Dornach, 18th September, 1924
Rudolf Steiner: Good morning, gentlemen! Perhaps someone has a question?
Question: Why does lightning not come in a straight line? — instead of zigzag. Should it not take a straight line?
Dr. Steiner: So — the questioner thinks that when lightning is released from the air, as I described last time, it ought to come in a straight line. But it takes a zigzag form and can that be explained? Yes, one can indeed explain it.
Let us consider again the explanation I gave of how lightning actually comes about. I told you that lightning comes out of the overheated air, the overheated universe, the overheated cosmic gas. I said that there is no question of lightning arising from some sort of friction of the clouds. Clouds, of course, are wet, and if you want to produce miniature lightning with laboratory apparatus, everything must first be wiped absolutely dry. It must not be supposed, therefore, that lightning is a true electrical phenomenon that comes about from the friction of dry elements. It is known that when one rubs glass or sealing wax one produces electricity and so people think that if clouds rub together — well, then there'll be electricity there too. But that is not so. What happens is this: As a consequence of the inner overheating of the cosmic gas, the warmth living in the cosmic gas comes out in the way I have described. Through the fact that the air exerts less pressure toward one side or another, the radiation of the overheated force goes toward that side and lightning flashes.
Now let us imagine that we have this happening somewhere. In consequence of the greatly overheated cosmic gas — not clouds — the lightning flashes out. And it is quite correct to think that it should stream out in a straight line.
But you see, it is like this. Picture to yourselves: If an accumulation of heat is present somewhere, it is generally not alone; there are similar accumulations in the neighborhood. In fact, if the earth is here, let us say, and one looks up there and lightning begins where a concentration of heat exists, then in the neighborhood there are other accumulations: they are not all at one single place. You can imagine, of course, that these accumulations of heat are connected with the sun's radiations to the various places. Now there are these heat accumulations along the entire path of the lightning and while it is streaming out it snatches up these other accumulations in its course. So it shines here, then over there, and so on. It takes all the other accumulations with it, and so it moves quite irregularly, and gets this seemingly zigzag formation. The lower it descends, the more it does move in a straight line. There are no longer these heat accumulations; they were higher up. The zigzag of the lightning comes about because it does not arise in one single spot, but from where the heat accumulations are strongest and then it carries the others along on its way. That's similar to when you're out walking and you meet an acquaintance and take him along with you, then the two of you pick up another one, and so on. So that's the story of the lightning.
Now perhaps someone has another question?
Question: Could we hear something about the origin of volcanoes?
Dr. Steiner: That's a question that can't be answered quite so quickly. I will lead you to the point where you can find an answer to it. For if you read present-day books you can certainly find all sorts of ideas on the origin of volcanoes, but if you read older books, lying farther back in time, you find other views, and in still earlier books again other views. People have never inquired into the real origin of the earth and so views on volcanic phenomena have changed in the course of time. As a matter of fact, no one has been able to form a true idea of how these fire-erupting mountains originated.
One must go very far back if one wants to understand this. Otherwise one cannot grasp how it happens that at certain spots on the earth fiery, molten masses come out. One will be able to form an idea of it only if one first of all rejects the dictum that the earth was once a balloon of gas, that it became more and more solid, and that there is fire in the interior which for some reason or other comes out here or there. That is a convenient explanation, but it brings us no nearer to an understanding.
I'll tell you a little story. It's a long time ago, more than forty years, that we made a certain experiment in the laboratory of the geologist Hochstetter (see Note 26 ) of Vienna. He is long since dead. We produced a substance that contained — among other things — a little sulphur. We didn't put it all together, but this is what we did: here someone had a bit of the stuff, there someone had a bit, over there a bit, and so on, and we hurled, we shot the substance, all of us, toward a certain point. In this way there arose a little globe with all sorts of hills which was curiously like the moon seen through a telescope. Thus at that time in Hochstetter's geological laboratory an experiment was actually made by which a small moon was created. The surface of the moon as it is seen through a telescope had come out quite wonderfully. The whole thing looked just like a little moon. Above all one could realize that a cosmic body need not originate as gas, but can actually be flung together from all corners of the universe. Nor can we explain our earth in any other way than by its being thrown together out of the universe.
