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Health and Illness II
GA 348

II. The Brain and Thinking

5 January 1922, Dornach

This was the first lecture given to the workmen after the burning of the Goetheanum. As a demonstration of their sympathy, all present stood when Rudolf Steiner entered.

Dr. Steiner: It is difficult to put into words the sorrow I feel. I know of your deep sympathy, so let me be brief. May I take this opportunity to call attention to the fact that as early as January 23, 1921, here in this hall, I read from a brochure a statement made by an opponent, indeed, one can already say an enemy, that went like this:

There are plenty of spiritual sparks of fire that strike like lightning against the wooden mouse trap. It will require quite a bit of cleverness on Steiner's part to work in a conciliatory manner so as to prevent a real spark of fire from bringing the Dornach grandeur to an inglorious end some day.

You see, with such inflammatory talk it is not surprising when something like the fire occurs, and in view of such vehement hostility it was something that could easily be feared. You can understand why it was easy to fear. It is true, however, that even now one can see what certain groups think about the matter. We need only consider the antagonism contained in the poor taste of newspapers, which now, after the Goetheanum has been destroyed, ask, “Didn't that `clairvoyant' Steiner foresee this fire?” That such attitudes are also evidence of a great stupidity is something I don't wish to talk about now. It points to a malicious degree of hostility, however, that some people find it at all necessary to publish such statements! One learns from this what people think and how crude things are today. It is indeed crude!

You can be sure, however, that I will never let anything divert me from my path, come what may. As long as I live, I shall represent my cause and will continue in the same way as I have done up to now. Also, I naturally hope that there will be no interruption here in any area, so that in the future we can work together here at this location in the same way as we have before; at least, that is my intention. Come what may, my thought is that the building will have to be reconstructed in some form; to be sure, no effort will be spared toward that end. We must therefore go on in the same way as before; this is simply an inner commitment.

Today, I wish to make use of our time by saying a few things to you that relate to the subject we discussed a little before this sad event. I tried to show you that a true science must work toward recognizing again the soul-spiritual aspects of the human being. I don't believe you have any idea of how emotionally charged is the reaction that this matter calls forth today within scientific circles. These scientific circles, as they call themselves today, which are taken to be something special by the layman, are the very ones that stand ready to make common cause with all existing hostile forces when it is a matter of proceeding against the anthroposophical movement. You must see that the hatred against the anthroposophical movement is by no means a slight matter. During the days when the tragedy took place, a report reached me, for example, of the formation of an association that calls itself “The Association of Non-Anthroposophical Experts on Anthroposophy.” They are people who naturally have nothing to do with the accident here but who are part of the whole opposition. The report concludes with the words, “This calls for a life-or-death struggle. The side that has the Holy Spirit will gain victory.”

It is obvious from the idiotic things said by these people, who want a life-or-death struggle, that the spirit—leaving the Holy Spirit completely aside—is not with these people. That is evident at once from the minutes of their meeting. Nevertheless, the spirit of hatred that exists is expressed in the sentence, “This calls for a life-or-death struggle.” People do wage this struggle, and the number of opponents is indeed not small. So-called scientific groups participate in these affairs today and in a most intensive way at that.

You see, I must continue to stress this, because the authority of science is so strong today. In order to know something, one turns to a so-called scientific expert, because this is the way things are arranged. Laymen don't know the means by which such persons become “experts” and that one can be the greatest idiot and yet be an “expert” with certifications, etc. These matters must be fully comprehended, and it is therefore important to get to the bottom of things and understand what really lies at their foundation. The very first sentences taught little children in school today—not directly, but indirectly—are mostly rubbish! Things that are considered self-evident today are in fact rubbish.

