27 January 1922, Dornach
Dr. Steiner: Good morning, gentlemen. Have you thought of something else you would like to ask me?
A question is asked concerning the relationship between human breathing and the pulse. Wouldn't this have been completely different in earlier times?
Dr. Steiner: You mean in the human being himself? Well, let's quickly review how things stand today. We have on the one hand the breathing. Man is connected to the outer world through breathing, because he is constantly inhaling and exhaling air. It can thus be said that man today is constituted in such a way that he absorbs the healthy air and expels the air that would make him ill. The expelled air contains carbon dioxide. The circulation of the blood, on the other hand, is an internal process in which the blood flows through the body itself. I shall not discuss whether it is accurate to say that the blood circulates in the body, but the force of the blood circulates through the body. Now, although it varies slightly in each individual, a person takes approximately eighteen breaths per minute. As for the blood, the pulse rate is seventy-two beats per minute. So, one can say that breathing is related to blood circulation in an adult today in such a way that his pulse is four times faster than his breathing.
Now, we must be clear what is really involved in the human being when breathing is considered in relation to his blood circulation. First, we must be clear that man breathes chiefly through the lungs — the nose, mouth, and lungs — but this is only his primary way of breathing. Indeed, with the human being, functions primarily carried out by one part of his body are also actually carried out to a lesser degree by his whole body. Hence, air, or particularly the oxygen in the air, is constantly absorbed through the surface of his skin. Man therefore also breathes through his skin, and along with the ordinary breathing process of his lungs one can also speak of his skin's breathing. If, for example, the holes of his skin, called pores, are clogged, the skin absorbs too little air. Something is not right with the skin's breathing. Man's skin must always be in such shape that he can breathe through it.
Now, in the case of human beings, all outer processes can, as it were, also be found to exist inwardly. Making a sketch of a human being, we can say that breathing occurs through the entire surface of the skin but most particularly through the lungs in eighteen breaths per minute. All this, however, requires a counterbalance in the human being, and something quite interesting makes its appearance. Man cannot breathe properly through his lungs nor through his skin, but especially not through his skin, if this counterbalance is not present.
You know that a magnet has not only a north pole, a positive pole, but also a south pole, a negative pole. If man has his lungs and skin for breathing, then he also needs an opposite, and that opposite is located in the liver. We have already familiarized ourselves with the liver from various standpoints; now we must learn to view it as the opposite of the skin-lung activity; the liver and the skin-lung activity balance each other. One could say that the liver's constant purpose is to bring into order internally what man acquires through breathing in his relation with the outer world. That is what the liver is for.
Consider a disorder of the liver that may occur at any time, even in older people. It is quite difficult to diagnose when the liver is not in order, and frequently one is unaware of it because the liver is the organ, the single organ, that doesn't hurt when something is wrong with it. Man can suffer for a long time from a liver ailment without knowing of it. No one can diagnose it, because there is no pain. This is because the liver is related to the most outer aspects of the human being, the skin and lungs. Internally, the liver is really something like an outer world. Man does not sense it within when a chair is broken, nor does he sense it when the liver is being destroyed. It is as if the liver were a segment of the outer world. In spite of this, it is of terrible importance to the human being.
Now imagine that the liver malfunctions. When this happens, all the activity of the lungs and skin is also thrown out of balance, and then a specific problem arises. You see, from the heart, the veins reach everywhere into the lungs and the skin. Through quite delicate blood vessels, the blood circulation reaches everywhere into the skin, into the lungs, and also into the liver. The following now takes place. If the liver's function is impaired, the blood cannot flow properly in and out of the liver. If, because of a liver problem, the blood flows into it too strongly and the liver becomes overactive, too much bile is produced and the person becomes jaundiced. Jaundice occurs in man when too much bile is produced, when, therefore, the activity of the liver is too strong. Jaundice therefore results when overactivity of the liver pervades the body.
