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Imaginative Cognition and Inspired Cognition
GA 209

This single lecture is the seventh of eleven lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Oslo, Berlin, and Dornach during the Christmas Season of 1921. It is from the lecture series entitled, Norse and Middle European Spiritual Impulses.

23 December 1921, Dornach

Translated by Violet E. Watkin

In the course of these lectures I have often explained how a man is not in a sleeping state only during ordinary sleep but that this state also plays into his everyday conscious life. This obliges us indeed to describe the state of complete wakefulness as existing, even in everyday consciousness, for our conceptual life alone. Compared to the conceptual life, what we bear within us as our life of feeling is not so closely connected with our waking state. To the unprejudiced observer our feeling life shows affinity to dream-life; though dream-life runs on in pictures and the life of feeling in the way we all know. Yet we soon realise that, on the one hand, dream-life—which as we know conjures up in pictures, into everyday life, facts unknown to ordinary consciousness—can be judged only by our conceptual faculty of discrimination. It is by means of this same faculty alone that the whole range and significance of our feeling life can be estimated. And what goes on in a will-impulse, in the expression, the working, of the will, is just as hidden from ordinary consciousness as what in dreamless sleep happens to man, as a being of soul and spirit, from the moment of falling asleep to that of waking.

What actually takes place when we perform the simplest act of will, when, let us say, by merely having an impulse to do so we raise an arm or a leg, is in fact just as great a mystery to us as what goes on in sleep. It is only because we can see the result of an act of will that the act itself enters our consciousness.

Having thought of raising our arm—but that is merely a thought—we see when this has taken place how the arm has indeed been raised. It is by means of our conceptual life that we learn the result of an act of will. But the actual carrying out of the deed remains hidden from ordinary consciousness, so that, even during our waking hours, what arises in us as an impulse of will we have to attribute to a sleeping state. And the whole of our life of feeling runs its course just like a dream.

Now what concerns us here is that, when taken as a whole, the facts I have just mentioned can be quite clear to our ordinary consciousness, although perhaps, when given an abstract interpretation certain points may not seem so at once. But by carefully following up the facts in question we shall find what has been said to be correct.

Consciousness when developed is able to follow up these facts. In particular it can observe in detail the conceptual life and the life of the will. We know how through exercises described in several of my works ordinary objective knowledge can be raised to Imaginative knowledge. On being observed this Imaginative knowledge or cognition shows, to begin with, its true relation to the human being as a whole. It will be useful for us, however, to recall certain facts about ordinary consciousness, before going on to what this Imaginative knowledge has chiefly to say about a man's conceptual power and his will.

Let us then look at the actual life of thought—the conceptual life. You will have to admit; If this conceptual life is experienced without prejudice, we shall not feel it to be a reality. Conceptions arise in our life of soul and there is no doubt the inner course of a man's conceptions is something added to the outer course taken by the facts. The outer course of events does not directly demand the accompaniment of an inwardly experienced conception. The fact of which we form an idea could take place without our experiencing it as an idea. Sinking ourselves in these conceptions, however, teaches us too that in them we live in what, compared with the external world, is something unreal. On the other hand, precisely in what concerns the life of will—which seems to ordinary consciousness as if experience in sleep—we become aware of our own reality and of the truth about our relation to the world.

As we form conceptions we find more and more that these conceptions live in us just as the images of objects are there in a mirror. And just as little as, in the case of what is usually called the real world, we feel the mirror-images to be a reality, do we—if our reason is sound—look upon our conceptions as real.

But there is another thing which prevents our ascribing reality to erg conceptions, and that is our feeling of freedom. Just imagine that while forming conceptions we lived in them so that they ran on in us in the way nature works. The conceptual life would be like something happening outside in nature, taking place as a necessity. We should be caught up in a chain, of necessities from which our thinking would be unable to free itself. We should never have the sense of freedom which, as such, is an actual fact. We experience ourselves as free human beings only when free impulses living in us spring out of pictures having no place in the chain of natural necessities. Only because we live with; our conceptions in pictures outside the necessary natural phenomena are we able, out of such conceptions, to experience free impulses of will.

