Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Piercing the veil of maya. Anthroposophy: the resurrection of thinking. The evolution of thinking and of spiritual vision
Rudolf Steiner, Vienna, June 3, 1922:
Goethe, who gave simple expression to so much that men find great and moving, once wrote: “Each man should consider with what part of himself he can and will influence his time!”
When we allow such a saying — with all that we know may have passed through Goethe's mind as he said it — to affect us, we are initiated into the whole relationship of man to history. For most people, of course, the search for their own particular standpoint, from which they can deploy their powers in the development of humanity in accordance with the spirit of the age in which they live, is more or less unconscious. Yet even a superficial examination of human development shows that men have increasingly been compelled to organize their lives in a conscious manner. Instinctive living was a feature of earlier civilizations. The transition to increasing consciousness is itself a factor in history. Nowadays, indeed, we can see that the increasing complications of life require man to participate in the development of humanity with a certain degree of consciousness, however humble his position. It is unfortunate that as yet we really have very few points d'appui in the study of mankind's historical development to help us in our efforts to reach this point of view.
As a scientific discipline, this study is of fairly recent origin, after all. Its novelty is apparent, one might say, in the historical writing that has been published.
Historians have produced magnificent things. In developing from the unscientific chronicle-writing that still prevailed even in the eighteenth century, however, history, falling as it did within the age of natural science, attempted increasingly to take on the forms appropriate to that science. Thus the historical attitude gradually became identified with the concept post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Although this way of looking at human history as cause and effect does indeed carry us a long way, yet to the unprejudiced observer there remain countless facts in history which are not consistent with a simple causal interpretation. And at this point we are struck by an image that can symbolize history: the image of a flowing river. We cannot simply derive its features at a given point from what lies a little farther upstream, but must realize that in its depths there operate all kinds of forces that may come to the surface at any point, and may throw up waves which are not determined by those that went before.
So, too, human history seems to point to unspoken depths, to resemble a surface on which countless forces impinge from below. And human observation can scarcely presume to gain a complete picture of the particular features of a given epoch. For this reason, the study of history will doubtless have to come more and more to be what I would call symptomatological. In the human organism itself, which is such a richly differentiated whole, a great deal has to be discovered about its health and ill-health by observing the symptoms through which the organism expresses itself. In the same way, we must gradually accustom ourselves to study historical symptomatology. We must learn to interpret surface features precisely, and, by including more and more symptoms in our interpretation, contrive to allow the vital essence of historical development to work on us. In this way, by a spiritual comprehension of the forces of human history — which in all kinds of indirect ways also affect our own soul — we can find our own place in the development of mankind.
A view of the world and of life such as I have put before you is particularly fitted to reveal how, even in one's most intimate inner experiences, what is historically symptomatic is manifest. What I have described to you, the awakening of cognitive capacities that are not present in ordinary consciousness, being dormant deep down in the soul — this awakening of capacities appropriate to modern man leads us to see that we must develop these cognitive powers differently nowadays from the way they were developed in earlier times. Not only this: when we do develop these powers, the spiritual vision that results is something quite different to the man of today from what it was, for example, to the men of the ancient East, which we touched on the day before yesterday in describing yoga exercises.
Looking at these ancient Oriental attitudes, as they were developed by men who sought to elicit, from within, powers of cognition reaching into the supersensible sphere, we conclude: everything we know about it indicates that such knowledge, in gaining a place within the soul, took on a permanent and enduring character there. What men think in ordinary life, what they absorb from the experiences of earthly existence, and what then takes root as memories — these have permanence in the soul; and we are simply unhealthy in spirit if we have any considerable gaps in our capacity to remember what we have experienced in the world from a given point in childhood onwards. To this state of mental permanence were admitted all the insights into the spiritual world gained by ancient Oriental methods. They deposited memories, as the ordinary experiences of the day deposit memories. The characteristic of the early Oriental seer was precisely that he found himself increasingly absorbed into a lasting communion with the spiritual world, as he made his way into it. Once inside the divine and spiritual world, he knew himself to be secure. He knew that it also represented something enduring for his soul.
