Dornach, 31st October, 1923
Causes Of Infantile Paralysis
(Dr. Steiner asks if anyone has a question.)
Questioner: Dr. Steiner has spoken about epidemics and how they are to be fought. At the present time an epidemic has broken out — Infantile Paralysis — which attacks adults as well as children. Could Dr. Steiner say something about this?
Second Question: Is it harmful for people to keep plants in their bedrooms?
DR. STEINER: As for the question about plants in bedrooms, it is like this. In a general way it is quite correct that the plants give off oxygen which men then breathe in and that man himself breathes out carbonic acid gas. Thus man breathes out what the plant needs, and the plant what man needs. Now, if plants are kept in a room, the following must be remembered:
When one has plants in a room by day, things happen roughly as I have said; during the night the plant does indeed need rather more oxygen. During the night things are rather different. The plant does not need as much oxygen as man, but it needs oxygen. Thus in the darkness it makes demands on that which otherwise it gives to man. Naturally, man is not deprived altogether of oxygen, but he gets too little and that is harmful. Things balance themselves out in nature: every being has something that others need. So it is with plants, if one observes carefully. If the plants are put outside the bedroom when one sleeps, then there is no unhealthy effect. So much for this question.
* * *
Now as to Infantile Paralysis which just recently has become so prevalent in Switzerland too. It is still rather difficult to speak about this illness, since it has only assumed its present form quite recently, and one must wait till it has taken on more definite symptoms. Still, from the picture one can form at present — we have had a serious case of Infantile Paralysis in the Stuttgart Clinic and one can only judge by the cases which have occurred so far — one can say now that Infantile Paralysis, like its origin, Influenza, which leads to so many other diseases, is an extraordinarily complicated thing and can only be fought if one deals with the whole body. Just recently there has been discussion in medical circles as to how Infantile Paralysis should be treated. There is great interest in this now, because every week there are fresh cases of the disease. It is called Infantile Paralysis because it is mostly children who are attacked. Yet just recently there was a case of a young doctor who certainly is no longer a child, who was, I believe, perfectly healthy on Saturday, on Sunday was taken with Infantile Paralysis and was dead on Monday. This Infantile Paralysis strikes sometimes in an extraordinarily sudden way and we may well be anxious lest it grow into a very serious epidemic.
Now Infantile Paralysis is certainly connected, like Influenza itself, with the serious conditions of our time. Since we in our Biological Institute in Stuttgart succeeded in proving the effects of the minutest quantities of substance, one must speak about these things, even in public, in a quite different way than formerly. We have in Stuttgart simply shown that when one has any substance, dissolves it, dilutes it greatly, one has a tiny amount in a glass of water. One obtains, say, a 1 per cent solution. A drop of this is taken, diluted to a hundredth of its strength. It is now one ten-thousandth of its original strength. Again diluting this to one-hundredth of its strength, we have a solution one-millionth of the original strength. In Stuttgart we have succeeded in obtaining dilutions of one in a million, one in a billion — that is, with twelve zeros. You can imagine that there is now no more than a trace of the original substance left, and that it is a question, not of how much of the original substance is left, but of how the solution works: for it works quite differently from the original. These dilutions were made in Stuttgart and they are not so easily imitated. (Perhaps the German Exchange can do it, but nobody else!) This has been done with all sorts of substances. We then took a kind of flower pot, and poured into it in succession the various dilutions. First, ordinary water, then the 1 per cent dilution, then the .1 per cent, the .01 per cent and so on, up to one part in a trillion. Then we put a wheat seed in. This grows, and it grows better in the diluted liquid than in the non-diluted! And the higher the dilution the quicker the growth: one, two, three four, five dilutions — up to twelve. At the twelfth, the growth becomes slower again, then increases again, then decreases again. In this way one finds the effects of minute quantities of substances. It is very remarkable. The effect is rhythmic! If one dilutes, one comes to a certain dilution where the growth is greatest, then it gets less, then again greater — rhythmically. One sees, when the plant grows out of the ground, something works on it together with its substances, something which works rhythmically in its surroundings. The soil environment works into it. That is clearly to be seen.
