Thinking Without Our Brains





◊ "Within the brain nothing at all exists of the nature of thought."

◊ “Let now these intimations come... Supplanting thinking’s power....”

— Rudolf Steiner


According to Rudolf Steiner, life in the ordinary world is, in many ways, a hollow sham. The physical universe is harsh and cold. The daily grind is oppressive. Descent to earthly incarnation weakens our ties to the spirit realm. Steiner cited with approval a line from Goethe: 

“[Y]ou are only a dreary guest on the dark earth.” [1] 

Humanity is in pain, Steiner said. He described “the longing human soul in its yearning, tormented emptiness” [2] and he offered his own teachings as the antidote: 

“[W]e may point to spiritual science [i.e., his teachings: Anthroposophy] 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.” [3]

Things are worse than ever in the modern age, Steiner suggested, and he knew the reason: Our thinking is badly fouled up. Our values are wrong. And much of this is the result of modern science. Steiner called his own doctrines "spiritual science," claiming that he used clairvoyance to objectively study the spirit realm. Consequently, he sometimes affirmed science and scientific thinking. More often, however, he denounced all sciences except his own. 

Fundamentally, Anthroposophy is antiscientific. Consider how crazy the modern, scientific point of view really is, according to Steiner:

“The physicist imagines that each body consists of an infinite number of immeasurable small parts, like atoms. They are not in contact with each other, but they are separated by small interstices. They, in the turn, unite to larger forms, the molecules, which still cannot be discerned by the eye. Only when an infinite number of molecules unite, we get what our senses perceive as bodies... 

“Therefore, the modern physicist says: in reality, nothing exists except swinging, moving atoms; everything else is merely a creation of my brain, formed by it when it is touched by the movement in the outer world.

“I do not have to paint how dismal such a view of the world is.” [4]

In offering us a cure for our spiritual sufferings — a cure that would offset the dismal scientific view — Steiner was by no means alone. Many other clerics, theologians, mystics, and gurus have had the same aim, and many of them have attracted far larger followings than Steiner has. But for anyone interested in Waldorf schools, examining Steiner’s teachings is essential, and those teachings must be recognized as a proposed, mystical antidote to the ills of the modern, scientific age. 

We all would like to live in a world where we feel comfortably secure, warmly loved, and purposeful. Science describes a rather different reality: We live on a small planet orbiting a nondescript little star, far from the center of our galaxy; and our galaxy is but one of innumerable galaxies; as intelligent beings, we may be alone in a vast, dark universe; and nature is indifferent to us, even at times hostile; and we descended from apes; and our bodies are really just biological machines, made up of molecules behaving more or less randomly; and these molecules, in turn, are made up of atoms behaving more or less randomly; and at the subatomic level, there is chaos and indeterminacy; and, and, and... 

Most people find these scientific propositions disagreeable. Many are horrified, appalled, aghast. (There is another side to science, of course. Some scientific work is distinctly inspiring. Think of  the splendors captured in photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, for instance.) It is undeniable that as science progresses, humanity's claim that it occupies a central place in the cosmos becomes less and less plausible. [5] In this sense, the need many people feel for a more spiritual vision grows ever greater. Steiner’s solution was to serve up a dizzyingly intricate description of a universe teeming with spiritual powers and beings, a universe profoundly attentive to humanity, a universe in which dull, daily reality fades away. Our real lives, he taught, occur in the transcendent realms of the spirit, and he offered to acquaint us with those realms.

Steiner said we have been led astray both by modern science and, more generally, by materialism. In using the latter term, he did not mean lust for material possessions or wealth. He meant the belief that the material or physical universe is all that exists — the belief, in other words, that the laws science has discovered for physical reality extend everywhere, throughout the universe, and offer a complete description of the universe. Steiner argued that science does a reasonably good job of describing superficial conditions in the immediate here-and-now, but he denied that the same conditions exist elsewhere. He said the findings of physical science do not apply to the distant past, or to the distant future, or to the many levels of nonphysical reality. The material realm, he argued, is a temporary, unusual condition, something that evolved out of spiritual reality and that will soon be replaced by a new, higher spiritual reality. Moreover, Steiner taught, we are unable to correctly perceive the underlying truths of the physical here-and-now if we rely on our senses and brains — physical science is, in this sense, useless.

