Dornach, 24th September, 1924
Rudolf Steiner: Good morning, gentlemen! I would like to add a few words to what we were considering last time, and then perhaps someone will have a new question.
The question that was asked concerning man's origin can be rightly understood and answered only by looking back at the whole evolution of humanity. The assertion that men were originally animal-like, that they had an animal-like intelligence, and so forth, is nothing but a science fairy tale. It is contradicted by what has been found from the earliest historical times, and what — even though poetic in form — indicates the existence of great wisdom among the human beings who lived during those primeval earth conditions. At that time men did not feel inequality among themselves as they feel it today. The feeling of inequality always comes to the fore in an epoch when men have more or less lost real knowledge.
Only think how at a certain period in ancient Egypt slavery was widespread. But slavery was not always there; it developed at a time when men had lost real knowledge of the world, had lost real science, and no longer knew what slavery signified. And if you think intelligently you will certainly ask yourselves: Why is it that, for instance, a labor movement had to arise with such forcefulness?
Naturally it was bound to arise because conditions made it necessary, because people had come to feel that things could not go on as they were, and they wanted to call attention to how the conditions should be bettered. What makes the labor problem such a burning question is the fact that industry and all the various discoveries and inventions have gone in one particular direction. Before the spread of industry, need was not so oppressive. Why is it, then, that the advent of industry has brought this burden in its train?
As every reasonable person will admit, those few human beings who do not live in actual need — shall we say, the capitalists, as they are usually called — do not create this need deliberately for the pure joy of it. Naturally, they would prefer the needs of all human beings to be satisfied. Obviously, that must be taken into account. But then this other question arises: Why is it that the few who reach leading positions lack the capacity to change conditions so that the needs of the masses will be satisfied?
It is always the few leaders in the trade unions upon whom all the others depend. As things have developed, it is quite natural that it is always the few who lead, but they lack clear insight. And the masses of workers feel that these few do not themselves know what should be done. It has become obvious, especially just recently, that these few do not know what they should be doing. So one must say: Something is quite obviously lacking. And from the view of spiritual science, the thing lacking is knowledge of the spiritual world. This knowledge would confirm that it is absolutely untrue to say that at the beginning of their evolution human beings were unintelligent, dull, and that now they are enlightened. That is the general opinion today and it is simply not true.
At the beginning of their existence on the earth, human beings possessed a knowledge not only of what was on the earth but also of the stars in the heavens. The reason why today this knowledge has degenerated into superstition — I have often spoken of this — is that, as time went on, these things were no longer investigated and hence came to be misunderstood. Originally there was a widespread knowledge of the stars; today the only knowledge of the stars that exists is one that makes calculations about them. But it is unable to penetrate to their spiritual reality. If a being living on Mars were to know only as much about the earth as our ordinary consciousness, our ordinary science, knows about Mars, that Mars being would believe that there is not a single soul on the earth — whereas actually there are fifteen to twenty hundred million souls on the earth! It is the same with the ideas people hold now about the stars; actually the stars are full of souls — only the souls are different.
Of course you may say: But one can't see into the world of stars, so one can't know or observe the conditions there. That is an enormous error! Why can a man standing here see the piano over there? Because his eyes are so organized that he is able to see it. His eyes are not over there in the piano. In exactly the same way — as spiritual science, or anthroposophy, shows — if a human being not only develops from childhood to the level to which our modern education takes him, but develops further than that, he will in very truth be able to perceive what is spiritual in the stars, just as humanity originally perceived it. And then he will know that the stars have an influence upon the human being, each star a different influence. If, for example, it can be shown that Mars has an influence upon the development of grubs into cockchafer — it can also be shown that all the stars have an influence upon man's spiritual life. They have it indeed! But this knowledge of the stars has entirely disappeared — and what has come in its place?
In earlier times, when men looked at the moon, they knew that from the moon come the forces for all propagation on the earth. No being would have offspring if the moon did not send to earth the forces of propagation. No being or creature would grow if the forces of growth did not come from the sun. No human being would be able to think if the forces of thinking did not come from Saturn. But all that people know today is the speed at which Saturn moves, the speed at which the moon moves, and whether there are a few extinct volcanoes on the moon. They know nothing more and don't want to know anything more. They simply find out by calculation what they want to know about the stars.
