The Threshold In Nature and In Man
This lecture is also known as The Human Soul and the World of Nature.
1 February 1921, Basle
Translated by Mary Adams
It will be clear, I think, from what has been said on earlier occasions that the Spiritual Science cultivated at the Goetheanum has nothing sectarian about it, nor does it set out to found a new religion. It gives full recognition to the progress of natural science in modern times, drawing indeed, in a certain sense, the ultimate necessary consequences of the whole trend and spirit of modern science. This will be particularly evident when we come to consider questions concerning our inner life and our knowledge of the world; and to-day I will ask your attention for one such specific question. It embraces a very wide realm, and all I can do here is to give a few indications towards its solution. I shall try to give these in such a way as to throw light on what we consider to be the tasks of the Goetheanum in Dornach.
The subject before us is concerned with two ideas that man can never contemplate without on the one hand feeling an intense longing awaken within him, and on the other being brought face to face with deep doubts and riddles. These two ideas are: the inner being of Nature and the inner being of the human soul.
In his knowledge man feels himself outside Nature. What would induce him to undertake the labour of cognition, were it not the hope of penetrating beyond the immediate region within which he stands in ordinary life, of entering more deeply into the Nature that presents herself in her external aspect to his senses and his intellect? It is, after all, a fact of the life of soul, and one that becomes more and more apparent the more seriously we occupy ourselves with questions of knowledge, that man feels separated from the inner being of Nature. And there remains always the question — to which one or another will have a different answer according to his outlook on the world — whether it be possible for men to enter sufficiently deeply into the being of Nature to allow him to gain some degree of satisfaction from his search. We have at the same time the feeling that whatever in the last resort can be known concerning the being of Nature is somehow also connected with what we may call the being of man's soul.
Now this question of the being of the human soul has presented itself to human cognition since very early times. We have only to recall the Apollonian saying: “Know thyself.” This saying sets forth a demand which the conscientious seeker after knowledge will feel is by no means easy of fulfillment.
We shall perhaps be able to come to a clearer idea of the tasks of the present day in this connection if we go back to earlier ages and remind ourselves of conceptions that were intimately bound up, for the men of olden times, on the one hand with the knowledge of the inner being of Nature, on the other with the self-knowledge of man. Let us then look for a little at some of these conceptions, even though they will take us into fields somewhat remote from the ordinary consciousness of to-day.
In olden times, these two aims — knowledge of Nature and knowledge of self — were associated in the mind of man with quite strange, not to say terrifying, conceptions. It was indeed not thought possible for man to continue in his ordinary way of life if he wanted to set out on the path to knowledge; for on that path he would inevitably find himself in the presence of deep uncertainties before he could come to any satisfying conviction. In our day we are not accustomed to think of the path of knowledge as something that leads us away from.the natural order of our life; it leaves us free to go forward in everyday life as before. And one must admit that the knowledge offered to us in our laboratories and observatories and clinics is not such as to throw us “right off the rails,” in the way attributed to the path of knowledge that the pupils of wisdom in early times had to tread.
They beheld a kind of abyss between what man is and can experience in ordinary life, and what he becomes and is confronted with when he penetrates into the depths of world-existence, or into the knowledge of his own being. They described how man feels the ground sink away from under his feet, so that only if he be strong enough not to succumb to giddiness of soul can he go forward at all into the field of ultimate knowledge. To tread this path of knowledge unprepared would involve man in a harder test than he is able to meet. Serious and conscientious preparation was necessary before he dare bridge the abyss. In ordinary life man is unaware of the abyss; he simply does not see it. And that, they said, is for him a blessing. Man is enveloped in a kind of blindness that protects him from being overcome by giddiness and falling headlong into the abyss. They spoke too of how man had to cross a “Threshold” in order to come into the fields of higher knowledge, and of how he must have become able to face without fear the revelations that await him at the Threshold. Again, in ordinary life man is protected from crossing the Threshold. Call it personification or what you will, in those ancient schools of wisdom they were relating real experiences when they spoke of man being protected by the “Guardian of the Threshold,” and of undergoing beyond it a time of darkness and uncertainty before ultimately attaining to a vision of reality, a “standing within” spirit-filled reality.