Now when we are clear that very minute quantities of substance have an effect, we shall have no hesitation in recognising that in such times as the present, when so many men take incorrect nourishment and then rot as corpses in the ground, this works differently. Of course, for the earth as a whole, the effect is very diluted, but still it is different from what happens when men live healthily. And here again, the food which grows out of the earth is a factor.
Naturally, people with grossly materialistic scientific views do not understand this, because they say: What importance can the human corpse have for the whole earth? This effect is very diluted, naturally, but it works.
It will be well if we speak about the whole plant. The health of men is completely dependent on the growth of plants and therefore we must know what really is involved.
I have been greatly occupied with this point in connection with Infantile Paralysis, and it has turned out that one must really concern oneself with the whole man. Indications have appeared for all sorts of remedies for Infantile Paralysis. The subject is of great importance, since Infantile Paralysis may play a very grievous role in the future. It is naturally a question which occupies one greatly, and I have in fact given it a great deal of attention. There will probably have to be found a treatment made up of soda baths, iron arsenite (Fe As2 O3) and of yet another substance which will be obtained from the cerebellum, from the back part of the brain of animals. It will have to be a very complicated remedy. You see, the disease of Infantile Paralysis arises from very complicated and obscure causes and so requires a complicated remedy. These things have become of urgent importance to-day, and it is well that you should understand the whole question of the growth of plants.
The plant grows out of the ground — I will represent it to-day with reference to the question which has been put. (Dr. Steiner makes a sketch on the blackboard.) The root grows out of the seed. Let us first take a tree; we can then pass to the ordinary plants. We take a tree: the stem grows up. This growth is very remarkable. This stem which grows there, is really only formed because it lets sap mount from the earth, and this sap in mounting carries up with it all kinds of salts and particles of earth; and so the stem becomes hard. When you look at the wood from the stem of a tree, you have a mounting sap, and this sap carries with it fine particles of earth, and all sorts of salts too, for instance, carbonate of soda, iron, etc., into the plants and this makes hard wood. The essential thing is that the sap mounts.
What happens, in reality? The earthy, the solid, becomes fluid! And we have an earthy-fluid substance mounting there. Then the fluid evaporates and the solid remains behind: that is the wood.
You see, this sap which mounts up in the tree — let us call it wood-sap — is not created there but is already contained everywhere in the earth, so that the earth in this respect is really a great living Being. This sap which mounts in the tree, is really present in the whole earth: only in the earth it is something special. It becomes in the tree what we see there. In the earth it is in fact the sap which actually gives it life. For the earth is really a living Being; and that which mounts in the tree is in the whole earth and through it the earth lives. In the tree it loses its life-giving quality; it becomes merely a chemical; it has only chemical qualities.
So when you look at a tree, you must say to yourself: the earthy-fluidic in the tree — that has become chemical; underneath in the earth it was still alive. So the wood-sap has partly died, as it mounted up in the tree. Were this all, never would a plant come into existence, but only stumps, dying at the top, in which chemical processes are at work. But the stem, formed from this sap, rises into the air, and the air always contains moisture. It comes into the moist air, it comes with the sap which has created it, from the earthy-fluidic into the fluidic-airy and life springs up in it anew so that around it green leaves appear and finally flowers. ... Again there is life. You see, in the foliage, in the leaf, in the bud, in the blossom, there is once more the sap of life; the wood-sap is dead life-sap. In the stem, life is always dying; in the leaf it is always being resurrected. So that we must say: We have wood-sap, which mounts; then we have life-sap. And what does this do! It travels all round and brings forth the leaves everywhere: so that you can see the spirals in which the leaves are arranged. The living sap really circles round. It arises from the fluid-airy element into which the plant comes when it has grown out of the earthy-fluidic element.
