The Boundaries of Natural Science. Lecture 4 of 8.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 30, 1920:
Yesterday's considerations led us to conclude that at one boundary of cognition we must come to a halt within phenomena and then permeate them with what the phenomena call forth within our consciousness, with concepts, ideas, and so forth. It became apparent that the realm in which these ideas are most pure and pellucid is that of mathematics and analytical mechanics. Our considerations then climaxed in showing how reflection reveals that everything present in the soul as mathematics, as analytical mechanics, actually rests upon Inspiration. Then we were able to indicate how the impulses proceeding from Inspiration are diffused throughout the ancient Indian Vedanta: the same spirit from which we now draw only mathematics and analytical mechanics was once the source of the delicate spirituality of the Vedanta. We were able to show how Goethe, in establishing his mode of phenomenology, always strives to find the archetypal phenomenon while remaining within the phenomena themselves and that his search for the archetypal phenomenon that underlies complex phenomena is, inwardly, the same as the mathematician's search for the axiom underlying complex mathematical constructs. Goethe, therefore, who himself admitted that he had no conventional mathematical training, nevertheless sensed the essence of mathematics so clearly that he demanded a method for the determination of archetypal phenomena rigorous enough to satisfy a mathematician. It is just this that the Western mind finds so attractive in the Vedanta: that in its inner organization, in its progression from one contemplation to the next, it reveals the same inner necessity as mathematics and analytical mechanics. That such connections are not uncovered by academic studies of the Vedanta is simply a consequence of there being so few people today with a universal education. Those who engage in pursuits that then lead them into Oriental philosophy have too little comprehension — and, as I have said, Goethe did have this — of the true inner structure of mathematics. They thus never grasp this philosophy's vital nerve. At the one pole, then, the pole of matter, we have been able to indicate the attitude we must assume initially if we do not wish to continue weaving a Penelope's web like the worldview woven by recent science but rather to come to grips with something that rests upon a firm foundation, that bears its center of gravity within itself.
On the other side there stands, as I indicated yesterday, the pole of consciousness. If we attempt to investigate the content of consciousness merely by brooding our way into our souls in the nebulous manner of certain mystics, what we attain are actually nothing but certain reminiscences that have been stored up in our consciousness since birth, since our childhood. This can easily be demonstrated empirically. One need think only of a certain man well educated in the natural sciences who, in order to demonstrate that the so-called “inner life” partakes of the nature of reminiscences, describes an experience he once had while standing in front of a bookstore. In the store he saw a book that captured his attention by its title. It dealt with the lower form of animal life. And, seeing this book, he had to smile. Now imagine how astonished he was: a serious scientist, a professor, who sees a book title in a bookstore — a book on the lower animals, at that! — and feels compelled to smile! Then he began to ponder just whence this smile might have come. At first he could think of nothing. And then it occurred to him: I shall close my eyes. And as he closed his eyes and it became dark all around him, he heard in the distance a musical motif. Hearing this musical motif in the moment reminded him of the music he had heard as a young lad when he danced for the first time. And he realized that of course there lived in his subconscious not only this musical motif but also a bit of the partner with whom he had hopped about. He realized how something that his normal consciousness had long since forgotten, something that had not made so strong an impression on him that he would have thought it possible for it to remain distinct for a whole lifetime, had now risen up within him as a whole complex of associations. And in the moment in which his attention had been occupied with a serious book, he had not been conscious that in the distance a music box was playing. Even the sounds of the music box had remained unconscious at the time. Only when he closed his eyes did they emerge.
Many things that are mere reminiscences emerge from consciousness in this way, and then some nebulous mystics come forth to tell us how they have become aware of a profound connection with the divine “Principle of Being” within their own inner life, how there resounds from within a higher experience, a rebirth of the human soul. And thereby vast mystical webs are woven, webs that are nothing but the forgotten melody of the music box. One can ascribe a great deal of the mystical literature to this forgotten melody of the music box.
