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- Man or Matter - 5/74 -
light of consciousness. This also explains why there has been no science, in the true sense of the word, prior to the beginning of the era commonly called 'modern' - that is, before the fifteenth century. For the consciousness on which man's scientific striving is based is itself an outcome of human evolution.
This evolution, therefore, needs to be considered in such a way that we understand the origin of modern man's state of mind, and in particular why this state of mind cannot of itself have any other relationship to the world than that of a spectator. For let us be clear that this peculiar relationship by no means belongs only to the scientifically engaged mind. Every adult in our age is, by virtue of his psycho-physical structure, more or less a world-spectator. What distinguishes the state of man's mind when engaged in scientific observation is that it is restricted to a one-eyed colour-blind approach.
'Death is the price man has to pay for his brain and his personality' - this is how a modern physiologist (A. Carrel in his aforementioned book, Man the Unknown) describes the connexion between man's bodily functions and his waking consciousness. It is characteristic of the outlook prevailing in the nineteenth century that thinking was regarded as the result of the life of the body; that is, of the body's matter-building processes. Hence no attention was paid at that time to the lonely voice of the German philosopher, C. Fortlage (1806-81), who in his System of Psychology as Empirical Science suggested that consciousness is really based on death processes in the body. From this fact he boldly drew the conclusion (known to us today to be true) that if 'partial death' gave rise to ordinary consciousness, then 'total death' must result in an extraordinary enhancement of consciousness. Again, when in our century Rudolf Steiner drew attention to the same fact, which he had found along his own lines of investigation, showing thereby the true role of the nervous system in regard to the various activities of the soul, official science turned a deaf ear to his pronouncement.6 To-day the scientist regards it as forming part of 'unknown man' that life must recede - in other words, that the organ-building processes of the body must come to a standstill - if consciousness is to come into its own.
With the recognition of a death process in the nervous system as the bodily foundation of consciousness, and particularly of man's conceptual activities, the question arises as to the nature of those activities which have their foundation in other systems, such as that of the muscles, where life, not death, prevails. Here an answer must be given which will surprise the reader acquainted with modern theories of psycho-physical interaction; but if he meets it with an open mind he will not find it difficult to test.
Just as the conceptual activity has as its bodily foundation the brain, with the nervous appendages, so it is volitional activity which is based on processes taking place in the muscular region of the body and in those organs which provide the body's metabolism.
A statement which says that man's will is as directly based on the metabolic processes of the body, both inside and outside the muscles, as is his perceiving and thought-forming mind on a process in the nerves, is bound to cause surprise. Firstly, it seems to leave out the role commonly ascribed to the so-called motoric part of the nervous system in bringing about bodily action; and secondly, the acknowledgment of the dependence of consciousness on corporeal 'dying' implies that willing is an unconscious activity because of its being based on life processes of the body.
The first of these two problems will find its answer at a later stage of our discussion when we shall see what entitles us to draw a direct connexion between volition and muscular action. To answer the second problem, simple self-observation is required. This tells us that, when we move a limb, all that we know of is the intention (in its conceptual form) which rouses the will and gives it its direction, and the fact of the completed deed. In between, we accompany the movement with a dim awareness of the momentary positions of the parts of the body involved, so that we know whether or not they are moving in the intended manner. This awareness is due to a particular sense, the 'sense of movement' or 'muscular sense' - one of those senses whose existence physiology has lately come to acknowledge. Nothing, however, is known to us of all the complex changes which are set into play within the muscles themselves in order to carry out some intended movement. And it is these that are the direct outcome of the activity of our will.
Regarding man's psycho-physical organization thus, we come to see in it a kind of polarity - a death-pole, as it were, represented by the nerves including their extension into the senses, and a life-pole, represented by the metabolic and muscular systems; and connected with them a pole of consciousness and one of unconsciousness - or as we can also say, of waking and sleeping consciousness. For the degree of consciousness on the side of the life-pole is not different from the state in which the entire human being dwells during sleep.
It is by thus recognizing the dependence of consciousness on processes of bodily disintegration that we first come to understand why consciousness, once it has reached a certain degree of brightness, is bound to suffer repeated interruptions. Every night, when we sleep, our nervous system becomes alive (though with gradually decreasing intensity) in order that what has been destroyed during the day may be restored. While the system is kept in this condition, no consciousness can obtain in it.
