Man as a Being of Sense and Perception
22 July 1921, Dornach
We now have to continue our study of the relationship between man and the world. And to link up what I have to say in the next few days with what I have already said recently, I should like to begin by calling attention to a theme which I treated some time ago — I mean the anthroposophical teaching about the senses. 1Die Zwolf Sinne des Menschen in ihrer Beziehung zu Imagination, Inspiration und Intuition, 8th Aug., 1920. (Translation not yet published.)
I said a long time ago, and I am always repeating it, that orthodox science takes into consideration only those senses for which obvious organs exist, such as the organs of sight, of hearing, and so on. This way of looking at the matter is not satisfactory, because the province of sight, for example, is strictly delimited within the total range of our experiences, and so, equally, is, let us say, the perception of the ego of another man, or the perception of the meaning of words. To-day, when everything is in a way turned upside down, it has even become customary to say that when we are face to face with another ego, what we see first is the human form; we know that we ourselves have such a form, that in us this form harbours an ego, and so we conclude that there is also an ego in this other human form which resembles our own. In drawing such a conclusion there is not the slightest real consciousness of what lies behind the wholly direct perception of the other ego. Such an inference is meaningless. For just as we stand before the outer world and take in a certain part of it directly with our sense of sight, so, in exactly the same way, the other ego penetrates directly into the sphere of our experience. We must ascribe to ourselves an ego-sense, just as we do a sense of sight. At the same time we must be quite clear that this ego-sense is something quite other than the development of consciousness of our own ego. Becoming conscious of one's own ego is not actually a perception; it is a completely different process from the process which takes place when we perceive another ego.
In the same way, listening to words and becoming aware of a meaning in them is something quite different from hearing mere tone, mere sound. Although to begin with it is more difficult to point to an organ for the word-sense than it is to relate the ear to the sense of sound, nevertheless anyone who can really analyse the whole field of our experience becomes aware that within this field we have to make a distinction between the sense that has to do with musical and vocal sound and the sense for words.
Further, it is again something quite different to perceive the thought of another within his words, within the structure and relationship of his words; and here again we have to distinguish between the perception of his thought and our own thought. It is only because of the superficial way in which soul-phenomena are studied to-day that no distinction is made between the thought which we unfold as the inner activity of our own soul-life, and the activity which we direct outwards in perceiving another person's thought. Of course, when we have perceived the thought of another, we ourselves must think in order to understand his thought, in order to bring it into connection with other thoughts which we ourselves have fostered. But our own thinking is something quite other than the perception of the thought of another person.
When we analyse the whole range of our experience into provinces which are really quite distinct from one another and yet have a certain relationship, so that we can call them all senses, we get the twelve senses of man which I have often enumerated. The physiological or psychological treatment of the senses is one of the weakest chapters in modern science, for it really only generalises about them.
Within the range of the senses, the sense of hearing, for example, is of course radically different from the sense of sight or the sense of taste. And having come to a clear conception of the sense of hearing or of the sense of sight, we then have to recognise a word-sense, a sense of thought and an ego-sense. Most of the concepts current to-day in scientific treatises on the senses are actually taken from the sense of touch. And our philosophy has for some time been wont to base a whole theory of knowledge on this, a theory which actually consists of nothing but a transference of certain perceptions proper to the sense of touch to the whole sphere of capacity for sense-perception.
Now when we really analyse the whole range of those external experiences of which we become aware in the same way as we become aware, let us say, of the experiences of sight or touch or warmth, we get twelve senses, clearly distinguishable one from another. On earlier occasions I have enumerated them as follows: First, the ego-sense (see diagram, at end) which, as I have said, is to be distinguished from the consciousness of our own ego. By the ego-sense we mean nothing more than the capacity to perceive the ego of another man. The second sense is the sense of thought, the third the word-sense, the fourth the sense of hearing, the fifth the sense of warmth, the sixth the sense of sight, the seventh the sense of taste, the eighth the sense of smell, the ninth the sense of balance. Anyone who is able to make distinctions in the realm of the senses knows that, just as there is a clearly defined realm of sight, so there is a clearly defined realm from which we receive simply a sensation of standing as man in a certain state of balance. Without a sense to convey this state of standing balanced, or of being poised, or of dancing in balance, we should be entirely unable to develop full consciousness. Next comes the sense of movement. This is the perception of whether we are at rest or in movement. We must experience this within ourselves, just as we experience the sense of sight. The eleventh sense is the sense of life, and the twelfth the sense of touch.
