Wrong in the linking up of cause and effect

One can go very far wrong in the linking up of cause and effect when, for example, one applies it in respect of the external world. Let me give you an instance. Let us suppose a man is walking along the bank of a stream. He comes to a certain place, and you observe from a distance that at this point he falls over the edge into the water. You hurry up to him, meaning to save him; but he is drawn up out of the water quite dead. Now you see before you the corpse. 

You can quite well maintain, let us say, that the man has been drowned. You can go to work with your proof in a very able way. Perhaps at the place where he fell into the water there was a stone. Very well then, he stumbled over the stone and fell in and was drowned. The sequence of the thought is quite correct. When a man goes to the bank of a river, stumbles over a stone that is lying there, falls into the water and is pulled out dead — he must have been drowned. It cannot be otherwise. 

Now precisely in this instance it is not necessarily so. When you stop allowing yourself to be ruled by this particular connection of cause and effect, you may be able to discover that this man, in the moment when he fell into the water, was seized with a heart attack, in consequence of which, since he was walking at the edge of the stream, he fell in. He was already dead when he fell in; though everything happened to him just as it would to a man who fell in alive. 

You see, when someone comes to the conclusion, in this case from the sequence of the external events, that the man in question slipped, fell into the water and was drowned, the conclusion is quite a false one, it does not correspond with reality. For the man fell into the water because he was dead; he was not pulled out dead because he had fallen in. Twisted conclusions like this are to be found at every turn in the scientific literature of our time; only they are not noticed, any more than this instance would have been noticed if one had not taken trouble to investigate the matter. In more delicate and subtle connections of cause and effect such mistakes are continually being made. I only want to indicate in this way that in point of fact our thinking is quite incompetent to form a decision in respect of reality.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 134 – THE WORLD OF THE SENSES AND THE WORLD OF THE SPIRIT – Lecture I Hannover, 27 December 1911