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Title: Man or Matter
 - Introduction to a Spiritual Understanding of Nature on the Basis of Goethe's Method of Training Observation and Thought
Author: Lehrs, Ernst
Language: English
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Introduction to a Spiritual Understanding of Nature
on the Basis of Goethe's Method of Training Observation and Thought



Part I



The author's search for a way of extending the boundaries of scientific
understanding. A meeting with Rudolf Steiner, and with the work arising
from his teachings.


The self-restriction of scientific inquiry to one-eyed colourblind
observation. Its effect: The lack of a true conception of 'force'.


Thought - the sole reality and yet a pure non-entity for the modern
spectator. Descartes and Hume. Robert Hooke's 'proof' of the
non-reality of conceptual thinking. The modern principle of
Indeterminacy - a sign that science is still dominated by the Humean
way of thinking.


Electricity, man's competitor in modern civilization. The onlooker in
search of the soul of nature. Galvani and Crookes. Paradoxes in the
discovery of electricity. 'Something unknown is doing we don't know



Kant and Goethe. Goethe's study of the plant - a path toward seeing
with the eye-of-the-spirit. Nature a script that asks to be read.


Spiritual kinsmen of Goethe in the British sphere of human culture.
Thomas Reid's philosophic discovery, its significance for the
overcoming of the onlooker-standpoint in science. The picture of man
inherent in Reid's philosophy. Man's original gift of remembering his
pre-earthly life. The disappearance of this memory in the past, and its
re-appearance in modern times. Pelagius versus Augustine. Wordsworth
and Traherne. Traherne, a 'Reidean before Reid was born'.


Ruskin and Howard - two readers in the book of nature. Goethe's
meteorological ideas. His conception of the urphenomenon. Goethe and


The onlooker science - by necessity a 'pointer-reading' science. The
onlooker's misjudgment of the cognitive value of the impressions
conveyed by the senses. The Parallelogram of Forces - its fallacious
kinematic and its true dynamic interpretation. The roots in man of his
concepts 'mass' and 'force'. The formula F=ma. The origin of man's
faculty of mathematical thinking.



Limitations of the validity of the concept 'inertia'. Restatement of
Newton's first law. Introduction of the term 'magical' as opposed to
mechanical. The phenomenon of the rising arm. Introduction of the term
'alertness' as opposed to 'inertness' (inertia).
Van Helmont's discovery of the gaseous state of matter. The four
Elements. The old concept of 'Chaos'. Young and old matter. The natural
facts behind the ancient fire rites. The event on Mount Sinai.


The Contra Levitatem maxim of the Florentine Academicians. Ruskin's
warning against science as an interpreter of its own observations. How
man's inner nature and the outer universe interpret one another. The
Solfatara phenomenon. The super-physical character of Levity.


The need of raising scientific inquiry to nature's upper border. The
laws of Conservation, their origin and their validity. Joule and Mayer.
Extension of the field-concept from the central to the peripheral
field-type. Natural phenomena brought about by the suctional effect of
the earth's levity-field. The different conditions of matter seen in
the light of the levity-gravity polarity. Heat, the fourth state of
matter. Procreation of physical substance - a natural fact. The case of
Tillandsia. The problem of the trace-elements. Homeopathy, an example
of the effect of dematerialized matter. The meteorological circuit of
water. The nature of lightning.


The origin of the scientific conception of the chemical element. Study
of some prototypes of physical substances in the light of the
levity-gravity polarity. The functional concept of matter. The complete
order of polarities - cold-warm, dry-moist - in the doctrine of the
four elements. The position of sulphur and phosphorus in this respect.
Vulcanism and snow-formation as manifestations of functional sulphur
and phosphorus respectively. The process of crystallization. Carbon as
a mediator between sulphur and phosphorus. The alchemical triad.


Geometrical considerations required by the recognition of levity. The
value in this respect of projective geometrical thinking. Geometrical
polarities of the first and second order.


Electricity and magnetism as manifestations of interacting levity and
gravity. Electricity - a product of disintegrating matter. Modern
physics, no longer a 'natural' science. Eddington's question,'
Manufacture or Discovery?' Man's enhanced responsibility in the age of
physical science.


Goethe's Farbenlehre - the foundation of an optical science based on
the colour-seeing faculty of the eye. The modern physicist's view of
the Newtonian interpretation of the spectrum. A short history of
Goethe's search for a satisfactory conception of Light and Colour. His
discovery of Newton's cardinal error. First results of his own studies.
The 'negative' spectrum.


Goethe's way of studying the totality of the act of seeing. The 'inner


Extension of Goethe's inquiry to a pursuit of the act of seeing beyond
the boundaries of the body.


Purging optics from its onlooker-concepts. The role of foregone
conclusions in the physical conception of light. The true aspect of the
so-called velocity of light.


Evaluation of the foregoing studies for a new understanding of the
prismatic phenomenon. The secret of the rainbow. Intimation of new
possibilities of experimental research guided by the new conception of
the spectrum.




From Goethe's seeing with the eye-of-the-spirit to Spiritual
Imagination. Levity (Ether) as revealed to Spiritual Imagination.


The four modifications of ether. Their relation to the four elements.



The sentient (astral) forces of the cosmos as governors of the various
interactions between levity and gravity. The astral aspect of the
planetary system. Its reflexion in earthly substances. Beginnings of an
astral conception of the human organism in modern physiology.


A Goetheanistic study of acoustic phenomena and of the sense of
hearing. From hearing with the ear-of-the-spirit to Spiritual


Goethe's view of Kepler. Kepler's third law - a revelation of the
musical order of the universe.





A The relation of the electrical polarity to Levity and Gravity

B The Spectrum phenomenon as conceived by Goethe

C Light under the action of a transverse field-gradient


I. Robert Hooke's 'proof' of the non-reality of human concepts

II. Leaf-metamorphosis

III. Leaf-metamorphosis

IV. Goethe's sketch of a cloud-formation

V. A Snow-Crystal

VI. A cluster of Calcite crystals

VII. Various species of bacteria

VIII. Various species of fresh-water algae

Author's Note

The author makes grateful acknowledgment of the help he has gained from
other works in the wide field opened up by Rudolf Steiner, and of his
debt to the friends who in various ways assisted him in preparing his

Quotations have been made from the following books by kind permission
of their respective publishers:

The Life of Sir William Crookes by E. E. Fournier d'Albe (Messrs.
Ernest Benn Ltd.);
Man the Unknown by A. Carrel (Messrs. Hamish Hamilton Ltd.);
The Philosophy of Physical Science and The Nature of The Physical
Worldly A.. Eddington (University Press, Cambridge);
Science and the Human Temperament by E. Schrödinger (Messrs. George Allen
and Unwin Ltd.);
Centuries of Meditations and Poetical Works by Th. Traherne (Messrs. P.
J. and A. E. Dobell).


In this book the reader will find expounded a method of investigating
nature by means of which scientific understanding can be carried across
the boundaries of the physical-material to the supersensible sources of
all natural events, and thereby into the realm where is rooted the true
being of man.

The beginnings of this method were worked out by Goethe more than 150
years ago. The nineteenth century, however, failed to provide any
fertile ground for the development of the seeds thus sown. It was left
to Rudolf Steiner, shortly before the end of the century, to recognize
the significance of 'Goetheanism' for the future development not only
of science but of human culture in general. It is to him, also, that we
owe the possibility of carrying on Goethe's efforts in the way required
by the needs of our own time.

The following pages contain results of the author's work along the path
thus opened up by Goethe and Rudolf Steiner - a work begun twenty-seven
years ago, soon after he had made the acquaintance of Rudolf Steiner.
With the publication of these results he addresses himself to everyone
- with or without a specialized scientific training - who is concerned
with the fate of man's powers of cognition in the present age.


The reader may welcome a remark as to the way in which this book needs
to be read.

It has not been the author's intention to provide an encyclopaedic
collection of new conceptions in various fields of natural observation.
Rather did he wish, as the sub-title of the book indicates, to offer a
new method of training both mind and eye (and other senses as well), by
means of which our modern 'onlooking' consciousness can be transformed
into a new kind of 'participating' consciousness. Hence it would be of
no avail to pick out one chapter or another for first reading, perhaps
because of some special interest in its subject-matter. The chapters
are stages on a road which has to be travelled, and each stage is
necessary for reaching the next. It is only through thus accepting the
method with which the book has been written that the reader will be
able to form a competent judgment of its essential elements.

E. L.

Hawkwood College Easter 1950


Science at the Threshold



If I introduce this book by relating how I came to encounter Rudolf
Steiner and his work, more than twenty-five years ago, and what decided
me not only to make his way of knowledge my own, but also to enter
professionally into an activity inspired by his teachings, it is
because in this way I can most directly give the reader an impression
of the kind of spirit out of which I have written. I am sure, too, that
although what I have to say in this chapter is personal in content, it
is characteristic of many in our time.

When I first made acquaintance with Rudolf Steiner and his work, I was
finishing my academic training as an electrical engineer. At the end of
the 1914-18 war my first thought had been to take up my studies from
where I had let them drop, four years earlier. The war seemed to imply
nothing more than a passing interruption of them. This, at any rate,
was the opinion of my former teachers; the war had made no difference
whatever to their ideas, whether on the subject-matter of their
teaching or on its educational purpose. I myself, however, soon began
to feel differently. It became obvious to me that my relationship to my
subject, and therefore to those teaching it, had completely changed.
What I had experienced through the war had awakened in me a question of
which I had previously been unaware; now I felt obliged to put it to
everything I came across.

As a child of my age I had grown up in the conviction that it was
within the scope of man to shape his life according to the laws of
reason within him; his progress, in the sense in which I then
understood it, seemed assured by his increasing ability to determine
his own outer conditions with the help of science. Indeed, it was the
wish to take an active part in this progress that had led me to choose
my profession. Now, however, the war stood there as a gigantic social
deed which I could in no way regard as reasonably justified. How, in an
age when the logic of science was supreme, was it possible that a great
part of mankind, including just those peoples to whom science had owed
its origin and never-ceasing expansion, could act in so completely
unscientific a way? Where lay the causes of the contradiction thus
revealed between human thinking and human doing?

Pursued by these questions, I decided after a while to give my studies
a new turn. The kind of training then provided in Germany at the
so-called Technische Hochschulen was designed essentially to give
students a close practical acquaintance with all sorts of technical
appliances; it included only as much theory as was wanted for
understanding the mathematical calculations arising in technical
practice. It now seemed to me necessary to pay more attention to
theoretical considerations, so as to gain a more exact knowledge of the
sources from which science drew its conception of nature. Accordingly I
left the Hochschule for a course in mathematics and physics at a
university, though without abandoning my original idea of preparing for
a career in the field of electrical engineering. It was with this in
mind that I later chose for my Ph.D. thesis a piece of experimental
research on the uses of high-frequency electric currents.

During my subsequent years of stuffy, however, I found myself no nearer
an answer to the problem that haunted me. All that I experienced, in
scientific work as in life generally, merely gave it an even sharper
edge. Everywhere I saw an abyss widening between human knowing and
human action. How often was I not bitterly disillusioned by the
behaviour of men for whose ability to think through the most
complicated scientific questions I had the utmost admiration!

On all sides I found this same bewildering gulf between scientific
achievement and the way men conducted their own lives and influenced
the lives of others. I was forced to the conclusion that human
thinking, at any rate in its modern form, was either powerless to
govern human actions, or at least unable to direct them towards right
ends. In fact, where scientific thinking had done most to change the
practical relations of human life, as in the mechanization of economic
production, conditions had arisen which made it more difficult, not
less, for men to live in a way worthy of man. At a time when humanity
was equipped as never before to investigate the order of the universe,
and had achieved triumphs of design in mechanical constructions, human
life was falling into ever wilder chaos. Why was this?

The fact that most of my contemporaries were apparently quite unaware
of the problem that stirred me so deeply could not weaken my sense of
its reality. This slumber of so many souls in face of the vital
questions of modern life seemed to me merely a further symptom of the
sickness of our age. Nor could I think much better of those who, more
sensitive to the contradictions in and around them, sought refuge in
art or religion. The catastrophe of the war had shown me that this
departmentalizing of life, which at one time I had myself considered a
sort of ideal, was quite inconsistent with the needs of to-day. To make
use of art or religion as a refuge was a sign of their increasing
separation from the rest of human culture. It implied a cleavage
between the different spheres of society which ruled out any genuine
solution of social problems.

I knew from history that religion and art had once exercised a function
which is to-day reserved for science, for they had given guidance in
even the most practical activities of human society. And in so doing
they had enhanced the quality of human living, whereas the influence of
science has had just the opposite effect. This power of guidance,
however, they had long since lost, and in view of this fact I came to
the conclusion that salvation must be looked for in the first place
from science. Here, in the thinking and knowing of man, was the root of
modern troubles; here must come a drastic revision, and here, if
possible, a completely new direction must be found.

Such views certainly flew in the face of the universal modern
conviction that the present mode of knowledge, with whose help so much
insight into the natural world has been won, is the only one possible,
given once for all to man in a form never to be changed. But is there
any need, I asked myself, to cling to this purely static notion of
man's capacity for gaining knowledge? Among the greatest achievements
of modern science, does not the conception of evolution take a foremost
place? And does not this teach us that the condition of a living
organism at any time is the result of the one preceding it, and that
the transition implies a corresponding functional enhancement? But if
we have once recognized this as an established truth, why should we
apply it to organisms at every stage of development except the
.highest, namely the human, where the organic form reveals and serves
the self-conscious spirit?

Putting the question thus, I was led inevitably to a conclusion which
science itself had failed to draw from its idea of evolution. Whatever
the driving factor in evolution may be, it is clear that in the
kingdoms of nature leading up to man this factor has always worked on
the evolving organisms from outside. The moment we come to man himself,
however, and see how evolution has flowered in his power of conscious
thought, we have to reckon with a fundamental change.

Once a being has recognized itself as a product of evolution, it
immediately ceases to be that and nothing more. With its very first act
of self-knowledge it transcends its previous limits, and must in future
rely on its own conscious actions for the carrying on of its

For me, accordingly, the concept of evolution, when thought through to
the end, began to suggest the possibility of further growth in man's
spiritual capacities. But I saw also that this growth could no longer
be merely passive, and the question which now beset me was: by what
action of his own can man break his way into this new phase of
evolution? I saw that this action must not consist merely in giving
outer effect to the natural powers of human thinking; that was
happening everywhere in the disordered world around me. The necessary
action must have inner effects; indeed, it had to be one whereby the
will was turned upon the thinking-powers themselves, entirely
transforming them, and so removing the discrepancy between the thinker
and the doer in modern man.

Thus far I could go through my own observation and reflexion, but no
further. To form a general idea of the deed on which everything else
depended was one thing; it was quite another to know how to perform the
deed, and above all where to make a start with it. Anyone intending to
make a machine must first learn something of mechanics; in the same
way, anyone setting out to do something constructive in the sphere of
human consciousness - and this, for me, was the essential point - must
begin by learning something of the laws holding sway in that sphere.
But who could give me this knowledge?

Physiology, psychology and philosophy in their ordinary forms were of
no use to me, for they were themselves part and parcel of just that
kind of knowing which had to be overcome. In their various accounts of
man there was no vantage point from which the deed I had in mind could
be accomplished, for none of them looked beyond the ordinary powers of
knowledge. It was the same with the accepted theory of evolution; as a
product of the current mode of thinking it could be applied to
everything except the one essential - this very mode of thinking.
Obviously, the laws of the development of human consciousness cannot be
discovered from a standpoint within the modern form of that
consciousness. But how could one find a viewpoint outside, as it were,
this consciousness, from which to discover its laws with the same
scientific objectivity which it had itself applied to discovering the
laws of physical nature?

It was when this question stood before me in all clarity that destiny
led me to Rudolf Steiner and his work. The occasion was a conference
held in 1921 in Stuttgart by the Anthroposophical Movement; it was one
of several arranged during the years 1920-2 especially for teachers and
students at the Hochschulen and Universities. What chiefly moved me to
attend this particular conference was the title of a lecture to be
given by one of the pupils and co-workers of Rudolf Steiner - 'The
Overcoming of Einstein's Theory of Relativity'.1

The reader will readily appreciate what this title meant for me. In the
circles where my work lay, an intense controversy was just then raging
round Einstein's ideas. I usually took sides with the supporters of
Einstein, for it seemed to me that Einstein had carried the existing
mode of scientific thinking to its logical conclusions, whereas I
missed this consistency among his opponents. At the same time I found
that the effect of this theory, when its implications were fully
developed, was to make everything seem so 'relative' that no reliable
world-outlook was left. This was proof for me that our age was in need
of an altogether different form of scientific thinking, equally
consistent in itself, but more in tune with man's own being.

What appealed to me in the lecture-title was simply this, that whereas
everyone else sought to prove Einstein right or wrong, here was someone
who apparently intended, not merely to add another proof for or against
his theory-there were plenty of those already - but to take some steps
to overcome it. From the point of view of orthodox science, of course,
it was absurd to speak of 'overcoming' a theory, as though it were an
accomplished fact, but to me this title suggested exactly what I was
looking for.

Although it was the title of this lecture that drew me to the Stuttgart
Conference (circumstances prevented me from hearing just this lecture),
it was the course given there by Rudolf Steiner himself which was to
prove the decisive experience of my life. It comprised eight lectures,
under the title: 'Mathematics, Scientific Experiment and Observation,
and Epistemological Results from the Standpoint of Anthroposophy'; what
they gave me answered my question beyond all expectation.

In the course of a comprehensive historical survey the lecturer
characterized, in a way I found utterly convincing, the present
mathematical interpretation of nature as a transitional stage of human
consciousness - a kind of knowing which is on the way from a past
pre-mathematical to a future post-mathematical form of cognition. The
importance of mathematics, whether as a discipline of the human spirit
or as an instrument of natural science, was not for a moment
undervalued. On the contrary, what Rudolf Steiner said about Projective
(Synthetic) Geometry, for instance, its future possibilities and its
role as a means of understanding higher processes of nature than had
hitherto been accessible to science, clearly explained the positive
feelings I myself had experienced - without knowing why - when I had
studied the subject.

Through his lectures and his part in the discussions - they were held
daily by the various speakers and ranged over almost every field of
modern knowledge - I gradually realized that Rudolf Steiner was in
possession of unique powers. Not only did he show himself fully at home
in all these fields; he was able to connect them with each other, and
with the nature and being of man, in such a way that an apparent chaos
of unrelated details was wrought into a higher synthesis. Moreover, it
became clear to me that one who could speak as he did about the stages
of human consciousness past, present and future, must have full access
to all of them at will, and be able to make each of them an object of
exact observation. I saw a thinker who was himself sufficient proof
that man can find within the resources of his own spirit the
vantage-ground for the deed which I had dimly surmised, and by which
alone true civilization could be saved. Through all these things I knew
that I had found the teacher I had been seeking.

Thus I was fully confirmed in my hopes of the Conference; but I was
also often astonished at what I heard. Not least among my surprises was
Rudolf Steiner's presentation of Goethe as the herald of the new form
of scientific knowledge which he himself was expounding. I was here
introduced to a side of Goethe which was as completely unknown to me as
to so many others among my contemporaries, who had not yet come into
touch with Anthroposophy. For me, as for them, Goethe had always been
the great thinker revealing his thoughts through poetry. Indeed, only
shortly before my meeting with Rudolf Steiner it was in his poetry that
Goethe had become newly alive to me as a helper in my search for a
fuller human experience of nature and my fellow-men. But despite all my
Goethe studies I had been quite unaware that more than a century
earlier he had achieved something in the field of science, organic and
inorganic alike, which could help modern man towards the new kind of
knowledge so badly needed to-day. This was inevitable for me, since I
shared the modern conviction that art and science were fields of
activity essentially strange to one another. And so it was again Rudolf
Steiner who opened the way for me to Goethe as botanist, physicist and
the like.

I must mention another aspect of the Stuttgart Conference which Belongs
to this picture of my first encounter with Anthroposophy, and gave it
special weight for anyone in my situation at that period. In Stuttgart
there were many different activities concerned with the practical
application of Rudolf Steiner's teachings, and so one could become
acquainted with teachings and applications at the same time. There was
the Waldorf School, founded little more than a year before, with
several hundred pupils already. It was the first school to undertake
the transformation of anthroposophical knowledge of man into
educational practice; later it was followed by others, in Germany and
elsewhere. There was one of the clinics, where qualified doctors were
applying the same knowledge to the study of illness and the action of
medicaments. In various laboratories efforts were made to develop new
methods of experimental research in physics, chemistry, biology and
other branches of science. Further, a large business concern had been
founded in Stuttgart in an attempt to embody some of Rudolf Steiner's
ideas for the reform of social life. Besides all this I could attend
performances of the new art of movement, again the creation of Rudolf
Steiner and called by him 'Eurhythmy', in which the astounded eye could
see how noble a speech can be uttered by the human body when its limbs
are moved in accordance with its inherent spiritual laws. Thus, in all
the many things that were going on besides the lectures, one could find
direct proof of the fruitfulness of what one heard in them.2

Under the impression of this Conference I soon began to study the
writings of Rudolf Steiner. Not quite two years later, I decided to
join professionally with those who were putting Anthroposophy into
outer practice. Because it appeared to me as the most urgent need of
the time to prepare the new generation for the tasks awaiting it
through an education shaped on the entire human being, I turned to
Rudolf Steiner with the request to be taken into the Stuttgart School
as teacher of natural science. On this occasion I told him of my
general scientific interests, and how I hoped to follow them up later
on. I spoke of my intended educational activity as something which
might help me at the same time to prepare myself for this other task.
Anyone who learns so to see nature that his ideas can be taken up and
understood by the living, lively soul of the growing child will thereby
be training himself, I thought, in just that kind of observation and
thinking which the new science of nature demands. Rudolf Steiner agreed
with this, and it was not long afterwards that I joined the school
where I was to work for eleven years as a science master in the senior
classes, which activity I have since continued outside Germany in a
more or less similar form.

This conversation with Rudolf Steiner took place in a large hall where,
while we were talking, over a thousand people were assembling to
discuss matters of concern to the Anthroposophical Movement. This did
not prevent him from asking me about the details of my examination
work, in which I was still engaged at that time; he always gave himself
fully to whatever claimed his attention at the moment. I told him of my
experimental researches in electrical high-frequency phenomena, briefly
introducing the particular problem with which I was occupied. I took it
for granted that a question from such a specialized branch of physics
would not be of much interest to him. Judge of my astonishment when he
at once took out of his pocket a note-book and a huge carpenter's
pencil, made a sketch and proceeded to speak of the problem as one
fully conversant with it, and in such a way that he gave me the
starting point for an entirely new conception of electricity. It was
instantly borne in on me that if electricity came to be understood in
this sense, results would follow which in the end would lead to a quite
new technique in the use of it. From that moment it became one of my
life's aims to contribute whatever my circumstances and powers would
allow to the development of an understanding of nature of this kind.

1 The speaker was the late Dr. Elizabeth Vreede, for some years leader
of the Mathematical-Astronomical Section at the Goetheanum, Dornach,

2 The activities mentioned above do not exhaust the practical
possibilities of Spiritual Science. At that time (1921) Rudolf Steiner
had not yet given his indications for the treatment of children needing
special care of soul and body, or for the renewal of the art of acting,
or for the conquest of materialistic methods in agricultural practice.
Nor did there yet exist the movement for religious renewal Which Dr.
Fr. Rittelmeyer later founded, with the help and advice of Rudolf


Where Do We Stand To-day?

In the year 1932, when the world celebrated the hundredth anniversary
of Goethe's death, Professor W. Heisenberg, one of the foremost
thinkers in the field of modern physics, delivered a speech before the
Saxon Academy of Science which may be regarded as symptomatic of the
need in recent science to investigate critically the foundations of its
own efforts to know nature.1 In this speech Heisenberg draws a picture
of the progress of science which differs significantly from the one
generally known. Instead of giving the usual description of this
progress as 'a chain of brilliant and surprising discoveries', he shows
it as resting on the fact that, with the aim of continually simplifying
and unifying the scientific conception of the world, human thinking, in
course of time, has narrowed more and more the scope of its inquiries
into outer nature.

'Almost every scientific advance is bought at the cost of renunciation,
almost every gain in knowledge sacrifices important standpoints and
established modes of thought. As facts and knowledge accumulate, the
claim of the scientist to an understanding of the world in a certain
sense diminishes.' Our justifiable admiration for the success with
which the unending multiplicity of natural occurrences on earth and in
the stars has been reduced to so simple a scheme of laws - Heisenberg
implies - must therefore not make us forget that these attainments are
bought at the price 'of renouncing the aim of bringing the phenomena of
nature to our thinking in an immediate and living way'.

In the course of his exposition, Heisenberg also speaks of Goethe, in
whose scientific endeavours he perceives a noteworthy attempt to set
scientific understanding upon a path other than that of progressive

'The renouncing of life and immediacy, which was the premise for the
progress of natural science since Newton, formed the real basis for the
bitter struggle which Goethe waged against the physical optics of
Newton. It would be superficial to dismiss this struggle as
unimportant: there is much significance in one of the most outstanding
men directing all his efforts to fighting against the development of
Newtonian optics.' There is only one thing for which Heisenberg
criticizes Goethe: 'If one should wish to reproach Goethe, it could
only be for not going far enough - that is, for having attacked the
views of Newton instead of declaring that the whole of Newtonian
Physics-Optics, Mechanics and the Law of Gravitation - were from the

Although the full significance of Heisenberg's remarks on Goethe will
become apparent only at a later stage of our discussion, they have been
quoted here because they form part of the symptom we wish to
characterize. Only this much may be pointed out immediately, that
Goethe - if not in the scientific then indeed in the poetical part of
his writings - did fulfil what Heisenberg rightly feels to have been
his true task.2

We mentioned Heisenberg's speech as a symptom of a certain tendency,
characteristic of the latest phase in science, to survey critically its
own epistemological foundations. A few years previous to Heisenberg's
speech, the need of such a survey found an eloquent advocate in the
late Professor A. N. Whitehead, in his book Science and the Modern
World, where, in view of the contradictory nature of modern physical
theories, he insists that 'if science is not to degenerate into a
medley of ad hoc hypotheses, it must become philosophical and enter
upon a thorough criticism of its own foundations'.

Among the scientists who have felt this need, and who have taken pains
to fulfil it, the late Professor A. Eddington obtains an eminent
position. Among his relevant utterances we will quote here the
following, because it contains a concrete statement concerning the
field of external observation which forms the basis for the modern
scientific world-picture. In his Philosophy of Physical Science we find
him stating that 'ideally, all our knowledge of the universe could have
been reached by visual sensation alone - in fact by the simplest form
of visual sensation, colourless and non-stereoscopic'.3 In other words,
in order to obtain scientific cognition of the physical world, man has
felt constrained to surrender the use of all his senses except the
sense of sight, and to limit even the act of seeing to the use of a
single, colour-blind eye.

Let us listen to yet another voice from the ranks of present-day
science, expressing a criticism which is symptomatic of our time. It
comes from the late physiologist, Professor A, Carrel, who, concerning
the effect which scientific research has had on man's life in general,
says in his book, Man the Unknown: 'The sciences of inert matter have
led us into a country that is not ours. ... Man is a stranger in the
world he has created.'

Of these utterances, Eddington's is at the present point of our
discussion of special interest for us; for he outlines in it the
precise field of sense-perception into which science has withdrawn in
the course of that general retreat towards an ever more restricted
questioning of nature which was noted by Heisenberg.

The pertinence of Eddington's statement is shown immediately one
considers what a person would know of the world if his only source of
experience were the sense of sight, still further limited in the way
Eddington describes. Out of everything that the world brings to the
totality of our senses, there remains nothing more than mere movements,
with certain changes of rate, direction, and so on. The picture of the
world received by such an observer is a purely kinematic one. And this
is, indeed, the character of the world-picture of modern physical
science. For in the scientific treatment of natural phenomena all the
qualities brought to us by our other senses, such as colour, tone,
warmth, density and even electricity and magnetism, are reduced to mere

As a result, modern science is prevented from conceiving any valid idea
of 'force'. In so far as the concept 'force' appears in scientific
considerations, it plays the part of an 'auxiliary concept', and what
man naively conceives as force has come to be defined as merely a
'descriptive law of behaviour'. We must leave it for later
considerations to show how the scientific mind of man has created for
itself the conviction that the part of science occupied with the
actions of force in nature can properly be treated with purely
kinematic concepts. It is the fact itself which concerns us here. In
respect of it, note as a characteristic of modern text-books that they
often simply use the term 'kinetics' (a shortening of kinematics) to
designate the science of 'dynamics'.4

In the course of our investigations we shall discover the peculiarity
in human nature which - during the first phase, now ended, of man's
struggle towards scientific awareness - has caused this renunciation of
all sense-experiences except those which come to man through the sight
of a single colour-blind eye. It will then also become clear out of
what historic necessity this self-restriction of scientific inquiry
arose. The acknowledgment of this necessity, however, must not prevent
us from recognizing the fact that, as a result of this restriction,
modern scientific research, which has penetrated far into the dynamic
substrata of nature, finds itself in the peculiar situation that it is
not at all guided by its own concepts, but by the very forces it tries
to detect. And in this fact lies the root of the danger which besets
the present age.5

He who recognizes this, therefore, feels impelled to look for a way
which leads beyond a one-eyed, colour-blind conception of the world. It
is the aim of this book to show that such a way exists and how it can
be followed. Proof will thereby be given that along this way not only
is a true understanding achieved of the forces already known to science
(though not really understood by it), but also that other forces, just
as active in nature as for example electricity and magnetism, come
within reach of scientific observation and understanding. And it will
be shown that these other forces are of a kind that requires to be
known to-day if we are to restore the lost balance to human


There is a rule known to physicians that 'a true diagnosis of a case
contains in itself the therapy'. No true diagnosis is possible,
however, without investigation of the 'history' of the case. Applied to
our task, this means that we must try to find an aspect of human
development, both individual and historical, which will enable us to
recognize in man's own being the cause responsible for the peculiar
narrowing of the scope of scientific inquiry, as described by the
scientists cited above.

A characteristic of scientific inquiry, distinguishing it from man's
earlier ways of solving the riddles of the world, is that it admits as
instruments of knowledge exclusively those activities of the human soul
over which we have full control because they take place in the full
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


'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


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
through which mankind as a whole, or more exactly Western mankind, has
gone in the course of its historical development. Man was not always
the 'brain-thinker' he is to-day.7 Directly the separation of the nerve
system was completed, and thereby the full clarity of the brain-bound
consciousness achieved, man began to concern himself with science in
the modern sense.

To understand why this science became restricted to one-eyed,
colour-blind observation we need only apply to the human sense system,
in particular, what we have learnt concerning man's threefold being.

Sharply distinguished by their respective modes of functioning though
they are, the three bodily systems are each spread out through the
whole body and are thus to be found everywhere adjacent to each other.
Hence, the corresponding three states of consciousness, the sleeping,
dreaming and waking, are also everywhere adjacent and woven into one
another. It is the predominance of one or other which imparts a
particular quality of soul to one or other region of the body. This is
clearly shown within the realm of sense activity, itself the most
conscious part of the human being. It is sufficient to compare, say,
the senses of sight and smell, and to notice in what different degree
we are conscious of the impressions they convey, and how differently
the corresponding elements of conception, feeling and willing are
blended in each. We never turn away as instinctively from objectionable
colour arrangement as from an unpleasant smell. How small a part, on
the other hand, do the representations of odours play in our
recollection of past experiences, compared with those of sight.8 The
same is valid in descending measure for all other senses.

Of all senses, the sense of sight has in greatest measure the qualities
of a 'conceptual sense'. The experiences which it brings, and these
alone, were suitable as a basis for the new science, and even so a
further limitation was necessary. For in spite of the special quality
of the sense of sight, it is still not free from certain elements of
feeling and will - that is, from elements with the character of dream
or sleep. The first plays a part in our perception of colour; the
second, in observing the forms and perspective ordering of objects we
look at.

Here is repeated in a special way the threefold organization of man,
for the seeing of colour depends on an organic process apart from the
nerve processes and similar to that which takes place between heart and
lungs, whilst the seeing of forms and spatial vision depend upon
certain movements of the eyeball (quick traversing of the outline of
the viewed object with the line of sight, alteration of the angle
between the two axes of sight according to distance), in which the eye
is active as a sort of outer limb of the body, an activity which enters
our consciousness as little as does that of our limbs. It now becomes
clear that no world-content obtained in such more or less unconscious
ways could be made available for the building of a new scientific
world-conception. Only as much as man experiences through the sight of
a single, colour-blind eye, could be used.9


If we would understand the role of science in the present phase of
human development, we must be ready to apply two entirely different and
seemingly contradictory judgments to one and the same historical
phenomenon. The fact that something has occurred out of historical
necessity - that is, a necessity springing from the very laws of cosmic
evolution - does not save it from having a character which, in view of
its consequences, must needs be called tragic.

In this era of advanced intellectualism, little understanding of the
existence of true tragedy in human existence has survived. As a result,
the word 'tragedy' itself has deteriorated in its meaning and is
nowadays used mostly as a synonym for 'sad event', 'calamity' 'serious
event', even 'crime' (Oxford Diet.). In its original meaning, however,
springing from the dramatic poetry of ancient Greece, the word combines
the concept of calamity with that of inevitability; the author of the
destructive action was not held to be personally responsible for it,
since he was caught up in a nexus of circumstances which he could not

This is not the place to discuss why tragedy in this sense forms part
of man's existence. It suffices to acknowledge that it does and, where
it occurs, to observe it with scientific objectivity.

Our considerations, starting from certain statements made by some
leading scientific thinkers of our time, have helped us not only to
confirm the truth inherent in these statements, but to recognize the
facts stated by them as being the outcome of certain laws of evolution
and thereby having an historic necessity. This, however, does not mean
that man's scientific labours, carried out under the historically given
restrictions, great and successful as these labours were and are, have
not led to calamitous effects such as we found indicated by Professor
Carrel. The sciences of matter have led man into a country that is not
his, and the world which he has created by means of scientific research
is not only one in which he is a stranger but one which threatens
to-day to deprive him of his own existence. The reason is that this
world is essentially a world of active forces, and the true nature of
these is something which modern man, restricted to his
onlooker-consciousness, is positively unable to conceive.

We have taken a first step in diagnosing man's present spiritual
condition. A few more steps are required to lead us to the point where
we can conceive the therapy he needs.

1 This address and another by the same author are published together
under the common title, Wandlungen in den Grundlagen der
Naturwissenschaft ('Changes in the foundations of Natural Science').
Heisenberg's name has become known above all by his formulation of the
so-called Principle of Indeterminacy.

2 See, in this respect, Faust's dispute with Mephistopheles on the
causes responsible for the geological changes of the earth. (Faust II,
Act 4)

3 See also Eddington's more elaborate description of this fact in his
New Pathways in Science. The above statement, like others of
Eddington's, has been Contested from the side of professional
philosophy as logically untenable. Our own further discussion will show
that it accords with the facts.

4 Both words, kinematics and kinetics, are derivatives of the Greek
word kinein, to move. The term 'kinematic' is used when motion is
considered abstractly without reference to force or mass. Kinetics is
applied kinematics, or, as pointed out above, dynamics treated with
kinematic concepts.

5 These last statements will find further illustration in the next two

6 First published in 1917 in his book Von Seelenrätseln.

7 Homer's men still think with the diaphragm (phrenes). Similarly, the
ancient practice of Yoga, as a means of acquiring knowledge, shows that
at the time When it flourished man's conceptual activity was felt to be
seated elsewhere than in the head.

8 This must not be confused with the fact that a smell may evoke other
memories by way of association.

9 For one who endeavours to observe historical facts in the manner here
described, it is no mere play of chance that the father of scientific
atomism, John Dalton, was by nature colour blind. In fact, colour
blindness was known, for a considerable time during the last century,
as 'Daltonism', since it was through the publication of Dalton's
self-observations that for the first time general attention was drawn
to this phenomenon.


The Onlooker's Philosophic Malady

In his isolation as world spectator, the modern philosopher was bound
to reach two completely opposite views regarding the objective value of
human thought. One of these was given expression in Descartes' famous
words: Cogito ergo sum ('I think, therefore I am'). Descartes
(1596-1650), rightly described as the inaugurator of modern philosophy,
thus held the view that only in his own thought-activity does man find
a guarantee of his own existence.

In coming to this view, Descartes took as his starting-point his
experience that human consciousness contains only the thought pictures
evoked by sense-perception, and yet knows nothing of the how and why of
the things responsible for such impressions. He thus found himself
compelled, in the first place, to doubt whether any of these things had
any objective existence, at all. Hence, there remained over for him
only one indubitable item in the entire content of the universe - his
own thinking; for were he to doubt even this, he could do so only by
again making use of it. From the 'I doubt, therefore I am', he was led
in this way to the 'I think, therefore I am'.

The other conception of human thought reached by the
onlooker-consciousness was diametrically opposed to that of Descartes,
and entirely cancelled its conceptual significance. It was put forward
- not long afterwards - by Robert Hooke (1635-1703), the first
scientist to make systematic use of the newly invented microscope by
means of which he made the fundamental discovery of the cellular
structure of plant tissues. It was, indeed, on the strength of his
microscopic studies that he boldly undertook to determine the
relationship of human thought to objective reality. He published his
views in the introduction to his Micrographia, the great work in which,
with the lavish help of carefully executed copper engravings, he made
his microscopic observations known to the world.

Hooke's line of thought is briefly as follows: In past ages men
subscribed to the naive belief that what they have in their
consciousness as thought pictures of the world, actually reproduces the
real content of that world. The microscope now demonstrates, however,
how much the familiar appearance of the world depends on the structure
of our sense apparatus; for it reveals a realm just as real as that
already known to us, but hitherto concealed from us because it is not
accessible to the natural senses. Accordingly, if the microscope can
penetrate through the veil of illusion which normally hides a whole
world of potentially visible phenomena, it may be that it can even
teach us something about the ideas we have hitherto formed concerning
the nature of things. Perhaps it can bring us a step nearer the truth
in the sphere of thought, as it so obviously has done in that of

Of all the ideas that human reason can form, Hooke considered the
simplest and the most fundamental to be the geometrical concepts of
point and straight line. Undoubtedly we are able to think these, but
the naïve consciousness takes for granted that it also perceives them as
objective realities outside itself, so that thoughts and facts
correspond to each other. We must now ask, however, if this belief is
not due to an optical deception. Let us turn to the microscope and see
what point and line in the external world look like through it.

For his investigation Hooke chose the point of a needle and a
knife-edge, as providing the best representatives among physical
objects of point and straight line. In the sketches here reproduced we
may see how Hooke made clear to his readers how little these two
things, when observed through the microscope, resemble what is seen by
the unaided eye. This fact convinced Hooke that the apparent agreement
between the world of perception and the world of ideas rests on nothing
more solid than an optical limitation (Plate I).

Compared with the more refined methods of present-day thought, Hooke's
procedure may strike us as somewhat primitive. Actually he did nothing
more than has since been done times without number; for the scientist
has become more and more willing to allow artificially evoked
sense-perceptions to dictate the thoughts he uses in forming a
scientific picture of the world.

In the present context we are concerned with the historical import of
Hooke's procedure. This lies in the fact that, immediately after
Descartes had satisfied himself that in thinking man had the one sure
guarantee of his own existence, Hooke proved in a seemingly indubitable
manner that thinking was entirely divorced from reality. It required
only another century for philosophy to draw from this the unavoidable
consequence. It appeared in the form of Hume's philosophic system, the
outcome of which was universal scepticism.

As we shall see in due course, Hume's mode of reasoning continues to
rule scientific thought even to-day, quite irrespective of the fact
that science itself claims to have its philosophical parent in Kant,
the very thinker who devoted his life's work to the refutation of Hume.


On the basis of his investigations into human consciousness Hume felt
obliged to reason thus: My consciousness, as I know it, has no contact
with the external world other than that of a mere outside onlooker.
What it wins for its own content from the outer world is in the nature
of single, mutually unrelated parts. Whatever may unite these parts
into an objective whole within the world itself can never enter my
consciousness; and any such unifying factor entertained by my thought
can be only a self-constructed, hypothetical picture. Hume summed up
his view in two axioms which he himself described as the alpha and
omega of his whole philosophy. The first runs: 'All our distinct
perceptions are distinct existences.' The other: 'The Mind never
perceives any real connexions between distinct existences.' (Treatise
of Human Nature.)

If once we agree that we can know of nothing but unrelated thought
pictures, because our consciousness is not in a position to relate
these pictures to a unifying reality, then we have no right to ascribe,
with Descartes and his school, an objective reality to the self. Even
though the self may appear to us as the unifying agent among our
thoughts, it must itself be a mental picture among mental pictures ;
and man can have no knowledge of any permanent reality outside this
fluctuating picture-realm. So, with Hume, the onlooker-consciousness
came to experience its own utter inability to achieve a knowledge of
the objective existence either of a material world be - behind all
external phenomena, or of a spiritual self behind all the details of
its own internal content.

Accordingly, human consciousness found itself hurled into the abyss of
universal scepticism. Hume himself suffered unspeakably under the
impact of what he considered inescapable ideas - rightly described from
another side as the 'suicide of human intelligence' - and his
philosophy often seemed to him like a malady, as he himself called it,
against whose grip he could see no remedy. The only thing left to him,
if he was to prevent philosophical suicide from ending in physical
suicide, was to forget in daily life his own conclusions as far as

What Hume experienced as his philosophical malady, however, was the
result not of a mental abnormality peculiar to himself, but of that
modern form of consciousness which still prevails in general today.
This explains why, despite all attempts to disprove Hume's philosophy,
scientific thought has not broken away from its alpha and omega in the
slightest degree.

A proof of this is to be found, for example, in the principle of
Indeterminacy which has arisen in modern physics.


The conception of Indeterminacy as an unavoidable consequence of the
latest phase of physical research is due to Professor W. Heisenberg.
Originally this conception forced itself upon Heisenberg as a result of
experimental research. In the meantime the same idea has received its
purely philosophical foundation. We shall here deal with both lines of

After the discovery by Galileo of the parallelogram of forces, it
became the object of classical physics - unexpressed, indeed, until
Newton wrote his Principia - to bring the unchanging laws ruling nature
into the light of human consciousness, and to give them conceptual
expression in the language of mathematical formulae. Since, however,
science was obliged to restrict itself to what could be observed with a
single, colour-blind eye, physics has taken as its main object of
research the spatio-temporal relationships, and their changes, between
discrete, ideally conceived, point-like particles. Accordingly, the
mathematically formulable laws holding sway in nature came to mean the
laws according to which the smallest particles in the material
foundation of the world change their position with regard to each
other. A science of this kind could logically maintain that, if ever it
succeeded in defining both the position and the state of motion, in one
single moment, of the totality of particles composing the universe, it
would have discovered the law on which universal existence depends.
This necessarily rested on the presupposition that it really was the
ultimate particles of the physical world which were under observation.
In the search for these, guided chiefly by the study of electricity,
the physicists tracked down ever smaller and smaller units; and along
this path scientific research has arrived at the following peculiar

To observe any object in the sense world we need an appropriate medium
of observation. For ordinary things, light provides this. In the sense
in which light is understood to-day, this is possible because the
spatial extension of the single light impulses, their so-called
wavelength, is immeasurably smaller than the average magnitude of all
microscopically visible objects. This ensures that they can be observed
clearly by the human eye. Much smaller objects, however, will require a
correspondingly shorter wave-length in the medium of observation. Now
shorter wave-lengths than those of visible light have been found in
ultra-violet light and in X-rays; and these, accordingly, are now often
used for minute physical research.

In this way, however, we are led by nature to a definite boundary; for
we now find ourselves in a realm where the dimensions of the
observation medium and the observed object are more or less the same.
The result, unfortunately, is that when the 'light' meets the object,
it changes the latter's condition of movement. On the other hand, if a
'light' is used whose wave-length is too big to have any influence on
the object's condition of movement, it precludes any exact
determination of the object's location.

Thus, having arrived at the very ground of the world - that is, where
the cosmic laws might be expected to reveal themselves directly - the
scientist finds himself in the remarkable situation of only being able
to determine accurately either the position of an observed object and
not its state of motion, or its state of motion and not its position.
The law he seeks, however, requires that both should be known at the
same time. Nor is this situation due to the imperfection of the
scientific apparatus employed, but to its very perfection, so that it
appears to arise from the nature of the foundation of the world - in so
far, at least, as modern science is bound to conceive it.

If it is true that a valid scientific knowledge of nature is possible
only in the sphere open to a single-eyed, colour-blind observation, and
if it is true - as a science of this kind, at any rate, is obliged to
believe - that all processes within the material foundation of the
world depend on nothing but the movements of certain elementary
particles of extremely small size, then the fact must be faced that the
very nature of these processes rules out the discovery of any stable
ordering of things in the sense of mathematically formulable laws. The
discovery of such laws will then always be the last step but one in
scientific investigation; the last will inevitably be the dissolution
of such laws into chaos. For a consistent scientific thinking that goes
this way, therefore, nothing is left but to recognize chaos as the only
real basis of an apparently ordered world, a chaos on whose surface the
laws that seem to hold sway are only the illusory picturings of the
human mind. This, then, is the principle of Indeterminacy as it has
been encountered in the course of practical investigation into the
electrical processes within physical matter.

In the following way Professor Schrödinger, another leading thinker among
modern theoretical physicists, explains the philosophical basis for the
principle of Indeterminacy, which scientists have established in the

'Every quantitative observation, every observation making use of
measurement, is by nature discontinuous. ... However far we go in the
pursuit of accuracy we shall never get anything other than a finite
series of discrete results. ... The raw material of our quantitative
cognition of nature will always have this primitive and discontinuous
character. ... It is possible that a physical system might be so simple
that this meagre information would suffice to settle its fate; in that
case nature would not be more complicated than a game of chess. To
determine a position of a game of chess thirty-three facts suffice. ...
If nature is more complicated than a game of chess, a belief to which
one tends to incline, then a physical system cannot be determined by a
finite number of observations. But in practice a finite number of
observations is all that we could make.'

Classical physics, the author goes on to show, held that it was
possible to gain a real insight into the laws of the universe, because
in principle an infinite number of such discrete observations would
enable us to fill in the gaps sufficiently to allow us to determine the
system of the physical world. Against this assumption modern physics
must hold the view that an infinite number of observations cannot in
any case be carried out in practice, and that nothing compels us to
assume that even this would suffice to furnish us with the means for a
complete determination, which alone would allow us to speak of 'law' in
nature. 'This is the direction in which modern physics has led us
without really intending it.'

What we have previously said will make it clear enough that in these
words of a modern physicist we meet once more the two fundamentals of
Hume's philosophy. It is just as obvious, however, that the very
principle thus re-affirmed at the latest stage of modern physical
science was already firmly established by Hooke, when he sought to
prove to his contemporaries the unreality of human ideas.

Let us recall Hooke's motives and results. The human reason discovers
that certain law-abiding forms of thought dwell within itself; these
are the rules of mathematical thinking. The eye informs the reason that
the same kind of law and order is present also in the outer world. The
mind can think point and line; the eye reports that the same forms
exist in nature outside. (Hooke could just as well have taken as his
examples the apex and edge of a crystal.) The reason mistrusts the eye,
however, and with the help of the microscope 'improves' on it. What
hitherto had been taken for a compact, regulated whole now collapses
into a heap of unordered parts; behind the illusion of law a finer
observation detects the reality of chaos!

Had science in its vehement career from discovery to discovery not
forgotten its own beginnings so completely, it would not have needed
its latest researches to bring out a principle which it had in fact
been following from the outset - a principle which philosophy had
already recognized, if not in quite the same formulation, in the
eighteenth century. Indeterminacy, as we have just seen it explained by
Schrödinger, is nothing but the exact continuation of Humean scepticism.

1 In his book, Science and the Human Temperament (Dublin, 1935).


The Country that is Not Ours

The last two chapters have served to show the impasse into which human
perception and thinking have come - in so far as they have been used
for scientific purposes - by virtue of the relationship to the world in
which man's consciousness found itself when it awoke to itself at the
beginning of modern times. Now although the onlooker in man, especially
in the earliest stage of our period, gave itself up to the conviction
that a self-contained picture of the universe could be formed out of
the kind of materials available to it, it nevertheless had a dim
inkling that this picture, because it lacked all dynamic content, had
no bearing on the real nature of the universe. Unable to find this
reality within himself, the world-onlooker set about searching in his
own way for what was missing, and turned to the perceptible world
outside man. Here he came, all unexpectedly, upon ... electricity.
Scarcely was electricity discovered than it drew human scientific
thinking irresistibly into its own realm. Thereby man found himself,
with a consciousness completely blind to dynamics, within a sphere of
only too real dynamic forces. The following description will show what
results this has had for man and his civilization.


First, let us recall how potent a role electricity has come to play in
social life through the great discoveries which began at the end of the
eighteenth century. To do this we need only compare the present
relationship between production and consumption in the economic sphere
with what it was before the power-machine, and especially the
electrically driven machine, had been invented. Consider some major
public undertaking in former times - say the construction of a great
mediaeval cathedral. Almost all the work was done by human beings, with
some help, of course, from domesticated animals. Under these
circumstances the entire source of productive power lay in the
will-energies of living beings, whose bodies had to be supplied with
food, clothing and housing; and to provide these, other productive
powers of a similar kind were required near the same place.
Accordingly, since each of the power units employed in the work was
simultaneously both producer and consumer, a certain natural limit was
placed on the accumulation of productive forces in any one locality.

This condition of natural balance between production and consumption
was profoundly disturbed by the introduction of the steam engine; but
even so there were still some limits, though of a quite different kind,
to local concentrations of productive power. For steam engines require
water and coal at the scene of action, and these take up space and need
continual shifting and replenishing. Owing to the very nature of
physical matter, it cannot be heaped up where it is required in
unlimited quantities.

All this changed directly man succeeded in producing energy
electro-magnetically by the mere rotation of material masses, and in
using the water-power of the earth - itself ultimately derived from the
cosmic energies of the sun - for driving his dynamos. Not only is the
source of energy thus tapped practically inexhaustible, but the
machines produce it without consuming on their own account, apart from
wear and tear, and so make possible the almost limitless accumulation
of power in one place. For electricity is distinguished from all other
power-supplying natural forces, living or otherwise, precisely in this,
that it can be concentrated spatially with the aid of a physical
carrier whose material bulk is insignificant compared with the energy

Through this property of electricity it has been possible for man to
extend the range of his activity in all directions, far and near. So
the balance between production and consumption, which in previous ages
was more or less adequately maintained by natural conditions, has been
entirely destroyed, and a major social-economic problem created.

In yet another way, and through quite another of its properties,
electricity plays an important part in modern life. Not only does it
compete with the human will; it also makes possible automatically
intelligent operations quite beyond anything man can do on his own.
There are innumerable examples of this in modern electrical technology;
we need mention here only the photo-electric cell and the many devices
into which it enters.

To an ever-increasing, quite uncontrolled degree - for to the mind of
present-day man it is only natural to translate every new discovery
into practice as soon and as extensively as possible - electricity
enters decisively into our modern existence. If we take all its
activities into account, we see arising amongst humanity a vast realm
of labour units, possessed in their own way not only of will but of the
sharpest imaginable intelligence. Although they are wholly remote from
man's own nature, he more and more subdues his thoughts and actions to
theirs, allowing them to take rank as guides and shapers of his

Turning to the sphere of scientific research, we find electricity
playing a role in the development of modern thinking remarkably similar
to its part as a labour-force in everyday life. We find it associated
with phenomena which, in Professor Heisenberg's words, expose their
mutual connexions to exact mathematical thinking more readily than do
any other facts of nature; and yet the way in which these phenomena
have become known has played fast and loose with mathematical thinking
to an unparalleled degree. To recognize that in this sphere modern
science owes its triumphs to a strange and often paradoxical mixture of
outer accident and error in human thought, we need only review the
history of the subject without prejudice.


The discovery of electricity has so far been accomplished in four
clearly distinct stages. The first extends from the time when men first
knew of electrical phenomena to the beginning of the natural scientific
age; the second includes the seventeenth and the greater part of the
eighteenth centuries; the third begins with Galvani's discovery and
closes with the first observations of radiant electricity; and the
fourth brings us to our own day. We shall here concern ourselves with a
few outstanding features of each phase, enough to characterize the
strange path along which man has been led by the discovery of

Until the beginning of modern times, nothing more was known about
electricity, or of its sister force, magnetism, than what we find in
Pliny's writings. There, without recognizing a qualitative distinction
between them, he refers to the faculty of rubbed amber and of certain
pieces of iron to attract other small pieces of matter. It required the
awakening of that overruling interest in material nature,
characteristic of our own age, for the essential difference between
electric and magnetic attraction to be recognized. The first to give a
proper description of this was Queen Elizabeth's doctor, Gilbert. His
discovery was soon followed by the construction of the first electrical
machine by the German Guericke (also known through his invention of the
air pump) which opened the way for the discovery that electricity could
be transmitted from one place to another.

It was not, however, until the beginning of the eighteenth century that
the crop of electrical discoveries began to increase considerably:
among these was the recognition of the dual nature of electricity, by
the Frenchman, Dufais, and the chance invention of the Leyden jar (made
simultaneously by the German, von Kleist, and two Dutchmen,
Musschenbroek and Cunaeus). The Leyden jar brought electrical effects
of quite unexpected intensity within reach. Stimulated by what could be
done with electricity in this form, more and more people now busied
themselves in experimenting with so fascinating a force of nature,
until in the second third of the century a whole army of observers was
at work, whether by way of profession or of hobby, finding out ever new
manifestations of its powers.

The mood that prevailed in those days among men engaged in electrical
research is well reflected in a letter written by the Englishman,
Walsh, after he had established the electric nature of the shocks given
by certain fishes, to Benjamin Franklin, who shortly before had
discovered the natural occurrence of electricity in the atmosphere:

'I rejoice in addressing these communications to You. He, who predicted
and shewed that electricity wings the formidable bolt of the
Atmosphere, will hear with attention that in the deep it speeds a
humbler bolt, silent and invisible; He, who analysed the electrical
Phial, will hear with pleasure that its laws prevail in animate Phials;
He, who by Reason became an electrician, will hear with reverence of an
instinctive electrician, gifted in his birth with a wonderful
apparatus, and with the skill to use it.' (Phil. Trans. 1773.)

Dare one believe that in electricity the soul of nature had been
discovered? This was the question which at that time stirred the hearts
of very many in Europe. Doctors had already sought to arouse new
vitality in their patients by the use of strong electric shocks;
attempts had even been made to bring the dead back to life by such
means. . In a time like ours, when we are primarily concerned with the
practical application of scientific discoveries, we are mostly
accustomed to regard such flights of thought from a past age as nothing
but the unessential accompaniment of youthful, immature science, and to
smile at them accordingly as historical curiosities. This is a mistake,
for we then overlook how within them was hidden an inkling of the
truth, however wrongly conceived at the time, and we ignore the role
which such apparently fantastic hopes have played in connexion with the
entry of electricity into human civilization. (Nor are such hopes
confined to the eighteenth century; as we shall see, the same impulse
urged Crookes a hundred years later to that decisive discovery which
was to usher in the latest phase in the history of science, a phase in
which the investigating human spirit has been led to that boundary of
the physical-material world where the transition takes place from inert
matter into freely working energy.)

If there was any doubt left as to whether in nature the same power was
at work which, in animal and man, was hidden away within the soul, this
doubt seemed finally to have been dispelled through Galvani's discovery
that animal limbs could be made to move electrically through being
touched by two bits of different metals. No wonder that 'the storm
which was loosed in the world of the physicists, the physiologists and
the doctors through Galvani's publication can only be compared with the
one crossing the political horizon of Europe at the same time. Wherever
there happened to be frogs and two pieces of different metals
available, everyone sought proof with his own eyes that the severed
limbs could be marvellously re-enlivened.'1

Like many of his contemporaries, Galvani was drawn by the fascinating
behaviour of the new force of nature to carry on electrical experiments
as a hobby alongside his professional work, anatomical research. For
his experiments he used the room where his anatomical specimens were
set out. So it happened that his electrical machine stood near some
frogs' legs, prepared for dissection. By a further coincidence his
assistant, while playing with the machine, released a few sparks just
when some of the specimens were in such contact with the surface
beneath them that they were bound to react to the sudden alteration of
the electric field round the machine caused by its discharge. At each
spark the frogs' legs twitched. What Galvani saw with his own eyes
seemed to be no less than the union of two phenomena, one observed by
Franklin in the heights of the atmosphere, the other by Walsh in the
depths of the sea.

Galvani, as he himself describes, proceeded with immense enthusiasm to
investigate systematically what accident had thus put into his hands.2
He wanted first to see whether changes occurring naturally in the
electrical condition of the atmosphere would call forth the same
reaction in his specimens. For this purpose he fastened one end of an
iron wire to a point high up outside his house; the lower end he
connected with the nervous substance of a limb from one of his
specimens, and to the foot of this he attached a second wire whose
other end he submerged in a well. The specimen itself was either
enclosed in a glass flask in order to insulate it, or simply left lying
on a table near the well. And all this he did whenever a thunderstorm
was threatening. As he himself reported: 'All took place as expected.
Whenever the lightning flashed, all the muscles simultaneously came
into repeated and violent twitchings, so that the movements of the
muscles, like the flash of the lightning, always preceded the thunder,
and thus, as it were, heralded its coming.' We can have some idea of
what went on in Galvani's mind during these experiments if we picture
vividly to ourselves the animal limbs twitching about every time the
lightning flashed, as if a revitalizing force of will had suddenly
taken possession of them.

In the course of his investigations - he carried them on for a long
time - Galvani was astonished to observe that some of his specimens,
which he had hung on to an iron railing by means of brass hooks,
sometimes fell to twitching even when the sky was quite clear and there
was no sign of thunder. His natural conclusion was that this must be
due to hitherto unnoticed electrical changes in the atmosphere.
Observations maintained for hours every day, however, led to no
conclusive result; when twitchings did occur it was only with some of
the specimens, and even then there was no discoverable cause. Then it
happened one day that Galvani, 'tired out with fruitless watching',
took hold of one of the brass hooks by which the specimens were hung,
and pressed it more strongly than usual against the iron railing.
Immediately a twitching took place. 'I was almost at the point of
ascribing the occurrence to atmospheric electricity,' Galvani tells us.
All the same he took one of the specimens, a frog, into his laboratory
and there subjected it to similar conditions by putting it on an iron
plate, and pressing against this with the hook that was stuck through
its spinal cord. Immediately the twitching occurred again. He tried
with other metals and, for checking purposes, with non-metals as well.
With some ingenuity he fixed up an arrangement, rather like that of an
electric bell, whereby the limbs in contracting broke contact and in
relaxing restored it, and so he managed to keep the frog in continuous
rhythmical movement.

Whereas Galvani had been rightly convinced by his earlier observations
that the movement in the specimens represented a reaction to an
electric stimulus from outside, he now changed his mind. In the very
moment of his really significant discovery he succumbed to the error
that he had to do with an effect of animal electricity located
somewhere in the dead creature itself, perhaps in the fashion of what
had been observed in the electric fishes. He decided that the metal
attachment served merely to set in motion the electricity within the

Whilst Galvani persisted in this mistake until his death, Volta
realized that the source of the electric force, as in the first of
Galvani's observations, must still be sought outside the specimens, and
himself rightly attributed it to the contacting metals. Guided by this
hypothesis, Volta started systematic research into the Galvanic
properties of metals, and presently succeeded in producing electricity
once more from purely mineral substances, namely from two different
metals in contact with a conductive liquid.

This mode of producing electricity, however, differed from any
previously known in allowing for the first time the production of
continuous electrical effects. It is this quality of the cells and
piles constructed by Volta that laid open the road for electric force
to assume that role in human civilization which we have already
described. That Volta himself was aware of this essentially new factor
in the Galvanic production of electricity is shown by his own report to
the Royal Society:

'The chief of my results, and which comprehends nearly all the others,
is the construction of an apparatus which resembles in its effects,
viz. such as giving shocks to the arms, &c, the Leyden phial, and still
better electric batteries weakly charged; . . . but which infinitely
surpasses the virtue and power of these same batteries; as it has no
need, like them, of being charged beforehand, by means of a foreign
electricity; and as it is capable of giving the usual commotion as
often as ever it is properly touched.'

Whilst Volta's success was based on avoiding Galvani's error, his
apparatus nevertheless turned out inadvertently to be a close
counterpart of precisely that animal organ which Galvani had in mind
when misinterpreting his own discoveries! That Volta himself realized
this is clear from the concluding words in his letter:

'This apparatus, as it resembles more the natural organ of the torpedo,
or of the electrical eel, than the Leyden Phial or the ordinary
electric batteries, I may call an artificial electric organ.'

This new method of producing continuous electrical effects had
far-reaching results, one of which was the discovery of the magnetic
properties of the electric current by the Dane, Oersted - once again a
purely accidental discovery, moving directly counter to the assumptions
of the discoverer himself. About to leave the lecture room where he had
just been trying to prove the non-existence of such magnetic properties
(an attempt seemingly crowned with success), Oersted happened to glance
once more at his demonstration bench. To his astonishment he noticed
that one of his magnetic needles was out of alignment; evidently it was
attracted by a magnetic field created by the current running through a
wire he had just been using, which was still in circuit. Thus what had
escaped Oersted throughout his planned researches - namely, that the
magnetic force which accompanies an electric current must be sought in
a direction at right angles to the current - a fortuitous event enabled
him to detect.

These repeated strokes of chance and frequently mistaken
interpretations of the phenomenon thus detected show that men were
exploring the electrical realm as it were in the dark; it was a realm
foreign to their ordinary ideas and they had not developed the forms of
thought necessary for understanding it. (And this, as our further
survey will show, is still true, even to-day.)

In our historical survey we come next to the researches of Faraday and
Maxwell. Faraday was convinced that if electrical processes are
accompanied by magnetic forces, as Oersted had shown, the reverse must
also be true - magnetism must be accompanied by electricity. He was led
to this correct conviction by his belief in the qualitative unity of
all the forces of nature - a reflexion, as his biography shows, of his
strongly monotheistic, Old Testament faith. Precisely this view,
however - which since Faraday natural science has quite consciously
adopted as a leading principle - will reveal itself to us as a
fundamental error.

It seems paradoxical to assert that the more consistently human thought
has followed this error, the greater have been the results of the
scientific investigation of electricity. Precisely this paradox,
however, is characteristic of the realm of nature to which electricity
belongs; and anyone earnestly seeking to overcome the illusions of our
age will have to face the fact that the immediate effectiveness of an
idea in practice is no proof of its ultimate truth.

Another eloquent example of the strange destiny of human thought in
connexion with electricity is to be found in the work of Clark Maxwell,
who, starting from Faraday's discoveries, gave the theory of
electricity its mathematical basis. Along his purely theoretical line
of thought he was led to the recognition of the existence of a form of
electrical activity hitherto undreamt of - electro-magnetic vibrations.
Stimulated by Maxwell's mathematical conclusions, Hertz and Marconi
were soon afterwards able to demonstrate those phenomena which have led
on the one hand to the electro-magnetic theory of light, and on the
other to the practical achievements of wireless communication.

Once again, there is the paradoxical fact that this outcome of
Maxwell's labours contradicts the very foundation on which he had built
his theoretical edifice. For his starting-point had been to form a
picture of the electro-magnetic field of force to which he could apply
certain well-known formulae of mechanics. This he did by comparing the
behaviour of the electrical force to the currents of an elastic fluid -
that is, of a material substance. It is true that both he and his
successors rightly emphasized that such a picture was not in any way
meant as an explanation of electricity, but merely as an auxiliary
concept in the form of a purely external analogy. Nevertheless, it was
in the guise of a material fluid that he thought of this force, and
that he could submit it to mathematical calculation. Yet the fact is
that from this starting-point the strict logic of mathematics led him
to the discovery that electricity is capable of behaviour which makes
it appear qualitatively similar to ... light!

Whilst practical men were turning the work of Faraday and Maxwell to
account by exploiting the mechanical working of electricity in
power-production, and its similarity to light in the wireless
communication of thought, a new field of research, with entirely new
practical possibilities, was suddenly opened up in the last third of
the nineteenth century through the discovery of how electricity behaves
in rarefied air. This brings us to the discovery of cathode rays and
the phenomena accompanying them, from which the latest stage in the
history of electricity originated. And here once more, as in the
history of Galvani's discoveries, we encounter certain undercurrents of
longing and expectation in the human soul which seemed to find an
answer through this sudden, great advance in the knowledge of
electricity - an advance which has again led to practical applications
of the utmost significance for human society, though not at all in the
way first hoped for.

Interest in the phenomena arising when electricity passes through gases
with reduced pressure had simultaneously taken hold of several
investigators in the seventies of the nineteenth century. But the
decisive step in this sphere of research was taken by the English
physicist, William Crookes. He was led on by a line of thought which
seems entirely irrelevant; yet it was this which first directed his
interest to the peculiar phenomena accompanying cathode rays; and they
proved to be the starting-point of the long train of inquiry which has
now culminated in the release of atomic energy.3

In the midst of his many interests and activities, Crookes was filled
from his youth with a longing to find by empirical means the bridge
leading from the world of physical effects to that of superphysical
causes. He himself tells how this longing was awakened in him by the
loss of a much-beloved brother. Before the dead body he came to the
question, which thereafter was never to leave him, whether there was a
land where the human individuality continues after it has laid aside
its bodily sheath, and how that land was to be found. Seeing that
scientific research was the instrument which modern man had forged to
penetrate through the veil of external phenomena to the causes
producing them, it was natural for Crookes to turn to it in seeking the
way from the one world into the other.

It was after meeting with a man able to produce effects within the
corporeal world by means of forces quite different from those familiar
to science, that Crookes decided to devote himself to this scientific
quest. Thus he first came into touch with that sphere of phenomena
which is known as spiritualism, or perhaps more suitably, spiritism.
Crookes now found himself before a special order of happenings which
seemed to testify to a world other than that open to our senses;
physical matter here showed itself capable of movement in defiance of
gravity, manifestations of light and sound appeared without a physical
source to produce them. Through becoming familiar with such things at
seances arranged by his mediumistic acquaintance, he began to hope that
he had found the way by which scientific research could overstep the
limits of the physical world. Accordingly, he threw himself eagerly
into the systematic investigation of his new experiences, and so became
the father of modern scientific spiritism.

Crookes had hoped that the scientists of his day would be positively
interested in his researches. But his first paper in this field, 'On
Phenomena called Spiritual', was at once and almost unanimously
rejected by his colleagues, and as long as he concerned himself with
such matters he suffered through their opposition. It passed his
understanding as a scientist why anything should be regarded in advance
as outside the scope of scientific research. After several years of
fruitless struggle he broke off his investigations into spiritism,
deeply disillusioned at his failure to interest official science in it.
His own partiality for it continued, however (he served as President of
the Society for Psychical Research from 1896-9), and he missed no
opportunity of confessing himself a pioneer in the search for the
boundary-land between the worlds of matter and spirit. Through all his
varied scientific work the longing persisted to know more of this land.

Just as Crookes had once sought to investigate spiritism
scientifically, so in his subsequent scientific inquiries he was always
something of a spiritist. He admitted, indeed, that he felt specially
attracted by the strange light effects arising when electricity passes
through rarefied gases, because they reminded him of certain luminous
phenomena he had observed during his spiritistic investigations.
Besides this, there was the fact that light here showed itself
susceptible to the magnetic force in a way otherwise characteristic
only of certain material substances. Accordingly, everything combined
to suggest to Crookes that here, if anywhere, he was at the boundary
between the physical and the superphysical worlds. No wonder that he
threw himself into the study of these phenomena with enthusiasm.

He soon succeeded in evoking striking effects - light and heat, and
also mechanical - along the path of electricity passing invisibly
through the tube later named after him. Thus he proved for the first
time visibly, so to say, the double nature - material and supermaterial
- of electricity. What Crookes himself thought about these discoveries
in the realm of the cathode rays we may judge from the title, 'Radiant
Matter', or 'The Fourth State of Matter', which he gave to his first
publication about them. And so he was only being consistent when, in
his lectures before the Royal Institution in London, and the British
Association in Sheffield in 1879, after showing to an amazed scientific
audience the newly discovered properties of electricity, he came to the
climax of his exposition by saying: 'We have seen that in some of its
properties Radiant Matter is as material as this table, whilst in other
properties it almost assumes the character of Radiant Energy. We have
actually touched here the borderland where Matter and Force seem to
merge into one another, the shadowy realm between Known and Unknown,
which for me has always had peculiar temptations.' And in boldly
prophetic words, which time has partly justified, he added, 'I venture
to think that the greatest scientific problems of the future will find
their solution in this Borderland, and even beyond; here, it seems to
me, lie Ultimate Realities, subtle, far-reaching, wonderful.'

No one can read these words of Crookes without hearing again, as an
undertone, the question which had forced itself on him at the bedside
of his dead brother, long before. All that is left of the human being
whom death has taken is a heap of substances, deserted by the force
which had used them as the instrument of its own activity. Whither
vanishes this force when it leaves the body, and is there any
possibility of its revealing itself even without occupying such a body?

Stirred by this question, the young Crookes set out to find a world of
forces which differ from the usual mechanical ones exercised by matter
on matter, in that they are autonomous, superior to matter in its inert
conglomeration, yet capable of using matter, just as the soul makes use
of the body so long as it dwells within it. His aim was to secure proof
that such forces exist, or, at any rate, to penetrate into the realm
where the transition from matter to pure, matter-free force takes
place. And once again, as in Galvani's day, electricity fascinated the
eyes of a man who was seeking for the land of the soul. What spiritism
denied, electricity seemed to grant.

The aversion to spiritism which Crookes met with in contemporary
science was, from the standpoint of such a science, largely justified.
Science, in the form in which Crookes himself conceived it, took for
granted that the relationship of human consciousness to the world was
that of external onlooking. Accordingly, if the scientist remained
within the limits thus prescribed for consciousness, it was only
consistent to refuse to make anything beyond these limits an object of
scientific research.

On the other hand, it says much for the courage and open mindedness of
Crookes that he refused to be held back from what was for him the only
possible way of extending the boundaries of science beyond the given
physical world. Moreover, it was only natural that in his search for a
world of a higher order than the physical he should, as a man of his
time, first turn his attention to spiritistic occurrences, for
spiritism, as it had come over to Europe from America in the middle of
the nineteenth century, was nothing but an attempt by the
onlooker-consciousness to learn something in its own way about the
supersensible world. The spiritist expects the spirit to reveal itself
in outwardly perceptible phenomena as if it were part of the physical
world. Towards the end of his life Crookes confessed that if he were
able to begin again he would prefer to study telepathic phenomena - the
direct transference of thought from one person to another - rather than
the purely mechanical, or so-called telekinetic, expressions of psychic
forces. But although his interest was thus turning towards a more
interior field of psychic investigation, he remained true to his times
in still assuming that knowledge about the world, whatever it might be,
could be won only by placing oneself as a mere onlooker outside the
object of research.


The stream of new discoveries which followed Crookes's work justified
his conviction that in cathode ray phenomena we have to do with a
frontier region of physical nature. Still, the land that lies on the
other side of this frontier is not the one Crookes had been looking for
throughout his life. For, instead of finding the way into the land
whither man's soul disappears at death, Crookes had inadvertently
crossed the border into another land - a land which the
twentieth-century scientist is impelled to call 'the country that is
not ours'.

The realm thrown open to science by Crookes's observations, which human
knowledge now entered as if taking it by storm, was that of the
radioactive processes of the mineral stratum of the earth. Many new and
surprising properties of electricity were discovered there - yet the
riddle of electricity itself, instead of coming nearer, withdrew into
ever deeper obscurity.

The very first step into this newly discovered territory made the
riddle still more bewildering. As we have said, Maxwell's use of a
material analogy as a means of formulating mathematically the
properties of electro-magnetic fields of force had led to results which
brought electricity into close conjunction with light. In his own way
Crookes focused, to begin with, his attention entirely on the
light-like character of electric effects in a vacuum. It was precisely
these observations, however, as continued by Lenard and others, which
presently made it necessary to see in electricity nothing else than a
special manifestation of inert mass.

The developments leading up to this stage are recent and familiar
enough to be briefly summarized. The first step was once more an
accident, when Röntgen (or rather one of his assistants) noticed that a
bunch of keys, laid down by chance on top of an unopened box of
photographic plates near a cathode tube, had produced an inexplicable
shadow-image of itself on one of the plates. The cathode tube was
apparently giving off some hitherto unknown type of radiation, capable
of penetrating opaque substances. Röntgen was an experimentalist, not a
theorist; his pupils used to say privately that in publishing this
discovery of X-rays he attempted a theoretical explanation for the
first and only time in his life - and got it wrong!

However, this accidental discovery had far-reaching consequences. It
drew attention to the fluorescence of minerals placed in the cathode
tube; this inspired Becquerel to inquire whether naturally fluorescent
substances gave off anything like X-rays, and eventually - yet again by
accident - he came upon certain uranium compounds. These were found to
give off a radiation similar to X-rays, and to give it off naturally
and all the time. Soon afterwards the Curies succeeded in isolating the
element, radium, an element which was found to be undergoing a
continuous natural disintegration. The way was now clear for that long
series of experiments on atomic disintegration which led finally to the
splitting of the nucleus and the construction of the atomic bomb.


A typical modern paradox emerges from these results. By restricting his
cognitive powers to a field of experience in which the concept of force
as an objective reality was unthinkable, man has been led on a line of
practical investigation the pursuit of which was bound to land him
amongst the force-activities of the cosmos. For what distinguishes
electric and sub-electric activities from all other forces of physical
nature so far known to science, is that for their operation they have
no need of the resistance offered by space-bound material bodies; they
represent a world of pure dynamics into which spatial limitations do
not enter.

Equally paradoxical is the situation of theoretical thinking in face of
that realm of natural being which practical research has lately
entered. We have seen that this thinking, by virtue of the
consciousness on which it is founded, is impelled always to clothe its
ideas in spatial form. Wherever anything in the pure spatial adjacency
of physical things remains inexplicable, resort is had to hypothetical
pictures whose content consists once more of nothing but spatially
extended and spatially adjacent items. In this way matter came to be
seen as consisting of molecules, molecules of atoms, and atoms of
electrons, protons, neutrons, and so forth.

In so far as scientific thought has held to purely spatial conceptions,
it has been obliged to concentrate on ever smaller and smaller spatial
sizes, so that the spatially conceived atom-picture has finally to
reckon with dimensions wherein the old concept of space loses validity.
When once thinking had started in this direction, it was electricity
which once more gave it the strongest impulse to go even further along
the same lines.

Where we have arrived along this path is brought out in a passage in
Eddington's The Nature of the Physical World. There, after describing
the modern picture of electrons dancing round the atomic nucleus, he
says: 'This spectacle is so fascinating that we have perhaps forgotten
that there was a time when we wanted to be told what an electron is.
This question was never answered. No familiar conceptions can be woven
round the electron; it belongs to the waiting list.' The only thing we
can say about the electron, if we are not to deceive ourselves,
Eddington concludes, is: 'Something unknown is doing we don't know

Let us add a further detail from this picture of the atom, as given in
Eddington's Philosophy of Physical Science. Referring to the so-called
positron, the positive particle regarded as the polar opposite of the
negative electron, he remarks: 'A positron is a hole from which an
electron has been removed; it is a bung-hole which would be evened up
with its surroundings if an electron were inserted. ... You will see
that the physicist allows himself even greater liberty than the
sculptor. The sculptor removes material to obtain the form he desires.
The physicist goes further and adds material if necessary - an
operation which he describes as removing negative material. He fills up
a bung-hole, saying he is removing a positron.' Eddington thus shows to
what paradoxical ideas the scientist is driven, when with his
accustomed forms of thought he ventures into regions where the
conditions necessary for such forms no longer exist; and he concludes
his remarks with the following caution: 'Once again I would remind you
that objective truth is not the point at issue.'

By this reminder Eddington shows how far science has reconciled itself
to the philosophic scepticism at which man's thinking had arrived in
the days of Hume. In so far as the above remark was intended to be a
consolation for the bewildered student, it is poor comfort in the light
of the actions which science has let loose with the help of those
unknown entities. For it is just this resignation of human thought
which renders it unable to cope with the flood of phenomena springing
from the sub-material realm of nature, and has allowed scientific
research to outrun scientific understanding.

1 E. du Bois-Raymond: Investigations into Animal Electricity (1884).
Galvani published his discovery when the French Revolution had reached
its zenith and Napoleon was climbing to power.

2 The above account follows A. J. von Oettingen's edition of Galvani's
monograph, De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari.

3 For what follows see The Life of Sir William Crookes, by E. E.
Fournier D'Albe (London, 1923).

4 Eddington's italics. See also, in this respect, Professor White
head's criticism of the hypothetical picture of the electron and its


Goetheanism - Whence and Whither?


