Tuesday, August 29, 2017
The evolution of humans and animals
The Evolution of the Earth and Man and the Influence of the Stars. Lecture 4.
Rudolf Steiner, July 9, 1924:
Good morning, gentlemen! Perhaps today we can finish what we began last time.
I explained to you that we must form a mental picture of how the Earth has gradually evolved and how man was always present spiritually. Physically — that is, in a body — man first appeared, as we have seen, when the Earth had become dead, when the Earth itself had lost its life. As I told you last time, it was only a short while ago that people thought of the Earth in such a way that they looked for the fossils in it in order to determine the age of its strata. Conceptions such as are now held by science have been formed only comparatively recently, and we have seen to what an extent these conceptions are really false and cannot stand up in face of the facts.
Now, you must realize that when people dig and burrow into the Earth as I described to you, when they examine something like the Alpine range with its jumbled strata, they then find quite distinct fossilized plants and animals in every single layer. And the plants and animals that fill the Earth today have appeared only recently. Earlier plant and animal forms were different from the plants and animals of the present day.
That the Earth has not evolved simply and gradually, with one stratum slowly piling up over another until the Earth was finally formed, can be seen not only from the fact that the Alps are jumbled together but also from the following: There were once animals similar to our elephants, but larger. Our elephant is certainly large enough, but these animals were still more powerful, with still thicker skins. Still heavier pachyderms once lived. This is acknowledged because they have been found in northern Siberia where Russia stretches over into Asia. All these remarkable animals, these mammoths, have been found as complete animals with their flesh in perfect condition.
You see, one can keep animals with their flesh still well-preserved if one puts them into ice. And these animals were actually in ice! Near the Arctic Ocean where Siberia approaches the North Pole, there were these animals; they are still there today, as fresh as if they had been caught yesterday by giants and put in ice to be preserved! Yet we must say, such animals do not live today, these are primeval animals. Also they cannot possibly have perished slowly; today they are still there as complete animals. The only explanation can be that when they were alive, suddenly a mighty water catastrophe occurred, and the water froze in the region of the North Pole and immediately overwhelmed them.
We see from this that in earlier times there were quite extraordinary happenings on the Earth which cannot be compared to present-day situations. And if we look at the Alps, we have to think that these happenings cannot have gone on through millions of years but must have taken place in a comparatively short time — that everything in the Earth must have bubbled up and been alive as it is in one's stomach after one has eaten and begins to digest. But that can only take place in something living. The Earth must have been living. And the forces that were in the Earth have been left behind. There were then large, heavy animals. Our slighter, more supple animals were formed after the Earth itself had died and was itself no longer a living being. These large elephants, these mammoths, were, so to speak, like lice on the old body of the Earth and were destroyed by a single wave that turned to ice.
You can understand how well this agrees with what I have said about our present Earth being a kind of world-corpse. And man could develop only when the latest conditions came about on the Earth.
I would now like to speak of something that will show you how the Earth has altered — and altered comparatively recently. If we think of the Earth, on the one hand we have America; on the other hand we have Europe: Norway, Scotland, England, Ireland, and also France and Spain, and Italy and Germany up to the Baltic Sea. Now, if we travel today, let us say, from Liverpool to America, first we pass over a stretch of land, then we travel over the Atlantic Ocean. Now I want to tell you something. Over there (Africa is here below) certain plants and certain animals are everywhere (and, of course, we must include small animal life); here are also plants and animals. If today we look at the plants and animals living on the western coasts of Europe and Africa, and then look at the other side, the eastern coast of America, we discover that these plants and animals are in some way related to one another. They are different, but they are related. Why? They are related because ... well, today it is like this: down below is the floor of the ocean, above is the water of the Atlantic, then here is Africa. How the plants and animals came to be here and how they came to be there can only be explained if once there was land here everywhere, high land, where the animals could cross over and the plants scatter their seeds, not over an ocean, but over land. Thus where today there is an immense sea, an immense ocean, between Europe and America, there was once land. The ground has sunk. Everywhere where ground sinks, water appears immediately. If you dig down to a certain depth anywhere in the Earth, water immediately appears.
