Monday, May 16, 2016
Earthly and cosmic influences in minerals, plants, animals, and human beings: Spiritual Science and Medicine, lecture 15
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, April 4, 1920:
My starting point today will be a comment made to me from a very competent quarter, to the effect that the present course of lectures are among the most difficult to comprehend of all lectures presenting the anthroposophical point of view. And within certain limits this must certainly be admitted; at the same time, our critics must allow that this can hardly be otherwise. The undeniable accuracy of this criticism should teach us a very great deal. Take an illustrative case, or rather two cases, one of everyday occurrence, the other more remote from the experience of contemporary civilization. The first case is the following: our contemporary critics are certainly entitled to complain that our considerations here set out are difficult to understand; but the blackbird does not find them difficult — but easy and a matter of course. And this bird gives the most practical proof of its easy understanding. For the blackbird is not exactly an ascetic, and therefore it occasionally devours garden spiders. And when feelings of discomfort begin — for the discomfort is soon considerable in such circumstances — and a black-henbane plant is near at hand, the blackbird makes a straight line for the henbane, and seeks the appropriate remedy. And it certainly is a remedy. for if there were no henbane available, the blackbird falls into convulsions and dies in the most violent paroxysms. If the plant is near at hand, the bird is saved from a painful death by its own protective instinct which makes it pick and devour the remedy. This is the everyday occurrence which furnishes an illustration.
And the more remote instance has substantial similarity with the case of the blackbird and henbane. Mankind must have developed certain protective and remedial instincts at a very primitive epoch, and these instincts must have supplied some of the contents which were more or less concentrated in the Hippocratic School of Medicine. Let us consider in the light of the criticism quoted at the beginning of this chapter, the wisdom of the blackbird — or of other birds, who act in the same manner under similar circumstances. What really happens if a blackbird devours a spider? The spider is in its whole organization very much interwoven with certain cosmic interactions outside the Earth; the creature's bodily structure, the shape of its limbs, and its characteristic markings are due to this involvement in extra-telluric processes, so that — if I may so express the facts — the spider has much planetary life: yes, extra-telluric planetary life the garden spider bears within him. Now, the bird has not attained such a degree of kinship and sharing of planetary experience, but has removed its share more to the interior of its organism. When the bird swallows the spider, the internal planetary forces begin to stir. These planetary forces, which still have the urge toward assuming shape, tend to permeate the body of the bird, which has to struggle against them. For from the moment of devouring the spider, the blackbird in its inner tendencies becomes a replica of extra-telluric life. Therefore the bird has recourse to the appropriate medicinal plant, which has become similar to the terrestrial sphere, as contrasted with the planetary in two respects; both by its growing upward from the soil, and by its retention of a substance which it cannot wholly work up under the planetary influence, but stores up as a poison. The bird seeks help from the henbane. And why? Because in the very moment that the poison begins to work, the working calls into activity the defensive and protective instinct: the instinctive awareness of injury passes over into the instinct of defense. And so in this phenomenon we have a very plastically evolved development of what we ourselves do if a fly settles on our eyelid and we instantaneously close our eye and brush it off with our hand, by a simple reflex action.
We may learn a very great deal from these instinctive actions of animals and plants. Their observation will help to cure us of another error: namely, the conviction that everything deserving the name of intelligence or reason has its seat in the skull only. Intelligence and reason hover everywhere, so to speak, for the bird's instinct for injury and self-protection affords a quite intelligent behavior. External reason and external intelligence are at work in such a case, while we human beings have simply the gift of sharing in this working of the external powers. We share in it, we do not contain it within ourselves. To say we do so is nonsense — but we participate in it. The bird does not yet participate in it in such a way as to appropriate the instincts for injury or protection in a special portion of the body, namely the brain; birds' understanding operates more through their pulmonary system than ours — for mankind understands through the head system, and the defensive instinct leads the bird through the pulmonary system to the henbane or Hyoscyamus, because the creature thinks less in its periphery than at the center of its being. Mankind has reft the power of thought away from lungs and the rhythmic system. Later on perhaps we may consider our human instruments of thought in more detail. But it is beyond question that we no longer think so centrally — that is, with heart, lungs, and so forth, in unison with the cosmos, as birds still think. These are aptitudes that we must re-acquire. And if you ask: Who has expelled the last vestige of those instincts which link us to the whole of nature? The reply must be: the education given us at school and at the university — for both of them, and all that is connected with them, are eminently suited to uproot the living together of man with the totality of nature. They act in a one-sided manner, promoting a refined intellectuality on the one side, and a refined sexuality on the other. The force which was in existence centrally in primeval mankind is driven apart in modern man toward these two polar opposites.
