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Origins of Natural Science

Schmidt Number: S-5124

On-line since: 29th May, 2004

Lecture VIII


Dornach, January 3, 1923

 

I have tried to show how various domains of scientific thought originated in modern times. Now I will try to throw light from a certain standpoint on what was actually happening in the development of these scientific concepts. Then we shall better understand what these concepts signify in the whole evolutionary process of mankind. We must clearly understand that the phenomena of external culture are inwardly permeated by a kind of pulse beat that originates from deeper insights. Such insights need not always be ones that are commonly taught, but still they are at the bottom of the development. Now, I would only like to say that we can better understand what we are dealing with in this direction if we include in our considerations what in certain epochs was practiced as initiation science, a science of the deeper foundations of life and history.

We know that the farther we go back in history, 69 ] the more we discover an instinctive spiritual knowledge, an instinctive clairvoyant perception of what goes on behind the scenes. Moreover, we know that it is possible in our time to attain to a deeper knowledge, because since the last third of the Nineteenth Century, after the high tide of materialistic concepts and feelings, simply through the relationship of the spiritual world to the physical, the possibility arose to draw spiritual knowledge once again directly from the super-sensible world. Since the last third of the Nineteenth Century, it has been possible to deepen human knowledge to the point where it can behold the foundations of what takes place in the external processes of nature.

So we can say that an ancient instinctive initiation science made way for an exoteric civilization in which little was felt of any direct spirit knowledge, but now it is fully conscious rather than instinctive.

We stand at the beginning of this development of a new spirit knowledge. It will unfold further in the future. If we have a certain insight into what man regarded as knowledge during the age of the old instinctive science of initiation, we can discover that until the beginning of the Fourteenth Century, opinions prevailed in the civilized world that cannot be directly compared with any of our modern conceptions about nature. They were ideas of quite a different kind. Still less can they be compared with what today's science calls psychology. There too, we would have to say that it is of quite a different kind. The soul and spirit of man as well as the physical realm of nature were grasped in concepts and ideas that today are understood only by men who specifically study initiation science. The whole manner of thinking and feeling was quite different in former times.

If we examine the ancient initiation science, we find that, in spite of the fragmentary ways in which it has been handed down, it had profound insights, deep conceptions, concerning man and his relation to the world.

People today do not greatly esteem a work like De Divisione Naturae (Concerning the Division of Nature) by John Scotus Erigena 70 ] in the Ninth Century. They do not bother with it because such a work is not regarded as an historical document since it comes from a time when men thought differently from the way they think today, so differently that we can no longer understand such a book. When ordinary philosophers describe such topics in their historical writings, one is offered mere empty words. Scholars no longer enter into the fundamental spirit of a work such as that of John Scotus Erigena on the division of nature, where even the term nature signifies something other than in modern science. If, with the insight of spiritual science, we do enter into the spirit of such a text, we must come to the following rather odd conclusion: This Scotus Erigena developed ideas that give the impression of extraordinary penetration into the essence of the world, but he presented these ideas in an inadequate and ineffective form. At the risk of speaking disrespectfully of a work that is after all very valuable, one has to say that Erigena himself no longer fully understood what he was writing about. One can see that in his description. Even for him, though not to the same extent as with modern historians of philosophy, the words that he had gleaned from tradition were more or less words only, and he could no longer enter into their deeper meaning. Reading his works, we find ourselves increasingly obliged to go farther back in history. Erigena's writings lead us directly back to those of the so-called pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. 71 ] I will now leave aside the historical problem of when Dionysius lived, and so forth. But again from Dionysius the Areopagite one is led still farther back. To continue the search one must be equipped with spiritual science. But finally, going back to the second and third millennia before Christ, one comes upon very deep insights that have been lost to mankind. Only as a faint echo are they present in writings such as those of Erigena.

