Therapeutic Insights: Earthly and Cosmic Laws
Lecture 1 of 5
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, June 24, 1921:
After the historical considerations we have undertaken, we shall explore today a few things about contemporary man. This will provide us with the possibility of observing more accurately the place of contemporary man in the whole course of time. We should be clear that in the way the human being stands before us as spiritual, soul, and bodily being, he is differently oriented in three directions. We see this already when we look at the human being purely outwardly. In his spirit, man goes through the world independently of outer phenomena, while in his soul he is not as independent of these outer phenomena. One need only consider certain relationships that are visible throughout life in order to discover how the real soul life has certain connections with the outer world. One can be depressed or uplifted in one's soul. Recall how you have often felt depressed in a dream, and how the root of this mood of depression had to be traced back to the irregularity of the breathing rhythm. One could say that this is merely an elementary example, and yet all soul life is never without a similar connection with the rhythmic life that we go through in the rhythm of our breathing, of our blood circulation, and the outer rhythmic life of the entire cosmos. Everything that takes place in the soul is connected with the world rhythm.
Whereas as spiritual beings we can feel highly independent of our environment, we cannot do the same regarding our soul life, for our soul life lies imbedded within the whole world rhythm.
Furthermore, we stand within universal world phenomena as bodily beings. Again, at first we may proceed from merely elementary examples. Man, as a bodily being, is heavy, that is to say, he has weight. Other merely mineral beings also have weight. Mineral beings, plant beings, animal beings, and the human being as a bodily being all partake in this universal weightiness, and we must actually lift ourselves above this universal weightiness when we wish to make the body a physical tool of the spiritual life. We have often mentioned that if it were only the physical weight of the brain that mattered, the weight would be so great (1300 to 1500 grams) that all the blood vessels lying underneath the brain would be crushed. The brain, however, is subject to the Archimedean principle, since it floats in the cerebrospinal fluid. It loses so much weight by floating in the cerebral fluid that it actually weighs only 20 grams and therefore presses on the vessels at the base of the brain with only these 20 grams. You can see from this that the brain actually strives much more upward than downward. It counteracts heaviness. It tears itself free of the universal gravity and thereby acts like any other body that is placed in water and loses as much of its weight as the weight of the displaced water.
You thus can see an interplay between our whole bodily being and the outer world. With our soul weavings we are not only integrated in a rhythm but are fully enmeshed in the outer physical life. If we stand on a given point of the Earth, we press down upon that place; when we move to another point, we press down upon that new place. In our human body, we are as much physical beings as the physical beings of the other kingdoms of nature.
We therefore can say that with our spiritual being we are to some extent independent of the outer world; with our soul being we are part of the rhythm of the world; and with our bodily being we are part of the rest of the world as though we were not also soul and spirit. We must consider this distinction carefully, for we do not attain an understanding of the higher being of man if we do not look at this threefold relationship of the human being to his entire environment. Now, let us look for a moment at man's environment. In man's environment (I am now summarizing what we have considered over the course of many months from different viewpoints) we first have all that is ruled by natural laws. Picture the whole universe ruled by natural laws and, included in these natural laws, the totality of this visible, sense-perceptible world.
Simple consideration shows that we are dealing here only with the actual earthly world. Only foolhardy and unjustified hypotheses of physicists can maintain that the same natural laws we observe on the Earth around us are also applicable in the extraterrestrial cosmos. I have often pointed out to you how surprised the physicists would be if they were able to ascend to the place where the Sun is. Physicists regard the Sun as something comparable to a large gas oven without walls, more or less like a burning gas. If one arrived at the place in the cosmos where the Sun is, one would not find such a burning gas. Instead one would find something totally unlike what the physicists imagine. If this [sketching] encloses the space that normally we picture as taken up by the Sun, not only are there none of the substances found on Earth, but there is even an absence of what we call empty space. Imagine, to begin with, filled space. On Earth you always have a filled space around you. If it is not filled by solid or liquid substances, it is permeated by air, or at least by warmth, light, and so on. In short, we are always dealing with filled space. You also know, however, that it is possible, at least approximately, to create an empty space by extracting the air from a container with an air pump.
