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The Riddle of Humanity
GA 170

Lecture XIV

2 September 1916, Dornach

Recently we have had repeated occasion to cite a result of spiritual-scientific investigation that, in fact, is of most far-reaching significance. You will remember how we described the relationship of the human head and the rest of the human body to the whole cosmos, and how this then shows the way the head is related to the rest of the body. We said that the shape and structure of the human head and all that pertains to it is a transformation, a metamorphosis. The head is a transformation and reconstruction of the entire body from the previous incarnation. So, when we observe the entire body of the present incarnation, we can see how it contains forces that are capable of transforming it into nothing but a head, a head with all that pertains to it: with the twelve pairs of nerves that originate in it, and so on. And this head that is developed from our entire body will be the head we bear in our next incarnation. The body of our next incarnation and everything to do with it, on the other hand, will be produced during the time after our present life is over, the time between death and the birth which begins our next incarnation. In part it will be produced during the time between death and a new birth from the forces of the spiritual world, and in part from forces of the physical world during the time between our conception and birth into the next incarnation.

These facts should be viewed as truths that testify to their own inherent validity, truths that point to connections of major significance; they should not be treated like the truths of everyday life or of normal science. The truths of everyday life consist more or less in descriptions of ourselves and our surroundings; but truths like those we have just mentioned provide us with the light by which we are able to read the cosmic significance of our surroundings and ourselves. The truths of ordinary life and ordinary science are like descriptions of how the shapes of a row of letters are combined into words or, at most, they are like a clarification based on grammatical laws. But understanding the kind of truths we have been describing is comparable to reading without first having to resort to a special description of the shapes of the letters or to a grammatical consideration of how they are combined into words. Just consider how different is the content of what we read from what our eyes see written upon the page. And so it is that, when we cite truths such as those we have just been discussing, we have before our eyes not only what is now being said, but also the whole, far-reaching significance of such things for the role of humanity in the cosmos. Thereby we are, so to speak, able to read profound, living, spiritual truths that have nothing to do with the shape of the body or the head as it is studied by an anatomist or physiologist, or as one refers to it in ordinary life. It is not enough to describe the human being in the manner of ordinary life and ordinary science; only if one can read man can he be understood.

In the light of the foregoing considerations, and in the sense they indicate, I want to turn yet again to what we have been considering during the past few weeks. I want to direct your attention to the twelve senses of man.30The twelve senses: Compare with this lecture the lecture given by Rudolf Steiner on 8 August 1920 in Dornach, ‘Man's Twelve Senses in their relation to Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition’. Available in English in typescript. (See Spiritual Science as a foundation for Social Forma—lecture 3) Let us once more allow these twelve senses to pass in review before us.

The I sense: Again I ask you to remember what has been said about this sense of the I. The sense of I does not refer to our capacity to be aware of our own I. This sense is not for perceiving our own I, that I which we first received on Earth; it is for perceiving the I of other men. What this sense perceives is everything that is contained in our encounters with another I in the physical world.

Second, comes the sense of thought: Similarly, the sense of thought has nothing to do with the formation of our own thoughts. Something entirely different is involved when we ourselves are thinking; this thinking is not an activity of our sense of thought. That still remains to be discussed. Our sense of thought is what gives us the ability to understand and perceive the thoughts of others. Thus this sense of thought does not, primarily, have anything to do with the formation of our own thoughts.

The sense of speech: Once again, this sense has nothing primarily to do with the formation of our own speech or with our ability to speak. It is the sense that enables us to understand what others say to us.

The sense of hearing, or tone: This sense cannot be misunderstood.

The senses of warmth, sight, taste, smell and balance: I have already characterised these senses on previous occasions, as well as in this course of lectures.

The senses of movement, life and touch.

