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FOUNDATIONS AT THE PERIPHERY:
RUDOLF STEINER'S OBSERVATIONS ON STAR KNOWLEDGE
In the first decade of the sixteenth century, at Castle Heilsberg in Prussia, the scientific genius of Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) is erecting an edifice of ideas which will compel men in succeeding epochs to look up to the starry heavens with conceptions different from those which their ancestors had in antiquity and in the Middle Ages. To the latter, the earth was a dwelling-place resting at the center of the universe. The stars, on the other hand, were for them entities of a perfect nature, the movement of which proceeded in circles because the circle is the image of perfection. -In what the stars showed to the human senses one saw something belonging directly to the soul or the spirit. The objects and events of the earth spoke one language to man; another language was spoken by the shining stars which, in the pure ether beyond the moon, seemed to be a spiritual being that filled space. Nicolas of Cusa had already formed different ideas. Through Copernicus the earth became for man a fellow creation among the other heavenly bodies, a star that moved like others Everything in earth which appeared to man as being different, he could now attribute only to the fact that it is his dwelling-place. He was compelled to stop thinking in different ways about the phenomena of this earth and about those of the remainder of the universe. His sensory world had expanded into furthest space. What reached his eye from the ether he now had to accept as belonging to the sensory world, like the things of the earth. He could no longer seek the spirit in the ether in a sensory fashion.
All who henceforth strove for higher cognition had to come to terms with this expanded sensory world. In earlier centuries, the meditating spirit of man had stood before another world of facts. Now it was given a new task. It was no longer the things of this earth alone which could express their nature out of the interior of man. This interior had to enfold the spirit of a sensory world, which fills the spatial universe everywhere in an identical fashion. -It was such a task that confronted the thinker from Nola, Philotheo Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). The senses have conquered the spatial universe for themselves; now the spirit is no longer to be found in space. Thus man was directed from outside to seek the spirit henceforth only where, on the basis of deep inner experiences, it had been sought by the glorious thinkers who have been discussed in the preceding expositions. These thinkers draw out of themselves a conception of the world to which men later are to be compelled by a more advanced natural science. The sun of ideas which later is to fall upon a new conception of nature, with them is still beneath the horizon, but its light already appears as a dawn in a time when men's thoughts about nature are still enveloped in the darkness of night. -For the purposes of science the sixteenth century gave the heavens to that world of the senses to which they rightfully belong; up to the end of the nineteenth century this science had progressed so far that from among the phenomena of plant, animal , and human life also it could give to the world of sensory facts what belongs to it. Neither up in the ether nor in the development of living organisms can this science henceforth look for anything but factual-sensory processes . . . . Spiritual processes, as facts, are the results of different functions of an organism; the spirit of the world does not exist in a material manner, but only in a spiritual manner. The soul of man is a sum of processes in which the spirit appears most immediately as a fact. But it is only in man that the spirit exists in the form of such a soul. And to seek the spirit in the form of a soul elsewhere than in man, to think that other beings are endowed with a soul like man, is to misunderstand the spirit; it is to commit the most grievous sin against the spirit. One who does this, only shows that he has not experienced the spirit itself within him; he has only experienced the external manifestation of the spirit that holds sway in him: that is, the soul. But this is just as if somebody were to mistake a circle drawn in pencil for the true mathematical-ideal circle. One who does not experience within himself anything but the soul-form of the spirit, feels impelled to assume such a soul-form also in non-human things, in order not to stop at gross sensory materiality. Instead of thinking of the primordial foundations of the world as spirit, he thinks of it as a world soul, and assumes a general animation of nature. (55, pp. 220-224)