STUDY DIARIES: Dances with Cars

Since 1970 I, along with an old university friend, have wondered just why some people love speed.

In my younger years I used to race karts and until recently my conclusion had been that it was the experience of mastery – the wonderful feeling when you managed to power drift through a corner on just the right line, or that oh so elusive relaxed attention when a lap came out just right at a faster time than before.

But now I think I have found the answer, and surprisingly it has links to dance.

In a previous post I talked about how dancing, at its best, uses conscious movement to express our ‘true’ movement of thinking. Notice the use of the use of the word thinkING instead of thought, which could be construed as a fixed item rather than the mobile and dynamic activity that I am describing.

This ‘true’ movement is something some people want to express and dance is one form.

The other can also be driving or flying well.

In line with the previous post, to me it makes sense that we have an inner experience of our thinking being able to move instantaneously, and we feel good when we can manage to express it physically, whether it be with our bodies, or through a technological construct such as a car – or an aircraft. Indeed Ayrton Senna has been described as someone who could dance with the car.

So now I have a far better explanation of why I am such a petrol head, dancer and lover of flying!

But why is this post in the section of the study diaries?

If you read Scaligero or Steiner, their wisdom is predicated on developing a true experience of such a living, mobile, dynamic thinking. It is not something you can really put into words, which are fixed entities.

However it IS something we can experience.

The difficulty is that any characterization of it in fixed form, whether it be in words, pictures, or a materialistic science, will always – always – miss the point. Such expressions can dimly point to the living idea but the listener or spectator will always need to be active. They will have to re-enliven such fixed and dead forms with their own thinking in order to reproduce the living experience.

As I have said before, this is why Steiner and such authors are so hard to understand. In their writing they are purposely trying to short-circuit your analytical brain, which likes fixed constructs,  in order to try and help you move into the living experience of the idea.

STUDY DIARIES: Truth & Knowledge Commentary

I have just come across a truly masterful treatise that gives a very cogent commentary of Steiner’s epistemological dissertation Truth & Knowledge, as well as some pointers to The Philosophy of Freedom.

Having concluded that it would be impossible to précis my own study work of the text I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this paper. It is written by Ron Brady and was near publication when he died in 2003. The folks at the Nature Institute have published it in their Ron Brady Archive.

It takes the reader step by step through one of Steiner’s foundational texts and is written much more for the modern reader so is more approachable that Steiner’s original text, though you still need to keep your wits about you!

So many thanks to Ron and to the folks at the Nature Institute.

I am playing with the idea of perhaps itemising the main points in a future blog post.

STUDY DIARIES: A Tale of Two Polarities

There is something very special about Attention.

Have you ever noticed how the world around you changes when you give it your full attention? It is so very easy to go through our lives without really seeing. But what is really happening when we give the world such attention?

There is an inner dynamic to this process that Steiner talks about as a movement between a ‘going to sleep in the other’ and a ‘lighting up’ of our own thoughts, a movement that is central to understanding Steiner’s epistemology.

Next time you have a deep conversation with someone, notice how your thinking moves from a listening – where you need to subdue your own thoughts in order to think ‘into’ the other person – to a waking up in order to marshal your own thoughts so you can express them in a way related to what has already been said.

The going to ‘sleep’ in the other is an active sleep, perhaps more of an actively held dream-like state. We need to subdue our own thinking, yet keep our attention on the other person. When this process is working well we can actually think the same thought that the other person is thinking. Because of this we can come to know the world around us, rather than falling into the skeptic’s fallacy of thinking we cannot truly know anything.

I have always found the extreme skeptic attitude a self-contradictory stance: If I am told that we can never know anything about the world, how can I take such a pronouncement seriously? The statement is self-defeating by definition! Of course that is not to say that we should go to the other extreme and just take everything at face value, or on belief. As ever there is a balanced middle ground where we need to exercise judgement and fit what we perceive into our own views.

This balancing between two polarities is a major recurring theme in Steiner’s work and is a corollary of the presence of a boundary.

Once we understand this ‘thinking in’ to the other, the ‘other’ can be anything. It is relevant to all we experience, whether it be a beautiful sunset, being with a loved one, or trying to understand someone we experience as difficult. Can we develop the self-awareness to really live into what is around us, seeing it for what it is, and yet maintain our own integrity?

