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The Study of Man

Schmidt Number: S-3804

On-line since: 23rd June, 2002


In the future all teaching must be founded on a real psychology — a psychology which has been gained through an anthroposophical knowledge of the world. Of course it has been widely recognised that instruction and education generally must be built up on psychology, and you know that Herbartian pedagogy, for instance, which has influenced great numbers of people, founded its educational standards on Herbartian psychology. Now during the last few centuries and up to recent times there has been something present in the life of man which prevents a real practical psychology from coming into being. This can be traced to the fact that in the age in which we now are, the age of the Consciousness Soul, man has not yet reached the spiritual depth which would enable him to come to a real understanding of the human soul. But those concepts which have been built up in past times in the sphere of psychology — the science of the soul — out of the old knowledge of the fourth Post-Atlantean period, have become more or less devoid of content to-day: they have become mere words. Anyone who takes up psychology or anything to do with psychological concepts will find that there is no longer any real content in the books on the subject. They will have the feeling that psychologists only play with concepts. Who is there to-day for instance who develops a really clear conception of what mental picture or will is? In psychologies and theories of education you can find one definition after another of mental picture and of will, but these definitions will not be able to give you a real mental picture, a real idea, either of mental picture itself or of will. Psychologists have completely failed — owing to an external, historical necessity, it is true — to make any connection between the soul life of the individual human being and the whole universe. They were not in a position to understand how the soul-life of man stands in relation to the whole universe. It is only by perceiving the connection between the individual human being and the whole universe that it is possible to arrive at the idea of the being “man.”

Let us look at what is ordinarily called mental picture. We must develop this, as well as feeling and willing, in the children, and to this end we must first of all gain a clear conception of the mental picture. Anyone who looks with an open mind at what lives in men as this activity will at once be struck by its image character. The mental picture is of the nature of an image. And those who try to find in it the character of existence or being are subject to a great illusion. What would it be for us if it were “being”? We certainly have elements of being in us also. Think only of our bodily elements of being: to take a somewhat crude example: your eyes, they are elements of being, your nose or your stomach, that is an element of being. It will be clear to you that you live in these elements of being, but you cannot make mental pictures with them. You flow out with your own nature into the elements of being, and you identify yourself with them. The possibility of understanding, of grasping something with your mental pictures arises from the fact that they have an image character, that they do not so merge into us that we are in them. For indeed, they do not really exist, they are mere images. One of the great mistakes of the last period of man's evolution during the last few centuries, has been to identify being with thought as such. Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am), is the greatest error that has been put at the summit of recent philosophy, for in the whole range of the Cogito there lies not the sum but the non sum. That is to say, as far as my knowledge reaches I do not exist, but there is only image.

Now when you consider the image character of mental picturing you must above all think of it qualitatively. You must consider its mobility, one might almost say its activity of being, but that might give too much the impression of being, of existence, and we must realise that even activity of thought is only an image activity. Everything which is purely movement in mental picturing is a movement of images. But images must be images of something; they cannot be merely images as such. If you think of the comparison of mirror images you can say to yourselves: out of the mirror there appear mirror images, it is true, but what is in the mirror images is not behind the mirror, it exists independently somewhere else. It is of no consequence to the mirror what is to be reflected in it; all sorts of things can be reflected in it. When we have thus clearly grasped that the activity of mental picturing is of this image nature, we must next ask: of what is it an image? Naturally no outer science can tell us this, but only a science founded on Anthroposophy. Mental picturing is an image of all the experiences which we go through before birth, or rather conception. You cannot arrive at a true understanding of it unless it is clear to you that you have gone through a life before birth, before conception. And just as ordinary mirror images arise spatially as mirror images, so your life between death and re-birth is reflected in your present life and this reflection is mental picturing. Thus when you look at it diagrammatically you must mentally picture the course of your life to be running between the two horizontal lines bounded on the right and left by birth and death.

Figure 1

You must then further represent to yourself that mental picturing is continually playing in from the other side of birth and is reflected by the human being himself. And it is because the activity which you accomplish in the spiritual world before birth or conception is rejected by your bodily nature that you experience mental picturing. For true knowledge this activity is a proof, because it is an image, of life before birth.

