The Boundaries of Natural Science. Lecture 5 of 8.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, October 1, 1920:
Today it will be necessary to come to terms with a number of things that actually can be understood only if one is able to overcome certain prejudices that have long been cultivated and zealously inculcated right up to the present day. Much of what shall be said here today, and further substantiated tomorrow, must be comprehended through raising oneself up to an inner viewing [Anschauung] of the spirit. You must consider that when the results of a scientific investigation of the spirit are met with a demand for proof such as is recognized by contemporary science or jurisprudence, or even contemporary social science — which is so useless in the face of life itself — one does not get very far at all. For the true spiritual scientist must already bear this method of demonstration within himself. He must have schooled himself in the rigorous methods of contemporary science, even of the mathematical sciences. He must know what mode of demonstration is demanded in these circles, and he must suffuse the processes of his whole inner life with this method: therein he builds the foundation for a higher mode of cognition. For this reason it is usually the case that when the demands of normal consciousness are placed before the spiritual scientist, he is thoroughly at home in the field from which the question stems. He has long since anticipated the objections that can be raised. One could even go so far as to say that he is only a spiritual scientist in the true sense of the word — in the sense in which we characterized spiritual science yesterday — to the extent that he has subjected himself to the rigorous discipline of the modern scientific method and knows at least the tenor of modern scientific thought quite well. I must make this one preliminary remark and add one other. If one cannot transcend the manner of demonstration that experimentation has made scientific habit, one shall never attain knowledge that can benefit society. For in a scientific experiment one proceeds — even if one cherishes the illusion that it is otherwise — in such a way that one moves in a certain direction and allows phenomena to confirm what lives within the ideas one has formulated as a natural law, or perhaps mathematically.
Now, when one is required to translate one's knowledge into social judgments, in other words, if the ideas that one has formulated as the natural laws of contemporary anthropology or biology or Darwinism — no matter how “progressive” this Darwinism might be — are to have validity; if one wants to translate them into a social science that can become truly practical, this knowledge obtained through experimentation is totally inadequate. lt is totally inadequate because one cannot simply sit in a laboratory and wait to see what one's ideas call forth when they are applied to society. Thereby thousands upon thousands of people could easily die or starve or be made to suffer in some other way. A great part of the misery in our society has been called forth in just this way. Because they have originated in pure experimentation, our ideas have gradually become too narrow and impoverished to subsist in reality, which they must be able to do if thought is ever to enrich the sphere of practical life. I have already indicated the stance the spiritual scientist must take regarding the two boundaries that arise within cognition — the boundaries at the poles of matter and consciousness — if he is to attain knowledge that can reflect light back into nature and at the same time forward into the social future. I have shown that at the boundary of the material world one must not allow one's thinking to roll on with its own inertia in order to construct mechanistic, atomistic, or molecular world conceptions tending toward the metaphysical, but rather one must call a halt at the boundary and develop instead something that normally is not yet present as a faculty of cognition. One must develop Inspiration. On the other hand, I have shown you that if one wishes to come to an understanding of consciousness, one must not attempt, as Anglo-American associative psychology does, to penetrate into consciousness with ideas and concepts called forth by the natural world. It must be entirely clear in one's mind that consciousness is constituted such that these ideas culled from the external world can gain no access. We must abandon such ideas and seek rather to enter the realm of Imaginative cognition. In order to achieve self-knowledge we must permeate the concepts and ideas with content, so that they become images. Until the view of man which was born in the West and now has all of civilization in its grasp is transformed into Imaginative cognition, we shall never progress in coming to terms with this second boundary presenting itself to normal human cognition.
At the same time, however, one can say that humanity has evolved from certain stages, now become historical, to the point that requires that it progress to Inspiration on the one hand and Imagination on the other. Whoever is able to perceive what humanity is undergoing at the present, what is just beginning to reveal its first symptoms, knows that forces are rising out of the depths of human evolution that tend toward the proper introduction of Imagination and Inspiration into human evolution.
