Chance, Providence, and Necessity. Lecture 6 of 8.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 4, 1915:
If you think back to the entrance of the Blessed Boys in the final scene of Goethe's Faust, you will recall the verse:
Boys, brought forth in midnights haunted,Half-unsealed the sense and brain,For the parents lost when granted,For the angels sweetest gain!
I've already called your attention to many a profundity in this final scene of Faust, but it contains a great deal more than I was able to point out on that occasion, more indeed than could possibly be brought to light in a limited period of time.
The four lines just quoted are equally fitted to be the leitmotif of the deeper spiritual-scientific expositions with which we will be concerning ourselves today, tomorrow, and next Monday.
I want to point out today by way of introduction that it is possible to delve more deeply, in a truly spiritual-scientific approach, into the statement made here recently when I characterized sleeping and waking and related matters. I spoke of how the whole nature of spiritual science was such as to require finding the correct approach to the facts we encounter in the world. And I showed that this approach is to be found only when we seek it as was done in our study of the alternating states of sleeping and waking. We tried to understand how differently consciousness functions in the waking and the sleeping states. But much else can be learned here by studying the way consciousness works according to whether it is that of human beings or of other beings. The four lines quoted from Faust refer to a human state of consciousness, possessed by the souls of the “boys brought forth in midnights” and “for the parents lost when granted,” in other words, by souls claimed by death immediately after birth. But the verse states expressly that these souls are “for the angels sweetest gain.”
We'll see that the saying that souls of this kind are “gain for the angels” is comprehensible only if we look into the state of consciousness of beings belonging to the hierarchy of angels. But let us first acquire some preliminary concepts of these matters and so prepare ourselves for the deeper understanding of the spiritual world into which they are to lead us.
I'll start from the fact, familiar to us from various spiritual-scientific studies, of how remote from reality the learning, the truth, and our concepts of things in ordinary life all are. People are even glad not to have these add anything to reality as they see it, for in their view the reliability of knowledge and “the unvarnished truth” depend on the fact that our cognitive processes and our soul experiences add nothing to things. Just consider what a point science makes of restricting itself to merely reflecting what goes on in the world and not allowing the soul the least influence on its pronunciamentos. Let us recall what trouble is taken by those who dream up a world view on the basis of all sorts of illusions to show that their fabrications are dictated by some reality or other outside themselves rather than originate within them. This is true all the way up to what is claimed to be valuable “occult knowledge” such as we hear some people touting. Those who desire to have occult insight here on the physical plane are basically concerned with not adding anything to the conceptions they develop. How proud people of this type are when they can report that such and such beings appeared to them, this or that was “dictated” to them, or something else was mysteriously communicated to their spiritual ears! This satisfies them, for then they can have the feeling that the conceptions they have created are reflections of reality, not something they produced. We might say that in their concern for attaining the reliable knowledge they are seeking, they actually make a fifth wheel on the wagon out of it. Knowledge should not add anything to what already exists, for only then do they regard it as something particularly reliable, particularly right.
We can arrive at a true and reliable concept of the relationship of knowledge to reality only if we gradually ascend from ordinary knowledge about physical matters to higher types of insight. We are familiar with the fact that the next level of knowledge is that called imagination. But if imagination is to have any relationship to reality it cannot be attained by living in the physical body; we must make ourselves capable of overcoming all dependence on the physical body to attain genuine imaginative knowledge. We must have progressed beyond using the physical body as our instrument. But we do still use the etheric body when we seek imaginations; we have to make use of our etheric bodies to obtain really objective imaginative experience, exactly as we make use of our physical bodies for perceiving objects in the physical realm.
