Anthroposophy has Something to Add to Modern Sciences
III. Anthroposophy and Natural Science
12 November 1917, Zurich
Spiritual scientific findings concerning the natural world and the human being as part of this world
For the spiritual scientist, familiarity with current and recent work in other sciences is most important. If there is anything which right away establishes the need for an anthroposophically orientated spiritual science, it is above all the relationship which this science must have to natural science.
Among the attacks against the particular science of the spirit of which I am speaking those directed against my own relationship to natural science are always of special interest to me. It is easy to understand that opposition has to arise from the natural science side against an approach which, whilst it is firmly grounded in natural science, must in almost every respect go beyond that science. It is, however, strange, and certainly of some significance for the whole position held by the science of the spirit, that I myself have been repeatedly accused in recent times of not objecting to current research findings in the natural sciences but basing myself wholly on natural science. This objection is raised by people who see themselves as representing a ‘spiritual scientific’ approach. And I think I am entitled to say that with the scientific approach presented in these lectures, one finds oneself caught, as it were, between opposition coming from the natural scientific side and opposition coming from various rather vague, mystical spiritual sides that are almost equally vociferous.
I must say, however, that for the science of the spirit which I am representing in these lectures one does not just have to confess that it is indeed a matter of necessity that one bases oneself on natural science, but also that natural science, the way it is and has to be at the present time, has achieved things that provide stimulus and support in every respect. For this we not only are but indeed must be grateful. People who are working in the science of the spirit eminently need to come to an understanding with people who are working in natural science, for in a certain respect the science of the spirit needs to have the most recent findings made in natural science as a foundation if it is not to be amateurish, vague and unclear.
This may seem strange to people who have already got to know something of this anthroposophically orientated science of the spirit. But then I may well have to say quite a few things today that may seem strange from various points of view. I would therefore ask your forgiveness, especially tonight, if I consider it necessary above all to present spiritual research findings, and my only purpose in presenting such results will be to arouse interest. To furnish proof for every detail of what I am going to say tonight would require a course taking a whole week.
We need to consider the essence of recent developments in natural science if we want to establish the right kind of relationship to it, especially as spiritual scientists. Natural science does not, in fact, owe its character to what scientists themselves say are its great virtues, but to entirely different conditions and facts. The particular character which the natural scientific way of thinking has assumed over the last four centuries, and especially in the 19th century and up to the present time, is due to the fact that quite specific tendencies and gifts have arisen in the search for knowledge in the course of human evolution.
The origins of the natural scientific way of thinking are often presented like this: Well, for thousands of years in the past people looked at things in the wrong way, especially where science is concerned, and now — perhaps I won’t use the commonly quoted phrase ‘seeing how much wiser we are today’ 53Goethe, J. W. (see note 49), Faust I, Faust’s servitor Wagner in ‘Night’. Tr. P. Wayne. Penguin Classics. — but let me just draw your attention to how many good, honest and upright followers of the natural scientific way of thinking do believe that humanity has now been able to arrive at the ‘truth’, at the ‘right view’ where some things are concerned, and that in earlier times people had been entirely ‘on the wrong track’.
Yet if we give some consideration to the essential nature of scientific development, we can see that it was not really the case that a sudden miracle happened in the 16th century, with people arriving at the one and only truth, but that from that century onwards quite specific gifts, tendencies and approaches to investigation arose. These tendencies, these human needs, this predilection, as I might call it, made people on the one hand focus attention on the natural world and on the other hand give their knowledge of that world the character which we must so greatly admire today, especially if we base ourselves on the science of the spirit.
One of the truly outstanding gifts to arise was the ability to observe tangible physical objects very accurately. Another tendency went hand in hand with this predilection and gift, and this was to give tangible, physical things preferential and indeed exclusive value, thinking that anything which went beyond this must inevitably take human beings into spheres that were somehow forbidden, spheres of vague fantasies, or, in short, into an abyss in their search for knowledge.
This is particularly evident if we consider the efforts made to make the human being himself an object of scientific study. These efforts went in the direction of applying the forces and laws that apply in the natural world outside the human being to the human being himself, that is, to see him purely as part of the natural world, the kind of creature that has shown itself to the scientific eye in more recent times. The triumphant progress of natural science extends not only to the natural, physical aspect of the human being but also to efforts somehow to study the human psyche, using scientific methods, and indeed to bring this, too, as close as possible to something governed by the laws of nature. And I would say we can see pride and satisfaction when a modern psychologist discovers that an irrefutable law of nature can also be applied, he thinks, to the inner life of man. I am speaking of rather extreme situations that go in this direction because I really want to make my point.
Someone who still takes the point of view that the human psyche is an entity in itself will of course also think that this human psyche, complete in itself, can come to expression through the power of will impulses — we’ll consider freedom or the lack of it the day after tomorrow — using the organism. The idea that the psyche is the primal source of energy, as it were, for the movement and actions of the organism lives strongly in some minds even today.
People who think that they should think in purely natural scientific terms say to themselves, on the other hand: In the 19th century natural science arrived at one of its most significant laws, the law of the constancy or conservation of energy. This says that energies are converted in such a way that nothing new can arise in the system of energies, and nothing can in any way intervene in this system unless it is already part of it. If, it is said, the soul were able to set the organism in motion, it would need to develop the necessary energy. This would then have to be added to the energies the organism already has from food intake and other ways of relating to the world around it. The soul would have to be a source of energy, as it were; energy would have to come out of nothing, so to say, but the law of conservation of energy only permits energies the human organism takes in with food and the like to be converted to energy. A movement or the development of body heat thus cannot be anything but the conversion of food energies and other forms of energy that have been taken in from outside. Conflict thus arises with this law of the conservation of energy, which has played such a significant role in scientific developments during the 19th century, when one comes up against the idea that the soul can be the source and origin of some form of energy.
People were really pleased to have experimental proof that a ‘reservoir of energy’ capable of intervening in the process of energy conversion did exist in the soul. The experiments the well-known biologist Rubner 54Rubner, Max (1854–1932). Die Gesetze des Energieverbrauchs beider Ernährung, Vienna 1902. did in this field with animals, and the continuation of them with human beings by Atwater 55Atwater, W.O. ‘Neue Versuche über Stoff- und Kraftwechsel im menschlichen Koerper’ in Ergebnisse der Physiologie Bd 3.1904. S. 497-622. are regarded with some satisfaction by psychologists to this day, I would say. Rubner showed that the heat energies and the kinetic energies animals produce are, according to the measurements made, nothing but the converted energies of food they have taken in, with nothing coming from a psyche. Atwater extended these experiments to human beings, selecting subjects who we might think should be able to do even better — people doing mental work, physical work, at rest, or developing inner energies. He was able to show that up to a certain percentage — always important in experiments — nothing that comes from inside the human organism derives from a reservoir of energies in the soul, and that the energies available had been converted from energies the human organism had to take in first. Psychologists like Ebbinghaus 56Ebbinghaus Hermann (1850–1909), German experimental psychologist. Abriss der Psychologie, 2. Aufl. Leipzig 1909, I. Kapitel ‘Allgemeine Anschauungen’. also stated, with some satisfaction, that there was no question of any form of psychology being in conflict with the law of conservation of energy.
Hundreds of other examples could be added, from many different points of view. They would show you how significant and characteristic the triumphant progress of the natural scientific way of thinking has become, even in our culture in general. It is thus easy to see why this triumphant progress, as we may call it, is still relatively recent and does not want to be held back at any point by something else, like the science of the spirit, for instance, and why it still has all kinds of tendencies — speak ‘prejudices’ perhaps — with regard to this that are extraordinarily difficult to deal with. If the necessity did not arise of its own accord from natural science itself for the science of the spirit to develop from it in its own way — as the child must of necessity grow to be an adult — it would probably still be a very, very long time before the science of the spirit would find anyone in the world of science prepared even just to listen when it comes up in one place or another.
No I have to make some critical comments my starting point today. One does, of course, always have to consider individual aspects, for I do not want to talk in abstract terms. Quite generally, I do not want to give general characteristics today but rather start with specific instances and use these to make my point.
