The Riddle of Humanity
13 August 1916, Dornach
The kind of truths we passed in review before our souls yesterday cannot be absorbed with an abstract, theoretical understanding. It is not just a matter of knowing that things are like this or like that. All the human consequences of these things must be inwardly comprehended, for they are very significant. Today I will sketch just a few of them. There is, of course, very much more that could be said along these lines, but we have to begin somewhere. At the very least, we must consider the direction in which such factual, spiritual-scientific presuppositions lead our thinking and our will.
Let us review yesterday's conclusions. The zones of the twelve senses can be seen as a kind of human zodiac. Flowing through all these sense-zones are the seven life processes: breathing, warming, nourishing, secretion, maintenance, growth and reproduction. (See drawing, Lecture Seven.)
To understand these things in their entirety we must be clear that the actual truth is very different from what our materialistic sciences teach us. They believe, for example, that the sense of taste and the related sense of smell are confined to the narrow limits of the tongue and the nasal mucous membrane. But this is not how things really are. The physical organs associated with the senses are more like the capital cities governing the realms of those senses. The realms corresponding to the senses are much more extended. I think that anyone who has applied a little self-observation to the sense of hearing, for example, will know that hearing involves much more of the organism than just the ears. A tone lives in much more of the organism than just the ear, and the other senses occupy similarly extended territories. Liver and spleen, for example, are perceptibly involved in taste and the related sense of smell; so they involve a wider area than materialistic science recognises. This being the case, you will also see that the sense-zones are intimately connected with the vital organs and with the life forces they continuously send streaming through the entire organism. It follows that the relationship between the sense-zones and the vital organs has a manifold influence on a person's inner constitution, on his state of being as regards spirit, soul and body. So we are justified in speaking, let us say, of the forces of secretion being in the sphere of the sense of sight, or of their interacting with the sphere of sight, or of an interaction between the spheres of growth and hearing — just as we speak in astronomy of Saturn being in the Ram or of the Sun standing in the Lion. Furthermore, each sense-zone can come into a relationship with one or the other of the life spheres, since the regions of the senses and the regions of life are related differently in different people. So there really are circumstances in the inner human world that reflect how things are out there in the starry heavens of the macrocosm.
You will therefore be right in supposing that the activities called up in us by the senses are relatively static in comparison with what goes on in the life processes and their central organs. Remember how we described the sense regions as a comparatively stable part of the human being. They are stabilised through being organised around a particular physical organ: the sense of sight around the eyes — even though it involves more besides — the sense of hearing around the ears, and so on. And remember how mobile the life processes are as they circulate uninterruptedly through the whole body, reaching every part of it. The life processes move through us.
If we consider what was said yesterday about how our sense experiences on Old Moon were more like life processes, we must conclude that human existence on Old Moon was altogether more mobile than that of our present Earth era. Moon man was more mobile, more inwardly mobile. Earth man really does relate to what he consciously experiences in the way the relatively fixed constellations of the zodiac relate to one another. During the Earth era the outer surface of man has become motionless, still, as the constellations of the zodiac are still. During the Moon phase, the present-day human senses contained a life and mobility such as that displayed by the planets of our present-day cosmos; for our planets' relationship to one another is constantly changing.
Moon man was capable of transformation, of metamorphosis. Now, I have often drawn your attention to the fact that when a person of today achieves the level of initiation that gives him access to imaginative knowledge, his conscious life becomes more mobile than that afforded by normal, earth-bound sense experience. In such cases everything again becomes mobile, but the mobility is experienced through super-sensible consciousness. And this is how the knowledge obtained from this sphere must be understood. I have often put before you the necessity of making our concepts and ideas more mobile in order to be able to enter into what super-sensible consciousness reveals to us. Concepts appropriate to the sensible world are shut up in their own little boxes and everyone likes to have them arranged prettily beside one another. But for spiritual science we need mobile concepts, concepts that can be transformed and metamorphosed, one into the other. In this you can see one of the consequences of the facts we have been describing.
