Thursday, August 15, 2019
Man: Hieroglyph of the Universe. Lecture 8 of 16
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, April 24, 1920:
I would like to bring forward again, in a rather different form, a few remarks made in the course of our studies. You know that the fact of the intimate relation between man and the Universe was much better known to methods of perception used by the ancients than to ours of the present day. If we were to go back to the period of the Egypto-Chaldean culture, we should find that man did not look upon himself as a separate being who perambulates the Earth, but as a being belonging to the whole Universe. He knew of course to begin with that in a certain sense he was dependent upon the Earth. That can easily be observed; even our own materialistic age admits that Man, as far as his physical metabolism is concerned, depends upon the Earth's products, which he assimilates. But in those ancient times, by means of course of atavistic perception, Man knew himself to be dependent also in his soul on the one hand on the elements of fire, water and air, and on the other hand on the movements of the planets. These he related to his soul-nature in the same way as he related the products of the Earth to his physical metabolism. And the part of the Universe that is outside or beyond the planetary system, all that is in the starry heavens — this he connected with his spirit.
Thus in those past ages, when materialism was out of the question, man knew himself to be living in the bosom of the Universe. You may now ask: Yes, but how is it that the man of those times made such big mistakes in connection with the movements of the heavenly bodies, while today, in this materialistic age, he has made such magnificent progress in relation to the real truth of these movements? Well, we have spoken of these things for a considerable time and we have pointed out that the movements man believes in today are asserted by science merely on the basis of certain prejudices. Upon this subject I shall have more to say tomorrow, but for the moment we may remind ourselves that present-day man has entirely lost consciousness of the fact that that which belongs to the whole man can no more be discovered in the physical world than in the visible stellar world. For it is absolutely impossible to gain a true perception even of the visible starry heavens, unless man combines with the outer physical life the super-physical in his considerations — that super-physical part of his life through which he passes between death and re-birth. Yesterday we drew attention to the metamorphosis that takes place in man in this change from earthly to super-earthly life and showed how the organs which we consider as belonging to the lower man (and of which we said yesterday that they open inwards), transform themselves — as regards their forces, though obviously not in their substance — during the period between death and a new birth, and become what is considered to be the more noble head-organism. This latter is in reality nothing more than the metamorphosis — as regards the structure of its forces — of the so-called ‘lower’ man of the last Earth-life.
If we really think this matter over, we can see — in spirit — how between death and re-birth, man has a certain content within him of his experiences, as he has also here between birth and death. But the content is essentially different in each case. We may make this difference clear by saying: between birth and death, man has, as the circumference for his experiences, the circumference in Space, and also that which takes place in Time. He has these — Space and Time — as a circumference for his experiences.
You know in how small a degree man really experiences the processes of his inner organism. He is not conscious of them. All the organisation within the skin is known to man only indirectly and incompletely. The knowledge gained through anatomy and physiology is not real knowledge, for we do not by means of this investigation look into the actual interior of man; it is an illusion to believe that we do. Spiritual Science alone gradually reveals all that is within man. But how do we find conditions in this respect during the interval between death and a new birth? We have to put it in this way. In a certain sense we look then from the periphery upon the centre. And we know just as little of the periphery as we do here of our centre or interior. But on the other hand we have during this period a direct perception of the secrets and mysteries of Man himself. That which is hidden within us — within our skin — that we observe between death and a new birth as our experiences.
Now you will perhaps say that this world which we view during the time between death and re-birth must be a very small one indeed. But spatial dimensions do not count at all. It is the fullness or poverty of the content that matters, not the size. If we combine all we observe in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, and add thereto the starry heavens, it would not compare in richness with the mysteries within Man himself. The real process is approximately as follows. We lose the structural forces of the head when we pass over in death. They have completed their office. But then the spiritual world takes up the structural forces of the remaining (lower) organism, which from being inner experience belong now to the periphery, and transforms them in such a way that when the time is ripe, from out of the spiritual world the human head is determined in the womb of the mother.
We must be absolutely clear upon this point. The very first beginning of the corporeal man within the mother, is a result of the whole process we have been describing. Conception is merely the opportunity given for a certain cosmic activity to penetrate the human body, and that which is formed first in the process of man's formation is indeed an image of the whole Cosmos. He who wishes to study the human embryo from its first stage onwards, must consider it as an image of the Cosmos.
