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Riddles of the Soul
GA 21

1. The Philosophical Validation of Anthroposophy

Anyone who wishes his cognitive approach to be grounded in the philosophical thinking of the present day must justify epistemologically—to himself and to that thinking—the actual soul element referred to in the first chapter of this book. Of the people who recognize the real soul element from direct inner experience and who know how to distinguish it from soul experiences caused by the senses, few are asking for any such justification. Such justification often seems to them to be an unnecessary or even bothersome conceptual hairsplitting. Contrasting with their kind of aversion is the antipathy of philosophical thinkers. They want to regard our inner experience of the soul element as merely subjective, with no claim to scientific value. They therefore have little inclination, in the realm of their philosophical concepts, to seek the elements by which to approach anthroposophical ideas. This aversion, coming from both sides, makes understanding extraordinarily difficult. For, in our time, a scientific value can be ascribed to a cognitive approach only if this approach can validate its views before the same tribunal at which natural-scientific laws seek their justification.

For an epistemological justification of anthroposophical ideas, the essential point is to express in the most exact possible concepts the way these ideas are experienced. We can do this in the most varied ways. Let us attempt to describe two of these ways here. As to the first way, let us start with a consideration of memory. In doing so, we encounter at once a problematical point in modern philosophical knowledge. For, very few clear concepts about the nature of memory are operative there. I will take my start from ideas which, it is true, I have discovered on anthroposophical paths, but which can be thoroughly substantiated by philosophy and physiology. The space I can allow myself in this book, to be sure, is not sufficient for such a substantiation. I hope to present one in a future book. I believe, however, that anyone able to grasp the current findings of physiology and psychology correctly will find what I am going to say about memory to be well-founded.

The mental pictures stimulated by sense impressions enter the realm of unconscious human experience. From there, these pictures can be brought back up; they can be remembered. Mental pictures are of a purely soul nature; but consciousness of them in ordinary waking life is dependent upon the body. Furthermore, the soul bound to the body cannot, through the soul's own forces, lift these pictures out of their unconscious state into a conscious one. For this the soul needs the forces of the body. In ordinary memory the body must be active, just as it must be active in order for sensory pictures to arise in the processes of the sense organs. For me to see a sense-perceptible occurrence, a bodily activity must first develop within the sense organs; produced by them, a picture arises in the soul. For me to remember such a picture, an inner bodily activity (in delicate organs), which is the polar opposite of sense activity, must occur, and as a consequence, the remembered picture arises in the soul. This picture is connected to a sense-perceptible occurrence that stood before my soul in the past. I picture this occurrence through an inner experience that my bodily organization makes possible. Now focus on the nature of such a memory picture. For, through this one can grasp the nature of anthroposophical ideas. These ideas are not memory pictures; but they appear in the soul in the same way as memory pictures do. This is a disappointment for many people who would like to acquire pictures of the spiritual world in a more robust form. But one cannot experience the spiritual world in a form more substantial than that in which, in memory, one experiences a past sense-perceptible event that is no longer visible to one. Now this ability to remember such an event stems from the power of our bodily organization. This organization must play no part, however, in our experience of the actual soul element. Rather, the soul must awaken within itself the ability to accomplish with mental pictures what the body accomplishes with sensory pictures when it conveys the recollection of these sensory pictures. Such mental pictures—which are brought up from the depths of the soul entirely by the power of the soul just as memory pictures are raised from the depths of human nature by our bodily organization— are mental pictures that relate to the spiritual world. They are present in every soul. What must be acquired in order for us to become aware of their presence is the power, purely through the activation of our soul, to bring these mental pictures up from the depths of the soul. As remembered sensory pictures relate to a past sense impression, so these mental pictures relate to a connection—not present in the sense world—of the soul with the spiritual world. The human soul stands in the same relation to the spiritual world as a person ordinarily does to a forgotten reality; and the soul comes to know this world when it awakens powers within itself that are similar to the bodily powers which serve memory.