One is attacked from all sides today if one says, it is nonsense that the brain thinks, for it is agreed everywhere that the brain thinks and that where there is no brain, there can be no thinking, that there are no thoughts where no brain exists. Well, from my lectures you will have seen that the brain naturally plays its part in, and has a significance for, thinking. But if those people, who in fact make little use of their brains, claim that the brain is a sort of machine with which one thinks, then this is mere thoughtlessness. It is not surprising when a simple, uneducated person believes this, because he is not in possession of all the facts and so he adheres to the voice of the authority. No logic and real thinking, however, are contained in the statement that the brain thinks, and today I shall give you a number of examples to prove it.

If you look at a small beetle, you can easily see that it has a small head. If you dissect the head of such a beetle—the burying beetle, for instance—you discover nothing like a brain, which is supposed to be the thinking apparatus. Naturally, the tiny beetle has no brain in this sense but only a little lump, a lump of nerves, you could say. It does not have even the beginnings of a complete brain.

Now, I will relate a scene to you as an example, but before I give you this example I must tell you that these burying beetles always follow the lifelong habit of laying their eggs, and maggots hatch from them that only later change into beetles. As soon as they have emerged from the eggs, these tiny maggots require meat for their nourishment. They could not live without it. So, what does the burying beetle do? It searches in the field for a dead mouse or a dead bird or a mole, and having discovered one—a dead mouse, for example—it runs home again, only to return not alone but with a number of other beetles. These beetles that it has returned with run all around the mouse. Picture the mouse here (sketching); the beetle has discovered it; it runs off and then returns with a number of other burying-beetles. You see them run all around it. Occasionally, you notice that they all run away. At other times, you will see the beetles arrive, run around the dead mouse, and then start digging. First, they dig the ground under the mouse and then all around it. The mouse gradually sinks deeper and deeper into the earth as they continue digging. They dig until the mouse finally falls into the ground. They then fetch the females, who lay their eggs in it. Finally, they cover the hole completely so that passersby wouldn't notice it. I mentioned earlier that sometimes you can observe the beetles leave without returning. When you look into this, you find that the ground is too hard to dig. The beetles seem to have realized that here they could do nothing. Whenever they stay and begin digging, the ground is soft.

It is unbelievably strange but true that only ten or twelve beetles return with the one that makes the discovery, never forty or fifty. Only as many beetles return as are required to do the work. The first beetle doesn't bring more helpers than it needs, nor does it bring fewer. It arrives with just the right number to do the job. This sounds unbelievable, but what I am telling you is not a fairy tale. People have been able to demonstrate this phenomenon with all kinds of experiments. It's absolutely true.

The person who first described the activity of these beetles wasn't a superstitious person but one who had sound judgment. He was a friend of the botanist, Gleditsch, and was a scientist in the first half of the nineteenth century, an age when science was still on a sounder basis. He was involved in experimental work and once used toads in his experiments. These tests were intended for something completely different—you know that electricity was first discovered through work on a frog's thigh—and he needed to dry a dead toad. What did this natural scientist do? He took it outside and pinned the dead toad to a small piece of wood to let the sun dry it quickly. After a while he returned to check it and found a number of beetles around it hard at work. He decided to leave the dead toad alone and watch what these fellows, the beetles, were up to. What did they do? They continued digging until the wood fell and the toad had a place in the ground, in the hole; then the females were allowed to lay their eggs in it. That done, the beetles covered the toad and the wood it was pinned to with earth. Now, if a human being were to do that, one would think he also buried the stick in order to hide every trace. So you see, the burying beetles do exactly what a clever human being would do; indeed, I am convinced that a number of stupid people wouldn't do any—where near as well. You see, therefore, that what is called cleverness, intelligence, is present without the beetles possessing it.

One might call this nonsense and say that it need not be looked upon as intelligence, that it is stupid to say it is intelligence since it is simply instinct. Of course, I consider it stupid for a person to use the word “instinct” in this case, thus getting on the wrong track. One needs a word, however, and “instinct” is used for everything, so that one need not think at all. I must learn to know the issue itself—it is all the same what I call it—I must learn to know the issue. Still, one might object by saying, “All right, but what he has told, us is still nonsense. The beetles are born with this ability; they pass it on genetically; one need not think of intelligence here. It is inherent in their physical nature, and there is no need to think that these beetles possess intelligence.”