If we review the character and the way of thinking and forming ideas which the natural sciences have assumed in more recent times, we have to say that this is above all ruled by the idea that the things we learn from nature must somehow come from somewhere that is separate from the human being. I’ll not go into a philosophical discussion of this; but there is a borderline issue we must consider briefly. Not that I would consider it to be of quite specific significance for natural scientists today, nor do many natural scientists enter into discussion of this issue; no, the reason is that their desire for knowledge is going in that direction, unconsciously so, in a way, and can only be judged if we consider it with regard to its movement in this direction, or to this goal.
Let me take up an idea which no doubt originated in philosophy but lurks in many people’s minds, and that is the idea of ‘things in themselves’. The philosophical question in the Kantian or some other sense will of course be of little interest to natural scientists. But the whole direction, the whole endeavour in natural scientific thinking shows a tendency to go towards this ‘things in themselves’ idea. Irrespective of whether one is basing oneself on the earlier atomic theory, or on or modern theory of ions, of electrons, whether one takes one standpoint or another in biology, people will of course say from the very beginning that they merely wanted to know the ‘laws of phenomena’, leaving the ‘things in themselves’ to the philosophers, but the way in which the phenomena are approached, how they are in fact investigated, is based on the premise that there is some ‘thing in itself behind the phenomena and that if one were able to go more deeply into the region made accessible by means of microscopy, let us say, or other scientific methods, one would come closer and closer to such a ‘thing in itself.
This notion gives natural scientific thinking its direction, at least at an unconscious level, for if you assume a world of atoms, for instance, or assume that ether waves lie behind the tapestry of colours and nuances of light that surrounds us, you are of course thinking that these ether waves belong to a sphere of the ‘thing in itself, as it were. Eduard von Hartmann, the philosopher of the unconscious mind who wanted to found a natural philosophy, actually made it a challenge, saying that the world of atoms and the like, or of forces behind the things we perceive through the senses, must be accepted by scientists as something on a par with the ‘thing in itself.
For a scientist working in anthroposophically orientated spiritual science this search for a ‘thing in itself behind phenomena, this whole trend — I am now not speaking of philosophical hypotheses but of this trend in natural science — is analogous to an attempt to see what is behind a mirror when one sees various images in it. It is as if one were walking round to the back of the mirror to see where the images have their origin. That origin does not lie behind the mirror, however. It is in front of the mirror, where we are standing. We are in the region where the images have their origin, 57Eckermann reported Goethe’s views on the natural scientific thinking to which the lecture refers as follows. ‘But it is not usually enough for people to see the archetypal phenomenon; they think it must go further than this and are like children who, having looked in a mirror, immediately turn it round to see what is on the other side.’ Johann Peter Eckermann, Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines Lebens, zweiter Teil, Gespräch vom 18. 2. 1829. and we would fall into the most incredible delusion to think we should reach into the back, behind the mirror, to find something that would be the source of the images. It may sound grotesque and be unexpected, but the ideas and concepts of natural science are based on the illusion that one has to reach behind the mirror. The ‘thing in itself is behind the mirror if one thus deludes oneself. But in reality it is not there.
Why is that so? It is so because as human beings we are not merely in an outer material world behind which there is a ‘thing in itself, but right in the midst of everything on which this world is founded. It is just that not all of it comes to our conscious awareness. We are right in the midst of it! And analysing the phenomena of the natural world outside will not show us the origins, just as you cannot perceive the true nature of a person, get to know this mirror image as a physical human being, by analysing the mirror image of that person. Analysing the phenomena does not give insight into their essential nature. Instead we must intensively, if I may put it like this, go beyond the level at which our conscious mind works in everyday life. And this is done by the methods I have characterized in my first lecture here.
Our ordinary, everyday waking consciousness serves merely to develop the conceptual tools we need to put the phenomena in some order and system, establishing the Taws’. To go beyond this, the conscious mind must first be transformed, developing powers that lie dormant in it. Then the imaginative, inspired and intuitive perception which I have tried to characterize as perceptive vision, perception in images, must arise from the depths of that conscious mind — nothing nebulous, of course, but in the strictly scientific sense.
We would never be able to learn something about the nature, the physical nature, of the human being by looking at a mirror image unless we also had self awareness. We must therefore strongly feel ourselves to be physical human beings, we have to get a feeling for ourselves and know that it is I myself who is standing in front of that mirror. In the same way we cannot arrive at the essential nature of natural phenomena unless our inner life, which is right in the midst of those phenomena, grows so strong that it gains the ability to perceive things in a way that is different from ordinary waking consciousness. With regard to this perceptive awareness, perception in images, and so on, I would refer you to my last-but-one book. 58Steiner R. The Riddle of Man (note 3). I would just say that, in principle, it is not a matter of a new organ in physical terms, but of developing a real ability to perceive purely in the soul realm, developing non-physical organs that add something new to everything the soul perceives in the world around it when in its usual waking conscious state. This is just like the newly opened eyes of someone born blind who has had an operation and now sees the world of colour of which he had only heard people tell before.
The task therefore is not to develop some kind of material hypotheses or draw conclusions concerning a ‘thing in itself and get at something that lies ‘behind the phenomena’, but to strengthen our inner faculties so that we are able to see the essence in front of the mirror. It will, of course, be a long time before such perceptive awareness will be taken seriously by greater numbers of scientists, despite the fact that I have characterized neither a miracle nor anything that is not accessible to human beings. It is something everyone can find from their own resources, though it has to be said that present-day habits of thinking, inwardly responding to things and gaining insight are an obstacle when it comes to awakening such perceptive awareness.
I would now like to give you some of the results of this perceptive awareness specifically relating to the sphere we may call ‘nature’. It will, of course, be necessary to speak of some things where it will not be easy to communicate with people who are firmly wedded to natural science. But perhaps this may be an occasion where it is permissible to speak of something personal. What I am offering here are not ideas that have come into my head, nor anything I have thought up. These are the results of years of investigations done in full accord with the more recent natural scientific developments; some of the things I am going to say — I would not have been able to formulate them like this even a short time ago.
My aim is above all to refer to things that are very real, going into detail. The theory of evolution, or ‘descent’, has had a considerable influence on scientific thinking in recent times. And it has to be said that anyone who is not an amateur in this field will know what fruit — leaving aside the shadow sides — this theory has borne for modern thinking, the whole modern way of looking at the world. Of course, if we really want to appreciate the nature of this theory we must ignore all the amateurish philosophical views into which so many scientific findings have unfortunately developed in recent times. ‘Monistic’ and other movements often arise because people know little of the form science has recently taken in the field in question. It is often grotesque to see how such efforts limp and lag behind scientific advances that can in no way be said to be in agreement with such things.
Yet when we speak of the theory of evolution, we also think of its early days, of all the great, idealistic hopes which Ernst Haeckel 59Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich Philipp August (1834–1919), German naturalist [Tr.] had for it in the 1860s and 1870s — I do not wish to either overestimate nor underestimate him — and which he passed on to his students. I am not so much going to refer to the radical conclusions Ernst Haeckel arrived at in his day, though his scientific achievements are tremendous and often also positive. What I would like to mention is that even cautious investigators who have entered into the field — among them Naegeli 60Naegeli, Karl Wilhelm von (1817–1891), Swiss botanist. Mechanisch-physiologische Theorie der Abstammungslehre 1884. and Gegenbaur 61Gegenbaur, Karl (1826–1903), German comparative anatomist. His chief work, Comparative Anatomy, was translated into English in 1878 [Tr.]. — not only became aware of the fruitful nature of this theory but also demonstrated this with reference to their involvement in recent developments in the sciences. I could give a long list of names. But something strange can also be noted if we consider the relatively brief history of the theory of evolution.
Great indeed were the hopes Haeckel and his followers had for the development of Darwinian principles in natural science. 62Haeckel in The Natural History of Creation (1868). Consider the role which catchwords like ‘theory of natural selection’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ have played. Some people had such hopes for a view of the world where they might say that some vague powers full of wisdom intervening in world evolution had now been overcome. People would have to realize that powers that were like powers of pure chance meet others arising from sheer natural necessity in the developmental stages of one organism or another, resulting in selection, with the fit surviving whilst the unfit do not, and the fit thus might be said to get more and more perfect compared to the unfit that has dropped away; one should not, however, think in terms of any kind of teleological principle of purpose. To this day there are people 63In the preface to Das Werden der Organismen (Jena 1916), Oscar Hertwig wrote: ‘For we would agree with Huxley that if Darwin’s hypothesis were to disappear, the theory of evolution would remain where it is. It is a lasting achievement of our century based on facts, and certainly one of its greatest.' who think they are representing modern views in saying that even if everything Darwin has presented in his theory of evolution were to disappear from this world, the progress made in disregarding ‘higher powers’, as Eduard von Hartman calls them, intervening in the purely inorganic laws of the realm of nature to let organic life arise 64In System der Philosophie im Grundriss (Bad Sachsa 1907), Bd. II, Grundriss der Naturphilosophie, S. 172 & 208. — this progress cannot be undone.
