Chance, Providence, and Necessity. Lecture 2 of 8.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, August 27, 1915:
In the preceding lectures, I have been calling attention to the fact that there will still be a great deal to say about a certain problem or question, even though it has already been the subject of discussion here from a great variety of viewpoints. That is the question of the alternating states of waking and sleeping in human beings. I have repeatedly spoken in public lectures of how this problem of sleep has occupied a more materialistically oriented science also, and how it is being handled. On several occasions I have referred to some of the various attempts that have been made to solve it. There is the so-called exhaustion theory, which is only one of the many that have been advanced in recent decades. This theory holds that we secrete substances resulting from the wear and tear of work and of our other activities during waking life, and that the sleeping state somehow eliminates these exhaustion products, which are then formed anew in the following period of waking consciousness.
Now we must always take the position that such a theory — I mean, what it describes — does not have to be wrong from the standpoint of spiritual science just because of its purely materialistic origin. The materialistic rightness of this particular theory need not now be gone into at any further length; other theories have been advanced in the same matter, as I have just mentioned. But from the standpoint of spiritual science no question will be raised as to whether such a process can take place, whether exhaustion products are really secreted during day-waking consciousness and destroyed again at night. This actual process will not be brought into question or further discussed. It must be a main concern of spiritual science to examine a problem, to study life's riddles, in a way that really relates the standpoint from which they are studied to the insights that can be gained in a particular age. That will provide the right basis for bringing the right light to bear on facts such as the secretion of exhaustion products. In most of life's problems — indeed, in all of them — the point is to know what questions to ask, to avoid pursuing a mistaken line of questioning.
In the case of the alternation between sleeping and waking the development of a viewpoint from which to study these two human states is all-important. And the proper light can be brought to bear upon certain phenomena of human life only if matters introduced in a very early phase of our spiritual scientific efforts are kept in mind. In the very early days I called attention to the fact that if we want to get an overview of world evolution we have mainly to consider seven stages of consciousness, seven life-conditions and seven form- states. Certain life-questions can be answered simply by considering changes in form; other questions can be illuminated by studying life-metamorphoses. But certain phenomena in life, certain facts of life cannot be illuminated any other way than by rising to a consideration of the various states of consciousness involved.
It is quite natural, in considering the problem of waking and sleeping, to concern ourselves with questions of the difference involved in the two states of consciousness. For we have certainly learned from a great variety of studies that we are here dealing with different states of consciousness, so that the question of consciousness is the all-important one here. We must realize that our most important concern in dealing with this question is to base it on the matter of consciousness. We will have to ask ourselves what the real difference is between the waking and the sleeping states.
And this is what we find: When we are awake — we need only to register what each one of us is conscious of — we look at the world around us and perceive it. And we will be able to say that when we are in the day- waking state, we cannot observe our own inner life as we do our surroundings. I have often called your attention to the fact of what a crude illusion it would be if we were to conceive of the study of anatomy as leading to observation of the inner man. Only what is external in us, though it lies beneath our skin, can be studied by material anatomy; our inner aspect cannot be studied during ordinary waking consciousness. Even what a person comes to know of himself while he is awake is the world's outer aspect, or, more exactly, that aspect of him that belongs to the external world.
But if we now observe the human being from the contrasting aspect of the sleeping state, its essential characteristic, as you can see from the various discussions that have previously taken place here, is that he is observing himself. While we are in that condition, the object of our attention is the human being; our consciousness is occupied with ourselves. If you examine some of the most commonplace phenomena from this standpoint, you will find them readily comprehensible.