Now I shall tell you another story that was told by a person of incontestable authority, a story that has also been reported by others but above all by Darwin, an incontestable source; after all, people swear by Darwin, don't they? He observed this activity in wasps, not beetles. Wasps have brains that are no larger than those of beetles. Their larvae also require meat as soon as they hatch. Now, these wasps are weaker than beetles, even when they band together, so they cannot handle moles or dead toads but prefer smaller creatures that they can handle without help. This is why such wasps gather little animals like flies and such for their young.

Darwin, who is considered to be the greatest natural scientist of the nineteenth century, observed a wasp who needed such an animal, a female wasp, heavy with eggs, looking for an insect into which to lay them. Finding a fly, a dead fly, on the ground, she tried to fly away with it, but it was too difficult for her. What did the wasp do? It bit off the fly's head and hind quarters and flew off with the breast and wings, which it could manage. Without the head and hind quarters of the fly, the wasp could now fly. Now—as I said, Darwin watched all this—a strong breeze was blowing and the wasp could not fly forward because the fly's wings caught the wind. The two wings caught the wind, and it could not fly forward. Again, what did the wasp do, laden with the fly? It landed on the ground, bit off the two wings, and flew away with the fly's breast without the wings.

In this case it is impossible to say that this is anything else but deliberate, since the wasp, after all, accommodated itself to the wind. This cannot be inherent in the wasp, to bite off the wings. It must be what is called intelligence that motivates the insect. The wasp tells itself that if the wings are discarded, the wind won't catch in them. It is impossible for this to be inherited; what exists there is what one calls deliberation; consequently, one must admit that intelligence is really at work here. Here intelligence is at work.

Now you can see how scientists proceeded in the nineteenth century. I purposely mentioned to you Darwin, who observed this. What was his conclusion, however? Darwin said that everything that confronts us in animals is produced only through heredity and through natural selection, and so forth.

In order to set up theories, people simply suppress what they themselves know. This is the essential point, that people suppress what they know to set up convenient theories. Such theories are by no means scientific and only throw sand in the eyes of the public. Darwin was certainly a great man, and nobody has acknowledged his positive accomplishments in a more kindly way than I. I have written everything possible in Darwin's favor, but, oddly enough, we must realize that even those who have made significant contributions have suffered from the malady of having no eyes for facts. In spite of the great scientific triumphs made in the external world, it is characteristic of scientists of the nineteenth century that people completely lost their sense for facts, and the facts were simply suppressed.

Now, let's go further. Let's consider other insects. In these matters one must study insects, because they can illuminate our subject particularly well; we can be quite sure that in their case they do not owe their intelligence to having a large brain, because this they certainly don't have. Therefore, one must study insects in this matter. Indeed, not only are they able to illuminate the things I have just described but many others as well. Insects lay their eggs, and a mature insect never emerges from them but only little worms. With butterflies, which are insects, it is even more complicated. First, a little worm appears, a caterpillar; it pupates, and finally from the chrysalis emerges the butterfly. This is certainly quite a transformation, but this transformation actually occurs with all insects. You see, there are some insects that, when they are fully mature, feed only on plants. I am not agitating for vegetarianism, as you know, gentlemen, but these insects are vegetarians. They eat only plants. The strange thing is that their larvae, the maggots, require meat when they hatch. These insects therefore have a great peculiarity, that they are born with a completely different food preference from that which they later acquire. They convert to plant food only when they are fully developed insects. When they are still little children and look completely different—like maggots or worms—they feed on meat.

