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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Origins of Natural Science
GA 326

Lecture IX

6 January 1923, Dornach

It is in the nature of the case that the subject of a lecture course like this one is inexhaustible. Matters could be elaborated and looked at more thoroughly. But since, unfortunately, we must come to an end, we have to be content with given guidelines and indication. Today, therefore, I shall only supplement the scanty outlines and hints already discussed to that in a certain sense the picture will be rounded out.

Proceeding once again from the being of man as viewed by spiritual science, we must say that we member man into physical body, etheric or formative forces body, astral body (which essentially represents the soul life) and ego. Let us be clear that properly speaking the physical body resides only in the small part of the human organization that we can describe as solid and sharply defined. On the other hand, all that pertains to liquid or fluid forms is taken hold of by the etheric body in such a way that it is in a constant process of blending, separating, combining, and dissolving. It is in perpetual flux. Then there are the gaseous, aeriform elements, such as are active in oxygen and other gases. In these, the astral body is at work. Finally, the ego organization is active in everything that has to do with warmth.

What I have just outlined cannot, however, be reduced to a diagram. We must clearly understand, for instance, that because the formative forces body pulsates through all fluid and liquid elements of the body, it also sweeps along the solid substances. Everything in the human organization is in close interaction, in constant interplay. We must always be aware of that. But now let us also remember that this human organization has been experienced in different ways in the course of evolution. This was one of the main themes of these lectures.

What is described today as the subject matter of external physics or mechanics, was originally attained through an inward experience of the physical body. Our present-day physics contains statements that originated because there once existed an internally experienced physics of the physical body. As I have explained a number of times, this inward physics was divorced from man and now continues to function merely as a science that observes outer nature. During the decline of the medieval alchemy the same thing happened with what lives inwardly in man by virtue of the etheric body. The work of this body in the fluids was once experienced, but now it is only dimly perceptible in the fantastic, alchemistic formulas that we find in ancient writings. Originally this was intelligent science, but inwardly experienced within the etheric. In a way, this is still in the process of being divorced from man, because as yet we really do not have a fully developed chemistry. We have many chemical processes in the world that we seek to understand, but only in a physical and mechanical way.

In the beginning man experienced all this inwardly by means of his organization, but in the course of time he cast it all out of himself. In this process of casting out all our science developed, from astronomy to the meager beginnings of modern chemistry. On the other hand, thinking, feeling and willing, the subject matter of abstract psychology (which today is no longer considered real) was in former times actually not experienced inside man. Man felt himself at one with the external world outside his own being, when he experienced the soul life. Thus what was corporeal was once experienced inwardly, whereas the soul element was experienced by leaving one's being and communing with the outer world. Psychology was once the science of that aspect of the world that affects man in such a way that he appears to himself as a soul being. Physics and chemistry were cast out of man, whereas psychology and pneumatology (which I shall discuss directly) were stuffed into him and lost their reality. They turned into subjective perceptions with which nothing could be done.

What was experienced together with the cosmos through the astral body (which leaves us in sleep) has become the subject of psychology. What man experienced as spirit in union with the universe was pneumatology. Today, as I have already pointed out, this has shrunk down to the idea of the ego or to a mere feeling. Therefore we now have as science of external nature what was once inner experience, while our science of man's inner nature is what was once external experience.

Now we must call to mind what is needed, on the one hand for physics and chemistry, and on the other for psychology and pneumatology, in order to develop them further in a conscious way, since man today finds himself in the age of the development of the consciousness soul. Take physics, for example, which in recent times has become mostly abstract and mechanical. From all that I have said you will have seen that the scientific age has increasingly felt impelled to restrict itself to the externally observed mechanics of space. Long ago, man accompanied motion by means of inward experience and judged it according to what he felt within as movement. Observing a falling stone, he experienced its inner impulse of movement in his own inner human nature, in his physical body. This experience, after the great casting out, led to the measuring of the rate of fall per second. In our attitude toward nature, the idea prevails that what is observed is what is real.