So we must assume that the land there has sunk. For instance, this is interesting: here is Italy, here is Ravenna — now if one walks from the city of Ravenna to the sea it takes more than an hour, but while walking from Ravenna to the sea one finds everywhere mussels and sea shells on the ground. That is proof that the sea was once there. And Ravenna, now an hour from the sea, was once right on it! — the sea was its border. But there the land rose, was raised up, and the water flowed away from it. If land is raised especially high, it becomes desolate; then it becomes cold, as happens in the mountains. One such region that has become cold is the region of Siberia. Siberia shows through all its plant growth and so forth that at one time its land was much lower, that it has risen tremendously.
And so you can see the land continually rises and sinks in certain parts of the Earth: it rises ... sinks ... and we see that land and water on the Earth are distributed at different times in the most varied ways. If one looks at the rocks of the British Isles, of England, Scotland, and Ireland, looking at the layers themselves one finds that England has risen and sunk four times in the course of its existence! When it was above, certain plants grew until it sank. Naturally when it rose again, it was barren waste. It covered itself with quite different plants and animals, and today one can still see that it has risen and sunk four times.
Thus the Earth is in continual movement. In very ancient times it was much greater, much more powerful movement. If today everything were in movement as it was in those times, it would be really sinister for mankind. The last accounts of mighty Earth movements are those of the Flood, and those have come down to humanity only in legendary form. But the Flood was only a small matter compared with the gigantic upheavals that once took place on the Earth.
Therefore, gentlemen, the question surely arises: How then did human beings ever arrive on this Earth at all?
How did man ever appear? And as to that, there have been the most diverse ideas. The most convenient opinion people have formed is this, that there were once ape-like animals which gradually perfected themselves and became human beings. That is the view science held in the nineteenth century. It no longer holds that view; but the general public, who always straggle along after science, still, of course, believes it. Now the matter is like this: How could anyone imagine that man, physical man as he now is on the physical Earth, could have fashioned himself? There was, so to speak, a great fuss and tremendous enthusiasm when at the end of the nineteenth century a learned traveler, Dubois (see Note 5 ), discovered parts of a skeleton in East Asia, in strata of the Earth where up to that time it had been thought that man could not have lived. There were parts of a skeleton believed to be a human skeleton: the upper part of a thigh, a few teeth, and pieces of the upper part of a skull. That is what Dubois found over there in Asia. Such a thing must, of course, have a suitable name, so he called these remains Pithecanthropus erectus.
People had the idea that this creature was representative of an ape-like species from which mankind then gradually evolved. And then people developed various ideas of how man did evolve in this way. Some say that an ape-like race had come into such conditions that it had been forced to work, and so the feet, the ape-like climbing feet, were transformed into straight feet, and the climbing forefeet into human hands ... and so it became completely changed. On the other hand, some people say: No, that cannot be, for if this ape-man had come into such unfavorable conditions, he would simply have died, then he could not have transformed himself. Rather this ape-man must have lived in a kind of paradise where he was able to maintain himself and develop quite freely, where he was protected. You see how far apart the views are! But none of this holds good when we undertake a real examination of the facts of which we have spoken.
Let us go back to them again. There was once a large expanse of land where today there is the Atlantic Ocean, over which one travels when going from Europe to America — large areas of land. But you see, if we investigate the fossils found here under the Earth, and from them deduce what the earlier forms and species were — of both plants and animals — we discover: There it cannot have been like this! The Earth between our present Europe and America must have been much softer, not solid mineral as it is today, and the air must have been much denser, always misty, containing much water and other substances. Thus there was much softer ground and much denser air. In such a region, if today there could be one on Earth, we could not live for a week, we would die at once. But as it cannot have been so very long ago, 10,000 to 15,000 years, human beings must, of course, have lived at that time. So they cannot have been like today's human beings.
Present-day man has his solid bone structure only because there are hard minerals outside. To our calcareous bones belong also the calcareous mountains with which we continually exchange lime; we drink it in our water, and so forth. In that earlier time there was not yet such a solid bony skeleton. Human beings could have had only soft cartilage, like sharks. Also they could not have breathed through lungs as we do today. At that time they had to have a kind of swimming bladder and a kind of gills, so that the human being who lived then was in his external form half man and half fish. We cannot escape the fact that man then looked quite different — half man and half fish. And if we go back to still earlier times we find that man was much, much softer. If we go still further back he was watery, quite fluid. So naturally no fossils were formed then; man was just absorbed into the rest of the Earth's fluids. So that is the way we have grown into what we are today. When we are still in our mother's womb, we are a little bag of fluid. But that is something very small. In those times we were huge, great fluid or jelly-like beings. And the further we go back in earth evolution, the more liquid man becomes and the more he is really a soft jelly-like mass — not formed out of present-day water, for out of that, naturally, no man could be made — but out of a substance somewhat like albumen. Out of such a substance it was possible for man to be formed.