The Adventure of Reason

In 1790, a year before Galvani's monograph, Concerning the Forces of
Electricity, appeared, Goethe published his Metamorphosis of Plants,
which represents the first step towards the practical overcoming of the
limitations of the onlooker-consciousness in science. Goethe's paper
was not destined to raise such a storm as soon followed Galvani's
publication. And yet the fruit of Goethe's endeavours is not less
significant than Galvani's discovery, for the progress of mankind. For
in Goethe's achievement lay the seed of that form of knowing which man
requires, if in the age of the electrification of civilization he is to
remain master of his existence.


Among the essays in which Goethe in later years gave out some of the
results of his scientific observation in axiomatic form, is one called
'Intuitive Judgment' ('Anschauende Urteilskraft'), in which he
maintains that he has achieved in practice what Kant had declared to be
for ever beyond the scope of the human mind. Goethe refers to a passage
in the Critique of Judgment, where Kant defines the limits of human
cognitional powers as he had observed them in his study of the peculiar
nature of the human reason. We must first go briefly into Kant's own
exposition of the matter.1

Kant distinguishes between two possible forms of reason, the
intellectus archetypus and the intellectus ectypus. By the first he
means a reason 'which being, not like ours, discursive, but intuitive,
proceeds from the synthetic universal (the intuition of the whole as
such) to the particular, that is, from the whole to the parts'.
According to Kant, such a reason lies outside human possibilities. In
contrast to it, the intellectus ectypus peculiar to man is restricted
to taking in through the senses the single details of the world as
such; with these it can certainly construct pictures of their
totalities, but these pictures never have more than a hypothetical
character and can claim no reality for themselves. Above all, it is not
given to such a thinking to think 'wholes' in such a way that through
an act of thought alone the single items contained in them can be
conceived as parts springing from them by necessity. (To illustrate
this, we may say that, according to Kant, we can certainly comprehend
the parts of an organism, say of a plant, and out of its components
make a picture of the plant as a whole; but we are not in a position to
think that 'whole' of the plant which conditions the existence of its
organism and brings forth its parts by necessity.) Kant expresses this
in the following way:

'For external objects as phenomena an adequate ground related to
purposes cannot be met with; this, although it lies in nature, must be
sought only in the supersensible substrata of nature, from all possible
insight into which we are cut off. Our understanding has then this
peculiarity as concerns the judgment, that in cognitive understanding
the particular is not determined by the universal and cannot therefore
be derived from it.'

The attempt to prove whether or not another form of reason than this
(the intellectus archetypus) is possible - even though declared to be
beyond man - Kant regarded as superfluous, because the fact was enough
for him 'that we are led to the Idea of it - which contains no
contradiction - in contrast to our discursive understanding, which has
need of images (intellectus ectypus), and to the contingency of its

Kant here brings forward two reasons why it is permissible to conceive
of the existence of an extra-human, archetypal reason. On the one hand
he admits that the existence of our own reason in its present condition
is of a contingent order, and thus does not exclude the possible
existence of a reason differently constituted. On the other hand, he
allows that we can think of a form of reason which in every respect is
the opposite of our own, without meeting any logical inconsistency.

From these definitions emerges a conception of the properties of man's
cognitional powers which agrees exactly with those on which, as we have
seen, Hume built up his whole philosophy. Both allow to the reason a
knowledge-material consisting only of pictures - that is, of pictures
evoked in consciousness through sense-perception, and received by it
from the outer world in the form of disconnected units, whilst denying
it all powers, as Hume expressed it, ever 'to perceive any real
connections between distinct existences'.

This agreement between Kant and Hume must at first sight surprise us,
when we recall that, as already mentioned, Kant worked out his
philosophy precisely to protect the cognizing being of man from the
consequences of Hume's thought. For, as he himself said, it was his
becoming acquainted with Hume's Treatise that 'roused him out of his
dogmatic slumber' and obliged him to reflect on the foundations of
human knowing. We shall understand this apparent paradox, however, if
we take it as a symptom of humanity's close imprisonment in recent
centuries within the limits of its onlooker-consciousness.

In his struggle against Hume, Kant was not concerned to challenge his
opponent's definition of man's reasoning power. His sole object was to
show that, if one accepted this definition, one must not go as far as
Hume in the application of this power. All that Kant could aspire to do
was to protect the ethical from attack by the intellectual part of man,
and to do this by proving that the former belongs to a world into which
the latter has no access. For with his will man belongs to a world of
purposeful doing, whereas the reason, as our quotations have shown, is
incapable even in observing external nature, of comprehending the
wholes within nature which determine natural ends. Still less can it do
this in regard to man, a being who in his actions is integrated into
higher purposes.

Kant's deed is significant in that it correctly drew attention to that
polar division in human nature which, after all, was already
established in Kant's own time. Kant demonstrated also that to win
insight into the ethical nature of man with the aid of the isolated
intellect alone implied a trespass beyond permissible limits. In order
to give the doing part of the human being its necessary anchorage,
however, Kant assigned it to a moral world-order entirely external to
man, to which it could be properly related only through obedient

In this way Kant became the philosopher of that division between
knowledge and faith which to this day is upheld in both the
ecclesiastical and scientific spheres of our civilization.
Nevertheless, he did not succeed in safeguarding humanity from the
consequences of Hume's philosophy; for man cannot live indefinitely in
the belief that with the two parts of his own being he is bound up with
two mutually unrelated worlds. The time when this was feasible is
already over, as may be seen from the fact that ever greater masses of
men wish to determine their behaviour according to their own ideas, and
as they see no alternative in the civilization around them but to form
ideas by means of the discursive reason which inevitably leads to
agnosticism, they determine their actions accordingly. Meanwhile, the
ethical life as viewed by Kant accordingly shrinks ever further into a
powerless, hole-and-corner existence.


It is Goethe's merit to have first shown that there is a way out of
this impasse. He had no need to argue theoretically with Kant as to the
justification of denying man any power of understanding apart from the
discursive, and of leaving the faculty of intuitive knowledge to a
divinity somewhere outside the world of man. For Goethe was his own
witness that Kant was mistaken in regarding man's present condition as
his lasting nature. Let us hear how he expresses himself on this fact
at the beginning of his essay written as an answer to Kant's statement:

'It is true, the author here seems to be pointing to an intellect not
human but divine. And yet, if in the moral sphere we are supposed to
lift ourselves up to a higher region through faith in God, Virtue and
Immortality, so drawing nearer to the Primal Being, why should it not
be likewise in the intellectual? By contemplation (Anschauen) of an
ever-creative nature, may we not make ourselves worthy to be spiritual
sharers in her productions? I at first, led by an inner urge that would
not rest, had quite unconsciously been seeking for the realm of Type
and Archetype, and my attempt had been rewarded: I had been able to
build up a description, in conformity with Nature herself. Now
therefore nothing more could hinder me from braving what the Old Man of
the King's Hill2 himself calls the Adventure of Reason.'

Goethe started from the conviction that our senses as well as our
intellect are gifts of nature, and that, if at any given moment they
prove incapable through their collaboration of solving a riddle of
nature, we must ask her to help us to develop this collaboration
adequately. Thus there was no question for him of any restriction of
sense-perception in order to bring the latter in line with the existing
power of the intellect, but rather to learn to make an ever fuller use
of the senses and to bring our intellect into line with what they tell.
'The senses do not deceive, but the judgment deceives', is one of his
basic utterances concerning their respective roles in our quest for
knowledge and understanding. As to the senses themselves, he was sure
that 'the human being is adequately equipped for all true earthly
requirements if he trusts his senses, and so develops them as to make
them worthy of trust'.

There is no contradiction in the statement that we have to trust our
senses, and that we have to develop them to make them trustworthy. For,
'nature speaks upwards to the known senses of man, downwards to unknown
senses of his'. Goethe's path was aimed at wakening faculties, both
perceptual and conceptual, which lay dormant in himself. His experience
showed him that 'every process in nature, rightly observed, wakens in
us a new organ of cognition'. Right observation, in this respect,
consisted in a form of contemplating nature which he called a
're-creating (creating in the wake) of an ever-creative nature'
(Nachschaffen einer immer schaffenden Natur).


We should do Goethe an injustice if we measured the value of his
scientific work by the amount of factual knowledge he contributed to
one or other sphere of research. Although Goethe did bring many new
things to light, as has been duly recognized in the scientific fields
concerned, it cannot be gainsaid that other scientists in his own day,
working along the usual lines, far exceeded his total of discoveries.
Nor can it be denied that, as critics have pointed out, he occasionally
went astray in reporting his observations. These things, however, do
not determine the value or otherwise of his scientific labours. His
work draws its significance not so much from the 'what', to use a
Goethean expression, as from the 'how' of his observations, that is,
from his way of investigating nature. Having once developed this method
in the field of plant observation, Goethe was able, with its aid, to
establish a new view of animal nature, to lay the basis for a new
meteorology, and, by creating his theory of light and colour, to
provide a model for a research in the field of physics, free from

In the scientific work of Goethe his botanical studies have a special
place. As a living organism, the plant is involved in an endless
process of becoming. It shares this characteristic, of course, with the
higher creatures of nature, and yet between it and them there is an
essential difference. Whereas in animal and man a considerable part of
the life-processes conceal themselves within the organism, in order to
provide a basis for inner soul processes, the plant brings its inner
life into direct and total outer manifestation. Hence the plant, better
than anything, could become Goethe's first teacher in his exercise of
re-creating nature.

It is for the same reason that we shall here use the plant for
introducing Goethe's method. The following exposition, however, does
not aim at rendering in detail Goethe's own botanical researches,
expounded by him in two extensive essays, Morphology and The
Metamorphosis of Plants, as well as in a series of smaller writings.
There are several excellent translations of the chief paper, the
Metamorphosis, from which the English-speaking reader can derive
sufficient insight into Goethe's way of expressing his ideas; a
pleasure as well as a profit which he should not deny himself.

Our own way of procedure will have to be such that Goethe's method, and
its fruitfulness for the general advance of science, come as clearly as
possible into view.3 Botanical details will be referred to only as far
as seems necessary for this purpose.

The data for observation, from which in Goethe's own fashion we shall
start, have been selected as best for our purpose, quite independently
of the data used by Goethe himself. Our choice was determined by the
material available when these pages were being written. The reader is
free to supplement our studies by his own observation of other plants.


Plates II and III show two series of leaves which are so arranged as to
represent definite stages in the growth-process of the plant concerned.
In each sequence shown the leaves have been taken from a single plant,
in which each leaf-form was repeated, perhaps several times, before it
passed over into the next stage. The leaves on Plate II come from a
Sidalcea (of the mallow family), those on Plate III from a Delphinium.
We will describe the forms in sequence, so that we may grasp as clearly
as possible the transition from one to another as presented to the eye.

Starting with the right-hand leaf at the bottom of Plate II, we let our
eye and mind be impressed by its characteristic form, seeking to take
hold of the pattern after which it is shaped. Its edge bears numerous
incisions of varying depths which, however, do not disturb the
roundness of the leaf as a whole. If we re-create in our imagination
the 'becoming' of such a leaf, that is, its gradual growth in all
directions, we receive an impression of these incisions as 'negative'
forms, because, at the points where they occur, the multiplication of
the cells resulting from the general growth has been retarded. We
observe that this holding back follows a certain order.

We now proceed to the next leaf on the same plate and observe that,
whilst the initial plan is faithfully maintained, the ratio between the
positive and negative forms has changed. A number of incisions, hardly
yet indicated in the first leaf, have become quite conspicuous. The
leaf begins to look as if it were breaking up into a number of

In the next leaf we find this process still further advanced. The large
incisions have almost reached the centre, while a number of smaller
ones at the periphery have also grown deeper into the leaf. The basic
plan of the total leaf is still maintained, but the negative forms have
so far got the upper hand that the original roundness is no longer

The last leaf shows the process in its extreme degree. As we glance
back and along the whole series of development, we recognize that the
form of the last leaf is already indicated in that of the first. It
appears as if the form has gradually come to the fore through certain
forces which have increasingly prevented the leaf from filling in the
whole of its ground-plan with matter. In the last leaf the common plan
is still visible in the distribution of the veins, but the fleshy part
of the leaf has become restricted to narrow strips along these veins.

The metamorphosis of the delphinium leaf (Plate III) is of a different
character. Here the plant begins with a highly elaborate form of the
leaf, while in the end nothing remains but the barest indication of it.
The impression received from this series of leaves is that of a gradual
withdrawal of the magnificent form, revealed in its fullness only in
the first leaf.

A more intense impression of what these metamorphoses actually mean is
achieved by altering our mode of contemplation in the following way.
After repeated and careful observation of the different forms on either
of the plates, we build up inwardly, as a memory picture, the shape of
the first leaf, and then transform this mental image successively into
the images of the ensuing forms until we reach the final stage. The
same process can also be tried retrogressively, and so repeated forward
and backward.

This is how Goethe studied the doing of the plant, and it is by this
method that he discovered the spiritual principle of all plant life,
and succeeded also in throwing a first light on the inner
life-principle of animals.


We chose the transformation of leaf forms into one another as the
starting-point of our observations, because the principle of
metamorphosis appears here in a most conspicuous manner. This
principle, however, is not confined to this part of the plant's
organism. In fact, all the different organs which the plant produces
within its life cycle - foliage, calyx, corolla, organs of
fertilization, fruit and seed - are metamorphoses of one and the same

Man has long learnt to make use of this law of metamorphosis in the
plant for what is called doubling the flower of a certain species. Such
a flower crowds many additional petals within its original circle, and
these petals are nothing but metamorphosed stamens; this, for instance,
is the difference between the wild and the cultivated rose. The
multitude of petals in the latter is obtained by the transformation of
a number of the former's innumerable stamens. (Note the intermediate
stages between the two, often found inside the flower of such plants.)

This falling back from the stage of an organ of fertilization to that
of a petal shows that the plant is capable of regressive metamorphosis,
and we may conclude from this that in the normal sequence the different
organs are transformed from one another by way of progressive
metamorphosis. It is evident that the regressive type occurs only as an
abnormality, or as a result of artificial cultivation. Plants once
brought into this condition frequently show a general state of unrest,
so that other organs also are inclined to fall back to a lower level.
Thus we may come across a rose, an outer petal of which appears in the
form of a leaf of the calyx (sepal), or one of the sepals is found to
have grown into an ordinary rose leaf.

We now extend our mental exercise to the plant's whole organism. By a
similar mental effort as applied to the leaf-formations we strive to
build up a complete plant. We start with the seed, from which we first
imagine the cotyledons unfolding, letting this be followed by the
gradual development of the entire green part of the plant, its stem and
leaves, until the final leaves change into the sepals of the calyx.
These again we turn into the petals of the flower, until via pistil and
stamens the fruit and seed are formed.

By pursuing in this way the living doing of the plant from stage to
stage we become aware of a significant rhythm in its total life cycle.
This, when first discovered by Goethe, gave him the key to an
understanding of nature's general procedure in building living
organisms, and in maintaining life in them.

The plant clearly divides into three major parts: firstly, the one that
extends from the cotyledons to the calyx, the green part of the plant,
that is, where the life principle is most active; secondly, the one
comprising the flower itself with the organs of fertilization, where
the vitality of the plant gives way to other principles; and lastly,
the fruit and seed, which are destined to be discharged from the mother
organism. Each of these three contains two kinds of organs: first,
organs with the tendency to grow into width-leaf, flower and fruit;
second, organs which are outwardly smaller and simpler, but have the
function of preparing the decisive leaps in the plant's development:
these are the calyx, the stamens, etc., and the seed.

In this succession, Goethe recognized a certain rhythm of expansion and
contraction, and he found that the plant passes through it three times
during any one cycle of its life. In the foliage the plant expands, in
the calyx it contracts; it expands again in the flower and contracts in
the pistil and stamens; finally, it expands in the fruit and contracts
in the seed.

The deeper meaning of this threefold rhythm will become clear when we
consider it against the background of what we observed in the
metamorphosis of the leaf. Take the mallow leaf; its metamorphosis
shows a step-wise progression from coarser to finer forms, whereby the
characteristic plan of the leaf comes more and more into view, so that
in the topmost leaf it reaches a certain stage of perfection. Now we
observe that in the calyx this stage is not improved on, but that the
plant recurs to a much simpler formation.

Whilst in the case of the mallow the withdrawal from the stage of the
leaf into that of the calyx occurs with a sudden leap, we observe that
the delphinium performs this process by degrees. Whilst the mallow
reaches the highly elaborate form of the leaf only in the final stage,
the delphinium leaps forth at the outset, as it were, with the fully
accomplished leaf, and then protracts its withdrawal into the calyx
over a number of steps, so that this process can be watched with our
very eyes. In this type of metamorphosis the last leaf beneath the
calyx shows a form that differs little from that of a calyx itself,
with its simple sepals. Only in its general geometrical arrangement
does it still remind us of the original pattern.

In a case like this, the stem-leaves, to use Goethe's expression,
'softly steal into the calyx stage'.4 In the topmost leaf the plant has
already achieved something which, along the other line of
metamorphosis, is tackled only after the leaf plan itself has been
gradually executed. In this case the calyx stage, we may say, is
attained at one leap.

Whatever type of metamorphosis is followed by a plant (and there are
others as well, so that we may even speak of metamorphoses between
different types of metamorphosis!) they all obey the same basic rule,
namely, that before proceeding to the next higher stage of the cycle,
the plant sacrifices something already achieved in a preceding one.
Behind the inconspicuous sheath of the calyx we see the plant preparing
itself for a new creation of an entirely different order. As successor
to the leaf, the flower appears to us time and again as a miracle.
Nothing in the lower realm of the plant predicts the form, colour,
scent and all the other properties of the new organ produced at this
stage. The completed leaf, preceding the plant's withdrawal into the
calyx, represents a triumph of structure over matter. Now, in the
flower, matter is overcome to a still higher degree. It is as if the
material substance here becomes transparent, so that what is immaterial
in the plant may shine through its outer surface.


In this 'climbing up the spiritual ladder' Goethe learned to recognize
one of nature's basic principles. He termed it Steigerung
(heightening). Thus he saw the plant develop through Metamorphosis and
Heightening towards its consummation. Implicit in the second of these
two principles, however, there is yet another natural principle for
which Goethe did not coin a specific term, although he shows through
other utterances that he was well aware of it, and of its universal
significance for all life. We propose to call it here the principle of

In the life of the plant this principle shows itself most conspicuously
where the green leaf is heightened into the flower. While progressing
from leaf to flower the plant undergoes a decisive ebb in its vitality.
Compared with the leaf, the flower is a dying organ. This dying,
however, is of a kind we may aptly call a 'dying into being'. Life in
its mere vegetative form is here seen withdrawing in order that a
higher manifestation of the spirit may take place. The same principle
can be seen at work in the insect kingdom, when the caterpillar's
tremendous vitality passes over into the short-lived beauty of the
butterfly. In the human being it is responsible for that metamorphosis
of organic processes which occurs on the path from the metabolic to the
nervous system, and which we came to recognize as the precondition for
the appearance of consciousness within the organism.

What powerful forces must be at work in the plant organism at this
point of transition from its green to its coloured parts! They enforce
a complete halt upon the juices that rise up right into the calyx, so
that these bring nothing of their life-bearing activity into the
formation of the flower, but undergo a complete transmutation, not
gradually, but with a sudden leap.

After achieving its masterpiece in the flower, the plant once more goes
through a process of withdrawal, this time into the tiny organs of
fertilization. (We shall return later to this essential stage in the
life cycle of the plant, and shall then clear up the misinterpretation
put upon it ever since scientific biology began.) After fertilization,
the fruit begins to swell; once more the plant produces an organ with a
more or less conspicuous spatial extension. This is followed by a final
and extreme contraction in the forming of the seed inside the fruit. In
the seed the plant gives up all outer appearance to such a degree that
nothing seems to remain but a small, insignificant speck of organized
matter. Yet this tiny, inconspicuous thing bears in it the power of
bringing forth a whole new plant.

In these three successive rhythms of expansion and contraction the
plant reveals to us the basic rule of its existence. During each
expansion, the active principle of the plant presses forth into visible
appearance; during each contraction it withdraws from outer embodiment
into what we may describe as a more or less pure state of being. We
thus find the spiritual principle of the plant engaged in a kind of
breathing rhythm, now appearing, now disappearing, now assuming power
over matter, now withdrawing from it again.

In the fully developed plant this rhythm repeats itself three times in
succession and at ever higher levels, so that the plant, in climbing
from stage to stage, each time goes through a process of withdrawal
before appearing at the next. The greater the creative power required
at a certain stage, the more nearly complete must be the withdrawal
from outer appearance. This is why the most extreme withdrawal of the
plant into the state of being takes place in the seed, when the plant
prepares itself for its transition from one generation to another. Even
earlier, the flower stands towards the leaves as something like a new
generation springing from the small organ of the calyx, as does the
fruit to the flower when it arises from the tiny organs of
reproduction. In the end, however, nothing appears outwardly so unlike
the actual plant as the little seed which, at the expense of all
appearance, has the power to renew the whole cycle.

Through studying the plant in this way Goethe grew aware also of the
significance of the nodes and eyes which the plant develops as points
where its vital energy is specially concentrated; not only the seed,
but the eye also, is capable of producing a new, complete plant. In
each of these eyes, formed in the axils of the leaves, the power of the
plant is present in its entirety, very much as in each single seed.

In other ways, too, the plant shows its capacity to act as a whole at
various places of its organism. Otherwise, no plant could be propagated
by cuttings; in any little twig cut from a parent plant, all the
manifold forces operative in the gathering, transmuting, forming of
matter, that are necessary for the production of root, leaf, flower,
fruit, etc., are potentially present, ready to leap into action
provided we give it suitable outer conditions. Other plants, such as
gloxinia and begonia, are known to have the power of bringing forth a
new, complete plant from each of their leaves. From a small cut applied
to a vein in a leaf, which is then embedded in earth, a root will soon
be seen springing downward, and a stalk with leaves rising upward.

A particular observation made by Goethe in this respect is of interest
for methodological reasons. In the introduction to his treatise
Metamorphosis of Plants, when referring to the regressive metamorphosis
of stamens into petals as an example of an irregular metamorphosis, he
remarks that 'experiences of this kind of metamorphosis will enable us
to disclose what is hidden from us in the regular way of development,
and to see clearly and visibly what we should otherwise only be able to
infer'. In this remark Goethe expresses a truth that is valid in many
spheres of life, both human and natural. It is frequently a
pathological aberration in an organic entity that allows us to see in
physical appearance things that do not come outwardly to the fore in
the more balanced condition of normal development, although they are
equally part of the regular organic process.

An enlightening experience of this kind came to Goethe's aid when one
day he happened to see a 'proliferated' rose (durchgewachsene Rose),
that is, a rose from whose centre a whole new plant had sprung. Instead
of the contracted seed-pod, with the attached, equally contracted,
organs of fertilization, there appeared a continuation of the stalk,
half red and half green, bearing in succession a number of small
reddish petals with traces of anthers. Thorns could be seen appearing
further up, petals half-turned into leaves, and even a number of fresh
nodes from which little imperfect flowers were budding. The whole
phenomenon, in all its irregularity, was one more proof for Goethe that
the plant in its totality is potentially present at each point of its


Goethe's observation of the single plant in statu agendi had trained
him to recognize things of quite different outer appearance as
identical in their inner nature. Leaf, sepal, petal, etc., much as they
differ outwardly, yet showed themselves to him as manifestations of one
and the same spiritual archetype. His idea of Metamorphosis enabled him
to reduce what in outer appearance seems incompatibly different to its
common formative principle. His next step was to observe the different
appearances of one and the same species in different regions of the
earth, and thus to watch the capacity of the species to respond in a
completely flexible way to the various climatic conditions, yet without
concealing its inner identity in the varying outer forms. His travels
in Switzerland and Italy gave him opportunity for such observations,
and in the Alpine regions especially he was delighted at the variations
in the species which he already knew so well from his home in Weimar.
He saw their proportions, the distances between the single parts, the
degree of lignification, the intensity of colour, etc., varying with
the varied conditions, yet never concealing the identity of the

Having once advanced in his investigations from metamorphosis in the
parts of the single plant to metamorphosis among different
representatives of single plant species, Goethe had to take only one
further, entirely decisive, step in order to recognize how every member
of the plant kingdom is the manifestation of a single formative
principle common to them all. He was thus faced with the momentous task
of preparing his spirit to think an idea from which the plant world in
its entire variety could be derived.

Goethe did not take such a step easily, for it was one of his
scientific principles never to think out an idea prematurely. He was
well aware that he who aspires to recognize and to express in idea the
spirit which reveals itself through the phenomena of the sense-world
must develop the art of waiting - of waiting, however, in a way
intensely active, whereby one looks again and yet again, until what one
looks at begins to speak and the day at last dawns when, through
tireless 're-creation of an ever-creating nature', one has grown ripe
to express her secrets openly. Goethe was a master in this art of
active waiting.

* It was in the very year that Galvani, through his chance discovery,
opened the way to the overwhelming invasion of mankind by the purely
physical forces of nature, that Goethe came clearly to see that he had
achieved the goal of his labours. We can form some picture of the
decisive act in the drama of his seeking and finding from letters
written during the years 1785-7.

In the spring of 1785 he writes to a friend in a way that shows him
fully aware of his new method of studying nature, which he recognized
was a reading of her phenomena: 'I can't tell you how the Book of
Nature is becoming readable to me. My long practice in spelling has
helped me; it now suddenly works, and my quiet joy is inexpressible.'
Again in the summer of the following year: 'It is a growing aware of
the Form with which again and again nature plays, and, in playing,
brings forth manifold life.'

Then Goethe went on his famous journey to Italy which was to bear such
significant fruit for his inner life, both in art and in science. At
Michaelmas, 1786, he reports from his visit to the botanical garden in
Padua that 'the thought becomes more and more living that it may be
possible out of one form to develop all plant forms'. At this moment
Goethe felt so near to the basic conception of the plant for which he
was seeking, that he already christened it with a special name. The
term he coined for it is Urpflanze, literally rendered archetypal
plant, or ur-plant, as we propose quite simply to call it.6

It was the rich tropical and sub-tropical vegetation in the botanical
gardens in Palermo that helped Goethe to his decisive observations. The
peculiar nature of the warmer regions of the earth enables the spirit
to reveal itself more intensively than is possible in the temperate
zone. Thus in tropical vegetation many things come before the eye which
otherwise remain undisclosed, and then can be detected only through an
effort of active thought. From this point of view, tropical vegetation
is 'abnormal' in the same sense as was the proliferated rose which
confirmed for Goethe's physical perception that inner law of
plant-growth which had already become clear to his mind.

During his sojourn in Palermo in the spring of 1787 Goethe writes in
his notebook: 'There must be one (ur-plant): how otherwise could we
recognize this or that formation to be a plant unless they were all
formed after one pattern?' Soon after this, he writes in a letter to
the poet Herder, one of his friends in Weimar:

'Further, I must confide to you that I am quite close to the secret of
plant creation, and that it is the simplest thing imaginable. The
ur-plant will be the strangest creature in the world, for which nature
herself should envy me. With this model and the key to it one will be
able to invent plants ad infinitum; they would be consistent; that is
to say, though non-existing, they would be capable of existing, being
no shades or semblances of the painter or poet, but possessing truth
and necessity. The same law will be capable of extension to all living


To become more familiar with the conception of the ur-plant, let us
bring the life-cycle of the plant before our inner eye once again.
There, all the different organs of the plant-leaf, blossom, fruit, etc.
- appear as the metamorphic revelations of the one, identical active
principle, a principle which gradually manifests itself to us by way of
successive heightening from the cotyledons to the perfected glory of
the flower. Amongst all the forms which thus appear in turn, that of
the leaf has a special place; for the leaf is that organ of the plant
in which the ground-plan of all plant existence comes most immediately
to expression. Not only do all the different leaf forms arise, through
endless changing, out of each other, but the leaf, in accordance with
the same principle, also changes itself into all the other organs which
the plant produces in the course of its growth.

It is by precisely the same principle that the ur-plant reveals itself
in the plant kingdom as a whole. Just as in the single plant organism
the different parts are a graduated revelation of the ur-plant, so are
the single kinds and species within the total plant world. As we let
our glance range over all its ranks and stages (from the single-celled,
almost formless alga to the rose and beyond to the tree), we are
following, step by step, the revelation of the ur-plant. Barely hinting
at itself in the lowest vegetable species, it comes in the next higher
stages into ever clearer view, finally streaming forth in full glory in
the magnificence of the manifold blossoming plants. Then, as its
highest creation, it brings forth the tree, which, itself a veritable
miniature earth, becomes the basis for innumerable single plant

It has struck biologists of Goethe's own and later times that contrary
to their method he did not build up his study of the plant by starting
with its lowest form, and so the reproach has been levelled against him
of having unduly neglected the latter. Because of this, the views he
had come to were regarded as scientifically unfounded. Goethe's
note-books prove that there is no justification for such a reproach. He
was in actual fact deeply interested in the lower plants, but he
realized that they could not contribute anything fundamental to the
spiritual image of the plant as such which he was seeking to attain. To
understand the plant he found himself obliged to pay special attention
to examples in which it came to its most perfect expression. For what
was hidden in the alga was made manifest in the rose. To demand of
Goethe that in accordance with ordinary science he should have
explained nature 'from below upwards' is to misunderstand the
methodological basis of all his investigations.

Seen with Goethe's eyes, the plant kingdom as a whole appears to be a
single mighty plant. In it the ur-plant, while pressing into
appearance, is seen to observe the very rule which we have found
governing its action in the single plant - that of repeated expansion
and contraction.7 Taking the tree in the sense already indicated, as
the state of highest expansion along the ur-plant's way of entering
into spatial manifestation, we note that tree-formation occurs
successively at four different levels - as fern-tree (also the extinct
tree-form of the horsetail) among the cryptogams, as coniferous tree
among the gymnosperms, as palm-tree among the monocotyledons, and
lastly in the form of the manifold species of the leaf-trees at the
highest level of the plant kingdom, the dicotyledons. All these levels
have come successively into existence, as geological research has
shown; the ur-plant achieved these various tree-formations
successively, thus giving up again its state of expansion each time
after having reached it at a particular level.

From the concept of the ur-plant Goethe soon learned to develop another
concept which was to express the spiritual principle working in a
particular plant species, just as the ur-plant was the spiritual
principle covering the plant kingdom as a whole. He called it the type.
In the manifold types which are thus seen active in the plant world we
meet offsprings, as it were, of the mother, the 'ur-plant', which in
them assumes differentiated modes of action.

The present part of our discussion may be concluded by the introduction
of a concept which Goethe formed for the organ of cognition attained
through contemplating nature in the state of becoming, as the plant had
taught him to do.

Let us look back once again on the way in which we first tried to build
up the picture of leaf metamorphosis. There we made use, first of all,
of exact sense-perceptions to which we applied the power of memory in
its function as their keeper. We then endeavoured to transform within
our mind the single memory pictures (leaf forms) into one another. By
doing so we applied to them the activity of mobile fantasy. In this way
we actually endowed, on the one hand, objective memory, which by nature
is static, with the dynamic properties of fantasy, and, on the other
hand, mobile fantasy, which by nature is subjective, with the objective
character of memory. Now, for the new organ of cognition arising from
the union of these two polar faculties of the soul, Goethe coined the
significant expression, exact sensorial fantasy.8 In terms of our
knowledge of man's psycho-physical make-up, acquired earlier, we can
say that, just as the nervous system forms the basis for memory, and
the blood the basis for fantasy, so the 'exact sensorial fantasy' is
based on a newly created collaboration of the two.


Our observations have reached a point where we may consider that stage
in the life cycle of the single plant where, by means of the process of
pollination, the seed acquires the capacity to produce out of itself a
new example of the species. Our discussion of this will bring home the
fundamental difference in idea that arises when, instead of judging a
process from the standpoint of the mere onlooker, we try to comprehend
it through re-creating it inwardly.

Biological science of our day takes it for granted that the process
uniting pollen with seed in the plant is an act of fertilization
analogous to that which occurs among the higher organisms of nature.
Now it is not to be gainsaid that to external observation this
comparison seems obvious, and that it is therefore only natural to
speak of the pollen as the male, and of the ovule as the female,
element, and of their union as entirely parallel to that between the
sexes in the higher kingdoms of nature.

Goethe confesses that at first he himself 'had credulously put up with
the ruling dogma of sexuality'. He was first made aware of the
invalidity of this analogy by Professor Schelver who, as Superintendent
of the Jena Botanical Institute, was working under Goethe's direction
and had trained himself in Goethe's method of observing plants. This
man had come to see that if one held strictly to the Goethean practice
of using nothing for the explanation of the plant but what one could
read from the plant itself, one must not ascribe to it any sexual
process. He was convinced that for a Goethean kind of biology it must
be possible to find, even for the process of pollination, an idea
derived from nothing but the two principles of plant life: growth and

Goethe immediately recognized the Tightness of this thought, and set
about the task of relating the pollination process to the picture of
the plant which his investigations had already yielded. His way of
reporting the result shows how fully conscious he was of its
revolutionary nature. Nor was he in any doubt as to the kind of
reception it would be given by official biology.

In observing the growth of the plant, Goethe had perceived that this
proceeds simultaneously according to two different principles. On the
one hand the plant grows in an axial direction and thereby produces its
main and side stems. To this growth principle Goethe gave the name
'vertical tendency'. Were the plant to follow this principle only, its
lateral shoots would all stand vertically one above the other. But
observation shows that the different plant species obey very different
laws in this respect, as may be seen if one links up all the leaf buds
along any plant stem; they form a line which winds spiral fashion
around it. Each plant family is distinguishable by its own
characteristic spiral, which can be represented either geometrically by
a diagram, or arithmetically by a fraction. If, for example, the leaves
are so arranged in a plant that every fifth leaf recurs on the same
side of the stem, while the spiral connecting the five successive
leaf-buds winds twice round the stem, this is expressed in botany by
the fraction 2 / 5. To distinguish this principle of plant growth from
the vertical tendency, Goethe used the term 'spiral tendency'.

To help towards a clear understanding of both tendencies, Goethe
describes an exercise which is characteristic of his way of schooling
himself in what he called exact sensorial fantasy. He first looks out
for a phenomenon in which the 'secret' of the spiral tendency is made
'open'. This he finds in such a plant as the convolvulus; in this kind
of plant the vertical tendency is lacking, and the spiral principle
comes obviously into outer view. Accordingly, the convolvulus requires
an external support, around which it can wind itself. Goethe now
suggests that after looking at a convolvulus as it grows upwards around
its support, one should first make this clearly present to one's inner
eye, and then again picture the plant's growth without the vertical
support, allowing instead the upward-growing plant inwardly to produce
a vertical support for itself. By way of inward re-creation (which the
reader should not fail to carry out himself) Goethe attained a clear
experience of how, in all those plants which in growing upwards produce
their leaves spiral-wise around the stem, the vertical and spiral
tendencies work together.

In following the two growth-principles, Goethe saw that the vertical
comes to a halt in the blossom; the straight line here shrinks
together, so to say, into a point, surviving only in the ovary and
pistil as continuations of the plant's stalk. The spiral tendency, on
the other hand, is to be found in the circle of the stamens arranged
around these; the process which in the leaves strove outwards in spiral
succession around a straight line is now telescoped on to a single
plane. In other words, the vertical-spiral growth of the plant here
separates into its two components. And when a pollen grain lands on a
pistil and joins with the ovule prepared in the ovary, the two
components are united again. Out of the now complete seed a new and
complete plant can arise.

Goethe understood that he would be taught a correct conception of this
process only by the plant itself. Accordingly, he asked himself where
else in the growing plant something like separation and reunion could
be seen. This he found in the branching and reuniting of the veins in
the leaves, known as anastomosis.

In the dividing of the two growth-principles in the plant through the
formation of carpel and pistil, on the one hand, and the pollen-bearing
stamens on the other, and in their reunion through the coming together
of the pollen with the seed, Goethe recognized a metamorphosis of the
process of anastomosis at a higher level. His vision of it caused him
to term it 'spiritual anastomosis'.

Goethe held a lofty and comprehensive view of the significance of the
male and female principles as spiritual opposites in the cosmos. Among
the various manifestations of this polarity in earthly nature he found
one, but one only, in the duality of the sexes as characteristic of man
and animal. Nothing compelled him, therefore, to ascribe it in the same
form to the plant. This enabled him to discover how the plant bore the
same polarity in plant fashion.

In the neighbourhood of Weimar, Goethe often watched a vine slinging
its foliaged stem about the trunk and branches of an elm tree. In this
impressive sight nature offered him a picture of 'the female and male,
the one that needs and the one that gives, side by side in the vertical
and spiral directions'. Thus his artist's eye clearly detected in the
upward striving of the plant a decisively masculine principle, and in
its spiral winding an equally definite feminine principle. Since in the
normal plant both principles are inwardly connected, 'we can represent
vegetation as a whole as being in a secret androgynous union from the
root up. From this union, through the changes of growth, both systems
break away into open polarity and so stand in decisive opposition to
each other, only to unite again in a higher sense.'

Thus Goethe found himself led to ideas regarding the male and female
principles in the plant, which were the exact opposite of those one
obtains if, in trying to explain the process of pollination, one does
not keep to the plant itself but imports an analogy from another
kingdom of nature. For in continuance of the vertical principle of the
plant, the pistil and carpel represent the male aspect in the process
of spiritual anastomosis, and the mobile, wind- or insect-borne pollen,
in continuing the spiral principle, represents the female part.

If the process of pollination is what the plant tells us it is, then
the question arises as to the reason for the occurrence of such a
process in the life cycle of the fully developed plant. Goethe himself
has not expressed himself explicitly on this subject. But his term
'spiritual anastomosis' shows that he had some definite idea about it.
Let us picture in our mind what happens physically in the plant as a
result of pollination and then try to read from this picture, as from a
hieroglyph, what act of the spiritual principle in the plant comes to
expression through it.

Without pollination there is no ripening of the seed. Ripening means
for the seed its acquisition of the power to bring forth a new and
independent plant organism through which the species continues its
existence within nature. In the life cycle of the plant this event
takes place after the organism has reached its highest degree of
physical perfection. When we now read these facts in the light of the
knowledge that they are deeds of the activity of the type, we may
describe them as follows:

Stage by stage the type expends itself in ever more elaborate forms of
appearance, until in the blossom a triumph of form over matter is
reached. A mere continuation of this path could lead to nothing but a
loss of all connexion between the plant's superphysical and physical
component parts. Thus, to guarantee for the species its continuation in
a new generation, the formative power of the type must find a way of
linking itself anew to some part of the plant's materiality. This is
achieved by the plant's abandoning the union between its two polar
growth-principles and re-establishing it again, which in the majority
of cases takes place even in such a way that the bearers of the two
principles originate from two different organisms.

By picturing the process in this way we are brought face to face with a
rule of nature which, once we have recognized it, proves to hold sway
at all levels of organic nature. In general terms it may be expressed
as follows:

In order that spiritual continuity may be maintained within the coming
and going multitude of nature's creations, the physical stream must
suffer discontinuity at certain intervals.

In the case of the plant this discontinuity is achieved by the breaking
asunder of the male and female growth-principles. When they have
reunited, the type begins to abandon either the entire old plant or at
least part of it, according to whether the species is an annual or a
perennial one, in order to concentrate on the tiny seed, setting, as it
were, its living seal on it.

This is as far as we can go in describing this mysterious process, at
least at the present stage of our considerations.


Our pursuit of Goethe's way of observing the life of the plant has
brought us to a point where it becomes possible to rectify a widespread
error concerning his position as an evolutionary theorist.

Goethe has been honourably mentioned as a predecessor of Darwin. The
truth is, that the idea of evolution emerging from Goethe's mode of
regarding nature is the exact opposite of the one held by Darwin and -
in whatever modified form - by his followers. A brief consideration of
the Darwinian concepts of inheritance and adaptation will show this.

Goethe's approach to his conception of the type is clear evidence that
he did not undervalue the factor of adaptation as a formative element
in nature; we have seen that he became acquainted with it in studying
the same plant species under different climatic conditions. In his
view, however, adaptation appears not as the passive effect of a
blindly working, external cause, but as the response of the spiritual
type to the conditions meeting it from outside.

The same applies to the concept of inheritance. Through inheritance
Goethe saw single, accessory characteristics of a species being carried
over from one generation to the next; but never could the reappearance
of the basic features of the species itself be explained in this way.
He was sufficiently initiated into nature's methods to know that she
was not in need of a continuity of the stream of physical substance, in
the sense of the theory of inheritance, to guarantee a continuance of
the features of the species through successive generations, but that it
was her craft to achieve such continuance by means of physical


Goethe was not temperamentally given to reflecting deliberately about
his own cognitional processes. Moreover, the excess of reflexion going
on around him in the intellectual life of his younger days inclined him
to guard himself with a certain anxiety against philosophical
cogitations. His words to a friend - 'Dear friend, I have done it well,
and never reflected about thinking' - bring this home to us. If in his
later years Goethe could become to some degree epistemologically
conscious of his spiritual achievements, as, for instance, his essay on
Intuitive Judgment shows, he owed this to his friendship with Schiller,
who became for him a kind of soul mirror, in which he could see the
reflexion of his own processes of consciousness. Indeed, at their first
personal encounter, significant as it was for their whole later
relationship, Schiller - though all unconsciously - performed a
decisive service of this kind for him. Goethe himself speaks of the
occasion in his essay Happy Encounter (Gliickliches Ereignis), written
twelve years after Schiller's death.

The occasion was, outwardly regarded, fortuitous: both men were leaving
a lecture on natural science at the University of Jena, Schiller having
been present as Professor of History in the University, and Goethe as
its patron and as a Weimar Minister of State. They met at the door of
the lecture hall and went out into the street together. Schiller, who
had been wanting to come into closer contact with Goethe for a long
time, used the opportunity to begin a conversation. He opened with a
comment on the lecture they had just heard, saying that such a
piecemeal way of handling nature could not bring the layman any real
satisfaction. Goethe, to whom this remark was heartily welcome, replied
that such a style of scientific observation 'was uncanny even for the
initiated, and that there must certainly be another way altogether,
which did not treat of nature as divided and in pieces, but presented
her as working and alive, striving out of the whole into the parts'.

Schiller's interest was at once aroused by this remark, although as a
thorough Kantian he could not conceal his doubts whether the kind of
thing indicated by Goethe was within human capacity. Goethe began to
explain himself further, and so the discussion proceeded, until the
speakers arrived at Schiller's house. Quite absorbed in his description
of plant metamorphosis, Goethe went in with Schiller and climbed the
stairs to the latter's study. Once there, he seized pen and paper from
Schiller's writing desk, and to bring his conception of the ur-plant
vividly before his companion's eyes he made 'a symbolic plant appear
with many a characteristic stroke of the pen'.

Although Schiller had listened up to this point 'with great interest
and definite understanding', he shook his head as Goethe finished, and
said - Kantian that he was at that time: 'That is no experience, that
is an idea.' These words were very disappointing to Goethe. At once his
old antipathy towards Schiller rose up, an antipathy caused by much in
Schiller's public utterances which he had found distasteful.

Once again he felt that Schiller and he were 'spiritual antipodes,
removed from each other by more than an earth diameter'. However,
Goethe restrained his rising annoyance, and answered Schiller in a
tranquil but determined manner: 'I am glad to have ideas without
knowing it, and to see them with my very eyes.'

Although at this meeting Goethe and Schiller came to no real agreement,
the personal relationship formed through it did not break off; both had
become aware of the value of each to the other. For Goethe his first
meeting with Schiller had the significant result of showing him that
'thinking about thought' could be fruitful. For Schiller this
significance consisted in his having met in Goethe a human intellect
which, simply by its existing properties, invalidated Kant's
philosophy. For him Goethe's mind became an object of empirical study
on which he based the beginnings of a new philosophy free from

An essay, written by Goethe about the same time as the one just quoted,
shows how he came to think at a later date about the raising of human
perception into the realm of ideas. In this essay, entitled Discovery
of an Excellent Predecessor,9 Goethe comments on certain views of the
botanist, K. F. Wolff, regarding the relationships between the
different plant organs, which seemed to be similar to his own, and at
which Wolff had arrived in his own way.

Wolff had risen up as an opponent of the so-called preformation theory,
still widespread at that time, according to which the entire plant with
all its different parts is already present in embryonic physical form
in the seed, and simply grows out into space through physical
enlargement. Such a mode of thought seemed inadmissible to Wolff, for
it made use of an hypothesis 'resting on an extra-sensible conception,
which was held to be thinkable, although it could never be demonstrated
from the sense world. Wolff laid it down as a fundamental principle of
all research that 'nothing may be assumed, admitted or asserted that
has not been actually seen and cannot be made similarly visible to
others'. Thus in Wolff we meet with a phenomenologist who in his way
tried to oppose certain trends of contemporary biological thinking. As
such, Wolff had made certain observations which caused him to ascribe
to the plant features quite similar to those which Goethe had grasped
under the conception of progressive and regressive metamorphosis. In
this way Wolff had grown convinced that all plant organs are
transformed leaves. True to his own principle, he had then turned to
the microscope for his eyes to confirm what his mind had already

The microscope gave him the confirmation he expected by showing that
all the different organs of the plant develop out of identical
embryonic beginnings. In his absolute reliance on physical observation,
however, he tried to go further than this and to detect in this way the
reason why the plant does not always bring forth the same organ. He saw
that the vegetative strength in the plant diminishes in proportion as
its organism enters upon its later stages. He therefore attributed the
differentiated evolution of plant organs from identical beginnings to
an ever weaker process of development in them.

Despite his joy in Wolff as someone who in his own fashion had arrived
at certain truths which he himself had also discovered, and despite his
agreement with Wolff's phenomenalistic principle, Goethe could in no
way accept his explanation of why metamorphosis took place in plants.
He said: 'In plant metamorphosis Wolff saw how the same organ
continuously draws together, makes itself smaller; he did not see that
this contraction alternates with an expansion. He saw that the organ
diminishes in volume, but not that at the same time it ennobles itself,
and so, against reason, he attributed decline to the path towards
perfection.' What was it, then, which had prevented Wolff from seeing
things aright? 'However admirable may be Wolff's method, through which
he has achieved so much, the excellent man never thought that there may
be a difference between seeing and seeing, that the eyes of the spirit
have to work in perpetual living connection with those of the body, for
one otherwise risks seeing and yet seeing past a thing (zu sehen und
doch vorbeizusehen).'

Wolff's case was to Goethe a symptom of the danger which he saw arising
for science from the rapidly increasing use of the microscope (and
similarly the telescope), if thinking was not developed correspondingly
but left at the mercy of these instruments. His concern over the state
of affairs speaks from his utterance: 'Microscopes and telescopes, in
actual fact, confuse man's innate clarity of mind.'

When we follow Goethe in this way he comes before us in characteristic
contrast to Robert Hooke. We remember Hooke's microscopic 'proof of the
unrelatedness of human thought to outer reality (Chapter III). There
can be no doubt how Goethe, if the occasion had arisen, would have
commented on Hooke's procedure. He would have pointed out that there
would be no such thing as a knife with its line-like edge unless man
were able to think the concept 'line', nor a needle with its point-like
end unless he were able to think the concept 'point'. In fact, knife
and needle are products of a human action which is guided by these two
concepts respectively. As such they are embodiments, though more or
less imperfect ones, of these concepts. Here too, therefore, just as
Goethe had discovered it through his way of observing the plant, we see
Ideas with our very eyes. What distinguishes objects of this kind from
organic entities, such as the plant, is the different relationship
between Object and Idea. Whereas in the case of an organism the Idea
actively indwells the object, its relationship to a man-made thing (and
similarly to nature's mineral entities) is a purely external one.

Hooke, so Goethe would have argued, allowed the microscope to confuse
his common sense. He would have seen in him an example confirming his
verdict that he who fails to let the eye of the spirit work in union
with the eye of the body 'risks seeing yet seeing past the thing'.


'Thus not through an extraordinary spiritual gift, not through
momentary inspiration, unexpected and unique, but through consistent
work did I eventually achieve such satisfactory results.' These words
of Goethe - they occur in his essay, History of my Botanical Studies,
which he wrote in later life as an account of his labours in this field
of science - show how anxious he was that it should be rightly
understood that the faculty of reading in the Book of Nature, as he
knew it, was the result of a systematic training of his mind. It is
important for our further studies to make clear to ourselves at this
point the nature of the change which man must bring to pass within
himself in order to brave Kant's 'adventure of reason'. Goethe's
concept for the newly acquired faculty of cognition, exact sensorial
fantasy, can give us the lead.

We remember that, to form this faculty, two existing functions of the
soul, as such polarically opposite, had to be welded together - memory
based on exact sense-perception and the freely working fantasy; one
connected with the nervous system of the body, the other with the
blood. We also know from earlier considerations (Chapter II) that in
the little child there is not yet any such polarization, in body or
soul, as there is in man's later life. Thus we see that training on
Goethe's lines aims at nothing less than restoring within oneself a
condition which is natural in early childhood.

In saying this we touch on the very foundations of the new pathway to
science discovered by Goethe. We shall hear more of it in the following

1 Critique of Judgment, II, 11, 27. Goethe chose the title of his essay
so as to refute Kant by its very wording. Kant, through his inquiry
into man's Urteilskraft, arrived at the conclusion that man is denied
the power of Anschauung (intuition). Against this, Goethe puts his
Anschauende Urteilskraft.

2 'Der Alte vom Königsberge' - a play upon words with the name of Kant's
native town, Königsberg.

3 It is naturally to be expected that new light will also be thrown on
the various realms of knowledge as such dealt with in these pages.

4 Delphinium, in particular, has the peculiarity (which it shares with
a number of other species) that its calyx appears in the guise of a
flower, whilst the actual flower is quite inconspicuous.

5 Goethe also describes a proliferated pink.

6 The terms 'primeval' or 'primordial' sometimes suggested for
rendering the prefix 'ur' are unsuitable in a case like this. 'Primeval
plant', for instance, used by some translators of Goethe, raises the
misunderstanding - to which Goethe's concept has anyhow been subject
from the side of scientific botany - that by his ur-plant he had in
mind some primitive, prehistoric plant, the hypothetical ancestor in
the Darwinian sense of the present-day plant kingdom.

7 The following observation is not one made by Goethe himself. It is
presented here by the author as an example of the heuristic value of
Goethe's method of pictorial-dynamic contemplation of the sense-world.

8 'Exakte sinnliche Phantasie.'

9 Entdeckung eines trefflichen Vorarbeiters.


Except We Become ...

In this chapter we shall concern ourselves with a number of
personalities from the more or less recent past of the cultural life of
Britain, each of whom was a spiritual kinsman of Goethe, and so a
living illustration of the fact that the true source of knowledge in
man must be sought, and can be found, outside the limits of his modern
adult consciousness. Whilst none of them was a match for Goethe as
regards universality and scientific lucidity, they are all
characteristic of an immediacy of approach to certain essential truths,
which in the sense we mean is not found in Goethe. It enabled them to
express one or the other of these truths in a form that makes them
suitable as sign-posts on our own path of exploration. We shall find
repeated opportunity in the later pages of this book to remember just
what these men saw and thought.

* *
The first is Thomas Reid (1710-96), the Scottish philosopher and
advocate of common sense as the root of philosophy.1 After having
served for some years as a minister in the Church of Scotland, Reid
became professor of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, whence he
was called to Glasgow as the successor of Adam Smith. Through his birth
in Strachan, Kincardine, he belonged to the same part of Scotland from
which Kant's ancestors had come. Two brief remarks of Goethe show that
he knew of the Scotsman's philosophy, and that he appreciated his
influence on contemporary philosophers.2

Reid, like his contemporary Kant, felt his philosophical conscience
stirred by Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, and, like Kant, set himself
the task of opposing it. Unlike Kant, however, whose philosophic system
was designed to arrest man's reason before the abyss into which Hume
threatened to cast it, Reid contrives to detect the bridge that leads
safely across this abyss. Even though it was not granted to him
actually to set foot on this bridge (this, in his time, only Goethe
managed to do), he was able to describe it in a manner especially
helpful for our own purpose.

The first of the three books in which Reid set out the results of his
labours appeared in 1764 under the title, Inquiry into the Human Mind
on the Principles of Common Sense. The other two, Essays on the
Intellectual Powers of Man and Essays on the Active Powers of Man,
appeared twenty years later. In these books Reid had in view a more
all-embracing purpose than in his first work. The achievement of this
purpose, however, required a greater spiritual power than was granted
to him. Comparing his later with his earlier work, Reid's biographer,
A. Campbell Fraser, says:

'Reid's Essays form, as it were, the inner court of the temple of which
the Aberdonian Inquiry is the vestibule. But the vestibule is a more
finished work of constructive skill than the inner court, for the aged
architect appears at last as if embarrassed by accumulated material.
The Essays, greater in bulk, perhaps less deserve a place among modern
philosophical classics than the Inquiry, notwithstanding its narrower
scope, confined as it is to man's perception of the extended world, as
an object lesson on the method of appeal to common sense.'

Whilst the ideas of Kant, by which he tried in his way to oppose Hume's
philosophy, have become within a short space of time the common
possession of men's minds, it was the fate of Reid's ideas to find
favour among only a restricted circle of friends. Moreover, they
suffered decisive misunderstanding and distortion through the efforts
of well-meaning disciples. This was because Kant's work was a late
fruit of an epoch of human development which had lasted for centuries
and in his time began to draw to its close, while Reid's work
represents a seed of a new epoch yet to come. Here lies the reason also
for his failure to develop his philosophy beyond the achievements
contained in his first work. It is on the latter, therefore, that we
shall chiefly draw for presenting Reid's thoughts.


The convincing nature of Hume's argumentation, together with the
absurdity of the conclusions to which it led, aroused in Reid a
suspicion that the premises on which Hume's thoughts were built, and
which he, in company with all his predecessors, had assumed quite
uncritically, contained some fundamental error. For both as a
Christian, a philosopher, and a man in possession of common sense, Reid
had no doubt as to the absurdity and destructiveness of the conclusions
to which Hume's reasoning had led him.

'For my own satisfaction, I entered into a serious examination of the
principles upon which this sceptical system is built; and was not a
little surprised to find that it leans with its whole weight upon a
hypothesis, which is ancient indeed, and hath been very generally
received by philosophers, but of which I could find no solid proof. The
hypothesis I mean is, That nothing is perceived but what is in the mind
which perceives it: That we do not really perceive the things that are
external, but only certain images and pictures of them imprinted upon
the mind, which are called impressions and ideas.

'If this be true, supposing certain impressions and ideas to exist
presently in my mind, I cannot, from their existence, infer the
existence of anything else; my impressions and ideas are the only
existences of which I can have any knowledge or conception; and they
are such fleeting and transitory beings, that they can have no
existence at all, any longer than I am conscious of them. So that, upon
this hypothesis, the whole universe about me, bodies and spirits, sun,
moon, stars, and earth, friends and relations, all things without
exception, which I imagined to have a permanent existence whether I
thought of them or not vanish at once:

'And, like the baseless fabric of this vision ... Leave not a rack

'I thought it unreasonable, upon the authority of philosophers, to
admit a hypothesis which, in my opinion, overturns all philosophy, all
religion and virtue, and all common sense: and finding, that all the
systems which I was acquainted with, were built upon this hypothesis, I
resolved to enquire into this subject anew, without regard to any

The following passage from the first chapter of the Inquiry reveals
Reid as a personality who was not dazzled to the same extent as were
his contemporaries by the brilliance of the onlooker-consciousness:

'If it [the mind] is indeed what the Treatise of Human Nature makes it,
I find I have been only in an enchanted castle, imposed upon by
spectres and apparitions. I blush inwardly to think how 1 have been
deluded; I am ashamed of my frame, and can hardly forbear expostulating
with my destiny: Is this thy pastime, O Nature, to put such tricks upon
a silly creature, and then to take off the mask, and show him how he
hath been befooled? If this is the philosophy of human nature, my soul
enter thou not into her secrets. It is surely the forbidden tree of
knowledge; I no sooner taste it, than I perceive myself naked, and
stript of all things - yea even of my very self. I see myself, and the
whole frame of nature, shrink into fleeting ideas, which, like
Epicurus's atoms, dance about in emptiness.

'But what if these profound disquisitions into the first principles of
human nature, do naturally and necessarily plunge a man into this abyss
of scepticism? May we not reasonably judge from what hath happened? Des
Cartes no sooner began to dig in this mine, than scepticism was ready
to break in upon him. He did what he could to shut it out. Malebranche
and Locke, who dug deeper, found the difficulty of keeping out this
enemy still to increase; but they laboured honestly in the design. Then
Berkeley, who carried on the work, despairing of securing all,
bethought himself of an expedient: By giving up the material world,
which he thought might be spared without loss, and even with advantage,
he hoped by an impregnable partition to secure the world of spirits.
But, alas! the Treatise of Human Nature wantonly sapped the foundation
of this partition and drowned all in one universal deluge.' (Chapter I,
Sections vi-vii.)

What Reid so pertinently describes here as the 'enchanted castle' is
nothing else than the human head, which knows of no occurrence beyond
its boundaries, because it has forgotten that it is only the
end-product of a living existence outside of, and beyond, itself. We
see here that Reid is gifted with the faculty of entering this castle
without forfeiting his memory of the world outside; and so even from
within its walls, he could recognize its true nature. To a high degree
this helped him to keep free of those deceptions to which the majority
of his contemporaries fell victim, and to which so many persons are
still subject to-day.

It is in this way that Reid could make it one of the cardinal
principles of his observations to test all that the head thinks by
relating it to the rest of human nature and to allow nothing to stand,
which does not survive this test. In this respect the argument he sets
over against the Cartesian, 'cogito ergo sum' is characteristic: ' "I
am thinking," says he, "therefore I am": and is it not as good
reasoning to say, I am sleeping, therefore I am? If a body moves, it
must exist, no doubt; but if it is at rest, it must exist likewise.'

The following summarizes the position to which Reid is led when he
includes the whole human being in his philosophical inquiries.

Reid admits that, when the consciousness that has become aware of
itself surveys that which lies within its own horizon, it finds nothing
else there but transient pictures. These pictures in themselves bring
to the mind no experience of a lasting existence outside itself. There
is no firm evidence of the existence of either an outer material world
to which these pictures can be related, or of an inner spiritual entity
which is responsible for them. To be able to speak of an existence in
either realm is impossible for a philosophy which confines its
attention solely to the mere picture-content of the waking

But man is not only a percipient being; he is also a being of will, and
as such he comes into a relationship with the world which can be a
source of rich experience. If one observes this relationship, one is
bound to notice that it is based on the self-evident assumption that
one possesses a lasting individuality, whose actions deal with a
lasting material world. Any other way of behaviour would contradict the
common sense of man; where we meet with it we are faced with a lunatic.

Thus philosophy and common sense seem to stand in irreconcilable
opposition to each other. But this opposition is only apparent. It
exists so long as philosophy thinks it is able to come to valid
conclusions without listening to the voice of common sense, believing
itself to be too exalted to need to do so. Philosophy, then, does not
realize 'that it has no other root but the principles of Common Sense;
it grows out of them, and draws its nourishment from them: severed from
this root, its honours wither, its sap is dried up, it dies and rots.'
(I, 5.)

At the moment when the philosophical consciousness ceases to regard
itself as the sole foundation of its existence and recognizes that it
can say nothing about itself without considering the source from which
it has evolved, it attains the possibility of seeing the content of its
experience in a new light. For it is no longer satisfied with
considering this content in the completed form in which it presents
itself. Rather does it feel impelled to investigate the process which
gives rise to this content as an end-product (the 'impressions' and
'ideas' of Hume and his predecessors).

Reid has faith in the fact - for his common sense assures him of it -
that a lasting substantiality lies behind the world of the senses, even
if for human consciousness it exists only so long as impressions of it
are received via the bodily senses. Similarly, he has faith in the fact
that his consciousness, although existing but intermittently, has as
its bearer a lasting self. Instead of allowing this intuitively given
knowledge to be shaken by a mere staring at fugitive pictures, behind
which the real existence of self and world is hidden, he seeks instead
in both directions for the origin of the pictures and will not rest
until he has found the lasting causes of their transient appearances.

In one direction Reid finds himself led to the outer boundary of the
body, where sense perception has its origin. This prompts him to
investigate the perceptions of the five known senses: smelling,
tasting, hearing, touching and seeing, which he discusses in this
order. In the other direction he finds himself led - and here we meet
with a special attribute of Reid's whole philosophical outlook - to the
realm of human speech. For speech depends upon an inner, intelligent
human activity, which, once learnt, becomes a lasting part of man's
being, quite outside the realm of his philosophizing consciousness, and
yet forming an indispensable instrument for this consciousness.

The simplest human reasoning, prompted only by common sense, and the
subtlest philosophical thought, both need language for their
expression. Through his ability to speak, man lifts himself above an
instinctive animal existence, and yet he develops this ability at an
infantile stage, when, in so far as concerns the level of his
consciousness and his relationship to the world, he hardly rises above
the level of the animal. It requires a highly developed intelligence to
probe the intricacies of language, yet complicated tongues were spoken
in human history long before man awoke to his own individual
intelligence. Just as each man learns to think through speaking, so did
humanity as a whole. Thus speech can become a means for acquiring
insight into the original form of human intelligence. For in speech the
common sense of man, working unconsciously within him, meets the fully
awakened philosophical consciousness.3

The way in which the two paths of observation have here been set out
must not give rise to the expectation that they are discussed by Reid
in a similarly systematic form. For this, Reid lacked the sufficient
detachment from his own thoughts. As he presents his observations in
the Inquiry they seem to be nothing but a systematic description of the
five senses, broken into continually by linguistic considerations of
the kind indicated above. So, for example, many of his more important
statements about language are found in his chapter on 'Hearing'.

Our task will be to summarize Reid's work, taking from his description,
so often full of profound observations, only what is essential to
illustrate his decisive discoveries. This requires that (keeping to Mr.
Eraser's picture) we consider separately the two pillars supporting the
roof of the temple's forecourt: speech and sense-impressions. We will
start with speech.


Reid notes as a fundamental characteristic of human language that it
includes two distinct elements: first, the purely acoustic element,
represented by the sheer succession of sounds, and secondly the variety
of meanings represented by various groups of sounds, meanings which
seem to have nothing to do with the sounds as such. This state of
language, where the sound-value of the word and its value as a sign to
denote a thing signified by it, have little or nothing to do with one
another, is certainly not the primeval one. In the contemporary state
of language, which Reid calls artificial language, we must see a
development from a former condition, which Reid calls natural language.
So long as this latter condition obtained, man expressed in the sound
itself what he felt impelled to communicate to his fellows. In those
days sound was not merely an abstract sign, but a gesture, which
moreover was accompanied and supported by the gestures of the limbs.

Even to-day man, at the beginning of his life, still finds himself in
that relationship to language which was natural to all men in former
times. The little child acquires the ability to speak through the
imitation of sounds, becoming aware of them long before it understands
the meaning accorded to the various groups of sounds in the artificial
state of contemporary adult speech. That the child's attention should
be directed solely to the sound, and not to the abstract meaning of the
individual words, is indeed the prerequisite of learning to speak. If,
says Reid, the child were to understand immediately the conceptual
content of the words it hears, it would never learn to speak at all.

When the adult of to-day uses language in its artificial state, words
are only signs for things signified by them. As he speaks, his
attention is directed exclusively towards this side of language; the
pure sound of the words he uses remains outside the scope of his
awareness. The little child, on the other hand, has no understanding of
the meaning of words and therefore lives completely in the experience
of pure sound. In the light of this, Reid comes to the conclusion, so
important for what follows, that with the emergence of a certain form
of consciousness, in this case that of the intellectual content of
words, another form submerges, a form in which the experience of the
pure sound of words prevails. The adult, while in one respect ahead of
the child, yet in another is inferior, for the effect of this change is
a definite impoverishment in soul-experience. Reid puts this as

'It is by natural signs chiefly that we give force and energy to
language; and the less language has of them, it is the less expressive
and persuasive. ... Artificial signs signify, but they do not express;
they speak to the understanding, as algebraic characters may do, but
the passions and the affections and the will hear them not: these
continue dormant and inactive, till we speak to them in the language of
nature, to which they are all attention and obedience.'

We have followed Reid so far in his study of language, because it is
along this way that he came to form the concepts that were to serve him
as a key for his all-important findings in the realm of
sense-experience. These are the concepts which bear on the connexion
between the sign and the thing signified; the distinction between the
artificial and the natural state of language; and the disappearance of
certain primeval human capacities for experience, of which Reid says
that they are brought by the child into the world, but fade as his
intellectual capacities develop.


As soon as one begins to study Reid's observations in the realm of
sense-experience, one meets with a certain difficulty, noticeable
earlier but not so strikingly. The source of it is that Reid was
obliged to relate the results of his observations only to the five
senses known in his day, whereas in fact his observations embrace a far
greater field of human sense-perception. Thus a certain disharmony
creeps into his descriptions and makes his statements less convincing,
especially for someone who does not penetrate to its real cause.

However this may be, it need not concern us here; what matter to us are
Reid's actual observations. For these led him to the important
distinction between two factors in our act of acquiring knowledge of
the outer world, each of which holds an entirely different place in
ordinary consciousness. Reid distinguishes them as 'sensation' and
'perception'. It is through the latter that we become aware of the
object as such. But we are mistaken if we regard the content of this
perception as identical with the sum total of the sensations which are
caused in our consciousness by the particular object. For these
sensations are qualitatively something quite different, and, although
without them no perception of the object is possible, they do not by
themselves convey a knowledge of the thing perceived. Only, because our
attention is so predominantly engaged by the object under perception,
we pay no heed to the content of our sensation.

To take an example, the impressions of roundness, angularity,
smoothness, roughness, colour, etc., of a table contain, all told,
nothing that could assure us of the existence of the object 'table' as
the real content of an external world. How, then, do we receive the
conviction of the latter's existence? Reid's answer is, by entering
into an immediate intuitive relationship with it. It is true that to
establish this relationship we need the stimuli coming from the
impressions which our mind receives through the various senses. Yet
this must not induce us to confuse the two.

When nature speaks to man through his senses, something occurs exactly
analogous to the process when man communicates with man through the
spoken word. In both cases the perception, that is, the result of the
process of perception, is something quite other than the sum of
sensations underlying it. Per-ceiving by means of the senses is none
other than a re-ceiving of nature's language; and this language, just
like human language, bears two entirely different elements within it.
According as one or the other element prevails in man's intercourse
with nature, this intercourse will be either 'natural' or 'artificial'
- to use the terms by which Reid distinguished the two stages of human

Just as every human being must once have listened only to the pure
sound of the spoken word on a wholly sentient level in order to acquire
the faculty of speaking, so also, in order to learn nature's language,
the soul must once have been totally surrendered to the pure
impressions of the senses. And just as with time the spoken word
becomes a symbol for that which is signified by it, the consciousness
turning to the latter and neglecting the actual sound-content of the
word, so also in its intercourse with nature the soul, with its growing
interest in the thing signified, turns its attention more and more away
from the actual experiences of the senses.

From this it follows that a philosophy which seeks to do justice to
man's whole being must not be satisfied with examining the given
content of human consciousness, but must strive to observe the actual
process to which this content owes its emergence. In practice this
means that a philosopher who understands his task aright must strive to
reawaken in himself a mode of experience which is naturally given to
man in his early childhood. Reid expresses this in the Inquiry in the
following way:

'When one is learning a language, he attends to the sounds, but when he
is master of it, he attends only to the sense of what he would express.
If this is the case, we must become as little children again, if we
will be philosophers: we must overcome habits which have been gathering
strength ever since we began to think; habits, the usefulness of which
atones for the difficulty it creates for the philosopher in discovering
the first principles of the human mind.'

'We must become as little children again, if we will be philosophers!'
The phrase appears here almost in passing, and Reid never came back to
it again. And yet in it is contained the Open Sesame which gives access
to the hidden spirit-treasures of the world. In this unawareness of
Reid's of the importance of what he thus had found we must see the
reason for his incapacity to develop his philosophy beyond its first
beginnings. This handicap arose from the fact that in all his thinking
he was guided by a picture of the being of man which - as a child of
his time, dominated by the contemporary religious outlook - he could
never realize distinctly. Yet without a clear conception of this
picture no justice can be done to Reid's concept of common sense. Our
next task, therefore, must be to evoke this picture as clearly as we

* *
The following passage in Reid's Inquiry provides a key for the
understanding of his difficulty in conceiving an adequate picture of
man's being. In this passage Reid maintains that all art is based on
man's experience of the natural language of things, and that in every
human being there lives an inborn artist who is more or less crippled
by man's growing accustomed to the state of artificial language in his
intercourse with the world. In continuation of the passage quoted on
page 99 Reid says:

'It were easy to show, that the fine arts of the musician, the painter,
the actor, and the orator, so far as they are expressive; although the
knowledge of them requires in us a delicate taste, a nice judgment, and
much study and practice; yet they are nothing else but the language of
nature, which we brought into the world with us, but have unlearned by
disuse and so find the greatest difficulty in recovering it.

'Abolish the use of articulate sounds and writing among mankind for a
century, and every man would be a painter, an actor, and an orator. We
mean not to affirm that such an expedient is practicable; or if it
were, that the advantage would counterbalance the loss; but that, as
men are led by nature and necessity to converse together they will use
every means in their power to make themselves understood; and where
they cannot do this by artificial signs, they will do it as far as
possible by natural ones: and he that understands perfectly the use of
natural signs, must be the best judge in all expressive arts.'

When Reid says that there are certain characteristics - and these just
of the kind whose development truly ennobles human life - which the
soul brings with it into the world, a picture of man is evoked in us in
which the supersensible part of his being appears as an entity whose
existence reaches further back than the moment of birth and even the
first beginnings of the body. Now such a conception of man is in no way
foreign to humanity, in more ancient times it was universally
prevalent, and it still lives on to-day, if merely traditionally, in
the eastern part of the world. It is only in the West that from a
certain period it ceased to be held. This was the result of a change
which entered into human memory in historical times, just as the
re-dawning of the old knowledge of man's pre-existence, of which Reid
is a symptom, is a result of another corresponding alteration in the
memory-powers of man in modern times.

For men of old it was characteristic that alongside the impressions
they received in earthly life through the senses (which in any case
were far less intense than they are to-day), they remembered
experiences of a purely supersensible kind, which gave them assurance
that before the soul was knit together with a physical body it had
existed in a cosmic state purely spiritual in nature. The moment in
history when this kind of memory disappeared is that of the transition
from the philosophy of Plato to that of Aristotle. Whereas Plato was
convinced by clear knowledge that the soul possesses characteristics
implanted in it before conception, Aristotle recognized a bodiless
state of the soul only in the life after death. For him the beginning
of the soul's existence was identical with that of the body.

The picture of man, taught for the first time by Aristotle, still
required about twice four hundred years - from the fourth pre-Christian
to the fourth post-Christian century - before it became so far the
common possession of men that the Church Father Augustine (354-430)
could base his teaching on it - a teaching which moulded man's outlook
on himself for the coming centuries right up to our own time.

The following passage from Augustine's Confessions shows clearly how he
was compelled to think about the nature of the little child:

'This age, whereof I have no remembrance, which I take on others'
words, and guess from other infants that I have passed, true though the
guess be, I am yet loath to count in this life of mine which I live in
this world. For no less than that which I lived in my mother's womb, is
it hid from me in the shadows of forgetfulness. But if I was shapen in
iniquity and in sin my mother did conceive me, where, I beseech thee, O
my God, where, Lord, or when, was I thy servant guiltless? But lo! that
period I pass by; and what have I to do with that of which I can recall
no vestige?'4

On the grounds of such experience, Augustine was unable to picture
man's being in any other way than by seeing him, from the first moment
of his life, as subject to the condition of the human race which
resulted from the Fall. Thus he exclaims in his Confessions: 'Before
Thee, O God, no-one is free from sin, not even the child which has
lived but a single day on the earth.' In so far as there was any
question of the soul's arising from this fallen state, it was deemed
unable to attain this by any effort of its own, but to depend on the
gifts of grace which the Church was able to dispense through the

Compare with this the present-day scientific conception of human
nature, as it dominates the thought of specialist and layman alike.
Here man appears, both in body and soul, as a sum of inherited
characteristics, of characteristics, that is to say, which have been
passed on by way of sexual propagation and gradually emerge into full
manifestation as the individual grows up. Apart from this inherited
predestination the soul is held to present itself, in Locke's classical
phrase, as a tabula rasa upon which are stamped all manner of external

The similarity between this modern picture of man and the earlier
theological one is striking. In both cases the central assumption is
that human development from child to man consists in the unfolding of
certain inherited characteristics which are capable of further specific
modification under influences proceeding from outside. The only
difference between the two pictures is that in the modern one the
concepts of heredity and adaptation have been formed without special
application to the ethical characteristics of the soul.

It is clear that from both Augustine's and the modern scientific
viewpoint there is no sense in requiring - as Reid did - those who seek
the truth about themselves and the world to recover a condition which
had been theirs as children. Nor from this point of view is there any
justification to call on a Common Sense, innate in man, to sit in
judgment on the philosophical efforts of the adult reason.


That even in the days of Augustine the original conception of human
nature had not disappeared entirely, is shown by the appearance of
Augustine's opponent Pelagius, called the 'arch-heretic'. To consider
him at this point in our discussion will prove helpful for our
understanding of Reid's historic position in the modern age.

What interests us here in Pelagius's doctrine (leaving aside all
questions concerning the meaning of the Sacraments, etc.), is the
picture of man which must have lived in him for him to teach as he did.

Leaving his Irish-Scottish homeland and arriving about the year 400 in
Rome, where on account of the unusual purity of his being he soon came
to be held in the highest esteem, Pelagius found himself obliged to
come out publicly against Augustine, for he felt that Augustine's
teachings denied all free will to man. In the purely passive surrender
of man to the will of God, as Augustine taught it, he could not but see
danger for the future development of Christian humanity. How radically
he diverged from Augustine in his view of man we may see from such of
his leading thoughts as follow:

'Each man begins his life in the same condition as Adam.'
'All good or evil for which in life we are deserving of praise or blame
is done by ourselves and is not born with us.'
'Before the personal will of man comes into action there is nothing in
him but what God has placed there.'
'It is therefore left to the free will of man whether he falls into
sin, as also whether through following Christ he raises himself out of
it again.'

Pelagius could think in this way because he came from a part of Europe
where the older form of human memory, already at that time almost
extinct in the South, was in some degree still active. For him it was
therefore a matter of direct experience that the development of man
from childhood onwards was connected with a diminution of certain
original capacities of the soul. Yet he was so far a child of his age
as to be no longer capable of seeing whence these capacities

To provide the necessary corrective to Augustine's doctrine of
inheritance, Pelagius would have had to be able to see in the first
years of life both a beginning of the earthly and a termination of the
pre-earthly existence of the soul. The imperfections of his picture of
man, however, led him to underestimate, even to deny, the significance
of heredity and so of original sin in human life. For an age which no
longer had any direct experience of the soul's pre-natal life, the
doctrines of Augustine were undoubtedly more appropriate than those of
Pelagius; Augustine was in fact the more modern of the two.

And now, if we move forward a dozen centuries and compare Thomas Reid
and Immanuel Kant from this same point of view, we find the same
conception of man again triumphant. But there is an essential
difference: Kant carried all before him because he based himself on an
age-old view of human nature, whereas Reid, uncomprehended up to our
own day, pointed to a picture of man only just then dawning on the
horizon of the future. Just as through Pelagius there sounded something
like a last call to European humanity not to forget the cosmic nature
of the soul, so through Reid the memory of this nature announced its
first faint renewal. It is common to both that their voices lacked the
clarity to make themselves heard among the other voices of their times;
and with both the reason was the same: neither could perceive in
fullness - the one no longer, the other not yet - the picture of man
which ensouled their ideas.

The certainty of Reid's philosophical instinct, if such an expression
be allowed, and at the same time his tragic limitations, due to an
inability fully to understand the origin of this instinct, come out
clearly in the battle he waged against the 'idea' as his immediate
predecessors understood it. We know that Plato introduced this word
into the philosophical language of mankind. In Greek ιδέα (from ιδεῑν, to see) means something of
which one knows that it exists, because one sees it. It was therefore
possible to use the word 'to see' as Plato did, because in his day it
covered both sensible and supersensible perception. For Plato, knowing
consisted in the soul's raising itself to perceiving the objective,
world-forming IDEAS, and this action comprised at the same time a
recollection of what the soul had seen while it lived, as an Idea among
Ideas, before its appearance on earth.

