Further chronicles of the real
- Its been said that Der Staudi's performance on WC is one that evidences a fundamental lack of empathy and compassion. Something he's never been short of, OTOH, is overarching self-confidence that can frequently tip over into simple arrogance. One example of that that's been mentioned here was his belief that in a discussion on design in nature he knew more about the principles of design than the aeronautical design engineer he was in debate with. Another is his frequent contention that he knows more about science - whether biology, physics or anything else - than people that have gained specialist training and knowledge in it. In this vein, he is currently lambasting the authors of 'The Marriage of Sense and Thought' (who are Stephen Edelglass, Georg Maier,
Hans Gebert, and John Davy) for 'fancying themselves scientists' (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/21627). Der Staudi, sadly, understands neither the philosophy nor the science in this thoughtful and profound book and instead, in his usual manner, attacks the competence of its authors. But several of the authors of this book, before becoming involved in the Steiner educational movement in the US, had careers as 'scientists' - Edelglass as a teacher of post graduate physics and Maier as a European nuclear physicist. I guess that if one were Der Staudi at this point it would be apposite to say 'yours for reading'; instead I think it more appropriate to reflect on the poverty stricken worldview of someone who feels the need to distort the record and attack individuals in this manner. Because these people actually understand what they are talking about Der Staudi, who doesn't, is reduced to the scholarship of envy and must attack them individually.
Der Staudi continues in his post to claim that sense-free thinking, or 'thinking about things other than sensory data' as he calls it, is a 'banal' and 'mundane' topic (in which category he includes mathematics !!!), except where Steiner wishes to claim that it can be developed to lead into the spiritual world, when it becomes 'naive' or 'confused'. But the notion of sense-free thinking, however one looks at it, can only be 'banal' for someone who's never thought about it. Even the thinking of mathematics contains a lot of notions derived from 'thinking about sense data' and Der Staudi's mis-understanding of this point strongly suggests that he has no understanding of mathematics, sense free thinking or probably the philosophy surrounding them. He compounds this apparent ignorance by trying to claim that the sense free thinking that is given in the paradigmatic example of mathematics isn't Platonism. The level of ignorance and bias displayed in this claim is just sad. Roger Penrose, one of the most pre-eminent mathematical physicists writing today, the co-discoverer of black hole theory with Stephen Hawking and his doctoral supervisor, describes three worlds that he believes intersect to create the real in the opening chapter of his magnum opus 'The Road to Reality'. One of these worlds is a Platonic one and contains mathematics. Of course, Plato himself describes the world of arithmetic and geometric forms as one exemplary of his notion of the Ideal. None of this of course will stop Der Staudi from making his increasingly ridiculous, ignorant and biased claims. To finish on a more upbeat note, I thought that it would be nice to provide a few of the excerpts from the Republic where Plato describes the value of mathematics as a way of encountering the sense free and eternal in the everyday world of ancient Greece. I first read this book before going up to university to read maths and physics and looking over it again brings back some interesting memories.
'And they both appear to lead the mind towards truth?'
'Yes, in a very remarkable manner.'
'Then this is knowledge of the kind for which we are seeking, having a double use, military and philosophical; for the soldier must learn the art of number or he will not know how to organise his army, and the philosopher also, because he has to rise out of the transient world and grasp reality, and therefore he must be able to calculate.'
'That is true.'
'And our guardians are both soldiers and philosophers?'
'Then this is a kind of knowledge which legislation must make a subject of study; and we must endeavour to persuade those who are in positions of authority in our State to go and learn arithmetic, not as amateurs, but they must carry on the study until they properly understand the nature of numbers; nor again, like merchants or retail-traders, with a view to buying or selling, but for the sake of their military use, and of the mind itself; and because this will be the easiest way for it to pass from the world of becoming to that of truth and reality.'
'That is excellent,' he said.
'Yes,' I said, 'and now having spoken of it, I must add how charming the science of arithmetic is! and in how many ways it is a subtle and useful tool to achieve our purposes, if pursued in the spirit of a philosopher, and not of a shopkeeper!'
'How do you mean?', he asked.
'I mean, as I was saying, that arithmetic has a very great and elevating effect, compelling the mind to reason about abstract number, and rebelling against the introduction of visible or tangible objects into the argument. You know how steadily the masters of the art argue against and ridicule any one who attempts to divide absolute unity when he is calculating, and if you divide it, they multiply it, taking care that one shall never be shown to contain a multiplicity of parts.'
'That is very true.'
'Now, suppose a person were to say to them, Glaucon, "O my friends, what are these wonderful numbers about which you are reasoning, in which, as you say, there are constituent units, such as you demand, and each unit is equal to every other, invariable, and not divisible into parts," - what would they answer?'
'They would answer, as I should think, that they were speaking of those numbers which can only be realised in thought, and there is no other way of handling them.'
'Then you see,' I pointed out to him, 'that this knowledge may be truly called necessary, requiring the mind, as it clearly does, to use pure intelligence in the attainment of pure truth?'
'I am amused,' I said, 'at your fear of the disapproval of the public, which makes you guard against the appearance of insisting upon studies which appear useless; and I quite admit the difficulty of believing that in every man there is a faculty of the mind which, when it has been blinded and ruined by other pursuits, is by these purified and re-illumined; and is worth far more than ten thousand eyes, for by it alone the truth is seen.
That the knowledge at which geometry aims is knowledge of the eternal, and not of anything transient which will decay.'
'That,' he replied, 'may be readily allowed, and it is certainly true that geometrical knowledge is eternal.'
'Then, my noble friend, geometry will draw the mind towards truth, and create the spirit of philosophy, and raise up that which is now sadly allowed to fall down.'
'Nothing will be more likely to have such an effect.'
'Then nothing should be more strongly required than that the inhabitants of your State should by all means learn geometry....