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Sunday, 31 March 2013

A few physicists and anthroposophists in the 1920s

Many changes about the way we look at physics came to a head in the 1920s. Albert Einstein was consolidating his theory of relativity. Ernest Rutherford helped us to understand about the fundamental make-up of matter. Max Plank and Albert Einstein were questioning some previous assumptions how radioactivity and light behaved. Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding. The most important even in 20th century science happened in the 1920s – quantum mechanics was born. Throughout the 1920s Robert Millikan confirmed that “cosmic radiation” existed. Towards the end of the 1920s Ernest Orlando Lawrence conceived the cyclotron. Possibly rocket science, both the discipline and the word, were also born at this time. Werner Heisenberg, already a scholar when quantum mechanics appeared in the early 1920s, by then was working towards his principle of uncertainty.
The Lehrs family rubbed shoulders with these physicists. Käthe was taught by Einstein and by the man she later married, Hans Edler. Rudi and Ernst would have come across some of the others as they pursued their studies in Berlin and Jena. Ernst Lehrs found himself at a conference in Stuttgart with Edwin Schrődinger. Schrődinger worked in Stuttgart for a while  and attended the same conference as Lehrs. Anthroposophism met head on with physics.
Rudolf Steiner, anyway, became well known for his clarity of vision. Physics was almost becoming mystical. Steiner seemed to concede that what the physicists were claiming was naturally true – and had been all along. We may these days find his lecture “Concerning Electricity” somewhat naïve. But for war-damaged and by-the-new-physics-confused Ernst Lehrs, and several other young men of his generation, Steiner was offering that something extra and a sense of home. By February 1923 he was forming his youth movement of which Ernst would become a part. We should remember that Steiner also had studied maths and physics and was particularly interested Goethe’s scientific papers, especially those dealing with colour.   
What most impressed Ernst Lehrs was the invitation from Steiner to think intuitively rather than discursively. The physicists anyway were turning the known and trusted science on its head and in fact suggesting something less natural and a little more esoteric. Why not, then, trust a master of spiritual matters more? At least he was one grounded in scientific discipline.   
World War II took its toll. Käthe used most of energy in getting herself and her daughter away from Germany but still kept an interest in science which she passed on to her daughter. Einstein went to America in 1933, where he found respect for relativity and never came back to Germany. Hans Edler became involved in designing the doodle-bug and the V2. British and American scientists built the first atom bomb. Ernst Lehrs, prevented from teaching in a German school because of his Jewish blood, went to Holland and then England as an anthroposophist rather than as a scientist.        

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