Rudolf Steiner’s View on Technology and Modern Life

Although Rudolf Steiner died 16 years before the first computer was invented, he had an understanding of the effects of technology on the world. He lived during an age of mechanisation. The spheres of transport, electrification and communication were changing rapidly e.g. steam powered ships and trains.  Steiner also had the experience of living through the First World War.

In his lecture entitled “Art as Seen in the Light of Mystery Wisdom – Lecture 1 – Technology and Art” presented in 1914, Steiner discusses the positive and negative aspects that technology brings to modern life.  What he refers to as ‘modern life’ is that ‘which takes living hold of all those people who, through living in towns or in similar circumstances, have been torn away from a direct connection with nature’.  

Anthroposophy can strengthen the human soul.  Spiritual science and spiritual research can ‘arm’ us against the onslaughts of modern life.

Steiner:  Ahrimanic and Luciferic Forces

Steiner recognised two aspects of evil which he characterised as two beings or forces.  For the one being, or force, he used the term ‘Luciferic which is from the bible.  The Luciferic forces draw us away from the earth into another realm and make us unable to fulfil earthly tasks.  The other being, or aspect of evil identified by Steiner, is ‘Ahriman’.  Ahriman comes from the Persian pantheon of gods and is a being of darkness. The Ahrimanic force is the opposite of the Luciferic force.  It ties us to the earth, makes us total materialists and unable to experience the divine. What we can see and prove by science is the all that exists.

Lucifer and Ahriman are two beings, neither of which we can do without, but if drawn too heavily towards either one, an imbalance in the human being will manifest.

“We need both tendencies. We cannot understand or enter into anything without the power of imagination; and we cannot bring any order into our lives without a little bit of pedantry, without keeping some kind of record and account of things.  What it comes down to is the balance, the right proportion.”

Steiner said that “without the Luciferic we would be old and ancient at the age of three; without the Ahrimanic we would be eternal children.”

In 1923 when Steiner delivered this lecture on Christ, Ahriman and Lucifer he declared that education today “has a decidedly Ahrimanic tendency”.  Steiner said that modern science has become “something which makes us rather arid and dry, for it takes only the physical, material, calcified world into account”.  In the past (Steiner says from 8000BC to the birth of Christ) education was characterised by the opposite realm.  The Luciferic forces led to a danger of people becoming too dreamy.

Between these two forces or poles “stands a third, mediating quality” which Steiner recognised as true Christianity. Steiner says Christ “wanted to dispense to all humanity teachings which would allow people to balance opposing Ahrimanic and Luciferic tendencies.”

Steiner expressed these views visually in a wooden sculpture.  He said, “Above you see Lucifer, the Luciferic, representing everything that has to do with fever, imagination, falling asleep …; below you find all the tendencies to hardening, the Ahrimanic. And between these two stands Christ.”  This sculpture can be found at the Goetheanum.

I was inspired by this imagery and have used it as part of the artistic and practical aspects of my project.  In terms of computers and their usage, it is the Ahrimanic forces that are at play here.  For example, computer games are great fun but they gobble up time.  They give the illusion of reality but not the direct experience of reality. You can play war games where the object is to kill as many people as possible, yet there are no real consequences.  So you control your game yet bear no responsibility. The Ahrimanic forces are all about technology, control and power.  When Ahriman  prevails human freedom and individuality is restricted, sometimes even negated.

I have created a representation of Ahriman in two very different modes.  One is a three dimensional digital figure in which I used the software package: LightWave. The other is an Ahriman face sculpted in clay.