AN ANTHROPOSOPHICAL INTRODUCTION
TO THE HUMAN ORGANIZATION
Valdemar W. Setzer
(This is a translation of the original text in Portuguese – present, revised version: Oct. 6, 2006)
Part 1 of 3
This text was elaborated to serve as text for the first lectures of
an introductory course on Anthroposophy, organized by the Anthroposophical
Society in Brazil. This course was taught for many years by me and my
wife Sonia A. Lanz Setzer. Instead of the usual way of beginning such
a course with a description of the fourfold organization of the human
being, I have been starting with the threefold organization. The former
way of introducing this topic may be found in Steiner's book Occult
Science – an Outline (GA [complete catalogue] 13 – see http://www.rsarchive.org/Books/GA013/English/;
by the way, it seems to me that a more appropriate title for it should
be "The science of the occult – an outline"). This book, whose original
edition appeared in 1909, was preceded in 1904 by another fundamental
book, Theosophy (GA 9 – see http://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA009/English/GA009_index.html),
where Steiner begins with the threefold human being. This approach may
presente some advantages for an introductory course, because with it
it is possible to start from expressions (body, soul and spirit) already
known to everyone, albeit not clearly understood. The introduction of
these concepts can be motivated through practical observations, as I
do in this text. Thus, right from the beginning it is shown how Anthroposophy
is able to present in an original way, clearly understandable concepts
for expressions which have become quite vague along history, and how
these concepts can help in understanding the human being. In this text,
I have also tried to innovate by proposing the use of the various concepts
to show how they may be applied to understand simple phenomena, which
can be experienced in daily life.
All readers interested in Anthroposophy should notice that a serious
study of it necessarily calls for an attentive studying of the two books
by Steiner mentioned above. They are certainly no easy texts and, as
Steiner explained, a deep study of them induces in the reader an inner
positive transformation. They should be complemented by the study of
Steiner's Philosophy of Spiritual Freedom (GA 4 – also translated,
following the original German title, as The Philosophy of Freedom;
or as an e-book at http://southerncrossreview.org/Ebooks/ebpof.htm.
These three books deepen many of the concepts expounded here.
I would like to thank Dr. Sonia Setzer for many discussions and suggestions. I am greatly in debt to Raul Guerreiro, who made a thorough revision of the whole text. I would also like to thank Frank Smith, the editor of the excellent electronic magazine Southern Cross Review for a revision of the English up to the middle of section 1.2.
1. Body, soul and spirit
Rudolf Steiner expounds that the Council of Constantinople held in
869 established the Roman Catholic dogma that the human being is formed
only by 'body' and 'soul'. The 'spirit' element was thus eliminated
from the human organization and some of the characteristics formerly
associated to the concept of 'spirit' were then associated to the 'soul'
. According to Steiner, this was one of the grounds for the separation
of the Orthodox Church, which continued to use the threefold description
of the human organization.
Because of its banishment from the Catholic Church's official vocabulary (as well from other religious currents derived from it), which up to a century ago rigidly determined most of the Western customs and concepts connected to spirituality, the word 'spirit' began to assume multiple connotations.
Following the concepts introduced by Steiner, let us begin b y establishing a way of characterizing this complete threefoldedness of the human being. It should be noted that the model applied here differs somewhat from Steiner's; but it is just an artifice used to simplify the matter. In any way, the fundamental notions introduced by him have been thoroughlypreserved.
Suppose we are facing a vase in which there is a plant with a flower. What do we see?
It is very important to notice that we actually see neither a vase, nor a plant, nor a flower. What we see, that is, what is given to us by our sensorial perception of vision, are simply different hues. But, attention, we also don't see the 'red' of the vase, the 'green' of the leaves, etc. as it will be clear in the sequel. What happens is the simple perception of the light impulses coming from these colors.
In the process of seeing the vase and the plant, our body becomes activated through our eyes. If we then touch the vase, our body is participating in an additional process through our fingers. If we grab the vase with our extended arms, we have to make an effort to sustain it; this effort is produced by the body through our arms.
