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Man: Hieroglyph of the Universe

On-line since: 17th July, 2002


The last lectures here described a path which, if followed in the right way, leads to a perception of the Universe and its organisation. As you have seen, this path compels a continuous search for the harmony existing between the process taking place in Man and the processes observed in the Universe. Tomorrow and the day after I shall have to treat our subject in such a way that the friends who have come to attend the General Meeting may be able to receive something from the two lectures at which they are present. To-morrow I shall go over again some of what has been said in order then to connect with it something fresh.

In perusing my Occult Science — an Outline, you will have seen that in the description it gives of the evolution of the known Universe a point is made of keeping everywhere in view the relationship of that evolution to the evolution of Man himself. Beginning with the Saturn period which was followed by the Sun and Moon periods preceding the Earth period, you will remember that the Saturn period was characterised by the laying of the first foundations of the human senses. And along this line of thought the book proceeds. Everywhere universal conditions are considered in a way that at the same time also describes the evolution of Man. In short, Man is not considered as standing in the Universe as modern science sees him — the outer Universe on the one hand, and Man on the other — two entities that do not rightly belong to each other. Here, on the contrary, the two are regarded as merged into each other, and the evolution of both is followed together. This conception must, of necessity, be applied also to the present attributes, forces and motions of the Universe. We cannot consider first the Universe abstractly in its purely spatial aspect, as is done in the Galileo-Copernican system, and then Man as existing beside it; we must allow both to merge into one another in our study.

This is only possible, when we have acquired an understanding of Man himself. I have already shown you how little modern natural science is in a position really to explain Man. What does science do, for instance, in that sphere where it is greatest, judging by modern methods of thought? It states in a grand manner that Man has evolved physically from other lower forms. It then shows how, during the embryonic period, Man passes again rapidly through these forms in recapitulation. This means that Man is looked upon as the highest of the animals. Science contemplates the animal kingdom and then builds up Man from what is found there; in other words, it examines everything non-human, and then says: ‘Here we come to a standstill; here Man begins’. Natural science does not feel called upon to study Man as Man, and consequently any real understanding of his nature is out of the question.

It is in truth very necessary today for people who claim to be experts in this domain of nature, to examine Goethe's investigations in natural science, particularly his Theory of Colours. Here a very different method of investigation is used from that to which we today are accustomed. At the very commencement mention is made of subjective, and of physiological colours, and the phenomena of the living experience of the human eye in connection with its environment are then carefully investigated. It is shown, for example, how these experiences or impressions do not merely last as long as the eye is exposed to its surroundings, but that an after-effect remains. You all know a very simple phenomenon connected with this. You gaze at a red surface, and then quickly turning to a white surface you will see the red in the green after-colour. This shows that the eye is, in a certain sense, still under the influence of the original impression. There is here no need to examine into the reason why the second colour seen should be green, we will only keep to the more general fact that the eye retains the after-effect of its experience.

We have here to do with an experience on the periphery of the human body, for the eye is on the periphery. When we contemplate this experience, we find that for a certain limited time the eye retains the after-effect of the impression; after that the experience ceases, and the eye can then expose itself to new impressions without interference from the last one.

Let us now consider quite objectively a phenomenon connected not with any single localised organ of the human organism, but with the whole human being. Provided our observations are unprejudiced, we cannot fail to recognise that this experience made by the whole human being is related to the experience with the localised eye. We expose ourselves to an impression, to an experience, with our whole being. In so doing, we absorb this experience just as the eye absorbs the impression of the colour to which it is exposed; and we find that after the lapse of months, or even years, the after-effect comes forth in the form of a thought-picture. The whole phenomenon is somewhat different, but you will not fail to recognise the relation of this memory picture to that after-picture of an experience which the eye retains for a short limited time.

This is the kind of question that man must face, for he can only gain some knowledge of the world when he learns to ask questions in the correct way. Let us therefore ask ourselves: What is the connection between these two phenomena — between the after-picture of the eye and the memory picture that rises up within us in relation with a certain experience? As soon as we put our question in this form and require a definite answer, we realise that the whole method of the present-day natural-scientific thought completely fails to supply the answer; and it fails because of its ignorance of one great fact — the fact of the universal significance of metamorphosis. This metamorphosis is something that is not completed in Man within the limits of one life, but only plays itself out in consecutive lives on Earth.

