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The Study of Man

Schmidt Number: S-3807

On-line since: 23rd June, 2002


The teacher of the present day should have a comprehensive view of the laws of the universe as a background to all he undertakes in his school work. And clearly, it is particularly in the lower classes, in the lower school grades, that education demands a connection in the teacher's soul with the highest ideas of humanity. A real canker in school constitution of recent years has been the habit of keeping the teacher of younger classes in a kind of dependent position, in a position which has made his existence seem of less value than that of teachers in the upper school. Naturally this is not the place for me to speak in general of the spiritual branch of the social organism. But I must point out that in future everything in the sphere of teaching must be on an equal footing; and public opinion will have to recognise that the teacher of the lower grades, both spiritually and in other ways, has the same intrinsic value as the teacher of the upper grades. It will not surprise you, therefore, if we point out to-day in the background of all teaching — with younger children as with older — there must be something that one cannot of course use directly in one's work with the children, but which it is essential that the teacher should know if his teaching is to be fruitful.

In our teaching we bring to the child the world of nature on the one hand and the world of the spirit on the other. In so far as we are human beings on the earth, on the physical plane, fulfilling our existence between birth and death, we are intimately connected with the natural world on the one hand and the spiritual world on the other hand. Now the psychological science of our time is a very weak growth. It is still suffering from the after-effects of that dogmatic Church pronouncement of A.D. 869 — to which I have often alluded — a decree which obscured an earlier vision resting on instinctive knowledge: the insight that man is divided into body, soul and spirit. When you hear psychologists speak to-day you will nearly always find that they speak only of the twofold nature of man. You will hear it said that man consists of matter and soul, or of body and spirit, however it may be put. Thus matter and body, and equally soul and spirit, are regarded as meaning much the same thing.* Nearly all psychologies are built up on this erroneous conception of the twofold division of the human being. It is impossible to come to a real insight into human nature if one adopts this twofold division alone. It is for this fundamental reason that nearly everything that is put forward to-day as psychology is only dilettantism, a mere playing with words.

* The words here translated as matter and body are Körper and Leib, for which we have no precise equivalent in English. Körper is equivalent to physical body. Leib denotes a living body, i.e. an organism penetrated with life.

This is chiefly due to that error, which reached its full magnitude only in the second half of the nineteenth century, and which arose from a misconception of a really great achievement of physical science. You know that the good people of Heilbronn have erected a memorial in the middle of their city to the man they shut up in an asylum during his life: Julius Robert Mayer. And you know that this personality, of whom the Heilbronn people are to-day naturally extremely proud, is associated with what is called the law of the Conservation of Energy or Force.

This law states that the sum of all energies or forces present in the universe is constant, only that these forces undergo certain changes, and appear, now as heat, now as mechanical force, or the like. This is the form in which the law of Julius Robert Mayer is presented, because it is completely misunderstood. For he was really concerned with the discovery of the metamorphosis of forces, and not with the exposition of such an abstract law as that of the conservation of energy.

Now, considered broadly and from the point of view of the history of civilisation, what is this law of the conservation of energy or force? It is the great stumbling-block to any understanding of man. For as soon as people think that forces can never be created afresh, it becomes impossible to arrive at a knowledge of the true being of man. For the true nature of man rests on the fact that through him new forces are continually coming into existence. It is certainly true that, under the conditions in which we are living in the world, man is the only being in whom new forces and even — as we shall hear later — new matter is being formed. But as modern philosophy will have nothing to do with the elements through which alone the human being can be fully comprehended, it produces this law of the conservation of energy; a law which, in a sense, does no harm when applied to the other kingdoms of nature, to the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms — but which applied to man destroys all possibility of a true understanding and knowledge.

As teachers it will be necessary for you on the one hand to give your pupils an understanding of nature, and on the other hand to lead them to a certain comprehension of spiritual life. Without a knowledge of nature in some degree, and without some relation to spiritual life, man cannot take his place in social life. Let us therefore first of all turn our attention to external nature.

