Aspects of Human Evolution
26 June 1917, Berlin
In order to relate to our anthroposophical movement certain current thoughts and opinions concerned with some special phenomena, I would like today to add to our considerations some incidental material.
I will begin by speaking about experiments that are being made at the moment; they have a certain interest for us. During our discussions I have often mentioned the natural scientist Moritz Benedikt; his main interests are anthropology and criminology, though his scientific investigations cover a great variety of subjects. 1 Moritz Benedikt, 1835-1920, criminologist and anthropologist. Lately he has been intensely occupied with scientific investigations into dowsing, or water divining. The war has caused great interest in this subject. Dowsing consists mainly of the use of a fork-shaped rod, made of certain kinds of wood such as hazel. The rod is held in a special way by the prongs, and when it moves that indicates that there is either something metallic or water in the ground beneath.
Moritz Benedikt is certainly no dreamer, in fact very much the opposite; he is also someone who would emphatically reject anything to do with anthroposophy. Yet he has been completely absorbed in research into dowsing. His interest has been aroused partly because of war operations taking place in certain regions. His aim to set dowsing on a rational footing has led to experiments with certain types of people whom he calls “darkness-adapted.” I will explain in a moment why he attempts' to establish that each human being is asymmetric, a twofold being in the sense that not only does the right side differ from the left, but the two sides are polar opposites. Forces in the left side relate to forces in the right as positive magnetism relates to negative, or positive electricity to negative.
Moritz Benedikt has discovered that when a person holds the divining rod by both prongs the forces in the left side of the body unite with those in the right side. Or, as he expresses it, the forces, by flowing together, form a common stream of emanation. When a person particularly strong in such forces walks over ground beneath which there is water, a change takes place in the forces of both sides of his body. This change is caused by emanations streaming upwards from the water below into the person. It is interesting that Moritz Benedikt, himself a doctor, discovers that particularly susceptible persons can become so strongly influenced that they become ill by simply walking over ground under which there is water or a metal ore. Thus Benedikt found that if certain individuals walked over ground containing particular substances which they either ignored or knew nothing of, they could suffer illnesses such as melancholia, hypochondria or hysteria, illnesses of which doctors no longer know much more than their names. However, when the same individuals held the divining rod, they did not become ill. The rod causes the two streams of forces in the body to unite, and as it dips it diverts the force that would otherwise cause illness in some part of the body. So it is a case of streams of forces being diverted from the body through the rod.
The divining rod is a branch which has been carved into a fork, the way branches fork on a tree, and it is held by the two prongs. But how did Professor Benedikt arrive at his conclusions? He did it with the help of certain individuals whom he calls “darkness-adapted.” He calls them this because when they observe other people in the dark, they see colors. Experiments have established that the colors thus seen on a person's left side are different from those on his right side. Benedikt had the help of two such persons in his experiments. It becomes clear that these colors seen in a dark room, so dark that there is no possibility of ordinary physical sight, are what Benedikt calls emanations. We would call them deep physical aura. In this way it was possible for Professor Benedikt, with the help of “darkness-adapted” persons to prove, not only that human beings are asymmetric; i.e., show different colors on the two sides of their body, but also that the whole color picture changes when the divining rod is held. The experiment can be carried out in a laboratory; all that is needed is a bowl with water or a piece of metal. Thus in a room that is made dark one can prove what causes the effect produced by the rod.
It is interesting to look at some of the passages in Professor Benedikt's latest publication. He says:
There exist, if only in a relatively small number, human beings who are darkness-adapted! A relatively large number of this minority see many objects in darkness as luminous, but without color. A few see objects not only as luminous but colored. Already Reichenbach declared that every human being drags about a huge covering of luminous substance (emanation). Such phenomena, both colored and colorless, have since been strictly tested by me. A great many doctors and other educated people have been observed in my darkroom by two persons who are typically “darkness-adapted,” engineer Josef Pora and civil servant Hedwig Kaindl. According to the result of these tests, there can be no justified reason to doubt the correctness of what is seen and described. The gentlemen who were tested could convince themselves that the two “darkness-adapted” persons saw these unexpected phenomena on the parts of the body whose specific color emanation they described. ... The people who are “darkness-adapted” and see colors will observe on a person's right side blue at the crown of the head down over the forehead and the rest of that half of the body; on the left side red is seen, or by some, for example by engineer Pora, an orange yellow. From the back the same division and the same colors are seen ... I will mention here that an enclosed electrical battery in the darkroom glowed red at the anode and blue at the cathode terminals, thus in colors analogous to those seen on the left and right side of the body. The emanations from the two polar halves of the body were united into a single stream through the rod and combined with the emanation from the substance below the rod; its deflection signified this union. 2 Moritz Benedikt, Ruten- und Pendellehre, Vienna and Leipzig, 1917.
