"[I]t is necessary that the [aspirant seer]
should control and dominate
everything that seeks to influence
him from outside."
— Rudolf Steiner,
KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS
AND ITS ATTAINMENT
(Anthroposophic Press, 1947),
chapter 6, GA 10.
What are we to make of the claims made by self-described clairvoyants? According to extensive scientific research, there is virtually no chance that anyone possesses clairvoyant powers. [See “Clairvoyance”.] Indeed, many professed clairvoyants, seers, psychics, etc., have been shown to be frauds. Yet belief in strange psychic powers is widespread. [See “Why? Oh Why?”] Dubious claimants such as Sylvia Browne continue to step forward, identify themselves as clairvoyants, and attract large followings.
When claims of clairvoyant ability are made sincerely — that is, when there is no intentional fraudulence — much of the explanation surely lies in the human mind’s capacity of deceive itself. Hallucinations of various sorts, major and minor, are fairly common, as is the human capacity for self-hypnosis or autosuggestion. Individuals who experience what might be called self-induced hallucinations may sincerely believe that they have received true clairvoyant visions. This is especially the case when the hallucinators accept the guidance of someone like Rudolf Steiner, who extolled clairvoyance and laid out in great detail what “true” or “exact” clairvoyance reveals. Followers of such gurus prime themselves to “perceive” what they have been told to perceive. They "see" what they were determined to see, and then they accept these preprogrammed fantasies as proof of their psychic capacities. [See “Guru”.]
Here are some illuminating statements on these matters. I have included many that are current now and a few that refer to texts that were current in Steiner’s day.
"Probably a dozen times since their deaths I've heard my mother or father, in a conversational tone of voice, call my name. Of course they called to me often during my life with them — to do a chore, to remind me of a responsibility, to come to dinner, to engage in conversation, to hear about an event of the day. I still miss them so much that it doesn't seem at all strange that my brain will occasionally retrieve a lucid recollection of their voices.
"Such hallucinations may occur to perfectly normal people under perfectly ordinary circumstances. Hallucinations can also be elicited: by a campfire at night, or under emotional stress, or during epileptic seizures or migraine headaches or high fever, or by prolonged fasting or sleeplessness or sensory deprivation (for example, in solitary confinement), or through hallucinogens such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, or hashish ... It is very likely that the normal human body generates substances — perhaps including the morphinelike small brain proteins called endorphins — that cause hallucinations, and others that suppress them. Such celebrated (and unhysterical) explorers as Admiral Richard Byrd, Captain Joshua Slocum, and Sir Ernest Shackleton all experienced vivid hallucinations when coping with unusual isolation and loneliness.
"Whatever their neurological and molecular antecedents, hallucinations feel real. They are sought out in many cultures, and considered a sign of spiritual enlightenment.
"...Hallucinations are common. If you have one, it doesn't mean you're crazy. The anthropological literature is replete with hallucination ethnopsychiatry, REM dreams, and possession trances, which have many common elements transculturally and across the ages. The hallucinations are routinely interpreted as possession by good or evil spirits." — Carl Sagan, THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD (Ballantine, 1996), pp. 104-105.
There is almost no chance that Steiner's "clairvoyant" visions are true. The faculty he relied on, clairvoyance, almost certainly does not exist, and his descriptions of the universe are broadly incompatible with modern scientific knowledge. He was either hallucinating or lying — but either way, we are justified in concluding that, almost certainly, he did not truly see what he claimed to see.
"hallucination: the experience of perceiving objects or events that do not have an external source, such as hearing one’s name called by a voice that no one else seems to hear. A hallucination is distinguished from an illusion, which is a misinterpretation of an actual stimulus.
"...The mystic achieves hallucinations by gaining control of his own dissociative mechanisms; perhaps this is a form of self-hypnosis. Such individuals can accomplish an astonishing withdrawal from the environment by prolonged intense concentration (e.g., by gazing at some object). The hallucinations may be of the type in which the person perceives his “inner self” to leave his body to view himself (autoscopic hallucination) or to be transported to new surroundings. Alternatively, the hallucinations may take the form of unique visual imagery; for example, the yantra is a visual hallucination of a coloured, geometrical image that appears at a level of trance of the sort experienced by practitioners of Yoga. The recurrence of certain designs and patterns in human hallucinatory experience is probably related to structural aspects of the visual system.
