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Spiritual Soul Instructions and Observation of the World

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Course V - Lecture III

Is Theosophy Unscientific?

GA 52

October 6th, 1904

Eight days ago I tried to show what the modern human being can today find within theosophy. Before I continue this cycle of talks, the special question of theosophy is to be discussed and its relation to the big tasks of the present civilisation, to the significant spiritual currents of our time. That is why I would like to enter into the so important question whether theosophy is unscientific.

This is that reproach which affects the theosophical movement most seriously in a time, in which science has the conceivably biggest authority, maybe the only real authority. However, in such a time this misunderstanding weighs a lot. Thus it must upset the theosophist particularly if the reproach is done repeatedly from the part of science, in particular from the part of those who want to create a configuration of life and world on scientific basis that theosophy is unscientific. A phenomenon of the last years, which must be symptomatic of the interests of our time to us, shows that the majority of people look just for this authority of science. However, the question which I only want to touch now will be exactly discussed in the talk on science. Nevertheless, I would like to point to the big sensation which Haeckel’s Riddle of the Universe made to show that just the teachings of this book make obvious to someone who recognises its value as I do where the interest lies. This book wants to build up a whole world-picture on the basis of natural sciences. More than ten thousand copies of it were sold; then a cheap popular edition was organised for one mark, and more than hundred thousand copies of this edition were sold during few years since its appearance.

The book is translated into almost any important language. However, this seems to me less significant than that which I say now. Haeckel received more than 5000 letters concerning scientific questions. The letters contain almost the same questions, and we see that with it an important central need has been met. A supplement of the book The Riddle of the Universe is the book The Wonders of Life. In the preface Haeckel tells to us what I have just said. In this book you can also read the reproach which is done to theosophy, the reproach to be unscientific. The question is a burning one.

Hence, we have to understand how the whole position of our theosophical spiritual movement is compared to science. Who only has an overview of the last centuries cannot at all get it clear in his mind. One has to go back to the origin of human knowledge, to a time which is far away from our time, to the daybreak of human knowledge or at least to that which we call human knowledge today.

To understand completely how immense the contrast is between the view of the scientific problems today and in that daybreak of human knowledge, we have to realise that modern science declares itself to be absolutely incapable to answer the big questions of existence. In the preface of The Wonders of Life you find repeated what Haeckel has often said: he represents the standpoint of science against the medieval superstition and the revelation. Between truth and superstition there is no mediation, there is only either-or possible. He states with it that that which he has gained on the basis of his scientific studies is the only truth and that everything that other millennia produced is error, superstition and unscientific, already because the researchers of the former centuries knew nothing about the big discoveries of the 19th century.

The natural sciences of our time declare to be unable to answer particular questions. Indeed as I have indicated already in the previous talk, these natural sciences try to lead us back to bygone times, they try to find the primeval animals and plants and lead us back to the point in time when probably the first life came into being on earth. But the questions, these important central questions which Bois-Reymond put and Haeckel tried to answer in the book The Riddle of the Universe, the questions of the origin of life find no answer in natural sciences. Today, of course, the naturalist tries to give an answer to these questions, in particular Haeckel attempts it. He shows how the earth came from a fire-liquid state, cooled off bit by bit, became more solid, how then water could form and collect, and how finally the conditions were there that the living beings originated. He tries to show how one could imagine that life has come into being from the lifeless. This is what he wanted to oppose to all older convictions: that life once came into being from the lifeless and that everything that depends on life — also the human being — is nothing else than a product of the inorganic matter that it is based on nothing else than what we have in physics and in chemistry. However, Haeckel tries in vain to show that the human being is nothing else than the result of the miraculous dynamics and mechanics of the human organism. Because the big question comes now. The naturalist approaches the point in time when on our earth the conditions should have existed that the first living being originated from the lifeless matter. And there you find a concession with the researchers, even with Haeckel: we cannot form any mental picture of the condition in which our earth was at that time when the first life appeared. We do not know how the external nature was at that time, and, therefore, we cannot say how at that time the lifeless changed into life.

This is one group of the researchers. They had many followers in the first third of the 19th century, as well as even today. If, for example, the great English researcher Darwin was asked for his opinion in the first time when one said that one must understand life from matter, he himself would have conceded that it is impossible to understand life from lifeless. Huxley said, on account of his study of comparative anatomy, in the last time of his life that we are just within the world evolution; why should we not be able to think that that which we see round ourselves could not develop higher? We cannot declare the realm of beings finished; we have to look up from the lower beings to the higher beings which are not accessible to us, because we do not have senses for them. The reasonable naturalists made such thoughts and objections to themselves.