What happens, however, when the liver's activity is too weak? The blood's activity on the surface of the skin is not compensated for. The blood, which flows everywhere, wishes to be compensated, and the blood in the liver investigates, as it were, whether or not the liver is behaving properly. If the liver isn't behaving properly, the blood rushes to the surface of the body to replenish itself there. What happens? Smallpox is the result. This is the connection between smallpox and the blood circulation, which, due to a defective liver, has something wrong with it.
The blood reaches everywhere where I have drawn a line in blue (see sketch); there is also a red line signifying that oxygen from the air reaches everywhere. The circulation of the blood rightly makes a point of contact there with the breathing, and whether this occurs in the lungs or the skin really does not matter, because it balances itself out. If the air that enters through the breathing process does not make contact with the blood in the correct way, however, smallpox results. What is smallpox? Smallpox is really the result of the development of too much respiratory activity on the body's surface or in the lungs. A person becomes too active on his surface area, and this activity causes inflammation everywhere.
What can be done under these circumstances? Well, people already do the only thing that can be done in such cases. They vaccinate with cowpox vaccine. What is really accomplished through cowpox vaccine? The vaccine inwardly permeates the body, because the blood circulates everywhere. Whereas the blood is otherwise compensated for on the body's surface, it now has to cope with the vaccine. The overactivity on the surface thus is prevented. Smallpox inoculation does indeed have a certain significance. The blood, which is not properly engaged by the liver, is now busy with the vaccine. Generally, there is good reason for all methods of inoculation. You have perhaps heard that a large part of our healing is based on inoculation, because an activity occurring in the wrong place can thereby be directed to another part of the human body.
Inoculation against rabies is especially interesting. Though rabies comes from something altogether different, it is basically the same response as that I explained concerning smallpox. Imagine that a person is bitten by a rabid dog or wolf. Such an animal has actual poison in its saliva. This poison now enters the victim through the bite, and the person becomes involved in detoxifying the poison. He may be too weak to do it, and he might succumb to the poison, but something else is really the basis for death. You know that a man first develops rabies before he succumbs to the poison. What is the reason for this?
Let us assume that I am bitten by a rabid dog. Now I must direct all my inner activities to this spot, and I must let them flow here to use up the poison. This surge of activity is sensed by my spinal cord as though I had received a shock. This is how it affects my spinal cord. Since my body must suddenly develop such extreme activity because of the dog's bite, my spinal cord suffers a shock through which I become ill.
What must now be done to offset this shock? You know that when a person freezes in horror, he can be brought to his senses by being slapped a few times. The spinal cord also needs to be slapped, but one must first get to the spine. This can be accomplished by giving a rabbit rabies. It is then killed and its spinal cord removed and dried for approximately twenty minutes at about 20° C. This substance is then injected into the rabid person.
Now, oddly enough, all substances have a way of going to specific parts of the body. The dried spinal cord of the rabbit, which retains the rabies poison for a short time — about fifteen minutes — before becoming ineffective, is quickly injected into the human being. It goes into his own spinal cord, which thereby suffers a countershock. It is just as if you shake a person who is paralyzed with fear and he snaps out of it. In the case of rabies, man's spinal cord recovers from the shock by means of an inoculation with the rabid rabbit's dehydrated spinal cord.
You see, therefore, that when an activity develops in the human being in the wrong place and he becomes ill, he can be cured if almost the same process is developed in a different place. These are some of the complicated relationships of the human organism.
Now, if you consider respiration and the activity of the blood, these two processes are related in today's adult in a ratio of one breath to four pulse beats. The blood stream flows faster; after three pulsations man inhales, and after three more, he inhales again. This is how air goes through his body. The blood moves through the body: one, two, three, and with the fourth we inhale; one, two, three, and with the fourth we inhale again. This goes on throughout our body.
All this produces carbon dioxide. Now, most of this carbon dioxide is exhaled, but if all of it were exhaled, we would be the worst dopes. A part of the carbon dioxide must continuously enter our nervous system, which needs carbon dioxide, because it must be continuously deadened. The nervous system requires this deadening carbon dioxide. Through inhaling air it therefore rises up continuously in me and supplies my nervous system.