The stem, the woody stem, is dead and only that which sprouts forth around the plant is alive. This you can easily prove in the following very simple way. Go to a tree: you have the stem, then the bark, and in the bark the leaves grow. Now cut the bark away at that point; the leaves come away too. At this point leave the leaves with the bark. The result is that there the tree remains fresh and living, and here it begins to die. The wood alone with its sap cannot keep the tree alive; what comes with the leaves must come from outside and that again contains life. We see in this way that the earth can certainly put forth the tree, but she would have to let it die if it did not get life from the damp air: for in the tree the sap is only a chemical, no giver of life. The living sap that circulates, that gives it life. And one can really say: When the sap rises in the spring, the tree is created anew; when the living sap again circulates in the spring, every year the tree's life is renewed. The earth produces the sap from the earthy-fluidic; the fluidic-airy produces the living sap.
But that is not all. While this is happening, between the bark, still full of living sap, and the woody stem, there is formed a new layer. Now I cannot say that a sap is formed. I have already spoken of wood-sap, living sap, but I cannot again say that a sap is formed: for what is formed is quite solid: it is called cambium. It is formed between the bark which still belongs to the leaves, and the wood. When I cut here (see sketch) no cambium is formed. But the plant needs cambium too, in a certain way. You see, the wood sap is formed in the earthy-fluidic, the life sap in the fluidic-airy, and the cambium in the warm air, in the warm damp, or the airy-warmth. The plant develops warmth while it takes up life from outside. This warmth goes inward and develops the cambium inside. Or if the cambium does not yet develop — the plant needs cambium and you will shortly hear why — before the cambium forms, there is first of all developed a thicker substance: the plant gum. Plants form this plant gum in their inner warmth, and this, under certain conditions, is a powerful means of healing. Thus the sap carries the plant upwards, the leaves give the plant life, then the leaves by their warmth produce the gum which reacts on the warmth. And in old plants, this gum, running down to the ground, has become transparent. When the earth was less dense and damper, the gum became transparent and turned to Amber. You see, then, when you take up a piece of Amber, what from prehistoric plants ran down to the ground as resin and pitch. This the plant gives back to the earth: Pitch, Resin, Amber. And if the plant retains it, it becomes cambium. Through the sap the plant is connected with the earth; the life-sap brings the plant into connection with what circulates round the earth — with the airy-moist circumference of the earth. But the cambium brings the plant into connection with the stars, with what is above, and in such a way that within this cambium the form of the next plant develops. [See: Man as Symphony of the Creative Word, Twelve lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in Dornach, 19th October to 11th November, 1923, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company.] This passes over to the seeds and in this way the next plant is born, so that the stars indirectly through the cambium create the next plant! So that the plant is not merely created from the seed — that is to say, naturally it is created from the seed, but the seed must first be worked on by the cambium, that is: by the whole heavens.
It is really wonderful — a seed, a humble, modest little seed could only come into existence because the cambium — now not in liquid but in solid form — imitates the whole plant; and this form which arises there in the cambium — a new plant form — this carries the power to the seed to develop through the forces of the earth into a new plant.
Through mere speculation, when one simply puts the seed under a microscope, nothing is gained. We must be clear what parts the sap, the life sap, the cambium, play in the whole matter. The wood sap is a relatively thin sap: it is peculiarly fitted to allow chemical changes to take place in it. The life sap is certainly much thicker, it separates off its gum. If you make the gum rather thick, you can make wonderful figures with it. Thus the life sap, more pliable than the wood sap, clings more to the plant-form. And then it gives this up entirely to the cambium. That is still thicker, indeed quite sticky, but still fluid enough to take the forms which are given it by the stars.
So it is with trees, and so, too, with the ordinary plants. When the rootlet is in the earth, the sprout shoots upward. But it does not separate off the solid matter, does not make wood; it remains like a cabbage stalk. The leaves come out directly on the circumference, in spirals, the cambium is formed directly in the interior, and the cambium takes everything back to the earth with it. So that in the annual plants the whole process occurs much more quickly. In the tree, only the hard parts are separated out, and not everything is destroyed.