Now in connection with this I want to explain something that is little spoken of today but which is nevertheless true. You hear it said everywhere, don't you, that the earth is a globe, has formed itself as a globe. Now actually it is not true that the earth is a globe! I will explain to you what the earth really Is. It is only fantasy that the earth is a globe. If we picture the earth's true form as a regular solid, we come to what in science is called a tetrahedron. I will draw it for you, naturally only in perspective. A tetrahedron looks like this. [see diagram]
Click image for large view
You see there are one, two, three triangles and here in front the fourth triangle. Can you picture it? It stands on a triangle, a triangle is underneath; and on that triangle, the base, are three other triangles; that forms a little pyramid. That is how we picture a tetrahedron. We must be clear that four triangles are joined to one another. We must stand it up on one triangle and the other three range upward like a pyramid. That is a perfectly regular solid.
But now imagine that I round out the surfaces of these triangles a little, then it becomes a little different. Now it stands on what has become rounded but yet is still free. And the sides of the triangles which formerly were straight lines are now rounded too. Can you picture that? So now there arises a form which is actually a tetrahedron become round! And you see, our earth is actually such a rounded tetrahedron.
Click image for large view
This can even be established to the extent of finding the edges, the sides of this earth-tetrahedron. It is like this: suppose I draw the earth as it is often drawn, on a flat plane — then here would be North America, here South America, between them, Central America; over here we have Africa; here we have Europe. And there is Asia Minor, the Mediterranean, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, in fact Europe. Up here we have Scandinavia. There is England and over there is Asia. So we have Asia here, Africa here, Europe here and America here.
Click image for large view
Now the South Pole is here, and around the South Pole in particular there are many volcanic mountains. There is the North Pole. And now it is like this: we can trace a line that goes from Central America, from the Colima volcano (see Note 27 ) down through the mountains that are called the Andes, down to the South Pole. It is rounded, but actually though rounded it is this edge of the earth. Then it goes on from the South Pole, goes over here past Africa to the volcanic mountains of the Caucasus. Then the same line comes over here, past Switzerland, over the Rhine and arrives here.
If you follow this line, which looks like a triangle, you can compare it with this triangle here. And so, if you take this portion of the earth, it is the base of a tetrahedron.
Just think, the base of a tetrahedron! Now: how do we come to that point there? Well, we have to go through to the other side of the earth. But I cannot draw that, I would have to make everything round. If I were to make it round, I would come to the point just over there in Japan. Thus if I mark the tetrahedron, here we have Central America, here the South Pole, here the Caucasus, and over there, which one cannot see, would be Japan.
Click image for large view
If we picture the earth in this way, we have it existing in the universe as a rounded-out pyramid that sends its apex over there to Japan and has its base here, containing Africa, South America and the whole Southern Ocean. So the earth stands in the universe, curiously, as such a rounded-out tetrahedron, as a kind of pyramid. That, gentlemen, is actually still the form of the earth!
And now if you take these lines that I've drawn forming the tetrahedron, you find that most of the volcanic mountains are located along the lines. You have these frightful fire-belching mountains of which you've often heard, over in South America, in Chile and other places, then around the South Pole; and then you have the mighty ones in the Caucasus. And when you come over here, we don't have so many in our part of the continent, and yet it can be shown that the fiery mountains were once here, but are now extinct. For instance, when you drive along the stretch of road from northern Silesia to Breslau, you see a mountain standing conspicuously alone which is still feared by the people of today. If you examine its rocks, you find this dreaded mountain standing there is simply an extinct volcano. Similarly we have extinct volcanoes in many parts of Germany.
