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Health and Illness I
GA 348

VIII. Concerning the Soul Life in the Breathing Process

23 December 1922, Dornach

Gentlemen, I said last time that we have several matters still to discuss. I would like to consider them today. Maybe during the Christmas holidays you could confer among yourselves and decide what should be brought up during the next lecture hour.

The human being has his senses for perceiving the world. We have examined the eye and the ear, considered the sense of touch, which is spread out over the whole organism, and have discussed the senses of taste and smell. All these senses are significant only for man's becoming acquainted with his surroundings and, as I have already explained, for enabling him to shape his body. But man does not live by virtue of the senses; he lives through the process of breathing. If you ask why he is an erect being, why his nose is in the middle of his face, for example, you have to answer that it is because of his senses. But if you look for the reason why he is alive, you have to consider his breathing, because the breath is related to all aspects of life. In one respect, human beings breathe just as the higher animals do, although many animals do breathe differently. A fish, for instance, breathes while swimming and living under water.

If we now look at human breathing we have first to consider the process of inhalation. The breathing process is initially one of inhalation. From the air around us we inhale the oxygen that is required for our existence. This then permeates our whole body, in which carbon in minute particles is deposited; or rather, in which it swims or floats. The carbon that we contain in our bodies is also found elsewhere in nature. As a matter of fact, carbon exists in a great many forms. For instance, carbon is found in coal and in every plant, which consists of carbon, mixed with water and so on, but carbon is the main component of the plant. The graphite in a pencil contains carbon, and the diamond, which is a valuable gem, is also carbon. The diamond is transparent carbon; hard coal is opaque carbon. It is rather interesting that something like coal exists in nature. It is certainly not elegant or attractive, yet is of the same substance as a valuable gem, which, depending on its size, for example, is fit for a crown. Coal and diamonds have the same substance in different forms. We, too, have in ourselves carbon of various forms.

When we breathe in oxygen it spreads out everywhere in our body and combines with the carbon. When oxygen combines with solid coal, a new gas, carbon dioxide, arises. This is a combination of oxygen and carbon, and it is this gas that we then exhale. Our life involves incorporating our body into the rest of the world by inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide.

If we inhaled only pure oxygen, however, we would have to contain an immense amount of carbon, and the carbon dioxide would have to remain in us. Yes, we would be forever expanding, finally becoming gigantic, as big as the earth itself. Then we could always be inhaling. But we do not possess that much carbon; it must be constantly renewed. We could not survive if we only inhaled. We have to exhale to acquire carbon anew, and the carbon dioxide we produce is lethal. Indeed, if oxygen is life for us, carbon dioxide is death. If this room were now filled with carbon dioxide, we would all perish. Our life alternates between the life-giving air of inhalation and the deadly air of exhalation. Life and death are constantly within us, and it is interesting to see how they initially enter into the human being.

To comprehend this you must realize that bacteria and bacilli—microscopically small living beings—exist everywhere in nature. Whenever we move, multitudes of these little bacteria fly about us in the air. Countless tiny living beings exist within the muscles of animals. As I have already mentioned, they can rapidly increase in numbers. No sooner does one appear—particularly one of the smallest kind—then the next moment there are millions. The infectious diseases are based on their capacity for tremendous multiplication. These minute beings do not actually cause the illness, but a feeling of well-being is engendered in them when something is ailing in us. Like the plant in manure, these little beings feel well in the stricken organs of our body and like to remain there. Anyone who claims that they themselves cause disease is just as clever as one who states that rain comes from croaking frogs. Frogs croak when a rain shower comes because they feel it and stay in water that is stimulated by what is active in the rain, but they certainly do not cause the rain. Likewise, bacilli do not bring about a disease like the flu; they only appear whenever the flu appears, just as frogs mysteriously emerge whenever it rains.

One must not say, however, that research with bacilli has no use. It is useful to know that man is exposed to a certain illness, just as one knows that frogs croak when it rains. One cannot pour the baby out with the bathwater and say that it is unnecessary to examine the bacilli, yet one must realize that they do not cause the illness. One never gives a proper explanation by merely stating that for cholera there are these bacilli, for flu there exist these other bacilli, and so on. That is only a lazy way out for people who do not want to examine the actual causes of illnesses.

