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Earthly Knowledge and Heavenly Wisdom
GA 221

VI. The Invisible Human Being Within Us

11 February 1923, Dornach

We can clearly distinguish two entities in human beings. As you may remember, I have recently explained in several lectures that our physical organism is spiritually prepared in the life before birth. It is then sent down, so to speak, as spiritual organization before we actually enter earthly life with our I. Basically, this spiritual organization continues to work throughout our physical life on earth, but it does not manifest in outer, visible form. Its visible parts—the sheaths enclosing the fetus during the gestation period: chorion, amnion, allantois—are discarded at birth. Nevertheless, this pre-earthly organization continues to be active within us throughout our whole life. Yet, it is of a different nature than our physical-soul-spiritual being during our life on earth, and that is what I would like to talk about today.

In a sense, we have an invisible human being in us living in our growth forces, in the hidden forces working in nutrition, and, in fact, in all the realms that are outside the control of our conscious activity. The influence of this invisible human being extends to this unconscious activity, into our growth and even the daily restoration of our forces through nutrition. These influences are the aftereffects of our pre- earthly existence, which becomes a body of forces during life on earth that works in us without our being aware of it. Today I want to describe in more detail the nature and organization of this invisible human being we all carry in us in our forces of growth, nutrition, and reproduction.

We can approach this by means of a diagram that shows that this invisible being also has an I, an astral organization, an etheric organization or body of formative forces, and a physical organization. Of course, after our birth, its physical organization rests inside our other physical organism. In the course of today's lecture, you will understand how this invisible human being affects our physical organization. Thus, to represent all this diagrammatically, I have to draw it like this (see drawing, left side):

The invisible I

First of all, this invisible human being has its I-organization (yellow), then its astral organization (red), its etheric organization (blue), and finally its physical organism (white). This physical organism of the invisible human being affects only our processes of growth and nutrition, in short, everything in the lower human being, the metabolic-limb system as we have described it. All the streams of forces in this invisible being proceed from the I-organization and flow through the astral and etheric organizations into the physical one, where they then spread out (see arrow in left drawing, above).

In the embryonal phase, this physical organization is in the sheaths or membranes enclosing the embryo. After we are born, this physical organization of the invisible being is contained in our processes of nutrition and restoration. Outwardly, the physical organization we are speaking of here is thus not separate from our physical organism; rather the two are united (see right drawing, above).

In addition to this invisible human being in us, there is our visible being after we are born. I will draw this visible human being beside the invisible one. Here you see what the interpenetration of the physical and supra-physical during life on earth looks like. During our earthly life, there is a constant stream flowing from our I through the astral and etheric bodies into our physical body (see arrow in drawing on the right). After we are born, this stream takes its course in the metabolic-limb system, in the forces of outer movement and those of inner movement that transport the food we have taken in through our whole organism and even up into the brain.

There is also a direct intervention, a working of forces that proceeds from the I directly into the whole human being (see Blackboard Illustration 1). In other words, there is the influence of an activity, a stream as it were, that enters from the I directly into the nerve-sense system, bypassing the astral and etheric bodies, and acting directly on our physical body. Of course, this force is strongest in the head where most of the sense organs are concentrated, but it does extend over the whole human being, for example, through the sense of touch in the skin. By the same token, I would also have to draw a stream for the taking in of food through the mouth. Thus, in our head there is an organization that streams up from below; it starts from the I and passes through the astral and etheric bodies, through the physical body, and then streams up into the I. In addition, there is another stream flowing directly into the physical body and streaming downward.

The nerve tract is the visible sign of this direct stream that flows from the I into our physical organism (see Blackboard Illustration 1, yellow). The I-organization, then, runs alongside the nerve tracts. Basically, this I-organization has a destructive influence on the organism for here spirit directly enters into physical matter, and where this happens we find a process of destruction. In other words, alongside the nerve tracts and coming from the senses, there is a subtle process of death spreading throughout our organism.

