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Anthroposophy has Something to Add to Modern Sciences
GA 73

II. Anthroposophy and the Science of History

7 November 1917, Zurich

It is strange that history became a science during a time that was really least suitable for this. You can see this if you look more closely. My position will therefore be somewhat different today from the way it was the day before yesterday, when I wanted to establish links between anthroposophy and psychology. With psychology it was a matter of extending the area of natural scientific thinking to the phenomena of the psyche at a time when the more recent way of scientific thinking entered into human evolution. It was a matter of covering a field of phenomena relating to the psyche which had been considered in a different way before. The reason was that many people who were particularly involved in working in the sciences gained the impression, quite rightly so, that the spirit which prevails in modern scientific research was the only truly scientific one.

Now we have to say that when the modern scientific method is applied to psychology it is certainly brought to bear on something which is given. A true psychology may have to find completely different ways of investigation, as we have seen, but the object of research is given directly in the human being even where the modern scientific method is applied to psychology.

This would seem to be very different in the science of history. If attention is drawn to the facts that need to be considered here, facts we might almost call paradoxical, consideration must be given to something that is relatively little known or considered, which is that the science of history, as it is called, is of fairly recent origin. In the 18th century, those who developed and represented the concept of science certainly did not accept history as a science. The science of history is essentially a 19th century creation. It thus arose at a time when scientific methods had come to be acknowledged as having reached a high point in their development. 18th century people did not see history the way we do today. Let me refer to a typical statement that the German philosopher Christian von Wolff made in the 18th century. One could cite many others to show that at the time scientists considered history to be the recording of events but not something that deserved to be called a science. Wolff wrote: ‘As historical works merely narrate what happened, it does not need much intellect and reflection to read them.’27Wolff, Christian (1679–1754), German philosopher. Rudolf Steiner was quoting from Fritz Mauthner’s Wörterbuch der Philosophy, 1. Bd., München & Leipzig 1910, S. 403. Methods of explanation, to put historical events in some order that made sense really, only came to be used to any greater extent in the course of the 19th century.

Among those who had come to be more and more immersed in the modern scientific way of thinking, it was Fritz Mauthner who in his big dictionary of philosophy expressed the opinion that the nature of history is such that it cannot be a science in the most radical terms. The article on history in this work is written very much from the point of view that ‘science’ is only possible in the study of the natural world. Reading it you find that the study of what we call ‘history’ is firmly said to be no science, and that it is even considered a paradox that, seeing that the methods developed in natural science were highly specific, history was to be called a science as well.

So far as people who think in the modern scientific way are concerned, one of the main premises on which they base their ideas as to what science is does not apply. What is the natural scientist’s aim in his investigations? He mainly wants to establish such a configuration of the conditions under which a natural phenomenon occurs that the natural event follows from this and he will be able to say: If conditions are similar or identical, the same phenomena must recur.

This focus on the repeatability of phenomena is particularly important to modern scientific thinkers. In their view a proper experiment must be such that one is, in a way, able to predict the results one is going to see under specific natural conditions.

Now we might indeed say that when such demands are made on history as a science, it is bound to fare badly. Let me give just a few examples. A strange view developed recently among people who wanted to think in historical terms, and it was refuted in a strange way, I would say in a highly realistic way. People who thought they had a degree of profound historical insight into social and economic situations developed the view—especially so at the beginning of the present war—that under the present economic and social conditions the war certainly could not last longer than four to six months at the most. The facts have radically disproved their assumption! Many people believed it to be a view with a solid foundation in science. How often do we hear, when people consider present events that are important in the life of humanity and which they therefore want to evaluate: ‘History teaches this, or that, about these events.’ People consider the events, want to form an opinion as to how they should relate to them, how they should think about the possible outcome; and you then hear people who have done some study of history say: ‘History teaches this or that!’ How often do we hear these words today in the face of the profoundly disturbing, tragic events that have come into human evolution. Well, if history teaches what those people think it teaches, namely that it will be impossible for these events to continue for more than four or six months, we can say that this knowledge drawn from history is strangely contradicted by the facts.

Another example, perhaps no less typical, is the following. A person who is certainly not without significance became professor of history in 1789. It was a time which we might call the dawn of historical studies. Schiller started to teach history in Jena in 1789. He gave his famous inaugural address on the philosophical and the external mechanistic approach to historical events.28Schiller, Friedrich von (1759–1805), German poet, historian and dramatist. Inaugural address, Jena 26 & 27 May 1789: What is universal history and what is the purpose of studying it? In the course of this address he said a strange thing, something he believed he had concluded from a philosophical approach to human history. He believed he had developed a view on what we can ‘learn from history’, saying: ‘The community of European states appear to have become one large family; sharing the same house they may bear malice towards one another, but one hopes they will no longer tear each other limb from limb.’ This was a ‘historical opinion’ given in 1789 by someone who had certainly made a name for himself. There followed the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars! And if the lessons history had to teach had been learned, we’d also have to consider the present time in wanting to verify the statement that the European states may bear malice towards one another but will no longer tear each other limb from limb! Again a strange refutation of what people meant when they said that we can learn from history in order to form an opinion on present or future events. It is possible to give countless instances of what is suggested here. This is the one thing people say.

The other is that history, the course of events, must be ‘scientifically penetrated’ from all possible points of view. Did the 19th century really fare well with these methods? People who thought of applying strict scientific methods to history would no doubt be least satisfied when they came to ask themselves if proved useful in any way to apply methods that have their full justification in natural science to historical developments, so that they might be considered ‘in the light of a science’.

We merely need to consider a few things. It will not be possible today—for it is certainly not my aim to criticize the science of history as such today—to go into every detail of the attempts that have been made to develop a method for history. There is the view that it is great men who make history; then the view that the great have been given their character and their powers by their environment. Another view is that historical facts can only be understood if we consider the economic and cultural background, thus letting events in human history emerge from that background, and so on.

Some examples of attempts to approach history with the way of thinking that has proved its value in natural science may serve to show how the attempt has really—well, if not failed completely at least given no satisfactory results. To start somewhere, let us take Herbert Spencer’s29Spencer, Herbert (1820–1923), English philosopher. See among other things his Principles of Biology, London 1864 ch. VI, par. 288f, and Principles of Psychology, London 1870-72, ch. IV, par. 238. attempt to apply the modern scientific approach to the evolution of human history. Spencer wanted to penetrate the whole of world evolution and the existing world with the thinking developed in natural science. He made a surprising discovery. He knew that the individual organism, a human organism, for instance, but also the organism of higher animals, develops from three elements of a cell—ectoderm, endoderm and mesoderm. Three elements or parts of a cell, therefore, from which the organism develops.

Herbert Spencer saw a similar process in the organism of evolving humanity, as it were. He assumed that different organic systems would develop from these elements as the historical organism of humanity evolves, just as the organic systems of the human body develop from the three elements of the cell. Spencer said that in the historical organism, too, you have something like an ectoderm, an endoderm and a mesoderm. This English philosopher developed the unusual view that in the historical evolution of humanity the warrior people, anything warlike in the world, developed from the ‘ectoderm’; peace-loving, working people from the ‘endoderm’ and the traders from the ‘mesoderm’. A ‘historical organism’ thus evolved from the interaction of these three kinds of people. According to Herbert Spencer, the most perfect community organism develops from the ‘ectoderm’ in the course of history; this is because the nervous system develops from the ectoderm in the human organism. This English philosopher thus saw the warrior class, the military element in a state, as developing from the ‘ectoderm’, analogous to the element that holds the potential for developing the nervous system in the individual human organism, and to his mind the most perfect country was the one that had the best developed warrior class. Just as the brain derives from the nervous system which derived from the ectoderm, so Herbert Spencer said that in a community the ruling class should come entirely from among the warriors. I merely want to mention this strange approach, and in view of the current situation make no further critical comments on Herbert Spencer’s militaristic theory concerning the historical evolution of society.