All these are purely physical processes. With our physical body we enter into physical contact with the physical world around us thus participating in this world. Let us restrict for a moment the notion of 'body' solely to our physical body, that is, a material body, having a physical form, a chemical composition in which physical and chemical processes take place. Later on, the notion of 'body' will be extended to encompass other aspects.
Let us return to the vase. When we see its flower, with its colors and forms, a process occurs inside ourselves, which produces inner reactions, initially causing sensations. The green of the leaves, the red of the petals and their form, the weight of the vase, all produce certain sensations in us. Simultaneously with these sensations we immediately experience another type of inner reaction – our feeling. This can be, for instance, finding the flower beautiful and thus feeling a pleasure. While smelling the flower, we get the sensation of its scent, but we immediately react with our feelings, finding its smell pleasant or distasteful. An additional typical example involves the sense of taste. Suppose that someone licks a lemon. The sensations involved here are the peculiar taste and the acidity of that kind of lemon. Then come the feelings: the person will like of dislike the taste of that lemon (or lemons in general).
It is interesting to think about what are our most fundamental feelings. Sympathy and antipathy are certainly quite basic feelings. But there are other, even more basic ones: attraction and repulsion. If there is attraction to something, there is sympathy towards it; if there is repulsion, there is antipathy.
Let us formulate following hypothesis: sensations and feelings do not occur in our physical body, but in some member of our non-physical organization which will be called soul. Our sensorial impulses are physical, but let us assume the hypothesis that our sensations and feelings are not physical.
The objection could be made that, when we have sensations and feelings,
some changes occur in the neural activity of our brain, thus suggesting
that they are purely physical processes. The fact is that such a brain
activity does not contradict our hypothesis, that sensations and feelings
produced by those impulses are not physical. According to that hypothesis,
sensations and feelings produce physical, neural phenomena in the brain.
Thus, the latter constitute secondary phenomena, that is, consequences
of non-physical soul activities. This does not, contradict, by any means,
the current materialistic scientific knowledge about the brain. In fact,
what is known is that, when there are certain sensations, feelings,
will-impulses, thoughts or memories, some regions of the brain become
more active than others. What really happens with neurons in these regions,
and whether they are the original cause for this inner activity is something
that remains totally unexplained by from the materialistic-scientific
point of view. It is known that brain damage can provoke an absence
of certain types of these inner activities. But this does not mean that
these activities are normally originated in the damaged areas.
Objectively, one should at most say that those areas participate
in the process of having those inner activities. In line with our hypothesis
stating the existence of non-physical processes, the latter may exist
but, without the part of the brain involved in the process, the person
having those inner activities will not be conscious of them. Steiner
gives an interesting analogy related to these phenomena. When we see
ourselves reflected in a mirror, we become conscious of our face. If
the mirror is broken, we are no longer conscious of our face, but we
continue to exist.
The soul has the ability to act on the physical body. To understand, , in a simple first approach, how this may happen let us apply two possible explanations for this fact. It is interesting to note that certain situations atomic 'particles' seem to behave in as 'energy packets'. In fact, it is impossible to describe the electron as a material 'little ball', as most of the people wrongly do since Niels Bohr postulated his model of the atom in 1915. According to it, the electron as a little ball would around the atomic nucleus, as in an orbital planetary model. However, this orbital circling would necessarily imply in changing the direction of the little ball (centrifugal acceleration). Since the latter is electrically charged, this change would provoke electromagnetic irradiation, as in any transmitting antenna, in which there is a forced back-and-forth movement of electrons.
It is possible to imagine that a large number of these particles, behaving as energy packets, are present in our brain in an unstable equilibrium (like a pencil placed vertically on its tip). Thus, an infinitesimal quantity of energy may change their state. This change could be produced by our non-physical 'mind' (conbidered here as part of the soul) upon our physical matter.
Another possible approach to explain that action applies abstract computational terms: suppose neurons are non-deterministic systems (their apparent randomness being indicated by their sometimes firing, other times not firing under the same stimuli). Suppose furthermore that their behavior is generally not random, but regulated (that is, some non-deterministic transitions are chosen) by non-physical elements of the human organization – in fact, we do not have the sensation that our feelings, our thinking or our will are random processes! The decision taken by our soul, to follow any of many possible transitions does not require energy.
