Rudolf Steiner, Dornarch, Switzerland, November 9, 1919:
I want to speak today of something that will help to deepen our understanding of truths that must now be given to humankind by anthroposophy. We have often spoken of the two poles of forces of the human being: the pole of will and the pole of intelligence. To understand the nature of the human being we must be constantly mindful of these two poles.
The human is a being of will and a being of intelligence. Between them — at any rate from birth until death — lies the element of feeling, constituting the bridge between the intelligence and the will. You know that these forces separate from each other in a certain sense when people reach what is called the threshold of the spiritual world.
Our study today will be concerned more particularly with the relationship in which humanity stands to the surrounding world, on the one side as a being of intelligence and on the other as a being of will. We shall deal with the latter first.
In the life between birth and death, human beings unfold the force of will as the impulse of their actions and activity. As it comes to expression through the human organism, the force of will is a very intricate, complicated matter. Nevertheless in one aspect, everything of the nature of human will bears a great likeness, amounting almost to identity, with certain forces of nature. It is therefore quite correct to speak of an inner relation between the forces of will in the human being and the forces of nature.
You know from earlier studies that even while people are awake, they are in a condition resembling sleep wherever their will is involved. True, we have in our consciousness the ideas lying behind what we will, but how a particular idea takes effect in the form of will — of that we know nothing. We do not know how the idea, “I move my arm,” is connected with the process leading to the actual movement of the arm. This process lies entirely in the subconscious and it may truly be said that people are no more conscious of the real process of will than they are of what takes place during sleep. But when the question arises as to the connection of human will with the surrounding world, we come to something that will strike the kind of consciousness that has developed in the course of the last three to five centuries as highly paradoxical. It is generally thought that the evolution of the earth would be the same even if human beings had no part in it at all. A typical natural scientist describes the evolution of the earth as a series, let us say, of geological, purely physical processes. And even if scientists do not expressly say so, they have in mind that from the earth's beginning until its hypothetical end, everything would go on just the same even if it were uninhabited by human beings. Why is this view held by natural science today? The reason is that when anything takes place, for example in the mineral kingdom, or the plant kingdom, let us say on November 9, 1919, people believe that its cause lies in what has happened in the mineral kingdom prior to this particular point of time. People think: the mineral kingdom takes its course and what happens at any point is the effect of what went before; the mineral effect is due to a mineral cause.
This is the way people think and you will find evidence of it in any text book of geology. Conditions obtaining at the present time are said to be the effects of the Ice Age, or of some preceding epoch but the causes are attributed entirely to what once took place in the mineral kingdom as such; the fact that humanity inhabits the earth is ignored. The belief is that even were humans not present, everything would run a similar course, that the external reality would be the same — although, in fact, humankind has always been part of this external reality. The truth is that the earth is one whole, humanity itself being one of the active factors in the earth's evolution. I will give you an example.
You know that our present epoch — thinking of it for the moment in the wider sense, as comprising the period since the great Atlantean catastrophe — was preceded by the Atlantean epoch itself, when the continents of Europe, Africa, and America in their present form were not in existence. At that time there was one main continent on the earth — Atlantis as it is called — extending over the area that is now the Atlantic Ocean. You know too that at a certain period in this Atlantean evolution, immorality of a particular kind was rampant throughout the then-Civilized world. Human beings had far greater power over the forces of nature than they later possessed and employed these forces for evil purposes. Thus we can look back to an age of widespread immorality. And then came the great Atlantean catastrophe. The orthodox geologist will naturally trace this catastrophe to processes in the mineral kingdom; indeed it is a fact that one part of the earth subsided and another arose. But it will not occur to those who base their thinking on the principles of modern natural science to say to themselves that the deeds and activities of human beings were among the contributory causes. Yet so it is. In very truth the Atlantean catastrophe was the outcome of the deeds of people on the earth.
Outer, mineral causes are not alone responsible for these great catastrophic events that break in upon earth existence. We must look for causes lying within the sphere of human actions and impulses: Humanity itself belongs to the chain of causative forces in earth existence. Nor does this apply only to an event of such magnitude but to what is happening all the time. Only the connection between what goes on within human beings and cosmic happenings which take effect in tellurian events remains hidden, to begin with. In this respect the whole of our natural science amounts to a great, all-embracing illusion. For if you want to get at the real causes you will not discover them by studying the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms alone.
