The Evolution of the Earth and Man and The Influence of the Stars
Dornach, 7th July, 1924
Rudolf Steiner: Good morning, gentlemen! You will have realized from all we've said that our earth in its present form is only the last remains of what was once essentially different. If we want to compare its earlier condition with anything, we can only compare it really — as you have seen — with what one has in an egg cell. Our earth today has a solid kernel of all sorts of minerals and metals. And we have the air around us, and in the air two substances which especially affect us-we could not live without them: oxygen and nitrogen. We can say therefore that in the earth we have a hard kernel of all kinds of substances, seventy to eighty of them, and around us the air-envelope containing mainly nitrogen and oxygen.
Nitrogen and oxygen, however, are only the main constituents. The air always contains other substances, though in very small quantities, such as carbon, hydrogen, sulphur, among others. But these are also the substances contained in the white of an egg, in the white of a hen's egg. Oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon and sulphur! The difference is merely that in the egg white the sulphur, hydrogen and carbon are closely combined with the oxygen and nitrogen, while in the outer air they are present in a much looser way. So the same substances are in the air that are in the hen's egg. The same substances are present in a much smaller amount in the yolk, and we can therefore say that when it hardens, densifies, it becomes what the earth is. One must observe such things if one wants to know what the earth once looked like.
Today, however, things are done in quite a different way, and in order that your judgment of what I am telling you here may not be confused by what is commonly accepted, I would like to give you a small view of this general knowledge. It agrees perfectly with what I say if only one considers it in the right way.
People today do not think about things as we have done here in the last two lectures. They say: Here is the earth; it is made of mineral substance. This mineral earth is convenient to investigate, so let us examine first what lies on top, what we walk on. Then if we make quarries, if we make railway cuttings and open up the ground, we find there are certain layers or strata of earth. The uppermost layer is the one on which we walk. If we go somewhere or other into the depths, we find deeper-lying strata. But these strata are not always lying so nicely above one another that we can say: the one is always above the other.
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When you really examine the earth, here you have one stratum [See drawing-red], it is curved over, not level; another stratum below is also curved [green]. And above them comes the stratum on which we walk [white]. Now, as long as we remain on foot on this side of a hill we find an upper layer that could become good arable land if we would use the right manuring methods and so on. But if we are building a railway we may have to remove certain strata and by making these cuttings we come into the depths of the earth. That has led to the discovery that strata are superimposed on one another, not level, but they have been jumbled up in all sorts of ways.
But these strata are sometimes very remarkable. People have asked how one can determine the age of the strata — which layer is older. Of course the most obvious answer is this: When the strata lie above one another, then the lowest is the oldest, the next above, younger, and the one at the very top the youngest of all. But, you see, that is not always the case. In some places it is so, but not everywhere. And one can show in the following way why it is not the case everywhere.
We are accustomed, as you know, in our civilized lands to bury our domestic animals when they die, so that they may not be injurious to people. But if the human race were not so far evolved, what would happen with the animals then? Wherever the animal died, there it would lie. Now at first it remains on the surface. But, as you know, when it rains the soil gets washed up and after a time part of the decaying creature is mingled with the soil thrown up by the rain. There it will remain, and after some time the whole animal is penetrated with earth by the rain or by water that flows down over a slope and then the rest of the earth goes over the animal. Now someone can come along and say: Heavens! The earth looks so uneven there, I must dig and have a look! He need not dig very far, just a little, and then he finds what is left of the skeleton, let us say, of a wild horse. Then he says: Well, now I'm walking on a stratum that only appeared later, the one below was formed when there were wild horses like that. And one can know that that is the next stratum, that the age in which this man lives was preceded by an age in which these horses lived.
