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How Natural Sciences Justify the Supersensible Knowledge


Basel, 31 October 1918


Our contemporaries assess the anthroposophically oriented spiritual science mostly cursorily. One says that it offends the serious, conscientious method, the research way of the scientific worldview.

Indeed if spiritual science were not able to justify itself to the scientific worldview, one would have to condemn it. That is why this is one of the questions which must come up for discussion here today: how can the spiritual-scientific worldview be justified towards the present natural sciences?

Another similar prejudice that is connected, actually, intimately with the just mentioned one is that spiritual science leads to a dark mystic spiritual condition and worldview. From the today's considerations should arise that both prejudices are unfounded.

The whole way, which that research has to go through which leads to spiritual science, has to pass through two gates of knowledge above all. One cannot get into that what I mean here if one has not passed these two gates. One gate is that the spiritual researcher must really have experienced the complete scientific mindset and that he has had important experiences with this research. To most people who deal with natural sciences they are something that one has as knowledge with which one believes to be able to penetrate into these or those areas of existence.

For the spiritual researcher knowledge of nature must not remain this. For him it concerns that he has tried internally: which suitable or useless instruments are the scientific mental pictures if one wants to penetrate into the undergrounds of existence? He must have learnt as it were the handling of the scientific thinking and must have tried to apply this scientific thinking conscientiously in the most different directions whether it is good or not for penetrating into the outer nature.

Now one may say that in the area of natural sciences are personalities who dealt more or less consciously with the question: how far does the scientific research lead the human being with reference to the big riddles of knowledge? — I had repeatedly to remind of the famous speech of the great naturalist Du Bois-Reymond, to the famous speech about the limits of the knowledge of nature which he held in the seventies years and by which he wanted to demonstrate that just knowledge of nature must arrive at a certain border. Du Bois-Reymond explained in those days that, indeed, natural sciences can summarise the natural phenomena in certain laws and can find connections in the atomistic world behind these laws that, however, even if one imagined the ideal of this physical knowledge as fulfilled, one could never answer two boundary questions with it: what is matter? — and the other: what is even the simplest sensation, the simplest soul experience?

At these two questions, Du Bois-Reymond meant in those days, scientific consideration has to stop. Because he was of the view that scientific consideration is the only real academic one, he thought that the human being can never get to any knowledge concerning both questions, so also not to a knowledge of the human soul life and about that what is, actually, behind nature, that there are not only limits of the knowledge of nature but also limits of the human knowledge generally.

That what formed as judgement with Du Bois-Reymond and many others from a certain logical speculation the spiritual researcher has to transfer to life. The spiritual researcher must have experienced, as it were, all hopes and disappointments with the knowledge of nature. He must have opened himself to the knowledge of nature so that he attempted to overcome the obstacles of spiritual striving with it. He must have gone through the bitter experience that one just approaches, as strict and as conscientious this research is, certain points beyond which this knowledge of nature does not get. This experience must exist in the soul of the spiritual researcher.

He must have learnt to stumble against certain cornerstones with the scientific concepts that exist in nature. I could bring in many of such cornerstones. I could say the same what can be said about the concepts of energy and matter, for example. One recognises that one does not penetrate with the same methods, with the same way of thinking with which one penetrates successfully into the chemical side of nature into that which as matter and energy causes the phenomena and processes of nature. One stumbles, so to speak, against energy and matter. Finally, one has to confess: the more suitable the scientific mental pictures are in the accessible areas, the more they become unsuitable for these cornerstones.

I would like to say if one has experienced enough with these attempts, one gets to a certain questioning. Then one asks himself, why do you get to such cornerstones with the knowledge of nature? — There arises that the basic condition of stumbling against such cornerstones is located in the human organisation, in the human being himself. One notices at last: nature does not allow solving certain riddles because we ourselves have to be different if we should deserve such solutions. The line of thought that I develop here is quite different from the Kantian one. It would lead too far if I explained this difference in detail, I refer only to my Philosophy of Freedom in this context.

The spiritual researcher wants to recognise by real introspection what prevents us in the human organisation to pass those cornerstones. The same force that prevents the human being from passing these cornerstones is the force that enables us to love. This is the significant discovery, which one does on such ways, as I have characterised them yesterday. As spiritual researcher, one has to put the question hypothetically: how would a being have to be constituted — it would not be a human being — that developed such scientific views that these cornerstones would become transparent as it were to the imagining?

