Thursday, April 21, 2016
The functional organic relationship between the human being and the outer world: macrocosm and microcosm
Spiritual Science and Medicine. Lecture 8 of 20.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, March 28, 1920:
The mode of expression we use to abridge or to simplify somewhat our ideas, when we say etheric body, astral body, etc., can be traced back to the imprint of these higher bodies in the realm of physical functions. Nowadays people are not very ready to link up expressions in the realm of physical functions with the spiritual foundations of existence. But this must be done if medical thinking and conception are to become permeated with spiritual science. For instance, it will be necessary to study in detail the exact manner of the interaction between what we term the etheric body and what we term the physical. You have learned that this interaction is at work in man, and we have just dealt with its coming into a kind of disorder in relation to the influence of the astral body. But the same interaction also takes place in extra-human nature.
Think this out thoroughly to its conclusion, and then consider that you are gazing profoundly into the relationship between man and nature. Man is surrounded — let us choose this one thing to begin with — by all the Earth's flora in their many species, which he perceives through his different senses. You can at least admit the possibility of an interplay between the flora and all that our earthly atmosphere contains, in the first place, and all that lies outside this earthly sphere, in the planetary and astral regions, in the second place. In considering the flora, suppose the Earth's surface to be here (See Diagram 15) —
then we can say that the plants refer us to the atmospheric and astral regions (in the literal sense of a pointing to the stars, to the extra-telluric). And even apart from occult research, we can intuitively sense a living interchange between what manifests in blossom-bearing and in fruit and what flows into them from the whole wide universe. (Of course you must make use of a certain intuition here; but as I have already remarked, you will not get very far in medicine without intuition.) Let us suppose that, having realized the external cosmic interplay, we turn our thoughts to our own inner being. There, too, we shall find a certain relationship to that which surrounds us. Just as the etheric and the physical are closely united in in the plant-world, so must we surmise a certain kinship between this union and the manner of connection of the etheric and the physical in man himself.
How then can we speak concretely about this relationship of the etheric with the physical? From the abstract point of view, we can say that the etheric is nearer to the astral than to the physical; for the etheric is open to the forces from above. But we must expect also some relationship between the etheric and the physical. So we must take this two-sided kinship and must look for something which guides us to it. I shall try to do this in the most concrete manner possible.
Walk through an avenue of lime trees in bloom, and try to visualize what happens as you pass between the trees, enveloped in the scent of the lime blossoms. Realize that something is taking place between this fragrance of the limes in flower and, so to speak, the nerve ramifications in your olfactory organs. Turning your conscious thought to this process of perception, you become aware of a certain opening-out or release of the capacity for smelling, which meets the scent of the lime blossom. And you conclude that a process takes place through which an internal sphere in yourself opens to meet something outside, and that the two combine in some way to produce something by virtue of their inner kinship. So you must say that what is diffused in the air as scent from the lime trees — arising without a doubt from an interplay between the flowers and the whole extra-terrestrial environment as they open out toward it — is inwardly felt by you through your sense of smell. There you undoubtedly have something that passes from the etheric body to the astral, for otherwise you could not perceive it, and there would only be the mere process of life. The perception of smell itself proclaims the participation of the astral body. And that which reveals the kinship with the external world simultaneously shows that the production of the sweet fragrance of the lime blossoms is the polar process to that taking place in your olfactory organs. The fragrance flowing from the blossoms shows the interaction of the plant-etheric with the astral element that embraces it and fills the surrounding universe. So in our sense of smell we have a process that enables us to take part in the relationship between the plant-life of the Earth and the astral element outside the Earth.
Now take the sense of taste, and, as an example, something not unlike the scent of the lime blossom, though appealing to another sense, say the flavor of licorice or of sweet ripe grapes. Here we have to do with a process in our taste organ in contrast to that of smell. You know how closely related they are; and you will also realize the resemblance between what happens functionally in the two cases. But you must, at the same time, understand that tasting is a much more organic and internal process than smell. Smelling is far more a surface activity; a participation in extra-human processes widely diffused in space. But that is not so with taste. Taste reveals certain properties inherent in the substances themselves, and therefore closely interwoven with matter. You can learn more of the internal quality of plants by taste than by smell. Call some intuition to your aid and it will help you to know that all connected with the solidification of matter in plants, and all that is revealed in the organic processes of solidification, is disclosed if we taste the contents of the plant. The essential nature of the plant defends itself against solidification and this is manifested in the tendency of the plants to be fragrant. So you really cannot doubt that taste is a process associated with the relationships of the etheric and the physical.
