Dornach, 9th August, 1924
Rudolf Steiner: Good morning, gentlemen! Perhaps someone has a question? We will not be able to meet again for a little while.
Herr Erbsmehl: I have a rather complicated question. I don't quite know how to put it. One knows that plants have different scents. This is also true of the various human races. You have already spoken to us, Dr. Steiner, about the evolution of humanity. A factor in this evolution must have been that each kind of being acquired what would benefit it. Different smells can be associated with the various races. so there must be some spiritual connection. Just as the plants have their scent from the earth, so the different races of human beings must have acquired their smell. How does this relate to human evolution?
Dr. Steiner: I will try to put the question in a way that will lead to what you have in mind. You have been thinking, have you not, of different kingdoms of nature: plants, animals, human beings. Also, we must not forget, minerals have different odors. Now smell is only one sense-perception and there are many other kinds. So perhaps we could say, the question is how the different smells belonging to the different beings of nature are related to the origin of these beings.
Well, let us first consider what causes smell. What is smell? You must realize first of all that people have varying reactions to a smell coming from an object or from other products of nature. For instance, in a place where people are drinking wine, someone who is a wine-drinker himself hardly notices the smell, while someone who never touches wine finds it extremely unpleasant either to be in a room where others are drinking wine or in a place where wine is stored. It is the same with other things. For instance, there are people, usually women, who can't stay in a room where there is a dog even for a short time without getting a headache. Different beings, therefore, are sensitive to smells in different ways. This makes it difficult at the very outset to get at the truth.
But what has been said applies not only to smell; it applies equally to other sense-perceptions. Imagine for a moment that standing where you are, you put your hand into water of, say 79 degrees or 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The water will not seem particularly cold. But if you have previously had your hand for some time in water of 86 degrees and then you plunge it into water of 80 degrees, the water will seem colder than it did before. This can be carried further. Think of a red surface. If the background is white, the red will seem very vivid to you. But if you paint the background blue, the red surface will lose some of its vividness. Everything, therefore, depends very largely upon how the human being himself is related to the things. This has led to the opinion that man does not perceive objects in themselves but only the effect they have upon him. We have spoken of this before. But we must get to the truth behind such things.
There is no question that a violet is easily distinguishable from the asafetida by its smell. The violet has a scent that is always pleasant; the asafetida has a smell that is offensive, that we want to avoid. It is also correct that different races have different smells. Someone with, shall I say, a sensitive nose will certainly be able to distinguish a Japanese from a European by their smell.
Now we must be clear as to what it is that causes smell. The fact of the matter is that any object with a smell or scent emits something that comes toward our own body in a gaseous or airy form. When nothing of this kind comes toward us, we cannot smell the object. And these gaseous substances must come into contact with our organ of smell, our nose. We can't smell a liquid as liquid, we can only taste it. We can smell a liquid only when it emits air, that is to say, gaseous substance. We don't smell our foodstuffs because they are fluid but because they emit air which then passes into us through our nose.
There are people who can't smell at all. The whole world is devoid of smell as far as they are concerned. Only recently I met a man whose incapacity to smell is a severe handicap to him because his work requires that he should be able to distinguish things by their scent. His defect is a grave disadvantage. The cause is, of course, imperfectly developed olfactory nerves.
And now let us ask: how is it that bodies or objects emit gas which may have a particular smell? Objects or bodies can be classified. There are solid bodies — they were called earthy bodies in earlier times; there are fluid bodies-they were called watery bodies in earlier times. People used to call water what we no longer classify as water. In earlier times everything fluid was called water, even quicksilver. Then there are gaseous or aeriform bodies. If we think of these three kinds of bodies — solid, fluid, and gaseous — one fact is particularly striking. Water is certainly fluid, but when it freezes to ice, it becomes a solid body. A metal — lead, for instance — is solid, but when you heat the lead sufficiently it becomes fluid, like water. So these different substances — solid, fluid, gaseous substances — can be led over into the other conditions. Even air can be solidified today, or in any case liquefied, and there is every expectation of being able to carry this further. Any object or body can be either solid, fluid or gaseous.
Any object that has a smell contains gas imprisoned, as it were, within it. We don't smell a solid body as such or a fluid body as such: we always smell a gas. But now, a violet is certainly not a gaseous body and yet we can smell it. Of what is a violet composed? It is obviously solid, yet it has scent. We must picture to ourselves that it contains solid constituents and between them something that vaporizes as gas. The violet contains gas that can vaporize. In order that this may be possible, the violet must be attracted to certain forces. When you pick a violet, you really only pick the solid part of it and you look at this solid part. But actually the violet does not only consist of the solid part that you pick. What the violet is, is enshrined in this solid part. One can say that the real violet, that which gives forth the fragrance, is actually a gas. It is there within the petals and the other parts of the flower — just as you stand in your shoes or boots. You are not your boots. And what has fragrance in the violet is not its solid part but its gaseous part.