You see, what that man does is what the geologists have been doing with all the strata of the earth, ever since the time when they could be reached by quarries, railway cuttings, excavations, and so on. One learns in geology to investigate quarries everywhere, with a hammer or some other instrument, in order to record what is exposed in the mountains through landslides or something similar. One goes hammering everywhere, makes various statements and then one finds in some stratum the so-called fossils. Then one can say: There are strata beneath the ground that contain animals quite different from those of today. Then one discovers in excavating the earth's strata what the animals were like that existed in other ages.
This is nothing so very special, for people often underestimate the time it takes for something like this to happen. People find today in southern regions churches or other buildings just standing there. The people come along, do some digging for some reason or other, and Heavens! there's something under this church that is hard; that's not earth. They dig down and find a pagan temple underneath! What had happened? A relatively short time ago this surface layer on which the church or building stands was not there at all. It was pushed up by man, perhaps with the help of nature-forces, and underneath there is the pagan temple. What was once above, is now below. Layer upon layer has in fact been piled up in the earth. And one must find out, not from the way the strata lie, but from the nature of the fossils, how these animals and the various plants have come into the strata.
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Then, however, the following comes about: You find one layer of the earth [See drawing below, yellow], you find another [green]; you are able for some reason or other to excavate [arrow], and if you look merely at the stratification, then it seems as if what I have marked green were the lower layer and what I have marked yellow were the upper layer. You cannot get in here at all, you cannot excavate, there is no railway, no tunnel nor anything else by which one can get in. You make a note that the yellow is the upper stratum, the green the lower. But you must not decide immediately, you must first look for fossils.
Now one very frequently finds fossils in the upper stratum which are earlier, of fish, for example, strange fish-skeletons which are earlier. And perhaps below, one finds interesting mammal skeletons which are more recent. Now the fossils contradict the strata, up above appear the older, the earlier; below, the more recent, the younger. One must realize how that has happened. You see, it is because some sort of earthquake, some inner movement has flung what was below up above the top layer. It is the same as if I were to lay a chair on the table and the original position would be: here the chair-back and here the table-top, and then through an earthquake the table would be turned over the chair.
One can perceive in the most varied instances that there has been an inversion, a turning upside down. And one can come to the following conclusions as to when the inversion took place: It must have happened later than when all the animals were alive, it must have happened after the fossils were formed, otherwise they would lie differently.
One comes in this way not to judge the strata simply as they lie one above the other, but one must be able to see how they have changed their positions. The Alps, this mighty chain of mountains stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the region of the Danube, this main mountain range in Switzerland, is not to be understood at all unless one can go into such things. For all the strata that were built up in the Alps have later been thoroughly jumbled up. There what was lowest often lies at the top, and what was at the top is lowest of all. One must first find out how all these shifts have taken place.
It is only when all this is taken into account that one can tell which are the oldest strata and which are the newest. Modern natural science, only going by the externals of research, then naturally says: Those strata are the oldest in which the remains of the very simplest animals and plants are found. Later on, animals and plants grew more complicated, and so we find the most complicated remains in the latest strata. In the oldest strata one finds fossils because the calcium or quartz structure of the animal has been preserved, while everything else has been dissolved. When one comes to the later strata the skeleton has been preserved.
Now there is another remarkable way in which fossils are formed. Sometimes this is very interesting. Picture that there once existed some simple type of ancient creature; it had a body, perhaps with tentacles in front. I am drawing it rather large; in the strata known to geology it will as a rule be smaller. Now this creature perishes lying on this piece of ground, and this particular soil does not penetrate and permeate the creature; it avoids, so to say, the acids in the body. Then something very remarkable occurs: the earth in which the animal lies approaches it from all sides and envelops it, and a hollow space is made in the shape of the animal. That has happened very frequently; such hollow spaces are formed, earth is shaped around the animal. But there is nothing inside; the soil has not been absorbed by the body, but round about, because the animal was scaly, a hollow space is formed. Later, the scales are dissolved and still later a brook winds through.
