Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Wisdom of Man, of the Soul, and of the Spirit
GA 115

3. Higher Senses, Inner Force Currents, and Creative Laws in the Human Organism

26 October 1909, Berlin

In the last lecture we dealt with the sense of speech, and today we will examine the sense of concept. The term “concept” is, of course, not intended here as pure concept, but in its everyday meaning. That is, I hear a word spoken and I visualize its meaning. This sense could also be called the sense of visualization.1The verb vorstellen means imagine, in the loose sense (“I can imagine”), but we have no noun in English that exactly reproduces Vorstellung. “Visualization” must serve, but the reader should understand that its application is not limited to the visible; it covers abstract ideas as well as concrete objects—anything we “call to mind.” The terms “visualization,” “conception” and “mental picture” are here used interchangeably. In order to understand how this sense comes about we must glance back once more to the sense of tone or hearing and to the sense of speech or sound, asking ourselves what it means “to have a sense of speech.” How does the perception of sound2Always the spoken sound is meant. come about? What particular process takes place when we perceive a sound like “a” or “i”? To grasp this we must understand the apparatus of sound perception, and we will give a few indications that you will be able to substantiate later.

In music we distinguish between the single tone, the melody, and the harmony. Harmony implies perception of tones occurring simultaneously, melody calls for the mental co-ordination of a sequence of tones. The mechanism of sound perception can be comprehended by studying the relation between the tonal element in sound and sound itself.

Suppose we could raise into consciousness what we accomplish subconsciously in perceiving sound. We would then no longer be dealing merely with a sense perception but with a judgment, with the formation of a concept. If we were able, in hearing a melody, so to crowd the single tones in time as to perceive them simultaneously, to cause past and future to coincide; if in the middle of a melody we already knew what was to follow, knew this so vividly as to draw the future into the present, then we would have consciously converted the melody into a harmony. We are not able to do that, but what we cannot execute consciously actually takes place unconsciously in the sense of sound. When we hear an “a” or an “i” or other sounds, a subconscious activity momentarily transforms a melody into a harmony. That is the secret of sound; it is melody transformed into harmony. This marvelous subconscious activity proceeds in approximately the same way as the various refractions in the eye are carried out according to physical laws, which is another process we can call to consciousness after it has taken place.

But this subconscious activity that instantly converts a melody into a harmony is not enough; something more is needed if the sound is to come forth. A musical tone is not a simple thing. A tone is a musical tone only by virtue of its harmonics3Dr. Steiner refers here to something much more definite than what is suggested by our “overtones,” a term that has almost lost its original significance. The harmonic series as it is known in the field of music is the series of intervals into which a vibrating body (a string, a column of air, etc.) divides itself unassisted by artificial means. Under favorable conditions some three to five of these harmonics can be detected by a keen ear. They come out most clearly in large church bells. (overtones) that sound with it, however faintly, in contrast to noises, which have no harmonics. In a harmony, therefore, we hear not only the separate tones but the harmonics of each tone as well. Accordingly, if we crowd a melody into a harmony, we have not only the separate notes of the melody crowded into simultaneity, but the harmonics of each note as well. Now, the final step. Through the agency of that subconscious activity, the attention of the soul must be distracted from the fundamental tones of the melody. These must in a sense be aurally disregarded, and only the harmony created by the harmonics be comprehendingly heard. A sound comes into being when a melody is transformed into harmony and then the fundamentals disregarded, attention being directed exclusively to that harmony of the harmonics. What these harmonics then yield is the sound “a,” “i,” etc. In this way we have explained sound perception as taking place in the same way that sight does in the eye.

The next question is difficult but important. How does the perception of visualization come about? How does it happen that when we hear a word we understand its meaning by means of the word itself? That this is a question by itself can be seen from the fact that in different languages the same thing is designated by different sounds. While the sound we hear is a different one in every language (amor and Liebe), it nevertheless points the path to an identical underlying conception. Whether the word used is amor or Liebe, it appeals to the sense of visualization underlying it. This underlying sense of visualization is always uniform, regardless of all the differences in the sound formations. But now, how is this perceived?

