Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The Twelve Human Senses: focus lecture for the October 27 meeting of the Rudolf Steiner Study Circle
A lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Dornach, August 8, 1920
Today, I should like to add depth to what has recently been discussed by linking it to an old theme already familiar to many of you. Years ago, I once characterized the totality of the human senses. You know that in speaking of the senses one usually lists sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. In more recent times, even some scientists have been driven to refer to other senses that are located, as it were, further within man, a sense of balance, and so on. This whole concept of the human senses lacks coherence, however, and, above all, inner integration. When we focus on the conventionally enumerated senses, we actually are always dealing only with one part of the human sense organization. It is not until twelve senses are taken into consideration that we have completely explored the sensory organization of man. First of all, we wish today to enumerate and to describe briefly these twelve senses.
Since one can begin anywhere with the enumeration and characterization of the senses, let us start, for instance, by considering the sense of sight. First, we will consider its nature in an external way that everyone can substantiate for himself. The sense of sight transmits to us the surface of external corporeality which confronts us in color, brightness or darkness. We might describe these surfaces in a great variety of ways to arrive at what the sense of sight mediates. If we now penetrate through sense perception into the inner being of external corporeality, if, through our sense organization, we convey to ourselves what does not lie on the surface but continues more into the interior of the body, then this must take place through the sense of warmth. Again, drawn more closely to us, linked to us, inclined towards us from the surface of the corporeality, we perceive certain qualities through the sense of taste. It is located, as it were, on the other side of the sense of sight. When you consider colors, brightness and darkness, and when you consider taste, you will realize that what confronts you on the surface of corporeality is something mediated by the sense of sight. What meets you in the interplay with your own organism, what frees itself in a way through sensation from the surface and moves towards you, is mediated by the sense of taste.
Now let us imagine that you go still further into the inner corporeality than is possible through the sense of warmth and that you focus not only on what permeates a body from outside, but on what inwardly pervades it like warmth, that by its very nature is an inner quality of bodies. You strike a metal plate, for example, and hear its sound. You then perceive something of the substantiality of this metal plate, that is, of the inner metallic essence. When you perceive warmth the sense of warmth conveys to you what permeates the bodies as general warmth but certainly is within them; you perceive through the sense of hearing what is already bound up with the inner nature of things. If you go to the other side, you arrive at something that the body in question exercises upon you as an effect, but which is a much more inward quality than what is perceived through the sense of taste. Smelling is, materially speaking, much more inward than tasting. Tasting comes about by bodies just stimulating, as it were, our secretions which then unite themselves superficially with our inner being. Smelling signifies quite an important change in our inner being, and the mucous membrane of the nose is organized in a much more inward way, materially speaking of course, than the organs of taste.
If you penetrate still further into the interior of the outer bodily nature to where the external corporeality becomes more soul-like, you enter then through the sense of hearing into the nature of the metallic element; you arrive at what is, in a way, the soul of the latter, but you penetrate still further, particularly into the external, when you perceive not only with the sense of hearing but with the word sense, the speech sense. It is a total misconception to believe that with the sense of hearing we exhaust the contents of the word sense. One may well hear something but need not grasp the content of the words to the point where they are understood. Even in regard to the organic organization, a difference exists between the mere hearing of sounds and the perception of a word. The hearing of sound is transmitted through the ear; the perception of a word is mediated through other organs that are as much of a physical nature as are those transmitting the sense of hearing. We also penetrate deeper into the essence of something external when we understand it through the word sense than when we merely hear its inner nature through sound.