Those are the twelve senses, the senses that enable us to perceive the external world while we are here in the physical world. As you know, materialistic thinking speaks of only five senses, for it only distinguishes the sense of hearing, the sense of warmth—which it throws together with the sense of touch—the sense of sight, the sense of taste and the sense of smell. But it must be said that the physiology of our more recent science has now added the senses of balance, movement and life, and also distinguishes between the senses of warmth and touch. But the physiology of our ordinary science still does not refer to a special sense of speech, or to a special sense of thinking—or thought. Nor, because of the nature of the thinking it employs today, is it able to speak of a special ego sense. Materialistic thinking is happy to restrict its view of the world to only those things that can be perceived by the senses. Of course, there is a certain contradiction in saying ‘perceived by the senses’, because the realm of the sensibly perceptible has been arbitrarily restricted—namely to what can be perceived by the five senses. But all of you know what is meant when one says, ‘Only what can be perceived by the senses is valid according to the ordinary materialistic point of view, so it also investigates the organs of perception that belong to these senses.’ Since there are no apparent organs to be found for perception of another's I, or for thought or speech,—nothing, for example, that would correspond to them as the ear corresponds to the sense of hearing or the eye to the sense of sight—it makes no mention of the sense of another I, the sense of thought or of the sense of speech. For us, however, a question arises: Is there really an organ for the I sense, for the sense of thought and for the sense of speech? Today I would like to investigate these matters more exactly.

So the I sense gives us the ability to perceive the I of others. One of the especially restricted and inadequate views of modern thinking is the view that we always more or less deduce the existence of another ego, but do not ever perceive it directly. According to this line of thought, we deduce that something we encounter is the bearer of an I: We see it walking upright on two legs, putting one leg after the other or placing one next to the other; we see that these two legs support a trunk which has, hanging from it, two arms which move in various ways and carry out certain actions. Upon this trunk is placed a head which produces sounds, which speaks and changes expression. On the basis of these observations—so goes the materialistic line of thought—we deduce that what is approaching us is the bearer of an I. But this is utter nonsense; it is really pure nonsense. The truth is that we actually perceive the I of another just as we see colours with our eyes and hear sounds with our ears. Without a doubt, we perceive it. Furthermore, this perception is independent. The perception of another I is a direct reality, a self-sufficient truth that we arrive at independently of seeing or hearing the person; it does not depend on our drawing any conclusions, any more than seeing or hearing depend on drawing conclusions. Apart from the fact that we hear someone speak, that we see the colour of his skin, that we are affected by his gestures—apart from all of these things—we are directly aware of his I. The ego sense has no more to do with the senses of sight or sound, or with any other sense, than the sense of sight has to do with the sense of sound. The perception of another I is independent. The science of the senses will not rest on solid foundations until this has been understood.

So now the question arises: What is the organ for perceiving another I? What is our organ for perceiving an I, as the eyes perceive colours and the ears perceive tones? What organ perceives the I of another? There is indeed an organ for perceiving an I, just as there are organs for perceiving colours and tones. But the organ for perceiving an I only originates in the head; from there it spreads out into the entire body, in so far as the body is appended to the head, making of the entire body an organ of perception. So the whole perceptible, physical form of a human being really does function as an organ of perception, the organ for perceiving the I of another. In a certain sense you could also say that the head, in so far as the rest of the body is appended to it and in so far as it sends its ability to perceive another I through the whole human being, is the organ for perceiving another's I. The entire, immobile human being is the organ for perceiving an I—the whole of the human form at rest, with the head as a kind of central point. The organ for perceiving another I is thus the largest of our organs of perception; we ourselves, as physical human beings, constitute the largest of our organs of perception.

Now we come to the sense of thought. What is the organ for perceiving the thoughts of others? Everything that we are, in so far as we are aware of the stirrings of life within us, is our organ for perceiving others' thoughts. Think of yourself, not with regard to your form, but with regard to the life you bear within you. Your whole organism is permeated with life. This life is a unity. In so far as the life of our entire organism is expressed physically, it is the organ for perceiving thoughts that come toward us from without. We would not be able to perceive the I of another if we were not shaped the way we are; we would not be able to perceive the thoughts of another if we did not bear life in the way that we do. Here I am not talking about the sense of life. What is in question here is not the inner perception of our general vital state of being—and that is what the sense of life gives us—rather is it the extent to which we are bearers of life. And it is the life we bear within us, the physical organism that bears the life within us, that is the organ by which we perceive the thoughts that others share with us.

