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Health and Illness II
GA 348

I. Fever Versus Shock

30 December 1922, Dornach

Questions are raised concerning pregnancy and the possible effects of outer events during pregnancy.

Dr. Steiner: Gentlemen, these are extremely important aspects of life. Generally, no significant influence can be exerted on the child during pregnancy except indirectly by way of the mother, since the child is connected with the mother, as I have said here already, by numerous delicate blood vessels. The unborn child receives everything it requires, including its nourishment, from its mother. Later, it acquires a completely different breathing process.

We can best consider the matters that you have brought up if we deal further with the general basis of human states of illness and health. In pregnancy, it is even more difficult than in the case of common hunger and thirst to say where the inclination toward illness begins and where it ends. Other things also enter into pregnancy that prove beyond doubt that the mother's condition of soul has an extraordinary influence on the developing child. You only have to observe what happens, for example, if the mother, especially in the early months of pregnancy, is badly frightened. As a rule, the child will be affected for its whole life. Naturally, you cannot say that a physical change occurs in the child but only that the mother suffers a fright. How can a mother's fright affect the child?

Modern science basically gives the most inadequate answers here, because it really knows nothing, or claims to know nothing, of what influences the human soul and spirit. We can best approach these difficult questions—and they are indeed complicated—if we focus on two phenomena of life that man experiences primarily in illness, that is, fever and shock. These are two opposite conditions that man undergoes, fever and shock.

What is fever? You know that man's normal body temperature is 98.6°. If it rises any higher, we say that he has a fever. The fever is visible outwardly through a person becoming hotter. What is shock? Shock is actually the opposite condition. Shock occurs when a person is incapable of developing sufficient warmth within. If you take an overdose of a poison such as henbane (Hyoscyamwus niger), for example, which is also used as a remedy, you risk the danger of going into shock. The reaction is that, through the shock, all the membranes in the abdomen of the mother, where the child must also be developing—therefore, the membranes of the intestines but also those of the organ in which the child rests during pregnancy, the so-called uterus, the womb, in other words, all the membranes through which a substance is introduced into the body—become slack. It is as if a sack were stretched too far, becoming worn out and unable to hold anything any longer. With the introduction of henbane, undigested food backs up, and the proper functioning of the abdomen, which I described recently, is disrupted. A large amount of food accumulates in a man's abdomen that he cannot assimilate.

In order to understand what is at work here, we must take a closer look at the human organism. What actually happens when the abdomen does not work properly? Although it is the abdomen that isn't working properly, you will find that something is actually wrong with the front portion of the brain. A very interesting relationship!

Figure 1

Consider the human being—the abdomen, the chest, the diaphragm, which is about here (Rudolf Steiner sketched on the blackboard). There we have abdomen, chest, and head. If something is out of order in the abdomen, then something is not functioning properly also in the front part of the brain. The two therefore belong together. In the human being they belong inwardly together, the forebrain and abdomen. We can also say that the heart with its arteries, as I have described them to you, is connected with the midbrain. Finally, the chest with the lungs and the breathing process is related to the back portion of the brain.

Every time something is amiss with the breathing, something is also wrong in the back part of the brain. Whenever a person has difficulty breathing and doesn't receive enough oxygen, one can observe that something is wrong with the back of the brain. When a person suffers from disorders of the heart, especially if the rhythm of the heart's activity is disrupted so that the pulse is irregular, then something is wrong in the midbrain. In a disorder of the abdomen, one always finds some irregularity in the forebrain. Everything is remarkably related in the human being.

You see, people often don't want to believe these things, because in the formation of the forehead they see the noblest aspect of the human being and the less noble in the abdomen. And if one speaks the truth about these things, such people find it unworthy of man. You will have realized from my lectures, however, that the digestive system is in turn related to the limb system in such a way that it represents a most significant aspect of the human being.