The opposite, we may say, is true of anyone today who, by virtue of the powers to which mankind has advanced since those early days, rises to a certain spiritual vision. He develops his views on the spiritual sphere to the point of experiencing them; but they cannot possibly become memories for him in the way that the thoughts we experience daily in the outside world become memories.
It is certainly a great disappointment to many who struggle to gain a certain spiritual vision by modern methods to find that, although they do gain glimpses of this spiritual world, these are transitory, like the sight of a real object in the outside world, which we no longer perceive when we go away from it. In this mental activity, there is no incorporation into memory in the ordinary sense, but a momentary contact with the spiritual world. If we later wish to regain this contact, we cannot simply call up the experience from our recollection. What we can do, however, is to recollect something that was an ordinary experience in the physical world: how by developing our powers we achieved our experience of the spiritual world. We can then retrace our steps and repeat the experience, exactly as we return to a sensory perception. This is one of the most important factors that authenticate this modern vision: that what we see does not combine with our physical being; for if thoughts are to gain some permanence as memories, they must always be combined with our physical being, held fast by our organism.
Perhaps I may interpolate a personal observation here by way of explanation. Anyone who has some contact with the spiritual world, and wishes to communicate what he has experienced, is unable to make this communication from memory in the usual sense. He always has to make a certain effort to attain again to direct spiritual observation. For this reason, even if someone who speaks out of the spiritual world gives a lecture thirty times, no lecture will be an exact repetition of the one before: each must be drawn direct from experience.
Here is something which, in my view, can remove certain anxieties that might arise in troubled minds about this modern spiritual vision. Many people today, with some justification, see the grandeur of the most significant riddles of existence in the very fact that they can never be completely solved. Such people are frightened of a philistinism of spiritual vision which might confront them with the assertion that the riddles of existence could be finally “solved” by a philosophy. Well, the view of life we are discussing here cannot speak of such a “solution,” for the reason that has just been given: what is always being forgotten must constantly be re-acquired.
But therein lies its vitality! We are brought back again to life as it is revealed externally in nature, as opposed to what we experience inwardly on seeing our thoughts become memories. Perhaps what I want to say will sound banal to many people; but it is not meant to be banal. No one can say: I ate yesterday and so I am full, I do not need to eat today or tomorrow or the day after; similarly, no one can say of modern spiritual vision: It is complete, it has now become part of memory, and we know where we are with it once and for all.
Indeed, it is not just that we must always struggle afresh to perceive what seeks to manifest itself to man; but that, if we dwell continuously over a long period on the same concepts from the spiritual world, seeking them out repeatedly, it will even happen that doubts and uncertainties appear; it is characteristic of true spiritual vision that we should have to conquer these doubts and uncertainties again and again in the vital life of the soul. We are thus never condemned to the calm of completion when we strive towards spiritual vision in the modern sense.
There is another point, too. This modern spiritual vision demands above all what may be called “presence of mind.” The spiritual visionary of ancient Oriental times could take his time. What he achieved was a permanent possession. If man as he is today wishes to look at the spiritual world, he must be spiritually quick-witted, if I may so put it; he must realize that the revelations of the spiritual world appear, only to vanish again at the next moment. They must therefore be caught by “presence of mind” at the moment of their occurrence. And many people prepare themselves carefully for spiritual vision, but fail to attain it through omitting to train this “presence of mind.” Only by doing so can we avoid a situation in which we only become sufficiently attentive when the thing itself is past.
I have now described to you many of the features that the modern seeker after the spiritual world encounters. In the course of my lectures, other features will become apparent. Today, I should like to point to just one more of them, since it will lead directly to a certain historical view of humanity.
When we try as modern men in this sense to find our way with certainty into the spiritual world, without becoming eccentrics, it is best for us to start from concepts and ways of thinking we have obtained from a fundamental study of nature and by immersion in a fundamental natural science. No concepts are quite so suitable for the meditative life I have described as those gained from modern science — not just for us to absorb their content, but rather to meditate upon it. As modern men, we have really learnt to think through science. We must always remember that we have learnt through science the thinking that is suited to our present epoch. Yet what we gain in thinking techniques from modern science is only a preparation for a true spiritual vision.