Seen from a particular point of view, the thinking which has developed there, the thoughts that have come to human beings to liberate them from certain prejudices to which they used to be attached, are of particular value. But we have seen a strange thing. When Darwinism evolved, eliminating all the higher powers that were said to intervene in the evolution of organic life, Eduard von Hartmann’s book on the philosophy of the unconscious appeared in the late 1860s, 651. Aufl. Berlin 1869. that is, when Darwinism was in frill flower. I am not defending Hartmann, but this is simply a fact. Eduard von Hartmann was against a theory of pure chance. He said something quite different — powers giving direction, powers of a higher nature — must intervene in the lifeless, dead functions of purely inorganic natural laws if there was to be organic evolution. Selection cannot create anything new; anything new that did arise would have to arise from inner impulses; selection could only be made of things that already existed, removing anything unfit, but it did not have magical powers that would enable it gradually to let something perfect develop from something imperfect. Eduard von Hartman produced some brilliant thoughts in his refutation of Darwinism, which raised such hopes at the time, a theory of evolution in purely mechanical terms. People did not take the philosopher of the unconscious seriously because he was a philosopher and not a naturalist. They said: Well, he’s an amateur and does not understand the principles of natural science; anything he has to say can be of no real value in the development of science.’ Remarks like this were used to reject the things Eduard von Hartmann had to say.
Refutations addressed to this ‘amateurish, dilettante philosopher’ were published. One, was about the unconscious from the point of view of physiology and the theory of descent, was by an anonymous author. 66 Das Unbewusste vom Standpunkt der Physiologie und Deszendenz- Theorie (Berlin 1872). The second edition, this time bearing von Hartmann’s name, was published in 1877. It was a brilliant refutation of Eduard von Hartmann from the point of view of Darwinism as it then was. Oskar Schmidt,67 Schmidt criticized Eduard von Hartmann in his Die naturwissenschaftlichen Grundlagen der Philosophie des Unbewussten (Leipzig 1877), but praised the anonymous publication, saying that it had ‘fully confirmed the conviction of everyone who had not sworn an oath in favour of the unconscious that Darwinism is in the right.’ Darwin’s biographer, Haeckel himself, and others took a very sympathetic view of this refutation by an unknown, saying that it was excellent — this is more or less how we can sum up their views — that someone whom one could see, with every page read, to be firmly founded in the true scientific approach, was dealing with an amateur such as Eduard von Hartmann. This anonymous author — one dyed-in-the-wool Darwinist wrote — should just make himself known to us and we’ll regard him to be one of us! Someone else, also firmly grounded in mechanical Darwinist theory, said: ‘He has said everything I myself could say against Eduard von Hartmann’s amateurism.’ The man did say this. In short, the Darwinists made a lot of propaganda for this publication, which was soon sold out. A second edition had to be printed. This time the author gave his name — Eduard von Hartmann! From then on silence reigned among those who had previously praised the publication, and little further reference was made to it.
What follows may seem strange but I think it is all the more remarkable. One of Ernst Haeckels’ most important followers, someone who as a student lived wholly in the then current theories of evolution that arose in connection with Darwin’s name, was Oscar Hertwig. 68 In Das Werden der Organismen (see note 63), Hertwig gave a long quote by E. von Hartmann. Last year, in 1916 — just consider how little time has passed since Darwinian theories were in full flower — Oscar Hertwig published a book that is truly exemplary as a scientific work. The subject is how organisms evolve — a refutation of Darwin’s theory of random chance. Eduard von Hartmann is one of the people Oscar Hertwig says should be taken note of when speaking of different powers being active in the realm of organisms from those active in the inorganic world.
It certainly is strange to see that within a relatively short time someone came from among the best people who had been developing the old theory of evolution of the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s who actually refuted one of the fundamental principles of that theory. This should give some pause for thought to people who make up their own — ‘monistic’ — philosophies by just putting together amateurish ideas.
I now need to go into some definite issues relating not so much to the more recent theories of evolution but to theory of evolution as such. This may show you the position that has to be taken in anthroposophically orientated spiritual science. The theory of evolution is based on considering the facts and drawing the conclusion that something perfect, ‘perfect’ as we know it today, or, perhaps better, something with a more differentiated organization, has gradually evolved from something that was less perfect, less differentiated in its organization. To prove this, scientists refer not only to geology and palaeontology but also to embryology, the theory of individual development. Oscar Hertwig’s new book is exemplary in so far as it offers a theory of individual development, though he does it by making comparisons with animal embryology. All theory of evolution must begin with the development of the individual; Haeckel established his biogenetic law to show that the embryological development of an individual shows the evolutional history of the species, so that the embryonic development of higher animals goes through the morphological and physiological functions, at a particular level, of the simpler animal forms that existed earlier. 69 ‘Ontogenesis, or the development of an individual, is a fast, short recapitulation of the phylogenesis, or evolution, of the species.’ Anthropogenie, 4. Aufl. Leipzig 1891, Bd I S. 64 (Evolution of Man 1874).
Strange though it may seem, however, a theory of individual development where one seeks to apply its laws to the evolution of organisms in general will not provide the answer to a very simple question. I feel I must in fact apologize for speaking of something as commonplace as this; the matter has been discussed many times, but, as we shall see, it concerns an important principle. The question is, very simply: What came first in evolution, the chicken or the egg? The chicken comes from the egg, but — the egg can only come from a chicken.
The issue is of little importance today, when any facts you investigate take you into vagueness whichever direction you take. But it does have significance if we want to form an idea of the way in which individual development relates to world evolution. For in that case it proves necessary to consider that there must have been conditions in which the ovum, that is, the basis of individual development today, was able to evolve on its own, without descent from any kind of entities that had already reached some level of perfection. As I said, I can only refer to this briefly, but anyone who considers the issue in more detail will soon find that, though commonplace, the matter is of major importance.
If one is conscientious and honest in tackling this question, the concepts natural science has developed for embryology will not prove adequate. Somehow or other one finds oneself at what I have called the ‘frontier posts of knowledge’ in my first lecture, ‘points’ where one has to develop the higher powers of awareness in images. We might even say that such questions can provide significant stimuli for the development of inner powers that may otherwise well have continued to lie dormant in us for a long time. If we pursue the matter not using the approach where one seeks to reach behind the mirror but one where we consider the cause for the phenomena to be in front of the mirror, we find, as we progress to awareness in images, that even today it would be a serious error to say that the egg develops in the chicken through the chicken or merely because the chicken is inseminated. That is how it looks on the surface, in the mirror image, we might say. But if we develop awareness in images and are able to see what is truly there, we come to realize that the egg does indeed develop and mature under the influence of powers that come not only from the cock and the hen.
A scientific view based only on what is sense-perceptible and tangible cannot lead to any view other than that the interaction between cock and hen and the processes that occur in the hen’s body lead to the development of an egg. But if you then want to arrive at views on such a matter you will arrive at rather mystical concepts — mystical in a negative sense, the kind of concepts many people work with, even Hertwig — an example being the concept of a ‘germ, rudiment or potential’. 70 Concept used by Oscar Hertwig e.g. in Die Elemente der Entwicklungslehre des Menschen und der Wirbeltiere (Jena 1910), 4. Aufl. 4. Kapitel ‘Entwicklungsphysiologische Experimente’.
Speaking of such a ‘rudiment’, you can explain anything in the world by saying: Well, now it is there, previously it was not there, and the first thing to be there was, of course, the ‘rudiment’. This is about as clever as speaking of a ‘disposition’ with regard to certain diseases which only develop in some people under the same conditions and not in others. So you see, one can always push things further back in this way. Unless you try and somehow get a clear picture you will merely arrive at a term that has no real meaning and lacks clarity. ‘Rudiment’, ‘disposition’ — those are the wrong kind of mystical terms that will only gain meaning if we are able to consider the reality that can be perceived in the spirit.
