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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Crystals to Crocodiles
GA 347

V. The perception of thinking carried out by our inner organs

13 September 1922, Dornach

Gentlemen, what we discussed up to now is so essential to what I want to say today that I would like to begin with a brief review.

As you remember, we have seen that the human brain essentially consists of minute, starlike cells that radiate out quite far from the centre and intertwine, forming the brain tissue as I described it to you. We find similar small organisms also in our blood, but our brain cells are fully alive only at night when we sleep. However, they cannot make full use of this life and move around because they are crowded together like sardines. However, the white blood corpuscles swimming in our blood can move around. They float around in the blood and move their arm-like extensions. They only come to rest and approach a deathlike condition when we sleep. In other words, sleeping and waking are connected with the activity or inactivity of the brain cells, the nerve cells in general, and the white blood cells.

I also explained to you that in an organ such as the liver we can see how the human body changes in the course of a lifetime. Last time I described the perceptive capacity of the liver through which it regulates our digestion. If an infant's liver function is disturbed, the liver cannot perceive the digestive process properly. As I indicated, the consequences of this imbalance often do not appear until much later, for instance, at age 45 or 50. After all, the human organism can withstand a lot of strain, and even if the liver is damaged in infancy, the organ can continue to function for another 45 or 50 years. But by then the liver has hardened, and liver diseases appear. Though these diseases often occur only late in a person's life, they are nevertheless the effects of what went wrong in infancy.

Thus the best food for infants is the milk of their mothers. After all, the baby developed in the mother's body, and therefore its entire organism is related to that of the mother. Consequently, infants thrive best if they are given only what proceeds from the mother's body, to which they are closely related.

Occasionally it happens that because of its particular composition the mother's milk is not suitable for the baby. For example, the milk may be too bitter or too salty. Then another woman must be found to nurse the child. Now you may ask if the infant could not be raised on cow's milk from the very beginning. Although feeding cow's milk in early infancy is not ideal, it is nonetheless not a terrible offence against the human organism to use it in the proper dilution. Of course, the milk of each mammal species is different from that of the others, but not so different that we couldn't feed human infants with cow's milk.

As long as babies only drink milk, they do not need to chew anything. Therefore, at this age certain organs are more active than later when solid food has to be processed. The milk infants drink is essentially still alive, as it were. Infants should be fed liquid life, so to speak.

Now, you know that something extremely important for the human organism happens in the intestines. I am speaking of the fact that all substances entering the intestines through the stomach must first be destroyed and killed, and later, when they pass through the intestinal walls into lymph vessels and blood, they must be revitalized. This is the most important thing we must understand. The food we take in must first be killed and then filled with life again. The living substances we take in from the world around us cannot be used by our body. Through our own activity we must kill and then re-enliven all our food. Traditional science does not know this, and therefore it also doesn't know that human beings bear life forces within them. Just as we have muscles, bones and nerves in us, so we also have enlivening forces in us, that we may call life body or etheric body.

The liver watches over this entire digestive process, the destruction and re-enlivening of substances, and the absorption of the newly vitalized substances into the blood, just like our eyes watch the events around us. As we get old, our eyes may suffer from cataracts or glaucoma, that is, they may harden and what was once transparent may become opaque. Similarly the liver can harden with age. Hepatic induration is actually the same thing in the liver as glaucoma in the eyes. This hardening of the liver may occur at the age of 45, 50, or even later. Liver diseases generally indicate that the liver no longer watches over the processed inside us.

With our eyes we look at the world around us, with our ears we listen to the sounds of our environment, and with our liver we perceive our digestion and all related processes. The liver is our inner organ of perception. And only if we recognize the liver as an inner sense organ can we understand what happens inside us. We can indeed compare the liver with our eyes. We have, as it were, a head in our belly. This head, however, does not look outwards but inwards. Thus we are engaged in an inner activity of which we are not conscious.

But babies still sense this activity. They pay little attention to the world around them, and even when they do they don't understand it at all. That is why infants feel into themselves all the more. They can sense clearly when the milk contains foreign substances that must be expelled into the intestines so that they can be excreted. If something is wrong with the milk, the liver will develop the tendency to become diseased later in life.

Well, you don't need me to tell you that the eyes that look at the world around us also need a brain. Merely looking at things doesn't do us any good. Then we would only be staring at the world without being able to think about it. We need the brain to think about the world around us.