No logical argument or philosophical speculation will enable us to use ordinary thinking, trained on the objects of the outside world and on experiment and observation, as anything more than a preparation. We must then wait until the spiritual world approaches us in the way I have been describing. For each step we take in the observation of the spiritual world we must first become ripe. We cannot of our own volition do anything except make of ourselves an organ to which the spiritual world is willing to reveal itself. Objective revelation is something we must wait for. And anyone who has experience in such things knows that he has to wait years or decades for certain kinds of knowledge. Again, it is precisely this that guarantees the objectivity of what is real in the spiritual world — that is, of knowledge.
This again was not so for those in ancient times in the Orient who sought through their exercises the way into the supersensible world. The nature of their thinking from the beginning was such that they needed only to extend it to find the way into the spiritual world which I described two days ago. Even in ordinary life, therefore, their thinking needed only to be extended to lead to a certain clairvoyance. But because it developed from the ordinary life of the times, this was a rather dreamlike vision, whereas the vision towards which we as modern men strive operates with complete self-possession, like that which is active in the solution of mathematical problems. It is just when we turn our attention to the intimate experiences of spiritual research that we see in this change the expression of great transformations in human nature as a whole in the course of historical times. I mean times that are “historical” in the sense that they are approachable not only by anyone who can examine the history both of men and of the cosmos through spiritual vision, but also by anyone who examines the external documents quite straightforwardly. In these external documents, too, we can look at early periods in the spiritual life of humanity and perceive how they differ from the position within this spiritual world which we and our time must aspire to.
By virtue of the fact that our thinking cannot just be extended automatically to bring us to spiritual vision, but can only make us ready to see the spiritual world when it appears to us, it is suited to operate within the field of experiment and observation, within the field that natural science has made its own. Yet just because we perceive what inner rigour and strength our thinking has achieved, we shall be all the more likely to apply it to our training, and thus be able to await the revelation of the spiritual world in the true sense of the word. Even here, it is apparent that our thinking today is rather different from that of earlier times.
I shall have opportunities later on for historical digressions. Much that refers to the outside world can then be deduced from what I have to say today. Today, I shall speak rather about the inner powers of man's development. This is a subject that brings us in the end to thinking and to the transformation of this thinking in the course of man's development. But in the last analysis all external history is dependent on thinking, and what he achieves in history man produces from his thoughts, together with his feelings and impulses of will; and therefore, if we want to find the deepest historical impulses, we must turn to human thinking.
But the thinking employed today for natural science on the one hand, and for achieving human freedom on the other, differs quite considerably from that which we find in earlier ages of mankind. There will, of course, be many people who will say: thinking is thinking, whether it occurs in John Stuart Mill or in Soloviev, in Plato, Aristotle and Heraclitus or in the thinkers of the ancient East. Anyone with an intuitive insight into the way thoughts have functioned within humanity, however, will conclude: our thinking today is fundamentally something very different from that of earlier epochs. This raises an important problem in human development.
Let us examine our present-day way of thinking. (I shall have an opportunity later to give evidence from natural science for what I am now expounding historically.) What we call thinking actually developed from the handling of language. Anyone with a sense of what is operative in a people's language — of the logic, familiar to us from childhood, operative in the language — and with enough psychological awareness to observe this in life, will find that our thinking today actually derives from what language makes of our soul's potentialities. I would say: from language we gradually separate thoughts and the laws thoughts obey: our thinking today is given us by speech.
Yet this thinking that is given us by speech is also the thinking that has come of age in human civilization since the days of Copernicus, Galileo, and Giordano Bruno, in periods when humanity has been devoting its attention principally to the observation of nature in the modern sense. The thinking that is applied to observation and experiment inevitably becomes a part of us; we refine what we absorb with language as part of our common heritage until it becomes a thought-structure by which we then apprehend the outside world.
