The Light Course
30 December 1919, Stuttgart
My dear Friends,
We will begin today with an experiment bearing upon our studies of the theory of colour. As I have said before, all I can give you in this Course can only be improvised and aphoristic. Hence too I cannot keep to the conventional categories of the Physics textbooks, — in saying which I do not mean to imply that it would be better if I did. In the last resort I wish to lead you to a certain kind of insight into Science, and you must look on all that I bring forward in the meantime as a kind of preparation. We are not advancing in the usual straight line. We try to gather up the diverse phenomena we need, forming a circle as it were, — then to move forward from the circumference towards the centre.
You have seen that wherever colours arise there is a working-together of light and darkness. What we now have to do is to observe as many phenomena as we can before we try to theorize. We want to form a true conception of what underlies this interplay of light and darkness. Today I will begin by shewing you the phenomenon of coloured shadows, as they are called.
Here are two candles (Figure VIIa), — candles as sources of light — and an upright rod which will throw shadows on this screen. You see two shadows, without perceptible colour. You only need to take a good look at what is here before you, you will be bound to say: the shadow you are seeing on the right is the one thrown by the left-hand source of light. It is produced, in that the light from this source is hidden by the rod. Likewise the shadow on the left arises where the light from the right-hand source is covered. Relatively dark spaces are created, — that is all. Where the shadow is, is simply a dark space. Moreover, looking at the surface of the screen apart from the two bands of shadow, you will agree it is illumined by both sources of light. Now I will colour the one (the left-hand) light. I make the light go through a plate of coloured glass, so that this one of the lights is now coloured — that is, darkened to some extent. As a result, you will see that the shadow of the rod, due to this left-hand source of light — the one which I am darkening to red — this shadow on the right becomes green. It becomes green just as a purely white background does when you look sharply for example at a small red surface for a time, then turn your eye away and look straight at the white. You then see green where you formerly saw red, though there is nothing there. You yourself, as it were, see the green colour on to the white surface. In such a case, you are seeing the green surface as an after-image in time of the red which you were seeing just before, when you exposed your eye to the red surface that was actually there. And so in this case: when I darken the source of light to red, you see the shadow green. What was mere darkness before, you now see green. And now I darken the same source of light to green, — the shadow becomes red. And when I darken it to blue, an orange shadow is produced. If I should darken it to violet, it would give yellow.
And now consider please the following phenomenon; it is most important, therefore I mention it once more. Say in a room you have a red cushion with a white crochet cover, through the rhombic-patterned apertures of which the red of the cushion shines through. You look at the red rhombic pattern and then look away to the white. On the white ground you see the same lattice-work in green. Of course it isn't there, but your own eye is active and makes an after-effect, which, as you focus on the white, generates the green, “subjective” images, as one is wont to call them.
Goethe was familiar with this phenomenon, and also knew that of the coloured shadows. I darken this source of light and get green, said Goethe to himself, and he went on to describe it somewhat as follows: When I darken this source of light, the white screen as a whole shines red. I am not really seeing the white screen; what I see is a reddish-shining colour. In fact I see the screen more or less red. And as an outcome — as with the cushion mentioned just now — I with my own eye generate the contrasting colour. There is no real green here. I only see the green incidentally, because the screen as a whole now has a reddish colour.
However, this idea of Goethe's is mistaken, as you may readily convince yourselves. Take a little tube and look through it, so that you only see the shadow; you will still see it green. You no longer see what is around it, you only see the green which is objectively there at the place you look at. You can convince yourself by this experiment that the green really is objective. It remains green, hence the phenomenon cannot be one of mere contrast but is objective. We cannot now provide for everyone to see it, but as the proverb says, durch zweier Zeugen Mund wird alle Wahrheit kund — two witnesses will always tell the truth. I will produce the phenomenon and you must now look through on to the green strip. It stays green, does it not? So with the other colour: if I engendered red by means of green, it would stay red. Goethe in this instance was mistaken, and as the error is incorporated in his Theory of Colour it must of course be rectified. 1After some careful experiments on a later occasion, Dr. Steiner admitted that there is an error here. (See the Translator's Note on this passage.) He also recommended chemical and photographic researches to show the real nature of coloured shadows.