All this is very interesting. I must emphasize, so that there can be no misunderstanding, that what we are here concerned with has nothing to do with what I describe in my book Theosophy as the aura. 3 Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man (Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1985). What I describe reveals man's higher soul and spirit. What Professor Benedikt discovers in his darkroom is something that exists below the threshold, that is, not above but below the threshold of man's ordinary consciousness. These emanations or radiations are not perceptible to ordinary physical sight. What is interesting for us is the fact that a modern natural scientist finds it acceptable not only to speak about but to investigate scientifically a subconscious aura. It is also interesting that Benedikt himself finds it necessary to indicate that an aptitude for using the divining rod is not an indication of a higher kind of human capability. On the contrary it is seen to be a talent connected with man's lower organization and denied to those who are intellectually developed. It is shown that the ability of certain people to make the rod dip especially strongly is connected with lower soul impulses of a kind not perceptible to the ordinary senses, at least not in the normal way. That is why Professor Benedikt always needs “darkness-adapted” persons for his experiments.
Naturally this phenomenon comes up against opposition, but this is only to be expected; such things always create opposition. Professor Benedikt himself says on page twelve of his booklet:
The simple man instinctively recognizes dowsing as a fact; the academically educated person recognizes the generally held opinion. Thus for the former it is simply traditional knowledge and becomes irrefutable fact the moment he sees and feels the rod dip. The “intellectual” puts blinkers on and refuses to see what does not happen to fit into any compartment of his knowledge.
However, it all depends on what level someone wears his blinkers. Professor Benedikt takes his off when he investigates the aura connected with dowsing, but he puts them on when it comes to those higher realms investigated by anthroposophy. But other things of interest, based on his experiments, are published by Professor Benedikt. He says, for example:
We want to emphasize the significance these experiments have for the theory of color. The Newtonian theory that color effects originate exclusively from light which is reflected or transmitted through the prism is universally accepted without reservation by the guild of physicists, but it was challenged by Goethe. He maintained that the color impressions we receive from naturally colored objects and also from fabrics treated with natural color are due partly to the colored objects themselves. The proofs he offered were not sufficiently convincing to be generally accepted. ... With the help of the pendulum the theory of emanation dramatically confirms and clarifies one of Goethe's views; in this connection it must be stressed that reflected light produces emanations similarly colored.
Thus you see that Benedikt, now that he has embarked on research into this border realm,, comes as far as Goethe's theory of color. When one has been occupied, as I have, for more than three decades with justifying and defending Goethe's theory of color, then one is able to evaluate the extent to which there is a connection between the theory of emanation and Goethe's theory of color, and also whether there is a connection between the boneheaded materialistic theories that dominate modern physics and the rejection of Goethe's theory of color. However, what is interesting is that when someone ventures even slightly into the theory of color, he gets a little further in the direction of the anthroposophical view.
It is significant that when experiments are made with things like dowsing it is found that the simple man instinctively recognizes the phenomenon for a fact, whereas the scholar or academically trained person recognizes only the general opinion. It is significant because no age has been so dominated by opinions as ours, although it is always stressed that common sense should prevail. This is stressed especially in politics. But the fact is that healthy human common sense must today be striven for; it is simply not there. That is the great secret of our time. It must be striven for so that man can regain the connection with the spiritual world which in ancient times he had through atavistic clairvoyance. What he lost can be attained only along the path anthroposophy indicates.
I have mentioned that Professor Benedikt is a somewhat vain person which makes his books rather disagreeable to read, though it does not apply in this particular case. The frontispiece in his book is a photograph of himself, sitting in his darkroom making experiments with the pendulum. In his attempt to discover the interplay of forces between man and world, he arrives at physical auras. That is significant because even such physical experiments in this realm show that the accepted concept of space must be altered, must acquire a new foundation. Through such experiments it is shown, for example, that water is not just contained within the earth. Different emanations flow together when the water diviner walks over ground below which there is water; the rod dips because emanations rise from below and unite with emanations from the human being. In other words, water is not only under the ground; an element rises upwards from it. You may remember my pointing out the great significance of Schelling's famous — or perhaps not famous — saying: “An object exists not only where it is present; rather, it exists wherever its effect is manifest.” 4 Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, 1775–1854, see Von der Weltseele, 1798: “It is very true that a body only acts where it is; but it is equally true that it only is where it acts.” To comprehend such things is important. In my book Riddles of Philosophy you will find more about the significance of such concepts. 5 Rudolf Steiner, Riddles of Philosophy (Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1973). They enable one to see things as they truly are, rather than to cling to preconceived notions and opinions.
Though it is naturally not generally acknowledged, individual instances do factually prove that the anthroposophical way of looking at things can guide modern man's thinking in the right direction. When an issue is approached without prejudice, thinking is led towards anthroposophy. The war has drawn attention to dowsing; it has become important to discover just what there is beneath the ground in certain regions especially in regard to water. To find water becomes essential for those who must stay behind in those regions when other sources have become exhausted. Thus investigation into dowsing reveals — especially when account is taken of the lower aspect of man's nature — that he encompasses infinitely more than either modern philosophy or biology have ever dreamed of.
It is a strange fact that although individual instances demonstrate that anthroposophy points in the right direction, it continues to be treated in the peculiar ways I have indicated in recent lectures. Those who have been connected with our movement for a longer period will understand why I am obliged today to speak about a literary phenomenon which can be said to be typical of the ways in which the spiritual stream that is anthroposophy is currently treated.
