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Man—Hieroglyph of the Universe
GA 201

Lecture One

9 April 1920, Dornach

Today I shall try to give a wider view of a subject already often touched upon. I have frequently pointed out how, for modern man, moral and intellectual conceptions diverge. On the one hand we are brought, through intellectual thinking, to recognition of the stern Necessity of Nature. In accordance with this necessity we see everything in Nature under the law of Cause and Effect. And we ask also, when man performs an action: what has caused it, what is the inner or outer cause? This recognition of the necessity for all events has in modern times acquired a more scientific character. In earlier times it had a more theological character, and has so still for many people. It takes on a scientific character when we hold the opinion that what we do is dependent on our bodily constitution and on the influences that work upon it. There are still many people who think that man acts just as inevitably as a stone falls to the ground. There you have the natural scientific colouring of the Necessity concept. The view of those more inclined to Theology might be described as follows. Everything is fore-ordained by some kind of Divine Power or Providence and man must carry out what is predestined by that Divine Power. Thus we have in the one case the Necessity of natural science, and in the other case unconditioned Divine Prescience. One cannot in either case speak of human Freedom at all.

Over against this stands the whole Moral world. Man feels of this world that he cannot so much as speak of it without postulating the freedom of the decisions of his will; for if he has no possibility of free voluntary decision, he cannot speak of a morality of human action. He does however feel responsibility, he feels moral impulses; he must therefore recognise a moral world. I have mentioned before how the impossibility of building a bridge between the two, between the world of Necessity and the world of Morals, led Kant to write two critiques, the Critique of Pure Reason in which he applies himself to investigating the nature of simple Necessity, and the Critique of Applied Reason in which he inquires into what belongs to Moral Cosmogony. Then he felt compelled to write also a Critique of Judgement which was intended as an intermediary between the two, but which ended in being no more than a compromise, and approached reality only when it turned to the world of beauty, the world of artistic creation. This goes to show how man has on the one side the world of Necessity and on the other the world of Free Moral Action, but cannot find anything to unite the two except the world of Artistic Semblance, where—let us say, in sculpture or in painting—we appear to be picturing what comes from Natural Necessity, but impart to it something which is free from Necessity, giving it thus the appearance of being free in Necessity.

The truth is, man is not able to build a bridge between the world of Necessity and the world of Freedom unless he finds the way through Spiritual Science. Spiritual Science, however, requires for its development a fulfilment of the aphorism which won respect centuries ago, the saying of the Greek Apollo: “Know thyself!” Now this admonition, by which is not intended a burrowing into one's own subjectivity but a knowledge of the whole being of man and the position he occupies in the Universe—this is a search that must find a place in our whole spiritual life.

From this point of view we may really say that the course taken by the development of the spiritual Movement directed to Anthroposophy has in the last few days taken a step forward; it has begun to show clearly to the spiritual life of humanity, how we must seek to illuminate modern methods of thought with a knowledge of Man; for it is a fact that the knowledge of Man has to a very great extent been lost in modern times. This was our aim in the course of lectures that has just been held for doctors, where an initial attempt was made to throw light in a positive way upon matters with which medical science has to concern itself. [*Published by Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, 1961, (third edition) with the title: Geisteswissenschaft und Medizin. English translation (now out of print) entitled: Spiritual Science and Medicine, can be borrowed from the Library, Rudolf Steiner House, London, N.W.I] In the series of lectures given by our friends and myself, we tried to show how a connection must be made between the individual sciences and what these can receive from Spiritual Science. It is very desirable that within our Movement there should be a strong consciousness of the need for such attempts; for if we are to succeed it is absolutely necessary to make clear to the outer world—in a sense, to compel it to understand—that here no kind of superficiality prevails in any domain, but rather an earnest striving for real knowledge. This is often hindered by the way in which things reach the public from our own circles, so that it is supposed, or may easily be maliciously pretended, that all kinds of sectarianism and dilettantism are allowed here. It is for us to convince the outer world more and more how earnest is the striving underlying all that this Movement represents. Such attempts must be carried further afield, and they must be carried further by the forces of the whole Anthroposophical Movement; for we have now made a beginning with a true knowledge of Man which must form the foundation of all true spiritual culture. It is true to say that from the middle of the fifteenth century, man's earlier concrete relation to the world has been growing more and more abstract. In olden times, through atavistic clairvoyance man knew much more of himself than he does today, for since the middle of the century intellectualism has spread over the whole of the so-called civilised world. Intellectualism is based upon a very small part in the being of Man, a very small part; and it produces accordingly no more than an abstract network of knowledge of the world.

