Anthroposophy and Science
23 March 1921, Stuttgart (afternoon)
Unfortunately our time together is so short that I have only been able to deal with our theme in a broad way, just intimating its development. The intention was to present a few ideas that lie, one might say, at the entrance of an anthroposophical spiritual science. From what has been presented, you will surely feel that everything we have touched upon needs further elaboration.
I have spoken of various ways of knowing that through inner soul work can follow as further steps from our everyday kind of knowing and from ordinary scientific cognition. I have already mentioned the first two of these further steps and called them imaginative cognition and inspired cognition. Yesterday I showed how, when imaginative and inspired cognition work together, and when we take account of a certain experience that I described yesterday as an inner crossing in the consciousness, a knowledge of the human being can arise in conjunction with a knowledge of the surrounding world. When this experience that we have in inspired-imaginative cognition is developed further, through certain exercises found in my books, something arises which has a similar name in ordinary life — that is, intuition. In ordinary life intuition refers to a kind of knowing that is not sharply delineated, to something more in the realm of feeling. This dimly experienced knowledge is not what the spiritual researcher means when he speaks of intuition and yet there are good reasons for thinking of the undeveloped, dim experiences of ordinary intuition as a kind of early stage of real intuition. Real intuition is a kind of knowing, a condition of the soul that is just as suffused with clarity of consciousness as is mathematical thinking. This intuition is reached through a continuation of what I have called exercises for the attainment of forgetting. These exercises must be continued in such a way that one really forgets oneself. When these exercises have been carried on in a precise and systematic way, then arises what the spiritual investigator calls intuition in the higher sense. This is the natural form of cognition into which inspired imaginations flow.
Before I go on with my discussion, I would like to stress one thing, to avoid possible misunderstanding. I can easily imagine that someone might raise a certain objection to what I described at the end of yesterday's lecture. First let me assure you that the conscientious spiritual investigator is the first to make various objections for himself. This is inherent in the process of spiritual research. With every step one must be aware from what possible angle objections may come, and how they can be met. To be specific, someone could raise an objection about what I said yesterday concerning the experiencing of a “crossing” that arises in the process of looking within, embracing our own inner organization. It could be said: This is an illusion. The fact is that especially the spiritual investigator (as is meant here) is not allowed to be a dilettante in external science; he is sure to know a thing or two about the inner organization of the human being from conventional anatomy and physiology. One might suspect that the investigator yields to a sort of self-deception, taking what he knows of external science and incorporating this into his inner vision. The spiritual researcher fully reckons with the possibility of self-deception along his path. One can settle the objections that have been raised by noting that what is perceived in the human organism during this inner viewing is totally different from anything one could possibly get from external anatomy or physiology. This perception of the inner organization could really be called a perception of the spiritual aspect of the human interior. The only help ordinary anatomy and physiology can render is the establishment of something like a mathematical reference point — a reference point for what has been spiritually perceived in the soul by inner vision, a definite content of perception at this level of cognition. For example, when we spiritually perceive the inner nature of what corresponds to the lung, it will be easier to connect this with the lung if we are already familiar with it through outer anatomy and physiology than if we knew nothing of it.
These two aspects — an inner vision of the lung, and what we know in an outer way through anatomy and physiology — are two completely different contents that must be reconciled later. At this level of cognition there is only a repetition of the kind of relationship that we experience between what is inwardly grasped in mathematical thinking and what is directly visible in the physical-mineral realm. The difference that exists between what we grasp inwardly in mathematical thought and what we find given in outer observation is very similar to the difference between what we grasp in inspired-imaginative activity and what we can learn through external research. Inner clarity of consciousness throughout is, of course, a basic requirement.
