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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Mammoths to Mediums
GA 350

XIV. Lung knowledge and kidney knowledge

28 July 1923, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen! Have you thought of anything else you want to ask?—If not, I'd like to say something that relates to our previous subject, so that you may see how proof that the soul principle is present everywhere in the human physical organism, that is, in the human physical body, can be now found whichever way we approach the matter. Let us look at the human blood circulation from a particular point of view. As you know, blood flows in the blood vessels in our bodies. It goes from the lung, which has its arteries and in which oxygen is taken up as we breathe, to the heart, from the heart to the rest of the body. It is red during all this time but becomes more bluish as it passes through the body. This blue blood goes back to the heart and the lung where the oxygen makes it red again, and so the blood circulates, we might say, through the whole body.

Let us hold on to the thought that the blood flows through the body. A very simple flow cycle can serve to illustrate it. Just think we have a circular tube [Fig. 27]. Into it we put some red fluid so that it will show clearly. Now if we have such a tube in the outside world we need to have some kind of pump somewhere to set the fluid in motion. Let us imagine, therefore, we have some pump or other here [arrow] and that sets the fluid in motion. If I leave a hole at the top, the fluid will, of course, spray out there. But I don't want that, and so I add a tube up there. And now I set the fluid in motion so that it keeps going round and round. Can you imagine this? The fluid is made to go round. Now consider this. If the fluid is driven round by a pump here, then a small amount will rise in the tube here [at the top]. But it will only be a small amount as we keep the fluid moving. If I make the pump powerful, the fluid will rise a bit higher here; if I apply only little pressure it will rise less high. I am therefore able to measure the pressure in the circulating fluid by the height of the fluid up here.

circular tube
Figure 27

Now you see, I can do something similar to this with human blood. If I insert such a little tube somewhere in a blood vessel the blood will rise some distance in that tube. I can thus insert a tube into some blood vessel—but not all of them. Imagine I have an artery somewhere—in the arm, let us say—and put in a tube here that is rather like an ampoule [drawing on the board]. The blood from the artery will flow up the tube a little bit; it goes through here and into the tube here. This small tube will be such that, depending on the person concerned, the level of blood in it will be higher or lower. With some people the blood will rise to a very high level, with others it will be less high. This shows that people have different blood pressures, for it is the pressure which is applied that shows itself in the tube. So you see, if the blood exerts a bit more pressure on the blood vessels, it will rise higher in the tube, if it exerts less pressure it will rise less high.

The materialistic view is that human beings also need a pump to drive the blood around. But this is an external instrument I have been drawing for you. In reality human beings do not have such a pump anywhere in their bodies, nor is the heart a pump. Human beings do not have a pump, but the blood moves because of something else. This is what we want to consider today.

But let us first of all consider the difference in height in this column of blood by which we measure the blood pressure. In a healthy person it is always at a particular level, between 120 and 140 mm, let us say, when someone is between 30 and 50 years of age. If the column is only 110 mm high, for example, when we apply such an instrument—we may call it a manometer—the person would be sick. He'd also be sick if it were 160 mm. If it is 160 mm, his blood pressure is too high; the blood is pressing too hard in his body. If it is only 110 mm, his blood pressure is too low, the blood is not pressing hard enough. You can see from this that we always have to have a specific blood pressure in our bodies. The blood must always exert a specific pressure. We have this blood pressure everywhere inside us. If we climb a really high mountain, the air around us will get thinner, of course, and because the outside air gets thinner the pressure from inside gets much greater. The blood will then come out through the pores. That is mountain sickness. You see, therefore, that we have to go around the world with a quite specific blood pressure.

Let us first look at people whose blood pressure is too low. People with low blood pressure grow extremely weak, tired, pale, and their digestion suffers severely. They grow feeble inside and do not properly manage to perform their bodily functions, and so they will go into a gradual decline. If the blood pressure is too low, therefore, people grow tired and weak and sick.

Now let us look at people whose blood pressure is too high. There you sometimes see quite strange things. You see, if you push something like this instrument—it has to have a sharp point in front—into the skin, if you measure a blood pressure that is too high with it, you can be sure that such a person's kidneys will gradually grow useless. The kidneys start to develop their blood vessels, everything there is inside them, in a way they should not be. They calcify and grow enlarged; they degenerate, as people say. They no longer are the shape they should be. If you cut out the kidneys of such people with very high blood pressure after they have died, they look quite dilapidated.

