[RSArchive Icon]
Rudolf Steiner Archive Section Name Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib

The Human Soul and the Human Body

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document




Highlight Words

The Human Soul and the Human Body

Schmidt Number: S-3350

On-line since: 31st December, 2018

THE HUMAN SOUL AND THE HUMAN BODY
In the Knowledge of Nature and of Spirit

Lecture by Rudolf Steiner,

March 15, 1917, in Berlin

I find myself in a somewhat difficult situation as far as today's lecture is concerned, because it will be necessary, due to the nature of the subject, to sketch results arising from spiritual-scientific research from a wide spectrum of different fields and it might seem desirable for some people to hear details which support and confirm these results. It will be possible to present such details in later lectures; this evening, however, it will be my task to sketch the field of knowledge with which we are concerned. In addition, it will be necessary for me to use expressions, ideas and mental representations about the soul and the body which are grounded in the lectures which I have already held here. I shall have to limit myself strictly to the theme, to the characterization of the relationship between the human soul and the human body.

This is a subject about which one can say that two of the spiritual directions of thought and investigation of recent times find themselves in misunderstanding of the greatest conceivable degree. And if one engages oneself with these misunderstandings, one finds that, on one hand, the thinkers and researchers who have sought in recent times to penetrate the field of psychological, of soul phenomena, don't know where to begin when they approach the admirable achievements of natural science — especially in relation with the knowledge of the human physical organism. They are unable to build the bridge in the right way from what they understand as observation of soul phenomena to the manifestations of the body. On the other hand, it must also be said that the representatives of natural scientific research are, as a rule, so estranged from the realm of soul phenomena, from the observation of psychic experience, that they, too, are unable to build the bridge from the truly awe-inspiring results of modern science to the field of soul phenomena. Thus, one finds that soul researchers, psychologists, and natural scientists speak two different languages when they come to speak about the human soul and the human body; one finds that they basically don't understand each other. And just through this fact, those who seek to gain insight into the great riddles in the realm of the soul and their connection with the universal world riddles, are misguided, indeed one can say that they find themselves in utter confusion.

I want to begin by pointing out where, in fact, the mistake in thinking lies. A curious circumstance has developed — I do not criticize, I only wish to present the fact — in regard to the way in which the human being today relates to his concepts, to his ideas. In most cases he does not take into consideration that concepts and ideas, no matter how well they may be grounded, are tools only with which to judge reality as it presents itself to us individually in every single instance. The human being today is convinced that when he has mastered an idea, then this idea, this concept, may be immediately applied in the world. The reigning misunderstandings which I have characterized rest on this peculiarity of contemporary thinking which has taken root in all scientific striving. One overlooks the fact that a concept can be entirely correct, but, despite the fact that it is correct, can find an entirely mistaken application. I will make this clear by means of perhaps grotesque examples which however, could well occur in life, in order, from the outset, to characterize this assumption as a method of thought. You will agree that one may be quite justified in holding the conviction that sleep, healthy sleep, is an excellent cure for illness. That can be an entirely correct concept, a correct idea. If, however, in a particular instance it is incorrectly applied something like the following may result: someone, somewhere, pays a visit and comes upon an old man who is not well, is ill, in one way or another. The visitor brings his wisdom to bear on the situation by saying: I know how very good healthy sleep can be. When he leaves, someone perhaps remarks to him: now, look here, this old man sleeps all the time. Or it can also happen that someone else is of the opinion that in certain illnesses taking a walk, setting oneself in motion, is extraordinarily health giving. He advises someone in this sense. The latter, however, raises the objection: You forget that I am a mail carrier!

With this I only want to point to the principle: one can have thoroughly correct concepts, but these concepts only become useful when they are rightly applied in life.

So also, in the different branches of science one can find the correct concepts which can be strictly proved so that to contradict them would be very difficult. Yet the question must always be asked: Are these concepts also applicable in life? Are they useful tools in order to come to an understanding of life? The illness of thought which I indicated and wanted to make clear through these grotesque examples is enormously widespread in our contemporary thinking. As a result, many a person is so little aware where the limits of his concepts lie, where it is necessary for him to extend and broaden his concepts through the facts — whether these facts are physical or spiritual. And perhaps there is no realm in which such a broadening of concepts, of ideas, is as much needed as in the sphere about which we want to speak today.

About that which has been achieved in this sphere from the standpoint of natural science, which is indeed the most important standpoint today, one can only say, again and again: It deserves admiration, it is magnificent. Also, on the other side, in the psychological, the soul realm, significant work has been achieved. But these achievements do not provide insight into the most important soul questions and they are, above all, unable to extend and broaden their concepts in such a way that they can withstand the onslaught of modern natural science — which, in one way or another, turns against everything of a spiritual nature. I want to link what I have to say to two literary publications of recent times which contain results of research in these fields, publications which clearly indicate how necessary it is to strive for a broadening of concepts through an extension of research. In this connection there is the extraordinarily interesting work of Theodor Ziehen, Physiological Psychology. In this Psychology is shown in an outstanding way — even though to a certain extent the still inconclusive results of research are completed hypothetically — how, according to modern natural scientific observations, one is to think about the brain and nervous mechanism in order to arrive at an idea how the nerve-sense organism functions as we form our mental representations and link our representations with each other. It is just in this sphere that it can be clearly seen that the natural scientific methods of observation, as these are applied to the realm of soul phenomena, lead to narrowly limited concepts which do not penetrate into life. Theodor Ziehen is able to show that for everything which occurs in the process of forming mental representations, of thinking, something like counter images can be found within the nerve mechanism. And if one acquaints oneself with the research in this field in regard to this question, then one finds that it is especially the school of Haeckel which has achieved outstanding results in this field. One needs only to draw attention to the excellent work which the Haeckel pupil, Max Verworn, has undertaken in the Goettingen laboratory showing what occurs in the human brain, in the human nervous system, when we connect one representation with another, or, as one says in psychology, when one mental representation associates with another. It is on this linking of representations that our thinking, fundamentally, rests. How one is to conceive of this linking of representations, how one is to think about the coming into existence of memory representations, how certain mechanisms are present which, one might say, preserve these representations in order that they can later be called up out of memory, all of this is presented in a comprehensive and beautiful fashion by Theodor Ziehen. When one surveys what he has to say about the mental life of thinking and what corresponds with this in the human nervous system, with all this one can indeed go along. But then Ziehen comes to a further curious result.