Inspiration cannot be attained except by exercising a certain faculty of mental representation in the way that I described in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, and that I shall describe at least in outline in the coming lectures. When one has progressed far enough in a kind of inner self-cultivation, a schooling of the self in a certain form of mental representation [Vorstellen] — when one schools oneself to live within the realm of representations, ideals, and concepts that live within the mind — then one learns what it means to live in Inspiration. For when one exercises consciously the faculty that otherwise “mathematicizes” within us during the first seven years up to the change of teeth (in normal life and in conventional science this occurs unconsciously), when one enters into this “living mathematics,” into this “living mechanics,” it is as though one were to fall asleep, entering not into unconsciousness or nebulous dreams but into a new form of consciousness that I shall begin to describe to you today. One takes up into full consciousness what otherwise works within as the sense of balance, the sense of movement, and the sense of life. It is as though one were to wrest from oneself what otherwise lives within as sensations of balance, movement, and life so that one lives within them with the extended mathematical representations. Tomorrow I shall speak about this at greater length. One passes over into another consciousness, within which one experiences something like a toneless weaving in a cosmic music. I cannot describe it otherwise. One unites with this weaving in a toneless music in a way similar to that by which one makes the physical body one's own through the activity of the ego in childhood. This weaving in a toneless music provides the other, rigorously demonstrable awareness that one is now outside the body with one's soul-spirit. One begins to comprehend that even in normal sleep one's soul-spirit is outside the body. Yet the experience of sleep is not permeated with that which vibrates when leaving the body consciously through one's own initiative, and one experiences initially something like an inner unrest, an inner unrest that exhibits a musical quality when one enters into it with full consciousness. This unrest is gradually elucidated when the musical element one experiences there becomes a kind of wordless revelation of speech from the spiritual cosmos. These matters naturally appear grotesque and paradoxical to those who hear them for the first time. Yet much has arisen in the course of cosmic evolution that first appeared paradoxical and grotesque, and human evolution will not advance if one wishes to pass over these phenomena only half-consciously or unconsciously. Initially one has only a certain experience, an experience of a kind of toneless music. Then out of this experience of toneless music there arises something which, when experienced, enables us to comprehend inwardly a content as meaningful as that which is conveyed to us when we listen outwardly to a man who speaks to us via sensible words. The spiritual world simply begins to speak, and one has only to begin to acquire an experience of this.
Then one comes to experience something at a higher level. One no longer only weaves and lives in a toneless music and no longer merely perceives the speech of the supersensible spiritual world: one begins to recognize the contours of something that reveals itself within this supersensible world, the contours of beings. Within this universal spiritual speech that one initially encounters there emerge individual spiritual beings, in the same way that we, listening at a lower level to the speech of another man, crystallize or organize — if I may use such trivial expressions — what reveals itself as his soul and spirit into something substantial. We begin to live within the contemplation and knowledge of a spiritual reality. This realm of the spirit replaces the vacuous, insubstantial, metaphysical world of atoms and molecules: it confronts us as the reality that lies behind the phenomena of the sense world. We no longer stand in the same relation to the boundary of the material world as when we allow conceptualizing to roll on with its own inertia, attempting to carry the kind of thinking developed through interaction with the sense world beyond the boundary. Now we stand in a relationship to this boundary of sense such that the spiritual content of the world suddenly stands revealed there. This is one boundary to cognition.
