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Man and Cosmos

Man and Cosmos

A Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

Single Lecture

The lecture presented here was given in Dornach on January 7, 1923, and is the 3rd of 12 lectures in the series entitled: A Living Knowledge of Nature, the Fall of the Intellect into Sin, the Spiritual Resurrection. It appears in the original German in Lebendiges Naturerkennen, Intellektueller Suendenfall und Spirituelle Suendenerhebung, Bibliographic Nr. 220, Dornach 1978. This lecture is also known as: The Widening of Man's Perception. The translator is unknown.

A lecture by
Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, January 7, 1923
GA 220

The lecture presented here was given in Dornach on January 7, 1923, and is the 3rd of 12 lectures in the series entitled: A Living Knowledge of Nature, the Fall of the Intellect into Sin, the Spiritual Resurrection. It appears in the original German in Lebendiges Naturerkennen, Intellektueller Suendenfall und Spirituelle Suendenerhebung, Bibliographic Nr. 220, Dornach 1978. This lecture is also known as: The Widening of Man's Perception. The translator is unknown.

This English edition is published in agreement with, and the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

Copyright © 1948
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Anthroposophic News Sheet


16th vol. No. 7/8 22nd of February, 1948.

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Lecture By Dr. Rudolf Steiner

Given at Dornach on January 7th, 1923

From stenographic notes not revised by the lecturer

Within this course of lectures I intend to speak of things which are connected with the preceding lectures, but which bring results of spiritual science drawn from a deeper source and show how the human being is placed in the universe. We speak of man in such a way that we envisage, to begin with, his physical organization and his etheric or vital body revealed to spiritual investigation; and then we speak of the astral body and of the Ego organization. But we do not yet grasp man's structure if we simply enumerate these things in sequence, for each of these members has a different place in the universe. We are able to grasp man's position in the cosmos only if we understand how these different members are placed in the universe.

When we study the human being, as he stands before us, we find that these four members of human nature interpenetrate in a way which cannot at first be distinguished; they are united in an alternating activity, and in order to understand them we must first study them separately, as it were, and consider each one in its special relation to the universe. We can do this in the following way, by setting out, not from a more general aspect, but from a definite standpoint.

Bear I mind, to begin with, the more peripheric aspect of man, the external boundary, what is outside him. From other anthroposophical studies we know that we discover certain senses only when we penetrate, as it were, below the surface of the human form, into man's inner life. But essentially speaking, also the senses which transmit us a knowledge of our own inner being, have to be sought in regard to their starting point, and to begin with in a very unconscious way, on the inner side of the surface of man's being. We may therefore say: Everything in man existing in the form of senses should be looked for on the surface. It suffices to bear in mind one of the more prominent senses; for example, the eye or the ear — these show that the human being must obtain certain impressions from outside. How matters really stand in regard to these senses should, of course, be studied more deeply, by a more profound research. This has already been done here for some of the human senses. But the way in which these things appear in ordinary life induces us to say: A sense organ — for example, the eye or the ear — perceives things through impressions coming from outside.

Man's position on earth easily enables us to see that the chief direction which determines the influences enabling him to have sensory perceptions can approximately be described as “horizontal.” A more accurate study would also show us that this statement is absolutely correct; for when perceptions apparently come from another direction, this is an illusion. Every direction relating to perception must in the end follow the horizontal. And the horizontal is the line which runs parallel to the surface of the earth. If I now draw this schematically, I would therefore have to say: If this is the surface of the earth, with the perceiving human being upon it, the chief direction of his perceptions is the one which runs parallel to the earth. All our perceptions follow this direction. And when we study the human being, it will not be difficult to say that the perceptions come from outside; they reach, as it were, man's inner life from outside. What meets them from inside? From inside we bring towards them our thinking, the power of forming representations or thoughts.

If you consider this process, you cannot help saying: When I perceive through the eye, I obtain an impression from outside, and my thinking power comes from inside. When I look at the table, its impression comes from outside. I can retain a picture of the table in my memory through the representing or thinking power which comes from within. We may therefore say: If we imagine a human being schematically, the direction of his perceptions goes from the outside to the inside, whereas the direction of his thinking goes from the inside to the outside.

