The HUMAN ORGANISM in the Light of Anthroposophy

The Human Organism in the Light of Anthroposophy

 A lecture given at Dornach, August, 1926, to English visitors.  Reprinted from ANTHROPOSOPHY, Easter, 1927

By EUGEN KOLISKO, M. D.  (Vienna)

ANTHROPOSOPHICAL knowledge of the being and constitution of man is of the very greatest importance in the present age, because we are everywhere surrounded by materialistic conceptions of Nature, and, above all, of the human organism.  Unless ideas concerning the supersensible nature of man can be spread throughout the world, we shall never be able to prepare a true basis for the Art of Healing as laid down by Rudolf Steiner, which is, indeed, indispensable to the onward progress of evolution.

To this end we must in the first place, consider the difference between the organism of man and of the animal.  This difference is primarily the outcome of the activity of the Ego and the “Ego-organisation,” which permeates the whole human organism and works in every part of it.  The working is, however, very different in the various systems.  The Ego is the spiritual being of man, his Spirit, his self-conscious entity, but it manifests also in the form and in the process of the building of his whole body.

The Ego-organisation acts in three different ways, because, as we know, there are three faculties which primarily distinguish man from the animals :

  1. Standing erect and walking.
  2. Speaking.
  3. Thinking.

The faculty of standing upright and walking has origin in the lower region of the organism where the Ego unfolds its forces of Will.  The body stands there, having overcome the earthly force of gravitation which always tend to counteract this upright position of man.  The first action of the Ego is revealed when a little child, in the first year of life, attains this free position of the body as a symbol of its cosmic descent and origin.

The faculty of speaking arises from the middle region of the organism, from the rhythmic system.  Here the Ego manifests the power of Feeling.  The arms are wholly permeated by these forces of feeling, for we express feeling above all by means of the arms.  Indeed, the power of speech could never be developed if the arms were not liberated from the function of movement in the whole of the body.  This, of course can be demonstrated by the example of the animals.  The tiny child clutches things with its hands, expressing its likes and dislikes, its desires and antipathies.  In babyhood, there is at first no difference between the activities of the two arms and hands ; they are equal in strength.  But during the second year of life a difference between the right and left arm appears; in children, who later on in life are right-handed, the right arm grows stronger: in the comparatively few who are left-handed, the left arm is more developed.  This is the time, however, when the so-called “centre of speech” is developed in the brain.  This centre is situated on the left side of the brain of right-handed people, and on the right side of the brain in left-handed people, Thus we see that the faculty of Speech is closely connected with the function of the arms.

The middle region of the human organism alone is wholly asymmetrical.  We have the great difference between the right and left arm: the heart is on the left side and the lungs are more developed on the right side.  In Eurhythmy, as inaugurated by Dr. Steiner, language again is transformed into a language of the whole body, more especially by means of the arms.  Speaking, then, has its origin in the rhythmic system.

The third essential activity of the human being is in that of Thinking.  Thinking manifests from the head of man.  Although it is an action of the whole human being, the head forces predominate.  The child learns to think after having learnt to speak.

The Ego, therefore, acts in a threefold way.  It endows the human body with the capacity to stand upright and walk; it bestows upon the human soul the faculty of speech, that is to say, the possibility of speaking words of Truth; to the human spirit it imparts the faculty of thinking and thereby the possibility of living in a spiritual world.  The Ego fulfils these three functions by means of the three systems of the human body.  The human form, therefore is an image of the activity of the Ego.  Man builds up his form in childhood, through three consecutive stages; he learns first to walk, then to speak and, finally to think.  This is beautifully expressed in the words of the Gospel of St. John: “I am the Way, the ‘Truth, and the Life.”  Dr. Steiner tells us in his book, The Spiritual Guidance of Man and of Mankind, how the little child develops these three faculties during the first three years of it’s life when the powers of the Christ are still living in it.

Now it is of the greated difference between the functions of the upper and in the lower regions of the human organism

Thinking is a purely spiritual activity; walking, on the contrary, is a physical activity where the body is, as it were, urged forward from without.  The Ego-organisation is always closely connected with the processes of warmth.  During the process of thinking there is an influx of the blood into certain parts of the brain.  Inner warmth arises as the result of the processes of demolition in the brain.  When we walk, much physical warmth is generated and streams outwards to the periphery.  This shows us on the one hand how the Ego works in spiritual freedom and, on the other, how it works in the physical sense.