These matters are today almost entirely overlooked. For of what do we generally think when we speak of the origin of a human being in the physical sense? Of heredity! We observe how the child-organism is formed within the parent-organism, and we are ignorant of how the cosmic forces which surround us are active within the parent-organism; we are ignorant of the fact that the whole Macrocosm projects its force into the human being in order to make possible the genesis of a new human being.
Of course, the great fault of our present-day world-philosophy is that we never take the Macrocosm into consideration, and therefore never become conscious of where lie the forces whose effect we observe. I must once again remind you of the following. The modern physicist or chemist says that there are molecules which are composed of atoms, that the atoms possess forces by means of which they act upon each other. Now this is a conception which simply does not accord with reality. The truth is, that the minutest molecule is acted upon by the whole starry heavens. Suppose here is a planet, here another, here another, and so on. Then there are the fixed stars, which transmit their forces into the molecule. All these lines of force intersect each other in various ways. The Planets also transmit their forces in the same way, and we come to realise that the molecule is nothing but a focus of macrocosmic forces. It is the ardent desire of modern science to bring microscopy far enough to enable the atoms to be seen within the molecule. This way of looking at the subject must cease. Instead of wishing to examine the structure of the molecule microscopically, we must turn our gaze outwards to the starry heavens, we must look at the constellations and see copper in one, tin in another! Out there in the Macrocosm we have to behold the structure of the molecule that is only reflected in the molecule. Instead of passing into the infinitely little, we must turn our gaze outwards to the infinitely great, for it is there we have to look for the reality of what lives in the little.
In this way does the materialistic conception of things also affect other domains of thought. Someone who considers himself capable of giving an opinion on the progress of human knowledge may say: the nineteenth century materialism is now overcome! No! It is not overcome so long as men still think atomically, so long as they fail to search in the great for the form and configuration of the small. Neither is the materialism relative to humanity overcome, so long as we continue to ignore the connection of Man the Microcosm with the Macrocosm.
And at this point we are confronted with a new — I might say a monstrous — evidence of materialism, to which I have previously drawn attention. It is in so-called Theosophy that its traces are often to be found, where a tendency is present to look at things in the following way. Here we have matter; then ether, thinner than matter but otherwise similar to physical matter; then comes the astral — again thinner or finer than the etheric; and after that quite a number of other beautiful things, all thinner and thinner and thinner. Call it Kama-manas, or what you will, it is not spiritual, but remains materialistic! The truth is that in order to arrive at a real understanding of the world, we must conceive of heavy, ponderable matter as ceasing at the ether; for we must clearly understand that this ether is essentially a very different thing from that substance of which we speak as filling space. When speaking of this latter substance, we think of space as filled with matter. But this we cannot do when we speak of ether, for then we must conceive space as being empty of matter. When ordinary matter strikes some other object, the object is repelled or pushed away. When ether approaches an object, it attracts it and draws it within itself. The activity of ether is the exact opposite to that of matter. Ether acts as an absorbent. Were this otherwise, you would present the same appearance back and front, for even in this diversity of the physical appearance of man we have the result, on the one hand of the pressure of ponderable matter, and on the other of the absorbing action of ether. Your nose is forced outwards, as it were, from your organism through the pressure of matter, while the eye sockets are drawn inward through the action of ether. It is therefore simply a pressing and absorbing substance acting within you which differentiates the exterior appearance of your front and back. These are things which are not usually taken into consideration.
Further, when we come to speak of the astral, we must not think of three-dimensional physical matter extending in a three-fold way in space, nor must we think of the absorbent ether, but of a third factor, one that forms the adjustment or connection between the other two. And should we then go on and attempt to form some approximate idea of that part of our being termed the Ego — the ‘I am’ — we would have to include a fourth factor, which acts as mediator between, on the one hand, the absorbent-repelling action of ether and physical matter, and on the other hand, the astral substance. These are the things that must be taken into consideration.
You cannot logically ask: If the ether has merely a sucking, absorbing action, how then is it possible for us to perceive it? The fact is, ether stands, figuratively speaking, in the same relation in respect to ponderable matter — I am speaking now in a picture — as the relation we find in another plane if we have a bottle of soda-water. We cannot see the water in the bottle, but the pearly bubbles we can see, although these are ‘thinner’ than the water. And so it is in the case of the ether, which is a ‘hollow’ in physical matter and therefore the essential antithesis of physical matter; it also can be perceived.
