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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Part II
GA 291

1. Thought and Will as Light and Darkness

5 December 1920, Dornach

It is a one-sided view of the world to consider it, like Hegel, as permeated by what one might call cosmic thought. It is equally one-sided to consider, like Schopenhauer, that Nature has a basis of free-will. These two particular tendencies apply to western human nature, which leans more towards the side of thought. Hegel's philosophy has another form in the eastern view of the universe. In Schopenhauer's there is a tendency which really suits the oriental, and is shown by the fact that Schopenhauer has a particular preference for Buddhism, and the oriental view in general.

But really every such method of observation can be judged only if surveyed from the point of view which is given by Spiritual Science. From this point of view such a grouping together of the world under the heading either of thought of will appears to be something abstract, and, as we have often said, the more modern development of man still leans towards such abstractions. Spiritual Science must bring man back again to a concrete view of the world, in agreement with reality. And it is precisely to such a view that the inner reasons for the presence of these one-sided philosophies will appear. What such men as Hegel and Schopenhauer, who are after all great and important intelligences, see, is of course visible in the world; but it must be seen in the right way.

Now let us today, to begin with, understand clearly that we, as human beings, experience thought in ourselves. When a man speaks of his thought-experiences, it means that he has this thought-experience direct. He could naturally not have it unless the world were filled with thought. For how should a man, who perceives the world by his senses, be able to think, as a result of this sensory perception, unless the thought were already in the world?

But as we know from other studies, the organization of the human head is constructed in such a way as to be specially capable of taking in thought from the world. It is formed indeed from thought. It points at the same time to our previous existence on earth. We know that the head is really the result, the metamorphosed result of the previous life, while the organization of the human limbs points to a future life on earth. Roughly speaking, we have our head because our limbs have been metamorphosed from the previous life into the head. The limbs we now have, with everything belonging to them, will be metamorphosed into the head we shall carry in our next earth-life. At present, in our life between birth and death, thoughts function in our head. These thoughts, as we have also seen, are the reshaping of what functioned as will in our limbs in our previous existence. And again, what functions as will in our present limbs will be reshaped and changed into thoughts in our next life on earth.

The will thus appears as the seed, as it were, of thought. What is at first will becomes thought later on. If we look at ourselves as human beings with heads, we must look back to our past, for in this past we had the character of will. If we look into the future, we must take into account the character of will in our present limbs and must say: This is what in future will become our head: thinking man. But we continually carry both these in us. We are created out of the universe because thought from a previous age is organized in us in conjunction with will, which leads over into the future.

Now that which thus arranges the composition of man in this way becomes particularly observable if considered from the point of view of spiritual-scientific research.

The man who can develop himself so far as to have knowledge of Imagination, of Inspiration and of Intuition sees not merely the head of a human being, but he sees objectively the thinking man which his head makes him. He looks, as it were, in the direction of the thoughts. So that we may say with those abilities which man normally requires between birth and death, the head appears in the shape and form in which we see it. Through developed knowledge of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition the strength of thought, which is after all the basis of the head's organization, that which comes down from earlier incarnations, becomes visible—if we use the term metaphorically. How does it become visible? In such a way, dear friends, that we can only use the expression: it becomes as if it gave forth light.