Another attempt at bringing ideas taken from natural science into the study of history was made by Auguste Comte30Comte, Auguste (1798–1857), French philosopher. Cours de Philosophic positive, Paris 1830-42; Système de politique positive, Paris 1851-54. Comte was a mathematician and also relied on mathematics and mechanics in structuring the body social. See above all ch. 16 in the second work.—I am limiting myself to the leading thinkers. He attempted to apply the laws of mechanics, of statics and dynamics, to developments in human history. Relationships between individual elements in a social system were considered under the heading of ‘historical statics’, whilst changes, movements or progression came under the heading of ‘historical dynamics’.

Many more such examples could be given. Taking a critical look at these and many other attempts it can be shown that it is hardly possible to get satisfactory results by transferring scientific ways of thinking, which are strictly controlled in their own fields, to a study of historical developments.

Individuals who lived in the dawn, we might say, of historical studies tried to bring something like explanatory principles to the subject. We only have to think of one of the most magnificent attempts from that period. It was made by Lessing in his famous small book, written when he was at the height of his mental powers.31Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim (1729–81), German writer and dramatist. Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts (1780), see paragraphs 94-100 concerning the idea of repeated lives on earth. His attempt is particularly interesting because he tried to approach historical developments not in a natural scientific way but by using the concept of education, something, therefore, that also has an element of mind and spirit in it. Lessing thought that successive historical events could only be understood if one saw the way humanity lived in the progress of history as an education governed by historical powers that were active behind the developments we are able to perceive.

And it is interesting to see how Lessing established cohesion among successive historical phenomena. It was precisely because of the way he established this that people would say: ‘Ah well, Lessing was a great man, but he was past his best when he wrote his treatise on the education of the human race.’ This was because he tried to make the succession of historical events a kind of inner event, at least in theory to begin with. This led to the idea of repeated lives on earth for the human soul. He looked back into past periods of history and said: ‘The people who are alive today have lived many times before; in their souls they bring into this period the things they have taken up in earlier periods. The impulse which runs through historical evolution is something which lies in human souls.’

Taking this first of all as a hypothesis, we might at any rate say that infinitely many things in human evolution that would otherwise be riddles can be illuminated, even if only hypothetically, if we assume that human souls themselves take historical impulses from one period of history to the next. What has been a tissue of historical developments lacking in cohesion will then suddenly show itself to be a cohesive whole. This is the only way in which we can hope that individual historical data are no longer just there, side by side, but can truly be seen to arise one from the other, for we now have the principle that makes the one arise from the other.

The view Lessing expressed in his small book has not really been taken up, the reason being that the age of modern science was coming to its peak. For reasons which will be shown in the next lecture, people really had to be against the theory of repeated lives on earth in this age of modern science, and in this particular sphere it was quite right to be against it.

And so it happened that all kinds of attempts were made in the course of the 19th century. You need only think of Hegel’s attempt to see the whole of historical evolution as progressive awareness of human freedom, and so on.32Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770–1831), German philosopher. See his 'Vorlesungen über die Philosophic der Geschichte’ in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegels Werke, Berlin 1845, 9. Band, 3. Auflage, S. 24 (Introduction) and S. 546f. (Conclusion). We could refer to hundreds of attempts, showing that people tried over and over again to bring explanatory principles into historical evolution and thus make history into a science. There were, of course, also people like Schopenhauer, for example, who believed that nothing repeated itself in history, so that one could not speak of a science. History, he said, could only refer to successive data but there were no impulses in history that might serve as explanatory principles as is the case with the facts on which the laws of nature are based.33Schopenhauer, Arthur (1788–1860), German philosopher. See Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung II, para. 38 ‘Ueber Geschichte’ in Arthur Schopenhauers sämtliche Werke in zwölf Bänden. Mit Einleitung von Dr Rudolf Steiner. Stuttgart o.J. (1894), Bd 5, S. 286-295.

The powerful protest Friedrich Nietzsche made against history as such is still fresh in our minds. He spoke of ‘historicism’, meaning the acquisition not of the ideas of history but of a historical way of thinking, acquiring a way of thinking where people insist on ‘what history establishes’, wanting to work with this in their souls. In his view historicism sucks the soul dry, as it were, whilst there is need for the human soul to be productive and active in the present time, dealing with events as they come in a fruitful way. For Nietzsche, therefore, someone who only felt historical impulses was rather like a creature that must always go without sleep, which would mean that it could never bring fruitful vital energies into its development but would always only be consumed and worn down by something as destructive and enervating as living in historicism. Nietzsche’s treatise on history’s benefits and disadvantages in life is one of the most significant works to have arisen from his whole way of thinking.34Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (1844–1900), German philosopher and writer. Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historic für das Leben. Zweite unzeitgemässe Betrachtung, Leipzig 1874.

These introductory words should merely serve to demonstrate how much the idea of history as a science is in dispute today, from all kinds of directions, and is so to quite a different degree as yet than psychology is, for instance. The question which must arise from all this is: Where do such things come from? On the premises on which the anthroposophically orientated science of the spirit is based we have to say: Because initially attention was not directed to the important fundamental question: What aspect of the human being are we concerned with when we speak of historical developments? Which part of the human being is involved in these historical developments? To answer the question we will need to look at the nature of the human being from the anthroposophical point of view, for this essential nature goes much further than our ordinary conscious mind is able to encompass.

My starting point—you’ll see later why I have chosen it—will be a look at the inner life of the human being and the rhythmical way in which it again and again goes out of our ordinary state of conscious awareness. We must allow that state of conscious awareness to alternate with the sleep state. We’ll be considering the subject in more detail when we come to consider the natural world from the spiritual scientific point of view in the next lecture. Today I merely want to refer to the aspects that can provide a basis for the study of history.

When sleep comes in the inner life, our conscious awareness is reduced to a level where we may almost speak of unconsciousness, though to someone able to observe this exactly, we are certainly not completely unconscious in our sleep. The world of sensory perceptions we have in full daytime conscious awareness and our world of feelings and active will come to a halt, they go down into the darkness of unconscious or subconscious life. Between the two states—waking and sleeping—lies the dream state.

This dream state is something most remarkable. 19th century philosophers tried to apply their minds, more used to natural science, to penetrating the nature of this mysterious dream world, which rises from the unconscious sleep state and is so very different from the experiences we gain in the world in our ordinary state of consciousness. The philosopher Johannes Volkelt, for instance, who wrote a book on dream fantasies35Volkelt, Johannes (1848–1930). Die Traum-Phantasie, Stuttgart 1875. in the 1870s, left the issue untouched as though it were a hot coal which one may pick up, only to drop it again immediately. Critics writing about his book who decided to take the matter seriously were actually accused of spiritualism.36Vischer, Friedrich Theodor (see note 4). He was accused of being a spiritualist because he gave consideration to Volkelt’s book. Altes und Neues. ‘Der Traum. Eine Studie zu der Schrift: Die Traumphantasie von Dr. Johann Volkelt’, Stuttgart 1881. It is amazing what things people can be accused of!

What is the nature of this dream world which rises from the depths of our sleep? What are those images that move and flow in our dreams? The question can really only be discussed if one has the level of conscious awareness of which I spoke the day before yesterday. Someone who progresses from ordinary conscious awareness to being able to gain insight in images, through inspiration and intuition, that is, someone who truly is able to let his soul be out of the body and live wholly in the world of the spirit, will be able to have insight into what happens in the human soul when it lives in dream images. I can, of course, only give a general idea today, referring to some of the results obtained in the science of the spirit. To take this further you will need to have recourse to my books.