It is inevitable that in our day all manner of confused and hazy notions should connect themselves with such expressions as “Threshold,” “Guardian of the Threshold.” Let me say at once that mankind is undergoing evolution; nor is it only the outer cultural renditions that change and develop, but man's life of soul is changing all the time, moving onward from state to state; consequently the expressions which in olden times could be used to describe intimate processes in the life of soul, cannot bear the same meaning for present-day mankind. What man meant in olden times when he spoke of the Threshold and the Guardian of the Threshold was something different from the processes that take place in man to-day, when he resolves to go forward from ordinary knowledge to super-sensible knowledge; and it is only with a view to making more comprehensible what I shall have to say regarding these latter that I bring in a comparison with ancient conceptions.
What was it of which the men of olden times were afraid? What was it for which the pupil in the School of Wisdom had to be prepared by means of an exact and thoroughgoing discipline of the will — a discipline that should make the will strong and vigorous, able to stand firm in extremely difficult and perplexing situations in Life? Strange though it may sound, it becomes clear to us if we are able to survey the course of human evolution, that what men feared in those times was actually none other than the condition of soul which mankind in general has reached to-day. They wanted to protect the pupil from coming all unprepared to the condition of mind and soul to which we have been brought by the scientific education of the last three or four centuries. Let me illustrate this for you in a particular case.
We all accept to-day the so-called Copernican view of the universe. This view places the sun in the centre of our planetary system; the planets revolve round the sun, with the earth as a planet among the other planets. Ever since the time of Copernicus, this is the picture men have had. In earlier times, quite another picture of the world lived in the general consciousness of mankind. The earth was seen in the centre, and the sun and stars revolving round the earth. Man had, that is to say, a geocentric picture of the world. Copernicus replaced it with a heliocentric picture of the world. Man has now no longer the feeling of standing on firm ground; he sees himself being hurled through space, together with the earth, at a terrific speed. As for how it all looks to the eye, that, we are told, is a mere illusion, induced by relations of perspective and the like, to which human vision is subject.
Now, this heliocentric picture of the world already existed in earlier ages. Plutarch is a writer from whom we can learn a great deal concerning the men of olden times, and how they thought about the world. Let me read you a passage translated from his writings. Plutarch is speaking of Aristarchus of Samos, and he describes the way in which Aristarchus conceived the world. We are therefore taken back into early Greek times, into an epoch many centuries before the Middle Ages, and before Copernicus. In the opinion of Aristarchus, says Plutarch, the universe is much bigger than it looks; for Aristarchus makes the assumption that the stars and the sun do not move, but that the earth revolves round the sun as centre, while the sphere of the fixed stars, whose centre is also in the sun, is so immense that the circumference of the circle described by the earth is to the distance of the fixed stars as is the centre of a sphere to its entire surface.
We find thus in Greek times the heliocentric conception of the world; we find the very same picture as we have to-day of man's place in the planetary system and his relation to the heaven of the fixed stars. In olden times, however, this heliocentric conception of the world was a secret known only to a few, who had undergone a strict training of the will before such knowledge could be imparted to them.
It is important to grasp the significance of this fact. What is common knowledge to-day, freely spoken of by everyone, was in earlier times a wisdom known to a select few. What such a wisdom-pupil knew, for example, concerning the sun and its relation to the earth was considered a knowledge that lay “beyond the Threshold”; man must needs first cross the Threshold before he can come into those fields where the soul discovers this new relationship to the universe. The very same knowledge that our whole education renders familiar and natural to us to-day, was for them on the other side of a Threshold that must not be crossed without due preparation.
