From Crystals to Crocodiles
III. The human being in relation to world-formation and dissolution
9 August 1922, Dornach
A member of the audience brought some rocks back from his holiday. He asked whether they, too, contain life or ever had life and how they originated.
Rudolf Steiner: Maybe I can refer to these rocks later, but I may also be able to include them in today's discussion.
What I wanted to say today, gentlemen, is the following: we have seen that life must constantly come to an end inside us. We also discovered that we have these organisms floating in our blood, the white corpuscles, which move through the arteries right up to our skin. I have told you also that these small creatures, which normally live everywhere inside our organism, are particularly pleased when they reach the surface of the body. It is like the spice of life for them. Those are the living cells moving around inside us.
In contrast to them, the cells in our nervous system, especially the brain cells, are constantly dying, constantly on the verge of death. The only time when they are alive to some extent is actually when we are asleep. They cannot move from their places because they are all crowded together. They cannot move around like the white blood cells, but at night, when we are asleep, they begin to be alive. Then they receive a bit more life and will forces from the body, and that is why the white corpuscles have to be more still and less active at that time. As I explained, this is how thinking occurs in the entire body.
Let us ask now where thoughts actually come from. As you know, people who want to think only in materialistic terms, that is to say, conveniently and superficially, say that thoughts clearly originate in the brain or in the nervous system. There thoughts grow like heads of cabbage in a field. If people were only to think this through — this picture of cabbages in a field —they would realize that no cabbages will grow in a field unless someone has planted them first. I don't object if people picture the human brain as a sort of field in which thoughts grow. But just think what would happen if the farmer who has always cultivated this wonderful patch of cabbage moved away, and there was no one to continue his work. Well, no more cabbages would grow on this field.
It is precisely when we assume that our thoughts originate in the brain that we must first find out where they really come from. Well, they come about the same way that heads of cabbage grow in a field! In other words, we must first get a proper grasp of the question, and then we will realize that what we see out in nature has indeed evolved there. I'd like to explain to you at this point what it is that evolves in nature.
As I mentioned earlier, we can understand the inner nature of human beings by looking at the world around us. As we studied the plants, we also gained some insights into human beings. Now let us look closely at this rock here. On the outside, on top, back, and bottom, it consists of very soft material. You can scrape it off with a knife. Thus the outer layer is almost like compacted soil. I'll draw only the lower part of it for you. Down here we have this soft stone material, and there are various crystals growing out of it, as it were. I would really have to draw many of them of course, but this will do for now.
Down there we have numerous small crystals that appear to have grown out of the other, softer material, but they are very hard. You cannot scrape them off; a knife will not scratch them. You may be able to remove one as a unit, but you cannot scratch into them. The crystals embedded here are very hard.
How did such crystals get into the softer material, which is really only compacted soil? The crystals are beautifully formed; they have an elongated shape and are crowned with a small roof. The opposite end would also have such a roof if it did not extend into the soil. Each crystal would have such a shape; but it is destroyed by entering more compact soil.
Where do these crystals come from? You know, don't you, that for plants to grow there must be carbon dioxide in their environment? They cannot grow without it. The plants must have the same substance we exhale. They absorb it retain the carbon, and release the oxygen. This is the difference between us and the plants: we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, retaining the oxygen. Plants are connected with the soil, and when they die the carbon returns into the soil, where over time it becomes hard coal, which we can mine many centuries later.
Of course, there are many other substances; for instance, one that resembles coal in some respects but is quite different from it in others is silica. If you have soil that is rich in silica and you have oxygen, which is always everywhere, the latter does not immediately affect the silica. However, after some time has passed in the natural course of things, we realize that the oxygen has united with the silica. Just as carbon dioxide develops when we breathe out, so quartz or silicate develops when oxygen unites in the right way with the silica in the soil. That is how those crystals originate; all that is needed is that the silica in the soil unites with the oxygen.
