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Health and Illness I
GA 348

II. Illnesses Occurring in the Different Periods of Life

24 October 1922, Dornach

Gentlemen, at our last session I started to answer your question about the inner organs of man. Of course, this subject must be seen from a broad perspective and treated from its foundations. We saw how William Windom, who died while delivering a speech, expressed his own inner condition by reading it off, as it were, from his body. After citing another case, we found in examining certain facts about the course of human life that the mortality rate is highest in man's infancy, that human beings die most frequently in their early years. In the period from birth up to the change of teeth at age seven, the mortality rate is at its peak, though it diminishes with the third, fourth and fifth years.

The human being is healthiest from the time of his change of teeth to puberty. This is indeed so, and if we ourselves are careful to prevent the causes of ill health, such as bad posture, which can lead to curvatures, and foul air, which can afflict the internal organs, we can count on children to be healthiest during their school years. The illnesses that do befall them then are for the most part due to external causes. Not until the teens does the danger again arise when man can fall ill from processes arising within his own constitution.

These illnesses, however, are quite different from those of early childhood.

I have mentioned that infants are highly susceptible to suppuration of the blood. It can become so purulent that symptoms of jaundice appear. In children, irregular digestion frequently results in diarrhoea. They also get thrush—those little white pustules in various places—and another, completely different kind of illness, so-called infantile convulsions. A childhood disease that is particularly prevalent these days is infantile paralysis, which can also affect adults. It is extremely damaging; the children cannot move their legs and become quite paralyzed. This disease is increasing rapidly. Perhaps you have read that schools have had to be closed in the province of Thüringen because of an epidemic there.

Thus, we can see that childhood illnesses have a distinctive character; they are quite different from the diseases man gets in later life. Scarlet fever and measles are specifically childhood illnesses, though adults, too, can contract the latter. But we must now ask ourselves why children are particularly susceptible to all these illnesses.

We can explain this susceptibility only if we know how forces work in the human body. When we examine the human embryo in the first, second or third months of pregnancy, we see that it is utterly different form what the human being later becomes. In the first and second months the child is all head; the other organs are only appendages to the head. What later turn into limbs, hands and feet are little stumps, and the actual lung and abdominal region are not yet functioning.

You see, if you take the human embryo (a sketch is drawn here) it looks like this. It is enclosed in a kind of sack, to which are attached blood vessels from the body of the mother. These blood vessels penetrate throughout the embryo, which the mother supplies with blood and nourishment. The other matter is supplementary and is later discarded. In comparison to the rest of the body the embryo's head is huge. See (pointing to the drawing), this is the head; the rest consists of appendages not yet functioning. This part will later become the heart and digestive system. The blood circulation is provided from outside, from the mother. These little stumps will develop into hands and feet. So we can say that the embryo is all head. Its other organs are insignificant because the mother's system provides all the nourishment and air. Hence, during the first few months, the embryo consists primarily of a head.

Figure 1

People are surprised that mental illnesses are hereditary. In fact, mental illnesses are always based on physical ailments; they arise from a malfunctioning of the body. Neither the spirit nor the soul can fall ill. Though mental illnesses are always rooted in physical problems, people wonder how they can occur through heredity, which indeed they can do. If a parent, particularly the mother, suffers from tuberculosis or another disease like arteriosclerosis, which admittedly occurs rarely in younger persons, the children do not necessarily become afflicted with these illnesses but instead can suffer from mental deficiencies. People are surprised about this, but need it puzzle us, gentlemen? Whatever the child can inherit must be inherited first of all from its head. Therefore, if the mother is consumptive, one need not be surprised that her condition is not passed on to the lungs of the unborn child, which, after all, are not even functioning yet. The condition is rather carried over into the head and comes to expression in the brain. Thus, nobody should be surprised that the disease inherited is quite different from that of the parent. Venereal disease, for example, can appear in children as an eye disease. It is no wonder, for when the child's head is developing, its eyes are exposed to what afflicts the parents; its eyes are in an environment that's venereally diseased! So it is not at all surprising.