As long as Plato's philosophy continued to shape their thought, men
went on speaking more or less traditionally of Ideas as real
supersensible beings. When, however, the Aristotelian mode of thinking
superseded the Platonic, the term 'Idea' ceased to be used in its
original sense; so much so that, when Locke and other modern
philosophers resorted to it in order to describe the content of the
mind, they did so in complete obliviousness of its first significance.

It is thus that in modern philosophy, and finally in ordinary modern
usage, 'idea' came to be a word with many meanings. Sometimes it
signifies a sense-impression, sometimes a mental representation,
sometimes the thought, concept or essential nature of a thing. The only
thing common to these various meanings is an underlying implication
that an idea is a purely subjective item in human consciousness,
without any assured correspondence to anything outside.

It was against this view of the idea that Reid took the field, going so
far as to label the philosophy holding it the 'ideal system'. He failed
to see, however, that in attacking the abstract use of the term he was
actually in a position to restore to it its original, genuine meaning.
If, instead of simply throwing the word overboard, he had been able to
make use of it in its real meaning, he would have expressed himself
with far greater exactitude and consistency.5 He was prevented from
doing this by his apparent ignorance of the earlier Greek philosophers,
Plato included. All he seems to have known of their teachings came from
inferior, second-hand reports of a later and already decadent period.

* *
There are two historic personalities, both in England, who witness to
the fact that the emergence of Reid's philosophy on the stage of
history was by no means an accidental event but that it represents a
symptom of a general reappearance of the long-forgotten picture of man,
in which birth no more than death sets up an absolute limit to human
existence. They are Thomas Traherne (1638-74) and William Wordsworth

Wordsworth's work and character are so well known that there is no need
to speak of them here in detail.6 For our purpose we shall pay special
attention only to his Ode on Intimations of Immortality from
Recollections of Early Childhood, where he shows himself in possession
of a memory (at any rate at the time when he wrote the poem) of the
pre-natal origin of the soul, and of a capacity for experiencing, at
certain moments, the frontier which the soul crosses at birth.

If, despite the widespread familiarity of the Ode, we here quote
certain passages from it, we do so because, like many similar things,
it has fallen a victim to the intellectualism of our time in being
regarded merely as a piece of poetic fantasy. We shall take the poet's
words as literally as he himself uttered them. We read:

'Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy.
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended."

And later:

'Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.''

The fact that Wordsworth in his later years gave no further indication
of such experiences need not prevent us from taking quite literally
what he says here. The truth is that an original faculty faded away
with increasing age, somewhat as happened with Reid when he could no
longer continue his philosophical work along its original lines.
Wordsworth's Ode is the testament of the childhood forces still
persisting but already declining within him; it is significant that he
set it down in about the same year of life (his thirty-sixth) as that
in which Traherne died and in which Goethe, seeking renewal of his
being, took flight to Italy.7


Of Traherne, too, we shall say here only as much as our present
consideration and the further aims of this book require. We cannot
concern ourselves with the remarkable events which led, half a century
ago, to the discovery and identification of his long-lost writings by
Bertram Dobell. Nor can we deal with the details of the eventful life
and remarkable spiritual development of this contemporary of the Civil
War. These matters are dealt with in Dobell's introduction to his
edition of Traherne's poems, as also by Gladys I. Wade in her work,
Thomas Traherne. Our gratitude for the labours of these two writers by
which they have provided mankind with the knowledge of the character
and the work of this unique personality cannot hinder us, however, from
stating that both were prevented by the premises of their own view of
the world from rightly estimating that side of Traherne which is
important for us in this book, and with which we shall specially
concern ourselves in the following pages.

Later in this chapter we shall discuss Dobell's philosophical
misinterpretation of Traherne, to which he fell victim because he
maintained his accustomed spectator standpoint in regard to his object
of study. Miss Wade has, indeed, been able to pay the right tribute to
Traherne, the mystic, whose inner (and also outer) biography she was
able to detect by taking seriously Traherne's indications concerning
his mystical development. Her mind, however, was too rigidly focused on
this side of Traherne's life - his self-training by an iron inner
discipline and his toilsome ascent from the experience of Nothingness
to a state of Beatific Vision. This fact, combined with her
disinclination to overcome the Augustinian picture of man in herself,
prevented her from taking Traherne equally seriously where he speaks as
one who is endowed with a never interrupted memory of his primeval
cosmic consciousness - notwithstanding the fact that Traherne himself
has pointed to this side of his nature as the most significant for his

Of the two works of Traherne which Dobell rescued from oblivion, on
both of which we shall draw for our exposition, one contains his poems,
the other his prose writings. The title of the latter is Centuries of
Meditations. The title page of one of the two manuscripts containing
the collection of the poetical writings introduces these as Poems of
Felicity, Containing Divine Reflections on the Native Objects of an
Infant-Eye. As regards the title 'Centuries of Meditations' we are
ignorant of the meaning Traherne may have attached to it, and what he
meant by calling the four parts of the book, 'First', 'Second', etc.,
Century. The book itself represents a manual of devotion for meditative
study by the reader.

Let our first quotation be one from the opening paragraph of the third
'Century' in which Traherne introduces himself as the bearer of certain
uncommon powers of memory and, arising from these powers, a particular
mission as a teacher:

'Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had from the womb, and that
divine light wherewith I was born are the best unto this day, wherein I
can see the Universe. By the gift of God they attended me into the
world, and by His special favour I remember them till now. Verily they
seem the greatest gifts His wisdom could bestow, for without them all
other gifts had been dead and vain. They are unattainable by books, and
therefore I will teach them by experience.' (Ill, 1.)

The picture thus remaining with him of his nature of soul in his
earliest years on earth he describes as follows:

'Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious
apprehensions of the world, than I when I was a child. All appeared
new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and
beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world
was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys. My knowledge was
Divine. I knew by intuition those things which since my Apostacy, I
collected again by the highest reason. I was entertained like an Angel
with the works of God in their splendour and glory, I saw all in the
peace of Eden; Heaven and Earth did sing my Creator's praises, and
could not make more melody to Adam, than to me. All Time was Eternity,
and a perpetual Sabbath. Is it not strange, that an infant should be
the heir of the whole world, and see those mysteries which the books of
the learned never unfold?' (Ill, 1, 2.)

In a different form the same experience comes to expression in the
opening lines of Traherne's poem, Wonder:

'How like an Angel came I down!
How bright are all things here I
When first among his Works I did appear
O how their GLORY did me crown!
The World resembled his ETERNITIE,
In which my Soul did Walk;
And evry Thing that I did see
Did with me talk.'8

The picture of man thus sketched by Traherne is as close to Reid's as
it is remote from Augustine's. This remoteness comes plainly to
expression in the way Traherne and Augustine regard the summons of
Christ to His disciples to become as little children, a summons to
which Reid was led, as we have seen, on purely philosophical grounds.
Let us first of all recall the words of Christ as recorded by Matthew
in his 18th and 19th chapters:

'And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of
them, and said: Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and
become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of
Heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child,
the same is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.' (xviii, 2-4.)

'Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come unto me: for of
such is the kingdom of Heaven.' (xix, 14.)

Augustine refers to these words when he concludes that examination of
his childhood memories which he undertook in order to prove the
depravity of the soul from its first day on earth. He says: 'In the
littleness of children didst Thou, our king, give us a symbol of
humility when Thou didst say: Of such is the kingdom of Heaven.'

If we glance back from what Augustine says here to the original
passages in the Gospel just quoted, we see what a remarkable alteration
he makes. Of the first passage only the last sentence is taken, and
this in Augustine's mind is fused into one with the second passage.
Thereby the admonition of Christ through one's own effort to become as
one once was as a child disappears completely. The whole passage thus
takes on a meaning corresponding to that passive attitude to the divine
will inculcated by Augustine and opposed by Pelagius, and it is in this
sense that the words of Christ have sunk into the consciousness of
Western Christianity and are usually taken to-day.

We may see how differently this injunction of Christ lived in
Traherne's consciousness from the following passage out of his

'Our Saviour's meaning, when He said, ye must be born again and become
a little child that will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, is deeper
far than is generally believed. It is not only in a careless reliance
upon Divine Providence, that we are to become little children, or in
the feebleness and shortness of our anger and simplicity of our
passions, but in the peace and purity of all our soul. Which purity
also is a deeper thing than is commonly apprehended.' (Ill, 5.)

With Traherne also the passage in question has been fused together with
another utterance of Christ, from John's account of Christ's
conversation with Nicodemus:

'Verily, verily I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot
see the Kingdom of God.' (John iii, 3.)

What conception of the infant condition of man must have existed in a
soul for it to unite these two passages from the Gospels in this way?
Whereas for Augustine it is because of its small stature and
helplessness that the child becomes a symbol for the spiritual
smallness and helplessness of man as such, compared with the
overwhelming power of the divine King, for Traherne it is the child's
nearness to God which is most present to him, and which must be
regained by the man who strives for inner perfection.

Traherne could bear in himself such a picture of man's infancy because,
as he himself emphasizes, he was in possession of an unbroken memory of
the experiences which the soul enjoys before it awakens to earthly
sense-perception. The following passage from the poem, My Spirit, gives
a detailed picture of the early state in which the soul has experiences
and perceptions quite different from those of its later life. (We may
recall Reid's indication of how the child receives the natural language
of things.)

'An Object, if it were before
Mine Ey, was by Dame Nature's Law
Within my Soul: Her Store
Was all at once within me; all her Treasures
Were my immediat and internal Pleasures;
Substantial Joys, which did inform my Mind.

'... I could not tell
Whether the Things did there
Themselvs appear,
Which in my Spirit truly seem'd to dwell:
Or whether my conforming Mind
Were not ev'n all that therein shin'd.'

Further detail is added to this picture by the description, given in
the poem The Praeparative, of the soul's non-experience of the body at
that early stage. The description is unmistakably one of an experience
during the time between conception and birth.

'My Body being dead, my Limbs unknown;
Before I skill'd to prize
Those living Stars, mine Eys;
Before or Tongue or Cheeks I call'd mine own,
Before I knew these Hands were mine,
Or that my Sinews did my Members join;
When neither Nostril, Foot, nor Ear,
As yet could be discerned or did appear;
I was within
A House I knew not; newly cloath'd with Skin.

Then was my Soul my only All to me,
A living endless Ey,
Scarce bounded with the Sky,
Whose Power, and Act, and Essence was to see;
I was an inward Sphere of Light,
Or an interminable Orb of Sight,
Exceeding that which makes the Days,
A vital Sun that shed abroad its Rays:
All Life, all Sense,
A naked, simple, pure Intelligence.''

In the stanza following upon this, Traherne makes a statement which is
of particular importance in the context of our present discussion.
After some additional description of the absence of all bodily needs he

'Without disturbance then I did receiv
The tru Ideas of all Things'

The manuscript of this poem shows a small alteration in Traherne's hand
in the second of these two lines. Where we now read 'true Ideas', there
originally stood 'fair Ideas'. 'Fair' described Traherne's experience
as he immediately remembered it; the later alteration to 'true' shows
how well aware he was that his contemporaries might miss what he meant
by 'Idea', through taking it in the sense that had already become
customary in his time, namely, as a mere product of man's own mental

This precaution, however, has not saved Traherne from being
misinterpreted in our own day in precisely the way he feared - indeed,
by no less a person than his own discoverer, Dobell. It is the
symptomatic character of this misinterpretation which prompts us to
deal with it here.


In his attempt to classify the philosophical mode of thought behind
Traherne's writings, Dobell, to his own amazement, comes to the
conclusion that Traherne had anticipated Bishop Berkeley (1684-1753).
They seemed to him so alike that he does not hesitate to call Traherne
a 'Berkeleyan before Berkeley was born'. In proof of this he refers to
the poems, The Praeparative and My Spirit, citing from the latter the
passage given above (page 112), and drawing special attention to its
two concluding lines. Regarding this he says: 'I am much mistaken if
the theory of non-existence of independent matter, which is the essence
of Berkeley's system, is not to be found in this poem. The thought that
the whole exterior universe is not really a thing apart from and
independent of man's consciousness of it, but something which exists
only as it is perceived, is undeniably found in My Spirit:

The reader who has followed our exposition in the earlier parts of this
chapter can be in no doubt that, to find a philosophy similar to
Traherne's, he must look for it in Reid and not in Berkeley. Reid
himself rightly placed Berkeley amongst the representatives of the
'ideal system' of thought. For Berkeley's philosophy represents an
effort of the onlooker-consciousness, unable as it was to arrive at
certainty regarding the objective existence of a material world outside
itself, to secure recognition for an objective Self behind the flux of
mental phenomena. Berkeley hoped to do this by supposing that the
world, including God, consists of nothing but 'idea'-creating minds,
operating like the human mind as man himself perceives it. His world
picture, based (as is well known) entirely on optical experiences, is
the perfect example of a philosophy contrived by the one-eyed,
colourblind world-spectator.

We shall understand what in Traherne's descriptions reminded Dobell of
Berkeley, if we take into account the connexion of the soul with the
body at the time when, according to Traherne, it still enjoys the
untroubled perception of the true, the light-filled, Ideas of things.

In this condition the soul has only a dim and undifferentiated
awareness of its connexion with a spatially limited body ('I was within
a house I knew not, newly clothed with skin') and it certainly knows
nothing at all of the body as an instrument, through which the will can
be exercised in an earthly-spatial way ('My body being dead, my limbs
unknown'). Instead of this, the soul experiences itself simply as a
supersensible sense-organ and as such united with the far spaces of the
universe ('Before I skilled to prize those living stars, mine eyes. ...
Then was my soul my only All to me, a living endless eye, scarce
bounded with the sky').

At the time when the soul has experiences of the kind described by
Traherne, it is in a condition in which, as yet, no active contact has
been established between itself and the physical matter of the body and
thereby with gravity. Hence there is truth in the picture which
Traherne thus sketches from actual memory. The same cannot be said of
Berkeley's world-picture. The fact that both resemble each other in
certain features need not surprise us, seeing that Berkeley's picture
is, in its own way, a pure 'eye-picture' of the world. As such,
however, it is an illusion - for it is intended for a state of man for
which it is not suited, namely for adult man going upright on the
earth, directing his deeds within its material realm, and in this way
fashioning his own destiny.

Indeed, compared with Berkeley's eye-picture of the world, that of Reid
is in every respect a 'limb-picture'. For where he seeks for the origin
of our naïve assurance that a real material world exists, there he reverts
- guided by his common sense - to the experiences available to the soul
through the fact that the limbs of the body meet with the resistant
matter of the world. And whenever he turns to the various senses in his
search, it is always the will-activity of the soul within the sense he
is investigating - and so the limb-nature within it - to which he first
turns his attention. Because, unlike Berkeley, he takes into account
the experiences undergone by the soul when it leaves behind its primal
condition, Reid does not fall into illusion, but discovers a
fundamental truth concerning the nature of the world-picture
experienced by man in his adult age. This, in turn, enables him to
discover the nature of man's world picture in early childhood and to
recognize the importance of recovering it in later life as a foundation
for a true philosophy.

Assuredly, the philosopher who discovered that we must become as little
children again if we would be philosophers, is the one to whom we may
relate Traherne, but not Berkeley. And if we wish to speak of Traherne,
as Dobell tried to do, we speak correctly only if we call him a
'Reidean before Reid was born'.

* *
A little more than a hundred years after Thomas Traherne taught his
fellow-men 'from experience' that there is an original condition of
man's soul, before it is yet able to prize 'those living stars, mine
eyes', in which it is endowed with the faculty to see 'the true (fair)
Ideas of all things', Goethe was led to the realization that he had
achieved the possibility of 'seeing Ideas with the very eyes'. Although
he was himself not aware of it, the conception of the Idea was at this
moment restored through him to its true and original Platonic

The present chapter has shown us how this conception of the Idea is
bound up with the view that is held of the relationship between human
nature in early childhood and human nature in later life. We have seen
that, when Plato introduced the term Idea as an expression for
spiritual entities having a real and independent existence, men were
still in possession of some recollection of their own pre-earthly
existence. We then found Traherne saying from his recollections that in
the original form of man's consciousness his soul is endowed with the
faculty of seeing 'true' Ideas, and we found Reid on similar grounds
fighting the significance which the term 'idea' had assumed under his
predecessors. By their side we see Goethe as one in whom the faculty of
seeing Ideas appears for the first time in adult man as a result of a
systematic training of observation and thought.

If our view of the interdependence of the Platonic conception of the
Idea with the picture man has of himself is seen rightly, then Goethe
must have been the bearer of such a picture. Our expectation is shown
to be right by the following two passages from Goethe's autobiography,
Truth and Fiction.

In that part of his life story where Goethe concludes the report of the
first period of his childhood (Book II), he writes:

'Who is able to speak worthily of the fullness of childhood? We cannot
behold the little creatures which flit about before us otherwise than
with delight, nay, with admiration; for they generally promise more
than they perform and it seems that nature, among the other roguish
tricks that she plays us, here also especially designs to make sport of
us. The first organs she bestows upon children coming into the world,
are adapted to the nearest immediate condition of the creature, which,
unassuming and artless, makes use of them in the readiest way for its
present purposes. The child, considered in and for itself, with its
equals, and in relations suited to its powers, seems so intelligent and
rational, and at the same time so easy, cheerful and clever, that one
can hardly wish it further cultivation. If children grew up according
to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.'9

We find further evidence in Goethe's account of an event in his seventh
year, which shows how deeply his soul was filled at that time with the
knowledge of its kinship with the realm from which nature herself
receives its existence. This knowledge led him to approach the 'great
God of Nature' through an act of ritual conceived by himself. The boy
took a four-sectioned music stand and arranged on it all kinds of
natural specimens, minerals and the like, until the whole formed a kind
of pyramidal altar. On the top of this pyramid he placed some
fumigating candles, the burning of which was to represent the 'upward
yearning of the soul for its God'. In order to give nature herself an
active part in the ritual, he contrived to kindle the candles by
focusing upon them through a magnifying-glass the light of the rising
sun. Before this symbol of the unity of the soul with the divine in
nature the boy then paid his devotions.

'Unity of the soul with the divine in nature' - this was what lived
vividly as a conviction in the seven-year-old boy, impelling him to act
as 'nature's priest' (Wordsworth). The same impulse, in a metamorphosed
form, impelled the adult to go out in quest of an understanding of
nature which, as Traherne put it, was to bring back through highest
reason what once had been his by way of primeval intuition.

1 The present writer's interest in Reid was first aroused by a remark
of Rudolf Steiner, in his book A Theory of 'Knowledge according to
Goethe's World Conception.

2 In a comment on a letter Carlyle had written to him, and in a note
dealing with the contemporary philosophy in Germany.

3 This observation of Reid's shows that the origin of language is very
different from what the evolutionists since Darwin have imagined it to

4 Confessions, Book I, Chapter 8.

5 As we have seen, the word had better luck with Goethe.

6 Wordsworth, with all his limitations, had a real affinity with Goethe
in his view of nature. Mr. Norman Lacey gives some indication of this
in his recent book, Wordsworth's View of Nature.

7 This same period of life played a decisive part in the spiritual
evolution of Rudolf Steiner, as may be seen in his autobiography, The
Story of My Life.

8 The difference in spelling between the prose and poetry excerpts
arises from the fact that whereas we can draw on Miss Wade's new
edition of the poems for Traherne's original spelling, we have as yet
only Dobell's edition of the Centuries, in which the spelling is

9 Oxenford's translation.


'Always Stand by Form'

Immediacy of approach to certain essentials of nature as a result of
their religious or artistic experience of the sense-world, is the
characteristic of two more representatives of British cultural life.
They are Luke Howard (1772-1864) and John Ruskin (1819-1900), both true
readers in the book of nature. Like those discussed in the previous
chapter they can be of especial help to us in our attempt to establish
an up-to-date method of apprehending nature's phenomena through reading

At the same time we shall find ourselves led into another sphere of
Goethe's scientific work. For we cannot properly discuss Howard without
recognizing the importance of his findings for Goethe's meteorological
studies or without referring to the personal connexion between the two
men arising out of their common interest and similar approach to
nature. We shall thus come as a matter of course to speak of Goethe's
thoughts about meteorology, and this again will give opportunity to
introduce a leading concept of Goethean science in addition to those
brought forward already.

Of Ruskin only so much will appear in the present chapter as is
necessary to show him as an exemplary reader in the book of nature. He
will then be a more or less permanent companion in our investigations.

The following words of Ruskin from The Queen of the Air reveal him at
once as a true reader in the book of nature:

'Over the entire surface of the earth and its waters, as influenced by
the power of the air under solar light, there is developed a series of
changing forms, in clouds, plants and animals, all of which have
reference in their action, or nature, to the human intelligence that
perceives them.' (II, 89.)

Here Ruskin in an entirely Goethean way points to form in nature as the
element in her that speaks to human intelligence - meaning by form, as
other utterances of his show, all those qualities through which the
natural object under observation reveals itself to our senses as a

By virtue of his pictorial-dynamic way of regarding nature, Ruskin was
quite clear that the scientists' one-sided seeking after external
forces and the mathematically calculable interplay between them can
never lead to a comprehension of life in nature. For in such a search
man loses sight of the real signature of life: form as a dynamic
element. Accordingly, in his Ethics of the Dust, Ruskin does not answer
the question: 'What is Life?' with a scientific explanation, but with
the laconic injunction: 'Always stand by Form against Force.' This he
later enlarges pictorially in the words: 'Discern the moulding hand of
the potter commanding the clay from the merely beating foot as it turns
the wheel.' (Lect. X.)

In thus opposing form and force to each other, Ruskin is actually
referring to two kinds of forces. There exist those forces which
resemble the potter's foot in producing mere numerically regulated
movements (so that this part of the potter's activity can be replaced
by a power-machine), and others, which like the potter's hand, strive
for a certain end and so in the process create definite forms. Ruskin
goes a step further still in The Queen of the Air, where he speaks of
selective order as a mark of the spirit:

'It does not merely crystallize indefinite masses, but it gives to
limited portions of matter the power of gathering, selectively, other
elements proper to them, and binding these elements into their own
peculiar and adopted form. ...

'For the mere force of junction is not spirit, but the power that
catches out of chaos, charcoal, water, lime and what not, and fastens
them into given form, is properly called "spirit"; and we shall not
diminish, but strengthen our cognition of this creative energy by
recognizing its presence in lower states of matter than our own.' (II,

When Ruskin wrote this passage, he could count on a certain measure of
agreement from his contemporaries that the essence of man himself is
spirit, though certainly without any very exact notion being implied.
This persuaded him to fight on behalf of the spirit, lest its activity
on the lower levels of nature should not be duly acknowledged. To-day,
when the purely physical conception of nature has laid hold of the
entire man, Ruskin might have given his thought the following turn:
'... and we shall certainly attain to no real insight into this
creative force (of the spirit) at the level of man, unless we win the
capacity to recognize its activity in lower states of matter.'

What Ruskin is really pointing towards is the very thing for which
Goethe formed the concept 'type'. And just as Ruskin, like Goethe,
recognized the signature of the spirit in the material processes which
work towards a goal, so he counted as another such signature what
Goethe called Steigerung, though certainly without forming such a
universally valid idea of it:

'The Spirit in the plant - that is to say, its power of gathering dead
matter out of the wreck round it, and shaping it into its own chosen
shape - is of course strongest in the moment of flowering, for it then
not only gathers, but forms, with the greatest energy.' It is
characteristic of Ruskin's conception of the relationship between man's
mind and nature that he added: 'And where this life is in it at full
power, its form becomes invested with aspects that are chiefly
delightful to our own senses.' (II, 60.)

Obviously, a mind capable of looking at nature in this way could not
accept such a picture of evolution as was put forward by Ruskin's
contemporary, Darwin. So we find Ruskin, in The Queen of the Air,
opposing the Darwinistic conception of the preservation of the species
as the driving factor in the life of nature:

'With respect to plants as animals, we are wrong in speaking as if the
object of life were only the bequeathing of itself. The flower is the
end and proper object of the seeds, not the seed of the flower. The
reason for the seed is that flowers may be, not the reason of flowers
that seeds may be. The flower itself is the creature which the spirit
makes; only, in connection with its perfectedness, is placed the giving
birth to its successor.' (II, 60.)

For Ruskin the true meaning of life in all its stages lay not in the
maintenance of physical continuity from generation to generation, but
in the ever-renewed, ever more enhanced revelation of the spirit.

He was never for a moment in doubt regarding the inevitable effect of
such an evolutionary theory as Darwin's on the general social attitude
of humanity. Men would be led, he realized, to see themselves as the
accidental products of an animal nature based on the struggle for
existence and the preservation of the species. Enough has been said to
stamp Ruskin as a reader in the book of nature, capable of deciphering
the signature of the spirit in the phenomena of the sense-world.


Outwardly different from Ruskin's and yet spiritually comparable, is
the contribution made by his older contemporary, Luke Howard, to the
foundation of a science of nature based on intuition. Whereas Ruskin
throws out a multitude of aphoristic utterances about many different
aspects of nature, which will provide us with further starting-points
for our own observation and thought, Howard is concerned with a single
sphere of phenomena, that of cloud formation. On the other hand, his
contribution consists of a definite discovery which he himself
methodically and consciously achieved, and it is the content of this
discovery, together with the method of research leading to it, which
will supply us ever and again with a model for our own procedure. At
the same time, as we have indicated, he will help us to become familiar
with another side of Goethe, and to widen our knowledge of the basic
scientific concepts formed by him.

Anyone interested to-day in weather phenomena is acquainted with the
terms used in cloud classification - Cirrus, Cumulus, Stratus, and
Nimbus. These have come so far into general use that it is not easy to
realize that, until Howard's paper, On the Modification of Clouds,
appeared in 1803, no names for classifying clouds were available.
Superficially, it may seem that Howard had done nothing more than
science has so often done in grouping and classifying and naming the
contents of nature. In fact, however, he did something essentially

In the introduction to his essay, Howard describes the motives which
led him to devote himself to a study of meteorological phenomena:

'It is the frequent observation of the countenance of the sky, and of
its connexion with the present and ensuing phenomena, that constitutes
the ancient and popular meteorology. The want of this branch of
knowledge renders the prediction of the philosopher (who in attending
his instruments may be said to examine the pulse of the atmosphere),
less generally successful than those of the weather-wise mariners and

When he thus speaks of studying 'the countenance of the sky', Howard is
not using a mere form of speech; he is exactly describing his own
procedure, as he shows when he proceeds to justify it as a means to
scientific knowledge. The clouds with their ever-moving, ever-changing
forms are not, he says, to be regarded as the mere 'sport of the
winds', nor is their existence 'the mere result of the condensation of
vapour in the masses of the atmosphere which they occupy'. What comes
to view in them is identical, in its own realm, with what the changing
expression of the human face reveals of 'a person's state of mind or
body'. It would hardly be possible to represent oneself more clearly as
a genuine reader in the book of nature than by such words. What is it
but Ruskin's 'Stand by Form against Force' that Howard is here saying
in his own way?


Before entering into a further description of Howard's system, we must
make clear why we disregard the fact that modern meteorology has
developed the scale of cloud-formation far beyond Howard, and why we
shall keep to his own fourfold scale.

It is characteristic of Goethe that, on becoming acquainted with
Howard's work, he at once gave a warning against subdividing his scale
without limit. Goethe foresaw that the attempt to insert too many
transitory forms between Howard's chief types would result only in
obscuring that view of the essentials which Howard's original
classification had opened up. Obviously, for a science based on mere
onlooking there is no objection to breaking up an established system
into ever more subdivisions in order to keep it in line with an
increasingly detailed outer observation. This, indeed, modern
meteorology has done with Howard's system, with the result that,
to-day, the total scale is made up of ten different stages of

Valuable as this tenfold scale may be for certain practical purposes,
it must be ignored by one who realizes that through Howard's fourfold
scale nature herself speaks to man's intuitive judgment. Let us,
therefore, turn to Howard's discovery, undisturbed by the extension to
which modern meteorology has subjected it.

Luke Howard, a chemist by profession, knew well how to value the
results of scientific knowledge above traditional folk-knowledge. He
saw the superiority of scientifically acquired knowledge in the fact
that it was universally communicable, whereas folk-wisdom is bound up
with the personality of its bearer, his individual observations and his
memory of them. Nevertheless, the increasing mathematizing of science,
including his own branch of it, gave him great concern, for he could
not regard it as helpful in the true progress of man's understanding of
nature. Accordingly, he sought for a method of observation in which the
practice of 'the weatherwise mariner and husbandman' could be raised to
the level of scientific procedure. To this end he studied the changing
phenomena of the sky for many years, until he was able so to read its
play of features that it disclosed to him the archetypal forms of
cloud-formation underlying all change. To these he gave the now
well-known names (in Latin, so that they might be internationally

Cirrus: Parallel, flexuous or divergent fibres extensible in any and
all directions.

Cumulus: Convex or conical heaps, increasing upwards from a horizontal

Stratus: A widely extended, continuous, horizontal sheet, increasing
from below.

Nimbus: The rain cloud.

Let us, on the background of Howard's brief definitions, try to form a
more exact picture of the atmospheric dynamics at work in each of the
stages he describes.2

Among the three formations of cirrus, cumulus and stratus, the cumulus
has a special place as representing in the most actual sense what is
meant by the term 'cloud'. The reason is that both cirrus and stratus
have characteristics which in one or the other direction tend away from
the pure realm of atmospheric cloud-formation. In the stratus, the
atmospheric vapour is gathered into a horizontal, relatively arched
layer around the earth, and so anticipates the actual water covering
below which extends spherically around the earth's centre. Thus the
stratus arranges itself in a direction which is already conditioned by
the earth's field of gravity. In the language of physics, the stratus
forms an equipotential surface in the gravitational field permeating
the earth's atmosphere.

As the exact opposite of this we have the cirrus. If in the stratus the
form ceases to consist of distinct particulars, because the entire
cloud-mass runs together into a single layer, in the cirrus the form
begins to vanish before our eyes, because it dissolves into the
surrounding atmospheric space. In the cirrus there is present a
tendency to expand; in the stratus to contract.

Between the two, the cumulus, even viewed simply as a form-type,
represents an exact mean. In how densely mounded a shape does the
majestically towering cumulus appear before us, and yet how buoyantly
it hovers aloft in the heights! If one ever comes into the midst of a
cumulus cloud in the mountains, one sees how its myriads of single
particles are in ceaseless movement. And yet the whole remains
stationary, on windless days preserving its form unchanged for hours.
More recent meteorological research has established that in many
cumulus forms the entire mass is in constant rotation, although seen
from outside, it appears as a stable, unvarying shape. Nowhere in
nature may the supremacy of form over matter be so vividly observed as
in the cumulus cloud. And the forms of the cumuli themselves tell us in
manifold metamorphoses of a state of equilibrium between expansive and
contractive tendencies within the atmosphere.

Our description of the three cloud-types of cirrus, cumulus and
stratus, makes it clear that we have to do with a self-contained
symmetrical system of forms, within which the two outer, dynamically
regarded, represent the extreme tendencies of expansion and
contraction, whilst in the middle forms these are held more or less in
balance. By adding Howard's nimbus formation to this system, we destroy
its symmetry. Actually, in the nimbus we have cloud in such a condition
that it ceases to be an atmospheric phenomenon in any real sense of the
word; for it now breaks up into single drops of water, each of which,
under the pull of gravity, makes its own independent way to the earth.
(The symmetry is restored as soon as we realize that the nimbus, as a
frontier stage below the stratus, has a counterpart in a corresponding
frontier stage above the cirrus. To provide insight into this upper
frontier stage, of which neither Howard nor Goethe was at that time in
a position to develop a clear enough conception to deal with it
scientifically, is one of the aims of this book.)


In order to understand what prompted Goethe to accept, as he did,
Howard's classification and terminology at first glance, and what
persuaded him to make himself its eloquent herald, we must note from
what point Goethe's labours for a natural understanding of nature had

In his History of my Botanical Studies Goethe mentions, besides
Shakespeare and Spinoza, Linnaeus as one who had most influenced his
own development. Concerning Linnaeus, however, this is to be understood
in a negative sense. For when Goethe, himself searching for a way of
bringing the confusing multiplicity of plant phenomena into a
comprehensive system, met with the Linnaean system, he was, despite his
admiration for the thoroughness and ingenuity of Linnaeus's work,
repelled by his method. Thus by way of reaction, his thought was
brought into its own creative movement: 'As I sought to take in his
acute, ingenious analysis, his apt, appropriate, though often arbitrary
laws, a cleft was set up in my inner nature: what he sought to hold
forcibly apart could not but strive for union according to the inmost
need of my own being.'

Linnaeus's system agonized Goethe because it demanded from him 'to
memorize a ready-made terminology, to hold in readiness a certain
number of nouns and adjectives, so as to be able, whenever any form was
in question, to employ them in apt and skilful selection, and so to
give it its characteristic designation and appropriate position.' Such
a procedure appeared to Goethe as a kind of mosaic, in which one
ready-made piece is set next to another in order to produce out of a
thousand details the semblance of a picture; and this was 'in a certain
way repugnant' to him. What Goethe awoke to when he met Linnaeus's
attempt at systematizing the plant kingdom was the old problem of
whether the study of nature should proceed from the parts to the whole
or from the whole to the parts.

Seeing, therefore, how it became a question for Goethe, at the very
beginning of his scientific studies, whether a natural classification
of nature's phenomena could be achieved, we can understand why he was
so overjoyed when, towards the end of his life, in a field of
observation which had meanwhile caught much of his interest, he met
with a classification which showed, down to the single names employed,
that it had been read off from reality.


The following is a comprehensive description of Goethe's meteorological
views, which he gave a few years before his death in one of his
conversations with his secretary, Eckermann:

'I compare the earth and her hygrosphere3 to a great living being
perpetually inhaling and exhaling. If she inhales, she draws the
hygrosphere to her, so that, coming near her surface, it is condensed
to clouds and rain. This state I call water-affirmative
(WasserBejahung). Should it continue for an indefinite period, the
earth would be drowned. This the earth does not allow, but exhales
again, and sends the watery vapours upwards, when they are dissipated
through the whole space of the higher atmosphere. These become so
rarefied that not only does the sun penetrate them with its brilliancy,
but the eternal darkness of infinite space is seen through them as a
fresh blue. This state of the atmosphere I call water-negative
(WasserVerneinung). For just as, under the contrary influence, not only
does water come profusely from above, but also the moisture of the
earth cannot be dried and dissipated - so, on the contrary, in this
state not only does no moisture come from above, but the damp of the
earth itself flies upwards; so that, if this should continue for an
indefinite period, the earth, even if the sun did not shine, would be
in danger of drying up.' (llth April 1827.)

Goethe's notes of the results of his meteorological observations show
how in them, too, he followed his principle of keeping strictly to the
phenomenon. His first concern is to bring the recorded measurements of
weather phenomena into their proper order of significance. To this end
he compares measurements of atmospheric temperature and local density
with barometric measurements. He finds that the first two, being of a
more local and accidental nature, have the value of 'derived'
phenomena, whereas the variations in the atmosphere revealed by the
barometer are the same over wide areas and therefore point to
fundamental changes in the general conditions of the earth.
Measurements made regularly over long periods of time finally lead him
to recognize in the barometric variations of atmospheric pressure the
basic meteorological phenomenon.

In all this we find Goethe carefully guarding himself against
'explaining' these atmospheric changes by assuming some kind of purely
mechanical cause, such as the accumulation of air-masses over a certain
area or the like. Just as little would he permit himself lightly to
assume influences of an extra-terrestrial nature, such as those of the
moon. Not that he would have had anything against such things, if they
had rested on genuine observation. But his own observations, as far as
he was able to carry them, told him simply that the atmosphere presses
with greater or lesser intensity on the earth in more or less regular
rhythms. He was not abandoning the phenomenal sphere, however, when he
said that these changes are results of the activity of earthly gravity,
or when he concluded from this that barometric variations were caused
by variations in the intensity of the field of terrestrial gravity,
whereby the earth sometimes drew the atmosphere to it with a stronger,
and sometimes with a weaker, pull.

He was again not departing from the realm of the phenomenal when he
looked round for other indications in nature of such an alternation of
drawing in and letting forth of air, and found them in the respiratory
processes of animated beings. (To regard the earth as a merely physical
structure was impossible for Goethe, for he could have done this only
by leaving out of account the life visibly bound up with it.)
Accordingly, barometric measurements became for him the sign of a
breathing process carried out by the earth.

Alongside the alternating phases of contraction and expansion within
the atmosphere, Goethe placed the fact that atmospheric density
decreases with height. Observation of differences in cloud formation at
different levels, of the boundary of snow formation, etc., led him to
speak of different 'atmospheres', or of atmospheric circles or spheres,
which when undisturbed are arranged concentrically round the earth.
Here also he saw, in space, phases of contraction alternating with
phases of expansion.


At this point in our discussion it is necessary to introduce another
leading concept of Goethean nature-observation, which was for him - as
it will be for us - of particular significance for carrying over the
Goethean method of research from the organic into the inorganic realm
of nature. This is the concept of the ur-phenomenon (Urphänomen). In this
latter realm, nature no longer brings forth related phenomena in the
ordering proper to them; hence we are obliged to acquire the capacity
of penetrating to this ordering by means of our own realistically
trained observation and thought.

From among the various utterances of Goethe regarding his general
conception of the ur-phenomenon, we here select a passage from that
part of the historical section of his Theory of Colour where he
discusses the method of investigation introduced into science by Bacon.
He says:

'In the range of phenomena all had equal value in Bacon's eyes. For
although he himself always points out that one should collect the
particulars only to select from them and to arrange them, in order
finally to attain to Universals, yet too much privilege is granted to
the single facts; and before it becomes possible to attain to
simplification and conclusion by means of induction (the very way he
recommends), life vanishes and forces get exhausted. He who cannot
realize that one instance is often worth a thousand, bearing all within
itself; he who proves unable to comprehend and esteem what we called
ur-phenomena, will never be in a position to advance anything, either
to his own or to others' joy and profit.'

What Goethe says here calls for the following comparison. We can say
that nature seen through Bacon's eyes appears as if painted on a
two-dimensional surface, so that all its facts are seen alongside each
other at exactly the same distance from the observer. Goethe, on the
other hand, ascribed to the human spirit the power of seeing the
phenomenal world in all its three-dimensional multiplicity; that is, of
seeing it in perspective and distinguishing between foreground and
background.4 Things in the foreground he called ur-phenomena. Here the
idea creatively determining the relevant field of facts comes to its
purest expression. The sole task of the investigator of nature, he
considered, was to seek for the ur-phenomena and to bring all other
phenomena into relation with them; and in the fulfilment of this task
he saw the means of fully satisfying the human mind's need to theorize.
He expressed this in the words, 'Every fact is itself already theory'.
In Goethe's meteorological studies we have a lucid example of how he
sought and found the relevant ur-phenomenon. It is the
breathing-process of the earth as shown by the variations of barometric


Once again we find Thomas Reid, along his line of intuitively guided
observation, coming quite close to Goethe where he deals with the
question of the apprehension of natural law by the human mind. He, too,
was an opponent of the method of 'explaining' phenomena by means of
abstract theories spun out of sheer thinking, and more than once in his
writings he inveighs against it in his downright, humorous way.5

His conviction that human thinking ought to remain within the realm of
directly experienced observation is shown in the following words: 'In
the solution of natural phenomena, all the length that the human
faculties can carry us is only this, that from particular phenomena, we
may, by induction, trace out general phenomena, of which all the
particular ones are necessary consequences.'6 As an example of this he
takes gravity, leading the reader from one phenomenon to the next
without ever abandoning them, and concluding the journey by saying:
'The most general phenomena we can reach are what we call laws of
nature. So that the laws of nature are nothing else but the most
general facts relating to the operations of nature, which include a
great many particular facts under them.'


It was while on his way with the Grand Duke of Weimar to visit a newly
erected meteorological observatory that Goethe, in the course of
informing his companion of his own meteorological ideas, first heard of
Howard's writings about the formation of clouds. The Duke had read a
report of them in a German scientific periodical, and it seemed to him
that Howard's cloud system corresponded with what he now heard of
Goethe's thoughts about the force relationships working in the
different atmospheric levels. He had made no mistake. Goethe, who
immediately obtained Howard's essay, recognized at first glance in
Howard's cloud scale the law of atmospheric changes which he himself
had discovered. He found here, what he had always missed in the
customary practice of merely tabulating the results of scientific
measurements. And so he took hold of the Howard system with delight,
for it 'provided him with a thread which had hitherto been lacking'.

Moreover, in the names which Howard had chosen for designating the
basic cloud forms, Goethe saw the dynamic element in each of them
coming to immediate expression in human speech.7 He therefore always
spoke of Howard's system as a 'welcome terminology'.

All this inspired Goethe to celebrate Howard's personality and his work
in a number of verses in which he gave a description of these dynamic
elements and a paraphrase of the names, moulding them together into an
artistic unity. In a few accompanying verses he honoured Howard as the
first to 'distinguish and suitably name' the clouds.8

The reason why Goethe laid so much stress on Howard's terminology was
because he was very much aware of the power of names to help or hinder
men in their quest for knowledge. He himself usually waited a long time
before deciding on a name for a natural phenomenon or a connexion
between phenomena which he had discovered. The Idea which his spiritual
eye had observed had first to appear so clearly before him that he
could clothe it in a thought-form proper to it. Seeing in the act of
name - giving an essential function of man (we are reminded of what in
this respect the biblical story of creation says of Adam),9 Goethe
called man 'the first conversation which Nature conducts with God'.

It is characteristic of Goethe that he did not content himself with
knowing the truth which someone had brought forward in a field of
knowledge in which he himself was interested, but that he felt his
acquaintance with this truth to be complete only when he also knew
something about the personality of the man himself. So he introduces
his account of his endeavours to know more about Howard, the man, with
the following words: 'Increasingly convinced that everything occurring
through man should be regarded in an ethical sense, and that moral
value is to be estimated only from a man's way of life, I asked a
friend in London to find out if possible something about Howard's life,
if only the simplest facts.' Goethe was uncertain whether the
Englishman was still alive, so his delight and surprise were
considerable when from Howard himself he received an answer in the form
of a short autobiographical sketch, which fully confirmed his
expectations regarding Howard's ethical personality.

Howard's account of himself is known to us, as Goethe included a
translation of it in the collection of his own meteorological studies.
Howard in a modest yet dignified way describes his Christian faith, his
guide through all his relationships, whether to other men or to
nature.10 A man comes before us who, untroubled by the prevailing
philosophy of his day, was able to advance to the knowledge of an
objective truth in nature, because he had the ability to carry
religious experience even into his observation of the sense-world.


In view of all this, it is perhaps not too much to say that in the
meeting between Howard and Goethe by way of the spiritual bridge of the
clouds, something happened that was more than a mere event in the
personal history of these two men.

1 These words should be weighed with the fact in mind that they were
written at the time when Crookes was intent on finding the unknown land
of the spirit by means of just such 'a mere force of junction'.

2 See also Goethe's sketch of the basic cloud forms on Plate IV.

3 Goethe's Dunstkreis - meaning the humidity contained in the air and,
as such, spherically surrounding the earth. I had to make up the word
'hygrosphere' (after hygrometer, etc.) to keep clear the distinction
from both atmosphere and hydrosphere. Except for this term in the first
two sentences, the above follows Oxenford's translation (who, following
the dictionaries, has rendered Goethe's term inadequately by

4 We may here recall Eddington's statement concerning the restriction
of scientific observation to 'non-stereoscopic vision'.

5 An example of this is Reid's commentary on existing theories about
sight as a mere activity of the optic nerve. (Inq., VI, 19.)

6 See Inq., VI, 13. This is precisely what Kant had declared to be
outside human possibility.

7 Stratus means layer, cumulus - heap, cirrus - curl.

8 There exists no adequate translation of these verses.

9 Genesis ii, 19, 20.

10 A fact which Howard did not mention, and which presumably remained
unknown to Goethe, was the work he had done as chairman of a relief
committee for the parts of Germany devastated by the Napoleonic wars.
For this work Howard received a series of public honours.


Dynamics versus Kinetics

At the present time the human mind is in danger of confusing the realm
of dynamic events, into which modern atomic research has penetrated,
with the world of the spirit; that is, the world whence nature is
endowed with intelligent design, and of which human thinking is an
expression in terms of consciousness. If a view of nature as a
manifestation of spirit, such as Goethe and kindred minds conceived it,
is to be of any significance in our time, it must include a conception
of matter which shows as one of its attributes its capacity to serve
Form (in the sense in which Ruskin spoke of it in opposition to mere
Force) as a means of manifestation.

The present part of this book, comprising Chapters VIII-XI, will be
devoted to working out such a conception of matter. An example will
thereby be given of how Goethe's method of acquiring understanding of
natural phenomena through reading the phenomena themselves may be
carried beyond his own field of observation. There are, however,
certain theoretical obstacles, erected by the onlooker-consciousness,
which require to be removed before we can actually set foot on the new
path. The present chapter will in particular serve this purpose.


Science, since Galileo, has been rooted in the conviction that the
logic of mathematics is a means of expressing the behaviour of natural
events. The material for the mathematical treatment of sense data is
obtained through measurement. The actual thing, therefore, in which the
scientific observer is interested in each case, is the position of some
kind of pointer. In fact, physical science is essentially, as Professor
Eddington put it, a 'pointer-reading science'. Looking at this fact in
our way we can say that all pointer instruments which man has
constructed ever since the beginning of science, have as their model
man himself, restricted to colourless, non-stereoscopic observation.
For all that is left to him in this condition is to focus points in
space and register changes of their positions. Indeed, the perfect
scientific observer is himself the arch-pointer-instrument.

The birth of the method of pointer-reading is marked by Galileo's
construction of the first thermometer (actually, a thermoscope). The
conviction of the applicability of mathematical concepts to the
description of natural events is grounded in his discovery of the
so-called Parallelogram of Forces. It is with these two innovations
that we shall concern ourselves in this chapter.

Let it be said at once that our investigations will lead to the
unveiling of certain illusions which the spectator-consciousness has
woven round these two gifts of Galileo. This does not mean that their
significance as fundamentals of science will be questioned. Nor will
the practical uses to which they have been put with so much success be
criticized in any way. But there are certain deceptive ideas which
became connected with them, and the result is that to-day, when man is
in need of finding new epistemological ground under his feet, he is
entangled in a network of conceptual illusions which prevent him from
using his reason with the required freedom.

A special word is necessary at this point regarding the term illusion,
as it is used here and elsewhere. In respect of this, it will be well
to remember what was pointed out earlier in connexion with the term
'tragedy' (Chapter II). In speaking of 'illusion', we neither intend to
cast any blame on some person or another who took part in weaving the
illusion, nor to suggest that the emergence of it should be thought of
as an avoidable calamity. Rather should illusion be thought of as
something which man has been allowed to weave because only by his own
active overcoming of it can he fulfil his destiny as the bearer of
truth in freedom. Illusion, in the sense used here, belongs to those
things in man's existence which are truly to be called tragic. It loses
this quality, and assumes a quite different one, only when man, once
the time has come for overcoming an illusion, insists on clinging to

As our further studies will show, the criticism to be applied here does
not only leave the validity of measurement and the mathematical
treatment of the data thus obtained fully intact, but by giving them
their appropriate place in a wider conception of nature it opens the
way to an ever more firmly grounded and, at the same time, enhanced

application of both.


Our primary knowledge of the existence of something we call 'warmth' or
'heat' is due to a particular sense of warmth which modern research has
recognized as a clearly definable sense. Naturally, seen from the
spectator-standpoint, the experiences of this sense appear to be of
purely subjective value and therefore useless for obtaining an
objective insight into the nature of warmth and its effects in the
physical world. In order to learn about these, resort is had to certain
instruments which, through the change of the spatial position of a
point, allow the onlooker-observer to register changes in the thermal
condition of a physical object. An instrument of this kind is the
thermometer. In the following way an indubitable proof seems to be
given of the correctness of the view concerning the subjectivity of the
impressions obtained through the sense of warmth, and of the
objectivity of thermometrical measurement. A description of it is
frequently given in physical textbooks as an introduction to the
chapter on Heat.

To begin with, the well-known fact is cited that if one plunges one's
hands first into two different bowls, one filled with hot water and the
other with cold, and then plunges them together into a bowl of tepid
water, this will feel cold to the hand coming from the hot water and
warm to the hand coming from the cold. Next, it is pointed out that two
thermometers which are put through the same procedure will register an
equal degree of temperature for the tepid water. In this way the
student is given a lasting impression of the superiority of the
'objective' recording of the instrument over the 'subjective' character
of the experiences mediated by his sense of warmth.

Let us now test this procedure by carrying out the same experiment with
the help of thermometrical instruments in their original form, that is,
the form in which Galileo first applied them. By doing so we proceed in
a truly Goethean manner, because we divest the experiment of all
accessories which prevent the phenomenon from appearing in its primary

To turn a modern thermometer into a thermoscope we need only remove the
figures from its scale. If we make the experiment with two such
thermoscopes we at once become aware of something which usually escapes
us, our attention being fixed on the figures recorded by the two
instruments. For we now notice that the two instruments, when
transferred from the hot and cold water into the tepid water, behave
quite differently. In one the column will fall, in the other it will

It is important to note that by this treatment of the two instruments
we have not changed the way in which they usually indicate temperature.
For thermometrical measurement is in actual fact never anything else
than a recording of the movement of the indicator from one level to
another. We choose merely to take a certain temperature level - that of
melting ice or something else - as a fixed point of reference and mark
it once for all on the instrument. Because we find this mark clearly
distinguished on our thermometers, and the scales numbered accordingly,
we fail to notice what lies ideally behind this use of the same zero
for every new operation we undertake.

What the zero signifies becomes clear directly we start to work with
thermometers not marked with scales. For in order to be used in this
form as real thermometers, they must be exposed on each occasion first
of all to some zero level of temperature, say, that of melting ice. If
we then take them into the region of temperature we want to measure, we
shall discern the difference of levels through the corresponding
movement of the column. The final position of the column tells us
nothing in itself. It is always the change from one level to another
that the thermometer registers - precisely as does the sense of warmth
in our hands in the experiment just described.

Hence we see that in the ordinary operation with the thermometers, and
when we use our hands in the prescribed manner, we are dealing with the
zero level in two quite different ways. While in the/two instruments
the zero level is the same, in accordance with the whole idea of
thermometric measurement, we make a special arrangement so as to expose
our hands to two different levels. So we need not be surprised if these
two ways yield different results. If, after placing two thermometers
without scales in hot and cold water, we were to assign to each its own
zero in accordance with the respective height of its column, and then
graduate them from this reference point, they would necessarily record
different levels when exposed to the tepid water, in just the same way
as the hands do. Our two hands, moreover, will receive the same
sense-impression from the tepid water, if we keep them in it long

Seen in this light, the original experiment, designed to show the
subjective character of the impressions gained through the sense of
warmth, reveals itself as a piece of self-deception by the
onlooker-consciousness. The truth of the matter is that, in so far as
there is any subjective element in the experience and measurement of
heat, it does not lie on the side of our sense of warmth, but in our
judgment of the significance of thermometrical readings. In fact, our
test of the alleged proof of the absolute superiority of
pointer-readings over the impressions gained by our senses gives us
proof of the correctness of Goethe's statement, quoted earlier, that
the senses do not deceive, but the judgment deceives.

Let it be repeated here that what we have found in this way does not
lead to any depreciation of the method of pointer-reading. For the
direct findings of the senses cannot be compared quantitatively. The
point is that the idea of the absolute superiority of physical
measurement as a means of scientific knowledge, in all circumstances,
must be abandoned as false.


We now turn to Galileo's discovery known as the theorem of the
Parallelogram of Forces. The illusion which has been woven round this
theorem expresses itself in the way it is described as being connected
ideally with another theorem, outwardly similar in character, known as
the theorem of the Parallelogram of Movements (or Velocities), by
stating that the former follows logically from the latter. This
statement is to be found in every textbook on physics at the outset of
the chapter on dynamics (kinetics), where it serves to establish the
right to treat the dynamic occurrences in nature in a purely kinematic
fashion, true to the requirements of the onlooker-consciousness.1

The following description will show that, directly we free ourselves
from the onlooker-limitations of our consciousness in the way shown by
Goethe - and, in respect of the present problem, in particular also by
Reid - the ideal relationship between the two theorems is seen to be
precisely the opposite to the one expressed in the above statement. The
reason why we take pains to show this at the present point of our
discussion is that only through replacing the fallacious conception by
the correct one, do we open the way for forming a concrete concept of
Force and thereby for establishing a truly dynamic conception of


Let us begin by describing briefly the content of the two theorems in
question. In Fig. 1, a diagrammatical representation is given of the
parallelogram of movements. It sets out to show that when a point moves
with a certain velocity in the direction indicated by the arrow a, so
that in a certain time it passes from P to A, and when it
simultaneously moves with a second velocity in the direction indicated

b, through which alone it would pass to B in the same time, its actual
movement is indicated by c, the diagonal in the parallelogram formed by
a and b. An example of the way in which this

theorem is practically applied is the well-known case of a rower who
sets out from P in order to cross at right angles a river indicated by
the parallel lines. He has to overcome the velocity a of the water of
the river flowing to the right by steering obliquely left towards B in
order to arrive finally at C.

It is essential to observe that the content of this theorem does not
need the confirmation of any outer experience for its discovery, or to
establish its truth. Even though the recognition of the fact which it
expresses may have first come to men through practical observation, yet
the content of this theorem can be discovered and proved by purely
logical means. In this respect it resembles any purely geometrical
statement such as, that the sum of the angles of a triangle is two
right angles (180°). Even though this too may have first been learnt
through outer observation, yet it remains true that for the discovery
of the fact expressed by it - valid for all plane triangles - no outer
experience is needed. In both cases we find ourselves in the domain of
pure geometric conceptions (length and direction of straight lines,
movement of a point along these), whose reciprocal relationships are
ordered by the laws of pure geometric logic. So in the theorem of the
Parallelogram of Velocities we have a strictly geometrical theorem,
whose content is in the narrowest sense kinematic. In fact, it is the
basic theorem of kinematics.

We now turn to the second theorem which speaks of an outwardly similar
relationship between forces. As is well nown, this states that two
forces of different magnitude and direction, when they apply at the
same point, act together in the manner of a single force whose
magnitude and direction may be represented by the diagonal of a
parallelogram whose sides express in extent and direction the first two
forces. Thus in Fig. 2, R exercises upon P the same effect as F1 and F2

Expressed in another way, a force of this magnitude working in the
reverse direction (R') will establish an equilibrium with the other two
forces. In technical practice, as is well known, this theorem is used
for countless calculations, in both statics and dynamics, and indeed
more frequently not in the form given here but in the converse manner,
when a single known force is resolved into two component forces.
(Distribution of a pressure along frameworks, of air pressure along
moving surfaces, etc.)

It will now be our task to examine the logical link which is believed
to connect one theorem with the other. This link is found in the
well-known definition of physical force as a product of 'mass' and
'acceleration' - in algebraic symbols F=ma. We will discuss the
implications of this definition in more detail later on. Let us first
see how it is used as a foundation for the above assertion.

The conception of 'force' as the product of 'mass' and 'acceleration'
is based on the fact - easily experienced by anyone who cycles along a
level road - that it is not velocity itself which requires the exertion
of force, but the change of velocity - that is, acceleration or
retardation ('negative acceleration' in the sense of mathematical
physics); also that in the case of equal accelerations, the force
depends upon the mass of the accelerated object. The more massive the
object, the greater will be the force necessary for accelerating it.
This mass, in turn, reveals itself in the resistance a particular
object offers to any change of its state of motion. Where different
accelerations and the same mass are considered, the factor m in the
above formula remains constant, and force and acceleration are directly
proportional to each other. Thus in the acceleration is discovered a
measure for the magnitude of the force which thereby acts.

Now it is logically evident that the theorem of the parallelogram of
velocities is equally valid for movements with constant or variable
velocities. Even though it is somewhat more difficult to perceive
mentally the movement of a point in two different directions with two
differently accelerated motions, and to form an inner conception of the
resulting movement, we are nevertheless still within a domain which may
be fully embraced by thought. Thus accelerated movements and movements
under constant velocity can be resolved and combined according to the
law of the parallelogram of movements, a law which is fully attainable
by means of logical thought.

With the help of the definition of force as the product of mass and
acceleration it seems possible, indeed, to derive the parallelogram of
forces from that of accelerations in a purely logical manner. For it is
necessary only to extend all sides of an a parallelogram by means of
the same factor m in order to turn it into an F parallelogram. A single
geometrical figure on paper can represent both cases, since only the
scale needs to be altered in order that the same geometrical length
should represent at one time the magnitude a and on another occasion
ma. It is in this way that present-day scientific thought keeps itself
convinced that the parallelogram of forces follows with logical
evidence from the parallelogram of accelerations, and that the
discovery of the former is therefore due to a purely mental process.

Since the parallelogram of forces is the prototype of each further
mathematical representation of physical force-relationships in nature,
the conceptual link thus forged between it and the basic theorem of
kinematics has led to the conviction that the fact that natural events
can be expressed in terms of mathematics could be, and actually has
been, discovered through pure logical reasoning, and thus by the
brain-bound, day-waking consciousness 'of the world-spectator.
Justification thereby seemed to be given for the building of a valid
scientific world-picture, purely kinematic in character.


The line of consideration we shall now have to enter upon for carrying
out our own examination of what is believed to be the link between the
two theorems may seem to the scientifically trained reader to be of an
all too elementary kind compared with the complexities of thought in
which he is used to engage in order to settle a scientific problem. It
is therefore necessary to state here that anyone who wishes to help to
overcome the tangle of modern theoretical science must not be shy in
applying thoughts and observations of seemingly so simple a nature as
those used both here and on other occasions. Some readiness, in fact,
is required to play where necessary the part of the child in Hans
Andersen's fairy-story of The Emperor's New Clothes, where all the
people are loud in praise of the magnificent robes of the Emperor, who
is actually passing through the streets with no clothes on at all, and
a single child's voice exclaims the truth that 'the Emperor has nothing
on'. There will repeatedly be occasion to adopt the role of this child
in the course of our own studies.


In the scientific definition of force given above force appears as the
result of a multiplication of two other magnitudes. Now as is well
known, it is essential for the operation of multiplication that of the
two factors forming the product at least one should exhibit the
properties of a pure number. For two pure numbers may be multiplied
together - e.g. 2 and 4 - and a number of concrete things can be
multiplied by a pure number - e. g. 3 apples and the number 4 - but no
sense can be attached to the multiplication of 3 apples by 4 apples,
let alone by 4 pears! The result of multiplication is therefore always
either itself a pure number, when both factors have this property; or
when one of the two factors is of the nature of a concrete object, the
result is of the same quality as the latter. An apple will always
remain an apple after multiplication, and what distinguishes the final
product (apples) from the original factor (apples) is only a pure

If we take seriously what this simple consideration tells us of the
nature of multiplication, and if we do not allow ourselves to deviate
from it for whatever purpose we make use of this algebraic operation,
then the various concepts we connect with the basic measurements in
physics undergo a considerable change of meaning.

Let us test, in this respect, the well-known formula which, in the
conceptual language of physics, connects 'distance' (s), 'time' (t),
and 'velocity' (c). It is written
c = s / t, or s = ct.

In this formula, s has most definitely the meaning of a 'thing', for it
represents measured spatial distance. Of the two factors on the other
side of the second equation, one must needs have the same quality as s:
this is c. Thus for the other factor, t, there remains the property of
a pure number. We are, therefore, under an illusion if we assume the
factor c to represent anything of what velocity implies in outer cosmic
reality. The truth is that c represents a spatial distance just as s
does, with the difference only that it is a certain unit-distance. Just
as little does real time enter into this formula - nor does it into any
other formula of mathematical physics. 'Time', in physics, is always a
pure number without any cosmic quality. Indeed, how could it be
otherwise for a purely kinematic world-observation?

We now submit the formula F=ma to the same scrutiny. If we attach to
the factor a on the right side of the equation a definite quality,
namely an observable acceleration, the other factor in the product is
permitted to have only the properties of a pure number; F, therefore,
can be only of the same nature as a and must itself be an acceleration.
Were it otherwise, then the equation F=ma could certainly not serve as
a logical link between the Velocity and Force parallelograms.

Our present investigation has done no more than grant us an insight
into the process of thought whereby the consciousness limited to a
purely kinematic experience has deprived the concept of force of any
real content. Let us look at the equation F=ma as a means of splitting
of the magnitude F into two components m and a. The equation then tells
us that F is reduced to the nature of pure acceleration, for that which
resides in the force as a factor not observable by kinematic vision has
been split away from it as the factor m. For this factor, however, as
we have seen, nothing remains over but the property of a pure number.

Let us note here that the first thinker to concern himself with a
comprehensive world-picture in which the non-existence of a real
concept of force is taken in earnest-namely, Albert Einstein - was also
the first to consider mass as a form of energy and even to predict
correctly, as was proved later, the amount of energy represented by the
unit of mass, thereby encouraging decisively the new branch of
experimental research which has led to the freeing of the so-called
atomic energy. Is it then possible that pure numbers can effect what
took place above and within Nagasaki, Hiroshima, etc.? Here we are
standing once again before one of the paradoxes of modern science which
we have found to play so considerable a part in its development.

To find an interpretation of the formula F=ma, which is free from
illusion, we must turn our attention first of all to the concepts
'force' and 'mass' themselves. The fact that men have these two words
in their languages shows that the concepts expressed by them must be
based on some experience that has been man's long before he was capable
of any scientific reflexion. Let us ask what kind of experience this is
and by what part of his being he gathers it.

The answer is, as simple self-observation will show, that we know of
the existence of force through the fact that we ourselves must exert it
in order to move our own body. Thus it is the resistance of our body
against any alteration of its state of motion, as a result of its being
composed of inert matter, which gives us the experience of force both
as a possession of our own and as a property of the outer world. All
other references to force, in places where it cannot be immediately
experienced, arise by way of analogy based on the similarity of the
content of our observation to that which springs from the exertion of
force in our own bodies.

As we see, in this experience of force that of mass is at once implied.
Still, we can strengthen the latter by experimenting with some outer
physical object. Take a fairly heavy object in your hand, stretch out
your arm lightly and move it slowly up and down, watching intently the
sensation this operation rouses in you.2 Evidently the experience of
mass outside ourselves, as with that of our own body, comes to us
through the experience of the force which we ourselves must exert in
order to overcome some resisting force occasioned by the mass. Already
this simple observation - as such made by means of the sense of
movement and therefore outside the frontiers of the
onlooker-consciousness - tells us that mass is nothing but a particular
manifestation of force.

Seen in the light of this experience, the equation F=ma requires to be
interpreted in a manner quite different from that to which scientific
logic has submitted it. For if we have to ascribe to F and m the same
quality, then the rule of multiplication allows us to ascribe to a
nothing but the character of a pure number. This implies that there is
no such thing as acceleration as a self-contained entity, merely
attached to mass in an external way.

What we designate as acceleration, and measure as such, is nothing else
than a numerical factor comparing two different conditions of force
within the physical-material world.

Only when we give the three factors in our equation this meaning, does
it express some concrete outer reality. At the same time it forbids the
use of this equation for a logical derivation of the parallelogram of
forces from that of pure velocities.


The same method which has enabled us to restore its true meaning to the
formula connecting mass and force will serve to find the true source of
man's knowledge of the parallelogram of forces. Accordingly, our
procedure will be as follows.

We shall engage two other persons, together with whom we shall try to
discover by means of our respective experiences of force the law under
which three forces applying at a common point may hold themselves in
equilibrium. Our first step will consist in grasping each other by the
hand and in applying various efforts of our wills to draw one another
in different directions, seeing to it that we do this in such a way
that the three joined hands remain undisturbed at the same place. By
this means we can get as far as to establish that, when two persons
maintain a steady direction and strength of pull, the third must alter
his applied force with every change in his own direction in order to
hold the two others in equilibrium. He will find that in some instances
he must increase his pull and in other instances decrease it.

This, however, is all that can be learnt in this way. No possibility
arises at this stage of our investigation of establishing any exact
quantitative comparison. For the forces which we have brought forth
(and this is valid for forces in general, no matter of what kind they
are) represent pure intensities, outwardly neither visible nor directly
measurable. We can certainly tell whether we are intensifying or
diminishing the application of our will, but a numerical comparison
between different exertions of will is not possible.

In order to make such a comparison, a further step is necessary. We
must convey our effort to some pointer-instrument - for instance, a
spiral spring which will respond to an exerted pressure or pull by a
change in its spatial extension. (Principle of the spring balance.) In
this way, by making use of a certain property of matter - elasticity -
the purely intensive magnitudes of the forces which we exert become
extensively visible and can be presented geometrically. We shall
therefore continue our investigation with the aid of three spring
balances, which we hook together at one end while exposing them to the
three pulls at the other.

To mark the results of our repeated pulls of varying intensities and
directions, we draw on the floor on which we stand three chalk lines
outward from the point underneath the common point of the three
instruments, each in the direction taken up by one of the three
persons. Along these lines we mark the extensions corresponding to
those of the springs of the instruments.

By way of this procedure we shall arrive at a sequence of figures such
as is shown in Fig. 3. This is all we can discover empirically
regarding the mutual relationships of three forces engaging at a point.

Let us now heed the fact that nothing in this group of figures reveals
that in each one of these trios of lines there resides a definite and
identical geometrical order; nor do they convey anything that would
turn our thoughts to the parallelogram of velocities with the effect of
leading us to expect, by way of analogy, a similar order in these
figures. And this result, we note, is quite independent of our
particular way of procedure, whether we use, right from the start, a
measuring instrument, or whether we proceed as described above.


Having in this way removed the fallacious idea that the parallelogram
of forces can, and therefore ever has been, conceived by way of logical
derivation from the parallelogram of velocities, we must then ask
ourselves what it was, if not any act of logical reason, that led
Galileo to discover it.

History relates that on making the discovery he exclaimed: 'La natura è
scritta in lingua matematica!' ('Nature is recorded in the language of
mathematics.') These words reveal his surprise when he realized the
implication of his discovery. Still, intuitively he must have known
that using geometrical lengths to symbolize the measured magnitudes of
forces would yield some valid result. Whence came this intuition, as
well as the other which led him to recognize from the figures thus
obtained that in a parallelogram made up of any two of the three lines,
the remaining line came in as its diagonal? And, quite apart from the
particular event of the discovery, how can we account for the very fact
that nature - at least on a certain level of her existence - exhibits
rules of action expressible in terms of logical principles immanent in
the human mind?


To find the answer to these questions we must revert to certain facts
connected with man's psycho-physical make-up of which the
considerations of Chapter II have already made us aware.

Let us, therefore, transpose ourselves once more into the condition of
the child who is still entirely volition, and thus experiences himself
as one with the world. Let us consider, from the point of view of this
condition, the process of lifting the body into the vertical position
and the acquisition of the faculty of maintaining it in this position;
and let us ask what the soul, though with no consciousness of itself,
experiences in all this. It is the child's will which wrestles in this
act with the dynamic structure of external space, and what his will
experiences is accompanied by corresponding perceptions through the
sense of movement and other related bodily senses. In this way the
parallelogram of forces becomes an inner experience of our organism at
the beginning of our earthly life. What we thus carry in the body's
will-region in the form of experienced geometry - this, together with
the freeing and crystallizing of part of our will-substance into our
conceptual capacity, is transformed into our faculty of forming
geometrical concepts, and among them the concept of the parallelogram
of movements.

Looked at in this way, the true relationship between the two
parallelogram-theorems is seen to be the very opposite of the one held
with conviction by scientific thinking up to now. Instead of the
parallelogram of forces following from the parallelogram of movements,
and the entire science of dynamics from that of kinematics, our very
faculty of thinking in kinematic concepts is the evolutionary product
of our previously acquired intuitive experience of the dynamic order of
the world.

If this is the truth concerning the origin of our knowledge of force
and its behaviour on the one hand, and our capacity to conceive
mathematical concepts in a purely ideal way on the other, what is it
then that causes man to dwell in such illusion as regards the
relationship between the two? From our account it follows that no
illusion of this kind could arise if we were able to remember
throughout life our experiences in early childhood. Now we know from
our considerations in Chapter VI that in former times man had such a
memory. In those times, therefore, he was under no illusion as to the
reality of force in the world. In the working of outer forces he saw a
manifestation of spiritual beings, just as in himself he experienced
force as a manifestation of his own spiritual being. We have seen also
that this form of memory had to fade away to enable man to find himself
as a self-conscious personality between birth and death. As such a
personality, Galileo was able to think the parallelogram of forces, but
he was unable to comprehend the origin of his faculty of mathematical
thinking, or of his intuitive knowledge of the mathematical behaviour
of nature in that realm of hers where she sets physical forces into

Deep below in Galileo's soul there lived, as it does in every human
being, the intuitive knowledge, acquired in early childhood, that part
of nature's order is recordable in the conceptual language of
mathematics. In order that this intuition should rise sufficiently far
into his conscious mind to guide him, as it did, in his observations,
the veil of oblivion which otherwise separates our waking consciousness
from the experiences of earliest childhood must have been momentarily
lightened. Unaware of all this, Galileo was duly surprised when in the
onlooker-part of his being the truth of his intuition was confirmed in
a way accessible to it, namely through outer experiment. Yet with the
veil immediately darkening again the onlooker soon became subject to
the illusion that for his recognition of mathematics as a means of
describing nature he was in need of nothing but what was accessible to
him on the near side of the veil.

Thus it became man's fate in the first phase of science, which fills
the period from Galileo and his contemporaries up to the present time,
that the very faculty which man needed for creating this science
prevented him from recognizing its true foundations. Restricted as he
was to the building of a purely kinematic world-picture, he had to
persuade himself that the order of interdependence of the two
parallelogram-theorems was the opposite of the one which it really is.


The result of the considerations of this chapter is of twofold
significance for our further studies. On the one hand, we have seen
that there is a way out of the impasse into which modern scientific
theory has got itself as a result of the lack of a justifiable concept
of force, and that this way is the one shown by Reid and travelled by
Goethe. 'We must become as little children again, if we will be
philosophers', is as true for science as it is for philosophy. On the
other hand, our investigation of the event which led Galileo to the
discovery that nature is recorded in the language of mathematics, has
shown us that this discovery would not have been possible unless
Galileo had in a sense become, albeit unconsciously, a little child
again. Thus the event that gave science its first foundations is an
occurrence in man himself of precisely the same character as the one
which we have learnt to regard as necessary for building science's new
foundations. The only difference is that we are trying to turn into a
deliberate and consciously handled method something which once in the
past happened to a man without his noticing it.

Need we wonder that we are challenged to do so in our day, when mankind
is several centuries older than it was in the time of Galileo?

1 As to the terms 'kinetic' and 'kinematic', see Chapter II, page 30,

2 For the sake of our later studies it is essential that the reader
does not content himself with merely following the above description
mentally, but that he carries out the experiment himself.


Pro Levitate


In the preceding chapter we gained a new insight into the relationship
between mass and force. We have come to see that our concept of force
is grounded on empirical observation in no less a degree than is
usually assumed for our concept of number, or size, or position,
provided we do not confine ourselves to non-stereoscopic, colourless
vision for the forming of our scientific world-picture, but allow other
senses to contribute to it. As to the concept mass, our discussion of
the formula F=ma showed that force and mass, as they occur in it, are
of identical nature, both having the quality of force. The factors F
and m signify force in a different relationship to space (represented
by the factor a). This latter fact now requires some further

In a science based on the Goethean method of contemplating the world of
the senses, concepts such as 'mass in rest' and 'mass in motion' lack
any scientific meaning (though for another reason than in the theory of
Relativity). For in a science of this kind the universe - in the sense
propounded lately by Professor Whitehead and others - appears as one
integrated whole, whose parts must never be considered as independent
entities unrelated to the whole. Seen thus, there is no mass in the
universe of which one could say with truth that it is ever in a state
of rest. Nor is there any condition of movement which could be rightly
characterized by the attributes 'uniform' and 'straight line' in the
sense of Newton's first law. This does not mean that such conditions
never occur in our field of observation. But as such they have
significance only in relation to our immediate surroundings as a system
of reference. Even within such limits these conditions are not of a
kind that would allow us to consider them as the basis of a scientific
world-picture. For as such they occur naturally only as ultimate, never
as primeval conditions. All masses are originally in a state of
curvilinear movement whose rates change continuously. To picture a mass
as being in a state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line,
as the result of no force acting on it, and to picture it undergoing a
change in the rate and direction of its motion as the result of some
outer force working on it, is a sheer abstraction. In so far as mass
appears in our field of observation as being in relative rest or motion
of the kind described, this is always the effect of some secondary
dynamic cause.

If we wish to think with the course of the universe and not against it,
we must not start our considerations with the state of (relative) rest
or uniform motion in a straight line and derive our definition of force
from the assumption that there is a primary 'force-free' state which is
altered under the action of some force, but we must arrange our
definitions in such a way that they end up with this state. Thus
Newton's first law, for instance, would have to be restated somewhat as
follows: No physical body is ever in a state of rest or uniform motion
in a straight line, unless its natural condition is interfered with by
the particular action of some force.

Seen dynamically, and from the aspect of the universe as an
interrelated whole, all aggregations of mass are the manifestation of
certain dynamic conditions within the universe, and what appears to us
as a change of the state of motion of such a mass is nothing but a
change in the dynamic relationship between this particular aggregation
and the rest of the world. Let us now see what causes of such a change
occur within the field of our observation.


In modern textbooks the nature of the cause of physical movement is
usually defined as follows: 'Any change in the state of movement of a
portion of matter is the result of the action on it of another portion
of matter.' This represents a truth if it is taken to describe a
certain kind of causation. In the axiomatic form in which it is given
it is a fallacy. The kind of causation it describes is, indeed, the
only one which has been taken into consideration by the scientific mind
of man. We are wont to call it 'mechanical' causation. Obviously, man's
onlooker-consciousness is unable to conceive of any other kind of
causation. For this consciousness is by its very nature confined to the
contemplation of spatially apparent entities which for this reason can
be considered only as existing spatially side by side. For the
one-eyed, colour-blind spectator, therefore, any change in the state of
movement of a spatially confined entity could be attributed only to the
action of another such entity outside itself. Such a world-outlook was
bound to be a mechanistic one.

We cannot rest content with this state of affairs if we are sincerely
searching for an understanding of how spirit moves, forms, and
transforms matter. We must learn to admit non-mechanical causes of
physical effects, where such causes actually present themselves to our
observation. In this respect our own body is again a particularly
instructive object of study. For here mechanical and non-mechanical
causation can be seen working side by side in closest conjunction. Let
us therefore ask what happens when we move, say, one of our limbs or a
part of it.

The movement of any part of our body is always effected in some way by
the movement of the corresponding part of the skeleton. This in turn is
set in motion by certain lengthenings and contractions of the
appropriate part of the muscular system. Now the way in which the
muscles cause the bones to move falls clearly under the category of
mechanical causation. Certain portions of matter are caused to move by
the movement of adjacent portions of matter. The picture changes when
we look for the cause to which the muscles owe their movements. For the
motion of the muscles is not the effect of any cause external to them,
but is effected by the purely spiritual energy of our volition working
directly into the physical substance of the muscles. What scientific
measuring instruments have been able to register in the form of
physical, chemical, electrical, etc., changes of the muscular substance
is itself an effect of this interaction.

To mark the fact that this type of causation is clearly distinguished
from the type called mechanical, it will be well to give it a name of
its own. If we look for a suitable term, the word 'magical' suggests
itself. The fact that this word has gathered all sorts of doubtful
associations must not hinder us from adopting it into the terminology
of a science which aspires to understand the working of the
supersensible in the world of the senses. The falling into disrepute of
this word is characteristic of the onlooker-age. The way in which we
suggest it should be used is in accord with its true and original
meaning, the syllable 'mag' signifying power or might (Sanskrit maha,
Greek megas, Latin magnus, English might, much, also master).
Henceforth we shall distinguish between 'mechanical' and 'magical'
causation, the latter being a characteristic of the majority of
happenings in the human, animal and plant organisms.1


Our next step in building up a truly dynamic picture of matter must be
to try to obtain a direct experience of the condition of matter when it
is under the sway of magical causation.

Let us first remember what is the outstanding attribute with which
matter responds to mechanical causation. This is known to be inertia.
By this term we designate the tendency of physical matter to resist any
outwardly impressed change of its existing state of movement. This
property is closely linked up with another one, weight. The coincidence
of the two has of late become a puzzle to science, and it was Albert
Einstein who tried to solve it by establishing his General Theory of
Relativity. The need to seek such solutions falls away in a science
which extends scientific understanding to conditions of matter in which
weight and inertia are no longer dominant characteristics. What becomes
of inertia when matter is subject to magical causation can be brought
to our immediate experience in the following way. (The reader, even if
he is already familiar with this experiment, is again asked to carry it
out for himself.)