What we thus envisage, is connected with the perceptions of the earthly human being in ordinary life, of the earthly human being appearing to us externally in the present epoch of the earth's development. The things mentioned above are facts evident to the ordinary human consciousness. But if you study the anthroposophical literature, you will find that there are other possibilities of consciousness differing from those which exist for the earthly human being in ordinary life.

I would now ask you to form, even approximately and vaguely, a picture of what the earthly human being perceives. You look upon the colours which exist on earth, you hear sounds, you experience sensations of heat, and so forth. You obtain contours of the things you perceive, so that you perceive their shape, and so forth.

But all the things in our environment, with which we have thus united ourselves, only constitute facts pertaining to our ordinary consciousness. There are, however, other possibilities of consciousness, which remain more unconscious in the earthly human being and are pushed into the depths of his soul life; yet they are just as important, and frequently far more important in human life than the facts of consciousness which exhaust themselves in what I have described so far.

For the human constitution which man has here on earth, the things below the surface of the earth are just as important as those which exist in the earth's circumference. The circumference of the earth, what exists around the earth, may be perceived by the ordinary senses and grasped by the representing capacity which meets sense perception. This fills the consciousness of the ordinary human being living on the earth.

But let us consider the inside of the earth. Simple reflection will show you that the inside of the earth is not accessible to ordinary consciousness. We may, to be sure, make excavations reaching a certain depth and in these holes — for example in mines — observe things in the same way in which we observe them on the earth's surface. But this would be the same as observing a human corpse. When we study a corpse, we study something which no longer constitutes the whole human being, but only a residue of man as a whole. Indeed, those who are able to consider such things in the right way must even say: We are then looking upon something which is the very opposite of man. The reality of earthly man is the living human being walking around, and to him belong the bones, muscles, etc. which exist in him. The bone structure, the muscular structure, the nerve structure, the heart, lungs, etc. correspond to the living human being and are as such true and real. But when I look upon the corpse, this no longer corresponds to the living human being. The form which lies before me as corpse, no longer requires the existence of lungs, of a heart, or of a muscular system. Consequently these decay. For a while they maintain the form given to them, but a corpse is really an untruth, for it cannot exist in the form in which it lies before us; it must dissolve. It is not a reality. Similarly the things I perceive when I dig a hole into the earth are not realities.

The closed earth influences the human being standing upon it, differently from the things which exist in such a way that when the human being stands upon the earth, he beholds them through his senses, as the earth's environment.

If, to begin with, you consider this from the soul aspect, you may say: The earth's environment is able to influence man's senses and it may be grasped by the thinking or representing capacity pertaining to ordinary human consciousness. Also what is inside the earth exercises an influence upon man, but it does not follow the horizontal direction; it rises from below. In our ordinary state of consciousness, we do not perceive these influences rising from below in the same way in which we perceive the earth's environment through the ordinary senses. If we could perceive what rises up from the earth in the same way in which we perceive what exists in the earth's environment, we would need a kind of eye or organ of touch able to feel into the earth, without our having to dig a hole into it, so that we could reach or see through (durchgreifen) the earth in the same way in which we see through air when we behold something. When we look through air, we do not dig a hole into it; if we first had to dig a hole into air, in order to look at it, we would see our environment in the same way in which we would see the earth in a coal mine. Hence, if it were not necessary to dig a hole into the earth in order to see its inside, we would have to have a sense organ able to see without the need of digging holes into the earth, an organ for which the earth, such as it is, would become transparent to sight or touch. In a certain way this is the case, but in ordinary life these perceptions do not reach human consciousness. For what the human being would then perceive are the earth's different kinds of metals.

