You are on page 1of 7

Human Knowledge and Its Significance for Man and the Cosmos

Schmidt Number: S-3242

! "udolf Steiner #$ %&'

(n-line since: 23rd $ugust) 2'%3

This is an alternate translation of lecture six from the lecture series The Riddle of Humanity, given in Dornach on August 7, 1916. It is volume 170 in the collected wor s originall! "u#lished in $erman as Das Raetsel des Menschen. &earch for related titles availa#le for "urchase at Ama'
This e.Text edition is "rovided through the wonderful wor of% *arious e+,e-t ,ranscribers

,han.s to a donation b! the /os $ngeles "udolf Steiner /ibrar!) this /ecture has been made a0ailable+

Human Knowledge and Its Significance for Man and the Cosmos
/ecture I
Dornach 7th August, 1916 )an! of the things that have to #e said on the su#*ect of the connection of man+s #eing with the universe must necessaril! seem difficult and com"licated. ,eo"le ma! as themselves% -hatever more is there to #e said a#out the #eing of man. /ut the fact remains that the #irth of the human #eing from the cosmos is an exceedingl! com"licated "rocess and must in some wa! #ecome intelligi#le to us. In the "resent age a#ove all, light must #e thrown on this fact, #ecause otherwise it would #e too late. This is a grave statement #ut it must #e made. At the "resent time human #eings are living through incarnations in which the! can get along without actuall! nowing ver! much a#out the com"lexities of the #eing of man. The! can manage now without this nowledge #ut times will come when their souls will #e incarnated again and when nowledge of these things will #e a#solutel! essential. It will #e a vital necessit! for souls incarnated u"on the earth to now in what sense the #eing of man is connected with the universe. 0et me "ut it in this wa!% -e ourselves are still living in an age when it is not as !et left entirel! to the human #eing to hold together certain mem#ers of his #eing. In our time these mem#ers are held together without our intervention. 1owada!s, eas!2 going minds can still s"ea with irritation a#out the com"licated nature of anthro"oso"hical wisdom. The! can still ee" reiterating that truth is alwa!s sim"le and that what is not sim"le is not the real 3truth.4 5n all sides we hear "eo"le sa!ing this. /ut the! sa! it under the influence of the

0uciferic tem"tation and have no in ling of the fact that when the! s"ea of this 3sim"licit! of Truth4 the! are clouding their minds and are altogether la#ouring under a delusion. Times will come when nowledge, and nowledge alone will ena#le man to hold together certain of the inner "rinci"les and mem#ers of his #eing. /ut the future has alwa!s to #e "re"ared and it is the tas of anthro"oso"hical thought to "re"are earthl! culture and civilisation for that age in the future when the human #eing will have to now how to maintain the cohesion of the different "arts of his #eing himself. And now let us thin of a fundamental truth to which reference has #een made in recent lectures, namel!, that man+s #eing is essentiall! twofold. )an is a twofold #eing inasmuch as the structure and nature of his head differs essentiall! from the structure and nature of the rest of his organism. The head of a human #eing living at the "resent time is, in essentials, the "roduct of the meta"or"hosis of the #od! of the "receding incarnation. The #od! of the "resent incarnation, that is to sa!, the #od! with the exclusion of the head, will #ecome the head of the next incarnation, after we have lived through the "eriod stretching from death to a new #irth. -e can therefore "icture man+s "rogress through incarnation as follows% 6e has his head, and the other "art of his organism. After death we ma! sa! that the head disa""ears, and the rest of the #od! is then transformed into the head of the next incarnation. 5nce again he will receive the body of the next incarnation from the 7arth. The head disa""ears, #ut when I sa! this, !ou must remem#er that it is the forces connected with the head that disa""ear. The su#stance of the head and of the rest of the #od! too also disa""ear, #ut the "h!sical su#stance itself is not the essential. The su#stance is )a!a in the real sense. The forces are the realit!. The forces contained in the #od! of man, with the exclusion of those of the head, are transformed during the "eriod #etween death and a new #irth into the forces underl!ing the head of the new incarnation. In our "resent incarnation we have, in our head, the forces that were connected with our #od! in the "revious incarnation. It is this #asic idea which we have #een considering in detail in recent lectures. And now we will turn to certain other thoughts in order to understand these matters more full!. To #egin with, let us as ourselves% /! what means are the forces contained in our "resent #od! transformed in such a wa! that the! can #ecome a head in the next incarnation. At the outset it is difficult to conceive of the #od! #eing transformed into a head. -hat is it, exactl!, that ma es this transformation "ossi#le. That is the 8uestion we must as ourselves. In order to answer this 8uestion we must thin a#out what has #een said in man! lectures on the su#*ect of the nature of cognition, of nowledge, of truth, of wisdom. In the ordinar! wa! we imagine that the onl! "ur"ose of the nowledge we ac8uire is to ena#le us to have mental "ictures of the external world, to now something a#out the external world. There are "hiloso"hical "s!chologists who are constantl! #ringing forward theories a#out the m!sterious connection that exists #etween the nature of a conce"t or an idea and the o#*ect that is "ictured #! the idea. These theories all suffer from one common error. I can onl! ma e this error clear to !ou #! means of a "icture. &u""ose a #otanist or an horticulturist wished to ma e investigations into the nature of a grain of wheat. 6e would "ro#a#l! sa! to himself% 3I will use chemistr! and investigate the grain of wheat from the "oint of view of the food2value of wheatmeal. I will tr! to