Studying dream life with the methods we have been considering here you come to realize that the sphere in which the inner life finds itself during sleep—from going to sleep to waking up again—is indeed separate from our life in a physical body. This is something one gets to know with spiritual scientific methods. You come to know the condition of the soul when it is out of the body. We are therefore able to compare life in dream images to this state of being out of the body which can be scientifically investigated. And we then find that a dream is really much more of a composite than we tend to think.

Anything that lives in the soul when it is dreaming has nothing to do with our present time the way our waking daily life has to do with the present time. They are something which is developing in our organism, in the whole of our essential human nature, like a small seed in a growing plant. The seed developing in the plant is the physical cause of the next plant. Wrapped up in our dream images—if I may put it like that—something emerges from the dim depths of sleep in the human soul which is not physical but is the foundation in soul and spirit for the part of us that will go through the gates of death, entering into the spiritual world to live through a life between death and rebirth before it appears again.

This seed is weak, however, so weak that it does not find its inner content out of its own inherent powers. It therefore only contains things that relate to reminiscences, echoes of the world we have lived through in the present or in the past. Spiritual scientific investigation of dream life shows that as with many things, the feeling people have, though it may be superstitious, that the future may often be revealed in dreams, is indeed a truth which they can sense, yet it is also a dangerous superstition. It is dangerous because the soul as it develops for the future, that is, the eternal in our soul, actually lives in our dreams. We may have a feeling that the element in us which is dreaming may not hold the idea of, but certainly the living potential for, the future of the human being. The content of the dream is taken from reminiscences and so on which are interwoven in a chaotic way. It is therefore superstition to want to interpret the contents of a dream in any other way than by the spiritual scientific approach, yet we have to say that the principle in us which is dreaming does indeed have to do with the eternal nature of the human soul. It is therefore only the content of dream life which makes us cherish illusions.

Progressing from ordinary awareness to the awareness I called vision, we come to insights in images, to inspirations. With the contents of a mind that is gaining insight in visions we are in a world of the spirit. This is the world in which the soul lives when it is out of the body and dreaming. But it is there in a childlike way, I’d say, in a way that is not yet perfect. It is present in that world the way the seed is in the plant as the potential for the next plant. Through vision in images and inspiration a world shows itself to us in which the dreaming soul is also at home.

People usually think human beings dream only when they are asleep. This is the kind of error that must inevitably arise when one develops one’s ideas only in relation to the world outside the human being. But it is an error, an illusion. People who think more deeply, Kant among them,37Kant, Immanuel (1724–1804), German philosopher. See Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (1789), par. 5 ‘Von den Vorstellungen, die wir haben, ohne uns ihrer bewusst zu sein.’ have had some idea that the principle present in the soul in sleep and in dreams is there not only in sleep and in dreams but is present throughout life. When we wake up, part of our inner life does indeed enter into the realm where the concepts based on observations made by the physical senses are present. We are wholly taken up with these, giving them our attention, for it is like a powerful light that outshines everything else that lives in the soul. We see it as the only content of the mind in daytime waking consciousness, as it were. But that is an error. Whilst these contents fill our minds, other contents that are entirely the same as the dreams that emerge from sleep during the night live on in the subconscious depths of the soul. We dream on whilst awake, but are not aware that we are dreaming. And though it may sound odd, the following is also true: We do not only dream on; we also sleep on. In the waking state, our conscious mind is thus at three levels—up above, at the surface, as it were, waking daytime consciousness, down below, in the subconscious, an undercurrent of continuous dreaming; and still deeper down we go on sleeping.

We can also state with reference to what we dream and with reference to what we sleep! We dream with regard to everything that does not come to mind in ideas or in concepts that can be clearly stated, but is discharged in us as feeling. Feelings or emotions do not arise from a fully conscious, waking conscious state of mind; they rise up in us from a world where all is dream. It is not right to say that emotions arise from the interaction of ideas. Quite the contrary. Our ideas are filled with something that rises up from a deeper inner life where we dream on whilst in the waking state. Our passions and affects also rise from a life of waking dreams, though the fully conscious life of the mind makes this invisible. And our impulses of will continue to be such an enigma in the way they well forth from the inner life because they come from depths of soul where we are asleep even when we are in the waking state.

Our fully conscious ideas thus develop in waking consciousness up above; our feelings are like waves lapping up from a subconscious state, a daytime dream life; and our impulses of will rise up from a sleep life. The significance this has for the development of ideas in the sphere of social life and of rights, of ethical ideas, and the significance it has when it comes to freedom of will is something we will be considering in the last lecture.

Today the emphasis will be on something else, however. Some sharp minds have realized that we will never be able to explain passions, for example, unless we first seek an explanation for the dream world. Passions, even the best and noblest of them, only live in human beings because they dream even when awake, and what people dream does not come to conscious awareness but laps up into it from the region where dreaming takes place.

One feels some hesitation in the present-day climate in speaking about another finding made in the science of the spirit. It does rather go against accepted views, but then it is also a fact that many developments in science were initially controversial. They ultimately won through. Thus the Copernican view of the universe only came to be accepted by a certain element in our culture in 1822.38The Roman Catholic Church authorities resolved on 11 September 1822 and the Pope confirmed on 25 September 1822 that the printing and publication of works that teach the movement of the earth and non-movement of the sun would no longer be banned. The Index Congregation had resolved as early as 1757 to omit the decree which banned such books, without expressly permitting their printing and publication. Perhaps the science of the spirit, or anthroposophy, may also have to wait a long time to gain recognition, this time not by that particular element but by modern scientists.

What is really going on, if we study the river of human life, cannot be reached with the concepts we go through in the waking mind, for it does not live there. It may sound controversial, but the impulses that billow and move in history are only dreamt by human beings. The principle that drives history is no more lucid than a dream in the human soul, nothing else. It is perfectly scientific to speak of the dream of evolution. We can see this clearly once we come to realize that it needs the capacity for perceptive vision to gain insight into the actual impulses that drive history. We need to penetrate those impulses with living research based on vision in images and on inspiration. The human being is part of history and plays a role in it. We are therefore dealing with something that cannot be observed in a way that allows concepts to be developed which are like the concepts we use in modern science. We are dealing with concepts that really only come to ordinary conscious awareness out of our dreams.

It would be easy to raise the objection that the science of the spirit lives out of fantasies, attributing important impulses to the products of sheer fantasy and indeed dreams. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that may well be so, but if the reality is something that must live as a dream in the human soul, we have to go and find this reality in the actual sphere where it can be perceived.

The objection which people who are dedicated to the thinking used in natural science have raised against considering history a science has in fact been that one is dealing with isolated facts in history but would never be able to understand what a historical fact actually is, and that one could not get the kind of clear picture of it which one does with the facts of nature, facts on which natural science is based.

This is perfectly correct, also from the point of view of spiritual science; but we need to take a much deeper view in spiritual science. We would first of all say: If you consider what historical impulses really are, they are not given if you direct your usual rational mind to them, an mind relating to facts in the physical world. Historical facts are only given if we direct image-based and inspired perception to nonphysical impulses that are not to be found in the facts of the physical world.

The insights brought to human awareness through the science of the spirit did not, however, arise entirely out of nothing in more recent times. People who have been wrestling with problems of gaining insight and have gone through inner dramas in the process, have already had to turn their attention, even if only for brief moments, to the things that are now given system and order in the science of the spirit. Again I could give many examples of how one individual or another has in a sense ‘divined’ one thing or another. One example which I have also given in the book39Von Seelenrätseln (see note 1). due to be published shortly is the following.