When observing our conceptual life thus, we perceive it to be entirely unreal; whereas our life of will assures us of our own reality. When the will is in action it brings about changes in world outside—changes we are obliged to regard as real. Through our will we make actual contact with the external world. Therefore, it is only as beings of will that we can perceive ourselves as realities in the external world.

When from these facts—easily substantiated in ordinary consciousness—we go on to those of which Imagination can tell us, we find the following. When we have acquired Imaginative knowledge and, armed with this, try to arrive at a knowledge of man himself, then actually in two respects he appears a quite different being from what he is for ordinary consciousness. To ordinary consciousness our physical body is a self-contained entity at rest. We differentiate between its separate organs and observing an organ in our usual state of consciousness we have the impression of dealing with an independent member of the body which, as something complete in itself, can be drawn in definite outlines.

This ceases the moment we rise to Imaginative knowledge and study from that point of view the life of the body. Then this something at rest shows—if we don't want to be really theoretical, which of course it is always possible to be in a diagram—that it cannot be drawn in definite outline. This cannot be done in the case of lungs, heart, liver and so on, when we rise to Imaginative knowledge. For what this reveals about the body is its never-ending movement. Our body is in a state of continued motion—certainly not something at rest; it is a process, a becoming, a flux, which imaginative cognition brings to our notice. One might say that everything is seething, inwardly on the move, not only in space but, in an intensive way, one thing flows into another. We are no longer confronted by organs at rest and complete; there is active becoming, living, weaving. We cannot speak any more of lungs, heart, liver, but of processes—of the lung-process, heart-process, liver process. And these separate processes together make up the whole process—man. It is characteristic of our study of the human being from the point of view of Imaginative knowledge, that he appears as something moving, something enduring, in a state of perpetual becoming.

Consider what it signifies to have this change in our view of a man; when, that is, we first see the human body with its definitely outlined members, and then direct the gaze of our soul to the inner soul-life, finding there nothing to be drawn thus definitely. In the life of soul, we see what is taking its course in time, something always becoming, never at rest. The soul-life shows itself indeed to be a process perceptible only inwardly, a process of soul and spirit, yet clearly visible. This process in the life of soul, which is there for ordinary consciousness when a man's inner being is viewed without prejudice, this state of becoming in the soul-life, has very little resemblance to the life of the body at rest. It is true that the life of the body also shows movement; breathing is a movement, circulation is a movement. In relation to how a man appears to Imaginative cognition, however, I would describe this as merely a stage on the way to movement. Compared with the delicate, subtle movements of the human physical body revealed to Imaginative cognition, the circulation of the blood, the breathing, and other bodily motions seem relatively static.

In short, the objective knowledge of the human body perceived it ordinary consciousness is very different from what is perceived as the life of soul, that is in a perpetual state of becoming—always setting itself in motion and never resting.

When, however, with Imagination we observe the human body, it becomes inwardly mobile and in appearance more like the soul life. Thus, Imaginative cognition enables us to raise the appearance of the physical body to a level with the soul. Soul and body come nearer to each other. For Imaginative cognition the body in its physical substance appears more like the soul.

But here I have brought two things to your notice which belong to quite different spheres. First, I showed how the physical body appears to Imaginative cognition as something always on the move, always in a state of becoming. Then I pointed out how indeed, for the, inner vision of our usual consciousness, the ordinary life of soul is also ceaselessly becoming, running its course tie—a life, in effect, to which it is impossible to ascribe definite outlines.

When, however, we rise to Imaginative cognition, this life of soul also changes for the inward vision, and changes over in an opposite direction to the life of the body. It is noticeable that when filled with Imaginative knowledge we no longer feel any freedom of movement in our thoughts, in the combining of them with one another. We also feel that by rising to Imaginative cognition our thoughts gain certain mastery over our life of soul. In ordinary consciousness we can add one thought to another, with inner freedom either combine or not combine a subject with a predicate—feel free in our combining of conceptions.

This in not so when we acquire imaginative knowledge. Then in the thought-world we feel as though in something which works through powers of its own. We feel as if caught up in a web of thought, in such a way that the thoughts combine themselves through their own forces, independently of us. We can no longer say I think—but are forced to change it to: It thinks. In fact, we are not free to do otherwise. We begin to perceive thinking as an actual process—feel it to be as real a process in us as in everyday life we experience the gripping of pain and then its passing off, or the coming and going of something pleasant. By arising to Imaginative cognition, we feel the reality of the thought-world—something in the thought-world resembling experience in the physical body.

