Sunday, April 24, 2016
The polarity of the cosmic and the earthly in man
Spiritual Science and Medicine. Lecture 10 of 20.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, March 30, 1920:
It is natural and obvious that in these lectures we should seek the method by which the study of medicine can be fertilized and quickened, and that we do not lose ourselves here in atomized details which can have a merely relative importance. The methodical study of relationships between external nature and man may well tend to equip every human individual with the means to observe nature independently. So we will cite some concrete examples which may indicate a pathway, in a certain sense, to a particular realm.
Of course the spiritual-scientific investigation proper in yielding regulative principles can find out many things which can be verified in the sense pointed out yesterday in Dr. S.'s address. On the other hand, if one applies these principles methodically they prove to be elucidating for many experiences. I should like to put a few illustrative instances before you which can be of great significance. Let us keep to the vegetable world for the moment, and consider the general effect of aniseed (Anisum Vulgare) on the human organism. We shall find its characteristic effects to be the increase and excitation of the secretory functions, primarily in the secretion and excretion of urine, of milk, and also of sweat. How is this effect produced? We shall find with this particular plant that this effect is linked with the minutely distributed portions of iron or iron salts which aniseed contains. So we can observe, for ourselves, that the curative efficacy of aniseed depends on the fact that it takes away from the blood the forces working normally by means of the iron, and pushes them for a while to the region below the sphere of the blood.
The study of certain plants which act preferably upon the middle (rhythmic) system (i.e., between outside and inside, or between the surface of the body and the heart) shows us especially clearly how their effects extend to different regions; and this provides us with guiding threads to find out in a rational way the curative remedies. Study, for instance, a plant which is in this respect an instructor in the realm of nature: Cichorium intybus, the chicory. From this plant we may learn a variety of facts about our human bodies, if we only take the trouble to do so. We find that Cichorium intybus is not only an antidote to digestive weakness but also to weakness in the organs immediately exposed to the external world. Its second beneficial peculiarity is a direct influence on the blood itself: it prevents the blood from being slack in essential processes and prevents it from admitting disturbances in the composition of the blood fluid itself. Finally, and very valuably, the curative effects of Cichorium intybus reach to our periphery and under certain conditions may affect the organs of the head but especially of the throat and chest, and the lungs. This wide range of strong action on every part of the human being makes Cichorium intybus such an interesting subject for inquiry. One finds its effects extending fan-like in so many directions. We may ask, for instance: what is the origin of the counteraction to weak digestion? We shall find that this effect is due to the bitter substance extracted from the plant, which so strongly affects our sense of taste. This bitter extract, which still preserves its nature as a plant substance, has affinity to those substances in man which are not yet properly worked up and are still resembling their original external appearance.
We must remember that the substances we take in are at first comparatively slightly modified in their passage as far down as the stomach. They are then further altered by the intestines, pass into the blood, and have their farthest stage of transformation in the human periphery, the skin, as well as in the bone, nerve, and muscular systems. All extractive substances are strongly akin to the external raw materials, before they have been transformed.
Cichorium intybus contains also alkaline salts, e.g., potassium. It is here that we must see the source of its effects on the blood. Thus we can watch in this plant how the working forces diverge. The forces situated in the extractive substances are drawn into the organs of digestion by natural affinity. The forces inherent in the alkaline salts are drawn by natural affinity into the organs related to the blood or to the blood itself. Cichorium intybus also contains silicic acid (silicon) to a considerable degree. This substance operates through the bloodstream and beyond it, into the peripheral organs, until it reaches the bony structure via the nervous system and the muscle system. So Cichorium intybus really says to us “Here am I and I let myself be divided into three, so that I have an effect on all three divisions of the human organism.” Such are the experiments of Nature itself, and they are always much more valuable and significant than those made by man; for Nature is far richer in its purposes than we can be, as we put our questions to it in experimental form.
