Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Learning to See in the Spiritual World
GA 350

III. Developing Honesty in Thinking

7 July 1923, Dornach

In the last lecture I told you that contemporary humanity cannot know anything because our thinking nowadays does not lead to real knowledge. In earlier times, say a thousand or fifteen hundred years ago, whoever wanted to learn anything had to undergo special training in thinking. People did not believe that they could understand anything of the spiritual world with their ordinary, everyday thinking, and therefore there existed a kind of schooling of thinking. Today, on the other hand, none of the education we receive enables us to educate our thinking in any real way.

This means that we are quite unable to think. I will give you an example that you probably saw in the newspaper a few days ago.6The report appeared in the Basler Nachrichten, July 5, 1923. There was an article on a very common dream, a recurrent dream of flying. We can all remember dreams of flying, floating, or falling. Such dreams often occur soon after we go to bed. But you know all this. In this article a writer, versed only in today's natural scientific thinking, attempts to explain this kind of dream. You will see that this kind of thinking leads nowhere in such matters. He says: "This dream of flying, according to Dr. Richard Traugott, is actually induced or triggered by a contraction of the body." What is the writer saying here, what does he believe? He thinks that at the time of going to sleep the body contracts or twitches. But, I ask you, has it not happened to you that you have had this same experience when you are awake? And when does it happen to you? As far as my own experience goes, this kind of sudden jolt or start happens when you are afraid. It is when you experience something startling or frightening that you experience that kind of bodily jerking or contracting. The same thing can happen if, let's say, you go out onto the street and you see a man whom you believed to be in America. At the moment you notice him, your body is jolted—because you are surprised. Now you could not imagine that starting with what has just been described you would feel yourself flying! The problem is that people can invent all kinds of ideas, but those ideas do not particularly fit the observation. The thoughts seem to fit as long as one makes experiments in the laboratory with lifeless matter; but the minute one tries to explain something real, they don't fit anymore.

Let us continue with this writer. He says: "The cause of this contraction resides in the difference of muscle tension in sleeping and in waking. In the waking state there is a constant flow of energy from the central nervous system to the muscles." He assumes that in the waking state there are constant electric currents moving between the muscles and the nerves. "These energy currents create the muscle tension necessary for the maintenance of the bodily balance that the harmonious interplay of the musculature requires. In sleep this muscle tension largely disappears. During the period of going to sleep the reflexivity of the spinal cord actually increases, and thus the relaxation of the muscle tension, or rather the stimulus that this process exerts on the spinal cord, easily leads to this twitching reflex." So presumably, in the nervous system of the spinal cord there is a stimulus that is continuous and that increases the muscle tension. The writer goes on: "Other sensations that exist in our organs, particularly the rising and falling movements of the chest musculature and the rib cage, may even more directly influence the development of this feeling of flying, floating in the air, or swimming." In other words, muscle tension increases, contracting the body to such an extent that finally, when we are asleep, we experience a condition like that of flying or swimming.

Now, after all this, just think back in your own experience to when you were breathless (panting) and your chest was tight. Did it ever occur to you that you were having a swimming sensation—not to mention the sensation of flying? On the contrary, in such moments you feel particularly heavy. The article goes on to say other things. For instance, attention is called to the amount of pressure and resistance we feel, when awake, on our bodies where they rest on something. Then, supposedly, when we fall asleep, we become aware of the lack of pressure and resistance. But really, gentlemen, this doesn't make sense. After all, when we are awake and walk, we actually are supported only on a very small surface! We feel that we are walking on the soles of our feet. Of course, when we sit down, we are resting on a larger surface than the soles of our feet. But even if you were to add the surface area of both these places where the body contacts the outside world, this still does not compare to the surface we need when we are asleep. So, as you can see, this kind of thinking really leads one to talk nonsense. This kind of thinking is what passes for science today. Our same scientist tells us that the electric currents in the nerves are stronger when we are asleep; they stimulate the muscles, and they cause the sensation of flying—so that one believes one is flying. Or he tells us that the support disappears when we sleep! One can hardly believe what he goes on to say, for he speaks of: "the disappearance of the perception of pressure and resistance, that in the waking state is present in all the parts of the body that need a support . ." It is not to be believed that he could fail to take into account that there is a much larger surface being used in sleep. But he doesn't care about this, because contemporary thinking never really reaches any real explanations or clarifies what really happens when we go to sleep.