A mind with vision also sees all kinds of other things. Just as a blind person is able to see colours when he’s had an operation, so a mind with vision sees all kinds of other things. And in the present case these other things it is able to see make it clear to us that although today it is still an egg which develops in the hen, it arises from powers that are not in the hen but are brought to bear in the hen out of the universe. The hen’s body which surrounds the egg really only provides the native soil. The powers that configure the egg come from the cosmos; they come in from outside. Fertilization — I cannot go into the details today but they can be exactly determined — simply means that a possibility is created for the powers from the cosmos that are active in this site, giving them a reference point, as it were.
The egg which develops in the hen’s body has been developed out of the cosmos and is an image of the cosmos. If you find this inconceivable and cannot think of analogies in other fields, just think what it would be like if you wanted to ascribe the direction in which a magnetic needle is pointing purely to forces inherent in the needle. We do not do this; we ascribe it to a terrestrial effect, that is, forces that have to do with the whole earth. Forces from the environment influence the magnetic needle. Here, in the inorganic field, discoveries can be made purely on the basis of sensory perception. It will need a science made more productive by the science of the spirit to show that powers influence the egg that must be looked for not only in the ancestry but out there in the whole cosmos. Many different results, which will also prove of practical value, will be obtained once it is taken into account that essentially the knowledge we have in outer natural science, however sensual and factual, is merely an abstraction, something people rely on because they do not know of the more effective powers.
A mind with vision sees powers that go beyond individual nature influencing every insemination and embryonic development. These could be described in detail. In my small publication Human Life in the Light of Anthroposophy 71 Human Life in the Light of Anthroposophy (from GA 35). Tr. S. M. K. Gandell. New York: Anthroposophic Press 1938. I refer to this method of research in another field; today I want to refer specifically to this particular field.
I truly do not feel contempt for empirical scientists, as they are now called, but admire them greatly. The results gained with the empirical approach have yielded a much richer store of human insights, I would say hundreds if not thousands of times as many human insights than the rudimentary concepts one is able to use in natural science today. When an embryologist produces facts, especially if he has been using a microscope, which has been developed to an admirable level today, a spiritual scientist following his work will say to himself: Everything the embryologist is establishing as fact may be external, sensual and factual, but when he describes how the male germ units with the female germ, and so on, how parts of cell nuclei are repositioned so that one thing or another develops — these descriptions are extraordinarily interesting and significant — someone taking the point of view of anthroposophically orientated spiritual science sees the footsteps in all this of a comprehensive spiritual influence that simply comes to expression in the changes which are apparent to the senses. If one wanted to consider the things seen under the microscope, with all kinds of staining methods applied, to be something that stood entirely alone, something one merely had to describe to know the processes of germ cell and embryonic development, one would be like someone who goes along a road where someone else has left his footsteps and believes that those footsteps were made by inner forces in the soil and not that another person had made them. The explanation for these footprints would be quite wrong if I were to say that there are all kinds of forces down there which push the forms up from below. Instead I have to assume that someone went that way, stepping on the soil. In the same way I must consider the spiritual principle if I want to come to the real facts. The spiritual leaves its final traces, and what we see under the microscope, using staining methods, comes into existence — please forgive the expression — as if by processes of elimination.
But when a mind with vision takes hold of the matter, we also come to something else. We come to compare this process, which arose on the basis of pure empiricism, purely external experience of the facts through the senses, with something that we can only get to know of through investigations made by a mind with vision.
In the first lecture I gave an outline of what happens in human beings when they use their thinking to process sensory perceptions further, when they develop ideas. A real process occurs in the psyche, but materialistic thinkers do not consider it to be real; they limit their investigations to nerve functions. Yet once perception in images has awakened we can follow this process, which has inner reality. We cannot do so if our minds are limited to the kind of abstractions produced in modern psychology and indeed in logic — that ideas ‘connect’, are ‘reproduced’, and so on. But if we are able to develop a psychology of the kind I outlined here in my first lecture and turn the mind’s eye to this inner aspect of the way in which ideas develop and part of our feeling, this will give us something that belongs together with the discoveries our embryologist made in his field and in progressive cell development altogether. We then see in a way that is like comparing an original and its copy in a very factual way — on the one hand the inner process of forming ideas and the feeling process in the soul, and on the other hand the processes of insemination, division of the nucleus and so on, and actual cell division. We then see that the two have to do with one another — I want to put this as carefully as possible — have to do with one another in that the one represents in material form, as it were, what the other is in the sphere of soul and spirit.
Something else will also arise if we truly concentrate on this process in soul and spirit. We realize that it can only be the way it is in the human soul and spirit today, for the whole of our natural environment, with the human being within it, provides the physical body as a basis for it. If someone is truly able to see this in the spirit, the faculties that enable him truly to see the essential nature of something that belongs to the sphere of soul and spirit, will expand. We thus realize that under present-day conditions the organ which develops for forming ideas and feeling can only do so, in the way it happens today, on the condition that the whole takes place in the presence of a living human body. In its inner nature, however, the process shows itself to be one that moves back in time. Time becomes something real. It moves back in time. And you actually come to realize that what happens in us today when we think, and do part of our feeling, is indeed something which in the far, far distant past, when no such earthly environment existed, was able to develop on its own, without the human body.
This is the way — time is short, so I can only refer briefly, as it were, to the starting points for a road that goes far and wide — in which elements from the sphere of soul and spirit are related in a real way to the things that happen before our eyes in the sense-perceptible world. We then gain a very different understanding of the connection that altogether exists between sense-perceptible physical nature outside and the elements of soul and spirit that flow and billow through the world. If we then develop the things of which I have only been able to present the most elementary first beginnings, taking — if we proceed with the science of the spirit — not the external scientific approach of geology or palaeontology or Laplace’s theory but the approach based on genuine inner experience in spirit and soul, we come to states of the world that go a long way back, when it was not possible to do external, physical things, like embryonic development from a physical cell, as we know it today, but when the things that could be real at that time were in a form that belonged to spirit and soul. You look back to an element of spirit and soul that was a precursor of what happens today in the physical world perceptible to the senses.
The element of spirit and soul has withdrawn into the cosmic sphere today, as it were. It acts by the roundabout route via the living body and in a hen, let us say, if we go back to our earlier example, it causes the egg to have the density of matter which it did not need to have in the dim, distant past. However, in that dim, distant past the element of spirit and soul was able to use these powers — which one gets to know, with no need to speculate or set up hypotheses; we get to know them if we observe the inner laws of ideation and thinking from the inside — without there having to be the environment of the hen’s body, to create not a mystical ‘rudiment’ or ‘potential’, but a first thing. Later, when conditions changed, this needed to be protected by the ‘environ-body’ of the hen as it is today.
Someone working with the science of the spirit is thus on the one hand taking full account of natural science. On the other hand he has to go beyond it, beyond the things that are considered scientific today, not with speculation but with truly developed powers of insight through vision. These must replace theories and hypotheses — which are merely the outcome of speculation, thoughts that have been added — with things truly learned in the realm of the spirit. If one has advanced along this route, truly in such a way that nowhere are sins committed against facts that have been established in natural science, then the modern theory of evolution in particular will be seen in the right light.
I have to say paradoxical things at every step today, but I want to stimulate your thinking. I am exposing myself to the danger that people may hold me up to ridicule; but I want to stimulate your thinking. I merely want to say that this science of the spirit we call anthroposophy exists; it may not be accepted as yet, but it is able to offer research findings which, we believe, can be spoken of with the same scientific justification as the findings discussed in natural science that are based on sensory perceptions made with the help of microscopes and telescopes. It has to be said, not from presumption but because it is the way things are, that working with the spiritual scientific approach represented in these lectures one does not have it as easy, in many respects, as in working with natural science. So we can understand it if someone says: ‘The things he is saying are really difficult to understand.’ Comprehension will, of course, be easier if we only take note of purely factual elements, things that are immediately apparent; it is in the nature of the thing that understanding is difficult with the kind of issues I can only present briefly here. But with regard to practice, too, things are not so easy in anthroposophy. This is particularly apparent if we consider the human being as part of the natural world from its point of view, that is, not merely in theory.