The question is, where does all this come from? This connection with blood pressure and kidney disease is not really understood at all by those who think in materialistic terms. We have to realize that our astral body—I have told you about this; it is an invisible body in us—lives in this pressure we have in us, in the blood pressure. It is not true at all that the astral body lives in some substance, some form of matter; it lives in a force, in our blood pressure, and the astral body is healthy when our blood pressure is right, that is, between 120 and 140 mm in mid-life. If we have the right blood pressure, our astral body enters into the physical body as we wake up and feels well in there. It can spread in all directions. So if the blood pressure is right, about 120 mm, the astral body really spreads out in our blood pressure, and it can enter into every part of the physical body when we wake up. And whilst we are awake the whole astral body spreads everywhere in us if we have this 'normal' blood pressure, as it is called.

You see, it is the astral body which makes sure that our organs always are the right shape, the right configuration. Gentlemen, if we were to sleep all the time, so that the astral body would always be outside, the way it is when we sleep, our organs would soon grow fatty. We would not have proper organs. We need the astral body to stimulate the ether body so that we'll always have organs that are sound, having the right configuration. The astral body therefore always has to have the right blood pressure so that it may spread out.

Let us imagine someone goes into a room that is filled with carbon dioxide rather than air. He'd collapse; he'd be unable to breathe. The astral body and the I cannot live in such a body where the blood pressure is not right. They have to go out every time we go to sleep. Let us assume the blood pressure is too low. If the blood pressure is too low, the astral body does not enter properly into the physical body when we wake up. There is little astral activity in there then and the individual feels something rather like a continuous slight state of unconsciousness inside him. He will be weak as a result and his organs cannot be developed in the right way, for they have to be newly developed all the time. You remember I told you the organs have to be made new every seven years. The astral body must always be able to function in there.

Let us assume the blood pressure is too high. Now if the blood pressure is too high, what will happen? You see, I once told you that if the mixture of oxygen and nitrogen in the air were different we would find it hard to live. The air contains 79 per cent of nitrogen, the rest is mainly oxygen. The amount of oxygen is small, therefore. If the air contained more oxygen we'd be old people at the age of 20. We would age rapidly. It therefore also depends on the astral body if the body ages early or late. If the blood pressure is too high, the astral body likes being in the physical body. It is really in its element in our blood pressure and will then go in really deep. And what is the consequence? The consequence is that we have the kind of kidneys at 30 that we should only have when we are 70. We live too fast when the blood pressure is high. The kidneys are sensitive organs, and so they will degenerate early. Growing old has to do with the organs growing more and more calcified. And if the blood pressure is too high, the sensitive organs will calcify too soon. The kind of kidney disease one gets with high blood pressure is really a sign that the person has aged too soon, that is, whilst still young he has made these sensitive kidneys be the way they should only be in old age.

Now you see, gentlemen, the whole of this explanation which I have given you allows you to see that the human being does have something like a soul principle in his physical body, something I call the astral body, which goes out during the night. And so we may also say: Man lives in the forces that develop in his body. He lives in those forces, not in the physical matter.

Wherever you look, therefore, you find materialistic science has nothing to offer when it comes to the kind of thing I have just been explaining to you. It does not help people to discover what this is about. You'll always find it says in the books: if the blood pressure is high one must always fear the individual has kidney disease. But, it says in these books that they cannot show the connection. In reality they are therefore saying that they do not want human beings to have something that is supersensible in them, something spiritual, something with soul quality. They are saying they do not want this.

But we cannot explain these things without it. And this is really why people do not know where to turn today and have to admit this to all the world. It truly is the case, gentlemen, that the things that happen today, the overwhelming misery in the world which will get much, much worse in the immediate future because people simply do not want to accept anything that is of the spirit—for you must first of all know about something—this misery has come because people are not prepared to know anything about reality. And you cannot know anything about reality unless you consider the spiritual aspects. The way things have gone in the nineteenth century is that people were really only taught about superficial things. No one took care to see that they understood something about the soul element, about the spirit. And so people go about today and really have no idea at all that the elements of spirit and of soul do after all exist in this world.

