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Anthroposophy and Science

Schmidt Number: S-4426

On-line since: 31st July, 2009

Lecture VI

Stuttgart — March 22, 1921

In the lectures so far, I have spoken of the capacities for supersensory knowledge and I have named them Imagination and Inspiration. Today I would like to say something about acquiring these capacities. At the moment I can only mention a few details. In my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, you will find this presented in greater depth. Today, however, I would point out what is important in the context I have chosen for the present lecture. I have indicated that what I call Imagination with regard to knowledge of the world is attained through a development modeled on the memory process, only on another level. The importance of the memory process is that it retains in picture form what the human being encounters in outer experience.

Our first task will be to understand certain characteristics of the ordinary memory process, and then we must distill out what can be called pure memory in the true sense, also in ordinary life. One of the peculiarities of memory is that it tends to alter to a certain degree what has been experienced. Perhaps it is unnecessary to go into detail here, since most of you will be quite familiar with the fact that at times you can despair when you are relating something, and you hear from your own telling what has become of your experience by its passing through your memory. Even in ordinary life a certain self-education is necessary if we wish to come closer to pure memory, to the capacity to have these pictures ready at hand so that they faithfully render our experience. We can distinguish what happens with memory. On the one hand there is an activity of fantasy, quite justified, that goes on in an artistic direction. On the other hand there is a falsification of our experience. It should suffice for the moment to point out the difference between the fantasy tendency and the falsifying tendency, and that we must be able to experience this to maintain a healthy soul life. Certainly we must be aware of how memory is transformed by our fantasy, and how, when it is not subjected to such arbitrary action, when it is allowed to proceed according to a kind of natural similarity in the soul, it becomes increasingly faithful and true. In any case, both from the good tendency to artistic fantasy, as well as from the forces active in falsifying the memories — when we study it psychologically, we can recognize what is alive in the memory forces.

And out of these forces, something can take form that is no longer just memory. For example, one can point to certain mystical teachings that are in fact essentially falsified memory images; and yet we can profit from studying 'such images that have taken the form of earnest mystical experience. What concerns us at this moment, however, is what I have already indicated, that we can attain a power of the soul which is alive in the memory which can be metamorphosed into something else. This must happen in such a way that the original power of memory is led in the direction of inner faithfulness and truth, and not toward falsification. As I have said, when we repeatedly evoke easily surveyable mental images, which we intentionally combine out of their separate elements and then view as a whole, just as easily as the mathematical images: when we call up such images, hold them in our consciousness and dwell upon them, not so that we are fascinated by them, but so that at each moment we continue to hold them through an inner act of will — then gradually we succeed in transforming the memory process into something different, something of which we were previously unaware. The details are contained in the book I named, and also in Occult Science, an Outline.

If we continue long enough with such exercises (how long depends on the individual) and if we are in a position to expend sufficient soul energy on them, then we come to a point where we simply begin to experience pictures. The form of these pictures in the life of the soul is like that of memories. Gradually we win the capacity to live in such imaginations of our own making, although in their content they are not of our making. The exercise of this capacity results in imaginations rising up in the soul, and if we maintain a “mathematical” attitude of soul, we can make sure at any time whether we are being fooled by a suggestion or auto-suggestion, or are really living in that attitude of soul voluntarily. We begin to have mental images with the characteristic form of memory pictures but with a greater degree of intensity. Let me emphasize: at first these imaginations have the character of memory pictures. Only through inspiration do they become permeated with a more intense experience. At first they have the character of memory pictures, but of such a kind that we know their meaning does not relate to any experiences we have lived through externally since our birth. They do, however, express something just as pictorially as memory pictures express pictorially our personal experiences. They refer to something objective, yet we know that this objective something is not contained in the sphere which is surveyed by our memory. We are conscious that these imaginations contain a strong inner reality, yet at the same time we are aware that we are dealing with just images — just pictures of the reality. It is a matter of being able to distinguish these pictures from those of memory, in order that these imaginations remain pure, so that no foreign elements slip into them.

I will describe the outer process, but of course in just a few lectures one cannot go into any great detail. We may form a mental picture of an outer experience and we can see how in a sense the outer experience passes over into our organism, and — expressed abstractly — it then leads a further existence there, and can be drawn forth again as a memory picture. We notice that there is a certain dependence between what lives in the memory and the physical condition of the human organism. The memory is really dependent on our human organism right into the physical condition. In a way we pass on what we have experienced to our organism. It is even possible to give a detailed account of the continuation of the various pictures of our experience in the human organism. But this would be an entire spiritual-scientific chapter in itself. For our memories to remain pure and true, no matter how much our organism may participate in what lives on in the memory process, this involvement may not add anything of real content. Once mental pictures of an experience have been formed, nothing further should flow into the content of the memories.

