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Anthroposophy has Something to Add to Modern Sciences
GA 73

V. Can a method of gaining insight into spheres beyond the sense-perceptible world be given a scientific basis?

8 October 1918, Zurich

When it comes to the life of mind and spirit, people often think they can learn something from philosophers. Richard Wahle, an official representative of modern philosophy, has said something rather strange about philosophy, and not only modern philosophy but also the philosophy of earlier times. He said that earlier philosophers were like people owning restaurants where various chefs and waiters produced and presented unwholesome dishes. Modern philosophy, he said, was like a restaurant where chefs and waiters were standing about uselessly and no longer producing anything useful at all.96 Wahle, Richard (1857–1935). Ueber den Mechanismus des geistigen Lebens, Wien und Leipzig 1906, S. 92 (1. Buch, Kap. 4). By ‘chefs and waiters’ Richard Wahle meant philosophers.

This is certainly a strange thing to say. In a sense, however, it was made in the state of mind which exists in our present time. Of course, we don’t have to be so naive as to think that the public at large would always follow or listen to the views of isolated prophets and reflective philosophers. The significance of what philosophers are telling us lies in another area. We must take what they say as symptomatic. In a sense, though in a special sense, it arises from the general state of mind in a given age. And the impulses that are behind their statements lie in the subconscious souls of people in any given time period. Their philosophies develop on this basis.

In our present enquiry into the life which we live in mind and spirit it should also be possible to look at things differently from the way one would from certain natural scientific points of view. We should be under no illusion in this respect. The situation is that everything newly discovered, or of which people think that it might be found in the great philosophical questions, is considered from the natural scientific point of view by the world at large, at least at the sentient level. Even the things that well forth from the deepest depths of humanity’s ethical and religious life have to have their own justification, as it were, before the natural scientific way of thinking today. In a philosophy where insights are sought beyond the sphere of the senses we must therefore above all always consider the scientific requirements of natural science as it is today. But it is exactly here that confusion and misunderstanding arise only too easily, we might even say naturally, with regard to what is meant here by a science of the spirit with anthroposophical orientation.

I would therefore like to begin this course of lectures by attempting to present the scientific foundations—at least in general terms—for the higher insights sought in this anthroposophy. I am afraid I have to ask your forgiveness especially for today’s lecture which will of necessity be less popular than the three that are to follow. Some of the things I’ll have to say today may sound rather abstract, although they are perfectly real experiences for anyone who works with this particular science of the spirit. Nor will it be possible to characterize every detail of the way in which proofs that will stand up to natural scientific scrutiny have to be found in the present time. The lectures that follow will have to provide individual evidence, especially also with reference to the element of proof in the science of spirit.

Misunderstanding arises above all because investigators and thinkers committed to natural science, and people who imagine they are creating a philosophy based on natural science for themselves in a popular way, tend to think that anthroposophy is in opposition to natural science. I will try and show that the science of the spirit which is meant here is not only not in opposition to natural science but rather pursues the aims of natural science itself, right to its ultimate consequences, taking the spirit of the method of proving things that is used in natural science further than people do in natural science itself.

Another objection that may easily come up, again is, I would say, the objection people will naturally raise when they confuse higher perceptive vision with all kinds of old-established traditions. This tends to come from people who only learn about these things superficially and from the outside, indeed from a long way outside. People will say that what one has in the science of the spirit are all sorts of mystic, that is—to their thinking—dark and unclear, notions and ideas that do not come from the part of the inner life where mature scientific thinking has its foundation. This is another objection which I need not deal with directly. It will have to disappear of its own accord when I am going to show where the starting point for the spiritual investigations under discussion lies, initially in the full inner life.

Spiritual science with an anthroposophical orientation must start from two things that need to be deeply rooted in the inner life. The first is a living experience that we can have especially in the study of nature, the rightly understood observation of nature. If you enter closely into the living inner experiences which the observation of nature engenders in the human being, and the simple demands it makes, you will find that on the one hand it makes good sense to talk about limits set to all insight into nature, whilst on the other hand it loses itself completely in misunderstandings. If we approach modern scientific thinking in a non-theoretical way, not with a belief in specific dogmas but in a state of soul that is really sound, if we come alive in our scientific thinking as we observe nature, with direct perception of natural phenomena and objects, we will realize that this modern science, and indeed any insight into nature, must come up against particular limits. The question merely is if these limits to scientific insights are also limits to human knowledge and insight altogether. Anyone who does not see things rightly on this point will be able to raise all kinds of objections, especially to spiritual investigation.

The task I want to set myself today is to show that although this spiritual science is intended to be the basis for a popular philosophy for everyone, whatever their level of education, it was necessary, before it was established, to give serious consideration to all questions concerning the limits of philosophy and natural science. Having set this task for myself, as I said, I must also specifically consider the questions as to the limits of scientific knowledge that arise in direct living experience when working with natural science, doing so in a seemingly abstract way.

Observing nature we arrive at certain assumptions and these evoke ideas where we have to say: Here are the corner posts of natural scientific investigation; here we can go no further, here we cannot enter wholly into the phenomena with our thinking, here limits are indeed set to our insight. I could mention many natural scientific concepts that mark the boundaries of knowledge. However, we merely need to take the most commonplace natural scientific ideas and we will find that they are too dense, as it were, so that the questing human mind is unable to penetrate directly into what we have there. We need take only two ideas, for instance—the idea of energy and the idea of matter. We look in vain for clear mathematical concepts concerning the nature of energy and above all also of matter if we base ourselves strictly on observation of the natural world. When we come up against obstacles such as energy and matter, for instance, as we study and observe nature, we get the impression—though in a somewhat different way, in fact a radically different way from that of Kantianism—that such obstacles are met due to our human nature itself. We feel inclined not to investigate the world outside but above all to ask, with regard to these questions: How is the human being constituted? How does it come to be due to our human nature itself that we have to come up against such obstacles when observing nature?