When we rise from inspired imagination to intuition, we encounter a situation similar to the one we described at the beginning of these lectures. We said: The outer world and its phenomena enter into us through our senses as through “gulfs.” Mathematical lines and forms which we construct influence our perception of the outer forms of the world. So with respect to our bodily nature there is a jutting in, a really essential penetration of the outer world into our spatial-bodily condition. We have a similar experience when all that I have described comes into us through intuition. Through this experience we become aware of one thing particularly: that what has been experienced within the human being is inexplicable of itself — or perhaps better said, it is something essentially unfinished. When we come to know ourselves through intuition, as long as we remain within the experience of self-knowledge we are basically dissatisfied. In contrast to this, with inspired imagination, when we apply it to knowledge of the self we feel a certain satisfaction. We learn what the human rhythmic system really is. This is a difficult process of knowledge. It is a process that can really never be completed, because it leads into endless further developments. In this type of knowledge you are learning to know yourself in connection with the world, as I showed yesterday. One can arrive at concrete insights concerning the connection of the healthy organism with its cosmic environment also the connection of the ailing organism with the cosmic environment. In this way the very interior of the human being can be penetrated.
At this point I would like to speak of something I described in the previous lecture course. 1The Boundaries of Natural Science, Bibl.-Nr. 322, eight lectures, Dornach 1920, Anthroposophic Press. We are able to perceive through our inspired imagination how the human organism must relate itself to receiving something like a sense organ. It is, in fact, predisposed toward the sense organs. It opens itself outward so as to send a certain force system — if I may use such an expression — toward each separate sense. Beyond the interaction of the force system with our regular senses, one can discover abnormal cases of such tendencies arising in other places. A normal organization for the development of a sense can appear in a wrong place. Such a force system can be inserted into some organ not meant to be a sense organ, whose normal function is something else. The appearance of a metamorphosed force system in a place not right for it causes abnormalities in the human organism. A consequence of the particular abnormality just mentioned is the formation of a tumor where the displaced force system occurs. What we find here in the human organism is a more complex version of what Goethe in his teachings on metamorphosis always looked for, under simpler circumstances. We come to realize that a system of forces correctly associated with growth, when directed differently and in a metamorphosed form, can become the cause of illness. When inspired-imaginative cognition is directed to the whole matter of how man's sensory organization is related to the kingdoms of nature — to his whole environment — one discovers important relationships. These relationships lead us to remedies in our environment that can be used against pathological forms of forces.
Now you may see the vistas that are opened up by what I have described. This is not just fantasizing into the blue — nor is it nebulous mysticism to evoke satisfaction in the soul. Either would be completely foreign to what is meant here by anthroposophically-oriented spiritual science. This spiritual science wishes to penetrate into the real nature of the world in a serious and exact manner. At the same time, it must be admitted that much of what can be achieved in this way is still in its infancy today. And yet a fair amount of what I presented last spring in the course for physicians and medical students (which I plan to continue shortly) on pathology and therapy, made — I believe — a favorable impression on the listeners. Its view of the essential being of nature and the world, of the inner relationships, gave rise to the impression that here is something that can fertilize and complement outer observation and experiment. The contemporary world should see that here is at least an attempt to find out what it is that is creating the questions of external science, when there is no sign of any possibility in the scientific field of finding satisfactory answers to the questions.
As we advance along this path of knowledge (keeping always to what is spiritually real and concrete and avoiding abstraction), we have an experience on the other side of the human organization, of something similar to the "jutting" of the outer world into our sensory life. I said earlier that when we come to self-knowledge through intuition, it proves inevitably to be unfinished. We understand this now, for we see that here on the other side we have the reverse relationship to that of the sense organs. The senses are “gulfs” into which the outer world flows. On the other hand, we discover that the entire human being, becoming a sense organ in intuition, now reaches into the spiritual world. On the one hand, the outer world reaches into the human being; on the other, the human being reaches into the spiritual “outer world.” As I mentioned earlier in connection with the eye organization, the human being has a certain active relation to the depth dimension; with intuition he has (as long as he remains with intuition in the realm of self-knowledge) a certain relation to the vertical dimension. Thus something very similar to sense perception takes place, except that it is reversed.