It is interesting that the German biologist Preyer has come because of his studies which were based on Darwinism to quite different views about life. He did not consider that life has developed from the lifeless, but he got to the result that at that time when the earth developed the first living being of our type the earth was not lifeless but one single living being, and that at that time generally nothing lifeless existed on our earth. The lifeless has developed only from life. You see that the Darwinist Preyer transformed the view, which other naturalists represented, just into the opposite, considering the earth as a huge living being. This was, as Preyer assumes, millions of years ago. A huge living being was our earth which you can compare with a human organism or an animal organism of today. Today also the human being has life and something apparently lifeless in him. Our bony system is apparently something lifeless. It separated from the living as something lifeless. Preyer imagines approximately that the earth was once a huge living being, and that the living earth has precipitated the lifeless, the dead, the rock and the rock masses, as the human being the skeleton. This is an important step which the naturalists and the philosophers have done in the last time.

And this step has to lead inevitably to an additional one; it has to lead to the step that not only the lifeless has developed from life, but that also all physical, the living and the lifeless have developed from the higher, from the spiritual. If the researchers pursue the way which they have taken today initially, they get to the sentence: not only the lifeless developed from life, but life itself developed from the spiritual. The spiritual was first, it separated life at first, and then life separated the lifeless. However, this is nothing else than the basis of the theosophical world view. The theosophical world view differs from the present, materialistic-scientific view because it makes the spirit the first and everything else dependent of the spirit. The materialist makes matter the first and derives everything from matter. I have already suggested last time that the teaching of the senses points to the reason why the modern naturalist wants to insist on his sentence that life can be derived from the lifeless, from the spiritless. I have pointed to the great sentence that the physiologist Johannes Müller and other significant physiologists expressed first. Helmholtz and then Lotze put it in the formula: the world round us would be dark and dumb if we did not have eyes and ears, which transform the oscillations of the air into that which is colours and sounds to us. — Natural sciences themselves say to us that everything that we see in the physical world round us is dependent on us. If we did not have particular eyes and ears, we could not see and hear the world in this particular way. The physiologist can give the reasons to us why the eye and the ear form in a particular way. This is due to the fact that we take part in the physical world with our eyes. Theosophy now shows the basic concepts of which I speak in eight days. We see a thing because we put the eye in the correct position to the thing which we want to see. We understand a thing because we have reason and apply it to get a world view from the pictures of the objects. Hence, we are able to make a world view to ourselves. Theosophy expresses this that way: the human being is aware of the physical world.

However, we have now to put the question: does the human being live only within the physical world? By way of a hint we can explain to ourselves this question if we imagine that anybody has no ears; he does not hear the sounds of his fellow men. They could produce sounds and words, but without ears you would not perceive the sounding manifestations of the external physical world. You must have ears to realise the physical world. — Does the human being consist, however, only of such physical manifestations? No, you know that within the body, in which the human being and also the animal are enclosed, not only physical activities exist, but that in the human being also feelings, desires, passions, and wishes exist. These desires, wishes, impulses and passions are also realities like the physical functions, the physical activities. Just as you digest and speak, you feel, wish and desire. Digesting and speaking are physical manifestations, and we can perceive them with physical senses for our physical consciousness. Why can we not perceive the other reality, which is also in us, the wishes, desires, emotions and passions? It is spoken fully in line with natural sciences if we say: we cannot perceive them because we have no senses for them.

However, just the world view underlying the theosophical movement shows that the human being can not only become aware of a physical, but also of a higher world. If we look at the manifestations of this higher world, then the wishes, desires, passions and impulses are as discernible realities as the physical perception is, as language is the physical expression of a physical activity. Then one says that the consciousness of the so-called astral world has awoken. The human being stands then as a being of impulses, of desires and of passions before us as he awakes as a physical being and can throw back the light impressions for our physical eye. How these higher senses awake how the human being can attain the higher consciousness, we hear this in the lecture cycle about The Basic Concepts of Theosophy. The human being lives in this higher world, but his consciousness, in so far as he is an average modern human being, has not awoken for this higher world.