We then investigate—as I said, I am characterizing the route taken for conclusive evidence—what it is in the human soul that makes us come up against such limits. And you will find that there are indeed powers in the soul which prevent us from entering wholly into energy and matter, for instance, when seeking insight through thinking. The moment we truly want to enter wholly into them, the constitution of our own psyche prevents us from going all the way in our thinking. We need other powers of soul to take in such things as energy and matter and to unite with them. We need to bring in our sentient faculties, views, something related to feeling that cannot be reached in the immediate light of thought in our thinking. You then feel, in an immediate and living way, that this transition from thinking to dim feeling sets the limits for gaining ideas in natural science.

We ask ourselves: How do those powers of soul benefit us by preventing us, as human beings who want to live in a healthy way in our human existence from birth to death, from going beyond the limits set in natural science?

When we consider the character of those powers of soul we gain the impression that they are truly important and significant. Anyone wishing to be a spiritual investigator must get accustomed to making observations in the inner soul. With immediate observation in the soul we can perceive that the powers that do not allow us to penetrate energy and matter are powers that give us human beings the capacity to love others in the world.

Let us consider the nature of love. Let us try and penetrate the constitution of the psyche so that we may come to know the powers that give us the capacity for love. We find them to be the powers that do not allow us to enter fully with mere thinking, with cold observation, into comer posts of natural scientific investigation such as energy, matter and many other things. We would need to be very differently constituted than the way we are as human beings. We would be bound, as human beings, to have no ability to develop love for other human beings, for other entities, if it were not for those limits set to natural science. It is because of our capacity for love that we must inevitably reach our limits in natural science. Someone with insight can see this immediately in connection with natural science.

Then an epistemology arises which is much more alive than the abstract Kantian epistemology. Having gained this insight we look at the world and human insight into nature in a new and different way. We then say to ourselves: What would become of human beings if they did not have limits set to their natural science? They would be cold and without love! This is the first living experience that has to come for the spiritual investigator.

A second one must come with regard to mysticism. Just as on the one hand he turns to natural science in order to pursue natural science and the observation of nature in the right sense, and comes to realize why this observation of nature has limits, so he turns on the other hand to mysticism, not to make biased judgements about it but to gain living experience from it and to be able to ask himself in a truly living way: Is it perhaps possible gain through mysticism what cannot be gained through natural science—a sphere that lies beyond the limits of sensory observation? Can we enter wholly into our own selves—which is the way of mysticism—and come closer to the riddles of non-physical existence?

The spiritual investigator then discovers that there, too, a significant limit is set to human insight and perception. The inner way which exists to take human beings into the depths of the psyche does offer beatitudes; it also offers something like a prospect of uniting with the spiritual powers of cosmic existence. A spiritual investigator must, however, follow mystic experiences without bias. He will then find that his way cannot be that of ordinary mysticism, for above all such mysticism does not provide enlightenment on the essential nature of the human being as such. Why not? Entering wholly into our own inner life in the mystic way we find that certain powers strike back, I would say. We cannot go down. And someone who pursues observation in the psyche as seriously as one does in the science of the spirit of which we are speaking will be more critical in his approach than is the ordinary mystic. An ordinary mystic will very often believe that when he goes down into the depths of the soul he will find something that shines into those depths from a higher world, just like that, as one follows the way of ordinary mystic clairvoyance. A spiritual investigator who has developed a critical approach will know how memories, events that we recall, are always transformed in the ordinary life of the mind, and that these things are active and alive. People think that this element which bubbles up from remembrance of events is something that is not our own, something that takes us into a higher world as we pursue the mystic way. Spiritual research teaches us to perceive very well that essentially everything we meet as we go down there is our own life and activity. This has, however, had to go through many changes, so that we do not recognize things we have lived through years earlier. They appear in a different form. People imagine them to be original events. The potential for self deception in this area is enormous.

When a true spiritual scientist investigates this approach he finds that he recognizes and respects limits in the mystic approach just as much as in the natural scientific approach. And again he would ask himself: What prevents us from going down into the depths of our own souls, making us unable to gain insight into ourselves by using the mystic approach? One finds that if we were able to gain such insight with this approach, if ordinary mysticism was not almost always delusion, if we were to find our own eternal nature by using the approach of ordinary mysticism, we would not have the human capacity for remembering things. The element in us which enables us to remember things, something with a certain power of striking back in us which holds the memories of past events, prevents us from penetrating to those depths with the powers of a mystic. We need the ability to remember for a healthy life on this earth, from birth to death, and mysticism therefore cannot be the true approach to investigation in the search for self knowledge.

The spiritual investigator must therefore find the limits set in mysticism, and these exist in the place where human powers of memory well up. Just as it is true that we would not be human without the ability to remember and the ability to love, so it is true that, our organization being the way it is, we cannot find the supersensible that lies beyond the limit set to natural science in our ordinary conscious state of mind, nor can we find it by entering deeply into our own nature in the way of a mystic.

