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Wisdom of Man, of the Soul, and of the Spirit
GA 115

1. The Position of Anthroposophy in Relation to Theosophy and Anthropology. The Human Senses.

23 October 1909, Berlin

Here in Berlin, as well as in other localities where our Society has spread, much has been discussed that concerns the comprehensive realm of theosophy, that emanates, so to speak, from the high regions of clairvoyant consciousness, and it is natural that a desire should have arisen to do something toward a serious and adequate substantiation of our spiritual current.

The present General Assembly, which brings our members together here at the seventh anniversary of our German Section, may be taken as the proper occasion for contributing something toward strengthening the foundations of our cause. This I shall attempt to do at this time in the four lectures on Anthroposophy.

The lectures in Kassel on The Gospel of St. John, those in Düsseldorf on the hierarchies, those in Basel on The Gospel of St. Luke, and those in Munich on the teachings of oriental theosophy, were all occasions for rising to high altitudes of spiritual research and for bringing back spiritual truths difficult of access. What occupied us there was theosophy and, at least in part, its ascent to exalted spiritual peaks of human cognition.

It does not seem unjustifiable, given a gradually acquired feeling in the matter, to see something deeper in what is called the cyclical course of world events. At the time of our first General Assembly, when the German Section was founded, I delivered lectures to an audience composed only in part of theosophists; those lectures may be characterized as the historical chapter of anthroposophy. Now, after a lapse of seven years that constitute a cycle, the time seems ripe for speaking in a more comprehensive sense on the nature of anthroposophy.

First, I should like to make clear through a comparison what should be understood by the term anthroposophy. If we wish to observe a section of country, together with all that is spread out there in the way of fields, meadows, woods, villages, roads, we can do so by going about from village to village, through streets and meadows and woods, and we will always have a small section of the whole region in view. Again, we can climb to a mountain top and from there overlook the whole landscape. The details will be indistinct for the ordinary eye, but we have a comprehensive view of the whole.

That approximately describes the relation between what in ordinary life is called human cognition or human science, and what theosophy stands for.

While the ordinary search for human knowledge goes about from detail to detail in the world of facts, theosophy ascends to a high vantage point. This extends the visible horizon, but without the employment of quite special means the possibility of seeing anything at all would vanish. In my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, is set forth how one can reach this ideal peak without losing the power of clear vision.

But there is a third possibility, lying between the two described. It is to ascend part way, remaining half-way up. At the bottom you cannot survey the whole; you observe only details and see the top from below. At the top, everything is beneath you, and above you have only the divine heavens. In the middle you have something above and something below you, and you can compare the two views.

Any comparison lags and limps, but all that was intended at the moment was to place before you the manner in which in the first instance theosophy differs from anthroposophy. The latter stands in the middle, the former on the summit: it is the point of departure that is different. Thus far the comparison is helpful, but it is inadequate in characterizing what follows.

Devotion to theosophy necessitates rising above human points of view, above the middle, from self to higher self, and it implies the ability to see with the organs of this higher self. The peak attained by theosophy lies above man, ordinary human knowledge, below, and what lies half-way between, that is the human being himself: between nature and the spiritual world. What is above reaches down to him; he is permeated by the spirit. In contemplating the world from a purely human angle, he does not take his point of departure from the summit, but he can see it—see the spirit above. At the same time he sees what is merely nature beneath him; it reaches into him from below. There is a risk connected with theosophy; unless the above-mentioned means are employed to see with the higher self—not with the ordinary self—there is danger of losing contact with the human element, and this results in forfeiting the ability to see anything at all adequate, of recognizing reality below. This danger disappears, however, as soon as those means are employed. Then we can say that theosophy is what comes to light when the God within man says, “Let the God within you speak; what He reveals of the world is theosophy.”

Take your stand between God and Nature and let the human being in you speak. Speak of what is beneath as well as what is above you, and you have anthroposophy. It is the wisdom spoken by man.

This wisdom will prove an important fulcrum, a key to the whole realm of theosophy. After a period of immersion in theosophy, nothing could be more profitable than seriously to seek the firm center of gravity provided by anthroposophy.