What can be observed in the outer world? It is motion, change of position.83See Drawings, pages 92, 95 and compare with the ones on page 125. As a rule, we let velocity vanish neatly in a differential coefficient. But it is motion that we observe, and we express velocity as movement per second, hence by means of space. This means, however, that with our conscious experience, we are entirely outside the object. We are not involved in it in any way when we merely watch its motion, meaning its change of position in space. We can do that only if we find ways and means to inwardly take hold of the spatial, physical object by an extending of the same method with which we separated from it in the first place. Instead of the mere movement, the bare change of position, we have to view the velocity in the objects as their characteristic element. Then we can know what a particular object is like inwardly, because we find velocity also within ourselves when we look back upon ourselves.

This is what is necessary. The trend of scientific development in regard to the outer physical world must be extended in the direction of proceeding from mere observation of motion to a feeling for the velocity possessed by a given object. We must advance from motion to velocity. That is how we enter into reality. Reality is not taken hold of if all we see is that a body changes its position in space. But if we know that the body possesses an inner velocity-impulse, then we have something that lies in the nature of the body. We assert nothing about a body if we merely indicate its change of position, but we do state something about it when we say that it contains within itself the impulse for its own velocity. This then is a property of it, something that belongs to its nature. You can understand this by a simple illustration. If you watch a moving person, you know nothing about him. But if you know that he has a strong urge to move quickly, you do know something about him. Likewise, you know something about him, when you know that he has a reason for moving slowly. We must be able to take hold of something that has significance within a given body. It matters little whether or not modern physics speaks, for example, of atoms; what matters is that when it does speak of them it regards them as velocity charges. That is what counts.

Now the question is: how do we arrive at such a perception? We can discuss the best in the case of physics, since today's chemistry has advanced too little. We have to become clear about what we actually do when, in our thinking, we cast inwardly experienced mechanics and physics into external space. That is what we are doing when we say: The nature of what is out there in space is of no concern to me; I observe only what can be measured and expressed in mechanical formulas, and I leave aside everything that is not mechanical. Where does this lead us? It leads us to the same process in knowledge that a human being goes through when he dies. When he dies, life goes out of him, the dead organism remains. When I begin to think mechanistically, life goes out of my knowledge. I then have a science of dead matter. We must be absolutely clear that we are setting up a science of dead matter so long as the mechanical and physical aspect is the sole object of our study of nature. You must be aware that you are focusing on what is dead. You must be able to say to yourself: The great thing about science is that it has tacitly resolved that, unlike the ancient alchemists who still saw in outer nature a remnant of life, it will observe what is dead I minerals, plants, and animals. Science will study only what is dead in them, because it utilizes only ideas and concepts suitable for what is dead. Therefore, our physics is dead by its nature.

Science will stand on a solid basis only when it fully realizes that its mode of thinking can take hold only of the dead. The same is true of chemistry, but I cannot go into that today because of the lack of time.

When we look only at motion and lose sight of velocity, we are erecting a physics that is dead, the end-product of living things is then our concern, and the end-product is death. Hence, when we look at nature with the eyes of modern mechanics and physics, we must realize that we are looking at a corpse.

Nature was not always like this. It was different at one time. If I look at a corpse, it would be foolish to believe that it was always in this condition. The fact that I realize that it is a corpse proves to me that once it was a living organism. The moment you realize that modern mechanics and physics lead you to view nature in this way, you will see that nature is now a corpse so far as physics is concerned. We are studying a corpse.

Can we attain to something living, or at least an approach to it? The corpse is the final condition of something living. Where is the beginning condition? Well, my dear friends, there is no way to rediscover velocity by observing motion. You may stare at differential coefficients as long as you will but you will not find it. Instead, you must turn back to man. Whereas formerly he experienced himself from within, you must now study him from without through his physical organism, and you must understand that in man—and especially in his physical and etheric organizations—the beginning of a living condition must be sought.

No satisfactory form of physics and chemistry will be attained save through a genuine science of man. But I expressly call attention to the fact that such a genuine anthropology will not be reached by approaching man with the methods of present-day physics and chemistry. That would only carry death back into man and make his body (his lower organization) even more dead than before.

You must study what is living in man, and not revert to the method of physics and chemistry. What is needed are the methods that can be found through spiritual-scientific research. Briefly stated, spiritual-scientific research will meet the historic requirements of natural science.

