Thursday, January 28, 2021
The human being from a spiritual point of view. The Study of Man: lecture 7 of 14
Rudolf Steiner to the first Waldorf teachers just before the opening of the first Waldorf school, Stuttgart, August 28, 1919:
My dear friends,
Your task is to gain an insight into what the human being really is. Up to now in our survey of general pedagogy we have endeavored to comprehend this nature of man first of all from the point of view of the soul and then from that of the spirit. Today we will continue from the latter point of view. We shall of course continually have to refer to the conceptions of pedagogy, psychology, and the life of the soul which are current in the world today; for in course of time you will have to read and digest the books which are published on pedagogy and psychology, as far as you have time and leisure to do so.
If we consider the human being from the point of view of the soul, we lay chief stress on discovering antipathies and sympathies within the laws which govern the world; but if we consider the human being from the spiritual point of view, we must lay the chief stress on discovering the conditions of consciousness. Now, yesterday we concerned ourselves with the three conditions of consciousness which hold sway in the human being: namely, the full waking consciousness, dreaming, and sleeping: and we showed how the full waking consciousness is really only present in thinking-cognition; dreaming in feeling; and sleeping in willing.
All comprehension is really a question of relating one thing to another: the only way we can comprehend things in the world is by relating them to each other. I wish to make this statement concerning method at the outset. When we place ourselves into a knowing relationship with the world, we are first of all observing. Either we observe with our senses, as we do in ordinary life, or we develop ourselves somewhat further and observe with soul and spirit, as we can do in Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition. But spiritual observation too is “observation,” and all observation requires to be completed by our comprehension or conception. But we can only comprehend if we relate one thing to another in the universe and in our environment. You can form good conceptions of body, soul, and spirit if you have the whole course of human life clearly before you. Only you must take into account that in this relating of things to each other, as I shall now explain, you have only the rudiments of comprehension. You will need to develop further the conceptions you arrive at in this manner.
For instance if you consider the child as he first comes into the world, if you observe his physical form, his movements, his expressions, his crying, his baby talk, and so on — you will get a picture which is chiefly of the human body. But this picture will only be complete if you relate it to the middle age and old age of the human being. In the middle age the human being is more predominantly soul, and in old age he is most spiritual.
This last statement can easily be contended. People will certainly come and say: “But a great many old people become quite feeble-minded.” A favorite objection of materialism to those who speak of the soul and the spirit is that people get feeble-minded in old age, and, with true consistency, the materialists argue that even such a great man as Kant became feeble-minded in his old age. The statement of the materialists and the fact are quite right. Only they do not prove what they set out to prove. For even Kant, when he stood before the gate of death, was wiser than in his childhood; only in childhood his body was capable of receiving all that came out of his wisdom, and thereby it could become conscious in his physical life. But in old age the body became incapable of receiving what the spirit was giving it. The body was no longer a proper instrument for the spirit. Therefore on the physical plane Kant could no longer come to a consciousness of what lived in his spirit. In spite of the apparent force of the above-mentioned argument, then, we must be quite clear that in old age men become wise and spiritual and that they come near to the Spirits. Therefore in the case of people who, right into their old age, can preserve elasticity and life-power for their spirit, we must recognize the beginnings of spiritual qualities. For there are such possibilities.
In Berlin there were once two professors. One was Michelet, the disciple of Hegel, who was over ninety years old. And as he was considerably gifted he only got as far as being Honorary Professor, but although he was so old he still gave lectures Then there was another called Zeller, the historian of Greek philosophy. Compared with Michelet he was a mere boy, for he was only seventy. But everybody said how he was feeling the burden of age, how he could no longer give lectures, or, in any case, was always wishing to have them reduced. To this Michelet always said: “I can't understand Zeller; I could give lectures all day long, but Zeller, though still in his youth, is always saying that it is getting too much of a strain for him!” So you see one may find isolated examples only of what I have stated about the spirit in old age; yet it really is so.
If, on the other hand, we observe the characteristics of the human being in middle age, we shall get a first basis for our observations of the soul. For this reason, too, a man in middle life is more able, as it were, to belie the soul element. He can appear to be either soulless, or very much imbued with soul. For the soul element lies within the freedom of man, even in education. The fact that many people are very soulless in middle life does not prove that middle age is not the age of the soul. If you compare the bodily nature of the child — kicking and sprawling and performing unconscious actions — with the quiet contemplative bodily nature of old age, you have on the one hand a body that shows its bodily side predominantly, in the child, and on the other hand you have a body that as it were withdraws its bodily side in old age, a body that to a certain degree belies its own bodily nature.