Now, gentlemen, if the liver is a kind of inner eye that perceives the processes in our intestines, it also needs a kind of brain. Granted, the liver can perceive what is going on in the stomach, for instance how all the food we swallowed is mixed with pepsin. When the resulting mush or chyme then moves through the pylorus and into the intestines, the liver can sense that the usable substances are absorbed by the intestinal walls and enter the blood via the lymph vessels. But beyond this point the liver cannot do anything. Just as the eye cannot think, the liver cannot carry out the activities following upon mere perception. In the same way that the brain must support the eye, another organ must step in here to help the liver.

Thus we have not only the liver in us, which constantly perceives our digestion, but there is also a thinking activity taking place in us of which we are not aware. Even though we know the organ involved, we are not conscious of this thinking activity that complements and supports the perceptive function of the liver, just as the thinking of the brain supports the perceiving activity of the eyes. This thinking supporting the liver is provided by the kidneys and the whole kidney system.

Usually all we know about the kidneys is that they excrete urine. But this organ is more important than we generally think. In addition to excreting liquids, the kidneys work together with the liver and carry out an inner thinking activity. This is connected with the thinking that takes place in the brain; a malfunction in the brain therefore also affects the kidneys.

Let's assume a child's brain doesn't function properly. As I said, this can happen if the child has to learn too much and has to memorize too much. A certain amount of memorization is good to keep the brain agile, but too much memorizing will put so much strain on the brain that it will begin to harden. This hardening in turn will later prevent the brain from functioning properly.

Now, since the brain is connected with the kidneys, the latter will also not work properly as a result of the brain malfunction. The human body can take a lot of abuse, but the effects will show up later. In this case, the entire metabolism is disturbed, the kidneys no longer function properly, and we can find that sugar, which should have been assimilated by the body, is excreted in the urine. The organism has become too weak to assimilate the sugar because the brain no longer works as it should. The person in question suffers from diabetes.

What I want to impress upon you here is that our health in later life depends on our mental activity, for instance on the amount of memorizing at an early age. You have surely heard that diabetes occurs frequently in well-to-do people, haven't you? Those people can provide very well for their children, particularly as far as material things and the physical realm are concerned. But usually they don't know that they also need to look for a good teacher who will not make their children memorize too much. They think the government will take care of this and don't bother themselves about it. However, their children often memorize far too much and will in later life suffer from diabetes. Education relying only on material means, on proper nutrition, and so forth is not enough to help children develop into healthy adults. We must also consider their soul qualities. Gradually people are now beginning to sense that these soul qualities are important and that there is more to human beings than just a body; after all, the body can be ruined by neglect of the soul. No matter how well children eat and how much their diet is based on the research of chemists, if their soul life becomes unbalanced and is neglected, their organism will be damaged. It is not through modern one-sided and materialistic science but only through true science that we will be able to understand what was present in the human being already before conception and what remains after death. Only through true science will we come to know the human soul. And it is precisely this that has to be taken into account here.

Why is it that nowadays people generally don't want to hear anything about what I have just explained to you? These days people with a certain kind of education consider it 'uncultured' to speak about the liver and the kidneys. Why is that so?

You know, the Jews in antiquity—they are the ones who gave us the Old Testament—did not think that talking of the kidneys was so terribly uncultured. Nowadays people are so well brought up that in respectable company they will not repeat what is written in the Old Testament, but we can read there that the Jews in antiquity when suffering from bad dreams did not say, 'My soul is tormented.' You see, gentlemen, it's easy to say that when one has no idea what the soul is. 'Soul' is then merely a word. But the Old Testament expresses a wisdom people used to have in ancient times when it says about a man's bad dreams, 'His kidneys torment him.' This knowledge that bad dreams indicate a malfunction of the kidneys—knowledge that was present in the Old Testament but then was forgotten—comes to light again in the new science, in anthroposophy.