From his it can be seen how, through Imaginative knowledge, the conceptual life of the soul becomes more like the life of the body, than is the soul-life—as seen through the inner vision of ordinary consciousness. In short, the body grows soul-like. And the soul becomes more like the body, particularly like those bodily processes which to Imaginative consciousness disclose themselves in their becoming.

Thus, for Imaginative cognition the qualities of the soul approach those of the body, and the qualities of the body those of the soul. And we see the soul and spirit interweaving with the bodily-physical the two becoming more alike. It is as though our experience of what is of the soul acquired a materialistic character while our view of the bodily life, physical life generally, were spiritualised

This is an important fact which reveals itself to Imaginative cognition. And when further progress is made to Inspired Cognition, we find another secret about the human being unveiled. Having acquired Inspired knowledge we learn more of the material nature of thinking, of the conceptual faculty; we learn see more deeply into what actually happens when we think.

Now, as I have said, we no longer have freedom in our life of thought. "It thinks,” and we are caught up in the web of this "It thinks.” In certain circumstances the thoughts are the same as those which in ordinary consciousness we combine or separate in freedom, but which in Imaginative experience we perceive to take place as if from inner necessity.

From this we see that it is not in the thought-life, as such, that freedom and necessity are to be found, but in our own attitude, our own relation, to the thought-life of ordinary consciousness. We learn to recognise the actual situation with regard to our experience, in ordinary consciousness, of the unreality of thoughts. We gradually come to understand the reason for this experience, and then the following becomes clear.

By means of the organic process our organism both takes in and excretes substances. But it is not only a matter of these substances separating themselves from the organic process of the body and being thrown out by the excretory organs—certain of these substances become stored up in us. Having been thrown out of the life-process these remain, to some extent, in the nerve-tract, and in other places in the organism. In our life-process we are continuously engaged in detaching lifeless matter. People able to follow minutely the process of human life can observe this storing up of lifeless matter everywhere in the organism. A great part of this is excreted but there is a general storing up of a certain amount in a more tenuous form. The life of the human organism is such that it is always engaged on the organic process—like this (a drawing was made) But everywhere within the organic process we see inorganic, lifeless matter, not being excreted but stored up (which I indicated here with red chalk): I have drawn these red dots rather heavily because it is chiefly the unexcreted, lifeless matter which withdraws to the organ of the human head, where it remains.

Now the human organism is permeated throughout by the ego (I indicate this with green chalk). Within the organism the ego comes in contact with the lifeless substances which have been separated off and permeates them. So that our organism appears as having, on the one hand, its organic processes permeated by the ego, the process, that is, containing the living substance, and of having also what is lifeless—or shall we say mineralised—in the organism permeated by the ego.

This, then, is what is always going on when we think. Aroused by sense-perceptions outside, or inwardly by memory, the ego gets the upper hand over the lifeless substances, and—in accordance with the stimulation of the senses or of the memories—swings these lifeless substances to and fro in us, we might almost say makes drawings in us with them. For this is no figurative conception; this use of inorganic matter by the ego is absolute reality It might be compared to reducing chalk to a powder and then with a chalky finger drawing all kinds of figures. It is an actual fact that the ego sets this lifeless matter oscillating, masters it, and with it draws figures in us, though the figures are certainly unlike those usually drawn outside. Yet the ego with the help of this lifeless substance does really make drawings and form crystals in us—though not crystals like those found in the mineral kingdom (see red in drawing).

What goes on in this way between the ego and the mineralized substance in us that has detached itself as in a fine but solid state—it is this which provides the material basis of our thinking. In fact, to Inspired cognition the thinking process, the conceptual process, shows itself to be the use them ego makes of the mineralised substance in the human organism.

This, I would point out, gives a more accurate picture of what I have frequently described in the abstract when saying: In that we think we are always dying,—What within us is in a constant state of decay, detaching itself from the living and becoming mineralised, with this the ego makes drawings, actual drawings, of all our thoughts. It is the working and weaving of the ego in mineral kingdom, in that kingdom which alone makes it possible for us to possess the faculty of thinking.