You will remember that in order to gain a true insight into the nature of Man, we divided him into three parts: head, rhythmic man and limbs. We may, for the present purpose, consider the last two as one, and we then have the head-organisation on the one hand and all that makes up the remaining parts on the other. As we try to comprehend this head-organisation, we must be able to understand how it is related to the whole evolution of Man. The head is a later metamorphosis, a transformation, of the rest of Man, considered in terms of its forces. Were you to imagine yourself without your head — and of course also without whatever is present in the rest of the organism but really belongs to the head — you would, in the first place, think of the remaining portion of your organism as substantial. But here we are not concerned with substance; it is the inter-relation of the forces of this substance which undergoes a complete transformation in the period between death and a new birth and becomes in the next incarnation the head-organisation. In other words, that which you now include in the lower part (the rhythmic man and the limbs) is an earlier metamorphosis of what is going to be head-organisation. But if you wish to understand how this metamorphosis proceeds, you will have to consider the following.

Take any one organ — liver or kidney — of your lower man, and compare it with your head-organisation. You will at once become aware of a fundamental, essential difference; namely, that all the activities of the lower parts of the body as distinct from the upper or head, are directed inwards, as instanced by the kidneys, whose whole activity is exercised interiorly. The activity of the kidneys is an activity of secretion. In comparing this organ with a characteristic organ of the head — the eye, for instance — you find the construction of the latter to be the exact opposite. It is directed entirely outwards, and the results of the changing impressions are transmitted inwardly to the reason, to the head. In any particular organ of the head you have the polar opposite of an organ belonging to the other part of the body. We might depict this fact diagrammatically.

Diagram 1

Take the drawing on the left as the first metamorphosis, and the drawing on the right as the second; then you will have to imagine the first as the first life, and the second as the second life, and between the two is the life between death and a new birth. We have first an inner organ which is directed inward. Owing to the transformation taking place between two physical lives, the whole position and direction of this organ is entirely reversed — it now opens outwards. So that an organ which develops its activity inwardly in one incarnation, develops it outwardly in the succeeding life. You can now imagine that something has happened between the two incarnations that may be compared with putting on a glove, taking it off and turning it inside out; upon wearing the glove again, the surface which was previously turned inward comes outside, and vice versa. Thus it must be noted that this metamorphosis does not merely transform the organs, but turns them inside out; inner becomes outer. We can now say that the organs of the body (taking ‘body’ as the opposite to ‘head’) have been transformed. So that one or other of our abdominal organs, for instance, has now become our eyes in this incarnation. It has been reversed in its active forces, has become an eye, and has attained the ability to generate after-effects following upon impressions from without. Now this faculty must owe its origin to something.

Let us consider the eye and the mission of its life-activity, in an unbiased way. These after-effects only prove to us that the eye is a living thing. They prove that the eye, for a little while, retains impressions; and why? I will use as a simile something simpler. Suppose you touch silk; your organ of touch retains an after-effect of the smoothness of silk. If later on you again touch silk, you recognise it by what the first impression left behind with you. It is the same with the eye. The after-effect is somehow connected with recognition. The inner life which produces this after-effect, plays a part in the recognition. But the outer object, when recognised, remains outside. If I see any one of you now, and to-morrow meet you again and recognise you, you are physically present before me.

Now compare this with the inner organ of which the eye is a transformation in respect to its activity and forces. In this organ must reside something which in a certain sense corresponds to the eye's capacity for retaining pictures of impressions, something akin to the inner life of the eye; but it must be directed inward. And this must also have some connection with recognition. But to recognise an experience means to remember it. So when we look for the fundamental metamorphosis of the eye's activity in a former life, we must enquire into the activity of that organ which acts for the memory.

