Sunday, February 8, 2015
The necessity of a phenomenological, qualitative approach to life
Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, January 16, 1921:
My Dear Friends,
What we are doing, as you will have seen, is to bring together the diverse elements by means of which in the last resort we shall be able to determine the forms of movement of the heavenly bodies, and — in addition to the forms of movement — what may perhaps be described as their mutual positions. A comprehensive view of our system of heavenly bodies will only be gained when we are able to determine first the curve-forms (inasmuch as forms of movement are called curves), i.e. the true geometrical figures, and then the centres of observation. Such is the task before us along our present lines of study, which I have formed as I have done for very definite reasons.
The greatest errors that are made in scientific life consist in this: they try to make syntheses and comprehensive theories when they have not yet established the conditions of true synthesis. They are impatient to set up theories — to gain a conclusive view of the thing in question, — they do not want to wait till the conditions are fulfilled, subject to which alone theories can properly be made. Our scientific life and practice needs this infusion badly, — needs to acquire a feeling of the fact that you ought not to try and answer questions when the conditions for an intelligent answer are not yet achieved. I know that many people (present company of course excepted) would be better pleased if one presented them with curves all ready made, for planetary or other movements. For they would then be in possession of tangible answers. What they are asking is in effect to be told how such and such things are in the Universe, in terms of the ideas and concepts they already have. What if the real questions are such as cannot be answered at all with the existing ideas and concepts? In that case, theoretical talk will be to no purpose. One's question may be set at rest, but the satisfaction is illusionary. Hence, in respect to scientific education, I have attempted to form these lectures as I have done.
The results we have gained so far have shown that we must make careful distinctions if we wish to find true forms of curves for the celestial movements. Such things as these, for instance, we must differentiate: the apparent movements seen in the paths of Venus and of Mars respectively, — Venus making a loop when in conjunction, Mars when in opposition to the Sun. We came to this conclusion when trying to perceive how diverse are the forms of curves that arise in man himself through the forces that build and form him. We ascertained quite different forms of curve in the region of the head-nature and in the organization of the metabolism and the limbs. The two types of form are none the less related, but the transition from one to the other must be sought for outside of space, — at least beyond the bounds of rigid Euclidean space.
Then comes a further transition, which still remains for us to find. We have to pass from what we thus discover in our own human frame, to what is there outside in Universal Space, which only looks to us plainly Euclidean. We think it nicely there, a rigid space, but that is mere appearance. As to this question, we only gain an answer by persevering with the same method we have so far developed. Namely we have to seek the real connection of what goes on in man himself and what goes on outside in Universal Space, in the movements of the celestial bodies. Then we are bound to put this fundamental question: What relation is there, as to cognition itself, between those movements that may legitimately be considered relative and those that may not? We know that amid the forming and shaping forces of the human body we have two kinds: those that work radially and those which we must think of as working spherically. The question now is, with regard to outer movements: How, with our human cognition do we apprehend that element of movement which takes its course purely within the Sphere, and how do we apprehend that element which takes its course along the Radius?
A beginning has been made in Science as you know, even experimentally, in respect of these two kinds of spatial movement. The movements of a heavenly body upon the Sphere can of course be seen and traced visually. Spectrum analysis however also enables us to detect those movements that are along the line of sight, spectrum analysis enables us to recognise the fact. Interesting results have for example been arrived at with double stars that move around each other. The movement was only recognizable by tackling the problem with the help of Doppler's principle, — that is the experimental method to which I am referring.
For us, the question now is whether the method which includes man in the whole cosmic system will give us any criterion — I express myself with caution — any criterion to tell whether a movement may perhaps only be apparent or whether we must conclude that it is real. Is there anything to indicate that a given movement must be a real one? I have already spoken of this. We must distinguish between movements that may quite well be merely relative and on the other hand such movements as the “rotating, shearing and deforming movements” (so we described them), the very character of which will indicate that they cannot be taken in a merely relative sense. We must look for a criterion of true movement. We shall gain it in no other way than by envisaging the inner conditions of what is moving. We cannot possibly confine ourselves to the mere outer relations of position.
A trite example I have often given is of two men whom I see side by side at 9 am and again at 3 in the afternoon. The only difference is, one of them stayed there while the other went on an errand lasting six hours. I was away in the meantime and did not see what happened. At 3 pm I see them side by side again. Merely observing where they are outwardly in space will never tell me the true fact. Only by seeing that one is more tired than the other — taking account of an inner condition therefore — shall I be able to tell which of them has been moving. This is the point. If we would characterize any movement as an inherent and not a merely relative movement, we must perceive what the thing moved has undergone in some more inward sense. For this, a further factor will be needed, of which tomorrow. Today we will at least approach the problem.
