Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Evolution of Consciousness
GA 227

12. The Evolution of the World in connection with the Evolution of Man

30 August 1923, Penmaenmawr

In the course of our observations about the world and about man, we have seen how he bears within him—if only in picture form—the past of the world, and how it is possible for him, by gradual training, to conjure up these pictures. In our ordinary daytime consciousness there is nothing of all this, but only memories of our experiences during earthly life. When, however, a man applies this ordinary consciousness to following the path I have indicated, then, as his spiritual consciousness grows clearer and clearer, more and more of the past evolution of worlds arises within him. And we have found how this experience of the past has to be renewed between death and rebirth.

We can therefore say: When things that are not perceptible for the senses become so for Imagination, a man looks back beyond the memories of his current life. He looks back on everything that has gone to shape him, on the forces of growth and nourishment which have formed him from within—all of which proceeds from the spirit.

And further, in Inspiration a man looks into pre-earthly existence, but not only into his own. We have seen already how he reaches out beyond the cosmic island of the Earth to the great cosmic ocean in which the stars have their dwelling, and he finds that the stars then become for him the dwelling-places of spiritual Beings.

Then, when Intuition arises, a man gazes back into past lives on Earth. At the same time the whole past life of the world comes into the range of his vision. He is, in actual fact, born out of the whole world; the whole world lives in his physical, etheric and astral bodies, and—during earthly existence—least of all as yet in his Ego. All this is included in a man, working and weaving within him. As human beings we bear within us the whole past evolution of the world, upon which countless generations of the spirit have worked. We bear this divine work in the building up of our organs, and in the forces weaving and living in them; we bear it within us when those organs flower into perception and thought. We carry within us the work that has gone into the whole past evolution of the world. When now, after we have—at least in thought—sharpened our vision into the past, we look out at the world surrounding us here on Earth, we see with ordinary consciousness only as much as the senses offer and whatever our intellect can make of our sense-observations. Behind the realm of sense-perception lies the all-embracing life of the spirit—a life active in all colours and sounds of nature, in everything we experience as warmth or cold, in every aspect of natural phenomena that can affect us as human beings.

Besides the physical nature revealed to the senses, there is a concealed spiritual nature—a hidden spiritual environment. This surrounding spiritual world, of which only the veriest surface is apparent to sense-perception, carries even now in its womb man's future evolution. Just as we bear within us in mighty pictures the entire past and are ourselves the outcome of those pictures, so in the concealed life of nature there works and weaves that which, in its further unfolding as world-evolution, will bring us our future. Thus we can set before us these weighty words: Man bears within him the past of the world; the outer world is the bearer of his future.

These are the two fundamental principles upon which world-evolution and human evolution are founded. And indeed they come to expression in individual human life. There is a great difference between all that tends more towards a man's head-organisation, and all that has more to do with the rest of his body. To put it rather crudely, one might say: Forces work up from the heart towards the head organisation and bring about the particular configuration of the head, with its covering of hard skull. This is filled with the most wonderful construction in all the world—the convolutions and interweavings of the human brain, in which the senses are embedded.

Everything living in these forces, all that flows to a man's head from his breast and heart, is an outcome of the past. This could become what it now is in man only because—as we have already said—innumerable divine generations of the spirit have worked upon it, through the metamorphoses of cosmic-planetary bodies. In my Occult Science I have pointed out how a Saturn-evolution, a Sun-evolution, a Moon-evolution, preceded in turn the Earth-evolution in which we are living and during which the Saturn-, Sun- and Moon-evolutions have been recapitulated. We are now rather past the middle of the actual Earth-evolution, the evolution of man on Earth.

The forces which through long ages have been gradually developing, under the influence of divine generations of the spirit, all live in the physical body of earthly man, and stream from his heart up to his head. All that you bear continually in your physical, etheric, astral and Ego, as a streaming up from the centre of your being to your head, has been prepared and worked upon by generations of Gods through immeasurable periods of time. And the last element which lives in these up-streaming forces—though people to-day are still unconscious of it—is that which expresses itself as a man's karma—the past of his own Ego during his lives on Earth.