Once I knew a man who had quite an unusual forehead. A Greek forehead is different (sketching). In Greek statues we find foreheads that slope backward. This man actually had a pronounced bulge, and his forebrain was actually pushed out. I am convinced that this man, whose brain was pushed forward so much, possessed a particularly well-formed abdomen and never suffered from diarrhea or constipation, for example; he never suffered from stomach aches and the like. The man in question was, in fact, a person of unusual sensitivity, but this sensitivity depended on his always feeling inwardly comfortable. This indicates that his powerful, protruding forehead never permitted disorders of the abdomen. You can see from this that a man's forehead is related in a remarkable way to his abdomen.

Figure 2

If I give someone too large a dose of henbane, he goes into shock. What causes this shock? Something goes wrong with the forebrain, because everything possible collects in his abdomen. Oddly, however, when a person complains of a stomach ache, caused perhaps by mild constipation, I can give him henbane in highly diluted form, and he will become healthy. He gets a slight fever and becomes well.

Here you see a strange fact. If I give too much henbane to a perfectly healthy person, he goes into shock. He will suffer severe abdominal distress, his head will feel cold, his abdomen will swell, the intestines will slacken, and the abdominal functions will cease. What do you see from this? You see that I have introduced too much henbane into the stomach. The stomach should react with vastly increased digestive activity, because henbane is extremely difficult to digest. Being poisonous simply means that a substance is difficult to digest. The stomach therefore must become furiously active. The brain is not strong enough, the front part of the brain. These things thus are related in the human body. The brain is not strong enough to stimulate the stomach sufficiently; the brain becomes cold and the person goes into shock.

What happens now if I give a person a minute, diluted dose of henbane? In this case, the stomach has less to do, and the brain is strong enough to regulate this minor task. Through introducing a minute amount of henbane, which the brain can manage, I have stimulated the brain into working harder than before. If the brain can overcome it, it is like asking a person to do a job that he can manage; then, he does it well. If I ask him to do a job in one day that actually requires ten, he would be ruined. This is the case with the brain. It contains, as it were, the workman in charge of the abdomen. If I ask too little of the brain, the workman remains lazy; if he is stimulated through his activity, he does well; if I ask too much of the abdomen, however, he refuses to participate and the person goes into shock.

What is the cause of fever? Fever is actually the result of an over-activity of the brain, which penetrates the entire human being. Assume that a person suffers from a disorder in some organ, say the liver or the kidneys, or especially the lungs, in the way I discussed with you recently. The brain begins to rebel against it. If the lungs no longer function correctly, the back portion of the brain rebels and stimulates the front part into rebelling against this lung disease, and hence fever occurs.

This shows that man becomes warmer from his head downward and colder from below upward. This is very interesting. The human being actually is warmed downward from above. With fever we are concerned with our head. If there is an inflammation in the big toe, we produce the ensuing fever with the head. It is interesting that what lies farthest down is regulated by the foremost parts of the brain. Just as in the case of the dog, whose tail is regulated by his nose, so it is with the human being. If he struggles with a fever in his big toe, the activity that begets this fever lies entirely in the front of his brain. It is no slight to his dignity that, if man has an infection in his big toe, the fever originates entirely from the front, from a point above his nose. The human being thus always becomes warmer from above and colder from below.

This is related to why shock can be induced if excessively large doses of certain substances are administered to the human being but why a healing rise in temperature can be produced if we do not overtax the brain but stimulate its activity only with small doses. The activity of the brain, however, is stimulated all day not only by substances that we introduce into the brain; what we see and hear also stimulate it constantly. Also, when you eat, you not only fill your stomachs, but you taste your food as well. Taste is stimulated, as is the sense of smell, all of which stimulates the brain.

Consider a woman who is pregnant. The child is in the first period of the pregnancy, which entails a tremendous increase in the mother's abdominal activity. Except during pregnancy, such activity in the abdomen is never necessary; in men, it doesn't occur at all. The abdominal activity thus is increased in an unprecedented way. When abdominal activity is increased, the sensory nerves above all are stimulated, because the abdomen and the forebrain belong together.

