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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Origins of Natural Science
GA 326

Lecture VI

1 January 1923, Dornach52In the night from New Year's Eve to New Year's Day 1922/23 the Goetheanum burned down. It was built in ten years, with the help of various artists from many countries. This primarily wooden building, in which each surface and corner was formed artistically (see Steiner, Ways to a New Style in Architecture [London: Anthroposophical Publishing Co. and New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1927]) had been designed in all details by Rudolf Steiner who also managed the construction work through all these years. From the first of January on, the activities had to be transferred into the so-called “Schreinerei,” a building that was used during the construction of the Goetheanum. For the work itself, Rudolf Steiner did not allow any interruption; the afternoon after the fire, the “Three Kings Play” was performed, as was written on the invitations of the ongoing course (see Christmas Plays from Obervfer, trans. A.C. Harwood [London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973]). Rudolf Steiner introduced it with a short address, in which he spoke the following words: “great suffering knows how to keep silent about what it is feeling ... The building that was created in ten years through the love and compassion of innumerable friends of the movement was destroyed in one night. But just today the silent suffering experiences what our friends have put in this work. Since we feel that everything we do in our movement is necessary in our present civilization, we will want to continue whatever we can in the given frame, and therefore even in this hour as the flames outside still burn and rise, although such suffering is present, still perform this play which we promised our participants in connection with our course, and which these participants expect. I also will hold the lecture I offered, here in the ‘Schreinerei’ this evening at 8:00 P.M.” (printed in Ansprachen zu den Weihnachtsspielen aus Altem Volkstum [Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1974], GA Bibl. Nr. 274). The beginning of the course's lecture was then devoted to the fire, which is printed in The Younger Generation (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1984).

In my last lecture, I said that one root of the scientific world conception lay in the fact that John Locke and other thinkers of like mind distinguished between the primary and secondary qualities of things in the surrounding world. Locke called primary everything that pertains to shape, to geometrical and numerical characteristics, to motion and to size. From these he distinguished what he called the secondary qualities, such as color, sound, and warmth. He assigned the primary qualities to the things themselves, assuming that spatial corporeal things actually existed and possessed properties such as form, motion and geometrical qualities; and he further assumed that all secondary qualities such as color, sound, etc. are only effects on the human being. Only the primary qualities are supposed to be in the external things. Something out there has size, form and motion, but is dark, silent and cold. This produces some sort of effect that expresses itself in man's experiences of sound, color and warmth.

I have also pointed out how, in this scientific age, space became an abstraction in relation to the dimensions. Man was no longer aware that the three dimensions—up-down, right-left, front-back—were concretely experienced within himself. In the scientific age, he no longer took this reality of the three dimensions into consideration. AS far as he was concerned, they arose in total abstraction. He no longer sought the intersecting point of the three dimensions where it is in fact experienced; namely, within man's own being. Instead, he looked for it somewhere in external space, wherever it might be. Thenceforth, this space framework of the three dimensions had an independent existence, but only an abstract thought-out one. This empty thought was no longer experienced as belonging to the external world as well as to man; whereas an earlier age experienced the three spatial dimensions in such a way that man knew he was experiencing them not only in himself but together with the nature of physical corporeality.

The dimensions of space had, as it were, already been abstracted and ejected from man. They had acquired a quite abstract, inanimate character. Man had forgotten that he experiences the dimensions of space in his own being together with the external world; and the same applied to everything concerned with geometry, number, weight, etc. He no longer knew that in order to experience them in their full living reality, he had to look into his own inner being. A man like John Locke transferred the primary qualities—which are of like kind with the three dimensions of space, the latter being a sort of form or shape—into the external world only because the connection of these qualities with man's inner being was no longer known.

The others, the secondary qualities, which were actually experienced qualitatively (as color, tone, warmth, smell or taste,) now were viewed as merely the effects of the things upon man, as inward experiences. But I have pointed out that inside the physical man as well as inside the etheric man these secondary qualities can no longer be found, so that they became free-floating in a certain respect. They were no longer sought in the outer world; they were relocated into man's inner being. It was felt that so long as man did not listen to the world, did not look at it, did not direct his sense of warmth to it, the world was silent. It had primary qualities, vibrations that were formed in a certain way, but no sound; it had processes of some kind in the ether, but no color; it had some sort of processes in ponderable matter (matter that has weight)—but it had no quality of warmth. As to these experienced qualities, the scientific age was really saying that it did not know what to do with them. It did not want to look for them in the world, admitting that it was powerless to do so. They were sought for within man, but only because nobody had any better ideas. To a certain extent science investigates man's inner nature, but it does not (and perhaps cannot) go very far with this, hence it really does not take into consideration that these secondary qualities cannot be found in this inner nature. Therefore it has no pigeonhole for them. Why is this so?