We can put it in this way. If we penetrate deeply into these forces of cosmic memory, we come first to karma; then to the various stages of Earth-evolution; after that to the metamorphoses, the planetary transformations which the Earth went through before becoming the actual Earth. Before the Earth could come into being, there had to be a cosmic body, Saturn, consisting only of tenuous warmth. Saturn had then to pass away before rising to a new existence as that Sun of which our Sun, now seen outside in cosmic space, is the residue. At that time the Sun was a cosmic body consisting of air alone; this again had to pass away and give place to a cosmic body consisting of water—the old Moon. Then the Moon in turn gave place to the firm mineral substance of the Earth, on which man, as an earthly being, could begin to evolve.

But just as we have these upward-striving forces, so do we bear within us forces with a downward trend. They have a kind of central point in the heart, and the circulating blood carries both forces to the movements of our limbs. These forces are active in every movement of our hands; when you take hold of anything, or perform any ordinary earthly action, they enter into every move you make. They do not now belong to the past; they belong to the hidden world around us. They will be taken up into the womb of the past—which will become the past only in the future—when a man goes through the gate of death, and exchanges his earthly existence for life among the stars. These are the forces in which a man's future is prepared.

The future comes about through the interplay of these forces with the forces concealed in external nature. Thus the world bears man's future within its own evolution. There is a sharp distinction in him between these upper forces and the lower ones. The knowledge that can be acquired after passing the Guardian of the Threshold bring out this distinction strongly.

For ordinary consciousness, everything below the heart remains unconscious. This does not mean that it is any less fully imbued with consciousness, but this is a consciousness beyond our normal reach to-day. Hence what a man experiences inwardly differs from the content of his consciousness. He is conscious only of what is on the surface, rising like an island out of his other experiences.

When we are able to penetrate further into the human being, we can see how he is still endowed to-day with these subconscious forces. We can then see how a man performs some deed which, for that moment of his earthly life, causes him pleasure and satisfaction—his head is satisfied. He may for some reason have done a thoroughly bad thing, but his head is satisfied, and the implications of his action evade his ordinary consciousness. But although his head may be perfectly satisfied, the hand that carries out the action is subconsciously affected by it—and the subconscious is really another form of consciousness—and his hand quivers. The quivering may be outwardly imperceptible, but in the etheric and astral bodies it becomes an actual trembling. So we can see inwardly how a man may be satisfied in his head with some deed that subconsciously causes a trembling in the astral and etheric organs connected with his arms or legs. In the satisfaction given to the head by a bad deed, consciousness is—we might say—benumbed; but another form of consciousness arises in the depths of a man's being, and there the deed causes a trembling.

In this trembling, future karma is being prepared. It is a trembling in face of the forces concealed in nature, forces of the hidden world. The trembling presages the judgment that will be passed upon the man by the Beings of the stars, when, from this little island of the Earth, he goes out into the wide starry ocean.

To sum this up: Within the human being, in diverse ways, both the past and the future of the world are living—even in the external form of his physical body. A man's head-organisation, that most wonderful, most perfect product of world-evolution, is to a great extent broken up, even spiritually, when he passes through the gate of death. On the other hand, his lower organisation, though merely physical in outward appearance, is in reality a physical picture of that which lives as soul and spirit in the arms and hands, in the whole metabolic-limb system. Through this system, through all you can see as flesh and blood shaped into arms and hands, spiritual forces flow. In a future life on Earth these forces will flow through the organs that bring about the movements of the upper and lower jaw. The bones of the head in their plastic formation will then be the transformed bones of arms and legs—naturally I mean the spiritual part of these, for the physical falls away. That which now constitutes your arms and legs will become in your next incarnation—to speak in terms of forces and dynamics—the configuration of your head. Hence the physical organisation itself affords a reflection of how a man has gone through earthly life. Anyone who studies in the right way the artistic shaping of a man's head can see in the very form of his head how he used his arms and hands in his dealings with other people and with the external world during his previous earthly life. For the deeds of arms and legs in one earthly incarnation live on in the formation of the head in the next incarnation. Ordinary phrenology is superficial in giving all kinds of intellectual interpretations of the shape of the head. But behind this is a deep, occult phrenology which considers the individuality of each man and does not conform to general rules—a phrenology that out of Intuitions is able to discern how the formations of a man's head have been prepared by the outcome of his movements, his behaviour and his actions during a previous life on Earth.