"Ordinary experimental hypnotic and posthypnotic suggestions of hallucinations are well known. The hypnotic subject (who can be described as a person in a controlled dissociative state) may on occasion also experience spontaneous hallucinations in the absence of specific suggestions." — "hallucination." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 19 Apr. 2010.
Anthroposophists and Waldorf teachers who believe they are clairvoyant are almost certainly mistaken. If they have visions like Steiner's, they are almost certainly hallucinating. This does not mean they are insane, but it indicates that they are unconsciously deceiving themselves.
"autohypnosis also called Self-hypnosis: hypnosis that is self-induced. Though feasible and possibly productive of useful results, it is often a sterile procedure because the autohypnotist usually tries too hard to direct consciously the activities that he wishes to take place at the hypnotic level of awareness, thus nullifying the effort. A form of self-hypnosis, or trancelike experience, is familiar to anyone who has been so absorbed in an activity that a moment or two is necessary in order to reorient to the existing environment. Studies that have been conducted with individuals who have reported having such intense, absorbing experiences have shown that these persons tend to be highly susceptible to a deeper form of hypnosis when induced by an experienced hypnotist." — "autohypnosis." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 20 Apr. 2010.
When we think of hypnosis, we usually imagine someone being put into a deep trance by a skilled mesmerizer. But there are many levels of hypnosis, from shallow to extremely deep, and the mesmerizer may be oneself. A "clairvoyant" can have "clairvoyant visions" only through a process of hallucination of autohypnosis. Significantly, Anthroposophists believe in clairvoyance, they think they should attain clairvoyance, and many think they have indeed attained it. But convincing yourself that you have nonexistent powers and can see nonexistent realities is putting yourself under a dangerous spell. This does not mean that you stagger around in a hypnotic fog — you may seem conscious and alert to yourself and to others — but you have willfully skewed your perceptions:
"Autosuggestion (or autogenous training) is a process by which an individual trains the subconscious mind to believe something, or systematically schematizes the person's own mental associations, usually for a given purpose. This is accomplished through self-hypnosis methods or repetitive, constant self-affirmations, and may be seen as a form of self-induced brainwashing. The acceptance of autosuggestion may be quickened through mental visualization of that which the individual would like to believe. Its success is typically correlated with the consistency of its use and the length of time over which it is used. Autosuggestion can be seen as an aspect of prayer, self-exhorting "pep talks", meditation, and other similar activities." — Global Oneness, Eckankar, http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Autosuggestion/id/419553.
Autosuggestion or self-hypnosis is sometimes offered as a useful therapy. In fact, it is just the opposite: It is a flight from reality. You see what you want to believe, not what is real. You brainwash yourself.
"[T]he human mind is capable of massive self-deception ... None of us are beyond deceiving ourselves. Such self-deception, which in its most extreme and pathological forms we deem delusional, is much more pervasive than most imagine. Consider the ordinary example of some heated conflict with a spouse, lover, relative or close friend. How is it that after the fact, each participant can have a completely contradictory version of what happened? Objectively speaking, first A happened, then B occurred, then C was said, D followed, etc. But what if the objective facts or our own behavior don't comport well with how we see ourselves? We distort the facts to support our particular point of view and to sustain our beliefs about the kind of person we are or want to be. When the objective facts threaten the ego and its integrity, we experience what social psychologists call "confirmation bias," a kind of cognitive dissonance known more recently as "Morton's Demon." We dismiss certain facts incompatible with our myth of ourselves in favor of other less threatening and more corroborative ones. We twist the truth. And we become convinced of the veracity of this twisted truth. And we do all this unconsciously. We don't even know we're doing it." — Dr. Stephen Diamond, “Truth, Lies, and Self-Deception” (PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, Nov. 30, 2008.) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/200811/truth-lies-and-self-deception.