Another plant full of interest in this direction is Equisetum arvense, the horsetail. Here too we find strong effects as antidote against weak digestion and also strong effects on the periphery of the human frame. If we ask to what are these peripheral effects due, we again find they are due to the silicon content of the plant. And these two examples can be multiplied many times over, by any thorough study of medicine and of botany. Such comparative study will prove, always and everywhere, that all substances which keep close to the plant nature, as extracts, are related to the digestive tract; and that the substances which tend to the mineral kingdom, e.g., silicic acid, work automatically and irresistibly outwards, from the center of the human being to its periphery, and have their curative effect on that periphery.
Another superbly efficacious plant, simple and humble but infinitely instructive, is Fragaria vesca, the little wild strawberry of the woods. Its medicinal properties have only been obscured because it is eaten; and in this case the organization of the eater masks as it were the plant's effects. But it would be well to test the plant on persons who are still sensitive, susceptible, and do not often eat strawberries. In such persons, the amazing value of the wild strawberry would reveal itself at once. It is on the one hand especially potent in normalizing the formation of the blood. It may even be prescribed with benefit in cases of diarrhœa for this reason; the forces in the lower organic sphere which are deflected from their normal course can be, as it were, restored to their proper path, viz., into the blood system itself. Here then is, on the one hand, a force which is essentially active in blood formation. On the other hand, the wild strawberry also contains silicic acid, which promotes stimulation of all the periphery. The wood-strawberry is indeed a splendid multum in parvo. It tends, through its siliceous content, to stimulate the action of the periphery in our organism. Then, as this peripheral stimulation means a certain risk that if too much silicic acid is conducted to the periphery there will not be a simultaneous current of nutritive substances in the same direction, and that the bloodstream will not be simultaneously sufficiently enriched to nourish these areas stimulated by the silicates — the wild strawberry itself prepares the blood which has to be transmitted. It expresses and manifests in a remarkable form just what should be done in order to balance and help the processes activated by siliceous compounds in the periphery of our human organism. Thus nature gives us, in single examples such as this — which could be considerably multiplied — remarkable glimpses of possibilities which may become practice, if we have the intuition to seek Nature aright.
From the same point of view I will call your attention to another example. Study the rather extensive field of action of such plants as, for instance, Lavandula (lavender). On the one hand, the constituents of lavender are powerful remedies for what I may term “negative conditions of the soul,” appearing as fainting fits, neurasthenia, paralyzation, etc. Thus, lavender operates towards the human surface and extremities, expelling the astral body which has overpowered the physical.
In considering the application of herbal remedies — and in fact all substances — which have proved of benefit in cases of what we may term negative soul states, we should do well to inquire whether opposite negative conditions exist, such, for example, as amenorrhoea in women. It will invariably be found that the same substance is effective in both directions. A plant of this description is Melissa, the balm-mint, which is a remedy against vertigo and fainting fits, and at the same time a powerful ecbolic.
These examples have been cited in order to show the possibility of following the process occurring in the plant through its resemblance to the internal process in man. We must, however, keep in mind this reservation: the plant is really akin to a part only of the nature of man. I should like to ask all those who restrict themselves (with a certain degree of fanaticism) to plant remedies alone, to bear this in mind. Man is so constituted as to comprise and contain all the kingdoms of nature in himself; in addition to the human kingdom, there has been a kinship during the periods of man's formation, in his evolutionary stages, with all the other kingdoms of nature. Indeed in the course of evolution we have, so to speak, put these nature kingdoms outside, and are able to reabsorb what is needful for us once more. Yes — it is really a process of reabsorption — of return. And this fact of reabsorption and return is very significant.
The elements most recently detached in the course of evolution must be the soonest reabsorbed in any curative process. We will, for the moment, leave the animal world for later consideration. It is clear that in the course of evolution we have detached the mineral kingdom proper at a later date than the vegetable, and therefore it is obvious that seeking the relationships to the plants alone is simply one-sided. Nevertheless the vegetable kingdom retains for us its instructive significance, and not least because if plants heal us, they do so not only through their essential nature as plants but also through those ingredients in their composition which appertain to the mineral kingdom. At the same time we must bear in mind that the plant modifies and transforms a portion of its mineral elements, and that the portion thus modified is not curative in such a high degree as the unmodified mineral residue. Thus the silicic acid (silicon) which has been “overcome” and absorbed into the plant's processes is not so powerful a remedy as silicon in its mineral form, for in this case the human organism is much more stimulated and requires greater effort in assimilating and taking it into the human unit, than in the assimilation of silicon in its modified vegetable form.