Outer nature presents itself to us in two ways. On the one side, we confront nature in our thought life which as you know is of an image character and is a kind of reflection of our pre-natal life. On the other side we come into touch with that nature which may be called will-nature, which, as germ, points to our life after death. In this way we are continuously involved with nature. This might of course appear to be a two fold relationship between man and the world, and it has in point of fact given rise to the error of the twofold nature of man. We shall return to this subject later. When we confront the world from the side of thinking and of the mental picture, then we can really only comprehend that part of the world which is perpetually dying. This is a law of extraordinary importance. You must be very clear on this point: you may come across the most marvellous natural laws, but if they have been discovered by means of the intellect and the powers of the mental picture, then they will always refer to what is in process of dying in external nature.

When, however, the living will, present in man as germ, is turned to the external world, it experiences laws very different from those connected with death. Hence those of you, who still retain conceptions which have sprung from the modern age and the errors of present-day science, will find something difficult to understand. What brings us into contact with the external world through the senses — including the whole range of the twelve senses — has not the nature of cognition, but rather of will. A man of to-day has lost all perception of this. He therefore considers it childish when he reads in Plato that actually sight comes about by the stretching forth of a kind of prehensile pair of arms from the eyes to the objects. These prehensile arms cannot of course be perceived by means of the senses; but that Plato was conscious of them is proof that he had penetrated into the super-sensible world. Actually, looking at things involves the same process as taking hold of things, only it is more delicate. For example, when you take hold of a piece of chalk this is a physical process exactly like the spiritual process that takes place when you send the etheric forces from your eyes to grasp an object in the act of sight. If people of the present day had any power of observation, they would be able to deduce these facts from observing natural phenomena. If, for example, you look at a horse's eyes, which are directed outwards, you will get the feeling that the horse, simply through the position of his eyes, has a different attitude to his environment from the human being. I can show you the causes of this most clearly by the following hypothesis: imagine that your two arms were so constituted that it was quite impossible for you to bring them together in front, so that you could never take hold of yourself. Suppose you had to remain in the position of “Ah” in Eurythmy and could never come to “0,” that, through some resisting force, it were impossible for you by stretching your arms forward to bring them together in front. Now the horse is in this situation with respect to the super-sensible arms of his eyes: the arm of his right eye can never touch the arm of his left eye. But the position of man's eyes is such that he can continually make these two super-sensible arms of his eyes touch one another. This is the basis of our sensation of the Ego, the I — a super-sensible sensation. If we had no possibility at all of bringing left and right into contact; or if the touching of left and right meant as little as it does with animals, who never rightly join their fore-feet, in prayer for instance, or in any similar spiritual exercise — if this were the case we should not be able to attain this spiritualised sensation of our own self.

What is of paramount importance in the sensations of eye and ear is not so much the passive element, it is the activity, i.e. how we meet the outside world in our will. Modern philosophy has often had an inkling of some truth, and has then invented all kinds of words, which, however, usually show how far one is from a real comprehension of the matter. For example, the Localzeichen of Lotze's philosophy exhibit a trace of this knowledge that the will is active in the senses. But our lower sense organism, which clearly shows its connection with the metabolic system in the senses of touch, taste and smell, is indeed closely bound up with the metabolic system right into the higher senses — and the metabolic system is of a will nature.

You can therefore say: man confronts nature with his intellectual faculties and through their means he grasps all that is dead in Nature, and he acquires laws concerning what is dead. But what rises in Nature from the womb of death to become the future of the world, this is comprehended by man's will — that will which is seemingly so indeterminate, but which extends right into the senses themselves.

Think how living your relationship to Nature will become if you keep clearly in view what I have just said. For then you will say to yourselves: when I go out into Nature I have the play of light and colour continually before me; in assimilating the light and its colours I am uniting myself with that part of Nature which is being carried on into the future; and when I return to my room and think over what I have seen in Nature, and spin laws about it, then I am concerning myself with that element in the world which is perpetually dying. In Nature dying and becoming are continuously flowing into one another. We are able to comprehend the dying element because we bear within us the reflection of our prenatal life, the world of intellect, the world of thought, whereby we can see in our mind's eye the elements of death at the basis of Nature. And we are able to grasp what will come of Nature in the future because we confront Nature, not only with our intellect and thought, but with that which is of a will-nature within ourselves.