Take a position close to a smooth wall, so that one arm and hand, which
are left hanging down alongside the body, are pressed over their entire
length between body and wall. Try now to move the arm upward, pressing
it against the wall as if you wanted to shift the latter. Apply all
possible effort to this attempt, and maintain the effort for about one
minute. Then step away quickly from the wall by more than the length of
the arm, while keeping the arm hanging down by the side of the body in
a state of complete relaxation. Provided all conditions are properly
fulfilled, the arm will be found rising by itself in accordance with
the aim of the earlier effort, until it reaches the horizontal. If the
arm is then lowered again and left to itself, it will at once rise
again, though not quite so high as before. This can be repeated several
times until the last vestige of the automatic movement has faded away.

Having thus ascertained by direct experience that there is a state of
matter in which inertia is, to say the least, greatly diminished, we
find ourselves in need of giving this state (which is present
throughout nature wherever material changes are brought into existence
magically) a name of its own, as we did with the two types of
causation. A word suggests itself which, apart from expressing
adequately the peculiar self-mobility which we have just brought to our
experience, goes well alongside the word 'inert' by forming a kind of
rhyme with it. This is the term 'alert'. With its help we shall
henceforth distinguish between matter in the inert and alert
conditions. We shall call the latter state 'alertness', and in order to
have on the other side a word as similar as possible in outer form to
alertness, we suggest replacing the usual term inertia by 'inertness'.
Thus we shall speak of matter as showing the attribute of 'inertness',
when it is subject to mechanical causation, of 'alertness', when it is
subject to magical causation.

Anyone who watches attentively the sensation produced by the rising arm
in the above experiment will be duly impressed by the experience of the
alertness prevailing in the arm as a result of the will's magical


In our endeavour to find a modern way of overcoming the conception of
matter developed and held by science in the age of the
onlooker-consciousness, we shall be helped by noticing how this
conception first arose historically. Of momentous significance in this
respect is the discovery of the gaseous state of matter by the Flemish
physician and experimenter, Joh. Baptist van Helmont (1577-1644). The
fact that the existence of this state of ponderable matter was quite
unknown up to such a relatively recent date has been completely
forgotten to-day. Moreover, it is so remote from current notions that
anyone who now calls attention to van Helmont's discovery is quite
likely to be met with incredulity. As a result, there is no account of
the event that puts it in its true setting. In what follows pains are
taken to present the facts in the form in which one comes to know them
through van Helmont's own account, given in his Ortus Medicinae.

For reasons which need not be described here, van Helmont studied with
particular interest the various modifications in which carbon is
capable of occurring in nature - among them carbon's combustion
product, carbon dioxide. It was his observations of carbon dioxide
which made him aware of a condition of matter whose properties caused
him the greatest surprise. For he found it to be, at the same time,
'much finer than vapour and much denser than air'. It appeared to him
as a complete 'paradox', because it seemed to unite in itself two
contradictory qualities, one appertaining to the realm of 'uncreated
things', the other to the realm of 'created things'. Unable to rank it
with either 'vapour' or 'air' (we shall see presently what these terms
meant in van Helmont's terminology), he found himself in need of a
special word to distinguish this new state from the other known states,
both below and above it. Since he could not expect any existing
language to possess a suitable word, he felt he must create one. He
therefore took, and changed slightly, a word signifying a particular
cosmic condition which seemed to be imaged in the new condition he had
just discovered. The word was CHAOS. By shortening it a little, he
derived from it the new word GAS. His own words explaining his choice
are: 'Halitum ilium GAS vocavi non longe a Chaos veterum secretum.' ('I
have called this mist Gas, owing to its resemblance to the Chaos of the

Van Helmont's account brings us face to face with a number of riddles.
Certainly, there is nothing strange to us in his describing carbon
dioxide gas as being 'finer than vapour and denser than air'; but why
did he call this a 'paradox'? What prevented him from ranking it side
by side with air? As to air itself, why should he describe it as
belonging to the realm of the 'uncreated things'? What reason was there
for giving 'vapour' the rank of a particular condition of matter? And
last but not least, what was the ancient conception of Chaos which led
van Helmont to choose this name as an archetype for the new word he

To appreciate van Helmont's astonishment and his further procedure, we
must first call to mind the meaning which, in accordance with the
prevailing tradition, he attached to the term Air. For van Helmont, Air
was one of the four 'Elements', EARTH, WATER, AIR, and FIRE. Of these,
the first two were held to constitute the realm of the 'created
things', the other two that of the 'uncreated things'. A brief study of
the old doctrine of the Four Elements is necessary at this point in
order to understand the meaning of these concepts.


The first systematic teaching about the four elementary constituents of
nature, as they were experienced by man of old, was given by Empedocles
in the fifth century B.C. It was elaborated by Aristotle. In this form
it was handed down and served to guide natural observation through more
than a thousand years up to the time of van Helmont. From our earlier
descriptions of the changes in man's consciousness it is clear that the
four terms, 'earth', 'water', 'air', 'fire', must have meant something
different in former times. So 'water' did not signify merely the
physical substance which modern chemistry defines by the formula H2O;
nor was 'air' the mixture of gases characteristic of the earth's
atmosphere. Man in those days, on account of his particular
relationship with nature, was impressed in the first place by the
various dynamic conditions, four in number, which he found prevailing
both in his natural surroundings and in his own organism. With his
elementary concepts he tried to express, therefore, the four basic
conditions which he thus experienced. He saw physical substances as
being carried up and down between these conditions.

At first sight some relationship seems to exist between the concept
'element' in this older sense and the modern view of the different
states of material aggregation, solid, liquid, aeriform. There is,
however, nothing in this modern view that would correspond to the
element Fire. For heat in the sense of physical science is an
immaterial energy which creates certain conditions in the three
material states, but from these three to heat there is no transition
corresponding to the transitions between themselves. Heat, therefore,
does not rank as a fourth condition by the side of the solid, liquid
and aeriform states, in the way that Fire ranks in the older conception
by the side of Earth, Water and Air.

If we were to use the old terms for designating the three states of
aggregation plus heat, as we know them to-day, we should say that there
is a border-line dividing Fire from the three lower elements. Such a
border-line existed in the older conception of the elements as well.
Only its position was seen to be elsewhere - between Earth and Water on
the one hand, Air and Fire on the other. This was expressed by saying
that the elements below this line constituted the realm of the 'created
things', those above it that of the 'uncreated things'. Another way of
expressing this was by characterizing Earth and Water with the quality
Cold; Air and Fire with the quality Warm. The two pairs of elements
were thus seen as polar opposites of one another.

The terms 'cold' and 'warm' must also be understood to have expressed
certain qualitative experiences in which there was no distinction as
yet between what is purely physical and what is purely spiritual.
Expressions such as 'a cold heart', 'a warm heart', to 'show someone
the cold shoulder', etc., still witness to this way of experiencing the
two polar qualities, cold and warm. Quite generally we can say that,
wherever man experienced some process of contraction, whether physical
or non-physical, he designated it by the term 'cold', and where he
experienced expansion, he called it 'warm'. In this sense he felt
contractedness to be the predominant characteristic of Earth and Water,
expansiveness that of Air and Fire.

With the help of these qualitative concepts we are now in a position to
determine more clearly still the difference between the older and the
modern conceptions: in particular the difference between the aeriform
condition of matter, as we conceive of it to-day, and the element Air.
Contractedness manifests as material density, or the specific weight of
a particular substance. We know that this characteristic of matter
diminishes gradually with its transition from the solid to the liquid
and aeriform states. We know also that this last state is characterized
by a high degree of expansiveness, which is also the outstanding
property of heat. Thus there is reason to describe also from the modern
point of view the solid and liquid states as essentially 'cold', and
the aeriform state as 'warm'. But aeriform matter still has density and
weight, and this means that matter in this state combines the two
opposing qualities. Contrary to this, Air, as the second highest
element in the old sense, is characterized by the pure quality, warm.
Thus, when man of old spoke of 'air', he had in mind something entirely
free from material density and weight.3

By comparing in this way the older and newer conceptions of 'air', we
come to realize that ancient man must have had a conception of gravity
essentially different from ours. If we take gravity in the modern
scientist's sense, as a 'descriptive law of behaviour', then this
behaviour is designated in the older doctrine by the quality 'cold'.
If, however, we look within the system of modern science for a law of
behaviour that would correspond to the quality 'warm', we do so in
vain. Polarity concepts are certainly not foreign to the scientific
mind, as the physics of electricity and magnetism show. Yet there is no
opposite pole to gravity, as there is negative opposite to positive
electricity, etc.4

In the older conception, however, the gravitational behaviour 'cold'
was seen to be counteracted by an autonomous anti-gravitational
behaviour 'warm'. Experience still supported the conviction that as a
polar opposite to the world subject to gravity, there was another world
subject to levity.

We refrain at this point from discussing how far a science which
aspires to a spiritual understanding of nature, including material
processes, needs a revival - in modern form - of the old conception of
levity. In our present context it suffices to realize that we
understand man's earlier view of nature, and with it the one still held
by van Helmont, only by admitting levity equally with gravity into his
world-picture. For the four elements, in particular, this meant that
the two upper ones were regarded as representing Levity, the two lower
ones Gravity.

In close connexion with this polar conception of the two pairs of
elements, there stands their differentiation into one realm of created,
another of uncreated, things. To understand what these terms imply, we
must turn to the ancient concept, Chaos, borrowed by van Helmont.

To-day we take the word Chaos to mean a condition of mere absence of
order, mostly resulting from a destruction of existing forms, whether
by nature or by the action of man. In its original sense the word meant
the exact opposite. When in ancient times people spoke of Chaos, they
meant the womb of all being, the exalted realm of uncreated things,
where indeed forms such as are evident to the eye in the created world
are not to be found, but in place of them are the archetypes of all
visible forms, as though nurtured in a spiritual seed-condition. It is
the state which in the biblical narration of the creation of the world
is described as 'without form and void'.

From this Chaos all the four elements are born, one by one, with the
two upper ones retaining Chaos's essential characteristic in that they
are 'without form' and tend to be omnipresent, whilst the two lower
ones constitute a realm in which things appear in more or less clearly
outlined space-bound forms. This is what the terms 'uncreated' and
'created' imply.

How strictly these two realms were distinguished can be seen by the
occurrence of the concept 'vapour'. When with the increasing interest
in the realm of created things - characteristic of the
spectator-consciousness which, in view of our earlier description of
it, we recognize as being itself a 'created thing' - the need arose for
progressive differentiation within this realm, the simple division of
it into 'earth' and 'water' was no longer felt to be satisfactory.
After all, above the liquid state of matter there was another state,
less dense than water and yet presenting itself through more or less
clearly distinguishable space-bound objects, such as the mists arising
from and spreading over ponds and meadows, and the clouds hovering in
the sky. For this state of matter the term 'vapour' had become
customary, and it was used by van Helmont in this sense. By its very
properties, Vapour belonged to the realm of the created things, whereas
Air did not. It was the intermediary position of the newly discovered
state of matter between Vapour and Air, that is, between the created
and the uncreated world, which caused van Helmont to call it a paradox;
and it was its strange resemblance, despite its ponderable nature, to
Chaos, which prompted him to name it - Gas.


Since it could not have been the gaseous state of matter in the form
discovered by van Helmont, what particular condition of nature was it
to which the ancients pointed when using the term Air? Let us see how
the scriptures of past human cultures speak of air.

In all older languages, the words used to designate the element bound
up with breathing, or the act of breathing, served at the same time to
express the relationship of man to the Divine, or even the Divine
itself. One need think only of the words Brahma and Atma of the ancient
Indians, the Pneuma of the Greeks, the Spiritus of the Romans. The
Hebrews expressed the same idea when they said that Jehovah had
breathed the breath of life into man and that man in this way became a
living soul.

What lies behind all these words is the feeling familiar to man in
those times, that breathing was not only a means of keeping the body
alive, but that a spiritual essence streamed in with the breath. So
long as this condition prevailed, people could expect that by changing
their manner of breathing they had a means of bringing the soul into
stronger relationship with spiritual Powers, as is attempted in Eastern

Remembering the picture of man's spiritual-physical evolution which we
have gained from earlier chapters, we are not astonished to find how
different this early experience of the breathing process was from our
own. Yet, together with the recognition of this difference there arises
another question. Even if we admit that man of old was so organized
that the experience of his own breathing process was an overwhelmingly
spiritual one, it was, after all, the gaseous substance of the earth's
atmosphere which he inhaled, and exhaled again in a transformed
condition. What then was it that prevented men - apparently right up to
the time of van Helmont - from gaining the slightest inkling of the
materiality of this substance? To find an answer to this question, let
us resort once more to our method of observing things genetically,
combined with the principle of not considering parts without
considering the whole to which they organically belong.

In modern science the earth is regarded as a mineral body whereon the
manifold forms of nature appear as mere additions, arising more or less
by chance; one can very well imagine them absent without this having
any essential influence on the earth's status in the universe. The
truth is quite different. For the earth, with everything that exists on
it, forms a single whole, just as each separate organism is in its own
way a whole.

This shows that we have no right to imagine the earth without men, and
to suppose that its cosmic conditions of being would then remain
unaltered - any more than we can imagine a human being deprived of some
essential-organ and remaining human. Mankind, and all the other
kingdoms of nature, are bound up organically with the earth from the
start of its existence. Moreover, just as the highest plants, seen with
Goethe's eyes, are the spiritual originators of the whole realm of
plants - the creative Idea determining their evolution - so we see man,
the highest product of earth evolution, standing behind this evolution
as its Idea from the first, and determining its course. The
evolutionary changes which we observe in the earth and in man are in
fact a single process, working through a variety of manifested forms.

From this conception of the parallel evolution of earth and man light
falls also on the historic event represented by van Helmont's
discovery. Besides being a symptom of a revolution in man's way of
experiencing the atmosphere, it speaks to us of some corresponding
change in the spiritual-physical condition of the atmosphere itself. It
was then that men not only came to think differently about air, but
inhaled and exhaled an air that actually was different. To find out
what kind of change this was, let us turn once more to man's own
organism and see what it has to say concerning the condition under
which matter is capable of being influenced by mechanical and magical
causation respectively, in the sense already described.

What is it in the nature of the bones that makes them accessible to
mechanical causation only, and what is it in the muscles that allows
our will to rouse them magically? Bones and muscles stand in a definite
genetic relationship to each other, the bones being, in relation to the
muscles, a late product of organic development. This holds good equally
for everything which in the body of living nature takes the form of
mineralized deposits or coverings. Every kind of organism consists in
its early stages entirely of living substance; in the course of time a
part of the organism separates off" and passes over into a more or less
mineralized condition. Seen in this light, the distinction between
bones and muscles is that the bones have evolved out of a condition in
which the muscles persist, though to a gradually waning degree,
throughout the life-time of the body. The substance of the muscles,
remaining more or less 'young', stands at the opposite pole from the
'aged' substance of the bones. Hence it depends on the 'age' of a piece
of matter whether it responds to magical or mechanical causation.

Let us state here at once, that this temporal distinction has an
essential bearing on our understanding of evolutionary processes in
general. For if mineral matter is a late product of evolution - and
nothing in nature indicates the contrary - then to explain the origins
of the world (as scientific theories have always done) with the aid of
events similar in character to those which now occur in the mineral
realm, means explaining them against nature's own evidence. To find
pictures of past conditions of the earth in present-day nature, we must
look in the regions where matter, because it is still 'youthful', is
played through by the magical working of purposefully active spiritual
forces. Thus, instead of seeing in them the chance results of blind
volcanic and similar forces, we must recognize in the formation and
layout of land and sea an outcome of events more closely resembling
those which occur during the embryonic development of a living

What, then, does van Helmont's discovery of the gaseous state of matter
tell us, if we regard it in the light of our newly acquired insight
into the trend of evolution both within and without man? When, in the
course of its growing older, mankind had reached the stage which is
expressed by the emergence of the
spectator-consciousness-consciousness, that is, based on a nervous
system which has grown more or less independent of the life forces of
the organism - the outer elements had, in their way, arrived at such a
state that man began to inhale an air whose spiritual-physical
constitution corresponded exactly to that of his nervous system: on
either side, Spirit and Matter, in accordance with the necessities of
cosmic evolution had lost their primeval union.


Our extension of the concept of evolution to the very elements of
nature, whether these are of material or non-material kind, and our
recognition of this evolution as leading in general from a more alert
to a more inert condition, at once open the possibility of including in
our scientific world-picture certain facts which have hitherto resisted
any inclusion. We mean those manifold events of 'miraculous' nature, of
which the scriptures and the oral traditions of old are full. What is
modern man to make of them?

The doubts which have arisen concerning events of this kind have their
roots on the one hand in the apparent absence of such occurrences in
our day, on the other in the fact that the laws of nature derived by
science from the present condition of the world seem to rule them out.5
In the light of the concept of the world's 'ageing' which we have tried
to develop here, not only do the relevant reports become plausible, but
it also becomes understandable why, if such events have taken place in
the past, they fail to do so in our own time.

To illustrate this, let us take a few instances which are symptomatic
of the higher degree of youthfulness which was characteristic in former
times in particular of the element of Fire.

The role which Fire was capable of playing in man's life at a time when
even this element, in itself the most youthful of all, was more
susceptible to magic interference than of late, is shown by the
manifold fire-rites of old. In those days, when no easy means of
fire-lighting were available, it was usual for the needs of daily life
to keen a fire burning all the time and to kindle other fires from it.
Only in cases of necessity was a new fire lit, and then the only way
was by the tedious rubbing together of two pieces of dry wood.

Then both the maintenance of fires, and the deliberate kindling of a
new fire, played quite a special role in the ceremonial ordering of
human society. Historically, much the best known is the Roman usage in
the Temple of Vesta. On the one hand, the unintentional extinction of
the fire was regarded as a national calamity and as the gravest
possible transgression on the part of the consecrated priestess charged
with maintaining the fire. On the other hand, it was thought essential
for this 'everlasting' fire to be newly kindled once a year. This took
place with a special ritual at the beginning of the Roman year (1st

The conception behind such a ritual of fire-kindling will become clear
if we compare with it certain other fire-rites which were practised in
the northern parts of Europe, especially in the British Isles, until
far on in the Christian era. For example, if sickness broke out among
the cattle, a widespread practice was to extinguish all the
hearth-fires in the district and then to kindle with certain rites a
new fire, from which all the local people lit their own fires once
more. Heavy penalties were prescribed for anyone who failed to
extinguish his own fire - a failure usually indicated by the
non-manifestation of the expected healing influence. In Anglo-Saxon
speaking countries, fires of this kind were known as 'needfires'.

The spiritual significance of these fires cannot be expressed better
than by the meaning of the very term 'needfire'. This word does not
derive, as was formerly believed, from the word 'need', meaning a 'fire
kindled in a state of need', but, as recent etymological research has
shown, from a root which appears in the German word nieten - to clinch
or rivet. 'Needfire' therefore means nothing less than a fire which was
kindled for 'clinching' anew the bond between earthly life and the
primal spiritual order at times when for one reason or another there
was a call for this.

This explanation of the 'needfire' throws light also on the Roman
custom of re-kindling annually the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta.
For the Romans this was a means of reaffirming year by year the
connexion of the nation with its spiritual leadership; accordingly,
they chose the time when the sun in its yearly course restores -
're-clinches' - the union of the world-spirit with earthly nature, for
the rebirth of the fire which throughout the rest of the year was
carefully guarded against extinction.

Just as men saw in this fire-kindling a way of bringing humanity into
active relation with spiritual powers, so on the other hand were these
powers held to use the fire element in outer nature for the purpose of
making themselves actively known to mankind. Hence we find in the
records of all ancient peoples a unanimous recognition of lightning and
thunder on the one hand, and volcanic phenomena on the other, as means
to which the Deity resorts for intervening in human destiny. A
well-known example is the account in the Bible of the meeting of Moses
with God on Mount Sinai. As occurrence in the early history of the
Hebrews it gives evidence that even in historical times the fire
element of the earth was sufficiently 'young' to serve the higher
spiritual powers as an instrument for the direct expression of their

* *

We said earlier in this chapter that a science which aspires to a
spiritual understanding of the physical happenings in nature must give
up the idea that inertness and weight are absolute properties of
matter. We were able at once to tackle the question of inertness by
bringing to our immediate observation matter in the state of diminished
inertness, or, as we proposed to say, of alertness. We are now in a
position to go into the other question, that of weight or gravity. Just
as we found inertness to have its counterpart in alertness, both being
existing conditions of matter, so we shall now find in addition to the
force of gravity another force which is the exact opposite of it, and
to which therefore we can give no better name than 'levity'.


Already, indeed, the picture of nature which we gained from following
Goethe's studies both of the plant and of meteorological happenings has
brought us face to face with certain aspects of levity. For when Goethe
speaks of systole and diastole, as the plant first taught him to see
them and as later he found them forming the basic factors of
weather-formation, he is really speaking of the ancient concepts,
'cold' and 'warm'. Goethe's way of observing nature is, in fact, a
first step beyond the limits of a science which kept itself ignorant of
levity as a cosmic counterpart to terrestrial gravity. To recognize the
historical significance of this step, let us turn our glance to the
moment when the human mind became aware that to lay a proper foundation
for the science it was about to build, it had to exclude any idea of
levity as something with a real existence.

Many a conception which is taken for granted by modern man, and is
therefore assumed to have been always obvious, was in fact established
quite deliberately at a definite historical moment. We have seen how
this applies to our knowledge of the gaseous state of matter; it
applies also to the idea of the uniqueness of gravity. About half a
century after van Helmont's discovery a treatise called Contra
Levitatem was published in Florence by the Accademia del Cimento. It
declares that a science firmly based on observation has no right to
speak of Levity as something claiming equal rank with, and opposite to,

This attitude was in accord with the state into which human
consciousness had entered at that time. For a consciousness which is
itself of the quality 'cold', because it is based on the contracting
forces of the body, is naturally not in a position to take into
consideration its very opposite. Therefore, to speak of a force of
levity as one felt able to speak of gravity was indeed without meaning.

Just as there was historical necessity in this banishing of levity from
science at the beginning of the age of the spectator-consciousness, so
was there historical necessity in a renewed awareness of it arising
when the time came for man to overcome the limitations of his spectator
- relationship to the world. We find this in Goethe's impulse to search
for the action of polarities in nature. As we shall see later, it comes
to its clearest expression in Goethe's optical conceptions.

Another witness to this fact is Ruskin, through a remark which bears in
more than one sense on our present subject. It occurs in his essay, The
Storm-Cloud of the Ninteenth Century. In its context it is meant to
warn the reader against treating science, which Ruskin praises as a
fact-finding instrument, as an interpreter of natural facts. Ruskin
takes Newton's conception of gravity as the all-moving cause of the
universe, and turns against it in the following words:

'Take the very top and centre of scientific interpretation by the
greatest of its masters: Newton explained to you - or at least was once
supposed to explain, why an apple fell; but he never thought of
explaining the exact correlative but infinitely more difficult
question, how the apple got up there.'

This remark shows Ruskin once again as a true reader in nature's book.
Looking with childlike openness and intensity of participation into the
world of the senses, he allows nature's phenomena to impress themselves
upon his mind without giving any preconceived preference to one kind or
another. This enables him not to be led by the phenomenon of falling
bodies to overlook the polarically opposite phenomenon of the upward
movement of physical matter in the living plant. Ruskin's remark points
directly to the new world-conception which must be striven for to-day -
the conception in which death is recognized as a secondary form of
existence preceded by life; in which levity is given its rightful place
as a force polar to gravity; and in which, because life is bound up
with levity as death is with gravity, levity is recognized as being of
more ancient rank than gravity.


In proceeding now to a study of levity we shall not start, as might be
expected, with plants or other living forms. We are not yet equipped to
understand the part played by levity in bringing about the processes of
life; we shall come to this later. For our present purpose we shall
look at certain macrotelluric events - events in which large areas of
the earth are engaged - taking our examples from meteorology on the one
hand and from seismic (volcanic) processes on the other.

In pursuing this course we follow a method which belongs to the
fundamentals of a Goetheanistic science. A few words about this method
may not be out of place.

When we strive to read the book of nature as a script of the spirit we
find ourselves drawn repeatedly towards two realms of natural
phenomena. They are widely different in character, but studied together
they render legible much that refuses to be deciphered in either realm
alone. These realms are, on the one hand, the inner being of man, and,
on the other, the phenomena of macrotelluric and cosmic character. The
fruitfulness of linking together these two will become clear if we
reflect on the following.

The field of the inner life of man allows us, as nothing else does, to
penetrate it with our own intuitive experience. For we ourselves are
always in some sense the cause of the events that take place there. In
order to make observations in this region, however, we need to bring
about a certain awakening in a part of our being which - so long as we
rely on the purely natural forces of our body - remains sunk in more or
less profound unconsciousness.

If this realm of events is more intimately related than any other to
our intuitive experience, it has also the characteristic of remaining
closed to any research by external means. Much of what lies beyond the
scope of external observation, however, reveals itself all the more
clearly in the realms where nature is active on the widest scale.
Certainly, we must school ourselves to read aright the phenomena which
come to light in those realms. And once more we must look to the way of
introspection, previously mentioned, for aid in investing our gaze with
the necessary intuitive force. If we succeed in this, then the heavens
will become for us a text wherein secrets of human nature, hidden from
mere introspection, can be read; while at the same time the
introspective way enables us to experience things which we cannot
uncover simply by observing the outer universe.

Apart from these methodological considerations, there is a further
reason for our choice. Among the instances mentioned earlier in this
chapter as symptoms of a greater 'youthfulness' prevailing in nature,
and particularly in the element Fire, at a comparatively recent date,
were the manifestations of the Divine-Spiritual World to man reported
in the Bible as the event on Mount Sinai. There, thunder and lightning
from above and volcanic action from below form the setting for the
intercourse of Jehovah with Moses. To-day the function of these types
of phenomena, though metamorphosed by the altered conditions of the
earth, is not essentially different. Here, more than in any other
sphere of her activities, nature manifests that side of her which we
are seeking to penetrate with understanding.


Let us start with an observation known to the present writer from a
visit to the Solfatara, a volcanic region near Naples.

The Solfatara itself is a trough surrounded by hilly mounds; its
smooth, saucepan-like bottom, covered with whitish pumice-sand, is
pitted with craters containing violently boiling and fuming mud - the
so-called fango, famous for its healing properties. All around
sulphurous fumes issue from crevices in the rocks, and in one special
place the Solfatara reveals its subterranean activity by the emergence
of fine, many-coloured sand, which oozes up like boiling liquid from
the depths below. The whole region gives the impression of being in a
state of labile balance. How true this is becomes apparent if one drops
pieces of burning paper here and there on the ground: immediately a
cloud of smoke and steam rises. The effect is even more intense if a
burning torch is moved about over one of the boiling fango holes. Then
the deep answers instantly with an extraordinary intensification of the
boiling process. The hot mud seems to be thrown into violent turmoil,
emitting thick clouds of steam, which soon entirely envelop the
spectator near the edge.

The scientific mind is at first inclined to see in this phenomenon the
mechanical effect of reduced air-pressure, due to the higher
temperatures above the surface of the boiling mud, though doubts are
raised by the unusual intensity of the reaction. The feeling that the
physical explanation is inadequate is strengthened when the vapours
have thinned out and one is surprised to see that every crack and
cranny in the Solfatara, right up to the top of the trough, shows signs
of increased activity. Certainly, this cannot be accounted for by a
cause-and-effect nexus of the kind found in the realm of mechanical
causation, where an effect is propagated from point to point and the
total effect is the sum of a number of partial effects. It looks rather
as if the impulse applied in one spot had called for a major impulse
which was now acting on the Solfatara as a whole.

As observers who are trying to understand natural phenomena by
recognizing their significance as letters in nature's script, we must
look now for other phenomena which can be joined with this one to form
the relevant 'word' we have set out to decipher.

All scientific theories concerning the causes of seismic occurrences,
both volcanic and tectonic, have been conceived as if the spatial
motion of mineral matter were the only happening that had to be
accounted for. No wonder that none of these theories has proved really
satisfactory even to mechanistically orientated thinking. Actually
there are phenomena of a quite different kind connected with the
earth's seismic activities, and these need to be taken into equal

There is, for instance, the fact that animals often show a premonition
of volcanic or tectonic disturbances. They become restive and hide, or,
if domestic, seek the protection of man. Apparently, they react in this
way to changes in nature which precede the mechanical events by which
man registers the seismic occurrence.

Another such phenomenon is the so-called earthquake-sky, which the
present writer has had several occasions to witness. It consists of a
peculiar, almost terrifying, intense discoloration of the sky, and, to
those acquainted with it, is a sure sign of an imminent or actual
earthquake somewhere in the corresponding region of the earth. This
phenomenon teaches us that the change in the earth's condition which
results in a violent movement of her crust, involves a region of her
organism far greater than the subterranean layers where the cause of
the purely mechanical events is usually believed to reside.6

That man himself is not excluded from experiencing directly the
super-spatial nature of seismic disturbances is shown by an event in
Goethe's life, reported by his secretary Eckermann, who himself learnt
the story from an old man who had been Goethe's valet at the time.7

This is what the old man, whom Eckermann met by accident one day near
Weimar, told him: 'Once Goethe rang in the middle of the night and when
I entered his room I found he had rolled his iron bed to the window and
was lying there, gazing at the heavens. "Have you seen nothing in the
sky?" asked he, and when I answered "No", he begged me to run across to
the sentry and inquire of the man on duty if he had seen nothing. He
had not noticed anything and when I returned I found the master still
in the same position, gazing at the sky. "Listen," he said, "this is an
important moment; there is now an earthquake or one is just going to
take place." Then he made me sit down on the bed and showed me by what
signs he knew this.' When asked about the weather conditions, the old
man said: 'It was very cloudy, very still and sultry.' To believe
implicitly in Goethe was for him a matter of course, 'for things always
happened as he said they would'. When next day Goethe related his
observations at Court, the women tittered: 'Goethe dreams' ('Goethe
schwärmt'), but the Duke and the other men present believed him. A few
weeks later the news reached Weimar that on that night (5th April,
1783) part of Messina had been destroyed by an earthquake.

There is no record by Goethe himself of the nature of the phenomenon
perceived by him during that night, except for a brief remark in a
letter to Mme de Stein, written the following day, in which he claims
to have seen a 'northern light in the south-east' the extraordinary
character of which made him fear that an earthquake had taken place
somewhere. The valet's report makes us inclined to think that there had
been no outwardly perceptible phenomenon at all, but that what Goethe
believed he was seeing with his bodily eyes was the projection of a
purely supersensible, but not for that reason any less objective,

In a picture of the seismic activities of the earth which is to
comprise phenomena of this kind, the volcanic or tectonic effects
cannot be attributed to purely local causes. For why, then, should the
whole meteorological sphere be involved, and why should living beings
react in the way described? Clearly, we must look for the origin of the
total disturbance not in the interior of the earth but in the expanse
of surrounding space. Indeed, the very phenomenon of the Solfatara, if
seen in this light, can reveal to us that at least the volcanic
movements of the earth's crust are not caused by pressure from within,
but by suction from without - that is, by an exceptional action of

We recall the fact that the whole Solfatara phenomenon had its origin
in a flame being swayed over one of the fango holes. Although it
remains true that the suction arising from the diminished air pressure
over the hole cannot account for the intense increase of ebullition in
the hole itself, not to speak of the participation of the entire region
in this increase, there is the fact that the whole event starts with a
suctional effect. As we shall see in the next chapter, any local
production of heat interferes with the gravity conditions at that spot
by shifting the balance to the side of levity. That the response in a
place like the Solfatara is what we have seen it to be, is the result
of an extraordinary lability of the equilibrium between gravity and
levity, a characteristic appertaining to the earth's volcanism in

For the people living near the Solfatara it is indeed common knowledge
that there are times when this lability is so great that the slightest
local disturbance of the kind we have described can provoke destructive
eruptions of great masses of subterranean mud. (At such times access to
the Solfatara is prohibited.) We shall understand such an eruption
rightly if we picture it as the counter-pole of an avalanche. The
latter may be brought about by a fragment of matter on a snow-covered
mountain, perhaps a little stone, breaking loose and in its descent
bringing ever-accumulating masses of snow down with it. The
levity-process polar to this demonstration of gravity is the production
of a mightily growing 'negative avalanche' by comparatively weak local
suction, caused by a small flame.


Earlier in this chapter (page 150) we said that if we want to
understand how spirit moves, forms and transforms matter, we must
recognize the existence of non-mechanical (magical) causes of physical
effects. We have now found that the appearance of such effects in
nature is due to the operations of a particular force, levity, polar to
gravity. Observation of a number of natural happenings has helped us to
become familiar in a preliminary way with the character of this force.
Although these happenings were all physical in appearance, they showed
certain definitely non-physical features, particularly through their
peculiar relationship to three-dimensional space. More characteristics
of this kind will appear in the following pages.

In this way it will become increasingly clear that in levity we have to
do with something which, despite its manifesting characteristics of a
'force' not unlike gravity and thereby resembling the latter, differs
essentially from anything purely physical. It is only by its
interactions with gravity that levity brings about events in the
physical world-events, however, which are themselves partly of a
physical, partly of a superphysical kind. Seeing things in this aspect,
we are naturally prompted to ask what causes there are in the world
which make gravity and levity interact at all. This question will find
its answer in due course. First, we must make ourselves more fully
acquainted with the various appearances of the gravity-levity interplay
in nature.

1 In this sense Ruskin's description of the working of the spirit in
the plant as one that 'catches from chaos water, etc., etc., and
fastens them into a given form' points to magical action.

2 For Van Helmont, owing to the Flemish pronunciation of the letter G,
the two words sounded more alike than their spelling suggests.

3 In a later chapter we shall have opportunity to determine what
distinguishes Air from Fire, on the one hand, and Water from Earth on
the other.

4 It is this apparent uni-polarity of gravity which has given Professor
Einstein so much trouble in his endeavour to create a purely
gravitational world-picture with bipolar electricity and magnetism
fitting into it mathematically.

5 See the 'Bishop Barnes' controversy of recent date.

6 To the same category belong the mighty thunderstorms which in some
parts of the world are known to occur in conjunction with earthquakes.

7 See Goethe's Conversations with Eckermann (translated by J.
Oxenford), 13th November, 1823.


The Fourth State of Matter

When William Crookes chose as one of the titles of his paper on the
newly discovered properties of electricity, 'The Fourth State of
Matter', it was to express his belief that he had found a state of
matter, additional to the three known ones, which represented 'the
borderland where matter and force seem to merge into one another, the
shadowy realm between known and unknown' for which his soul had been
longing ever since the death of his beloved brother.1 All that has
followed from his discovery, down to the transformation of matter
itself into freely working energy, shows that he was right in thinking
he had reached some borderland of nature. But the character of the
forces which are thus liberated makes it equally clear that this is not
the borderland he was looking for. Nature - by which we mean physical
nature - has in fact two borders, one touching the realm of the
intramaterial energies which are liberated by disrupting the structure
of atomic nuclei, the other leading over into creative Chaos, the
fountain-head of all that appears in nature as intelligent design.

It was Crookes's fate to open the road which has brought man to
nature's lower border and even across it, although he himself was in
search of her upper border. What he was denied, we are in a position to
achieve to-day, provided we do not expect to succeed by methods similar
to those of atomic physics, and do not look for similar results.

To show that there is a fourth state of matter, rightly so called,
which represents in actual fact the upper border of nature, and to
point the way that leads to it and across it, is the purpose of this


From our previous comparison of the older conception of the four
elementary conditions of nature with that now held of the three states
of ponderable matter, we may expect that the fourth state will have
something in common with heat. Heat is indeed the energy which
transforms matter by carrying it from the solid to the liquid and
gaseous states. Not so obvious is the fact that heat, apart from being
an agent working at matter in this way, is the very essence underlying
all material existence, out of which matter in its three ponderable
states comes into being and into which it is capable of returning
again. Such a conception of matter was naturally absent from the age of
the Contra-Levitatem orientation of the human mind. To create this
conception, a new Pro-Levitate orientation is required.

Apart from producing liquefaction and vaporization, heat has also the
property of acting on physical matter so that its volume increases.
Both facts are linked together by science through the thermodynamic
conception of heat. As this conception firmly blocks the road to the
recognition of the role of heat as the fourth state of matter, our
first task will be to determine our own standpoint with regard to it.
Further obstacles on our way are the so-called Laws of Conservation,
which state that no matter and no energy - which for present-day
science have become one and the same thing - can ever disappear into
'nothing' or come into being out of 'nothing'. This idea, also, will
therefore require our early attention.2


In the light of our previous studies we shall not find it difficult to
test the reality-value of the thermodynamic conception of heat.

As we know of mass through a definite sense-perception, so we know of
heat. In the latter case we rely on the sense of warmth. In Chapter
VIII we took the opportunity to test the objectivity of the information
received through this sense. Still, one-eyed, colour-blind observation
is naturally unable to take account of these sense-messages. To this
kind of observation nothing is accessible, we know, except spatial
displacements of single point-like entities. Hence we find Bacon and
Hooke already attributing the sensation of warmth to minute fast-moving
particles of matter impinging on the skin. Some time later we find
Locke taking up the same picture. We see from this how little the
mechanical theory of heat owes to empirical facts. For even in Locke's
time the connexion between heat and mechanical action, as recognized
to-day, was completely unknown.

With this idea firmly rooted in his mind, modern man had no difficulty
in using it to explain both thermal expansion and the effect of heat on
the different states of matter, and so, finally, these states
themselves. Thermal expansion was thus attributed to an increase in the
average distance between the assumed minute particles, caused by an
increase in their rate of movement; the liquid state was held to differ
from the solid, and similarly the gaseous from the liquid, by the
interspaces between the particles becoming relatively so great that the
gravitational pull between them became too weak to hold them together.

Tested from a view-point outside the onlooker-consciousness, this whole
picture of the interaction between matter and heat appears to run
counter to the cosmic order of things in a way typical of other
spectator-theories. Ancient man, if confronted with this picture, would
have said that it means explaining the element Fire by the quality
Cold. For each of those minute particles, in its solidity and state of
spatial separation from the others, represents an effigy of the earth
and thereby the element Earth itself. He would be unable to understand
why phenomena of the 'warm' element Fire should be explained by its
very opposite. Moreover, Fire forms part of the ever 'youthful' realm
of the world, whereas anything which exists as a spatially discernible
entity, capable of being moved about mechanically, must have grown
cosmically 'old'.

That Ruskin was as much on the alert in regard to this theory as he was
in regard to Newton's theory of gravitation, is shown by the following
utterance from his The Queen of the Air. Obviously stirred by Tyndall's
newly published treatise, Heat as a Mode of Motion, Ruskin felt the
need to criticize the endeavour of contemporary science 'to simplify
the various forms of energy more and more into modes of one force, or
finally into mere motion, communicable in various states, but not
destructible', by declaring that he would himself 'like better in order
of thought3 to consider motion as a mode of heat than heat as a mode of

These words of Ruskin touch also on the law of conservation of energy,
of which we said that it also called for a preliminary examination.
What we now have to find out is the factual basis on which this law


The conception of the law of conservation of energy arose from the
discovery of the constant numerical relation between heat and
mechanical work, known as the mechanical equivalent of heat. This
discovery was made at about the same time by Joule in England and J. R.
Mayer in Germany, although by entirely different routes. Joule, a
brewer, was a man of practical bent. Trained by Dalton, the founder of
the atomic theory, in experimental research, he continued Rumford's and
Davy's researches which they had undertaken to prove that heat is not,
as it was for a time believed to be, a ponderable substance, but an
imponderable agent. As a starting-point he took the heating effect of
electric currents. The fact that these could be generated by turning a
machine, that is, by the expenditure of mechanical energy, gave him the
idea of determining the amount of work done by the machine and then
comparing this with the amount of heat generated by the current. A
number of ingenious experiments enabled him to determine with
increasing exactitude the numerical relation between work and heat, as
well as to establish the absolute constancy of the relation.

This he regarded as proof of the mechanical theory of heat, which he
had taken from Rumford and Davy. What simpler explanation could there
be for the constant numerical relation between work and heat than the
conception that transformation of one form of energy into another was
simply a transmission of motion from one object to another? From the
quantitative equality of expended and generated energy was it not
natural to argue the qualitative similarity of the two forms of energy,
which only externally seemed different?

It was by quite a different path that the Heilbronn doctor, Mayer,
arrived at his results. To escape from the narrowness of his South
German home town, he went, while still a youth, as doctor to a Dutch
ship sailing to Java. When in the tropics he treated a number of
sailors by blood-letting, he observed that the venous blood was much
nearer in colour to the paler arterial blood than was usual at home.
This change in the colour he attributed to the diminished intensity of
bodily combustion, due, he believed, to the higher temperature of the

Scarcely had this thought passed through his mind than it induced
another - that of a universal interrelationship between all possible
forms of energy. This last idea so took possession of him that during
the return voyage, as he himself related, he could scarcely think of
anything but how to prove the correctness of his idea and what the
consequences would be for the general view of nature. From the moment
of his return he devoted his life to practical research into the
connexion between the various manifestations of energy. It was in this
way that he was led to the determination of the so-called mechanical
equivalent of heat, shortly before the same discovery was made in a
quite different manner by Joule.

If one considers how slender a connexion there was between Mayer's
observation on the sailors in Java and the idea of the quantitative
equilibrium of all physical nature-forces, and if one contrasts this
with the fanaticism he showed during the rest of his life in proving
against all obstacles the correctness of his idea, one must feel that
the origin of the thought in Mayer's mind lay elsewhere than in mere
physical observations and logical deductions. Confirmation of this may
be found in what Mayer himself declared to be his view concerning the
actual grounds for the existence of a constant numerical association
between the various manifestations of natural energy.

So far as science allowed Mayer any credit for his work, this was based
on the opinion that through his discovery he had provided the final
vindication of the mechanical theory of heat. This judgment, however,
was only piling one wrong upon another. Mayer's destiny was truly
tragic. When he began to publicize his conviction of the numerical
equilibrium between spent and created energy, he met with so much
scepticism, even derision, that from sheer despair his mind at times
became clouded. When at last toward the end of his life he received the
recognition his discovery deserved (not before being dragged through a
painful priority dispute which Joule forced upon him and lost), the
scientists had begun to use his idea for bolstering up a hypothesis
directly counter to the idea which had led him to his discovery, and
for the sake of which he had accepted so much suffering.

Mayer's spiritual kin are not to be found among the heat-theorists of
his time, such as Helmholtz and others, but among thinkers of the stamp
of Goethe, Howard and Ruskin. His basic idea of the inner connexion
between all forms of energy in nature corresponds entirely with
Goethe's idea of metamorphosis. Just as Goethe saw in the ur-plant the
Idea common to all plant-forms or, in the various plant-organs, the
metamorphosis of one and the same ur-organ, so was Mayer convinced of
the existence of an ur-force which expressed itself in varying guises
in the separate energy-forms of nature. In the picture of the physical
universe which hovered before him, the transformation of one form of
energy into another - such as mechanical energy into electrical, this
into chemical and so on - was somewhat similar to Goethe's picture of
the organic life of the earth, in which the metamorphosis of one living
form into another constantly occurred. 'There is in nature', said
Mayer, 'a specific dimension of immaterial constitution which preserves
its value in all changes taking place among the objects observed,
whereas its form of appearance alters in the most manifold ways.'

For the physicist, accustomed to a purely quantitative observation of
nature, it is difficult to comprehend that Mayer could have arrived at
the thought of a constant quantitative relation between the various
manifestations of natural energy, without deriving from it the
conviction of their qualitative indentity - i.e., without concluding
from the existence of the mechanical heat - equivalent that heat is
itself nothing else than a certain form of spatial movement. Mayer
actually had a picture directly contrary to the mechanistic conception.
For him, the arising of heat represented a disappearance of mechanical

If this, then, was Mayer's belief, what was it that convinced him of
the existence of a numerical balance between appearing and vanishing
energy, even before he had any experimental proof?

Later in this book there will be occasion to introduce a concept of
number in tune with our qualitative world-outlook. What led Mayer to
look upon number as an expression of existing spiritual associations in
nature will then become clear. Let this much be said here, that number
in the universe has quite different functions from that of serving
merely as an expression for a total of calculable items, or as a means
of comparing spatial distances. It is in the nature of the
onlooker-consciousness that it is unable to interpret numerical
equality between natural phenomena save as indicating the presence of
an equal number of calculable objects or of spatial movements of equal
magnitude. It was therefore consistent for such a consciousness to
regard the discovery by Mayer of the mechanical heat-equivalent as a
confirmation of the existing mechanical conception of heat.

For Mayer such an interpretation was not necessary. His conviction of
the existence of an ur-force, manifesting through metamorphosis in all
natural forces, led him to expect a constant numerical relation amongst
these, without requiring him to deny the objective existence of
qualitative differences, as these displayed themselves in the field of
phenomena. He was spiritually akin to Goethe, also, in that he guarded
himself strictly against substituting for the contents of our
perception conveyed by nature purely hypothetical entities which, while
fashioned after the world of the senses, are, in principle,
imperceptible. Mayer sought after a truly empirically founded concept
of force, and his method was that of reading from all the various
manifestations of force which were open to sense observation. One such
manifestation, capable of empirical determination, was the balance
between appearing and disappearing energy.

Science treated Mayer in the same way as it treated Howard. It took
from him what it wanted for its purpose without concerning itself with
the epistemological principle which had led him to his discovery. Thus
it was that Mayer's discovery led to most important consequences for
the development of modern technical devices, whereas it was the fate of
his guiding idea to be first derided, then misunderstood and finally
forgotten. The consequence was that the knowledge of the numerical
equilibrium between created and expended energy in the economy of
nature has widened more and more the abyss separating spirit and matter
in human life, instead of leading, as indeed it might have done, to a
bridging of the abyss. The thought, therefore, regarding the appearing
and disappearing of measurable cosmic substance, to which we are led
when following Goethe's method of observing nature, stands in no sort
of contradiction to what Mayer himself conceived as the relation of the
various forms of energy to one another, and the maintenance of the
numerical balance between them.


Having thus determined our standpoint with regard to the thermodynamic
theory of heat and the law of conservation, we may proceed to the
study, first of the phenomenon of thermal expansion, and then of the
effect of heat on the various states of physical matter, by applying to
them, unimpeded by any preconceived mechanistic idea, what we have
learnt through our previous studies. We must start by developing a
proper picture of the dynamic condition of matter in the solid state.

In a solid body the material substance is centred on an inner point,
the so-called centre of gravity - a characteristic which such a body
shares with the earth as a whole. Likewise, two such bodies exert on
one another the same influence that the earth exerts on each of them:
they try to assume the shortest possible distance from each other.
Since the days of Faraday science has been accustomed to ascribe these
phenomena to the existence of certain fields of force, connected with
each body and working on one another through the intermediary space. It
is to this concept of the field of force that we must now give special
attention. For the field-concept, in the form introduced by Faraday
into scientific thinking, is one of the few scientific concepts which
have been obtained by being 'read' from the corresponding phenomena
themselves, and which therefore retain their validity in a science
which is based on the method of reading.

According to the field-concept, terrestrial manifestations of gravity
are due to the earth's being the bearer of a gravitational field
centred within the globe, and extending thence in all directions
through space, across and beyond the earth's body. Every point in
space, both inside and outside the earth, is characterized by a
definite intensity of this field, the so-called gravitational
potential. This is subject to variations due to the presence of other
physical masses, which carry their own fields of gravity. What happens
between such masses and that of the earth, as well as mutually between
such masses themselves, is brought about by the particular conditions
in space resulting from the interpenetration of the various fields.

It is essential to realize that all fields dealt with by physical
science, the gravitational, electric, magnetic - however much they
differ otherwise - have this one characteristic in common, that they
have a centre where the field is at its highest intensity, diminishing
as the distance from the centre increases. Motion in such a field
naturally takes place from regions of lower to those of higher
intensity - in other words, it follows the rising potential of the
field. This accounts for the tendency of physical masses to arrive at
the shortest possible distance between them.

It was natural for the modern mind to picture a dynamic condition of
the kind just described, that is, one in which the centre and source,
as it were, is a point round which the dynamic condition spreads with
steadily diminishing strength as the distance from the point grows. For
such is the condition of man's head-bound consciousness. The locus from
which modern man watches the world is a point within the field of this
consciousness, and the intensity with which the world acts on it
diminishes with increasing spatial distance from this point. This is
the reason why levity was banished from scientific inquiry, and why,
when the field-concept was created by the genius of Faraday, it did not
occur to anyone that with it the way was opened to comprehend
field-types other than the centric one characteristic of gravity and
kindred forces. To make use of the field-concept in this other way is
one of the tasks we have to undertake if we are to overcome the impasse
in which present-day scientific cognition finds itself.

To develop a picture of the type of field represented by levity, let us
recall certain results from the observations of the last chapter.

There the volcanic phenomenon, when taken in its wider implications,
made us realize that the upward movement of physical masses, in itself
part of the total phenomenon, is due to a dynamic cause which we had to
describe, in contrast to centripetally working pressure, as
peripherally working suction. Of this concept of suction we must now
observe that we may apply it with justification only if we realize that
suction can be caused in two different ways. In the sense in which we
are wont to use the term, suction is the result of a difference of
pressure in adjacent parts of space, the action taking place in the
direction of the minor pressure. Apart from this, however, suction can
occur also as a result of the outward-bound increase of the strength of
a levity-field.

It is in this sense that we may speak of the seismic movements of the
earth as being caused by suction acting from without. In the same sense
we may say that the upward movement of the saps in the plant (to which
Ruskin pointed as being responsible for the apple appearing at the top
of the tree) and with it the entire growth-phenomenon in the plant
world, is due to peripheral suction.

Considerations of this kind lead one to a picture in which the earth is
seen to be surrounded and penetrated by a field of force which is in
every respect the polar opposite of the earth's gravitational field. As
the latter has its greatest intensity at its centre, which is identical
with the centre of the earth's globe, so has the levitational field its
greatest intensity at its circumference which is somewhere in the width
of the universe. (Later considerations will enable us to locate its
position more precisely.)

As the gravity-field decreases in strength with increasing distance
from the centre of the field, that is, in the outward direction, so
does the levity-field decrease in strength with increasing distance
from its periphery, or in the inward direction. In both fields the
direction of movement is from regions of lower to those of higher
intensity. This is why things 'fall' under the influence of gravity and
'rise' under the influence of levity.4


How does thermal expansion read as a letter in nature's script when
seen in the light of the two contrasting field-concepts?

Let us, for simplicity's sake, imagine a spherically shaped metallic
body, say, a ball of copper, which we expose to the influence of heat.
As we have seen, it is the centrically orientated gravity-field which
gives the ball its permanency of shape. Consequently, the dynamic
orientation of the material constituting its body is directed towards
the interior of the body itself.

Now, the moment we bring heat to bear on the body we find its surface
moving in the outward direction. The whole mass is clearly under the
influence of some suction which is directed on to the body from
outside. Just as the plants grow in the anti-gravitational direction as
a result of the suctional effect of levity (other factors which account
for its growing into a particular shape, etc., being left out of
consideration), so our copper ball grows in volume by being sucked away
from its centre of gravity. It is the action of heat which has changed
the ratio between gravity and levity at this spot in such a way as to
allow levity to produce this effect.5

What we have thus found to be the true nature of the event perceived as
a body's growth in volume under the influence of heat has a definite
effect on our conception of spatially extended matter as such. For a
physical body is always in some thermal state which may be regarded as
higher than another, and it may therefore be regarded as being at all
times thermally expanded to some extent. Hence, it is all the time
under the sway of both gravitational pressure and anti-gravitational
suction. In fact, we may say ideally that, if there were no field
working inwards from the cosmic periphery, the entire material content
of the earthly realm would be reduced by gravitation to a spaceless
point; just as under the sole influence of the peripheral field of
levity it would dissipate into the universe.

To ordinary scientific thinking this may sound paradoxical, but in
reality it is not. Observation of the nature of solid matter has led
atomistic thought to regard a physical body as a heap of molecules so
far apart that by far the greater part of the volume occupied by the
body is just 'empty' space. In the scientific picture of molecules
constituting a physical body, of atoms constituting the molecules, of
electrons, protons, etc., constituting the atoms, all separated by
spaces far exceeding the size of the elementary particles themselves,
we find reflected, in a form comprehensible to the
onlooker-consciousness, the fact that matter, even in the solid state,
is kept in spatial extension by a field of force relating it to the
cosmic periphery.


With this picture of solid matter as being held in spatial extension by
its subjection to gravity and levity alike, we proceed to a study of
the liquid and gaseous states of matter, while taking into account the
role of heat in bringing these states about.

Following out our method of seeking to gain knowledge of a phenomenon
by regarding it as part of a greater whole, let us ask what sort of
change a portion of physical substance undergoes in its relation to the
earth as a whole when, for instance, through the influence of heat, it
passes from a solid to a liquid state. Here we must keep in mind that
it is part of the nature of a liquid to have no form of its own. The
only natural boundary of a liquid substance is its upper surface. Since
this surface always lies parallel with the surface of the earth it
forms part of a sphere, the centre point of which is identical with
that of the gravitational centre of the earth. The passage of a portion
of matter from solid to liquid thus signifies that it ceases to possess
a centre of gravity of its own and is now merely obedient to the
general gravity-field of the earth. We can thus speak of a transition
of matter from the individual to the planetary condition. This is what
heat brings about when a solid body melts.

A large part of the heat used in melting is known to be absorbed by the
substance during the process of melting. This is indicated by the
thermometer remaining at the temperature of the melting-point once this
has been reached, until the whole of the melting substance has
liquefied. Physics here speaks of 'free' heat becoming 'latent'. From
the Goethean point of view we see heat passing through a metamorphosis.
Whereas, previously, heat was perceptible to our sense of warmth, it
now manifests as a gravity-denying property of matter.

In order to obtain an idea of the liquid state of matter corresponding
to reality, we must take into account yet another of its
characteristics. When the heat becomes latent, it goes even further in
contradicting gravity than by robbing matter of its own point of
gravity and relating it to the earth's centre of gravity. This effect
is shown in the well-known urge of all liquids to evaporate. Hence we
must say that even where matter in a liquid state preserves its own
surface, this does not by any means represent an absolute boundary.
Above the surface there proceeds a continuous transition of substance
into the next higher condition through evaporation. We see here the
activity of heat going beyond the mere denial of gravity to a positive
affirmation of levity.

With the help of this conception of the integration of the liquid state
within the polarity of gravity and levity, we are now able to draw a
picture of the earth which, once obtained, answers many a question left
unanswered by current scientific notions, among them the question why
the earth's volcanic activity is confined to maritime regions.

Regarding the distribution of land and water on the earth's surface, we
may say that to an observer in cosmic space the earth would not look at
all like a solid body. Rather would it appear as a gigantic 'drop' of
water, its surface interspersed with solid formations, the continents
and other land masses. Moreover, the evidence assembled ever since
Professor A. Wegener's first researches suggests that the continents
are clod-like formations which 'float' on an underlying viscous
substance and are able to move (very slowly) in both the vertical and
horizontal directions. The oceanic waters are in fact separated from
the viscous substratum by no more than a thin layer of solid earth, a
mere skin in comparison with the size of the planet. Further, this
'drop' of liquid which represents the earth is in constant
communication with its environment through the perpetual evaporation
from the ocean, as well as from every other body of water.

This picture of the earth shows it lying under the twofold influence of
the compressive force of gravity and the sucking force of levity.
Wherever land meets sea, there levity tends to prevail over gravity. It
is in maritime regions, accordingly, that the inner strata of the earth
succumb most readily to those sudden changes in the gravity-levity
tension wherein we have recognized the origin of seismic occurrences.


Turning to the gaseous condition, we realize that although even here
matter retains traces of a connexion with terrestrial gravity, levity
is now the dominant factor. There are three characteristics of the
gaseous condition which bring this out. One is the extreme readiness of
gases to expand when heated; we see here how much easier than with
solid substances it is for heat to overcome the influence of gravity.
The second characteristic is the property of gases, peculiar to them,
of expanding spontaneously, even when not heated. Here we find gaseous
matter displaying a dynamic behaviour which at lower stages occurs only
under the stimulus of heat. The third characteristic is shown by the
fact that all gases, unlike solids or liquids, respond with the same
increase of volume to a given rise of temperature, however diverse
their other qualities may be. Once gases are mixed, therefore, they
cannot be separated merely by raising or lowering the temperature. Here
we find the unifying effect of the cosmic periphery prevailing over the
differentiating effect of terrestrial gravity.

At this point we may recall Goethe's reply to the botanist, Wolff, who
had ascribed the metamorphosis of plant-organs from root to blossom to
a gradual stunting or atrophy of their vegetative force, whereas it was
clear to Goethe that simultaneously with a physical retrogression,
there is a spiritual progress in the development of the plant. The fact
that all Wolff's efforts to see clearly did not save him from 'seeing
past the thing' seemed to Goethe an inevitable result of Wolff's
failure to associate with the eyes of the body those of the spirit.

Exactly the same thing holds good for the sequence of physical states
of matter which we are considering here. Observation of this sequence
with the bodily eyes alone will show nothing but a reduction of the
specific gravity of the material concerned. He who is at pains to
observe also with the eye of the spirit, however, is aware of a
positive increase of lightness going hand in hand with a decrease of
heaviness. Regarded thus, the three ponderable conditions form what
Goethe would have called a 'spiritual ladder'. As 'rungs' of such a
ladder they clearly point to a fourth rung - that is, a fourth state in
which levity so far prevails over gravity that the substance no longer
has any weight at all. This picture of the fourfold transformation of
matter calls for an inquiry into the transition between the third and
fourth states, corresponding to the well-known transitions between the

three ponderable states.


Our observations have led us to a concept of heat essentially different
from that held by modern science. Science looks on heat simply as a
condition of ponderable matter. We, on the contrary, are led to
recognize in heat a fourth condition into which matter may pass on
leaving the three ponderable conditions, and out of which it may emerge
on the way to ponderability.

Before showing that such transitions are actually known in nature, it
may be well to discuss here an objection which the customary way of
thinking might plausibly advance against our whole method. It could be
said that to assume a continuation of the sequence of the three
ponderable conditions in the manner suggested is justified only if, as
solids can be turned into liquids and these into gases, so gases could
be transformed into a fourth condition and, conversely, be produced
from the latter.

In reply it can be said that the fact of our not being able at present
to change gases artificially into pure heat does not justify the
conclusion that this is in principle impossible. We know from previous
considerations that the earth has reached an evolutionary stage at
which all elements, including fire, have in certain degree grown 'old'.
This applies in quite a special degree to the manipulations to which
man, led by his death-bound consciousness, has learnt to submit matter
in his laboratories. To decide what is possible or not possible in
nature, therefore, can by no means be left to the judgment of
laboratory research. As is shown by the following instance, taken from
the realm of vegetable life, a case of the creation of matter 'out of
nothing' is already known to biology - though biology, bound in its
concepts to the Law of Conservation, shows some natural reluctance to
recognize the true significance of the phenomenon.

The plant which performs this strange feat is the Tillandsia usneoides,
indigenous to tropical America, and generally known as 'Spanish Moss'.
Its peculiarity is that it grows and flourishes without taking from its
support any material whatsoever for the building up of its substance.
Its natural habitat is the dry bark of virgin forest trees. Since
civilization invaded its home it has acquired the habit of growing even
on telegraph wires, which has given it the popular name of 'telegraph
tresses'. Chemical analysis of this plant shows the presence of an
average of 17 per cent iron, 36 per cent silicic acid and 1·65 per cent
phosphoric acid. This applies to samples taken from districts where the
rainwater - the only source from which the plant could extract these
substances in physical form - contains at most 1·65 per cent iron, 0·01 per
cent silicic acid and no phosphoric acid at all.

The Tillandsia phenomenon is to a certain extent reminiscent of another
well-known plant activity. This is the process of assimilation of
carbon from the carbon dioxide of the air. If we leave aside the change
in the chemical combination which the carbon undergoes, there remains
the picture of the plant drawing this matter to itself from its
environment and at the same time subjecting it to a spatial
condensation. A similar but even more far-reaching process is exhibited
by the Tillandsia as regards the three substances referred to above.
From the conditions given, it follows that the plant cannot possibly
get these substances elsewhere than out of the surrounding atmosphere,
and that in drawing upon them it submits them to a high degree of
condensation. A special role, however, is played by the phosphorus,
which shows that the assimilative power of the plant is sufficient to
transform phosphorus from a physically not traceable state into one of
spatially bounded materiality. Following Goethe in his coining of the
concept of 'spiritual anastomosis' for the pollinating process of
plants, we can here speak of 'spiritual assimilation'.

In this respect Tillandsia provides an instance 'worth a thousand,
bearing all within itself. For what nature here unmistakably
demonstrates serves as an eye-opener to a universal fact of the plant
kingdom and of nature in general. The problem of the so-called
trace-elements may serve as an illustration of this.

Modern agricultural chemistry has found of a number of chemical
elements that their presence in the soil in scarcely traceable amounts
is necessary in order to enable the plant to unfold healthily its
latent characteristics. All sorts of deficiencies in cultivated plants
have led to a recognition that the soil is impoverished of certain
elements by intensive modern cultivation, and that it is to the lack of
these elements that the deficiencies are due. Much work has meanwhile
been done in classifying the various deficiencies and in devising ways
of giving the soil chemical substitutes for what is lacking.

A large part of the work here involved could be saved were it only to
be acknowledged that the soil owes the natural occurrence of the proper
elements to a process which the plants themselves bring about in the
soil, if men refrain from hindering them by cleverly thought-out
methods of cultivation which fail to reckon with the nature of a living

Let us be clear what it is that occurs when a plant exhibits any of the
observed abnormalities. Expressed in a Goethean manner, these are the
consequence of an insufficient direction of the organic processes in
the plant body by the spiritual plant-type underlying it. That which
Ruskin called the 'spirit' of the plant, and to which he drew attention
in his aphorism 'Stand by Form against Force' (by 'form' all the
peculiar qualities of the plant are to be understood), is unable to
express itself in full measure. Now we know that, in order to unfold
its activities on the physical plane, spirit requires 'young' matter -
that is, matter which is either in, or has just emerged from, a purely
dynamic state. Normally a definite spiritual type co-ordinates the
dynamic functions present in the superphysical sphere of nature in the
manner required to give the plant-organism its appropriate form. As,
through the action of the type, these functions are brought down from
the sphere of levity into that of gravity, they condense to the
corresponding material elements and thus reach the soil in material
form via the physical organism of the plant.

The pattern as usually seen is now reversed; the presence of the
various elements in the soil no longer appears as the origin of one or
another function in the building up of the plant-body, but quite the
reverse. The functions appear now as the cause, and the soil-elements
as the effect. We may thus recognize the value of the latter as
symptoms from which we can read the existence of a healthy connexion
between the plant and the corresponding form-creating functions working
on it from its surroundings.

With this reversal of the relationship between cause and effect it is
not, however, intended to represent the commonly accepted order of
things as entirely incorrect. In the realm of life, cause and effect
are not so onesidedly fixed as in the realm of mechanical forces. We
may therefore admit that a reverse effect of the soil-elements upon the
plant does take place. This is plainly demonstrable in the case of
phosphorus which, however, by reason of its appearance in the soil in
proportions hardly to be called a mere 'trace', represents a borderline
case. What may apply within limits to phosphorus is wholly valid for
the trace-elements - namely, that they are playing their essential role
while they are themselves about to assume ponderable form.

It thus becomes clear how mistaken it is to attempt to cure
deficiencies in plants by adding to the soil chemical substitutes for
the trace-elements. In the condition in which this material is offered
to the plant, it is truly 'old' material. In order to be able to use it
functionally, the plant has first to convert it into the 'young'
condition. This indeed happens whilst the material is rising in the
plant combined with the juices drawn by the plant from the soil under
the influence of levity-force. Only when this has occurred are the
chemical elements able to serve the plant functionally. Thus, by trying
to give help to the plant in this way, we injure it at the same time.
For by forcing it to perform the operation described, its general
life-forces are diminished. A seeming success brought about in this
manner, therefore, will not last long.6

There is, nevertheless, a way of helping the plant by adding to the
soil certain material substances, provided these are first brought into
a purely dynamic condition. That this can be done is a fact long since
known, even if not recognized in its true significance. So far then, as
serves the purpose of this book, we shall deal with it here.


The method in question is associated with the school of medicine known
as Homoeopathy, founded by the German doctor, Hahnemann. The word
'homoeopathy' means 'healing through like'; the basic principle is to
treat disease symptoms with highly diluted substances which produce
similar symptoms if ingested in normal quantity. Experience has in fact
shown that the physiological effect of a substance taken from external
nature is reversed when the substance is highly diluted.

The method of diluting, or 'potentizing', is as follows: A given volume
of the material to be diluted is dissolved in nine times its volume of
distilled water. The degree of dilution thus arrived at is 1:10,
usually symbolized as Ix. A tenth part of this solution is again mixed
with nine times its bulk of water. The degree of dilution is now 1:100,
or 2x. This process is continued as far as is found necessary for a
given purpose. Insoluble substances can be dealt with in the same
manner by first grinding them together with corresponding quantities of
a neutral powder, generally sugar of milk. After a certain number of
stages the powder can be dissolved in water; the solution may then be
diluted further in the manner described. Here we have to do with
transfer of the quality of a substance, itself insoluble, to the
dissolving medium, and then with the further treatment of the latter as
if it were the original bearer of the quality concerned.

This fact alone shows that potentization leads into a realm of material
effects at variance with the ordinary scientific conception of matter.
Moreover, we can carry the dilutions as far as we please without
destroying the capacity of the substance to produce physiological
reactions. On the contrary, as soon as its original capacity is reduced
to a minimum by dilution, further dilution gives it the power to cause
actually stronger reactions, of a different and usually opposite kind.
This second capacity rises through stages to a variable maximum as
dilution proceeds.

A simple calculation shows - if we accept the ordinary scientific view
as to the size of a molecule - that not a single molecule of the
original substance will remain in the solution after a certain degree
of dilution has been reached. Yet the biological and other reactions
continue long after this, and are even enhanced.

What this potentizing process shows is that, by repeated expansions in
space, a substance can be carried beyond the ponderable conditions of
matter into the realm of pure functional effect. The potentizing of
physical substances thus gains a significance far wider than that of
its medical use.7 There opens up, for example, the possibility of
stimulating deficient functions in the plant by giving it the
corresponding elements in homoeopathic doses. By this means the plant
is brought into direct connexion with the relevant spiritual energy,
and then left to carry out for itself the necessary process of
materialization, instead of being forced by mere chemical additions to
the soil first to potentize the substance itself.8

The same principle holds good for man and beast. They also need 'young
material' for their nourishment, so that the type active in them -
which in animals is the group-soul of the species and in man is the
single individual - can express its true form and character. (We saw
earlier that the will requires 'young' material in order to penetrate
into the material layers of the muscles, as happens when the limbs are
set in motion). In this respect, the difference between ensouled
creatures and plants is that, what is harmful to plants is natural for
men and animals: when taking nourishment the latter are able to bring
about quickly and purposefully a transformation of matter into the
purely dynamic state. Their metabolic system is designed to enable them
to take alien material from outer nature and to transform it through
the forces of the various digestive enzymes; in the course of this
process the material passes through a condition of complete 'chaos'.


Having in this way established the existence of certain processes of
materialization and dematerialization in single organisms within the
earth's vegetable and other kingdoms, we shall now turn to the earth as
a whole to find out where - organic being that she herself is - she
manipulates corresponding processes on a macrotelluric scale.

In an age following van Helmont's discovery of the gaseous state of
matter and the statement of the Contra Levitatem maxim, men were bound
to think that the circulation of atmospheric moisture was limited to
the three stages of liquid, vaporous (peculiar to the clouds, etc.) and
the invisible aeriform condition. Yet the role played by clouds in the
myths of early peoples shows that they were once given a quite
different status, between the 'created' and 'uncreated' worlds. Our
observations lead to a corresponding conception, but along the path of
knowledge, guided by sense-perception, as befits our own age.

In discussing Howard's discovery of the stages of cloud-formation we
found something lacking, for it was clear that the three stages of
cloud proper - stratus, cumulus and cirrus - have a symmetry which is
disturbed by the addition of a fourth stage, represented by the nimbus.
This showed that there was need for a fifth stage, at the top of the
series, to establish a balanced polarity. We can now clear up this
question of a fifth stage, as follows.

In the three actual cloud-forms, gravity and levity are more or less in
equilibrium, but in the nimbus gravity predominates, and the
atmospheric vapour condenses accordingly into separate liquid bodies,
the drops of rain. The polar opposite of this process must therefore be
one in which cloud-vapour, under the dominating influence of levity,
passes up through a transitional condition into a state of pure heat.

Such a conception by no means contradicts the findings of external
research. For meteorology has come to know of a heat-mantle surrounding
the earth's atmosphere for which various hypothetical explanations have
been advanced. Naturally, none of them envisages the possibility of
atmospheric substance changing into the heat-condition and back again.
But if we learn to look on the chain of cloud-forms as a 'spiritual
ladder', then we must expect the chain to conclude with a stage of pure
heat, lying above the cirrus-sphere.9

The line of consideration pursued in the last part of this chapter has
led us from certain observations in the plant kingdom, concerning the
coming into being of ponderable matter from 'nothing', to a
corresponding picture of the earth's meteorological sphere. When
discussing the plant in this respect we found as an instance 'worth a
thousand, bearing all within itself the case of Tillandsia and more
particularly the surprising appearance of phosphorus in it. Now, in the
meteorological realm it is once more phosphorus which gives us an
instance of this kind. For there is the well-known fact of the presence
of phosphorus in conspicuous quantities in snow without a source being
traceable in the atmosphere whence this substance can have originated
in ponderable condition. The phosphorus appearing in snow, therefore,
brings before our very eyes the fact that the heights of the atmosphere
are a realm of procreation of matter. (In our next chapter we shall
learn what it is in phosphorus that makes it play this particular role
in both fields of nature. What interests us in the present context is
the fact itself.)


The knowledge we have now gained concerning the disappearance and
appearance of physical water in the heights of the atmosphere will
enable us to shake off one of the most characteristic errors to which
the onlooker-consciousness has succumbed in its estimation of nature.
This is the interpretation of thunderstorms, and particularly of
lightning, which has held sway since the days of Benjamin Franklin.

Before developing our own picture of a thunderstorm let us recognize
that science has found it necessary to reverse the explanation so long
in Vogue. Whereas it was formerly taken for granted - and the
assumption was supposed to rest upon experimental proof - that the
condensing of atmospheric vapour which accompanied lightning was the
consequence of a release of electrical tension by the lightning, the
view now held is that the electrical tension responsible for the
occurrence of lightning is itself the effect of a sudden condensing
process of atmospheric moisture.

The reason for this uncertainty is that the physical conditions in the
sphere where lightning occurs, according to other experiences of
electric phenomena, actually exclude the formation of such high
tensions as are necessary for the occurrence of discharges on the scale
of lightning. If we look at this fact without scientific bias we are
once again reminded of the Hans Andersen child. We cannot help
wondering how this child would behave in a physics class if the
teacher, after vainly trying to produce a lightning-flash in miniature
with the help of an electrical machine, explained that the moisture
prevalent in the air was responsible for the failure of the experiment,
and that he would have to postpone it to a day when the air was drier.
It would scarcely escape the Hans Andersen child that the conditions
announced by the teacher as unfavourable to the production of an
electric spark by the machine, prevail in a much higher degree exactly
where lightning, as a supposed electric spark, actually does occur.

To conclude from the presence of electric tensions in the earth's
atmosphere as an accompaniment of lightning, in the way first observed
by Franklin, that lightning itself is an electrical process, is to be
under the same kind of illusion that led men to attribute electrical
characteristics to the human soul because its activity in the body was
found to be accompanied by electrical processes in the latter. The
identification of lightning with the electric spark is a case of a
confusion between the upper and lower boundaries of nature,
characteristic of the onlooker-consciousness. As such, it has stood in
the way of a real understanding both of non-electrical natural
phenomena and of electricity itself.

What we observe in lightning is really an instantaneous execution of a
process which runs its course continually in the atmosphere, quietly
and unnoticed. It is the process by which water reverts from the
imponderable to the ponderable condition, after having been converted
to the former through levity set in action by the sun (as usually
happens in a high degree just before a thunderstorm). We form a true
picture of the course of a storm if we say that nature enables us to
witness a sublime display of the sudden bringing to birth of matter in
earthbound form. What falls to the ground as rain (or hail) is
substantially identical with what was perceptible to the eye, a moment
before, as a majestic light-phenomenon. The accompanying electrical
occurrence is the appropriate counter-event at nature's lower boundary.
Since the two form part of a larger whole they necessarily occur
together; but the electrical occurrence must not be identified with the
event in the heavens. The reason for their conjunction will become
clear later, when we shall show how electrical polarity arises from the
polarity between gravity and levity.

If one learns to view a thunderstorm in this way, its spiritual
connexion with the earth's volcanic processes becomes manifest; there
is in fact a polar relationship between them. For just as in volcanic
activity heavy matter is suddenly and swiftly driven heavenwards under
the influence of levity, so in a storm does light matter stream
earthwards under the influence of gravity.

It is this combination of kinship and polar opposition which led people
of old to regard both lightning in the heights and seismic disturbances
in the depths as signs of direct intervention by higher powers in the
affairs of men. A trace of this old feeling lingers in the Greek word θειον (theion),
divine, which was used to denote both lightning and sulphur. Influenced
by the same conception, the Romans regarded as holy a spot where
lightning had struck the earth; they even fenced it off to protect it
from human contact. Note in this respect also the biblical report of
the event on Mount Sinai, mentioned before, telling of an interplay of
volcanic and meteorological phenomena as a sign of the direct
intervention of the Godhead.

1 See Chapter IV. The other title of the paper, 'Radiant Matter', will
gain significance for us in a later context.

2 Since the above was written, certain conclusions drawn from modern
subatomic research have led some astro-physicists to the idea that
hydrogen is continuously created in the cosmos 'out of nothing'. This
does not affect the considerations of the present chapter.

3 Note the expression!

4 For a vivid description of the interplay of both types of force in
nature, see E. Carpenter's account of his experience of a tree in his
Pagan and Christian Creeds.

5 Note how this picture of thermal expansion fits in with the one
obtained for the Solfatara phenomenon when we took into account all
that is implicit in the latter,

6 This throws light also on the problem of the use of chemicals as
artificial fertilizers.

7 See L. Kolisko: Wirksamkeit kleinster Entitäten ('Effects of Smallest
Entities'), Stuttgart, 1922, an account of a series of experiments
undertaken by the author at the Biological Institute of the Goetheanum
following suggestions by Rudolf Steiner. Her aim was to examine the
behaviour of matter on the way to and beyond the boundary of its
ponderable existence.

8 Instead of using the trace-elements in mineral form, it is still
better to use parts of certain plants with a strong 'functional
tendency', specially prepared. This is done in the so-called
Bio-Dynamic method of farming and gardening, according to Rudolf
Steiner's indications.

9 Note, in this respect, the close of Goethe's poem dedicated to the
cirrus-formation and the poem inspired by his sight of a waterfall in
the Bernese Alps as indications of the fact that he was himself aware
of the water-rejuvenating process in the higher reaches of the


Matter as Part of Nature's Alphabet

In the preceding chapter we drew attention to the fact that any
spatially extended mass is under the sway of both gravity and levity.
We then saw that with the transition of matter from the solid via the
liquid to the gaseous state, not only does the specific gravity of the
substance decrease, but at the same time an increase takes place of
what we might call 'specific levity'. In the gaseous state, therefore,
we find gravity-bound matter becoming so far levity-bound that it
assumes the property of actively expanding in space.

Having once adopted the Goethean way of thinking-in-polarities, we may
feel sure that there is somewhere in nature a phenomenon which
represents the polar opposite of the levity-gravity relationship
peculiar to the gaseous state. In this latter state we find ponderable
matter so far brought under the sway of levity that its behaviour is of
a kind which van Helmont, when he first observed it, could not help
describing as 'paradoxical'. Where, we must now ask, do we find
imponderable essence so much under the sway of gravity that it shows
the correspondingly paradoxical features? In other words, where does
nature show levity concentrated in a limited part of space - that is,
in a condition characteristic of ponderable matter?

Such concentrations of levity do indeed exist in varied forms. One is
the 'warmth-body' represented by the blood-heat of the higher animals
and man. There is, however, an occurrence of this kind also on the
purely mineral level of nature, and it is this which has particular
significance for our present study of matter. We meet it in all
physical substances which have the peculiarity of being combustible.

Our next task is to study certain fundamentals in regard to the
different ways in which levity and gravity are found to be intertwined
in combustible substances, manifesting through the difference of their
relation to the process of combustion - that is, the process by which
levity is restored to its original condition. It is the aim of the
present chapter to show that by doing justice to the imponderable
aspect of combustion, the way is opened to a view of the 'elements', as
scientific chemistry understands them, which will be in line with our
dynamic conception of matter.