In studying this process, the perception of visualizations or conceptions, we should keep in mind our premise that conceptions reach us by way of sounds. To enable a conception to come about, attention must be still further diverted; the whole harmonic series must be ignored. At the moment when the soul as well is unconsciously distracted from the harmonics, we perceive what has incorporated in the sounds, what pertains to them as conception or visualization. This implies that the visualization reaching us through sounds—the visualization that, as something universally human, pervades all sounds and languages—comes to us slightly colored, toned down.

Incorporated in this harmonic series, which creates the timbre and intensity and the various sounds in the different languages, which vibrates into the human organism, are the Folk Spirits. These manifest themselves through the sounds of the language. Language is the mysterious whispering of the Folk Spirits, the mysterious work upon the fluids, that vibrates into our organism through the harmonics. But what underlies the harmonic series is the universal human element, the common spirit of man that suffuses the whole earth. The universal spirit of man can be perceived only when each of us, from his own particular locality, ignoring the harmonics, listens for what is inaudible, for what belongs in the realm of conceptions.

In the course of historical evolution, men did not acquire the capacity to comprehend what is universally human until they learned to recognize common factors by disregarding, as it were, the shades of sounds. Only in our life of conceptions can we begin to grasp the Christ Spirit in His true being. The spiritual beings whose task it is to proclaim Him in manifold forms—His messengers to whom He has assigned their missions and tasks—are the Folk Spirits of the various folk individualities. This thought has found very beautiful expression in Goethe's fragment, Die Geheimnisse.

That will give a picture of what the sense of visualization is, bringing us to an important milestone. We have exhausted what we have in the way of ordinary senses, finally arriving at the study of the subconscious human activity that is able, through the force of the astral body, to push from consciousness even the harmonic series. It is the human astral body that pushes aside this harmonic series as though with tentacles. If we achieve this power over the harmonics, which means nothing else than the ability to ignore them, it signifies increased strength in our astral body.

But even this does not exhaust the capacity of the astral body; it is capable of still higher achievements. In the cases we have so far discussed, the appearance of a visualization has presupposed the overcoming of an outer resistance; something external had to be pushed back. Now we find the astral body to be endowed with still more power when we learn that its astral substance enables it not only to push back what is outside, but also, when there is no outer resistance, to stretch forth, to eject, its astral substance through its own inner strength. If one is able thus to stretch forth the astral tentacles, so to speak, with no resistance present, then there appears what is called spiritual activity; the so-called spiritual organs of perception come into being. When the astral substance is pushed out from a certain part of the head and forms something like two tentacles, man develops what is called the two-petaled lotus flower. That is the imaginative sense, the eleventh.

In proportion to his capacity for stretching out his astral tentacles, man develops other spiritual organs. As his ability to thrust out astral substance increases, he forms a second organ in the vicinity of the larynx, the sixteen-petal lotus flower, the inspirational sense, the twelfth. In the neighborhood of the heart the third organ develops, the twelve-petal lotus flower, the thirteenth, the intuitive sense. These three senses, the imaginative, the inspirational and the intuitive, are additional, astral senses, over and above the physical senses. Beyond these there are still higher, purely spiritual senses, but let them here be merely mentioned.

The question now arises as to whether these three astral senses are active only in more highly developed, clairvoyant people, or has the ordinary human being anything that can be called an activity of these senses? The answer is that everybody has them, but there is a difference. In clairvoyants these senses operate by stretching out like tentacles, while in ordinary people their effect is inward. At the top of the head, for instance, just where the two-petal lotus flower forms, there are tentacles of this kind that reach inward and cross in the brain. In other words, ordinary consciousness directs them inward instead of outward. All that is outside us we see, but not what is within us. Nobody has seen his own heart or brain, and it is the same with spiritual matters. Not only are these organs not seen, but they do not even enter consciousness. They can therefore not be consciously employed, but they function nevertheless; they are active. Here consciousness makes no decisions whatever regarding reality.

