The Human Soul in Relation to World Evolution
2. The True Nature of Memory I
30 April 1922, Dornach
I spoke yesterday about the sense organs and drew attention to the way they appear when, to our ordinary knowledge, we add what is gained through knowledge of supersensible worlds. Taking the lungs as an example I showed that the moment we rise with spiritual sight into supersensible worlds, then other organs become just as much sense organs as our present ones. We come to the conclusion that our organs are in process of evolution and transformation. This is not apparent to ordinary consciousness because we are always observing a process arrested, a process which, because we cannot survey either its earlier or its later stages, reveals only a momentary stage of its evolution.
If our advance into the imaginative world — as I termed it in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment — reveals the lung in a state of transition, from being a vital organ to becoming a sense organ, we can no longer regard it in the way we do in ordinary life. We realize that what we ordinarily observe is a momentarily arrested stage in the lungs' evolution. If we compare this with the arrested stage of the evolution of the eyes, we come to the conclusion that the lung reveals itself to be at a younger stage than the eye.
I said yesterday that we could at least put forward as a question whether the eye, in the course of evolution, had once been a vital organ as the lung is now. Let us remain cautious and merely say that there is at least a possibility that the relationship between lung and eye is like that of a child to a grown-up. One shows itself to be a younger entity, the other an older one. In other words, the eye in its youth could at some stage of world evolution have been a vital organ which has now become a sense organ, while the lung, which is now a vital organ, could later become a sense organ. Yet we shall only come to know the truth by advancing further in supersensible knowledge. To do so let us today consider the other extreme of the soul's life, the pole of the will. Yesterday it was described purely externally.
Concerning the pole of the will we can ask: How does it appear when we have attained imaginative cognition? We find that the organs belonging to the will sphere become paler. They fade away before spiritual sight. Our limbs are organs that belong more immediately to the will sphere; they grow paler. In fact, the characteristic feature, when we rise to imaginative consciousness and observe the external organism, is that the limbs become lost. And so does the metabolic system with which the limbs are connected. This aspect of man is simply no longer there in the intensity it was to physical sight. When we compare all that, which to higher vision fades from view, with something in the physical world, we arrive at a quite astonishing result.
Let me draw some sketches of what comes about. Imagine that this is man as he appears to physical sight (drawing on the left). Now we observe him with imaginative cognition: the limbs grow paler (drawing in the center). Suppose this next sketch is of all that which becomes ever paler and fades away. What we get becomes more and more like an image of a human corpse (drawing on the right). In other words, we get an image of what man leaves behind at death, of that which is either buried or cremated. When a corpse is cremated it ceases to be visible to physical sight, just as that part of man ceases to be visible to supersensible consciousness.
But something else becomes visible: At the place where the arms fade away something becomes visible which a former instinctive clairvoyance saw more or less correctly. It was said that where physical man has arms spiritual beings have wings; and that after death so did spiritual man. However, to replace spiritual beings with a kind of symbol in the form of a winged creature, a superior bird, is a crude ghostlike image. When cognition of higher worlds is further developed, that is when one ascends, in the way I have described, from imaginative knowledge to inspired knowledge, then one recognizes what one is really seeing. And to depict this as wings is a distortion, but then it is not so easy to recognize the reality. However, the moment the ascent is made from imagination to inspiration then, by careful observation, one gradually realizes what takes the place of say the right arm and hand. Let me put it this way: You will agree that we make a lot of movements with our arms. According to materialistic critics a dreadful lot of movement is carried out in eurythmy. People who do not understand eurythmy cannot bear it. But when you observe, with inspired cognition, what is done by the movements in eurythmy, you no longer see the arms and hands, all you see are their movements. All the individual movements are all there, and because they all merge into one another they look like wings.
