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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Truths and Errors of Spiritual Research
GA 69a

I. Spiritual Science and the Future of Humanity

24 February 1911, Zürich

Spiritual science or “theosophy” is widely unknown even today. You may probably hear some judgement and criticism about this spiritual science, but only few people deal really with it. One surely knows a little about it in the circles of our educated people. Those few people deal most seriously and in quite scientific sense with the questions of the spiritual life, take the most elementary phenomena of this spiritual life as starting point and go up then to the highest questions which the human being can put to himself, to the questions of death and life, of the development of the whole humanity, even questions of the evolution of our planet or planetary system. Such questions find a widespread prejudice by which people think to be entitled not to get themselves into such attempts. Since what, they mean, can one suppose behind it? Any sect based mainly on dilettantish ideas.—They know very little that the human beings who belong to this supposed sect study the important questions with scientific seriousness and thoroughness after methods and authorities that are just quite unknown to most of our present educated people. They do not suspect that talking about spiritual science as something sectarian is equally reasonable, as if one considered chemistry or botany as something sectarian.

Since one believes, scientific methods are not at all possible compared with these questions, and believes to be offhand about such attempts. Today, indeed, one admits that one has to do preliminary studies in chemistry or botany, has to go to the resources to understand something of them, but one does not admit that it is necessary or even possible to do that concerning the highest questions of the spiritual life of humanity. Indeed, one is in case of spiritual science still in another situation than compared with chemistry or botany. These sciences treat things and questions that concern special fields of life and one can make use of that which they give within these special relations of life. However, we have to regard that which is done with scientific thoroughness in the area of spiritual science as questions of big significance for the human future, for our whole life praxis, for the firmness and confidence of our whole life.

If one considers the question of the significance of spiritual science for the future, I have to point with some words to the whole being of this spiritual science at first. This is necessary, although I already had the honour several times to speak about these questions and about the method of spiritual science in this city. If there is talk of science today, one has that science in mind which is based on our senses and on everything that one can attain with the reason, which is bound to the outer instrument of the brain. The question always originates concerning the highest areas of existence how far one can penetrate with such a science into these areas which tell something about the questions: how is the nature of life? How is the nature of death? Which is the nature of humanity generally and its development?

Spiritual science argues that there is not only an outer science, which is connected with a particular level of human cognitive faculties, but that these cognitive faculties are capable of development, so that—if we only want it—we can unfold higher cognitive faculties than those are which observe in the sensory-physical world with the senses and understand with the reason bound to the brain. As well as the present science points to the experiment, to attempts with outer, mechanical means, spiritual science points to an attempt which can be done solely with the means of our soul itself. Our soul behaves in the normal life in a particular way. However, one can change this way, so that we can also put questions to the spiritual world as we put them to the phenomena of nature with experiments. Not with outer attempts and tools we can penetrate into the spiritual world, but while we wake slumbering soul forces. There are particular soul exercises—they are discussed in detail in my writing How Does One Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds?—, intimate performances of our soul which can strengthen our will, so that we can perceive contents in our soul or by our soul where we perceive nothing in the so-called normal life. Then we experience moments by such soul exercises that you can compare, on one side, with falling asleep, that are quite different on the other side. What do we experience at first if we fall asleep? We experience if we observe only externally that the outer impressions stop and, finally, unconsciousness spreads out in us.

There that technique to which spiritual science refers shows that we have to talk of unconsciousness in this case of falling asleep only because we cannot develop so strong forces if all outer impressions stop, that the soul feels its own being and that it cannot establish a relationship to its environment in which it is then and which is spiritual. If now the human being opens himself to particular contents of thought and feeling, he can also feel as a being if all outer impressions are quiet. Then he is in the same situation as someone is who sleeps, and, nevertheless, his situation is radically different. He can exclude all outer impressions consciously and by his will and everything that speaks, otherwise, in the wake state to him by the senses and the reason. Then he is not unconscious but lets the full contents of the soul life light up.

