Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Supersensible Currents, Group Souls, and the I in Human Beings and Animals

Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, October 27, 1909

We have been dealing with the various force currents that shape the human organism and give it form in a manner enabling us to comprehend it. If we really learn to know these formative forces, we must perceive that they could not function otherwise, that our heart, our eyes, inevitably had to become exactly what they are. We have traced the sense image of ourselves back to those super-sensible currents that flow back and forth in different directions, from above downward, from right to left, from the back forward, and so forth. At this point someone may try to catch me out by objecting that while dealing with the currents I had failed to explain a certain significant phenomenon in the human organism, that in addition to the asymmetrical organs (heart, liver, stomach, etc.) there are those that are arranged symmetrically. You might say that my description could at a pinch be accepted if the whole organism were laid out asymmetrically, but not in connection with the symmetrical organs. This objection, however, can be cleared away, too, as follows.
We have learned that the physical and etheric bodies stream from left to right and from right to left respectively, that is, in the plane in which the human being is formed symmetrically. Spiritual science teaches us that the physical body is an ancient entity, stemming from the old Saturn, while the germs of the etheric body, the astral body, and the ego were prepared on the old Sun, the old Moon, and the Earth respectively. In its first appearance on Saturn the physical body was asymmetrical, conditioned by a current corresponding to the one active today from left to right, and the first germ of the etheric body was also asymmetrical, with a current from right to left. Thence development proceeds; the physical body is further formed on the old Sun, the old Moon, and so on. Had this not occurred, the physical body would have remained lopsided, asymmetrical. As it actually happened, however, the further development of the physical body and of the other members continued on the old Moon and on the Earth, during which something occurred that altered the whole previous development and brought about a turnabout, so to speak, a reversal of the direction. If the physical body were to be formed, not into a lopsided but into a symmetrical structure, the Saturn current running from left to right had to be opposed by one running from right to left. How was this brought about? By the separation of the old Sun from the old Moon. The Sun forces, which hitherto had worked on the physical body from within, acted henceforth from without, that is, from the opposite direction. The physical body, as it was constituted up to the time of the old Moon, was then influenced by the Sun from without.
The etheric body experienced a similar transformation. You might ask why it is that this other side of the physical body, the result of Sun forces acting from without, is not much smaller, in a sense stunted, in comparison with the first, the older portion? It is because those beings that left the Moon and passed over with the Sun could develop stronger influences from their new sphere of action, owing precisely to this separation that meant a higher development for them. They had a more difficult task than the Saturn beings, for they had to counteract what was already developed in one direction. This condition obstructed the whole process of formation, so they had to become more powerful if they were to fulfill their task. This, in turn, necessitated their acting from the Sun during the Moon period, whereby their influence was intensified. In this way these younger but more powerful currents — from right to left — balanced the weaker ones — from left to right — and the physical body became a symmetrical structure.
We will now examine more closely some important details of the effects of those force currents, remembering that the sentient body sends its forces into the human organism from the front backward, but that the emanations of the sentient soul run forward from the back. Given the existence of the physical and etheric bodies and the general background, we ask in what manner these forces proceed to build the human organism?
 Diagram 2 
By being dammed up, stopped by the physical body, the backward-flowing currents of the sentient body could now bore into the human organism and build divers organs into what was already there. At the same time the sentient soul works in the organism from the back toward the front. The currents of the sentient body are dammed by the physical organism and bore their way in. In this way they are obstructed by the physical body, so they really had to bore holes, as it were.
In front (cf. sketch) we have the currents of the sentient body boring their way in. They form the sense organs. In the rear the formative forces are active that build the brain over them; this gives us the diagram of the human head seen in profile. The openings represent the eyes, ears, organs of smell, etc., and the brain is superimposed behind and above them. If spiritual science tells the truth, it is clear that the human head could not possibly appear different from the way it actually does. If a human head were ever to come into being at all it would have to look as it does. It does look that way, and that is evidence proffered by the world of outer phenomena itself.
In that connection there is another point to mention. The work of the sentient body proceeds inward, that of the sentient soul outward, or at least, it has that tendency. As a matter of fact, it is obstructed before emerging; it remains in the physical body of the brain and emerges only at those points where previously the sentient body had, so to speak, bored the holes for the sense organs in the front of the physical body. What we find, then, is that a part of our inner life flows outward as sentient soul.
