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The World of Dreams as a Bridge between the Physical World and the World of Moral Ideas
GA 225

22 September 1923, Dornach

Translated by V. E. Watkin

If we want to give its proper place among familiar things of life to what we come to know as stages on the road into the spiritual world, it is important first to have the right conception of the three states of our ordinary human consciousness. These three states – waking, dreaming, sleeping – we have described over and over again.

And we know how the human being is fully awake only in his thinking, in his conceptual faculty; how feeling, although its experience appears to differ from that of dreams, in the whole mood of its relation to a man is yet of the same nature. In ordinary consciousness feelings are experienced in just as vague a way as are dreams – not only that, but they seem to be connected in a similar manner.

The dream produces picture after picture without any regard for connections in the external world. It has its own connections. On the whole the same is true of the world of feeling. And anyone whose world of feeling in ordinary consciousness is of the same kind as his conceptual world, is terribly prosaic, dreadfully dried up and frigid. In the conceptual world when we are fully awake we must have an eye to what in the ordinary sense is logical; but we should never get anywhere in real life were we to feel in the way we think.

Then – as we have often said – there rises up from a man’s hidden depths, the will. It is possible to have some conception of it, but its essential being, how it works and weaves in the human organism, is something of which a man remains as ignorant, or as unconscious, as of his dream experience. It would be profoundly disturbing for him were he to experience what his will is actually doing.

In reality the will is a burning, consuming process. And for a man throughout his waking life always to be perceiving how in his willing he actually consumes his organism and, by food or sleep, has to replace what is thus consumed, would in ordinary consciousness certainly not conduce to his comfort.

Now, with regard to their pictures, we can to a certain extent compare a man's feeling world in his waking state, in his waking dreams, with the dream-world when he is either in deep sleep or halfway there. In this way we find that a man does not perceive these pictures as belonging to his ego but as part of the external world. While dreaming, he has so strong an impression of the action of the dream-picture being the world outside, that, at times, he can even perceive himself in the picture.

Today the following should be of particular interest to us. We go through ordinary life having one experience after another, and our dreams shake up all these experiences together, paying little heed to the connection between them which holds good for a man when awake. The dream becomes a poet developing the strangest tendencies.

A philosopher, describing his own experience, once said that he constantly dreamed he had written a book. He had not really written it but when dreaming thought he had, thought too that it was a better book than any of his others. But he dreamed the manuscript was lost. It was mislaid and he could not find it. In his dream he hurriedly searched everywhere, without success. A terribly uneasy feeling grew upon him that the manuscript of his best book might be irretrievably lost. In the midst of his discomfort he woke up. In the particular case of this philosopher this was a natural experience, for he had published a great many books. So great was their number that once when I went to see him, and his wife happened to be in the room, she told me he had written so many that the success of one was detrimental to the others.

In this philosopher’s house you always felt a remarkably practical atmosphere. On another occasion, when I called on him with a publisher, wanting to discuss an epistemological problem, this rather annoyed me. I had insisted on the publisher coming in with me – or, rather, he had insisted upon it himself – and the moment the philosopher saw him, he began: As an expert can you tell me how many copies of my book (I cannot remember which) are to be found in second-hand bookshops? – You see what a sense of the practical there was in this philosopher's house! I have no wish to be scornful; I am merely giving you a characteristic example. Others, too, may have had dreams in which their experiences appeared in fanciful guise.

Everybody knows that in dreams things do not take the same course as in our ordinary experience; the connections in them are different. On the other hand, it is easy to see how intimately related the dream is to the characteristics of the dreamer. It is a fact that many dreams are actual reflections of what is going on within our body, and we move about in our dreams as if in a perfectly familiar element.

