Corpses of Thought (Rudolf Steiner)

From The Fall of the Spir­its of Dark­ness (CW 177), a cycle of 14 lec­tures by Rudolf Stein­er, Dor­nach from the 29 of Sep­tem­ber to the 28 of Octo­ber, 1917. Trans­lat­ed by Anna Meuss FIL, MTA. This excerpt tak­en from the end of Lec­ture 5: CHANGES IN HUMANITY’S SPIRITUAL MAKE-UP, Octo­ber 7, and Lec­ture 6: THE NEW SPIRITUALITY, Octo­ber 8, 1917. Audio excerpt below. 

Full audios. Full tran­script.

At the Coun­cil of Con­stan­tino­ple it was decreed that the spir­it did not exist; it was dog­mat­i­cal­ly stat­ed that the human being con­sist­ed only of body and soul, and it was heresy to speak of a human spir­it. In the same way attempts will be made to decree the soul, the inner life, as nonexistent.

The time will come — and it may not be far off — when quite dif­fer­ent ten­den­cies will come up at a con­gress like the one held in 1912 and peo­ple will say: It is patho­log­i­cal for peo­ple to even think in terms of spir­it and soul. ‘Sound’ peo­ple will speak of noth­ing but the body. It will be con­sid­ered a sign of ill­ness for any­one to arrive at the idea of any such thing as a spir­it or a soul. Peo­ple who think like that will be con­sid­ered to be sick and — you can be quite sure of it — a med­i­cine will be found for this. At Con­stan­tino­ple the spir­it was made non-exis­tent. The soul will be made non-exis­tent with the aid of a drug. Tak­ing a ‘sound point of view’, peo­ple will invent a vac­cine to influ­ence the organ­ism as ear­ly as pos­si­ble, prefer­ably as soon as it is born, so that this human body nev­er even gets the idea that there is a soul and a spirit.

The two philoso­phies of life will be in com­plete oppo­si­tion. One move­ment will need to reflect how con­cepts and ideas may be devel­oped to meet the real­i­ty of soul and spir­it. The oth­ers, the heirs of mod­ern mate­ri­al­ism, will look for the vac­cine to make the body ‘healthy’, that is, makes its con­sti­tu­tion such that this body no longer talks of such rub­bish as soul and spir­it, but takes a ‘sound’ view of the forces which live in engines and in chem­istry and let plan­ets and suns arise from neb­u­lae in the cos­mos. Mate­ri­al­is­tic physi­cians will be asked to dri­ve the souls out of humanity.

Peo­ple who think that play­ful ideas will help them to look ahead to the future are very much mis­tak­en. We need seri­ous, pro­found ideas to look ahead to the future. Anthro­pos­o­phy is not a game, nor just a the­o­ry; it is a task that must be faced for the sake of human evolution.

If we are to con­tin­ue in the right way today, we must con­sid­er some­thing of the nature of the human being and how human beings are part of his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion. First of all we con­sid­er the fact that human beings have the pow­er, or the gift, of the intel­lect. What does this mean? It means that we are able to form ideas. For the moment we need not reflect on where these ideas come from. The life of thought is with us wher­ev­er we are in wak­ing con­scious­ness. And we also feel, for instance, that when we walk, stand or do any­thing else, we are guid­ed by our thoughts, by some­thing which exists first of all in the mind. Lat­er on we shall dis­cuss if this real­ly is the case. For the moment I mere­ly want to estab­lish what fills the con­scious mind in every­day life. It is our thoughts. But when it comes to the world of thought as such, the mat­ter is real­ly quite dif­fer­ent. And we shall not under­stand how human beings real­ly relate to their thoughts unless we first con­sid­er the true nature of the world of thought.

In real­i­ty we are always, wher­ev­er we are — whether sit­ting, stand­ing or lying down — not only in the world of air and light and so on, but also in a world of surg­ing thoughts. You will find it eas­i­est to get an idea of this if you look at it like this: When you walk on earth as an ordi­nary phys­i­cal human being you are also a breath­ing human being, walk­ing in a space filled with air. And in more or less the same way you move in a space filled with thoughts. Thought-sub­stance fills the space around you. It is not a vague ocean of thoughts, nor the kind of neb­u­lous ether peo­ple some­times like to imag­ine. No, this thought-sub­stance is actu­al­ly what we call the ele­men­tal world. When we speak of enti­ties which are part of the ele­men­tal world in the widest sense of the word, they con­sist of thought-sub­stance, actu­al thought-sub­stance. There is, how­ev­er, a dif­fer­ence between the thoughts flit­ting around out there, which real­ly are liv­ing enti­ties, and the thoughts we have in our minds. I have spo­ken of this dif­fer­ence on a num­ber of occa­sions. In my book due to be pub­lished short­ly, and which I men­tioned yes­ter­day, Note 1 ] you will find fur­ther ref­er­ences to this difference.