To find the way back to a right and sound understanding of the world will be the criterion as to whether we in our pursuit of science become sound again. With such a sound pursuit of science many a thing will have to be studied which at present, alas, is studied only with unsound methods of pursuit.
Let us now turn to the possibility referred to yesterday of studying man in such a way that we get some hint of the curative process. In archaic times this was a highly developed instinct. When primitive man saw anything abnormal in man he was at the same time led to the healing process. Modern mankind has lost these capacities, and therefore only very rarely reaches by intuition what ancient mankind reached instinctively. But that is the course of evolution: from instinct through intellectualism to intuition. And both physiology and medicine are among the subjects most grievously affected by a development on exclusively intellectualist lines; in the atmosphere of intellectualism these can thrive least of all. Take a concrete example: that of a sufferer from diabetes. What does he represent in his diseased development? We can only judge these cases aright if we know that they arise from a weak ego, an ego-organization insufficiently strong for the dominance of the process of sugar formation. It is a matter of correctly interpreting the phenomena. It would be wholly wrong to suppose that the passage of sugar out of the organism indicates too strong an ego. It is just the contrary: it means that the ego does not take adequate part in penetrating the organism with the necessary supply of sugar. Such is the essence of the diabetic disturbance. And therewith is associated all that can promote diabetes. We may perceive initial symptoms, so to speak, of this complaint in those who eat too much sweet food, and then drink alcohol. But that is only an initial “touch” which may pass off and only serves to show that in such cases the ego is weakened and its power to control the necessary natural process which regulates the excretion of sugar is impaired. Furthermore, we are led to consider all the elements contributing to the diabetic tendency, and we are confronted by a concept that has hardly appeared as yet in these discussions, though often in the questions sent up to me, and that will occupy more of our time in the latter half of this course. For all matters raised in question papers will receive attention, but the ground has to be prepared. I refer particularly to the concept of hereditary affliction, which plays a prominent role in diabetic cases.
And let me say at once that a hereditary affliction is especially effective in the case of a feeble ego. We can always trace a connection between a feeble ego — or, let us say, an ego not adequately in control of all its complex of force — and the liability to suffer from hereditary taints. For if we all had an equal liability to suffer in this direction — well, we should all be perceptibly tainted with morbid inheritance. The fact that we do not all do so, in equal measure, is in the main because an efficient ego-function helps to make those who enjoy it exempt.
Furthermore, we must not overlook the psychological causes frequently present, whether in a mild or pronounced form, in cases of diabetes; nor forget that in excitable individuals, excitements may be connected with the beginning of diabetes. Why does this happen? The ego is feeble; and because it is feeble it limits its sphere of action more to the periphery of the organism and develops strong intellectual capacities through the brain. But it is incapable of penetrating the inner recesses of the organism — especially those regions in which albumen is treated and transformed, where the vegetable albumen is metamorphosed into animal albumen. These regions are beyond the range of the ego's action. But in them there begins — and the more strenuously for the ego's absence — the activity of the astral body. This astral body is most vigorously active in the regions where between, so to speak, digestion, blood-formation, and respiration the process of the middle organization takes place. And the feebleness or apathy of the ego leaves this “middle process” very much to its own devices, and so this region begins to develop independent processes, out of harmony with the whole man, and restricted to the central area. The diabetic tendency arises if the ego excludes itself from the inner organic processes. These internal processes, especially such as involve internal secretion, are in their turn closely interlinked with the forming of feelings and emotion. While the ego seeks its main occupation through the brain, it leaves untended all the secretory activities which are circulatory and oscillatory. The result is that the patient loses control of certain soul influences which manifest themselves in the feeling life. Why do we retain our composure if something very exciting happens in our neighborhood? Because we are able to send our reason into the intestines, and do not remain cerebrally encased, but are in possession of our whole being. If we only reflect, we cannot do this. If we are active in a one-sided intellectualistic fashion from our brain alone, the interior of man moves in its own way. The patient has then a particular tendency to excitement, with the result that even in the intellectual sphere these excitements provoke their characteristic organic processes. Strictly speaking, they should not produce immediately — i.e., as excitements stirring the feeling life — their organic counter-processes, but should become permeated with the intellect, tempered by the reason, and only then act on the interior of man.
