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The Invisible Man Within Us

The Pathology Underlying Therapy

A Lecture By
Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, February 11, 1923
GA 221

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[ Lecture | Notebook Entry ]

Thanks to Anna Quinn and Steven Decker: their collaborative effort in Anthroposophical Medicine has made this lecture available.

The Invisible Man Within Us
Pathology Underlying Therapy

When we consider the human being, two beings can be clearly distinguished. You will recall that in various recent studies I have explained how the physical organization of the human being is spiritually prepared during the preearthly life. In a certain sense it is then sent down as spiritual organization before the human being enters with his ego into earthly existence. This spiritual organization continues to be active essentially during the entire physical life on earth, but it does not express itself during physical earthly life as something outwardly visible. The outwardly visible aspect of this spiritual organization is essentially cast off at birth, consisting of the embryonic membranes that envelop the human embryo during its development — the chorion, the allantois, the amnion, the yolk sac — everything, in other words, that is cast away as physical organization when the human being attains a free physical existence on leaving the womb.

Yet this pre-earthly organization continues to be active in the human being throughout his entire life. It is somewhat different in character, however, from the body soul-spirit efficacy of the human being during his physical earthly life. And this is what I would like to speak about today.

In a certain sense, then, we have an invisible man within us. It is contained in our growth-forces as well as in those hidden forces through which nourishment occurs. It is contained in everything in which the human being is not consciously active. Its work extends into this unconscious activity, right into the growth activity, into the daily restoration of forces through nutrition. And this work is the aftereffect of the pre-earthly existence, which in earthly existence becomes a body of forces that is active in us but does not come to conscious manifestation. Today I would like to describe to you the character of this invisible man, which we all carry within us, contained in our forces: growth and nutrition, as well as in our reproductive forces.

Proceeding schematically, we can say that this invisible man also contains the ego, the astral organization, the etheric organization (and therefore the body of formative forces), and the physical organization. Of course in the human being after birth the physical organization of the invisible man is inserted into the other human physical organization, but in the course of today's considerations you will begin to understand how the invisible man can lay hold of the physical organization.

Drawing 1

Drawn schematically it would look like this (see drawing, [right]). In this invisible man we have first the ego organization (yellow); then we have the astral organization (red), then the etheric organization (blue), and finally we have the physical organization (white). This physical organization of the invisible man penetrates only into the nutrition and growth processes, into everything where the lower man, as we have often called it — the metabolic-limb man — manifests itself in the human organization. All currents, all effects of forces in this invisible man proceed from the ego organization into the astral, then into the etheric, and on into the physical organization (see arrow). They then spread out in the physical organization. In the human embryo, what we call here the physical organization of the invisible man is present in the embryonic envelopes, in the embryonic sheaths, the chorion, the allantois, the amnion, and the yolk sac. In the human being after birth, however, the physical organization of the invisible man is contained in the nourishing and restorative processes in the human being. Thus viewed from outside, this physical organization is not separated from the other physical organization of the human being but is united with it.

In a certain sense, then, in addition to this invisible man we have the visible human being that we encounter after birth. I will sketch this visible human being right next to the invisible one (see drawing). This is how the mutual interpenetration of the physical and superphysical human being would appear during earthly life. During earthly life there is a continuous stream from ego to astral body, to etheric body, to physical body (see arrows). In the human being after birth, this stream flows into the metabolic-limb organization, in the forces of our outer movement, and also in the inner forces of movement that carry ingested food into the entire organization up to the brain.

In addition to this, however, there is a direct intervention of forces that enter the entire human being directly from the ego. An activity thus penetrates us, a stream that flows directly from the ego into the nerve-sense organization without first passing through the astral body and etheric body; instead this stream lays hold of man's physical body directly. Naturally this penetration is strongest in the head, where most of the sense organs are concentrated, but I should actually draw this stream in such a way that it spreads out over the skin-senses, over the entire human being, just as I would have to draw a stream for the course of food taken in by the mouth. Schematically, however, my drawing is quite correct.