Little by little we become aware that the dream has its own way of grouping experiences. By thinking clearly we gradually learn how we actually live in our dreams; we live there when on the point of leaving our physical and etheric bodies or at the moment of return. It is always on the transition from waking to sleeping, or from sleeping to waking, that the dream really takes place. I have frequently given you examples showing that even our dreams of greatest import take place when we are either waking up or on the point of falling asleep. Among these examples you may remember the dream of a student: how he dreamed that two students were standing at the door of a lecture-room, when one of them said something to the other which, according to the students' code in Germany, demanded satisfaction, and how it came to a duel. The whole dream was very vivid – the setting out for the scene of action after the due appointment of seconds, and so on, up to the very moment of firing. The dreamer hears the report which, as he now wakes up, changes into the noise of a failing chair that he himself has overturned. By this time he is fully awake, for the fall of the chair has cut short the dream. Thus the dream has taken place at the very moment of waking, containing within it its own time, not the time of its actual duration. According to their own inner time dreams often last so long that no one would ever sleep to that extent. Yet the dream maintains a close connection with what the sleeper is inwardly experiencing – the experience going right into his physical body.

The men of old knew quite well about such things, and a certain kind of dream was said by the old Jews to be God's punishment of a man "in his reins". Thus there was known to be a connection between the functioning of the kidneys and certain dreams. On the other hand, you have only to read a book like "The Seer of Prevorst" to find there how out of dreams people described what was wrong with their organs. Such men have a special gift for perceiving, symbolically in mighty pictures, any defective organs, so that beside it the cure can be seen. In those days this was made use of to encourage the sick person himself, out of the explanation of his dream, to prescribe his own remedy. On this point we should also study what was the authorised practice in the Temple-sleep.

When we consider the relation of the dream to our ordinary experience, the dream must be said to be a protest against the laws of nature, the laws according to which we live from the moment of waking till we go to sleep. The dream pays no heed to those laws – it makes them appear foolish. And what for the external, physical world is found to be natural law is no law for the dream, which is in itself a living protest against it. If we ask of nature on the one hand what the facts are, she will answer in accordance with natural law; but if we ask the same question of the dream, the answer will be different. Anyone who judges the course of a dream in accordance with natural law will say there is no truth in the dream – which is so, indeed, in the ordinary sense. But the dream approaches the supersensible, the spiritual, in a man, even though its pictures belong – to speak in the abstract – to his subconscious. We shall not judge correctly unless we realise that the dream has to do with a man's inner spiritual reality.

Now this is something people are slow to admit; they want to make an abstraction of the dream, to judge it only according to its fantastic character. They refuse to recognise it as something connected with the inner nature of man. And if the dream has this connection and it protests against nature’s laws, surely this is a sign that man's inner nature does the same itself.

I beg you to grasp the importance of this – that, when we come to the real man, what is within him protests against the laws of nature. Now what does this signify?

Today natural law is studied from nature around us, in the scientific way customary in the laboratory, and we find the same world-outlook extended to the investigation of man himself. He is treated as if natural law held good within him – as if it continued to do so inside his skin. But that is not by any means the case. The dream with its rejection of natural law is far nearer to what is within a man than the natural law itself. The inner human being does not act according to natural law. The dream, which in its composition is an image of what is within man, is evidence of this. Anyone who understands this is bound to call it nonsensical to believe that within the heart, within the liver, the same laws hold sway as those in nature outside. Logic belongs to external nature; to what is within man belongs the dream. And whoever calls the dream fantastic should also speak of man's inner nature in the same way. This can be actually perceived. For in the course it takes during earthly life, between birth and death, when sickness arises in one part, well-being in another, the inner nature of man is far more like a dream than like ordinary logic. Our present mode of thinking, however, has no such approach as this to what a man has within him, but is utterly given up as people are to their observations of nature outside or in the laboratory; and what they observe in this way they would like to find repeated in human beings.

It is of great importance in this respect to realise for example, how science today often treats what has a part in a man's physical make-up. Albumen is known to play a part in his life, fats, carbohydrates and salts – in essentials, naturally. That is well-known. Now what does science do? The scientist analyses the albumen, finding in it a certain percentage of oxygen, a certain percentage of nitrogen, a certain percentage of carbon and hydrogen; he analyses the fats, carbohydrates and so on. He then knows how much of all these the man contains. But from such an analysis scientists never learn what effect, for example, the potato has had upon European culture. There is hardly any mention of the influence that potatoes in the diet have had on the cultural life of Europe. For this analysis, by which you simply discover the various amounts of oxygen, nitrogen and so on, in one food or another never shows you how, for instance, rye is digested mainly by the lower bodily forces whereas the digestion of potatoes calls upon forces which are right up in the brain. This means that anyone who consumes an undue amount of potato has to use up his brain in the process of digestion, and thus partly deprives his thinking of brain-force.