It is also interesting to note that the quantum mathematical models of atomic particles contain elements (for example the 'spin') which have no classical limit, that is, such models are not reducible to types of energy which make sensorial sense (as, for example the outcome of a known force of attraction, of a rotation, etc.). These thought models actually seem to indicate the non-materiality of these particles (including the electron!). If matter. in its elementary form, ceases to be material, the problem of an interaction between non-physical and physical substance also disappears altogether. Moreover, it is necessary to recognize that mathematical models that have existed for a long time, specially those of Quantum Mechanics, express in a reasonable way only the measurable behavior of the most simple atoms. Moreover, this measurement happens in abnormal situations that have nothing in common with the particles in the normal states of matter; they are the outcome of artificial collisions produced with the help of extremely high energies. Thus, it is legitimate to say that classical science shows a deep lack of knowledge concerning the true nature of atomic particles, and thus of what matter itself is at all. In fact, because the current conjecture considering the electron as an indivisible particle is void of physical sense, it seems obvious, from a rigid material point of view, that elementary matter itself does not make physical sense either.
Thus, from the very point of view of the present scientific knowledge, I feel comfortable to admit the existence of non-physical processes in the universe and, in particular, in the human being.
By the way, there is an irrefutable argument for the consideration of non-physical processes in the universe: obviously, the origin (creation) of its matter and energy as well as its boundaries do not make physical sense.
The important thing to consider in the threefold model of the human being is that the part of its organization which has been called 'soul' is not physical, and cannot be reduced to physical-chemical processes, although it may influence our physical body, as well as being influenced by it. According to this model, the fact that we have sensations and feelings is basically due to the existence of our soul. Let us hear the voice of a well-known scientist in the area of 'Artificial Intelligence', showing that materialistic thinking cannot grasp the real nature of these processes. John Haugeland presents an interesting, detailed taxonomy of feelings, sensations being the first category [Haugeland, J. Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987, p. 232] and then writes:
"It is surprisingly difficult to gauge the bearing of these matters [the various kinds of feelings] on Artificial Intelligence. Even sensation, which ought somehow to be the easiest case, is deeply perplexing. There's no denying that machines can 'sense' their surroundings, if all that means is discrimination - giving symbolic responses in different circumstances. Electric eyes, digital thermometers, touch sensors, etc. are all commonly used as input organs in everything from electronic toys to industrial robots. But it's hard to imagine that these systems actually feel anything when they react to impinging stimuli. Though the problem is general, the intuition is clearest in the case of pain: many fancy systems can detect internal damage or malfunction and even take corrective steps; but do they ever hurt? It seems incredible; yet what exactly is missing? The more I think about this question, the less I'm persuaded I even know what it means (which is not to say I think it's meaningless)." [p. 235]
Besides sensations and feelings, which are typical manifestations of the soul, there are other ones. Returning to the example of the vase with a flower: in the act of looking at that flower one may recognize another manifestation of the soul: the impulse to smell or touch the flower. If, following this impulse, the person grabs the twig with the flower, a sharp thorn may hurt that person and she immediately feels the instinct of letting it go. Impulses of will as well as instincts are also manifestations of the soul, and there are many others.
Thus, through our physical body, we receive sensorial stimuli, eventually coming from objects outside of ourselves, while through our soul, we internalize those objects in a strictly personal, subjective way, with some purely inner reaction.
At this point of our considerations it will be helpful to formulate the following additional working hypothesis: plants have neither sensations, nor feelings, instincts or will. The reactions of a plant to light, for example, as it grows in its direction, should not be confused with instincts or the inner reactions stemming from sensations. Sensations are inner reactions which can be internally perceived by a sensitive being. Many plants react to physical light impulses, growing in their direction, but without experiencing the peculiar sensation that happens in animals and in human beings , through other external excitations. Thus, it is correct to say that plants do not have a soul, but animals and humans do. Please notice that to establish these concepts, it is necessary to always examine typical plants and animals, dismissing transitional cases, which should be examined under the perspective of more general ones, following the Goethian science approach. In the case of human souls, as we shall see in more detail, due to their distinctive members there are capabilities that do not exist in animal souls.
