Anthroposophy, A Fragment
Foreword by Robert Sardello
This remarkable work by Rudolf Steiner concerns the human senses, the life processes, and the forming of the human body; and it provides a basis for an anthroposophical understanding of the human being. It is also an indispensable foundation for the development of a spiritual psychology that adheres to an anthroposophical mode of thought. Rudolf Steiner himself indicated that the study of the human soul follows from an examination of the senses, and from there it is necessary to move to a study of the human spirit. These three areas constitute Anthroposophy in a restricted sense — for the field encompasses much more — and all that is needed to form spiritual psychology can be found in them.
Knowledge gained by careful observation alone is the basis for research in a spiritual psychology founded on an understanding of the human being as a revelation of the spiritual worlds. It does not require crossing into spiritual worlds with clairvoyance, though it benefits greatly from the observations of those who have developed such capacities. Such a psychology does require a heightening of observational capacities to correctly understand what can be known about the human soul through observation alone, and the only provision is that the observer be included in what is observed. One must become aware of the act of cognizing as an essential part of what is known. Spiritual psychology needs to develop to the very edges of observational capacities, where the presence of the spiritual worlds can be detected. But, spiritual psychology always reaches toward those worlds, while not crossing over into them. The other side of spiritual psychology is concerned with how soul enters every moment into physical life, and this makes it necessary to have a living understanding of the senses and the life processes. This aspect of the foundation of spiritual psychology is the subject of Anthroposophy (A Fragment).
In this work, we not only learn about the human senses and life processes in an entirely different way than through physiology and contemporary sensory psychology, but we also learn how to actively meditate on these processes. New capacities of observation can thus be formed. The intensely compact character of the writing presents itself hieroglyphically. The aim is not to interpret what is said, but to enter into it, to simultaneously enter into the activity of the senses and life processes themselves. By entering into this text meditatively we are not only being informed, but also being formed into beings who can make observations within the activity of what we are observing. It is as though the senses and life processes themselves are doing the speaking. What better training could there be for developing the style of thinking needed for accurate and descriptive presence to the mobile activity of soul and spirit life? If observations concerning our sensory life are handled as if sensing were a mechanical process, subject to description in terms of causes and effects, it is certain that our understanding of soul and spirit life would be falsely portrayed. The inner life would either be taken up and spoken of in the language of cause and effect, or it would be presented as a confusion of mystical, sentimental and religious speculation passing as science. Thus, a study of this work can be a source of extreme discomfort, as if losing one's mooring in the world of fixity. However, staying with this discomfort will gradually open up the world in entirely new ways and prepare us for even more mobile considerations as steps are taken into the inner life.
Those familiar with Anthroposophy have probably encountered Steiner's enumeration of twelve senses rather than the usual five to eight described by sensory physiology. In this text, however, only ten senses are described; both the sense for the I of another — the capacity to actually sense something of the true individuality of another person — and the sense of touch are not considered here to be senses in their own right.
In the last appendix, however, the capacity of the I to experience another, separate I while listening empathetically to what manifests through the tone of another human being is described as the archetype of an organ of perception.
To ordinary experience, touch undoubtedly seems to be a sense, the cause of which sensory physiology attributes to nerve endings at the surface of the skin. According to Steiner, the experience of touch can be accounted for solely by the combined effects of the sense of life, the sense of self-movement, and the sense of balance. What we call an experience of the sense of touch is actually a judgment based upon the immediate experience of these other three senses. The sense of touch, conveying nothing but "pure otherness," is devoid of sense experience in its own right.
The I-experience and the sense of touch form the two boundaries of the realm of sense experience.
The enumeration of the senses and what they do is quite revealing, but they are so clearly presented by Steiner that comment here is unnecessary. More revealing and significant for spiritual psychology is how different clusters of senses operate in relation to each other to bring about definite experiences.