When people look out into the universe they think that space is empty and that the stars are in this empty space. In times gone by, peasants believed that there was emptiness all around them as they moved about. Today everyone knows that there is air around us, not emptiness. So, too, we can know that in the universe there is no emptiness anywhere; either matter is there or spirit is there. It can be proved quite exactly that there is no emptiness anywhere in the universe. This is interesting to think about. I will prove it to you by an example.
For the moment let us disregard what Copernicus taught, namely, that the earth revolves around the sun; let us take things as they appear. (see Note 14 ) We have the earth with the sun moving around it, rising in the east and setting in the west. The sun is always at a different point. But there is something remarkable here. In certain regions — but everywhere, really; one only has to observe carefully — at sunrise and at sunset, other times too, there is not only twilight but something else that is always a thing of wonder. Around the sun there is a kind of radiating light. Whenever we look at the sun, but especially toward morning and evening, this radiating light is apparent as well as the twilight. Light radiates around the sun. It has a name: the zodiacal light. People rack their brains about this zodiacal light — especially those who think in a materialistic way. They say to themselves: The sun shines in empty space and when it shines, it illumines other celestial bodies, but where does this zodiacal light around the sun come from? Countless theories have been put forward as to its origin. Whether one assumes that the sun moves around through empty space, or — as Copernicus taught — merely stands still, this does not account in any way for the presence of that light. So where does the light come from?
This is a very simple matter to explain. You will certainly on a very clear evening have walked through the town and seen the street lamps. On a clear evening the lights have definite outlines. But on a misty, foggy evening there is always a haze of light around them. Why is this? The haze is caused by the mist. At certain times the sun moves over the sky in a haze because heavenly space is not empty but filled with fine mist. The radiance that is present in this fine mist is the zodiacal light. All kinds of explanations have been given: for example, that comets are always flashing through space out there. And so, of course, they are. But the reason why this zodiacal light that accompanies the sun is sometimes strong, sometimes faint, sometimes not visible at all is that the mist in the universe is sometimes dense and sometimes thin. Thus we can say: The whole of cosmic space is filled with something.
But as I have already told you, it is not correct to think that there is substance or matter everywhere. I have told you that materialistic physicists would be immensely astonished if they went up into space expecting to find the sun as they describe it in their science. Their descriptions are nonsense. If by some convenient transport the physicists could reach the sun, they would be amazed to find no gas whatsoever. They would find hollow space, a real vacuum. This vacuum radiates light. And what they would find is spirit. We cannot say there is only matter everywhere: we must say there is also spirit everywhere, real spirit. So you see, everything on the earth is worked upon from outer space, not only by matter but also by spirit.
And now, gentlemen, let us consider how the spiritual is connected with the physical in man.
There is a creature familiar to us all that has a better sense of smell than you or 1, namely the dog. Dogs have a much more delicate sense of smell than human beings. And you know to what use this is put nowadays. Think of the police dogs that through their sense of smell find persons who have run away after committing some crime. The dog picks up a scent at the spot where the crime was committed and follows it until it leads to the criminal. The dog has very delicate olfactory nerves. It is extremely interesting to study this fine sense-perception and to see how these olfactory nerves are connected with the rest of the dog's organism. Behind its nose, in its brain the dog has a very interesting organ of smell. Its nose is only one part. The larger part of a dog's organ of smell is situated behind the nose, in the brain.
Now let us compare the dog's organ of smell with that of the human being. The dog has a brain that is clearly made for smelling, a brain that becomes an organ of smell. In the human being the greater part of this “smell-brain” has been transformed into an “intelligence-brain.” We understand things; the dog doesn't understand things, he smells them. We understand them because at the place where the dog has his organ of smell, we have that organ transformed. Our organ of intelligence is a transformed organ of smell. In us there is only a tiny remnant left of this “smell-brain.” That is why our sense of smell is inferior to the dog's. And so you can imagine that when a dog runs over the fields, he finds everything terribly interesting; so many smells come to him that if he were able to describe it, he would say the world is all smell. If among dogs there were a thinker like Schopenhauer (see Note 15 ), he would write interesting books! Schopenhauer wrote a book called “The World as Will and Idea” — but he was a man and his organ of smell had become an organ of thinking. The dog could write a book called “The World as Will and Smell.” In the dog's book there would be a great deal beyond the discernment of a human being, because while a human being forms an idea, a mental image of things, a dog smells them. And it is my private opinion that the dog's book — if the dog were a Schopenhauer — would actually be more interesting than the book that Schopenhauer himself wrote!