The intellectual soul would not be capable of this. It is completely dammed up within, and no currents come to meet it from the opposite side. That is why human thinking takes place wholly within. Objects don't think for us; they don't show us the thoughts from without, nor bring them to us. That is the great secret of the relation of human thought to the outer world. With our sense organs we can perceive outer objects, and if these organs are healthy they do not err. The mind, on the other hand, which cannot directly contact objects, is the first inner member of the human being that can err, because its activity is completely dammed up within the brain and does not emerge. From this it follows that our thoughts about the outer world cannot be correct without an inner tendency to permit right thoughts to arise within us. What the outer world can give us is correct sense perception but not right thoughts. Thought is subject to error, and the power of right thinking is something we must have within ourselves.
For the thinker this fact alone points to an earlier, prehistoric existence of man. It is incumbent upon him to form right thoughts concerning the wisdom of the outside world, but his thoughts cannot emerge or come in contact with what he perceives. Nevertheless, that wisdom must be within him as well as without; it must permeate him just as it does what surrounds him. The two currents, therefore, belong together, though they are now separated.
At some time, however, they must have been united. That was before the human ego had begun to dam up the currents within us, at a time when it still received the wisdom of the world directly. There was a time when the currents of the mental soul were not held up but flowed out, and that was the time when man directly envisioned the wisdom of the world. What is now relegated to the brain as thinking was once in contact with the outer world, like our sense perception, so that man could look at his thoughts. That was a form of clairvoyance, though not a conscious one irradiated by the ego. Man must have passed through earlier stages in which he possessed a dim clairvoyance, and again it is the human physical organization itself that shows us that in bygone times he was differently constituted.
Something important for practical life follows from the foregoing. In all cases involving the sense world, sense perception (apart from illusions) can be taken as truth, for there the human being is in direct contact with the outer world. But concerning all that is within him, his knowledge is limited to what he acquires by thinking. Now, the separation that exists between our intellectual soul and the objects in space, and that makes it possible for our thinking about those objects to err, does not apply to the ego. When the ego streams into us it is within us, and it is natural that we should have a voice in its activity. The meeting of the intellectual soul and the ego is what produces the purest thinking, the thinking that is directed inward. This form of thinking, having itself as the object, cannot be exposed to error in the same way as can the other kind, which is occupied with outer objects and roves about in an endeavor to form judgments by observing them. The only thing they can yield is sense perception. What we must do is meet them with concepts, as though holding up their mirrored reflection to them. Thinking is herein free from error only in so far as it is attracted to the tendency to truth. Out of a right tendency to truth we must let concepts of things, thoughts about things, rise up in us.
In the first instance we can form a judgment only of such things in the outer world as are encountered by the senses. The senses themselves cannot judge what is beyond their reach; no such judgment can be arrived at from the physical plane. If the intellectual soul nevertheless does just that, unless it be guided by the inner tendency to truth, it must inevitably fall into all sorts of errors.
To clarify these conditions by an illustration, let us turn to the various doctrines of the descent of man. Here we distinguish between two kinds of ancestors. You are familiar with one of them from theosophical research, which tells us of the different forms we passed through in former periods, such as the Lemurian. That is disclosed by spiritual science. We have seen how wonderfully comprehensible everything perceived by the senses becomes when we have made this teaching our very own, and it will reveal more and more.
In contrast, we will now consider material research, the materialistic doctrine of descent, the crux of which is the so-called biogenetic law. According to this, man in his germinal states passes through all forms recalling animal stages, thereby repeating, in a sense, the various forms of the whole animal kingdom. At the time when this doctrine was rampant the conclusion was drawn that man really passed through these forms that thus appear in the germ state. In itself that is not erroneous because in prehistoric times man actually did develop through such forms. Fortunately, as we can say in view of the materialistic doctrine of the descent, the foresight of the gods kept this fact secret until such time as the opinions regarding it could be corrected by spiritual science. The development of man before he became outwardly perceptible on the physical plane could not have been observed. It was shrouded by the gods and withdrawn from observation, otherwise people would have evolved even wilder theories regarding it than they do now. The facts are there, but they are frequently misinterpreted because the senses that speak the truth cannot perceive them. In reasoning, however, the power of the intellectual soul becomes active, and this cannot reach what is imperceptible to the senses. In reality, the facts referred to prove the exact opposite of what people try to infer from them. Here we have a striking example of the way the power of judgment can plunge into a sea of errors when its approach to external matters is purely by way of the mind.