The life sense, the sense of self-movement, and the sense of balance operate together to give us awareness of ourselves as physical beings. We know we are physical beings because this is first felt internally. The feeling of bodilyness is the soul's perception of the external world that comes nearest to the soul. This observation is important because the combined activity of these three senses then also provide the border, going the other way, into soul life proper. These three senses comprise a sort of boundary condition between soul life and external physical existence, which for the soul is the experience of an inner bodily state. For example, when we feel "out of sorts" — fatigued, stressed, ill, and so on — such states are experienced due to the life sense. But, at the same time, these states touch upon purely psychological qualities. In such a state we also feel out of balance, which is truly related to the sense of balance, and we also feel acutely uncomfortable with our physical position in the world, which is related to the sense of self-movement. Due to the combined, qualities of these three senses and their closeness to soul life, such psychological states of discomfort have a distinctly bodily character to them and can only be described as an overall condition without much specificity. Therefore, it can be suggested that these states are likely to improve by giving attention to conditions of bodily health. On the other hand, if there is not an awareness of this boundary between these senses and soul life, and complaints are handled as if they were solely psychological, it is quite possible that imbalance will be driven into the soul. Spiritual psychology would thus be very interested in investigating the subtleties of these senses.
The senses of smell, taste, sight, warmth, and hearing form a kind of progression in which we are taken increasingly into not just the physical world, but even into the interior of physical things. We not only sense what is "out there," we also sense what is inside what is "out there." Through these senses, then, we can actually apprehend something of the soul of the world. The visual appearance of a thing in its color, for example, not only reveals its outer aspect, but already expresses something of its inner nature. Speaking in the second chapter about hearing, Steiner stated: "It is more than merely metaphorical to say that a body's soul comes to manifestation through sound." A reflection such as this, if taken up in the forming of a spiritual psychology, vastly increases the range of the usual concerns of psychology. We need a psychology of the outer world in order to balance the possibilities of self-absorption and egotism, which are bound to occur when care of the soul is taken only to mean one's own soul, as if the outer world was not also included in the sphere of soul life.
The speech, or tone, sense is not concerned with understanding the meaning of what another person says, but rather with the immediate bodily sensation caused by phonetic tones, and through this sense we gain the ability to recognize the tremendously important difference between soul located in the world of physical things and the human soul. We discover through the speech sense that the soul of a body is alive, and further, that the soul reveals itself as freed from the bodily aspect. We speak by means of the body, but speech itself can be sensed as free of the body. Sensing speech not only involves sounds, but also gestures and facial expressions, which also utilize the body, yet go beyond it. The speech sense is so important because it verifies the existence of human soul life. Soul is not a matter of speculation, nor is it at first a matter of religious sentiment or metaphysical argument; it is directly sensed, preceding any thinking or judgment. It can be suggested, therefore, that any attempts to work with the soul life of another, such as in psychotherapy, would do well indeed to concentrate on a training oriented toward the speech sense. This would avoid falsely attributing qualities to the soul that actually arise from thinking and judgment rather than from actual observation. Here, we might point to the extremely valuable work of current psychoanalysts, such as W. R. Bion and especially Christopher Bollas, who have developed a highly sophisticated inner discipline of deliberately forgetting what occurs with a patient from session to session, in order to be present in the mode of sensation. These analysts pay particular attention to the whole sensory array within which a session takes place, not seeking to analyze it, but sensing the immediate soul qualities unfolding before their eyes. In particular, they give attention to the speech of the patient, rather than to the meaning of what is spoken.
The same is true of what Steiner describes as the sense of concept. This sense does not reveal the meaning of what another person is thinking but is a direct apprehension of the activity of thinking of another person. Sensitive observation through this sense is imperative for soul work and involves learning to pay attention to the fact that we understand immediately, without judgment or evaluation. Therapeutic psychology has always taken the stance that another person must be understood without judgment. Usually, however, this stance is taken in a negative sense — stay away from judging. For the most part, what has actually come about in therapeutic psychology is that one should understand whatever is heard in a positive light, which is no less a judgment. Instead, approaching the soul life of another person should mean developing the capacity to be more present to another person through the sense of concept.