Well, people who are not eurythmists also move their arms. In fact, most of the movements done by human beings are done with the arms. All the movements, their curves and forms become visible (see drawing, orange). Everything physical — muscles, flesh, bones — ceases to be visible, whereas all movements become visible. And it is the same with the legs. I said yesterday that the movements man makes are not confined within the body. In order to point to something useful I spoke of chopping wood rather than of sport. When someone chops wood, he makes continuous movements. All these are also visible when one ascends from imagination to inspiration. However, man causes things to happen not only through his body, he does so also by means of thoughts, perhaps through other people. All the events that he causes to take place gradually become visible, particularly as one ascends from inspiration to intuition. In short, when we contemplate the pole of will, all that at death is placed in the grave ceases to be visible; whereas all man's deeds gradually become visible. After a person's death what is still in existence are all the deeds he has carried out. That has further life and continues to exist. What passes through the gate of death can be said to be a birth of will. So you see as regards the limbs we must choose a different approach in order to find the transition from the physical aspect of man to the soul. And the same applies to the metabolic system.
We have now considered from a certain aspect the nature of man's senses and also what so to speak constitutes his will nature — that is, the source of his actions. To enable us to proceed further let us return to the pole of the senses. Let us look back with imaginative and inspired consciousness and see what becomes of a sense organ, let us say the eye, and then consider it at the stage where the lung let us say has become an organ of perception.
When the lung has become an organ of perception we begin to see a completely different world. Even in public lectures I have often spoken about the fact that another world becomes perceptible to the higher man who gradually develops and frees himself from ordinary man, though the latter is still present and in control. We also begin to experience the world more rhythmically, more musically as soon as the lung becomes sense organ. In fact, we begin to experience all that which in my book Theosophy I described partly as Soul World, partly as Spirit Land. When the lung becomes sense organ we experience a different environment. I mentioned yesterday that the lungs become sense organ in their etheric part. But what happens to our ordinary sense organs?
Unlike the organs of the metabolic-limb system which disappear to higher vision, the sense organs do not disappear, they reveal themselves as they are at present but in their spiritual nature. They reveal themselves as objective entities; they become, as it were, spiritual beings. They are — if I may so express it — what peoples our spirit world. One gets the strong impression that the sense organs expand into worlds. We witness, as it were, a world being built up out of our sense organs. Our soul has the experience that the world which we now witness coming into being unites itself with something else. It unites with what in ordinary life we look upon as our memories; that is, our mental pictures of past events.
Here I must point to an important experience which occurs as one ascends from imaginative to inspired knowledge. The sense organs become, as it were, independent beings which take into themselves our memories. As we turn our attention to this fact we become clearly aware of a certain aspect of our soul's nature.
Take the example of the human eye. To ordinary consciousness this organ is as I described it yesterday. When we begin to develop imaginative cognition and then ascend to inspired cognition, the physical aspect of the eye disappears but not the eye itself. It becomes ever more spiritual and expands to cosmic proportions. It becomes a world, a world that unites itself with our memories; it unites with the thoughts that live in our memory (yellow in diagram). Along this path we gradually attain a specific insight into a certain area.
A trivial concept of popular psychology is the idea that man perceives with his physical organs and develops his mental pictures — i.e., his thoughts — from the physical percepts. And then the thoughts he has formed go — well, they go somewhere. The philosophy of Herbart, 1Johan Friedrich Herbart, 1776-1841. Philosopher and Educator. in particular, attained eminence by letting thoughts disappear beneath some sort of threshold. Then when they were remembered they wandered up again and appeared in consciousness.
This idea always reminds me of a children's game I often watched as a small boy: One runs both hands up a child's arm, tickling him while chanting, “Up comes a little mouse who wants to hide in Joey's house.” This suggests to the child that a mouse is running up his arm to hide in a box somewhere inside his head. Psychology is just about as clever; it also lets thoughts emerge from sense perceptions and then walk into a sort of savings-box within the soul from where they arise again when remembered. It is a trivial concept but one that is much bandied about in psychology. The true facts become clear only when one comes to know the whole process through imaginative and inspired knowledge. What then becomes clear is the following: Things we see through our eyes are there, they are not created by the eyes. So, too, what we see through imagination and inspiration is also there, it is not created by the higher faculties.
In other words, while ordinary consciousness is functioning the higher reality is also present. It all goes on but becomes visible only to supersensible sight. It goes on through every moment of our waking life. This reveals that whenever we perceive in ordinary consciousness, another process takes place beyond that consciousness. Another process goes on which runs parallel to that of perception, only we do not become aware of it until we have attained higher consciousness. Let me put it this way: In ordinary life whatever we perceive in everyday consciousness is already there. But all that which only becomes visible to imagination and inspiration is also there. A process takes place of which we know nothing in ordinary consciousness. When we learn to know it through higher cognition we become aware that the memory pictures we have in ordinary consciousness are indeed only pictures. Their true reality becomes apparent to higher consciousness. There is no question of memory pictures wandering up again after having first gone down somewhere.
