Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Soul Economy
Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education
GA 302

III. Education Based on Knowledge of the Human Being II

25 December 1921, Stuttgart

If you take what was presented to you yesterday and study it in greater depth, you will find that today’s interpretation of the world cannot lead to a real understanding of the human being. And if you go into further detail in your study of what could be only briefly described here and relate it to specific problems of life, you will find confirmation of all that was postulated in yesterday’s lecture.

Now, strangely, exponents of the modern worldview seem unaware of what it means that they cannot reach the specifically human sphere. Nor are they willing to admit that, in this sense, their interpretation of the universe is incomplete. This fact alone is more than enough to justify all the efforts made by spiritual scientific research. We can understand this all the more clearly by observing characteristic examples. When quoting Herbert Spencer, I did not intend to prove anything but only wanted to illustrate modern thinking. Spencer had already formulated his most important and fundamental ideas before Darwinism spread. So-called Darwinism aptly demonstrates how scientific, intellectualistic thinking approaches questions and problems that result from a deep-seated longing in the human soul.

Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, published in 1859, certainly represents a landmark in modern spiritual life. His method of observation and the way he draws conclusions are exemplary for a modern conceptual discipline. One can truly say that Darwin observed the data offered to his sense perceptions with utmost exactitude; that he searched for the underlying laws in a very masterly way; and he considering everything that such observations could bring to his powers of comprehension. Never did he allow himself to be deflected, not to the slightest degree, by his own subjectivity. He developed the habit of learning from the outer world in a way commensurate with the human intellect.

Observing life in this way, Darwin found links between the simplest, least developed organisms and the highest organism on earth—humankind itself. He contemplated the entire range of living organisms in a strictly natural scientific way, but what he observed was external and not part of the essential nature of human beings. Neither the true human being nor human spiritual aspirations were the object of his enquiry. However, when Darwin finally had to face an impasse, his reaction was characteristic; after having formulated his excellent conclusions, he asked himself, Why would it have pleased the Divine Creator any less to begin creation with a small number of relatively undeveloped and primitive organic forms, which would be allowed to develop gradually, than to miraculously conjure fully developed forms right at the beginning of the world?

But what does such a response imply? It shows that those who have made the intellectual and naturalistic outlook their own, apply it only as far as a certain inner sensing will allow and then readily accept these newly discovered boundaries without pondering too much over whether it might be possible to transcend them. In fact, they are even prepared to fall back on traditional religious concepts. In a subsequent book, The Descent of Man, Darwin did not fundamentally modify his views. Apart from being typical of the time, Darwin’s attitude reveals certain national features, characteristic of Anglo American attitudes and differing from those of Central Europe. If we look at modern life with open eyes, we can learn a great deal about such national traits.

In Germany, Darwinism was initially received with open enthusiasm, which nevertheless spread to two opposite directions. There was, first of all, Ernst Haeckel, who with youthful ardor took up Darwin’s methods of observation, which are valid only in nonhuman domains. But, according to his Germanic disposition, he was not prepared to accept given boundaries with Darwin’s natural grace. Haeckel did not capitulate to traditional religious ideas by speaking of an Almighty who had created some imperfect archetypes. Using Darwin’s excellent methods (relevant only for the non-human realm) as a basis for a new religion, Ernst Haeckel included both God and the human being in his considerations, thus deliberately crossing the boundary accepted by Darwin.

Du Bois-Reymond took up Darwinism in another way. According to his views, naturalistic intellectual thinking can be applied only to the non-human realm. He thus remained within its limits. But he did not stop there, unquestioning and guided by his feelings; he made this stopping point itself into a theory. Right there, where Darwin’s observations trail off into vagueness, Du Bois-Reymond postulated an alternative, stating that either there are limits or there are no limits. And he found two such limits.

The first limit occurs when we turn our gaze out into the world, and we are confronted with matter. The second is when we turn our gaze inward, toward experiences of our consciousness and find these also finally impenetrable. He thus concluded that we have no way of reaching the supra-sensory, and made this into a theory: one would have to rise to the level of “supernaturalism,” the realm where religion may hold sway, but science has nothing to do with what belongs to this religious sphere. In this way, Du Bois-Reymond leaves everyone free to supplement, according to personal needs, everything confirmed by natural science with either mystical or traditionally accepted forms of religious beliefs. But he insists that such supernatural beliefs could never be the subject of scientific scrutiny.