But now let us turn from the world of stars to the world of men. Industry has come on the scene. In the age when all people could do about the stars was to make calculations, they began to do the same in the domain of industry. They did nothing but reckon and calculate, with the result that they forgot man altogether. They treated the human being himself as if he were part of a machine. And so the conditions have come about that prevail today. Conditions will never be satisfactory if people merely calculate what kind of conditions ought to prevail on the earth; they will have to know something beside that. That is the point. But then it must be admitted that human knowledge has deteriorated to a terrible extent in the very age that claims to be “enlightened.”
I told you that at a recent Farmers' Conference it was the unanimous opinion that all agricultural products have been deteriorating for decades. The reason for this deterioration is that, with the exception of certain peasants who have instinctively hung on to bits of the earlier knowledge, nothing is really known about the way to take care of a farm. But how is such knowledge acquired? Certainly it can never be acquired by calculation, knowing that the moon will be a full moon again in twenty-eight days, but only by knowing, for instance, how the moon forces work in the fruition of grain, and so forth. This knowledge has been entirely forgotten. People don't even know what goes on in the soil in their fields. And they know still less what is going on in the world of men.
Social science has produced nothing more than series after series of calculations. Capital, working hours, wages, are nothing but figures that have been calculated. And calculating does not come to grips with human life, or indeed with any life at all. The curse of the modern age is that everything merely is to be calculated. Instead of things being merely calculated, they should be studied and observed as they actually are, and this is only possible through first gaining knowledge of the stars. Today, the moment people hear the phrase, “knowledge of the stars,” they say immediately: That's idiotic! We've known for a long time that the stars have no influence whatever. But to assert that the stars have no influence upon what is happening on the earth, that, gentlemen, is the real idiocy! And the consequence is that there is no real knowledge left. That is a concrete fact. Take capital, for instance: It can be expressed in figures, it can be counted — and what is the result? If capital is merely a matter of calculation, it is of no importance who owns the capital, whether a single individual or everyone in common. For the same results will invariably ensue. Not until we again take hold of life so that our concern centers upon the human being as the prime reality, not until then will there be a social science capable of doing anything effective, a social science capable of really achieving something.
That is why I also like to say this: Let us see what will come about through anthroposophy. It is, of course, still only in its beginning, and naturally it appears to be similar in many respects to the other science. But it will develop gradually into a complete knowledge of the human being. In the domain of education, for instance, it has already brought into being the Waldorf School. Not until this stage of knowledge has been reached will anthroposophical science be able to be applied effectively to social problems. Today you can only realize that the world's current knowledge is incapable of really effective intervention in life; it comes to a standstill everywhere.
That is what I wanted to add. Are you satisfied so far? (Yes, yes!) Of course, a great deal could still be said, but there will be other opportunities for considering many aspects of the subject.
So now, has someone else, perhaps, thought of a question?
Question: Can anything be known about man's origin? Where he comes from?
Dr. Steiner: That is a question about which many of you who have been here for some time have heard a great deal from me. Those of you who have come recently are naturally interested in such questions, so those who have already heard my answers will perhaps be willing to hear them again.
When we look at the human being as he moves about on the earth, we see his body first and foremost. We also notice that he thinks and feels. If we look at a chair, no matter how long we wait, it doesn't begin to move about — because it cannot exercise will. We perceive that the human being wills. But speaking generally it can be said that we really see only the body.
And it is very easy to form the opinion that this body constitutes the whole of man. Moreover, if this is believed, many arguments in proof of it can be found. (You see, in anthroposophy other people's opinions cannot be treated lightly. All points of view must be seriously considered.) And so it can be pointed out, for instance, that people can lose their memory if they take poison and are not immediately killed by it. The implication is that the body is a machine and everything depends upon the running of the machine. If the blood vessels burst in a man's brain and the blood presses on the nerves, such a man may lose not only his memory but his whole intelligence. So it can be said that everything is dependent upon the body. But that kind of thinking does not hold water if one really examines it thoroughly. It simply does not hold water. If it did, we could say that man thinks with his brain. But what is actually going on in the brain when a man thinks?
Well, a real investigation of the human body shows that it is absolutely incorrect to say that when a man is thinking, something constructive is going on in his brain. On the contrary, something is always being destroyed, demolished, when he is thinking. Substances in the brain are being broken down, destroyed. Death on a small scale is perpetually taking place there.
The final death that happens once and for all means that the whole body is destroyed; but what happens all at once in the entire body when a man dies is also taking place throughout the body during life, in a piecemeal process. Man excretes not only through his organs of excretion, the urine, feces, sweat, but in other ways as well. Just think what your head would look like if you never had your hair cut! Something is excreted there, too. And think of the claws you'd have if you never cut your nails! But not only that: man is all the time sloughing off his skin — he just doesn't notice it. Man is casting off substance all the time. In the case of the urine and feces the process is not very significant, because for the most part these simply contain what has been eaten, material that has not gone into the whole body, whereas what is excreted in the nails has gone through the whole body.