In the human head, then, we have one organization that flows up from below, proceeding from the ego but passing through the astral, etheric, and physical and then to the ego. We have another stream that enters the physical directly and flows down. If we examine the human organism, we arrive at the insight that this unmediated stream, which enters the physical directly from the ego and then branches out over the whole body, proceeds along the nerve pathways. Thus when the human nerves spread out in the organism, the outwardly visible nerve strand is the visible sign of these outspreading streams that enter the entire organism directly from the ego, proceeding from the ego into the physical organization without mediation. The ego organization at first runs along the pathways of the nerves. This has an essentially destructive effect on the organism. There the spirit enters directly into physical matter, and wherever the spirit enters physical matter directly a destructive process occurs, so that along the nerve pathways, proceeding from the senses, a delicate death process spreads out through the human organism.

The other stream, which in the invisible man goes through the astral, etheric, and physical bodies, can be traced in the human being by following the blood pathways up to the senses. Thus when we examine the human being as we encounter him here on earth, we can say that the ego flows in the blood. But the ego flows in such a way that it first ensouls its forces through the astral organization and through the etheric and physical organizations. After first taking along the astral and etheric organizations, the ego streams through the physical organization in the blood from below upward. Thus the entire invisible man flows in the blood as a constructive process, as a growth process, as the process that constantly renews the human being by working through his food. This stream flows in the human being from below upward (speaking schematically), pours itself into the senses, and therefore also into the skin, and encounters the other stream which, from the ego, takes hold of the physical organization directly.

Actually, however, this whole matter is even more complicated, because we must also consider the breathing process. In the breathing process, the ego flows into the astral body, but then it goes directly into the lungs along with the air. Thus something from the super-sensible man also underlies the breathing process, but not in the same way as occurs in the nerve-sense process, where the ego takes hold of the physical organization directly. In the breathing process, the ego permeates itself with the astral forces, taking hold of oxygen and only then, no longer as pure ego organization but as ego-astral organization, does it take hold of the organism with the help of the breathing process. It could also be said that the breathing process is a weakened process of destruction, a weakened death process. The actual death process is the nerve-sense process, and a weakened process of destruction, a weakened death process, is the breathing process.

This is then confronted by the process in which the ego further strengthens itself by streaming up to the etheric body and only then being taken up. This process, taking place mainly in the super-sensible so that it cannot be traced by the usual physiology, is active in the pulse; there it is still outwardly perceptible. It is a restorative process, not as strong as the direct metabolic-restorative process, but rather a weakened restorative process. As we have seen, the breathing process is to a certain extent a destructive process. Our life would be much shorter if we absorbed more oxygen. The more the carbonic acid formation process of the blood counters the absorption of oxygen in the breathing process, the longer our life will be.

Thus everything interacts within the organism, and in order really to understand what is going on, one needs to understand the super-sensible human being, because its outwardly visible aspects were cast off with the embryonic membranes and are active in the human being after birth only through invisible forces. These forces can be clearly designated, however, if we proceed from the anthroposophical knowledge of the human being.

If, for example, we look into the eye with this anthroposophical knowledge, we see that the blood process courses through the eye in fine ramifications. This is taken hold of by the nerve process going in the opposite direction. The blood process always moves toward the periphery in the human being, moving centrifugally; the nerve process, which is in fact a breakdown process, is always directed centripetally, toward man's inside. All processes that occur in the human being are metamorphoses of these two processes.

If the interaction of pulse and breathing is properly coordinated, then the lower man is properly connected to the upper man. If this is the case and no external injuries intervene, an individual should be basically healthy. Only when breakdown predominates will destructive processes encroach on the activities in the organism. The human being becomes ill because something foreign accumulates in his organism that has not been worked through in the right way, something containing excessive breakdown forces, containing too much of what is related to the physical nature that surrounds the human being in his earthly environment.

The spiritual element's direct penetration of the organism by way of the ego brings about those processes that produce pathological occurrences, foreign formations. These foreign formations may not manifest immediately in physical symptoms, but they may manifest in the fluid and even in the airy aspect of the human being. They can develop, and if they are not countered by a healing process that flows from below along the pathways of the blood, they cannot dissolve. These formations have the tendency to form tumor-like accumulations in the body and then to fragment within. If the blood-formation process confronts them in the right way, they can dissolve and again become part of the general life of the body. But when a damming up is brought about by an excessive breakdown process from above downward, it takes hold of one of the organs. Foreign bodies are then formed, which are first exudative, tumor-like, but then have the tendency to run their course like the external processes of earthly nature and fall to pieces. In this case we need to understand that not enough of the super-sensible human being is taken up along the path I have drawn here next to the physical human being.