In the spiritual investigation with anthroposophical orientation of which we are speaking, we therefore look for the way that shows itself when we have lived through everything we are able to gain for the soul’s constitution from these two experiences. These spur us on, and when they enter into the soul they urge it to observe. Initially the discovery made in the direction of insight into the natural world makes us ask ourselves: What is the situation in our dealings with nature? What is the essential nature of our insight into nature? Anyone who gains a clear, unbiased picture of this insight into nature will find that it arises when in our thinking we perceive what our senses are sending out in a living way towards existing nature. Wanting to gain insight we do not simply take existing nature as it is but penetrate it with our thoughts. We have a feeling of immediate justification in thus summing up our insights into nature in our thinking because the laws that govern events in nature shine out for us. We then have an immediate justifiable awareness that we are in a world that somehow is. In our perceptions we feel ourselves, too, to be entities that are in existence.

Philosophically speaking, it would be possible to raise many objections to this statement. However, it is not meant to apply beyond wider limits than those which arise if one wants to say nothing more than what a person experiences as he perceives nature in a thinking way.

The situation changes when we move away from sensory perception. It is something we do as human beings. We do not only perceive things through the senses but sometimes leave sensory perception aside. We are then reflecting, as we put it, taking our thoughts further. We live in an age where taking our thoughts further in this way, thinking without sensory perception, cannot be specifically developed on the basis of the kind of thinking that we can discipline ourselves to develop in the strict way of natural science. I am now speaking especially of a reflective way of thinking that has not arisen in an arbitrary way but arises exactly for someone who has accustomed himself to strict natural scientific observation of nature and to thinking those observations through. I am speaking of the kind of thinking in which we can train ourselves by means of natural scientific observation which is then taken further in reflection. It is a thinking that comes when we withdraw from observation but do so in full conscious awareness, and then also again look at whatever observation of the natural world gives us. This is the kind of thinking I mean. When you really enter into the nature of spiritual investigation with this way of thinking—in spiritual science everything is based on observation—an experience comes of which nothing less can be said but that people have had the wrong idea about it for centuries. An erroneous and therefore disastrous view about the experience one has to establish in the more recent spiritual science has arisen particularly among the most outstanding and astute philosophical minds.

To show what I mean let me refer to a philosopher of glorious eminence, Descartes,97 Descartes, Rene (1596–1650), French mathematician and philosopher. ‘Cogito ergo sum’—see Discours de la methode (1637) I, 7, and (not in the exact words) Meditationes de prima Philosophia (1641), 2nd meditation. the founder of modern philosophy. His philosophy had the same basis as that of Augustine.98Augustine of Hippo, St (354–430), Numibian Christian, one of the four Latin Doctors of the Church. ‘I think, therefore 1 am’—.see Soliloquia II, 1; De ver. relig. 72f.; De trinit. X, 14. Both thinkers found thinking itself to be the great riddle of existence. The world perceived by the senses was full of uncertainties to them, but they believed that if they saw themselves immediately as souls, as human beings, in thinking, there could be no uncertainty in what arose in their thinking. If one saw oneself as thinking, even if doubting everything, if thinking was nothing but doubt and one had to say: I doubt in my thinking—then the philosophers thought, one is in that doubt. And they established the thesis which shines out like a beacon, I would say, through the ages: ‘I think, therefore I am.’

In the light of the immediate experience of genuine thinking which has been developed in the natural scientific discipline, nothing can be further from the truth than this. Anyone using the strictest form of thinking learned in natural science has to arrive at a different thesis: ‘I think’—and this refers specifically to thinking where one has withdrawn from the outside world—‘and therefore I am not.’ Any genuine position taken with regard to the spiritual world begins with realization of the truth that we get to know our non-existence as soul entities, the essential nature of our self, in so far as soon as we move to a thinking that is wholly abstracted we are not.

The spiritual science of which I am speaking has a problem in finding its way to human hearts and minds because it does make strange demands on people. If one were to ask people to continue along familiar lines, saying that awakening could come if one continued in the way that one had started, that riddles of supersensible insight would be solved—if that were the prospect offered, then things would be easy, considering the thinking habits of many people today. But this science of the spirit demands a change to a wholly scientific approach, and this would arise from the immediate living experience gained in an unbiased state of mind.

We now need to consider how the thesis ‘I think, therefore I am not’ can be established. For this, we energetically pursue in the science of the spirit the kind of thinking that leads to the erroneous thesis ‘I think, therefore I am’ (cogito, ergo sum). It would be as if we were attaining to thought and then not going any further. In the science of the spirit we cannot simply stop at thinking. Our thinking must be strengthened; we have to apply an inner activity to our thinking which may be called ‘meditation’.

What is this meditation? It is a strengthening rather than a deepening of our thinking. Certain thoughts are brought to mind again and again until they have given our thinking so much inner density that thinking is not just thinking but becomes an event we experience like any other living experience that is more powerful than mere abstract thinking. That is meditation. Meditation calls for considerable effort. Depending on their individual disposition, people have to make great efforts, more or less, for months, years or even longer. The living experience of which I am speaking can, however, arise for everyone. It should provide the basis for spiritual investigation. It is not something arising from the living experience of the chosen few but something everyone can achieve. If we strengthen thinking in isolation, abstracted from sensory perception, it comes alive as much as do the events that happen in metabolism, for example.