When the child is born, everyone knows that the most completely formed part of it is its head. In the succeeding years it is the rest of the body that grows the most; the head has much less growing to do than the other organs. This fact tells us how, in reality, the inner organs of man function. Materialistic science cannot form an accurate conception of this because it fails to realize that all growth proceeds from the head. In the child everything is regulated from the head. We can see this most clearly in the embryo, which is nothing more than a head. But even after birth all inner processes are regulated from this part of the body. The digestion, the blood circulation and all other activities in human organization are directed by the head.

Suppose that a child is born whose blood circulation is too slow. For some reason, through some hereditary factor, it can happen that the child's blood circulation is too slow. Let us imagine this case. (See drawing.) Here is the child's heart, and here, its arteries; through both the blood is travelling too slowly. The heart is being formed from the head, but even when the head functions perfectly, the circulation can still be too slow. Thus, even though the heart is properly developed, the blood doesn't flow into it correctly. This is often the case in earliest infancy. The head is perfectly developed, but the blood flows too slowly into the heart. Poor circulation may result simply from keeping the child in stifling air. It cannot breathe properly, and its circulation slows down. The blood circulation may slacken also if the baby is not properly nourished. Then its blood cannot thoroughly penetrate the body. The head may be in excellent shape and try to form the heart aright, but the blood circulation remains sluggish. What happens in such instances is that, because the blood is not circulating well enough, certain substances that normally would be pushed down from the heart into the kidneys and expelled remain in the body; they stay in the blood. When these substances that should have been discharged stay in the system, the blood suppurates.

Figure 2

In the seventh, eighth or ninth years, this danger is not so acute as it is in the earliest years of childhood. You see, the fact that a child has its second set of teeth shows that its body is sufficiently strong; if it were not, the teeth would not come in properly. Why? Well, you must understand that what is contained in a tooth comes out of the whole body. The second teeth emerge from within the whole system; they are the product not just of something in the jaw but of the whole body. This is true only of the second teeth, however, for the first teeth, the so-called milk teeth, are completely different. They are the result of heredity, of the fact that the child's mother and father have teeth. Only after the milk teeth are expelled in the course of the first seven years does the child get its own teeth. The body must make the second teeth for itself.

Actually, a child nine or ten years old already has its second body. It has already completely discarded the one it had inherited, and comes into possession of its own body only around the age of seven. During these first seven years it demonstrates that it was born with enough resistance to tolerate air and nourishment. After it has built up its body and produced its second teeth, the danger of falling ill is no longer so acute. The danger is most acute in earliest infancy while it is learning to cope for itself in breathing, eating, that is, everything that once was done for it within the protection of the mother's womb. In these early years the head is actually in good shape; only with age does it become less perfect. In old age the head doesn't work as well as it did in infancy. It must think and occupy itself with the surroundings and so something often goes amiss. But the infant does not yet need to learn anything, go to school or possess skills. The head works only on the child's own body, and in most cases it does this quite well. During these tender years, however, when the human being is just becoming used to the world, the rest of the body is quite vulnerable. Modern science also has described these matters but not quite as I have, for what I tell you is exact. Popular science does not really comprehend the whole process and cannot explain why the human being is most vulnerable in its earliest years. It cannot come to terms with this fact because it explains away the soul and spirit.

In reality, soul-spiritual elements are united with the child, mainly with the head, while it is still in the mother's womb and after birth. The forces that work on the child from within the head are invisible soul-spiritual forces. Should any of you think that this is merely an arbitrary opinion, you would be committing the same error as one of the following men. Suppose one man says, “Here is a piece of iron,” and the other says, “Fine! I'll shoe my horse with it.” The first man then says, “No, it would be stupid to shoe your horse with this. It's a magnet, and it has a hidden force. Magnets are used for quite other things than for shoeing horses!” The one man thinks the piece of iron should be used for a horseshoe, while the other knows that it is a magnet containing an invisible force. Well, the person who says, in accordance with materialistic science, “The head is nothing but a bit of bones and brains,” is just like the fellow who says of the magnet, “This is a horseshoe.” Indeed, it is not a horseshoe, nor is the head of the infant just flesh and bone. Within it invisible forces are working like a sculptor to build up the whole organism. The human form is among those things the child keeps as an inheritance, but the forces that, during the first seven years, tirelessly build up this form from the head are brought into the world not from the parents but from quite another source.

