The Child as a Sense Organ

An Anthroposophic Understanding of Imitation Processes

The Child as a Sense Organ
Peter Selg By (author)
Catherine E. Creeger Translated by
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5.0 X 8.0 in
134 pg

PSYCHOLOGY / Developmental / Child


The initial period of childhood is essentially about adapting to and incarnating on Earth and establishing a provisional balance between the “spiritual” and the “physical,” between the prenatal cosmic and the earthly factors. During this time, according to Rudolf Steiner, “all the forces of a child’s organization emanate from the neurosensory system. . . . By bringing respiration into harmony with neurosensory activity, we draw the spirit–soul element into the child’s physical life.” 

Peter Selg investigates how children’s early experience of the world begins as an undifferentiated sensory relationship to their phenomenological environment. This aspect of a child’s incarnation leads to learning through imitation and to the process of recognizing “the Other” as a separate entity with which to interact. 

In this cogent work, Peter Selg describes the early stages of childhood from the perspectives of conventional scientific and spiritual-scientific— anthropological and anthroposophic—research with the purpose of encouraging a new educational attitude in working with young children. In his numerous references to early childhood development, this was Rudolf Steiner’s most important and urgent purpose. 

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1. The Incarnation Process in the First Seven Years
2. The Imitation Process: “Like an Eye that Touches”
3. The “Other” as Active Opposite Counterpart
4. Education: The Challenge and the Approach
 Appendix: Imitation and Life before Birth

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“Steiner directed attention to the special character of the senses in childhood, particularly in the first few years of life. Through their senses, children are fully exposed to (and to some extent at the mercy of) objects and people around them.... In many of his lectures, especially those dealing with education and developmental physiology, Rudolf Steiner emphasized that the anthropology of early childhood must not only recognize the child as a ‘comprehensive’ or ‘universal’ sense organ, but must also give that recognition top priority in any consideration of what is involved in the child’s life and experiences. ‘Children are completely like sense organs in how they take in the contents of their surroundings’” (from chapter 2).

Author Bio

Peter Selg was born in 1963 in Stuttgart and studied medicine in Witten-Herdecke, Zurich, and Berlin. Until 2000, he worked as the head physician of the juvenile psychiatry department of Herdecke hospital in Germany. Dr. Selg is now director of the Ita Wegman Institute for Basic Research into Anthroposophy (Arlesheim, Switzerland) and professor of medicine at the Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences (Germany). He lectures extensively and is the author of numerous books, many of which have been published in English.