Imagine we have a filled space that we will designate with the letter A, preceded by a plus sign: +A. Now, as we make this space emptier and emptier, A will become smaller and smaller, but as the space is still filled we continue to use the + sign. We can imagine — although this is not actually possible under earthly conditions, for we can render space only approximately empty — that it would be possible to produce a completely empty space. Then, in this part of space that we have made empty, there would only be space. I will designate this with 0. It has 0 content. Now, we can do with this space the same thing that you do with your wallet: if your wallet is filled with money, you can take more and more out until finally there is nothing in it. If you want to spend more money, you cannot take anything more out of your wallet, as it is already empty. You can, however, go into debt. You have -0 in your wallet if you incur debts. You can think of this space in the same way: it is not only empty but you could say that it exerts suction because there is less than 0 in it: -A. It can be said of this space exerting suction — which is not just empty but has a content, which is the opposite of being filled by matter — that it is occupied by that space which one must imagine as filled out by the Sun. The Sun therefore has an inward suction; it does not exert pressure like a gas. The Sun space is filled with negative materiality.
I only present this as an example in order for you to see that earthly lawfulness simply cannot be applied to the extraterrestrial cosmos. We must think of totally different relationships in the extraterrestrial cosmos from those we have learned to know in our environment on the Earth. We must say that we are surrounded by lawfulness within earthly existence, and into this lawfulness is included the world of substances that is initially accessible to us. Now picture earthly existence. All you need to do is to picture the processes in the mineral world; place them before your soul, and you have that which, in so far as you see it, is completely encompassed by this lawfulness of earthly existence. Therefore we can say that the mineral world is encompassed by this lawfulness; yet something else is also encompassed by it. When we walk around, or even when we are carried around, in short when we act as objects in the physical world, we live in the same lawfulness as the mineral world. In relation to earthly lawfulness, it is immaterial whether we carry a stone around, whether it is moved, or whether a human being is carried around or moves himself; regarding this lawfulness, it is the same thing one way or the other. You need only consider that the only thing that comes into consideration regarding earthly lawfulness is a change in location of man's body, which he may, however, bring about himself. This is connected with other things. If you study only earthly lawfulness, what happens within the skin of man or what takes place in his soul can be quite irrelevant. Only the change in location within earthly space need be considered.
We thus can see that in addition to the mineral world there is the human being who has been moved (that is, outwardly moved). The only relationship of the outer world to man, in so far as that world is earthly and confronts our senses, is the relationship to the human being moved outwardly. If we seek any other relationship to man, we must at once refer to something else, and then we come to our extraterrestrial environment, for example, when we study the environment of the Moon, that is, whatever emanates from the Moon. It is a fact that many people are still aware of something of the effect of the Moon on the Earth. Many people believe in such effects of the Moon on the Earth, e.g., the connection of the phases of the Moon with the quantity of rainfall. Learned people in our time consider this a superstition.
I have told you, some of you at least, of an amusing sequence of events that once took place in Leipzig. The unusual natural philosopher and aesthetician Gustav Theodore Fechner went so far as to write a book about the influence of the Moon on weather conditions. He was a university colleague of the well-known botanist and natural scientist Schleiden. Schleiden, as a modern materialist, was convinced, of course, that what his colleague Fechner was advancing about the influence of phases of the Moon on the weather could only be based on superstition. In addition to the two scholars at the University of Leipzig there were also their wives, Frau Schleiden and Frau Fechner. At that time, the conditions were still so primitive that rainwater needed to be collected for wash day. Frau Fechner said that she believed in what her husband had published concerning the influence of Moon phases on the weather. She wanted to reach an agreement with Frau Professor Schleiden, who did not believe in what Fechner maintained, about when was the most efficient time to place out rain barrels in order to collect the most rain. Frau Fechner suggested that Frau Schleiden put out her barrels at different times, since according to Schleiden's opinion she should get just as much water as Frau Fechner. However, despite the fact that Frau Professor Schleiden considered the views of Professor Fechner to be exceedingly superstitious, she still chose to place her rain barrels out at the exact same times as Frau Fechner.
Now, the influence of the forces of other planetary bodies is less perceptible to our modern scientific consciousness. However, if one were to study more closely — as is to happen now in our scientific-physiological institute in Stuttgart — the line of growth followed on the stem by the leaves of plants, for example, one would find how each line is related to the movements of the planets, how these lines are, as it were, miniature pictures of the planetary movements. One thus would find that many things on the surface of the Earth are comprehensible only when one knows the extraterrestrial and does not merely identify the extraterrestrial with the earthly, that is to say, when one presupposes that a lawfulness exists that is cosmic and not earthly.
