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Riddles of the Soul
GA 21

6. The Physical and Spiritual Dependencies of Man's Being

I would also like now to sketch out what I have discovered about the relations of the soul element to the physical-bodily element. I can indeed state that I am describing here the results of a thirty-year-long spiritual-scientific investigation. Only in recent years has it become possible for me to grasp the pertinent elements in thoughts expressible in words in such a way that I could bring what I was striving for to a provisional conclusion. I would also like to allow myself to present the results of my investigation in the form of indications only. It is fully possible to substantiate these results with the scientific means available today. This would be the subject of a lengthy book, which circumstances do not allow me to write at this time.

If one is seeking the relation of the soul element to the bodily element, one cannot base oneself upon Brentano's division of our soul experiences—described on page 69ff. of this book—into mental picturing, judging, and the phenomena of loving and hating. In the search for the pertinent relations, this division leads to such a skewing of the relevant circumstances that one cannot obtain results that accord with the facts. In an investigation like ours, one must take one's start from the division rejected by Brentano: into mental picturing,1Vorstellen here is virtually synonymous with “thinking.” Ed. feeling, and willing. If one now draws together all of the soul element that is experienced as mental picturing, and seeks the bodily processes with which this soul element is related, one finds the appropriate connection by being able to link up, to a considerable extent, with the results of today's physiological psychology. The bodily counterparts of the soul element of mental picturing are to be found in the processes of the nervous system, with its extensions into the sense organs on the one hand and into the internal organization of the body on the other. No matter how much, from the anthroposophical viewpoint, one will have to think many things differently than modern science does, this science does provide an excellent foundation.

This is not the case when one wishes to determine the bodily counterparts of feeling and willing. With respect to them one must first pave the right path within the realm of the findings of today's physiology. If one has achieved the right path, one finds that just as one must relate mental picturing to nerve activity, so one must also relate feeling to that life rhythm which is centered in the breathing activity and is connected with it. In doing so one must bear in mind that, for our purposes, one must follow the breathing rhythm, with all that is connected with it, right into the most peripheral parts of our organization. In order to achieve concrete results in this region, the results of physiological research must be pursued in a direction that is still quite unusual today. Only when one accomplishes this will all those contradictions disappear which result at first when feeling and the breathing rhythm are brought together. What at first inspires contradiction turns out, upon deeper study, to be a proof of this relation.

Let us just take one example from the extensive region that must be explored here. The experience of music is based on feeling. The content of musical configurations, however, lives in our mental picturing,2In German, Vorstellen. Please recall that this means “a placing before oneself inwardly,” not necessarily as a visual image. Ed. which is transmitted through the perceptions of hearing. Through what does the musical feeling experience arise? The mental picture of the tone configuration, which is based on the organ of hearing and on a nerve process, is not yet this musical experience. This latter arises through the fact that in the brain the breathing rhythm—in its extension up into this organ—encounters what is accomplished by the ear and nervous system. And the soul lives then not merely in what is heard and pictured; it lives in the breathing rhythm; it experiences what is released in the breathing rhythm through the fact that what is occurring in the nervous system strikes upon this rhythmical life, so to speak. One need only see the physiology of the breathing rhythm in the right light and one will arrive at a comprehensive recognition of the statement: The soul has feeling experiences by basing itself upon the breathing rhythm in the same way it bases itself, in mental picturing, upon nerve processes.

And relative to willing one finds that it is based, in a similar way, upon metabolic processes. Here again, one must include in one's study all the pertinent ramifications and extensions of the metabolic processes within the entire organism. Just as, when something is mentally pictured, a nerve process occurs upon which the soul becomes conscious of its mental picturing, and just as, when something is felt, a modification of the breathing rhythm takes place through which a feeling arises in the soul: so, when something is willed, a metabolic process happens, which is the bodily foundation for what is experienced in the soul as willing.

