This volume contains a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner to people working on the construction of the Goetheanum, a great building of molded concrete that Rudolf Steiner designed and which was to replace the first Goetheanum that was burned on Dec. 31, 1922. The workmen had approached Steiner and asked that he speak to them about questions that interested them. The lectures are very casual and often take the form of a conversation, with the workmen asking first one and then another question and Steiner responding impromptu.
Steiner had never intended that this material be published as it did not have the carefully structured character of his books or even of his more formal lectures, and the reader of this volume must bear this fact in mind. Moreover, the readers unfamiliar with Steiner's fundamental writings are advised to first take up the study of either An Outline of Occult Science or Theosophy. In these works they will find a discussion of both the basic findings of the science of the spirit and of the scientific method employed in spiritual research. An understanding of these writings is absolutely necessary in forming a judgment regarding the soundness of the information conveyed by Steiner in a volume such as this one.
And this volume in particular contains certain statements that can all too easily be misunderstood and lead those who have not made a thorough study of the methods of the science of the spirit to pronounce hasty judgments about its validity. In particular there is a statement about the planet Mars in the tenth lecture that is problematic in this respect:
“Mars consists primarily of a more or less fluid mass, not as fluid as our water but, shall we say, more like the consistency of jelly, or something of that kind.”
In the light of the fact that an object weighing over 200 lbs landed on Mars and sent back pictures by means of equipment that has proved effective in similar situations and that these pictures show Mars to be a rocky desert, the above statement of Rudolf Steiner can only be judged inaccurate. But the matter is far more complex than the simple juxtaposition of these two statements suggests.
To form any judgment about these two statements we must have some sense of how Steiner reached his conclusion. We know that he was able to enter higher states of consciousness that he labeled Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. In the state of Imagination the human soul moves within a realm that can be compared with a two-dimensional space of color images. In true Imagination, consciousness does not experience itself as observing these images from outside the two-dimensional realm but experiences itself as spread out over this two-dimensional realm and as interwoven with all the images. Before even elementary observations can be made with accuracy, the soul must undergo considerable development in the direction of self-knowledge so as not to confuse itself with the objective Imaginations.
The development of Inspiration and Intuition then allows one to interpret what is experienced. Even after these states have been achieved, it constitutes a considerable task to direct one's gaze toward specific Imaginations. In particular, Steiner makes clear that it is possible to find within the Imaginative world the inner realities that relate to specific outer events in space and time. However, the quality of the Imaginative world is movement. Space and time are both derived from movement as was already known to Aristotle who characterized time as the number of movement relative to space.
Finding one's way in Imagination to a specific time with regard to a specific spatial reality, for example, Mars as of the time of the lecture may have been particularly difficult. The description Steiner gives of Mars is quite consistent with his general picture of the evolution of the cosmos, only it appears to be more characteristic of the earlier condition of the world. Readers familiar with his evolutionary picture will know that he views the world evolution as a gradual condensation of solid forms out of originally much softer forms. In earlier ages a more watery condition was the densest condition obtained by matter. Still earlier worlds achieved only the state of air or gas. And most problematic for materialistic thinkers is the idea that the first material condition, which is preceded by purely soul and spiritual ones, is that of pure warmth, radiant heat.
It is possible that Steiner did make a mistake in his location of the actual time in his description of Mars as it appears in lecture 10 in this volume. Another possibility is that he was unable to adequately translate the living images of the Imaginative world into conceptual form in this particular case. Incidentally, the reader should be aware that this translation is by no means an easy task and that Steiner is the first occultist to accomplish this work on a vast scale.
A third possibility was suggested by Dr. Unger in a lecture delivered in Spring Valley in 1985; namely, that Steiner did not even want to fully translate the imaginative picture because he might have wished, in view of the coarse popularization of science, to give his listeners a true if old spiritually valid picture. He might have done this to insulate the souls of the workmen from the deadening influence that materialism works on the soul in the life after death. In considering this possibility one should realize that only the workmen were allowed to attend these lectures.
A final consideration which could account for the discrepancy between Steiner's statement and the one resulting from the recent space mission is that there is after all a time difference between these two events of some 60 years. Though most people would find it far-fetched, it is possible that Mars actually went through a considerable condensation over that period. On this point Dr. Unger, in the same lecture, observed that the intensity of materialistic thinking in our time is a force leading to such densification of the cosmos.
While the above thoughts do not offer a clear resolution of the discrepancy, they do point to the complexity of the issue, and they also should make clear that even if Steiner was not completely accurate on this point, it does not constitute a challenge to the totality of his work, a work that has born fruit in many practical applications such as the Waldorf Schools, Bio-Dynamic agriculture and anthroposophical medicine, to mention a few. These practical applications were all the result of his spiritual research, and their world-wide success and acceptance lends support to the validity of the underlying method out of which they arose.
With these thoughts in mind and an understanding of Steiner's basic writings the reader will find in this volume a fascinating collection of Rudolf Steiner's ideas. He will also meet a very lively mode of presentation and an informality which is not found in Steiner's other works.
Stephen E. Usher