Such a human being would have to have a mental organisation that would not be penetrated with the force of love. Since if one investigates this peculiar soul force of love, its character is just that it suppresses the active imagining, at first instinctively, in the human being that must appear in the observation of natural phenomena or in the arrangement of experiments.

Love and scientific research must be two oppose activities of the soul life. However, the ability of loving must be in the human nature. He cannot put aside as it were the ability of loving while he is scientifically active. He can form scientific mental pictures on one side. However, that what enables him to love is also in him. It is that which reduces the imagining activity at those cornerstones as it were.

This is the first significant experience that the spiritual researcher has to get on his way. Indeed, one may say, prove this logically. — This question immediately suggests itself. The reflection, in which cases one can put such a question, actually, is less obvious. You can also not ask, why does the bull have horns or the fish fins for logical reasons? These things are still results of observation at first. The spiritual researcher can also point only to the observation that arises on the suggested way from the experiences of scientific research.

One may say, I do not want to develop my spiritual condition in such a way that I get to such experiences. — Well, you can refrain from this, of course. However, then you cannot arrogate for yourself that you have to decide anything in the area of truth. Since somebody can penetrate into truth only who has really found such cliffs and has circumnavigated them.

One has the second experience that leads to the second inner spiritual-scientific discovery if one has attained, for example, the result that I have just explained. Indeed, one does not express that on another field what I have outlined now as modern spiritual science does it in such a way. Nevertheless, people have instinctively found out for themselves that the view of nature is a useless instrument as it were to penetrate into the secrets of existence. Then they have attempted to investigate these secrets in another way, namely in the mystic way, on the way of self-experience.

Just as the spiritual researcher has well to know that which one can experience with scientific view, he has to know that well which arises from mystic contemplation. He must also have tried there whether it is possible to reach the origins of existence mystically. Those origins with which, nevertheless, the human being must be connected in any way if they concern him generally. The spiritual researcher will also experience hopes and disappointments and gets, finally, to the important result that one can attain the secrets of existence just as little on this mystic way, as on the way of the outer view of nature. He also stumbles there against a wall that is in his inside, in the mental. Again, he has the task to investigate why one does not reach the origins of existence with mystic contemplation.

To get to clearness in this area, one has to apply scientific disposition wholeheartedly. It does not come easy to anybody who strives for clearness to investigate this inside of the human being. Since this inside of the human being often proves to be rather complex to the own view. I would like to bring in an example from the scientific literature that may show this.

I would like to bring in the book The Subconscious Ego, Its Relationship to Health and Education by Louis Waldstein (1853-1915, American pathologist). This example shows like many others, how much you have to take care if you want to investigate the own soul life, and how easily you deceive yourself in this area of research.

The author tells the following. One day he stood before a bookstore. His glance fell on a book about mollusks. While reading the title, he must smile and even laugh. He has no notion at first, why. Nevertheless, this is strange that a serious naturalist sees a scientific book in a bookstore — and must laugh. Lo and behold, it comes into his head: maybe I get on why I laugh if I close my eyes. — He closes his eyes and listens. Far away, he hears quite soft tones of a melody that he had heard before decades and with which he learnt dancing.

He has not heard these tones since decades. He did also not perceive them consciously, while reading the title; but they passed his soul as it were and made him to smile. In subconscious way, his soul was induced to cherish the impressions that he had decades ago and that were rather indistinct. Since he has to admit to himself that he paid more attention at that time to the fact that he did his steps correctly while learning dancing, than that he took care of the melody itself. His thoughts were still directed upon something unimportant because he had a partner. However, all that had a lasting effect in the subconscious, and he had to smile.

However, now we take the example seriously. It is determinative of countless experiences which show how little, actually, the human being is connected in his consciousness with that what proceeds below in the soul life, how things which were forgotten for a long time sound from below but also things which one had not consciously perceived. We do not need to have looked at that what was there and still it did a certain impression and comes up at the right moment!

