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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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GA 9


(1) To page 26. To speak of a “Life-Force” was still regarded only a short time ago, as a mark of an unscientific mind. Here and there among scientists to-day there are some who are not averse from the idea of a “life-force,” such as was accepted in former times. 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 hear of such development, refuse to hear of such “life-force.” “Life-force” does not belong to what are called to-day “forces of Nature.” And 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 “life-force.” Only the mode of thinking and the premises of spiritual science make it possible to deal with such subjects without inconsistency. Further, those thinkers who seek to form their conclusions purely on the ground of natural science, have abandoned the belief which obtained in the latter half of the nineteenth century, namely, that the phenomena of life could be explained only through the same forces which are at work in inanimate Nature. The book of so noted a naturalist as Oscar 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 what is called “Neo-Vitalism,” a view is becoming prevalent which also admits the action of a special force in the living thing, much as did the older adherents of “life-force.” But no one will be able in this domain to get beyond shadowy abstract conceptions unless he can recognise that to arrive at what transcends the working of the inorganic forces in life is only possible through a mode of perception which rises to vision of the supersensible. The point is that the natural scientific knowledge which has been applied to the inorganic, cannot be carried over into the region of life, but that knowledge of a different nature must be achieved.

(2) To page 26. When the “sense of touch” of the lower organisms is spoken of here, the word “sense” does not mean the same thing as is referred to by this term in the usual descriptions of the “senses.” Indeed, from the point of view of spiritual science, much can be said against the use of this expression. What is meant here by “sense of touch” is rather a general “becoming aware” of an external impression, in contrast to the particular “becoming aware,” which consists in seeing, hearing, etc.

(3)To page 24-44. It may appear as if the way in which the being of man is membered in this book is based upon a purely arbitrary differentiation of parts within the unitary soul-life. As against this it must be emphasised that this differentiation within the unitary soul-life may be compared with the appearance of the seven shades of colour in the rainbow, when fight passes through a prism. What the physicist accomplishes with regard to phenomenon of light through his study of this process, and the seven shades of colour which result from it, the spiritual scientist accomplishes with regard to the soul-nature of man. The seven members of the soul are not merely distinctions made by the intellect. They are this as little as are the seven colours in relation to light. The differentiation depends in both cases upon the inner nature of the facts; only that the seven members in the case of light become visible through an external contrivance, and the seven members of the soul through a mode of spiritual observation suited to the nature of the soul. The soul's true nature cannot be grasped without the knowledge of this membering. For through the three members, physical body, life-body, and soul-body, the soul belongs to the transitory world; through the 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 in 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 identity. Hydrogen and oxygen both combine with other substances. And so, at death, the three lower members of the soul unite with the transitory part of world-being; the four higher members unite with the eternal. Anyone who objects to taking this membering of the soul into account is like a chemist who might refuse to know anything about the separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen.

(4) To page 31. The descriptions given by spiritual science must be understood with utmost exactitude; for they are of value only when they are accurate expressions of the ideas. For example, in the sentence: “They (the sensations, etc.) do not in its case (namely, that of the animal) become interwoven with independent thoughts, transcending the immediate experience” — if the words “independent, transcending the immediate experience” are left out of account, it would be easy to fall into the mistake of thinking that it is being claimed here that the sensations and instincts of animals do not contain thoughts. But true spiritual science is based on knowledge which says that all inner experiences of animals (as indeed of existence in general) are permeated with thought. Only the thoughts of the animal are not those of an independent ego living in the animal, but are those of the animal group-ego, which is to be regarded as a being controlling the animal from outside. This group-ego is not present in the physical world, as is the ego of man, but works down into the animal from the soul-world described previously. (Further details regarding this are to be found in my Occult Science.) The point to make clear is, that in man, thoughts attain an independent existence: that in him, they are not experienced indirectly in sensation, but are experienced in the soul directly as thought.