Furthermore, we are able to initiate movement from within ourselves. We have the power to express all the movements of our inner nature through movement—through hand movements, for example, or by the way we turn our head or move it up and down. Now, the basis for our ability to bring our bodies into movement is provided by the physical organism. This is not the physical organism of life, but the physical organism that provides us with the ability to move. And it is also the organ for perceiving speech, for perceiving the words which others address to us. We would not be able to understand a single word if we did not possess the physical apparatus of movement. It is really true: in sending out nerves for apprehending the whole process of movement, our central nervous system also provides us with the sensory apparatus for perceiving the words that are spoken to us. The sense organs are specialised in this fashion. The whole man: sense organ for the I; the physical basis of life: sense organ for thought; man, in so far as he is capable of movement: sense organ for the word.

The sense of tone is even more specialised. Even though the apparatus for hearing includes more than physiology usually includes, it is nevertheless more specialised. It is not necessary for me to discuss the sense of tone. You only need to lay your hands on a normal textbook on the physiology of the senses to find a description of the organ on which the sense of tone is based. But today it is still difficult to find a description of the organ for the sense of warmth because, as I mentioned, it is still confused with the sense of touch. But the sense of warmth is actually a very specialised sense. Whereas the sense of touch is really spread over the whole organism, the sense of warmth only appears to be spread over the whole organism. Naturally, the entire organism is sensitive to the influence of warmth, but the sense for perceiving warmth is very much concentrated in the breast portion of the human body. As for the specialised organs of sight, taste and smell, these are, of course, generally known to normal observation, and can be found in what ordinary science has to say.

Now it is possible to make a real distinction between the middle part, the upper part, and the lower part of our sense life, and today I would like to include some special observations with regard to this distinction. Let us begin by observing the sense of speech. I said that our organism of movement is what enables us to perceive words. It provides the basis for our sense of speech. But not only are we able to perceive and understand the words of others; it is also possible for us to speak: we are able to speak, too. And it is interesting and important to understand the connection between our ability to speak and our ability to understand the speech of others. Please note that I am not speaking about our ability to hear the tones, but about our ability to understand speech. The senses of tone and speech must be clearly distinguished from one another. Not only can we hear the words another speaks, we ourselves can speak. How, then, is one of these related to the other? How is speaking related to understanding speech?

If we use spiritual-scientific means to investigate the human being, we discover that the things on which the capacity to speak and the capacity for understanding speech are based are very closely related to one other. If we want to look at what furnishes the basis of speech, we can start by tracing it back to where every reasonable person will agree its beginnings must undeniably be, namely, to experiences of the human soul. Speaking originates in the realm of the soul; the will kindles speech in the soul. Naturally, no words would ever be spoken if our will were not active, if we did not develop will impulses. Observing a person spiritually-scientifically, we can see that what happens in him when he speaks is similar to what happens when he understands something that is being spoken. But what happens when a person himself speaks involves a much smaller portion of the organism, much less of the organism of movement. Remember that the entire organism of movement must be taken into account in the case of the sense of speech, the sense of word—the entire organism of movement is also the organ for apprehending speech. A part of it, a part of the movement organism, is isolated and brought into motion when we speak. The larynx is the principal organ of this isolated portion of the organism of movement, and speaking occurs when will impulses rouse the larynx into motion. When we ourselves speak, what happens in our larynx happens because impulses of will originating in our soul bring the part of our movement organism that is concentrated in the larynx into motion. The entire movement organism, however, is the sense organ for understanding speech; but we keep it still while we are perceiving words. And it is precisely for this reason, precisely because we keep the movement organism still, that we are able to perceive words and understand them. In a certain respect everyone knows this instinctively, for every now and then everyone does something that shows he unconsciously understands what I have just been discussing. I will speak in very broad outlines. Suppose I make a movement like this (a hand raised in a gesture of holding off). Now, even the smallest of movements is not just localised in one part of the movement organism, but comes from the entire movement organism. And when you consider this motion as coming from the entire movement organism, it has a very particular effect. When another person expresses something in words, I am doing what I need to do to understand it by not making this gesture. Because I do not make this gesture, but repress it instead, I am able to understand what someone else is saying; my movement organism wakes up right to the tips of my fingers, but I hold back the motion, delay it, block it. By blocking this motion, I am enabled to understand what is being said. When one does not wish to hear something, one will often make such a gesture to show that one wants to repress one's hearing. This shows that there is an instinctive understanding for what it means to hold back such a motion.

