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The Origins of Natural Science
GA 326

Lecture II

25 December 1922, Dornach

The view of history forming the basis of these lectures may be called symptomatological What takes place in the depths of human evolution sends out waves, and these waves are the symptoms that we will try to describe and interpret. In any serious study of history, this must be the case. The processes and events occurring at any given time in the depths of evolution are so manifold and so significant that we can never do more than hint at what is going on the depths. This we do by describing the waves that are flung up. They are symptoms of what is actually taking place.

I mention this because, in order to characterize the birth of the scientific form of thinking and research I described two men, Meister Eckhart and Nicholas Cusanus, in my last lecture. What can be historically observed in the soul and appearance of such men I consider to be symptoms of what goes on in the depths of general human development; this is why I give such descriptions. There are in any given case only a couple of images cast up to the surface that we can intercept by looking into one or another soul. Yet, by doing this, we can describe the basic nature of successive time periods.

When I described Cusanus yesterday, my intention was to suggest how all that happened in the early fifteenth century in mankind's spiritual development, which was pressing forward to the scientific method of perception, is symptomatically revealed in his soul. Neither the knowledge that the mind can gather through the study of theology nor the precise perceptions of mathematics can lead any longer to a grasp of the spiritual world. The wealth of human knowledge, its concepts and ideas, come to a halt before that realm. The fact that one can do no more than write a “docta ignorantia” in the face of the spiritual world comes to expression in Cusanus in a remarkable way. He could go no further with the form of knowledge that, up to his time, was prevalent in human development.

As I pointed out, this soul mood was already present in Meister Eckhart. He was well versed in medieval theological knowledge. With it, he attempted to look into this own soul and to find therein the way to the divine spiritual foundations. Meister Eckhart arrived at a soul mood that I illustrated with one his sentences. He said—and he made many similar statements—“I sink myself into the naught of the divine, and out of nothing become an I in eternity.” He felt himself arriving at nothingness with traditional knowledge. Out of this nothingness, after the ancient wisdom's loss of all persuasive power he had to produce out of his own soul the assurance of his own I, and he did it by this statement.

Looking into this matter more closely, we see how a man like Meister Eckhart points to an older knowledge that has come down to him through the course of evolution. It is knowledge that still gave man something of which he could say: This lives in me, it is something divine in me, it is something. But now, in Meister Eckhart's own time, the most profound thinkers had been reduced to the admission: When I seek this something here or there, all knowledge of this something does not suffice to bring me certainty of my own being. I must proceed from the Something to the Nothing and then, in an act of creation, kindle to life the consciousness of self out of naught.

Now, I want to place another man over against these two. This other man lived 2,000 years earlier and for his time he was as characteristic as Cusanus (who followed in Meister Eckhart's footsteps) was for the fifteenth century. This backward glance into ancient times is necessary so that we can better understand the quest for knowledge that surfaced in the Fifteenth Century from the depths of the human soul. The man whom I want to speak about today is not mentioned in any history book or historical document, for these do not go back as far as the Eighth Century B.C. Yet, we can only gain information concerning the origin of science if, through spiritual science, through purely spiritual observation, we go farther back than external historical documents can take us. The man I have in mind lived about 2,000 years prior to the present period (the starting point of which I have assigned to the first half of the fifteenth century.) This man of pre-Christian times was accepted into a so-called mystery school of Southeastern Europe. There he heard everything that the teachers of the mysteries could communicate to their pupils concerning spiritual wisdom, truths concerning the spiritual beings that lived and still live in the cosmos. But the wisdom that this man received from his teachers was already more or less traditional. It was a recollection of far older visions, a recapitulation of what wise men of a much more ancient age had beheld when they directed their clairvoyant sight into the cosmic spaces whence the motions and constellations of the stars had spoken to them. To the sages of old, the universe was not the machine, the mechanical contraption that it is for men of today when they look out into space to the wise men of ancient times. The cosmic spaces were like living beings, permeating everything with spirit and speaking to them in cosmic language. They experienced themselves within the spirit of world being. They felt how this, in which they lived and moved, spoke to them, how they could direct their questions concerning the riddles of the universe to the universe itself and how, out of the widths of space, the cosmic phenomena replied to them. This is how they experienced what we, in a weak and abstract way, call “spirit” in our language. Spirit was experienced as the element that is everywhere and can be perceived from anywhere. Men perceived things that even the Greeks no longer beheld with the eye of the soul, things that had faded into a nothingness for the Greeks.