You may well ask your­self: If there is such an ele­men­tal prin­ci­ple out there in thought-space and if I, too, have thoughts in my head — what is the rela­tion­ship between the two? To get the right idea of how your own thoughts relate to the thought-enti­ties out there you have to visu­al­ize the dif­fer­ence between a human corpse which has been left behind when some­one has died and a liv­ing per­son who is walk­ing about. The kind of thoughts you have to con­sid­er in this respect are the kind you gain from the world you per­ceive with the sens­es when in wak­ing con­scious­ness. Our own thoughts are actu­al­ly thought-corpses. This is the essen­tial point. The thoughts com­ing from the world we per­ceive with the sens­es and drag around with us when in wak­ing con­scious­ness are thought-corpses — thoughts that have been killed. Out­side us they are alive, which is the difference.

We are part of the ele­men­tal world of thought in so far as we kill its liv­ing thoughts when we devel­op ideas on the basis of what our sens­es have per­ceived in the world around us. Our think­ing con­sists in hav­ing those corpses of thoughts inside us, and this makes our thoughts abstract. We have abstract thoughts because we kill liv­ing thoughts. It is real­ly true that in our state of con­scious­ness we walk around bear­ing thought corpses which we call our thoughts and ideas. This is the reality.

The liv­ing thoughts in the out­side world are cer­tain­ly not unre­lat­ed to us; there is a liv­ing rela­tion­ship. I can demon­strate this to you, but do not be fright­ened by the grotesque nature of this unac­cus­tomed idea. Imag­ine you are lying in bed and it is morn­ing. You can get up in two dif­fer­ent ways. Ordi­nar­i­ly, you are not aware of the dif­fer­ence between them because you are not in the habit of mak­ing the dis­tinc­tion, and any­way you do not pay atten­tion to this par­tic­u­lar moment of get­ting up. Nev­er­the­less, you can get up out of habit, with­out think­ing about it, or you can actu­al­ly pro­duce the thought: I am now going to get up. There are peo­ple, how­ev­er, who get them­selves up out of sheer habit, and yet there is just a touch of the idea: I am going to get up now. To repeat, many peo­ple do not make the dis­tinc­tion, but it can be made in the abstract, and the dif­fer­ence is enor­mous. If you get up with­out giv­ing it a thought, out of sheer habit and train­ing, you are fol­low­ing impuls­es giv­en by the Spir­its of Form, the Elo­him, when they cre­at­ed human beings as dwellers on earth at the begin­ning of earth evo­lu­tion. So you see, if you switch off your own think­ing and always get up like a machine, you are not get­ting up with­out thought hav­ing gone into it, but it is not your own thought. The form of move­ment involved in get­ting up involves thoughts — objec­tive, not sub­jec­tive, inner thoughts; these are not your thoughts but those of the Spir­its of Form.

If you were a ter­ri­bly lazy per­son who real­ly did not want to get up at all, if it real­ly was not in your nature to get up and you would only get up on reflec­tion, against your nature, out of pure­ly sub­jec­tive thought, you’d be fol­low­ing ahri­man­ic ten­den­cies; you would be fol­low­ing only your head, and there­fore Ahri­man. As I said, the dis­tinc­tion is not made in ordi­nary life. And every­thing else we do is real­ly done in the same way as our get­ting up. Human beings tru­ly are made up of two enti­ties which can be out­ward­ly dis­tin­guished as the head and the rest of the body. The human head is an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly sig­nif­i­cant instru­ment and much old­er than the rest of the body. The con­struc­tion of the human head is such — I spoke about this last year — that the basic shape arose dur­ing Moon evo­lu­tion, though the head has, in fact, come down through Sat­urn, Sun and Moon evo­lu­tion. Humans would look quite dif­fer­ent if they still had the shape they had dur­ing Moon evolution.

In very gen­er­al terms we might say peo­ple would look like spec­tres, with only the form of the head emerg­ing some­what more clear­ly, which was the orig­i­nal intent. The rest of the body was not meant to be as vis­i­ble as it is now. These things have to be con­sid­ered, oth­er­wise we can­not real­ly under­stand human evo­lu­tion on earth. The rest of the body was meant to be pure­ly ele­men­tal by nature. In the head, every­thing would come into effect which has come down as Moon exis­tence trans­formed by earth; let us call it ‘a’. But this inher­it­ed Moon exis­tence trans­formed by earth is the actu­al human being, for the human being is real­ly a head with only a very insignif­i­cant attachment.