It is impossible to explain these things in simple language such as is often desired at the present day, but we can direct our thoughts along a certain line which, if followed up, will lead us to this conception — namely that all our sense-organs which are directed outward have their correspondences in the inner organs, and that these latter are also the organs of memory. With the eye we see that which recurs as an impression from the outer world, while with those organs within the human body which correspond to the previous metamorphosis of the eye, we remember the pictures transmitted through the eye. We hear sound with the ear, and with the inner organ corresponding to the ear we remember that sound. Thereby the whole man as he directs or opens his organs inward, becomes an organ of memory. We confront the outer world, taking it into ourselves in the form of impressions. Materialistic natural science claims that we receive an impression, for instance, with the aid of the eye. The impression is transmitted to the optic nerve. But here the activity apparently ceases; as regards the process of cognition, the whole remaining organism is like the fifth wheel of a wagon! But this is far from being the truth. All that we perceive passes over into the rest of the organism. The nerves have no direct relation with memory. On the contrary the entire human body, the whole man, becomes a memory instrument, only specialised according to the particular organ that directs its activity inwards. Materialism is experiencing a tragic paradox — it fails to comprehend matter, because it sticks fast to its abstractions! It becomes more and more abstract, the spiritual is more and more filtered away; therefore it cannot penetrate to the essence of material phenomena, for it does not recognise the spiritual within the material. For instance materialism does not realise that our internal organs have very much more to do with our memory than has the brain, which merely prepares the idea or images so that they can be absorbed by the other organs of the whole body. In this connection our science is a perpetuation of a one-sided asceticism, which consists in unwillingness to understand the spirituality of the material world and a desire to overcome it. Our science has learnt sufficient asceticism to deprive itself of the capacity for understanding the world, when it claims that the eyes and other sense-organs receive the various impressions, pass them on to the nervous system and then to something else, which remains undefined. But this undefined “something” is the entire remaining organism! Here it is that memories originate through the transmutation of the organs.

This was very well known in the days when no spurious asceticism oppressed human perception. Therefore we find that the ancients, when speaking of ‘hypochondria’ for example, did not speak of it in the same way as does modern man and even the psycho-analyst when he maintains that hypochondria is merely psychic, is something rooted in the soul. No, hypochondria means a hardening of the abdominal and lower parts. The ancients knew well enough that this hardening of the abdominal system has as its result what we call hypochondria, and the English language which gives evidence of a less advanced stage than other European tongues, still contains a remnant of memory of this correspondence between the material and the spiritual. I can, at the moment, only remind you of one instance of this. In English, depression is called “spleen”. The word is the same as the name of the physical organ that has very much to do with this depression. For this condition of soul cannot be explained out of the nervous system, the explanation for it is to be found in the spleen. We might find a good many such correspondences, for the genius of language has preserved much; and even if words have become somewhat transformed for the purpose of applying them to the soul, yet they point to an insight Man once possessed in ancient times and that stood him in good stead.

To repeat — you, as entire Man, observe the surrounding world, and this world reacts upon your organs, which adapt themselves to these experiences according to their nature. In a medical school, when anatomy is being studied, the liver is just called liver, be it the liver of a man of 50 or of 25, of a musician or of one who understands as much of music as a cow does of Sunday after regaling itself upon grass for a week! It is simply liver. The fact is that a great difference exists between the liver of a musician and that of a non-musician, for the liver is very closely connected with all that may be summed up as the musical conceptions that live and resound in Man. It is of no use to look at the liver with the eye of an ascetic and see it as an inferior organ; for that apparently humble organ is the seat of all that lives in and expresses itself through the beautiful sequence of melody; it is closely concerned e.g. with the act of listening to a symphony. We must clearly understand that the liver also possesses etheric organs; it is these latter which, in the first place, have to do with music. But the outer physical liver is, in a certain sense, an externalisation of the etheric liver, and its form is like the form of the latter. In this way you see, you prepare your organs; and if it depended entirely upon yourself, the instruments of your senses, would, in the next incarnation, be a replica of the experiences you had made in the world in the present incarnation. But this is true only in measure, for in the interval between death and a new birth Beings of the higher Hierarchies come to our aid, and they do not always decide that injuries produced upon our organs by lack of knowledge or of self-control should be carried by us as our fate. We receive help between death and re-birth, and are therefore, in respect of this portion of our constitution, not dependent upon ourselves alone.