You see, gentlemen, something extraordinarily important has happened as a result. One day, when much time will have passed and they are prompted by circumstance, people will overcome their reluctance and come to look at things again in the light of the spirit. Those people will say, at that future time: 'Yes, something tremendously important happened in human history at the beginning of the twentieth century.' Everything one is able to tell about the wars of earlier times is nothing compared to what has actually happened here in our day. Sometimes it is really quite unbelievable how people fail to realize that compared to what has been happening from 1914 right until now all those wars we read about in our history books are mere trifles. Those historical events are not at all great compared to what has been happening between human beings in the times we live in. And you see, to see what this is really about we have to look deeply into the reality of it all. But people don't do this today.

Now one thing to which I drew your attention is that the potato only came to Europe at a particular time. Now if you ask what do people eat most of today, the answer is: potatoes! And if you see the threat of starvation somewhere, the first thing people think of is how to get hold of potatoes. Today it is really so that people think of potatoes as something that has always been there. Well, gentlemen, if you'd lived five centuries ago you would not have eaten potatoes at all in Europe, for there weren't any! You would have been eating something else. But when one knows that everything depends on the spiritual realm one also knows that eating potatoes or not eating potatoes depends on the spiritual realm. And that is also how it is with many other things. There have been tremendous changes in human history in recent centuries, and all that talking in theories is of no value to us. You can have the best possible theories—Rousseau's theories, Marxist theories, Lenin's theories, anything you like, but these are all thought up, and you can't do anything with them if you lack the right knowledge. Thoughts only have value if you know what to do with them. All these people who have developed such excellent thoughts were utterly ignorant, if the truth be known. And it is a characteristic of our present time that people are really utterly ignorant. They want to present theories to people as to how to make the earth into paradise, yet they don't even know what happens to the human body when people eat potatoes. This is what causes one such heartfelt concern today, that people have not the least desire to know something. Now the masses are, of course, unable to do this, for they are persuaded that the knowledge possessed by those gentlemen at the university is absolutely right. And so schools are created for the people and they want to know what the others know today. But the truth is that exactly the people who ought to know things, who have made the business of knowing their profession, actually know nothing at all. And because of this people talk about all kinds of things today, but basically no one knows anything at all.

Now the potato is not, of course, the only thing, there are many other situations, but I am mentioning the potato because it is a particularly extreme example. An awful lot has really happened in these last centuries, and now, I'd say, it has led to a major discharge at the beginning of our twentieth century, so that enormously many things have happened. Today let us consider one of the things that happened, something that is extraordinarily important.

You see, gentlemen, I am going to mention something that may well make you laugh at first, but it is a serious matter nevertheless. You see, when a young fellow goes to university today or some other kind of college, he will be taken to a laboratory. He has to study there—he'll loaf around quite a bit as well—but you know, he has to study because he'll have to sit his exams later. You can more or less imagine how it all goes. But if we now go back to the people of whom I also told you also the last time we met, let us say to the ancient Indians—you'll remember the drawing I made for you, Asia—there the young fellows who were to be taught were not taken to a laboratory or a hospital but they would be told that above all else they must with great patience examine their inner parts. They had to sit down, their legs crossed, and always look at the tip of their nose, not look out into the world but always look at the tip of their nose. Well, gentlemen, what did this achieve? This was of course already at a time when the matter was falling into decadence. But there are still people who do this today, even in Europe; they want to get particularly clever inwardly and so they copy this. But it will achieve nothing today. But the people who did this in earlier times shut themselves off from the whole of the outside world in this way, for as you can imagine, you don't see much in the tip of your nose. All you practise is getting a squint in your eyes, if you always look at the tip of your nose. And if you don't walk but take all the weight off your legs, you also do not have gravity inside you. These people therefore eliminated gravity, eliminated all sensory impressions, they firmly plugged their ears and gave themselves up completely to their own bodies. That was what it was all about—not a matter of looking at the tip of your nose, which after all is not all that interesting, but of closing oneself off from the outside world.