You see, one cannot speak about healing directly through human activity, because the moment that too much activity is developed from the nerve-sense organization, in a centripetal direction — when too many of the environmental processes are “stuffed” into man so that these tumor-like formations develop somewhere, which then decompose — in that moment the other system, which runs along the blood vessels, becomes rebellious. It wants to bring about healing, wants to penetrate the organism with the proper astral and etheric forces that can come from below. It wants to prevent the ego, or the ego working with the astral body, from acting alone. The healer has to take into account this revolutionary principle in the human organism, and healing consists of supporting, by external means, what is already present in the organism as an original healing force.

When a tumor-like formation arises, it is a symptom of the ego activity from the stream of the invisible man not penetrating in the right way from out of the etheric body. The ego activity does assert itself, but may at times be unable to approach the tumor. We might then support the etheric body in this direction so that it can become active. It can become active in the right way if it is first permeated by the ego and astral body and then becomes active. That which comes from above and has not taken up etheric activity, but at most ego and astral activity, poisons the organism. When the etheric body approaches this, when we counter the ego and astral activity with etheric activity, we support the healing process already present and striving to be active in the human organization. We only have to know, in such a case, by what means the etheric organization, permeated in the right way by astral and ego organization, can penetrate the body. In other words, in such a case we simply need to help the etheric organization with a remedy. Therefore we must know which remedy will make the etheric organization stronger in such a case, so that its constructive force opposes the excessively destructive force. Thus we can see that we will never comprehend the pathology that underlies therapy unless we take into account the invisible man.

It may also be, however, that when a person is born he does not penetrate strongly enough with his ego and astral organization — his soul-spiritual organization — into the physical organization. The soul-spiritual organization does not push its way into the physical organization suffciently. Then in this individual there will continually be a preponderance of the growth forces active from below upward, which are not given sufficient heaviness through integration with the physical organization. An individual can be born in such a way that the invisible man takes insufficient hold of his physical body, refusing to penetrate into the blood process in the right way. Then man's spirit cannot approach the blood process. In such individuals we can already see the consequences of this from childhood on. They remain pale and thin, or, because of the predominating growth forces, grow radiply tall. The the soul-spiritual cannot properly enter the organism. And because the body refuses to take up the soul-spiritual, our goal must be to weaken the excessively strong etheric body where the activity has become too strong. In such pale, lanky individuals we must strive to contain the hypertrophic, excessively active forces in the etheric body, restraining them to their proper degree. By this means we can bring heaviness into the body; the blood, for example, by receiving the necessary iron content, receives the appropriate heaviness. Then the etheric body is not as active in an upward direction, and its effect on the upper man is weakened.

In such individuals another condition might be noticed: what I would like to call the night processes predominate over the day processes. You could say that at night the physical-etheric organization of every normal person refuses to absorb the soul-spiritual. This night organization of a person lying in bed — not of the invisible man, who is outside — is too strong in those people who have a sort of inborn consumption, as I have just described. In such cases, the day organization must be supported. This means that it has to be given a certain heaviness by encouraging the breakdown processes. If one enhances the breakdown processes and inwardly there appears that which hardens and finally falls to pieces (in healing, of course, this must happen only to a small extent) then the overflowing force of the etheric body is restrained and consumption is held back.

In this way, out of knowledge of the entire human being, we can comprehend the curious interaction between health and disease, This interaction is always present and is essentially balanced out by what occurs between pulse and breath. If we then come to know by what outer means one or the other can be enhanced, it will be possible to support the natural healing proceses that are always present, but I would say, not always able to arise.

What outer means we use is not such a simple matter, for a totally foreign process cannot be introduced into the human organism. When some kind of foreign process is introduced, it is at once transformed into its opposite within the organism. If you eat something, the food contains certain chemical forces. In absorbing them, the organism transforms them at once into their opposite. This is necessary. If, for example, the food maintained its external character too long after being absorbed, then it would begin to break down as it does in outer nature and would thus bring destructive and death-bringing breakdown processes into the human being.