So we go back to an age when there was neither the present human form, nor the present elephants, nor rhinoceroses, nor lions, nor cows, nor oxen, nor bulls, nor kangaroos — none of these were yet there. On the other hand we can say there were fish-like creatures — not like present-day fish, but already man-like — beings half man, half fish, that one could — after all — call man. There were all these. But there were still none of the animal forms of today.
Then the Earth gradually changed into the form it has today. The floor of the Atlantic Ocean sank ever more and more; the boggy, slimy, albumen-like condition gradually changed into the present water and gradually brought about a change in these fish-men. But the most diverse forms arose. The more imperfect of these fish-men became kangaroos, those a little more advanced became deer and cattle, and the most perfect became apes or men. You see from this that man did not descend from apes: man was there, and all the mammals really descended from him, from these human forms in which man remained imperfect. So we must say that the ape descended from man, not that man descended from the ape. That is so, and we must be quite clear about it.
You see, you could make it clear to yourselves through the following: Imagine a really clever man who has a small son. This son suffers from hydrocephalus and is very stupid. Let us say that the clever man is about forty-five and the small son seven or eight. The boy turns out to be stupid. Now could anyone say, that because the boy is a small, imperfect human being the mature man, the clever, perfect person, is descended from the small, imperfect person? It would be nonsense! The fact is that the small, imperfect being is descended from the clever one; the other assertion would be a mistake. This mistake was made when it was thought that apes, the man-like beings who were left behind, are man's ancestors. They are the men left behind, so to speak, the imperfect specimens of mankind left behind. We might say that in this matter science pursued a path that led it deeply into error, and simple men could not accept it. We need only remember the story of the small schoolboy. The teacher, caught in modern science, announced: “Men are descended from monkeys.” The boy came home with this piece of wisdom. The father said: “You silly! Perhaps you did, but I didn't!” You see, there was the naive man versus Darwinism. Science is often not as clever as a naive man. We must admit that.
And so we may say: All that lives out in the world as animal is descended from the primeval being that was neither animal nor man but something between. The one remained imperfect, the other became more perfect, became man. Of course now people come along and say: Yes, but earlier human beings were far less perfect than they are today; in earlier times they had a skull with a lower forehead, a nose like this — the Neanderthal man, or the humans found in Yugoslavia. (They are seldom found and we must not think that such skeletons lie around everywhere; only a few have been found.) Contemporary man usually has a lofty forehead and looks different. Now people say: Those primitive men with the low foreheads were naturally stupid, for the forehead is the seat of the intellect, and only men who attain to high foreheads have proper intelligence — therefore primitive men were without intelligence, and of course those who came later with prominent foreheads had a proper mind.
You see, if we had looked at the men of Atlantis, those men who lived before the floor of the Atlantic Ocean sank and the sea rose, we would have found that they had quite a thin skin, a little soft cartilage — like a net — as covering for the head, and all the rest of them was water. If you look today at someone with hydrocephalus, he does not have a backward sloping forehead, but a high, prominent one, so the Atlantean head was much more like the hydrocephalic head. Imagine that the Atlantean had this head, but watery, such as we see today in an embryo. Think of the Earth and of how the ground sank where the Atlantic Ocean is now, and thus the Atlantic Ocean came into being. Europe and Asia rose more and more; there everything rose. In America the Earth rose also, while in between it sank. The Earth changed. Men acquired harder bones. So when we go back into earlier times when the area of the Atlantic Ocean was still solid land, men had soft bones, just cartilage; there was still water in them. And man could also think with the water. Now you will say: For heaven's sake! now he expects us to believe that people of that time did their thinking not with a solid brain, but a watery one! But indeed, gentlemen, none of you think with your solid brain! You all think with the water in which your brain floats; it is superstitious to imagine that you think with your solid brain. Not even the obstinate thickheads who can grasp nothing but their own ideas — ideas which they accepted in early youth — not even they think with their solid brain; they also think with the brain water, although with the denser parts of it!