When I form a mental picture of a physical object and then withdraw from it, the mental picture remains. After a while the mental picture disappears and because it is mere picture it disappears completely. But our senses do something else: they carry out a process we do not see. They vitalize in our inner being a process that is living, which endows the thoughts contained in our memory with reality. This means that when we have a physical perception and form a mental picture (red) then another process (blue) takes place through which something real comes about — i.e., a reality, not just a picture. The picture vanishes, but when we remember then this, real memory takes the place of the former physical percept and what we now perceive is the reality that was brought to life in us, without our knowledge, at the time of the physical perception. And this reality is the soul.
If today you have physically before you a human being and you see him again after eight or ten years then nothing of what you see today will be present. You cut your nails, your skin flakes off, externally the physical body continually falls away; it becomes dust. After seven to ten years that which today is the physical substance most deeply embedded in you will have come so far to the surface that it flakes off or is cut off as long nails. You can be certain that what is today at the center of your physical body gradually comes to the surface and falls away. But then what remains? What remains of man's whole being is solely the reality developed inwardly through the process taking place parallel to that of forming mental pictures.
In ten years' time nothing of what you are today will exist except the memories of your experiences. Today nothing exists of what you were ten years ago except what your memories have made of you. You are woven out of your memories, all that is physical flakes off and disappears. Anyone with sound common sense, who thinks through and correlates what he can observe in ordinary consciousness, will acknowledge the truth of what I have brought before you with the help of imagination and inspiration.
If we would picture to ourselves how a human being develops, taking into account his soul nature, then from one aspect — and I beg you to keep in mind that we are considering everything from one pole, the pole of thought — we would depict it thus (see drawing). When we are born, a body is provided for us (white lines). This body is gradually filled with all that results from the process taking place parallel to sense perception (yellow lines). All that which is body (white lines) gradually flakes off. We eat, we take in a variety of substances from the air. All this reaches into the process taking place when memories are formed and builds up the bodily nature ever anew, whereas that which impregnates the soul from the metabolic system is what is buried after death. The soul itself weaves its own essential being. It develops its being from those processes which to begin with are experienced merely as mental pictures. One can say in truth: I live in thoughts, but what I experience as thought in ordinary consciousness is only image. It is, so to speak, an attendant phenomenon to the reality which I bring into existence.
Something of extraordinary significance emerges from this: it shows that what takes place within us, unknown to ordinary consciousness, is by far the most important for man's development. We look at the world, what we perceive through our various senses brings us experiences; we rejoice in what meets our eyes or ears. And all the time while we see, hear and feel there slips into our inner being all that which later can be called up in memory. In other words, all that constitutes my soul slips into me. That is an activity that goes on perpetually. One can never say that it is because it is forever surging and weaving.
Whoever earnestly endeavors to ascend to spiritual knowledge will have vivid experiences of all I have indicated. Whatever one has accumulated in life by way of written notes can, like any possession, be comfortably taken home. And because in present day life comfort is much preferred to inner experiences of disquiet, all knowledge tends to be given a form that allows it to be written down and comfortably taken home. It is said, however, that anthroposophical lectures do not transcribe well, so one actually does not get much from what is written down about them and comfortably taken home.
But, you see, that is only a reflection of the experience of higher knowledge. When a university student today prepares for an examination he is really happy when he manages to store up some facts in his head. And when after three or four weeks the time comes for the examination he hopes to be able to pour it all out unchanged just as he crammed it in. One cannot set about acquiring higher knowledge in that way. Those who really develop higher knowledge are faced with spiritual perceptions that have a life of their own. Higher knowledge is perpetually alive. It will not permit itself to be so conveniently stored in notebooks as do the rigid concepts which today are kept as scientific records of the external world. These, though radically expressed, are real inner facts.
