The proofs of Goethe´s ´direct knowing´ (best documented in more modern terms in 1996 by physicist Henri Bortoft) were several:
- evidence of certain misunderstandings in Newton´s descriptions of the phenomena of colour
- an original discovery that the leaf, petal and stamen of a plant are all metamorphosed versions of a single biological organ
- demonstration that a certain bone believed to exist in animals and not in humans, is indeed present in humans, but in metamorphosed form - making a significant contribution to the understanding of biological evolution.
In general, Goethean science, while objective and able to lead to concrete discoveries, is qualitative, and a necessary compliment to the one-side quantitative approach which has been, both in his day and now, more dominant. In this regard, Goethe stated “I have nothing against mathematics, I just want it taken out of places where it has no business”. Effectively, all of this work was far ahead of its time, and in recent years, a number of contemporary scientists have become interested in taking up the themes of his work anew. It was this process-oriented method of knowledge which drew the young Steiner to spend many years intensively immersed in the work of Goethe. What Steiner recognised very early was that Goethe´s achievements in the realm of science, great as they were, were in the end much less significant to the world than the means by which he attained them - the move from theory to objective direct cognition. This he took forward over decades of meticulous and pains-taking work. Where Goethe developed a rigorous means of ‘direct perception’ in the world of nature, Steiner´s achievement ultimately was to extend the same into the world of spirit.
Unsurprisingly, exploration of the spiritual dimensions of the world neither as vague ideas nor as inexplicable personal experience, but as detailed and concrete realities, turned out to have enormous ramifications for every field of human study, social organisation and technological development, and these continue to challenge scholars of Anthroposophy all over the world on an on-going basis.
One of its fruits for example, was to put a very distinctive perspective on the historical development of both religion and science. For in anthroposophy, and through investigations founded in ´rigorous direct cognition´ a coherent framework emerges for how and why the great religions of the world arose in the way they did and at the time they did.
Christianity in particular is seen to bring for the first time the principle of truly independent and self-directing individuality, absent for instance in both Buddhism previously, and Islam subsequently. Yet anthroposophical investigation also shows Christianity to share with other great religions the principles of re-incarnation and karma. Guardians of esoteric Christian knowledge had long deliberately withheld revelation of the principle of re-incarnation and karma for the reason that the development of the individual ego would progress better without such knowledge. This changed at the beginning of the 20th century after which further withholding, it was considered, would become detrimental to humanity´s development. It was precisely at this time that Steiner gave to the principle specific and detailed articulation within a Christian framework.