One knows, of course, that the life of the human soul does not only contain the activity of forming mental representations. However, one may conceive of the connection of the other soul activities, in the sense of forming mental representations, one cannot, to begin with, ignore the fact that one must at least recognize other soul activities, or capacities, in addition to representing. We know that in addition to representing we have feeling, the activity of feeling in its whole wide scope, and, in addition, the activity of will. Theodor Ziehen speaks in such a way as if feeling were actually nothing else than an attribute of representation. He does not speak about feeling as such but rather of a feeling tone of sensations or mental representations. The mental representations are there. They are there, not only as we think them, but endowed with certain attributes, which give them their feeling tone. Thus, one can say: In regard to feeling such a researcher has no other recourse than to say: That which transpires in the nervous system does not extend to feeling. As a result, he ignores feeling as such and considers it merely as an appendage to representation. One can also say: In pursuing the nervous system, he does not grasp within the nerve mechanism that aspect of the soul's life which manifests as the life of feeling. Therefore, he omits the life of feeling as such. However, he also does not uncover anything in the nerve mechanism which requires him to speak of willing. For this reason, Ziehen denies altogether the justification to speak of a willing in relation to the knowledge of soul and of the body in the context of natural science. What occurs when a human being wills something? Let us assume, he walks, he is in motion. In this regard one says — so thinks such an investigator — the movement, the willing, has its origin in his will. But, in general, what is actually there? Nothing else is there than, in the first instance, the representation, the thought of the motion. I imagine, in a sense, what will occur when I move through space; and then nothing else occurs than that I then see, or feel myself, in other words, I perceive my movement. The perception of the movement then follows upon the remembered intention — the remembered representation of the intended movement — will, an act of willing, is nowhere to be found. The will, therefore, is simply eliminated by Ziehen. We see that by pursuing the nerve mechanism one does not arrive at feeling and also not at will; therefore, one must, more or less, and for the will entirely, leave these soul activities on one side. And then one tends to say, charitably: Well, well, one leaves all this to the philosophers, but the natural scientist has no basis on which to speak of these things, even if one does not go as far as Verworn, who says: The philosophers have imagined much into the life of the human soul, which, from the standpoint of natural science, turns out to be unjustified.

A significant researcher of the soul comes to a similar conclusion as Ziehen who proceeds entirely on the basis of natural scientific data. I have frequently mentioned him here and have said that he is more significant than one generally thinks. This is Franz Brentano. However, Franz Brentano proceeds from the soul. He tried, in his Psychology, to investigate the life of the soul. It is characteristic that of this work only the first volume has appeared, with nothing further since the seventies. For one who knows the circumstances knows that just for the reason that Brentano works with limited concepts, in the sense of the previous characterization, he was unable to get beyond the beginning. But one thing is extraordinarily significant with Brentano: that he distinguishes “representation” and “feeling” in the course of his attempt to work through the manifestations of the soul and to group them in certain categories. But in the course of going through the soul, as I might say, from top to bottom, he never comes to will. Willing is, basically, for him a subordinate aspect of feeling. So also, a soul researcher fails to reach the will. Franz Brentano relies upon such things as this: that language itself indicates that when one speaks about soul phenomena one does so in such a way that what we generally designate as will is basically nothing but feeling. For, indeed, it is only feeling which is expressed when I say: I have repugnance for this or that. Nevertheless, when I say “this or that is repugnant to me” I instinctively give expression to the fact that will, within the soul's life, belongs with feeling. [In the original German, Rudolf Steiner uses the word “Widerwillen,” (antipathy), “Ich habe Widerwillen gegen etwas,” so that in the everyday use of language the word “will” appears as an attribute of feeling.] From this one example you may see how impossible it is for this investigator of the soul to free himself from the limitation of a particular conceptual circle. Without doubt, what Franz Brentano presents is conscientious, careful soul research; yet, it is equally without doubt that the experience of the will, the passage within the soul's life to outward action, the birth of the external deed out of the impulse of will, is an experience which cannot be denied. The psychologist, therefore, fails to discover that which, in itself, cannot be denied.

One cannot maintain that all the researchers who take their stand on the ground of natural science and occupy themselves with the relationship of the life of the soul with bodily existence are necessarily materialists. Ziehen, for example, thinks of matter as a pure hypothesis. But he comes to a very curious point of view, namely, that no matter where we look, there is nothing else than the element of soul. There may, perhaps, be something of the nature of matter out there, this matter must in its processes first make an impression upon us; in order that while the material facts make an impression on our senses, that which we experience in our sense perception is already a manifestation of soul. Now, we experience the world only through our senses; everything, therefore, is fundamentally a manifestation of soul. This is the conception of a researcher like Ziehen. In this sense, the entire realm of human experience is actually of the nature of soul, and we would have, in fact, no right to speak in any other way than that everything can only be conceived as having hypothetical reality — except for we ourselves, except for our own experiences of soul. Fundamentally, according to such conceptions, we weave and live within the encompassing realm of soul phenomena and do not get beyond it.

Eduard von Hartmann, at the end of his Handbook Concerning Soul Knowledge characterizes this conception in drastic fashion, and this characterization, although grotesque, is indeed interesting to contemplate. He says: In the sense of this “Pan-psychismus” — one even constructs such words — one can imagine such an example: two persons are sitting at a table and drinking — well, let's say, harking back to better times — are drinking coffee with sugar. One of the persons is more distant from the sugar bowl than the other and in the naive experience of the ordinary human being, the following occurs: one of the two persons asks the other for the sugar, saying: “Please pass me the sugar!” The second person gives the other the sugar. According to Eduard von Hartmann, if the conception of a universal soul element is correct, how must this procedure be conceived? It must be conceived that something occurs in the human brain or nervous system which forms itself in consciousness in such a way that the mental representation awakes: I would like to have the sugar. But what is actually out there, of this the one in question hasn't the faintest notion. There then links itself on to the representation “I would like to have the sugar” another — but that is also only a representation in the soul realm — that something which appears to him like another person — for what is objectively there cannot actually be known, it only creates the impression — and this “apparent person” then passes him the sugar. It is the opinion of physiology, Hartmann says, that what happens objectively is the following: In my nervous system, if I am one of the two persons, a process unfolds which reflects itself as an illusion in consciousness “I ask for the sugar.” Then this same process, that has nothing to do with the nature of consciousness, sets the speech muscles into motion, and once again something objective arises out there, of which one knows nothing about what it actually is, but which, nevertheless, is again reflected in consciousness, whereby one receives the impression that one speaks the words, “I ask for the sugar.” Then these movements, which are called forth as vibration in the air, are transmitted to another person, whom one again assumes hypothetically, and produce vibrations, stimuli, in his or her nervous system. Through the fact that the sensory nerves in this nervous system are stimulated, motoric nerves are set in motion. And while this purely mechanical process plays itself out, there is reflected in the consciousness of the other person something like “I give this person the sugar bowl.” Also reflected is everything else that hangs together with this process, everything which can be perceived, the movement, and so forth.