In the Middle Ages, a new way of thinking developed that has prevailed into our times. In those days, people developed an appreciation for what they could not perceive, for the imponderable. As you know, we usually cover all of our body except the head, and in company we speak only of the parts that are not covered. Well, nowadays you can see many women, indeed, even well-bred ladies, leaving considerably more of their bodies uncovered; but of course, this doesn't mean that we may speak of everything that isn't covered. At any rate, for a certain sect of medieval Christians—in England they were later called Puritans—what is inside our body gradually became unmentionable, something one must not speak of. The science of the time, based only on material things and sensory perception, was not allowed to talk about the inside of the human body. It was considered not spiritual and therefore should not be talked about. This is how the spirit eventually was lost sight of altogether. For it is obviously difficult to get a hold on the spirit if one looks for it only in the head. But we can certainly find the spirit pervading the entire human body if we look for it there.

Now let's go back to the kidneys; through their thinking they support the perceiving activity of the liver. In other words, the liver perceives and the kidneys think. They can think their way into the heart activity as well as into anything else the liver has not perceived. The liver can perceive the entire process of digestion and the absorption of liquefied nutrients into the blood. But once they circulate there, thinking must be brought to bear, and this is what the kidneys do. Thus we can say that there is, so to speak, a second person inside us.

But, gentlemen, you won't actually believe that the kidneys taken from a corpse and then dissected—or the beef kidneys that you can even more easily examine before you cook them for your meal—that this piece of meat with all the qualities the anatomists attribute to it can really think, will you? Of course it can't think. The soul forces permeating the organ are what do the thinking.

That's connected to what I told you last time about matter and tissue. For example, the material that made up a child's kidneys will have been replaced after seven or eight years. Just as your fingernails are no longer the same after seven or eight years because you keep trimming them, so all the tissue in the kidneys and the liver has been replaced. In other words, the physical material that made up these organs seven years ago is gone.

Yet decades later the liver can still become ill as a result of neglect suffered in infancy. Clearly then, an activity is taking place here that is invisible and independent of the organ tissue, which has been replaced repeatedly. Life continues from infancy to the age of 45 or 50, but the physical material does not. The tissue itself cannot become ill because it is constantly being replaced. What continues is the invisible activity inside us that will continue throughout our whole life. As you can see, our body is indeed extremely complex.

Let me now add something else. As I said, the Jews in antiquity still knew that the kidneys participated in the vague and dull thinking that takes place at night in our dreams. Of course, at night there is none of our usual thinking going on, and we perceive only what the kidneys are thinking. During the day, we have our heads full with thoughts that come originally from the outside. As we don't see the small flame of a candle when a brighter light stands next to it, so we don't see the kidney activity's small light when we are awake and our heads are filled with all sorts of thoughts and ideas coming from the world around us. As soon as the head stops thinking, it begins to perceive what the liver observes and the kidneys think in the form of dreams. This is why our dreams are the way they are.

Let's assume you have an intestinal disorder, and the liver perceives it. During the day, you don't notice the problem because the impressions reaching you from the outside are stronger. But at night, before falling asleep or waking up, you notice the liver perceiving the intestinal disorder. The liver and the kidneys are of course not as intelligent as our head, and therefore they cannot immediately say, 'What we see here are the intestines.' Instead they create an image, and so we don't see reality, but have a dream. If the liver were to see reality, it would see the intestines burning. But it doesn't and instead forms a picture, for example of snakes darting their tongues in and out. We dream quite often of wriggling snakes because the liver actually sees our intestines as snakes.

Indeed, sometimes we also do with our head what the liver and kidneys are doing. For example, when we see a crooked piece of wood and know there could be snakes around, from a distance we may mistake the piece of wood for a snake. Similarly, the inner perception and thinking of liver and kidneys can mistake the coiled intestines for snakes.

Sometimes you may dream of a roaring stove, and when you wake up you feel your heart throbbing. What has happened there? Well the kidneys were thinking about the palpitation of your heart and thought of the heart as a warm, roaring stove. And therefore you were dreaming of a hot stove; that's how the kidneys thought of the activity of your heart.

Though it may not be considered 'cultured' to say this, nevertheless the fact is that there is a soul being in our bellies. The soul is like a tiny mouse that somehow slips into our body. That's how people used to think about where the soul can be found, isn't it? Of course, to ask where the soul can be found is to say that one no longer knows anything about the soul at all. It is just as much in our ear lobes as in our big toes, but the soul needs organs by means of which it can think and form images. The soul does one kind of thinking with the head, which you know very well, and another kind is done with liver and kidneys and focuses on the perception of what goes on inside us. We can see the soul at work everywhere in the human body, and that is what we must understand.