What do these mature insects do? They seek out other insects, mostly caterpillars, and lay their eggs on their backs. They themselves no longer have an appetite for meat, but they know that maggots requiring meat will hatch from their eggs. Therefore, they lay their eggs in the body of such a caterpillar or some such animal. Though one can marvel at this cleverness, there is much more. One can even say that these newly hatched maggots are already clever. Consider that some maggot species depend on living flesh for food. When it is time to lay the eggs, this insect, which has a stinger, punctures another living insect that is larger and lays many eggs within it. Sometimes numerous eggs are thus deposited, filling the caterpillar's body, and from which the maggots hatch. The maggots are then within the body of this other insect. These eggs are only deposited in live insects, because if the animal in which the eggs are laid were to die, the eggs would be lost, since the maggots can only survive on living flesh. Consider, therefore, that if a maggot were to destroy a vital organ in the host insect, thus causing its death, all the other maggots hatching from the eggs would perish. These little creatures are so clever, however, that nothing is ever eaten in the living caterpillar except those parts not needed for its survival. All vital organs are spared, and the caterpillar stays alive. Regardless of how many eggs are deposited, only so much is consumed as to ensure the host insect's life.

You see, these things are known but are simply suppressed. People know it but suppress it, and it isn't well received, naturally, when one points them out, because this not only shows up the incapability but the downright dishonesty of official science.

In the case of animals and insects you can see that it is possible to say that they certainly do not possess intelligence, because they have no apparatus for intelligence, that is, brains. Nevertheless, intelligence is working in what they do, and it must be admitted that intelligence is there. The animals do not deliberate; deliberation would require a brain; animals don't deliberate, but what takes place in their activities is intelligent. Indeed, it happens that animals even have something similar to memory. They have no recollection but something akin to it. You can observe this, for instance, if you are a bee keeper. Here stands a beehive. The bees hatch. For the sake of an experiment, you move the hive to a nearby spot. The bees return to the first location; naturally, this is “instinct,” and there is no need to be surprised about it; they fly in the direction from which they flew away. Now, however, they begin to look everywhere for the hive and fly around seeking it. They arrive at the new location but do not enter the hive immediately. Instead, they swarm around it for a long time, and one can definitely conclude that they are examining it to see if it is their own! The burying beetle does the same when it examines the ground to see if it is hard or soft. While bees have no recollection, the above incident shows that they nevertheless possess something similar to memory; namely, they must determine whether it is the same beehive. We do this with our memory; bees do it with something similar.

You see, what works as intelligence through the human head is at work everywhere. Intelligence is at work everywhere; even in insects there is marvelous intelligence. Picture the wonderful intelligence at work when the larvae that hatch inside the caterpillar's body do not feed immediately on its stomach. If they did, all the maggots would perish. Compared with the tactics employed by humans during war, the intelligence ruling the insect arouses respect and exposes the foolishness of human beings. In this regard, human beings have no reason to claim sole possession of intelligence.

I'll tell you something else now. You are all familiar with paper. You all know that the paper we have today was invented no earlier than four or five hundred years ago. Before this, parchment and all sorts of materials were used for writing. Civilized man discovered so-called rag paper just four or five centuries ago. Before this, man wrote on leather and so on. How was paper discovered? One had to discover how to mix together certain substances in a specific way. Perhaps one of you has been in a paper factory. At first, the paper is liquid; it is then solidified, etc. It is produced in a purely artificial way through various chemical and mechanical means. Perhaps you've not only seen paper but also now and then a wasps' nest. A wasps' nest is built like this (sketching). It is attached to something and formed so the wasps can fly into it. It is grey, not white—but paper can be grey, too—and this wasps' nest is real paper. If one asks, what is a wasps' nest made of chemically, chemically it is identical with paper. It is real paper.

Wasps, however, have been building their nests for thousands and thousands of years, not just four or five hundred. You can see, therefore, that wasps manufactured paper much earlier than humans. That's simply a fact: the wasps' nest is made of paper. If, thousands of years ago, people had been clever enough to examine the substance of a wasps' nest, they would have discovered paper then. Chemistry was not that advanced, however; neither was writing, through which some things have also come about that do not exactly serve man. In any case, the wasp has made paper for an immeasurably longer time than the human being has.