The conscientious spiritual researcher develops the way that is indicated here with a first step. He investigates what exists in the depths of the soul life, and then he recognises that credulous, naive mystics often fall victim to such things. These are engrossed in their inside, bring up from their inside all kinds of what they call a feeling of being one with the primeval origin of existence, but maybe these are only the transformed tones of a barrel organ! Nevertheless, maybe it comes about on the same way, as that about which I have spoken. Since the peculiar appears in the soul life that such things, which have made impressions once and continue to have an effect then, not only come up as those but in changed form as something different. Still they are nothing but a pictorial fact of that what we have experienced in such a way.

Some people believe to be able to hand down deep mysticism from their introspection, but one deals only with transformed youth impressions or as the case may be. Just in this way, spiritual science has to go forward most carefully because it should be just the clearest and not the most confused. I have already noted this repeatedly.

Thus, the spiritual researcher gets around to studying just that in the soul by which that what one has in the usual fully conscious reminiscent life is associated with all kinds of subconscious memories, transformed recollections et cetera. While the spiritual researcher advances with scientific disposition on this way, he gets to the answer of the second question: how is the mystic experience? Why does one get to something unsatisfactory only on the way of the usual mysticism?

There it becomes obvious that anything must be in the human being: as well as the force of loving must be there which delivers the scientific border, there must be something that prevents the human being from submerging in the undergrounds of his being, as the mystic wants it, with the usual consciousness. If the human being had the ability to descend completely, to pursue everything that is to be found on the way about which I have spoken, and what the mystic believes to be able to find in the human inside, then the human being would not need the other ability for life: the power of memory. The impressions, the mental pictures of life have to accumulate as it were. They are not allowed to penetrate into our core. We must have the veil before our inside which works like a mirror and from which our experiences are reflected as memories. As little as we see if we stand before a mirror what is behind the mirror, as little we see the human inside that is behind that mirror which gives rise, actually, to our memories. Thus, someone who has this second experience recognises at last that the spiritual researcher cannot use what one can attain with the usual mysticism because it proves to be transformed memories in any way if it is processed only in the usual consciousness.

Hence, there are two starting points, two experiences that must be gone through if one wants to be a spiritual researcher: the experience with the view of nature and the experience with the memories, with the transformed memories. From these experiences, one receives a certain way of knowledge. If these experiences are done seriously with all disappointments that are connected with both experiences, then such experience stands for the production of an inner force at the same time. Someone gets this force to pursue the path of knowledge in another way than one pursues it with the usual consciousness. What I have just explained is the base on which the spiritual researcher goes on working in order to develop another consciousness and to penetrate with it into the supersensible world.

I have just indicated here that it is necessary to get to another state of consciousness beyond the consciousness of the usual life and science. However, most people shrink from this demand. They prefer considering this demand as something fantastic, as something enthusiastic, and, hence, they reject the possibility of the knowledge of the higher truth or they want to approach it with the usual consciousness. It is clear from the said that one cannot arrive at any goal on both ways.

Now the nature of the way that one has to take will result from these experiences. What does one prevent from descending with the usual consciousness to the own inside? It is the memory; it is the power of memory. If one investigates everything that forms the basis of the ability to remember something, then one finds that the ability of memory is bound to the physical body.

It is a gigantic error of Bergson (Henri B., 1859-1942, French philosopher) that he means that memory, at least a part of memory, is not engaged in the human organism. Spiritual science just shows that the process of sense perception that we penetrate with thinking is integrated into the physiological so that it pushes to memory. The fact that we can remember is already in the process of sense perception that is penetrated with thinking.

However, not everything that tends to memory, to the view of nature can lead into the human inside. The question arises: is it possible to develop such an inner soul activity of imagining which does not deal with memory, which is lifted out as it were from the everyday scientific life?

Maybe because here the personal, subjective may have an objective value, I would like to interpose how I was led to the first most elementary steps some decades ago which induced me to investigate the nature of memory spiritual-scientifically.

This experience of my childhood may appear to you very insignificant. I had to observe at myself during the school hours that I did the very best progress in mathematics or geometry that I had, however, no talent to keep mathematical formulae in mind. I could also say, it was not because I could not have kept them in mind, but I had no tendency to appropriate them. If, for example, an algebra exam was done, the others did their calculations with the mathematical formulae that they had kept in mind. Against it, I had to develop these mathematical formulae ad hoc from the basic principle. That means I had always to deduce the formulae completely, and then I calculated with the formulae. Because I could not keep the formulae in mind, I had always to keep the mental pictures in mind that led to the formula so to develop something in the mental pictures that did not appeal to memory.

