Therapeutic Insights: Earthly and Cosmic Laws
Lecture 3 of 5
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, July 1, 1921:
I would like today to consider briefly something in connection with the subject dealt with last week and also earlier, something that can lead on to the further development of our studies. In experiencing the world around us, we see, in the world and also in ourselves, many things as being abnormal, perhaps even diseased, and indeed, this is quite justified from one point of view; but when we perceive something as abnormal or diseased in an absolute sense, we have not yet understood the world. Indeed, we often block the path to an understanding of the world if we simply remain with such evaluations of existence as healthy and ill, right and wrong, true and false, good and evil, etc. For what appears as diseased or abnormal from one point of view is from another point of view fully justified within the whole of world relationships. I will give you a concrete case, so that you may see what I mean.
The appearance of so-called hallucinations, or visions, is looked upon quite rightly as something diseased. Hallucinations, pictures that appear before human consciousness and that do not reveal a corresponding reality upon closer, critical examination — such hallucinations, such visions, are something diseased if we consider them from the standpoint of human life as it unfolds between birth, or conception, and death. When we describe hallucinations as something abnormal, however, as something that certainly does not belong to the normal course of life between birth and death, we have in no way grasped the inherent nature of hallucination.
Let us now set aside all such judgments regarding hallucination. Let us consider how it appears when we observe someone during a hallucination. The hallucination appears as a picture that is bound up with the whole subjective life, with the inner life, in a more intensive way than the usual outer perception, which is transmitted through the senses. Hallucination is experienced inwardly far more intensely than sense perception. Sense perception can be penetrated at the same time by sharp, critical thoughts, but one who is under the influence of hallucinations does not permeate them with sharp, critical thoughts. He lives in a hovering, weaving, picture element.
What is this element in which man lives when he is suffering from hallucinations? You see, we cannot understand this if we know only what enters ordinary human consciousness between birth and death. In this consciousness the content of hallucination enters as something that is unjustified under all circumstances. Hallucination must be seen from an entirely different point of view; then we can approach its essence. This point of view is found when in the course of development leading to a higher vision man learns to know the living and weaving that are active between death and a new birth, particularly the living and weaving of his own being when this life is but a few decades from his approaching birth, or conception. If, therefore, we attain the capacity enabling us to live into what is experienced quite normally when a human being is nearing birth or conception, we live into the true form of what appears in life between birth and death in an abnormal way as hallucination.
Just as here in the life between birth and death we are surrounded by the world of colors, by the world that we feel with every breath of air, etc. — in short, by the world we picture to be the one we experience between birth and death — so our own soul-spiritual being lives, between death and a new birth, in an element that is altogether identical with what can appear in us as hallucination. We are born, as it were, out of the element of hallucination, particularly in our bodily nature. What appears as hallucination hovers and breathes through the world that lies at the foundation of our present one; in being born, we rise out of this element, which can then appear abnormally to the soul in the world of hallucinations. What are hallucinations, then, within everyday consciousness?
When the human being has passed through the experiences of the life between death and a new birth and has entered into physical, sensory existence through conception and birth, certain spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies, with whom we are already acquainted, have had an intuition, and the result of this intuition is the physical body. We may say, therefore, that certain beings have intuitions; the result of these intuitions is the human physical body, which can only come into existence by being permeated by the soul rising out of the element of hallucination. What takes place, however, when hallucinations appear in a diseased way within ordinary consciousness? I can only make this clear in a pictorial way, but this is natural enough, since hallucinations are themselves pictures. It is self-evident that in this case we can reach no result by using abstract concepts — we must explain it in a pictorial way.
Think of the following: as I have recently explained to you, the human physical body actually consists of solid substance only to the slightest extent necessary to preserve the solid contours. The largest proportion is watery; it also consists of the element of air, and so forth. This human physical body has a certain consistency, it has a certain natural density. If, now, this natural density is changed into an unnatural one, if it is interfered with — picture, symbolically, that the elasticity of this physical body were to be decreased — then the original hallucinatory element out of which it is born would be pressed out, just as water is pressed out of a sponge. The appearance of this hallucinatory nature is due only to the fact that the original element out of which the body arises, out of which it is formed, is pressed out of the physical body. The illness that expresses itself in a hallucinatory life of consciousness always points to something unhealthy in the physical body, which presses its own substance spiritually, as it were, out of itself.
