The Boundaries of Natural Science. Lecture 7 of 8.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, October 2, 1920:
It is to be hoped that my discussions of the boundaries of natural science have been able to furnish at least some indications of the difference between what spiritual science calls knowledge of the higher worlds and the mode of knowledge proceeding from everyday consciousness or ordinary science. In everyday life and in ordinary science our powers of cognition are those we have acquired through the conventional education that carries us up to a certain stage in life and whatever this education has enabled us to make of inherited and universally human qualities. The mode of cognition that anthroposophically oriented spiritual science terms knowledge of the higher worlds has its basis in a further self-cultivation, a further self-development; one must become aware that in the later stages of life one can advance through self-education to a higher consciousness, just as a child can advance to the stage of ordinary consciousness. The things we sought in vain at the two boundaries of natural science, the boundaries of matter and of ordinary consciousness, reveal themselves only when one attains this higher consciousness. In ancient times the Eastern sages spoke of such an enhanced consciousness that renders accessible to man a level of reality higher than that of everyday life; they strove to achieve a higher development, similar to the one we have described, by means of an inner self-cultivation that corresponded to their racial characteristics and evolutionary stage. The meaning of what radiates forth from the ancient Eastern wisdom-literature becomes fully apparent only when one realizes what such a higher level of development reveals to man. If one were to characterize the path of development these sages followed, one would have to describe it as a path of Inspiration. For in that epoch humanity had a kind of natural propensity to Inspiration, and in order to understand these paths into the higher realms of cognition, it will be useful if first we can gain clarity concerning the path of development followed by these ancient Eastern sages. I want to make it clear from the start, however, that this path can no longer be that of our Western civilization, for humanity is in a process of constant evolution, ever moving forward. And whoever desires — as many have — to return to the instructions given in the ancient Eastern wisdom-literature in order to enter upon the paths of higher development actually desires to turn back the tide of human evolution or shows that he has no real understanding of human progress. In ordinary consciousness we reside within our thought life, our life of feeling, and our life of will, and we initially substantiate what surges within the soul as thought, feeling, and will in the act of cognition. And it is in the interaction with percepts of the external world, with physical-sensory perceptions, that our consciousness first fully awakens.
It is necessary to realize that the Eastern sages, the so-called initiates of the East, cultivated perception, thinking, feeling, and willing in a way different from their cultivation in everyday life. We can attain an understanding of this path of development leading into the higher worlds when we consider the following. In certain ages of life we develop what we call the soul-spirit toward a greater freedom, a greater independence. We have been able to show how the soul-spirit, which functions in the earliest years of childhood to organize the physical body, emancipates itself, becomes free in a sense with the change of teeth. We have shown how man then lives freely with his ego in this soul-spirit, which now places itself at his disposal, while formerly it occupied itself — if I may express myself thus — with the organization of the physical body. As we enter into ever-greater participation in everyday life, however, there arises something that initially prevents this emancipated soul-spirit from growing into the spiritual world in normal consciousness. As human beings, we must traverse the path that leads us into the external world with the requisite faculties during our life between birth and death. We must acquire such faculties as allow us to orient ourselves within the external, physical-sensory world. We must also develop such faculties as allow us to become useful members of the social community we form with other human beings.
What arises is threefold. These three things bring us into a proper relationship with other human beings in our environment and govern our interaction with them. These are: language; the ability to understand the thoughts of our fellow men; and the acquisition of an understanding, or even a kind of perception, of another's ego. At first glance these three things — perception of language, perception of thoughts, and perception of the ego — appear simple, but for one who seeks knowledge earnestly and conscientiously these things are not so simple at all. Normally we speak of five senses only, to which recent physiological research adds a few inner senses. Within conventional science it is thus impossible to find a complete, systematic account of the senses. I will want to speak to you on this subject at some later time. Today I want only to say that it is an illusion to believe that linguistic comprehension is implicit in the sense of hearing, of that which contemporary physiology dreams to be the organization of the sense of hearing. Just as we have a sense of hearing, so also do we have a sense of language. By this I do not mean the sense that guides us in speaking — for this is also called a sense — but that which enables us to comprehend the perception of speech-sounds, just as the auditory senses enable us to perceive tones as such. And when we have a comprehensive physiology, it will be known that this sense of speech is analogous to the other and can rightfully be called a sense in and of itself. It is only that this sense extends over a larger part of the human constitution than the other, more localized senses. Yet it is a sense that nevertheless can be sharply delineated. And we have, in fact, a further sense that extends throughout virtually all of our body: the sense that perceives the thoughts of others. For what we perceive as word is not yet thought. We require other organs, a sensory organization different from that which perceives only words as such, if we want to understand within the word the thought that another wishes to communicate.