I want to place this first before you as an idea (we shall come back to a real explanation of these things later) in order to show you that we can get away from the mere verbal explanations which you find in psychologies and theories of education, and arrive at a true understanding of what the activity of mental picturing is, by learning to know that in it we have a reflection of the activity which was carried on by the soul before birth or conception, in the purely spiritual world. All other definitions of mental picturing are of absolutely no value, because they give us no true idea of what it is.

We must now investigate will in the same way. For the ordinary consciousness will is really a very great enigma. It is the crux of psychologists simply because to the psychologist will appears as something very real but basically without content. For if you examine what content psychologists give to will you will always find that this content comes from mental picturing. As for will itself it has no immediate real content of its own. Then again the fact is that there are no definitions of will: these definitions of will are all the more difficult because it has no real content. But what is will really? It is nothing else but the seed in us of that which after death will be reality of spirit and of soul. Thus when you picture to yourself what will be our spirit-soul reality after death, and picture it as seed within us, then you have will. In our drawing our life's course ends with death on the one side, and will passes over beyond it.

Thus we have to picture to ourselves: mental picturing on the one hand, which we must conceive of as an image from pre-natal life; and will, on the other hand, which we must conceive of as the seed of something which appears later. I beg you to bear clearly in mind the difference between seed and image. For a seed is something more than real, and an image is something less than real; a seed does not become real until later, it carries within it the ground of what will appear later as reality; so that the will is indeed of a very spiritual nature. Schopenhauer had a feeling for this truth, but naturally he could not advance to the knowledge that will is a seed of the Spirit-Soul as it unfolds after death in the spiritual world.

Now we have divided man's soul-life into two spheres, as it were: into mental picturing, which is in the nature of image, and will, which is in the nature of seed, and between image and seed there lies a boundary. This boundary is the whole life of the physical man himself who reflects back the pre-natal, thus producing the images of mental picturing, and who does not allow the will to fulfil itself, thereby keeping it continually as seed, allowing it to be nothing more than seed. Now we must ask: what are the forces that really bring this about?

We must be quite clear that in man there are certain forces which reflect back the pre-natal reality and hold the after death reality in seed. And now we come to the most important psychological concepts of facts which are reflections of the forces described in my book Theosophy — reflections of sympathy and antipathy. Because we can no longer remain in the spiritual world (and here we come back to what was said yesterday) we are brought down into the physical world. In being brought down into the physical world we develop an antipathy for everything spiritual so that we radiate back the spiritual, pre-natal reality in an antipathy of which we are unconscious. We bear the force of antipathy within us, and through it transform the pre-natal element into a mere mental picture or image. And we unite ourselves in sympathy with that which radiates out towards our later existence as the reality of will after death. We are not immediately conscious of these two, sympathy and antipathy, but they live unconsciously in us, and they signify our feeling, which consists continually of a rhythm, of an alternating between sympathy and antipathy.

Figure 2

We develop within us all the world of feeling, which is a continual alternation — systole, diastole — between sympathy and antipathy. This alternation is continually within us. Antipathy on the one hand changes our soul life into picture image: sympathy, which goes in the other direction, changes our soul life into what we know as our will for action, into that which holds in germ what after death is spiritual reality. Here we come to the real understanding of the life of soul and spirit. We create the seed of the soul life as a rhythm of sympathy and antipathy.

Now what is it that you ray back in antipathy. You ray back the whole life, the whole world, which you have experienced before birth or conception. That has in the main the character of cognition. Thus you really owe your cognition to the shining in, the raying in of your pre-natal life. And this cognising, which possesses great reality before birth or conception, is weakened to such a degree through antipathy that it becomes only a picture image. Thus we can say: this cognising comes up against antipathy and is thereby reduced to mental picture.