But we need only go back a relatively short distance in human history to encounter something quite different. Let us go back, for example, to the civilization of Greece. Anyone who can enter the world of Greek art, Greek literature, Greek philosophy — can catch, in fact, the mood of Greece — will discover quite empirically that the Greeks still experienced thoughts closely interwoven with words. Thought and word were one. By the concept logos, they meant something different from what we mean when we speak of a thought or a thought sequence. They spoke of thought as if the element of speech was its natural physical aspect. Just as in the physical world we cannot conceive our soul as spatially separated from our physical organism, so too in Greek consciousness thought was not separated from word. The two were felt as a unity, and thought flowed along on the waves of words.
But this produces an attitude to the outside world quite different from ours, where thought has already separated from word. And thus, when we go back into Hellenic civilization, fundamentally we have to adopt a quite different temper of soul if we are to penetrate into the real experiences of the Greek soul. By the same token, all the science, for example, that was produced in Greece no longer seems like science by modern standards. The scientist of today will say: the Greeks really had no natural science; they had a natural philosophy. And he will be right. But he will have perceived only a quarter, so to speak, of the problem. Something much more profound is involved. What this is we can explore only by regaining spiritual vision.
If we make use of the way of thinking which is particularly apt for scientific research, and to which we now train ourselves by inheritance and education, and develop what we call scientific concepts, then in the nature of our consciousness we separate these concepts strictly from what we call artistic experience and what we call religious experience. It is a fundamental characteristic of our age that modern man demands a science which involves no element of artistic creation or outlook, and nothing that claims to be the object of religious consciousness and religious devotion to the temporal or the divine. This, we conclude, is a characteristic of our present civilization. And we find this characteristic increasingly well developed the further West we go in our examination of the foundations of human civilization. This is the characteristic: that modern man keeps science, art, and religious life separate in his soul. He even endeavours to form a special concept of science, to prevent art from invading science, to exclude the imagination from everything that is “scientific,” except for that part concerned with inventions; and then to put forward another kind of certainty — that of faith — to play its part in religious life.
If you try, in the manner I have described, to rise to a spiritual perception, then, starting of course from the trained scientific thought of the present, you arrive at what I have characterized as vital, plastic thinking. With this plastic thinking, too, you feel equipped to comprehend, in what I will call a qualitatively mathematical way, what cannot be comprehended with ordinary mathematics and geometry: living things. With vital thinking you feel yourself equipped to apprehend living things.
When we look at the purely chemical compounds in the inorganic world, we find that all their materials and forces are in a state of more or less unstable equilibrium. The equilibrium becomes increasingly unstable and the interaction increasingly complicated, the further we ascend towards living things. And as the equilibrium becomes more unstable, so the living structure increasingly evades quantitative understanding: only vital thought can connect up with a living structure in the way that mathematical thought does with a lifeless one. We thus arrive (and as I have previously indicated, I am saying something now that will be shocking to many people) at an epistemological position where ordinary logical abstract thinking is continually being converted into a kind of artistic thinking or artistic outlook, yet one as exact as ever mathematics or mechanics can be.
I know how, impelled by the modern spirit of science, people shrink from transposing anything exact into the artistic sphere, which represents a kind of qualitative mathesis. But what is the good of epistemology insisting that we can only arrive at objective knowledge by moving from one logical deduction to the next, and by excluding from knowledge all these artistic features — if nature and reality do in fact operate artistically at a certain level, so that they only yield to an artistic mode of comprehension?
In particular, we cannot examine what it is that shapes the human organism from within, as I described the day before yesterday — that operates in us as a first approximation to a supersensible man — unless we allow logical thinking to flow over into a kind of artistic creation, and unless from a qualitative mathematics we can recreate the creative human form. All we need is to retain the scientific spirit and absorb the artistic spirit.