This historic requirement can be put in the following words: Science has reached the point of observing what is corpse-like in nature. Anthroposophical spiritual science must discover in addition to this the beginning of a living condition. This has been preserved in man. In former periods of evolution it was also externally perceptible. At one time, the processes of nature were totally different. Today, we walk around on the corpses of what existed in the beginning. But in the two lower bodies of man, the beginning condition has been preserved. There we can discover all that once existed, right back to the Saturn condition. An historical approach leads beyond the present state of science. It is quite clear why this is so. We are in the midst of a period of development. If, as is so frequently the case, we consider today's manner of thinking to be the most advanced and do not realize that the real course of events was very different, then we are looking at history the wrong way. As an example, a twenty-five year old person need not only be observed in the light of the twenty-five years that he has been alive,—one must also observe the element in him that makes it possible for him to live on. That is one point.



Dead Aspect (Final Condition of Being)



Semblance (Initial Condition of Being)

The other point is that our psychology has become very thin, while pneumatology has nearly reached the vanishing point. Again, we must know how far it has gone with these two sciences in the present age. If one speaks today of blue or red, of C-sharp or G, or of qualities of warmth, he will say that they are subjective sensations. That is the popular attitude; But what is a mere subjective sensation? It is a “phenomenon.” Just as we observe only motions in outer nature, we study only the phenomenon in psychology and pneumatology. And just as velocity is missing from motion in our external observation, the essential thing—the living essence—is missing from our observation of the inner soul life. Because we only study phenomena and no longer experience the living essence, we never get beyond mere semblance. The way thinking, feeling and willing are experienced today, they are mere semblance. Modern epistemologists have the man who wants to lift himself up by his own pigtail, or like the man in a railroad car who pushes against the wall without realizing that he cannot move the carriage in this way. This is how modern epistemologists look. They talk and talk, but there is no vitality in their talk because they are locked into the mere semblance.

I have tried to put a certain end to this talk. The first time was in my Philosophy of Freedom,84See footnote 45. where I demonstrated how this semblance, inherent in pure thinking, becomes the impulse of freedom when inwardly grasped by man in thinking. If something other than semblance were contained in our subjective experience, we could never be free. But if this semblance can be raised to pure thinking, one can be free, because what is not real being cannot determine us, whereas real being would do so. This was my first effort. My second effort was at the Philosophical Congress in Bologna, when I analyzed the matter psychologically. I attempted to show that our sensations and thoughts are in fact outward experiences, rather than inward ones, and that this insight can be attained by careful observation.

These indications will have to be understood. Then, we shall realize that we must rediscover being in semblance, just as we must rediscover velocity in movement. Then, we will understand what this inwardly experienced semblance really is. It will reveal itself as the initial state of being. Man experiences this semblance; experiences himself as semblance and as such lives his way into semblance and thus transforms it into the seed of future worlds. I have often pointed out that from our ethics, our morals, born of the physical world of semblance, future physical worlds will arise, just as from today's seed the plant will grow.85See Rudolf Steiner, The Karma of Vocation (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1984). We are dealing with the nascent state of being. In order to have a proper natural science, we must realize that psychology and pneumatology must understand what they observe as nascent states of being. Only then will they throw light on those matters that natural science wants to illuminate. But what is this “nascent” or “initial state?”

Now this nascent state is in the outer world, not within. It is what I see when I behold the green tapestry of plants, the world of colors—red, green and blue—and the sounds that are out there. What are these fleeting formations that modern-day physics, physiology and psychology regard only as subjective? They are the elements from which the worlds of the future create themselves. Red is not engendered by matter in the eye or the brain, red is the first, semblance-like, seed of future worlds.

If you know this, you will also want to know something about what will correspond in these future worlds to the corpse-like element. It will not be what we found earlier in our physics and chemistry, it will be the corpse of the future. We shall recognize what will be the corpse of the future, the future element of death, if we discover it already today in the higher organization of man, where astral body and ego are active. By experiencing the final condition there in reference to the initial one, we at last gain a proper comprehension of the nervous system and the brain insofar as they are dead, not alive. In a certain sense, they can be more dead than a corpse, inasmuch as they transcend the absolute point of death—especially in the case of the nervous system—and become “more dead than dead.” But this very fact makes the nervous system and the brain bearers of the so-called spiritual element—because the dead element dwells in them, the final state not yet even reached by outer nature—because they even surpass this final state.