That, then, is how the human being stands before us to-day, and before himself, showing in what he has become how divine generations of the spirit have worked upon him through immeasurable periods of time. Naturally one can only indicate in outline how a man's life to-day illustrates in pictures all that these generations of the Gods have done for him, and for all mankind, through the metamorphoses of Earth-evolution—Saturn, Sun and Moon.

Let us take first three particularly significant impulses in the earthly life of human beings. If one looks quite simply, with ordinary consciousness, at the wonders revealed in the progressive development of the human being from the first days of his life, we can at least gain some idea, some feeling, of the tremendous depths out of which the soul and spirit struggle during those first days and weeks in order to give an increasingly definite form to much that in the infant is still formless; and then gradually to bring under control the chaotic movements of arms and legs. We come to feel that we are being shown how a spiritual activity, present in the endless depths of the hidden life of nature, is expressing itself in the human body. And we can say: There is nothing on Earth so wonderful to watch as the unfolding of the inner human being within the outer, during the development of a child in the very first years of its life. If we know how to watch this with true artistic-religious insight, then all that can be seen there, and the humility we can feel in face of this revelation of the spiritual, surpass all other artistic, scientific or religious impressions that can be received from the outer world.

But let us single out three things in the development of a child. In ordinary life we say: The child is learning to walk. In fact, this is something wonderful. In this learning to walk an extraordinary amount of movement is involved. All the limbs are called into play when, in order to stand erect, the child raises itself out of the position where its spine is parallel with the surface of the Earth. We take this for granted as something obvious, but it marks the moment in the child's life when it is learning to give all its forces a different, orientation on Earth, and, with the help of the symmetry of those forces and its own inner balance, is learning to establish itself within the Cosmos as a whole. At the same time, we are really watching how a human being is growing out of the animal world. For this is a moment that an animal can never experience. It remains essentially with its spine parallel to the Earth; for if it pulls itself upright, as the ape does, this is contrary to its natural organisation.

If we are to form a true conception of man, we must be able to see in the right light this learning to walk on the part of the child. Scientists have compared the bones of the human being with those of the animal, and have found them to be animal bones transformed, and men's muscles to be animal muscles transformed—and so on. Let this be so with every organ; the difference between man and animal will still not be found in this way. The difference can be seen only when we grasp how, in the moment of standing erect, a human being is freeing himself from his connection with the animal at the beginning of his life, and establishing his balance in the whole world. Never during his life would he have been able to acquire the skill for doing this had it not been prepared in the most remote days; the seed for it was already within the being of man during the Saturn-existence. Divine Spirits then laid down the seed of the skill that comes to light when the child learns, as we say, to walk. There were no animals then, for they came later, during the Sun-evolution. Hence the human being, as originally planned, is older than the animals.

All that lies in these invisible forces that enable man to walk leads us back to his origin during the Saturn-existence.

The second faculty arising in the child comes from his new orientation in space; this causes the forces to turn inwards and to appear in a different way. For instance, I take up a piece of chalk; a force comes in an inward direction, discharging itself in the internal organs. This inward-turning force, coming through the limbs from the direction of movement, makes its appearance in the child's development when it learns to speak. First, when the child finds its bearings in space, the forces take an outward direction; the same forces then turn inwards and the child learns to speak.