Mediation through the sense of touch is still more inward, already quite separate from the objects, much more so than is the case with the sense of smell. When you touch objects, you actually perceive only yourself. You touch an object and if it is hard it presses forcibly on you; if it is soft its pressure is only slight. You perceive nothing of the object, however; you sense only the effect upon yourself, the change in yourself. A hard object pushes your organs far back into you. You perceive this resistance as a change in your own organism when you perceive by means of the sense of touch. You see, do you not, that as we move in there with our inner sensing, we are going out of ourselves. With the sense of taste, we are only outside ourselves to a slight degree; with the sense of sight, we are further outside and on the surface of objects. Through the sense of warmth, we already penetrate into the body. We enter into its being even more so with the sense of hearing, and we are poured into its essence through the word sense. By contrast, we penetrate our own interior already somewhat with the sense of taste; this is more the case with the sense of smell and still more with that of touch. Then, if we press still further into our interior, we come upon a sense which is usually no longer mentioned, at least not often. It is a sense by which we differentiate between our standing up or lying down, and through which we perceive when we are standing an our two feet, that we are in a state of balance. This experience of equilibrium is transmitted by the sense of balance. There, we penetrate completely into our interior; we perceive the relationship of our own inner being to the world outside, within which we experience ourselves in a state of equilibrium. We perceive this, however, entirely within our inner being.
When we penetrate further into the external world than we can by means of the word sense, this occurs through the sense of thought. To perceive the thoughts of another being actually requires another sense organ differing from the mere word sense. On the other hand, if we penetrate still further into ourselves we find a sense that inwardly reveals to us whether we are at rest or in movement. We don't only observe whether we are remaining still or moving simply by virtue of the external objects moving past us; through the extension or retraction of our muscles and through the configuration of our body insofar as the latter changes when we move about, we can inwardly perceive to what extent we are in motion, and so forth. This happens through the sense of movement.
When we confront human beings, we not only perceive their thoughts but the ego itself. The ego, too, is not yet perceived when one merely perceives the thoughts. For the same reason that we separate the sense of hearing from that of sight, we must recognize a special ego sense upon entering into the more subtle configuration of the human organization — a sense with which to perceive an “I” or ego. When we penetrate the ego of another person with our perception, we go out of ourselves the most.
When do we enter the most into ourselves? When, within the general feeling of life, we perceive what we always have as our consciousness in the waking condition; when we perceive that we are; when we experience ourselves inwardly; when we sense that we are we. All this is mediated by the life sense.
Here I have written down for you the twelve senses that constitute the complete sensory system. You can readily see from this that a certain number of our senses are directed more toward the outside, adapted more for penetrating the outer world. When we consider this circle (see drawing) the extent of our sense world, we can say: Ego sense, sense of thinking, word sense, sense of hearing, sense of warmth, sense of sight and sense of taste are the outwardly directed senses. On the other hand, where we predominantly perceive ourselves through the things and where we perceive more the effects of things in us, we have the remaining senses: Life sense, sense of movement, sense of balance, and the senses of touch and smell. They form more the sphere of man's inner being. They are senses that open themselves in an inward direction and, through perception of what is within, transmit to us our relationship to the cosmos (see dark blue area in drawing). Thus, when we have the complete system of the senses we can say: We have seven senses that are directed more toward the outside. The seventh sense is already doubtful — the sense of taste that stands right on the boundary between what refers to the external bodies and what they exercise upon us as an effect. The other five senses are senses that show us completely inward processes taking place within us, which are, however, effects of the external world upon us. Today, I should like to add the following to this systematic arrangement of the senses which is familiar to most of you.
You know that when man rises from the ordinary knowledge of the senses to higher knowledge he is able to do that by emerging out of his physical body with his soul-spiritual part. Then the higher forms of cognition appear, namely, Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. They have already been described in my Occult Science, an Outline and in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. You will easily be able to represent to yourselves, however, that since we have this membering of the senses before us, we are able to arrive at a special characterization of what perception of the higher worlds is. We emerge out of ourselves. But what boundary do we cross over then? If we remain within ourselves, our senses form our boundary. When we emerge out of ourselves, we penetrate outward through the senses. It is, of course, a matter of fact that when our soul-spiritual part leaves the corporeal sheath, it penetrates outward through the senses. We therefore pass through the external senses in an outward direction, through the senses of taste, sight, warmth, hearing, the word sense, the thought and ego senses. We shall see later what we reach when we penetrate inward through the other boundary where the senses open in the inward direction. So we penetrate through the senses to the outside when we leave our bodily boundary, as it were, with our soul-spiritual entity. Here, for example (indicating the drawing), we pass outward by the sense of sight. It signifies that we penetrate outward with our soul-spiritual being by leaving behind our organs of sight. Particularly, when we leave our corporeality through the eyes and move about the world, seeing with our soul eyes, yet leaving the physical eyes behind, we arrive in that region where Imagination holds sway (see drawing).