However the oxygen cannot unite with the silica by itself. No matter how much silica and oxygen you have, the two by themselves would not form anything at all. How then do these beautiful shapes develop? They develop because the earth is connected with the universe, and forces from there constantly affect it. These forces work upon the earth all the time. They carry the oxygen into the silica, and that is how crystals come about. Thus, crystals develop due to the influences of all the other stars upon the earth. We can therefore say that crystals are being formed here by forces from the entire universe.
Now you may wonder if I've been telling you tales. You may think the rock one of you brought proves the opposite of what I've said. However, this is what rocks are really like; let me draw it now for you [see drawing below]. In the lower portion there is loose soil, and also above and back there. The rock is entirely surrounded by loose earth. The crystals not only grow upward, as I have described them, but there are also some growing in the opposite direction.
Now you may object that this process cannot be explained as the result of cosmic forces affecting the earth. For then one would necessarily have to assume that the same forces supposedly coming in from the universe must also emanate from the interior of the earth. Yes, you see, this is an apparent contradiction. There must be more to this than meets the eye. Let me tell you what it is.
Rocks like the one we have here do not develop just anywhere in the soil, but only in the mountains. Even if they developed somewhere else and not in the mountains, there would be layers of earth above and below them, just like in the mountains. Let's assume we found this rock here in the mountains. Imagine now a mountain and a slope below it [see drawing below]. Now you are walking up there, and this is where the path must run, though the soil or the rocks may overhang the path a little bit.
A long time ago this soil was deposited up on the mountain in the drawing, and other soil was deposited down there on the path. If my explanation is true, then forces streaming in from the universe formed crystals up there as well as below. Both up there and down below crystals would have grown out of the soil. A long time later, the upper part of the rock [upper left part of drawing] broke off and covered the lower one. In the process, the soil came to lie on top of the crystals, which used to point upwards but now were pointing downwards and were pressing against the crystals below them, which were still pointing upwards. Things like that happened in the mountains all the time. When you study geology, you will find that there have always been landslides in the mountains, and in the process the upper layers came to lie on top of the lower ones. This is what makes studying mountains so interesting. In the plains, where changes occurred only within the last millennia, you get the impression that one layer was always deposited upon the other. We cannot say the same about the Alps at all. A long time ago they began to develop in the same way, but later the higher portions fell on top of the lower ones, and the layers were all jumbled.
This is why it is difficult to study the Alps; one always has to ask whether the layers on top actually originated there. In many cases they did not. Instead, a lower stratum, covered by other layers, was often pushed to the surface by a seismic shock. What had been underneath thus came to lie on top of what used to be the topmost layer. The layers were inverted. This is how folded mountains, such as the Alps, developed over thousands of years.
To come back to our drawing, we can therefore say that something developed below the slope and something similar above it, which then slid down and covered the lower stratum. Thus we can explain the matter of crystals growing in opposite directions by pointing to the folded mountains and their origin in an inversion and jumbling up of strata.
The entire realm of inanimate matter is thus affected by forces working into it out of the universe. These forces work on us as well, and so we must actually do something to avoid their interference. For we also carry within us the silica we so frequently find in the earth. We don't have much of it, but nevertheless we do carry within us the same substances out of which very hard rocks can develop. But if hard rocks, such as the one we looked at a while ago, developed in our bodies, we would be in trouble! For instance, if as children, when we already have silica in us, we could not help but form these very small crystals, it would be a very serious matter. This is what sometimes happens in certain illnesses.
As you know, sugar can also form crystals. Rock candy, for instance, consists of layers of crystals, one on top of the other. Well, we have a lot of sugar in us. Yet, not all people on earth eat the same amount of sugar. The consumption varies. For example, on average people in Russia eat very little sugar, but in England they consume a lot. This creates one type of difference between people. The Russian folk character is different from the English one. The Russians are different people from the English, in part because they consume less sugar in their food. This connection between food and character has to do with the various forces that work upon us out of the universe.
So, human beings have a lot of sugar in them, and it constantly tends to turn into crystals. What can we do to prevent this crystallization?