Science knows only a small part of all this. It knows that a right-handed person has his speech-centre in the left half of the brain, and a left-handed person has it in the right half. Everything in the brain that has to do with the development of speech, however, is first worked into it by the limbs when the child learns to walk, to grasp things, to move around and turn its attention to objects. This springs from the inwardly directed forces, which then go out from the brain into the organs of speech. Here, again, divine-spiritual Beings have been preparing the human organism through countless ages, so that the child should be able to speak. Those divine Beings, who during the Saturn period prepared the human being for walking, then worked during the Sun period to bring about his capacity for speech.

The third gift developed by the child, and by all mankind, through speech—for it could not come before speaking in earthly evolution—was the power to have thoughts. This was prepared by the divine-spiritual Beings during the Moon age. That is how human evolution took its course in the past ages of the world; generations of spiritual Beings have prepared for man his walking, speaking, thinking—through Saturn-evolution, Sun-evolution, Moon-evolution.

In the evolution of the world during the Sun age, animals made their appearance—naturally in a form different from that of to-day. They now have to feed on plants, which at that time they had no need to do, for then they were creatures of the air and consisted of airy substance. It was during the Moon-existence that the plants were added.

Then evolution passed over to Earth-existence, when the human being first developed a visible bodily form in which the forces of walking, speaking and thinking could dwell. At the same time the mineral kingdom arose and became an essential part of his organism. In this way man's past can be described.

If we wish to look at man's future, in the light of present-day conditions on Earth, we must start from his old age, which means describing something that is not at all apparent to-day. When a child begins to walk, speak, think, external signs of this are clear enough, but how the spiritual part of man is intensified in old age is far from evident to anyone without spiritual vision. I spoke of the most wonderful experience of watching the gradual revelation of soul and spirit in the growing body of a young child, and of how, if one sees it in the right way, one can be overwhelmed by the deepest religious feeling in face of all the meaning that this artistic process conveys. But it is also wonderful to see how all that a man has experienced through walking, speaking and thinking during his earthly life disappears into the spiritual. And then to see how his thoughts and words, everything he has worked and struggled for with his hands, is carried back into the life of the spirit when he passes through the gate of death. Just as that which comes to expression in the child's walking, speaking, thinking, points us back to previous stages in the Earth's evolution, to the evolution of Moon, of Sun, of Saturn, so does all that a man has experienced in his thoughts point us first of all to his next earthly life, and then to the great periods in the future evolution of the Earth.

So it is that the thoughts of men point towards the Jupiter stage in the evolution of the world and of man—a stage that can be reached only when the Earth has passed through death and risen to a new planetary existence. For thoughts will not then live in us in their present fluctuating way; they will take definite shape and appear in the very form of man.

To-day we are able to keep our thoughts to ourselves, and on certain occasions our countenance can appear perfectly innocent, although we are inwardly guilty. We shall not be able to do this during the Jupiter-existence. A man's thoughts will then engender the expression of his face. The human form will have lost its mineralised firmness; it will be inwardly flexible and will consist of a quite soft substance. A wrong thought rising up in us will instantly show itself to other people through a change in our expression. Everything in the nature of a thought will at once take shape; a man will then go about in the guise of his own enduring thoughts and temperament. Hence if, during the Jupiter-existence, a man is a regular scoundrel, or has only animal impulses, that is what he will look like. That is the first stage in man's future.

The second stage will exemplify the creative power of speech. To-day speech arises inwardly and is sent out only into the air. In the future, the spoken word will not fade away into the air but will continue to exist, and with it a man will create actual forms. So that in the Jupiter age he will have power to shape himself by his thoughts; in the Venus-existence he will give form to the world around him. If during the Venus-existence—when all substance will be as fine as air—he utters an evil word, something like a repulsive plant-form will come into being. Hence a man will be surrounded by the creations of his own speech. During the Venus existence creative feelings will arise, creative speech, and the feelings that create through the word.

During the last metamorphosis of the Earth, the Vulcan-existence, the activities expressed in our walking and the movements of our arms will develop further. To-day we go to our work and use our arms to carry out actions, but nothing of that is lasting. I go to some place; I have something or other to do. It may of course be something quite complicated—possibly even the waging of war. Then we go away again, and in the outer world none of our actions remain. During the Vulcan-existence, everything will remain. A man will not simply go about and perform actions; everything he does will leave its imprint on the Vulcan-existence. His deeds will be actualised, will become realities.