Even if we go no further back than the Scholastics, we can find, hidden under their pedantic style, profound ideas concerning the way in which man apprehends the outer world, and how there lives the super-sensible on one side and on the other side the sense perceptible, and so on. If we take the stream of tradition founded on Aristotle who, in his logical but pedantic way, had in turn gathered together the ancient knowledge that had been handed down to him, we find the same thing — deep insights that were well understood in ancient times and survived feebly into the Middle Ages, being repeated in the successive epochs, and were always less and less understood. That is the characteristic process. At last in the Thirteenth or Fourteenth Century, the understanding disappears almost entirely, and a new spirit emerges, the spirit of Copernicus and Galileo, which I have described in the previous lectures.

In all studies, such as those I have just outlines, it is found that this ancient knowledge is handed down through the ages until the Fourteenth Century, though less and less understood. This ancient knowledge amounted essentially to an inner experience of what goes on in man himself. The explanations of the last few lectures should make this comprehensible: It is the experiencing of the mathematical-mechanical element in human movement, the experiencing of a certain chemical principle, as we would say today, in the circulation of man's bodily fluids, which are permeated by the etheric body. Hence, we can even look at the table that I put on the blackboard yesterday from an historical standpoint. If we look at the being of man with our initiation science today, we have the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body (the inner life of the soul,) and the ego organization. As I pointed out yesterday, there existed (arising out of the ancient initiation science) an inner experience of the physical body, an inward experience of movement, an inner experience of the dimensionality of space, as well as experiences of other physical and mechanical processes. We can call this inner experience the experiencing of physics in man. But this experience of physics in man is at the same time the cognition of the very laws of physics and mechanics. There was a physics of man directed toward the physical body. It would not have occurred to anyone in those times to search for physics other than through the experience in man. Now, in the age of Galileo and Copernicus, together with the mathematics that was thenceforth applied in physics, what was inwardly experienced is cast out of man and grasped abstractly. It can be said that physics sunders itself from man, whereas formerly it was contained in man himself.

Something similar was experienced with the fluid processes, the bodily fluids of the human organism. These too were inwardly experienced. Yesterday I referred to the Galen who, in the first Christian centuries, described the following fluids in man: black gall, blood, phlegm, and the ordinary means of the intermingling of these fluids by the way they influence each other. Galen did not arrive at these statements by anything resembling today's physiological methods. They were based mainly on inward experiences. For Galen too these were largely a tradition, but what he thus took from tradition we once experienced inwardly in the fluid part of the human organism, which in turn was permeated by the etheric body.

For this reason, in the beginning of my Riddles of Philosophy, 72 ] I did not describe the Greek philosophers in the customary way. Read any ordinary history of philosophy and you will find this subject presented more or less as follows: Thales 73 ] pondered on the origin of our sense world and sought for it in water. Heraclitus looked for it in fire. Others looked for it in air. Still others in solid matter, for example in something like atoms. It is amazing that this can be recounted without questions being raised. People today do not notice that it basically defies explanation why Thales happened to designate water while Heraclitus 74 ] chose fire as the source of all things. Read my book Riddles of Philosophy, and you will see that the viewpoint of Thales, expressed in the sentence “All things have originated from water,” is based on an inner experience. He inwardly felt the activity of what in his day was termed the watery element. He sensed that the basis of the external process in nature was related to this inner activity; thus he described the external out of inner experiences. It was the same with Heraclitus who, as we would say today, was of a different temperament. Thales, as a phlegmatic, was sensitive to the inward “water” or “phlegm.” Therefore he described the world from the phlegmatic's viewpoint: everything has come from water. Heraclitus, as a choleric, experienced the inner “fire.” He described the world the way he experienced it. Besides them, there were other thinkers, who are no longer mentioned by external tradition, who knew still more concerning these matters. Their knowledge was handed down and still existed as tradition in the first Christian centuries; hence Galen could speak of the four components of man's inner fluidic system.

What was then known concerning the inner fluids, namely, how these four fluids — yellow gall, black gall, blood, and phlegm — influence and mix with one another really amounts to an inner human chemistry, though it is of course considered childish today. No other form of chemistry existed in those days. The external phenomena that today belong to the field of chemistry were then evaluated according to these inward experiences. We can therefore speak of an inner chemistry based on experiences of the fluid man who is permeated by the ether body. Chemistry was tied to man in former ages. Later it emerged, as did mathematics and physics, and became external chemistry (see Figure 1.) Try to imagine how the physics and chemistry of ancient times were felt by men. They were experienced as something that was, as it were, a part of themselves, not as something that is mere description of an external nature and its processes. The main point was: it was experienced physics, experienced chemistry.