Now, if we turn our attention more to the soul life we shall say: the human being bears within him thinking-cognition, feeling, and willing. When we observe a child the impression we get of the child's soul shows a close connection between willing and feeling. We might say that willing and feeling have grown together in the child. When the child kicks and tumbles about he is making movements which precisely correspond to his feelings at the moment; he is not capable of keeping his movements and his feelings separate.
With an old man the opposite is the case: thinking-cognition and feeling have grown together within him, and willing stands apart, independently. Thus human life runs its course in such a way that feeling, which is at first bound up with willing, gradually frees itself from it. And a good deal of education is concerned with this, with this freeing of the feeling from the will. Then the feeling which has been freed from willing unites itself with thinking-cognition. And this is the concern of later life. We can only prepare the child rightly for his later life if we bring about the proper release of feeling from willing; then in a later period of life as a grown man or woman he will be able to unite this released feeling with thinking-cognition, and thus be fitted for his life.
Why is it that we listen to an old man, even when he is relating his life history? It is because in the course of his life he has united his personal feeling with his concepts and ideas. He is not telling us theories: he is really telling us about the feelings which he personally has been able to unite with his ideas and concepts. With the old man who has really united his feelings with thinking-cognition, the concepts and ideas ring true; they are filled with warmth, and permeated with reality; they sound concrete and personal. While with those who have ceased to develop beyond the stage of middle-aged manhood or womanhood, the concepts and ideas sound theoretical, abstract, scientific.
It is an essential factor of human life that the evolution of soul powers runs a certain course; for the feeling-willing of the child develops into the feeling-thinking of the old man. Human life lies between the two, and we can only give an education befitting this human life when our study of the soul includes this knowledge.
Now we must take notice that something arises straight-away whenever we begin to observe the world — indeed in all psychologies it is described as the first thing that occurs in observation of the external world; and that is sensation. When any one of our senses comes into touch with the environment, it has a sensation. We have sensations of color, tones, warmth, and cold. Thus sensation enters into our contact with our environment.
But you cannot get a true conception of sensation from the way it is described in current books on psychology. When the psychologists speak of sensation they say: in the external world a certain physical process is going on — vibrations in the light ether or waves in the air; this streams on to our sense organ and stimulates it. People speak of stimulus, and they hold to the expression they form, but will not make it comprehensible. For through the sense organ the stimulus releases sensation in our souls, the wholly qualitative sensation which is caused by the physical process (for example by the vibration of air waves in hearing). But how this comes about neither psychology nor present-day science can tell us. This is what we generally find in psychological books.
You will be brought nearer to an understanding of these things than you will by these psychological ideas if, having insight into the nature of sensations themselves, you can yourself answer the question: to which of the soul forces is sensation really most closely related? Psychologists make light of it; they glibly connect sensation with cognition, without more ado, and say: first we have a sensation, then we perceive, then we make mental pictures, form concepts, and so on. This indeed is what the process appears at first to be. But this explanation leaves out of account what the nature of sensation really is.
If we consider it with a sufficient amount of self-observation we shall recognize that sensation is really of a will nature with some element of feeling nature woven into it. It is not really related to thinking-cognition, but rather to feeling-willing or willing-feeling. It is of course impossible to be acquainted with all the countless psychologies there are in the world today, and I do not know how many of them have grasped anything of the relationship between sensation and willing-feeling or feeling-willing. It would not be quite exact to say that sensation is related to willing; rather it is related to willing-feeling or feeling-willing. But there is at least one psychologist, Moritz Benedikt of Vienna, who especially distinguished himself by his power of observation, and who recognized in his psychology that sensation is related to feeling.