In order to find psychology and pneumatology in the outer world, we shall have to discover how the inanimate, the dead, dwells in the human organism; namely, in the head organization and in part of the rhythmic organization, mainly that of breathing. We must look at our head and say of it that it is constantly dying. If it were alive, the growing, sprouting living matter could not think. But because it gives up life and constantly dies, the soul-spiritual thoughts, endowed with being, have the opportunity to spread out over what is dead as new living, radiant semblance.

You see, here lie the great tasks that, by means of the historical manner of observation result quite simply from natural science. If we don't take hold of them, we move like ghosts through the present development of science, and not with the consciousness that an epoch that has begun must find a way to continue. You can imagine that much of this is contained implicitly in what science has discovered. Scientific literature offers such indications everywhere. But people cannot yet distinguish clearly; they like what is chaotic. They don't care clearly to contemplate physics and chemistry on one hand, and psychology and pneumatology on the other, because then they would have to consider seriously the inner and outer aspects. They prefer to vacillate in the murky waters between physics and chemistry. Due to this, a bastard science has arisen that has become the darling of natural research and even philosophy; namely, physiology. As soon as the real facts are discovered, physiology will fall apart into psychology on the one hand—a psychology that is also a perception of the world—and on the other, into chemistry, meaning a chemistry that is also a knowledge of man.

When these two are attained, this in-between science, physiology, will vanish. Because today you have a morass in which you can find everything, and because by juggling a bit to the left or the right, it is possible to find a bit of a soul or a corporeal element, people do quite well. The physiology of today is what above all must disappear as the last remnant of former conceptions that have become muddled. The reason physiological concepts are so abstruse is that they contain soul and corporeal elements that are no longer distinguished, thus they can play around with words and even juggle the facts. One who aims for clear insight must realize that physiology amounts in the end to fibbing with words and facts.

Until we admit this, we can't take the history of natural science seriously. Science does not proceed only from undetermined past ages to our time, it continues on from the present. History can only be understood, if one comprehends the further course of things, not in a superstitious, prophetic sense but by beginning now to do the right thing. And infinitely much needs to be set right, particularly in the domain of science. Natural science has grown tall; it is like a nice teenager, who at the moment is going through his years of unpolished adolescence, and whose guidance must be continued so that he will become mature. Science will mature, if murky areas like physiology disappear, and physics and pneumatology arise again in the way outlined above. They will come into being, if the anthroposophical way of thinking is applied in earnest to science. This will be the case, when people feel that they are learning something, when somebody speaks to them of a real physics, a real chemistry, a real psychology and pneumatology; when they no longer have the urge to comprehend everything concerning the world and the human being through bastardized chaotic sciences like physiology. Then, the development of human knowledge will once again stand on a sound basis.

Naturally, therapy is particularly affected and suffers under present-day physiology. You can well imagine this, because it works with all manner of things that elude one's grasp, when one begins to think clearly.

We cannot confront the great challenges of our time with a few anthroposophical catchwords and phrases. It also does not suffice to dabble with physiology on the borderline between psychology and chemistry. The only way to proceed is to apply the methods of spiritual-scientific anthroposophy to physics and chemistry. If you are lazy—forgive me for this harsh expression, I don't mean it in such a radical sense in this case—you say: These matters can only be correctly judged, if one is clairvoyant. Therefore I will wait until I am clairvoyant. I won't venture to criticize physics and chemistry or even physiology.

My dear friends, you need not have insights that surpass ordinary perception in order to know that a corpse is dead and that it must have originated in life. Neither do you need to be clairvoyant in order to analyze properly the true facts of today's physics and chemistry, and to refer them back to their underlying living element, once your attention is directed to the fact that this living element is to be found by studying the “lower man.” There you will have the supplement you need for chemistry and physics. Make the attempt, for once, really to study the mechanism of human movement.86Literature: Adolf Fink has studied the mechanism of human movement and the heat produced by muscular work, and published in 1857, 1869, and 1882 Gesammelte Schriften, (1903–06 in German). Instead of constantly drawing axis of coordinates and putting the movements into them apart from man; instead of multiplying differential coefficients and integrals, make a serious attempt to study the mechanics of movement in man. As they were once experienced from within, so do you now study them from without. Then you will have what you need, to add to your outer observation of nature, in physics and chemistry.

