Saturday, January 31, 2015

Earthly Reagents of Cosmic Influences

Astronomy in Relation to the Other Scientific Disciplines. Lecture 8.
Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, January 8, 1921:

To lead our present studies to a fruitful conclusion we must still pursue the rather subtle course I have been adopting, bringing together a great variety of ideas from different fields. For this reason we shall have to continue with this course also while the other course is going on — between the 11th and 15th January. We must arrange the times by agreement with the Waldorf School. There is so much to bring in that we shall need these days too. Now I am also well aware how many queries, doubts and problems may be arising in connection with this subject. Please prepare whatever questions you would like to put, if you need further elucidation. I will then try to incorporate the answers in one of next week's lectures, so as to make the picture more complete. Working in this way we shall be able to continue as heretofore, bringing in what I would call the subtler aspects of our theme.
Let us envisage once again the course we have been pursuing. Our aim is to gain a deeper understanding of Astronomy — the science of the Heavens — in connection with phenomena on Earth. To begin with, we pointed out that as a rule the Astronomy of our time only takes into account what is observed directly with the outer senses aided, no doubt, by optical instruments and the like. Such, in the main, were all the data hitherto adduced when seeking to explain and understand the phenomena of the Heavens. They took their start from the ‘apparent movements’, as they would now be called, of the celestial bodies. First they considered the apparent movement of the starry Heavens as a whole around the Earth and the apparent movement of the Sun. Then they observed the very strange paths described by the planets. Such, in effect, is the immediate visual appearance; portions of the planetary paths look like loops (Fig. 1) the planet moves along here, reverses and goes back, and then forward again, here ... And now they reasoned; if the Earth itself is moving and we have no direct perception of this movement, the real movements of the heavenly bodies cannot but be different from the visual appearance. Interpreting along these lines — applying mathematical and geometrical laws — they arrived at an idea of what the ‘real’ movements might be like. So they arrived at the Copernican system and at its subsequent modifications. Such, in the main, were the methods of cognition used: first, what impressed our senses when looking out into the Heavens, and then the intellectual assimilation, the reasoned interpretation of these sense-impressions.

Fig. 1
We then pointed out that this procedure can never lead to the adequate penetration of the celestial phenomena, if only for the reason that the mathematical method itself is insufficient. We begin our calculations along certain lines and are then brought to a stop. For as I was reminding you, the ratios between the periods of revolution of the several planets are incommensurable numbers, incommensurable magnitudes. By calculation, therefore, we do not reach the innermost structure of the celestial phenomena. Sooner or later we have to leave off.
It follows that we must adopt a different method. We have to take our start not only from what man observes when he looks out into the Universe with his senses; we must take man as a whole in his connection with the Universe, and perhaps not only man, but other creatures too, — the kingdoms of Nature upon Earth. All these things we pointed out, and I then showed how the whole organization of man can be seen in relation to certain phenomena in the evolution of the Earth, namely the Ice Ages in their rhythmical recurrence. They also have to do with the inner evolution of man and of mankind. This too, I said, will give us indications of what the real movements in celestial space may be. These are the kind of things we must pursue.
Before continuing the rather more formal lines of thought with which we ended yesterday's lecture, let us consider once again this connection of man's evolution with the evolution of the Earth through the Ice Ages. We saw that the special kind of knowledge or of cognitional life which the man of the present time calls his own has only come into being since the last Ice Age. Moreover all the civilization-epochs, of which I have so often told, have taken place since then — namely the Ancient Indian, the Persian, the Egypto-Chaldean, the Graeco-Latin, and then the epoch in which we are now living. Before the last Ice Age, we said, there must have been developing in human nature what in the man of today is more withdrawn, less at the surface of his nature, namely his power of ideation — the forming of mental pictures. The inner quality, we said, of this part of our inner life is truly to be understood only if we compare it with our dream-life. It is through sense-perception that our mental pictures receive clear and firm configuration and, as it were, a fully saturated content. The mental pictures are being formed in a more inward region of our bodily organic life — farther back, as it were behind the sense-perceptions, — and this activity is dim and hazy like our dream-life. Our forming of mental pictures would be as dim as it is in dreams if the experiences of the senses did not strike in upon us every time we awaken. (We may allow the supposition, to help explain what is meant.)
More dim and hazy than our life in sense-perception, this inner life of ideation, mental imagery, is related to those earlier phases in the evolution of man's nature which preceded the last glacial epoch, or which — to speak in anthroposophical terms — belonged to old Atlantis.
What must it then have been like for man? In the first place he must have had a far more intimate inner connection with the surrounding world than he has today through sense-perception. We can control our sense-perception with our will. It is with our will at any rate that we direct the vision of our eyes, and by deliberate attention we can go even farther in governing our sense-perception by our own will. At all events, our will is very much at work in our sense-perceptions, making us to a large extent independent of the outer world. We orientate ourselves by our own arbitrary choice. Now this in only possible because as human beings we have in a way emancipated ourselves from the Universe. Before the last Ice Age we cannot have been thus emancipated. (I say ‘cannot have been’ since I am wanting now to speak from the empirical aspect of external Science.) During that time, as we have seen, the power of ideation — the forming of mental images — was especially developed, and in his inner conditions man must have been far more dependent on all that was going on around him. Today we see the world around us shining in the sunlight, but the way we see it is considerably subject to the inner culture and control of our own life of will. In Atlantean time the way man was given up to the outer world must have been somehow dependent on the illumined Earth and its illumined objects, and then again — at night-time when the Sun was not shining — on the darkness, the gloaming. He must in other words have experienced periodic alternations in this respect. His inner life of mental imagery, which as we saw was then in process of development, must alternately have been lighting up and ebbing down again. This inner periodicity, brought about by man's relation to the surrounding Universe, was indeed not unlike the peculiar periodicity of a woman's organic functions of which we spoke before, which is related to the lunar phases though only as regards length of time. This inner functioning of the woman's nature (I said, you will remember, it is there in man too but in a more inward way and therefore less easily perceived) was at one time actually linked with the corresponding events in the outer Universe. It then became emancipated — a property of human nature on its own, — so that what now goes on in the human being in this respect need not coincide with the outer events. yet the periodicity — the sequence of phases — remains the same as it was when the one coincided with the other.
Something quite similar is true of the rhythmic alternation in our inner life — in our ideation, our forming of mental images. The whole way we are organized in this respect, implanted in us in a far distant past, is to this day more or less independent of the life of the outer senses. Day by day we undergo an inner rhythm, our powers of mental imagery alternately lighting up and growing more dim; it is a daily ebb and flow. We only fail to notice it, since it is far less intense than that other periodicity which runs parallel to the Lunar phases. Nevertheless, in our head-organization to this day we have an alternation between a brighter and a dimmer kind of life. We carry in our head a rhythmic life. We are at one time more and at another less inclined to meet our sense-perceptions actively from within. It is a 24-hour rhythmic alteration. It would be interesting to observe — it might even be recorded graphically — how human beings vary as regards this inner period of the head, the forces of ideation and mental imagery alternating between brighter and more lively and then again dimmer and more sleepy times. The dim and sleepy times represent, so to speak, the inner night of the head, the brighter ones the inner day, but it does not coincide with the external alternation of day and night. It is an inner alternation of light and darkness, or relatively bright and dim conditions. And people vary in this respect. One human being has this inner alternation of light and dark in such a way that he tends rather to connect the lighter period of his mental image-forming power with his sense-perceptions. Another tends to it with the darker. Individuals are organized in one way or the other, and differ accordingly as to their power of observing the outer world. One human being will be inclined sharply to focus on the phenomena of the outer world; another tends to do so less, — is more inclined to an inner brooding. All this is due to the alternating conditions I have been describing. Notably as educators, my dear friends, we should cultivate the habit of observing things like this. They will be valuable signposts, indicating how we should treat the individual children both in our teaching and in education generally.
What interests us however here and now is the fact that man thus makes inward, as it were, what he once underwent in direct mutual relation with the outer world; so that it now works in him as an inner rhythm, the phases no longer coinciding with the outer, yet still retaining the periodicity. Before the Ice Age, man's periods of brighter and more intimate participation in the surrounding Universe, and then of dim withdrawal into himself, will have coincided regularly with the processes of the outer world. He still retains an echo of this rhythm, which in those long-ago times proceed from his living-together with the Universe around him, where at one moment his consciousness was lightened and filled with pictures, while at another he withdrew into himself, brooding over the pictures. It is an echo of this latter state whenever we today are inclined to brood more or less melancholically in our own inner life. Once again therefore: what man experienced in and with the world in those older times has been driven farther back into his inner bodily nature, while at the outer periphery a new development has taken place in his faculties of sense-perception. He had these faculties, of course in earlier epochs too, but not developed in the way they now are.
While looking thus at what has taken place in man through his connection with the phenomena of the world around him, we are in fact looking into the Universe itself. Man then becomes the reagent for a true judgment of the phenomena of the Universe. But to complete this we need the other kingdoms of Nature too. Here I should like to draw your attention to something well-known and evident to everyone, the essential significance of which, however, remains unrecognized.
Consider the annual plant, — the characteristic cycle of its development. We see in it quite evidently what I was mentioning yesterday: the direct and indirect influences of the Sun. Where the Sun works directly, the flower comes into being; where the Sun works in such a way that the Earth comes in between, we get the root. The plant too makes manifest what we were speaking of yesterday as regards the animal and then applied in another way to man.
Yet we shall only see the full significance of this if we relate it to another fact. There are perennial plants too. What is the relation of the perennial plant to the annual, as regards the way in which plant-growth belongs to the Earth as a whole? The perennial retains its stem or trunk, and the truth is: Year by year a new world of plants springs, so to speak, from the trunk itself. Of course it is modified and metamorphosed, yet it is a vegetation growing on the trunk, which in its turn grows out of the Earth (Fig. 2). If you have morphological perception you will see it as clearly as can be, — it almost goes without saying. Here on the left I have the surface of the Earth, and the annual plant springing from it. Here on the right is the stem or trunk of the perennial, from which new vegetation, new plant-growth, springs in each succeeding year. I must image something or other (to leave it vague, for the moment) continued from the Earth into the trunk. I must say to myself — what this plant here (Fig. 2 on the left) is growing on, must somehow be there in the trunk too (on the right). In other words there must be some element of the Earth — whatever it may be — entering into the trunk. I have no right to regard the trunk of the perennial as a thing apart, not belonging to the Earth; rather must I regard it as a modified portion of the Earth itself. Only then shall I be seeing it rightly; only then shall I discern the inner relationships such as they really are. Something is there in the perennial plant which otherwise is only in the Earth. It is through this that the plant becomes perennial. In effect, precisely by taking something of the Earth into itself it frees itself from dependence on the yearly course of the Sun. For we may truly say: The perennial wrests itself away from its dependence on the Sun's yearly course. It emancipates itself from the yearly course of the Sun, in that it forms the trunk, receiving into its own Nature — becoming able, as it were, to do for itself what otherwise could only come about through the working of the whole cosmic environment.