Now, if you take these infinitesimally small living creatures away from their habitat, they cannot continue to live. For example, cholera bacilli taken out of the human intestines die. This bacillus can survive only in the intestines of men or of animals like rats. All these microscopic creatures can live only in specific environments. Why? That these tiny beings need a specific environment is an important factor. You see, if you consider the cholera bacillus at the moment when it is within the human intestines, the force of gravity does not have as strong an effect on it as when it is outside. The force of gravity immediately ruins it when it is out of its element. Man, too, was initially a tiny living being just like these countless little creatures. As an egg, an ovum, the human being also was such a microscopic living being, such a miniature living creature. With this, gentlemen, we come to an important chapter.

Compare a cholera bacillus, which can exist only in the human intestines, with the human being. All these bacilli need to live in a place where they are protected from the earth. What does this imply? It means that an effect other than that of the earth influences them. The moonlight that shines sometimes in one way, sometimes in another has its effects on the earth, and it is indeed so that the moon influences all these living creatures. It can be seen that these creatures must be protected from the earth so that they can surrender themselves to the cosmos, especially to the influence of the moon. Now, in its earliest stage the human egg also surrenders to the moon's influence. It gives itself up to the moon just before fertilization. Just as the cholera bacillus exists in the intestines, so this tiny human egg exists in the female and is initially protected there. The female organism is so constituted, however, that the human egg is protected only in the beginning. The moment it passes too far out of the body it becomes vulnerable; then the earth begins to affect it.

Women discharge such human eggs every four weeks. At first they are given up to the moon's influence for a short time and are protected. But when the female organism dispatches the human egg during the course of the monthly period, it comes under the influence of the earth and is destroyed.

The human organization is so marvellously arranged that it represents an opposite to the bacilli. Cholera bacilli, for example, remain in the intestines and are careful not to venture too far out. Left to their own devices, they remain where they can be protected from the earth's influence. The human egg also is initially protected from the earth's influence in the mother's body, but then it moves outward because of the blood circulation of the mother, and comes under the influence of the earth's gravity. With the occurrence of the monthly period, which is connected with the moon's course and influence, an ovum is destroyed; the human ovum is really destroyed. It is not an actual human egg yet, however, for it has not been protected from destruction through fertilization.

What really happens through fertilization? If left only to the earth's influence, this human egg would perish. Through fertilization it is enfolded in a delicate, etheric substance and is protected from the earth. It is thus able to mature in the mother's body. Fertilization signifies the protection of the human egg from destruction by the earth's forces. What is destroyed in the infertile egg passes over into the environment; it does not just disappear. It dissolves in the totality of the earth's environment. Eggs that cannot be utilized for the earth disseminate in its atmosphere. This is a continual process.

We can now look at something that people rarely consider. Let us draw our attention to the herrings in the ocean. They lay millions upon millions of eggs, but only a few are ever fertilized. Those that are fertilized become protected from the influence of the earth. It is a little different in man's case, because he isn't a herring—at least not always [Play on words. In German, “Hering” is a very skinny person.]—but all these herring eggs that are not fertilized and are cast off in the ocean extricate themselves from the earth's influence by evaporation. If you consider the herrings and all the other fishes, all the other animals and also human beings, you can say to yourselves, “My attention is directed to something that continually arises from the earth into cosmic space.” Gentlemen, not only does water evaporate, but also such infertile eggs are always volatilized upward from the earth. Much more happens in cosmic space than materialistic science assumes.

If someone were sitting up there on Venus, for example, the vapours that arise and condense again as rain would hold little interest for him, but what I have just described to you, rising constantly into cosmic space, would be perceived up there as a greenish-yellow light. From this we may conclude that light emerges from the life of any given cosmic body. We will also be led to the realization that the sun, too, is not the physical body materialistic science pictures it to be but is rather the bearer of even greater, mightier life. It is as I have explained earlier; something that radiates light must be fertilized, just as the sun must be fertilized in order to radiate light through life. So then we have this difference: When a human egg is not fertilized it goes out, it evaporates into cosmic space; when it is fertilized it remains for awhile on the earth.

What happens is like inhalation and exhalation. If I only exhaled, I would give my being up to cosmic space as does the infertile human egg. Consider how interesting it is that you exhale, and the air that you have exhaled contains your own carbon. It is a delicate process. Just imagine that today you have a tiny bit of carbon in your big toe. You inhale, and oxygen spreads out. The small amount of carbon that today is in your big toe combines with the oxygen, and tomorrow this little particle of carbon is somewhere out there in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. That is really what happens. During his lifetime man constantly has in himself the same substance that the human egg contains when it is fertilized. If we only exhaled and never inhaled we would always be dying; we would continually be dissolving into the atmosphere. By inhaling we guard ourselves against death. Every time we inhale we protect ourselves from death.