If we are clear about this fact of memory life, we are then in a position to ascertain what it means when pictures appear in our consciousness that have the familiar character of memory pictures, but a content which does not relate to anything in our personal experience. In the process of experiencing imagination we realize the necessity of continually increasing the power of our soul. For what is it that we must really do? Normally our organism takes over the mental pictures we have formed from life and provides memory. Thereby the mental pictures do not just sink down into an abyss, if I may so express it, but are caught and held by our organism so that they can be reflected back again at any necessary moment. With imaginative pictures, this is just what should not be the case; we must be in a position to hold them through inner soul forces alone. Therefore it is necessary for us to acquire something that will make us stronger than we are ordinarily in receiving and retaining mental images. There are of course many ways to do this; I have described them in the books already named. I wish to mention just one of them. From what I now tell you, you will be able to see the relation between various demands of life which spring from anthroposophical spiritual science and their connection with the foundation of anthroposophical research.

Whoever uses his intellect to spin all kinds of theories about what he confronts as phenomena in the world (which of course can be extraordinarily interesting at times) will hardly find the power for imaginative activity. In this respect, certain developments in the intellectual life of the present day seem specifically suited to suppress the imaginative force. If we go further than simply taking the outer phenomena of the mineral-physical realm and connecting them with one another through the power of our intellect; if we begin to search for things that are supposed to be concealed behind the visible phenomena, with which we can make mental constructions, we will actually destroy our imaginative capacity.

Perhaps I may make a comparison. No doubt you have had some dealings with what could be called phenomenalism in the sense of a Goethean world view. In arranging experiments and observations, Goethe used the intellect differently from the way it is used in recent phases of modern thought. Goethe used the intellect as we use it in reading. When we read, we form a whole out of the individual letters. For instance, when we have a row of letters and succeed in inwardly grasping the whole, then we have solved a certain riddle posed by this row of individual letters. We would not think of saying: Here is a b, an r, an e, an a and a d — I will look at the b. As such, this isolated b tells me nothing in particular, so I have to penetrate further for what really lies behind the b. Then one could say: Behind this b there is concealed some mysterious “beyond,” a “beyond” that makes an impression on me and explains the b to me. Of course, I do not do this; I simply take a look at the succession of letters in front of me and out of them form a whole: I read bread. Goethe proceeds in the same way in regard to the individual phenomena of the outer world. For instance, he does not take some light phenomenon and begins to philosophize about it, wondering what states of vibration lie behind this phenomenon in some sort of “beyond.” He does not use his intellect to speculate what might be hiding behind the phenomenon; rather, he uses his intellect as we do when we “think” the letters together into a word. Similarly he uses the intellect solely as a medium in which phenomena are grouped — grouped in such a way that in their relation to one another they let themselves be “read.” So we can see that regarding the external physical-mineral phenomenological world, Goethe employs the intellect as what I would call a cosmic reading tool.

He never speaks of a Kantian “thing in itself” that must be sought behind the phenomena, something Kant supposed existed there. And so Goethe comes to a true understanding of phenomena — of what might be called the “letters” in the mineral-physical world. He starts with the archetypal or “Ur”-phenomenon, and then proceeds to more complex phenomena which he seeks either in observation or in experiments which he contrives. He "reads" what is spread out in space and time, not looking behind the phenomena, but observing them in such a way that they cast light on one another, expressing themselves as a whole. His other use of the intellect is to arrange experimental situations that can be “read” — to arrange experimental situations and then see what is expressed by them. When we adopt such a way of viewing phenomena and make it more and more our own, proceeding even further than Goethe, we acquire a certain feeling of kinship with the phenomena. We experience a belonging-together with the phenomena. We enter into the phenomena with intensity, in contrast to the way the intellect is used to pierce through the phenomena and seek for all kinds of things behind them — things which fundamentally are only spun-out theories. Naturally, what I have just said is aimed only at this theoretical activity.

