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Anthroposophical Spiritual Science and Medical Therapy
GA 313

Lecture III

Dornach, April 13, 1921

We find the proper domain for studying diseases in those illnesses that reveal most clearly the improper influence of the so-called astral body. Such illnesses, in which the influences of the astral body are most evident, can be observed within the thoracic cavity. This domain, which is the most important for the study of illness, is at the same time the most difficult one for healing, for the knowledge of healing. It is this aspect of human nature which is ultimately responsible for the deficiencies in the art of medicine that were especially emphasized by Dr. Scheidegger in his lecture given during the first medical course last year. He explained how recent medical developments have led to advances in the domain of pathology but to a kind of nihilism in therapeutics. His significant presentation brought into clear focus the need for a careful study of what we must stress today.

Illnesses in the region of the human blood and circulation are, in one respect, very different from those of the head organs and nerve-sense aspects of man, and different again from illnesses of metabolism, though they are intimately connected with both. The fact is that the head organization has to be treated in a special way, because it is permeable—as we have seen—to the etheric, astral, and ego-being. In the chest the organs are not permeable to the etheric but only to the astral and ego-being. In the chest organs the etheric and physical bodies work intimately together, cooperating as a unity. There is no longer a sum of physical processes in the human chest organism, but rather a cooperation of the etheric and the physical. A process of becoming plant-like is taking place here, and this must be taken into account particularly in the chest. However, this process of becoming plant-like is well-concealed and much modified by everything else connected with it in the human organism. Nevertheless, we must consider a plant process when dealing with the chest organs, which then interacts with everything coming from the astral and ego of the human being. This must be carefully noted.

I said yesterday that the astral is the original bearer of all that which causes illness in the human being. Therefore, in the human chest region there is a persistant inclination for the tendencies that produce illness to have an influence, because the tendencies to illness and health constantly alternate in the human chest organs. Indeed, the normal condition in the human being is like that of a pendulum swinging back and forth: the strong forces of the healthy human being paralyze the forces of illness that are continually present, and the reverse is also true, that overflowing health, which would lead to excessive proliferation in the etheric, is constantly opposed by the restricting power of the astral, which causes illness when it exceeds its limit and grips the body too strongly. This state of affairs in the human chest organs is of particular importance because it is the result of a rhythm.

This result of a rhythm is influenced on the one hand by everything taking place in the head and on the other hand by everything taking place in the metabolism. Hence we must look for the source of equilibrium of this necessary rhythm outside the chest. In the human chest organs themselves, we find only the effects—the sources that must then be eliminated when illness arises are not really present in these organs themselves. Hence at the time when the faculties of human cognition had lost their intuitive grasp of things, the prevailing tendency in medicine led to helplessness in regard to therapy, which was then by degrees eliminated. It was felt that one had to remain with pathology and not even approach therapy. This was the case primarily in the Viennese school of medicine where this tendency took on a brilliant form. This school has therefore been called the nihilistic school. The particular genius of this school is most evident in the diagnosis of chest complaints.

At this same time, significant advances were made in this field, in which it is possible to acquire more and more knowledge but gain practically nothing from it. The other parts of the human being simply must be taken into account. Little is accomplished through mere knowledge of what is going on in the human respiratory and circulatory organisms. Of course, I do not mean that absolutely nothing can be accomplished, but the knowledge gained by the stethoscope and so on can only accomplish something significant if we also have knowledge of the entire human being and are able, from quite another direction, to “come to grips”—in a literal sense—with what the diagnosis reveals. The disclosures of such a diagnosis are basically only interesting scientific facts. In order to characterize such things, of course, I have to present them somewhat radically, but behind these strong statements you will find the truth.

Especially regarding these illnesses afflicting the human chest, the attempt is made in modern times to divert attention from the actual situation to a mystical concept—a concept that does not need to remain mystical, although for modern materialism it has certainly remained so: These illnesses are spoken of as “epidemics.” This concept is really a sack to be filled with what one does not want to understand and what—in a certain respect—eludes medical art today. In this regard I will draw your attention to a very interesting fact. A Viennese doctor, Moriz Benedikt, stood as a candidate for the Imperial Parliament. The motive for his candidacy was precisely his experience as a physician. He felt that this experience forced him to such a step, because so many patients came to him for whom he was unable to prescribe what he should prescribe for them, namely, better clothes, better living spaces, improved air, etc. These things could come about only through social activity and therefore he felt the need to place himself into social-political life. Here the real issue is actually shoved away. Behind all these things there is something else that must be considered. For in order to deal with the processes of illness found in the human chest organism, we must take into account their origin in the irregular interaction between the astral and the etheric. Such an understanding cannot be gained without a mode of cognition willing to ascend to some degree into the super-sensible.