A book has just been published by a professor at Berlin University, Max Dessoir, a hefty book entitled Behind the Soul. 6 Max Dessoir, 1867–1947, philosopher and psychologist. Vom Jenseits der Seele, Stuttgart, 1917. Further references to this book will be indicated in the text. It contains a chapter which, in the typical way I have mentioned, deals extensively with anthroposophy. When I picked up the book, my first thought was that it was going to be very interesting to see how those concerned with modern philosophy would discuss anthroposophy, and especially so as the author is a professor at a university; in fact, I looked forward to reading the book. I expected opposition of course, that cannot be otherwise for reasons I have mentioned. It is not surprising that modern philosophy is still opposed to anthroposophy; that does no harm provided the opposition is not defamatory or malicious. After all it is precisely through dialogue, through exchange of thoughts that something very positive can come about. However, as I studied this seemingly substantial book, I had to say that it was not in the least interesting. Everything he deals with, not only in the lengthy chapter on anthroposophy but elsewhere, shows that the author has not the slightest understanding of what anthroposophy is or the direction in which it points. It is quite extraordinary; he attempts to tell the reader about anthroposophy and does not come up with a single correct statement. His misinterpretations are typical of those usually made.
One's first reaction is to wonder how someone who must claim a degree of intelligence comes to present such a caricature. He must after all have investigated the subject since no decent person, you will agree, writes about something without first looking into it. On closer reading one comes to realize that he simply has no understanding of the subjects he writes about. Everything is unbelievably distorted — in fact, so distorted that anyone who takes such matters seriously is faced with an enigma. One cannot help asking how a person who must generally be regarded as clever (at least up to a point, or he would not be a professor at a university) comes to bungle an issue to such a degree.
However, when one has some experience of philology — and it is not in vain that I have worked with philologists for over six years at the Goethe-Schiller Archives in Weimar — then it is usually possible to put one's finger on the problem. I will start with a concrete example and clear up a particularly gross misunderstanding. Anyone who reads about post-Atlantean history in my books, for example in Occult Science, will know that I divide post-Atlantean time into seven consecutive epochs of which the fifth is the one we live in. 7 Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science: An Outline (Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1984). Further references to this book will be indicated in the text. How often have I mentioned that we live in the fifth epoch of post-Atlantean times, the first epoch being the ancient Indian, the second the ancient Persian and so on. This you all know. Max Dessoir, having discovered these time divisions, writes:
By ancient India is not meant present India, for in general all geological, astronomical and historical designations are to be understood symbolically. The Indian civilization was followed by the ancient Persian which was led by Zarathustra who lived much earlier than the historical personality of that name. Other epochs followed and we live in the sixth (p. 258).
Here you have one of those gross absurdities that occur when people report what I have said. But you will agree that the problem becomes worse when it is brought about by a professor whom one expects to be exact and correct in what he reports. What he writes here is certainly nonsense. If you turn to my Occult Science, you will realize how this inaccuracy came to be written. There it is said that the fifth cultural epoch was gradually prepared within the fourth, and that the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries of the fourth epoch were especially important in this preparation. The passage reads:
In the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries A.D. a new civilization-epoch was preparing in Europe. The actual beginning of it was in the fifteenth century, and we are still living in it now. Intended as it was by slow degrees to replace the fourth, the Graeco-Latin, this is the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. (pp. 218-219)
This passage Professor Dessoir reads with such care that by the fifth line he has forgotten what it is about — or perhaps filed it incorrectly in his card index — and as he looks again he reads the first line: “In the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries” the fifth epoch was being prepared; as he looks once more — as a professor he is very careful — his eye falls on the first line instead of the fifth, and he writes: “We live in the sixth epoch.”
Such is this man's method when he sets out to explain the anthroposophical movement. It shows an unbelievable superficiality which remains undetected because one simply takes for granted that professors are responsible people. Those who read this passage without checking will accept it without question. It is not so terribly important that he says sixth instead of fifth, but it is an instance that provides us with the solution to the problem — an exact philological solution — which shows the man's irresponsibility.
Let us look further in order to find the measure by which to evaluate this publication. Dessoir writes the following:
If contemporary man is to attain a higher consciousness, he must begin by immersing himself, with all his powers, in a mental picture. Best suited for this purpose is a symbolic picture such as a black cross (symbol of the lower desires and passions which have been destroyed) whose intersection is surrounded by seven red roses (symbol of desires and passions which have been purified) ... (p. 255)
Anyone who reads this passage in Max Dessoir must ask if this anthroposophy is quite mad. How is that to arise which is symbolized as purified desires and passions if the black cross symbolizes that desires and passions have been destroyed? If all desires and passions are destroyed then what is there left to transform? So again what he has written is nonsensical. But you see, the passage is supposed to be a quotation. So let us turn to Occult Science. There we read:
Then, having entered right into the experience of the thoughts and feelings, we can re-cast them in the following symbolic picture. Imagine you see before you a black cross. Let this black cross be for you a symbol for the baser elements that have been cast out of man's impulses and passions. (p. 231)
Professor Max Dessoir audaciously alters this passage to “... symbol of lower desires and passions which have been destroyed,” whereas it says: “baser elements that have been cast out of man's impulses and passions.” This shows how carelessly he reads and how inexactly he quotes. In dealing with super-sensible knowledge it is all-important to be as conscientious as possible especially when quoting, yet the learned professor appears to go out of his way to be as slovenly and inaccurate as possible.