Again we have a surprising result, but a result that can present itself to the soul in sensory experience as clearly as do the plant cells which a botanist sees so clearly as he studies them under the microscope. It is, however, an unusual experience which we then have in our thinking. This inner experience, the inner state of soul which we gain when we strengthen our thinking, can only be compared to the sensation of hunger. This may sound strange and surprising, but it may be compared to a feeling of hunger, though it does not show itself in the way hunger does when we are in need of nourishment. It is a feeling which is above all limited to the human head organization. But it is only this which will show us how the human bodily organization relates to thinking. Anyone who does not have this experience may have all kinds of strange ideas about the way human thinking relates to the human body. Someone who does have it will never say: ‘This human body produces thinking,’ for—and the fact is evident—this human body does not have the impulses in its generative powers that give rise to thinking. Destructive processes happen in the body when we think, as destructive, I would say, as those which happen when we get hungry and body substance is broken down and destroyed. It has thus been rather strange that people whose thinking is more or less materialistic or mechanistic have arrived at the idea that the body gives rise to our thinking. It no more gives rise to it than do the powers that are its generative powers, powers that constitute the human being. If thinking is to happen, therefore, destruction must happen, as in the case of hunger.

We must come to this surprising experience and only then will we essentially know what thinking is. We then know that thinking is not the unfolding of a reality of soul that may be compared with the outer reality perceived by the senses but that on entering into our own organization in our thinking we are entering into its non-real aspect and we cease to be as we enter into our thinking.

Then the big, anxious question arises: How do we go on from here? The science of the spirit does not give you theoretical points in investigation but points of living experience, points that challenge you to continue your investigations with all the strength of living experience. No one will be able to penetrate into the world of the spirit in the right sense who has not had the living experience of which I have been speaking and who has not convinced himself that in thinking we enter into non-being: ‘I think, therefore I am not.’

Gaining insight into the world of nature thus has a remarkable result. We are unable to gain such insight without thinking. And so it is that something which presents itself to us as being in existence in a truly robust way, I might say, tells us of the non-existence of this, our own soul nature. When I come to speak of psychology the day after tomorrow, this line of thought will be taken further in a popular form. At present I have to refer to something that shows the same thing from the other side: I am not and I perceive that when I am thinking I am not in my thinking, that another experience is coming to meet this experience from a completely different side in the human soul. It comes to meet it in so far as something exists for the unbiased observer of soul that is not accessible to any form of thinking. Anyone who considers the history of philosophy with sound common sense, considering those who have seriously taken up the enigmas of human insight and life, will find that there is always and everywhere something in the life of the human soul where one has to say to oneself: However great your acuity may be as you apply perceptiveness trained in the natural scientific discipline, you cannot gain insight into anything that lies in your will.

The enigma to which I am referring is usually hidden because people will enumerate all the problems connected with the idea of free will. Schopenhauer, who showed great acuity in some respects but always went only halfway or just a quarter of the way, pushed the forming of ideas, which has to do with thinking, to one side and the will to the other. He failed to give sufficient consideration to the experience which the human psyche has with the will, for our thinking always fights shy of the will. We simply cannot get to it. There is, however, one thing in human life—this is apparent if we are wholly objective and unbiased in observing the psyche—where the will impulses rush up into the life of the psyche exactly at a time when it has nothing to do with the kind of thinking that develops in observing the natural world. We might say that the thinking gained from observing the natural world and the thinking that comes from the will cannot come together in the ordinary life of the mind; the chemistry is wrong. These two avoid one another—thinking in terms of the natural world and everything that comes from the will.

Because of this we perceive two completely separate spheres in the psyche—on the one hand our thinking, and especially reflective thinking in full conscious awareness; on the other hand the billows that rise up into the life of the psyche from unknown depths, coming from the will. We’ll consider those depths shortly. The billows that come up when the fully conscious thinking gained from the study of nature fades away play into our inner life in form of dreams when we are asleep. We discover that the dream images that rise up in the inner life and truly have nothing to do with the conscious mind, creating images as if by magic that exclude fully conscious thinking, come from the regions where the will, which also cannot be grasped, rises in depths where the human being lives together with nature.

You might well say: You want to take us into the realm of dreams in a highly unsatisfactory way, Mr Spiritual Scientist! Yes, the sphere of dreams in indeed mysterious, and anyone who approaches it in a truly sound spirit of investigation will find vast numbers of things. Yet it is also a sphere which attracts people who want to find their way to the higher world as charlatans or in a superstitious way. Caution is therefore indicated. Above all it has to be said that anyone investigating the world of dreams with reference to the content of dreams is going in entirely the wrong direction. Many people are doing this today. Whole trends in science have thus been developed using inadequate means. If you study the life of dreams with reference to their content, careful observation must inevitably show that something happens between going to sleep and waking up, when fully conscious thinking falls silent. We cannot say if it is in the human being or in the world outside, but something happens and this rises up in dreams. People cannot, however, immediately say what it is that is happening. Sometimes it does not even come to conscious awareness. Without knowing it, you clothe something that does not come to conscious awareness in memories, reminiscences from everyday life in the conscious mind, memory images you can always find if you look with sufficient care and attention. Someone who wants to gain something from the content of dreams, either by wishing for a dream or by recall, is therefore always following the wrong track. It cannot be a matter of wanting to investigate something that corresponds to the content of dreams. The content of dreams really tells us no more about dreams than a child tells us when he wants to say something about the natural world. Just as we do not turn to a child’s mind when we want to find the explanation for something in nature, so we also cannot turn to what dreams tell us if we want to explore the region that is active and coming into its own beneath the surface of the dream.

