1 June 1922, Vienna
This congress has been announced as a Congress on the philosophy of life, and no doubt you will take it as such. Anyone who wishes to talk about philosophical questions today, however, cannot ignore natural science, and in particular the philosophical consequences that natural science has brought with it. Indeed, for centuries — since the fifteenth or sixteenth century, we may say — science has increasingly come to dominate human thinking in the civilized world.
Now it would take a great many words to survey the triumphs of science in the field of human knowledge, and the transformation of our whole life brought about by the achievements of scientific research. And it would be merely a repetition of what you all know already. Philosophically speaking, what is interesting about science is something quite different. I mean the function it long ago assumed of educating the civilized world. And it is precisely in discussing this educational rôle in the development of modern man that we come up against two paradoxes, as I should like to call them. Let me begin with these paradoxes.
The first thing that has followed from the scientific method of research is a transformation of human thinking. Any impartial observer of earlier philosophical trends must conclude that, because of the conditions which then determined man's development, thinking inevitably added something subjective to what was given by experiment and the observation of nature. We need only recall those now outmoded branches of knowledge, astrology and alchemy, to perceive how nature was approached in former times — how human thinking as a matter of course added to what was there something that it wished to express, or at any rate did not suppress.
In face of the scientific attitude of recent times, this has ceased. Today, we are virtually obliged simply to accept the data given us by observation and experiment, and to work them up into natural laws, as they are called. Admittedly, to do so we make use of thought; but we make use of it only as a means of arranging phenomena so that through their own existence they manifest to us their inner connection, their conformity to law. And we make it our duty not to add any of our own thought to our observation of the world. We see this, indeed, as an ideal of the scientific attitude — and rightly so.
Under these conditions, what has become of human thinking? It has actually become the servant, the mere tool of research. Thought as such has really nothing to contribute when it comes to investigating the conformity to law of external phenomena.
Here, then, is one of my paradoxes: that thought as a human experience is excluded from the relationship that man enters into with the world. It has become a purely formal aid for comprehending realities. Within science, it is no longer something self-manifesting.
The significance of this for man's inner life is extraordinarily great. It means that we must look upon thinking as something which must retire in wisdom and modesty when we are contemplating the outside world, and which represents a kind of private current within the life of the soul.
And it is precisely when we now ask ourselves: How, in turn, can science approach thinking? that we come up against the paradox, and find ourselves saying: If thinking has to confine itself to the working-up of natural processes and can intervene only formally, in clarification, combination and organization, it cannot also fall within the natural processes themselves. It thus becomes paradoxical to raise the question (which is certainly justified from the scientific point of view): How can we, from the standpoint of scientific law, understand thinking as a manifestation of the human organism? And to this, if we stand impartially and seriously within the life of science, we can only reply today: To the extent that thinking has had to withdraw from the natural processes, contemplation of them can go on trying to encompass thinking, but it cannot succeed. Since it is methodologically excluded, thinking is also really excluded from the natural processes. It is condemned to be a mere semblance, not a reality.
Not many people today, I believe, are fully conscious of the force of this paradox; yet in the depths of their subconscious there exists in countless numbers of people today an awareness of it. Only as thinking beings can we regard ourselves as human; it is in thinking that we find our human dignity — and yet this, which really makes us into human beings, accompanies us through the world as something whose reality we cannot at present acknowledge, as a semblance. In pointing to what is noblest in our human nature, we feel ourselves to be in an area of non-reality.
This is something that burdens the soul of anyone who has become seriously involved with the research methods both of the inorganic sciences and of biology, and who wishes to draw the consequences of these methods, rather than of any individual results, for a philosophy of life.
Here, we may say, is something that can lead to bitter doubts in the human soul. Doubts arise first in the intellect, it is true; but they flow down into the feelings. Anyone who is able to look at human nature more deeply and without prejudice — in the way I shall be demonstrating in detail in the lectures that follow — knows how the state of the spirit, if it endures long enough, exerts an influence right down to the physical state of the person, and how from this physical state, or disposition, the mood of life wells up in turn. Whether the doubt is driven down into our feelings or not determines whether we stride courageously through life, so that we can stand upright ourselves and have a healthy influence among our fellow-men, or whether we wander through life disgruntled and downcast — useless to ourselves and useless to our fellow-men. I do not say — and the lectures which follow will show that I do not need to say — that what I have just been discussing must always lead to doubt; but it can easily do so, unless science is extended in the directions I shall be describing.