Naturally, to fully understand this we need a science that does not stop at merely dissecting corpses and analysing organs only in physical, material terms. We must be more active in our soul life and thinking than those people who merely want to look at things. Of course, it's much easier to dissect corpses, take out the liver, and then record what one finds in it. For this kind of thing you don't need to exert your brain very much. All you need to do is use your eyes and add a bit of thinking as you cut the liver into small pieces and look at them under a microscope. This kind of science is easy.

Unfortunately, nowadays almost all science is conducted at that simple level. We have to be much more active in our thinking and we must stop believing that we can come to understand the human being just by dissecting corpses and describing the organs we see. Merely looking at the liver of a 50-year-old man or woman does not tell us anything about developments that began already in infancy. What we need is a holistic, comprehensive science; that's what all true science should strive for. Anthroposophy strives to develop such a science that will not limit itself to the physical but will extend to the realm of soul and spirit.

As I said last time, unlike in all other organs, the blood vessels entering the liver carry venous blood, blood containing carbon dioxide. The liver is unique in this respect. It receives the venous blood and absorbs it. This is extremely important.

Of course, the liver also receives the usual arterial blood, and there are also veins coming out of the liver. But in addition to these, a particular vein, the portal vein, enters the liver, bringing it blood rich in carbon dioxide [see drawing on page 55]. The liver absorbs the carbon dioxide and retains it.

You see, when conventional scientists dissect the liver, they see this portal vein but do not really think much about it. But if they had advanced to true science, they would draw comparisons.

Certain other organs in our body are similar to the liver, namely, the eyes. Though we find only faint indications of this in the eyes, it is nevertheless true that here, too, not all the venous blood flows out again. Arteries enter the eyes, and veins come out. However, not all the venous blood that entered the eyes flows out again; instead it is spread throughout the eyes, just as it is in the liver, only to a much lesser extent. Doesn't this tell us that eyes can be compared to the liver? Yes, and we can indeed say that the liver is our inner eye.

Our eyes are directed outwards. They look at the world outside and use up the venous blood in this process. The liver uses it up in looking at what goes on inside us. It uses the venous blood for a different purpose and makes it disappear. You see, it is only sometimes that the eyes use the venous blood, that is when we become sad and cry. Then bitter tasting lacrimal fluid is secreted by the tear glands. When the small amount of venous blood retained by the eyes is activated through our sadness, we excrete tears.

In the liver this is happening all the time. The liver is in a constant state of sadness, and seeing the human body as it is during life on earth, one has good reason to be sad. For though endowed with the highest potential, our body simply does not look all that good from the inside. So the liver is simply sad all the time, and that's why it continuously secretes a bitter substance called bile. What the eyes do with tears, the liver does for the entire organism by secreting bile. The only difference is that the tears flow to the surface of the body and then soon evaporate. The bile does not evaporate in us since the liver looks at the inside of our body. Here the process of perception becomes less important than that of secretion, which can be compared with the excretion of tears.

Now, gentlemen, if what I said is really true, then certain other things must necessarily also be true. Above all, it would have to be true that animals, which live more inwardly, more in their inner thinking activity, are thinking not less than human beings but more. Of course, with their heads they would have to think less because their brains are less developed than ours. Consequently, these creatures would have to focus more on the activity of their liver and kidneys; their liver would have to perceive more and their kidneys would have to think more. In fact, this is what actually happens in animals, and there is external proof of it. Our eyes are structured so that only very little venous blood flows into them. The amount is so small that modern science does not even mention it any more. However, in animals, which live more inwardly, the eyes not only look at things but also participate in the thinking process.

We can say, then, that in a way the eyes are a kind of liver, and by the same token we can say that in animals the eyes are much more like the liver than in human beings. Our eyes are more developed and therefore function less like the liver. The eyes of animals do not just consist of the same elements as human eyes, that is, of the watery vitreous body, the lens, and another vitreous body. No, in the case of certain animals the blood vessels enter the eyes and there form a structure like the one I'm drawing here [see opposite]. The blood vessels extend into this vitreous body and there form a structure called 'fan' or 'eye fan'. [ in text... ] Thus in animals the eyes still function very much like the liver. Just as the portal vein enters the liver, this fan reaches into the eyes. This is what happens in animals: as soon as they look at something their eyes begin to think. In human beings on the other hand, the eyes merely perceive, and the thinking is done with the brain. The brain of animals is small and less developed, and that is why they cannot think as much with the brain and have to use their eyes to some extent for this purpose. They can do this because they have this sickle-shaped extension reaching into the organ, allowing them to use the venous blood, which is rich in carbon dioxide.