And when, through initiation, we are actually capable of penetrating through the eye in particular out into the spiritual world, then we attain to pure Imaginations, imaginations that are pictures, so to speak, just as the rainbow is a picture — pure pictorial imaginations weaving and living in the soul-spiritual realm.
When we pass out through the organ of taste, the pictures appear tinged with the last remnants of material existence. We can say that the imaginations are then colored, literally touched here and there with materiality. We do not have pure images as in the rainbow; we get something that is tinged, containing in a kind of image something like a last residue of material substance. We come to ghosts, real specters, when we depart the physical body through the organ of taste.
When one leaves the physical body through the sense of warmth, one also receives pictures that are tinged. The images that are otherwise as pure as the rainbow, for instance, appear so that they affect our soul in a certain way. This is what their tinge now consists of. In case of the organ of taste, the image becomes condensed, so to speak, into something spectral. On the other hand, when we emerge through the sense of warmth, we also attain to imaginations but to a kind that have sympathetic and antipathetic soul effects, affecting us with warmth or coldness of soul. These images, therefore, do not appear passively, as did the others; they appear warm or cold in terms of the soul.
Now when we leave our body through the ear, through the sense of hearing, we come out into the soul-spiritual world and experience Inspiration. Previously, here (indicating the drawing) we experienced imaginations tinged by what affects our soul. When we leave our body through the sense of hearing, we penetrate into the sphere of Inspiration. Although these senses are directed more to the outside, now, when we leave the body, what passes over from the sense of warmth to the sense of hearing penetrates more into our soul-spiritual inner being, for inspirations belong more to the inner nature of soul and spirit than do imaginations. We are closely touched, not only emotionally, but we feel ourselves permeated by inspirations. Just as we feel ourselves permeated corporeally by the air we inhale, so we feel our soul permeated by inspirations when we enter those regions where they are to be found upon leaving the body through the sense of hearing.
The inspirations are once again tinged when we leave the body through the word sense, the sense of speech. It is of particular importance for anyone who acquires a feeling for the sense of speech to become familiar with this organ, which is just as real in the physical organization as is the sense of hearing. When the soul and spirit leave the physical body through this organ, Inspiration is tinged with inner experience, with a feeling of oneness with the foreign being.
When we leave the body through the sense of thinking, we penetrate into the sphere of Intuition. And when we leave the body through the ego sense, the intuitions are tinged by the beingness of the spiritual outer world.
Thus, we penetrate more and more into the essence of the spiritual outer world as soon as we leave the body with our soul and spirit. More and more, we become aware that everything surrounding us is in fact the spiritual world. Man, however, is in a sense forced out of the spiritual world. What is behind the senses he only perceives when he leaves the body with his soul-spiritual being. What is perceived, however, is molded by the senses. Intuitions appear through the ego sense and the sense of thinking but only as impressions of intuitions; inspirations appear as impressions through the word sense and sense of hearing; imaginations appear through the sense of warmth and sight and, to a lesser degree, through the sense of taste, but toned down, taken and transformed into the sensory element. Schematically, one could sketch it like this. On the boundary is the perception of the sense world (red). If one emerges with one's soul and spirit, one penetrates into the spiritual world (yellow) through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. And what is to be perceived in imaginations, inspirations and intuitions is out there. Yet, as it penetrates us, it turns into our sense world.
