Sunday, December 4, 2016
Action and Interaction of the Human Soul Forces
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, November 2, 1910:
Yesterday we concluded our psychosophical observations by pointing for one thing to our surging soul life that can be reduced to two elements, reasoning, and the inner experiences of love and hate. Then we referred to the sensations given us by the soul, those that fill our soul life like the continually rising and falling waves of the sea. Finally, we indicated one sensation appearing in this restless sea that is radically different from all other everyday experiences of the outer world. We experience our sensations while in contact with the outer world, and they are then transformed within us in such a way as to enable us to live on with them. But in the midst of this surge stimulated by the messages of our senses, one perception makes its appearance totally different in kind from all other perceptions. All others are instigated by external sense stimuli, are further worked over within us, and become sensations. They start as perceptions, then become sensations within perception, and finally live on in what remains of the sensations in us. The ego perception, however, is an entirely different matter. The perception of the ego appears in the midst of the other surging activity; it is omnipresent and differs from all other sensations by reason of the fact that it cannot be engendered from without. This condition discloses a sort of contrast in the soul life, the ego sensation as opposed to all others.
The mysteries concealed in this contrast will come to light in the course of these lectures, but it is not too soon to acquire a feeling for them by keeping the contrast clearly in view. Into all other experiences we infuse our ego perception, so that even from a quite abstract consideration of this contrast we can learn that everything surging in the soul comes from two directions. What we must do is to envision the contrasting elements of the human soul life both abstractly, in detail, and concretely, comprehensively, until we feel it in our soul.
In truth, man's soul life is primarily anything but a simple entity. It is a dramatic battlefield upon which the contrasts are constantly in action. A finely attuned feeling harking to the life of this human psyche will not fail to recognize the dramatic character of the human soul life, and we cannot but feel a certain impotence in facing these struggling powers in our souls, a certain submission to the conflicting elements of life. The most insignificant among us, as well as the greatest genius, is chained to this conflict, to this dual nature of soul life.
In order to arouse the feeling within you that even the greatest genius is subject to the domination of these conflicting elements, a poem by Goethe was recited at the beginning of yesterday's lecture. Should any of you have picked up his Goethe since then and re-read this poem, he must have experienced a strange sensation — one that should underlie this lecture cycle. It is not our intention to describe in an abstract way, but rather to infuse blood, so to speak, into our description of the soul. We want to enter into the living soul.
If you heard the recitation of the poem, The Wandering Jew (Der Ewige Jude), that was given yesterday, and later read it over at home, you must have been struck by the difference in the two versions. As a matter of fact, something was done that so-called science would term barbarism; the poem was specially prepared for the recitation, cuts and alterations were made, and the whole thing was changed to present an entirely different picture. Philologists would frown upon such a procedure, but it is justified by its special purpose of opening up a wider perspective into the human soul.
The alterations were made for the following reason. Goethe wrote the poem in his earliest youth, but the content of the version you heard yesterday is such as the mature soul of his ripe age could have endorsed. He would have been ashamed, however, of the portions omitted, would have turned from them. Only one who approaches Goethe with such profound veneration as I feel for him may be permitted to speak of one of his poems, upon occasion, as I have done today of The Wandering Jew.
This poem is the work of Goethe's early youth. Youth expresses itself here as youth naturally does. Goethe wrote it when he was a regular good-for-nothing, one from whom surely nothing could be learned. But may we say this of anything he wrote? We can say unhesitatingly that at the time he wrote The Wandering Jew he could not even spell correctly, hence it should be permissible to point out worthless passages. There is a strong proclivity nowadays to unearth the earliest works of great men, if possible in their original form. Now, the youthful soul of Goethe embraced something that was not himself. Conceptions rumbled there that derived entirely from his environment, his milieu. The nature of his environment, to be sure, does not concern us, that concerned only Goethe, but from all this something fused in his soul, something composed on the one hand of what was properly psychic in his soul, and on the other, of its eternal-spiritual content, of a temporal and an eternal-spiritual element.
The result of all this is something eternal, and it does concern us. These two aspects, one of which concerns only Goethe and the other, us as well, these two souls in the youthful Goethe were separated in yesterday's recitation as by an incision. Whatever remained in the old Goethe of what had swayed the young Goethe was retained. All that was present only in his youth was extirpated. There you can see how two kinds of forces influence a genius: those proceeding from his environment and those working out of himself toward the future.