All that has been said so far can be historically substantiated in many directions. We have, for example, the science calling itself anthropology. As it is practised, anthropology comprises not only the human being, but everything pertaining to him; all that can be gleaned from nature, everything necessary for understanding man. This science is based on moving about among objects, passing from detail to detail, observing the human being under a microscope. In short, this science, which in the widest circles is regarded as the only one dealing authoritatively with man, takes its view from a point beneath human capacities. It is chained to the ground; it fails to employ all the faculties at the disposal of man, and for this reason it cannot solve the riddles of existence.

Now contrast all this with what you encounter as theosophy. There one searches the most rarefied regions for answers to the burning questions of life. But all those who are unable to keep pace, whose standpoint is anthropology, consider theosophy an air-castle, lacking foundation. They are not able to understand how the soul can ascend step by step to that summit from which all is spread out beneath it. They cannot rise to the planes of imagination, inspiration, and intuition. They cannot ascend to the peak that is the final goal of human evolution.

Thus we find anthropology on the lowest step, theosophy on the summit. What becomes of theosophy when it wants to reach the top but is not in a position to do so with the right means? We can find the answer in the historic example of the German theosophist, Solger, who lived from 1770–1819. Conceptually, his views are theosophical, but what means does he employ to attain the summit? Philosophical concepts, concepts of human cerebration long since sucked dry and emaciated! That is like climbing a mountain for the purpose of observation, and forgetting to take your field-glasses; you can distinguish nothing whatever down below.

In our case the field-glasses are spiritual, and they are called imagination, inspiration, and intuition. Man's ability to reach that peak diminished more and more through the centuries—a fact that was clearly felt and acknowledged as early as the Middle Ages. Today it is felt too, but not acknowledged. In olden times that capacity to ascend existed, as you know, though only to a minor degree. It was based on a clairvoyant twilight condition in man. There really was an ancient theosophy of that sort, but it was written that such revelations from the summit should come to a close, that they should no longer be open to the ordinary means of cognition.

This old theosophy, which considers revelation a thing of the past, became theology, and thus we find theology running parallel with anthropology. Theology's ambition is to climb the heights, but for its means it depends upon something that was once revealed, was then handed down, and is now rigid; something incapable of continually revealing itself anew to the striving soul. Throughout the Middle Ages, anthropology and theology frequently opposed without rejecting each other, but in recent times the contrast is sharp. Nowadays theology is admitted along with anthropology as something scientific, but no bridge is found between the two. If we do not stop with the details but ascend half-way, we can establish anthroposophy by the side of theosophy.

Within modern spiritual life attempts have been made to practise anthroposophy, among other things, but again, as in the case of theosophy, with the wrong, inadequate means of a defunct philosophy. The meaning of philosophy can really no longer be understood by philosophers—only by theosophists. Historical contemplation alone yields this understanding. Philosophy can be comprehended only by contemplating its origin, as can be seen by an illustration. In former times there were the so-called Mysteries, abodes where the higher spiritual life was cultivated, where the neophytes were guided by special methods to spiritual vision. One such Mystery, for example, was in Ephesus, where the neophytes could learn through their training the secrets of Diana of Ephesus; they learned to look into the spiritual worlds. As much of such matters as could be made public was communicated to the profane and received by them, but not all of these realized that higher secrets had been revealed to them. One of those to whom such communications from the Mysteries of Ephesus had penetrated was Heraclitus. He then proclaimed these, by means of his partial initiation, in a way that could be generally understood. In reading the doctrines of Heraclitus, “The Obscure,” we still find immediate experience, the experience of the higher worlds, shining through between the lines. Then came his successors who no longer realized that those doctrines originated in direct experience. They no longer understood them, so they began to improve them, to spin them out in concepts. They began to speculate intellectually, and this method persisted through the generations. Everything we have in the way of philosophy today is but a heritage of ancient doctrines squeezed out and sucked dry of all life, leaving only the skeleton of the concepts. Yet the philosophers take that skeleton for a living reality, for something created by human thinking. There is, as a matter of fact, no such thing as a philosopher who can think creatively without having recourse to the higher worlds.