You can pursue the details of the processes that I have developed for you here from the entire human being. Let us assume, for example, that you stick yourself with a foreign object like a splinter. Your body can react in two ways. Suppose you cannot extract the foreign object so that it remains inside you. Then two things can happen. The constructive force active in the flowing blood surrounds the foreign object. It gathers around the object, but in doing so it moves away from its own customary position. This immediately leads to a preponderance of the nerve activity there. Then an exudate-like formation begins to encapsulate the foreign object. When this happens, the following takes place in that part of the body: whereas usually, when there is not a foreign object in that spot, the etheric body penetrates the physical body in a certain way, in this situation the etheric body is unable to penetrate the foreign object; instead, within this area a bubble will form that is filled out only with the etheric. We have within us a small portion of the body that contains a foreign object and where a small portion of the etheric body is not organized by the physical. In this case it is important to strengthen the astral body in that spot to such an extent that it can be effective in the small portion of the etheric body without the help of the physical body. Through this encapsulation our body has actually made use of the destructive forces, separating out these destructive forces in a small section of the body and then incorporating into it the healing etheric body. This will then have to be supported by the astral and the ego through an appropriate treatment.

In such a case we have to say that, in a certain sense, what lies above the physical in the human being has to become strong enough to be active without the physical in this small part of the human organization. This always happens in what is called a healing of some foreign intrusion in the human being, for example when a person gets stuck with a splinter and it becomes encapsulated. In this part of his body man's whole organization is moved a little bit upward. It can also happen that something foreign is formed purely out of the organism. This must be regarded in the same way.

A completely different process could take place, however, if we have been stuck by a splinter. It could be that the nerve activity surrounding the splinter gets stronger and predominates over the blood activity. Then the nerve activity, in which the ego is active (or possibly the ego strengthened by the astral body), stimulates the blood activity. The nerve-sense activity, which goes through the whole body, stimulates the blood activity and does not permit an exudate to form. Instead it stimulates a secretory process, leading to the formation of pus (white). And because the nerves are pushing out (arrows), the pus is also driven to the periphery by the push that goes through the nerve tracts in their destructive activity. The splinter comes out and the area heals over.

You can see, then, that if the splinter is too deep in the organism, so that the pushing force of the breakdown system, the nerve-sense system, is insufficient to bring it to the outside, then the constructive activity in the blood vessels will be stronger and lead to encapsulation. If the splinter is closer to the surface, then the nerve-pushing force, the destructive force, will be stronger. It will excite or stimulate what wants to become an exudate so that it will make use of the breakdown channels that are always present anyway, leading to the outside, and the whole area will suppurate. Therefore we can actually say that we carry in us, in incipient form, in the moment of coming into being, the tendency for our organism to harden toward the inside in a centripetal direction and to dissolve again toward the outside in a centrifugal direction. In the normal processes of the human body, however, the tumor-forming force that is directed inward and the suppurative-inflammatory force that is directed toward the periphery are in equilibrium. Generally our inflammatory process is strong enough to overcome the tumefying force tending toward breakdown. Only when one process is stronger than the other will a real tumefaction or a real inflammation develop.

You must not be under the impression, of course, that everything is as easy to comprehend in reality as it seems when matters have to be simplified in a schematic presentation. In reality the processes interpenetrate one another. In fact, you can observe that when the inflammatory forces are strong in the human being there will be febrile phenomena. These are essentially the result of excessively strong constructive processes located in the blood. With the force of selfhood (Eigenkraft) that frequently develops in a person with a fever, it could be possible to provide quite a bit of strength to a second person, if the means were available for diverting the forces from one to the other in the right way.

On the other hand, where the breakdown forces are working strongly, cooling phenomena occur. The presence of these phenomena is not as easy to substantiate as the febrile phenomena, but these two types of phenomena alternate so that in reality we are always dealing with interpenetrating activities that simply have to be distinguished if we wish to comprehend what is going on.