The splendid achievements of science vis-ä-vis the outside world make extraordinary demands on man's soul if, as from the philosophical standpoint here expounded he certainly must do, he adopts a positive attitude to science. They demand that he should be capable of meeting doubt with something stronger and more powerful than would otherwise be needed.
Whilst in this respect science would appear to lead to something negative for the life of the soul, yet — and this brings me to my second paradox — on the other hand it has resulted in something extremely positive. Here, I express once more a paradox that struck me particularly when, more than twenty years ago now, I worked out my The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and attempted, whilst maintaining a truly scientific outlook on life, to fathom the nature of human freedom. 1The German title of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is Die Philosophie der Freiheit.
For, with its conformity to law, science does easily lead, in theory, to a denial of human freedom. In this respect, however, science develops theories that are just the opposite of its practical effect. When we go further and further into the semblance nature of thinking and, by actually pursuing the scientific attitude — not scientific theories — arrive at a right inward experience of that nature, then we conclude: if it is only a semblance and not a reality, then the process of thought does not, like a natural force, have a compelling effect. I may thus compare it — and this is more than a mere comparison — to a combination of mirror-images. Images before me cannot compel me. Existent forces can compel me, whether they are thought of as existing outside me or inside me; images cannot compel me. If, therefore, I am able to conceive my moral impulses within that pure thinking which science itself fosters in us by its methods; if I can so shape moral impulses within me that my attitude to their shaping is that to which science educates me, then in these moral impulses conceived by pure thinking I have, not compelling forces, but forces and semblances that I myself am free to accept or not. That is to say: however much science, from its very premises, is bound, and with some justification, to deny freedom, yet in educating him to semblance thinking it educates the man of our culture to freedom.
These are the two poles, the one relating to the life of thought and the other to the life of the will, with which the human soul is confronted by present-day scientific opinions. In distinguishing them, however, we indicate at the same time how the scientific view of life points beyond itself. It must take up some attitude towards human thinlting; yet it excludes that thinking. By so doing, it suggests a method of research that can be fully justified in the eyes of science and yet lead to a comprehensible experience of thinking. It suggests, on the other hand, that because it cannot itself arrive theoretically at freedom, the scientific attitude must be extended into a different region, precisely in order to attain the sphere of freedom.
What I am presenting as a necessity deriving from science itself — an extension into a region that science, at least as understood today, cannot reach — is attempted by the philosophy of life I am here advocating. Today, of course, since it stands at the beginning of its development, it can achieve this extension only imperfectly. Yet the attempt must be made, because more and more people in the civilized world today are being affected by the problems of thinking and freedom that I have described. It is no longer possible for us today to believe that only those in some way involved with science are faced with demands and questions and riddles of this kind. Even the remotest villages, to which no scientific results of any consequence penetrate, are nevertheless brought by their education to the kind of thinking that science demands; and this brings with it, though quite unconsciously as yet, uncertainty about human freedom. It is therefore not only scientific questions that are involved here, but quite clearly general human ones.
What it comes to is this: taking our stand on the ground of scientific education, can we penetrate further along the path of knowledge than does present-day science?
The attempt to do so can be made, and made in such a way that the methods used can be justified to the strictest scientist, and made by paths that have been laid down in complete accordance with the scientific attitude and with scientific conscientiousness. I should like now, at the start of my lectures, to go on to speak of these paths.
Yet, although many souls already unconsciously long for it, the present-day path of knowledge is still not easy to explain conceptually. In order that we may be able to understand one another this evening, therefore, I should like to introduce, simply as aids to understanding, descriptions of older paths that mankind has followed in order to arrive at knowledge lying beyond the ordinary region science deals with today.
Much of what, it is believed today, should just remain an article of faith and is accepted as ancient and honourable tradition, leads the psychologically perceptive observer of history back into age-old epochs of humanity. There, it turns out that these matters of faith were sought after, as matters of knowledge suited to their time, by certain individuals through the cultivation of their own souls and the development of hidden spiritual powers, and that they thus genuinely constituted matters of knowledge. People today no longer realize how much of what has emerged historically in man's development was once actually discovered — but discovered by earlier paths of knowledge.