Certainly, when people, who want to keep to the materialistic point of view, criticize these things, one sees at once how little the present generation is capable of understanding at all what they mean. I have in my Theosophy and in other writings, points out sufficiently clearly that it is not a question of thinking in terms of a new physical world, a new edition of it, as it were, if we contemplate thinking man in Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition; on the contrary, this experience is exactly the same as one has in regard to light in the physical external world. Put accurately it is like this: Man has a certain experience in connection with external light. He has the same experience, in imagination, in connection with the thought-element of the head. Thus the thought-element (See Diagram 1) viewed objectively, is seen as light, or better, experienced as light. Being thinking men, we live in light. We see the external light with physical senses; the light which becomes thought we do not see, because we live in it, because as thinking men, it is ourselves. You cannot see that which you yourselves are. If you emerge from this thought and enter upon Imagination and Inspiration, you put yourself opposite to it and can see the thought-element as light. So that in speaking of the whole world, we may say: We have the light in us; only it does not appear to us as light because we live within it, and because while we use the light, while we have it, it becomes thought within us. You control the light, as it were, you take up the light in yourself which otherwise appears outside you. You differentiate it in yourself. You work in it. This is precisely your thinking, it is a working in light. You are a light-being. You do not know it, because you live within the light. But your thinking which you unfold, is living in the light. And I you look at thought from the outside, you see, altogether, light.

Diagram 1

Think now of the Universe (Circle.) You see it radiated with light—by day of course; but in reality you are looking at this Universe from the outside ... we now do the opposite. First we had the human head (Thought in the diagram), which contains thought in its development. Seen from outside, it has light. In the Universe we have light which is seen by the senses. If we come out of the Universe, and regard it from outside, what does it look like then? Like a web of thoughts. The Universe from within—light; from outside—thought. The head from within—thought, from outside—light.

This is a way of viewing the cosmos which can be extremely useful and suggestive to you, if you wish to make use of it, if you really penetrate into such things. Your thought and whole soul-life will become much more active than it otherwise is, if you learn to put this thought before you: if I were to come out of myself—as indeed a person who goes to sleep I continually do, and look back at my head, at myself therefore as a thinking man, I should see myself radiating forth light. If I were to leave the light-flooded world, and look at it from outside, I should see it as a picture of thought, as a thought-being. You observe, light and thought go together; they are identical, but seen from different sides.

Now the thought that is in us is really a survival from earlier times, the most mature thing in us, the result of former lives on earth; what formerly was will has become thought, and thought appears as light. As a consequence you will find: where light is, there is thought—but how? In thought or put differently, in light, a previous world continually dies.

That is one of the world-secrets. We look out into the Universe. It is full of light, in which thought lives. But in this thought-filled light there is a dying world. The world is continually dying in light.

When someone like Hegel regards the world, he really looks at the perpetually dying part of it. Those who have this particular tendency, become, for the most part, men of thought. And in dying the world becomes beautiful. The Greeks, who were really people of innate human nature, had their external pleasure when beauty shone in the dying world. For the world's beauty shines in the light in which it dies. The world does not become beautiful if it cannot die, for in dying the world becomes luminous. So that it is really beauty which is created from the radiance of the continuously dying world. Thus we regard the world quantitatively. The modern world began with Galileo and others to consider the world quantitatively, and our Scientists today are particularly proud when they can put natural phenomena into terms of lifeless mathematics. It is true Hegel used more pregnant concepts than the mathematical ones to understand the world; but what attracted him most was maturity and decay. Hegel's attitude to the world was like that of a man in front of a tree laden with blossom. At the moment when the fruit is about to develop, but is not yet there, when the blossom is at its fullest, there works in the tree that power of light, which is light-borne thought. That was Hegel's position. He looked at the blossom at its maximum, at that which becomes most completely concrete.

