The Redemption of Astronomy:
Toward the Reunion of Natural Science and Social Science
Toward the Reunion of Natural Science and Social Science
Lecture 14 of 18.
Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, January 14, 1921:
My dear friends!
Today we will develop the different notes we touched on, — the notes which we were striking yesterday. From the material at our disposal, consisting as it does in the last resort of things observed, the true aspect of which we seek to divine, — from this observed material we shall try to gain ideas, to lead us into the inner structure of the celestial phenomena. I will first point to something that will naturally follow on the more historical reflections of yesterday.
We realise that in the last resort both the Ptolemaic system and that used by modern Astronomy are attempts to synthesise in one way or another, what is observed. The Ptolemaic system and the Copernican are attempts to put together in certain mathematical or kindred figures what has in fact been perceived. (I say “perceived”, for in the light of yesterday's lecture it would not be enough to say “seen”.) All our geometry in this case, all of our measuring and mathematizing, must take its start from things perceived, observed. The only question is, are we conceiving the observed facts truly? We must really take it to heart — we must take knowledge of the fact — that in the scientific life and practice of our time what is observed, what is perceivable, is taken far to easily, too cursorily for a true conception to be gained.
Here for example is a question we cannot escape; it springs directly from the observable facts — (In the shortness of time these lectures have to be in bare outline and I have not been able to discuss or even to bring forward all the details. I could do little more than indicate directions.) Now among other things I have tried to show that the movements of heavenly bodies in celestial space must in some way be co-ordinated with what is formed in the living human body, and in the animal too in the last resort, we should by now perceive from the whole way the facts have been presented. And I assure you, the more deeply you go into the facts, the more of the connection you will see. Nevertheless, I have not done nor claimed to do any more than indicate the pathway (let me say again), the pathway along which you will be led to the result: The human living body, also the animal and plant body, are so formed that if we recognise the characteristic lines of form (as for example we did in tracing the Lemniscate in various directions though the human body) we find in them a certain likeness to the line-systems which we are able to draw amid the movements of the celestial bodies. Granted it is so, the question still remains however: What is it due to? How does it come about? What prospect is there for us not merely to ascertain it but to find it cogent and transparent, inherent in the very nature of things?
To get nearer to this question we must once more compare the kind of outlook which under-lay the Ptolemaic system and the kind that underlies the Copernican world-system of today.
What are we doing when we set to working the spirit of the latter system, and by dint of thinking, calculating and geometrising, figure out a world-system? What do we do in the first place? We observe. Out in celestial space we observe bodies which, from the simple appearance of them, we regard as identical. I express myself with caution, as you see. We have no right to say more than this . From the appearance of them to our eye, we regard these bodies (in their successive appearance) as identical. A few simple experiments will soon oblige you to be thus cautious in relating what you see in the outer world. I draw your attention to this little experiment; of no value in itself, it has significance in teaching us to be careful in the way we form our human thoughts.
Suppose it trained a horse to trot very regularly, — which, incidentally, a horse will do in any case. Say now I photograph the animal in twelve successive positions. I get twelve pictures of the horse. I put them in a circle, at a certain distance from myself, the onlooker. Over it all I put a drum with an aperture, and make the drum rotate so that I first see one picture of the horse, then, when the drum has totalled, a second picture, and so on. I get the appearance of a running horse, I should imagine a little horse to be running round in a circle. Yet the fact is not so. No horse is running round; I have only been looking in a certain way at twelve distinct pictures of a horse, each of which stays where it is.
You can therefore evoke an appearance of movement not only by perspective but in purely qualitative ways. It does not follow that what appears to be a movement is really a movement. He then who wants to speak with care, who wants to reach the truth by scrupulous investigation, must begin by saying, whimsical as this may seem to our learned contemporaries: I look at three successive positions of what I call a heavenly body, and assume what underlies them to be identical. So for example I follow the Moon in its path, with the underlying hypothesis that it is always the same Moon. (That may be right without question, with such a “Standard” phenomenon, keeping so very regular a time-table!) What do we do then? We see what we take to be the identical heavenly body, in movement as we call it; we draw lines to unite what we thus see at different places, and we then try to interpret the lines. This is what gives the Copernican system. The school from which the Ptolemaic system derived did not proceed in this way, not originally. At that time the whole human being still lived in his perceiving, as I said yesterday. And inasmuch as man was thus alive and aware, perceiving with all his human being, the idea he then had of a heavenly body was essentially different from what it afterwards became.