Approaches to gaining knowledge existed in earlier times of human evolution that can no longer be considered valid in the present age of natural science, possibilities of learning something of the world’s secrets from the content of dream life. Those times have passed, however. I will have something to say about this in the later lectures. Today, someone who has disciplined his thinking by the methods used to observe nature will specifically need to bring the kind of inner experience to mind which we have in our dreams.

Just as enlightenment on reflective thinking can only be gained by meditation, so this enlightenment on the state of soul in which we are in our dreams is only gained by means of a specific activity in spiritual investigation. Just as we may call the other method meditation, so we may call this one contemplation. It is important to ignore all content of dream life, but try and experience inwardly how we are in the life of our dreams, how we then relate to the senses and their development, having on the one hand come free of the senses, but still having a specific connection with life in the senses, and how there is a specific connection with the whole of our inner organic nature. This strange activity and life of dreams can only be experienced if we try, privily, to go consciously in our mind through something that otherwise happens unconsciously in our dreams.

The question now arises as to why so little of this happens in the ordinary life of the conscious mind. There human beings do not give themselves to such an experience of dream life. Quite the contrary, with the aid of subconscious powers they erroneously cover their dream experience over with all kinds of reminiscences and memories of life. If we begin to enter truly into the subtle activity in which we find ourselves when we dream, doing so contemplatively and in conscious awareness, we find ourselves in a different life experience. This is much lighter, not as heavy as our experience when we move and act in the natural world around us. Getting to know this life, we also learn to answer the question as to why human beings cover dream life over with all kinds of images taken from life, why they make wrong interpretations, and would rather accept wrong ideas about dreams than truly enter into the activity of dreams. We come to realize that in this dream life the whole constitution of our life relates to sleep, and this is in exactly the same way as with meditation we have come to know what happens in the organism when we are thinking.

You come to realize that the human being does not want an unconscious feeling of antipathy to come up from certain subterranean depths with which he is connected. The dream impulse impinges on our soul nature and in doing so induces a subconscious feeling of antipathy in the soul. We might say that initially this is a feeling—this may sound strange but it is true—of surfeit which may be compared to the repugnance one has when there is a surfeit. People will not allow certain unconscious impulses of such antipathy to come up, suppressing them with images which they take from their own inner life and use to cover up their dream level of consciousness. We can only overcome the element which initially makes itself known there in feelings of antipathy, we can only learn to find the right attitude to this, if we use the state of soul which we have brought about by meditation on the one hand and by the contemplation I have just described on the other, to connect our thinking, of which we have truly perceived that it takes us into nothingness, with the element against which we first of all have that unconscious antipathy. These two things can be linked—thinking of which we have to say: ‘I think, therefore I am not’ which cannot enter into an inner soul experience that would be similar to the outside world perceived through the senses; this enters into the inner experience we gain when we first of all learn to overcome the antipathy I have described. Someone able to connect these two things—the antipathy which is felt and therefore covered over with dreams, and the element experienced in a hunger, a subconscious sympathy with something which we shall not get to know unless we get to know contemplation—is in the supersensible world. He will find the supersensible world through thinking, a thinking that initially took him to fearful cliffs, seeming to cast him down to the abyss of nonexistence, with the thinking in full conscious awareness which has been developed in modern science itself, and in the forming of ideas from which human beings shy away so much that they will cover them up with dreams. The way into the supersensible world is thus closely connected, as you can see, with inner experiences of the soul that we merely have to look for in the nature of the human organization itself. You see, they do seem to be far removed from what one would usually expect today. Think of the disappointments people have to go through especially in our present time with regard to their expectations. Who would have expected before 1914 the events which now affect the whole world?

The science of the spirit calls for a degree of inner courage, of the will to have a change of heart, to consider something which addresses powers of soul that go deeper than we are used to in modern thinking. These powers will, however, fully meet the demands of modern science and do anything but take us into nebulous mysticism. If human beings learn truly to use the fully conscious thinking trained through modern science and enter into the world of which I have now been speaking, a world that is alive and active beneath the world of dreams, they will find it possible to gain a view—not a concept, but a view—of the will, free will. One must have wrestled with the problem of free will—I have shown this in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity—and have been looking for immediate living experience of the way that hides so mysteriously behind a sphere in our inner life into which our thinking is quite evidently unable to penetrate. Having wrestled with this, you also find the way to a vision of free will. You then find the way into the world of the spirit. For the fully conscious thinking of which we speak in the science of the spirit makes it possible not to weave those childlike, erroneous images, making them into dreams that cover up an unknown reality. This thinking enters into the spiritual reality, the world of images, that lies beneath.

Images then arise that are true reflections of the supersensible world of the spirit. Dreams cast shadows from the supersensible world into the world that has nothing to do with thinking. If we penetrate a little bit below the surface we can bring the reality which truly is there beneath the surface together with fully conscious thinking. Images then arise, but these are images of supersensible reality. And our thinking, which was already threatening to take us into non-being, arises again in the supersensible world through imaginative insight into the world of the spirit as I have called it in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and also in my Occult Science.

This image-based insight, which initially provides images of a supersensible world, images of the spirits and powers that are behind the world perceived through the senses—this image-based thinking is no dream. You can see that fully conscious thinking shines through it, thinking of such power that initially it admits to itself: ‘I think, therefore I am not.’