From all this you will see that a relation really exists between the head organisation and the rest of the body with its organs. The body becomes head, and we lose the head at death in so far as its formative forces are concerned. Therefore it is so essentially bony in its structure and is preserved longer on Earth than the rest of the organism, which fact is only the outer sign that it is lost to us for our following re-incarnation, in respect to all that we have to experience between death and re-birth. The ancient atavistic wisdom perceived these things plainly, and especially when that great relation between Man and Macrocosm was investigated, which we find expressed in the ancient description of the movements of the heavenly bodies. The genius of language has also here preserved a great deal. As I pointed out yesterday, physical Man adheres internally to the day-cycle. He demands breakfast every day, and not only on Sunday. Breakfast, dinner and supper are required every day, and not only breakfast on Sunday, dinner on Wednesday and supper on Saturday. Man is bound to the 24 hour cycle in respect to his metabolism — or the transmutation of matter from the outer world. This day-cycle in the interior of Man corresponds to the daily motion of the Earth upon its axis. These things were closely perceived by the ancient wisdom. Man did not feel that he was a creature apart from the Earth, for he knew that he conformed to its motions; he knew also the nature of that to which he conformed. Those who have an understanding for ancient works of art — though the examples still preserved today offer but little opportunity for studying these things — will be aware of a living sense, on the part of the ancients, of the connection of Man the Microcosm with the Macrocosm. It is proved by the position certain figures take up in their pictures, and the positions that certain others are beginning to assume etc.; in these, cosmic movements are constantly imitated.

But we shall find something of even greater significance in another consideration.

In almost all the peoples inhabiting this Earth, you find a recognised distinction or comparison existing between the week and the day. You have, on the one hand, the cycle of the transmutation of substances — or metabolism, which expresses itself in the taking of meals at regular intervals.. Man has however never reckoned according to this cycle alone; he has added to the day-cycle a week-cycle. He first distinguished this rising and setting of the Sun — corresponding to a day; then he added Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, a cycle seven times that of the other, after which he came back once again to Sunday. (In a certain sense, after completing seven such cycles, we return also again to the starting-point.) We experience this in the contrast between day and week. But Man wished to express a great deal more by this contrast. He wished first to show the connection of the daily cycle with the motion of the Sun.

But there is a cycle seven times as great, which, whilst returning again to the Sun, includes all the planets — Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This is the weekly cycle. This was intended to signify that, having one cycle corresponding to a day, and one seven times greater that included the planets, not only does the Earth revolve upon its axis (or the Sun go round), but the whole system has in itself also a movement. The movement can be seen in various other examples. If you take the course of the year's cycle, then you have in the year, as you know, 52 weeks, so that 7 weeks is about the seventh part — in point of number — of the year. This means, we imagine the week-cycle extended or stretched over the year, taking the beginning and end of the year as corresponding to the beginning and end of the week. And this necessitates the thought that all phenomena resulting from the weekly cycle must take place at a different speed from those events having their origin in the daily cycle.

And where are we to look for the origin of the feeling which impels us to reckon, now with the day-cycle, and now with the week-cycle? It arises from the sensation within us of the contrast between the human head-development, and that of the rest of the organism. We see the human head-organisation represented by a process to which I have already drawn your attention — the formation within about a year's cycle of the first teeth.

If you consider the first and second dentition you will see that the second takes place after a cycle that is seven times as long as the cycle of the first dentition. We may say that as the one year-cycle in respect to the first dentition stands to the cycle of human evolution that works up to the second dentition, so does the day stand to the week. The ancients felt this to be true, because they rightly understood another thing. They understood that the first dentition was primarily the result of heredity. You only need look at the embryo to realise that its development proceeds out of the head organisation; it annexes, as it were, the remainder of the organism later. You will then understand that the idea of the ancients was quite correct when they saw a connection of the formation of the first teeth with the head and of the second teeth with the whole human organism. And today we must arrive at the same result if we consider these phenomena objectively. The first teeth are connected with the forces of the human head, the second with the forces that work from out of the rest of the organism and penetrate into the head.