What has knowledge of the world become in the course of the last centuries? In its relation to the Universe, it has become a mere mathematical-mechanical calculation, to which in recent times have been added the results of spectra analysis; these again are purely physical, and even in the physical domain, mechanical-mathematical. Astronomy observes the courses of the stars and calculates; but it notices only those forces which show the Universe, in so far as the Earth is enclosed in it, as a great machine, a great mechanism. It is true to say that this mechanical-mathematical method of observation has come to be regarded simply and solely as the only one that can actually lead to knowledge.

Now with what does the mentality which finds expression in this mathematical-mechanical construction of the Universe reckon? It reckons with something that is founded to some extent in the nature of Man, but only in a very small part of him. It reckons first with the abstract three dimensions of space. Astronomy reckons with the abstract three dimensions of space; it distinguishes one dimension, a second (drawing on blackboard) and a third, at right angles. It fixes attention on a star in movement, or on the position of a star, by looking at these three dimensions of space. Now man would be unable to speak of three dimensional space if he had not experienced it in his own being. Man experiences three-dimensional space. In the course of his life he experiences first the vertical dimension. As a child he crawls, and then he raises himself upright and experiences thereby the vertical dimension. It would not be possible for man to speak of the vertical dimension if he did not experience it. To think that he could find anything in the Universe other than he finds in himself would be an illusion. Man finds this vertical dimension only by experiencing it himself. By stretching out our hands and arms at right angles to the vertical we obtain the second dimension. In what we experience when breathing or speaking, in the inhaling and exhaling of the air, or in what we experience when we eat, when the food in the body moves from front to back, we experience the third dimension. Only because man experiences these three dimensions within him does he project them into external space. Man can find absolutely nothing in the Universe unless he finds it first in himself. The strange thing is that in this age of abstractions which began in the middle of the fifteenth century, Man has made these three dimensions homogeneous. That is, he has simply left out of his thought the concrete distinction between them. He has left out what makes the three dimensions different to him. If he were to give his real human experience, he would say: My perpendicular line, my operative line, my extensive or extending line. He would have to assume a difference in quality between the three spatial dimensions. Were he to do this, he would no longer be able to conceive of an astronomical cosmogony in the present abstract way. He would obtain a less purely intellectual cosmic picture. For this however he would have to experience in a more concrete way his own relationship to the three dimensions. Today he has no such experience. He does not experience for instance the assuming of the upright position, the being in the vertical; and so he is not aware that he is in a vertical position for the simple reason that he moves together with the Earth in a certain direction which adheres to the vertical. Neither does he know that he makes his breathing movements, his digestive and eating movements as well as other movements, in a direction through which the Earth also moves in a certain line. All this adherence to certain directions of movement implies an adaptation, a fitting into, the movements of the Universe. Today man takes no account whatever of this concrete understanding of the dimensions; hence he cannot define his position in the great cosmic process. He does not know how he stands in it, nor that he is as it were a part and member of it. Steps will have now to be taken whereby man can obtain a knowledge of Man, a self-knowledge, and so a knowledge of how he is placed in the Universe.

The three dimensions have really become so abstract for man that he would find it extremely difficult to train himself to feel that by living in them he is taking part in certain movements of the Earth and the planetary system. A spiritual-scientific method of thought however can be applied to our knowledge of Man. Let us therefore begin by seeking for a right understanding of the three dimensions. It is difficult to attain; but we shall more easily raise ourselves to this spatial knowledge of Man if we consider, not the three lines of space standing at right angles, but three level planes. Consider for a moment the following. We shall readily perceive that our symmetry has something to do with our thinking. If we observe, we shall discover an elementary natural gesture that we make if we wish to express decisive thinking in dumb show. When we place the finger on the nose and move through this plane here (a drawing is made), we are moving through the vertical symmetry plane which divides us into a left and a right Man. This plane passing through the nose and through the whole body, is the plane of symmetry, and is that of which one can become conscious as having to do with all the discriminating that goes on within us, all the thinking and judging that discriminates and divides. Starting from this elementary gesture, it is actually possible to become aware of how in all one's functions as Man one has to do with this plane.

Consider the function of seeing. We see with two eyes, in such a way that the lines of vision intersect. We see a point with two eyes; but we see it as one point because the lines of sight cross each other, they cut as shown in the drawing. Our human activity is from many aspects so regulated that we can only understand its regulation by reference to this plane.

We can then turn to another plane which would pass through the heart and divide man back from front. In front, man is physiognomically organised, behind he is an expression of his organic being. This physiognomical-psychic structure is divided off by a plane which stands at right angles to the first. As our right and left man are divided by a plane, so too are our front and back man. We need only stretch out our arms, our hands, directing the physiognomical part of the hand (in contrast to the merely organic part) forwards and the organic part of the hands backwards, and then imagine a plane through the principal lines which thus arise, and we obtain the plane I mean.

In like manner we can place a third plane which would mark off all that is contained in head and countenance from what is organised below into body and limbs. Thus we should obtain a third plane which again is at right angles to the other two.