We find that through intuition the human being places himself with his entire being in the spiritual world. Just as through the senses the external sense world projects inward, through intuition one consciously places oneself in the spiritual world. In this conscious projection into the spiritual world through intuition, the human being has a similar feeling to the feeling he has toward the outer world through perception. The feeling of being in the spiritual world, a kind of dim feeling of standing within the spiritual world, in ordinary life we call intuition. But this intuition is suffused with bright clarity when the stage of cognition is striven for which I have described. Thus you can realize that perception is just one side of our human relation to the outer world. In perception we have something indefinite, something that first must be inwardly worked upon. As perception is worked upon by our intellect and we discover laws at work in this perception, there is at the same time something corresponding to this that initially has just as indefinite a relation to us as does perception. It must be penetrated by inner knowledge that has been achieved, in the same way that perceptions must be penetrated by mathematical thinking. In short, our ordinary experience must be penetrated by our inwardly achieved knowledge.
In ordinary experience we call this kind of intuition belief or faith. Just as the human being faces the outer sense world and has the experience of perception, so, participating in a dim way in the spiritual world, he has the experience of belief. And just as perception can be illumined by the intellect or reason, so the content of this indefinite dim experience of belief can be illumined by our steadily increasing knowledge. This dim experience of faith becomes one of scientific knowledge just as perception attains scientific value through the addition of the intellect. You see how the things relate. What I am describing to you is truly a progression through inner spiritual work to transform the ordinary experience of faith into an experience of clear knowledge. When we rise into these regions, transforming faith into an experience of knowledge, we find this similar to the process of subjecting our perceptions to what has been worked out mathematically or logically. What is inherent here is not some artificial construction, it is a description of something a human being can experience — just as, for instance, one experiences what develops from early childhood when the intellect is not yet useable to a later time when the intellect and reason are in full use.
There are other experiences bound up with these — for example, the following: The moment we advance to inspired cognition, we have already had what I have described as the life panorama, which extends back to early childhood and, at times, even to birth. With this we have gained an inner kind of perception. It is only with the attainment of inspired cognition, however, that a kind of enhanced faculty of forgetting comes about which I must characterize as a complete extinguishing of the surroundings that up to this point were given through sense perception. In other words, a state of consciousness arises in which our own inner life, indeed our inner life in time up to birth, becomes the object of our consciousness. At this time one has the subjective feeling that one is inwardly empty, that one is in the outer world with one's consciousness, not within one's body. When we have succeeded in reaching this enhanced forgetting whereby the outer sense-perceptible world is really extinguished for a moment, then something appears through this experience being combined with what is attained intuitively. I must describe this in the following way.
We have already discussed imagination and we know it does in fact relate to reality, although at first it appears to have pictorial character. It relates to a reality, but at first we have only pictures in our consciousness. When we experience inspiration, we advance from the pictorial to the corresponding spiritual reality. When we reach the moment in which external sense perception is completely extinguished through inspiration, a new content appears for the first time. The content that appears corresponds to our existence before conception. We learn to look into our soul-spiritual being as it was before it took possession of a physical organism arising out of the stream of heredity. Thus this imagination fills itself with a real spiritual content that represents our pre-birth existence. Characterized in this way, this may still seem paradoxical to many people of our time. One can only indicate the exact point in the cognitive process where such a view of the human soul-spiritual self enters in, and where what we call the question of immortality takes on real meaning. At the same time we gain a more exact view of the other pole of the human organization. When we penetrate what we have at first only as intuitive belief and raise this to knowledge, the possibility arises to relate imaginations — although in another way than in the case just described — to the conditions after death. In short, we have a view of what one can call the eternal in man and I will only just mention the following. When intuition has developed further, to the point it is really capable of reaching, we develop our true “I” for the first time. And within the true “I” there appears to inner vision what in anthroposophical spiritual science is referred to as knowledge of repeated earth-lives. The knowledge that we were a soul-spiritual being before conception and that we will continue to be after death: this is really experienced in inspired imagination. The knowledge of repeated earth-lives is added to this only in intuition.