The child that is still maturing in the mother's womb has come into being from the fertilized human egg and is protected from disintegration. The child takes its first breath only at the moment of birth when it comes into the world. Before that it must be supplied with oxygen from the mother's body. But now with birth something quite significant happens. At birth man for the first time receives from the outer world the capability to live. After all, man cannot live without oxygen. Although in the mother's womb he exists without oxygen from the outer air, he does get it from the body of the mother.

Thus, one can say that when man emerges from his mother's body and comes into the world, he actually changes his whole life process. Something radically different happens to it. He now receives oxygen from outside, whereas before he was able to assimilate it in the body of his mother. Just ask yourselves if there is a machine anywhere in the world that can supply itself with heat first in one way and then in another? For nine or ten months man lives in the body of his mother before he appears in the external world. In the womb he is supplied with what life gives him in a completely different manner from the way he does after he has taken his first breath.

Let us examine something else connected with this. Imagine that your sleep has been somewhat disturbed. You are awakened from a fitful sleep by a quite frightening dream in which you perhaps experience that you came home to a locked house and cannot get in. Someone in the house is expecting you so you struggle to unlock the door. You may have experienced something like this. In dreams we do indeed experience such conditions of anxiety.

Now, if you examine what actually happens when the human being has such nightmares, you always discover that something is amiss with the breathing. You can even experimentally produce such nightmares. If you take a handkerchief and plug up your mouth or cover your nose, you will dream the nicest nightmares as nightmares go because you cannot inhale properly.

It is rather strange that our having such conditions of anxiety depends simply on inhalation and exhalation, in other words, on oxygen and carbon. We can deduce from this that we live in the air with our soul element. We do not live in our muscles or in our bones with our soul element but rather in the air. It is really the case that our soul moves along with the air during inhalation and exhalation. Thus, we can say that the soul element seeks out the air in which it floats after the child has taken its first breath. Earlier, it had absorbed oxygen in a completely different way.

Where does the human being get oxygen prior to birth? In the prenatal state an actual breathing process does not yet exist. There is no breathing while the human being is in the mother's womb; everything takes place through the circulation. Various vessels that are torn away at birth pass into the embryo from the mother's body, and with the blood and fluids oxygen also passes into the embryo. With birth man carries his basic life principle out of the watery element into the air. When he is born he transposes the life principle from the fluid element in which it existed before birth out into the air.

From this you can conclude that before conception the human being is first an entity that, like the bacilli, is not fit for the earth at all. Initially he is a being alien to the earth. Later on, he is shielded from the earth's forces and can develop in the mother's body, but when he is actually born and emerges from the surroundings of the maternal womb, he is exposed to the forces of the earth. Then he becomes capable of life only by becoming accustomed to an activity that enables him to live in the air. Throughout his earthly life man protects himself against the forces of the earth by living not with the earth at all but by living with the air.

Just imagine how hard it would be if you had to live with the earth! A man who steps on a scale finds that he weighs a certain amount—a thin one less, a fat one more. Now imagine that you had to grab yourself by the hair and carry your whole body all the time, constantly carry your own weight. Wouldn't that be an exhausting chore! Yet, although you do indeed carry it around with you, you do not feel this weight at all, nor are you aware of it. Why? Your breathing protects you from the heaviness of the earth. In fact, with your soul you do not live in the body at all but rather in the breathing process.

You can now easily comprehend why materialistic science does not find the soul. Materialistic science looks for the soul in the body, which is heavy. In its research it dissects a dead body that no longer breathes. Well, science cannot discover the soul there, because the soul is not to be found in such a body. Materialistic science could find the soul only if our constitution were such that in walking around everywhere we would have to carry our own bodies, sweating profusely

from the effort. Then it would make sense to seek for the soul with materialistic means. But the way things really stand, it makes no sense at all. We sweat for other reasons. When we emerge from the maternal womb, we do not live within our solid substances. As it is, we are only ten percent solid substance. Nor do we live in our fluid element, to which we bestow life. With our soul we actually live in our breathing.

Gentlemen, please follow me now in a train of thought that belongs to the most significant matters of the present time. Let us picture to ourselves a human fetus. Through birth it emerges into the outside world and becomes a full-fledged human being who now inhales air with his lungs and exhales again through his nose. It should be quite self-evident to you that when a person is born, he actually lives with his soul in the breathing process. As long as he exists in the mother's womb, he lives in a watery element. In a sense, he emerges from the water into the air when he is born. As earthly man you can live only in the air, not in water. But before birth you lived in water, and up until the third week you were even shaped like a little fish to enable you to live there. You lived in water up to the time of birth, but the earth does not allow you to live in that element. What does it signify that before birth you lived in water? It means that your life cannot derive from the earth at all, that it must originate from beyond the earth because the earth does not permit you to live. We must lift ourselves up from the earth into the air to live.