An essential and most important difference between an anthroposophically based spiritual psychology and the only other specifically soul-oriented psychology — the analytical psychology of C. G. Jung — can be found in the third chapter of Anthroposophy (A Fragment). While Steiner does not mention Jung, it is important to mention Jung at this point, because analytic psychology lacks an appreciation for the sensory basis of soul life. 1Rudolf Steiner addressed the problems of analytical psychology and the need for a spiritual psychology in five lectures collected under the title Psychoanalysis & Spiritual Psychology, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1990. On the other hand, Steiner recognized that the dynamics of soul life — desire, sympathy, antipathy, urges, wishes, willing — stem from the way in which sensing is taken up by the soul. Jung and Steiner do wholeheartedly agree, however, that soul life itself is constituted by the activity of images. For Jung, the ultimate source of soul images is the archetypes, and that is the way he accounted for the very organization of soul life. Steiner saw that the organization of soul life is not due to archetypes, but rather to what we each call our own I. At the beginning of the third chapter Steiner says, "A sensory perception becomes a soul experience when it is taken up out of the senses' domain and into the realm of the I." In Jung's psychology, the I is at first a complex of the soul, before conscious work toward individuation takes place. This means that our ego — the ordinary sense of the I — is but a small part of soul life with which we identify, and takes itself to be all there is. Through the individuation process, the ego sense of the I enlarges into the experience of the Self, which bears some resemblance to the I as described by Steiner.
Steiner, out of his careful observation connected with the world, saw that the I is actually more comprehensive than the soul. We could say that the soul exists within the I, which is the exact reverse of Jung's view. As interest in a spiritual psychology grows within Anthroposophy, it is apparent that this difference is not often fully appreciated. Currently, numerous writings in Anthroposophy speak quite loosely about archetypes, and do not sufficiently distinguish between their use of archetypes and the way they were spoken of by Jung. Once the difference is established, a truly meaningful dialogue can be established between Jung's psychology and spiritual psychology, one which can prove to be most fruitful. For example, archetypes do not change for Jung, but are permanent patterns, experienced within the soul as archetypal images — such as the wise old man, the mother, or the divine child archetype. Anthroposophy recognizes that the I, the very center of soul life, does change due to life experiences and that archetypal images evolve and change with the evolution of consciousness. The current popularization of Jung's psychology perpetuates an atavistic belief that the way to soul experience is through obliterating the ego. Even Jung did not hold this view, but such a misunderstanding shows the great need for a phenomenology of the I. The — such a small and overly commonplace word — is in fact tremendously complex. The I cannot be understood without moving toward it through an investigation of the senses.
Steiner followed the description of the senses with an investigation into the origin of the senses. Again, from chapter three, here is a sentence requiring much meditation: "Before the world can present itself to human beings as sense perception, the senses themselves must be born out of it." Because we ordinarily take ourselves, in our bodily existence, to be simply inserted into the world which spreads before our senses, we are not able to see the almost seamless mobile connection between sensing and what is sensed; and we do not consider what must be behind what is sensed. A whole different kind of thinking is required to bring this to reflection. At this point in Steiner's text, the mode of reflection has moved to a different level, and this is where you can begin to feel like you are swimming without any land in sight. At the same time, it would be a grave mistake to think that Steiner has become abstract; it is quite the opposite case. Our usual way of thinking is highly abstract, and thus when con-fronted with a careful description of experience from within the experience itself, a major adjustment of consciousness is required.
The world that forms the senses — senses which in turn give us access to the world from which they were formed, now in a physical manner — is a world beyond perception, a supersensible world. How do we know this? If there were not a world of warmth beyond the senses and beyond the physical world, it would not be possible for there to be organs for the perception of warmth. If there were not a world of sound, the organs would not be possible for the sensing of sound; and so it is for all the senses. Is Steiner speaking here of the embryological development of the senses, or the act of sensing as it occurs each moment? Both. More can be said of this supersensible world. It is at one and the same time varied and unified. The world beyond the senses forms the sense organs as well as what is sensed by the sense organs, and is as varied as the number of senses. But, insofar as we are able to say "I see a tree," "I hear a bell," and "I experience the world immediately without the intervention of thought," we are also able to say that the supersensible world is unified as the I is unified.