Let me now clarify what really happens when we go to sleep. From this you will see how one can really achieve insight into the higher, spiritual world. First I will show you this in an image. Remember that this is only an image! Let's assume you have here someone's physical body. (He draws it on the blackboard, left) Within it, there is an etheric, supersensible body—I will draw it in yellow. This fills out the physical body and is invisible. When we are asleep, these two bodies remain behind in the bed. When we are awake, the astral body is also within those two bodies—I will draw the astral body in red here. Within the astral body there is the ego, the fourth member—I will show it in violet. This, then, is the human being when awake: physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego—inserted one within the other.

Let us now look at our sleeper: when he is in bed, he has only a physical body and an etheric body (drawing, center). Outside these are his astral body and ego (drawing, right). What lies in the bed therefore may be compared to a plant, for the plant also has a physical body and an etheric body. If a plant had no etheric body it would be a stone, and it would not be alive and could not grow. So what is lying in bed is like a plant—the plant does not think, and what lies in bed does not think in the sense of conscious thought. But it is also true that thoughts are in there somewhere, as I have already explained to you; and sometimes these thoughts are even more clever than those we use when we are conscious. However, there are no daytime thoughts such as we are used to, and in this respect what lies in bed is like a plant.

But when we describe what lives outside that which lies in bed, this feels no boundaries. You can start to have an explanation of this, if you notice that when you leave the boundaries of your body, your consciousness disappears. When you are in your physical body, your astral body has to be as big as it is; but when you leave it, then your astral body suddenly grows—it grows to gigantic dimensions, because the physical body no longer contains it and makes it small. At the moment you go to sleep, at the moment you move out of your physical body, you feel as if you were growing larger and larger.

Now, let's say you drink a glass of something. I guess I'd better not talk about a glass of alcohol, or else the word would be spread that I speak in favor of alcohol. As you know this is a rather unpleasant issue in Switzerland these days. So let us say you drink a glass of water with a little raspberry juice. If you put some raspberry juice in a glass of water, you can taste the raspberry juice easily. If, however, instead of a glass, you take a small bucket containing the equivalent of five bottles of water, and if you put only the same amount of raspberry juice in it as you put earlier in your glass, the raspberry juice is diluted—spread out over a much larger amount of water. You have much less of the raspberry taste. When I was a little boy, I grew up in the vicinity of a winery. There were big cellars with barrels of 400 buckets of wine. If we had filled one of these with water instead of wine and had added a little raspberry juice and stirred it, you could have drunk the water without at all realizing there was raspberry juice present. This is clear, I am sure. Now, gentlemen, as long as the astral body is as small as the physical body it is like the raspberry juice in the glass of water; your astral body expands only to the limit of your physical body. But when you leave the physical body in sleep, it no longer contains the astral. The astral body spreads out, just as the raspberry juice spreads out in the 400 buckets of water. Therefore in your astral body you have no consciousness. Consciousness is created through the fact that the astral body is concentrated or contracted.

Here you have a true explanation for what actually happens when you go to sleep. As long as we are awake, our astral body is in our fingers and our toes, in all our muscles. When we feel the astral body in our muscles, we have the feeling of being dependent on our physical body. The physical body is heavy. We feel the heaviness of the physical body. In the moment we leave the physical body, we leave behind its heaviness. In this brief moment before consciousness has completely disappeared in sleep, we no longer feel the heaviness. We do not feel that we are falling, for in fact we are rising; we feel, rather, that we are floating into the air. This sense of not being bound to a physical body, this sense of enlargement, is what we experience as flying or swimming. We can feel ourselves moving freely until consciousness disappears and we go to sleep completely. In contrast to what has just been described, all the natural scientist can say is: our muscles twitch. And, as you well know, when our muscles twitch we feel them more than we usually do, and when that happens, it does not make us feel that we are flying—on the contrary, that is when we feel most narrowly tied to the physical. Another example is that when someone is surprised—Wow!—his mouth gapes open. This is because he is then so much connected with his muscles that he can no longer control them. The experiences of one's muscles twitching in surprise, or loosing control when "wowed," are the opposite of those prevailing when we go to sleep. When we go to sleep, we leave behind our muscles; therefore there cannot be a contraction of the muscles. When we lie down and rest on a larger surface of our bodies, there is rather a relaxation of the muscles. We do not need to hold our muscles together by means of our astral body. They relax, they do not become tenser. Because we no longer need to exert an influence on them, we believe that we are free of our muscles, and because of this we fly away with our lighter astral body.

