One of the many curious features of the Steiner cult is it’s craving for intellectual respectability. It loves its “research” and “institutes”. Odd really when you consider that it would be difficult to imagine anything less deserving of serious consideration in respectable academic circles. Yet that is what Steiner insiders would have you believe, indeed it is encapsulated in their notion of anthroposophy as “ spiritual science”. This was laid down as a primary objective in anthroposophy’s founding conference in 1924. But does it bear any resemblance to what we normally mean by science or research?
Steiner was nothing if not ambitious. The field of anthroposophical research embraces biology, medicine, agriculture, education, economics, chemistry, optics, architecture and pretty much anything else that fluttered across Steiner’s mind. If you look you can find articles and papers on almost any subject you choose expounding views from a Steinerian perspective. Some are just comment, which of course anyone is entitled to make, but others intend to be taken more seriously as credible “research”. But often if you strip away the would-be academic language the content is no more substantial. It is interpretation rather than research.
A good example of this comes from Sune Nordwall’s site thebee.se looking at what he calls the potentisation problem. Potentisation is the process of extreme dilution and shaking by which homeopaths believe their preparations are made effective. His opening remarks alone indicate that his idea of research might differ from the more widely held view. He concedes that “from a natural-scientific point of view it is easy to view the “potentizing” as an absurd process” but then continues “if you instead approach the problem from a research point of view”. So from the start a false dichotomy is established between the scientific view and research. What follows is a supposed description of the process in terms of astral and ether bodies, an analogy between potentisation and human metabolism which is reminiscent of alchemy, the academic apparatus of copious references to other publications ( predominantly anthroposophic or homeopathic ) and finally a totally irrelevant reference to variations in the rate of radioactive decay discussed in a mainstream publication. The whole thing actually reads like a spoof of a scientific publication – it even has some charming cartoons.
What he does not consider of course is that there is no “potentisation problem” because there is no potentisation effect to require explanation. Independent research has repeatedly shown that homeopathic remedies are indistinguishable from water and the so called “memory of water” often proposed as an explanation does not exist.
It is revealing to take a few of the key ideas from anthroposophical research and do a little research of your own on them. Google will do, ( other search engines are available ). What you will typically find is that the ideas are not referenced anywhere outside the anthroposophical community and it’s critics. The mainstream disciplines to which those ideas apply are not interested in them, possibly not even aware of them.
Take the example of “associative economics”, the economic theory developed from Steiner’s writing on the subject. A Google search brings up over 5000 results, a respectable number though if you search to the last entry Google then informs you that it is actually 304 results plus a large number of duplicates. I have trawled through the first 10 pages and sampled the rest to see what sort of attention the theory receives. There are the usual Wikipedia and Amazon entries plus listings from book publishers. There are a couple of references from general new age or alternative sites. The rest are from Steiner organisations of one sort or another – either sites which explicitly declare their Steiner allegiance or those where a little digging into the background of their members and associates reveals the link. I can find no academic response from outside the Steiner camp – the nearest is a link to StopSteinerinStroud.com on page 2 ( pretty good! ). So it seems the theory is not even worthy of rebuttal.
Another example of the Google test. Search for the words heart and pump in various combinations and you will find many explanations of how the heart functions. Introduce a note of doubt, as in “is the heart a pump?” and the top result is a link to the Steiner archives claiming that it is not. Quite a few similar links appear, including one from David Icke ( which convinces me! ). But again there is no overlap and no mainstream source feels the need to challenge the Steiner view.
Why should this be? Anthroposophists simply do not even bother to engage with the mainstream of the disciplines which they purport to research. They do not even have the same audience. Proponents of Steiner’s economic theories are not seeking to change the real world of economics. Nor do anthroposophists seriously attempt to change the view of the medical community that the heart is essentially a pump. They are merely preaching to those already inside the Steiner bubble. Not just the hard core anthroposophists but also the wider community of warm but fuzzy followers who find it appealing to have a complete package of answers for everything, no matter how implausible. The vast mass of pseudo-research is there simply to reassure the converted and reinforce the feeling of apartness of the Steiner community. The rest of the world has closed minds, a narrow outlook, an outmoded paradigm.
They are right, everyone else is out of step.