These senses, then, are active. They direct their activity inward, and this impulse directed inward is perceived. When the imaginative sense pours inward there arises what in ordinary life is called outer sensation,4There is no wholly satisfactory English equivalent for the noun, Empfindung, though the adjective empflindlich is exactly “sensitive.” The term “sensation” is used in this translation (occasionally varied by “sentience”), but it should be understood that only the meaning it has, for example, in “a sensation of warmth” is here applicable, never that in “the news created a sensation.” In other words, it is the noun corresponding to the adjective “sentient,” not “sensational,” and to the verb “to sense.” outer perception of something. We can have an outer perception only because what appears in the imaginative sense works its way into us. By means of this imaginative sense we are able to “sense” a color, and that is not synonymous with seeing a color, or analogous to hearing a tone. When we see a color, we say, for instance, it is red. But through the activity of the imaginative sense we can also have a sensation connected with it—that color is beautiful or ugly, pleasant or unpleasant.

The inspirational sense also directs its activity inward, and this produces a more complicated sensation: feeling. The entire life of feeling is an activity of the inspirational organ streaming inward.

When the intuitive sense pours inward, thinking proper arises, that is, thought forming. So the order of the processes is: We sense something, we have a feeling connected with it, and we form thoughts about it.

Thus we have ascended from the life of the senses to the soul life. Starting from without, from the sense world, we have seized hold on the soul of man himself in its activities of sentience, feeling and thought. Were we to continue along this path, examining the still higher senses that correspond to the other lotus flowers—they can hardly be called senses any more—the entire higher life of the soul would be revealed to us in their interplay. When, for example, the eight- or ten-petal lotus flower directs its psychic activity inward, a still more delicate soul activity is engendered, and at the end of the scale we find the most subtle one of all which we call pure, logical thought. All this is produced by the working of the various lotus flowers into the inner man. Now, when this inward motion is transformed into an outer motion, when the astral tentacles stretch outward and criss-cross, directing, as so-called lotus flowers, their activity outward, then that higher activity comes into being through which we rise from the soul to the spirit, where what normally appears as our inner life (thinking, feeling and willing) now makes its appearance in the outer world, borne by spiritual beings.

We have arrived at an understanding of the human being by ascending from the senses by way of the soul to what is no longer in him, to spirit acting from without, which belongs equally to man and to surrounding nature, to the whole world. We have ascended to the spirit. As far as we have gone, I have described the human being as an instrument for perceiving the world, experiencing it with his soul and grasping it spiritually. I have not described something finished, but something that is active in man. The whole interplay of forces and activities of the senses, the soul, and the spirit is what shapes the human being as he stands before us on earth. How does this come about? We can give but brief intimations, but such as we find substantiated on all sides.

What we see before us in observing a human being merely with our senses really does not exist at all; it is only an optical illusion. Spiritual-scientific observation actually perceives something quite different. Remember that sensibly we cannot perceive ourselves completely. We see but a part of our surface, never our back or the back of our head, for example. But we know, nevertheless, that we have a back, and we know it by means of the various senses, such as the sense of equilibrium or of motion. An inner consciousness tells us of the parts we cannot perceive externally. Indeed, there is a great deal of us that we cannot perceive unless the appropriate organs are developed.

Let us further consider the portion of the human being that he himself can perceive sensibly—with the eye, for instance—and let us delimit it. Through what agency is he to perceive it? Actually, all that we can see of ourselves with our eyes we perceive through the sentient soul; the sentient body would not be able to perceive it. It is the sentient soul that really comprehends. The portion of the human being that he sees with his eyes, which the sentient soul confronts, is nothing but the image of the sentient body, the outer illusion of the sentient body. We must, of course, extend the concept a bit to cover those portions of the body we can touch though not see, but there, too, we have the image of the sentient body. Perception comes about through other activities of the sentient soul. The latter extends to every point at which outer perception occurs, and what it perceives there is not the sentient soul but the illusion of the sentient body. Could we perceive this, we would see that astrally something endeavors to approach but is pushed back.