So you see how it is. We live in a world that can be smelled, and other creatures — the dog, for instance — are much more acutely aware of this than we are.
Now since the universe is filled with the gaseous substance we perceive in the zodiacal light, this universe would be found to be emitting all kinds of different smells if organs of smell existed which were even more delicate than that of the dog. Imagine some creature sniffing toward the sun, not seeing the beauty of the sun but becoming aware through its sniffing of how the sun smells. Such a creature would not say as the poets do: The lovers went a-roaming in the enchanting moonlit night — but he would say: The lovers went a-roaming in the enchanting moon-scented night, in a world of sweet fragrance — or perhaps, since it's to do with the moon, the scents would not be so very pleasantly fragrant! Again, such a creature might sniff toward the evening star, and its smell would be different from that of the sun. Then it might sniff toward Mercury, toward Venus, toward Saturn.
It would have no picture of these stars like that transmitted through the eyes, but it would get the sun smell, the moon smell, the Saturn smell, the Mars smell, the Venus smell. If there were such creatures, they would be guided by what the Spirit inscribed in the smell of the cosmic gas, by what the spirit of Venus, Mercury, Sun, Moon inscribes into world existence.
But now, gentlemen, think of fish. Fish don't smell things. But they take on colors according to how the sun shines upon them. They reflect in their own coloring what comes to them from the sun. So you see, a being with a very delicate sense of smell would actually adjust its being to the way it smells the universe.
Such beings do exist. There are beings that can actually smell the universe: namely, the plants. The plants smell the universe and adapt themselves accordingly. What does the violet do? The violet is really all nose, a very, very delicate nose. The violet is beautifully aware of what streams from Mercury and forms its scent-body accordingly, while the asafetida has a delicate perception of what streams from Saturn and forms its gas-body accordingly, having thereby an offensive odor. And so it is that every being in the plant world is perceiving the smells that come from the planetary world.
But now what about plants that have no fragrance? Why have they no scent? As a matter of fact, to sensitive noses all plants do have a certain scent — at the least, they have what can be called a refreshing aroma — and this has a very strong effect upon them. This refreshing smell comes from the sun. A large number of plants are only receptive to this sun smell. But various plants, like the violet or the asafetida, are receptive to the planetary influences: these are the sweet-smelling or the bad-smelling plants.
And so we can say when we smell a violet: This violet is really all nose — but a delicate nose, inhaling the cosmic scent of Mercury. It holds the scent, as I have indicated, between its solid parts and exhales it; then the scent is dense enough for us to be able to smell it. So when Mercury comes toward us through the violet, we smell Mercury. If with our coarse noses we were to sniff toward Saturn, we would smell nothing. But when the asafetida, which has a keen nose for Saturn, sniffs toward that planet, it smells what comes from it, adapts its gas content accordingly, and has a most foul odor. Suppose you are walking through an avenue of horse chestnuts — you know the scent of horse chestnut, or of linden blossoms? They both have such perfume because their flowers are sensitive noses for everything that streams into the universe from Venus. And so in very truth the fragrances of heaven come to us out of the plants.
Now let us turn to something else Herr Erbsmehl mentioned in his question, namely the human races. Originally, different races lived in different regions of the earth. One race developed in one region, another race in another. Why was this? It is quite correct to say that one planet has a particularly strong influence upon one part of the earth, another planet upon another part. In Asia, for instance, the land is strongly affected by what streams to the earth from Venus — Venus, the evening star. What streams from Saturn works with particular strength upon the American soil. And Mars works particularly strongly upon Africa. So we find that each of the planets works particularly strongly upon some specific part of the earth. They radiate their light from the various places where they stand in the heavens. The light of Venus, for instance, works quite differently upon the earth from the light of Mercury. This is connected with the different formations of mountains, of rocks. Thus the different races inhabiting different regions of the earth are dependent upon the fact that one part of the earth is particularly receptive to the influences of Venus, another part to the influences of Saturn, and so on. And the plant-nature in man is determined in accordance with this.