We need to educate ourselves in phenomenology, to reach a “growing together with” the phenomena of the world around us. Next in importance is to acquire the ability to recall a fully detailed picture of the phenomena. In our present culture, most people's memories consist of verbal images. There comes a moment when we should not be dependent on verbal images: these only fill the memory so that the last memory connection is pushed up out of the subconscious into consciousness. We should progress toward a remembering that is really pictorial. We can remember, for instance, that as young rascals we were up to some prank or other — we can have a vivid picture of ourselves giving another fellow punches, taking him by the ear, cuffing him, and so on. When these pictures arise not just as faded memories, but in sharp outline, then we have strengthened the power we need to hold the imaginations firmly in our consciousness. We are related to these pictures in inner freedom just as we are to our ordinary memories. With this strengthened remembering, we grow increasingly interested in the outer world, and as a result the ultimate "living together with" all the various details of the outer world penetrates into our consciousness. Our memories take on the quality of being really objective, as any outer experience is, and we have the feeling that we could affectionately stroke them. Or one could say: These memory pictures become so lively that they could even make us angry. Please bear with me as I describe these things to you! It is the only thing I can do with our present language.

Then comes the next step: we must practice again and again eliminating these imaginations so that we can dive down again and again into an empty consciousness. If we bring such pictures into our consciousness at will and then eliminate them again in a kind of inner rhythm — meditating, concentrating, creating images, and then freeing ourselves of them — this will quicken powerfully the feeling of inner freedom in us. In this way we develop a great inner mobility of soul — exactly the opposite of the condition prevailing in psychopaths of various kinds. It really: is the exact opposite, and those who parallel what I have just described here with any kind of psychopathic state show that they simply have no idea of what I am talking about.

When we finally succeed in strengthening our forgetting — the activity which normally is a kind of involuntary activity — when now we control this activity with our will, we notice that what we knew before as an image of reality, as imagination, fills with content. This content shows us that what appears there in pictorial form is indeed reality, spiritual reality. At this point we have come to the edge of an abyss where, in a certain sense, spiritual reality shines across to us from the other side of existence. This spiritual reality is present in all physical sense reality. It is essential to develop a proper sense for the external world in order to have a correct relationship to these imaginations. Whoever wishes just to speculate about phenomena, to pierce them through, as it were, hoping to see what is behind them as some kind of ultimate reality — whoever does this, weakens his power to retain and deal with imaginations.

When we have attained a life of inspiration — that is, experiencing the reality of the spiritual world just as ordinarily we experience the physical world through our external senses — then we can say: now I finally understand what the process of remembering means. Remembering means (I will make a kind of comparison) that the mental images we have gained from our experiences sink down into our organism and act there as a mirror. The pictures we form in our minds are retained by the organism, in contrast to a mirror which just has to reflect, give back again what is before it. Thus we have the possibility of transforming a strictly reflective process into a voluntary process — in other words, what we have entrusted to memory can be reflected back from the entire organism and particularly from the nervous system. Through this process, what has been taken up by the organism in the form of mental pictures is held in such a way that we too cannot see “behind the mirror.” Looking inward upon our memories, we must admit that having the faculty of memory prevents us from having an inner view of ourself. We cannot get into our interior any more than we can get behind the reflective surface of a mirror.

Of course what I am telling you is expressed by way of comparisons, but these comparisons do portray the fact of the matter. We realize this when inspiration reveals these imaginations to us as pictures of a spiritual reality. At this moment the mirror falls away with regard to the imaginations. When this happens we have the possibility of true insight into ourselves, and our inner being appears to us for the first time in what is actually its spiritual aspect. But what do we really learn here?

By reading such mystics as Saint Theresa or Mechtild of Magdeburg, beautiful images are evoked, and from a certain point of view this is justified. One can enter into a truly devotional mood before these images. For someone who begins to understand what I have just described to you, precisely this kind of mystical visions cease to be what they very often are for the nebulous types of mystic: When someone comes to real inner vision, not in an abnormal way (as is the case with such mystics) but by the development of his cognitive faculty as I have described it, then he learns not only to describe a momentary aspect as Mechtild of Magdeburg, Saint Theresa and others do, but he learns to recognize what the real interior of the human organization is. If one wants to have real knowledge and not mystical intoxication, one must strive toward the truth and put it in place of their mist-shrouded images. (Of course, this may seem prosaic to the nebulous mystic.) When this is accomplished, the mirror drops away and one gains a knowledge, an inner vision of the lungs, diaphragm, liver, and stomach. One learns to experience the human organization inwardly. It is clear that Mechtild of Magdeburg and Saint Theresa also viewed the interior, but in their case this happened through certain abnormal conditions and their vision of the human interior was shrouded in all manner of mists. What they describe is the fog which the true spiritual investigator penetrates.

