Scientific Approach to Research

The main characteristic of a scientific approach to research is that it is focusing on that part of reality which can be perceived by physical senses or by instruments which serve as an extension of our ordinary senses. Whatever exists outside this physical perceptible domain is regarded as metaphysical, or as subjective, or as non-existent, and so on, and thus labelled as unscientific. What scientists fail to realize is the fact that they themselves are using an intrinsic spiritual activity – the activity of thinking – to produce methods of research and explanations which eliminate half of reality – that is, the spiritual pole of the world existence.

Main Characteristics of Scientific Approach

In modern times we are witnessing the dominance of nutritional research performed inside different branches of natural science, especially the medical branch. For that reason we need to compare the key characteristics of a scientific versus spiritual-scientific approach to research with the aim of comprehending the relationship between these two modes of research. [1]

Materialistic versus Spiritual Worldview

We need to start with the recognition that "there are people so constituted that it is not possible for them to find the way to the spirit, and to give them any proof of the spirit will always be hard. They stick to something they know about, in accordance with their nature. Let us say they stick at something that makes the crudest kind of impression on them – materialism. We need not regard as foolish the arguments they advance as a defence or proof of materialism, for an immense amount of ingenious writing has been devoted to the subject, and it holds good in the first place for material life, for the material world and its laws.

Again, there are people who, owing to a certain inwardness, are naturally predisposed to see in all that is material only the revelation of the spiritual. Naturally, they know as well as the materialists do that, externally, the material world exists; but matter, they say, is only the revelation, the manifestation, of the underlying spiritual. Such persons may take no particular interest in the material world and its laws. As all their ideas of the spiritual come to them through their own inner activity, they may go through the world with the consciousness that the true, the lofty, in which one ought to interest oneself – all genuine reality – is found only in the spirit; that matter is only illusion. This would be an extreme standpoint, but it can occur, and can lead to a complete denial of material life. We should have to say of such persons that they certainly do recognize what is most real, the spirit, but they are one-sided; they deny the significance of the material world and its laws.

Can we say that the representatives of spiritual worldview are right? As regards the spirit, their assertions could bring to light some exceptionally true ideas, but concerning matter and its laws they might reveal very little of any significance. Can one say the materialists are correct in what they maintain? Yes, concerning matter and its laws they may be able to discover some exceptionally useful and valuable facts; but in speaking of the spirit they may utter nothing but foolishness. Hence we must say that both parties are correct in their respective spheres." [2]

What about the representatives of spiritual science? They acknowledge the existence of both spheres – physical and spiritual – each with its own sets of laws which are not identical, but they often work in opposition to each other. For example, in mechanical systems the law of entropy, is active, while in living organisms we can recognise the existence of a force which is continually counteracting the dispersal of energy until the death of an organism (for that reason it is called by some scientists 'negative entropy'). This is one example which demonstrates that we cannot use the same approach in the investigation of the laws and relationships in these two different realms of existence. The often heard demand to scientifically prove the effect of supersensible forces (e.g. a demand for scientific proof for the effect of homeopathy) is therefore irrational. Behind such demands is the same logic as if someone would ask for the supersensible proof of the effect of physical forces. These two spheres of existence demand different ways of thinking, different methods of investigation and different ways of providing proofs.

Sensible versus Supersensible Perceptions of the World

There is a strange paradox in the attitude of modern science. This consists of the following fact: while the focus of scientific research is on the physical world, many scientists behave as a kind of authority on the issues of spiritual perceptions, with the aim to prove that any kind of spiritual explanation is off the mark. However "someone who knows nothing of these worlds should not raise objections to them. It should be a general principle for everyone that we may only speak of things that we know something about and should never make statements about things about which we know nothing. All opinions based on idea that spiritual worlds must remain unknown to us are therefore a logical error that does no good at all. No one should ever say: Any world I do not perceive and know about does not exist." [3]

The fact is that scientific methods of research suited to the world of perceptible matter cannot disprove the existence of spiritual realities which can be perceived only by developing supersensible organs of perception. Those scientists who are making judgements on spiritual issues about which they are not familiar, to a similar degree as they are in their specialised scientific fields, are simply expressing their personal opinions, disguised in a 'only-we-know-what-is-real' attitude.