Naturally, I could go on, not for hours but for days, to speak of how intelligence pervades everything and is found everywhere. Man simply gathers this intelligence that is spread out in the world and puts it to use. Owing to his well-developed brain, he can put to his own use what permeates the world. Thanks to his brain, he can utilize the intelligence contained in all things for his own benefit.

Our brain is not given us for the purpose of producing intelligence. It is sheer nonsense to believe that we produce intelligence. It is as stupid as saying, “I went to the pond with a water pitcher to fetch water. Look, it contains water now; a minute ago there was none; the water, therefore, materialized from the walls of the pitcher!” Everybody will say that is nonsense. The water came from the pond; it was not produced by the pitcher. The experts, however, point to the brain, which simply collects intelligence because it is present in everything, like the water, and claim that intelligence emerges from within it. It is as foolish as saying that water is produced by the pitcher. After all, intelligence is even present where there is no brain, just as the pond does not depend on the water pitcher. Intelligence exists everywhere, and man can take hold of it. Just as the water from the pitcher can be put to use, so man can make use of his brain when he gathers the intelligence that is present everywhere in the world. To this day, however, he is not making use of it in a particularly outstanding manner.

You can see that it is a matter of correct thinking. But those who never think correctly—for they show that they cannot think correctly—claim that intelligence is produced by the brain. This is as foolish as claiming that water from a pond is produced by its container. Such foolishness, however, is science today. Actually, these matters should be obvious; one should simply realize that intelligence is something that must be gathered together.

Now, you can take your brain and resolve to gather intelligence somewhere. It doesn't collect intelligence any more than the empty water pitcher, which, when you put it away, remains empty. By itself the water pitcher cannot fetch water, nor does the brain collect intelligence by itself. You cannot leave the brain to its own devices and expect it to function any more than the water pitcher. What must be present so that the brain can gather intelligence? The empty water pitcher alone can be compared to the belief that man consists only of blood, nerves, and brain. Something else must be present that does the collecting and that gathers intelligence by means of the brain. It is the soul—spiritual element of man that does the collecting. It enters man as I described recently in the lecture on embryonic development. It has previously existed in the soul—spiritual world and only makes use of the physical. If the facts are not suppressed, if one sees that intelligence, like water, pervades everything and, like water in a pitcher, must be gathered together, then—if one is a serious scientist and not a charlatan—one must search for the gatherer. This is simply what follows from the use of clear reason. It is not true that the anthroposophical science of the spirit is less scientific than ordinary science; it is much more scientific, much more scientific.

The day before yesterday, one could see the kind of logic people employ. As you know, a natural scientific course was recently held here. I have already told you of experiments conducted in Stuttgart concerning the task of the spleen. We confirmed that the spleen has the task of serving as a sort of regulator of the digestive rhythm. The blood circulation has a definite rhythm, as found in the pulse with its seventy—two beats per minute. These are related to the intake of food. People also pay a little heed to a rhythmic intake of food; they are not too good at it, however, and frequently have no set mealtime. Worse yet, people indiscriminately partake of foods that are useful for them and those that are not. There is no regularity here as there is in the blood. If, for example, I eat at one o'clock instead of two o'clock, this is an irregularity. The blood circulation, after all, doesn't work that way and doesn't produce a different pulse when it requires nourishment. This is where the spleen takes over. We have tried to demonstrate this with experiments and have been successful to a degree. More experiments are needed and must be done soon, but we have been able to show to some extent that the spleen is a regulator. Though we might have irregular eating habits, the spleen keeps food in the intestines as long as the blood needs it. If we don't starve ourselves too much—if we starve ourselves too much even the spleen would be unable to function properly—the spleen supplies the blood with fat taken from our own body.