There is a link here to egoism, a subject that I referred to in my last post.

Egoism is an important stage in our development and to put it in very simple terms, we can identify a number of stages in the development of an ego boundary:

  1. Lack of ego boundary.
  2. A present ego boundary, or self.
  3. An awareness of our ego boundary.
  4. A conscious control of the permeability of our ego boundary.

As you might notice, the last stage characterizes what is happening when we are conversing in the way I have been describing above, and needless to say requires that we have developed the necessary self-awareness.

Boundaries can be either given, as in for instance our bodily boundary, or defined, as in when we characterize the world about us, or indeed, our own ego.

The Art comes in how we move around a given boundary, an activity that requires our very special Attention as we enter the conversation between Self and Other. This will be a theme I will return to as our study progresses.

Since my last post, Paul, my study colleague, and I have been thinking about how to précis some of the study work we have been doing over the past years. In the end we have decided this is an impossible and fruitless task. It is better that readers find their own path through Steiner’s material and let me shine a light on some possible signposts on the way that Paul and I have found useful in our own study. Additionally, given the dynamic nature of a true living thinking, it is the process as much as the content that is the important item.

I think it is more useful for me to précis our study experience from here on in and let you form your own pictures ‘organically’ through your own experience. Of course – as I have done in previous posts – I will give links to online resources of Steiner’s material as relevant.

STUDY DIARIES: Misplacing Egotism

My study partner, Paul, and I are currently thinking about the best way to précis the books we have studied over the years. This is still work in progress and I will give an update on this in a future post. The first book “Truth & Knowledge” took a good many years for us to get through so this could be a difficult process. Watch this space but follow the link to read the text.

Despite the fact that our current study book is the “Study of Man” lecture series – given to teachers just before the first Steiner school was started – our main topic of conversation for this session was Steiner’s Threefold Social Order. This is a very very tricky subject at the best of times but it has been popping up regularly in many of our study sessions so we felt we had to deal with it.

The point that came up that makes it worth posting here now is a recent insight dealing with how we are misplacing the human egotistical drive.

First let me give some background to Steiner’s Threefold Social Order. It gives a characterization of human endeavour into three primary areas:

  1. The inner spiritual or cultural sphere where we are all different.
    This is a realm of liberty where we should be completely free to follow whatever inner path we wish.
  2. The political or rights sphere where we are all the same.
    This is the realm of equality of rights, although our lives will of course play out differently.
  3. The economic sphere where we all work together.
    This is the realm of fraternity where, working with others and for others, we add value to a commodity for a consumer of that commodity.

If we misplace human drives into the wrong area then it was Steiner’s assertion that we would have problems.

In terms of my current understanding, it makes sense that we should separate the first two. This relates to the need to separate Church and State for instance, as well as realizing that even though someone may have a different culture or religion, they should still have the same political and legal rights. Also inversely just because someone is considered to have the same rights we should not assume that they should follow the same path or religion for example. The liberty relates more to an inner liberty to develop ourselves as we see fit, that is the spiritual/cultural sphere, but of course within the boundaries of leaving others free and not curtailing their rights.

Another aspect here is that although my actions may be individual, Steiner’s philosophy (called anthroposophy) posits that the impulses for truly free actions come from a unified world of spirit. Thus our free deeds will be in harmony with the free deeds of others. I will return to this idea in subsequent posts since it is dealt with more in Steiner’s book “The Philosophy of Freedom”.

I can understand the separation of culture and rights since as a modern democracy we have gone through that separation process. But the kicker here is that ANY pursuit that involves our personal inner growth is within the cultural sphere. That’s easy to see for the arts, but one of the big insights for me has been that it also involves software development! Or indeed any area in which we are dealing with the generation or creation of knowledge, i.e. any area dealing with true research. This has made sense of all the problems I have seen throughout my career of trying to marry software development to economics.

As ever with this sort of categorization, I can always feel my inner critical analytical self wanting to strictly delineate life into these areas. Suffice it to say that the reality will always have blurry edges. Although the three areas are quite distinct, each with their own dynamics and lawfulness – the difficulty arises because of course they are interdependent and every social situation will likely involve all three spheres.

As a background to our recent conversation our thinking is still a work in progress with regards to the economic sphere, but here my friend Paul recently had an insight that we felt cleared things up a lot.