Spiritual science does not deny the importance of the material world and also acknowledges great achievements of modern science in many spheres of research and domains of life. For that reason spiritual-scientific researchers are capable of investigating both worlds, physical and spiritual, and the relationships among various domains of these two worlds.

Discoveries versus Interpretations of Facts

The scientific approach claims a special position in regard to the acquisition of the true knowledge about the world phenomena, because of its methods of investigation based on precise observation of the facts. Although the result of this approach – a multitude of fascinating facts which were before hidden to our ordinary sense perceptions – is not questionable, this is not always the case with the interpretations of them. This is due to an unconscious or conscious scientific assumption that facts themselves have in them "something conclusive, complete. However, apart from the factor of sensible qualities, there must be within reality a factor which is comprehended only by thought. Thinking is an organ of man ordained to observe something higher than is afforded by senses. To thinking is accessible that side of reality of which a mere sense-being could never become aware. The role of thinking is not merely to repeat the sensible, but to penetrate into what is concealed from the senses. The sense-perceptions give us only one side of reality. The other side is the apprehending of the world through thinking." [4]

For that reason spiritual science accepts the facts discovered by natural science, but not one-sided materialistic explanations of these facts, except in the domain of modern technologies. This means that in the realm of nutrition – which is phenomenon that exists only in living organisms – materialistic interpretations of modern science cannot produce fruitful explanations which would enable people to gain a real comprehension of this complex topic.

Inclusion of Objective versus Subjective Evidence

Science strives for an objective approach to research with the aim to exclude influences which would distort the final conclusions, such as personal sympathies and antipathies, wishes and desires, assumptions, prejudices, etc. [5] Different branches of science have ambivalent attitudes towards inclusion of subjective evidence. For example, whilst in psychology human thoughts and feelings are recognised as real factors which influence the overall state of a human being, the medical branch is primarily focused on investigation of mechanisms of physiological processes and occurrences of specific diseases. This means that only physiological processes are regarded as real/objective, whilst influences which originate in the inner soul life of human beings are subjective, and labelled as anecdotal evidence, placebo, and similar evidence upon which we cannot rely. [6] The result of such an approach is exclusion of psychological and mental effects on the human body from the final conclusions. But such a one-sided attitude creates a serious problem in the domain of nutritional research. With the exclusion of human subjective experiences we exclude the essential nature of the human being himself. Such an approach is doomed to fail in the field of nutritional research, for consumption of food is intrinsically connected with feelings of pleasure or displeasure, subjective sensations of taste, smell, and so on – all that which is an integral part of being human. This is confirmed by the experiences of the food industry where there is the greatest emphasis on challenge on how to create an irresistible product. And "what creates irresistibility is caring, attention, visual appeal, and the appeal of taste, aroma, texture, and consistency" [7] – that is, the perceptions which belong mainly to the subjective domain of human experiences. Here we have proof that in the field of nutrition feeling and the way we experience things has an impact as real as other objectively measurable facts.

Spiritual science puts the human being in the centre of its research, with the awareness that inside the human being there is a place where subjective and objective spheres meet. For that reason human beings have potential to overcome any disparity between subjective and objective activities. This can be done in many ways, but not when we regard subjective experiences as unscientific – what is one of the main characteristics of the scientific approach. With the inclusion of both domains and investigation of how they influence each other, we create nutritional research which is suitable for human beings.

The Limits of Scientific Methods of Investigation

The aim of scientific research is to find out how and what has a decisive effect on a particular condition or process in the human organism. In medicine there is prevalent an opinion that "the only way to establish cause and effect with any reliability is to do 'controlled' experiments, or controlled trials, as they are called in medicine. Such trials attempt to create two identical situations – two groups of subjects, in this case – and then change only one variable to see what happens." [8] But this could be done, in principle, only if we had two groups of identical twins – which is usually not the case. In this way science simply excludes the most important part of human beings – that is, their uniqueness. The assumption behind such trials is that people react to a specific drug or dietary change more or less in the same manner. This is a great error which does not take into account human individuality, but only the part of human being which belongs to the whole human race or to a specific nation. [9]

There is another limit in scientific research, based on "the error of many scientific observations which draw their conclusions about some effects on the basis of what happens in the course, say, of the next five years, whereas in many cases the effects show themselves only after decades." [10] This is especially true in regard to medical research when it is simply not possible to test the long-term effect of medicines or dietary changes. It is quite common practice that a specific drug or food is proclaimed good or bad on the basis of short-term experiments and observations of their effects, including the unintended side-effects.