This nothingness of the Greeks, which had been filled with living content for the earliest wise men of the Post-Atlantean age,19Post-Atlantean Age: cf. Rudolf Steiner, An Outline Of Occult Science (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1984). was named by means of words customary for that time. Translated into our language, though weakened and abstract, those words would signify “spirit.” What later became the unknown, the hidden god, was called spirit in those ages when he was known. This is the first thing to know about those ancient times.

The second thing to know is that when a man looked with his soul and spirit vision into himself, he beheld his soul. He experienced it as originating from the spirit that later on became the unknown god. The experience of the ancient sage was such that he designated the human soul with a term that would translate in our language into “spirit messenger” or simply “messenger.”

If we put into a diagram what was actually seen in those earliest times, we can say: The spirit was considered the world-embracing element, apart from which there was nothing and by which everything was permeated. This spirit, which was directly perceptible in its archetypal form, was sought and found in the human soul, inasmuch as the latter recognized itself as the messenger of this spirit. Thus the soul was referred to as the “messenger.”

If we put into a diagram what was actually seen in those earliest times, we can say: The spirit was considered the world-embracing element, apart from which there was nothing and by which everything was permeated. This spirit, which was directly perceptible in its archetypal form, was sought and found in the human soul, inasmuch as the latter recognized itself as the messenger of this spirit. Thus the soul was referred to as the “messenger.”

A third aspect was external nature with all that today is called the world of physical matter, of bodies. I said above that apart from spirit there was nothing, because spirit was perceived by direct vision everywhere in its archetypal form. It was seen in the soul, which realized the spirit's message in its own life. But the spirit was likewise recognized in what we call nature today, the world of corporeal things. Even his bodily world was looked upon as an image of the spirit.

In those ancient times, people did not have the conceptions that we have today of the physical world. Wherever they looked, at whatever thing or form of nature, they beheld an image of the spirit, because they were still capable of seeing the spirit, a fragment of nature. Inasmuch as all other phenomena of nature were images of the spirit, the body of man too was an image of the spirit. So when this ancient man looked at himself, he recognized himself as a threefold being. In the first place, the spirit lived in him as in one of its many mansions. Man knew himself as spirit. Secondly, man experienced himself within the world as a messenger of this spirit, hence as a soul being. Thirdly, man experienced his corporeality; and by means of this body he felt himself to be an image of the spirit.20A literal translation of the transcript would read: “As body; and as body, as an image of the spirit.” Hence, when man looked upon his own being, he perceived himself as a threefold entity of spirit, soul, and body: as spirit in his archetypal form; as soul, the messenger of god; as body, the image of the spirit.

This ancient wisdom contained no contradiction between body and soul or between nature and spirit; because one knew: Spirit is in man in its archetypal form; the soul is none other than the message transmitted by spirit; the body is the image of spirit. Likewise, no contract was felt between man and surrounding nature because one bore an image of spirit in one's own body, and the same was true of every body in external nature. Hence, an inner kinship was experienced between one's own body and those in outer nature, and nature was not felt to be different from oneself. Man felt himself at one with the whole world. He could feel this because he could behold the archetype of spirit and because the cosmic expanses spoke to him. In consequence of the universe speaking to man, science simply could not exist. Just as we today cannot build a science of external nature out of what lives in our memory, ancient man could not develop one because, whether he looked into himself or outward at nature, he beheld the same image of spirit. No contrast existed between man himself and nature, and there was none between soul and body. The correspondence of soul and body was such that, in a manner of speaking, the body was only the vessel, the artistic reproduction, of the spiritual archetype, while the soul was the mediating messenger between the two. Everything as in a state of intimate union. There could be no question of comprehending anything. We grasp and comprehend what is outside our own life. Anything that we carry within ourselves is directly experienced and need not be first comprehended.