Consider how many metals are contained in the earth. Even as you have perceptions in your air-environment — if I may use this expression — even as you see animals, plants, minerals, artistic objects of every kind, so perceptions of the metals rise up to you from the earth's inside. But if perceptions of the metals could really reach your consciousness, they would not be ordinary perceptions, but imaginations. And these imaginations continually reach man, by rising up from below. Even as the visual impressions come, as it were, from the horizontal direction, so the radiations of metals continually reach us from below; yet they are not visual perceptions of the minerals, but something pertaining to the inner nature of minerals, which works its way up through us and takes on the form of imaginations or pictures. But the human being does not perceive these pictures; they are weakened. They are suppressed, as it were, because man's earthly consciousness is not able to perceive imaginations. They are weakened down to feelings.

If, for example, I imagine all the gold existing in some way in the caverns of the earth, and so forth, my heart really perceives an image which corresponds to the gold in the earth. But this picture is an imagination, and for this reason ordinary human consciousness cannot perceive it, for it is dulled down to a life feeling, an inner vital feeling, which cannot even be interpreted, less still perceived, in its corresponding image. The same applies to the other organs, for the kidneys perceive in a definite image all the tin which exists in the earth, and so forth.

All these impressions are subconscious and they do not appear in the general feelings that live in the human being. You may therefore say: The perceptions coming from the earth's environment follow a horizontal direction and are met from within by the thinking or representing power; from below come the perceptions of metals — above all, of metals — and they are met by feeling, in the same way in which ordinary perceptions are met by the thinking capacity. This process, however, remains chaotic and unreal to the human beings of the present time. From these impressions they only derive a general life-feeling.

If the human being on earth had the gift of imagination, he would know that his nature is also connected with the metals in the earth. In reality, every human organ is a sense organ, and although we use it for another purpose, or apparently do so, it is nevertheless a sense organ. During our earthly life, we simply use our organs for other purposes. For we really perceive something with each organ. The human being is in every way a great sense organ, and as such, he has differentiated, specified sense organs in the single organs of his body.

You therefore see that from below, the human being obtains perceptions of metals and that he has a life of feeling corresponding to these perceptions. Our feelings exist in contrast to everything coming to us from the earth's metals, even as our thinking or representing power exists in contrast to everything which penetrates into our sense perceptions from the earth's environment.

But in the same way in which the influences of the metals reach us from below, so we are influenced from above by the movements and forms of the celestial bodies in the world's spaces. We have sense perceptions in our environment, and similarly we have a consciousness which would manifest itself as inspired consciousness, as inspirations coming from every planetary movement and from every constellation of fixed stars. Even as our thinking capacity streams towards our ordinary sense perceptions, so we send out to the movements of the celestial bodies a force which is opposed to the impressions derived from the stars, and this force is our will. What lies in our will power, would be perceived as inspiration, if we were able to use the inspired state of consciousness.

You therefore see that by studying man in this way, we must say to ourselves: In his earthly consciousness we find, to begin with, the condition in which he is most widely awake: his life of sensory perceptions and of thoughts. During our ordinary, earthly state of consciousness, we are completely awake only in this life of sensory perceptions and thoughts. Our feeling life, on the other hand, only exists in a dreaming state. There, we only have the intensity or clearness of dreams, but dreams are pictures, whereas our feeling life is the general soul constitution determined by life; that is to say, feeling. But at the foundation of feeling lie the metal influences coming from the earth. And the consciousness based on the will lies still deeper. I have frequently explained this. Man does not really know the will that lives in him. I have often explained this by saying: The human being has the thought of stretching out his arm, or of touching something with his hand. He can have this thought in his waking consciousness and may then look upon the process of touching something. But everything that really lies in between, the will which shoots into his muscles, etc., all this remains concealed to our ordinary consciousness, as deeply hidden as the experiences of a deep slumber without dreams. We dream in our feelings and we sleep in our will. But the will which sleeps in our ordinary consciousness responds to the impressions coming from the stars, in the same way in which our thoughts respond to the sense impressions of ordinary consciousness. And what we dream in our feelings is the counter-activity which meets the influences coming from the metals of the earth.

