Clairvoyance, Scientific Thinking, and Intelligence

     An idea that is associated with Rudolf Steiner but which has been considered by others is that clairvoyance and psychic abilities were more much common in the past but have diminished greatly so that they have become very rare in the present.  Recently, I was thinking about how there is an analogy between this and scientific thinking.  

    In the past, particularly in ancient and prehistoric times (but probably also to a large extent during the Renaissance and Middle ages) clairvoyance would have been regarded as an essential part of a person's life.  Such a person would have been a shaman or would have been sought out by people for insight.  If they had a dream or a feeling that something was about to happen, they would take it very seriously.  While in the modern world, such experiences are more personal, individual.  Everyone has to live in our modern, materialistic society, so clairvoyance is something extra, not an essential aspect of someone's life.  

    I had an idea a while ago that if this idea about clairvoyance diminishing is true, then the same thing may happen to scientific thinking.  If human beings survive, there may come a time when consciousness has changed changed to such an extent that scientific thinking is regarded the way clairvoyance is now.  It would be regarded as a curio, something strange that is unconnected with the main concerns of life.  

    And, in fact, this is something that has already happened to some extent.  Scientific thinking is something that people learn in school, but it's no more than that.  It's a hat that people can take off and put on.  Here are some anecdotes about Isaac Newton (some taken from Robert Westfall's biography of Newton Never at Rest) which illustrate this: 

    Westfall notes that in Newton's day, Cambridge was not a particularly intellectual place, either for students or fellows.  Fellows were associated with a particular Cambridge college and drew a stipend.  They also had rooms in the college and dining privileges.  In Newton's day, many of the fellows performed no teaching duties (and some derisively referred to those who did teach as "pupil mongers") and some were not even resident in the college: their fellowships were simply sinecures.  Newton would talk walks  around the Cambridge grounds and draw geometrical diagrams with his walking stick.  Interestingly enough, the other fellows of Trinity would avoid disturbing his diagrams while they took their own walks.  

    So, even though they had no interest in science (more properly, natural philosophy) the other fellows of Cambridge respected Newton.  More than that, I would say that they had a place in their mind for natural philosophy; although they had no interest in being a natural philosopher, they thought it was something that someone could be.

     Another example is that Newton was asked to advise the government on scientific projects.  For instance, he was asked to speak to Parliament and evaluate proposed solutions to the problem of finding the longitude of a ship at sea.  Now, interestingly enough, the government officials and members of Parliament treated Newton as an equal, as a human being whose opinion on many matters was valuable.  In our current age, the proverbial image of a scientist is an oddball technician.  But Newton was as strange or stranger than many of the great scientists of the 20th century.  

    There is a story that he was speaking with a group of Anglican priests and one of them said, "Newton, you know more than any of us, why are you not in Holy Orders?"  To which Newton replied, "Then it is good that I am not."  And that appears to be something that Newton would frequently do: make terse statements without explaining them.  (In this case, the reason was Newton's Arianism, but he did not elaborate on this to the priests).  

    There is another story that someone who had known Newton for a long period of time only heard him laugh once.  The man saw Newton reading Euclid and asked what value Newton could possibly find in that decrepit old book; to which Newton laughed uproariously.  

    So, even despite Newton's peculiarities, he was respected by his contemporaries.  In the case of modern scientists, I believe the image of the oddball is a rationalization after the fact.  It's not the personality of scientists; there's something more subtle going on.  I think the cause is that most modern Westerners no longer have a place in their mind for science.  Other technical workers such as mechanics or electricians are more understandable because people can at least see the results of their work in a concrete way.  And so we see that science and scientific thinking (like thinking about averages and numbers) is just something people do for a job or for school; it has no purchase in their thinking about the world.

    And there's something else related to this, which is the way intelligence is treated in modern times.  As Bruce Charlton has pointed out, a typical Westerner in earlier times was probably more intelligent than a typical Westerner now and even more, the best minds from those times were much more so.  A sample quotation from the post "The hierarchy of authorities": 

"Obviously so! - nobody really believes that a high school kid with Wikipedia at his fingertips, or a hotshot globetrotting research professor, actually 'know more' than Aristotle or Aquinas. Rather, students and academics now actually know almost-nothing, and are - presumably - stuffed and overflowing and mere-conduits-for billions of words, sounds and images of fashions, illusions, delusions, distortions and open-ended misunderstandings.

    In other words, the great minds of earlier times were great for a reason and yet, this was not considered unusual.  One example would be the Apostle Paul, who was an extraordinarily intelligent man.  Here is a quote from the Penguin Dictionary of Saints: 

    "A second-century document depicts Paul as a man of unimpressive physical presence ('small, bald, bow-legged,' etc; cf. II Cor. x, 10); the Acts and the Epistles testify to the loftiness of his spiritual stature and the transcendent qualities of his mind.  For he was a great deal more than a tireless and powerful missionary; as religious thinker he has been through his letters a profound and enduring formative influence in the development of Christianity, and his greatness of mind and spirit becomes only more apparent as the centuries pass.  The symbols of St Paul in art are a sword and a book."

    Yet, Paul's intelligence wasn't considered unusual.  I think this has to do with the fact that people back then had a more integrated worldview.  The fact that a scholar or philosopher would be gifted with great intelligence and use it was no more surprising than that a man would pick up something with his hand.  Intelligence was considered part and parcel of the human being.  So, an intelligent person could no more stop using his mind than someone could stop using their hand to pick up objects.  In the present day, intelligence is considered to be something like a car - something additional to the person that can be used or not as needed.  And like a car, intelligence can taken as a status symbol.  An analogy might be a sports car vs. a sedan.  Bruce Charlton has written a good summary of this attitude in his post "IQ Paranoia on the Interweb."   It is true that scientists of the past were touchy about their scientific reputation and with regards to priority.  But they were not about their intelligence, as such. 

    I think these attitudes towards science and intelligence give us a sense of where we are in the evolution of consciousness.  We are past the age of academic, scientific thinking.  It is sustained by being taught in schools and being required for certain professions, but most people's consciousness is of a different form.  So, what we need to do is develop this different consciousness.  The form that its thinking will take will be personal and intuitive, rather than impersonal and mechanical.  This change with respect to scientific thinking also makes it more plausible that it is indeed what has happened with respect to clairvoyance.

    In the meantime, we should also have an attitude towards intelligence which resembles that of the ancients.  I am reminded of an early biographical document about Newton where (since there were hardly any scientists for comparison) the only people they could think to compare him to were Plato and Aristotle.  

    Disclaimer: Since intelligence is such a touchy subject, I should make clear that in the last section of this post, I am simply trying to describe a difference in attitude between the modern attitude towards intelligence and the older attitude and think about what it means.  I am not saying that intelligence does not matter or that differences in aptitude should be ignored. 

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