Dornach, 3rd January, 1924
As we shall be able to make use of the eight hours at our disposal for this course of lectures, I need not hurry, and this will certainly be all to the good.
I want to develop the material given yesterday by speaking of the characteristic qualities of the several members of the human being. I spoke of the physical body which is to be connected with everything that has definite contours in the organism. There is also the fluid organism. This fluid organism is permeated with the forces of the etheric body, forces which are, however, united with the physical body as primary components of it. These are the peripherically working forces. So far as the astral body is concerned, conceptions of space will not help us at all; the astral body cannot be understood from the quantitative aspect, but only from the purely qualitative aspect. We must picture the astral body in a world that is not the world of space, as we know it, but lies outside this spatial world. And this is all the more true when we come to the ego organization.
The easiest way will be to start from the ego organization. What is this ego organization, in reality? In the physical world, it is to be perceived in the form of the physical body. In the physical world, of course, both the inner and the outer form must be included. Looking at the physical body of man as it stands in the physical world, we must realize that it has nothing fundamentally in common with the forces working in the physical world. For the moment a human being passes through the Gate of Death, and the ego organization leaves the physical body, this body begins to be subject to the forces of the external world. This means that the body is no longer built up but is destroyed. If you remember that the physical body is destroyed by the forces that are working in external nature, you will realize at once that the body cannot, in its form, be subject in any way to the forces of the physical world. When the ego organization is forming and shaping the physical body, therefore, this means that it removes the body from the forces that are present in man's earthly environment. In other words, the ego organization is something quite different from all that is to be found in the physical world.
This ego organization is connected with death. What happens in death, all at once, goes on continually throughout the period of earthly life, through the ego organization. The human being is really continually dying, but this process of dying is balanced out. To get a picture of this, think of a modified version of the legend of Penelope. Suppose you were occupied every day in doing away with a heap of earth near your house, and during the night, in your absence, someone were to come and shovel the earth back again. As long as the earth is put back you have to shovel it away again. Your activity only ceases when the heap of earth gradually gets smaller and smaller on account of decrease of activity on the part of the one who puts the earth back again. This, approximately, is a picture of the ego organization in its relation to the physical body. Nourishment of the physical body consists in bringing into it substances from the earthly environment. These substances have their own inner forces, a certain complex of forces which belongs to them, and when, for example, you take common salt as an adjunct to food, this salt, to begin with, because it comes from outside, has the same inner tendency of action which it has, as salt, in the external world. But you begin to take these qualities away from it even when it is in the mouth, and then more and more, so that, finally, if the ego organization is working properly, there is nothing any longer within you of the salt, as it was in the external world. The salt has become something completely different. The activity of the ego organization consists precisely in transforming the in-taken foodstuffs. When it is no longer possible for the physical body to take food, the ego has no more to do, just as you had no more to do when nobody was shoveling the earth heap back again. When the body is no longer capable of taking food, it is impossible for the ego to work from out of the warmth, in the physical body. We can say that death occurs when it is impossible for the ego organization to so transform the external substances that nothing remains of the outer characteristics instead of being totally in the service of the ego organization.
What does the ego organization do with the physical body? It destroys the body all the time. It does the same as death, only the process is continually balanced out by the physical body being able to take external substances as food. Ego organization and the process of nourishment, therefore, are polar opposites. The ego organization betokens for man exactly the same — but in a process of continuous activity — as death betokens, but, in death, the process is concentrated, it happens all at once. Through your ego organization you are dying all the time, that is to say, you are destroying your physical body inwardly, whereas when you die, external nature destroys your physical body outwardly. The physical body is capable of destruction in two different directions and the ego organization is simply the sum total of the destructive forces working inwards. It really seems, at first, as if the ego organization had no other task than to bring about continual death in the human being — a process that is only prevented because there is fresh reinforcement, so that this activity only begins to bring about death. In the qualitative sense, therefore, ego organization is identifiable with death, and the physical organism is identifiable with the process of nourishment. We will speak in greater detail later on.