And now let us go further. We have only marked out the base. Then we have lines everywhere that go over toward Japan. Yes, and you see, along all these lines one would always be able to find volcanoes on the earth's surface! You can see that if someone would sit down and draw the most important volcanoes, not on a flat surface, but so that they formed a solid, he would get this shape of the earth. Strangely, the volcanic mountains give us the lines that make the earth into a tetrahedron.
Click image for large view
So now, if you do not picture the earth as originally a ball of gas which then became condensed — that's the convenient opinion which people hold — if you explain it as having been formed by substance flung from all sides, then you must admit something else. If the earth is a tetrahedron, a regular solid, you'll have to explain it by imagining that a great master geometrician with plenty of knowledge had actually pushed the earth together from outside, along the lines which we still see today. Now imagine that I draw this tetrahedron, that I first fling this triangle in here from the periphery, then this triangle, then this, and then the one up above. I make it as small boys do: they cut out four triangles, tilt them together from outside and then glue them together to form a tetrahedron. And the earth too has originated like that, it has been flung together as triangles from outside.
Now watch the boys when they paste the triangles together: where they join the sides they must be careful to apply the paste or the glue evenly. As to the earth, at the places I've shown you — South America, then here toward the Caucasus and over here through the Alps, and so on — there the earth was originally “cemented” together! But one finds when one examines the mountains that there it has, so to say, been joined rather badly; the sides don't quite fit together. If in particular we trace the mountains that go over here from the Caucasus through our Carpathians and Alps, we can show from the form of the mountains that they have not yet quite grown together. The earth actually consists of four pieces flung out of cosmic space and joined together, four pieces which then form a tetrahedron, and along the edges there are still, as it were, places not tightly closed. At these leaky places it is possible for the cosmic heat from the sun to get into the earth more than at other places.
Now when the sun's power enters into these places beneath the surface of the earth, they become hotter and get soft — as is always the case when things, even metals, are consumed by fire — and they make an outlet for themselves in the direction of those places which are not properly fastened together. Then through the combined cosmic action of the sun and the “cemented” places of the earth there arise these regular volcanoes, the fire-belching mountains.
However, volcanoes are found at other places too. Etna, for instance, and Vesuvius do not, it is true, lie along these edges; where they are, no such line passes through. In fact, the very volcanoes that are not located along the principal lines are especially instructive, for one can learn from them what causes the eruptions to occur.
You see, it can always be shown that when things like fiery eruptions happen on the earth, they are connected with the constellations, the relation of the stars to the sun. An eruption can never occur unless at some particular place the sun is able to shine more strongly than usual because it is not covered by other stars. If it is covered by other stars as is generally the case, then the sunshine is normal. Starlight is everywhere; one must not think that the stars are not up there during the day, it is just that we don't see them. In the old city of Jena where people had time to do such things, where so many German philosophers taught, where Haeckel (see Note 28 ) lived too, there is a deep cellar with a tower (see Note 29 ) above it, open at the top. If you go down into this cellar in the daytime and look up through the tower it is all dark inside, but you see up above the most beautiful starry sky. When it is daytime, and clear and bright outside, you can see the most beautiful star-lit heavens, with stars everywhere.
But when the stars are in such a position that the sun can develop its heat to full strength, when they do not obstruct the sun, then the sun's forces of warmth shine down upon some special places. These are the places where, after the earth had been fastened together, later volcanoes arose. They came about later. On the other hand, those that lie along the edges of the tetrahedron are the original volcanoes.
Now sometimes a man who has no place in the ordinary life of science discovers quite useful things in this direction. Perhaps you've heard, or at least the older ones among you, of a certain Falb? (see Note 30 ) He was neither an astronomer nor a geologist nor geographer nor natural scientist, but a former priest who had given up his calling — run away from it! He devoted himself especially to a study of star constellations and whether they really have an influence on the earth. He came to the opinion that constellations are connected with volcanoes, that when the influence of the sun is supported by the stars in a certain way, a volcano erupts. He maintained further that floods also come about for the same reason, because the situation attracts water: beneath, the heated mass; above, the water.