Faced, as one is, with a complete caricature of anthroposophy one comes to realize that this man is incapable of giving a proper rendition of it, not for lack of intelligence but for lack of ordinary scientific conscientiousness. One comes to the conclusion that his main characteristic is superficiality. Let us look at another passage where he speaks about how clairvoyance can be attained:
The goal of all philosophy is attained by the soul through such inner work. One must be careful to distinguish body-free consciousness from dreamlike clairvoyance or hypnotic influences. When our soul forces have been strengthened the I can experience itself above consciousness. It is in fact possible already in the perception of color and sound to exclude the body's mediation. (p. 255)
Nowhere do I say that one can exclude the body's mediation when perceiving color and sound, but that does not prevent Professor Max Dessoir from writing that I do. It can hardly be expected that such a man should understand anything; even when he tries, he manages to misunderstand. For example, you will not find anywhere in my writings the expression “cell body.” *Zellenkörper: The usual translation is “protoplasm.” Protoplasm is often defined in biology as the living substance of a cell, or the cell material when considered apart from the cell membrane. “Cell body” is here used to clarify the confusion of terms in German. That is a term that has no meaning in connection with what is said in Occult Science or indeed with anthroposophy in general. Nevertheless, Professor Dessoir says: “When through the submersion the spirit becomes free from the cell body it is still not free of all corporeality.” This is because: “The functions of the astral body are varied. It contains the patterns according to which the ether body gives the cell body its form.” (p. 256)
Nowhere do I speak of “cell body” but rather of physical body. By using such a term, everything I say concerning the physical body becomes meaningless. Thus you see that Dessoir has no understanding of the subject whatever. The following is a typical example:
The recuperation one experiences after sleep can be simpler and more straightforwardly explained without resorting to an astral body. Also, unlike Steiner, we do not need to “explain” the falling asleep of a limb as a separation of the ether body from the physical body. (p. 256)
He puts the word “explain” in quotation marks. But let us turn to <Occult Science where we find:
When, for example, a man subjects an arm or leg to an unusual pressure, a portion of the ether body may become separated from the physical. We say then that the limb has “gone to sleep.” The peculiar sensation it gives is in fact due to the severance of the ether body. (Here too, of course, materialistic thinking can deny the invisible within the visible, maintaining that the effect is merely due to the physical or physiological disturbances induced by the excessive pressure.) (p. 72)
You can see that it is not in the least denied that the physical pressure has an effect and causes the “falling asleep” of the limb. What is said is that the peculiar sensation that accompanies the experience is due to the separation of the ether body.
One wonders if such people are able to read at all. Are they capable of taking in a serious book on a spiritual subject in which every detail has been carefully considered? It is not without significance that people of this kind, capable of treating a serious contemporary work in this manner, fill the professorial chairs at universities. I had hoped to present to you today an example of how one might refute objections of an earnest nature, raised against anthroposophical issues. Instead I am obliged to show you that what we are up against are superficial people who falsify everything. Refuting serious objections would have given me great pleasure.
Dessoir finds, as one might expect, the passages in Occult Science dealing with the Saturn evolution particularly — how shall I put it — “lip-smacking.” It is only natural that he is especially offended by a passage which he presents as follows:
Various kinds of spirits move in Saturn's environment, those of form (Exusiai), of personality (Archai), of fire (Archangeloi) and of love (Seraphim). Through the Angeloi processes of nutrition and excretion develop on Saturn, and through the Cherubim, at a later stage, a dull dreamlike consciousness. The clairvoyant can experience these conditions even today, for they are actually always present to a super-sensible perception which is akin to smell. (p. 258)
So the clairvoyant is supposed to be able to experience by means of super-sensible perception akin to smell! In other words “clairsmellers” smell Saturn,conditions! Now that is something to smack one's lips over, and Dessoir cannot resist saying: “That the ‘odor of sanctity’ and the ‘stench of the devil’ is not brought to bear on this amazes me.” (p. 252)
One wonders if it would be at all possible to have a proper discussion with such a man should the occasion arise. But let us turn to Occult Science where this passage comes from; there it reads: “Inwardly (within Saturn) the dull human will manifests itself to the faculty of super-sensible perception by effects which could be compared to smell.” (p. 125) Thus this passage speaks of effects which can be compared with smell. Dessoir finds it necessary to alter it to: “The clairvoyant experiences these conditions even today through a super-sensible perception which is akin to smell.” (p. 258) In other words he turns a clear statement into nonsense, and then proceeds to criticize his own nonsense. Nor is it said by me that processes of nutrition and excretion begin on Saturn through the Angeloi. What I do say is that by the time the Angeloi appeared, processes of nutrition and excretion took place on Saturn. What is indicated is simultaneity; the Angeloi appear, and processes of nutrition and excretion begin. That these come about through the Angeloi is Dessoir's version.