In addition, we are equipped with an analogous sense extending throughout our entire bodily organization, which we can call the sense for the perception of another person's ego. In this regard even philosophy has reverted to childishness in recent times, for one can often hear it argued: we encounter another man; we know that a human has such and such a form. Since the being that we encounter is formed in the way we know ourselves to be formed, and since we know ourselves to be ego-bearers, we conclude through a kind of unconscious inference: aha, he bears an ego within as well. This directly contradicts the psychological reality. Every acute observer knows that it is not an inference by analogy but rather a direct perception that brings us awareness of another's ego. I think that a friend or associate of Husserl's school in Göttingen, Max Scheler, is the only philosopher actually to hit upon this direct perception of the ego. Thus we must differentiate three higher senses, so to speak, above and beyond the ordinary human senses: the sense that perceives language, the sense that perceives thoughts, and the sense that perceives another's ego. These senses arise within the course of human development to the same extent that the soul-spirit gradually emancipates itself between birth and the change of teeth in the way I have described.
These three senses lead initially to interaction with the rest of humanity. In a certain way we are introduced into social life among other human beings by the possession of these three senses. The path one thus follows via these three senses, however, was followed in a different way by the ancients — especially the Indian sages — in order to attain higher knowledge. In striving for this goal of higher knowledge, the soul was not moved toward the words in such a way that one sought to arrive at an understanding of what the other was saying. The powers of the soul were not directed toward the thoughts of another person in such a way as to perceive them, nor toward the ego of another in such a way as to perceive it sympathetically. Such matters were left to everyday life. When the sage returned from his striving for higher cognition, from his sojourn in spiritual worlds to everyday life, he employed these three senses in the ordinary manner. When he wanted to exercise the method of higher cognition, however, he needed these senses in a different way. He did not allow the soul's forces to penetrate through the word while perceiving speech, in order to comprehend the other through his language; rather, he stopped short at the word itself. Nothing was sought behind the word; rather, the streaming life of the soul was sent out only as far as the word. He thereby achieved an intensified perception of the word, renouncing all attempts to understand anything more by means of it. He permeated the word with his entire life of soul, using the word or succession of words in such a way that he could enter completely into the inner life of the word. He formulated certain aphorisms, simple, dense aphorisms, and then strove to live within the sounds, the tones of the words. And he followed with his entire soul life the sound of the word that he vocalized. This practice then led to a cultivation of living within aphorisms, within the so-called “mantras.” It is characteristic of mantric art, this living within aphorisms, that one does not comprehend the content of the words but rather experiences the aphorisms as something musical. One unites one's own soul forces with the aphorisms, so that one remains within the aphorisms and so that one strengthens through continual repetition and vocalization one's own power of soul living within the aphorisms. This art was gradually brought to a high state of development and transformed the soul faculty that we use to understand others through language into another: through vocalization and repetition of the mantras there arose within the soul a power that led not to other human beings but into the spiritual world. And if, through these mantras, the soul has been schooled in such a way and to such an extent that one feels inwardly the weaving and streaming of this power of soul — which otherwise remains unconscious because all one's attention is directed toward understanding another through the word — if one has come so far as to feel such a power to be an actual force in the soul in the same way that muscular tension is experienced when one wishes to do something with one's arm, one has made oneself sufficiently mature to grasp what lies within the higher power of thought. In everyday life a man seeks to find his way to another via thought. With this power, however, he grasps the thought in an entirely different way. He grasps the weaving of thought in external reality, penetrates into the life of external reality, and lives into the higher realm that I have described to you as Inspiration.