The senses in this group here (see diagram) can be clearly distinguished one from another, and at the same time we can discover what they have in common when we perceive through them. It is our cognitive intercourse with the external world that this group of senses conveys to us in very varying ways. First, we have four senses which unite us with the outer world beyond any doubt. They are the ego-sense, the sense of thought, the word-sense and the sense of hearing. You will unhesitatingly recognise that when we perceive the ego of another person, we are with our entire experience in the outer world, as also when we perceive the thoughts or words of another. As regards the sense of hearing it is not quite so obvious; but that is only because people have taken an abstract view of the matter, and have diffused over the whole of the senses the colouring of a common concept, a concept of what sense-life is supposed to be, and do not consider what is specific in each individual sense. Of course, one cannot apply external experiment to one's ideas upon these matters, but one has to be capable of an inner feeling for these experiences.
Customary thinking overlooks the fact that hearing, since its physical medium is the air in movement, takes us straight into the outer world. And you have only to consider how very external our sense of hearing actually is, compared with the whole of our organic experience, to come to the conclusion that a distinction must be made between the sense of hearing and the sense of sight. In the case of the sense of sight we realise at once, simply by observing its organ, the eye, how what is conveyed by this sense is to a great extent an inner process; it is at least relatively an inner process. When we sleep we close our eyes; we do not shut our ears. Such seemingly simple, trivial facts point to something of deep significance for the whole of human life. And though when we go to sleep we have to shut off our inner senses, because during sleep we must not perceive through sight, yet we are not obliged to close our ears, because the ear lives in the outer world in a totally different way from the eye. The eye is much more a component of our inner life; the sense of sight is directed much more inwards than is the sense of hearing — I am not talking about the apprehension of what is heard; that is something quite different. The apprehension which lies behind the experience of music is something other than the actual process of hearing.
Now these senses, which in essentials form a link between the outer and inner, are specifically outer senses (see diagram). The next four senses, the senses of warmth, sight, taste and smell, are so to say on the border between outer and inner; they are both outer and inner experiences. Just try to think of all the experiences that are conveyed to you by any one of these senses, and you will see how, whilst in them all there is an experience lived in common with the outer world, there is at the same time an experience within yourself. If you drink an acid, and thus call into play your sense of taste, you have undoubtedly an inner experience with the acid, but you have also, on the other hand, an experience that is directed outwards, that can be compared with the experience of another man's ego or of the word. But it would be very bad if in the same way a subjective, inner experience were to be involved in listening to words. Just think, you make a wry face when you drink vinegar; that shows quite clearly that along with the outer experience you have an inner one; the outer and inner experiences merge into one another. If the same thing were to happen in the case of words, if, for example, someone were to make a speech, and you had to experience it inwardly in the way you do when you drink vinegar or wine or something of that sort, then you would certainly never be objectively clear about the man's words, about what he says to you. Just as in drinking vinegar you have an unpleasant experience and in drinking wine a pleasant one, so in the same way you would colour an external experience. You must not colour the external experience when you perceive the words of another. If you see things in the right light, that is just where morality comes in. For there are men — this is especially true as regards the ego-sense, but it also applies to the sense of thought — who are so firmly fixed in their middle senses, in the senses of warmth, sight, taste and smell, that they judge others, or the thoughts of others, in accordance with these senses. Then they do not hear the thoughts of the other men at all, but perceive them in the same way that they perceive wine or vinegar or any other food or drink.
Here we see how something of a moral nature is the outcome of a quite amoral manner of observation. Let us take a man in whom the sense of hearing, and even more the word-sense, the sense of thought and the ego-sense, are poorly developed. Such a man lives as it were without head; he uses his head-senses in the same way as he uses those of a more animal tendency. The animal is unable to perceive objectively in the way that, through the senses of warmth, sight, taste and smell, the man can perceive objective-subjectively. The animal smells; as you may well imagine, it can only in the very slightest degree make objective what it encounters in the sense of smell ... the experience is in a high degree a subjective one. Now all men, of course, have in addition the sense of hearing, the word-sense, the thought-sense and the ego-sense; but those whose whole organisation tends more towards the senses of warmth and sight, still more towards those of taste or even of smell, change everything around them according to their subjective experiences of taste and smell. Such things are to be seen every day. If you want an example, you can see it in the latest pamphlet by X. He is not in the least able to grasp the words or thoughts of another. He seizes hold of everything as if he were drinking wine or vinegar or eating some kind of food. Everything becomes subjective experience. To reduce the higher senses to the character of the lower ones is immoral. It is quite possible to bring the moral into connection with our whole world-conception, whereas at the present time the fact that men do not know how to build a bridge between what they call natural law and what they call morality, acts as a destructive influence undermining our entire civilisation.