As I told you, there is also a lot of water in us, living water. It dissolves the sugar. It would be quite something if the water did not constantly dissolve the sugar! Small crystals, as in rock candy, would develop, and if the sugar were not constantly dissolved, we would have such small pointed crystals everywhere in us. We need sugar in our food, but we can use it only by dissolving it continuously. We must have it. Why? In order to do the work of dissolving it! This is not the only thing that keeps us alive, but it is an essential part of human life to dissolve sugar. Therefore we must consume it.
If we have insufficient strength to dissolve it, very small crystals will form, which we excrete with the urine. This is a symptom of an illness called diabetes. Here we now have an explanation for why people succumb to this illness. They do not have enough strength to dissolve the sugar they have eaten. They must eat sugar, but when they are not strong enough to dissolve it, they will suffer from diabetes. The sugar must not get to the point where it is excreted in the form of minute crystals, but it must be dissolved. Human beings must have the strength to do this, for their life is based on this.
When we think about this, we realize that not only do we need to have the forces for dissolving sugar, but we also need to have the strength to break down the very tiny quartz crystals constantly tending to develop in us. They must not be allowed to form. If they were to develop in children, they would come and complain to us that they felt a stinging pain everywhere.
What has happened when a child feels this stinging pain all over? You see, in that case the tiny silica crystals that developed in the nerves were not dissolved. They remained intact. You must not imagine that they are large; they are extremely small, so that one can barely see them even under a microscope, smaller than the ten thousandth part of a millimetre. However, when many of these minute crystals have accumulated in the nervous system, the patient begins to suffer from countless minor stinging pains he cannot understand. He feels them everywhere. This process in turn leads to slight inflammations. The patient then becomes rheumatic, or he may also develop gout, which simply means that these tiny crystals are constantly being deposted. This is very painful. Tophi, or gouty concretions or nodes, are caused by inflammations such as you get when you stub your toe. The numerous tiny spears press towards the surface of the body. This produces minor inflammations which in turn lead to gouty nodes.
These are some of the processes that can occur in the human body. You see that we must always have forces in us that work against things like gout. If we did not have such forces, we would always succumb to gout. But we must not have gout all the time. Therefore we must always have something with which we can oppose it. You see, certain forces out of the universe work upon us. They want to form minute crystals within us. Since they permeate us constantly, we on our part must just as consistently develop the strength to counter these effects. We must oppose these forces all the time. This is particularly true in our nervous system, where mineral substances would develop continuously if we did not oppose them.
True, these mineral substances must develop; they are necessary. Autopsies of infants who were retarded and died young often reveal that the children did not have enough of what is called brain-sand. We all must have some of it. Brain-sand must develop, but it must also be dissolved again all the time.
If we don't have enough strength to dissolve this substance, too much of it will be deposited. In fact brain-sand is continuously being deposited in the brain as we absorb food through our blood. And this brain-sand is just as much subject to the influences of the forces of the universe as everything else out there in nature. Consequently the brain-sand too has the tendency to form crystals. But this must not be allowed to happen. Without brain-sand we may become retarded, but if crystals were to form we would always be fainting because we would suffer from some sort of rheumatism or gout of the brain. This crystal formation merely causes pain in the other parts of the body, but if the crystals develop in the brain, we grow helpless and faint. In other words, we must have brain-sand, but we must also dissolve it all the time. Forming brain-sand and dissolving it again is an ongoing process.
An excessive amount of deposits may occasionally rupture blood vessels in the brain, causing blood to flow out. This will not only cause fainting, but also a cerebral stroke or apoplexy. By studying illnesses, we can see what lives inside the human being. For when we are ill we have everything healthy people have in them, but we have it in excess. Simply put, illness is nothing else than developing something excessively.
This is true in life in general, gentlemen. If you gently touch a small child's cheek, you are caressing it. If the strength of your gesture becomes excessive, you are slapping the child. You see, this is the way things are in life. Whatever may be a caress can develop into a slap. Similarly, if the very delicate activity of depositing brain-sand becomes excessive, if we do not have enough strength to dissolve this mineral substance in us, it will turn into a slap given by life, so to speak. For we would constantly faint; or in the advanced stage, if these tiny crystals pierced our blood vessels, we would suffer apoplexy. This is the reason why we must dissolve them all the time; this process is constantly going on in all of us.