Were it not that, during his earthly life, man could preserve some part of what before his birth became purely thought life, he would never be able to achieve freedom. For, in that case, man would be bound up with what is dead, and the moment he wanted to call into free activity what in himself is related to the dead element in Nature, he would be wanting to call into free activity a dying thing. And if he wished to make use of what unites him with Nature as a being of will, his consciousness would be deadened, for what unites him as a will being with Nature is still in germ. He would be a Nature being, but not a free being.

Over and above these two elements — the comprehension of what is dead through the intellect, and the comprehension of what is living and becoming through the will — there dwells something in man which he alone and no other earthly being bears within him from birth to death, and that is pure thinking; that kind of thinking which is not directed to external nature, but is solely directed to the super-sensible nature in man himself, to that which makes him an autonomous being, something over and above what lives in the “less than death” and “more than life.” When speaking of human freedom therefore, one has to pay attention to this autonomous thing in man, this pure sense-free thinking in which the will too is always present.

Now when you turn to consider Nature itself from this point of view you will say: I am looking out upon the world, the stream of dying is in me, and also the stream of renewing: dying — being born again. Modern science understands but little of this process; for it regards the external world as more or less of a unity, and continually muddles up dying and becoming. So that the many statements about Nature and its essence which are common to-day are entirely confused, because dying and becoming are mixed up and confounded with one another. In order clearly to differentiate between these two streams in Nature the question must be asked: how would it be with the world if man himself were not within it?

This question presents a great dilemma for the philosophy of modern science. For, suppose you were to ask a truly modern research scientist: what would Nature be like if man were not within it? Of course he might at first be rather shocked, for the question would seem to be to him a strange one. Then, however, he would consider what grounds his science gives for answering such a question, and he would say: in this case, minerals, plants and animals would be on the earth, only man would not be there; and the course of the earth right through from the beginning, when it was still in the nebulous condition described by Kant and Laplace, would have been the same as it has been, only that man would not have been present in this progress. Practically speaking this is the only answer that could result. He might perhaps add: man tills the ground and so alters the surface of the earth, or he constructs machines and thereby also brings about certain alterations; but these are immaterial in comparison with the changes that are caused by Nature itself. In any case the gist of the scientist's answer would be that minerals, plants and animals would develop without man being present on the earth.

This is not correct. For if man were not present in the earth's evolution then the animals, for the most part, would not be there either; for a great many animals, and particularly the higher animals, have only arisen in the earth's evolution because man was obliged — figuratively speaking, of course — to use his elbows. The nature of man formerly contained many things which are not there now, and at a certain stage of his earthly development he had to separate out from himself the higher animals, to throw them off, as it were, so that he himself could progress. I will make a comparison to describe this throwing out: imagine a solution where something is being dissolved, and then imagine that this dissolved substance is separated out and falls to the bottom as sediment. In the same way man was united with the animal world in earlier conditions of his development and later he separated out the animal world like a precipitate, or sediment. The animals would not have become what they are to-day if man had not had to develop as he has done. Thus without man in the earth evolution the animal forms as well as the earth itself would have looked quite other than they do to-day.

But let us pass on to consider the mineral and plant world. Here we must be clear that not only the lower animal forms but also the plant and mineral kingdoms would long ago have dried up and ceased to develop if man were not upon the earth. And, again, present-day philosophy, based as it is on a one-sided view of the natural world, is bound to say: certainly men die, and their bodies are burned or buried, and thereby are given over to the earth, but this is of no significance for the development of the earth; for if the earth did not receive human bodies into itself it would take its course in precisely the same way as now, when it does receive these bodies. But this means that men are quite unaware that the continuous giving over of human corpses to the earth — whether by cremation or burial — is a real process which works on in the earth.