In our present waking life on earth, we perceive the objects around us. Our thinking capacity counteracts. For this we need our physical and etheric body. Without the physical and etheric body we could not develop the forces which work in a horizontal direction — the perceptive and thinking forces. If we imagine this schematically we might say: As far as our daytime consciousness is concerned, the physical and etheric bodies become filled with sense impressions and with our thinking activity. When the human being is asleep, his astral body and his Ego organization are outside. They receive the impressions which come from below and from above. The Ego and the astral body really sleep in the metal streams rising up from the earth, if I may use this expression, and in the streams descending from the planetary movements and the constellations of fixed stars.

What thus arises in the earth's environment exercises no influence in a horizontal direction, but exists in form of forces which descend from above, and in the night we live in them.

If you could attain the power of imagination by setting out from your ordinary consciousness, so that the imaginative consciousness would really exist, you would have to achieve this in accordance with the demands of the present epoch of human development; namely, in such a way that every human organ is seized by the imaginative consciousness. For example, it would have to seize not only the heart, but every other organ. I have told you that the heart perceives the gold which exists in the earth. But the heart alone could never perceive the gold. This process takes place as follows: As long as the Ego and astral body are connected with the physical and etheric bodies, as is normally the case, the human being cannot be conscious of such a perception. Only when the Ego and the astral body become to a certain extent independent, as is the case in imagination, so that they do not have to rely on the physical and etheric bodies, we may say: The astral body and the Ego organization acquire, near the heart, the faculty of knowing something about these radiations coming from the metals in the earth. We may say: The center in the astral body for the influences which come from the gold radiations, lies in the region of the heart. For this reason we may say: The heart perceives — because the real perceptive instrument in the astral body pertaining to this part, to the heart — not the physical organ, but the astral body, perceives.

If we acquire the imaginative consciousness, the whole astral body and also the whole Ego organization must enable the parts corresponding to every human organ to perceive. That is to say, the human being is then able to perceive the whole metal life of the earth — differentiated, of course. But details in it can only be perceived after a special training, when he has passed through a special occult study, enabling him to know the metals of the earth. In the present time, such a knowledge would not be an ordinary one. And today it should not be applied to life in a utilitarian way. It is a cosmic law that when the knowledge of the earth's metals is used for utilitarian purposes in life, this would immediately entail the loss of the imaginative knowledge.

Last part — It may, however, occur that owing to pathological conditions, the intimate connection which should exist between the astral body and the organs is interrupted somewhere in man's being, or even completely, so that the human being sleeps, as it were, quite faintly, during his waking condition. When he is really asleep, his physical body and his etheric body on the one hand, and his astral body and his Ego on the other, are separated; but there also exists a sleep so faint that a person may walk about in an almost imperceptible state of stupor — a condition which may perhaps appear highly interesting to some, because such people have a peculiarly “mystical” appearance; they have such mystical eyes and so forth. This may be due to the fact that a very faint sleeping state exists even during the waking condition. There is always a kind of vibration between the physical and etheric body and the Ego organization and astral body. There is an alternating vibration. And such people can be used as metal feelers — they feel the presence of metals. But the capacity to feel the presence of special metal substances in the earth is always based on a certain pathological condition.

Of course, if these things are only viewed technically and placed at the service of technical-earthly interests, it is, cruelly speaking, quite an indifferent matter whether people are slightly ill or not; even in other cases, one does not look so much at the means for bringing about this or that useful result. But from an inner standpoint, from the standpoint of a higher world conception, it is always pathological if people can perceive not only horizontally, in the environment of the earth, but also vertically, in a direct way, not through holes. What thus comes to expression, must, of course, be revealed in a different way. If we take a pen and write down something, this is contained in the ordinary life of thought; this must be lifeless. But the ordinary life of thought drowns in light (“verleuchtet”) — if I may use this expression in contrast to “darkens” (“verdunkelt”) — the perception coming from below; consequently, it is necessary to use different signs from those we use, for example, when we write or speak; different signs must be used when specific metal substances in the earth are perceived through a pathological condition. I observe, for example, that also water is a metal. Pathological people may actually be trained, not only to have unconscious perceptions, but also to give unconscious signs of these perceptions — for example, they can make signs with a rod placed in their hand.