Now to begin with, my dear Friends, along with all the other phenomena which we have studied, I want you to take note of the pure fact we have just demonstrated. In the one case we get a grey, a bit of darkness, a mere shadow. In the other case we permeate the shadow, so to speak, with colour. The light and darkness then work together in a different way. We note that by darkening the light with red the objective phenomenon of the green is called forth. Now side by side with this, I also drew your attention to what appears, as is generally said, “subjectively”. We have then, in the one case, what would be called an “objective” phenomenon, the green that stays there on the screen; though not a permanently fixed colour, it stays as long as we create the requisite conditions. Whilst in the other case we have something, as it were, subjectively conditioned by our eye alone. Goethe calls the green colour that appears to me when I have been exposing my eye for a time to red, the colour or coloured after-image that is evoked or “required” (gefordert), — called forth by reaction.
Now there is one thing we must insist on in this connection. The “subjective, objective” distinction, between the colour that is temporarily fixed here and the colour that seems only to be called forth as an after-image by the eye, has no foundation in any real fact. When I am seeing red through my eyes, as at this moment, you know there is all the physical apparatus we were describing a few days ago; the vitreous body, the lens, the aqueous humour between the lens and the cornea, — a highly differentiated physical apparatus. This physical apparatus, mingling light and darkness as it does in the most varied ways with one another, is in no other relation to the objectively existent ether than all the apparatus we have here set up — the screen, the rod and so on. The only difference is that in the ^one case the whole apparatus is my eye; I see an objective phenomenon through my own eye. It is the same objective phenomenon which I see here, only that this one stays. By dint of looking at the red, my eye will subsequently react with the “required” colour — to use Goethe's term, — the eye, according to its own conditions, being gradually restored to its neutral state. But the real process by means of which I see the green when I see it thus, as we are wont to say, “subjectively” — through the eye alone, — is in no way different from what it is when I fix the colour “objectively” as in this experiment.
Therefore I said in an earlier lecture: You, your subjective being, do not live in such a way that the ether is there vibrating outside of you and the effect of it then finds expression in your experience of colour. No, you yourself are swimming in the ether — you are one with it. It is but an incidental difference, whether you become at one with the ether through this apparatus out here or through a process that goes on in your own eye. There is no real nor essential difference between the green image engendered spatially by the red darkening of the light, and the green afterimage, appearing afterwards only in point of time. Looked at objectively there is no tangible difference, save that the process is spatial in the one case and temporal in the other. That is the one essential difference. A sensible and thoughtful contemplation of these things will lead you no longer to look for the contrast, “subjective and objective” as we generally call it, in the false direction in which modern Science generally tries to see it. You will then see it for what it really is. In the one case we have rigged-up an apparatus to engender colour while our eye stays neutral — neutral as to the way the colours are here produced — and is thus able to enter into and unite with what is here. In the other case the eye itself is the physical apparatus. What difference does it make, whether the necessary apparatus is out there, or in your frontal cavity? We are not outside the things, then first projecting the phenomena we see out into space. We with our being are in the things; moreover we are in them even more fully when we go on from certain kinds of physical phenomena to others. No open-minded person, examining the phenomena of colour in all their aspects, can in the long run fail to admit that we are in them — not, it is true, with our ordinary body, but certainly with our etheric body and thereby also with the astral part of our being.