We usually think of hallucination and hypnosis as rare events, but in fact they are common. The challenge for humanity is not to develop clairvoyance (a delusional goal) but to open our eyes, look at reality without quailing, and use our thinking brains to acquire truth. Truth is beautiful, even when it is distressing, precisely because it is the truth. It is the only basis on which to build meaningful, fulfilling lives. It is the key to human dignity and freedom.
"[S]elf-deception...is a strange human capability in a way that the ability to lie to another person is not. Deceiving someone else is clearly advantageous in certain circumstances, sometimes even essential, but self-deception does not seem so at all. On the contrary, we count the existence of reasonably trustworthy judgment and feelings about reality as indispensable to our survival. They are not infallible, of course, and we understand that our best guess is only a guess. But surely our best guess is to be preferred to anything less. Yet, here we are confronted with the fact that a person's best judgment or genuine feeling about something can be overruled by that person himself. And this is no rare or even unusual phenomenon on the contrary, it is apparently a universal susceptibility. In some individuals, in fact, there is reason to think that it is both regular and lasting. For it appears to be central to psychopathology.
"...The dynamics of self-awareness complicates our relationship with the external world. Anxiety, or rather the reflexive inhibitions that forestall anxiety, turn our interest in reality to self-centered and reassuring ends. It is true that there are limits to self-deception in the specific sense that it is never completely successful. It does not achieve complete conviction; genuine belief remains present, only for the time being out of reach. And, in fact, coerced self-deception evidently does dissipate when coercion ceases. But the case of self-deception driven by internal anxieties is different. It can be momentary or it can last a lifetime, and no one is qualified to recognize it in himself, much less correct it. No one is really abreast of himself. The one who is conscious of his humility cannot at that moment recognize his self-congratulations. For that sort of thing, we have to rely on some help from our friends, and they cannot even count on our gratitude." — David Shapiro, “On the Psychology of Self-Deception” (SOCIAL RESEARCH, Fall, 1996.) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2267/is_n3_v63/ai_18888992/.
Shapiro puts his finger on a crucial problem: If you have been hallucinating or brainwashing yourself, how can you break free? It can be terribly hard, but it is also terribly important. Having a small hallucination now and again isn't a sign of insanity, and deceiving yourself now and again need not be a disaster. But if you make habits of these activities, then losing contact with reality — perhaps so much as to merit a diagnosis of insanity — becomes a serious possibility.
"[T]he article 'The Psychology of Mysticism' by E. Boutroux: The author's address is perhaps the clearest brief statement of the points involved in the psychology of mysticism that has been made. Six phases of the mystic's procedure are distinguished. The mystic has put a special emphasis on introspection, through which he believes that he can penetrate beneath the ordinary facts of consciousness to the inmost depths of his own being, and on experiment, through which the mystic, given certain abstract ideas of love, beauty, goodness, God, makes them emotionally his own, and so nourishes the true life of the soul. Viewed from the standpoint of the objective psychologist, the phenomena of mysticism must be reduced to auto-suggestion and mono-ideism. But auto-suggestion and mono-ideism are not necessarily abnormal or pathological." — PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved.
To claim that all mystical experiences result from autosuggestion may be going too far. But clearly the statements we are examining point to grave potential harm we can inflict on ourselves. Seeking truth, meaning, divinity, God — these are high and noble aspirations. To pursue them, we should use our best capacities — clear minds and courageous hearts — and not sink into self-defeating delusions.
"suggestion: in psychology, process of leading a person to respond uncritically, as in belief or action. The mode of suggestion, while usually verbal, may be visual or may involve any other sense. The suggestion may be symbolic ... Suggestion, or suggestibility, plays a significant role in collective behaviour, especially in social unrest, and it constitutes the central phenomenon of hypnosis." — "suggestion." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 19 Apr. 2010.