As I said, I do not undervalue the theory of evolution. In fact, I believe it to be one of the most significant achievements in intellectual history. Attacks have come from people who did not understand these things particularly because in my book The Riddles of Philosophy and in other publications I made a strong case for justifying the theory of evolution. Just look in the second volume of my Riddles of Philosophy to see if I ever speak from a point of view that does not do justice to this theory of evolution. But things are not as easy in anthroposophy as they are in purely — as it is called today — empirical science. For if we consider the human being we have to say: ‘The idea that the human being, as he is in his physical form, has simply evolved from animal forms which in turn developed from lower animal forms, and so on, this idea is utterly amateurish if compared to the view taken in the science of the spirit.
If we want to consider the human being as part of the natural world from the spiritual scientific point of view, we must first of all differentiate this human being — this may seem strange, but that is how it is. Taking Goethe’s theory of metamorphosis further in a scientific way — anyone who has read my books will know that I have made special efforts in this field — one has to differentiate the human being. We cannot simply take him as a whole but have to establish a particular premise, which must, however, be a fully substantiated premise. It is this. We take the head on its own, realizing that the human being we have before us today can only be known and understood if we take the head on its own, with the rest as a kind of appendage organism — this just as an aid to understanding for the moment. The head on its own, therefore; we have to look for the descent, the origins, of this head as such. This human head — this is not entirely accurate, for the head does continue on into the trunk (this changes the situation; but after all it is only possible to speak in approximate terms about these matters). This human head, then, is indeed something with a morphology that has been transformed from other forms that lie immensely far back. We may say, therefore, that in so far as the human being has a head, he is descended from long way back. For the details I would refer you to my Occult Science and other writings. One actually finds that the entity which has gone through the transformations to make the present-day form of the human head possible must be sought much further back in time than the origins of all the animals and plants we have today. Considering the human being with regard to the head, we must therefore go back into a much earlier time.
The appended organism, as we may call it, has been added to the head — roughly speaking, for appendages existed even in early times. The head was the premise for its development. The principle which evolved, ultimately to become the human head principle, had the opportunity also to develop the remaining human organization which is close to the present-day animal body. The time when this organization evolved was also the time when general evolution had advanced so far that animals could develop.
This brings us to a strange theory of descent, though it is strange only compared to the ideas people have today. We have to say that in so far as human beings have a head they are descended from ancestors that went through a gradual transformation. In far distant times they undoubtedly had a different form from the one human beings have today, but it is really only the human head which is descended from them. It was during the time when general conditions for evolution made it possible to evolve creatures of the kind we have in the animal world today that the human being added to his human nature the elements that lie in his animal nature.
Again you have an early approach — for here, too, I can only give the elementary first beginnings — to a theory of evolution that arises if we do not believe the human head to have merely grown out of the rest of the organism, as it were, but rather that this human head is really the original part of the human being to develop, with the remaining organism added to it. It is because such an organism was added at a late stage in evolution that humanity entered into a line of evolution that may indeed be considered together with the line of evolution that was the descent of animal forms.
The discoveries made in the theory of evolution to this day provide genuine insights in this field. If one knows them really thoroughly, if one carefully — much more carefully than people are in the habit of doing in natural science today — considers also the work done in palaeontology, embryology, all the knowledge gained in the study of muscles, the investigations that can provide information on the way the human skull is built, then one is able to say to oneself: It is exactly the things not known from theory — meaning the theory modern natural scientists like Oscar Hertwig have refuted — but empirically, things that are there for us to see, which we only have to take up, letting the light that can be gained through the science of the spirit shine through them — all this offers tremendously far-reaching prospects. The modern theory of evolution has certainly served a good purpose and has not been just an aberration but on the contrary one of the most fruitful developments we have seen. In time to come it will really come into its own and prove immensely fruitful because it will cast its light incredibly far into the secrets of the universe.
If I might add something about the way I feel about the way the science of the spirit goes beyond pure and factual natural science, it is this: This theory of evolution from the second half of the 19th century is indeed the seed from which great, significant insights will come; the seed from which something will come that does not yet exist in general human awareness. And it is this which will in fact provide the best stimulus to develop a genuine philosophy, which takes its orientation from anthroposophy. This philosophy actually shows that the academic work which we think is final and conclusive and needs only be added to the facts perceived through the senses in order to explain them, that this academic approach — which we also find in a work as excellent as that by Oscar Hertwig and the works of others — does not provide real answers to our questions but only enables us to put our questions in the right way. Once they have been put in the right way they must then be answered. And the outside world will again and again provide answers if we know how to ask the right questions. If they are the right questions, the outside world will answer with the insight we gain through higher vision.
However, if I speak of a modified theory of descent, saying that we have to think of the human being the other way round, as it were, looking for his origin in the principle on which the head is based and having to make the head our starting point if we wish to understand the human being, whereas the matter is usually considered the other way round — when I say this, we must at the same time base ourselves on a genuine and true idea of the present-day human being. This brings me to another finding made in anthroposophical research relating to nature as a basis for the human being.
When people speak today of the way the soul relates to the human body, they really consider only the nervous system as the bodily ‘tool’, as it is put, though it is not a ‘tool’ — we’ll be speaking about this the day after tomorrow — looking for it in the living body as a counterpart to the psyche. If you look at books on psychology today, with the first chapters always giving a kind of physiological preliminary to psychology itself, you will find that reference is really always only made to the nervous system as the ‘organ of the soul’.
Members of the audience who have heard me on a number of previous occasions will know that I’ll only rarely speak of personal things. But perhaps it is necessary this time, for I can only characterize the subject in outline. What I have to say on this is the outcome of investigations that have truly been going on for more than 30 years, taking account of everything that is relevant from physiology and related fields. Anyone with real knowledge of the findings modern physiologists and biologists have made in this field will find that they prove in every respect what I am going to tell you. To see the nervous system as something that is simply parallel to the psyche is to take a very biased view. No one has shown more clearly how biased it is than a scientist I hold in particularly high regard as one of the most outstanding psychologists, Theodor Ziehen. 72 Ziehen, Theodor (1862–1950). Leitfaden der physiologischen Psychologie 15 lectures, Jena 1891, S. 146. In the 9 lecture: ‘On the other hand (compared to the “older psychology” and Kant), our discussions so far have shown that feelings of inclination and disinclination simply do not exist in such an independent form but merely occur as characteristics of inner feelings and ideas, as emotional colouring.’ He, too, speaks mainly of the nervous system in discussing some of the relationships between soul and body, soul and the nature-related basis of the human being, and therefore comes to treat the emotional life — which properly considered is just as real as the life of thinking or ideas — as an appendage to the life of ideas. Theodor Ziehen does not really manage to consider the emotional life in his psychology. It is the same with other people. They will then speak of the ‘emotional overtones of ideas’; the ideas, which have their bodily counter image in the nervous system, are ‘emotive’, they say, and one need not think of a separate bodily counterpart to the emotions.
Read the psychology of Theodor Ziehen or other books — I could give you a whole list of truly excellent works in this field. You will find that when these authors come to speak of the will, they actually have no possibility whatsoever truly to speak of the will, which is a wholly real sphere in our inner life. The will simply slips from Theodor Ziehen’s grasp as he writes about physiological and psychological things; the will is simply disputed away; it does not exist for the author; in a way it exists merely as a play of ideas. Because of the existing bias, therefore, violence is done to something we quite clearly know from experience, just as serious violence is also done to other things in such investigations.
Yet if we really consider everything that has so far been achieved in physiology, this exemplary science — though much is still open to question and questionable — if we consider all the things that merely are not seen in the right light, we come to see — I can only refer to this briefly — that the whole human organism is counterpart to the whole human soul. In my latest book, Riddles of the Soul, which is due to appear shortly, or perhaps it is out already, I discussed questions concerning the limits of ordinary science and of anthroposophy, and this includes the issue which we are considering here, though again it is only presenting results. There is nothing to be said against the notion that the life of ideas has its bodily counterpart in the first place in the nervous system, though we have to see the whole situation very differently from the way it is seen in modern science; I am going to talk about this the day after tomorrow. When we want to look for a bodily counterpart to the life of ideas, we have to look to the nervous system for this.