find out the constituents that are re8uired for man+s nourishment.4 6e would, in other words, #e investigating the nature of the grain of wheat from the "oint of view of wheat as a means of nourishment. 6e would #e tr!ing to discover the reason wh! certain constituents are contained in the wheat. An!one who imagines that it is "ossi#le to find out something a#out the real nature of wheat #! investigating to what extent it is valua#le as a foodstuff, would #e ma ing a curious mista e. A grain of wheat comes into existence in the whole s"here of "lant life as the fruit of the wheat2"lant and we can onl! discover wh! the nature of the grain is as it is, #! stud!ing the "rocess of the growth of a new wheat2"lant out of the grain. The fact that a grain of wheat contains constituents of nutritive value for the human #eing, is an entirel! secondar! consideration so far as the real nature of the grain is concerned. Those who loo at ever!thing merel! from the utilitarian stand"oint and want to ma e this the essential aim of science will investigate the grain of wheat from the chemical "oint of view and find that here we have in 1ature something that is of value as a foodstuff. /ut this has nothing whatever to do with the innermost "ur"ose of the grain of wheat. If it were "ossi#le to as the grain of wheat what its innermost and "rimar! "ur"ose is, it would not answer that it is there in order to nourish human #eings #ut rather in order to ma e it "ossi#le for a new wheat "lant to come into existence. To those who have real nowledge of these things, the "hiloso"hers and theorists are exactl! li e men who investigate a grain of wheat from the "oint of view of its value in the nourishment of human #eings. There is a fundamental error here. The "rimar! "ur"ose of what lives within us in the form of nowledge, idea, truth, wisdom, is not that of ena#ling us to form mental "ictures of the things of the external world. The "rocess of forming mental "ictures of the external world is *ust as secondar! a "ur"ose of nowledge as it is a secondar! "ur"ose of the grain of wheat to nourish human #eings. 9nowledge lives within us for another "ur"ose altogether. It is there "rimaril! in order that it ma! wor and weave in our #eing. During our life #etween #irth and death we accumulate wisdom, little #! little. And at the same time we a""l! the wisdom thus accumulated in such a wa! that it can mirror the external world, *ust as we use grains of wheat for the "ur"ose of nourishment. /ut remem#er, ever! time we use grains of wheat for food, we are de"riving them of their essential and original "ur"ose, namel! that of #ringing forth a new "lant. In the same wa!, the wisdom we a""l! to the gras"ing of the world outside is a deviation from the real tas of wisdom. It is a deviation #ecause the forces of the True, the forces of 9nowledge are not "rimaril! there for this "ur"ose. -hat, then, is the function and "ur"ose of what we call the True.:I mean, in the sense in which the "rimar! "ur"ose of the grain of wheat is to #ring a new "lant into #eing. The "rimar! "ur"ose of the forces of 9nowledge within us, of our efforts to get hold of truth, is to develo" forces within us #etween #irth and death where#! our organism will #e transformed after death:that is to sa!, the forces underl!ing the #od! in this incarnation, for it is these forces that will #e transformed into the head of the next incarnation. This is the remar a#le connection which #ecomes clear to us when we stud! the existence of the human #eing on the one side #etween #irth and death and on the other side #etween death and a new #irth. The nowledge we ac8uire serves to ma e it "ossi#le for the #od! to #e transformed into the head of the next incarnation. ;ou will sa!% 3;es, #ut there are so man! who ac8uire no nowledge at all, who remain sim"letons all their life, onl! a ver! few have reall! learnt an!thing.4 And those who ma e this remar generall! include themselves among these few( /ut remem#er, several thin ers have