I can only indicate the soul exercises. With the usual mental pictures, we can never develop such strong forces. Another kind of mental pictures is necessary to put those forces in motion in our soul; we can call them symbolic ones. We can open ourselves to a picture so that we do not admit outer impressions in our soul, quieten our recollections, and free the soul as it were. I imagine, for example, a rose or something else, and I let this symbol come to life in myself as the only image to which I dedicate myself. This is not appropriate to deliver usual, physical truths; however, it can work like a seed in our soul. As a seed which is planted in the earth stretches its roots in all directions, this image sends out its different ramifications into the whole soul life, and this image grows in us. Indeed, if we want to do such intimate soul exercises, our soul life must have a steady hold; we are not allowed to be dreamy, fantastic, confused people. We have to know for sure what we do and that we have such an image in our soul.

Let us imagine, for example, three cases of actions out of compassion, and from the comparison [of the actions] we try to develop not an entire image of thought but an entire image of feeling of compassion. Now we try to forget everything that actions of compassion are in our world and let this impulse solely be active in our soul. Then we have such a sensation, from which the roots go out to rich, full contents of the soul. Thereby we can reach that moment gradually which can be compared with falling asleep, and which is, nevertheless, quite different from it. The everyday impressions, joy and sorrow, all thoughts have to sink down. Somebody who wants to become a spiritual researcher has to exclude all outer impressions while he has developed his will with such inner experiences. He has to establish that condition which the soul experiences if the body is in the state of unconsciousness. Then soul states are created in which quite different states of consciousness exist where the soul positions itself quite different to the outside world where it is for the soul like for a blind-born who has seen no colours and forms and sees them after an operation. In this clairvoyant state he sees something else than that which surrounds him, otherwise, in the physical world; he receives new impressions from the spiritual world which forms the basis of our physical-sensory world.

Then we may say, if the human being falls asleep in the evening, the whole human being does not exhaust himself in that which lies in the bed, but the core of the human being, the spiritual-mental, has left this outer cover. This core has no organs in the normal consciousness, but it has received spiritual-mental organs by the soul exercises characterised just now by which he feels moved into a new world. The real experience in the spiritual-mental is thereby given; a new world of observation is thereby given, and then from these elementary facts of spiritual experience we ascend to the highest facts. Now there are such single persons who do exercises full of renunciation to develop their souls as tools. If then these persons tell some people who are interested in such matters what they have found out in other states of consciousness, these believe it. With someone who becomes familiar with theosophy only cursorily it is comprehensible if he believes this, because if one knows only that which exists on the surface of life, it is exceptionally difficult to form an idea of how this spiritual science is practised. Hence, it is comprehensible that most people misjudge it. I have to emphasise this. One can understand that such persons only believe those revelations of the spiritual world that one attains in the described way. For most educated people it immediately suggests itself to regard such persons as daydreamers, romanticists, and sectarians.

However, one misjudges a particular fact: the developed soul, the developed other consciousness is necessary to do research in the spiritual world, to discover the spiritual truths. Even if today few people can only develop their souls as tools to behold into the spiritual world with them and then to inform what they have grasped there, it is enough for those who approach the matter with a certain sense of truth and with impartiality.

The trained soul of the spiritual researcher is necessary for discovering such truths; for understanding the facts, only unprejudiced logic is necessary. If such things are informed, they agree for everybody who wants to think in much higher degree with the whole life than any other philosophy does. Hence, everybody can check the probative force of that which the spiritual researcher informs. However, it is not enough to familiarise yourself with the results, because the logic and the whole system of concepts of the soul development to ascend to the higher worlds is subtle and strict. You can say that more strict demands are put on logic and comprehension than in the usual science in any field. However, if one does not want to judge the matters in a breath, but is anxious in the whole soul to settle in the way of this new imagination to understand what arises about the highest questions of existence, then this settling does not possibly work like suggestion, but the soul can pursue it consciously. Every soul can familiarise itself in those areas where the highest questions of human existence, of time and eternity are treated.

Does this proclamation of spiritual science or theosophy have any meaning for the human civilisation of today and the future? One has to put this question. Since one could argue, there can be people who are interested in such things because of certain longings, but they are mavericks who prefer to contemplate in their rooms, but would have nothing to do with the big processes in the human civilisation.—One cannot say this if one surveys the course of human development with understanding so that just the time at which we live now faces our soul after its being.