Take the case of someone who has attained supersensible cognition to a fairly high degree. Let us say he has at present certain spiritual perceptions; he can attain those experiences again later by means I have often described. He may experience them after three or four years; they have meanwhile gone through a life of their own. If he once more builds them up they burden his soul with uncertainty. One gradually learns that this is nothing exceptional. Supersensible knowledge in general, fills one with uncertainty when it develops further — when, as it were, it grows old. One has to attain certainty about it all over again. One experiences uncertainty already the following day even about the loftiest spiritual perceptions and must struggle to attain the knowledge once more. Only lower kinds of perceptions cease to be alive, and they become specters which reappear unchanged. The one who has them feels satisfied that he has attained some insight into a higher world. He grabs a notebook to make sure the experience is preserved. He would in fact like to have a kind of soul-notebook for the purpose.
Genuine spiritual perceptions act differently — they are living entities and must continually be created anew. One must go through the process repeatedly for already the following day uncertainty arises, especially about the loftiest experiences, and one must win certainty all over again. One must relate to spiritual knowledge as one relates in the physical world to what is reality and not image. A real process in the physical world is the need to eat: not many of you would refrain from eating today because you had a good meal a week ago. You would not say that the meal of a week ago is still in you nourishing you, so that there is no need to eat today. By contrast a soul content arrived at via the body remains and can be recalled unchanged in many respects. That is not the case with a spiritual soul content; this does not just fade; its very certainty is repeatedly shaken and must be regained ever again.
One effect of this aspect of attaining supersensible cognition is that the world is, as it were, illumined by it. It is like coming into a brightly lit cosmic hall. After eight days one has the following experience: A certain residue of memory lingers due to the fact that in attaining this higher knowledge one drew near its reality and this had an effect even on one's physical being. But concerning the supersensible perceptions as such, one has the experience that one continuously meets them in a dark room where one must rekindle the light ever again. This is an indication of how supersensible knowledge is experienced in the human soul.
When supersensible perceptions are attained then, unlike the instinctive clairvoyant, one cannot claim that they remain like specters. The spiritual realm that is attained must be conquered anew. Yet, though the experiences do not stay in ordinary memory, the effect naturally does. The effect is felt after a time particularly if the supersensible knowledge has to be faced again in the form of a written manuscript or even — dreadful thought — in print. The spiritual investigator may have before him a new edition of a book he has written. He is faced with the external effect of his earlier experiences.
I can imagine there are lecturers who experience deep inner satisfaction when they have before them the result of the golden words they have spun together, especially if, again and again, new editions are produced based on those same golden words. It is a very pleasurable feeling. But the written results originating from spiritual perceptions do not provide pleasurable feelings; they cause pain. What has become preserved and poured out into the physical world is a source of pain. That is the other side of the coin. This pain is not only like going with one's spiritual perceptions into a dark room where one must kindle the light ever anew. It is like going into a room where arrows are hurled at one from all sides. An armor must be created against what one meets as a residue, as an embodied remnant of supersensible worlds.
This is an indication of how soul life is experienced when one has reached higher knowledge. In ordinary consciousness one does not experience the soul's life directly; it is adjusted to the physical body and experienced through it. To experience the soul directly is different. The soul is continuously becoming; it is in a state of transformation and metamorphosis. This fact escapes one unless, during supersensible experience, one enters into the process and identifies with it. Yet, to do so is felt to be unbearable; it causes pain because it is bound up with the past. Whenever a spiritual experience is not of the present it causes pain and one must be armed against this pain. So you see, if the living content of higher knowledge has really been absorbed it is not so easy to live with as that to which our students listen in the universities. That knowledge only hurts when it has been forgotten and the students do badly in examinations, although that kind of knowledge does not in itself cause pain, but pleasure, for when the students possess it they rejoice. The knowledge may pain them later if they come to see that there is something better than their own knowledge which has become like fixed ideas in them.