This is precisely what a true spiritual science requires: that we remain circumspect and precise enough to refrain from trumpeting forth everything that arises out of the unconscious as reminiscences, as mysticism, as though it were something that could lay claim to objective meaning. For it is just the spiritual scientist who most needs inner clarity if he wishes to work in a truly fruitful way in this direction. He needs inner clarity above all when he undertakes to delve into the depths of consciousness in order to come to grips with its true nature. One must delve into the depths of consciousness itself, yet at the same time one must not remain a dilettante. One must acquire a professional competence in everything that psychopathology, psychology, and physiology have determined in order to be able to differentiate between that which makes an unjustifiable claim to spiritual scientific recognition and that which has been gained through the same kind of discipline, as, for example, mathematics or analytical mechanics.
To this end I sought already in the last century to characterize in a modest way this other pole, the pole of consciousness, as opposed to the pole of matter. To understand the pole of matter requires that we build upon Goethe's view of nature. The pole of consciousness, on the other hand, was not to be reached so easily by a Goetheanistic approach, for the simple reason that Goethe was no trivial thinker, nor trivial in his feelings when it was a matter of cognition. Rather, he brought with him into this realm all the reverence that is necessary if one seeks to approach the springs of knowledge. And thus Goethe, who was by disposition more attuned to external nature, felt a certain anxiety about anything that would lead down into the depths of consciousness itself, about thinking elaborated into its highest, purest forms. Goethe felt blessed that he had never thought about thinking. One must understand what Goethe meant by this, for one cannot actually think about thinking. One cannot actually think thinking any more than one can “iron” iron or “wood” wood. But one can do something else. What one can do is attempt to follow the paths that are opened up in thinking when it becomes more and more rational, to pursue them in the way one does through the discipline of mathematical thinking. If one does this, one enters via a natural inner progression into the realm that I sought to consider in my Philosophy of Freedom. What one attains in this way is not a thinking about thinking. One can speak of thinking about thinking in a metaphorical sense at best. One does attain something else, however: what one attains is an actual viewing [Anschauen] of thinking — but to arrive at this “viewing of thinking” it is necessary first to have acquired a concrete notion of the nature of sense-free thinking. One must have progressed so far in the inner work of thinking that one attains a state of consciousness in which one recognizes one's thinking to be sense-free merely by grasping that thinking, by “viewing” it as such.
This is the path that I sought to follow — if only, as I have said, in a modest way — in my Philosophy of Freedom. What I sought there was first to make thinking sense-free and then to present this thinking to consciousness in the same way that mathematics or the faculties and powers of analytical mechanics are present to consciousness when one pursues these sciences with the requisite discipline.
Perhaps at this juncture I might be allowed to add a personal remark. In positing this sense-free thinking as a simple fact, yet nevertheless a fact capable of rigorous demonstration in that it can be called forth in inner experience like the structure of mathematics, I flew in the face of every kind of philosophy current in the 1880s and 1890s. It was objected again and again: this “sense-free thinking” has no basis in any kind of reality. Already in my Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethes World Conception, however, in the early 1880s, I had pointed to the experience of pure thinking, in the presence of which one realizes: you are now living in an element that no longer contains any sense impressions and nevertheless reveals itself in its inner activity as a reality. Of this thinking I had to say that it is here we find the true spiritual communion of humanity and union with reality. It is as though we have grabbed the coat-tails of universal being and can feel how we are related to it as souls. I had to protest vigorously against what was then the trend in philosophy, that to which Eduard von Hartmann paid homage in 1869 by giving his Philosophy of the Unconscious the motto: “Speculative Results Following the Method of Scientific Induction.” That was a philosophical bow to natural science. I wrote to protest against this insubstantial metaphysics, which arises only when we allow our thinking to roll on beyond the veil of the senses, as I have described. I thus gave my Philosophy of Freedom the motto: “Observations of the Soul According to the Scientific Method.” I wished to indicate thereby that the content of a philosophy is not contrived but rather in the strictest sense the result of inner observation, just as color and sound result from observation of the outer world. And in experiencing this element of pure thought — an element that, to be sure, has a