Other psychologists certainly set very little store by this psychology of Moritz Benedikt, and it is true that there is something rather peculiar about it. Firstly, Moritz Benedikt is by vocation a criminal-anthropologist; and he proceeds to write a book on psychology. Secondly, he is a naturalist — and writes about the importance of poetic works of art in education, in fact he analyzes poetic works of art to show how they can be used in education. What a dreadful thing! The man sets up to be a scientist, and actually imagines that psychologists have something to learn from the poets! And thirdly, this man is a Jewish naturalist, a scientific Jew, and he writes a book on psychology and deliberately dedicates it to Laurenz Mullner, a priest, the Catholic philosopher of the theological faculty in the University of Vienna (for he still held this post at that time). Three frightful things, which make it quite impossible for the professional psychologists to take the man seriously. But if you were to read his books on psychology, you would find so many single apt ideas that you would get much from them, although you would have to repudiate the structure of his psychology as a whole, his whole materialistic way of thought — for such it is indeed. You would get nothing at all from the book as a whole, but a great deal from single observations within it. Thus you must seek the best in the world wherever it is to be found. If you are a good observer of details, but are put off by the general tendency of Moritz Benedikt's work, you need therefore not necessarily repudiate the wise observations that he makes.
Thus sensation, as it appears within the human being, is willing-feeling or feeling-willing. Therefore we must say that where man's sense sphere spreads itself externally — for we bear our senses on the periphery of our body, if I may express it rather crudely — there some form of feeling-willing and willing-feeling is to be found. If we draw a diagram of the human being (and please note it is only a diagram) we have here on the outer surface, in the sphere of the senses, willing-feeling and feeling-willing.
What then do we do on this surface when feeling-willing and willing-feeling is present, in so far as this surface of the body is the sphere of the senses? We perform an activity which is half-sleeping, half dreaming; we might even call it a dreaming-sleeping, a sleeping-dreaming. For we do not only sleep in the night, we are continually asleep on the periphery, on the external surface of our body, and the reason why we as human beings do not entirely comprehend our sensations is because in these regions where the sensations are to be found we are only dreaming in sleep, or sleeping in dreams. The psychologists have no notion that what prevents them from understanding the sensations is the same thing as prevents us from bringing our dreams into clear consciousness when we wake in the morning. You see, the concepts of sleeping and dreaming have a meaning which differs entirely from what we would give them in ordinary life. All we know about sleeping in ordinary life is that when we are in bed at night we go to sleep. We have no idea that this sleeping extends much further, and that we are always sleeping on the surface of the body, although this sleeping is constantly being penetrated by dreams. These “dreams” are the sensations of the senses, before they are taken hold of by the intellect and by thinking-cognition.
You must seek out the sphere of willing and feeling in the child's senses also. This is why we insist so strongly in these lectures that while educating intellect we must also work continually on the will. For in all that the child looks at and perceives we must also cultivate will and feeling; otherwise we shall really be contradicting the child's sensations. It is only when we address an old man, a man in the evening of his life, that we can think of the sensations as having already been transformed. In the case of the old man sensation has already passed over from feeling-willing to feeling-thinking or thinking-feeling. Sensations have been somewhat changed within him. They have more of the nature of thought and have lost the restless nature of will — they have become more calm. Only in old age can we say that sensations approach the realm of concepts and ideas.
Most psychologists do not make this fine distinction in sensations. For them the sensations of old age are the same as those of the child, for sensations for them are simply sensations. That is about as logical as to say: the razor (Rasermesser) is a knife (Messer), so let us cut our meat with it, for a knife is a knife. This is taking the concept from the verbal explanation. This we should never do, but rather take the concept from the facts. We should then discover that sensation has life, that it develops, and in the child it has more of a will nature, in the old man more of an intellectual nature.
Of course it is much easier to deduce everything from words; it is for this reason that we have so many people who can make definitions, some of which can have a terrible effect on you.
On one occasion I met a schoolfellow of mine, after we had for some time been separated and had gone our several ways. We had been at the same primary school together; I then went to the Grammar School (Realschule) and he to the Teachers' Training College, and what is more to a Hungarian College — and that meant something in the seventies. After some years we met and had a conversation about light. I had already learnt what could be learnt in ordinary physics, that light has something to do with ether waves, and so on. This could at least be regarded as a cause of light. My former schoolfellow then added: “We have also learnt what light is. Light is the cause of sight!” A hotchpotch of words! It is thus that concepts become mere verbal explanations. And we can imagine what sort of things the pupils were told when we learn that the gentleman in question had later to teach a large number of pupils, until at last he was pensioned off.