This leads us to the fact that, in a certain sense, our thinking is indeed what materialists state it to be. Our physical body is, in reality, an image of what “pre-existed” before birth, or conception, in the spiritual worlds. It is an image. And thinking that arises in ordinary consciousness — that thinking which is the pride of modern man — is not unjustly described by materialists as something entirely bound up with the physical body. It is simply the case that this thinking, which has served modern man particularly since the birth of the modern scientific way of thinking, since the fifteenth century — this thinking perishes as such with the physical body, it ceases when the physical body ceases to exist. What you often find in the Roman Catholic philosophy of today — the philosophy current today, not the one of the earlier centuries — according to which the abstract, intellectual activity of the soul survives death, this is incorrect, it is not true. This thinking, which is characteristic of the soul life of the present, is thoroughly bound up with the physical body. The part that survives the physical body can only be perceived when we reach the next higher stage of cognition, in Imaginative cognition, in pictorial mental images, and so forth.
You might argue that in this case a person who has no capacity for forming pictorial mental images would not have immortality. The question cannot be posed in this way, however, for it means nothing at all to say that a person does not have pictorial mental images. You can say that in your everyday consciousness you do not have pictorial mental images, that you do not bring them into your everyday consciousness, but pictorial mental images, imaginations, are constantly forming themselves within us; it is just that they are used in the organic processes of life. They become the forces out of which man continuously builds up his organism anew. Our materialistic philosophy and our materialistic natural science believe that during sleep man rebuilds his worn-out organs out of something unspecified — out of what does not seem to concern modern science very much. This is not what takes place, however; rather, it is precisely during our waking life — even when we do not go beyond the everyday intellectual consciousness — that we are constantly forming imaginations; we digest these imaginations, as it were, by means of the soul element and build up the body out of them. These imaginations are not perceived as separate entities by our ordinary consciousness, because they are building up the body. The evolution to a higher vision is based upon the fact that we partially withdraw, as far as the outer world is concerned, this work from the physical body, and that we bring to consciousness what otherwise boils and seethes in the depths of this physical body. For this reason spiritual science should accompany this higher vision; otherwise such a vision could not continue for very long, since it would undermine the health of the organism. The imaginative activity is thus very present in the ordinary life of the soul, but between birth and death it is digested and absorbed by the body. We thus may say that here, too, an unconscious activity takes place during ordinary life, but that if it is brought to consciousness it reveals itself as hallucination. Hallucination consists entirely of something that is an ordered, elementary activity in existence. It must not, however, appear in our consciousness at the wrong time. Hallucination in its ordinary manifestation must remain, as it were, more in the unconscious realms of our existence.
When the body presses out, as it were, its primal substance, it comes to the point of incorporating this pressed-out primal substance into ordinary consciousness, and then hallucinations appear. Hallucinating means nothing other than that the body sends up into consciousness what should really be used within the body for digestion, growth, etc.
This is also connected with what I have so often explained in relation to the illusions that people have in connection with certain mystics. They fear that we will strip the mystic of his holiness if we point out his foundation. Take, for instance, hallucinations that have a beautiful and poetic character such as those described by Mechtild of Magdeburg or St. Teresa. They are indeed beautiful, but what are they, in reality?
If we can see beyond the surface of such things, we shall find that they are hallucinations that have been pressed out of the organs of the body; they are its primal substance. If we wish to describe what is truly there when these most beautiful, mystical poems well up into consciousness, we must sometimes describe, in the case of Mechtild of Magdeburg or St. Teresa, processes very much akin to those of digestion.