What we have shown with regard to the astronomical conception of the world could quite well be worked out for other spheres of knowledge. We should again and again find evidence of how the whole of mankind has in the course of evolution been pushed across what was for Olden times a Threshold on the path to higher knowledge. The apprehension that was felt in those times about the condition of soul evoked by such knowledge, has shown itself frequently in later centuries in the attitude of the churches, which preserve and tend to perpetuate the traditions of the past. Again and again the churches have rejected knowledge that has been attained in the progress of civilisation; and when, for example, the Roman Church refused to acknowledge the teaching of Copernicus (as it did until the year 1827), the reason was the same as [that which] in ancient times prevented the priests from giving out Mystery knowledge to the masses — namely, that the knowledge would bring man into uncertainty if he were not duly prepared beforehand.
Now it is well-known that no power on earth can withstand for long the march of progress; and we in these days have to think in an entirely new way about what one may call the “Threshold of the Spiritual World.” Spiritual Science is no “warming up” of Gnostic or other ancient teaching, but works absolutely on the principles of modern natural science, as I think will have been evident from the example we have been considering.
How was it that men of olden times feared knowledge which today is the common property of all mankind? In my book Die Ratsel der Philosophie 1The Riddles of Philosophy, I have described the changes that have come about in man's mind and soul since early Greek times. The Greek had not a self-consciousness that was fully detached from the external world. When he thought about the world, he felt himself, so to speak, “grown together” with it; he was as closely united with it as we are to-day in the act of sense-perception. For him thought was also, in a manner speaking, sense-perception. Red, blue, G, C sharp — these are for us sense-perceptions; but thought we ourselves produce by inner activity. For the Greek this kind of inner activity did not yet exist. Just as we get red, green, G, C sharp from sense-perception, so did he get the thoughts too from the external world. He had not yet the independence that comes from the comprehension of self. Only quite gradually has the perception and understanding of the self developed to what it is to-day. Self-consciousness has grown steadily stronger in the course of time, and man has thereby detached himself from surrounding Nature. He has learned to look into himself, inwardly to comprehend himself as something that acts independently. In doing so he has placed himself over against Nature; he stands outside her, that he may then contemplate her inner being from without. And with this detachment of thought from external objective life is connected also the birth of the feeling of freedom, that sense of freedom which is in reality a product only of the last few centuries.
We have come to regard history more and more in its purely external aspect; but if we were to consider it, as we try to do in spiritual science, in a more inward way, we should discover that the experience we have to-day when we speak of “freedom” was not there for the Greek. Although we translate the corresponding word in their writings with our word “freedom,” the feeling we associate with the word was quite unknown to the Stoic, for example, and other philosophers. A careful and unbiased study of Greek times will not fail to make this clear.
I laid stress in my Philosophie der Freiheit 2Philosophy of Spiritual Activity which was written in the early nineties, on the connection of the experience of freedom with what I called “pure thinking” — that thinking which is completely detached from the inner organic life, and which (if the expression be not misunderstood) becomes, even in ordinary life, cognition on a higher level. For when we permeate pure thinking with moral ideas and impulses — that is, with ideas and impulses that are not associated with desires, or with sympathies and antipathies, but solely with pure, loving devotion to the deed that is to be done — when we do this and allow the impulse to quicken in our soul to action, then the action we perform is truly free.
One cannot really put the question concerning freedom in the way that is frequently done, when it is asked: Is man free or unfree? All one can say is that man is on the way to freedom. By cultivating self-evolution and self-knowledge, by achieving inner liberation from his accustomed attitude of mind and soul, man is treading a path that will enable him to rise to pure thinking; and on this path he becomes increasingly free. It is thus not a matter of “either — or,” but rather of gradual approach, or, shall we say, of both. For we are at once free and unfree; unfree where we are still governed by our desires, by what rises up out of our organism, out of the life of instinct; free, on the other hand, where we have grown independent of the instinctive life, where we are able to awaken within us pure love for the deed that has been envisaged in pure thinking.
