Wednesday, January 28, 2015
The polarity between sense perception and reality
Astronomy in Relation to the Other Scientific Disciplines. Lecture 5.
Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, January 5, 1921:
My Dear Friends,
For the further progress of our studies I must today insert a kind of interlude, for we shall then understand more easily the real nature of our task. From a particular point of view we will reflect on the cognitional theory of Natural Science altogether. Let us link on to yesterday's lecture by calling to mind once more the provisional conclusions to which we came. The verification of them will emerge in the further course.
We have seen that in the study of celestial phenomena, in so far as these are expressed by our Astronomy in geometrical forms and arithmetical figures, we are led to incommensurable qualities. There is a moment in our process of cognition — in the attempt to understand the celestial phenomena — when we must come to a standstill, as it were, and can no longer declare the mathematical method to be competent. From a certain point onward, we simply cannot continue merely to draw geometrical lines, tracing the movements of the heavenly bodies. We can no longer employ mathematical analysis; we can only admit that analysis and geometry take us up to a certain point, whence we can go no further. At least provisionally, we come to the very significant conclusion that in reflecting on what we see, whether with the naked eye or with the aid of instruments, we can never fully compass it with geometrical figures or mathematical formulae. We do not contain the whole of the phenomena in algebra, analysis and geometry.
Think of the significance of this. If we are claiming to include the totality of the celestial phenomena, we must no longer imagine that we can do so by thinking of the Sun as moving in such a way that its movement can be represented by a definite geometry line, or that the Moon's movement can be so represented. Precisely our most ardent wish must be renounced when we confront the phenomena in their totality. This is the more significant, since nowadays, the moment someone says ‘The Copernican System works no more satisfactorily than the Ptolemaic’, someone else will answer, ‘Let us then design another system’. We shall see in the further course of these lectures what must be put in the place of mere geometrical designs in order to comprehend the phenomena in their totality.
I must put this negative aspect before you first, before we can enter into the positive, for it is most important that we clear our thought in this respect.
On the other hand, we saw yesterday that what confronts us in Embryology emerges as if from indefinite, chaotic regions, and from a certain point onward can be grasped in picture-form, or even geometrically. As I said yesterday, in studying the celestial phenomena, through the very process of cognition we come to a point where we must recognize that the world is different from what this process of cognition might at first have led us to believe. And in the embryonic phenomena we are led to see that there must be something which precedes the facts to which we still have access.
Now among other things there recently appeared a certain divergence of outlook among embryologists. (I will only give a rough description.) On the one hand there were the strict followers of biogenetic law, which states, as you know, that the development of the individual embryo is a kind of shortened recapitulation of the development of the race. These people wished to trace the cause of the development of the embryo to the development of the race. On the other hand, others came forward who would not hear of the derivation of the individual from the racial development, but held to a more or less mechanical conception of embryonic development, saying that it was only necessary to take into account the forces directly present in what takes place in the embryo itself. For example, Oscar Hertwig left the strict biogenetic school of Haeckel and changed over to the more mechanical school. Now the mechanical needs to be grasped in a way that is at least similar to mathematics even though it be not pure mathematics. We therefore see, from the very history of Science, how from a certain stage onward (something as I said, must be presumed to have gone before this stage) embryological development is taken hold of by a mechanical, mathematical method of research. It is the history of these things to which I now wish to point.
All this appears in the field which one might call the theory of knowledge. On the one hand we are driven to a boundary in the cognitional process, where we can get no further with our favorite modern method of approach. On the other hand, in studying the embryonic life our only possibility of grasping it with ordinary methods is to start from a certain point: what goes before this has to be taken for granted. We must admit that we find something in the realm of reality, the beginnings of which we must leave vague and unexplored; then from a certain point onward we can set to work, describing what we observe in terms of diagrams, formulas and relationships which are at least similar to those of mathematics and mechanics.
Bearing these things in mind, I deem it necessary in today's lecture to insert a kind of general reflection. As I have often pointed out, it is the ideal of modern scientific research to observe outer Nature as independently of man as possible, — to establish the phenomena in pure objectivity, as it were, excluding man altogether from the picture. We shall see that precisely through this method of excluding, it is impossible to transcend such barriers as we have now observed from two distinct sides.