Now, in the soul a fully conscious, wakeful experience is present only with respect to the mental picturing mediated by our nervous system. What is mediated by the breathing rhythm lives in ordinary consciousness with about the same intensity as dream pictures. To this belongs everything of a feeling nature: all emotions, passions, and so on. Our willing, which is based on metabolic processes, is experienced in a degree of consciousness no higher than that present in the completely dim consciousness of our sleeping state. A more detailed study of the pertinent facts will show that we experience our willing in a completely different way than our mental picturing. We experience the latter the way one sees a colored surface, as it were; we experience willing as a kind of black area upon a colored field. We see something within the area where no color is, in fact, because, in contrast with its surroundings from which color impressions go forth, no such impressions come to meet us: We can picture willing mentally because, within the soul's experiences of mental pictures, at certain places, a non-picturing inserts itself that places itself into our fully conscious experience the same way, in sleep, interruptions of consciousness place themselves into the conscious course of life. The manifoldness in our soul experience—in mental picturing, feeling, and willing—results from these different kinds of conscious experience.

In his book Guidelines of Physiological Psychology, Theodor Ziehen is led to significant characterizations of feeling and willing. In many ways, this book is a prime example of today's natural-scientific way of regarding the connection between the physical and the psychic elements in man. Mental picturing, in all its different forms, is brought into the same connection with the nervous system that the anthroposophical viewpoint also must recognize. About feeling, however, Ziehen says:

Almost without exception, earlier psychology regarded the emotions as the manifestations of a particular independent soul capacity. Kant placed the feeling of pleasure and pain, as a particular soul faculty, between the capacity for knowledge and the capacity for desire, and emphasized explicitly that any further tracing of these three soul capacities back to a common ground was not possible. In contrast to this view, our previous discussions have already shown that feelings of pleasure and pain do not exist at all in this kind of independence, but rather arise only as characteristics or traits—as the so-called nuances of feeling—of sensations and mental pictures.

So this way of thinking ascribes to feeling no independence in our soul life; it sees in feeling only a trait of mental picturing. The result is that it regards not only our life in mental picturing but also our feeling life as being founded upon nerve processes. For it, the nervous system is that part of the body to which the whole soul element is assigned. But this way of thinking, after all, is based on the fact that unconsciously it has already thought up in advance what it wants its findings to be. It grants the status of "soul element" only to what is related to nerve processes, and therefore must regard what cannot be assigned to the nervous system—feeling—as having no independent existence, as being a mere attribute of mental picturing. Anyone who does not set off in the wrong direction with his concepts in this manner and is unbiased in his soul observations will recognize the independence of our feeling life in the most definite way; and secondly, the unbiased evaluation of physiological knowledge will give the insight that feeling must be assigned to the breathing rhythm in the way described above.

The natural-scientific way of thinking denies to will any independent being within our soul life. Will does not even have the status—as feeling does—of being an attribute of mental picturing. But this denial is also based only on the fact that one wants to assign everything of a real soul nature to nerve processes. Now one cannot, however, relate willing in its own particular nature to actual nerve processes. Precisely when one works this through with exemplary clarity as Theodore Ziehen does, can one be impelled to the view that the analysis of soul processes in their relation to the life of the body “offers no cause to assume any separate will capacity.” And yet: unbiased observation of the soul compels one to recognize an independent life of will; and a realistic insight into physiological findings shows that willing as such must not be brought into relation to nerve processes but rather to metabolic processes.

If one wishes to create clear concepts in this realm, one must view physiological and psychological findings in the light demanded by reality; but not in the way this occurs in today's physiology and psychology, where light is shed from preconceptions, definitions, and even in fact from theoretical sympathies and antipathies. Above all, we must take a hard look at the interrelations of nerve activity, breathing rhythm, and metabolic activity. For, these forms of activity do not lie side by side; they lie in one another; they interpenetrate; they go over into each other. MetaboUc activity is present in the entire organism; it permeates the organs of rhythm and of nerve activity. But it is not the bodily foundation of feeling in rhythm; in nerve activity, it is not the basis of mental picturing; rather in both of them, the working will that permeates rhythm and nerves is to be assigned to the metabolic activity. Only a materialistic bias can make a connection between what exists in the nerve as metabolic activity and mental picturing. A study rooted in reality says something completely different. It must recognize that metabolism is present in the nerve insofar as will permeates it. Likewise, metabolism is present in the bodily apparatus of rhythm. The metabolic activity in this apparatus has to do with the will present in this organ. One must connect willing with metabolic activity and feeling with rhythmical occurrences, no matter which organ it is in which metabolism or rhythm appears. In the nerves, however, something completely different from metabolism and rhythm is occurring. The bodily processes in the nervous system that provide the basis of mental picturing are difficult to grasp physiologically. For, where nerve activity occurs, there the mental picturing of ordinary consciousness is present. The reverse is also true, however: where mental picturing is not being done, there no nerve activity is ever to be found, but only metabolic activity in the nerve and a nuance of rhythmical function. Physiology will never arrive at concepts that are in accordance with reality in the study of the nerves as long as it does not understand that true nerve activity absolutely cannot be an object of physiological sense observation. Anatomy and physiology must arrive at the knowledge that they can discover nerve activity only through a method of exclusion. What is not sense-perceptible in the life of the nerve, but whose presence—and even its characteristic way of working—-is proved necessary by what is sense-perceptible: that is nerve activity. One arrives at a positive picture of nerve activity if one looks into that material happening by which the purely soul-spiritual being of a living content of our mental picturing—as described in the first essay of this book—is lamed down into the lifeless mental picturing of ordinary consciousness. Without this concept, which one must introduce into physiology, there is no possibility in that science of stating what nerve activity is. Physiology has developed methods for itself that at present conceal rather than reveal this concept. And even psychology has blocked its own path in this region. Just look, for example, at how Herbartian psychology has worked in this direction. It has turned its gaze only upon the life of our mental picturing, and sees in feeling and willing only effects of our life in mental picturing. But these effects melt away before the approach of knowledge, if at the same time one does not direct one's gaze in an unbiased way upon the reality of feeling and willing. Through such melting away one cannot arrive at any realistic coordinating of feeling and willing with bodily processes.