In lectures given in 1869 which have since been published,40Fortlage, Carl. Acht psychologische Vorträge, Jena 1869, S. 35 (Erster Vortrag). the psychologist Carl Fortlage made a strange statement concerning the conscious mind and its connection with the phenomenon of death. He said: ‘If we call ourselves living creatures, ascribing a quality to ourselves which we share with animals and plants, we necessarily take the condition of being alive as one that never leaves us, continuing on in us whether we are asleep or awake. This is the vegetative life of nutrition in our organism, an unconscious life, a life of sleep. The brain is an exception in so far as during the intervals when we are awake this life of nutrition and sleep is dominated by the life of consumption. In those intervals the brain is exposed to a powerful process in which it is consumed. It therefore enters into a condition which would mean absolute debilitation or even death if it were to extend to all the other organs in the body.’

This is a magnificent flash of insight. Fortlage is saying no less than that if the processes that influence the human brain were to take hold of the rest of the body in full waking consciousness, they would destroy it. We are thus truly dealing with destructive processes in the human being when it comes to conditions relating to everyday conscious awareness. Fortlage had deep insight. He continued: ‘Conscious awareness is a lesser, partial death; death is a great, total state of conscious awareness, with the whole of our essential nature awakening in its inmost depths.

Here we see the connection between death and conscious awareness intuited in a truly magnificent way. Fortlage knew that if we divide the event which happens once, when death comes upon us, into ‘atoms’, as it were, ‘atoms of time’ in this case, these ‘atoms’ would be the events that happen continually in our waking consciousness. In developing conscious awareness we develop an ‘atomistic’ dying process; death is the same process as the one which affects the brain at every moment of conscious awareness, only on a larger scale. For Fortlage, too, death thus was nothing but conscious awareness of the spiritual world awakening all at once. Conscious awareness is all the time killing us off in small steps, and this dying process is necessary for our ordinary daytime conscious awareness. So if we have a human being before us we can say—and Fortlage’s feeling is fully confirmed on the basis of spiritual science—that the element of soul and spirit in this person is really something that consumes and destroys him. The vegetative life he has will hold destruction at bay until death comes. Once death comes, we have on the large scale what develops slowly, atom by atom, we might say, in life. Death is always in us, but we also have the vitality that fights death in us, and the soul enters into this vitality.

If we therefore consider the individual, living human being who stands before us in his body, this body is an outcome of the inner life. We are going to consider this in more detail in the third lecture. We have death; but for as long as the vital energies are active, death is continually prevented from coming in. It might be said to be lurking behind the phenomena and is indeed an important element in life, for life would only be at plant level if death did not kill this life off all the time, with conscious awareness arising in the body exactly because of this.

Once we get to know this peculiar relationship which death has to the vital energies in the human body, our perceptive vision grows sufficiently clear to allow us to form an opinion and indeed find meaning in the course of historical events. Normally they are told in history the way they have happened in the world, which is how history is usually presented.

What do events, fact following fact in the world, actually represent? Again I have to say something that may sound highly controversial. The facts of history do not relate to their soul content—which human beings only dream in the process of historical evolution—the way a body does that bears death within it, but rather like a body that is already dead, with the soul outside it. This means that historical facts no longer have soul in them. In human life, death comes when life in the body has run its course. The soul had been present everywhere in bodily life and then the body is alone, without the soul element. When it comes to historical facts the whole organism is mere dead body, a dead outer form compared to the historical impulses that are alive and active from one age to the next. This can only be perceived if we do not focus on the external facts but on the living principle, which is so alive that we cannot derive it from outer facts.

Let me use an analogy to make this still clearer. Let us assume someone believes—many people do believe this—that he only has to understand the facts of history as clearly as possible, the way we understand the facts in natural science, and he will be able to produce a science of history from the succession of such historical insights. Someone who believes this is like one who—however strange this may sound—if he had a dead human body before him would believe he should be able to extract the life of the soul from it in some way. It is not in there! Nor do historical facts hold the soul of history in them. We perceive historical facts with the rational mind which is bound to sensory perception and evolves from it. Yet we only see what is dead in historical developments when we use the rational mind. Human beings can only penetrate into historical evolution with their common awareness when they are dreaming; they can only see through historical evolution, through the actual inner life of history with imaginative and inspired awareness. Because of this, all available historical facts can only be presented in anecdotes and accounts. It is really true what the great Jacob Burckhardt41Burckhardt, Jacob Christopher (1818–1879), Swiss historian. See his published lectures Ueber das Studiuni der Geschichte, publ. posthumously by J. Oeri, Berlin and Stuttgart 1905, ch. 1 ‘Einleitung’, 1. ‘Unsere Aufgabe’. said: Philosophy is non-history, for philosophy sees one fact subordinate to another; and history is non-philosophy—this is the term he used—because it only has to do with coordination, with facts being put side by side.

This gives rise to a particular attitude in historical thinking. To arrive at truly historical thinking we must use the awareness in vision of spiritual science to gain a clear view of something which definitely can not be learned in the ordinary course of history, something which is there in the process but does not reveal itself at all in the external facts, just as the soul does not show itself in a dead body.

The question then is whether it is really possible to see, using imaginative and inspired insight, what truly lives in historical evolution. Well, having referred to so many peculiar things already, I will not hesitate to speak of some of the realities. One of them is the kind of vision which I characterized the day before yesterday and also dealt with in more detail in my books. With this vision, this imaginative, intuitive and inspired conscious awareness, we gain a view of human evolution that is to the external facts as the soul is to the dead human body. I want to speak in the most real terms possible, for I am after all giving an example.

When someone tries to enter into the things which the mind in its ordinary awareness only dreams of, he will above all be able to delimit the historical process by finding important nodal points in historical life, just as one also finds specific sections in the individual human organism. Children get their second teeth in about their seventh year; they reach puberty at about 14. We can record such nodal points in an individual human life if we consider human physiology. These important changes mean a great deal more in the science of the spirit than they do in ordinary physiology, a science that never comes to an end in its studies. Similar insights are gained in history if one considers it from the spiritual scientific point of view. Thus—now quite apart from external facts, but merely by considering what happens in the spirit—we find that there was a period in European history, and human history in general, that started in about the 8th century BC and came to a conclusion in the 15th century AD. Events between these two points in time form a whole, in a certain respect, just as the life of the child does from his seventh year, when he gets his second teeth, to the time when he reaches puberty. One can establish a whole there, until a change occurs that makes a greater difference in the human organism than the events that happened in between. In the same way we can say that such major changes occurred in the 8th century BC and in about the 15th century AD. Seen from the point of view of historical study based on the science of the spirit, the period between them seems to have had a specific nature, special characteristics with regard to the spiritual reality that lay behind historical facts. This made the period a whole if we consider history from the points of view of spiritual science, something that belongs together.

I can, of course, only mention some aspects. Characterizing such things on the basis of spiritual science one can discover all kinds of details, and indeed things as real as the realities you get if you follow the system of plants in botany, and so on. Let me just present some general aspects.

During that period the life of humanity in general—to perceive this we have to consider the inner life of human beings, leaving aside physical facts—was such that the mind was still working much more by instinct than it does today. Anything people did in full awareness was still much more also an action of the body; it was still much more closely bound up with the living body. The mind still worked more by instinct. If you study the different things said in my books42Steiner R. Theosophy (various translations), chapter on the essential nature of the human being. you will find that the inner life is classified, if I may use this rather academic term, into the life of the sentient soul, which is at a very low level of consciousness, still almost unconscious; the rational or mind soul, which nevertheless works in such a way that its life does not develop in full conscious awareness but still has instinctive character; and then the spiritual soul, which has full conscious self-awareness of the I, emancipating the I from the life of the body, the rational mind being no longer instinctive but taking an independent, critical approach to things. The rational soul was especially active in the people of the period we are considering, that is, people living at the time when the Greek and then the Roman civilization was evolving. And the inner life of people at that time, which led to developments in social life, history, the sciences, the arts and religious life—all this took the course it did because the soul life was characteristically such that the rational mind was still acting by instinct.