What is the fundamental cause of such manifestations? Nothing less than a slackness of the ego. In man the ego is akin to the regions farthest of all from the Earth, to those forces which affect man from out of the most peripheral region. Indeed all the influences at work in our ego come to us from very far away. And so we must try to learn something of the processes akin to our ego in the extra-human world, so that we may be able to put the ego in an environment which will teach and enable it to take the part it should in the life outside the Earth.
On the Earth, the equivalent of that urge by which the extra-telluric sphere causes the ego to work upon its own central organization — this equivalent exists wherever the extra-telluric forces cause the mineral and plant-bearing Earth to produce ethereal oils — or oils in general. This indicates the path to guide us. Just as certainly as the human ego is active in the eye, and makes direct contact with the external world by way of this gulf, with quite equal certainty we must bring the ego into contact with the process of oil formation. This will probably be best effected by preparing minutely dispersed oil in the bath water and treating the patient by means of oil-baths. It is most desirable that tests should be made as to the degree of subdivision of the oil, the frequency of the treatment, and so forth. But that is the way by which we can succeed in combating that devastating affliction, diabetes. As you will see, the insight into the external process and its combination with an internal process of the human being creates a physiology which is at once both human and extra-human, and which at the same time leads to therapeutics. And that is the way through which we must attain our results.
Let me then remind you — after we have gained some more concrete concepts — of the nature of man's kinship to the environment. Consider once more the whole Earth's flora: the vegetation that thrusts upward through the soil, disperses its forces so to speak in the blossom, and re-marshals them in the fruit, and the manifold remarkable variations of this process — variations such as the possible retention in the foliage of forces which would otherwise pour themselves forth into the seed; how the leaves thus become herbaceous and thick; how the seed husk may perhaps become pulpous by the retention of certain forces at the eleventh hour, so to speak — all variations are to be found.
But the process of plant formation is not a process which can be regarded only as a result of the physical action of the Earth or of the counteracting forces of light. It goes further than that: just as the plant in very truth contains both the physical and etheric bodies in itself, so also in the upper region where the extra-telluric sphere and the Earth sphere meet there is, connected with that vegetable nature, a cosmic-astral principle. We might express it thus: the plant grows and tends toward a formative animal process — which it, however, does not attain. The interior of the Earth is, so to speak, saturated with the formative plant process, but where the atmosphere meets Earth there is also a pervading formative animal process which is not carried to its end, a process which the plant grows toward but fails to reach. This process we may behold in action, weaving as it were above the blossoming vegetation, and we may be aware that it encircles the whole Earth. This process is centralized in the animal itself, where it is interiorized. The process which takes place weaving above the flowering plant world and which forms a circle around the Earth sphere is centered in the animal itself and is removed into its interior; and the organs which the animal possesses and the plant lacks are simply what they require in order to unfold from a center an effect that is exercised from without toward the plant.
This formative animal process is to be found in man as well; but in man it is situated more toward the center of the whole physical organization. It takes place more in the region between digestion, blood-formation, and respiration. And in those regions man, as far as the human formative process is concerned, most resembles the present animal formative process. Consequently this physical internal man has the most kinship with all the life tendencies of the vegetable nature, so that we may rely on being able to influence and treat the region in question by means of such vegetable life tendencies. Now, however, man has a power and advantage which the animal does not possess. He does not only go through the interaction between the plant and the astral element which is shared by animals also, but another interaction as well, namely that between the mineral and the “super-astral,” which lies yet further beyond the purely astral realm. In fact it is especially characteristic of man, in the present phase of Earth's development, to share in the formative process of the mineral. Just as there is a constant transformation of albuminous substance in the animal world, there is an equally continuous process of a more peripheral tendency than the animal transformation of the albuminous process, an interaction which science at present ignores, between the heavens — so to speak — and the mineral realms. If we require a specific term for this process, let it be derived from the most characteristic feature: the process of de-salification. Within our human organism there takes place continually a process of de-salting, a tendency to change salt formation into its opposite; and on this our being man really rests, and above all our human thinking which goes beyond the animal range. As peripheral man — not, be it noted, as central man, for there we resemble the animal formation — but peripherally we fight against salt formation. We oppose salification just as the animal opposes the normal Earth formation of vegetable albumen. In this opposition the forces are to be found which for man we must search for in the mineral kingdom itself in order to cure certain ailments which we cannot get at with mere vegetable remedies. I would even say that to treat human complaints with herbal remedies only is to regard man too much as an animal. One gives really due honor to man by expecting him to take part in that sterner battle waged in the Earth's environment against the mineralization of the Earth, and one must give him the opportunity to take part with his ego in this struggle.