Now consider for a moment what I told you last time about learning to think in a way opposite to our everyday thinking. Here you can see how today's ordinary thinking, when trying to explain the human being, results in the opposite of the truth. Therefore the first thing you must do is to think correctly—which really means being able to think the opposite of what holds true in the physical world.

People have lost the habit of thinking correctly. They can no longer think in such a way that they can reach the spiritual world through thinking.

There are many people today who speak our language, and this language contains the word "spirit," so they use it. The problem is that they no longer have any real picture of what the word "spirit" means. They can make mental pictures only of physical things. But if we want to think of the spiritual, we come to something without physical characteristics, and therefore to something that you cannot perceive in the physical world. But thinking nowadays is so tainted that people actually wish to see the spiritual world in a physical way. As a result of this, they become what we call spiritists. They say to themselves: If a physical body can move a table, the fact that I can do this means I exist. Then they continue: If a spirit exists, it must also be able to move a table. And this is how the practice of "table-tapping" originated. People rely on table-tapping for signals from the spiritual world. This is because their thinking has become twisted or warped. Their thinking is materialistic in nature. It says: I must have the spiritual, but I must have it in a physical guise. Spiritism is the most materialistic concept of all, and it is very important to understand that.

Now perhaps someone will say: But I have been present where people sat around a table and linked hands in a chain, and the table started to move and hop around, and all kinds of things of that sort. The external facts are true. It is quite possible to sit around a table, to make a chain of hands, and at some point the table will be set in motion. But this is the case when any small motion in some way starts a larger motion. If we have a railroad train with a locomotive and an engineer, the driver does not get out of his engine and go to the back of the train and start pushing it when he wants to start moving. In fact, he would not be able to do that. He would never be able to set a train into fast motion in this way. As you well know, the engineer makes a very small motion, and the train soon starts to move very fast and pull many cars. Why? Because the connections are established in the right way so as to result in the train moving. In this way, physically, a very small motion starts a larger motion.

This is the case in the purely physical process of people creating a chain of hands around a table. They then start to twitch very slightly and, lo, and behold! from these small motions a larger motion results. This motion is transferred through the material plane. But this is really a very ordinary physical event.

Now, if there is one person among those present at the table-tapping who has any thoughts in his subconscious, then these thoughts are translated into the twitching of the finger tips, causing a response, which forms letters which we can then read. However, what we read as an answer in such cases was always present somewhere in the subconscious of one of the people there. This is true, no matter how clever the answers seem to be. I have explained to you that when a person enters into the subconscious, he is entering something much more profound than his ordinary consciousness. This is can be seen in the practice of table-tapping. Nevertheless, the fact of people turning to spiritism is proof of the strength of materialism in our time.

Ordinary thinking does not bring us to any true explanation of what a human being is. That was obvious from the newspaper article I mentioned here today wherein there was an attempt simply to explain a flying dream. The author of the article explains it in exactly the opposite way to which it should be explained. People no longer seem able to study things of real interest. I have often talked to you about dreams. Let me now repeat a few important facts.

Let's say someone dreams he is in Basel in some town square. Suddenly—in dreams everything is possible—he finds himself standing in front of a fence.

The fence has pickets: here one, there another; and here one is missing and there is a gap; and then another picket, and another gap. Now he dreams that he wants to jump over the fence, and he impales himself on one of the pickets, and this hurts—hurts so much that he wakes up and notices that he has not been impaled, but rather that he has a terrible toothache. He has a toothache and it wakes him up. He has a missing tooth in his upper jaw and he also has another missing tooth and this is what he saw in his dream picture as missing pickets in a fence. There was an exact correspondence to his upper jaw and its missing teeth. He then touches one of his teeth and he finds out which one hurts him. There is a cavity, and it hurts. One can certainly have such a dream.