Figure 1

Because we have lived in water up to the moment of birth, we may conclude that our life is not bestowed by the earth. Our life of soul is not given us by the earth. It is impossible for the earth to bestow this life of the soul on you. Hence we may understand that it comes from beyond the earth. When we comprehend how life is actually contained in the breathing process, and how life already exists in the embryo but in a fluid element, we immediately realize that this life has descended from a spiritual world into the mother's ovum.

People will frequently call such statements unscientific. Nevertheless, we can study a lot of science and reach the conclusion that what the illustrious scientists do in their science is much less logical than what I have just told you. What I have now told you is absolutely logical. Unfortunately, things are such in our age that children are already drilled in school to turn a deaf ear to something like this; or if they happen to hear it, they will say at most, “He's crazy. We've learned that everything grows out of the human egg.” Well, it is just as ridiculous as learning that the human head grows from a head of cabbage. A human head can grow from a cabbage no more than the human element, the whole human activity during life, can be derived from the human egg. But children are already taught these completely nonsensical things in school.

I have already given you an example of this. Even the smallest children are told that once the earth, along with the whole planetary system, was one huge primeval nebula. Of course, the nebula does nothing when it is still, and so it is made to rotate. It starts to revolve quickly, and as it turns it becomes thinner and thinner. Eventually individual bodies split off, and a round one remains in the middle. The children are shown with a demonstration how this can be imitated. The teacher takes a piece of cardboard, sticks a needle through it, and puts a small drop of oil into a glass of water. He now turns the piece of cardboard and the oil drop, which floats on top of the water, begins to move. It starts to rotate, and tiny oil drops split off. A large drop of oil remains in the middle. This is a little planetary system with its sun. You see, children—so he says—we can do it on a small scale. So it is quite plausible that there once existed a nebula that revolved, and from this nebula celestial bodies gradually split off, leaving the large star remaining the middle.

Figure 2

But now, gentlemen, what is the most important factor in this experiment? Why does the drop of oil rotate in the glass of water? Because the teacher turns the piece of cardboard. Likewise, a great cosmic teacher had to sit somewhere out there in the universe to turn things around, spinning off celestial bodies! Gentlemen, when from the beginning someone teaches children such things, they become “clever” as adults. When someone wants to be logical and expresses doubt, they call him a dreamer because they know how the world began!

You see, such thoughts contain absolutely no reality. This rotating, primeval nebula thought up by Kant and Laplace has no reality at all; it is really quite foolish. To postulate such rotating nebulas is really rather stupid. The only grounds for it are the supposedly spiral nebulas observed through telescopes. Out in the wide cosmic spaces there are indeed such spiral nebulas; that is correct. But if by looking out there with a telescope and seeing these spiral nebula, a man should say, “Well, yes, our whole solar system was once such a nebula too,” then he is about as clever as one who takes a swarm of insects in the distance for a dust cloud. This can happen, but the swarm of gnats is alive while the dust cloud is lifeless. The spiral nebula out in space is alive; it has life within it. Likewise, the whole solar system had its own life and spirituality in earlier times, and this spirituality continues to work today.

Figure 3

When the human egg is shielded in the body of the mother by fertilization, it can unite with the human spirit. When we gradually grow old, the heaviness slowly makes itself felt by the fact that our substances are seized by the earth's gravity. Suppose a person's digestion is amiss and, as a result, the life forces do not properly pass through it. Then all kinds of tiny solid particles form in the muscles. They become filled up with these small solid bodies, which are minute uric acid stones, and then we have gout. We begin to be conscious of heaviness, of gravity.

When we are healthy and oxygen invigorates us through our breathing, such uric acid deposits are not formed, and we do not become afflicted with gout. Gout occurs only if oxygen does not pass through our body in a truly invigorating manner and does not assimilate carbon correctly. If oxygen does not pass through our organism in the right way, carbon will cause all kinds of problems; then there will be present everywhere such minute particles in our blood vessels. We feel that as an effect of the earth in moving around. In fact, we have to be shielded from the earth. We remain alive only because we are constantly protected from the earth and its influences by the breathing process. The earth is not damaging for us only because we are constantly being shielded from it. We would always be sick if we were always exposed to the earth.