Let me tell you something else. To make things easier to understand, let's picture a human being; I'll make a drawing here. Here is the brain and the eye. Here I'll draw something that person is looking at, let's say a plant.Now look at this plant. When we look at the plant — of course, we can do this only in the daytime, when there's light—we see that this plant is lit up by sunlight, and this light reaches all the way into our eyes. Through the optic nerve, which extends back from the eyes to the brain, the light reaches the brain. Thus, when we look at a plant, our eyes focus on it, and rays of light proceed from the plant through the eyes and into the brain.
Gentlemen, when you observe a plant, for example a flower, in this way, you are paying attention to it. To say that you pay attention to a flower is actually saying quite a lot. For when you focus on the flower, you forget yourselves. We can be so attentive that we completely forget ourselves. As soon as you begin to forget the fact that you are looking at the flower, the strength develops to deposit some brain-sand in the brain. In other words, looking at something means depositing brain-sand.
This depositing is a typical process and part of being human. As you know, you perspire not only when you exert yourselves, but also, for example, when you are very frightened. Then you secrete not only brain-sand, but you also excrete other minerals and water through your skin. That is what is known as excretion. Looking at something means constantly excreting brain-sand. And as you know, we must dissolve this brain-sand, because if we did not this mineral would develop into a tiny flower in our brain! Looking at the flower actually means that the brain-sand in us forms a tiny flower; but it is an upside-down flower, just as the eye's picture of objects is upside-down.
When we look at a chair—it doesn't have to be anything as nice as a flower — through the act of concentrated looking a certain amount of brain-sand is formed in our head. If we now completely gave ourselves up to this act of looking, a very small picture of the chair, smaller even than anything you can see under the microscope, would develop in the brain-sand. If we had strengthened our faculty of concentrated looking, and looked around in a room, the entire room would appear in our heads as an inverted image consisting of miniature silica grains. It is amazing what is constantly being built inside us. However, we don't allow it to be completed. Without being conscious of it, we keep destroying the structure.
In this respect, we are peculiar creatures. When we look at the things around us, they constantly want to form replicas of themselves in us, but upside-down replicas. Even if we did not take an interest in the world and did not look at things, such forms would be created in us by what happens in the universe, even at night when we are asleep and don't have the inner strength to dissolve those forms. These forms develop also when the earth is not illuminated by sunlight, but is affected by forces that come from much farther away. We are always vulnerable, susceptible to these forces.
When we are asleep, the cosmos wants to create all kinds of forms of the mineral, inanimate realm in us. And when we look at things, then shapes want to develop in us that are just like our surroundings. Thus, when we sleep we copy the cosmos, where everything is arranged the same way it is in crystals. Crystals look the way they do because cosmic forces are arranged in just the same way as the crystals. Some of these forces move in one direction, and others in a different one, so that crystals are shaped by the entire uni- verse. This process wants to take place in us, too. When we look at the world around us, the shapes of our immediate environment tend to form themselves inside us as well. We must constantly prevent them from solidifying; we must constantly dissolve them.
Well, gentlemen, this is quite a strange process going on there. Just think, the flower wants to create an inanimate silica image of itself in us. But we must not let this happen. For if it did, we would not know anything about the flower, but suffer from gout in the head. Therefore the image must be destroyed before it solidifies.
Let me put it differently. Let's assume there is a pot of lukewarm water in front of you. Then someone blindfolds you and brings an object that will dissolve in the water. You are now asked to put your hand into the pot. You cannot see the object, because you are blindfolded. You are then asked if you feel anything, and you answer that all you can feel is the lukewarm water. To the question if you feel anything else, you answer that you feel the water getting colder around your fingers now.
How did that happen? The other person put in an object that dissolved, and in the process the temperature of the water was reduced. You can feel the dissolving process around your fingers and can say that something is being dissolved in this liquid.