Ladies and gentlemen, humanity at this point in its evolution is yearning to step out of itself, to step out of the body in this way, and one can see this tendency exemplified quite clearly in certain individuals. Human beings seek to withdraw from their bodies that which the spiritual scientist withdraws with full consciousness. The spiritual scientist withdraws this in a way analogous to the way in which he applies inwardly obtained concepts in a systematic, organized fashion to the natural world. As some of you will know, for some time now a great deal of attention has been paid to a remarkable illness. Psychologists and psychiatrists term this “pathological questioning or doubt” [Grübelsucht; Zweifelsucht]; it would perhaps better be termed “pathological skepticism.” One now encounters innumerable instances of this illness in the most remarkable forms, and it is already necessary that the study of this disease in particular be promoted within the cultural context of our time. This illness manifests itself — you can learn a great deal about it from the psychiatric literature — in these people, from a certain age onward, usually from puberty or the period immediately preceding puberty, no longer being able to relate properly to the external world. When confronted with their experiences in the external world, these people are overcome by an infinite number of questions. There are certain individuals who — though they remain otherwise fully rational, can pursue their duties to a great extent and are fully cognizant of their condition — must begin to pose the most extraordinary questions if they are but slightly withdrawn from what normally binds them to the external world. These questions simply intrude into their life and cannot be brushed aside. They intrude themselves especially strongly in individuals with healthy, or even conspicuously healthy, organizations — in individuals who have an open mind and a certain understanding for the manner in which modern scientific thinking proceeds. They experience modern science in this way, so that they cannot understand at all how such questions arise unconsciously thereby. Such phenomena are evident especially in women, who have less robust natures than men and who also tend to acquire their knowledge of natural science, if they undertake to do so, not so much through the highly disciplined scientific literature but rather through works intended for laymen and dilettantes. For if at this time immediately before puberty, or just when puberty is on the wane, there should occur an intense preoccupation with modern scientific thought in the way I have just described, among such people a high incidence of this disease can be observed. It manifests itself in these people having then to ask: where ever does the Sun come from? And no matter how clever the answers one gives them, one question always calls forth another. Where does the human heart come from? Why does it beat? Did I not forget two or three sins at confession? What happened when I took Communion? Did a few crumbs of the Host perhaps fall to the ground? Did I not try to mail a letter somewhere and miss the slot? I could produce a whole litany of such examples for you, and you would see that all this is eminently suited to keeping one uneasy.
Now, when the spiritual scientist comes to consider this matter he feels himself right at home. It is simply a manifestation of the element in which the spiritual scientist resides consciously when he achieves an experience of the toneless musical speech of spiritual beings through Inspiration. Those afflicted with pathological skepticism enter this region unconsciously. They have cultivated nothing that would enable them to comprehend the state into which they enter. The spiritual scientist knows that throughout the entire night, from falling asleep until waking, one lives in an element consisting entirely of such questions, that out of the sleeping state countless questions arise within one. The spiritual scientist knows this condition, because he can experience it consciously. Whoever approaches these matters from the standpoint of normal consciousness and seeks thus to comprehend them will perhaps make attempts at all kinds of rationalistic explanations, but he will not arrive at the truth, because he is unable to comprehend the matter through Inspirative cognition. Such a one sees that there are, for example, people who go to the theater in the evening and on leaving the theater are helpless to resist the countless questions that overcome them: What is this actress' relationship to the outer world? What was that actor doing some previous year? What are the relationships between the individual actors and actresses? How was this or that flat constructed? Which painter is responsible for each? and so on, and so on. For days on end such people are subject to the influence of this pesky questioner within. This is a pathological condition that one begins to understand only by realizing that these people enter a region the spiritual scientist experiences in Inspiration by approaching this realm differently from those afflicted with this pathological condition. Persons in this pathological state enter the same region as the spiritual scientist, but they do not take their egos with them; in a certain sense they lose their egos upon entering this realm. And it is just this ego that is the ordering faculty. It is the ego that is capable of bringing the same kind of order into this world as we are able to bring to our physical environment. The spiritual scientist knows that one lives in this same region between falling asleep and waking. Everyone who returns from the theater actually is deluged by all these questions in the night while he sleeps, but due to the operation of certain laws sleep normally spreads itself out over this interlocutor, so that one has finished with him by the time one awakens again.