Namely that our current way of working in the economic area involves a misplaced egotism.

Rather than saying we should eradicate egotism, his thought was that we should rightly place it in the cultural area. Currently it has been gracelessly shoved into the economic and rights areas and has turned an inner human need to improve oneself into a drive towards greed and power over others. Working economically means that we should be more demand-based, i.e. adding value by supplying a service or product to someone because we have the requisite skills. Currently it is too easy to get an inversion where we think it is alright to create markets and try and drive demand from the supply side, usually by appealing to consumer’s egotistic desires and fears. This is just not sustainable if we want a healthy world.

Of course there are cases where a new market is created that does truly meet a need, but that, to my mind, is still a demand led process. What has happened is that someone has bothered to listen in the right way and has actually responded to a need that may not as yet have been articulated. A lot of software development, properly done, is like this because it is a conversation between a user and a technical person, both of whom are trying to map out the area of the user’s needs, a map that is frequently unknown even to that user.

The insight that egotism has been misplaced into the wrong area, i.e. economics, makes sense of this drive towards “greed rather than need”. But rather than vilifying it, we should realize that egotism is a basic inner drive that is healthily placed when it is used for our own inner development.

I really like this because it means:

  • Accepting an egotistical drive as a valid human one, rather than wasting good energy trying to achieve an impossible ideal of eradicating it.
  • Realizing that its manifestation is only good or bad depending upon which threefold realm you use it in.

The hard part here is truly seeing how the three spheres are meshing within a given human activity and it is fair to say that it is rare that they are seen clearly. But trying to get this turnaround in thinking in the economic area would be a start.

Well, I hope that provokes some thinking.

Until the next update…

STUDY DIARIES: Background on Texts

This is a catch-up post to bring you up to date with some of the study history from the last couple of decades. Actually it is not a long list since we truly have taken our time!

The first thing to say is that we initially wanted to focus on Steiner’s philosophical written work. This was driven by a wish to start right at the beginning and, for my part, NOT wanting to go through his lectures. He took a massive amount of care with his written work, feeling that he had a deep responsibility to his readers. Obviously lectures would not be able to have that same depth of care since they were more of a living experience.

[Background Point: Steiner initially did not want his lectures written down at all since he maintained that the lectures were delivered for the particular audience. However events somewhat overtook him and some of his critics started misquoting what he had said. Thus he felt the need to have the lectures transcribed by a stenographer. I believe there are about 6000 lectures available now.]

However when some lectures have piqued my interest I have actually found it good to listen to readings of them since it gives you that auditory experience which, I think, works well with the content. However sometimes you need to realize that he was talking at a different time. See Dale Brunsvold’s site where he has produced audio recordings of his readings – which has been a great resource for allowing me to listen to lectures in the car. A real labour of love I think and deserving of a small donation towards hosting costs if you do end up using his site a lot.

However, back to the study list so far:

1: Truth & Knowledge : 1892
The very beginning. Steiner’s epistemological doctoral dissertation and a prelude to the Philosophy of Freedom.

2: Boundaries of Natural Science : 1920
A lecture series with an exploration of how Goethean Science and the Philosophy of Freedom can help us go beyond the limits of natural science to provide a healthy foundation for social science.

3: Anthroposophy Science : 1921
A lecture series that somewhat covered our favourite subject of technology and its relationship the development of consciousness.

4: Philosophy of Freedom : 1894
Also known as the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, to highlight the fact that freedom is never a finished thing but requires constant activity. This is the main foundational book to all he subsequently worked on. In hindsight we should have perhaps studied this earlier.

5: Study of Man : 1919
This is a series of lectures given to teachers of the first Steiner School in Stuttgart.

In future posts I will attempt to summarize some of the earlier study texts but some of the content is now lost in the mists of time.

The main thing that I remember is that in the early stages of our study it was too easy to just skip through the texts without really grasping them. Thus it was that we really, really slowed it down and would not move forward if we did not think we had ‘got it’.

There was many a wrinkled brow, coupled with a feeling of “I am just not getting this”, which brings me to an important question that we and many other people have about Steiner’s output:

“For goodness sake, why is it so DIFFICULT to work with?”

From where I stand now, I can say that there is a very, very good reason for this.

