Anthroposophy and Science
19 March 1921, Stuttgart
Yesterday I tried to show how, by developing the ability to form imaginative vision, it is possible to gain a different kind of insight into human sense perception than can be gained when we approach it with the logic of the mind. I emphasized especially that this imaginative picturing that lives in the soul — as I said, I will describe its development in due course — has to be built up the way mathematical imagery is built up, the way mathematical constructs are developed, analyzed, and so on.
From this, the rest of what I said will also be clear: how we apply the results of our inner mathematical activity to the outer mineral-physical realm; and how in a similar way we apply our imaginative activity to the human senses. In this way we may know what takes place in those "gulfs" — as I called them yesterday — which the physical sense world sends into the human organism. The fact is that with the development of such an imaginative faculty and of knowledge of the real nature of the senses — of what is mainly the head organization — we also gain something else. We become able, for example, to form mental pictures of the plant kingdom. I indicated this yesterday. When we use only spatial and algebraic mathematics to approach plant growth and plant formation, we do not find that this mathematical form of consciousness is able to penetrate into the plant kingdom as it can penetrate into the mineral kingdom.
When on the other hand we have developed imaginative cognition, at first just inwardly, then we become able to form mental images applicable to the plant kingdom just as we found it possible with the mineral kingdom.
At this point, however, something peculiar appears: we now approach the plant world in such a way that the individual plant appears to us as only part of a great whole. In this way, for the first time we have a clear picture of what the plant nature in the earthly world really is. The picture we receive allows us to see the entire plant kingdom of the earth forming a complete unity with the earth-world. This is given purely empirically to the imaginative view. Of course, with our physical make-up we cannot possibly hold more than part of the earth's plant life in our consciousness. We observe only the plant world of a particular territory. Even if we are botanists, our practical knowledge of the plant world will always remain incomplete in the face of the entire plant world of the earth. This we know by the most simple thought. We know we do not have a whole, we have only part of the whole, something that belongs together with the rest. The impression we have in looking at the partial plant world is very much like being confronted by someone who is completely hidden from view except for a single arm and hand. We know that what is before us is not a complete whole, but just part of a whole, and that this part can only exist by virtue of being connected with the whole. At the same time we arrive at a concept that is completely unlike that of the physicist, mineralogist, or geologist: we see that the forces in the plant world are just as integral a part of the earth as those in the geological realm. Not in the sense of a vague analogy but as a directly perceived truth, the earth becomes a kind of organic being for us — an organic being that has cast off the mineral kingdom in the course of its various stages of development, and has in turn differentiated the plant kingdom.
The thoughts I am developing here for you can, of course, be arrived at very easily by mere analogy, as we see happening in the case of Gustav Theodor Fechner. Such conclusions arrived at by analogy have no value for the spiritual science intended here — what we value is direct perception. For this reason it must always be emphasized that in order to speak of the earth as an organism, for example, one must first speak of imaginative mental pictures. For the earth as an integral being reveals itself only to the imaginative faculty, not to the logical intellect with its analogies.
There is something else that one acquires in this process, and I wish especially to mention it because it would be most useful to students as regards methodology. In present-day discussions on the subject of thinking and also on how we apprehend the world in general, there is a great lack of clarity. Let us take an example. A crystal is held up to view — a cubic salt crystal, for instance — with the idea of illustrating something or other: perhaps something about its relation to human knowledge, its position in nature as a whole, or something similar. Now it could happen that in the same way that the salt cube is used, a single rose is held up for illustration. The person who holds up the rose feels it is acceptable to ascribe objective life to the rose in the same way as to the salt cube. To someone who does not strive for just a kind of formal knowledge, but who aspires to an experience of reality, it is clear that there is a difference. It is clear that the salt cube has an existence within its own limits. The plucked rose, on the other hand, even on its stem is not living its life as a rose. For it cannot develop independently to the same degree (please note the word) as the salt does. It must develop on the rosebush. The whole bush belongs to the development of the rose; separated from the bush, the rose is not quite real. An isolated rose only appears to have life.