The merely physical and chemical laws of modern science cannot explain what is really taking place when man walks.  For if only these mechanical laws were in operation he would be bound to fall down.  In another sense this is what actually occurs at the moment of “falling asleep.  “The genius of the English language has here bit upon a true figure of speech.  At this moment the Ego and astral organisations are no longer able to act on the body in the same way as before.  The same thing happens after fever, when the forces of the warmth organism have been exhausted; the Ego-organisation is enfeebled and there is great difficulty in maintaining the upright position.  Walking is really a “magical” process, just as, for instance, we might describe the so-called levitation phenomena of spiritualistic seances as magical.  But there is no need to produce such phenomena in dark rooms because, indeed, the ordinary function of walking is already a manifestation of spiritual activity7—a ” mystery revealed,” as Goethe says.  The body, with its weight, is raised above all the laws of gravitation with every single step.  In the activity of thinking, the Spirit bears itself ; in the activity of walking, the Spirit bears the body.  St. Thomas Aquinas refers to this, saying that the ” Intelligent Soul” (the principle we call the Ego) could never form and move the body if it could not move itself while thinking.

It is very important to understand the connection between two such functions as walking and thinking.  The current ideas on the subject of walking are far too materialistic, for our scientists try to explain it on the basis of purely mechanical laws.  Thinking has become so abstract and shadowy that it is not thought of as a reality at all.  Dr.  Steiner once told us that true thinking entails as much effort as cutting wood.  This may be easily understood when we know that the same forces which ordinarily move the limbs are also at work in the process of thinking.  Thinking is a supersensible activity and really creates “legs” which will bear us into the spiritual world.  But it needs just as much effort to move these “spiritual legs” as it does to move our physical limbs.

It is very interesting to consider the polarity obtaining between other functions of the human organ < from this point of view.  We look out into the world through our eyes and thus receive impressions which flow into our life of soul.  All that the eye, and to a less extent, the other senses, receive from the outer world, may be called the ” daily bread ” of the soul.  It is easy to overlook the reality of these things, for light and sound cannot be weighed—they are imponderable elements.  On the other hand, the material food we digest by means of the digestive system consists of the matenal substances of Nature.  This digestive process brings about a complete metamorphosis of the food—a much greater metamorphosis than modern physiology imagines.  The food must be wholly depnved of its natural vitality, and only afterwards, when it enters the blood, is it re-vitalised by the etheric organisation.  Only those substances which have undergone a complete process of demolition can rise to the level of ” new ” life, that is to say, to the level of human life.  Practically the same process takes place in the region of the senses, especially in the eye.  The impressions we receive through our senses, pass, by way of the nerves, into the brain.  There they also come into contact with the blood.  In reality, we can only understand and retain in the memory those things which have in some way been laid hold of by the blood.  For we do not “understand” with the nervous substance of the brain but with the blood streaming through the blood vessels of the brain.  Understanding is therefore, more an action of the heart than of the head alone.  The blood of the brain has the same task to perform in connection with the metamorphosis of the sensations and perceptions as the blood of the digestive organs in connection with the food.  When we perceive the outer world, the etheric elements of the light from the Cosmos are brought into the organism and transformed by the Ego-organisation.  When we eat, the earthly substances are likewise transformed.  These two streams, the cosmic and the earthly, meet in the blood and their union takes places through the action of the heart.  We could never form free perceptions by means of the brain if we did not get rid of the purely natural forces of material food in the lower part of the organism through the digestive process.

From this point of view, the action of seeing may be thought of as a more subtle form of eating.  The forming of ideas, after we have understood the impressions received by means of the senses, corresponds, in a certain way with the process of the digestion of the food.  The different languages contain many phrases which express tins close connection between the digestive processes and the processes of ideation.  For instance, in German, if something has not been understood, the expression is, “I cannot digest it.  ” Or again, if one is tired of hearing the same thing repeated over and over again, the German expression is, Ich bin es satt— ” I have had enough of it.  ” The same expression is used when we have eaten enough or possibly too much at a meal! If we have to listen to the same annoying things repeated hundreds of times, the German and also the Englishman says, Das ist zum Erbrechen—”It makes me sick!” These examples will show us how often the same expressions are used in connection with the process of understanding and digestion.