What does it mean when a person is hungry? I have explained to you that here a certain activity that really should be continuous cannot be performed. When hungry, a person craves food, which means that at the same time he longs for the stimulation of his taste buds. He can alleviate this by eating.

When a woman is pregnant, however, and must provide in her abdomen something for the growing child, much is stimulated also in the brain, particularly in the sensory nerves, the nerves of taste and smell. Eating does not satisfy these nerves of taste and smell, because the food doesn't go directly to the child but to the stomach. An excess of activity is required. The abdomen must work overtime in a certain way, and so the need arises in the head for beyond-normal smells and tastes. The best care for the unborn child naturally requires an understanding of these matters.

Pregnant women thus often are not at all satisfied when they obtain what they momentarily crave; as soon as they have it, they crave another taste. Being also extremely moody, their taste is subject to abrupt change. One can appease them, however, by being kind to them and paying heed to what, in one's own opinion, is only a figment of their imagination. In the early months of pregnancy, women live in fantasies of tastes and smells. If you simply say to a pregnant woman, it is just your imagination, it is a real emotional slap to her. What is developing in her quite naturally due to the connection between the brain or head and the abdomen is repulsed. But if one cheers her up by being attentive, neither denying her wishes nor taking them literally, it is much easier to satisfy her. If, for example, one buys her something with vanilla flavor the second she craves it, by the time it is brought to her it may no longer be the right thing; she might say, “Yes, but now I want sauerkraut!” It is well that it should be so! You must realize that if something so extraordinary is to take place in her abdomen it is because the child's development must demand it, and the pregnant woman must therefore receive special consideration.

Indeed, this shows us a lot more. It shows us that a powerful influence is exerted on the child by the environment of soul and spirit in which the mother lives. With some insight, the following can be understood. There are children who are born with “water on the brain,” that is, with hydrocephalus. In most cases this can be traced back to the fact that the mother, who perhaps rightly sought stimulation in life, was bored stiff during the first months of pregnancy, particularly the first few weeks. Perhaps her husband frequently went out alone to the local pub and she, being left at home, was extremely bored. The result was that she lacked the energy required to influence the brain cells. Boredom makes her head empty; the empty head, in turn, imparts emptiness to the abdomen. It does not develop sufficient strength to hold the forces of the child's head together properly. The head swells up, becoming hydrocephalous. Other children are born with abnormally small heads, particularly the upper portion of the head, that is, with acrocephaly. Most of these cases are connected with the fact that during the first weeks of pregnancy the mother engaged in too much diversion and amused herself excessively. If such matters are observed properly, a relationship can always be noted between the child's development and the mother's mood of soul during the early weeks of pregnancy.

Naturally, much is accomplished with medicine, but regarding these questions we have as yet no real medicine today but only a kind of quackery, because the many relationships are not correctly discerned by a merely materialistic science. These relationships require individual observation in most instances, and during the embryonic life of the human being, and therefore during pregnancy, they can be observed particularly well. Consider the significantly increased abdominal activity during pregnancy; the abdomen must be terribly active. This, in turn, calls for the strongest possible activity of the forebrain. It is not surprising, therefore, that some mothers actually become a little crazy during the first stage of pregnancy. They become a little crazy, because the abdomen and the forebrain, which actually thinks, are closely related. One arrives at very remarkable and interesting results if one looks for the relationships between the abdomen and what humanity accomplishes spiritually. It is curious and funny that spiritual science must call attention to these matters, whereas materialistic science completely fails in this area.