When we have reached this area, we first begin to discover the full significance of waking up and falling asleep, and the condition of sleep as such. Through a deepening of the cognition related to the pole of perception, we discover the experience of falling asleep, which otherwise remains unconscious. At the other pole of intuitive thought, we discover the experience of waking up. Between these two is the experience of sleep, which I would like just to characterize as follows: when the human being falls asleep in ordinary consciousness, he is in a condition in which his consciousness is completely dimmed. This empty consciousness in which the human being lives between falling asleep and awakening, is a state which he cannot know from his own subjective point of view. The inspired-imaginative condition is very similar. In this condition the will impulses are silenced just as in sleep the senses are silenced. The subjective human activity is silent in both sleep and inspired imagination. The major difference is this: in sleep the consciousness is empty. In the condition of inspired imagination one's consciousness is filled; one's inner experiences are independent of sense perception and will impulses; in a certain sense one is awake while one is asleep. One has therefore the possibility of studying the life of sleep.
I would like to return to something that I spoke of this morning in the history seminar. The historical problems we spoke of take on new meaning when seen in connection with the experiences we have just been speaking of. At one time or another you may have reflected upon such historians as Herodotus. He and others were really precursors of what we call history in the modern scientific sense. The way history is written today developed with the intellectual culture that finds special satisfaction in experiment. In other words, those who find special satisfaction in experiment also find satisfaction in the external aspect of history. This science of history proceeds empirically, and rightly so from its own point of view. It collects data, and from this data it pieces together a picture of the course of history. One can, however, object that this way of interpreting empirical data easily allows that history could have developed differently. As I put it this morning, one could hypothesize that Dante somehow died as a boy. We would then be faced with the possibility that what we experience as coming through Dante would be absent, at least it would be absent as manifested in the person of Dante. In the study of history one will meet with great difficulties in reaching true insight, unless one is satisfied with the ready-made scholarly harangues.
Let us take another example. Historians set out to study the Reformation, using the available facts of external history. (We cannot go into detail here; you can research this yourself if you are interested.) For instance, if the monk Luther had died young, I would really like to know what would have been recorded as derived purely from the external historical method! Certainly something quite different from what is recorded today. Quite serious difficulties arise when one wants truly to characterize historical knowledge. One may say if one focuses on the philosophy of history, one can follow the observable outer events from the point of view of some abstract element of necessity, or one may want to find an element of purpose shaping the events as Strindberg did. The fact that the other reforms would not have been there either if Luther had died as a boy, would not affect this theoretical finding of purpose or necessity, in whatever might have taken place instead of the Reformation. If Luther had died, the other reformers would not have been there either.
One must be very careful in coming to conclusions when one is working in the field of external historical observation. However, the course of human development reveals something quite different when it is observed from the level of knowledge that I have been describing to you. Let me give you a concrete example. One would see that there were certain forces at work in European civilization around the fourth century between the time of Constantine and Julian the Apostate. The outer aspect of this world would appear differently if records existed of a personality so impressive as, for instance, Dante. There really is a problem here, and I confess I am not finished with it yet but must pursue it a bit further. The problem is a most concrete one. I am not yet finished in that I cannot tell you whether important documents, important evidence concerning an important figure around the period of 340 or 350 A.D. somehow disappeared from the view of external history, or whether he died in his youth — or somehow perished in those turbulent, war-filled times. It is a fact, however, that one sees forces at work in this period that cannot be traced in external history today. These forces would only be accessible to external history through some stroke of luck, like the chance discovery of written documents in some monastery. It is beyond any doubt for the spiritual investigator, however, that these forces are active. The spiritual investigator can truly establish what otherwise would be seen as forces abstracted from outer circumstances.