You see, there are no atoms out there as materialists imagine. Out there is the world of imaginative, inspired and intuitive elements, and as this world affects us, the impressions of it arise in the outward sense perceptions. From this you realize that when we penetrate through our skin which encloses the sense organs to the outside, as it were, but in the various directions in which the senses are effective, we arrive in the objective soul-spiritual world. Through the senses which we have recognized as the ones opening to the outside we penetrate into the external world.
Thus you see that when the human being enters into the outer world through his senses, when he crosses over the threshold — which, as you can see from all this, is quite near — in the direction of the external world, he penetrates into the objective world of soul and spirit. This is what we try to attain through spiritual science, namely to enter into this objective soul-spiritual world. We come into a higher sphere by penetrating through our outer senses into that which is covered for us by a veil within the sense world.
Just as we penetrate outward through the outer senses, what happens when we now penetrate into our inner nature through the inner senses, the life sense, the sense of movement, of balance, of touch and smell? Here, the matter is very different. Let us write down these inner senses once again: Sense of smell, touch, balance, movement and life. In everyday life, we do not actually perceive what occurs in the realm of these senses; it remains subconscious. What we do perceive with these senses is already radiated upward into the soul.
If this is the external spiritual world of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition (see drawing below, red), it shines its rays, in a manner of speaking, upon our senses. Through these senses, the sensory world is produced and placed before us. The external world of spirit is thus moved inward by one degree. What surrounds these senses, however, what stirs below in the corporeality (orange), is not directly perceived. Just as the objective outer world of spirit is not directly perceived but is perceived only in its condition of being pushed into our senses, so we do not directly perceive all that stirs in our body, but only what is pushed up into the soul region. One perceives the soul effects of these inner senses to a certain extent. You do not perceive the life processes themselves. What you do perceive of the life sense is what of it is expressed in a feeling of inner well-being pervading us in waking consciousness, which is something you are not aware of in sleep, and which is only disturbed when something within hurts us. It is the life sense normally radiating upward as a feeling of comfort that is disturbed through pain in the same way as an external sense is disturbed when a person has a hearing loss. Generally, however, the life sense is experienced in a healthy person as a feeling of being comfortable. This feeling of overall well-being, which is heightened after a good meal, and somewhat lowered by hunger, this undefined inner sense of self is the effect of the life sense that has rayed into the soul.
When the sense of balance streams into the soul, the soul element is already considerably detached. Unless we have just fainted and are completely unconscious, just think how little we actually become aware of how we are placed into the world in a condition of equilibrium. How then do we sense the experiences of the sense of balance which radiate into the soul? That is entirely a soul experience. We feel it as inner tranquility, that inner tranquility which brings it about that when I go from one place to another I do not leave behind the being contained within my body but take it along; it remains, quietly, the same. Thus, I could fly through the air and yet quietly remain the same person. This is what makes us appear to be independent of time. I do not leave myself behind today, I am the same tomorrow. This sense of being independent of the corporeality is the inpouring of the sense of balance into the soul. It is the sensation of experiencing oneself as spirit.
Still less do we perceive the inner processes of the sense of touch which, in fact, we project entirely to the outside. We can sense whether bodies are hard or soft, rough or smooth, made of silk or wool. We project the experiences of touch entirely into external space. What we have in the sense of touch is actually an inner experience, but what takes place within remains completely in the subconscious. Only a shadow of it is present in the properties of the sense of touch ascribed to the objects. The organ of the sense of touch, however, causes us to feel whether the things are silken or woolen, hard or soft, rough or smooth. This, too, sends it effects within. It radiates into the soul, but the human being is not aware of the connection of his soul experiences with what the sense of touch attains in touching, because the two aspects are greatly differentiated — namely, what streams to the soul within and what is experienced on the surface outside. What does, however, stream into the soul is nothing else but being permeated with the feeling of God. Without the sense of touch, man would have no feeling for God. What is felt by the sense of touch as roughness and smoothness, hardness and softness, is the element streaming outward. What is turned back as a soul phenomenon is the condition of permeation with universal cosmic substance, with being as such. It is precisely through the sense of touch that we ascertain the existence of the outer world. When we see something, we do not immediately believe that it is indeed present in space; we are convinced of its spatial existence when the sense of touch can grasp it. What permeates all things and penetrates into us also, what holds and bears all of you — this all-pervading substance of God — enters consciousness and is the inwardly reflected experience of the sense of touch.