Figure 2
Do we not here see prefigured in the plant world what I was just describing with regard to man in preglacial times? For in those times, as I was showing, the inner rhythm of man's ideation — his life in mental pictures — developed by relation to the surrounding world. What then lived in the mutual relation between man and the surrounding world has since become a feature of his own inner life. There is an indication of the same kind of change in the plant kingdom, in that the annual is changed to a perennial. This is indeed a universal tendency in evolution: the living entities are on the way to emancipation from their original connections with the surrounding world.
Seeing the perennials arising, we have to say: It is as though the plant, when it becomes perennial, had learned something from the time when it depended on the cosmic environment, something which it can now do for itself. Now it is able of itself to bring forth fresh plant-shoots year by year. We do not reach an understanding of the phenomena of the world by merely staring at the things that happen to be side by side, or that are crowded into the field of view under the microscope. We have to see the larger whole and recognize the single phenomena in their connection with it.
Look at it all once more. The annual plant is given up to the cycle of the year, with all the changing relations to the Cosmos which this involves. This influence of the Cosmos beings to fade away in the perennial. In the perennial, what would otherwise vanish in the further course of the year is, as it were, preserved. In the trunk we see springing from the ground the working of the year, made permanent and lasting. This transition of what was first connected with the outer Universe into a more inward way of working we see throughout the whole range of Nature's phenomena, in so far as they are cosmic. Hence too there are phenomena in which we can more quickly find the living connections between our Earth and the wider Cosmos, while there are others in which the cosmic influences are more concealed. We need to find out which of them are sensitive reagents, telling of the cosmic influences. The annual plant will tell us of the Earth's connection with Cosmos, the perennial will not be able to tell us much.
Again, the relation of the animal to man can give us an important clue. Look at the animal's development. (Though we might also include it, we will for the moment disregard the embryonic life.) The animal is born and grows up to a certain limit. It reaches puberty. Look at the animal's whole life, until puberty and beyond. Without any added hypotheses — taking the simple facts — you must admit that it is strange, what happens to the animal once puberty has been attained. For in a way the animal is finished then, so far as the earthly world is concerned. Any such statement is of course an approximation to the truth, needless to say; yet in the main we must admit that in the animal no further progression is to be seen, not after puberty. Puberty is the important goal of animal development. The immediate consequence of puberty — all that happens as an outcome of it — is there of course, but we cannot allege that anything takes place thence forward, deserving to be called a true progression.
With man it is different. Man remains capable of development far beyond puberty; but the development becomes more inward. Indeed it would be very sad for man if in his human nature he were to end his development at puberty in the way animals do. Man goes beyond this. He holds something in reserve by means of which he can go farther, — can undertake quite other journeys, unconnected with sexual maturity or puberty. This again is not unlike the “inwarding” of the cycle of the year in the perennial as against the annual plant. What is in evidence in the animal when puberty is reached, we see it transmuted into a more inward process in man, from puberty onward. Something therefore is at work in man that is related to a cosmic process in his development from birth until puberty, and that then gets emancipated from the Cosmos — just as it does in the perennial plant — when puberty has been outgrown.
Here then you have a subtler way of estimating the phenomena among the kingdoms of Nature; so will you presently find signposts indicating the connections between the creatures upon Earth and the Cosmos. We see how, when the cosmic influences cease as such, they are transplanted into the inner nature of the several creatures. We will take note of this and set it on one side for the moment; later we shall find the synthesis between this and quite another aspect.
Let us now take up again what I have frequently mentioned: The incommensurable ratios between the periods of revolution of the planets of the solar system. We may ask, what would the outcome be if they were commensurable? Cumulative disturbances would arise, whereby the planetary system would be brought to a standstill. This can be proved by calculation, though it would lead too far afield to do it now. Only the incommensurability between the periods of revolution enables the planetary system, so to speak, to stay alive. In other words, the solar system contains among other things a condition ever tending to a standstill. It is precisely this condition which we are calculating. When in our calculations we get to the end of our tether, there is the incommensurable — and there, withal, is the very life of the planetary system! We are in a strange predicament when calculating the planetary system. If it were such that we could fully calculate it, it would die, — nay, as I said before, would have died long ago. It lives by virtue of the fact that we can not calculate it fully. What is alive in the planetary system is precisely what we cannot calculate.
Now upon what do we base these calculations, from which once more, if we could pursue them to the end, we must deduce the inevitable death of the whole system? We base them on the force of gravitation — universal gravitation. Suppose we take our start from gravitation and nothing more, and think it out consistently. We get the picture of a planetary system subject to the force of gravitation. Then indeed we do arrive at commensurable ratios. But the planetary system would inevitably die. We calculate, in other words, to the extent that death prevails in the planetary system, basing our calculations on the force of gravity. In other words there must be something in the planetary system — different from gravitation — to which the incommensurability is due.
The planetary orbits can be brought into accord with the force of gravity very nicely, even as to their genesis, but their periods of revolution would then have to be commensurable. Now there is something which cannot be brought into accord with the force of gravitation, and which moreover does not so tidily fit into our planetary system. I mean what reveals itself in the cometary bodies. The comets play a very strange part in the system, and they have recently been leading scientists to some unusual ideas.
I leave aside the kind of explanations which often tend to arise, where anything most recently discovered is seized on to explain phenomena in other fields. In physiology for instance there was a time when they were fond of comparing the so-called sensory nerves to telegraph-wires leading in from the periphery. Through some central switch or commutator the impulse was supposed to be transmitted, leading to impulses and acts of will. From the centripetal nerves it was supposed to be switched over to the centrifugal; they compared it all to a telegraphic system. Maybe one day something quite different from telegraph-wires will be invented and by this way of thinking quite another picture will be applied to the same thing. So do the scientific fashions change. Whatever happens to have been discovered is quickly seized on as a handy way of explaining the phenomena in other fields. Much as they do in medicine! Scarcely has any new thing been found than it is “discovered” to be a valuable remedy, though little thought is given to the inner reasons. Now that we have X-rays, X-rays are the remedy to use; we only use them because we happen to have found them. It is as though men let themselves be swept along chaotically, willy-nilly by whatever happens to turn up from time to time.
So for the comets: By spectroscopic investigation and by comparison with the corresponding results for the planets, the idea arose that the phenomena might be explained electromagnetically. Such ideas will at most lead to analogies, which may no doubt have some connection with the reality, but which will certainly not satisfy us if we are looking into it more deeply.
Yet as I said, leaving this aside, there was one thing which emerged quite inevitably when the phenomena of comets were studied in more detail. While for the rest of the planetary system they always speak of gravitational forces, the peculiar position of the comet's tail in relation to the Sun inevitably drove the scientists to speak of forces of repulsion from the Sun — forces, as it were of recoil. The terminology is not the main point; it will of course vary with the prevailing fashion. The point is that science was here obliged to look for something in addition to — and indeed opposite to — gravity.
In effect, with the comets something different enters our planetary system, — something which in its nature is in a way opposite to the inner structure of the planetary system as such. Hence it is understandable that for long ages the riddle of the comets gave rise to manifold superstitions. Men had a feeling that in the courses of the planets laws of Nature, inherently belonging to our planetary system, find expression, while with the comets something contrary comes in. Here something disparate and diverse makes its way into our planetary system. Thus they inclined to see the planetary phenomena as an embodiment of normal laws of Nature, and to regard the cometary apparitions as something contrary to these normal laws. There were times — though not the most ancient times — when comets were associated, as it were, with moral forces flying through the Universe, scourges for sinful man.
Today we rightly look on that as superstition. Yet even Hegel could not quite escape associating the comets with something not quite explicable or only half explicable by ordinary means. The 19th century, of course, no longer believed the comets to appear like judges to chastise mankind. Yet in the early 19th century they had statistics purporting to connect them with good and bad vintage years. These too occur somewhat irregularly; their sequence does not seem to follow regular laws of Nature. And even Hegel did not quite escape this conclusion. He though it plausible that the appearance or non-appearance of comets should have to do with the good and bad vintage years.
The standpoint of the people of today — at least, of those who share the normal scientific outlook — is that our planetary system has nothing to fear from the comets. Yet the phenomena which they evoke within this planetary system somehow have little inner connection with it. Like cosmic vagrants they seem to come from very distant regions into the near neighborhood of our Sun. Here they call forth certain phenomena, indicating forces of repulsion from the Sun. The phenomena appear, wax and wane, and vanish.
There was a man who still had a certain fund of wisdom whereby he contemplated the Universe not only with his intellect but with the whole human being. He still had some intuitive perception of the phenomena of the Heavens. I refer to Kepler. He was the author of a strange saying about the comets — a saying which gives food for thought to anyone who is at all sensitive to Kepler's way of thought and mood of soul. We spoke of his three laws — a work of genius, when one considers the ideas and the data which were accessible in his time. Kepler arrived at his laws out of a feeling for the inner harmony of the planetary system. For him it was no mere dry calculation; it was a feeling of harmony. He felt his three planetary laws as a last quantitative expression of something qualitative — the harmony pervading the whole planetary system. And out of this same feeling he made a statement about the comets, the deep significance of which one feels if one is able to enter into such things at all. Kepler said: In the great Universe — even the Universe into which we look by night — there are as many comets as there are fishes in the ocean. We only see very, very few among them, while all the rest remain invisible, either because they are too small or for some other reason. Even external research has tended to confirm Kepler's saying. The comets seen were recorded even in olden time and it is possible to compare the number. Since the invention of the telescope ever so many more have been seen than before. Also when looking out into the starry Heavens under different conditions of illumination — that is to say, making provision for extreme darkness — a larger number of comets are recorded than otherwise. Even empirical research therefore comes near to what Kepler exclaimed, inspired as he was by a deep feeling for Nature.
Now if one speaks at all of a connection between the Cosmos and what happens on the Earth, it surely is not right to dwell one-sidedly on the relation to our Earth of the other planets of our system and to omit the heavenly bodies which come and go as the comets do. It is especially one-sided since we must now admit that the comets give rise to phenomena indicating the presence of quite other forces — forces opposite in kind to those to which we usually attribute the coherence of our planetary system. The comets do in fact bring something opposite into our system, and if we follow it up we must admit that this too is of great significance. Something in some way opposite in nature to the force which holds it together, comes with the comets into our planetary system.
In an earlier lecture-course about natural phenomena I drew attention to something of which I must here remind you. Those who were present — the course was mainly about Heat or Warmth — will no doubt recall it. I said that when we look at the phenomena of warmth in their relation to other phenomena of the Universe we are obliged to form a far more concrete idea of the ether, of which the physicists generally speak in rather hypothetical terms. I said that in the formulae of physics, wherever the force of pressure occurs as regards ponderable matter, we have to replace it by a force of suction as regards the ether. In other words, if we insert a plus sign for the intensity of a force in the realm of ponderable matter, we must give a minus sign to the corresponding intensity in the ether. I suggested that the well-known formulae should be looked through with this end in view; for one would see how remarkably, when this is done, they harmonize with the phenomena of Nature.
Take for example that whole game of thought, if I may call it so: the Kinetic Theory of Gases, of of Heat itself, — the molecules impinging on each other and on the walls of the containing vessel. Take all this brutal play of mutual impact and recoil which is supposed to represent the thermal condition of gas. Instead of this, phenomena will become clear and penetrable the moment we perceive that within warmth itself there are two conditions akin to the conditions that prevail in ponderable matter; the other must be thought of as akin to the ether. Warmth is in this respect different from air or light. For light, if we are calculating truly, we must use the negative sign throughout. Whatever in our formulae is to represent the effects of light must bear a negative sign. For air or gas the sign must be positive. For warmth, on the other hand, the positive and negative will have to alternate. What we are wont to distinguish as conducted heat, radiant heat, and so on will only then become clear and transparent.
Within the realm of matter itself, these things reveal the need for a qualitative transition from the positive to the negative in characterizing the different kinds of force. And we now see, very significantly, how for the planetary system we also have to pass from the positive — that is, gravitation — to the corresponding negative, the repelling force.
One more thing I will say today, if only to formulate the problem. For the moment I will carry it no further, but only put the problem; we shall have time to go into these things in later lectures. Now that we have ascertained all this about the cometary bodies, let me compare the relation between our planetary system and the comets to what is there in the ovum, the female germ-cell, in its relation to the male element, the fertilizing sperm. Try to imagine, try to visualize the two processes, as you might actually see them. There is the planetary system; it receives something new into itself, namely the effects of a comet. There is the ovum; it receives into itself the fertilizing effect of the male cell, the spermatozoid.
Look at the two phenomena side by side without prejudice, as you might do in ordinary life when you see two things obviously comparable, side by side. Do you not find plenty of comparable features when you contemplate these two? I do not mean to set up any theory or hypothesis, I only want to indicate what you will see for yourselves if you once look at these things in their true connection.
Taking our start from this, tomorrow we may hope to enter into more concrete and more detailed aspects.