Schopenhauer was different. In order to test his influence, we must look at the other side of human things, at the beginnings. It is the will-element which we carry in our bodies. And we experience this—I have often pointed out—just as we experience the world in sleep. It is unconscious in us. Can we look at this will-element from outside, as we look at thought? Let us take the will developing in some human limb or other, and let us ask ourselves: if we were to look at this will from the other side, from the standpoint of Imagination, of Inspiration, and of Intuition, what then happens? What is the parallel here to seeing thought as light? What do we regard the will if we look at it with the trained power of sight, with clairvoyance? Yes: if we do this, we also get something which we can see from outside. If we look at thought with the power of clairvoyance, we perceive light. If we look at will with the power of clairvoyance, it becomes always thicker and thicker till it becomes matter. You have no other option, if you agree with Schoenhauer, but to believe that man is really a being of will. Had Schopenhauer been clairvoyant, this being of will would have confronted him as a matter-machine, for matter is the outer side of will. Within, matter is will, as light is thought. From outside, will is matter, as thought is outwardly light. For this reason I pointed out tin former addresses: If man dives down mystically into his will-nature, then those who only toy with Mysticism and really only strive after a sensuous experience of their Ego and of the worst egoism, believe they will find the spirit. But if they went far enough with this introspection, they would discover the true material nature of man's interior. For it is nothing less than a diving down into matter. If you dive down into the will-nature, you will find the true nature of matter. The scientific philosophers of today are only telling fairy-stories when they talk about matter consisting of molecules and atoms. You find the true nature of matter by diving down mystically into yourself. There you find the other side of will, and that is matter. And in this matter, that is in Will, is revealed finally the continually beginning, continually germinating world.

You look out onto the world. You are surrounded with light, and the light is the death-bed of a previous world. You tread on hard matter, the strength of the world bears you up. In light shines beauty in the form of thought, and in the gleam of beauty the previous world dies. The world discloses itself in it strength and might and power, but also in its darkness. The world of the future discloses itself in darkness, in the elements of material will.

If physicists were for once to talk sense, they would not produce speculations about atoms and molecules, but they would say: The visible world consists of the past, and carries in it not molecules and atoms, but the future. And you would be right in saying of the world that the past appears to us in the present, and the past wraps up everywhere the future, for the present is only the total effect of past and future. The future is what lies in the strength of matter. The past is what shines in the beauty of light, which includes, of course, sound and warmth.

And thus man can understand himself only if he takes himself as a seed of futurity, enclosed in the past, in the light-aura of thought. We might say that looked at spiritually man is the past in so far as he shines in his beauty-aura, but in this past-aura is incorporated a darkness mingling with the light, which rays forth out of the past, a darkness which carries over into the future. Light shines out of the past; darkness leads into the future. Light is nature in terms of thought, darkness is nature in terms of will. Hegel leaned toward the light that develops in the processes of growth and in the ripest blooms. Schopenhauer, as philosopher, is like a man standing in front of a tree, who has really no joy in the magnificence of its flower, but has an inner urge to wait till the seeds of the fruit bursts forth. That pleases him, that the power of growth is there, it stimulates him and makes his mouth water to think peaches are going to grow out of the peach-blossom. He turns from light-nature to light. What stirs him, viz., what develops from the light-nature of the bloom as the stuff that he can roll round with his tongue, or the future fruit, is as a matter of act the double nature of the world. To see the world properly you must see it in its double nature, for only then do you realize the concreteness of the world, whereas otherwise you see only its abstractness. When you go out and look at the trees in blossom, you are really living on the past. You look at nature in spring and you can say: What the gods have done to the world in past ages is revealed in the beauty of spring blossom. You look at the fruitful autumn world and say: There begins a new act of the gods, there falls something which however has the power of further development, of development into the future.

Thus it is a question not merely of making for oneself a picture of the world through speculation, but of taking in the world with the whole man. One can in actual fact comprehend the past in plum blossom, and eel the future in the plum. The taste of it on the tongue is closely connected with that out of which one rises again, like the Phoenix from his ashes—into the future. There you comprehend the world in feeling, and it was in this way that Goethe really pondered on everything he wanted to see and feel in the world. For instance he considered the green plant-world. He had not, of course, the advantages of modern Spiritual Science, but in considering the greenness of the plant-world, which had not quite reached the stage of bloom, he had after all the element that has come down from the past into the present; for in the plant the past appears already in the bloom; but what is not quite so much of the past is the leaf's greenness.