We therefore can say that we have a second lawfulness within cosmic existence. Only when one begins to study these cosmic influences — and it is possible to do so quite empirically — will one have a true botany. Our plant world does not grow up out of the Earth in the way conceived by a materialistic botany; rather it is pulled out by cosmic forces. What is pulled out in this way by cosmic forces in the process of growth is then permeated by the mineral forces that have saturated this cosmic plant structure so that it becomes visible to the senses. We thus can say firstly that the plant world is included in this cosmic lawfulness. Secondly, all that pertains to the inner movement of man — that is, a definitely physical movement, but within man — is included in this cosmic lawfulness (this is not as easy to establish as in the case of the plant world, because it achieves a certain independence from the rhythm of the outer processes; nevertheless, it imitates this rhythm inwardly). The outwardly moved human being, therefore, is included in the earthly lawfulness, but when you look upon your digestion, upon the movement of the nourishing substances in the digestive organs, when you look beyond merely the rhythm to the actual movement of the blood through the blood vessels — and there are many other things that move inwardly in man — you have a picture of what moves inside of the human being regardless of whether he is standing still or walking about. This cannot be integrated into the earthly lawfulness without further consideration but rather must be integrated into the cosmic lawfulness in the same way as are the forms and also the movements of the plants; in the human being, however, these forms and movements proceed much more slowly than they do in the plants. We therefore can say that the inner movements of man are also included in the cosmic lawfulness.
Now you could consider taking the cosmos into undefined distances; somehow in this way everything has an influence upon the life that develops on the Earth's surface. Yet if these were the only two lawfulnesses that existed — that is, the earthly and cosmic lawfulnesses, in the way I have presented them to you — then nothing would exist on the Earth but the mineral and plant kingdoms, for the human being, of course, would not be able to exist there. If the human being were present, he could move outwardly and the inner movements could take place, but this of course would not yet make up a human being. Neither would animals be able to be present on the Earth under such conditions; in reality, only minerals and plants could exist. Cosmic lawfulness and cosmic content of being must be penetrated and permeated by something that is no longer a part of space, by something concerning which we cannot speak of space at all.
Naturally, everything that is included in the cosmic and earthly lawfulnesses must be thought of as existing in space; now, however, we must speak of something that cannot be thought of as existing in space, although it permeates the whole of cosmic lawfulness. Just imagine how in the human being the movements, that is his inner movements, are connected with his rhythm. To begin with, all that we call the movement of the nourishing substances within us merges into the movement of the blood. However, this movement doesn't take place in such a way that the blood simply flows through the veins as nutritive juice. Not only does the blood itself move rhythmically, but beyond that this rhythm has a definite relationship to the breathing rhythm through the consumption of oxygen by the blood. We have within us this dual rhythm. I pointed out once how the inner soul lawfulness is based upon the 4:1 ratio of the blood rhythm to the breathing rhythm in such a way that meter and verse measure are actually dependent upon it.
We thus see that what takes place as inner movement is related to rhythm, and rhythm, as we have said, is related to the soul life of the human being. In a similar way we must bring what we have in the movement of the stars into a relationship to the world soul. We therefore can speak of a third lawfulness within the world soul in which is encompassed: 1) the animal world, and 2) all the rhythmic processes related to the bodily human being. These rhythmic processes within man have a relationship to the whole world rhythm. We have already spoken about this, but I would like to bring it up again in relation to our further considerations here. You know that the human being takes approximately 18 breaths per minute. Multiply that by 60 and you have the number of breaths per hour; multiply that total by 24 and you have the total for one day: approximately 25,920 breaths for the average human being in the course of a day. This number of breaths per day thus forms the day/night rhythm in the human being. We also know that the spring equinox moves through the constellations bit by bit each year, so that the point at which the Sun rises in spring moves forward in the heavens. The length of time that it takes the Sun to arrive again at its original point is 25,920 years. This is the rhythm of our universe, then, and our own breathing rhythm over twenty-four hours is a miniature picture of it. Hence, with our rhythm we are woven into the world rhythm, with our soul into the lawfulness of the world soul.
Now, there is a fourth lawfulness that lies at the basis of the entire universe as well as of the three previously mentioned lawfulnesses, namely, that within which we feel included when we become conscious of ourselves as spiritual human beings. In this process of becoming conscious of ourselves as spiritual human beings, we achieve clarity about these facts. At first we may not comprehend this or that about the world and, in fact, because of today's intellectualism, which has become a universal cultural force, very little indeed is comprehended. At a certain stage in our human evolution, we initially comprehend very little with our spirit. It is inherent, however, in the self-recognition of the spirit that it says to itself that as it evolves no boundaries can be imposed on its evolution. The spirit must be able to develop into the universe through knowing, feeling, and willing. By bearing the spirit within us, then, we must relate ourselves to a fourth lawfulness within the world spirit.