These are the general principles, but we can see the truth of it in individual details. Inwardly, in the spirit, one can actually describe how the difference had to come. In Greece, the instinctive mental life developed more in the direction of the living body. Ancient Greeks would see the body as ensouled, and also understood the way in which such an ensouled body was part of social life. In Roman times, the impulse for Roman citizenship arose from this specific constitution of the soul, and so on.

Living through this in an inward way one comes to the significant moment of change that can be so clearly seen in the 15th century. Events naturally happen gradually. The impulses only emerge bit by bit. The change that came in the 15‘ century is clearly evident, however. Human nature was truly revolutionalized then. This is something which only someone who looks at things in such a way will discover; others will always think of a succession of events when in reality history moves in leaps and bounds. The mind then came to relate to human nature in a very different way. It became emancipated, gaining greater self-awareness. Thinking only became more materialistic and sensual because the rational mind had lost its connection with the subconscious. Human beings sought relationships at national level, structures of community life and relationships between countries, and developments in the other areas of civilization that would arise from this peculiar separation from the instinctive life, something we are not aware of in our ordinary conscious minds, only dreaming of the rational mind growing independent of the life of instincts.

Let me just mention some more general aspects. With the approach used in spiritual science it is possible to go back to the time before the 8th century BC. This takes us to a different major period which extends back as far as the 3rd millennium BC, a period that also had its special characteristics, details of which can be established.

We thus gradually find something behind the physical facts that can only be observed in form of images, with a mind inspired and able to perceive in visions. If we are able to do this—something which facts can never give us, gaining insight into things that people normally only dream as they observe the facts and use the thinking based on the observation of physical facts—we come to the process aspect of history. This lives in the human dream level of consciousness and can only be seen more clearly if we have imaginative and inspired awareness. It is this alone which can show the facts in their true light.

Looking at a dead body you have to say that it had significance when the soul was still in it. Just as the soul casts its light, as it were, on the dead body, so we live in the light that illumines the facts when we approach things of the spirit with perceptive vision. Individual facts find an explanation if we illuminate them out of what we have gained in this way.

History thus cannot develop as a science unless we develop perceptive vision. If you think it would be possible without it, you are like someone who lets a light fall on an object, then, using some kind of mechanism to rotate the light, lets it fall on a second object, and a third, and then says: The second object is illuminated as a consequence of the first being luminous; the third object is illuminated as a consequence of the second object being luminous. This would not be true. It is the same light which illuminates each object.

That is how it is with historical facts. Someone who tries to explain facts through other facts, coordinating them, putting them side by side is, as Jacob Burckhardt said quite rightly, like someone who deduces that the light which falls on the second object comes from the first. He should see that it is in fact the same light which falls on the first, the second and then the third object. The explanation for the historical fact lies in the world of the spirit, and it is from this world that we must throw light on facts that will otherwise remain dead, just as objects will not be luminous unless we let the light fall on them that shines on all.

This does call for a radical change in our approach to history, but that should not surprise us. History became a subject at a time when natural scientists were, quite rightly, rejecting anything subjective. People did at first apply the methods of natural science in a study of history that may be said to have evolved at the wrong time—which, of course, is not such a good thing to say—but history can only prosper if natural science is complemented with the science of the spirit.

Then, however, we will no longer search through history in an ethical way, nor in the way many others have done, using abstract ideas. Ideas cannot make things happen; ideas are entirely passive. We must look for the truly real spiritual entities and powers that are behind historical developments. These can only be studied if we have awareness in images.

Now it is remarkable—once you have this guideline, light is indeed cast on what people might sense from a sequence of events, whilst someone who merely looks at things side by side will not find an explanation. Historical development becomes a science when the science of the spirit strikes like lightning from above. If it is unable to strike, people will be presenting progressively more anecdotal, which is not scientific.

It is interesting to note that Jacob Burckhardt wrote that it was approximately at the point in time when in the science of the spirit we would put the beginning of the period of which I spoke today—except that these are not exact points in time, just as puberty, for example, continues for some years—in the 6th or 7th century BC that a common element showed itself that extended from China through Asia Minor to Europe, and this was a general religious movement. Outer history has the facts: Because there was such a change, those events happened! Light is thrown on them. And concerning the end of the period, for what happened after the 15th century, Jacob Burckhardt spoke of the religious movement connected with the name of Martin Luther—again very strange. Once again there were major changes, showing themselves in Europe and at the same time also in India. With the science of the spirit we can see how something which is beheld in the spirit creates a mirror image for itself in the facts, for it illuminates the facts. History changes from being an enumeration of facts to being a genuine science.

We have to say that in this respect, too, many people have been longing to find the right way. Herman Grimm43Grimm, Herman (1828–1901), German historian. Goethe, Vorlesungen, Berlin 1876, 8. Auflage Stuttgart und Berlin 1903, 2. Bd, S. 7ff (16. Vorlesung). tried to take a spiritual approach to history but did not reach the point where one sees into the world of the spirit with perception in images. He used all possible means to discover some kind of historical impulses behind the events that had happened. It was as if he was feeling his way and arrived at a classification which he would repeat many times in his lectures at the university. He said that such historical developments as there had been so far should be divided into a first millennium—starting approximately at the time I have given for the period I have been describing—and then a second and third millennium. You see, he was feeling his way. His ‘first two millennia’ covered everything I included in the Graeco-Latin period, which ran from the 8th century BC to the 15th century AD. And our present life, which will continue for many centuries and can be seen to be a coherent whole if one uses perception in images, he considered to be the ‘third millennium’. He tried to have at least a surrogate, I would say, for the vision that can be had in the spirit by saying that history is the ‘work of the nations’ creative imagination’.44In the story of his life (GA 28, various translations), chapter 14, Rudolf Steiner told of a talk with Herman Grimm: ‘He spoke to me of his idea of a “history of German creative imagination”, something which lived in his soul. I gained the impression at the time that he intended to write this. He did not get round to it. But he told me most beautifully how the continuous stream of historical evolution had its impulses in the creative imagination of the people, which in his view assumed the character of a living, active, supersensible genius.’ See also Steiner’s lecture ‘Die Weltanschauung eines Kulturforschers der Gegenwart, Herman Grimm, und die Geistesforschung’, Berlin, 16 January 1913, in Ergebnisse der Geistesforschung, GA Bibl.-Nr. 62, S. 249-285. Unable to find the spiritual reality that is the driving power in historical developments he believed ‘creative imagination’ to lie behind historical events. He thus made it an illusion, but reminded us that the real impulses in history are only dreamt through by human beings in their ordinary state of conscious awareness.

Anything we are able to grasp with the rational mind with regard to history can only be the dead aspect. Again it is interesting to consider historians who may be said to have still been using their rational minds in an instinctive way and who did not seek to bring in all kinds of ideas from natural science in an artificial way, the way Herbert Spencer did, but were like Gibbon,45Gibbon, Edward (1737–1794), English historian. History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 6 vols, 1776-88. for instance, who did use the rational thinking which is also used in natural science, and were still doing so in an instinctive way. They were able—and this was something which puzzled Herman Grimm46Grimm Herman (see note 43). Wrote on Gibbon in 15 Essays, 1. Folge, 1. Auflage, Berlin 1874, S. 80.—to observe and describe the periods of decline particularly well; those were periods when little soul quality remained. Gibbon thus wrote of a time which did in fact have much by way of soul quality, inner development and growth to it, which was the period from the beginning of Christianity and throughout Roman history, but described the aspect which he called ‘decline’. Bringing his rational mind to bear, he described this whole evolution in the early Christian centuries as a decline. This is only natural, for when the rational mind is applied in the way in which it has to be applied in the study of nature, we can only see the decline in historical events. Gibbon was unable to see how something else, which had come into history out of the Christian impulses, was showing healthy growth in the midst of that decline. The way this works cannot be seen directly in historical events, however. It needs to be illuminated by the light provided through the science of the spirit.