Later he says: “The Christ or Sun-man taught seven great teachers.” I have not been able to find to what that sentence is supposed to refer. In Occult Science it is clearly stated that the Sun humanity experienced the Christ as the higher “I” (p. 191) which is obviously something quite different than saying “the Christ or Sun-man.” Dessoir presents things at times with great cunning. One gets the impression that his superficiality is deliberate, and he comes close to being slanderous. For example, he remembers that I speak about forces at work in the formation of the brain during early childhood. You will find descriptions of this in certain lectures with which Dessoir is slightly acquainted; these lectures are published under the title The Spiritual Guidance of Man. 8 Rudolf Steiner, The Spiritual Guidance of Man (Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1976), p. 22. I describe that if one later remembers how all the wonderful wisdom which later arises in the brain could have been produced by one's own cleverness, then one comes to see how wisdom works from the unconscious in man during the first three years of childhood. The ingenious Max Dessoir, professor at Berlin University, quotes that as follows:
Particularly a person who has learned wisdom himself — this Rudolf Steiner confesses — will say: When I was a child I worked on myself with forces that entered me from the spiritual world, and what I am now able to give of the best within me must also stem from higher worlds. I cannot regard it as belonging to my ordinary consciousness. (p. 260)
Thus Dessoir gives the reader the impression that I maintain that everything I say is of my own making. Let us turn to The Spiritual Guidance of Man. There we read:
The idea thus gained of the guidance of humanity may be extended in many directions. Let us suppose that a man finds disciples — a few people who follow him. Such a one will soon become aware, through genuine self-knowledge, that the very fact of his finding disciples gives him the feeling that what he has to say does not originate with himself. The case is rather this — that spiritual powers in higher worlds wish to communicate with the disciples, and find in the teacher the fitting instrument for their manifestation.
The thought will suggest itself to such a man: when I was a child I worked on myself by the aid of forces proceeding from the spiritual world, and what I am now able to give, of my best, must also proceed from higher worlds; I may not look upon it as belonging to my ordinary consciousness. (p. 22)
That is the passage quoted by Dessoir. My continuation reads as follows:
Such a man may in fact say: something demonic, something like a “daimon” — using the word in the sense of a good spiritual power — is working out of a spiritual world through me on my disciples. Socrates felt something of this kind. (p. 22)
Thus the whole passage refers to Socrates. Max Dessoir, in bad taste — not to use stronger words — not only distorts completely what is said, but adds the following:
Because a certain individual possesses superior knowledge it is assumed that he is connected through tubes or wires to a spiritual world, thought of in materialistic terms. The objective spirit of which Hegel speaks is transformed into clusters of demons while a muddled religious thinking conjures up all kinds of phantoms. (p. 260)
Dessoir should read the chapter on Hegel in my Riddles of Philosophy, then he would have to recognize that what I say about daimons **Daimon (Greek) = “Deity” refers to Socrates, who used the term. 9 Steiner, Riddles of Philosophy, ibid. In the Riddles of Philosophy I emphasize that it could never be used with reference to Hegel. I shall show why in this particular case Professor Dessoir is especially tactless. What he says amounts to slander even if it originates in superficiality mixed with all kinds of antagonistic feelings.
It is truly amazing that such distorted ideas can take hold of the brain of a modern professor. For example, I describe imaginative knowledge, which is experienced pictorially, as the first stage of super-sensible knowledge; just as one gains knowledge of physical things through abstract, shadow-like concepts, so one gains knowledge of facts belonging to higher worlds through imaginative knowledge. What Professor Dessoir makes of this is not very clear. When he reads that knowledge is gained by means of symbols, he thinks that the facts themselves are symbols. That is why he says earlier that: “Ancient India is not the present India, for generally all geological, astronomical and historical designations are to be understood symbolically.” (p. 258)
No one would think it possible for a sensible person to gain the impression from the description in Occult Science that ancient India is to be understood symbolically even though the concept does not coincide with that of modern India. Because he reads that imaginative knowledge, the first stage of higher knowledge, is symbolic he thinks that ancient India, the object of that knowledge, is itself only a symbol. This belief leads him to write, “Steiner has worked out a primordial past of earth evolution which for some reason he calls the Lemurian epoch and places it in a country that was situated between Australia and India. (Thus a concrete place, not a symbol).” (p. 261)
Thus you see that Dessoir presumes that the land of Lemuria is only meant allegorically and blames me as he finds it particularly offensive that I speak of it as real. So here he is not only superficial but stupid, though he regards himself especially clever when he ends by saying:
There are in these descriptions strange contradictions though also apparent logic. There is contradiction in saying that real facts and their mutual connections have evolved out of something merely visualized and symbolic. (p. 263)
So according to Dessoir, when knowledge is pictorial, it can depict only pictures, and he finds it contradictory that it depicts reality. Imagine if a painter found it contradictory that his painting depicted reality and confused the one with the other. In this case his superficiality amounts to stupidity.
This is an example of how the modern world presents anthroposophy. This fat book, written by a university professor, will naturally be widely read and discussed. People will read the chapter on anthroposophy and will of course not realize that what they are reading is a caricature. The announcement appearing in all the periodicals will most likely make them think that the matter has been justly dealt with. Such book announcements are usually composed by people close to the author. This particular one states that
... the book deals with cabbalistic methodology, manifest not just in the actual cabbala, but also in Freudian psychoanalysis, in the unproductive cleverness of certain exponents on Faust, and also in theoretical speculations concerning Shakespeare and Bacon. All these secondary sciences are analyzed, their shallowness revealed. The false doctrines of Guido von List and of Rudolf Steiner are investigated just as thoroughly and relentlessly, thus throwing light on the obscure and questionable theories of faith healers and Theosophists.