When we come to the next four senses, to the sense of balance, the sense of movement, the sense of life and the sense of touch, we come to the specifically inner senses. For, you see, what the sense of balance conveys to us is our own state of balance; what the sense of movement conveys to us is the state of movement in which we ourselves are. Our sense of life is that general perception of how our organs are functioning, of whether they are promoting life or obstructing it. In the case of the sense of touch, it is possible to be deceived; nevertheless, when you touch something, the experience you have is an inner experience. You do not feel this chalk; roughly speaking, what you feel is the impact of the chalk on your skin ... the process can of course be characterised more exactly. In the sense of touch, as in the experience of no other sense in the same way, the experience lies in the reaction of your own inner being to an external process.
But now this last group of senses is modified by something else. You must recall something I said here a few weeks ago. 2Lecture V of Irdische und kosmische Gesetzmassigkeiten, 3rd July, 1921. (Translation not yet published.) Let us consider the human being in relation to what he perceives through these last four senses. Although we perceive our own movement, our own balance, in a decidedly subjective manner, this movement and this balance are nevertheless quite objective processes, for physically speaking it is a matter of indifference whether it is a block of wood that is moved, or a man; whether it is a block of wood in balance or a man. In the external physical world a man in movement is exactly the same thing to observe as a block of wood; and similarly with regard to balance. And if you take the sense of life — the same thing applies. Our sense of life conveys to us processes that are quite objective. Imagine a process in a retort: it takes its course according to certain laws; it can be described quite objectively. What the sense of life perceives is such a process, a process which takes place inwardly. If this process is in order, as a purely objective process, this is conveyed to you by the sense of life; if it is not in order, the sense of life conveys this to you also. Even though the process is confined within your skin, the sense of life transmits it to you. To sum up, an objective process is something which has absolutely no specific connection with the content of your soul-life. And the same thing applies to your sense of touch. When we touch something, there is always a change in our whole organic structure. Our reaction is an organic change within us. Thus we have actually something objective in what is brought about through these four senses, something that so places us as human beings in the world that we are like objective beings who can also be seen in the external sense-world.
Thus we may say that these are pronounced inner senses; but what we perceive through them in ourselves is exactly the same as what we perceive in the world outside us. In short, whether we set in motion a log of wood, or whether the human being is in external motion, it makes no difference to the physical course of the process. The sense of movement is only there in order that what is taking place in the outer world may also come to our subjective consciousness.
Thus you see that the truly subjective senses are the senses which are specifically external; it is they which have the task of assimilating into our humanity what is perceived externally through them. The middle group of senses shows an interplay between the outer and the inner world. And through the last group a specific experience of what we are as part of the world-not-ourselves is conveyed to us.
We could carry this study much further; we should then discover many of the distinctive qualities of this sense or that. We only have to become accustomed to the idea that the treatment of the senses must not be limited to describing them according to their more obvious organs, but that we must analyse them according to their field of experience. It is by no means correct, for instance, that no specific organ exists for the word-sense; only its field has not been discovered by the materialistic physiology of to-day. Or take the sense of thought — that too is there, but has not been explored as has, let us say, the sense of sight.
When we consider man in this way, it cannot fail to be borne in upon us that what we usually call soul-life is bound up with what we may call the higher senses. If we want to encompass the content of what we call soul-life, we can scarcely go further than from the ego-sense to the sense of sight. If you think of all that you have through the ego-sense, the sense of thought, the word-sense, the sense of hearing, the sense of warmth and the sense of sight, you have practically the whole range of what we call soul-life. Something of the characteristics of the specifically outer senses still enters a little into the sense of warmth, upon which our soul-life is much more dependent than we usually think. And of course the sense of sight has a very wide significance for our whole soul-life. But with the senses of taste and smell we are already entering into the animal realm, and with the senses of balance, movement and life and so on, we plunge completely into our bodily nature. These senses we perceive altogether inwardly.
