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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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GA 9


No. 1. To speak of a vital force was still regarded a short time ago as a sign of an unscientific mind. Today there are here and there among scientists some who are not averse to the once entertained idea of a vital force. But anyone who examines the course of modern scientific development will, nevertheless, perceive the more consistent logic of those who, in view of this development, refuse to listen to anything about such a vital force. Certainly, vital force does not belong to what are called today forces of nature. Anyone who is not willing to pass from the habits of thought and the conceptions of modern science to a higher mode of thinking should not speak of vital force. Only the mode of thinking and the presuppositions of spiritual science make it possible to deal with such things without inconsistency. Further, those thinkers who seek to form their conclusions purely on the ground of modern science have abandoned the belief that obtained in the latter half of the nineteenth century, namely, that the phenomena of life could only be explained through references to the same forces that are at work in inanimate nature. The book of such a noted naturalist as Oskar Hertwig, The Development of Organisms; A Refutation of Darwin's Theory of Chance, is a scientific phenomenon that sheds its light far and wide. It opposes the assumption that the inter-workings of mere physical and chemical laws are able to shape the living thing. It is also significant that, in so-called Neo-Vitalism, a view is becoming prevalent that also admits the activity of a special force in living things much after the manner of the older theory of vital force. In this domain, however, we shall never be able to get beyond shadowy abstract concepts unless we recognize that the only possible way of reaching what in life transcends in its activity the inorganic forces is by means of a mode of perception that rises to supersensible vision. The point is that the kind of knowledge modern science has been applying to the inorganic cannot be carried over into the region of life, but that an entirely different kind of knowledge must be acquired.

No. 2. When the sense of touch of the lower organisms is mentioned here, the word “sense” does not mean the same thing referred to by this term in the usual descriptions of the sense. Indeed, from the point of view of spiritual science, much can be said against the use of this word. What is meant here by sense of touch is rather the general attaining to awareness of an external impression in contrast to the special attaining to awareness that consists in seeing, hearing, and so forth.

No. 3. It may appear as if the manner of dividing the being of man employed in this book rests upon a purely arbitrary differentiation of parts within the unitary soul life. It must be emphasized that this differentiation within the unitary soul life may be compared with the phenomenon of the seven color nuances in the rainbow, caused by light passing through a prism. What the physicist accomplishes with his explanation of the phenomenon of light through his study of this process, and the resultant seven shades of color, is accomplished by the spiritual scientist with regard to the soul being of man. The seven members in light become visible through an external contrivance, while the seven members of the soul become observable by a method consistent with the spiritual nature of the soul being of man. The soul's true nature cannot be grasped without the knowledge of this inner organization because the soul, through its three members, physical body, life body and soul body, belongs to the transitory world; through its other four members, it is rooted in the eternal. In the unitary soul the transitory and the eternal are indistinguishably united. Unless one is aware of this differentiation of the soul, it is not possible to understand its relation to the world as a whole. Another comparison may also be used. The chemist separates water into hydrogen and oxygen. Neither of these substances can be observed in the unitary water. Nevertheless, each has its own proper existence. Hydrogen and oxygen both unite with other substances. Thus at death, the three lower members of the soul unite with the transitory part of the world being; the four higher members unite with the eternal. Anyone who objects to taking this differentiation of the soul into account resembles an analytical chemist who objects to knowing anything about the separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen.

No. 4. It is necessary that the statements of spiritual science be taken literally because only in the accurate expression of the ideas have they value. For example, take the sentence, “They (the sensations) do not, in its case (namely, that of the animal), become interwoven with independent thoughts, transcending the immediate experiences.” If the words “independent, transcending the immediate experiences” are left out of account, it would be easy to fall into the mistake of thinking that it is claimed here that the sensations and instincts of animals do not contain thoughts. The truth is, that spiritual science is based on a knowledge that says that all inner experience of animals, as well as existence in general, is interwoven with thought. Only the thoughts of the animals are not those of an independent ego living in the animal, but those of the animal group-ego, which must be regarded as a being governing the animal from without. This group-ego is not, like the human ego, present in the physical world, but works down into the animal from the soul world as described in part 1 of Chapter III. (Further details regarding this are to be found in my Occult Science, an Outline.) The point to make clear is that in man, thought attains to an independent existence; that in him, it is not experienced indirectly in sensation, but directly in the soul as thought.

No. 5. When it is said that little children say, “Charles is good,” “Mary want to have this,” it must be specially noted that the important point is not so much how soon children use the word “I,” but when they connect the corresponding idea with that word. When children hear adults using the word, it is easy for them to use it too, without forming the idea of the “I.” The generally late use of the word points to an important fact in evolution, namely, to the gradual unfolding of the idea “I” out of the dim “I” feeling.

No. 6. A description of the real nature of intuition is to be found in my books, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, and Occult Science, an Outline. Through lack of accurate attention, a contradiction might be detected between the use of the word in those two books, and what is said concerning it in this one (part 4 of Chapter I). To the careful observer, however this contradiction does not exist. It will be seen that what is revealed in all its fullness from the spiritual world to supersensible perception, through intuition, makes itself known in its lowest manifestation in the spirit self, just as the external physical world makes itself known in sensation.