As we contemplate Goethe's soul in his youth it appears as a battlefield upon which a struggle is in progress between the Goethe that accompanied him throughout his life and something else — something he had to fight down. Without this struggle, Goethe would not have become Goethe. There the antithesis becomes patent. It is indispensable to the progress of humanity, for were the soul a unified being it could not progress but would remain stationary.
It is, therefore, important to acquire a feeling for the polarity, the struggle of contrasting elements in the soul life. Unless we do so we shall not be able to understand what must be said concerning the soul life. It is precisely when contemplating such a typically magnificent soul life as Goethe's that we look upon it as upon a drama; we seek to approach it in timid veneration, because this conflict, unrolling as the life of a soul, reveals in a single incarnation the entire destiny of the soul life.
Another point arises in connection with this soul drama. Let us recall the contrasts in Goethe's soul, as they were disclosed in yesterday's recitation, and see what else we can deduce. We find that in later years Goethe followed but one of the impulses we discussed yesterday. He embraced in his soul what we disentangled from the temporal elements that he later discarded. Throughout his life and involuntarily Goethe, like every man, was subject to these two powers of his soul life.
By reason of possessing a soul, nobody is altogether his own master. Man is subject as well to an inner influence that has power over him, that his knowledge cannot compass at the outset. Had Goethe at that early age been able to grasp all that was active in his soul, he could not have written the poem as he actually did. Man is a vassal of his soul life. Something holds sway and acts there that presents itself to the soul life as an outer world.
Just as the red rose forces us to visualize it as red, and as we carry the red color with us as memory, so there lives in us something that compels us to fulfill the inner drama of our soul life in a certain definite way. In the matter of all sense perceptions the outer world masters us, and a similar inner master must be recognized in our soul life as well if we observe the latter as it progresses in time from day to day, from year to year, from one life epoch to the next, and becomes ever richer as it is driven forward by an inner power. This simple, concrete case alone suffices to show that in our soul life we must recognize an outer master, the compulsion of sense perceptions, but also, that we have an inner master as well. Failure to recognize this inner master leads to illusion.
In so far as we stand at a given point in space, we have a master in the outer world, and as we progress in our soul life it is incumbent upon us to observe the dramatic contrast within us, for thus we will know that there is such a master within us as well, the master that causes us to lead a different soul life at seven than at twenty-one, thirty-five, or a still greater age.
In the last analysis this soul drama, so concretely exemplified in Goethe, is composed of reasoning and the experiences of love and hate. It was said that reasoning leads to visualization, and that love and hate have their source in desire. You might object that the statement, “reasoning leads to visualization,” contradicts the simple fact that visualizations arise from sense sensations of the outer world because, when we see a rose, the visualization “red” arises without our reasoning. Hence, in this case at least, reasoning does not lead to visualization — rather the reverse; the visualization would have to be there, and then the reasoning would follow. But that only appears to be a contradiction. Keep it firmly in mind, for it is by no means easy to fathom. We must observe a number of matters if we would find the key to this seeming contradiction. First of all, you must pay attention to the fact that visualizations lead a life of their own in the human soul life. Please grasp that sentence in its full significance. Visualizations are like parasites, like live beings in the inner soul, that lead their own existence there.
On the other hand, desire as well leads to an existence of its own in the soul life, and the latter is actually under the dominion of these independent visualizations, longings and desires. You can easily convince yourselves of the independence of visualizations by remembering that it is not always in your power to recall them at will. Occasionally they refuse to be recalled, and we say that we have forgotten, and the possibility of forgetting proves the presence of a foreign force that opposes the reappearance of these visualizations. Sometimes those we had but yesterday resist our greatest efforts to remember them. This conflict is actually a struggle that takes place between visualization and something else that is present in our soul in this epoch.
The visualization need not necessarily have vanished for good. It may return some time without anything having occurred in the outer world to cause its reappearance. It is simply that a visualization is a being that may temporarily refuse to appear in our soul. The adversaries we meet there, the opposing visualizations, act in different ways with a great variety of results. This conflict between our own soul forces and the visualizations varies greatly in different people, to such an extent, in fact, that the distance between the extremes is terrifying.
There are people, for example, who are never at a loss to recall their store of conceptions and knowledge, and others so forgetful, so impotent in this respect as to overstep the bounds of what is normal and healthy, so that they are rendered unfit for life. For a genuine psychologist the readiness with which he remembers, recalls conceptions, is of great importance because it is a measure of something lying much deeper in his soul life. The proximity or remoteness of his visualizations is for him an expression of inner health or sickness. All of us, in fact, can find in this detail a subtle indication of our constitution, right down to our corporeality. Judging by the intensity with which man must combat this resistance of the visualizations, the psychologist can diagnose his ailment. His gaze penetrates the human soul and observes something beyond in the soul life.