There is nothing surprising in the fact that a new conception of the
chemical element can arise from a re-study of the process of
combustion, if we remember that it was the picture of combustion,
characteristic of the spectator-consciousness, which determined the
conception of the chemical element as it prevails in modern science.
Let us see how this conception came to pass historically in order to
find where we stand to-day.


With the establishment of the knowledge of a state of physical matter
which, as the definition ran, 'neither results from a combination of
other physical substances nor is resolvable into such', the conviction
arose that man's searching mind had reached 'rock-bottom'. This
conviction, however, was shaken when, with the discovery of radium, an
element became known whose property it is to disintegrate into two
other elements, helium and lead. Although this did not force science to
abandon the element-concept altogether, it became necessary to find a
new definition for it.

This definition was established by Professor W. Ostwald at the
beginning of the present century, when he stated that the chemical
element represents a condition of physical matter in which 'any
chemical change results in an increase of weight'. In this way, the
chemical concept of the element achieved a meaning which had actually
been implicit in it from its first conception. For its very formation
had been the outcome of the Contra-Levitatem maxim. The following
glance over the history of chemistry will show this.

The birth of chemistry as a science, in the modern sense, is closely
connected with a revolutionary change in the conception of what can be
called the chemical arch-process-combustion, or, to use a more
scientific term, oxidation. This change arose out of the
Contra-Levitatem maxim and the new conception of heat which this maxim
required. In the old doctrine of the four Elements, Heat had been
conceived as a manifestation of the element of Fire, and so, together
with Air, as belonging to the realm of the 'uncreated things'. Hence
the release of heat from created substance was always felt to be a
sacred act, as is shown by the fire rites of old.

Modern man's conception of the same process is revealed in the answer
one invariably receives from both layman and scientist when they are
asked what they understand by combustion. It is described as a process
through which oxygen combines with the combustible substance. And yet
this side of combustion, first observed by J. Priestley (1771), is
neither the one for the sake of which man produces combustion in the
service of his everyday life, nor is it at all observed by ordinary
sense-perception. Nevertheless, to describe the obvious fact, that
combustion is liberation of heat from the combustible substance, will
hardly occur to anyone to-day. This shows to what extent even the
scientifically untrained consciousness in our time turns instinctively
to the tangible or weighable side of nature, so that some effort is
required to confess simply to what the eye and the other senses

During the first hundred years after the establishment of the
Contra-Levitatem maxim, man's situation was in a certain sense the
opposite of this. Then, people were struggling hard to get away from
the old concept which saw in combustion nothing but the liberation of a
super-terrestrial element from earthly fetters. This struggle found
expression in a theory of heat which at that time greatly occupied
scientific thinking. It is the so-called phlogiston-theory first
proposed by the chemist Stahl (1660-1734).

This theory reveals the great uncertainty into which man's thinking
about the world of the senses had arrived at that time. Clinging to
ideas inherited from antiquity, man's consciousness was already so far
restricted to the forming of pure matter-bound concepts that he was
tempted to conceive heat as a material element. To this heat-substance
the name 'phlogiston' was given. At the same time, under the
Contra-Levitatem maxim, it was impossible to conceive of substance
except as ponderable substance. This led to the conviction that
whenever heat appears as a result of some treatment of matter
(combustion or friction), the material substance subject to this
treatment must lose weight.

The experiments of Lavoisier (1743-94), which he undertook following
Priestley's discovery of the role of oxygen in combustion, put an end
to this theory. These experiments are rightly regarded as the actual
beginning of modern chemistry. In Lavoisier we find an observer of
nature who was predominantly interested in what the scales could tell
about changes in substances. It was from this aspect that he
investigated the process of oxidation. What had already been observed
by a few others, though without being taken seriously by them, he found
confirmed - that, contrary to the phlogiston - theory, matter does not
lose weight through oxidation but gains weight. Further experiments
proved beyond doubt that in all chemical reactions the total weight of
the components remained constant. However much the substance resulting
from the chemical reaction of others might differ from these, its
weight always proved to be the same as their total weight. What else
could be concluded from the apparent unchangeability of weight
throughout all the chemical happenings in nature than that the
ponderable world-content was of eternal duration? We see here how much
modern chemistry and its concept of the chemical element has been ruled
right from the start by the one-sided gravity concept of the

Together with the overcoming of the fallacy that heat is a ponderable
substance (full certainty was indeed established only some time later
through the investigations of Davy and Rumford into heat generated by
friction) - human thinking was led into a one-sided conception of
combustion which was merely the opposite of the one held earlier.
Whereas formerly man's mind was pre-eminently occupied by the
liberation of the imponderable element through combustion, it now
turned entirely to what goes on in the ponderable realm.

As we have seen, one outcome of this one-sided view of combustion was
the modern concept of the chemical element. To-day our task is to
overcome this concept by taking a step corresponding to the one that
led to it, that is, by a study of combustibility which does justice to
both sides of the process involved.


As objects of our observation we choose three chemical elements all of
which have the property of combustibility: Sulphur, Phosphorus, and
Carbon. As will become clear, our choice of these three is determined
by the fact that together they represent an instance 'worth a thousand,
bearing all within itself.

We begin by comparing Sulphur and Phosphorus. In their elementary state
they have in common the fact that any chemical change is bound up with
an increase in their weight. In this state both are combustible. Apart
from this similarity, there is a great difference between them, as the
way of storing them illustrates. For while elementary sulphur needs
only an ordinary container, phosphorus has to be kept under cover of
water in order to prevent the atmospheric oxygen from touching it. The
reason is that the combustible state is natural for sulphur, but not
for phosphorus, the latter's natural state being the oxidized one. This
different relationship of sulphur and phosphorus to the oxidizable
(reduced) and the oxidized state manifests itself in all their chemical

To object here that the different reactions of the two substances are
due only to the difference of their respective temperatures of
ignition, and that above these temperatures the difference will more or
less disappear (all combustible substances at a sufficiently high
temperature becoming more or less similar to phosphorus), would not
meet the argument. For what matters here is just how the particular
substance behaves at that level of temperature on which the earth
unfolds her normal planetary activity. To ignore this would be to
violate one of the principles we have adopted from Goethe, which is
never to derive fundamental concepts of nature from observations
obtained under artificial conditions.

Sulphur and phosphorus are thus seen to represent two polarically
opposite tendencies with regard to the levity-gravity coherence which
breaks up when combustion occurs. In the case of sulphur, the
ponderable and imponderable entities appear to cling together; in the
case of phosphorus, they seem to be anxious to part. These two
different tendencies - which are characteristic of many other
substances and represent a basic factor in the chemical happenings of
the earth - are in their own way a pair of opposites. Since each of
them represents in itself a relationship between two poles of a
polarity-gravity and levity - so in their mutual relationship they
represent a 'polarity of polarities'. In Fig. 4 an attempt has been
made to represent this fact by a symbolic diagram.

In this figure the shaded part represents the imponderable, the black
part the ponderable entity. In the left-hand symbol both are shown in a
relationship corresponding to the one characteristic of sulphur; in the
right-hand figure the relationship is characteristic of phosphorus.

Here we have an instance of a kind of polarity which belongs to the
fundamentals of nature as much as does the levity-gravity polarity
itself. Wherever two poles of a polarity meet, they have the
possibility of being connected in two ways which in themselves are
again polarically opposite. Our further studies will bring up various
other instances of this kind, and will show us that part of the
epistemological trouble in which science finds itself to-day results
from the fact that the scientific mind has been unable to distinguish
between the two kinds of polarity - that is, as we shall say
henceforth, between polarities of the first order (primary polarities)
and polarities of the second order (secondary polarities).

In actual fact, the distinction between the two orders of polarity has
been implicit in the descriptions given in this book right from the
start. Remember, in this respect, how the picture of the threefold
psycho-physical structure of man, which has proved a master-key for
unlocking the most varied scientific problems, was first built up.
There, 'body' and 'soul' represented a polarity which is obviously one
of the first order. By our observation of the human organism, in
relation both to the different functions of the soul and to the
different main organic systems, we further recognized the fact that the
ways in which body and soul are interrelated are polarically opposite
in the region of the brain and nerves and in the region of the
metabolic processes, which again results in two polarically opposite
activities of the soul, mental on the one hand, and volitional on the
other. In what we called the pole-of-consciousness and the pole-of-life
we therefore have a clear polarity of the second order, and so in
everything that is connected with these two, as our further discussions
will show.

Remembering that our first occasion to concern ourselves overtly with
the concept of polarity was in connexion with the four elements, we may
now ask whether the old doctrine did not embrace some conception of
secondary polarity as well as of primary polarity, and if so, whether
this might not prove as helpful in clarifying our own conceptions as
was the primary polarity, cold-warm. That this is indeed so, the
following description will show.

Beside the two qualities cold and warm the doctrine of the four
elements pointed to two further qualities forming in themselves a pair
of opposites, namely, dry and moist. Just as the four elements were
seen as grouping themselves in two pairs, Fire-Air on the one hand,

Water-Earth on the other, the first being characterized by the quality
warm, the second by cold, so were they seen to form two opposing
groups, Fire-Earth and Air-Water, of which one was characterized by the
quality dry, the other by the quality moist. Fig. 5 shows how the four
elements in their totality were seen to arise out of the various
combinations of the four qualities.

In this diagram the element Earth appears as a combination of the
qualities Dry and Cold; Water of Cold and Moist; Air of Moist and Warm;
Fire of Warm and Dry. As a result, Earth and Fire, besides representing
opposite poles, are also neighbours in the diagram. Here we encounter a
picture characteristic of all earlier ways of looking at the world: the
members of a system of phenomena, when ranked in due order of
succession, were seen to turn back on themselves circle-wise - or, more
precisely, spiral-wise.

In what way do the qualities dry and moist form a polarity of the
second order, and how do they represent the chemical polarity
characteristic of sulphur and phosphorus as well as all the other
secondary polarities dealt with in this book? To understand this we
must submit the couple dry-moist to the same scrutiny as we applied to
cold and warm in our earlier discussion of the four elements.

It lies in the nature of things that we instinctively associate these
qualities with the solid and liquid states of matter respectively. This
certainly agrees with the diagram given above, where the elements Earth
and Water are distinguished precisely by their connexion with these two
characteristics. Yet, in addition to this, the qualities dry and moist
are found to be characteristic also of Fire and Air respectively,
though with the difference that they are linked not with the quality
cold, as in the case of the lower elements, but with the quality warm.
So we see that the concepts Dry and Moist, as they lived in the old
picturing of them, mean a good deal more than we understand by them

That these two respective attributes do not belong exclusively to the
solid and the liquid states of matter can be seen at once by observing
the different reactions of certain liquids to a solid surface which
they touch. One need only recall the difference between water and
quicksilver. If water runs over a surface it leaves a trail;
quicksilver does not. Water clings to the side of a vessel; again,
quicksilver does not. A well-known consequence of this difference is
that in a narrow tube the surface of the liquid - the so-called
meniscus - stands higher at the circumference than at the centre in the
case of water; with quicksilver it is just the reverse. In the sense of
the two qualities, dry and moist, water is a 'moist' liquid;
quicksilver a 'dry' one. On the other hand, the quality of moistness in
a solid substance appears in the adhesive power of glue.

Let us now see how, in accordance with the scheme given in Fig. 5, the
four qualities in their respective combinations constitute the four
elements. From the description we shall give here it will be realized
how little such ancient schemes were based on abstract thoughts, and
how much they were read from the facts of the world. Moreover, a
comparison with our description of the four stages of matter, given in
the previous chapter, would show how far the conceptual content of the
old doctrine covers the corresponding facts when they are read by the
eye of the modern reader in nature, notwithstanding the changes nature
has undergone in the meantime.

The element Fire reveals its attributes of warm and dry in a behaviour
which combines a tendency to dynamic expansion with a disinclination to
enter into lasting combination with the other elements.
Correspondingly, the behaviour of the element Earth unites a tendency
to contraction with an inclination to fall out of conjunction with the
other elements. Thus the attribute, dry, belongs equally to pure flame
and sheer dust, though for opposite reasons. Distinct from both these
elements are the middle elements Water and Air; with them the
attribute, moist, comes to expression in their tendency both to
interpenetrate mutually and to absorb their neighbours - the liquid
element absorbing solid matter and the aeriform element taking up heat.
What distinguishes them is that water has a 'cold' nature, from which
it gains its density; while air has a 'warm' nature, to which it owes
its tendency to expand.

In the most general sense, the quality 'moist' applies wherever two
different entities are drawn into some kind of intimate relationship
with one another; 'dry' applies where no such relationship prevails.
Seen thus, they reveal themselves as a true polarity of the second
order, for they describe the relationship between two entities which
already exists, and, in the case of the four elements, are themselves a
polarity. As such, they characterize precisely those polar
relationships of the second order on which the threefold structure of
man, we found, is based. For from the physical, as much as from the
superphysical aspect the nerve-system represents the 'dry' part, and
the metabolic system the 'moist' part of man's being. The same is true
of the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world at both
poles. Here we have the antithesis between the 'dry'
onlooker-relationship of the intellect to the world, conceived as a
mere picture whose essence remains outside the boundaries of the soul,
and the 'moist' intermingling of the will-force with the actual forces
of the world.


It needs no further explanation to realize that sulphur and phosphorus,
by the way in which levity and gravity are interlinked in each of them,
are representatives of these very qualities 'moist' and 'dry'. As such
they are universally active bearers of these qualities in every realm
of nature's varied activities, as their physical presence in such cases
confirms. Consequently, sulphur is found in the protein-substances of
the human body wherever they are bearers of metabolic processes, while
the presence of phosphorus is characteristic of the nerves and bones.
(Although its full significance will become clear to us only later, the
fact may here be mentioned that the composition of the bone-material in
the different parts of man's skeleton, as scientific analysis has
shown, is such that the content of phosphate of calcium in proportion
to carbonate of calcium is higher in all those parts which are
spherically shaped, such as the upper parts of the skull and the upper
ends of the limb-bones.)

In particular the plant reveals clearly the functional significance of
phosphorus as the bearer of the quality 'dry'. For its healthy growth
the plant needs the quality 'dry' in two places: at the root, where it
unites with the element earth, and in the flower, where it opens itself
to the fire element. Root and flower as distinct from the middle parts
of the plant are both 'dry' formations. In a still higher degree this
applies to the seed, which must separate itself from the mother plant
to produce a separate new organism. All these are functions in the
plant which, as was mentioned in the last chapter, require phosphorus
for their healthy performance.

Our examination of phosphorus and sulphur from the functional point of
view throws light also on their effect on the alternating conditions of
waking and sleeping, necessary for the life of the higher organisms.
This rhythmic change, which affects especially the nervous system, is
an alternation between the qualities dry and moist. Disturbance of this
alternation in one direction or the other makes it difficult for the
organism to react in full wakefulness or normal sleep. It follows that
treatment with phosphorus or sulphur in suitable preparations,
according to the nature of the disturbance, can be beneficial.

If we study the functional properties of such substances we see that
they can teach us a rational understanding of therapeutic practices,
which otherwise must remain mere results of trial and error. The same
applies to phosphorus and sulphur treatment in cases where in the
functionally 'dry' bone system or in the functionally 'moist' metabolic
system of the organism the wrong quality predominates. If the bones
remain too 'moist' there is a tendency to rickets; against this,
certain fish-oils are a well-known remedy on account of their highly
phosphoric nature. Conversely, the application of sulphur can help
where weakness of the metabolic forces produces rheumatic or gouty
sediments in parts of the body whose function is to serve by their
mobility the activities of the will. In this case the abnormal
predominance of the quality 'dry' can be counteracted by the medical
application of sulphur.


Having observed the action of sulphur and phosphorus in the laboratory
and in living organisms, we will now turn to phenomena of a
macrotelluric nature which reveal the participation of sulphur and
phosphorus. There, sulphur points unmistakably to the earth's
volcanism. It is a fact that, wherever mineral sulphur occurs in the
earth, there we find a spot of former or present volcanic activity.
Similarly, there is no such spot on the earth without sulphur being
present in one form or another. Hence the name Solfatara for the
fumarole described in Chapter IX.

Once again it is the Solfatara which offers us a phenomenon, this time
in connexion with the special role sulphur plays in its activities,
which, regarded with the eye of the spirit, assumes the significance of
an instance 'worth a thousand'.

In spite of the very high temperature of the sulphurous fumes emitted
from various crevices on the edge of the Solfatara, it is possible,
thanks to the complete dryness of the fumes, to crawl a little way into
the interior of these crevices. Not far away from the opening of the
crevice, where the hot fumes touch the cooler rock surface, one is met
by a very beautiful spectacle - namely, the continual forming, out of
nothing as it seems, of glittering yellow sulphur crystals, suspended
in delicate chains from the ceiling.

In this transformation of sulphurous substance from a higher material
state, nearer to levity, to that of the solid crystal, we may behold an
image of the generation of matter. For every physical substance and,
therefore, every chemical element, exists originally as a pure function
in the dynamic processes of the universe. Wherever, as a result of the
action of gravity, such a function congeals materially, there we meet
it in the form of a physical-material substance. In the same sense,
sulphur and phosphorus, in their real being, are pure functions, and
where they occur as physical substances, there we meet these functions
in their congealed state.

One of the characteristics of the volcanic regions of the earth is the
healing effect of substances found there. Fango-mud, for instance,
which was mentioned in the last chapter, is a much-used remedy against
rheumatism. This is typical of functional sulphur. We may truly
characterize the earth's volcanism as being qualitatively sulphurous.
It is the sulphur-function coming to expression through a higher degree
of 'moistness' in the relationship between gravity and levity which
distinguishes volcanic regions from the rest of the otherwise 'dry'
earth's crust.


To develop a corresponding picture of the function of phosphorus, we
must try to find the macrotelluric sphere where this function operates
similarly to that of sulphur in volcanism. From what has been said in
the last chapter it will be evident that we must look to the
atmosphere, as the site of snow-formation. It is this process which we
must now examine more closely.

In the atmosphere, to begin with, we find water in a state of vapour,
in which the influence of the terrestrial gravity-field is
comparatively weak. Floating in this state, the vapour condenses and
crystallization proceeds. Obeying the pull of gravity, more and more
crystals unite in their descent and gradually form flakes of varying
sizes. The nearer they come to earth, the closer they fall, until at
last on the ground they form an unbroken, more or less spherical,

Imagine a snow-covered field glistening in the sun on a clear, quiet
winter's day. As far as we can see, there is no sign of life, no
movement. Here water, which is normally fluid and, in its liquid state,
serves the ever-changing life-processes, covers the earth in the form
of millions of separate crystals shaped with mathematical exactitude,
each of which breaks and reflects in a million rays the light from the
sun (Plate V). A contrast, indeed, between this quiet emergence of
forms from levity into gravity, and the form-denying volcanism surging
up out of gravity into levity, as shown by the ever-restless activity
of the Solfatara. As we found volcanism to be a macrotelluric
manifestation of functional sulphur, we find in the process of
snow-formation a corresponding manifestation of functional phosphorus.

In the formation of snow, nature shows us in statu agendi a process
which we otherwise meet in the earth only in its finished results,
crystallization. We may, therefore, rightly look upon snow-formation as
an ur-phenomenon in this sphere of nature's activities. As such it
allows us to learn something concerning the origin in general of the
crystalline realm of the earth; and, vice versa, our insight into the
'becoming' of this realm will enable us to see more clearly the
universal function of which phosphorus is the main representative among
the physical substances of the earth.

It has puzzled many an observer that crystals occur in the earth with
directions of their main axes entirely independent of the direction of
the earthly pull of gravity. Plate VI shows the photograph of a cluster
of Calcite crystals as an example of this phenomenon. It tells us that
gravity can have no effect on the formation of the crystal itself. This
riddle is solved by the phenomenon of snow-formation provided we allow
it to speak to us as an ur-phenomenon. For it then tells us that matter
must be in a state of transition from lightness into heaviness if it is
to appear in crystalline form. The crystals in the earth, therefore,
must have originated at a time when the relation between levity and
gravity on the earth was different from what it is, in this sphere,

The same language is spoken by the property of transparency which is so
predominant among crystals. One of the fundamental characteristics of
heavy solid matter is to resist light - in other words, to be opaque.
Exposed to heat, however, physical substance loses this feature to the
extent that at the border of its ponderability all matter becomes
pervious to light. Now, in the transparent crystal matter retains this
kinship to light even in its solid state.

A similar message comes from the, often so mysterious, colouring of the
crystals. Here again nature offers us an instance which, 'worth a
thousand', reveals a secret that would otherwise remain veiled. We
refer to the pink crystals of tourmaline, whose colour comes from a
small admixture of lithium. This element, which belongs to the group of
the alkaline metals, does not form coloured salts (a property only
shown by the heavier metals). If exposed to a flame, however, it endows
it with a definite colour which is the same as that of the
lithium-coloured tourmaline. Read as a letter in nature's script, this
fact tells us that precious stones with their flame-like colours are
characterized by having kept something of the nature that was theirs
before they coalesced into ponderable existence. In fact, they are
'frozen flames'.

It is this fact, known from ancient intuitive experience, which
prompted man of old to attribute particular spiritual significance to
the various precious stones of the earth and to use them
correspondingly in his rituals.

Crystallization, seen thus in its cosmic aspect, shows a dynamic
orientation which is polarically opposite to that of the earth's
seismic activities. Just as in the latter we observe levity taking hold
of ponderable matter and moving it in a direction opposite to the pull
of gravity, so in crystallization we see imponderable matter passing
over from levity into gravity. And just as we found in volcanism and
related processes a field of activity of 'functional sulphur', so we
found in snow-formation and related processes a field of activity of
'functional phosphorus'. Both fields are characterized by an
interaction between gravity and levity, this interaction being of
opposite nature in each of them.

Here, again, sulphur and phosphorus appear as bearers of a polarity of
the second order which springs from the two polarically opposite ways
of interaction between the poles of the polarity of the first order:


As in man there is a third system, mediating between the two polar
systems of his organism, so between sulphur and phosphorus there is a
third element which in all its characteristics holds a middle place
between them and is the bearer of a corresponding function. This
element is carbon.

To see this we need only take into consideration carbon's relationship
to oxidation and reduction respectively. As it is natural for sulphur
to be in the reduced state, and for phosphorus to be in the oxidized
state, so it is in the nature of carbon to be related to both states
and therefore to oscillate between them. By its readiness to change
over from the oxidized to the reduced state, it can serve the plant in
the assimilation of light, while by its readiness to make the reverse
change it serves man and animal in the breathing process. We breathe in
oxygen from the air; the oxygen circulates through the blood-stream and
passes out again in conjunction with carbon, as carbon dioxide, when we
exhale. In the process whereby the plants reduce the carbon dioxide
exhaled by man and animal, while the latter again absorb with their
food the carbon produced in the form of organic matter by the plant, we
see carbon moving to and fro between the oxidized and the reduced

Within the plant itself, too, carbon acts as functionary of the
alternation between oxidation and reduction. During the first half of
the year, when vegetation is unfolding, there is a great reduction
process of oxidized carbon, while in the second half of the year, when
the withering process prevails, a great deal of the previously reduced
carbon passes into the oxidized condition. As this is connected with
exhaling and inhaling of oxygen through carbon, carbon can be regarded
as having the function of the lung-organ of the earth. Logically
enough, we find carbon playing the same role in the middle part of the
threefold human organism.

Another indication of the midway position of carbon is its ability to
combine as readily with hydrogen as with oxygen, and, in these polar
combinations, even to combine with itself. In this latter form it
provides the basis of the innumerable organic substances in nature, and
serves as the 'building stones' of the body-substances of living
organisms. Among these, the carbohydrates produced by the plants show
clearly the double function of carbon in the way it alternates between
the states of starch and sugar.

When the plant absorbs through its leaves carbonic acid from the air
and condenses it into the multiple grains of starch with their peculiar
structure characteristic for each plant species, we have a biological
event which corresponds to the formation of snow in the meteorological
realm. Here we see carbon at work in a manner functionally akin to that
of phosphorus. Sugar, on the other hand, has its place in the saps of
the plants which rise through the stems and carry up with them the
mineral substances of the earth. Here we find carbon acting in a way
akin to the function of sulphur.

This twofold nature of carbon makes itself noticeable down to the very
mineral sphere of the earth. There we find it in the fact that carbon
occurs both in the form of the diamond, the hardest of all mineral
substances, and also in the form of the softest, graphite. Here also,
in the diamond's brilliant transparency, and in the dense blackness of
graphite, carbon reveals its twofold relation to light.

In Fig. 6 an attempt has been made to represent diagrammatically the
function of Carbon in a way corresponding to the previous
representation of the functions of Sulphur and Phosphorus.


By adding carbon to our observations on the polarity of sulphur and
phosphorus we have been led to a triad of functions each of which
expresses a specific interplay of levity and gravity. That we encounter
three such functions is not accidental or arbitrary. Rather is it based
on the fact that the interaction of forces emanating from a polarity of
the first order, produces a polarity of the second order, whose poles
establish between them a sphere of balance.

Through our study of levity and gravity in the matter-processes of the
earth, a perspective thus opens up into a structural principle of
nature which is actually not new to us. We encountered it at the very
beginning of this book when we discussed the threefold psycho-physical
order of man's being.

In the days of an older intuitive nature-wisdom man knew of a basic
triad of functions as well as he knew of the four elementary qualities.
We hear a last echo of this in the Middle Ages, when people striving
for a deeper understanding of nature spoke of the trinity of Salt,
Mercury and Sulphur. What the true alchemists, as these seekers of
knowledge called themselves, meant by this was precisely the same as
the conception we have here reached through our own way of studying
matter ('Salt' standing for 'functional phosphorus', 'Mercury' for
'functional carbon'). Only the alchemist's way was a different one.

This is not the place to enter into a full examination of the meaning
and value of alchemy in its original legitimate sense (which must not
be confused with activities that later on paraded under the same name).
Only this we will say - that genuine alchemy owes its origin to an
impulse which, at a time when the onlooker-consciousness first arose,
led to the foundation of a school for the development of an intuitive
relationship of the soul with the world of the senses. This was to
enable man to resist the effects of the division which evolution was
about to set up in his soul-life - the division which was to give him,
on the one hand, an abstract experience of his own self, divorced from
the outer world, and on the other a mere onlooker's experience of that
outer world. As a result of these endeavours, concepts were formed
which in their literal meaning seemed to apply merely to outwardly
perceptible substances, while in truth they stood for the spiritual
functions represented by those substances, both within and outside the
human organism.

Thus the alchemist who used these concepts thought of them first as
referring to his own soul, and to the inner organic processes
corresponding to the various activities of his soul. When speaking of
Salt he meant the regulated formative activity of his thinking, based
on the salt-forming process in his nervous system. When he spoke of
Mercury he meant the quickly changing emotional life of the soul and
the corresponding activities of the rhythmic processes of the body.
Lastly, Sulphur meant the will activities of his soul and the
corresponding metabolic processes of the body. Only through studying
these functions within himself, and through re-establishing the harmony
between them which had been theirs in the beginning, and from which, he
felt, man had deviated in the course of time, did the alchemist hope to
come to an understanding of their counterparts in the external cosmos.

Older alchemical writings, therefore, can be understood only if
prescriptions which seem to signify certain chemical manipulations are
read as instructions for certain exercises of the soul, or as advices
for the redirection of corresponding processes in the body. For
instance, if an alchemist gave directions for a certain treatment of
Sulphur, Mercury and Salt, with the assertion that by carrying out
these directions properly, one would obtain Aurum (gold), he really
spoke of a method to direct the thinking, feeling and willing
activities of the soul in such a way as to gain true Wisdom.1


As in the case of the concepts constituting the doctrine of the four
elements, we have represented here the basic alchemical concepts not
only because of their historical significance, but because, as
ingredients of a still functional conception of nature, they assume new
significance in a science which seeks to develop, though from different
starting-points, a similar conception. As will be seen in our further
studies, these concepts prove a welcome enrichment of the language in
which we must try to express our readings in nature.

1 Roger Bacon in the thirteenth, and Berthold Schwartz in the
fourteenth century, are reputed to have carried out experiments by
mixing physical salt (in the form of the chemically labile saltpetre)
with physical sulphur and - after some initial attempts with various
metals - with charcoal, and then exposing the mixture to the heat of
physical fire. The outcome of this purely materialistic interpretation
of the three alchemical concepts was not the acquisition of wisdom, or,
as Schwartz certainly had hoped, of gold, but of ... gunpowder!


Space and Counter-Space

With the introduction, in Chapter X, of the peripheral type of
force-field which appertains to levity as the usual central one does to
gravity, we are compelled to revise our conception of space. For in a
space of a kind we are accustomed to conceive, that is, the
three-dimensional, Euclidean space, the existence of such a field with
its characteristic of increasing in strength in the outward direction
is a paradox, contrary to mathematical logic.

This task, which in view of our further observations of the actions of
the levity-gravity polarity in nature we must now tackle, is, however,
by no means insoluble. For in modern mathematics thought-forms are
already present which make it possible to develop a space-concept
adequate to levity. As referred to in Chapter I, it was Rudolf Steiner
who first pointed to the significance in this respect of the branch of
modern mathematics known as Projective Geometry. He showed that
Projective Geometry, if rightly used, carries over the mind from the
customary abstract to a new concrete treatment of mathematical
concepts. The following example will serve to explain, to start with,
what we mean by saying that mathematics has hitherto been used

One of the reasons why the world-picture developed by Einstein in his
Theory of Relativity deserves to be acknowledged as a step forward in
comparison with the picture drawn by classical physics, lies in the
fact that the old conception of three-dimensional space as a kind of
'cosmic container', extending in all directions into infinity and
filled, as it were, with the content of the physical universe, is
replaced by a conception in which the structure of space results from
the laws interrelating this content. Our further discussion will show
that this indeed is the way along which, to-day, mathematical thought
must move in order to cope with universal reality.

However, for reasons discussed earlier, Einstein was forced to conceive
all events in the universe after the model of gravity as observable on
the earth. In this way he arrived at a space-structure which possesses
neither the three-dimensionality nor the rectilinear character of
so-called Euclidean space - a space-picture which, though
mathematically consistent, is incomprehensible by the human mind. For
nothing exists in our mind that could enable us to experience as a
reality a space-time continuum of three dimensions which is curved
within a further dimension.

This outcome of Einstein's endeavours results from the fact that he
tried by means of gravity-bound thought to comprehend universal
happenings of which the true causes are non-gravitational. A thinking
that has learnt to acknowledge the existence of levity must indeed
pursue precisely the opposite direction. Instead of freezing time down
into spatial dimension, in order to make it fit into a world ruled by
nothing but gravity, we must develop a conception of space sufficiently
fluid to let true time have its place therein. We shall see how such a
procedure will lead us to a space-concept thoroughly conceivable by
human common sense, provided we are prepared to overcome the
onlooker-standpoint in mathematics also.

Einstein owed the possibility of establishing his space-picture to a
certain achievement of mathematical thinking in modern times. As we
have seen, one of the peculiarities of the onlooker-consciousness
consists in its being devoid of all connexion with reality. The process
of thinking thereby gained a degree of freedom which did not exist in
former ages. In consequence, mathematicians were enabled in the course
of the nineteenth century to conceive the most varied space-systems
which were all mathematically consistent and yet lacked all relation to
external existence. A considerable number of space-systems have thus
become established among which there is the system that served Einstein
to derive his space-time concept. Some of them have been more or less
fully worked out, while in certain instances all that has been done is
to show that they are mathematically conceivable. Among these there is
one which in all its characteristics is polarically opposite to the
Euclidean system, and which is destined for this reason to become the
space-system of levity. It is symptomatic of the remoteness from
reality of mathematical thinking in the onlooker-age that precisely
this system has so far received no special attention.1

For the purpose of this book it is not necessary to expound in detail
why modern mathematical thinking has been led to look for thought-forms
other than those of classical geometry. It is enough to remark that for
quite a long time there had been an awareness of the fact that the
consistency of Euclid's definitions and proofs fails as soon as one has
no longer to do with finite geometrical entities, but with figures
which extend into infinity, as for instance when the properties of
parallel straight lines come into question. For the concept of infinity
was foreign to classical geometrical thinking. Problems of the kind
which had defeated Euclidean thinking became soluble directly human
thinking was able to handle the concept of infinity.

We shall now indicate some of the lines of geometrical thought which
follow from this.


Let us consider a straight line extending without limits in either
direction. Projective geometry is able to state that a point moving
along this line in one direction will eventually return from the other.
To see this, we imagine two straight lines a and b intersecting at P.
One of these lines is fixed (a); the other (b) rotates uniformly about
C. Fig. 7 indicates the rotation of b by showing it in a number of
positions with the respective positions of its point of intersection
with a (P1, P2. . .). We observe this point moving along a, as a result
of the rotation of b, until, when both lines are parallel, it reaches
infinity. As a result of the continued rotation of b, however, P does
not remain in infinity, but returns along a from the other side. We
find here two forms of movement linked together - the rotational
movement of a line (b) on a point (C), and the progressive movement of
a point (P) along a line (a). The first movement is continuous, and
observable throughout within finite space. Therefore the second
movement must be continuous as well, even though it partly escapes our
observation. Hence, when P disappears into infinity on one side of our
own point of observation, it is at the same time in infinity on the
other side. In order words, an unlimited straight line has only one
point at infinity.

It is clear that, in order to become familiar with this aspect of
geometry, one must grow together in inward activity with the happening
which is contained in the above description. What we therefore intend
by giving such a description is to provide an opportunity for a
particular mental exercise, just as when we introduced Goethe's botany
by describing a number of successive leaf-formations. Here, as much as
there, it is the act of 're-creating' that matters.

The following exercise will help us towards further clarity concerning
the nature of geometrical infinity.

We imagine ourselves in the centre of a sphere which we allow to expand
uniformly on all sides. Whilst the inner wall of this sphere withdraws
from us into ever greater distances, it grows flatter and flatter
until, on reaching infinite distance, it turns into a plane. We thus
find ourselves surrounded everywhere by a surface which, in the strict
mathematical sense, is a plane, and is yet one and the same surface on
all sides. This leads us to the conception of the plane at infinity as
a self-contained entity although it expands infinitely in all

This property of a plane at infinity, however, is really a property of
any plane. To realize this, we must widen our conception of infinity by
freeing it from a certain one-sidedness still connected with it. This
we do by transferring ourselves into the infinite plane and envisaging,
not the plane from the point, but the point from the plane. This
operation, however, implies something which is not obvious to a mind
accustomed to the ordinary ways of mathematical reasoning. It therefore
requires special explanation.

In the sense of Euclidean geometry, a plane is the sum-total of
innumerable single points. To take up a position in a plane, therefore,
means to imagine oneself at one point of the plane, with the latter
extending around in all directions to infinity. Hence the journey from
any point in space to a plane is along a straight line from one point
to another. In the case of the plane being at infinity, it would be a
journey along a radius of the infinitely large sphere from its centre
to a point at its circumference.

In projective geometry the operation is of a different character. Just
as we arrived at the infinitely large sphere by letting a finite sphere
grow, so must we consider any finite sphere as having grown from a
sphere with infinitely small extension; that is, from a point. To
travel from the point to the infinitely distant plane in the sense of
projective geometry, therefore, means that we have first to identify
ourselves with the point and 'become' the plane by a process of uniform
expansion in all directions.

As a result of this we do not arrive at one point in the plane, with
the latter extending round us on all sides, but we are present in the
plane as a whole everywhere. No point in it can be characterized as
having any distance, whether finite or infinite, from us. Nor is there
any sense in speaking of the plane itself as being at infinity. For any
plane will allow us to identify ourselves with it in this way. And any
such plane can be given the character of a plane at infinity by
relating it to a point infinitely far away from it (i.e. from us).

Having thus dropped the one-sided conception of infinity, we must look
for another characterization of the relationship between a point and a
plane which are infinitely distant from one another. This requires,
first of all, a proper characterization of Point and Plane in

Conceived dynamically, as projective geometry requires, Point and Plane
represent a pair of opposites, the Point standing for utmost
contraction, the Plane for utmost expansion. As such, they form a
polarity of the first order. Both together constitute Space. Which sort
of space this is, depends on the relationship in which they are
envisaged. By positing the point as the unit from which to start, and
deriving our conception of the plane from the point, we constitute
Euclidean space. By starting in the manner described above, with the
plane as the unit, and conceiving the point from it, we constitute
polar-Euclidean space.

The realization of the reversibility of the relationship between Point
and Plane leads to a conception of Space still free from any specific
character. By G. Adams this space has been appositely called archetypal
space, or ur-space. Both Euclidean and polar-Euclidean space are
particular manifestations of it, their mutual relationship being one of
metamorphosis in the Goethean sense.

Through conceiving Euclidean and polar-Euclidean space in this manner
it becomes clear that they are nothing else than the geometrical
expression of the relationship between gravity and levity. For gravity,
through its field spreading outward from an inner centre, establishes a
point-to-point relation between all things under its sway; whereas
levity draws all things within its domain into common plane-relations
by establishing field-conditions wherein action takes place from the
periphery towards the centre. What distinguishes in both cases the
plane at infinity from all other planes may be best described by
calling it the all-embracing plane; correspondingly the point at
infinity may be best described as the all-relating point.

In outer nature the all-embracing plane is as much the 'centre' of the
earth's field of levity as the all-relating point is the centre of her
field of gravity. All actions of dynamic entities, such as that of the
ur-plant and its subordinate types, start from this plane. Seeds,
eye-formations, etc., are nothing but individual all-relating points in
respect of this plane. All that springs from such points does so
because of the point's relation to the all-embracing plane. This may
suffice to show how realistic are the mathematical concepts which we
have here tried to build up.


When we set out earlier in this book (Chapter VIII) to discover the
source of Galileo's intuition, by which he had been enabled to find the
theorem of the parallelogram of forces, we were led to certain
experiences through which all men go in early childhood by erecting
their body and learning to walk. We were thereby led to realize that
man's general capacity for thinking mathematically is the outcome of
early experiences of this kind. It is evident that geometrical concepts
arising in man's mind in this way must be those of Euclidean geometry.
For they are acquired by the will's struggle with gravity. The dynamic
law discovered in this way by Galileo was therefore bound to apply to
the behaviour of mechanical forces - that is, of forces acting from
points outward.

In a similar way we can now seek to find the source of our capacity to
form polar-Euclidean concepts. As we were formerly led to experiences
of man's early life on earth, so we are now led to his embryonic and
even pre-embryonic existence.

Before man's supersensible part enters into a physical body there is no
means of conveying to it experiences other than those of levity, and
this condition prevails right through embryonic development. For while
the body floats in the mother's foetal fluid it is virtually exempt
from the influence of the earth's field of gravity.

History has given us a source of information from these early periods
of man's existence in Traherne's recollections of the time when his
soul was still in the state of cosmic consciousness. Among his
descriptions we may therefore expect to find a picture of levity-space
which will confirm through immediate experience what we have arrived at
along the lines of realistic mathematical reasoning. Among poems quoted
earlier, his The Praeparative and My Spirit do indeed convey this
picture in the clearest possible way. The following are relevant
passages from these two poems.

In the first we read:

'Then was my Soul my only All to me,
A living endless Ey,
Scarce bounded with the Sky
Whose Power, and Act, and Essence was to see:
I was an inward Sphere of Light,
Or an interminable Orb of Sight,
Exceeding that which makes the Days . . .'

In the second poem the same experience is expressed in richer detail.
There he says of his own soul that it -

... being Simple, like the Deity,
In its own Centre is a Sphere,
Not limited but everywhere.

It acts not from a Centre to
Its Object, as remote;
But present is, where it doth go
To view the Being it doth note ...

A strange extended Orb of Joy
Proceeding from within,
Which did on ev'ry side display
Its force; and being nigh of Kin
To God, did ev'ry way
Dilate its Self ev'n instantaneously,
Yet an Indivisible Centre stay,
In it surrounding all Eternity.
'Twas not a Sphere;
Yet did appear
One infinite: 'Twas somewhat everywhere.'

Observe the distinct description of how the relation between
circumference and centre is inverted by the former becoming itself an
'indivisible centre'. In a space of this kind there is no Here and
There, as in Euclidean space, for the consciousness is always and
immediately at one with the whole space. Motion is thus quite different
from what it is in Euclidean space. Traherne himself italicized the
word 'instantaneous', so important did he find this fact. (The quality
of instantaneousness - equal from the physical point of view to a
velocity of the value ∞ - will occupy us more closely as a characteristic
of the realm of levity when we come to discuss the apparent velocity of
light in connexion with our optical studies.)

By thus realizing the source in man of the polar-Euclidean
thought-forms, we see the discovery of projective geometry in a new
light. For it now assumes the significance of yet another historical
symptom of the modern re-awakening of man's capacity to remember his
prenatal existence.


We know from our previous studies that the concept of polarity is not
exhausted by conceiving the world as being constituted by polarities of
one order only. Besides primary polarities, there are secondary ones,
the outcome of interaction between the primary poles. Having conceived
of Point and Plane as a geometrical polarity of the first order, we
have therefore to ask what formative elements there are in geometry
which represent the corresponding polarity of the second order. The
following considerations will show that these are the radius, which
arises from the point becoming related to the plane, and the
spherically bent surface (for which we have no other name than that
again of the sphere), arising from the plane becoming related to the

In Euclidean geometry the sphere is defined as 'the locus of all points
which are equidistant from a given point'. To define the sphere in this
way is in accord with our post-natal, gravity-bound consciousness. For
in this state our mind can do no more than envisage the surface of the
sphere point by point from its centre and recognize the equal distance
of all these points from the centre. Seen thus, the sphere arises as
the sum-total of the end-points of all the straight lines of equal
length which emerge from the centre-point in all directions. Fig. 8
indicates this schematically. Here the radius, a straight line, is
clearly the determining factor.

We now move to the other pole of the primary polarity, that is to the
plane, and let the sphere arise by imagining the plane approaching an
infinitely distant point evenly from all sides. We view the process
realistically only by imagining ourselves in the plane, so that we
surround the point from all sides, with the distance between us and the
point diminishing gradually. Since we remain all the time on the
surface, we have no reason to conceive any change in its original
position; that is, we continue to think of it as an all-embracing plane
with regard to the chosen point.

The only way of representing the sphere diagrammatically, as a unit
bearing in itself the character of the plane whence it sprang, is as
shown in Fig. 9, where a number of planes, functioning as tangential
planes, are so related that together they form a surface which
possesses everywhere the same distance from the all-relating point.

Since Point and Plane represent in the realm of geometrical concepts
what in outer nature we find in the form of the gravity-levity
polarity, we may expect to meet Radius and Sphere as actual formative
elements in nature, wherever gravity and levity interact in one way or
another. A few observations may suffice to give the necessary evidence.
Further confirmation will be furnished by the ensuing chapters.

The Radius-Sphere antithesis appears most obviously in the human body,
the radial element being represented by the limbs, the spherical by the
skull. The limbs thus become the hieroglyph of a dynamic directed from
the Point to the Plane, and the skull of the opposite. This indeed is
in accord with the distribution in the organism of the sulphur-salt
polarity, as we learnt from our physiological and psychological
studies. Inner processes and outer form thus reveal the same
distribution of poles.

In the plant the same polarity appears in stalk and leaf. Obviously the
stalk represents the radial pole. The connexion between leaf and sphere
is not so clear: in order to recognize it we must appreciate that the
single plant is not a self-contained entity to the same degree as is
the human being. The equivalent of the single man is the entire
vegetable covering of the earth. In man there is an individual centre
round which the bones of his skull are curved; in the plant world the
equivalent is the centre of the earth. It is in relation to this that
we must conceive of the single leaves as parts of a greater sphere.

In the plant, just as in man, the morphological polarity coincides with
the biological. There is, on the one hand, the process of assimilation
(photosynthesis), so characteristic of the leaf. Through this process
matter passes over from the aeriform condition into that of numerous
separate, characteristically structured solid bodies - the starch
grains. Besides this kind of assimilation we have learnt to recognize a
higher form which we called 'spiritual assimilation'. Here, a
transition of substance from the domain of levity to that of gravity
takes place even more strikingly than in ordinary (physical)
assimilation (Chapter X).

The corresponding process in the linear stalk is one which we may call
'sublimation' - again with its extension into 'spiritual sublimation'.
Through this process matter is carried in the upward direction towards
ever less ponderable conditions, and finally into the formless state of
pure 'chaos'. By this means the seed is prepared (as we have seen) with
the help of the fire-bearing pollen, so that after it has fallen to the
ground, it may serve as an all-relating point to which the plant's Type
can direct its activity from the universal circumference.

In order to find the corresponding morphological polarity in the animal
kingdom, we must realize that the animal, by having the main axis of
its body in the horizontal direction, has a relationship to the
gravity-levity fields of the earth different from those of both man and
plant. As a result, the single animal body shows the sphere-radius
polarity much less sharply. If we compare the different groups of the
animal kingdom, however, we find that the animals, too, bear this
polarity as a formative element. The birds represent the spherical
(dry, saline) pole; the ruminants the linear (moist, sulphurous) pole.
The carnivorous quadrupeds form the intermediary (mercurial) group. As
ur-phenomenal types we may name among the birds the eagle, clothed in
its dry, silicic plumage, hovering with far-spread wings in the heights
of the atmosphere, united with the expanses of space through its
far-reaching sight; among the ruminants, the cow, lying heavily on the
ground of the earth, given over entirely to the immensely elaborated
sulphurous process of its own digestion. Between them comes the lion -
the most characteristic animal for the preponderance of heart-and-lung
activities in the body, with all the attributes resulting from that.

Within the scope of this book it can only be intimated briefly, but
should not be left unmentioned for the sake of those interested in a
further pursuit of these lines of thought, that the morphological mean
between radius and sphere (corresponding to Mercurius in the alchemical
triad) is represented by a geometrical figure known as the
'lemniscate', a particular modification of the so-called Cassinian

1 For further details, see the writings of G. Adams and L. Locher-Ernst
who, each in his own way, have made a beginning with applying
projective geometry on the lines indicated by Rudolf Steiner. Professor
Locher-Ernst was the first to apply the term 'polar-Euclidean' to the
space-system corresponding to levity.

2 For particulars of the lemniscate as the building plan of the middle
part of man's skeleton, see K. König, M.D.: Beitrage zu einer reinen
Anatomic des menschlichen Knochenskeletts in the periodical Natura
(Dornach, 1930-1). Some projective-geometrical considerations
concerning the lemniscate are to be found in the previously mentioned
writings of G. Adams and L. Locher-Ernst.


'Radiant Matter'

When man in the state of world-onlooker undertook to form a dynamic
picture of the nature of matter, it was inevitable that of all the
qualities which belong to its existence he should be able to envisage
only those pertaining to gravity and electricity. Because his
consciousness, at this stage of its evolution, was closely bound up
with the force of gravity inherent in the human body, he was unable to
form any conception of levity as a force opposite to gravity. Yet,
nature is built bipolarically, and polarity-concepts are therefore
indispensable for developing a true understanding of her actions. This
accounts for the fact that the unipolar concept of gravity had
eventually to be supplemented by some kind of bipolar concept.

Now, the only sphere of nature-phenomena with a bipolar character
accessible to the onlooker-consciousness 'was that of electricity. It
was thus that man in this state of consciousness was compelled to
picture the foundation of the physical universe as being made up of
gravity and electricity, as we meet them in the modern picture of the
atom, with its heavy electro-positive nucleus and the virtually
weightless electro-negative electrons moving round it.

Once scientific observation and thought are freed from the limitations
of the onlooker-consciousness, both gravity and electricity appear in a
new perspective, though the change is different for each of them.
Gravity, while it becomes one pole of a polarity, with levity as the
opposite pole, still retains its character as a fundamental force of
the physical universe, the gravity-levity polarity being one of the
first order. Not so electricity. For, as the following discussion will
show, the electrical polarity is one of the second order; moreover,
instead of constituting matter as is usually believed, electricity
turns out to be in reality a product of matter.


We follow Goethe's line when, in order to answer the question, 'What is
electricity?' we first ask, 'How does electricity arise?' Instead of
starting with phenomena produced by electricity when it is already in
action, and deriving from them a hypothetical picture, we begin by
observing the processes to which electricity owes its appearance. Since
there is significance in the historical order in which facts of nature
have come to man's knowledge in the past, we choose as our
starting-point, among the various modes of generating electricity, the
one through which the existence of an electric force first became
known. This is the rousing of the electric state in a body by rubbing
it with another body of different material composition. Originally,
amber was rubbed with wool or fur.

By picturing this process in our mind we become aware of a certain
kinship of electricity with fire, since for ages the only known way of
kindling fire was through friction. We notice that in both cases man
had to resort to the will-power invested in his limbs for setting in
motion two pieces of matter, so that, by overcoming their resistance to
this motion, he released from them a certain force which he could
utilize as a supplement to his own will. The similarity of the two
processes may be taken as a sign that heat and electricity are related
to each other in a certain way, the one being in some sense a
metamorphosis of the other. Our first task, therefore, will be to try
to understand how it is that friction causes heat to appear in manifest

There is no friction unless the surfaces of the rubbed bodies have a
structure that is in some way interfered with by the rubbing, while at
the same time they offer a certain resistance to the disturbance. This
resistance is due to a characteristic of matter, commonly called
cohesion. Now we know that the inner coherence of a physical body is
due to its point-relationship, that is to the gravitational force bound
up with it. Indeed, cohesion increases as we pass from the gaseous,
through the liquid, to the solid state of matter.

Whilst a body's cohesion is due to gravity, its spatial extendedness
is, as we have seen, due to levity. If we reduce the volume of a piece
of physical matter by means of pressure, we therefore release
levity-forces previously bound up in it, and these, as always happens
in such cases, appear in the form of free heat. Figuratively speaking,
we may say that by applying pressure to matter, latent levity is
pressed out of it, somewhat like water out of a wet sponge.

The generation of free heat by friction rests on quite similar grounds.
Obviously, friction always requires a certain pressure. This alone,
however, would not account for the amount of heat easily produced by
friction. To the pressure there is in this case added a certain measure
of encroachment upon the unity of the material substance. In the case
of friction between two solid bodies, this may go so far that particles
of matter are completely detached from the cohesive whole. The result
is an increase in the number of single mass-centres on the earth, as
against the all-embracing cosmic periphery. This diminishes the hold of
levity on the total amount of physical matter present on the earth.
Again, the levity thus becoming free appears as external heat. (In the
reverse case when, for instance through melting, a number of single
physical bodies become one, free heat becomes latent.)

Both the diminishing of spatial extension and the breaking up of a
whole into parts entail an increase in the quality 'dry'. This applies
not only in the sense that the parts which have become independent
units are 'dry' in relation to each other - formerly coherent matter
being turned into dust - but also in the other sense, and one valid in
both cases, that levity and gravity are losing part of their previous
inter-connexion. If this twofold process of 'becoming dry' reaches a
certain intensity, the substances concerned, provided they are
inflammable, begin to burn, with the result that dry heat escapes and
dry ash is formed. We note that in each case we are dealing with a
change in the relationship between the poles of a polarity of the first

We will now apply this picture of the process of friction to the
instance when, as a result of this action, electricity appears.

Originally the evoking of the electric condition was ascribed solely to
the nature of amber, the only substance known to possess this property.
To-day we know that not the amber alone, but its coming together with
another substance of different nature, in this instance an animal
substance of the nature of hair or silk, is required. Whatever
substances we use for friction, they must always be different in
nature, so as to allow both kinds of electricity to appear at once.
Which of the two kinds imposes its presence the more strongly upon the
observer depends on purely extraneous conditions which have nothing to
do with the process itself.

Obviously, if we wish to understand the qualitative difference between
the two kinds of electricity, we must investigate the qualitative
difference in the material substances, which give rise to electricity
when they are rubbed together. We shall again follow the historical
line by examining the two substances which first taught man the polar
nature of electricity. They are glass and resin, after which, as we
mentioned, the two electricities were even named in the beginning.

Our functional conception of matter, developed earlier (Chapter XI),
allows us to recognize in these two substances representatives of the
Salt-Sulphur polarity. Indeed, glass as a mineral substance, which
actually owes its specific character to the presence of silicon in it,
clearly stands on the phosphoric-crystalline side, while resin, being
itself a sort of 'gum', on the sulphurous-volcanic side. In fact,
sulphur itself was soon found to be a particularly suitable substance
for producing 'resin'-electricity.

Now the usual way of producing one kind of electricity is by rubbing
resin (or sulphur, or ebonite) with wool or fur, and the other by
rubbing glass with leather. At first sight, it does not seem as if the
two counter-substances represent the required alchemic counter-poles to
resin and glass. For both hair and leather are animal products and
therefore seem to be of like nature. Closer inspection, however, shows
that they do obey the rule. For hair, like all horny substances, is a
dead product of external secretion by the animal organism. An
ur-phenomenal example of it, showing its kinship to glass-like
substances, is the transparent cornea of the eye, close to the
crystal-lens. Leather, on the other hand, is a product of the
hypodermic part of the body and, as such, belongs to those parts of the
organism which are filled with blood, and, therefore, permeated with
life. (Note as a characteristic of leather that it requires a special
treatment, tanning, to make it as immune from decay as hair is by
nature.) Hair and leather, therefore, represent in themselves a
salt-sulphur polarity, and thus fulfil the corresponding function when
brought together with resin or glass respectively.

What is true for the particular substances which originally led man to
discover the dual nature of electricity, holds good equally for any
pair of substances capable of assuming the electric state when rubbed
against each other. If we examine from this point of view the series of
such substances, as usually given in the textbooks on electricity, we
shall always find a substance of extreme salt-character at the one end,
and one of extreme sulphur-character at the other, the substances as a
whole forming a gradual transition from one extreme to the other. Which
kind of electricity appears on each, when submitted to friction,
depends on whether the counter-substance stands on its right or left,
in the series. It is the particular relation between the two which
makes them behave in one way or the other.

There are cases which seem to elude this law, and investigation has
shown that other characteristics of the rubbed bodies, such as surface
quality, can have a modifying influence. For lack of a guiding idea
they are treated in the textbooks as 'irregularities'. Observation led
by a true polarity concept shows that in these cases also the rule is
not violated. In this respect, interesting information can be gained
from the observations of J. W. Ritter (1776-1810), an ingenious
Naturphilosoph from the circle round Goethe, but to whom, also,
physical science is indebted for his discovery of the ultra-violet part
of the spectrum and of galvanic polarization. Among his writings there
is a treatise on electricity, giving many generally unknown instances
of frictional electricity which are in good accord with our picture and
well worth investigating. According to Ritter, even two crystalline
substances of different hardness, such as Calcite and quartz, become
electric when rubbed together, the softer playing the part of 'resin'
and the harder that of 'glass'.

These few facts connected with the generation of frictional electricity
are enough to allow us to form a picture of the nature of the polarity
represented by the two kinds of electricity.

We remember that in the case of the generation of heat through
friction, as a result of an encroachment upon the cohesion of the
material body involved, the relationship between levity and gravity in
it changes from 'moist' to 'dry' and that the effect of this is the
appearance of 'fire' and 'dust' as poles of a primary polarity. This
process, however, is altered when the bodies subjected to friction are
opposed to each other in the sense of a salt-sulphur polarity. The
effect then is that the liberated levity, under the influence of the
peculiar tension between the two bodies, remains bound in the realm of
substance and becomes itself split up polarically.

Clearly, then, in the case of electrical polarity we encounter a
certain form of gravity-bound levity, and this in a twofold way. Owing
to the contrasting nature of the two bodies involved in the process,
the coupling of gravity and levity is a polar one on both sides. The
electrical polarity thus turns out to be itself of the nature of a
secondary polarity.

Two more recently discovered means of evoking the electric condition in
a piece of matter confirm this picture. They are the so-called
piezo-electricity and pyro-electricity. Both signify the occurrence of
the electrical polarity at the two ends of an asymmetrically built
(hemimorphous) crystal, as the result of changing the crystal's spatial
condition. In piezo-electricity the change consists in a diminution of
the crystal's volume through pressure; in pyro-electricity, in an
increase of the crystal volume by raising its temperature. The
asymmetry of the crystal, due to a one-sided working of the forces of
crystallization, plays the same role here as does the alchemic
opposition between the two bodies used for the production of frictional


It is typical of the scientist of the past that he was dependent on
phenomena brought about by a highly developed experimental technique
for becoming aware of certain properties of the electrical force,
whereas for the realistic observer these properties are revealed at
once by the most primitive electric phenomena. We remember Eddington's
description of the positron as 'negative material', and his subsequent
remarks, which show the paradoxical nature of this concept if applied
to the hypothetical interior of the atom (Chapter IV). The quite
primitive phenomenon of electrical repulsion and attraction shows us
the same thing in a manner of which it is not difficult to form a

Modern physics itself, with the help of Faraday's field-concept,
describes these phenomena as caused by pressure - resulting from the
meeting in space of two similar electrical fields - and suction -
resulting from the meeting of two dissimilar fields. In the first case
the space between the two electrically charged bodies assumes a degree
of density, as if it were filled with some elastic material. In the
second instance the density of the space where the two fields
intermingle is lower than that of its surroundings. Here, clearly, we
have a state of negative density which acts on the electrically charged
bodies just as a lowering of pressure acts on a gas: in both cases
movement occurs in the direction leading from the higher to the lower
density. Electricity thus shows itself capable of producing both
gravity and levity effects, thereby once more confirming our picture of


Our next task will be to examine the galvanic form of generating
electricity, in order to gain further light on our picture of the
electrical polarity.

Galvanism, as it became established through Volta's work, rests on
certain properties of the metallic substances of the earth. Compared
with the substances which may be used for producing electricity through
friction, the metals hold a mid-position. They are all essentially
mercurial substances. (In quicksilver, which for this reason was given
the name 'mercury' by the alchemists, this fact comes to an
ur-phenomenal appearance.) Among the many facts proving the mercurial
nature of the metals, there is one of particular interest to us. This
is their peculiar relationship to the processes of oxidation and

Metals, in their metallic state, are bearers of latent levity, which
can be set free either through combustion or through corrosion. They
differ from one another by their relative degree of eagerness to enter
into and remain in the metallic, that is, the reduced state, or to
assume and keep the state of the oxide (in which form they are found in
the various metallic oxides and salts). There are metals such as gold,
silver, etc., for which the reduced state is more or less natural;
others, such as potassium, sodium, etc., find the oxidized state
natural and can be brought into and kept in the reduced state only by
artificial means. Between these extremes there are all possible degrees
of transition, some metals more nearly resembling the 'noble', others
more nearly the 'corrosive', metals.

We remember that it was the different relationship of sulphur and
phosphorus to reduction and oxidation which led us to envisage them as
ur-phenomenal representatives of the alchemic polarity. We may
therefore say that there are metals which from the alchemic point of
view more nearly resemble sulphur, others more nearly phosphorus,
whilst others again hold an intermediary position between the extremes.
It is on these differences among the various metals that their galvanic
properties are based.

Let us from this point of view contemplate the following series of
chemical elements, which is a representation of the so-called voltaic

Graphite, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron, Tin, Lead, Zinc,
Aluminium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium.

Any two of these metals constitute a voltaic cell. Its electromotive
force is determined by the distance in the series between the metals
used. Just as in the case of frictional electricity, the kind of
electricity which is supplied by a certain metal depends on whether the
other metal with which it is coupled stands to the right or to the left
of it in the series.1

Let us now see what happens in a galvanic cell when the two different
metals are simultaneously exposed to the chemical action of the
connecting fluid. Each metal by itself would undergo oxidation with
greater or less intensity, and the calorific energy hidden in it would
become free in the form of heat. This process suffers a certain
alteration through the presence of the second metal, which sets up an
alchemic tension between the two. Instead of a proper segregation of
the primary polarity, heat-dust (in this case, heat-oxide), the heat
remains matter-bound and appears on the surface of the two metals in a
secondarily split form as positive and negative electricity.

The similarity between this process and the frictional generation of
electricity is evident.


Our observations have shown that the emergence of the electric state,
whether it be caused by friction or galvanically, depends on matter
entering into a condition in which its cohesion is loosened - or, as we
also put it, on its being turned into 'dust' - and this in such a way
that the escaping levity remains dust-bound. This picture of
electricity now enables us to give a realistic interpretation of
certain phenomena which, in the interpretation which the physicist of
the past was bound to give them, have contributed much to the
tightening of the net of scientific illusion.

Some sixty years after Dalton had established, purely hypothetically,
the theory of the atomistic structure of matter, scientific research
was led to the observation of actual atomistic phenomena. Crookes found
electricity appearing in his tubes in the form of discrete particles,
with properties hitherto known only as appertaining to mass. What could
be more natural than to take this as evidence that the method of
thought developed during the past era of science was on the right

The same phenomena appear in quite a different light when we view them
against the background of the picture of electricity to which our
observations have led. Knowing that the appearance of electricity
depends on a process of atomization of some sort, we shall expect that
where electricity becomes freely observable, it will yield phenomena of
an atomistic kind. The observations of electricity in a vacuum,
therefore, yield no confirmation whatsoever of the atomistic view of

The same is true of the phenomena bound up with radioactivity, which
were discovered in direct consequence of Crookes's work. We know that
the naturally radioactive elements are all in the group of those with
the highest atomic weight. This fact, seen together with the
characteristics of radioactivity, tells us that in such elements
gravity has so far got the upper hand of levity that the physical
substance is unable to persist as a spatially extended, coherent unit.
It therefore falls asunder, with the liberated levity drawn into the
process of dispersion. Seen thus, radioactivity becomes a symptom of
the earth's old age.


Before entering into a discussion of the question, which naturally
arises at this point, as to how levity and gravity by their two
possible ways of interaction - 'sulphurous' or 'saline' - determine the
properties of so-called positive and negative electricity, we shall
first study the third mode of generating electricity, namely, by
electromagnetic induction. Along this way we shall arrive at a picture
of the magnetic force which corresponds to the one already obtained of
electricity. This will then lead us to a joint study of the nature of
electric polarity and magnetic polarity.

The discovery of the phenomena we call electromagnetic depended on the
possibility of producing continuous electrical processes. This arose
with Volta's invention. When it became necessary to find a concept for
the process which takes place in an electric conductor between the
poles of a galvanic cell, the concept of the 'current', borrowed from
hydrodynamics, suggested itself. Ever since then it has been the rule
to speak of the existence of a current within an electric circuit; its
strength or intensity is measured in terms of a unit named in honour of

This concept of the current has had a fate typical of the whole
relation of human thought to the facts connected with electricity. Long
after it had been coined to cover phenomena which in themselves betray
no movement of any kind between the electrical poles, other phenomena
which do in fact show such movements became known through Crookes's
observations. Just as in the case of atomism, they seemed to prove the
validity of the preconceived idea of the current. Soon, however,
radiant electricity showed properties which contradicted the picture of
something flowing from one pole to the other. The cathode rays, for
instance, were found to shoot forth into space perpendicularly from the
surface of the cathode, without regard to the position of the anode. At
the same time Maxwell's hydrodynamic analogy (as our historical survey
has shown) led to a view of the nature of electricity by which this
very analogy was put out of court. By predicting certain properties of
electricity which come to the fore when its poles alternate rapidly, he
seemed to bring electricity into close kinship with light. Mathematical
treatment then made it necessary to regard the essential energy process
as occurring, not from one pole to the other, but at right angles to a
line joining the poles (Poynting's vector). This picture, however,
satisfactory though it was in the realm of high frequency, failed as a
means of describing so-called direct-current processes.

As a result of all this the theory of electricity has fallen apart into
several conceptual realms lying, as it were, alongside one another,
each consistent in itself but lacking any logical connexion with the
others. Although the old concept of the electric current has long lost
its validity, scientific thought (not to speak of the layman's) has not
managed to discard it. To do this must therefore be our first task, if
we want to attain to a realistic picture of electromagnetism.


While keeping strictly to the historical order of things, we shall try
first to form a picture of what happens when we connect two
electrically charged bodies by a conductor. We know that we rightly
describe the change of the dynamic properties of the part of space, in
which the two bodies are present, by saying that a certain electric
field prevails in it. This field possesses different 'potentials' at
its various points and so there exists a certain potential difference
between the two electric charges. What then happens when a so-called
'conductor' is brought into such a field?

From the point of view of the field-concept, conductivity consists in
the property of a body not to allow any change of potential along its
surface. Such a surface, therefore, is always an equipotential. In the
language of alchemy, conductivity is a mercurial property. In the
presence of such a body, therefore, no Salt-Sulphur contrasts can
obtain. In view of what we found above as the mean position of the
metals in the alchemic triad, it is significant that they, precisely,
should play so outstanding a role as electrical conductors.

If we keep to pure observation, the only statement we can make
concerning the effect produced by the introduction of such a body into
the electric field is that this field suddenly disappears. We shall see
later in which direction this vanishing occurs. For the present it is
sufficient to have formed the picture of the disappearance of the
electrical condition of space as a result of the presence of a body
with certain mercurial properties.

Nothing else, indeed, happens when we make the process continuous by
using a galvanic source of electricity. All that distinguishes a
galvanic cell from the sources of electricity used before the time of
Volta is its faculty of immediately re-establishing the field which
prevails between its poles, whenever this field becomes extinguished by
the presence of a conductor. Volta himself saw this quite correctly. In
his first account of the new apparatus he describes it as 'Leyden jars
with a continuously re-established charge'. Every enduring electrical
process, indeed, consists in nothing but a vanishing and
re-establishment of the electrical field with such rapidity that the
whole process appears continuous.

Here, also, pure observation of the effect of a conductor in an
electric field tells us that its action consists in the annihilation of
the field. There is no phenomenon which allows us to state that this
process takes place along the axis of the conductor. If we wish to
obtain a picture of the true direction, we must consider the condition
of space which arises in place of the electric condition that has

With the possibility of turning the cancellation of the electrical
condition of space into a continuous process, it became possible to
observe that the neutralization of electric charges entails the
appearance of heat and magnetism. We must now ask which are the
qualities of electricity on the one hand, and of heat and magnetism on
the other, which account for the fact that where electricity
disappears, the two latter forces are bound to appear. Since magnetism
is the still unknown entity among the three, we must now deal with it.


Unlike electricity, magnetism was first known in the form of its
natural occurrence, namely as a property of certain minerals. If we
follow the same course which led us to start our study of electricity
with the primitive process of generating it, we shall turn now to the
basic phenomenon produced by a magnetic field already in existence.
(Only when we have learnt all we can from this, shall we proceed to ask
how magnetism comes into being.) Obviously, we shall find this basic
phenomenon in the effect of a magnet on a heap of iron filings.

Let us, to begin with, compare a mass of solid iron with the same
quantity of it in powdered form. The difference is that the powder
lacks the binding force which holds the solid piece together. Now lei
us expose the powdered iron to the influence of a magnet. At once a
certain ordering principle takes hold of the single particles. They no
longer lie at random and unrelated, apart from the inconspicuous
gravitational effect they exert on one another, but are drawn into a
coherent whole, thus acquiring properties resembling those of an
ordinary piece of solid matter.

Read thus, the phenomenon tells us that a part of space occupied by a
magnetic field has qualities which are otherwise found only where a
coherent solid mass is present. A magnetic piece of solid iron,
therefore, differs from a non-magnetic piece by giving rise in its
surroundings to dynamic conditions which would otherwise exist only in
its interior. This picture of the relatedness of magnetism to solidity
is confirmed by the fact that both are cancelled by heat, and increased
by cold.2

By its magnetic properties iron thus reveals itself as a substance
capable of assuming the condition of solid matter to a degree
surpassing ordinary solidity. As an exceptional kind of metal it forms
the counter-pole to mercury, in which the solid-fluid condition
characteristic of all metallic matter is as much shifted towards the
fluid as in iron it is to the solid. (Note in this respect the peculiar
resistance of iron to the liquefying effect which mercury has on the
other metals.)

This picture of magnetism enables us to understand at once why it must
occur together with heat at the place where an electric polarity has
been cancelled by the presence of a conductor. We have seen that
electricity is levity coupled in a peculiar way with gravity; it is
polarized levity (accompanied by a corresponding polarization of
gravity). An electric field, therefore, always has both qualities,
those of levity and of gravity. We saw a symptom of this in electrical
attraction and repulsion, so called; the attraction, we found, was due
to negative density, the repulsion to positive density, imparted to
space by the electrical fields present there. Now we see that when,
through the presence of a conductor, the electrical field round the two
opposing poles vanishes, in its place two other fields, a thermal and a
magnetic, appear. Clearly, one of them represents the levity-part, the
other the gravity-part, of the vanished electric field. The whole
process reminds one of combustion through which the ponderable and
imponderable parts, combined in the combustible substance, fall apart
and appear on the one hand as heat, and on the other as oxidized
substance ('ash'). Yet, between these two manifestations of heat there
is an essential qualitative difference.

Although, from our view-point, magnetism represents only one 'half of a
phenomenon, the other half of which is heat, we must not forget that it
is itself a bipolar force. Thus, despite its apparent relation to
gravity it does not represent, as gravity does, one pole of a primary
polarity, with heat as the other pole. Rather must it carry certain
qualities of levity which, together with those of gravity, appear in a
polarically opposite manner at its two poles. (Details of this will be
shown later when we come to investigate the individual qualities of the
two poles of magnetism and electricity.) Hence the heat that forms the
counterpart to magnetism cannot be pure levity either. As the result of
a certain coupling with gravity, it too has somehow remained
polarically split.

This can easily be seen by considering the following. Unlike the
levity-gravity polarity, in which one pole is peripheral and the other
point-centred, both Doles of the electrical polarity are point-centred;
both are located in physical space, and thereby determine a definite
direction within this space. It is this direction which remains a
characteristic of both the magnetic and the thermal fields. The
direction of the thermal field as much as that of the magnetic is
determined by its having as its axis the conductor joining the poles of
the antecedent electrical field. Both fields supplement each other in
that the thermal radiation forms the radii which belong to the circular
magnetic lines-of-force surrounding the conductor.3

Our picture of the process which is commonly called an electric current
is now sufficiently complete to allow us to make a positive statement
concerning the direction in which it takes place. Let us once more sum
up: In order that this process may occur, there must be present in an
electrically excited part of space a body which does not suffer the
particular polarization of space bound up with such a field. As a
result, the electrical field disappears, and in place of it appear a
thermal field and a magnetic field, both having as their axis the line
connecting the two poles. Each of them spreads out in a direction at
right angles to this fine. Obviously, therefore, it is in this radial
direction that the transformation of the electrical into the
thermo-magnetic condition of space must take place.

This picture of the electro-thermo-magnetic happening, as regards its
direction, is in complete accord with the result obtained (as indicated
earlier) by the mathematical treatment of high-frequency phenomena.
Once more we see that quite primitive observations, when properly read,
lead to findings for which scientific thought had to wait until they
were forced on it by the progress of experimental technique - as even
then science was left without a uniformly valid picture of the dynamic
behaviour of electricity.

Further, we can now see that when we apply electricity to practical
purposes, we are in fact seldom using electricity itself, but other
forces (that is, other combinations of gravity and levity) which we
make effective by making electricity disappear. The same is true of
most of the methods of measuring electricity. As a rule, the force
which sets the instrument in motion is not electricity but another
force (magnetism, heat, etc.) which appears in the place of the
vanishing electricity. Thus the so-called intensity of an electric
current is actually the intensity with which the electricity in
question disappears! Electricity serves us in our machines in the same
way that food serves a living organism: it gets itself digested, and
what matters is the resulting secondary product.

Just as alterations in the electrical condition of space give rise to
the appearance of a magnetic field, any alteration of the magnetic
state of space gives rise to the appearance of an electrical field.
This process is called electromagnetic induction. With its discovery,
the generation of electricity through friction and in the galvanic way
was supplemented by a third way. By this means the practical use of
electricity on a large scale became possible for the first time. If our
picture of the two earlier processes of generating electricity is
correct, then this third way must also fit into the picture, although
in this case we have no longer to do with any direct atomization of
physical matter. Our picture of magnetism will indeed enable us to
recognize in electromagnetic induction the same principle on which we
found the two other processes to rest.

Magnetism is polarized gravity. Hence it has the same characteristic of
tending always to maintain an existent condition. In bodies subject to
gravity, this tendency reveals itself as their inertia. It is the
inertia inherent in magnetism which we employ when using it to generate
electricity. The simplest example is when, by interrupting a 'primary
current', we induce a 'secondary current' in a neighbouring circuit. By
the sudden alteration of the electric condition on the primary side,
the magnetic condition of the surrounding space is exposed to a sudden
corresponding change. Against this the magnetic field 'puts up' a
resistance by calling forth, on the secondary side, an electrical
process of such direction and strength that the entire magnetic
condition remains first unaltered and then, instead of changing
suddenly, undergoes a gradual transformation which ideally needs an
infinite time for its accomplishment (asymptotic course of the
exponential curve). This principle rules every process of
electromagnetic induction, whatever the cause and direction of the
change of the magnetic field.

We know that electromagnetic induction takes place also when a
conductor is moved across a magnetic field in such a way that, as the
technical term goes, it 'cuts' the field's lines of force. Whereas the
process discussed above is employed in the transformer, this latter
process is used in generation of electricity by dynamo. We have seen
that a magnetic field imparts to the relevant part of space qualities
of density which otherwise prevail only in the interior of solid
masses. We remember further that the appearance of electricity, in the
two other modes of generating it, is caused by the loosening of the
coherence of the material substance. A similar loosening of the
coherence of the magnetic field takes place when its field-lines are
cut by the movement of the conductor across it. Just as heat occurs
when we move a solid object through a liquid, electricity occurs when
we move a conductor across a magnetic field. In each case we interfere
with an existing levity-gravity relationship.


Having established thus far the picture of both electricity and
magnetism which shows each as an outcome of certain levity-gravity
interactions, we now ask how, in particular, negative and positive
electricity on the one hand and north and south magnetism on the other
are determined by these interactions. Let us again begin with

We remember that Galvani was led to his observations by the results of
Walsh's study of the electric fishes. While Galvani clung to the view
that in his own experiments the source of the electrical force lay
within the animal bodies, Volta saw the fallacy of that. He then
conceived the idea of imitating with purely inorganic substances the
set-up which Galvani had come upon by accident. The paradoxical result
- as he himself noticed with surprise - was that his apparatus turned
out to be a close replica of the peculiar organ with which the electric
fishes are endowed by nature. We must now take a closer view of this

The electric organ of such a fish consists of many thousands of little
piles, each made up of a very great number of plates of two different
kinds, arranged in alternating layers. The two kinds differ in
substance: in one case the plate is made from a material similar to
that present in the nervous system of animals; in the other the
resemblance is to a substance present in the muscular system, though
only when the muscles are in a state of decay. In this way the two
opposing systems of the animal body' seem to be brought here into
direct contact, repeated many thousands of times.

In the electric fishes, accordingly, sensation and will are brought
into a peculiar interrelation. For the will-pole is related to its
bodily foundation in a manner which otherwise obtains only between the
nervous system and the psychological processes co-ordinated with it.
These fishes then have the capacity to send out force-currents which
produce in other animals and in man 'concussion of the limbs', or in
extreme cases paralysis and even death. Through describing the process
in this way we realize that electricity appears here as metamorphosed
animal will, which takes this peculiar form because part of the
animal's volitional system is assimilated to its sensory system in an
exceptional manner.

It is known to-day that what nature reveals so strikingly in the case
of the electric fish, is nothing but the manifestation of a principle
at work in the bodies of all beings endowed with sensation and volition
- in corporeal terms, with the duality of a nervous and a muscular
system - and therefore at work also in the human body. Observation has
shown that the activities of these two systems in man and animal are
accompanied by the occurrence of different electric potentials in
different parts of the body. Plate A, Fig. iii, shows the distribution
of the two polar electric forces in the human body. The bent lines in
the diagram stand for curves of equal electric potential. The straight
line between them is the neutral zone. As might be expected, this line
runs through the heart. What seems less obvious is its slanting
position. Here the asymmetry, characteristic of the human body, comes
to expression.

If we remember that the nervous system represents the salt-pole, and
the metabolic system the sulphur-pole, of the human organism, and if we
take into account the relationship between levity and gravity at the
two poles, we can see from the distribution of the two electricities
that the coupling of levity and gravity at the negative pole of the
electrical polarity is such that levity descends into gravity, while at
the positive pole gravity rises into levity. Negative electricity
therefore must have somehow a 'spherical' character, and positive
electricity a 'radial'.