What is shown by the fact that on a certain plane man resembled a fish? Precisely that he never was a fish; indeed, that he had no use for the fish nature, that he had to expel it before entering upon his human existence, because it in no way pertained to him. This he did in turn with all the animal forms, because they were not of his nature. He could not have become a human being if he had ever appeared on earth in one of those animal forms. He had to discard these in order to become what he did. The fact that in the germ the human being resembles a fish is the very proof that never in his whole line of descent was he like a fish or any other animal form. He had to expel all these forms because they were inadequate and he therefore must never resemble them. He had to slough off these forms, eject them. They are images he never resembled. All these forms of germinal life show shapes he never bore. Thus we can find out precisely through embryology how prehistoric man never looked. He cannot be descended from something he had expelled. To infer that he passed through these forms would be the same as to imagine that the father is descended from the son. The father is not descended from the son, nor the son from himself, but the son is descended from the father.
That is one of the cases in which the mind has proved wholly incapable of thinking the facts of reality through to the end. It has exactly reversed the order of development. Certainly these pictures of the remote past are extraordinarily important, because they show us how we never looked. But that is something that can be learned even more readily in another way, namely, through realms that lie open in the sense world, that are not hidden from us. There we have all those forms — fishes and so forth — and they can be properly studied with the ordinary means of human observation. As long as men restricted themselves to observing outer objects with the senses, and did not occupy their minds with matters concealed from sense perception, they avoided arriving at false conclusions; they were rightly guided by their natural sense of truth. They would look, for instance, at a monkey and doubtless experience the queer sensation that every normal human being would have, a certain sense of embarrassment. This judgment expressed through feeling means that the monkey is really a retarded being, having remained behind in the evolution of man. This feeling is nearer the truth than is the later judgment of the erring mind because it embodies the realization that the monkey is a being that dropped out of the human current, that had to be divided off from man if the latter was to achieve his goal. The moment our fallible mind approached this fact it inverted it; instead of realizing that the monkey was eliminated from the evolutionary human current it concluded that the monkey was the starting point of human descent.
Here the error comes to light. In judging external things accessible to the senses we should never forget that they are built up from within, through the agency of spiritual currents. Suppose we are observing those parts of the human being that are accessible to perception proper, or we observe part of another person that the eye can see — his face, for example. In studying this face we must not imagine it as having been built up from without. On the contrary, we must realize the need to distinguish between two currents flowing into each other, the current of the sentient body running backward from the front, and that of the sentient soul running forward from the rear. In so far as we perceive the human countenance by means of the senses, the sense image is true. That is given us by sense perception and we will not go astray there. But now the human mind joins in, at first subconsciously, and is at once misled. It regards the human countenance as something merely fashioned from without, whereas in reality, this fashioning occurred from within, through the agency of the sentient soul. What you see is not really outer body; it is the outer image of the sentient soul.
Disabuse your mind of the notion that the human face might be outer body, and you will see that in truth, it is the image of the soul. A fundamentally false interpretation results from reasoning in a way that ignores the true nature of the countenance as being the outer image of the sentient soul acting outward. Every explanation of the human countenance based solely on physical forces is wrong. It must be explained through the soul itself, the visible through the invisible. The deeper we penetrate into theosophy the more we will see in it a great school for learning to think. The chaotic thinking that today dominates all circles, particularly science, finds no shelter in theosophy, which is therefore able to interpret life correctly.
This ability to interpret phenomena correctly will further stand us in good stead when, in the course of our investigations, we come to phenomena that lead us out of the region of individual anthroposophy into the realm of the anthroposophy that concerns the whole of mankind.
Returning once more to the sense of sound and the sense of visualization, let us ask ourselves which of these came into being first in the course of human development? Did man learn first to understand words or to perceive and understand the conceptions that came to him? This question can be answered by observing the child, who first learns to talk and only later to perceive thoughts. Speech is the premise of thought perception because the sense of sound is the premise of the sense of visualization. The child learns to talk because he can hear, can listen to something that the sense of sound perceives. Speech itself is at first mere imitation, and the child imitates long before he has any idea of visualization whatever. First the sense of sound develops, and then, by means of this, the sense of visualization. The sense of sound is the instrumentality for perceiving not only tones but also what we call sounds.
The next question is how it came about that at one time in the course of his development man achieved the ability to perceive sounds and, as a result, to acquire speech? How was he endowed with speech? If he was to learn to speak, not just to hear, it was necessary not only that an outer perception should penetrate, but that a certain current within him should flow in the same direction as that taken by the currents of the sentient soul when they press forward from the rear. It had to be something acting in the same direction. That was the way in which speech had to originate, and this faculty had to appear before the sense of visualization, before man was able to sense the conception contained in the words themselves. Men had first to learn to utter sounds and to live in the consciousness of them before they could combine conceptions with them. What at first permeated the sounds they uttered was sentience.