We must in fact get hold of it from quite another angle. If we in our time study the form and formation of the human body and look for some connection with what is there in cosmic space, the most we can do to begin with is in some outward sense to see that the connection is there. Man is today very largely independent of the movements of cosmic space; everything points to the fact that this is so. For all that comes to expression in his immediate experience, man has emancipated himself from the phenomena of the Universe. We therefore have to look back into the time when what he underwent depended less upon his conscious life of soul than in his ordinary — by which I mean, post-natal — life on Earth. We must look back into the time when he was an embryo. In the embryo the forming and development of man does indeed take place in harmony with cosmic forces. What afterwards remains is only what is carried forward, so to speak. Implanted in the whole human organization during the embryonic life, it then persists. We cannot say it is "inherited" in the customary sense, for in fact nothing is inherited, but we must think of some such process whereby entities derived from an earlier period of development stay on.
We must now look for an answer to the question: Is there still anything in the ordinary life we lead after our birth — after full consciousness has been attained — is there still any hint of our connection with the cosmic forces? Let us consider the human alternation of waking and sleeping. Even the civilized man of today still has to let this alternation happen. In its main periodicity, if he would stay in good health, it still has to follow the natural alternation of day and night. Yet as you know very well, man of today does lift it out of its natural course. In city life we no longer make it coincide with Nature. Only the country folk do so still. Nay, just because they do so, their state of soul is different. They sleep at night and wake by day. When days are longer and nights shorter they sleep less; when nights are longer, they sleep longer. These aspects however can at most lead to vague comparisons; no clear perception can be derived from them. To recognize how the great cosmic conditions interpenetrate the subjective conditions of man, we must go into the question more deeply. So shall we find in the inner life of man some indication of what are absolute movements in the great Universe.
I will now draw your attention to something you can very well observe if only you are prepared to extend your observation to wider fields: namely, however easily man may emancipate himself from the Universe in the alternation of sleeping and waking as regards time, he cannot with impunity emancipate himself as regards spatial position. Sophisticated folk — for such there are — may turn night into day, day into night, but even they, when they do go to sleep, must adopt a position other than the upright one of waking life. They must, as it were, bring the line of their spine into the same direction as the animal's. One might investigate a thing like this in greater detail. For instance, it is a physiological fact that there are people who in conditions of illness cannot sleep properly when horizontal but have to sit more upright. Precisely these deviations from the normal association of sleep with the horizontal posture will help to indicate the underlying law. A careful study of these exceptions — due as they are to more or less palpable diseases (as in the case of asthmatic subjects, for example) — will be indicative of the true laws in the domain. Taking the facts together, you can quite truly put it in this way: To go to sleep, man must adopt a position whereby his life is enabled in some respects to take a similar course, while he is sleeping, to that of animal life. You will find further confirmation in a careful study of those animals whose spinal axis is not exactly parallel to the Earth's surface.
Here again I can only give you guiding lines. For the most part, these things have not been studied in detail; the facts have not been looked at in this manner, or not exhaustively. I know they have never been gone into thoroughly. The necessary researches have not been undertaken.
And now another thing: You know that what is trivially called “fatigue” represents a highly complex sequence of events. It can come about by our moving deliberately. When we move deliberately, we move our centre of gravity in a direction parallel to the surface of the Earth. In a sense, we move about a surface parallel to the Earth's surface. The process which accompanies our outward and deliberate movements takes its course in such a surface. Now here again we can discover what belongs together. On the one hand we have our movement and mobility parallel to the surface of the Earth, and our fatigue, — becoming tired. Now we go further in our line of thought. This movement parallel to the surface of the Earth, finding its symptomatic expression in fatigue, involves a metabolic process — an expenditure of metabolism. Underlying the horizontal movement there is therefore a recognizable inner process in the human body.
Now the human being is so constituted that he cannot well do without such movement — including all the concomitant phenomena, the metabolic expenditure of substance and so on. He needs all this for bodily well-being. If you're a postman, your calling sees to it that you move about horizontally; if you are not a postman you take a walk. Hence the relationship, highly significant for economics, between the use and value of that mobility of man which enters into economic life and that which stays outside it — as in athletics, games and the like. Physiological and economic aspects meet in reality. In my critique of the economic concept of labour, you may remember, I have often mentioned this. It is at this point that the relation emerges between a purely social science and the science of physiology, nor can we truly study economics if we disregard it. For us however at the present moment, the important thing is to observe this parallelism of movement in a horizontal surface with a certain kind of metabolic process.
