As I write to you during this Advent season, I would like to share with you several reflections concerning modern biology, then give you a brief overview of the General Secretaries’ meeting and finally offer news of what is being planned at the Goetheanum.
During a family dinner, I was seated across the table from a second cousin of mine, a neuropsychologist. He had done extensive research into the human brain, specifically concentrating on the region which is thought to retain spiritual and religious information. In the course of the evening, the conversation turned to the phenomenon of thinking and I shared something of my readings on the matter. This conversation made me aware of the current state of biological research – particularly neurobiology – and of how large the gap is that separates dyed in the wool materialists from those (not necessarily only anthroposophists) who hold to the possibility of explaining thinking as a supersensible reality.
The ‘Human Brain project’
In Switzerland a costly project is currently being undertaken with a view to creating a detailed map of the human brain. This map, it is hoped, will make it possible to understand the way neurons connect with one another. The main thrust of this project is based on a deep-rooted conviction that every human faculty, that all knowledge, that the origin of every human action can – like a computer – be pinpointed to an exact spot in the brain. Admittedly, biology has made enormous strides. We have only to think of our ever-increasing knowledge in the field of genetics and the “mapping” of the human genome which reveals the individual genetic background stored in each human being’s DNA.
The Human Brain Project is ambitious; hundreds of scientists are involved in this research. And yet, even in scientific circles the project is considered controversial because those who oppose it maintain that not enough is yet known about the brain to allow us to create a map of its neurons.
And then there is of course the question of human consciousness. Certain scientists claim that it is the brain that thinks and categorically refuse to consider the possibility of the existence of an individual in whom thinking originates. And yet, even as this attempt is being made to locate the origin of all human activity in the brain, there are other researchers who maintain that the entire human body is involved in creating self-awareness (of course Waldorf teachers and eurythmists can attest to this fact). Some thinkers such as Thomas Nagel, a professor at New York University, have explored the evolution of consciousness and have arrived at the conclusion that modern science cannot find answers to all of our questions; they claim that we must refer to other paradigms in order to explain the evolution of consciousness. The scientific establishment has severely criticized Nagel’s book (1) and refer to him as a fantasist. In this sense the theme of the year suggested by the Goetheanum: The “I” recognizes itself in the Light of the Michaelic Affirmation of the World, urges us to reflect on the connections between our “I” consciousness and the sensible and supersensible worlds.
In November of 1919, Steiner stated when speaking to an audience of non-anthroposophists: “seek the truly material and practical life, but seek it in such a way that it not blind you to the true spirit … strive for the spirit.” (2)
The General Secretaries’ Meeting
The meeting of the General Secretaries and the members of the Collegium of the School for Spiritual Science, held from the 4th to the 7th of November, explored three major subjects: the theme of the year (The “I” recognizes itself in the Light of the Michaelic Affirmation of the World); the General Anthroposophical Section; and recent events at the Goetheanum.
The meeting began with short presentations from Joan Sleigh of the Executive Committee and from the General Secretaries of Austria and Italy. These presentations were followed by discussion periods. Helmut Goldeman spoke of how the intellect is now situated exclusively in the region of the head and engenders dead thoughts. Yet today every human being has the power to reconquer living thinking through inner work. This new way of thinking can become a general practice, but in the process a human being must first attain self-knowledge to make way for the Michaelic impulse within. Each individual must face his own inner self in order to defeat egoism. He emphasized how the “I” can transform itself through the exercises described by Rudolf Steiner. Dr. Gaspieri affirmed that we already possess the strength to say “yes” to the spirit even though the “I” and the world have become more and more separated for over a century. We can access the Christ impulse within through a process of healing which creates a closer link with the spiritual world. Since the Mystery of Golgotha the human being is called upon to experience the various stages of love in order to reach the Logos. Joan Sleigh reflected on the fact that giving oneself up to the spirit world means that one does not live in a mood of sympathy/antipathy. One must strengthen one’s inner self to be able to connect with devotion to the invisible world. The self remains strong if it lives in devotion to, and love for, this connection between the manifest world and the elemental world. Michael requires that we develop the strength to act in the outside world, and Christ requires that we develop the necessary strength to act within ourselves. The new Michaelic language must vibrate in harmony with the new language spoken by Christ.
The General Anthroposophical Section
In a plenary session, we then exchanged thoughts on the General Anthroposophical Section. What role does a General Secretary play in supporting this section which cultivates understanding of the universally human? This Section is often thought to be identical with the First Class. We also discussed the unfortunate fact that many anthroposophical initiatives have distanced themselves from the Society.
The Goetheanum is hoping to organize a large conference for Michaelmas in September of 2016. Preparatory meetings will begin next fall. The intention is to prepare the future rather than celebrate the past, and the themes to be taken up will focus on the need for the Anthroposophical Society to be attuned to the present time. One of the major themes will explore the relationship between the School for Spiritual Science, the Society, and anthroposophically inspired initiatives. It will require that active members take up tasks and give of their time and energy in order to transform the anthroposophical movement, and it is hoped that many countries will participate in preparing this momentous event.
The preparations for the new production of Faust are well underway. Next year, several scenes will be performed and in the summer of 2016, the entire play will be performed in its complete version.
Three quarters of the repairs to the Goetheanum roof have now been completed. The next large project undertaken will be the creation of the visitors’ foyer in the west entrance of the building.
The Collegium of the School of Spiritual Science in North America is made up of the representatives of the various sections, including the General Anthroposophical Section and the General Secretaries of the two countries; the circle meets in a mood of spiritual research. Although the Collegium is not a national body, in the past almost all of its members were from the United States. Now we are four Canadian members: Monique Walsh for the General Anthroposophical Section, Bert Chase for the Visual Arts Section, Ariel-Paul Saunders for the Youth Section, and myself for the Council in Canada. The Society in America has generously covered most of the costs related to these gatherings. It remains to be seen how the Society in Canada might take on more of the financial burden of our participation in these meetings, which will depend of course on how our members feel about supporting this North American body.
Wishing you light-filled and inspiring Holy Nights,
Arie van Ameringen,
(1)Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, 2012
(2) Quote supplied by René Becker