Such matters as these show that neither our materialistically-minded science nor a more theological outlook arrives at the truth. When science gives an account of our food it is as if I were to describe a watch by saying: The silver is procured from a silver mine, in such and such a way; it is then loaded up and conveyed to various towns, and so on. – But when it gets to the watchmaker there is a full-stop; and what goes on in his workshop does not come into the picture. Perhaps the porcelain dial may be described, how porcelain is made, but again nothing is said of what goes on in the workshop. This is how food today is treated by science; it is just analysed. For what science tells us is actually worthless as regards the effect of the various nutriments on the human organism. In spite of any analysis there is a great difference between eating the fruits, say of rye or wheat, and eating tubers – as in the case of potatoes.

In the human organism there is quite a difference between the absorption of tubers and that of fruits or seeds. It can really be said of our present mode of thinking that it no longer goes to the heart of material existence. Materialism is therefore a world-conception with absolutely no knowledge of the working of matter, and we have to gain that knowledge by the light of spiritual science. Therefore those whose attitude is that of materialistic science say: Anthroposophy is spiritual to a fantastic degree. On the other hand, theosophists or theologians are content with abstract spirit that is never actively creative and does not show any real connection with material activity; and these call Anthroposophy materialistic because it extends its knowledge to what is material.

Thus we find ourselves caught up between two factions: those who treat everything ideally, in the abstract, and those who deal with everything materialistically. The former learn nothing about the spirit, the latter never know anything about the material. On these lines today, a way of thinking is developing which is quite unable to approach man himself.

Now recently in our spiritual evolution something most remarkable has appeared. At least the nocturnal side of spiritual life can no longer be denied – unless people want to be pig-headed. It is characteristic of the way people steeped in natural science react when they meet the darker side of spiritual life – or something else I am going to discuss – which they are unable to deny.

A noteworthy example of this is a book by Ludwig Staudenmaier – the (translated) title of which is "Magic as an Experimental Science". One might almost say: The nightingale as a machine. – Anyway this book is characteristic of our time.

How, then, does this man go to work? In his case the peculiar feature is that his very way of life led him to experience magic in himself. And the day came when he felt impelled to start certain experiments on himself – which might be said to reveal the darkness of his destiny. He was unable to deny after these experiences of his that there is such a thing as automatic writing. You know that I never recommend anything of the kind, always describing it as dangerous. But when it comes to what these people have actually done, then we are faced by something exceedingly strange, and need all our critical faculty to distinguish the true from the false. Now this committing to writing of things never previously entering the writer's head, this automatic writing, became for Staudenmaier a problem on which to experiment. Accordingly he set himself down with a pencil, when, lo and behold, things burst forth to which he had never even given a thought, and what he wrote was indeed most peculiar! Just imagine how surprising it must be to a scientific thinker when, on taking up a pencil, he turns himself into an automatist, believing all the while that it cannot be done. But the pencil suddenly takes command, guiding his hand to write quite astonishing things. That is what happened to Staudenmaier.

Now his greatest surprise was when the pencil began to show temper, as dreams do; it wrote what was very far from his thoughts. Thus remarks appeared such as "You're a silly fool!" – and it can be gathered from this how completely the pencil was now in control.

These indeed are things this gentleman would never have thought! After repeated remarks of this kind, and the pencil had written the craziest things, Staudenmaier asked who was really the writer. The answer came: "Spirits are writing." In his view this again was not the truth, since for a scientific writer spirits do not exist. Whatever was he to say? Certainly not that it was spirits who were lying; so he said that his subconscious was always telling lies. For how terrible for a man if his subconscious suddenly convinces him that he is a silly fool, and moreover records it in writing, so that – as the expression goes – it is there in black and white.

However he continues to behave as though spirits were speaking and asks why they do not tell the truth. To which comes the reply: Oh – that is just our way; we are spirits who have to lie, for it's part of our very nature.

This was a most apt description. Here begins a sphere where things are certainly very questionable, for, you see, when it appears that truth has its home above while below it is always being contradicted, this naturally creates an awkward situation. But if anyone is entirely at the mercy of a scientific world-conception, in a case such as this he can but conclude that the liar is in him. Staudenmaier, therefore infers that it is not objective spiritual beings speaking but his own subconscious – and in such general terms anything can be summed up.