We all hunger for "suggestions" — symbols, revelations, teachings — that show us truth. Yet our very hunger may lead us to accept offerings that cannot stand up to rational analysis. Unrest, both social and personal, almost inevitably results from swallowing lies and affirming them as glorious truths. Steiner taught that his followers needed to find a guru in whom they could put unquestioned faith. The guru Anthroposophists usually choose is Steiner himself. The autosuggestion practiced by Anthroposophical "clairvoyants" is conditioned by Steiner's doctrines — what they "see" is what he led them to "see."
"[S]uggestibility is a fundamental attribute of man's nature. We must therefore expect that man, in his social capacity, will display this general property; and so do we actually find the case to be. What is required is only the condition to bring about a disaggregation in the social consciousness. This disaggregation may either be fleeting, unstable — then the type of suggestibility is that of the normal one; or it may become stable — then the suggestibility is of the abnormal type. The one is the suggestibility of the crowd, the other that of the mob. In the mob direct suggestion is effective, in the crowd indirect suggestion. The clever stump orator, the politician, the preacher, fix the attention of their listeners on themselves, interesting them in the "subject." They as a rule distract the attention of the crowd by their stories, frequently giving the suggestion in some indirect and striking way, winding up the long yarn by a climax requiring the immediate execution of the suggested act." — PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved.
Belief is easy; suggestibility is in of our natures. Rational thought, on the other hand, is hard. But rationality is our only real hope. We have good brains — God, or the gods, or evolution saw to that. Our task is to use our brains, making the best possible use of our brains' great capacities, while guarding against the errors our brains are prone to. We should be smart enough to understand how our brains may misfire, and to make the needed adjustments.
"The four stages of mystical prayer may be described psychologically as four gradually deeper stages of trance, a psychic state in which thinking about something accomplishes what an effort of will is ordinarily necessary to effect. As trance deepens, the ordinary functions of consciousness are lost one by one, with gradually increasing intensity or extent. Because the functions of ordinary consciousness are inhibited, the contents of trance experiences are received without conflict, regardless of whether they would be disturbing during normal waking sobriety. Similarly, it is no more possible during trance than during the dreams of natural sleep to recognize fantasies as fantasies. Whatever their contents, mystical trances may be experienced as real and true. Ideas become delusions; daydreams become hallucinations. Trances consequently promote forms of religiosity that are at least partly inconsistent with a scientific understanding of the perceptible world."— "mysticism." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 19 Apr. 2010.
Of course, Anthroposophists do not lie to themselves constantly; they do not hallucinate (deeply or shallowly) around the clock; they are not in trances (deep or shallow) 24-7. Much of the time, they live more or less in the real world, functioning much as everyone else functions. But when they "do" Anthroposophy, seeking to develop and use clairvoyant powers — and particularly when they devote themselves to the mental exercises, meditations, and prayers provided to them by Steiner — they may indeed enter trance-like states. [See, e.g., "Serving the Gods".]
I hesitate to add another quotation about hypnosis; I am not arguing that Steiner hypnotized anyone. But Steiner's followers do, I submit, hypnotize or at least deceive themselves. Their behavior then hinges on credulity and/or suggestibility, which come with a high potential cost:
"The psychiatrist George Ganaway...once proposed to a highly suggestible patient under hypnosis that five hours were missing from her memory of a certain day. When he mentioned a bright light overhead, she promptly told him about UFOs and aliens. When he insisted she had been experimented on, a detailed abduction story emerged. But when she came out of the trance, and examined a video of the session, she recognized that something like a dream had been caught surfacing. Over the next year, though, she repeatedly flashed back to the dream material." — Carl Sagan, THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD (Ballantine, 1996), p. 110.
We have good brains — but we must guard against the errors our brains easily make. Here we are told of a woman fantasizing. When she watches a video of the event, she knows her tale of alien abduction was almost certainly nothing but a fantasy. Yet because she was so suggestible, her fantasy made a deep impression on her, and evidently the fantasy persisted as her knowledge of what really happened faded. Her weak grip on reality became even weaker — she failed to work hard to stand with open eyes in the real world.