Let me give you the following illustration of what comes into consideration here. We will approach it, so to speak, from the opposite side. Here (X) is the center of the earth. When something takes place in the mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom, or the animal kingdom, it is a matter of seeking the causes. The causes lie at certain points which are to be found everywhere. You can picture what I mean by thinking of the following. In the region around Naples in Italy, you will find that the earth over a wide area will emit vapor if you take a piece of paper and set it alight. Vapors begin to rise from the ground beneath you. You will say: the force which drives up the vapors lies in the physical process generated by the lighting of the paper. In this case, the physical process is that by lighting the paper you rarify the air and because of the rarification of the air the vapors inside the earth press upward. They are kept down by the normal air-pressure and this is diminished by setting light to the paper. If I merely want to give an example of effects of a purely mineral nature — such as these vapors arising out of the earth — I could say for the sake of illustration that here, and here (points in the diagram), a piece of paper is set alight. This shows you that the causes of the rising of the vapor do not lie below the soil, but above it. Now these points in the diagram a, b, c, d, e, f — do not represent pieces of paper that have been set alight; in this instance they represent something different. Imagine, to begin with, that each point on its own has no significance but that the significance lies in the system of points as a whole. Do not think now of the pieces of lighted paper, but of something else which at the moment I will not specify. Something else is there as an active cause, above the surface of the earth; and these different causes do not work singly, but together. And now imagine that there are not six points only, but, let us say, 1,500 million points [Representing, approximately, the total population of the earth.] all working together, producing a combined effect. These 1,500 million points are actually there. Each of you has within you what may be called the center of gravity of your own physical structure. When people are awake, this center of gravity lies just below the diaphragm; when they are asleep it lies a little lower. There are therefore some 1,500 million of these centers of gravity spread over the earth, producing a combined effect. And what issues from this combined effect is the actual cause of a great deal of what takes place in the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms on the earth. It is a scientific fallacy to trace back to mineral causes the forces manifesting in air and water and in the mineral realm; in reality the causes are to be found within the human beings.
This is a truth of which there is scarcely an inkling today. It is known to very, very few that the causes of processes active in the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms lie within the human organism. (This does not apply to all the forces working in these kingdoms of nature, but to a large proportion of them.) Within humankind lie the causes for what happens on earth. Therefore mineralogy, botany, zoology, cannot be cultivated truly without anthropology — without the study of the human being. Science tells us of physical, chemical, and mechanical forces. These forces are intimately connected with the human will, with the force of human will that is concentrated in our center of gravity. If we speak of the earth with an eye to the truth of these matters, we must not follow the geologist in speaking of an earth in the abstract, but humanity must be accounted an integral part of the earth. These are the truths that reveal themselves on yonder side of the threshold. Everything that can be known on this side of the threshold belongs to the realm of the illusions of knowledge, not to the realm of truth.
At this point the question arises: What relation is there between the forces of will that areconcentrated in our center of gravity, and the external, physical, and chemical forces? We are speaking, remember, of present-day humanity. In normal life, this relation takes effect in the metabolic processes. When people take into themselves the substances of the outer world, it is their will that actually digests and works upon these substances. And if nothing else were in operation, then what is taken into the organism from outside would simply be destroyed. The human will has the power to dissolve and destroy all extraneous substances and forces; and the relation between the human being and the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms of nature today is such that our will is connected with the forces of dissolution and destruction inherent in our planet.
We could not live were this destruction not to take place — but for all that it is destruction. This must never be forgotten. And what are often described as unlawful magical practices are based essentially on the fact that certain human beings learn to employ their will wrongfully, in such a way that they do not confine the destructive forces to their normal operations within the organism but extend them over other human beings, deliberately and consciously applying the forces of destruction that are anchored in their will. That, quite obviously, is a practice that is never, under any circumstances, permissible.
Through our will we are connected with the earth's forces of decline. And if as human beings we had only our forces of will, the earth would be condemned through us, through humankind, to sheer destruction. The prospect of the future would then be far from inspiring; it would be a vista of the gradual dissolution of the earth and its ultimate dispersal in cosmic space. So much for the one pole in the human constitution.