 

Diagram 1

 

In those ages when men felt external nature in their physical and etheric bodies, the contents of the astral body and the ego organization were also experienced differently than in later times.

Today was have a psychology, but it is only an inventory of abstractions, though no one admits this. You will find in it thinking, feeling, willing, as well as memory, imagination, and so forth, but treated as mere abstractions. This gradually arose from what was still considered as one's own soul contents. One had cast out chemistry and physics; thinking, feeling and willing were retained. But what was left eventually became so diluted that it turned into no more than an inventory of lifeless empty abstractions, and it can be readily proved that this is so. Take, for example, the people who still spoke of thinking or willing as late as the Fifteenth or Sixteenth Century. 75 ] If you study the older texts on these subjects you will see that people expressed themselves concerning these matters in a concrete way. You have the feeling, when such a person speaks about thinking, that he speaks as if this thinking were actually a series of inner processes within him, as if the thoughts were colliding with each other or supporting each other. This is still an experiencing of thoughts. It is not yet as abstract a matter as it became later on. During and towards the end of the Nineteenth Century, it was an easy thing for the philosophers to deny all reality to these abstractions. They saw thoughts as inner mirror pictures, as was done in an especially brilliant way by Richard Wahle, who declared that the ego, thinking, feeling, and willing were only illusions. Instead of abstractions, the inner soul contents become illusions.

In the age when man felt that his walking was a process that took place simultaneously in him and the world, and when he still sensed the circulating fluids within him, he knew, for instance, that when he moved about in the heat of the sun (when external influences were present) that the blood and phlegm circulated differently in him than was the case in winter. Such a man experienced the blood and phlegm circulation within himself, but he experienced it together with the sunshine or the lack thereof. And just as he experienced physical and chemical aspects in union with the outside world, so he also experienced thinking, feeling, and willing together with the world. He did not think they were occurring only within himself as was done in later ages when they gradually evaporated into complete abstractions. Instead he experienced what occurred in him in thinking, feeling, and willing, or in the circulation of the fluids as part of the realm of the astral, the soul being of man, which in that age was the subject of a psychology.

Psychology now became tightly tied to man. With the dawn of the scientific age, man drove physics and chemistry out into the external world; psychology, on the other hand, he drove into himself. This process can be traced in Francis Bacon and John Locke. All that is experienced of the external world, such as tone, color, and warmth, is pressed into man's interior.

This process is even more pronounced in regard to the ego organization. This gradually became a very meager experience. The way man looked into himself, the ego became by degrees something like a mere point. For that reason it became easy to philosophers to dispute its very existence. Not ego consciousness, but the experience of the ego was for men of former ages something rich in content and fully real. This ego experience expressed itself in something that was a loftier science than psychology, a science that can be called pneumatology. In later times this was also pressed into the interior and thinned out into our present quite diluted ego feeling.

When man had the inward experience of his physical body, he had the experience of physics; simultaneously, he experienced what corresponds in outer nature to the processes in his physical body. It is similar in the case of the etheric body. Not only the etheric, was experienced inwardly, but also the physical fluid system, which is controlled by the etheric. Now, what is inwardly experienced when man perceives the psychological, the processes of his astral body? The “air man” — if I may put it this way — is inwardly experienced. We are not only solid organic formations, not only fluids or water formations, we are always gaseous-airy as well. We breathe in the air and breathe it out again. We experienced the substance of psychology in intimate union with the inner assimilation of air. This is why psychology was more concrete. When the living experience of air (which can also be outwardly traced) was cast out of the thought contents, these thought contents became increasingly abstract, became mere thought. Just think how an old Indian philosopher strove in his exercises to become conscious of the fact that in the breathing process something akin to the thought process was taking place. He regulated his breathing process in order to progress his thinking. He knew that thinking, feeling and willing are not as flimsy as we today make them out to be. He knew that through breathing they were related to both outer and inner nature, hence with air. As we can say that man expelled the physical and chemical aspects from his organization, we can also say that he sucked in the psychological aspect, but in doing so he rejected the external element, the air-breath experience. He withdrew his own being from the physical and chemical elements and merely observed the outer world with physics and chemistry; whereas he squeezed external nature (air) out of the psychological. Likewise, he squeezed the warmth element out of the pneumatological realm, thus reducing it to the rarity of the ego.