This finding is fully confirmed by electrical phenomena in the realm of
nature most remote from man (though it was an effort to solve the
enigma of man which led to the discovery of this realm). Since
Crookes's observations of the behaviour of electricity in a vacuum it
is common knowledge that only the negative kind of electricity occurs
as a freely radiating force (though it retains some properties of
inertia), whereas positive electricity seems to be much more closely
bound to minute particles of ponderable matter. Here again we find
gravity-laden levity on the negative side, levity-raised gravity on the

The same language is spoken by the forms in which the luminous
phenomena appear at the two poles of a Crookes tube. Fig. i on Plate A
represents the whole phenomenon as far as such a diagram allows. Here
we see on the positive side radial forms appear, on the negative side
planar-spherical forms. As symbols of nature's script, these forms tell
us that cosmic periphery and earthly centre stand in a polar relation
to each other at the two ends of the tube. (Our optical studies will
later show that the colours which appear at the anode and cathode are
also in complete accord with this.)

At this point in our discussion it is possible to raise, without risk
of confusing the issue, the question of the distribution of the two
electric forces over the pairs of substances concerned in the
generation of electricity both by friction and in the galvanic way.
This distribution seems to contradict the picture to which the
foregoing observations have led us, for in both instances the
'sulphurous' substances (resin in one, the nobler metals in the other)
become bearers of negative electricity; while the 'saline' substances
(glass and the corrosive metals) carry positive electricity. Such a
criss-crossing of the poles-surprising as it seems at first sight - is
not new to us. We have met it in the distribution of function of the
plant's organs of propagation, and we shall meet a further instance of
it when studying the function of the human eye. Future investigation
will have to find the principle common to all instances in nature where
such an interchange of the poles prevails.

While the electric field arising round an electrified piece of matter
does not allow any recognition of the absolute characteristics of the
two opposing electrical forces, we do find them revealed by the
distribution of electricity in the human body. Something similar holds
good for magnetism. Only, to find the phenomena from which to read the
absolute characteristics of the two sides of the magnetic polarity, we
must not turn to the body of man but to that of the earth, one of whose
characteristics it is to be as much the bearer of a magnetic field as
of gravitational and levitational fields. There is significance in the
fact that even to-day, when the tendency prevails to look for causes of
natural phenomena not in the macrocosmic expanse, but in the
microscopic confines of space, the two poles of magnetism are named
after the magnetic poles of the earth. It indicates the degree to which
man's feeling instinctively relates magnetism to the earth as a whole.

In our newly developed terminology we may say that magnetism, as a
polarity of the second order, represents a field of force both of whose
poles are situated within finite space, and that in the macro-telluric
mother-field this situation is such that the axis of this field
coincides more or less with the axis of the earth's physical body. Thus
the magnetic polarization of the earth as a letter in nature's script
bids us rank it alongside other phenomena which in their way are an
expression of the earth's being polarized in the north-south direction.

The Austrian geographer, E. Suess, in his great work The Countenance of
the Earth, first drew attention to the fact that an observer
approaching the earth from outer space would be struck by the onesided
distribution and formation of the earth's continents. He would notice
that most of the dry land is in the northern hemisphere, leaving the
southern hemisphere covered mainly with water. In terms of the basic
elementary qualities, this means that the earth is predominantly 'dry'
in its northern half, and 'moist' in its southern.

In this fact we have a symbol which tells us that the earth represents
a polarity of the second order, with its 'salt'-pole in the north and
its 'sulphur'-pole in the south. Hence the magnetism called 'North'
must be of saline and therefore spherical nature, corresponding to the
negative pole in the realm of electricity, while 'South' magnetism must
be of sulphurous - i.e. radial-nature, corresponding to positive
electricity. Moreover, this must hold good equally for the fields of
magnetic force generated by naturally magnetic or artificially
magnetized pieces of iron. For the circumstance that makes a piece of
matter into a magnet is simply that part of the general magnetic field
of the earth has been drawn into it. Of especial interest in this
respect is the well-known dependence of the direction of an
electrically produced magnetic field on the position of the poles of
the electric field.


The insight we have now gained into the nature of electricity has led
us to the realization that with every act of setting electromagnetic
energies in motion we interfere with the entire levity-gravity balance
of our planet by turning part of the earth's coherent substance into
cosmic 'dust'. Remembering our picture of radioactivity, in which we
recognized a sign of the earth's old age, we may say that whenever we
generate electricity we speed up the earth's process of cosmic ageing.
Obviously this is tremendously enhanced by the creation of artificial
radioactivity along the lines recently discovered, whereby it has now
become possible to transmute chemical elements into one another, or
even to cancel altogether their gravity-bound existence.

To see things in this light is to realize that with our having become
able to rouse electricity and magnetism from their dormant state and
make them work for us, a gigantic responsibility has devolved upon
mankind. It was man's fate to remain unaware of this fact during the
first phase of the electrification of his civilization; to continue now
in this state of unawareness would spell peril to the human race.

The fact that modern science has long ceased to be a 'natural' science
is something which has begun to dawn upon the modern scientific
researcher himself. What has thus come to him as a question finds a
definite answer in the picture of electricity we have been able to
develop. It is again Eddington who has drawn attention particularly to
this question: see the chapter, 'Discovery or Manufacture?' in his
Philosophy of Physical Science. It will be appropriate at this point to
recall his remarks, for they bear not only on the outcome of our own
present discussion, but also, as the next chapter will show, on the
further course of our studies.

Eddington starts by asking: 'When Lord Rutherford showed us the atomic
nucleus, did he find it or did he make it?' Whichever answer we give,
Eddington goes on to say, makes no difference to our admiration for
Rutherford himself. But it makes all the difference to our ideas on the
structure of the physical universe. To make clear where the modern
physicist stands in this respect, Eddington uses a striking comparison.
If a sculptor were to point in our presence to a raw block of marble
saying that the form of a human head was lying hidden in the block,
'all our rational instinct would be roused against such an
anthropomorphic speculation'. For it is inconceivable to us that nature
should have placed such a form inside the block. Roused by our
objection, the artist proceeds to verify his theory experimentally -
'with quite rudimentary apparatus, too: merely using a chisel to
separate the form for our inspection, he triumphantly proves his

'Was it in this way', Eddington asks, 'that Rutherford rendered
concrete the nucleus which his scientific imagination had created?' One
thing is certain: 'In every physical laboratory we see ingeniously
devised tools for executing the work of sculpture, according to the
designs of the theoretical physicist. Sometimes the tool slips and
carves off an odd-shaped form which he had not expected. Then we have a
new experimental discovery,'

To this analogy Eddington adds the following even more drastic one:
'Procrustes, you will remember,' he says, 'stretched or chopped down
his guests to fit the bed he constructed. But perhaps you have not
heard the rest of the story. He measured them up before they left the
next morning, and wrote a learned paper On the Uniformity of Stature of
Travellers for the Anthropological Society of Attica.'


Besides yielding a definite answer to the question of how far the
seemingly discovered facts of science are manufactured facts, our newly
won insight into the nature of the electric and magnetic polarties
throws light also on the possibility of so handling both that their
application will lead no longer to a cancellation, but to a true
continuation, of nature's own creative deeds.

An example of this will appear in the next part of our studies, devoted
to observations in the field of optics.

1 Note that the series starts on the left with graphite, i.e. with
carbon. This substance appears here as a metal among metals, and indeed
as the most 'noble' of all. Electricity in this way reveals a secret of
carbon well known to the mediaeval alchemist and still known in our day
to people in the Orient.

2 There is even a gas which assumes magnetic properties when exposed to
extreme cold-oxygen in the solid state.

3 By watering plants with water that had been exposed to heat from
different sources, E. Pfeiffer has shown in the chemical laboratory of
the Goetheanum that heat engendered by means of electricity is 'dead'
heat. It follows that it is not the same for human health whether the
heat used for cooking or heating purposes is obtained by burning wood
or coal, or by means of electricity.


Colours as 'Deeds and Sufferings of Light'

'As for what I have done as a poet, I take no pride in it whatever.
Excellent poets have lived at the same time as myself; poets more
excellent have lived before me, and others will come after me. But that
in my century I am the only person who knows the truth in the difficult
science of colours - of that, I say, I am not a little proud, and here
I have a consciousness of a superiority to many.'

In these words spoken to his secretary, Eckermann, in 1829, a few years
before his death, Goethe gave his opinion on the significance of his
scientific researches in the field of optical phenomena. He knew that
the path he had opened up had led him to truths which belong to the
original truths of mankind. He expressed this by remarking that his
theory of colour was 'as old as the world'.

If in this book we come somewhat late to a discussion of Goethe's
colour-theory, in spite of the part it played in his own scientific
work, and in spite of its significance for the founding of a physics
based on his method, the reasons are these. When Goethe undertook his
studies in this field he had not to reckon with the forms of thought
which have become customary since the development of mechanistic and
above all - to put it concisely - of 'electricalistic' thinking. Before
a hearing can be gained in our age for a physics of Light and Colour as
conceived by Goethe, certain hindrances must first be cleared away. So
a picture on the one hand of matter, and on the other of electricity,
such as is given when they are studied by Goethean methods, had first
to be built up; only then is the ground provided for an unprejudiced
judgment of Goethe's observations and the deductions that can be made
from them to-day.

As Professor Heisenberg, in his lecture quoted earlier (Chapter II),
rightly remarks, Goethe strove directly with Newton only in the realms
of colour-theory and optics. Nevertheless his campaign was not merely
against Newton's opinions in this field. He was guided throughout by
the conviction that the fundamental principles of the whole Newtonian
outlook were at stake. It was for this reason that his polemics against
Newton were so strongly expressed, although he had no fondness for such
controversies. In looking back on that part of the Farbenlehre which he
had himself called 'Polemical' in the title, he said to Eckermann: 'I
by no means disavow my severe dissections of the Newtonian statements;
it was necessary at the time and will also have its value hereafter;
but at bottom all polemical action is repugnant to my nature, and I can
take but little pleasure in it.'

The reason why Goethe chose optics as the field of conflict, and
devoted to it more than twenty years of research and reflexion, amidst
all the other labours of his rich life, lay certainly in his individual
temperament - 'zum Sehen geboren, zum Schauen bestellt'.1 At the same
time one must see here a definite guidance of humanity. Since the hour
had struck for mankind to take the first step towards overcoming the
world-conception of the one-eyed, colour-blind onlooker, what step
could have been more appropriate than this of Goethe's, when he raised
the eye's capacity for seeing colours to the rank of an instrument of
scientific cognition?

In point of fact, the essential difference between Goethe's theory of
colour and the theory which has prevailed in science (despite all
modifications) since Newton's day, lies in this: While the theory of
Newton and his successors was based on excluding the colour-seeing
faculty of the eye, Goethe founded his theory on the eye's experience
of colour.


In view of the present scientific conception of the effect which a
prismatic piece of a transparent medium has on light passing through
it, Goethe's objection to Newton's interpretation and the conclusions
drawn from it seems by no means as heretical as it did in Goethe's own
time and for a hundred years afterwards. For, as Lord Rayleigh and
others have shown, the facts responsible for the coming into being of
the spectral colours, when these are produced by a diffraction grating,
invalidate Newton's idea that the optical apparatus serves to reveal
colours which are inherent in the original light. Today it is known
that these colours are an outcome of the interference of the apparatus
(whether prism or grating) with the light. Thus we find Professor R. W.
Wood, in the opening chapter of his Physical Optics, after having
described the historical significance of Newton's conception of the
relation between light and colour, saying: 'Curiously enough, this
discovery, which we are taking as marking the beginning of a definite
knowledge about light, is one which we shall demolish in the last
chapter of this book,2 for our present ideas regarding the action of
the prism more nearly resemble the idea held previous to Newton's
classical experiments. We now believe that the prism actually
manufactures the coloured light.'

We find ourselves faced here with an instance of the problem,
'Discovery or Manufacture?' dealt with by Eddington in the manner
described in our previous chapter. This very instance is indeed used by
Eddington himself as a case in which the answer is definitely in favour
of 'manufacture'. Nevertheless, Eddington complains, experts, in spite
of knowing better, keep to the traditional way of speaking about the
spectral colours as being originally contained in the light. 'Such is
the glamour of a historical experiment.'3 It is for the same reason
that Goethe's discovery continues to be unrecognized by the majority of
scientists, who prefer, instead of examining the question for
themselves, to join in the traditional assertion that 'Goethe never
understood Newton'.


As Goethe relates at the conclusion of the 'historical' part of his
Farbenlehre,4 he was drawn to study colour by his wish to gain some
knowledge of the objective laws of aesthetics. He felt too close to
poetry to be able to study it with sufficient detachment, so he turned
to painting - an art with which he felt sufficiently familiar without
being connected with it creatively - hoping that if he could discover
the laws of one art they would prove applicable to others.

His visit to Italy, a land rich both in natural colour and in works of
art, gave him a welcome opportunity to pursue this inquiry, but for a
long time he made no headway. The paintings he saw suggested no
inherent law in their arrangement of colours, nor could the painters he
questioned tell him of one. The only qualitative distinction they
seemed to recognize was between 'cold' and 'warm' colours.

His own observations led him to a definite experience of the quality of
the colour blue, for which he coined the phrase 'feebleness of blue'
('Ohnmacht des Blau'). In some way this colour seemed to him to be
related to black. In order to rouse his artist friends and to stimulate
their reflexions, he liked to indulge in paradoxes, as when he asserted
that blue was not a colour at all. He found, however, as time went on,
that in this way he came no nearer his goal.

Although the splendour of colour in the Italian sky and the Italian
landscape made a powerful impression on Goethe, he found not enough
opportunity for systematic study to allow him to arrive at more than a
dim surmise of some law underlying the occurrence of colour in nature.
Still, there was one thing he took home with him as a result of his
labours. He had grown convinced that 'the first approach to colours as
physical phenomena had to be sought from the side of their occurrence
in nature, if one would gain an understanding of them in relation to

Back at home, he strove to recollect the theory of Newton as it was
being taught in schools and universities - namely, that 'colours in
their totality are contained in light'. Hitherto he had had no occasion
to doubt the correctness of this theory. Like everyone else, he had
heard it expounded in lectures as an incontestable result of empirical
observation, though without this ever having been shown to him by way
of experiment. He convinced himself by consulting a manual that his
recollection was correct, but at the same time he found that the theory
there set forth gave no help in answering his questions.5 So he decided
to examine the phenomena for himself.

For this purpose he borrowed a set of prisms from a friend living in
near-by Jena, the physicist, Büttner. Since, however, he had at that time
no opportunity of arranging a dark chamber on Newton's lines, where the
necessary ray of light from a tiny hole in the window-covering was sent
through a prism, he postponed the whole thing, until in the midst of
all his many other interests and duties it was forgotten. In vain Büttner
pressed many times for the return of the prisms; at last he sent a
mutual acquaintance with the injunction not to return without them.
Goethe then searched for the long-neglected apparatus and determined to
take a rapid glance through one of the prisms before he gave them back.

He recalled dimly his pleasure as a boy at the vision of the world
given him through a bit of similarly shaped glass. 'I well remember
that everything looked coloured, but in what manner I could no longer
recollect. I was just then in a room completely white; remembering the
Newtonian theory, I expected, as I put the prism to my eye, to find the
whole white wall coloured in different hues and to see the light
reflected thence into the eye, split into as many coloured lights.

'But how astonished was I when the white wall seen through the prism
remained white after as before. Only where something dark came against
it a more or less decided colour was shown, and at last the window-bars
appeared most vividly coloured, while on the light-grey sky outside no
trace of colouring was to be seen. It did not need any long
consideration for me to recognize that a boundary or edge is necessary
to call forth the colours, and I immediately said aloud, as though by
instinct, that the Newtonian doctrine is false.'

For Goethe, there could be no more thought of sending back the prisms,
and he persuaded Büttner to leave them with him for some time longer.

Goethe adds a short account of the progress of the experiments he now
undertook as well as of his efforts to interest others in his
discovery. He makes grateful reference to those who had brought him
understanding, and who had been helpful to him through the exchange of
thoughts. Among these, apart from Schiller, whom Goethe especially
mentions, we find a number of leading anatomists, chemists, writers and
philosophers of his time, but not a single one of the physicists then
active in teaching or research. The 'Guild' took up an attitude of
complete disapproval or indifference, and so have things remained till
a hundred years after his death, as Goethe himself prophesied.

One of the first systematic pieces of work which Goethe undertook in
order to trace the cause of the Newtonian error was to go through Book
I of Newton's Optics, sentence by sentence, recapitulate Newton's
experiments and rearrange them in the order which seemed to him
essential. In so doing he gained an insight which was fundamental for
all future work, and often proved very beneficial in the perfecting of
his own methods. His examination of the Newtonian procedure showed him
that the whole mistake rested on the fact that 'a complicated
phenomenon should have been taken as a basis, and the simpler explained
from the complex'. Nevertheless, it still needed 'much time and
application in order to wander through all the labyrinths with which
Newton had been pleased to confuse his successors'.


It seems a small thing, and yet it is a great one, which Goethe, as the
above description shows, discovered almost by chance. This is shown by
the conclusions to which he was led in the systematic prosecutions of
his discovery. An account of them is given in his Beiträge zur Optik,6
published in 1791, the year in which Galvani came before the public
with his observations in the sphere of electricity.

Goethe describes in this book the basic phenomena of the creation of
the prismatic colours, with particulars of a number of experiments so
arranged that the truth he had discovered, contrary to Newton's view,
comes to light through the very phenomena themselves. Only much later,
in the year 1810, and after he had brought to a certain conclusion four
years previously the researches which he had pursued most carefully the
whole time, did he make public the actual masterpiece, Entwurf einer
Farbenlehre.7 (An English translation of the didactic part appeared
about ten years after Goethe's death.)

While leaving a more detailed description of the composition of
Goethe's Entwurf for our next chapter, we shall here deal at once with
some of the essential conclusions to which the reader is led in this
book. As already mentioned, Goethe's first inspection of the
colour-phenomenon produced by the prism had shown him that the
phenomenon depended on the presence of a boundary between light and
darkness. Newton's attempt to explain the spectrum out of light alone
appeared to him, therefore, as an inadmissible setting aside of one of
the two necessary conditions. Colours, so Goethe gleaned directly from
the prismatic phenomenon, are caused by both light and its counterpart,
darkness. Hence, to arrive at an idea of the nature of colour, which
was in accord with its actual appearance, he saw himself committed to
an investigation of the extent to which the qualitative differences in
our experience of colours rests upon their differing proportions of
light and darkness.

It is characteristic of Goethe's whole mode of procedure that he at
once changed the question, 'What is colour?' into the question, 'How
does colour arise?' It was equally characteristic that he did not, as
Newton did, shut himself into a darkened room, so as to get hold of the
colour-phenomenon by means of an artificially set-up apparatus.
Instead, he turned first of all to nature, to let her give him the
answer to the questions she had raised.

It was clear to Goethe that to trace the law of the genesis of colour
in nature by reading her phenomena, he must keep a look-out for
occurrences of colours which satisfied the conditions of the Ur-phänomen,
as he had learned to know it. This meant that he must ask of nature
where she let colours arise out of light and darkness in such a way
that no other conditions contributed to the effect.

He saw that such an effect was presented to his eye when he turned his
gaze on the one hand to the blue sky, and on the other to the yellowish
luminous sun. Where we see the blue of the heavens, there, spread out
before our eyes, is universal space, which as such is dark. Why it does
not appear dark by day as well as by night is because we see it through
the sun-illumined atmosphere. The opposite role is played by the
atmosphere when we look through it to the sun. In the first instance it
acts as a lightening, in the second as a darkening, medium.
Accordingly, when the optical density of the air changes as a result of
its varying content of moisture, the colour-phenomenon undergoes an
opposite change in each of the two cases. Whilst with increasing
density of the air the blue of the sky brightens up and gradually
passes over into white, the yellow of the sun gradually darkens and
finally gives way to complete absence of light.

The ur-phenomenon having once been discovered in the heavens, could
then easily be found elsewhere in nature on a large or small scale-as,
for instance, in the blue of distant hills when the air is sufficiently
opaque, or in the colour of the colourless, slightly milky opal which
looks a deep blue when one sees it against a dark background, and a
reddish yellow when one holds it against the light. The same phenomenon
may be produced artificially through the clouding of glass with
suitable substances, as one finds in various glass handicraft objects.
The aesthetic effect is due to the treated glass being so fashioned as
to present continually changing angles to the light, when both
colour-poles and all the intermediate phases appear simultaneously. It
is also possible to produce the ur-phenomenon experimentally by placing
a glass jug filled with water before a black background, illuminating
the jug from the side, and gradually clouding the water by the
admixture of suitable substances. Whilst the brightness appearing in
the direction of the light goes over from yellow and orange to an
increasingly red shade, the darkness of the black background brightens
to blue, which increases and passes over to a milky white.

It had already become clear to Goethe in Italy that all
colour-experience is based on a polarity, which he found expressed by
painters as the contrast between 'cold' and 'warm' colours. Now that
the coming-into-being of the blue of the sky and of the yellow of the
sun had shown themselves to him as two processes of opposite character,
he recognized in them the objective reason why both colours are
subjectively experienced by us as opposites. 'Blue is illumined
darkness - yellow is darkened light' - thus could he assert the
urphenomenon, while he expressed the relation to Light of colours in
their totality by saying: 'Colours are Deeds and Sufferings of Light.'

With this, Goethe had taken the first decisive step towards his goal -
the tracing of man's aesthetic experience to objective facts of nature.

If we use the expressions of preceding chapters, we can say that
Goethe, in observing the coloured ur-phenomenon, had succeeded in
finding how from the primary polarity, Light-Dark, the opposition of
the yellow and blue colours arises as a secondary polarity. For such an
interplay of light and darkness, the existence of the air was seen to
be a necessary condition, representing in the one case a lightening, in
the other, a darkening element. That it was able to play this double
role arose from its being on the one hand pervious to light, while yet
possessing a certain substantial density. For a medium of such a nature
Goethe coined the expression trübes Medium.

There seems to be no suitable word in English for rendering the term trübe
in the sense in which Goethe used it to denote the optical resistance
of a more or less transparent medium. The following remarks of
Goethe's, reported by his secretary Riemer, will give the reader a
picture of what Goethe meant by this term, clear enough to allow us to
use the German word. Goethe's explanation certainly shows how
inadequate it is to translate trübe by 'cloudy' or 'semi-opaque' as
commentators have done. 'Light and Dark have a common field, a space, a
vacuum in which they are seen to appear. This space is the realm of the
transparent. Just as the different colours are related to Light and
Dark as their creative causes, so is their corporeal part, their
medium, Trübe, related to the transparent. The first diminution of the
transparent, i.e. the first slightest filling of space, the first
disposition, as it were, to the corporeal, i.e. the non-transparent -
this is Trübe.'8

After Goethe had once determined from the macrotelluric phenomenon that
an interplay of light and darkness within Trübe was necessary for the
appearance of colour in space, he had no doubt that the prismatic
colours, too, could be understood only through the coming together of
all these three elements. It was now his task to examine in what way
the prism, by its being trübe, brings light and darkness, or, as he also
expressed it, light and shadow, into interplay, when they meet at a

We must remember that on first looking through the prism Goethe had
immediately recognized that the appearance of colour is always
dependent on the existence of a boundary between light and darkness -
in other words, that it is a border phenomenon. What colours appear on
such a border depends on the position of light and darkness in relation
to the base of the prism. If the lighter part is nearer to the base,
then blue and violet tints are seen at the border, and with the reverse
position tints of yellow and red (Plate B, Fig. i). Along this path of
study Goethe found no reason for regarding the spectrum-phenomenon as
complete only when both kinds of border-phenomena appear simultaneously
(let alone when - as a result of the smallness of the aperture through
which the light meets the prism - the two edges lie so close that a
continuous band of colour arises). Hence we find Goethe - unlike Newton
- treating the two ends of the spectrum as two separate phenomena.

In this way, the spectrum phenomenon gave Goethe confirmation that he
had succeeded in expressing in a generally valid form the law of the
origin of the blue and the yellow colours, as he had read it from the
heavens. For in the spectrum, too, where the colour blue appears, there
he saw darkness being lightened by a shifting of the image of the
border between light and dark in the direction of darkness; where
yellow appears, he saw light being darkened by a shifting of the image
in the direction of light. (See the arrow in Fig. i.)

In the colours adjoining these - indigo and violet on the blue side,
orange and red on the yellow side - Goethe recognized 'heightened'
modifications of blue and yellow. Thus he had learnt from the
macro-telluric realm that with decreasing density of the corporeal
medium, the blue sky takes on ever deeper tones, while with increasing
density of the medium, the yellow of the sunlight passes over into
orange and finally red. Prismatic phenomenon and macrotelluric
phenomenon were seen to correspond in this direction, too.

Faithful to his question, 'How does colour arise?' Goethe now proceeded
to investigate under what conditions two borders, when placed opposite
each other, provide a continuous band of colour - that is, a
colour-band where, in place of the region of uncoloured light, green
appears. This, he observed, came about if one brought one's eye, or the
screen intercepting the light, to that distance from the prism where
the steadily widening yellow-red and the blue-violet colour-cones merge
(Fig. ii).9 Obviously, this distance can be altered by altering the
distance between the two borders. In the case of an extremely narrow
light-space, the blue and yellow edges will immediately overlap. Yet
the emergence of the green colour will always be due to a union of the
blue and yellow colours which spread from the two edges. This convinced
Goethe that it is inadmissible to place the green in the spectrum in
line with the other colours, as is customary in the explanation of the
spectrum since Newton's time.

This insight into the relation of the central colour of the continuous
spectrum to its other colours still further strengthened Goethe's
conviction that in the way man experiences nature in his soul,
objective laws of nature come to expression. For just as we experience
the colours on the blue side of the spectrum as cold colours, and those
on the yellow side as warm colours, so does green give man the
impression of a neutral colour, influencing us in neither direction.
And just as the experience of the two polar colour-ranges is an
expression of the objective natural law behind them, so too is the
experience of green, the objective conditions of whose origin give it a
neutral position between the two. With this it also became clear why
the vegetative part of the plant organism, the region of leaf and stem
formation, where the light of the sun enters into a living union with
the density of earthly substance, must appear in a garment of green.


Having in this way found the clue to the true genesis of the spectrum,
Goethe could not fail to notice that it called for another - a
'negative' spectrum, its polar opposite - to make the half into a
whole. For he who has once learnt that light and darkness are two
equally essential factors in the birth of colour, and that the opposing
of two borders of darkness so as to enclose a light is a 'derived'
(abgeleitet) experimental arrangement, is naturally free to alter the
arrangement and to supplement it by reversing the order of the two
borders, thus letting two lights enclose a darkness between them.

If one exposes an arrangement like this to the action of the prism,
whose position has remained unchanged, colours appear on each of the
two edges, as before, but in reverse order (Fig. iii). The spectral
phenomenon now begins at one side with light blue and passes into
indigo and violet, with uncoloured darkness in the centre. From this
darkness it emerges through red and passes through orange to yellow at
the other end.

Again, where the two interior colour-cones merge, there an additional
colour appears. Like green, it is of a neutral character, but at the
same time its quality is opposite to that of green. In Newtonian
optics, which assumes colour to be derived from light only, this colour
has naturally no existence. Yet in an optics which has learnt to reckon
with both darkness and light as generators of colour, the complete
spectrum phenomenon includes this colour equally with green. For lack
of an existing proper name for it, Goethe termed it 'pure red' (since
it was free from both the blue tinge of the mauve, and the yellow tinge
of the red end of the ordinary spectrum), or 'peach-blossom'
(pfirsichblüt), or 'purple' (as being nearest to the dye-stuff so called
by the ancients after the mollusc from which it was obtained).10

It needs only a glance through the prism into the sunlit world to make
one convinced of the natural appearing of this delicate and at the same
time powerfully luminous colour. For a narrow dark object on a light
field is a much commoner occurrence in nature than the enclosing by two
broad objects of a narrow space of light, the condition necessary for
the emergence of a continuous colour-band with green in the middle. In
fact, the spectrum which science since the time of Newton regards as
the only one, appears much more rarely among natural conditions than
does Goethe's counter-spectrum.

With the peach-blossom a fresh proof is supplied that what man
experiences in his soul is in harmony with the objective facts of
nature. As with green, we experience peach-blossom as a colour that
leaves us in equilibrium. With peach-blossom, however, the equilibrium
is of a different kind, owing to the fact that it arises from the union
of the colour-poles, not at their original stage but in their
'heightened' form. And so green, the colour of the plant-world harmony
given by nature, stands over against 'purple', the colour of the human
being striving towards harmony. By virtue of this quality, purple
served from antiquity for the vesture of those who have reached the
highest stage of human development for their time. This characteristic
of the middle colours of the two spectra was expressed by Goethe when
he called green 'real totality', and peach-blossom 'ideal totality'.

From this standpoint Goethe was able to smile at the Newtonians. He
could say that if they persisted in asserting that the colourless,
so-called 'white' light is composed of the seven colours of the
ordinary spectrum - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet -
then they were in duty bound to maintain also that the colourless,
'black' darkness is composed of the seven colours of the inverted
spectrum - yellow, orange, red, purple, violet, indigo, blue.

Despite the convincing force of this argument, the voice of the Hans
Andersen child speaking through Goethe failed to gain a hearing among
the crowd of Newtonian faithful. So has it been up to the present day -
regardless of the fact that, as we have shown, modern physics has
reached results which make a contradiction of the Newtonian concept of
the mutual relation of light and colour no longer appear so heretical
as it was in Goethe's time.


When we compare the way in which Goethe, on the one hand, and the
physical scientist, on the other, have arrived at the truth that what
Newton held to be 'discovery' was in actual fact 'manufacture', we find
ourselves faced with another instance of a fact which we have
encountered before in our study of electricity. It is the fact that a
truth, which reveals itself to the spectator-scientist only as the
result of a highly advanced experimental research, can be recognized
through quite simple observation when this observation is carried out
with the intention of letting the phenomena themselves speak for their

Furthermore, there is a corresponding difference in the effect the
knowledge of such truth has on the human mind. In the field of
electricity we saw that together with the scientist's recognition of
the absolute qualities of the two polar forms of electricity a false
semblance of reality was lent to the hypothesis of the atomic structure
of matter. Something similar has occurred in the field of optics. Here,
after having been forced to recognize the fallacy of Newton's theory,
the spectator's mind has been driven to form a concept of the nature of
light which is further than ever from the truth. For what then remains
of light is - in Eddington's words - a 'quite irregular disturbance,
with no tendency to periodicity', which means that to light is assigned
the quality of an undefined chaos (in the negative sense of this word)
sprung from pure chance.

Moreover, as Eddington shows, the question whether the optical
contrivance 'sorts out' from the chaotic light a particular
periodicity, or whether it 'impresses' this on the light, becomes just
'a matter of expression'.11 So here, too, the modern investigator is
driven to a resigned acknowledgment of the principle of Indeterminacy.

No such conclusions are forced upon the one who studies the spectrum
phenomenon with the eyes of Goethe. Like the modern experimenter, he,
too, is faced with the question 'Discovery or Manufacture?' and he,
too, finds the answer to be 'Manufacture'. But to him nature can
disclose herself as the real manufacturer, showing him how she goes to
work in bringing about the colours, because in following Goethe he is
careful to arrange his observations in such a way that they do not veil
nature's deeds.

1 'To see is my dower, to look my employ.' Words of the Tower-Watcher
in Faust, II, 5, through which Goethe echoes his own relation to the

2 The last chapter but two in the edition of 1924.

3 For the drastic and as such very enlightening way in which Eddington
presents the problem, the reader is referred to Eddington's own

4 Konfession des Verfassers.

5 Colour as quality being no essential factor in the scientific
explanation of the spectrum.

6 Contributions to Optics.

7 Outline of a Theory of Colour.

8 See Rudolf Steiner's edition of Goethe's Farbenlehre under
Paralipomena zur Chromatik, No. 27.

9 Goethe's own representation of the phenomenon. (The diagram is
simplified by omitting one colour on each side.)

10 This is not to be confused with the meaning of 'purple' in modern
English usage.

11 This follows from the application of Fourier's Theorem, according to
which every vibration of any kind is divisible into a sum of periodic
partial vibrations, and therefore is regarded as compounded of these.


Seeing as 'Deed' - I

Having made ourselves so far acquainted with the fundamentals of
Goethe's approach to the outer phenomena of colour involved in the
spectrum, we will leave this for a while to follow Goethe along another
no less essential line of inquiry. It leads us to the study of our own
process of sight, by means of which we grow aware of the optical facts
in outer space.


The importance which Goethe himself saw in this aspect of the optical
problem is shown by the place he gave it in the didactic part of his
Farbenlehre. The first three chapters, after the Introduction, are
called 'Physiological Colours', 'Physical Colours', and 'Chemical
Colours'. In the first chapter, Goethe summarizes a group of phenomena
which science calls 'subjective' colours, since their origin is traced
to events within the organ of sight. The next chapter deals with an
actual physics of colour - that is, with the appearance of colours in
external space as a result of the refraction, diffraction and
polarization of light. The third chapter treats of material colours in
relation to chemical and other influences. After two chapters which
need not concern us here comes the sixth and last chapter, entitled
'Physical-Moral Effect of Colour' ('Sinnlich-sittliche Wirkung der
Farben'), which crowns the whole. There, for the first time in the
history of modern science, a bridge is built between Physics,
Aesthetics and Ethics. We remember it was with this aim in view that
Goethe had embarked upon his search for the solution of the problem of

In this chapter the experiencing of the various colours and their
interplay through the human soul is treated in many aspects, and Goethe
is able to show that what arises in man's consciousness as qualitative
colour-experience is nothing but a direct 'becoming-inward' of what is
manifested to the 'reader's' eye and mind as the objective nature of
colours. So, in one realm of the sense-world, Goethe succeeded in
closing the abyss which divides existence and consciousness, so long as
the latter is restricted to a mere onlooker-relationship towards the

If we ask what induced Goethe to treat the physiological colours before
the physical colours, thus deviating so radically from the order
customary in science, we shall find the answer in a passage from the
Introduction to his Entwurf. Goethe, in giving his views on the
connexion between light and the eye, says: 'The eye owes its existence
to light. Out of indifferent auxiliary animal organs the light calls
forth an organ for itself, similar to its own nature; thus the eye is
formed by the light, for the light, so that the inner light can meet
the outer.' In a verse, which reproduces in poetic form a thought
originally expressed by Plotinus, Goethe sums up his idea of the
creative connexion between eye and light as follows:

' Unless our eyes had something of the sun, How could we ever look upon
the light? Unless there lived within us God's own might, How could the
Godlike give us ecstasy?1

(Trans. Stawell-Dickinson)

By expressing himself in this way in the Introduction to his
Farbenlehre, Goethe makes it clear from the outset that when he speaks
of 'light' as the source of colour-phenomena, he has in mind an idea of
light very different from that held by modern physics. For in dealing
with optics, physical science turns at once to phenomena of light found
outside man - in fact to phenomena in that physical realm from which,
as the lowest of the kingdoms of nature, the observations of natural
science are bound to start. Along this path one is driven, as we have
seen, to conceive of light as a mere 'disturbance' in the universe, a
kind of irregular chaos.

In contrast to this, Goethe sees that to gain an explanation of natural
physical phenomena which will be in accord with nature, we must
approach them on the path by which nature brings them into being. In
the field of light this path is one which leads from light as creative
agent to light as mere phenomenon. The highest form of manifestation of
creative light most directly resembling its Idea is within man. It is
there that light creates for itself the organ through which, as
manifest light, it eventually enters into human consciousness. To
Goethe it was therefore clear that a theory of light, which is to
proceed in accord with nature, should begin with a study of the eye:
its properties, its ways of acting when it brings us information of its
deeds and sufferings in external nature.

The eye with its affinity to light comes into being in the apparently
dark space of the mother's womb. This points to the possession by the
human organism of an 'inner' light which first forms the eye from
within, in order that it may afterwards meet the light outside. It is
this inner light that Goethe makes the starting-point of his
investigations, and it is for this reason that he treats physiological
colours before physical colours.


Of fundamental significance as regards method is the way in which
Goethe goes on from the passage quoted above to speak of the activity
of the inner light: 'This immediate affinity between light and the eye
will be denied by none; to consider them identical in substance is less
easy to comprehend. It will be more intelligible to assert that a
dormant light resides in the eye, and that this light can be excited by
the slightest cause from within or from without. In darkness we can, by
an effort of imagination, call up the brightest images; in dreams,
objects appear to us as in broad daylight; if we are awake, the
slightest external action of light is perceptible, and if the organ
suffers a mechanical impact light and colours spring forth.'

What Goethe does here is nothing less than to follow the development of
sight to where it has its true origin. Let us remember that a general
source of illusion in the modern scientific picture of the world lies
in the fact that the onlooker-consciousness accepts itself as a
self-contained ready-made entity, instead of tracing itself genetically
to the states of consciousness from which it has developed in the
course of evolution. In reality, the consciousness kindled by outer
sense-perception was preceded by a dreaming consciousness, and this by
a sleeping consciousness, both for the individual and for humanity as a
whole. So, too, outer vision by means of the physical apparatus of the
eye was preceded by an inner vision. In dreams we still experience this
inner vision; we use it in the activity of our picture-forming
imagination; and it plays continuously upon the process of external
sight. Why we fail to notice this when using our eye in the ordinary
way, is because of that dazzling process mentioned earlier in this
book. Goethe's constant endeavour was not to become the victim of this
blindness - that is, not to be led by day-time experience to forget the
night-side of human life. The passage quoted from the Introduction to
his Farbenlehre shows how, in all that he strove for, he kept this goal
in view.

How inevitably a way of thinking that seeks an intuitive understanding
of nature is led to views like those of Goethe is shown by the
following quotations from Reid and Ruskin, expressing their view of the
relationship between the eye, or the act of seeing, and external
optical phenomena. In his Inquiry, at the beginning of his review of
visual perceptions, Reid says:

'The structure of the eye, and of all its appurtenances, the admirable
contrivances of nature for performing all its various external and
internal motions and the variety in the eyes of different animals,
suited to their several natures and ways of life, clearly demonstrate
this organ to be a masterpiece of nature's work. And he must be very
ignorant of what hath been discovered about it, or have a very strange
cast of understanding, who can seriously doubt, whether or not the rays
of light and the eye were made for one another with consummate wisdom,
and perfect skill in optics.''3

The following passage from Ruskin's Ethics of the Dust (Lecture X)
brings out his criticism of the scientific way of treating of optical

'With regard to the most interesting of all their [the philosophers']
modes of force-light; they never consider how far the existence of it
depends on the putting of certain vitreous and nervous substances into
the formal arrangement which we call an eye. The German philosophers
began the attack, long ago, on the other side, by telling us there was
no such thing as light at all, unless we choose to see it.2 Now, German
and English, both, have reversed their engines, and insist that light
would be exactly the same light that it is, though nobody could ever
see it. The fact being that the force must be there, and the eye there,
and 'light' means the effect of the one on the other - and perhaps,
also - (Plato saw farther into that mystery than anyone has since, that
I know of) - on something a little way within the eyes.'

Remarks like these, and the further quotation given below, make it seem
particularly tragic that Ruskin apparently had no knowledge of Goethe's
Farbenlehre. This is the more remarkable in view of the significance
which Turner, with whom Ruskin stood in such close connexion, ascribed
to it from the standpoint of the artist. For the way in which Ruskin in
his Modern Painters speaks of the effect of the modern scientific
concept of colours upon the ethical-religious feeling of man, shows
that he deplores the lack of just what Goethe had long since achieved
in his Farbenlehre where, starting with purely physical observations,
he had been able to develop from them a 'physical-moral' theory of

Ruskin's alertness to the effect on ethical life of a scientific
world-picture empty of all qualitative values led him to write:

'It is in raising us from the first state of inactive reverie to the
second of useful thought, that scientific pursuits are to be chiefly
praised. But in restraining us at this second stage, and checking the
impulses towards higher contemplation, they are to be feared or blamed.
They may in certain minds be consistent with such contemplation, but
only by an effort; in their nature they are always adverse to it,
having a tendency to chill and subdue the feelings, and to resolve all
things into atoms and numbers. For most men, an ignorant enjoyment is
better than an informed one, it is better to conceive the sky as a blue
dome than a dark cavity, and the cloud as a golden throne than a sleety
mist. I much question whether anyone who knows optics, however
religious he may be, can feel in equal degree the pleasure and
reverence an unlettered peasant may feel at the sight of a rainbow.'

What Ruskin did not guess was that the rudiments of the 'moral theory
of light' for which he craved, as this passage indicates, had been
established by Goethe long before.


In the section of his Farbenlehre dealing with 'physiological colours',
Goethe devotes by far the most space to the so-called 'afterimages'
which appear in the eye as the result of stimulation by external light,
and persist for some little time. To create such an afterimage in a
simple way, one need only gaze at a brightly lit window and then at a
faintly lit wall of the room. The picture of the window appears there,
but with the light-values reversed: the dark cross-bar appears as
light, and the bright panes as dark.

In describing this phenomenon Goethe first gives the usual explanation,
that the part of the retina which was exposed to the light from the
window-panes gets tired, and is therefore blunted for further
impressions, whereas the part on which the image of the dark frame fell
is rested, and so is more sensitive to the uniform impression of the
wall. Goethe, however, at once adds that although this explanation may
seem adequate for this special instance, there are other phenomena
which can be accounted for only if they are held to derive from a
'higher source'. Goethe means experiences with coloured after-images.
This will be confirmed by our own discussion of the subject.

What we first need, however, is a closer insight into the physiological
process in the eye which causes the after-images as such. Wherever
Goethe speaks of a simple activity of the retina, we are in fact
concerned with a co-operation of the retina with other parts of our
organ of sight. In order to make this clear, let us consider how the
eye adapts itself to varying conditions of light and darkness.

It is well known that if the eye has become adjusted to darkness it is
dazzled if suddenly exposed to light, even though the light be of no
more than quite ordinary brightness. Here we enter a border region
where the seeing process begins to pass over into a pathological
condition.4 A 'secret' of the effect of light on the eye is here
revealed which remains hidden in ordinary vision, for normally the
different forces working together in the eye hold each other in
balance, so that none is able to manifest separately. This equilibrium
is disturbed, however, when we suddenly expose the eye to light while
it is adapted to darkness. The light then acts on the eye in its usual
way, but without the immediate counter-action which normally restores
the balance. Under these conditions we notice that the sudden dazzling
has a painful influence on the eye - that is, an influence in some way
destructive. This will not seem surprising if we remember that when
light strikes on the background of the eye, consciousness is quickened,
and this, as we know, presupposes a breaking down of substance in some
part of the nervous system. Such a process does in fact occur in the
retina, the nerve-part of the eye, when external light falls upon it.
If the eye were solely a structure of nerves, it would be so far
destroyed by the impact of light that it could not be restored even by
sleep, as are the more inward parts of the nervous system. But the eye
receives also a flow of blood, and we know that throughout the
threefold human organism the blood supplies the nervous system with
building-up forces, polarically opposite to the destructive ones. In
sleep, as we have already seen, the interruption of consciousness
allows the blood to inundate the nervous system, as it were, with its
healing, building-up activity. It is not necessary, however, for the
whole of the body to pass into a condition of sleep before this
activity can occur. It functions to some extent also in the waking
state, especially in those parts of the organism which, like the eye,
serve in the highest degree the unfolding of consciousness.

Having established this, we have a basis for an understanding of the
complete process of vision. We see that it is by no means solely the
nerve part of the eye which is responsible for vision, as the
spectator-physiology was bound to imagine. The very fact that the place
where the optic nerve enters the eye is blind indicates that the
function of mediating sight cannot be ascribed to the nerve alone. What
we call 'seeing' is far more the result of an interplay between the
retina carrying the nerves, and the choroid carrying the blood-vessels.
In this interplay the nerves are the passive, receptive organ for the
inworking of external light, while the blood-activity comes to meet the
nerve-process with a precisely correlated action. In this action we
find what Goethe called the 'inner light'.

The process involved in adaptation now becomes comprehensible. The
cause of the dazzling effect of light of normal intensity on an eye
adapted to the dark, is that in such an eye the blood is in a state of
rest, and this prevents it from exercising quickly enough the necessary
counter-action to the influence of the light. A corresponding effect
occurs when one suddenly exposes to darkness the eye adapted to light.
One can easily observe what goes on then, if, after looking for a time
at an undifferentiated light surface such as the evenly luminous sky,
one covers the opened eyes with the hollowed hands. It will then be
found that the space before the eyes is filled by a sort of white
light, and by paying close attention one recognizes that it streams
from the eyes out into the hollowed space. It may even be several
minutes before the field of vision really appears black, that is,
before the activity of the inner light in the choroid has so far died
away that equilibrium prevails between the non-stimulated nerves and
the non-stimulated blood.

With this insight into the twofold nature of the process of vision we
are now able to describe more fully the negative after-image. Although
in this case, as Goethe himself remarked, the ordinary explanation
seems to suffice, yet in view of our later studies it may be well to
bring forward here this wider conception.

On the basis of our present findings it is no longer enough to trace
the appearing of the after-image solely to a differential fatigue in
the retina. The fact is that as long as the eye is turned to the bright
window-pane a more intensive blood-activity occurs in the portions of
the eye's background met by the light than in those where the dark
window-bar throws its shadow on the retina. If the eye so influenced is
then directed to the faintly illumined wall of the room, the difference
in the activity of the blood persists for some time. Hence in the parts
of the eye adapted to darkness we experience the faint brightness as
strongly luminous, even dazzling, whereas in the parts more adapted to
light we feel the same degree of brightness to be dark. That the action
of the inner light is responsible for the differences becomes clear if,
while the negative after-image is still visible, we darken the eye with
the hollowed hands. Then at once in the dark field of vision the
positive facsimile of the window appears, woven by the activity of the
blood which reproduces the outer reality.

Having traced the colourless after-image to 'higher sources' - that is,
to the action of the blood - let us now examine coloured afterimages.
We need first to become conscious of the colour-creating light-activity
which resides in the blood. For this purpose we expose the eyes for a
moment to an intense light, and then darken them for a sufficient time.
Nothing in external nature resembles in beauty and radiance the play of
colour which then arises, unless it be the colour phenomenon of the
rainbow under exceptionally favourable circumstances.

The physiological process which comes to consciousness in this way as
an experience of vision is exactly the same as the process which gives
us experiences of vision in dreams. There is indeed evidence that when
one awakens in a brightly lit room out of vivid dreaming, one feels
less dazzled than on waking from dreamless sleep. This indicates that
in dream vision the blood in the eye is active, just as it is in waking
vision. The only difference is that in waking consciousness the
stimulus reaches the blood from outside, through the eye, whereas in
dreams it comes from causes within the organism. The nature of these
causes does not concern us here; it will be dealt with later. For the
moment it suffices to establish the fact that our organism is supplied
with a definite activity of forces which we experience as the
appearance of certain images of vision, no matter from which side the
stimulus comes. All vision, physiologically considered, is of the
nature of dream vision; that is to say, we owe our day-waking sight to
the fact that we are able to encounter the pictures of the outer world,
brought to us by the light, with a dreaming of the corresponding

Just as the simple light-dark after-image shows a reversal of
light-values in relation to the external picture, so in the coloured
afterimages there is a quite definite and opposite relationship of
their colours to those of the original picture. Thus, if the eyes are
exposed for some time to an impression of the colour red, and then
directed to a neutral surface, not too brightly illuminated, one sees
it covered with a glimmering green. In this way there is a reciprocal
correspondence between the colour-pairs Red-Green, Yellow-Violet,
Blue-Orange. To whichever of these six colours one exposes the eye, an
after-image always appears of its contrast colour, forming with it a
pair of opposites.

We must here briefly recall how this phenomenon is generally explained
on Newtonian lines. The starting-point is the assumption that the eye
becomes fatigued by gazing at the colour and gradually becomes
insensitive to it. According to Newton's theory, if an eye thus
affected looks at a white surface, the sum of all the colours comes
from there to meet it, while the eye has a reduced sensitivity to the
particular colour it has been gazing at. And so among the totality of
colours constituting the 'white' light, this one is more or less
non-existent for the eye. The remaining colours are then believed to
cause the contrasting colour-impression.

If we apply the common sense of the Hans Andersen child to this, we see
where it actually leads. For it says no less than this: as long as the
eye is in a normal condition, it tells us a lie about the world, for it
makes white light seem something that in reality it is not. For the
truth to become apparent, the natural function of the eye must be
reduced by fatigue. To believe that a body, functioning in this way, is
the creation of God, and at the same time to look on this God as a
Being of absolute moral perfection, would seem a complete contradiction
to the Hans Andersen child. In this contradiction and others of the
same kind to which nowadays every child is exposed repeatedly and
willy-nilly in school lessons and so on - we must seek the true cause
of the moral uncertainty so characteristic of young people today. It
was because Ruskin felt this that he called for a 'moral' theory of

Since Goethe did not judge man from artificially devised experiments,
but the latter from man, quite simple reflexions led him to the
following view of the presence of the contrasting colour in the
coloured after-images. Nature outside man had taught him that life on
all levels takes it course in a perpetual interplay of opposites,
manifested externally in an interplay of diastole and systole
comparable to the process of breathing. He, therefore, traced the
interchange of light-values in colourless after-images to a 'silent
resistance which every vital principle is forced to exhibit when some
definite condition is presented to it. Thus, inhalation presupposes
exhalation; thus every systole, its diastole. When darkness is
presented to the eye, the eye demands brightness, and vice versa: it
reveals its vital energy, its fitness to grasp the object, precisely by
bringing forth out of itself something contrary to the object.'

Consequently he summarizes his reflexions on coloured afterimages and
their reversals of colour in these words: 'The eye demands actual
completeness and closes the colour-circle in itself.' How true this is,
the law connecting the corresponding colours shows, as may be seen in
the following diagram. Here, red, yellow and blue as three primary
colours confront the three remaining colours, green, violet and orange
in such a way that each of the latter represents a mixture of the two
other primary colours. (Fig. 10.)

Colour and contrast-colour are actually so related that to whatever
colour the eye is exposed it produces a counter-colour so as to have
the sum-total of all the three primary colours in itself. And so, in
consequence of the interplay of outer and inner light in the eye, there
is always present in it the totality of all the colours.

It follows that the appearance of the contrast-colour in the field of
vision is not, as the Newtonian theory asserts, the result of fatigue,
but of an intensified activity of the eye, which continues even after
the colour impression which gave rise to it has ceased. What is seen on
the neutral surface (it will be shown later why we studiously avoid
speaking of 'white light') is no outwardly existing colour at all. It
is the activity of the eye itself, working in a dreamlike way from its
blood-vessel system, and coming to our consciousness by this means.

Here again, just as in the simple opposition of light and dark, the
perception of coloured after-images is connected with a breaking-down
process in the nerve region of the eye, and a corresponding building-up
activity coming from the blood. Only in this case the eye is not
affected by simple light, but by light of a definite colouring. The
specific destructive process caused by this light is answered with a
specific building-up process by the blood. Under certain conditions we
can become dreamily aware of this process which normally does not enter
our consciousness. In such a case we see the contrasting colour as
coloured after-image.

Only by representing the process in this way do we do justice to a fact
which completely eludes the onlooker-consciousness - namely, that the
eye produces the contrasting colour even while it is still exposed to
the influence of the outer colour. Since this is so, all colours
appearing to us in ordinary vision are already tinged by the subdued
light of the opposite colour, produced by the eye itself. One can
easily convince oneself of this through the following experiment.
Instead of directing the eye, after it has been exposed to a certain
colour, to a neutral surface, as previously, gaze at the appropriate
contrasting colour. (The first and second coloured surfaces should be
so arranged that the former is considerably smaller than the latter.)
Then, in the middle of the second surface (and in a field about the
size of the first), its own colour appears, with a strikingly
heightened intensity.

Here we find the eye producing, as usual, a contrast-colour from out of
itself, as an after-image, even while its gaze is fixed on the same
colour in the outer world. The heightened brilliance within the given
field is due to the addition of the after-image colour to the external

The reader may wonder why this phenomenon is not immediately adduced as
a decisive proof of the fallacy of the whole Newtonian theory of the
relation of 'white' light to the various colours. Although it does in
fact offer such a proof, we have good reason for not making this use of
it here. Throughout this book it is never our intention to enter into a
contest of explanations, or to defeat one explanation by another. How
little this would help will be obvious if we realize that research was
certainly not ignorant of the fact that the opposite colour arises even
when the eye is not turned to a white surface. In spite of this,
science did not feel its concept of white light as the sum of all the
colours to be an error, since it has succeeded in 'explaining' this
phenomenon too, and fitting it into the prevailing theory. To do so is
in thorough accord with spectator-thinking. Our own concern, however,
as in all earlier cases, is to replace this thinking with all its
'proofs' and 'explanations' by learning to read in the phenomena
themselves. For no other purpose than this the following facts also are
now brought forward.


Besides Rudolf Steiner's fundamental insight into the
spiritual-physical nature of the growing human being, through which he
laid the basis of a true art of education, he gave advice on many
practical points. For example, he indicated how by the choice of a
suitable colour environment one can bring a harmonizing influence to
bear on extremes of temperament in little children. To-day it is a
matter of practical experience that excitable children are quietened if
they are surrounded with red or red-yellow colours, or wear clothes of
these colours, whereas inactive, lethargic children are roused to inner
movement if they are exposed to the influence of blue or blue-green

This psychological reaction of children to colour is not surprising if
one knows the role played by the blood in the process of seeing, and
how differently the soul-life of man is connected with the blood-nerve
polarity of his organism in childhood and in later life. What we have
described as the polar interplay of blood and nerve in the act of sight
is not confined to the narrow field of the eye. Just as the nerve
processes arising in the retina are continued to the optic centre in
the cerebrum, so must we look for the origin of the corresponding blood
process not in the choroid itself, but in the lower regions of the
organism. Wherever, therefore, the colour red influences the whole
nerve system, the blood system as a whole answers with an activity of
the metabolism corresponding to the contrasting colour, green.
Similarly it reacts as a whole to a blue-violet affecting the nerve
system, this time with a production corresponding to yellow-orange.

The reason why in later years we notice this so little lies in a fact
we have repeatedly encountered. The consciousness of the grown man
to-day, through its one-sided attachment to the death-processes in the
nerve region, pays no attention to its connexion with the
life-processes centred in the blood system. In this respect the
condition of the little child is quite different. Just as the child is
more asleep in its nerve system than the grown-up person, it is more
awake in its blood system. Hence in all sense-perceptions a child is
not so much aware of how the world works on its nerve system as how its
blood system responds. And so a child in a red environment feels
quietened because it experiences, though dimly, how its whole blood
system is stimulated to the green production; bluish colours enliven it
because it feels its blood answer with a production of light yellowish

From the latter phenomena we see once more the significance of Goethe's
arrangement of his Farbenlehre. For we are now able to realize that to
turn one's attention to the deeds and sufferings of the inner light
means nothing less than to bring to consciousness the processes of
vision which in childhood, though in a dreamlike way, determine the
soul's experience of seeing. Through placing his examination of the
physiological colours at the beginning of his Farbenlehre, Goethe
actually took the path in scientific research to which Thomas Reid
pointed in philosophy. By adapting Reid's words we can say that Goethe,
in his Farbenlehre, proclaims as a basic principle of a true Optics:
that we must become again as little children if we would reach a
philosophy of light and colours.

1Wär' nicht das Auge sonnenhaft,
Wie könnten wir das Licht erblicken?
Lebt' nicht in uns des Gottes eigne Kraft,
Wie könnt' uns Göttliches entzucken!

2 Inquiry, VI, 1. The italics are Reid's.

3 Presumably Kant and his school. Schopenhauer was definitely of this

4 As regards the principle underlying the line of consideration
followed here, see the remark made in Chapter V in connexion with
Goethe's study of the 'proliferated rose' (p. 76f.).


Seeing as 'Deed' - II

The observation of our own visual process, which we began in the last
chapter, will serve now to free us from a series of illusory concepts
which have been connected by the onlooker-consciousness with the
phenomena brought about by light.

There is first the general assumption that light as such is visible. In
order to realize that light is itself an invisible agent, we need only
consider a few self-evident facts - for instance, that for visibility
to arise light must always encounter some material resistance in space.
This is, in fact, an encounter between light, typifying levity, and the
density of the material world, typifying gravity. Accordingly, wherever
visible colours appear we have always to do with light meeting its

Optics, therefore, as a science of the physically perceptible is never
concerned with light alone, but always with light and its opposite
together. This is actually referred to in Ruskin's statement, quoted in
the last chapter, where he speaks of the need of the 'force' and of the
intercepting bodily organ before a science of optics can come into
existence. Ruskin's 'light', however, is what we have learnt with
Goethe to call 'colour', whereas that for which we reserve the term
'light' is called by him simply 'force'.

All this shows how illusory it is to speak of 'white' light as
synonymous with simple light, in distinction to 'coloured' light. And
yet this has been customary with scientists from the time of Newton
until today, not excluding Newton's critic, Eddington. In fact, white
exists visibly for the eye as part of the manifested world, and is
therefore properly characterized as a colour. This is, therefore, how
Goethe spoke of it. We shall see presently the special position of
white (and likewise of black), as a colour among colours. What matters
first of all is to realize that white must be strictly differentiated
from light as such, for the function of light is to make visible the
material world without itself being visible.

To say that light is invisible, however, does not mean that it is
wholly imperceptible. It is difficult to bring the perception of light
into consciousness, for naturally our attention, when we look out into
light-filled space, is claimed by the objects of the illuminated world,
in all their manifold colours and forms. Nevertheless the effect of
pure light on our consciousness can be observed during a railway
journey, for instance, when we leave a tunnel that has been long enough
to bring about a complete adaptation of the eyes to the prevailing
darkness. Then, in the first moments of the lightening of the field of
vision, and before any separate objects catch the attention, we can
notice how the light itself exercises a distinctly expanding influence
on our consciousness. We feel how the light calls on the consciousness
to participate, as it were, in the world outside the body.

It is possible also to perceive directly the opposite of light. This is
easier than the direct perception of light, for in the dark one is not
distracted by the sight of surrounding objects. One need only pay
attention to the fact that, after a complete adapting of the eyes to
the dark, one still retains a distinct experience of the extension of
the field of vision of both eyes. We find here, just as in the case of
light, that our will is engaged within the eye in a definite way; a
systolic effect proceeds from dark, a diastolic effect from light. We
have a distinct perception of both, but not of anything 'visible' in
the ordinary sense.

With regard to our visual experience of white and black, it is quite
different. We are concerned here with definite conditions of corporeal
surfaces, just as with other colours, although the conditions conveying
the impressions of white or black are of a special character. A closer
inspection of these conditions reveals a property of our act of seeing
which has completely escaped scientific observation, but which is of
fundamental importance for the understanding of optical phenomena

It is well known that a corporeal surface, which we experience as
white, has the characteristic of throwing back almost all the light
that strikes it, whereas light is more or less completely absorbed by a
surface which we experience as black. Such extreme forms of interplay
between light and a corporeal surface, however, do not only occur when
the light has no particular colour, but also when a coloured surface is
struck by light of the same or opposite colour. In the first instance
complete reflexion takes place; in the second, complete absorption. And
both these effects are registered by the eye in precisely the same
manner as those mentioned before. For example, a red surface in red
light looks simply white; a green surface in red light looks black.

The usual interpretation of this phenomenon, namely, that it consists
in a subjective 'contrast' impression of the eye - a red surface in red
light looking brighter, a green surface darker, than its surroundings,
and thereby causing the illusion of white or black - is a typical
onlooker-interpretation against which there stands the evidence of
unprejudiced observation. The reality of the 'white' and the 'black'
seen in such cases is so striking that a person who has not seen the
colours of the objects in ordinary light can hardly be persuaded to
believe that they are not 'really' white or black. The fact is that the
white and the black that are seen under these conditions are just as
real as 'ordinary' white and black. When in either instance the eye
registers 'white' it registers exactly the same event, namely, the
total reflexion of the light by the surface struck by it. Again, when
the eye registers 'black' in both cases it registers an identical
process, namely, total absorption of the light.1

Seen thus, the phenomenon informs us of the significant fact that our
eye is not at all concerned with the colour of the light that enters
its own cavity, but rather with what happens between the light and the
surface on which the light falls. In other words, the phenomenon shows
that our process of seeing is not confined to the bodily organ of the
eye, but extends into outer space to the point where we experience the
visible object to be.2

This picture of the visual process, to which we have been led here by
simple optical observation, was reached by Thomas Reid through his own
experience of how, in the act of perceiving the world, man is linked
intuitively with it. We remember that he intended in his philosophy to
carry ad absurdum the hypothesis that 'the images of the external
objects are conveyed by the organs of sense to the brain and are there
perceived by the mind'. Common Sense makes Reid speak as follows: 'If
any man will shew how the mind may perceive images of the brain, I will
undertake to shew how it may perceive the most distant objects; for if
we give eyes to the mind, to perceive what is transacted at home in its
dark chamber, why may we not make the eyes a little longer-sighted? And
then we shall have no occasion for that unphilosophical fiction of
images in the brain.' (Inq., VI, 12.) Reid proceeds to show this by
pointing out, first, that we must only use the idea of 'image' for
truly visual perceptions; secondly, that the sole place of this image
is the background of the eye, and not any part of the nervous system
lying beyond; thirdly, that even this retina-image, as such, does not
come to our consciousness, but serves only to direct the consciousness
to the cause of the image, namely, the external object itself. In what
follows we shall deal with an observation which will show how right
Reid was in this respect.

Those familiar with this observation (well known indeed to those living
in the hilly and mountainous districts both here and on the Continent)
know that when distant features of the landscape, in an otherwise clear
and sunlit atmosphere, suddenly seem almost near enough to touch, rainy
weather is approaching. Likewise a conspicuous increase in distance,
while the sky is still overcast, foreshadows fine weather.

This effect (the customary 'explanation' of which is, as usual, of no
avail to us and so need not concern us here) ranks with phenomena
described in optics under the name of 'apparent optical depth', a
subject we shall discuss more fully in the next chapter. It suffices
here to state that it is the higher degree of humidity which, by
lending the atmosphere greater optical density (without changing its
clarity), makes distant objects seem to be closer to the eye, and vice
versa. (If we could substitute for the air a much lighter gas - say,
hydrogen - then the things we see through it would look farther off
than they ever do in our atmosphere.)

Observations such as these show us that (a) when external light strikes
the retina of our eye, our inner light is stimulated to move out of the
eye towards it; (b) in pressing outward, this inner light meets with a
certain resistance, and the extent of this determines at what distance
from the eye our visual ray comes to rest as the result of a kind of
exhaustion. Just as the outer light reaches an inner boundary at our
retina, so does the inner light meet with an outer boundary, set by the
optical density of the medium spread out before the eye, Outer and
inner light interpenetrate each other along the whole tract between
these two boundaries, but normally we are not conscious of this
process. We first become conscious of it where our active gaze - that
is, the inner light sent forth through the eye - reaches the limit of
its activity. At that point we become aware of the object of our gaze.
So here we find confirmed a fact noted earlier, that consciousness - at
least at its present state of evolution - arises where for some reason
or other our volition conies to rest.


The foregoing observations have served to awaken us in a preliminary
way to the fact that an essential part of our act of seeing takes place
outside our bodily organ of vision and that our visual experience is
determined by what happens out there between our gaze and the medium it
has to penetrate. Our next task will be to find out how this part of
our visual activity is affected by the properties of the different
colours. We shall thereby gain a further insight into the nature of the
polarity underlying all colour-phenomena, and this again will enable us
to move a step further towards becoming conscious of what happens in
our act of seeing.

We shall start by observing what happens to the two sides of the
colour-scale when the optical medium assumes various degrees of

For the sky to appear blue by day a certain purity of the atmosphere is
needed. The more veiled the atmosphere becomes the more the blue of the
sky turns towards white; the purer and rarer the atmosphere, the deeper
the blue, gradually approaching to black. To mountain climbers and
those who fly at great heights it is a familiar experience to see the
sky assume a deep indigo hue. There can be no doubt that at still
higher altitudes the colour of the sky passes over into violet and
ultimately into pure black. Thus in the case of blue the field of
vision owes its darkening to a decrease in the resistance by which our
visual ray is met in the optical medium. It is precisely the opposite
with yellow. For here, as the density of the medium increases, the
colour-effect grows darker by yellow darkening first to orange and then
to red, until finally it passes over into complete darkness.

This shows that our visual ray is subject to entirely different dynamic
effects at the two poles of the colour-scale. At the blue pole, the
lightness-effect springs from the resistant medium through which we
gaze, a medium under the influence of gravity, while the darkness is
provided by the anti-gravity quality of cosmic space, which as a
'negative' resistance exercises a suction on the eye's inner light. At
the yellow pole it is just the reverse. Here, the resistant medium
brings about a darkening of our field of vision, while the
lightness-effect springs from a direct meeting of the eye with light,
and so with the suctional effect of negative density.

Our pursuit of the dynamic causes underlying our apperception of the
two poles of the colour-scale has led us to a point where it becomes
necessary to introduce certain new terms to enable us to go beyond
Goethe's general distinction between Finsternis (darkness) and Licht
(light). Following Goethe, we have so far used these two terms for what
appears both in blue and yellow as the respective light and dark
ingredients. This distinction cannot satisfy us any more. For through
our last observations it has become clear that the Finsternis in blue
and the Licht in yellow are opposites only in appearance, because they
are both caused by Levity, and similarly that the lightening effect in
blue and the darkening effect in yellow are both effected by Gravity.
Therefore, to distinguish between what appertains to the primary
polarity, Levity-Gravity, on the one hand, and their visible effects in
the secondary polarity of the colours, on the other, we shall
henceforth reserve the term darkness and, with it, lightness for
instances where the perceptible components of the respective colours
are concerned, while speaking of Dark and Light where reference is made
to the generating primary polarity.


If we are justified in thus tracing the colour-polarity to a
polarically ordered interplay between levity and gravity, we may then
pursue the following line of thought. We know from earlier
considerations that wherever such an interplay between the poles of the
primary polarity takes place, we have to do, in geometric terms, with
the polarity of sphere and radius. We may therefore conclude that the
same characteristics will apply to the way in which the blue of the sky
and the yellow of the sunlight are encountered spatially. Now we need
only observe how the blue heavens arch over us spherically, on the one
hand, and how the yellow brightness of the sun penetrates the air
ray-wise, on the other, in order to realize that this really is so.

Having thus established the connexion of the two poles of the
colour-scale with the spherical and radial structure of space, we are
now able to express the Goethean ur-phenomenon in a more dynamic way as
follows: On the one hand, we see the blue of the heavens emerging when
levity is drawn down by gravity from its primal invisibility into
visible, spherical manifestation. In the yellow of the sunlight, on the
other hand, we see gravity, under the influence of the sun's levity,
gleaming up radially into visibility. The aspect of the two
colour-poles which thus arises before us prompts us to replace Goethe's
'lightened Dark' by Earthward-dawning-Levity, and his 'darkened Light'
by Heavenward-raying-Gravity.

We have now to show that this picture of the dynamic relationship which
underlies the appearance of the colour-polarity in the sky is valid
also for other cases which are instances of the ur-phenomenon of the
generation of colour in Goethe's sense, but seem not to lend themselves
to the same cosmic interpretation. Such a case is the appearance of
yellow and blue when we look through a clouded transparent medium
towards a source of light or to a black background. There is no special
difficulty here in bringing the appearance of yellow into line with its
macrotelluric counterpart, but the appearance of blue requires some

We have seen that a corporeal surface appears as black if light
striking it is totally absorbed by it. Thus, wherever our eye is met by
the colour black, our visual ray is engaged in a process whereby light
disappears from physical space. Now we need only bring this process
into consciousness - as we have tried to do before in similar instances
- to realize that what happens here to the visual ray is something
similar to what it undergoes when it is directed from the earth into
cosmic space.

Note, in this respect, the principle of the mirror as another instance
of the fact that the interplay between light and an illumined surface
can have on the visual ray an effect similar to that of external space.
For the optical processes which occur on the surface of a mirror are
such that, whilst taking place on a two-dimensional plane, they evoke
in our consciousness pictures of exactly the same nature as if we were
looking through the mirror into the space behind it.


The value of our picture of the colour-polarity is shown further if we
observe how natural phenomena based on the same kind of polarity in
other realms of nature fit in with it. We remember that one of Goethe's
starting-points in his investigation of the riddle of colour was the
observation that of the totality of colours one part is experienced as
'warm' and the other as 'cold'. Now we can go further and say that the
colours of the spherical pole are experienced as cold, those of the
radial pole as warm. This corresponds precisely to the polarity of
snow-formation and volcanic activity. The former, being the spherically
directed process, requires physically low temperatures; the latter,
being the radially directed process, requires high temperatures. Here,
once more, we see with what objectivity the human senses register the
facts of the outer world.

Another realm of phenomena based on a similar polar order is that of
electricity. When we studied the negative and positive poles of the
vacuum tube, with regard to the polar distribution of radius and
sphere, our attention was drawn to the colours appearing on the two
electrodes - red at the (positive) anode, blue at the (negative)
cathode. Again we find a coincidence with the natural order of the

Note how the qualitative dynamic method employed here brings into
direct view the relationship between light and electricity, while it
precludes the mistake of tracing light processes to those of
electricity, as modern science does. Nor are electric processes
'explained' from this point of view merely as variations of light
processes. Rather is the relation between light and electricity seen to
be based on the fact that all polarities arising perceptibly in nature
are creations of the same primeval polarity, that of Levity and
Gravity. The interplay of Levity and Gravity can take on many different
forms which are distinguished essentially by differences in cosmic age.
Thus the colour-polarity in its primal form, made manifest by the
heavens, differs as much from the corresponding polarity shown by the
vacuum tube, as does the lightning in the heights from the electric


With the aid of what we have learnt here concerning outer
light-processes we shall turn once more to the activity of our own
inner light.

We may expect by now that our eye is fitted with two modes of seeing
activity, polar to each other, and that the way in which they come into
operation depends on whether the interplay of positive and negative
density outside the eye leads to the appearance of the blue-violet or
of the yellow-red side of the colour-scale. Such a polarity in the
activity of the eye can indeed be established. Along with it goes a
significant functional difference between the two eyes (not unlike that
shown of the two hands).

To observe this we need simply to compare the two eyes of a person in a
photograph by covering alternately the right and the left half of the
face. Nearly always it will be found that the right eye looks out
clearly into the world with an active expression, and the left eye with
a much gentler one, almost held back. Artists are well aware of this
asymmetry, as of others in the human countenance, and are careful to
depict it. An outstanding example is Raphael's Sistine Madonna, where
in the eyes and whole countenance both of Mother and Child this
asymmetry can be studied in a specially impressive way.

Inner observation leads to a corresponding experience. A convenient
method is to exercise the two eyes in complete darkness, in the
following way. One eye is made to look actively into the space in front
of it, as if it would pierce the darkness with its visual ray, while
the activity of the other eye is held back, so that its gaze rests only
superficially, as it were, on the darkness in front of it. Experience
shows that most people find it natural to give the active note to the
right eye, and the passive note to the left.

Once one has grown conscious of this natural difference between the two
eyes, it is quite easily detected while one is looking normally into
the light-filled environment. We thereby realize that for the two eyes
to act differently in this way is the usual thing.

As an instance where this fact is well observed and effectively made
use of, that of shooting may be mentioned here, especially shooting at
flying game. Those who train in this sport learn to make a completely
different use of the two eyes in sighting the target. The naturally
more active eye - only once in about fifty cases is it the left - is
called by them the 'master-eye'. Whilst the less actively gazing eye is
usually employed for surveying the field as a whole into which the
target is expected to enter, the master-eye is used for making active
contact with the target itself ('throwing' oneself on the target
'through' the eye).

One further observation may be added. If one looks with rested eyes and
in very faint daylight (perhaps in the early morning on awakening) at a
white surface, while opening and closing the eyes alternately, then the
white surface looks faintly reddish to the 'master-eye', and faintly
bluish to the other.


Following the lines of our treatment of after-images in the last
chapter, we will next inquire into the anatomical and physiological
basis of the two opposite sight-activities. In the previous instance we
found this in the polarity of nerve and blood. This time we must look
for it in a certain twofold structure of the eye itself. We shall best
perceive this by watching the 'becoming' of the eye, thus again
following a method first shown by Goethe.

Fig. 11 shows the human eye in different stages of its embryonic
formation. The eye is clearly seen to consist of two parts essentially
different in origin. Growing out from the interior of the embryonic
organism is a structure that is gradually pushed in, and in its further
development becomes the entire posterior part of the eye, destined to
carry its life-imbued functions. A second independent part grows
towards this from outside; this is at first a mere thickening of the
embryonic skin formation, but later it loosens itself and presses
forward into the interior of the cup-shaped structure. It is gradually
enclosed by this, and evolves finally into that part of the finished
eye which embodies the optical apparatus functioning according to
purely physical laws.

This series of forms shows that in the embryonic formation of the eye
we are confronted with two processes, one of spherical, and the other
of radial orientation. Consequently the two parts of the eye are
differentiated in such a way that the posterior part, which has grown
forth radially from the embryonic organism, as the life-filled element
represents the sulphur-pole of the total eye, while the anterior part,
with its much more crystalline nature, having grown spherically towards
the organism, represents the eye's salt-pole.

Closer inspection into the connexion of the two visual activities of
the eye with its basic corporeal parts reveals that here, at the
outermost boundary of the human organism, we encounter once more that
peculiar reversal of functions which we have already several times met
in various realms of nature. For the anterior part of the eye - its
salt-pole - which has come into being through a spherically directed
formative process, seems to be the one through which we exercise the
perceptive activity streaming out radially from the eye, whilst the
posterior part - the eye's sulphur-pole - which has come into being
through radially directed formative action, serves that form of seeing
which is more receptive and is carried out in a plane-wise manner.

Considerations of this kind, and they alone, enable us also to draw
true comparisons between the different sense-organs. Take the organ of
hearing. Usually the ear is assumed to fill the same role in the field
of hearing as does the eye in the field of seeing. In fact the ear
corresponds to only one half of the eye; the other half must be looked
for in the larynx. In other words, the two parts of the eye are
represented in the realm of hearing by two separate organs, ear and
larynx. Speaking from the aspect of metamorphosis, the vital part of
our eye may be regarded as our 'light-ear'; the crystalline part, as
our 'light-larynx'. In order to come consciously to a perception of
sight we must 'listen' to the 'deeds and sufferings' of light, while at
the same time we meet them with the help of the 'speaking' of our inner
light. Something similar holds good for hearing. In fact, observation
reveals that we take in no impression of hearing unless we accompany it
with an activity of our larynx, even though a silent one. The
significance of this fact for the total function of hearing will occupy
us more fully later.


Our insight into the polar nature of visual activity will enable us now
to link the external interplay of Light and Dark - to which the
physical colours owe their existence - to that play of forces which we
ourselves set in motion when our eye meets the world of colours in
their polar differentiation.

We established earlier that in the cold colours the role of darkness
belongs to the pole of levity or negative density, and the role of
lightness to the pole of gravity or positive density, whereas in the
case of the warm colours the roles are reversed. Let us now unite with
this the insight we have meanwhile gained into the two kinds of
activity in seeing - the receptive, 'left-eyed' and the radiating,
'right-eyed' - which mediate to us the experience of the positive or
negative density of space spread out before our eyes. Taking together
the results of outer and inner observation, we can express the polarity
ruling in the realm of colour as follows.

If lightness and darkness as elements of colour, meet us in such a way
that lightness, by reason of its positive density, calls forth
'left-eyed' activity, and darkness, by reason of its negative density,
'right-eyed' activity, then our soul receives the impression of the
colour blue and colours related to blue. If lightness and darkness meet
us so that we see the former in a 'right-eyed', and the latter in a
'left-eyed' way, then we experience this as the presence of yellow and
the colours related to it.

The reason why we usually fail to observe the different kinds of
interplay of the two modes of seeing, when we perceive one or other of
the two categories of colour, is because in ordinary sight both eyes
exercise each of the two activities without our becoming aware which is
the leading one in a particular eye. If, however, one has come to a
real experience of the inner polarity of the visual act, one needs only
a little practice to realize the distinction. For example, if one looks
at the blue sky, notably at noon-time, on the side away from the sun,
or at the morning or evening sky, shining yellow and red, one quickly
becomes conscious of how our eyes take hold of the particular
contribution which Light and Dark make to one or other of the two
colour appearances.


In the natural course of our argument we had to keep at first to the
appearance of colours as they come freely before us in space. The
results we have obtained, however, hold good equally well for the
permanent tints of material objects, as the following example will

A fact known to science is that red and blue surface colours, when
illumined by light of steadily diminishing intensity, are seen to
reverse their normal ratio of brightness. This phenomenon can be seen
in nature, if, for instance, one observes a bed of blue and red flowers
in the fading evening light and compares the impression with that which
the same flowers make in bright daylight. If the phenomenon is
reproduced artificially, the actual transition from one state to the
other can be clearly observed. The easiest way is to place a red and a
blue surface side by side under an electric light whose intensity can
be gradually lessened by means of a sliding resistance. Here, as much
as in the natural phenomenon, our reason finds it difficult to
acknowledge that the surface gleaming in a whitish sheen should be the
one which ordinarily appears as darkling blue, and that the one
disappearing into darkness should be the surface which normally
presents itself as radiant red.