Whenever silicon is administered, an appeal is made to the dispersive forces within man, and to his power of overcoming this hard mineral element. And we put the ego in a position to participate vigorously in processes which have ceased to take place on the Earth, but continue outside the Earth, where forces rule whose tendency is to disrupt and shatter all the telluric solid substances in cosmic space. Cosmic space has the peculiarity of dispersal into the most minute particles all that solidifies in the planetary realm. We share but seldom in this disruptive activity, in the course of everyday life, unless we are mathematically inclined, i.e., are used to live much in mathematical shapes and to think in mathematical forms. For this way of thinking is based on the disruption of mineral substance. On the other hand, individuals with a certain aversion to mathematics restrict themselves more to a mere de-salification. They are not able to become internal “mechanicians of disruption.” Such is the difference between mathematical and non-mathematical minds. And counteraction of the Earth's mineralizing process is the groundwork for many therapeutic processes and methods.
Now, these things were included in primitive man's instinctive reactions of attack and defense. If man in those primitive ages became aware of encroaching weakness of thought, recourse was had to some mineral substance which was eaten or drunk, and the disruption and internal dispersal of this mineral substance helped him to restore his faculty of attunement with the extra-telluric forces remote from the Earth.
It is possible to follow the processes of external nature to the point of almost tangible proof of the accuracy of such beliefs. They are quite verifiable by observation. Consider for example a tree which is most interesting in this respect: Betula alba, the silver birch, which makes, as it were, a double stand against the normal formative process of the plant. This formative process in its normal course is not shared by Betula alba. It would be so shared if it were possible to combine what takes place in the birch bark with what takes place in the foliage, especially the unfolding foliage of spring, while the leaves are still tinged with brown. Were it possible to mingle these two distinct and differently localized processes, so that the functions of cortex and foliage were blended uniformly throughout, the result would be a magnificent herbaceous plant, with profuse blossoms. The silver birch is as it is because the processes associated with living albumen formation are carried more into the leaves and concentrated there than is generally the case with plants; and on the other hand the process which consists in the formation of potash salts is conserved in the bark. In plants which remain herbs the two processes join so closely that in the root the essence of the potassium salt process is permeated with the formation of albumen. But the silver birch thrusts what the root draws from the soil, outward into its bark and sends what other plants mingle with the Earth's contribution into its leaves, after having thrust the Earth's contribution into the cortex. Thus the birch prepares itself to affect the human organism in different directions. The bark containing the appropriate potassium salt ingredients is indicated if a patient is to be guided to de-salification — as for instance in various rashes and skin affections; then the substance pushed downward into the birch's bark shoots into the periphery in man and heals the skin affection. On the other hand, if you take the leaves, with their forces of albumen formation, you can obtain a remedy specially indicated for internal and deep-seated complaints in mankind, and very beneficial in cases of gout and rheumatism. Now suppose we wish to heighten the efficiency of these processes: let us have recourse to the mineral constituents in the structure of the birch. Take birch wood, and prepare from it vegetable carbon — we have, then, ready to hand, powerful remedies for the defects of what is external inside the body, namely the intestines, etc. One must learn to grasp, by the appearance of plants, their effects on the human being. If we contemplate Betula alba from this angle, we may conclude that if we wish to make the tree with all its valuable properties into part of man so as to heal him, we must turn it around so that the forces pouring into the wood and bark should be united with the human skin and periphery, and the parts which the birch turns outward in foliage should be invaginated into the interior of man. Thus the tree would be not only reversed but turned inside out — so to speak, to complete the picture — in the body of man. From this picture we can read the right application of the healing properties of the birch.
As for plants with very powerfully developed roots, so that the root-forming forces deposit potassium salts and sodium salts, you will find in them the tendency to retain the root forces even in the foliage; and this means a tendency to beneficial action in cases of hemorrhage as well as gravel of the kidneys. An example of these effects — strongly indicated as of use in hemorrhages, in kidney troubles, and all intermediate conditions — is Capsella bursæ pastoris, the shepherd's purse.