A characteristic difference between the people of Central Europe and those of the West is that the latter lean naturally toward the practical side of life. Consequently, they are quite prepared to allow their thoughts to trail off into what cannot be defined, as happens in practical life. Among Central Europeans, on the other hand, there is a tendency to put up with impracticalities, as long as the train of thought remains theoretically consistent, until an either/or condition has been reached. And this we see particularly clearly when fundamental issues about ultimate questions are at stake.

But there is still a third book by Darwin that deals with the expression of feeling. To those who occupy themselves with problems of the soul, this work seems to be far more important than his Origin of the Species and Descent of Man. Such people can derive great satisfaction from this book—so full of fine observations of the human expression of emotions—by allowing it to work in them. It shows that those who have disciplined themselves to observe in a natural scientific way can also attain faculties well suited for research into the soul and spiritual sphere of the human being. It goes without saying that Darwin advanced along this road only as far as his instinct would allow him to go. Nevertheless, the excellence of his observations shows that a training in natural scientific observation can also lead to an ability to go into the supra-sensory realm. This fact lies behind the hope of anthroposophic work, which, in any task that it undertakes, chooses not to depart by a hair’s breadth from the disciplined training of the natural scientific way of thinking. But, at the same time, anthroposophy wishes to demonstrate how the natural scientific method can be developed, thus transcending the practical limits established by Darwin, crossed boldly by Haeckel’s naturalism, and stated as a theory by Du Bois-Reymond. It endeavors to show how the supra-sensory world can be reached so that real knowledge of the human being can finally be attained.

The first step toward such higher knowledge does not take us directly into the world of education, which will be our central theme during the coming days. Instead, we will try to build a bridge from our ordinary conceptual and emotional life to suprasensory cognition. This can be achieved if—using ordinary cognition—we learn to apprehend the basic nature of our sense-bound interpretation of the world.

To do this, first I would like you to assume two hypotheses. Imagine that, from childhood on, the world of matter had been transparent and clear to our understanding. Imagine that the material world around us was not impermeable to our sight, but that with ordinary sensory observation and thinking we could fully penetrate and comprehend its nature. If this were the situation, we would be able to comprehend the material aspect of the mineral kingdom. We would also be able to understand the physical aspect of human nature; the human body would become completely transparent to our sight.

If such a hypothesis were reality, however, you would have to eliminate something from your mind that real life needs for its existence; you would have remove from your thinking all that we mean when we speak of love. For what is the basis of love, whether it is love for another person, for humankind in general, or for spiritual beings? Our love depends on meeting the other with forces that are completely different from those that illuminate our thinking. If transparent or abstract thoughts were to light up as soon as we met another being, then even the very first seeds of love would be destroyed immediately. We simply would be unable to engender love. You need only to remember how in ordinary life love ceases when the light of abstract thought takes over. You need only to realize how correct we are to speak of abstract thoughts as cold, how all inner warmth ceases when we approach the thinking realm. Warmth, revealing itself through love, could not come into being if we were to meet outer material life only with the intellect; love would be extinguished from our world.

Now imagine that there is nothing to prevent you from looking into your own inner structure; that, when looking inward, you could perceive the forces and weaving substances within you just as clearly as you see colors and hear tones in the outer world. If this were to happen, you would have the possibility of continuously experiencing your own inner being. However, in this case, too, you would have to eliminate something from your mind that human beings need to exist in the world as it is. What is it that lights up within when you turn your sight inward? You see remembered imagery of what you have experienced in the outer world. In fact, when looking inward, you do not see your inner being at all. You see only the reflection, or memory, of what you have experienced in the world.

On the one hand, if you consider that, without this faculty of memory, personal life would be impossible, and, on the other, consider that to perceive your own inner life you would have to eliminate your memory, then you realize the necessity of the built-in limits in our human organization. The possibility of clearly perceiving the essence of outer matter would presuppose a person devoid of love. The possibility of perpetually perceiving one’s own inner organization would presuppose a human being devoid of memory. Thus, these two hypotheses help us to realize the necessity of the two limits placed on ordinary human life and consciousness. They exist for the development of love and because human beings need personal memories for an inner life. But, if there is a path beyond these boundaries into the suprasensory world, an obvious question arise. Can we walk this path without damaging our personal life, on the one hand, and shunning a social life with others, on the other?

Anthroposophy has the courage to say that, with the ordinary established naturalistic approach, it is impossible to attain suprasensory knowledge. At the same time, however, it must ask, Is there any way that, when applied with the strict discipline of natural science, will enable us to enter suprasensory worlds? We cannot accept the notion that crossing the threshold into the supernatural world marks the limit of scientific investigation. It is the goal of anthroposophy to open a path into the suprasensory, using means equally as exact as those used by ordinary science to penetrate the sensory realm. In this way, anthroposophy merely continues along the path of modern science. Anthroposophy does not intend to rebel against present achievements, but it endeavors to bring something that is needed today and something contemporary life cannot provide from its own resources.