From the foregoing you will now see that it is necessary, when speaking of the life between death and re-birth, to realise that this life is actually lived beyond space — beyond the space of which we are cognisant on the Earth-plane; and we shall have to endeavour to gain a conception of this ‘beyond’ of space. You can best do so by trying first to imagine ‘filled’ space. Take for instance, a table; it fills or occupies space. Then you pass from ‘filled’ space to ‘empty’ space, and perhaps you would say that you cannot go beyond this. But as I have previously pointed out to you, this would be about as sensible as to say: ‘I have a full purse out of which I continue to take money till nothing is left; this “nothing” cannot be less than it is’. But it can be less if you get into debt, when you would have less than nothing in your purse! Similarly empty space can be less than empty by being filled with ether, when it becomes a negative entity.
And that which adjusts or connects the two, that which mediates also in you between pressure and suction, is the astral. No relation would exist between the front and back of a human body did not the astral activity within form the connection between the absorbent and the pressing elements. You will say: I do not observe this connecting element. But try to follow the digestive process, and you will find the connecting link very clearly manifested. The astral is active there, and its activity is based upon the contrast between the front and back nature of the human being, even as the connection between the higher (head) man and lower (limb) man by way of the astral is based upon the Ego. We must therefore consider man, as he stands before us, in a quite concrete manner and make clear to ourselves that while he has existence upon this plane between birth and death he imprints his astral part and his Ego in the absorbent and pressure-producing elements, but his being only manifests here on Earth as the mediator between the front and the back, and between the upper and the lower parts of the body.
Now, what is this mediator or connecting link? It is that which we experience within us when we feel our equilibrium. We do not jerk the head forward and backward; we stand and walk erect. We accommodate our posture to the demands of the laws of equilibrium. We cannot see this, but we experience it inwardly. When we pass through the gate of death we consciously adjust ourselves to this condition, of which here we take no heed. If we possessed eyes only, it would then be dark around us, and if we had ears only, stillness would envelop us. But we have also the sense of equilibrium, and the sense of motion, and so we become able after all to ‘experience’ there. We take part in that which on Earth is implied in the words ‘equilibrium’ and ‘movement’. We adapt ourselves to the movements of the external world, we find our way into them.
You see, here, in the life between birth and death, the only way we experience the activity of the Earth's revolution upon its axis is in our daily metabolic process. We must take our daily meals, and this together with the succeeding digestive processes takes place within the limits of 24 hours, uniform with one revolution of the Earth. These two things belong together, the one is proof of the other. When we die, the revolution of the Earth becomes something real, as real as are the visible objects here. Then we live with this terrestrial motion; we begin to experience this motion consciously.
There are also other motions connected with the starry heavens, all of which we experience after death. Correctly considered, the description of our experiences already includes this experience, for we do not expand into the Cosmos like a jelly-fish, but we take part in the life of the Cosmos — and as beings taking part in cosmic life we experience at the same time the inner being of man. Between birth and death we say: My heart is within my breast, and in it converge the streams or motions of the blood-circulation. At a certain stage of development between death and re-birth we say: In my inner being is the Sun — and by this expression we mean the actual Sun, which the physicist claims to be a ball of gas, but which is in reality something quite different. We experience the actual Sun in the same manner as we experience here the heart. Here the Sun is visible to the eye, whereas during the time between death and re-birth the evolution of the heart on its path to the pineal gland, as it undergoes on the way a wonderful metamorphosis, is the cause of sublime experiences. The complete system of our blood-circulation we experience consciously in its transformation; we have this system within existence between death and re-birth proceeds, these forces undergo transmutation, so that, when once again we arrive at the gates of a new Earth-life, they have become the forces of us — not, of course, the substance, but the forces. As our new nervous-system. Look at the plates and illustrations scattered through modern books on anatomy or physiology and examine the circulatory system of the blood in one incarnation. This in the next incarnation becomes the life of the nerves. (We must not depict in diagrammatic form the head, breast (rhythmic) and limb systems as existing side by side, for they interpenetrate each other.) Note the wonderful structure of the human eye; there we find blood-vessels, choroid and retina (omentum). The last two are transformations of each other. What today is retina, was in the last incarnation choroid, and what is choroid today will be retina in the next incarnation. Of course this must not be taken too literally, but such is the approximate course of events. So you will understand that we cannot gain an essential conception of man if we merely study him as he appears between birth and death or even along the lines by which he develops through the forces of physical heredity. For thereby we understand man at most as far as the circulatory system; that would be the last process we would understand. The nervous system of the present life is a result of a former life, and can never be understood if studied in connection with the present life alone.
