Language and Methods of Anthroposophical Medicine

By: Thomas Goebel, Hans Broder von Laue

Language and Methods of Anthroposophical Medicine

As a contribution to an introductory issue, this article attempts to summarize some cha­racteristics of the anthroposophical approach to healing. In particular, it aims to illustrate the character of thinking and of language that underlie this approach. Articles appearing in a publi­cation such as this may, because of the specialized language they use and the perhaps unfami­liar methods of thinking they describe, seem peculiar or hard to follow in a first reading. It is hoped that this article will help give insight into these qualities of language and method and that it will illuminate some of the difficulties in writing about something as many-sided as the anthroposophical approach to medicine.

The first part of this article is a translation of the first half of an article by Th. Gobel and H. B. von Laue, entitled "Arzneimittelentwicklung in der anthroposophischen Medizin", which appeared in the April, 1977, issue of the German Beitrage zu einer Erweiterung der Heilkunst. The second part, written by Charles and Lisa Davison, continues the discussion of the methods and language – in fact the thinking – underlying the anthroposophical approach to medicine.

Part I
Thomas Goebel / Hans Broder von Laue

To understand our method of working, which is based on principles we call Goetheanistic and which we will describe below, it is essential to be clear about the structure of human thin­king. Thinking is just as much a tool of scientific activity as are experimental instruments. The results of scientific investigation depend on the way a (research) question is framed and on the scientific attitude of the investigator rather than on the object of study alone. Consequently it appears to us that an unprejudiced critical evaluation of the mental instrument – thinking – is as important as critical evaluation of research methods, the construction of research and the re­search results themselves. So we must first examine "thought as scientific instrument" and second investigate the means by which we form hypotheses, from which are derived the aims for specific scientific projects.

Thought as a Scientific Instrument
The "analytic investigation of nature" (in the words of Bunning) can only be the sum of the parts of research results. If the starting point of an analytic work is a whole organism, an organ, an organelle, a cell or a gene, the result of the work is the "putting together" of the inve­stigated object. If no other thought process than the analytic is used, nothing can emerge but the apparently unconnected parts of the research results. On the other hand, a synthesizing thought process brings to consciousness the connection between these parts. These two thought processes – the analyzing and the synthesizing – work in a polar manner.

It is unusual in science to distinguish between analytic and synthetic thought processes. As an example of such a distinction, we might use the work of Bunning, whose pioneering re­search in biologic rhythms (the concept of biologic clocks is his) deserves careful attention. When he reports on his own manner of work (something which the majority of contemporary scien­tists unfortunately omit), however, it appears that his "understanding within himself" is not in complete accord with his own uncontested achievements. In his Entwicklungs - und Bewe­gungsphysiologie der Pflanze, 3. Auflage (Physiology of Development and Movement of the Plant, 3rd Edition) he says, "Before we begin the analytic process, organisms confront us as self-contained unities, as forms or individuals. From this kind of observation, which remains solely a 'looking-on' and which is in a strict sense morphologic, we receive the impression that what we call a living being might be something firmly outlined in time and space. In the con­temporary study of biology, the term 'morphology' is usually understood not as the contem­plation of self-contained entities but as the exact description of that which is organized [into the form]. But we must be acquainted with the former kind of observation in order to understand certain errors which repeatedly slip into biology. No other natural objects give the impression of being self-contained forms as organisms do; they even give the impression that such forms might be permanent beings, beings that are not only more than their individual parts and pro­cesses but that also direct these processes of themselves. This explains why even the analytic mode of observation (which is intentionally not simply 'looking on') repeatedly errs in ascrib­ing a causal activity to the observed entities. To avoid such errors one must consider the goals and working methods of physiology. Through the analytic investigation of nature, we find only a complicated interaction of processes, not a being that exists beside the processes and which we could claim as a bearer or director of living processes. Nor in the analytic contempla­tion of man do we find that unity which is reached only through inner experience. The physio­logical contemplation of nature is consciously one-sided. The physiologist abdicates investiga­ting psychic aspects of living processes. He further abdicates investigating any qualities [i. e. the qualitative aspects] of things excepting space-time connections. His way of observing na­ture is an attempt to reduce every event to mathematically formulable laws."