This is connected with the fact that the principle of metamorphosis, which, as you know,was first conceived and presented in an elementary way by Goethe, has so far hardly been followed up at all. It has no doubt been used to some extent in morphology, yet even here, as we saw yesterday, one essential principle is lacking. Morphology today cannot yet recognize the form and construction of a tubular or long bone, for example, in its relation to that of a skull-bone. To do this, we should have to reach a way of thinking whereby we should first study what is within, say, the inner surface of a tubular bone and then relate this to the outer surface of a skull-bone. This means a kind of inversion, as when a glove is turned inside-out; but at the same time there is an alteration of the form, an alteration of the surface-tensions through the reversing or turning of inside outward. Only if we follow the metamorphosis of forms in this way, though it may seem complicated, shall we reach true conclusions.
But when we leave the morphological and enter more into the functional domain, there are but the barest indications, in the existing ways of thought, towards a true pursuit of the idea of metamorphosis in this domain. Yet this is what is needed. A beginning was made in my book “Riddles of the Soul”, wherein I indicated, at least sketchily, the threefoldness of the being of man, recognized as a sum-total of interrelated functions. At least in outline, I explained how we must first distinguish those functions and processes in man which may be regarded as belonging to the nerves and senses; how we then have to recognize, as relatively independent processes, all that is rhythmical in the human organism; and how again we must recognize the metabolic processes as distinct. I pointed out that in these three forms of processes all that is functional in man is included. Anything else which appears functional in the human organism is derivable from these three.
It is essential to see that all phenomena in the organic realm, although appearing outwardly side by side, are related to one another through the principle of metamorphosis. People today are disinclined to look at things macroscopically. We must find our way back to the macroscopic aspect. Otherwise, through the very lack of synthetic understanding of what is living, problems will arise which are not inherently insoluble, but are made so by our methodical prejudices and limitations.
You see, in learning to understand man in this threefold aspect we must observe that he is connected with the outer world in a threefold way. His life of nerves and senses is one way in which man is related to the outer world; through all rhythmic processes he is related to it in another way. It lies in the very nature of the rhythmical processes that they cannot be considered as isolated within man, apart from the rest of the world, for they depend upon the breathing, — a process of perpetual interchange between the human body and the outer world. Again, in the metabolism there is a very obvious process of interchange between man and the outer world. Also the nerves-and-senses process may be regarded as a continuation of the outer world into the inner man. This becomes easier to understand if the distinction is made between the actual perceptions, given to us through the senses, and the accompanying process of cognition — the forming of ideas and mental pictures. It is unnecessary here now to go into these things more deeply, for it is evident enough. In relation between man and the outer world during sense-perception the emphasis is more on the outer world, while the forming of ideas and mental pictures takes us more into the inner man. (I am referring to the bodily processes, not to the life of soul.)
Again, leaving aside for the moment the rhythmic system — breathing and blood-circulation — the metabolic system brings us to something else, which is in definite contrast to this inward-leading process from sense perception to ideation. A thorough study of the metabolic system establishes a connection between the inner metabolic processes and the functions of the human limbs. The limb-functions are connected with the metabolism.
If people would proceed more rationally than they are wont to, they would discover the essential connection between the metabolism, situated as it is more deeply within the body, and the processes by means of which we move our limbs. These too are metabolic. The actual organic functions which underlie the movements of the limbs are processes of metabolism. Consumption of material substances is what we find if we examine the organic functions here.
But we must not stop short at the metabolic process as such. There is a way in which this process leads as much from man towards the outer world, as sense-perception leads from the outer world towards the interior of the human body. (Such methods of research, which are really fundamental, need to be undertaken, otherwise no progress will be made in certain essential directions.)
What is it that is directed outward from the metabolism even as something is directed inward from sense-perception to the creating ideas and mental pictures? It is the process of fertilization. Fertilization points in the opposite direction, — from the bodily organism outward. Representing it diagrammatically (Fig.1): In sense-perception the direction is from without inward; this incoming process of sense-perception is then ‘fertilized’ by the organism and we get the forming of ideas. (Please do not take offense at the expression ‘fertilized’; we shall soon replace what may look like a symbolical way of speaking by the reality it indicates.) In the metabolic process the direction is from within outward, and we get actual fertilization. In what is manifested therefore at the two poles of threefold human nature we are led in two opposite directions.