Peasant women in the country know much better than town women that yeast plays an important part in bread making, although only a little is added to the bread; they know that the bread could not rise unless yeast were added to the dough. In the same way the earth would long ago have reached the final stage of its development if there had not been continuously added to it the forces of the human corpse, which is separated in death from what is of soul and spirit. Through the forces present in human corpses which are thus received by the earth, the evolution of the earth itself is maintained. It is owing to this that the minerals can still go on producing their powers of crystallisation, a thing they would otherwise long ago have ceased to do; without these forces they would long ago have crumbled away or dissolved. Plants, also, which would long ago have ceased to grow are enabled, thanks to these forces, to go on growing to-day. And it is the same with the lower animals forms. In giving his body over to the earth the human being is giving the ferment, the yeast for future — development.

Hence it is by no means a matter of indifference whether man is living on the earth or not. It is simply untrue that the evolution of the earth with respect to its mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, would continue if man himself were not there. The process of Nature is a unified whole to which man belongs. We only get a true picture of man if we think of him as standing even in death in the midst of the cosmic process.

If you will bear this in mind then you will hardly wonder at what I am now going to say: when man descends from the spiritual into the physical world he receives his physical body as a garment. But naturally the body received as a child differs from the body as we lay it aside in death, at whatever age. Something has happened to the physical body. And what has happened could only come about because this body is permeated with forces of spirit and soul. For, after all, we eat what animals also eat. That is to say, we transform external matter just as the animals do; but we transform it with the help of something which animals have not got; something that came down from the spiritual world in order to unite itself with the physical body of man. Because of this we affect the substances in a different way than do animals or plants. And the substances given over to the earth in the human corpse are transformed substances, something different from what man received when he was born. We can therefore say: man receives certain substances and forces at birth; he renews them during his life and gives them up again to the earth process in a different form. The substances and forces which he gives up to the earth process at death are not the same as those which he received at birth. In giving them up he is bestowing upon the earth process something which continuously streams through him from the super-sensible world into the physical, sense-perceptible, earth process. At birth he brings down something from the super-sensible world; this he incorporates with the substances and forces which make up his body during his earthly life, and then at death the earth receives it. Man is thus the medium for a constant be-dewing of the physical sense world by the super-sensible. You can imagine, as it were, a fine rain falling continuously from the super-sensible on to the sense world; but these drops would remain quite unfruitful for the earth if man did not absorb them and pass them over to the earth through his own body. These drops which man receives at birth and gives up again at death, bring about a continual fructification of the earth by super-sensible forces; and through these fructifying super-sensible forces the evolutionary process of the earth is maintained. Without human corpses therefore, the earth would long ago have become dead.

With this presupposition we can now ask: what do the death forces do to human nature? The death-bringing forces which predominate in outer nature work into the nature of man; for if man were not continually bringing life to outer nature it would perish. Now how do these death-bringing forces work in the nature of man? They produce in man all those organisations which range from the bone system to the nerve system. What builds up the bones and everything related to them is of quite a different nature from what builds up the other systems. The death-bringing forces play into us. We leave them as they are, and thereby we become bone men. But the death-bringing forces play further into us and we tone them down, and thereby we become nerve men. What is a nerve? A nerve is something which is continually wanting to become bone, and is only prevented from becoming bone by being in a certain relationship to the non-bony, or non-nervous elements of human nature. Nerve has a constant tendency to ossify, it is constantly compelled towards decay; while bone in man is dead to a very large extent. With animal bones the conditions are different — animal bone is far more living than human bone. Thus you can picture one side of human nature by saying: the death-bringing stream works in the bone and nerve system. That is the one pole.