Our fantasies can be extraordinarily powerful, overwhelming us. They are the enemy we must resist. Otherwise, we fall into a spiral of increasing self-deception.
"Where belief in miracles exists, evidence will always be forthcoming to confirm its existence. In the case of moving statues and paintings, the belief produces the hallucination and the hallucination confirms the belief." — D.H. Rawcliffe, quoted at http://www.skepdic.com/collective.html.
Statues that move, paintings that weep, clairvoyance that brings us truth — these are unreal, they are lies we tell ourselves. It is time to stop.
That's all pretty grim, and I've begun to preach. So I too will now stop. And to lighten the atmosphere a bit, I'll quote a very different kind of source.
"You don't mind living in a figment of another man's imagination?" — MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS, ALL THE WORDS Vol. 2 (Python Productions, 1989), p. 168.
It isn't precisely funny, but Anthroposophists may indeed spend considerable time living in another man's fantasy. The fantasy is Anthroposophy. The fantasist was Rudolf Steiner.
An Anthroposophical astrological emblem:
Sagittarius as designed by Rudolf Steiner
and drawn by Imma von Eckhardstein
[Rudolf Steiner, CALENDAR 1912-1913,
Facsimile Edition (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 83ff.
R. R. copy, 2010.]
Sagittarius is one of the constellations we tell ourselves we see in the sky. When we "see" such constellations, we are fooling ourselves. [See “Why? Oh Why?”] Our brains impose the patterns we think we see. The constellations do not really exist, any more than other optical illusions do. When we chart the astrological influences of the constellations, we compound delusion with delusion.
Steiner taught that the will is a separate human faculty, and he said that exercising great will power is needed if you are to "see" what he "saw" through his claimed clairvoyant powers. By exerting the will, you can see what you want to see.
Steiner here gives us the key to Anthroposophical belief. In order to believe Steiner's bizarre doctrines, his followers must see only what they want to see, while banishing everything else from existence. Steiner offers this as a method for attaining spiritual knowledge. A better description, however, is that it is a technique for self-deception, refusing to face reality squarely. If you will yourself to see gnomes, for instance, and work at this long enough while blocking out all real information about the world, sooner or later you will probably see gnomes. And your grasp of reality will weaken commensurately. [See "Will".]
We often "see" (visualize, fantasize, fabricate) falsehoods.
We create, in our minds, worlds that do not and cannot exist.
[M. C. Escher.]
We do far better when we climb to the real heights
of the real universe.
We have an amazing capacity to trick ourselves
into believing the impossible.
This can be drawn, but it can't be built.
It is here: You can see it.
But it is impossible.
[M. C. Escher.]
When we see miraculous, mind-bending sights, we are not necessarily breaking through to another, higher realm. We may be simply fooling ourselves. Every optical illusion — like every magic trick — can be understood and proved false by careful observation and thought. (Which, by the way, is a good thumbnail description of science: careful observation and thought. Science, which may seem cold and even harsh to some ways of thinking, is really nothing but a method of acquiring information. Real information. Facts. Truth.)
Nothing we think we see in images such as those above actually exists or could possibly exist. And our senses and brains, which can indeed fool us, are the very tools we must use to see through the foolery. The lesson of illusions is not that we cannot know the truth, the lesson is that we have to work hard (logically, scientifically) to find the truth. And when we do this, we find (perhaps to our surprise) that we can find it, and thus the pursuit has been worthwhile.
Here are items from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
“Steiner presents us with a paradox. His belief system is so eccentric, so unsupported by evidence, so manifestly bizarre, that rational skeptics are bound to consider it delusional.” — Anthony Storr, FEET OF CLAY: A Study of Gurus (Free Press Paperbacks, 1996), p. 68.
• ◊ •
There’s really no paradox. At most, there’s a minor mystery: How can anyone take Steiner seriously, given that his teachings are “so eccentric, so unsupported by evidence, so manifestly bizarre”?