We must get away from the words and come to the spirit of things. If we want to understand something we must not immediately think of the word each time, but we must seek the real connections. If we look up the derivation of the word Geist (spirit) in Fritz Mauthner's History of Language to discover what its original form was, we shall find it is related to Gischt (“froth” or “effervescence”) and to “gas.” These relationships do exist, but we should not get very far by simply building on them. But unfortunately this method is covertly applied to the Bible and therefore with most people, and especially present-day theologies, the Bible is less understood than any other book.
The essential thing is that we should always proceed according to facts, and not endeavor to get a conception of spirit from the derivation of the word, but by comparing the life in the body of a child with the life in the body of an old person. By means of this connecting of one fact with another we get true conception.
And thus we can only get a true conception of sensation if we know that it is able to arise as willing-feeling or feeling-willing in the bodily periphery of the child, because compared with the more human inward side of the child's being this bodily periphery is asleep and dreaming in its sleep.
Thus you are not only fully awake in thinking-cognition, but you are also only awake in the inner sphere of your body. At the periphery or surface of the body you are perpetually asleep.
And further: that which takes place in the environment, or rather on the surface of the body, takes place in a similar way in the head, and increases in intensity the further we go into the human being into the blood and muscle elements. Here, too, man is asleep and also dreaming. On the surface man is asleep and dreaming, and again towards the inner part of his body he is asleep and dreaming. Therefore what is more of a soul nature — willing-feeling, feeling-willing, our life of desires, and so on — remain in the inner part of our body in a dreaming sleep.
Where then are we fully awake? In the intervening zone, when we are entirely wakeful. Now you see that we are proceeding from a spiritual point of view, by applying the facts of waking and sleeping to man even in a spatial way, and by relating this to his physical form so that we can say: from a spiritual point of view the human being is so constituted that at the surface of the body and in his central organs he is asleep and can only be really awake in the intervening zone, during his life between birth and death.
Now, what are the organs that are specially developed in this intervening region? Those organs, especially in the head, that we call nerves, the nerve apparatus. This nerve apparatus sends its shoots into the zone of the outer surface and also into the inner region, where they again disperse as they do on the surface: and between the two there are middle zones such as the brain, the spinal cord, and the solar plexus. Here we have the opportunity of being really awake. Where the nerves are most developed, there we are most awake.
But the nervous system has a peculiar relationship to the spirit. It is a system of organs which through the functions of the body continually has the tendency to decay and finally to become mineral. If in a living human being you could liberate his nerve system from the rest of the gland-muscle-blood nature and bony nature — you could even leave the bony system with the nerves — then this nerve system in the living human being would already be a corpse, perpetually a corpse. In the nerve system the dying element in man is always at work.
The nerve system is the only system that has no connection whatever with soul and spirit. Blood, muscles, and so on always have a direct connection with soul and spirit. The nerve system has no direct connection with these: the only way in which it has such a connection at all is by constantly leaving the human organization, by not being present within it, because it is continually decaying. The other members are alive, and can therefore form direct connections with the soul and spirit; the nerve system is continually dying out, and is continually saying to the human being: “You can evolve because I am setting up no obstacle, because I see to it that I with my life am not there at all.” That is the peculiar thing about it.
In psychology and physiology you find the following put forward: the organ that acts as a medium for sensation, thinking, and the whole soul and spirit element is the nerve system. But how does it come to be this medium? Only by continually expelling itself from life, so that it does not offer any obstacles to thinking and sensation, forms no connections with thinking and sensation, and in that place where it is it leaves the human being “empty” in favor of the soul and spirit, Actually there are hollow spaces for the spirit and soul where the nerves are. Therefore spirit and soul can enter in where these hollow spaces are.
We must be grateful to the nerve system that it does not trouble about soul and spirit, and does not do all that is ascribed to it by the physiologists and psychologists. For if it did this, if for even only five minutes the nerves did what the physiologists and psychologists describe them as doing, then in these five minutes we should know nothing about the world nor about ourselves; in fact we should be asleep. For the nerves would then act like those organs which bring about sleeping, which bring about feeling-willing, willing-feeling.