Here we have the peculiar conception that everything which takes place in reality outside us remains unknown to us, is only hypothetical, but appears to be nerve processes which swing, as vibrations in the air, to the other person, and there spring over from the sensory to the motor nerves, the nerves producing motion, which then carry out the perceptible action. This latter is entirely independent of that which occurs in the consciousness of the two persons, it occurs automatically. But in this way one gradually comes to the point of no longer being able to gain insight into the connection between that which occurs automatically outside us and what we actually experience. For what we experience, if we assume the standpoint of universal ensoulment, has nothing to do with anything which might be objectively present in the world. In a curious way, everything, the entire world, is absorbed into the soul. To which individual thinkers have countered with weighty objections. If, for instance, a businessman is expecting a telegram with a certain content, only a single word needs to fail and instead of joy, unhappiness, sorrow, pain may be let loose in his soul. Can one say then that what one experiences within the soul, happens only in the soul realm, or must one not assume that, according to the immediate consequences, something has actually occurred in the external world which is then experienced also by the soul? And, on the other hand, if one places oneself in the standpoint of this automatism, one might say: Yes, Goethe wrote Faust, that is true, but this only bears witness to the fact that the entire Faust lived in Goethe's soul as mental representation. But this soul has nothing to do with the mechanism which has described this mental representation. One does not escape from the mechanism of the soul's life to that which is outside there in the world.

As a result of all this, the conception has gradually formed, which is now widely disseminated, that what is, in a certain sense, of the nature of soul, is only a kind of parallel process to that which is out there in the world; that it only supplements what is out there and that one cannot know what really takes place in the world. Fundamentally, one can well come to the point of view which I characterized in my book Of the Human Riddle (Vom Menschenrätsel) as the standpoint which developed in the 19th century and has, in certain circles, become more and more dominant, and which I called “illusionism.” Now, one will ask oneself the question: Does this illusionism not rest on very sound foundations? This might well seem so. It really seems as if there were nothing to say against the proposition that there may be something out there which affects my eye, and that only then the soul translates what is out there into light and color, so that one indeed only has to do with soul experience. It seems justified to assume that one cannot get beyond the limits of the soul realm; that one would never be justified to say: This or that out there corresponds to that which lives in my soul. Such questions only apparently have no significance for the greatest questions concerning the soul, for instance, the question of immortality. They have, indeed, a deep significance for us as human beings, and in this regard certain indications can be made today. But it is just from this foundation that I want to take my start.

The direction of thought which I have thus characterized never thinks about the fact that, in relation to the life of the soul, it only reckons with what occurs when, from outside, through the sense world, impressions are made on the human being and the human being then develops mental representations of these impressions by means of his nerve-sense apparatus. These ways of looking at phenomena do not take into consideration that what occurs in this way applies only to the human being's intercourse with the outer sense world. But one overlooks the fact that one comes to very special results — also when one examines this matter in the sense of spiritual scientific research — when one investigates the intercourse with the outer world. In this regard it becomes evident that the human senses are built up in a very particular way. However, what I have to put forward here about the structure of the senses, and especially in relation to the finer details of this structure, is not yet accessible to external science. Something is built into the human body in the organs which we use as our senses which is excluded from the general inner life of the human bodily organism to a certain degree. As a symptomatic example we can consider the human eye. The eye is built into our skull organism almost like an entirely independent being and is connected with the interior of the entire organism only by means of certain organic elements. The whole could be described in detail, but for today's considerations this is not necessary. However, a certain degree of independence exists. And such independence is actually inherent in all the sense organs. So that what is never taken into consideration is that something very special occurs in sense perception, in sense experience. The sense perceptible outer world continues by way of the sense organs into our own organism. What occurs there outside through light and color, or better said, what occurs in light and color, continues its activity into our organism in such a way that the life of our organism does not, to begin with, participate in its activity. Thus, light and color enter our eye in such a way that, I should like to say, the life of the organism does not hinder the penetration of what occurs out there. In this way the stream of outer occurrence penetrates through our senses into our organism up to a certain point as if through gulfs or channels. Now the soul participates, to begin with, in what flows in through the fact that she herself enlivens what at first penetrates non-livingly from without. This is an extraordinarily important truth which comes to light through spiritual science. As we perceive with our senses we constantly enliven that which out of the flow of outer events continues to penetrate into our body. Sense perception is an actual living penetration, indeed an enlivening of that which, as something dead, continues its activity within our organism. Thereby we really have the objective world immediately within us in the activity of sense perception, and as we digest it by means of our soul, we experience it. This is the actual process and is extraordinarily important. For in relation to the experience of our senses one may not say that it is merely an impression, that it is only the result of an effect from outside. That which occurs outwardly really enters into our inner being, as a bodily process, is then taken into the soul and is permeated with life. In our sense organs we have something within which the soul lives, yet in which, fundamentally, our own body does not live directly. At some future time, one will approach the ideas which I have developed here also out of natural scientific considerations when one will understand in the right way the fact that in the eyes of certain species of animals — and this one can extend to all the senses — certain organs are to be found which are no longer found in human beings. The human eye is simpler than the eyes of the lower animals, indeed even than animals which stand close to man. One will then ask: Why, for example, do certain animals still have the so-called Pectin in their eye, a special organ made up of blood vessels; why do others have the so-called “Schwertfortsatz;” again an organ of blood vessels? When one asks these questions one will realize that, with these organs penetrating into the senses in the animal organism, the immediate bodily life of the organism still participates in that which occurs in the senses as the continuation of the outer world. Therefore, the sense perception of the animal is definitely not such that one can say the soul experiences the outer world directly as it penetrates into the organism. For the soul element in its instrument, the body, still penetrates the sense organ; the bodily life permeates the sense organ. Just through this, however, that the human senses are formed in such a way that they are enlivened through the activity of soul it becomes clear to the one who grasps sense experience truly in its essential nature that we actually have outer reality in sense perception. Kantianism, Schopenhauerism, all modern physiology, is not equal to denying this. These sciences are not yet able to allow their concepts to press forward to a correct understanding of sense experience. Only when that which occurs in the sense organ is taken up into the deeper nervous system, into the brain system, only then does it pass over into a sphere into which the body's life penetrates directly and, as a result, interior bodily processes occur. Thus, the human being has the zone of his senses at the periphery, and within this zone of the senses he has the zone of direct encounter with the outer world where the outer world comes to meet him directly, with no intervention, inasmuch as it approaches him through the senses. For, in this process, no intervention occurs. Then, however, when what was sense impression becomes mental representation, then we stand within the deeper lying nervous system in which every process of ideation, of representation, corresponds with a process in the nerve mechanism. When we construct a mental representation drawn from sense perception, an occurrence in the human nervous organism always comes into play.