When the supersensible is entered into deeply one experiences it as, through and through, alive. One learns how to attain and how to endure it. In the knowledge itself one finds joy and satisfaction and also pain. One also learns at last to know the soul directly in its reality. In ordinary daily life the soul has fallen so deeply into materialism that its life appears to consist merely of pale concepts. Into these pale concepts warmth of feeling must be poured to rescue the soul life from the painful, pale, cold thoughts which are but images without life, whereas what is attained as supersensible knowledge is alive; it is in fact the living soul. And this living soul content gives us the first real concept of what we are; for our memory pictures are but faint reflections of the reality. If we manage to penetrate the curtain of memories, we arrive at that which I have just described as joyful, satisfying, light-filled and also painful experiences of the world. In its participation in this, our soul is united with a knowledge which itself contains soul-life. The past we experience as pain, but we become aware that what we experience as happiness and delight goes with us through the portal of death; it is the future.
There must flow into ordinary powers of comprehension a reflection, but a living one, of what I have been saying. If mankind's past evolution is contemplated merely in the light of the frigid ideas of history it remains just image, an image which has significance only as long as it remains in our head. Just as the mental pictures we form of sense perceptions have significance only as long as we have them in our heads, so, too, the mental pictures of history formed purely intellectually have significance only for the head. What in popular terms is called “the spirit of the times” is in fact the historian's own spirit held up to reflect the times.
One only learns real history when one participates with living knowledge in the reality of world evolution and mankind's evolution, when one feels the greatest intensity of pleasure and pain in the events taking place in the world. This means, for example, to turn the eye of the soul backwards in time to, let us say, ancient Persia, India or Greece; or any other past age. When, for instance, one feels how differently the Greeks experienced their tragedies from the way modern man experiences a theater performance. Goethe pointed to the fundamental difference between Greek tragedies and modern dramas when he said that a modern drama is a shadowy affair, whereas a Greek tragedy was a world-shaking event. And certainly those who experienced a Greek tragedy were affected by it very differently from the way modern man is affected. The latter goes to the theater to be amused and lets the play flow over him indifferently. When a Greek watched a tragedy, he felt shaken through and through; he felt shattered right down into his bodily nature. The basic issues he saw portrayed sent a chill down his spine. The Greeks also experienced life as full of sin and guilt and therefore full of sickness. They felt the tragedy as a healing force. They felt that a remedy was needed and that the public performances repeatedly raised life out of its state of guilt and sickness to what it truly ought to be. Thus, the
Greek tragedy was not something that merely provided amusement, it constituted a power that acted as healing for what, in social life, continuously fell into sickness.
What effect has modern drama on present-day society? Its effect might be compared with that of having one's hair shampooed by the hairdresser, whereas the effect of a Greek tragedy must be compared with one's soul and body being healed by a truly competent physician who with genuine health-giving medicine dynamically vitalizes the organism through and through. When one approaches history, identifying oneself completely with every situation such as the one of a Greek watching a tragedy, then history is indeed experienced very differently from the usual way where there is no participation.
In the present-day world there is also social sickness, but no remedy is sought as was done in ancient Greece. If one really transfers one's soul into the Greek age in the anthroposophical sense then — if I may express myself somewhat trivially — one at last catches hold of the soul element which nowadays is otherwise suppressed in ordinary consciousness. In contemplating the world, one discovers the soul.
This is what I wanted to describe to you in order to demonstrate that if the soul is to be known in its reality one must first find where it is hidden. The images produced in ordinary consciousness tell one nothing of the soul. However, these images are what psychologists describe as soul. If one opens a book on modern psychology one finds the first chapter dealing with mental pictures but described in the way they appear in ordinary consciousness. What psychologists describe is that which at every moment dissolves (see drawing, red, page 24). Nothing is said about the parallel process taking place beneath it. This approach of modern psychology could be compared with a conference in which instead of the chief speakers being present only their portraits were there. The portraits would have the same relation to the living reality they depict as man's mental life has to reality in ordinary consciousness. Psychologists are dealing with nothing but pictures; what matters is the reality behind them.
I have been at pains to show you the reality that lies behind mental pictures. One cannot reach the soul through ordinary consciousness. It must first be drawn up from hidden depths. That must be kept in mind; to do so is very important when one speaks about the human soul in relation to world evolution. As the soul's true being is attained, so one gradually enters into world evolution.
In these first two lectures I have attempted to show how, through spiritual knowledge, one can reach the soul. Now that a foundation has been laid we shall consider, in the further lectures, human soul life and its connection with world evolution in a more accessible form.