The process of breathing that takes place between the outer world and the inner world cannot be understood at all without recourse to an understanding of the astral. In the interchange of carbon and oxygen we have a continuous interplay of the astral and the etheric. You must bear in mind that the human being normally spends one third of his life with a large part of his astral body outside the etheric body—that is, during sleep. In this you can see the significant role of the astral in the conditions of human health, for it is obvious that during sleep the astral is active in the human being, acting not from the head but from the rest of the organism. The astral body thus makes use of an activity during sleep that must remain in the organism in the right way even when the part of the astral that penetrates through the head is outside the human being during sleep.

Therefore you can see that by knowing about the interplay between the astral and etheric in healthy and diseased conditions of the human chest, we are led to yet another rhythm running its course in the human being, the rhythm of waking and sleeping. Actual sleep, which, as we have seen, is strongly bound up with the metabolic process, has less significance for the chest organs than does something else; this other aspect is extraordinarily difficult to observe. Those of you who were present may remember the interesting symptom-complexes that result from the use of substances demonstrated in experiments conducted here last time. Dr. Scheidegger demonstrated this on the board. You will also remember, however, that these symptom-complexes consist of many, many details, and that it requires a certain kind of art to group separate symptoms together. For example, an immediate difficulty arises when we try to do the following with a complex of symptoms. To judge an illness correctly, we have to group together the symptoms occurring in the upper human being. It is possible to be confused about a symptom occurring spatially in the upper human being that is essentially only a symptom forced up from the metabolism. One can make a mistake in judging this complex of symptoms and thereby be led astray in one's diagnosis of the illness as a whole. Thus we should not lose sight of how difficult it is to group together the individual aspects of a symptom-complex in the right way.

Of course it is certainly true that a feeling can gradually be acquired for the right way to group the individual aspects of a complex of symptoms. On the other hand, nature—although helping us here to some extent—at the same time makes it extraordinarily difficult for us to use the help that she provides in this realm. Nature herself groups the symptoms together. You could say that she does just what we do with our formula when we group together the individual aspects of a symptom-complex, but she makes it exceptionally difficult for us to observe what she is doing. That is, she concentrates the individual aspects of a symptom-complex into the very way one falls asleep or awakens.

In fact, what happens when a person falls asleep or awakens is an exceptionally brilliant condensation of what must be taken into account here. Of course, the physician is very seldom in a position to observe his patient when falling asleep or when awakening. He must usually depend upon what he is told by the patient, and this will be very inexact in many cases, especially in difficult situations. He is simply not in the position to observe the patient when he falls asleep and awakens. And what the patient tells him, even if, depending on the patient's consciousness, his description is accurate, is nevertheless most unreliable. If falling asleep and awakening are disturbed, the patient naturally tells us things about them that may well live in his consciousness but that do not provide a sound basis for judging his condition. We must be able to see through what the patient relates.

You will realize the truth of what I am telling you if you deliberate on these facts more and more carefully. You will find it most possible to realize the remarkable connection between the etheric and astral bodies if you observe how sorrow and worries continue to work in a person. You should not observe the sorrows and worries merely of the last few days or weeks—these are actually the least significant—but those lying farther back. A certain period must elapse between the time when sorrows and worries overtake a person and the time when they have become organic, when they have passed over into the workings of the organism. Sorrows and worries that reach a certain intensity always appear later as anomalies in organic function, especially in the rhythmic activity of the organism. They work in the organism to the point of disturbing the rhythmic organism, making it irregular, and then they are able to work further on the metabolic organism and so on. This is a fundamental fact on which we must focus our attention.

We can observe such a consequence above all when we consider the effect of hasty thinking, improbable as it may seem to the materialistic frame of mind. It really is so that hasty thinking, a thinking where one thought jumps over the other, which is a fundamental evil of human thinking in our time—this thinking, where one thought steps on the toes of another, continues to work on, after a period of time, into the human organism, and especially into the rhythmic organism. This has particular significance here.