I say all this in an effort to be clear. In all observations that we make, we must take care not to theorize about the observations before we have grasped them in their totality. It is only to the entire rosebush that we can attribute an independent existence in the same sense as to the salt cube. When we rise to imaginative mental Images, we acquire the ability to experience reality in a certain completeness.Then what I have just said about the plant world can be accepted. We see it as a whole only if our consciousness is able to apprehend it as a whole, if we can regard everything confronting us separately — all the different families and species — as part of the entire plant organism which covers the earth, or better said, which grows out of the earth.
Thus through imaginative mental images one not only gains understanding of the sense world, one also has important inner experiences of knowledge. I would like to speak of these inner experiences of knowledge in purely empirical terms.
As human beings we are in a position to look back with our ordinary memory to what took place in our waking life, back to a certain year in our childhood; with our power of memory we can call up one or another event in pictorial form out of the stream of our experiences. Still, we are clearly aware that to do this we must exert a distinct effort to raise individual pictures out of the past stream of time. As this imaginative vision develops further, however, we arrive gradually at a point where time takes on the quality of space. This comes about very gradually. It should not be imagined that the results of something like imaginative vision come all at once. It is pointless to think that the acquisition of the imaginative method is easier than the methods employed in the clinic, the observatory, and so on. Both require years of work: one, mental work; the other, inner work in the soul. The result of this inner work is that the individual pictorial experiences join one another. At this point, time — which we usually experience as “running” when we look over the course of our experiences and draw up one or another memory experience — now time, at least to some extent, becomes spatial to us. All that we have lived through in life — almost from birth — comes together in a meaningful memory picture. Through this exertion of imaginative life, of “looking back,” of remembering back, individual moments appear before the soul. These moments are more than a mere remembering. We have a subjective experience of viewing our life lived here on earth. This, as I said, is a practical result of imaginative mental imaging.
What kind of inner experience arises parallel to this inner viewing, this panorama of our experiences? We are quite clear that the strength of our soul which brings these memory pictures to consciousness is related to our ordinary bright, clear power of understanding. It is not itself the power of understanding, but it is related to it.
One can say: What we have been striving to attain — that our consciousness will be illuminated by this imaginative cognition in all our activities as it is in mathematical activity — happens for us when we come to these memory pictures. We have images and we hold them as tightly as we hold the content of our intellect. Thereby we come to a definite kind of self-knowledge, a knowledge of how the power of understanding works. For we do not merely look back at our life: our life presents itself to us in mirror images. It shows itself in such a way that this comparison with a mirror really holds true. We can extend the comparison and speak of understanding reflected images in a mirror by applying optical laws. Similarly, when we come to inner imaginative perceptions, we can recognize the power of the soul that we usually think of as our mental capacity becoming enhanced, so that we experience our intellect creating not only abstract pictures but concrete pictures of our experiences.
At first a kind of subjective difficulty arises, but once we understand it we can proceed. We experience clarity as in mathematics when we experience these pictures. But the feeling of being free — not in a behavioral sense, but in one's intellectual activity — is not present in this kind of imagining. Please do not misunderstand me. The entire imaginative activity is just as voluntary as our ordinary intellectual activity. The difference is that in intellectual activity one always has a subjective experience (I say "experience" because it is more than a mere sensation), one is really in a realm of imagery, a realm that means nothing from the point of view of the outer world. We do not have this feeling in relation to the content of the imaginative world. We have the very definite experience that what we are producing in the form of imaginations is at the same time really there. We find ourselves living and weaving in a reality. To be sure, at first this is a reality which does not have an especially strong grip on us and yet we can really feel it.
What we can gather from this reality, what we become aware of as we think back from our life panorama to the inner activity that created it, acquaints us inwardly, "mathematically," with something that is similar to the formative force of the human being. Just as mathematical mental images match and explain outer physical-mineral reality, so this something coincides with what is contained in the human formative force or growth force. (It also coincides with the formative force of other living beings, but I will not speak of that now.) We begin to see a certain inner relation between something that lives purely in the soul — namely, imagination — and something that weaves through the human being as the force of growth, the force that makes a child grow into an adult, that makes limbs grow larger, that permeates the human being as an organizing power. In short, we experience what is really active in the growth principle of the human being. This insight appears first in one definite area: namely, the nerves. The life panorama and the experiences described in connection with it give us insight at first into the growth principle in the human nerve organism — that is, the creative principle which continues inward in the nerve-sense organism. We receive a mental picture of an imaginative kind that enables us to begin to understand what our sense organs actually represent. This also gives us the possibility of seeing the entire nervous system as a synthetic sense organ that is in the process of becoming, and as embracing the present sense organs. We learn to realize that at birth, though our sense organs are not fully mature, they are complete with regard to their inner forces; this may be evident from the way I spoke about the relation of imagination to the sense world. At the same time we can see that what lives in our nerve organism is permeated by the same force as are the sense organs, but that it is in the process of becoming. It is really one large sense organ in the process of becoming. This image comes to us as a real perception. The different senses as they open outward and continue inward in the nerve organism — during our whole life up to a certain age — are organized by the power we have come to know in imagination.