In between the two polarically opposite systems there is a third, again of clearly distinct character, which functions as a mediator between the two. Here all processes are of a strictly rhythmic nature, as is shown by the process of breathing and the pulsation of the blood. This system, too, provides the foundation for a certain type of psychological process, namely feeling. That feeling is an activity of the soul distinct from both thinking and willing, and that it has its direct counterpart in the rhythmic processes of the body, can be most easily tested through observing oneself when listening to music.
As one might expect from its median position, the feeling sphere of the soul is characterized by a degree of consciousness half-way between waking and sleeping. Of our feelings we are not more conscious than of our dreams; we are as little detached from them as from our dream experiences while these last; what remains in our memory of past feelings is usually not more than what we remember of past dreams.
This picture of the threefold psycho-physical structure of man will now enable us to understand the evolution of consciousness both in individual life and in the life of mankind. To furnish the foundation of waking consciousness, parts of the body must become divorced from life. This process, however, is one which, if we take the word in its widest sense, we may call, ageing. All organic bodies, and equally that of man, are originally traversed throughout by life. Only gradually certain parts of such an organism become precipitated, as it were, from the general organic structure, and they do so increasingly towards the end of that organism's life-span.
In the human body this separation sets in gently during the later stages of embryonic development and brings about the first degree of independence of bones and nerves from the rest of the organism. The retreat of life continues after birth, reaching a certain climax in the nervous system at about the twenty-first year. In the body of a small child there is still comparatively little contrast between living and non-living organs. There is equally little contrast between sleeping and waking condition in its soul. And the nature of the soul at this stage is volition throughout. Never, in fact, does man's soul so intensively will as in the time when it is occupied in bringing the body into an upright position, and never again does it exert its strength with the same unconsciousness of the goal to which it strives.
What, then, is the soul's characteristic relationship to the world around at this stage? The following observations will enable us to answer this question.
It is well known that small children often angrily strike an object against which they have stumbled. This has been interpreted as 'animism', by which it is meant that the child, by analogy with his experience of himself as a soul-filled body, imagines the things in his surroundings to be similarly ensouled. Anyone who really observes the child's mode of experience (of which we as adults, indeed, keep something in our will-life) is led to a quite different interpretation of such a phenomenon. For he realizes that the child neither experiences himself as soul-entity distinct from his body, nor faces the content of the world in so detached a manner as to be in need of using his imagination to read into it any soul-entities distinct from his own.
In this early period of his life the human being still feels the world as part of himself, and himself as part of the world. Consequently, his relation to the objects around him and to his own body is one and the same. To the example of the child beating the external object he has stumbled against, there belongs the complementary picture of the child who beats himself because he has done something which makes him angry with himself.
In sharp contrast to this state of oneness of the child's soul, in regard both to its own body and to the surrounding world, there stands the separatedness of the adult's intellectual consciousness, severed from both body and world. What happens to this part of the soul during its transition from one condition to the other may be aptly described by using a comparison from another sphere of natural phenomena. (Later descriptions in this book will show that a comparison such as the one used here is more than a mere external analogy.)
Let us think of water in which salt has been dissolved. In this state the salt is one with its solvent; there is no visible distinction between them. The situation changes when part of the salt crystallizes. By this process the part of the salt substance concerned loses its connexion with the liquid and contracts into individually outlined and spatially defined pieces of solid matter. It thereby becomes optically distinguishable from its environment.
Something similar happens to the soul within the region of the nervous system. What keeps the soul in a state of unconsciousness as long as the body, in childhood, is traversed by life throughout, and what continues to keep it in this condition in the parts which remain alive after the separation of the nerves, is the fact that in these parts - to maintain the analogy - the soul is dissolved in the body. With the growing independence of the nerves, the soul itself gains independence from the body. At the same time it undergoes a process similar to contraction whereby it becomes discernible to itself as an entity distinguished from the surrounding world. In this way the soul is enabled, eventually, to meet the world from outside as a self-conscious onlooker.
What we have here described as the emergence of an individual's intellectual consciousness from the original, purely volitional condition of the soul is nothing but a replica of a greater process
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