The soul processes must not be overlooked if we wish to understand the abnormalities of the human rhythmic organism, particularly what takes place in his chest organs. Of course, we can also include the rhythms of nourishment and elimination, belonging in a sense to the periphery of this rhythmic organism. Only by including the rhythm of nourishment and the rhythm of elimination is the rhythmic system fully encompassed.

Something else is also of special importance. The other pole of man's being, the metabolic system, works back upon the rhythmic system. Perhaps we can best understand the way in which the metabolic system works back upon the rhythmic system when we realize that to begin with hunger and thirst are phenomena revealed very clearly in the human astral body. As known to the ordinary human being, hunger and thirst are, of course, astral phenomena. What we experience in consciousness, such as hunger or thirst, is to begin with experienced astrally. You must be perfectly clear about this. The ordinary person knows nothing about what he does not experience astrally. What he experiences only etherically lies so deep in the subconscious that he knows nothing about it.

Thus in ordinary life hunger and thirst are astral experiences, but they cease to be astral experiences when they linger on in the experience that unfolds during sleep. They then cease to be ordinary astral experiences but are nonetheless connected with the astral body, which acts in sleep from below upward. Persistent hunger and thirst work back on the rhythmic system, making it irregular and producing illness. This obviously does not apply to hunger and thirst experienced on the day in question and that have gone to sleep with us—it would be wrong to think that. To go to sleep hungry occasionally is not serious; it is only serious if the state of hunger and thirst become habitual, especially if it is produced by a disorder of the metabolic organism so that the rest of the organism is not properly nourished. It is the after-effect of persistent hunger and thirst that underlies these disturbances of the respiratory and circulatory organisms.

Then we must consider a third factor that influences the chest organs; namely, the effects due to the outer world. Through breathing the human being is connected with the outer world, and influences from this world play into him.

Thus you have here a remarkable state of affairs. In the human thoracic cavity—and partly also in the abdominal cavity in so far as the rhythmic process extends there—you have all kinds of influences: influences from the upper human being, influences from the lower human being, influences from the outer world. A more exact knowledge of this tract within the human being therefore leads us to say that effects take their course here, and in this region itself we cannot find the causes for these effects. We must look elsewhere if we are to eliminate the causes in the appropriate way. For this reason it is also clear that, although this realm of the human being provides the domain for studying the nature of illness in general, our investigations that are stimulated by this domain must be extended to other realms. We must begin from this domain in order to progress then to a study of other realms.

Now the most striking and significant realm of causes is that which lies outside the human being and in which the interplay between oxygen and carbon proceeds. In this tract of the human organism the essentially astral influence works from outside. Thus we must look for the corresponding connections between this tract and the outer world. To the spiritual investigator the matter shows itself as follows: on earth there is a reciprocal relationship between what occurs beneath the earth's surface—in which the action of water must be included with the earthly element—and what occurs above its surface. There is a profound process taking place between the earth and its surroundings that ordinary science cannot yet fathom. This process has extraordinarily interesting aspects. It can be studied very well in those realms of the earth where the process taking place between the extra-terrestrial and the terrestrial is very intimate, where a great deal of the extra-terrestrial penetrates into the earth. This is the case in the tropics. The extraordinary conditions there depend on an intimate cooperation between the extra-terrestrial—air, light, and extra-terrestrial warmth—and what is within the earth itself. Moreover, it is not by chance that we find a certain “pole” of magnetic-electric earthly influences in the tropical zone. To use a comparison, you could say that in the tropical zone the earth most strongly sucks in the extra-terrestrial, developing from this extra-terrestrial element what later sprouts up as vegetation. In the polar regions, the earth sucks in little from the extra-terrestrial; it opposes it and actually reflects it to a considerable extent. Thus you could say that the earth, at least as seen from outside, shines least in the tropics, raying back the least, but sucking in the most of the extra-terrestrial influences. At the poles the earth shines most, reflecting most what is extra-terrestrial and developing the greatest luster.

