The Life, Nature, and Cultivation of Anthroposophy
XIII. The pictorial Nature of Man
18 May 1924
It is most important that it should be understood through Anthroposophy that the ideas which a man gains by looking at outer Nature are inadequate for the observation of Man. The ideas which have taken possession of men's minds during the spiritual development of the last few centuries fail to realise this fact. Through them men have grown accustomed to thinking out natural laws, and to explaining by means of them the phenomena which are perceived by the senses. They then turn their attention to the human organism, and think that that too can be explained through bringing the laws of Nature to bear upon it.
Now this is just as though, in considering a picture which a painter had created, we only took into account the substance of the colours, their power of adhering to the canvas, the way in which these colours were applied, and similar things. But such a way of regarding the picture does not reveal what is contained in it. Quite other laws are active in the revelation contained in the picture than those which can be perceived by considering such points as these.
It is a question of realising that in the human being also something is revealed which cannot be grasped from the standpoint of natural law. If anyone has once thoroughly made this conception his own, then he will be able to understand Man as a picture. A mineral is not a picture in this sense. It reveals only what is directly evident to the senses.
To a certain extent when regarding a picture we look through what the senses perceive to its spiritual content. And so is it also in the observation of the human being. If we truly understand the human being in the light of natural law, we do not feel that these laws bring us into contact with the real man, but only with that through which he reveals himself.
We must experience spiritually that when we regard a man only from the point of view of natural law, it is as if we stood before a picture seeing only ‘blue’ and ‘red’, and quite unable through an inner activity of the soul to relate the blue and red to that which reveals itself through these colours.
When viewing things from the standpoint of natural law we must perceive the mineral in one way, the human being in another. In the case of the mineral it is, for the spiritual understanding, as if we were in immediate touch with what is perceived; but in the case of man it is as though we could only come as near to him through natural laws as to a picture which we do not see clearly with the eye of the soul but only touch and feel.
When once one has gained the perception that man is a ‘picture’ of something, one will be in the right mood of soul to progress to that which manifests in this picture.
The pictorial nature of man does not manifest in one way only. An organ of sense is in its nature least of all a picture, and mostly a kind of manifestation of itself like the mineral. The human organs of sense approach nearest to natural laws. Let one but contemplate the wonderful arrangement of the eye, which by natural laws one is able to comprehend. It is the same with the other organs, though not often so clearly evident. It is because the sense organs, in their formation, show a certain compactness. They are arranged in the organism as complete formations, and as such assist in the perception of the outer world.
But it is otherwise with the rhythmic actions in the organism. They are not complete, but evanescent, the organism in them continually forming and then declining. If the sense organs were like the rhythmic system, we would perceive the outer world in a perpetual growth.
The sense organs are like a picture on the wall. The rhythmic system is like the scene that unfolds itself if canvas and painter are imaged by us at the conception of the picture. The picture is not yet there, but it comes more and more into being. In studying the rhythmic system, we have to do with a perpetual process of becoming. A thing that has already come into existence remains in existence, for a time at any rate. But when we study the human rhythmic system we find the process of becoming, the upbuilding process, followed directly and without a gap by the passing out of existence, the destructive process. In the rhythmic system a picture manifests itself coming into existence, but never finished or complete.
The activity which the soul discharges in conscious devotion to what is brought before it as the finished picture, may be styled ‘Imagination’. On the other hand ‘Inspiration’ is the experience that must be unfolded in order to comprehend a growing picture.
But this is different again in the contemplation of the metabolic and limb system. Here it is as if one was before a bare canvas and unused paints, and an artist not even painting. To get a perception of the metabolic and limb system, one must get a perception that has as little connection with the senses, as have the bare canvas and unused paints with that which is afterwards the artist's picture. And the activity that is developed by the soul in pure spirituality out of the metabolic and limb system is as when, upon seeing the painter and an empty canvas and unused paints, one experiences the picture to be painted later. In order to understand the metabolic system and the limbs the soul must exercise the power of ‘Intuition’.
It is necessary that the active members of the Anthroposophical Society should concentrate in this way on the essential and fundamental nature of anthroposophical study. For it is not only the knowledge one gains by study but the experience achieved thereby that matters.