And now let us descend from Light to Warmth. Warmth too we perceive as a condition of our environment which gains significance for us whenever we are exposed to it. We shall soon see, however, that as between the perception of light and the perception of warmth there is a very significant difference. You can localize the perception of light clearly and accurately in the physical apparatus of the eye, the objective significance of which I have been stressing. But if you ask yourself in all seriousness, “How shall I now compare the relation I am in to light with the relation I am in to warmth?”, you will have to answer, “While my relation to the light is in a way localized — localized by my eye at a particular place in my body, — this is not so for warmth. For warmth the whole of me is, so to speak, the sense-organ. For warmth, the whole of me is what my eye is for the light”. We cannot therefore speak of the perception of warmth in the same localized sense as of the perception of light. Moreover, precisely in realizing this we may also become aware of something more.
What are we really perceiving when we come into relation to the warmth-condition of our surroundings? We must admit, we have a very distinct perception of the fact that we are swimming in the warmth-element of our environment. And yet, what is it of us that is swimming? Please answer for yourselves the question: What is it that is swimming when you are swimming in the warmth of your environment? Take then the following experiment. Fill a bucket with water just warm enough for you to feel it lukewarm. Put both your hands in — not for long, only to test it. Then put your left hand in water as hot as you can bear and your right hand in water as cold as you can bear. Then put both hands quickly back again into the lukewarm water. You will find the lukewarm water seeming very warm to your right hand and very cold to your left. Your left hand, having become hot, perceives as cold what your right hand, having become cold, perceives as warmth. Before, you felt the same lukewarmness on either side. What is it then? It is your own warmth that is swimming there. Your own warmth makes you feel the difference between itself and your environment. What is it therefore, once again, — what is it of you that is swimming in the warmth-element of your environment? It is your own state-of-warmth, brought about by your own organic process. Far from this being an unconscious thing, your consciousness indwells it. Inside your skin you are living in this warmth, and according to the state of this your own warmth you converse — communicate and come to terms — with the element of warmth in your environment, wherein your own bodily warmth is swimming. It is your warmth-organism which really swims in the warmth of your environment. — If you think these things through, you will come nearer the real processes of Nature — far nearer than by what is given you in modern Physics, abstracted as it is from all reality.
Now let us go still farther down. We experience our own state-of-warmth by swimming with it in our environment-of-warmth. When we are warmer than our environment we feel the latter as if it were drawing, sucking at us; when we are colder we feel as though it were imparting something to us. But this grows different again when we consider how we are living in yet another element. Once more then: we have the faculty of living in what really underlies the light; we swim in the element of light. Then, in the way we have been explaining, we swim in the element of warmth. But we are also able to swim in the element of air, which of course we always have within us. We human beings, after all, are to a very small extent solid bodies. More than 90% of us is just a column of water, and — what matters most in this connection — the water in us is a kind of intermediary between the airy and the solid state. Now we can also experience ourselves quite consciously in the airy element, just as we can in the element of warmth. Our consciousness descends effectively into the airy element. Even as it enters into the element of light and into the element of warmth, so too it enters into the element of air. Here again, it can “converse”, it can communicate and come to terms with what is taking place in our environment of air. It is precisely this “conversation” which finds expression in the phenomena of sound or tone. You see from this: we must distinguish between different levels in our consciousness. One level of our consciousness is the one we live with in the element of light, inasmuch as we ourselves partake in this element. Quite another level of our consciousness is the one we live with in the element of warmth, inasmuch as we ourselves, once more, are partaking in it. And yet another level of our consciousness is the one we live with in the element of air, inasmuch as we ourselves partake also in this. Our consciousness is indeed able to dive down into the gaseous or airy element. Then are we living in the airy element of our environment and are thus able to perceive the phenomena of sound and of musical tone. Even as we ourselves with our own consciousness have to partake in the phenomena of light so that we swim in the light-phenomena of our environment; and as we have to partake in the element of warmth so that we swim also in this; so too must we partake in the element of air. We must ourselves have something of the airy element within us in a differentiated form so that we may be able to perceive — when, say, a pipe, a drum or a violin is resounding — the differentiated airy element outside us. In this respect, my dear Friends, our bodily nature is indeed of the greatest interest even to outward appearance. There is our breathing process: we breathe-in the air and breathe it out again. When we breathe-out the air we push our diaphragm upward. This involves a relief of tension, a relaxation, for the whole of our organic system beneath the diaphragm. In that we raise the diaphragm as we breathe-out and thus relieve the organic system beneath the diaphragm, the cerebrospinal fluid in which the brain is swimming is driven downward. Here now the cerebrospinal fluid is none other than a somewhat condensed modification, so to speak, of the air, for it is really the out-breathed air which brings about the process. When I breathe-in again, the cerebrospinal fluid is driven upward. I, through my breathing, am forever living in this rhythmic, downward-and-upward, upward-and-downward undulation of the cerebrospinal fluid, which is quite clearly an image of my whole breathing process. In that my bodily organism partakes in these oscillations of the breathing process, there is an inner differentiation, enabling me to perceive and experience the airy element in consciousness. Indeed by virtue of this process, of which admittedly I have been giving only a rather crude description, I am forever living in a rhythm-of-life which both in origin and in its further course consists in an inner differentiation of the air.