Now we find that when a person on the path of clairvoyant knowledge has progressed to the point where he has loosened his soul from his physical body and is using his etheric body as his cognitive tool, what is called knowledge in the physical world, the kind of knowledge sought without a wish to add anything to the findings, remains behind on the physical plane. For example, everything that a modern scientist is interested in finding out is left behind on the physical plane by those who leave it to ascend into the imaginative world. Nothing remains of what scientists and natural philosophers think of as a world of whirling atoms, a world, as I have often explained, that is dreamed up and totally lacking in reality; nothing remains but pictures of this world. In other words, on leaving the physical plane we become aware that the conceptions of a world of whirling atoms left behind there were just dreamed up. In the imaginative world into which we have ascended no direct use can be made of any knowledge acquired on the physical plane. Please note the word direct here. We will see the subtleties of what is involved as we progress.
Now in earlier lectures I've already shown that the spiritual energy underlying thinking changes when a clairvoyant seeker frees himself from the instrumentality of his physical body. I've said that it is as though all our thinking comes alive. Instead of living in the passive world of thinking experienced on the physical plane, it is as though all our thinking comes alive and starts to tingle as we enter the imaginative world. Once, in Munich, I used a drastic comparison. I said that upon entering that world the thoughts we were previously accustomed to sending hither and thither and otherwise dispatching them as perfectly passive entities become transformed as though we had stuck our heads into a wasps' nest and our thoughts swirled and whirled about, every thought possessing a life of its own. We have to endure it in the sense that we don't feel unfree as a result of being wrested, as it were, out of ourselves by this independent life of our thoughts.
We gradually make the discovery that the insights, the conceptions we obtain on the physical plane as mere images of external reality fall away from us like a rain that rains back down upon the physical world and doesn't enter the imaginative world; they fall away and stay behind in the physical realm. All that is left of them is a memory. So we can look back on everything we have attained by exerting thinking, but that is now left behind on the physical plane as something we have finished with and no longer have any influence on.
This is a diagram of how it actually is. This would represent the physical body out of which the individual ascends. Then he immediately perceives his knowledge about physical facts falling like raindrops into the physical world. Knowledge of physical things is then outside him.
This is an extremely interesting and extraordinary process. As we ascend into the first spiritual world, the imaginative world, we see our thoughts dropping away from us. And then we see that these thought-forms become beings, and they make a strange impression on us if we really see them. We have the impression as we look at them that they are something wrested from us, something with significance for the physical world only.
Now it is extraordinarily difficult to get a more exact conception of what is dropping away from us there. It is scarcely possible, on ascending into higher worlds, to acquire correct insights by any other means than the most painstaking comparisons. First of all, it is necessary to discover what these thoughts of the physical plane, which have dropped away, can be compared to. These thoughts become very lively indeed. And the curious thing is that these thoughts we see back there on the physical plane are engaging in all sorts of dances similar to eurythmy. It is almost impossible to find these thoughts keeping really still.
I spoke of their dancing resembling eurythmy — not the eurythmy that is being nurtured here, but regular movements of a sort. These thoughts have an extremely peculiar aspect: they are inwardly alive when they have left us. And this fact makes them valuable in this first stage of true clairvoyance.
When a person says something colossally stupid here in physical existence, he certainly doesn't hold on to it for very long, once he has realized the situation. Most people like to skip lightly over their stupidities, once they've recognized them. A really stupid thought laughs when it gets out! It laughs in proportion to its stupidity. And other thoughts can be seen behaving in a similar manner. They manifest an inner life, these thoughts, a very lively play of expression. They convince us that no stupidity we perpetrate escapes being eternalized.
The only way we can get at the facts about these strange thought-forms which put in such a lively appearance is through a comparison. We will find one only if we are in a position to see our thoughts in the way just described. Then we are also in a position to experience what I am going to describe. We need for purposes of comparison the whole wide world of gnomes, the fairy folk that rules all of external earthly nature. These gnomes, who belong to the external inorganic realm in the way other elemental beings belong to plants, water, air, and fire, and so on, this whole world of gnomes has the same character, the same inner nature as the thought-forms described. I could also say that gnomes belong to the same class as our thought- forms, referring however to those thought-forms based on mental images derived from the physical plane alone.