It would be extraordinarily interesting, for example, to consider the following. You see, there were a great many philosophers in England—Hobbes, Bacon, Locke, Hume. These philosophers, even including John Stuart Mill, led essentially to the great rise of materialism. These philosophers all had such heavy thoughts that they could not penetrate the spiritual with their thoughts. They clung to matter with their thoughts. It would be extraordinarily interesting to examine the digestions of all these philosophers, these many philosophers. I am convinced they all suffered from constipation! Starting with Hobbes in the seventeenth century, and proceeding all the way into the nineteenth, this whole philosophy that brought us materialism was actually caused by the constipation of individual philosophers! This materialism could have been prevented—what I say now is not in earnest, I only wish to make a joke!—if one had given Hobbes, Bacon, Locke, and the others regular laxatives in their youth. Then all this materialism most likely would not have arisen.

It is indeed odd, you see, that something that people frequently call materialistic must be pointed out by spiritual science. But the reason for this is that when the human being is really observed, the spirit is revealed where others see only matter. Anthroposophy does not assume that the abdomen is only a chemical factory. I once told you that the liver is a wondrous organ, that the kidney with its functions is also a marvelous organ. Only by comprehending these organs will one find the spirit everywhere. If you stop finding the spirit in some area, if you think that digestion is a process that is too materialistic to be studied in a spiritual way, you then become a materialist. Indeed, materialism came into being through spiritual arrogance. I have told you this before, though it sounds remarkable: when the ancient Jews of the Old Testament had bad thoughts during the night, they did not blame the bad, unhealthy thoughts on their heads but on their kidneys. When they said, “This night God has affected my kidneys,” they were more correct than today's medicine. The ancient Jews also said that God reveals Himself to man not through man's head but directly through the activity of his kidneys and generally through his abdominal activity.

Considering this viewpoint, it is most interesting, though I don't know if you gentlemen have seen it, to watch an Orthodox Jew pray. When a devout Orthodox Jew prays, he does not take his phylactery out of a pocket that he wears over his heart or that hangs over his head. He wears his phylactery over his abdomen and prays with it in this position. People today naturally no longer know what the relationship is here, but those who long ago gave the ancient Jews their commandments were aware of the relationship. In western regions of Europe, people don't have much opportunity anymore to see this, but in eastern European regions it makes quite a special impression to observe how the old Jews pray. When they prepare for prayer, they take the phylactery out of the slit in their trousers; it then hangs around them and they pray.

This knowledge that humanity once possessed by means of various dreamlike, ancient clairvoyant forces has been lost, and humanity today is not advanced enough to rediscover the spirit in all matter. You can comprehend nothing if you simply take your ordinary thoughts into a laboratory and mechanically execute experiments, and so on. You are not thinking at all while doing this. You must experiment in such a way that something of the spirit emerges everywhere; for that to happen, your experiments must be arranged accordingly. And so one can say that it is funny that anthroposophy, the science of the spirit, has to point out how the human brain, the so-called noblest part, is connected with the lower abdomen, but it is simply so. Only a true science leads to these facts. Similarly, any number of things can cause a disorder of the heart, for example. It can come through an internal irregularity, but in most cases an irregular activity of the heart can be traced to some disorder in the midbrain, where the feelings are particularly based (see sketch, Diagram 1). It is interesting to discover that just as the abdomen is related to the forebrain, so this forebrain is related, from the viewpoint of the soul, to the will, and the midbrain is related to feeling. Actually, only the back part of the brain is related to thinking. If we look into the brain, we see that the hindbrain is related to breathing and to thinking. Breathing has, in fact, a pronounced relationship to thinking.

Picture the following case. A person lacking the benefits of Waldorf education, in which these things are frequently discussed, develops in his youth in such a way that he turns out to be a scoundrel. His feelings are confused, causing him to be malicious. What does this mean? It means that the soul does not work correctly in the midbrain. If the soul is not properly nourished, the heart's rhythm becomes irregular. You can cause an irregular rhythm of the heart and all sorts of diseases of the heart by developing into an ill-tempered person.