In choosing to make this transition, our thinking comes from the experience of non-existence to supersensible experience of existence in the spirit. This shows itself first of all in images, or imaginations, because we go down into the will. Because we then truly get to know the world which otherwise remains subconscious, we also penetrate beyond the images. We learn to manage the images in the way in which we otherwise learn to manage our inner life. Living in mere images then opens out into a form of life which I may called inspired insight. The term may meet with objections, because people connect it with all kinds of ideas from earlier times, though, as I have shown in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, it has nothing to do with these. The true nature of the spiritual world begins to speak in the imagination, making itself known in its immediate reality. The imaginations are first of all images; but the human soul penetrates thinking, which was just about to founder in non-existence, with will experience. Ultimately we encounter the will. In the supersensible sphere, our supersensible will comes up against the supersensible will of the spiritual worlds and entities. Inspiration, inspired insight, comes. And the whole progression of imagination and inspiration can then also come to conscious awareness. I call the raising of imagination and inspiration to conscious awareness ‘true intuition'. It is not the nebulous intuition of which people tend to speak in everyday awareness, but true intuition, when one is right inside the world of the spirit.

The later lectures will be about the different things we feel with regard to the human soul, with regard to the spirits and powers that are behind the natural world, behind our social, religious and historical life. Today I would still like to answer the question as to why this science of the spirit, which according to what has been said works with the kind of proofs that demand the best possible training in modern science, proofs that are entirely on the pattern of modern science—why is it so difficult for this science of the spirit to find a home in the minds of modern people.

We have to investigate the obstacles to the science of the spirit. If we do this, we shall discover why the following question is not considered: ‘How does the science of the spirit actually provide proof of supersensible insights?’ You see, the way I have described the path to you, spiritual scientific investigation provides proof firstly on the basis of serious scientific thinking, and then also by a route that is wholly in continuation of the modern scientific way. In spite of this, people will find all kinds of logical reasons that sound very good indeed when they first get to know spiritual scientific investigation of the kind we are speaking of here. Especially as a spiritual investigator, you often feel real respect for the reasons given by your opponents. These opponents are not considered the least bit silly by a spiritual investigator. Nor does one in the usual sense answer those attacks with any degree of fanaticism. We respect our opponents for we often find their reasons not silly but on the contrary, perfectly intelligent. On the other hand conventional scientists may again and again raise the objection against the spiritual investigation of which we are speaking that there simply are limits set to spiritual investigation.

We have seen why there have to be limits. It is because human beings need to be capable of love and memory. Just as we alternate between waking and sleeping in life, and the one cannot exist without the other, so spiritual investigation may take its place beside natural science, beside a life that needs to have the capacity for memory and love. The reason is that firstly, spiritual investigation makes no claim on anything that can be recalled—the day after tomorrow, when we will be talking about spiritual scientific psychology, we shall see what the situation truly is with regard to memory. The discoveries made in spiritual scientific research are the only thing the human soul is able to live in without a claim being made on something that otherwise is so essential in life—the power to remember. On the other hand we have to say with regard to the capacity for love that we increase our power of love by entering more deeply into the element which otherwise rises from the subconscious rather like antipathy, and that spiritual investigation therefore does not destroy the capacity for love but rather increases it. Just as waking and sleeping can exist side by side to maintain human health, so spiritual science may take its place by the side of natural science, for the reasons I have given. In spite of this, natural scientists or people who believe in gaining their popular view of the world on the basis of natural science will always point out, as clear proof, why there have to be those limits to natural scientific insight.

We are considering the objections that are meant to defeat spiritual science as a supersensible science. When the spiritual investigator himself uses the observation of soul which is necessary in order to become aware of all the things which have been said today, when he enters into the human inner life with this self observation he will find the following. Firstly, because thinking tends to cast the human being into the abyss of non-existence—initially non-existence in relation to the outside world perceived with the senses—and because human beings have a certain horror, if I may use the term, of thus entering into thinking, in so far as this thinking gains its true form when truly entered into, people have no desire to enter truly into the nature of reflective thinking with the aid of spiritual science. They shy away from thus entering into the nature of reflective thinking. They fail to realize, however, why they shy away from it. They do so from a subconscious feeling that is no less active and which one is unable to control exactly because it is subconscious. It is a certain feeling of fear, a subconscious fear of starting from such non-existence. At its opposite pole this subconscious fear generates lack of interest in natural phenomena in its spiritual depths. People do not want to look at natural phenomena in all the places where they evidently cannot be explained out of themselves. One has to go further and find their complement in quite a different direction. Lack of interest, stopping where one should really go deeper—that is the opposite pole of the fear. Again it is a subconscious lack of interest. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the one side of it.

On the other side there is this. How should one enter into that world where one feels one is losing oneself, into the subtle activity and essence which otherwise exists in sleep, in dreams? It is a world where we are no longer standing robustly in outside nature, no longer have the robust feeling of existence which we create for ourselves in the outside world perceived through the senses. You think you are losing your equilibrium, the firm ground under your feet. You no longer have the feeling that you had in relation to the world you perceived through the senses. In some way, if one is not prepared to move on, one gets into a state of weightlessness. One feels one is losing the ground under one’s feet.