What is really happening here? This whole episode was actually played out in the dreamer's waking life. You can really say: So long as I was asleep, I was happy; I did not feel my awful toothache. Why not? It is because the astral body was outside the physical body, and the etheric body does not feel the toothache. You can hit a stone as much as you want, and even break little pieces off it, but the stone as such does not feel it. You can tear a plant and the plant will not feel it, because it does not have an astral body—it has only an etheric body. You would soon stop picking roses and other flowers in the meadows, if the plants were to hiss like snakes because it hurt them. However, it does not hurt the plant, and a human being, when asleep, is like a plant. As long as we are asleep, the tooth does not hurt. But when the astral body slips back into the physical body, as soon as this happens, we 'inhabit' our teeth. Then, you see, the astral body is in the teeth. Only when we are completely in our body do we feel what hurts our body. When we are not quite within our body, what hurts appears to us as an external object.

Say, for instance, I burn a match: when looked at from without I will see it burning white. But if I had somehow lived within that match with my conscious astral body, I would not have only seen it externally. I would have felt it as a pain! In the case of the teeth, until I am fully in my body, when I first slip in, I feel them as if they were external objects, and I therefore make an external picture of them for myself that in some way resembles some aspect of them. Since I cannot make quite the right picture, which I could do only through spiritual science, I make a picture of a row of pickets instead of a row of teeth. Where there are gaps in my row of teeth, I have gaps in the row of pickets. As you can see, as a result of the confused picture that arises as a consequence of not quite being fully in the body, there is an error. Because when we are asleep we are outside our bodies, the inner is interpreted as the outer. I have been able to study what happens in such cases when observing little children as I taught them. They have no feeling as yet for the correct use of speech and I have often experienced that a child who has just started to write "Zahn," the word for tooth, will instead write "Zaun," the German word for fence. Such a child has to be told that this is false, wrong. Somehow the child was scared entering his body—not leaving it, but entering it. This does not cause a flying dream but a fearful dream, a nightmare. The child has a nightmare and somehow expresses this in the form of the fence dream. There is a connection between the child's misuse of words and the images of the dream. The images of the dream come into existence through words. There are always verbal connections. These help us to see more clearly what is really happening.

The man I referred to before—Richard Traugott—has written a great deal about dreams, most of it is as absurd as what he wrote about the flying dream.7For example: The Dream, Psychologically and Cultural-Historically Viewed, Würzburg, 1913. When he speaks, equipped with ordinary science, he says exactly the opposite of what is actually the case. He does not understand that because the astral body grows larger when leaving the physical body it perceives itself as flying, and that when it is forced to shrink on reentering it pictures itself as someone (or something) who is squeezed somehow. The muscles tighten, causing an anxiety dream. The anxiety dream occurs precisely when the man who wrote the article would claim that there should be a flying dream. It is also possible to have anxiety dreams when the process of going to sleep does not proceed properly. Let's say, for example, that you are lying down and you have the sensation that you are being strangled by someone. This can happen if you are in the process of going to sleep and somewhere there is a disturbance, so that you cannot go to sleep, but you keep trying to do so anyway. You pass in and out of sleep, and returning into your body correctly is not quite possible because you are still tired. This can be felt as a strangling sensation, because the astral body is being forced in some way, and cannot quite enter correctly. Knowing this kind of thing, you can explain all these matters much better.

This brings us to the fact that one more thing is necessary if we really want to know the spiritual world. One must be absolutely clear about the fact that the physical body is not involved here. One must be able to live in the astral body alone, in a way that does not involve the physical body at all. If one wants to know the spiritual world, one must induce a sleeplike condition in oneself. In ordinary life this occurs only when one slips out of one's physical body, which is viewed externally as the condition of sleep. But as I mentioned in my example of the raspberry juice in the large casks of water, in sleep the astral body (or juice) normally becomes gigantic and this must not be allowed to happen. The astral body must be held together through an inner effort of another body. Do not think now about the astral body and the human ego, just think again about the image of the drops of raspberry juice. Create a vivid image of a glass of water with only one drop of raspberry juice in it. The raspberry juice expands in the water to the limit of the glass, but it is still perceptible. But if you assume a container a hundred thousand times larger, then you would not be able to perceive anything of the juice, and this is comparable to our normal inner experience in sleep. Now, imagine for a moment that this drop of raspberry juice takes on an impish character. I put this impish drop in a cask with four hundred buckets of water; it has a real temper and says to itself: I am not going to let myself get mixed up in all this water, I am going to remain myself. Were this to happen, you would then have a huge casket with one drop of raspberry juice in it; and if you reached this drop with the tip of your tongue, if you went through all that water to the exact spot where the raspberry juice held itself together, then you would actually taste the sweetness of that single drop.