What does this mean? Nothing other than this, that since carbon dioxide is a poison, I continually require a poison in my system for my thinking. This is a most interesting point. Unless a continuous poisoning process took place in me, with which I must continuously struggle, I could not use my nervous system. I would be unable to think. Man is really in the position of having constantly to poison himself by inhaling air, and by means of the poison in the breath, he thinks. Carbon dioxide constantly streams into my head, and with this poisonous air I think.
Today, man simply breathes air. The air contains oxygen and nitrogen. Man absorbs the oxygen, omitting the nitrogen.
When we study man today, the following is discovered. The human head today requires carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a combination of carbon that is produced in the human body and oxygen. Man omits the nitrogen contained in the air. If one studies the human head today, one discovers that this human head is so organized that it can think quite well because of the absorption of carbon dioxide and therefore of carbon and oxygen. This human head, through the carbon dioxide, which is a poison and rises fleetingly to the human head from the organs, is constantly exposed to damage. It is as if we were always to inhale a bit of carbon dioxide instead of oxygen. You really always inhale a bit of carbon dioxide into your head. This is of great significance, because we constantly take in something that actually destroys life. This is also the reason that we must sleep, that we require a time during which the head does not absorb this minute amount of carbon dioxide as vigorously and thereby is able to restore its organs.
Studies of the head show that in its present condition it can make use of this poison, carbon dioxide, by repeatedly sustaining a little damage and then restoring itself through sleep, then again being damaged, again restoring itself, and so on. In very ancient times, however, man did not as yet have a head. It came about through evolution. Man would never have acquired a head if he had inhaled only carbon dioxide. The fully evolved head can tolerate carbon dioxide, but if man had always inhaled carbon dioxide, he would never have acquired a head. Therefore, he must have breathed something else long ago. Now we must ask ourselves what man used to breathe. If all human evolution is studied in detail, one discovers that during embryonic development in the womb, the human being uses something other than mere carbon dioxide. It is an interesting fact that in the mother's womb man is almost all head. The rest of the embryo, if you study it in the early stages, is minute (see sketch) and still is almost all part of the head; the rest is terribly small. The whole embryo is then surrounded by the walls of the womb.
You see, man is almost all head, but he must still develop, and for that he requires nitrogen. He requires nitrogen, and this is supplied by the mother's body. If man did not have access to nitrogen in the womb, a substance he later rejects in the air, not allowing it to enter him, it would be impossible for him to develop. We would not acquire a proper head if it were not for nitrogen. In an early stage of evolution, when his head was only beginning to develop, man must not have absorbed oxygen but nitrogen. The essential elements for man must, therefore, have been carbon and nitrogen instead of today's carbon and oxygen.
Just as man inhales oxygen today, he once must have inhaled carbon combined with nitrogen — in other words, he must have absorbed nitrogen. But what is carbon plus nitrogen? It is cyanogen, and when it is present as an acid, it is hydrocyanic acid. This means that conditions must have been such at one time that man did not absorb oxygen from the air but nitrogen, with which he internally produced cyanogen, an even stronger poison. This even stronger poison is what has enabled man to think today with carbon dioxide. At that time he fashioned the organs with an even stronger poison.
Going back in time, we come to a point in ancient evolution when, unlike today, man produced cyanogen, and instead of exhaling carbon dioxide as he does today, he exhaled hydrocyanic acid, a much stronger poison. Thus, from man and his present-day respiration, we go back to an ancient condition in which the air was filled with hydrocyanic acid just as it is today permeated with carbon dioxide.