Again we say both in English and in German, that colours are in good taste or in bad taste, as the case may be! The expression has been derived from the nutritive process and is transferred, in a metaphorical to colour.  It is well known that spiritual activity and the process of digestion are interrelated, for mental exertion is never easy after a meal.

The fact that certain elements of our nourishment act in the same way upon the digestive system as on the nervous system, is very interesting.  For tnstance, effect of coffee is to regulate the digestion.  If a man has eaten many different kinds of food at a meal, the coffee he drinks afterwards has a certain regulating effect, though this is not generally realised.  In the same way, coffee acts on the mental process.  Here it stimulates a kind of ” automatic logic ” and helps to make thinking coherent.  Above all is this the case when we are tired and the spiritual activity of the Ego is diminished in some way.  We may therefore say that coffee tends to make the digestion “logical”— if the expression may be permitted—in the same sense as it transforms the thinking process.  A very interesting point in this connection is that coffee came into general use at the period in history when the innate logical capacities of mankind were beginning to disappear.  Francis Bacon is said to have done much for its popularisation in Europe, the custom having primarily arisen among the Arabs and Turks.

Dr.  Steiner once told us that the action of coffee is the same as that of the spleen.  (Coffee-beans, as we know, are like tiny spleens.  ) One of the chief functions of the spleen is to regulate the rhythm of digestion.  This was able to be proved in the Biological Institute of the Goetheanum.  The action of coffee on material and ‘ spiritual digestion ‘ is the same.  In the English language the word spleen is, as you know, used in a twofold sense.  The word spleen is the name of an organ, and is also used in connection with a certain spiritual condition where there is an absence of these regulating forces in the mind.  The spleen then makes itself felt in a more unpleasant sense! This is merely said for the sake of showing that the digestive activity is, as it were, a material counterpart of brain-activity.

Now there is a striking correspondence between the formation of the intestines, especially of the lower intestine, and the formation of the cerebrum.  The brain with all its folds may really be said to be a kind of involved intestinal formation.  We have therefore, the following correspondences :—

Seeing         Ideation           Thinking

Eating         Digestion         Walking

The activity of the spiritual process expresses itself in thinking ; sense perception is a more passive condition, but a certain activity is always necessary for the process of ideation.  The same thing holds good as regards the process of digestion, for nourishment can only be the result of the destruction or demolition of the food substances.  The best nourishment is provided when the food substances are destroyed as a result of the greatest possible organic activity, that is to say, when we transform them wholly.  All nutritive qualities are the result of stimulus in these activities.  In the same way the principles of teaching are based on a stimulus which the teacher gives to the spiritual activity of his pupils.  The pupils must understand through the activities of the blood and heart, not merely through their intellects and brains.

In the process of digestion the food is led into the blood from without.  When the limbs are in movement, on the other hand, the blood flows from the centre to the periphery and this is also the case in the sphere of spiritual activity.  Sense perception is ” food,” and in the thinking activity we create spiritually from out of the powers of Will.  Thus there is an active correspondence between the upper and the lower processes in the human organism.

The brain is the seat of spiritual activity.  Why is this so ? Because, as Dr.  Steiner tells us in his book, An Outline of Occult Science, the head was already created, in germ, during the period of ancient Saturn.  The warmth of this Saturn condition is now, in the Earth period, free for spiritual activity.  This ancient Saturn process has been preserved in order that free mental activity might be possible in human beings on the Earth.  The earthly brain swims like an embryo in the so-called cerebro-spinal fluid and the Ego and astral body hover above the brain, as it were, and create, in spiritual freedom, through thought.

It is quite different in the case of the limbs, especially the legs.  Here it is a question of moving the skeleton ; the activity is of a more corporeal nature.  We have to make efforts to conquer the earthly forces and to push forward the body with its weight, but we have no conscious knowledge of what we are doing.  In the upper organism (the head) the Spirit broods over the waters ; in the lower organism the blood brings the dead skeleton into movement.  In the head we preserve certain elements of our existence before birth, and they remain in a spiritual condition.  In the lower part of the organism, on the contrary, we constantly  counteract the powers of death.  We push the skeleton forward—the skeleton of course represents death—and conquer the earthly forces of gravity.  This shows us that a constant equilibrium is maintained between the Ego-organisation and the upper and lower regions of the physical body.