But the human is a twofold being. One pole is, as we have seen, connected with the destructive forces of our planet; the other pole — that of intelligence — is connected with the will by the bridge of feeling. But in waking life, human intelligence is of little account as far as the planet earth is concerned. During waking life we cannot really establish a true relationship to earth existence through our intelligence. What I have told you in regard to the will happens while we are awake, although we are not conscious of it. If you see a rock crumbling away and ask where the actual causes of the crumbling lie, then you must look into the inner, organic nature of the human being. Strange as this will seem to the modern mind, it is indeed so. But as I said, the earth would face a sorry future if the other pole of human nature were not there — the pole of the up-building forces. Just as the causes of all destruction lie in the will that is concentrated in our center of gravity, so the up-building forces lie in the sphere into which we pass during sleep. From the time of falling asleep until that of waking, we are in a condition figuratively described by saying that with our “I” and astral body we are outside the physical body. But then we are entirely beings of soul and spirit, unfolding the forces that are in operation between falling asleep and waking. During this time we are connected, through these forces, with everything that builds up the earth planet, everything that adds to the forces of destruction the constructive, up-building forces. If you did not go about the earth, the destructive forces actually proceeding from your will would not be working in the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms. If you never went to sleep, the forces whereby the earth is continually up-built would not stream out of your intelligence. The constructive, up-building forces of the planet earth also lie in humanity itself. I do not say: in the individual human being — for I have expressly said that all these single causes form a collective whole. The up-building forces lie in humankind as a whole, actually in the pole of intelligence in our being but not in our waking intelligence. Waking intelligence is really like a lifeless entity thrusting itself into earth evolution. The intelligence that works, unconsciously, during our sleep — that is what builds up the earth planet. By this I am only trying to explain that it is a fallacy to look outside the human being for the destructive and the constructive forces of our earth; you must look for them within the human being. Once you grasp this, what I am now going to say will not be unintelligible.
You look up to the stars, saying that something is streaming from them that can be perceived by human sense organs here on earth. But what you behold when you gaze at the stars is not of the same nature as what you perceive on the earth in the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms. In reality it proceeds from beings of intelligence and will whose life is bound up with those stars. The effects appear to be physical because the stars are at a distance. They are not in reality physical at all. What you actually see are the inner activities of beings of will and intelligence in the stars. I have already spoken to you of the ingenious description of the sun given by astrophysicists. But if it were possible to journey to the sun by some means of transport invented by a Jules Verne, it would be found with amazement that nothing of what was to be expected from these physical descriptions exists. The descriptions are merely a composite picture of solar phenomena. What we see is in reality the working of will and intelligence which at a distance appears as light. If inhabitants of the moon — supposing in this sense there were such beings — were to look at the earth, they would not detect its grassy or mineral surfaces but — also perceiving it as a light effect or something similar — they would detect what takes place around the centers of gravity of human bodies and also the effects of the conditions in which human beings live between going to sleep and waking. That is what would actually be seen from the universe. Even the most perfect instrument would not enable the chairs, for instance, on which you are now sitting, to be seen; what would be seen is all that is taking place in the region of your centers of gravity and what would happen if you were suddenly to fall asleep — it is to be hoped that this would not happen in every case! But wherever it did happen, it would be perceived out in the universe.
So that to the outer universe, what takes place through human beings is the perceptible reality — not what surrounds us in earthly existence. A very common saying is that everything perceived with the senses is maya — the great illusion — no reality but simply appearance. Such an abstraction is of little account. It has meaning only when one enters into the concrete, as we have now been doing. To say glibly that the animal, plant, and mineral worlds are maya means nothing: What is of value is the realization that what you perceive outwardly depends fundamentally upon yourselves and that — not of course at each moment but in the course of human evolution — you make yourselves an integral part of the chain of causes and effects.
Even when such a shattering truth is uttered — and I think it may well be shattering — it is not always seen in the aspect where it becomes of importance in life. Such a truth assumes importance only when we perceive its consequences. We are not physical beings only; we are moral — or maybe immoral — beings in earthly existence. What we do is determined by impulses of a moral nature.
