It is quite possible that belief in the supernatural results from chemical imbalances in the brain or other physiological malfunctions. Of course, some supernatural beliefs may be true. But our disposition to harbor such beliefs apparently has a physiological basis, and this may cause us to develop beliefs that are quite mistaken. People who see ghosts or angels, to cite two common instances, may be accurately perceiving reality — or they may be suffering from various forms of misapprehension.
A particular chemical seems to play a special role in our tendency to believe in the supernatural. If you are plentifully supplied with this chemical, you are likely to be a believer as a result. If your system provides less of the chemical, your inclination to believe drops proportionately:
"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 skeptics perceive nothing.
"To find out what could be triggering these thoughts, Brugger persuaded 20 self-confessed believers and 20 skeptics 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 skeptics 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 skeptics 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.
All forms of belief may be tied to dopamine. Our beliefs trigger warm flows of dopamine, while challenges to our beliefs shut off the flow. When we consider ideas that we embrace, we receive the reinforcement of a feel-good chemical and we see little or no reason to question either these pleasant ideas or the pleasant sensations they produce. But when we are confronted by ideas that we dislike, we may feel compelled to think hard — we go through the difficult process of reasoning and analyzing, looking for weaknesses in the challenge to our beliefs. We hardly ever look for similar weaknesses in our own cherished views.
An article in the NEW YORK TIMES explores the ways we typically operate when espousing and defending our beliefs, even those that are wholly mundane:
"In September 1909, Dr. Frederick A. Cook and Robert E. Peary each returned from the Arctic with a tale of having reached the North Pole. Neither provided any solid proof or corroborating testimony; both told vague stories with large gaps ... Yet each explorer’s claim immediately attracted its supporters, and no amount of contradictory evidence in the ensuing years would be enough to dissuade the faithful.
"The believers who have kept writing books and mounting expeditions to vindicate Cook or Peary resemble the political partisans recently studied by psychologists and sociologists. When the facts get in the way of our beliefs, our brains are marvelously adept at dispensing with the facts.
"...[According] to researchers who have studied both Democrat and Republican partisans using brain scans and other techniques[:]
"When we contemplate contradictions in the rhetoric of the opposition party’s candidate, the rational centers of our brains are active, but contradictions from our own party’s candidate set off a different reaction: the emotional centers light up and levels of feel-good dopamine surge.
"With our rational faculties muted, sometimes the unwelcome evidence doesn’t even register, and sometimes we use marvelous logic to get around the facts.
"In one study, Republicans who blamed Saddam Hussein for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were presented with strong counter evidence, including a statement from President George W. Bush absolving Hussein. But most of the people in the study went on blaming Hussein anyway, as the researchers report in the current issue of Sociological Inquiry.
"Some of the people ignored or rejected the counter evidence; some 'counterargued' that Hussein was evil enough to do it; some flatly said they were entitled to counterfactual opinions. And some came up with an especially creative form of motivated reasoning that the psychologists labeled 'inferred justification': because the United States went to war against Hussein, the reasoning went, it must therefore have been provoked by his attack on Sept. 11." — John Tierney, "A Clash of Polar Frauds and Those Who Believe", NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 8, 2009.
The TIMES article did not extend its argument to supernatural beliefs, but we can do so easily. Anthroposophists, I would suggest, often behave like true-believing advocates of political opinions. They do not reason so much as rationalize; they stick with what feels good to them, regardless of evidence or logic to the contrary.
I've pointed out, elsewhere, the logical contradiction in a basic Anthroposophical position: In order to know spiritual truths, you have to start from an attitude of veneration. This is a tautology: To learn to believe, you have to start by believing.
The role played by dopamine adds a second layer to this. Steiner's position is not only illogical, it is irrational — that is, it is rooted in emotion. Essentially, he and his followers say: Your mood is what counts. Don't think, feel. This is what they mean by having heartfelt thoughts, experienced thoughts, living thoughts. But the problem is that such “thoughts” are not really thoughts at all. They are emotionally charged affirmations of attitudes and beliefs that produce a flood of good feeling — that is, the flow of dopamine.
The "thinking" advocated in Anthroposophy is not the active, difficult use of the brain. Steiner denied that the brain has anything to do with the acquisition of truth. “[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing to do with actual cognition.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.