If we look at Darwin’s attitude as I have presented it, we might be prompted to say, If science can deal only with what is perceptible to the senses, then we have to fall back on religious beliefs to approach the suprasensory, and we simply have to accept the situation as inevitable. Such a response, however, cannot solve the fundamental, urgent human problems of our time.

In this context, I would like to speak about two characteristics of contemporary life, because, apart from supplementing what has been said, they also illuminate educational matters. They may help to illustrate how modern intellectual thinking—which is striving for absolute lucidity—is nevertheless prone to drift into the dark unconscious and instinctive domains.

If you observe people’s attitudes toward the world in past ages, you will find that ancient religion was never seen as mere faith—this happened only in later times—but that religions were based on direct experience and insight into spirit worlds. Knowledge thus gained was considered to be as real as the results of our modern natural scientific research. Only in subsequent ages was knowledge confined to what is sense perceptible, and suprasensory knowledge was, consequently, relegated to the religious realm. And so, the illusion came about that anything pertaining to metaphysical existence had to be a matter of faith. Yet, as long as religions rested on suprasensory knowledge, this knowledge bestowed great power, affecting even physical human nature. Modern civilization cannot generate this kind of moral strength for people today. When religion becomes only a matter of faith, it loses power, and it can no longer work down into our physical constitution. Although this is felt instinctively, its importance is unrecognized. This instinctive feeling and the search for revitalizing forces have found an outlet that has become a distinctive feature of our civilization; it is a part of all that we call sports.

Religion has lost the power of strengthening the human physical constitution. Therefore an instinctive urge has arisen in people to gain access to a source of strength through outward, Education Based on Knowledge of the Human Being 39 physical means only. As life tends toward polarity, we find that people instinctively want to substitute the loss of invigoration, previously drawn from his religious experiences, by cultivating sports. I have no wish to harangue against sports. Neither do I wish to belittle their positive aspects. In fact, I feel confident that these activities will eventually develop in a healthy way. Nevertheless, it must be said that sports will assume a completely different position in human life in the future, whereas today it is a substitute for religious experience. Such a statement may well seem paradoxical, but truth, today, is paradoxical, because modern civilization has drifted into so many crosscurrents.

A second characteristic of our intellectual and naturalistic civilization is that, instead of embracing life fully, it tends to lead to contradictions that destroy the soul. Thinking is driven along until it becomes entangled in chaotic webs of thought and contradictions, and the thinker remains unaware of the confusion created. For example, a young child in a certain sense will go through the various stages than humankind has passed through, from the days of primitive humanity up to our present civilization, and this fills certain naturalistic intellectuals with admiration. They observe the somewhat turned-up nostrils of a young child and the position of the eyes, which lie further apart than in later life. They observe the formation of the forehead with its characteristic curvature and also the shape of the mouth. All these features remind people of those found in primitive tribes, and so they see young children as “little savages.” Yet, at the same time, sentiments such as those expressed by Rousseau are trying to rise to the surface—sentiments that completely contradict what has just been said. When contemplating educational aims, some people prefer to “return to nature,” both from a physical and a moral aspect. But, being under the influence of an intellectual atmosphere, they soon aim at arranging educational ideas according to the principles of logic, for intellectuality will always lead to logic in thinking. Observing many illogical features in education today, they want to base it on principles of logic, which, in their eyes, are entirely compatible with a child’s natural development. Logic, however, does not meet the needs of children at all. One close look at primitive races will make one quickly realize that members of such tribes hardly apply logical thinking to their ways of life.

And so some reformers are under the illusion that they are returning to nature by introducing a logical attitude in educating the young, who are supposed to be little savages, an attitude that is completely alien to a child. In this way, adherents of Rousseau’s message find themselves caught in a strange contradiction with an intellectualistic attitude; striving toward harmony with nature does not fit with an intellectualistic outlook. And, as far as the education of the will is concerned, the intellectualistic thinker is completely out of touch with reality. According to this way of thinking, a child should above all be taught what is useful in life. For example, such people never tire of pointing out the impracticability of our modern mode of dress, which does not satisfy the demands of utility. They advocate a return to more natural ways, saying that we should concentrate on the utilitarian aspects of life. The education of girls is especially subjected to sharp criticism by such reformers.