Now if what materialistic science states on the subject of sleeping and waking were all that could be said about it, it would seem to contradict an observation I once made here, namely, that an independently wealthy person who hasn't made any particular effort is more often seen to fall asleep at lectures than someone who has been exerting himself at work. This observation would have to be wrong if tiredness were the real cause of sleep. What we have to consider here is that the coupon clipper who listens to a lecture is not focusing his day- waking interest on it, is perhaps not particularly interested in it, may even find it impossible to take an interest in it because he doesn't understand it and is therefore justified in his apathy. He is much more interested in himself. So he withdraws his attention from the lecture to concentrate upon himself. One could, of course, ask: why particularly upon himself? That too can easily be explained. There are certain reasons why the lecture doesn't interest him, and they are usually that he is more interested in other aspects of life than in those under discussion in the lecture, or, at least, in their relevance. But the lecture keeps him from occupying himself with what would otherwise be interesting him. A person who has no interest in hearing a lecture might conceivably prefer to spend the time eating oysters instead of attending the lecture. Perhaps he is more interested in the experience of eating oysters than in that provided by the lecture. But the lecture disturbs him; there is no way for him to eat oysters if he attends it. He behaves as though he wanted to hear it, but it keeps him from eating oysters. Since he can't be eating them, he settles for the only thing available besides the lecture that is disturbing him. The hour ahead is taken up with something that he can only hear, something without interest for him. So he turns his attention to the only other available interest: his own inner being, and enjoys himself! For his falling asleep is self-enjoyment.
You can gather from what we have studied that sleeping consciousness is still at the stage that prevailed in man during the ancient sun period. It is the same consciousness we share with plants. We know both these facts from previous lectures.
Now our sleeping man at the lecture is not in the same state of consciousness in which we would find him if he were enjoying the external world. He is working his way back into sub-consciousness as it were. But that doesn't matter; he enjoys himself anyhow. And his enjoyment comes from his interest in himself. So we must find it understandable that sleep takes over, not as a result of inner weariness but because his interest moves away from the outer scene, the lecture or the concert or whatever, to what does interest him. This is always the fact of the matter if one studies the alternation between sleeping and waking with thoroughness, and in its inner aspect.
When we are awake, we may look upon our condition as one in which we turn our attention outward, to the world around us. We withdraw our interest from our inner life.
The opposite is true of the sleeping state. Attention is directed inward to the self and withdrawn from what lies outside it. Since we have left our bodies during sleep, we actually see them from outside.
We can, as you see, trace the alternation between sleeping and waking to another cause, and say that we live in successive cycles, in one of which our interest is awake to the world outside us, and in the other to our inner world. This alternation between outer and inner is one that belongs every bit as much to our life as the fact that the sun shines on the earth and then goes down, leaving it in darkness, belongs to the earth's life. In the latter case the spatial constellation is the factor involved in the alternation between light and darkness, bringing about the cycle of daytime and nighttime.
Now you can easily see how mistaken it would be to say that the day is the cause of the night, and the night of the day. That would be what I have described to you in preceding lectures as a worm's philosophy. It is simply nonsense to call the day the cause of the night and vice versa; both result from the regular alternation in the spatial relationship between sun and earth. It makes just as little sense to say that sleep is the cause of waking, and waking the cause of sleep. Just as in the earth's case the only thing that makes sense is to say that it undergoes an alternation between day and night because of its position in space, so human life undergoes an alternation between interest for the inner and interest for the outer scene. These conditions have to succeed each other; anything else is out of the question. Life decrees that human beings must focus their attention on their surroundings for awhile, and then turn it inward, just as the sun, descending in the west, has no choice about what its further course will be.
But we enter a realm here where the following must always be kept in mind: The sun has to make a certain period of hours into daytime, and another period into night. But human beings are in a position to vary things and upset routines, like the coupon clipper who sleeps even though he isn't tired, voluntarily turning his attention inward, enjoying himself, really enjoying his body, or like a student cramming for examinations who, to some extent, overcomes his need for normal sleep. Many students sleep very little before examinations. But this brings up the big questions we will be concerning ourselves with, questions about necessity in outer nature, questions about the frequently discussed subject of chance, both in nature and in human life, questions about providence that apply to the entire universe.
As soon as we touch on the sphere of human life we come upon an element that belongs in the field of necessity, something necessary to man if he is to live and have his being in the world. There is much that we will be discussing in regard to this.