The human being has the whole of nature within himself: mineral, plant, animal, and man. The plant-nature in the human being adjusts itself to the scents of the planets just as do the plants themselves. Certain minerals which still retain much of the plant-nature, also have an odor. So whether something does or does not have an odor depends upon whether it is perceiving the scents of the universe.
It is very important that you should understand these things, for people talk today about plants having perception, having a soul like human beings. That, of course, is nonsense. I spoke about it once. There are plants — like the one called Venus's flytrap (see Note 16 ) — that are supposed to have feeling. When an insect comes close enough, the “trap” closes and the insect is caught. It would be just as logical to say that a mousetrap has a soul, for the reason that when a mouse comes close enough, the trap shuts and the mouse is caught! Externalities of this kind should be ignored if one wants to acquire real knowledge. If knowledge is our aim, we must get to the root of things. Thus, if we know that with their fragrance the plants are breathing out what they inhale from the universe, then we can say that plants are the delicate organs of smell that belong to the earth. And the human nose, gentlemen — that's really a coarse plant. It grows out of man like a kind of blossom, but it has become coarse. It is a coarse flower that grows out of the human being. It no longer has such delicate perception as the plants. These are pictures, of course, but they are true. And it's the way things are.
So we can say: wherever we go in the world of plants, we find the earth covered with noses — the plants. But it never occurs to us that our own strange noses really derive from the plants. As a matter of fact, many blossoms look like a human nose. There are indeed such plants — the snapdragons, also the mints — they look just like a nose. You find them growing everywhere.
In this way we attain true knowledge of the world. And we discover how mankind is indeed related to all the rest of the universe. It might well be said, man is a poor creature: he has a nose for smelling, but he can't smell much because his nose has become too coarse, whereas the blossoms of plants can smell the whole universe. The leaves of plants can be compared to the human tongue: they can taste the world. The roots of plants can be compared to the organ in man that looks at things: his eyes, but in man it's a weak organ. Poor human being! He has everything that the beings of outer nature have, but in him it has all become feeble.
But now, gentlemen, we sometimes come across strange things. If we were able to smell as keenly as the plants smell and were able to taste as delicately as their leaves taste — well, we wouldn't know where we were, for scents and tastes would come to us from every direction! We wouldn't have to eat anything in order to experience taste because taste would stream toward us from all sides. But this does not happen to us. Man no longer has such perceptions. Instead, he has his intelligence. Think of an animal that has a “smell-brain” strongly developed behind its nose. In the human being this kind of brain is stunted and his nose has become coarse; it is just a shrunken remnant. But instead, he has his reasoning brain. It is the same with his organ of taste. Most animals have a brain highly developed for tasting; they can at once distinguish one kind of food from another. It is impossible for us humans to conceive the intensity with which animals experience taste. Why, we would jump out of our chairs if our food tasted as strongly to us as their food tastes to them! Our feeble taste for sugar can give us no notion of the joy a piece of sugar gives to a dog. This is because most animals have a very highly developed “taste-brain.” Of this too, man has only a tiny remnant left. Instead, he is able to form ideas; the “taste-brain” has been metamorphosed so that he is able to form ideas.
Man has become the noblest being on the earth because only a tiny part of his brain is engaged in sense perception-, the rest of it has been transformed into an instrument of thinking and feeling. Thereby man becomes the highest being. So we can say: In the human brain a mighty transformation of the faculties of tasting and smelling has taken place and only tiny vestiges remain of the “taste-brain” and the “smell-brain.” In the animal, this does not exist, but these faculties are very highly developed. The outer structures themselves are evidence of it. If man had a “smell-brain” as highly developed as the dog's, he would have no forehead. The forehead would slope backward because the “smell-brain” would have developed towards the back of the head. Since the “smell-brain” is transformed, the forehead is lofty. The dog's nose stretches forward and its brain lies further back. Someone who trains himself to observe this can tell which kinds of animals have a particularly keen sense of smell. He needs only to observe whether the brain lies toward the back and the nose is highly developed; then he knows that this particular animal has a fine sense of smell.
Now let's look at the plants. Their noses continue right down to the root, down into the earth. Here, everything is nose, only — in contrast to man — this nose becomes aware of taste as well, of the world of taste. And you see, this shows us that man's higher development is due to the fact that these very faculties which the animals and plants possess are imperfect in him; they have been metamorphosed. So we can say that man is a being of greater perfection than the other creatures of nature because what is developed to perfection in them exists in him in an imperfect state!