If antipathy is sufficiently strong something very remarkable happens. For in ordinary life after birth we could not picture mentally if we did not do it in a measure with the very force which has remained in us from the time before birth. When you use this faculty to-day as physical man you do not do it with a force which is in you, but with a force which comes from a time before birth, and which still works on in you. You might suppose it ceased with conception, but it remains active, and we make our mental pictures with this force which continues to ray into us. You have it in you, continually living on from pre-natal times, only you have the force in you to ray it back. You have this force in your antipathy. When in your present life you make mental pictures, each such process meets antipathy, and if the antipathy is sufficiently strong a memory image arises. So that memory is nothing else but a result of the antipathy that holds sway within us. Here you have the connection between the purely feeling nature of antipathy which rays back in an indefinite manner, and the definite raying back, the raying back of the activity of perception in memory, an activity which is carried out in a pictorial way. Memory is only heightened antipathy. You could have no memory if you had so great a sympathy for your mental pictures that you could devour them; you have a memory only because you have a kind of “disgust” for them, you fling them back and in this way make them present. That is their reality.

When you have gone through this whole process, when you have produced a mental picture, reflected this back in the memory, and held fast the image element, then there arises the concept. This then is one side of the soul's activity: antipathy, which is connected with our pre-natal life.

Now we will take the other side, that of willing, which is in the nature of a germ in us and belongs to the life after death. Willing is present in us because we have sympathy with it, because we have sympathy with this seed which will not be developed until after death. Just as our thinking depends upon antipathy, so our willing depends on sympathy. Now if this sympathy is sufficiently strong— as strong as the antipathy which enables mental picturing to become memory — then out of sympathy there arises imagination. Just as memory arises out of antipathy so imagination arises out of sympathy. And if your imagination is sufficiently strong (which only happens unconsciously in ordinary life), if it is so strong that it permeates your whole being right down into the senses, then you get the ordinary picture forms* through which you make mental pictures of outer things. This activity has its starting point in the will. People are very much mistaken when in speaking psychologically they constantly say: “We look at things, then we make them abstract, and thus we get the mental picture.” This is not the case. The fact that chalk is white to us is a result of the application of the will, which by way of sympathy and imagination has become picture form.* But when we form a concept, on the other hand, it has quite a different origin; for the concept arises from memory.

* German: Imaginationen.

Here I have described to you the soul processes. It is impossible for you to comprehend the being of man unless you understand the difference between the elements of sympathy and antipathy in man. These elements, as I have described, find their full expression in the soul world after death. There sympathy and antipathy hold sway undisguised. I have been describing the soul-man who, on the physical plane, is united with the bodily man. Everything pertaining to the soul is expressed and revealed in the body, so that on the one hand we find revealed in the body what is expressed in antipathy, memory and concept. All this is bound up with the nerves in the bodily organisation. While the nervous system is being formed in the body all that belongs to the pre-natal life is at work there. The pre-natal life of the soul works into the human body through antipathy, memory and concept, and hereby creates the nerves. This is the true concept of nerves. All talk of classifying nerves as sensory and motor is meaningless, as I have often explained to you.

Similarly, in a certain sense, the activity of willing, sympathy, picture-forming and imagination works out of the human being. This is bound to the seed condition; it can never really come to completion but must perish at the moment it arises; it has to remain as a seed, and the seed must not evolve too far. Thus it must perish in the moment of arising. Here we come to a very important fact about the human being. You must learn to understand the whole man, spirit, soul and body. Now in man there is something continually being formed which always has the tendency to become spiritual. But because out of our great love, albeit selfish love, we want to hold it fast in the body, it never can become spiritual; it loses itself in its bodily nature. We have something within us which is material but which is always wanting to pass over from its material condition and become spiritual. We do not let it become spiritual, and therefore we destroy it in the very moment when it is striving to become spiritual — I refer to blood, the opposite of the nerves.

Figure 3

Blood is really a “very special fluid.” For it is the fluid which would whirl away as spirit if we were able to remove it from the human body so that it still remained blood and was not destroyed by other physical agencies — an impossibility while it is bound to earthly conditions. Blood has to be destroyed in order that it may not whirl away as spirit, in order that we may retain it within us as long as we are on the earth, up to the moment of death. For this reason we have perpetually within us: formation of blood — destruction of blood — formation of blood — destruction of blood: through in-breathing and out-breathing.