Just such a skeleton of concepts was all that the philosophers of the nineteenth century had to work with when they took up what may be called anthroposophy. The term actually occurred. Robert Zimmermann wrote a so-called Anthroposophy, but he constructed it of arid, empty concepts. Indeed, everything that has attempted to transcend anthropology without employing the right means has remained a shriveled web of concepts no longer connected with the subject.

Like philosophy, anthroposophy too must be deepened through theosophy; the latter must provide the means for recognizing reality within the spiritual life. Anthroposophy takes the human, the middle standpoint, not the subhuman, as does anthropology. A theosophy, on the other hand, as practised by Solger, though spiritual in its point of view, employs only inflated concepts, and when Solger arrives at the summit he sees nothing. That is spinning at the loom of concepts, not living, spiritual observation. It is something we do not intend to do. We aim in these lectures to confront the reality of human life in its entirety. We shall encounter the old subjects of observation, now illuminated, however, from a different point whence the view is both upward and downward.

The human being is the most important subject of our observation. We need but to contemplate his physical body to realize what a complicated being he is. In order to gain a sentient understanding of anthroposophy's aims, let us first ponder the following. The complicated physical body as we encounter it today is the product of a long evolution. Its first germinal potentiality came into being on old Saturn, and it evolved further on the old Sun, the old Moon, and the Earth. The etheric body was added to it on the Sun, the astral body on the Moon. Now, these members of the human being have changed in the course of evolution, and what we encounter today as the complicated physical human body, with heart, kidneys, eyes, ears and so forth, is the product of a long development. It has all grown out of a simple germinal form that originated on Saturn. Through millions and millions of years it has continually changed and been transformed in order that it might achieve its present perfection. If today we wish to understand a member or an organ of this physical body—say, the heart or the lungs—we can do so only on the basis of this evolution. Nothing of what we encounter today as the heart existed on the old Saturn. Only gradually did these organs assume their present form, one being developed and incorporated earlier, another later. Some organs we can actually designate Sun-organs, as having first appeared during the Sun evolution, others Moon-organs, and so on. If we would understand the present physical body of man we must assemble our concepts from the whole Universe—that is the theosophical method of observation.

How does anthropology set to work? Theosophy ascends to the ultimate heights and from this spiritual summit examines individual phenomena. Anthropology remains on the ground, takes its point of departure from the details, and now even investigates individual cells in their juxtaposition. Everything is mechanically lined up and the cells are studied individually, but this does not reveal their relative age. Yet, far from being immaterial, it is important to know whether a given group of cells developed on the Sun or on the Moon. Much more could be said concerning these complicated conditions. Consider, for example, the human heart. True, as constituted today it evolved late, but as regards its first germinal potentiality it is one of the oldest human organs. During the period of the old Sun, the heart was dependent upon the forces governing there. During the Moon period its development continued; then the Sun withdrew from the Moon, with which it had been united, and henceforth its forces acted upon the heart from without. Here the heart underwent a different development, so that from then on a Sun element and a Moon element can be observed in its tendencies. Then Earth, Sun, and Moon were united again and worked upon the heart. After a pralaya the Earth evolution followed, during which the Sun first withdrew again. This separation resulted in an intensification of the Sun's influence from without. Then the Moon withdrew as well and also acted upon the heart from without. So, being among the oldest human organs, the heart comprises a Sun element, a Moon element, a second Sun element during the Earth evolution, a second Moon element during the Earth evolution, and finally, after the withdrawal of the Earth, an Earth element—all corresponding to cosmic evolution.

If these elements of the heart accord, as in the cosmic harmony, the heart is healthy; if any one element preponderates, it is sick. All human sickness derives from disharmony among the elements within the organ in question while their cosmic counterparts are in harmony. All healing depends upon strengthening the element that lacks its share, or subduing superfluous activity, as the case may be, thereby bringing the elements into harmony again. But talking about this harmony is not enough. In order to effect it one must really penetrate into the wisdom of the universe; one must be able to recognize the different elements in each organ. That will suffice to give an idea of genuine occult physiology and anatomy, which comprehend the whole human being out of the whole cosmos and explain the details out of the spirit.