This was to me the starting point on that way which must induce every spiritual researcher to cultivate such inner soul work that leads then really to a changed state of consciousness, to contemplative meditation to remaining in the imagining. However, this imagining work must be in such a way that if the same should appear again it originates from the same impulse, does not repeat memories.

Perhaps you know that I hold ten, twenty, thirty talks about the same subjects sometimes at different places, but I could never hold a talk in the same way. Every talk is different because I do not keep something in mind, but because when I speak about the things they generate themselves. I do not reflect on my memory.

Do not misunderstand me; it does not come into my mind to state that spiritual research wants to blank out memories. One would make the human being useless for life of course if one removed his memory from him. One does also not remove anything from him if he develops his thinking in such a way that he carries out such a soul activity that must be generated repeatedly anew, and that does not reflect on the power of memory.

I have explained this in details in my book How Does One Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds?, in my Occult Science. An Outline and in other books. However, it always results in the following: to that thinking which accompanies, actually, the outer view and must lead then to memory something else is added that does not intend to produce memories but such a thinking, which must always be produced anew.

The human being thereby associates himself emotionally with another element, than if he accepts memories only. He thereby develops an imagining activity gradually which is now really not only a concomitant of the usual life or the usual science, but is strengthened gradually by practising such mental pictures in such a way, as usually only our soul life is if we have sense-percepts.

You get to a mere imagining which is as powerful, as usually only the soul life is if it faces the outer sense-perceptible world: a thinking that is like looking, an internally produced looking that is like thinking. This can only inform you about the nature of the human life. Since now if you can have such vivid imagining, you can only compare this imagining to the usual imagining.

Then you recognise only which nature the latter has. Then you get on to say to yourself, natural sciences use such mental pictures only which are organised by their own being towards memory; they never use those mental pictures which are developed in such a way in the human being as I have characterised it.

However, if you develop such vivid thinking, you also get to that experience which breaks through as it were the mirror of which I have comparatively spoken just now, which really penetrates behind the memory and can penetrate into the human inside.

However, there it becomes obvious: if you get to that region which the mirror of memory blankets, otherwise, then you face something that affects the unprepared consciousness strangely at first. You go through an experience that you can only compare with the experience of oversaturation. You recognise that in the human being something lives that you can find only on the intimated way, which gives him an unaware antipathy to himself. Repelling forces must be there as the reflecting mirror coating reflects light. You can compare the mirror coating as it were with that subconscious antipathy or sensation of oversaturation. You do not notice that with the usual consciousness because you experience that in memory that has been reflected.

With the new developed imagining life, you penetrate down, and you have to overcome that antipathy behind the mirror of memory. You overcome it only if you still add other experiences if you not only try to develop such imagining in yourself which does not use the memory, but if you try to develop that power in yourself which exists as something useless. I mean the dreams. The spiritual researcher has to study the dreams very intensely, because the soul lives also in dreams, in an unreality, of course. Dreams have always caused the human beings to put certain questions of life.

The spiritual researcher cannot investigate the dreams as one did once after the pattern of dream books or as the modern psychoanalysis does because both do not lead to the cognition of that force which is, actually, behind the dream. If you can pursue the dreams, it always becomes obvious that the inside of the human body is involved in every dream. Anyhow, these are always bodily processes that are associated with the dreams that in a way exceed the quiet sleeping life, and express themselves in any pictorial ambiguity.

The spiritual researcher does not at all regard these dreams as they present themselves in their pictures. A psychoanalyst said to me once after a talk, anthroposophy looks at the dreams with reference to their immediate contents. We psychoanalysts take the dreams, while we want to investigate from their pictures what rumbles about there in the subconscious. — Well, I do not want to explain the thing further, but one has to answer: as the psychoanalyst does not take the dreams immediately in their pictorial nature, but wants to investigate something behind them, the spiritual researcher does it all the more, but not with inadequate means. He is clear in his mind that the same what goes forward in the soul inside can dress in quite different visions. I want to say, one climbs up a mountain in a dream and falls down on the other side, the same could happen if you dream, you have a paper before yourself in which you make a hole. The pictures that appear in the dream are only an outer disguise. Someone who looks for the picture contents of the dream will never discover the secret of that force in the human soul, which is contained in the dream.