In addition to this, there is something else to be considered if you would visualize from another angle how these conceptions lead a life of their own within us. Our visualizations at any given age, in their totality, are something we do not wholly master, something to which we submit. Under certain life conditions we can realize this as, for example, whether or not we understand a person speaking to us depends upon our soul life. You, for instance, understand what I say in my lectures, but if you brought others unacquainted with my subject, many of them, no matter how well educated, would understand nothing at all. Why? Because those in question have for years been accustomed to other conceptions. These constitute the obstacle to an understanding of the other, more up-to-date concepts. Thus we find that it is precisely the old conceptions that combat the new ones approaching them. It is of no avail whatever to want to understand something unless we have within us a store of conceptions that will make it possible to understand. Conceptions are opposed by conceptions and, if you examine your soul life, you will find that your ego plays a minor role in the process.
Watching or listening to something that interests you offers the best opportunity to forget your ego, and the more deeply you are absorbed, the greater is this opportunity. Looking back at such a moment, you will realize that something was taking place in you in which your ego had little part. It was as though you had forgotten your ego; you had lost yourself, entranced. That is what always occurs when we understand something particularly well. What happens, though, when we fail to understand something? We oppose our present store of conceptions to the new ones, and something like a dramatic conflict takes place in our soul. Conceptions battle with conceptions, and we ourselves, within the soul, are the battlefield of the two armies of conceptions.
There is something significant in the soul life that depends upon our having or not having the conceptions necessary for understanding a matter. If we listen unprepared to an exposition, for example, a curious phenomenon comes to light. At the moment when we fail to understand, something like a demon approaches us, as it were, from the rear. When we listen understandingly and attentively this does not occur. What is this demon? It is one's ego, weaving in the soul, attacking from the rear. As long as we understand and can remain absorbed it does not put in an appearance, only at the moment when we fail to understand.
What is the nature of this inability to understand? Undoubtedly something that weaves its way into the soul life, so to speak, and engenders an uncomfortable feeling in us. One's own soul makes itself felt as uneasiness, and an examination of this condition shows the soul life to be of such a nature that the conceptions already there are not indifferent to the new ones that approach. The new ones impart to the old ones a feeling of well-being or the reverse. Though this feeling of uneasiness is not necessarily violent, it is nevertheless a force that continues to work in the soul life, attacking something deeper.
The malaise resulting from failure to understand can have a detrimental effect even on the body. In diagnosing the finer shades of sickness or health — those that are connected with the soul life — it is of great importance to note whether the patient must frequently cope with matters he does not understand, or whether he readily comprehends everything with which he has to deal. Such considerations are far more important than is generally believed.
We have learned that visualizations lead their own life, that they are like beings within us. Recall, now, those moments of your soul life during which the outer world gave you nothing; even when you wished to be stimulated by it, it passed you by, leaving no impressions. This is another case in which you experience something in your soul. It is something that in everyday life we call boredom. In everyday life, boredom is a condition in which the soul longs for impressions; it develops a desire that remains unsatisfied.
How does boredom arise? If you are observant you will have noticed something that is not often recognized. Only the human being can be bored, not animals. Whoever believes that animals can be bored is a poor observer of nature. People, on the other hand, can positively be classified according to their capacity for boredom. Those leading a simple soul life are bored far less than the so-called educated ones. In general, people are far less bored in the country than in the city, but to verify this you must there observe the country people, not city people who are momentarily in the country. People of the educated strata and classes whose soul life is complicated are prone to boredom. We find, then, a difference even among the different classes.
Boredom is by no means something that arises simply of its own accord in the soul life, but is a result of the independent life led by our conceptions. It is these old conceptions desiring new ones, new impressions. The old conceptions crave fructification, desire new stimuli. For this reason we have no control whatever over boredom. It is merely a matter of the conceptions having desires that, unfulfilled, develop longings in us. That is why an undeveloped, obtuse person with few conceptions is less bored; he has few visualizations that could develop longings within him. But neither are those who continually yawn with boredom the ones who have achieved the highest development of their ego. This is added lest you might infer that the most highly developed people would be the most bored. There is a sort of cure for boredom; and in a higher stage of development boredom again becomes impossible. More of this later.