When I describe these paths, I do so, of course, with the aid of methods I shall outline later; so that in many cases those who form their picture of the earlier epochs of mankind only from outward historical documents, and not from spiritual documents, may take exception to my description. Anyone who examines impartially even the outward historical documents, and who then compares them with what I shall have to say, will nevertheless find no real contradiction. And secondly, I want to emphasize that I am not describing these older paths of knowledge in order to advocate them today. They suited earlier epochs, and nowadays can even be harmful to man if, under a misapprehension, he applies them to himself. It is simply so that we shall understand each other about present-day ways of knowledge that I shall choose two earlier ways, describe them, and thus make clear the paths man has to walk today, if he wishes to go beyond the sphere of scientific knowledge as it is now understood.
As I have said, I could select others from the wealth of earlier ways of knowledge; but I am selecting only two. First, then, we have a way which in its pure form was followed by individuals in ancient times in the East — the way of yoga.
Yoga has passed through many phases, and the aspect to which I shall attach the greatest value today is precisely one that has come down to later epochs in a thoroughly decadent and harmful state. What I shall be describing, the historian will thus be forced, when considering later epochs, to present as something actually harmful to mankind. But in successive epochs human nature has experienced the most varied developments. Something quite different suited human nature in ancient epochs and in later ones. What could, in earlier times, be a genuine means of cognition was later perhaps used only to titillate man's itch for power over his fellow-men. This was certainly not true of the earliest periods, the ones whose practice of yoga I am describing.
What did it comprise, the way of yoga, which was followed in very ancient times in the Orient by individuals who were scholars, to use the modern term, in the higher sphere? It comprised among other things a particular kind of breathing exercise. (I am singling out this one from the wealth of exercises that the yoga pupil or the yoga scholar, the yogi, had to undertake.) When nowadays we examine our breathing, we find that it is a process which for the most part operates unconsciously in the healthy human organism. There must be something abnormal about the man who is aware of his breathing. The more naturally the process of breathing functions, the better it is for ordinary consciousness and for ordinary life. For the duration of his exercises, however, when he wished to develop cognitive powers that are merely dormant in ordinary consciousness, the yogi transformed the process of respiration. He did so by employing a length of time for inhaling, for holding the breath and for exhaling, different from that used in ordinary, natural breathing. He did this so as to make conscious the process of respiration. Ordinary respiration does not become conscious. The transformed respiratory rhythm, with its timing determined by human volition, is entirely conscious. But what is the result? Well, we have only to express ourselves in physiological terms to realize what the yogi achieved by making conscious his respiration. When we breathe in, the respiratory impulse enters our organism; but it also goes via the spinal cord into the brain. There, the rhythm of the respiratory current combines with those processes that are the physical carriers of mental activity, the nerve and sense processes. Actually, in our ordinary life, we never have nerve and sense processes alone; they are always permeated by our respiratory rhythm. A connection, interaction, harmonization of the nerve and sense processes and of respiration always occurs when we allow our minds to function. By transmitting his altered respiratory rhythm into the nerve and sense process in a fully conscious way, the yogi also made a conscious connection between the respiratory rhythm and the thought rhythm, logical rhythm or rather logical combination and analysis of thoughts. In this way he altered his whole mental activity. In what direction did he alter it? Precisely because his breathing became fully conscious, his thoughts permeated his organism in the same way as did the respiratory current itself. We could say that the yogi set his thoughts moving on the respiratory currents and, in the inner rhythm of his being, experienced the union of thought and breath. In this way, the yoga scholar raised himself above the mass of his fellow-men and was able to proclaim to them knowledge they could not gain for themselves.
In order to understand what was really happening here, we must look for a moment at the particular way in which knowledge earlier affected the ordinary, popular consciousness of the masses.