Rudolf Steiner:
...Now, if you expect that it is only necessary to look to right or left and see a cloudy form as your astral body, you will be disappointed, for it does not happen in that way; you must pay attention to what really does occur. What may really occur is, for example, that after a time, through such experiences, you may gradually see the dawn in a new way; you may have a new feeling on seeing a sunrise. Gradually, along this path, you will come to experience the warmth of the dawn as something of a prophetic nature, as if it were announcing something, as if the dawn had a natural prophetic force in itself. You will begin to feel the dawn as spiritually forceful, and you will be able to connect an inner meaning with this prophetic force, so that you get a feeling, which you might at first regard as an illusion, that the dawn is related with your own being. Through such experiences as I have described you may gradually bring yourself into a condition in which you feel when you see the dawn: “The dawn does not leave me alone. It is not merely yonder while I am here; I am inwardly united with this dawn; it is a quality of my own inner feeling. I myself at this moment am the dawn.” When you feel thus united with the dawn so that you yourself experience as it were the color, radiation, and shining, the appearing of the Sun out from the colors and the light, so that in your own heart a Sun arises, as it were, out of the morning glow as a living feeling — then you will also feel as if you yourself are traveling with the Sun over the vault of heaven; you will feel that the Sun does not leave you alone, the Sun is not there while you are here but you feel that your existence extends in a certain sense to the Sun existence and that you travel with the light throughout the day.
If you develop this feeling — which, as we have said, does not come from thinking, for in that way one can only reach man himself — but which we can develop out of memory in the way indicated, when you develop this experience out of your memory, or rather out of the forces of memory, then the things which you perceived formerly with your physical senses begin to wear a different aspect; they begin to be spiritually and psychically transparent. When a man has once attained this feeling of traveling with the Sun, of gaining strength at dawn to go with the Sun, he sees all the flowers of the meadow in a different aspect. The blossoms do not remain passive, showing the yellow or red colors which they have on the surface — but they begin to speak. They speak to our hearts in a spiritual way. The blossoms become transparent. The spiritual part of the plant stirs inwardly, and the blossoming becomes a kind of speaking.
In this way man really unites his soul with the external life of nature, and he thus gains the impression that there is something behind the existence of nature, that the light with which he has united himself is borne by spiritual beings, and in these spiritual beings he gradually comes to recognize the features of that which has been pictured by Anthroposophy.