Suppose you take your scissors and cut a fingernail. What you now cut away, you took in, you ate seven or eight years ago. What you ate went into the blood and nerves and passed through the whole body. It needed seven or eight years to do that. Now you cut it away. Just think of the body you have today, the body in which you are sitting there. If you had sat there seven or eight years ago, it would have been in quite another body! The body you had then has been cast away, has been sweated away, has been cut away with the nails, cut away with the hair. The entire body as it once was, has gone — with the exception of the bones and the like — and within a period of seven or eight years has been entirely renewed.
So now we must ask ourselves: Does thinking originate from the constant upbuilding of the body or from the constant tearing-down of the body? That is an important question. If you have something in your body that brings about too much upbuilding — shall I say, if you drink one tiny glass too much, or not just one — most people can manage that — but if you drink enough more so that you know you're “loaded” — what happens then, gentlemen? The blood becomes very active and a terribly rapid process of upbuilding takes place. When that happens, when the blood becomes too tumultuous, a man loses consciousness. Thinking is not the result of an upbuilding process in the brain, but of a process of small, piecemeal destruction. If no tearing-down process took place in the human body, the human being would simply not be able to think.
So the fact is that thinking does not come from our building up the body but from our continual killing of it bit by bit. That is why we have to sleep, because we don't do any thinking then. What is continually being demolished through our thinking is quickly restored in sleep. So waking and sleeping show us that while we are thinking, death is always taking place in the body on a small scale.
But now picture for a moment not a man's body, but his clothing. If you take off all your clothes you are not, it is true, fit for the drawing room, but you are still there, and you can put on different clothes. That is what man does through the whole of his earthly life. Every seven or eight years he puts on a new body and discards the other. With animals there is a clear illustration of this: if you were to collect all the skins that a snake sloughs off every year, you would find that after a certain number of years it has discarded not only the skin but the whole of its body. In our case, of course, this is not so noticeable! And what about the birds? They moult. What are they doing when they moult? They're discarding part of their body; and after a period of a few years they've discarded it all, with the exception of the bones. What is it that remained?
You yourself are sitting there today although you have nothing at all of the body you had some eight years ago. And yet there you are, sitting here. You created a new body for yourself. The soul, gentlemen, sits there. The spirit and soul sit there. The spirit and soul work on the body, building it up all the time. If you go for a walk and find a large pile of stones somewhere, you know that a house is going to be built; you will certainly not assume that the stones will suddenly have feet and will place themselves very neatly one above the other and build themselves into a house! Well, just as little do substances assemble to form themselves into our body.
We receive our first body from our father and mother; but this body is thrown off entirely, and after seven or eight years we have a new one. We do not get this one from our parents; we ourselves have to build it up. Where does it come from? The body we had during the first years of life came from our parents; we could not have had a body without them. But what builds up the second body comes from the spiritual world. I do not mean the substance, but the active principle, the essential being, that is what comes out of the spiritual world. So we can say: When the human being is born, the body he has for the first seven or eight years of his life comes from his father and mother, but the soul and spiritual entity come from the spiritual world. And every seven or eight years the human being exchanges his body but retains all of himself that is spiritual. After a certain time the body is worn out and what earlier came into it as spirit and soul goes back again into the spiritual world. Man comes from the spiritual world and returns to the spiritual world.
You can see, this is also something that has been entirely forgotten — simply because today people have become thoughtless and do not penetrate to the reality of things. Once they have seen how the body is renewed over and over again, they will realize that the force which brings about the renewal is a soul force working within the body.
And now, gentlemen, what do you eat? Let us consider the different foodstuffs a human being eats. The simplest substance of all is protein. Not only in eggs but in the greatest variety of foodstuffs, in plants too, there is protein. Then man eats fat; he eats what are called carbohydrates — in potatoes, for instance — and he eats minerals. All other substances are composite substances; man eats them; he takes them into himself. They come from the earth; they are entirely dependent upon the earth. Everything we take in through the mouth is entirely dependent upon the earth. But now we don't take things in only through the mouth; we also breathe, and through our breathing we take in substances from the air. Usually this process is described very simply by saying: Man breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide — as if he did nothing but breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out! But that is not the whole story. Very fine, rarefied substances are contained in the air we breathe. And we live not only on what we eat but also on these nourishing substances from the air. If we did nothing but eat, we would be obliged to replace our body very often, for what we eat is very rapidly transformed in the body. Only think how troublesome it is for someone when he does not get rid of what ought to be excreted within about twenty-four hours. The food that is eaten and then excreted passes through a rapid process. If we lived only on what we eat, we certainly wouldn't need seven or eight years to replace our body. It is because we take in very delicate, rarefied nourishment through the air, which is a slow process, that the replacement takes seven or eight years.