Anthroposophical "thinking" is the unresisting reception of beliefs brought to us from out of the great beyond. “The cosmic ether, which is common to all, carries within it...those living thoughts of which I have repeatedly spoken in our anthroposophical lectures, telling you how the human being participates in them in pre-earthly life before he comes down to Earth. There, in the cosmic ether, are contained all the living thoughts there are; and never are they received from the cosmic ether during the life between birth and death. No; the whole store of living thought that man holds within him, he receives at the moment when he comes down from the spiritual world — when, that is, he leaves his own living element, his own element of living thought, and descends and forms his ether body. Within this ether body, within that which is the building and organising force in man, are the living thoughts; there they are, there they still are.” — Rudolf Steiner, CURATIVE EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 2, June 26, 1924. GA 317.
Note that these "thoughts" do not come out of your own brain; they are not ideas that you think of yourself; they are prepackaged ideas that are planted in you before birth. You find and accept them through clairvoyance or intuition, using second sight to gaze within. This is meditation, or feeling deeply; it is not rational thought, which is so damaging, according to Steiner. “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophical Press, 1995), p. 233. But the alternatives offered by Steiner — clairvoyance, living thoughts, the cosmic ether — are delusions. Anthroposophical "thinking" is the happy affirmation of the views that make Anthroposophists feel good; it is not the perception and analysis of reality.
We all want happiness, we all want to feel warm and certain. But the only real certainty comes from truth, which we must find with our minds. Fantasies — ideas or beliefs that we cannot justify on the basis of real knowledge and reasoning — provide only the illusion of certainty: They provide a chemical bath that sure feels good but that has no real ideational content.
— Roger Rawlings
[R. R., 2010.]
The following is from the Waldorf Watch Annex
Efforts at communication between Anthroposophists and their critics are difficult. Often people on opposite sides of the divide use language in different ways and admire different forms of thought. Still, the efforts are probably worthwhile, even if they rarely lead to true mutual understanding.
One venue for an ongoing conversation is the Waldorf Critics website [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/messages/]. This is not a neutral forum — Anthroposophists who visit there are entering a more or less hostile environment. Still, some do visit, and sometimes interesting messages are passed back and forth.
Today one Anthroposophist decided to quit the discussion there. Here is a portion of her departing message, followed by a message I posted in response:
[message from departing Anthroposophist]:
"--- In email@example.com, "carynlouise24" <carynlouise24@...> wrote:
">Alas though I can't hang around your fun anymore personally I find it rather dull and stupid.
[message from Roger Rawlings]:
"Anyone who wants to get a handle on Anthroposophy would do well simply to come to this site and read the messages posted here by Anthroposophists. They speak for themselves.
"Like many — perhaps all — forms of faith, Anthroposophy appeals to souls in pain. The mean-spiritedness found in so many Anthroposophical messages often has its roots in suffering.
"One quick example: Anthroposophist Robert Sardello — who explicitly identifies himself as a soul in pain — offers a catalog of the things he finds distressing:
“'Medicine, education, money, food, energy, media, technology, religion, buildings, economics — all of these organizing forms that together ought to make culture no longer do so but instead are making a pathological civilization. The new symptoms are fragmentation, specialization, expertise, depression, inflation, cruelty, hardness, violence and absence of beauty. Our buildings are anorectic, our business paranoid, detached, and abstract, our technology manic.' — Robert Sardello, FACING THE WORLD WITH SOUL (SteinerBooks, 2004), pp. 15-16.
"This is a virtually all-encompassing catalogue of complaints about life in the modern world. And it is the view of life typically promoted at Waldorf schools: Everything in the modern world is horrid. Humankind has gone wholly off track — except us, here, in our lovely, superior, little cultic community.
"Steiner said that Anthroposophy is meant to be a balm for tortured souls. He spoke of '[T]he longing human soul in its yearning, tormented emptiness' [THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD: Reality and Illusion, p. 224] and he offered his system as an antidote to suffering: '[W]e may point to spiritual science as a bearer of the redemption of human longing ... [S]piritual science now provides what tempestuous but also woeful human beings have sought for a long time.' [Ibid., p. 231].
"The mean-spiritedness that we so often find in Anthroposophists’ messages derives, at least in part, from pain. We should be sympathetic — although this can be hard when the nastiness is directed at us individually. I myself have (gasp!) not always been utterly Christlike in my responses to attacks directed at my sweet self. But I do try to remind myself sometimes that every Anthroposophist I have ever known has been a good person, or has aspired to be a good person, and the suffering these good persons have inflicted can often be attributed to the suffering they either feel or desperately try to deny.
"- Roger" [1-5-2011 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/22228]
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here,
you might begin by consulting the following resources:
THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY
THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA
WALDORF WATCH INDEX
WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS
[R. R., 2013.]