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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Anthroposophy and Science
GA 324

Lecture II

17 March 1921, Stuttgart

I pointed out yesterday in my introductory lecture that we can observe a transition from the ordinary knowledge of the world around us to mathematical knowledge, and that this is the beginning of a path of knowledge. This path when continued will lead to an understanding of the spiritual scientific method, as we mean it here, and ultimately to acceptance of it. It will be my special effort in these lectures to characterize the spiritual scientific method in such a way as to completely justify it. To accomplish this task will take the remaining seven lectures.

Today, once again, I would like to consider in greater depth the first stage. I would like to place before you today something which as normal scientific thinking appears here and there in fragments. As these fragments are not always found in the same place and are not seen as a whole, we have the situation that it is not possible to rise in a methodical way from a science that is free of mathematics to one that includes it. We will also have difficultly following in an entirely methodical way the transition from a mathematical penetration of the objective world to a spiritual-scientific penetration into reality. I shall also, as I have already mentioned, try to reach this last phase in a methodical way. We will start today by observing the human being as he experiences himself when he looks at the outer world.

You will know from my lectures, also my book Riddles of the Soul,1See The Case for Anthroposophy, Anthroposophic Press. that one cannot reach a comprehensive observation of man without splitting the entire human organization into three distinctly different members. Naturally we have eventually to deal with the complete human being. This complete man is however a most complicated organism and its members have a certain independence. Finally we will see how what is contained independently in these members combines into a whole.

First we have to look at what I have named in Riddles of the Soul as the nerve-sense man: The member of the human organism that has its primary expression in the head, although from there it extends over the entire organism. Despite this extension we can clearly differentiate this member from the rest of the organism. This physical member is the mediator of our conceptual life. As human beings we make mental pictures and we are able to take the life of these mental pictures to ourselves through our sense organs. From the senses it flows toward our inner organism.

The way we are connected with our life of feeling is similar to the way our mental pictures are related to our nervous system. The present-day psychological approach to these things is quite inexact. Our feeling life is not directly connected to our nerve-sense system, only indirectly. It is directly connected to what we call the rhythmic system in the human organism, consisting mainly of breathing, pulse, and blood circulation. The mistaken idea that the life of feeling, as part of the soul life, is directly connected to our nervous system originates from the fact that what we experience as feeling is always accompanied by mental pictures. The physical expression of this is that the rhythmic system is connected throughout the organism with the nerve-sense system. The fact that our life of feeling is always accompanied by a mental picture of some kind is related organically to the fact that the rhythmic system works back onto the nervous system. This can give the appearance that the life of feeling is directly connected to the nerve-sense system. I have pointed out in Riddles of the Soul that if one studies what occurs in us when we listen to music, one can see the relationship correctly between feeling and the forming of mental pictures.

Besides these two systems, the nerve-sense system which provides the mental image, and the rhythmic System which mediates the life of feeling, we have the metabolic system. Every function of the human organism is contained in these three systems. The metabolic system is the expression of the will, and the real connection between willing and the human organism will become clear only if you study how a metabolic transformative action comes about in us when there is an act of will or even an impulse of will. Every metabolic activity is consciously or unconsciously the physical basis of some act of will or impulse of will. Our capacity for movement is also connected with our will activity and therefore is connected with some kind of metabolic activity. One must be clear about the fact that when we complete a movement in space, this is a primitive activity of the will. To use a saying of Goethe, the “ur-phenomenal” activity of the will can be seen as expressed by the physical transformations that occur in the organism. And, as in the case of feeling, the will activities are indirectly connected with the nerve-sense system through our following our will activities with mental pictures. So we can say, to start with, that our soul life and also our physical life can be divided in three ways organically as well as into three soul aspects.

Let us try today to look at man from a certain point of view so that we may see how these three members of our physical organism and our soul organization relate to one another. We must also go into some detail to achieve our task of showing that spiritual science is a continuation of the familiar scientific way of considering things. First of all, let us consider what I have named the nerve-sense organism. This nerve-sense organism is contained mainly in the head, as I have already mentioned, but from there it extends over the rest of the organism, in a certain way impregnating it. This is not obvious if one looks at just the outer form of a human being, but it does in fact extend inwardly through the whole organism. Take the sense of warmth as an example, which extends over the entire organism. This can be seen as a part of our nerve-sense organization that for the most part is concentrated in the head, in the life of the senses, and yet is extended over the whole organism, making the whole human being into a kind of head in regard to this particular sense of warmth.

