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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Fourth Dimension
GA 324a

Questions and Answers XVIII

15 January 1921, Stuttgart

A Question about the need for the anthroposophical position on the Einstein problem. Why must we suddenly reverse the sign when we leave the realm of the tangible for the ether?

Of course this also can be done without taking a specifically anthroposophical position, simply by studying the phenomena, [Note 118] as is done in many other scientific fields. (I illustrated an unbiased view of the phenomena of so-called heat theory in a course I gave to a small audience here a few months ago.) [Note 119] We then must attempt to express these phenomena in mathematical formulas. The peculiar feature of such formulas is that they are correct only when they correspond to processes we can observe, that is, when the results of the formulas correspond to, and can be verified by, reality. If you want to understand what happens when a gas contained under pressure is heated, it is artificial to apply the formulas worked out by Clausius and others, although it can be done. [Note 120] As is officially admitted today, however, that the facts do not correspond to the formulas. [Note 121]

In connection with Einstein's theory, it is strange to note the experiments that have been conducted. These experiments were set up on the supposition that a certain theory was correct. Because the experiments did not confirm the theory, another theory, based exclusively on experiments that exist only in thought, was then developed. [Note 122] In contrast, if you attempt to deal with heat phenomena by simply inserting the relevant positive and negative signs into the formulas, depending on whether you are dealing with conductive or radiant heat, you will find that reality confirms the formulas. [Note 123]

Admittedly, when we move on to other imponderables, simply changing the sign to negative is not enough, and we must include other considerations. We must imagine that forces in the tangible realm work radially, while those belonging to the etheric realm come from the periphery, have negative values, and work only within a circular area. Thus, when we move on to other imponderables, we must insert the corresponding values differently. We then will find that we arrive at formulas that are verified by actual phenomena. Anyone can take this approach, with or without becoming involved in anthroposophy.

I would like to emphasize a different point here. You must not think that what I told you in these four lectures simply stems from my anthroposophical approach. I have told you these things because they are true. The so-called anthroposophical approach does not anticipate phenomena,—it results from them. It is simply the consequence of an appropriate overview. If we attempt to recognize and understand objects and events without bias, an anthroposophical approach can result. The prospects for what I have told you would be poor if we had to take a biased view as our starting point, but that is not the case. We must pursue the relevant phenomena on a strictly empirical basis.

Although I still maintain that the anthroposophical approach can be the best approach, it is only the end result. After answering other Questions, Rudolf Steiner says in conclusion: I can emphasize repeatedly only that the anthroposophically oriented spiritual science that is developing here in Stuttgart is not a sectarian or amateurish movement. Although its forces are still weak, it is striving for real, authentic science. The more you test spiritual science, the more you will realize that it is a match for any scientific method of testing.

The many misunderstandings to which spiritual science is subject today are not the results of a truly scientific approach. The opponents of spiritual science battle it not because they themselves are too scientific but because they are not scientific enough, as further investigation will show. [Note 124] In future, however, we must become more scientific rather than less so. Science must make real progress,—namely, it must lead us into the spiritual realm as accurately as it leads us into the material realm.


  1. Question-and-answer session at the conclusion of four lectures to an academic audience on the relationships between spiritual science and individual specialized fields of science. The four lectures in this cycle, Proben über die Beziebungen der Geisteswissenschaft zu den einzelnen Fachwissenschaften ("Attempts at Formulating the Connections of Spiritual Science to Individual Specialized Fields of Science ), were held in Stuttgart from January 11 to 15, 1921, and were first published in the following editions of the periodical Gegenwart ("The Present), vol. 14 (1952-1953): January 11, 1921, no. 2, pp. 49-67; January 12, 1921, no. 3, pp. 97-118; January 15, 1921, no. 4/5, pp. 145-167; January 14, 1921, no. 6, pp. 225-236, and no. 7, pp. 257-268; question-and-answer session of January 15, 1921, no. 8, pp. 305-317. These lectures will be published in GA 73a. See also the report on this conference by Eugen Kolisko (1893–1939) in the periodical Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus ('The Threefolding of the Social Organism ), vol. 2, 1920-1921; no. 31, pp. 4-5; no. 32, p. 5; and no. 33, p. 4.

  2. Geisteswissenschaftliche Impulse zur Entwickelung der Physik: Zweiter Naturwissenschaftlicher Kurs. Wärmelehre ("Spiritual Scientific Impulses for the Further Development of Physics: Second Scientific Course. Heat Theory") (GA 321), Stuttgart, March 1 to 14, 1920.

  3. Rudolf Clausius (1822–1888), physicist in Berlin, Zurich, Wurzburg, and Bonn. Clausius, along with Ludwig Boltzmann (1844–1906) and James Clark Maxwell (1831–1879), is considered one of the founders of modern thermodynamics, which is based on kinetic gas theory and statistical mechanics. Clausius's book Die Mechanische Wärmetheorie ('The Mechanical Theory of Heat") includes his treatises on heat theory [1876-1891 ]. See also Rudolf Steiner's lectures of March 1 and 11,1920 (GA 321).

  4. The editors of Steiner's second scientific course (GA 321) point out that various authors expressed concern about efforts to explain thermodynamics on the basis of mechanics. (See the Note to p. 26 of the lecture of March 1, 1920, on pp. 222 ff.). We would like to add here that prior to the discovery of quantum mechanics and quantum statistics, it was not possible to reconcile completely various attempts to develop a mechanical model of the molecular structure of matter with experimental findings, especially those of spectroscopy. On this subject, see Harman [1982], chapters V and VI.

  5. The ether drift experiment conducted by Michelson and Morley beginning in 1881 was intended to determine the Earth's speed relative to the presumably stationary quasi-material ether of physics. The outcome of this extremely precise experiment was negative and raised questions about the validity of all theories of light and electricity that were based on the assumption of an absolutely stationary ether. A theoretical explanation of these findings was developed by Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853–1928) and George Francis Fitzgerald (1851–1901), working independently of each other. A short time later, Albert Einstein (1879–1955) derived the resulting formulas, such as Lorentz's contraction, from the basic assumptions of his special theory of relativity (the principle of relativity, the absolute constancy of the speed of light). Einstein used a series of experiments that exist only in thought to derive and illustrate his theory.

  6. 0n the formulas for conductive and radiant heat and on the explanations that follow here, see also Rudolf Steiner's lectures of March 12, 1920 (GA 321), and January 8, 1921 (GA 323). The relevant equations are discussed according to the methods of modern mathematics in Dustmann/Pinkall [1992],

  7. See, for example, the chapter in Rudolf Steiner's Riddles of the Soul (GA 21) entitled "Max Dessoir on Anthroposophy" and the discussions about Hermann Keyserling at the end of the previous question-and-answer session (October 15, 1920).