There is also an inherent limit of the analytic approach used in the medical research because of the sheer number of variables which have a cumulative effect on the state of the human organism. This creates the situation where collected data "become subject to many interpretations. This ambiguity exists because of the difficulty of sorting out causes, effects, concomitant variables, and random fluctuations when the cause are multiple or diffuse, the exposure levels low, irregular, or hard to measure, and the relevant mechanisms poorly understood" [11] – that is, in the great majority of cases. This is evident from the fact that even with the help of computers researchers are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data and possible relationships. The best they can do is to focus on the mechanism of a specific disturbance or occurrence in the body, limited to specific area of the body, and limited to specific circumstances. [12]

In contrast to this, spiritual science enables the development of such understanding which serves as the framework that enables us to place specific scientific data in its proper place in the complex structure of the human being. In this way we gain additional confirmations for the validity of explanations provided by spiritual science. Even more, when one has acquired knowledge of the archetypal laws of the human being, (s)he can with their help for the first time truly comprehend the real nature of processes in the human organism and consequently the causes of illnesses.

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In accordance with the above presented characteristics we can conclude that spiritual science acknowledges the benefits of a natural scientific approach to research in the limited area of life existence – that is, in the realm of mineral world governed by physical laws. It also acknowledges that we can investigate the effect of the mineral world in living organisms. However, to understand the human being and the effects of nutrition we need another approach – an approach which is able to recognise the existence of supersensible realities working behind the perceptible phenomena which we can observe in the living organisms. For in the human being we have a place where the physical and the supersensible worlds meet and interact with each other. Because of this we need a new science that is capable of researching life with new methods of investigation. This new science is spiritual science which is capable of investigating both worlds – the physical world and the spiritual world – in a manner that is in accordance with its own nature.


  1. Here are presented the characteristics of a typical representative of modern materialistic science, while it must be clear that the scientific community is not an uniform body of same-minded people. Inside exists many variations in the mode of thinking. We can find scientists who nurture unusual ideas, such as string theorists, or such scientists as Rupert Sheldrake, labelled heretics by the representatives of scientific ultra-rationalism. There are scientists who openly discuss spiritual topics, such as Fritjof Capra (see; but these could be already counted as spiritual-scientists.
  2. Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 21.01.1914; Human and Cosmic Thought, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1991
  3. Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 1.10.1906; Original Impulses for the Science of the Spirit, Completion Press, Australia, 2001
  4. Rudolf Steiner, A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception, The Anthroposophic Press, USA, 1968
  5. It is a strange reality that the majority of modern nutritional research goes against this fundamental scientific condition for objectivity for the simple reason that "the funding of research projects, laboratories, and entire academic centres by the food and pharmaceutical industries is a fact of life in modern medical research." Source: see note 8
  6. The attitude of medical science toward the placebo effect is a symptomatic example of the attitude towards subjective influences. Although the placebo effect is proven by medical research itself, the main focus is on attempts to eliminate its 'disturbing' impact by so-called 'double-blind' clinical trials (i.e., trials where neither people nor physicians know which pills are placebos and which are not). But – if it was properly understood – it would lead scientists to the recognition that human psyche and mental life have real effects on the state of the physical body which can be measured.
  7. David A. Kessler, The End of Overeating, Penguin Books, London, 2010
  8. Gary Taubes, The Diet Delusion, Vermillion, London, 2008
  9. There is even a branch of medical science which recognises the uniqueness of human beings. It has been instigated by the book Biochemical Individuality by Roger J. Williams, Ph.D. in 1956, but this approach has not yet succeeded in becoming an integral part of the medical research.
  10. Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 28.02.1911
  11. See note 8
  12. There is one serious obstacle for public access to the scientific reports: scientific/medical jargon! It seems that they write for themselves, not bothering much if members of the unscientific community have a very hard time in deciphering what they are actually talking about. It seems that this might be the case even for people working inside science/medicine, as is evident from a short remark by an author of a medical book: "I mentioned to a friend who is a public health authority and a department head at a major medical school that I read the abstracts (of medical research articles) and the discussion and couldn't make much sense of everything in between. He said, ‘That's all any of us do." (Source: Henry Ehrlich, Food Allergies, 2014)