You see how the Earth-existence makes a radical incision between past and future in the evolution of the world and of man. Everything up to the time of the Earth was brought about by divine generations of the spirit; that which is to follow will be brought about by man himself. That is how freedom enters his life within the cosmos. He is placed into the world by the Gods, and given his free existence. From the Gods he has acquired his capacity for walking, speaking, thinking—even his form; but for the future evolution of the world he will have to bring into this walking, speaking and thinking what he himself is. He is now about to live himself out of the past into the future. Part of the past, it is true, lies in his own karma; part of the future lies in what he is willing to do for his own karma in the future. At present he is serving a kind of apprenticeship between past and future.

All this means that things cannot work out in exact conformity with the originally-intended plan I referred to yesterday. I spoke then of 2,160 years having to pass between two incarnations. But during his earthly life a man is far from absorbing all that he could absorb; hence for many people to-day the interval between death and a new birth proves to have changed—no longer 2,160 years for anyone, but essentially shorter.

Men who have given themselves up entirely to an earthly life, those with certain criminal tendencies, are very poorly equipped for sailing out into the ocean of starry existence; and after a short time between death and rebirth they very soon return to earthly life. Others need a long time in which to purify and perfect what they have made of their soul and spirit during life on Earth. So one can say that those with animal tendencies, who easily succumb to their instincts and desires, soon come back to Earth, while those with a normal spiritual development take longer to return. But there may also be human beings who, through a deeper insight during earthly life into the way things are going at the present time, are able to arouse in themselves a self-sacrificing wish to return as soon as possible in order to contribute to the future course of earthly affairs. For if a man has filled his spirit with love during his life on Earth, he can make the three to six transits, through Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, more quickly. When persons with lower instincts pass through death, they draw back trembling before these circles and do not complete them; they are particularly repelled by the region of the planetoids. To-morrow I shall be speaking of how human beings to-day are enabled to enter various circles by submitting themselves to certain influences in the world, in their personal life, in their national life, and so on.

Those who enter the region of the planetoids rightly will to-day spend seven or eight hundred years between one earthly life and the next. That is normal for people who are not of an actually degraded nature. But through deeper insight into things, and through love of the spiritual world, life between death and a new birth can be consciously shortened. Those who have gained much from their life on Earth can make a comparatively quick return, so that as soon as possible they can work on the transforming of earthly civilisation and culture.

I have had to take you in thought away from the earthly world into that of the stars and their inhabitants, so that, in a way suited to the present time, your attention may be directed away from the world in which human beings are generally engrossed, to a world they have to enter through deeper knowledge, if they wish to experience their future aright. To-day, people in general are little inclined to detach themselves from the claims of the material world and to seek the spiritual directly in the physical world around them. We have no time now to dwell on the obstacles met with when, in psycho-analysis, for example—to which I shall be referring tomorrow—attempts are made to investigate at least the spiritual part of man. It is, however, precisely from observing directly the sense-perceptible that a right path will open out for those who wish now to work entirely within the field of present-day science, if they really seek to discover the spiritual there. It can be done. Definite proof of this is to be found in the booklet just issued by our Institute of Physiology and Biology at Stuttgart. Here Frau Dr. Kolisko has published the results of a beautiful piece of research under the title Physiological and Physical Proof of the Efficacy of the smallest Entities.1This treatise, translated into English, is included in a volume entitled Agriculture of To-morrow, published by Frau Dr. Kolisko in 1939. It is now (1966) out of print, but is obtainable from the Library at Rudolf Steiner House, 35, Park Road, London, N.W.1. You know how homeopathy likes to work with highly diluted substances. By this means, by bringing physical substance in a highly diluted form, a way is opened into the spiritual. Frau Dr. Kolisko has now succeeded in showing, by an exact method, that the smallest entities, the highest dilutions, are effective. She has been working most conscientiously for a long time on the lines I have indicated, and she has now succeeded in producing dilutions in the proportion 1:1 trillion.