Ego organization = Death
Physical organism = Nourishment
Between these two polar processes in the human being lie the etheric body and the astral body. Astral body and etheric body lie between the ego organization and the physical organism. The astral body, as you heard, only works directly in the aeriform part of the human organism, from there by way of the etheric body upon the fluid organism and the physical organism or organism of nourishment. In every single organ there is a working together of etheric organism and astral organism.
When the etheric organism works upon an organ, this organ is imbued with budding, sprouting life. The life force in any single organ, or in the organism as a whole, comes from the etheric organism. The astral organism has at every moment the tendency to paralyze this budding, sprouting life — not to kill it, but to damp it down, to lame it. The ego organization strives all the time to kill the organism and the single organs, and in opposition to this there must be the reinforcement from the foodstuffs taken from the external world whereby life is continually poured into the organs. This process is especially active in childhood and youth.
The etheric impulses are opposed by the activity of the astral body which damps down the etheric activity all the time. If there were only etheric activity, budding and sprouting life in your organism, you would never have a life of soul, you would never unfold consciousness and would have to vegetate in a plant existence. No consciousness unfolds in a process that is simply one of growing, budding, sprouting. For consciousness to develop, the etheric, budding and sprouting life must be damped down. Therefore in any organ where the etheric life is damped down or lamed, we have, even in normal human life, the perpetual beginning of illness. There can be no development of consciousness without this perpetual tendency to illness. If you wanted just to be healthy—well, that is possible, but then you would have to lead a vegetative existence. If you want to unfold a life of soul, if you want to have consciousness, the vegetative process must be present, but it must be damped down.
The polar contrast is not so marked between the etheric and astral organizations as it is between physical organism and ego organization, but it exists, nonetheless, in a modified form. The astral organism must continually damp down what is brought about by the etheric organism. In reality, therefore, what the astral organism does day by day in the life of man, amounts to a tendency to illness. The etheric organism brings about rampant healthiness. Just as in abstract language, we can say: Man consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego organization — so we can also say: Man consists of the process of nourishment, of the building, sprouting, health-bringing process, of the perpetually in-working processes of disease, and of a continuous dying that is checked until the death-bringing processes gather together as it were into an integer and death occurs.
Think of this astral organism with its perpetual tendency to make an organ, or the whole man, ill. Genuine observation will show you that this is so. For no feeling could arise in you if this astral organism were not present. Just picture it.
The etheric organism unfolds life and the astral organism damps down the life. In the waking state (I shall yet have to speak of sleep), there must be a continual swinging to and fro in a labile state of equilibrium, between etheric organism and astral organism. This enables a human being to feel. He would feel nothing if this swinging to and fro did not take place. But now suppose the astral activity is not immediately driven back by the etheric activity. When it is driven back, when the astral activity is driven back in statu nascendi by the etheric activity, normal feeling arises. We shall see how this is connected, in the physical, with the activity of the glands. But when the astral organism becomes more powerful, so that the organ cannot work with sufficient strength in its etheric activity, then this organ will be laid hold of too strongly by the astral activity and instead of a swinging to and fro there will arise a deformation of the organ. When the astral body oversteps the mark in this activity of damping down, when it goes beyond the process that is balanced out in statu nascendi — then the cause of illness is located in the astral body. And there is indeed such a close connection between illness and feeling that we can say: The life of feeling in man is simply the reflection, in the life of soul, of the life of illness. If there is a swinging to and fro, there underlies the life of feeling — but always in statu nascendi, in the moment of ‘becoming’— the same process which is a process of illness when the astral organism gets the upper hand.
Now it may also happen that the etheric organism gets the upper hand of the astral, which withdraws. Then there will be rampant growth, which is illness in the other direction. When the astral body gets the upper hand, inflammatory conditions arise; when the etheric activity gets the upper hand, swellings or growths appear. In the entirely normal life of feeling, a delicately poised balance is always maintained between growths and the inflammatory process. The normal life of man needs this possibility of becoming ill, only a continual balancing must take place.