Something else is also of interest, for example. Of course it is only possible to make history a science through the evolving science of the spirit. But the knowledge gained in the science of the spirit has always also come up in flashes of light in the heads of enlightened people, people of discernment. There is one really interesting phenomenon. In his historical and sociological lectures given at Basel University in the 1860s, Jacob Burckhardt would repeatedly refer to a historian, a historical philosopher from the first half of the 19th century who must have made quite an impression on him, even if he, Jacob Burckhardt, often went against his views. This was the philosopher Ernst von Lasaulx. He has never become widely known. Lasaulx wrote a strange book, and Burckhardt frequently spoke of this in his lectures.47Burckhardt (see note 41). Probably referring to his lectures Ueber das Studium der Geschichte. Lasaulx did have some feeling for the historical impulses that human beings normally only dream through, but since it was the age of modern science, he concerned himself with what I might call interpretation of the facts.48Lasaulx, Ernst von (1815–1861). Neuer Versuch einer alien, auf die Wahrheit der Tatsachen gegruendeten Philosophic der Geschichte, Muenchen 1856. Since he used his rational mind which was trained in modern science, he mainly focussed on the element of decline in the 19th century. There were, of course, also new developments in the 19th century. But these can only be seen with inspired and imaginative perception. At the very end of his book Lasaulx showed that he had some inkling of this. The things he said in his book are interesting beyond anything—forgive the words, but it is so. He considered European history from its beginning to the 19th century. And because of his modern scientific approach he was all the time describing decay, decline, the powers that really lead into the dying process. There are chapters in this book—if you read them they are like a description of powers of decline someone made prophetically in the 1850s, speaking of the powers that inevitably had to lead to the present situation, where the European nations of today are tearing each other limb from limb. We can say that no one else foresaw intuitively in such a deeply moving, magnificent way—his mind being focused on the element of decline—what has now proved itself to be such an outcome in the process of decline.

This kind of direct evidence is such that if you leave the sphere where you have direct vision of or dream the true historical impulses and instead consider only the separate external facts, it is as if you abandon waking consciousness and fall asleep, no longer seeing the element of growth and development, the pulse of which beats in history as the element that truly takes humanity forward. Once this principle of growth and development is recognized, history is lifted out of mere natural causality and assumes the rank of a science. We might say, therefore, that what Lessing felt dimly in his work, putting it clumsily, if you will forgive the expression, at the time and indeed incorrectly, is thus given a secure foundation. External facts show no cohesion. The element in which the human soul lives, lives as in a dream, becomes a continuous organic life in the spirit. I mean a life of spirit, however, if it is seen as the substance of history in the light of the science of the spirit.

You will then also discover, however, that the ordinary student is deceived if he considers historical development to be an organism. Doing this, one must often compare it with the development of an individual human life. In my young days I had a teacher who liked to compare the successive historical periods with human life—Persian and Chaldean history with the life of a young man; Greek life with the later part of youth; dawning full maturity with Roman life. The progression of history is often considered in analogy to human life. This is a distinct source of illusion regarding history. For if we come to see the evolution of the human soul in the course of historical development for humanity as a whole, that is, actually enter into the spiritual reality of historical developments, we can never perceive it the way we perceive the development of a human soul from childhood through youth to adult life and finally old age. The spiritual life which lies behind the facts of history does not develop in this way. It develops in another way. Once again we face a paradox. It seems paradoxical if it is put like this, though it is deeply rooted in the genuine spiritual scientific approach to which I am referring in these lectures.

It is possible to compare what shows itself, lives and can be observed as a whole in a given time in history with the periods in human life. Oddly enough, however, one should not compare the historical development with the development that goes from infancy and childhood through youth to adulthood but the reverse. You have to think of historical life going in the opposite direction. If you take the general state of mind for the period from the 8th century BC to the 15th century AD, for instance, this may be compared to the thirties in a human life. We can say that when people are in their thirties, the inner life connects with the body the way it did in the Graeco-Roman age that continued on into the 15th century (the constitution and inner relationship to essential human nature was different, of course). What followed in history cannot be compared to what follows on the thirties but to what went before. Compared to the life of a human individual, historical life thus goes from back to front.

In the course of its emancipation in our time, the rational mind does indeed relate to bodily life in a way that can be compared to the way the rational mind relates to bodily life for someone in his late twenties. A later period in history relates to the one that preceded it in such a way that we might dare to say the following. A young child learns from an older person who may well have worked in a more instinctive way through the things which the child is receiving in a later form. We always learn from people who have themselves been learning in their childhood. It is the same with successive periods of time when mind and spirit move on from one age to another. This progression in history becomes a phenomenon in the mind, though still at a dream level. Using Lessing’s idea of educating the human race, we are dealing not with education from childhood through youth and adulthood to ripe old age, but rather with retrograde education of the human race. And it is because of this that progress, as we may call it, is able to enter into historical development. Human beings are younger, as it were, in their inner approach to such things than they were in earlier times, and this also gives them a greater degree of freedom and of unawareness, a more childlike approach to other people, and this brings everything we normally call progress into world evolution.

In conclusion let me draw your attention to one phenomenon—we have been considering many things today—to demonstrate what I have been discussing—and that is the strange, significantly progressive relationship which came when Christianity spread from the nations of the Roman Empire, who had received it first, to the youthful Germanic nations. A strange phenomenon arose. How can we explain it? It can only be explained as follows. Throughout the historical evolution of Graeco-Roman life, which was the first to be taken hold of by the great impulses of Christianity, experience of life was at a later stage. Christianity therefore took the form we see in Gnosis and the development of other dogmas. When Christianity came to people whose experience of life was at a younger level—entirely in accord with the way the mind evolved in the course of history, as I have shown—it assumed other forms. It became more inward; religious awareness emancipated, as it were, from the instinctive rational mind; religion as Christian religion became more independent; and later on the religious and scientific ways of thinking and awareness separated completely.

The whole process becomes explicable if we take it as a phenomenon relating to conscious awareness, so that the German mind, which has its foundation in a different soul constitution, took over Christianity from the Roman one, we might say as a child does take something from an older person. Roman predecessors, not Roman ancestors, of course.

I have only been able to touch on some points, and I know as well as anyone else how many objections may be raised to these brief indications. To gain insight and understanding of what is meant here, it will be necessary to take up the development of spiritual science in a serious way, and on the other hand give serious consideration to all the mysteries and sphinx riddles that come up in the young science of history. In my fourth lecture, which will be next Wednesday, I will add the things needed for practical life, for social life, intervention in social life, and understanding of the things that touch us so deeply in immediate experience, bringing pleasure and pain, and events that are so much on our minds at the present time with all its tragic events. We will then consider the consequences for these things as they arise from the historical point of view.

I would like to conclude today’s discussion by pointing out how certain people with prophetic gifts instinctively also had this spiritual scientific thinking at an earlier time. They would instinctively come to the right conclusions regarding history. I am thinking of Goethe. He only considered historical problems occasionally, for instance in his history of the theory of colour, but he had a profound comprehension of history. Intuiting things, he formulated his perceptions in a different way from the one we have used here today. He was, however, able to gain the right approach to history because he had a feeling that humanity is really only going through historical developments in a dream, that is, experiencing them in the regions where feelings, affects, passions and emotions also arise. Goethe knew that all the concepts people produce relating to history, concepts similar to those used in natural science, cannot prove fruitful in human life, for they come from the region in our inner life where waking consciousness lives. This waking consciousness exists only for the world of nature, however. People live through historical events in the dream regions where passions, affects and emotions arise.