You see what we are striving to accomplish. We wish to make transparent the forces that work in the human being which would otherwise remain spiritually opaque. For what does the human being know of the way in which these forces are active within him? Something that cannot be mastered by ordinary knowledge, something that can be characterized as ordinarily opaque to the soul and spirit, now begins to be clear. One has the possibility, through a higher kind of qualitative mathematics — if I may use such a phrase — of penetrating the world of the senses and the world of our nerve organism. One might think that when we reach this point we would become arrogant or immodest, but just the contrary, we learn true modesty through knowledge of the human being. For what I have described to you in a very few words is really acquired over a long period of time. For one, the knowledge comes quickly; for another, much more slowly. And often someone who applies the methods of spiritual research with patient inner work is surprised by the extraordinary results. The results that such inner work brings to light, if they are properly described, can be grasped by a healthy human understanding. But to draw these results forth from the recesses of the soul requires persistent and energetic soul work. And what especially teaches us modesty is the recognition that after much hard work, the results of imaginative cognition acquaint us only with our nerve-sense organism. We can realize how shrouded in darkness is the rest of the human organism.
Then, however, to reach beyond mere self-knowledge regarding the nerve-sense system, we must attain a higher level of knowledge. (The word "higher" is of course just a term.) Above all I must emphasize (I will go into it in more detail later) that the attainment of imaginative knowledge is based on meditation — not a confused, but a clear methodically-exercised meditation (to repeat the phrase I used in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment), in which over and over again we set before our soul easily surveyable images. What is essential is that they shall be easy to view as a well-defined whole, not some vague memories, reminiscences or the like. Vague memories would lead us away from a clear mathematical type of experience. Easily pictured mental images are required, and preferably symbolic images, for these are most easily viewed as a whole. The important thing is what we experience in our soul through these images. We seek to bring them into clear consciousness in such a manner that they are like a clear memory image. Thus through voluntary activity mental images we have evoked are taken into our soul in the same way that we take memory images into the soul. In a way, we imitate what happens in our activity of remembering. In remembering, certain experiences are continually being made into pictures. Our aim is to get behind this activity of the human soul; how we do this, I will describe in due course. In our effort to get behind the way remembering takes place, we gain the ability to hold easily-surveyable images in our consciousness (just as we hold memory images) for a certain length of time. As we become used to this activity, we are able to extend the time from a few seconds to minutes. The particular images themselves are of no importance. What is important is that through the effort of holding these self-chosen images, we develop a certain inner power of soul. We can compare the development of the muscles of the arm through exertion to the way certain soul forces are strengthened when mental images (of the kind I have described) are repeatedly held in our consciousness by voluntary effort. The soul must really exert itself to bring this about, and it is this exertion of soul that is crucial. As we practice on the mental images we ourselves have made, something begins to appear in us that is the power of imagination. This power is developed similarly to the power of memory, but it is not to be confused with the power of memory. We will come to see that what we conceive of as imaginations (we have already partly described this) are in fact outer realities, and not just our own experiences as is the case with memory images. That is the basic difference between imaginations and memory images. Memory images reproduce our own experiences in pictorial form, while imaginations, although they arise in the same way as memory images, show through their content that they do not refer merely to our own experiences but can refer to phenomena in the world that are completely objective. So you see, through the further development of the memory capacity, we form the imaginative power of the soul.