The same process occurs in ordinary plants too, but is not carried so far as in trees. In the tree it is a fairly complicated matter. When you look at the tree from above, you have first the pith inside: this gives the direction. Then layers of wood form round the pith. Towards the autumn the gum appears from the other side, and fastens the layers together. So we have the gummy wood of one year. In the next year this is repeated. Wood forms somewhere else, is again gummed together in the autumn, and so the yearly rings are formed. So you see everything clearly if only you understand that there are three things: wood sap, life sap, and cambium. The wood sap is the most fluid, it is really a chemical; the life sap is the giver of life; it is really, if I may so express myself, a living thing. And as for the cambium, there the whole plant is sketched out from the stars. It is really so. The wood sap rises and dies, then life again arises; and now comes the influence of the stars, so that from the thick, sticky cambium the new plant is sketched out. In the cambium one has a sketch, a sculptural activity. The stars model in it from the whole universe the complete plant form. So you see, we come from Life into the Spirit. What is modelled there is modelled from out of the World-Spirit. The earth first gives up her life to the plant, the plant dies, the air environment along with its light once more gives it life, and the World Spirit implants the new plant form. This is preserved in the seed and grows again in the same way. So that one sees in the growing plant how the plant world rises out of the earth, through death, to the living Spirit.
Now other investigations have been made in Stuttgart. These things are extraordinarily instructive. For instance, one can do the following, instead of merely investigating growth — which is very important, especially when one is dealing with the higher potencies, say of one in a trillion — one can do the following. We take metals or metallic compounds highly diluted in the manner previously described, for example, a copper compound solution, and put it into a flowerpot with some earth in it: we put it in as a kind of manure. In another similar flowerpot we put only earth, the same earth without the manure. Now we take two plants, as similar as possible, put one in the pot with the copper manured earth, and the other in the pot without the copper manure. And the remarkable thing is: if the copper is highly diluted, the leaves develop wrinkles on the edges — the others get no wrinkles, if they are smooth and had previously none. One must take the same earth, because many specimens previously contain copper. One dilutes it with copper; the same kind of plants must be taken so that comparisons can be made.
Now we take a third plant, put it into a third pot with earth, but instead of copper, we add lead. The leaves do not wrinkle but they become hard at the top and wither when lead is added. You have now a remarkable sight. These experiments were made in Stuttgart, and you plainly see, when you look at the pots in turn, how the substances of the earth work on plants.
You will no longer be surprised when you see plants with wrinkled leaves somewhere. If you dig in the earth there, you will find traces of copper. Or if you have leaves which are dry and withered at the edge, and dig in the earth, you will find traces of lead. Look at a common plant, say mare's tail, with which people clean pots; it grows just where the ground contains silicon; hence the little thorns. In this way you can understand the form of plants from the nature of the ground.
Now you can see of what importance it is when quite tiny amounts of any substance are mixed in the earth. Naturally, there is a churchyard somewhere outside, but the earth is everywhere permeated with wood sap, and the tiny quantities penetrate everywhere into the ground. And having investigated how these tiny quantities work, of which I have told you, we say: That which disappeared into the earth, we eat it again in our food. It is so strong that it lives in the plant form. And what happens then? Imagine I had thus a plant form from a lead-containing soil. To-day it is said that lead does not arise in soil. But lead does arise in soil, if one puts decaying living matter in it. It simply does arise in soil. A plant grows out of it: one may say, a lead-plant. Well, this lead plant when we eat it, has a quite different effect from a lead-less plant. Actually, when we eat a lead plant, our cerebellum, which lies at the back of the head, becomes drier than usual. It becomes drier.
Now you have the connection between the earth and the cerebellum. There are plants which simply through the constitution of the earth, through what men put into the earth and what then spreads everywhere, can dry up the cerebellum. As soon as our cerebellum is not in full working order, we become clumsy. When something happens to the cerebellum we become awkward and cannot properly control our feet and arms; and when the effect is much stronger, we become paralysed.