We can trace the stream that flows in the invisible human being into the astral, etheric, and physical bodies when we track our blood vessels all the way into the sense organs (see Blackboard Illustration 1, red). Thus, we find that the I flows in the blood in such a way that its forces have first been ensouled by the astral, the etheric, and the physical organizations. Taking the astral and etheric organizations with it, the I streams upward through the physical organization in our blood.

In other words, the whole invisible human being flows in the blood process as an anabolic or growth process that continually regenerates us through the assimilation of nutrients. In terms of our diagram, this stream flows upward, pours itself into the sense organs, including the skin, and then meets the other stream that enters from the I directly into the physical organism. Of course, in reality all this is even more complicated because we would also have to consider our breathing process.

In the breathing process the I indeed flows into the astral body and from there directly into the lungs by means of air. Thus, the supersensible human being is also the foundation of our breathing processes. However, here, unlike in the nerve-sense system, the I does not intervene directly in the physical organism; instead, the I saturates itself with astral forces, takes up oxygen, and only then does it enter the organism with the help of the breathing process (see Blackboard Illustration 1, third arrow). Of course, now we are no longer dealing with a pine I-organization but with an I-astral organization. We could say, then, that the breathing process is a diminished death process.

The nerve-sense process is the actual process of death; the breathing process, on the other hand, is a weakened death process. It is countered by the process where the I is strengthened by streaming first into the etheric body and it is only taken up by the physical body (see Blackboard Illustration 1, fourth arrow). This process, however, runs its course mostly in the supersensible realm and therefore cannot be traced by ordinary physiology. Its outward effect is the pulse beat. This process is also a regenerative one, although not as much as the actual metabolic regeneration processes; it is only a weakened regenerative process. It meets up with the breathing process. To a certain extent, the breathing process is a destructive process. If we took in more oxygen, our life would be much shorter. Our life is lengthened to the extent the intake of oxygen is compensated for by carbon dioxide formation in the blood.

Thus, everything in the organism works closely together, and only if we resort to the supersensible human being can we fully understand what is happening in our body. Although after birth this supersensible being has only an invisible form, we are aware of these forces precisely on the basis of the anthroposophical understanding of the human being.

For instance, when we examine our eyes on this basis, we find that the blood process with its delicate ramifications (see Blackboard Illustration 2, red) is taken up by the nerve process (yellow) that runs in the opposite direction. The blood process always runs its course toward the periphery; it is centrifugal. The nerve process, which is really a process of breakdown, always runs centripetally, that is, from the periphery toward the center. All other processes in our body are metamorphoses of these two.

If the process going on between our pulse and breathing takes its course as it should, then the lower human being is connected with the upper one in the right way. Then we are healthy, at least inwardly and if we have not received external injuries. Destructive processes spread in the organism only when breakdown or catabolism predominates. We become ill when foreign elements accumulate in our organism, elements that are not assimilated in the right way and contain too many catabolic forces, that is, too much that is akin to the physical nature of our environment.

The pathological processes that result in foreign formations are caused by the direct intervention of the spiritual by way of the I. These foreign formations may not be readily visible as physical accumulations of matter; for example, they may be in the fluid or even in the aeriform human being. Nevertheless, they are foreign elements in the human body. As they develop, they will not meet up with a healthy process streaming up from below alongside the blood vessels. As a result, the foreign elements, which have the tendency to proliferate into tumors and then to crumble, cannot be dissolved. Of course, if the blood-building process meets up with them in the right way, these foreign elements are dissolved and assimilated into our organism's life processes. However, if there is an obstruction because an excessively strong catabolic process works downward, that catabolic process takes hold of one or the other organ. Then foreign bodies form within us; at first they are like an exudate or a tumor, but they have the tendency to take the same course as those outer processes of earthly nature that crumble. Here, it is important to realize that we have not sufficiently integrated the invisible human being I have drawn here next to the physical one into ourselves.

