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  Stefan Baumgartner's Book on Hauschka's Weighing Experiments and Critical Reviews of It
  

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By: Markus Sommer, M.D.
pgs. 89B-92B.doc



A recent contribution to this journal by C. Rasmus(1) reviewed and criticized S. Baumgartner's reproduction and extension of Hauschka's experiments to determine variation in the weight of germinating plants(2) Baumgartner was able to show that during germination in a hermetically sealed flask changes in weight occur which very probably cannot be explained in terms of secondary physical effects. The effect was only noted for as long as the seedlings were alive; the weight remained constant once they were dead. Rasmus' general attitude is negative, and his motivation appears to be the same of that of J. Wirz in an earlier review.(3) As similar feelings were expressed in personal discussions with well-known Goethean scientists, an attempt will be made here to bridge the gap. At the same time readers are advised to read the Baumgartner book for themselves.

It is generally admitted - in my opinion rightly so - that Baumgartner has been unusually exact in his work, taking account of all kinds of potential sources of error. Many of us would never have thought that such a simple process as determining the weight of something involves so many risks. There will be few among those who have actually done experimental work (including the writer) who will not blush with shame on comparing their own methods with the exactitude used by the physicist who takes account of potential sources of error that seem extremely remote. There can be no doubt but that Baumgartner was both objective and thorough. Criticism is leveled at other aspects.

It is said that by limiting himself to changes in weight occurring in a closed system, Baumgartner misses the true miracle of plant life, which is the creation of live matter "from water and air", concentrating cosmic sun energy in photosynthesis (T. Goebel, personal communication (In the same sense we read in Wirz's critique: "With someone for whom transformation of matter and the weight gained by germinating plants are not miracle enough..." (local).), which is, of course, a central and fundamental aspect of life, though we are not always sufficiently aware of it. This does not, however, invalidate the experiment, which makes it appear feasible that physical matter may be created de novo in a vital process. This may seem impossible in terms of Newtonian physics, but the possibility is not entirely alien to the "modern" way of thinking (though it appears that the order of magnitude of weight changes does not relate to the energies we assume are converted). Only the reverse process -release of energy as matter breaks down - is utilized today (generally with disastrous consequences). If it were true that the opposite occurs in a humble seed grain (germination of which is, of course, a "miracle"), this would not substantiate "supremacy of the spirit,"^ but modern scientists would probably begin to reconsider the certainty with which they generally assume the supremacy of matter over life — as if it were self-evident.

At the end of Rasmus's review the question is posed if "it is particularly helpful in Goethean science to seal life forms in an artificial environment and observe their behavior.”(1) It has to be admitted that it will always be a problem if a life form's way of expressing itself is artificially limited in an experiment. However, it is often only this kind of limitation (consider Baumgartner's analysis of potential errors) that will yield a definite scientific answer. Which is not to say that comprehensive insights may not also be gained without manipulation in the encounter between perceptive whole (the human scientist) and the whole to be perceived (the life form under observation).

The Goethean approach is continually providing evidence of this. In the latter case there is some danger of romantic lack of exactitude and "liberal" subordination of "minor details" to an idea which has been perceived (sometimes only a supposed idea), with the former a risk of fruitlessly dwelling on detail, or, worse, of experimental conditions creating a (seeming) reality by "forcing" the life form to produce a specific response. Both the macroscopic and the microscopic approach have their own dangers.

Naturally we should not take the response obtained from a life form with the "microscopic" approach to be "the whole of reality", and of course we have to use our "feeling for nature" in the "macroscopic" approach, as Rudolf Steiner demanded.(4) But sometimes it is also necessary to set experimental limitations. This provides support for a generalizing method of observation and an additional mode of observation.
Rudolf Steiner was enthusiastic about some highly artificial experimental designs, e.g. Lilli Kolisko's investigation of potencies, and with the work on "splenic function and the platelet issue", indicating that he appreciated both approaches as part of anthroposophic research.

It seems to me, however, that one particular offense in Baumgartner's work has so far attracted little attention, though it could take us further in considering the question as to which methods of "Goethean research are helpful". The scandalous statement says, quite simply, that "investigations made by the author showed significant variation in weight in approx. 30% of the experiments". Every university biometrician would be horrified at this, for to them, an effect is always there or it does not exist. Reliability, i.e. reproducibility of an experiment by any scientist in any place, is essential for the validity of a result. Lack of constancy of experimentally-observed effects appears to be characteristic for life forms, however, for (even with experimental limitations) the degree of freedom in response potential is higher with them than with lifeless objects. We may even go so far as to say that lack of uniformity in utterances relates to the extent to which a life form is alive and demonstrates that the experiment has been designed to be in accord with life principles. This is all the more so the greater the degree of freedom of the object under observation the psychological reactions people would show to one and the same stimulus will be more varied than the changes seen in physiological parameters of the same type of cell brought in contact with a substance, and this in turn is less standardized than the "reaction" of a lifeless substance to a physical force. Such an assumption does, of course, also demand that we abandon some of the concepts used in conventional statistics, concepts initially created to describe phenomena relating to lifeless objects (dice in games of chance, variability of industrial products, etc.) and frequently proven inadequate in the evaluation of effects in the sphere of life. The rich variety of live responses, with reproducibility not always possible, is also a problem in potency research (see(5), for instance). Benveniste knows this only too well. The anthroposophic approach, which is closely related to life, can often resolve apparent contradictions in this respect (see also(6)).

It would be a pity if we could not develop a fruitful dialogue between the "macroscopic" and "microscopic" approaches in anthroposophic research and if people were simply refusing to accept the right of a particular approach to exist. Perhaps physicians can act as mediators in this area, for most anthroposophic physicians will occasionally put a patient's blood cells into the "artificial environment" of a counting chamber (or ask others to do so), so that they can be counted under the microscope, without feeling that this limits their perception of the patient as a whole.
Markus Sommer, M.D. Parkstr. 16a 82194 GroebenzeU Germany
+ In the same sense we read in Wirz's critique: "With someone for whom transformation of matter and the weight gained by germinating plants are not miracle enough..." (local).
References
1 Rasmus C. Hauschka's Waegeversuche. Merkurstab 1994; 47:112-3.
2 Baumgartner S. Hauschka's Waegeversuche. Gewichtsvariationen keimender Pflanzen im geschlossenen System (Hauschka's weighing experiments. Variable weight of plants germinating in a closed system). Mathematisch-Astronomische Blaetter, Neue Folge, Band 16. Domach: Verlag am Goetheanum 1992.
3 Wirz J. Kritische Anmerkungen zu den Ausfuehrungen Stephan Baumgartners ueber Hauschkas Waegeversuche (Critical
comments on S. Baumgartner's discussion of Hauschka's weighing experiments). Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 1992; 56:
91-94.

4 Steiner R. Eight Lectures to Doctors (in GA 316), lecture of 2 January 1924. Tr. not known. MS translation R 96 at Rudolf Steiner House Library, London.
5 Strueh H.-J. Der Einfluss des Experi-mentators auf das Experiment (influence of experimenter on experiment). Tycho de Brahe-Jahrbuch fuer Goetheanismus 1991. Niefern-Oeschelbronn: Tycho de Brahe-Verlag 1991.
6 Soldner G, Sommer M. Can the efficacy of potencies be proven in laboratories? Anthro-posophical Newsletter Dec. 1988.





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