There is a definite reason why animals are not bored. When an animal has its eyes open it is continually receiving impressions from the outer world. External events run their course as a process of the outer world, and what occurs within the animal keeps pace in time. The animal has thus finished with one impression by the time the next one comes along. Outer occurrence and inner experience coincide. It is man's prerogative, on the other hand, to be able, within himself, to hold a tempo in the sequence of his soul events different from the one obtaining in the world process outside. As a consequence, man is able to close his mind to stimuli that have repeatedly made an impression on him in the past; he shuts himself off from the outer course of time. Within him, however, time continues to pass, but because no impressions reach him from without, time remains unoccupied, and this time void is permeated by the old conceptions.
Now, the following can occur. Observe the progress of the animal's soul life; it parallels the external course of time. The inner soul life of the animal proceeds in such a way that the animal is actually subject to the outer passing of time or — which is the same thing — to the perceptions of its own life and body (this becomes outer perception too, as in digestion). That is something that interests the animal tremendously. The animal is constantly receiving inner stimuli from the outer course of time, and every moment of its life is interesting. When the outer perceptions of an animal cease, the passing of time ceases as well.
This is not the case in human beings. For us outer objects cease to be of interest when we have seen them too often. We no longer let them enter our soul worlds, yet the external passing of time continues just the same. Our inner soul life stops, and time flows on with the soul. What is it, though, that acts upon this void in time? It is the desire of the old conceptions yearning for the future. There emanates from the soul, from the old conceptions, the desire for new impressions, new contents. That is boredom. The difference between man and animal is that man has the advantage of conceptions that live on and develop their own lives oriented toward the future; that means that he has a soul life directed toward the future.
While animals are continually stimulated from without, the human being is constantly swayed by the desire of the soul life, because the old conceptions crave new impressions. Later I shall draw attention to possible illusions.
As stated above, however, there is a cure for boredom. It is brought about when the old conceptions persist not merely as something that excites desire, but when they have a content of their own, so that through our own incentive we can infuse something into the time not filled from without. When our conceptions themselves carry into the future something that interests us, we have the higher soul development. Whether or not this power plays a part in a man's development, whether or not his conceptions embrace something that interests him, satisfies him, constitutes a significant difference.
Beginning, then, at a certain stage of development, the human being can be bored, but he can cure himself of this by filling himself with conceptions that will satisfy his soul life in the future as well. That is the difference between those who are bored and those who are not. There are people who can be cured of boredom and others who cannot, and this points to the independent life of our conceptions, a life we cannot control, a life to which we are subject. Unless we see to it that our conceptions have content we must inevitably be bored, but by giving them a content we can for the future protect ourselves against boredom.
This again is extraordinarily significant for the psychologist, for our normal life demands a certain balance between fulfillment of the soul's desires and outer life itself. When this balance is not maintained, boredom results, and an empty, bored soul — destined nevertheless to continue living in time — is poison for the body. Much boredom is a real cause of sickness. The term “deadly boredom” rests on a true feeling. It acts as a veritable poison, though one does not exactly die of it. Things of that sort have an effect far transcending the soul life.
These elucidations may seem pedantic to you at the moment, but they will enable us later on to shed a wondrous light on the miracles of the human soul life. Fine distinctions are necessary if we are to become acquainted with this wonder drama of our soul life playing around its hero, its ego. Hidden in our soul life is someone who is really infinitely wiser than we are ourselves; indeed, the prospect would be black were this not so.
In ordinary life people indulge in the most curious conceptions regarding the nature of body, soul, and spirit. These things are jumbled in the wildest ways. What was formerly known by means of more clairvoyant observation has gradually been forgotten and eradicated. At that time people analyzed life correctly, distinguishing between the physical, the psychic and the spiritual life in which man has his being. Then, in the year 869, the Ecumenical Council at Constantinople felt impelled to abolish the spirit and to set up the dogma that man consists of body and soul. A study of the dogmatism of the Christian Church would reveal to you the far-reaching consequences of this alteration, this abolition of the spirit. Anyone still recognizing the spirit became at once a preposterous heretic in the eyes of the Church.
The aversion to the spirit is based upon a misinterpretation of the absolute justification for the relation of body, soul, and spirit. Everything becomes confused as soon as one ceases to think of body, soul, and spirit, but then, that's the way people have become; they confuse everything. The result in this case is that a clear view of the spiritual life has disappeared.
Even though nowadays people habitually fall into the error of inadequate differentiation, there is a good spirit watching over them who has kept alive a dim feeling for the truth. This is brought about by the fact that in man's environment something like the spirit of speech is active. Speech is really more intelligent than human beings. True, people abuse speech by regulating and distorting it, but it is not possible to ruin it altogether. Speech is more intelligent than human beings themselves, hence the stimuli it holds for us exert the right influences; whereas, when we bring our own soul life to bear, we make mistakes. I will show you that we have the right feeling when we speak, that is, when we yield ourselves to the soul of speech, not to our own.