Actually we cannot really speak here of healing by human means. In reality, this is how it is: As soon as too much centripetal activity occurs in connection with the nervesense system—that is, too much of the processes in our outer environment are crammed into us and thus cause tumors somewhere in us that later break to pieces—the other system that runs its course alongside the blood vessels rebels and wants to bring about healing. It wants to permeate what is in the organism with the right astral and etheric force that can stream up from below, and it wants to keep the I or the astral body and the I from working by themselves. The healer then has to assist this revolutionary principle in our organism. Healing is actually nothing else than supporting the organism's own healing forces from the outside.

Thus, the appearance of a tumor is a symptom indicating that the I-activity is not working properly out of the etheric body. It makes itself felt, but sometimes it cannot get at the tumor. In a sense, we have to assist the etheric body in this direction so that it can become active. We can support the healing process in our organism by helping the etheric body to be active in the right way. In other words, it must first be permeated by the I and the astral body and then get at what is coming from above and has not yet taken in the etheric influence, but is imbued only with influences from the I and the astral body.

In this way, we can counter the poisonous effects of the I and the astral body on our organism with the etheric influences. All we really need to know is through what remedies the etheric organization, properly permeated by the astral and I-organization, will have to intervene in the organism in such a case. The remedies are needed only to assist the etheric organization, as it were. Thus, we have to know what remedies will strengthen the etheric organization so it can pit its anabolic forces against the excessive catabolic forces. You see, the pathology on which any therapy is based cannot be understood at all without resorting to the invisible human being.

However, it is also possible that our I-organization and astral body—in other words, our soul-spiritual organization—do not enter properly into the physical organization. In a sense, then, our soul-spiritual organization may not have pushed through far enough into our physical one. If that is the case, we will always suffer from a predominance of what works upward as growth forces and did not get sufficient weight or gravity through its integration into the physical organization. In other words, people may be born with a condition where their invisible human being does not sufficiently take hold of their physical body.

For example, the invisible human being I have sketched here may refuse, so to speak, to work appropriately in the blood process. In that case, the spirit does not have access to the blood process, and as a result the individuals in question are often pale already in their childhood and remain skinny, or sometimes they shoot up quickly because of the predominating growth forces. That is what happens when the soul-spiritual element cannot enter the organism in the right way. And because the body here refuses to allow the soul-spiritual in, we must effect a weakening of the overly strong activity in the etheric body. In the case of pale, skinny, and gaunt children, we must work to reduce the etheric body's hypertrophic, overly active forces to their proper level. We must see to it that these children get more gravity or weight into their body; for instance, the blood will have the proper weight when it receives the necessary amount of iron. As a consequence the etheric body will work less strongly upward; its upward effect will be weakened.

Another symptom of this condition is that in such people the night processes, as I would like to call them, predominate over the day processes. During the night, when we sleep, the physical-etheric organization refuses to take in the spiritual-soul organization. Our night organization when we lie asleep in our beds—not that of the invisible human being who is outside us at night—is overly strong in people who have the kind of congenital consumption I have just described. We therefore have to support and strengthen the day organization, that is, we have to give it a certain weight by boosting the catabolic processes. For it is by fostering the catabolic processes that lead to an inner hardening and ultimately to a crumbling or breaking down—of course, this should happen only to a very minimal extent during the cure—that we can push back the overflowing forces of the etheric body and hold the consumption in check.

Thus, our knowledge of the whole human being makes this interaction between health and illness—which is essentially balanced through the relationship between pulse and breathing—transparent to us. When we learn how we can foster this or that through outer remedies, then we are able to support the natural healing processes that are always there but do not always manifest themselves.

After all, we cannot introduce a completely foreign process into our organism. What always happens is that when we bring any foreign process into our body, the former is at once inwardly transformed into its opposite. For example, the food you eat contains certain chemical forces. As the organism takes these in, it transforms them right away into their opposites. This has to be possible, for if our food keeps its outer character for too long after we have eaten it, it gets to our catabolism and causes destructive, deadly catabolic processes. What enters our body with our food must be taken up right away by inner processes and be changed into its opposite.