The next section will deal with the peculiar element that humans have, but animals do not. For the moment, it is important and sufficient to recognize that the sensations and feelings of each human being are unique and absolutely personal. It is impossible for another person to feel sensations and feelings which are being felt by someone else. A person may express his feelings, by saying, for instance: "This flower gives me so much pleasure!" His words can be heard by a lot of people, but the peculiar pleasure which the person is feeling is something that he alone can feel. Similarly, everyone has his own instincts; it is impossible to have somebody else's instincts. Thus, soul characteristics and soul activities are strictly individual and subjective. Remembering: Through our physical body we receive sensorial stimuli, eventually coming from objects outside of ourselves, while through our soul we internalize those objects in a strictly personal, subjective way, with some purely inner reaction.
Let us go back to the example of the vase. With our body, we receive
sensorial impressions such as luminous and tactile ones, and we experience
the action of the weight, if the vase is lifted. With our soul we innerly
react to these perceptions with sensations and feelings, followed by
manifestations of the will. Moreover, as soon as we perceive something
with our bodily senses, and have sensations and feelings connected to
those perceptions, we begin to elaborate something with our thinking:
we recognize that we 'see' a vase, a plant, a flower, and that the flower
is a rose, we recognize that we 'see' colors like red, green, etc. 'Vase',
'plant', 'rose', 'red', etc. are concepts. It is important, from
the cognitive point of view, to comprehend that we actually do not see
a 'vase'. What we see are differences in light impulses, that is, the
luminous impressions of the vase and the plant contrasting against the
luminous impressions of the background, etc. Following the perception
of the received luminous impulses, we produce, through thinking, mental
representations (in German, 'Vorstellungen') of the vase and the plant
and then associate these to the already known concepts of 'vase', 'plant',
'flower', 'rose', etc. Unfortunately, it was necessary to introduce
here the notion of 'mental representation' (in contraposition to the
notion of 'perception'), but let us use them naïvely and leave
this aspect aside, otherwise this text would have to deal in detail
with the realm of cognition. The reader interested in cognition should
study Steiner's book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, already
mentioned in the introduction.
Now let us assume the working hypothesis that the association of an inner mental representation to a concept is something not made by the body or the soul, but by the third member of our threefold organization, the spirit, which in this process employs the act of thinking.
Although also not physical, our spirit is of a different nature than our soul. Since there are physical substances of various natures – solid, liquid and gaseous, of increasing subtlety –, it is possible to assume that there exists a hierarchy of non-physical 'substances'. The spirit 'substance' is more subtle than the soul 'substance' and, thus, it may be taken as being 'superior' to the latter.
It is through the spirit present in each human being that the we enter in touch with concepts. Concepts are clearly not physical. This is absolutely clear in Mathematics, particularly in Geometry. For example, the concept of 'circle' as the locus of all points equidistant from a given point, the center, is an immaterial, that is, non-physical concept. By the way, the concept of 'point' is immaterial as well; nobody has ever seen a geometrical point (since it has no dimensions), and nobody has ever seen a perfect circle. What can be seen are approximations, be it in drawings or in objects, roughly similar to the ideal concepts (e.g. round surfaces).
Besides not being physical, concepts are universal, because they do no depend on the person who enters in touch with them – e.g. the correct concept of circle is the same to everybody. Furthermore, concepts are not temporal or, better saying, they are eternal, because they do not change with time. As Spinoza wrote in his Ethics, prop. 3, "Quae res nihil commune inter se habent, earum una alterius causa esse non potest." ("Of things that have nothing in common, one cannot be the cause of another.")