(5) To page 35. When it is pointed out that little children say “Charles is good,” “Mary wants to have that,” it must be remembered that the important point is not so much how soon children use the world “I,” but when they connect the corresponding idea with that word. When children hear adults using the word, they may well use it too, without forming the idea of the “I.” But the generally late use of the word points to an important fact of development, namely, to the gradual unfolding of the idea “I” out of the dim “I”-feeling.

(6)To pages 38/9. 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 inadequate attention a contradiction might be detected between the use of the word in those books, and what is said concerning it in this one. But for the careful observer there is no such contradiction. It will be seen that what is revealed in its fullness from the spiritual world to supersensible perception, through Intuition, makes itself known in its lowest manifestation to the Spirit-self, just as the external physical world makes itself known in sensation.

(7) To page 45. On “Re-embodiment of the Spirit and Destiny.” It must be borne in mind — disregarding for the moment the facts of spiritual science already given in other parts of the book — that in this section the attempt is made, by means of the study of the course of human life, to gain an idea of the extent to which this human life, with its destiny, points to a series of earth-lives. These ideas will, of course, appear very questionable to those who regard the customary belief in a single life on earth as the only well-founded one. But it should also be borne in mind 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 which apparently contradict the generally accepted ones must be sought. And this search is only hindered by a deliberate refusal to apply the same consideration of a course of events belonging to the soul, as 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 is related to that produced when the memory meets an experience related to what is remembered. But anyone who tries to perceive how a stroke of fate is really experienced will be able to differentiate this experience from the assertions which must arise if an external standpoint is taken — through which, of course, every living connection of this stroke of fate with the ego is lost. 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 which, 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 generalise 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 that which may be observed in Goethe's friend, Knebel, who wrote in a letter as follows: “On close observation it will be seen that there is a plan in the lives of most people which seems traced out for them, either through their own nature, or through the circumstances which affect them. Their lot in life may be infinitely 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 it be 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.”

Objections to observations of this kind may easily be raised by people who are not willing to consider experiences of a soul-nature. But the author of this book believes that in what he has said about repeated earth-lives and destiny, he has accurately drawn the boundary line within which conceptions can be formed about the underlying causes which shape human life. He has pointed out the fact that the mode of viewing things to which these conceptions lead, can only be defined by them as it were in “silhouette,” that they can only prepare the thoughts for what must be discovered by means of spiritual science. But this thought-preparation is an inner work of the soul, which, if it does not overstep the mark, if it does not seek to “prove” but aims merely at being an exercise of the soul, makes a man impartially open to items of knowledge which without such preparation, appear foolish to him.

(8) To page 69. The subject of the “spiritual organs of perception” which is only briefly alluded to 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.

(9) To page 89. 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 is found in the physical world,” is not present there. In the realm where the “Archetypes are creative Beings,” there is not what can be called “rest in one place,” but there is rest of a spiritual kind that is compatible with active mobility. It may be likened to the restful contentment and happiness of the spirit which are manifest in deeds, not in inactivity.

(10) To page 93. One is obliged to use the word “purposes” with regard to the great driving powers of world-creation, although in so doing, inducement is given to the temptation to conceive of these powers simply in the sense 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 perceiving a new significance and meaning in them, a meaning from which everything that they contain of the narrow, limited, human element has been eliminated; while in place of this there has been imparted to them the meaning which a man gives them at moments in his life when he rises above himself.

(11) To page 94. Further particulars with regard to the “Spiritual World” are to be found in my Occult Science — an Outline.

(12) To page 105. When it is said here: “from out of the Eternal he can determine the direction for the future,” this is intended to point to the special constitution of the human soul during the time between death and a new birth. A stroke of destiny which 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 re-birth a force, akin to will, rules in the soul which gives to the man the urge towards 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 which had its original 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 compensation. After its birth in the physical body, the soul, when met by some hard fate, has no glimmering of the fact that in the spiritual life before birth, the impulse which led to this hard fate had been deliberately given. Therefore, what seems completely undesired from the point of view of the earth-life, is willed by the soul in the supersensible. “From out of the eternal the human being determines the future for himself.”