In the middle is all that belongs to the rhythmic system. Now we may ask, what in the rhythmic system is directed outward and what inward? Here it is not possible to find such precise distinctions as between the inner metabolism and fertilization, or between perception and ideation. The processes in the rhythmic system rather merge into one another. In the in-breathing and out-breathing the process is more of a unity. It cannot be distinguished quite so sharply, yet it is still possible to say (Fig.1): As sense perception comes from outside and fertilization goes outward, so too in inspiration and expiration there is a going inward and outward. Breathing is intermediate.
Here is a true example of metamorphosis: a single entity, underlying threefold human nature, organized now in one way, now in another.
In the upward direction this can be followed to some extent physiologically. (Some of you already know what I shall now refer to.) Observe the breathing process. The intake of air influences the organism in a certain way; namely, in in-breathing, the cerebro-spinal fluid, in which the spinal cord and brain are steeped, is pressed upward. You must remember that the brain is in fact floating in cerebral fluid, and is thus buoyed up. We should not be able to live at all without this element of buoyancy. We will not go into that now, however, but only draw attention to the fact that here is an upward movement of the cerebral fluid in in-breathing and a downward movement in out-breathing. So that the breathing process actually plays into the skull, into the head. In this process we have a real interplay and co-operation of the nerves-and-senses system with the rhythmic system.
You see how the organs work, to bring about what we may call metamorphosis of functions. Then we can say, however hypothetical or only as a postulate: perhaps something similar will be found as regards metabolism and fertilization. But in this realm of the body we shall less easily reach a conclusion. This is indeed characteristic of the human organism; it is comparatively easy to understand the interpenetrating relation between the rhythmic system and the nerves-and-senses system in process accessible to thought, but we cannot so easily find an evident relation between the rhythmic system and the processes of metabolism and fertilization.
Call to your aid the physiological knowledge at your disposal, and the more exactly you go into the matter the better you will perceive this. Moreover it is quite obvious why it is so. Consider the regular alternation of sleeping and waking. Through sense-perception you are open to the outer world, continuously exposed to the outer world. Then you set to work with your thinking and ideation and bring a certain order and orientation into what you see around you in your waking life. It becomes ordered through an activity which works from within outward; the orientation comes from within. Actually we can say: We confront an external world which is already ordered according to its own laws, and we ourselves bring another order into it out of our own inner being. We think about the outer world, we put together the facts and phenomena according to our own liking — unhappily, often a very bad liking! From our inner being, something is introduced into the outer world which by no means necessarily corresponds to this outer world. If this were not so, we should never fall a victim to error. Out of our own inner being comes an arbitrary remolding of the world around us.
But now, looking at the other pole of human nature, you will agree that the disordering comes from without, both in metabolism and fertilization. For it is left very largely to our own arbitrary choice and free will, how we sustain our metabolism by taking food, and even more so, how we behave as regards fertilization. But here the arbitrary element has much to do with the outer world, which in the first place is foreign to us. We do at least feel at home in the arbitrary element we introduce, out of our own inner being, into the process of perception. But we do not feel familiar with all that we bringinto ourselves from the outer world. We have, for instance but a very slight idea — at least, most people have very little idea — of what actually happens in our relationship with the world when we eat or drink. And as to what happens in the intervals of time between our meals, — to this we pay very little attention, and even if we did it would not help much. Here we come into an indefinite, impalpable region, I would say. Thus at the one place of man's being we have the ordered Cosmos which extends its gulfs, as it were, in our sense organs (Fig.2). (The world ‘ordered’ must not be misunderstood, it is only used to characterize the facts; we will not lose ourselves in philosophical arguments as to whether the Cosmos is really ordered or not, we want only to characterize the given facts.) The pole is in contrast to the other, which, we are bound to admit, is an un-ordered Cosmos, considering all that comes into us from without, all that we stuff into ourselves, or again, how the process of fertilization is entered into in quite irregular intervals of time and so on. Contemplating this invasion of the metabolism by the outer world, we must admit that we are here confronted by an unordered Cosmos — unordered at least to begin with, so far as we are concerned.