And now, just as the power of remembering can be further developed, so it is also possible to develop another capacity. It will seem almost comical to you when I name it — but the further development of this capacity is more difficult than that of memory. In ordinary life there are certain powers by which we remember, but also by which we forget. It seems sometimes that we do not need to exert ourselves in order to forget. But the situation changes when we have developed the power of memory in meditation. For oddly enough, this power to hold onto certain imaginations brings it about that the imaginations want to remain in our consciousness. Once there, they are not so easily got rid of — they assert themselves. This fact is connected with what I said earlier, that in this situation we have to deal with actually dwelling in a reality. The reality makes itself felt; it asserts itself and wishes to remain. We succeeded in forming the power of imagination (in a manner modeled on mathematical thought); now through further exertion we must be able voluntarily to throw these imaginative pictures out of our consciousness. This capacity of the voluntarily developed "enhanced forgetting" must be especially cultivated.
In the forming of these inner cognitive powers — enhanced memory and enhanced forgetting — we must be careful to avoid causing actual harm to the soul. However, just to point out the dangers involved would be like forbidding certain experiments in a laboratory for the reason that something might explode someday. I myself once had a professor of chemistry at the university who had lost an eye while conducting an experiment. Happenings of this nature are of course not a valid reason for preventing the development of certain methods. I think I can correctly say that if all the precautionary measures are applied which I have described in my books regarding the inner development of soul forces, then dangers cannot arise for the soul life. To continue — if we do not develop the capacity to obliterate the imaginative pictures again, then there is a real danger that we could be tethered to what we have given rise to in our meditations. If this happened, we would not be able to go further. The development of enhanced forgetting is really necessary for the next stage.
There is a certain way in which we can help ourselves achieve this enhanced power of forgetting. Perhaps those who are involved in any of the present-day epistemological studies will find this discussion quite dilettante and I am fully aware of all the objections, but I am obliged to present the facts as they happen to be. So — to continue — one can gain help in enhancing the power of forgetting if we further develop, through self-discipline, a quality which appears in ordinary life as the ability to love. Naturally it can be said: love is not a cognitive power, it does not concern knowledge. Perhaps this is true today because of the way cognition is understood. But here it is not a matter of keeping the power of love just as it appears in ordinary life. Here the power to love is to be developed further through work an oneself. We can achieve this by keeping the following in mind.
Is it not so? — living our lives as human beings, we must admit that with each passing year we have actually become a slightly different person. When we compare ourselves at a certain age with what we were, say, ten years earlier — if we are honest — we are sure to find that certain things have changed in the course of time. The content of our soul life has changed — not just the particular form of our thoughts, feelings, or life of will, but the whole make-up of our soul life. We have become a different person “inside.” And if we search for the factors through which we have changed inwardly, we will find the following: We may notice first of all what has happened to our physical organism — for this is always changing. In the first half of life it changes progressively through growth; in the second half it is changing through regression. Then we must look at our outer experiences: what confronts us as our own mental world; all those things that leave pain, suffering, pleasure, and joy in the soul; the forces we have tried to develop in our will life. These are the things that make us a different person again and again in the course of life. If we want to be honest about what is really taking place, we have to say we are just swimming along in the current of life. But whoever wishes to become a spiritual scientist must take his development in hand through a certain self-discipline. He might, for instance, take a habit — little habits are sometimes of tremendous importance — and within a certain time transform it through conscious work. In this way we can transform ourselves in the course of our life. We are transformed through being in the current of life, as well as through the work we do on ourselves with full consciousness. Then when we observe our life panorama, we can see what has changed in our life as a result of this self-discipline. This works back in a remarkable way on our soul life. It does not have the effect of enhancing our egotism, rather it enhances our power to love. We become more and more able to embrace the outer world with love, to enter deeply into the outer world. Only someone who has made efforts in such self-discipline can judge what this means. If one has made such efforts, one can appreciate what it means to have the thoughts we form about some process or some thing accompanied by the results of such self-discipline. We enter with a much stronger personal involvement into whatever our thoughts penetrate. We even enter into the physical-mineral world with a certain power of love — that world which if approached only mathematically leaves us indifferent. We feel clearly the difference between penetrating the world with just our weak power of mental imaging, and penetrating it with a developed power of love.
