiment when a skeptic is present does not prove that the experiment works when all skeptics are barred. Much more likely, such an experiment "works" only when a believer manipulates things just so, either consciously or unconsciously rigging the test. If psi researchers must have an uncritical attitude — perhaps even a reverent attitude, as Steiner prescribed — they may easily fail to exercise adequate intelligence and care, and they may fall victim to autosuggestion, believing what they want to believe, not seeing what actually occurs before their eyes.
Despite the virtually complete lack of reliable evidence supporting the existence of any form of psychic power, large segments of the general population believe in clairvoyance and other forms of psi. "Seers" such as Sylvia Brown sell millions of books and make a very nice living, essentially battening on people's credulity. Gilovich says one reason so many people accept claims of psi is that the news media give extensive coverage to startling claims but then turn their attention elsewhere when the claims are disproved. He tells the story of Lee Fried, who staged an amazing demonstration of precognition. Fried gave the president of Duke University a sealed envelope that he said contained a prediction of a major news event that would occur within one week. A few days later, two 747 airliners collided, killing 583 people — and when the envelope was opened, it was found to contain an accurate description of this calamity. There was widespread press coverage of the amazing prediction, but generally the news media omitted one important fact. "During interviews after his prediction was announced, Mr. Fried made it clear that he was a magician and that his apparent act of precognition was the result of a conjuring trick rather than psi." [p. 171.] Many newspapers that covered Fried's "prediction" omitted the detail that it was a trick, nothing more. "[O]f seventeen newspapers [magician James] Randi could find that covered this event [i.e., the "prediction"], only one bothered to mention Mr. Fried's disclaimer!" [p. 171.]
Gilovich suggests that the media are simply giving people what they want: tales of the strange and miraculous. The real question, he says, is why so many people have such a strong yearning for such things. He offers several reasons. "For many people, the existence of ESP implies several comforting corollaries. Most important, it suggests a greater reality which we have yet to fully understand. This can be an extremely seductive 'transcendental temptation' because it opens up several inviting possibilities, such as the potential for some part of us to survive death ... It is a rare person who does not want a ticket to immortality, or a piece of the transcendental." [pp. 172-173.]
Belief in psi offers the possibility of breaking out of the limitations of our lives. Most people have some sorts of superstitions they hope may ease their passage through the world. Maybe buying a lottery ticket with your lucky number on it will bring you wealth; maybe you can ward off evil by repeating some special words or making certain gestures; maybe you can assure your health and longevity by swallowing a certain herb... We know that none of these measures is likely to work, but Gilovich argues that simultaneously many of us "know" that they do work or quite possibly may work. Many of us actually "find" evidence in our lives or the lives of our friends that psi is real. We fool ourselves, satisfying our desire to break free.
"Strange" and "miraculous" things happen all the time. "A man dials a wrong number in a distant city, and the recipient turns out to be his college roommate. A woman is thinking about an event she has not thought about in years and intends to discuss with her spouse; miraculously, he brings it up first." [p. 175.] Such events can have great emotional power — we are powerfully inclined to think that more than simple chance is involved. And yet, Gilovich points out, coincidences are far more common than people normally expect, and the problem may lie mainly in a sort of mathematical innocence. "Many coincidences that seem extraordinary are really quite common." [p. 175.] We generally do not have a good, instinctive feel for statistics or calculating odds. Most people are amazed to learn, for instance, than in a group as small as 23 people, there is a 50% chance that at least two people in the group will have the same birthday; and if the group is expanded to 35 people, the odds rise to 85%. The "amazing" events in life are often quite ordinary occurrences that we haven't thought about enough. Strangers who discover they have the same birthday have learned nothing karmic; they share no mystic, supernatural bond; they have merely stumbled into a statistical commonplace.
Some events are truly surprising, of course — as when you dial a wrong number and discover that you have reached a long-lost childhood friend whose current phone number is unknown to you. The odds against doing this are astronomical — but the event is not impossible, and its occurrence is not necessarily anything other than a very, very unlikely coincidence. Gilovich extends his analysis to other "miraculous" events that people tend to consider proof of psi. You have a dream about a car crash, and the next day your best friend dies in a car crash. Most people would be strongly inclined to call this a case of precognition. But is it? It may be just another coincidence — dreadful, tragic, terrible, but perhaps not so very mysterious. How many times have you dreamed of a car crash, and then —nothing; no one you know has a subsequent crash? If you take the first dream and the terrible death of your friend as proof of psi, shouldn't you consider all your other dreams as tending to disprove psi? At a minimum, you may be applying very different standards of judgment, being readily persuaded in one case but quite dismissive in a great number of other cases. Gilovich points out, also, that some seemingly amazing events have simple explanations that people tend to overlook. If you and your husband both begin thinking about a past occurrence that you had both forgotten for many years, couldn't there be an easy reason — some reminder that popped up in a newspaper, or on TV, or in song heard over the radio? Both of you were reminded, perhaps without quite realizing it at the time, and later the memory of the distant, forgotten event surfaced for both of you. No miracle occurred; it was just the ordinary operation of memory, just normal cause and effect.