This directly leads to a characterization of 'spirit'. Suppose that an eternal concept such as that of 'circle', which obviously does not depend on the existence of someone who formulates it, exists in a spiritual world, the world of Platonic ideas (which we suppose to be real, but not physical). If it is true that we depend on our spirit in order to enter in touch with an eternal concept, than our spirit must also be eternal. Much earlier than Spinoza, Aristotle used such a purely logical reasoning in his On the Soul: if we can enter in touch with eternal concepts such as mathematical ones, than we must have something eternal in us. Based on this, he advanced that our soul should have two components: one containing our likes, dislikes, instincts, etc. which disappear when we die, and another which should be eternal and thus remains after death. In the formulation above, the first component was simply denominated 'soul', and the second one 'spirit'.
Thanks to their body human beings are objective beings, because they enter in contact with something which is not in themselves. Thanks to their soul they are subjective beings, because it lets them have inner reactions which are absolutely individual. And thanks to their spirit they are beings with activities turned both to what is subjective, as well as to what is objective. The spirit is what enables them to recognize their own subjective sensations, feelings or instincts ("this rose makes me happy", "I'm hungry", "I'm sad", etc.). But it also enables them to recognize in perceived objects, concepts such as 'rose', which do not depend on the observer's particular situation in a given moment, or on the way an object is visually observed, or on the fact that it is appreciated or not, etc. This obviously requires relatively clear and healthy sensorial perceptions, as well as a healthy capacity for reaching concepts through thinking. With our thinking we have the objective perception of the higher essence of what we physically perceive with our senses, as well as of 'objects' that do not have a physical manifestation, as for instance mathematical ones.
We owe to Steiner the formulation of cognition as a perception of the spirit (see his already mentioned book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity). Through our spirit we complete the subjectivity of our perceptions and mental representations, associating them to something that, similarly to the perceived object, is also beyond ourselves, but which is imperceptible to our senses and our body, although connected to the object: the concept of the object itself. Our perceptions are always partial, as for instance looking at a flower from a certain position. It is the spirit that completes these partial perceptions placing the observer in touch with the essence of the perceived objects. This essence is in the Platonic 'world of ideas', 'behind' the physical world. Thus, knowledge can only be obtained through the action of our spirit.
It is deplorable that modern materialist science maintains a
deep-rooted prejudice towards any manifestation or concept that involves something
'non-physical'. If the model introduced here is correct, it is simply useless
to look for the origin of thoughts in neurons. On the contrary, upon admitting
that the functioning of neurons may be the consequence of non-physical processes,
an enormous and fascinating research area would be opened. This situation
resembles very well the story of the drunkard who resolutely went under a
lamppost to look for his lost keys, instead of going somewhat further down
the street, to the darker place where he had in fact lost them. Under the
light of modern materialism, as well as the scientific method based upon it,
today one also looks for the keys where they were not lost, simply due to
the prejudice of using other means (in the metaphor: touching instead of seeing).
This way they will never be found. I conjecture that satisfactory comprehension
of our mental representations, our thinking, feeling, sleeping, life as a
whole, etc. will never be obtained, unless there is a radical change in the
present paradigms of scientific research and reasoning. Unfortunately, besides
the aforementioned prejudice, a deep fear of enlarging the materialistic method
is also present, because of the faith that such an enlargement would lead
to irrational mysticism and superstition. I hope that readers will not find
any trace of both in my way of thinking. It was Rudolf Steiner who showed
that it is possible to make clear concepts about the non-physical world and
understand it (in fact, he said that it is more important to understand the
concepts of the non-physical world than observing it). This brings about a
deeper understanding of the physical world, because it is a manifestation
of the non-physical one. For instance, the typical form of the single individuals
of a species of living beings always follow a certain, similar pattern. This
pattern is the physical expression of the concept of that species, which exists
in the spiritual world (see my essay "Considerations
about the DNA hype", on my web site).