No. 7. On Re-embodiment of the Spirit and Destiny. Concerning the statements in this section of the book, it must be borne in mind that—disregarding for the moment the facts of spiritual science already given in other parts of the book—the attempt is made, by means of thoughtful observation of the course of human life, to gain an idea of the extent to which this human life with its destiny, points to repeated earth-lives. These ideas will, of course, appear questionable to those who regard the customary belief in a single life on earth as the only well-founded one. It should also be borne in mind, however, that the intention here is to show that the ordinary way of looking at things can never lead to an understanding of the deeper foundations of life. For this reason, other conceptions must be sought that apparently contradict the generally accepted ones. This search is only hindered by the deliberate refusal to apply the same thoughtful consideration to a course of events belonging to the soul, that is applied to a series of events in the physical world. In thus refusing, no value is attached, for instance, to the fact that when a stroke of fate falls upon the “I,” the effect in the realm of feeling bears a relation to that produced when the memory meets an experience related to what is remembered. Anyone who tries to observe how a stroke of fate is really experienced will be able to differentiate between this experience and the assertions to which a point of view that is merely external must necessarily give rise, and through which, of course, every living connection between this stroke of fate and the ego is lost sight of. For such a point of view, the blow appears to be either the result of chance or to have been determined by some external cause. The fact that there are also strokes of fate that, in a certain way, break into a human life for the first time, only showing their results later on, makes the temptation all the greater to generalize on this basis without taking other possibilities into account.

People do not begin to pay heed to these other possibilities until experience of life has brought their imaginative faculty into a direction similar to the one that may be observed in Goethe's friend, Knebel, who wrote in a letter, “On close observation it will be seen that there is a plan in the lives of most people that seems traced out for them, either through their own nature or through the circumstances that affect them. The conditions of their lives may be ever so varied and changeable, but taken as a whole, a certain conformity will be apparent in the end. . . . However secretly it may operate, the hand of a definite destiny, whether moved by an outer cause or by an inner impulse, may be clearly discerned; even conflicting causes often move in its direction. However confused the course of life may be, plan and definite direction are always discernible.”

It is easy to raise objections to observations of this kind, especially for people who are not willing to consider the experiences of the soul in which such observation has its origin. The author of this book, however, believes that in what he has said about repeated earth-lives and destiny, he has accurately drawn the boundary line within which one can form conceptions about the underlying causes shaping human life. He has pointed out the fact that the view to which these ideas lead can only be defined by them in silhouette-like form, that they can only prepare the thoughts for what must be discovered by means of spiritual science. This thought-preparation is an inner work of the soul. If it does not over-estimate itself, if it does not seek to prove but aims merely at being an exercise of the soul, it makes a man impartially open to knowledge that must appear foolish, without such preparation.

No. 8. The subject of the spiritual organs of perception that is only alluded to briefly at the end of this book in the chapter on The Path Of Knowledge, is more fully dealt with in my books, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment and Occult Science, an Outline.

No. 9. It would be incorrect to imagine that there is ceaseless unrest in the spiritual world because “a state of rest, a remaining in one place such as we find in the physical world,” does not exist there. It is true that where the “archetypes are creative beings,” there is nothing that can be called “rest in one place,” but there is the rest that is of a spiritual kind, and that is compatible with active mobility. It may be likened to the restful contentment and bliss of the spirit that is manifest in deeds, but not in being inactive.

No. 10. One is obliged to use the word “purposes” with regard to the great evolutionary powers of the world, although in so doing occasion is given to the temptation to conceive of these powers simply as one thinks of human purposes. In the case of such words, which have naturally to be taken from the sphere of the human world, this temptation can be avoided only by learning to perceive in them a new significance and meaning, from which all that they contain of the narrowly limited human element has been eliminated. In place of this a meaning may be imparted to them that is given to such words at those moments in life when a man rises to a certain extent above himself.

No. 11. Further particulars about the “Spiritual Word” are to be found in my Occult Science, an Outline.

No. 12. When it is said, here, “Out of the Eternal he can determine the direction for the future,” this is intended to point to the special way in which human soul is constituted during the time between death and a new birth. A stroke of destiny that befalls a person during life in the physical world may seem, from the point of view of that (physical) life, to contain something altogether opposed to the man's own will. In the life between death and rebirth a force, resembling will, rules in the soul that gives to the person the tendency toward experiencing this very blow of fate. The soul sees, as it were, that an imperfection has clung to it from earlier earth-lives—an imperfection that had its origin in an ugly deed or an ugly thought. Between death and re-birth, there arises in the soul a will-like impulse to make good this imperfection. The soul, therefore, becomes imbued with the tendency to plunge into a misfortune in the coming earth-life, in order, through enduring it, to bring about equilibrium. After its birth in the physical body, the soul, when met by some hard fate, has no glimmering of the fact that in the purely spiritual life before birth, the impulse that led to this hard fate has been voluntarily accepted by it. What, therefore, seems completely unwished for from the point of view of earth-life is willed by the soul itself in the supersensible. “Out of the Eternal man determines the future for himself.”