Gilovich argues that we are inclined to believe in the supernatural, the psychic, the amazing, but this inclination may often lead us badly astray. Not everything that happens in life is easy to explain, but the lack of a clear explanation does not necessarily mean that a supernatural power or being is at work. Our very inclination to believe in the supernatural probably should be a warning to us, a reminder to slow down and think. Many "amazing" events can be explained fairly readily; some cannot; some may be so unlikely that they truly stun us. But such events provide little if any real evidence for the existence of psi phenomena. The jury is still out, and it may always be. The existence of psi phenomena cannot be absolutely ruled out — all that would be needed to prove the existence of at least some psi phenomena would be a single, clear, demonstrably true psychic occurrence. But so far, no parapsychological experiment has produced evidence strong enough to stand up to careful, rational scrutiny.
We like for things to make sense. Our brains automatically try to sort out phenomena, discovering patterns in them — or imposing patterns. A world in which strange, random coincidences occur is distasteful to us. It is even frightening to us, violating our sense of what is proper. Large, strange coincidences do not make sense to us; but psi phenomena do not offer us a genuine solution — they, themselves, do not make real sense. Disliking a world of strange coincidences, we create for ourselves world of mystical wonders that, as far as anyone can honestly say, are figments of our imagination, constructs of our wishes. This is the antithesis of making clear-eyed, clear-minded sense.
— Roger Rawlings
The clairvoyant, who does not rely on the brain, sees the whole picture (left).
The rationalist, using the brain alone, sees only the skeleton of an idea (right).
So Steiner said, anyway.
[R.R., 2009, based on a sketch by Steiner.]
Acceptance of clairvoyance and other psi phenomena requires, in the end, faith.
We believe, we do not know.
Here is a message I posted at a discussion site
Steiner stressed the need for faith. "[T]he forces expressed in the word `faith' are necessary to the soul. For the soul incapable of faith become withered, dried-up as the desert ... If we do not possess forces such as are expressed in the word `faith', something in us goes to waste." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY AND THE MISSION OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 162.
Moreover, he stressed the need for gurus. A seeker "would find himself plunged into the stormy sea of astral [i.e., soul] experiences if he were left to fend for himself. For this reason he needs a guide who can tell him from the start how these things are related and how to find his bearings in the astral world. Hence the need to find a Guru on whom he can strictly rely." — Rudolf Steiner, AT THE GATES OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1986), XII, "Occult Development".
Here's how it works. You find a guru — oh, let's say, Rudolf Steiner. Strictly relying on him, you learn what you are supposed to believe. Then, using faith, you convince yourself to believe it. Then, using your "clairvoyance" (i.e., self-deception), you "perceive" the things that you believe in (thanks to your faith and your strict reliance on your guru).
The above is not precisely the scientific method. Anthroposophy is a religion (or, if you prefer, a faith). It is not a science.
Sketch of a window in the Goetheanum —
the worldwide headquarters of Anthroposophy.
The windows and other art there reflect Steiner's
The wonders of clairvoyant vision
Clairvoyance, according to Steiner, is connected to feeling, subjective experience, imagination... These are states that science views askance, but Steiner affirmed them. This led him to make some remarkable statements. E.g.:
“[W]e need to acquire an inner feeling, an inner response to the natural world ... [T]he earth is solid rock. Materialists believe in this solid rock ... But someone who is hoping to gain higher insight develops some degree of anxiety on coming face to face with this very rock. This anxiety does not appear at all when we are in heated air ... But one can also reach a point where the heated air makes one anxious ... The more you feel at ease in it, the more does the heated air make you anxious ... But if you put up with the heat, if you stay with it, and actually feel comfortable with it, the parts I have drawn rather schematically in the air here [yellow] oddly enough begin to fill up with all kinds of images [upper white blotches] and the world of the spirit literally begins to show itself, the world of the spirit that is always present in the air though people do not feel it because they do not want to put up with the heat ... Once one has got used to seeing all these spirits that are in the air...you will gradually also begin to perceive something where the solid rock is concerned ... [Y]ou yourself slip out of your body far enough so that you'll no longer feel the stones to be an obstacle but enter into the sold ground the way a swimmer does the water."
— Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000),
pp. 190-192. R.R. sketch, 2009, based on Steiner's on p. 191.
The white area near the bottom is "solid" rock that one begins to penetrate, as shown in red.
The red line crossing through the upper white areas is also penetration by human consciousness.
If Steiner was describing an actual experience — which is doubtful —
I would be tempted to peg it as heatstroke producing delusions.
Steiner had remarkable clairvoyant knowledge not just of the esoteric past but also of the occult future. Following the Earth phase of human evolution, we will proceed to the Jupiter phase.
“Just as wisdom shines towards us on the Earth, so on Jupiter there will come fragrantly towards the Jupiter beings that which is evolving here on Earth as love — from the purely sex-love to Spinoza's ‘Divine Love.’ It will send out perfume as plants send out their various aromas ... Future evolution will bring about the full community of the spirit, that is, on Jupiter the belief will begin to prevail that there is no health and happiness of the one without the health and happiness of all the rest, and indeed to an equal degree.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS UPON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), lecture 6, GA 102.
“A lily is the visible expression of a word that was once spoken by the creator. Much depends on which words and vowels one speaks, which thoughts and feelings one sends out, because they will become visible during the Jupiter, Venus, etc., earth conditions. The mineral, plant and animal kingdoms here on earth are likewise the expression of what Moon dwellers once said and thought. That's why mantras and the words of meditations have the letter sequence and the word sounds that they do, because they only have their effect in that particular sequence. What we do and create will be visible on Jupiter, for instance Koeln Cathedral will be visible as a larger formation, Raphael's paintings will surround Jupiter like clouds or a mirage. Our music will resound as music of the spheres over there on Jupiter.” — Rudolf Steiner, FROM THE LESSONS OF THE ESOTERIC CLASS (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), GA 266. [R.R. sketch, 2010. I can't swear that it is entirely accurate depiction of life on Jupiter, my own psychic powers being somewhat circumscribed.]
“Picture a man with the old clairvoyant vision. (I will take the eye as representing the clairvoyant gaze, although this is not exclusively a function of the eye.) He directed his gaze to the starry heavens and beheld the different spiritual impulses streaming from there.
“Then, in the course of the ages this clairvoyance faded away and man's gaze was restricted to the phenomena of earthly existence. Something else had to arise in place of the earlier clairvoyance, something that can be indicated by saying: What formerly came from without must now go out from within. Man had to learn to project outwards what the Heavens had implanted in him in order that he might again find his links with the phenomena of the Heavens.
“The direction that had now to be followed was exactly the opposite of that of the earlier path. It is an actual fact that human nature is at this present point of time involved in a process of re-organisation. It has passed through the point of deepest darkness — one expression of which was what I called the full flood of materialism in the middle of the nineteenth century. But humanity is emerging from this condition. Describing this in terms of occultism, we may say: In earlier times men did not perceive, did not think with the physical body only, but they perceived and thought with the etheric body. What was perceived with the etheric body was experienced consciously in the astral body as Astrology. But in modern Astronomy everything is a matter of calculation.”
— Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), pp. 107-109. R.R. sketch, 2010, based on the one on p. 108.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 10. CLAIRVOYANCE AND DELUSION ◊◊◊
A note on sources: I have accessed Anthroposophical texts in various ways. 1) Chiefly, I have acquired books in the old-fashioned way, as physical objects. When I refer to a book I possess, I give the title, publisher, date of publication, and page number for each reference. 2) I have dipped into some books through Google Books [http://books.google.com/advanced_book_search]. I provide the same information for these volumes. 3) I have read various texts at the Rudolf Steiner Archive [http://www.rsarchive.org/Search.php]. Because the Archive does not provide page numbers, for these references I provide titles, names of publishers, dates of publication, and (where applicable) GA numbers. Be advised that Google Books sometimes gives inaccurate page numbers, and the Steiner Archive is full of typos. I have corrected these problems as well as I could, but I may have missed some instances.
You may have difficulty finding a few of the sources I cite. Anthroposophists tend to conceal various sources, and sometimes — following criticism — they remove or alter sources that they had previously displayed online.
— R. R.