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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Part II
GA 291

3. Dimension, Number and Weight

29 July 1923, Dornach

Man in his earthly existence varies in his conditions of consciousness; he varies in the conditions of full wakefulness, of sleep, and of dreaming.

Let us first put the question to ourselves: is it an essential part of man to live as earthly being in these three conditions of consciousness?

We must clearly realize that of earthly beings only man lives in these three conditions. Animals live in an essentially different alternation. They do not have that deep, dreamless sleep which man has for the greater part of the time between falling asleep and awaking. On the other hand, animals do not have the complete wakefulness of man between awaking and going to sleep. Animal “wakefulness” is somewhat like human dream; but the experiences of the higher animals are more definite. On the other hand, animals are never so deeply unconscious as man is in deep sleep.

Therefore animals do not differentiate themselves from their surroundings so much as man. They have not got an outer and an inner world, as man has. The higher animals, (Dr. Steiner means by higher animals, the warm-blooded vertebrates, birds and mammals. – Ed.) subconsciously, feel themselves, with their whole inner being, like a part of the surrounding world.

When an animal sees a plant, his first feeling is not: that is outwardly a plant, and I am inwardly a separate being—but the animal gets a strong inner experience from the plant, a direct sympathy or antipathy. It feels as it were, the plant's nature inwardly. The circumstance that people of our time are not able to observe anything that is not obvious, prevents them from seeing in the impulses and behaviour of animals that it is as I have said.

Only man has the clear and sharp differentiation between his inner world and the outer world. Why does he recognize an outer world? How does he come at all to speak of an inner and an outer world? Because every time he sleeps, his ego and his astral body are outside his physical and etheric body: he abandons, so to speak, his physical and etheric bodies and is among those things which are outer world. During sleep we share the fate of outer things. As tables and benches, trees and clouds are during wakefulness outside our physical and etheric bodies and are therefore described as outer world, so, during sleep, our own astral bodies and our ego belong to the outer world. And here something happens.

In order to realize what happens here, let us first start from what happens when we face the world in a perfectly normal condition of wakefulness. There are the various objects outside us. And the scientific thought of man has gradually brought it to the point of recognizing such physical things as belonging certainly to the outer world as can be weighted, measured and counted. The content of our physical science without doubt is determined according to weight, dimension and number.

We reckon with the calculations which apply to earthly things, we weigh and measure them, and what we ascertain by weighing, measuring and counting really constitutes the physical. We would not describe a body as physical unless we could somehow put it to the proof by means of scales. But those things like colours, and sounds, the feeling even of warmth and cold, the real objects of sense-perceptions, these weave themselves about the things that are heavy, and measurable and countable. If we want to define any physical object, what constitutes its real physical nature is the part that can be weighed or counted, and with this alone the physicist really wants to be concerned. Of colour, sound and so on he says: Well, something occurs from outside with which weighing or counting is concerned—he says even of colour-phenomena: there are oscillating movements which make an impression on man from outside, and he describes this impression, when it concerns the eye, as colour, when it concerns the ear, as sound, and so on. One could really say that the modern physicist cannot make head or tail of all these things—sound, colour, warmth and cold. He regards them just as properties of something which can be ascertained with the scales or the measuring rod or arithmetic. Colours cling, as it were, to the physical; sound is wrung from the physical; warmth and cold surge up out of the physical. One says: that which has eight has redness, or, it is red.

You see, when a man is in the state between going to sleep and waking up, his ego and his astral body are in a different condition. Then the things of dimension, number and weight are not there at all, at any rate not according to earthly dimension, number and weight. When we sleep there are no things around us which can be weighed, however odd it appears, nor are there things around us which can be counted or measured. As an ego and an astral body one could not use a measuring rod in the state of sleep.

But what is there are—if I may so express it—the free-floating, free-moving sense-perceptions. Only in the present state of his development man is not capable of perceiving the free-floating redness, the waves of free-moving sound and so on.