I must stress here that I am speaking only metaphorically about the raspberry juice with its impish character. The opponents of Anthroposophy can be quite funny at times. There was once an article in a Hamburg newspaper in which Anthroposophy was insulted from all possible sides; and there, it is true, I was actually seen as an imp or devil, and in that case indeed it was meant very seriously, as if I myself were not just an imp but the devil's own helper—as if I were the very devil come into the world. To return therefore to the image I gave you: the drop of raspberry juice is only a devil's imp insofar as it can keep itself quite small when it is put into the water.

In the case of the astral body, it is possible for it to stay as small when it leaves the physical body as it is when it is within the physical body; but it can develop the forces necessary to do this only by learning to think sharp, well-honed thoughts. I told you we must develop independent thinking. This independent thinking is much stronger than the weak thinking possessed by most people.

The first requirement for knowledge of the spiritual world is very sharp and well-honed thinking. The second requirement is the ability to think backward. The outer physical world proceeds forward, therefore one needs to learn to think in reverse. This strengthens one's thinking. One must learn that truth which I told you about last time: the part is greater than the whole. This once again is something that contradicts what the physical world seems to indicate; but if one can do this one can put oneself into the spiritual world. All these things I have mentioned cause the astral body to remain small in spite of the fact it is not contained in the physical body—so that it does not simply flow out into the common astral ocean.

All these requirements fit together, but you must be careful that all these things are taken with the same sobriety and the same scientific attitude with which the physical world is ordinarily examined. The moment we slip into fantasy, we are finished with the scientific. Our clear and definite approach must never be allowed to turn into fantasy.

Let's take the case when one has a pain in one's big toe. You feel this pain through your astral body. If we had only a physical body, we would not feel the pain; and likewise if we had only an etheric body, we would not feel the pain. If this were not true, the plant would squeal when it was plucked! But we squeal when we have a pain in our big toe—of course, we don't actually squeal, but you know what I mean. We all feel like making a noise when we experience a pain of this kind. Why is this?

Our astral body is spread throughout our whole physical body, and when our astral body reaches the spot where something in our big toe is out of order, this is brought up to the brain by the astral body, and we have a mental picture of our pain. But let's assume someone has a sick brain that does not allow him to register the pain in his big toe in that certain spot in the brain where it is normally felt. One needs a healthy place in one's brain to be able to register the pain in one's big toe. Assuming this spot in the brain is sick, and remembering what I have told you—that neither the soul nor the astral body can become sick—the pain in your big toe cannot be registered. What happens under these conditions? The specific place in the individual's physical brain is sick, but this still leaves the etheric aspect of the brain. The etheric aspect of the brain that remains is not properly supported by the physical part, and we may therefore ask: What will the etheric body do in such a case? The etheric body makes a great deal of this toe; not only does it notice it, it makes a mountain of it. The pain to the etheric body will appear to us as little beings, little mountain-climbing beings sitting in this mountain. So here we have the big toe transferred into a spatial picture, into a large space—just because the brain is sick. If this were to happen to you, you would swear that there was a mountain in front of you. In actuality this mountain is only your big toe, and it is clear that this is a delusion. It is very important to protect oneself from such sick delusions when one penetrates into the spiritual world, or else one can slip into total fantasy. How can we avoid these delusions? This has to be done through real schooling. We must learn what can result when the physical body becomes sick in any way, so that we will not be confused when merely physical manifestations appear to be real spiritual occurrences! For this reason we must learn truly active thinking, thinking backwards, thinking such as I described last time—a thinking very different from our ordinary thinking in the physical world. In this way one will be protected against delusion, and one will recognize the physical origin of what we have just described. In earlier times people were prepared so to penetrate safely into the spiritual world. There was a real method or art of preparation, which was called dialectic. This meant that people really had to learn to think. Nowadays, if one were to suggest to people that they must first learn to think, they would pull our hair out—for everyone is convinced that they already know how to think. But if one looks back to earlier times, it is actually true that there was a real schooling of thinking, or a dialectic. One had to be able to think both forward and backward, and one had to be able to form concepts in the right way.