The condition of mind that leads to the experience of freedom — the condition, namely, of pure thinking, to which man is able to surrender himself — must necessarily, for present-day man, remain an ideal; an ideal, however, that is indissolubly bound up with his worth and dignity as man.
We are on the way to such an ideal, and it is natural science that has set us upon the path. In all the development of natural science in modern times — and the results of this natural science carry authority in the widest circles and tend more and more to become the groundwork of our whole education and culture — one thing stands out clearly. Study the development of natural science and you will be struck with the growing recognition of the value and importance of the thought — the thought that is elaborated by man himself inwardly. This is true in the realm of the inorganic, from physics up to astronomy, as well as in the realm of the organic, and in spite of the fact that scientists base their results everywhere on observation and experiment. And through the work he does in thinking, man develops an enhanced self-consciousness; which means, that his detachment from the inner being of Nature grows.
We can here take once more the example of Astronomy. What Copernicus did, fundamentally speaking, was to reduce to calculation the results of observation. In this way one arrives at a world system that is completely detached from man. The world systems of ancient times were not so; they were always intimately connected with the human being. Man felt himself within the world; he was part of it. In our time man is, so to speak, incidental. He sees himself hurled through universal space together with the planet Earth, and his picture of the whole structure of the world is completely divorced from himself; that which lives in his own inner being must on no account be allowed to play a part in his conception of the universe. Man becomes filled, that is to say, with a thought-content that is the means of detaching him from himself. True, he thinks his thoughts, and in thinking remains always united with his thoughts; but he thinks them in such a way that they have no sort of connection with what rises up out of his organism, out of his life of instinct. He is under necessity so to think that, although the thought remains united with him, it nevertheless wrests itself free from the human-personal in him, so that in his thoughts he becomes, in effect, completely objective.
And this experience brings man to greater consciousness of self. The strenuous efforts required for finding one's way to clear conceptions in the field of astronomy or physics or chemistry to-day, or even only for following in thought the results of others' work, are bound to lead to a strengthening of the consciousness of self.
In the ancient civilisations — and herein lies the great difference between them and our own — education was not directed to the strengthening of self-consciousness. Rather had it the tendency to make man's thinking correspond with what he saw with his eyes. So arose the Ptolemaic conception of the world, which in all essentials is a reproduction of what we perceive with the external senses. Man was not thrust so far out of himself as he is by the modern scientific outlook; hence his self-consciousness did not grow. He remained more within his body — held there, as it were, by enchantment. Consciousness of self he derived from his instincts, and from the feeling of life and vitality within him. Although in our age we have drifted into materialism, this living in the body has been overcome by the development of thinking; and the consciousness of self has grown correspondingly. The very fact that we have become materialists, and lost our awareness of the spiritual in the objects perceived by the senses, has contributed to the achievements of thought. In olden times it was feared that if a man were brought unprepared to the kind of thinking such as is necessary, for example, to grasp the heliocentric system, he would “faint” in his soul; his consciousness of self would not be strong enough to sustain him.
This accounts for the emphasis on the training of the will; for a strong and vigorous will strengthens also the consciousness of self. The preparation of the pupil in the Wisdom School was therefore directed primarily to the will, in order that he might grow strong enough to endure, beyond the Threshold, that picture of the world for which a highly-developed consciousness of self is required.
We see, then, what it was men feared in olden times for the pupil who was to be guided into the inner being of the things of the world, into the inner being of Nature. They were afraid lest he be hurt in his soul, through falling into a condition of uncertainty and darkness, a condition comparable, in the realm of soul, with physical faintness. This danger they hoped to avoid by a thoroughgoing discipline of the will. In ordinary life, they said, man must remain on this side of the realm where the dangerous knowledge is to be found; a Guardian holds him back from the region for which he is unfit, thus protecting him from being overcome by faintness of soul. And their description of the experiences the pupil had to undergo if he wanted to cross the Threshold and pass the Guardian correspond exactly to inner experiences of the soul.