And, in this regard, one must say: In what has been accomplished by natural science, especially also the discoveries of Verworn in regard to the processes which occur in the nervous system and in the brain when this or that is represented, we have an achievement which deserves our admiration. Spiritual science must only be clear about the following: When we encounter the outer world through our senses, we find ourselves confronted by the actual sequence of facts in the outer world. While we form mental representations, for instance, in calling up memories, or thinking about something, without connecting this to something outside ourselves, but rather inwardly linking together impressions which have been derived from outside, in such a case, our nervous system is unquestionably engaged. And that which occurs in our nervous system, which lives in its structures, its processes, this is truly — the further one goes in investigating this fact, the more one discovers — a wonderfully projected image of the soul's realm, of the life of representations. One who enters, even only a little, into what can be learned from brain physiology, from nerve physiology, discovers the structure and the dynamics of movement within the brain to reveal the most wonderful insights that one can come to in this world. However, spiritual science must then be clear: Just as we stand face to face with the external world, when we direct our glance outward, so do we also stand face to face with our own bodily world when we are attentive to the play of thoughts which are derived from the world around us. It is only that this latter fact is rarely brought to consciousness. But when the spiritual scientific researcher raises his consciousness to what he calls imaginative thinking, he then recognizes that - - though the process remains within dreamy awareness — in the weaving of mental representations, when left to itself, the human being grasps his inner activity in the brain and nervous system as he otherwise grasps the outer world. By means of such meditations as I have described one can strengthen one's life of soul to become able to know that one in no way stands differently in relation with this inner nerve world than with the outer world of the senses; only that in relation with the external sense world the impression created is a strong one, coming as it does from without, and, as a result, one forms the judgment: the outer world makes an impression; while that which arises from within, out of the bodily organism, does not intrude itself so forcefully — despite the fact that it constitutes a wonderful play of material processes — and, as a result, one has the impression: my mental representations, my mental images, arise of themselves.

In regard to everything which I have so far indicated about the human being's intercourse with the outer sense world, what I have said holds true. The soul observes, as she penetrates the body, at one time the external reality, at another time, the soul observes the play of her own nerve mechanism. Now a certain conceptual view has concluded from this fact — and the misunderstanding arises as a result — that this is the only way in which the human being relates with the outer world. When, arising out of this conception, the question is asked: How does the outer world work upon the human being? Then the question is answered as it must be from the standpoint of the wonderful accomplishments of brain anatomy and brain physiology. The question is answered in the way we just characterized: One describes what happens when the human being either gives his attention to the mental images which arise from the outer world, or as he may later recall them out of his memory. That is — so says this conceptual view — the only way the human being relates to the outer world. As a consequence, this conception must come to the conclusion that, in fact, all soul life runs parallel with the outer world. For it certainly must be a matter of indifference to the outer world whether we form mental images about it or not; the world goes on as it goes on; our mental representations are merely added on. Indeed, what holds good here is a fundamental principle of this world conception: Everything we experience is of the nature of soul. But in this soul element there lives at one time the outer world and at another the inner. And, indeed — this is the consequence — at one time, according to the external processes and the next time according to the processes in the nerve mechanism. Now, this conception of things proceeds from the assumption: All other soul experiences must also stand in a similar relation with the external world, feeling, as well as volition. And when such investigators as Theodor Ziehen are honest with themselves, they do not find such relations. As a result, as has been demonstrated, they deny the reality of feeling in part, and of the will entirely. They do not find the feelings within the mere nerve mechanism, and, least of all, the will. Franz Brentano does not even find willing within the human soul being. Where does this come from?

Spiritual science will one day throw light on this question when those misunderstandings which I have today described have vanished and one has accepted the help which spiritual science has to offer in these matters. For the fact, which I have only indicated, is indeed this: What we designate as the sphere of feeling within the soul's life, has to begin with — strange as this may sound — as it first arises, absolutely nothing to do with the life of nerves. I know very well how many assertions of contemporary science I thereby contradict. I also know very well all that can be brought as well-founded objections. However, as desirable as it might be to enter into all details, I am today only able to present results. Ziehen is quite right when he fails to find either feeling or willing in the mechanism of the nervous system, when he only finds the forming of mental representations, mental images. Ziehen says in consequence: Feelings are merely tones, that is attributes, accentuating the life of representation; for only the life of mental representation is to be found in the nerves. Willing is altogether non-existent for the natural scientist, for the perception of the movement is linked immediately with the mental image of the movement and follows it immediately. There is no will in between. Nothing of human feeling lies in the nerve mechanism. This consequence, however, is not drawn, but it lies within the assumption. When, therefore, human feeling expresses itself in the bodily organism, with what is this connected? What is the relationship of human feeling to the body, when the relationship of forming mental images to the body is as I have described it for sense impressions as they relate to the nerve mechanism? Just as spiritual science shows that forming mental images is connected with perception and the interior mechanism of the nervous system — as strange as this still sounds today, it will eventually be documented by natural scientific research, and can, already today, be presented as a fully secured result of spiritual science — so feeling is connected, in a similar way, with everything which belongs organically with human breathing and related activities. Feeling as it arises has, in the first place, nothing to do with the nervous mechanism, it belongs, rather, with the breathing organism. However, at least one objection which lies close at hand should be dealt with here: Well, the nerves, nevertheless, stimulate everything which has to do with breathing! I shall come back once again to this objection in connection with willing. The nerves stimulate nothing which is connected with breathing, rather, just as we perceive light and color by means of our optic nerve, so we perceive the process of breathing itself, although in a more subdued way, by means of those nerves which connect our breathing organism with the central nervous system. These nerves, which are usually designated motor nerves in relation to breathing, are nothing else than sensory nerves. They are there, like the brain nerves, only more dully, in order to perceive the breathing as such. The origin of feeling, in its entire spectrum from the slightest emotional disturbance up to a quiet, harmonious feeling, is connected organically with everything which takes its course in the human being as breathing process and what belongs to it as its continuation in one direction or another in the human organism. One will one day think quite differently about the bodily characteristics of feeling when one will once see through the circumstances and will no longer insist that certain streams which stimulate the breathing process run from a central organ, from the brain, but will recognize that the opposite is actually the case. The breathing processes are there, they are perceived by certain nerves; they come in this way into connection with them. But the connection is not of that nature that the origin of the feeling is anchored in the nervous system. And with this we come to a field which has not yet been worked on, in spite of the admirable natural science of the present day. The bodily expressions of the life of feeling will be wonderfully illuminated when one studies the finer changes in the breathing processes, especially the more subtle changes in the effects of the breathing process while one or the other feeling takes its course within us.