This is an extraordinarily significant fact. When we take it into account, we learn that in the tropics there is a very strong intimacy between the etheric earthly element and the extra-terrestrial astral, whereas at the poles the astral is flung back in a certain way. This insight can prove most fruitful, for on pursuing it we discover a further connection. Let us take the case of a patient whom we expose to conditions in which light is unusually active, the air being strongly penetrated by light. He is thus surrounded by light. This means that we place him into a region where the earthly element that had worked on him is significantly removed and he is exposed to the extra-terrestrial. In strong sunlight we find what the earth no longer needs, what is rejected by the earth. The patient thus enters this region of extra-terrestrial activity. When we take a patient into sun-permeated air it works on his rhythmic organism to a tremendous extent. In this way we can work against an irregular metabolism directly by way of the rhythmic system, for the rhythmic system regulates itself through this exposure to light.

This relationship enables us to recognize the basis of treatment with sun and light. Moreover, if we find someone particularly unable to resist parasitic illnesses, such treatment is especially to be recommended. This does not mean that one has to be an adherent of the germ-theory. You must be clear that the presence of parasites shows that there are deeper causes at work in the patient that account for the accumulation of bacteria and that permit them to remain there. Bacilli are never really the cause of illness; they only indicate that the patient has the causes of the illness within him. Bacteriological research is important on this account, but only as a foundation for research. The actual organic causes lie in the human being himself. These organic causes within the human being are opposed by what streams toward the earth from the extra-terrestrial cosmos, surrounding the earth but not totally absorbed by it. It is a surplus, an “excess-sun,” an “excess-light,” and so on. Thus where the earth not only sprouts but begins to shine, where it contains more light than is necessary for sprouting, we find what acts most favorably in this direction.

Another procedure that also works very favorably in the same direction is the following: If we find a patient especially susceptible to parasitic influences due to his irregular circulatory organism, it will be helpful to send him to a place higher above sea-level than the one to which he is accustomed, that is, to apply a “high altitude treatment.” (Of course, we must take all the other circumstances into account; we will encounter many of these as we proceed.) The beneficial effect of “high altitude treatment” is also to be sought in this direction. Of course, in other cases it may be harmful. Everything that is potentially helpful can also prove harmful, as we saw yesterday.

Now we must consider something else. We must not forget that certain phenomena that are artificially created by us and let loose on the human being first need to be evaluated by us. If I say “artificially produced phenomena,” I am referring to the fact that we do not simply consume the fruits of nature, as they are, but we cook them or prepare them in some way before introducing them into the human organism, first burning them and then using the ash, or something comparable. Here we subject what is earthly itself to a process that absorbs extra-terrestrial effects. When we cook or burn something we release it from what is earthly. Thus, when we give a person something cooked or burnt, we apply something inwardly in a similar way to our exposure of a patient to strong sunlight or high altitudes. We must bear this in mind when we have a patient who requires a certain change of diet on the one hand and on the other some kind of remedy. Let us say he shows an irregular rhythmic system. In all such circumstances we will have to ask ourselves whether we should give him something obtained through the combustion of vegetable matter. In every process of combustion of vegetable matter, we transcend the ordinary plant process. We extend it through an extra-terrestrial element, that is, by combustion.

Figure 1

In addition, however, the following is also particularly significant. In the form of electricity and magnetism, a process on the earth—or a sum of processes—takes place that is intimately connected with what we have had to call the terrestrial and extra-terrestrial. The domain of electricity and magnetism should really be studied more profoundly in relation to health and illness in the human being. This is a realm, however, in which one can easily blunder, for the following reason. If we represent the surface of the earth schematically in this way (see drawing)—here the inner, here the outer—then what constitutes electricity and magnetism has an intimate relationship to the terrestrial as such. You know, of course, that electricity flows by itself from one ground wire to another, from one Morse telegraph station to another. There is always only one conducting wire; the circuit is completed underground. This has to do with the electric field that the earth has already made its own. What is concealed in electricity and magnetism is fundamentally extra-terrestrial and “intra-terrestrial” (yellow); but the earth takes possession of the electrical effects that are extra-terrestrial (blue). The electrical effects, and also the magnetic effects, however, can also be held back in the vicinity of the earth without being appropriated by the earth (red). These are all the electrical and magnetic effects that we have in our electric and magnetic fields.

If we magnetize a piece of iron, we make it into a little thief with regards to the earth. We transfer to it the ability to steal and retain for itself what the earth actually wants to take from cosmic space before the earth has been able to do so. We make a magnet into a little thief. It appropriates for itself, and has the power to retain, what the earth would like for itself. The entire electric and magnetic field we have on earth is actually something we have stolen from the earth for human use; in this way we induce nature herself to steal, thus retaining the extra-terrestrial above. We thus retain an eminently extra-terrestrial element, which we even keep above the earth in a clever way, although the earth, with all the force at its disposal, would like to absorb it so that it may work from within outward. But we do not let it get to this point; we hold it back.