Bunning states rightly that scientific work must begin with the direction of thought pro­cesses toward the objects of study. We agree with him when he speaks of the results of analytic thought: that the original wholeness of the object of study, which was at first "naively" expe­rienced, proves to be a conglomerate; and that one should not be deceived by sensory appearan­ces and take this original wholeness for reality.

He is, however, in error in believing that one is able to discover a "complicated interac­tion" of processes through analytic investigation. That such interactions are knowable is not being contradicted here, but rather that such knowledge is possible through analytic investiga­tion, because analytic investigation can only lead to the parts and not to the interactions. The interactions, on the contrary, can only be found through a thought process which is itself of a synthetic nature. Bunning overlooks the fact that he has used another thought process at this point. Every discovered "interaction", every "connection between forms", and even every "causal connection" is brought forth by a synthetic thought process; such thought connections can neither be experienced as sense objects nor known through analytic activity.

This leads to the insight that one must make oneself conscious of the difference between the world of objects revealed to the senses and a knowing insight into these. That which appears to the senses has the characteristic of "wholeness". A meadow, for example, is a whole only as long as one does not notice the individual parts of which it is composed. Likewise the sensory appearance of a single plant remains single only as long as one does not notice its composite na­ture. Examining it, one finds blossom, leaf, and sprout as its parts, and the plant is seen as com­posite. The same goes for the blossom; it falls apart into calyx, corolla, stamen and pistil. The fact that the synthetic thought processes are not carefully noted is connected with a certain out­look prevalent in science since the mid 19th century: it is considered of no value to return (in thought) to the starting point of the investigation. Consequently it is usually forgotten that one can find one's way back to the object of study with instruments of research that belong to thought processes. According to our view, this effort must remain in the foreground of all sta­ges of scientific work, even at the first observation, before analytic thinking enters. "Asto­nishment" is something of which Goethe expressly indicated the scientific importance; he re­commended cultivating just this activity. The question of the "whole" is kindled through this kind of meeting with the object of investigation. This is the precondition for finding one's way back in thought to the object of research. The method of thought which we advocate does not renounce analytic thought processes but rather only makes a judgment as to where these pro­cesses are applicable and how they are to be ordered into a whole understanding.

The difference between analytic and synthetic thought can be more sharply defined: ana­lytic thought is spiritual (mental) in its activity (and here "spiritual [mental] " is understood to mean everything that one does not experience through his senses), but its content refers to ob­jects. Synthetic thought is spiritual in both its activity and its content, for now the concept of the connection appears in consciousness, where before only the sum of the parts was observable as object. The farther and more exactly one follows the connection a concept has at first with re­lated concepts and, beyond these, with all other concepts, the more lively it appears. This is re­lated to the way the concept comes into being, for it arises only through synthetic, connective thought. On the other hand, the more a concept is seen as isolated, the more it loses its mental (spiritual) character and in the end becomes only an empty name.

The world of experience which confronts the naive, or, in Goethe's sense, the astonished consciousness, contains two sides: a "picture" side, which man perceives by means of his sen­ses and on which he can work analytically (i. e. through analytic thought processes), and a side which has been brought into reality by analysis itself. This part of the world can, however, be experienced only through synthetic thought. To continue with the analogy of the meadow: Through synthetic thought one can follow how the leaves are ordered by regular laws of succes­sion of the leaves of a plant and how the blossom shows itself to be the cause of this succession (note: This is an idea Goethe developed in his Metamorphosis of Plants -ed.). Similarly one can discover how the single plants are ordered in connection with other plants into a plant commu­nity of the meadow, and what connections these have to atmospheric substances, the earth and the insects. This conceptual richness cannot, however, be experienced naively, but only through the work of synthetic thought on the basis of previous analytic activity. We choose an example from one science (botany), but every science which produces connections must use the same (basic) working methods.

... In the same way that one can interact naively with the world of the senses, he can do this also with the world of ideas. Naivete toward the sensory world can be maintained by re­nouncing analytical thought. The same naivete appears on the conceptual side as blindness to the special conceptual character of synthetic thought. In order to become aware of the differ­ence between the two polar thought processes (analytic and synthetic) (so as to become res­ponsibly aware of scientific thought processes --ed. ), one must begin by analyzing the workings of consciousness as much as the experience of objects. Only then can one decide practically when each thought process must be used, and how. One is then in the position to know how the thought process determines the content of knowledge and how a certain thought process creates only a certain kind of thought content.