This image of the sentient body comes about as follows. From back to front there is co-operation of the sentient soul and the sentient body. When two currents meet, a damming up occurs, and thereby something is revealed. Imagine you see neither current, but only what results from the whirling together of the two. What shows as a result of this impact of the sentient soul thrusting outward and the sentient body pressing inward from without, is the portion of our external corporeality that the eye or other outer sense can perceive. We can actually determine the point on the skin where the meeting of the sentient soul and sentient body occurs. We see how the soul works at forming the body. We can put it this way. There is in the human being a cooperation of the current passing from back to front and the opposite one, resulting in an impact of sentient soul and sentient body.

In addition to these two currents there are those that come from the right and from the left. From the left comes the one pertaining to the physical body; from the right, the one pertaining to the etheric body. These flow into each other and intermingle to a certain extent, and what comes into being at this point is the sensibly perceptible human being, his sensibly perceptible exterior. A perfect illusion is brought about. From the left comes the current of the physical body, from the right that of the etheric body, and these form what appears to us as the sensibly perceptible human being.

In like manner we have in us currents running upward and downward. From below upward streams the main current of the astral body, and downward from above the main current of the ego. The characterization given of the sentient body as being bounded in front should be understood as meaning that it operates in a current upward from below, but that it is then seized by the current running forward from the rear, so that in a certain sense it is thereby bounded.

But the astral body contains not only the one current that runs upward from below as well as forward from the rear, but also the other one running backward from the front; so that the astral body courses in two currents, one upward from below and the other backward from the front. This gives us four intermingling currents in the human being.

What is brought about by the two vertical currents? We have one current running upward from below, and if it could discharge unobstructed we would draw it thus as in the diagram, but this it cannot do. The same is true of the other currents. Each is held up, and in the center, where they act upon each other, they form the image of the physical body.

Actually, it is due to the intersection and criss-crossing of the currents that the threefold organization of man comes into being. Thus the lower portion that we ourselves can see should be designated as the sentient body in the narrower sense. Higher up lies what in the narrower meaning we can call our senses. This portion we can no longer perceive ourselves, because it is the region where the senses themselves are located. You cannot look into your eyes but only out of them, into the world. Here the sentient soul, or its image, is active. The face is formed by the sentient soul. But the two currents must be properly differentiated. The lower currents, streaming from all sides, are held down from above, and this lower part we can designate the sentient body. Below, the impulses proceed largely from without; while above, it is principally the sentient soul that makes itself felt. From above there streams the ego, and at the point where this current is strongest, where it is least pushed back by the other currents, the intellectual soul forms its organ.

Now, in addition to this ego current we have one from left to right and one from right to left. Again the whole activity is intersected. There is further a current running through the longitudinal axis of the body, effecting a sort of split up above. At the upper boundary a portion of the intellectual soul is split off, and this is the form of the consciousness soul. There the consciousness soul is active, extending its formative work into the innermost man. Among other things, it forms the convolutions in the grey matter of the brain.

The nature of this spiritual being helps us to understand what exists in man as form. That is the way in which the spirit works on the form of the human body. It evokes all the organs plastically, as the artist chisels a figure out of stone. The structure of the brain can be comprehended only with the knowledge of how these separate currents interact in man; what we then see is the joint activity of the various principles of the human being.

Now we must go into a few details in order to show how these facts can be fruitful when they will have become the common property of a true science. We have learned that up above there came into being the organs of the consciousness soul, the intellectual soul, and the sentient soul. The ego acts downward from above; the main portion of the astral body, upward from below. In their mutual damming up, a reciprocal action takes place that extends along the whole line, so to speak; it forms the longitudinal axis of the body, and the effect of this will be a different one at every point of the line. When the ego, for instance, is called upon to perform a conscious act, this can only be done at the point where the sentient soul, the intellectual soul, and the consciousness soul have developed their organs. Through the intellectual soul, for example, reasoning comes about, and a judgment must be localized in the head because it is there that the appropriate human forces find expression.