Now just think with what bitter doubt modern thought is assailed in this domain. Natural science provides a knowledge of the earthly that is confined to the connection between purely external causes and effects; and in this cycle of natural causes and effects, the human being too is involved. So it is alleged by external, abstract science which takes account of one aspect only of earthly existence.
The fact that moral impulses also light up in people is admitted but nothing is known about the connection between these moral impulses and what comes to pass in the round of external nature. Indeed the dilemma of modern philosophy is that the philosophers hear on the one hand from the scientists that everything is involved in a chain of natural causes and effects — and on the other hand have to admit that moral impulses light up in people. That is the reason why Kant wrote two “Critiques”: the Critique of Pure Reason, concerned with the relation of the human being to a purely natural course of things, and the Critique of Practical Reason where he puts forward his moral postulates — which in truth, if I may speak figuratively, hover in the air, come out of the blue and have no a priori relation with natural causes.
As long as we believe that what takes place in the external manifestations of nature can be traced only to similar manifestations, as long as we cling to this illusion, the intervention of moral impulses is something that remains separate and apart from the course of nature. Nearly everything that is discussed today lies under the shadow of this breach. In their thinking people cannot use the earthly round as such with the moral life of humanity. But as soon as you grasp something of what I have tried briefly to outline, you will be able to say: Yes, as a human being I am a unity, and moral impulses are alive within me. They live in what I am as a physical being. But as a physical human being I am fundamentally the cause — together with all humankind — of every physical happening. The moral conduct and achievements of human beings on the earth are the real causes of what comes to pass in the course of earth existence.
Natural history and natural science describe the earth in the way we find in text books of geology, botany, and so forth. What is said there seems entirely satisfactory according to the premises formed through modern education. But let us suppose that an inhabitant of Mars were to come down to the earth and observe it in the light of Martian premises. I am not saying that such a thing could happen but merely trying to illustrate what I mean. Suppose a being from Mars, having wandered dumbly about the earth were then to learn some human language, read some geology, and thus discover what kind of ideas prevail concerning the processes and happenings on the earth. This being would say: But that is not all. By far the most important factor is ignored. For example, I have noticed crowds of students loitering about in their beer houses, drinking and indulging their passions. Something is happening there: the human will is working in the metabolism. These are processes of which no mention is made in your books on physics and geology; they contain no reference to the fact that the course of earth existence is also affected by whether the students drink or do not drink. That is what a being not entirely immersed in earthly ideas and prejudices would find lacking in the descriptions given by human beings themselves of happenings on earth. For a being from Mars there would be no question but that moral impulses, pervading human deeds and the whole of human life, are part and parcel of the course of nature. According to modern preconceptions there is something inexorable in the play of nature, indeed pleasantly inexorable for materialistic thinkers. They imagine that the earth's course would be exactly the same were no human beings in existence; that whether they behave decently or not makes no fundamental difference or really alters anything. But that is not the case! The all-essential causes of what happens on the earth do not lie outside the human being; they lie within humankind. And if earthly consciousness is to expand to cosmic consciousness, humanity must realize that the earth — not over short but over long stretches of time — is made in its own likeness, in the likeness of humanity itself. There is no better means of lulling people to sleep than to impress upon them that they have no share in the course taken by earth existence. This narrows down human responsibility to the single individual, the single personality.
The truth is that the responsibility for the course of earth existence through ages of cosmic time, lies with humanity. Everyone must feel themselves to be a member of humanity, the earth itself being the body for that humanity.
Someone may say: For ten years I have given way to my passions, indulged my fancies and have thereby ruined my body. With equal conviction such a person should be able to say: If earthly humanity follows impure moral impulses, then the body of the earth will be different from what it would be were the moral impulses pure. The day-fly, because it lives for twenty-four hours only, has a view of the world differing entirely from that of human beings. The range of our vision is not wide enough to perceive that what happens externally in the course of nature is not dependent upon purely natural causes. In regard to the present configuration of Europe, it is far more important to ask what manner of life prevailed among human beings in the civilized world two thousand years ago than to investigate the external mineral and plant structure of the earth. The destiny of our physical earth planet in another two thousand years will not depend upon the present constitution of our mineral world, but upon what we do and allow to be done. With world consciousness, human responsibility widens into world responsibility. With such consciousness we feel as we look up to the starry heavens that we are responsible to this cosmic expanse, permeated and pervaded as it is by spirit — that we are responsible to this world for how we conduct the earth. We grow together with the cosmos in concrete reality when behind the phenomena we seek for the truth.