In short, we must create from the science of today an artistic outlook, while maintaining the whole spirit of science. In so doing, however, we approach the reconciliation of science and art that Goethe sensed when he said: “The beautiful is a manifestation of secret laws of nature — laws which, but for its appearance, would have remained eternally hidden from us.” Goethe was well aware that, if we seek to comprehend nature or the world as a whole solely with the kinds of thought that prove to be healthy and correct for the inorganic world, then the totality of the world simply will not yield to our enquiry. And we shall not find the bridge from inorganic to organic science until we transpose abstract cognition into inwardly vitalized cognition, which is at the same time an inward freedom of action.
In thus turning, within the mental endeavour of today, to a comprehension of living things, we also come closer to what was present in the Greek mind, not in the controlled and conscious way at which we aim, but rather instinctively. And no one can really understand what was being expressed even in Plato, still less in the pre-Socratic philosophers, unless he is aware of the presence there of a cooperation between the artistic and the philosophical and scientific elements in man. Only at the end of the Hellenic age — in philosophy, for instance, with Aristotle — does thought become separated from language and later develop via scholasticism into scientific thought. Only at the end of the Hellenic age is thought sifted out. Earlier on, thought is an artistic element in Greece. And, fundamentally, Greek philosophy can only be understood if it is also apprehended with an artistic understanding.
But this now leads us to see Greece in general as the civilization where science and art are still linked together. This is apparent both in its art and in its science. Naturally, I cannot go into every aspect of this in detail. But if you will look at Greek sculpture with sound common sense and a sound, spiritually informed eye, you will find that the Greek sculptor did not work from a model as is done today: his plastic creation sprang from an inner experience. In forming the muscle, the bent arm, the hand, he made what he felt within him. He felt an inner, living, second man — what I will call an ethereal man; he experienced himself through his soul and in this way felt his outward envelope. His inner experience went over into the sculpture. Art was a revelation of this vision. And the vision, which was carried over into the thought living in the language, became a science that retained an artistic character by being one with what the spirit of the Greek language made manifest to a Greek.
We thus enter, with Greece, a world accessible to us otherwise only if we advance from our own science, divorced from art, to a kind of knowledge that flows over into the artistic sphere. I would say: what we now evolve consciously was once instinctively experienced. Indeed, we can actually see how, in the course of history, this association of art and science gradually passes into the present complete separation of the two.
As humanity developed through Roman times into the Middle Ages, the higher levels of education and training had a quite different basis from that which later prevailed. Later, in the scientific age, the main concern was to communicate to men the results of observation and experiment. In our education, we live almost entirely by absorbing these results. Looking back at the period when some influence of Greek civilization was still at work, we can see that even scientific training touched man closely then and was aimed rather at developing abilities in him. We see how in the Middle Ages the student had to work through the seven liberal arts, as they were called: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. What mattered was abilities. What you were to become as a scientist you achieved through the seven liberal arts — and yet these were already well on the way to becoming knowledge and science, as later happened.
If you study the now much-despised scholasticism of the Middle Ages, which stands at the meeting-place of earlier times and our own, you will see what a wonderful training it provided in the art of thinking. One could wish that people today would only assimilate something of the best type of medieval scholasticism, which fostered in men a technique and art of thinking. This is particularly necessary if, as indeed we must, we are to arrive at clear-cut concepts. By starting from the attitude of today, however, with its strict separation of science, art, and religion, and tracing human development back through the Middle Ages, we approach the civilization of Greece. And the further we go back in this, the more clearly we see the fusion of science and art.
Yet even in Greek civilization there is something separate from science and art: religious life. It affects men quite differently from scientific or artistic experience. The vital element in art and science exists objectively in space and time: the content of religious consciousness is beyond space and time. It belongs to eternity; admittedly, it is brought to birth by space and time, but we cannot approach it by remaining within space and time.
We can see even from the external documents what spiritual science today needs to discover about these things. And I should like to draw attention to a work which has just appeared in Austria and which is extraordinarily helpful in this connection. It is Otto Willmann's History of Idealism, a book that stands head and shoulders above many other currently concerned with similar problems. (One can judge such things dispassionately, even if they spring from views opposed to one's own, provided that they lead to something beneficial to spiritual life.)