A man who still lived thus perceivingly amid the Ptolemaic system did not say. There is the Moon up yonder. No, he did not; the people of today only attribute that idea to him, nor does it do the system justice. If he had simply said, "Up yonder is the Moon", he would have been relating the phenomenon to his whole human being, and in so doing the following was his idea: — Here am I standing on the Earth. Now, even as I am on the Earth, so too am I in the Moon, — for the Moon is here (Figure 1, lightly shaded area).
This (the small central circle in the Figure) is the Earth, whilst the whole of that is the Moon, — far greater than the Earth. The diameter (or semi-diameter) of the Moon is as great as what we now call the distance of the Moon (I must not say, of the Moon's centre) from the centre of the Earth. So large is the Moon, in the original meaning of the Ptolemaic system. Elsewhere invisible, this cosmic body at one end of it develops a certain process by virtue of which a tiny fragment of it (small outer circle in the Figure) becomes visible. They rest is invisible, and moreover of such substance that one can live in it and me permeated by it. Only at this one end of it does it grow visible. Moreover, in relation to the Earth the entire sphere is turning, (Incidentally it is not a perfect sphere, but a spheroid or ellipsoid-of-rotation. The whole of it is turning and with it turns the tiny reagent that is visible, i.e. the visible Moon. The visible Moon is only part of the full reality of it.
The idea thus illustrated really lived in olden time. The form at least, the picture it presents, will not seem so entirely remote if you think of an analogy, — that of the human or animal germ-cell in its development (Fig. 2).
You know what happens at a certain stage. While the rest of the germinal vesicle is well-nigh transparent, at one place it develops the germinative area, so called, and from this area the further development of the embryo proceeds. Eccentrically therefore, near the periphery, a centre forms, from which the rest proceeds. Compare the tiny body of the embryo with this idea of the Moon which underlay the Ptolemaic system and you will have a notion of how they conceived it for it was analogous to this.
In the Ptolemaic conception of the Universe, we may truly say, quite another reality was ‘Moon’ — mot only what is contained in the Moon's picture, the illuminated orb we see. This, then, is what happened to man after the time when the Ptolemaic system was felt as a reality. The inner experience, the bodily organic feelings of being immersed in the Moon was lost. Today man has the mere picture before him, the illuminated orb out yonder. Man of the Fifth post-Atlantean Epoch cannot say, for he no longer knows it: “I am in the Moon, — the Moon pervades me”. In his experience the Moon is only the little illuminated disc or sphere which he beholds.
It was from inner perceptions such as these that the Ptolemaic system of the Universe was made: These perceptions we can henceforth regain if we begin by looking at it all in the proper light: we can re-conquer the faculty whereby the whole Moon is experienced. We must admit however, it is understandable that those who take their start from the current idea of ‘the Moon’ find it hard to see any such inner relation between this “Moon” and life inside them. Nay, it is surely better for them to reject the statement that there are influences from the Moon affecting man than to indulge in so many fantastic and unfounded notions.
All this is changed if in a genuine way we come again to the idea that we are always living in the Moon, so that what truly deserves the name of 'Moon' is in reality a realm of force, a complex of forces that pervades us all the time. Then it will no longer be a cause of blank astonishment that this complex of forces should help form both man and beast. That forces working in and permeating us should have to do with the forming and configuration of our body, is intelligible. Such then are the ideas we must regain. We have to realise that what is visible in the heavens is nor more than a fragmentary manifestation of cosmic space, which in reality is ever filled with substance. Develop this idea: you live immersed in substance — substances manifold, inter-related. Then you will get a feeling of how very real a thing it is. The accepted astronomical outlook of our time has replaced this 'real' by something merely thought-out, namely by 'gravitation' as we call it. We only think there is a mutual force of attraction between what we imagine to be the body of the moon and the body of the Earth respectively. This gravitational line of force from the one to the other — we may imagine it as it turns to get a pretty fair picture of what was called the 'sphere' in ancient astronomical conceptions — the Lunar sphere or that of any planet. This, then, has happened: What was once felt to be substantial and can henceforth be experienced in this way once more, has in the meantime been supplanted by mere lines, constructed and thought-out.