In the more spiritual, upper activity, we can overcome the gravity of the Earth beneath.  On the other hand, although the activity of the head is purely spiritual, the head contains the nature of death, its substance has less life, while in the lower parts of the organism, where the action of the Ego is wholly physical, the forces of life predominate.  But there is no consciousness.  From below—upwards, the Ego is always conquering the forces of the physical body per se.  We must learn to unite the spiritual and physical processes in our thinking.

This train of reasoning shows us the close connection between the metabolic-limb-system and the head system.  With the rhythmic system, however, it is quite different.

Let us here consider the process of hearing.  Although hearing is one of the senses, it has a close connection with the breathing process, in the same way as the process of seeing is connected with the digestion.  This is evident from the intimate relationship that exists between hearing and speaking.  The ear and the larynx are really one, uniform organ.  Hearing indeed, is more closely connected with speaking than with thinking, for the ear belongs to the rhythmic system.  It is therefore, situated at the side of the head and in the middle region where the rhythmic functions of the head take place.  The same is the case with the nose.  Oken speaks of the nose as being “the lung of the face” ; the cheeks are the heart, and the blood manifests in the colouring of the face.  The head, too, is to be thought of as having a threefold nature.  The upper region contains the brain and the eyes—system of nerves and senses ; the middle region of the head contains the nose and the ears—rhythmic system ; the mouth is situated in the lower region corresponding to the digestive functions of the head.  The mouth is directly connected with digestion and, on the other hand, the jaw has a free motion like the legs.

The very position of the ears shows that they are connected with the rhythmic system, where- the air is primarily active.  Now the place of the ears in the head and the place of the arms in the whole body is relatively the same.  In Eurhythmy, the sound of the human voice, received by the ears, is transformed into a language of the arms.  In ordinary speech, this movement of the arms is held back, suppressed, and the movement is only in the larynx.  It is quite different with the eyes, which clearly show a connection with the legs.  It is not really possible to walk in the right direction if the eyes are not functioning as they should.  We hold ourselves upright and turn in this or that direction by perceiving the objects of the outer world with our eyes.  People whose equilibrium is to a certain extent insecure, are prone to fall down when they shut their eyes.  Gymnastics are also an evidence of this close connection between eyes and legs, while Eurhythmy reveals the relation between the ear, the arms and the whole rhythmic system.  Here we also see a manifestation of the polarity between right and left.  It is a proven fact that, for instance, certain inflammations or other diseases of the eyes are favourably affected by plasters or compresses applied to the legs, and it has been my experience that in certain cases of ear trouble, the same remedies are beneficial, only instead of applying them on the legs, we must apply them on the arms.

The rhythmic system manifests, in the main, the difference between right and left, as I have already indicated, but here we have also the difference between the lungs and the heart, for the lungs are developed to the right and the heart is situated to the left.  The heart is the centre of the blood circulation, the lungs are the centre of the breathing process.  It is easy to feel how speech is born from these two streams.  In the vowels we have the inner rhythms of the blood circulation; in the consonants the configurations of air are predominant.  What does this represent?  The difference between the etheric and astral bodies, for in the etheric body the watery elements predominate and in the astral body the elements of air.  These forces work more in the horizontal fine.

There is equilibrium between the spiritual and the corporeal.  And here the soul finds its field of action and it is this region of feeling from which, finally, the forces of speech are born.  These forces are carried over in Eurhythmy to the whole human organism.  In this region too, there lie the healing powers, because all cures consist in setting up the right balance between the etheric and the astral bodies.

In the human organism, therefore, there are two different spheres of activity: the correlation between the Ego and the physical body and the correlation of the etheric and astral body within the rhythmic system.  There is a strong opposition between the fiery, Ego quality (head system) which is always counteracting and overcoming the heaviness and weight of the earthly qualities.  The correlation of the Etheric-Watery and Astral-Airy qualities manifests rhythmically in the middle region of the human organism.

When the earthly and the cosmic forces working in the human being are thus revealed to us, when we can perceive the Spirit in the so-called material process of digestion as well as in the activity of thinking, then, at last, we understand how man represents the real unity of the spiritual and natural world.

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