Nowadays, when we look out at the world, we attach the greatest value to seeing pure colours; to hearing pure sounds, when we hear sounds; and similarly to obtaining a certain purity in the other perceptions — such purity, that is, as the sensory process can afford. This was not true for the consciousness of men in older civilizations. Not that, as a certain brand of scholarship often mistakenly believes, people in earlier times projected all sorts of imaginings on to nature: the imagination was not all that unusually active. Because of man's constitution at that time, however, it was quite natural for older civilizations not to see only pure colours, pure sounds, pure qualities in the other senses, but at the same time to perceive in them all something spiritual. Thus, in sun and moon, in stars, in wind and weather, in spring and stream, in the creatures of nature's various realms, they saw something spiritual where we today see pure colours and hear pure sounds, the connection between which we only later seek to understand with the aid of purified thinking. And there was a further consequence of this for earlier humanity: that no such strong and inwardly fortified self-consciousness as we have today existed then. Besides perceiving something spiritual in everything about him, man perceived himself as a part of this whole environment; he did not separate himself from it as an independent self. To draw an analogy, I might say: If my hand were conscious, what would it think about itself? It would conclude that it was not an independent entity, but made sense only within my organism. In some such way as this, earlier man was unable to regard himself as an independent entity, but felt himself rather a part of nature's whole, which in turn he had to see as permeated by the spiritual.
The yogi raised himself above this view, which implied the dependence of the human self. By uniting his thought-process with the process of respiration that fills all man's inner substance, he arrived at a comprehension of the human self, the human I. The awareness of personal individuality, implanted in us today by our inherited qualities and, if we are adults, by our education, had in those earlier times to be attained, indirectly, through exercises. The consequence was that the yogi obtained from the experience of self something quite different from what we do. It is one thing to accept something as a natural experience, as the sense of self is for us, and quite another to attain to it by the paths that were followed in early Eastern civilization. They lived with what moves and swells and acts in the universe; whereas today, when we experience all this from a certain elevation, we no longer know anything of the universe directly. The human self, therefore, the true nature of the human soul manifested itself to the yogi through his exercise. And we may say: since what could be discovered in this way passed over as revelation into the general cultural consciousness, it became the subject-matter of extremely important early products of the mind.
Once again, let me mention one of many. Here we have an illumination from the ancient Orient, the magnificent song Bhagavad-Gita. In the Gita we have the experience of self-awareness; it describes wonderfully, out of the deepest human lyricism, how, when by experiencing he recognizes it and by recognizing he experiences it, this self leads man to a sympathy with all things, and how it manifests to him his own humanity and his relationship with a higher world, with a spiritual and super-sensible world. In ever new and marvellous notes, the Gita depicts this awareness of the self in its devotion to the universal. To the impartial observer of history, who can immerse himself in these earlier times, it is clear that the splendid notes of the Gita have arisen from what could be experienced through these exercises in cognition.
This way of attaining knowledge was the appropriate one for an earlier epoch of civilization in the Orient. At that time, it was generally accepted that one had to retire into solitude and a hermit's life if one sought connection with super-sensible worlds. And anyone who carried out such exercises did condemn himself to solitude and the life of the hermit; for they bring a man into a certain state of sensibility and make him over-sensitive towards the robust external world. He must retire from life. In earlier times it was just such solitary figures who were trusted by their fellow-men. What they had to say was accepted as knowledge. Nowadays, this no longer suits our civilization. People today rightly demand that anyone they are to trust as a source of knowledge should stand in the midst of life, that he should be able to hold his own with the robustness of life, with human labour and human activity as the demands of the time shape them. The men of today just do not feel themselves linked, as the men of earlier epochs did, to anyone who has to withdraw from life.
If you reflect carefully on this, you will conclude: present-day ways of knowledge must be different. We shall be speaking of these in a little while. But before doing so, and again simply by way of explanation and not with any idea of recommending it, I want to describe the principles underlying a way that was also appropriate to earlier times — the way of asceticism.