It was told how, when the pupil draws near the Threshold, he immediately has a feeling of uncertainty. If he has been sufficiently prepared, he is able to stand upright in the realm which would otherwise make him giddy; he passes the Guardian of the Threshold and, by virtue of the powers of his soul, enters into the spiritual world — which the Guardian would otherwise not allow him even to behold. But he must be able also to stay in the spiritual world with full consciousness. For the tremendous experiences that await him there call for strength and not for weakness, and if he were to let go, these experiences would have a shattering effect on his whole organisation; he would suffer grievous harm.
And now the strange thing is that in course of evolution a knowledge that could be attained by pupils of the ancient Wisdom Schools only after most careful preparation has become the common property of all mankind. We stand to-day in our ordinary knowledge beyond what the men of old felt to be a Threshold. The purpose they had in view in the ancient Wisdom Schools was that the pupil, when he looked into his own inner being, should feel himself united there with the inner being of Nature. And believing that if he did so unprepared, he would sink into a kind of spiritual faintness, they would not allow him to attempt this exploration until he had received the right discipline and training. And yet in our age everyone penetrates into this region utterly unprepared!
As a matter of fact man is experiencing to-day precisely what the ancients took such care to avoid. He acquires his knowledge of Nature; and he acquires also a strong consciousness of self that enables him to stand upright amid all the knowledge that is current to-day in astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. He imbibes this knowledge and can remain steadfast without losing his balance. Nevertheless there is a quality in his life of soul that the men of old would deeply deplore. Because in the course of evolution we have acquired thought and the feeling of freedom and a stronger selfconsciousness, therefore we do not lose ourselves when we study the results of natural science; but we do lose something, and the loss is only too manifest to-day in the soul-life of mankind everywhere.
In this matter we labour under great illusion; we dream, and we cling to our dreams, and will not let them go. I have often spoken of how natural science brings conscientious students to a recognition of the boundaries of knowledge, boundaries man cannot pass without taking his power of cognition into forbidden — nay, into impossible — regions. A very distinguished scientist of modern times has spoken of the “Ignorabimus,” reading into the word a confession that however far we go in the knowledge we acquire from sense-observation and the intellect, we never penetrate to the inner being of Nature. I here touch on a subject that at once lands us in conflict, as was felt even at a time when natural science was far less advanced than it is to-day. It was Albrecht von Haller who expressed the “Ignorabimus” in the well-known lines:
To Nature's heart
No living soul can reach.
Thrice happy he
To whom she shows
Even her outer shell.
Goethe, who used constantly to hear these words on the lips of those who shared Haller's attitude towards Nature, labeled such thinkers “Philistine.” For him they are men who do not want to rouse themselves to inner activity of soul; for by dint of inner activity the soul of man can kindle a light within — a light which, shining upon the heart of Nature, shall carry the soul into her innermost being. Goethe proclaims this in forcible and trenchant manner in his poem Allerdings, quoting to begin with the words to Haller:
‘To Nature's heart
No living soul can reach.’
To me and mine
What use in such a speech?
We think, through every part
We enter into her heart.
Still the cry goes,
‘Thrice happy he
To whom she shows
Even her outer shell.’
For sixty years I have heard that cry;
I curse it, but secretly, silently,
Say to myself a thousand times,
Gladly she gives and she gives us all!
Nature is neither kernel nor shell,
She is both in one; she is one and all.
Look in your own heart, man, and tell
If you yourself are kernel or shell!3English translation from Goethe and Faust; an Interpretation by F. M. Stawell and G. L. Dickinson. G. Bell & Sons, 1928.
Out of an instinctive feeling that was conscious and yet at the same time unconscious, Goethe rejected utterly the separation of the being of man's soul from the innermost being of Nature. He saw clearly that if the soul becomes conscious, in a healthy manner, of its own real being, then that consciousness brings with it the experience of standing within the innermost heart of Nature.