So there you have an example of modern scholarship. That is the way officialdom deals with a subject that seeks to serve truth. At times the superficiality of approach by the likes of Max Dessoir reaches hitherto unscaled heights. In his publication you will find this note: “Compare Rudolf Steiner's Occult Science, fifth edition, Leipzig 1913. I have in addition consulted a long list of his other publications.” (p. 254)
I have shown — and my philological training stood me in good stead—that Max Dessoir knows none of my writings except Occult Science, The Spiritual Guidance of Man and “The Occult Significance of Blood.” He has never read Riddles of Philosophy, to mention just one book. The long list of publications, apart from Occult Science, that he mentions consists of the two I have named. He continues: “Steiner's first production, The Philosophy of Freedom (Berlin 1894) is merely a prelude to the actual doctrine” (p. 254). First production! My first book was published in 1883, some eleven years before this so-called first production. That is the kind of thing one is up against.
I shall, of course, write a brochure about this chapter, and also about the rest of Dessoir's book. That must be done because it is a question of putting on record for once the glaring superficiality of a so-called learned publication by demonstrating it. One must formally show that the man is incapable of observing even rudimentary standards of propriety. Nor is it a simple matter of refuting sentence by sentence what is said; before that all the distortions must be demonstrated. Dessoir actually sets the pattern for his whole approach to the subject in his opening remarks. I am aware that of course no one will find anything wrong with those remarks. He says: “Dr. Rudolf Steiner is an altogether strange personality. He comes from Hungary where he was born on the 27th of February 1861, and has arrived in Weimar via Vienna.” (p. 254)
Well, the only time I have spent in Hungary was the first eighteen months of my life. I do not actually “come” from Hungary but from Lower Austria and I descend from an old German family. My father was an official on the Southern Austrian railway, operating between Wiener-Neustadt and Gross-Kanizsa which at that time was part of Cisleithania. He was employed at a station on the Hungarian line, at Kraljevec where I happened to be born and where I lived for eighteen months. In Kürschner 10Kürschner is the name of the German publishing house that has been publishing an annually updated encyclopedia of literature, philosophy, and literary history with writers' names, dates of birth, etc. since 1873. This encyclopedia is generally known by the name of its publisher as “Kürschner.” it naturally reads: “born in Hungary,” and that is Dessoir's source of information. I know that people who are always ready to excuse lack of conscientiousness will say: Well, how could the man know otherwise when it is printed in Kürschner. However, a German professor of philosophy should not have such an easygoing attitude. It is true that Kürschner gives the place of birth, but it is well known that someone can be born in one place but originate from quite another. Nowadays that often happens as people are becoming more and more intermingled.
I mentioned that Max Dessoir is acquainted with the lecture “The Occult Significance of Blood.” His quotations from it are quite ingenious. If you look at that lecture, you will find that I proceed with the greatest caution when I explain how things were in earlier times. One of the things I explain is how the blood used to affect man's memory to a much greater extent. I emphasize that these things are difficult to describe; often one can make only approximate comparisons. Needless to say Max Dessoir completely ignores these introductory remarks. If you look up the passages to which he refers in “The Occult Significance of Blood,” you will see with what care and caution everything is described. But Max Dessoir deliberately quotes so as to give the maximum adverse impression. He first remarks: “The astral body is supposed to come to expression partly in the sympathetic nervous system, partly in the spinal cord and brain.” (p. 261) He then quotes this sentence: “The blood absorbs the pictures coming from the external world and made inward through the brain.” He then remarks further: “This colossal disdain for everything factual is combined with the equally unprovable and incomprehensible assertion that prehistoric man remembered, in the pictures received by his blood, not only his own but his ancestors' experiences.” (p. 261)
It is inexcusable to hoax the reader by abbreviating what has been explained with great care in such a way that it is rendered meaningless. This hoax is particularly damaging as it presents things in a defamatory way. Yet what is the good professor quoting? Simply the fact that what is inherited from his forebears through the blood man experienced under earlier and different conditions as memory. This Max Dessoir finds particularly objectionable; yet I would like to draw your attention to one of Dessoir's own assertions which is most interesting. He explains how it comes about that very ancient views still persist, views such as those held by superstitious country folk, by faith healers, or by Guido von List and anthroposophists. This he attempts to explain by saying:
Already from such examples can the conclusion be drawn that primitive thought forms continue to live in occult research. Admittedly this theory of a residue does not in itself provide a conclusive refutation of occultism. The truths grasped in the youth of a people could have become lost from our cultural field, but this is refuted by the facts drawn on for support. And a memory of primitive man's thoughts and views would explain why modern man has difficulty in freeing himself from them. After all, our blood has run through our veins for many centuries. Its pulsebeat is not always regular; it often becomes arhythmical as it once was. (p. 11)
In other words, when Dessoir finds in anthroposophy that our ancestors' blood runs in our veins and constitutes a kind of memory, then that is a matter for ridicule, but when he himself finds the idea useful, then it is acceptable! This is typical of Max Dessoir, Professor at Berlin University.