In Greece we find on the one hand this unity of art and science, and on the other hand the religious life to which the Greek devotes himself. In popular religion, it is true, this is represented plastically, but in the religious Mysteries it is gained by initiation in a deeper sense. But everywhere we can see that religion plays no part in the soul-powers evolved in science and art. Instead, in order to partake of the religious life, the soul must first take on that temper of piety, that universal love, in which it can comprehend revelations of the divine and spiritual realm with which man can unite in religious devotion.
Let us now look across at the Orient! The further back we go, the more we find that its spiritual life is something different again. Here, once more, we can be guided by what we have gained through our modern spiritual training: we ascend from experience of the vital concept to that inner pain and suffering which we have to overcome in order that our whole self may become a sense-organ or spiritual organ; and we cease to experience the world in the physical body alone, by existing in the world independently of our physical body. In so doing, we exist in the world in such a way that we learn to experience a reality outside space and time. We thus experience the reality of the spiritual sphere and its influence on the temporal in the way I have described. But if by overcoming pain and suffering within ourselves we do gain spiritual vision, we shall have brought into knowledge something of this other element — the element which, while remaining intact as real knowledge, real spiritual cognition, is continually leading knowledge into religious experience. And while continuing to experience what has survived from ancient times as a religious element in venerable traditional concepts, we also experience a similar spiritual element of more recent origin, if we work our way up to a cognition that can exist in the sphere of religious devotion.
Only then do we understand how deep in man lie the springs of the unity of religion, art, and science in the ancient East. They were once united: what man knew and admitted to his corpus of ideas was another aspect of what he set up to shine before him in artistic beauty; and what he thus knew and comprehended, and made to radiate beauty, was also something spiritual to which he made his devotions and which he treated as subject to a higher order. Here we see religion, art, and science united.
This, however, takes us back into an age where not only did thought live on the waves of words, but where also it was man's experience that thought inhabited regions deeper even than words, and was connected with the innermost texture of human nature. For this reason, the Indian yogi elicited thoughts from breathing, which goes deeper than words. Only gradually did thought raise itself into words and then, in modern civilization, beyond words. Originally, however, thought was connected with more intimate and deeper human experience, and that was when the unity of religious, artistic, and scientific life could unfold in complete harmony.
Today there remains in the Orient an echo of what I have described to you as a harmonious unity of religion, art, and philosophy, as it appears for instance in the Vedas. But it is an echo which requires to be understood — and which we cannot easily understand simply from the standpoint of that isolation of religion, art, and science which exists in Western civilization. We do truly understand it, however, if by a new spiritual science we rise to an outlook that can again produce a harmony of religion, art, and science. In the Orient, meanwhile, we still have the remnants of that early unity before us. If you look, you will see that just where the East touches and influences Europe, the echo still persists. A past historical epoch remains present at a certain spot on the Earth. We can perceive this presence in a great philosopher of Eastern Europe, in Soloviev.
This philosopher of the second half of the nineteenth century has a quite special effect on us. When we look at the philosophers of the West, John Stuart Mill or Herbert Spencer or others, we find that their standpoint has grown out of the scientific thinking I have described today. In Soloviev, however, something survives which presents religion, art, and science as a unity. When we first begin to read Soloviev, it is true, we notice that he uses the philosophical language he found in Kant or Comte; he has complete command of the modes of expression of these philosophers of Western and Central Europe. But when we become at home in his mind and in what he expresses by the use of these modes, our awareness of him changes. He arouses a sense of the past; he seems like someone who has come to life again from the discussions that preceded the Council of Nicaea. We perceive, in fact, the tone that prevails in the discussions of the early Christian fathers; and in those early centuries of Christianity there certainly did survive an echo of the unity of religion and science. This unity, in which volition and thought also flow together, informs Soloviev's East European philosophy of life.