Friday, January 30, 2015

R.I.P. Money Boo Boo

O Shakti

Only when Shiva is united to Shakti does he gain the power to create. Otherwise the Lord does not even have the power to stir. O Goddess, as you are worshipped by the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of the universe, how can a mere mortal who has no merit be able to praise you?   — Shankaracharya

Plato's Cave; or, The Necessity of Anthroposophy

"A theosophy that does not provide the means of understanding Christianity is absolutely valueless to our present civilization."  — Rudolf Steiner

Revisioning the Concept of Space. Qualitative Mathematics, Cosmic Space, and Life on Earth

Astronomy in Relation to the Other Scientific Disciplines. Lecture 7.
Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, January 7, 1921:

You will have seen how we are trying in these lectures to prepare the ground for an adequate world-picture. As I have pointed out again and again, the astronomical phenomena themselves impel us to advance from the merely quantitative to the qualitative aspect. Under the influence of Natural Science there is a tendency, in modern scholarship altogether, to neglect the qualitative side and to translate what is really qualitative into quantitative terms, or at least into rigid forms. For when we study things from a formal aspect we tend to pass quite involuntarily into rigid forms, even if we went to keep them mobile. But the question is, whether an adequate understanding of the phenomena of the Universe is possible at all in terms of rigid, formal concepts. We cannot build an astronomical world-picture until this question has been answered.
This proneness to the quantitative, abstracting from the qualitative aspect, has led to a downright mania for abstraction which is doing no little harm in scientific life, for it leads right away from reality. People will calculate, for instance, under what conditions, if two sound-waves are emitted one after the other, the sound emitted later will be heard before the other. All that is necessary is the trifling detail that we ourselves should be moving with a velocity greater than that of sound. But anyone who thinks in keeping with real life instead of letting his thoughts and concepts run away from the reality will, when he finds them incompatible with the conditions of man's co-existence with his environment, stop forming concepts in this direction. He cannot but do so. There is no sense whatever in formulating concepts for situations in which one can never be.
To be a spiritual scientist one must educate oneself to look at things in this way. The spiritual scientist will always want his concepts to be united with reality. He does not want to form concepts remote from reality, going off at a tangent, — or at least not for long. He brings them back to reality again and again. The harm that is done by the wrong kinds of hypothesis in modern time is due above all to the deficient feeling for the reality in which one lives. A conception of the world free of hypotheses, for which we strive and ought to strive, would be achieved far more quickly if we could only permeate ourselves with this sense of reality. And we should then be prepared really to see what the phenomenal world presents. In point of fact this is not done today. If the phenomena were looked at without prejudice, quite another world-picture would arise than the world-pictures of contemporary science, from which far-fetched conclusions are deduced to no real purpose, piling one unreality upon another in merely hypothetical thought-structures.
Starting from this and from what was given yesterday, I must again introduce certain concepts which may not seem at first to be connected with our subject, though in the further course you will see that they too are necessary for the building of a true world-picture. I shall again refer to what was said yesterday in connection with the Ice Ages and with the evolution of the Earth altogether. To begin with, however, we will take our start from another direction.
Our life of knowledge is made up of the sense-impressions we receive and of what comes into being when we assimilate the sense-impressions in our inner mental life. Rightly and naturally, we distinguish in our cognitional life the sense-perceptions as such and the inner life of ‘ideas’ — mental pictures. To approach the reality of this domain we must being by forming these two concepts: That of the sense-perception pure and simple, and of the sense-perception transformed and assimilated into a mental picture.
It is important to see without prejudice what is the real difference between our cognitional life insofar as this is permeated with actual sense-perceptions and insofar as it consists of mere mental pictures. We need to see these things not merely side by side in an indifferent way; we need to recognize the subtle differences of quality and intensity with which they come into our inner life.
If we compare the realm of our sense-perceptions — the way in which we experience them — with our dream-life, we shall of course observe an essential qualitative difference between the two. But it is not the same as regards our inner life of ideas and mental pictures. I am referring now not to their content but to their inner quality. Concerning this, the content — permeated as it is with reminiscences of sense-perceptions — easily deludes us. Leaving aside the actual content and looking only at its inner quality and character — the whole way we experience it — there is no qualitative difference between our inner life in ideas and mental pictures and our life of dreams. Think of our waking life by day, or all that is present in the field of our consciousness in that we open our senses to the outer world and are thereby active in our inner life, forming mental pictures and ideas. In all this forming of mental pictures we have precisely the same kind of inner activity as in our dream-life; the only thing that is added to it is the content determined by sense-perception.
This also helps us realize that man's life of ideation — his forming of mental pictures — is a more inward process than sense-perception. Even the structure of our sense-organs — the way they are built into the body — shows it. The processes in which we live by virtue of these organs are not a little detached from the rest of the bodily organic life. As a pure matter of fact, it is far truer to describe the life of our senses as a gulf-like penetration of the outer world into our body (Fig. 1) than as something primarily contained within the latter. Once more, it is truer to the facts to say that through the eye, for instance, we experience a gulf-like entry of the outer world. The relative detachment of the sense-organs enables us consciously to share in the domain of the outer world. Our most characteristic organs of sense are precisely the part of us which is least closely bound to the inner life and organization of the body. Our inner life of ideation, on the other hand — our forming of mental pictures — is very closely bound to it. Ideation therefore is quite another element in our cognitional life than sense-perception as such. (Remember always that I am thinking of these processes such as they are at the present stage in human evolution.)
Fig. 1
Now think again of what I spoke of yesterday — the evolution of the life of knowledge from one Ice Age to another. Looking back in time, you will observe that the whole interplay of sense-perceptions with the inner life of ideation — the forming of mental pictures — has undergone a change since the last Ice Age. If you perceive the very essence of that metamorphosis in the life of knowledge which I was describing yesterday, then you will realize that in the times immediately after the decline of the Ice Age the human life of cognition took its start from quite another quality of experience than we have today. To describe it more definitely: while our cognitional life has become more permeated and determined by the senses and all that we receive from them, what we do not receive from the senses — what we received long, long ago through quite another way of living with the outer world — has faded out and vanished, ever more as time went on. This other quality — this other way of living with the world — belongs however to this day to our ideas and mental pictures. In quality they are like dreams. For in our dreams we have a feeling of being given up to, surrendered to, the world around us. We have the same kind of experience in our mental pictures. While forming mental pictures we do not really differentiate between ourselves and the world that then surrounds us; we are quite given up to the latter. Only in the act of sense-perception do we separate ourselves from the surrounding world. Now this is just what happened to the whole character of man's cognitional life since the last Ice Age. Self-consciousness was kindled. Again and again the feeling of the “I” lit up, and this became ever more so.
What do we come to therefore, as we go back in evolution beyond the last Ice Age? (We are not making hypotheses; we are observing what really happened.) We come to a human life of soul not only more dream-like than that of today, but akin to our present life of ideation rather than to our life in actual sense-perception. Now ideation — once again, the forming of mental pictures — is more closely bound to the bodily nature than is the life of the senses. Therefore what lives and works in this realm will find expression rather within the bodily nature than independently of the latter. Remembering what was said in the last few lectures, this will then lead you from the daily to the yearly influences of the surrounding world. The daily influences, as I showed, are those which tend to form our conscious picture of the world, whereas the yearly influences affect our bodily nature as such. Hence if we trace what has been going on in man's inner life, as we go back in time we are led from the conscious life of soul deeper and deeper into the bodily organic life.
In other works; before the last Ice Age the course of the year and the seasons had a far greater influence on man than after. Man, once again, is the reagent whereby we can discern the cosmic influences which surround the Earth. Only when this is seen can we form true ideas of the relations — including even those of movement — between the Earth and the surrounding heavenly bodies. To penetrate the phenomena of movement in the Heavens, we have to take our start from man — man, the most sensitive of instruments, if I may call him so. And to this end we need to know man; we must be able to discern what belongs to the one realm, namely the influences of the day, and to the other, the influences of the year.
Those who have made a more intensive study of Anthroposophical Science may be reminded here of what I have often described from spiritual perception: the conditions of life in old Atlantis, that is before the last Ice Age. For I was there describing from another aspect — namely from direct spiritual sight — the very same things which we are here approaching more by the light of reason, taking our start from the facts of the external world.
We are led back then to a kind of interplay between the Earth and its celestial environment which gave men an inner life of ideation — mental pictures — and which was afterwards transmuted in such a way as to give rise to the life of sense-perception in its present form. (The life of the senses as such is of course a much wider concept; we are here referring to the form it takes in present time.)
But we must make a yet more subtle distinction. It is true that self-consciousness or ego-consciousness, such as we have it in our ordinary life today, is only kindled in us in the moment of awakening. Self-consciousness strikes in upon us the moment we awaken. It is our relation to the outer world — that relation to it, into which we enter by the use of our senses — to which we owe our self-consciousness. But if we really analyze what it is that thus strikes in upon us, we shall perceive the following. If our inner life in mental pictures retained its dream-like quality and only the life of the senses were added to it, something would still be lacking. Our concepts would remain like the concepts of fantasy or fancy (I do not say identical with these, but like them). We should not get the sharply outlined concepts which we need for outer life. Simultaneously therefore with the life of the senses, something flows into us from the outer world which gives sharp outlines and contours to the mental pictures of our everyday cognitional life. This too is given to us by the outer world. Were it not for this, the mere interplay of sensory effects with the forming of ideas and mental pictures would bring about in us a life of fantasy or fancy and nothing more; we should never achieve the sharp precision of everyday waking life.
Now let us look at the different phenomena quite simply in Goethe's way, or — as has since been said, rather more abstractly — in Kizchhoff's way. Before doing so I must however make another incidental remark. Scientists nowadays speak of a “physiology of the senses”, and even try to build on this foundation a “psychology of the senses”, of which there are different schools. But if you see things as they are, you will find little reality under these headings. In effect, our senses are so radically different from one another that a “physiology of the senses”, claiming to treat them all together, can at most be highly abstract. All that emerges, in the last resort, is a rather scanty and even then very questionable physiology and psychology of the sense of touch, which is transferred by analogy to the other senses. If you look for what is real, you will require a distinct physiology and a distinct psychology for every one of the senses.
Provided we remember this, we may proceed. With all the necessary qualifications, we can then say the following. Look at the human eye. (I cannot now repeat the elementary details which you can find in any scientific textbook.) Look at the human eye, one of the organs giving us impressions of the outer world, — sense-impressions and also what gives them form and contour. These impressions, received through the eye, are — once again — connected with all the mental pictures which we then make of them in our inner life.
Let us now make the clear distinction, so as to perceive what underlies the sharp outline and configuration which makes our mental images more than mere pictures of fancy, giving them clear and precise outline. We will distinguish this from the whole realm of imagery where this clarity and sharpness is not to be found, — where in effect we should be living in fantasies. Even through what we experience with the help of our sense-organs — and what our inner faculty of ideation makes of it — we should still be floating in a realm of fancies. It is through the outer world that all this imagery receives clear outline, finished contours. It is through something from the outer world, which in a certain way comes into a definite relation to our eye.