What I've been telling you has been said not only — and please note the “not only” as well as a “partly”— to call your attention to the fact that we must try to get a proper perspective on the alternation between sleeping and waking. This means asking what sort of consciousness we have when we are awake. The answer is that the outer world rather than the human being is its object, that we forget ourselves and turn our attention to the surrounding world. Conversely, consciousness in sleep is such that we forget the world outside us and observe ourselves. But we return first to the state of consciousness we had on the sun; the fact that we enjoy ourselves is of secondary importance.
But that is not the only reason why I have referred to this perspective; it was also to call attention to the importance of noting the ways consciousness is related to the world and to the fact that we can come to know the essential nature of certain things only by inquiring into the kind of consciousness involved. It is, for example, quite impossible to know anything of importance about the structure of the hierarchical order of higher spiritual beings unless we concern ourselves with their consciousness. If you go through the various lecture cycles, you will see what trouble was taken to characterize the consciousness of angels, archangels, and so on. For it is essential in any study to give careful thought to what constitutes the right approach. A person might say that he is quite familiar with the hierarchical order: first comes the human being, then the higher rank of angels, then the still higher archangels, then the archai, and so on. He writes them down in ascending order and claims to understand: each hierarchy is one step above the one before it. But if that were all one knew about these beings, one would know as little about the hierarchical order as one knows about the levels of a house from the fact that each higher story is superimposed upon the one below it; one could make a drawing that would fit both cases. What really matters is to note the salient facts in the case under study. We only know something about these higher beings if we are familiar with the state of consciousness in which the various hierarchies live and if we can describe it. This must form the basis of a study of them.
The same thing holds true in the study of human beings. We know very little indeed about our inner being if we can say nothing further on the subject of the sleeping state than that our ego and astral body are outside our physical and etheric bodies. Though that is true, it is a totally abstract pronouncement, since it conveys no more information about the difference between sleeping and waking than one possesses in the case of a full and an empty beer glass; in the one case there is beer in it, and in the other the beer is elsewhere. It is true enough that the ego and the astral body have left the physical and etheric bodies of a sleeping person, but we must be of a will to go on to ever further and more inclusive concrete insights. We try to do this, for example, when we describe the alternation of interest in the two states of consciousness.
I once made you a light red drawing of man, and then a blue one in illustration of my statements to the effect that, for the clairvoyant, the human being is in the hollow part shown in the drawings. If a person falls asleep and possesses a higher consciousness (it can be just the beginning of it; but even then we can really perceive, for we begin by observing ourselves), he sees this hollow part. At such moments we see clearly how mistaken the belief is that we are made of compact matter, that what seems to day-waking consciousness to be substantial is actually empty space. Of course, we must keep in mind that human beings are really outside their bodies during sleep. So they see the empty space surrounded by this aura. They are not in their bodies; they are looking on from outside them, so they see the empty space within the aura. It is a shaped yet hollow space. Looked at from outside, other kinds of spaces are of course filled with something. Therefore a person naturally appears in the shape he has when looked at with day-waking consciousness, but he is seen surrounded by what might be described as an auric cloud, an aura. We don't see him entirely clearly at first, but rather in an auric cloud that we must first penetrate: we see an auric cloud, outlining a shadowy form. It is as though we see the person in a more or less brilliant aura; viewed from outside, the space occupied by his physical form is left empty. I will resort to a trivial comparison to convey an adequate impression of this phenomenon, perceived when we become conscious during sleep. We have all had the experience of going about in a city when it is foggy or misty and have seen how the lights there appeared as though in a rainbow aura, without sharp outlines. This impression of lights like empty spaces in the surrounding fog is an experience everyone has had, and it is very similar to what I have been describing. The area imaginatively perceived is seen as though in a fog or mist, and the physical human beings are the empty dark spaces there inside it.