The way of asceticism involved subduing and damping down bodily processes and needs, so that the human body no longer functioned in its normal robust fashion. Bodily functions were also subdued by putting the external physical organism into painful situations. All this gave to those who followed this ascetic path certain human experiences which did indeed bring knowledge. I do not, of course, mean that it is right to inhibit the healthy human organism in which we are born into this life on earth, where our aim is to enable this organism to be effective in ordinary life. The healthy organism is unquestionably the appropriate one for external sensuous nature, which is after all the basis of human life between birth and death. Yet it remains true that the early ascetics, who had damped down this organism, did in fact gain pure experience of their spirituality, and knew their souls to inhabit a spiritual world. What makes our physical and sensuous organism suited for the life between birth and death is precisely the fact that, as the ascetics' experiences were able to show, it hides from us the spiritual world. It was, quite simply, the experience of the early ascetics that by damping down the bodily functions one could consciously enter the spiritual worlds. That again is no way for the present. Anyone who inhibits his body in this way makes himself unfit for life among his fellow-men, and makes himself unfit vis-à-vis himself as well. Life today demands men who do not withdraw, who maintain their health and indeed restore it if it is impaired, but not men who withdraw from life. Such men could inspire no confidence, in view of the attitude of our age. Although the path of asceticism certainly did lead to knowledge in earlier times, it cannot be a path for today.
Yet what both the way of yoga and the ascetic way yielded in knowledge of the sensible world is preserved in ancient and, I would say, sacred traditions, and is accepted by mankind today as satisfying certain needs of the soul. Only people are not interested to know that the articles of faith thus accepted were in fact discovered by a genuine way of knowledge, if one no longer suited to our age.
Today's way of knowledge must be entirely different. We have seen how the one way, yoga, tried to arrive at thinking indirectly, through breathing, in order to experience this thinking in a way in which it is not perceived in ordinary life. For the reason already given, we cannot make this detour via breathing. We must therefore try to achieve a transformation of thinking by other means, so that through this transformed thinking we can reach knowledge that will be a kind of extension of natural knowledge. If we understand ourselves correctly, therefore, we shall start today, not by manipulating thinking indirectly via breathing, but by manipulating it directly and by doing certain exercises through which we make thinking more forceful and energetic than it is in ordinary consciousness.
In ordinary consciousness, we indulge in rather passive thinking, which adheres to the course of external events. To follow a new super-sensible way of knowledge, we place certain readily comprehended concepts at the centre of our consciousness. We remain within the thought itself. I am aware that many people believe that what I am now going to describe is present already in the later way of yoga, for example in that of Patanjali. But as practised today, it certainly does not form a part of Eastern spirit-training — for, even if a man carried out the yoga exercises nowadays, they would have a different effect, because of the change in the human organism, from the effect they had on the people of earlier epochs.
Today, then, we go straight to thinking, by cultivating meditation, by concentrating on certain subjects of thought for longish periods. We perform, in the realm of the soul, something comparable to building up a muscle. If we use a muscle over and over again in continuous exertion, whatever the goal and purpose, the muscle must develop. We can do the same with thinking. Instead of always submitting, in our thinking, to the course of external events, we bring into the centre of our consciousness, with a great effort of will, clear-cut concepts which we have formed ourselves or have been given by someone expert in the field, and in which no associations can persist of which we are not conscious; we shut out all other consciousness, and concentrate only on this one subject. In the words Goethe uses in Faust, I might say: Yes, it is easy — that is, it appears so — yet the easy is difficult. One person takes weeks, another months, to achieve it. When consciousness does learn to rest and rest continually upon the same content, in such a way that the content itself becomes a matter of complete indifference, and we devote all our attention and all our inward experience to the building up and spiritual energization of mental activity, then at last we achieve the opposite process to what the yogi went through. That is, we tear our thinking away from the process of respiration.
Today, this still seems to people something absurd, something fantastic. Yet just as the yogi pushed his thinking into his body, to link it with the rhythm of his breath and in this way experience his own self, his inner spirituality, so too we release thinking from the remnant of respiration that survives unconsciously in all our ordinary thinking. You will find the systematic exercises described in greater detail in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, or in another one, Outline of Occult Science, or again in Riddles of the Soul and other books of mine. By these means, one gradually succeeds not only in separating the thought sequence from the respiration process, but also in making it quite free of corporeality. Only then does one see what a great service the so-called materialistic, or rather mechanistic, outlook on life has rendered to mankind. It has made us aware that ordinary thinking is founded on bodily processes. From this can stem the incentive to seek a kind of thinking no longer founded on bodily processes. But this can only be found by building up ordinary thinking in the way described. By doing so, we arrive at a thinking set free from the body, a thinking that consists of purely psychic processes. In this way, we come to know what once had a semblance nature in us — as images only to begin with, but images that show us life independent of our corporeality.