Now try to enter into the peculiarities of such a plant as the common scurvy grass, Cochlearea officinalis. It is of interest also as containing sulphuric oils or oils with a high content of sulphur. These sulphuric oils enable the plant to work upon its albumen by virtue of sulphur. Now sulphur is within the mineral kingdom that element that promotes the formative forces of the albuminous process; these are accelerated when too slow, through the addition of the sulphur process. These two processes sum up the essential nature of a plant like scurvy grass or spoon-wort. Because the scurvy grass grows on certain soils and in certain places, and because it is inserted in a certain way into the frame of nature, it is doomed to develop albuminous processes at too slow a rate, while by a marvelous natural instinct this retardation is balanced by the formation of oils containing sulphur, which quicken the slack albumen process. Note, however, that an accelerated albuminous process differs from one that runs by its very nature with equal speed; this must be always borne in mind. Of course it is possible to discover albuminous processes quite as rapid as that of the scurvy grass in several other plants. But these have not been called forth by the inertia being acted upon by the accelerating principle. It is the continuous interaction of inertia and acceleration principles in the growth of the scurvy grass which so adapts this plant for use as a remedy in conditions such as scurvy, etc: for the process characteristic of scurvy is remarkably like that just described.
It is my belief that a personal training which enables us to link up the events in external nature with those inside man will show the way to these extremely significant affinities and also to an understanding of man which you can acquire in no other way. For in very truth man can only be understood through the comprehension of the extra-human sphere, and this in turn only through the human sphere. One must be able to study both concurrently. And I would beg you not to consider it superfluous to pass on to a matter which should be very useful in our next discussion, namely to the peculiar activities of the spleen in the human organism.
The function of the spleen inclines strongly to the spiritual side. So much so that I have pointed out in a lecture cycle on “Occult Physiology” that if the spleen is removed, the etheric body very easily takes its place; therefore the spleen is an organ most easily replaced by its etheric counterpart in man — by the etheric spleen. The spleen is less associated with metabolism as such than are the other organs of the human abdomen. The spleen is but little associated with the actual metabolic function, but closely associated with the regulation of that function. What exactly is the spleen? In the investigations of spiritual science, the spleen appears as the agent appointed to attune continuously the crude metabolism to what occurs in a more spiritual or psychological way in man. Like all our organs — some in a greater or lesser degree — the spleen is very much a strong subconscious organ of sense; it reacts in a remarkable measure to the rhythm of human nutrition. Persons who eat at all times and any time produce in their systems a very different kind of activity from that of persons who leave intervals between their meals. This difference is especially perceptible in children, if they have the nibbling or gobbling habit; for the result is a jerky and irregular action of the spleen. This can be observed also in cases where there is no regular feeding, and then some time after the individual has fallen asleep the spleen comes to comparative repose — of course only to comparative repose according to its own nature. The spleen is the sensory organ of the more spiritualized part of man for the rhythms of nutrition, and it tells man in his subconsciousness what counter-agents to employ in order at least to mitigate the deleterious effect of irregular nutrition. Thus the spleen's activity is directed less toward the actual metabolic process than toward its rhythmical adjustment; the spleen shares in the rhythm which must necessarily rule as between the intake of substance and the rhythm of respiration. For between the rhythm of respiration and the nutritive processes which are not specially adapted to rhythm there is, as it were, interpolated an intermediate rhythm brought about by the spleen. The respiratory rhythm enables man to live within the strict rhythm of the cosmos. But by irregular nutrition he continually deflects this cosmic rhythm. And the spleen mediates and modifies this disharmony.
This fact is verifiable through observation of man. In the light of this fact I beg you to study the anatomical and physiological material at your disposal. You will find corroboration, down to the most minute detail. In the fact that the splenetic artery is almost directly connected with the aorta, and also in the external relative position of the spleen in the whole organism, you will find my statements corroborated; whereas at the same time you will find morphological testimony to the nutritive relationship in the particular insertion of the splenetic vein into the whole organism which leads into the portal vein and is thus directly connected with the liver.
Thus these two systems — one without rhythmic pulsation, the other essentially rhythmic — coordinate and mutually regulate themselves. The spleen's activity is interpolated between the rhythmic and the metabolic systems. Much of what is due to inadequate or irregular splenetic functions must be met on the basis of this knowledge of the interactions between the respiratory and metabolic systems, or the circulatory and metabolic, as linked together by the spleen. It is indeed in no way strange that in materialistic science the physiology of the spleen has been so much neglected; for materialistic science knows nothing of the threefold human being — the metabolic human being, the circulatory human being, and finally, the human being of senses and nerves.