Our life on Earth is generally ruled by illusion, Steiner said. Our brains and senses cannot penetrate the veil of illusion. Steiner borrowed the Oriental term “maya” for the darkness in which he said most people are caught, [6] and he attributed this darkness to Ahriman, who is one of the two chief demons in Steiner's theology:

“Ahriman infused into human observation something like a dark smoke cloud that prevents penetration to the spiritual. Through Ahriman's agency man is enmeshed in lies, in maya, in illusion.“ [7]

Steiner differentiated between the Eastern and Western understanding of maya:

“Buddhism emphasizes again and again that the outer world is Maya, illusion. Christianity, on the contrary, says: Man may indeed believe that what he sees of the outer world is an illusion, but that is because his organs are so constituted that he cannot see through the external veil to the spiritual world. The outer world is not an illusion; the illusion has its source in the limitations of human seeing ... [H]uman development through a series of incarnations must be seen as a means whereby man can regain, in a Christian sense, his spirit-eyes and spirit-ears [i.e., clairvoyance and clairaudience] in order to see the external world as it really is. Repeated earth-lives are therefore not meaningless: they are the path which will enable man to look at the outer world — from which Buddhism wishes to liberate him — and to see it irradiated by the spirit. To overcome the physical appearance of the world by acquiring the spiritual vision that man does not yet possess [i.e., "exact" clairvoyance], and to dispel the human error whereby the outer world can seem to be only Maya — that is the innermost impulse of Christianity.” [8] 

In this statement, as in many others, what Steiner means by “Christianity” is actually his own body of doctrines, Anthroposophy — which most Christians would find quite alien to their faith. [9] But the main point is that Steiner professed to offer a system of perception and cognition that transcends the limitations of our senses and brains. Through Anthroposophy, we can dispel the falsehoods of Ahriman.

Steiner claimed to perceive the outlines of human evolution. He said that we have progressed from primitive forms of consciousness to ever higher and more accurate forms, culminating for now in Anthroposophy. He argued that physical science, too, has evolved. By the 19th century, it had reached a high plateau, and it produced results of real value to mankind during that period. But its time is now past. In the modern world, Steiner said, spiritual truth is flowing once again and physical science must be overcome to enable us to apprehend spiritual truth. Science and the material world are slated for retirement.

“[T]he task of the previous epoch was to find natural science. At that time the laws of nature were good if they were rightly used by man to build up external world conceptions. But there is nothing absolutely good or bad in this external world of Maya. In our time the laws of Nature would be bad and evil, were they still to be used to build up a world conception at a time when spiritual life is flowing into the sense world. These words are not to be taken as directed against what past ages have done; they are directed against what wants to remain as it was in earlier ages and will not put itself at the service of the new revelation.” [10] 

The “new revelation” can be found in Anthroposophy, which Steiner called “spiritual science.” But Anthroposophy actually is — as his words suggest — a mystical religion that devalues real science. [11]


Steiner taught that the corrupting influence of scientific, materialistic thinking spreads outward into all spheres of human life, including philosophy:

“Nietzsche was impelled to bring up in purely spiritual fashion everything which he thought or experienced in the depth of his soul. To create a world-concept from the spiritual events in which the soul itself participates – this was the tendency of his thought. But the positivistic world conception of his age, the age of natural science, swept in upon him. In this conception there was nothing but the purely materialistic world, void of spirit.” [12]

The blight of scientific, materialistic thinking extends even further, all the way into mainstream religion, Steiner said. (In the following quotation, the term “Christian” clearly does not refer to Anthroposophy but to orthodox Christian denominations.)

“The brain is an instrument for purely intellectual apprehension. Intellectualism and materialistic thinking are one and the same, for all the thinking that goes on in science, in theology, in the sphere of modern Christian consciousness — all of it is the product of the human brain alone, is materialistic. This manifests itself, on the one hand, in the empty formalism of belief; on the other, in Bolshevism [sic: emphasis by Steiner] ... [T]he materialistic brain represents a process of decay: materialistic thinking unfolds only through processes of destruction, death-processes, which are taking place in the brain.” [13]

According to Steiner, materialistic thinking — that is, thinking that relies on the material organ called the brain — will doom humanity, creating wholly materialistic human beings, unless we find a spiritualistic remedy. Lacking spiritual truth — that is, lacking Anthroposophy — humanity may cut itself off completely from the spirit. This would be lead to our utter destruction.