Imagine you are in the presence of a tree, a bell, and a man. You begin to reason from what the outer world has to tell you, from immediate sense impressions. In other words, you set your soul life in motion, for reasoning is, of course, something that takes place in the soul. You look at the tree; the tree is green. The inference expressed in your verdict, the tree is green, is expressed in accord with the genius of speech. Now suppose you want to express something regarding the bell, something to be judged through sense impressions; the bell rings. The moment the bell rings you will express your perception in the verdict, the bell rings. Remember all that while we now turn to the man. This man speaks. You perceive his speech, and you express outer perception in the words, the man speaks. Keep in mind the three verdicts — the tree is green, the bell rings, the man speaks. In all three we are concerned with sense impressions, but when you compare these with the judgment of speech you will feel that they reveal themselves as something quite different. When I say, The tree is green, I express something that is conditioned by space; the form in which the judgment is expressed implies this. I express what is true now, what will be true three hours hence, and so forth; something permanent.
Take the next verdict, the bell rings. Does this express something spatial? No, that doesn't exist in space; it proceeds in time, it is in a state of flux, in the process of becoming. Because the genius of speech is highly intelligent you can never speak of something fixed in space in the same way as you do of something proceeding in time. If you examine these verdicts more closely you will find that in referring to all that is in space speech permits only the use of an auxiliary verb, not a direct verb: an auxiliary verb that helps you, in speaking, to live in time. True, we can employ a verb when we may have something else in mind. We can say, “The tree greens,” [TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: A bit far-fetched in English, or at best specifically poetic, but quite a common form in German.] without the auxiliary verb, but when we do that we are switching from what is purely spatial to something that moves in time, that becomes, to the rise and decline of the greenness. Truly, a genius works in speech, even though much of it is ruined by man. Speech actually does not permit the use of a direct verb in connection with a spatial concept. The purpose of a verb is to indicate something temporal.
The employment of a verb necessarily indicates a state of becoming. You might object that instead of saying, “The bell rings,” we could say, “The bell is ringing,” but think what that would involve! A paraphrase of that sort ruins the language. [TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Not the English language, of course, but in German that particular use of the present participle is a sort of last resort. It sounds so artificial that one can simply say that it is not German, though it occasionally appears in doubtful verse for purposes of rhyme or meter.]
Now we come to the third verdict, the man speaks. There, too, you use a verb to express sense perception, but consider what a difference there is. The verdict, the bell rings, tells us what is in question, the ringing, but in the verdict, the man speaks, something is told that is not the point at all. The sense stimulus arising from speech is not the point. We are concerned with something that is not expressed at all in the verb, namely, the content of what is spoken.
Why does speech stop there? Why do you halt, as it were, before reaching the point? Because when you say, “The man speaks,” you wish your own inner being to confront the man's soul directly. You wish to characterize what confronts you as something pertaining to the inner life. In the case of the bell, this quality is inherent in the verb, but when your inner life meets a living soul you take good care not to intrude thus.
There you see manifest the genius of speech, expressed in the difference between what relates to the locality (space), to the process of becoming (time), and to matters of the inner man (the soul). In describing it we halt as in timid awe before the inner substance, before the matter that really concerns us. In speaking, therefore, and halting at the portal, we do homage to the inner soul activity. In the course of these lectures we will see how important it is for us to rise to a certain feeling for the matter, a feeling that will enable us to define the soul life as something enclosing itself on all sides, something surging to this boundary and there piling up against it. It is important that you should learn to know the soul in its true being as a sort of inner realm. You should understand that what must come from without meets something resisting from within, so that when sense experiences approach the soul we can think of the soul as a circle within which everything is in flux. Sense experiences approach from all directions; within, the soul life swirls and surges. What we have learned today is the fact that the soul life is not independent; the soul experiences the independent life of the visualizations that lead an existence in time.
This life of the visualizations in the bounded soul is the cause of our greatest bliss and our deepest suffering, in so far as these originate in the soul. We shall see that the spirit is the great healer of the ills caused in our souls by sorrow and suffering. In physical life hunger must be appeased, and this acts beneficially, but if we overload ourselves beyond the demands of hunger we tend to undermine our health. In the soul life the case is analogous. Conceptions demand to be satisfied by other conceptions. New conceptions entering the soul can also act beneficially or detrimentally. We shall see how in the spirit we have something that not only acts beneficially, never the reverse, but prevents and opposes the overloading of the soul life as well.