Another consequence is the following: you will be able to see that a sense life that is as unperturbed and still as the zodiac is only possible for a human being living in the Earth sphere. The twelve sense-zones only are meaningful in the context of life as it is lived between birth and death in an earthly body. When it comes to life between death and birth, things are quite different. One remarkable difference is that the senses that are seen as higher, as far as life on earth goes, lose their higher status when we pass over the threshold of death into spiritual spheres. Just recall what I said in Occult Science about how the relationships between people change during the time between death, and a new birth, and how they are mediated in a much more intimate manner than is the case here on earth. There we do not need the ego sense which is essential to us on earth, nor do we need the senses of thought and speech as we need them on earth. On the other hand, we do need the transformed sense of hearing, but in a form that has been genuinely spiritualised. A spiritualised sense of hearing gives us access to the harmony of the spheres. That it is spiritualised is, however, already evident from the fact that over there we hear without the presence of physical air, whereas here the physical medium of the air must be present in order for us to hear anything. Furthermore, everything is heard in reverse, proceeding backwards towards its beginning. It is precisely because our earthly sense of hearing is dependent on the air that it is particularly difficult for us to imagine what it is like to hear things backwards. We run into difficulties trying to imagine a melody backwards. For spiritual perception this presents no problems at all.
Now, the sense of hearing is the borderline sense; in its spiritualised form it is the sense that most resembles the senses of the physical world. When we come to the sense of warmth as it is in the spiritual world, we already have a sense that is very changed; sight is even more altered; and the senses of smell and taste even more so, for they play an important role in the spiritual world. The very senses that here we call lower, play an important role in the spiritual world. But that role has been very, very spiritualised. A significant role is also played by the senses of balance and movement. But then, when we come to the sense of life we find that it is less significant. And the sense of touch has no special role at all.
So we could say that when death leads us over into the spiritual world the sun sets in the region ruled by the sense of hearing. That sense is located on the horizon of the spiritual world. The sense of hearing is more or less bisected by that horizon. Over yonder, the sun rises in the sense of hearing and then proceeds through the spiritualised senses of warmth, sight, taste and smell — all these are especially important for spiritual perception over there. There, the sense of balance not only reveals to us our inner state of balance, it also shows us how we are balanced with regard to the beings of the higher hierarchies into whose realms we are ascending. Thus the sense of balance has an important role to play; it guides us through the expanses of the cosmos. Here, it is hidden away in our physical organism as one of the lesser senses, but over there it has the important role of enabling us to sense whether we are poised in a state of equilibrium between an Archangel and an Angel, or between a Spirit of Personality and an Archangel, or between a Spirit of Form and an Angel. This is the sense that shows us how we are balanced among the various beings of the spiritual world. And the spiritualised sense of movement, which is now directed outwards, mediates between us and our movements — for in the spiritual world we are in constant movement. The sense of life, however, is no longer necessary because we are, so to speak, swimming in the totality of life. Like a swimmer in water, the spirit moves in the element of life.
Just below the horizon are the lower senses, the senses that lead earthly perception to the internal world of the organism. But when we die, the sun of our life descends to the constellations that are below the horizon just as the setting sun enters the constellations below the horizon. And when we are born again, our sun rises in those constellations — in the senses of touch, life, speech, thought, ego — that stand over us now and allow as to perceive this physical world of earthly existence.
And the life processes are even more spiritualised than these lower senses. More than a few persons who claim to represent a particularly lofty mystical point of view speak of the life processes as something ‘lower’. To be sure, they are low here, but what here is low is high in the spiritual world, for what lives in our organism is a reflection of what lives in the spiritual world. This is a very noteworthy statement. Outside us in the spiritual world there are significant spiritual beings whose nature is reflected within us — within the bounds of the zodiac of our senses through which the planets of our life processes move. So we can say: the four life processes of secretion, maintenance, growth and reproduction are reflections of what exists in the spiritual world — as are the processes of breathing, warming and nourishing. The fourfold process of secretion, maintaining, growth and reproduction mirrors a lofty region of the spiritual world. That region receives us after death and there we live and weave, spiritually preparing our organism for the next earthly incarnation. Everything in our physical organism that is comparatively low corresponds to something that is high and can only be perceived through the faculty of Imagination. There is a whole world that can be perceived through Imagination, through imaginative knowledge. This world that is accessible to imagination is reflected from beyond the constellations of the zodiac into the senses of the human organism. To picture this, imagine that
Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon are reflections of what exists beyond the limits of the zodiac: they have spiritual counterparts that exist there and the astronomical bodies we can observe within the bounds of the zodiac are only reflections of these counterparts.
