Martin Gardner, Rudolf Steiner and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer

It was Martin Gardner’s 100th anniversary this week – he would have been 100 years old on October 21st 2014. As there are a couple of his books on our shelves I was interested to find a link on The Waldorf Review facebook page to an article on the chessbase website.


The article by Frederic Friedel celebrates Gardner’s work. He wrote over 100 books on many subjects including mathematics, puzzles and chess, and was a great skeptic.

His book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952, revised 1957) is a classic and seminal work of the skeptical movement. It explored myriad dubious outlooks and projects including Fletcherism, creationism, food faddism, Charles Fort, Rudolf Steiner, Scientology, Dianetics, UFOs, dowsing, extra-sensory perception, the Bates method, and psychokinesis. This book and his subsequent efforts earned him a wealth of detractors and antagonists in the fields of “fringe science” and New Age philosophy, with many of whom he kept up running dialogs (both public and private) for decades.

A chapter in the book called “Food Faddists” features a description of Rudolf Steiner’s adventures in the field of agriculture, but Steiner could equally have appeared prominently in other chapters on “Lemuria and Atlantis” or “Medical quacks” and “Medical cults”. (Maybe he did – I haven’t read this yet, it is on my gift list…)

The chapter on Food faddists also features Ehrenfried Pfeiffer who is described on wiki as an anthroposophist and a disciple of Rudolf Steiner.  After Steiner’s death he worked in “the private research laboratory at the Goetheanum” and travelled to the US and in Europe promoting biodynamics.

Wiki says that in 1939

Pfeiffer ran Britain’s first biodynamics conference, the Betteshanger Summer School and Conference, at the estate of Lord Northbourne in Kent. Pfeiffer’s Betteshanger Conference is regarded as the ‘missing link’ between biodynamic agriculture and organic farming because the following year (1940) its host, [Lord Northbourne], published his manifesto of organic farming ‘Look to the Land’ in which he coined the term ‘organic farming’

There is a long description of Pfeiffer’s research into biodynamics, and his achievements in detecting cancer using image “anthroposophic forming methods”

…a method using a round filter chromatography and the copper chloride crystallization method, developed together with Erika Sabarth. In the latter method, a solution of copper chloride and the test solution is allowed to evaporate. The pattern of the copper chloride crystals can be “read” based on the patterns of known samples. Similarly, the patterns of the circular chromatographs can be “read” based on known samples.  Both methods require much practice to “read” and interpret the images.”

I wonder if “reading” the patterns takes as much practice as reading tea-leaves? Pfeiffer was awarded an honorary degree for this work, but it is only used in anthroposophic medicine.

Sensitive crystalisation, developed by Pfeiffer,  is used today in the production of biodynamic wine, and on this site about biodynamics there are pictures of the crystals and information about how they are interpreted.

Then the following rather tell-tale statement about “life forces”;

Pfeiffer felt that these two imaging methods showed the presence of life-forces or etheric formative forces and could be used to gauge the quality or vitality in food such as would be shown in biodynamically grown food. Some proponents, as well as critics, recognize that these methods are very much dependent on the interpretive ability of the researcher.

At least the critics get a mention in the wiki article, which in general seems to be uncritical of biodynamics and anthroposophy. I wonder if the “interpretive ability” develops alongside the “knowledge of Higher Worlds” anthroposophists are so keen on? That would explain why scientists seem unimpressed.

There is also an odd statement about the death of Pfeiffer;

In 1961, at his home in Spring Valley, N.Y., he suffered from a series of heart attacks, lingering for several days, but ultimately was not given the proper medical care and died.

An anthroposophist not given the proper medical care? Well I have read a lot about this on Gregoire Perra’s blog – they use highly suspect and ineffective anthroposophical therapies and medicines, even to treat serious conditions. A commenter here also told us how Camphill workers use anthroposophic medicine, on themselves and on residents.



Gardner was amused by letters from the people he wrote about who were furious to be considered alongside the others;

 Oddly enough, most of these correspondents objected to one chapter only, thinking all the others excellent.





  1. Jim

    Pfeiffer’s honorary degree was from Hahnemann Medical College – a homeopathic training college and so not unduly constrained by scientific rigour.

    You can see why anthros love something like sensitive crystallisation – it’s got crystals, mysterious energies, swirly patterns and a sciencey feel without the bother of any actual science. First you posit some wholesome sounding but meaningless quality like “vitality” or “energy” then you project onto random crystal patterns your imagined perception of that quality. Actually some winemakers go farther and claim to be able to detect in the patterns qualities that the rest of us have to actually drink the wine to discern. What a breakthrough – no more tedious drinking of wine. Just stir it up with copper chloride, dry it out and savour the crystals. No more hangovers for me!

    Here’s an example:
    ( I have drunk this wine some while ago and as far as I remember it was pretty good but like so many fashionable US wines absurdly over priced ).

  2. alan

    The Lord Northbourne connection is important. Out of interest, have you looked at Viscount Lymington? The political side of saying no to nitrogen fertiliser – i.e. how these nuts want to reshape society – comes into the open in Lymington’s book Famine in England. It was on his land that the Farleigh experiment took place, which was before Betteshanger. He was a key figure in both English Mistery (sic) and English Array. His pal Reginald Dorman-Smith was NFU president and agriculture minister under Chamberlain.

Any thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s