This riddle is readily solved if we apply what we have learnt about the
particular shares of lightness and darkness in these two colours, and
if we link this up with the respective forms of seeing exercised by our
two eyes. To the dim light, clearly, our eyes will respond more with
the 'left-eyed' than with the 'right-eyed' form of vision. Now we know
that it is 'left-eyed' vision which is roused by the
lightness-component in blue and the darkness-component in red. It is
only to be expected, therefore, that these elements should become
conspicuous when in the dim light our seeing is mainly 'left-eyed'.
This solution of the problem makes us realize further, that the laws
which Goethe first found for the coming into appearance of colours
freely hovering in space are indeed applicable to the fixed material
colours as well.

1 It will be well to remember here the discussion of our experience of
temperature through the sense of warmth in Chapter VIII (p. 134f.).

2 Along these lines the true solution of the problem of the so-called
coloured shadows will be found, Goethe studied this without finding,
however, a satisfactory answer.


Optics of the Doer

Three basic concepts form the foundation for the present-day scientific
description of a vast field of optical phenomena, among them the
occurrence of the spectral colours as a result of light passing through
a transparent medium of prismatic shape. They are: 'optical
refraction', 'light-ray', and 'light-velocity' - the latter two serving
to explain the first. In a science of optics which seeks its foundation
in the intercourse between man's own visual activity and the doings and
sufferings of light, these three concepts must needs undergo a decisive
change, both in their meaning and in their value for the description of
the relevant optical phenomena. For they are all purely kinematic
concepts typical of the onlooker-way of conceiving things - concepts,
that is, to which nothing corresponds in the realm of the actual

Our next task, therefore, will be, where possible, to fill these
concepts with new meaning, or else to replace them by other concepts
read from the actual phenomena. Once this is done the way will be free
for the development of the picture of the spectrum phenomenon which is
in true accord with the Goethean conception of Light and Colour.


The first to be brought in this sense under our examination is the
concept of the 'light-ray'.

In present-day optics this concept signifies a geometrical line of
infinitely small width drawn, as it were, by the light in space, while
the cone or cylinder of light actually filling the space is described
as being composed of innumerable such rays. In the same way the object
producing or reflecting light is thought of as composed of innumerable
single points from which the light-rays emerge. All descriptions of
optical processes are based upon this conception.

Obviously, we cannot be satisfied with such a reduction of wholes into
single geometrically describable parts, followed by a reassembling of
these parts into a whole. For in reality we have to do with realms of
space uniformly filled with light, whether conical or cylindrical in
form, which arise through certain boundaries being set to the light. In
optical research we have therefore always to do with pictures,
spatially bounded. Thus what comes before our consciousness is
determined equally by the light calling forth the picture, and by the
unlit space bordering it.

Remembering the results of our earlier study, we must say further of
such a light-filled realm that it lacks the quality of visibility and
therefore has no colour, not even white. Goethe and other 'readers',
such as Reid and Ruskin, tried continually to visualize what such a
light-filled space represents in reality. Hence they directed their
attention first to those spheres where light manifests its
form-creative activity, as in the moulding of the organ of sight in
animal or man, or in the creation of the many forms of the plant
kingdom - and only then gave their mind to the purely physical
light-phenomena. Let us use the same method to form a picture of a
light-filled space, and to connect this with the ideas we have
previously gained on the co-operation in space of levity and gravity.

Suppose we have two similar plant-seeds in germ; and let one lie in a
space filled with light, the other in an unlit space. From the
different behaviour of the two seeds we can observe certain differences
between the two regions of space. We note that within the light-filled
region the spiritual archetype of the plant belonging to the seed is
helped to manifest itself physically in space, whereas in the dark
region it receives no such aid. For in the latter the physical plant,
even if it grows, does not develop its proper forms. This tells us, in
accordance with what we have learnt earlier, that in the two cases
there is a different relation of space to the cosmically distant,
all-embracing plane. Thus inside and outside the light-region there
exists a quite different relation of levity and gravity - and this
relation changes abruptly at the boundaries of the region. (This fact
will be of especial importance for us when we come to examine the
arising of colours at the boundary of Light and Dark, when light passes
through a prism.)


After having replaced the customary concept of the light-bundle
composed of single rays by the conception of two dynamically polar
realms of space bordering each other, we turn to the examination of
what is going on dynamically inside these realms. This will help us to
gain a proper concept of the propagation of light through space.

In an age when the existence of a measurable light-velocity seems to
belong to the realm of facts long since experimentally proved; when
science has begun to measure the universe, using the magnitude of this
velocity as a constant, valid for the whole cosmos; and when entire
branches of science have been founded on results thus gained, it is not
easy, and yet it cannot be avoided, to proclaim that neither has an
actual velocity of light ever been measured, nor can light as such ever
be made subject to such measurement by optical means - and that,
moreover, light, by its very nature, forbids us to conceive of it as
possessing any finite velocity.

With the last assertion we do not mean to say that there is nothing
going on in connexion with the appearance of optical phenomena to which
the concept of a finite velocity is applicable. Only, what is
propagated in this way is not the entity we comprise under the concept
of 'light'. Our next task, therefore, will be to create a proper
distinction between what moves and what does not move spatially when
light is active in the physical world. Once more an historical
retrospect will help us to establish our own standpoint with regard to
the existing theories.

The first to think of light as possessing a finite velocity was
Galileo, who also made the first, though unsuccessful, attempt to
measure it. Equally unsuccessful were attempts of a similar nature made
soon afterwards by members of the Accademia del Cimento. In both cases
the obvious procedure was to produce regular flashes of light and to
try to measure the time which elapsed between their production and
their observation by some more or less distant observer. Still, the
conviction of the existence of such a velocity was so deeply ingrained
in the minds of men that, when later observations succeeded in
establishing a finite magnitude for what seemed to be the rate of the
light's movement through space, these observations were hailed much
more as the quantitative value of this movement than as proof of its
existence, which was already taken for granted.

A clear indication of man's state of mind in regard to this question is
given in the following passage from Huygens's famous Traité de la Lumière, by
which the world was first made acquainted with the concept of light as
a sort of undulatory movement.

'One cannot doubt that light consists in the movement of a certain
substance. For if one considers its production one finds that here on
the earth it is chiefly produced by fire and flame, which without doubt
contain bodies in rapid motion, for they dissolve and melt numberless
other bodies. Or, if one considers its effects, one sees that light
collected, for instance, by a concave mirror has the power to heat like
fire, i.e. to separate the parts of the bodies; this assuredly points
to movement, at least in true philosophy in which one traces all
natural activity to mechanical causes. In my opinion one must do this,
or quite give up all hope of ever grasping anything in physics.'

In these words of Huygens it must strike us how he first provides an
explanation for a series of phenomena as if this explanation were
induced from the phenomena themselves. After he has drawn quite
definite conclusions from it, he then derives its necessity from quite
other principles - namely, from a certain method of thinking, accepting
this as it is, unquestioned and unalterably established. We are here
confronted with an 'unlogic' characteristic of human thinking during
its state of isolation from the dynamic substratum of the world of the
senses, an unlogic which one encounters repeatedly in scientific
argumentation once one has grown aware of it. In circles of modern
thinkers where such awareness prevails (and they are growing rapidly
to-day) the term 'proof of a foregone conclusion' has been coined to
describe this fact.1

'Proof of a foregone conclusion' is indeed the verdict at which one
arrives in respect of all the observations concerned with the velocity
of light - whether of existing phenomena detectable in the sky or of
terrestrial phenomena produced artificially - if one studies them with
the attitude of mind represented by the child in Hans Andersen's story.
In view of the seriousness of the matter it will not be out of place if
we discuss them here as briefly as possible, one by one.2

The relevant observations fall into two categories: observations of
certain astronomical facts from which the existence of a finite
velocity of light and its magnitude as an absolute property of it has
been inferred; and terrestrial experiments which permitted direct
observation of a process of propagation connected with the
establishment of light in space resulting in the measurement of its
speed. To the latter category belong the experiments of Fizeau (1849)
and Foucault (1850) as well as the Michelson-Morley experiment with its
implications for Einstein's Theory of Relativity. The former category
is represented by Roemer's observations of certain apparent
irregularities in the times of revolution of one of Jupiter's moons
(1676), and by Bradley's investigation into the reason for the apparent
rhythmic changes of the positions of the fixed stars (1728).

We shall start with the terrestrial observations, because in their case
alone is the entire path of the light surveyable, and what is measured
therefore is something appertaining with certainty to every point of
the space which spreads between the source of the light and the
observer. For this reason textbooks quite rightly say that only the
results drawn from these terrestrial observations have the value of
empirically observed facts. (The interpretation given to these facts is
another question.)

Now, it is a common feature of all these experiments that by necessity
they are based on an arrangement whereby a light-beam can be made to
appear and disappear alternately. In this respect there is no
difference between the first primitive attempts made by Galileo and the
Academicians, and the ingeniously devised experiments of the later
observers, whether they operate with a toothed wheel or a rotating
mirror. It is always a flash of light - and how could it be otherwise?
- which is produced at certain regular intervals and used for
determining the speed of propagation.

Evidently what in all these cases is measured is the speed with which a
beam of light establishes itself in space. Of what happens within the
beam, once it is established, these observations tell nothing at all.
The proof they are held to give of the existence of a finite speed of
light, as such, is a 'proof of a foregone conclusion'. All they tell us
is that the beam's front, at the moment when this beam is first
established, travels through space with a finite velocity and that the
rate of this movement is such and such. And they tell us nothing at all
about other regions of the cosmos.

That we have to do in these observations with the speed of the
light-front only, and not of the light itself, is a fact fully
acknowledged by modern physical optics. Since Lord Rayleigh first
discussed this matter in the eighties of the last century, physicists
have learnt to distinguish between the 'wave-velocity' of the light
itself and the velocity of an 'impressed peculiarity', the so-called
'group-velocity', and it has been acknowledged that only the latter has
been, and can be, directly measured. There is no possibility of
inferring from it the value of the 'wave-velocity' unless one has a
complete knowledge of the properties of the medium through which the
'groups' travel. Nevertheless, the modern mind allows itself to be
convinced that light possesses a finite velocity and that this has been
established by actual measurement. We feel reminded here of Eddington's
comment on Newton's famous observations: 'Such is the glamour of a
historical experiment.' (Chapter XIV.)3

Let us now turn to Roemer and Bradley. In a certain sense Roemer's
observations and even those of Bradley rank together with the
terrestrial measurements. For Roemer used as optical signals the
appearance and disappearance of one of Jupiter's moons in the course of
its revolution round the planet; thus he worked with light-flashes, as
the experimental investigations do. Hence, also, his measurements were
concerned - as optical science acknowledges - with group-velocity only.
In fact, even Bradley's observations, although he was the only one who
operated with continuous light-phenomena, are exposed to the charge
that they give information of the group-velocity of light, and not of
its wave-velocity. However, we shall ignore these limitations in both
cases, because there are quite other factors which invalidate the
proofs they are held to give, and to gain a clear insight into these
factors is of special importance for us.

Roemer observed a difference in the length of time during which a
certain moon of Jupiter was occulted by the planet's body, and found
that this difference underwent regular changes coincident with the
changes in the earth's position in relation to Jupiter and the sun.
Seen from the sun, the earth is once a year in conjunction with
Jupiter, once in opposition to it. It seemed obvious to explain the
time-lag in the moon's reappearance, when the earth was on the far side
of the sun, by the time the light from the moon needed to cover the
distance marked by the two extreme positions of the earth - that is, a
distance equal to the diameter of the earth's orbit. On dividing the
observed interval of time by the accepted value of this distance,
Roemer obtained for the velocity of light a figure not far from the one
found later by terrestrial measurements.

We can here leave out of account the fact that Roemer's reasoning is
based on the assumption that the Copernican conception of the relative
movements of the members of our solar system is the valid conception,
an assumption which, as later considerations will show, cannot be
upheld in a science which strives for a truly dynamic understanding of
the world. For the change of aspect which becomes necessary in this way
does not invalidate Roemer's observation as such; it rules out only the
customary interpretation of it. Freed from all hypothetical by-thought,
Roemer's observation tells us, first, that the time taken by a flash of
light travelling from a cosmic light-source to reach the earth varies
to a measurable extent, and, secondly, that this difference is bound up
with the yearly changes of the earth's position in relation to the sun
and the relevant planetary body.

We leave equally out of account the fact that our considerations of the
nature of space in Chapter XII render it impermissible to conceive of
cosmic space as something 'across' which light (or any other entity)
can be regarded as travelling this or that distance in this or that
time. What matters to us here is the validity of the conclusions drawn
from Roemer's discovery within the framework of thought in which they
were made.

Boiled down to its purely empirical content, Roemer's observation tells
us solely and simply that within the earth's cosmic orbit light-flashes
travel with a certain measurable speed. To regard this information as
automatically valid, firstly for light which is continuously present,
and secondly for everywhere in the universe, rests again on nothing but
a foregone conclusion.

Precisely the same criticism applies to Bradley's observation, and to
an even higher degree. What Bradley discovered is the fact that the
apparent direction in which we see a fixed star is dependent on the
direction in which the earth moves relatively to the star, a phenomenon
known under the name of 'aberration of light'. This phenomenon is
frequently brought to students' understanding by means of the following
or some similar analogy.

Imagine that a machine-gun in a fixed position has sent its projectile
right across a railway-carriage so that both the latter's walls are
pierced. If the train is at rest, the position of the gun could be
determined by sighting through the shot-holes made by the entrance and
exit of the bullet. If, however, the train is moving at high speed, it
will have advanced a certain distance during the time taken by the
projectile to cross the carriage, and the point of exit will be nearer
the rear of the carriage than in the previous case. Let us now think of
an observer in the train who, while ignorant of the train's movement,
undertook to determine the gun's position by considering the direction
of the line connecting the two holes. He would necessarily locate the
gun in a position which, compared with its true position, would seem to
have shifted by some distance in the direction of the train's motion.
On the other hand, given the speed of the train, the angle which the
line connecting the two holes forms with the true direction of the
course of the projectile - the so-called angle of aberration - provides
a measure of the speed of the projectile.

Under the foregone conclusion that light itself has a definite
velocity, and that this velocity is the same throughout the universe,
Bradley's observation of the aberration of the stars seemed indeed to
make it possible to calculate this velocity from the knowledge of the
earth's own speed and the angle of aberration. This angle could be
established by comparing the different directions into which a
telescope has to be turned at different times of the year in order to
focus a particular star. But what does Bradley's observation tell us,
once we exclude all foregone conclusions?

As the above analogy helps towards an understanding of the concept of
aberration, it will be helpful also to determine the limits up to which
we are allowed to draw valid conclusions from the supposed occurrence
itself. A mind which is free from all preconceived ideas will not
ignore the fact that the projectile, by being forced to pierce the wall
of the carriage, suffers a considerable diminution of its speed. The
projectile, therefore, passes through the carriage with a speed
different from its speed outside. Since, however, it is the speed from
hole to hole which determines the angle of aberration, no conclusion
can be drawn from the latter as to the original velocity of the
projectile. Let us assume the imaginary case that the projectile was
shot forth from the gun with infinite velocity, and that the
slowing-down effect of the wall was great enough to produce a finite
speed of the usual magnitude, then the effect on the position of the
exit hole would be precisely the same as if the projectile had moved
all the time ' with this speed and not been slowed down at all.

Seeing things in this light, the scientific Andersen child in us is
roused to exclaim: 'But all that Bradley's observation informs us of ,
with certainty is a finite velocity of the optical process going on
inside the telescope!' Indeed, if someone should claim with good reason
(as we shall do later on) that light's own velocity is infinite, and
(as we shall not do) that the dynamic situation set up in the telescope
had the effect of slowing down the light to the measured velocity -
there is nothing in Bradley's observation which could disprove these


Having thus disposed of the false conclusions drawn by a kinematically
orientated thinking from the various observations and measurements of
the velocity which appears in connexion with light, we can carry on our
own studies undisturbed. Two observations stand before us representing
empirically established facts: one, that in so far as a finite velocity
has been measured or calculated from other observations, nothing is
known about the existence or magnitude of such a velocity except within
the boundaries of the dynamic realm constituted by the earth's presence
in the universe; the other, that this velocity is a 'group'-velocity,
that is, the velocity of the front of a light-beam in process of
establishment. Let us see what these two facts have to tell us when we
regard them as letters of the 'word' which light inscribes into the
phenomenal world as an indication of its own nature.

Taking the last-named fact first, we shall make use of the following
comparison to help us realize how little we are justified in drawing
from observations of the front speed of a light-beam any conclusions
concerning the kinematic conditions prevailing in the interior of the
beam itself. Imagine the process of constructing a tunnel, with all the
efforts and time needed for cutting its passage through the resisting
rock. When the tunnel is finished the activities necessary to its
production are at an end. Whereas these continue for a limited time
only, they leave behind them permanent traces in the existence of the
tunnel, which one can describe dynamically as a definite alteration in
the local conditions of the earth's gravity. Now, it would occur to no
one to ascribe to the tunnel itself, as a lasting quality, the speed
with which it had been constructed. Yet something similar happens when,
after observing the velocity required by light to lay hold on space,
this velocity is then attributed to the light as a quality of its own.
It was reserved for a mode of thought that could form no concept of the
real dynamic of Light and Dark, to draw conclusions as to the qualities
of light from experiences obtained through observing its original
spreading out into space.

To speak of an independently existing space within which light could
move forward like a physical body, is, after what we have learnt about
space, altogether forbidden. For space in its relevant structure is
itself but a result of a particular co-ordination of levity and gravity
or, in other words, of Light and Dark. What we found earlier about the
qualities of the two polar spaces now leads us to conceive of them as
representative of two limiting conditions of velocity: absolute
contraction representing zero velocity; absolute expansion, infinite
velocity (each in its own way a state of 'rest'). Thus any motion with
finite velocity is a mean between these two extremes, and as such the
result of a particular co-ordination of levity and gravity. This makes
it evident that to speak of a velocity taking its course in space,
whether with reference to light or to a physical body in motion, is
something entirely unreal.

Let us now see what we are really told by the number 186,000 miles a
second, as the measure of the speed with which a light-impulse
establishes itself spatially. In the preceding chapter we learnt that
the earth's field of gravity offers a definite resistance to our visual
ray. What is true for the inner light holds good equally for the outer
light. Using an image from another dynamic stratum of nature we can say
that light, while appearing within the field of gravity, 'rubs' itself
on this. On the magnitude of this friction depends the velocity with
which a light-impulse establishes itself in the medium of the resisting
gravity. Whereas light itself as a manifestation of levity possesses
infinite velocity, this is forced down to the known finite measure by
the resistance of the earth's field of gravity. Thus the speed of light
which has been measured by observers such as Fizeau and Foucault
reveals itself as a function of the gravitational constant of the
earth, and hence has validity for this sphere only.1 The same is true
for Roemer's and Bradley's observations, none of which, after what we
have stated earlier, contradicts this result. On the contrary, seen
from this viewpoint, Roemer's discovery of the light's travelling with
finite speed within the cosmic realm marked by the earth's orbit
provides an important insight into the dynamic conditions of this


Among the experiments undertaken with the aim of establishing the
properties of the propagation of light by direct measurements, quoted
earlier, we mentioned the Michelson-Morley experiment as having a
special bearing on Einstein's conceptual edifice. It is the one which
has formed the foundation of that (earlier) part of Einstein's theory
which he himself called the Special Theory of Relativity. Let us see
what becomes of this foundation - and with it the conceptual edifice
erected upon it - when we examine it against the background of what we
have found to be the true nature of the so-called velocity of light.

It is generally known that modern ideas of light seemed to call for
something (Huygens's 'certain substance') to act as bearer of the
movement attributed to light. This led to the conception of an
imponderable agency capable of certain movements, and to denote this
agency the Greek word ether was borrowed. (How this word can be used
again to-day in conformity with its actual significance will be shown
in the further course of our discussions.) Nevertheless, all endeavours
to find in the existence of such an ether a means of explaining wide
fields of natural phenomena were disappointed. For the more exact
concepts one tried to form of the characteristics of this ether, the
greater the contradictions became.

One such decisive contradiction arose when optical means were used to
discover whether the ether was something absolutely at rest in space,
through which physical bodies moved freely, or whether it shared in
their movement. Experiments made by Fizeau with running water seemed to
prove the one view, those of Michelson and Morley, involving the
movement of the earth, the other view. In the celebrated
Michelson-Morley experiment the velocity of light was shown to be the
same, in whatever direction, relative to the earth's own motion, it was
measured. This apparent proof of the absolute constancy of
light-velocity - which seemed, however, to contradict other
observations - induced Einstein to do away with the whole assumption of
a bearer of the movement underlying light, whether the bearer were
supposed to be at rest or itself in motion. Instead, he divested the
concepts of space and time, from which that of velocity is usually
derived, of the absoluteness hitherto attributed to them, with the
result that in his theory time has come to be conceived as part of a
four-dimensional 'space-time continuum'.

In reality the Michelson-Morley experiment presents no problem
requiring such labours as those of Einstein for its solution. For by
this experiment nothing is proved beyond what can in any event be known
- namely, that the velocity of the propagation of a light-impulse is
constant in all directions, so long as the measuring is confined to
regions where the density of terrestrial space is more or less the
same. With the realization of this truth, however, Einstein's Special
Theory loses its entire foundation. All that remains to be said about
it is that it was a splendid endeavour to solve a problem which,
rightly considered, does not exist.1


Now that we have realized that it is inadmissible to speak of light as
consisting of single rays, or to ascribe to it a finite velocity, the
concept of the refraction of light, as understood by optics to-day and
employed for the explanation of the spectrum, also becomes untenable.
Let us find out what we must put in its place.

The phenomenon which led the onlooker-consciousness to form the idea of
optical refraction has been known since early times. It

consists in the fact, surprising at first sight, that an object, such
as a coin, which lies at the bottom of a vessel hidden from an observer
by the rim, becomes visible when the vessel is filled with water.
Modern optics has explained this by assuming that from the separate
points of the floor of the vessel light-rays go out to all sides, one
ray falling in the direction of the eye of the observer. Hence, because
of the positions of eye and intercepting rim there are a number of
points from which no rays can reach the eye. One such point is
represented by the coin (P in Fig. 12a). Now if the vessel is filled
with water, light-rays emerging from it are held to be refracted, so
that rays from the points hitherto invisible also meet the eye, which
is still in its original position. The eye itself is not conscious of
this 'break' in the light-rays, because it is accustomed to 'project'
all light impressions rectilinearly out into space (Fig. 12b.). Hence,
it sees P in the position of P'. This is thought to be the origin of
the impression that the whole bottom of the vessel is raised.

This kind of explanation is quite in line with the peculiarity of the
onlooker-consciousness, noted earlier, to attribute an optical illusion
to the eye's way of working, while charging the mind with the task of
clearing up the illusion. In reality it is just the reverse. Since the
intellect can form no other idea of the act of seeing than that this is
a passive process taking place solely within the eye, it falls, itself,
into illusion. How great is this illusion we see from the fact that the
intellect is finally obliged to make the eye somehow or other 'project'
into space the impressions it receives - a process lacking any concrete
dynamic content.

Once more, it is not our task to replace this way of 'explaining' the
phenomenon by any other, but rather to combine the phenomenon given
here with others of kindred nature so that the theory contained in them
can be read from them direct. One other such phenomenon is that of
so-called apparent optical depth, which an observer encounters when
looking through transparent media of varying optical density. What
connects the two is the fact that the rate of the alteration of depth,
and the rate of change of the direction of light, are the same for the
same media.

In present-day optics this phenomenon is explained with reference to
the former. In proceeding like this, optical science makes the very
mistake which Goethe condemned in Newton, saying that a complicated
phenomenon was made the basis, and the simpler derived from the
complex. For of these two phenomena, the simpler, since it is
independent of any secondary condition, is the one showing that our
experience of depth is dependent on the density of the optical medium.
The latter phenomenon we met once before, though without reference to
its quantitative side, when in looking at a landscape we found how our
experiences of depth change in conformity with alterations in
atmospheric conditions. This, then, served to make us aware that the
way we apprehend things optically is the result of an interplay between
our visual ray and the medium outside us which it meets.

It is exactly the same when we look through a vessel filled with water
and see the bottom of it as if raised in level. This is in no sense an
optical illusion; it is the result of what takes place objectively and
dynamically within the medium, when our eye-ray passes through it. Only
our intellect is under an illusion when, in the case of the coin
becoming visible at the bottom of the vessel, it deals with the coin as
if it were a point from which an individual ray of light went out.. ..
etc., instead of conceiving the phenomenon of the raising of the
vessel's bottom as one indivisible whole, wherein the coin serves only
to link our attention to it.


Having thus cleared away the kinematic interpretation of the
coin-in-the-bowl phenomenon, we may pass on to discuss the optical
effect through which the so-called law of refraction was first
established in science. Instead of picturing to ourselves, as is
usually done, light-rays which are shifted away from or towards the
perpendicular at the border-plane between two media of different
optical properties, we shall rather build up the picture as light
itself designs it into space.

We have seen that our inner light, as well as the outer light, suffers
a certain hindrance in passing through a physical medium - even such as
the earth's gravity-field. Whilst we may not describe this retardation,
as is usually done, in terms of a smaller velocity of light itself
within the denser medium, we may rightly say that density has the
effect of lessening the intensity of the light. (It is the time
required for the initial establishment of a light-filled realm which is
greater within such a medium than outside it.) Now by its very nature
the intensity of light cannot be measured in spatial terms. Yet there
is a phenomenon by which the decrease of the inner intensity of the
light becomes spatially apparent and thus spatially measurable. It
consists in the alteration undergone by the aperture of a cone of light
when passing from one optical medium to another.

If one sets in the path of a luminous cone a glass-walled trough filled
with water, then, if both water and surrounding air are slightly
clouded, the cone is seen to make a more acute angle within the water
than outside it (Fig. 13). Here in an external phenomenon we meet the
same weakening in the light's tendency to expand that we recognized in
the shortening of our experience of depth on looking through a dense
medium. Obviously, we expect the externally observable narrowing of the
light-cone and the subjectively experienced change of optical depth to
show the same ratio.

In order to compare the rate of expansion of a luminous cone inside and
outside water, we must measure by how much less the width of the cone
increases within the water than it does outside. (To be comparable, the
measurements must be based upon the same distances on the edge of the
cone, because this is the length of the way the light actually
travels.) In Fig. 13 this is shown by the two distances, a-b and a'-b'.
Their ratio is the same as that by which the bottom of a vessel appears
to be raised when the vessel is filled with water (4:3).

Thus by means of pure observation we have arrived at nothing less than
what is known to physical optics as Snell's Law of Refraction. This law
was itself the result of pure observation, but was clothed in a
conceptual form devoid of reality. In this form it states that a ray of
light in transition between two media of different densities is
refracted at their boundary surface so that the ratio of the angle
which is formed by the ray in either medium with a line at right angles
to the boundary surface is such that the quotient of the sines of both
angles is for these media a constant factor. In symbols
sin α / sin β = c.

It will be clear to the reader familiar with trigonometry that this
ratio of the two sines is nothing else but the ratio of the two
distances which served us as a measure for the respective apertures of
the cone. But whereas the measurement of these two distances is
concerned with something quite real (since they express an actual
dynamic alteration of the light), the measuring of the angle between
the ray of light and the perpendicular is founded on nothing real. It
is now clear that the concept of the ray, as it figures in the usual
picture of refraction, is in reality the boundary between the luminous
space and its surroundings. Evidently the concept of the perpendicular
on the boundary between the two media is in itself a complete
abstraction, since nothing happens dynamically in its direction.

To a normal human understanding it is incomprehensible why a ray of
light should be related to an external geometrical line, as stated by
the law of refraction in its usual form. Physical optics, in order to
explain refraction, had therefore to resort to light-bundles spatially
diffused, and by use of sundry purely kinematic concepts, to read into
these light-bundles certain processes of motion, which are not in the
least shown by the phenomenon itself. In contrast to this, the idea
that the boundary of a luminous cone is spatially displaced when its
expansion is hindered by an optical medium of some density, and that
the measure of this displacement is equal to the shortening of depth
which we experience in looking through this medium, is directly
evident, since all its elements are taken from observation.


From what we have here found we may expect that in order to explain the
numerical relationships between natural phenomena (with which science
in the past has been solely concerned), we by no means require the
artificial theories to which the onlooker in man, confined as he is to
abstract thinking, has been unavoidably driven. Indeed, to an observer
who trains himself on the lines indicated in this book, even the
quantitative secrets of nature will become objects of intuitive
judgment, just as Goethe, by developing this organ of understanding,
first found access to nature's qualitative secrets. (The change in our
conception of number which this entails will be shown at a later stage
of our discussions.)

1 Compare with this our account in Chapter X of the rise of the
atomistic-kinematic interpretation of heat.

2 The following critical study leaves, of course, completely untouched
our recognition of the devotion which guided the respective observers
in their work, and of the ingenuity with which some of their
observations were devised and carried out.

3 The assumption is that the wave-velocity differs from the
group-velocity, if at all, by a negligible amount.

4 Once this is realized there can be no doubt that with the aid of an
adequate mathematical calculus (which would have to be established on a
realistic understanding of the respective properties of the fields of
force coming into play) it will become possible to derive by
calculation the speed of the establishment of light within physical
space from the gravitational constant of the earth.

5 The grounds of Einstein's General Theory were dealt with in our
earlier discussions.


The Spectrum as a Script of the Spirit

The realization that Newton's explanation of the spectrum fails to meet
the facts prompted Goethe to engage in all those studies which made him
the founder of a modern optics based on intuitive participation in the
phenomena. In spite of all that he achieved, however, he never reached
a real solution of the riddle of the colour-phenomenon produced when
light passes through a transparent body of prismatic shape. For his
assumption of certain 'double images', which are supposed to appear as
a result of the optical displacement of the boundaries between the
Light-filled and the Dark-filled parts of space and the mutual
superposition of which he believed to be responsible for the appearance
of the respective colours, does not solve the problem.1

What hindered Goethe in this field was his limited insight into the
nature of the two distinct kinds of forces which, as we have noted in
the course of our own inquiries, correspond to his concepts of Licht
and Finsternis.

With the aid of this distinction - which we have indeed established
through a consistent application of Goethe's method - we shall now be
able to develop precisely that insight into the coming-into-being of
the spectral colours which Goethe sought.2


Dynamically, the process of the formation of the spectrum by light that
passes through a prism divides into two clearly distinguishable parts.
The first consists in the influence which the light undergoes inside
the prism as a result of the latter's special shape, the other, in what
happens outside the prism at the boundary between the Light-space -
influenced by the shape of the prism - and the surrounding Dark-space.
Accordingly, we shall study these two parts of the process separately.

As an aid to distinguishing clearly one process from the other, we
shall suppose the prism experiment to be so arranged that the light
area is larger than the width of the prism, which will then lie
completely within it. We shall further suppose the dimensions of the
whole to be such that the part observable on the screen represents only
a portion of the total light-realm situated between the boundaries of
the prism. The result is that the screen depicts a light-phenomenon in
which there is no trace of colour. For normal eyesight, the phenomenon
on the screen differs in no way from what it would be if no prism
intervened in the path of the light.

These two seemingly identical light-phenomena reveal at once their
inner dynamic difference if we narrow the field of light from either
side by introducing into it an object capable of casting shadow. If
there is no prism we see simply a black shadow move into the illumined
area on the screen, no matter from which side the narrowing comes. If,
however, the light has come through a prism (arranged as described
above) certain colours appear on the boundary between the regions of
light and shadow, and these differ according to the side from which the
darkening is effected. The same part of the light area may thus be made
to display either the colours of the blue pole of the colour-scale, or
those of the yellow pole. This shows that the inner dynamic condition
of the light-realm is altered in some way by being exposed to an
optically resistant medium of prismatic shape. If we are to find the
cause and nature of this alteration we must revert to the prism itself,
and inquire what effect it has on light in the part of space occupied
by it. By proceeding in this way we follow Goethe's model: first, to
keep the two border-phenomena separate, and, secondly, not to ascribe
to the light itself what is in fact due to certain boundary conditions.

In order to realize what happens to the light in passing through the
prism, let us remember that it is a characteristic of an ordinary
light-beam to direct itself through space in a straight line if not
interfered with, and to illuminate equally any cross-section of the
area it fills. Both these features are altered when the light is
exposed to a transparent medium of prismatic shape - that is, to an
optically resistant medium so shaped that the length of the light's
passage through it changes from one side of the beam to the other,
being least at the so-called refracting edge of the prism, greatest at
the base opposite to that. The dimming effect of the medium, therefore,
has a different magnitude at each point of the width of the beam.
Obviously, the ratio between levity and gravity inside such a
light-realm, instead of being constant, varies from one side to the
other. The result is a transverse dynamic impulse which acts from that
part of the light-realm where the weakening influence of the prism is
least towards the part where it is strongest (see long arrow in Plate
C, Fig. i).3 This impulse manifests in the deflection of the light from
its original course. Apart from this, nothing is noticeable in the
light itself when caught by an observation screen, the reason being
that the transverse impulse now immanent in the light-realm has no
effect on the reflecting surface.

The situation changes when the light-realm is narrowed down from one
side or the other - in other words, when an abrupt change of the
field-conditions, that is, a sudden leap from light to dark or from
dark to light, is introduced within this realm. In this case, clearly,
the effect of the transverse field-gradient on such a leap will be
different, depending on the relation between the directions of the two
(see small arrows in Fig. i). Our eyes witness to this difference by
seeing the colours of the blue pole of the colour-scale appear when the
field-gradient is directed towards the leap (a), and the colours of the
yellow pole when the gradient is directed away from it (b).

For our further investigation it is very important to observe how the
colours spread when they emerge at the edge of the shadow-casting
object thus introduced into the light-realm from the one side or the
other. Figs, ii and iii on Plate C show, closely enough for our
purpose, the position of the colour-bearing areas in each case, with
the dotted line indicating the direction which the light would have at
the place of origin of the colours if there were no object interfering
with its free expansion.4 We observe a distinct difference in the
widening out of the two colour-areas on both sides of the original
direction of the light: in each case the angle which the boundary of
the colour-area forms with this direction is smaller on the side of the
colours nearest the light-realm (blue and yellow respectively) than on
the opposite side (violet and red).

Remembering what we have learnt about the dynamic characteristics of
the two colour-poles, we are now in a position to state the following.
When a light-area subject to a lateral gradient is narrowed down, so
that the gradient is directed towards the narrowing object, colours
arise in which the interaction between the two polarically opposite
forms of density is such that positive density makes for lightness, and
negative density for darkness. Whereas, when the border is so situated
that the gradient is directed away from it, the interaction is such
that positive density makes for darkness, and negative density for
lightness. Further, the fact that on both occasions the darkness
element in the colour-band increases in the outward direction tells us
that in this direction there is on the blue-violet side a gradual
decrease in positive, and increase in negative, density, while on the
opposite side we find just the reverse. We note again that both
processes occupy a considerable part of the space originally outside
the boundaries of the light-area - that is, at the violet end the part
towards which the light-beam is deflected, and at the red end the part
from which it turns away.

The visual ray, when penetrating actively into the two colour-phenomena
thus described, receives evidence of a dynamic happening which may be
expressed as follows.

Where the transverse impulse, which is due to the varying degree of
Trübung in the light-realm, is directed towards the latter's edge, the
intermingling of the Dark-ingredient and the Light-ingredient,
contained in that realm, is such that Dark follows Light along its
already existing gradient, thereby diminishing steadily. Hence our
visual ray, meeting conditions quite similar to those occurring when we
look across the light-filled atmosphere into universal space, notifies
us of the presence of the blue-violet colour-pole. If, on the other
hand, the edge is in the wake of the transverse impulse, then a kind of
dynamic vacuum arises in that part of space from which the beam is
deflected, with the effect that the Dark-ingredient, imprinted on the
light within the prism, is drawn into this vacuum by following a kind
of suctional influence. Consequently Dark and Light here come to oppose
one another, and the former, on its way out of the light-area, gains in
relative strength. On this side our visual ray meets conditions
resembling those which occur when we look across the darkening
atmosphere into the sun. Accordingly our optical experience tells us of
the presence of the yellow-red colour-pole.

From our description of the two kinds of dynamic co-ordination of
positive and negative density at the two ends of the spectrum it
follows that the spatial conditions prevailing at one end must be quite
different from those at the other. To see this by way of actual
perception is indeed not difficult. In fact, if we believe that we see
both ends of the spectrum lying, as it were, flatly on the surface of
the observation screen, this is merely an illusion due to our
superficial way of using our eyes. If we gaze with our visual ray
(activated in the manner previously described) into the two sides of
the spectrum, while turning our eyes alternately in one or other
direction, we soon notice that the colours of the yellow-red rise
towards the eye so as to give the impression of protruding almost
corporeally from the surface of the screen. We feel: Density obtains
here in a state of fiery radiation. When turning to the other side we
feel our visual ray, instead of being as before caught up in the
colours, passing freely across the colours as if carried by them into
the infinite. On the blue-violet side, space itself seems to fluoresce
mysteriously5. Following Goethe's conception of the physical-moral
effect of colours, we may describe the experience received thus from
the two poles of the spectrum by saying that an 'other-worldly'
character belongs to the colours of the blue-violet pole; an 'earthly'
character to those of the yellow-red; while that of green, which
appears when both sides are made to overlap, witnesses to its mediating
nature between the two.


In our endeavour to view the fundamental experiment of Newtonian optics
with the eyes of Goethe we have been led from the wide expanse of the
earth's sunlit periphery into the confines of the darkened experimental
chamber. With the aid of the results gained from studying the
artificially produced spectrum phenomenon, we shall now return to our
original field of observation in order to study the same phenomenon in
nature. There it meets us in the form of the rainbow, which we shall
now be able to read as a chapter in the great book of nature.

From what we have learnt already we can say at once that the rainbow
must represent some sort of border-phenomenon, thus pointing to the
existence of a boundary between two space-regions of differing
illumination. Our question therefore must be: what is the light-image
whose boundary comes to coloured manifestation in the phenomenon of the
rainbow? There can be no doubt that the image is that of the sun-disk,
shining in the sky. When we see a rainbow, what we are really looking
at is the edge of an image of the sun-disk, caught and reflected, owing
to favourable conditions, in the atmosphere. (Observe in this respect
that the whole area inside the rainbow is always considerably brighter
than the space outside.)

Once we realize this to be the true nature of the rainbow, the peculiar
order of its colours begins to speak a significant language. The
essential point to observe is that the blue-violet part of the spectrum
lies on the inner side of the rainbow-arch - the side immediately
adjoining the outer rim of the sun-image - while the yellow-red part
lies on the outer side of the arch - the side turned away from the
sun-image. What can we learn from this about the distribution of
positive and negative density inside and outside the realm occupied by
the sun-disk itself in the cosmos?

We remember that along the gradient from blue to violet, negative
density (Light) increases and positive density (Dark) decreases, while
from yellow to red it is just the reverse-positive density increases
and negative density decreases. The rainbow therefore indicates a
steady increase of Dark towards the outer rim, and of Light towards the
inner. Evidently, what the optical image of the sun in the atmosphere
thus reveals concerning the gradation of the ratio between Light and
Dark in the radial direction, is an attribute of the entire light-realm
which stretches from the sun to that image. And again, the attribute of
this realm is but an effect of the dynamic relation between the sun
itself and the surrounding cosmic space.

The rainbow thus becomes a script to us in which we read the remarkable
fact that the region occupied by the sun in the cosmos is a region of
negative density, in relation to which the region surrounding the sun
is one of positive density. Far from being an accumulation of
ponderable matter in a state of extremely high temperature, as science
supposes, the sun represents the very opposite of ponderability. (It
would be beyond the scope of this book to show how in the light of this
fact one learns to re-read the various solar phenomena known to

Once we realize this, our judgment of all that our terrestrially
devised optical instruments, such as the telescope and spectroscope,
tell us about the nature of the sun and its surroundings, will change
accordingly. For it becomes clear that for the interpretation of solar
phenomena shown by these instruments we cannot properly use concepts
derived from observations within the earth's realm of positive density.

To compare adequately solar and terrestrial phenomena, we must keep in
mind that they are in every respect polar opposites. For instance, the
fact that the spectroscope reveals phenomena in the sun's light which
are strikingly similar to others occurring when earthly matter is first
caused to emit light - that is, brought near the upper border of its
ponderable existence - and then studied spectroscopically, should not
impose on us the illusion that the sun consists of matter in this same
condition. On the contrary, the similarity should tell us that
imponderable substance, while on its way between sun and earth to
ponderable existence, assumes, at the point of transition, aspects
exactly like those revealed by ponderable substance at the
corresponding point in its upward transformation.

What we observe, when we study the sun through a spectroscope, is not
the sun itself, but the conditions obtaining in this border-region,
where imponderable substance enters the earth-realm.

The rainbow, directly we learn to see it as the border-phenomenon that
it is, tells us something of itself which revives in modern form a
conception held generally in former ages, when it was seen as a
mediator between the cosmic-divine and the earthly-human worlds. Thus
the Bible speaks of it as a symbol of God's reconciliation with the
human race after the great Flood. Thus the Greeks beheld it when they
saw it as the bridge of Iris, messenger of the Gods; and similarly the
Germanic mythology speaks of it as the pathway along which the souls of
the fallen warriors draw near to Valhalla. By recovering this old
conception in a new and scientifically grounded form we are enabled
also to rectify the misunderstanding from which the ancient
bridge-conception of the rainbow has suffered in later days, when
tradition had begun to replace direct insight into the truth.

When with the rise of man's onlooker-relation to the world of the
senses, the rainbow could appear to him only as a form flattened
against the sky, people began to think that the ancient picture of it
as a bridge had been derived from its likeness to the latter's arched
form. Representations of the rainbow from these times indeed show
supersensible beings, such as the souls of the dead, moving upwards and
downwards along the two halves of the arch. It is not in this abstract
way that ancient man formed his cosmic imagery. What was seen going on
between the upper and nether worlds when a rainbow appeared in the
heights of the atmosphere was no traffic over the arch, but an
interplay across the rainbow between the realm of levity, glimmering
down in the rainbow's violet border, and the realm of gravity glowing
up from the red. And this is how we have now learnt to see it again.


At one point in our optical studies (page 259) we referred to some
words of Ruskin in which he deplored the influence exerted on the
soul-life of modern man by the world-conception of science. He
illustrated this by showing how much less inspiration a man trained in
the science of optics receives from the sight of a rainbow than does a
'simple peasant'. One lesson of our studies is that training in optics,
if it proceeds on Goethean lines, has no such detrimental effect. There
is, however, a further problem, outside Ruskin's scope, which we are
now able to approach in the same healthy way.

Ruskin distinguishes between three possible stages in man's relation to
the world of the senses. The first stage he calls that of 'inactive
reverie'; the second - in a certain respect more advanced - that of
'useful thought', the stage of scientifically awakened man to whom all
things disintegrate into countable and nothing but countable parts.
Beyond this, Ruskin conceives of a third, still higher stage, in which
man becomes capable of raising himself through 'higher contemplation'
into an artistic-ethical relation to the content of the sense-world.
Now, in the way Ruskin represents the second and third stages they seem
to be exclusive of one another. That was as far as he could go, in his
own day. Natural observation along Goethean lines leads to a form of
higher contemplation which unites the second and third stages by
nourishing man's ethical being and at the same time furnishing him with
useful knowledge-knowledge, that is, which enables him to improve the
conditions of the human race on the earth. The following is an example
of the practical possibilities that open up in the field we are
discussing if we apply the knowledge gained through our new approach to
the forces working in nature.

We shall speak here of a task of experimental research which was
mentioned by Rudolf Steiner in connexion with the renewal of natural

Rudolf Steiner felt the need for pioneers who, by advancing along the
paths opened up by Goethe, would press forward into the realm of
undiscovered phenomena on the upper border of nature, and this prompted
him to give to those who were ready to listen various pointers towards
new ways of experimental research. In so far as practical results have
already been reached along these lines, they lie in the fields of
biology and physiology (and of chemistry, in a certain respect) rather
than in that of physics. Now, among the indications given in this
latter field, and not yet worked out, there is one which deals with a
way, unknown to-day, of influencing the spectrum by the magnet.

The possibility of a magnetic influence on the spectrum is, in itself,
not unknown to modern physics. It was the Dutchman, Zeeman, who first
observed a change in the appearance of certain spectral lines as a
result of light passing through a magnetic field. This discovery,
however, is in two respects typical of modern science. The Zeeman
effect consists in the splitting up of certain spectral lines into
other lines - hence, of a breaking up of a whole into parts. And by
seemingly providing a decisive confirmation of contemporary views
concerning the electromagnetic nature of light, Zeeman's discovery has
formed one of the milestones in the progress of modern physical thought
- with the usual result that an enlargement of man's knowledge of the
behaviour of natural forces has served to entangle his conception of
nature still more deeply in illusion.

Apart from the fact that our own way of combining observation and
thought guards us against drawing theoretical conclusions from Zeeman's
discovery, Rudolf Steiner's indication opens up the prospect of
achieving quite practical results, opposite in character to those of
the Zeeman effect. For in contradistinction to the use of a magnetic
field for splitting the spectrum, Rudolf Steiner has made us aware of
the possibility of uniting into a higher synthesis parts of the
spectrum which normally appear in separated form. His indication points
to nothing less than a leading over of the optically produced spectrum
from its usual linear form, with two boundaries on either side, into a
closed circular form, and of doing this by an adequate application - as
yet undiscovered - of magnetic force. Further, according to his
statement, the point where the two ends of the spectrum meet will prove
to be a fountain-head of certain higher natural forces which otherwise
are not directly accessible.

In order to understand how this is possible, we must remember that in
two respects the spectrum is not a complete phenomenon. There is, to
begin with, the fact that the colour-band visible on the observation
screen is only apparently confined to the surface of the screen. For,
as we have seen, because of the differing co-ordination of levity and
gravity at the two ends of the spectrum, the conditions of space
prevailing at each are polarically opposite. Negative space opens up
spherically behind the blue-violet colours on one side, while positive
space, filled by the radially shining yellow-red colours, arises on the
other. So we see that what we found earlier for the two poles of
magnetism and electricity holds good also for the spectrum. That is,
the two processes bringing about the relevant phenomena are not
confined to the part of space which these phenomena seem to occupy; for
the whole positive and negative realms of the universe share in them.
Hence the spectrum, though apparently bounded at its two ends, proves
by its very nature to be part of a greater whole.

Once before we were led to recognize - though from a different aspect -
that the spectrum is a phenomenon which, when rightly viewed, calls for
a certain completion. In following Goethe's initial observations we
realized that the known spectrum, extending from red via green to
violet, has a counterpart extending from violet via peach-blossom to
red. The reader may have wondered why we never returned to this other
spectrum, in spite of the role it played in making Goethe aware of
Newton's error. The reason was that in order to gain the understanding
we needed of the spectrum, we had to observe the two border-phenomena
independently - that is, without regard to their relative positions.
Moreover, with ordinary optical means it is possible to produce only
one type of spectrum at a time, so that each is left in need of being
complemented by the other. In order to have both together in finite
space, as part of one and the same phenomenon, space itself must be
dynamically transformed in such a way that the continuation of the
finite spectral band running through infinity enters into the finite as

Our understanding of magnetism as a specific representation of the
polarity of the second order enables us to comprehend, at least in
principle, how magnetism might influence - not light itself, as
present-day physics erroneously believes - but the secondary polarity
of the spectral colours formed out of the primary polarity Light and
Dark. To see this in all necessary detail is a task of the future,
beyond the scope of this book. We have here to continue our account of
Rudolf Steiner's statement by communicating what he indicated
concerning the particular nature of the new source of force which would
appear in the normally infinite part of the spectrum, if this were
brought into the region of the finite.

In order to understand the significance of this indication we must turn
our attention to parts of the ordinary spectrum, well known in
themselves, which we have purposely left out of our study so far. These
are the regions of the ultra-violet and the infra-red, invisible in
themselves, but forming part of the spectrum as a whole. The
ultraviolet manifests through chemical effects, the infra-red through
thermal effects. We have left them out of our considerations because
these regions of the spectrum differ from the visible part not only
quantitatively, as present-day science believes, but qualitatively
also, and in a fundamental way. We must regard them as dynamic realms
of particularly extreme spherical and radial activities. As such they
represent metamorphoses, in the Goethean sense, of the levity-gravity
interaction represented by the optically visible part of the spectrum.
In this way the spectrum discloses a threefold differentiation of that
region of force, which up to now we have called simply levity, into
activities producing chemical, optical and thermal effects.

So far physical investigation is able to lead us, but no further. If,
however, we let nature herself speak to us, while holding this
differentiated concept of levity in mind, she tells us that beyond the
three metamorphoses envisaged so far, there must be a fourth.

Let us remember that it was certain phenomena of life which first made
us aware of the existence of a realm of forces with the attributes of
anti-gravity, and that these forces revealed themselves first as
creators of form. Now it is obvious that warmth, light and chemical
energy, though they all play an essential part in living organisms,
could never by themselves bring about that 'catching from chaos,
carbon, water, lime and what not and fastening them into a given form'
which Ruskin describes as the activity of the spirit in the plant. In
order to be in this sense an instrument of the spirit active in nature,
levity must be capable of yet another metamorphosis into an activity
which controls the other three, so that through their action,
definitely shaped organic structures may come into being.

The reason why this fourth and highest metamorphosis of Light does not
appear in the ordinary spectrum is because it is of too spiritual a
quality to be caught by the optical apparatus. In nature herself a
creative life-process requires always the presence of a germ already
imbued with life. And so, in order to call this fourth metamorphosis of
Light into the spectrum, stronger means are needed than the mere
optical transformation of light-filled spaces. This stronger agent,
according to Rudolf Steiner, is magnetism. With the aid of this it will
be possible to organize together round a common spatial centre that
part of the activity of levity which escapes the optical instrument and
thus remains cosmic, and that part which appears by itself in
terrestrial space.

Once this is practically carried out, we may expect a complete
colour-circle to appear as already divined by Goethe. The full circle
consists of twelve discernible colours, with the Goethean peach-blossom
diametrically opposite the green. It is in this region of the
peach-blossom that - again according to Rudolf Steiner - we shall find
a source of actively working life-forces, springing from the fourth
metamorphosis of levity. Such is the prospect for research work guided
on the new lines.


The fact of our having disclosed here one of Rudolf Steiner's
indications concerning as yet undetected possibilities of scientific
research, makes it necessary to deal with an objection which may be
raised, particularly by some readers who already know this indication
through their own relation to Rudolf Steiner's work. They may object to
a discussion of the subject in a publication such as this, feeling it
dangerous to hand over to the world information which in the economic
battles of to-day might be used in a sense contrary to the social-moral
aims to which the work of Rudolf Steiner was dedicated.

In reply it may be said that all we have gone through in this book has
shown that concrete knowledge of the world cannot be gained without a
certain ethical effort by the seeker. Therefore, anyone who receives
such knowledge with a passive attitude of soul will find it
meaningless, and will be quite unable to turn it to practical account.
We may therefore rest assured that the solution of the problem related
here, as of any other experimental task set by Rudolf Steiner, will
contain in itself a guarantee that no use will be made of it
detrimental to the true progress of mankind.

On the other hand, the present world-situation, which to so high a
degree is determined by the vast liberation of the sub-physical forces
of the earth, makes one feel it is essential not to close the
considerations of the fields of knowledge dealt with in these chapters,
without a hint at the practical possibilities which arise from a
continuation of Goethe's strivings in this field.

1 See, in Rudolf Steiner's edition of Goethe's scientific writings, his
footnote to Goethe's criticism of Nuguet's theory of the spectrum in
the historical part of the Farbenlehre (Vol. IV, p. 248, in Kürschner's

2 It is obvious that the reader who wishes to appreciate fully the
significance of the observations described in the following paragraphs,
must, as in previous cases, carry out these observations himself.

3 In this and the two following diagrams the light-realm has been
represented as being less wide than the space obtained by the prism. To
avoid unnecessary complexity the colours which, in such a case,
actually appear at the border of the light-realm where it emerges from
the prism are not shown in any of the diagrams.

4 This direction can be established with sufficient exactitude by
holding a very thin object right in front of the prism and marking with
a stretched thread the direction which leads from the object to its
shadow on the screen. The colour-producing edge must then be introduced
from either side so that it just touches the thread.

5 The difference in character of the various parts of the spectrum, as
described above, comes out particularly impressively if for capturing
the colour-phenomenon one uses instead of a flat white surface, a clear
crystal of not too small size, or else a cluster of crystals - moving
it slowly along the coloured band from one end to the other. (I am
indebted to Fr. Julius, teacher of Natural Science at the Free School
in The Hague, for this suggestion.)


Towards a New Cosmosophy


The Country in which Man is not a Stranger

I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I question
a window concerning sight. I look through it and not with it.


A fundamental achievement along our path of study was the recognition
that a force of levity exists, polar to that of gravity, and that these
two together represent a primary polarity in nature which in turn is
the source of nature's manifold secondary polarities.

In the last part of these studies a vista opened up of an inner
differentiation of levity itself into warmth, light, chemical action
and the formative activity of life. Our next task will be to develop a
clearer conception of these four modes of action of levity.

In undertaking this task, however, we shall have to extend our
observations of nature beyond the frontier that can be reached by using
only what we can learn from Goethe. It is here that Rudolf Steiner
comes to our aid by what he was able to impart through his researches
in the realm of the supersensible itself.

This turning to information given by another mind, whose sources of
knowledge are beyond our own immediate reach, seems at first sight to
be incompatible with the principles guiding all our studies hitherto;
for in gaining insight into the How and Whence of a phenomenon of the
sense-world we have up to now admitted only what is yielded by an
observation of the phenomenon per se (though with the aid of the 'eye
of the spirit') and of other phenomena related to it. This is what we
have called 'reading in the book of nature', and we have found it to be
the method on which a science aspiring to overcome the onlooker-picture
of the universe must be based. So we must first make sure that the step
we now propose to take does not violate

this principle.


The assurance we want will be found in two characteristics of the
communications made by Rudolf Steiner from his researches. The content
of these communications was acquired by way of a 'reading' which is
nothing but a higher metamorphosis of the reading first employed by
Goethe; and the acceptance of this content by another mind is itself
nothing but another act of reading, save that the direction of the
reading gaze differs from the usual one.

In order to understand this we must go back to what we learnt in the
course of our optical studies as to the two forms of vision arising
from the activity of the eye's inner light - the dream-vision and the
seeing of after-images. Of these two, seeing in dream is in a certain
sense the purer form of inner seeing in that it arises without any
outer stimulus exercised upon the physical organ of sight. On the other
hand, it lacks that objective conformity to law characteristic of the
after-images which mirror the order of the external world. There is an
arbitrary, enigmatic element in dream-pictures, and their logic often
seems to run counter to that of waking consciousness. A further
characteristic of dream-perception is that we are tied to the level of
consciousness prevailing in the dream. While we are dreaming we cannot
awaken to the extent of being able to make the pictures the object of
conscious observation.

With the after-images it is different. Although to begin with they are
present in our consciousness with a clarity no greater than that of the
dream-pictures, nevertheless we are able so to enhance our
consciousness of them as to bring them under observation like any
external phenomenon. As previously shown, it is possible, even while
the eye is riveted on an impression from outside, to develop such
awareness in the activity of the inner light called forth by this
impression, that together with the results of the deeds and sufferings
of the light we can perceive something of these deeds and sufferings
themselves. Perception of the after-images thus turns into what we may
call perception of simultaneous images. (This activity of the eye
corresponds with what Goethe, in a different connexion, called an
'alliance of the eyes of spirit with the eyes of the body'.)

These two forms of visual perception - which we may briefly call: (1)
perception of post-images, and (2) perception of co-images - represent
successive rungs on a 'spiritual ladder' pointing beyond themselves to
a further rung. By the logic of succession this may be expected to
consist in some sort of seeing of pre-images, with the characteristic
of being a still less physical mode of seeing than the two others. This
seeing must be based on an activity of the inner light which will be
similar to that in dream by its arising without any stimulus from
external light-impressions, yet at the same time there must be no
arbitrariness in the contents of this perception. Further, our
consciousness in this perceptive activity must be such as to allow us
to be in full control of it, as we are of ordinary day-waking seeing.

This kind of pure sense-free perception does indeed exist, and it can
be aroused by means of a well-ordered training from the dormant state
in which it is present in every human being. Anyone who learns to see
in this way gains perception of the activity of cosmic light,
contacting it directly with his own inner light - that is to say,
without mediation of his corporeal eye which is subject to gravity. So
this eye-of-the-spirit becomes capable of perceiving the levity-woven
archetypes (ur-images), which underlie all that the physical eye
discerns in the world of ordinary space.

In respect of the intrinsic character of the world-content thus
perceived, Rudolf Steiner called this mode of perception, Imaginative
perception, or, simply, Imagination. By so doing he invested this word
with its due and rightful meaning.

From what we found in our optical studies concerning the nature of
after-images (Chapter XV), it is clear that the acquisition of
Imaginative perception rests on a re-awakening in the eye (and thus in
the total organism behind the eye) of certain 'infant' forces which
have grown dormant in the course of the growing up of the human being.
It thus represents a fulfilment of Thomas Reid's philosophic demand.
Consequently we find among the descriptions which Traherne gives of the
mode of perception peculiar to man when the inner light, brought into
this world at birth, is not yet absorbed by the physical eye, many
helpful characterizations of the nature of Imaginative perception, some
of which may be quoted here.

Consider, in this respect, the following passage from Traherne's poem
The Praeparative, quoted earlier. In describing the state of soul at a
time when the physical senses are not yet in operation, Traherne says:

'Then was my Soul my only All to me,

A living, endless Ey, Whose Power, and Act, and Essence was to see:

I was an inward Sphere of Light Or an interminable Orb of Sight,
Exceeding that which makes the Days,
A vital sun that shed abroad its Rays:
All Life, all Sense,
A naked, simple, pure Intelligence.''

This is the condition of soul of which Traherne says in the same poem
that through it a man is still a recipient of the 'true Ideas of all
things'. In this condition the object of sight is not the corporeal
world which reflects the light, but light itself, engaged in the
weaving of the archetypal images. In a later passage of the same poem
Traherne expresses this by saying:

'Tis not the Object, but the Light
That maketh Hev'n. ...'

And more clearly still in the following part of his poem An Infant Eye:
'A simple Light from all Contagion free,
A Beam that's purely Spiritual, an Ey
That's altogether Virgin, Things doth see
Ev'n like unto the Deity;
That is, it shineth in an hevenly Sense,
And round about (Unmov'd) its Light dispense.

'The visiv Rays are Beams of Light indeed,
Refined, subtil, piercing, quick and pure;
And as they do the sprightly winds exceed,
Are worthy longer to endure;
They far out-shoot the Reach of Grosser Air,
With which such Excellence may not compare.
But being once debas'd, they soon becom
Less activ than they were before.'

How at this stage the soul experiences the act of perception in itself
is shown in the following passage from the poem Wonder:

'A Nativ Health and Innocence
Within my Bones did grow
And while my God did all his Glories show
I felt a vigour in my Sense
That was all SPIRIT: I within did flow
With seas of Life like Wine.'

Utterances of this kind illustrate the fact that perception of the
ur-images of the world consists in a reading with the
eye-of-the-spirit, which has been rendered so strong that for its
action no support from the physical eye is any longer required. This
faculty of spiritual Imagination (which Rudolf Steiner was able to
exercise in advance of other human beings) is acquired on a path of
training which is the direct continuation of the Goethean path.1

It remains to show that acceptance of information obtained through
spiritual Imagination, without ourselves being as yet in actual command
of it, is not in contradiction with the principles of 'reading'. Let
us, to this end, think of reading in the ordinary sense of this word,
calling to mind that for the acquisition of this faculty we depend on
someone who can teach it because he already has it. Exactly the same
holds good for the reading with which we are here concerned. Here, too,
a teacher already possessing this faculty is required. Thus Goethe
became for us a teacher of reading, and it would be a mistake to
imagine that he, for his part, needed no teacher. In his case this
function was fulfilled partly by what he learned through his studies of
the earlier fruits of man's spiritual activity, that is, from an epoch
when vestiges at least of the original, instinctive faculty of
spiritual Imagination were still extant. A similar function on our own
path of study was performed by our occupation with the old doctrine of
the four elements and the basic concepts of alchemy.

Indispensable as is such a training in reading by turning to past
conceptions of man, it does not suffice to meet the present-day demands
of a scientific understanding of the universe. For this, we need a
'technique' of reading that cannot be attained along these lines alone.
Awareness of this fact led Rudolf Steiner to pursue his
spiritual-scientific investigations and to communicate the results in
such a way that they can be a 'school of reading' for those who study
them.2 In point of fact we have already made use in this sense of one
of the results of Rudolf Steiner's researches, for at the very
beginning of this book his picture of the threefold psycho-physical
organism of man was taken as the basis of our own investigations. The
reason why the present remarks were not then included is that the
relevant results of higher research were in that case of such a nature
that, once known, they could be confirmed by the simplest kind of
self-observation. The fact, however, remains that from the very
beginning we have called upon one fully trained in reading, to help in
deciphering certain facts of nature - in this case of human nature.

A similar need, though now in an amplified form, arises at the present
stage of our studies. And here, out of the wealth of knowledge conveyed
by Rudolf Steiner from the realm of supersensible Imagination, it is
his characterization of the four modifications of levity which will now
give the guidance necessary for our own observation. Adopting the
terminology chosen by him for the description of this sphere, we shall
in future speak of it as of the 'Ether' pervading the universe (thus
using this word also in its true and original meaning). Accordingly, we
shall refer to its fourfold differentiation as to the four kinds of
ether: Warmth-Ether, Light-Ether, Chemical Ether and Life-Ether.

* *

We begin with the warmth-ether as the only modification of ether which
combines certain etheric with certain physical properties. Constituting
as it does a border-condition between the two worlds, the warmth-ether
has, on the one hand, the function of receiving the picture-weaving
transmitted to it by the higher ethers, and, on the other, of bringing
physical matter into the state where it becomes receptive to the
working of the etheric forces. The warmth-ether achieves this by
freeing matter from being controlled one-sidedly by the centre-bound
forces of the earth. It thus calls forth, when acting physically, the
processes of melting of solids and of evaporation of liquids: phenomena
which yielded the initial observations for our introduction of the
concept of levity. In processes of this kind we now recognize the
physical manifestation of a universal function of the warmth-ether,
namely, to divest matter of all form and to lead it over from the realm
dominated by gravity into that of levity. Provided we attach the right
meaning to the word, we may say that the function of the warmth-ether
is to bring about chaos at the upper border of physical nature. It is
thus that we have already found it working in the plant, when through
the union of the pollen with the seed a state of chaos is produced
within the seed, which enables the type to impress anew its
form-principle into it.

Another instance of the warmth-ether's anti-gravitational effect, also
discussed earlier, is the earth's seismic activity. True, it appears at
first sight as if little were gained by speaking of warmth-ether,
instead, as we did previously, of levity in general. But it must not be
forgotten that in the ether-realm as a whole, warmth - that is, the
overcoming of earthly gravity - is only one of the four modes of
etheric action, albeit the one which enables the other three to work
into the physical world. We shall see, later on, that only by taking
into account the action of the higher modifications of the ether is it
possible to gain insight into the true causes of the apparently so
arbitrary occurrences of volcanic and kindred phenomena. Here, too, it
is the function of the warmth-ether to produce in the physical sphere
the chaos which is necessary to make the physical sphere receptive to
the activities going on in higher spheres.

In view of this universal function of the warmth-ether, which
distinguishes it from the other modifications of ether, we may give it
as a second name that of 'chaoticizing ether'.

* *

The function of the light-ether, the second of the four modes of ether,
can best be envisaged by thinking of the difference between a plant
growing in darkness (perhaps a potato sprouting in a cellar) and
another of the same species exposed to the influence of the light. On
Plates VII and VIII two kinds of unicellular organisms are shown, of
one which - the green algae - is accustomed to live in light, the other
- the bacilli - in darkness. These things are, of course, well-known
facts. Our purpose here, however, is not merely to record them as
'fact', but, by re-creating them within ourselves, to use them to gain
an experience of the function of the light-ether.

The following passages from Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants are a
classical example of observation of the activity of the light-ether in
the plant. They are taken from the second part of the essay, where
Goethe is describing leaf-development:

'While the leaves owe their first nourishment principally to the more
or less modified watery parts, which they draw from the stem, they are
indebted for their increased perfection and refinement to the light and
air. The cotyledons which are formed beneath the closed seed-sheath are
charged, so to speak, with only a crude sap; they are scarcely and but
rudely organized and quite undeveloped. In the same way the leaves are
more rudely organized in plants which grow under water than in others
which are exposed to the open air. Indeed, even the same species of
plant develops smoother and less intricately formed leaves when growing
in low damp places, whereas, if transplanted to a higher region, it
will produce leaves which are rough, hairy and more delicately

'So it is also with the anastomosis of the vessels which spring forth
from the larger veins, seeking each other with their ends and
coalescing, and thus providing the necessary basis for the leaf-skin or
cuticle. All this, if not entirely caused by subtle forms of air, is at
least very much furthered by them. If the leaves of many water-plants
are thread-like or assume the form of antlers, we are inclined to
attribute it to lack of complete anastomosis. The growth of the water
buttercup, Ranunculus aquatilis, shows this quite obviously, with its
aquatic leaves consisting of mere thread-like veins, while in the
leaves developed above water the anastomosis is complete and a
connected plane is formed. Occasionally, indeed, in this plant, the
transition may be still more definitely observed, in leaves which are
half anastomosed and half thread-like.'

The second of these paragraphs describes the phenomenon of vascular
anastomosis which, having already been more than once an object of our
study, here reveals a new meaning. If, following Goethe's method, we
re-create in our mind the repeated separations and reunions of the
sap-vessels, while keeping in view the fact that the leaf's outer form
is the result of a purposive, many times repeated anastomosis, then the
picture of the activity of weaving arises before our mind's eye. (Hence
the word 'tissue' for the flesh of a living being.) In truth all
nature's forms are woven of light, including the crystals.3

How clear a picture Goethe had of the conformity of man's act of
thinking with nature's way of producing her forms - both being an act
of supersensible weaving - is shown by the following two verses. That
on the left is a passage from Faust, from the scene in which Mephisto
(disguised as Faust) instructs the young Scholar. The other is an
altered version of it, written by Goethe at a later time to conclude an
essay (Bedenken und Ergebung) in which he deals with the problem of the
relation between Experience and Idea:

Truly, when men their thoughts conceive
'Tis as if some masterpiece they weave.
One thread, and a thousand strands take flight,
Swift to and fro the shuttles going,
All unseen the threads a-flowing,
One stroke, and a thousand close unite.1

So with a modest eye perceive
Her masterpiece Dame Nature weave.
One thread, and a thousand strands take flight,
Swift to and fro the shuttles going,
Each to the other the threads a-flowing,
One stroke, and a thousand close unite.4 -

What Goethe wants to show here by applying to the activity of nature
the same image which he used originally to depict the act of thinking,
we can express to-day by saying that it is the identity of the activity
of the light-ether in human thinking and in external nature which is
responsible for the fact that the objective ideas operating in nature
can become the content of man's consciousness in the form of thoughts.5

Following our previous procedure when we gave the warmth-ether a second
name by calling it chaoticizing ether, we can denote the light-ether
also as 'weaving ether'.


If at this point in our discussion we revert once more to the realm of
physical manifestations of light, dealt with in the preceding chapters,
we do so because by studying them in the present context we shall gain
further insight into the fact that one plane of nature provides
illustrations of processes which on another plane remain more or less
veiled. At the same time this will help us to learn more about the
properties of levity-space. The optical phenomenon which we shall
discuss in this sense is that of the so-called pin-hole camera. (The
pin-hole camera effect is easily produced by a keyhole in a closed door
which on one side faces a window and on the other leads to a
comparatively dark room.)

The usual explanation of the appearance of the optical image on the
back inside wall of such a camera is that light-rays, emanating from
every point outside, cross each other in the aperture of the camera and
so - again point by point - create the inverted image. No such
explanation, clearly, is open to us. For the world of external objects
is a whole, and so is its image appearing in the camera. Equally, the
light entering the camera is not a sum of single rays. Pure observation
leads to the following description of the optical process.

By surveying the path which the light takes from the illuminated
surface of the outer objects via the pin-hole to the optical image
inside the camera, we realize that the light-realm engaged in this
process has the shape of a double cone, with its apex in the opening of
the camera. Within this cone the light carries the image across the
space stretching in front of the light-reflecting objects up to the
point where the image becomes visible by being caught on the back wall
of the camera.

Thus in every section of the cone the image is present in its totality
- even in the very apex of the cone. There, too, the image in all its
details is present as a whole, though without (ideally) any spatial
extension. Seen thus, on this level of its action the light-ether
reveals as one of its characteristics the faculty of making present in
a spaceless point an image originally expanded in space, and of letting
it emerge from this point in spatial expansion.

Further, there is the fact that, wherever we set up a pin-hole camera,
the aperture in its front will cause the formation of an optical image
inside it. This shows that each point in space filled with light is the
bearer of an optical image, contracted to a point, of the entire world
of light-reflecting objects surrounding it. All we do with such a
camera is to select a particular image and bring it to separate

Through these observations we grow aware of light's faculty of
communicating simultaneously to space as a whole, and to each point in
it, a potential image of the light-reflecting object.

What we observe here in the sphere of physical light-activity is
exactly what the light-ether performs on a higher level of nature when
with its help the spiritual archetype of a plant takes on spatial
appearance. For to this end the archetype, itself without spatial
limitations, imprints its image into the tiny seed, whence the growing
plant organism carries it again into space. And there is in principle
no limitation to the number of such seeds, each of which will bear the
complete image of the archetype.

* *

The characteristics of the third modification of ether are such that
they prompted Rudolf Steiner to give it as a second name, besides
chemical ether, that of sound-ether. In view of the fact, stressed at
the beginning of this chapter, that perception of the ether is achieved
by a heightening of the power of the spirit-eye, it must cause surprise
to learn that a certain mode of activity of the ether has a quality
which makes appeal to aural experiences. The full answer to this riddle
must await the discussion that follows this chapter. Two points,
however, may be brought forward at once. Firstly, where gravity, with
its tendency to individualize, is absent, no such sharp distinctions
exist between one form of perception and another as are found in the
sphere of the physical senses.6 Secondly, even in ordinary
sense-perception a certain overlapping of visual and aural experiences
is known to us. We need only think how common it is to give musical
attributes, such as 'consonant' and 'dissonant' to colours, and to
describe tones as 'light' and 'dark'. The reason is that subconsciously
we accompany visual experiences with tone-sensations, and vice versa.
Cases are even known of human beings in whom the secondary sensation
occurs with such intensity as to equal the primary one. Such people say
that they 'see' sounds and 'hear' colours.


Everything that is true of the supersensible sphere we may expect to
come to expression in some form in the world of sense-perception. The
sphere of the ether is the sphere of the creative archetypes of the
world, and when we learn that to one part of this world the character
of sound is attributed, we must search for a phenomenon, perceptible to
our senses, which reveals to us the secret of the sound's form-creating
power. This we have in the so-called sound-figures, discovered by the
German physicist Chladni (1756-1827) and called after him 'Chladni's
sound-figures'. A short description of how they are produced will not
be out of place.

A round or square plate of glass or brass, fixed at its centre so that
it can vibrate freely at its edges, is required. It is evenly and not
too thickly covered with fine sand or lycopodium powder and then caused
to vibrate acoustically by the repeated drawing of a violin-bow with
some pressure across the edge of the plate until a steady note becomes
audible. Through the vibrations thus caused within the plate, the
particles of sand or powder are set in movement and caused to collect
in certain stationary parts of the plate, thereby creating figures of
very regular and often surprising form. By stroking the plate at
different points on the edge, and at the same time damping the
vibrations by touching the edge at other points with the finger, notes
of different pitch can be produced, and for each of these notes a
characteristic figure will appear (Fig. 14).7

The significance for us of Chladni's experiment will emerge still more
clearly if we modify it in the following way. Instead of directly
setting the plate with the powder into vibration by stroking it with
the bow, we produce a corresponding movement on a second plate and let
it be transmitted to the other by resonance. For this purpose the two
plates must be acoustically tuned to each other and placed not too far
apart. Let us imagine, further, that the whole experiment was arranged
- as it well might be - in such a way that the second plate was hidden
from a spectator, who also lacked the faculty of hearing. This gives us
a picture of the situation in which we find ourselves whenever the
higher kinds of ether by way of a tone-activity inaudible to our
physical ear, cause shapeless matter to assume regularly ordered form.


This comparison of the activity of the sound-ether, as the
form-creating element in nature, with Chladni's phenomenon is drawn
correctly only if we recognize that the conception of form, as an
expression of that which is called forth through the etheric forces in
nature, comprises more than the external spatially bounded shape of an
organic or inorganic entity. Apart from the fact already indicated,
that for the formation of such entities the co-operation also of
life-ether is necessary, we can judge the activity of sound-ether
correctly only if we conceive it as a much more inward activity,
compared with the formation in external space of Chladni's figures. In
the latter case, the reason why the influence of sound causes nothing
beyond the ordering of form in outer space is because on this plane of
nature the only changes that can occur are changes in the positions of
separate physical bodies. Where the forces of sound in ether-form are
able to take hold of matter from within, they can produce changes of
form of a quite different kind. This effect of the activity of
sound-ether has given it its other name: chemical ether.

We have mentioned once before that our conception of 'form' in
organically active nature must not be limited merely to that of a
body's spatial outline. This was in connexion with Ruskin's definition
of the spiritual principle active in plant-formation as 'the power that
catches out of chaos charcoal, water, lime and what not, and fastens
them down into a given form'. Besides the external order of matter
revealed in space-form, there exists also an inner qualitative order
expressed in a body's chemical composition. Upon this inner chemical
order is based all that we encounter as colour, smell, taste, etc., of
a substance, as well as its nourishing, healing or harmful properties.
Accordingly, all these parts of an organism, both in the plant-kingdom
and within the higher organisms, have a certain inner material order,
apart from their characteristic space-structure. The one is never
present without the other, and in some way they are causally connected.

In this inner order of substance we must see in the very first place
the work of the sound or chemical ether. And we should be aware that by
the word 'chemistry' in this connexion we mean something much more
far-reaching than those chemical reactions which we can bring about by
the reciprocal affinity of physical substances, however complicated
these reactions may be. A few examples will illustrate the difference
between chemical processes caused by direct influence of the chemical
ether, and others in which only the physical consequences of the ether
are effective.

In his book, Man the Unknown, Professor Carrel shows very impressively,
by an example from the human organism, the difference of quantitative
ratio in externally similar processes, one of which occurs within the
domain of life, the other, outside it. He compares the quantity of
liquid necessary to keep artificially alive a piece of living tissue
which has been reduced to pulp, with the quantity of blood doing the
same within the living organism. If all the tissues of a human body
were treated in this way, it would take 45,000 gallons of circulating
fluid to keep them from being poisoned in a few days by their own waste
products. Within the living organism the blood achieves the same task
with 1J gallons.

Very many chemical changes within living organisms are effected by the
two polar processes of oxidation and reduction. We have discussed them
repeatedly as hieroglyphs of much that occurs in nature by way of
polarity. In accordance with the principle ruling the physical plane of
nature, that differences of level tend to disappear, oxidation can
occur by itself, whereas reduction requires the expenditure of energy.
Let us from this point of view compare the transformation of oxidized
into reduced iron, as it takes place inside and outside the realm of

An example of this process in its purely physical form is the reduction
of iron-ore to metallic iron in blast-furnaces, where, with the help of
high temperature and high pressure, carbon is made to combine with the
oxygen ingredient of the ore and to impart to it its own imponderable
energy. Precisely the same process is going on continuously and
unobtrusively within the human body under normal bodily conditions of
temperature and pressure, when the oxy-haemoglobin of the arterial
blood changes over into the haemoglobin of the venous blood. A
macrotelluric counterpart of this is the transformation of the red
river-mud into the blue-black continental mud at the bottom of the sea,
around the continental shores. Here, again, reduction takes place
without those preliminaries that are necessary for carrying through the
process by technical means.