Before a human being thus comes alive in imaginative and inspired perception, and for as long as he considers historical developments in his ordinary state of mind, his soul and inner feelings can only be taken hold of by experience of history arising from the dream level of awareness. Abstract concepts and ideas coming from the rational approach used in natural science cannot really touch the human being. All this cannot bear fruit. The only fruitful perceptions are those that come from the same regions and are effective in the same regions where they are gained from history. This is the best thing about history. Because we dream it—Goethe did not conclude this but he sensed it—anything coming from history can also only take effect in the dream region of enthusiasm and the life of emotions. Goethe said that the best thing history is able to give us is the enthusiasm it arouses.49Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (1749–1832). See Sprüche in Prosa (aphorisms in prose) in Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften (see note 10), [Tr.: possibly in Goethean Science, Spring Valley: Mercury Press 1988. See also in Maxims and Reflections]. This is significant as a way not of formulating the science of history but of real understanding, born from a poet’s mind; this is something the science of the spirit must make its approach. For as long as we live in history with our ordinary way of thinking, we are not really involved in it. But if we meet it with enthusiasm and approach its phenomena in the way one does out of enthusiasm, we become involved in the life of history itself.

We shall only be able to learn from history the way we do from nature once we look at historical development with imaginative and inspired perception. To develop these thoughts further and apply them to nature and to social life will be our task in the lectures that follow.

Questions and answers

Following the lecture given in Zurich on 7 November 1917

Question. What is the situation as regards the materialistic view of history, with Marx, for example?

Well, with regard to this I have to say that in the science of the spirit, when we base ourselves on this science, the things I said in my previous lecture are and need to be taken very seriously. Speaking about the gradually developing inner approach to concepts as they are understood in relation to reality. I said that in our ordinary way of thinking we are satisfied once we have a concept that may be said to reflect reality. In the approach based on perception in images, we always have to seek to develop a whole number of concepts, which are like photographs taken from various angles. Anything established as a concept can never show the whole of reality, if we take the point of view of the spiritual world. Concepts can always only give one aspect of reality. That is also how it is with the most sublime philosophical ideas. In the ordinary way of thinking one is a pantheist or one is a monadist, to give you just two opposites. You recognize a divine principle that is alive and active in everything; this means you are a pantheist. Or, like the followers of Leibniz, for example, you recognize individual real monads; these interact to give the world as a whole.

A spiritual investigator cannot be a pantheist nor a monadist. Pantheism simply gives him a sum of concepts, and so does monadism. Both illuminate reality from different angles. Perhaps I may risk an analogy: a pantheist only concentrates on breathing out, a monadist on breathing in. Now we can’t keep life going if we only breathe either in or out, but need to have both. In the same way the spiritual reality can only be grasped if we come alive in our ideas and know how to let both pantheism and monadism illuminate reality for us. If someone is just a monadist, like Leibniz, this is to a spiritual investigator like someone who asphyxiates from too much air he has inhaled. You asphyxiate. And if someone is just a pantheist, this is to a spiritual investigator like someone who wanted to breathe in a room that has no air in it. If you take up the science of the spirit, the life of concepts comes alive to you. You have to think of this relationship to the world of concepts as being as alive as possible. For when such a living relationship is established, you are wholly and in a very real way inside the mutual conflict and harmonious reconciliation of concepts, entering into spiritual reality. With our ordinary way of thinking we live in our concepts in an abstract way. Even the simplest of concepts will thus relate to reality in a new way.

Let me give you an example. Today we learn at school that solids are impenetrable. The definition given is that they are impenetrable because a solid body occupies a space which no other body can occupy. A spiritual scientist cannot say this. He can never base himself on definition of concepts but only on characterization. In this case he would say that something which occupies a space in such a way that no other entity can be in that space is a material body. He therefore looks at things the other way round, and because his concept is a living one he only applies it within the limits where it can be applied. He does not state things in absolute terms. This happens with the simplest lines of thought if one really takes the leap which I would like to call the leap across the threshold to the spiritual, non-material world. This must be taken very seriously. People still want to talk in abstract terms today when they speak of the spiritual world. But the whole of our inner life, the way of thinking, changes its constitution when we enter into reality. You enter into the reality of concepts and live it through. You see, for someone who thinks in an abstract way a rose he has put in water in his room is, of course, something real. But it is not real at all. For in real life no rose can exist unless it grows on a rose bush and lives wholly in the context of that rose bush. A spiritual investigator is therefore always aware that things have to be considered in their existing context. He will know that a cut rose is unreal as a concept.

Now consider this extended to the whole shaping, the whole structure of our thinking and you’ll have an idea of the significant change experienced on crossing the threshold to the world of the spirit. There you find reality. There you get an inner idea of the full implications of concepts, an idea that comes alive to you. Messing around in the abstract world, which is what has to be done in natural science, you never realize how unreal the concepts are which you develop there.

On this kind of occasion I like to remember a lecture Professor Dewar gave in London at the beginning of the 20th century.50Dewar, Sir James (1842–1923), Scottish chemist and physicist. Inventor of thermos flask. It has not proved possible to trace the lecture to which Rudolf Steiner was referring.Dewar, Sir James (1842–1923), Scottish chemist and physicist. Inventor of thermos flask. It has not proved possible to trace the lecture to which Rudolf Steiner was referring. From the point of view of natural scientific thinking, it was a brilliant lecture. Taking the point of view of natural science, thinking in physical terms, he construed the end state of earth’s existence. This would come when so and so many million years had passed, temperatures had gradually changed, and so on. If you consider certain facts that present themselves today it is fairly easy to paint a picture of such an end state if you just draw the logical conclusions. Professor Dewar was quite ingenious in describing the way in which some substances which are not luminous today would then be luminous. If people applied certain substances to their walls, those walls would be giving off enough light that you could read your paper by them. It will be so cold by then, however, that one cannot imagine anyone printing papers then. Here we immediately come up against reality. But Dewar gave that picture. Things that would tear off today if you attached just a small weight, would have such powerful cohesion then that you could suspend tons of stuff from them, and so on. The whole had been properly thought through and it is certainly possible to construe an end state of the earth, with everything exactly described in physical terms. The lecture did of course make a great impression, for a physicist who was utterly familiar with physical concepts was here giving a descriptive picture of the earth’s end state that seemed very real indeed.

A spiritual scientist’s experience is that on hearing such a description he finds himself immediately guided towards concepts where a different light is thrown. What Professor Dewar was doing when he described this end state of the earth after millions of years, was arrived at in the same way as if you consider the consecutive states of the stomach and heart of a young person of 12, 13, 14 and 15 as it gradually changes, and then come to a logical conclusion as to what it will all be like in 200 or 300 years—the heart, the stomach, and so on. Now this may all be perfectly correct in natural scientific terms, that is, in abstract thinking. Only the individual will long since have been dead by then, and the stomach no longer there!

If we approach reality like this, side by side with the other view, which is truly ingenuous, and if we have living concepts, we can come to see that Professor Dewar’s description of the earth’s end state in some millions of years may be perfectly correct, but the earth will be dead by then and no longer in existence.

And it is the same thing if we go back 13, 12, 11 years and so on, to say how it was 150 years ago. Only the person was not yet alive then! This is the basis of Kant’s and Laplace’s theory,51Kant, Immanuel (1724–1804) considered the shape of nebulous stars representing other universes to be due to their rotation. Laplace, Pierre Simon, Marquis de (1749–1827) developed the nebular hypothesis of planetary origin. for they construed the beginnings of the earth quite brilliantly from the physical data, saying it was a nebula, and so on, from which everything arose. But the fact is that none of it existed at the time which one would have to assume for this.