A question often arises concerning poisons that occur in nature, for example the poison in belladonna, the deadly nightshade: how are actual poisons different from ordinary substances that we find in our environment and use for food? When we eat food, something is introduced into the organism that is formed in outer nature similarly to the way in which our invisible man is formed. We take into us something that proceeds from a spiritual activity, enters an astral activity, then an etheric activity, and finally a physical activity. In nature such an activity is directed from above downward; it acts upon the earth from the periphery, as it were. This activity is related to our inner ego activity, which is a purely spiritual activity. If what I have depicted schematically flows down, but transforms itself via the astral, then further via the etheric, then going down into the physical, then the plant as a rule takes up such an activity. The plant grows toward this activity from below upward and takes up this etheric activity, which, however, already rightly contains from above the astral and ego activity, i.e., the soul and spiritual activity.

It is also possible for something else to take place, as it does with a poison. Poisonous substances have the peculiarity that they do not make use of the etheric as do the normal green substances in the plant; instead they turn directly to the astral, so that the astral enters into this substance. With belladonna, the fruit becomes especially greedy and is not satisfied by taking up just the etheric; instead the fruit takes up the astral directly, before this astral has taken up the life-forces through the etheric in streaming downward. You could say that in such cases the astral is continually dripping from the world-periphery directly down to the earth instead of entering the etheric. And such drops of the astral being, which have not gone through the ether atmosphere of the earth in the right way, can, for example, be found in the poison of the deadly nightshade. We also have this cosmic astral element dripping down into the plant in the poison of the Jimsonweed fruit, in hyoscyamus (henbane), etc.

What therefore lives in this plant substance, for example in the deadly nightshade, is related to the activity that enters the human nerves and circulation of oxygen directly from the ego or the astral body. Thus by taking in the poison of the deadly nightshade, we get a significant strengthening of the breakdown processes in us, those processes that usually enter the physical body directly from the ego. The human ego is not generally strong enough to tolerate such a strengthening of breakdown processes. If the opposite activity is too great, however — the activity that proceeds from below upward in the blood vessels — one can counter it with such breakdown processes from nature. Atropine, the poison of the deadly nightshade, can thus be used in small doses to counteract excessive growth processes in the human being. The moment there is too much of this poison, however, we cannot talk about an equilibrium anymore. Then the growth processes are pushed back and the human being is benumbed by a spiritual activity that he is not yet able to tolerate with his ego. He will be able to tolerate such a spiritual activity perhaps only in future conditions, in the Venus and Vulcan stages of evolution. This is why the peculiar symptoms of poisoning occur. First the point of origin of the activity effective in the blood is undermined; then the gastric manifestations arise that appear after the ingestion of deadly nightshade poison; then the forces working from below upward are strongly prevented from doing so in the right way; finally complete unconsciousness occurs with the destruction of the human being from the side of the breakdown processes.

Thus we can trace the effect of such a substance in the human organism if we know the spiritual content of a substance we have absorbed. This can best be studied in plants. Knowledge of the human organism must be joined with a proper knowledge of outer nature. We must come to know what lives in individual plants. Then we will also know how the different plants affect the human being, in dietary prescriptions for example.

Then we will really be able to achieve something if the proper social conditions are brought about at the same time so that these things can really be applied. Today, even if we know something, we are usually unable to do anything, because our social conditions are in no way adapted to the knowledge of nature. The knowledge of nature is abstracted, is driven into the abstract so that we cannot grasp the human being's real position in the whole universe. It would not yet be possible on a large scale, for example, for us to ensure that individuals who might need it could receive a certain plant substance in some sort of rhythm. In order to make this possible in a comprehensive way, our scientific medicine must take on a different character. The outer arrangements in all social life need to be related to what can be known about the human being's relationship to surrounding nature.

Certainly a great deal can be done in isolated instances. We can prepare roots by boiling them for someone in whom the breakdown processes proceeding from the head are too strong. We can decoct certain roots that are known to contain substances that have drawn the spiritual, the astral, and the etheric in the right way into the physical in the process of root formation. Through introducing substances from the process of root formation into the human organism and bringing them to activity in the organism, a person receives something that goes up to the finest ramifications of the blood vessels at the outermost periphery, going into the head. By doing this we can call forth something to counteract the excessively strong breakdown processes of the nervous system. But one needs to have an exact conception of the changes that plant substances from the root undergo when taken in through the mouth and worked through in order to go to the outermost periphery of the head organization or skin organization.