Now suppose we would wish to look back on the life of Dante and acquaint ourselves with him. We would try to make him come to life in our soul, really to try to know him inwardly. We would also familiarize ourselves with the forces active in the time of Dante. This is an external approach to knowledge. Naturally, the knowledge that the spiritual scientist gains of the Dantean period will look somewhat different from what can be found in external documents — for example, in the Divine Comedy. One could of course object that the spiritual scientist might confuse what he has learned through external perception with what he has obtained through inner vision. When, however, inner vision operates in such a way that we know beyond any doubt that in a particular age — as in this one just named — the outer events do not correspond to the inner happenings, we know that spiritual powers are really at work. Under these circumstances it is possible to present history as I did recently for a small circle, by looking exclusively at the forces seen inwardly. We come to the point where we have inwardly observed these forces; they penetrate us, they live within us. It would really be a miracle if, for instance, one could just fantasize about the forces at work in Julian the Apostate at the time in question. Those times can only be truly explored spiritually.
The level of historical observation achieved here can be described as a direct viewing of the original spiritual forces that are active in the historical process. Thereby one receives a satisfactory explanation for precisely the parts of history where external facts are missing — because documents are missing, or men and women did not have a chance to live their lives out normally. In such cases what is viewed inwardly can help external history. Examples of the result of such inner knowledge, pointing to the forces behind historical events, are given in my little book, The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind. What is presented there must naturally be preceded by the inner vision of the missing aspects of external history, as I have mentioned. It is only at this point, assuming we intend to be inwardly responsible in our relation to knowledge, that we can feel justified in saying: It is possible simply on the foundation of sound human understanding to rise (as I have repeatedly described) to a level where such real forces are active.
But, you may object, no one could speak of the beings I described in The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind who has not yet advanced to such vision. This is of course true; to speak with this degree of emphasis, one must have a certain level of cognition. But one may take something else into consideration. If we are honest in approaching the facts of history and if we are sufficiently schooled in philosophy to be aware of the riddles and doubts the usual study of history presents, we can still have an inner experience of a certain kind. This experience is similar to the one that the astronomer had when on the basis of certain gravitational forces he predicted the as-yet-unseen planet of Neptune. The discovery of the spiritual laws and essential nature of history is really a very similar process in the spiritual domain to the calculations employed by LeVerrier to predict the existence of Neptune. LeVerrier did not somehow piece together a scientific result as is done in external history — with a positive or skeptical slant, simply avoiding connections: he followed the facts according to their truth. He said to himself: Something must be at work here. This is similar to what the astronomer before him said concerning Uranus. Uranus doesn't follow the course which it ought to according to the forces I already know, so there must be something exercising an influence on these known forces. The conscientious investigator also recognizes certain forces at work. He sees the intervention of these forces much as someone who on finding a limestone or silica shell-form in a rock formation looks for the active forces. From the way the silica fossil looks, he surely does not say: This silica form has somehow crystallized out of its mineral surroundings. Rather he says: At one time this form was filled out with something; it was made by some kind of animal and one can have a mental picture of this animal. If some being were to arrive who had lived at the time the animal was alive in that shell, and he described the animal, such an eyewitness could be likened to the spiritual investigator. The finder of the shell bearing the imprint of the animal is not necessarily the one who uses his sound human understanding to deduce from the outer configuration what must have been there to form the shell. What the living facts were is something only the spiritual investigator can say. The person who is willing to bring a sound sense of logic, a logical view of facts, and healthy human understanding, can follow and inwardly test what the spiritual researcher tells him about the forms in front of him.
It is not necessary to have a blind belief in the spiritual investigator. Naturally, the actual discovery of such things as are presented in The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind requires spiritual research. When the spiritual researcher has presented what he wishes to tell in terms of what he calls higher beings, he will also readily agree to be tested for this vision by those gathering outer facts. His attitude is this: I invite you to rap my knuckles if you discover anything whatever that contradicts the outer order of events predicted by my inner vision.
Something similar appeared in our circle, in connection with interpretations of the gospels which had been worked out in a purely spiritual manner. It has also occurred in such cases as the one given this morning. I am busy with a variety of literature, yet to this day the author was unknown to me of the work Dr. Stein cited this morning giving the date of Christ's death. I have never seen it. Naturally, this is not the sort of evidence that one can accept objectively — I mention this only parenthetically. Nevertheless, such things have occurred within our circle. Verifications have appeared that must be accepted objectively. Through a living involvement in spiritual-scientific work, many of our friends have a real personal conviction; it does not rest on blind faith, but precisely on their experience of the life that goes on in spiritual science. This explains why those who have been involved in the activities of spiritual science for many years can speak in a different tone from those for whom spiritual science is just a theory.