Our time has developed from that which humanity has experienced from prehistory up to now. From the present developmental level again the experiences of the future human beings develop. If we look back at the human states of consciousness, you realise that you are prejudiced if you believe that the whole soul condition, the way of thinking, the way how he forms ideas and concepts of his environment, that the states of the human consciousness are almost the same at all times. That is not the case. Indeed, one applies the word development to the transformation of the outer forms, but seldom to the human soul life, and just concerning the human soul life, is the concept of development something that points us deeply to the most important questions of humanity.

The spiritual-scientific investigation of the human soul and the conclusions, which you can draw from it, show that. Since at ancient times the human consciousness lagged far behind, it was different from that of today so that we can speak of times of the human development at which the human soul lived even in a kind of clairvoyant state of consciousness. However, it was not in such a way, as it is with the today's trained spiritual researcher. The clairvoyant state of the today's trained spiritual researcher takes place with full consciousness that he also has in the normal life. That was not the case with the old clairvoyant. He had a more dreamy clairvoyance, a dreamlike consciousness. It was in such a way that we can say, what the human being experiences today in his dreams is an atavistic rest of the ancient state of consciousness. While today dream images mostly mean nothing particular for the reality of the outside world, those old states of consciousness were images that you can compare, indeed, to our dream images, nevertheless, they were different from them. The images that were often symbolic were the contents of an old clairvoyant consciousness, which was not penetrated with modern intellectuality. In the soul of the prehistoric human beings, these images surged up and down. The prehistoric human beings possibly did not always have such pictorial consciousness. Wake states and sleeping states also alternated, but while these merge into each other with us and a mostly meaningless dream state is between them, the third state of consciousness existed in ancient times, the state of such a pictorial consciousness, in which our sensory images did not surge up and down in the soul but symbols as art has them at most in weakened form.

These symbols surged up and down with full liveliness in these three states of consciousness, and they were not like our dream images that we must not refer them to a reality, but they were clearly directed upon a reality, so that the outer reality was recognised with them, even if only in symbols. One experienced a spiritual world that was behind the sensory world. Thus, the prehistoric human beings had a picture consciousness, so that they did not need our today's intellectuality and wisdom of the wake consciousness. For it, they beheld into a spiritual world in the pictures of a dreamlike clairvoyance.

Now one may ask, is there anything in the outer world that proves that to some extent what you spiritual researchers behold there, if you look back at prehistory? Is there anything that can deliver a document that once humanity could behold into the spiritual worlds?—Oh, there is such a thing! However, the human beings have to learn to interpret this thing in right way. What is preserved of the prehistoric attempts to penetrate into the inner being of the things? With the prehistoric humanity, we look in vain for a science as we have it today, but legends and myths have been preserved. Now the present enlightened human being says that this corresponds to the childish imagination of the ancient humanity; we have entered into the manhood of science now. However, someone who delves into the myths of the various peoples experiences something else than such a superficial rater, he experiences that these images are associated in miraculous way everywhere [with the spiritual life of humanity]. If one penetrates into these images, deep connections with this spiritual life of humanity and its culture present themselves. One gets more and more respect for the wonderful arrangement of the pictures in the ancient myths and legends, so that you often say to yourself, what are all philosophies of the present compared with the wonderful pictures that the myths have preserved. They agree all over the world and they comply with that which the spiritual researcher can find with his method in the spiritual world, so that we have to ask ourselves, where from do these old images come which can be found all over the world?.

A conscientious research finds the explanation only if it supposes that these things are remains of an ancient clairvoyance. One judges wrong if one says, the myths of the ancient peoples have arisen from childish imagination. No, we can understand them only if we assume that our ancestors beheld with their clairvoyant picture consciousness [into the spiritual world].