Now, according to the original plan of the human constitution, it is the whole of the organism of movement—which is at the same time the organism of the sense of word—that belongs in the rightful course of human evolution. At one time, in the Lemurian period, when we were being released from our connection with the whole of the cosmos, we were given a constitution that enabled us to understand words. But that constitution did not enable us to speak words. You will find it strange that we should be constituted so that we could understand words, but not be able to speak words. But it only seems strange, for our organism of movement is not so exactly constituted for hearing the words of others, for understanding other men's words—rather is it adapted to understanding various other things. Originally, we had a much greater gift for understanding the elemental language of nature and for perceiving how certain elemental beings rule over the external world. That ability has been lost; in exchange for it we have received our own capacity to speak. This happened because, during the Atlantean period, the ahrimanic powers set about altering the organism of movement that had originally been given to us. We have the ahrimanic powers to thank for the fact that we can speak; they gave us the gift of speech. So we have to say that the way in which a human being perceives speech now is different from the way we were originally intended to understand it. Such a long time has passed since the Atlantean period that we have grown accustomed to what has happened, and we find it extraordinary to think that our gift of understanding speech was originally for perceiving more or less the whole of the other human being: it gave us the ability to perceive the silent expression in the gestures and bearing of other men, and, without using a physically perceptible speech, to communicate by imitating it, using our own apparatus of movement. Our original way of communicating was much more spiritual. But Ahriman took hold of this original, more spiritual way of communicating. He specialised a part of our organism, creating the larynx, which is designed to produce sounding words. And he designed the part of the larynx that is not used to produce words, so that it would enable us to understand words; that is also a gift of Ahriman.

We are able to perceive the thoughts of others in so far as our organism is alive. Once again, our present ability to understand others' thoughts is much less spiritual than the gift we originally possessed. Our original gift enabled us to feel another's thoughts inwardly, to resonate with their life, simply by being in their presence. The way in which we perceive each other's thoughts today is a coarse physical reflection of the way it once was, and only through the detour of speech is it possible at all. At most, we can experience an echo of the kind of perception that was originally intended for us by training ourselves to attend to others' gestures, to the play of their features, and to their physiognomy. We were once able to perceive the whole direction of another's thinking and to live in it, simply by being in his presence, and the particular thoughts were expressed in his particular gestures and in the play of his features. And it is once again thanks to Ahriman that this more spiritual manner of perceiving another's thoughts has, in the course of human evolution, become more and more concentrated in external speech.

We do not have to look very far back in the development of humanity to find a period when there was still a very highly developed understanding for the way the life of thought was expressed through the physiognomy, through the gestures, even through the posture—through the whole manner in which one human being presents himself to another. There is no need to speak of Old India: we only have to go back to the period before the Greco-Roman period, to the Egypto-Chaldean period. There we still find a highly-developed understanding of the life of thought. Humanity has lost this understanding. Less and less of it has been retained, until now there are very few who understand how the art and manner in which a person meets us can enable us to listen in on the inner secrets of his thinking. What a man says to us through the words we hear is almost the only thing we listen to any more—what these tell us about his thoughts, about their content and their purpose. But, because this has happened, we have been able to retain the ability to use our organism of life and the apparatus of life as an instrument for thinking. If there had been no ahrimanic intervention, if the things I have been describing had never happened, we would not possess the gift of thought. So you can see that, in a certain sense, our present ability to speak is related to the sense of speech, to the sense of the word. But it is related because of an ahrimanic deviation. And again because of an ahrimanic deviation, our present ability to think is related to the sense of thought.