Prior to Roman and Greek times, this wisdom born of direct perception still lived in the mysteries. The man I referred to above heard about his wisdom, but he realized that the teachers in his mystery school were speaking to him only out of a tradition preserved from earlier ages. He no longer heard anything original, anything gained by listening to the secrets of the cosmos. This man undertook long journeys and visited other mystery centers, but it was the same wherever he went. Already in the Eight Century B.C., only traditions of the ancient wisdom were preserved everywhere. The pupils learned them from the teachers, but the teachers could no longer see them, at least not in the vividness of ancient times.

But this man whom I have in mind had an unappeasable urge for certainty and knowledge. From the communications passed on to him, he gathered that once upon a time men had indeed been able to hear the harmony of the spheres from which resounded the Logos that was identical with the spiritual archetype of all things. Now, however, it was all tradition. Just as 2,000 years later Meister Eckhart, working out the traditions of his age, withdrew into his quiet monastic cell in search of the inner power source of soul and self, and at length came to say, “I sink myself into the nothingness of God, and experience in eternity, in naught, the ‘I’,”—just so, the lonely disciple of the late mysteries said to himself: “I listen to the silent universe and fetch21I listen to the silent universe: cf. Rudolf Steiner, Truth-Wrought Words. (Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1979). the Logos-bearing soul out of the silence. I love the Logos because the Logos brings tidings of an unknown god.”

This was an ancient parallel to the admission of Meister Eckhart. Just as the latter immersed himself into the naught of the divine that Medieval theology had proclaimed to him and, out of this void, brought out the “I,” so that ancient sage listened to a dumb and silent world; for he could no longer hear what traditional wisdom taught him. The spirit-saturated soul had one drawn the ancient wisdom from the universe. This had not turned silent, but still he had a Logos-bearing soul. And he loved the Logos even though it was no longer the godhead of former ages, but only an image of the divine. In other words, already then, the spirit had vanished from the soul's sight. Just as Meister Eckhart later had to seek the “I” in nothingness, so at that time the soul had to be sought in the dispirited world.

Indeed, in former times the souls had the inner firmness needed to say to themselves: In the inward perception of the spirit indwelling me, I myself am something divine. But now, for direct perception, the spirit no longer inhabited the soul. No longer did the soul experience itself as the spirit's messenger, for one must know something in order to be its messenger. Now, the soul only felt itself as the bearer of the Logos, the spirit image; though this spirit image was vivid in the soul. It expressed itself in the love for this god who thus still lived in his image in the soul. But the soul no longer felt like the messenger, only the carrier, of an image of the divine spirit. One can say that a different form of knowledge arose when man looked into his inner being. The soul declined from messenger to bearer.

Soul: Bearer

Body: Force

Since the living spirit had been lost to human perception, the body no longer appeared as the image of spirit. To recognize it as such an image, one would have had to perceive the archetype. Therefore, for this later age, the body changed into something that I would like to call “force.” The concept of force emerged. The body was pictured as a complex of forces, no longer as a reproduction, an image, that bore within itself the essence of what it reproduced. The human body became a force which no longer bore the substance of the source from which it originated.

Not only the human body, but in all of nature, too, forces had to be pictured everywhere. Whereas formerly, nature in all its aspects had been an image of spirit, now it had become forces flowing out of the spirit. This, however, implied that nature began to be something more or less foreign to man. One could say that the soul had lost something since it no longer contained direct spirit awareness. Speaking crudely, I would have to say that the soul had inwardly become more tenuous, while the body, the external corporeal world, had gained in robustness. Earlier, as an image, it still possessed some resemblance to the spirit. Now it became permeated by the element of force. The complex of forces is more robust than the image in which the spiritual element is still recognizable. Hence, again speaking crudely, the corporeal world became denser while the soul became more tenuous. This is what arose in the consciousness of the men among whom lived the ancient wise man mentioned above, who listened to the silent universe and from its silence, derived the awareness that at least his soul was a Logos-bearer.

Now, a contrast that had not existed before arose between the soul, grown more tenuous, and the increased density of the corporeal world. Earlier, the unity of spirit had been perceived in all things. Now, there arose the contrast between body and soul, man and nature. Now appeared a chasm between body and soul that had not been present at all prior to the time of this old sage. Man now felt himself divided as well from nature, something that also had not been the case in the ancient times. This contrast is the central trait of all thinking in the span of time between the old sage I have mentioned and Nicholas Cusanus.