Another fundamental characteristic of the spirit is the ability to provide
the human being with the capacity of consulting memory. A person may remember
something, through an inner effort, taking a decision without any impulse
or need which forces her to do it. For example, someone may be without hunger,
but decides to recall a wonderful meal she had the day before. It is precisely
this capacity of our spirit for consulting our memory through thinking, which
enables us to deduce relations of cause and effect. And it is this same capacity
that assures to us a feeling of continuity of our life, which otherwise would
be completely fragmented, if it would depend exclusively upon our senses and
our mental representations based on what they perceive. Due to memory and
the possibility of consulting it, the spirit has the ability of associating
a perceived object to the correct concept of its essence, based upon previous
Thus, through our body we have instantaneous perceptions of the world surrounding us, but it is our spirit which connects these perceptions, making from them a coherent whole and connecting us to the reality of timeless permanence, and of relations of causes and effects. It is the individual spirit in each of us that allows us to recognize a withered rose as being the same lush flower we saw some days ago, its somewhat different form notwithstanding.
Animals have no memory. In his previously mentioned book Occult Science – an Outline, in the chapter "The essence of the human being" (this is my translation from the original in German; it has also been translated as "The nature of humanity"), Steiner says that an animal may have, in different occasions, the same sensations in connection to certain inner or outer impulses already experienced before. He advances the example of a dog which becomes happy when it sees its owner again. In such a case, there is no association of a mental representation of the person being seen, with the memory of similar past representations, as it happens with humans. The dog simply feels the same pleasure every time that it sees its owner and, because of this, it becomes happy. The training and conditioning of an animal consists precisely in making it feel the same sensation as a reaction to a peculiar external impulse and, with it, having the same feeling or will impulse. If my cat Misky feels hunger, she has the impulse of directing herself to the bowl containing her food, which is always in the same place. In the absence of a sensation of hunger, my cat cannot recall the savory food that should be in that bowl. A dog may feel the absence of its owner when it feels hunger or scents the smell of his owner's shoe, maybe also when its owner is not close fondling it. But without an inner impulse, as an instinct or sensation, it will not feel the absence of its owner. An animal can never innerly recompose an image, in the form of a mental representation, as we humans do when we consult our memory. A careful observation of animal behavior may lead to the conclusion that these considerations are true.
The lack of memory could by itself show that animals do not possess the element that was conceptualized above as 'spirit', because, if the latter would exist in them and would act in a healthy manner, the former would also exist. The lack of the spirit makes them unable to reach concepts, which are of the same nature of the former. A bee constructs hexagonal honeycomb cells, but it has no consciousness of this fact. Its instincts make it build approximately regular hexagons, without recognizing the common concept that exists among all these polygons. That is why a bee cannot suddenly decide to make pentagonal or heptagonal honeycomb cells. There is a spatial economy factor involved in the hexagonal shape, but this is obviously totally ignored by bees: instead, a wise instinct 'programs' the bees to make their honeycomb always according to this form.
Humans beings, on the contrary, may decide to make a 'honeycomb' with another
geometrical shape, maybe even for pure esthetical reasons. Just by observing
the world it is possible to notice that humans are the only living beings
introducing novelties. Animals follow precisely their internal 'programs',
connected inclusively to their own body. Obviously, the external environment
may condition an animal to react in a different manner, modifying those 'programs'
or their outcome. Human beings, on the contrary, may act against their instincts,
as for instance when someone follows a diet in spite of an intensive passion
for eating. Furthermore, supposing that such a person is not suffering from
some weight excess, her motivation for following a diet may be connected to
a concept of health or esthetics, that is, it may be independent of some physical
need perceived by the body.
Thus, it is the spirit that makes humans really humane, and distinguishes them from animals. Self-consciousness, individuality, freedom and morality, are attributes that we have precisely because we have a spirit in ourselves. Animals have none of these capacities. Animals have a form of consciousness – as one may notice when they are hurt and react accordingly – but they have no self-consciousness, that is, a consciousness concerning, for example, what type of pain they feel, because this type is a concept.
It is the presence of the spirit that gives real individuality to human beings.