certain chilling effect on human nature — one makes a discovery. One discovers that human beings certainly can speak instinctively of freedom, that within man there do exist impulses that definitely tend toward freedom, but that these impulses remain unconscious and instinctive until one rediscovers freedom in one's own thinking. For out of sense-free thinking there can flow impulses to moral action which, because we have attained a mode of thinking that is devoid of sensation, are no longer determined by the senses but by pure spirit. One experiences pure spirit by observing, by actually observing, how moral forces flow into sense-free thinking. What one gains in this way above all is that one is able to bid farewell to any sort of mystical superstition, for superstition results in something that is in a way hidden and is only assumed on the basis of dark intimations. One can bid it farewell because now one has experienced in one's consciousness something that is inwardly transparent, something that no longer receives its impulses from without but fills itself from within with spiritual content. One has grasped universal being at one point in making oneself exclusively a theater of cognition; one has grasped the activity of universal being in its true form and observed how it yields itself to us when we give ourselves over to this inner contemplation. We grasp the actuality of universal being at one point only: we grasp it not as abstract thought but as a reality when moral impulses weave themselves into the fabric of sense-free thinking. These impulses show themselves to be free in that they no longer live as instinct but in the garb of sense-free thinking. We experience freedom — to be sure, a freedom that we realize immediately man can only approach in the way that a hyperbola approaches its asymptote, yet we know that this freedom lives within man to the extent that the spirit lives within him. We first conceive the spirit within the element of freedom.
We thereby discover something deep within man that weaves together the impulses of our moral-social actions — freedom — and cognition, that which we finally attain scientifically. By grasping freedom within sense-free thinking, by understanding that this comprehension occurs only within the realm of spirit, we experience that while performing this we are indeed within the spirit. We experience a mode of cognition that manifests itself simultaneously as an inner activity. It is an inner activity that can become a deed in the external world, something entirely capable of flowing over into the social life. At that time I sought to make two points absolutely clear, but at that time they were hardly understood. I tried above all to make clear that the most important thing about following such a cognitional path is the inner “schooling” [Erziehung] that we undertake. Yes, to have attained sense-free thinking is no small thing. One must undergo many inner trials. One must overcome obstacles of which otherwise one has hardly any idea. By overcoming these obstacles, by finally attaining an inner experience that can hardly be retained because it escapes normal human powers so easily, by immersing oneself in this essence, one does not proceed in a nebulous, mystical way, but rather one descends into a luminous clarity, one immerses oneself in spirit. One comes to know the spirit. One knows what spirit is, knows because one has found the spirit by traveling along a path followed by the rest of humanity as well, except that they do not follow it to its end. It is a path, though, that must be followed to its end by all those who would strive to fulfill the social and cognitional needs of our age and to become active in those realms. That is the one thing that I intimated in my Philosophy of Freedom.
The other thing I intimated is that when we have found the freedom that lives in sense-free thinking to be the basis of true morality, we can no longer seek to deduce moral concepts and moral imperatives as a kind of analogue of natural phenomena. We must renounce everything that would lead us to ethical content obtained according to the method of natural science; this ethical content must come forth freely out of supersensible experience. I ventured to use a term that was little understood at the time but that absolutely must be posited if one enters this inner realm and wishes to understand freedom at all. I expressed it thus: the moral realm arises within us in our moral imagination [moralische Phantasie]. I employed this term “moral imagination” with conscious intent in order to indicate that — just as with the creations of the imagination [Phantasie] — the requisite spiritual effort is expended within man, regardless of anything external, and to indicate on the other hand that everything that makes the world morally and religiously valuable for us — namely, moral imperatives — can be grasped only within this realm that remains free from all external impressions and has as its ground man's inner activity alone. At the same time I indicated clearly in my Philosophy of Freedom that if we remain within human experience, moral content reveals itself to us as the content of moral imagination, but that when we enter more deeply into this moral content, which we bear down out of the spiritual world, we simultaneously enter the external world of the senses.