We may say, then, that we see human beings through an aura when we attain to clairvoyance in our sleep. We became materialists when we learned to look directly at our fellow human beings instead of seeing their auras. That was brought about as a result of luciferic developments that made it possible to begin to see ourselves with day-waking consciousness. And this helps us to understand an important passage in the Old Testament, the one that says that people went about naked prior to the seduction by Lucifer. This is not to be taken as meaning that their state of awareness in their nakedness at all resembled what yours would be if you were to do the same thing now; it means that they previously saw the surrounding aura. So they had no such awareness of the human being as we would have now if people were to run about in the nude, for they perceived human beings spiritually clothed; the aura was the clothing. And when that innocence was lost and human beings were condemned to a materialistic way of life, meaning that they could no longer perceive auras, they saw what they had not seen while the aura was still perceptible, and they began to replace auras with clothing. That is the origin of clothing; garments replaced auras.
And it is actually a good thing in our materialistic age to know that people clothed themselves for no other reason than to emulate their aura with what they wore. That is especially the case with rituals, for everything that is worn on such occasions represents some part of the aura. You can see for yourselves, too, that Mary and Joseph and Mary Magdalene wear quite different garments. One wears a rose-colored dress with a blue mantle, the other a blue robe with a red mantle. Mary Magdalene is often portrayed in a yellow garment by those who were still familiar with the old tradition or who still retained remnants of clairvoyance. An attempt was always made to reproduce the aura of the individual in question, for people were aware that the aura ought to be indicated, ought to find expression in the clothing worn.
An aberration typical of our materialistic age afflicts certain circles who see an ideal in doing away with clothing and who regard the so-called nudity cult as extremely wholesome; materialism can always be counted upon to draw the practical conclusions of its thinking. There is actually a magazine devoted to this cause that calls itself Beauty. A misunderstanding is at the root of this; the magazine believes itself to be serving something other than the crassest, coarsest materialism. But that is all that can be served when reality is seen exclusively in what external, sense-perceptible nature has brought forth.
The wearing of clothes originated as a means of preserving in ordinary life the state of consciousness that sees human beings surrounded by an aura. We should therefore find out where the contemporary tendency to do away with clothing comes from. It comes from a total absence of any imagination in clothing ourselves. No idealism is involved, but rather a lack of any imagination where beauty is concerned. For clothes are intended to beautify the wearer, and to see beauty only in unclothed human beings would, for our time, reveal an instinct for materialism. I intend at a later date to contrast this with the situation existing in Greek civilization. That civilization provides us with the best means of studying this matter in the light of what has just been said.
Now it becomes more and more important for people to learn how various conditions of consciousness provide insights for a study of life. Sleeping and waking are alternations in states of consciousness. But while sleeping and waking bring about sharply marked changes in our state of consciousness, smaller changes occur as well. Day-waking consciousness also has its nuances, some of which tend more toward sleep, others more toward the waking state. We are all aware that there are individuals given to spending a large part of their lives not actually asleep, but drowsing. We say of them that they are “asleep,” meaning that they go through life as though in a dream. You can tell them something, and in no time at all they have forgotten it. We can't call it real dreaming, but things flit by them as though in a dream and are instantly forgotten. This drowsiness is a nuance of consciousness bordering on sleep. But if somebody beats another up, that is a nuance that goes beyond the state of ordinary sleep and doesn't remain just a mental image. Life presents a variety of nuances of consciousness; we could set up a whole scale of them. But they all have their own rightness.
A lot depends on our developing a feeling for these nuances. A person occasionally has such a sense if he is born healthy and grows up in a healthy state. It is important to have a certain sensitivity for how seriously to take this or that in life, how much or how little attention to pay to it, what matters to take a stand on and what to keep to oneself. All this has to do with the asserting of consciousness, and such nuances do indeed exist. And it is very important to know, as we go through life, that life can develop in us the delicate sensitivity that tells us how much consciousness to focus on any particular matter, how strongly to stress something. We really make important progress both in leading a healthy life and in the possibility of contributing to orderly conditions in our environment if we pay attention to how strongly we should focus our consciousness on this or that. The state of consciousness we are in when we are among people and talking with them in an ordinary way about various matters is different from the state of consciousness in which a sense of delicacy forbids our discussing certain other subjects. These are two distinctly differing nuances of consciousness. But the presence of a sense of the fitness of things is simply another state of consciousness, and it is endlessly important in life to have an awareness of such considerations. I'd like to show you at hand of an example that there are indeed individuals who possess understanding for such nuances of consciousness.