And then there is yet another super-sensible region. It is beyond the limits of the human senses and perceptible only through the faculty of Inspiration. This is the world of Inspiration. The processes of breathing, warming and nourishing are a reflection of this world, just as Saturn, Jupiter and mars are reflections of their spiritual counterparts from beyond the limits of the zodiac. Moreover there is a profound relationship between what is out there in the cosmos and what, as lower nature, is present in man. These spiritual counterparts of the life processes actually exist. ...And this is how we should mark out the boundaries of the human senses and life processes.
Now we approach that which is higher than life, those true regions of the soul which are the home of human astrality and human egoity, of the I. We leave behind the world of the senses and the realms of space and time and really enter the spiritual world. Now on earth, because there is a certain connection between the twelve sense-zones and our I, it is possible for our I to live in the consciousness sustained by these sense-zones. Beneath this consciousness there is another, an astral consciousness which, in the present stage of human development, is intimately related to the human vital processes, to the sphere of life. The I is intimately related to the sphere of the senses; astral consciousness is intimately related to the sphere of life. Just as our knowledge of the zodiac comes through — or from within — our I, so knowledge of our life processes comes from astral consciousness. It is a form of awareness that is still subconscious in people of today: it is not apparent in normal circumstances, it still lies on the other side of the threshold. In physical existence such a knowing consists of an inner awareness of the life processes. Sometimes, in abnormal circumstances, the sphere of life is included in the sphere of consciousness; it is thrust up into normal consciousness. But for us this is a pathological state. It is an astonishing thing for our doctors and natural scientists to behold when the subconscious intrudes and allows what is normally hidden beneath our twelve-fold sense-awareness to emerge — when eruptions of the subconscious allow the planets to intrude their life into the sphere of the zodiac. Such a consciousness is appropriate when it has been cultivated and developed, really developed in the fashion that is described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. But if it has not been developed properly, it is pathological.
Recently, a book written by a doctor who is interested in these things has been published. Since he is unaware of any of the contents of spiritual science, his thinking is still wholly materialistic. But he is so free in his investigations that, especially more recently, he has actually worked his way into this realm. I am referring to Carl Ludwig Schleich 11Carl Ludwig Schleich (1859 – 1922): Doctor, philosopher and poet. Vom Schaltwerk der Gedanken, Berlin, 1916. and his book, The Mechanisms of Thought (Vom Schaltwerk der Gedanken.) There you will find some interesting accounts of his experiences as a doctor. Let us look at one of the simplest of these: it concerns a woman who comes to him for a medical consultation. He suggests she sit down to wait for him. Just at that moment the wheel in a ventilator cover moves. Immediately she exclaims. ‘Oh, that is a huge fly that is going to bite me!’ And almost immediately after she has said this, her eye begins to swell. Soon the swelling has grown to the size of a hen's egg. The doctor calms her, saying the injury is not so bad and can soon be healed.
