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  True Knowledge of the Human being as a Foundation for the Art of Medicine

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By: Rudolf Steiner, Ph. D. and Ita Wegman, M.D.

Fundamentals of Therapy

An Extension of the Art of Healing
through Spiritual Knowledge

Rudolf Steiner, Ph. D.
Ita Wegman, M. D. (Zurich)
Authorized Translation from
the German
First printing by Anthroposophical Publishing Co.
London 1925


True Knowledge of the Human being as a Foundation for the art of Medicine

This book will indicate new possibilities for the science and art of Medicine. The rea­der must, however, be prepared to enter into the points of view which guided us when the medical conceptions here described came into being. If he cannot do so, he will not be in a position to form a proper judgment of what is brought forward in these pages.

There is no question of opposition to the Medicine that works with the recognized scientific methods of today. The latter, in its principles, is fully recognized by us; and we hold that what we have to give should be used in medical practice by those alone who are in the position of fully qualified doctors in accordance with the recognized principles.

On the other hand, to all that can be known about the human being with the methods that are recognized today, we add a further knowledge, whose discoveries are made by different methods. And out of this extended knowledge of the World and Man, we find ourselves compelled to work for an extension of the art of Medicine.

Fundamentally speaking, the recognized Medicine of today can offer no objection to what we have to say, seeing that we on our side do not deny its principles. He alone could reject our efforts a priori, who would require us not only to affirm his science but to adduce no further knowledge extending beyond the limits of his own.

In the Anthroposophy founded by Rudolf Steiner we see this extension of our know­ledge of the World and Man. To the knowledge of the physical man, which is alone accessi­ble to the natural-scientific methods of today, Anthroposophy adds that of the spiritual man. Nor does it merely proceed by a process of reflective thought from knowledge of the Physical to knowledge of the Spiritual. For on such a path, when all is said, one only finds oneself face to face with hypotheses more or less well conceived—hypotheses of which no one can prove that there is aught in reality to correspond to them.

Anthroposophy, before making any statements about the Spiritual, evolves and ela­borates the methods which give it the right to do so. Some insight will be gained into the nature of these methods if the following be considered: All the results of the accepted Science of our time are derived in the last resort from the impressions of the human senses. For to whatever degree, in experiment or in observation with the help of instruments, man may extend the sphere of what is yielded by his senses, nothing in essence new is added by these means to his experience of that world in which the senses place him.

But his thinking too, in as much as he applies it in his researches of the physical world, adds nothing new to what is given through the senses. In thinking he associates, analyzes the sense impressions, and so forth, in order to reach the laws (the Laws of Nature); yet the man who researches into this world must say to himself: "This thinking, as it wells up from within me, adds nothing real to what is already real in the world of sense."

Now all this at once becomes different if we no longer stop short at the thinking acti­vity which is yielded, to begin with, by ordinary life and education. This thinking can be strengthened, vitalized within itself. We place some simple, easily encompassed thought in the centre of consciousness and, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, concentrate all the power of the soul on the one conception. Then, as a muscle grows strong when exerted again and again in the direction of the same force, our force of soul grows strong when exercised in this way with respect to that sphere of existence which otherwise holds sway in Thought. It should again be emphasized that these exercises must be based on simple, easily encompassed thoughts. For in carrying out the exercises the soul must not be expo­sed to any kind of influence from the unconscious or the semi-conscious. (Here we can but indicate the principle; a fuller description, and directions showing how such exercises should be done in individual cases, will be found in Rudolf Steiner's books, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment, An Outline of Occult Science, and other works in Anthroposophy.)

It is easy to make objection: that anyone who thus gives himself up with all his might to certain thoughts placed in the focus of his consciousness will thereby expose himself to all manner of auto-suggestion and the like, and that he will simply enter a realm of fan­tasy. But Anthroposophy shows how the exercises should be done from the outset, so that the objection loses its validity. It shows the way to advance within the sphere of conscious­ness, step by step and fully wide-awake in carrying out the exercises, as in the solving of an arithmetical or geometrical problem. At no point in solving a problem of Arithmetic or Geometry can our consciousness slide into unconscious regions; nor can it do so during the practices here indicated, provided always that the anthroposophical directions are pro­perly observed.