One can acquire a feeling for these three planes. How the feeling for the first is obtained has already been shown; it is to be felt as the plane of discriminative Thinking. The second plane, which divides man into front and back (anterior and posterior) would be precisely that whereby man is shown to be Man, for this plane cannot be delineated in the same way in the animal. The symmetry plane can be drawn in the animal but not the vertical plane. This second (vertical) plane would be connected with everything pertaining to human Will. The third, the horizontal, would be connected with everything pertaining to human Feeling. Let us try once more to get an elementary idea of these things and we shall see that we can arrive at something by this line of thought.

Everything wherein man brings his feeling to expression, whether it be a feeling of greeting or one of thankfulness or any other form of sympathetic feeling, is in a way connected with the horizontal plane. So too we can see that in a sense the will must be brought into connection with the vertical plane mentioned. It is possible to acquire a feeling for these three planes. If a man has done this, he will be obliged to form his conception of the Universe in the sense of these three planes—just as he would, if he only regarded the three dimensions of space in an abstract way, be obliged to calculate in the mechanical-mathematical way in which Galileo or Copernicus calculated the movements and regulations in the Universe. Concrete relations will now appear to him in this Universe. He will no longer merely calculate according to the three dimensions of space; but when he has learnt to feel these three planes, he will notice that there is a difference between right and left, over and under, back and front. In mathematics it is a matter of indifference whether some object is a little further right or left, or before or behind. If we simply measure, we measure below or above, we measure right or left or we measure forward or backward. In whatever position three metres is set, it remains three metres. At most we distinguish, in order to pass from position to movement, the dimensions at right angles to one another. This we do, however, only because we cannot remain at simple measurement, for then our world would shrink to no more than a straight line. If however, we learn to describe Thinking, Feeling and Willing concretely in these three planes, and to place ourselves thus in space as psychic-spiritual beings, with our Thinking, Feeling and Willing—then just as we learn to apply to Astronomy the three dimensions of space as found in man, so do we learn to apply to Astronomy the threefold division of man as a being of soul and spirit. And it becomes possible if we have here (drawing) Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and lastly Earth, then it becomes possible, if we look at the Sun, to observe it in its outer manifestation as something separating, as a dividing element. We must think of a plane passing through the Sun, and we shall no longer regard what is above the plane and what is below as merely dimensional, but must regard the plane as a dividing plane and distinguish the planets as being above or below. Thus we shall no longer say: Mars is so many miles distant from the Sun, Venus so many miles; but we shall learn to apply the knowledge of Man to the knowledge of the Universe, and say: It is no mere question of dimensions when I say that the human head in respect of the nose is at such and such a distance from the horizontal plane which I have called the plane of Feeling, and the heart at such and such a distance; but I shall bring their position and distance above and below into connection with their formation and structure. So too I shall no longer say of Mars and Mercury that the one is at such a distance and the other at such another distance from the Sun, but I shall know that if I regard the Sun as a dividing partition, Mars being above must be of one nature and Mercury being below of another.

I shall now be able to place a similar plane perpendicularly through the Sun. Thus the movements of Jupiter, let us say, or of Mars, will be such that at one time it will stand on the right of this plane and then go across it and stand on the left. If I simply proceed abstractly, according to dimensions, I shall find it is sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left, and such and such a number of miles. But if I study cosmic space concretely, as I must [study] my own being as man, it is not a matter of indifference whether a planet is at one time on the left and at another time on the right, but I say there is the same kind of difference whether it is on the right or left as there is between a left and right organ. It is not sufficient to say that the liver is so many centimetres to the right of the symmetrical axis, the stomach so many centimetres to the left, for the two are dissimilar in formation because the one is a right organ and the other a left. Here it is so, that Jupiter, according as he is on the right or the left, to the eye appears different.

In the same way I might make a third plane, and must again form a judgement in accordance with that. And if I extend my knowledge of Man to the Universe, I shall be obliged, as I connected the one plane with human Thinking, and the second plane with human Feeling, to consider the third plane as connected with human Will.

By all this I wanted only to show how modern cosmogony has no more than a last remnant of external abstraction when it speaks of the three planes perpendicular to one another, to which the positions and movements of the stars are quite indifferently related, and then according to these positions the whole Universe calculated out as a machine. In the astronomical conception of Galileo, only this one thing is taken into consideration for the Universe—abstract space, with its point relationships. This knowledge can however be enlarged to become an active and powerful knowledge of Man. One can say: Man is a thinking, feeling and willing being. As an external being, he is connected by Thinking with one plane, with another at right angles to it by Willing, and with a third at right angles to both by Feeling. This must apply also in the external world. Since the middle of the fifteenth century, man has really known no more than that he extends in three directions; all else is just material collected for observation. A true knowledge of Man must be regained, and indirectly a knowledge of the Cosmos by the same method. Then man will understand how Necessity and Free Will are related, and how both can apply to Man, since he is born from the Cosmos. Naturally if one only takes this last remnant of the human being—the three dimensions at right angles to one another—if that is all one wants to imagine, then the Universe appears terribly poor. Poor, infinitely poor is our present astronomical view of the Universe; and it will not become richer until we press forward to a real knowledge of Man, until we really learn to look into Man.