It is not possible to reach so deeply into the life sphere that something there actually changes, not if one is employing the consciousness that is contained in the human zodiac of the twelve senses. But we do affect the life sphere when the subconscious erupts into our usual daytime consciousness. The concepts and ideas that occupy our normal consciousness do not yet sink deeply enough into us to reach the depths of the life processes. Now and then, however, the life processes are stirred up and occasionally the ensuing wave is very strong. But with today's proper and normal, externally-orientated consciousness it is not possible — thank God! — for a person to affect the life processes, for otherwise people would make a real mess of themselves with some of the thoughts they entertain. Human thoughts are not strong enough to have this kind of effect. But if some of the ideas people harbour today were to well up out of their unconscious into the sphere of life, as did the ideas of the woman we were describing, then you would see some people walking about with extremely swollen faces and some with much worse problems, too. Thus you see that beneath our surface, which is connected with the zodiac, there is a subconscious world that is intimately connected with the life processes and can profoundly affect them in abnormal circumstances. For example, Schleich reports a case in which a young woman comes to the doctor and tells him that she has gone astray. She continues to insist on this, even after the medical examination shows it could not have been so. She will not tell with whom she has gone astray. But in the next few months she begins to show all the external and internal signs of an expectant mother. Later on, at the appropriate time, when the quasi-expectant mother is examined, the heartbeat of a child is discernible alongside her own. Everything proceeds quite normally — except that no child arrives in the ninth month! The tenth month comes and finally it is realised that something else is going on. At last they decide they must operate. When they do, there is nothing there, nothing at all, and there never has been! It was a hysterical pregnancy with all the physical symptoms of a normal pregnancy. Today's doctors are already describing this kind of thing, and it is good that they are doing so, for such things will force people to think of the human being in different terms from those in which they are accustomed to think.
Here is another case: a man comes to Schleich saying that he has stuck himself with a pen while working in his office. There is a slight scratch. Schleich examines it and finds nothing to be concerned about. But the man says, ‘Yes, but I can already feel blood poisoning in my arm and I know I shall die of it unless my arm is amputated.’ Schleich replies, ‘I cannot remove your arm when there is no problem there. It is certain that you will not die of blood poisoning.’ As a precaution, he cleanses the wound and then he dismisses the man. But he was still in such a state that Schleich, who is a good-hearted man, decides to visit him that evening. He finds the man still filled with the thought that he is bound to die. When his blood is tested later, there still is no sign of blood poisoning. Again Schleich reassures him; but later that night the man dies. He really dies! A death from purely psychic causes!
Now, I can assure you that a man cannot die as a result of the thoughts he forms under the influence of his inner zodiac-one certainly cannot die of such thoughts. Thoughts do not penetrate so deeply into the life processes. And the other case I just mentioned — I mean the hysterical pregnancy — cannot be the result of mere thoughts, any more than it is possible to die of the mere thought that you have blood poisoning.
When it comes to this last case, where imagined, but untrue, circumstances seem to have led to death, our present-day science must look to spiritual science for clarification. Perhaps we can look a little at this case and consider what really happened. We have a man who scratches himself with his pen while he is writing and then dies as a result of what he imagines around this event. Actually, something quite different happened. That man had an etheric body, and death was already present in his etheric body before he scratched himself. Death, therefore, was already expressed in his etheric body when he went into his office that morning, In other words, his etheric body had begun to accept into itself the processes that lead to death. But these were only transmitted to his physical body very gradually. And the man would not have acted so strangely if death had not already taken up residence in him. He just happened to scratch himself while this was going on within him, and the scratch was insignificant in itself. But through it, the thought that he was going to die was able to well up out of his subconscious life sphere. The external events were only the trimmings, only the outer show. But because the outer show was there, the whole thing was able to well up into his waking consciousness. So his death had nothing to do with the usual processes of forming imaginations that are part of our day-time consciousness, absolutely nothing; death was already present in him.
Such things as these will gradually force our natural scientists to enter more and more deeply into the substance of spiritual science. We are already dealing with something complicated when we consider the relationship between the planetary spheres and the life processes, or the zodiac and the zones of the senses. But things get even more complicated when we move on to consider the processes of consciousness that relate in various ways to these spheres: the I relating to the zodiac and the astral body relating to the planetary spheres within man, that mobile life-sphere within the human being. But if we continue to think as we think in the everyday physical world, using the powers of the zodiac within us, we shall be unable to approach matters that concern the mobile human life-sphere., nor shall we be able to approach the relationship of the I to the zodiac. Those things can only be approached when we have taught ourselves to think in entirely new ways.