It must always be emphasized that man must evolve greater forces to cope with the greater forces he encounters. And the forces inherent in mineral substances, which are to be assimilated and overcome, are incontestably greater than those in vegetable matter. (May I interpolate here the emphatic statement that I am not making propaganda for anything whatsoever, I am only stating facts.) The difference between animal and vegetable diets is based on the principle just stated. If we live on exclusively vegetable food, our own human being has to take over all that portion of the process which the animal performs for us, after it has eaten and assimilated plants and brought the substance a stage further. We may put it thus: the process brought to a certain stage by the plant itself is then carried further by the animal. The formative process of the animal organism stops at this point, (see Diagram 18, red) whereas in the plant it stops here (Diagram 18, white).
The meat-eater dispenses with the particular digestive process performed within the animal; he leaves it to the animal to do it for him. Therefore the meat-eater does not develop those particular energies that must be and are developed by vegetable substance, which he must lead himself to the necessary point. So the organism has to mobilize quite other forces in order to deal with plant food than is the case with meat food. These forces, these potential forces for overcoming, whether used or not, are there: they exist within us and if not used they recoil, as it were, into the organism, and are active — with the general effect of causing great exhaustion and irritation to the individual. Thus it becomes necessary to emphasize strongly that there is considerable relief from fatigue if a vegetarian diet is adopted. Man becomes more able to work because he gets used to drawing on inherent sources of energy which he fails to do, but makes sources of disturbance, by a meat diet. As already made plain, I am not “agitating” for anything. I know that even homeopathic physicians have repeatedly assured me that persons induced to abandon meat food are thereby exposed to consumption. Yes, that may be possible. Nevertheless the stark facts just stated remain unaffected — it is so, beyond all dispute. I will, however, quite freely admit that there are human organisms among us today that cannot tolerate purely vegetable food, that require meat in their diet. This depends on the individual case.
When we admit the need for creating a relation to the mineral realm and the mineral forces in the curative process, we are led to consider a further therapeutic requirement. We are led to consider a subject which has been much discussed, but which in my opinion can only be solved — or even really understood — if approached from the viewpoint of spiritual science.
In order to grasp the nature of the curative process it is most important, as it seems to me, to deal with the question of the comparative value of prepared, i.e., cooked food and food in its raw state. Again I must ask you — and on this theme most especially — not to take me for an agitator, either for or against either method. But we must examine, in a perfectly unbiased manner, the actual facts of the case. If people eat cooked and prepared food, and assimilate the forces left within it, they are externally performing an office which must be performed by the organism itself in the case of raw food. Man throws upon the process of cooking, in all its forms, something which his organism should do. Moreover, man is so constructed that in our periphery we are interrelated with the whole of outer nature, but in our “center” — to which our digestion essentially belongs — we separate ourselves from nature and cut ourselves off as individuals. Let us try to represent this difference in the form of a rough sketch. (See Diagram 19).