And now we may put the question — from the more general aspects of the theory of human knowledge: How and to what extent are we really connected with the starry Heavens? In the first place, we see them. But you will have a vivid feeling by this time of the uncertainties which assail us when we being to think about the starry Heavens. Not only have the men of different ages felt convinced of the truth of the most diverse astronomical world-systems. As we saw yesterday, we have to face the fact that we cannot contain the totality of the starry Heavens in the mathematical and mechanical forms of thought in which we feel most secure.
Not only must we admit that we cannot trust to mere sensory appearances as regards the Heavens, but we must recognize that when we take our start from what we see and then work upon it with the life of thought, which, as we saw, belongs more to the inner man, we cannot ever really get at this world of stars. It is the truth, it is no mere comparison, to say: The starry Heavens only present themselves to us in their totality — a relative totality, of course — through sense perception. Taking our start from sense-perception, when we as man try to go farther inward, to understand the starry Heavens, we feel somewhat foreign to them. We get a strong feeling of our inadequacy. And yet we feel that something intelligible must be there in the phenomena which we behold.
Outside us, then, is the ordered Cosmos; it only presents itself to our senses. It most certainly does not at once reveal itself to our intellectual understanding. We have this ordered Cosmos on the one hand; with it, we cannot enter into man. We try to lead on from outer sense-perception of the Cosmos towards the inner man — the life of thought and ideation — and find we cannot enter. We must admit: Astronomy will not quite go into our head. This is not said in the least metaphorically. It is a demonstrable fact in the theory of knowledge. Astronomy will not go into the human head; it simply will not fit there.
What do we see now at the other pole — that of the unordered Cosmos? Let us but look at the facts; we do not want to set up theories or hypotheses, but only to see the facts clearly.
Look for what is in contrast, in the outer Universe to the astronomical domain, and in man to the processes of perception and ideation (the continuation of the ‘ordered Cosmos’ into man). In man you come into the realm of metabolism and fertilization — and in Astronomy (Fig.2), when you look downward in an analogous way, into what realm are you led? You are led into Meteorology — all the phenomena of the outer world once more, relating to Meteorology. For if you try to understand meteorological phenomena in terms of ‘natural law’, the amount of law you can bring in is to the ordered Cosmos of Astronomy in just the same proportion as is the temperamental region of metabolism and fertilization in man to the realm of sense perception, into which the whole starry Heaven sheds its light, — which only begins to get into disorder in our own inner life, namely in our forming of ideas.
If therefore we regard man not as an isolated being, but in connection with the whole of Nature, then we can place him into the picture in the following way. Through his head he takes part in the astronomical domain, through his metabolism in the meteorological domain. Man is thus interwoven with the Cosmos on either hand.
Let us here add another thought. Yesterday we spoke of those processes which may be looked upon as an inner organic imagining of Moon-events, namely the processes in the female organism. In the female organism there is something like an alternation of phases, a succession of events, taking their course in 28 days. Although, as things are now, these events are not at all dependent on any actual Moon-events, yet they are somehow an inner reflection of the moon. I also drew your attention to the following psycho-physiological fact. If we really analyze human memory and take into account the underlying inner organic process, we cannot but compare it with this functioning of the female body. Only that in the latter the bodily nature is taken hold of more intensely than it is when holding fast in memory some outer experience which it has undergone. What comes to expression in these 28 days as a result of our erstwhile impressions is no longer contained within the individual life between birth and death, whereas the experiencing of outer events and the memory of them comes into a shorter period and takes its course between birth and death, within the single life of the individual. Considered in their psychological-physiological aspect, the two processes are however essentially the same — a functional reexperiencing of an external process or event. (In my ‘Occult Science’ I clearly hinted at this kind of experience in relation to the outer world.)