In the course of such training we attain a strengthening of the force of thought of which we had not the remotest idea before. Like a new content of our human being we feel the force of thought holding sway within us. And with this new content of our own human being, there is revealed at the same time a World-content which, though we might perhaps have divined its existence, was unknown to us by experience till now.

If in a moment's introspection we consider our everyday activity of thought, we find that the thoughts are pale and shadow-like beside the impressions that our senses give us. What we perceive in the now strengthened force of thought is not pale or shadow-like by any means. It is full of inner content, vividly real and graphic; it is, indeed, of a reality far more intense than the contents of our sense-impressions.

A new world begins to dawn for the man who has thus enhanced the force of his perceptive faculty. He, who till now was only able to perceive in the world of the senses, learns to perceive in this new world; and as he does so he discovers that all the Laws of Nature known to him before hold good in the physical world only. It is of the essence of the world he has now entered, that its laws are different, nay, the very opposite of those of the physical world. In this world, for instance, the law of the force of attraction of the Earth does not hold good. On the contrary, another force emerges, working not from the centre of the Earth outward, but inversely. Its direction is from the circumference of the Universe towards the centre of the Earth. And so it is, in like manner, with the other forces of the physical world.

The faculty of man to perceive in this world, attainable as it is by exercise and trai­ning, is called in Anthroposophy the "Imaginative" faculty of knowledge. "Imaginative" — not that we have to do with "fancies" or imaginations in that sense; the word is used because the content of consciousness is filled with living pictures, instead of the shadows of thought.

In sense-perception we feel, as an immediate experience, that we are in a world of rea­lity, and so we do in the activity of soul which is here called "Imaginative Knowledge". The world to which this knowledge relates is called in anthroposophy the "etheric" world. This is not to suggest the hypothetical ether of modern physics; it is something really seen in the Spirit. The name "etheric" is given to it in keeping with older, instinctive and dream­like, conceptions of that world. By the side of what can now be known with full clarity, those old conceptions no longer have a scientific value; but if we wish to designate a thing we have to choose some name.

Within the etheric world an etheric bodily nature of man is perceptible, existing in addition to the physical bodily nature.

This "etheric body" is to be found in its essential nature in the plant-world also. Plants, too, have their etheric body. In point of fact the physical laws only hold good for the world of lifeless mineral nature.

The plant-world is possible on Earth through the fact that there are substances in the earthly realm which do not remain enclosed within, or limited to, the physical laws. These substances can lay aside the whole complex of physical law and assume an opposite man­ner of working. The physical laws work, as it were, streaming outward from the Earth; the etheric, streaming toward the Earth from all directions of the World-circumference. Man cannot understand how the plant-world comes into being, till he sees in it the inter­play of the Earthly and physical with the Cosmic and "ethereal".

So it is with the etheric body of man himself. Through the etheric body something is taking place in man, which is not a straightforward continuation of the laws and wor­kings of the physical body's forces, but rests on quite a different foundation. In effect the physical substances, as they pour into the etheric realm, divest themselves to begin with of their physical forces.

The forces that hold sway in the etheric body are active at the beginning of man's life on Earth, and most distinctly during the embryo period; they are the forces of growth and formative development. A portion of them, emancipated in the further course of earthly life from this formative activity, then becomes the force of thought. They are the forces which bring forth, for the ordinary consciousness, the shadow-like world of man's thoughts.

It is of the utmost importance to know that the ordinary thought-forces of man are the refined forces of bodily growth and formation. In the forming and growing of the hu­man body, a Spiritual manifests itself. For it appears as such in the further course of life, in the spiritual force of thought.

The force of thought is but a part of the human force of growth and formation that works and weaves in the etheric. The other part remains true to the purpose it fulfils in the beginning of man's life. But the human being continues to evolve even when his forma­tion and growth have reached an advanced stage — when they are to a certain degree com­plete. It is due to this alone that the etheric spiritual force, which lives and moves in the organic nature of the body, is able to emerge in later life as the force of thought.