“The materialists of to-day would surely protest, if they were to be looked upon as prophets. Nevertheless they are prophets ... If no preventive measures are taken, then the conditions which the materialists describe will really arise; these will then be reality ... [I]f their materialistic world-conception were to triumph, the conditions which I have described to you would have to arise. The materialistic world-conception MUST NOT [sic] triumph! “ [14]

Steiner considered this issue so important that, in discussing it, he employed a term he usually avoided: "sin." Materialistic thinking — which as we have seen is associated with maya caused by Ahriman — is sinful. 

“The essential point is to change our ways of thinking and of feeling — otherwise we cannot reach a really spiritual way of looking at things. This gives us an outlook, a perspective, that will help us to achieve the rise from sin as opposed to the fall into sin.” [15] 

Materialistic thinking, science, is thus evil. It is sinful. And it will lead to our ruination.

The essence of the sin Steiner described is reliance on the brain. Steiner taught that the brain, being a merely physical organ, is incapable for real cognition. It can learn nothing of ultimate importance. The nerves and brain are merely a physical expression of real cognition, which occurs elsewhere. In this sense, “materialistic thinking” is not so much the content of sinful thoughts as the use of the wrong organ in our efforts to think. The use of the mere, material brain leads us into error.

“The beautiful structure of the outer cortex is, in a sense, a degeneration. It represents more of a digestive system in the outer portions of the brain. People need not be particularly proud of the mantle of the brain; it is more like a degeneration ... [T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition; they are only the expression of cognition in the physical system.” [16]

Actual cognition, according to Steiner, is clairvoyance, and it does not occur in the brain. Here is Steiner discussing the preparation for occult initiation:

“Preparation consists in a strict and definite cultivation of the life of thought and feeling, through which the psycho-spiritual body becomes equipped with higher senses and organs of activity in the same way that natural forces have fitted the physical body with organs built out of indeterminate living matter ... Thoughts and feelings of a new kind and unknown before will be noticed uprising in the soul ... And just as the eyes and ears of the physical body are built by natural forces out of living matter, so will the organs of clairvoyance build themselves out of the feelings and thoughts thus evoked.” [17] 

Real cognition, Steiner said, comes to us from the spirit realm. Living here in the physical universe, incarnated within physical bodies, we do not produce real thoughts, thoughts that reveal spiritual truth. Rather, the gods produce real thoughts, and our brains are receptacles  — imperfect receptacles — for the gods' thoughts. To truly apprehend the gods' thoughts, to attain real cognition, we must develop better, finer organs than our physical brains: We must develop incorporeal organs of clairvoyance.


Steiner pinned his teachings on the rejection of science, the brain, and intellect — that is, real knowledge of the real world. Instead, he advocated clairvoyance (which does not exist [18]), which he said operates through ethereal organs. This is moonshine, yet it is the essence of Steiner’s teachings.

Any worldview that warns us away from the reasoning powers of our brains must be suspect. It deserves our deepest skepticism or, indeed, it deserves utter rejection. Anthroposophy encourages us to turn our backs on truth and the hard-won fruits of human scholarly, scientific, philosophical, and, yes, theological progress. It encourages us to reject real knowledge and replace it with fantasy, delusion, and ignorance. The only sane response to this advice is a firm No Thanks.

Science is mankind’s highest attainment. Raising ourselves laboriously from millennia of ignorance and superstition, we have begun to gain genuine information about our surroundings and about ourselves. This is not something we should lightly toss away. It is our finest legacy and our greatest hope. And yet Steiner would junk it in favor of mystical claptrap.

