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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Human Soul in Relation to World Evolution
GA 212


This book, in line with all Rudolf Steiner's courses of lectures, is an elaboration of certain aspects of the basic teaching of spiritual science. It describes the potential inherent in human knowing to take man beyond the sense perceptible knowledge of Nature into realms of supersensible experience. It requires, therefore, two essential prerequisites of the reader: first, that he be already familiar with that basic teaching itself as it is contained in such books as The Philosophy of Freedom, Theosophy, Occult Science—An Outline, and Knowledge of the Higher Worlds—all of which are referred to in this one; and second, that his familiarity with them shall have reached a point where he has no doubt that what is contained in them is founded on a conception of man and the world that satisfies the strictest standards of thought. Without this, the reader may find himself awash in what may seem to him a flood of metaphysical speculation in which he can find no solid ground on which to stand.

But the solid ground is there. It consists in the fact that all our knowledge is, after all, nothing but the thoughtful elaboration of experience; and that thought activity itself is, when followed through, an indication—one could just as well say `proof—that behind all sense phenomena is a reality of being, imperceptible as it may be to the senses, which can be truly called spiritual. Sense phenomena alone, and what is often referred to as their bearer, matter, are neither the sole reality of the world in which we live nor the means for a full assessment of man as a being of body, soul and spirit. Sense phenomena are a special form of spirit. That alone gives them meaning; and without that meaning which the spirit in man manifesting as thought gives to them, the world would be for him a chaotic aggregate of meaningless sensations. He might conceivably live and act instinctively in such a world, but he could never establish that relation to it which we call knowledge. But even with the knowledge of sense phenomena he is still, from an evolutionary point of view, far from what he can know and become. He has it in him, however, to advance to the development of higher, more subtle senses, the germs of which are already latent in his etheric and astral bodies.

If this, then, can be the reader's conviction he will find no difficulty in following the author's fascinating exposition of, first, the difference between a sense organ and what he calls a vital organ; and second, the relations between them and the cosmos out of which man has evolved. Our sense organs mediate impressions of the outer world; our vital organs, however, govern the very continuance of life itself. If a sense organ is damaged or even destroyed we may well go on living, though so much the poorer in experience; but if a vital organ is destroyed our life must necessarily come to an end. Nonetheless, not only were our present sense organs, like the eye and ear, vital organs, way back in the distant past; but our vital organs of today, like the lungs and heart, are also on the way to becoming sense organs of the future. It must follow, then, that a wholly different conception of the world, and man's being and activity in it, must arise as a result. The implications and ramifications of this are the sum and substance of this book.

On this basis the author is able to speak not only of the kind of perception earlier man had before the sense organs had reached their present maturity, and which gave him a different relationship to the world; but more particularly of how a properly trained initiate consciousness of today can, as it were, use in advance the perceptive powers latent in the heart and lungs for observations in the spiritual world. In doing so he not only anticipates what will one day be the general possession of mankind, but he is able to communicate the results of his researches in thought forms accessible to ordinary modern consciousness.

The transformation of vital organs into sense organs, which will be possible for the future, will, however, only happen if man has the will and desire to bring it about. This is the essential difference between the past and the future; and although man in general has a long way to go before this change actually takes place, the important thing is that he is now able to grasp the logic of it. (This is what made it essential to state so emphatically the two pre-requisites for reading such a book as this. Spiritual science is a science; and like all science it must be learned from the ground up.)

This transformation of the vital organs, therefore, will only be possible if there is a willingness now, and in the future to take up the teaching of spiritual science with an open and unprejudiced mind. It is necessary to say this, for it is all too easy today to reject out of hand any such extensions of the senses beyond those accessible to our present perception, and the instruments adapted to it—even though our generally accepted concept of evolution must envisage such a possibility. But there is a blind spot in our concept which prevents us from seeing that knowing, too, evolves. Knowing was different in the past. It will be different again in the future, but we must be able to see the direction in which that difference lies. Then we shall be able to do something about it, for we are the knower.

Contrary to popular belief, the wonderful results of technology today are neither the highest nor the final achievement of human knowledge. They will disappear as all material things disappear. What is important is what has happened to man so that he could come to know the world in such a way that he can make these things. We have to do here with an evolution of the knowing capacity itself. Earlier man did not make such things, though the laws of Nature by which they are made have lain hidden in phenomena since the dawn of time. But the conviction dies hard that the sense perceptible world out there, Nature, is not only nothing but a material process, but that that is all we can know of it. This has completely cut man off from any conscious feeling- relationship he once had, albeit in a more instinctive, half-conscious way, with the gods, the spiritual world. The knowledge we pride ourselves on today, because of what we are able to make with it, has both brought about, and had to be paid for by, the isolation of our self-consciousness. We no longer have that awareness of the spirit. If we are to have it again it must be in a new, a self-conscious way. We are on our own now; and this is at once an opportunity and a danger. We can, if we will, advance in full self-consciousness to a collaboration with the gods in the evolution of the world and ourselves such as was never possible before; or, by ignoring this opportunity, we can lay ourselves open to a “take over” by backward spiritual beings who have ideas of their own about how both we and the world should evolve. They will be able to use man's dammed-up, sense-based knowing capacities for their own purposes, and for all his skills and know-how he will actually be nothing but their “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

The choice is ours. This is the alternative with which this book closes; and this, too, is the message of spiritual science, or anthroposophy.

Alan Howard

Vancouver, 1984