1.) Lawfulness within earthly existence
a) The mineral world b) The externally moved human being2.) Lawfulness within cosmic existencea) The plant world b) The inner movements of the human being3.) Lawfulness within the world soula) The animal world b) The rhythmic processes4.) Lawfulness within the world spirita) The human being b) The nerve-sense processes
Only now do we arrive at the real human being encompassed therein, for a human being could not really have existed merely within the other three lawfulnesses. Only now do we find the human being, but specifically that part of him that is his nerve-sense apparatus, all of what is, to begin with, the physical bearer of the spiritual life, the nerve-sense processes. When we look at the human being we consider first the entire human being, in whom the head is the main bearer of the nerve-sense organs; then we consider the head itself. A human being is human, so to speak, by virtue of the fact that he has a head; the head is the most human part of man. In the human being as a whole, and in the head, we already encounter the human being twice.
Now, when we consider what I have just described as a summary of what we have discussed in the last few weeks, it gives us to begin with a picture of the human being's connection with his environment; not merely the spatial environment, however, for the spatial world is related only to the first two lawfulnesses; we also have to do with the world that is non-spatial, which is related to the third and fourth lawfulnesses. It has become increasingly difficult for the contemporary human being to conceive that something could exist not within space or that sometimes it is not meaningful to speak in terms of space even when speaking of realities. Without such a conception, however, one can never rise to a spiritual science. If one wishes to remain within the confines of space, one cannot arrive at spiritual entities.
Last time I spoke here I told you about the world conception of the ancient Greeks in order to point out how in other eras the human being looked at the world differently from today. This picture of which I have just spoken to you can become evident to the human being in the present era; he arrives at it if, simply and without prejudice — that is, undisturbed by the waste products sometimes offered by contemporary science — he observes the world.
I must add a few things to what I told you previously about the ancient Greek world conception so that we are able to see its connection with what I wished to present to you with this scheme. You see, if a human being is very clever he may say that the spatial world consists of some seventy-odd elements that have varying atomic weights and so on; those elements, he maintains, enter into syntheses; one can perform analyses on them, and so forth, and, based on chemical connections and chemical separations, one can explain what happens in the world regarding those seventy-odd elements. That they could be traced back to some earlier origin should not occupy us at the moment. In general, those seventy-odd elements are considered valid today in popular science.
A Greek — not in a contemporary incarnation, in which he would, of course, think like everyone else today if he were well educated — an ancient Greek, let us say, if he could appear in our present-day world, would be prompted to say “Well, this is all very well and good, these seventy-odd elements, but one does not get very far with them; they actually tell us nothing about the world. We used to think quite differently about the world; we conceived of the world as consisting of fire, air, water, and earth.”
A contemporary person would reply, “That is a childish way to comprehend matters. We are far beyond that. We do, in fact, accept the aggregate states; in the gaseous aggregates we grant you the validity of the aeriform, in the fluid aggregates the watery, and in the solid aggregates the earthy. Warmth, however, does not mean at all the same thing to us as it does to you. We have moved beyond such childish notions. What constitutes the world for us we find in our seventy-odd elements.”
The ancient Greek would respond to this: “That is very nice, but fire — or warmth — air, water, earth are something entirely different from what you conceive. You do not understand in the least what we thought about it.”
At first our contemporary scholar would be curiously affected by such comments and would have the impression that he was encountering a human being from a more childlike stage of cultural development. The ancient Greek, because he would be immediately aware of what the modern scholar had in his head, would probably say "What you call your seventy-two elements all belong to what we call earth; it is very nice that you differentiate it and analyze it further, but for us the properties that you recognize in your seventy-two elements belong to the earth. Of water, air, and fire you understand nothing; of those you have no conception.”
This Greek would continue — you can see that I do not choose an Oriental from an ancient cultural period, but a knowledgeable Greek — “What ,you say about your seventy-two elements with their syntheses and analyses is all very nice, but to what do you believe it is related? It is all related merely to the physical human being once he has died and lies in the grave! There his substances, his entire physical body, undergo the processes that you learn to recognize in your physics and chemistry. What it is possible for you to learn within the structural relationships of your seventy-odd elements is not related at all to the living human being. You know nothing of the living human being because you know nothing of water, air, and fire. It is necessary first to know something about water, air, and fire in order then to know something about the living human being. With what is encompassed by your chemistry you know only what happens to man when he is dead and lying in the grave, the processes undergone by the corpse. That is all you come to know by means of your seventy-odd elements.”