We must then think of the whole configuration of cosmic space — manifoldly filled and differentiated in itself — in quite another way than we are wont to do. Today we go by the idea of universal gravitation. We say for instance that the tides are somehow due to gravitational forces from the Moon. We speak of gravitational force proceeding from a heavenly body, lifting the water of the sea. The other way of thought would make us say: The Moon pervades the Earth, including the Earth's hydrosphere. In the Moon's sphere, something is going on which at one place it manifests in a phenomenon of light. We need not think of any extra force of attraction. All we need think is that this Moon-sphere, permeating the Earth, is one with it, one organism all together , an organic whole. In the two kinds of phenomenon we see two aspects of a single process.
In yesterday's more historical lecture my object was to lead you up to certain notions, — essential concepts. I could equally well have tried to present them without recourse to the ideas of olden time, but to do so we should have had to take our start from premises of Spiritual Science. This would have led us to the very same essential concepts.
Imagine now (Fig. 3): Here is the Earth-sphere, — the solid sphere of Earth. And now the Lunar sphere: I must imagine this, of course, of very different consistency and kind of substance. And now I can go further. The space that is permeated by these two spheres, — I can imagine it permeated by a third sphere and a fourth. Thus in one way or another I imagine it to be permeated by a third sphere. It might for instance be the Sun-sphere, — qualitatively different form the Moon-sphere.
I then say I, am permeated — I, man, am permeated by the sun — and by the Moon-sphere. Moreover naturally there is a constant interplay between them. Permeating each other as they do, they are in mutual relation. Some element of form and figure in the human body is then an outcome of the mutual relation. Now you will recognise how rational it is to see the two things together: On the one hand, these different cosmic substantialities permeating the living body; and on the other hand the organic forms in which you can well imagine that they find expression. Form and formation of the body is then the outcome of this permeation. And what we see in the heavens — the movement of heavenly bodies — is like the visible sign. Certain conditions prevailing, the boundaries of the several spheres become visible to us in phenomena of movement.
What I have now put before you is essential for the regaining of more real conceptions of the inner structure of our cosmic system. Now you can make something of the idea that the human organisation is related to the structure of the cosmic system. You never gain a clear notion of it if you conceive the heavenly bodies as being far away yonder in space. You do gain a clear notion, the moment you see it as it really is. Though, I admit, it gets a little uncanny to feel yourself permeated by so many spheres, — just a little confusing!
And there is worse to come, for the mathematician at least. In effect, we are also permeated by the Earth-sphere itself, in a wider sense. For to the Earth belongs not only the solid ball on which we stand but all the volume of water; also the air, — this is a sphere in which we know ourselves to be immersed. Only the air is still very coarse, compared to the effects of heavenly phenomena. Think then of this: Here we are in the Earth-sphere, in the Sun sphere, in the Moon-sphere, and in others too. But let us single out the three, and we shall say to ourselves: Something in us is the outcome of the substantialities of these three spheres. Here then is qualitatively, what in its quantitative form is the mathematician's bugbear — the “problem of three bodies”, as it is called! It is working in us. In us is the outcome of it, in all reality. We must face the truth: to read the hieroglyphic of reality is not so simple. That we are wont to take it simply and think it so convenient of access, springs after all from our fond comfort, — human indolence of thought. How many things, held to be "scientific", have their origin in this! Let go the springs of comfortableness, and you must set to work with all the care which we have tried to use in these lectures. If now and then, they do not seem careful enough, it is again because they are given in barest outline; so we have often had to jump from one point to another and you yourselves must look for the connecting links. The links are surely there.