You can trace the processes I have just described on the basis of the human being as a whole in many details. For example, let us assume that somehow a splinter of something or other entered your body (see p. 88, Illustration 3, yellow). Now, your body can react to this foreign object in one of two ways. First, let's assume you cannot pull it out and it stays within you. The anabolic forces in the bloodstream are active all around the foreign object within you (see Blackboard Illustration 3, red). They gather around the "intruder" and have thus moved from their proper place. As a result, the nerve activity right away predominates. A kind of exudate is secreted around the foreign body (blue), and the intruder is encapsulated. Because of this cyst formation the following happens. If we had no foreign element at this place, the etheric body would act in a certain way on the physical body there. Now, however, the etheric body cannot intervene in the foreign element; rather, a cyst develops that is completely filled with the etheric (red lines). Thus, a part of our body contains a foreign element; in this part our etheric body is not structured by the physical.

In such cases it is then a matter of strengthening the astral body to such an extent that it can work on this piece of etheric body without the help of the physical body. Through the encapsulation, our body has called upon the catabolic forces to isolate them in a particular part of the body and to integrate the healing etheric body in that place. The etheric body then has to be supported through proper treatment by the astral and the I.

In a sense, in such a case what is above the physical in us has to become so strong that it can work without the physical in one small part of our organism. This is what always happens when a splinter or some other foreign element is encysted as part of the healing process. In that part of our body, we are moved up one level, as it were, with our whole organization. Of course, it is also possible that a foreign body is formed within our own organism, and the same applies there.

However, it is also possible that a completely different process runs its course when we have a splinter in our body. It can happen that the nerve activity around the splinter increases and predominates over the blood activity (see Blackboard Illustration 4, yellow). This nerve activity, in which the I reinforced by the astral body is at work, then stimulates the blood activity and prevents the coagulation of the exudate. Instead, it agitates the secretions and ultimately leads to the formation of pus (white). Since the nerves push through to the outside (see arrows), the pus is also pushed to the outside through the thrust that runs along the nerve tracts in the catabolic activities toward the periphery. Thus, the pus runs outside the body and the splinter is discharged with it. A scar then forms, and the wound heals.

As you can see from the processes of encystation, which occur especially when the splinter is too deep inside our organism for the nerve-sense system to push it out, the anabolic forces of the blood will predominate and lead to encapsulation. If the splinter is closer to the body surface, then the thrust from the nerves, the catabolic forces, will be stronger and stimulate the substance that then becomes the exudate. They will use the already existing paths of catabolism for this purpose of breakdown, and the whole thing will suppurate.

Thus, in the beginning of this process, in the moment of originating, so to speak, we always carry within us the latent tendency to let our organism harden toward the center, centripetally, and to dissolve it again toward the periphery, centrifugally. Of course, in the normal course of events in our organism, the inward process of tumor formation and the outward one of inflammation and pus formation are in equilibrium. Our inflammations are usually so strong that we can overcome the catabolic force of tumor formation. It is only when one or the other of these forces predominates that we develop either a real tumor or a severe inflammation.

Now, don't think that all this works out as easily and simply in reality as we necessarily have to present it in a schematic description. In reality, these processes are meshed. For example, you know that when the inflammatory forces are strong, we also often have a fever. Basically, this is caused by overly strong, excessive anabolic processes in the blood. Indeed, the forces we often develop during a fever would almost be sufficient to supply energy for another person if they could be conducted there.

On the other hand, when the catabolic forces predominate, we have cold symptoms, which are not as easy to diagnose as a fever. Of course, sometimes the two conditions alternate, and so, in practice, we often have to deal with an intermingling of what we really need to keep separate to fully understand the matter.