Here I am referring to a higher manifestation, which goes beyond the obvious
presence of a lower individuality due to heredity and to influences from the
environment and the soul. An example of a lower individuality is the peculiar
face expression of a person that is always happy in comparison to the type
of face of a person that has been suffering a lot for a long time. This lower
individuality involves, for instance, a unique face, a unique fingerprint,
a unique fondness and unique interests, but it is not these characteristics
that I call the 'higher individuality'. We attain a slight perception of it
when we call ourselves "I". Steiner calls our attention to the highly special
meaning of the word 'I': other names can be used when referring to various
things or persons that are outside of oneself, as "that's a table", "this
is Tony", etc. But the name 'I' can only be used when a person is referring
to her/himself – and this in a quite wide sense. When we consciously say "I",
referring to our whole, we are in fact entering in contact with our higher
self, with our spirit.
The materialistic science of our times, with its terribly limited view of
the world, cannot admit the existence of such a higher self. It draconically
postulates that each human being is exclusively the outcome of heredity
and the environment's influence. The hypothesis of the existence of
the element 'spirit' within each human being leads to this third influence
in each individual. Due to this element, it is possible to grasp why
perfect twins who lived and were educated together end up by having
different ideals, professions, etc. A consequence of this conception
is that it is impossible to foresee a person's behavior based solely
on her/his genetic heredity and the influence of the environment. From
the survey of a human genome I conjecture that it will never be possible
to control his/her life, as it has been claimed, e.g. avoiding sicknesses
in a deterministic way. In the model advanced here, a manifestation
of a genetic predisposition which is present in a certain person will
depend to a certain degree on the needs of her/his spirit. This spirit
acts also on the sphere of the unconscious, leading for instance someone
to a situation where she/he may develop herself – this may be called
'destiny'. Note that in each situation in which the person finds her/himself,
she/he may, from her/his spirit, through a conscious act, decide to
follow this or another path. Destiny, therefore, does not hinder freedom;
it simply creates those situations which are best suitable to each one's
personal development – including 'catching' sicknesses. Observe the
deep wisdom laying behind natural languages, which originated at a time
when many things were known only intuitively – nowadays this wisdom
and knowledge has been mostly lost. We don't say "this sickness has
caught me", but rather "I caught this sickness". Note also that we all
are immersed into a world of viruses, bacteria and microbes, but a healthy
person rarely catches a sickness. This happens when the person has the
predisposition to it, in the most adequate moment to serve her/his development
(considered in a very large sense). Generally, medicine studies and
handles pathogenesis; it should also study and handle and give directives
to maintain 'salutogenesis', a term introduced by Aaron Antonovsky signifying
'the origin of health' (see, for instance, his book Unravelling the
mystery of Health. Jossey Bass Inc, Publishers, 1987). This field
of knowledge was developed by Antonovsky from observations of people
who had gone through the horrors of nazi concentration and extermination
camps, but who, nevertheless, later enjoyed an excellent physical and
Speaking about sickness, it would be interesting to point to the following: observing nature, we can notice in it an immense wisdom – and its highest wisdom is found in the human body. (From a certain spiritualist point of view, the wisdom of this body is not the outcome of random mutations, followed by natural selection, but of the gradual action of spiritual beings and of our own spirit.) How is it possible to reconcile such a wisdom with the apparent fault of such a body being subject to sickness? This paradox may be resolved by assuming that sicknesses are needed for the development of each individual. According to this conception, the role of the physician becomes that of a patient's helper, so that the patient may overcome her/his sickness learning thereby what it is trying to teach her/him, in order to reach a certain necessary development. Obviously, a physician can never have sufficient knowledge to evaluate whether a sickness should be fatal. Thus, the physician's first obligation is to save life and avoid unbearable pains. Following this principle, she/he should try to provide for the most adequate manifestation of a sickness. This is why the medicine knowledge, as enlarged by Anthroposophy, is not of symptomatic character, that is, it does not try in the first place to avoid and eliminate symptoms, as generally done in classical medicine. Symptoms are just the external manifestation of a process that should, in general, be adequately fulfilled and not simply interrupted.