Now the same metabolic process can also be looked for along another line. We think once more of the alternation of sleeping and waking. But there is this essential difference. The metabolic transformation, when it takes place with our deliberate movements, makes itself felt at once as an external process, even apart from what goes on inside the human being. If I may put it so, something is then going on for which the surface of the human body is no exclusive frontier. Substance is being transformed, yet so that the transformation takes place as it were in the absolute; the importance of it is not only for the inside of man's body. (The world “absolute” must of course again be taken relatively!)
That we get tired is, as I said, a symptomatic concomitant of movement and of the metabolic process it involves. Yet we also get tired if we have only lived the livelong day while doing nothing. Therefore the same entities which are at work when we move about with a will are also at work in the human being in his daily life simply by virtue of his internal organization. The metabolic transformation must also be taking place when we just get tired, without our bringing it about by any deliberate action.
We put ourselves into the horizontal posture so as to bring about the same metabolism which takes place when we are not acting deliberately, — which takes place simply with the lapse of time, if I may so express it. We put ourselves into the horizontal posture during sleep so that in this horizontal position our body may be able to carry out what it also carries out when we are moving deliberately in waking life. You see from this that the horizontal position as such is of great significance. It is not a matter of indifference whether or not we get into this position. To let our inner organism carry out a certain process without our doing anything to the purpose, we must bring ourselves into the horizontal position in which there happens in our body something that also happens when we are moving by our deliberate will.
A movement must therefore be going on in our body which we do not bring about by our deliberate will. A movement which we do not bring about by our deliberate will must be of significance for our body. Try to observe and interpret the given facts and you will come to the following conclusion, although again — for lack of time — in saying this I must leave out many connecting links. Human movement, as we said just now, involves an absolute metabolic process or change of substance, so that what then goes on in our metabolism has, so to speak, real chemical or physical significance, for which the limits of our skin are in some sense non-existent; — so that the human being in this process belongs to the whole Cosmos. And now the very same metabolic change of substance is brought about in sleep, only that then its significance remains inside the human body. The change of substance that takes place in our deliberate movement takes place also in our sleep, but the outcome of it is then carried from one part of our body to another. During sleep, in effect, we are supplying our own head. We are then carrying out — or rather, letting the inside of our body carry out for us — a metabolic process of transformation for which the human skin is an effective frontier. The transmutation so takes place that the final process to which it leads has its significance within the bodily organization of man.
Once more then, we may truly say: We move of our own will, and a metabolic process (a transformation of substance) is taking place. We let the Cosmos move us: a transformation of substance is taking place once more. But the latter process goes on in such a way that the outcome of it — which in the former metabolic process takes its course, so to speak, in the external world — turns inward to make itself felt as such within the human head. It turns back and does not go flowing outward and away. Yet to enable it to turn back, nay to enable it to be there at all, we have to bring ourselves into the horizontal posture. We must therefore study the connection between those processes in the human body that take place when we move deliberately, and those that take place when we are sleeping. And from the very fact that we are obliged to do this at a certain stage of our present studies, you may divine how much is implied when in the general Anthroposophical lectures I emphasize — as indeed I must do, time and gain, — that our life of will, bound as it is to our metabolism, is to our life of thought and ideation even as sleeping is to waking.
In the unfolding of our will, as I have said again and again, we are always asleep. Here now you have the more exact determination of it. Moving of his own will and in a horizontal surface, man does precisely the same as in sleep. He sleeps by virtue of his will. Sleep, and deliberate or willful movement, are in this relation. When we are sleeping in the horizontal posture, only the outcome is different. Namely, what scatters and is dispersed in the external world when we are moving deliberately is received and assimilated, made further use of, by our own head-organisation when we are asleep.
We have then these two processes, clearly to be distinguished from one another: — the outward dispersal of the metabolic process when we move about deliberately in day-waking life, and the inward assimilation of the metabolic process by all that happens in our head when we are sleeping. And if we now relate this to the animal kingdom, we may divine how much it signifies that the animal spends its whole life in the horizontal posture. This turning-inward of the metabolism to provide the head must be quite different in the animal. Also, deliberate movement must be quite different in the animal from what it is in man.