rightl! said, 8uite inde"endentl! of each other, that during the first three or four !ears of life the human #eing learns more, assimilates more wisdom than in the three !ears s"ent in later life at the universit!. This is literall! true. In the first three !ears of life we learn a ver! great deal< we learn what can onl! #e learnt on 7arth, namel! the nowledge that is essential in order to #e a#le to s"ea , to understand what is s"o en, and a great deal more #esides. In those first three !ears we learn ver! much, and what we thus learn forms "art of what is nown as the su#stance or content of wisdom. This wisdom that is innate in man and in res"ect to which human #eings do not differ so ver! much from one another:this wisdom is the weaving force which transforms our organism into a head during the "eriod l!ing #etween death and a new #irth. It is, as a matter of fact, an exceedingl! intricate com"lex of forces that we ta e into our #eing in our life of nowledge and cognition. It is onl! now and then in dreams that human #eings have a fleeting vision of what is weaving and surging #etween the ideal and inner "ictures of which the! are full! conscious. The forces that are weaving and wor ing in us in this realm of our #eing will #egin to manifest in their essential form after death and to transform our organism. 7ver!thing that is ac8uired in the wa! of nowledge accumulates for the "ur"ose of transforming our organism:ever!thing, that is to sa!, with the exce tion of the nowledge we a""l! in order to gras" the external world. The forces of nowledge we a""l! in order to gras" and com"rehend the external world are lost, in a certain res"ect, so far as our own evolution is concerned. The! are diverted from the onward stream of evolution. =ust as the grains of wheat that are used as food for human #eings are diverted from the stream of wheat2develo"ment ta en as a whole, so, during our "resent e"och of civilisation, when nowledge is so universall! a""lied for the "ur"ose of gras"ing the "henomena of the outer world, we divert from the stream of our evolution, man! more forces than we retain. And now thin of the da!s of anti8uit!, when man+s nowledge was ac8uired through faculties of inner clairvo!ance. )an did not then ex"end his forces u"on the outer world to an!thing li e the same extent. The "eo"le of ancient 7g!"t and ancient >haldea ac8uired their nowledge through atavistic clairvo!ance and not nearl! so much #! o#servation of the external world. 5ur own age is, in a sense, exactl! the o""osite in this res"ect. 1owada!s a ver! great deal of nowledge is a#sor#ed from the world outside and ver! little is added from the inner #eing of man. The $ree s were the outstanding exam"le of the 3golden mean4 in this res"ect. That the! were a#le to hold this 3golden mean4 was not due alone to their s"ecial 8ualities. The! did, of course, "ossess these s"ecial 8ualities, #ut the self2contained glor! of their civilisation was also due to the fact that the area of the 7arth inha#ited #! the $ree "eo"le was relativel! small. )oreover the! had com"arativel! little nowledge of the rest of the world. -hat nowledge had the $ree s of countries other than Asia )inor and a little further 7astwards into Asia. The! new little of Africa and of America, and of the rest of the 7arth the! new a#solutel! nothing at all. ,lato+s nowledge concerning the inner nature of the $ood and the function of certain inner "arts of the human organism was ver! largel! due to the limited area of the world to which $ree nowledge could #e a""lied. ?or this reason it was "ossi#le in $reece to "reserve man+s s"iritual forces for the "ur"ose of his inner develo"ment. /ut even the $ree s a""lied less of their "owers for the "ur"ose of inner develo"ment than the ancient 7g!"tian and >haldean "eo"les:not to s"ea of the ancient ,ersians and Indians. In our age, when "racticall! the whole 7arth has #een ex"lored, ever!one is #ent u"on ac8uiring as much nowledge of the external world as he "ossi#l! can( If all this