Now, study the functions of the ovum before fertilization and you will find that they are entirely involved in this 28-day inner rhythm; they belong to this process. But as soon as fertilization takes place, the processes in the ovum immediately fall out of this inner rhythmic life of the human being. A mutual relation with the outer world is at once established. Observing the process of fertilization, we are led to see that what is happening in the ovum from then onward no longer has to do with mere inner processes in the human body. Fertilization tears the ovum out of the purely inner organic process and leads it over into the realm of those processes which belong in common to the inner being of man and to the Cosmos, — a realm in which there are no barriers between what takes place within man and in the Cosmos. Therefore, what occurs after fertilization, — all that happens in the forming of the embryo, — must be studied in connection with external cosmic events, and not merely in terms of developmental mechanisms within the ovum itself in its successive stages.
Think what this means. All that goes on in the ovum before fertilization is, so to speak, within the domain of the human being's own inner organic process. But in what happens after fertilization and is brought about thereby — the human being opens himself to the Cosmos. Cosmic influences here prevail.
Thus on the one hand we have the Cosmos working in upon us up to the point where the life of ideas begins. We have, in sense-perception, a mutual relation between man and the Cosmos. We investigate this relation, for example, by means of the laws of perception: the physiology of the senses and so on. The way in which we see an object must be investigated through such laws. Suppose we watch a railway-train traveling past us. We see the whole movement lengthwise. If, however, we are at a point directly in front of the train far enough away — however fast the train is going, we see it as if it were stationary. Pictorially, therefore, what takes place in us depends on the relation of the cosmos to us. We are in the midst of pictures and we ourselves belong to the picture. However, we become entangled in something chaotic, — for ultimately, our world systems are chaotic, — if we try to draw conclusions as to the real events from what we see externally.
On the other hand, in regard to fertilization, man is involved not in pictorial but in real cosmic processes.
Thus at the one pole man is immersed in the Cosmos in a pictorial way, and at the other in a real way. The very thing that eludes him when he looks out into the Cosmos, works in upon him when he undergoes the process of fertilization. Here therefore something, in itself a whole, is drawn apart into two members. In the one case a mere picture is before us and we cannot strike through to the reality. In the other the reality confronts us; through it a new man comes into being. But it does not become a clear picture; it remains for us as devoid of law as do the manifestations of the weather, or meteorological conditions generally. Here we are face to face with a duality — here are two poles. From either side we receive half. It is as though we received the picture from the one side and the reality which underlies it from the other.
You see, the way man confronts the world is not as simple as one might assume in saying: The sensory picture of the world is given; now let us devise the reality by philosophical methods. This problem of finding the underlying reality in sense-perception is, of course, fundamental in the philosophic theory of cognition. But man is curiously balanced between the picture and reality in quite other ways than by mere philosophic speculation.
Now in the course of world-evolution, men have already tried to approach this secret through an experience of the intermediary realm: in-breathing and out-breathing. The ancient Indian wisdom — which, as I often say, it would be wrong for us to imitate today — proceeded more or less instinctively from the following hypotheses. Sense-perceptions are of no use in the striving for reality; nor are the sexual processes or those of fertilization, for they give no clear picture. Therefore, let us keep to the middle region, which is metamorphosed at one time towards picture-forming and at another time towards reality. We must keep to the middle region, for through it the approach to reality, and yet at one and the same time to the picture, must in some way be possible. This is why the special breathing exercises of the Yoga system were perfected by the wisdom of Ancient India. Men sought to reach reality by experiencing the breathing process consciously, thus grasping at the same time both picture and reality. And if one asks why this should be, the answer is given: Breathing unites picture and reality. (The answer may be more or less instinctive, though not entirely so, as you can see if you will study, in the Indian philosophy itself, how this strange system of breathing-exercises arose.) Breathing unites picture and reality. The picture is experienced in its relation to the reality, if once the breathing process is lifted out of the unconscious into consciousness. We shall never understand what thus appeared in the historic evolution of mankind unless we regard it from the point of view of the inner physiology of man. Looking at it in this light, you can say: There was a time when men sought to comprehend reality by turning to man himself. For pictures of the world, we have the senses; for the reality, something quite different. Therefore men turned to that part of the world human being which is neither shut off in finished pictures, nor on the other hand in the mere experiencing of reality; they turned to what is not yet differentiated or divided: to the breathing process. And in so doing, they brought man into the Cosmos. They did not contemplate a world separate from man like the world of our Natural Science; they beheld a world for which man, as rhythmic man, became a real organ of perception. This world, they said, can be grasped neither by the nerves-and-senses man, nor by the metabolic man. In his life of nerves and senses, man becomes conscious in such a way that what presented itself to nerves and senses is thinned out to a mere picture; in the metabolism, reality meets him in such a way as not to be raised into consciousness at all. The interweaving of the real but unconscious experience with what is thinned out to a picture was sought by the wise men of ancient India in the regulated breathing process. Nor shall we ever understand the ancient cosmic systems, previous to the Ptolemaic, till we are able to divine how the Universe appears to man when in this way a synthesis, however undifferentiated, is achieved between the process of cognition on the one hand, and on the other the intense realty of the reproduction-process.