Today is the 27th of August, Hegel's birthday, and tomorrow, the 28th, is Goethe's; they follow on one another's heels. Now Hegel wrote an Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences among other works, and a first edition of it was published.This book is noteworthy in a certain respect. There would be absolutely no point in opening it at random and reading this or that page; you could make exactly as much sense out of it as out of Chinese. A statement taken at random from a page of Hegel would convey nothing whatsoever. In a lecture in Berlin last winter I explained how little sense it made to divorce one of Hegel's sentences from its context. For sentences in Hegel's encyclopedia make sense only when one has skipped over everything that poses riddles for the human mind and arrived at the place where Hegel says, “Considered in and of itself, being is the concept,” and so on. If one begins there and exposes oneself to all the rest of it, then and only then does every sentence make sense at the place where it stands; each sentence owes its meaning to its place in the whole.
Well, so Hegel had his encyclopedia published. In the preface to the first edition he explained why he arranged it as he did. When there had to be a second edition, Hegel wrote a preface to that. Now an author can sometimes have quite an experience of life between two editions of a book. For even if one has already become acquainted with one's fellow men, one feels oneself duty bound not to see them entirely in the light in which they sometimes reveal themselves; and besides, one can tell quite a bit about them from the reception the book is given. That was true in Hegel's case also. So then he wrote a preface to the second edition, and there are important passages in it. I am going to read you two such, one the very first sentence; the second, sentences from the second page. The preface to the second edition begins as follows: “The well-disposed reader will find that several sections have been revised and developed in sharper definition. I have taken pains therein to make my presentation a less formal one and to bring abstract concepts closer to the layman's understanding, making them more concrete by using more extensive exoteric annotations.” He was concerned, you see, to explain esoteric matters exoterically. The book continues:
The extreme brevity necessitated by a summarization of material quite sufficiently abstruse to begin with nevertheless leaves this second edition with the same goal as the first, namely, to serve as a preliminary text requiring further exegesis in the form of lectures. The title “encyclopedia” usually presupposes a less rigid adherence to scientific method and a more general structuring. But it lies in the nature of the subject matter that logical aspects must remain the basis of the presentation.There were all too many occasions and provocations that seemed to require me to clarify my philosophical position with respect to the spiritual and the insipid concerns of contemporary culture, a thing to be undertaken only exoterically and only in a preface; for even if these concerns claim a relationship to philosophy, they do not do so scientifically, which means not at all; they approach it from without, and remain outside it. It is uncongenial and mistaken to involve oneself in a situation so alien to science. All the clarifying and explaining one might do fails to further that insight which can alone form the object of true knowledge. But it may be useful or necessary to comment on various phenomena.
This is proof that Hegel tried to shape the first edition in what was for him an esoteric manner, and that it was only in the second edition that he added what seemed to him exoteric aspects. Our time often possesses no understanding for these exoteric and esoteric elements; it doesn't so easily embark on the course Hegel travelled, who wanted to keep to himself everything originating in his own subjective view of a matter. And it was only after he had built up a complete organismic structure and freed it from any subjective aspects that he was willing to present this objective material in his book; he remained of the opinion that one's own path in achieving an insight was something that should be kept a private matter. In this, he evidenced sensitive feeling for the difference between two states of consciousness: that into which he wanted to enter when addressing the public, and that other developed for communing with himself. And then the world urged him, as the world so often does, in creating undesirable outcomes, to overcome this embarrassment of his for a certain period. For what lay at the bottom of his feeling was embarrassment, impelling him to silence about the way he had arrived at his concepts. As you know, embarrassment usually makes people blush. We would have to say, meaning something spiritual thereby, that Hegel blushed spiritually when he had to write a thing like his preface to the second edition. Here you see one of those nuances of consciousness over which embarrassment extends.