In other cases we would have to know how substances taken from the flower act in the human organism. These substances are already a little shaky in their relationship to the etheric, they have already taken up the astral to a significant extent. In a certain sense they already approach the poisonous, though only slightly. We would have to know that when these substances are added to baths, and thereby brought into the organism in a completely different way, we can stimulate the excessively weak upbuilding organization that lies in the blood vessels. We would then counteract from outside the influence from the breakdown activity.

It is similar if we wish to pursue the inner effectiveness of injected substances. There we are essentially trying to strengthen the upbuilding processes so that a proper equilibrium with the breakdown processes is established.

This is why, particularly when giving injections, we must always observe how the breakdown processes react. We will not get the right effect if we cannot see how the breakdown processes first resist and then only gradually enter into the upbuilding process in the right way. When injecting something, therefore, we may notice that slight visual disturbances and buzzing in the ears arise, because at first the breakdown processes refuse to enter into the right equilibrium with the strengthened upbuilding processes. But when such symptoms appear they provide a guarantee that we are indeed intervening in the processes.

You see, anthroposophy is really not concerned with furnishing sectarian aunt-and-uncle gatherings with schemes they can argue about, schemes describing how the human being consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego. Rather it is very seriously concerned with comprehending the human being and his relationship to the world, with bringing the spiritual into everything material. And if anthroposophy really wants to secure its place in the world, it must be understood that it is able to pursue the spiritual into the material. As long as we merely occupy ourselves with aunt-and-uncle gatherings in sectarian circles, with squabbling over the division of the human being, we will be engaged in conflict about all sorts of other sectarian things. The moment we can really show how anthroposophy touches on all other knowledge, casts light on all other earthly knowledge — just as astrology illuminated earthly processes in earlier times — then anthroposophy will be something that can take hold of modern civilization. Then truly constructive progress may begin in human civilization, even in the face of the destructive processes originating in older times.

Such seriousness must be combined with what could be called one's commitment to anthroposophy. Certainly not everyone can always participate so actively that he himself discovers, for example, how belladonna on one side and chlorine on the other work in the human organism. For each individual to discover this is not the point; instead what is important is for an understanding to arise in wider circles, a common feeling for how what is therapeutic for the human being can be gained from an anthroposophical knowledge of the earth and the human being. In Waldorf education, we would not expect that every person could be a teacher, or at least teachers of children from elementary school on. We do expect, however, that there be general understanding of how educational principles are established out of knowledge of the human being and the world. Anthroposophy needs to be met with understanding. It would be wrong to believe that everyone should know everything, but the activity of an anthroposophical community should consist of building a general understanding, based on healthy common sense, for what anthroposophy is striving to realize for the health and future of humanity.




Entry in Rudolf Steiner's Notebook, February 11, 1923

Diagram 2

The ether becomes similar to that of the nerve-sense system: A. The ether becomes similar to that of the metabolic system: B.

Pus = the organic (etheric) permeated by outer, centrifugal astrality — on the path to the outside

Congealed exudate = the (etheric) organic permeated by inner, centripetal astrality — on the path of disappearing out of the physical world —

Diagram 3

In healing, the organism only continues a process that is already active in the daily defense against outer processes penetrating into the human being, which are poisoning —

The lower system (which accomplishes this) separates the outer, after it has permeated the same with centrifugal forces, as they are active in the growth of plants — as they are present in sleep. What poisons is the centripetally active [force] — of the nerve-sense system — which leads the outer world inward — it leads the outer world inward after cooling it (making it into mere form), so that through it the spiritual penetrates inward directly.

The inhibited inhalation, nourishing, the excessively strong day processes; the excessive exhalation, digestion, the excessively strong night processes.

The body has not taken up the spirit, excessively strong night processes = one is feverish: a formation of inner softening — pus.

The body takes up the spirit too strongly, excessively strong day processes = one freezes: a formation of inner hardening — inward exudate-like — fragmenting.

 





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