Now as you see, we have a comparison. And that is why there is an inner relationship of sorts between the gnome world and our thoughts about things on the physical plane. As I've mentioned, people make an effort to be faithful to the facts in their knowledge and perceptions, making these into a fifth wheel on the wagon.
The gnomes have a similar relationship to their realm. Speaking euphemistically of course, but in a way corresponding to the facts, when a person talks with a gnome, he finds the gnome regarding the world to which he belongs with tremendous wistfulness, because he is so extremely uninvolved with it. He has as little influence over it as human beings have over the physical world around them with their knowledge. It is a matter of considerable indifference to the physical world surrounding us how we think about it with thoughts derived from the physical plane. A tree grows neither more nor less slowly because of thoughts derived from the physical plane that we may have about it, or because we go past it without giving it any thought at all. As I mentioned recently, we are the only ones to gain by this; our thoughts about the tree have not the least effect upon it.
The gnomes too have a similar external relationship to the world to which they belong externally. I might say that their world belongs to what we call the terrestrial world, the solid element. But we can just as easily disregard the world of the gnomes when we study the solid element as we can disregard watchmakers in a study of the laws involved in watch-making.
It is extremely important to develop a right understanding of a comparison of this kind, one that I have often resorted to, the comparison of the structure of the universe with the mechanism of a watch. If you want to understand a watch, you must study the laws governing its mechanism, and it would be ridiculous to say, Ah ha! The hands of a watch keep moving; there must be tiny demons pushing them. No such demons are involved. But if someone who understands watches as a result of studying them were to say that a watch has nothing to do with the watchmaker who put it together, he would also be talking nonsense. The fact that the world can be understood from its own make-up and that it is possible for scientists to discover natural laws can just as little be taken as proof of the nonexistence of a spiritual basis for the universe. The laws that govern the functioning of a watch are equally discoverable in the watch itself. So when it is stated that the laws that govern nature are to be found within the natural world and it is therefore unnecessary to look for anything divine in the universe, this reflects the same lack of thought as saying of watches that no watchmaker is needed because they are explainable on the basis of their own construction.
In the world surrounding us that is so entirely explainable on the basis of the laws that govern it, gnomes have a function. They too are somewhat comparable to the fifth wheel on a wagon: they accompany the world to which they belong, but without having any effect upon it. I ask you to consider the inner relationship of the world of gnomes to our physical thought world, for then you will realize that we have to make a start at understanding such a thing as the gnome world by taking a state of consciousness into consideration. Then we will ask ourselves how it is that we come to know about the physical world. We do so by forming the reflections I've been discussing. Just as reflections have no real connection with what they reflect, physical knowledge has nothing to do with what it knows about; it doesn't make anything happen in the physical realm. If we come to see physical knowledge as a matter of a state of consciousness and sense in full awareness how unessential, how superfluous, mirrors are to the objects mirrored, we will understand the soul-mood that envelops the world of gnomes. That is their soul-mood. Gnomes are therefore unable to grasp how there can be anything but an ineffectual relationship with this world.
If a clairvoyant person were to feel pain and sorrow, as they can indeed be felt on many occasions in human life, and were then to perceive gnomes, as clairvoyants do, he would find that they cannot comprehend his pain. They are aware that people can feel a general sadness and depression, but they cannot understand how anyone can be attached to physical existence; they laugh at such feelings. Indeed, we might say that our sense of the value of things on the physical plane is lost in encounters with the world of gnomes, because they heap such ridicule upon us for the value we attach to much that exists on the physical plane.
We understand the mental state of gnomes, then, if we become cognizant of the state of consciousness involved in the relationship of physical knowledge to the world reflected in it.
The beings to whom the name undines has been given and who are inwardly related not to the earthly but to the watery element and to everything liquidly rippling and flowing must be pictured somewhat differently. We cannot form a proper concept of plants just by looking at them and making a one-time image of them analogous to a papier-mâché reproduction. To be aware of nothing more than such a one-time impression is to lack any true conception of a plant, and the same holds true in the case of undines. We picture a plant rightly only if we know it in its various states: first in its root development, then growing a stem, then putting forth leaves, then blossoming, the blossoms wilting, fruits appearing, and so on. Goethe tells us in his beautiful Metamorphosis of Plants that we must study a plant's growth process. And there live in the plant, in addition to what it is in and of itself, mobile elemental beings inwardly related to the shaping, rippling, mobile element of water.