Let us recall that if we really want to focus correctly on something that is related to form, space, geometry or arithmetic, we have to turn our attention to the inward life-filled activity whereby we build up the spatial element within our own organism, as we do with above-below, back-front, left-right. Therefore, we must say that if we want to discover the nature of geometry and space, if we want to get to the essence of Locke's primary qualities of corporeal things, we must look within ourselves. Otherwise, we only attain to abstractions.

In the case of the secondary qualities such as sound, color, warmth, smell and taste, man has to remember that his ego and astral body normally dwell within his physical and etheric bodies but during sleep they can also be outside the physical and etheric bodies. Just as man experiences the primary qualities, such as the three dimensions, not outside but within himself during full wakefulness, so, when he succeeds (whether through instinct or through spiritual-scientific training) in really inwardly experiencing what is to be found outside the physical and etheric bodies from the moment of falling asleep to waking up, he knows that he is really experiencing the true essence of sound, color, smell, taste, and warmth in the external world outside his own body. When, during the waking condition, man is only within himself, he cannot experience anything but picture-images of the true realities of tone, color, warmth, smell and taste. But these images correspond to soul-spirit realities, not physical-etheric ones. In spite of the fact that what we experience as sound seems to be connected with certain forms of air vibrations, just as color is connected with certain processes in the colorless external world, it still has to be recognized that both are pictures, not of anything corporeal, but of the soul-spirit element contained in the external world.

We must be able to tell ourselves: When we experience a sound, a color, a degree of warmth, we experience an image of them. But we experience them as reality, when we are outside our physical body. We can portray the facts in a drawing as follows: Man experiences the primary qualities within himself when fully awake, and projects them as images into the outer world. If he only knows them in the outer world, he has the primary qualities only in images (arrow in sketch). These images are the mathematical geometrical, and arithmetical qualities of things.

It is different in the case of the secondary qualities. (The horizontal lines stand for the physical and etheric body of man, the red shaded area for the soul-spirit aspect, the ego and astral body.) Man experiences them outside his physical and etheric body,53One can find the basic reality explained in the chapter “Sleep and Death” in An Outline Of Occult Science and in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1983). and projects only the images into himself. Because the scientific age no longer saw through this, mathematical forms and numbers became something that man looked for abstractly in the outer world. The secondary qualities became something that man looked for only in himself. But because they are only images in himself, man lost them altogether as realities.

As few isolated thinkers, who still retained traditions of earlier views concerning the outer world, struggled to form conceptions that were truer to reality than those that, in the course of the scientific age, gradually emerged as the official views. Aside from Paracelsus,54Paracelsus, Theophrastus von Hohenheim: Einsiedein, Kanton Schwytz 1493–1541 Salzburg, Md. Ferrara, Professor in Basel. Accomplished physician, scientist, and philosopher. Wrote about chemistry, medical science, biology, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, and theology. The myths about Paracelsus as goldmaker, magician, or charlatan were made up after his death and distorted the picture of his character. Most complete work published by Karl Sudhoff (fourteen volumes). See Riddles of Philosophy. there was, for example, van Helmont,55Helmont, Johann Baptist van: Brussels 1577–1644. Physician and iatrochemist. He managed the differentiation and separation of gases (hydrogen, carbon). He coined the name “gas” for the airy state. who was well aware that man's spiritual element is active when color, tone, and so forth are experienced. During the waking state, however, the spiritual is active only with the aid of the physical body. Hence it produces only an image of what is really contained in sound or color. This leads to a false description of external reality; namely, that purely mathematical-mechanistic form of motion for what is supposed to be experienced as secondary qualities in man's inner being, whereas, in accordance with their reality, their true nature, they can only be experienced outside the body. We should not be told that if we wish to comprehend the true nature of sound, for example, we ought to conduct physical experiments as to what happens in the air that carries us to the sound that we hear. Instead, we should be told that if we want to acquaint ourselves with the true nature of sound, we have to form an idea of how we really experience sound outside our physical and etheric bodies. But these are thoughts that never occurred to the men of the scientific age. They had no inclination to consider the totality of human nature, the true being of man. Therefore they did not find either mathematics or the primary qualities in this unknown human nature; and they did not find the secondary qualities in the external world, because they did not know that man belongs to it also.