And now look around. Transfer what we have thus recognized as regards the human eye, to the human being as a whole. Look for it, simply and empirically, in the human being as a whole. Where do we find — though in a metamorphosed form — what makes a similar impression? We find it in the process of fertilization. The relation of the human being as a whole — the female human body — to the environment is, in a metamorphosed form, the same as the relation of the eye to the environment. To one who is ready to enter into these things it will be fully clear. Only translated, one might say, into the material domain, the female life is the life of fantasy or fancy of the Universe, whereas the male is that which forms the contours and sharp outlines. It is the male which transforms the undetermined life of fancy into a life of determined form and outline. Seen in the way we have described in today's lecture, the process of sight is none other than a direct metamorphosis of that of fertilization; and vice-versa.
We cannot reach workable ideas about the Universe without entering into such things as these. I am only sorry that I can do no more than indicate them, but after all, these lectures are meant as a stimulus to further work. This I conceive to be the purpose of such lectures; as an outcome, every one of you should be able to go on working in one or other of the directions indicated. I only want to show the directions; they can be followed up in diverse ways. There are indeed countless possibilities in our time, to carry scientific methods of research into new directions. Only we need to lay more stress on the qualitative aspects, even in those domains where one has grown accustomed to a mere quantitative treatment.
What do we do, in quantitative treatment? Mathematics is the obvious example; ‘Phoronomy’ (Kinematics) is another. We ourselves first develop such a science, and we then look to find its truths in the external, empirical reality. But in approaching the empirical reality in its completeness we need more than this. We need a richer content to approach it with than merely mathematical and phoronomical ideas. Approach the world with the premises of Phoronomy and Mathematics, and we shall naturally find starry worlds, or developmental mechanisms as the case may be, phoronomically and mathematically ordered. We shall find other contents in the world if once we take our start from other realms than the mathematical and phoronomical. Even in experimental research we shall do so.
The clear differentiation between the life of the senses and the organic life of the human being as a whole had not yet taken place in the time preceding the last Ice Age. The human being still enjoyed a more synthetic, more ‘single’ organic life. Since the last Ice Age man's organic life has undergone, one might say, a very real ‘analysis’. This too is an indication that the relation of the Earth to the Sun was different before the last Ice Age from what it afterwards became. This is the kind of premise from which we have to take our start, so as to reach genuine pictures and ideas about the Universe in its relation to the Earth and man.
Moreover our attention is here drawn to another question, my dear friends. To what extent is ‘Euclidean space’ real? The name, of course, does not matter — I mean the space which is characterized by three rigid directions at right angles to each other. This, surely, is a rough and ready definition of Euclidean space. I might also call it ‘Kantian space’, for Kant's arguments are based on this assumption. Now as regards this Euclidean — or, if you will, Kantian — space we have to put the question: Does it correspond to a reality, or is it only a thought-picture, an abstraction? After all, it might well be that there is really no such thing as this rigid space. Now you will have to admit: when we do analytical geometry we start with the assumption that the X-, Y- and Z-axes may be taken in this immobile way. We assume that this inner rigidity of the X, Y and Z has something to do with the real world. What if there were nothing, after all, in the realms of reality, to justify our setting up the three coordinate axes of analytical geometry in this rigid way? Then too the whole of our Euclidean mathematics would be at most a kind of approximation to the reality — an approximation which we ourselves develop in our inner life, — a convenient framework with which to approach the reality in the first place. It would not hold out any promise, when applied to the real world, to give us real information.
The question now is, are there any indications pointing in this direction, — suggesting, in effect, that this rigidity of space cannot, after all, be maintained? I know that what I am here approaching will cause great difficulty to many people of today, for the simple reason that they do not keep step with reality in their thinking. They think you can rely upon an endless chain of concepts, deducing one thing logically from another, drawing logical and mathematical conclusions without limit. In contrast to this tendency in science nowadays, we have to learn to think with the reality, — not to permit ourselves merely to entertain a thought-picture without at least looking to see whether or not it is in accord with reality. So in this instance, we should investigate. Perhaps after all, by looking into the world of concrete things, there is some way of reaching a more qualitative determination of space.
I am aware, my dear friends, that the ideas I shall now set forth will meet with great resistance. Yet it is necessary to draw attention to such things. The theory of evolution has entered ever more into the different fields of science. They even began applying it to Astronomy. (This phase, perhaps, is over now, but it was so a little while ago.) They began to speak of a kind of natural selection. Then as the radical Darwinians would do for living organisms, so they began to attribute the genesis of heavenly bodies to a kind of natural selection, as though the eventual form of our solar system had arisen by selection from among all the bodies that had first been ejected. Even this theory was once put forward.
So too it came about that man was simply placed at the latter end of the evolutionary series of the animal kingdom. Human morphology, physiology etc. were thus interpreted. But the question is whether this kind of investigation can do justice to man's organization in its totality. For, to begin with, it omits what is most striking and essential even from a purely empirical point of view. One saw the evolutionists of Haekel's school simply counting how many bones, muscles and so on man and the higher animals respectively possess. Counting in that way, one can hardly do otherwise than put man at the end of the animal kingdom. Yet it is quite another matter when you envisage what is evident for all eyes to see, namely that the spine of man is vertical while that of the animal is mainly horizontal. Approximate though this may be, it is definite and evident. The deviations in certain animals — looked into empirically — will prove to be of definite significance in each single case. Where the direction of the spine is turned towards the vertical, corresponding changes are called forth in the animal as a whole. But the essential thing is to observe this very characteristic difference between man and animal. The human spine follows the vertical direction of the radius of the Earth, whereas the animal spine is parallel to the Earth's surface. Here you have purely spatial phenomena with a quite evident inner differentiation, inasmuch as they apply to the whole figure and formation of the animal and man. Taking our start from the realities of the world, we cannot treat the horizontal in the same way as the vertical. Enter into the reality of space — see what is happening in space, such as it really is, — you cannot possibly regard the horizontal as though it were equivalent or interchangeable with the vertical dimension.
Now there is a further consequence of this. Look at the animal form and at the form of man. We will take our start from the animal, and please fill in for yourselves on some convenient occasion what I shall now be indicating. I mean, observe and contemplate for yourselves the skeleton of an mammal. The usual reflections in this realm are not nearly concrete enough; they do not enter thoroughly enough into the details.
Consider then the skeleton of an animal. I will go no farther than the skeleton, but what I say of this is true in an even higher degree of the other parts and systems in the human and animal body. Look at the obvious differentiation, comparing the skull with the opposite end of the animal. If you do this with morphological insight, you will perceive characteristic harmonies or agreements, and also characteristic diversities. Here is a line of research which should be followed in far greater detail. Here is something to be seen and recognized, which will lead far more deeply into realty than scientists today are wont to go.
It lies in the very nature of these lectures that I can only hint at such things, leaving out many an intervening link. I must appeal to your own intuition, trusting you to think it out and fill in what is missing between one lecture and the next. You will then see how all these things are connected. If I did otherwise in these few lectures, we should not reach the desired end.
Fig. 2
Diagrammatically now (Fig. 2), let this be the animal form. If after going into an untold number of intervening links in the investigation, you put the question: ‘What is the characteristic difference of the front and the back, the head and the tail end due to?’, you will reach a very interesting conclusion. Namely you will connect the differentiation of the front end with the influences of the Sun. Here is the Earth (Fig. 3). You have an animal on the side of the Earth exposed to the Sun. Now take the side of the Earth that is turned away from the Sun. In one way or another it will come about that the animal is on this other side. Here too the Sun's rays will be influencing the animal, but the earth is now between. In the one case the rays of the Sun are working on the animal directly; in the other case indirectly, inasmuch as the Earth is between and the Sun's rays first have to pass through the Earth (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3
Expose the animal form to the direct influence of the Sun and you get the head. Expose the animal to those rays of the Sun which have first gone through the Earth and you get the opposite pole to the head. Study the skull, so as to recognize in it the direct outcome of the influences of the Sun. Study the forms, the whole morphology of the opposite pole, so as to recognize the working of the Sun's rays before which the Earth is interposed — the indirect rays of the Sun. Thus the morphology of the animal itself draws our attention to a certain interrelation between Earth and Sun. For a true knowledge of the mutual relations of Earth and Sun we must create the requisite conditions, not by the mere visual appearance (even though the eye be armed with telescopes), but by perceiving also how the animal is formed — how the whole animal form comes into being.
Now think again of how the human spine is displaced through right angle in relation to the animal. All the effects which we have been describing will undergo further modification where man is concerned. The influences of the Sun will therefore be different in man than in the animal. The way it works in man will be like a resultant (Fig. 4). That is to say, if we symbolize the horizontal line — whether it represent the direct or the indirect influence of the Sun — by this length, we shall have to say; here is a vertical line; this also will be acting. And we shall only get what really works in man by forming the resultant of the two.
Fig. 4
Suppose in other words that we are led to relate animal formation quite fundamentally to some form of cosmic movement — say, a rotation of the Sun about the Earth, or a rotation of the Earth about its own axis. If then this movement underlies animal formation, we shall be led inevitably to attribute to the Earth or to the Sun yet another movement, related to the forming of man himself, — a movement which, for its ultimate effect, unites to a resultant with the first. From what emerges in man and in the animal we must derive the basis for a true recognition of the mutual movements among the heavenly bodies.
The study of Astronomy will thus be lifted right out of its present limited domain, where one merely takes the outward visual appearance, even if calling in the aid of telescopes, mathematical calculations and mechanics. It will be lifted into what finds expression in this most sensitive of instruments, the living body. The forming forces working in the animal, and then again in man, are a clear indication of the real movements in celestial space.
This is indeed a kind of qualitative mathematics. How, then, shall we metamorphose the idea when we pass on from the animal to the plant? We can no longer make use of either of the two directions we have hitherto been using. Admittedly, it might appear as though the vertical direction of the plant coincided with that of the human spine. From the aspect of Euclidean space it does, no doubt (Euclidean space, that is to say, not with respect to detailed configuration but simply with respect to its rigidity.) But it will not be the same in an inherently mobile space. I mean a space the dimensions of which are so inherently mobile that in the relevant equations, for example, we cannot merely equate the x- and the y-dimensions: y = ƒ(x). (The equation might be written very differently from this. You will see what I intend more from the words I use than from the symbols; it is by no means easy to express in mathematical form.) In a coordinate system answering to what I now intend, it would no longer be permissible to measure the ordinates with the same inherent measures as the abscissae. We could not keep the measures rigid when passing from the one to the other. We should be led in this way from the rigid coordinate system of Euclidean space to a coordinate system that is inherently mobile.
And if we now once more ask the question: How are the vertical directions of plant growth and of human growth respectively related? — we shall be led to differentiate one vertical from another. The question is, then, how to find the way to a different idea of space from the rigid one of Euclid. For it may well be that the celestial phenomena can only be understood in terms of quite another kind of space — neither Euclidean, nor any abstractly conceived space of modern mathematics, but a form of space derived from the reality itself. If this is so, then there is no alternative: it is in such a space, and not in the rigid space of Euclid, that we shall have to understand them.
Thus we are led into quite other realms, namely to the Ice Age on the one hand and on the other to a much needed reform of the Euclidean idea of space. But this reform will be in a different spirit than in the work of Minkowski and others. Simply in contemplating the given facts and trying to build up a science free of hypotheses, we are confronted with the need for a thoroughgoing revision of the concept of space itself. Of these things we shall speak again tomorrow.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bel Canto: Joni, "Woodstock"