Suppose a man received these forces from his parents. Well, gentlemen, if a parent is a genius, does that make the child a genius as well? Or if a child is a genius, does that mean the parents were also highly gifted? Not at all! Goethe, for example, was certainly a genius, but his father was a dreadful philistine, and his mother was a kind and pleasant woman who could tell a good story but surely was no genius. Goethe's son was rather stupid; he was no genius either. Whatever pertains to the soul and spirit is not hereditary; it is brought into this world from quite other realms and then is united with the part that is inherited. Aside from the time he spends in his mother's womb, man lives before birth as a being of soul and spirit.

The only reason people disavow this today is that all through the Middle Ages the Catholic Church forbade anyone to ascribe to man a life of soul and spirit before birth. It assumed that the soul was created at birth by a God whose nature was also assumed. So throughout the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church forbade the concept of pre-existence, as it was called, meaning “existence before, prior to birth.” Modern materialistic science has merely followed suit and then congratulated itself on its cleverness. Now people think they are extraordinarily clever to hold this opinion; unfortunately, they fail to realize how they were conditioned to do so.

In truth, man not only inherits a physical existence from his parents and forebears but also brings into the world a soul-spiritual element that works within him. If one does not acknowledge that the soul-spiritual aspect is present before birth, one cannot see that the same soul and spirit remain after death; at most, one can believe it. Knowledge of the immortality of the soul is dependent on knowledge of its existence before birth. If one maintains that the soul came into being with the creation of the body, then, of course, a divine creator would have the privilege of letting the soul disappear upon the body's dissolution. If, however, it is the soul that builds up the body in the first place, then it certainly remains unaffected when the body dies.

Thus, the existence of the human soul follows readily from all the aspects that one can correctly observe. Indeed, how could the soul die, since it is the soul itself that builds up the physical body! One would have to investigate far different regions to discover whether or not the soul can perish. In future lectures we shall consider this question and find that it cannot die in these realms either. It obviously cannot die with the body because it is the soul that built it up.

We have now become acquainted with illnesses that originate because the soul-spiritual element works out of the head, and the body is malfunctioning. But the blood circulation can also be too slow. Stagnation sets in and the blood then suppurates. Still, something entirely different can happen, too. The infant may be too weak to absorb nourishment through its intestines into its blood. Because the body is too weak, nourishment does not pass through the villi and the child becomes afflicted with diarrhoea. What should have been absorbed to remain longer in the body is expelled. Because the food was not properly digested, diarrhoea results, and the substance is discharged unchanged. This is connected with something else. Obviously, a child can get diarrhoea in different degrees, and it may even get summer cholera. Whatever the degree, however, it is only the first stage. If the child cannot digest its food for a considerable length of time, its inner organs cannot be built up properly. The head constantly wants to work on them, but the inner organs cannot be correctly constructed because the necessary substances are lacking. Say you were working on a statue and ran out of clay but continued to make empty-handed motions in the air. In a like manner the head starts to move and fidget around when the child lacks the substance from which its organs can be built. It wants to form the heart or stomach but can only aimlessly fidget about because the substances the head should have received have been eliminated causing diarrhoea.

The educated but materialistic scientist faces a complete puzzle here. He examines the child, discovers diarrhoea and prescribes some medication to stop it. As a result, food will merely accumulate in the intestines because they cannot be absorbed, and the child will get nothing more than a swollen stomach. If one were to examine the organism further, one would discover that the heart is malformed, that it is an empty pouch, or that the lungs are empty sacks. They want to be formed but lack the necessary substances. The forces originating from the head that penetrate into the lungs, which may now be empty sacks, need something to grasp and work with. I can grasp this chair and shake it or, without having taken hold of it, I can merely fidget about like an idiot. But what happens when the head forces fidget about in the lungs? Convulsions occur. A rational explanation of convulsions must acknowledge that the head is fidgeting around and finds no support. Diarrhoea may be explained materialistically but convulsions can no longer be accounted for along these lines.