The process of breathing is a very different one from the process which plays itself out in the human nerve mechanism. In regard to the nerve mechanism one can say, in a certain sense, that it is a faithful after image of the human soul's life itself. If I wanted to use an expression — such expressions are not yet available to us in our language and one can, therefore, only use approximations — if I wanted to use an expression for the wonderful way in which the soul life is mirrored in the human nervous system, then I might say: The soul life portrays itself in the life of the nerves; the life of the nerves is truly a portrait, a picture, of the soul's life. Everything which we experience in our soul in relation to our perceptions of the outer world, portrays itself in the nervous system. It is just this which enables us to understand that already at birth the nervous system, in particular of the head, is a faithful reflected image of the life of the soul as it comes out of the spiritual world and unites itself with the life of the bodily organism. The objections which today arise just from the standpoint of brain physiology against the union of the soul with the brain, with the head organism, as the soul descends out of the spiritual world, just this will one day be brought forward as a proof of this connection. The soul prepares before birth or conception out of spiritual foundations that wonderful structure of the head, which is built up and formed by the human life of soul. The head — which, for example, grows only four times heavier than it is at birth, whereas the entire organism grows twenty-two times heavier during the course of its later development — the head appears at birth as something formed through, if one may use the expression, as something complete in itself. Already before birth it is, fundamentally, a picture of the soul's experience, because the soul works on the head out of the spiritual world for a long time before any of the physical facts develop in the embryo — facts with which we are well acquainted — and this work leads to human existence in the physical world. For the spiritual researcher it is just the wonderful structure of the human nervous system, which is the projected mirror image of the human life of soul, which is both the confirmation that the soul descends out of the spiritual realm, as well as of the fact that in the spiritual world the forces are active which make the brain a portrait picture of the soul's life.

If I should now use an expression for the connection between the life of feeling and the breathing life that would characterize in a similar way the relationship between the life of representation and the nervous system, which I have just characterized by saying: “The life of the nerves is a picture, a portrait, of the soul's life in its activity of forming mental images, of thought representations” — then I would say that the breathing life with everything which belongs to it, is an image of the soul's life, which I would compare with picture writing, with hieroglyphics. The nervous system — a true picture, a real portrait; the respiratory system — only a hieroglyph. The nervous system is so constructed that the soul only needs to be completely at one with herself in order to “read” from her portrait (the nervous system) what she wishes to experience of herself. With the picture writing, the hieroglyph, one must interpret, here one must already know something, here the soul must occupy herself more actively with the matter. Thus, it is in connection with the respiratory system. The breathing life is less a faithful expression — if I were to characterize this more exactly, I would have to point to the Goethean principle of metamorphosis, for which our time today is too short — less a faithful pictorial expression of the soul's experience. It is far more an expression of such a kind that I would wish to compare it with the relation of picture writing, to its meaning and significance. The soul's life is, therefore, more inward in the life of feeling, is less bound to the outer processes. For this reason also, the connection escapes a more rudimentary physiology. For the spiritual researcher, however, it is just this which makes it clear: just as the breathing, the life of respiration, is connected with the life of feeling, so must the life of feeling be freer, more independent in itself, because this breathing life is a less exact expression of the feeling.

Thus, we comprehend the body from a different perspective when we consider it as the formative expression of the life of feeling than when we consider it only as the formative expression of the life of mental images. Through the fact, however, that the life of feeling is connected with the life of breathing, within the life of feeling the spiritual is more active, more inward, than in the mere life of representation — in that life of representation which does not rise to Imagination but is rather a manifestation of outer sense experience. Feeling life is not as clear, not as bright and transparent, just as little as picture writing expresses as clearly what it signifies as an actual picture does — here I can only speak in more comparative terms — but just because of this, in that which expresses itself in the life of feeling the spiritual is more within it than in the ordinary life of representation. The breathing life is less a defined tool than is the nervous system.