And he contended still more: that in the mines the miners suffer most of all from so-called firedamp, that is, when the air in the mines catches fire of itself. He asked himself how this could happen. He decided that for this to happen the stars must aid the sun activity by giving it full play. Then the sun shines too strongly into the mine and the air in the mine ignites. Therefore, said Falb, if one knows about mining conditions, one ought to be able to say when firedamp may be expected in the course of the year. So he made a calendar and indicated when according to the constellations firedamp must occur somewhere. Those were the so-called critical days which he marked in his calendar.
This calendar has been printed many times and Falb's critical days are still there. Now what was to be expected when these days were reached? Either the eruption of a volcano, or an earthquake (an earthquake is a subterranean wave, subterranean overheating), or a flood, or firedamp. Now, gentlemen, I was present once at an amusing little incident. You see, this Falb was very clever, he had been able to light upon these facts, but he was also very conceited, frightfully conceited. As you know, to be learned is no protection from vanity. And the following happened. About forty years ago I was at a lecture given by Falb. He went with great pompousness and a well-pleased expression up to the podium and began his address. He said: Yes, this very day the stars are in a position from which one can expect the occurrence of considerable firedamp. At that moment the door opened and a messenger from the “New Free Press” entered and handed him a telegram. Falb stood up there with his long patriarchal beard and said: “It must be something important if they send it to me straight to the lecture room!” He took out his knife and cut the telegram open and read: “A terrible firedamp has occurred!” Now you can imagine the publicity he got! Falb had just said, “Firedamp could happen today” and the messenger brings the telegram! “You see”, he said, “one gets proofs laid on the table!” Those were his words. But the whole thing smelled of show business. Falb knew quite well that firedamp was due: that was correct. But he went early in the day to the office of the “New Free Press” and left word that if such a telegram came, they should send it immediately to the lecture hall.
That is one of the tricks to which bad speakers gladly resort — though usually in a milder form! I am quite pleased to relate the story so that audiences may be warned to be a little cautious and not simply to accept everything. The clientele that Falb had at that time rustled with silk dresses and tuxedos: it was a very distinguished one. But you should have seen how impressed they were by his performance! However strongly he might have voiced his opinion in words, the audience would never have been so convinced as they were by the entry at exactly the right moment of the messenger with the telegram. People would much rather be convinced through external events than by what can be put into words.
So one can say that at certain places, namely, at the edges of this tetrahedron, the earth is actually not quite joined together. It is exposed therefore to the cosmic warmth of sun and stars, and the consequence is that those lines showing active volcanoes can be drawn. Outbursts of volcanic fire can, of course, occur at other spots too.
But now does this imply that the interior of the earth must necessarily be molten fire? That is what is constantly maintained. Actually there is no other proof of it than the fact that it becomes warmer and warmer the deeper one sinks a shaft into the earth. Still one cannot go very deep. Moreover, with this increase of warmth as one descends into the earth there is likewise an increase of pressure. Whatever might be dissolved by the heat and become fluid is pressed together again by the pressure in the interior. If the earth were really molten inside then something else would not be in accord. One can consider, for instance, the weight of the earth. It is naturally hypothetical, since the earth floats freely in the universe and cannot be weighed. In order to weigh it, one would have to have it on top of another, gigantic earth, for if there is to be weight there must be something that attracts, that develops gravity. One could calculate how much it would weigh from how it attracts other bodies; in fact, such a calculation has been made. But if it were possible to weigh the earth one would find that it is far, far heavier than it would be if it were fluid inside. Goethe (see Note 31 ) for this reason vigorously attacked the idea that the earth was molten fire inside.