The I is not a subjective or merely personal experience; it is the whole, unified supersensible world condensed to a point, experienced now from within. Neither the I, nor the supersensible world, which is necessary for there to be a sense world and senses, belong to sensory life as such. Furthermore, we are not merely physical bodies with various sense organs inserted at various points, unrelated to the body as a whole. Certain of the senses — life, self-movement, balance — work also as forces from within the whole body, while shaping individual sense organs in accordance with the wholeness of the body. Other senses — smell, taste, sight, warmth, hearing — work as forces that meet these inner forces and shape sense organs at the surface of the body. With the sense of tone (or word), and the sense of concept, the direction of the supersensible forces that form sense organs is wholly from without. Having pointed to these facts, we can now say something more about the nature of the I: The I is the inner expression of the supersensible forces forming the sense world and the sense organs.
The I was referred to above as a point-like condensation within of the supersensible world that forms the sense organs and the world to be sensed. This description, while accurate, might convey an impression of the I as static. However, it is far from static. In chapter 6 we are given a marvelous phenomenology of the I in relation to sensing. For example, the I functions in relation to the sense of smell by sending out its own being toward the world, but not quite reaching an outer object. Instead, the outer object sends its own being toward the body, and the I is thrown back before it meets the object, as if the outer world invades the I. This activity constitutes smell. Steiner's descriptions of the activities of the I in relation to each of the senses are truly magnificent and worthy of contemplation. We can conclude from such contemplation that the I is not static and, in fact, constantly undergoes changes due to its encounters with sense experiences. And, if this is so, then a further conclusion follows: If the I changes, then the supersensible world — which is the I expanded out to a world beyond the senses — also changes due to individual experiences of the world.
Notice where we have come to in this rather complex exposition. We have gone from a simple, everyday notion of the senses to an understanding of how the body is formed. We have also come to the point of having to say that there must indeed be a spiritual world, but solely on the basis of observing what can be known through description alone. No theory is involved, and clairvoyant perception is not relied upon. Further, we have moved into a dynamic mode of thinking in which the act of thinking, and what is thought about, play against each other like waves in relation to the ocean. We have also come to see the I as basic to the formation of a spiritual psychology. The validity of the term, spiritual psychology, also becomes apparent. The I is a purely spiritual experience, a condensation within of the supersensible world. Soul experiences occur within the I. A psychology that fully recognizes the reflection of the supersensible, spiritual world within, and is concerned with the soul — as the word, psychology, or logos of the soul, implies — is rightly named spiritual psychology. Let us now turn to the life processes and their relation to the senses.
Steiner describes seven life processes: breathing, warming, nourishing, secreting, maintaining, growing, and generating. All of these processes are described as we actually experience them in bodily life. A wonderful exercise consists of meditation on these descriptions as a way of coming to a healthy connection with our body. Such exercises are also of vital importance for developing spiritual psychology; a picture can be built up showing the configuring of the human body from the inside out and taking place through these processes. More importantly, we can see the intimate link between the forming of the human body from within through these life processes, and the emotional experiences as the sense organs are linked to the I.
Emotional experience is usually felt as a disturbance in one or more of the life processes. For example, a disturbance in breathing is felt as anxiety; a disturbance of nourishing is felt as an uncomfortable gnawing within, and the judgment of such gnawing is experienced as hunger. When the life processes are balanced, an emotional well-being is felt. Note that the I does not penetrate the life processes. Thus, what we often speak of as emotional experiences are actually judgments made concerning emotional life. For example, to say "I feel anxious," is not an emotional experience but a conclusion arrived at through thinking about what one directly feels, but we do not have this clarity of consciousness within the emotion itself. Emotional experiences do not need the I to conclude that they are happening. The conclusion is revealed instinctively.