Now let us assume that such an organ is to come into being, but one in which no reasoning takes place, in which the intellectual soul has no part, an organ independent of the work of sentient, intellectual and consciousness souls, in which only the physical, etheric and astral bodies and the ego have a part—an organ in which an impression received from the astral body is immediately followed by the reaction of the ego, without reasoning. Suppose that these four members of the human being—astral body and ego, etheric body and physical body—are to cooperate without any delicate activity such as reasoning or the like. What would be the nature of an organ in which these four currents work together? It would have to be an organ that would not reason. The reaction of the ego would follow directly, without reasoning, upon the impression received by the organ in question from the astral body. That would mean that the ego and the astral body act together. From the astral body a stimulus proceeds to the ego, the ego reacts upon the astral body.

If this is to be a physical organ it must be built up by the etheric body. From the left would come the current of the physical body, from the right, that of the etheric body. They would be dammed up in the middle and a condensation would result.

In addition, the currents of the ego and the astral body, from above and below respectively, would undergo the same process.

If we draw a diagram of such a structure, where in one organ the currents of the physical and etheric bodies are dammed up against those of the ego and astral body, the result is nothing less than the diagram of the human heart with its four chambers:

That is the way the human heart came into being. When we consider all that the human heart achieves—the co-operation of the physical, etheric and astral bodies and the ego—it will be borne in upon us that the spirit had to build the human heart in this way.

Here is another example. We have learned that in visual activity there is really a subconscious thought activity present. Conscious thought activity comes about only in the brain. Well, how must the brain be built in order to make conscious thought activity possible? In the brain we have the outer membrane, then a sort of blood vessel membrane, then the spinal cord fluid, and finally the brain proper. The latter is filled with nerve substance, and when sense impressions are communicated to this nerve substance through the senses, conscious thought activity arises. The nerve substance is the outer expression of conscious thought activity.

When an organ is to be created in which not a conscious but a subconscious reaction to an external impression is to take place, it would have to be built in a similar way. Again there must be a sheath and something like a blood vessel membrane against the back. The spinal cord fluid must dry up and the whole brain mass be pushed back to make room for a subconscious thought activity undisturbed by a nervous system. Were the nerve substance not pushed back, thinking would take place there; when it is pushed back, no thinking can take place. Thus an external impression is first digested by subconscious thinking on the part of those portions not interlaced by the nervous system, and only later does it penetrate to the instrumentality of sentience, feeling and conscious thought.

The result of this pushing back of the brain, so to speak, to the rear wall is that the brain has become an eye. The eye is a small brain so worked over by our spirit that the nerve substance proper is pushed back to the rear wall of the eye and becomes the retina. That is the way nature's architects work. A single plan governs in building really all of the sense organs; it is merely modified in the case of each organ as occasion demands. At bottom, all sense organs are small brains formed in different ways, and the brain is a sense organ of a higher order.

There is one more detail to be studied, but first we will interpolate a few elucidating remarks in the nature of theoretical cognition, which in turn will clarify the standpoint of anthroposophy.

We have said that the standpoint of anthropology lies below, among the details of the sense life, that theosophy stands upon the summit, and anthroposophy half-way between the two. In a general way, anyone can become convinced of the existence of the sense world by means of his senses, and with his mind understand the laws governing there. For this reason most people believe unhesitatingly anything resembling their sense experiences, which can be checked. It could easily be demonstrated that formally there is no difference whatever between the spiritual scientist's statements concerning the existence of spiritual worlds and the belief that there was such a person as Frederick the Great. Formally there is no difference between the belief that there are Spirits of Will and the belief that there was a Frederick the Great. When someone constructs for you the life of Frederick the Great from external data, you believe that there was a person with the attributes set forth. The human being gives credence to what is told him, provided it resembles what he finds in his own environment. The spiritual investigator is not in a position to deal with such things, but it is none the less true that there is no difference in the attitude assumed toward such communications. We have described the standpoints of anthropology and of theosophy. Ours is between the two. A feeling of confidence and faith in theosophy's message is fully justified by our sense of truth; there is such a thing as well-founded acceptance of theosophic truths.