In 1906, I gave lectures in Paris, and because of various suggestions from the listeners I was prompted to tell them that even today there are cosmic bodies that possess the ancient cyanogen atmosphere rather than that of the earth. If the earth were viewed from the moon or particularly from Mars, one would be able to perceive traces of carbon dioxide everywhere in the earth's atmosphere by means of the spectroscope. Had the ancient earth been viewed from space when man was only beginning to acquire his head, however, one would have perceived traces of hydrocyanic acid instead of carbon dioxide. To this day there are cosmic bodies that have retained the earth's condition of former ages; these are the comets. The comets are what the earth was like when man acquired his head. Hence, they must contain cyanogen. I said in 1906 that the main characteristic of comets is that they contain cyanogen; if one studies a comet with a spectroscope, one must see lines of cyanogen. Soon after this a comet appeared; they only appear rarely. I was in Norway at the time, and there was much talk about it — curiously enough, people actually observed the cyanogen line.
People always say that when anthroposophy becomes aware of something that is based on spiritual insight, one should be able to prove it afterward. There are indeed numerous things that have later been proved. When proof arises, however, people overlook or suppress it. The truth is that, on the basis of this change in the breathing process, I stated prior to its having been observed with the spectroscope that comets contain cyanogen. This is the same substance that man needed in order to acquire his head at a time when the earth was still in a comet-like condition.
Now, imagine for a moment that I were to breathe nitrogen instead of oxygen; something other than human blood would naturally arise. As you know, the blood that has become blue combines in the lungs with oxygen and becomes red. Now, when man inhales oxygen he absorbs oxygen into his blood; when he inhales nitrogen, he absorbs the nitrogen into his blood. The way our blood functions today in a healthy person, it never contains uric acid, but if even a little nitrogen is absorbed into the blood, if something is only slightly amiss with the human being, uric acid appears in the blood.
In the age when man acquired his head, his blood consisted completely of uric acid, since nitrogen continuously combined with the blood instead of oxygen. His blood was only uric acid. As an embryo today, the human being swims in the amniotic fluid and thus has uric acid readily accessible. Uric acid is everywhere in his environment. In this early state the embryo needs uric acid for its development. In the past, when man was acquiring his head and exhaled hydrocyanic acid, he swam around in uric acid. In other words, he made use of cyanic acid, combining nitrogen and carbon and inwardly producing uric acid. Hydrocyanic acid surrounded him everywhere. The world was once in a condition in which uric and hydrocyanic acids actually played as big a role as water and air do today.
Even today, living creatures exist that can survive on something other than oxygen. There are, for example, creatures that are minute, since everything that was formerly large has become small today. The tiniest, smallest living creatures were once giants. But there are living creatures that cannot tolerate oxygen at all. They avoid oxygen and absorb sulphur instead. They are the sulphur bacteria that live by means of sulphur. This shows that oxygen is not the only necessity for life. Likewise, man didn't need oxygen to stay alive in earlier ages but instead required nitrogen, and through that he was formed. Man was fashioned during a comet-like formation of the earth, and the relationship between breathing and the blood was completely different in those earlier ages.
Let's now consider what we have learned in connection with the world itself. If we focus on the fact that we take one breath to four pulse beats — one, two, three, breath of air; one, two, three, breath of air — the same rhythm can also be found in nature: spring, summer, fall, winter. One: spring; two: summer; three: fall; four: winter. Here we have the correlation between what's outside in the universe and what you have within man. So we can say, if we behold the entire earth, that our inner rhythm can be found outside on earth as well. People pay no heed at all to these circumstances regarding the earth.
You see, there is snow outside now. In summer there is no snow. What does that really mean? What is outside as snow now you find at other times as water. Water is completely dependent on the earth, and man must certainly sense that. The water around here in the Jura mountains contains calcium. Everything within the earth is also in the water. People who are especially sensitive to this develop goiters from what is contained in the water in the Jura region. The water is dependent on the earth. In spring, it begins to become dependent, it is most dependent in summer, and it ceases somewhat to be dependent in fall. In winter — well, gentlemen, the earth does not form the snow! The snow, consisting of myriads of delicate crystals, is formed by the universe, from out of the cosmos. Unlike in summer, the earth in winter doesn't abandon itself to the warmth of the world but rather to the formative forces. The water turns away from the earth in winter and receives the coldness of universal space. So we have discovered an interesting rhythm in the universe. One: spring; two: summer; three: fall; four: winter, and the water no longer directs itself to the earth but to the universe. Again, one, two three — spring, summer, fall; then four: the water follows the universe, no longer the earth.