To a person who is incapable of accepting such things, it would naturally be a shock if, let's say hypothetically, a lofty chapter out of Mechtild were read and the spiritual researcher then told him: Yes, that is really what one sees when one comes to an inner vision of the liver or the kidneys. It is really so. For anyone who would rather it were otherwise, I can only say: That is the way it happens to be. On the other hand, for someone who has gained insight into the whole matter, this is for him the beginning of a true relation to the secrets of world existence. For now he learns the origin of what constitutes our human organization and at what depths they are to be recognized. He clearly recognizes how little we know of the human liver, the human kidneys, not to speak of other organs, when we merely cut open a corpse — or for that matter, when we cut open the living human organism in an operation — and get just the one-sided view of our organism.

There is the possibility not just to understand the human organism from the external, material side, but to see and understand it from the inside. We then have spiritual entities in our consciousness, and such entities show us that a human being is not so isolated as we might think — not just shut up inside his skin. On the contrary! Just as the oxygen I have in me now was first outside and is now working within me, in the same way — though extended over a long period of time — what is now working in me as my inner organization (liver, kidneys, and so on) is formed out of the cosmos. It is connected with the cosmos. I must look toward the cosmos and how it is constituted if I want to understand what is living in the liver, kidneys, stomach, and so on; just as I must look toward the cosmos and the make-up of the air if I want to understand what the substance is that is now working in my lungs, that continues to work on in the blood stream. You see, in true spiritual research we are not limited to separate pictures of separate organs but we come to know the connections between the human organism and the whole cosmos.

Not to be overlooked is the simple symbolic picture which we have already mentioned of the senses. We can in a way visualize our senses as “gulfs,” through which the outer world and its happenings flow into us. At the same time our senses continue inward as I have described them. Little by little we can see this activity from an inner point of view — the forming and molding activity that has worked on our nervous system since our birth. I have described the subjective experience of this activity as a life review, a life panorama, and we discover in the configuration of the nervous system an external pictorial form of what is really soul-spiritual. It can also be said that first we experience imaginations and then we see how these imaginations work in the formation of nerve substance. Of course this should not be taken in too broad a sense, since, as we know, nerve substance is also worked on before birth. I shall come back to this tomorrow. But essentially what I have said holds true. We can say: here is where the activity continues toward the inside; you can see exactly how it goes farther. It is the same activity, in a certain sense, that "engraves" itself into the nervous system. For the parts of the nervous system that are formed completely, this "engraving" activity can be seen streaming through the nerve paths. In childhood, however, for the parts that are still in the-process of being formed, this “engraving” acts as a real modeling force, a structuring proceeding out of imaginations. This leaves the rest of the human organism, about which we will speak shortly — what underlies the muscles, bones, and so on, also the physical basis of the nervous system — in fact, all of the organic tissue. At this point I should relate to you a certain experience I had; it will make this all a bit clearer.

I spoke once before the Theosophical Society about a subject I called “anthroposophy.” I simply set forth at that time as much of this anthroposophy as had revealed itself to my spiritual research. There was a request for these lectures to be printed and I set about doing this. In the process of writing them down, they turned into something different. Not that anything that had first been said was changed, but it became necessary to add to what was said by way of further explanation. It was also necessary to state the facts more precisely. This task would require a whole year. Now came another opportunity. There was again a general meeting of the Society and there was a request that the lectures should be ready for sale. So they had to get finished. I sent the first signature (16 pages) of the book Anthroposophy to the printer. The printing was rapidly done and I thought I would be able to continue writing. I did continue writing but more and more it became necessary to explain things more accurately. So a whole number of pages were printed. Then it happened that one signature was only filled up to page thirteen or fourteen and I had to continue writing to fill up all sixteen pages. In the meantime I became aware that in order to get this matter done the way I wanted to would require a more accurate, detailed development of certain mental processes, a very specific working out of imaginative, of inspirational cognition and then to apply these modes of cognition to these anthroposophical issues. And so I had to take a negative step, I dropped the whole idea of writing on Anthroposophy. It is still lying there today as it lay then — many pages. [1] For my intention was to make further investigations. Thus I became thoroughly acquainted with what I want to describe to you now. I can only describe it schematically at this time, but it is a sum total of many inner experiences that are really a cognitive method of investigating the human being.