So now they are faced with a paradox; did primitive human beings—the stage young children supposedly recapitulate—live a life of utility? Certainly not. According to archeologists, they developed neither logical thinking nor utilitarian living. Their essential needs were satisfied through the help of inborn instincts. But what captivated the interest of primitive people? Adornment. They did not wear clothing for practical reasons, but through a longing for self-adornment. Whatever the members of such tribes chose to wear—or not to wear, in order to display the patterns on their skin—was not intended for utility, but as an expression of a yearning for beauty as they understood it. Similar traits can be found in the young child.

Those who perceive these contradictions and imperfections in modern life will be ready to look for their causes. They will increasingly recognize how lopsided and limited the generally accepted intellectualistic, naturalistic way of thinking is, which does not see the human being as a whole at all. Usually only our waking state is considered, whereas in reality the hours spent in sleep are just as much part of human life as those of daytime consciousness. You may object by saying that natural science has closely examined the human sleeping state as well, and indeed there exist many interesting theories about the nature of sleep and of dreams. But these premises were made by people while awake, not by investigators who were able to enter the domains of sleep. If people who are interested in education think in rational and logical ways and in terms of what is practical and useful in life, and if, on the other hand, they feel pulled in the direction of Rousseau’s call to nature, they will become victims of strange contradictions. What they really do is pass on to children all that seems of value to themselves as adults. They try to graft onto the child something that is alien to the child’s nature. Children really do seek for beauty—though not in the ways suggested by Rousseau—which for them expresses neither goodness nor utility, but simply exists for its own sake.

In the waking state, human beings not only have consciousness but also experience an inner life and actively participate in life. During sleep, on the other hand, people loses their ordinary consciousness, and consequently they examine sleep while awake. A proper study of this phenomenon, however, requires more than abstract theories. Entering sleep in full consciousness is essential for understanding it.

By experiencing both wonder and astonishment when studying the phenomena of sleep, a serious and unbiased investigator is not likely to advance in ways that, for example, Greek philosophy considered important. According to an ancient Greek adage, every philosophy—as a path toward cognition—begins with wonder. But this indicates only the beginning of the search for insight. One must move on. One must progress from wonder to knowledge.

However, the first step toward suprasensory knowledge must be taken not with the expectation of being able to enter the spiritual world directly, but with the intent of building a bridge from the ordinary sensory world to suprasensory knowledge. One way of achieving this is to apply the discipline we use to observe the phenomena of the sensory world to the phenomena we encounter from the realms of sleep and dreams. Modern people have certainly learned to observe accurately, but in this case it is not simply a matter of observing accurately. To gain insight, one must be able to direct observations toward specific areas.

I would like to give you an example of how this can be done when studying dream phenomena, which infiltrate our waking life in strange and mysterious ways.

Occasionally one still encounters people who have remained aware of the essential difference between waking and sleeping, but their awareness has become only a dim and vague feeling. Nevertheless, they are aware that an awake person is an altogether different from one who is asleep. Therefore, someone tells them that sleep is a waste of time and sleepers are idle and lazy, these simple minds will say that, as long as we sleep, we are free from sin. Thus, they try to say that people, whom they consider sinful while awake, are innocent while asleep. A good instinctive wisdom is hidden in this somewhat naive attitude. But to reach clarity, we need to train our own observation. I would like to give you an example.

Surely there are some here—perhaps every one of you—who have had dreams reminiscent of what might have happened to you in daily life. For example, you may have dreamed that you were taken to a river and that you had to get across somehow. So you searched for a boat, which, after a great deal of trouble, you managed to get hold of. Then you had to work hard to row across. In your dream you might have felt the physical exertion of plying the oars, until at last you managed to get across, just as you might have in ordinary life. There are many such kinds of dreams. Their contents are definite reminiscences of our physical, sensory lives. But there are also other kinds of dreams that do not echo waking life. For instance, someone again may dream that it is necessary to get across a river. Wondering how this urge could possibly be fulfilled, the dreamer is suddenly able to spread wings and—presto!—simply fly across and land safely on the opposite bank. This sort of dream is certainly not a memory of something that could happen in waking life, because, to my knowledge, this is hardly the way ordinary mortals transport themselves across a river in real life. Here we have something that simply does not exist in physical life.