The rest of the human being — let us call it ‘b’ and to begin with let us sim­ply con­sid­er it to be this ele­men­tal, airy prin­ci­ple — is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the high­er hier­ar­chies, from the Spir­its of Form down­wards. The right and only way of see­ing the human being is to real­ize that every­thing shown here as ‘b’ has been cre­at­ed by the cos­mic hier­ar­chies. The human being which has evolved from the time of Sat­urn emerged against the back­ground of the cos­mic hier­ar­chies. If you visu­al­ize the essen­tial nature of the parts of the human being which are not head — you must think of it as all spir­it, or at least all air — then you have the body of cos­mic hier­ar­chies (draw­ing on the board).

How­ev­er, lucifer­ic seduc­tion entered into the whole process of evo­lu­tion. The out­come was that this whole, more ele­men­tal, body con­densed to become the rest of the human body, which of course also had an effect on the head. This will give you an idea of the true nature of the human being. Apart from the head, which is their own, hav­ing come from ear­li­er evo­lu­tion, human beings would be an out­ward man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Elo­him if their bod­ies had not become sen­su­ous flesh. It is entire­ly due to the temp­ta­tions of Lucifer that this out­ward man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Elo­him has con­densed to become flesh.

Some­thing very strange has arisen as a result, an impor­tant secret to which I have referred a num­ber of times. What has hap­pened is that the human being has become the image of the gods in the very organs which are nor­mal­ly called the organs of his low­er nature. This image of the gods has been debased in human beings as they are on earth. The high­est prin­ci­ple in human beings, the spir­i­tu­al prin­ci­ple com­ing from the cos­mos, has become their low­er nature. Please, do not for­get that this is an impor­tant secret of human nature. Our low­er nature, which is due to Lucifer­’s influ­ence, was actu­al­ly des­tined to be our high­er nature. This is the con­tra­dic­to­ry ele­ment in human nature. Right­ly under­stood, it will solve count­less rid­dles in the world and in life.

 We are thus able to say: In the course of human evo­lu­tion man has, thanks to the lucifer­ic ele­ment, made the part of him that should be con­stant­ly emerg­ing from the cos­mos into his low­er nature. Many his­tor­i­cal phe­nom­e­na will find their expla­na­tion if you con­sid­er that this was known to the lead­ers of the ancient Mys­ter­ies, peo­ple who were not as face­tious, cyn­i­cal and nar­row-mind­ed as peo­ple are today. Cer­tain sym­bols tak­en from the low­er nature and used in the past, sym­bols that today are mere­ly seen as sex­u­al sym­bols, are explained by the fact that the priests who used them in the ancient Mys­ter­ies did so in order to give expres­sion to the high­er real­i­ty of the low­er nature of man.

You can see how sen­si­tive we have to be in deal­ing with these things if we are not to be face­tious. Mod­ern peo­ple slip eas­i­ly into face­tious­ness, because they can­not even imag­ine that there is more to human beings than mere sen­su­al­i­ty — which, in fact, is the lucifer­ic ele­ment in our high­er nature. Thus his­tor­i­cal sym­bols are eas­i­ly giv­en entire­ly the wrong inter­pre­ta­tion. It takes some nobil­i­ty of spir­it not to inter­pret the old sym­bols in a low­er sense, even though they often can be inter­pret­ed in that way.

With this, you will also begin to real­ize that if thoughts from the ele­men­tal world come to us — they are liv­ing thoughts, not abstract, dead ones that come from the head — they must be com­ing out of the whole human being. Mere reflec­tion will not achieve this. Today the idea is that we only arrive at our thoughts by reflec­tion. Today the idea is: If human beings will just reflect, they can think about any­thing, pro­vid­ing the things they want to think about are acces­si­ble. This is non­sense, how­ev­er. The truth is that the human race is in a process of evo­lu­tion, and the thoughts devel­oped by Coper­ni­cus, for exam­ple, or Galileo, at a par­tic­u­lar time could not be reached by mere reflec­tion before that time. You see, peo­ple fab­ri­cate the thoughts they have in their heads. But when a thought which marks a real change aris­es in world his­to­ry, this thought is giv­en by the gods and through the whole human being. It flows through the human being, over­com­ing the lucifer­ic ele­ment, and only reach­es the head out of the whole human being. I think this is some­thing you can under­stand. In cer­tain ages, par­tic­u­lar thoughts just have to be wait­ed for and expect­ed; then human beings are not mere­ly reflect­ing, nor is some­thing con­veyed through their eyes or ears, but inspi­ra­tion comes from the world of the hier­ar­chies and it comes through the whole essen­tial human being, which is the image of the hierarchies.


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