Now when one knows how the earth has been created, when one sees that it is really an incompletely fastened tetrahedron, there is then no need to picture it as molten inside and to suppose that at certain times, one wouldn't know why or wherefore, it must suddenly erupt fire — like a moody, hysterical person! If the earth were molten inside, one would have to fancy that it is actually a little crazy — like a man who is insane and at any sudden moment begins to rage; one doesn't know when the moments will occur. But this is not true of the earth. You can always show where the warmth comes from: that it comes from outside, that at this moment such powerful heating occurs, not at all very deep in the earth, that it forces an outlet for itself.
So the fire when Vesuvius or any other volcano erupts originates only when the cosmic temperature has become fiery. It always takes a little time before the effect is seen. The particular constellation of stars, for instance, must first work upon the earth for a time.
But that also follows from certain facts which I have already related here in quite a different connection. Suppose here is a part of the earth, the sun's rays strike upon it powerfully, and underneath, something develops that later seeks an outlet through an eruption or an earthquake.
You see, what I drew first, the powerful warmth going down into the earth: people don't feel that because they don't pay attention. At most, a few people go about the place where as yet there is no hint of volcanic activity though the effects of the sun's activity are already present in the air, and these few have violent stomach aches, others have headaches, migraine, others find that their heart is disturbed. But people put up with all that in a vague fashion and take no notice. But the animals, as I have said in another connection, which have more delicate noses, finer organs in this respect, perceive what is happening and break away. The people, in spite of their stomach aches and headaches, don't know why the animals have become so restless and are running away. But after a few days the earthquake comes, or the volcanic eruption. The animals have fled because they already scented what was coming; human beings are so coarsely organized in this respect that they are not aware of the event until the whole business is on top of them.
You can see from this that something is already happening a long time in advance before the final event takes place. What is happening is the streaming in of a bit of cosmic heat. But you can still put a question. You can say, this cosmic heat only heats the ground, and where the earth contains substances that are easily inflammable, there could of course be ignition ... but why should it all flare up instantly? Here I'll tell you something else. When one goes to Italy, to the places between Rome and Naples, particularly to the neighborhood of Naples, and to the islands and peninsulas on the coast, the guides always delight in showing one the following experiment. They take a piece of paper and light it and hold it so — in a moment smoke begins to come out of the earth! The earth smokes — why? Because the air becomes warm from the burning paper and so becomes lighter and expands. The warmth caused by the sun's heat streams out of the earth as smoke. This is very interesting to see. One lights a piece of paper and instantly the earth smokes at that spot.
Now think of that enlarged to giant proportions: the sun heating not only the ground below, but also the air above — and you have Vesuvius. And when the latter has once established itself — well, then the beginning has been made, and the process continues in places that are especially favorable to it. It is interesting to realize that those very things that take place on earth irregularly are caused by the whole of cosmic space.
Now I told you that when we flung out that sulphur substance during those days in the geological laboratory, we produced something that really looked like a little moon. And so when one observes the real moon, whom our little moon actually resembled, one gets the idea that it too has been flung together out of the universe. That is one idea one gets.
The other idea is established through spiritual scientific investigation, namely, that the moon has actually been thrown together in the cosmos, mainly from the earth. What does that imply? Well, we did that too in the laboratory. First we threw together such a cosmic body out of substances. Then we attacked it from all sides, flinging material against it from outside, and lo and behold — it became more and more like a moon. And what has one got then? Well, one has the whole process. The main mass of the moon was cast out from the earth, and once it was there, fine matter from every part of space was flung against it. Fine matter is always present in the universe — it falls down in the meteors — it is always being flung out. And so one has the origin of the moon. These things are all connected.
The development of science, you know, is sometimes remarkable. A monument stands today in Heilbronn — certainly it is rather dreadful as a work of art, but still it stands there and represents Julius Robert Mayer. (see Note 32 ) If you hear about him in science today, you learn that he was a pioneering genius through his researches in the 40's of the last century into the nature of the action of heat. Julius Robert Mayer was born in Heilbronn, practiced there as a doctor and went about without being particularly noticed. The scientists of the time paid no special attention to him. And although today he is described everywhere as a highly gifted pioneer in physics, at that time when he sat for his medical examination at Tubingen he failed it. If you made investigations, you would come on the remarkable fact that the majority of men who later became geniuses failed earlier in their examinations. And this was also the fate of Julius Robert Mayer. By the skin of his teeth, he managed to get through and become a doctor. But no one considered him remarkable during his lifetime — in fact, quite the contrary. He became so enthusiastic about his discovery that he talked of it everywhere. Then people said that his mind was wandering and put him in an asylum. His own generation put him in a madhouse while posterity looks upon him as a great genius and puts up a monument to him in his native town.