This development had to take place at a time when the transposition of the circulatory system had already occurred, for animals cannot speak. The ego had to be acting downward from above with the blood system in a vertical position. As yet, however, man had no sense of visualization, consequently no visualizations. It follows that he could not have acquired speech through the agency of his own ego, but rather, he received it from another ego that we can compare with the group ego of animals. In this sense speech is a gift of the gods. It was infused into the ego before the latter itself was capable of developing it. The human ego did not yet possess the organs needed to give the impulse for bringing about speech, but the group ego worked from above into the physical, etheric and astral bodies, and as it encountered an opposing current, a sort of whorl came into being at the point of contact. A straight line drawn through the center of the larynx would indicate the direction of the current employed by the speech-giving spirits, and the larynx itself represents the physical substance, the dam, that resulted from the encounter of the two currents. That accounts for the peculiar shape of the human larynx.
It was under the influence, then, of a group soul that man had to develop speech. In what manner do group souls operate on earth? In animals the current of the group soul passes through the spinal cord horizontally, and these force currents are in continual motion. The force currents running downward from above move constantly around the earth, as they did around the old Moon. They don't remain in one spot but move around the earth retaining their vertical direction of influence. If men were to learn to speak under the influence of a group soul, they could not remain in one place, they had to migrate. They had to move toward the group soul. Never could they have learned to speak if they had remained in one spot.
What direction, then, would men have to take if they were to learn to speak? We know that the etheric currents flow from right to left and the physical ones from left to right, and this is the case not only in man but on the earth as well. Now, where are the group souls that endow man with speech? Let us look at the earth in its peculiar development. Man learned to speak at a time when his outer structure was already complete. Strong currents were therefore needed because the larynx had first to be transformed from a soft substance that in no way resembled a larynx. This called for special conditions on earth. Suppose we stand facing east. There flow in us from left to right the currents connected with the formation of the physical body. This current exists outside us as well; it was present during the formation of the earth. Running from north to south are those strong currents that produce solid physical matter. From the other direction, from the south, flow the etheric currents that lack the tendency to solidify the earth. This explains the lopsidedness, the lack of symmetry on the earth. In the northern hemisphere we find the great continents, in the southern, the vast oceans; the tendency of the earth was asymmetrical.
From the south the current acts that is of the same nature as the one that runs from right to left in man, but while the current from back to front streams outward, the one from front to back originates in the sentient body and enters the sentient soul. With all this in mind we understand why the attainment of speech called for a current passing outward from within; this current had to encounter a group soul current in order that the two could be dammed up in man's own organism. Man had to move toward a current that could act upon his astral element. He could therefore go neither toward the north nor toward the south, but had to take a direction at right angles to these. It was latitudinally that man had to proceed when he was acquiring speech, that is, from east to west. At that time he inhabited ancient Lemuria, where today we have the ocean lying between Asia and Africa. Thence, in order to learn to speak, he migrated westward into old Atlantis, to meet the group soul that was to engender speech in him. There he had to develop the organism suitable for speech, and thus it was in old Atlantis that he learned to speak.
The next step was to develop the sense of visualization by means of the speech man had acquired, but in order to do this he could not continue in the same direction. He had to proceed in a way that would cause the same current to act from the opposite direction. Recall here what was said in the last lecture concerning the origin of sound and of visualization. Sound comes into being when we subconsciously convert a melody into a harmony, ignore the fundamentals themselves, and mentally hear only the harmony produced by the harmonics (overtones); visualization arises when we push back and disregard this harmony of the harmonics as well. So, if we are to develop the sense of visualization, we must destroy on the one hand what we had built up on the other. We must face about and proceed in the opposite direction. One element of speech has to be suppressed, the harmonics must be pushed back, if we are to develop visualization. The old Atlanteans had to face about and migrate eastward; by doing this they were able effectively to develop the sense of visualization. This could not have been accomplished if they had continued westward. It was the tragic fate of the American aborigines to migrate in the wrong direction. They could not hold their ground, but had to yield to those who had migrated properly and returned to them only later.
In this way a great deal becomes clear. When we know the secret of those currents that fashion man and the earth we can understand the organization of the earth, the distribution of oceans and continents, the migrations of men. Anthroposophy leads us into that life through which the outer world becomes transparent and comprehensible.
Evolution proceeds. Humanity was not destined to stop at visualizations but to achieve concepts as well, and in order to accomplish this it had to ascend from mere visualizations to the soul life proper. After the sense of visualization, the sense of concepts had to be developed, and again a new direction had to be taken. In order to gain the life of visualizations, humanity — or as much of it as comes into consideration — moved eastward, but pure concepts could be acquired only by returning in a westward direction. We could similarly present the migrations of peoples in the four post-Atlantean periods from an anthroposophical viewpoint, and you would see a wondrous interplay of spiritual forces at work upon the whole shaping of man, and of what comes to expression in forming the earth.