Against vain judgments of men. The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. Book 3, Chapter 36


Chapter 36: Against vain judgments of men.

“My Son, anchor thy soul firmly upon God, and fear not man’s
judgment, when conscience pronounceth thee pious and innocent.
It is good and blessed thus to suffer; nor will it be grievous to
the heart which is humble, and which trusteth in God more than in
itself. Many men have many opinions, and therefore little trust
is to be placed in them. But moreover it is impossible to please
all. Although Paul studied to please all men in the Lord, and to
become all things to all men, yet nevertheless with him it was
a very small thing that he should be judged by man’s
He laboured abundantly, as much as in him lay, for the
building up and the salvation of others; but he could not avoid
being sometimes judged and despised by others. Therefore he
committed all to God, who knew all, and by patience and humility
defended himself against evil speakers, or foolish and false
thinkers, and those who accused him according to their pleasure.
Nevertheless, from time to time he replied, lest his silence
should become a stumbling-block to those who were weak.
“Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that
shall die? Today he is, and tomorrow his place is not found.
Fear God and thou shalt not quail before the terrors of men.
What can any man do against thee by words or deeds? He hurteth
himself more than thee, nor shall he escape the judgment of God,
whosoever he may be. Have thou God before thine eyes, and do not
contend with fretful words. And if for the present thou seem to
give way, and to suffer confusion which thou hast not deserved,
be not angry at this, nor by impatience diminish thy reward; but
rather look up to Me in heaven, for I am able to deliver thee
from all confusion and hurt, and to render to every man according
to his works.”

The evolution of humankind and the secrets of celestial space

Astronomy in Relation to the Other Scientific Disciplines. Lecture 6.
Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, January 6, 1921:

My Dear Friends,
You will have seen, from what has been said so far, that in the explanation of natural phenomena we need to find a path leading beyond the intellectually mathematical domain. That we do not dispute the justification of a mathematical approach is implicit in the whole spirit of these lectures. But we were able sharply to define the point beyond which it is impossible to go with mathematical thought-forms, in the celestial spaces on the one hand, and in the realm of embryology on the other. We must hew out a path to other methods of cognition. It is the purpose of these lectures to show the scientific need of other methods.
I shall try to show that what is looked for nowadays merely by gazing outward into celestial space — whether with the unaided eye or with the help of optical instruments — needs to be put on a far wider basis, so that not only a part but the whole of man becomes the ‘reagent’ for a deeper penetration of the Heavens. Today I shall try, if not to prove, at least to indicate the validity of such a widening of method, by approaching the problem from quite another side. It may seem paradoxical in relation to our present theme, but the reason will soon become plain.
In studying the evolution of mankind on Earth we must surely find something within human evolution itself to guide us to the essential source of the celestial phenomena. For otherwise we should be assuming that what goes on in the Universe beyond the Earth is without influence on man, — on human evolution. No-one will make such an assumption, although admittedly the influences may be over-estimated by some and underestimated by others. It will therefore be plausible — at least from a methodic point of view — to put the question: ‘Can we find anything in the evolution of mankind itself to indicate ways of access to the secrets of celestial space?’ Asking this question, we will take our start, not from Spiritual Science, but from the facts which anyone can gather for himself by empirical, historical research.
Looking back in the evolution of mankind in the realm where human thoughts, the human faculties of knowledge, find expression, where, so to speak, the relation of man to the world takes on the most highly sublimated forms — we are led back, to begin with (as you may gather from my ‘Riddles of Philosophy’), only a few centuries into the past. Indeed I have often pointed to a certain moment during the 15th century, one of the most essential in the more recent phases of human evolution. The indication is of course approximate. We have to think of the period about the middle of the Middle Ages. Needless to say, we are referring only to what was going on within civilized mankind.
It is not generally seen clearly or sharply enough, how deep and incisive a change was then taking place in human thought and cognition. There has unfortunately for some time been a downright aversion — among philosophers especially — to a real study and appreciation of the epoch in European civilization which may be called the Age of Scholasticism. During that age, deeply significant questions came to the surface of man's life of knowledge. If one goes into them deeply enough, one feels that these questions did not merely spring from the realm of logical deduction — the form in which the Middle Ages used to clothe them — but from the very depths of man's being.
One need only recall what then became a fundamental question in human knowledge — the question of Nominalism and Realism. Or again, what it betokened in the spiritual development of Europe that attempts were made to prove the existence of God. There was for instance the so-called ontological proof of the existence of God. From thought itself — from the pure concept — men wanted confirmation of God's existence. Think what it means in the whole evolution of human knowledge. Something was stirring in the inmost depths of the human being; in the philosophical deductions of the time it only found fully conscious expression. Men were perplexed as to whether the concepts and ideas, which man forms and puts into words, in some way stand for a reality, or whether they are merely formal summarizations of the external sensory data. The Nominalists regarded the general concepts which man creates for himself as a mere formal summary, having no significance for the external reality but only helping man to find his way about — to orientate himself in an otherwise confusing outer world. The Realists (an expression used in a rather different sense than today) declared that something real is to be found in general or universal concepts, — that in these concepts man in his inner life takes hold of something real, — that they are no mere convenient generalizations or abstractions from the world.
Often in more public lectures I have related how my old friend Vinsenz Knauer — a latter-day scholastic, though he would not have claimed to be one — showed himself very clearly, in his interesting work “The Central Problems of Philosophy, from Thales to Robert Hamerling”, to be thoroughgoing Realist. The Nominalists, he said, assert that the concept ‘lamb’ is nothing but a convenient generalization arising in the human mind; so too the concept ‘wolf’. Matter is only put together in a different way in the lamb and in the wolf. We only summarize it in the convenient abstraction, ‘lamb’ or ‘wolf’ as the case may be. Well, he suggested, try for some time to keep a wolf away from all other food and give it only lambs to eat: after the necessary lapse of time the matter in the wolf will be nothing but lamb, and yet it will not have lost its wolfishness. Therefore the wolf-nature, expressed in the general concept ‘wolf,’ must be something real.
Now the fact that the so-called ‘ontological’ proof of God's existence could arise at all bears witness to a deep and thoroughgoing change then taking place in human nature. Quite a short time before, it simply would not have occurred to anyone within European culture to want to prove God's existence, for this was felt to be self-evident. Only when this feeling was no longer alive in men did they begin to crave for proof. If you have living inner certainty about a thing, you do not want to prove it. But at that time something was slipping away from man, which until then had been alive in him quite as a matter of course, and the human spirit was thus led into quite other channels — quite other needs. I could adduce many another example, showing precisely at the highest levels of thought and knowledge (though you may take the word 'highest' with a grain of salt) what a deep stirring and rumbling was going on in human nature during that period of the Middle Ages.
Now we can surely not deny that there must be some connection between what is going on in the life of mankind and the phenomena in the Heavens beyond the Earth. In the most general sense, we must assume that there is some connection; what it is in detail, we shall discover in due course. Hence we may ask — we want to proceed very carefully, so we need only ask — ‘How were these inner experiences which man on Earth was undergoing at that time, connected with the evolution of the Earth-planet altogether?’, — a question which may obviously lead us into realms beyond the Earth. Was it perhaps a special moment in the evolution of the Earth as such? Is there anything that we can point to as a more definite criterion of what this moment was in human evolution?
We can indeed point to something of significance in this connection. There was another time which made a deep incision in the same regions of the Earth where in the Middle Ages these events were taking place in the most highly sublimated realm of human life: the spiritual life of thought. The medieval time, when this deep moving and stirring of humanity took place, lies in the very midst between two end-points, as it were, in the scale of time. For European regions these ‘end-points’ do not represent the kind of times in which intense activity of human life and culture would be possible at all. In effect, if from this medieval moment, which I will call A (Fig. 1), we go backward and forward an equal length of time into a fairly distant past and future, we come to points of time representing a certain barrenness and death of civilization in the very regions where this deep stirring of human life was going on in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. About 10,000 years forward and 10,000 years back from this moment (A in Figure 1) we reach the maximum development of the Ice Ages in these very regions. Ice Ages certainly would not allow of any outstanding development in human life and culture.
Fig. 1
Surveying therefore the evolution of these European regions we find an Ice Age — a laying-waste of civilization — 10,000 years before the Christian era, and we should find the same again 10,000 years after this time. The deep stirring of human life, of which we have been speaking, happened midway between two such barren epochs.
As I said just now, there is a certain reluctance to pay attention to this period in the development of philosophy — the 13th and 14th centuries; — it is not seen clearly and accurately for what it is. Yet if one has a feeling for the evolution of the life of knowledge in mankind, one is aware that to this day our philosophic history is influenced by the after-effects of what was stirring and rumbling in the life of mankind at that time. It showed itself in other domains of civilization too; it only came to expression most clearly and symptomatically in this phase of development of the life of thought and knowledge.
Now as you know, this phase of development — appearing about the middle of the Middle Ages — was an incisive one in European civilization. I have often spoken of it in anthroposophical lectures. It was an incision. Something was changed in the whole trend of human evolution. It had been beginning long before — in the 8th century B.C. We may describe it as a most intense development of human intellectuality.
Since then, in the life and civilization of mankind, we have been looking especially at the development of Ego-consciousness. All aberrations and all wisdom gained in the general life of humanity since that medieval time are really due to this Ego-development, to the ever-growing elaboration of the consciousness of “I” in man. The consciousness of the ancient Greeks and even of the Latins (both the ancient Latins and their descendants, the Latin peoples of today) did not lay so much stress on the Ego. Even in language — for the most part, in grammar and syntax — they do not pronounce the “I” so outspokenly, but still include it in the verb. The “I” is not yet so blatantly set forth. Take Aristotle and Plato, and above all the greatest philosopher of antiquity, Heraclitus. Throughout their work the Ego is not yet so prominent. The way in which they take hold of the world-phenomena with the intellectual reasoning principle is as yet rather more selfless. (Please do not over-stress this, but in a relative sense the word ‘selfless’ may be used.) There is not yet so sharp a dissociation of the self from the world-phenomena as there tends to be in the new age — the Age of Consciousness in which we are now living.
Going still farther back — beyond the 8th century BC — we come into the Egyptian and Chaldean Age, as I have called it (you will find the details in my “Occult Science”). Once again, the condition of the human soul was different. During this age — which like the others, lasted for over 2,000 years — man was not yet relating external phenomena to one another by intellectual reasoning at all. He apprehended the world — the Heavens too — rather in feeling and direct sensation. It is mistaken and fruitless to approach what is still extant of the Astronomy of Egypt and Chaldea with present-day intellectual judgments — the kind of judgment which we ourselves have inherited from the Graeco-Latin Age. We must achieve a certain metamorphosis of soul so as to enter into the quite different soul-condition then prevailing, where man took hold of the world in simple feeling and sensation (where the concept was not yet separated from the sensation).
Even in the realm of actual sensations or sense-impressions — as can be shown historically and philologically — they attached no great importance to the precise description of the blue and violet shades of color, whereas they had a very keen sensation of the red and yellow regions of the spectrum. Indeed the sensation of the dark colors can be seen to have arisen simultaneously with the capacity for intellectual concepts.