Thus if we are able to perceive truly, we can see in the normal life of feeling a great deal of what is represented by the processes of illness. If we can observe such things truly, we can ascertain the approach of the illness a long time before it can be physically diagnosed, in a wrong functioning of the life of feeling. Illness is only an abnormal life of feeling in the human being.
The life of feeling lies in the realm of the soul, because a continual equalization or balancing takes place in the etheric. When the balancing no longer takes place, the life of feeling strikes down into the physical body, unites with the body. Illness is present, therefore, as soon as the life of feeling shoots down into the organ. If, in the normal way, a person can keep his feeling within the realm of soul, he is healthy. If he cannot do this, if feeling shoots down into some organ, illness arises.
I say this by way of introduction, because you will realize from it how necessary it is for the physician to have a quick and delicate eye for the soul life as well. There can be no aptitude for true diagnosis without a faculty of delicate perception for the life of soul. We will speak of details later on and this will become still more intelligible.
But now, what of the ego organization and the physical organism? Think, first, of the process of nourishment. This process of nourishment is all the time destroying the substances as they are in the external world; the astral organism damps down what the human being is, inwardly, through his etheric organism. An inner balance is established between astral organism and etheric organism. Between the ego and the physical organism there is also a balance — here between outer world and inner world. Salt, as we know it, is outer world. When the salt is taken hold of by the forces of nourishment and by the ego organization, the ego organization must be in a position completely to transform the salt as it is in the external world, to leave nothing of it behind in this form. If anything is left behind, this means that a foreign body is within the organism, but you must not merely think of this ‘foreign body’ in the organism as necessarily having definite contours, for this is least often the case. A foreign body in this sense may also be the external warmth. There should be no warmth in the organism that is not engendered by the ego organization. You must be able to conceive of a person being seized, somewhere or other, by a condition of external warmth upon which he himself does not work — it is just like a piece of wood being seized by some condition of outer warmth. An external condition of warmth may not be only a stimulus to the human being to work up a warmth of his own, but the external warmth (or cold) may begin to work directly, and this outer cold or warmth would also have to be regarded as a foreign body in itself. Thus we can say: The inner balance between illness and health is produced by the astral organism and etheric organism. The balance between the human being and the world is produced by the polar contrast between physical body and the ego organization.
The thing of importance is to get a true perception of the activities of these four members of the human organism. You realize now, surely, that illness is simply not to be understood from the external, physical organism. The process that constitutes illness lies entirely in the super-sensible. Before we can understand illness at all we must have a conception of the astral organism. And you will get this conception if you will consider the following state of things: pain arises in some organ. When the astral body becomes too powerful, the organ is ‘deformed’, and pain arises. If the organ immediately balances the influence of the astral body in statu nascendi, feeling arises. Pain is really feeling, but an enhanced feeling, proceeding from the deformation, so we can understand why illness is accompanied by pain. Without knowing this, it is very easy to ask: What is it that really causes pain in manifestations of illness? It is easy to understand why pain arises when we know that this illness is merely caused by such a strong expression of the life of feeling that this life of feeling is deforming the organ concerned. You will see now that all manifestations of feeling can be judged truly through a thorough and deep study of man's life of soul.