In Knowledge of the Higher Worlds you are advised to imagine things backwards from time to time, to review things backwards. A backwards review involves picturing events as if they proceeded in the opposite direction from that in which they proceed in our normal world. Among other things, this picturing backwards gradually builds the spiritual forces that make one capable of entering a world that is the wrong way round when compared with the physical world. That is how the spiritual world is. It reverses many aspects of the physical world. I have often pointed out to you that it is not simply a matter of abstractly turning around what is in the physical world; among the powers that one needs to develop are the powers connected with the ability to imagine backwards. What is the consequence of this? Those people who do not want to see human culture dry up and who are trying to achieve a spiritually illumined view of the world are eventually forced to imagine a world in reverse. For spiritual consciousness only begins when the life processes or the sense processes are reversed and run backwards. Therefore people need to prepare for the future by getting accustomed to thinking backwards. Then they will begin to take hold of the spiritual world through this thinking backwards, just as they take hold of the physical world by means of thinking forwards. Our ability to imagine the physical world is a result of the direction of our thinking.
So, now that I have guided you through the human zodiac of the twelve sense-zones and through the seven planetary life-spheres, I can only proceed further if I introduce a completely different way of looking at things: a way of thinking that proceeds backwards.
Now, you are aware that our contemporaries are not particularly inclined to devote themselves to spiritual science and really absorb it. They reject it because they are accustomed to materialistic thinking. But for someone who has gone only a little way beyond the threshold of the spiritual world, it is just as foolish to assert that the world only goes forward, never backward, as it is to say that the sun only goes in one direction and can never return! Of course it comes back along this apparent path on the other side. (Steiner illustrated this with a drawing.)
It is easy to imagine that someone who is well and truly frozen into contemporary modes of thought might shrink in horror from thinking backwards and from imagining the world turned backwards. And yet without this world turned backwards there would not be any consciousness at all. For consciousness is already a kind of spiritual science — even though the materialists deny the fact. Consequently, this imagining backwards particularly horrifies our contemporaries. We could picture one of them asking himself, ‘Is it illogical to picture the course of the world backwards as well as forwards?’ And he could also come to the conclusion that it is not really illogical to follow a drama backwards starting from its fifth act, and that it is not illogical to follow the drama of world development backwards, either. Nevertheless, this is a terrible thing with which to confront contemporary habits of thought. Someone who lives entirely in present-day habits of thought, believes it is a fact that one cannot think the world backwards, and that it is a fact that the world does not move backwards. As soon as such a person stumbles across this question he senses that there is something special in it. One can imagine a solitary thinker wrestling with the problem of thinking backwards and drawing particular philosophical conclusions from the impossibility of thinking backwards.
One can make a further assumption. I have already drawn your attention to the fact that thinking backwards is especially difficult to imagine in the constellation in which the sun goes down, in the sense of hearing. Over the course of time, the sense of hearing has undergone some changes, particularly in relation to music. Historians do not usually notice these subtle changes, but they are more important for the inner human life than the grosser changes described in historical accounts. For example, it is of great significance for the transformation of hearing — which is already a relatively spiritual sense as far as the physical world goes — that the octave was experienced as a uniquely pleasant, sympathetic combination of tones during the Greco-Roman period, and that the fifth was particularly loved during the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In those days it was called the ‘sweet tone.’ During the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries the fifth was experienced in the way people experience the third today. So you see how our inner constitution changes over relatively short periods of time.
On the physical plane, a musical ear listens with deep satisfaction to things going in the one direction. So someone with an especially musical ear might well be repelled by the thought of going backwards, for music is one of the most profound things we have on the physical plane. Of course this could only apply to a time when materialism is at its height. Those who are not so musical will not feel this conflict so readily. But a musical person whose thinking is fundamentally materialistic can easily come to the conclusion that thinking backwards is simply beyond the scope of our human head. In this fashion he will resist the spiritual world. So we can assume that somewhere or other there is bound to be such a thinker.