This conviction it was that kept Goethe from accepting Kant's philosophy. They make a great mistake who assert that at one time of his life Goethe came very near to the philosophy of Kant. In contradistinction to what Kant recognised as the human faculty of cognition, Goethe postulated what he called “perceptive judgment.” This means that in order to form a judgment we do not merely pass in abstract reasoning from concept to concept; rather do we use inwardly for thought the kind of beholding we use outwardly in sense perception. Goethe says he never thought about thinking; what he set himself continually to do was to behold the living element in the thought. And in this beholding of the thoughts he saw a way to unite the human soul with the very being of Nature.
Anthroposophical Spiritual Science would go further on the same path. This perceptive judgment — which, as presented by Goethe, was still in its beginnings — it sets out to develop in the direction indicated in my book How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. Faculties of cognition, which in ordinary life, and in the pursuit also of ordinary science, remain latent in man, are led up to “vision,” to a “new beholding.” Just as man perceives around him with the physical eye colours, or light and darkness, so with the eye of the spirit does he now behold the spiritual. By the practice of certain intimate exercises of the soul, he calls forth and develops within him powers that usually remain hidden, and so lifts himself up to a higher kind of knowledge which is able to plunge into the very heart of external Nature. You have frequently heard me speak of the successive stages of this higher knowledge, and I would like here to say a little about their evolution from a particular point of view.
We are accustomed to think of the course of our life as divided between waking and sleeping. These two conditions must, we know, alternate for us if we are to remain healthy in mind and body. How is it with us from the time of awakening to the time of falling asleep? The experiences of the soul are permeated with thoughts; the thoughts receive a certain colouring from the life of feeling; and there is also the life of will, which wells up from dim depths of our being under the guidance of the thoughts, and accomplishes deeds. In the other condition, that of sleep, we lie still; our thoughts sink into darkness; our feelings vanish and our will is inactive. The ordinary normal life of man shows these two alternating conditions. The picture is, however, incomplete; and we shall not arrive at any satisfactory idea of the nature of man if we are content to see the course of his life in this simple manner.
We take it for granted that between waking up and falling asleep we are awake. But the fact is, we are not awake in our whole being. This is overlooked, and consequently we have no true psychology; we come to no right understanding of the soul. If, ridding ourselves of all prejudice, we try to observe inwardly what we experience when we feel, We discover that our feeling life is by no means so illumined with the light of consciousness as is the life of thought and ideation. It is dim, by comparison. For a sense of self, for an experience of self, the life of feeling is undoubtedly every bit as real as — even perhaps in some ways more real than — the life of thought: but clarity, light-filled clarity, is enjoyed by thought alone. There is always something undefined about the life of feeling. Indeed, if we examine the matter carefully, comparing different conditions of soul one with another, we are led finally to the conclusion that the life which pulsates in feeling may be compared with dream life. Study the dream life of man; consider how it surges up from unknown depths of his being; how it manifests in pictures, but in pictures that are vague and indeterminate, so that one does not see all at once exactly how they are connected with external reality. Has not the life of feeling the same quality and character?
Feelings are, of course, something altogether different from dream pictures, but when we compare the degree of consciousness in both, we find it to be very much the same. The life of feeling is a kind of waking dream; the pictures that appear in the dream are here pressed down into the whole organic life. The experience is different in each case, and yet the experience is present in the soul in the same manner in both. So that in reality we are awake only in the life of ideation; in the feeling life we dream even while we are awake.
With the life of the will it is again different. We do not as a rule give much thought to the matter, but is it not so that the impulse of will arises within us without our having any clear consciousness of its origin? We have a thought; and out of the thought springs an impulse of will. Then again we see ourselves acting; and then again we have a thought about the action. But we cannot follow with consciousness what comes between. How a thought becomes an impulse for the will and shoots into my muscle-power; how the nerve registers the movement of the muscles; how, in other words, that which has been sent down into the depths of my being as thought, comes to be carried out in action, afterwards to emerge again when I perceive myself performing the action — all this lives in me in no other way than do the experiences of sleep.