The anthroposophical conception of the universe leads directly into a real spiritual knowledge of the matter. Do not such things as Thinking, Feeling and Willing appear to human knowledge as terribly bare abstractions? Man does not investigate himself thoroughly enough. He does not ask himself what these things are for him to which he applies the words. So much has become mere phrase. One should really ask oneself conscientiously, when using the word Thinking, whether it presents any clear idea—not to speak of Feeling and Willing. But our speech becomes clear and plain, directly we pass from the mere making of phrases, the using of lofty words, and go back to pictures; even when we take just that one picture for Thinking—putting the finger to the side of the nose! We do not need to do it always, but we know that this gesture is often naturally made when we have to think hard, just as we point the finger to the chin when we want to indicate we are paying attention! We enter this plane precisely because we wish to judge there concerning something to which we are related. We bisect our organism as it were into right and left; for we really act quite differently with our right and left sense-organs. This we can appreciate if we observe that with the left sense-organ we undertake as it were, the handling of outer objects; and in our thinking too, there is a sort of handling or feeling of external objects. With the right sense-organ we as it were ‘feel our feeling’ of them. It is then that they first become our own. We could never have attained to the ego-concept if we were not able to perceive, together with what we experience on the right, also that which we experience on the left. By simply laying the hands one over the other we have a picture of the ego-concept. It is indeed true that by beginning to use clear images instead of living merely in phraseology, man will become inwardly richer and will gain the faculty of visualising the Universe in greater detail.

Having entered on this path, we shall find that the Universe comes to life again for us, and that we ourselves as human beings share in its life. Then we shall learn again how to build a bridge between Universe and Man. When this is done man will be able to perceive whether there is in the Universe an impulse of Natural Necessity for all that is in Man, or whether the Universe in some measure leaves us free; whether it wholly determines us, or leaves us in a certain sense free. As long as we live in abstractions, we cannot build a bridge between Moral and Natural Law. We must be able to ask ourselves how far Natural Law extends in the Universe, and where something enters in which we cannot include under the aspect of Natural Law. Then we arrive at a relation which has its significance for Man too, a relation between what comes under Natural Law and what is Free and Moral. In this way we learn to connect a meaning with the statement: “Mars is a planet far from the Sun, Venus a planet nearer the Sun.” By simply stating their distances in abstract numbers we have said nothing or at least very little, for to define in this way according to the methods of modern Astronomy, is equivalent to saying: I look at the line which passes through man's two arms and hands, and I speak of an organ that is 2.5 decimetres from this line.—Now this organ may be so and so far under the line, and another organ so and so far above it; it is not, however, the distance that makes the difference, but the fact that one organ is above and the other below. Were there no difference between above and below, there would be no difference between the nose or eyes and the stomach! The eyes are only eyes because they are above, and the stomach is only a stomach because it is below, this line. The inner nature of the organ is conditioned by the position.

Similarly the inner nature of Mars is qualified by its position outside the Sun's orbit, and that of Venus by its position within the Sun's orbit. If one does not understand the essential difference between an organ in the human head and an organ in the human trunk—the one lying over and the other under this line—then one cannot know that Mars and. Venus, or Mars and Mercury are essentially different. The ability to think of the Universe as an organism depends on our learning to understand the hieroglyph of the organism we have before us. We must learn to perceive Man as a hieroglyph of the Universe, for he gives us the opportunity of seeing near at hand how different are above and below, left and right, before and behind. We must learn this first in Man, and we shall then find it in the Universe.

Because the modern view of the Universe held by Natural Science really gives a cosmogony omitting Man—recognising him only as the highest of the animals, that is to say an abstraction—because Man is not in it at all, therefore to this conception the Universe appears as a mathematical picture only, in which the universal origin of Freedom and Morality can never be recognised. It is, however, of the utmost importance that we should learn to perceive scientifically the connection between Moral Law and Natural Necessity. Today I have endeavoured to show you, in perhaps rather subtle concepts, how a knowledge of the Universe is to be gained from a Knowledge of Man.

To the doctors I was able to show in a strictly scientific way how this path has to be sought in Medicine, Physiology and Biology. In these lectures it will be our task to perceive how it must be sought if we are to form aright our general understanding of the world; and the social life in which we find ourselves in these times has great need of such understanding.