This is the first step towards a way of knowledge suited to modern man. It brings us, however, to an experience that is hidden from ordinary consciousness. Just as the Indian yogi linked himself in his thinking with the internal rhythm of respiration, and so also with his spiritual self which lives in the respiratory rhythm, just as he moved inwards, so we go outwards. By tearing our logical thinking away from the organism to which it is actually connected, we penetrate with it into the external rhythm of the world, and discover for the first time that such a rhythm exists. Just as the yogi made conscious the inner rhythm of his body, so we become conscious of an external world rhythm. If I may express myself metaphorically: in ordinary consciousness, what we do is to combine our thoughts logically and thus make use of thinking to know the external sensuous world. Now, however, we allow thinking to enter a kind of musical region, but one that is undoubtedly a region of knowledge; we perceive a spiritual rhythm underlying all things; we penetrate into the world by beginning to perceive it in the spirit. From abstract, dead thinking, from mere semblance thinking, our thinking becomes a vitalized thinking. This is the significant transition that can be made from abstract and merely logical thinking to a vital thinking which we clearly feel is capable of shaping a reality, just as we recognize our process of growth as a living reality.
With this vital thinking, however, we can now penetrate deeper into nature than with ordinary thinking. In what way? Let me illustrate this from present-day life, although the example is a much-disputed one. Nowadays, we may direct our abstract mental activity, by observation and experiment, on to a higher animal, for instance. With this thinking, we create for ourselves an internal image of how the organs of the animal are arranged: the skeleton, musculature, etc., and how the vital processes flow into one another. We make a mental image of the animal. Then, with the same thinking, we pass to man, and once again make a mental image of him — the configuration of his skeleton, his musculature, the interaction of his vital processes, etc., etc. We can then make an external comparison between the two images obtained. If we tend towards a Darwinian approach, we shall regard man as being descended from animals through an actual physical process; if we are more spiritually and idealistically inclined, we imagine the relationship differently. We will not go into that now. The important point is that there is something we cannot do: because our thinking is dead and abstract, we are not in a position — once we have formed a mental image of the animal — out of the inner life of thinking itself to pass over from that into the image of man. Instead, we have first to extract our ideas, or mental images, from the sensory realities, and then to compare these ideas with one another. When, on the other hand, we have advanced to vital thinking, we do indeed form a mental image still, but now it is a living mental image, of the skeleton, the musculature, and the interaction of vital processes in the animal. Because our thought has now become a vital one, we can pursue it inwardly as a living structure and pass over in the thought itself to the image of man. I might say: the thought of the animal grows into the thought of the man. How this works I can only suggest by means of an example.
Faced with the needle of a magnet, we know that there is only one position in which it remains at rest, and that is when its axis coincides with the North-South direction of the earth's magnetism. This direction is exceptional; to all other directions the needle is indifferent. Everything in this example becomes for vital thinking an experience about total space. For vital thinking, space is no longer an aimless juxtaposition, as it is for dead and abstract thinking. Space is internally differentiated, and we learn the significance of the fact that in animals the spine is essentially horizontal. Where this is not the case, we can demonstrate from a more profound conformity to law that the abnormality is particularly significant; but essentially an animal's spine lies in the horizontal plane — we may say, parallel to the surface of the earth. Now it is not immaterial whether the spinal cord runs in this direction or in the vertical direction to which man raises himself in the course of his life. In vital thinking, accordingly, we come to know that, if we wanted to set upright the line of the animal, that is to orientate it differently in the universe, we should have to transform all its other organs. Thought becomes vital simply through the rotation of ninety degrees from the vertical to the horizontal orientation. We pass over in this way, by an inward impulse, from the animal to the human shape.
Thereby, we enter into the rhythm of natural process and so reach the spiritual foundation of nature. We attain, in our vital thought, something with which we can penetrate into the growth and progress of the external world. We reach once more the secrets of existence, from which we departed in the course of human development with the unfolding of ego-consciousness, the feeling of self.