Now you must set to work with equal care to tackle the same problem from another aspect to which I have referred before, namely the body of man compared to the creatures of the remaining Nature-kingdoms. We can imagine, I said, a line that forks out on either hand from an ideal starting-point. Along the one branch we put the plant-world, along the other the animal. If we imagine the evolution of the plant-world carried further in a real Kingdom of Nature, we find it tending towards the mineral. How real a process it is, we may recall by the most obvious example. In the mineral coal, we recognised a mineralised plant-substance. What should detain us from turning attention to the analogous processes which have undoubtedly taken hold of other realms of vegetable matter? Can we not also derive the siliceous and other mineral substances of the Earth in the same way, recognising in them the mineralisation of an erstwhile plant-life?
Not in the same way (I went on to say) can we proceed if we are seeking the relation of the animal to the human kingdom. Here on the contrary we must imagine it somewhat as follows. Evolution moves onward through the animal kingdom; then however it bends back, returns upon itself, and finds physical realisation upon a higher than animal level. We may perhaps put it this way: Animal and human evolution begin from a common starting — point, but the animal goes farther before reaching outward physical reality. Man on the other hand keeps at an earlier stage, man makes himself physically real at an earlier stage. It is precisely by virtue of this that he remains capable of further evolution after birth, incomparably more so then the animal. (For, once again, the processes of which we speak relate to embryo-development.) That man retains the power to evolve, is due to his not carrying the animal-forming process to extremes. Whilst in the mineral, the plant-forming process has overreached itself; in man on the contrary the animal-forming process has stopped short of the extreme. It has withheld, kept back, and taken shape at an earlier stage amid external Nature.
We have then this ideal point from which it branches (Fig. 6). There is the shorter branch and the longer. The longer is of undetermined length; the other, we may say, no less so, but negatively speaking. So then we have the mineral and plant kingdoms, and animal and human.
Now we must seek to gain a more precise idea: What is it that really happens, in this formation of man as compared to the animal? The process of development, once more, is kept back in man. It does not go so far; that which is tending to realisation is, as it were, made real before its time. Now think how it must be imagined according to what I have told you in these lectures. Study the share of the Solar entity in the forming of the animal body, — via the embryo-development, of course. You then know that the direct sunshine (so to describe it) has to do with the configuration of the animal head, whilst the indirect aspect of the sunlight, as it were the Sun's shadow by relation to the Earth, has in some way to do with the opposite pole of the creature. Strictly envisage this permeation of animal form and development with cosmic Sun-substantiality. Look at the forms as they are. Then you will gain a certain idea, which I shall try to indicate as follows.
Assume to begin with, — assume that in some way the forming of the animal is really brought about by relation to the Sun. And now, apart from the constellation that will be effective in each case as between Sun and animal, let us ask, quite in the sense of the Sun's light in the cosmos, not so immediately connected with the Sun itself? There is indeed. For every time the Full Moon, or the Moon at all, shines down upon us, the light is sunlight. The cosmic opportunity is being made then, so to speak, for the Sun's light to ray down upon us. It is so of course also when the human being comes into life — in the germinal and embyonal period. In earlier stages of Earth-evolution the influence was most direct; today it is a kind of echo, inherited from then. Here then again we have an influence, in the other it is indirect, through the raying back of the Sun's light by the Moon.
Now think the following. I will again draw it diagrammatically. Suppose the development of the animal were such that it comes into being under the Sun's influence according to this diagram (Fig. 4).
This then, to put it simply, would be the ordinary influence of day and night — head and the opposite pole of the creature. This, for the animal, would be the ordinary working of the Sun. Now take that other working of the Sun's light which occurs when the Moon is in opposition, i.e. when it is Full Moon, — when the Sun's light, so to speak works from the opposite side and by reflection counteracts itself. If we conceive this downward arrow (Fig. 5).
to represent the direction of the direct Sun-rays, animal formations, we must imagine animal-formation going ever farther in the sense of this direct Sun-ray. The animal would become animal, the more the Sun was working on it. If on the other hand the Moon is counteracting from the opposite direction — or if the Sun itself is doing so via the Moon, — something is taken away again from the animal-becoming process. It is withdrawn, drawn back into itself (Fig. 5a).
Precisely this withdrawal corresponds to the shortening of the second branch in Figure 6. We have found a true cosmic counterpart of the characteristic difference between man and animal of which we spoke before.