Through our periphery (green in Diagram) we are closely interwoven with the cosmos, and we individualize ourselves in the digestive process up to the formation of the blood (red in Diagram); so that this digestive tract is the scene of several processes independent of the external processes of nature, in which man maintains his individual entity as distinct from the external processes — at least more so than in the polaric region where man is wholly inserted into the external processes. Perhaps I may make this more comprehensible if I add the following: I have already described how man is included in the whole cosmos through the operation of the formative forces of lead, tin, and iron within the regions here colored green. In the regions marked red, the formative forces of copper, quicksilver, and silver are active. The equipoise is held by gold, those forces mainly localized in the heart. To refer to man in this way means to look on him somewhat as a finger which is an organ of the whole cosmos. It implies an interaction and integration with the whole cosmos. But in the tract marked here (see Diagram 19)
lies the contradiction contained in the fact that man, in digestion and in the allied functions, separates himself from the general world process — and the same is true for the complementary process of thinking and vision, where he once more individualizes himself. This is why man tends to display, as it were, obstinate individual requirements in all things appertaining to digestion; and this instinctive self-assertion shows itself in the habit of cooking [i.e., changing] the raw materials of our food. This instinct demands that what is estranged from nature shall be used for human consumption. For were it consumed in the raw state, the average human being would be too feeble to work it up. To use an apparent paradox: to eat would be a perpetual process of remedial treatment, if we did not cook our foodstuffs. And so to eat raw foodstuffs is far more of a remedial process than to eat cooked foodstuffs — the latter being much more merely nutritive. In my opinion there is extraordinary significance in the fact that the consumption of raw food is much more a remedial process than the consumption of food that has been cooked. Raw food diet is much more in the nature of specific curative treatment than cooked food. I may add, moreover, that all cooked food is somewhat held up in its efficacy and remains within the region marked red in the diagram; whereas the substance introduced into the body in its natural uncooked state, such as fruit, acts beyond the alimentary tract, and comes to manifest itself on the periphery, e.g., causing the blood to bear its nutritive power into the peripheral region.
You may confirm these statements in the following manner, and indeed such tests ought to be made. Suppose you are attempting curative treatment with siliceous substances; then put your patient for a while on a diet of raw food and you will see how materially the effect of the silicon is increased, because you are contributing further forces to its peripheral operation; you support its formative activity, its tendency to harmonize deformations. Of course I do not allude to gross malformations showing in anatomical deformities, but I mean deformations which remain in the physiological realm. To clear up these is the trend of the silicon, and here you support the trend by the administration of suitable nourishment while the cure is proceeding. These combinations are what I wish to emphasize in our study of methods, for their operation is so extremely significant and because — as I believe — till now, so little studied and understood. They are studied to some extent, it is true, but empirically, without any search for a ratio; and therefore we can find so little occasion for satisfaction in considering the work already available in this field.
In all these respects, individuality has to be taken into account. That is why I have already taken the opportunity to point out that it is hardly possible to make any assertion, in this field, which is not on the other hand incorrect in some way. But we must take the things referred to as our guiding lines, although in a particular instance we must be able to say: In this case I cannot prescribe raw diet, for it would produce this or that, in that particular individual constitution. Here it is advisable — there again it would do harm. The main lines of cause and effect, however, are as we have here described them. Only through such interactions is it possible to see deeply into the human constitution as a whole. We must particularly distinguish between the periphery, where man is more embedded into the whole cosmos and can only be affected by the introduction of minerals — which are so remote from man — and, on the other hand, the regions I have designated red. These red regions may be influenced and cured by vegetable remedies, as well as by administering substances which are efficacious because of their inherent saline quality — that is, all the carbonates — while all alkaline compounds are as it were the median point and balance between the two. (See Diagram 19, yellow).
Thus we have in a sequence: carbonates, alkalis, and silicates, or siliceous acid itself.
These, then, are the factors indicating mankind's relationship to nature around us. We visualize man split into two parts, as it were, and we find a middle region in him, which causes the swing of the pendulum between these extremes. And we must acknowledge that this discrimination between the peripheral man and the more central, individualized, man leads us into the depths of nature. Man is akin to all extra-terrestrial things through his periphery, as is shown by the efficacy of the mineral substances, which are in turn under the dominion of the planets and stellar constellations. Centrally, as an individual, he is related to all earthly things. Through this earthly affinity, most fully expressed in the digestive system, man is also this concrete human individual that has the power to think and is able to evolve as a man.