Indeed it is no easy matter to state the truth about physiology and psychology today, for people always say: “You are standing the world on its head.” The truth is that the world is already standing on its head, and we have to set it on its legs again by means of spiritual science. The physiologists say that the organs of thinking are the nerves, and especially the brain. The truth is that the brain and nerve system can only have anything to do with thinking-cognition through the fact that they are constantly shutting themselves off from the human organization and thereby allowing thinking-cognition to develop.
Now you must attend very carefully to what I am going to say, and please bring all your powers of understanding to bear upon it. In the environment of man, where the sphere of the senses is, there are real processes at work which play their part unceasingly in the life of the world. Let us suppose that light is working upon the human being through the eye. In the eye — that is, in the sphere of the senses — a real process is at work, a physical-chemical process is taking place. This continues into the inner part of the human body, and finally indeed into that inner part where, once again, physical-chemical processes take place (the dark shading in the drawing).
Now imagine that you are standing opposite an illumined surface and that rays of light are falling from this surface into your eye. There again physical-chemical processes arise, which are continued into the muscle and blood nature within the human being.
In between there remains a vacant zone. In this vacant zone, which has been left empty by the nerve organ, no independent processes are developed such as that in the eye or in the inner nature of the human being; but there enters what is outside: the nature of light, the nature of color. Thus, at the surface of our bodies, where the senses are, we have material processes which are dependent on the eye, the ear, the organs which can receive warmth, and so on: similar processes also take place in the inner sphere of the human being. But not in between, where the nerves spread themselves out: they leave the space free; there we can live with what is outside us. Your eye changes the light and color. But where your nerves are, where as regards life there is only hollow space, there light and color do not change, and you yourself are experiencing light and color. It is only with regard to the sphere of the senses that you are separated from the external world: within, as in a shell, you yourself live with the external processes. Here you yourself become light, you become sound; the processes have free play because the nerves form no obstacle, as blood and muscle do.
Now we get some feeling of how significant this is: we are awake in a part of our being which in contrast to other living parts may be described as a hollow space, while at the external surface and in the inner sphere we are dreaming in sleep, and sleeping in dreams. We are only fully awake in a zone which lies between the outer and inner spheres. This is true in respect to space.
But in considering the human being from a spiritual point of view we must also bring the time element of his life into relationship with waking, sleeping, and dreaming. You learn something, you take it in, and it passes into your full waking consciousness. While you are occupying yourself with this thing and thinking about it, it is in your full waking consciousness. Then you return to your ordinary life. Other things claim your interest and attention. Now what happens to what you have just learnt, to what was occupying your attention? It begins to fall asleep; and when you remember it again, it awakens again. You will only get the right point of view about all these things when you substitute real conceptions for all the rigmarole you read in psychology books about remembering and forgetting. What is remembering? It is the awakening of a complex of mental pictures. And what is forgetting? It is the falling asleep of the complex of mental pictures. Here you can compare real things with real experiences, here you have no mere verbal definitions. If you ponder over waking and sleeping, if you look at your own experience or another's on falling asleep, you have a real process before you. You relate forgetting, this inner soul activity, to this real process — not to any word — and you compare the two and say: forgetting is only falling asleep in another sphere, and remembering is only waking up in another sphere.
Only so can you come to a spiritual understanding of the world, by comparing realities with realities. Just as you have to compare childhood with old age to find the real relationship between body and soul, at least the elements of it, so in the same way you can compare remembering and forgetting by relating it to something real, to falling asleep and waking up.
It is this that will be so infinitely necessary to the future of mankind: that men accustom themselves to enter into reality. People think almost exclusively in words today; they do not think in real terms. How could a present-day man get at this conception of awakening which is the reality about memory? In the sphere of mere words he can hear of all kinds of ways of defining memory; but it will not occur to him to find out these things from the reality, from the thing itself.
Therefore you will understand that when people hear of something like the Threefold Organism of the State, which springs entirely out of reality and not out of abstract conceptions, they find it incomprehensible at first because they are quite unaccustomed to produce things out of reality. They do not connect any of their conceptions with getting things out of reality. And the people who do this least are the Socialist leaders in their theories; they represent the last word, the last stage of decadence in the realm of verbal explanations. These are the people who most of all believe that they understand something of reality, but when they begin to talk they make use of the husks of words.
This was only an interpolation with reference to the current trend of our times. But the teacher must understand also the times in which he lives, for he has to understand the children who out of these very times are entrusted to him for their education.
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