Only somebody can figure the force out which is in the dreams who can pursue the dream how tension and relaxation or persisting tensions appear in the soul life. Then they can dress in the most different pictures. Only such a thinking, as I have described it, can penetrate into those regions of the soul life from which the confused dreams enter into the usual consciousness. Since the dreams which are behind the mirror belong to that region in the human organisation.

One submerges in the area which is behind the mirror if one submerges with the developed imagining which does not appeal to memories in the human inside. Since there you encounter the force which is, otherwise, only embryonic or imperfect in dreams in its true figure. However, the subconscious nature of the human being is something that appears in the consciousness as unaware antipathy and just causes the reflection of the memory.

Now one submerges. Only that which I have described and not the mental pictures that are associated with memories can submerge in such a way that the antipathy is overcome. The antipathy weakens our consciousness towards our inside that prevents us from crushing the mirror and from penetrating into a region that turns out, otherwise, to be unaware antipathy.

Thereby we develop a force that exists in other ways as well in life. I have already called it the capacity for love today. We learn this ability to recognise in its rudiments how it expresses itself in the usual life. If we penetrate, however, on the intimated way down into our own inside, just the force of the capacity for love increases. This is the second side of the soul life that the spiritual researcher has to develop.

He gets to the first force while he develops an imagining which is not based on memory. The other is that he develops such an inner life — and it soon appears as a will life which increases the capacity for love. While one must almost exclude the memory in the area in which one wants to investigate the spirit, the capacity for love must be increased to such a degrees about which the usual consciousness does not have any idea because it only develops love to outer beings and things as a rule but not to the spiritual that is found on the way which leads into the human inside by breaking the human memory .

Thus, the paradoxical appearing fact comes to light that that which is inevitable for the usual naturalist and the usual life, the ability of memory and the capacity for love, develops on the way of spiritual research in such a way that on the one side the imagining has to discharge into a region where it cannot count on memory, the will life, however, must discharge into a region where the capacity for love is increased.

The human being thereby penetrates into those areas that are, otherwise, behind the scientific limits. If he develops that of which I have spoken just to two sides of the human nature, he gets beyond those cliffs that exist at the cornerstones.

That what only appears, otherwise, as phenomena of nature is figured out as it were. Then, however, one does not get to atoms, to the hypothetical matter, but to the supersensible, to the spirit. You get to the spirit, which lives behind nature and in nature because one wakes up as it were. Since it is an awakening with reference to the usual consciousness what I have described.

In particular, with reference to one thing I would like to extend the comparison. Everybody with a healthy consciousness considers the dream as a sum of pictures and he knows: while he enters into the usual reality from his dreams, he leaves the imagery of dreams and enters into the sphere of existence. Thus, the spiritual researcher starts facing the world that he experiences in the supersensible consciousness. He knows: this usual sense-perceptible world becomes an imagery of the supersensible experience. The whole nature becomes an imagery of the supersensible experience as the dream world, otherwise, is an imagery of the usual sensory existence. There it becomes obvious that, actually, the development of the recent natural sciences with all their great achievements has become great only because they confined themselves to giving pictures and do not want to penetrate with their means into that what is as a secret behind the pictures.

I would like to illustrate again with a simple comparison how you get to that will which is an increased capacity for love. Then, however, one can develop this comparison further. One normally does not know that writing contains two quite different activities. Only very few people do such subtler psychological observations. If one writes, this writing does not need to be completely the same after its inner nature with reference to a certain point as with another human being. There are in particular — and this applies to the most people — such persons who write, while they form the letters in such a way that the letter is completely formed from the wrist. He has his writing this way, but it is in his organisation, it does not break away from his organisation.

I know other people who write in such a way that their writing breaks away from their organisation; they paint as it were. It is very interesting if one finds out for himself that there are such persons who paint, actually, while they write who have, actually, always a view of the letter form who draw it who live much more objectively in the letter. They do not have the forms of writing in the wrist but they draw the letters.

Usually they are such people who displayed a big capacity for love in their youth and have shown the characteristic: if they had once seen a person whom they estimated, they have also written as he did, have copied his writing. If they have started cherishing another person, they copied his writing. Thus, this ability remained to them for life that writing is, actually, like painting.