We may consider the dualism in man as a dualism of the extra-terrestrial elements, the cosmic elements, in him, and those which pertain to earth. There is a distinct cleavage in the human organism between the cosmic and telluric, and I have already drawn your attention to how the peripheral region, the extra-terrestrial region, is mirrored, as it were, in man, in his possessing a spiritual organization, and at the same time, the polar opposite, a digestive organization. All that has to do with the elimination of the digestive products and all that has to do with elimination in the brain, and provides the foundation for mental activity — all these things alike refer to the peripheral, the celestial man. However strange and contradictory it may seem, this is the case. On the other hand, all the processes in man, whether fluid or more gaseous in their nature, which are connected with the formation of either urine or sweat are indications of the terrestrial man as a being which individualizes itself. These two polarities of human nature, which strive asunder, must strike us as very significant.
So far as I know this particular human duality has not been alluded to or treated, in modern times, in any therapeutically valuable manner. For, as you perceive, all the subjects of our inquiry are intended to bring therapeutics and pathology together; therapeutics and pathology ought not to be two separated domains. For that reason the themes of these discussions have a therapeutic orientation; what is pathologically apprehended makes us think in therapeutical terms. That is the reason for the method of my putting forward things here, and of course objections may easily be made by those who disregard this therapeutic orientation.
For example, anyone who studies the external origin of syphilis must certainly get clear how far there must be infection (approximately, at least) in order to develop syphilis proper. Merely to state this abstractly leads us to an emancipation of pathology. Please forgive a somewhat crude comparison: the actual infection or contagion in syphilis is of no more significance than the fact that in order to raise a bump on the head it is necessary to receive a blow from a stone or some other hard object. Of course there will be no bump if there is no blow, nor injury from a falling tile, etc.; but this particular statement remains unfruitful regarding treatment. For — to continue our comparison — the circumstances of an injury from stone throwing, or so forth, may be of great social importance, but these circumstances mean nothing at all in the examination of the organism with a view to its cure. We must examine the human organism in such a way as to find within it the factors that play a part in therapeutics. In the treatment of syphilis the above-mentioned factors play prominent roles and throw light on the curative process. What is put before you here and now is so put before you not so much for the sake of pathology as for the foundation of the bridge between disease and cure.
I assert this, in order to characterize and define our work here, its spirit and attitude; this latter will become more evident with every day that passes. In our age there is a tendency to treat pathology more and more as an isolated subject, and without reference to therapeutics. Therefore thought is deflected from things fruitful and — if followed up in the right way — of great significance in the search for all curative procedures. Think, e.g., of our question: What is the true meaning of this duality in the human organism between the cosmic-peripheral — so to speak — and the terrestrial or telluric-central man? Both these aspects of man are complexes of forces, manifesting in different ways. All peripheral working manifests as formative powers. And I would even say that the last formative “deed” of this peripheral principle manifests as the ultimate periphery of the human frame and completes our human semblance. Examine, for instance, the relation of human hair to silicic acid; notice how in the peripheral region of man the human formative forces cooperate with the formative forces of silicon. You may actually measure the impact of alien influences which man permits, or resists, from the dominance, or the reverse, that is allotted to silicic acid in the head formation. Of course we must take the rest of the individual's stature into consideration as well; but if we merely go along the street nowadays, and can “see together” the bald heads, one finds out how far a man is tending to admit or to reject the impact of the siliceous formative process upon himself. This is a result of immediate observation which can be attained without actual clairvoyance but by careful investigation of nature's own ways. The forces in question — they are not at work inside the cells but control the total shaping of man — find their last expression in man's structure, which of course includes the configuration of the skin together with its greater or small amount of hair growth and so forth. On the other hand, the more centralized region, which is more associated with carbon and carbon dioxide — bears in itself the dispersive forces, those which dissolve and even destroy the shape. We exist as men by virtue of our tendency perpetually to de-form the shape, which in turn is deprived perpetually of its deformations through forces proceeding from the cosmos. This is a duality inherent in man: moulding and deforming. This duality is a continuous organic process. Now, visualize, on the one hand, the cosmic peripheral formative forces (See Diagram 20, arrow pointing downwards) which operate on man from outside.
