Why Does Man Become Ill?
Anyone who reflects on the fact that the human being can be ill, will
find himself involved in a paradox which he cannot avoid if he wishes
to think purely on the lines of natural science, he will have to
assume to begin with that this paradox lies in the very nature of
existence. For, considered superficially, whatever takes place in the
course of the illness is a natural process. What takes place in the
healthy state is also a natural process.
In the first place, the processes of nature are known to us only by
observation of the world external to man, and of man himself inasmuch
as we observe him in just the same way as a part of nature; we
conceive that the processes going on within him however complicated,
are yet of the same kind as the processes we can observe outside him,
the outer processes of nature.
Here, however, a question emerges which is quite unanswerable from
this point of view. How do there arise in man (not to speak at this
point, of the animal) processes of nature which run counter to the
The healthy human organism would seem to be intelligible as part of
nature; not so the sick. It must, therefore, in some way be
intelligible out of itself, by virtue of something which it does not
have from nature.
The prevalent idea is that the spiritual in man has for its physical
foundation a very complicated process of nature, like a continuation
of the natural processes we find outside man. Let us, however, look
and see whether the continuation of any process of nature based on the
healthy human organism ever calls forth spiritual experiences as such?
The reverse is the case. Spiritual experience is extinguished when the
natural process continues on an uninterrupted path. This is what
happens in sleep; it happens, too, in unconsciousness.
Consider, on the other hand, how the conscious spiritual life is
sharpened when an organ becomes diseased. Pain ensues, or at least
discomfort and displeasure. The life of feeling receives a content
which it otherwise does not have. The life of will is impaired. The
movement of a limb which takes place as a matter of course in the
healthy state can no longer be accomplished properly, pain or
discomfort hinders and prevents it.
Observe now the transition from the painful movement of a limb to its
paralysis. In the movement accompanied by pain we have the initial
stages of a movement paralysed. The active spirit intervenes in the
organism. In health, this activity reveals itself to begin with in the
life of thought or representation. We activate a certain
representation, and the movement of a limb ensues. We do not enter
consciously with the representation into the organic processes which
culminate in the movement. The representation submerges itself in the
unconscious. Between the representation and the movement, feeling at
the soul level intervenes in the healthy state. It does not refer
itself distinctly to any physical organ. This, however, is the case in
the diseased state. The feeling, experienced in health as free from
the physical organism, unites with this in the experience of illness.
This shows the relationship of the process of healthy feeling and the
experience of illness. There must be something there, which, when the
organism is in health, is less intensely united with it than when it
is sick. To spiritual perception this something is revealed to be the
astral body. The astral body is a super-sensible organization within
the physical organization. It may intervene loosely in an organ when
it leads to soul experience which is self-supporting and is not
experienced in connection with the body. Or it intervenes intensively
in an organ; then it leads to the experience of illness. One of the
forms of illness must be conceived as an abnormal seizing of the
organism by the astral body, which causes the spiritual part of man to
submerge itself in the body more deeply than is the case in health.
But thinking also has its physical basis in the organism. In the
healthy state it is even freer from this than is feeling. In addition
to the astral body, spiritual perception discovers a special
ego-organization which expresses itself freely in the soul in
thinking. If, with this ego-organization, man submerges himself
intensively in his bodily nature, the ensuing condition makes his
observation of his own organism similar to that of the external
world it is a fact that if we observe an object or process of the
outer world, the idea in man and what he observes are not in a living
reciprocal relationship, but are independent of each other. In a human
limb this condition only takes place when it is paralyzed. The limb
then becomes a piece of the outer world. The ego-organization is no
longer lightly united with it as it is in health, when it can unite
with the limb in the act of movement and withdraw again at once; it
submerges itself in the limb permanently and is no longer able to
Here again the process of healthy movement of a limb and of paralysis
stand side by side in their relationship. One sees clearly that the
initial stage of healthy movement is the first beginning of a
paralysis, a paralysis which is released as soon as it begins.
We must see the very essence of illness in this intensive union of the
astral body or ego-organization with the physical organism. Yet this
union is only an intensification of that which exists more lightly in
a state of health. Even the normal way in which the astral and
ego-organization take hold of the human body, is related not to the
healthy processes of life, but to the sick. Wherever the soul and
spirit are at work, they annul the ordinary functioning of the body,
transforming it into its opposite. In so doing they bring the organism
into a line of action where illness tends to set in. In normal life
this is regulated directly as it arises by a process of self-healing.
A certain form of illness occurs when the spirit, or the soul, pushes
its way too far into the organism, with the result that the
self-healing process can either not take place at all or is too slow.
In the faculties of soul and spirit, therefore, we have to seek the
causes of illness. Healing must then consist in releasing [loosening]
this soul or spiritual element from the physical organization.
This is the one kind of illness. There is another. The ego
organization and the astral body may be prevented from reaching even
that looser union with the bodily nature which is conditioned, in
ordinary life, by the independent activities of feeling, thinking and
will. Then, in the organs or processes which the soul and spirit are
thus unable to approach, there will be continuation of the healthy
processes beyond the due measure which is appropriate for the
organism. But spiritual perception shows that in such a case the
physical organism does not merely carry out the lifeless processes of
external nature. For the physical organism is permeated by an etheric.
The physical organism alone could never call forth a process of
self-healing. It is in the etheric organism that this process is
kindled. We are thus led to recognize health as that condition which
has its origin in the etheric. Healing must therefore consist in a
treatment of the etheric organism.