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This then fills the hollow space with stony gravel, [green] and there within, a cast of the animal is finely modeled, by a quite different material. Such casts are particularly interesting, for there we don't have the animals themselves, but their casts.
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However, you must not imagine that things are always so easy. Of present man, for instance, with his organism of soft substance, there is extraordinarily little left — nor of the higher animals. There are animals of which only the casts of their teeth have remained. One finds casts of the teeth of a kind of primeval shark which were formed in this way. One comes to realize that every animal has its own form of teeth and man has a different form. The dental formation is always in keeping with the whole structure of the creature. One must have the talent to imagine the appearance of the whole animal from the form of its teeth. So things are by no means simple.
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But as one studies these strata one finds out how things really developed. And then it simply becomes clear that there was a time when such animals as we have now did not exist, when there were much, much simpler creatures, somewhat like our snails, mussels, and so on. But one has to know how much has remained of them. Let us imagine that the following could happen. Just suppose that a small boy who did not like to eat crab sneaked a crab from his parents' dinner-table and played with it. He is not caught and buries it in the garden. Now there is earth over it and the whole business is forgotten. Later the garden belongs to new owners; they dig about and in one place they see some funny little things looking like lime-shells. (You know about the so-called crab's eyes which are not eyes, but little lime-shells in the body of the crab.) Those are the only traces left.
Now one cannot say that those are fossils of some kind of animal; they are fossils of only part of the creature. Similarly in older strata, especially in the Alps, one finds some sort of fossil having that shell-like appearance. That is how they look; they no longer exist today but are found in the earlier strata. One must not suppose, however, that this had been the whole creature. One must assume that there was something around it that dissolved, and only a small piece of the animal is left.
Modern science goes into this very little. Why? Well, it simply says that in this mighty Alpine mass the layers have been mixed with one another, the lowest flung to the top, the uppermost to the lowest — that the strata show it. But can you imagine, gentlemen, that with the present earth-forces such massive mountains could be flung up in that way? The little that happens now on earth is by comparison a dancing through, one fleck lightly tossed on another — today that is all, a sort of dancing through!
If a man lived 720 years instead of seventy-two, he would experience in his old age that he was walking on ground a little higher than before. But we live too short a life. Just think if a fly that only lives from morning till evening were to relate what it experiences! Since it lives only in the summer, it would tell us of nothing but flowers, that there were always flowers. It would have no idea of what goes on in the winter; it would believe that each summer joined on to the one before. We human beings are certainly a little longer-lived than a one-day fly, but still we have a little of the fly nature with our seventy to seventy-two years! We see indeed little of what goes on. Even with the scanty forces prevailing today, there is no doubt that more happens than man usually sees. Yet, comparatively speaking, all that happens is that rivers flow along to the sea and leave alluvial soil behind. So a little soil is deposited, and this then reaches beyond the shores and the fields get a new stratum. That is comparatively little. When one considers how something like this great mountain mass of the Alps has been jolted and shaken through and through, it is obvious that the forces which are active today were active in quite a different way in earlier times.
But now we must try to picture how such a thing can happen. Take, for instance, an egg cell from some mammal. It looks at first quite simple, a nucleus in the center with an albuminous mass all around. Now suppose that the egg is fructified. When it is fructified, the nucleus changes into all sorts of little forms; it develops very strangely into a number of spirals that go up like tails. And then the moment these little coils arise, star-formed structures develop out of the mass. The whole mass comes into formation because there is life in it. What goes on there is very different from what goes on in our earth today. The upheavals and overturnings that are taking place in the egg cell are the same as what once took place in the massive Alps!
What then is more natural than to say: Well, then the earth must once have been alive, or these convulsions of inverting and overthrusting could not possibly have occurred! The present form of the earth does in fact show us that in past ages when neither man nor higher animal existed, the earth itself was alive. This obliges us to say that the present dead earth has come forth from a living earth. Yet animals can only live on this present dead earth! Just think if the oxygen and nitrogen in the air had not separated off and had not condemned hydrogen, carbon and sulphur to an almost complete passivity: we would then have to breathe in something like egg white — for that was what surrounded the earth.