The Egypto-Chaldean Age — from 747 B.C. about 2160 years into the past, — takes us to the beginning of the third millennium BC. Still earlier, say in the fourth or fifth millennium BC, we come into an age when man's whole outlook and mode of perception were so different from ours today that it is hard for us, without recourse to spiritual-scientific methods, to transplant ourselves at all into the way in which the man of that time saw the world around him. It was not only a feeling and sensing, — it was a living with the outer happenings, being right in them. Man felt himself a part and member of all Nature around him, much as my arm, if it were conscious, would feel itself a member of my body.
Here therefore was an altogether different trend and quality in man's relation to the world. And if we go still farther back, we find this union of man with the surrounding world even more enhanced. In those very early times, civilizations were only able to develop where special geographical conditions made it possible. I mean the time described in my “Occult Science” as the Ancient Indian civilization — much earlier than the culture of the Vedas, which was but a later echo of it. The Ancient Indian epoch comes very near to the time when glacial conditions prevailed in our regions of the Earth. A culture like the Ancient Indian could only develop when such climatic conditions, more or less, as we enjoy in the Temperate Zone today, extended to what is now the Equator. You can deduce it simply from the relative advance or retreat of the ice; tropical conditions did not come about in India until a much later time, when in more northerly regions the ice had receded.
We see therefore how the inner evolution of mankind undergoes modifications hand in hand with changing terrestrial conditions — changing conditions, that is to say, on the Earth's surface. Only those who take a very short-term view of mankind's evolution upon Earth will imagine that the scientific ideas we entertain today have any absolute validity — that we have now at last got through to the scientific truth, so to speak. These regions of the Earth which are today enjoying certain forms of cultural and spiritual life will at some future time inevitably be laid waste again; they will be desolate once more. From the past length of time you may reckon out how long ahead it will be till a new glacial age overtakes our present civilization. Moreover assuming that we can find some connection between the celestial phenomena and these facts of earthly evolution — the successive Ice-ages and the mid-point between them — this will lead on to a further insight. That which takes place on Earth in the most highly sublimated realms of cultural life — in the life of thought and knowledge — will be related now not only to these changing conditions on the Earth itself, but to conditions in the outer Cosmos. Purely empirical reflection shows that man is what he is by virtue of conditions on the planet Earth and in the Universe beyond.
Once more then, taking the facts empirically as is usual in Science, only with a somewhat wider range, our vision is extended until we recognize such a relationship as we have just been describing. Now in a sense, even in the present time we can perceive how the quality and trend of human spiritual life is brought about by the relation between the Earth and the celestial bodies. In an earlier lecture it was pointed out how different the spiritual configuration of mankind tends to be in Equatorial and in Polar regions. Investigating this more closely, the different relation of the Earth to the Sun proves to be the determining factor. It makes man in the Polar regions less free of his bodily nature. Man in the Polar regions is less able to lift himself out of the bodily organism, — to pain-free use and manipulation of his life of soul. (As to the different mutual relations of Earth and Sun, there will be more in it than that, as we shall find in due course; but to begin with we can take our start from the conventional notions.)
We need only picture to ourselves how differently the men of Polar regions are taken hold of by something which in ourselves keeps more in the background. We of the Temperate Zone have the quick alternation of day and night. Think how long this alternation becomes as you approach the Polar Zone. It is as though the day were to lengthen out into a year. I told you of what works in the little child, deep in the bodily nature from year to year, from birth to the change of teeth, and of how the independent working of the life of soul, given up as it is to the quicker rhythm of the day, gradually frees and detaches itself from this more bodily working. This is not possible to the same extent in Polar regions. It is the yearly rhythm which will there tend to make itself felt. The emphasis is more on the bodily side. The human being will not wrest himself free to the same extent from what works within the body.
Think now of the scanty relics that have been preserved from the civilization of very early times, — that have survived the Ice Age. Then you will see that there were times in which a kind of ‘Polarization’ (giving the word its proper meaning in this context) extended right across the present Temperate zone, so that conditions were prevailing here not unlike those in the present Polar regions. You can use this comparison for what was working in the Ice Age; you can truly say: What is now pressed back towards the North Pole extended then over a considerable part of the Earth. (Please keep this free of present-day explanations and ideas, for otherwise the pure phenomenon will be obscured. Take only the pure phenomenon as such.)
Conditions on the Earth today are such that we have the three types; the human beings of the Tropical, the Temperate and the Polar zones respectively. Of course they influence each other, so that in outer reality the phenomenon does not appear quite so purely. Nevertheless, what you here have in a spatial form — you find it again in time as you go backward. Going back in time, we come to a ‘North Pole’, as it were, in time — in the history of civilization. Going forward, we come to a Pole again. Remembering that the Polar influence on man is connected with the mutual relations between Earth and Sun, we must conceive that the change which has taken place since the Ice Age — the de-polarization, so to speak — is connected with a changed relation between Earth and Sun. Something must have happened as regards the mutual relation between Earth and Sun. What was it then? The facts themselves suggest the question. What is the source of this in the celestial spaces?
Consider it more nearly. Of course these things will be different in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, but the facts remain. We shall at most have to extend our picture, adapting it to the real facts. We can only take our start from the empirically given data. What is revealed then, if we approach the phenomena without preconceived ideas? The Earth and the events on Earth appear as an expression of cosmic happenings — cosmic happenings which manifest themselves in certain rhythms. Something that showed itself about the tenth millennium before the origin of Christianity will show itself again about the eleventh millennium after. What is in between will also in a sense be repeated. What we here have between the two Ice Ages will undoubtedly have been there before — in former cycles. It is a rhythm; our attention is drawn to a rhythmic process.
And now look out into the celestial phenomena. To emphasize one fact especially, which I have often pointed to in my lectures, you have the following. (I will only characterize it roughly.) You know that the vernal point — where the Sun rises in spring-time — gradually moves through the Ecliptic. Today the vernal point is in the constellation of Pisces; before, it was in Aries; still earlier in Taurus, — that was the time of the cult of the Bull among the Egyptians and Chaldeans. Still earlier, it was in the constellation of Gemini, and then in Cancer; then in Leo. This already brings us very nearly to the last Ice Age. Thinking it through to a conclusion, we know that the vernal point goes all the way round the Ecliptic, and that the time it takes is called the Platonic Year — the great Cosmic Year, lasting approximately 25,920 years.
A whole number of processes are comprised in these 25,920 years, involving among other things this rhythmic alternation on the Earth; Ice Age, intermediate period, Ice Age, intermediate period, and so on. At the time we spoke of, when there was that deep stirring of the spiritual life in mankind, the vernal point was entering the sign of Pisces. In the Graeco-Latin Age it had been in the sign of Aries, previous to that in Taurus, and so on. We get back to Leo or Virgo, more or less, during the time when glacial conditions prevailed over the greater part of Europe and in America too. Looking into the future, there will be another Ice Age in these regions when the vernal point reaches the sign of Scorpio. This rhythm is contained within what takes its course in 25,920 years. Although admittedly of vast extent, it is a true rhythm none the less.
Now as I have often mentioned, this rhythm is reminiscent — purely numerically — of another rhythm. If it is simply a question of rhythms, and the rhythms are expressible in numbers; if the numbers are the same the rhythms too are the same. You know that the number of breaths man takes — in-breathing and out-breathing — is approximately 18 to the minute. Reckon out the number of breaths in a 24-hour day and you get the same number as before — 25,920. Man therefore shows in his daily life the same periodicity, the same rhythm, as is revealed by the movement of the vernal point in the great Cosmic Year. Now, it is in the day that man shows this rhythm. A day therefore, with respect to breathing, corresponds to the Platonic Year. The vernal point — connected as it is with the Sun — goes round apparently in 25,920 years. But there is also the apparent movement of the Sun through the 24-hour day, while man is taking 25,920 breaths. It is the same picture here as in the great Universe. If then there were a Being who breathed in and out once a year (a simple-minded hypothesis no doubt, but we will use it for comparison), — such a Being, if living long enough, would undergo in 25,920 years the same process as man does in a day. Man reproduces, as it were in miniature, what is manifested in the great cosmic process.
These things make little impression on the people of today, for they are not accustomed to look at the qualitative aspect of the world. Quantitatively, the mere rhythm appears less important. Therefore the scientists are out to find other relations between numbers than these that find expression in pure rhythms. They pay less heed to the latter: But in the epochs when man experienced more nearly the relation between himself and the Universe — when he felt himself more immersed in the phenomena of the Cosmos — these things made a deep impression on him. As we go back in the history of mankind — beyond the second or third millennium BC — we find great attention paid to the Platonic Year. I mentioned yesterday — not to explain it, but by way of illustration — the ancient Indian Yoga system. Man entered deeply into a living inner experience of the breathing process, trying to make it conscious. In doing so there dawned upon him this relation between the rhythm that goes on in man — breathed, as it were, into man in a concentrated and contracted form — and the phenomena of the great Universe. Therefore he spoke of his own in- and out-breathing and of the mighty in- and out-breathing of Brahma, a single breath spanning an entire year, for which 25, 920 years are a day — a day of the Great Spirit.
I do not wish to make an unkind remark, my dear friends, but we do here begin to get some notion of the great distance which men at one time felt between themselves and the Spirit of the Macrocosm whom they revered. Man felt himself about as far beneath the Spirit of the Macrocosm as a day is beneath 25,920 years. It was indeed a great Spirit — a very great Spirit — whom man conceived in this way and whose relation to himself he experienced with due modesty. It would not be uninteresting to compare how great is the distance often felt by modern man between himself and his God. Does he not often conceive the Deity as little more than a slightly idealized human being?
This may not seem very relevant to our subject, but in fact it is. If we want to develop real means of knowledge in this sphere, we must find our way from what is merely calculable into quite other realms. Indeed our study of Kepler's Laws and all that followed from them showed how our very calculations, leading as they do to incommensurable numbers, impel us of their own accord into a realm beyond mere calculation.