Strangely enough, a book has been published recently: Kosmogonie, by Christian von Ehrenfels. 12Christian von Ehrenfels (1859 – 1922): Philosopher. Kosmogonie, Jena, 1916. The cited passages are to be found on pages VII, VIII, 49-56. Its first chapter is called, ‘The “reversion”, a paradox of knowledge’. There, looking at it from many sides, in the fashion of present-day philosophy, Ehrenfels asks what it would be like to see the course of world events backwards — from the other side, the asymmetrical side, so to speak. He actually comes up with the idea of thinking things backwards, really backwards. He tries to deal with this paradox. He attempts to think some particular cases backwards. I would like to show you one of these as an example. He starts with a series of events going forwards, rather than backwards:
In the vertical world of the high mountains, moisture and frost break loose a chunk from a compact mass of rock. When the ice thaws, the chunk breaks free. It falls from the overhanging cliff wall, crashes on to a stony surface and shatters into many pieces. Following one of these pieces, we see it go raging down a lower slope shedding further splinters of stone as it collides with other stones, until it finally comes to rest on a slope. At last it has given up the whole of its kinetic energy in the form of warmth conveyed to the places where it collided with earth and stone, and to the air that resisted its motion. — Now how would this certainly not uncommon event look in the backwards world?
A stone is lying on a slope. Suddenly it is struck by apparently chaotic bursts of warmth coming from the earth beneath it. These combine in such an extraordinary fashion that they propel the stone diagonally upwards. The air offers no resistance. On the contrary, there are a series of extraordinary transactions: the air transmits some of its own warmth to the stone and thus gives it free passage, making way for it and encouraging it, with its accumulation of small but well-aimed gifts of warmth, on its diagonally ascending pathway. The stone collides with an overhanging stone. But this neither causes it to lose any fragment of itself, nor does it cause it to lose any of its enthusiasm for movement. In fact, the contrary is the case. Another little stone happens to arrive at the same place of impact, propelled by a collection of gusts of warmth from the earth. And, behold! — always under the influence of impulses of warmth-this small stone collides with our original stone. Their-apparently accidentally formed — irregular surfaces fit together so perfectly, and they meet with such force, that the powers of cohesion take effect and the two grow together to form one compact mass. Further bursts of warmth from the overhanging mountain with which they have collided direct them further on their upward, diagonal path, which they pursue with increased speed.
The bits of stone that earlier were broken apart are joined together again. The whole stone comes together, lying on the mountain cliff. The energies are brought once more into balance, all goes back into its original place, and so forth. This he describes with great exactitude, thinking the whole event backwards. He describes further examples, which he also thinks through backwards. One can see that he really plagues himself with this; he really strains at the yoke:
On a sunny winter's day, a hare makes its way through the snow, leaving its tracks behind it. In many places the wind immediately blows them away, but they are preserved along southerly stretches of path where the snow thaws in the sunshine during the day and freezes again at night. There they remain visible for many weeks until they disappear in the spring thaw. In the ‘backwards world’ the hare's prints would be the first thing to appear, but only a bit at a time, not all at once. At first they would show up in the frozen snow (more accurately, in the ice which is thawing into snow again), and then, after weeks, during which the imprints gradually get deeper and change into more accurate copies of the hare's paws, the prints also begin to appear on the connecting parts of path as gusts of warmth chase loose flakes of snow together — and the whole track is complete. Then the hare himself appears, tail foremost, head facing behind, and he is not moving along the line of the path — rather he is being dragged along in a direction contrary to the impulses of his muscles by the impact of gusts of warmth (always it is through warmth) and this is done so artfully that his paws always fall into the waiting paw-prints of the tracks. Nor do the wonders cease here: each time a paw comes out of a print, well-directed gusts of warmth fill it with loose snow. So well is this accomplished that the filled print exactly merges with the surrounding snowfield, whose faultlessly smooth surface covers the former tracks of the hare as if it had never been otherwise.
You can see how Schleich exerts himself. Now he goes further, saying: if it is difficult with the hare, how much more difficult will it be with an entire hunt:
It is easy to see that the same sort of unbelievable things occur as in the example from inorganic nature, only intensified to the point of being grotesque and uncanny. And the present organic example of the hare's tracks is relatively simple. Just imagine the tracks left behind in the snow, not by a single hare, but by an entire winter hunting party with all its hunters, drivers, hounds, and numerous deer, foxes and elk — imagine how these tracks would criss-cross and cover one another, and how sometimes one would step in the print of another, leaving untrodden patches in between, and so on. Now one must turn these events around and observe how the same type of gusts of warmth seem to guide each living creature through this chaos of apparently fragmentary tracks so that every foot or paw or hoof falls into a print that exactly matches it — the deer into one, elk into another, every hunter's shoe finding an imprint that exactly matches, and always moved, slid, pressed into it by these extraordinary gusts of warmth that issue from the earth, the air and from within the creatures themselves, so that everything matches perfectly. After all this one begins to get some bare notion of the extent of our concept of ‘leaving tracks’, as it applies to our right-way-up, right-way-round world.