Now compare this rhythm with the blood and the breathing process. One, two, three pulse beats, the blood is directed to the body's interior; four: breath of air, the blood is directed to what is outside. Here you have the same activity with the earth as in the human being. If you compare the blood with the earth's water, the blood directs itself accordingly. The first three pulse beats are inwardly a little like spring, summer, and fall; four, now comes earthly winter, and aha, we breathe, now comes the breath, just as with the earth itself. Inwardly, man is attuned completely to the earth's breathing process. It can therefore be said that what runs its course in one year in the earth takes place quickly, eighteen times in one minute, in man. What takes a year for the earth takes place eighteen times in one minute in man. Man actually is always filled with this rhythm, but it is much faster than with the earth. When we consider the earth in the light of our discussion today, we realize that the condition of the earth was formerly quite different, and it comes to acquire for us a certain similarity to the comets. Now, when a comet disintegrates, the pieces, which contain iron, fall to earth as meteors. An entire comet, which falls to earth when it splinters, therefore contains iron.
This is also something that we still contain within ourselves. When our corpses disintegrate, the iron from our blood is left behind. Here we have retained something of our ancient comet nature, and we actually act as comets do. We have iron in our blood through developing the ancient cyanogen activity in ourselves — that is, our external bodies, the blood of which it may no longer enter though it was once allowed to. This means nothing more than that today we withdraw our inner spring, summer, fall, and winter from the outer spring, summer, fall, and winter. Our dependency on the outer seasons has become minimal.
You need not go terribly far back into the past, however, to find that things had a totally different character then. Although things are changing now, if one grew up in a country village as I did, one knows that there used to be people who were very dependent on spring, summer, fall, and winter; there are fewer now because everything is becoming more uniform in the world. One could even notice it in their whole life of soul. They were in a totally different mood in summer than in winter. When they encountered you in winter they were always a little outside their beings; they were much more like apparitions than people. They came into their own only in summer and then were really themselves. This means that they were dependent upon the outer spring, summer, fall, and winter.
This demonstrates to us what man was like in earlier ages. When he breathed nitrogen instead of oxygen, he was completely dependent on the outer surroundings; he participated in the pulse beat and breathing of his comet body, which in my book, An Outline of Occult Science, I called the ancient Moon. The ancient Moon was a sort of comet-like body, and, as a participant in it, man was a part of a large organism that also breathed. It was as if man today were suddenly to have one pulse beat in spring, one in summer, one in fall, and would then take a breath in winter, and so on. This is the way man was when he breathed nitrogen; he was a member of the entire earthly organism.
So, you see, we come from a completely different direction and again reach the point we arrived at earlier when we considered the megatheria, sauria, and so forth. We arrive at the same point by a different path.
This is the remarkable thing about spiritual science. Ordinary present-day scientific activity begins at some point and proceeds step by step, trotting along in a straight line without knowing where it is going. That is not the case with anthroposophical science. It can proceed in one or another direction from various points of departure, but just as a hiker always reaches the same summit regardless of where he starts at the foot of a mountain, so anthroposophy always arrives at the same goal. This is what is so remarkable. The more one honestly examines the world, the more the individual considerations fit together into a unity.
We have an example of this in exploring your question today. We proceeded from matters quite different from the earlier subjects, yet once again we arrived at the conclusion that man had his rhythm within the entire earthly organism when it was still comet-like; only now has he made it his own. Man existed as part of the earth just as he does today when he is still a germ within his mother. There he also takes part in her pulse and breathing activity.
