Love Actually: Reflections on Steiner’s Anthroposophy and Whitehead’s Philosophy in “American Philosophy and Rudolf Steiner”

“When a hybrid physical feeling occurs, the eternal object that was previously felt only with appetition is now felt physically, so that it is unrestrictedly realized. It now does confer definitenesss upon the individual. The novel possibility is no longer simply felt appetitively as a possibility; it now actually characterizes the experience. It is the difference, for example, between wanting to love all sentient beings and actually loving them.”

David Ray Griffin, pg. 177-178, in American Philosophy and Rudolf Steiner

In American Philosophy, Griffin’s chapter devotes space to an otherwise neglected aspect of Steiner’s philosophy, namely his “esoteric disclosures on such topics as the evolution of consciousness, karma and rebirth, diverse sciences and arts, and the inner life of the child (which forms the basis of the Waldorf approach to education).” (pg. xxvii) Steiner’s “all-embracing interpretations of the universe” that “have been out of fashion for most of this century,” (xvi) are, as with Whitehead’s, intended to overcome the duality between nature and spirit to gain insight into those “occult” forces otherwise hidden to sense perception.

Here, Griffin’s insight into the overlap between Whitehead’s account of this process and Steiner’s “spiritual discipline” is helpful to understand reality in a more inclusive way. Steiner’s Anthroposophy and Whitehead’s philosophy similarly seeks to provide a framework to understand the power of ideas and their effect on reality, as well as the implications of such ideas.

Griffin details a number of agreements between Whitehead and Steiner’s project to 1) reconcile science and religion, 2) provide an inclusive scheme of thought, 3) articulate the relevance of immediate experience to a worldview, 4) understand the existence of genuine freedom, 5) define pan-experientialism (“interiority”), 6) point out correspondences and interdependence between the macrocosm and microcosm, 7) overcoming the subject/object divide, 8) engender ontological romanticism 9) describe the evolution of consciousness (the idea that cultural evolution involves actual changes in the intra-psychic structure of existence) 10) recognize a divine influence, with Christ as revelation of nature of God, whose essence operates as love; 11) place God in relation to the world, 12) understand the reality of nonsensory perception, 13) recognize that knowledge of objects is not impossible, and 14) define an epistemological monism through which reality can be directly perceived.

Whitehead’s support for some of Steiner’s “occult” notions is similarly given, emphasizing A) Occult qualities and powers, in which creativity is recognized in the human mind in sensory perception, B) Extrasensory Perception, and ways objects rise to the level of conscious perception through perceptual modes, C) The Akashic Record, in which the distance between moments are erased so that knowledge of the past is possible through spiritual perception of the consequent nature of God, D) Divine Influence, or the subjective aim of a finite occasion with the power of self-determination even in relation to God, and E) Life after Death, and the unity of experience that is not dependent on the body.

I’d first like to draw attention to the hidden transference of conscious memory to the Oversoul as it reincarnates throughout time as soul. In this way, the spiritual discipline of Anthroposophy relates to the process philosophy of organism in the relation of esoteric wisdom to divine source, or the ground of conscious creativity. As self-determined novelty is felt mentally and then physically (hybrid), the “life” that exists becomes the personality of the living hybrid’s physical prehensions over time. This makes for a possible way in which the soul can survive bodily death, in that the conscious remnants of soul might be integrated in the Akashic record or the “mental” aspect of the physical cosmos.

Whitehead defines the human soul in terms of its relationship to novelty—a relation of intensity. Life is intensely felt as a “hybrid physical feeling,” the self-determining novelty as it is felt mentally and intensely experienced in an actual occasion of experience. Novelty as hybrid physical feeling is the way “progressive evolution” and the “transformation of the human soul” occurs. This is how living prehensions connecting occasion to occasions are understood as hybrid physical prehensions, transformed by the novelty that was felt mentally in the prehended occasion and felt physically by the prehending occasion. That is, if a form or eternal object [i.e. soul] is a pure possibility, to feel it mentally is to feel it as a possibility; consequently, when the eternal object is felt physically, it is unrestrictedly realized, conferring definiteness upon the individual and characterizing the experience.

Griffin explains this as the difference “between wanting to love all sentient beings and actually loving them.” (pg. 178) It is the character that is experienced and intensely felt in those hybrid occasions that live into each new moment through the intensity of thought, feeling, and desire: “It is when the novel possibility for one’s own existence is felt with sufficient desire or appetition that a hybrid physical feeling can occur.” 178

Steiner ideas of reverence is similar to Whitehead in this regard, which “awakens in the soul a sympathetic power through which we attract qualities in the beings around us, which would otherwise remain concealed.” As the soul feeds on feelings, each occasion of the soul’s life acts as the creative synthesis of a multitude of feelings. Sympathy, then, provides the feeling of the feeling in another, to feel conformally with that other. This devotion of souls for others thus opens one to receiving more intense feeling and become conscious of their feelings. Griffin thus opens up the question of whether Steiner’s reverence allows for extrasensory conscious perception: “Love is a tie that binds; in this case it would bind souls together telepathically.” 179

By connecting Steiner’s method of intuitive thought and feeling and Whitehead’s divine aim directed towards the intensification of experience, we are provided an occasion by which love opens us to conscious knowledge of qualities of beings of which we had previously no conscious knowledge. The deepest mysteries are hidden, perceived, and attained in one’s personal world of thought and feeling:

Act of Will V4The “occasion of experience arises out of whole past universe and is a microcosm, containing that universe, including God, within itself. If we could become fully conscious of the feelings at the base of our experience in each moment, we would indeed know “the deepest mysteries.” The way to deeper knowledge is through, not around, our feelings.”

This provides the impetus to craft “contemplative practices” with which to form right kind of thoughts and through these thoughts develop certain kinds of feeling: “thoughts entertained with intensity are seen to be capable of making a difference for the better.” 180-181 Whitehead too sees religion as a system of general truths, intensely apprehended to effectively transform character. Here, thought is intensely felt over time to bore itself into the soul, to produce real change. As one can only attain something by desiring it, one should thus not try to eliminate the desire for spiritual knowledge and self-transformation, but rather educate the desires. Steiner believes “desire will always tend to fulfillment if backed by a particular force,” so that we can learn to cherish and foster a particular desire to bring with it its own fulfillment.

3 levels integrated

What force fulfills life? Esoteric cosmologies like that of Sri Aurobindo suggest the subjective experience of Brahman offers insight into the nature of reality. The soul is incarnate in the illusion of material space-time, though it maintains an ongoing and eternal relation (one-ness) with divinity. This incarnating aspect, the soul or psychic being, is the essence of the energetic quality that reincarnates from life to life. Aurobindo holds that there exists a supreme power, the Supermind, which is the first emanation and can be brought into play through the practice of yoga to yoke life, mind and matter with sublime states of consciousness, being, delight and power and thereby manifest more of our inherent divinity.

The point of the soul is to live in relation to the nature of god. The life of the soul marks the distance between living occasions of novelty, creatively expressing itself as the conscious concrescence of ConsciousBlissForce (Sachichananda, the subjective experience of Brahman). As each individual occasion culminates in this larger process, Nature Alive emerges in the culminating organism, the Everpresent Now of Time.

In each moment (each actual occasion) the self-consciousness of divine presence acts as the process of organic becoming—Life—a microcosm containing God within itself. ConsciousBlissForce integrally enacts itself as the life of the soul, reincarnating in those masters and doctors healing the world (overcoming separation) to actualize loving force in Time.

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