You are familiar with the outward radiation of the sense of smell. When the sense of smell radiates its experiences towards man's inner being, however, he no longer takes note of how these inner experiences coincide with the external ones. When a person smells something, it is the extension of his sense of smell to the outside; he projects the images to the external realm. This effect is also projected within; man, however, is aware of it less frequently than of the outward effect. Many people like to smell fragrant things and experience the outward emanation of the sense of smell. There are also people who surrender themselves to what grips the inner being as the effect of the sense of smell so intensely that it not only pervades the human being like the feeling of God, but places itself in him in such a manner that he experiences it as the mystic oneness with God.
5. sense of smell = mystical union with God
4. sense of touch = permeation by the feeling of God
3. sense of balance = inner rest, feeling oneself as spirit
2. sense of movement = experience of one's own free soul nature
1. sense of life = feeling of well-being
Thus you see that if we penetrate to the heart of things as they really are in the world, we must free ourselves from a great deal of sentimental prejudice. Some aspiring mystics will certainly have a funny feeling when they hear what this mystical experience actually represents in relation to the sense world, for it is the experience of the sense of smell sending its effects into the soul's inner being.
There is no need to be alarmed by these things, for we shape all our sensations according to the external, conventional world of semblance, of Maya. And why should one cling to this Maya-conception of the sense of smell, even though the sense of smell is not, to begin with, considered to be a part of the most sublime aspects? Why shouldn't we be able to consider the loftiest aspect of this sense of smell where it becomes the creator of man's inner experiences? Mystics in fact are often inveterate materialists. They condemn matter and wish to ascend above it because it is so lowly. So they raise themselves above it by pleasurably surrendering to the effects of the sense of smell within.
When confirmed mystics of the sensitive kind, such as Mechthild von Magdeburg, Saint Theresa or Saint John of the Cross, describe their inner experiences — and such individuals give quite vivid descriptions — one who possesses a great sensitivity and susceptibility for such matters will “smell” or sense what is going an because of the particular nature of these experiences. The mysticism, even of Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler, can be “smelled”— indeed, more adequately — as it can be absorbed sensually through the soul's experience. A person who perceives matters in an occult sense will sense a sweetish aroma within when he considers the descriptions of the mystic experiences, for instance, of Saint Theresa or Mechthild von Magdeburg. When he considers the mysticism of Tauler or Meister Eckhart he experiences a scent reminiscent of rue, an herb with a tart but not unpleasant odor.
In short, the particular and striking thing we discover is that when we move outward through our senses we come into a higher world, an objective spiritual world. When we descend through mysticism, through permeation by the feeling of God, through the inner tranquility of experiencing oneself as spirit, through feeling oneself free in soul, and through inner comfort, then we come to corporeality, to material substance. I have already indicated this to you in these considerations. In terms of Maya, we attain to ever more lowly regions in our inner experience than those we already have in ordinary life. In lifting ourselves outward beyond the senses, we enter into higher regions. This can indeed show you how important it is not to harbor illusions concerning these matters. Above all, we should not delude ourselves into believing that we penetrate into a special kind of spirituality when we descend into our inner being through the mystical sense of union with the divine. No, there we merely descend into what our nose gives us within; and the most beloved mystics offer us something in their descriptions of what they felt within themselves through the sense of smell continuing its effects inwardly.