This completely changed their breathing, however. It was the breathing, the lung, which became different in these people. When they used such a procedure to make their lungs function in a different way, images would arise in their mind's eye. They did indeed gain specific knowledge by this means, and were then able to tell people how things really are. Those people did know, for example, what happens with a plant, the way I have told you, because they had gone through this procedure. Today our young fellow at the university would say 'thank you very much' if they were made to sit in a row along the wall and asked to look all the time at the tips of their noses. People would consider that nonsense today. But you see, the only difference I get when I make experiments with things outside or on human beings is that when I do laboratory experiments I get to know about physical matter; when I do experiments on the human being I get to know the human being. Those people of old know the human being better than modern people do. And what was it they insisted on particularly, those people? That their lungs would function in a different way. And the lung would in turn stimulate the brain. In those earlier times it was thus truly the lung from which all the great knowledge and early wisdom came.

So it would be reasonable to say that if we have the lungs here in the human being [Fig. 28], and between them the heart, knowledge went from the lungs up into the head in those early times. This is in fact the secret about knowledge, that the human head is really quite unable to do anything. The head does not really know much of the world, it only knows what is inside. Gentlemen, if we had only the head and neither eyes nor ears, but just a head that was closed off all round, we would know a great deal about ourselves, but nothing about the outside world. And the most important thing that comes into us from the outside world is the air. The air also stimulates the head, through the nose if nothing else, but very thin air also comes in everywhere through our eyes, through our ears everywhere. It is the air which sets the head in motion. We are thus able to say that if we go a long way back to those early millennia of which I have told you the last time, 6,000, 8,000 years back, we find people practised their breathing a lot in order to gain knowledge. They knew they had to press the air into the head in a different way and then they'd gain knowledge.

lungs in the human being
Figure 28

All people know today is that if they get air into their lungs it will vitalize them. But those ancients knew that if they drew in the air in a special way, as they looked at the tip of their nose, the muscles of the nose would be compressed, the air would be drawn in in a special way, and then knowledge would come in the head.

But you see, it went on like that until the Middle Ages, and even most recent times. Four hundred years after the birth of Christ, people then ceased to know anything. The knowledge vanished. But they still had things to remind them in their books. For that is the difference between earlier times and the times that began in about the eighth or ninth century before the birth of Christ. In those earlier times people had heads with which to know things, and in later times they had books by which to know things. That is indeed the difference. You know, in those ancient schools called mysteries it was not considered important to write down everything they knew. They would train people so that they were able to read in their heads. Someone who had been truly educated would be able to read in his head to know what was out there in the vast air space. His head would be a real book, we might say, but of course not in the sense in which we speak of bookish people today. Through breathing, the head had become something where wisdom could be found.

Then came the times when human heads were no longer worth anything. People did still have them, of course, but they were empty, and everything was written down. For some centuries before and also at the time of the birth of Christ, much, very much still existed in writing of the ancient wisdom. These things were burned by the Church, for they did not want this ancient wisdom, which people gained from their heads, to be passed on in any way to their descendants. You see, the people of the Church really had a terrible hatred of that ancient wisdom, and they eradicated it. With anthroposophy, the aim is to give people a head again that is not just an empty vessel. But it is something the Church really hates. Well, you can see that it does not exactly like it! Gentlemen, human beings are to be in a position again where they know things that you cannot find in books at all today, for the ancient wisdom has vanished, it has been burned, and the new things people have written in books is only about superficial things.

Well, everything people were thinking until the nineteenth century was really only inherited from earlier times. It was, if I may put it like this, stimulated by the lung. Lung knowledge, we might say. The head stimulated by the lung, by the breathing—lung knowledge.

You see, the nineteenth century brought great scientific discoveries, but no thoughts. The thoughts were all taken from earlier times. It is really true that thoughts only existed in earlier times of human evolution. On the surface, great discoveries were made in the nineteenth century, but people were only thinking the old thoughts. That was still the old lung knowledge. And it seems rather amusing that we are able to say to a modern scientist: 'You despise the ancient Indian who would sit down, cross his legs, and look at the tip of his nose in order to have thoughts about the inner life. You don't do this any more. But you do use the thoughts he had, for they were written down, and you used them to discover X-rays, and so on.' It really is like that. All this was discovered with the old thoughts.