Now my dear friends, I beg of you not to object to what I have explained, by saying that animals have also a nervous system although they have no earlier lives. Such an objection would indeed be very short-sighted; for though in man the forces of his nervous system are the transformation of the blood-circulation of the former life, that does not imply that the same is valid in the case of animals. It would be just as logical to go to a barber and ask him to sell you a razor for the dinner-table — a razor being a knife, and knives forming part of the dinner service! Razors however do not! Nothing carries within itself its immediate purpose, neither does a physical organ. The human organ is entirely different from the animal organ. It depends upon the use to be made of an organ. We should not compare the human nervous system with that of an animal, but rather observe the fact that human nerves have become similar — during the course of their evolution — to animal nerves, just as the razor has become similar to the table-knife. This again demonstrates that when man follows the ordinary materialistic line of investigation, he can arrive at no true conclusion. Yet that is just the path which is being followed today.
It is this kind of investigation that prevents us from arriving at a conception of man as a product of the spiritual world. Our religious creeds, as they have gradually developed, have pandered too much to human egoism. It may almost be said that their one and only aim is to convince their followers of a continuation of life after death, because the egoism of humanity demands it. Yet it is equally important to prove to men the continuation in this life of a pre-natal life, so that they may comprehend — ‘Here upon this earth I have to be a continuation of what I was between death and my present birth. I have to continue a spiritual life here on this plane.’ This indeed is not likely to please egoism so much; but it is something that must of necessity again imbue our civilisation, so that humanity can be liberated from its anti-social instincts. Try to imagine what it will mean when we can look upon a human countenance and say: ‘That is not of this world. The spiritual world has been at work upon it between the last death and this birth.’ For a time will come when we shall see within the material the imprint of the spiritual work between death and re-birth. It will indeed be a very different kind of culture which will guide humanity then; and it will bring in its train very different convictions and tendencies of thought, which will not permit the contemplation of the Cosmos as a vast machine set in motion by the mutual attraction between the stars — apart from the fact that this abstraction has already reached its zenith. Abstraction is deeply rooted in our ordinary conception of the planetary system, and it produces today some very strange results. For example, a great deal of popular literature is permeated with glorification of an idea which originates from Einstein. This idea is said to have shaken the theory of gravitation. Imagine that, far away from all celestial bodies — so that an interference by a field of gravity may be obviated — there is a box. Inside it is a man who holds a stone in one hand, and some down in the other. He lets both out of the box and see — they begin to fall — and fall until they reach the ground. Yes, says Einstein, men will no doubt say that the stone and the down both fall to the ground. But it need not be so; for up above a rope may be fastened and by some means or other the box is drawn up. The stone and the down — owing to the absence of any celestial body — do not fall, but remain where they are. When the bottom of the box reaches them, it takes them up with it.
This kind of discussion concerning an extreme abstraction, can be found today in the modern theory of relativity which Albert Einstein has propounded. Just think how far humanity has deviated from actuality! We can talk of relativity — well and good, but just imagine what would happen were this picture taken in earnest! A box, some inconceivable distance away from any celestial body that might attract (by gravitation) the stone and the down; and inside this box a man (air is only found of course in the neighbourhood of heavenly bodies, but the man is quite happy and content; as for his stone and his down, they of course need no air!), and now the box is suspended from outside and is then lifted up!
All this is a further development of the theory of Newton who postulated that ‘push’ or impetus which is imparted to a globe in the direction of a tangent, so that it is able with centrifugal force to escape the centripetal force. Such things as these actually form the contents of scientific discussions today, and are considered great achievements, whereas they are nothing more than a testimony to the fact that we have arrived at the most extreme abstraction, and that materialism has produced a state of complete ignorance in humanity as to what matter really is, and caused man to live in a series of mental pictures far removed from all reality.
But, my dear friends, these things are not in the least observed today, and we find our newspapers proclaiming that a new discovery has been made: the theory of gravitation has been replaced by the theory of inertia. The stone and down are not attracted; they remain in their original place — perhaps only because we can manage to imagine such a thing — while the box is raised! One can in truth say that so much nonsense masquerades as genius today that it becomes difficult to distinguish the one from the other. Can we wonder that in these times when in many other departments of thought too as well as that just described, men's ideas have grown quite crooked — can we wonder that we have at last been brought to the conditions of the last five or six years! These are things of which we need again and again to be reminded.
I have had to recall them to you today, and to-morrow I will add something further concerning the structure of the Universe.