All this demonstrates that in the infant the soul-spiritual processes are at their height of activity. Later, this activity subsides. Up to the child's sixth or seventh years, however, these spiritual forces are so active that they can separate minute amounts of matter from food that will constitute the second teeth. Imagine having to do that yourself! You would have to be clever enough to distinguish the magnesium salts and carbonates contained in the food. Even if you could do that you would first have to analyse the teeth chemically and learn from them themselves. The teeth made artificially today are not living teeth; no one really knows how teeth are produced. Yet minute portions of the nourishment the child receives up to its seventh year are withdrawn to make the second teeth. Furthermore, to correctly separate the various substances you would need to know not only the chemical composition of food and teeth but also the activity in the stomach. What happens to the minute particles secreted in the second or third years? How do you retain them long enough in the blood stream so that, at just the right time, during the sixth and seventh years, they will penetrate the jaws to build up the teeth? All this that must be accomplished is done unconsciously by the child's soul and spirit. No one here would feel insulted if I said that you cannot produce or make one hair grow on your head. But a child can. It drives the proper substances to the spot where the hair takes root and then offers them to the light, for hair grows under the influence of light. All this occurs in the child, but modern science is unwilling to consider these aspects. It leaves people in the dark by refusing to acknowledge that soul-spiritual forces work within the organism that originate, not from the parents, but from the spiritual world.

Let us return to this matter of hair. Man normally grows hair only on certain parts of his body, but once, ages ago, he was covered completely with a shaggy growth of hair. Why did he lose it? I will not give you a theory, which anyone can dream up, but merely point out some facts. Consider another creature, the pig. When pigs are free in nature, they are covered with hair, but domesticated pigs lose it. In their natural habitat wild boars grow thick coats of fur; when they are domesticated and in surroundings not originally their own, they lose it. Man, like the domesticated animals, did not originally live under today's conditions. But there was a time when, under the influence of light and warmth, he grew hair all over his body, and we may witness this fact today in an embryo a few months old. During the first months of pregnancy the whole embryo, insofar as it is only a head, is covered with hair. Later, the hair disappears. I have already explained how plants in their first stage of growth utilize light and warmth from the previous year. Likewise, the child has hair on account of the light and warmth emanating from the mother. Only later is it lost. So a consideration of hair, too, can show us how forces of soul and spirit work on the body.

I have said that the human being is most healthy during the school years, between the ages of seven and fourteen. Why is this so? Only those children who can develop those strong forces that produce the second teeth survive. During that period, the child unfolds vigorous forces, but they must first be acquired in the earliest years through radical adaptation. Everything that the head accomplishes within the organism is most pronounced during those early years. Though the child is unaware of its activity, the head must really exert itself and be a great artisan. It has to overcome the body's constant resistance all by itself because it gets no support in its continual and taxing efforts during the first seven years. This tremendous strain causes all those illnesses I have told you about.

Let us now suppose that the circulation of the blood is malfunctioning, not on account of its absorbing too little nourishment, but because it absorbs too much. This can also happen. Indeed, the parents, who often think it is best to stuff the baby with food, may not be as wise as the organism. They can hardly be reproached for this practice, though, because it is usually quite difficult to tell when the child has had enough. Children know their limits, as a rule, through their own inherent wisdom and instinct. If the mother produces too much milk, however, and it is fed to the child, its instinct will become uncertain through eating too much. Now, if too much food is absorbed by the system, the head cannot keep up; it cannot handle too large an amount and will try to eliminate the surplus. The food has already been absorbed into the blood through the intestines, however, so the head cannot eliminate the surplus in the normal way. What does it do then? It discharges the superfluous substances through the skin. Measles and scarlet fever are the result.

These illnesses differ completely from diarrhoea and convulsions. A child gets the latter because it does not receive enough food and its forces fidget around aimlessly within the body. When too much food is absorbed, however, it must somehow be eliminated, occasionally even through the lungs. Diphtheria and pneumonia are the body's defence measures used to rid itself of substances it cannot otherwise eliminate through the skin. When one understands the human being and the processes that occur in the body, one finds it quite natural that an infant is susceptible to these illnesses.

A child can be afflicted with yet other diseases. Take the case of a child who is too weak to produce his second teeth. His milk teeth were inherited and required no effort from his system. Now, it can happen that the forces unable to produce the new teeth are diverted into the lungs. The lungs become inflamed and the child gets pneumonia. You see, the human body is extremely complicated, and when a child falls ill with pneumonia the doctor should examine the condition not only of the lungs but also of the kidneys, stomach, etc. When an illness arises, one must always examine the whole body and not just the part immediately affected.