We have a polaric process within us. We have those processes within us which, working through the blood and blood-vessels, continually have the tendency to lead our being out into the spiritual. To talk of motor nerves, as has become customary, does not correspond to the facts, because the motor-nerves would really be blood-vessels. In contrast to the blood all nerves are so constituted that they are constantly in the process of dying, of becoming materialised. What lies along the nerve-paths is really extruded, rejected material. Blood wants to become ever more spiritual — nerve ever more material. Herein consists the polaric contrast. In the later lectures we shall follow these fundamental principles further and we shall see how this can give us help to arrange our teaching in a hygienic way, so that we can lead a child to health of soul and body, and not to decadence of spirit and soul. The amount of bad education now prevalent is because so much is unknown. Although physiology believes it has discovered a truth when it talks of sensory and motor nerves, it is nevertheless only playing with words. Motor nerves are spoken of because of the fact that when certain nerves are injured, i.e. those which go to the legs, a man cannot walk when he wants to do so. It is said that he cannot walk because he has injured the nerves which, as motor nerves, set the leg in motion. In reality the reason why he cannot walk is that he has no perception of his own legs. This age in which we live has been obliged to entangle itself in a mass of errors, so that, through having to disentangle ourselves from them, we may become independent human beings.

Now you will have seen, from what I have here developed, that really the human being can only be understood in connection with the cosmos. For when we make mental pictures we have what is cosmic within us. We were in the cosmos before we were born, and our experience there is now mirrored in us; we shall be in the cosmos again when we have passed through the gate of death, and our future life is expressed in seed form in what rules our will. What works unconsciously in us works in full consciousness for higher knowledge in the cosmos.

We have a threefold expression of this sympathy and antipathy revealed in our physical body. We have, as it were, three centres where sympathy and antipathy interplay. First we have a centre of this kind in the head, in the working together of blood and nerves, whereby memory arises. At every point where the activity of the nerves is broken off, at every point where there is a gap, there is a centre where sympathy and antipathy interplay. Another gap of this kind is to be found in the spinal marrow; for instance, when one nerve passes in towards the posterior horn of the spinal marrow and another passes out from the anterior horn. And again there is such a gap in the little bundles of ganglia, which are embedded in the sympathetic nerves. We are by no means such simple beings as it might seem. In three parts of our organism, in the head, in the chest and in the lower body, there are boundaries at which antipathy and sympathy meet. In perceiving and willing it is not that something leads round from a sensory to a motor nerve, but a direct stream springs over from one nerve to another, and through this the soul in us is touched; in the brain and in the spinal marrow. At these places where the nerves are interrupted we unite ourselves with our sympathy and antipathy to the soul-life; and we do so again where the ganglia systems are developed in the sympathetic nervous system.

We are united with our experience with the cosmos. Just as we develop activities which have to be continued in the cosmos, so does the cosmos constantly develop with us the activity of antipathy and sympathy. When we look upon ourselves as men, then we see ourselves as the result of the sympathies and the antipathies of the cosmos. We develop antipathy from out of ourselves, the cosmos develops antipathy together with us; we develop sympathy, the cosmos develops sympathy with us.