Following this path, then, we approach not the ego of the other person but the egos of individual spiritual beings who surround us, just as we are surrounded by the entities of the sense world. What I depict here was self-evident to the ancient Eastern sage. In this way he wandered with his soul, as it were, upward toward the perception of a realm of spirit. He attained in the highest degree what can be called Inspiration, and his constitution was suited to this. He had no need to fear, as the Westerner might, that his ego might somehow become lost in this wandering out of the body. In later times, when, owing to the evolutionary advances made by humanity, a man might very easily pass out of his body into the outer world without his ego, precautionary measures were taken. Care was taken to ensure that whoever was to undergo this schooling leading to higher knowledge did not pass unaccompanied into the spiritual world and fall prey to the pathological skepticism of which I have spoken in these lectures. In the ancient East the racial constitution was such that this was nothing to fear. As humanity evolved further, however, this became a legitimate concern. Hence the precautionary measure strictly applied within the Eastern schools of wisdom: the neophyte was placed under an authority, but not any outward authority — fundamentally speaking, what we understand by “authority” first appeared in Western civilization. There was cultivated within the neophytes, through a process of natural adaptation to prevailing conditions, a dependence on a leader or guru. The neophyte simply perceived what the leader demonstrated: how the leader stood firmly within the spiritual world without falling prey to pathological skepticism or even inclining toward it. This perception fortified him to such an extent on his own entry into Inspiration that pathological skepticism could never assail him.
Even when the soul-spirit is consciously withdrawn from the physical body, however, something else enters into consideration: one must re-establish the connection with the physical body in a more conscious manner. I said this morning that the pathological state must be avoided in which one descends only egotistically, and not lovingly, into the physical body, for this is to lay hold of the physical body in the wrong way. I described the natural process of laying hold of the physical body between the seventh and fourteenth years, which is through the love-instinct being impressed upon it. Yet even this natural process can take a pathological turn; in such cases there arise the harmful afflictions I described this morning as pathological states. Of course, this could have happened to the pupils of the ancient Eastern sages as well: when they were out of the body they might not have been able to bind the soul-spirit to the physical body again in the appropriate manner. One further precautionary measure thus was employed, one to which psychiatrists — some at any rate — have had recourse when seeking cures for patients suffering from agoraphobia or the like. They employed ablutions, cold baths. Expedients of an entirely physical nature have to be employed in such cases. And when you hear on the one hand that in the mysteries of the East — that is, the schools of initiation, the schools that led to Inspiration — the precautionary measure was taken of ensuring dependence on the guru, you hear on the other hand of the employment of all kinds of devices, of ablutions with cold water and the like. When human nature is understood in the way made possible by spiritual science, customs that otherwise remain rather enigmatic in these ancient mysteries become intelligible. One was protected against developing a false sense of spatiality resulting from an insufficient connection between the soul-spirit and the physical body. This could drive one into agoraphobia and the like or to seek social intercourse with one's fellow men in an inappropriate way. This represents a danger, but one which can and should — indeed must — be avoided in any training that leads to higher cognition. It is a danger, because in following the path I have described leading to Inspiration one bypasses in a certain sense the path via language and thought to the ego of one's fellow man. If one then quits the physical body in a pathological manner — even if one is not attempting to attain higher cognition but is lifted out of the body by a pathological condition — one can become unable to interact socially with one's fellow men in the right way. Then precisely that which arises in the usual, intended manner through properly regulated spiritual study can develop pathologically. Such a person establishes a connection between his soul-spirit and his physical body; by delving too deeply into it he experiences his body so egotistically that he learns to hate interaction with his fellow men and becomes antisocial. One can often see the results of such a pathological condition manifest themselves in the world in quite a frightening manner. I once met a man who was a remarkable example of such a type: he came from a family that inclined by nature toward a freeing of the soul-spirit from the physical body and also contained certain personalities — I came to know one of them extremely well — who sought a path into the spiritual worlds. One rather degenerate individual, however, developed this tendency in an abnormal, pathological way and finally arrived at the point where he would allow nothing whatever from the external world to contact his own body. Naturally he had to eat, but — we are speaking here among adults — he washed himself with his own urine, because he feared any water that came from the outside world. But then again I would rather not describe all the things he would do in order to isolate his body totally from the external world and shun all society. He did these things because his soul-spirit was too deeply incarnated, too closely bound to the physical body.