If we wish to draw the thing diagrammatically, we could do it like this. We could say: Here on earth we have solid weighable things (red) and to these are attached, as it were, the redness, the yellow, in other words, what the senses perceive in these things. When we sleep, the yellow is free and floating, and also the redness not clinging to such weight-conditions, but floating and weaving freely. It is the same with sound. It is not eh bell which rings, but the ringing floats in the air.

When we go about in our physical world and see something or other, we pick it up; only then is it really a thing, otherwise it might be an optical illusion. Weight must come in. Therefore, unless we feel its weight, we are apt to consider something that appears in the physical, as an optical illusion, like the colours of the rainbow.

If you open a book on Physics today you will see the explanation given—the rainbow is an optical illusion. Physicists look upon the raindrop as the reality; and then they draw lines which really have no meaning for what is there, but they seemingly imagine them there in space. They are then called rays. But the rays are not there at all, but one is told the eye projects them. Remarkable use indeed is made of this projection in modern Physics. Thus I assume we see a red object. In order to convince ourselves that it is no optical illusion, we lift it up—and it is heavy; thereby it guarantees its reality.

He who now becomes conscious in the ego and the astral body, outside the physical and etheric bodies, comes in the end to the conclusion that there is something like this in this free-floating, free-moving colour and sound; but it is different. In this free-floating coloured substance there is a tendency to scatter to the uttermost parts of the Earth. It has a contrary weight. (See Diagram 1) These things of the earth want to go down there to the earth's center (downward arrow); these (upward arrow) want to escape into universal space.

And there is something there similar to a measurement. You get it, for instance, if you have, let us say, a small reddish cloud, and this small reddish cloud is hemmed in by a mighty yellow structure; you then measure, not with a measuring-rule, but qualitatively, the stronger-shining red with the weaker-shining yellow. And as the measuring-rule tells you: that is five yards, the red tells you here: (see Diagram 1): if I were to spread myself out, I should go into the yellow five times. I must expand myself. I must become bigger, then I, too, should become yellow. Thus are measurements made in this case.

If it still more difficult to be clear about counting, because after all in earthly counting we mostly count only peas or apples, which lie side by side indifferently, and we always have the feeling that I we place as second one by the one, this one doesn't mind a bit that another one lies next to it. In human life it is of course different. There is sometimes the case that the one is directed to the other. But this is already verging on the spiritual.

In physical mathematics it is a matter of indifference to divisions what is added to them. But here it is not the case. When a one is of a definite kind, it demands—let us say—some three or five others, according to its kind. It has always an inner relationship to the others. Here number is a reality. And if a consciousness of it begins, as is the case when you are out there with your ego and your astral body, you also get to the point of ascertaining something like dimension, number and weight, but of an opposite kind.

And then, when sight and hearing out there are no longer a mere chaotic mingling of red and yellow and sounds, but you begin to feel things are ordered, then arises the perception of the spiritual beings, who realize themselves in these free-floating sense-experiences. Then we enter the positive spiritual world, and the life and doings of the spiritual beings. As here on earth we enter the life and doings of earthly things, ascertaining them with the scales and the rod and our calculations, so, by adapting ourselves to the purely qualitative, opposite weight-condition, i.e. by wanting to expand imponderably into the world-spaces and by measuring colour by colour, etc.—we come to the understanding of spiritual beings. Such spiritual beings also permeate all the realms of nature.

Man with his waking consciousness sees only the outside of minerals and plants and animal; but in sleep he is with all that is spiritual in all these beings of nature's realms. And when on awakening he returns again to himself, his ego and his astral body keep as it were the inclination and affinity towards the outward things and cause him to recognize an outer world. If man had an organization which was not designed for sleep, he could not recognize an outer world.

It is not a question of insomnia, for I did not way, “if a man does not sleep,” but “if man had an organization which was not designed for sleep.” The point is the being designed for something. Therefore, of course, man becomes ill if he suffers from insomnia, because his nature is not suited to it. But things are so arranged that man attains an outer world and to a vision of it, just because in sleep he passes the time in the outer world with the things he calls, when awake, the outer world.

