FROM NATURE TO SUB-NATURE
The Age of Philosophy is often said to have been superseded, about the
middle of the nineteenth century, by the rising Age of Natural
Science. And it is said that the Age of Natural Science still
continues in our day, although many people are at pains to emphasise
at the same time that we have found our way once more to certain
All this is true of the paths of knowledge which the modern age has
taken, but not of its paths of life. With his conceptions and
ideas, man still lives in Nature, even if he carries the mechanical
habit of thought into his Nature-theories. But with his life of Will
he lives in the mechanical processes of technical science and industry
to so far-reaching an extent, that it has long imbued this Age of
Science with an entirely new quality.
To understand human life we must consider it to begin with from two
distinct aspects. From his former lives on Earth, man brings with him
the faculty to conceive the Cosmic the Cosmic that works inward
from the Earth's encircling spheres, and that which works within the
Earth domain itself. Through his senses he perceives the Cosmic that
is at work upon the Earth; through his thinking Organisation he
conceives and thinks the Cosmic influences that work downward to the
Earth from the encircling spheres.
Thus man lives, through his physical body in Perception, through his
etheric body in Thought.
That which takes place in his astral body and his ego holds sway in
the more hidden regions of the soul. It holds sway, for example, in
his destiny. We must, however, look for it, to begin with, not in the
complicated relationships of destiny, but in the simple and elementary
processes of life.
Man connects himself with certain earthly forces, in that he gives his
body its right orientation within them. He learns to stand and walk
upright; he learns to place himself with arms and hands into the
equilibrium of earthly forces.
Now these are not forces working inward from the Cosmos. They are
forces of a purely earthly nature.
In reality, nothing that man experiences is an abstraction. He only
fails to perceive whence it is that an experience comes to him; and
thus he turns ideas about realities into abstractions. He speaks of
the laws of mechanics. He thinks he has abstracted them from the
connections and relationships of Nature. But this is not the case. All
that man experiences in his soul by way of purely mechanical laws, has
been discovered inwardly through his relationship of orientation to
the earthly world (in standing, walking, etc.).
The Mechanical is thus characterised as that which is of a purely
earthly nature. For the laws and processes of Nature as they hold sway
in colour, sound, etc., have entered into the earthly realm from the
Cosmos. It is only within the earthly realm that they too become
imbued with the mechanical element, just as is the case with man
himself, who does not confront the mechanical in his conscious
experience until he comes within the earthly realm.
By far the greater part of that which works in modern civilisation
through technical Science and Industry wherein the life of man
is so intensely interwoven is not Nature at all, but
Sub-Nature. It is a world which emancipates itself from
Nature emancipates itself in a downward direction.
Look how the Oriental, when he strives towards the Spirit, seeks to
get out of the conditions of equilibrium whose origin is merely in the
earthly realm. He assumes an attitude of meditation which brings him
again into the purely Cosmic balance. In this attitude the Earth no
longer influences the inner orientation of his body. (I am not
recommending this for imitation; it is mentioned merely to make our
present subject clear. Anyone familiar with my writings will know how
different is the Eastern from the Western spiritual life in this
Man needed this relation to the purely earthly for the unfolding of
his Spiritual Soul. Thus in the most recent times there has arisen a
strong tendency to realise in all things, and even in the life of
action, this element into which man must enter for his evolution.
Entering the purely earthly element, he strikes upon the Ahrimanic
realm. With his own being he must now acquire a right relation to the
But in the age of Technical Science hitherto, the possibility of
finding a true relationship to the Ahrimanic civilisation has escaped
man. He must find the strength, the inner force of knowledge, in order
not to be overcome by Ahriman in this technical civilisation. He must
understand Sub-Nature for what it really is. This he can only do if he
rises, in spiritual knowledge, at least as far into extra-earthly
Super-Nature as he has descended, in technical Sciences, into
Sub-Nature. The age requires a knowledge transcending Nature, because
in its inner life it must come to grips with a life-content which has
sunk far beneath Nature a life-content whose influence is
perilous. Needless to say, there can be no question here of advocating
a return to earlier states of civilisation. The point is that man
shall find the way to bring the conditions of modern civilisation into
their true relationship-to himself and to the Cosmos.
There are very few as yet who even feel the greatness of the spiritual
tasks approaching man in this direction. Electricity, for instance,
celebrated since its discovery as the very soul of Nature's existence,
must be recognised in its true character in its peculiar power
of leading down from Nature to Sub Nature. Only man himself must
beware lest he slide downward with it.
In the age when there was not yet a technical industry independent of
true Nature, man found the Spirit within his view of Nature.
But the technical processes, emancipating themselves from Nature,
caused him to stare more and more fixedly at the mechanical-material,
which now became for him the really scientific realm. In this
mechanical-material domain, all the Divine-Spiritual Being connected
with the origin of human evolution, is completely absent. The purely
Ahrimanic dominates this sphere.
In the Science of the Spirit, we now create another sphere in which
there is no Ahrimanic element. It is just by receiving in Knowledge
this spirituality to which the Ahrimanic powers have no access, that
man is strengthened to confront Ahriman within the world.
Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society (with reference to the foregoing study: From Nature to Sub-Nature)
183. In the age of Natural Science, since about the middle of the
nineteenth century, the civilised activities of mankind are gradually
sliding downward, not only into the lowest regions of Nature, but even
beneath Nature. Technical Science and Industry become
184. This makes it urgent for man to find in conscious experience a
knowledge of the Spirit, wherein he will rise as high above Nature as
in his sub-natural technical activities he sinks beneath her. He will
thus create within him the inner strength not to go under.
185. A past conception of Nature still bore within it the Spirit with
which the source of all human evolution is connected. By degrees, this
Spirit vanished altogether from man's theory of Nature. The purely
Ahrimanic spirit has entered in its place, and passed from theory of
Nature into the technical civilisation of mankind.