For most people it is distasteful nowadays to try to understand this kind of problem. Because we have become so used to an outer way of considering things, the three members of the human organism are considered spatially, as separate from one another. There is a professor of anatomy who takes this view, who has asserted that anthroposophy separates the human organism spatially into head system, chest system, and abdominal system. This is clearly erroneous. It is of course not what we have said; we wish to approach these things precisely, not in dilettante fashion. One must know these things correctly, especially if one also wants to understand how three elements flow into one another and compose the threefold social organism.

To begin with it is empirically evident that it is the head organization that has most to do with cognition, at least mathematical cognition, as it approaches man in the outer world. In relation to this head organizatiion we can now empirically establish that what we can call “dimensionality” confronts us initially as a kind of intimation. You will see best what I mean if we consider the three modes of human activity.

The first of these I would like to call the total act of seeing, observation of the world with our own two eyes. Secondly, I would mention man's arms and hands. Even though they are attached to man's trunk and are therefore in a certain way connected with the metabolic system, they also have an inner relationship to the rhythmic system. Through their attachment near the rhythmic system, they are influenced by the life and functioning of this system. The fact that they are located beside the rhythmic system, which is more hidden, allows them to reveal the nature of what would normally be hidden. Please listen carefully; I repeat: The arms and hands, because of their specific location on the human body and through their life functions, can be seen as belonging to the rhythmic system. The most obvious demonstration of this connection is the way they are used freely in gestures to express feelings. When they are used in this way, they are lifted to a higher function than serving merely the body. In the case of animals, the corresponding members, the legs, are used only to serve the body, but in human beings the arms are freed for a higher function. Through the fact that they are used for gestures in connection with speech, they have the higher function of making the invisible aspects of speech visible.

Figure 1

The third mode is the activity of walking, an activity primarily of the limb system. Let us consider the activities of seeing, arm movement, and walking from a scientific point of view. In general, what you see with both eyes presents itself to you in two dimensions and these dimensions are independent of any mental activity. I can represent these two dimensions by these perpendicular coordinates. I will draw these as dotted lines for the purpose of later references I wish to make. With these dotted lines representing two dimensions, I want to express the fact that our mental activity of comprehension is not really involved when we look only at these two dimensions.

The third dimension is in sharp contrast to this. The third dimension of depth does not stand ready-made before our soul independent of any mental activity. It confronts us as something we undergo as an inner operation of the mind when we supplement what we normally see as the surface of things with the depth dimension and thus obtain a three-dimensional body. Roughly speaking, what we actually do in this case is not brought to consciousness. But when we enter into the activity more precisely, we see that one experiences the depth dimension in a different way from width and height dimensions. We can become aware, for instance, how we are able to guess how distant something is from us. In ordinary observation something is added to the mere observation of the eyes when we progress from a surface-picture consciousness to a full-bodied three-dimensional consciousness. So long as we remain within our consciousness, we cannot say how height perception and width perception are achieved. We simply have to accept the height and width dimensions; for the activity of seeing they are simply given. This is not true of the depth dimension. For this reason I will draw it in perspective; I will draw a solid line to represent the difference. In this third dimension of depth, we are able to have the act of perceiving enter our consciousness in a slightly conscious way. Thus we recognize when we examine the act of seeing, that the height and width dimensions are given to us purely in thought; that is, if we penetrate the act of seeing with our thoughts. The depth dimension, however, is based an an activation of consciousness, a kind of half-conscious mental operation. Therefore, what you may already have heard as the physiological and anatomical interpretation of the total act of seeing must be accepted only in reference to the physical components of the act of seeing, to that aspect which does not involve an operation of the mind; only the perception of surface can be attributed to the act of seeing. In contrast, when considering the depth dimension, it is not sufficient to merely consider the activity of the corpora quadrigemina, the organ in the human body upon which the visualizing activity of the eyes depends, the bodily aspect of seeing—here the cerebrum must serve a mediating function, the cerebrum being that part of the brain to which are attributed the anatomical-physiological aspects of the volitional operation of the intellect.

Thus we can grasp this depth dimension when we examine it carefully, using both analytical and synthetic means. The matter of depth perception belongs into the realm of what I would like to call “conscious activation through the human head.”