We should not say that this takes away the aroma from some of the historical manifestations of mysticism. The great sensual delight that many people feel when they think of mysticism, or when they wish to experience mysticism themselves, can be guided back onto the right path, as it were. Many mystical experiences, however, are nothing but an inner sensual delight, which can indeed rise into consciousness as something poetic and beautiful. What is destroyed by knowledge, however, is only a prejudice, an illusion. He who is really willing to penetrate into the innermost recesses of the human being must participate in the experience that shows him, rather than the beautiful descriptions of the mystic, the conformations of his organs — liver, lungs, etc. — as they are formed out of the cosmos, out of the hallucination of the cosmos. Fundamentally, mysticism does not thereby lose its aroma, but rather a higher knowledge reveals itself if we can describe how the liver forms itself out of the hallucinating cosmos, how, in a certain sense, it is formed out of what appears condensed within itself as metamorphosed spirit, as metamorphosed hallucination. In this way, we look into the bodily nature and see the connection of this bodily nature with the whole cosmos.
Now, however, the very clever people will come — we must always consider these clever people when we present the truth, for they raise their objections whenever we try to do so — these very clever people will say: What is this you are telling us, that the human body is formed out of the universe! Why, we know very well that the human being is born out of the mother's body. We know what it looks like as an embryo, and so on! A thoroughly false conception lies at the basis of such objections, but we will bring them to mind once more, although similar things have already been contemplated on other occasions.
If we regard the various forms of outer nature — let us remain at first in the mineral world — we find the most manifold forms. We speak of them as crystal forms. We also find other forms in nature, however, and we find that a certain configuration, an inner configuration, arises when, let us say, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur are combined. We know that when carbon and oxygen combine and form carbon dioxide, a gas of a certain density arises. When carbon combines with nitrogen, cyanuric acid arises, and so on. Substances are formed that a chemist can always trace; they do not always appear in an outer crystallization, but they have an inner configuration. In modern times this inner configuration has even been designated by means of the well-known structural formulae in chemistry.
Something has always been taken for granted in this, namely that the molecules, as they are called, become more and more complicated the more we ascend from mineral, inorganic substance to organic substance. We say that the organic molecule, the cellular molecule, consists of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sulfur. It is said that they are connected in some way, but in a very complicated way. One of the ideals of natural science is to discover how these individual atoms in the complicated organic molecules are connected. Nevertheless, science admits that it will still be some time before we shall discover how one atom is connected with another within organic substance, within the living molecule. The mystery here, however, is this: that the more organic a substance is, the less one atom will be chemically connected with another, for the substances are whirled about chaotically, and even ordinary protein molecules, for instance in the nerve substance or blood substance, are in reality inwardly amorphous forms; they are not complicated molecules but inorganic matter inwardly torn asunder, inorganic matter that has rid itself of the crystallization forces, the forces that hold molecules together and connect the atoms with one another. This is already the case in the ordinary molecules of the organs, and it is most of all the case in the embryonic molecules, in the protein of the germ.
If I draw the organism here (see drawing), and here the germ — and therefore the beginning of the embryo — the germ is the most chaotic of all as far as the conglomeration of material substance is concerned. This germ is something that has emancipated itself from all forces of crystallization, from all chemical forces of the mineral kingdom, and so on. Absolute chaos has arisen in this one spot, which is held together only by the rest of the organism. Because of the fact that here this chaotic protein has appeared, there is the possibility for the forces of the entire universe to act upon this protein, so that this protein is in fact a copy of the forces of the entire universe. Precisely those forces that then become formative forces for the etheric body and for the astral body are present in the female egg cell, without fertilization yet having taken place. Through fertilization, this formation also acquires the physical body and the I, the sheath of the I, and therefore that which constitutes the formation of the I. This arises through fertilization, and this here (see drawing) is a pure cosmic picture, is a picture from the cosmos, because the protein emancipates itself from all earthly forces and thus can be determined by what is extraterrestrial. In the female egg cell, earthly substance is in fact subject to cosmic forces. The cosmic forces create their own image in the female egg cell. This is even true to the extent that in certain formations of the egg, in the case of certain classes of animals — birds, for instance — something very important can be seen in the form of the egg itself. This cannot be perceived, of course, in the higher animals or in the human being, but in the formation of the hen's egg you can find this image of the cosmos. The egg is nothing other than a true image of the cosmos. The cosmic forces work on this protein, which has emancipated itself from the earthly. The egg is absolutely a copy of the cosmos, and philosophers should not speculate on the three dimensions of space, for if we only rightly knew where and how to look, we could find presented everywhere clarification of the riddles of the world. The hen's egg is a simple, visible proof of the fact that one axis of the world is longer than the other two. The borders of the hen's egg, the eggshell, are a true picture of our space. It will indeed be necessary — this is a digression for mathematicians — for our mathematicians to study the relationships between Lubatscheffski's geometry, for instance, or Riemann's definition of space, and the hen's egg, the formation of the hen's egg. A great deal can be learned through this. Problems must really be tackled concretely.