In order to perform valid spiritual research, one must bear into this region unimpaired judgment, complete discretion, and the full force of the human ego. Then we do not live in this region in a kind of super-skepticism but rather with just as much self-possession and confidence as in the physical world. And actually all the meditative exercises that I have given in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, are intended in large part to result in a greater ability to enter this region preserving one's ego in full consciousness and in strict inner discipline. The purpose of a large part of the spiritual scientist's initial schooling is to keep him from losing the inner support and discipline of the ego while traversing this path.
The finest example in recent times of a man who entered this region without full preparation is someone whom Dr. Husemann has characterized here in another context. The finest example is Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche is, to be sure, an extraordinary personality. In a certain sense he was not an intellectual at all. He was not your conventional scholar. With the tremendous gifts of genius, however, he grew out of puberty into scientific research; with these tremendous gifts he was able to take in what the contemporary sciences can offer. That, despite having acquired this knowledge, he did not become a scholar of the conventional sort is shown quite simply by the polemics of so exemplary a modern scholar as Wilamowitz, who came out in opposition immediately after the appearance of the young Nietzsche's first publication. Nietzsche had just published his treatise The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, in which there resounds a readiness to undergo initiation, to enter the musical, the Inspirative — even the title reveals his yearning for the realm that I have characterized — but he could not. The possibility did not exist. In Nietzsche's time a conscious spiritual science did not exist, but in giving his work the title The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, he indicated that he wished to come to terms with a phenomenon such as Wagnerian tragedy out of this spirit of music. And he entered further and further into this realm. As I said, Wilamowitz immediately came out in opposition and wrote his polemics against The Birth of Tragedy, in which he completely rejected from his academic point of view what Nietzsche, unschooled but yearning for knowledge, had written. From the point of view of modern science he was of course completely justified. And actually it is hard to understand how so excellent a thinker as Erwin Rohde could have believed a compromise was possible between this modern philology that Wilamowitz represented and what lived within Nietzsche as a dark striving, as a yearning for initiation, for Inspiration. What Nietzsche had acquired in this manner, had inwardly appropriated, grew out into the other fields of contemporary sciences. It grew into positivism, namely that of the Frenchman, Comte, and the German, Dühring. While cataloguing Nietzsche's library in the 1890s I saw with my own eyes all the marks Nietzsche had so conscientiously made in the margins of Dühring's works, from which he acquired his knowledge of positivism; I held all these books in my own hand. I could enter sympathetically right into the manner in which Nietzsche took positivism up into himself. I could well imagine how he then reverted to an extra-corporeal existence, where he experienced this positivism again without having penetrated into this region sufficiently with his ego. As a result, he produced works such as Human, All Too Human, exhibiting a constant oscillation between an inability to move within the world of Inspiration and a desire to remain there nonetheless. One notices this in the aphoristic progression of Nietzsche's style in these works. Nietzsche strives to bring his ego into this realm, but it tears itself away again and again: thus he produces not a systematic, artistic presentation but only aphorisms. It is just this constant self-interruption in aphorism that reveals the inward soul of this remarkable spirit. And then he rises to encounter that which has provided modern science, the contemporary physical sciences, with their greatest riddles. He rises up to encounter what lives in Darwinism, what lives in the theory of evolution, and attempts to demonstrate how the most complicated organisms have gradually arisen out of the most primitive. He penetrates into this realm, a realm into which I have sought in a modest way to bring inner structure and an inward mobility — you can follow this in the discussion of Haeckel in my book The Riddles of Philosophy. Nietzsche enters this realm, and there emerges from his soul the notion of a kind of super-evolution [Überevolutionsgedanke]. He follows the course of evolution up to man, where this notion of evolution explodes to create his “superman.” In following this self-progression of evolving beings he loses the content, because he is unable to obtain the true content through Inspiration: he is confined to the empty idea of “eternal recurrence.”