You see, in the middle of the nineteenth century, when natural science had its greatest materialistic successes, people were completely stunned by its accomplishments and scientists wanted to explain everything by way of what happens on the earth. These scientists were extremely clever, and they liberated man from much that had encumbered him. Nothing is to be said against them; they can even be praised but they were utterly stupefied by scientific progress and tried to explain the whole human being in such a way as if only the earth had an influence on him. They did not realize that when the earth's influences begin to take effect on man, he first becomes nervous and then becomes ill in some way. He is well only by virtue of being constantly shielded from earthly influences.

Eventually, however, man is overcome by these earthly influences. How do they make themselves felt? The earthly influences assert themselves because man gradually loses the art of breathing. When he cannot breathe properly anymore, he returns to his condition before conception. He dissolves into the cosmic ether and returns to the world from which he came. With his last breath, man sinks back into the world from which he emerged. When we correctly understand breathing, we also comprehend birth and death. But nowhere in modern science do we find the right understanding of breathing.

In sum, man first learns to live with the world through the female ovum, then learns to exist independently on the earth for a certain length of time by virtue of the male fertilization, and finally returns to the condition where he again can live on his own outside the earth. Gradually one learns to comprehend birth and death, and only then can one begin to have the right concept of what man is regarding his soul, of what is not born and does not die but comes from without, unites itself with the ovum in the mother, and eventually returns to the spiritual world.

The situation today is such that we must comprehend the immortal soul element, which is not subject to birth and death. This applies especially to those who are active in science. This, indeed, is necessary for mankind today. For hundreds and thousands of years, men have had a faith in immortality that they cannot possibly retain today because they are told all kinds of things that actually are nothing and fall apart in the face of science. Everything that a man is asked to believe today must also be a matter of knowledge. We must learn to comprehend the spiritual out of science itself, the way we have done here in these lectures. That is the task of the Goetheanum and of anthroposophy in general: to correctly understand the spiritual out of natural science.

You see, it is difficult to get people somehow to comprehend something new. It is Christmastime now, and people could say to themselves, “Well, we must find a new way to understand how the spirit lives in the human race.” If people would stop to think how the spirit lives in mankind, and if they would try to arrive at this understanding through real knowledge, we would find everything renewed. We could even celebrate Christmas anew, because we would observe this holiday in a manner appropriate for the modern age. Instead, on one hand, people continue to observe only what is dead in science and, on the other, they perpetuate the old traditions to which they can no longer attach any meaning. I would like to know what meaning those people who exchange gifts can still see in Christmas. None at all! They do it merely from an old custom. Side by side with this, a science is taught that is everywhere filled with contradictions. Nowhere does anyone wish to consider the fact that science presents something that can lead to the realization of the spiritual.

Today, one can say that if Christianity is to have any meaning at all, one must once again embark on attaining a real knowledge of the spirit. This is the only thing possible; it is not enough just to perpetuate the old. For what does it imply to read the Bible to people on festive occasions, or even to children in school, if along with this one tells the child that there was once a primeval nebula that rotated? The head and the heart come completely to oppose one another. Then man forgets how to be a human being on the earth because he no longer even knows himself.

Anyone is a fool who thinks that as human beings on the earth we consist only of what is heavy, of the body that is put on the scale and weighed. This part we do not need at all. It is nonsense to think that we consist of these material substances that can be weighed. In reality, we do not become aware of the body at all, because we shield ourselves from it in order to stay well. The curing of illness consists in expelling the earthly influences that are affecting the sick person. All healing is actually based on removing the human being from the earth's influence. If we cannot remove man from the earth and its influences, we cannot cure him. He then lies down in bed, allows himself to be supported by the bed and gives himself up to weight. When one lies down one does not carry one's own self.

So we have the old customs on one hand and, on the other, a science that does not enlighten man as to what he really is as a human being. Nothing positive can come from all this. It is true that the World War, with all the consequences that still afflict us today, would not have occurred if human beings had known something of the inhumanity beforehand. Even now, they do not want to know. Even now, they still want to get together at congresses without any new thoughts and just repeat the same old things. Nowhere are they able to conceive new thoughts. What at first existed in mankind as confused ideas became a habit and then became our social order today. We are not going to get anywhere in the world again until from within we really feel what in fact the human being is.

This is really what those who understand the aims of anthroposophy conceive of as Christmas. Christmas should remind us that once again a science of the spirit must be born. Anthroposophy is the best spiritual being that can be born. Mankind is much in need of a Christmas festival. Otherwise, it does away with the living Christ and retains only the cross of Christ. Ordinary science is only the cross, but once again we must arrive at what is living. We must strive for that.

Well, gentlemen, that is what I wanted to mention on this particular day in addition to the other things. With this, I wish you all pleasant holidays!