Now we could imagine — for anything can happen in this world! — that instead of our lungs, we had developed organs able to draw in an albuminous atmosphere like that. Today, of course, we can take it in as food through the mouth. Why could not a sort of lung-organ have evolved, up nearer to the mouth? Anything can originate in this world; any possible thing might come about — even though we would never guess at such changes from observing man's present body. But think, gentlemen — we look today into lifeless air. It has died. Formerly the albumen was living. The air has died because the sulphur, hydrogen and carbon have gone and the nitrogen and oxygen have therefore also perished. We gaze into light-filled air that has died, but this has allowed our eyes to be physical, as they are indeed physical. If everything in our surroundings were living, then our eyes would have to be living too. But if they were living, we would be unable to see with them, and we would always be in a state of unconsciousness: just as a person becomes unconscious when there begins to be too much life in his head, when instead of the regularly developed organs he has all sorts of growths. He is then unconscious intermittently, and later it becomes so severe that he lies there as if he were dead. Likewise in our original condition on the earth, as it was then, we could not have lived consciously. The human being could only awake to consciousness as the earth gradually died. And so mankind evolves on an earth that is dead.
So it is, gentlemen! And this is true not only of nature but also of civilization. If you think back to what I said just now — that below the earth there could be pagan temples and above Christian churches — you will see that the Christian churches are related to the pagan temples just as the upper strata to the lower, only that in one case we have to do with nature, in the other with culture. But one will not understand how the Christian element evolved if one does not observe that it evolved out of paganism as its foundation. In culture too we have to consider these strata.
Now I have said that the human being has actually been there all the time, but as a spiritual being, not a physical being. And that again leads us to look for the real reason why man did not evolve as a physical being earlier. We have said that in the air today there are nitrogen and oxygen, with carbon, hydrogen and sulphur to a lesser degree. In our breathing we ourselves unite the carbon that is in us with the oxygen we inhale and exhale the two together as carbon dioxide. In our human existence we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide; our life consists of that. We would long, long ago have filled the earth and the air of the earth with carbon dioxide had there not been something else on the earth: the plants. They have the same hunger for carbon that we have for oxygen. They take up the carbon dioxide eagerly, hold on to the carbon and give out the oxygen again.
You see, gentlemen, how wonderfully these things complement each other! We human beings need the oxygen out of the air, we inhale it, unite it with the carbon we have within us and exhale carbon and oxygen together as carbon dioxide. The plants breathe this in and breathe the oxygen out again, and so there is always oxygen in the air.
Well, this is true today but in human evolution on the earth it was not always like that. When we find the fossilized creatures that lived long ago, we realize that they could not have been like our modern animals and plants, particularly not like our present plants. All the primeval plants must have been much more like our sponges, mushrooms, algae. There is a difference between our mushrooms and our other present plants. The latter take in the carbon and form their body from it. When they sink into the ground, their body remains as coal. The coal we mine today is the remains of plants.
All the research we are able to pursue into the kinds of plants that originally existed tells us the following: Our present plants, including the plants which are now providing us with coal, are built up from carbon. But much earlier plants were formed not from carbon but from nitrogen. That was possible because just as carbon dioxide is exhaled today by animal and man, in ancient times a combination of carbon and nitrogen was exhaled. That is prussic acid, the terribly poisonous hydrocyanic acid fatal to all life today. This poisonous prussic acid was once exhaled, and nothing that exists today could then have arisen. The early mushroom-like plants took in the nitrogen and formed their body from it. The creatures about which I spoke last time, the bird-like beings and the heavy, coarse animal-beings, breathed out this poisonous acid, and the plants around them took the nitrogen to form their plant-body. Here, too, we can see that substances still existing today were used in quite a different way in ancient times.