Men now struggle to comprehend the connection between, on one hand, the soul, that lacks spirit reality, and on the other hand, the body that has become dense, has turned into force, into a complex of forces.

And men struggle to feel and experience the relationship between man and nature. But everywhere, nature is force. In that time, no conception at all existed as yet of what we call today “the laws of nature.” People did not think in terms of natural laws; everywhere and in everything they felt the forces of nature. When a man looked into his own being, he did not experience a soul that—as was the case later one—bore within itself a dim will, an almost equally dim feeling, and an abstract thinking. Instead, he experienced the soul as the bearer of the living Logos, something that was not abstract and dead, but a divine living image of God.

We must be able to picture this contrast, which remained acute until the eleventh or Twelfth century. It was quite different from the contrasts that we feel today. If we cannot vividly grasp this contrast, which was experienced by everyone in that earlier epoch, we make the same mistake as all those historians of philosophy who regard the old Greek thinker Democritus22Democritus: c. 460–360 B.C. From his numerous writings about philosophy, mathematics, physics, medicine, psychology, and technology, only some fragments and an index remain. The remark mentioned is a report from Aristotle, Metaphysics 1:4: “That is why they (Leucippus and Democritus) say that the non-existent exists just as much as the existent, just as emptiness is just as good as fullness, and they posit these as material causes.” of the fifth century B.C. as an atomist in the modern sense, because he spoke of “atoms.” The words suggest a resemblance, but no real resemblance exists. There is great difference between modern-day atomists and Democritus. His utterances were based on the awareness of the contrast described above between man and nature, soul and body. His atoms were complexes of force and as such were contrasted with space, something a modern atomist cannot do in that manner. How could the modern atomist say what Democritus said: “Existence is not more than nothingness, fullness is not more than emptiness?” It implies that Democritus assumed empty space to possess an affinity with atom-filled space. This has meaning only within a consciousness that as yet has no idea of the modern concept of body. Therefore, it cannot speak of the atoms of a body, but only of centers of force, which, in that case, have an inner relationship to what surrounds man externally. Today's atomist cannot equate emptiness with fullness. If Democritus had viewed emptiness the way we do today, he could not have equated it with the state of being. He could do so because in this emptiness he sought the soul that was the bearer of the Logos. And though he conceived his Logos in a form of necessity, it was the Greek form of necessity, not our modern physical necessity. If we are to comprehend what goes on today, we must be able to look in the right way into the nuances of ideas and feelings of former times.

There came the time, described in the last lecture, of Meister Eckhart and Nicholas Cusanus, when even awareness of the Logos indwelling the soul was lost. The ancient sage, in listening to the universe, only had to mourn the silence, but Meister Eckhart and Cusanus found the naught and had to seek the I out of nothingness. Only now, at this point, does the modern era of thinking begin. The soul now no longer contains the living Logos. Instead, when it looks into itself, it finds ideas and concepts, which finally lead to abstractions. The soul has become even more tenuous. A third phase begins. Once upon a time, in the first phase, the soul experienced the spirit's archetype within itself. It saw itself as the messenger of spirit. In the second phase, the soul inwardly experienced the living image of God in the Logos, it became the bearer of the Logos.

Now, in the third phase, the soul becomes, as it were, a vessel for ideas and concepts. These may have the certainty of mathematics, but they are only ideas and concepts. The soul experiences itself at its most tenuous, if I may put it so. Again the corporeal world increases in robustness. This is the third way in which man experiences himself. He cannot as yet give up his soul element completely, but he experiences it as the vessel for the realm of ideas. He experiences his body, on the other hand, not only as a force but as a spatial body.