blood vessels in eye

You won't be surprised when you hear what I have to say now; after all, you know better than to assume that a vulture circling way up in the sky can decide with its tiny bird brain to swoop down precisely to the spot where the lamb is sitting! If vultures had to depend on their brain they would starve to death. However, in their eyes a thinking takes place that is merely the continuation of the thinking going on in their kidneys. It is with this thinking that vultures decide to swoop down and strike the lamb. Vultures do not think this through step by step, from the perception of the lamb to getting ready for the attack to swooping down at just the right angle to catch the prey. No, this kind of deliberation requires a fairly developed brain. We could deliberate like that, but then we could not follow through on such thinking. In vultures the eyes are already doing some thinking; their soul is even in their eyes. Of course, the birds don't realize it but this thinking is nevertheless going on.

As I said earlier, the Jews in antiquity understood their Old Testament, and they knew what it meant to say, 'God has tormented me at night through my kidneys.' This is how they expressed the reality of what their souls perceived in dreams. They said, 'God has tormented me at night through my kidneys,' because they knew very well that human beings not only look at the world outside through their eyes, but they also look inwards with their liver and think there with their kidneys.

The people of ancient Rome still had this knowledge, too. They knew that every person is actually two human beings in one—one who looks out through the eyes and one who looks inside through the liver. If you look at the distribution of the veins in the liver, you'll see that, in a sense, the liver looks towards our back. This is why we perceive so little of what goes on inside us. Just as we can't see what is behind us, so the liver isn't fully conscious of what it is looking at. In ancient Rome people knew this, but they did not express it in a way one could immediately understand. Instead, they pictured human beings as having one head that looks to the front and another one, in the lower body, that is less clearly formed and looks to the back. Then they pictured the two side by side [see drawing below], as one head with two faces, looking in opposite directions. You can still find statues of such Janus faces in Italy.


You see, tourists who can afford to travel through Italy with their guidebooks also look at those Janus faces. But when they consult their guidebooks about them, they don't find much useful information. After all, it is only natural to wonder how the Romans got the idea of sculpting such two- faced heads. They were certainly not so stupid as to believe that somewhere across the seas there lived people with two heads. Yet this is what tourists tend to think, because they don't learn anything different from just looking at those two-faced Roman heads.

Well, you see, out of a certain natural thinking the Romans still knew what later civilizations didn't know any more, and what we are now rediscovering on our own. Thus we know that the Romans were not stupid at all but quite clever. The Janus-face stands for January. Why did they place this figure at the beginning of the year? This question points to another mystery.

Now that we have come to the point of understanding that the soul works not only in the head, but also in the liver and the kidneys, we can also see how this activity varies in the course of the year. In the warmth of summer, for instance, the liver does little work. At that time, liver and kidneys enter a kind of soul sleep and carry out only their physical functions, because we surrender ourselves to the warmth of the world around us. In terms of soul activity, the entire digestive system is slower. But in winter soul-spiritual activities resume with renewed force. Around Christmas and New Year, at the beginning of January, the soul activity in liver and kidneys reaches its culmination. The Romans knew this, and that's why they called this two- faced being Janus, the January being.

When we rediscover the wisdom hidden in these statues, we won't just be staring at them, but instead we'll be able to understand them. Nowadays people can't do more than stare at those statues because modern science is no longer anything much. You see, anthroposophy isn't impractical in the least. It can shed light on the human being as well as on history. For instance, it can explain why the Romans made these Janus faces. And I can say without vanity that tourist guidebooks should actually be written by anthroposophists; otherwise tourists can only numbly stare at things without really thinking about them.

Well, gentlemen, from what I have said you can see that it is true that we must start with the body and its physiology to get to the soul and its realm. I will tell you more about the realm of the soul next Saturday, and in the meantime you can think of more questions to ask. For now I'm sure you realize that we are not joking when we try to understand and perceive the soul through the body; no, indeed, this is serious science.