Thus the formative (or plastic) force, appearing from the one side in the soul-content of our Thought, is revealed to the "imaginative" spiritual vision from the other side as an etheric-spiritual reality.

We may now follow the substantial nature of the earthly substances where they enter the etheric process, and we find: Wherever they do so the earthly substances themselves assume a form of being which estranges them from the physical nature. And while they are thus estranged, they enter into a world where the Spiritual comes to meet them, trans­forming them into its own being.

This way of ascending to the etherically living nature of man is very different thing from the unscientific postulation of a "vital force" which was customary even to the middle of the nineteenth century in order to explain the living body. Here it is a question of the actual seeing — that is to say, the spiritual perception of a reality which is present, no less than the physical body, in man and in all living creatures. To reach this sight of the etheric we do not merely think on vaguely with the ordinary kind of thought; nor do we "think out" another world by dint of fancy. We extend the human powers of cognition by an exact and scientific process; and the straightforward result of this extension is to gain ex­perience of an extended world.

The exercises leading to higher powers of perception can be carried farther. Just as we exert a heightened force in concentrating on thoughts placed deliberately in the centre of our consciousness, so we can apply a greater force again to suppress the Imaginations — the pictures of a spiritual-etheric reality — attained by the former process. We then reach a condition of completely emptied consciousness. We are awake and aware, but our awareness to begin with has no content. (Further details are to be found in the above-mentioned books.)

But this awareness without content does not remain so. Our consciousness, emptied as it is of any physical or even etherically pictorial impressions, becomes filled with a con­tent that pours into it from a real spiritual world, even as the impressions from the physi­cal world pour into the physical senses.

By Imaginative Knowledge we learn to know a second member of the human being; by the emptied consciousness becoming filled with spiritual content we learn to know a third. Anthroposophy calls the power of knowledge that comes about in this way "Know­ledge by Inspiration". (The reader should not let these terms offend him. They are borro­wed from instinctive ways of looking into spiritual worlds which belonged to more primiti­ve ages, but the sense in which they are here used is stated scientifically.) The world to which man gains entry by "Inspiration" is called in Anthroposophy the "astral world".

Speaking, in the manner here explained, of an "etheric world," we refer to the in­fluences that work from the circumference of the Universe towards the Earth. When we go on to speak of the "astral world," we proceed, according to the perceptions of Inspired Consciousness, from the influences from the World-circumference to the spiritual Beings who reveal themselves in these influences — just as the materials of the Earth reveal their nature in the forces that go outward from the Earth. We speak of definite spiritual Beings working from the universal spaces, just as we speak of the stars and constellations when with the eye of sense we watch the heavens at nighttime. Hence the expression "astral world". In the astral world man bears the third member of his human nature, namely his astral body.

Into the astral body, too, the substantial natures of the Earth must flow. They are thereby estranged still more from their physical nature. Man, as we saw, has the etheric body in common with the world of plants; he has the astral body in common with the world of animals.

The essentially human being, whereby man is raised above and beyond the animal cre­ation, is known by a form of knowledge still higher than Inspiration. At this point Anthro­posophy speaks of Intuition. In Inspiration a World of spiritual Beings is revealed; in the act of knowledge which we here call Intuition, the relation of the human being to that grows more intimate. He now brings to fullest consciousness within him that which is purely Spi­ritual, and of which he knows — immediately in the conscious experience of it — that it has nothing to do with any experience conveyed through the bodily nature. He transplants himself into a new life which can only be described as a life of the human Spirit among other Spirit-Beings. In Inspiration the spiritual Beings of the World reveal themselves; through Intuition we ourselves live with the Beings.

In this way we come to recognize the fourth member of the human being — the essen­tial "I" or "Ego". Once again we become aware how the substantial nature of the Earth, in entering the life and being of the "Ego", is estranged still more from its physical form of existence. The nature which it here assumes — the "organization of the Ego" — is, to begin with, that form of earthly substance in which the latter is farthest estranged from its earthly, physical character.