Diagram 2

The greenness of Nature is that which, as it were, has not yet decayed, which is not so much in the grip of the past. It is this which unfolds itself as green. (See Diagram 2) But that which points to the future is what emerges from the darkness. There where the green is graded off to the bluish tone, there is that which proves itself to be of the future (blue.) On the other hand, there where we are directed to the past, where the ripening force is, which brings things to flower, there is warmth (red,) where light not only shines forth, but inwardly fills itself with force, where it becomes warmth. Now one ought really to draw the whole thing so that one says: You have the green, the plant-world (thus would Goethe feel, even if he has not transformed it into Spiritual or Occult Science;) bordering on it you have the darkness, where the green is darkened into blue. The part that increases its light and becomes filled with warmth, would close again towards the top. But you yourself—as man—are there, there you have within you what you have externally in the green plant-world; there you are, as human etheric body, and I have often said, peach-coloured. And that is the colour which appears here when the blue crosses over to the red. That is our own colour. So that, looking out on the coloured world, one can say: There one is oneself in the peach-colour, and has the green opposite; one has on the one hand the bluish, the dark, on the other side the light colour, the reddish-yellow. But because one is inside the peach-colour, because one lives in it, one can in ordinary life perceive it as little as one perceives thought as light. One does not perceive or observe one's own experience, and therefore one overlooks the peach-colour and sees only the red which one enlarges on the one side, and the blue which one enlarges towards the other side; and thus we see such a rainbow-spectrum. But this is only a deception. You would get the real spectrum if you bent this colour-strip into a circle. In actual fact one does bend it just because as human being one stands within the peach-colour, and so sees the coloured world only from blue to red and from red to blue through green. Were you to have this aspect, precisely then every rainbow would appear as a self-contained circle, as a circular section of a cylinder.

I mention this last only to call your attention to the fact that a philosophy of Nature such as Goethe's is at the same time a spiritual philosophy. In approaching Goethe, the researcher of Nature, we may say that he has as yet no Spiritual Science, but his view of Natural Science was such that it was quite on the lines of Spiritual Science. The essential thing for us today is that the world, including man, is an inter-penetration of thought-light, light-thought with will-matter, matter-will; and the concrete element in it is built up in the most various ways, or permeated with the content of thought-light, light-thought, matter-will and will-matter.

You must look at the Cosmos qualitatively in this way, not merely quantitatively, to get the truth of it. Then also there creeps into this Cosmos a continuous dying away, a dying of the past in light, and a opening up of the future in the darkness. The old Persians, when they felt the past decaying in light, with their instinctive clairvoyance, they called it Ahura Mazdao, and when they felt the future in the darkening will, they called it Ahriman.

And now you have these two world-entities, light and darkness—the living thought, the decaying past, in light, and the growing will, the coming future, in darkness. If we get so far that we regard thought no longer merely in its abstractness, but as light, that we regard the will no longer merely in its abstractness, but as darkness, in its material nature; if we get so far as to be able to regard the warmth-content, for example, of the light-spectrum, as being connected with the past, and the material side, the chemical side of the spectrum as being connected with the future, we pass over from the purely abstract to the concrete. We are no longer such dried-up, pedantic thinkers, merely working with the head; we know that what does work in our heads is really the light that surrounds us. And we are no longer such prejudiced people as to have only pleasure in light: we know also that in the light is death, a dying world. We can sense the world-tragedy in the light. We can also get from the abstract thought to the rhythm of the world. And in darkness we see the seeds of the future. We find indeed therein the impetus for such passionate natures as Schopenhauer. In short, we penetrate from the abstract into the concrete. World-pictures rise before us instead of mere thoughts or abstract will-impulses.

In the next lecture we shall seek—in what has developed concretely for us so remarkably,—thought into light and will into darkness—we shall seek the origin of good and evil. We shall penetrate from the world within into the Cosmos and there seek not only in an abstract or religious-abstract world the causes of good and evil, but we shall see how we break through to a knowledge of good and evil, after having made a beginning by realizing thought in its light, and having felt will in it darkness.