The Threefold Nature of the Human Organism

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By: Dr. med. J.J. Kuehne

Conventional medicine sees humans as determined by physi­ological/chemical and physical phenomena, measurable like speci­mens in a test tube. Accordingly, since soul-spiritual faculties are rarely or never measur­able, their relationship to the physiological-chemical or physical attributes is largely un­known.

The anthroposophical medical view re­gards the human more holistically, includ­ing a soul and spirit within the body, and considers that soul/spiritual forces penetrate and influence the physical into every last cell. By far the larger part of these forces work totally outside consciousness. Only the small­est part is used for conscious soul/spiritual activity. We will describe these forces in greater detail below.

Anthroposophical medicine concurs with conventional medicine in its natural scientific view, but expands upon this to in­clude a detailed view of soul and spiritual forces, recognizing that they affect the physi­cal and physiological/chemical body and are a prerequisite for the state of being human in health as in illness. A physician trained in anthroposophically extended medicine at­tempts to observe these forces in his/her pa­tient and to use the results in treatment.

In his book Riddles of the Soul (1917) Rudolf Steiner first proposed the idea of the threefold human being. Before him the Ger­man poet Schiller, and poet/scientist Goethe had developed similar themes. Understanding the concept provides a basis for a comprehen­sion of what anthroposophical medicine is.

Seen anatomically, the body consists of three main areas of function, two of which are in polarity. These are the skull and ab­dominal cavities, with the chest cavity situ­ated between them.

Anatomically the skull cavity includes a mass of sensory organs (eyes, ears, organ of balance, taste buds, olfactory epithelia) and nerve tissue (the central nervous sys­tem with midbrain and brain stem). Thus the anatomical region of the head can appropriately be designated Nerve-Sense System.

The abdominal cavity is anatomically characterized by concentration of metabolic organs: intestine, liver, spleen, kidneys, re­productive organs. The limbs are activated by muscles whose tissue is also highly meta­bolic. Together, they can be designated as the Metabolic-Limb System.

The heart and its vessels, and the lungs, fill the chest cavity. These organs are marked by rhythm (systole and diastole, pulse and breath). This region can be named the Rhythmic System.

Of course all three systems interpen­etrate each other (i.e. nerve tissue in the foot), but there can be no doubt where the highest concentration of each activity is lo­cated.

The above descriptions are largely anatomical, but the three systems also have significant functional differences.

The nerve-sense system has character­istics not found in the other two domains. The brain's nerve cells no longer divide af­ter completing their growth. They largely lose a significant life process, namely the ability to reproduce. This shows itself in an extreme need for oxygen; if they are de­prived of it for more than six minutes these cells die. In the sense organs another life process, blood circulation through the tis­sues tends to diminish. There is a mini­mum in the visual part of the eye whose transparency would be hindered by blood flowing through vessels. These sense or­gans are nourished through diffusion.

Altogether the nerve-sense system mani­fests a distinct tendency for living tissue to deposit out into a more mineral-like state. An example is the brain sand of the epiphy­sis, another example is the statoliths in the organs of balance.

A third attribute of the nerve-sense system is its pronounced formative prin­ciple. For example, its delicate nerves ex­tend over large areas without tearing. An­other example is the pronounced struc­turing of the sense organs. The eye is simi­lar to a camera, the hearing apparatus is housed in an intricately formed bony structure similar in form to a snail's shell.

In comparison the metabolic-limb system is strikingly opposite. The repro­ductive ability of its organs is impressive. In no other part of the human organism is there such joy in proliferation. Daily, millions of cells replace each other. The most extraordinary example is the creation of a new human life. The child's growth in the womb is only possible thanks to ex­traordinary cell growth and reproduction.

The circulation of blood, reduced in the nerve-sense system, is likewise en­hanced greatly in the metabolic-limb sys­tem. Nowhere in the body is blood sup­ply as intensive as in the digestive cavity.

Formative force, on the other hand, while not absent, retreats into the back­ground in the metabolic-limb system. In both abdomen and limbs the organs con­stantly change both form and position (kidneys, intestines, musculature).

Warmth, another function, plays a, great role in abdomen and limbs; much less so in the head region.

Movement is characteristic for the meta­bolic-limb system.

Major movement occurs in digestion and is continued in the intestinal walls and liver. Muscle activity engenders movement. The head needs rest in order to focus; there, move­ment recedes strongly. This explains why the head is sensitive to sudden shaking or assaults from outside (concussion).   -

The rhythmic system is distinguished by its placement between the other two, polar­ized systems. Through the circulation of blood and through breathing, it connects with, and balances, both. We observe this anatomically and functionally. For example, the human heart muscle belongs to the metabolic-limb system through its enormous musculature and metabolic activity. At the same time it is gov­erned by electrical activity like that of the cen­tral nervous system. The nodes, the pacemaker of the heart, send impulses which affect the right and left chambers, stimulating heart beat. In the heart valves we have a tissue not directly served by blood vessels, but rather nourished, by diffusion. In this tissue metabolic activ­ity is greatly reduced, which also makes it prone to calcification at a certain age. Here we encounter diminished life forces again.

Cooler blood, streaming from the head interpenetrates in the heart with somewhat warmer blood coming up from below.

So far we have studied primarily anatomi­cal and functional aspects. A further aspect shows how closely soul-spiritual capacities are united with the three systems discussed.

We know that thinking is based in the central nervous system, and that the brain is the instrument upon which thinking plays. The metabolic region is the arena of the will, activated when we move arms and legs. The metabolic-limb system is the in­strument employed by the will for its real­ization.

Feelings, as we know them, are accom­panied by heart/circulatory phenomena. We blush when ashamed or overjoyed, and our heart beats faster. It beats more slowly when we pale, in fright. Lie detectors bear witness to the subtle difference in breath­ing which occurs as soon as an untruth is spoken. The circulatory and breathing rhyth­mic system is the instrument upon which feeling plays.

The cause of many illnesses can be un­derstood as a displacement of forces from their main functional area. For example metabolic forces, in all their intensity, can become dislo­cated to areas they don't belong to such as the nervous system. Conversely the forces of the nerve sense system can become overly active in the metabolic system where they can cause havoc.

One illness, caused by powerful meta­bolic processes in the nervous system, is mi­graine. The vessels in the head behave like abdominal vessels, sensitively reacting to an abdominal hormone (serotonin) by con­tracting, which causes headache. Arthrosis is a nerve-sense process occurring in the metabolic-limb sphere. Life processes are di­minished, resulting in hardening of carti­lage with accompanying bony deposits. When structure and formative nerve-sense forces recede or are too weak in an organ, a proliferation of cells can occur (tumor growth).

Studying the above three illnesses ac­cording to threefold principle leads us to the understanding of their treatment.

The nerve-sense forces are supported, and metabolism forced back, by applying ice packs for migraine.

The overly strong nerve-sense processes that occur in arthrosis are countered by ac­tivating metabolism through warmth appli­cations (external wraps and baths).

The weakened formative principle and proliferating tendency of cells is positively in­fluenced by treatment with mistletoe whole ex­tract, which activates formative forces as it dampens overabundant metabolism and cell activity. This treatment is enhanced through artistic therapies. They stimulate harmoniza­tion of all three regions: perception (thinking) combines with experience (feeling) and results in artistic action (will).

To further understand tumor illness and its treatment the threefold principle can be further expanded to a fourfold image of the human being in health and illness. This will be continued in the next issue of LILI­POH.

Dr. Kuehne is one of the physicians at the Lukas Cancer Clinic in Switzerland where he is involved in patient care and research.

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