Occult physiology speaks of Sun and Moon elements of the heart, larynx, brain, and so forth, but since all these elements are at work upon man himself, something in him confronts us today in which all these elements are consolidated. If we look into the human being himself and understand these elements, we also understand the etheric body, the astral body, etc., the sentient soul, the intellectual soul and the consciousness soul, as man is constituted today. That is anthroposophy, and in anthroposophy, too, we must start at the lowest step, gradually ascending to the highest.

Man's lowest member is the physical body that he has in common with the sensory world that is perceived through the senses and the sensory-physical mind. The theosophical point of view, starting from the universe, contemplates man in his cosmic contexts. In the matter of the sensory-physical world, anthroposophy must start from man, in so far as he is a sensory being. Only then can we deal appropriately with the etheric body, then the astral body, the ego, and so forth, and what is to be learned from them.

Observing the human being in this anthroposophical sense, we ask what it is that must first engage our interest. It is his senses, and it is through these that he acquires knowledge of the physical-sensory world. Starting from the physical plane, it is therefore these that anthroposophy must consider first. Let the study of the human senses then constitute our first chapter. Thereafter we will ascend to the study of the individual spiritual regions in man's nature.

Beginning with the study of the human senses, we at once find anthroposophy invading the territory of anthropology, for anthroposophy must invariably start from all that the senses tell us is real. But it must keep in mind that what is spiritual, influences man from above. In this sense it is genuine anthropology. Ordinary anthropology has thrown everything pertaining to the human senses into complete confusion, groping its way from detail to detail and examining only what is on the ground, so to speak. Important matters are disregarded because men have no Ariadne-thread to lead them out of the labyrinth of facts into the light. Anthropology cannot find its way out of this maze and must fall a victim to the Minotaur of illusion, for the saving thread can be spun only by spiritual research.

Even in the matter of the human senses, anthroposophy has a different story to tell than has external observation. At the same time it is interesting to note how external science has lately been forced by material facts to go to work more thoroughly, seriously and carefully. There is nothing more trivial than the enumeration of the five senses: feeling (touch), smell, taste, hearing, and sight. We shall see what confusion reigns in this enumeration. Science, it is true, has now added three more senses to the list, but as yet doesn't seem to know what to do about them. We will now list the human senses according to their real significance, and we will endeavor in the following to start laying the foundations of an anthroposophical doctrine of the senses.

The first sense in question is the one that in spiritual science can be called the sense of life. That is a real sense and must be as fully acknowledged as the sense of sight. What is it? It is something in the human being of which, when it functions normally he is not aware. He feels it only when it is out of order. We feel lassitude, or hunger and thirst, or a sense of strength in the organism; we perceive these as we do a color or a tone. We are aware of them as an inner experience. But as a rule we are conscious of this feeling only when something is out of order, otherwise it remains unobserved. The sense of life furnishes the first human self-perception; it is the sense through which the whole inner man becomes conscious of his corporeality. That is the first sense, and it must figure in the list just as does hearing or smell. Nobody can understand the human being and the senses who knows nothing of this sense that enables him to feel himself an inner entity.

We discover the second sense when we move a limb—say, raise an arm. We would not be human beings if we could not perceive our own movements. A machine is not aware of its own motion; that is possible only for a living being through the medium of a real sense. The sense of perceiving our own movements—anything from blinking to walking or running—we call the sense of our own movements.

We become aware of a third sense by realizing that the human being distinguishes within himself between above and below. It is dangerous for him to lose this perception, for in that case he totters and falls over. The human body contains a delicate organ connected with this sense: the three semicircular canals in the ear. When these are injured we lose our sense of balance. This third sense is the static sense, or sense of balance. (In the animal kingdom there is something analogous: the otoliths, tiny stones that must lie in a certain position if the animal is to maintain its equilibrium.)

These are the three senses through which man perceives something within himself, as it were; by their means he feels something within himself.