No. 13. The second in this book on Thought Forms and the Human Aura is doubtless the one that may most easily lead to misconceptions. It is precisely with regard to these descriptions that antagonistic feelings find the best opportunity for raising objections. It is, indeed, natural to demand, for instance, that the statements of the seer in this domain should be proved by experiments corresponding to the scientific mode of thinking. It may be demanded that a number of people who assert that they are able to see the spiritual of the aura should place themselves in front of other people and allow their auras to work upon them. Then these seers should be asked to say what thoughts and feelings they see as the auras of the people they are observing. If their reports coincide, and if it is found that the persons observed really have had the feelings and thoughts reported by the seers, then one could believe in the existence of the aura. That is certainly thought quite scientifically. The following, however, must be taken into account. The work that the spiritual researcher does in his own soul, through which he acquires the capacity for spiritual vision, has, as its aim, the acquisition of this capacity. Whether he is then able in any given case to perceive something in the spiritual world does not depend upon himself, nor, for that matter, does what he perceives. That flows to him as a gift from the spiritual world. He cannot take it by force, but must wait until it comes to him. His intention to bring about the perception has no bearing on the real causes of its happening, but this intention is exactly what modern science demands for the experiment. The spiritual world, however, will not allow itself to be dictated to. If the above attempt is to succeed, it would have to be instituted from the spiritual world. In that world a being would have to have the intention of revealing the thoughts of one or more persons to one or more people who are able to “see.” These seers would then have to be brought together through a spiritual impulse for their work of observation. In that case their reports would certainly coincide. Paradoxical as all this may appear to the purely scientific mind, it is, nevertheless, true.

Spiritual experiments cannot be undertaken in the same way as those of a physical nature. If the seer, for example, receives the visit of a person who is a stranger to him, he cannot at once undertake to observe the aura of this person, but he sees the aura when there is occasion in the spiritual world for it to be revealed to him. These few words are intended merely to draw attention to the misconception in the objection described above. What spiritual science has to do is to point the way by which a man may come to see the aura, by what means he may himself bring about the experiences of its reality. Thus the only reply that spiritual science can make to the would-be seer is, “The conditions have been made known; apply them to your own soul, and you will see.” It would certainly be more convenient if the above demands of the modern scientific mode of thought could be fulfilled, but whoever asks for tests of this kind shows that he has not made himself acquainted with the very first results of spiritual science.

The statements made in this book about the human aura are not intended to encourage the desire for supersensible sensation. This desire only admits itself satisfied with regard to the spiritual world if it is shown something as “spirit” that cannot be distinguished in thought from the physically sensible, so that it can rest comfortably and remain with its conceptions in that same physical sense-world. What is said on part 6 of Chapter III about the way in which the auric color is to be imagined is certainly calculated to prevent such misunderstanding. Anyone, however, who is striving for true insight into these things must clearly perceive that the human soul, in experiencing the spiritual and psychic, has of necessity before it the spiritual, not the physical-sensible view of the aura. Without this view, the experience remains in the unconscious. It is a mistake to confuse the pictorial perception with the actual experience itself, but one ought also to make quite clear to oneself that in this same pictorial perception the experience finds a completely true expression; not one, for instance, that the beholding soul creates arbitrarily, but one that takes shape of itself in supersensible perception.

At the present time, a modern scientist would be forgiven should be feel called upon to speak of a kind of human aura such as Prof. Dr. Moritz Benedikt describes in his book on the Rod and Pendulum Theory (Ruten und Pendellehre). “There exists, even though in small numbers, human beings who are adapted to the dark. A relatively large fraction of this minority see in the dark many objects without colors, and only relatively few see the objects colored also. . .A considerable number of learned men and physicians have been subjected to research in my dark room by my two classical `subjects' or `seers in the dark,' who see colors, see in the front the forehead and scalp blue, and see the rest of the right half likewise blue and the justify red, or some it. . .orange-yellow. To the rear, the same division is found, and the same coloring.” The spiritual researcher is not so easily forgiven when he speaks of the aura.

There is no intention here of taking up any kind of attitude toward all that Benedikt has worked out, which belongs to the most interesting modern theories of nature. Neither is it intended to take advantage of a cheap opportunity to make excuses for spiritual science through natural science, which so many enjoy doing. It is only intended to point out how, in one instance, a scientist can be brought to make assertions that are not unlike those of spiritual science. At the same time, it must be emphasized that the aura that is spoken of in this book, and that can only be grasped spiritually, is something quite different from what can be investigated by physical means and about which Benedikt speaks. We surrender ourselves to a gross illusion if we think that the spiritual aura can be one that may be subject to research by the external means of modern science. That aura is only accessible to the spiritual perception reached by the path of knowledge as described in the last chapter of this book. It would also be a mistake to suppose that the truth and reality of what is spiritually perceived can be demonstrated in the same way as can what is perceived through the senses.