The body as a whole, not merely the nerve activity included in it, is the physical basis of our soul life. And just as for ordinary consciousness our soul life can be transcribed as mental picturing, feeling, and willing, so can our bodily life as nerve activity, rhythmical function, and metabolic processes.

Immediately the question arises: How does our actual sense perception—which is only an extension of nerve activity— integrate itself into the organism, on the one hand; and on the other hand, how does our ability to move—to which willing leads—integrate itself? Unbiased observation shows that neither belong to the organism in the same sense as nerve activity, rhythmical function, and metabolic processes. What occurs in a sense organ is something that does not belong directly to the organism at all. With our senses we have the outer world stretching like gulfs into the being of the organism. While the soul is encompassing in a sense organ an outer happening, the soul is not taking part in an inner organic happening, but rather in the continuation of the outer happening into the organism. (I mentioned these inner connections epistemologically in a lecture to the Bologna Philosophy Conference in 1911.) 3Published as Seeing with the Soul, Mercury Press, 1996.

In a process of movement we also do not have to do physically with something whose essential being lies inside the organism, but rather with a working of the organism in relationships of balance and forces in which the organism is placed with respect to the outer world. Within the organism, the will is only assigned the role of a metabolic process; but the happening caused by this process is at the same time an actuality within the outer world's interrelation of balance and forces; and by being active in willing, the soul transcends the realm of the organism and participates with its deeds in the happenings of the outer world.

The division of nerves into sensory and motor nerves has created terrible confusion in the study of all these things. No matter how deeply rooted this division may seem to be in today's physiological picture of things, it is not based on unbiased observation. What physiology presents on the basis of nerve severance or of pathological elimination of certain nerves does not prove what appears upon the foundation of experiment or outer experience; it proves something completely different. It proves that the difference is not there at all which one assumes to exist between sensory and motor nerves. On the contrary, both kinds of nerves are of the same nature. The so-called motor nerve does not serve movement in the sense assumed in the teachings of the division theory; rather, as the bearer of nerve activity it serves the inner perception of that metabolic process that underlies our willing, in just the same way as the sensory nerve serves the perception of what takes place in the sense organ. Until the study of the nerves works with clear concepts in this regard, a correct relation of our soul life to the life of the body will not come about.


In the same way that psycho-physiologically one can seek the relation to the body's life of the soul life that runs its course in mental picturing, feeling, and willing, so one can also strive anthroposophically for knowledge of the relation which the soul element of ordinary consciousness has to spiritual life. And there one discovers through the anthroposophical methods described in this and in my other books, that just as our mental picturing finds a bodily foundation in our nerve activity, so it also finds a basis in the spiritual realm. In the other direction—on the side turned away from the body—the soul stands in a relation to a spiritually real element that is the foundation for the mental picturing of ordinary consciousness. This spiritual element, however, can only be experienced by a seeing cognition. And it is experienced through its content being presented to seeing consciousness as differentiated Imaginations. Just as, toward the body, our mental picturing is based on nerve activity, so from the other side, it streams toward us out of a spiritually real element, revealing itself in Imaginations. This spiritually real element is what is called in my books the etheric or life body. (In speaking about the etheric body I always emphasize expressly that one should take exception neither to the word “body” nor to the word “etheric”; for, what I present shows clearly that one should not interpret the matter in a materialistic sense.) And this life body (in the fourth volume of the first year of the periodical, “Das Reich,” I also used the expression "body of formative forces") is the spiritual element from which our ordinary consciousness' life of mental picturing flows from birth (or conception, as it were) until death.