Again unconscious fear arises, and this is all the more effective because people do not have conscious awareness of it. The subconscious content assumes the form of moving images, ideas, masking itself. Just as in natural life the subconscious life of the mind masks itself in dreams, so do the subconscious fear and the subconscious lack of interest mask themselves. What is there in all truth in the so-called natural scientific view of the world when people reject spiritual investigation? In truth it is a subconscious lack of interest in nature itself. This assumes the mask of all kinds of excellent hypotheses, good logical reasons, speaking of limits of knowledge; only with all this one usually fails to note the real limits to knowledge, limits that have been presented to you today. The limits of knowledge often used as reasons, wrongly, in those views, are masking a subconscious lack of interest. And the good logical reasons, which, as I said, actually have to be respected by the spiritual investigator, because everything human can indeed be understood by him; these good logical reasons which actually always show a certain acuity of intellect—they too, are masks. People need something to suppress the subconscious, so that they will not feel or sense it—fear of the element into which the science of the spirit leads, though this alone holds the truth in it; this fear prevents people from penetrating to the grounds of existence with the science of the spirit. And this fear puts on the mask in human minds of logical reasons. The best possible logical reasons are produced. We cannot say anything against their logic; they are but mask for subconscious fear.

Anyone able to see through the way in which truly excellent highly respectable logical reasons come up, the outcome in people’s minds of subconscious fear, with highly respectable reasons coming up for the limits of knowledge that are said to make spiritual investigation impossible, will see the great scheme of things differently. He will see above all the problems that must arise for a spiritual investigation where the aim is something which every human being is looking for at a deeply subconscious level, as we shall see in the later lectures. The science of the spirit is already presenting this to humanity in a view of the world that can be understood and will truly satisfy humanity for the future. Problems are still arising because people persuade themselves that they have good reasons to be against the science of the spirit, because they do not admit to their fear. They say there are good reasons why limits should not be exceeded in supersensible insight, and this is because they do not admit to their lack of interest in the actual phenomena of nature.

Someone who sees through the veil that shrouds the truth will see the world in a different way. He will also see this human life in a different way. But just as it is true that at a certain time the Copernican view of the world had to take the place of an earlier one, for evolution demanded this, so must the spiritual scientific view of the world come to the fore now and for the future. It will come to the fore, in spite of the obstacles which I have characterized in depth; it will be possible for it to enter into human hearts and minds, in spite of all obstacles, as happened also with the Copernican view of the world. This is because of two evident facts which apply at the present time. On the one hand there is the fact that we have entered into the age of natural science. We shall see in the third lecture that it is exactly the more exact our knowledge of nature is and the less we limit ourselves arbitrarily to a biased view, the more will it be possible to penetrate into supersensible science. The more natural science advances beyond the limits that are still set for it today, moving towards its ideals, the more will it open for itself the gates to supersensible insight. This is the one thing.

On the other hand we only have to look at the realities of life on earth today. We only have to consider the many surprises that recent times have brought for humanity to see what the present and the future demand of the human being in so far as he wants to be simply a human being on this earth. Human beings will have to rely on their own self in a much more intensive way, seeking much more intensively to find their inner equilibrium. This inner equilibrium has much in common in the soul with the equilibrium that has to be found when thinking enters into the world from which dreams will otherwise billow up—the supersensible world. Future humanity will need much more courage, much greater fearlessness also in the social sphere, in the general life of the world. At present humanity has gone asleep in a comfortable but biased way of thinking, forming ideas and developing feelings exactly on the basis of the great advances made in technology. There is hope that the time is not far off when many hearts and minds will find the strength and ability to focus on the inner life through the science of the spirit.

The science of the spirit is not based on theories, nor on abstract ideas. It does not rest on fantasies but always on facts. Even when its prospects are considered we base ourselves on facts. Convinced that this science has evolved from a serious approach to natural science, one feels certain that the progress of natural science will make human minds appreciate spiritual science in due course. The intention is to let it grow out of life, the most inward and powerful life. This gives one the certainty that the science of the spirit will be increasingly called for by human beings who in life—the life of the present and also of the future—will find a real need for the powers to be gained by it and that this science must enable them to enter into such life.

Questions and answers

Following the lecture given in Zurich on 8 October 1918

Question. Would it possible to give an idea as to how matter and energy’ appear when seen from the spiritual world?

We have only been given until 10 o’clock and I’ll therefore first of all speak about the first of the two, which is matter. If we apply the approach I have been characterizing today and this method of research to something such as matter, we find that human beings are always really between two submerged rocks—I have been characterizing these rocks in various ways today—two rocks where their whole relationship to the world is concerned. On the one people always feel the need to think of events and things in an anthropomorphic way, in human terms, applying their own inner experiences, and so on, to something outside them; or they feel the need to stay strictly with mere observation and not develop ideas at all. Most of you, ladies and gentlemen, will know how much these two rocks have challenged humanity with regard to human thinking through the ages. Especially when we come to something like matter and energy, we find that our usual views cannot get us past those rocks. You may imagine that when we approach these things, with the scientific approach completely changed, some things will prove to be exactly the opposite of the usual view.

To approach the concept of matter in the spiritual scientific sense, we will do best, first of all, to get a picture of what it is. It will merely serve to illustrate. If we have a bottle of soda water with carbon dioxide bubbles in it, we see above all the bubbles. The carbon dioxide is really much thinner than the surrounding water, and the bubbles are embedded in the water. One would like to say, relatively speaking, of course: They are carbon dioxide, but there’s relatively less, compared to the water. So we really see an embedded nothing.