Not so when it comes to the emotional life! I almost hesitate to put something so far-reaching in such brief words, something I have found in investigations taking not years but decades. When we speak of the emotional life, it is not possible to look for a connection between it and the life of the nerves the way we look for a connection between the life of ideas and that of the nerves. There is a connection, but it is indirect. The emotional life — this seems almost unbelievable if one takes the biased view commonly taken in modern science — has a direct connection with what we may call the breathing rhythm in all its ramifications, and this is a connection similar in nature to that between the life of ideas and the nervous system. In the nervous system one has to go into the finest ramifications; and the same applies to the rhythmical movements that originate in the breathing rhythm and then branch and divide everywhere, also influencing the brain. Comte’s ideas on the mechanics of the human body are very interesting in this respect. 73 Comte, Auguste (1798–1857), French philosopher and social theorist. Cours de philosophie positive, 6 vols, Paris 1830-42, esp. the 40th-45th lectures. The bodily counterpart of the emotional life must be sought in this rhythmical play of movements in the human being, all of them really dependent on the breathing rhythm, in rhythmical movements that also encompass the blood rhythm.
I know, ladies and gentlemen, that it must seem as if countless objections could be raised against what I have just been saying. All of them can be refuted, however. Let me draw your attention to just one of them — briefly. It would be easy to say, for instance: Well yes, the aesthetic effect of music depends on our feelings; but these feelings are aroused by sensory perception of the sounds, that is, a sensory perception of something outside, and the effect of this does of course continue on in the nervous system; so you can see — as the objection might be — that you are in error in saying that something which in its aesthetic effect is definitely dependent on our emotional life is connected with our breathing rhythm, when in fact the music is perceived by the senses and we gain this perception via the ear and the auditory nerve! This objection is illusory, for the real process is much more complex. Such things can indeed only be reached by the kind of vision that takes its orientation from the powers gained in an awareness that has vision. It is like this: In the brain, the breathing rhythm meets with the processes that occur in the nervous system. And the emotions we experience with music arise from this interaction, this encounter between the part of the breathing rhythm that extends into the life of the nerves and the structure of the nerves. The latter reacts to the breathing rhythm and this creates the feelings we have on hearing music. It is therefore possible to explain the feelings that are experienced properly if we consider the breathing rhythm, and the life of breathing altogether, to be the bodily counterpart to the life of feeling, just as we have to consider the nervous system to be the bodily counterpart to the life of ideas.
And now we come to the will impulses, to the things we do. If we examine everything people have been saying about the physiology, using the possibilities given when we are able to have awareness in vision, we find that everything which the soul experiences as our will expressed in doing has its bodily counterpart in metabolic processes. Life in the body is essentially made up of metabolic processes, breathing rhythms, and processes in the nerves; there are just two exceptions, which I’ll refer to later.
The subject gets difficult merely because a nerve must, of course, also be shown to be such that the life of nutrition or of metabolism extends into it. However, it is not the nutrition nor the metabolism in the nerve which is the bodily counterpart of the life of ideas but something entirely different. I wrote about this in my book Riddles of the Soul: in so far as the nerve depends on metabolism it merely acts as a mediator of the will process. 74 See Von Seelenrätseln (note 1), Seite 156 f. The fact that one system — metabolic system, rhythmical breathing process, nervous system — extends right into another, so that the systems are not side by side in space but change on into the other or extend into each other, makes it particularly difficult to study these things. Essentially, however, it is like this: In the nerve, the basis of the life of ideas is not the fact that it is touched by rhythm, nor the fact that it is provided with food, but yet another, very different inner activity. In the finest ramifications of the breathing rhythm it is this breathing rhythm itself which forms the basis for the life of feeling, and everything specified as metabolism in the organism, down to its subtlest ramifications, is the bodily counter image of will processes.
We have now related the whole of the soul to the whole of the human body. From the point of view of anthroposophical spiritual science, which I represent, I believe — believing this in no other way than the way one normally believes things in truly strictly scientific terms — that today we need only the facts known in physiology to substantiate fully what I have just been saying. I am convinced that the empirical sciences can be progressively developed further along these lines of orientation and will then prove immensely fruitful in all directions in life. Significant new ideas can be given in medicine, psychiatry and all possible kinds of fields if we take the whole of the human soul together with the whole of the human body in this way.
The zone of the senses, as I would call it, and the life of movement drop out of the context of the human organism in two directions. modern science is on thin ice particularly when it comes to the theory of the senses on the one hand and the theory of movement on the other. Scientists working in psychology as well as in physiology understand very little, I would say, of these two opposite poles in human nature. This is because here human beings no longer belong wholly to themselves but partly to the outside world, with the soul living out into the outside world both in the zone of the senses, in the sphere of sensory life, and in the sphere of movement life. When human beings move, their movement involves a state of balance or dynamics that integrates the individual into the sphere or moving play of forces in the outside world. And when human beings go beyond living purely in their nerves and enter into life in the zone of the senses, that is, when their souls experience themselves right into their actual sense organs, it happens that the individual actually goes beyond his own sphere. The senses are bays where outside world extends into our lives, and we shall only have a sensible theory of the senses if we take this into account. It is something that cannot be gained by following the approaches taken in natural science today.
It has not been my intention to discuss general principles or offer general characterizations, especially in describing the relationship between anthroposophy and natural science and the human being’s foundations in the natural world. Although it can be risky to do so, I have taken individual real findings and areas where results were obtained, in order to characterize how anthroposophy should be seen in relation to established natural science. We can see that prejudices and partiality will have to be overcome in the world of science before anthroposophy can be understood. Today, sensuality — I am speaking of views taken of sensual and factual things, not sensuality in the moral sense — is even more powerful than it was at the time when the whole world raised the objection to the views of Copernicus that they went against the evidence of their senses and refused to accept them. Copernicus went against the evidence of the senses, feeling compelled to establish something for the outside world perceived through the senses which the outer evidence of the senses cannot give us. In the science of the spirit we are compelled to go beyond the evidence of the senses in yet another respect. This is sure to meet with resistance many times over. In a lecture like this, one can only point the way here and there. I would ask you, however, to take this into account. It is only too easy to criticize such pointers from a fixed and established point of view. The indications I have given can of course be criticized to the nth degree; I myself would be perfectly able to raise all the objections that can be raised. On the other hand, however, you will be able to see that providing people do not want to prevent this, the truths that live in natural science can develop further so that the more profound secrets of the world may be unveiled in far-reaching revelations.
The day after tomorrow I will be speaking of the fruitfulness and significance of this for the whole of human life in its widest sense. My subject will be the practical application of this in the sphere of morality, of social and also religious life, political life, the theory of free will and other practical applications.
I had to risk getting misunderstood because I referred to individual and real findings. Many things today militate against human beings being able to rise to the regions of genuine and actual, true life in the spirit. Today people think that to be an enlightened person one has to say about the most profound question in our hearts, which is the question of immortality — this is something else I’ll be speaking about the day after tomorrow — that this cannot be judged because man’s ability to gain scientific insight does not go that far.
Fritz Mauthner, a man with a brilliant mind, has been writing about human capacities for insight in his German dictionary of philosophy. It is a stimulating work to read, for you feel you have entered a sphere where your mind goes round and round in circles without ever getting anywhere; if you think you have a quarter of a result, it is refuted and you are taken forward again, continuing to go round in circles. Mauthner, whose great merit it is to have shown how inadequate ‘accomplished knowledge’ proves to be wherever you look, even thinks that talking of the spirit was a crafty invention made by Hegel, saying more or less that Hegel infected philosophy with the concept of the spirit which we have today, and that the earlier concept of spirit was taken purely from that of the Holy Spirit. 75 Literally: ‘And when Hegel had the arrogance to say that he had found the ultimate of all conceptual thought, presenting it in his head or in his system, when Hegel had infected the language of philosophy with the concept “spirit”, “nature” came to be the opposite of “spirit” ... When there is no longer contrast to nature in the human being, the mind and spirit no longer needs to “move itself’ with such effort to liberate the human being from nature. The spirit, of which no one ever knew what it was, a pale shadow of the Holy Spirit, of the decorative member of the Trinity, the spirit with which Hegel had made a final, for the time being, major attempt to drive nature out of the human being and the human being in his turn out of nature.’ Wörterbuch der Philosophie, 2. Bd., München 1910, S. 141 & 147 (Artikel ‘Natur’). He finds that the situation with many who imagine themselves to be critical and particularly enlightened minds and indeed to be ‘spirits/minds’ [the German for ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’ is the same word Geist, tr.] — perhaps they won’t put it like that themselves, for ‘spirit’ is something they do not accept; let us say therefore to be human beings who are at the pinnacle of knowledge and insight — Mauthner says that with many of them the situation is this: People want to use their rational minds and common sense to gain insight; but ‘the rational mind is a silver axe without a handle, and common sense is a golden handle without an axe’, and people somehow want to use these two imperfect things to penetrate the essential nature of the world!