Then there is still a third world, a world of thinking, and a world of the higher spiritual life which lies above the passions, desires, wishes and impulses. This world of thoughts, the world of spirituality, is still less accessible to the physical consciousness. Anybody should not deny this world of the pure spirit who stands on the standpoint of modern philosophy, but take into account that only the modern human being is lacking the organs to perceive it. The human being lives also in this third world. He thinks in this world, but he cannot perceive it.

Hence, we have to say: the human being lives in three worlds. We call these three worlds: the physical world, the psychic world and the mental world. In the common theosophical parlance we call them: the physical world, the astral world and the spiritual world. The human being is only aware of the first, the physical world, and, hence, he can only find something of the physical world scientifically. He can find anything of the other worlds only if he sees, perceives and is conscious in them as he is in the physical world today.

So we have in the human being a threefold living being before ourselves which forms a whole of body, soul and mind which is aware, however, only in the physical world. Therefore, the naturalist doing research within the physical world can look back only as far as the physical world presents itself to his scientific eye. Also to the scientific eye, equipped with any means of science, no other world comes up than that which comes up to the usual sensory life. Even if he looks back to the evolution of the earth for millions of years, he looks back to the point where from the astral daybreak — it is more luminous than any physical light — the physical has gradually condensed.

Only the eye which has become clairvoyant can penetrate to those evolutionary conditions where the physical from the astral and the astral from the spiritual have arisen; where the spirit gradually condensed to the living and later to the lifeless. That is why the physical researcher can no longer use his method of research where as it were the physical flashes where it has developed from the psycho-spiritual. That is why the physiologist rises to the periphery, to that condition where the living becomes the spiritual. To a more distant past the spiritual researcher rises and with it he creates a more encompassing world-picture, a world-picture which extends far beyond that which the physical researcher knows.

We have shown that the theosophical world view does not need to be unscientific, because it designs a somewhat different world view than the physical research. Other experiences are underlying it — the awakening on the spiritual plane. As you have to move in a room which is dark groping the way and perceive touching, and as another impression originates if the dark room is illuminated, everything appears new to the spiritual researcher, whose eyes are opened, in new activity, in another light. This researcher did not become unscientific because his experience was enriched. The logic of the theosophist is as certain as the logic of the best naturalist. Only this logic moves in another field. It is a strange ignorance if one wants to deny the scientific nature of our research, before one has tested it. We think in the same way on the higher planes as the physical researcher does on the physical plane; this harmonises the theosophical method of research and the physical one.

Now we have to explain why the modern researcher expresses this hard either-or and rejects everything that is not physical. The theosophical researcher realises why this has to be that way: this is connected with the development of humankind. Because the theosophist considers the development of humankind in a higher light and because he can perceive the events, so to speak, in the spiritual realm, the theosophist is able to recognise by the development why the sole authority is attributed to the physical intellectual science. What one calls science today has not always been there. Exactly the same way as any plant, as any animal has developed, as the genders and human races have developed, the spiritual life has also developed. Modern science itself has not always been in the same stage. It is a product of development. However, there was in the oldest times a way of human consideration although it was not scientific in the modern sense. Therefore, one has to go back to that time when the rudiments of our human life come into being.

Everything is in development. The human race was more different from that of today millions of years ago than one imagines it. This difference comes also up in the talks about the Basic Concepts of Theosophy. Another human race, the Atlantean one, has led the way of the human race of today. Plato still tells about it. This race is a fact that cannot be denied by the natural sciences. It has differently imagined, differently lived, and developed other forces than the humankind of today. Who wants additional information, can read up more about this human race in my magazine Luzifer. After the decline of this human race, this “root race,” such imagination, such thinking and looking developed finally as it is today. Within our present root race we distinguish seven sub-races again according to the theosophical view from which our own is the fifth one.

Humankind of today developed slowly, the cultural life developed slowly. If we go back to the spiritual life of the first sub-race of our root race, this spiritual life presents itself quite differently than our present-day spiritual life. The thinking of these human beings was different. It cannot be compared with our inferring rational knowledge at all. This thinking was spiritual, which came about by intuition, by a kind of mental instinct — but also this is not the correct term, it is more a spiritualised kind of thinking. This spiritualised kind of thinking contained all the other human mental activities like in a germ, lying side by side today, harmoniously in itself. What is separated today as imagination, as religious devoutness, as moral feeling and at the same time as scientific nature was a unity in those days. As well as the whole plant is enclosed in the seed, in a unity, that which is separated in many mental activities today was enclosed in a unity. Imagination was not that imagination which we regard as an unreal one. Imagination was fertilised by the spiritual contents of the world, so that it produced truth. It was not what we call artistic imagination today; it was that which contained truth in its images at the same time. The feeling and the ethical will were connected intimately with this imagination. The whole human being was a unity, a spiritual cell. We can imagine it externally if we check what has still remained to us.