If you really study this philosophy, you shall see clearly the door through which it offers access to the spirit. Yet in formulating it I proceed in such a way that my method could meet the rigorous requirements of analytical mechanics, and I placed no value on any concurrence with the twaddle arising out of spiritualism and nebulous mysticism. One can easily earn approbation from these sides if one wants to ramble on idly about “the spirit” but avoids the inner path that I sought to traverse at that time. I sought to bring certainty and rigor into the investigation of the spirit, and it remained a matter of total indifference to me whether my results concurred with all the twaddle that comes forth from nebulous mystical depths to represent the spirit. At the same time, however, something else was gained in this process.
If one pursues further the two paths that I described on the basis of actual observation of consciousness in my Philosophy of Freedom, if one goes yet further, takes the next step — then what? If one has attained the inner experiences that are to be found within the sphere of pure thought, experiences that reveal themselves in the end as experiences of freedom, one achieves a transformation of the cognitional process with respect to the inner realm of consciousness. Then concepts and ideas no longer remain merely that; Hegelianism no longer remains Hegelianism and abstraction no longer abstraction, for at this point consciousness passes over into the actual realm of the spirit. Then one's immediate experience is no longer the mere “concept,” the mere “idea,” no longer the realm of thought that constitutes Hegelian philosophy — no: now concepts and ideas transform themselves into images, into Imagination. One discovers the higher plane of which moral imagination is only the initial projection; one discovers the cognitional level of Imagination. While philosophizing, one remains caught within a self-created reality; now, after pursuing the inner path indicated by my Philosophy of Freedom, after transcending the level of imagination [Phantasie], one enters a realm of ideas that are no longer dream-images but are grounded in spiritual realities, just as color and tone are grounded in the realities of sense. At this point one attains the realm of Imagination, a thinking in pictures [bildliches Denken]. One attains Imaginations that are real, that are no longer merely a subjective inner experience but part of an objective spiritual world. One attains Inspiration, which can be experienced when one performs mathematics in the right way, when this performance of mathematics itself becomes an experience that can then be developed further into that which one finds in the Vedanta. Inspiration is complemented at the other pole by Imagination, and only through Imagination does one arrive at something enabling one to comprehend man. In Imaginations, in pictorial representations [bildhafte Vorstellungen] — representations that have a more concrete content than abstract thoughts — one finds what is needed to comprehend man from the point of view of consciousness. One must renounce proceeding further when one has reached this point and not simply allow sense-free thinking to roll on with a kind of inner inertia, nor believe that one can penetrate into the secret depths of consciousness through sense-free thinking. Instead one must have the resolve to call a halt and confront the “external world” of the spirit from within. Then one will no longer spin thoughts into a consciousness that can never fully grasp them; rather, one will receive Imagination, through which consciousness can finally be comprehended. One must learn to call a halt at this limit within the phenomena themselves, and thoughts then reveal themselves to one as that within cognition which can organize these phenomena; one needs to renounce at the outward limit of cognition and thereby receive the spiritual complement to phenomena in the intellect. In just this way one must renounce in the process of inner investigation, one must come to a halt with one's thinking and transform it. Thinking must be brought inwardly to a kind of reflection [Reflexion] capable of receiving images that then unfold the inner nature of man. Let me indicate the soul's inner life in this way [see illustration]. If through self-contemplation and sense-free thinking I approach this inner realm, I must not roll onward with my thinking lest I pass into a region where sense-free thinking finds nothing and can call forth only subjective pictures or reminiscences out of my past. I must renounce and turn back. But then Imagination will reveal itself at the point of reflection. Then the inner world reveals itself to me as a world of Imagination.