This is the kind of thing so much neglected in the science of today. Scientists only speak of what presents itself externally, failing to see that the same external process may stand for something different in the one creature and in the other. For example — quite apart now from any religious implication — man dies and the animal dies. It does not follow that this is psychologically the same in either case. A scientist who takes it to be the same and bases his research on this assumption is like a man who would pick up a razor and declare: This is a kind of knife; therefore it has the same function as any other knife; so I will use it to cut my dumpling. Put on this simple level, you may answer: No one would be so silly. Yet have a care, for this is just what happens in the most advanced researches.
This then is what we are led to see. In our deliberate movements we have a process finding its characteristic expression in curves that run parallel to the surface of the Earth; we cannot but make curves of this direction. What have we taken as fundamental now, in this whole line of thought? We began with an inner process which takes its course in man. In sleep this is the given thing, yet on the other hand we ourselves bring a like process about by our own action. Through what we do ourselves, we can therefore define the other. The possibility is given, logically. What is done to our bodily nature from out of cosmic space when are sleeping, this we can treat as the thing to be defined, — the nature of which we seek to know. And we can use as the defining concept what we ourselves do in the outer world — what is therefore well-known to as to its spatial relations. This is the kind of thing we have to look for altogether, in scientific method: Not to define phenomena by means of abstract concepts, but to define phenomena by means of other phenomena. Of course it presupposes that we do really understand the phenomena in question, for only then can we define them by one another. This is characteristic of Anthroposophical scientific endeavour. It seeks to reach a true Phenomenalism, — to explain phenomena by phenomena instead of making abstract concepts to explain them. Nor does it want a mere blunt description of phenomena, leaving them just as they are in the chance distributions of empirical fact and circumstance, where they may long be standing side by side without explaining one another.
I may digress a moment at this point, to indicate the far-reaching possibilities of this “phenomenological” direction in research. The empirical data are at hand, for us to reach the right idea. There is enough and to spare of empirical data. What we are lacking in is quite another thing, namely the power to synthesize them, — in other words, to explain one phenomenon by another. Once more, we have to understand the phenomena before we can explain them by each other. Hence we must first have the will to proceed as we are now trying to do, — to learn to penetrate the phenomenon before us. This is so often neglected. In our Research Institute we shall not want to go on experimenting in the first place with the old ways and methods, which have produced enough and to spare of empirical data. (I speak here not from the point of view of technical applications but of the inner synthesis which is needed.) There is no call for us to go on experimenting in the old ways. As I said in the lectures on Heat last winter, we have to arrange experiments in quite new ways. We need not only the usual instruments from the optical instrument makers; we must devise our own, so as to get quite different kinds of experiments, in which phenomena are so presented that the one sheds light on the other. Hence we shall have to work from the bottom upward. If we do so, we shall find an abundance of material for fresh enlightenment. With the existing instruments our contemporaries can do all that is necessary; they have acquired admirable skill in using them in their one-sided way. We need experiments along new lines, as you must see, for with the old kind of experiment we should never get beyond certain limits. Nor on the other hand will it do for us merely to take our start from the old results and then indulge in speculation. Again and again we need fresh experimental results, to bring us back to the facts when we have gone too far afield. We must be always ready to find ways and means, when we have reached a certain point in our experimental researches, not just to go on theorising but to pass on to some fresh observation which will help elucidate the former one. Otherwise we shall not get beyond certain limits, transient though they are, in the development of science.
I will here draw attention to one such limit, which, though not felt to be insurmountable by our contemporaries, will in fact only be surmounted when fresh kinds of experiment are made. I mean the problem of the constitution of the Sun. Careful and conscientious observations have of course been made by all the scientific methods hitherto available, and with this outcome: First they distinguish the innermost part of the Sun; what it is, is quite unclear to them. They call it the solar nucleus, but none can tell us what it is; the methods of research do not reach thus far. To say this is no unfriendly criticism; everyone admits it. They then suppose the Sun's nucleus to be surrounded by the so-called photosphere, the atmosphere, the chromosphere, and the corona. From the photosphere onward they begin to have definite ideas abut it. Thus they are able to form some idea about the atmosphere, the chromosphere. Suppose for instance that they are trying to imagine how Sunspots arise. Incidentally, this strange phenomenon does not happen quite at random; it shows a certain rhythm, with maxima and minima in periods of about eleven years. Examine the Sunspot phenomena and you will find they must in some way be related to processes that take place outside the actual body of the Sun. In trying to imagine what these processes are like, our scientists are apt to speak of explosions or analogous conditions. The point is that when thinking in this way they always take their start from premises derived from the earthly field. Indeed, this is almost bound to be so if one has not first made the effort to widen out one's range of concepts, — as we did for instance when we imagined curves going out of space. If one has not done something of this kind for one' s own inner training, one has no other possibility than to interpret on the analogy of earthly conditions such observations as are available of a celestial body that is far beyond this earthly world.