Soul: Realm of Ideas

Body: Spatial Corporeality

The body has become still more robust. Man now denies the spirit altogether. Here we come to the “body” that Hobbes, Bacon,23Francis Bacon: (also Francis Bacon of Verulam), London 1561–1626 Highgate. Lawyer, doctor, politician, diplomat, essayist, philosopher and humanist. The leading English government liberal, successful during 1603–1621. In these years his main work was developed. The philosophy of his age he found stuck in hopeless experiments to solve insolvable problems with Aristotelian logic. The only source of sure knowledge and abilities for him was natural science. He saw a renewal of the spiritual and economic life in this science. Principal works: Novum Organum (an inductive logic contradicting that of Aristotle (the old Organum); De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum; a Critical Encyclopedia of all Science; Sylva Sylvarum: Preliminary Announcement of Procedure and Method (this remained in preparation). His literary success was astonishing, and it greatly furthered the materialistic world view. cf. Riddles of Philosophy. and Locke spoke of. Here, we meet “body” at its densest. The soul no longer feels a kinship to it, only an abstract connection that gets worse in the course of time.

In place of the earlier concrete contrast of soul and body, man and nature, another contrast arises that leads further and further into abstraction. The soul that formerly appeared to itself as something concrete—because it experienced in itself the Logos-image of the divine—gradually transforms itself to a mere vessel of ideas. Whereas before, in the ancient spiritual age, it had felt akin to everything, it now sees itself as subject and regards everything else as object, feeling no further kinship with anything.

The earlier contrast of soul and body, man and nature, increasingly became the merely theoretical epistemological contrast between the subject that is within a person and the object without. Nature changed into the object of knowledge. It is not surprising that out of its own needs knowledge henceforth strove for the “purely objective.”

But what is this purely objective? It is no longer what nature was to the Greeks. The objective is external corporeality in which no spirit is any longer perceived. It is nature devoid of spirit, to be comprehended from without by the subject.

Precisely because man had lost the connection with nature, he now sought a science of nature from outside. Here, we have once again reached the point where I concluded yesterday. Cusanus looked upon what should have been the divine world to him and declared that man with his knowledge must stop short before it and, if he must write about the divine world, he must write a docta ignorantia. And only faintly, in symbols taken from mathematics, did Cusanus want to retain something of what appeared thus to him as the spiritual realms.

About a hundred years after the Docta Ignorantia appeared in 1440, the De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium appeared in 1543. one century later, Copernicus, with his mathematical mind, took hold of the other side, the external side of what Cusanus could not fully grasp, not even symbolically, with mathematics. Today, we see how in fact the application of this mathematical mind to nature becomes possible the moment that nature vanishes from man's immediate experience. This can be traced even in the history of language since “Nature” refers to something that is related to “being born,” whereas what we consider as nature today is only the corporeal world in which everything is dead. I mean that it is dead for us since, of course, nature contains life and spirit. But it has become lifeless for us and the most certain of conceptual systems, namely, the mathematical, is regarded as the best way to grasp it.

Thus we have before us a development that proceeds with inward regularity. In the first epoch, man beheld god and world, but god in the world and the world in god: the one-ness, unity. In the second epoch, man in fact beheld soul and body, man and nature; the soul as bearer of the living Logos, the bearer of what is not born and does not die; nature as what is born and dies. In the third phase man has ascended to the abstract contrast of subject (himself) and object ( the external world.) The object is something so robust that man no longer even attempts to throw light on it with concepts. It is experienced as something alien to man, something that is examined from outside with mathematics although mathematics cannot penetrate into the inner essence. For this reason, Cusanus applied mathematics only symbolically, and timidly at that.

The striving to develop science must therefore be pictured as emerging from earlier faculties of mankind. A time had to come when this science would appear. It had to develop the way it did. We can follow this if we focus clearly on the three phases of development that I have just described.

We see how the first phase extends to the Eighth Century B.C. to the ancient sage of Southern Europe whom I have described today. The second extends from him to Nicholas Cusanus. We find ourselves in the third phase now. The first is pneumatological, directed to the spirit in its primeval form. The second is mystical, taking the world in the broadest sense possible. The third is mathematical. Considering the significant characteristics, therefore, we trace the first phase—ancient pneumatology—as far as the ancient Southern wise man. Magical mysticism extends from there to Meister Eckhart and Nicholas Cusanus. The age of mathematizing natural science proceeds from Cusanus into our own time and continues further. More on this tomorrow.