Now you can all raise a weighty objection here. You can say, for example: there have indeed been individuals with this kind of thinking, ostensibly vital; but the present time, with its insistence on serious research, has rightly turned away from “vital thinking” as it was expounded, for instance, by the philosopher Schelling or the natural philosopher Oken. I myself agree entirely with those who raise this kind of objection; there is something quite fantastic, something that leaves reality behind and breathes no actuality, about the way in which mental images gained from external processes and substances are inwardly vitalized by Oken and Schelling and then applied to other natural facts and creatures, in order to see “in the manner of nature.” So long as our vital thinking does not pass on to a mode of knowledge other than this we cannot, even with its aid, reach any assurance of reality. Only by adding exercises of will to the exercises of thought do we secure in vital thoughts a guarantee of spiritual reality.
Exercises of the will can be characterized as follows.
Let us be quite honest with ourselves. In ordinary life, if we think back ten or twenty years, we have to conclude: in the actual content of the life of our soul, we have in many ways become different people; but we have done so by submitting more or less passively, as children to heredity, environment and education, and in later life to life itself. Anyone who wishes to attain knowledge of spiritual reality must take in hand, if I may use this somewhat coarse expression, by an inner education and discipline of the will, what is usually experienced rather passively. Here again you will find the relevant exercises, which are intimate exercises of the soul, described in the books I have named. Today, I can only indicate briefly what is involved.
At present, we have certain habits that perhaps we did not have ten years ago, since life has only recently imposed them on us. Similarly, we can decide to adopt these or those qualities of character. The best thing is to assume qualities of character for whose shaping you have to work on yourself for years on end, so that you must direct attention over and over again to that strengthening and fortifying of the will which is connected with such self-discipline. If you take in hand the development of your will like this, so that you in part make of yourself what the world would otherwise make of you as a person, then the vital thoughts into which you have found your way by meditation and concentration take on a quite special aspect for your experience. That is, increasingly they become painful experiences, inward experiences through suffering, of the things of the spirit. And in the last analysis nobody can attain to higher knowledge who has not passed through these experiences of suffering and pain. We must pass through and conquer these experiences, so that we incorporate and go beyond them, gaining an attitude of indifference to them once more.
What is going on here can be represented as follows: take the human eye (what I am saying here could be expounded scientifically in every detail, but I have time only for a general outline): as light and colours affect it, changes occur in its physical interior. Earlier mankind undoubtedly perceived these as suffering and mild pain; and if we were not so robust and did not remain indifferent to them because of our make-up, we could not help also experiencing the changes in eye and ear as mild pain. All sensory perception is ultimately grounded on pain and suffering.
In thus permeating the entire life of our soul painfully and in suffering with vital thought, we do not permeate the body with pain and suffering as does the ascetic; we keep it healthy to suit the demands of ordinary life; but we inwardly and intimately experience pain and sorrow in the soul. Anyone who has gone some way towards higher knowledge will always tell you: The pleasure and joy that life has brought me I gratefully accept from fate; but I owe my knowledge to my pain and suffering.
In this way, life itself prepares the seeker after knowledge for the fact that part of the path he travels involves the conquest of suffering and pain. For if we overcome this suffering and pain, we make our entire psychic being into a “sense-organ,” or rather a spirit-organ, just as through our ordinary senses we look into and listen to the physical world. I do not need to discuss epistemological considerations today. I am naturally familiar with the objection that the external mode of knowledge must first also be investigated; but that does not concern us today. What I want to say is simply this: that, in the same sense in which in ordinary life we find the external physical world authenticated by our sensory perceptions, we find, after the soul's suffering has been conquered, the spiritual world authenticated by the soul-organ or spirit-organ which as a complete spiritual being we have become.
Let us call this way of looking “modern exact clairvoyance,” by contrast with all earlier nebulous clairvoyant arts, which belong to the past. With it, we can also penetrate into the eternal substance of man. We can penetrate with exactitude into the meaning of human immortality. But consideration of this must be reserved for tomorrow's lecture, where I shall be speaking about the special relationship of this philosophy of life to the problems of man's psyche. Today, I wished to show how, in contrast to earlier ways of knowledge, man can attain a modern super-sensible way of knowledge. The yogi sought to move into the human substance and reach the self; we seek to move out to the rhythm of the world. The ancient ascetic depressed the body in order to ex-press spiritual experience and allow it to exist independently. The modern way of knowledge does not incline to asceticism; it avoids all arts of castigation and addresses itself intimately to the very life of the soul. Both the modern ways, therefore, place man entirely inside life. Whereas the ways of asceticism and yoga drew men away from life.