Now, you see, we arrive inwardly at two poles. By proceeding into the outer world we approach the pole of Inspiration; by proceeding into the inner world of consciousness we approach the pole of Imagination. Once one has grasped these Imaginations it becomes possible to collate them, just as one collates data concerning external nature by means of experiments and conceptual thinking. In this manner one can collate inwardly something real, something that is not a physical body but an etheric body informing man's physical body throughout his whole life, yet in an especially intensive manner during the first seven years. At the change of teeth this etheric body takes on a somewhat different configuration [Gestalt], as I described to you yesterday. By having attained Imagination one is able to observe the way in which the etheric or life-body works within the physical body.
Now, it would be easy to object from the standpoint of some philosophical epistemology or other: if he wishes to remain logical, man must remain within the conceptual, within what is accessible to discursive thinking and capable of demonstration in the usual sense of the term. Fine. One can philosophize thus on and on. Yet however strong one's belief in such an epistemological tissue, however logically correct it may be, reality does not manifest itself thus; it does not live in the element of logical constructs. Reality lives in pictures, and if we do not resolve to achieve pictures or Imaginations, man's real nature shall elude our grasp. It is not at all a matter of deciding beforehand out of a certain predilection just what form knowledge must take in order to be valid but rather of asking reality in what form it wishes to reveal itself. This leads us to Imagination. In this way, then, what lives within moral imagination manifests itself as the projection into normal consciousness of a higher spiritual world that can be grasped in Imagination.
And thus, ladies and gentlemen, I have led you, or at least sought to lead you, to the two poles of Inspiration and Imagination, which we shall consider more closely in the next few days in the light of spiritual science. I had to lead you to the portal, as it were, beforehand, in order to show that the existence of this portal is well founded in the normal scientific sense. For it is only upon such a foundation that we later can build the edifice of spiritual science itself, which we enter through that portal. To be sure, in traversing the long path, in employing the extremely demanding epistemological method I described to you today — which many may feel is difficult to understand — one must have the courage to come to grips not only with Hegel but also with “anti-Hegel.” One must not only pursue the Hegelianism that I sought to depict in my Riddles of Philosophy; one must also learn to give Stirner his due, for in Stirner's philosophy there lies something that rises out of consciousness to reveal itself as the ego. And if one simply gives rein to this ego that comes forth out of instinctive experiences, if one does not permeate it with that which manifests itself as moral imagination and Imagination, this ego becomes antisocial. As we have seen, Philosophy of Freedom attempts to replace Stirner's egoism with something truly social. One must have the courage to pass through the instinctive ego Stirner describes in order to reach Imagination, and one must also have the courage to confront face-to-face the psychology of association that Mill, Spencer, and other like-minded proponents have sought to promulgate, a psychology that seeks to comprehend consciousness in a bare concept but cannot. One must have the courage to realize and admit to oneself that today we must follow another path entirely. The ancient Oriental could follow a path no longer accessible to us, in that he formulated his experiences of an inner mathematics in the Vedanta. This path is no longer accessible to the West. Humanity is in a process of constant evolution. It has progressed. Another path, another method, must be sought. This new method is now in its infancy, and its immaturity is best revealed when one realizes that this psychology of association, which seeks to collate inner representations according to laws in the same way one collates the data of natural phenomena, is nothing but the inertia of thinking that wants to break through a boundary but actually enters a void. To understand this one must come to know this psychology of association for what it really is and then learn to lead it over through an inner contemplative viewing [Schauung] into the realm of Imagination. Just as the Orient once saw the Vedanta arise within an element of primal mathematical thought and was able to enter thus into the spirituality of the external world, so we must seek the spirit in the way in which it tasks us today: we must look within and have the courage to proceed from mere concepts and ideas to Imaginations, to develop this pictorial consciousness within and thereby to discover the spirituality within ourselves. Then we shall be able to bear this spirituality back out into the external world. We shall have attained a spirituality grasped by the inner being of man, a spirituality that thus can bear fruit within the social life. The quality of our social life shall depend entirely on our nurturing a mode of cognition such as this, which can at the same time embrace the social. That this is the case I hope to show in the lectures yet to follow.
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