In the human organization what we thus learn to know as the "astral body" and "Ego" is not bound to the physical body in the same way as is the etheric body. Inspiration and Intuition show how in sleep the astral body and the Ego separate from the physical and etheric; it is only in the waking state that there is the full mutual permeation of the four members to form the single and united nature of man.

In sleep the physical and the etheric human body are left behind in the physical and etheric world. But they are not in the same position as the physical and etheric body of a plant or plant-like being. For they bear within them the after-influences of the astral and the Ego-nature. Indeed, the moment they would no longer bear these influences within them, the human being must awaken. A human physical body must never be subject to the mere­ly physical, nor a human etheric body to the mere etheric influences. Under such influen­ces alone they would disintegrate.

Yet another thing is revealed by Inspiration and Intuition. The physical substantial natures, as they pass on to live and move in the etheric, are carried to a higher form of organization. And Life itself depends upon the fact that the organic body, freed from a mere earthly form of existence, is built up by forces working inward from the Universe beyond the Earth. But while this upbuilding process leads to Life, it does not lead to Cons­ciousness nor to Self-Consciousness. The astral body must build up its own organization within the physical and the etheric, and for the "Ego-organization" the Ego must do the same. But this upbuilding process is not accompanied by any conscious unfolding of the soul's life. For the latter to ensue, type upbuilding process must be opposed by one of de­molition. The astral body builds up its organs; it destroys them again, and in so doing ena­bles the activity of Feeling to unfold in consciousness of soul. The Ego builds up its "Ego-organization"; it destroys it again, when in Self-consciousness the activity of Will becomes effective.

Thus the Spirit (the mental life) unfolds in human nature, not on the basis of con­structive activities of substance, but of destructive. At whatsoever point in man the Spirit is to work, material substance must withdraw from its activity.

Even the rise of Thought in the etheric body rests not on a further development but on a destruction of etheric life and being. Conscious thinking takes place, not in the actual processes of growth and formation, but in processes of deformation — fading, dying pro­cesses — which are continually interwoven with the etheric life.

In the act of conscious thinking, the thoughts loose themselves from bodily formation to emerge as formations in the soul, in the conscious experience of man.

With the foundation of such a knowledge of man, we can now observe the human being, and we become aware that the nature of the whole man, or of any single organ, is only seen with clarity by recognizing how the physical, the etheric, the astral body, and the Ego are at work there. There are organs in which the Ego is paramountly active; in others the Ego works but little, and the physical organization is predominant.

The healthy human nature can only be understood by recognizing how the higher mem­bers of man's being take possession of the earthly substance, compelling it into their servi­ce. In this connection we must also recognize how the earthly substance becomes transfor­med when it enters the sphere of action of the higher members. And so it is with the man diseased. We only understand him when we perceive how the organism as a whole, or a certain organ or series of organs, become affected when the mode of action of the higher members falls into irregularity. We shall only be able to think of remedies when we evolve a knowledge of how some earthly substance or earthly process is related to the Etheric, to the Astral, to the Ego. For only then, by introducing an earthly substance to the human body or by treatment with an earthly process of activity, shall we be able to achieve the desired result, enabling the higher members of the human being to unfold again unhinde­red, or providing the earthly substance of the body — in the added medicament or treat­ment — with the assistance it may need, to bring it into the path where it becomes a basis for the earthly working of the Spiritual.

Man is what he is by virtue of body, etheric body, soul (astral body), and Ego (Spirit). He must, in health, be seen and understood from the aspect of these his members; in disea­se he must be observed in the disturbance of their equilibrium; and for his healing we must find the remedies that can restore the balance.

A medical conception built on such foundations is to be indicated in these pages.

(To be continued)


Note by Translator. Dr. Steiner uses the identical words — Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition —in the German original of this and other anthroposophical works. Occuring as they do more frequent­ly in English in the colloquial meanings of ordinary speech, we distinguish them here by a capital let­ter when used in the technical sense of Anthroposophy to denote the higher powers of cognition

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