Therefore in the electric and magnetic fields we can expect to find valuable opponents to unrhythmic human processes. We must develop a therapy specially geared to this. For example, if a marked irregularity or powerful disturbance appears in the rhythmic system (or even a weak disturbance; it would actually work better if the disturbance were weak), we might simply hold a strong magnet near the human organism. It should not touch but be held at a greater or lesser distance to be determined by experimentation. As I said, the appropriate distance will need to be established through research.

I would also like to tell you how one can best make use here of previous scientific results. In doing so I do not intend merely to tell you an interesting fact—for outer science is not yet ready for it—but rather to draw your attention to something about which we can acquire quite another complex of thoughts. The Professor Benedikt mentioned above made some very interesting investigations in a dark room on the lowest human auric radiations. These have nothing directly to do with what I have described in my book, Theosophy, for example, though there is an indirect connection. The latter are higher radiations only perceived in the super-sensible. But between these higher radiations and the coarser effects seen by the eye on the human being, there is a domain that can be perceived in a dark room. Professor Benedikt has described his work in the dark room in an interesting way. He used individuals who were sensitive to the phenomena of the divining rod, that is, individuals in whose hands the rod moved significantly. Benedikt investigated the auric radiations of these individuals in a dark room. The following results were obtained. The auric radiations of such individuals differed markedly from those of other people in that there was greater asymmetry: the radiations from the left side of the person were different from those from the right. The head radiation was also quite different.

A beginning has thus already been made in seeing human radiations through physical demonstrations, even though these results are received very skeptically. But we must remain clear that these are only the lowest radiations connected with the human organization. In studying these, one has not yet entered the realm of the super-sensible, as many might maintain who would like super-sensible investigation to be nice and comfortable. Nevertheless, this is a beginning and could have therapeutic results.

For example, one could investigate the effects of applying a magnet to the back of a person in the first stages of tuberculosis; that is, we might let him be irradiated by a magnetic field. This could be made more effective by holding the magnet at a slant, moving it up and down so that gradually the entire chest organism was irradiated by the magnetic field. If this magnetic field is applied we do not need a “light field” at the same time; this would only be a disturbance. We could then put this patient into a dark room and actually observe the radiations from his fingers. These could soon be seen quite clearly. When we do this—put the patient in a dark room, having applied a strong magnet to his back, and observe that fine radiations proceed from the fingertips (cone-shaped, with the apex directed outward)—it is possible to be convinced that he has really been irradiated by the magnetic field. In this way, simply by using a magnetic field, extraordinarily beneficial results can be achieved in working against the manifestations of pulmonary tuberculosis, for example.

These things show us how seriously we must take the statement that only effects occur in the human chest and that we must turn to the environment if we wish to cure; that is, we must apply something from man's environment: light, climatic influences (for instance, sending the patient to a higher altitude), or the magnetic field. We can even include the electric field, but we must be careful about the way that this is applied. There is a vast difference between applying the poles directly to the organism by letting the electricity flow through the human being and calling forth an electric field as such and placing the patient within this field without the circuit being completed from pole to pole through him. Here, too, experiments need to be done that will be exceptionally significant.

In certain circumstances we can also obtain beneficial effects by completing the circuit through the patient. In such cases, however, only what works into the rhythmic system from the metabolic system is effective. Only the metabolic system is influenced if I pass electric currents through the patient himself, completing the circuit through him. On the other hand, if I place a person into an electric field, I will be able to observe the radiations in a dark room from his fingers, toes, and all pointed extremities. I will then notice that I can work curatively on patients who have a regular, healthy digestion but who show symptoms of so-called tuberculosis.

Today we have concerned ourselves with the environment. I pointed out that nature groups together, in the moment of falling asleep and awakening, the complex of symptoms present. I will start from this point tomorrow and will first show the importance, the diagnostic significance, of the moments of waking and falling asleep; then we will study how we can indeed observe what nature tries to indicate at such moments. We will then see how this can be used to guide our observations of symptom-complexes, if only we know the principle involved. And here we will find important indications regarding the very different treatments that need to be applied in chronic and acute illnesses.