When we turn our attention from the act of seeing to that activity which may be seen externally through the movement of the arms and hands, we immerse ourselves in an element that is very difficult to grasp consciously. Even so, we can follow what takes place in our life of feeling when we gesture with our arms and hands, which are free for this kind of activity, and we can become aware of the way this action is related to depth perception with our two eyes. What is it really that depth perception mediates to us? It is the exact position of the left and the right eye. It is the convergence of the left axis and right axis of sight. The mental judgment of the distance of some object from us depends upon the distance at which the lines of sight cross each other. Very little of this convergence activity of the eyes lying at the basis of the judgment of depth is outwardly perceptible.

When we turn to the activity of our arms and hands, we find we are able to distinguish more exactly, with little effort of consciousness, what is happening inwardly when we move our arms in the horizontal plane, in the dimension of right-left, in the width dimension. If we look carefully, our judgment in relation to the width dimension is connected with the feeling we have when we consciously move our arms in a horizontal gesture expressing how wide something is. We have a feeling experience of what we call symmetry. This experience takes place particularly in the width dimension, through the feeling that is mediated to us through our left and right arm movements. Through the corresponding movements of our left and right arms we can actually feel our own symmetry. Our grasping in feeling of the width dimension is translated for us chiefly through the medium of symmetry into mental pictures, and we then also evaluate symmetry in our mental life. But we must not overlook the fact that this judging of the symmetry of the width dimension is something secondary: If we only looked at the symmetry without having the accompanying feelings that correspond to the symmetrical aspects of left and right, our experience would be pale, dry and wanting in its full reality. You can understand all that symmetry shows us if you can feel the symmetry. But you can really only feel the symmetry through the delicate process of becoming conscious of the fact that the movements of the left and right arms belong together, and in the same way the movements of the hands belong together. What we experience in feeling thus supports everything we can experience in relation to the width dimension.

Figure 2

But also what we have called the depth dimension in relation to the act of seeing enters our consciousness through something to be found in the activity of our arms. The way the axes of our vision intersect is similar to the way our arms can intersect. When our arms intersect, we have a certain equivalent to the act of seeing. When we cross our arms, first close to us and then farther away, if we follow the points of intersection we can get a sense of depth dimension by trying to experience what is going on in our arms. In these moments we don't experience the width dimension as fully as we do—with no effort on our part—in the act of seeing. But if I would represent symbolically what is expressed in relation to the dimensions by the arms and hands, I would have to sketch the width dimension and the depth dimension as full lines and the height dimension as a dotted line. That is all that I can experience through my arms. The height dimension remains unconscious to us when we make gestures, because we connect our gestures consciously with a surface which is made up of depth and width dimensions.

When does the third dimension show itself in a distinct, conscious way? Actually, it only appears to our consciousness in the act of walking. When we move from one place to another, then the line which is this third, vertical dimension changes continually, and although our consciousness of this third dimension while we walk is almost imperceptible, we must not overlook it. In fact, the half-conscious intellectual awareness we can experience is related to this height dimension.

Figure 3
Certainly in our casual outer consciousness we don't take into account the changes in position of this line representing the height dimension. But in general when we walk and exercise this walking as an act of will, we continually reestablish the line. We have to say: The delicate consciousness of what is happening in the third dimension when we walk is similar in kind to the delicate consciousness of depth in our act of seeing. If I want now to draw the dimensional aspect of what happens in the activity of the body through the legs and feet, we can say: In the act of walking we can experience an intellectual awareness of activity going on in all three dimensions. So I have to draw the act of walking with three full lines.

Therefore, when we examine the act of seeing, which obviously belongs to the head organization, we realize that in the act of seeing there is given ready-made a two-dimensional activity, and in addition we must establish an activity that creates the third dimension—depth. In the action which we have described as representative of the rhythmic system, namely, the free movement of the arms and hands, we can have an inner experience of two spatial dimensions. The third spatial dimension—height—is given to our consciousness in the same way that width and breadth are given for the head organization in the act of seeing. Only in the metabolic-limb system (the connection between these two is only recognized when we study the metabolic activity in the act of walking) is everything open to our consciousness that gives us the full measure of three dimensions.

