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The true face of the atom

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06-12-2017 3 comments Print!

The clear thinking of the young Rudolf Steiner identifies the relevant elements from a mass of thoughts about atomistic concepts and finds (in 1882) that the atom is seen as the only principle of reality. It underlies all material and sensual qualities, but has no qualities itself. It is not spatial and is undefined; it is just 'something', and this something is the foundation and essence of all being. As soon as one would assign a characteristic to it, it could not be the foundation any longer. So it has to be an uncharacteristic ‘something’. And still, atoms also cannot be only a concept, they have to exist in reality. The atom has to be something special, but in a general way.


Rudolf Steiner acknowledges the possibility that the concept of the atom could be used as a thought-model. But the problem is that it is considered to be the only real thing in the world, being the constituting element of it. So it is not only a thought that can be skillfully used, it is reality per se.

And then Rudolf Steiner goes on:
'If someone wanted to speak of the harmlessness of the atomistic notions, one could, to refute him, go ahead and hold up to him the consequences that have been derived from them. There are especially two necessary consequences: firstly, that the predicate of original existence is squandered on isolated substances void of spirit, quite indifferent toward one another, and otherwise wholly undefined, in whose interaction only mechanical necessity rules, so that the entire remainder of the world of phenomena exists as their empty haze, and has mere chance to thank for its existence; secondly, insurmountable limits to our recognizing result from this. For the human mind, the concept of the atom is, as we have shown, something completely empty, the mere “Something.” But since the atomists cannot be content with this content, but call for actual substance, yet determine this substance in a way in which it can nowhere be given, they must proclaim the unrecognizability of the actual essential being of the atom.

'Concerning the other limit of knowledge, the following is to be noted. If one sees thinking too as a function of the interaction of complexes of atoms, which remain indifferent toward one another, it is not at all to be marveled at, why the connection between movement of the atoms on the one hand, and thinking and sensation on the other, is not to be comprehended, which atomism therefore sees as a limit of our recognition. There is something to comprehend only where a conceptual passage over exists. But if one first so limits the concepts that in the sphere of the one, nothing is to be found that would make possible the passage to the sphere of the other, then comprehending is excluded from the start. Moreover, this passage would indeed have to be not of a merely speculative nature, but rather it would have to be a real process, thus permitting of being demonstrated. But this is again prevented by the non-sensoriness of atomistic motion.

‘With the giving up of the concept of the atom, these speculations about the limit of our knowledge fall away by themselves. From nothing must one guard oneself more than from such determinations of boundary, for beyond the boundary there is then room for everything possible. The most irrational spiritism, as well as the most nonsensical dogma, could hide behind such assumptions. The same are quite easy to refute in every single case, by showing that at their foundation there always lies the mistake of seeing a mere abstraction for more than it is, or holding merely relative concepts to be absolute ones, and similar errors. A large number of false notions has come into circulation especially through the incorrect concepts of space and time.’

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The true face of the atom

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  • From Bryn Davies @
    I believe I have seen photographs somewhere which claim to be pictures of atoms. How have these come about? Bryn😁
  • From Ron Breland @
    "The same are quite easy to refute in every single case, by showing that at their foundation there always lies the mistake of seeing a mere abstraction for more than it is, or holding merely relative concepts to be absolute ones, and similar errors." RS (Extract from above. )


    Return: Chapter Five
    Now let us return to the beginning of chapter five, and the warning that we have “torn apart” the world content. The argument is condensed in Steiner’s terse comments. Reflection will show that as we examine our own cognition we become aware of two components. To perceive we must receive the object of perception according to our own nature, that is, through two distinct modes of acquisition, and thus the “tearing apart” of the content into two contents. Thus we can only approach the object of perception by joining the contents of these two receptions, mediating the passive given with the intentionally given.
    But (and here is the point), though this distinction between what is given to us passively and what is given intentionally is important for our understanding of our act of cognition, it may be termed “artificial” with regard to the resulting content of perception. By the time we observe the outcome of successful intentional activity, the two given contents have become one, revealing the “necessary relation” they bear to each other according to their own nature. After all, in normal experience we become aware of a difference between them only when our proposal does not illumine the given — that is, our proposed organization fails.
    The fact that the two parts of the given are only distinct “parts” when we speak of a failed cognitive act, or when we distinguish content according to the mode of reception, should give us pause with regard to the usual assumptions concerning cognition. After all, thinking (intentional activity) has not as yet been revealed by this investigation as either subjective or transsubjective, although we are now in a position to address that question.
    Faced with the necessity of combining two contents in order to come by a phenomenal appearance, the investigator can take this structure in one of two ways: either the separation of the two forms of given is original and their unity a derived condition arising through our activity, or the union of the two is original, and their separation a derived condition produced by our modes of reception. The usual epistemological assumption would prescribe the former answer; we suppose that we have added our mental contribution to something which is already complete without it. This conclusion then necessitates some further justification for the addition of the intentional element.
    But if we attempt to solve this question by evidence rather than assumption, only a direct observation of the given contents themselves can reveal their relation. This is possible only when both are given — that is, when we have a phenomenal result. In the phenomena, the relation between the intentionally given and the passively given — a relation that belongs to the phenomena rather than to the conditions of cognition — is unity. The phenomena are indifferent to the manner in which they have been obtained and give no sign of being partitioned according to our modes of reception.
    This is one of the junctions at which Steiner’s transition from a transcendental to an immanent formulation of the problem of epistemology pays rich dividends. Obviously, if we were asking how our thinking applied to the reality independent of our senses, we would have no way of arguing that it applied at all. But now the whole problem of cognition is set by our passive reception of something other than thinking, which does not possess organizing relations and therefore is not intelligible in itself. We can only be asking, therefore, about whether our proposal has produced intelligible appearances. Ron Brady, "How We Make Sense of the World"
    • From Ron Breland @
      The atom as currently conceived then, according to the above account, is a reification (i.e., considered as a thing) of one of the two modes of reception characterized above. In fact, the atom would then would have to be deemed "artificial." It could not be a thing. It is an aspect or part of "the given" coming to meet us as "the World." Until "the given" is joined with the other half into a unity, viz., our intentional contribution, it does not appear as a phenomenon and certainly could not be called a "real thing." As RS says, "it is an abstraction."