We all yearn for the transcendent. We all chafe at the limitations of our lives and conditions, our unfulfilled desires, our mortality. We all wish for something more — we want to rise from dreariness to joyous fulfillment. But it should be perfectly clear that we will solve none of our problems by rejecting real knowledge and turning to fanciful illusions instead. We must stand firmly on the truth, whether or not we find the truth agreeable. We must have the courage to face reality and make the best of it. Running away into fantasy solves nothing.

If we are to improve our lot, we will do it by turning to precisely the things Steiner wanted us to discount: our brains, rationality, science, and our expanding store of real information — real knowledge. This is the true path, the upward ascent from blindness to sight, from falsehood to truth. We have been led upward by the great scholars, scientists, philosophers, and theologians of the past, incandescent minds who pushed back the darkness. We should build on their gifts to us, not squander them. We have it in our power to improve ourselves, if only we will have the courage and intellectual honesty to do so.

— Roger Rawlings











"The brain does not produce thoughts." — Waldorf teacher Henk Van Oort, 

ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 16.








“As soon as we begin to think with our fingers — and one can think with one's fingers and toes much more brightly, once one makes the effort, than with the nerves of the head — as soon as we begin to think with that part of us which has not entirely become matter, when we think with the lower part of our being, then our thoughts are the thoughts of our karma." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 126.

“The head only looks on at all that occurs. The head is really only an apparatus for reflecting what the body does. The body thinks, the body counts. The head is only a spectator.” — Rudolf Steiner, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 159.

"It will seem strange that in discussing man as a spiritual being, I speak first of the teeth ... [A] truly spiritual understanding of the human being shows us [that] the child develops teeth not only for the sake of eating and speaking, but for quite a different purpose as well. Strange as it sounds to-day, the child develops teeth for the purpose of thinking. Modern science little knows that the teeth are the most important of all organs of thought." — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1943), lecture 4, GA 307.

“If we wish to express in correct diagrammatic form the process of human cognition, we must say: —

“(taking this diagram as representing the external physical human organism), that in all this external bodily organism no process such as thinking or cognition exists, but it takes place in the adjoining etheric and astral bodies. In them are situated the thoughts which I here represent diagrammatically as these circles. These thoughts do not enter into the brain, to think so would be utter folly; but, through the activity of the brain, they are reflected and thrown back again into the etheric body, astral body, and ego, and these reflections which we create ourselves, and which become visible to us through the brain, are seen by us, when, as earthly men, we become aware of what we are really doing in our psychic life. Within the brain nothing at all exists of the nature of thought." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Kessinger, facsimile of 1929 edition), p. 88. [I have added color to the b&w image in the book.]

In other words,

"Within the brain there is absolutely no thought; there is no more of thought in the brain than there is of you in the mirror in which you see yourself." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD, ORDEALS OF THE SOUL, REVELATIONS OF THE SPIRIT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 119.













Sometimes Steiner had a little — a very little — to say in favor of intellect. Intellect can help us to get beyond itself; it can assist our ascent to a level where we no longer need it:

“I have described in [THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM] how the intellectual is further developed into conscious, exact clairvoyance. It then lives in a free inner constitution of the soul. Only then can man know himself and his relation to the other parts of his being, outside his pure thinking and his free will. Through such a higher consciousness — imaginative, inspired and intuitive consciousness — man may reach in self-knowledge beyond his intellect and know himself as part of the supersensible world. And then it will be clear to him that although he is fully human, as has become clear to him in his self-knowledge, full humanity requires of him that he perfect it ever more and more.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Self Knowledge and the Christ Experience” (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988), a lecture, GA 221.

Paraphrase: In my book THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, I describe how intellectual powers can be heightened, leading to the development of exact clairvoyance. Such clairvoyance then exists as a free inner power of the soul. Only after gaining this power can we understand the other components of our being, aside from our powers of pure thought and free will. Through exact clairvoyance (which involves imaginative, inspired, and intuitive consciousness, and goes beyond the limits of the intellect), we attain true self-knowledge and we realize that our true home is the spirit realm. Then we understand that to be fully human, we must develop our exact clairvoyance more and more.

The chief benefit of intellect, Steiner taught, is that it makes us more mentally alert, more fully conscious. Hence it strengthens us, allowing us to pursue clairvoyance of a more precise, discerning type — "exact" clairvoyance — than was available to humanity in the past. But in and of itself, intellect does not produce real knowledge. For true cognition, we need exact clairvoyance. [See "Exactly".]