And if we look at the culture and civilization around us today, we do indeed find in the more Westerly parts just that separation of religion, art, and science; what really belongs to our moment of history, the real basis of our activities and our picture of the world, is the discipline that is strictly built up on scientific thinking, whereas in art forms and religious matters we take over older traditional material. We can see today how few new styles are produced in art, and how everywhere old ones live on. The vital element in our time is what is vital in scientific thinking. We must wait for a time that will have lively imaginal thinking as I have described it — a thinking that will again lead to what is vital and will be capable of artistic creativity in new styles, without becoming insipidly allegorical and inartistic.
Scientific thought, we find, is thus the motive impulse of the immediate present, especially the further West we move; while in the East we find an echo of an earlier unity of religion, art, and science.
This religious strain forms part of the temperament of East Europeans, with which they look at the world. They are able to understand the West only indirectly, via a spiritual development like that contained in our spiritual science movement; they have no direct understanding of the West, precisely because people in the West attempt to distinguish sharply religion and art from scientific thought.
We who live between the two must allow the world of the senses to obtrude on us and must entertain the thought appropriate to it; but we cannot help also looking inward and experiencing our inner self, and for the inner self we need religious experience. But I would say: more deeply buried in human nature than the religious experience we need within us and the scientific experience we need for observing the outside world, is the link between the two, artistic experience.
Artistic experience is thus something which today is not a first demand on life. We have seen that Western civilization is concerned with scientific thoughts, and Eastern civilization with religious ones. We have seen that we are part of an artistic tradition, but that we cannot feel entirely at home in it, indeed that the artistic tradition itself is in many ways a revival. And yet one must say: the yearning for a balance of this kind is certainly present in the central region between East and West. We see it, for example, when we look at Goethe.
For what was Goethe's great longing when, with what I would call his predominantly artistic talents, he was faced by the riddles of nature? His artistic sense transformed itself naturally into his scientific outlook. One could say: in Goethe, the representative Central European, we find art and science all of a piece; all of a piece, too, is Goethe's life when we follow its development and know how to locate it properly within the history of recent times. Goethe made himself at home in the collaboration of art and science. There thus arose in him a longing that can only be understood historically: the urge towards Italy, to a more southerly civilization. After looking at the works of art he found in the South, he wrote to his friends in Weimar something that followed on from the philosophy and science he had come to know there in Weimar. In Spinoza he had found divine power represented philosophically. That did not satisfy him. He wanted an extended and spiritualized approach to the world and to spirituality. And in the sight of the Southern works of art he wrote to his friends: “Here is necessity, here is God!” “I have an idea that the Greeks operated according to the laws by which nature herself operates; I am on their track.” Here Goethe is trying to merge science and art.
If in conclusion I introduce a personal note, I do so only to show you how a single pointer can reveal the way in which the Middle region can take up a position between East and West. I encountered this pointer some forty years ago here in Vienna. In my youth I made the acquaintance of Karl Julius Schröer — he was then lecturing on the history of German literature from Goethe onwards. In his introductory lecture he made a number of important points; and he then said something entirely characteristic of the longing that instinctively inspired the best minds in Central Europe. Schröer's words, too, were instinctive. Yet in fact he expressed a longing to combine art and science, to combine Western scientific thought and Eastern religious thought in artistic vision; and he summed up what he wanted to say in the, to me, significant words: “The Germans have an aesthetic conscience.”
Of course, this does not describe an actual state of affairs. It expresses a longing, the longing to look at art and science together. And the feeling when we do look at them together has been finely expressed by another Central European, one whom I have just characterized: when we can look at science and art together, we can then raise ourselves to religious experience, if only the science and art contain true spirituality in Goethe's sense. This is what he meant by saying:
Whoever has science and art
Has religion too;
Whoever does not have them,
Let him have religion.
Anyone with an aesthetic conscience attains to scientific and religious conscientiousness too. From this we can see where we stand today.
I do not like using the word “transition” — all periods are transitional — but today, in a time of transition, what matters is the kind of transition. In our time we have experienced and developed to its supreme triumph the separation of religion, art, and science. What must now be sought, and what alone can provide an understanding between East and West, is the harmonization, the inner unity, of religion, art, and science. And this inner unity is what the philosophy of life of which I have been speaking seeks to attain.