The other stream, that of forces continuously giving life, works in the muscle and blood system and in all that is connected with it. The only reason why nerves are not bones is that their connection with the blood and muscle system is such that the impulse in them to become bone is directly opposed by the forces working in the blood and muscle. The nerve does not become bone solely because the blood and muscle system stands over against it and hinders it from becoming bone. If during the process of growth bone develops a wrong relationship to blood and muscle, then the condition of rickets will result, which is due to the muscle and blood nature hindering a proper deadening of the bone. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the right alternation should come about in man between the muscle and blood system on the one hand and the bone and nerve system on the other. The bone nerve system extends into the eye, but in the outer covering the bone system withdraws, and sends into the eye only its weakened form, the nerve; this enables the eye to unite the will nature, which lives in muscles and blood, with the activity of mental picturing. Here again we come upon something which played an important role in ancient science, but which is scorned as a childish conception by the science of to-day. But modern science will come back to it again, only in another form.

In the knowledge of ancient times men always felt a relationship between the nerve marrow, the nerve substance, and the bone marrow, the bone substance. And they were of the opinion that man thinks with his bone nature just as much as with his nerve nature. And this is true. All that we have in abstract science we owe to the faculty of our bone system. How is it, for instance, that man can do geometry? The higher animals have no geometry; that can be seen from their way of life. It is pure nonsense when people say: “Perhaps the higher animals have a geometry, only we do not notice it.” Now, man can form a geometry. But how, for example, does he form the conception of a triangle? If one truly reflects on this matter, that man can form the conception of a triangle, it will seem a marvellous thing that man forms a triangle, an abstract triangle — nowhere to be found in concrete life — purely out of his geometrical, mathematical imagination. There is much that is hidden and unknown behind the manifest events of the world. Now imagine, for example, that you are standing at a definite place in this room. As a super-sensible human being you will, at certain times, perform strange movements about which as a rule you know nothing; like this, for example: you go a little way to one side, then you go a little way backwards, then you come back to your place again. You are describing unawares in space a line which actually performs a triangular movement. Such movements are actually there, only you do not perceive them.

Figure 1

But since your backbone is in a vertical position, you are in the plane in which these movements take place. The animal is not in this plane, his backbone lies otherwise, i.e. horizontally; thus these movements are not carried out. Because man's backbone is vertical, he is in the plane where this movement is produced. He does not bring it to consciousness so that he could say: “I am always dancing in a triangle.” But he draws a triangle and says: “That is a triangle.” In reality this is a movement carried out unconsciously which he accomplishes in the cosmos.

These movements to which you give fixed forms in geometry — when you draw geometrical figures, you perform in conjunction with the earth. The earth has not only the movement which belongs to the Copernican system; it has also quite — different, artistic movements, which are constantly being performed; as are also still more complicated movements, such as those, for example, which belong to the lines of geometrical solids: the cube, the octahedron, the dodecahedron, the icosatetrahedron and so forth. These bodies are not invented, they are reality, but unconscious reality. In these and other geometrical solids lies a remarkable harmony with the subconscious knowledge which man has. This is due to the fact that our bone system has an essential knowledge; but your consciousness does not reach down into the bone system. The consciousness of it dies, and it is only reflected back in the geometrical images which man carries out in figures. Man is an intrinsic part of the universe. In evolving geometry he is copying something that he himself does in the cosmos.

Thus on the one hand we look into a world which encompasses ourselves and which is in a continuous process of dying. On the other hand we look into all that enters into the forces of our blood and muscle system; this is continuously in movement, in fluctuation, in becoming and arising: it is entirely seedlike, and has nothing dead within it. We arrest the death process within ourselves, and it is only we as human beings who can arrest it, and bring into this dying element a process of life, of becoming. If men were not here on the earth, death would long ago have spread over the whole earth process, and the earth as a whole would have been given over to crystallisation, though single crystals could not have maintained themselves. We draw the single crystals away from the general crystallisation process and preserve them, as long as we need them for our human evolution. And it is by doing so that we keep alive the being of the earth. Thus we human beings cannot be excluded from the life of the earth for it is we who keep the earth alive. Theodore Eduard von Hartmann hit on a true thought when, in his pessimism, he declared that one day mankind would be so mature that everybody would commit suicide; but what he further expected — viewing things as he did from the confines of natural science — would indeed be superfluous: for Hartmann it was not enough that all men should one day commit suicide, he expected in addition that an ingenious invention would blow the earth sky-high. Of this he would have no need. He need only have arranged the day for the general suicide and the earth would of itself have disintegrated slowly into the air. For without the force which is implanted into it by man, the evolution of the earth cannot endure. We must now permeate ourselves with this knowledge once again in a feeling way. It is necessary that these things be understood at the present time.