Now compare smell and taste. As you react to the plant-world through both these senses, you experience the twofold relationship which the etheric has to the astral on one side and to the physical on the other. You literally enter the etheric, or its expression, if you study these two processes of taste and smell. Where they occur in man, there is a physical revelation of the etheric in its dual relationship to the physical and the astral. When we examine what takes place in the acts of tasting and smelling, we live, so to speak, near the surface of man. Our task today is to pass beyond the abstract, mystical view and to approach the concrete grasp of spiritual truth, so that a true science may be fertilized by spiritual science. What can it avail people to listen to perpetual talk of the need to grasp the Divine in man, if they only understand by that a purely abstract Divinity? This method of approach only becomes fruitful if we can consider concrete instances in detail, and trace, say, the interiorization of outer processes. For example, if we trace in smell and taste the etheric element which is external yet related to man, we perceive, in what is, perhaps, the crudest of our upper sensory processes, the interiorization of external processes. It is so extremely important for our time to get beyond mere abstract and mystical notions.
Now, you are fully aware that in nature every process tends to pass over into another, to be metamorphosed into some other process. Take what we have just said, for instance, that the sense of smell is located more on the surface of our organism, (See Diagram 16)
while that of taste is more inward (we are speaking here with reference to the plant-world). Both these sense activities occur within the etheric, which opens into the astral on the one hand and solidifies into the physical on the other. The sense of smell reaches outward toward the evanescent scent of the flowers, while that of taste lives in the process that opposes aromatization, and interiorizes that which externally produces solidification. When we carefully examine smell and taste, we find that in them the outer and the inner merge, as it were.
But in nature, all processes merge into others. Consider again the aromatic qualities of plants, through which, in a certain sense, they tend away from solidification and toward diffusion — even, so to speak, going beyond their limits in striving toward the atmosphere. In scent, the plant projects its spiritual quality — forgive the amateurish term — into the atmosphere, so that this bears in itself some of the plant existence in the aroma. The phantoms of the the plants are still bound up with the aroma. What actually happens when the plant pours its fragrant phantoms into the air, frustrating the process of solidification, and sending forth from the blossoms something that tended to become blossoms too? Simply a process of combustion held back. If you picture to yourself the further metamorphosis of this aromatic activity, you reach the conclusion that it is a combustion that is held back. Compare the process of combustion proper, with the aromatization of plants. They are two metamorphoses of the same unity. I would even say that combustion is aromatization on another level.
Let us now see what is in plants that produces flavor. It is more deep-seated and does not urge the dispersal of formative forces into the air like a phantom, but gathers them together that they may be used to build up the internal structure. If you follow up this formative activity with your taste, you come to the process lying below solidification in plants, i.e. to salification, which is a metamorphosis, on another level, of solidification (See Diagram 16).
In plants, therefore, we find a strange metamorphosis. The aroma-process directed upward is, in a certain sense, suspended combustion, which may lead to the initial stages of combustion (for processes of efflorescence are combustion processes). While in the downward tendency you have solidification and salification, and what you taste is something that is held back on the way to salification. But if saline substance is deposited in the tissues of the plant itself, it is something that has gone a step beyond the path of plant-formation; the plant has pressed the phantom of its form down into its actual being.
Here we have the “ratio” for finding remedies and light is thrown on the whole plant-kingdom because one now begins to realize what takes place there. I must again emphasize that this consideration of concrete facts is the only thing that can help us.
To find the next step you need only remember that wherever it is possible, and from motives of opportunism in a higher sense, I shall link up what I have to explain with current ideas. Thus you should be in a position to build the bridge between what spiritual science is able to give and what is taught by external science. Naturally the contents of the following paragraphs could be stated in a more strictly spiritual-scientific way. But I will connect my remarks with the customary ideas of modern science, because they exist. The physiologist today keeps to the material that lies before him; the spiritual scientist does not need this material before him in the same way, for he does not use the method of dissection. We need not imitate the methods which over-rate anatomical inspection, yet we must reckon with the fact that they have been used and that their results have been established for some time. They will only cease to be employed when natural science has been fertilized to some extent by spiritual science.
Let us examine the close relationship, to which spiritual science will give the key, between the process taking place within the eye and the processes of smell and taste — particularly of the latter. Let us compare the ramifications of the nerve of taste into neighboring tissues, with the optic nerve within the eyeball. The relationship is so close that we could hardly avoid looking for an analogy with the process of taste if we wanted an inward characterization of the process of sight. Of course the nerve of taste is not continued into anything like the highly intricate structure of the eye, which is situated in front of the retina, and therefore sight is in many ways different.