And if we come now to the life of will, then one finds oneself in the situation that when one begins to speak, as spiritual researcher, about the facts as one observes them, one may well be decried as an extreme materialist. But when the spiritual scientist speaks about the relationship of the human soul to the human body, he must consider the relationship of the entire soul to the entire body, not merely, as is customary today, to speak of it in relation with the nervous system only. The soul expresses itself in the entire organism, in everything which goes on in the body. If one now wants to consider the life of will, what can one take as one's starting point? One must begin with the most basic, the deepest level of will impulses which appear to be still entirely bound to the body's life. Where do we find such a will impulse? Such a will impulse manifests itself very simply when, for example, we are hungry, when certain substances in our organism are used up and must be replaced. We descend into that region where the processes of nourishment occur. We have descended from the processes in the nerve organization, through the processes in the breathing organism, and arrive at the processes in the organism of nourishment. We find the most basic will impulses bound to the organism through which we assimilate and digest our food. Spiritual science shows us that when we speak of the relationship of willing to the human organism, we must speak of it in relation with the digestive, metabolic system. A relationship similar to that between the process of mental representation and sensation with the nerve mechanism; of that between breathing and the life of feeling is also to be found between the digestive metabolic organism and the will-life of the human soul — only, now, the relationship is still a looser one. Indeed, other things, which have further ramifications, also are connected with this. And, in this connection, one must become clear, once and for all, about one thing which, fundamentally, only spiritual science speaks about today. I have presented this aspect in more limited circles over many years, which I now bring forward publicly as a result of spiritual scientific investigation. Contemporary physiology is convinced that when we receive a sense impression it stimulates a sensory nerve and — if, indeed, physiology admits the existence of the soul — is then taken up by the soul. But then, in addition to these sensory nerves, contemporary physiology recognizes so-called motor nerves, nerves giving rise to motion. For spiritual science — I know how heretical what I am about to say is — for spiritual science such motor, motion-producing nerves do not exist. I have indeed occupied myself for many years with this matter and I know, of course, that one can make reference in regard to just this point to so much that appears to be well-founded. One takes, for instance, someone ill with locomotor ataxia, or someone whose spinal cord has been pinched, in whom, as a result, from a certain organ down his lower organism is as if dead. These things do not contradict what I am saying, rather, indeed, if one sees through them in the right way, they, in fact, substantiate what I am saying. There are no motor nerves. What contemporary physiology sees as motor nerves, as nerves causing motion, as will impulse nerves, are actually sensory nerves. If the spinal column has been damaged in a certain section, then what goes on in the leg, in the foot, is simply not perceived, and the foot, therefore, because it is not perceived, cannot be moved; not because a motor nerve has been severed, but because a sensory nerve has been severed which cannot perceive what happens in the leg. I can only indicate this because I must press on to the significant consequences in this matter.

One who acquires habits of observation in the realm of soul-bodily experience knows, for instance, that what we call “practice,” let us say in playing the piano, or in something similar, has to do with something quite different than what is today referred to as “scouring out the motor nerve pathway.” This is not what is happening. In regard to every movement which we carry out with our will nothing else comes into consideration as an organic process than a metabolic process in the organism. What originates as an impulse of will originates from the metabolism. If I move my arm, it is not the nervous system, to begin with, which comes into consideration, rather it is the will itself — whose existence the physiologists, as we have seen, deny — and the nerve has no other function than to see that the metabolic process which occurs as a consequence of the impulse of will is perceived by means of the so-called motor nerve, which is, in reality, a sensory nerve. We have to do with metabolic processes in the entire organism as bodily activators of those processes which correspond with the will. Because all systems in the organism interact, these metabolic processes occur also in the brain and are bound up with brain processes. The will, however, has its bodily formative expression in metabolic processes; nerve processes have, in reality, only to do with this in that they transmit the perception of the will processes. Natural science will in the future come to recognize this. When, however, we consider the human being from one aspect as a nerve being, and from another as a breathing being, with all that belongs with this, and from a third aspect as a metabolic being — if I may coin the expression — then we have the whole human being. For all the organs of movement, everything in the human body that can move, is connected in its motion with metabolic processes. And the will works directly on the processes of metabolism. The nerve is only there to perceive this occurrence.

In a certain sense one finds oneself in an unhappy situation when one has to contradict such an apparently well-founded assumption as that of the two types of nerves; however, one has, at least, support in the fact that up to the present time no one has yet discovered a significant difference either in their mode of reaction or in regard to their anatomical structure, between a sensory and a motor nerve. They are in every respect identical. When we acquire an ability in some field through practice, then what we acquire through this practice is that we learn to master processes in our metabolism through our will. It is this which the child learns as it gains mastery of the metabolic processes in their finer configurations after having at first tossed its limbs in all directions without carrying out any ordered movement of its will. And if, for instance, we play the piano or have acquired some similar ability, we learn to move our fingers in such a way that we master the corresponding metabolic processes with our will. The sensory nerves — which are actually the otherwise so-called motor nerves — they register more and more what is the correct action and the correct movement, for these nerves are there in order to feel out, to trace, what occurs in the metabolism. I would like once to ask someone who can really observe soul-bodily processes whether through such an accurate self-observation he does not feel how what is actually happening is not a “scouring out of motor nerve pathways” but that he is learning to feel out, to perceive, dimly to represent, the finer vibrations of his organism which he calls forth through his will. It is actual self-observation which we exercise. In this whole realm we have to do with sensory nerves. From this point of view, someone should sometime observe how speech develops out of the unformed babbling sounds of a tiny child. It is truly based in the fact that the will learns how to take hold of the speech organism. And what is learned by the nervous system is only the finer perception of what occurs in the metabolic processes.

In volition, we have to do, therefore, with what expresses itself organically in the metabolism. And the characteristic expression of the metabolism are movements, even into the bones. This could be shown without difficulty if one would enter into the real results of natural scientific observations of the present day. But the metabolism expresses even less than breathing that which transpires soul-spiritually. As I have compared the nerve organism with a picture, the breathing organism with a hieroglyph, I can only compare the metabolic organism with a mere letter script, an indicative sign, as we have it today in our alphabet in contrast with the pictorial script of the ancient Egyptian or the ancient Chaldean. These are mere signs, letters, and the soul's activity must become still more inward. As a result, however, of the fact that in willing the activity of soul must become still more inward, the soul — which I would like to say engages itself only loosely in the metabolism — enters the realm of the spirit with the greater part of its being. The soul lives in the spiritual. And thus, just as the soul unites herself through the senses with material substance, so she unites herself through the will with the spirit. Also in this regard once again, the special relation of the soul-spiritual comes to expression, a relationship which spiritual science reveals by means of those methods which I spoke about in my last lecture. What results is that the metabolic organism as it exists today — in order to characterize this more exactly I should have to enter into the Goethean idea of metamorphosis — presents only a provisional indication of that which in the nervous system, in the head organism, is a complete picture. In that which the soul carries out in the metabolism as she, so to speak, finds her right relation with the metabolism, she then prepares that which she then carries over through the gates of death into the spiritual world for her further life in the spiritual realm after death. She carries, of course, all that across with her through which she lives with the spirit. She is inwardly most alive, as I have characterized it, just there where she is most loosely united with the material, so that in this realm the material process acts merely as a sign, an indication, for the spirit; thus, it is in regard to the will. It is, therefore, for this reason that the will must be especially developed if one wishes to attain spiritual perception. This will must be developed to become that which one designates as actual Intuition — not in the trivial sense, but in the sense as I recently characterized it. Feeling can be developed so that it leads to Inspiration; mental representation, thinking, when it is developed in the sense of spiritual scientific research, leads to Imagination. By these means, however, that other element, the spiritual in its true reality, enters objectively into the life of the soul. For just as we must characterize sense experience in such a way that the outer world projects gulfs, or channels, into us, because of the way in which the human sense organs are constructed, so that we experience ourselves in them, so in willing we experience the spirit. In willing the spirit sends its being into us. And no one will ever comprehend freedom who does not recognize this immediate life of the spirit in willing.