Consider now from this point of view the teachings about the creation of the world which are to be met with particularly in the Bible — teachings which, as things are today, are not so easy to see through. Consider the Bible story of the Creation, particularly as interpreted by those who still had the old traditions. Fundamentally, the Biblical story of Creation can only be understood if we are able to combine the genesis of the world which we derive by looking at the outer Universe, with that which we derive by Embryology. What is set forth in the Book of Genesis is in fact compounded of Embryology and of what is seen in the outward glory of the sense world. Hence the repeated attempts to interpret the Biblical story of Creation, even word for word, by embryological facts. Truly, it calls for such interpretation.
I introduced this today, my dear friends, for quite a definite reason.
You see, if our present studies — intended, as they are, to form a bridge between the external Science of today and Spiritual Science — are to have any meaning at all, we must first acquire a quite definite feeling and must permeate ourselves with this feeling; otherwise we can get no further. We must become able to feel that certain modern ways of thought are superficial and external, — to feel this in a thoroughly deep way. We must learn to see the superficiality, on the one hand, of setting up pictures of the Universe which only try to make some slight corrections in the Copernican System, and on the other hand, of researching into the embryonic life in the ways which are customary today. One might say that Nietzsche's dictum: “The world is deeply thought and wrought; more deeply than the passing day”, proceeded from such a feeling. The impulses must be acquired not to seek explanations in the mere superficial acceptance of what presents itself directly, even if it be to the enhanced sight of telescope or microscope or X-ray apparatus. We must learn to have respect for explanations of another nature, aspiring to other faculties of knowledge, such as were sought by the old Indian sages in the Yoga System, so as to penetrate into reality and find the means of forming an adequate picture of reality.
Since we have now outgrown the Yoga system, we must feel impelled towards a new way of penetrating into the Universe by processes which still remain to be developed — which are not to be derived so simply from the habitual methods of today. For man is placed in the midst between the picture of the world, — a picture which presents itself to him in an overwhelmingly forceful way in the starry Heavens, the secrets of which will never be disclosed through the mere intellectual faculties, — and what meets him with ever-changing mood and temperament in the processes of reproduction, by virtue of which the human race exists. Into the midst of this great whole which is thus separated for him into two halves, man is placed. To find a connection between the two, he must look for a way of spiritual development, even as he did in an older form in the Yoga system, — a form no longer possible today.
Astronomy, as hitherto practiced, will never lead to a grasp of reality; it will only give us pictures. And Embryology, though in this realm we seize reality, will not enable us to penetrate the reality with ideas and mental pictures. Astronomical pictures of the world are poor in reality; embryological pictures are poor in idea — we fail to penetrate the facts with clear ideas. Thus in the theory of knowledge too we must approach the human being as a whole, instead of merely indulging in philosophical and psychological speculations about sense-perception. We must take our start from the whole of man. We must learn how to place man as a whole into the Universe. That is our task today.
It is very evident today, how on the one hand in Astronomy the ground of knowledge is being lost. And it is evident how on the other hand in Embryology, where knowledge fails to reach the wellsprings of reality, all that results is a mere talking round and round the given facts, whether in terms of the biogenetic law or of developmental mechanisms. Amplification of our fundamental methods is quite evidently needed in both of these directions.
I had to put all this before you, so that we might understand each other better in what follows. For it will help you see that it would be of no use if I were simply to add another formal picture of the Universe to the existing ones, although admittedly that is the kind of thing which people nowadays desire.