If the ancient Greek went any further than this in this discussion he would not be a great success with our contemporary scholar, though he could go to the trouble of clarifying his views in the following way: “Your seventy-two elements are all what we consider earth. We may simply be regarding a general quality, but even if you analyze it further, you arrive merely at a more specific knowledge, and a more specific knowledge will not enable you to penetrate into the depths. If you acknowledged what we designate as water, however, you would have an element in which, as soon as it is weaving and living, earthly conditions are no longer active alone; water, in its entire activity, is subject to cosmic conditions.”
The ancient Greek's understanding of water was not limited merely to its physical characteristics but extended to everything that influences the Earth as lawfulness from the cosmos, in which the movement of the water substance is encompassed. Within this movement of water substance lives the plant element. In distinguishing whatever is in the living and weaving water element from everything earthly, the ancient Greek saw in this living-weaving element the whole lawfulness of the life of vegetation, which is encompassed by this watery element. We thus can place this watery element schematically somewhere on the Earth, but in such a way that it is determined from out of the cosmos. Then we can picture the mineral element, the actual earthly element, sprouting from below upward in a variety of ways, permeating the plants, infiltrating them, as it were, with earthly elements (see sketch).
What the ancient Greek thought about the watery element, however, was something essentially new, and it was for him a quite definite perception. The Greek did not view this conceptually; rather, he saw it in pictures, in imaginations. Of course we must go back to Platonic times (for Aristotle corrupted this way of viewing), even to pre-Platonic times, in order to find how the truly knowing Greek saw in imaginations what lives in the watery element and actually bears the vegetation, how he related everything to the cosmos. Now, however, the ancient Greek would continue: “What lies in the grave after a human being has died, what is lawfully penetrated by the structural laws that work in your seventy-odd elements, is inserted between birth — or let us say conception — and death into the etheric life working from the cosmos. This etheric life permeates you as a living human being; you will not understand any of this if you do not speak of water as a separate element, if you do not regard the plant world as being tethered in the watery element, if you do not see these pictures, these imaginations.”
“We Greeks,” he would say, “certainly spoke about the etheric body of the human being, but we were not spinning the etheric body out of our fantasy. Rather we said: if one watches in spring the sprouting, greening plant world gradually and variously coloring itself, if one sees this plant world bearing fruit in summer and observes the leaves withering in autumn, if one follows this course of the year in the life of vegetation and has an inner understanding for it, what then appears before the eye of the soul connects with one just as strongly as one is connected with the mineral world by the bread and meat one eats. In a way analogous to eating, one connects with what is outwardly visible in the plant world during the course of the year. Then if one penetrates oneself with the perception that everything happening in the course of twenty-four hours is like a miniature-image of this, repeating itself through one's entire life, then we have within us a miniature image of what constitutes the surrounding world out there from the watery, etheric element, from the cosmos. Whenever we regard this outer world with true understanding, we can say that what is out there also lives within us. We say that the spinach grows out there; I pick it, cook it, and eat it, and thereby have it in my stomach, that is, in my physical body; in the same way we can say, out there, in the course of the year, lives and weaves an etheric life, and that I have within myself.”
The Greek was not conceiving of the physical water; rather, what lay at the basis of his conception was what he grasped in his imagination and brought into living connection with the human being. Thus he would say further to our contemporary scholar: “You study the corpse that lies in the grave, because you study only the earth — your seventy-odd elements are only earth. We studied the living human being; in our time we studied the human being who is not yet dead, who grows and moves out of an inner activity. That is impossible without rising to the other elements.”
Thus it was with the ancient Greeks, and were we to go still further into the past, the airy element and then the fire or warmth element would meet us in full clarity. We will also consider these later. And that is what is so characteristic of our cultural evolution since the first third of the fifteenth century: that the understanding for these connections has simply been lost; thereby the understanding for the living human being was also lost. We study only the corpse in science today. We have often heard that this phase in the history of humanity's evolution had to come, had to come for other reasons, namely, so that humanity could undergo the phase of the evolution of freedom. However, in the process a certain understanding of nature and the human being has been lost since the first third of the fifteenth century. The understanding of natural science up to now has limited itself to this one element, earth, and now we must find the way back. We must find our way back through Imagination to the element of water, through Inspiration to the element of air, through Intuition to the element of fire.
What we have seen and interpreted as an ascent in higher cognition — the ascent from ordinary object cognition through Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition — is fundamentally also an ascent to the elements. We will speak further about this in two days.
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