You see, because we were completely honest, Dr. Kolisko quite honestly stated in her book that in my medical course I indicated that the spleen has this task, and she then proceeded with experiments to confirm this. Then a professor in Munich said that this was easy; she had already received the indications from anthroposophy and so had them in her pocket. It is not supposed to be hypothetical-deductive science if one starts with indications and then conducts experiments. He therefore said that this isn't hypothetical-deductive science.

Why does the professor say that? Because people do not wish to work with a thought as their guideline. Instead, they want a lot of material delivered to their laboratories, and they blindly begin to experiment until they happen on some result. They call this hypothetical-deductive science, but there is no hypothesis in it at all. Occasionally, the most significant discoveries are made by chance. Then, well—even a blind dog sometimes finds a morsel! How could we progress, however, if in our laboratories our work did not follow our ideas?

The professor in Munich says that it is not hypothetical-deductive science for one to work with indications. Now, imagine that somewhere experiments had been conducted that proved the spleen's function but that a fire had destroyed the reports of the work. Only the final result would be known. Couldn't somebody come along and say that he would repeat these experiments? It would not be any different from our starting out with these indications. The same professor would also have to object to that as being unscientific. Now, wouldn't that be absurd? The only difference here is that I have made my indications by tracing the spiritual course of the matter, but I have done it in such a way that it can readily be followed according to anatomical science. Then, through experiments, another person seeks affirmation of what had been precisely indicated. Our task here was simply to show correct physical proof for what I had said. There is no logical difference between my knowledge acquired by spiritual scientific means and what another person has already found earlier by means of experiments.

What does it indicate when someone considers it to be hypothetical-deductive science when something has been discovered by physical means, though the descriptions of the tests may have been burned, while anything done by anthroposophy is not considered hypothetical-deductive science? It indicates that one is not honest and that from the first one denounces anything coming from anthroposophy. People aren't really concerned about hypothetical-deductive science; they are so foolish that they don't notice that this is logical nonsense. They say that ours is not hypothetical-deductive science not because it would be logical to say so but only because it derives from anthroposophy. People are too foolish to comprehend what comes from anthroposophy. Naturally, their lack of comprehension makes them angry, and therefore they denounce it. The real reason anthroposophy is considered heresy is that those who are engaged in so-called science do not think and cannot understand anthroposophy. This is an aspect of our entire civilization. It is possible today to be a great scientist or scholar without being able really to think. In the future, one must truly cultivate honesty, an honesty that takes into account all the facts, not only those that conveniently fit one's pet theory, thus throwing sand in the eyes of the public.

The hatred of anthroposophy is based in large part on anthroposophy's honesty, something people don't want to grant it. If people had a keener sense for truth, they would often stop writing after the first sentence. Since all their arguments against anthroposophy would collapse, however, if anthroposophy were properly studied, they invent all kinds of fabrications concerning it. People inventing fabrications about anthroposophy don't care about truth, and once they start telling lies, they go further. The serious defamations of anthroposophy thus arise. What is the result? A person who cannot see through all this believes that anthroposophists engage in devilry. Such a person cannot see through this, because he naturally believes the authorities, who do not speak the truth. Anthroposophy suffers most of all from these lies that are circulated about it, whereas its one aim is t focus on the facts and be a real science.

In view of the painful tragedy that has struck here, we must at least look into the real state of affairs and realize how anthroposophy is being slandered out of a spirit of pure falsehood.

I myself am absolutely opposed to any agitation coming from our side. Naturally, I cannot stop everything, but when I speak to you, I am strictly pointing out facts. This is all I have done today, and from these facts I have drawn a general characterization of scientific life. You must admit to yourselves that where such facts are ignored there is no desire to create real science but only a desire to throw sand in the eyes of the public, even if in a quite unconscious way. People would have to be much more clever to see through this.

We shall continue on Monday. If you have something to ask, I would like you to speak entirely from your hearts. I, for one, don't wish to be deterred by the great tragedy that has struck here. This is why I didn't want to waste my time lamenting but wanted to tell you something useful.