But then came the time when this kind of water, this slimy, albuminous water, disappeared. Men could no longer think with it; the bones were stunted, and that low skull appeared. It was only later — in Europe and over in America — that this grew out again to a high forehead. So we must say, the old Atlanteans had very high foreheads in their watery heads. Then, as I said, when the water disappeared, low foreheads appeared at first, and then they gradually grew out again into high foreheads. It was just in a transitional age that men looked like the Neanderthal man, or like the remains found in the south of France or in Sicily. They belonged to a transitional human being who lived in the coast areas where the ground gradually sank. The humans we dig up today in the south of France are not the primitive men but the later men. They are ancestors but of a later period.
And it is interesting that, belonging to the same period in which these men with a flat, low forehead must have lived, we find caves where there are things from which we can assume that the men of that time did not live in houses, but in places in the Earth where they dug themselves in. But for that the Earth must first have become hard. So at the time when the Earth was not yet quite so hard as it is today, or at least somewhat less hard, people burrowed into the Earth to make their dwelling-places, and these we still find today. And the most remarkable things we find in them are paintings and drawings, which are comparatively simple but which reproduce quite skillfully animals living at that time. Today people are really astonished that those men with flat foreheads, with undeveloped heads, could have made those drawings. The drawings are clever in one respect and crude in another. How can we explain this? It is because men had once lived with high, still fluid foreheads and had already had art; perhaps they were able to do much more than we can; this art then atrophied. And what we find in the caves are just the last remnants of what men were still able to do. So we can see that once men did not live merely as animals, gradually perfecting themselves to their present condition, but that before the present human race was here on Earth with its solid bones, there was another human race with more cartilage, a race that already possessed a high culture and civilization.
I have told you that birds were also different in ancient times from what they are now. Birds once consisted entirely of air; later, they built a body around this. Hence their bones are filled with air. The birds were once creatures consisting only of air, but of dense air. And the present birds formed their feathers and so on when our kind of air originated. Just think: if our birds had schools and a culture (they do not, of course, have them, but we can use our imagination), these would have to look different from ours! Take, for instance, the houses we build. These constitute a large part of our civilization. But birds can't build houses — they would fall down; neither can birds become sculptors. They can't even sew — that also belongs to civilization — for if they let go of the needle, it would fall right down. If birds had a civilization and a culture, what would it be like? It would have to be above in the air. But it could not include anything solid; they couldn't have a writing desk, or anything else. At most, they could make signs that would be gone the moment they made them. But if the others understood the signs — well, that would be a culture.
Now imagine an eagle that was a very clever creature, an eagle able to make a statue of an owl — yet he would have to make it in the air only; nothing of it would be there if one looked for it. Now supposing the owl came — a particularly vain owl — and ordered the eagle to make an owl-statue of itself. He would make it very beautifully, very beautifully. Perhaps he would make it just when there was a little cloud, so that he had some denser air — even so, it would disappear at once. Other birds could fly to see it, other owls also, and admire it. Birds can't do that today! You may be quite certain that the eagle will not be making a statue of an owl! But the beings who were once men with a soft structure, soft bodies, had a culture and civilization like that. When, for instance, there was land where the Atlantic Ocean is now, then things could be more or less firm, although the land always sank again, but it was already denser. This was preceded by a thinner condition when there was only a culture and civilization that men made in signs that disappeared at once. So we must imagine that these men shaped everything once upon a time, but nothing lasted; it was there in very delicate matter. And when later they began to shape things that were more coarse, these were clumsy. Even today it is easier to shape something in soft wax than in harder clay. And when men had their whole culture and civilization in only a sort of dense air, they had joy in making something even if it vanished at once.