If I call the physical and etheric bodies, the “lower man,” and call the astral body and ego-organization the “upper man,” I can say that in the transition from an older epoch to the scientific age, man lost the inner physical and chemical experience, and came to grasp external nature only with his concepts of physics and chemistry. In psychology and pneumatology, on the other hand, man developed conceptions from which he eliminated outer nature and came to experience only so much of nature as remained in his concepts. In psychology, this was enough so that he at least still had words for what went on in his soul. As to the ego, however, this was so little that pneumatology (partially because theological dogmatism had prepared this development) completely faded out. It shrank down to the mere dot of the ego.

All this took the place of what had been experienced as a unity, when men of old said: We have four elements, earth, water, air and fire. Earth we experience in ourselves when we experience the physical body. Water we experience in ourselves when we experience the etheric body as the agent that moves, mixes, and separates the fluids. Air is experienced when the astral body is experienced in thinking, feeling, and willing, because these three are experienced as surging with the inner breathing process. Finally, warmth, or fire as it was then called, was experienced in the sensation of the ego.

So we may say that the modern scientific view developed by way of a transformation of man's whole relation to himself. If you follow historical evolution with these insights, you will find what I told you earlier — that in each new epoch we see new descriptions of the old traditions, but these are always less and less understood. The worlds of men like Paracelsus, van Helmont, or Jacob Boehme, 76 ] bear witness to such ancient traditions.

One who has insight into these matters gets the impression that in Jacob Boehme's case a very simple man is speaking out of sources that would lead too far today to discuss. He is difficult to comprehend because of his clumsiness. But Jacob Boehme shows profound insight in his awkward descriptions, insights that have been handed down through the generations. What was the situation of a person like Jacob Boehme? Giordano Bruno, his contemporary, stood among the most advanced men of his time, whereas we see in Jacob Boehme's case that he obviously read all kinds of books that are naturally forgotten today. These were full of rubbish. But Boehme was able to find a meaning in them. Awkwardly and with great difficulty Boehme presents the primeval wisdom that he had gleaned from his still more awkward and inadequate sources. His inward enlightenment enabled him to return to an earlier stage.

If we now look at the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and especially the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries, and if we leave aside isolated people like Paracelsus and Boehme (who appear like monuments to a bygone age,) and if we look at the exoteric stream of human development in the light of initiation science, we gain the impression that nobody knows anything at all anymore about the deeper foundations of things. Physics and chemistry have been eliminated from man, and alchemy has become the subject of derision. Of course, people were justified in scoffing at it, because what still remained of the ancient traditions in medieval alchemy could well be made fun of. All that is left is psychology, which has become confined to man's inner being, and a very meager pneumatology. People have broken with everything that was formerly known of human nature., On one hand, they experience what has been separated from man; and on the other, what has been chaotically relegated into his interior. And in all our search for knowledge, we see what I have just described.

In the Seventeenth Century, a theory arose that remains quite unintelligible if considered by itself, although if it is viewed in the context of history it becomes comprehensible. The theory was that those processes in the human body that have to do with the intake of food, are based on a kind of fermentation. The foods man eats are permeated with saliva and then with digestive fluids such as those in the pancreas, and thus various degrees of fermentation processes, as they were called, are achieved. If one looks at these ideas from today's viewpoint (which naturally will also be outgrown in the future) one can only make fun of them. But if we enter into these ideas and examine them closely, we discover the source of these apparently foolish ideas. The ancient traditions, which in a man like Galen were based on inward experiences and were thus well justified, were now on the verge of extinction. At the same time, what was to become external objective chemistry was only in its beginnings. Men had lost the inner knowledge, and the external had not yet developed. Therefore, they found themselves able to speak about digestion only in quite feeble neo-chemical terms, such as the vague idea of fermentation. Such men were the late followers of Galen's teachings. They still felt that in order to comprehend man, one must start from the movements of man's fluids, his fluid nature. But at the same time, they were beginning to view chemical aspects only by means of the external processes. Therefore they seized the idea of fermentation, which could be observed externally, and applied it to man. Man had become an empty bag because he no longer experienced anything within himself. What had grown to be external science was poured into this bag. In the Seventeenth Century, of course, there was not much science to pour. People had the vague idea about fermentation and similar processes, and these were rashly applied to man. Thus arose the so-called iatrochemical school 77 ] of medicine.