But these things can only be seen in their right light when we say to ourselves: Conditions differ according to which organ in the human being is laid hold of by excessive activity of the astral body. Suppose, for example, it is the liver which is being thus laid hold of by the astral body. The liver behaves quite differently from other organs. The astral body can cause much deformation without pain being produced, without pain arising exactly in the liver itself. The reason why liver diseases are so hidden, so treacherous, is because they do not announce themselves through pain. This is because the liver is an organ which, in its whole make-up, is an enclave in the human organism. There are processes in the liver which, of all processes which arise in the organism, most resemble the processes of the external world. The fact, therefore, is that in the liver, man is least man. In the liver he really ceases to be man. He becomes outer world; he has a piece of the outer world within him. This is very interesting. We have the external world; we have the human being; and within the human being, inside him, we have something like a piece of the external world. It is as if a kind of cavity were hollowed out in the organism and just as it would not hurt if the astral body were to press into this cavity, just as little is there pain when the astral body presses into the liver. The astral body can destroy but cannot cause pain where the liver is concerned, for the liver is an organ where a piece of the external world appears in the organism, as it were, in an enclave.
Without entering into such things, we shall never be able to understand the human organism. In ordinary textbooks of anatomy and physiology you will find all kinds of indications about the liver. You will understand them when you know that the liver is an organ within the human being which is most foreign to him. Why is this?
Think of an eye, or some other sense organ. It lies in a cavity which digs itself into the human being from the external world. There are processes in the human eye which can almost be explained by physics. It is easy for a physicist to speak rationally about the human eye. A physicist makes a sketch with some lines on it which, although it is all really nonsense, gives a picture of the process of the breaking-up of the light and the production of an image by an ordinary lens. The same kind of drawings are made of the eye. People draw a ray of light which passes through a lens, is broken up and then forms a picture in the background of the eye. People have really become physicists in regard to the eye and since the days of Helmholz the ear, too, has almost become a kind of piano. It has become common to apply to the sense organs conceptions that are applicable to external nature. In the sense organs, something is being continued from outside inwards, a piece of the external world is continuing
on into the inner world. There is even biological proof of this. In certain lower animals the eye is formed through an indentation which is then filled from outside. The eye is built into the organism, as it were; it does not grow out of the organism. The sense organs, therefore, are a piece of the external world within the organism. But they open outwards. In the sense organs the external world passes into the organism like a gulf. The liver is enclosed on all sides, but nonetheless it is a sense organ, a sense organ which, in the unconscious, shows a high degree of sensibility for the value of the different substances we take as foodstuffs. We can only understand what is going on in digestion, in the process of nourishment, when we no longer ascribe to the liver only those physical processes which are ascribed to it today. These processes are the expression of the spirit and soul. We must see the liver as an inner sense organ for the perception of the process of nourishment. For this reason the liver is much more closely related to the substances of the earth than are the familiar sense organs. With the eye we are exposed to the working of the ether, with the ear we are exposed to the air; but the liver is directly exposed to the qualities of the substances in the external world and it has to perceive these qualities.
The heart is a sense organ of a different kind. The perceptive faculty of the liver is exposed to external substances that come into the human being. The heart is a sense organ for perceiving the inner being of man. I have often said that it is nonsense to regard the heart as a kind of pump which drives the blood through the arteries. The movement of the blood is the result of the activity of the ego and astral body, and the heart is merely a sense organ which perceives the circulation, particularly the circulation from the lower to the upper man. The task of the liver is to perceive, in the digestive process, what value a carbohydrate, let us say, has for the human being. The task of the heart is to see how astral body and ego are working on the human being. Therefore the heart is an entirely spiritual sense organ, the liver a wholly material one. This distinction must be made. We must develop a qualitative knowledge of the organs.