It was Julius Robert Mayer who as a result of thought and investigation asked how it was that the sun which gives us so much heat does not become cold. He said to himself that it does not become as cold as it ought to become after always giving out warmth. He thought therefore that comets, an immense number of comets, must continually rush into the sun, hurled toward it from the universe. They are very fine, tenuous bodies, but they rush into it. It is true that they rush into the sun. The sun is very different from what the physicists of today imagine. They would be very astonished if they were to approach it: they would not find fiery gas but they would find something that causes any earthly substance to be sucked in and disappear. The sun is an empty space that exerts suction. It is not a globe of gas. It resembles a pearl in the universe, a suction globe with nothing in it that one looks for, but which continuously absorbs this mass of comets. The fine etheric structures of the universe, which are almost spiritual, are continuously being sucked in by the sun as nourishment. We still see today, therefore, this dashing against the sun. This should draw our attention, gentlemen, to something important.
You see, when one arrives at the fact that the earth is really a tetrahedron, — well, if one has been obliged to study such forms and to note the number of sides and corners, one realizes that a certain knowledge of geometry is necessary to understand how to construct them. They don't come about so simply. Boys enjoy doing it, making these tetrahedrons, cubes, octahedrons, icosahedrons, dodecahedrons, the five regular solids. The boys like to put them together from sheets of cardboard, gluing the pieces together, but one needs geometry for it. Now the earth is formed in this very way out of the universe — formed from knowledge of geometry, in this sense, not formed through calculation, but with knowledge — for it is regular! You can infer from this that there is really geometry in the world, that everything is in accord with geometry. That is true. Real science shows us something that I have always stated, namely, that thoughts are spread out in the world, thoughts are everywhere and only those people don't find them who have none themselves!
It is very praiseworthy, is it not, to be a free and independently thinking person? And yet it is slightly ridiculous to find the expression “freethinker” which has appeared in modern times, in the 19th century. Thinking independently: that is very good, but many in their freedom have misused this expression “freethinker.” And the men who have felt themselves to be the freest thinkers were just those who had the fewest thoughts, who simply repeated what other people had said. An Englishman made a delightful remark: he said, “Free thought does not mean that people have thoughts, but that they are free from thought” — a remark that has been much quoted. What is a freethinker? A freethinker is one who is free from thinking! Well, in science one must endeavor not to develop such freedom from thought or else nothing will be achieved. The actual form of the earth could long ago have been discovered — the fact that it is not a completely spherical cabbage-head, but that it has something of the shape of a tetrahedron!
Knowledge of the earth is related to knowledge of man. Man imitates the universe in his own form. He copies the universe in his head, and so the head is round up above like the round universe. Below, where the jaws begin there are quite remarkable structures: they come from the triangular earth. In the jaw formation you find triangles everywhere, they come from below, from the triangular earth. With both, men copy the universe: they have more or less rounded heads above, and the earth-forces reach up from below.
Look for it sometime. You will find in most varied ways man's tendency (and animals) to triangular formation in the jaws; this comes from the earth. Forces work upward from the earth and imprint the triangle into him. And the universe works downward from above and molds the rounded form. It is very interesting!
That is knowledge that may be gained if one penetrates genuine science correctly. If one is free from thought, then one talks all sorts of nonsense. And in our time all sorts of nonsense is talked; that cannot lead to an understanding of what things are in their reality.
So, gentlemen, let us speak further about this next Saturday.