Top five problems with current science

From Anthroposophy

This is a personal page. Having studied physics and having experience with supersensible consciousness, many years ago I did an exercise for myself to try and bring to synthesis what I believe to be the top three or five issues with the contemporary scientific paradigm (as per mineral science). That is about the time I discovered the work of Rudolf Steiner who also discusses these points.

There are various versions of such lists, from du Bois-Raymond (1880) upto Sheldrake (2012) to name just two - see overview Schema FMC00.275 on Worldview.

The short list below captures the essence in a condensed way. The problem contemporary materialistic or 'mineral science' has versus a holistic open view of reality is:

1 - take out the observer (re Hegel, Goethe)

2 - the foolish/ungrounded extrapolation .. that current laws and physics, and current consciousness, can be extrapolated over space and time

3 - only part of the spectrum is sensory consciousness

4 - reductionism - fragment, section and partition to components to study, not the whole

5 - no teleological meaning

See also: Relationship between mineral and spiritual science, and worldview wars

Lecture coverage and references

1 - Taking out the observer

See also: Goethean science

2 - Foolish extrapolation


If we enter as fully as possible into the situation as we stand here, within the Universe, as human beings on this Earth, we shall say to ourselves: “We as human beings have a physical body: where, then, is the Physical in the Universe?”

The physical science of today expects to find everything which is on the Earth existing also in the universe. But the physical organisation itself is not to be found in the universe at all.

Man has in the first place his physical organisation: then in addition he has the etheric and the astral. The universe on the other hand begins with the etheric.

Out there in the cosmos the physical is nowhere to be found. The physical exists only on the Earth, and it is but empty fancy and imagination to speak of anything physical in the far Universe. In the Universe there is the Etheric and the Astral.

There is also a third element within the universe which we have yet to speak about in this present lecture, for the cosmos too is threefold. But the threefoldness of the cosmos, apart from the Earth, is different from the threefoldness of the cosmos in which we include the Earth.

3 - only part of the spectrum is sensory consciousness

4 - Reductionism - partition and study fragments and not the whole


.. a crystal cube of rock-salt is in some respect a totality. The crystal cube can exist by virtue of what it is within the compass of its six faces. But if you look at a rose, cut from the shrub it grew on, this rose is no totality. It cannot, like the cube of rock-salt, exist by virtue of all that is contained within it. The rose can only have existence by being of the rose-bush. The cut rose therefore, though you can see it just as you can see the cube of rock-salt, is a real abstraction; you may not call it a reality by itself.

The implications of this are far-reaching. Namely, for every phenomenon, we must examine to what extent it is a reality in itself, or a mere section of some larger whole. If you consider Sun and Moon, or Sun and Earth, each by itself, you may of course invent and add to them a force of gravity, just as you might invent a force of gravity by means of which my forehead would attract my right hand.

But in considering Sun and Earth and Moon thus separately, the things you have in mind are not totalities; they are but parts and members of the whole planetary system.

This is the essential thing; observe to what extent a thing is whole, or but a section of a whole. How many errors arise by considering to be a whole what is in fact only a partial phenomenon within a larger whole! By thus considering only the partial phenomena and then inventing energies to add to these, our scientists have saved themselves the need of contemplating the inherent life of the planetary system. The tendency has been, first to regard as wholes those things in nature which are only parts, and by mere theories then to construe the effects which arise in fact between them. This is the essential point: For all that meets us in nature we have to ask: What is the whole to which this thing belongs? Or is it in itself a whole? Even then, in the last resort, we shall find that things are wholes only in certain respects. Even the crystal cube of rock-salt is a totality only in some respect; it too cannot exist save at certain temperatures and under other requisite conditions. Given some other temperature, it could no longer be. Our need is therefore to give up looking at nature in the fragmentary way which is so prevalent in our time.

[mineral science only looks at the element earth]

Indeed it was only by looking at nature in this fragmentary way that science since the 16th century conceived this strange idea of universal, inorganic, lifeless nature. There is indeed no such thing, just as in this sense there is no such thing as your bony system without your blood. Just as your bony system could only come into being by, as it were, crystallizing out of your living organism as a whole, so too this so-called inorganic nature cannot exist without the whole of nature — soul and spirit-nature — that underlies it. Lifeless nature is the bony system, abstracted from nature as a whole. It is impossible to study it alone, as they began doing ever since the 16th century and as is done in Newtonian physics to this day.

It was the trend of Newtonian physics to make as neat as possible an extract of this so-called inorganic nature, treating it then as something self-contained. This 'inorganic Nature' only exists however in the machines which we ourselves piece together from the parts of nature. And here we come to something radically different. What we are wont to call 'inorganic' in nature herself, is placed in the totality of nature in quite another way. The only really inorganic things are our machines, and even these are only so insofar as they are pieced together from sundry forces of nature by ourselves. Only the 'put-togetherness' of them is inorganic. Whatever else we may call inorganic only exists by abstraction. Present-day physics has arisen and is an outcome of this abstraction; it thinks that what it has abstracted is the real thing, and on this assumption sets out to explain whatever comes within its purview


the study of contemporary mineral scientific geology of the earth as a dead body instead of a whole living being

see: Mineral kingdom#1922-07-02-GA213


And this brings me to the fact that basically every entity that may be regarded at all as a totality actually carries its time within itself.

I can consider a piece [of an] inorganic body for itself, but not a leaf, because it only has a part in the tree. In my observation, therefore, I must take into consideration what is a total system closed in on itself, what is a totality. But every totality that I look at in this way has time in it as something immanent. So that I can't really have much to spare for the abstract time that is still outside every thing and exists [alongside] the time immanent in every thing or process. When I consider the time that is to go from beginning to end, it seems to me just as when someone forms the abstract concept for the individual horse. The individual horses are there in the external spatial reality, but in order to get the concept, I have to attribute something else to it. It is the same with time.

The question: Is time in itself variable or not? - has no real content, because every total system has its [own] time in its immanent being, and its [own] course of speed. The course of velocity of the inorganic or of the process of life leads back to this immanent time.


In geology we describe one period after another, as if it were a reality. It is not. It is only a reality with the whole of the Earth, in the same way that an organism is a reality, where I must not tear out one thing. Instead of relating our processes to coordinate axis systems, it would be more important to relate them to their own inner reality, then we would arrive at totality systems. And then we would have to come back to a kind of monadism.

5 - no teleological meaning


  • the school explanation of the creation of the solar system .. but the creator who set the whole thing in motion is 'forgotten', not included'
  • the axis of the car who tries to figure out what is going on but study of its intelligeable scope


This page was created 25 March 2020

Link with Goethean science

see ao:

  • Henri Bortoft: 'The Wholeness of Nature : Goethe's Way Toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature'

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