It is very important to know that man receives nourishment from the air. The food he eats is used, for example, for the constant renewing of his head. But the nourishment he needs in order, shall we say, to have fingernails does not come from what he eats but from the substances he draws from the air. And so we are nourished through eating and through breathing.
But now the really important fact is that when we take in nourishment from the cosmos through our breathing, we take in not only substance, but we take in at the same time the element of soul. The substance is in such a fine, rarefied state that the soul is able to live in it everywhere. So we may say: Man takes in bodily substance through his food; through his breathing he takes in, he lives with a soul element. But it is not the case that with every inhalation we take a piece of soul into ourselves and then with every exhalation breathe out a piece of soul again. In that event we would always be discarding the soul. No — it is like this: with our very first breath we take the soul into ourselves, and it is then the soul that brings about the breathing in us. And with our very last breath we set the soul free so that it can go back to the spiritual world.
And now that we know these things, we can make some calculations. Most of you will already know what follows, but it may still surprise you. If you investigate, you will find that a human being draws 18 breaths a minute. Now reckon how many breaths he draws in a day: 18 breaths a minute, 18 x 60 = 1080 breaths an hour; in 24 hours, 24 x 1080 = 25,920 breaths a day.
And now let us calculate — we can do so approximately — how many days a human being lives on the earth. For the sake of simplicity let us take 72 years as the average length of human life, and 360 days in a year. 72 years X 360 days = 25,920 days in a man's life. And that is the number of breaths a man draws in a day! So we can say, the human being lives as many days in his life as he draws breaths in one day.
Now we know there are one-day flies — and there could also conceivably be 1/18-of-a-minute beings! (For the length of time is not the essential point.) So if the human being were to die every time he breathes we could say: He breathes the soul in and out again with every breath. Yet he remains — remains alive for 25,920 days.
So now let us reckon those 72 years as a single breath. As I said before, with his first breath the human being breathes his soul in and with his last breath he breathes it out again. Assuming now that he lives an average of 72 years, we can say: This inbreathing and outbreathing of the soul lasts for a period of 72 years. Taking this period to be one cosmic day, we would again have to multiply 72 X 360 to get a cosmic year: 25,920! If we take the life of a human being as one cosmic day, we get the cosmic year: 25,920 cosmic days!
But this number has still another meaning. On the 21st of March, the day of the beginning of Spring, the sun rises at the present time in the constellation of Pisces. But it rises only once at that exact point. The point at which it rises shifts all the time. About five hundred years ago it did not rise in Pisces (the Fishes) but in Aries (the Ram), and earlier still in Taurus (the Bull). So the sun makes a circle round the whole zodiac, finally getting back to Pisces. At a definite time it will rise again at exactly the same point, having made a complete circuit. How long does the sun need for this? It needs 25,920 years to go around and return to the same point at which it will rise at the beginning of Spring.
When we have breathed 25,920 times, we have completed one day. Our soul remains while the breaths change. When we have completed 25,920 days, we have awakened as often as we have slept. In sleep, as we know, we do not think, we do not move, we are inactive. During sleep our spirit and soul have gone off to the spiritual world for a few hours; at waking we get them back again. Just as we let the breath go out and come back 18 times a minute, so in a day we let the soul leave once and return. Sleeping and waking, you see, are simply more lengthy breaths. We do short breathing 18 times a minute. The longer breathing is our sleeping and waking. And the longest breathing is our breathing in the soul and spirit when we are born and breathing it out again when we die. But there is still the very longest breathing of all; for we go with the sun as it completes its circuit of 25,920 years; we go into the world of the stars. When we think of the soul, gentlemen, at that very moment we leave the earth and go to the world of the stars.
So — this is just a beginning of the foundation for an answer to the question which the gentleman asked. Just think what order and regularity prevail in the universe if again and again we get the number 25,920! Man's breathing is a living expression of the course of the sun. That is a fact of tremendous significance.
So — I have begun to answer the question. I will continue next Saturday at 9 o'clock. (see Note 41 )