It is entirely in keeping with the spirit of Goetheanism to bring together that which leads to the highest goal attainable by earthly man and that which leads to pathological depths. One needs only slight acquaintance with Goethe's theory of metamorphosis to realize this. Goethe seeks to understand how the individual organs, for example of the plant, develop out of each other, and in order to understand their metamorphosis he is particularly interested in observing the conditions that arise through the abnormal development of a leaf, a blossom, or the stamen. Goethe realizes that precisely by contemplating the pathological, the essence of the healthy can be revealed to the perceptive observer. And one can follow the right path into the spiritual world only when one knows wherein the essence of human nature actually lies and in what diverse ways this complicated inner being can come to expression.
We see from something else as well that even in the later period the men of the East were predisposed by nature to come to a halt at the word. They did not penetrate the word with the forces of the soul but lived within the word. We see this, for example, in the teachings of the Buddha. One need only read these teachings with their many repetitions. I have known Westerners who treasured editions of the Buddha's teachings in which the numerous repetitions had been eliminated and the words of a sentence left to occur only once. Such people believed that through such a condensed version, in which everything occurs only once, they would gain a true understanding of what the Buddha had actually intended. From this it is clear that Western civilization has gradually lost all understanding of Eastern man. If we simply take the Buddha's teachings word for word — if we take the content of these teachings, the content that we, as human beings of the West, chiefly value — then we do not assimilate the essence of these teachings: that is possible only when we are carried along with the repetitions, when we live in the flow of the words, when we experience the strengthening of the soul's forces that is induced by the repetitions. Unless we acquire a faculty for experiencing something from the constant repetitions and the rhythmical recurrence of certain passages, we do not get to the heart of Buddhism's actual significance.
It is in this way that one must gain knowledge of the inner nature of Eastern culture. Without this acquaintance with the inner nature of Eastern culture one can never arrive at a real understanding of our Western religious creeds, for in the final analysis these Western religious creeds stem from Eastern wisdom. The Christ event is a different matter. For that is an actual event. It stands as a fact within the evolution of the Earth. Yet the ways and means of understanding what came to pass through the Mystery of Golgotha were drawn during the first Christian centuries entirely from Eastern wisdom. It was through this wisdom that the fundamental event of Christianity was originally understood. Everything progresses, however. What had once been present in Eastern primeval wisdom — attained through Inspiration — spread from the East to Greece and is still recognizable as art. For Greek art was, to be sure, bound up with experiences different from those usually connected with art today. In Greek art one could still experience what Goethe strove to regain when he spoke of the deepest urge within him: he to whom nature begins to unveil her manifest secrets longs for her worthiest interpreter — art. For the Greeks, art was a way to slip into the secrets of world existence, a manifestation not merely of human fantasy but of what arises in the interaction between this faculty and the revelations of the spiritual world revealed through Inspiration. That which still flowed through Greek art, however, became more and more diluted, until finally it became the content of the Western religious creeds. We thus must conceive the source of the primeval wisdom as fully substantial spiritual life that becomes impoverished as evolution proceeds and provides the content of religious creeds when it finally reaches the Western world. Human beings who are constitutionally suited for a later epoch therefore can find in this diluted form of spiritual life only something to be viewed with skepticism. And in the final analysis it is nothing other than the reaction of the Western temperament [Gemüt] to the now decadent Eastern wisdom that gradually produces atheistic skepticism in the West. This skepticism is bound to become more and more widespread unless it is countered with a different stream of spiritual life.
Just as little as a creature that has reached a certain stage of development — let us say has undergone a certain aging process — can be made young again in every respect, so little can a form of spiritual life be made young again when it has reached old age. The religious creeds of the West, which are descendants of the primeval wisdom of the East, can yield nothing that would fully satisfy Western humanity again when it advances beyond the knowledge provided during the past three or four centuries by science and observation of nature. An ever-more profound skepticism is bound to arise, and anyone who has insight into the processes of world evolution can say with assurance that a trend of development from East to West must necessarily lead to an increasingly pronounced skepticism when it is taken up by souls who are becoming more and more deeply imbued with the fruits of Western civilization. Skepticism is merely the march of the spiritual life from East to West, and it must be countered with a different spiritual stream flowing henceforth from West to East. We ourselves are living at the crossing-point of these spiritual streams, and in the further course of these considerations we will want to see how this is so.