We were constituted, furthermore, so as to be able to be conscious of another's I in a more subtle manner—so that we would not merely experience it, but would perceive it inwardly—for our entire human form is the organ of the sense of the ego. Ahriman is still hard at work today, specialising the ego sense just as he has specialised and remodelled the senses of speech and thought. In fact, that is happening now, as is revealed by an extraordinary, related tendency that is coming towards humanity. In order to talk about what I am referring to, one is forced to say something quite paradoxical. As yet, only the early stages of it are showing themselves, mainly in a philosophical way. Today there are already philosophers who entirely deny the inner capacity to perceive the I: Mach,31Ernst Mach (1838 – 1916): philosopher. for example, as well as others. I have spoken about them in a recent lecture concerned with philosophy. These men really have to be described as holding the view that man is not able to perceive the I inwardly, and that the awareness of the I is based on the perception of other things. There is a tendency to think along the following lines—I will give you a grotesque example of it. People are getting to the point where they say to themselves, in the way I described earlier, ‘I encounter others who walk about on two limb-like appendages and from this I conclude that there is an I within them. And, since I look just like them, I apply this conclusion to myself and decide that I must also possess an I.’ According to this, one derives the existence of one's own I from the existence of the I of others. This is implied by many of the assertions of those about whom I am speaking, when they come to describe how the ego is supposed to develop as the result of our evolution during the interval between the birth and death of a single incarnation. If you read our current psychologists, you will already find descriptions of how our sense of our own I is derived from other persons. We do not have it to begin with, as children, but we are supposed to have watched others and applied what we see them doing to ourselves. In any event, our capacity to come to conclusions about ourselves on the basis of other people seems to be growing ever greater! Just as the capacity to think gradually developed out of the sense of thought, and the capacity to speak out of the sense of speech, so the capacity to experience oneself as belonging to the whole of the world is increasingly developing alongside the ability to perceive another's I. We are talking about fine distinctions, but they must be grasped. To this end, Ahriman is very busy working alongside humanity—he is very much involved.

Let us look at the human being from the other side. There we find the sense of touch. As I have said, the sense of touch is an internal sense. When you touch something like a table, it exerts pressure on you, but what you actually perceive is an inner experience. If you bump into it, it is what happens within you that is the content of the perceptual experience. In such an event, what you experience through your sense of touch is entirely contained within you. Thus, fundamentally the sense of touch can only reach as far as the outermost periphery of the skin: we experience touching something because the external world pushes against the periphery formed by the skin, because inner experiences arise when the external world pushes against us or otherwise comes into contact with us. So the sense of touch is fundamentally an internal sense, even though it is the most peripheral of these. The apparatus for touching is found mainly at the periphery. From there it sends only delicate branches inward, and our external scientific physiology has not been able to isolate these systematically because it has not systematically distinguished the sense of touch from the sense of warmth.

Our organ of touch is spread like a network over the whole outer surface of our body; it sends delicate branches inward. What is this network, really? (If I may use this word, for ‘network’ is inexact.) What was its original purpose? Our attention is immediately caught by the fact that the sense of touch makes us aware of inner experiences, even though it is now used to perceive how we come into contact with the external world. This fact is as undeniable as it is noteworthy and exceptional. And, as spiritual science shows us, it is connected with the fact that the sense of touch was not originally destined for perception of the external world. The sense of touch has undergone a metamorphosis—it was not originally intended to be used, as it is today, to perceive the external world. The sense of touch was really intended for an entirely spiritual perception, for perceiving how our I, the fourth member of our organism, spiritually permeates our entire body. What the organs of touch really gave us, originally, was an inner feeling for our own I, an inner feeling of the I.