People of that kind like to refer to Goethe’s comprehensive concept of nature. Fritz Mauthner also quotes Goethe, suggesting that Goethe, too, considered the human being to be wholly part of nature. Yet even in the essay on nature, which Fritz Mauthner quotes, you find that Goethe said things like this about nature: ‘It has been thinking and is always reflective’, speaking not of the human being, of course, but of nature. The kind of nature Goethe thought of — yes, that one could accept! It is something different from the nature which generally is the subject of natural science today. If we then also consider what Goethe said to Schiller: ‘If my natural laws are supposed to be ideas then I see my ideas before my own eyes’, 76 In conversation with Schiller in July 1794. Goethe wrote about this in an essay entitled ‘Glücklichs Ereignis’ in Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften (scientific writings, see note 10). we can find naturalism acceptable in that spirit, for it’s a naturalism that definitely does not exclude the science of the spirit but includes it. I believe that if what Goethe intended for the grand design of his theory of metamorphosis, which he developed to a high degree, but only in its elements, is taken further, developed and taken beyond into the realm of the spirit, it will be a real basis for a true science of the spirit with an anthroposophical orientation.
I know that what I have said today about the origins of man and the relationship between the human soul and body is in harmony with the Goethean approach, though the Goethean approach has been taken forward into our time and made scientific.
When people who seem to be enlightened in their criticism and refuse to accept any kind of genuine spiritual insight think they can refer to Goethe, one does have to say to them: Consider Goethe’s approach at its deepest level. What you think you find in him, and also have in you, is described in the words Goethe directed to another scientist, a man of considerable merit, who had written:
Into inner nature
No mind that has been created can ever enter,...
Happy is he to whom
She shows but her outermost shell. 77 From Albrecht von Haller’s didactic poem ‘Die Falschheit menschlicher Tugenden’ (1730), verse 289 f.
I have heard this repeated for 60 years,
I curse it, though only in secret; ...
Nature has neither kernel nor shell,
She is everything at one and the same time;
Examine yourself most of all
If you be kernel or shell! 78In response to von Haller’s didactic poem, title ‘ Allerdings. Dem Physiker’(1820).
If the human being develops his kernel or core in this Goethean spirit, he will also penetrate — even if it takes infinitely long, serious and honest investigative labour — to the core, the essence of nature. For this does come to expression in the human being. Seen rightly, it is this and nothing else which is reflected in the human being. Spirit is nothing else but nature’s flower and fruit. In a certain respect nature is the root of the spirit.
That is indeed a truly Goethean approach! The science of the spirit will have to develop it scientifically.
Questions and answers
Following the lecture given in Zurich on 12 November 1917
Question. If conscious awareness correlates with death, what is the situation with animals, which also die, though one has to assume that conscious awareness is in all circumstances different from the way it is in humans?
When I am going to talk about practical aspects the day after tomorrow, I also intend — though again and again I hesitate to do so — to give brief consideration to various questions relating to a concept that is widely used today, the concept of the ‘unconscious’. This does of course also play a major role in psychoanalysis, a method that is well known here in Zurich. Important and indeed crucial questions arise in this field, and the day after tomorrow we will see, or least lightly touch on, how the attempts made in psychoanalysis to answer these crucial questions relate to the questions themselves. Today I will merely take up the idea of the unconscious, doing so with reference to your question. Eduard von Hartmann made the ‘unconscious mind’ a philosophical term. He stated the basis of existence to be firstly the natural world, secondly the conscious mind, which, however, must always be grounded in nature, and the unconscious mind, which is wholly non-physical but, of course, unconscious.
The position is, however, that in the science of the spirit one does not know what to do with the idea of the ‘unconscious’ as such. ‘Unconscious mind’ is about the same in spiritual science as ‘headless human being’ in the natural realm. It is certainly possible to think of ‘mind’ in abstract terms as being without conscious awareness, just as we can think away the head. We can make a drawing of a headless organism.
There are actually people who suffer from hysterical partial blindness, that is, their blindness is not organic but hysterical, who suffer from the defect that when they walk in the street they see only the bodies of people and never see anyone’s head. There are such people with this specific form of hysterical illness. They see only the body and no head, that is, nothing but headless people. You see, for some people, and they are exceptional, the evidence of their eyes would be that one might think human reality to be such that people had no heads. But of course that is not the reality. Thus the ‘unconscious mind’ is not real and can never be real. We’ll talk about what follows from this the day after tomorrow.
We now come to the question you asked. Animals as such certainly do not have human minds, but they do have conscious awareness. Earlier on today I had occasion to say that things are not as easy, as a rule, in the science of the spirit as they are in today’s established science, where things are considered more in terms of concepts rather than reality. Even when it comes to thinking, we have to proceed in a different way in the science of the spirit than one is generally used to today. Thus we read in our physics books that solids are impenetrable, meaning that if you have a solid at a point in space, no other body can be in that space. In the science of the spirit we cannot accept this definition as it stands but have to say, from this different point of view: A solid body or a life form which occupies a space to such effect that no other body or life form can occupy that space at the same time, is in fact impenetrable. Something given as a definition, if you like, simply changes into a postulate or something similar for the spiritual scientist.
It has to be clearly understood that animals may not have human minds but they do have conscious awareness. The point is that with our usual habit of thinking today we think that death equals death. People die, animals die, and plants, too, are allowed to die. The matter is not as simple as that when it comes to the science of the spirit. The fact that the concept is the same may not mean that the reality is also the same. Seen from an inner point of view, in its reality, human death is something very different from the death of animals. This is how we look at things in real terms! And to speak of the death of plants carries about as much meaning in the science of the spirit as if we were to speak of the death of a clock, which also ‘dies on us’ at some point; I think you’ll agree that it can die on us. This would have to come to an end, therefore. That is not the concept of death. The concept of death includes many things that make human death into something very different.
We need to consider the following. Essentially the conscious awareness of animals is such that the things which human beings send into the zone of the senses, which I mentioned earlier today, and there experience separately, are not experienced separately in the zone of the senses by animals. The things animals experience in the zone of the senses are of the same kind as the things they have as their life of ideas. That strict separation between sensory perception and idea which we can make for the human being, cannot justifiably be made for animals. This can be seen directly if the mind has developed vision; on the other hand you can also see it in the anatomy and physiology. Let me just remind you that the animal eye, for example, is inwardly organized in a completely different way than the human eye. In humans, certain elements of the eye are taken back into the internal organization, more into the organization of the nerves; in animals they extend into the eye. You will find a pecten, or marsupium, falciform process, in some animals, physical anatomical structures that may be said to show how the vital principle enters into the zone of the senses in animals. In humans this vital principle withdraws. Human beings thus experience the presence of their soul in such a way in the zone of the senses — please take careful account of this — that they experience something very different here than animals do. This experience which humans have in the zone of the senses, which develops further into image-based, inspired and intuitive awareness and then again continues on in the life of ideas and of memory — this experience in the zone of the senses gives the human mind a very different colouring, if I may put it like this, than is found in the conscious awareness of animals.
It is altogether necessary to revise many concepts. If you ask someone today which ideas are the most spiritual, being least connected with the physical body as a basis, I think very many people will agree when you say that the most philosophical ideas are the most spiritual! You see, from the point of view of spiritual science it is the philosophical ideas that are most abstract, and mathematical ideas, too, which are more than any other bound to the physical body. If there were only philosophical ideas we could be absolute materialists; these ideas are really purely physical and only have significance between birth and death. Something which people generally consider to be most spiritual is solidly founded in the physical world and in the physical body.
What matters, however, is that humans, being endowed with souls, are involved in the life of the senses in such a way that here, where the outside natural world extends into them rather like a bay, because vitality has withdrawn, they are already experiencing death all the time. In so far as this zone of the senses is inwardly reflected, the result, the conscious result of this zone, penetrates the inner life with what I have called ‘atomistic’ death.