What is the foundation of all this? It is based on the fact that there is a faint interruption between the Ego and astral body on the one hand, and the physical and etheric body on the other, so that the human being does not only perceive what is, approximately speaking, at his side, but by eliminating his physical body he becomes a sensory organ able to perceive the inside of the earth, without having to dig holes into it.

But when this direction exercises its influence, a direction which is normally that of feeling, then one cannot use the expressions which correspond to the thinking capacity. These perceptions are not expressed in words. They can only be expressed, as already indicated, through signs.

Similarly, it is possible to stimulate perceptions descending from above. They have a different inner character; they are no longer a perception of metals, but inspiration, conveying the movements or the constellation of the stars. In the same way in which the human being perceives the earth's constitution as rising up from below, he now perceives, descending from above, something which again arises through pathological conditions, when the Ego is in a more loose connection with the astral body. He then perceives, descending from above, something which really gives the world its division of time, the influence of time. This enables him to look more deeply into the world's course of events, not only in regard to the past, but also in connection with certain events which do not flow out of man's free will, but out of the necessity guiding the world's events. He is then able to look, as it were, prophetically into the future. He casts a gaze into the chronological order of time.

With these things I only wished to indicate that through certain pathological conditions it is possible for man to extend his perceptive capacity. In a s o u n d and h e a l t h y way this is done through imagination and inspiration.

Perhaps the following may explain what constitutes sound and unsound elements in this field. For a normal person it is quite good if he has — let us say — a normal sense of smell. With a normal sense of smell he perceives objects around him through smell; but if he has an abnormal sense for any smelling object in his environment, he may suffer from an idiosyncrasy, when this or that object is near him. There are people who really get ill when they enter a room in which there is just one strawberry; they do not need to eat it. This is not a very desirable condition. It may, however, occur that someone who is not interested in the person, but in the discovery of stolen strawberries, or other objects which can be smelled, might use the special capacity of that person.

If the human sense of smell could be developed like that of dogs, it would not be necessary to use police dogs, for people could be used instead. But this must not be one. You will therefore understand me when I say that the perceptive capacity for things coming from below and from above should not be developed wrongly, so as to be connected with pathological conditions, for these are positively destructive for man's whole organization.

To train people to sense the presence of metals would therefore be the same as training them to be bloodhounds, police dogs, except that here — if I may use this expression — the humanly punishable element is far more intensive. For only through pathological conditions can such things appear in this or that person. All the things which generally come towards you in an ignorantly confused and nebulous way, will be understood in regard to their theory, and also by judging them as they have to be judged, within man's whole connection with the world. This is one aspect of the matter.

The other aspect is that there is also a right application of such a knowledge. A person who is endowed with the imaginative power of knowledge, must not use the imaginative forces of the astral body, located in the region of the heart, to procure gold. He may, however, apply these forces to recognize the construction, the true tasks, the inner essence of the heart itself. He may apply them in the meaning of human self-knowledge. In physical life this also corresponds to the right application of — let us say — the sense of smell, of sight, and so forth. We learn to know every organ in man when we are able to put together what we discern as coming from below or from above.

For example, you learn to know the heart when you recognize the gold contained in the earth, which sends out streams that may be perceived by the heart, and when, on the other hand, you recognize the current of will descending from the sun; that is to say, when you recognize the counter-current of the sun current in the will. If you unite these two streams, the joint activity of the sun's current from above, streaming down from the sun's zenith, and of the gold perceived below — if the gold contained in the earth stirs your imagination, and the sun your inspiration, you will obtain knowledge of the human heart, heart knowledge. In a similar way it is possible to gain knowledge of the other organs. Consequently, if the human being really wants to know himself, he must draw the elements of this knowledge from the influences coming from the cosmos.