I do not say that one has to be clairvoyant in order to gain the right insight into these matters, although a clairvoyant approach would certainly produce more penetrating perceptions in this area. But I do say that a healthy and open mind would lead one to place the primary qualities, everything mathematical-mechanical, into man's inner being, and to place the secondary qualities into the outer world. The thinkers no longer understand human nature. They did not know how man's corporeality is filled with spirit, or how this spirit, when it is awake in a person, must forget itself and devote itself to the body if it is to comprehend mathematics. Nor was it known that this same spirituality must take complete hold of itself and live independently of the body, outside the body, in order to come to the secondary qualities. Concerning all these matters, I say that clairvoyant perception can give greater insight, but it is not indispensable. A healthy and open mind can feel that mathematics belongs inside, while sound, color, etc. are something external.

In my notes on Goethe's scientific works56See Steiner, Goethe the Scientist. Especially see Chapters 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15. in the 1880's, I set forth what healthy feeling can do in this direction. I never mentioned clairvoyant knowledge, but I did show to what extent man can acknowledge the reality of color, tone, etc. without any clairvoyant perception. This has not yet been understood. The scientific age is still too deeply entangled in Locke's manner of thinking. I set it forth again, in philosophic terms, in 1911 at the Philosophic Congress in Bologna.57Lecture of April 8, 1911, at the 9th International Philosophical Congress, “The Psychological Foundations of Anthroposophy,” in Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Development, Spring Valley, NY: 1982), pp. 25–55. And again it was not understood. I tried to show how man's soul—spirit organization does indeed indwell and permeate the physical and etheric body during the waking state, but still remains inwardly independent. If one senses this inward independence of the soul and spirit, then on also has a feeling for what the soul and spirit have experienced during sleep about the reality of green and yellow, G and C-sharp, warm and cold, sour or sweet. But the scientific age was unwilling to go into a true knowledge of man.

This description of the primary and secondary qualities shows quite clearly how man got away from the correct feeling about himself and his connection to the world. The same thing comes out in other connections. Failing to grasp how the mathematical with its three-dimensional character dwells in man, the thinkers likewise could not understand man's spirituality. They would have had to see how man is in a position to comprehend right-left by means of the symmetrical movements of his arms and hands and other symmetrical movements. Through sensing the course taken, for example, by his food, he can experience front-back. He experiences up-down as he coordinates himself in this direction in his earliest years. If we discern this, we see how man inwardly unfolds the activity that produces the three dimensions of space. Let me point out also that the animal does not have the vertical direction in the same way as man does, since its main axis is horizontal, which is what man can experience as front-back. The abstract space framework could no longer produce anything other than mathematical, mechanistic, abstract relationships in inorganic nature. It could not develop an inward awareness of space in the animal or in man.

Thus no correct opinion could be reached in this scientific age concerning the question: How does man relate to the animal, the animal to man? What distinguishes them from one another? It was still dimly felt that there was a difference between the two, hence one looked for the distinguishing features. But nothing could be found in either man or animal that was decisive and consistent. Here is a famous example: It was asserted that man's upper jawbone, in which the upper teeth are located, was in one piece, whereas in the animal, the front teeth were located in a separate one, the inter-maxillary bone, with the actual upper jawbone on either side of them. Man, it was thought, did not possess this inter-maxillary bone. Since one could no longer find the relationship of man to animal by inner soul-spirit means, one looked for it in such external features and said that the animal had an inter-maxillary bone and man did not.

Goethe could not put into words what I have said today concerning primary and secondary qualities. But he had a healthy feeling about all these matters. He knew instinctively that the difference between man and animals must lie in the human form as a whole, not in any single feature. This is why Goethe opposed the idea that the inter-maxillary bone is missing in man. As a young man, he wrote an important article suggesting that there is an inter-maxillary bone in man as well as in the animal. He was able to prove this by showing that in the embryo the inter-maxillary bone is still clearly evident in man although in early childhood this bone fuses with the upper jaw, whereas it remains separate in the animal. Goethe did all this out of a certain instinct, and this instinct led him to say that one must not seek the difference between man and animal in details of this kind; instead, it must be sought for in the whole relation of man's form, soul, and spirit to the world.