If we want to show this diagrammatically, we should have to show it like this (see diagram). We draw a circle around the upper region; and there in this upper sphere lies our true inner life. Without these external senses, this inner life could not exist. What sort of men should we be if we had no other egos near us, if we were never to perceive words and thoughts? Just imagine! On the other hand, the senses from taste downwards (see diagram B) perceive in an inward direction, transmit primarily inward processes, but processes which become progressively more obscure. Of course, a man must have a clear perception of his own balance otherwise he would become giddy and collapse. To fall into a faint is the same thing for the sense of balance as blindness is for the eyes. But now what these other senses mediate becomes vague and confused. The sense of taste still develops to some extent on the surface. There we do have a clear consciousness of it. But although our whole body tastes (with the exception of the limb-system, but actually even that too), very few men are able to detect the taste of foods in the stomach, because civilisation, or culture, or refinement of taste has not developed so far in that direction. Very few men indeed can still detect the taste of the various foodstuffs in their stomachs. You do still taste them in some of the other organs, but once the foodstuffs are in the stomach, then for most men it is all one what they are — although unconsciously the sense of taste does very clearly continue throughout the whole digestive tract. The entire man tastes what he eats, but the sensation very quickly dies down when what has been eaten has been given over to the body.
The entire man develops throughout his organism the sense of smell, the passive relationship to aromatic bodies. This sense again is only concentrated at the very surface, whereas actually the whole man is taken hold of by the scent of a flower or by any other aromatic substance. When we know that the senses of taste and smell permeate the entire man, we know too what is involved in the experience of tasting or smelling, how the experience is continued further inwards; and when one knows what it is to taste, for instance, one abandons altogether the materialistic conception. And if one is clear that this process of tasting goes through the entire organism, one is no longer inclined to describe the further process of digestion purely from the chemical point of view, as is done by the materialistic science of to-day.
On the other hand, it cannot be gainsaid that there is an immense difference between what I have shown in the diagram as yellow and what I have shown as red (It has not been practicable to produce the diagram in colour.) There is an immense difference between the content of what we have in our soul-life through the ego-sense, word-sense and so on, and the experiences we have through taste, smell, movement, life-sense and so on. And you will understand this difference best if you make clear to yourselves how you receive what you experience in yourselves when you listen, let us say, to the words of another man, or to a musical sound. What you then experience in yourselves is of no significance for the outer process. What difference does it make, to the bell that you are listening to it? The only connection between your inner experience and the process that takes place in the bell is that you are listening to it.
You cannot say the same thing when you consider the objective process in tasting or smelling, or even in touching. There you have to do with a world-process. You cannot separate what goes on in your organism from what takes place in your soul. You cannot say in this case, as in the case of the ringing bell, “What difference does it make to the bell whether I listen to it?” You cannot say, “When I drink vinegar, what has the process which takes place on my tongue to do with what I experience?” That you cannot say. There, an inner connection does obtain; there the objective and the subjective processes are one.
The sins committed by modern physiology in this sphere are well-nigh incredible, when one considers that such a process as tasting is placed in a similar relationship to the soul as that of seeing or hearing. And there are philosophical treatises which speak in a purely general way of sensible qualities and their relation to the soul. Locke, and even Kant, speak generally of a relationship of the outer sense-world to human subjectivity, whereas for all that is shown in our diagram from the sense of sight upwards, we have to do with something quite different from all that the diagram shows from the sense of sight downwards. It is impossible to apply one single doctrine to both these spheres. And it is because men have done so that, from the time of Hume or Locke or even earlier, this great confusion has arisen in the theory of knowledge which has rendered modern conceptions barren right into the sphere of physiology. For one cannot approach the real nature of processes if one thus pursues preconceived ideas without an unprejudiced observation of things.
When we picture the human being in this way, we have to understand that in the one direction we have obviously a life directed inwards, a sphere in which we live for ourselves, related to the outer world merely in perceiving it; in the other direction, of course, we also perceive — but we enter into the world by what we perceive. In short, we may say: What takes place on my tongue when I taste is an entirely objective process in me; when this process goes on in me, it is a world-process that is taking place. But I cannot say that what arises in me as a picture through the sense of sight is a world-process. Were it not to happen, the whole world would remain as it is. The difference between the upper and the lower man must always be borne in mind. Unless we bear this difference in mind we cannot get any further in certain directions.