In that you breathe and bring about — not of course so crudely but in a manifold and differentiated way — this upward and downward oscillation of the rhythmic forces, there is produced within you what may itself be described as an organism of vibrations, highly complicated, forever coming into being and passing away again. It is this inner organism of vibrations which in our ear we bring to bear upon what sounds towards us from without when, for example, the string of a musical instrument gives out a note. We make the one impinge upon the other. And just as when you plunge your hand into the lukewarm water you perceive the state-of-warmth of your own hand by the difference between the warmth of your hand and the warmth of the water, so too do you perceive the tone or sound by the impact and interaction of your own inner, wondrously constructed musical instrument with the sound or tone that comes to manifestation in the air outside you. The ear is in a way the bridge, by which your own inner “lyre of Apollo” finds its relation, in ever-balancing and compensating interplay, with the differentiated airy movement that comes to you from without. Such, in reality is hearing. The real process of hearing — hearing of the differentiated sound or tone — is, as you see, very far removed from the abstraction commonly presented. Something, they say, is going on in the space outside, this then affects my ear, and the effect upon my ear is perceived in some way as an effect on my subjective being. For the “subjective being” is at long last referred to — described in some kind of demonology — or rather, not described at all. We shall not get any further if we do not try to think out clearly, what is the underlying notion in this customary presentation. You simply cannot think these notions through to their conclusion, for what this school of Physics never does is to go simply into the given facts.
Thus in effect we have three stages in man's relation to the outer world — I will describe them as the stage of Light, the stage of Warmth, and that of Tone or Sound. There is however a remarkable fact in this connection. Look open-mindedly at your relation to the element of light — your swimming in the element of light — and you will have to admit: It is only with your etheric body that you can live in what is there going on in the outer world. Not so when you are living in the element of warmth. You really live in the warmth-element of your environment with your whole bodily nature. Having thus contemplated how you live in light and warmth, look farther down — think how you live in the element of tone and sound — and you will recognize: Here you yourself are functioning as an airy body. You, as a living organism of air, live in the manifoldly formed and differentiated outer air. It is no longer the ether; it is external physical matter, namely air. Our living in the warmth-element is then a very significant border-line. Our life in the element of warmth is for our consciousness a kind of midway level — a niveau. You recognize it very clearly in the simple fact that for pure feeling and sensation you are scarcely able to distinguish outer warmth from inner warmth. Your life in the light-element however lies above this level:—
For light, you ascend as it were into a higher, into an etheric sphere, therein to live with your consciousness. On the other hand you go beneath this level, beneath this niveau, when in perceiving tone or sound you as a man-of-air converse and come to terms with the surrounding air. While upon this niveau itself (in the perceiving of warmth) you come to terms with the outer world in a comparatively simple way.