This is where we move from abstract thinking to thinking in real terms. Having given a general characterization I may now say that the materialistic view of history with its concepts arose from a degree of necessity, considering that historical events were really only based on class struggles, with material interests brought into play. The concept of materialism does not have the same meaning in the materialistic view of history as it does in natural science. It developed because certain, entirely feasible concepts were created. One would, however, have to maintain a point of view where one asks: How much of historical development is covered by those concepts? They cover one stream only, a stream which in fact only came up in the 16th century.

People do not believe in authority today, of course they don’t! They have done away with that. Yes, but ‘science’ is a powerful authority at the least. And if you swear by a number of dogmas, everything else is folly and miserable nonsense. Years ago I used to lecture to working-class people, giving many lectures over the years, including lectures on history. I tried to characterize history the way it shows itself, using an undogmatic approach.52See Rudolf Steiner’s story of his life (note 44), ch. 28, and the volume of lectures entitled Über Philosophic, Geschichte and Literatur (GA 51). However, when I had gained a fairly faithful audience, which continued to grow—I can say this without boasting—some leading social democrats realized that I was not teaching orthodox Marxism, the orthodox materialistic view of history, but actually presented the peculiar view that the concepts of the materialistic approach to history only came to be used from the 16th century onwards. They actually could not be used before that. They came to be used out of the undercurrents in history itself, for that was the time when the rational mind emancipated, as I have shown. It was the time when human beings first emancipated from a more instinctive life and so on, with material interests providing the necessary counterthrust. We thus arrive at the materialistic view of history—even if only as one of the historical ingredients—which does allow us to throw a light on some of the phenomena. However, if we make this materialistic view the only one, we’ll not have history as a result, for many other impulses have not been taken into account. The concepts developed in Marxism must therefore be seen as one aspect, providing a snapshot of reality from one angle. This has to be complemented with views taken from other angles. - Those leading social democrats then stopped the lectures.

It is characteristic of the science of the spirit that it can do justice to impulses that have inner validity, impulses arising in one sphere of culture or another, and is able to perceive their relative value. Error will immediately arise if we make a one-sided aspect absolute, basing all our explanations on it. This is indeed the point.

Life is such, of course, that people will stick to a concept. People altogether prefer to live in concepts rather than reality, in abstractions rather than reality. They are much happier if they have some concepts, and all kinds of things can then be pegged into these. But reality is not like this. Just as to have a tree you need to photograph it from one point of view to get one aspect, and another point of view for another aspect—I have to keep coming back to this analogy—so it is with reality as a whole, if we really want to take it the way it really is.

It has to be said that with material interests having entered so powerfully into historical developments in the last three or four centuries it is only natural that a materialistic view of history developed, representing the view that the outer course of history can be studied using the crudest concepts which are only appropriate for the natural world. However, everything you get that way is dead, non-living. I will be speaking of this again in my fourth lecture when I will mainly be considering ethical and social life. The lack of reality would soon be evident if reality were approached solely with such concepts. Then you would see that such concepts, if they were to take root, would kill reality; they can prove fruitful, however, if we consider them to be merely one aspect.

This is what I wanted to say with reference to this question. I could of course go on for hours on the subject.

Rudolf Steiner was asked to speak again on the process on which the recall of memories is based. He had described this in his first lecture.

I’ll be coming to this again in my next lecture and can therefore be fairly brief now. Above all I’d like to say that people are mistaken in thinking that an idea I have gained now from something perceived—let us say I see an object and form an idea of it at the same time—will remain. All I gain, the after effect which remains when I turn my eyes away from the object, is mere mirror image and not something that will come back again. Something is there and it is then truly lost, just as a mirror image of me is lost once I have walked past the mirror. It is wrong, therefore, to imagine a reservoir in the soul into which the ideas might go, to be fetched up again later from this reservoir. Ideas do not remain, they are gone!

Yet when I form an idea, a subconscious process happens at the same time. This is subconscious where our ordinary conscious awareness is concerned but can be observed imaginatively. This process is responsible for what happens in the organism when occasion arises for something to be recalled. If I gain an idea of an object because it influences my senses, the idea arises; if I have an idea that arises from memory, it is exactly the same, except that it is not the material object out there which makes am impression on me, letting me develop the idea on the basis of that object. Instead I am looking inside, as it were, at what has been taken in unconsciously, and develop my idea from this.

Let me present it in a schematic way. I form the idea ‘ten’; after some time the idea ‘ten’ comes up again; but it is not true that it is the same idea, that it has gone away and then come back again. What has remained is an unconscious engram. This unconscious engram, which has developed in parallel to the process of forming an idea, will remain. This is what I perceive when I have the idea again. So if ‘ten’ comes up, it is the result of an outside stimulus; when it comes up again, it is the result of an inner stimulus. Anything I remember I perceive from within. It is a process we can observe very well in the science of the spirit and which is very useful in education. Attentive teachers can observe it; all they need to do is to give their powers of attention the right direction.

Just consider how we learn things by heart. Observe it carefully. And you will simply see all the things people do to make sure the parallel process takes place! The idea is taken in, but they want the parallel process to go in such a way that it is drummed into something that remains subconscious. Observe when things are drummed in: the ideas will not lead to memory in some way, but a process which must arise to support the mere forming of an idea and does indeed lie in the subconscious sphere. And this way of working in the subconscious—just watch someone learning a poem by rote, all the things that are done to help the process—is something which a spiritual scientist observes directly. The light which is thus gained makes us see. Some people do all kinds of things when they learn by rote, striking their foreheads, and so on, and this certainly has nothing to do with their experience of the idea. If you go into the matter you’ll find that this is an important border region between psychology and physiology. The next time we meet we will see how physiology with a spiritual scientific orientation can discover things there.

Just to indicate the direction, therefore I would say that ideas are first of all formed in a primary process under the influence of something perceived outside, stimulated by an object on the outside; or else as a memory, with the stimulus coming from inside. On the one occasion I am reading with my eyes looking outwards, as it were, and the other time I am looking inwards. If I read a book twice in succession, the idea is gained from the same book, but these are successive acquisitions.

Perhaps this will serve to characterize the situation. More will be added when I speak of the human being as part of the natural world in my third lecture.

Question. Surely the higher forms of conscious awareness must differ between individuals?

As I said the last time, it is easy to think this way—that one person develops these states of higher awareness in a different form than someone else does. This should not let us shy away from entering into what I have called the drama of perceptive insight. The individual aspect is only an intermediate state. One does indeed go through a powerfully individualistic period, but one is aware of this and overcomes it. After this one comes to the objective inner aspect. It is only if we do not observe accurately that we may say that one person says one thing, another something else. It is not like that. The differences are no greater than the differences you get, for example, when two travellers describe the same region. One of them concentrates on one thing, the other on something else. The descriptions do not seem similar at all; yet they describe the same region, and it would be nonsense to think that the descriptions are therefore not leading to objectivity, or that the travellers themselves had not considered things objectively. I would therefore say that certainly, one may easily think of an individualized experience in higher states of awareness. But that is only an intermediate state. In reality we come to the objective spirit if we are able to exclude the subjective element in an imagination, just as we overcome subjectivity in the study of nature and come to see it objectively. Read in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Occult Science how this subjective element is excluded as one comes to live in higher states of conscious awareness. You will see that this leads to an objective spiritual view in the inner life just as we come to gain an objective view of nature in the outside world. It truly is the case that in natural science, the subjective element is excluded as we consider the outside world, and in the science of the spirit, the subjective element is excluded as we consider the realm of the spirit.