In considering these iatrochemists, we must realize that they still had some inkling of the ancient doctrine of fluids, which was based on inner experience. Others, who were more or less contemporaries of the iatrochemists, no longer had any such inkling, so they began to view man the way he appears to us today when we open an anatomy book. In such books we find descriptions of the bones, the stomach, the liver, etc. and we are apt to get the impression that this is all there is to know about man and that he consists of more or less solid organs with sharply defined contours. Of course, from a certain aspect, they do exist. But the solid aspect — the earth element, to use the ancient terminology — comprises at most one tenth of man's organization. It is more accurate to say that man is a column of fluids. The mistake is not in what is actually said, but in the whole method of presentation. It is gradually forgotten that man is a column of fluids in which the clearly contoured organs swim. Laymen see the pictures and have the impression that this is all they need to understand the body. But this is misleading. It is only one tenth of man. The remainder ought to be described by drawing a continuous stream of fluids (see Figure 2) interacting in the most manifold ways in the stomach, liver and so forth. Quite erroneous conceptions arise as to how man's organism actually functions, because only the sharply outlined organs are observed. This is why in the Nineteenth Century, people were astonished to see that if one drinks a glass of water, it appears to completely penetrate the body and be assimilated by his organs. But when a second or third glass of water is consumed, it no longer gives the impression that it is digested in the same manner. These matters were noticed but could no longer be explained, because a completely false view was held concerning the fluid organization of man. Here etheric body is the driving agent that mixes or separates the fluids, and brings about the processes of organic chemistry in man.

 

Diagram 2

 

In the Seventeenth Century, people really began to totally ignore this “fluid man” and to focus only on the solidly contoured parts. In this realm of clearly outlined parts, everything takes place in a mechanical way. One part pushes another; the other moves; things get pumped; it all works like suction or pressure pumps. The body is viewed from a mechanical standpoint, as existing only through the interplay of solidly contoured organs. Out of the iatrochemical theory or alongside it, there arose iatromechanics and even iatromathematics. 78 ]

Naturally, people began to think that the heart is really a pump that mechanically pumps the blood through the body, because they no longer knew that our inner fluids have their own life and therefore move on their own. They never dreamed that the heart is only a sense organ that checks on the circulation of the fluids in its own way. The whole matter was inverted. One no longer saw the movement and inner vitality of the fluids, or the etheric body active therein. The heart became a mechanical apparatus and has remained so to this day for the majority of physiologists and medical men.

The iatrochemists still had some faint knowledge concerning the etheric body. There was full awareness of it in what Galen described. In van Helmont or Paracelsus there was still an inkling of the etheric body, more than survived in the official iatrochemists who conducted the schools of that time. In the iatromechanists no trace whatsoever remained of this ether body; all conception of it had vanished into tin air. Man was seen only as a physical body, and that only to the extent that he consists of solid parts. These were now dealt with by means of physics, which had in the meantime also been cast out of the human being. Physics was now applied externally to man, whom one no longer understood. Man had been turned into an empty bag, and physics had been established in an abstract manner. Now this same physics was reapplied to man. Thus one no longer had the living being of man, only an empty bag stuffed with theories.