Still about 1800 numerous persons had a notion of the fact that there was such pictorial wisdom and that the wonderful spiritual voices from the myths of the various peoples tell of a primeval wisdom. At that time they were still clear in their mind that the peoples which one regards as decadent today have only descended from a higher point of view that, however, everything that humanity has as culture today goes back to primeval times where the knowledge of the spiritual world was still alive.

There were serious researchers who were convinced of this fact. If we ask Aristotle, Plato, and the other Greek philosophers, we find numerous passages where they speak about the fact that any science goes back to the primeval wisdom that the gods had given the human beings. Plato speaks of human beings of the Cronus age who took over the old wisdom directly from the spiritual world. The spiritual researchers do not only say to us that this was in such a way, but also, why this ancient clairvoyance gradually disappeared from humanity.

There we come to the important law that you can also observe in nature that is especially obvious, however, in the spiritual life of humanity: the fact that for the development of a certain force at first another force has to withdraw. The ancient human beings who could behold in certain states of their consciousness into a spiritual world did not yet have our intellect; they had no science, no civilisation in our sense. Intellectuality had only to develop. Development is something that leads us to the deepest questions of the soul life. Our intelligence, the intellectual condition that we have today, where we completely rely on the sensory perception and on the reason bound to the brain could enter in the general human consciousness only while the old clairvoyance withdrew for a while, was drowned by the intellectual consciousness.

Somebody who knows something of the basic character of the Middle Ages knows that the peculiar spiritual development of the Middle Ages can be explained if one knows that the Middle Ages were the time in which gradually the old clairvoyance disappeared. The biggest impulse in the human development, the Christ impulse that will once induce humanity to take up clairvoyance completely had the task to make the old clairvoyance withdraw. Thus, a peculiar phenomenon appears with the advent of the new time: the old clairvoyance withdraws, only the traditional truths remain which one had gained with the old clairvoyance. Thus, the branches of knowledge propagated in the Middle Ages which were gained on the basis of the old clairvoyance. However, one did not know that, one had only understood the ideas which were found in primeval times, yes, one applied them even quite wrong at the end of the Middle Ages.

One example: Aristotle was already at the turning point of the intellectual age, but he still saw back in dark notion at the time in which the human being knew something by clairvoyance, at the processes of human imagining and feeling, at the human evolution, and he describes this. He did no longer have the ancient clairvoyance; he had the tradition only. There he said, if the human being is active in his soul, in his wake state, we deal with the physical body at first, and this has its organs. However, Aristotle would still have been reluctant to regard the material body as the only member of the human being. He pointed to a higher member that has its centre near the heart, and from this supersensible member certain currents originate which go up especially to the brain and spread as supersensible currents in the human body. One still called these currents “cold light” in the Middle Ages that pours forth in particular into the brain to invigorate its physical organs. Still in the Middle Ages people spoke of this cold light which spreads out where the physical heart is.

One can understand Aristotle only if one knows that that which he lets originate from the heart is thought as supersensible currents that he does not mean physical strands, organs, or the like. Now the Middle Ages came. The people lost the understanding of the old clairvoyance. They read Aristotle, and through the Middle Ages the faith in Aristotle was like a faith in the Bible. Aristotle was the basis of natural science, of medicine, of everything. Everything was based on Aristotle. However, people had no idea of that which, actually, Aristotle had meant. Thus, a peculiar mental picture could develop just with the most religious supporters of Aristotle, with those who believed bravely in him, but did no longer understand him. Since—as everybody knows—it is not necessary that everything is understood that one believes. Mental pictures could develop so that one did not mean supersensible currents that originate in the heart but sensory strands. Thus, Aristotle's believers believed that from the heart the nerves originate.

Now the great researchers and thinkers came at the end of the Middle Ages, like Giordano Bruno, Galilei and others who designed a new worldview on the basis of the worldview of Copernicus. However, Aristotle's believers were not inclined to accept this new worldview simply. Galilei and Giordano Bruno pointed to the real world of the senses because now the time began in which the human beings should develop their knowledge by sensory observation and intellect. There it happened that Galilei led a friend who was a good Aristotle believer in front of a corpse and showed him that the nerves originate not from the heart but from the brain. The friend saw this and said, yes, it seems to be in such a way, as if the nerves originate from the brain, but I read something different with Aristotle, and if a contradiction exists, I believe Aristotle.