This is what happens constantly when we have formed the object in us and have to dissolve it again. We feel it dissolving, and we know that the object exists in our environment because it formed a picture inside us, which we in turn dissolved. And because we dissolved the image we also know what the object looks like. We can think about the object because we have first dissolved its image. That is how thoughts about the object can arise. If we had only the image we would faint. However, if we are strong enough to destroy the image, then we can know about the object. This then is the difference between fainting when we see something and knowing about what we see.
Let's consider the case of someone who is in poor health. When there is a sudden, tremendous thunder-clap — that can happen—then this thunder perceived with the ears, not the eyes now but the ears, leads to brain-sand being deposited inside the person, and a picture then arises. Now if this person can't destroy the image fast enough, he may faint, lose consciousness. If he were healthy this would not happen, because then he could dissolve the brain-sand quickly enough. In other words fainting means not diluting the brain-sand fast enough. Not fainting means dissolving it quickly enough. While perceiving our environment, we must keep dissolving the brain-sand quickly.
This leads us to the question of our relationship to cosmic forces. I told you last time that if our relationship to these forces is such that our brain cells are constantly on the verge of death, then these cells are obviously inanimate, and we must use them properly. It is with our soul-spiritual element that we use and control them. Now we find the force that constantly destroys our brain cells. It's the brain-sand that destroys them continuously. The brain-sand's interference in the brain cells kills them. We must oppose this process.
You see, this is the reason why we are human beings: so that in a certain way we can counteract the effects of the brain-sand. The situation is different in animals; they cannot counteract the brain-sand as human beings can. This is why the animals do not have a head like ours. The only exceptions in this respect are the highly developed species. The human head can constantly dissolve everything that enters it. This ability to dissolve everything that comes in enables us to perceive ourselves and thus to say 'I'. The dissolving of brain-sand is optimal when we can say 'I'. At that moment we permeate our language with consciousness.
All right then, the brain-sand and all the nerve-sand dissolve. This is not so in animals. That is why animals only manage to utter screams and similar sounds, but never speech. This is also why animals have no sense of self and cannot say 'I'. But human beings can, because they can dissolve the brain-sand to a much greater extent.
Thus we can say that we counteract not only what is on the earth, but also what reaches us from the cosmos. If we didn't do that, these forces from the universe would inwardly crystallize us. We would inwardly turn into a mountain system of superimposed layers of crystals. We oppose this process inwardly by constantly destroying these mineral forms. We not only dissolve the silicic acid in the form of these crystals, but we also dissolve all sorts of other things. For example, we dissolve the constituents of sugar among other things.
We can even trace these processes. Though we are not fully aware of these things because they proceed on a merely instinctual level, we vaguely sense them. Suppose now you feel that you have difficulties in thinking clearly, in keeping your thoughts together, in concentrating. This kind of feeling can easily overcome journalists who have to write an article every day. Well, gentlemen, writing an article per day means diluting a tremendous amount of brain-sand. What happens in such a situation — at least that's how it was in the old days — is that the person burdened with this terrible task of writing an article every day starts chewing the end of his pen. This is something journalists are said to do more than other people in order to gather energy. They rally their reserves from the entire body and direct them into their heads to overcome the brain-sand there. And a lot of brain-sand has to be dissolved.
All this takes place instinctively. Of course, journalists don't say that they chew on their pens in order to gather up thoughts. They do it out of instinct. Now, out of the same instincts journalists may go to a coffee shop and drink black coffee. They don't think much about it because they are not aware of these inner processes. But once they have had their coffee —my word, things really move! They can now write their stories.
Why is this so? Because they absorbed caffeine, a toxic substance that contains a lot of nitrogen. Nitrogen is also in the air. When we breathe, we always absorb a certain amount of oxygen and nitrogen. To dissolve brain-sand, we need a certain force that is to be found particularly in nitrogen. Out of the nitrogen we gather the forces to dissolve brain-sand.