I have tried today to describe to you a way that can be followed by developing powers of knowledge, now sleeping in the soul, in a more spiritual sense than they were formerly developed.
By doing this, however (I should like to suggest in conclusion), we also reach deeper into the essence of nature. The philosophy of life of which I speak stands in no sort of opposition to the science of today. On the contrary, it takes precisely the genuine mood of enquiry which is there in scientific research and, through its exercises, develops this as a separate human faculty. Science today seeks exactness and feels particularly satisfied if it can achieve it by the application of mathematics to natural processes. Why is this? It is because the perceptions with which external nature provides us, through the senses, for observation and experiment are wholly outside us. We permeate them with something we develop solely in our innermost human entity — with mathematical knowledge. And Kant's saying is often quoted and even more often practised by scientific thinkers: In all true knowledge there is only so much science as there is mathematics. This is exaggerated if we are thinking of ordinary mathematics. And yet, when we apply these to lifeless natural phenomena, and nowadays even regard it as an ideal, for instance, to be able to count the chromosomes in the blastoderm, we reveal how satisfied we are if we can permeate with mathematics what otherwise stands outside us. Why? Because mathematics is experienced inside us with immediate certainty: we often have to represent this experience to ourselves by means of diagrams, but the diagrams are not essential to the certainty, the truth. Things mathematical are seen and discovered within us, and what we find within us we connect with what we see outside. In this way we feel satisfied.
Anyone who perceives this process of cognition in its entirety must conclude: things can satisfy man as knowledge and lead to a science only if they rest on something he can really experience and observe through his inner powers. With the aid of mathematics, we can penetrate into the facts and structures of the inanimate world; but we cannot move more than a little way at most, and that somewhat primitively, into the organic world. We need a way of looking as exact as that of mathematics with which to penetrate into the higher processes of the outside world. Even one of the outstanding representatives of the school of Haeckel has expressly admitted that we must advance to an entirely different type of research and observation if we wish to move up from the inorganic into the organic realm of nature. For the inorganic, we have mathematics, geometry; for the organic, the living, we have nothing as yet that corresponds to a triangle, a circle, or an ellipse. By vital thinking we shall achieve them: not with the ordinary mathematics of numbers and figures, but with a higher mathesis, a qualitative approach working creatively, one which — and here I must say something which many people will find abominable — which touches the realm of the aesthetic.
By penetrating with mathematics of this kind into worlds that we cannot otherwise penetrate, we extend the scientific attitude upwards into the biological sphere. And we may be sure that eventually the epoch will come when people will say: earlier times rightly emphasized that the amount of science extracted from inorganic nature is proportional to the amount of quantitative mathematics, in the broadest sense, that can be applied to it; the amount of science extracted from the vital processes is proportional to the extent to which we can probe them with a living thought structure and an exact clairvoyance.
People will not believe how close this modern kind of clairvoyance is, in reality, to the mathematical outlook. Eventually, when it is realized how, from the spirit of modern knowledge of nature, knowledge of spirit can be gained, this spiritual science will be found to be justified precisely from the standpoint of our modern knowledge of nature. It has no wish to run counter to the important and imposing results of natural science. It seeks to attempt something different: we can look with our external senses at the physical form of someone standing before us — his gestures, his play of feature, the individual expression of his eyes — and yet perceive merely externals, unless we look through all this to something spiritual in him, by which alone the whole man stands before us. In the same way, unless we travel the ways of the spirit, we look with science only at the external physiognomy of the world, its gestures and its mask. Only when we penetrate beyond the outward physiognomy that natural phenomena present to us, beyond the mask and gestures, into the spiritual region of the world, do we recognize something to which we are ourselves related, something of the eternal in the world.
That is the aim of the spiritual science whose methods I have sought to describe to you today by way of introduction. It does not wish to oppose triumphant modern science, but to accept it fully in its importance and substance, just as we accept fully the external man. But just as we look through the external man at the soul, so it seeks to penetrate through natural laws, not in a lay and dilettante fashion, but with a serious approach, to the spiritual element underlying the world. And so this spiritual science seeks not to create any kind of opposition to natural science, but to be its soul and spirit.