Can it be proven that man today takes part in his mother's pulse and breathing activity? This is proven by what I said before, that smallpox develops from the blood's activity coming into connection with the breathing activity. This is interesting. If man does share the maternal blood and breathing activities while in the womb, a child in the womb should contract smallpox if the mother has it, and it does. When a pregnant woman contracts smallpox, her unborn child already has smallpox in the womb, because the child takes part in everything.
In the same way, when the earth was still the mother of the human being — although the earth was then a kind of comet — he participated in all that the earth underwent. His pulse beat and breathing were that of the earth's pulse beat and breathing. It therefore can be said that it is most remarkable when, if we go back into ancient times when human beings knew instinctively and were not clever as they are today, they always called the earth “mother” — Mother Earth and so forth. They spoke of Uranus, meaning the universe, and Gaea, the earth, and they viewed Uranus as the father in the universe outside an11 the earth as the mother.
So one can say that the part of the human organism in which the child develops, the womb, is really like a miniature earth that has remained behind and is still in the ancient comet-like state.
In that ancient comet-like state, man's breathing and that of the earth were together a breathing in the great universe. Not only did man absorb nitrogen, but the whole comet-earth received the nitrogen from the universe. Breathing in that age was also a form of fertilization. Only the process of fertilization in humans and animals remains of that today. In fertilization, therefore, something of the nitrogen breathing process still takes place, because the most important element in the human sperm is nitrogen. This is transmitted to the female organism and, as a nitrogen stimulus, brings about what oxygen could never accomplish, that is, the formation of the organs that must be present later when man is exposed to oxygen. So you see that we actually receive our breathing from the universe.
Now, let's try exploring something else. You see, the year's course is followed somewhat in the course of the day: 18 breaths per minute; 60 times that much per hour = 1,080; in 24 hours, one day, we have 24 times that much = 25,920. Hence, we take 25,920 breaths per day.
Now let me figure something else for you — the number of days in an average human life. As you know, the year has about 360 days. The average number of years a man lives is between 71 and 72. 72 times 360 makes 25,920. We take as many breaths per day as we have days in our human life. But a day, too, is in a certain sense a breathing. One day is also a breathing. When I go to sleep, I exhale my soul, and I draw it back in again when I awake: exhalation, inhalation. I exhale the spiritual and inhale it again. This rhythm in my breathing I therefore have throughout my life on earth in sleeping and waking. This is most interesting: 25,920 breaths per day, 25,920 days in the average human life.
Now we turn and look at the sun. When you observe the sun in spring today, it rises in the sign of Pisces, but it does not rise every year in spring in exactly the same spot. On March 21 in the spring of next year the sun will have moved a fraction. Year by year it moves a little. The point where it rises moves constantly and eventually comes full circle. Therefore, if the sun rises in the constellation of Pisces today — the astronomers think it is still in Aries where it was formerly, because they have not yet caught up with their notations — then it must have risen in primordial times in Pisces, too! When the number of years that it takes the sun to come full circle is calculated, the result is 25,920 years. It is the same ratio. Even the cosmic rhythm harmonizes with the faster rhythms of breathing and blood circulation. Just imagine how man stands with the cosmos! He is born completely from out the universe. His father and mother are originally in the universe.
One arrives at a completely different way of viewing man in relation to the universe than when one simply says that God created the world and man — a concept that doesn't require much thinking. But anthroposophy wishes to begin to think something in every instance. This is held against it. Why? Well, it takes no effort to say words that don't require thinking. In anthroposophy, however, one must exert oneself, and this makes people angry. One needn't strain oneself in today's science. All of a sudden here comes this upstart, anthroposophy, and one cannot sit as if in the cinema thoughtlessly watching a movie. People would even like to introduce movies into schools so that children wouldn't have to make an effort to learn. I am surprised that arithmetic has not been made into movies yet! Then along comes anthroposophy demanding that you don't sit around so idly but put your confounded skulls to use! And, that, no one wants to do.