But first it must be emphasized that the Western temperament is constitutionally predisposed to follow a path of development leading to the higher worlds different from that of the Eastern temperament. Just as the Eastern temperament strives initially for Inspiration and possesses the racial qualities suitable for this, the Western temperament, because of its peculiar qualities (they are at present not so much racial qualities as qualities of soul) strives for Imagination. It is no longer the experience of the musical element in mantric aphorisms to which we as Westerners should aspire, but something else. As Westerners we should strive in such a way that we do not pursue with particular vigor the path that opens out when the soul-spirit emerges from the physical body, but rather the path that presents itself later, when the soul-spirit must again unite with the physical organism by consciously grasping the physical body. We see the natural manifestation of this in the emergence of the bodily instinct: whereas Eastern man sought his wisdom more by sublimating the forces at work between birth and the seventh year, Western man is better fitted to develop the forces at work between the time of the change of teeth and puberty, in that there is lifted up into the soul-spirit that which is natural for this epoch of humanity. We come to this when, just as in emerging from the body we carry the ego with us into the realm of Inspiration, we now leave the ego outside when we delve again into the body. We leave it outside, but not in idleness, not forgetting or surrendering it, not suppressing it into unconsciousness, but rather conjoining it with pure thinking, with clear, keen thinking, so that finally one has this inner experience: my ego is totally suffused with all the clear thinking of which I have become capable. One can experience just this delving down into the body in a very clear and distinct manner. And at this point you will perhaps allow me to relate a personal experience, because it will help you to understand what I really mean.
I have spoken to you about the conception underlying my book The Philosophy of Freedom. This book is actually a modest attempt to win through to pure thinking, the pure thinking in which the ego can live and maintain a firm footing. Then, when pure thinking has been grasped in this way, one can strive for something else. This thinking, left in the power of an ego that now feels itself to be liberated within free spirituality [frei und unabhängig in freier Geistigkeit], can then be excluded from the process of perception. Whereas in ordinary life one sees color, let us say, and at the same time imbues the color with conceptual activity, one can now extract the concepts from the entire process of elaborating percepts and draw the percept itself directly into one's bodily constitution.
Goethe undertook to do this, and has already taken the first steps in this direction. Read the last chapter of his Theory of Colors, entitled “The Sensory-Moral Effect of Color”: in every color-effect he experiences something that unites itself profoundly not only with the faculty of perception but with the whole man. He experiences yellow and scarlet as “attacking” colors, penetrating him, as it were, through and through, filling him with warmth, while he regards blue and violet as colors that draw one out of oneself, as cold colors. The whole man experiences something in the act of sense perception. Sense perception, together with its content, passes down into the organism, and the ego with its pure thought content remains, so to speak, hovering above. We exclude thinking inasmuch as we take into and fill ourselves with the whole content of the perception, instead of weakening it with concepts, as we usually do. We train ourselves specially to achieve this by systematically pursuing what came to be practiced in a decadent form by the men of the East. Instead of grasping the content of the perception in pure, strictly logical thought, we grasp it symbolically, in pictures, allowing it to stream into us as a result of a kind of detour around thinking. We steep ourselves in the richness of the colors, the richness of the tone, by learning to experience the images inwardly, not in terms of thought but as pictures, as symbols. Because we do not suffuse our inner life with the thought content, as the psychology of association would have it, but with the content of perception indicated through symbols and pictures, the living inner forces of the etheric and astral bodies stream toward us from within, and we come to know the depths of consciousness and of the soul. It is in this way that genuine knowledge of the inner nature of man is acquired, and not by means of the blathering mysticism that nebulous minds often claim to be a way to the God within. This mysticism leads to nothing but abstraction and cannot satisfy anyone who wishes to become a man in the full sense of the word.
If one desires to do real research concerning human physiology, thinking must be excluded and the picture-forming activity sent inward, so that the physical organism reacts by creating Imaginations. This is a path that is only just beginning in the development of Western culture, but it is the path that must be trodden if the influence that streams over from the East, and would lead to decadence if it alone were to prevail, is to be confronted with something capable of opposing it, so that our civilization may take a path of ascent and not of decline. Generally speaking, however, it can be said that human language itself is not yet sufficiently developed to be able to give full expression to the experiences that one undergoes in the inner recesses of the soul. And it is at this point that I would like to relate a personal experience to you.