You see, by placing before our souls this determinable protein, we discover the influence of the cosmos upon it, and we can also describe in detail how the cosmos acts upon it. Indeed it is true that we cannot as yet go very far in this direction, for if human beings were able to see how such things can be extended, such a science would be misused in the most terrible way, particularly in the present time, when the moral level of the civilized population of the Earth is extraordinarily low.
We have observed to some extent how our body comes to form mental images: it presses out of itself the hallucinatory world out of which it originated. We carry about with us not only the body but also the soul element. We will be able to observe this better if we leave out of consideration for the moment the soul element and look instead at the spiritual element. You see, my dear friends, just as here between birth and death we look at ourselves from outside and say that we carry a body, so we have a spiritual existence between death and a new birth. This corresponds to an inner perception, but between death and a new birth we speak — if I may express myself in this way — of our spiritual element in just the same way as we speak here in our physical life of our body. Here we are accustomed to speak of the spiritual as being the actual primal foundation of everything, but this is actually an illusory way of expressing it. We should speak of the spiritual as that which belongs to us between death and a new birth. Just as between birth and death we possess a body, just as here we are embodied, so between death and a new birth we are “enspirited.” This spiritual, however, does not cease when we take up the body that is formed out of the hallucination of the world; it continues to be active.
Imagine the moment of conception — or any other moment between conception and birth. The precise moment does not matter so much; imagine any moment in which the human being is descending from the spiritual into physical existence. You will have to say that from this moment onward, physical existence incorporates itself into the soul-spiritual element of the human being. The soul-spiritual undergoes, as it were, a metamorphosis toward the physical. The force, however, that was ours between death and a new birth does not cease at the moment when we enter physical, sensory existence; it continues to be active, but in quite a peculiar way. I would like to illustrate this schematically (see drawing).
Consider the force that has been active within you in the spiritual world since your last death and that works until what I shall call birth, your present birth. The forces of the physical and etheric bodies and so on continue to be active, followed by a new death. This force that we possess until birth persists, however — and yet we might say that it does not persist, for its actual essence has been poured into the bodily nature, spiritualizing it. What persists of this force continues at the same time in the same direction, only as pictures; it has merely a picture-existence, so that between birth and death we carry livingly in us the picture of what we possessed between death and a new birth. This picture is the force of our intellect. Between birth and death our intellect is not a reality at all but is the picture of our existence between death and a new birth.
This knowledge not only solves the riddles of cognition but also the riddles of civilization. The entire configuration of our modern civilization, which is based upon the intellect, becomes evident if we know that it is a civilization of pictures, a civilization that has not been created by any form of reality but by a picture — although created by a picture of the spiritual reality. We have an abstract spiritual civilization. Materialism is an abstract spiritual civilization. One thinks the most finely spun thoughts if one denies the thoughts and becomes a materialist. Materialistic thoughts are really quite perspicacious, but of course they come into error, for the picture of a world, not a world itself, produces our civilization.
You see, my dear friends, this is a difficult conception, but let us make an effort to understand it. You find it easy to conceive pictures in space. If you stand before a mirror, you ascribe no reality to your reflection in the mirror; you ascribe reality to your own self, not to the picture. What thus occurs here in space also actually takes place in time. What you experience as your intellect is a reflected image, with its mirroring surface turned back to your former existence. In yourselves, in your bodily nature, you have a mirroring surface, but this mirror is active in time, and it reflects the picture of life before birth. The perceptions of existence are continually cast into this intellectual image: the sense perceptions. It mingles therein with sense perceptions, and for this reason we do not perceive that this is actually a reflection. We live in the present. If by means of the exercises I have described in my book How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds we succeed in throwing out sense perceptions and living into this picture existence, then we really come to our life before birth, pre-existent life. Pre-existence then is a fact. The picture of pre-existence is indeed within us; we must only penetrate to it. Then we will succeed in perceiving this pre-existence.