And you see, this relationship of man to sleep gives the earthly concept of truth. How? Well, we call it truth when we can correctly reproduce inwardly something external, when we can accurately experience inwardly something external. But for this we require the arrangement of sleep. Without it we should have no concept of truth, so that we have to thank the state of sleep for truth. In order to surrender ourselves to the truth of things, we must pass our existence for a certain time with those tings. The things tell us something about themselves only because during sleep they are appreciated by us through our soul's presence with them.

It is different in the case of the dream-state. The dream is related, of course, with the memory, with the inner soul-life, with what preferably lives in the memory; when the dream is free-floating sound-colour world, it means we are still half outside our body. If we go completely down, the same forces which we unfold as moving and living in dream become forces of memory. Then we no longer differentiate ourselves in the same way from the outer world. Our inner being coincides with it. Then we live in it with our sympathies and antipathies so strong that we do not feel things as sympathetic or antipathetic, but that the sympathies and antipathies themselves show themselves pictorially.

If we had not the possibility of dreaming, nor the continuation of this dream-force in our inner life, we should have no beauty. That we have a disposition for beauty is due to the fact that we are able to dream. For prosaic existence we have to say: we have to thank the power of dreaming that we have a memory. For the art life of man we have to thank the power of dreaming that there is beauty. The manner in which we feel or create beauty is namely very similar to the weaving, creating power of dreaming.

We behave in the experience of beauty and to the creation of it—through the help of our physical body—as we behave outside our physical body or half bound to it, when we dream. There is really only a slight jump from dreaming to living in beauty. And only because in these materialistic times people are of such coarse temperament that they do not notice this jump, is so little consciousness to be found of the whole significance of beauty. Man must necessarily give himself up in dream in order to experience this free movement and life, whereas when one gives oneself up to freedom, to apparent inner compulsion, that is, if one experiences this jump one has no longer the feeling that it is the same as dreaming, that it is the same except that use is made of the powers of the physical body. This generation will long ponder what “chaos” meant in former times. There are most diverse definitions of “chaos.” Actually it can only be characterized by saying: when man reaches a state of consciousness in which the experience of weight, of earthly dimension just ceases, and things begin to become less heavy, but as yet with no tendency to escape into the universe, but maintain themselves still—let us say—horizontally, in equilibrium, when the fixed boundaries get blurred, when the swaying indefiniteness of the world is seen with the physical body still, but already also with the soul-constitution of dreaming, then you see chaos. And the dream is merely the shadowy approach of chaos towards man.

In Greece one still had the feeling that one cannot really make the physical world beautiful; it is half a necessity of nature; it is as it is. One cannot set up the Cosmos—which means the beautiful world—out of earthly things, but only out of chaos, by shaping the chaos. And what one makes with earthly things is merely an imitation in matter of the molded chaos.

This is always the case in Art; and in Greece, where the mystery-cults still had a certain influence, one had a very vivid image of this relation of chaos to Cosmos.

But when one looks round in all these worlds—the unconsciousness of sleep, the half-consciousness of dream—one does not find the Good. The beings who are in these worlds are predestined with all wisdom from the very beginning to run their life's course there. One finds in them controlling, constructive wisdom. One finds in them beauty. But there is no sense in speaking of goodness among these beings when as earth-man it is a question of our meeting them. We can only speak of goodness when there is a distinction between inner and outer world, so that the good can follow the spiritual world or not. As the state of sleep is apportioned to truth, the dream-state to beauty, so is the condition of wakefulness apportioned to goodness, to the Good.

Sleep: Truth
Dream: Beauty, Chaos
Waking Consciousness: Goodness

This does not contradict what I have been saying during these days, that when one leaves earthly things and emerges into the Cosmos, one is induced to abandon also earthly concepts so as to speak of the moral world-order. For the moral world-order is necessarily as much foreordained in the spiritual world as causality is on this earth. Only there the predestination,—that which is appointed,—is spiritual; there is no contradiction.

But as regards human nature we must be clear: if we want to have the idea of truth, we must turn to the state of sleep; if we want to have the idea of beauty, we must turn to the state of dreaming, and if we want to have the idea of goodness, we must turn to the state of waking consciousness.