You see how hard the man tries to arrive at the concepts he needs. This effort drags up some things of which people today are not conscious. You can see how naturally spiritual science can come into being, for men are longing for it in their souls. Schleich really struggles to come to some degree of understanding of these processes that run backwards. He really sweats over the matter — spiritually speaking. There truly is a thinker in him, a thinker who will not be denied. He declares that it is entirely logical to picture things in this fashion — logical, but unbelievable. For us, this simply means that he is going against his own habitual thinking and, ultimately, that he is completely unable to conceive of the spiritual world.
Ehrenfels concludes, ‘Let us go even further. Imagine that a backward world is actually forced upon us — that the relentless force of our experience actually compels us to deal with a real situation like our “backwards world”!’ Thus he imagines that he might really see his hare or his hunting party proceeding backwards out there in the physical world — the world which, for him, is the only reality. We are asked to imagine that we have been forced to enter a physical world in which all is really backwards:
How would we respond to such a world, how could we try to interpret it? Even if our experience repeatedly forced us to think, as we tried to think in the preceding pages, of a world in which the shapes of the future are sucked backwards, we would have to reject it as absurd.
This, he says, would be terrible. We would be confronted with a world which we could not and ought not think about! And this terrible world is the world Ehrenfels really would have to see if he were to enter the spiritual world. He imagines that it would be terrible if such a thing were to be forced upon him in the physical world!
Forms would take shape with apparent spontaneity. But we would have no alternative but to view them as only apparently spontaneous — and as actually being the result of teleological, intentional, preconceived combinations of material particles and their movements. And the same would hold for the extraordinary interplay of their paths as they converge and leave us with ever fewer and ever diminishing phenomena.
Thus he thinks the whole thing back to the beginnings of the earth in a Darwinian state of unity.
What could the goal of this creative power that sees ahead and plans ahead, possibly be? Can the sudden appearance of a form and its gradual transition into formlessness be the ultimate goal? No, and no again! The very opposite of this is what the goal of the whole must be.
Then he asks himself, ‘How it would feel to be confronted with such a world, to see such a world?’ To which he answers, ‘This world of experience could only be the grotesque joke of a demonic, cosmic power to whom we must deliver up everything but knowledge.’
At this point he stops himself; he cannot go any deeper into the matter. For the knowledge to which he clings consists simply of his old habits of thought. He can go no further. He feels that a world that has to be seen in reverse must be the grotesque production of some cosmic demon, of the devil; it would be the world of the devil. And he is afraid when confronted with what inevitably must seem to him to be the work of the devil. Here you have an example of how one soul experiences something I have often described: fear is what holds us back from the spiritual world. And Ehrenfels expresses this overtly: if he were to see a physical world that is similar to the spiritual world, he would view it as the paradoxical work of some devilish being. So he shrinks back in fear.
There must be some other, comprehensive, universal law that transcends the bounds of our world of experience! In other words: even if the backward world existed, ultimately we would not use backward principles to understand it.
What would the good Ehrenfels do if he were transported into a backward world that contrived to manifest itself to him physically? He would say, ‘Nay, I do not believe this; I will not allow it to be; I will picture it the other way around.’ And this is just what people do with the spiritual world; they really do not want to admit the existence of things that look different from what is presently in front of them.
We would regard this as an exception, as a special enclave, as a counter-stream to the great stream of all cosmic evolution — and yet we would continue to attribute to the evolution of the world those physiognomic features that we find believable.