If any substance is completely dissolved in a glass of water, half of which is then thrown out and the remaining half poured into a full glass of water, we get a dilution of 1:2. When half the water is again thrown out and the remainder poured into a full glass, we get 1:4, and so on. Now in our Biological Institute at Stuttgart, by means of exact scientific methods, a way has been found to produce precise solutions of 1:1 trillion—thus arriving at the so-called higher potencies. The results can be seen in the case, let us say, of antimony, about which I spoke in the medical lecture given during our days here. We find that plant growth, for example, the growth of a grain of wheat, is reduced to its slowest rate at about the twenty-first potency, and brought to its fastest rate at about the twenty-ninth or thirtieth potency. So, you see, a substance has been diluted in fluid to a high potency, and we find that the lower potencies have a different effect upon plant growth while the highest potencies accelerate growth, which means that they give the greatest stimulus to the life-force. In this way it has been found possible to break down the purely material, so that the spiritual can manifest there. For if you split up material substance, not into atoms as atomists would have it, but in such a way as to bring but the activity of its functions and forces, then you are showing willingness, I would say, to go over to the spiritual by permeating matter itself with spirit.

You can imagine now what this means for observing accurately how remedies work on the human organism, for the effect can indeed be seen. The dilution is prepared; you have it in a laboratory flask, and you drop into this potency a grain of wheat; then into the potency in the next flask you drop another grain, and so on—grains and grains of wheat. For in the course of this exact research whole rooms were filled with these germinating grains, showing the effect of each potency on the soil out of which the grains sprout. That is what must be done in science to-day, in order to drive material knowledge on into the realm of the spirit. You know what contention there has been between homoeopaths and allopaths concerning the effectiveness of the smallest entities in the higher potencies. The whole affair up to now has been a question of opinion—the allopaths holding to one view, the homoeopaths to another. Here, however, it is not a case of siding with homoeopaths, but of establishing scientifically the actual facts. In the future it will naturally be known when remedies should be applied in the direct allopathic way, and when in a dilution of the correct potency, so that they may have the desired effect on the patient—particularly on his etheric body, which represents the life-forces. We shall know exactly where to draw the line—here you must give an allopathic treatment, there a homoeopathic one. For just as other scientific experiments are carried out with the utmost exactitude, so in this case Frau Dr. Kolisko has shown in her booklet, with the same exactitude, how the smallest entities really work. What was formerly mere surmise has been raised to the level of an important scientific subject.

But all this points to something further. Just look in this booklet at the accurately worked-out curves which show how the forces of growth go up and down; notice how the curves have to be drawn according to whether the potency is strong or weak, how with certain dilutions there is a minimum of growth, and in more dilute solutions—higher potencies—a maximum; then a return to the minimum, back again to the maximum—and so on. Thus, in the remarkably conscientious tracing of the curves, one gains direct insight into a rhythm working in everything material—a rhythm that is indeed the expression of the spiritual. With human beings, we can turn from the metabolic system to the rhythmical system; it is possible in nature, also, to find in a quite exact, scientific way its rhythmical system. That is precisely what is to be seen in this work, which I believe may prove to be an important landmark, not only in the controversy between homoeopathy and allopathy but in all questions concerning our insight into nature. If the results of this research are estimated rightly, the laws of nature in future will no longer be sought only in the present atomistic way, by measuring and weighing; it will be recognised how in all material things there is a rhythm, and how in the rhythm of events in nature the rhythm of the cosmos is expressed.

I wanted to draw your attention to this as a way leading out from exact science that must be opened up. To-morrow I will go on to show how in psycho-analysis, for example, there is a kind of theoretical aversion towards any real setting out on the path leading from physical nature to the spiritual. But if men are to go forward and not backward in civilisation, they will be obliged to take this path to the spirit.