Now we emerge from the inner man to the point at which an interaction with the outer world begins. The first of such reciprocal relations arises when man assimilates physical matter and, by doing so, perceives it. Matter can be perceived only when it really unites with the body. This cannot be done by solid or fluid matter, but only by gaseous substances that then penetrate the bodily matter. You can perceive smell only when some body sends out gaseous matter that penetrates the organs of the mucous membrane of the nose. The fourth sense, then, is the sense of smell, and it is the first one through which the human being enters into reciprocal relationship with the outer world.

When we no longer merely perceive matter but take the first step into matter itself, we have the fifth sense. We enter into a deeper relationship with such matter. Here matter must be active, which implies that it must have some effect upon us. This takes place when a liquid or a dissolved solid comes in contact with the tongue and unites with what the tongue itself secretes. The reciprocal relationship between man and nature has become a more intimate one. We become aware not only of what things are, as matter, but of what they can induce. That is the sense of taste, the fifth sense.

Now we come to the sixth sense. Again there is an increase in the intimacy of the interaction. We penetrate still deeper into matter, things reveal more of their essence. This can only occur, however, through special provisions. The sense of smell is the more primitive of these two kinds of senses. In the case of smell, the human body takes matter as it is and makes no effort to penetrate it. Taste, where man and matter unite more intimately, is more complicated; then, matter yields more. The next step offers the possibility of penetrating still more deeply into the outer world. This takes place by reason of an external material substance being either transparent or opaque, or by the manner in which it permits light to pass through it, that is, how it is colored. An object that rays out green light is internally so constituted that it can reflect green light and no other. The outermost surface of things is revealed to us in the sense of smell, something of their inner nature in taste, something of their inner essence in sight. Hence the complicated structure of the eye, which leads us much deeper into the essence of things than does the nose or the tongue. The sixth sense, then, is the sense of sight.

We proceed, penetrating still deeper into matter. For example, when the eye sees a rose as red, the inner nature of the rose is proclaimed by its surface. We see only the surface, but since this is conditioned by the inner nature of the rose we become acquainted, to a certain extent, with this inner nature. If we touch a piece of ice or some hot metal, not only the surface and thereby the inner nature are revealed, but the real consistency as well because what is externally cold or hot is cold or hot through and through. The sense of temperature, the seventh, carries us still more intimately into the fundamental conditions of objects.

Now we ask ourselves if it is possible to penetrate into the nature of objects still more deeply than through this seventh sense. Yes, that can be done when objects show us not only their nature through and through, as in the case of temperature, but their most inner essence; that is what they do when they begin to sound. The temperature is even throughout objects. Tone causes their inner nature to vibrate, and it is through tone that we perceive the inner mobility of objects. When we strike an object its inner nature is revealed to us in tone, and we can distinguish among objects according to their inner nature, according to their inner vibration, when we open our inner ear to their tone. It is the soul of objects that speaks to our own soul in tones. That is the eighth sense, the sense of hearing.

If we would find an answer to the question as to whether there exist still higher senses, we must proceed cautiously. We must beware of confusing what is really a sense with other terms and expressions. For example, in ordinary life—down below, where much confusion exists—we hear of a sense of imitation, a sense of secrecy, and others. That is wrong. A sense becomes effective at the moment when we achieve perception and before mental activity sets in. We speak of a sense as of something that functions before our capacity for reasoning has come into action. To perceive color you need a sense, but for judging between two colors you do not.

This brings us to the ninth sense. We arrive at it by realizing that in truth there is in man a certain power of perception—one that is especially important in substantiating anthroposophy—a power of perception not based on reasoning, yet present in him. It is what men perceive when they understand each other through speech. A real sense underlies the perception of what is transmitted to us through speech. That is the ninth sense, the sense of speech.