Now, if we accurately observe the relationship between sleep and being awake, we discover something very interesting; we find that dreams in which we experience the toil and exhaustion of waking life, which reflect waking life, cause us to awake tired. On waking, our limbs feel heavy and tiredness seems to drag on throughout the day. In other words, if strains and pains of a life of drudgery reappear in our dreams, we awake weakened rather than refreshed. But now observe the effects of the other kind of dream; if you managed to fly—weightless and with hearty enthusiasm, with wings you do not possess in ordinary life—once you have flown across your river, you awake bright and breezy, and your limbs feel light. We need to observe how these differing dreams affect the waking life with the same accuracy we use to make observations in mathematics or physics. We know quite well that we would not get very far in these two subjects without it. Yet dreams do not generally become the object of exact observations and, consequently, no satisfactory results are achieved in this field. And such a situation hardly encourages people to strive for greater powers of insight into these somewhat obscure areas of life.

This is not just a case of presenting isolated glimpses of something that seems to confirm previous indications. The more we ponder over the relevant facts, the more the reciprocal links between sleep and waking life become evident. For example, there are dreams in which you may see some very tasty food that you then enjoy with a hearty appetite. You will find that usually, after having thus eaten in your dreams, you wake up without much appetite. You may not even eat during the following day, as though there were something wrong with your digestion. On the other hand, if in your dream you had the experience of speaking to an angel, and if you entered fully into a dialogue, you will awake with a keen edge to your appetite, which may persist during the whole day. Needless to say, partaking of food in one’s dream represents a memory from waking life, for in the spiritual world one neither eats nor drinks. Surely you will accept this without further proof. Therefore, enjoying food in a dream is a reminiscence of physical life, whereas speaking to an angel—an event unlikely to occur to people these days—cannot be seen as an echo of daily life.

Such an observation alone could show even an abstract thinker that something unknown happens to us in sleep—something that nevertheless plays into our daily lives. It is wrong to surmise that it is impossible to gain exact and clear concepts in this realm. Is it not a clear discovery that dreams echoing earthly reality—the kind so popular among naturalistic poets, ever eager to imitate earthly life, never ready to enter the suprasensory realms—have an unhealthy effect on our waking lives? If impressions from ordinary life reappear in dreams, these dreams have an injurious effect upon our health. On the other hand, if unrealistic dream images appear—the kind scornfully dismissed as mystical rubbish by an intellectualistic philistine—they make us feel bright and fresh upon awaking in the morning. It is certainly possible to observe the strange interplay and the reciprocal effects between dreaming and sleeping.

And so we can say that something independent of the human physical condition must be happening during sleep, the effects of which we can observe in the person’s physical organism. Dreams cause astonishment and wonder to ordinary consciousness, because they elude us in our waking state. The more you try to collect such examples, the more you will find a real connection between the human sleeping and waking state.

You only need to look closely at dreams to see that they are different from our experiences during waking life. When awake, we are able to link or separate mental images at will, but we cannot do this when dreaming. Dream images are woven as objective appearances beyond the influence of our will. In dreams, the activities of the soul become passive, numb, and immobile.

If we study dreams from yet another aspect, we find that they can reveal other secret sides of human existence. Observe, for instance, your judgment of people with whom you may have a certain relationship. You might find that you keep your full inner feelings of sympathy or antipathy from arising to consciousness, and that your judgment of people is colored by various facts, such as their titles or positions in social life. However, when you dream about such a person, something unexpected may happen; you may find yourself giving someone a good beating. Such behavior, so completely at odds with your attitude in waking life, allows you to glimpse the more hidden regions of your sympathies and antipathies, some of which you would never dare admit, even to yourself, but which the dream conjures up in your soul. Subconscious images are placed before the dreaming soul. They are relatively easy to watch, but if you deeply investigate someone’s inexplicable moods of ill temper or euphoria that seem unrelated to outer circumstances, you find that they, too, were caused by dreams, completely forgotten by those concerned. Experiences in sleep and the revelations of dreams work into the unconscious and may lead to seemingly inexplicable moods. Unless we consider this other side of life, the hidden domain of our sleep life, by making exact investigations, we cannot understand human life in its wholeness.

All these reciprocal effects, however, happen without human participation. Yet it is possible to lift what happens subconsciously and involuntarily into a state of clear consciousness equal to that of someone engaged in mathematics or other scientific investigations. When achieving this, one’s powers of observation are enhanced beyond the indeterminate relationship between waking and sleeping to the fully conscious states of imagination, inspiration, and intuition.

Only through these three capacities is it possible to attain true knowledge of the human being. What life vaguely hints at through the phenomenon of sleep can be developed in full consciousness by applying methods given by anthroposophy, which strive toward a real knowledge of the universe and the human being.