The essential point, therefore, in the philosophical justification of ideas about the true soul element, is to investigate our inner life in such a way that we find within it an activity which is purely of a soul nature but yet in a certain respect is similar to the activity unfolded in remembering.

A second way to form a concept of a purely soul element is this. One can focus upon the findings of anthropology when it observes a person exercising will (acting). To begin with, the mental picture of the deed underlies the intended will impulse. This mental picture is known physiologically to be dependent upon the bodily organization (the nervous system). A nuance of feeling, a feeling of sympathy with what is pictured, is connected with the mental picture, and causes the mental picture to provide the impulse for action. But then the soul experience loses itself in the depths and only the result arises again consciously. The human being sees how he moves his body in order to perform what he has pictured. (Th. Ziehen has presented all this with particular clarity in his physiological psychology.)

One can see from this how, when an act of will comes into question, our conscious life in mental pictures ceases with respect to the intermediary element of will. What is experienced in the soul as we will an action performed by the body does not enter our ordinary conscious life of mental pictures. But it is also obvious that such a will impulse realizes itself through the activity of the body. It is also not difficult to recognize that the soul unfolds a will activity when, following logical laws, it seeks truth by connecting mental pictures to each other; a will activity that physiological laws cannot encompass. Otherwise, an illogical connection of mental pictures—or even a merely a-logical one— could not be distinguished from one that takes a logically lawful course. (Dilettantish claims that logical deduction is merely a characteristic acquired by the soul through adaptation to the outer world is not worthy of serious consideration.) In this will activity, which runs its course purely within the soul, and which leads to logically grounded convictions, we can see a permeation of the soul with a purely spiritual activity. Our ordinary mental picturing knows as little what occurs in our outward directed will as a sleeping person knows about himself. But we are also not as fully conscious of the logical determining factors by which we form our convictions as we are of the actual content of our convictions. Anyone who knows, even anthropologically, how to observe inwardly is able, after all, in ordinary consciousness, to recognize the presence of logical determinants. He will realize that the human being knows this logical determination the way he knows something in dreams. One is totally justified in declaring the correctness of the paradox: ordinary consciousness knows the content of its convictions; but it only dreams the logical lawfulness that lives in the seeking of these convictions. We can see: in ordinary consciousness we sleep through the will element when unfolding will to act outwardly through the body; we dream through our will activity when seeking convictions through thinking. And we know, in fact, that in this latter case what we are dreaming cannot be of a bodily nature, for then logical laws would have to coincide with physiological laws. If we form the concept of a will activity living in a thinking quest for truth, then we are conceiving of something with real soul being.

From these two epistemological approaches to the concept of real soul being in an anthroposophical sense (other approaches are also possible), we can see how far removed this essential soul being is from anything in the nature of abnormal soul activity such as visionary, hallucinatory, or mediumistic states. For, the source of all such abnormalities must be sought in the physiological realm. The soul element described by anthroposophy, however, is not only of the same kind as our soul experiences in normal healthy consciousness; within the full waking consciousness of mental picturing, we can also experience this soul element in a way similar to that of remembering past events in our life, or of arriving at convictions that are logically determined. From this we can see clearly that anthroposophy's cognitive experience runs its course in mental pictures that retain the character of ordinary consciousness which is endowed with reality from the outer world; and to this ordinary consciousness anthroposophy adds abilities that lead into the spiritual realm; everything of a visionary, hallucinatory nature, on the other hand, lives in a consciousness that adds nothing to our ordinary one but that takes abilities away from this ordinary consciousness, causing our state of consciousness to sink below the level present in conscious sense perception. For those readers who know what I have written in other books about memory and recollection, I would like to add the following. The mental pictures that have entered our unconscious and can be recollected later are to be found—as mental pictures during the time they are unconscious— within that part of the human being which in those books is called the life body (etheric body). The activity, however, through which the mental pictures anchored in the life body are recollected belongs to the physical body. I add this comment so that those who are quick to jump to conclusions will not construe as a contradiction what is in fact a distinction demanded by the nature of the case.