Now it is quite typical of such spirits that they did not make use of Staudenmaier's hand to write down any new way of proving some mathematical problem, or a solution in the realm of natural science; characteristically they always said something of a different sort.

There was indeed every reason for Staudenmaier to be upset, and a medical friend of his advised him to go out shooting. Advice of that kind is popular with the medical profession; for example, doctors are very fond of recommending marriage. In Staudenmaier’s case, however, the advice was to go shooting, to shake off this foolishness by diverting himself.

But just imagine! In spite of setting out to shoot magpies in the way he described, here too everything was delusion, for all kinds of demon-like forms peeped from the trees instead of magpies. Sitting on the branches were creatures, half-cat, half-elephant, making long noses at him and putting out their tongues. And when he looked down he did not see hares, for example, on the ground but all manner of fantastic figures up to every sort of trick.

Thus it was not only that the pencil was scribbling nonsense, but now things became still more fantastic; so that instead of magpies appearing it was demons, with all their ghoulishness – in fact, more delusion.

Actually all he saw was as it is in a dream and, if his will had remained intact, he might have shot instead of a magpie some kind of horror, half-cat, half-elephant. By the time this came to the ground it would certainly have changed into something else – perhaps half-frog, half nightingale, with a devil's tail. It would certainly have changed in falling.

In any case we may say that our experimentalist gained access to a world resembling that of dreams; a world which also protested against anything to do with the laws of nature.

For what would have been the natural course of events? On lowering his gun after shooting a magpie, Staudenmaier would have found a magpie on the ground. It was not this, however, that happened, but what I have just described; which was another protest against natural law on the part of the darker side of the spiritual world into which the man was plunged. Had he kept consistently to his idea of the subconscious, he should at least have admitted: If all this is in my own subconscious then this subconscious is evidently protesting against the laws of nature. For what was this subconscious actually telling him? As I have described, it conjured up all kinds of demons; and these told him quite different things about himself from what he had ever thought. Thus, he could but conclude: If the world were organised entirely in accordance with natural law, what now constitutes my inner being could not exist – as a man I should not be able to exist. For when what is within me speaks, this has nothing to do with natural law. Within a man, therefore, an entirely different world holds sway from the one where there are laws of nature – a world that in its very conditions reject these laws.

That is the one interesting point about this maker of experiments in magic, about the magician who with his experiments impressed so many people. It shows how – even though in a different way – a man can in fact come to the perception of a world which, in its connections, is like the world of dreams we so frequently meet in life.

This leads us, through a right conception of ordinary human existence to recognise that, bordering on this ordinary world that is interwoven by natural law, there is another world where these laws are no longer valid.

If these matters are looked at rightly, we can only infer that, adjoining the world ruled by the laws of nature of which we make a study, there is another world independent of these laws and ruled by quite different ones of its own. By sinking into the world of dreams in a realistic way we come to a world where natural laws are no longer effective. That the human being, with his ordinary consciousness, perceives this world as fantastic, is due to his inability to understand the conditions he meets there. He himself introduces the fantasy. But what weaves and lives in it belongs to an altogether different world-sphere, and it is this sphere into which a man sinks in his dreams.

This leads us on directly to another thing. If we talk to somebody wedded to the usual world-conception of today, he will say: I study what law it is that governs the fall of a stone, and discover the law of gravitation. Then I go further out into the universe and apply the same law to the stars. – And this is what thinks: Here on earth I discover the laws of nature; there outside is the cosmos (drawing is made). The laws I have discovered for the earth I imagine still to be valid for the nebula of Orion, or anything else.

Now everyone knows that, for example, the force of gravity diminishes in proportion to the square of the distance, becoming weaker and weaker; and he knows that light too decreases. I have already told you that the truth of our natural laws also diminishes. What down on earth is true as regards them is no longer true in the cosmos; it is true only for a certain distance. Beyond that distance, out in the cosmos, the same law begins to hold sway which we meet with in our dreams. Hence we should be clear that, looking out at Orion with its nebula and in order to understand it, we must not think in accordance with the experimental method of physics, but begin to dream – for Orion shows its conformity with dream-law.