In the course of the nineteenth century, the human lung became completely unable, however, to give anything to the head. The human lung altogether went through a major change in the nineteenth century, and something else, the organs called the kidneys, actually became much more important than the lung in the course of the nineteenth century. These are in the first place strongly connected with the functions of the heart. The stimulant effect has moved from the lung to organs that lie lower down in the human being, and this has caused the great confusion in which humanity finds itself.

You see, the world of the spirit is, in a sense, still keeping an eye on the lung. When human beings had lung knowledge, they would be breathing in air and in doing so receive the stimulus for knowledge. Today people have to depend on getting the stimulus for knowledge from the kidneys. But the kidneys will not give anything to the head of their own accord. You have to make an effort first, as I have described it in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds.49Steiner, R., Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, How is it Achieved? (GA 10). Tr. D. S. Osmond, C. Davy. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1976. Also as How to Know Higher Worlds. A Modern Path of Initiation. Tr. C. Bamford. Hudson: Anthroposophic Press 1994. So in the first place we have to say that when the lungs still provided a stimulus for the human head, people were able to gain knowledge because a spiritual principle was still flowing into their lungs. Anything of the spirit that flows to the kidneys is at an unconscious level, so that people cannot know about it unless they go through the things in mind and spirit which I have described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, doing so in a fully conscious state.

What happens if people are not prepared to make such an effort? Well, gentlemen, the lung will remain in a condition where it provides no stimulus, and people will be completely dependent for anything they are able to know on their bellies, their kidneys. The change from lung to kidney knowledge has happened now, in the twentieth century, the time we live in. Lung knowledge still had a spiritual quality. Kidney knowledge has no spiritual quality for the human being unless we give it a spiritual quality.

Man has thus gone through a major change. This happened in the two decades we have lived through. Such an important thing has not been before in human nature, that the whole apparatus for gaining knowledge has slid down from the lung into the kidney. The astral body then did not find anything in the kidneys, and that is why there is such confusion, such a materialistic chaos, in all human heads.

So what would one say if one wanted to describe the real reason why there have been so many people in the twentieth century who did not know their way about in the world, who did not know what to do, and finally, when this was admitted, we got ourselves into this giant war? What was really going on there? If we want to find out what was going on, we must first take a bit of a look at the time that went before. You see, gentlemen, in the Middle Ages and later, terribly many people went to a particular place of pilgrimage called Lourdes, or to other places where the idea was copied. They went there because the clergy told them that they would get well if they did, if they had the water of Lourdes. Well now, only the name has really changed. In the nineteenth century the clergy would persuade people to go to Lourdes to get well, and more recently the medical profession have persuaded people to go to Karlsbad or Marienbad or Wiesbaden or some such place.

What did it all lead to? It really all came to this. The doctors would tell people: 'Well now, dear patients, your kidney system is not functioning properly. You need to drink as much of the waters at Wiesbaden or Karlsbad or Marienbad as possible,'—it all goes through the kidneys—'and you have to push it through there.' So that for many people the state of health was such that during the winter they gave themselves up to their kidney functions, and it was the activity of the kidneys that would really think in them; during the summer they had need—for this really will not work unless there is a stimulus in mind and spirit, which they did not want, of course—to go to Karlsbad or Marienbad or to Wiesbaden, and there they would get their kidney system into a better condition again. As time went on, this business, where it was really always the abdomen for which people would take the cure, became a superstition.

Now you know what this was really about was that people should have developed an interest inwardly in activity, stimulus in mind and spirit. This is what they should have been looking for, for if there is no stimulus in mind and spirit at all the disorders which develop in the kidney region cannot be restored to order. And in the twentieth century the situation then was that all the people who should really have been thinking by means of their souls were merely thinking by means of their kidneys.

Gentlemen, a time will come when people will see more clearly, and the few who manage to keep a clear mind in the general confusion will say to themselves: 'What was it really, this great war at the beginning of the twentieth century? It was a kidney disease in the human race.'

You see, what matters is that we really discover the way things go together in reality. Then we'll know how to bring up young people, we'll know that it is quite unacceptable to teach them only the things they are being taught today. We'll know that we must use those wonderful years of youth, of childhood, to teach the young people something quite different. But the people of the nineteenth century were actually proud to say they knew nothing of soul and spirit, and the result was that this gigantic kidney disease developed which is still skulking about the world today.