Nay, what could be more natural — with the existing range of thought — than to imagine the processes of the solar life analogous to the terrestial, but for the obvious modifications. Yet in so doing one soon encounters almost insuperable obstacles. That which is commonly thought of as the physical constitution of the Sun can never really be understood with the ideas we derive from earthly life. We must of course begin with the results of simple observation, which are indeed eloquent up to a point; then however we must try to penetrate them with ideas that are true to their real nature. And in this effort we shall have to come to terms with a principle which I may characterize as follows.
It is so, is it not? Given some outer fact or distribution which we are able thoroughly to illuminate with a truth of pure geometry, we say to ourselves: how well it fits: we build it up purely by geometrical thinking and now the outer reality accords with it. It hinges-in, so to speak. We feel more at one with outer reality when we thus find again and recognize what we ourselves first constructed, (yet the delight of it should not be carried too far. Somehow or other, one must admit, it always “hinges-in” even for those theorists who get a little unhinged themselves in the process: They too are always finding the ideas they first developed in their mind in excellent agreement with the external reality. The principle is valid, none the less.)
The following attempt must now be made. We may begin by imagining some process that takes place in earthly life. We follow the direction of it outward from some central point. It takes its course therefore in a radial direction. It may be a kind of outbreak, such for example as a volcanic eruption, or the tendency of deformation in an earthquake or the like. We follow such a process upon Earth in the direction of a line that goes outward from the given centre. And now in contrast to this you may conceive the inside of the Sun, as we are want to call it, to be of such a nature that its phenomena are not thrust outward from the centre, but on the contrary: they take their course from the corona inward, via the chromosphere, atmosphere and photosphere, — not from within outward therefore, but from without inward. You are to conceive , once more, — if this (Fig. 2) is the photosphere, this the atmosphere, this the chromosphere, and this the corona, — that the processes go inward and, so to speak, gradually lose themselves towards the central point to which they tend, just as phenomena that issue from the Earth lose themselves outward in expanding spheres, into the wide expanse. You will thus gain a mental picture which will enable you to bring some kind of synthesis and order into the empirical results. Speaking more concretely, you would have to say: If causes on the Earth are such as to bring about the upward outbreak, for example, of an active crater, the cause on the Sun will be such that if there is anything analogous to such an outbreak, it will happen from without inward. The whole nature of the phenomenon holds it together in quite another way. While on the Earth it tends apart, dispersing far and wide, here this will tend together, striving towards the centre.
You see, then what is necessary. First you must penetrate the phenomena and understand them truly. Only then can you explain them by one another. And only when we enter thus into the qualitative aspect, — only when we are prepared, in the widest sense of the word, to unfold a kind of qualitative mathematics, — shall we make essential progress. Of this we shall speak more tomorrow. Here I should only like to add that there is a possibility, notably for pure mathematicians, to find the transition to a qualitative mathematics. Indeed this possibility is there in a high degree, especially in our time. We need only consider Analytical Geometry, with all its manifold results, in relation to Synthetic Geometry — to the real inner experience of Projective Geometry. True, this will only give us the beginning, but it is a very, very good beginning. You will be able to confirm this if you once begin along this pathway, — if for example you really enter into the thought and make it clear to yourself that a line has not two infinitely distinct points (one in the one direction, and one in the opposite direction), but only one point, — a fact of which there is no doubt. You will then find truer and more realistic concepts in this field, and from this starting-point you will find your way into a qualitative form of mathematics.
This will enable you to conceive the polarities of Nature no longer merely in the sense of outwardly opposite directions, where all the time the inner quality would be the same — whereas in fact the inner quality, the inner sense and direction, is not the same. The phenomena at the anode and the cathode, for example, have not the same inner direction; an inherent difference underlies them, and to discover what the difference is, we must take this pathway. We must not allow ourselves to think of a real line as though it had two ends. We should be clear in our mind that a real line in its totality must be conceived not with two ends but with one. Simply by virtue of the real conditions, the other end goes on into a continuation, which must be somewhere. Please do not underestimate the scope and bearing of these lines of thought. For they lead deep into many a riddle of Nature, which, when approached without such preparation, will after all only be taken in such a way that our thoughts remain outside the phenomena and fail to penetrate.