I so often tell you that we must learn to perceive the concrete realities of things for the most part taught as abstractions today. Nothing much is accomplished by adopting oriental traditions such as: the external world of the senses is maya. We must go much deeper if we are to arrive at the truth. Such abstractions do not carry us far, because in the form in which they have been handed down they are nothing but the sediment of a primeval wisdom that did not hover in abstractions but teemed with concrete realities which must be brought to light again through spiritual intuition and research. When you read in oriental literature of maya and of truth as its antithesis, do not imagine that what you read there today can be really intelligible to you. It is only a much later compilation of matters that were concrete realities to the ancient wisdom. We must get back to these concrete realities. People think today that they have some understanding of cosmic processes when they assert that the external world of sense is maya. But nothing can be understood unless one presses on to the underlying realities. The moment it is realized: we have not to ask how the present mineral world has developed out of the mineral processes of another age; we have rather to ask about what has been going on in humankind — at that moment the real meaning of the saying, “the outer world is maya,” becomes clear. Then we begin to perceive in the human being a reality far greater than is usually perceived. And then the feeling of responsibility for earth existence begins.
If you will try to get to the inner core of these things — and it must be by inward contemplation, not by means of the kind of intelligence employed in natural science — you will gradually find your way to the realization that humankind is composed of free human beings. Nature does not, in truth, counteract our freedom, for as human beings we ourselves fashion the nature immediately surrounding us. It is only in its partial manifestations that nature counteracts our freedom. Nature counteracts our freedom to an extent no greater than if — to give an example — you are stretching out your hand and someone else takes hold of it and checks the movement. You will not deny freedom of will simply because someone else checks a movement. As people of the present day we are checked in many respects because of some action of our predecessors that is only now taking effect. But at all events it was an action of human beings. — What human beings? Not anyone against whom we can turn with reproach, for we ourselves were the ones who, in earlier earthly lives, brought about the conditions obtaining today.
We must not confine ourselves to the mere mention of repeated earthly lives but think of the connection between them in such a way that even in external nature we perceive the effects of causes we ourselves laid down in earlier lives. Naturally, in reference to the single, individual human being, we must speak of contributory causes only, for in all these things, as I have said, it is a matter of the collective inter-working of human beings on the earth. None of us should, for that reason, exclude ourselves as individuals, for each of us has a share in what is brought about by humanity as a whole and then comes to expression in what constitutes the body for the whole of earthly humanity in its on-flowing life.
I have been endeavoring to give you an idea of how a spiritual scientist must regard the statements made in ordinary scientific text-books. Suppose I were to draw a series of figures:
And now suppose some creature who had never lived in our world were to crawl out of the earth and, having some rudiments of arithmetical knowledge, were to look at the figures and say: First figure, second figure, third figure. The third is the effect of the second, and the second the effect of the first. Effect of the first figure — a triangle; effect of the second circle. This creature would then be combining cause and effect. But it would be a fallacy, for I have drawn each figure separately. In reality the one is independent of the other. It only appears to be dependent to this creature who associates what comes first with what follows, as if the one were the outcome of the other. This, approximately, is how the geologist describes the process of the earth: Diluvial epoch, Tertiary epoch, Quaternary epoch, and so on. But this is no more true than the statement that the circle is the outcome, the effect of the triangle, or the triangle the effect of the rectangular figure. The configurations of the earth are brought about autonomously — through the deeds of earthly humanity, including the mysterious workings of the intelligence during the periods of sleep when human beings are outside their physical bodies.
This shows you that the descriptions given by external science are very largely illusion — maya. But merely to speak about maya is of little account. To the assertion that the external world is maya we must be able to reply by stating where the actual causes lie. These causes are hidden to a great extent from our powers of cognition. The part played by humankind in shaping earth existence cannot be fathomed by means of external science but only by an inner science. My book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment speaks of the human being's inner activity between the time of going to sleep and waking. This can be revealed by knowledge that reaches down to the sphere of the will Human beings know nothing of the connection between the will and the outer world for the processes of the will are hidden and concealed. We do not know what is really going on when by lifting our hand we set in operation a process of will; nor do we know that this process continues and has an effect in the whole course of earth existence.