That is the reason why we are more susceptible to nitrogen at night when we sleep than when we are awake. As we have said earlier, we live faster when we take in more oxygen. If we inhaled more nitrogen, we would live more slowly and be more awake. We would be able to dissolve more brain-sand.
The journalist who drinks coffee unconsciously counts on this nitrogen, which will enable him to form more brain-sand and to dissolve it more easily as well. This way his thoughts will line up properly, and instead of chewing on his pen he can now use it to write them down.
There you can see how the human ego works. When the stomach receives the caffeine, which is rich in nitrogen, the ego then moves the nitrogen into the brain. Thus it makes diluting the brain-sand easier and helps us to think coherently.
On the other hand, some people's thoughts tend to be too closely connected. These people are unable to free themselves from their own thoughts. They have a tendency to constantly work on their brain-sand and would be better off if they underwent the opposite process. While some people keep their thoughts coherently connected by following a train of thought, others require the help of caffeine for that purpose. However, people who don't want to keep their thoughts too tightly connected and controlled, but want to have them shine, to put on a brilliant show and, as we say, dazzle others with their thoughts, those people will drink tea. Here we find the opposite effect. Tea scatters their thoughts and supports the dissolving of brain-sand in a different way.
The processes taking place inside us are extremely interesting and complex. Every type of food has a different effect, and we must constantly create a counterbalance to what tends to develop. We must in turn destroy what develops. It is actually with our highest spiritual capacity that we dissolve what tends to develop within us.
If for some time we do not get enough nitrogen in our diet, we will tend to be very sleepy. This is what one of you asked me about earlier, and the sleepiness is the result of not taking in enough nitrogen with our food. Therefore, when we are often sleepy we must take in food that is rich in nitrogen. There are many ways to do this, but we get nitrogen especially when we eat cheese or eggs. These will raise our nitrogen level. This is how we have to work to balance processes in us and to allow the ego to work in us.
As I told you at the beginning of today's talk, there may be fields with cabbages growing in them. But the cabbages won't grow if people don't cultivate them. And the field must also be prepared properly. Similarly, our brain must contain the required substances so that the ego can work there. The ego is also connected with all the forces of the universe, which work in a different direction. These cosmic forces want to make us into hard rocks, and we must counteract their effects in us all the time. If we could not do that, we would not be able to think or reach self-awareness. This activity of dissolving is identical with what we call our ego-consciousness.
You see, gentlemen, we must first answer these questions in a sensible way before we can go on to a scientific world view, before we can understand our relationship to the world. This dissolving is the most important aspect we must understand about ourselves. Let us think for a moment of a person who is dying. As a physical being he is entirely destroyed. If we do not understand that at every waking moment of our lives there is a process of destruction going on in us, we will never comprehend the destruction in a person who dies. We are able to continuously dissolve substances inside us because we oppose the cosmic forces in us. However, the dissolving is offset repeatedly because we take in the substances required for this activity with our food. If the point is reached where we can no longer dissolve the substances in us, we will dissolve ourselves and become corpses. We will talk more about that when we meet again.
What we found out today was that there is a constant dissolution process taking place and that we may become unable to dissolve the substances the universe tends to form in us because of an insufficient nitrogen balance. In that case the ego faints or becomes sleepy. Sleepiness means that we cannot dissolve sufficiently and are overcome by the forces of sedimentation.
When you fall asleep you are still there, because you can wake up again. By the same token, you must not draw conclusions concerning spiritual facts from what happens outwardly in your body. Just as a machine cannot do anything when nobody is there to operate it, so nothing happens in human beings without the presence of the spirit. This is a scientific view, gentlemen; anything else is unscientific. I am not telling you tall stories; on the contrary, everyone who takes this matter seriously and considers it scientifically will come to this insight.
We will continue these discussions in early September. You will see that this approach will, despite various detours, help us understand human beings in everyday life. Because of the basic understanding you have now developed, you will find it easier to follow. Remember, the human being is constantly being reconstituted, then dissolves himself, and so forth. When we study these things further in the future you will discover how a true scientist sees the human being.