At a future time people will ask: 'What clouded the minds of people at the beginning of the twentieth century? A kidney disease that went unnoticed.' This is what concerns us so deeply today. And we can decide to go in two directions. We can let things go on the way they are going now. The doctors will then have a great deal to do one day. People will be less and less able to use their common sense. They will come to think less and less of making sensible arrangements that will take them forward. The whole of the senseless way of going about things, which has really developed to a very high degree today, will reach its highest level. People will be weak, and the physicians will examine their urine. They'll find all kinds of nice things in there, you know—proteins, sugar, and so on. They will only discover that the kidneys are not functioning properly. For when you find all those things in the urine, the kidneys are not functioning properly. And they'll find: 'Strange, isn't it, that the world has never before produced as much sugar and protein as it does now!' But they won't know the real situation. At best some clever, crafty industrialist will get the idea of using the vast amount of sugar produced in his industry. So that is one direction.

The other direction is this. Let us stop talking about all the external arrangements and systems to begin with, and reform the people's life in mind and spirit, giving people decent ideas relating to the spirit. People will then discover how they should do things in outer terms so as to live properly. For it will only be if people have sensible ideas that we can hope they will be able to live the right kind of life in outer terms.

But, gentlemen, we'll not be able, of course, to achieve this by going on the way we have until now. It calls for a radical rethinking. And today's world will not get better by any kind of outer measures, but only if people begin to know something. You see, materialists imagine they know a lot about physical matter. But this is exactly what they know nothing about. This is the strange thing, that materialists do not know anything about physical matter. They will say for example: 'What has brought about this misery? Well, the misery is due to economic conditions.'

Well, you see, that is just like someone saying: What causes poverty? Poverty is caused by impoverishment. Just another word, isn't it? Economic misery is just another word for what we have today. It is just words, for people have created the economic misery, and man creates this because of the way he is. Today incredibly many people feel the urge to be racketeers, let us say. And all this is simply because the part of the human organism which is of a lower order and is setting the pace today should really be given a stimulus in mind and spirit. Materialists will merely say: 'Oh yes, this part of the organism which is of a lower order is important!' But we only realize why it is important through things we learn through mind and spirit. And so materialists are good at taking one's blood pressure, but they do not know what it means if the blood pressure is too high or too low, and that a low blood pressure means that the astral body and the I do not enter sufficiently into the physical body, whilst high blood pressure means that the astral body and the I enter too deeply into the physical body.

And today it is indeed the case that in the course of human history the blood pressure has very slowly and gradually grown too much, and people suffer from high blood pressure today. It really is the case that when a person wakes up today his blood pressure is too high; this then snatches at the astral body and the I, as it were. The result of this, of the blood pressure snatching at the astral body and the I, is that they go completely into the physical body. This has to be balanced out again by giving the person mental stimulus, so that he really takes some interest in things of the mind and spirit.

It is not enough to learn anthroposophical theories. If one only knows anthroposophical theories, it is merely the way people learned to read in the nineteenth century, the way they took up ideas in a superficial way. It should not be like this. The things we take in should be such that we make them our own inwardly.

You see, gentlemen, if you have been in stale air and go out into the open air, you take pleasure in this inwardly. And in the same way you should feel pleasure inwardly, experience interest, when you leave all the stuff that is called knowledge today and come into the fresh air of the soul, being told things of the spirit once more. Inner gladness, deep interest, is what we need for the life of the mind and spirit. And when people are full of interest the blood which has grown too heavy—the blood has grown too heavy in everyone today—will grow lighter again. The kidneys are made spiritual and the result will be that things will be better in the world when people want to know something again about the things that have been taken away from them for centuries. This is something one has to say over and over again, something I have to tell you in every possible way, for it is important for us to look the truth in the face and not let ourselves be blinded by science that is not science. I therefore wanted to add a few things today to the things I had told you on the previous occasions. Much can still be said about these things, but they will get clearer all the time.

We have to have a short break now in the series of talks. I have to go to England and will get someone to let you know when we can continue with this.

But what I wanted to make clear to you, especially at the end today, is how the great events in human history really have to do with what human beings are inwardly, and that this is the starting-point. Humanity therefore must first of all be enlightened, but enlightened about real things, not empty phrases. So this is what it is.