In deep sleep we have in a sense lost our own being; we pass through the experiences of sleep without being aware of them; and it is the same with what comes about through the activity of the will-impulse in man. We dream in our life of feeling, and we are asleep in our willing; dreaming and sleeping are thus perpetually present in waking life. And in these unknown depths of being where the will has its origin, arises also that which we eventually gather up — focus, as it were — in consciousness of self. Man comes to a recognition of his full humanity only when he knows himself as a being that thinks and feels and wills.
Ordinary life, therefore, embraces unconscious conditions. And it is just through the life of ideation becoming separated from the rest of the soul life and lifted up into consciousness, that a way is made for the development of the experience of freedom. Here, in a sense, we divide ourselves up. We are awake in a part of ourselves, in the life of ideation, whilst in relation to another part of us we are as unconscious as we are in relation to the inner being of Nature.
It is at this point that Anthroposophical Spiritual Science steps in with its methods for attaining higher knowledge. This spiritual science is very far removed from any dreamy, obscure mysticism, nor does it support itself, like spiritualism, on external experiment. The foundation for the whole method of spiritual scientific research lies in the inner being of man himself; it can be evolved in full consciousness and will manifest the same clarity as the most exact material conceptions. The world of feeling, which generally, as we have seen, leads a kind of dream life, can become hooded with the same light that permeates thoughts and ideas — which, according to some schools of philosophy, themselves originate in the feelings. By means of exercises described in my book, How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. this lighting up of the world of feeling is brought about, with the result that the region which is usually dreamlike in character now lives in the soul as “imaginative” consciousness. The moment man gives himself up to this imaginative consciousness, something is present for him in consciousness that remains generally beneath the Threshold. He thinks pictures, knowing, however, quite well that he is not dreaming them, but that they correspond to realities.
Spiritual Science then leads on further, to “inspired” consciousness, and here we are taken into the realm of the will. Little by little, we are brought to the point of being able to behold clairvoyantly — please do not misunderstand the expression — how the whole human organisation functions when the will pulsates in it. We see what actually takes place in the muscle when the will is active. Such a knowledge is “inspired” knowledge. Man dives down into his own inner being and acquires a self-knowledge which is generally veiled from him. We come to know more of man than stands before us as “given” between birth and death. Feeling and willing being now also flooded with the light of consciousness, we can know man not only as a created being, perceiving in him that which wakes up every morning and enters again into a body ready-made; we can recognise in him also the creative power which comes down from spiritual worlds at the time of birth or conception, and itself forms and organises the body. In effect, at this further stage man comes to know his own eternal being which lives beyond birth and death; he attains to a direct beholding of the eternal and spiritual in his soul.
As man learns in this way to know himself, not merely as natural man, but as spirit, he finds that he is also now within the inner being of Nature; in the spirit of his own nature he recognises the spirit of the Nature that is all around him. And at this point a fact of deep significance is revealed — namely, that with our modern knowledge of Nature we are already standing on the other side of the Threshold, in the old sense of the word. The men of olden times believed they would lose their self-consciousness if they entered this region unprepared. We do not lose our self-consciousness, but we do lose the world.
The full clarity of thought and idea, to which man owes his consciousness of self, has been achieved by him only in modern times; and now this consciousness of self needs to be carried a step further. The men of old paid particular heed to the training of the will; we have now to press forward, as I emphasised in my “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity,” to pure thinking. We must develop our thinking; it must grow into Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. And this will bring us once again to a Threshold, a new Threshold into the spiritual world. We must not remain in the world that offers itself for sense-perception and leaves the inner being of Nature beyond the boundaries of knowledge. We must cross another Threshold, the Threshold that lies before our own inner being.