Concerning the poisons in nature, such as that in the deadly nightshade or belladonna, we have to ask how these poisons relate to the other substances in our environment that are edible and not poisonous. With our food we take into our organism what is formed outside in nature in a similar way as our invisible human being—it starts from a spiritual process (see Blackboard Illustration 5, yellow), enters an astral process (red), then an etheric one (blue), and finally a physical one (white). The activity that proceeds downward in nature, from the periphery down onto the earth, is akin to the inner activity of our I, which is purely spiritual. This activity, which I have here drawn yellow, flows down but is transformed on the way from the astral and then is changed again on the way from the etheric, and then enters into the physical, and is finally absorbed by plants. Plants grow toward and absorb this etheric activity, which from further up already brings with it the astral and the I processes, that is, the soul and the spiritual processes.

However, it is different with the poisonous substances. Unlike the ordinary green plant substances, the poisonous substances typically do not turn toward the etheric. Instead, they go directly to the astral. In other words, the astral, which I have drawn red, enters this substance (see Blackboard Illustration 5, red in white). In the case of the deadly nightshade, the fruit becomes extremely greedy and is not satisfied with taking in the etheric, but it also directly assimilates the astral before the latter has absorbed the life forces through the etheric on its way down. We could say astral substance is constantly trickling down onto the earth without having entered the etheric realm first. Drops of this astral substance that have not gone through the earth's etheric atmosphere can be found in the poison of the deadly nightshade. The poisons in the thorn apple and hyoscyamine, which is found in henbane, are also drops of the cosmic astral that has trickled down.

Consequently, what lives in such plant substances, for example, in the belladonna or deadly nightshade, is akin to the process that enters our nerves and oxygen circulation directly from the I or the astral body. Thus, when we ingest the poison of the deadly nightshade, our catabolic processes, which usually enter our physical body directly from the I, will be greatly enhanced. Our I is not strong enough to bear such an increase. If the counteracting force that works from below upward in the blood circulation is too strong, then we can oppose it with such catabolic processes; then the poison of the deadly nightshade, atropin, can be an antidote to excessive growth processes if it is given in small doses. Of course, if we take too much of this poison, we can no longer speak about establishing a balance. In case of an overdose, first the growth processes are suppressed, and the patient becomes befuddled by a spiritual activity that his or her I cannot yet tolerate. Indeed, our I may be able to stand this activity only in future stages of being, such as the Venus or Vulcan stage. And then the typical symptoms of poisoning appear. First, the point of origin of the activity at work in the blood is undermined. This is followed by the gastric symptoms that are the first stages of deadly nightshade poisoning. The forces working upward are prevented from functioning normally and complete unconsciousness and the destruction of the person by catabolic processes set in.

You see, if we know the spiritual content of a substance we take in—and we can study all this best in plants—we can trace exactly how the substance will work in our organism. Of course, we must combine this with accurate knowledge of outer nature. We have to know what lives in each plant, and then we will also know how each plant works and how it affects us when we eat it. This knowledge will lead to great achievements if we can also bring about social conditions that allow us to put these insights into practice.

Nowadays, however, even when we have the knowledge, we are usually not able to practice it because our social conditions are not adapted to an understanding of nature. Nature is studied as a separate entity and in abstraction only. Therefore, people cannot understand how we are incorporated into the universe. For the same reason, it is not possible to arrange things on a large scale so that we can say, for example, this or that person needs to be given this or that plant substance in such and such a rhythm. To make this possible to any great extent, our scientific medicine will have to take on a different character. In other words, our social institutions must be connected to what we know about our relationship to nature.

Of course, a great deal can be done in individual cases. For example, we can boil roots and make a decoction for a person whose catabolic processes, which start in the head, we know to be excessive. We use certain roots because we know they contain substances that have drawn—by virtue of being in a root—the spiritual, soul, and etheric elements down into the physical root formation in the right way. These substances of root formation can then work in our organism all the way into the peripheral blood vessels and into our head; they can then be called upon to counteract the excessive catabolic process of the nervous system. Of course, we must have a clear idea of the transformations a root substance undergoes when it is taken in through our mouth and is then digested so that it can reach the outermost periphery of our head organization and skin organization.