Man has thus, when awake, no vocation to his physical and etheric organization as regards truth, but as regards goodness. In this state we must most certainly arrive at the idea of goodness.

What does modern science achieve when it attempts to explain man? It refuses to rise from truth, through beauty to goodness; it wants to explain everything in accordance with an external causal necessity which corresponds only to the idea of truth. And here one entirely fails to reach that element in man which weaves and lives when he is awake. One reaches at the most only what man is when asleep. Therefore if you read anthropologists today with an alert eye, alert for the psychic peculiarities and forces of the world, you get the following impression. You say to yourself: Yes, that is all very nice, what we are told about man by modern science. But what sort of a fellow is this man really, about whom science tells us? He lies the whole time in bed ... he cannot apparently walk ... he cannot move. Movement, for example, is not in the least explained. He lies the whole time in bed.

It cannot be otherwise. Science explains man only when asleep. If you want to set him in motion, it would have to be done mechanically; wherefore, also, it is a scientific mechanism. One has to insert machinery into this sleeping man, to set this dummy in motion when he is to et up, and to put him to bed again in the evening.

Thus this science tells us absolutely nothing about the man who wanders about the world, who lives and moves and is awake; for what sets him in motion is contained in the idea of goodness, not in the idea of truth, which we gain chiefly from external things.

Now this is something which is not much thought about: one has the feeling, when a physiologist or anatomist of today describes man, that one would like to say: Wake u-p. Wake up! You are asleep, you are asleep! These people accustom themselves, under the influence of this way of looking at things, to the state of sleep. And as I have always said, people sleep through all sorts of things just because they are obsessed by science. Today, because the popular papers circulate everything everywhere, even the uneducated are also obsessed by science. There never were so many obsessed minds as today. It is remarkable with what words one must describe the real relationships of the present day. One must lapse into quite different epithets from those which are in common use today.

It is the same when the materialists try to place man in his surroundings. At the time of materialistic high-tide, people wrote books like one, for example, which stated in a certain chapter: Man is really of himself nothing. He is the product of the oxygen in the air, the product of the cold or warm temperature in which he is. He is really—so ends this materialistic description pathetically—a product of every air-current.

If one investigates such a description and imagines the man as he really is, as pictured thus by the materialist, he turns out to be a neurasthenic in the highest degree. The materialists have never described any other kind of man; if they did not notice that they described man when he is asleep, if they overdid their part and wanted to go further, they have never described him as anything but an extreme neurasthenic, who would die next day of his neurasthenia, who could not live at all, for this age of science has never grasped the idea of a living man.

Here lie the great tasks which must lead man out of present-day circumstances into such conditions in which the further life of world-history is alone possible. What is needed is a penetration into spirituality. The opposite pole must be found to that which has been attained. What was achieved during the nineteenth century7, so glorious for materialistic philosophy? What has been achieved?

In a wonderful way—we can say it sincerely and honestly—it succeeded in defining the outer world according to dimension, number and weight. In this, the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries achieved an extraordinary and mighty work. But finer feelings of the senses, colours, sounds, flutter about as it were in the indefinite. Physicists have entirely ceased to talk about colours and sounds. They talk of airwaves and ether waves. But those are after all not colours or sounds. Air-waves surely are not sounds, but at most the medium by which sounds are continued. There is no grasp of sense-qualities. We have to return to that. In fact one sees today only what can be determined by scales and measuring-rod and arithmetic. All else has escaped one.

And now when the theory of Relativity introduces a grand disorder into the measurable, the weighable, and the countable, everything is split asunder and falls to pieces. But ultimately this theory of Relativity founders at certain points. Not with regard to concepts: one does not get away from the theory of Relativity with earthly concepts, as I have had occasion to explain already in another place, but with reality one always gets away form the Relativity-concepts, for what can be measured or counted or weighed enters through measure, number and weight into quite definite relationships in outer sensible reality.