This is indicated in the scene in my mystery play, The Portal of Initiation, where the actions of Capesius and Strader have their outcome in cosmic manifestations — in thunder and lightning. It is, of course, a pictorial representation, but the picture contains a deeper truth; it is not fantasy but actual truth. For a fairly long period in evolution, truths of this kind have been voiced only by true poets whose fantasy must always be perception of super-sensible processes.
This is very little understood by modern people who like to relegate poetry, indeed all art, to a place separate and apart from external reality. They feel relieved not to be asked to see in poetry anything more than fantasy. True poetry, true art, is of course, no more than a reflection of super-sensible truth — but a reflection it is. Even if poets are not themselves conscious of the super-sensible happenings, if their soul is linked with the cosmos, if they have not been torn away from the cosmos by materialistic education, they give utterances to supersensible truths, in spite of having to express them in pictures drawn from the world of sense.
Many examples of this are contained in the second part of Goethe's Faust, where as I have shown in the case of particular passages, the imagery has a direct relation with supersensible processes. [Twenty-eight lectures given in the year 1915.Geisteswissenschaftliche Erlauterungen zu Goethe's Faust.] The development of art in recent centuries affords evidence of what I have been saying. Take any picture painted by no means very long ago, and you will find that as a rule, landscape is given very secondary importance. The painting of landscape has come into prominence only since the last three to five centuries. Earlier than that you will find that landscape takes second place; it is the human world that is brought to the forefront because the consciousness still survived that in regard to objective processes of earth existence the human world is much more important than the landscape — which is but the effect of the human world. In the very birth of preference for landscape there lies, in the sphere of art, the parallel phenomenon of the birth of the materialistic trend of mind — consisting in the belief that landscape and what it represents has an existence of its own, entirely apart from humanity. But the truth is quite the reverse. Were some inhabitant of Mars to come down to the earth he would certainly be able to see meaning in Leonardo da Vinci's “Last Supper,” but not in paintings of landscapes. He would see landscapes — including painted landscapes — and the whole configuration of the earth quite differently and with his particular organ of sense could not fathom their meaning. Please remember that I am saying these things merely in order to illustrate hypothetically what I want to convey.
So you see, the saying: “the external world is maya” cannot be fully understood without entering into the concrete realities. But to do this we must relate ourselves intimately with earth existence as a whole, know ourselves to be an integral part of it. And then we must grasp the thought that there can be external and apparent realities which are not the truth, not the true realities. If you have a rose in your room, it is an apparent reality only, for the rose as it is in front of you there cannot be the reality. It can be true reality only while it is growing on the rose tree, united with the roots which in turn are united with the earth. The earth as described by the geologists is as little a true reality as a plucked rose is a reality.
Spiritual science endeavors never to halt at the untrue reality, but always to seek what must be added, in order to have the whole, true reality. The meager sense of reality prevailing in our present civilization expresses itself in the very fact that every external manifestation is taken as reality. But there is reality only in what lies before one as an integrated whole. The earth by itself, without human beings, is no more a true reality than the rose plucked from the rose tree. These things must be pondered and worked upon; they must not remain theories but pass over into our feelings. We must feel ourselves members of the whole earth. It is of importance again and again to call up the thoughts: this finger on my hand has true reality only as long as it is part of my organism; if it is cut off it no longer has true reality. Similarly, the human being has no true reality apart from the earth, nor has the earth without humankind. It is an unreal concept when modern scientific investigators think, according to their premises, that earth evolution would run the same course if humanity were not there. I recently showed you that it would not be so, by telling you that the bodies laid aside by human beings at death become a leaven in earth evolution and that if no human bodies — either by burial or cremation — became part of the earth, the whole course of physical happenings would be other than it is in consequence of these bodies having been received into the earth.
In the lecture today I wanted to speak in greater detail of the connection between the two poles of will and intelligence in human beings and their cosmic environment.