But now, gentlemen, you can see that we have gone very far back and have found human beings who really consisted only of dense air. Imagine it like this: there is a man of dense air, who has the appearance of a cloud, only not so irregularly formed, for he has what definitely looks like a face, a head, and limbs. But it is something very spiritual; it is almost a ghost! If you met something like it today, you would take it for a ghost, and indeed a very peculiar ghost. It would look somewhat like a fish — and then again somewhat like a man. We were once like that. So now we have already arrived at a stage when man was really quite spiritual. And the farther we go back, the more we find that man as spirit dominates matter. We present human beings can do this only with the softest elements of matter. If we take a piece of bread into our mouth, we can bite it and make it liquid — for all food has to become liquid if it is to pass into the human body. Just think! You make bread liquid; it goes into the esophagus, into the stomach, spreads out into the blood. What really becomes of that piece of bread? Now, that is a remarkable story.
Suppose you have a man before you, the human form, with stomach and esophagus, reaching up to the mouth. Now the man eats a piece of bread. He takes it into his mouth; there it gradually becomes liquid; here in the stomach it is made still more liquid, now it spreads out into the blood, it goes everywhere, becomes thin, thinner, and is dispersed.
And so I have a piece of bread in my hand. I eat it; after a while what does it look like? After three hours when it has spread out into the blood, into the whole body, it is like this: That piece of bread has itself become a man. Thus everything you eat as food is transformed into man, only you do not notice it. You do not notice that really everything you take into yourself continually becomes yourself. You could not be a human being if you did not continually make yourself anew. For what you eat today, the ninth of July, becomes an extremely rarefied human being; something of it remains, the rest passes away. And so it is the next day, and the next; in this way your body is renewed. Every seven years it is completely renewed.
Gentlemen, today we need this solid body so that we can continually make this new man. But earlier men did not have this solid body. They could do this out of their souls; what they took in they could so shape that it looked like the man of that time. You have to imagine that they had no need of muscles and bones, but by means of the soul they could so transform their food that it became man-like. So it was, truly. Man through his spirit governed matter, substance, and shaped his own form, although it was much more delicate. But there he was: a man-like hovering cloud. This form is still in us today, but we have a frame for it: bones and muscles. They must be there as the frame. And in reality when we take food, we still today make this human form. Once upon a time man was as tenuous, as rarefied, as the form we create in ourselves today when we eat.
We also breathe air. First it is outside; then it is in us. And the air too spreads out everywhere through our blood. A man of air is formed today throughout the entire human being. The man of air comes into being. So if I tell you that man was once aeriform before he became densified and crystallized through his bones, I am not telling you something that does not still occur today. Every time you take a breath you still form this man of air. In earlier times he alone existed; only later were his solid, thick, earthly parts built in. So we come back to the fact that what we see today as firm, solid matter was once spiritual through and through. Therefore it is nonsense to say that once the Earth consisted only of gas, and that this gas through its own forces formed itself into the human beings and animals of today. Instead we can see that men and animals and everything existing now were themselves once gaseous and aeriform and have undergone a metamorphosis.
So we find a condition of our Earth that must once have been like this: You see, there was this island where water is today. Where we now travel over water there was once land. At that time the land that is now Europe was deeply submerged; it rose only later; only in isolated places was it above the surface. Now we come to Europe. There we now have ground that earlier was deeply submerged, the top of which was covered with boggy water. We come to Asia, which was completely covered with swamps. Over in America there were also swamps. Those regions which today are solid earth were then sea, and where there is sea today there was land. The human beings who lived there looked quite different from present-day man; they were thin, delicate. Only when the present lands rose out of the water and the earlier lands sank and became sea — only then did the present human race appear and the present-day animals in the form they now bear. This is connected with the inner life of the Earth.
Today it all happens more subtly. Today the lands no longer rise and sink so violently, but they still continue slightly to rise and sink. Anyone who at the present time studies maps — even of Switzerland — maps which are only a few centuries old, sees a lake somewhere and today some place may be quite far from that lake, but we know that just as Ravenna was once on the sea, so this place must once have been on the lake. Lakes dry up and become smaller, even today — only the process is slower than it used to be. But because the land surfaces and the sea floors rise and fall, men and animals are continually changing, continually transforming. But this proceeds more slowly than it used to do.
That is what I wanted to tell you. You see now how the present human race has developed. Next time we will add something historical, because once the human race was on Earth in its present form, history began. Only when they were obliged to be hunters, farmers, shepherds did human beings develop history. That is where we can still add a piece of history to what we have been able to say today about the origin of the world and man. It is good that Herr Dollinger raised the question. We have been able to speak about it in detail and, as I have said, next time we will add a little history.