I spoke of this once before to those of you who have been here for some time. I related how in 1906 I had to give some lectures in Paris (see Note 4) on the evolution of the earth, the origin of man, and so forth. The subject led me to say: Can anything in this world show that carbon and oxygen have not always had the role they play today, that nitrogen once had that role, and that once the atmosphere consisted of prussic acid, of hydrocyanic acid?
Now you know that there are old people and young children. Well, if a man of seventy stands here and a child of two next to him, they are both human beings; they stand beside each other, and the one who is now seventy was like the two-year-old sixty-eight years ago. Things of different ages stand side by side. And it is the same in the universe; there, too, the older and the younger are side by side. Our earth, from what I have just now described and what you can still see today, our earth is a greybeard, an ancient fellow, almost dead already-if one does not count the life newly sprung up, one can call it almost dead. But at its side in the universe there are again younger forms which will only later become what our present life is. For instance, we must regard the comets as one of these. We can know, therefore, that since the comets are younger, they must still have conditions that belong to a younger age. The comets are to the earth what the child is to the old man. And if the earth once had prussic acid, the comets must now have it, they must have hydrocyanic acid! If with today's body one were to touch a comet, one would instantly die. It is diluted prussic acid that is in them.
I said in Paris in 1906 that this follows from the premises of spiritual science. Those who acknowledge spiritual science accepted my statement even though it astonished them. Then later, a fairly long time afterward, a comet made its appearance. By that time people had got the necessary instruments and it was then found by ordinary scientific methods that comets do have cyanide, prussic acid, as I had said in Paris in 1906. So it was confirmed.
Naturally, when people hear of this, they call it a coincidence: Oh sure, Steiner made that statement in Paris, and then there was the discovery — just a coincidence. They say this because they know nothing else. But I have now told you why one must take it for granted that there is prussic acid in the comets. It was no accident, it was genuine science by which one first reached this knowledge. Physical research only confirmed it later. People realize now that this is true for all that anthroposophy sets forth; for everything is confirmed later. Quite a number of things will be discovered today outside the Anthroposophical Movement that were already given out many years ago by anthroposophy in a rather different way.
Yes, there are many other things that could be carefully investigated today by science. I am always saying that if people could really travel to a star, they would be amazed to find it different from the modern ideas about it determined by their life on earth. They imagine that it contains a glowing gas. But that is not at all what is found out there. Actually, where the star is, there is empty space, empty space that would immediately suck one up. Suction forces are there. They would suck you up instantly, split you to pieces. If people would work with the same consistent research and the same unprejudiced thinking as we do here, they would also come to see with intricate spectroscopes that there are not gases out there, but negative suctional space.
Some time ago I gave certain individuals the task of investigating the sun and stars with the spectroscope, simply in order to prove by external methods that the stars are hollow spaces, not glowing gases. That can be proved. The persons to whom I gave this task were tremendously enthusiastic when they started: “Oh! then we shall get somewhere!” But sometimes enthusiasm fades away; they delayed too long. And then a year-and-a-half ago news came from America that people were starting to investigate the stars and were gradually finding out that they were not glowing gases but hollowed-out space! It is no disaster, of course, for such a thing to happen. But naturally, it would have been more useful to us – externally — if we had done it. But it doesn't matter, as long as truth comes to light.
On the other hand, however, it can be seen through just such things that anthroposophy really wants to work in collaboration with ordinary science. So it would also like to work with ordinary science on the strata of the earth. One thoroughly accepts what science has to say about the upheavals and overturnings in the Alps. But one cannot go along with the scientists when they assume that these upheavals were caused by forces that are still existing today. The fact is that there were life-forces there then; only life-forces could have flung and tossed these strata of living substance through one another. Anthroposophy already incorporates ordinary science and extends far beyond it, but science always wants to stop whenever it is too lazy to approach things more closely.
So — we will continue on Wednesday at nine o'clock.