But what begins as the process of sight, behind the wonderful instrument of the physical eye, has a close inner relationship to the process of taste. I mean that in the act of seeing, we are performing a transformed tasting, metamorphosed because the organic processes of taste are supplemented by the processes due to the intricate structure of the eye. In each one of our senses we must distinguish between what our organism brings to meet the outer world and what the outer world brings to meet our organism. We must look at the inner process that takes place when the blood runs into the choroid of the eye, where the organism works into the eye. This process is more pronounced in certain animals, which not only have our ocular apparatus but the pecten and the xiphoid processes as well. Now, the latter are organs of the blood circulation thrusting the ego forward into the interior of the eye, whereas with us, the ego recedes, leaving the eyeball inwardly free. But by means of the blood our whole organism works through the eye into the whole process of vision. And there, within the process of vision, the transmuted tasting is present. Therefore we may call sight metamorphosed tasting. And in our diagram (See Diagram 16), we have to put sight as metamorphosed tasting above taste and smell.
The processes of taste and of sight correspond to something external that cooperates with something internal. Thus the process of taste must metamorphose itself upwards; sight is the upper metamorphosis of taste. Now there must also be a complementary downward metamorphosis of the process of taste, diving down into the lower bodily sphere. In the visual process we raise ourselves to the external world; the eye is enclosed in a bony socket, it belongs to the outside; it is a very external organ, built in accordance with the external world. Now we turn to the opposite direction and imagine the metamorphosis of the process of taste downward into the depths of the organism. Here we come to the opposite pole of the sense of sight; we find, as it were, what corresponds in the lower part to the visual process in the upper part of the body. And this will throw much light upon our further inquiries.
In tracing the metamorphosis of the process of taste downwards, we find the digestive function.
You can only come to an inner understanding of this function by recognizing it, on the one hand, as a metamorphosed continuation of the process of taste, and on the other, as the complete polar opposite of the exteriorized process of sight. For the exteriorized visual sense enables you to recognize what in the outer world around you corresponds to digestion, of what digestion is an organic interiorization. On the other hand, you become aware to what extent digestion must be called akin to the process of taste. It is not possible to understand the more intimate activities of our organism, in so far as they focus in the digestive process, unless you visualize that entire process as follows: good digestion is founded on the capacity to taste with the whole alimentary tract, and bad digestion results from an incapacity of the whole tract to carry out this function of tasting.
Let us remember now that the process we are considering divides itself into taste and smell. As we have pointed out, taste is more involved in the relationships of the etheric with the physical: and smell, on the other hand, in those of the etheric with the astral. The continuation of the process of taste downward into the organism is likewise bifurcated. This appears in the tendency of the digestive function toward fecal excretion, while on the other hand we have excretion through the kidneys in the form of urine.
The two bifurcations, upper and lower, are exactly complementary. There are two polar opposites, one dividing upward into taste and smell, while downward you have the division into digestion proper, and into that function which separates from mere digestion and is based on the more intimate activity of the kidneys and is accessory to their work in the body.
Thus it becomes possible to regard all that happens within our body, bounded by the surface of our skin, as an introverted external region. Every continuation upward leads into the external world; man opens himself up to the exterior in this region.
Now we can follow the matter up in another way. There is, again, a faculty in us which lives in our soul, but is bound to the organism, not bound indeed in any materialistic sense, but in that peculiar sense of which you know from other lectures. For in thinking and the forming of “representations,” [Ed: The term “representation” renders the German Vorstellung better than the usual translation “idea,” which is ambiguous.] (see Diagram 16) we have a metamorphosed seeing, once more turned inward in a certain sense.
Just consider for a moment how many of the representations you use in thinking are simply continuations of visual images; compare for a moment the soul-life of the congenitally blind or deaf person with your own! In thinking we have an interiorized continuation of seeing. And we may even find light thrown upon the remarkable interaction between the anatomy of the head and brain and the process of thought itself. (This would furnish fine material for medical essays!) When we carefully examine our thinking processes, especially the connection between the powers of combination and association and the cerebral structure, we come upon formations resembling a transformation of the olfactory nerve. So we may say that from an internal point of view, our discontinuous, analytic thinking is very like its counterpart, seeing. But the combination of “things seen,” the association of representations, resembles smell in its internal organic formation. This contrast is expressed in a remarkable way in the anatomical structure of the brain.
Thus we find thinking and representation as the one end of a metamorphosis. What then may be regarded as the complementary interiorized process? Remember the power of representation can be termed a transformed sight; something that is exteriorized in sight and radiates back into the interior in thought. In thinking we try to reverse our vision, as it were, and to direct it again into the organism. So its polar opposite will be a process that does not in any way try to lead into the interior, but to lead out. This polar opposite is the process of evacuation — the conclusion of digestion. (See Diagram 16).
Thus evacuation becomes the counter-image of representation. Here you have in a more intimate aspect what I have already dealt with from the standpoint of comparative anatomy, when I tried to show the close relationship between the so-called mental (spiritual) capacities of man and the regulated or non-regulated process of excretion, basing my argument on anatomical structure and the existence of the flora of the intestines.