Naturally, if a woman in early pregnancy goes into a forest, let us say, and has the misfortune of discovering a person who has hanged himself from a tree and is already dead—if he is still twitching, it's even worse—she sustains a terrible shock. It becomes an image in her, and probably, unless other measures can be taken—usually by life itself, not by artificially induced means—she will give birth to a child who is pale, with a pointed chin and skinny limbs, and who is unable to move around properly. With a pregnant woman, just one such frightening sight suffices to affect the unborn child. In later life, when one is eighteen, nineteen, or twenty years old, to be a scoundrel only once won't hurt; one must become a habitual scoundrel, and that takes longer. With a pregnant woman, however, a single incident is enough.

The results of such experiments can reach much further. Imagine a young mother-to-be who is busy with her work. She hasn't been told that army maneuvers are being held nearby. Cannons begin to thunder, and her ears are given a frightful shock. Since hearing is strongly connected with the hindbrain as well as with the breathing, such a fright can cause a disorder of the breathing system of her developing child.

You might ask, “What is he saying? Why, he wants us to pay attention to every little detail in life!” Yes, gentlemen, if a healthy educational system and healthy social conditions existed, you wouldn't have to think at all about many of these things, since they would develop by force of habit like other routine matters. I don't believe that there are many men who, when they habitually beat their wives in the middle of every month, give it too much thought. They do it out of habit. There are such husbands. Why do they beat their wives? Because they have run out of money, they cannot go down to the local pub, so they amuse themselves at home by abusing their wives. These are habits that are formed. Well, gentlemen, if we had a sound educational system for everybody, we would acquire different habits. Were it known, for example, that army maneuvers would be held one morning and that there would be explosions, it should as a matter of course be called to the attention of any pregnant woman in the area. Something like this can become a habit. Sound education and socially acceptable conditions can give rise to a number of habits that need not be thought about any longer but simply carried out. This is something toward which we must work. Essentially, however, this can be accomplished only through proper education.

This is why the science of the spirit in particular will be in a position to explain the material world correctly. Materialism only looks at the material realm but is ignorant of all that lives in the material. It observes fever but does not know that fever is called forth by tremendously expanded brain activity. Materialism is always greatly astonished by shock but does not rightly recognize that shock comes from a drop of body temperature, because the proper “internal combustion” [Verbrennung] can no longer continue. Thus we can say that the way the head of a pregnant woman is stimulated is strongly connected with the child's development.

People pay no heed to what is contained in spiritual culture. A sound education will also gradually permeate everything we read and are told. Someday, for example, when people pay attention to what anthroposophy says, novels will perhaps be published for pregnant women. When pregnant women read them, they will receive impressions of ideal human beings. As a result, beautiful babies will be born who will grow to be strong, fine-looking human beings. What a woman does with her head during pregnancy becomes the source of the activity taking place in her abdomen. She shapes and forms the child with what she imagines, feels, and wills.

Here, spiritual science becomes tangible to the point where one can no longer say that the spirit has no influence on the human being. For the rest of his life, unless education sets it right later on, a person is under the influence of what his mother did during the first months of pregnancy. The later months are not as particularly important, because man has already been shaped, and definite forms have become fixed, but the first months are of particular importance and are full of significance. When one sees the physical origin of the human being in the womb, something reveals itself that in every respect points to spiritual science.

If one thinks reasonably, one can say to oneself that the warmth streaming down from above and the cold streaming up from below must always meet in the right way in the abdomen. One must care for the abdomen in the right way. This is something that must be seen, so that what comes from above can meet what comes from below in the right way. When we are clear that a person is so strongly influenced by his mother's experiences of soul and spirit that he can end up with a large or a small head, a ruined heart or breathing system, then we see that a person is, in fact, completely influenced by soul-spiritual considerations.

