Attention Scientists!

I thought this title might attract some attention….. I really would like to address what I am about to say to all parents…. but perhaps especially those with a strong interest in science…. and who perhaps are wondering about what “Waldorf science” might be.
And that can be hard to encapsulate. We had a study on my discussion forum about David Mitchell’s article on the Waldorf approach to science  and an earlier discussion on an article by Craig Holdrege of the Nature Institute about developing the thinking capacities of children, but there is still a lot of room for getting to grips with what makes the Waldorf (or to be more precise, Goethean or anthroposophical) take on science so different.
So here is a wonderful article by Steve Talbot of NetFuture which I think can really help people start to see what I keep driving at when I refer to the differences between “Waldorf” and conventional views of science. The article is called Do Physical Laws Make Things Happen (it’s actually from a book Talbot is working on). Here is an excerpt, just to peak your interest:
In Chapter 2 (“The Limits of Predictability” ) I tried to show the great distance between understanding a certain lawfulness inherent in events and predicting or explaining the events themselves. Contrary to all current thinking within science, the more uncompromisingly;y we formulate the precise and determining action of a physical law, the less it tells us about the events it governs. We gain more and more exactness about less and less of the world’s concrete expression.
I illustrated this by describing what happens when we release a leaf in a vacuum chamber. The leaf now “drops like a rock.” That is, we get a trajectory that seems to be little more than the graphic display of a mathematical expression we call the “law of gravity”. To see an event in this way as a mathematical necessity made visible gives us a powerful sense of explanation.
But – and this was the decisive point – if we restrict ourselves to the sphere of our mathematical explanation and do not smuggle in qualitative aspects of the phenomenon lying outside the explanation, then we no longer even know whether we’re dealing with a leaf or a rock! The explanation, in its own terms and despite all its precision, gives us no means to distinguish between the two. We highlight a law equally implicit in both leafy and rocky phenomena by sacrificing everything distinctive in those phenomena to the single, implicit aspect we are looking for.
Talbot goes on to say:
The decisive question is not whether there is predictable order in the world. Nor is it whether mathematically precise laws focus our attention upon elements of this order – which obviously they do. Rather, we need to ask how, in their strictly quantitative, precise, and unequivocal aspect, laws relate to the world they help us understand.
I have found this article to be extremely useful as my husband and I have been watching a series of Classical Physics lectures which often takes  a mechanistic and deterministic  approach from mechanics and applies it to living organisms in a way which I find baffling and sorely lacking. The scientists at the Nature Institute work to bring context and qualitative analysis to phenomena, something which is so sorely missing in much of our modern science. Anyone who has been in a hospital and has been referred to as “the kidney stone” or the “hysterectomy” knows how frustrating, alienating and out of context as a living being they can feel when they are reduced to a single phenomena. While discussing the physics lectures with our 15 year old, we have been grateful to this article by Steve Talbot to help us broaden an understanding of the usefulness and limitations of classical physics. I have written a blog article on my high school blog discussing this.
Have a read of Talbot’s article! I would love to have your feedback!

Posted on October 30, 2008 in Science

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