The person who considers analytic thought alone to be fit for science, who subsumes fur­ther necessary thought processes under the rubric "analysis" and who thus remains naive con­cerning thought processes — that person does not see that his results are not determined solely by the objects of research which he studies. Every result depends also on the thought processes used to reach it. If thought processes are naively used, a distorted image of reality arises. The differences between the individual thought processes and their relationship to one another were elaborated by Rudolf Steiner in the anthroposophical view of man. The concepts develo­ped through synthetic thought can be applied anew to experience, and through this they can be further developed in a "growing" way. The "wholeness" so obtained out of concept and expe­rience is naive regarding neither experience nor ideas. The "wholeness" is true, because it in­corporates the kind of necessity that is found in the field of ideas, and the wholeness is real be­cause it coincides with sensory experience. But this is no simple coincidence, since the same idea is contained in a great number of appearances of objects. The idea proves to be the general case, the appearance the specific case of (the whole) reality.

Through this kind of methodical work, synthetic thought, creating and transforming con­cepts, leads as far beyond the quantitative side of the world as analytic thought leads beyond simple experience (to the manifold parts). In this way Goethean science does not need to re­nounce the study of qualities.

This kind of exchange between thought and experience creates, in the course of time, con­fidence in thought, because concepts prove to be fruitful in the Goethean sense. He who makes practical attempts in scientific work in this kind of way, senses that he has entered on a path of development.

Confidence in the fact that thinking can (but need not) represent reality is not present in the contemporary scientific world. That this is a fact can be asserted here only as a statement of experience, because it is also a question of insight won through practical experience (and not only a question of logical proof). The steps in such a path are an "astonished contemplation", the return to the legitimate parts, the development of appropriate questions, the use of organi­zing thought processes to create concepts appropriate to reality and the testing of these concepts for their usefulness in understanding the world.

The concepts developed in the path described above differ in another way from those used in the natural sciences. An example is found in the discussions about a new medication law. Here, when the subject is the purpose of a medication, the term "mode of action" is used. The concept "mode of action" reflects a certain outlook about the chemically defined substance and its consequences in the organism. This kind of thinking has the advantage of complete perspi­cuity; that is, nothing remains at the end of such a path of research that is not perspicuous or that cannot become so in principle. The demand for complete perspicuity is connected with the contemporary frame of mind. This frame of mind strives to keep scientific work away from all that is unconscious, unknown and uninvestigated, as this would put the researcher in a state of unfreedom, compelling him to a manner of thinking consisting of concepts that withdraw from intellectual grasp.

On the other hand, man is a being whose reality is at first closed to such (intellectual) thought. The intelligent interaction of all the living processes of the human organization is an unsolved riddle. The models established so far give a most incomplete insight into a few single functions. And the correlations between physiological and psychological processes are almost unknown. The question of how the "soul-spiritual" element of man uses his physical body as an instrument is a question scarcely asked scientifically. The desire to see "sense" in destiny is not considered a problem open to science and is banished to the realm of faith. We consider it valid, in the area of "medicine", to use concepts that are related to the whole of "man", "ill­ness", "medication", and "therapy" and which are capable of development in the above sense. For these concepts contain on the one hand what is already visible among these connections and on the other hand a "readiness" to be developed further by phenomena, in order to enlarge the concepts appropriately. Even ordinary natural science will not get along without this attitude.

Therefore we do not speak of "mode of action", but of healing, because "mode of action" suggests that the object of the efforts, the sick person, has been fully understood. The word healing is humbler, because it makes one aware in one's work of the gap that is present between external knowledge and reality. The wish to reckon with the unknown appears appropriate to a scientific attitude through which one studies living processes through which soul and spirit in­terpenetrate.

The anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner does not arise (only) in the above-described scienti­fic manner, because in anthroposophy the contents of observations (also) enter consciousness through "organs" other than the usual senses. The manner in which the content of observa­tions of anthroposophy and of the natural sciences is processed, however, is the same. The con­cepts won by the means of observation of anthroposophy represent a reality. These concepts can be fitted with those developed by the Goethean path described above as a seal fits its impres­sion.