nowledge of the external world were as intensi!e as it extensi!e then "eo"le would have ver! few "owers left over for the wor of transforming the "h!sical #od! into the head of the next incarnation. And the most learned would have far fewer "owers than the sim"le "easants( 5ne can onl! #e than ful that when the ma*orit! of "eo"le travel a#out the world toda!, the! are content with sim"l! turning over the "ages of /aede er or some other #oo of travel, and reall! do not ta e in ver! much( &o !ou see, the! are not, after all, de"riving themselves of ver! much inner "ower< If it were otherwise, those human #eings who are alwa!s hunting for sensation, who onl! want to get their nowledge from the outside world, would #e facing a grave danger. The danger would #e that in their next incarnation the! would return with a head "roduced from a #od! that had undergone ver! little transformation. The head would #e exceedingl! animal2li e in a""earance. This is #ound to ha""en, when, in the "revious incarnation, com"arativel! few formative forces were "reserved for the wor of transformation. Analogies which are ta en from the realm of Imagination, m! dear friends, can #e multi"lied over and over again. And now let us as ourselves a 8uestion. we have heard that the "owers we a""l! in order to #uild u" a science of the outer world, are diverted from their "rimar!, original "ur"ose:*ust as the grain of wheat that is used as su#stance for nourishment is diverted from its "rimar! "ur"ose as wheat. -hat analog! is there #etween the ac8uisition of nowledge of the outer world and the use of wheat as a foodstuff for human #eings. There is an inner analog! here which we must tr! to discover. >onsider once more the curious fact that num#ers and num#ers of grains of wheat do not go to the "roducing of new wheat "lants #ut are given over to the "ur"ose of su""l!ing human #eings with food. These grains of wheat, as we have heard, are diverted from their direct line of evolution as grains of wheat. &ome grains of wheat, on the other hand, #ring forth other grains of wheat, and these again others. /ut num#erless grains of wheat are s"lit off, as it were, and diverted to another s"here of activit! altogether. The! are used for the "ur"ose of food for human #eings and this has nothing directl! to do with the onward course of their own stream of evolution. 1ature herself will hel" us here to understand something which it is most essential to #ear in mind if we wish to unfold a true "icture of the world. )odern science has little #! little instilled into us the dreadful maxim that the later is invaria#l! to #e regarded as a "roduct of what has "receded it. 7ffect follows directl! u"on cause:so it is said. There is nothing more foolish than to generalise in this wa! a#out things in the world, sa!ing that effect directl! follows cause, and that cause gives rise to effect. There are alwa!s su#se8uent effects which have no direct connection whatever with a "receding cause. ?or how can it "ossi#l! #e said that the cause of wheat #eing used as a foodstuff lies in the grain of wheat itself. It is true that during the 1@th centur! a loose ind of thin ing led "eo"le to ex"lain the "resence of certain cor 2li e su#stances for the ultimate "ur"ose of "roducing cor s for cham"agne #ottles( It is im"ossi#le to imagine a more erroneous line of reasoning. The truth is that when wheat is used as a foodstuff, the grains of wheat "ass over into another s"here of wor ing altogether. 1ow it is exactl! the same with the nowledge we ac8uire a#out the things of the outer world, of outer 1ature. The nowledge we thus ac8uire "asses over into a different s"here of wor ing. I #eg !ou to ta e this truth in the dee"est earnestness. In our efforts to