This leads us to a sphere which indicates even more concretely than I have done on previous occasions man's connection with the cosmos. If you add to this the lectures which I have just concluded on the development of natural science in more recent times, you will gather, particularly from yesterday's lecture, that on the present stage of natural science man learns to know essentially lifeless substance, dead matter. He does not really learn to know himself, his own reality, but only his lifeless part. A true knowledge of man can only arise from the joint perception of the lifeless organs which we recognize in man, the organs in their lifeless state, and all we are able to recognize from below and from above in connection with these organs.

This leads to a knowledge based on full consciousness. An earlier, more instinctive knowledge was based upon an interpolation of the astral body which was different from that of today. Today the astral body is interpolated in such a way that man, as an earthly human being, may become free. This entails that he should recognize in the first place what is dead, and this pertains to the present, then the life foundation of the past through that which rises up from below — from the earth's metals — and finally the life-giving forces descending from above as star influences and star constellations.

A true knowledge of man will have to seek in every organ this threefold essence: the lifeless or physical, the basis of life or the psychical, and the life-giving, vitalizing forces, or the spiritual.

Everywhere in human nature, in every detail connected with it, we shall therefore have to seek the physical-bodily, the psychical, and the spiritual. Logically, its point of issue will have to be gained from a true estimate of the results so far obtained in the field of natural science. It is necessary to see that the present stage of natural science leads us everywhere to the grave of the earth and that the living essence must be discovered and lifted out of the earth's grave.

We discover this by perceiving that modern spiritual science must endow old visions and ideas (Ahnungen) with life. For these always existed. In these days I have given advice to people working in different spheres; I would advise those studying history of literature that when they speak of Goetheanism, they should keep to Goethe's ideas expressed in the second part of “Wilhelm Meister”, in “Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahren”, where we find the description of a woman who is able to participate in the movements of the stars, owing to a pathological condition of soul and spirit. At her side we find an astronomer. And she is confronted by another character, by the woman who is able to feel the presence of metals. And at the side of this woman we find Montanus, the miner, the geologist. This contains a profound foreboding, far profounder than the truths in physics discovered since Goethe's time in the field of natural-scientific development, great as they are, for these natural-scientific truths pertain to man's circumference. But in the second part of “Wilhelm Meister” Goethe drew attention to something pertaining to the worlds with which man is connected — with the stars above, with the earth's depths below.

Many things of this kind may be found, both in the useful fields and in the luxury fields of science. But also these things will only be drawn to the surface as real treasures of knowledge, when Goetheanism, on the one hand, and spiritual science on the other, will be taken so earnestly that many things of which Goethe had an inkling will be illumined by spiritual science; and also spiritual science may thus change into something giving us a historical sense of pleasure when we see that Goethe had a kind of idea of things which now arise in form of knowledge, and which he elaborated artistically in his literary works.

With all these things, however, I wish to point out that when we speak of scientific strivings within the anthroposophical movement, these should be followed with that deep earnestness which does not bring with it the danger of Anthroposophy being deduced from modern chemistry, or modern physics, modern physiology, and so forth, but which includes the single branches of science in the real stream of living anthroposophical knowledge. One would like to hear of chemists, physicists, physiologists, medical men speaking in an anthroposophical way. For it leads to no progress if specialists succeed in forcing anthroposophy to speak chemically, physically or physiologically. This would only rouse opposition, whereas there should at last be a progress, evident in the fact that Anthroposophy reveals itself as Anthroposophy also to these specialists, and not as something which is taken in accordance with its terminology, so that terminologies are thrown over things which one already knows, even without Anthroposophy. It is the same whether anthroposophical or other terminologies are applied to hydrogen, oxygen, etc., or whether one adheres to the old terminologies. The essential thing is to take in Anthroposophy with one's whole being, then one becomes a true Anthroposophist, also as a chemist, physiologist, physician, etc.

In these lectures, in which I was asked to describe the history of scientific thought, I wished to bring, on the basis of a historical contemplation, truths that may bear fruit. For the anthroposophical movement absolutely needs to become fruitful, really fruitful, in many different fields.

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