Those acquainted with my writings on Goethe will know of a strange book which I have always emphatically rejected, Sphinx locuta est by F.A. Louvier. 11Ferdinand August Louvier, Sphinx Locuta est. Goethe's “Faust” und die Resultate einer rationellen Methode der Forschung. 2 volumes, Berlin, 1884, p. 122. It is a dreadful book which sets out to explain Goethe's Faust by means of cabbalism. Dessoir speaks first about cabbalism itself; what he says about it would lead us too far as he does not understand it at all. In dealing with modern cabbalism he brings up Louvier's Sphinx locuta est which contains juicy bits for him to get his teeth into. This is what he has to say:
Spiritual forces appear in various places as allegoric figures. The earth spirit — truly the most obscure figure — is the spirit of the whole Faust plane (for earth represents “plane” or “glade”). Gretchen represents naivety, the black poodle negative proof and so on. With this in mind let us look at the scene: ‘At the Gates.’ When Faust symbolizes speculating reason, he resides in the head. Thus the brain represents the city and the dark cavern of the gate represents a mouth from which come audible utterances of the spirits escaping into the open. These are represented by various strollers, but not heard at this point; they are described in detail in the second part as the harbinger's wand. The poem as such is represented by soldiers. The castle (seat of thought) and maidens (feelings) must yield to the poem (soldiers). The trumpets (tones) in the poem are sounded to indicate both joy and destruction ... The middle class girl (Agathe) represents folksong, and the beloved, one of the soldiers, unites with the folksong (Agathe); thus words and song form a pair ... At the side of the folk-song (Agathe) appears a ‘Student’ representing the ballad called curly head, and with them a second student representing the refrain ... Apart from the figures already mentioned there also appear the following audible utterings coming from the gate (mouth): request, command, distortion, chatter, consent, quarrel, question, politics, promise and apology. (p. 222)
Thus Louvier, who sees the whole Kantian philosophy represented in
Goethe's Faust, provides Dessoir with plenty to make fun of.
Dessoir goes on to ridicule Edwin Bormann and his Shakespeare-Bacon
Bormann, 1851–1912, Der historische Beweis der
Bacon-Shakespeare Theorie, 1897. demonstrating what
nonsense they have produced by means of cabbalism. He then cites, in
very bad taste, three poems by Stefan George. 13Stefan George,
1868–1933, German poet. 14Steiner quotes Dessoir's comparison of these poems
in order to criticize Dessoir's-method. The complete text, deleted in
the text, is included here:
Then he goes on to Stefan George. Here he has the tasteful style of characterizing Stefan George by quoting three of his poems. It is not necessary to go into all of that. It would take an hour to demonstrate Max Dessoir's distortions to you completely; but we will go into one of them, where he compares three poems. It is not necessary to be a fan of these poems, but I want to show you the system Max Dessoir uses. So, please, don't take it as if I were a proponent of Werfel's poems—that is not the point here.
Entrückter, leichter Himmel fiber dem Ort!
Du weißt von der Seebader goldenen Fetzen.
Du weißt von Prinzen
Und herbstlichem Halali.
Zuckt von den Schultern
Das letzte Netz,
Den Schatten werfet auf mich,
Hier sitze ich
Und lese den iibermiitigen
Namen im Stein.
Nun bist du bei meiner Großmutter, Kind,
O unterirdisches Fest,
Das niemand denken will!
As I said, one could hold something against this poem; but Dessoir has the tasteful touch, and compares it with the following poem. This, which I will now read, is the first of the poems:
Der blasse Adelknabe spricht:
Du Dunkelheit, aus der ich stamme?
Ich glaube an alles noch nie Gesagte,
Ich bin auf der Welt zu allein and doch nicht allein genug.
Du siehst, ich will viel!
Wir bauen an dir mit zitternden Handen.
That is the first poem; then comes Werfel's poem, then comes the third. That I will also read now:
Vielleicht, da ich durch schwere Berge gehe—
Du Berg, der blieb, da die Gebirge kamen,
Mach mich zum Wachter deiner Weiten,
Denn, Herr, die großen Stadte sind:
Da leben Menschen, weiß erbliihte, blasse,
O Herr, gib jedem semen eignen Tod!
Herr, wir sind armer denn die armen Tiere,
Mach' Einen Herrlich, Herr, mach' Einen groß
Das letzte Zeichen laß an uns geschehen
The middle poem, that I read to you first, is really Werfel's; but to interpret it Dessoir tastefully takes a volume of Rilke's poems, and does not quote them as written but includes only their first lines as they stand in the table of contents! He makes poems by putting their first lines together, and compares them with Werfel's poem. That is the tasteful way in which he tries to characterize modern verse. He wants to say: Werfel's poem also arises, if one takes the first lines of Rilke's Stundenbuch (Prayer-Book) and writes them consecutively to construct a poem. That is how he does it.
Franz Werfel, 1890–1945, Austrian poet.
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875–1926, German poet. After that he brings up race-mysticism as expounded by Guido von List. 15Guido von List, 1848–1919, Carnuntum, historischer Roman aus dem vierten Jahrhundert nach Christus, 2 volumes, Berlin, 1889. I knew Guido von List when he was still a reasonable person and had written his novel Carnuntum. But our only connection was when he sent me an essay in the early 1880s when I was still publishing Lucifer Gnosis. 16Luzifer-Gnosis: a periodical edited by Rudolf Steiner from 1903–1908. Essays which he wrote for the journal may be found in Luzifer-Gnosis, GA 34, Dornach, and in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment (Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1985). I returned the essay, as it was amateurish and quite unsuitable.