Through looking at the matter in this way, we have indicated an important difference between the head and the rest of the human body. The difference is one which can, in the first place, be considered as connected with time, for that which takes place in the human head has a seven times greater rapidity than that which takes place in the rest of the human organism. Let us translate this into rational language. Let us say, today you have eaten your usual number of meals in the proper sequence. Your organism demands a repetition of them to-morrow. Not so the head. This acts according to another measure of time; it must wait seven days before the food taken into the rest of the organism has proceeded far enough to enable the head to assimilate it. Supposing this to be Sunday, your head would have to wait until next Sunday before it would be in a position to benefit by the fruit of to-day's Sunday dinner. In the head organisation, a repetition takes place after a period of seven days, of what has been accomplished seven days before in the organism. All this the ancients knew intuitively and expressed by saying: a week is necessary to transmute what is physical and bodily into soul and spirit.

You will now see that metamorphosis also brings about a repetition in the succeeding incarnation in ‘single’ time of that which previously required a seven times longer period to accomplish. We are thus concerned with a metamorphosis which is spatial through the fact that our remaining organism — our body — is not merely transformed, but turned inside out, and is at the same time temporal, in that our head organisation has remained behind to the extent of a period seven times as long.

It will be clear to you now that this human organisation is not, after all, quite so simple as our modern, comfort-loving science would like to believe. We must make up our mind to regard Man's organisation as much more complicated; for if we do not understand Man rightly, we are also prevented from realising the cosmic movements in which he takes part. The descriptions of the Universe circulated since the beginning of modern times are mere abstractions, for they are described without a knowledge of Man.

This is the reform that is necessary, above all, in Astronomy — a reform demanding the re-inclusion of Man in the scheme of things, when cosmic movements are being studied. Such studies will then naturally be somewhat more difficult.

Goethe felt intuitively the metamorphosis of the skull from the vertebrae, when, in a Venetian Jewish burial ground, he found a sheep's skull which had fallen apart into its various small sections; these enabled him to study the transformation of the vertebrae, and he then pursued his discovery in detail. Modern science has also touched upon this line of research. You will find some interesting observations relating to the matter, and some hypotheses built up upon it, by the comparative anatomist Karl Gegenbaur; but in reality Gegenbaur created obstacles for the Goethean intuitional research, for he failed to find sufficient reason to declare himself in favour of the parallel between the vertebrae and the single sections of the skull. Why did he fail? Because so long as people think only of a transformation and disregard the reversal inside out, so long will they gain only an approximate idea of the similarity of the two kinds of bones. For in reality the bones of the skull result from those forces which act upon Man between death and rebirth, and they are therefore bound to be essentially different in appearance from merely transformed bone. They are turned inside out; it is this reversal which is the important point.

Diagram 2

Imagine we have here (diagram) the upper or head-man. All influences or impressions proceed inward from without. Here below would be the rest of the human body. Here everything works from within outwards, but so as to remain within the organism. Let me put it in another way. With his head man stands in relation to his outer environment, while with his lower organism he is related to the processes taking place within himself. The abstract mystic says: “Look within to find the reality of the outer world.” But this is merely abstract thought, it does not accord with the actual path. The reality of the outer world is not found through inner contemplation of all that acts upon us from outside; we must go deeper and consider ourselves as a duality, and allow the world to take form in quite a different part of our being. That is why abstract mysticism yields so little fruit, and why it is necessary to think here too of an inner process.

I do not expect any of you to allow your dinner to stand before you untouched, depending upon the attractive appearance of it to appease your hunger! Life could not be supported in this way. No! We must induce that process which runs its course in the 24-hour cycle, and which, if we consider the whole man, including the upper or head organisation, only finishes its course after seven days. But that which is assimilated spiritually — for it has really to be assimilated and not merely contemplated! — also requires for this process a period seven times as long. Therefore it becomes necessary first intellectually to assimilate all we absorb. But to see it reborn again within us, we must wait seven years. Only then has it developed into that which it was intended to be. That is why after the founding of the Anthroposophical Society in 1901 we had to wait patiently, seven, and even fourteen years for the result!

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