Here is the same truth revealed by another approach. In thought we have an internal continuation of sight, and in evacuation an external continuation of digestion. Now refer to what we said before, that the aroma process in plants is a suspended combustion, and their solidification a suspended salt-process. This again throws light on what takes place within the body! Only — we must be clear that a reversal takes place. In representation, we have the sense of sight reversed and turned inward, while in the lower bodily sphere there is a reversal toward the outside. So we have to recognize the relationship of the upper process to salification and of the lower to combustion, or to “fire.” (See Diagram 16).
So if you apply a suitable remedy, containing aromatization and suspended combustion in plants, to the hypogastrium, you will help and relieve it. Conversely, if you apply to the upper part of man what tends to keep back or to interiorize the salt-process within the plant, you will give help in this sphere also. This rule we shall have to discuss and apply in detail.
Thus the whole external world may reappear in our human interior. And the more deeply internal the process, the greater the need to find its external analog. We must see something very closely akin to the aromatic and combustion processes — but akin in the sense of polarity — in the activities of the digestive organs, especially of the kidneys. Again in the upper region, from the lungs upward through the larynx into the head, we must see something related to the tendency to salt formation in the plant; all this tends to salification in man. We might even say, or rather we can say, that if we have once acquired a knowledge of the different ways in which plants absorb and collect salt, we need only look for their analogs in the human organisation. We have dealt with this in general today, and we shall go on to consider it in detail.
With this you have a basic principle for the whole of plant therapy. You have a general picture of the whole process of mutual action and reaction between the interior and the exterior world. But you will already be able to see some specific applications. Take, for instance, some of the odors which even as such are linked with taste, so that they may be fully experienced if the plant is not only sniffed, but chewed. Then we find a synthesis of smell and taste, aroma and flavor, as for instance in balm or ground ivy. In such cases we find that in the scent there is already an element of salification; there is a collaboration between the saline and aromatic tendencies. And this is an indication of their correspondence in the organism, an indication that balm, for instance, is suitable for the external organs and the chest, whereas such very fragrant forms as lime or rose blossom are akin to that which lies deep within the abdomen or in the neighborhood of the abdominal wall.
All the organs and functions of our upper sphere in the regions of the smell and taste activities are interlocked with a life-process, which can be so termed in a deeper sense: i.e., respiration (See Diagram 16).
Let us look for the polar complementary activity; it must be something branching from the digestive process, before digestion passes into evacuation, and be the polar counterpart of “representation.” Yet it must be something organically adjacent to the process of digestion, just as respiration is organically adjacent to the process of smell and taste. So we find the converse of respiration in the lymph and blood processes, in the process of blood formation and especially in what branches off and is pushed inward from the digestion, i.e., the processes in the lymphatic glands and similar organs contributing to blood formation. Here then are two polar processes; the one branching from the digestive system, the other from the more external sensory processes; one, respiration, in the second line behind the sensory organs; and the other situated just in front of where the digestive process leads to excretion — the process of blood and lymph. It is remarkable how, starting from actual processes, we come to an insight into the whole human being, whereas in current medicine man is studied only from the organs considered externally. Here, however, we take our start from the processes and we try to understand the individual person out of the whole relationship between man and the external world. We find interactions that directly depict the etheric activities in man; and these have been our object of study today. And the two processes of breathing and blood formation meet again in the human heart itself. The whole outside world (including man) appears as a duality that is dammed up in the heart, and in it strives for a kind of equilibrium.
Thus we come to a remarkable picture, the picture of the human heart, with its interiorising character, its synthesis of everything that works from outside into our bodies. Outside in the world there is an analysis, a scattering, of all that is gathered together in the heart (See Diagram 17).
You come here to an important conception that might be expressed thus: You look out into the world, face the horizon and ask: — What is in these outer surroundings? What works inward from the periphery? Where can I find something in myself that is akin to it? If I look into my own heart I find, as it were, the inverted heaven, the polar opposite. On the one hand you have the periphery, the point extended to infinity, on the other you have the heart, which is the infinite circle concentrated to a point. The whole world is within our heart. To use an illustration, perhaps one that is somewhat crude: Picture to yourselves man standing looking on into the infinite expanses of the world; perhaps standing on a high hill, looking out and around. And suppose that the tiniest dwarf imaginable is put in the human heart. Try to realize that what the dwarf sees within the heart is the complete inverted image of the universe, contracted and synthesized. This is perhaps purely a picture, a kind of imagination. But if rightly conceived and taken up, it can work as an orderly regulative picture, a regulative principle, that is able to guide us and to help us rightly to combine our isolated attainments of knowledge.
Most of the foundations for our special studies and inquiries have now been laid down, and they will be the basis for answering the many questions you have addressed to me.