In outer nature, those who proclaim atomism will always put you in the wrong. They even work themselves up to the very spiritual statement that when one speaks about matter in the sense of a modern physicist, matter is no longer material. The physicists, themselves are saying it;87In the beginning of the century Rudolf Steiner pointed to the speech of the philosopher and Prime Minister A.J. Balfour of August 17, 1904, in front of the British Association, immediately after it was held; see Rudolf Steiner, Lucifer Gnosis (Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1969), GA Bibl. No. 34, p. 467. Often Steiner also mentioned the lecture of Max Planck of 1910: “Die Stellung der Neueren Physic zur Mechanischen Weltanshaung” in Max Planck, Physikalische Abhandlungen und Vorträge (Brunswick, Germany, 1958), Vol. 3, pp. 30–46. our very opponents are saying it. In this case they are right, and if we in our replies to them stop short at the half-truths—that is to say, at the final conditions of being—we shall never be equal to that which issues from them.

Here lie the tasks of the specialists, here lie the tasks of those who have the requisite preliminary training, in one or another branch of science.

Then we shall not establish a physicized or chemicized Anthroposophy, but a true anthroposophical chemistry, anthroposophical physics. Then we shall not establish a new medicine as a mere variation on the old, but a true anthroposophical medicine.

The tasks are at hand. They are outlined in all directions. Just as the simple heart can receive the observations that are scattered everywhere in our lectures or lecture cycles, and that give spiritual sustenance, so too the need is to take up on every hand the hints that can lead us to the much-needed progress in the several domains of science.

In the future, it will not suffice if man and nature do not again become one. What physics and chemistry study in nature as the final state of being, must be supplemented by the state of being in “lower man” belonging to the realm of physics and chemistry—in man who is dependent on the physical and etheric bodies. It is important that this be sought. It is not important to single out as essential the valences of the structural formulas or the periodic law in chemistry, because these are but schemata. While they are quite useful as tools for counting and calculations, what matters is the following realization. If the chemical processes are externally observed, the chemical laws are not within them. They are contained in the origin of chemical processes. Hence, they are found only, if, with diligent effort, one tries to seek in the human being for the processes that occur in his circulation, in the activity of his fluids, through the actions of the etheric body. The explanation of the chemical processes in nature lies in the processes of the etheric body. These in turn are represented in the play of fluids in the human organism and are accessible to precise study.

Anthroposophy poses a serious challenge in this direction. This is why we have founded research institutes88In 1920 a research institute was founded in Stuttgart for physics and chemistry, with a biological branch through the joint stock company “Der Kommende Tag.” A few years later it was transferred to Dornach. The first works from the Institute were published in Der Kommende Tag: Scientific Research Institute News. It contains Heft I (1921), “Milzfunktion und Blaettchen Frage” von L. Kolisko; Heft II (1923), “Der Villardsche Versuch” von Dr. Rer. Nat. R.E. Maier; Heft III (1923): “Physiologischer und Physicalischer Nachweis Kleinster Entitaeten” von L. Kolisko. Later works appeared in the volumes Gaea Sophia, Jahrbuch der Wissenschaftlichen Sektion der Freien Hochschule fuer Geisteswissenschaft am Goetheanum, Volume I (1926), etc. in which serious, intensive work must begin. Then the methods gained from anthroposophy can be properly nurtured. This is also the main point of our medical therapy; namely, that the old, confused physiology finally be replaced with a real chemistry and psychology. Without this one can never assert anything about the processes of illness and healing in human nature, because every course of illness is simply an abnormal psychological process, and each healing process is an abnormal chemical process. Only to the extent that we know how to influence the chemical process of healing and how to grasp the psychological course of illness will we attain to genuine pathology and therapy. This will emerge from the anthroposophical manner of observation. If one does not want to recognize this potential in anthroposophy, then one only wants something a bit out of the ordinary and is unwilling to get to work in earnest. Actually, everything that I have sketched here is only a description of how the work should proceed, because a genuine psychology and chemistry come into being through work. All the prerequisites for this work already exist, because very man facts can be found in scientific literature that researchers have accidentally discovered but don't understand. Those of us who work in the spirit of anthroposophy should take up these facts and contribute something to their full comprehension. Take as an example what I emphasized yesterday89From this scientific discussion of January 5 no known copy exists. in speaking to a smaller group of people. The essential point about the spleen is that it is really an excretory organ. The spleen itself is in turn an excretion of the functions in the etheric body. Countless facts are available in medical literature that need only be utilize—and that is the point: they should be utilized—then the facts will be brought together and what is needed will result.