Only by virtue of the inner integrity of his personality was Nietzsche able to avoid what the pathologist calls “pathological skepticism.” It was something within Nietzsche, a prodigious health that Nietzsche himself sensed underlying his debility, that asserted itself and kept him from falling prey to complete skepticism, leading him rather to contrive what later became the content of his most inspiring words. No wonder, then, that this excursion into the spiritual world, this striving to proceed from music to the inner word, to inner being, culminated in the most unmusical of ideas — that of “the eternal recurrence of the same”— and the empty, merely lyrical “superman.” No wonder that it had to end in the condition that his physician, for example, diagnosed as an “atypical case of paralysis.”
Yes, this man who did not know Nietzsche's inner life, who was incapable of judging it from the standpoint of spiritual science and confronted the images and ideas of Nietzsche's inner life as a mere psychiatrist, without sympathetic understanding — this man found only an abstraction to answer the question posed by the concrete case before him. With regard to all nature, du Bois-Reymond had said in 1872: ignorabimus. Confronted with exceptional cases, the psychiatrist says: paralysis, atypical paralysis. Confronted with concrete cases that reveal the essence of present human evolution, the psychiatrist can say only ignorabimus, or ignoramus. This is but a translation of what is clothed in the words “atypical case of paralysis.”
This eventually destroyed Nietzsche's body. It produced the condition that makes Nietzsche such a revealing phenomenon within our contemporary cultural life. This is the other form of the debility appearing in certain highly cultivated individuals, which psychiatrists term pathological doubt or hyper-skepticism. And the phenomenon of Nietzsche — here I must be allowed a personal remark — stood before my eyes the moment that, trembling, I entered his room in Naumburg a few years after his illness. He lay upon the sofa after dinner, staring into space. He recognized nobody around him and stared at one like a complete idiot, but the light of his former genius still gleamed within his eyes.
If one looked at Nietzsche, knowing all one could about his worldview, about the ideas and images that lived within his soul; if, unlike the mere psychiatrist, one stood before Nietzsche, this ruin of a man, this physical wreck, with this image in one's soul, then one knew: this man strove to view the world revealed by Inspiration. Nothing of this world came forth to him. And the part of him that desired to achieve Inspiration finally extinguished itself: for years the physical organism was filled by a soul-spirit devoid of content.
From such a sight one can learn the whole tragedy of our modern culture, its striving for the spiritual world, its inclination toward that which can proceed from Inspiration. For me — and I do not hesitate in the slightest to introduce a personal remark here — this was one of those moments that can be interpreted in a Goethean manner. Goethe says that nature conceals no secret that she is not willing to reveal in one place or another. No, the entire world contains not a single secret that is not revealed in one place or another. The present stage of human evolution conceals the secret that humanity is giving birth to a striving, an inclination, an impulse that rumbles within the social upheavals our civilization is undergoing — an impulse that seeks to view the spiritual world of Inspiration. And Nietzsche was the one point where nature revealed its open secret, where the striving that exists within humanity as a whole could reveal itself. We must seek this if all those striving for education, seeking within modern science — and this shall be the entire civilized world, for education must become universal — if humanity as a whole is not to lose its ego and civilization fall into barbarism.
That is one great cultural anxiety, one great threat to civilization, which must be faced by anyone who follows the contemporary progress of human evolution and seeks to develop a thinking that can grasp the realities of social life. Similar phenomena assert themselves on the other side as well, on the side of consciousness. And we shall have to study these phenomena on the side of consciousness at least in outline as well. We shall see how these other phenomena arise out of the chaos of contemporary life, phenomena that appear pathologically and have been described by Westphal, Falret, and others. It is no accident that these have been described only just in the most recent decades. On the other side, that of the boundary of consciousness, we encounter the phenomena of claustrophobia, astraphobia, and agoraphobia, just as we encounter pathological skepticism on the side of matter. And in the same way (we shall discuss this further) in which pathological skepticism must be cured culturally-historically through the cultivation of Inspiration — one of the great talks of contemporary social ethics — we are threatened with the emergence of the phenomena that I shall describe tomorrow: claustrophobia, astraphobia, and agoraphobia. These emerge pathologically and can be overcome through Imagination, which, when civilization has acquired it, shall become a social blessing for all humanity.
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