And now we have to realize that the imaginative world into whose life we make our way on evolving beyond the physical plane is an inwardly mobile realm resembling the cloud-world in its metamorphoses, resembling the rippling, flowing element. The imaginative world is itself in flowing motion. And just as we encounter the realm of our own physical thoughts when we first enter the spiritual world, under favorable conditions encountering the elemental world of the gnomes, so do we live in the realm of higher elemental beings as waves live in water; we belong to and are part of its encompassing whole; we live in it.
It is of course difficult to give an impression of such matters, but here too we must picture the state of consciousness involved. It helps us to understand to say that all our thinking begins to come alive, that we are swept up by thoughts that become alive as though the thoughts we produce, thoughts endowed with imagination, were to take on a life of their own. Purely physical thoughts such as we had before are left behind, an abandoned realm. Then we can say that the gnomes live in the world we have abandoned. But now we are living in the realm of the undines, and both for them and for us it is a world of movement.
Let us picture this very exactly. We separate from our physical bodies and become strangers to them. We begin to carry on a life of inner mobility, of continuously changing, rippling motion. Everything takes on inner life as we experience ourselves in our etheric bodies. This is the experience we have also immediately upon dying, except that the tempo is slower.
This experiencing of the imaginative world is what we experienced on the moon, except that it is at a higher level now; there, it was a dream-world of imagination, a realm of pictures. On Jupiter we will experience it in full consciousness. We lift ourselves into it upon leaving our physical bodies behind as described. Try to picture it really vividly. The world of the senses is obliterated; what we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears is no longer perceptible. We cease to feel as well. Thoughts related to the outer world are laid aside in a way that could be described as follows: O gnomes, we give you our physical thoughts to keep you company; occupy yourselves with them for awhile.
Now an inner living and weaving sets in, a sharing in everything on earth that is inwardly alive and streams and ripples in the way the earth's fluid element carries on its rhythmic life. It is a sharing with the earth reminiscent too of the ancient moon period. A strange process starts: In addition to being aware of living in a realm of elemental beings belonging to the plant kingdom and to flowing liquids, we realize something else of a very special nature, something quite strange, namely, that we are becoming part of a rhythm that is involved both in the inner rhythm of the earth and in our breathing rhythm. We acquire the idea that the rhythm of our breathing is inwardly related to the rhythm of the earth. In short, we begin to be aware that we are part of the whole earth-organism. We really begin to sense our belonging to it. The earth-organism claims us.
This can be compared to what Goethe described to Eckermann on April 11, 1827, when he said, “I picture the earth with its vapor mantle as a huge living organism involved in an unceasing in- and out-breathing.” We feel ourselves involved in this. We share in this unique way in the life of the earth.
I'd like to point out something here that demonstrates again how fruitfully spiritual science illuminates the findings of natural science made by some characteristic scientific figures, and how well they go together. So I remind you of the famous exclamation of the Greek philosopher Archimedes, who as he sat in his bath shouted, “Eureka! I've found it!” And what had he found out? He lifted his feet out of the bath water and then put them back in again, finding that they were lighter in the water than outside it. So he discovered the important principle that any body suspended in water loses as much weight as the water it displaces weighs. Balloons rise according to the same principle, losing as much weight as the air they displace. In the case of water, a heavy object lying on the bottom does not lose weight, but it does so when it is suspended in the water. This principle obtains throughout nature, and it is an important one, for it is related to something of the greatest importance in human beings.