(13) To page 115. The chapter in this book on “Thought-forms and the Human Aura” is doubtless the one which may most easily lead to misconception. It is precisely with regard to these descriptions that antagonistic feelings find the best opportunity for raising objections. It is indeed very natural to demand, for instance, that the statements of the seer in this domain should be proved by experiments in keeping with the scientific mode of thinking. It may be demanded that a number of people who assert that they are able to see the spiritual element in 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, feelings, etc., they see as the auras of the people they are observing. If their reports coincide, and if it is found that the persons who are observed really have the feelings, thoughts, etc., reported by the seers, then the existence of the aura could be believed in. That is certainly in accord with the methods of natural science. The following, however, must be taken into account. The work which the spiritual investigator carries out upon 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, and what he perceives, does not depend upon himself. It flows to him as a gift from the spiritual world. He cannot take it by force, he 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 natural science demands for the experiment. The spiritual world, however, will not allow itself to be commanded. 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 to reveal the thoughts of one or more persons to one or more “seers.” These seers would then have to be brought together, through a “spiritual impulse,” for their work of observation. In that case their reports would most certainly agree with each other. Paradoxical as all this may appear to the purely scientific mind, it is true, nevertheless. 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 out the way by which a man may come to see the aura, by what means he may bring about the experience 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 natural scientific methods could be fulfilled; but whoever asks for tests of this kind shows that he has not made himself acquainted with the very first elements of spiritual science.

The statements made in this book about the “human aura” are not intended to encourage the desire for “supersensible” sensationalism. This desire only admits itself satisfied, as regards the spiritual world, when it is shown something as “spirit,” which cannot be distinguished in the presentation 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 page 117 about the way in which the auric colour is to be imagined, could certainly be calculated to prevent such misunderstanding. But anyone 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 the spiritual, not the physical, sight of the aura. Without this sight the experience remains in the unconscious. It is a mistake to confuse the pictorial sight with the actual experience itself: but we must also make quite clear to ourselves that in this same pictorial vision the experience finds a completely adequate expression: not one for instance which the beholding soul creates arbitrarily, but such a one as takes shape of itself, in supersensible perception. At the present time a natural scientist would be forgiven should he feel called upon to speak of a kind of “human aura” as Prof. Dr. Moritz Benedikt speaks in his book on the Rod and Pendulum Theory (Ruten und Pendellehre): “There exist, even though in small numbers, human beings who are adapted to the dark. A relatively large fraction of this minority sees in the dark very many objects without colours, and only relatively very few see the objects coloured also. ... A considerable number of learned men and doctors have been investigated in my dark room by my two classical ‘subjects’ or ‘seers in the dark’ and those investigated in this way could retain no justifiable doubt as to the correctness of the observations, and descriptions ... Now those ‘adapted to the dark’ who see colours, see in the front the forehead and scalp blue, the rest of the right half likewise blue and the left red, or some see it ... orange-yellow. To the rear one finds the same division and the same colouring.” But the spiritual investigator is not so easily forgiven when he speaks of the “aura.” There is no intention here of taking up any kind of attitude to the things worked out by Benedikt, which belong to the most interesting modern theories about Nature. Neither is it intended to take advantage of a cheap opportunity to “make excuses” for spiritual science through natural science, as many are so glad to do. The only intention has been to point out how, in one instance, a natural scientist can make assertions which are not entirely unlike those of spiritual science. But at the same time it must be emphasised that the aura spoken of in this book, which can only be comprehended spiritually, is something quite different from what can be investigated by physical means and about which Benedikt is speaking. It is a gross illusion to think that the “spiritual aura” can be one that may be investigated by the external means of natural science. It is accessible only to that spiritual seeing which is reached by the Path of Knowledge (as described in the last chapter of this book). But it would also be a mistake to suppose that the truth and reality of what is spiritually perceived could be demonstrated in the same way as that which is perceived through the senses.