If you study the ancient cultural products, as for example the Vedas of the ancient Indians, you find art, poetry and spirit flowing like from a spring. At that time truth, poetry and sense of duty flow like from a single centre of the human being, from common intuition. We can also study the images which have remained from the oldest druidic times which form the basis of ours, — and we find that the temple constructions, the stone settlements of the druids are modelled on cosmic measures. Everything shows us a former development.

Then we come to the next sub-races. There we see that the mental activities separate that they have spread out in the beginning like the branches of a tree. We see later, in the Chaldean-Egyptian age, that the science of astronomy separates from the purely practical science; that part by part separates from that which was a uniform view and becomes special attempts. We can pursue a particular law in our fifth root race: the human being of this fifth root race gradually conquers all fields of the physical world. If we consider the just described spiritual human being of the outset of our age, we see that everything is spirit with him.

The old Vedic priest did not yet know the tendency to the physical. The physical was something unworthy to him; he only looked at the eternal course of the events, his look was directed to the heaven, the earthly matters hardly touched him. In our time this Vedic view appears like an anachronism; we see that these views do no longer cope with the physical, and that just the Indian people suffers from the fact that its inner look gets darker, is forced back by a world which can no longer understand this view. The human being had to conquer the physical world with his mind; the human being has dived in the physical world and has to work on the physical world more and more.

The look was directed to the inner self at first, then, with the Chaldeans and Egyptians, it was directed to the stars. If we progress to the Greeks, we see how with them bit by bit that which was once united, philosophy, religion and art meet us as three completely separate mental activities. The ancient Vedic priest was a poet, researcher and religious prophet at the same time; if we progress to Hellenism, we see the philosopher, the artist, the priest appearing apart. What has happened according to the law of development in ancient Greece? The physical world was first conquered by means of one of the mental activities, by imagination. The tremendous Greek art is the conquest of the physical world with the means of imagination.

We progress to the first Christian time. It prepared already in the Old Testament, in the antiquity, but the new field was only conquered by the spirituality of the Christian time. It is the ethical field, the moral life. If you go to the older Greece, you see the moral appearing not separated from the general world view. Only with Socrates and Plato it begins that the moral being separates itself. Christianity conquers the moral world. As well as the old Hellenism conquered the physical in the art by imagination spiritually, Christianity conquered the physical morality, the moral life on earth, spiritually. This is the second phase of development.

If we skip over some time, we see around the turn of the 15th century to the 16th century splitting again what was combined once. We see the world viewer, the philosopher, and the researcher separating. There was still no separation between philosophers and scientific-physical researchers before. Look back at the first time of the Middle Ages, look at Scotus Eriugena, at Albertus Magnus, at those who cared for the cultural life in the world, you will see that there everything goes hand in hand. Between spiritual-philosophical researchers and purely physical researchers was no separation. You can still find reminiscences of the unity of philosophy and science with Descartes and Spinoza. The philosophical thinking went once hand in hand with the natural sciences. In the 15th, 16th centuries this separation takes place: science separates from philosophy; science becomes independent. A new field of the physical life is conquered: the field, which is to be conquered by physics, astronomy et cetera, briefly by purely physical rational science. Now we see what was united once — science, art, philosophy, religion, ethics — going separate ways.

Attempts were made later repeatedly to reunite what was a unity once. We see this aspiration also with Goethe. We see him trying hard to create spiritual natural sciences and to find a bridge between science and art. A sentence shows this: “The beautiful is a manifestation of secret laws of nature which would have remained hidden to us without its appearance.” Also Richard Wagner tried to combine the myth of the religions in a new art form which should be more than the art founded on pure imagination.