understand the outer world it is "ossi#le for us to de"rive ourselves of man! of the forces that are necessar! to the "rocess of the transformation of our "resent #od! into the head of the next incarnation. As we ac8uire nowledge of the outer world, we de"rive our #eing of a ver! great deal, and an ad*ustment must #e #rought a#out #! "roviding that this nowledge "asses over into another s"here. =ust as the grains of wheat receive in a sense a no#ler function when the! are used as foodstuff for human #eings, *ust as the! receive com"ensation in this wa! for having #een diverted from their original evolution, so too, nowledge of the outer world must #e given over to a no#ler "ur"ose as com"ensation for having #een de"rived of its "rimar! function. All the truth that a human #eing ma es his own, all the nowledge he ac8uired of the outer world must #e given into the hands of the $ods. -e ought alwa!s to #e inwardl! conscious that the nowledge thus diverted from the onward stream of evolution must #e "laced in the service of the $ods, must, as it were, #ecome an act of divine worshi". All the nowledge we ac8uire without ma ing it a hol! offering to the evolutionar! "rocess of humanit!, without consciousl! offering it to those 6igher &"irits who receive their nourishment from it:all the nowledge we receive without thought of giving it over to this higher "ur"ose, is li e the grains of wheat which fall into the soil and deca!:fulfilling neither their original "ur"ose nor the other "ur"ose of serving as nourishment for human #eings. At this "oint, m! dear friends, we must surel! realise how essential it is that a definite and a#solutel! "ractical result shall emerge from our strivings in the domain of &"iritual &cience. It is not a 8uestion merel! of learning the teachings of &"iritual &cience, nor of ma ing them into a #od! of nowledge, #ut of receiving them in such a wa! that a fundamental feeling is laid into the soul. -e must associate with the ac8uisition of nowledge the realisation that this nowledge must #e an act of divine worshi" and that it is a transgression against the divine "ur"ose of evolution to "rofane nowledge, to divert it from its divine mission. As I have said, the "ossi#ilit! of amassing a great deal of nowledge of the external world has arisen for the first time in the modern age. Among the 7g!"tians it was nearl! all an inner and not an external form of nowledge. During the $raeco20atin e"och of civilisation it #ecame "ossi#le to ac8uire more nowledge of the outer world and at that ver! time it was also made "ossi#le for man to discover how the! might "lace their nowledge in the service of the Divine, #! the coming of >hrist with 6is message to the 7arth. 6ere again is a connection which histor! ma es clear to us. At the ver! moment in the evolution of humanit! when nowledge #ecame "reeminentl! a nowledge of the external world:at that ver! moment the >hrist came down from the s"iritual world and ena#led those men who directed their nowledge to 6im in the true sense, to "lace it in the service of the Divine. It is 8uite true that this feeling has not as !et develo"ed in humanit! to an! great extent, #ut as human #eings #egin to understand the sense in which >hrist has made the 7arth hol!, the! will also learn how to "lace their nowledge in the service of the Divine. And so a small store of the forces connected with the head is "reserved in order that our #od! ma! #e transformed into the head of the next incarnation. And if the remaining forces are accom"anied #! the right ind of feeling, the! can #ecome the means of nourishing higher &"iritual /eings. 5ur conce"ts #ecome food for these higher &"iritual

/eings. In other words, we must tr! to ac8uire nowledge for the sa e of the $ods, *ust as wheat also grows in order that human #eings ma! find nourishment. The su#stance which man receives as nourishment, however, must #e for him. And in the same wa!, our nowledge must #e rendered fit for the $ods #! our attitude towards it. Indeed the health! evolution of man ind de"ends ver! largel! u"on whether this ind of feeling is develo"ed. In the ancient )!steries and )!ster! &chools, nowledge was e"t hol! as a matter of course. 5ne of the main reasons wh! ever!one was not admitted to the )!steries was that whoever sought admittance must "rove that to him nowledge was reall! a hol! thing, conceived as an offering to the $ods. )oreover this feeling was actuall! "resent. It was #orn from an atavistic instinct in man. In our own da! this feeling is something that we must ac8uire once again. ?or good reason, human #eings have #een living through an age during which the! have grown into materialism. /ut the! must heal themselves of this materialism #! associating their nowledge once again with the feelings that it must #e offered u" to the $ods. In the future ahead of us, however, this attitude will have to #e ac8uired consciously and the onl! "ossi#ilit! of fulfillment will #e if &"iritual &cience grows and s"reads among humanit!. 9nowledge must not #e li e a grain of wheat which falls into the 7arth and deca!s. 9nowledge that is "laced onl! in the service of outer utilit!, in the service of mechanical, utilitarian "ur"oses in the outer world:such nowledge is li e the seeds which deca!. 9nowledge that is not "laced in the service of the Divine, disa""ears and is lost. It can #e used neither for the "ur"ose of hel"ing us in our next incarnation, nor for the nourishment of higher &"iritual /eings. The deca! of a grain of wheat is a ver! real "rocess. The dissi"ation of nowledge that is not made into an offering to the $ods is also a real "rocess. It would lead too far afield to2da! if I were to tell !ou what is reall! signified #! the deca! of the num#erless grains of wheat that are sown in the soil. /ut "no#ledge that is not "laced in the service of the Divine is sei'ed #! Ahriman. It "asses into his service and constitutes his "ower. Through the &"iritual /eings who are his servants, Ahriman then incor"orates it into the world2"rocess and sets u" more hindrances to this world "rocess than are *ustifia#l! and of necessit! there. ?or Ahriman is the $od of hindrances. In this wa!, then, I have given !ou some idea of the significance of all that lives in our #eing in the form of nowledge and of truth.