At this Threshold we shall no longer let our imagination run away with us and conjure up all manner of atoms and molecules to account for the impressions of colour and sound and heat; for when we come consciously to recognise, and be within, our own spirit, then we shall find we are also within the spirit of Nature. We shall learn to know Nature herself as spirit. In the region where to-day we talk of an atomistic world (we are really only postulating behind Nature a second equally material Nature), in the very region where to-day we are losing the world, we shall find the spirit. And then we shall have the right fundamental feeling towards the inner being of Nature and, also, the being of the human soul.
It is, as you see, a different attitude we have to attain from that of olden times. We must be conscious that we are living in conditions the men of old wanted to avoid. This does not mean, however, that we are in danger of losing ourselves; our world of thought has been too strongly developed for that. And if we develop the world of thought still further, then we shall also not lose what we are in danger of losing. The men of olden times were threatened with the loss of self, with a kind of faintness of the soul. We are faced with the danger of losing the world for our ego-consciousness; of being so surrounded and overborne by purely mathematical pictures of the world, purely atomistic conceptions, that we lose all sense of the “whole” world in its infinite variety and richness. In order that we may find the world again — in order, that is, that we may find the spirit in the world — we must cross what constitutes for modern man the Threshold.
We may even put it this way: if the men of olden times feared the Guardian of the Threshold, and needed to be fully prepared before they might pass him, we in our day must desire earnestly to pass the Guardian. We must long to carry knowledge of the spirit into those regions where hitherto we have relied only on external sense-perception in combination with the results of intellectual reasoning and experiment. Knowledge of the spirit must be taken into the laboratory, into the observatory and into the clinic. Wherever research is carried on, knowledge of the spirit must have place.
Otherwise, since all the results that are arrived at in such institutions come from beyond the Threshold, man is thereby cut off from the world in a manner that is dangerous for him. He feels himself in the presence of an inner being of Nature which he can never approach on an external path, which he can approach only by becoming awake in his soul and pressing forward to the immortal part of his own being. As soon, however, as he does this, he is at that moment also within the spirit of Nature. He has stepped across the Threshold that lies in his own being, and finds himself in the presence of the spiritual in Nature.
To point out to man this path is the task of Anthroposophical Spiritual Science. It has to give what the other sciences cannot give. And it may rightly claim to be Goethean, for to those who say:
To Nature's heart
No living soul can reach.
Nature is neither kernel nor shell,
She is both in one, she is one and all.
Look in your own heart, man, and tell
If you yourself are kernel or shell!
We are “shell” as long as we remain in the life of ideas alone. We sever ourselves from Nature, and all we can do is to talk about her. But the man who penetrates to his own inner “kernel,” and experiences himself in the very centre of his soul — he discovers that he is at the same time in the very innermost of Nature; he is experiencing her inner being.
Such, then, is the kind of impulse that Anthroposophical Spiritual Science is ready to give to the whole of human life, and in particular to the several sciences. These several sciences need not remain the highly specialised fields that they have been hitherto; rather shall each be a contribution to that quest which man must ever follow if he would rise to a consciousness of his true dignity — the quest for the eternal in the human being. All that the individual sciences can teach to-day is still only a knowledge that looks on Nature from without. But if those who are working in them tread, as well as the outer, also the inner path of knowledge, then the knowledge acquired in the different fields can grow into a knowledge of man, a comprehensive knowledge of mankind. We need such a knowledge in our time if we are to guide the social problems of the future into paths where right and healthy solutions can be found — as I have explained in my book, “The Threefold Commonwealth.”
One who carries deeply enough in his heart the development of spiritual science will find himself continually face to face with this question of the connection between the being of man and the inner being of Nature. The specialised sciences cannot help us here; they only spread darkness over the world. The darkness is to be feared, even as the men of olden times feared the region beyond the Threshold. But it is possible for man to kindle a light that shall light up the darkness; and this light is the light that shines in the soul of man when he attains to spiritual knowledge.