You can easily understand this: just think of a chicken. It slips out of the shell and at once it can take care of its own needs; it can right away scratch about for its food. Think of the human being in comparison! The animal can do everything. Why? Because the organs of its brain have not yet been metamorphosed into organs of thinking. When a human being is born, his brain has to acquire mastery over these blunted remains of sense organs. And so a child has to learn, while the animal doesn't need to learn, for it knows everything from the start. Human beings, having one-sidedly developed only their brain, can think with great subtlety but are terribly clumsy fellows. It is important for the human being that not too much of his brain shall be transformed. If too much has been transformed, he may be a good poet but he will certainly not be a good mechanic. He will have no knack for doing things in the outside world.
This state of things is connected with what I was talking about the other day, namely, that many people, owing to an excessive consumption of potatoes, have transformed a very large part of their brain. The result is that such people are clever but unskillful. That is so often the case today. They have to struggle to do things that they should really be able to do quite easily. For instance, there are men who are quite unable to sew on a trouser-button. They are able to write a marvelously good book, but they are incapable of sewing on a button! This is because the nerves which are nerves of perception in the more delicate organs have been transformed almost entirely into brain-nerves.
Once I knew a man who had a terrible dread of the future. (see Note 17 ) He argued that in olden times man's senses were more delicate, more keen, just because he had less brain, that in the course of human evolution what had in earlier times belonged to the senses and enhanced their perception was metamorphosed into a clever brain. The man was afraid that this would go further, that more and more of the sensory brain would become thinking brain, so that finally human beings would be utterly incapacitated, going about with defective eyes and so forth. In olden times people went through life with good sight; now they need glasses. Their sense of smell is not nearly as keen as it was once. Their hands are becoming clumsy. And anything that becomes clumsy is bound to deteriorate. The man was afraid that everything would be transformed into brain and that the human head would get bigger and bigger and the legs smaller and smaller and all would atrophy. He thought quite seriously that human beings would someday be no more than round heads rolling around the world — and then what would happen? The man was completely, tragically in earnest.
And his thought was perfectly correct. For if the human being does not find his way again to what he was once able to grasp through imagination, if he does not come again to the spirit, then he will become a ball of this kind! It is literally true that spiritual science does not simply make a man clever. As a matter of fact, if he takes it merely as one more theory, far from becoming more clever, he will become definitely more stupid. But if he assimilates spiritual science in the right way, it will work into his very fingers! Clumsy fingers will become more skillful again because the external world is getting its rightful significance again.
Through spiritual science the outer world becomes spiritualized, but that does not make you clumsier. These are things to which attention must be paid.
You see, in the days when mankind created sagas, legends, mythologies (there was recently a question about this), much less sense activity had so far been transformed into brain. In those days, people dreamed more than we do now, and when they dreamed, pictures appeared to them. Our thoughts today are barren. And the stories you hear about Wotan, Loki, about the old Greek gods — Zeus, Aphrodite and so forth — these stories originated from the fact that man did not yet have so much of that cleverness which is valued so highly today. People become more clever, certainly — but one learns to know the world not merely through intelligence but rather by learning to observe it.
Think of an adult person with a child in front of him. The adult may be a bit conceited about his own cleverness; if so, the child will seem stupid. But if the adult has any sense for what comes from a child out of his very nature, he will regard that as having far higher value than his own cleverness. One cannot grasp what exists in nature by brainwork alone, but by being able to penetrate into the secrets of nature. Cleverness does not necessarily lead to knowledge. A clever man is not necessarily very wise. Clever people can't, of course, be stupid, but they may certainly lack wisdom; they may have no real knowledge of the world. Cleverness can be used in all sorts of ways: to classify plants and minerals, to make chemical compounds, to vote, to play dominoes and chess, to speculate on the Stock Exchange. The cleverness by which people cheat on the Stock Exchange is the same cleverness that one uses to study chemistry. The only difference is that a man is simply concentrating on something else when he is studying chemistry than when he is speculating on the Stock Exchange! Cleverness is present in both cases. It is simply a question of what one is concentrating on.
Obviously, too much should not be transformed into brain. If one were to dissect the heads of great financial magnates, one would find extraordinary brains. In this area, anatomy has brought a great deal to light. It has been possible to see in a brain proof of cleverness — but never proof of knowledge!
So — I have tried to develop a few aspects of the question. I hope you are not altogether dissatisfied with the answer. As soon as I return, we will have the next meeting. I'm sorry I can't give lectures here and in England at the same time — such a thing is still beyond us! When we reach that point, there will be no need for a break. But for the time being, gentlemen, I must say goodbye.