Now bring together what I have just been shewing with what I told you before out of Anatomy and Physiology. Then you will have to conceive the eye as the physical apparatus, to begin with. Indeed the farther outward you go, the more physical do you find the eye to be; the farther in you go, the more is it permeated with vitality. We therefore have in us a localized organ — the eye — with which to lift ourselves above a certain level or niveau. Upon this actual niveau we live as it were on equal terms with our environment; with our own warmth we meet the warmth of our environment and perceive the difference, whatever it may be. Here we have no such specialized organ as the eye; the whole of us, we ourselves in some way, become the sense-organ. And we dive down beneath this level or niveau when functioning as airy man, — when we converse and come to terms with the differentiated outer air. Here once again the “conversation” becomes localized — localized namely in this “lyre of Apollo”, in this rhythmic play of our whole organism, of which the rhythmic play of our spinal fluid is but the image and the outcome. Here then again we have something localized — only beneath the niveau this time, whilst in the eye it is above this midway level.
The Psychology of our time is, as you see, in an even sorrier position than the Physiology and Physics, and we can scarcely blame our physicists if they speak so unrealistically of what is there in the outer world, since they get so little help from the psychologists. The latter, truth to tell, have been only too well disciplined by the Churches, which have claimed all the knowledge of the soul and Spirit for their own domain. Very obediently the psychologists restrict their study to the external apparatus, calling this external apparatus “Man”. They speak no doubt of soul and mind, or even Spirit, but in mere words, mere sounding phrases, until Psychology becomes at last a mere collection of words. For in their books they never tell us what we are to understand by soul and mind and Spirit, — how we should conceive them. So then the physicists come to imagine that the light is there at work quite outside us; this light affects the human eye. The eye somehow responds; at any rate it receives an impression. This then becomes subjective inner experience. Now comes the veriest tangle of confused ideas. The physicists allege it to be much the same as to the other sense-organs. They follow what they learn from the psychologists. In text-books of Psychology you will generally find a chapter on the Science of the Senses, as though such a thing as “sense” or “sense-organ” in general existed. But if you put it to the test: study the eye, — it is completely different from the ear. The one indeed lies above and the other beneath the “niveau” which we explained just now. In their whole form and structure, eye and ear prove to be totally diverse organs. This surely is significant and should be borne in mind. Today now we will go thus far; please think it over in the meantime. Taking our start from this, we will tomorrow speak of the science of sound and tone, whence you will then be able to go on into the other realms of Physics.
There is however one more thing I want to demonstrate today. It is among the great achievements of modern Physics; it is in truth a very great achievement. You know that if you merely rub a surface with your finger — exerting pressure, using some force as you do so, — the surface will get warm. By this exertion you have generated warmth. So too by calling forth out-and-out mechanical processes in the objective world external to yourself, you can engender warmth. Now as a basis for tomorrow's lecture, we have rigged up this apparatus. If you were now to look and read the thermometer inside, you would find it a little over 16° C. The vessel contains water. Immersed in the body of water is a kind of drum or flywheel which we now bring into quick rotation, thus doing mechanical work, whirling the portions of the water all about, stirring it thoroughly. After a time we shall look at the thermometer again and you will see that it has risen. By dint of purely mechanical work the water will have gained in warmth. That is to say, warmth is produced by mechanical work. It was especially Julius Robert Mayer who drew attention to this fact, which was then worked out more arithmetically. Mayer himself derived from it the so-called “mechanical equivalent of warmth” (or of heat). Had they gone on in the same spirit in which he began, they would have said no more than that a certain number, a certain figure expresses the relation which can be measured when warmth is produced by dint of mechanical work or vice-versa. But they exploited the discovery in metaphysical fashion. Namely they argued: If then there is this constant ratio between the mechanical work expended and the warmth produced, the warmth or heat is simply the work transformed. Transformed, if you please! — where in reality all that they had before them was the numerical expression of the relation between the two.