It can be said that various details of such things have actually been known in the past, and in later times an inkling of them has still been preserved, especially by those thinkers capable of genuine concentration.

Such a thinker was Johannes Müller, the natural scientist who lived not, it is true, in the second, but in the first part of the 19th century. He it was who taught Haeckel. He could at any time really concentrate, and lived absolutely in what he undertook. By being able to live thus entirely in what he was doing, a man may sometimes discover a great deal, though – as I will show you – in certain respects this may have its disadvantages. For instance, Johannes Müller, on being asked a question during a course of lectures he was holding in summer, replied: I only know about that during the winter-course – not in the summer. – During the summer-course he was so completely engrossed in the subject of the lectures he was actually giving, that he openly admitted it would only be when winter came that he could turn his thoughts to a different matter.

Another very interesting thing was admitted by Johannes Müller – that he could spend a long time dissecting bodies to discover something he wanted to know without success; but that afterwards he often dreamed about these experiments, when he would see far more deeply into the matter, and it became quite clear. This was in the first half of the 19th century, and in those days anyone, even a famous scientist, could own up to such eccentricities.

In his dreams, therefore, a man is in a quite different world with quite different laws. And weighing the matter rightly, it must be presumed that, if we want to follow in the steps of Johannes Müller, we must not think of Orion and its nebula in the way customary in observatories and other astronomical centres – we have to dream. Then we learn more than by thinking things over. This reminds us of the shepherds of old, who, sleeping in the fields at night, had dreams about the stars, thus getting to know more about them than the people who lived later. That is really so.

In short, whether we enter man’s inner nature and approach the world of dreams, or go out into the wide cosmos, we meet – as was said in olden days – beyond the circle of the Zodiac a world of dreams.

Then we reach the point of understanding what was meant when the Greeks – who still had knowledge of such things – used the term "chaos". I have seen every possible explanation of chaos but not one anywhere near the truth. For what had a Greek in mind when he spoke about chaos? He was thinking of the law concerning which dreams give us some notion, or which we must suppose to hold good in the outermost regions of the cosmos. This law that differs from natural law was ascribed by a Greek to chaos. He said indeed that chaos begins where natural law is no longer to be found, where another kind of law holds good. A Greek considered the world to have been brought forth out of chaos, out of a condition, that is, not yet in accordance with natural law, but as it is in dreams or, as is it still today, in the far reaches of the cosmos – in the Dog star near the constellation of Orion and so on. There we come to a world which still makes itself known to man in the fantastic but living land of dream-imagery.

If here we have the physical world of nature (a drawing was made), when we sink into the land of dreams we come, as it were, to a second stream. Then beyond the dream world there is a third stream without any immediate relation to natural law. The world of dreams protests against this law; but in the case of this third world it would be nonsensical to say it was guided by them at all. It absolutely opposes these laws – even boldly – for it has more to do with human beings, whereas the dream still appears as living pictures, this third world comes to expression chiefly in the moral world-conception through the voice of conscience.

If next to one another we had, on the one side, the world of nature, on the other the world of morality, there would be no bridge to connect the two. The bridge, however, is formed by the world of dreams, or by that world experienced by our friend who made experiments in the realm of magic, where things were said to him having nothing to do with natural law.

Between the world in which nature weaves her laws and the world from which the voice of conscience streams to us, there lies for ordinary consciousness the dream-world. Since this is the waking world, while this is the dream-world, and this is the world of sleep, we are led to conceive that during sleep the gods actually speak to man – not of what has to do with nature but of what is moral; and when man wakes, this remains within him as the divine voice, as conscience.

In this way the three worlds are merged together, two things becoming clear: on the one hand, why the world of dreams protests against natural conditions; or the other hand, the extent to which the dream-world is a bridge to a world the reality of which is hidden from ordinary consciousness – that is, the world out of which moral perceptions arise.

If we make our way into this world we find the further spiritual world that is no longer comprehensible in accordance with the laws of nature, a world with spiritual laws. In dreams the two are mingled – spiritual law with natural law, natural law with spiritual law – because the world of dreams is a stream connecting the two.

Thus we have thrown light from yet another aspect on how the human being is an essential member of these three worlds.