It became increasingly clear to me that before one could finish the book called “Anthroposophy,” in the form intended at that time, one must have certain experiences of inner vision. One must first be able to take what one perceives as soul-spiritual activity working in the nervous system and carry it further inward, until one comes to the point where one sees the entire soul-spiritual activity — which one grasps in imagination and inspiration — crossing itself. This crossing point is really a line, in a vertical direction if looked at schematically. For certain phenomena the point lies farther up, for others farther down. In these lectures I can't describe this in detail, I just wanted to make a kind of cross section through the whole of it. Now because of this crossing, one is no longer free in exercising this activity. In fact, one was not altogether free before, as I have shown; now one is even less free. The whole situation undergoes a change. One is now being held strongly in an imaginative-inspired state. Expressed concretely, if one comes to an imagination of the eye by taking hold of visual sense-perception and the continuation into mental processes with imaginative-inspired cognition, then this activity proceeds inwardly and one comes to a kind of crossing, and with the activity first encompassing the eye another organ is encompassed, and that is the kidney.

The same applies to the other organs. In each case, when one carries one's imaginative-inspired activity into the body, one finds various relatively complete organs — complete at least in their basic form from birth — and one comes to a real inner view of the human organism. This kind of research is very demanding; and as I was not obliged at that moment to finish the book, and had to give another lecture cycle, which also demanded research efforts, you can imagine that it was not easy to continue to work out the method which I had developed at that time — of course, it was quite a few years ago that this occurred.

I mention this only to show you some of the difficulties — how one is continually held back by various demands. To continue in this, one must hold one's inner forces firmly together if one is to accomplish it. One must, in fact, repeatedly resolve to intensify one's thinking ability, the force of one's inner soul work — to strengthen it through love of external nature. Otherwise one simply cannot proceed. One goes consciously into oneself, but again and again one is thrown back, and instead of what I would call an inner view, one gets something not right. One must overcome the inward counterblow that develops.

I wanted to tell you all this so that you could see that the spiritual investigator has moments when he must wrestle with certain problems of spiritual research. Unfortunately, in the years that followed the event I have just described to you, my time was so filled with everything imaginable, particularly in recent years, that the needful — indeed, indispensable — activity for finishing my Anthroposophy could not take place.

You see, something that is inwardly understood, something we spoke of above rather abstractly, is in fact what is spun into an enveloping form of an organ, something quite concrete. If you picture this to yourselves, you will realize that such an insight into the human being can also build a bridge to practical activities. These activities must of course be founded on a vision of the human being and his relation to the world. I have already indicated in another connection how through developing imagination we gain knowledge not only of the sensory realm and its continuation into the nervous system, but also of the plant world. When we advance to inspiration, we become acquainted with the whole realm of forces that are at work in the animal world. At the same time we become aware of other things of which the animal world is only the outer expression. We now recognize the nature of the respiratory system, we can understand the external forms of the respiratory system through this relationship. The external form of the respiratory and circulatory system is not directly similar in its outer shape to its inner counterpart, as is the case with the outer form of the nervous system and the inner mental life. I showed this yesterday — how in the case of the nervous system two people, representing very different points of view, were able to draw similar pictures. In a parallel manner we become acquainted with the outer world and its kingdoms and the inner aspect of the human being.

Tomorrow I will consider what this inwardly experienced knowledge adds to our insight into the nature of the human being and his relation to his environment. Naturally, a great deal is revealed to us about specific relationships between the human being and his environment. It is possible to perceive the nature of a specific human organ and its connection to what exists in the outer natural realm. Thereby we discover in a rational way the transition from a spiritualized physiology to a true therapy. What once was won through instinctive inner vision is now possible to be renewed. I have mentioned yoga, and I could name even older systems which made it possible to perceive in an instinctive, childlike way the connection between the human being and the world around him. Many of today's therapeutic measures come from this older time — perhaps in somewhat different form, but they are still among the most fruitful today. Only on this spiritual path can therapy be developed that is suited to meet the real needs of today. Through insight into the connection of the human organs with the cosmos, a medicine will be developed based an inner perceptions, not just external experiment.

I set this before you just as an example of how spiritual science must fructify the various specialized branches of science. That this is needed is obvious when one looks at external research efforts, which have been very active and are magnificent in their own way — but which abound with questions. Take, for example, outer physiology or outer pathology: questions are everywhere. Whoever studies these things today and is fully awake will find the questions there — questions that beg for answers. In the last analysis, spiritual science recognizes there are great questions in outer life, and that they require answers. It does not overlook what is great and triumphant in the other sciences. At the same time, it wishes to study what questions result from this; it wishes to find a way to solutions to these questions in just as exact a manner as can be taught in the other sciences. In the end, the questions can be found (even for sense-bound empirical investigation) only through spiritual investigation. We will speak more about this tomorrow.



1. Published in German as Anthroposophie — Ein Fragment, Bibl. Nr. 45; English translation in preparation by Mercury Press.

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