Coming to the third possibility, the standpoint lying between the other two, we find that from this vantage point we can distinguish intelligently that there is a sense perception; I believe because I can see it. There is a spiritual perception; I believe because the spiritual scientist tells me it is there. But there is a third possibility. Here is a hammer; my hand grasps it, picks it up, and raises it from the horizontal to the vertical position. We then say that it was moved and raised by my will. That will not strike anybody as remarkable, for we see the underlying will embodied in the man that raises the hammer. But supposing the hammer were to raise itself up, without being touched by a visibly incorporated will. In that case it would be foolish to imagine such a hammer to be the same as other hammers. We would have to conclude that something invisible was at work in the hammer. What conclusion would we draw from this embodiment of a will or other spiritual force? When I see something in this world acting as it could not act according to our knowledge of the laws of outer form, I am forced to conclude that in this case I do not see the spirit in the hammer, but it is reasonable to believe in it; in fact, I should be a perfect fool not to believe in spiritual activity.

Suppose you are walking with a clairvoyant and encounter a human form lying motionless by the way. With the ordinary senses it might be impossible to determine whether it was a living being or a cardboard dummy, but the clairvoyant would know. He would see the etheric and astral bodies and could say that that is a living being. You would be justified in believing him, even though you could not perceive the etheric and astral bodies yourself. But now the figure stands up, and you see that the spiritual scientist was right. That is the third possibility.

Now I will tell you a case that you can observe and verify in ordinary life—close at hand in one sense, though not in another. We have considered the various currents in the human being and found them to run as follows:

From left to right, the currents of the physical body.
From right to left, those of the etheric body.
From the front backward, those of the sentient body.
From the rear forward, those of the sentient soul.
From above downward, those of the ego.
From below upward, those of the astral body.

The ego, then, acts downward from above; so how would its physical organ have to lie? The physical organ of the ego is the circulating blood; and the ego could not function downward from above without an organ running in the same direction in the human body. Where the main direction of the blood-stream is horizontal, not vertical, there can be no ego, as in men. The main direction of the blood-stream had to raise itself in man to the vertical in order to enable the ego to lay hold on the blood. No ego can intervene where the main blood-stream runs horizontally instead of vertically. The group ego of animals can find no organ in them, because the main blood-line runs horizontally. Through the erection of this line to the vertical in man, the group ego became an individual ego.

This difference between men and the animals shows how erroneous it is to set up a relationship inferred from purely external phenomena. That act of rising from the horizontal to the vertical is an historic incident, but it could no more have taken place without an underlying will, without the co-operation of spirit, than the raising of the hammer could have done. Only when a will, a spiritual force, courses through the blood can the horizontal line pass over into the vertical, can the upright position come about and the group soul rise to become the individual soul. It would be illogical to recognize the spiritual force in one case, that of the hammer, and not in the other, in man.

That is the third possibility, a middle way of conviction, as it were, through which we can verify all theosophic truths. The deeper we penetrate into these matters, the clearer it becomes that this middle path to conviction is universally applicable—this middle way that fructifies ordinary experience through spiritual science. External research will be stimulated by spiritual science. Comparing the results of genuine spiritual-scientific research with outer phenomena, we are forced to the conclusion that all external processes are really comprehensible only if we take into account, without prejudice, the experiences of spiritual science. Thus to observe the world without prejudice, that is the standpoint of anthroposophy. It receives fruitful impulses from above, from theosophy, and from below, from anthropology; it observes the facts of the spiritual world and the things of this world, and explains the latter by means of the former. The building of each of our organs can be explained through spiritual activity, just as we described the transformation of the brain into an eye, and the build of the heart.

By showing how spiritual facts and earthly things are interwoven, how spiritual truths are verified in outer phenomena, anthroposophy leads to the conviction that it is senseless not to acknowledge the higher truths that spiritual science is in a position to bring us.