Without the element 'spirit', it is not possible to associate freedom to humans. Matter, without being commanded by something non-physical (this possibility was shown in the previous section), follows physical laws, which are inexorable. So, based solely on matter, or the physical body, it is not possible to derive freedom – at most, randomness. But the human being, in states of good physical, soul and spiritual health is fundamentally not a chaotic being
Also from the soul one does not reach freedom. For instance, we cannot control our first glance feelings antipathy or sympathy when meeting someone for the first time. What we may control – through the action of our spirit! – is our attitude towards these feelings. For instance, if we become conscious of a feeling of antipathy towards someone, we may force ourselves to overcome it and talk or have direct contact with that person. With this attitude, we may find in our new acquaintance qualities that were firstly not perceived, and which may even gradually provoke a transformation of antipathy into sympathy. Thus, under the free regency of our spirit, an action is undertaken which would have been the opposite, in case we had followed the first plain impulse of the soul.
This connection between freedom and self-consciousness goes further: it is not possible to speak about a free decision (and consequently, about a free act), if it is not taken in full self-consciousness. To cite an example by Steiner in the aforementioned book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity: it is not possible to say that a drunkard acts in freedom.
Finally, freedom takes us to morality. An act is moral when it is consciously
done in freedom, and when it is in accordance with cosmic truths, that is,
physical and non-physical truths. For instance, after recognizing that each
human being has an individual spirit inhabiting her/himself, that is, a spirit
which manifests itself through her/his self-consciousness, individuality and
freedom, any action exerted upon a healthy person which could impair these
three characteristics must, in principle, be considered immoral. (Note the
use of the word 'healthy': someone dominated, for example, by psychopatic
suicidal or homicidal instincts can not be considered 'healthy'.)
Furthermore, due to the presence of the spirit in each of us we may practice unselfish love. An act of unselfish love cannot be the consequence of either the body or the soul. Any action stemming from one or both of them can only be selfish. From a certain point of view, Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, 1989) is correct when he says that genes are egotistical – but from them it is impossible to come to a truly unselfish action. As a materialist, Dawkins cannot admit the hypothesis of the existence of something non-physical inside each human being. Thus, any consideration from him that appears to lead to unselfishness is, according to the model expounded here, fallacious. This also includes a speculated construction by Darwin: people who act in unselfish ways tend to gain more acceptance among their community and survive better; that is, unselfishness would be – marvel and stare at such a thought – a consequence of selfishness! By the way, the application of Darwinian evolutionist concepts to human beings is something absolutely undue. This was already advanced by Alfred Russel Wallace, the natural sciences researcher and philosopher who conceived the schema of Natural Selection in parallel to, but independently from Darwin: both presented their theory in the same session of the Royal Society in London. The difference is that Wallace, contrary to Darwin and the typical Darwinists of our times, was also a spiritualist – something that did not hinder him of being a great biologist! Unfortunately, Wallace and eminent personalities of those times did not have at hand the new concepts of the spirit as experienced and formulated by Steiner, and could not work with them. Using these concepts, it becomes clear how ridiculous it is to apply Darwinian evolutionist concepts to human beings, since they are directed exclusively to our physical organization, and do not even take into account our soul organization.
In order to accomplish an unselfish action for the benefit of
someone else, it is necessary that we have in our organization an element
that lies above the needs imposed by our body, by our instincts or by feelings
stemming from our soul, such as antipathies and sympathies. An example of
a simple action of this kind is a donation without any conditions attached
to it. In such a donation, the recipient has total freedom for using the donated
object or money as best as it suits him. In his book World Economy
(GA 240, see http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/WorldEcon/WldEco_index.html)
R. Steiner expounds what he called 'donation money'.
After a consideration of all these aspects, we can perceive how the
notion of the existence of the 'spirit', as characterized as the third
element of the threefold human organization, is something absolutely
essential to grasp the totality of the human being and to understand
its manifestations as observable with our senses or through self-observation.
I conjecture that the present scientific trend of thought, with its
limited materialistic vision – which does not even recognize a 'soul'
element –, or even an extended psychology relying solely upon body and
soul, will never be able to lead to a deep understanding of the human
being. In the absence of a new and enlarged vision, there will never
exist, for example, an education suited to a global and harmonious development
of each human being; there will never exist a social science and an
economy able to develop a more effective and healthy social organization
than the one we presently have, which is undoubtedly working to destroy
the world, humans and society instead of elevating them to a higher
Part 2 >>
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