11 lectures, Stuttgart and Dornach, Dec. 23, 1919 – Aug. 8, 1921 (CW 320)
“Now the time has actually arrived when…we have a subconscious glimmering of the impossibility of the modern approach to nature and some sense that things have to change” (Rudolf Steiner). This course on light—also exploring color, sound, mass, electricity and magnetism—presages the dawn of a new worldview in the natural sciences that will stand our notion of the physical world on its head.
This “first course” in natural science, given to the teachers of the new Stuttgart Waldorf school as an inspiration for developing the physics curriculum, is based on Goethe’s phenomenological approach to the study of nature. Acknowledging that modern physicists had come to regard Goethe’s ideas on physics as a “kind of nonsense.”
Rudolf Steiner contrasts the traditional scientific approach, which treats phenomena as evidence of “natural laws,” with Goethean science, which rejects the idea of an abstract law behind natural phenomena and instead seeks to be a “rational description of nature.” Steiner then corrects the mechanistic reductionism practiced by scientific positivists, emphasizing instead the validity of human experience and pointing toward a revolution in scientific paradigms that would reclaim ground for the subject—the human being—in the study of nature.
German source: Geisteswissenschaftliche impulse zur Entwikkelung der Physik, Erster Naturwissenschaftlicher Kurs: Licht, Farbe, Ton-Masse, Elektrizität, Magnetismus (GA 320).
About the Author
Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) was born in the small village of Kraljevec, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now in Croatia), where he grew up (see right). As a young man, he lived in Weimar and Berlin, where he became a well-published scientific, literary, and philosophical scholar, known especially for his work with Goethe’s scientific writings. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he began to develop his early philosophical principles into an approach to systematic research into psychological and spiritual phenomena. Formally beginning his spiritual teaching career under the auspices of the Theosophical Society, Steiner came to use the term Anthroposophy (and spiritual science) for his philosophy, spiritual research, and findings. The influence of Steiner’s multifaceted genius has led to innovative and holistic approaches in medicine, various therapies, philosophy, religious renewal, Waldorf education, education for special needs, threefold economics, biodynamic agriculture, Goethean science, architecture, and the arts of drama, speech, and eurythmy. In 1924, Rudolf Steiner founded the General Anthroposophical Society, which today has branches throughout the world. He died in Dornach, Switzerland.