Basically every human being is able, if he does not succumb to other phenomena, to fall into a healthy sleep when he shuts out sense perceptions. This is the case with most human beings. They shut out sense perceptions, but then thinking is also no longer there. If sense perceptions can really be shut out, however, while at the same time thinking remains alive, then we no longer look into the world of space but back into the time through which we lived between our last death and this birth. This is seen at first very unclearly, but one knows that the world into which one then looks is the world between death and this most recent birth. In order to reach the truth, a true insight, we must not fall asleep when sense perceptions are suppressed. Our thinking must remain just as alive as is the case with the help of the sense perceptions or when permeated by sense perceptions.
If we look through our own being toward pre-existent life, however, and then naturally continue our training, the concrete configurations also appear in the spiritual world. Then a spiritual environment rises up around us, and the very opposite takes place of what takes place in the physical world: we do not press out of our body its hallucinations; instead we pull ourselves out of our body and place ourselves into our pre-existent life, our life before birth, where we are filled with spiritual reality. We dive into the world in which hallucinations surge. And in perceiving its realities, we do not perceive hallucinations but imaginations. Thus we perceive imaginations when we rise to spiritual vision.
It is of course absurd, and even indecent, I might say, when someone who wishes to be a scientist today continually comes forward with the following objection to anthroposophy: anthroposophy probably offers merely hallucinations; it cannot be distinguished from hallucinations. Yet if these people were only to study more closely the entire method of investigation applied in spiritual science, they would find that exactly here a very sharp and precise boundary is made between hallucination and Imagination.
What lies between the two? I have already drawn your attention to the fact that between birth and death we assume a bodily garment, and between death and a new birth a spiritual garment. The soul element is the mediator between the two. The spiritual is brought into physical existence through the life of the soul. What we experience in physical life is, in its turn, brought into the spiritual through the soul element when we die. The soul element is the mediator between body and spirit.
If the body conceptualizes as body, it conceives hallucinations; that is, it brings hallucinations into consciousness. If the spirit conceptualizes as spirit, then it has imaginations; if the soul, which is the mediator between the two, begins to conceptualize, that is, if the soul conceptualizes as soul, then neither will the unjustified hallucinations pressed out of the body arise, nor will the soul penetrate to spiritual realities. Instead it will reach an undefined intermediary stage; these are fantasies. Picture the body: between birth and death it is not an instrument for conceptualizing. If between birth and death it conceptualizes nevertheless, it does so in an unjustified and abnormal way, and hallucinations thus arise. If the spirit conceptualizes in really rising out of the body to realities, then it has imaginations. The soul forms the mediator between hallucinations and imaginations in faintly outlined fantasies.
If the body conceptualizes as body, hallucinations arise.If the soul conceptualizes as soul, fantasies arise.
If the spirit conceptualizes as spirit, imaginations arise.
In describing these processes we are describing real processes. In intellectual thinking we have only the pictures of the soul's pre-existent life — the pictures, therefore, of a life that is permeated through and through with imaginations, a life that arises out of the hallucinatory element. Our intellectual life is not real, however. We ourselves are not real in our thinking, but we develop ourselves to a picture in that we think. Otherwise we could not be free. Man's freedom is based on the fact that our thinking is not real if it does not become pure thinking. A mirror image cannot be a cause. If you have before you a mirror image — something that is merely an image, and if you act in accordance with this image, this is not the determining element. If your thinking is a reality, then there is no freedom. If your thinking is a picture, then your life between birth and death is a schooling in freedom, because no causes reside in thinking. A life that is a life in freedom must be one devoid of causes.
The life in fantasies is not entirely free, but it is real, real as a life of conceptions (Vorstellungsleben). The free life that is in us is not a real life as far as thinking is concerned, but when we have pure thinking and out of this pure thinking develop the will toward free deeds, we grasp reality by a corner. Where we ourselves endow the picture with reality out of our own substance, free action is possible.
This is what I wished to present, in a purely philosophical way, in 1893 in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, in order to have a foundation for further studies.
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