This time was ripe to dismiss what of the ancient clairvoyance was handed down as tradition, because it was completely misunderstood. At that time, there was a special impetus of the intellectual development. Many physical concepts lead back to the way of thinking of Galilei with which we still work today. The material, mechanical thinking was directed immediately upon the outer sensory world and upon its intellectual understanding. The age of intellect was dawning in scientific areas, and now we can observe from that time up to now repeatedly how the human being wants to conquer this area of the human soul life whose most important part was the conquest of the outer reality with the intellect. The following shows a particularly drastic expression how one could think solely materially in the Middle Ages, but still had the old tradition.

None of the old clairvoyant wise men would have come up with the idea that the spiritual world is “on top,” that there is a blue firmament, which encloses our world. The old clairvoyants did not think this way; one only misunderstood them later. There one pointed to the fixed starry sky as a kind of bowl that surrounds our world. It was a great moment, when Copernicus pulled the rug out from under the feet of the human beings as it were. It was a great moment when Gordano Bruno expanded this “bowl” into the infinity of the physical space. However, Giordano Bruno put something else beside the sensory picture. We need only to call a few words of Giordano Bruno in mind and we realise that he accomplished the great action to put a spiritual picture beside this sensory picture. He said that everything that surrounds us in the sensory world is rooted in the thoughts of the universal spirit, which manifest in the outer forms, in that which we perceive with the senses. If Giordano Bruno points to the endless cosmic space and looks for the being of the things manifest to the senses, this was for him, nevertheless, nothing but the embodiment of the thoughts of the universal spirit. Giordano Bruno calls the human mental pictures shades of the divine thoughts, not shades of the outer things. If Giordano Bruno turns the physical view to the outer world, the idea of the universal spirit enters into his soul mysteriously, and the human concepts are not shades of the outer sensory things but the thoughts of the universal spirit.

It is very important that we face Giordano Bruno as a great spirit who points to the cosmic space but also strongly to that which connects the human soul with the primeval spirit. You can compare this attitude already with the intelligence and the attitude of the today's science which was still fertilised, however, by the traditions of the old clairvoyance. One may say, a shade of the old clairvoyance and of the relationship with the divine-spiritual world still lived in Giordano Bruno. However, to us only the picture remained which he designed of the outer sensory world, and no more that which was still alive in him at that time. The picture of the old clairvoyance that lived in him disappeared. You only need to pursue the development without prejudice up to now, then you realise that more and more the mere intellect spread in the normal consciousness.

Hence, what has one to say about our age? There one may say that we live so surely in the age of intellect, of reason and its application to the sensory world. Now one has to investigate the peculiar effect of the intellect in the sense of spiritual science compared to the clairvoyant knowledge. This differs substantially from the knowledge of the intellect and the sensory observation. The difference consists in the fact that any clairvoyant knowledge that anyhow enables the connection of the human being with the spiritual world works on our mood, and from it, a feeling of the position of the human being in the whole universe arises. The clairvoyant knowledge is powerful, it pours sensations and feelings in our souls, it satisfies our longings, strengthens our hopes, kindles our love. One cannot imagine that the human being participates in the supersensible knowledge without changing it into feeling and sensation. Hence, we realise how the pictorial legends and myths were taken up in the images of ancient peoples not indifferently, but in such a way that the whole soul either could be delighted and given to a supersensible world or be contrite about its own smallness. This also belongs to the nature of intelligence that it darkens any supersensible knowledge in a way. We can observe that in our usual soul life. When any pictorial image which appears, as one says, intuitive or on the way of inspiration is grasped in abstractions, the deep emotional contents disappear which it gives the whole personality and the whole soul life. Intellect brings understanding largely, but extinguishes any immediate soul effect of the supersensible knowledge.