You see it is what I have been describing here which dawned on the materialists of the 19th century, though they misconstrued it. The best advocates of materialism—and one of the best was Czolbe—had a vague notion that while thoughts are flitting through us physical processes are at work. These materialists forget, however,—and this is where error crept in—that it is the purely spiritual ego making drawings in us inwardly with what in mineralized. And on this inward drawing depends what we know of the actual awakening of ordinary consciousness.

Let us now consider the opposite side at the human being, the side of the will-impulses. If you recall what I have been describing, you will perhaps perceive how the ego becomes imprisoned in what has been mineralized within us. But it is able to make use of this mineralised substance to draw with it inwardly. The ego is able to sink right down into what is thus mineralised.

If, on the other hand, we study the life-processes, where the non-mineralised substances are to be found, we come to the material basis of the will. In sleep the ego leaves the physical body, whereas in willing the ego is only driven out of certain parts of the organism. Because of this, at certain moments when this is so, there is nothing mineralised in that region, everything there is full of life. Out of these parts of the organism, where all is alive and from which at that moment nothing mineralised is being detached, the impulses will unfold. But the ego is then driven out; it withdraws into what is mineral. The ego can work on the mineralised substances but not on what is living, from which it is thrust out just us when we are asleep at night our ego is driven out of the whole physical body.

But then the ego is outside the body whereas on mineralisation taking place it is driven inside. It is the life-giving process which thrust the ego out of certain parts of the body; then the ego is as much outside those parts as in sleep it is driven out of the whole body. Hence, we can say that when the will is in action parts of the ego are outside the regions of the physical body to which they are assigned. And those parts of the ego—where are they then? They are outside in the surrounding space and become one with the forces weaving there. By setting our will in action we go outside ourselves with part of our ego, and we take into us forces which have their place in the world outside. When I move an arm, this is not done by anything coming from within the organism but through a force outside, into which the ego enters only by being partly driven out of the arm. In willing go out of my body and move myself by means of outside forces. We do not lift our leg by means of forces within us, but through those actually working from outside. It is the same when an arm is moved. Whereas in thinking, through the relation of the ego to the mineralised part of the organism, we are driven within, in willing just as in sleep we are driven outside. No one understands the will who has not a conception of man as a cosmic being; no one understands the will who is bounded by the human body and does not realise that in willing he takes into him forces lying beyond it.

In willing we sink ourselves into the world, surrender ourselves to it. So that we can say: The material phenomenon that accompanies thinking is a mineral process in us, something drawn by the ego in the mineralised parts of the human organism. The will represents in us a vitalising, a widening of the ego, which then becomes a member of the spiritual world outside, and from there works back upon the body.

If we want to make a diagram of the relation between think and willing, it must be done in this way (a drawing was made). You see it is quite possible to pass over from an inward view of the soul-life to its physical counterpart, without being tempted to fall one-sidedly into materialism. We learn to recognise what takes place in a material way in thinking and in willing. But once we know how in thinking the ego plays an actual part with the inorganic, and how, on the other hand, through the organic life-giving process in the body it is driven out into the spirit, then we never lose the ego.

In that the ego is driven out of the body it is united with forces of the cosmos; and working in from outside, from the spiritual regions of the cosmos, the ego unfolds the will.

Materialism is therefore justified on the one hand, whereas on the other it no longer holds good. Simply to attack materialism betrays a superficial attitude. For what in a positive sense the materialist has to say is warranted. He is at fault only when he would approach man's whole wide conception of the world from one side.

In general, when the world and all that happens in it is followed inwardly, spiritually, it is found more and more that the positive standpoints of individual men are warranted, but not those that are negative. And in this connection spiritualism is often just as narrow as materialism. In what he affirms positively the materialist has right on his side, as the spiritualist has on his, when positive. It is only on becoming negative that they stray from the path and fall into error. And it is indeed no trifling error when, in an amateurish fashion, people imagine they have succeeded in their striving for a spiritual world-conception without having any understanding of material processes, and then look down on materialism. The material world is indeed permeated by spirit. But we must not be one-sided; we must learn about its material characteristics as well, recognising that reality has to be approached from various sides if we are to arrive at its full significance.

And that is a lesson best taught by a world-conception such as that offered by Anthroposophy.