Learning to detect qualities in images

Learning to detect qualities in images

28 January 2024 Vesna Forštnerič Lesjak 575 views

A project on ‘capillary dynamolysis as basic research to promote a better understanding of herbal medicines’ uses artemisia to explore this imaging method.

In 1923, exactly a hundred years ago, Lili Kolisko (1889-1976) followed Rudolf Steiner’s suggestion ‘to study the formative forces in plants’, applying capillary dynamolysis to plant juices.[1] She redeveloped the work she had done previously (research into potencies with measurements of plant organs during germination) and linked it in multiple experiments with different metal salts based on chromatography with capillary dynamolysis, an image-forming technique. Lili Kolisko investigated questions relating to agriculture, astronomy and pharmaceutics. Following this first impulse, the research has been continued in various directions and in promising ways by researchers such as Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, Agnes Fyfe, Magda Engquist, Maja Mewes and Rudolf Hauschka, including contemporary authors such as Ruth Mandera[2], Hans-Joachim Strüh[3],[4] and Beatrix Waldburger[5], to name but a few.

Acquiring evaluative competence

The work and the method itself have been developed further in many institutes (Research Institute at the Goetheanum, CH; Strömungsinstitut Herrischried, DE), by research associations (Hiscia, association for cancer research, CH, with Paul Doesburg among others), by companies (Wala and Dr Hauschka, DE) and by many individual scientists. In this process the cognitive boundaries the method meets in the area of ‘quality and vitality of the juices’ became more apparent and could be critically investigated.[6]

The images generated by capillary dynamolysis are largely repeatable, but they are difficult to evaluate and thorough training is required for the objective qualitative comparison of the images. With the help of specific evaluative criteria and/or existing reference sequences or types the images generated through capillary dynamolysis can be comprehensibly explained. This engagement with the images requires the researcher to establish an intensive relationship with nature and to develop a living and flexible way of thinking. This development starts with tasting and smelling the extracts and observing their colour, structure and other properties. Capillary dynamolysis is not an analytical method; it does not reveal which substances can be found in the juice and in what concentration, but it shows the multiple transformations of the substances during this process. This means the method can only be used to accompany a process, but it provides valuable information regarding qualitative changes of substances.

As a pharmacist I find the images created by capillary dynamolysis enriching, as they can open up deeper insights into the changes of plant organs over the course of the year. Even in the organs of a perennial bulb, which does not change much outwardly during one year, much happens in connection with the organs that lie above the earth, as one can see from colour and form changes and from the whole dynamic development, the harmony and aesthetics of the image. These images helped me to determine the harvest time more precisely or to select the plant organs in new developments because they reveal, for example, how deeply the blossoming impulse reached into other parts of the plants.[7],[8] The transformation of the juices through pharmaceutical processes could also be observed, a fact that is highly relevant for the composition of medicines.

Artemisia research

In March 2024 we will start an artemisia research project in the Natural Science Section at the Goetheanum (in collaboration with other institutes and researchers, possibly also with companies) which is initially scheduled to last five years. Based on six plants of this species we will observe changes, primarily in the leaves, during the vegetative and generative phases. We will use capillary dynamolysis and compare the observed changes with those occurring in specimens of other bitter species and families. We will also try to gain a deeper understanding of the bitter compounds and tannins as ‘processes that have come to an end’.

Other than that, we are interested in research into watery pharmaceutical processes such as the preparation of macerations, infusions, digestions, decoctions etc. as well as various solvents and their concentration. We are looking at important questions regarding Anthroposophic Medicine and its remedies, particularly questions concerning their quality in a specific context.

Quality as a research topic

In addition to important analytical effectiveness studies, foundations for the qualitative features of anthroposophic medicines need to be created and documented. While quality is seen as the most important aspect of anthroposophic medicines, it has hardly been examined. As part of our project ways will be developed of comparing and documenting qualitative differences. We hope that our work will make a contribution to the future of Anthroposophic Medicine.


1. Eugen und Lili Kolisko: Landwirtschaft der Zukunft [agriculture of the future], part 2, chapter XVIII, 1953
2. Ruth Mandera: Zur Metamorphose von Pflanzenorganen, Substanzqualitäten und Bildtypen im Steigbild [on the metamorphosis of plant organs, substance qualities and image types in capillary dynamolysis], in: Jahrbuch für Goetheanismus, 1995, pp. 298–310
3. Hans-Joachim Strüh: Zu den stofflichen Verhältnissen und zur zeitlichen Entwicklung von pharmazeutischen Prozessen [the material conditions and temporal development of pharmaceutical processes] , in: Jahrbuch für Goetheanismus, 1995; pp. 260–284
4. Hans-Joachim Strüh: Grundlegende Phänomene bei der Ausbildung der Steigbildformen. Bildtypen und pharmazeutische Prozesse [basic phenomena in the development of capillary dynamolysis images. Image types and pharmaceutical processes], in: Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, 1987, pp. 22–35
5. Beatrix Waldburger: Faszination Steigbilder [fascinating images of capillary dynamolysis], 2023
6. Hans-Joachim Strüh: Die Steigbildmethode – ein kritischer und weiterführender Überblick [capillary dynamolysis – a critical and future-oriented overview], in: Jahrbuch für Goetheanismus, 2023, pp. 117–153
7. Vesna Forštnerič, Jan Albert Rispens: Begleitung dreier Zyklamenarten im Jahreslauf mit der Steigbildmethode [observing three cyclamen species through the year using capillary dynamolysis, in: Der Merkurstab, 2014, 67(6), pp. 466–472
8. Vesna Forštnerič Lesjak, Patricija Šenekar: Wilde Karde und Borreliose – ein Brückenschlag. Ein goetheanistisch-anthroposophischer Erkenntnisweg zur Entwicklung neuer Heilmittel [wild teasel and borreliosis – building a bridge. A Goethean-anthroposophical approach to developing new medicines]. Verlag Sapientia; 2024.

Donations (see below) science.goetheanum.org/institut/projekte/steigbilder

100 Years School of Spiritual Science

During the Christmas Conference of 1923/1924 the School of Spiritual Science was also inaugurated. In preparation for the centenary of the conference the Goetheanum Leadership documented current research plans of the School in a brochure entitled ‘Insights’. Some of the projects are presented in Anthroposophy Worldwide, starting with projects on the training of perception.
Sebastian Jüngel