“When we think, we die continually." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 56.

“The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 233.

"Intellectuality flows forth from Ahriman as a cold and frosty, soulless cosmic impulse.” — Rudolf Steiner,  ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 98.

"You will injure children if you educate them rationally.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 61.

“A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE, NATURE, AND CULTIVATION OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1963), p. 15.

“[T]he ancient clairvoyance of undeveloped man was killed when his blood was mixed with the blood of others who did not belong to the same stock. The entire intellectual life of today [which is so very bad] is the outcome of the mingling of blood, and the time is not far distant when people will study the [damaging] influence this had upon human life, and they will be able to trace it back in the history of humanity.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1922), a lecture, GA 55.













Why did Rudolf Steiner try to foist his cockeyed, occult fantasies on us? We cannot know. Perhaps he was telling the absolute truth, as he understood it. Perhaps he felt the pain of which he spoke — perhaps ordinary existence was a grievous burden to him, and he turned to occultism out of genuine need and conviction. Perhaps. But other possibilities come to mind. Here's one. I offer it not to assail Steiner the man, but in an effort to place an historical figure in context for whatever light this may provide. Evaluating Steiner's teachings is far more important than attempting to understand Steiner as an individual. Nonetheless, trying to bring historical figures into focus can be informative, making them live in our comprehension and thus helping us to understand their work, at least tangentially.

Bear in mind that flawed individuals can make wise statements, and wonderful individuals can speak foolishly. Thus, Steiner's personal weaknesses and strengths have no necessary bearing on the validity of his teachings. Still, holding that proviso in mind, consider the following. It is possible that Steiner became an occultist because he suffered from thwarted ambition. Failing to receive recognition as a great philosopher, he turned to fraudulent spiritualism for the recognition he coveted. 

Steiner claimed that he had spiritualistic experiences and knowledge beginning in his early youth, and some of his earliest publications bear at least a suggestion of this claim. [19] After graduation from college, he edited the scientific works of Goethe, which express Goethe’s own esotericism. But most of Steiner’s early, original writing was rational and conventional, not esoteric. Considering himself a man of letters, Steiner became editor of Deutsche Wochenschrift [i.e., "German Weekly"]. As an editor of his autobiography has recorded, 

“1887: At the beginning of this year, Rudolf Steiner is very sick. As...his health improves, he becomes increasingly a ‘man of letters,’ lecturing, writing essays ... 1888: January-July: Rudolf Steiner assumes editorship of the ‘German Weekly.’” [20]

Steiner’s first book, A THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE IMPLICIT IN GOETHE'S WORLD CONCEPTION, appeared in 1886. It was followed by TRUTH AND SCIENCE (1892) and THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM (1893). Anthroposophists today try to make these books appear consistent with their spiritualistic beliefs, but it is a struggle. In fact, Steiner wrote his early works as a secular intellectual. 

“Although practically all [Anthroposophical] commentators on Steiner's work agree that THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM...contains within it all of the essentials of anthroposophy, the book itself makes no mention of a spiritual world ... [N]or does any other standard anthroposophical theme, like karma, the afterlife, or reincarnation make an appearance.” [21]

Steiner hoped THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM would establish his reputation as a leading thinker, but it did not. [22] Still, he continued to work in ordinary secular channels. In 1895, he published NIETZSCHE, A FIGHTER AGAINST HIS TIME, followed by other more or less conventional intellectual works. In 1897, he became editor of Magazin für Literatur (“Magazine for Literature”). His writings in this period were indifferent or even hostile to spiritualism, especially Theosophy. 

Despite his efforts, Steiner was not hailed as the next great German philosopher. Steiner was largely neglected, he struggled to make ends meet, and in fact he fell into poverty. 

“[I]n Wiemar, he was to lodge with Frau Anna Eunicke, a widow ... After this, he lived in Berlin, for a short while in utter misery in lodgings, and then moved in under Anna Eunicke’s roof [1897] and married her [1899]. It seems likely that she moved first to Berlin and he followed her.” [23]

Steiner became “very active in the political, artistic, and theatrical life in Berlin.” [24] 

He made his way in important circles, but uneasily. 