Steiner is not giving us finished answers. His whole raison d’etre is to help us come to a different way of perceiving the world, something that our education beats out of us. In what he writes, he is trying to give you indications about different ways of seeing things, AS WELL AS doing it in a way that challenges you to try and develop this different way of perception as you study.

Remember I talked about congruence in a previous post between his content and method? But oh dear me, it really can make it hard going at times. The way I have come to see this now is that we are literally creating extra organs of perception in our thinking, and this is a long process. It is as if we have been given all the physical senses at birth, but now we need to take our own development in hand, creating new dynamic senses in our thinking.

So no quick fixes here.

[Definition: Anthroposophy was the term Steiner coined for his approach. Literally “wisdom of the human being”. Indicating that Steiner felt that it was important to understand and develop ourselves, embracing this task consciously, since we represent a strongly co-creative force in the world.]

STUDY DIARIES : Introduction

Over 20 years ago I was a parent of 2 young kids, and we wanted to find a decent pre-school provision that was more about creativity and play rather than about cramming kids heads with facts. My wife and I found a gem of a kindergarten that was run on Steiner principles and so impressed were we that we joined with the other impressed parents and got on with founding a Steiner lower school. I even became trustee Chair at the time!

But there was more to it for me than just the education of the children. I connected strongly to the underlying philosophy that Rudolf Steiner brought to the world. He had a different take on epistemology – or the theory of knowledge – i.e. how we come to know things, that very much resonated with how I felt about the world. For the past 20 years this has resulted in me studying – on & off, though more on than off – some of Steiner’s prodigious output.

It is this that I want to start blogging about now in these Study Diaries. I have been shy about this until now – primarily because Steiner covered some fairly tricky areas, namely the generation of what he called a spiritual science and what it had to say about a spiritual world and associated beings.

So I want to start by making it clear how my path has been into his work.

Initially Steiner was an expert on Goethe’s work and hence was asked to edit the Goethe archives at Weimar in 1888. As some of you will know from my previous posts about Goethe and phenomenology, it was Goethe who began raising warning flags about the problem of over-hypothesizing , something that has become endemic in our modern scientific method and something which badly affects those of us who work with modern technology.

It was from this philosophical foundation that Steiner started his work, coming out with his seminal book: The Philosophy of Freedom, which addressed the issues of being truly free in our thinking. He named this sort of freer thinking: “Living Thinking”, and he characterized it as a spiritual activity.

It was his philosophical work that attracted me first, along with his adamant stance that no one should just believe what he said. He wanted people to listen and consider for themselves what they could take on and understand. He was deeply uncomfortable with anyone who treated him as any sort of guru, and it was this that caught my imagination since it is congruent with his wish that people remain free in their thinking. Indeed a foundation of his ideas on ethics is that human morality is defined internally, not imposed externally, but more of that later.

Thus I have always felt that I could respect the man – despite there being a lot of his output that I cannot take on or understand. And this respect is something that has not changed over those 20 years as I have learnt more.

The studying I have been doing – usually on a Friday evening – has been on a very small percentage of Steiner’s work. Though it is the quality of the study that matters, not the quantity, and there is a very definite ‘holographic’ nature to it – i.e. it doesn’t matter which part you cover you can still get to the main ideas. I have also been working with someone I met during the early years of founding the local Steiner school and we have since become close friends as we have traveled on this study path together over the last two decades. I am no longer involved with the running of the school, though my friend is, since it quickly became apparent that understanding Steiner’s philosophical thought, so radically different as it is, was going to need some focused work.

It is worth noting that Steiner touched many areas of human endeavour, I consider in a positive way, though of course there are some detractors who would contest that. Such areas have included: Education, Medicine, Architecture, the Arts, Social reform and Economics to name a few.

I have decided to start writing about this aspect of my life, and you are welcome to read along or not, but I must mention the initial disclaimer that, although I am not a religious person and do not go to church, I do think we have a spiritual aspect to our nature. Now in my experience this is not something you can prove or disprove, you either can go with it or not. If not, then perhaps these Study Diaries will not be for you.

But all I would ask is that you hold an open mind and – just as Steiner would wish – take on only what makes sense to you. Hopefully, in whatever small way, you might even find something helpful in the Diaries.

Thanks for reading.