You may take offense at what I am saying about the developed power of love: you may want to assert that the power of love has no place in a quest for knowledge of the outer world, that the only correct objective knowledge is that which is obtained by logical intellectual activity. Certainly there is need for a faculty that can penetrate the phenomena of the outer world by means of the bare sober intellect alone, excluding all other powers of the soul. But the outer world will not give us its all if we try to get it in this manner. The world will only give us its all if we approach it with a power of love that strengthens the mind's mental activity. After all, it is not a matter of commanding and expecting that nature will unveil herself to us through certain theories of knowledge. What is really important is to ask: How will nature reveal herself to us? How will she yield her secrets to us? Nature will reveal herself only if we permeate our mental powers with the forces of love.
Let me return to the enhancement of forgetting: with the power of love the exercises in forgetting can be practiced with greater force, and the results will be more sure, than without it. By practicing self-discipline, which gives us a greater capacity for love, we are able to experience an enhanced faculty of forgetting, just as surely a part of our volition as the enhanced faculty of remembering. We gain the ability to put something definite, something of positive soul content, in the place of what is normally the end of an experience. Normally when we forget something, this marks the end of some sequence of experiences. Thus in place of what would normally be nothing, we are able to put something positive. In the enhanced power of forgetting, we develop actively what otherwise runs its course passively.
When we have come this far, it is as if we had crossed an abyss within ourselves and reached a region of experience through which a new existence flows toward us. And it is really so. Up to this point we have had our imaginations. If in these imaginations we remain human beings equipped with a mathematical attitude of soul, and are not fools, we will see quite clearly that in this imaginative world we have pictures. The physiologists may argue whether or not what our senses give us are pictures or reality. (I have dealt with this question in my Riddles of Philosophy.) The fact is, we are well aware that these are pictures, pictures that point to a reality, but still they are just pictures. Indeed, to achieve a healthy experience in this region we must know that they are pictures — images — confronting us. However, at the moment when we experience something of the enhanced power of forgetting, these images fill with something coming from the other side of life, so to say. They fill with spiritual reality. And we go to meet this reality. We begin, as it were, to have perceptions of the other side of life. Just as through our senses we perceive one side of life, the physical-sensible side, so we learn to look toward the other side and become aware of a spiritual reality flowing into the images of imaginative life. This flowing of spiritual reality into the depth of our soul this is what in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment I have called “inspiration.” Please do not take exception to the name — just listen to how the word is being used. Do not try to remember instances where you have met the word before. We have to find words for what we want to say, and often we must use words that already have older meanings. So for the phenomenon just described, I have chosen the word inspiration.
Through developing inspiration we finally gain insight into the human rhythmic system, which is bound up in a certain way with the realm of feeling. This leads us to something I must emphasize: the method leading to inspiration which I have just described can actually be followed only by modern man. In earlier periods of human evolution, this faculty was developed more instinctively — for example, in the Indian yoga system. This, however, is not renewable in our age. It goes against the stream of history. And in the spiritual-scientific sense, one could be called a dilettante if one wanted to renew the yoga system in these modern times. Yoga set into motion certain human forces that were appropriate only for an earlier stage of human evolution. It had to do with the development of certain rhythmic processes, with conscious respiratory processes. By breathing in a certain manner, the yogi worked to develop in a physical way what modern man must develop in a soul-spiritual way — as I have described. Nevertheless, there is something similar in the instinctive inspiration we find running through the Vedanta philosophy and what we achieve through fully conscious inspiration. The way we choose to achieve this, leads us through what I have described.
As modern human beings, we approach this from above downwards, so to say. Purely through soul-spiritual exercises we work to develop the power within us that then finds its way in to the rhythmic system as inspiration. The Indian worked to find his way into the rhythmic system directly through yoga breathing. He took the physical organism as his starting-point; we take the soul-spiritual being as ours. Both ways aim to affect the human being in his middle system, the rhythmic system. We shall see how what we are given in imaginative cognition (which combines the sense system and nervous system) is in fact enhanced when we penetrate the rhythmic system through inspiration. We shall also see how the ancient, more childlike, instinctive forms of higher knowledge (for example, yoga) come to new life in the present day in the consciously free human being.
Next time I will speak further on the relation of the earlier yoga development of the rhythmic system and the modern approach which leads through inner soul-spiritual work to inspiration.