The feeling in our ordinary consciousness is based, on the bodily side, upon the rhythmical function. From the spiritual side it flows from a spiritually real element that is discovered in anthroposophical research by methods that I call "Inspiration" in my writings. (Again, it should be noted that by this concept I mean only what I have paraphrased in my work; so one should not confuse this term with what lay people understand by this word.) To the seeing consciousness the spiritually real being underlying the soul and attainable to Inspiration is his own spiritual being, transcending birth and death. This is the region where anthroposophy undertakes its spiritual-scientific investigations into the question of human immortality. Just as in the body, through the rhythmic function, the mortal part of man's feeling nature manifests itself, so, in the content of Inspiration of seeing consciousness, does the immortal spiritual core of our soul being manifest.

For seeing consciousness, our willing, which toward the body is based on metabolic processes, streams from the spirit through what in my writings I call “Intuition.” What manifests in the body through the—in a certain way—lowest activity of the metabolism corresponds in the spirit to the highest: what expresses itself through Intuitions. Therefore, mental picturing, which is based on nerve activity, comes almost to full expression in the body; willing shows only a weak reflection in the metabolic processes oriented toward it in the body. Our real mental picturing is the living one; the mental picturing determined by the body is the lamed one. The content is the same. Real willing, even that which realizes itself in the physical world, runs its course in regions accessible only to Intuitive vision; its bodily counterpart has almost nothing to do with this content. Within that spiritually real being that manifests itself to Intuition is contained what extends over from previous earth lives into the following ones. And it is in the realm that comes into consideration here that anthroposophy approaches the questions of repeated earth lives and of destiny.

As the body lives itself out in nerve activity, rhythmical function, and metabolic processes, so the spirit of man lives in what manifests itself in Imaginations, Inspirations, and Intuitions. And as in its realm the body allows for an experience of the nature of its outer world in two directions—in sensory processes, namely, and in processes of movement— so the spirit also: in one direction through the fact that it experiences Imaginatively our mentally picturing soul life, even in ordinary consciousness, and in the other direction through the fact that in willing it unfolds Intuitive impulses that realize themselves in metabolic processes. If one looks toward the body, one finds the nerve activity that lives as the element of mental picturing; if one looks toward the spirit, one becomes aware of the spirit content of Imaginations that flows into this very element of mental picturing. Brentano feels at first the spiritual side of the mental picturing life of the soul; he therefore characterizes this life as a picture life (an imaginative happening). When not merely one's own inner soul life is experienced, however, but also—through judgment—an element of acceptance or rejection, then there is added to our mental picturing a soul experience, flowing from the spirit, whose content remains unconscious as long as we are dealing only with ordinary consciousness, because this content consists of Imaginations of a spiritually real element that underlies the physical object and that only adds to the mental picture the fact that its content exists.

It is for this reason that in his classification Brentano splits our life of mental pictures into mere mental picturing, which only experiences imaginatively an inwardly existing element, and into judging, which experiences imaginatively something given from without, but which brings the experience to consciousness only as an acceptance or rejection. With respect to feeling, Brentano does not look at all at its bodily foundation, the rhythmical function; he only brings into the realm of his attention what arises from Inspirations (that remain unconscious) as loving and hating within the region of ordinary consciousness. Willing escapes his attention completely, however, because his attention wishes to direct itself only upon phenomena in the soul, whereas in willing there lies something that is not enclosed within the soul, something through which the soul experiences also an outer world. Brentano's classification of soul phenomena, therefore, is based on the fact that he divides them according to viewpoints that can be seen in their true light only when one turns one's gaze upon the spiritual core of the soul, and on the fact that he wants to apply his classification only to the phenomena of ordinary consciousness. With what is said here about Brentano I only wished to supplement what was said on this subject on page 74ff.