In the human heart these forces encounter the telluric forces; and we have already dealt with the equilibrium brought about through the heart. And assume that the peripheral forces acting upon man — which reach their tidal mark, so to speak, in the heart — are held back before being dammed up in the heart. (See Diagram 20, arrow pointing to the left).
They diverge and form a diverticulum before reaching the great dam of the heart itself. And in so doing they form something within our organism that testifies, though imperfectly, to the operation of the cosmic formative forces on man. Let us also assume that the contrary forces, working upward through the digestive organs and their allies toward the heart, also form a diverticulum before they reach the heart (See Diagram 20, right-hand side). Then taking these two diverticulums, we should have here a concentration of all that is both spiritually and physically formative in man, and at the same time associated with all the secretory activities in the head and the intestines; a reservoir of forces that do not come to meet the action of the heart, but creates beforehand a kind of accessory heart that functions alongside the heart. Here, on the other hand, we have a kind of accessory digestive action, formed by a divergence of the forces originating in the earth and its substances and acting in man, deforming and dissolving his shape. Then duality in man would be organically established and expressed; this is how here the female sexual organs, the female sexual principle, arises, and there the male principle. (See Diagram 20). Indeed, this gives a possibility to study the female sexual organization in the light of its dependence on the cosmic peripheral formative forces. And there is the possibility to study the male sexual organization, even its specific forms, if we regard it as dependent on the telluric forces of shape-dissolution.
This is the approach for really scientific comprehension of our human constitution down to these regions. Here is also the way of discovery of vegetable remedies, e.g., rich in formative power, which may be found efficacious in restoring paralyzed and defective formative forces in the uterus. If you study the formative forces in this way you will find also the formative forces in plants and minerals. This will be considered more particularly, but for the present I must outline the relationship on a large scale. If in the future these things will be clearly seen; then we shall really begin to have a science of embryology. Today we have no such science, for there is no realization of the strong impact of the cosmic realm at the beginning of embryological development. The cosmic forces are as fertilizing in their operations as the male seed itself. The first stages of human embryological evolution must be studied wholly as part of the relation of man to the cosmos. What was, so to speak, injected with the male seed emerges as time goes on, for the formative forces which the cosmos tends to project into the female organism are so deformed by the operation of the male element that the cosmic tendency toward a total shape is differentiated in the direction toward separate organs. The role of the female organization goes to the totality of man's structure; the role of the male organization, through the operation of the male seed, is specialization, differentiation, i.e., the moulding of the several organs, and thus the deformation of the original uniform whole. We might say: through the feminine forces, the human organization tends to the spherical or globular form; through the masculine, the human organism tends to specialize this globe, and divide it into heart, kidneys, stomach, and so forth. In the male and female element we have before us the polarities of the earth and of the cosmos. And this is again a subject which leads its students to deep reverence for the primary wisdom, and to listen with very different feelings to the legends of Gaea fertilized by Uranus, of Rhea fertilized by Kronos, and so forth. There is something here quite different from vaguely mystical feelings in the veneration with which we receive these ancient intuitions in all their significance. At first one is amazed at such a comment as the following, which comes from scientists upon whom these truths dawn: “The old mythologies have more physiology in them than modern science has.” I can understand the shock and surprise; but the remark has its deep core of truth.
The further we advance, the more insistently we realize the inadequacy of contemporary methods — that ignore all the interrelations we mentioned — as guides to the understanding of the human organization.
I will take this opportunity of repeating what has already been stated: namely, that the contents of these lectures have not been derived from any study of ancient lore. What is here stated is gained from the facts themselves: occasionally I have alluded to the coincidence with the primary wisdom, but my statements are never gained from it. If you study the processes in question with care, you will be led to those conceptions which remind us of some elements of ancient wisdom. I should never myself consider it admissible to investigate any subject by studying the works of Paracelsus. But I am often strongly inclined to look up in his books how a discovery which I have made may sound in his language. This is the sense in which I should like you to receive what I attempt to give. But it is a fact that as soon as we look deeper into human nature from the standpoint of spiritual science, we come to a great reverence for primary wisdom. But that is a question which naturally must be considered in other fields of knowledge than the medical.