In other cases, we will have to know how substances taken from blossoms work, that is, substances whose connection with the etheric is already somewhat loose and shaky. Such blossom substances strongly absorb the astral element and are a little bit like poisons. They can be added to the bath water and thus enter the organism in an entirely different way. They stimulate the weak anabolism in the blood vessels and counteract the catabolism working toward the periphery.

Similarly, we can also trace the effect of injections. Basically, this is also a matter of strengthening and enhancing anabolic processes to counterbalance the catabolic processes. Therefore, we will see the reactions of the catabolic processes especially when we give injections. In fact, injections have their proper effect only when the catabolic processes resist at first before gradually merging with the anabolic processes. Thus, slightly impaired vision or a buzzing in the ears often occurs with injections because the breakdown processes at first refuse to properly counterbalance the enhanced anabolic processes. By the same token, such reactions are a definite indication that we are intervening in these processes.

All this shows you that anthroposophy is not about providing models for a club of sectarian old cronies so they can expound on the human being consisting of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and I. Rather, anthroposophy is concerned with a serious, thorough understanding of human beings and their relationship to the world; it is a matter of carrying the spiritual into the material realm. If anthroposophy is to take its rightful place in the world, people must realize that it can observe and study the spiritual in the material realm. As long as we are only working for sectarian circles, who merely pass on their classification of human beings, we are only dealing with things that will conflict with all kinds of other sectarian ideas. However, as soon as we can actually show that our anthroposophical insights are closely connected with all other knowledge—as I said yesterday, they shed light on all other earthly knowledge just as astrology did in the past—then people will realize that anthroposophy has to intervene in the process of civilization so that a true upbuilding process can occur to counterbalance the breakdown processes coming from past ages.

This is how serious we have to be about professing ourselves anthroposophists. Of course, not every individual will do research to discover how belladonna on the one hand and chlorine on the other affect our organism. That is not the point; what matters is that people generally understand in their hearts and minds that we can receive healing precisely from anthroposophical insights into the world and the human being.

Similarly, in Waldorf education we do not expect everyone to be able to teach nor even to teach children from first grade on. But we do expect people to have a general understanding for how our pedagogy has grown out of our knowledge of human beings and the world. Anthroposophy needs to be met with kind understanding. It would be wrong to assume that everybody should know everything. Rather, the effectiveness of the Anthroposophical Society must lie in creating a general understanding, based on sound common sense, for the strivings of anthroposophy, for what it tries to realize for the welfare and future of humanity.

Blackboard Illustrations

Illustration 1
Illustration 1
Illustrations 2 & 3
Illustrations 2 & 3
Illustration 4
Illustration 4
Illustration 5
Illustration 5

In connection with this lecture of February 11, 1923, Steiner made the following entries in his notebook:

The ether becomes similar to that of the nerve-sense system: A

The ether becomes similar to that of the metabolic system: B

Pus = organic matter (etheric) permeated by centrifugal astrality from the outside—on its way to the outside.

The Earth and the stars

Congealed exudation = organic (etheric) matter permeated by centripetal astrality from the inside—in the process of disappearing from the physical world.

In the healing process, the organism merely continues a process that takes place everyday when poisonous outer processes invading us are fought off.

It is the lower system (that carries out this process); it excretes the elements [processes] from the outside after having permeated them with centrifugal forces, such as are active in the growth of plants—and in sleep.

The poisonous processes, however, work centripetally—in the nervous system—and bring the outer world inside after it has cooled it down (made it into a mere form) so that through it the spiritual can penetrate directly to the inside.

The Earth and the stars

Impeded inhalation, eating, the overly forceful day processes; overly forceful exhalation, digestion, the overly forceful night processes.

The body has not taken in the spirit, the night processes are too strong = the person runs a temperature: areas of the organism soften and fester.

The body takes in the spirit too strongly, the day processes are too strong = the person gets cold: areas of the organism harden. Internal exudations—crumbling.