I wanted to demonstrate with an example how nuances of consciousness show up in life, including nuances in actions of the will and in what we do. We need to become ever more fully aware that life really must consist of such nuances, that we have to relate differences in states of consciousness to everything we do. Sleeping and waking involve very marked differences. But there can also be a nuance of consciousness in which we are aware that a matter concerns not just ourselves but the surrounding world as well; another, in which we confront the world with awareness that we must tread gently; and still another in which we know that what we do must be done with ourselves alone, or only in the most intimate circle.
The concepts and ideas we garner from spiritual science really make a difference in life. They teach us to recognize subtle subjective differences, provided we aren't disposed to know them only from the usual standpoint, realizing instead that a serious concern with spiritual science makes us a gift of this capacity for practical tact. But that serious concern with spiritual science must be present. It is of course absent if we project into spiritual science the sensations, desires, and instincts that ordinarily prevail. If that is the case, what is derived from spiritual science amounts to little more than can be garnered from any other indifferent source of learning. I've been speaking of nuances of consciousness and saying that there are nuances within the waking states very close to sleep. But it can happen that a person lacks the inclination to concern himself with certain details and subtleties, as in the case of the coupon clipper in yesterday's lecture. One may enjoy reading books or lecture cycles, but experience a dwindling consciousness at certain places in the text, and drowsiness sets in; the conscientiousness required to overcome such a condition is simply not there to call upon.
That is why I have continued to stress that things should not be made too easy for people desiring to involve themselves with spiritual science. We hear again and again that books should be written in a popular style, that Theosophy is not popular enough. I discern behind such comments a wish for books that people could drowse through in a way they can't with Theosophy. It is vitally necessary to have sufficient interest for objective facts to rid ourselves of certain feelings and sensations we have had in the past; if we allow ourselves to drowse as we confront this or that theme in spiritual science that ought to engage our interest, we would stay awake only in the case of those matters most easily absorbed. And such a lack of objective interest leads to an inevitable development. The coupon cutter feels obligated to listen to the lecture, for lecture-going is part of a proper lifestyle, but he suffers tortures because of his total lack of interest. But he is gradually relieved; he enjoys himself, and sometimes even falls soundly asleep, a condition he doesn't have to guard against unless he starts snoring. All of this is a perfectly natural development.
Now let us picture this process transferred to another kind of consciousness. Let us imagine a person who lacks the needed full interest in the concrete details of spiritual science. He feels that he is listening best when he is not paying attention to details. I have even heard the comment, “Oh, what he is saying isn't the important thing; it's the ‘vibrations,’ ‘the way it's said.’” The lecturer can often discern this type of drowsy listening in the listener's appearance. This is exactly the same situation on the soul level as that of the coupon clipper in external life. For if attention is being given to “vibrations” instead of to what spiritual science is offering, it turns the hearer's interest inward, as happens when the coupon clipper is enjoying himself. It may be that such a person describes himself between lectures as taking an interest in what the lecture offered, and claims interest in this or that theme. But he is really gossiping about his or someone else's previous incarnations. He has, in other words, shifted everything to an interest in himself in an identical internalizing process. We really sea the same process here that goes on in the external life of the coupon clipper, who falls asleep at every lecture, in the case of those who feel that details are not important, but who claim an interest in spiritual science they really lack. So they fall asleep as to details, and their interest is transferred to their own personalities.
Things of this sort have to be made clear. If we were to see them clearly, much that happens would not occur.
I would like to see you make a study of the nuance levels of consciousness as I have tried to describe them. The last example given should perhaps not be taken amiss now or at any other time. There is no question that the movement of spiritual science is met with a good deal of sleepiness, while a strong tendency to self-enjoyment gets the upper hand, with the result that spiritual science is used only as a means of indulging in self-enjoyment. But we want to concentrate on nuances of consciousness, for unless we do so we will not be able to achieve an understanding of necessity, chance, and providence.