Through examples of this kind we gain insight into the nature of the
chemical ether as a 'magic' force (in the sense in which we have
introduced this term at the beginning of the book). What the chemical
ether is capable of effecting in a gentle manner, so to speak, in
cooperation with the inertness-overcoming power of the warmth-ether,
can be imitated physically only by an extraordinary concentration of
external energy and the use of masses of material substance. At the
same time the imitation is never complete. For to all that happens
through the action of the chemical ether there belongs the quality of
cosmic youth, while everything brought about in a purely physical
manner is of necessity cosmically old.8

Of all the provinces of nature towards which man's exploring eye has
turned since the dawn of the onlooker-consciousness, none has furthered
his purely quantitative thinking more than chemistry, ever since the
discovery that the chemical reactions of the various substances are
conditioned by a quite definite and constant numerical relationship. It
was these relationships which impelled the rise of the atomic
conception of matter and all its consequences. For since the
onlooker-consciousness is quite unable to conceive the existence of
numerical relationships in the physical world except as sums of
computable units in space, it was natural for this type of
consciousness to reduce all empirically established numerical
relationships to correspending relationships among quantities of the
smallest possible material or matter-like units.

Scientific thinking, if guided by knowledge of the existence of etheric
forces and their action, has no need of such an interpretation of the
numerical relationships revealed in the physical world; for it knows
them to be nothing but the last expression of the action of the
chemical ether (hence occasionally also called 'number-ether' by Rudolf
Steiner). To do justice to the appearance of measurable numerical
relationships in nature, in whatever sphere, it is necessary to free
ourselves from the abstract conception of number which governs modern
scientific thought and to replace it by a more concrete one. We shall
rind that for the existence of a certain number there may be two quite
different reasons, although the method of establishing the number
itself is the same in each case. A simple example will illustrate this.

Let us look at a number of similar objects, say a group of five apples.
We observe that the relation of the number five to the group of objects
in front of us is purely external and accidental. In applying to it the
conception 'five' we combine the single objects into a group and give
it a name, or numerical label, which has nothing to do with the nature
of the items making up the group. This way of thinking, we may observe,
is of exactly the kind which the nominalists of the Middle Ages
attributed to every conception formed by the human mind. In fact, the
process of counting is a process of pure abstraction. The more
differentiated are the things which we want to combine into a group
through the process of counting, the further this abstraction has to
go. We can count apples and pears together under the collective
conception of 'fruit'; if turnips are added, we must help ourselves out
with the conception 'vegetable products'; until finally we deal only
with 'things', without considering any qualitative differentiation.
Thus the conception of number is created solely within the human mind,
which applies it to things from outside.

From the moment when human consciousness was unable to attribute to
itself any other than a purely nominalistic mode of comprehension it
was inevitable that all explanations of natural phenomena would have
two results: (1) the exclusion from observation of everything that
could not be conceived in terms of numbers, and (2) an endeavour to
find for every numerical relationship capable of empirical proof an
explanation which could be interpreted as the result of taking
qualitatively identical units and counting them. For this method of
forming conceptions is the only one which nominalism can accept with a
good conscience. The fact that in so doing it is led ad absurdum has
only quite lately occurred to it. For if by the logical following of
this path - as in modern theoretical physics - the whole universe is
dissolved into units which can no longer be distinguished from each
other, then it will become impossible to count these parts, for it
cannot be established whether any given one of these hypothetical
elemental particles has been counted or not. None the less, Eddington
claimed to have found the exact number of particles composing the
universe - a number with 80 figures - by using a special calculus, but
this number is valid only on the supposition that the particles cannot
be counted because they are indistinguishable!9

However correct the nominalistic conception of number may be in such a
case as that of numbering the five apples, it is wholly incorrect to
restrict the concept of number itself to one valid for this kind of
occurrence. We shall see this immediately if we take one of the apples
and cut it across. There we find the number five confronting us in the
well-known star-like figure, represented by the fivefold pericarp in
the centre of the apple. What man, restricted as he was to the mode of
understanding, has completely overlooked is this: although the act of
counting, by which we establish the number five, is the same in both
cases, the quality of the number five is totally different. For in the
case of the five pericarps this number is a quality immanent in the
apple, which it shares with the whole species of Rosaceae. The apple
itself is just as much 'five' as it is 'round', 'sweet', etc. In the
supersensible type which creates in the plant its own organ of
manifestation, the creation of a number - in the apple the number five
- is part of the form-creating activities characteristic of the type.
The numerical relationships which appear between natural phenomena
depend upon the way in which the chemical ether participates. This is
true equally of those discovered by chemistry in the sphere of
inorganic matter and used to-day with such great success.

Let us be quite clear that the relationship of unity to plurality in
the case of the five apples is totally different from what it is in the
fivefold pericarp. In the first case unity is the smallest quantity
represented by each of the five apples. There, the step from one to two
is made by joining together two units from outside. The path from one
to many is by way of continuous addition. In the second case the unity
is represented by the pericarp - i.e. by the one comprising the many,
the latter appearing as parts of the whole. In such a case two is part
of one and so are three, four, five, etc. Plurality arises from a
continuous process of division of unity.

The ancient world knew the idea of number only in the last-mentioned
form. There unity appeared as an all-embracing magnitude, revealed
through the Universe. The world's manifoldness was felt to be not a
juxtaposition of single things, externally connected, but the content
of this unity, and therefore derived from it. This was expressed by the
pre-Socratic Greek philosophers in the formula έν και παν (the One and the All).

With the appearance of the Arabs on the scene of history, human thought
turned to the additive concept of number, and the original distributive
concept receded gradually into oblivion. The acceptance of the new
concept made it possible for the first time to conceive the zero. It is
clear that by a continuous division of unity one is carried to a
constantly growing number of constantly diminishing parts, but without
ever reaching the nothing represented by the number zero. To-day we
should say that in this way we can reach zero only by an infinite
series of steps. Yet the idea of the infinite did not exist in this
form for ancient man. On the other hand, in the arabic conception of
number the steps necessary to reach zero are finite. For just as by the
external addition of unities we can step forward from one number to the
next, so we can also step back on the same path by repeated
subtractions of unities. Having thus reached One, nothing can stop us
from going beyond it by one more such step. The arabic numeral system,
therefore, is the only one to possess its own symbol for zero.

It has been correctly noted that the penetration into European thought
of this additive concept of number was responsible for developing the
idea of the machine; for it accustomed human beings to think calmly of
zero as a quantity existing side by side with the others. In ancient
man the idea of nothingness, the absolute void, created fear; he judged
nature's relation to the void accordingly, as the phrase 'natura
abhorret vacuum' indicates. His capacity to think fearlessly of this
vacuum and to handle it thus had to be developed in order to bring
about the Machine Age, and particularly the development of efficient
steam engines. Consider also the decisive part played by the vacuum in
Crookes's researches, through which the path to the sub-physical realm
of nature was laid open.

Yet nature makes use of number as a regulating factor in quite a
different way from its appearance in the purely electrical and
gravitational connexions of inorganic matter, namely where sound-ether
from the upper boundary of nature so regulates nature's dynamic that
the manifold sense-qualities appear in their time-and-space order. When
we interpret the arrangement of numbers found there on a nominalistic
basis, as is done when the axis- and angle-relationships of crystals
are reduced to a mere propinquity of the atoms distributed like a grid
in space, or when the difference in angle of the position of the
various colours in the spectrum is reduced to mere differences in
frequency of the electromagnetic oscillations in a hypothetical ether -
then we bar the way to the comprehension not only of number itself, as
a quality among qualities, but also of all other qualities in nature.


(e) LIFE

As already mentioned, the three kinds of ether, warmth, light and
sound, are not sufficient in themselves to bring into existence what in
its proper sense we call 'life' in nature, i.e. the formation of single
living organisms. This requires the action of a fourth kind of ether,
the life-ether, ranged above the other three. We can best comprehend
the life-ether's contribution to the total activity of the ether in
nature by considering the interaction of the four kinds of ether with
the four physical elements.

We have seen that the warmth-ether has the double function of being at
once the lowest ether and the highest physical element, thus acting as
a sphere of reflexion for the other kinds of ether and the elements
respectively. Each stage in the etheric has its reflexion in the
physical, as the above table shows. Thus to the physical air the
etheric light is related. (The affinity of light and air is best seen
in the plant and its leaf-formation.) To bring about real changes in
the material composition of the physical world requires the stronger
powers of the chemical ether. Therefore it is also the first ether of
which we had to speak as 'magical' ether. Its effects reach into the
watery element which is already bound up with gravity, but by its own
strength it cannot penetrate beyond that. The causation of material
changes in the liquid sphere would in fact be all that these three
kinds of ether could achieve together.

Only when the power of the life-ether is added to the three others can
etheric action reach as far as the sphere of solid matter. Thus the
life-ether is responsible for all solid formation in nature, both in
her organic and inorganic fields (the latter-crystal-formation-being
the effect of external ether-action).10 It is to the action of the
life-ether that nature owes the existence in her different realms of
multitudes of separate solid forms. To mention an instance from our
previous studies: in the same way as volcanic phenomena manifest the
warmth-ether's gravity-overcoming power on a macrotelluric scale, so
snow-formation illustrates the life-ether's matter-shaping might.

Through its power to bind flowing action into solid form, the
life-ether is related to the sound-ether in the same way as the
articulated word formed by human speaking is related to the mere
musical tone. The latter by itself is as it were fluid. In human speech
this fluidity is represented by the vowels. With a language consisting
only of vowels man would be able to express feelings, but not thoughts.
To let the word as carrier of thought arise out of sound, human speech
possesses the consonants, which represent the solid element in it.

The emergence of the sense-bearing word from the merely ringing sound
is an exact counterpart to what takes place in nature when the play of
organic liquids, regulated by the chemical ether, is caused by the
life-ether to solidify into outwardly perceptible form. By reading in
this way the special function of the life-ether among the other three,
we are led to the term ' Word-ether' as an appropriate second name for
it, corresponding to the term sound-ether for the chemical ether.


Thus Levity presents itself to us as being engaged in the fourfold
activity of Chaoticizing, Weaving, Sounding and, lastly, Speaking the
form-creative Cosmic Word into the realm of Gravity.

1 To avoid misunderstandings, it should be emphasized that spiritual
Imagination is not attained by any exercise involving directly the
sense of sight and its organ, the eye, but by purely mental exercises
designed to increase the 'seeing' faculty of the mind.

2 Indeed, it is a misunderstanding of the whole meaning of
Anthroposophy when its contents are quoted - as they sometimes are even
by adherents - in such a way as to suggest that by their help a better
'explanation' may be gained of matters for which there is otherwise no,
or at least no satisfactory, explanation. The question: 'How does
Anthroposophy explain this or that?' is quite wrongly put. We ought
rather to ask: 'How does Anthroposophy help us to read more clearly
this or that otherwise enigmatical chapter of the script of existence?'

3 See Space and the Light of Creation, by G. Adams, where this
'weaving' is shown with the help of projective geometry.

4 Translation by J. Darrell.

5 We may recall here also the passage from Ruskin's The Queen of the
Air, quoted earlier, p. 118).

6 That the ether, apart from being supersensibly seen, is also heard,
was empirically known to Goethe. See the opening words of the 'Prologue
in Heaven" (Faust, I) and the call of the Spirit of the Elements in the
first scene of the Second Part of the drama, which follow upon the
stage direction: 'The sun announces his approach with overwhelming

7 By attending Chladni's lectures on his discovery in Paris the French
physicist Savart became acquainted with this phenomenon and devoted
himself to its study. Chladni and Savart together published a great
number of these figures.

8 Understanding the attributes of the chemical ether enables us to see
in their right perspective Rudolf Steiner's suggestions to farmers for
the preparation of the soil and for keeping healthy the crops growing
on it. Attempts have been made to dismiss these suggestions by calling
them 'mysticism' and 'mediaeval magic'. Both terms are titles of honour
if we understand by the one the form of insight into the supersensible
realm of nature acquired by the higher mode of reading, and by the
other a faculty of nature herself, whose magic wand is the chemical or

9 See Eddington's humorous and at the same time serious treatment of
this problem in his Philosophy of Physical Science.

10 Of the difference between external and internal ether-action more
will be said in the concluding chapter.


Pro Anima

Thy functions are ethereal,
As if within thee dwelt a glancing mind,
Organ of vision! And a Spirit aëreal
Informs the cell of Hearing, dark and blind.


As our observations have shown, gravity and levity not only exist side
by side as a primary polarity; the manifold interaction of their fields
gives rise to all sorts of secondary polarities. Obviously, this
interaction must be brought about by a further kind of force to which
gravity and levity are subordinate.

In what follows we shall try, so far as is possible within the scope of
this book, to throw light on the nature of this force. Since the direct
experience of the dynamic realm constituted by it is based on faculties
of the mind other than those needed for the Imaginative perception of
the etheric realm, we shall have to examine also the nature and origin
of these faculties. This will lead us again to the study of one of
man's higher senses, this time his sense of hearing, with the aim of
finding the spiritual function that is hidden in it. But our order of
procedure will have to differ from the one followed in the last
chapter, because it will be necessary first to make ourselves
acquainted with the nature of the new force and then to turn to an
examination of the sense-activity concerned.


Let our first object of observation be man himself in so far as he
illustrates a polarity of the second order.

When studying man's nature with the idea of understanding the genesis
of his onlooker-consciousness, it will be remembered, we had to examine
the ordering of his consciousness into waking, dreaming and sleeping in
the different members of his organism. We recognized three different
organic systems, the sensory-nerve system, the rhythmic system and the
metabolic-limb system, as the bodily foundation of three different soul
activities. These are the thought-forming activity which belongs to
waking consciousness; the feeling activity which belongs to dream
consciousness; and the willing activity which belongs to sleep
consciousness. We then saw in these three systems representatives of
the three alchemical functions - 'sulphurous' in the metabolic,
'saline' in the nervous, 'mercurial' in the mediating rhythmic system.

Regarded thus, man's nature reveals itself as being endowed with a
physical organization, and an etheric organization, which are brought
into different relationships by being acted upon by a third
organization consisting of forces of the kind here to be studied. At
his lower pole these forces co-ordinate the ether and physical
organizations in a manner corresponding to the function of the
'sulphur'-pole of the alchemical triad. Here, therefore, the
warmth-ether takes the lead and acts in such a way that the higher
kinds of ether are able to come to expression in material processes of
the body. At the upper pole corresponding forces co-ordinate the
physical and ether organizations in a way characteristic of the
'salt'-pole. This gives the lead to the life-ether, so that the
physical organism provides the foundation for the activity of the
ether-forces without, however, being actually penetrated by them (at
least after completion of the embryonic and first post-embryonic
development). As a result, consciousness lights up in this part of the
body. The rhythmic sphere, being the 'mercurial' middle, is
distinguished by an alternation of the two conditions described. With
each diastole it becomes more akin to the pole below, and with each
systole more akin to the pole above. Here, therefore, the lighting up
of consciousness is only partial.

By means of these observations we realize that the third type of force,
in so far as it is active in man, has the capacity, by co-ordinating
the physical and etheric parts of the organism in one way or another,
to promote happenings either of a more corporeal or a more psychical
nature - namely, motion at one pole, sensation at the other, and
feeling in the middle between them.1 Remembering Goethe's formula,
'colours are deeds and sufferings of light', we realize how deeply true
the concepts were to which he was led by his way of developing
observation and thought.

What we have now brought to our awareness by studying man, holds good
in some sense also for the animal. The animal, too, is polarized into
motion and sensation. (What makes the animal differ from man need not
concern us here, for it belongs to a dynamic realm other than the one
we are now studying. This other realm will come under consideration in
the next chapter.) Quite a different picture arises when we turn to the
plant. The plant, too, is characterized by a threefold structure, root,
stem with leaves, and florescence, which in their way represent the
three alchemical functions. Consequently, there is also motion in the
plant, although this is confined to internal movements leading to
growth and formation. And at the opposite pole there is sensation,
though again very different from the sensation experienced by higher
living beings. What we mean here by 'sensation' can be best expressed
by quoting the following passage from Ruskin's The Queen of the Air, in
which the dual activity of the dynamic which we seek to understand is
brought out particularly clearly.

In describing the forming of blossom in the plant as the climax of the
'spirit' active in it, Ruskin says: 'Its (the plant's) form becomes
invested with aspects that are chiefly delightful to our own human
passions; namely, first, with the loveliest outlines of shape and,
secondly, with the most brilliant phases of the primary colours, blue,
yellow, red or white, the unison of all; and to make it more strange,
this time of peculiar and perfect glory is associated with relations of
the plants or blossoms to each other, correspondent to the joy of love
in human creatures and having the same object in the continuance of the

If we wish to understand why the same dynamic action working on the
physical and etheric organisms of the plant, on the one hand, and of
man and the animal, on the other, brings about effects so different, we
must turn to the realm whence this action originates in both cases. For
the animal and for man this realm is situated within their organisms
because in addition to their individual physical and etheric
organizations they are endowed also with an individual organization of
the higher kind. Not so with the plant. For the rhythms of its growth,
the successive formation of its various organs, the production of its
colours, etc., the plant depends on outer conditions.

What strikes us first in this respect is the plant's dependence on the
succession of the seasons. These in turn are an outcome of the changing
mutual positions of earth and sun. That which forms part of the
individual organism in higher living beings is located in the cosmic
surroundings of the plant. In fact, it is our planetary system which
provides the forces that stir the etheric and physical forces of the
earth to their various interactions, thus bringing about all the
manifold secondary polarities.


Before we embark on a description of further phenomena which testify to
the cosmic nature of the forces with which we are here concerned, it
will be well (following a principle applied before) to establish the
historical antecedents of the conception of the universe we are about
to develop.

We realize that the type of force with which we are here seeking to
become familiar is the one responsible for the existence of what we
commonly call 'soul'. The creation of a body-bound soul, however, is
only one particular form of the activity of these forces. Another is
the one which we have just seen manifest in the plant. In yet another
way the same forces function as movers and stirrers of the
macro-telluric processes of the earth, and beyond this of the
happenings in the body of our planetary system, including the movements
of the various planets.

This is an aspect which was by no means unfamiliar to ancient man. It
was naturally lost when the onlooker-consciousness awoke. In this
respect it is of historical significance that the same man, G. A.
Borelli (1608-79), a member of the Florentine Academy, who was the
first to inquire into the movements of the animal and human body from a
purely mechanical point of view, made the first attempt to deduce the
planetary movements from a purely physical cause.3 Through this fact an
impulse comes to expression which we may term Contra Animam, and
against which we have to put our Pro Anima, in much the same way that
we put our Pro Levitate against the Contra Levitatem call of the
Florentine Academicians.


It will help our further descriptions if we introduce at this point the
name which Rudolf Steiner adopted for the type of forces we are
concerned with here. In view of the fact that their origin lies in the
extra-terrestrial realm of the universe, he called them 'astral'
forces, thereby giving back to this term, also, its true and original
meaning. It is under this name that we shall speak of them henceforth.
To make ourselves more familiar with the character of the astral
forces, it will be well to observe them first of all in their
macrotelluric form of activity.

There is, as already mentioned, the rhythmic occurrence of the seasons
in connexion with the varying relative positions of earth and sun.
Alongside this we may put the rhythm of the tides, coincident with the
phases of the moon. Just as the solar rhythm manifests in an
alternating rise and fall of the saps in the plants, so also does the
lunar rhythm.4 (Note how this fact actually vitiates the usual
explanation that the tidal rhythm of the sea is caused by a
gravitational pull exerted by the moon's body on the oceanic water.) In
neither instance is the change of position of the relevant cosmic body
- in our examples that of the sun or moon in relation to the earth -
the 'cause' of the corresponding rhythmic events on the earth. Together
with all other rhythmic events of equal periodicity, it is itself the
effect of the activity of a force-sphere constituting the cosmic realm
to which the relevant planetary body belongs.

From this statement three major questions arise, which need to be
answered before we can carry on our description of the astral forces

Firstly, by the way we have spoken of the varying relations of the sun
and moon to the earth, seeing in them the effects of certain astral
activities, we have treated them as if they were of like nature,
namely, resulting from a movement of the relevant heavenly body round
the earth. According to the Copernican conception, however, only the
moon rotates round the earth, whereas the apparent yearly progression
of the sun is actually caused by the earth's motion round the sun. This
raises the question of how far the Copernican, heliocentric aspect is
valid in a science which strives to embrace the astral realm of the
universe in its inquiries.

Secondly, what roles do the other members of our planetary system play
as compared with those of the sun and the moon?

Thirdly, if it is true that the essential solar and lunar effects - and
presumably the effects of the other planets - on the earth do not
spring from physical influence exerted by the visible bodies of the
planets concerned, but from certain astral force-fields of which these
bodies themselves form part, what is the significance of such a body
within the planet's dynamic whole?

Starting with the answer to the first question, we shall quote the
following passage from a lecture on theoretical physics given by
Professor Planck in 1909 at the Columbia University, New York:

'Only the hypothesis of the general value of the principle of
Relativity in mechanics could admit the Copernican system into physics,
since this principle guarantees the independence of all processes on
the earth from the progressive motion of the earth. For, if we had to
make allowance for this motion, then I should, for instance, have to
reckon with the fact that the piece of chalk in my hand possesses the
enormous kinetic energy corresponding to a velocity of about 30

The implications for us of these remarks by an eminent physicist can be
expressed as follows:

In a science which knows how to deal with movement as an event of
absolute dynamic reality, the Copernican aspect loses its significance
as the only valid aspect of our cosmic system. For its application as a
means of describing the dynamic happenings within this system
presupposes the acceptance of Einstein's relativistic conception of
motion. Indeed, for the building up of a picture of the dynamic
structure of our system, the Copernican view-point is inadequate.

This statement must not be taken to deny all justification to the
heliocentric view-point. There is, after all, the fact that the orbits
which the heavenly bodies appear to follow when viewed in this way,
assume a particular geometrical character which cannot be accidental.
And more than that, when the heliocentric aspect is seen in its true
setting, it forms (as will be shown later) an extremely revealing part
of the script which tells us of the nature of the astral forces. All
that is required is that the heliocentric picture be taken for what it
is, namely, a purely kinematic aspect of the true dynamic ordering of
our cosmic system, which in itself calls for quite other means of
conceptual representation.

From the point of view of the astral order of the universe, the earth
appears in the centre of a number of force-fields which penetrate each
other and in their peripheral region extend beyond one another in
accordance with the respective orbits of the various planetary bodies.
How many force-fields there are, and what is the respective character
of each, will become clear from the following consideration, which will
also provide the answer to the second of our three questions.

As the originator of the secondary polarities in earthly nature the
astral realm must undoubtedly itself be structured polarically, one
part of it forming the cause of all the happenings by which levity is
brought into interaction with gravity, the other of all the happenings
by which gravity is brought into interaction with levity. There must be
a further part which is responsible for the establishment of the
'mercurial' mean between the two poles of the secondary polarity. This
leads us to a threefold aspect of the astral realm.

Closer inspection reveals a repetition of this threefold order within
each of the two polar regions. In Chapter XII we learnt to distinguish
the material happenings at the two poles of the secondary polarity by
observing their appearance in the plant as 'sublimation', on the one
hand, and 'assimilation' on the other. Of the former process, by which
matter is carried from its gravity-bound to its gravity-free condition,
we know that it takes place in three stages, of which the first implies
the lifting of matter from the solid to the liquid condition, the
second from the liquid to the aeriform condition, and the third to the
condition of pure heat. There are three corresponding stages by which
ether becomes susceptible to gravity. It is in their nature that they
are not in the same degree manifest as are their polar opposites.
Still, properly guided observation is able to detect them and enables
us to describe them as follows. At the first stage, ether, which in
itself has a purely peripheral orientation, becomes linked to some
all-relating point; at the second stage, the various ether-activities,
already point-related, are brought into some characteristic
interrelationship so as to become the cause of a particular formative
action in the material realm; at the third stage, the etheric aggregate
thus organized receives the impulse to link itself with some particular
portion of ponderable matter.

In these six forms of astral activity, observation, if guided by modern
spiritual science, recognizes the characteristics of the six planetary
spheres, known as 'Moon', 'Mercury', 'Venus', on the one hand,
'Saturn', 'Jupiter', 'Mars', on the other. In the same way the dynamic
sphere of the 'Sun' is found to provide the astral activity which
mediates between the two groups of planetary spheres.5 The following
observations may help us to become familiar with the different modes of
activity of the force-spheres.

Let us start with the astral forces corresponding to the three cosmic
bodies nearest to the earth - Moon, Mercury, Venus. Their activity can
be discerned, for example, by watching the successive stages of plant
development - the formation of the sap-bearing parts; the
flower-substance already partly transformed into aeriform condition;
finally the propagating processes which belong essentially to the
sphere of activity of the warmth-ether.6 In the human organism we find
the same sequence in the step-by-step transformation of nutriment right
up to the moment when earthly form passes into chaos, as we learnt
previously. The so-called enzyme action, ascribed by physiology to the
various digestive juices, is in reality the product of an activity of
the lower part of man's astral organization, for which the relevant
juices exercise the function of physical 'carriers'. In the field of
macrotelluric phenomena, the metamorphosis of the atmospheric moisture
extending beyond the different cloud-stages up to the stage of pure
warmth is an example of the activity of the same forces.

Within all three-stage transitions of this kind, the astral forces
connected with the Moon preponderate during the first stage, those
connected with Mercury during the second, those connected with Venus
during the third. We have already come across some examples of the
outstanding share taken by the Moon in the events of the earth's watery
sphere. To these phenomena, which show by their rhythm their connexion
with the Moon, we may add the fertility rhythm in the female human
organism which coincides, not in phase but in duration, with the rhythm
set by the Moon's course in the heavens. If we consider that the
formation of a new human body in the womb needs the play of formative
forces from out of the whole world environment, and that for this
purpose matter must be brought into a receptive condition for these
forces, then we can better understand the preparatory part played by
the Moon-forces. In order, however, that the substance of the female
germ should reach that condition of chaos suitable for embryonic
development, there is still necessary the influence of the supra-lunar
astral forces. Entry for these is provided by the union of the
germ-cell with the male sperm-cell.7

As the three sub-solar planetary spheres are responsible for events of
a 'sulphurous' (radial) character, so are the three supra-solar spheres
responsible for those of a 'saline' (spherical) character. For example,
we meet with Saturn-activity in everything which radiates from the
human head and brings about the hardening both of the head itself and
of the entire skeleton. Observation has shown that, even if the human
being, as usually happens, stops growing in the early twenties, so that
the skeleton undergoes no further lengthening, it nevertheless reaches
its final shape and its final hardening only between the twenty-eighth
and thirtieth years. This is the time in man's life when Saturn returns
for the first time to the position in which it stood relatively to the
earth at his birth, or, more correctly, at his conception.

If the activity of the Saturn-force is most clearly manifest in the
formation of the hard skull, that of Jupiter, the planet of 'Wisdom',
is shown in the formation of the complicated structure of the brain,
which enables it to co-ordinate the bodily and psychic functions of the
entire man. In the realm of physical nature, man's brain is indeed the
most perfect example of cosmic Intelligence at work in a manner
resembling that activity of human intelligence which one usually
understands by 'organizing'.

In order that Form should come about, the forces of Saturn are
required; for the formative process to take place in Wisdom-filled
order, Jupiter's forces are necessary. If form and order are to become
manifest in the realm of earthly substance, both require the assistance
of Mars. We can best form an idea of the part which Mars contributes to
the coming into being of the world of Form in nature if we observe what
takes place when we make use of speech as a medium for expressing our
thoughts. In order to be able to shape a thought we have to participate
in the formative force of Saturn. We depend upon Jupiter to bring about
logical connexion between the single thoughts. To announce them to the
world, we need the motive force of Mars, which enables us so to set
external matter in motion that it becomes a carrier and relayer of our
thoughts. (We here touch upon the field of the acoustic movements of
the air which will occupy us more closely later on.)

Many examples of the activity of the force-spheres represented by the
three exterior planets are to be found also in nature external to man.
From the realm of plant life we may take the woody and bark-like
formation of the trees as representing the operation of Saturn-forces.
Similarly, all that goes on in the organizing of the single leaf, and
particularly in the organization of the countless separate leaves which
make up the foliage of a tree into a unified whole, the characteristic
crown of a tree, is an example of the work of Jupiter. Both activities
are assisted by the force of Mars, which directs them from the cosmic
periphery toward the single physical object.

Between the two groups of astral force operating in this manner, the
Sun acts as a mediating element through its double function of
supporting the activity of the three lower planets by means of its heat
and of conveying to the earth, through its light, the forces of the
three higher planets. In the human microcosm the Sun-forces accomplish
a corresponding task by means of the influences which radiate from the
heart through the body along the paths taken by the blood.


In what follows we shall point to a group of phenomena which show the
astral interconnexion between earth and universe; we owe our knowledge
of them to Rudolf Steiner. It is due to him, also, that experimental
research into the relevant facts became possible. They concern the
reflexion of the various planetary movements, observable in the sky, in
the behaviour of certain mineral substances of the earth.

In connexion with our discussion of electricity (Chapter XIII) we spoke
of the special function of the metals as bearers of the 'mercurial'
quality (in the alchemical sense of the term). As one of the
characteristics which reveal this function we mentioned the peculiar
capacity of metals to behave as 'solid fluids'. This exceptional place
among the mineral substances of the earth, the metals owe to their
close association with the extra-terrestrial astral forces of the
world. In this field, too, modern spiritual investigation has recovered
something which was known to people of old - that among the metals
there are seven which have a distinctive character, for each stands in
a special relation to one of the seven planets (that is, the planetary
force-spheres) of our cosmic system. This is shown in the following

Saturn	Lead
Jupiter	Tin
Mars	Iron
Sun	Gold
Venus	Copper
Mercury	Quicksilver
Moon	Silver

As compared with these seven, the other metals are products of
combinations of various planetary forces. A comparison of the role of
Saturn as the outermost planet of our cosmic system with the role
played by its metal, lead, as a final product of radioactive
disintegration, leads one to conceive of the radioactive sphere of the
earth as being related especially to the planets outside the orbit of
Saturn, namely, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

Thanks to the work of L. Kolisko who, in following Rudolf Steiner's
indications, observed for many years the behaviour of the seven metals
singly and in combination by submitting their salts to certain
capillary effects, we know to-day that the" earth bears in her womb
substances whose dynamic condition follows exactly the events in the
planetary realm of the universe.8


The picture of the universe which has thus arisen before our mind's eye
is a startling one only so long as we keep comparing it with its
heliocentric predecessor. How wrong it would be to regard it as
something inconceivable for the modern mind, is shown by the fact that
the modern physiologist has already been driven to form quite a similar
picture of the human organism, as far as it concerns glandular action
in this organism. His observations have taught him to distinguish
between the gland as a spatially limited physical organ and the gland
as a functional sphere, and to conceive of the latter as the essential
gland. Seen thus, 'the spatial and temporal dimensions of each gland
are equal to those of the entire organism' (A. Carrel). In this way we
come to see the human organism as a realm of interpenetrating spheres
of distinctive physiological activities. Each of these activities is
anchored somewhere in the physical body by the anatomically discernible
gland-body, and the latter's relationship to the functional sphere is
such that a gland's 'physiological individuality is far more
comprehensive than its anatomical individuality'.

We need only translate this statement into its macrocosmic counterpart
to obtain another statement which expresses fittingly the relationship
of the visible body of a planet to the functional (astral) sphere
indicated by its orbit. Then we shall say that 'a planet's astral
individuality is far more comprehensive than its astronomical

It should be observed that the step we have here taken, by using a
conception obtained through microcosmic observation to help us to find
the answer to a question put to us by the macrocosm, complies with one
of the fundamentals of our method of research, namely, to allow 'the
heavens to explain the earth, and the earth the heavens' (R. St.).

* *

In the introductory part of the last chapter we said that we have the
right to employ results of investigation carried out by higher
faculties of spiritual perception without contradicting our principle
of seeking to understand the phenomenal world by reading it, provided
our doing so helps to enhance our own reading activity, and provided it
can be shown that the acquisition of the higher faculties of perception
is a direct continuation of the training we have to apply to our mind
and senses to make them capable of such reading. As regards the forces
of astral character, the first of these two conditions has been
fulfilled by the observations we have already worked through in this
chapter. We have still to show that the second condition is equally

The faculty of the mind which permits direct investigation of the
astral realm was called (spiritual) Inspiration by Rudolf Steiner, who
thereby restored to this term, also, its proper meaning. We have
already indicated that this faculty resides in the sense of hearing in
the same way that the faculty of Imagination - as we have found -
resides in the sense of seeing. In order to understand why it is this
particular sense which comes into consideration here, we have to
consider that the phenomena through which the astral world manifests
most directly are all of a rhythmic nature. Now, the sense through
which our soul penetrates with direct experience into some outer
rhythmic activity is the sense of hearing, our aural perceptions being
conveyed by certain rhythmic movements of the air. In what follows we
shall see how the study of both the outer acoustic phenomena and our
own psycho-physical make-up in the region of the acoustic sense, leads
to an understanding of the nature of Inspiration and of how it can be


Among all our sense-perceptions, sound is unique in making itself
perceptible in two quite different ways - via the ear as a direct sense
experience and via the eye (potentially also via the senses of touch
and movement) in the form of certain mechanical movements, such as
those of a string or a tuning fork. Hence the world-spectator, as soon
as he began to investigate acoustic phenomena scientifically, found
himself in a unique position. In all other fields of perception, with
the exception of the purely mechanical processes, the transition to
non-stereoscopic colourless observation had the effect that the
world-content of the naive consciousness simply ceased to exist,
leaving the ensuing hiatus to be filled in by a pattern of imagined
kinematic happenings - for example, colour by 'ether'-vibrations, heat
by molecular movements. Not so in the sphere of acoustics. For here a
part of the entire event, on account of its genuine kinetic character,
remains a content of actual observation.

In consequence, the science of acoustics became for the scientific mind
of man a model of the required division between the 'subjective' (that
is, for scientific considerations non-existent) and the 'objective'
(that is, the purely kinematic) part of observation. The field of aural
perception seemed to justify the procedure of collecting a mass of
phenomena, stripped of all that is experienced by man's soul in meeting
them, and of assembling them under a purely abstract concept, 'sound'.

Professor Heisenberg, in his lecture (quoted at the beginning of
Chapter II) on the way in which the scientific interrogation of nature
has deliberately limited itself, draws attention to the fact that a
full knowledge of the science of optics in its present form might be
acquired merely through theoretical study by one born blind, yet
without his ever getting to know what light is. Heisenberg could, of
course, have said the same of the science of acoustics in regard to one
born deaf. But we can go a step further by asking how far a deaf and a
blind person could get towards establishing the respective science. The
answer must be that, whereas the person lacking sight would not of
himself be in a position to establish a science of optics, it would be
well within the scope of the deaf man to establish a science of
acoustics. For all the processes essential to a physical acoustics are
accessible to the eye and other senses.

In order to make our experience of hearing a finger-post pointing the
way to an understanding of the faculty of Inspiration innate in man, we
must first of all seek to transform acoustics from a 'deaf into a
'hearing' science, just as Goethe turned the theory of colour from a
colour-blind into a colour-seeing science.


Following our procedure in the case of optics, we select from the total
field of acoustic phenomena a defined realm specially suited to our
purpose. As it was then the spectrum, so it will be now the so-called
quality of sound, or tone-colour.

By this term in acoustics is understood a property possessed by sound
apart from pitch and volume, and dependent on the nature of the source
from which a tone is derived. It is the tone-colour by which the tone
of a violin, for instance, is distinguished from a tone of equal
intensity and pitch produced by a flute. Similarly, two musical
instruments of the same kind are distinguished from each other by

Tone-colour plays a specially significant part in human and animal
voices. Not only has each individual voice its unique colour, but the
colour varies in one and the same person or animal, according to the
prevailing mood. Moreover, by uttering the various vowels of his
language, man is able to impart varying colour to the sounds of his
speech. For the difference we experience when a tone is sung on the
vowel 'a' or the vowel 'e', etc., derives from the particular colour
given by the vowel to that tone.

Among the discoveries of the last century in the realm of acoustics,
there is one which especially helped to establish a purely kinematic
conception of sound. Helmholtz showed that tones which to our ears seem
to have a clear and definite pitch may be split up by a series of
resonators into a number of different tones, each of them sounding at a
different pitch. The lowest of these has the pitch which our ears
attach to the entire tone. Thus in any ordinary tone there may be
distinguished a 'fundamental' tone and a series of 'overtones'.
Helmholtz further showed that the particular series of overtones into
which a tone can be resolved is responsible for the colour of that tone
as a whole. Naturally, this meant for the prevailing mode of thinking
that the experience of the colour of a tone had to be interpreted as
the effect of a kind of acoustical adding together of a number of
single tone perceptions (very much as Newton had interpreted 'white'
light as the outcome of an optical adding together of a certain number
of single colour perceptions).

The picture becomes different if we apply to the aural experience
Goethe's theorem that, in so far as we are deluded, it is not by our
senses but by our own reasoning. For we then realize that sounds never
occur of themselves without some tone-colour, whilst physically 'pure'
tones - those that represent simple harmonic motions - exist only as an
artificial laboratory product. The colour of a tone, therefore, is an
integral part of it, and must not be conceived of as an additional
attribute resulting from a summing up of a number of colourless tone

Further, if we compare our experiences of the two kinds of tone, they
tell us that through the quality or colour of the natural tone
something of a soul-nature, pleasant or unpleasant, speaks to us,
whereas 'pure' tones have a soulless character.

Resolving normal tones by Helmholtz's method (useful as it is for
certain purposes) amounts to something like dissecting a living,
ensouled organism into its members; only the parts of the corpse

remain in our hands.


Having thus established that the psychic content of aural experience
forms an integral part of the tone-phenomenon as such, we must seek to
understand how the kinetic process which is indispensable for its
appearance comes to be the vehicle for the manifestation of 'soul' in
the manner described.

To this end we must first of all heed the fact that the movement which
mediates aural sensation is one of alternating expansion and
contraction. Expressed in the language of the four Elements, this means
that the air thus set in vibration approaches alternately the condition
of the watery element beneath it and of the element of fire (heat)
above it. Thus, in a regular rhythm, the air comes near the border of
its ponderable existence. Purely physical considerations make us
realize that this entails another rhythmic occurrence in the realm of
heat. For with each expansion of the air heat is absorbed by it and
thereby rendered space-bound, while with every contraction of the air
heat is set free and returns to its indigenous condition - that is, it
becomes free from spatial limitations.

This picture of the complete happenings during an acoustic event
enables us to understand how such a process can be the vehicle for
conveying certain astral impulses in such a way that, when met by them,
we grow aware of them in the form of a direct sensation. Taking as a
model the expression 'transparent' for the perviousness of a substance
to light, we may say that the air, when in a state of acoustic
vibration, becomes 'trans-audient' for astral impulses, and that the
nature of these vibrations determines which particular impulses are let

What we have here found to be the true role of the kinetic part of the
acoustic process applies equally to sounds which are emitted by living
beings, and to those that arise when lifeless material is set
mechanically in motion, as in the case of ordinary noises or the
musical production of tone. There is only this difference: in the first
instance the vibrations of the sound-producing organs have their origin
in the activity of the astral part of the living being, and it is this
activity which comes to the recipient's direct experience in the form
of aural impressions; in the second instance the air, by being brought
externally into a state of vibration, exerts a kind of suction on the
astral realm which pervades the air, with the result that parts of this
realm become physically audible. For we are constantly surrounded by
supersensible sounds, and the state of motion of the air determines
which of them become perceptible to us in our present state of

At this point our mind turns to a happening in the macrotelluric sphere
of the earth, already considered in another connexion, which now
assumes the significance of an ur-phenomenon revealing the astral
generation of sound. This is the thunder-storm, constituted for our
external perception by the two events: lightning and thunder.

Remembering what we have found earlier (Chapter X) to be the nature of
lightning, we are now in a position to say: a supraterrestrial astral
impulse obtains control of the earth's etheric and physical spheres of
force in such a way that etheric substance is thrown into the condition
of space-bound physical matter. This substance is converted by stages
from the state of light and heat via that of air into the liquid and,
in certain cases, into the solid state (hail). To this we now add that,
while in lightning the first effect of the etheric-physical
interference of the astral impulse appears before our eyes, our ears
give us direct awareness of this impulse in the form of thunder. It is
this fact which accounts for the awe-inspiring character of


The picture we have thus received of the outer part of the acoustic
process has a counterpart in the processes inside the organ of hearing.
Hearing, like seeing, depends upon the co-operation of both poles of
the human organism-nerve and blood. In the case of hearing, however,
they play a reversed role. In the eye, the primary effect of
light-impressions is on the nervous part; a secondary response to them
comes from the blood organization. In the ear, the receptive organ for
the astral impulses pressing in upon it is a part which belongs to the
body's limb system, while it is the nervous organization which
functions as the organ of response. For in the ear the sound-waves are
first of all taken over by the so-called ossicles, three small bones in
the middle ear which, when examined with the Goethean eye, appear to be
a complete metamorphosis of ah arm or a leg. They are instrumental in
transferring the outer acoustic movements to the fluid contained in the
inner ear, whence these are communicated to the entire fluid system of
the body and lastly to the muscular system.9 We shall speak of this in
detail later on. Let it be stated here that the peculiar role played by
the larynx in hearing, already referred to by us in Chapter XVI, is one
of the symptoms which tells of the participation of the muscular system
in the internal acoustic process.

Psychologically, the difference between ear and eye is that aural
perceptions work much more directly on the human will - that is, on the
part of our astral organization connected with the limb system. Whereas
eye-impressions stimulate us in the first place to think,
ear-impressions stimulate us to ... dance. The whole art of dancing,
from its original sacred character up to its degenerate modern forms,
is based upon the limb system being the recipient of acoustic

In order to understand how the muscles respond to the outer astral
impulses which reach us through our ear, we must first understand what
happens in the muscles when our will makes use of them for bodily
motion. In this case, too, the muscular system is the organ through
which certain astral impulses, this time arising out of the body's own
astral member, come to expression. Moreover, the movement of the
muscles, though not outwardly perceptible, is quite similar to acoustic
movements outside the body. For whenever a muscle is caused to alter
its length, it will perform some kind of vibration - a vibration
characterized even by a definite pitch, which differs in different
people. Since throughout life our body is never entirely without
movement, we are thus in a constant state of inward sounding. The
muscular system is capable of this vibration because during the body's
initial period of growth the bones increase in length to a much greater
extent than do the sinews and muscles. Hence the latter arrive at a
condition of elastic tension not unlike that of the strings of a
musical instrument.10

In the case of bodily movement, therefore, the muscles are
tone-producers, whereas in acoustic perceptions they are
tone-receivers. What, then, is it that prevents an acoustic perception
from actually setting the limbs in motion, and, instead, enables our
sentient being to take hold of the astral impulse invading our muscles?

This impediment comes from the contribution made by the nervous system
to the auditory process. In order to understand the nature of this
contribution we must remember the role played by the blood in seeing.
It was found by us to consist in the bringing about of that state of
equilibrium without which we should experience light merely as a
pain-producing agent. Similarly, the perception of sound requires the
presence of a certain state of equilibrium between the nerve-system and
the limb-system. In this case, however, a lack of equilibrium would
result not in pain, but in ecstasy. For if acoustic impressions played
directly into our limb-system, with nothing to hold them in check,
every tone we encounter would compel us to an outward manifestation of
astral activity. We should become part of the tone-process itself,
forced to transform it by the volitional part of our astral
organization into spatial movement. That this does not happen is
because the participation of the nervous system serves to damp down the
potential ecstasy. Hence it is more or less left to the sentient part
of the astral organization - that is, the part free from the physical
body - to partake in the astral processes underlying the tone


Our discussion has reached a point where we are able to answer a
question which first arose in the course of our study of the four
ethers, and which arises here anew.

In studying the chemical or sound ether we were faced with the fact
that part of the etheric realm, although in itself accessible to the
spiritual part of the sense of sight, offers supersensible experience
comparable to the perception of sound. Conversely, we are now met by
the fact that it is spiritual hearing which gives access to the
immediate perception of a realm of forces which is not only the source
of acoustic phenomena, but the origin of all that manifests in nature
in the form of sulphurous, saline and mercurial events, such as the
world of colours, electricity, magnetism, the manifold rhythmic
occurrences on the earth (both taken as a whole .and in single
organisms), etc. - all of which are taken hold of by quite other senses
than that of hearing.

At our first encounter with this problem we remarked that in the
supersensible no such sharp distinctions exist between different
sense-spheres as are found in body-bound sense-perception. At the same
time we remembered that even in physical perception we are inclined to
attach acoustic attributes to colours and optical attributes to tones.
In fact, it was precisely an instance of this kind of experience,
namely, our conception of tone-colour, which gave us our lead in
discussing the acoustic sphere in general. Our picture of the
particular interaction of the two polar bodily systems in the acts of
seeing and hearing now enables us to understand more clearly how these
two spheres of perception overlap in man. For we have seen how the
system which in seeing is the receiving organ, works in hearing as the
responding one, and vice versa. As a result, optical impressions are
accompanied by dim sensations of sound, and aural impressions by dim
sensations of colour.

What we are thus dimly aware of in physical sense activity, becomes
definite experience when the supersensible part of the senses concerned
can work unfettered by the bodily organ. Clear testimony of this is
again given to us by Traherne in a poem entitled Dumnesse. This poem
contains an account of Traherne's recollection of the significant fact
that the transition from the cosmic to the earthly condition of his
consciousness was caused by his learning to speak. The following is a
passage from the description of the impressions which were his before
his soul was overcome by this change:

'Then did I dwell within a World of Light
Distinct and Seperat from all Mens Sight,
Where I did feel strange Thoughts, and such Things see
That were, or seemd, only reveald to Me ...

'... A Pulpit in my Mind
A Temple, and a Teacher I did find,
With a large Text to comment on. No Ear,
But Eys them selvs were all the Hearers there.
And evry Stone, and Evry Star a Tongue,
And evry Gale of Wind a Curious Song.'11


We have obtained a sufficiently clear picture of the organization of
our sense of hearing to see where the way lies that leads from hearing
with the ears of the body to hearing with the ears of the spirit, that
is, to the inspirative perception of the astral world.

In the psycho-physical condition which is characteristic of our present
day-consciousness, the participation of our astral organization in any
happenings of the outer astral world depends on our corporeal motor
system being stimulated by the acoustic motions of the air, or of some
other suitable medium contacting our body. For it is only in this way
that our astral organization is brought into the sympathetic vibrations
necessary for perceiving outer astral happenings. In order that astral
events other than those manifesting acoustically may become accessible
to our consciousness, our own astral being must become capable of
vibrating in tune with them, just as if we were hearing them - that is,
we must be able to rouse our astral forces to an activity similar to
that of hearing, yet without any physical stimulus. The way to this
consists in training ourselves to experience the deeds and sufferings
of nature as if they were the deeds and sufferings of a beloved friend.

It is thus that we shall learn to hear the soul of the universe
directly speaking to us, as Lorenzo divined it, when his love for
Jessica made him feel in love with all the world, and he exclaimed:

'There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim, -
Such harmony is in immortal souls.
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.'

* *

'One must choose one's saints .. . and so I have chosen mine, and
before all others, Kepler. In my ante-room he has ever a niche of his
own, with his bust in it.'

This opinion of Goethe's must surprise us in view of the fact that
Kepler was the discoverer of the three laws called after him, one of
which is supposed to have laid the foundation for Newton's mechanical
conception of the universe. In what follows it will be shown how wrong
it is to see in Kepler a forerunner of the mechanistic conception of
the world; how near, in reality, his world-picture is to the one to
which we are led by working along Goetheanistic lines; and how right
therefore Goethe was in his judgment on Kepler.

Goethe possessed a sensitive organ for the historical appropriateness
of human ideas. As an illustration of this it may be mentioned how he
reacted when someone suggested to him that Joachim Jungius - an
outstanding German thinker, contemporary of Bacon, Van Helmont, etc. -
had anticipated his idea of the metamorphosis of the plant. This remark
worried Goethe, not because he could not endure the thought of being
anticipated (see his treatment of K. F. Wolff), but because this would
have run counter to the meaning of man's historical development as he
saw it. 'Why do I regard as essential the question whether Jungius
conceived the idea of metamorphosis as we know it? My answer is, that
it is most significant in the history of the sciences, when a
penetrating and vitalizing maxim comes to be uttered. Therefore it is
not only of importance that Jungius has not expressed this maxim; but
it is of highest significance that he was positively unable to express
it - as we boldly assert.'12

For the same reason Goethe knew it would be historically unjustified to
expect that Kepler could have conceived an aspect of the universe
implicit in his own conception of nature. Hence it did not disturb him
in his admiration for Kepler, that through him the Copernican aspect of
the universe had become finally established in the modern mind - that
is, an aspect which, as we have seen, is invalid as a means of forming
a truly dynamic conception of the world.

In forming his picture of the universe, it is true, Copernicus was
concerned with nothing but the spatial movements of the luminous
entities discernible in the sky, without any regard to their actual
nature and dynamic interrelationships. Hence his world-picture - as
befits the spectator-form of human consciousness which was coming to
birth in his own time - is a purely kinematic one. As such it has
validity for a certain sphere of human observation.

When Kepler, against the hopes of his forerunner and friend, Tycho
Brahe, accepted the heliocentric standpoint and made it the basis of
his observations, he did so out of his understanding of what was the
truth for his own time. Kepler's ideal was to seek after knowledge
through pure observation. In this respect Goethe took him as his model.
Kepler's discoveries were a proof that man's searching mind is given
insight into great truths at any stage of its development, provided it
keeps to the virtue of practising pure observation.

It has been the error of Newton and his successors up to our own day,
to try to conceive the world dynamically within the limits of their
spectator-consciousness and thus to form a dynamic interpretation of
the universe based on its heliocentric aspect. This was just as
repellent to Goethe as Kepler's attitude was attractive.

But by so sharply distinguishing between Newton and Kepler, do we not
do injustice to the fact that, as the world believes, Kepler's third
law is the parent of Newton's law of gravitation? The following will
show that this belief is founded on an illusory conception of the kind
we met before. As we shall see, Kepler's discovery, when treated in a
Keplerian way, instead of leading to Newton, is found to be in full
agreement with the very world-picture to which our own observations
have led us.


It is an established conviction of the mathematical scientist that,
once an observed regularity in nature has been expressed as a
mathematical equation, this equation may be transformed in any
mathematically valid way, and the resulting formula will still apply to
some existing fact in the world. On innumerable occasions this
principle has been used in the expectation of providing further insight
into the secrets of nature. We came across a typical instance of this
in discussing the basic theorem of kinematics and dynamics (Chapter
VIII). Another example is Newton's treatment of Kepler's third law, or
- more precisely - the way in which Newton's law of gravitation has
been held to confirm Kepler's observations, and vice versa,

It will be our task to analyse the Kepler-Newton case on the very lines
of our treatment of the two parallelogram theorems. This analysis will
give us insight into a truth which we have to regard as one of the
basic maxims of the new science. It says that whether a given formula,
derived mathematically from one that was first read from nature, still
expresses some fact of nature, cannot be decided by pure mathematical
logic, but only by testing it against truly observable phenomena.

Through Kepler's third law a certain relation is expressed between the
spatial dimensions of the different planetary spheres and the time
needed by the relevant planet to circle once round the circumference of
its own sphere. It says: 'The squares of the periodic times of the
planets are always in the same proportion as the cubes of their mean
distances from the sun.' In mathematical symbols this reads:
t12 / t22 = r13 / r23
We shall see later how Kepler arrived at this law. The point is that
there is nothing in it which is not accessible to pure observation.
Spatial distances and lengths of time are measured and the results
compared. Nothing, for instance, is said about the dynamic cause of the
movements. The assertion is restricted - and this is true also of the
first and second law - to a purely kinematic content, and so precisely
to what the earthly onlooker can apprehend. Now it is said that
Kepler's third law is a necessary consequence of Newton's law of
gravitation, and that - since it is based on pure observation - it
therefore establishes the truth of Newton's conception. In this
assertion we encounter a misconception exactly like the one in the
statement that the theorem of the parallelogram of forces follows by
logical necessity from the theorem of the parallelogram of velocities.

(a) The law of gravitation itself derives from Newton's formula for the
centripetal force acting at a point which moves along a circle, this
formula being itself the result of an amplification of the formula for
centripetal acceleration by the factor 'mass' (as if the latter were a
pure number):

Centripetal acceleration:
a = 4(π^2)r / t2

Centripetal force:
P = am = 4(π^2)mr / t2

(b) The formula for centripetal acceleration - and the concept of such
acceleration itself - is the result of splitting circular movement into
two rectilinear movements, one in the direction of the tangent, the
other in the direction of the radius, and of regarding it - by a mode
of reasoning typical of spectator-thinking - as composed of the two.
This procedure, however, useful as it may be for the purpose of
calculation, is contrary to observation. For, as we have pointed out
earlier, observation tells us that all original movement - and what can
be more original than the movements of the planetary bodies - is
curvilinear. No insight into the dynamic reality of cosmic movement,
therefore, can ever be gained by handling it mathematically in this

(c) The transformation of Kepler's formula which is necessary in order
to give it a form representing the nucleus of Newton's formula, is one
which, though mathematically justified, deprives Kepler's formula of
any significance as expression of an observed fact. The following
analysis will show this.

Kepler's formula-
r1^3 / r2^3 = t1^2 / t2^2
may be written also
r1^3 / t1^2 = r2^3 / t2^2
and this again in the generalized form:
r3 / t2 = c.
Obviously, by each of these steps we diminish the reality-value of the
formula. In its original form, we find spatial extension compared with
spatial extension, and temporal extension with temporal extension. Each
of the two comparisons is a fully concrete one, because we compare
entities of like nature, and only then test the ratios of the two -
that is, two pure numbers against each other - to find that they are
identical. To compare a spatial and a temporal magnitude, as is done by
the formula in its second form, requires already a certain degree of
abstraction. Still, it is all spectator's work, and for the spectator
time is conceivable and measurable only as a rate of spatial
displacement. Hence the constant number c, by representing the ratio
between the spatial extension of the realm inside a planet's orbit and
the time needed by it to perform one round on this orbit - a ratio
which is the same for all planets - represents a definite structural
element of our cosmic system.

By this last operation our equation has now achieved a form which
requires only one more transformation to bring it into line with
Newton's formula. Instead of writing:
r3 / t2 = c
we write:
r / t2 = c (1 / r2)
All that now remains to be done amounts to an amplification of this
equation by the factor 4(π^2)m, and a gathering of the constant product
4(π^2)c under a new symbol, for which we choose the letter f. In this way
we arrive at:
4(π^2)mr / t2 = 4(π^2)cm / r2
and finally:
P = ... = fm / r2
which is the expression of the gravitational pull believed to be
exerted by the sun on the various planetary bodies. Nothing can be said
against this procedure from the point of view

of mathematical logic. For the latter the equation
r / t2 = c (1 / r2)
is still an expression of Kepler's observation. Not so for a logic
which tries to keep in touch with concrete reality. For what meaning,
relevant to the phenomenal universe as it manifests in space and time
to physical perception, is there in stating - as the equation in this
form does - that: the ratio between a planet's distance from the sun
and the square of its period is always proportional to the reciprocal
value of the area lying inside its orbit?


Once we have rid ourselves of the false conception that Kepler's law
implies Newton's interpretation of the physical universe as a dynamic
entity ruled by gravity, and gravity alone, we are free to ask what
this law can tell us about the nature of the universe if in examining
it we try to remain true to Kepler's own approach.

To behave in a Keplerian (and thus in a Goethean) fashion regarding a
mathematical formula which expresses an observed fact of nature, does
not mean that to submit such a formula to algebraic transformation is
altogether impermissible. All we have to make sure of is that the
transformation is required by the observed facts themselves: for
instance, by the need for an even clearer manifestation of their ideal
content. Such is indeed the case with the equation which embodies
Kepler's third law. We said that in its original form this equation
contains a concrete statement because it expresses comparisons between
spatial extensions, on the one hand, and between temporal extensions,
on the other. Now, in the form in which the spatial magnitudes occur,
they express something which is directly conceivable. The third power
of a spatial distance (r^3) represents the measure of a volume in
three-dimensional space. The same cannot be said of the temporal
magnitudes on the other side of the equation (t^2). For our conception
of time forbids us to connect any concrete idea with 'squared time'. We
are therefore called upon to find out what form we can give this side
of the equation so as to express the time-factor in a manner which is
in accord with our conception of time, that is, in linear form.13 This
form readily suggests itself if we consider that we have here to do
with a ratio of squares. For such a ratio may be resolved into a ratio
of two simple ratios.

In this way the equation -
r1^3 / r2^3 = t1^2 / t2^2
assumes the form-
r1^3 / r2^3 = (t1 / t2) / (t2 / t1)
The right-hand side of the equation is now constituted by the double
ratio of the linear values of the periods of two planets, and this is
something with which we can connect a quite concrete idea.

To see this, let us choose the periods of two definite planets - say,
Earth and Jupiter. For these the equation assumes the following form
('J' and 'E' indicating 'Jupiter' and 'Earth' respectively):
rJ^3 / rE^3 = (tJ / tE) / (tE / tJ)
Let us now see what meaning we can attach to the two expressions
tJ / tE and tE / tJ.

During one rotation of Jupiter round the sun the earth circles 12 times
round it. This we are wont to express by saying that Jupiter needs 12
earth-years for one rotation; in symbols:
tJ / tE = 12 / 1
To find the analogous expression for the reciprocal ratio:
tE / tJ = 1 / 12
we must obviously form the concept 'Jupiter-year', which covers one
rotation of Jupiter, just as the concept 'earth-year' covers one
rotation of the earth (always round the sun). Measured in this
time-scale, the earth needs for one of her rotations 1 / 12 of a

With the help of these concepts we are now able to express the double
ratio of the planetary periods in the following simplified way. If we
suppose the measuring of the two planetary periods to be carried out
not by the same time-scale, but each by the time-scale of the other,
the formula becomes:
rJ3 / rE3 = (tJ / tE) / (tE / tJ) = period of Jupiter measured in
Earth-years / period of Earth measured in Jupiter-years.
Interpreted in this manner, Kepler's third law discloses an intimate
interrelatedness of each planet to all the others as co-members of the
same cosmic whole. For the equation now tells us that the solar times
of the various planets are regulated in such a way that for any two of
them the ratio of these times, measured in their mutual time-units, is
the same as the ratio of the spaces swept out by their (solar) orbits.

Further, by having the various times of its members thus tuned to one
another, our cosmic system shows itself to be ordered on a principle
which is essentially musical. To see this, we need only recall that the
musical value of a given tone is determined by its relation to other
tones, whether they sound together in a chord, or in succession as
melody. A 'C' alone is musically undefined. It receives its character
from its interval-relation to some other tone, say, 'G', together with
which it forms a Fifth. As the lower tone of this interval, 'C' bears a
definite character; and so does 'G' as the upper tone.

Now we know that each interval represents a definite ratio between the
periodicities of its two tones. In the case of the Fifth the ratio is
2:3 (in the natural scale). This means that the lower tone receives its
character from being related to the upper tone by the ratio 2:3.
Similarly, the upper tone receives its character from the ratio 3:2.
The specific character of an interval arising out of the merging of its
two tones, therefore, is determined by the ratio of their ratios. In
the case of the Fifth this is 4:9. It is this ratio, therefore, which
underlies our experience of a Fifth.

The cosmic factor corresponding to the periodicity of the single tone
in music is the orbital period of the single planet. To the musical
interval formed by two tones corresponds the double ratio of the
periods of any two planets. Regarded thus, Kepler's law can be
expressed as follows: The spatial ordering of our planetary system is
determined by the interval-relation in which the different planets
stand to each other.

By thus unlocking the ideal content hidden in Kepler's third law, we
are at the same time enabled to do justice to the way in which he
himself announced his discovery. In textbooks and encyclopaedias it is
usually said that the discovery of the third law was the surprising
result of Kepler's fantastic attempt to prove by external observation
what was once taught in the school of Pythagoras, namely, that (in
Wordsworth's language):

'By one pervading spirit
Of tones and numbers all things are controlled.'

Actually, Kepler's great work, Harmonices Mundi, in the last part of
which he announces his third law, is entirely devoted to proving the
truth of the Pythagorean doctrine that the universe is ordered
according to the laws of music. This doctrine sprang from the gift of
spiritual hearing still possessed by Pythagoras, by which he could
perceive the harmonies of the spheres. It was the aim of his school to
keep this faculty alive as long as possible, and with its aid to
establish a communicable world-conception. The Pythagorean teaching
became the foundation of all later cosmological thinking, right up to
the age which was destined to bring to birth the spectator-relationship
of man's consciousness with the world. Thus it was left to Copernicus
to give mankind the first truly non-Pythagorean picture of the

When Kepler declared himself in favour of the heliocentric aspect, as
indicated by Copernicus, he acknowledged that the universe had grown
dumb for man's inner ear. Yet, besides his strong impulse to meet the
true needs of his time, there were inner voices telling him of secrets
that were hidden behind the veil woven by man's physical perceptions.
One of these secrets was the musical order of the world. Such
knowledge, however, could not induce him to turn to older
world-conceptions in his search for truth. He had no need of them,
because there was yet another voice in him which told him that the
spiritual order of the world must somehow manifest itself in the body
of the world as it lay open to physical perception. Just as a musical
instrument, if it is to be a perfect means of bringing forth music,
must bear in its build the very laws of music, so must the body of the
universe, as the instrument on which the harmonies of the spheres play
their spiritual music, bear in its proportions a reflexion of these
harmonies. Kepler was sure that investigation of the world's body,
provided it was carried out by means of pure observation, must needs
lead to a re-establishment of the ancient truth in a form appropriate
to the modern mind. Thus Kepler, guided by an ancient spiritual
conception of the world, could devote himself to confirming its truth
by the most up-to-date methods of research. That his search was not in
vain, our examination of the third law has shown.

One thing, however, remains surprising - that Kepler announced his
discovery in the form in which it has henceforth engraved itself in the
modern mind, while refraining from that analysis of it which we have
applied to it here. Yet, in this respect also Kepler proves to have
remained true to himself. There is, on the one hand, the form in which
Kepler pronounced his discovery; there is, on the other, the context in
which he made this pronouncement. We have already pointed out that the
third law forms part of Kepler's comprehensive work, Harmonices Mundi.
To the modern critic's understanding it appears there like an erratic
block. For Kepler this was different. While publishing his discovery in
precisely the form in which it is conceived by a mind bent on pure
observation, he gave it a setting by which he left no doubt as to his
own conception of its ideal content. And as a warning to the future
reader not to overlook the message conveyed by this arrangement, he
introduced the section of his book which contains the announcement of
the law, with the mysterious words about himself: 'I have stolen the
golden vessels of the Egyptians from which to furnish for my God a holy
shrine far from Egypt's confines.'

1 We must here distinguish sensation from feeling proper, in which
sensation and motion merge in mercurial balance.

2 Note how for Ruskin the gulf which for the onlooker-consciousness
lies between subject and object is bridged here - as it was for Goethe
in his representation of the physico-moral effect of colour.

3 De motu animalium and Theoria mediceorum planetarum ex causis
physicis deducta.

4 Knowledge of this biological rhythm is still preserved among native
peoples to-day and leads them to take account of the phases of the moon
in their treatment of plants. A cosmic nature-wisdom of this kind has
been reopened for us in modern form by Rudolf Steiner, and has since
found widespread practical application in agriculture. See L. Kolisko,
The Moon and Plant Growth.

5 In the order of names given above we follow the ancient usage for the
two planets nearest to the sun, not the reversed order in which they
are used to-day. This is necessary in a cosmology which aspires at a
qualitative understanding of the universe, in view of the qualities
represented by these names. Note also the absence of the three most
distant planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. They are not to be
considered as parts of the indigenous astral structure of our cosmic
system - any more than radioactivity is an original feature of the

6 Note the 'Venus' character of Ruskin's description of the plant's
state of florescence quoted above (p. 336).

7 As to the time-scale of the processes brought about by Mercury and
Venus respectively, experience shows that they reveal the cosmic
rhythms less clearly than those for which the Moon-activity is
responsible. The same is found at the opposite pole. There it is the
Saturn - generated processes which show the cosmic rhythm more
conspicuously than those engendered by Jupiter and Mars. To learn to
recognize rhythmic events in nature and man as reflexions of
corresponding planetary rhythms is one of the tasks which future
scientific research has to tackle. A practical example of this kind
will appear in the further course of this chapter.

8 See L. Kolisko: Working of the Stars in Earthly Substances, and other
publications by the same author.

9 The close connexion between the ear and the motor system of the body
is shown in another way by the fact that part of the ear serves as an
organ for the sense of balance.

10 The muscle-tone can be made audible by the following means. In a
room guarded against noise, press the thumbs lightly upon the ears and
tense the muscles of the hands and arms - say by pressure of the
fingers against the palms or by contracting the muscle of the upper
arms. If this is done repeatedly, the muscle-tone will be heard after
some practice with increasing distinctness. It is easily distinguished
from the sound of the circulating blood as it is much higher. (As an
example: the author's muscular pitch, not a particularly high one, has
a frequency of approx. 630 per sec., which puts it between Treble D
sharp and E.)

11 Compare also the beginning of Traherne's poem Wonder, quoted in
Chapter VI (p. 110), where he says that everything he saw 'did with me

12 For the particular reasons by which Goethe justifies his assertion,
see his essay Leben und Verdienste des Doktor Joachim Jungius.

13 The natural question why Kepler himself did not take this step, will
be answered later on.


Know Thyself

Our inquiries have led us to a picture of man as a
sensible-supersensible organism composed of three dynamic aggregates -
physical, etheric, astral. As three rungs of a spiritual ladder they
point to a fourth, which represents that particular power in man by
which he distinguishes himself from all other beings in nature. For
what makes man differ from all these is that he is not only fitted, as
they are, with a once-for-all given mode of spiritual-physical
existence peculiar to himself, but that he is endowed with the
possibility of transforming his existence by dint of his free will -
that indeed his manhood is based on this capacity for self-willed

To this fourth principle in man we can give no better name than that
which every human being can apply to himself alone and to no other, and
which no other can apply to him. This is the name, I. In truth, we
describe man in his entirety only if we ascribe to him, in addition to
a physical, etheric and astral body, the possession of an I (Ego).

Naturally, our previous studies have afforded many opportunities for
observing the nature and mode of activity of the I. Still, at the
conclusion of these studies it is not redundant to form a concise
picture of this part of man's being, with particular regard to how it
works within the three other principles as its sheaths. For in modern
psychology, not excluding the branch of it where efforts are made to
penetrate into deeper regions of man's being, nothing is less well
understood than the true nature of man's egoity.


In order to recognize the peculiar function of the I in man, we must
first be clear as to how he differs from the other kingdoms of nature,
and how they differ from one another with respect to the mode of action
of the physical, etheric and astral forces.

The beings of all the kingdoms of nature are endowed with an aggregate
of physical forces in the form of a material body subject to gravity.
The same cannot be said of the etheric forces. Only where life is
present as an inherent principle - that is, in plant, animal and man -
is ether at work in the form of an individual etheric organization,
while the mineral is formed by the universal ether from outside. Where
life prevails, we are met by the phenomena of birth and death. When a
living organism comes to birth, an individual ether-body is formed out
of the general etheric substance of the universe.1 The death of such an
organism consists in the separation of the etheric from the physical
body and the dissolution of both in their respective mother-realms. So
long as an organism is alive, its form is maintained by the ether-body
present in it.

Our studies have shown that the plant is not devoid of the operation of
astral forces. In the plant's life-cycle this comes to clearest
expression in its florescence. But it is a working of the astral forces
from outside, very much as the ether works on the mineral. As a symptom
of this fact we may recall the dependence of the plant on the various
outer astronomical rhythms.

It is only in animal and man that we find the astral forces working in
the form of separate astral bodies. This accounts for their capacity
for sensation and volition. Besides the alternation of birth and death,
they experience the rhythm of sleeping and waking. Sleep occurs when
the astral body leaves the physical and etheric bodies in order to
expand into its planetary mother-sphere, whence it gathers new energy.
During this time its action on the physical-etheric aggregate remaining
upon earth is similar to that of the astral cosmos upon the plant.

Again, in the animal kingdom the ego-principle works as an external
force in the form of various group-soul activities which control and
regulate the life of the different animal species. It is in the
group-ego of the species that we have to look for the source of the
wisdom-filled instincts which we meet in the single animals.

Only in man does the ego-principle enter as an individual entity into
the single physico-etheric-astral organism. Here, however, the
succession of stages we have outlined comes to a conclusion. For with
the appearance of the I as an individual principle, the preceding
evolutionary process - or, more correctly, the involutionary process -
begins to be reversed. In moving up from one kingdom to the next, we
find always one more dynamic principle appearing in a state of
separation from its mother-sphere; this continues to the point where
the I, through uniting itself with a thus emancipated
physico-etheric-astral organism, arrives at the stage of
self-consciousness. Once this stage has been reached, however, it falls
to the I to reverse the process of isolation, temporarily sanctioned by
the cosmos for the sake of man.

That it is not in the nature of the I to leave its sheaths in the
condition in which it finds them when entering them at the beginning of
life, can be seen from the activities it performs in them during the
first period after birth. Indeed, in man's early childhood we meet a
number of events in which we can perceive something like ur-deeds of
the I. They are the acquisition of the faculties of walking, speaking
and thinking. What we shall here say about them has, in essentials,
already been touched upon in earlier pages. Here, however, we are
putting it forward in a new light.

Once again we find our attention directed to the threefold structure of
man's physical organism. For the faculty of upright walking is a result
of the I's activity in the limb-system of the body; the acquisition of
speech takes place in the rhythmic system; and thinking is a faculty
based on the nerve-system. Consequently, each of the three achievements
comes to pass at a different level of consciousness-sleeping, dreaming,
waking. All through the struggle of erecting the body against the pull
of gravity, the child is entirely unaware of the activities of his own
I. In the course of acquiring speech he gains a dim awareness, as
though in dream, of his efforts. Some capacity of thinking has to
unfold before the first glimmer of true self-consciousness is kindled.
(Note that the word 'I' is the only one that is not added to the
child's vocabulary by way of imitation. Otherwise he would, as some
mentally inhibited children do, call all other people 'I' and himself

This picture of the three ur-deeds of the I can now be amplified in the
following way. We know that the region of the bodily limbs is that in
which physical, etheric and astral forces interpenetrate most deeply.
Consequently, the I can here press forward most powerfully into the
physical body and on into the dynamic sphere to which the body is
subject. Here the I is active in a way that is 'magic' in the highest
degree. Moreover, there is no other action for which the I receives so
little stimulus from outside. For, in comparison, the activity that
leads to the acquisition of speech is much more of the nature of a
reaction to stimuli coming from outside - the sounds reaching the child
from his environment. And it is also with the first words of the
language that the first thoughts enter the child's mind. Nothing of the
kind happens at the first stage. On the contrary: everything that
confronts the I here is of the nature of an obstacle that is to be

There is no learning to speak without the hearing of uttered sounds. As
these sounds approach the human being they set the astral body in
movement, as we have seen. The movements of the astral body flow
towards the larynx, where they are seized by the I; through their help
the I imbues the larynx with the faculty of producing these sounds
itself. Here, therefore, the I is active essentially within the astral
body which has received its stimulus from outside. In order to
understand what impels the I to such action, we must remember the role
played by speech in human life: without speech there would be no
community among human individuals on earth.

An illustration of what the I accomplishes as it enters upon the third
stage is provided by the following episode, actually observed. Whilst
all the members of a family were sitting at table taking their soup,
the youngest member suddenly cried out: 'Daddy spoon ... mummy spoon.
... ' (everyone in turn spoon) ' ... all spoon!' At this moment, from
merely designating single objects by names learnt through imitation,
the child's consciousness had awakened to connective thinking. That
this achievement was a cause of inner satisfaction could be heard in
the joyful crescendo with which these ejaculations were made.

We know that the presence of waking consciousness within the
nerves-and-senses organism rests upon the fact that the connexion
between physical body and etheric body is there the most external of
all. But precisely because this is so, the etheric body is dominated
very strongly by the forces to which the physical head owes its
formation. This, too, is not fundamentally new to us. What can now be
added is that, in consequence, the physical brain and the part of the
etheric body belonging to it - the etheric brain - assume a function
comparable with that of a mirror, the physical organ representing the
reflecting mass and the etheric organ its metallic gloss. When, within
the head, the etheric body reflects back the impressions received from
the astral body, the I becomes aware of them in the form of mental
images (the 'ideas' of the onlooker-philosopher). It is also by way of
such reflexion that the I first grows aware of itself - but as nothing
more than an image among images. Here, therefore, it is itself least

If, once again, we compare the three happenings of learning to walk, to
speak and to think, we find ourselves faced with the remarkable fact
that the progressive lighting up of consciousness from one stage to the
next, goes hand in hand with a retrogression in the activity of the I
itself. At the first stage, where the I knows least of itself, it is
alive in the most direct sense out of its own being; at the second
stage, where it is in the dreaming state, it receives the impetus of
action through the astral body; at the third stage, where the I wakens
to clear self-consciousness, it assumes merely the role of onlooker at
the pictures moving within the etheric body.

Compare with this the paths to higher faculties of knowledge,
Imagination and Inspiration, as we learnt to know them in our previous
studies. The comparison shows that exactly the same forces come into
play at the beginning of life, when the I endeavours to descend from
its pre-earthly, cosmic environment to its earthly existence, as have
to be made use of for the ascending of the I from earthly to cosmic
consciousness. Only, as is natural, the sequence of steps is reversed.
For on the upward way the first deed of the I is that which leads to a
wakening in the etheric world: it is a learning to set in motion the
etheric forces in the region of the head in such a way that the usual
isolation of this part of the etheric body is overcome. Regarded thus,
the activity of the I at this stage reveals a striking similarity to
the activity applied in the earliest period of childhood at the
opposite pole of the organism. To be capable of imaginative sight
actually means to be able to move about in etheric space by means of
the etheric limbs of the eyes just as one moves about in physical space
by means of the physical limbs.

Similarly, the acquisition of Inspiration is a resuming on a higher
level of the activity exercised by the I with the help of the astral
body when learning to speak. And here, too, the functions are reversed.
For while the child is stimulated by the spoken sounds he hears to
bring his own organ of speech into corresponding movements, and so
gradually learns to produce speech, the acquisition of Inspiration, as
we have seen, depends on learning to bring the supersensible forces of
the speech-organ into movement in such a way that these forces become
the organ for hearing the supersensible language of the universe.

Our knowledge of the threefold structure of man's organism leads us to
seek, besides the stages of Imagination and Inspiration, a third stage
which is as much germinally present in the body's region of movement,
as the two others are in the regions of thought and speech. After what
we have learnt in regard to these three, we may assume that the path
leading to this third stage consists in producing a condition of
wide-awake, tranquil contemplation in the very region where the I is
wont to unfold its highest degree of initiative on the lowest level of

In an elementary manner this attitude of soul was practised by us when,
in our earlier studies, we endeavoured to become inner observers of the
activity of our own limbs, with the aim of discovering the origin of
our concept of mass. It was in this way that a line of observation
opened up to us which led to the recognition of the physical substances
of the earth as congealed spiritual functions or, we may say, congealed
utterances of cosmic will.

Cosmic Will, however, does not work into our existence only in such a
way that, in the form of old and therefore rigid Will, it puts up
resistance against the young will-power of the I, so that in overcoming
this resistance the I may waken to self-activity. Cosmic Will is also
present in us in an active form. We point here to the penetration by
the higher powers of the universe into the forming of the destiny of
humanity and of individual man. And here Rudolf Steiner has shown that
to a man who succeeds in becoming a completely objective observer of
his own existence while actively functioning within it (as in an
elementary way we endeavoured to become observers of our limb actions
while engaged in performing them) the world begins to reveal itself as
an arena of the activities of divine-spiritual Beings, whose reality
and acts he is now able to apprehend through inner awareness. Herewith
a third stage of man's faculty of cognition is added to the stages of
Imagination and Inspiration. When Rudolf Steiner chose for it the word
Intuition he applied this word, also, in its truest meaning.


While through Imagination man comes to know of his ether-body as part
of his make-up, and correspondingly through Inspiration of his astral
body, and thereby recognizes himself as participant in the
supersensible forces of the universe, it is through Intuition that he
grows into full awareness of his I as a spirit-being among
spirit-beings -

God-begotten, God-companioned,
for ever God-ward striving.

1 The word 'body' is here used in a sense no different from our earlier
use of it, when in connexion with our study of combustion (Chapter XI)
we referred to the 'warmth-body' as a characteristic of the higher
animals and man. Such a warmth-body is nothing else but the
warmth-ether part of an ether-body. To use the word body for
aggregations of etheric or astral forces is legitimate if one considers
the fact that the physical body also is really a purely dynamic entity,
that is, a certain aggregate of forces more or less self-contained.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Man or Matter
 - Introduction to a Spiritual Understanding of Nature on the Basis of Goethe's Method of Training Observation and Thought" ***

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