Unfortunately, human beings have an enormous appetite for the bizarre. [See “Why? Oh Why?” and “Inside Scoop”]. Many people want to believe in the strange and the marvelous. And Steiner fed this appetite. He perfected a persona that conferred spurious plausibility to his remarks — smart, poised, charismatic, he wowed his audiences with polysyllabic fantasies masquerading as facts. His sophistry was and remains, for many, impenetrable. (Steiner can be understood. The question is whether you see any point in expending the needed effort.) Intentionally or not, Steiner was a flimflam man par excellence.
Here’s Steiner in full rhetorical flight; he soars very nearly into the realm of laughable double-talk:
We can’t know whether, when he spoke this way, Steiner thought he was speaking truthfully. What we can know is that his faithful followers have accepted his lectures as marvelous vessels of well-nigh incomprehensible wisdom. And think about this: The statement I have quoted comes from a lecture that Waldorf teachers consider foundational.
Finally, think about this: Some of the people who accept Steiner’s lectures as truth hold key positions on Waldorf faculties. They do not understand that Steiner’s system is bizarre, eccentric, and unsupported. They embrace Steiner’s system as Truth. And they are eager take extend that system's bogus benefits to you and your children.
A posting at the Waldorf Critics list outlines an approach often used by Waldorf apologists to lure outsiders into the Anthroposophical fold.
The gist of the technique is to raise so many doubts about the reliability of ordinary knowledge that you begin to doubt everything you know. This may lead you to imagine that bizarre teachings such as those of Rudolf Steiner are as plausible as anything else. (The logical flaw in this, of course, is that if you begin to doubt X, all that you really should conclude is that you now have doubts about X, and thus you should look into the matter more deeply. You obviously should not leap to the opposite extreme and unreflectingly embrace an alternative viewpoint, Y, which may be even less true than X. You need to study both X and Y carefully, and reach sensible conclusions about each.) To believe in Anthroposophy, you need to cut your ties to reality; you need to surrender your sense of truth and falsehood, so that the false starts to look true to you.*
“[Y]ou'll run into a lot of loosely defined words when you encounter Anthroposophists. They'll start by getting you to question how you know something is true... What do we mean when we say 'facts'...stuff like that. They'll tell you that what constitutes 'knowledge' is something you have to decide for yourself.
“They basically empower you to fool yourself into thinking there's something relevant to Steiner's work. There isn't, of course, but if you can abandon critical thinking long enough to let your imagination run wild, they may have you. If you don't buy into the nonsense, they'll claim it was your own shortcomings (too 'materialistic' or some such nonsense).
“Don't get me wrong, Steiner is absolutely fascinating reading...but not a word of his work is supported by reality.”
• ◊ •
Questioning everything can lead to wisdom. Reconsidering everything can be wise. Certainly there can be benefits in asking yourself "how you know something is true." But in the process, you need to remain rational; you need to think clearly. Forms of mysticism, such as Anthroposophy, require you to move in the opposite direction. They ask you to embrace fantastical beliefs for which there is no rational or empirical basis. They lead to confusion and self-deception, not clarity or truth.
For more on the techniques Waldorf schools use to win converts to Anthroposophy, see Grégoire Perra’s “The Anthroposophical Indoctrination of Students in Steiner-Waldorf Schools” [https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/he-went-to-waldorf], including the section “The Indoctrination of Parents.” Perra knows whereof he speaks — he is a former Waldorf student who went on to become an Anthroposophist and a Waldorf teacher.
* If you doubt that mainstream science has the last word about absolutely everything, you are correct. Science is a evolving process; we know more today than we knew yesterday, and we will know more tomorrow than we know today. But the gaps in our current scientific knowledge should not cause you to repudiate science altogether and leap to an alternative approach. Put it this way: If you have doubts about mainstream science, you should have many more doubts about mystical systems such as Anthroposophy. Mainstream science is based on fact and reason — in other word, it is based on reality. Mysticism is based on fantasy and dream, not reality.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
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◊◊◊ 10. CLAIRVOYANCE AND DELUSION ◊◊◊