What are the methods of the natural science upon which medicine is based today? Some tissue or other — it really does not matter very much which — is taken from some part of the organism, perhaps from the heart or the liver. The outer structure and make-up of this tissue are then examined. But this tells us nothing about the organ as it actually is, within the human organism. Suppose I have, here, a knife, and, there, a knife. I examine them. This is a knife, and that is a knife, only the one, when I examine its form, has a blunt edge on one side and a cutting edge on the other, and the blade is in a handle. The same could be said of the other knife — therefore the net result is, here, a knife; there, a knife. But to find the difference between a table knife and a razor I must go beyond this kind of examination. I must relate the knives to something that is a whole. Regarded externally, a razor might also be a table knife; therefore, merely from the form, I cannot know whether I have to do with a table knife or with a razor. Each thing must be observed in its whole nexus. Out of the kind of observation that is applied today to an organ, one cannot know anything about the significance of this organ in reality. It must always be regarded in the whole nexus of things. Mere examination of the structure and the make-up of an organ leads nowhere. The human being must be studied with quite different methods from those of chemistry which merely examines the chemical affinities and forces. In this respect, people are terribly naive today. In a certain physiological institute, experiments were made to see how mice could be nourished with milk. The result was splendid, for the mice flourished and became fat and big. At the same time, for the purpose of proving that there is something more in milk than its component parts, these components were separated and given to the mice. They perished within three or four days and could not be kept alive. And then people said: Milk does not only contain its known components, but it contains, as well, another substance — the vitamin. They were obliged to affirm the existence of yet another, very fine substance, namely, the vitamin. The point of importance is not the discovery of such a 'substance' but that to take the separate components of the milk is like taking a clock and looking at the brass, the silver, the other metals in it, the glass and so on. Yes, but the brass, the silver, the glass and all the other metals do not make a clock. The clock depends upon what the mind of the mechanic makes out of these substances. And in the case of milk and its components we are thinking with the mind of the mechanic, when we are concerned with the fact that earthly qualities are contained within these components — qualities which they get from the earth. Up to a certain point of time the peripheric forces from the etheric body are still present, as well as the earthly components. People must finally bring themselves to accept these things. It is not so much a question of things being hidden, and then ‘found’. The discovery of vitamins, for example, simply confirms what exists. Quite a different mode of observation must become current.
Suppose you are eating too many potatoes. You will never find out anything with the ordinary methods of investigation. It will be useless to try to ascertain the effect of potatoes in the human organism by computing the quantity of carbohydrates. The other carbohydrates which are present, for example, not in roots but in leaves or in fruits, are worked up in the digestive tract. There is something very remarkable about the potato. The potato passes with its forces so intensely into the human organism, that, what in the case of the bean happens while still within the digestive tract, happens in the case of the potato only in the brain. In the brain, too, processes of nourishment are continually taking place. I am only indicating these things in order to speak in greater detail later on. A person who eats too many potatoes may, under certain circumstances, overwork his brain. He transfers processes which ought to take place below the brain to the brain itself. It will only be possible to get something from medical science for hygiene and for social life in general by learning the relations of the human being to the substances around him, not from their chemical make-up but from their world connections. Whether a substance appears in leaf or in root constitutes a fundamental difference. It is much more important to know from which part of the plant a substance comes than to know whether it contains carbohydrates. Roots are more connected with the head organization of man; flowers and leaves more with the lower man. The chemical make-up really plays no outstanding part. The relations of the human being to the surrounding world must be learned from quite other things if we really want to understand the curative and the disease-producing factors, the disease itself, and its remedy. The heed that is paid to the indications given by abstract chemistry has really, little by little, buried all knowledge of the human being, because knowing the chemical make-up of a substance does not tell us anything about the real relations of man to the surrounding world.
Take another example — the point of view derived from chemistry is that oxygen is necessary in the air but that nitrogen is not necessary to the same extent. From what is commonly thought about oxygen and nitrogen, we might imagine that it does not matter so much to the breathing when there is too little nitrogen in the air, provided there is enough oxygen. But the truth is, that when air contains too little nitrogen, the human being gives off nitrogen in order to replace it in the air around him. The human being is so constituted that there must be a certain relation between his own nitrogen content and the nitrogen content of the surrounding air quite apart from the breathing process.
All these things are exceedingly important for an understanding of the nature of man. But although they are investigated and known, here and there, they remain fruitless for the modern world of science as long as there is no basis for understanding how man is membered into the world around him. We will try to find this basis in order to get insight into the healthy as well as the ill human being.