A single person might accomplish this if a human life spanned six hundred years. But by that time, other tasks would confront him and his accomplishments would long since be outmoded. These things must be attained through cooperation, through people working together. So this is the second task—we must see to it that this becomes possible. I believe that these tasks of the Anthroposophical Society will emerge most clearly and urgently from a truly realistic study of the history of natural science in recent times.

This history shows us at every turn that something great and wonderful has arisen through modern science. In earlier times, the truly inanimate dead aspects could never be discerned, hence, nothing could be made of them. In those times inward semblance could never really be observed; therefore, it couldn't be brought to life by human effort, and hence, one couldn't arrive at freedom. Today, we confront a grandiose world, which became possible only because natural science studies the dead aspects. This is the world of technology. Its special character can be discerned from the fact that the word “technique” is taken from the Greek. There, it still signifies “art,” implying that art reveals, where technology still contains spirit. Today, technology only utilizes spirit in the sense of the abstract, spirit-devoid thoughts. Technology could be achieved only by attaining a proper knowledge of what is dead. Once in the course of humanity's evolution it was necessary to concentrate upon the dead; it thus entered into the realm of technology. Today, man stands in the midst of this realm of technology that surrounds him on all sides. He looks out on it and realizes that here at last is a sphere in which there is no spirit in the proper sense. In regard to the spiritual element, it is important that in all areas of technology human beings experience this inner feeling, almost akin to one of pain over the death of a person. If feeling and sensation can be developed in knowledge, then such a feeling will arise, somewhat like the sensation one experiences when a person is dying and one sees the living organism turn into a corpse. Alongside the abstract indifferent cold knowledge, such a feeling will arise through the true realization that technology is the processing of the inanimate, the dead. This feeling will become the most powerful impetus to seek the spirit in new directions.

I could well imagine the following view of the future: Man looks out over the chimneys, the factories, the telephones—everything that technology has produced in wondrous ways in the most recent times. He stands atop this purely mechanical world, the grave of all things spiritual, and he calls out longingly into the universe—and his yearning will be fulfilled. Just as the dead stone yields the living fiery spark if handled correctly, so from our dead technology will emerge the living spirit, if human beings have the right feelings about what technology is.

On the other hand, one need only understand clearly what pure thinking is; namely the semblance from which can be brought forth the most powerful moral impulses—those individual moral impulses that I have described in my Philosophy of Freedom. Then, in a new way, man will face the feeling that was once confronted by Nicholas Cusanus and Meister Eckhart. They said: When I life myself beyond everything that I am ordinarily accustomed to observe, I come to “nothingness” with all that I have learned. But in this “nothingness” there arises for me the “I.” If man really penetrates to pure thinking, then he finds in it the nothingness that turns into the I and from which emerges the whole wealth of ethical actions, that will create new worlds. I can imagine a person who first lets all knowledge of the preset, as inaugurated by natural science, impress itself on him and then (centuries after Meister Eckhart and Nicholas Cusanus) turns his gaze inward and with today's mode of thinking arrives at the nothingness of his inner life. In it, he discovers that the spirit really speaks to him. I can imagine that these two images merge. On the one hand, man goes to the place where barren technology has left the spirit behind. There he calls out into cosmic expanses for the spirit. On the other hand, he stops, thinks and looks within himself. And here, out of his inner being, he receives the divine answer to the call he sent out into the distances of the universe.

When we learn, through a new, anthroposophically imbued natural science, to let the calls of infinite longing for the spirit, sent out into the world, resound in our inner being, then this will be the right starting point. Here, through an “anthroposophized” inner perception, we will find the answer to the yearning call for the spirit, desperately sounded out into the universe.

I did not want to describe the development of natural science in recent times in a merely documentary fashion. Rather, I wanted to show you the standpoint of a human being, who comprehends this natural-scientific development and, in a difficult moment of humanity's evolution, knows the right things to say to himself in regard to the progress of mankind.