Many years ago, in a different context, I made an attempt to give expression to what might be called a science of the human senses. In spoken lectures I succeeded to some extent in putting this science of the twelve senses into words, because in speaking it is more possible to turn language this way and that and ensure understanding by means of repetitions, so that the deficiencies of our language, which is not yet capable of expressing these supersensible things, is not so strongly felt. Strangely enough, however, when I wanted many years ago to write down what I had given as actual anthroposophy in order to put it into a form suitable for a book, the outer experiences in being interiorized became so sensitive that language simply failed to provide the words, and I believe that the beginning of the text — several sheets of print — lay for some five or six years at the printer's. It was because I wanted to write the whole book in the style in which it began that I could not continue writing, for the simple reason that at the stage of development I had then reached, language refused to furnish the means for what I wished to achieve. Afterward I became overloaded with work, and I still have not been able to finish the book. Anyone who is less conscientious about what he communicates to his fellow men out of the spiritual world might perhaps smile at the idea of being held up in this way by a temporarily insurmountable difficulty. But whoever really experiences and can permeate with a full sense of responsibility what occurs when one attempts to describe the path that Western humanity must follow to attain Imagination knows that to find the right words entails a great deal of effort. As a meditative schooling it is relatively easy to describe, and this has been done in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. If one's aim, however, is to achieve definite results such as that of describing the essential nature of man's senses — a part, therefore, of the inner makeup and constitution of humanity — it is then that one encounters the difficulty of grasping Imaginations and presenting them in sharp contours by means of words.
Nevertheless, this is the path that Western humanity must follow. And just as the man of the East was able to experience through his mantras the entry into the spiritual nature of the external world, so must the Westerner, leaving aside the entire psychology of association, learn to enter into his own being by attaining the realm of Imagination. Only by penetrating into the realm of Imagination will he acquire the true knowledge of humanity that is necessary in order for humanity to progress. And because we in the West must live much more consciously than the men of the East, we cannot simply say: whether or not humanity will gradually attain this realm of Imagination is something that can be left to the future. No — this world of Imagination, because we have passed into the stage of conscious human evolution, must be striven for consciously; there can be no halting at certain stages. For what happens if one halts at a certain stage? Then one does not meet the ever-increasing spread of skepticism from East to West with the right countermeasures but with measures that result from the soul-spirit uniting too radically, too deeply and unconsciously, with the physical body, so that too strong a connection is formed between the soul-spirit and the physical body.
Yes, it is indeed possible for a human being not only to think materialistically but to be a materialist, because the soul-spirit is too strongly linked with the physical body. In such a man the ego does not live freely in the concepts of pure thinking he has attained. If one descends into the body with pictorial perception, one delves with the ego and the concepts into the body. And if one then spreads this around and suffuses it throughout humanity, it gives rise to a spiritual phenomenon well known to us: dogmatism of all kinds. Dogmatism is nothing other than the translation into the realm of the soul-spirit of a condition that at a lower stage manifests itself pathologically as agoraphobia and the like, and that — because these things are related — also shows itself in something else, which is a metamorphosis of fear, in superstition of every variety. An unconscious urge toward Imagination is held back through powerful agencies, and this gives rise to dogmatism of all types. These types of dogmatism must gradually be replaced by what is achieved when the world of ideas is kept within the sphere of the ego; when progress is made toward Imagination, the true nature of man is experienced inwardly, and this Western path into the spiritual world is followed in a different way. It is this other path through Imagination that must establish the stream of spiritual science, the process of spiritual evolution that must make its way from West to East if humanity is to progress. It is supremely important at the present time, however, for humanity to recognize what the true path of Imagination should be, what path must be taken by Western spiritual science if it is to be a match for the Inspiration and its fruits that were attained by ancient Eastern wisdom in a form suited to the racial characteristics of those peoples. Only if we are able to confront the now decadent Inspiration of the East with Imaginations which, sustained by the spirit and saturated with reality, have arisen along the path leading to a higher spiritual culture — only if we can call this culture into existence as a stream of spiritual life flowing from West to East — are we bringing to fulfillment what is actually living deep within the impulses for which humanity is striving. It is these impulses that are now exploding in social cataclysms because they cannot find other expression.
In tomorrow's lecture we will speak further of the path of Imagination and of how the way to the higher worlds is envisaged by anthroposophical spiritual science.
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