I believe we can show in the context of the evolution of humanity the connections between the state of science today and the state of knowledge today. Naturally, everything has earlier stages; scientific experimentation is no exception. Given this, however, the experimentation of the past, up to the most recent times, cannot help but seem primitive compared to what we have today. When our fully developed experiment is experienced inwardly, it really calls for something more. From what has been combined by the intellect in the actual activity of experimentation something is released in the soul. What is released requires spiritual knowledge to balance it. We have shifted our understanding from mere observation to experimentation. Something happens when we discover the real difference between what is experienced in mere observation and what is experienced in the activity of experimentation: the urge arises in us to rise to a higher level of self-knowledge from the ordinary kind. This higher knowledge is what I have recently been describing. These two things are related. The urge for a higher knowledge, which is natural to human beings striving for knowledge today, has developed quite naturally in the course of history out of an elementary interest in experimentation itself. The scientific data that we have gained in regard to outer nature are, in many respects, really related to questions. The important thing is that if the formulation of the questions is correct, then a correct answer is possible.
What natural science has given us recently is really in large measure no more than a statement of questions for the spiritual researcher. Whether we look at recent astronomy or the views of modern chemistry, when we grasp what is in them, the question arises: how is what is described related to what goes on in the human being himself? Questions arise about man's relation to the world precisely through the scientific results that have come from our shifting from observation over to the experimental realm. So we can see that for someone who really experiences modern science and does not theorize about it, this science is full of spiritual-scientific questions. From the nature of these questions, there simply is no choice but to go to spiritual science for answers. In the year 1859 Darwin came to a conclusion of what he had studied so meticulously; but for someone who studies these results afterwards, in spite of what Darwin took to be scientific conclusions, they appear as questions.
We are helped by the kind of experience we have in experimenting but at the same time we recognize the essentially independent nature of mathematics. When we seek for the realm in which mathematics is applicable, where it will result in an inner satisfying knowledge, then we see a merging of observation and of mathematical thinking, of the results of mathematical thinking, into an understanding of nature. But we may ask, what underlies what we experience in experiment; what is really happening when we feel the necessity for a form of knowledge that can even venture into historical knowledge? Where does this lead? We tend to look for connections everywhere for which the threads are simply not to be found in the material of contemporary science. Once we have grasped what it is that brings order into the connections between the facts, and in all spheres of knowledge — from the study of nature up to the study of history, we sense higher beings revealing themselves, purely soul-spiritual beings. If we come this far, then the door is open to a contemplation of an independent spiritual world.
My honored guests! I know just how much these lectures must seem unsatisfying to you, due to their sketchy and aphoristic nature. But rather than lecture on a narrowly defined subject, I chose to give a wide overview, even though in the particulars it could not be filled in. My intention was that you might learn something of the procedures involved in spiritual-scientific knowledge as it is meant here. I hoped you would get a feeling for the aims toward which it aspires. It aims for the greatest possible exactness and not some sort of fanciful or dilettante activity. For even in mathematics, what makes it so exact is the fact that we have an inner experience of it. In the Platonic age it was known why the words “God geometrizes” were inscribed as a motto on the school; it was clear that all who entered would receive a training in geometry and mathematics. In a similar way modern science of the spirit knows that to attain its goal it must have inner mathematical clarity. I hope you have received the impression, particularly as regards its methods, that the orientation of spiritual science is worthwhile. Perhaps on reflection you may come to ask the question: Can this not indeed lead to a fructification of our other sciences — not to belittle them, but to raise them to their true value? If I have achieved this to some degree, aphoristic and in some ways insufficient as these lectures have been, then my intention have been fulfilled.