I bring in nothing made-up, nothing that you cannot read in numerous books. There the representatives of intelligence point to Buddha, to Christ, to Zarathustra, to Pythagoras and so on and say, the human soul faces the big world, it grasps the world in different way. The fact that the supersensible knowledge reaches to the soul was connected with strong courage for existence that caused the consciousness of our connection with the spiritual of the world. Indeed, intelligence leads to understanding on the surface of the things, but it cannot evoke a feeling of inner courage. Thus, we see despondence, feebleness toward the penetration of knowledge as a characteristic feature of our time. Our time praises and emphasises that which science accomplishes. They do that rightly. However, where people believe to think deeper they say that the human being does not come to the primal grounds of the things. Neither Pythagoras, nor Christ, nor Zarathustra would have known how to say something about these primal grounds. Nevertheless, this proves very well that instead of the old knowledge and confidence a knowledge of despondence appeared.

There are two forms of resignation. The old clairvoyant could say, as well as in my conditions, in my age the human abilities have developed, they are not sufficient to behold into the primal grounds of the things—- one has to resign.—This was another resignation than that which we find today. Why did the old clairvoyant resign? Because he realised: as I am, I am not yet capable to attain knowledge.—He resigns out of modesty, out of the consciousness that in him, indeed, the highest forces are, but that he cannot unfold them because of his imperfection. This is heroic resignation, full of confidence; this is the human being to whom the gates of the world riddles are not closed.

However, one says today, the human being cannot at all penetrate [into the knowledge of higher worlds]; as well as he is constituted; his cognitive faculties can never be so highly developed.—This is a fundamental resignation. It differs quite substantially from the heroic resignation; it has something arrogant because it declares the level of knowledge to be absolute. What it cannot recognise is generally beyond the human knowledge.

The age of intelligence is fulfilled with other sensations, with sensations of negative kind because it cannot be productive, in contrast to the times of the old clairvoyance. Humanity had to come to this point if it should lose all old mental pictures, also those of faith, and for that, it required the culture of intelligence.

However, the inner life would become banal if only the intelligence should be entitled to illumine the inner life of the human being. Hence, spiritual science or theosophy appears in the present and shows that it is possible again to bring out forces from the depths of the human soul that penetrate the intelligence with a higher cognitive power which leads the human beings again into the spiritual worlds. Thus, the new clairvoyant knowledge wants to be an incentive and a help to the intellectual knowledge, and it gives humanity again that which it needs to possess the light of intelligence not only that leaves the soul empty, but also to possess such a knowledge which again brings strength and confidence and hope in our lives. Numerous human beings long for such knowledge that can be changed into courage and power in our soul. Someone who understands the whole spirit of the new development from the aurora of the intellectual age up to its today's climax will also understand that for the future of humanity the fulfilment of the soul with contents is necessary. Since intelligence only would be able to extinguish the soul, but would not deliver new soul contents. Advanced people of the present criticize the old mental pictures or register them at most as history. One dives, so to speak, back to register the old mental pictures. However, spiritual science will be,—although it is true science—always such a science, which gives the powerful feeling of the coherence with the spiritual worlds. It wants to give our souls contents and to fertilise them with contents.

With it spiritual science points to its future mission. Such a science will again give sensation and feeling in the most natural way. Indeed, intelligence builds the bridge from the ancient times to the future, but the mission of spiritual science is to penetrate this intelligence with the living value of the spiritual life as food for the souls. Because in our time intelligence has reached its highest development, just this time was chosen by those who know how to interpret the spirit of the time to attempt to intervene by spiritual science to conquer [living soul contents for] the soul gradually again.

Thus, spiritual science positions itself not as something arbitrary or as something arbitrarily invented in our age, but as something that has to get to know the real sense, the deepest tasks, and riddles of our age. If the human soul opens itself to spiritual science with complete impartiality, then it will feel that spiritual science copes with any outer science concerning logic and intellect that it develops the logic in such a way that it appears as a force of love, of compassion, of life security in our souls. Any soul will feel the high sense of spiritual science and understand whose nature we can summarise with the words:

The things of cosmic space
Speak to the human senses;
They change in the course of time.
The human soul lives recognising,
Spatially unlimited and not
Confused by the course of time,
In the realm of the eternal spirit.