It is a question of seeing how colours, sounds, etc., are broken in Reality through consideration of weight, i.e. of that which really makes physical bodies. But with this tendency something extraordinarily important is overlooked. We forget namely Art. As we get more and more physical, Art departs further from us. No one will find a trace of Art in the books on Physics today. Nothing remains of Art—it must all go. It is ghastly studying a book on Physics at all today if one has an atom of feeling for beauty. Art is overlooked by man just because everything out of which colour and sound weave beauty, is, and is only recognized when it is attached to a weighty object. And the more physical people become, the more inartistic they become. Just think. We have a wonderful Physics; but it lives in denying Art; for it has reached the point of treating the world in such a manner that the artist takes no more heed of the physicist.

I do not think, for example that the musician lays much value on studying the physical theories of Acoustics. It is too wearisome, he doesn't bother. The painter will also not study this awful colour-theory which Physics contains. As a rule, if he bothers at all about colours, he turns still to Goethe's colour-theory. But that is false in the physicist's eyes. The physicists shut one eye and say: Well, well, it doesn't matter very much if a painter has a true or a false theory of colour.

It is a fact that Art must collapse under the physical philosophy of today. Now we must put the question to ourselves: Why did Art exist in older times?

If you go back to quite ancient times in which man still had an original clairvoyance, we find that they took less notice of dimension, number and weight in earthly things. They were not so important to them. They devoted themselves more to the colours and sounds of earthly things.

Remember that even Chemistry calculates in terms of weight only since Lavoisier; something more than a hundred years. Weight was first use din a world-philosophy at the end of the eighteenth century. Ancient mankind simply was not conscious that everything had to be defined according to earthly measure, number and weight. Man gave his heart and mind to the coloured carpet of the world, to the weaving the welling of sounds, not to the atmospheric vibrations.

But what was the possibility that came from living in this—I might say—imponderable sensible perception? By it one had the possibility, when for instance, one approached a man, of seeing him not as we se him today, but one regarded him as a product of the whole universe. Man was more a confluence of the Cosmos. He was more a microcosm than the thing inside his skin that stands where man stands, on this tiny spot of earth. He thought of man more as an image of the world. Then, colours flowed together, as it were, from all sides, and gave man colours. There was world-harmony, and man in tune with it, receiving his shape from it.

Moreover, mankind today can scarcely understand anything of the way in which ancient mystery-teachers spoke to their pupils. For when a man today wants to explain the human heart, he takes an embryo and sees how the blood-vessels expand, a utricle or bag appears and the heart is gradually formed. Well, that is not what the ancient mystery-teachers told their pupils. That would have appeared to them no more important than knitting a stocking, because after all the process looks much the same. On the contrary they emphasized something else as of paramount importance. They said: the human heart is a product of gold, which lives everywhere in light, and which streams in from the universe and shapes the human heart. You have had the representation. Light quivers through the universe, and the light carries gold. Everywhere in light there is gold. Gold lives and moves in light. And when man lives on earth—you know already that it changes after seven years—his heart is not composed of the cucumber and the salad and the roast veal the man has in the meantime eaten, but these old teachers knew that the heart is built of light's gold, and the cucumbers and the salad are only the stimulus for the gold weaving in the light to build up the heart out of the whole universe.

Yes, those people talked differently and you must be aware of this difference, for one must relearn to talk thus, only on another plane of consciousness. In painting, what once was there, but then disappeared, when one still painted by cosmic inspiration, because weight did not yet exist,—this painting has left its last trace in, let me say, Cimabue, and the Russian Icon-painting. The Icon was still painted out of the macrocosm, the whole outer world. It was so to speak a slice out of the macrocosm. But then one began in a blind alley, one could not get further, for the simple reason that this world-philosophy no longer existed among mankind. If one had wanted to paint the Icon with inner sympathy, not merely by tradition and prayer, one would have to have known how to handle gold. The treatment of gold on the picture was one of the greatest secrets of ancient painting. It consisted in bringing out the human figure from the gold background.

There is a vast abyss between Cimabue and Giotto. Giotto began what Raphael later brought to perfection. Cimabue had it still from tradition. Giotto became already half a naturalist. He noticed that tradition was no longer alive inwardly in the soul. Now one must take the physical man, now one has no longer the universe. One can paint no longer out of the gold; one is compelled to paint from the flesh.