It is still this way today. What modern physiology or anatomy tells us of man is not man at all, it is physics that was cast out of man and is now changed around to be fitted back into man. The more intimately we study this development, the better we see destiny at work. The iatrochemists had a shadowy consciousness of the etheric body, the iatromechanists had none. Then came a man by the name of Stahl 79 ] who, considering his time, was an unusually clever man. He had studied iatrochemistry, but the concepts of the “inner fermentation processes” seemed inadequate to him because they only transplanted externalized chemistry back into the human bag. With the iatromechanists he was still more dissatisfied because they only placed external mechanical physics back into the empty bag. No knowledge, no tradition existed concerning the etheric body as the driving force of the moving fluids. It was not possible to gain information about it. So what did Stahl do? He invented something, because there was nothing left in tradition. He told himself: the physical and chemical processes that go on in the human body cannot be based on the physics and chemistry that are discovered in the external world. But he had nothing else to put into man Therefore he invented what he called the “life force,” the “vital force,” With it he founded the dynamic school. Stahl was gifted with a certain instinct. He felt the lack of something that he needed; so he invented this “vital force.” The Nineteenth Century had great difficulty in getting rid of this concept. It was really only an invention, but it was very hard to rid science of this “life force.”

Great efforts were made to find something that would fit into this empty bag that was man. This is why men came to think of the world of machines. They knew how a machine moves and responds. So the machine was stuffed into the empty bag in the form of L'homme machine by La Mettrie. 80 ] Man is a machine. The materialism, or rather the mechanics, of the Eighteenth Century, such as we see in Holbach's Systeme de la nature, 81 ] which Goethe so detested in his youth, reflects the total inability to grasp the being of man with the ideas that prevailed at that time in outer nature. The whole Nineteenth Century suffered from the inability to take hold of man himself.

But there was a strong desire somehow or other to work out a conception of man. This led to the idea of picturing him s a more highly evolved animal. Of course, the animal was not really understood either, since physics, chemistry, and psychology, all in the old sense, are needed for this purpose even if pneumatology is unnecessary. But nobody realized that all this is also required in order to understand the animal. One had to start somewhere, so in the Eighteenth Century man was compared to the machine and in the Nineteenth Century he was traced back to the beast. All this is quite understandable from the historical standpoint. It makes good sense considering the whole course of human evolution. It was, after all, this ignorance concerning the being of man that produced our modern opinions about man. The development towards freedom, for example, would never have occurred had the ancient experience of physics, chemistry, psychology, and pneumatology survived. Man had to lose himself as an elemental being in order to find himself as a free being. He could only do this by withdrawing from himself for a while and paying no attention to himself any longer. Instead, he occupied himself with the external world, and if he wanted theories concerning his own nature, he applied to himself what was well suited for a comprehension of the outer world. During this interim, when man took the time to develop something like the feeling of freedom, he worked out the concepts of science; these concepts that are, in a manner of speaking, so robust that they can grasp outer nature. Unfortunately, however, they are too coarse for the being of man, since people do not go to the trouble of refining these ideas to the point where they ca also grasp the nature of man. Thus modern science arose, which is well applicable to nature and has achieved great triumphs. But it is useless when it comes to the essential being of man.

You can see that I am not criticizing science. I am only describing it. Man attains his consciousness of freedom only because he is no longer burdened with the insights that he carried within himself and that weighed him down. The experience of freedom came about when man constructed a science that in its robustness was only suited to outer nature. Since it does not offer the whole picture and is not applicable to man's being, this science can naturally be criticized in turn. It is most useful in physics; in chemistry, weak points begin to show up; and psychology becomes completely abstract. Nevertheless, mankind had to pass through an age that took its course in this way in order to attain to an individually modulated moral conception of the world and to the consciousness of freedom. We cannot understand the origin of science if we look at it only from one side. It must be regarded as a phenomenon parallel to the consciousness of freedom that is arising during the same period, along with all the moral and religious implications connected with this awareness.

This is why people like Hobbes 82 ] and Bacon, who were establishing the ideas of science, found it impossible to connect man to the spirit and soul of the universe. In Hobbes' case, the result was that, on the one hand, he cultivated the germinal scientific concepts in the most radical way, while, on the other hand, he cast all spiritual elements out of social life and decreed “the war of all against all.” He recognized no binding principle that might flow into social life from a super-sensible source, and therefore he was able, though in a somewhat caricatured form, to discuss the consciousness of freedom in a theoretical way for the first time.

The evolution of mankind does not proceed in a straight line. We must study the various streams that run side by side. Only then can we understand the significance of man's historical development.





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