These attempts remind of something that existed at all times. Beside the separate ways which religion, art, science and ethics have gone there was always what one calls the big unity. Beside science, art and philosophy there were the mysteries. The whole world view was performed to the initiate of the mysteries. One did not explain to him scientifically what was once and how the world laws are: an image of life was created there. In the Dionysus drama one revealed to him how the human being, the spirit-man, has submerged into the physical matter how the spiritual has condensed to matter to rise to the spiritual again in future. In great pictures this piece of art, this Dionysus drama, was performed in the ancient Greek mysteries. It was shown how Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Semele, is saved by Pallas Athena and how his heart is saved by Zeus. This is the performance of a great human drama; it should show nothing else than the life within our earth. It should be shown how the human being has dived in the physical body how he has saved his soul with the help of the spiritual in his innermost being and how he develops again to a new divine existence.

In the Greek culture then appears that separate which constitutes a unity in the deepness of the mystery temples. What Socrates tells and what Plato shows in his philosophy is nothing else than an external image, a separation of that which was found in the mysteries. If you read Plato, you see the philosophical presentation of the mystery drama; if you read the tragic destinies of the heroes, you have a weak reflection of the mystery drama in these heroic dramas. Philosophy has developed from the ancient art. In our time the last separation happened: the rational science which is limited to the physical world has conquered the world; the microscope and the telescope have conquered the world. As well as the Christian art conquered the internal feeling world the physical science conquered the outer nature. This was the task, the big world mission: to conquer what was a unity once in separate fields.

It is the mission of a new dawning time to pave the way for the unity of all four, of science, philosophy, ethics and art; theosophy wants to prepare the mission of new humankind. That is why the first significant work, the Secret Doctrine by Helena Petrowna Blavatsky, appeared with the subtitle: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. — The theosophical world view behaves that way to the single branches which bury the mental life today. You see why it cannot find consolation, if the scientific world view confronts it with an either-or.

You see why the theosophist who looks at the whole can look reconciling at science and can almost expect an additional rise in the scientific sphere from the future development of science. This is the ideal of theosophy. Because humankind is a whole in every single human being, this ideal is the big human ideal of our time. On separate ways the human beings of our root race had to arrive at their goal. However, the big world law is that the ways go apart for a while; then they must reunite. Now it is the time of reunification.

A unifying world view can be only a tolerant world view. That is why the big principle of tolerance stands at the head of our movement. It would be a misunderstanding if one wanted to assess the theosophical movement on account of any truth. We do not unite on account of a particular single truth, of a dogma, not of that which this or that person has recognised or believes to have recognised. Anybody who expresses a truth in the theosophical movement, even if resolutely and energetically, does not express it in the sense as others demand that one must confess to it. Have a look at the single confessions, also at the schools of scientific thinking, materialism, monism, dualism et cetera, everywhere you can see one thing: the follower of such a confession or school believes to own the only truth and eliminates everything else. Either-or is the motto. The quarrel of the sects, of the views is the result. Theosophy differs quite basically from that. Truth has to develop in every single human being. Who expresses his knowledge, expresses it only to stimulate his fellowmen. The theosophical teacher is aware that in every human being truth has to be got out. In doing so, absolutely tolerant human beings unite in brotherliness to a common big goal; they unite in the Theosophical Society, in the spiritual-scientific movement. The most tolerant attitude, tolerance in feeling and thinking is to be found in this movement.

The theosophist realises, just if he has advanced in his way of knowledge, that in the breast of any human being the truth core rests that he only needs to be surrounded with a spiritual atmosphere to develop. It is all the cooperation on which it depends. Where theosophists unite, they create that atmosphere round themselves in which the single human germ can thrive. They regard this cooperation as their proper task. This distinguishes the theosophical movement basically from all others. Others combat each other — but we unite. Others are monists and consider dualism as wrong; however, we know that dualism and monism find a unity in an even higher harmony if anybody goes on searching spiritually in himself.

The great spirits have expressed this, also Goethe — connecting with his words to old masters — how in the human being the divine truth must develop how it has to come forth from the single human heart. He headed one of his scientific works with the following motto that could be also a motto of our theosophical movement:

Were not the eyes like the sun,
How could we see the light?
Did not God’s own force live in us,
How could delight us the divine?

Theory of Colours. Didactic Part


William Thierry Preyer (1841–1897), English physiologist. The Hypotheses of the Origin of Life in Naturwissenschaftliche Thatsachen und Probleme (1880) — Scientific Facts and Problems.

Johannes Peter Müller (1801–1858), German physiologist

Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894), German physician and physicist

Hermann Lotze (1817–1881), German philosopher and logician. Grundzüge der Psychologie (The Principles of Psychology) (1880)

The Basic Concepts of Theosophy: contained in CW 53 The Origin and Goal of the Human Being

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