Now as human beings we are manifestly divided into the head system, the chest system, and the digestive system with the limbs. But please notice that this division into organised systems can very easily be combated, because when men make systems to-day they want to have the separate parts neatly arranged side by side. If we say that a man is divided into a head system, chest system, and a system of the lower body with the limbs, then people expect each of these systems to have a fixed boundary. People want to draw lines where they divide, and that cannot be done when dealing with realities. In the head we are principally head, but the whole human being is head, only what is outside the head is not principally head. For though the actual sense organs are in the head, we have the sense of touch and the sense of warmth over the whole body. Thus in that we feel warmth we are head all over. In the head only are we principally head, but we are secondarily head in the rest of the body. Thus the parts are intermingled, and we are not so simply divided as the pedants would have us be. The head extends everywhere, only it is specially developed in the head proper. The same is true of the chest. Chest is the real chest but only principally, for again the whole man is chest. For the head is also to some extent chest as is the lower body with the limbs. The different parts are intermingled. And it is just the same in the lower body. Some physiologists have noticed that the head is “lower body.” For the very fine development of the head-nerve system does not really lie within the outer brain layer of which we are so proud; it does not lie within but below the outer layer of the brain. For the outer covering of the brain is, to some extent, a retrogression; this wonderful artistic structure is already on the retrograde path; it is much more a system of nourishment. So that in a manner of speaking, we may say a man has no need to be so conceited about the outer brain for it is a retrogression of the complicated brain into a brain more used for nourishment. We have the outer layer so that the nerves which are connected with knowing may be properly supplied with nourishment. And the reason that our brain excels the animal brain is only that we supply our brain nerves better with nourishment. We are only able to develop our higher powers of cognition because we are able to nourish our brain nerves better than the animals are able to do. Actually the brain and the nervous system have nothing to do with real cognition but only with the expression of cognition in the physical organism.

Now the question is: why have we the contrast between the head system (we will leave the middle system out of account for the present) and the polaric limb system with the lower body? We have this contrast because at a certain moment the head system is breathed out by the cosmos. Man has the form of his head by reason of the antipathy of the cosmos. When the cosmos has such aversion for what man bears within him that it pushes it out, then the image or copy arises. In the head man really bears the copy of the cosmos in him. The roundly formed head is such a copy. The cosmos, through antipathy, creates a copy of itself outside itself. That is our head. We can use our head as an organ for freedom because it has been pushed out by the cosmos. We do not regard the head correctly if we think of it as incorporated in the cosmos as intensively as is our limb-masses system, in which are included the sexual organs. Our limb system is incorporated in the cosmos and the cosmos attracts it, has sympathy with it, just as it has antipathy towards the head. In the head our antipathy meets the antipathy of the cosmos; there they come into collision. And in the rebounding of our antipathies upon those of the cosmos our perceptions arise. All inner life which rises on the other side of man's being has its origin in the loving sympathetic embrace between the cosmos and the limb system of man.

Thus the human bodily form expresses how a man, even in his soul nature, is formed out of the cosmos, and also what he then takes from the cosmos. If you look at it from this point of view you will more easily see that there is a great difference between the formation of the mental picture and the formation of will. If you work exclusively and one-sidedly on the building up of the former, then you really point the child back to his pre-natal existence, and you will harm him if you are educating him rationalistically, because you are coercing his will into what he has already done with — the pre-natal life. You must not introduce too many abstract concepts into what you bring to the child. You must rather introduce imaginative pictures. Why is this? Imaginative pictures stem from picture-forming and sympathy. Concepts, abstract concepts, are abstractions; they go through memory and antipathy, and they stem from the pre-natal life. If you use many abstractions in teaching a child, you involve him too intensely in the production of carbonic acid in the blood, namely in processes of the hardening of the body, and decay. If you bring to the child as many imaginations as possible, if you educate him as much as possible by speaking to him in images, then you are actually laying in the child the germ for the preservation of oxygen, for continuous growth, because you point to the future, to what comes after death. In educating we take up again in some measure the activities which were carried out with us men before birth. We must realise that mental picturing is an activity connected with images, originating in what we have experienced before birth or conception. The spiritual Powers have so dealt with us that they have planted within us this image activity which works on in us after birth, If in our education we ourselves give the children images we are taking up this cosmic activity again. We plant images in them which can become germs, seeds, because we plant them into a bodily activity. Therefore, whilst as educators we acquire the power to work in images we must continually have the feeling: you are working on the whole man; it echoes, as it were, through the whole human being, if you work in images.

If you yourselves continually feel that in all education you are supplying a kind of continuation of pre-natal super-sensible activity, then you will give to all your education the necessary consecration, for without this consecration it is impossible to educate at all.

To-day we have learnt of two systems of concepts: cognition, antipathy, memory, concept: willing, sympathy, picture-forming, imagination: two systems which we shall be able to apply practically in all that we have to do in our educational work. We will speak further of this to-morrow.


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