How, we might ask, did this training take place? It took place through the activity of speaking, and at the same time as one spoke, one learned to think. I have just given you an example of this, when I talked of children first learning to speak and then learning to think. But of course such thinking is at first entirely childlike. Nowadays this childlike thinking is preserved by people throughout life, although it is worthless in later life. If one were to continue to learn thinking through speaking this way, then one would have to ensure that with each in-breath and each out-breath the air moved correctly in and out for correct speaking is connected with correct breathing. For speaking to be rightly connected to the breathing process the air must come in and go out in the proper manner.

Much depends on one's being prepared for correct speaking, because correct speaking prepares one for correct breathing. Whoever knows how to breathe correctly can also speak for a long time without becoming tired. Through the art of dialectic, one once learned how to speak and breathe correctly, and therefore how to think properly. These days, however, people are no longer able to think properly, for their breath keeps bumping into the organ of their breathing at every moment. Just listen to some academics when they speak. First of all, they do not speak very much in general; they usually read, and they use their eyes very much for support. But if you listen to an academic speaking, for the most part it is as if the person were short of breath. It is as if he were constantly bumping into his own body.

For this reason everything that is said becomes a picture of the physical body. Whether one has a sick spot in one's brain, and consequently makes a mountain, with mountain spirits, out of a painful big toe; or whether one keeps bumping into oneself with one's breath whenever one thinks, with the result that true thinking cannot emerge—it is all the same. Because your breath is constantly bumping into your physical body, you will perceive the whole world as a physical phenomenon. Now, what really is the source of this materialism? Materialism comes from two facts: people do not know how to think correctly, and they do not breathe out correctly. It seems to them as if the whole world were made up of pressure and thrust—which they have in themselves—because they have not been prepared through right thinking. Therefore we can say: A person is a materialist because he cannot get out of himself; inwardly, he keeps bumping into himself.

Let us return for a moment to Mr. Traugott. What he should really say is that the flying dream is caused by the fact that we go out of ourselves, and the astral body starts to grow larger. However, he does not conclude this. He thinks, indeed he thinks a great deal. And what happens if someone wants to think, and think some more, when in fact he is unable to think? What really happens? First of all, you will see him frown, and if this doesn't help he will hit his forehead and thus tighten his muscles, and then he tightens them some more, and he may even hit himself again so that his muscles are really tight. What is Mr. Traugott really doing when he is thinking about dreams. Instead of looking at things as they really are, he tightens his own muscles, and what he finds is what he himself is doing—muscle tension. I've got it he says: the dream is caused by muscle tension! He confuses his own attempt at thinking about dreams with reality. We can all learn something from Mr. Traugott. We can learn what is happening to him when he thinks about things, and when you yourself read the story. What happens today when we read what people print is that we learn what they themselves imagine is true. Whenever we read the newspapers today, we have to say we really learn very little about what is really happening in the world, but we do learn what the people who sit in the editorial rooms would like to be happening in the world.

The same is true of today's materialistic science. Through it you will not learn what the world is; rather, you will learn what materialist professors think about the world. If you penetrate this a little, you will see that Anthroposophy has no intention of deceiving the world, but in fact it wants to put honesty in the place of deception and illusion, and in place of what is often untrue, very often consciously so.

You may see from this discussion that honesty, inner honesty, is the fourth quality that must be present if we are to be able to reach into the spiritual world. If you contemplate the world in this way, you will see there is very little honesty operating in the world, and it is no surprise that not much of it can be seen in science.

We have therefore seen four required qualities: independent thinking, thinking not linked to the outer world, thinking whose quality is completely different from the physical world, and thinking honestly. We will look at other characteristics next time.