By opposing the naturalists who held that man lacks the inter-maxillary bone Goethe brought man close to the animal. But he did this in order to bring out the true difference as regards man's essential nature. Goethe's approach out of instinctive knowledge put him in opposition to the views of orthodox science, and this opposition has remained to this day. This is why Goethe really found no successors in the scientific world. On the contrary, as a consequence of all that had developed since the Fifteenth Century in the scientific field, in the Nineteenth Century the tendency grew stronger to approximate man to the animal. The search for a difference in external details diminished with the increasing effort to equate man as nearly as possible with the animal. This tendency is reflected in what arose later on as the Darwinian idea of evolution. This found followers, while Goethe's conception did not. Some have treated Goethe as a kind of Darwinist, because all they see in him is that, through his work on the inter-maxillary bone,58See Steiner, Goethe the Scientist. he brought man nearer to the animal. But they fail to realize that he did this because he wanted to point out (he himself did not say so in so many words, but it is implicit in his work) that the difference between man and animal cannot be found in these external details.

Since one no longer knew anything about man, one searched for man's traits in the animal. The conclusion was that the animal traits are simply a little more developed in man. As time went by, there was no longer any inkling that even in regard to space man had a completely different position. Basically, all views of evolution that originated during the scientific age were formulated without any true knowledge of man. One did not know what to make of man, so he was simply represented as the culmination of the animal series. It was a though one said: Here are the animals; they build up to a final degree of perfection, a perfect animal; and this perfect animal is man.

My dear friends, I want to draw your attention to how matters have proceeded with a certain inner consistency in the various branches of scientific thinking since its first beginnings in the Fifteenth Century; how we picture our relation to the world on the basis of physics, of physiology, by saying: Out there is a silent and colorless world. It affects us. We fashion the colors and sounds in ourselves as experiences of the effects of the outer world.

At the same time we believe that the three dimensions of space exist outside of us in the external world. We do this, because we have lost the ability to comprehend man as a whole. We do this because our theories of animal and man do not penetrate the true nature of man. Therefore, in spite of its great achievements we can say that science owes its greatness to the fact that it has completely missed the essential nature of man. We were not really aware of the extent to which science was missing this. A few especially enthusiastic materialistic thinkers in the Nineteenth Century asserted that man cannot rightly lay claim to anything like soul and spirit because what appears as soul and spirit is only the effect of something taking place outside us in time and space. Such enthusiasts describe how light works on us; how something etheric (according to their theory) works into us through vibrations along our nerves; how the external air also continues on in breathing, etc. Summing it all up, they said that man is dependent on every rise and fall of temperature, on any malformation of his nervous system, etc. Their conclusion was that man is a creature pitifully dependent on every draft or change of pressure.

Anyone who reads such descriptions with an open mind will notice that, instead of dealing with the true nature of man, they are describing something that turns man into a nervous wreck. The right reply to such descriptions is that a man so dependent on every little draft of air is not a normal person but a neurasthenic. But they spoke of this neurasthenic as if he were typical. They left out his real nature, recognizing only what might make him into a neurasthenic. Through the peculiar character of this kind of thinking about nature, all understanding was gradually lost. This is what Goethe revolted against, though he was unable to express his insights in clearly formulated sentences.

Matters such as these must be seen as part of the great change in scientific thinking since the Fifteenth Century. Then they will throw light on what is essential in this development. I would like to put it like this: Goethe in his youth took a keen interest in what science had produced in its various domains. He studied it, he let it stimulate him, but he never agreed with everything that confronted him, because in all of it he sensed that man was left out of consideration. He had an intense feeling for man as a whole. This is why he revolted in a variety of areas against the scientific views that he saw around him. It is important to see this scientific development since the Fifteenth Century against the background of Goethe's world conception. Proceeding from a strictly historical standpoint, one can clearly perceive how the real being of man is missing in the scientific approach, missing in the physical sciences as well as in the biological.

This is a description of the scientific view, not a criticism. Let us assume that somebody says: “Here I have water. I cannot use it in this state. I separate the oxygen from hydrogen, because I need the hydrogen.” He then proceeds to do so. If I then say what he has done, this is not criticism of his conduct. I have no business to tell him he is doing something wrong and should leave the water alone. Nor is it criticism, when I saw that since the Fifteenth Century science has taken the world of living beings and separated from it the true nature of man, discarding it and retaining what this age required. It then led this dehumanized science to the triumphs that have been achieved.

It is not a criticism if something like this is said; it is only a description. The scientist of modern times needed a dehumanized nature, just as chemist needs deoxygenized hydrogen and therefore has to split water into its two components. The point is to understand that we must not constantly fall into the error of looking to science for an understanding of man.