Now let us consider mathematical truths, the truths of geometry. A superficial observer would say: Oh yes, of course man gets his mathematics out of his head, or from somewhere or other (ideas on the subject are not very precise). But it is not so. Mathematics derives from an altogether different sphere. And if you study the human being, you will get to know the sphere from which mathematics comes. It is from the sense of movement and the sense of balance. It is from such depths that mathematical thought comes, depths to which we no longer penetrate with our ordinary soul-life. What enables us to develop mathematics lives at a deeper level than our ordinary soul-life. And thus we see that mathematics is really rooted in that part of us which is at the same time cosmic. In fact, we are only really subjective in what lies here (see diagram) from the sense of sight upwards. In respect of what lies down there we are like logs, as much so as the rest of the outer world. Hence we can never say that geometry, for instance, has anything of a subjective nature in it, for it originates from that in us wherein we ourselves are objective. It is concerned with the very same space which we measure when we walk, and which our movements communicate to us — the very same space which, when we have elicited it from ourselves in pictorial form, we then proceed to apply to what we see. Nor can there be any question of describing space as in any way subjective, for it does not come from the sphere whence the subjective arises.
Such a way of looking at things as I am now putting before you is poles apart from Kantianism, because Kantianism does not recognise the radical distinction between these two spheres of human life. Followers of Kant do not know that space cannot be subjective, because it arises from that sphere in man which is in itself objective, from that sphere to which we relate ourselves as objects. We are connected with this sphere in a different way from the way in which we are related to the world outside us; but it is nevertheless genuine outer world, especially each night, for while we are asleep we withdraw from it with our subjectivity, our ego and our astral body.
It is essential to understand that to assemble an immense number of external facts for what purports to be science and is intended to promote culture is useless if its thought is full of confused ideas, if this science lacks clear concepts about the most important things. And if the forces of decadence are to be checked and the forces of renewal, of progress, furthered, the essential task which confronts us is to understand the absolute necessity of reaching clear ideas, ideas that are not hazy but clear-cut. We must be absolutely clear that it is useless to proceed from concepts and definitions, but that what is needed is the unprejudiced observation of the field in which the facts lie.
For example, no one is entitled to delimit the sphere of sight as a sense-sphere, if he does not at the same time distinguish the sphere of word-perception as a similar sphere. Only try to organise the sphere of total experience as I have often done, and you will see that it is not permissible to say: We have eyes, therefore we have a sense of sight and we are studying it. But you will have to say: Of course there must be a reason for the fact that sight has a physical-sensible organ of so specific a nature, but this does not justify us in restricting the range of the senses to those which have clearly perceptible physical organs. If we do that it will be a very long time before we shall reach any higher conception; we shall meet only what happens in everyday life. The important thing is really to distinguish between what is subjective in man, what is his inner soul-life, and the sphere wherein he is actually asleep. There, man is a cosmic being in relation to all that is conveyed by his senses. In that sphere he is a cosmic being. In your ordinary soul-life you know nothing of what happens when you move your arm — not at least without a faculty of higher vision. That movement is a will-activity. It is a process which lies as much outside you as any other external process, notwithstanding the fact that it is so intimately connected with you. On the other hand, there can be no idea, no mental image, in which we are not ourselves present with our consciousness. Thus when you distinguish these three spheres, you find something else as well. In all that your ego-sense, your thought-sense, your word-sense, your sense of hearing convey to you, thereby constituting your soul-life, you receive what is predominantly associated with the idea.
In the same way, everything connected with the senses of warmth, sight, taste and smell has to do with feeling. That is not quite obvious with regard to one of these senses, the sense of sight. It is quite obvious with regard to taste, smell and warmth, but if you look into the matter closely you will find that it is also true of sight.
In contrast with this, all that has to do with the senses of balance, movement, life, and even with the sense of touch (although that is not so easy to see, because the sense of touch retires within us) is connected with the will. In human life, everything is connected, and yet everything is metamorphosed. I have tried to-day to summarise for you what I have treated at length on various occasions. And to-morrow and the day after we will carry our study to a conclusion.