Thus one would put one's foot down and say, ‘Nay, even though this world conjures up a demon for us, we will not believe in it. We will think about it in the way in which we are accustomed to think.’ There you see the whole story — of how a philosopher resists what has to come. It is helpful to notice such moments in human evolution. What spiritual science shows us must come, and that, my dear friends, that will most assuredly come. And even though people today resist the spiritual in their normal consciousness, as we have often discussed here, at deeper levels of their consciousness they are beginning to turn toward the spiritual. It is only that people are still pretending; they still deny it is there. It will not be long before it is impossible to continue denying the spirit. Men's thoughts are turning with a virtual compulsion towards the sort of things one can observe in Christian von Ehrenfels' Kosmogonie.
I wanted to talk about this book because it has just appeared and is bound to be discussed frequently in the near future. Even though it is written in a philosophical language that is difficult to understand, it will be discussed frequently. The discussions are likely to be very grotesque because it is difficult to grasp the implications of the book. So I wanted to speak to you here about Christian von Ehrenfel's Kosmogonie in order that what needs to be said about it is spoken about accurately for once. We are dealing with a philosopher who is a university professor and who has lectured in philosophy at the University of Prague for many years. This book appeared in 1915. In the foreword he speaks of his own path of development, acknowledging points on which he is indebted to certain earlier philosophers with whom he is more or less in agreement. At the conclusion of this foreword, having cited his indebtedness for one thing and another to the earlier philosophers, Franz Brentano and Meinong, he says the following:
On the other hand, my greatest burden of thanks lies in a direction that is far removed from what is generally recognised as the domain of philosophy. — Throughout my life I have devoted far more physical energy to becoming inwardly acquainted with German music than I have devoted to assimilating philosophical literature. (As a philosophy professor he presents us with this confession!) Nor do I regret this, looking back from the middle of the sixth decade of my life, (So you see, he is far beyond his fiftieth year) rather I attribute to this one of the sources of my philosophical productivity. (And he has only been productive as a philosopher!) For, even though Schopenhauer's account of music as being a unique objectification of the world of the will must probably be rejected, it nevertheless seems to me that his fundamental intentions go to the heart of the matter. Of all mortal beings, the revelations of the truly productive musician bring him nearest to the spirit of the cosmos. Those other ‘mortals’ who claim to understand this metaphysical language of music experience it as a duty of the highest order to translate this received meaning into a conceptual form that is accessible to the understanding of their fellow men.
If one understands religion to be a spiritual possession that bequeaths trust in the world, moral strength and inner power to its possessor, then you must say that German music has been my religion in a time in which humanity has been beset by agnosticism, the loss of metaphysics, and the loss of belief. This applies from the day — in the year 1880 — I definitively separated myself from the dogmas of Catholicism, to those weeks in the spring of 1911 when the metaphysical teachings expressed in this book first began to reveal themselves to me.
And this metaphysics takes as its starting point the paradox of reversibility, the impossibility of reversing our ideas.
Yes, today German music is still my religion in the sense that even if all the arguments of my work were proven false, I would not fall victim to despair. The trust in the world in which this work originated would not desert me and I would remain convinced that I am essentially on the right path. I would remain convinced because German music would still be there, and the world that can produce such a thing must surely be essentially good and worthy of respect.
The music of the B Minor Mass, of the statue's visit in Don Giovanni, the Third, Fifth, Seventh and Ninth symphonies, the music of Tristan, The Ring, Parsifal — this music cannot be proven false, for it is a reality, a wellspring of life. Thanks be to its creators! And a salute to all those who are appointed to quench the thirst for eternity from its wondrous springs! The best that I have been fortunate enough to create — and I hold this present work to be my best — is nothing more than insignificant small change out of the riches that I have ‘received’ from that source — from music.
And I am convinced, my dear friends, that this philosopher's special way of relating to the spiritual world could only be found in a person who has Ehrenfels' spiritual kinship with the music of our materialistic age. There are deep inner relationships between everything that goes on in the human soul, even between things that seem to lie in quite different areas. Here I wanted to give you an example of the special way in which someone who is a believer — not just a listener, but a true believer — in the elements of modern music must relate to the habits of materialistic thinking and how he must allow them to flow through his soul. It is different for someone who is not such a musical believer. For if we are to gradually approach the riddles of life and the human riddles, we must investigate those mysterious relationships in the human soul that introduce so many harmonies and disharmonies into its life.