The life processes and their accompanying emotional states cannot be lumped together as if they were the same thing. On the other hand, the kind of thinking Steiner engaged in did not conceive of the life processes as belonging only to physiology and the emotions as belonging only in the domain of psychological experience. Since there is a supersensible world that forms the sense organs and the sense world — revealed within the person as the I — so there must also be a world that forms the organs of the life processes, as well as what is experienced through the life processes, as an ongoing emotional life. The world that forms the organs of the life processes, Steiner called the world of life; and the inner point of this world of life that instinctively reveals an experience of the life processes, he called the astral human being. The organs of the life processes include the lungs, the heart, the circulation of the blood — and probably the other major organs of the body, such as the liver and the kidneys, though here they are not named. The organs of the life processes approach a flowing into one another; they are not as separate as the sense organs. Thus, different kinds of emotional experiences are easily confused with one another, and we also experience this directly — it is possible to be flooded with emotion and not be clear whether an emotional experience such as anxiety is related to breathing alone, or is perhaps centered more in another organ, which it turn affects breathing. Emotional life is far more mobile than sensory life, and this tells us that the life world must be imagined quite differently than the higher spiritual world, which forms the sense organs. The life world can be imagined as one in which different currents do not interpenetrate, but run into each other — or as Steiner puts it, overrun each other.
In addition to the instinctive experiences of the life processes mentioned above, there are feeling-like experiences which do not occur as a result of the life processes. These experiences are also not activities of the I. Three such experiences are: impulses to movement that are apparently free of the life processes; desires; and images that arise from sensory experience. These experiences are not connected with particular bodily organs, but rather to organs of the astral human being. Of particular importance for psychological reflection is the relationship between images and desires.
Sensory experience lasts only as long as a sense organ is focused on an object, but we can turn away from the object and hold it in an inner way. What remains after the sense experience is an experience of the astral being. Images do not involve sensory organs or the organs of the life processes. The organs involved with images are not sense-perceptible but are the organs of the astral body. Images can penetrate the force of desire and, becoming desires, live on in movement. Images arise first, then desires, which finally become movement. Thus, we have a sensory experience which lives on as an image, the image lives on as desire, and desire lives on as movement. Impulses, desires, and sensory images thus do not belong to sensory life directly, nor can they properly be called soul experiences. Current psychology lacks an understanding of the astral realm and thus wrongly interprets these experiences as physiological conditions or as psychological experiences.
Let us further compare the anthroposophical understanding of emotional experience with what is typically offered by current psychology. First, current psychology has no way to relate organ processes to emotions other than in terms of cause and effect. It is, of course, well established in psychology that organ states are somehow related to emotions, but the connection is most often made by way of the brain. For example, a recent medical study reported that emotional support of heart attack victims by those close to them resulted in a significantly increased rate of recovery. The researchers reported that emotional support resulted in increased levels of norepinephrine and cortisol in the brain. The study further said that the exact role of those chemicals on the heart is unclear, but that they are believed to affect blood pressure and the heart's response to stress. The organs are taken to be no more than physiological processes, and emotions are described without reference to the body in a specific way. Psychologists who work with emotional life fare no better, and simply say that emotional stress can be physically debilitating.
There are many complex theories concerning emotions, both ancient and modern, but complexity does not necessarily constitute an adequate explanation. These theories almost always seek to coordinate physiological, chemical, neurological, visceral, sensorial, and the conscious and unconscious processes. All of the pieces ale there, but they never result in a truly comprehensive view such as Steiner offered. By far the best investigation of emotions within current psychology is James Hillman's work. 2James Hillman, Emotion: A Comprehensive Phenomenology of Theories and their Meanings for Therapy, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1960. After a thorough consideration of existent theories, he came to see the therapeutic significance of emotion in terms of the development of courage to face the emotions consciously. To be able to face emotion in this way, he proposed that the concept of psyche must be returned to psychology. Psyche has long been abandoned in favor of cognitive process, behavior, neurology, physiology, and so on. He pointed out that we cannot face emotion from the view-point of ego consciousness, from which it always escapes. Hillman uses the word psyche to mean an organizing function that brings together the outer and inner worlds, and emotion is the energetic activity of the psyche. However, by establishing the psyche as a viewpoint, the specificity of bodily processes begins to disappear and is replaced by images that do not arise from observation of emotional phenomena themselves, but are imported from myths, art, and literature as a means of amplifying and clarifying emotional life. For example, he utilizes the image of a charioteer and his horses as an image of the way in which we are driven by emotional life — how we are connected to emotions by means of the reins, with which we drive the horses, and yet, are also being driven by them.