Thus, you see, is the connection between the soil and paralysis. A man eats a plant. If it has something dying at the edge of the leaves, as I have described to you, his cerebellum will be dried up somewhat. In ordinary life this is not noticed, but the man cannot any longer rightly direct his movements. If the effect is much stronger, paralysis sets in. When this drying up of the cerebellum happens in the head, so that man cannot control his muscles, at first this affects all those muscles which are dependent on a little gland in the head, the so-called pineal gland. If that happens, a man gets influenza. If the evil goes further, influenza changes to a complete paralysis. So that in every paralysis there is something that is inwardly connected with the soil. And so you see knowledge must be brought together from many sides if one is to do anything useful for men. It is useless to make a lot of statements — one must do so and so! For if one does not know how a man has taken into his organism something dying, one may have ever such good apparatus and the man will not recover. For everything that works in the plant and passes over from the plant to the man, is of great importance.
Wood sap develops in man as the ordinary colourless mucus. Wood sap in plants is, in man, mucus. The life sap of the plant which circulates from the leaves, corresponds to the human blood. And the cambium of the plant corresponds to the milk and the chyle in the human being. When a woman begins to nurse, certain glands in the breast cause a greater flow of milk. Here you have again something in human beings which is most strongly influenced by the stars, namely, milk. Milk is absolutely necessary for the development of the brain — the brain, one might almost say, is solidified milk. Decaying leaves create no proper cambium because they no longer have the power to work back into the proper warmth. They let the warmth escape outwards from the dying edges instead of sending it inwards. We eat these plants with an improperly developed cambium: they do not develop a proper milk; the women do not produce proper milk; the children get milk on which the stars cannot work strongly, and therefore they cannot develop properly.
Hence this Infantile Paralysis appears specially among children — but adults can also suffer from it, because men are all their lives influenced by the stars.
In these things Science and Medicine must work together: they must everywhere work together. But one should not isolate oneself in a single science. To-day there are men who specialise in animals — the zoologists; in men — the anthropologists; or in parts of men, with sick senses, or sick livers, or sick hearts — specialists of the inner organs. Then again there are the botanists, who study only plants; and the mineralogists, who study only stones; and the geologists who study the whole earth. Certainly this is very convenient. One has less to learn when one is merely a geologist or when one has only to learn about stones. Yes, but such knowledge is useless when one wants to do something for a man. When he is ill, one must understand the whole of Nature. It is useless merely to understand geology or botany or chemistry. One must understand chemistry and be able to follow its working right into the sap. It is really so. Students have a saying — there are in universities, as you perhaps know, both ordinary and extraordinary professors — and the students have a saying: the ordinary professors know nothing extraordinary, and the extraordinary professors know nothing ordinary! But one can go still further to-day. The geologist knows nothing of plants or animals or men; the anthropologist knows nothing of animals, or plants, or the earth. Neither knows really how the things upon which he works are connected. Just as man has specialised in work, he has specialised in knowledge. And that is much more dangerous. It is shocking when there are only geologists, botanists, etc., so that all knowledge is split up. This has been for men's convenience. People say to-day: a man can't know everything. Well, if one doesn't wish to take in all knowledge, one can despair of any really useful knowledge.
We live at a time when things have assumed a frightful aspect. It is as if a man who has to do with clocks wants to learn only how to file metals, another how to weld them. And there would be another, who knows how to put the clock together, but doesn't know how to work the single metals. Now one can get a certain distance in this way with machinery, although at the same time a certain amount of compulsion is necessary. But in Medicine nothing can be achieved if one does not take into account all branches of knowledge, even the knowledge of the earth. For in the tree trunk lives something which is carried up from the earth (which is the subject of geology) to the sap. There it dies. One must also know meteorology, the science of air, because from the surrounding air something is brought to the leaves which calls forth life in them again. And one must also know astrology, the science of the stars, if one wishes to understand the formation of cambium. And one must also know what enters with the cambium in the food. ... So that when one eats unsound cambium as a child, one gets an unsound brain. In this way diseases are caused by what is in the earth. This is what can be said about the causes of such apparently inexplicable diseases: the causes are in the soil.