You will have heard that the human brain weighs on the average 1350 grams. It is therefore quite heavy, almost 1 1/2 kilos. Very fragile organs occupy the space beneath it, organs that would be crushed by laying anything weighing a single kilo on top of them. Yet it is a fact that we all have a brain heavy enough to crush the organs that lie at its base. But the pressure exerted on them actually amounts at most to 20 grams, rather than to a kilo. How is this accounted for? It is due to the fact that the brain is suspended in a fluid; it loses all but 20 grams of its weight because it is floating in the brain fluid. We are speaking here not of what it actually weighs, but of its 20-gram pressure on the organs at its base. We picture it correctly when we conceive the brain floating in the brain fluid and this fluid extending downward into the spinal column.
Now picture this brain fluid rhythmically rising and falling. This fluid with the brain floating in it is involved in rhythmical movement as the diaphragm contracts and expands with the in- and out-movement of the breath, and it is thus involved in the breathing process. Insofar as the brain is its instrument, the whole thought process thus is connected with the breathing process. The brain is thus an extraordinarily sensitive sense organ for the forces continually playing in the earthly realm. Goethe, in his deep insight into matters of this kind, refused, for example, to accept what the crude meteorological science of his time had to say about the rise and fall of barometric pressure being due to atmospheric lightness or heaviness. He spent an endless amount of time registering barometric readings in various localities. And he tried to determine how regular this rise and fall was over the earth as a whole and showed how it could be compared to an inner terrestrial force, an in- and out-breathing on the part of the earth, which is of course closely related to meteorological regularity and irregularity. We need not be surprised at the barometer's changeableness despite the regularity of the earth's in- and out-breathing; human beings too are prone, despite the regularity of their breathing, to contract colds and other conditions that act like barometers showing that something is amiss.
We perceive this wonderful lawfulness in the earth's gravity, this inner life of the terrestrial, even though we are not conscious of it in physical life. We perceive the mysterious inner processes of the “earth-creature” taking place in the continuous rising and falling of the brain fluid in exactly the same way we gaze out into the world and listen to it. Goethe said of it, “I picture the earth with its vapor mantle as a huge living organism involved in an unceasing in- and out-breathing.” We feel that we share in it, though on an unconscious level. But the moment we use our etheric bodies as perceptive organs we begin to perceive it consciously and to participate in it; we become part of this huge earth-creature.
Our age is really the first to confront such matters entirely without understanding. Kepler, whom even those currently eager to wipe out all spiritual insight regard as a great mind, still spoke of our earth as having a periodic respiratory process which he likened to that of whales, a going-to-sleep and reawakening, dependent upon the sun-rhythm and accompanied by a fulling and ebbing of the ocean. We have an experience of these processes on an unconscious level, and it finds expression in a physical process of which we are not consciously aware.
It will not surprise you, then, that clairvoyant perception reports that what has now withdrawn into the inner organism, the strange relationship between the external atmosphere and our thought process through the blood and the rising and falling of the brain fluid was once an external element on the ancient moon, where dreamlike clairvoyance prevailed. The circulating air was outside. The human being himself was as yet only a vortex in the moon substance, for there was a yet no earthly matter; the moon was still in a fluid state or, at its most material, a thickened fluid. And in this whirling and perceiving the whirling lived moon human beings, floating as condensations in the fluid element.
What we were as moon humanity remains within us. And if we study the brain in the brain fluid and study the nature of the various functions related to the breathing process, we see that it is indeed true that we have inherited the legacy of the ancient moon, but now withdrawn into our interior make-up. We are still there, as brains floating in fluid, in rhythmically alternating motion.
We see here a reflection of the old moon rhythm that constituted human physical nature on the moon. And our whole physical make-up, which we perceive with our nerves and external senses, has spread out over that nature as an outer covering. Hidden beneath it is what remains as a moon legacy.
There are always and everywhere these interrelationships, marvelously wrought. But we have no inner perception of them as long as our eyes and ears are directed only toward the external. The moment we surrender the use of our senses and leave our thoughts behind as described, however, we feel our unity with the life of the earth. And we know ourselves inwardly to be one with the earthly gravity of our etheric life, that life into which we enter upon leaving our physical bodies in the transformed condition known as death.