On the other side one sees how Franz Brentano, who only investigates the soul, is right; he does not reach through to the will, because he only investigates the soul, he arrives only at feeling. What the will sends down into the metabolism, with this the modern psychologist does not concern himself, because he does not wish to become a materialist; and the materialist does not concern himself with it because he believes that everything is dependent on the nervous system. As, however, the soul unites itself with the spirit to such a degree that the spirit in its archetypal form can penetrate into the human being, that it can project its gulf-like channels into the human being, so is that which we are able to place within the world as our highest, as our moral willing — what we are able to place within the world as spiritual willing — truly, indeed, the immediate life of the spirit within the realm of the soul. And through the fact that we experience the spirit directly within the soul, the soul element in those mental representations, which I have characterized in my The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as providing the basis for a free willing, is truly not isolated in itself, but is rather, to a very considerable degree, conscious within the spirit in a higher, and above all, in a different way. It is a denial of this standing within the spirit, when, as the physiologist — like Theodor Ziehen — in relation with the will, also the psychologist wishes to hear nothing of those finer will impulses, which are, in fact, a matter of real experience. They cannot, indeed, be found in the realm of soul, but the soul experiences the spirit within herself and as she experiences the spirit within the will, she lives in freedom.

In this way the human soul and the human body are so related with each other that the entire soul stands in relation with the entire body, and not merely the soul in relation with the nervous system. And with this I have characterized for you the beginning of a direction of scientific research, which will become especially fruitful just through the discoveries of natural science when these are looked at in the right way. This research will show that the body also, where it is considered in its entirety as the expression of the soul, actually confirms the immortality of the soul, which I characterized from an entirely different point of view in my last lecture and shall characterize from yet another aspect in my next lecture.

A certain scientific-philosophical direction of recent times, just because it could not come to terms with the life of the soul and body, for the reasons which have been indicated, has sought refuge in the so-called subconscious. The chief representative of this direction, apart from Schopenhauer, is Eduard von Hartmann. Now the assumption of a subconscious in our life of soul is certainly justified. But in the way in which Eduard von Hartmann speaks of the subconscious, it is impossible to understand reality in a satisfactory fashion. In the example that I quoted of the two persons sitting opposite to one another, of whom one wants to have the sugar bowl passed to him by the other, von Hartmann analyzes in a curious way how consciousness dives down into the subconscious and then what occurs in the subconscious arises again in consciousness. But with such a hypothesis one does not come near the insights which can be gained through spiritual science. One can speak about the subconscious, only one must speak about it in two different ways: one must speak about the subconscious and about the superconscious. In sense-perception something which in itself is unconscious becomes conscious, in as much as it is enlivened in the manner which I characterized today. In this case the unconscious penetrates up into the consciousness. In like manner, where the nerve-sense organism is considered in the inner play of mental representations, a subconscious element rises up into consciousness. But one may not speak of an absolute subconscious, rather one must speak of the fact that the subconscious can rise up into consciousness. The unconscious is, in this sense, also only a matter of time, is only in a relative sense unconscious; the unconscious can become conscious. In the same way one can speak of the spirit as the superconscious which enters the realm of the human soul in the form of an ethical idea or a spiritual scientific idea which itself penetrates into the spiritual. When this occurs, the superconscious enters into consciousness.

You see how many concepts and mental representations must be corrected if one wants to do justice to life. And out of the corrections of these concepts the insight will, for the first time, be freed to grasp the truth in relation to the human life of soul. However, to fully develop the far- reaching significance of such a way of considering the relationship between soul and body is a matter which must be reserved for next time. Today, in conclusion, I should only like to draw your attention to the fact that recent developments in education have tended to lead away from those ideas which can throw a clear light onto this field. On one hand it has confined the entire relationship of the human being to the outer world to that aspect which recognizes only the relation between the outer world and the human nervous system. As a result, there have arisen in this field a sum of mental representations which are materialistically colored to a greater or lesser degree; and it is just because one's attention has not been in any way directed to those other aspects of the relationship of the human spirit and the human soul to the bodily organism that this insight has been narrowed and confined. And this narrowing of vision has, in fact, been extended to all scientific endeavor as a whole. As a consequence, one experiences sadness when one reads in an otherwise relatively good lecture which Professor Dr. A. Tschirch held on November 28, 1908, as a festival lecture on the occasion of his installation as rector at the University of Bern, Switzerland, under the title “Nature Research and Healing.” Those among my listeners who have attended these lectures more often will know that, as a rule, I only attack those whom, in other connections I genuinely esteem and that it is my custom only to express criticisms in self-defense. In this lecture by Prof. Tschirsh a curious confession is to be found, which arises exactly out of the misunderstandings and out of the helplessness to understand the relationship between soul and body. Here Prof. Tschirch says: “It is, however, my opinion, that we do not need to trouble our heads today whether or not, in reality, we shall ever penetrate into ‘inner life.’”

He means, penetrate into the inner aspect of the world. It is out of this attitude that all that springs which is present today as antipathy against potential spiritual-scientific research. Prof. Tschirch continues in this vein: “We have, indeed, more necessary and pressing things to do.”

Now, in the face of the great, burning questions which concern the human soul, for someone to be able to say, “We have, indeed, more necessary and pressing things to do,” in regard to such a one, one would have to question the seriousness of his scientific attitude of mind, if it were not understandable out of the direction — as has been characterized — which thinking has taken, and especially when one reads the sentences which follow:


“The ‘inner aspect of nature,’ about which Haller has somewhat similar thoughts, which Kant later called ‘thing in itself,’ is at the present time, for us so deep in the ‘within,’ that millennia will pass, until we — always assuming that a new ice age does not destroy our entire civilization — even come close to it.”