We now have to take a big leap. The same thing happens with matter when we look at the world in terms of spiritual science. The senses see something which occupies spaces, and this we call matter. The mind realizes that where the senses see matter, they are in the same position as we are with the carbon dioxide. We actually see something that has been cut out of the spiritual world. This something, cut out from the spiritual world, so that it lives in the spiritual world the way these carbon dioxide bubbles do in water—this we call matter. We really have to say therefore: What we sense when we come upon matter is fundamentally the perception that this is where the spirit ends. In the terms of spiritual science, we therefore do not have to consider this to be the most important thing but only the fact that where the senses tell us that we have come up against matter, this is where the spirit ends. Matter—surprising though this may be—should be described as the hollow spaces in the spiritual element.

Anyone who takes the analogy to its conclusion will know that hollow spaces also have an influence. One would not assume anything that is not filled out and therefore hollow, to have no effect. As you know, if the air is withdrawn from the recipient of an air pump, the vacuum has an effect on the surrounding air, which will whistle as it rushes in. In the sphere of things, therefore, being hollow does not mean being without effect. We need not be surprised then if we stub our toe against a stone, for in its materiality the stone is a hollow space in the spirituality that fills the world. So much to give an indication. It does not enlighten us about matter, but it shows the road we must follow to gain such enlightenment.

Question. How does the principle which you called ‘will’ tonight relate to Bergson’s elan vital?" How does it relate intuitively to the methods of insight in spiritual science?

What I called ‘will’ today is nothing but the principle which many people deny, though everyone knows it from direct observation. It can never be grasped by thinking about it, however.

Psychologists who must be taken seriously, particularly because they are natural scientists—take Ziehen, for instance, or Wahle, or whoever you will—find it possible to show a degree of relationship between the structure of thinking and the structure of the nerves, the brain, and the like. You always see a degree of satisfaction when people succeed in expressing something which is spiritual in the structure of thinking in terms of organic structures, especially in scientific psychology. They are always wrong, of course. The day after tomorrow we’ll see how strange it is for people to believe that the life of the soul comes from the brain. It is just as if one were to believe—if this is a mirror and you go over there and think that the individual who is coming towards us—which is our own image—must be coming from behind the mirror. It depends on the nature of the mirror—if it is level or curved—what kind of image comes to meet us. Still, there’s nothing behind the mirror. Someone looking for something behind the limits set for us by nature, and behind the human brain, which merely mirrors the inner life, is just like the person who smashes the mirror in order to find the reason for the image that comes to meet him in it.

I have thus called ‘will’ what we experience in our ordinary inner life; it is an inner perception, but is more and more considered to be beyond comprehension. ‘Scientific’ psychologists find that the forming of ideas, thinking, has a structure that relates to organic nature. However, as soon they move on from thinking and go just as far as feeling and then to the will, they will say: ‘Here we can at best speak of will or feeling as nuances’—Theodor Ziehen speaks of emotive colouring, ideal colouring—‘for here nothing can be found that might be analogous to sensory perception.’ The will is thus beyond comprehension, though it evidently exists. It is denied only by people who do not go by reality but by the things which they say they are able to grasp scientifically. Only causality has validity in natural science, and as the will does not function causally they will say it does not exist. Something is there, however, and does not go by what can be comprehended. That is merely human prejudice.

I thus call ‘will’ a very real experience and have merely shown that something we know at the most common, everyday level can only be grasped if we use meditative thinking to go down into the world from which usually only dreams, which are remote from us, arise. Here a natural scientific method has merely been transferred to the spiritual sphere, but it does need to be understood in a different way from a mere fact perceptible to the senses. Bergson’s elan vital is mere fantasy, mere abstraction. Taking the sequence of phenomena, thinking is applied to what is happening. We do, of course, have many reasons to think our way into what is happening, but that is not the way of a true science of the spirit. That way is one where facts, even if only spiritual facts, everywhere point to where we can find something, where something lies. It is not a matter of taking hypotheses, things one has merely thought up, into the world of phenomena.

Bergson’s intuition is essentially nothing but a special case of the way which I have firmly rejected today as not being fruitful in spiritual scientific terms. I characterized how the spiritual investigator will know the mystic way, and have the mystic experience, but will show that the mystic way cannot guide him to true insight. Bergson only uses thinking, on the one hand, though it is evident that this does not penetrate to true reality. He gives an extensive description, characterizing it in every respect. He then abandons this thinking. In the science of the spirit we do not abandon this thinking but experience, in all intensity, an abyss into which this thinking appears to lead. We do not deny this thinking, which is what Bergson ultimately does, but look for another way. This is the way of getting out of the abyss which I have characterized, the way to rise again in a spiritual, a supersensible reality. Bergson simply says that thinking does not take us to the reality. He therefore continues his search by pursuing a special mystic way through inward experience.

The intuition at which Bergson arrives essentially does not lead to anything which is real. Today I have only been able to characterize the way of spiritual science. In the next three lectures I am going to characterize definite results, specific results that one gets, results that serve life and the whole of our humanity. Bergson keeps revolving around this: We cannot think, we must grasp the world inwardly. He keeps referring to intuition. But nothing enters into this intuition; it remains an indefinite, darkly mystical experience.

Many people are comfortable with this today, for it means they do not have to undergo what I said was exactly what is demanded for the science of the spirit—a truly radical change of mind, where one does not just want to indulge oneself mystically, but seeks to penetrate in all seriousness into everything of which people are afraid in their minds, because of certain premises, and in which they are not interested, which is all subconscious. Essentially Bergson does not even overcome his lack of interest but actually encourages it. Nor does he let go of his fear. For these intuitions do not lead to real understanding of the spiritual world; they do not go beyond an inward experience.