If you consider the following, you will have something extraordinarily important. The only content of our fully alert consciousness is the life of mental pictures. In contrast to this, our life of feeling does not come into our consciousness with the same clarity. As we shall see later, our feelings by themselves have no greater intensity in our consciousness than our dreams. Dreams are rendered from the clear content of daily life, from the fully alert life of mental pictures; in this way they become distinct mental pictures in our consciousness. In the same way, our feelings in daily life are continually accompanied by the mental pictures representing them during our waking hours. In this way our feelings, which otherwise only possess the intensity of dream life, are brought to the distinct, fully conscious life of mental pictures.

The will-movements remain completely in the subconscious. How do we know anything of the will? Basically, in our everyday consciousness we know nothing of the real nature of the will. This is made clear in the psychology of Theodor Ziehen, for instance, who in his Physiological Psychology speaks only of the life of mental pictures or the representational life of the mind. He says: As psychologists we can only follow the life of mental images, but we find certain mental images to be tinged with feeling. The fact that the life of feeling, as I explained to you just now, is bound up with the rhythmic system and only shines up into the life of mental pictures, this is unknown to Theodor Ziehen. In his view, feelings are only an aspect of the life of mental pictures. This psychologist simply has no insight into the actual organization of the human being, which I have now to describe to you.

Because feelings are bound up with the rhythmic system, they remain in the half-conscious realm of dreaming. And the will activity remains completely unconscious. That's the reason why the average psychologist does not write about it. Just read Theodor Ziehen's strange explanations concerning the activity of the will, and you will see that its real nature is completely missed by such psychologists.

When we observe the result of an act of will, this is only something we are able to look at externally. We do not know what has happened inwardly when a will impulse moves our arm. We only see the arm move; that is, we observe the outer happening afterward. Thus we accompany the manifestations of our will with mental images; they are mediated organically through the metabolic system and the limb system related to it. So it is only in part of the human organism, in the metabolic system—which is the bodily aspect of the soul's will activity—that we experience the reality of all three dimensions of space. In our ordinary process of knowing the reality of the three dimensions cannot be grasped. It cannot be grasped, as we will see, until we are able to look with the same clarity into our will activity as we normally do into our mental activity. It cannot come about in our ordinary way of knowing but only with spiritual-scientific knowledge. It is through the activation of the entire man, of the entire limb-and-metabolic system, that our subconscious experience of the three dimensions comes about. What happens is that what is contained in the metabolic-limb system is lifted into the rhythmic system. There it is experienced in its two-dimensional aspect, not in its total reality. When experienced in two dimensions, the height dimension has already become abstract. Only in the subconscious do we normally experience the height dimension.

You can see how reality becomes an abstraction in the human organization through the human activity itself. In the working of the human organization, the height or vertical dimension already becomes an abstraction, appearing as a mere line, a mere thought in the region of the rhythmic system. Following this up into the nerve-sense system, what occurs? Both height and width become abstraction. We can no longer experience them; they can only be thought by the intellect as we approach the subject afterward. So in the head, the region of our ordinary knowledge, we only have the possibility of expressing the two dimensions abstractly. It is only the depth dimension for which we still have a faint consciousness in the head. So you can see, it is only due to a delicate perception of the depth dimension that we are able to know anything at all in our normal consciousness of the spatial dimensions. Please now consider: With our present constitution, what if depth perception should become equally abstract? Then we would be left with just three abstract lines—and it would never even occur to us to search for the realities represented by those abstract lines.

In this way I have pointed you toward reality. In Kantianism this reality appears in an unreal form. Kantianism speaks of the three dimensions being contained a priori in the human organization, and of the human organization transposing its subjective experience out into space. How is it that Kant came to this one-sided view? He arrived at this because he did not know that what is brought into consciousness in the delicate experience of the depth dimension, and otherwise abstractly, is experienced in its reality in our subconscious. As it is pushed up into consciousness, it is made into an abstraction, with only a small remainder in the case of depth dimension. We experience the reality of the three dimensions through our individual human organization. The reality is present in actuality in the realm of the will, and physiologically in the metabolic-limb system. Initially in this system we are unconscious of reality in our ordinary mind, but we become conscious of it, at first in the thought abstractions of mathematical-geometrical space.

With this subject of the three dimensions I wished to give an example of the ways and means by which spiritual science can penetrate human activity. We don't have to remain on the abstract level—where, for example, Kant regards space and time as a priori—but we can progress to a discovery of the concrete aspects of the reality of the human being. I wanted to use this particular example of the actual meaning of space because it will be useful in the future in leading us to an exact understanding of the mathematical facts from all sides. We will speak further of this tomorrow.