These personalities concern themselves so casually about the spirit, which is actually the inner world, that they can say: We don't need to concern ourselves about it but can calmly wait for thousands of years. If this is science's answer to the burning questions of the human soul, then the time has come for an extension of this science, through spiritual science. The attitude of mind characterized above has led to the situation in which the soul element, one might say, has been summarily discarded, and in which the point of view has arisen that the soul element is, at most, an accompanying phenomenon of the bodily organism — a view which the renowned Prof. Jodi has put forward almost to the present day; but he is only one among many.

But where does this way of thinking lead? Well, it celebrated a triumphal festival when, for instance, Prof. Dr. Jacques Loeb — once again a man whose positive research achievements I value most highly — lectured on September 10, 1911 at the first congress of monistic thinkers in Hamburg on “Life.” In this instance we see how that which actually is based on a misunderstanding is transformed into a general attitude and thus becomes — pardon the expression — brutal toward soul research. The hypothetical conviction which arises from this research becomes a matter of authority, of power. It is in this sense that Prof. Jacques Loeb begins that lecture by stating:


“The question which I intend to discuss is whether, according to the current stand of science we can anticipate that life, that is the sum total of all living phenomena, can be completely explained in terms of physical and chemical laws. If, after earnest consideration, we can answer this question in the affirmative, then we must build our social and ethical structures of life on purely natural scientific foundations and no metaphysician can then claim the right to prescribe modes of conduct for our way of life which are in contradiction with the results of experimental biology.”


Here you have the striving to conquer all knowledge by means of that science of which Goethe lets Mephisto say “It makes itself an ass and knows not how!” This is how it appears in the older version of Goethe's Faust where the following passage occurs:


Who will know the living and describe it,
Seeks first to drive the spirit out,
Then the parts lie in his hand,
Missing only, sadly! the spirit's band!
Encheiresin Naturae so says our chemistry,
Mocks thus itself and knows not how it came to be.

(tr. HB)


Today there stands in Faust: “Mocks thus itself and knows not how it came to be” — but the young Goethe wrote: “It makes itself an ass and knows not how!”

What has come to be based on these misunderstandings tends in the direction of eliminating all that knowledge which is not merely an interpretation of physical and chemical processes. But no science of the soul will be fortified to withstand such an attack which is not able out of its own insight to press forward into the human bodily nature. I appreciate all that has been achieved by such gifted individuals as Dilthey, Franz Brentano and others. I recognize it fully. I value all these personalities; but, the ideas which they have developed are too weak, too clumsy to hold their ground against the results of today's scientific thinking. A bridge must be erected between the spiritual and the bodily. Just in relation with the human being must this bridge be erected by our achieving strong spiritual-scientific concepts, which lead to an understanding of the bodily life of the organism. Because it is just in the understanding of bodily life that the great questions, the question of immortality, the question of death, the question of destiny, and of similar riddles will find their comprehension. Otherwise, if a sense for this science of the spiritual does not awaken in humanity, a sense also for the earnestness of these urgent times, then we shall experience that we find ourselves confronted with views, such as come to expression in the following: A book can be found which has come over from America, and has been translated into German, a book by an American scholar Snyder. In this book one can read a quaint sentence, which, however, expresses the attitude and gesture of the entire volume, which is entitled “The World Conception of Modern Natural Science.” And translator, Hans Kleinpeter, indeed draws special attention to the fact that this attitude must gradually lead to the enlightenment of the present and future time. Now, allow me to quote in conclusion a sentence, I would say, a key, central sentence from this book:


“Whatever may be the brain cell of a glow worm or the feeling for the harmonies of ‘Tristan and Isolde,’ the substance, of which they consist, is, essentially, the same; what is of concern is evidently more of a distinction in their structure than a difference in their substantiality.”


And, with this, something essential, something enlightening is thought to have been said! But it is an attitude of mind, an inner gesture which does hang together with what I have today brought forward. And it is deeply characteristic for the present time that such points of view can find adherents, that they can be put forward as something of significance.

I am well able to appreciate philology, as well as those sciences which today are undervalued by many people. Wherever true science is at work, in whatever field, I can appreciate it. But when someone comes and would say to me: Goethe wrote Faust; sitting next to him was his secretary Seydel, who was perhaps writing a letter to his beloved; the difference between Faust and Seydel's letter may have been whatever it was, but the ink is the same in both! Both assertions are at the same level, only one is considered to be a great advance of science, and the other is taken as a matter of course to be that which those of my audience who laughed about it have demonstrated it to be.

In contrast to this, we must reach back and build on that attitude of mind, which is also scientific, but which has laid the foundations for a science which arises out of the whole of the human soul and out of a deep contemplation of the world — an attitude of mind which is also present in Goethe's natural scientific considerations. The basic elements which spiritual science would want to develop further and further, lie in Goethe's work, and in many a word of Goethe's, so beautifully and paradigmatically expressed, there lies the true, the genuine attitude of soul which can lead to a truthful contemplation of the world. I would like to close these considerations by bringing before you Goethe's many-sided observations of the relationship of spirit and outer matter in particular in their relationship with the human body. As Goethe contemplated Schiller's skull and sought to feel his way through the contemplation of this noble soul's fragmentary outer form into the relation of the whole spirit and the whole soul to the entire human bodily organism, he wrote the words which we know in his beautiful poem, to which he gave the title “On the Contemplation of Schiller's Skull.” Out of these words we become aware of the attitude of heart and mind which is necessary for a many-sided contemplation of spirit and nature:


What can a man win more in life,
Than that God-Nature reveal to him,
How she lets solid substance to spirit run,
How she binds fast what is from spirit won.<.p>

(tr. HB)


And we can apply these words to the relation of the human soul and the human body and say:


What can a man win more in life,
Than that God-Nature reveal to him,
How she lets matter to spirit run,
And how in matter spirit self-knowledge is won!


Thus, this God-Nature reveals to the human being how the body is the expression, the image and signature of the soul, and how thus the body physically proves and reveals the immortal soul and the eternal spirit.




Last Modified: 17-Apr-2019
The Rudolf Steiner Archive is maintained by:
The e.Librarian: elibrarian@elib.com
[Spacing]