What I have just been telling you can be perceived directly by anyone who gains the faculty for such perception. Man really owes it to the counteracting of the Sunlight via the Moon. — owes it to this that his organisation is withheld from becoming animal. The influence of the Sun-light is weakened in its very own quality (for it is Sun-light in either case), in that the Sun places its own counterpart over against itself, namely the Moon and the Moon's influence. Were it not for the Sun meeting and countering itself in the Moonlight — influences, the tendency that is in us would give us animal form and figure. But the Sun's influence reflected by the Moon counteracts, it. The forming process is held in check, the negative of it is working; the human form and figure is the outcome.
Now, on the other branch of the diagram, let us follow up the plant and the plant-formative process. That the Sun is working in the plant, is palpably evident. Let us imagine the Sun's effect in the plant, not to be able to unfold during a certain time. During the Winter, in fact, the springing and sprouting life in the plant cannot unfold. Nay, you can even see the difference in the unfolding of the plant by day and night. Now think of this effect in oft-repeated rhythm, repeated endless times, — what have we then? We have the influence of the Sun and the influence of the Earth itself; the latter when the Sun cannot work directly but is hidden by the Earth. At one time the Sun is working, at another it is not the Sun but the Earth, for the Sun is working from below and the Earth is in the way. We have the rhythmic alternation: Sun-influence predominant, Earth-influence predominant in turn. Plant-nature therefore is alternately exposed to the Sun, and then withdrawn, figuratively speaking, into the Earth — drawn by the earthly, as it were, into itself. This is quite different from what we had before. For in this case the Sun-quality, working in the plant, is potently enhanced. The solar quality is actually enhanced by the earthly, and this enhancement finds expression in that the plant gradually falls into mineralization.
Such then is the divergence of two ways, as indicated once again in Figure 6. In the plant we have to recognize the Sun's effect, carried still further by the Earth, to the point of mineralization. In the animal we have to recognize the Sun's effect, which then in man is drawn back again, withdrawn into itself, by virtue of the Moon's effect. I might also draw the figure rather differently, like this (Fig. 6a),
— here receding to become human, here on the other hand advancing to become mineral, which of course ought to be shown in some other form. It is no more than a symbolic figure, but this symbolic figure, tends to express more clearly than the first, made of mere lines, the bifurcation — as again I like to call it — with the mineral and plant kingdoms upon the one hand, the human and animal upon the other.
We never do justice to the true system of Nature with all her creatures and kingdoms if we imagine them in a straight line. We have to take our start from this other picture. In the last resort, all systems of Nature which begin with the mineral kingdom and thence going on to the plant, thence to the animal and thence to man as if in a straight line, will fail to satisfy. In this quaternary of Nature we are face to face with a more complex inner relationship than a mere rectilinear stream of evolution, or the like, could possibly imply. If one the other hand we take our start from this, the true conception, then we are led, not to a generatic aequivoca or primal generation of life, but to the ideal centre somewhere between animal and plant — a centre not to be found within the physical at all, yet without doubt connected with the problem of three bodies, Earth, Sun and Moon. Though perhaps mathematically you cannot quite lay hold on it, yet you may well conceive a kind of ideal centre-of-gravity of the three bodies — Sun, Moon and Earth. Though this will not precisely solve you the 'problem of three bodies', yet it is solved, namely in Man. When man assimilates in his own nature what is mineral and animal and plant, there is created in him in all reality a kind of ideal point-of-intersection of the three influences. It is inscribed in man, and that is where it is beyond all doubt. Moreover inasmuch as it is so, we must accept the fact that what is thus in man will be empirically at many places at once, for it is there in every human being, — every individual one. Yes, it is there in all men, scattered as they are over the Earth; all of them must be in some relation to Sun and Moon and Earth. If we somehow succeeded in finding an ideal point-of-intersection of the effects of Sun and Moon and Earth, if we could ascertain the movement of this point for every individual human being, it would lead us far indeed towards an understanding of what we may, perhaps, describe as movement, speaking of Sun and Moon and Earth.
As I said just now, the problem grows only the more involved, for we have so many points, — as many as there are men on Earth, — for all of which points we have to seek the movement. Yet it might be, might it not, that for the different human beings the movements only seemed to differ, one from another ...
We will pursue our conversations on these lines tomorrow.
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