The child learns to speak before he learns to reason. A whole people has a language in common, but reasoning is a matter for the individual. What speaks to the senses is not subject to the mental activity of the individual. The perception of the meaning of a sound is not mere hearing because the latter tells us only of the inner oscillations of the object. There must be a special sense for the meaning of what is expressed in speech. That is why the child learns to speak, or at least to understand what is spoken, before he learns to reason. It is, in fact, only through speech that he learns to reason. The sense of speech is an educator during the child's first years, exactly like hearing and sight. We cannot alter what a sense perceives, cannot impair anything connected with it. We perceive a color, but our judgment can neither change nor vitiate it; the same thing is true of the sense of speech when we perceive the inner significance of the speech sound. It is indispensable to designate the sense of speech as such. It is the ninth.

Finally we come to the tenth sense, the highest in the realm of ordinary life. It is the concept sense, which enables us perceptively to comprehend concepts not expressed through speech sounds. In order to reason we must have concepts. If the mind is to become active, it must first be able to perceive the concept in question, and this calls for the concept sense, which is exactly as much a sense by itself as is taste or smell.

Now I have enumerated ten senses and have not mentioned the sense of touch. What about it? Well, a method of observation lacking the spiritual thread confuses everything. Touch is usually tossed in with our seventh sense, temperature. Only in this meaning, however, as the sense of temperature, has it in the first instance any significance. True, the skin can be called the organ of the temperature sense—the same skin that serves also as the organ of the touch sense. But we touch not only when we touch [TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: The verb tasten can mean “to touch.” Indeed, the sense of touch is der Tastsinn, but more often it signifies something like our “groping,” as one gropes in the dark by means of the sense of touch: “feeling around for something.” In this sentence the first “touch” is to be understood in this sense, the second (berühren) as meaning “to come in contact with.”] the surface of an object. We touch when the eye seeks something, when the tongue tastes something, when the nose smells something. Touching is a quality common to the fourth to seventh senses. All of these are senses of touch.

Up to and including the sense of temperature we can speak of touching. Hearing we can no longer describe as touching; at least, the quality is present only to a small degree. In the senses of speech and concepts it is wholly absent. These three senses we therefore designate as the senses of comprehension and understanding. The first three senses inform us concerning the inner man. Reaching the boundary between the inner and the outer world, the fourth sense leads us into this outer world, and by means of the other three we penetrate it ever more deeply. Through the senses of touch we perceive the outer world on the surface, and through those of comprehension we learn to understand things, we reach their soul. Later we will deal with other senses transcending these.

Below the sense of smell, then, there are three senses that bring us messages out of our own human inner being. The sense of smell is the first to lead us into the outer world, into which we then penetrate deeper and deeper by means of the others. But what I have described to you today does not exhaust the list of senses. It was only an excerpt from the whole, and there is something below and something above the ten mentioned. From the concept sense we can continue upward to a first astral sense, arriving at the senses that penetrate the spiritual world. There we find an eleventh, a twelfth and a thirteenth sense. These three astral senses will lead us deeper into the fundamentals of external objects, deep down where concepts cannot penetrate. The concept halts before the external, just as the sense of smell halts before the inner man.

What I have given you is an urgently needed foundation upon which to build cognition of the human being. Through its neglect in the nineteenth century, everything pertaining even to philosophy and the theory of knowledge has been most horribly jumbled. Merely generalizing, people ask what the human being can learn by means of the individual sense, and they cannot even explain the difference between hearing and sight. Scientists talk about light waves in the same way they do about sound waves, without taking into account that sight does not penetrate as deeply as hearing. Through hearing we enter the soul-nature of things, and we shall see that by means of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth senses we penetrate their spirit as well: we enter the spirit of nature. Each sense has a different nature and a different character.

For this reason a great number of expositions given today, especially in physics, concerning the nature of sight and its relation to its surroundings may be regarded unhesitatingly as theories that have never reckoned with the true nature of the senses. Countless errors have arisen from this misconception of the nature of the senses. That must be emphasized, because it is quite impossible for popular representations to do justice to what has here been set forth. You read things written by people who can have no possible inkling of the inner nature of the senses. We must understand that science, from its standpoint, cannot do other than take a different attitude. It is inevitable that science should spread errors, because in the course of evolution the real nature of the senses was forgotten.

This true nature of the senses is the first chapter of anthroposophy.