What I mean is this. The death phenomenon is blended into life in the zone of the senses in human beings, and this makes it justifiable to speak of death in conjunction with conscious awareness in their case. In animals we have to connect the gradual fading of reproductive powers with what exists as conscious awareness. Death comes for the animal when the reproductive powers have gone; in humans, the fact that the death phenomenon comes in later has been an additional gain which does not exist for any animal. Here the human being has quite a different basis.
What I would really like to stress is that we only gain the right insight into the situation between birth and death if we connect the specific nature of human conscious awareness, which has to do with that special experience in the zone of the senses, with the much more vital experience which animals have in the zone of the senses. Animal awareness does not have that added element, if I may put it like that, which is forever bringing about death in the human conscious mind.
Question. It is possible to say something from the point of view of spiritual science about the concept of entropy in modern physics?
Concerning the modern concept of entropy one has to say first of all that anything covered by this concept is above all merely abstracted from the view taken in inorganic natural science. It we define the term by saying that the final state of present evolution will come because more and more heat remains when mechanical energy is converted to heat energy, so that ultimately the state of the world can only be a state of heat, this is an abstraction taken wholly from the laws of the inorganic world. There can be no objection to this in itself from the point of view of spiritual science. People who follow the entropy idea know that in postulating this end state one also assumes there to have been an initial state; both logically and scientifically it is necessary to assume an initial state if one then lets everything drift towards such a heat death.
From the point of view of spiritual science, the situation looks like this. Again I am immediately considering something real. In the first place, the observations made in the science of the spirit do not connect at all with an idea which is widely accepted in speculations on inorganic nature, and that is the idea of the dissipation of energies, with people always thinking that the dissipation of energies may go on to infinity. Speaking of energies in terms of modern science, I thus always think of something that goes out into infinity. On the basis of experience gained in the science of the spirit, we cannot do anything with this idea, for from the point of view of this science, and considering their morphogeny, all energies prove to be elastic. This means that when they spread out, they do not dissipate into infinity but only as far as a certain limit from which they then return into themselves. This may, however, take such a long time that it has no immediate relevance for the earth period that lies directly ahead. In the science of the spirit one does indeed have to realize that the concept of dissipation into infinity is nebulous and that any form of energy that spreads does not dissipate into infinity but returns to itself. Applying this concept in the field of entropy, we have a final state which is the polar opposite, so that the dissipating energies may come back to themselves again, as it were. This, then, is one point.
The other is the following. If you look at my Occult Science you’ll find that this state, which I refer to by the technical term ‘Saturn state’ is indeed shown to be entirely a state of heat. This on the basis of a system of spiritual observation which is a more developed form of what I have today been presenting in its elementary form. I go back and by spiritual scientific methods arrive at an initial state — which is not constructed but seen. The whole of evolution which follows arises from this heat state. When people arrive at an end state that is a heat state with their idea of entropy, this is an end state which I have to take as an initial state. The consequence is that there must then be a new beginning, starting from this. So there is no ‘beginning and end’, for beginning and end are merely a link in a sequence of evolution. The end state, when reached, would thus be merely the starting point for continuing evolution.
Question. Wouldn't it be possible that you could let the human being evolve as a simple organism in such a way that he does not arise first as a head principle, with an appendage added later? Modern scientists also work with very long time spans and an infinitely long period of evolution, and I think that with this it would be just as possible to have the human being arise as a uniform organism.
When one is dealing with such matters in a general way it will of course always be possible to say the kind of thing which the gentleman has just said. I would stress that today my aim has been to present positive and real findings made in anthroposophically orientated spiritual science, that is, to give individual examples of positive findings. One of them is indeed that if we do not want to consider the human being as solely part of the natural world, in a theoretical way — and this is what today’s lecture was about — he cannot be understood if we use the approach that is generally accepted today. The human being is of course also seen as a ‘uniform entity’ if one sees him as a head principle with appendage — I did say I was presenting this only in approximate terms. What matters is where we look for the starting point for human evolution and not if we treat the human being as a ‘uniform entity’, that is, what we look for further back in time. If we go further back in time in looking for the principle which today appears in metamorphosed form as the head, this makes the human being as an entity in the natural world different from the way he is when we use the theory of evolution to place him in world evolution in the way it is done with today’s banal Darwinism, a banal theory of descent.
It is not a matter of long time spans. Present-day hypotheses make these, too, hypothetical. Time can only have significance in an explanation if we are, as it were, configuring the before and after out of a real situation, and not simply postulating an evolutional sequence and bringing in time as something external. People presenting the theory of descent actually say that time is available to an unlimited degree. The question is, however, if anything that is available to us for such a thought actually also plays the same role in real terms when we consider the human being in absolutely real terms.
Reality organizes itself in such a way that the element I have called an appendage — the term is, of course, approximate — proves to be more recent in the process of evolution, with the head organism the earlier one. Time configures itself out of this. The lineage of the head organism goes back to far earlier times than something which is younger. It truly is a matter of having to make sure that our thinking must be wholly real in the field of spiritual science. Today I would emphasize once again that we cannot advance in the science of the spirit in any other way but by being able to relate to reality in a completely different way than is done in what is called empirical science today, a science which I would not underestimate. No one will be able to accuse me of underestimating it if they read my books. But one has to relate to reality in a very different and very real way.
Answering a question the last time I was here, I said that our ideas must be much more real. WeTl also come back to this need for thinking in real terms when I speak about practical human issues and matters concerning the human psyche the day after tomorrow. Thinking in real terms means that with every idea we consider we are aware how far this idea relates to reality. You see, in abstract terms a rose I have before me is a real thing; and we may take it to be real. For a thinker whose concepts are fully connected with reality the concept of the rose can exist in no other way but that he is aware that in itself this rose is something abstract; in real terms it can only exist on a rose bush, and this in turn only in connection with the whole earth, and so on. A spiritual investigator will thus not present something as an isolated idea when in reality it is connected with something else but can be artificially taken out of this context. In pursuing his ideas, a spiritual investigator will thus always be aware of the degree to which the inner, substantial nature of ideas takes him into the real world. Here is another example, a paradox: you put a cell nucleus under the microscope to study it. You are studying it in isolation from everything that goes with it. A spiritual investigator will be fully aware of this; he knows that there is a difference if I look at a cell nucleus or a small animal under the microscope. I see the animal in its wholeness. Looking at a cell nucleus, however, I am no1 seeing something that is as real as that small animal, whicH does not grow larger and is thus a whole.
Having thus inwardly always the reality-character of the life of ideas in mind—that is one of the first preconditions for conscious awareness in vision. I made this clear in my book The Riddle of Man, published two years ago. This needs to be taken into account with such a question. I therefore said that the 19th century scientific theory of evolution has considerable merits to this day. But the issue is not dealt with in sufficiently real terms. If we want to study human evolution, it is not without significance where we start with this in the human being. It is not a valid objection, for instance, to say: ‘Here I have a life form; in its present form this life form has special climbing feet.’ There are life forms which in their present form — please forgive me for comparing a small creature with the human being, but we are in the field of science, and so it does not matter—so there are tiny creatures, lice—please forgive the rudeness—that develop special climbing feet. These feet are a product of later evolution. The original creature did not have them. They arose from adaptation to later conditions. It is important to realize that the original creature, living in different conditions, did not have such feet. This species of louse developed special climbing feet under later conditions. Many examples could be given. It is important, therefore, to see the real situation. Forgive me if I now move on to the human being. It is important to realize that the original form has the potential which in direct descent, in direct continuance, leads to the head organ, and that everything else is something acquired later. That is the real situation. And if we do not consider the human being in this way, we cannot understand him in the context of the whole evolution of nature.
Of course I can only refer to these things briefly. As I said, I’d have to give a long course if I were to give you all the details. Anthroposophy is still evolving today, and please do not consider it silly of me to say that it does not yet feel right to present anthroposophy in fully established courses. It needs to be done in form of suggestions made in individual lectures, and all one can do is refer to one thing or another. Because of this we have this imperfection which is the only possible thing in speaking like this. The things I have said, however, no more go against the view that the human being evolves as a uniform entity, than the evolution of lice that do not yet have feet to climb with into lice that do have them speaks against this being the evolution of a uniform entity. It is thus a matter of characterizing the evolutionary process, the special aspect of it. This is what matters in the present case.