There one notices that another elementary activity of the human being can break away from him, can penetrate more into the object, and that this penetrating is just associated with the capacity for love. One will find that the capacity for love of which I have spoken just now as a development of the will for the spirit is mainly developed with such persons who have, actually, no writing conditioned by their organisation who can always write, as they want who can form the letters one way or the other. This is connected with the ability of submerging affectionately in the objective world.

Well, that what I have explained here about the elementary activity of writing can become for the human being in such a way that it also leads to higher activities. This is on the way that I have meant, while I showed that to the imagining which does not appeal to the memories those will impulses must be added which as it were grow together with the outer objectivity. That is again something that the spiritual researcher has to develop to a high degree. Then the world becomes picture to him which works otherwise robustly on the usual consciousness, while it manifests its truth, and then he breaks through to the supersensible.

Thus, something arises that I would like to characterise in the following way: there is a philosopher today whom I estimate very much from a certain side, although I can agree, actually, with nothing that he says. However, this philosopher has dealt intensely with the question, what can the scientific attitude know about the world? — He has answered this question from the most different sides. He is the philosopher Richard Wahle (1857-1937, Austrian philosopher and psychologist). He is a representative not only how many people think but also of the way to which generally the thinking of our time tends.

Richard Wahle tried to ask the modern worldviews: what can one learn from them about reality? — He got around to saying, if we look at the world after scientific pattern, we can nowhere recognise the powerful what causes the processes; but we learn only to recognise the succession of processes, one process emerging from the other. However, one does not get to know that what comes together in an event, so that the other can originate, the powerful, the primal factors, as Wahle calls them. Thus, Richard Wahle gets to the view that this modern view of nature gives no true picture of the outer world but a ghostly one. The more the ideal of natural sciences is fulfilled, the mare ghostly that becomes which exists now in the picture of nature. Richard Wahle says in his book On the Mechanism of the Spiritual Life (1906) that one can generally get to nothing but to such ghostly view.

Well, this induces him to condemn almost any philosophical pursuit. He is a philosopher, and he has a peculiar judgement not only of the present philosophy but also of the past one. However, it is a strange fact that the official representative of philosophy at a university gets to the judgement that I immediately want to state.

Richard Wahle considers what philosophy what he himself has performed in the philosophical area, and says approximately, once philosophy resembled a restaurant in which cooks and waiters dished up inedible dishes to the guests; and now philosophy is a restaurant in which cooks and waiters stand around and generally have nothing to do. — He refers to these waiters, I will say to the philosophers, in this strange restaurant of the present, and takes his starting point from the question: what can natural sciences do? — He realises the borders of natural sciences, while he looks at their ghostly being that must stick to the outside only.

He recognises the pictorial nature of any knowledge of nature. This is generally a significant phenomenon in the present spiritual life. Natural sciences are inclined to recognise more and more that they deliver, actually, pictures only that that which they call nature is only picture of something.

A conscientious scientific thinker does not get to the brainless monism, but he has to acknowledge the pictorial nature of nature. One could bring in countless documents, while one takes those considerations that try to answer the question: to what extent natural sciences are a suited instrument to recognise truth and reality. — There it is on one side in such a way that natural sciences get to their borders. The more they develop, the more their ideal is fulfilled, the more they will get just by themselves to acknowledging its pictorial nature.

From other side we have the course of spiritual research that wants to develop such a cognition, which enters the reality beyond the picture. Natural sciences show, what you can find is picture. — Spiritual science shows: while you develop a higher consciousness, you show that that what exists for the usual consciousness and for the usual science has picture nature and that you only find reality if you take your starting point from the picture nature.

How could one justify spiritual science better towards natural sciences than by the fact that spiritual science moves the human development of its own accord to acknowledge that what natural sciences have to find as result on their own terms.

Not the words, but the facts which spiritual science produces in the human soul will comply with that what originates from natural sciences. Spiritual science will thereby be justified completely while co-operating with natural sciences.

Today I just wanted to indicate this with some explanations and considerations: That which justifies spiritual science towards natural sciences is the well understood natural sciences themselves. If natural sciences get themselves right, they discharge into a point where they have to say to themselves, here we are at our borders, here something else is demanded.

Well, spiritual science will give this something else. With it, it will be justified not of its own accord, but by natural sciences towards natural sciences.

Last Modified: 29-Apr-2017
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