But this is not the end. We have dealt with the currents running downward from above, forward from the rear, etc., but in a sense we now appear to have reached a dead end. Spiritual science, however, discloses higher forces holding sway above the capacity for visualization and forming concepts, that is, the imaginative, the inspirative, and the intuitive senses. We have learned that as a rule these stream inward, but in clairvoyants, outward. All these currents must operate too, and for that purpose must develop the necessary organs. So we ask how they do this? How do they live and operate in the physical human being?
In order to answer this question we will first consider a force possessed only by the human being, not by animals: the inner soul force of memory. Animal memory is a pure figment of the scientists' imagination. Animals have no memory; they merely manifest symptoms to be explained by the same principle as those of human memory. In order to produce human memory, the main position of animals would have to be raised to the vertical, so that the ego could stream in. Since their principal position is horizontal, they can have no ego. But in certain animals the forward part of the body is in the same position as that of the human being, hence it can act intelligently, although this intelligence is not permeated by an ego.
This is the beginning of a vast region of misconceptions. When an animal manifests a capacity similar to that of memory and acts intelligently, nothing more is proved by these facts than that a being can be guided by an intelligence without being intelligent itself. Phenomena resembling memory can appear in the animal world, but not memory itself.
In memory we see something special, something quite different from what we find in mere intelligent thinking, for example, or in visualization. The essence of memory lies in the retention of a visualization we have had; it is still present after the act of perception has passed. The repetition of an action previously performed is not memory. A clock would in that case be endowed with memory, for it does today exactly what it did yesterday. If memory is to come about, the ego must seize a conception and retain it.
If the ego is to seize a conception in this way, an organ must be formed for the purpose, and this is accomplished as follows. Out of its own essence the ego must engender special currents and must pour and bore these into the various horizontal currents already active minus the ego. The ego must overcome currents. When a current appears running inward from without, the ego must be able to produce within itself a counter-current.
That the ego was originally not capable of this we learned when studying the origin of speech; then the group ego had to co-operate. But when the soul life proper commences, beyond visualization, when a higher faculty such as memory is to be developed, the ego must activate new currents independently, currents that bore into others already there. Of this process the ego is clearly aware. In developing the senses up to and including visualization, this activity of the ego is not required, but when a higher activity is to be brought about, the ego must oppose the currents already functioning. This becomes manifest through the addition of a fourth phenomenon to the three currents at right angles to each other in space. This boring in of the ego becomes perceptible in the consciousness of time, and that is why memory is linked with temporal conceptions. We do not follow time in any spatial direction, but into the past. The direction of the past is bored into the directions of space. That is what occurs in all that the ego develops out of itself. Through spiritual science we can even indicate the current that comes into play when the ego evolves memory. It runs from left to right, and when habits are developed by the ego, the currents run from left to right as well. The ego bores its way into the opposing currents, those that were formed without the ego. Here the law is exemplified that tells us that the higher activities of the soul always have currents running in the opposite direction from that of the next lower activity.
To gain inner contact with the ego, the intellectual soul had to develop up to the ego plane. Now we ascend to the consciousness soul. When this functions consciously its active current runs in the opposite direction from that of the intellectual soul, which is still able to function subconsciously. Under certain earthly conditions the following law in human evolution can be proved. Learning to read is an intelligent activity, but one that does not necessarily proceed from the consciousness soul. The idea of learning to read and write occurred to men before the consciousness soul was developed. Reading by means of the intellectual soul had its inception in the Greco-Latin epoch. Then followed the ascendancy of the consciousness soul, and the direction of the current had to be reversed. Arithmetic could only develop with the consciousness soul. The European peoples read and write from left to right, but they figure from right to left, as in adding. It will be seen from this how the currents of the intellectual soul and of the consciousness soul overlap, and we can actually understand the nature of the European peoples by pondering the matter.
But there have been other peoples with other missions. They were advance guards, so to speak, and their task was to develop, or at least prepare, the feature of the intellectual soul that the European peoples, who had postponed their cultural development, did not evolve until after the consciousness soul had become active. Those were the Semitic peoples, who write from right to left. They were the peoples who were to prepare in advance the later period of the consciousness soul.
In such considerations we find the means for comprehending all cultural phenomena on earth. We shall learn to know everything of that sort, down to the letter formations of the various languages. The reason why peoples write from top to bottom, from right to left or from left to right follows from an understanding of the underlying spiritual facts. It is the mission of spiritual science to see that light dawns in the minds of men, and that the obscure becomes clear.

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