“Though he later had a number of aristocratic patrons and followers, he was not at home in the drawing room ... Spending his early maturity among the intelligentsia of Vienna, Weimar, and Berlin, where he frequented salons and cafes for a while, he nevertheless cultivated his distance from them....” [25] 

After several years working as a literary man, Steiner rather suddenly turned to Theosophy and started lecturing about occult “truths.” 

“In 1898, after going through a mental and spiritual crisis, he began to turn away from cultural education ... The jump from tacit socialism to explicit Theosophy was not easy to explain.” [26] 

Steiner’s friends and students were startled and largely uncomprehending in response to Steiner's radical redirection into esotericism. 

“[H]e began to break his silence [about spiritual matters]. This proved to be a very challenging issue. Probably the secularized sophisticates found him comical and the aesthetes felt him to be a puzzle. Steiner perceived that the metropolitan literary minds he encountered were unaware that their destines and his were karmically linked.” [27] 

Steiner left much of his previous life and many of his previous associates — including his wife — behind. 

“Rudolf Steiner had been connected with hundreds of people during the early years of his life, but not one of these accompanied him into his public activity when he began to speak from his own spiritual-scientific research and experience [i.e., his professed clairvoyant visions].” [28] 

Steiner separated from his wife in 1903.

Steiner soon became head of the German Theosophical Society, and in 1904 he published one of his seminal occultist works, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT. He began devoting virtually all of his considerable energies to occultism. 

“1905: This year, Steiner ends his non-theosophical lecturing activity. Supported by Marie von Sivers his Theosophical lecturing...increases significantly.” [29]

Marie von Sievers was an aristocrat. 

"She came from a noble German-Baltic background ... She owned the Theosophical headquarters in Berlin, and at some point she and Steiner lived together in her apartment in this house ... From the end of 1903 Steiner and von Sievers were inseparably together...and in 1914, three years after the death of Anna Eunicke, Steiner and von Sievers would marry." [30] 

(Note that Steiner became inseparable from von Sievers while he was still married to Eunicke.)

Steiner released his magnum opus, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE, in 1910, and three years later he broke away from Theosophy in order to establish his own occult movement, Anthroposophy. [31] He developed what, by his own estimate, was a large following: 

“The Anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” [32] 

The movement was sufficiently well financed to build a large headquarters in Switzerland — and when this was destroyed by fire, the members erected an equally large replacement. [33] 

In 1919, a lionized spiritual leader, Steiner oversaw the creation of the first Waldorf school. [34] The rest is history.


Curiosity about historical figures is natural and, to some extent, it can be productive. But we need to keep things in perspective. Our main focus should be on ideas, not on the people who express those ideas. Steiner may or may not have been a fine man; it doesn't make much difference. What we need to know is whether or not his ideas are true, and we can make this judgment only by focusing on his ideas and thinking about them carefully.

I think Steiner was a fraud, pretending to possess clairvoyant powers that in fact he lacked (in all probability, no one possesses such powers). If I'm right, this is a marginally useful insight. However, it doesn't tell us anything conclusive about the quality of Steiner's ideas. A fraud may speak the truth, even if s/he does so unintentionally or unknowingly. A fraud may tell what s/he thinks are lies, but these statements may actually be pearls of great wisdom — the fraud just doesn't know it. The only way for us  to know whether Steiner was right or wrong is to forget Steiner the man and attend to Steiner's statements and the meaning of those statements.

Anthroposophists sometimes think the way to settle an issue is to find out what Steiner said on the subject. He said thus-and-so, which means that thus-and-so is the right answer. This is clearly the wrong approach. Maybe 99.9% of everything Steiner ever said was right, but if we happen to be arguing about the one matter where he was wrong, then taking his word on that subject would be a mistake.

The same goes in reverse, of course. Even if 99.9% of Steiner's statements were garbage, we must remain open to the possibility that the next statement of his we come upon will turn out to be — miraculously — correct. The only way to evaluate ideas is to focus on the ideas.