Dessoir goes on to speak about Christian Science. You know how much connection I have had with that! My relation to Christian Science can be summed up in the few words I usually said, when asked about it, after public lectures. Dessoir uses similar words as his own, but you know it is what I have always answered to questions about Christian Science, It is utterly materialistic; furthermore, this so-called Christian Science has no right to call itself Christian. Dessoir says:
For it is clear that the whole teaching is irreconcilable with the spirit of Christianity; a teacher that wants to eradicate all suffering cannot take the Gospels as precedent. Christianity proclaims with awesome solemnity the truth that sin and pain necessarily belong to human nature. These are not illusions of imperfect human reasoning, but facts. Hence the need for God's mercy and the sacrificial death of Jesus. Christian Science is not Christian. (243)
He goes on to describe the theosophical movement as neo-Buddhistic. Well, I could write a book about spiritualism and, based on Dessoir's own descriptions of how he has attended all kinds of spiritualistic meetings, devote a chapter to Max Dessoir, linking him with spiritualism. That would be as justifiable as the way he here links anthroposophy with theosophy, especially in the following tasteless passage:
The occult researcher of this “universal brotherhood” opposes violently the modern or pseudo-theosophists, by whom are meant the anthroposophists rallying round their master Rudolf Steiner. However, their opposition shall not prevent us from looking into this movement as well. (p. 240)
Another thing that must be pointed out is Dessoir's unscrupulous mixing things together so that they become related to issues with which they have nothing to do, as is done throughout a book. For example, you find the following:
There is always a danger that such societies could wield a certain influence especially in our uncertain times. One consolation is that race-mystics, faith healers and theosophists mutually despise and fight one another. (p. 240)
I ask you, my dear friends, have I ever fought anyone unless I was first attacked? What is said here is an example of the untruthfulness that permeates the book. You can test for yourself whether any of those mentioned have been attacked by me. Race-mysticism I have never opposed because I consider it too silly to be worth the effort. I have never said anything about faith healing except what is conveyed by the two passages just mentioned.
Dessoir is certainly a special case. I cannot today go into all the things he maintains to have experienced in various spiritualist sessions. These experiences have enabled Dessoir to write a book which is simply an elaboration of all kinds of sensations. The question is how a person comes to write a book that is really quite mad. Going through the remaining chapters one comes to the sad conclusion that the man, who is supposed to be a specialist writing about his special subject, knows nothing about it. How can a professor of philosophy such as Max Dessoir come to write a passage like the following:
A musically cultivated person will succeed at every moment, during an opera, to grasp as a unity: the text, the music — which itself is highly complex — and the acting, despite the fact that these three components may be quite independent of one another (p. 35).
Someone with any knowledge of what Aristotle, for example, says about the collaboration between the senses in the normal human being could not deliver such verbiage. So it amounts to this, that a university professor, supposedly a specialist in his field, has not read let alone studied even the simpler aspects of his subject. It is truly astounding.
Here among ourselves we can for once discuss these things freely. I shall of course be completely objective in my official refutation. I shall point objectively to the facts and refrain from using the sharp words I have employed today. It must be put to the test whether there are still people who at least become indignant when their attention is forcibly drawn to such a “cultural” publication.
Dessoir brings up another peculiar matter. He speaks about consciousness; there exists, he says, a “borderline,” even a “surface area” of consciousness. To illustrate it he comes up with the following:
Let us resort again to an easily understandable picture: from the centre of the circle [he means the circle of consciousness] “... a complex of ideas slide to the periphery and become engulfed, yet remain partially definite and coherent. To give an example: when I lecture on familiar subjects there can come into that region incidental thoughts and ideas, so that one's attention is drawn to other things. Nevertheless I continue speaking without conscious participation, as it were, in what I am saying. It has happened that I have become surprised by a sudden quiet in the hall, and have to make clear to myself that it is because I have stopped speaking! Thus habitual opinions and trains of thought can be continued “unconsciously” especially when they, as it were, move along not very vividly, while the speech connected with them, likewise continues without difficulty along well practiced paths (p. 34).
Well, I might have known! I am quite sure that not even in this circle have I ever continued speaking without being conscious of doing so, and participating in what I was saying. Dessoir's statement really amounts to an extraordinary self-revelation. One wonders to whom else this condition applies, but that I shall not pursue. He obviously considers it applies to everybody. As he at times gives lectures without participating in what he is saying, one can perhaps assume that he also continues to write page after page without participating in what he is writing—that would indeed explain a few things. But in fact the whole book appears to have been written in a state of semi-consciousness. Perhaps the professor wrote it in a kind of trance and that is the explanation for the insidious superficiality.
When one is committed to establishing a spiritual movement in the modern world, one certainly meets with things that are neither easy to bear nor to deal with. I found it necessary today to draw your attention to two of the ways in which anthroposophy is received. On the one hand I wanted to give a brief description of how someone who takes only a few steps in the right direction moves toward anthroposophy. On the other hand I wanted to show-how anthroposophy is dealt with by those who are officially appointed to represent scientific and philosophical viewpoints and are consequently taken seriously. Well, anthroposophy will struggle through on its own. But let us be clear that in a man like Max Dessoir we are dealing with someone who, apart from being utterly superficial, is also rather ridiculous.
After this digression I hope next time we can proceed and enter more deeply into our present considerations.