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Bees – Lectures by Rudolf Steiner - Something terribly shocking about horses that do calculations



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Bees – Lectures by Rudolf Steiner

December 1st 1923

A while ago there was much talk about so-called calculating horses, [see note 1 below] horses that were given a question, such as "How much is four plus five?" Then the owner of the horse began counting - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine- at which point the horse stamped the ground with its foot.

These horses did innumerable calculations like this. You've probably heard that the horses from the Elberfeld region became quite famous in this regard. Investigative commissions were sent there to research this matter and get to the bottom of it. I myself have not seen these horses from Elberfeld, but I saw another such calculating horse that belonged to a Mr. von Osten. This horse also  performed this feat. From this example alone, you could draw a conclusion as to the real basis for such a phenomenon.

People have really racked their brains to try to figure this one out. When you think about it, there is something terribly shocking about horses that are said to suddenly begin doing calculations. They calculate so well that you could almost dispense with calculating machines. Well, gentlemen, if you could teach horses to do this, the competition between horses on the one hand and bookkeepers and accountants on the other could become fierce. However, the story behind these horses is not a nice one.

Even the scientific world suffered an unbelievable degree of embarrassment in probing for the truth in this matter.

There is, however, an easy way to get a handle on it. Naturally, a horse can't really do calculations. What you need to find out is why it happens that the horse stamps its foot at the number nine. It would be a case of complete idiocy to contend, or even believe, that a horse is able to do these calculations. Even Professor Pfungst, who studied this matter very carefully, knew this for a fact. But he then established a theory. He said to himself, "Mr. von Osten must make a certain kind of face or have a slightly different expression on his face, and then the horse must see this slightly changed expression on his face. The horse must detect this very slight change in the lines on his face. When seeing this change, the horse stamps its foot."

But then this professor states his own objection to this line of thinking. He figures that he should be able to place himself directly before Mr. von Osten and watch his facial expressions very carefully. This he did, but he noticed nothing at all. But he didn't let himself get confused by his own theory. So he said to himself, "This change in expression is so minute that I can't detect it, but the horse can." Well, gentlemen, what we can conclude from this is that a horse can see more and better than a professor. There can be no other conclusion.

But this is not the way things are. If you are trained in anthroposophic science, which allows for a spiritual as well as the obvious physical dimension, and you go to examine this matter, then you will not place emphasis upon any slight change in expression. But this is the way things really were.

The horse stood on one side and Mr. von Osten, holding the bridle loosely, stood on the other side. And in the right pocket of his jacket, Mr. von Osten had many small pieces of sugar, which he continually gave to the horse. The more the horse licked and ate these pieces and savored their sweetness, the more it began to love Mr. von Osten. As this love increased, supported each time by the offering of sugar, a very cordial relationship between Mr. von Osten and the horse was formed.

Mr. von Osten didn't even need to change his expression ever so slightly; he only needed to think,

“When I reach nine, the calculation is correct." The horse then senses this thought because animals have a much finer sensitivity to all those things that are going on in their immediate environment. They sense what is going on in your head even though you don't express it visually through a facial expression that a horse might see, but not a human being.

The horse senses what is going on in your brain when you are thinking "nine" and then stamps its foot. If the horse had not received the sugar, the horse's love might have transformed itself somewhat into hate and then it would not have stamped its foot.

Note 1. See also Article by Oskar Pfungst, "Mr. von Osten's Horse, 'smartJohn'- A Contribution to Experimental Animal- and Human-Psychology," Leipzig, 1937.

The source of the experience

Steiner, Rudolf

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