It can also happen that a mother-to-be, in the first or second months of pregnancy, could run into somebody with an unusually crooked nose, the likes of which she has never seen before. Unless some corrective measure is taken, in most cases the child will receive a crooked nose. You will even be able to see that in most cases if the woman was startled by the sight of a person whose nose was twisted to the right, the child will be born with a nose twisted to the left. Just as a man's right hand is connected with the left speech center in the brain, just as everything is reversed in the human being, so the twist of the nose is also reversed. We can conclude that if someone has a crooked nose, he most likely has it because his mother was frightened by someone with a crooked nose. A person has many other features. Materialistic science, when it doesn't know something's origin, always talks of heredity. If one has a crooked nose—well, that's inherited; the red skin tone of another—that's inherited, too. Things are not like this, however. They arise from causes such as I have related. The concept of heredity is one of the most ambiguous held by modern science. If you look at a person and see a twisted nose or a birthmark, this does not necessarily indicate that the mother saw the same birthmark. She might have seen something else that caused the child's blood to flow in the wrong direction. These are all deviations from the normal human form, but there is indeed a normal human form.

One cannot say simply that deviations from the normal human form do not come from bodily but from spiritual experiences while still maintaining that the entire human being comes merely from the belly of the mother, from that which is within the material realm! If one wishes to explain deviations spiritually, one must explain the entire human being spiritually. Naturally, the mother no more than the father can produce a human being spiritually. To do so would require the production of something impossible, that is, the art of being human, which is infinite. We are led to understand, therefore, that man already exists prior to birth as a spiritual being, and as soul he united with what is made available to him corporeally. Only regarding abnormal features can the embryo be influenced spiritually. It is much more remarkable, however, that I have a nose in the middle of my face or that I have two eyes! If I am born with a crooked nose, that is an abnormal feature, but recall the nose in the middle of the face with its marvelous normal form, which I recently explained to you, and the eye—what a wonder-filled thing! All this does not grow out of the mother's womb; it is something that already exists in the soul realm before the human being arises in the womb.

Here, correctly understood, natural science points to what human life is like in the spiritual world before conception. Today's materialists will naturally say that this is fantasy. Why do they say this? All the ancient people who, in primordial human times, still possessed certain dreamlike perceptions, which we no longer have, knew that man exists before he appears on earth. Throughout the Middle Ages, however, it was forbidden by decree of the Church to think of so-called pre-existence, which means pre-earthly existence; the Church forbade it. When a materialist agitates today, the rostrum is only the continuation of the medieval pulpit, and though he no longer speaks the language of those preachers, using instead the words of an agitator, he only says what medieval sermons stated long ago. Materialism has simply taken over the medieval preachings, and, though they are not aware of. it, today's materialists basically elaborate on what the Church taught. Materialism stems basically from the Church of the Middle Ages. Then, no soul was permitted to have existed before its earthly life. The intention was to teach people that God creates the soul when conception takes place. If a couple were in the mood to let conception occur—we know that in many instances this can be a mood of the moment—the Good Lord had to move quickly and create a soul for them! This is what the Church edict really implied and what one was supposed to believe.

It is not a sensible viewpoint, however, to make God the servant of the moods of human beings, so that he must hurriedly produce a soul when they happen to be in a mood to let conception take place. If you give this some thought, you discover what is actually contained in the materialistic viewpoint, which undermines human dignity. A real and true knowledge of the human being leads us instead to the realization that the soul is already there, has always lived. It descends to what is offered it through the human seed and its fertilization.

Anthroposophy has not, therefore, arrived back at the spirit because of some arbitrary fantasy but simply because it must, because it takes scientific knowledge seriously, which the others do not. People study natural science, which would lead to the spirit, but they are too lazy to come through natural science to the spirit on their own. That would require a little effort on the part of their heads. Instead, they allow some old teachers to deprive them of the spirit, and yet they still manage to be religious! Then they are dishonest, however; it is like keeping two sets of books. A person who is consistent in his reckoning must ascend from nature to spirit, and matters such as those we have discussed today, for example, will lead us there.