When a child has reached the age of seven, however, its breathing processes have become sufficiently developed to function without the intervention of the head. In the infant the head must constantly regulate the breathing. It must not only build up the teeth but also care for the organs of breathing. When the head has been relieved of these tasks at age seven or eight, the child is now in a position to breathe properly. It is of utmost importance to realize that with the second teeth the child can bring order into its breathing, and can receive its second lungs and bronchi, as it were, which have by now been built up. The child no longer breathes with a weak inherited organism but with the new one that has been built up. Now it is in quite a different situation; now it has support. It is one thing if the child has inherited from, say, a weak mother and father, a breathing apparatus that must be directed from a head that is too weak, and it is quite another thing if it has properly built up a second apparatus suited to its needs. A head that is too weak simply cannot build up the lungs properly. Thus, because from age seven to fourteen the organs of breathing are in such fine shape, the individual is then at his healthiest. The positive aspect of these years is that the breathing process is at its best. With the onset of puberty, however, some of the nourishment is now diverted to this development. In the younger child substances are not yet absorbed through the later processes of puberty, but now digestion must take a completely new form. The reason is easily understood, for something completely new has come into play and its food is diverted in a new direction. From the age of puberty onward the mature organs of breathing cause the digestive organs to readjust so that the right counter-pressure is exerted from the stomach and intestines, since some of what earlier constituted the overall pressure was diverted. Now, the proper counter-pressure must come about. No wonder that anaemia and other illnesses afflict girls of this age since the organism must take time to adjust.

From age seven to fourteen the child enjoys its greatest protection from illness. In earlier years the head must make a tremendous effort to work into the rest of the organism and it must adjust to this task. Then, during the school years, the child is at its healthiest. The second breathing system is unhindered and can freely distribute the oxygen to the benefit of both the brain and the digestion. As I have mentioned before, things can be upset only through outside causes—activities in school and the like.

But now the child reaches puberty. Look at a boy. Up to this point he has perfected his body and is as healthy as a human being can be. He has successfully renewed his organism and everything has gone smoothly. But with the onset of puberty his metabolism begins to affect his whole body. The processes of digestion begin to work upward into his breathing system and, as a result, his voice changes. At the age when he must again reform his organism, the metabolic system becomes influential. This is expressed in a deepening of the voice. He must make new exertions and again illnesses threaten.

You see, only when we observe the human being in this manner are we able to answer the question one of you gentlemen posed last time. Otherwise, we cannot even think about it, let alone learn anything. But knowing now that it is the head that works the most during the first seven years, what conclusion may we reach? You must understand that, while the head is developed in the mother's organism, it is not merely formed by conception and substance but by the whole universe. The mother's substances represent only the foundation on which the form occurs. The head is a representation, an image of the universe. Its roundness indicates the working of the whole universe, and it is no idle fancy that the starry heavens work upon the skull, which is sometimes covered by a stupid looking hat. It is as true as this fact that I've mentioned to you before. Suppose we have a compass; the magnetic needle always points north, not just anywhere. Now, no one thinks that the needle contains the forces that determine its position. Everyone agrees that it is the magnetic forces of the earth, and that the needle takes its direction from these earthly forces. Everyone comprehends that. Yet, in regard to human embryonic development, men falsely think it all arises from conception. It would be just as clever to think that the direction pointed to by the magnetic needle was determined by its own forces.

The human head represents the whole cosmos, and this it is that has worked upon it. In addition, these forces bestowed by the universe continue to work within the child through its head. To build up the lungs, for example, the head must receive the right forces from the universe. To perfect the kidneys, forces must be received from far-off regions, from Jupiter, for instance. This is no idle fancy. It can be investigated just as other, physical matters can be investigated. Thus, when a child is born, it carries within its head all the forces of the universe.

Of course, it is nonsense to say that the moon, sun or Jupiter have an influence on an organ, or to cast a horoscope thinking the planet Jupiter, for example, is dominant. The head is formed from the whole universe, and the forces that work on the human being during the first seven years have been given to the head from the cosmos. During the next seven years, man becomes increasingly accustomed to the earth's atmosphere, so that whereas before he was influenced by the stars, he is now influenced by the air.

