Emotional Intelligence

Rudolf Steiner And The Herring’s Egg.

And Another Perspective On Multiverses.

Not all herring's eggs grow to maturity, how many eggs were eaten before this school of fish grew to maturity?
Herring. How many herrings’ eggs were eaten for each of these fish?

Rudolf Steiner often said things that sounded stupid to the workings of a logical mind. Because when he spoke about herrings’ eggs, many logical thinkers will have found opportunity to pour scorn on him. That didn’t make the things he said any less valuable, for he shared a very different perspective on our world than that accepted by most. It only meant that those who believe in logic don’t worry themselves about such details because they can’t imagine them.

When Rudolf Steiner made his allegory about herrings’ eggs, he wasn’t speaking about the biological minutiae of how herring breed. Now herrings spawn colossal amounts of eggs, yet with a stable population of herrings, each herring need only reproduce itself but once. The point he wanted to make was that every single one of these eggs have an equal chance of becoming a mature herring in the face of natural predation – the dark side of nature.

A woodcut showing a mediaeval fisherman catching herring in Skane, Sweden in the sixteenth century.
Fishing for herring in Skane, in the year 1555.

One can say this is Darwinian natural selection, but that is a concept that has been formed by looking at only one side of the situation (as modern science tends to). Darwinism looks at the end effect and surmises on these outward effects, the end result. The point of Rudolf Steiner’s thought was that every egg is a potential herring from the very start. Whilst this sounds prosaic, the difference is profound.

Rather than looking at the fully grown herring as the result of natural selection, Rudolf Steiner looked at the issue from the diametrically opposite perspective.

The point is that herrings lay so many eggs means that the earthly powers within nature have the freedom to express themselves. The creative forces of nature cannot foretell which egg will become a herring and which not. Nature’s destructive forces are allowed full expression in their unconscious devourings. Which is partly what nature’s all about; with there being so many eggs means that there is no small amount of food ready to be eaten by other creatures – and this of course goes all the way to the top and the eating of mature herrings.

Eating too many herrings was not something creation was able to consider; heaven is an orderly place where beings interact in the manner appropriate to their place in creation. We are free to participate with the unconscious powers of destruction to create colossal factory ships that devour fish in an orgy of destruction.

One consequence of this mechanical destruction is the unfolding ecological disaster, and it is all our doing.

Regarding the entire population of humans as being like herrings’ eggs, some of which may survive to ‘maturity’. Unlike the scientist’s point of view that we are the pinnacle of human evolution, Rudolf Steiner’s view was that as a species, we had some serious challenges to face. Ones we have so far failed to meet: the consequences can be seen all around us. We didn’t have to pollute the planet that sustains us, did we?

More of a floating factory than a ship, it can sail for years on end and has nets so long they would reach across a city.
Massive trawlers with nets 50 miles long (80km). What chance has a fish against this monster?

If we are to evolve as a species, we do need to make choices, something that doesn’t exist in the animal sphere where only instinct and immediate reaction hold sway. When a human is faced with a situation, they can choose to act in one way or any another means that they have the choice to act in freedom – or to act in selfishness. Freedom itself has to be fully conscious implies that those who wish to act freely will have had to determine the selfish tendencies which live within them, and so be able to freely decide not to become ensnared.

Steiner’s Allusion

As is usual with this kind of fairytale – that is to say, the story of a herring’s egg – it is multi-faceted. Not only is a herring’s egg a metaphor for a human being, but it is also a strong metaphor for any moment when a human being faces some kind of decision. Such as missing a train that had an accident or a stone falling just next to one. Such happenings are not infrequent, and any of us can think of one or two examples from our own lives.

All of these demonstrate that for each of us the future is filled with potential, rather than being fixed and rigid in the way of the Calvinists and their concept of predestination. At certain points, the potential diversity of outcomes is simply immense – and it is when a person taps into this phenomenon when facing an unforeseen decision – many people imagine this to be ‘actual reality’, only a ‘reality’ that exists in another universe. Rather than a possible outcome that would create a different future to the one we are collectively striving towards.

The problem is that such ‘multiverses’ as they are termed, are as illusions makes no difference. After all, all their friends agree with them – and as is usual with friends who agree with each other, it is everybody else who has gotten their facts wrong. This can become a real problem when both parties are imagining things that are impossible – yet they both claim their imaginations to be factual.

It is up to us if the things we see of the future are real or not.


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