Modern psychology either tries to reduce emotional experience to physiological and neural processes, or it creates a concept of parallelism between physiology and psychological states, linking them together causally. Or it may depart altogether from the specificity of bodily life as essential to emotion. Modern psychology does not have the tools to give an adequate account of emotional life; its concepts are either too small or too general. Rudolf Steiner shows us that emotional experiences are neither just physiological processes, nor soul experiences alone — nor a combination of these. Psychology needs the concept of the life world, which forms the organs of the life processes. And, psychology needs the concept of the astral human being — to begin with, the inner reflection of the life world — which is necessary for an understanding of how emotions are lived through the inner life organs of the body, but are, at the same time, experiences almost beyond the body. Finally, psychology needs an imagination of the astral human being, the being that has organs for experiencing impulses, desires, and sensory images. These concepts are not inserted as a theory, but can be seen as facts through careful observation.
The final chapters of Anthroposophy (A Fragment) — beginning with chapter seven — are extremely complex, and Steiner was not satisfied with them. He pointed out that he did not have adequate language to express ideas in writing as he could in lectures, where he formed pictures through repetition and emphasis. Nonetheless, these chapters are well worth struggling with.
Before the close of the nineteenth century, Rudolf Steiner wrote in the section on the primal phenomenon in chapter sixteen of Goethean Science: 3Goethean Science, Mercury Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1988. (The above quote was retranslated.) "The picture of the world presented to the senses is the sum of metamorphosing contents of perception, without matter underlying it." This theme was worked out by Steiner in these later chapters. Substance is imagined here, not as consisting of atoms and molecules, but as imaginations formed out of the different sense experiences themselves. Different "inversions" of sense organs play a key role. Underlying the sense organs and life organs are different worlds that interplay in various ways, from which both space itself and the human form unfolds.
These latter chapters are of particular importance to spiritual psychology for several reasons. Developing an imagination of the forming of the various organs, life organs, and the form of the human body can result in a new spiritual psychology of development. Research is needed that relates what Steiner has written here and what Psychology usually presents as developmental phases. Some of this work has been done by Bernard Lievegoed from an anthroposophical point of view, but it is only a beginning. 4Bernard Lievegoed, Phases: The Spiritual Rhythms of Adult Life, Rudolf Steiner Press, Bristol, UK, 1993. It is also possible to imagine new approaches to cognitive and language development, approaches that explicitly take into account the human being as a revelation of the spiritual worlds. 5Linda Sussman, Speech of the Grail: A Journey toward Speaking that Heals and Transforms, Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, NY, 1995. But, more basically, these chapters form the foundation for meditative work that can result in doing the work of psychology with a living imagination of the human being. Psychology does not currently have such an imagination and is particularly deficient in understanding the living body. Its concepts of the body come wholly from biology and physiology; and, consequently, the mode of thinking in psychology is divided between causal thinking dependent on empirical natural scientific concepts that natural science itself has outgrown, as well as imagistic and mythological modes of thought that ignore the human body altogether.
These last chapters also impress upon us the conclusion that spiritual psychology needs to be a completely new psychology. We do not yet have such a psychology. It is a new field. Pieces taken from other psychologies here and there — parts that seem compatible with anthroposophy — will only produce untold confusion without a clear understanding of the human being as a revelation of the spiritual worlds. This view provides the basis for evaluating what is of importance from other psychologies and what we need to leave behind. The possibilities of a fruitful, therapeutic psychology based on the spiritual psychology imagined here is even further away. In this work by Steiner, we can see that it will require meditative training that starts with extended concentration on bodily life as spirit-revelation. It will then need to incorporate a second level of meditative training that focuses on what can be known of the human soul by observation alone. Finally, a third level of meditation will be required, focusing on the edges of soul life, where it meets with spirit life. Only on such foundation will it then be possible to begin developing a therapeutic, spiritual psychology. It is my hope that this work by Steiner becomes a sort of handbook for the first phase of this work.