Let's return our focus to the ideas that underlie Waldorf education:


Perhaps the most fundamental problem with Waldorf schools is that the Waldorf conception of thinking and knowledge — epistemology, if you will — is so deeply irrational. Think of the implications of such irrationality for institutions that are usually meant to foster thinking and convey knowledge: schools.

Waldorf spokespeople often say Waldorf schools encourage imagination — which is true, and many parents find this emphasis on imagination attractive. But in Steiner's doctrines, imagination is the first of three stages on the path to clairvoyance, and clairvoyance is the goal. Waldorf schools often conceal this (along with a great deal more), but this is central to their mission. The mission of any real Waldorf school — by which I mean any school that is faithful to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner — is to assist students along the path to clairvoyance. Accordingly, the schools try to prepare students for future human evolution, as described by Steiner. The next stage of our evolution will occur on or during Future Jupiter, followed by Future Venus and then Future Vulcan. [35] As we undergo this evolution — following the "divine cosmic plan" created by the gods — we will attain higher and higher states of consciousness until we ourselves become gods. And the payoff? 

“[W]e shall have gradually achieved the transformation of our own being into what is called in Christianity ‘the Father.’” [36]

I have just given you an extremely concise outline of the Anthroposophical vision. To most people, the Anthroposophical vision is nuts. (And to mainstream Christians, it is sacrilegious.) Unless a parent sees good solid sense in Anthroposophy, s/he should almost certainly not send a child to a real Waldorf school. Waldorfs do not turn all their students into junior Anthroposophists, of course, but the schools try to at least nudge students in the direction of Steinerish occultism. Remember Steiner's avowal:

"Anthroposophy will be in the [Waldorf] school." [37]

The concepts of thinking and knowledge that inform Waldorf schools come mainly from Rudolf Steiner himself. We can see Steiner's epistemology, in its earliest and purest form, in his book THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, particularly as Steiner revised it following his conversion to occultism.

Here's another concise summary; in the fewest possible words, I’ll try to describe spiritual epistemology as Steiner and his followers came to understand it. At the core of oneself is a pure, authentic Self, an "I". When the "I" thinks about its own thoughts in a disciplined manner, the difference between subject and object vanishes and a higher, transcendent consciousness becomes possible. Bear in mind that true thoughts do not come from the brain but from the spirit realm. The "I" is a denizen of that realm and thus receives its true cognition from on high. The resulting consciousness consists of inherently authentic Truth. The labors of "materialistic" thinking (rational argumentation, etc.) become unnecessary because direct access to Truth has been attained.

Certain problems obviously arise from this set of ideas. Consciousness focusing upon itself may not be a transcendence of subjectivity but the intensification of subjectivity. According to Steiner, truly knowing and truly feeling are the same: We must develop "the power of spiritual cognition, spiritual perception, spiritual feeling." [38] 

This is the heartfelt "thinking" Waldorf schools try to promote; it is more akin to emotion or intuition than to rational cogitation. You know that something is true because it feels so true, deep inside. It rings your spiritual bell.

Let’s dwell on that last point for a moment. How can one be sure that a Truth that feels so right, inwardly — a Truth provided by intuition — is not simply a subjective wish? Steiner saw the problem, and his answer was that "living thoughts" are implanted in us before we are born. 

“The cosmic ether, which is common to all, carries within it the thoughts; there they are 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 [an incorporeal body that shapes the physical 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.” [39]

Thus, correct intuition is the apprehension of divinity and its gifts, living within us. We don't really need to think: All we have to do is commune with ourselves, finding the prepackaged "living thoughts" that we carry inside.

Notice how Steiner's seemingly straightforward philosophical argument about the sources of knowledge balloons into an occult theology. In order for the thesis of PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM to be correct in the way Anthroposophy needs it to be correct, a vast body of occult belief becomes necessary, and Steiner provides this in thousands of occult lectures. Of course, according to Steiner, his doctrines are not beliefs but living thoughts, Truths. But they are "true" only because he defines them as true; they emerge from a form of consciousness that depends on them for its existence. This is a closed loop, one that cannot be examined by any outside observer. A living thought is any idea that is correctly revealed by intuition, and intuition is defined as the power to reveal living thoughts, which by definition are true. How do we test this? We "know" we are correctly using our intuition when the ideas it yields ring our bell — we get a “spiritual feeling” that is the same as “spiritual perception.”