You can see that when one speaks from beyond the threshold, speaking out of the spiritual world about the affairs of this world, one must speak in words that differ completely from the conceptions about the physical world formed by people from this side. This really should not surprise you, for you ought not to expect the spiritual world beyond the threshold to be a mere duplication of the physical world. Such duplications are experienced in only one instance, namely, when you read the descriptions of the higher worlds given in Islamic esotericism, or those of the Devachan by Mr. Leadbeater. There, with very few changes, you basically come across duplications of this world. People find this very comforting, especially among those who enjoy a certain elegant life style with fine clothes and sufficient satisfaction of their appetites here an the physical plane. One frequently notes that they expect to enter after death into a life style in Devachan that is not unlike the one here, as Mr. Leadbeater does indeed describe it to them. One who has to outline the truths concerning the spiritual worlds is not in this comfortable position. He has to tell you that permeation with the feeling of God leads to the inward projection of smell, and that the mystic actually reveals nothing more to the genuine occultist than the manner in which he smells within. There is no room for sentimentality in an actual observation of the world from the spiritual standpoint. I have mentioned it many times. If one really penetrates into the spiritual world, matters become serious to such a degree that even small things must be given different words from those applied to them here, and that words themselves acquire a completely opposite meaning. To penetrate into the spiritual world does not merely mean describing specters of this physical world. Instead, we have to brace ourselves, for much of what is experienced there is the opposite of the physical world here; above all, it is the reverse of what is pleasant.
I wished to place this viewpoint before you today in order to convey to you a more general feeling for what is really required for our age. When one listens to what is being said today in the West (it is somewhat different the farther east one goes), when a thought is interpreted in a Western manner, one frequently hears the following: One cannot express oneself this way in French; one cannot say that in English. The farther West one goes, the more prevalent is this opinion. But what does this opinion imply other than an attachment to the physical, the condition of having already become rigid in the physical as opposed to the real world? Of what consequence are words? What matters is that people go beyond words and arrive at a mutual understanding. Then, however, one must be capable of freeing the words from objects, but not only this, one must even be able to free the subjective feelings acquired in the sense world. If the sense of smell is looked upon as a lowly sense, this is a value judgment arrived at in the sensory world. Likewise, if the inner correlate of it, namely mysticism, is regarded as something nobler, this is also an opinion gained in the sense world. Considered from yonder side of the threshold, the organization of the sense of smell is of extraordinary significance, whereas mysticism, beheld from beyond the threshold, is nothing so sublime. This is because mysticism is in fact a product of the material, physical world, for it represents the manner in which human beings who actually remain materialistic try to penetrate into the spiritual world. They regard everything existing here on the physical plane as nothing but matter. It is all too lowly, too materialistic for them. If they were to penetrate into what does in fact exist outside, they would come directly into the spiritual world, into the realm of the hierarchies. Instead, they sink into their inner being, fumbling about in the pure matter within their own skin. It is true that this appears to them as the higher spirit. But it is not a question of our penetrating mystically into our body through our soul-spiritual phenomena; rather, it is a matter of penetrating through our material phenomena, the phenomena of the sense world, to the spiritual world, entering the world of the hierarchies, the world of spiritual entities. We shall never arrive at impulses that lead again to an ascent until humanity will accept opinions such as these and permit one to speak in different terms about the world than those of the last four hundred years. Nothing will be gained until our social views are also formulated out of such completely transformed concepts. If we wish to remain in what we have acquired so far, basing our social activity only on that, we shall slide deeper and deeper into decline, into the decline of the Western world.
On what is something like Oswald Spengler's judgment based? It rests on the fact that although he has a brilliant mind, he can think only in terms of the ordinary concepts of the Western world prevalent today. These he analyses and thus figures out — and quite correctly in terms of these concepts — that by the beginning of the third millennium barbarism will have taken the place of our civilization. If one speaks to him of anthroposophy, he turns red in the face, for he cannot stand it. Were he to comprehend what can enter into men through anthroposophy and how it can invigorate them, then he would see that the decline can be prevented only through anthroposophy, that it is the one and only way to come to an ascent again.
[Spiritual Science as a Foundation for Social Forms, lecture 3]