So now we have come to the inner perception of the I. Here you must make a clear distinction. The I that is within us and extends to the surface of the sense of touch, really exists in its own right; it is a substantial, spiritual being. And when the I extends itself and comes into contact with the surface created by the sense of touch, this produces a perception of the I. If the sense of touch had remained in its original form, the nature of which I have just indicated, it would not provide us with the kind of perceptions it now provides. Certainly, we would still bump into the things of the external world, but this would be a matter of total indifference to us. We would not experience the collisions through touch; nor, for that matter, would the sense of touch be involved when we run our fingertips over things, as we are fond of doing. We would experience our I through such contacts with the external world; we would experience our I, but would not speak of perceiving the external world. In order for the organ which generated an inner perception of the I to become an organ of touch, capable of perceiving the external world through touch, it has been necessary for our organism to undergo a series of alterations. These began in the Lemurian period and are to be attributed to luciferic influences. They are deeds of Lucifer. Through them, our sense of I was specialised so that we could experience the external world through touch, but our inner experience of the I, of course, was thereby clouded. If, as we go about the world, it were not necessary for us to pay constant heed to the things that bump into us and press against us, to what is rough and what is smooth, and so on, we would have an entirely different experience of the I.

In other words, by re-shaping the sense of touch, luciferic influences were introduced into the experience of the I. In this case, what is most inward has been adulterated by something external, just as, in the sense of speech, what is external has been adulterated by something internal. The sense of speech was designed for the perception of words—a sense perception, but not one that depended on anything being expressed in sounds. Then the inner activity of speaking was intermixed with this. So, in this case, the original perception was internal, and external perception has been added to it.

The sense of life: Luciferic influence has accomplished a similar alteration in the organs of the sense of life. For these organs, organs which enable us to experience our inner structure and inner condition, were originally meant only for the perception of our astral body as it works within our living organism. Now, however, the ability to experience the internal condition of the body in feelings of well-being or feelings of being ill has been intermixed with it. A luciferic impulse has been mixed in with it. Here the astral body has been linked to the feelings of well-being or illness that show the condition of our body, just as the I has been linked to the sense of touch.

And, again, our organism of movement was originally designed so that we would only experience the interactions between our etheric body and our organism of movement. The capacity to perceive and experience our inner mobility, which is the sense of movement, properly speaking, has been added to this. Once more, a luciferic impulse. Thus, alterations in the fundamental nature of the human being are due to influences from two sides, the luciferic side and the ahrimanic side. The sense of the I, the sense of thought, and the sense of speech have been altered by ahrimanic influences from the form which was actually intended for the physical plane. Only through these changes and through the changes wrought by luciferic influences on the senses of touch, life and movement, have we become what, on the physical plane, we now are. And there remains to us, free from these influences, only an intermediate area. This, then, is a more exact, more detailed presentation of our human organism.

It would be a good idea to consider what has been said thus far, so I will wait until tomorrow before pursuing these matters any further. Tomorrow we will see how fruitful these considerations are. We will see how they expand that great and significant truth that is the key to so many things: the truth about the relation of our head to the body of our previous incarnation, the relation of the body of our present incarnation to the head of our next incarnation, and what follows from this regarding our relationship to the cosmos.

We can already see how necessary it is to pay attention to that state of balance which needs to be established between the luciferic and the ahrimanic forces in the world. This is the most essential and significant thing. Just consider how the human I is involved in the extremes of both sides: here, the I without and, in the sense of touch, the I within. (See the orange arrows in the drawing.) Similarly, the astral body is involved both in thinking, and also, from within, in the life organism. (Red arrows.) The etheric body is involved here, as long as speech does not occur, but is also involved from within in the sense of movement. (Blue arrows.) And, holding the middle, like the unmoving hypomochlion at the centre of a pair of scales, we have a sphere that is not so involved in the ‘I touch—I think—I live—I speak—I move.’ The more closely one approaches this centre, the more immobile the arm of the scales becomes. To either side, it is deflected. Thus there is a kind of state of balance at the middle.

Here we see how the being of man is subject to significant influences from two sides. In order to understand present-day human activity, and the structure of the human being, it is necessary to have the correct view of Lucifer and Ahriman.

Diagram 1