Perhaps you remember that in my earliest writings there constantly recurs a thought through which I wanted to place knowledge on a different footing from that on which it stands to-day. In the external philosophy, which is derived from Anglo-American thought, man is reduced to being a mere spectator of the world. In his inner soul process he is a mere spectator of the world. If man were not here on earth — it is held — if he did not experience in his soul a reflection of what is going on in the world outside, everything would be just as it is. This holds good of natural science where it is a question of the development of events, such as I have described, but it also holds good for philosophy. The philosopher of to-day is quite content to be a spectator, that is, to be merely in the purely destructive element of cognition. I wished to rescue knowledge out of this destructive element. Therefore I have said again and again: man is not merely a spectator of the world: he is rather the world's stage upon which great cosmic events continuously play themselves out. I have repeatedly said that man, and the soul of man, is the stage upon which world events are played. This thought can also be expressed in a philosophic abstract form. And in particular, if you read the final chapter about spiritual activity in my book Truth and Science. you will find this thought strongly emphasised, namely: what takes place in man is not a matter of indifference to the rest of nature, but rather the rest of nature reaches into man and what takes place in man is simultaneously a cosmic process; so that the human soul is a stage upon which not merely a human process but a cosmic process is enacted. Of course certain circles of people to-day would find it exceedingly hard to understand such a thought. But unless we permeate ourselves with such conceptions we cannot possibly become true educators.

Now what is it that actually happens within man's being? On the one hand we have the bone-nerve nature, on the other hand the blood-muscle nature. Through the co-operation of these two, substances and forces are constantly being formed anew. And it is because of this, because in man himself substances and forces are recreated, that the earth is preserved from death. What I have just said of the blood, namely that through its contact with the nerves it brings about re-creation of substances and forces — this you can now connect with what I said yesterday: that blood is perpetually on the way to becoming spiritual but is arrested on its way. To-morrow we shall link up the thoughts we have acquired in these two lectures and develop them further. But you can see already how erroneous the thought of the conservation of energy and matter really is, in the form in which it is usually put forward; for it is contradicted by what happens within human nature, and it is only an obstacle to the real comprehension of the human being. Only when we grasp the synthesizing thought, not indeed that something can proceed out of nothing, but that a thing can in reality be so transformed that it will pass away and another thing will arise, only when we substitute this thought for that of the conservation of energy and matter, will we attain something really fruitful for science.

You see what the tendency is which leads so much of our thinking astray. We put forward something, as for example, the law of the conservation of force and matter, and we proclaim it a universal law. This is due to a certain tendency of our thought life, and especially of our soul life, to describe things in a one-sided way; whereas we should only set up postulates on the results of our mental picturing. For instance, in our books on physics you will find the law of the mutual impenetrability of bodies set up as an axiom: at that place in space where there is one body no other body can be at the same time. This is laid down as a universal quality of bodies. But one ought only to say: bodies and beings of such a nature that in the place where they are in space no other similar object can be at the same time are “impenetrable” bodies. You ought only to apply your concepts to differentiate one province from another. You ought only to set up postulates, and not to give definitions which claim to be universal. And so we should not lay down a “law” of the conservation of force and substance, but we should find out what beings this law applies to. It was a tendency of the nineteenth century to lay down laws and say: this holds good in every case. Instead of this we should devote our soul powers to acquainting ourselves with things, and observing our experiences in connection with them.


Last Modified: 07-Sep-2017
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