After this period the substances of digestion and the metabolic system play such an important part that they can even affect the voice. What does this mean? It is all a result of what we absorb through digestion from the earth. I have already explained to you this process of how, for example, substances from the earth must first be made lifeless within the intestines. This becomes man's main task when he reaches puberty. At that time he becomes dependent on the earth. As males we owe our voices first of all to the air, but the deepening results from the action of earthly substances. We can be born on earth because originally we were beings of the stars. After birth we let the forces we have brought with us from the starry worlds echo within our organisms. Then we become beings of the air. Only at puberty are we assigned to the earth to become its beings. Only then do we become attached to those things that fetter us to this planet. Thus, you see the course of man's descent to the earth from the cosmos.

Often materialists blindly fantasize about human development. They do not realize that man gradually accustoms himself to the earth and then, in old age, grows away from it. For what happens in old age? The forces we possess in advanced age we also possessed in youth. They hardened the bones while the other parts stayed pliable. But in old age the forces contained in the bones pass into the rest of the body, and the initial result is arteriosclerosis. The arteries harden, and the brain can calcify. Actually, the brain must always contain a minute amount of what arises through calcification. The child would be dull if its brain lacked these minute traces of calcium secreted by the pineal gland. The soul could not act; it would not have the substances in which to work. But if later in old age too much calcium is secreted and calcification occurs, the soul again cannot direct matters because it encounters too much resistance. This can result in paralysis or apoplexy or some other kinds of stroke. One can also become senile, since one can no longer take hold of and use the brain. Calcification in other parts of the body has the same effect, lifting one out of the region of the earthly forces. Thus we can see how man, up to the end of puberty, grows into the forces of the earth and how, later, when the secreted deposits become increasingly resistant and the soul's activity is impeded, he grows away from the earth.

So you see that it is, in fact, possible to discover what man has received and brought down from the universe. But one must not fall for superstitions such as a certain star is influencing the lung of a thirty-five year old man even though the lung has indeed been built up by the forces that initially descended from the stars into the head of the infant.

By examining such things scientifically, one arrives at a real science of the spirit. A spiritual science exists, and it can be studied just like any other science. We can belittle ancient times as much as we like, but in those days people did know something. Granted, we cannot bring back the past; what was right for people then is not so for us today. But if once again we have men who understand the world and man, men who know that the human head is not just produced in the mother's womb as a kind of pinhead, then we shall also have better politicians. You see, gentlemen, a person who knows nothing of these matters and of the nature of the human being cannot be a good politician simply because he will not know what people need. It is absolutely essential that once more there be men who really know something about the world. This is what we must strive for.

Schools must again teach people something of value. Today, much importance is placed on learning the skills required for making machines. Nothing can be said against this from the standpoint of spiritual science because it is quite worthwhile. But the skills needed to cope among human beings are neglected. An abstract social science, ignorant of man's needs, was invented and this is taught instead. Above all, one must study man as we have done here, but unhappily what I told you is not taught. Look back on your own school days! Where is something like this taught today? That is what our age lacks. Teaching men the things they learn today is about as good for them as feeding them rocks instead of bread. Maybe the stomach of a goose can take rocks but that of a human being cannot! To do so would ruin the digestive system, and when you teach men what is being taught today, you actually ruin their heads. You know that the arm becomes weak if it is unused, and the head also becomes weak if it is not used in the right way. While the head was developing in the mother, it received forces from the stars. If it is told nothing about them, if it entertains no thoughts of them, it grows weak, just as muscles do when they are not exercised. If the child learns nothing of the real world, it remains weak. The worst thing about conditions today is that people have weak heads and do not understand anything about one another. They separate themselves according to social standing and do not speak to those of other classes. This is like training a man to become an athlete while neglecting his biceps. If, in educating men, I leave their heads weak, they will not know the very thing that matters most. This is how things stand.

When children have finished building up their organisms with inherent, unconscious wisdom and have received their second teeth, it is of utmost importance to impart to them something that they have previously employed unconsciously. Then do they become proper human beings, people who can direct their thoughts properly and conceive of spiritual science in the right way. Once social thinking is ruined, nothing rational can be achieved. But if we make use of a genuine science of the spirit, much can be improved in that respect.