No one else can hear the bell, unfortunately, but that's how it goes. In other words, a self-affirmed "clairvoyant" may absolutely know in his/her heart that s/he is correct about something, but no one else can know — there is no way for an outsider observer to test a clairvoyant’s inwardly revealed “living thought.” And that’s okay, Steiner said. Testing and proving things, he explained, is beside the point. 

"The concepts of 'true' and 'false' are dreadfully barren, prosaic, and formal. The moment we rise to the truths of the spiritual world, we can no longer speak of 'true' and 'false'...." [40] 

The process of opening oneself to “living thoughts” is beyond testing because it is beyond “materialistic” or brain-centered thinking. By definition, intuition is living-thinking, which is clairvoyance, which is truth, and all’s well. 

Steiner did add one clarification. True intuition or living-thinking should not be confused with any old form of clairvoyance; there are higher and lower forms of clairvoyance. The real kind of clairvoyance, the kind that yields the truest truths, is "exact" clairvoyance. 

“The philosophical standpoint from which I speak definitely starts from a healthy psyche and attempts on this basis to develop powers dormant in the soul, cognitive powers, which then become clairvoyant powers...exact clairvoyance.” [41] 

Steiner had to specify what sort of clairvoyance is correct, since other "clairvoyants" said they "saw" things quite unlike what he "saw." So he laid down this stipulation. And what does it ultimately mean? “Exact clairvoyance" is clairvoyance that agrees with Steiner’s doctrines. By definition, all other forms of clairvoyance are, to one degree or another, incorrect.

You may bridle at this, but hold your indignation. There is a deeper problem than trying to decide what form of clairvoyance is best. The problem is this: Does clairvoyance exist at all, in any form, at any level of exactitude? As far as we know, the answer is no. There is simply no evidence that any form of clairvoyance exists. [42]

This leads to a crucial point. No outside observer can confirm anything that a "clairvoyant" feels to be true — and neither can the "clairvoyant." S/he may firmly feel that an idea is right, but there is no way s/he can rationally, actually know for sure. A deeply believed fantasy may feel just as right as any actually correct perception; and a pleasant hallucination may commend itself, powerfully, to one's heart. In fact, if someone yearns for spiritual truth, the "intuitive" fulfillment of that yearning may quite easily be nothing but the unconscious affirmation of the desire. You go in search of the vision you wish for, and you have that vision, and... And, what? If you have the vision you want, and if it feels the way you want, then you may have achieved nothing but self-deception. Instead of working your way toward true knowledge, you may only have been deluding yourself, feeding yourself the fantasy you so keenly desire. 

But what visions should you seek? Steiner stressed the need for a guru. 

"[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.“ [43] 

Notice that wording: "strictly rely." Absolute reliance. Obedience. Faith. The "science" Steiner advocated becomes, then, a religion — a process of faithful observance. You choose a guru — say, for instance, one R. Steiner — and you strictly rely on him. You have faith. You are observant. You become, in other words, a devotee in the religion of Anthroposophy.

So in this sense, too, the form of thought advocated by Steiner is not real thinking at all. You don't develop "living thoughts" out of your own brain. These "thoughts" are either prerecorded ideas that have been implanted in you before birth, or they are notions that your guru has directed you toward — or they are both. They are not, in any event, your own thoughts. They are not, really, thoughts at all. They are prescribed doctrines, or fantasies — or both. In their most august form, they are articles of faith. In their most debased, they are delusions.

Where does this all leave us? What can we make of the epistemology underlying Waldorf schools — and what are the implications for Waldorf education? a) The epistemology is bogus. No one following Steiner's prescriptions can attain any verifiable knowledge — verifiable by others or even by oneself. b) Waldorf education is built on, and largely consists of, pipe dreams. It stresses a form of "thought" that is not thinking at all, but feeling, "intuiting," perhaps fantasizing. It, too, is bogus.

— Roger Rawlings










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"Steiner's Specific".