This has gone so far that painting has practically reverted to what it had so much of in the nineteenth century. Icons have no weight at all; they were snowed in out of the world; they are weightless. The only thing is, one cannot paint them any more today. But if they were to e painted in their original form, they would have no weight at all.

Giotto was the first to begin painting objects so that they have weight. From which it arose that everything one paints has weight, even in the picture, and then one paints it from the outside, so that the colours have a relation to what is painted, as the physicist explains it, that the colour appears there on the surface by means of some special wave-vibration. Art has finally also had to be reckoned with weight, which Giotto began in an aesthetic-artistic way and Raphael brought to its highest point.

Thus we may say: there the universal slipped out of man, and heavy man became what one can now see. But because the feelings of the ancient times were still there, the flesh became, so to speak, heavy only to a minimum degree, but still it became heavy. And then arose the Madonna as counter to the Icon—the Icon which ahs no weight, the Madonna which has weight, even if she is beautiful—beauty has survived. But Icons are no longer paintable at all, because man does not feel them. If men today think they can feel Icons, it is an untruth. Therefore also the Icon-cult was steeped in a certain sentimental untruth. It is a blind-alley in Art. It becomes dependent on a scheme, on tradition.

Raphael's painting, built as it is on Giotto's development fro Cimabue, can remain Art only so long as the light of beauty streams upon it. To a certain extent it was the sunny Renaissance painters who still sensed something of the gold weaving in the light, and at least gave their pictures the luster of gold, making it irradiate them from outside.

But that came to an end. And thus naturalism came into being, and in Art mankind sits between two stools on the ground, between the Icon and the Madonna and is called upon to discover what pure vibrating colour and pure vibrating sound are, with their opposite weight, opposed to measurableness, and ponderable countability. We must learn to paint out of colour itself. However elementary and bad and tentative, it is our job to paint out of colour, to experience colour itself; freed from weight, to experience colour itself. In these things one must be able to proceed consciously, even with artistic consciousness.

And if you look at the simple attempts of our programs, you will see that there a beginning is made, if only a beginning, to release colours from weight, to experience colour as an element per se, to cause colours to speak.

If that succeeds, then, as against the inartistic physical world-philosophy which lets all Art die out, an Art will be created out of the free element of colour, of sound, which once more is free from weight.

We also sit between two stools, between the Icon and the Madonna, but we must get up. Physical Science does not help us to do it. I have told you, one must stay on the ground if one applies only physical science of man. But we have to get up now; and for this we need Spiritual Science. That contains the life-element which carries us from weight to imponderable colour, to the reality of colour, fro bondage even in musical naturalism to free musical Art.

We see how in all provinces it is a question of making an effort, of mankind waking up. It is this we ought to take up—this impulse to awake, to look round and see what is and what is not, and to advance ever onwards wherever the summons calls.

These things already touch the nerve of our time.

I have described how the modern philosopher comes to admit to himself: where does this intellectualism lead? To build a gigantic machine, and place it in the centre of the earth, in order to blow up the earth into all corners of the universe—he admitted it is so. The others do not admit it!

And so I have tried in different places to show how the ideas of only thirty or forty years ago are dissolved through the theory of Relativity—simply melted away like snow in the sun—so I have tried to show you how the summons is to be found everywhere really to strive towards Anthroposophy. For the philosopher, Eduard von Hartmann says: if the world really is as we imagine it—i.e. as he imagined it in the sense of the nineteenth century—then we really must blow it up into space, because we cannot endure any longer on it; and it is only a question of progressing far enough till we are able to do it. We must sigh for this future time when we can blow the world into universal space.

But the Relativists, before that, will see to it that mankind has no concepts left. Space, Time, Movement are abolished. Even apart from this, one can reach such profound despair, that in certain circumstances one sees the highest satisfaction in that explosion into the whole universe.

One must, however, make oneself clearly acquainted with the meaning of certain impulses in our time.