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A READER'S JOURNAL Anthroposophy A Fragment, GA# 45
by Rudolf Steiner

Published by Anthroposophic Press, NY in 1992
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2000


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Sometimes the important things about reading a certain book are the insights that happen to me spontaneously that are obviously or maybe not so obviously connected with the book. That happened with this book by Rudolf Steiner. It was a book he started, but never completed. So difficult was his task of converting his insights into words, not only did he never finish it (thus the subtitle), but he actually re-wrote some pages several times. The unfinished manuscript was finally published in English only recently together with his multiple renditions of certain pages. The subject of the book is the twelve senses of the human body. Yes, twelve senses, and his way of talking about them makes reading of this book rather like walking across a tightrope - one focuses so much on balancing concepts just to get across the wire that it is difficult to remember what happened during the trip. One can always go back across the wire, but once again one finds that a similar thing happens: one arrives at the other side, breathlessly, with only a little more to remember. For this reason and others, I'd like to start off this review by discussing an insight that came to me one day while I was pondering, as I usually do, the latest book I had been reading in the shower. I call these episodes "board meetings" - as they provide me with uninterrupted time that I can think and plan.

I had just read the following passage before going into the shower.

[page 131] Let us no further assume that the outer world fully fills, as it were, the I's experience with what it has sent inward; then everything inside will have the particularity of an outside, even though it is an inner experience.

This is exactly what happens in a real-time computer, such as the ones that I programmed to operate and control a large petro-chemical plant in Taft, Louisiana. I noted the analogy and, in my board meeting, a dramatic insight came to me which can be stated thus: The spiritual world is to the material world as computer hardware is to its software. This seems backwards at first glance, but there is a deep meaning to be discerned from this revelation. The hardware must come before the software - that no one would dispute. Same with the spiritual world - it must come before the physical world as the physical world is layered on top of, is manufactured from the essence of the spiritual world beginning with the work of the Thrones in the sacrificing of the substance of their bodies in the creation of Old Saturn to start the evolution of our local solar system.

[page 170, a re-write of page 100] We are present with our I in everything there is to experience in the sense world, and our soul world develops within the I on the basis of sensory experiences. We are not present at the building up of our sensory organism. Reflection, however, will tell us that existence cannot stop at what we perceive with our senses, because without an existence that is imperceptible to the senses, we could have no senses to use for sensory perception.

The key portion of the above quote for me was that "that existence cannot stop at what we perceive with our senses, because without an existence that is imperceptible to the senses, we could have no senses to use for sensory perception." I knew that software in a computer cannot detect the existence of the hardware that runs it! It can presuppose the hardware's existence, but the very instruction it would use to detect the hardware would not execute if it were not for the existence of the hardware. The same is true for the material world. Beings in the material world cannot make a test inside of the material world to test for the existence of the spiritual world. If they make any test of the material world, they exist, just like the hardware must exist before a computer can run any instruction! Human beings can suppose what might happen in a spiritual world, they can presuppose its existence, which is called faith, but they cannot test for the existence of the spiritual world using material world senses, any more than computer software can test for the existence of the central processing unit that runs all of its instructions.

Such persons, who claim to have proof of the existence of the spiritual world because of ghosts, table-tipping, seance appearances, etc., are simply providing easily refutable evidence of the existence of the spiritual world because of the simple fact that all their evidence is material sensory evidence, and skeptics can always dredge up alternate explanations for the evidence.

Before software can be run, there must be computer hardware, but that by itself is not enough. There must be a source of power for the computer. In addition, at the time the software is to be run, someone must turn the power on to the computer. Without peripherals, the computer with power applied can circulate electricity throughout its circuitry, hum, create some heat, and blink a few lights. Add peripherals and device control input-output software (called drivers), and the computer becomes animated, is able to move things around - like print heads, paper, scan heads, spin CD's, hard drives, and floppy disks, etc, i.e., movement by the computer in the external world requires the existence of this next level of devices and basic software. It is only at the next level that a computer system actually performs useful work: application software. When application software is loaded into a computer and executed, the movement of the disks as well as the circulation of electricity in the motherboard of the computer begins to make sense and perform the functions that justify its very existence.

Before one, as a human being, can do useful work, one must have an I-body to decide what to do and initiate the appropriate actions. But before one can initiate any actions, one must be awake and capable of locomotion. Before one is awake, one is lying in a bed, heart beating, body breathing, but no useful motion is possible. If one is not breathing and one's heart is stopped, one soon becomes an inert body, a corpse of pure material world stuff which will soon decompose. If we go backwards in the above scheme in this hypothetical way we find the following sequence which exactly mirrors that of the computer's evolution: One is a corpse (motherboard) and heart beating and breathing with all organs functioning begins (someone powers on the motherboard). In this state the human body has an etheric body that has been added to the dead corpse of the physical body. Next we plug in some peripheral devices to our motherboard, add some software drivers, and when we run the diagnostics, the computer begins to motivate or move things around. At this level, one, as a the human being awakes from sleep, slowly pulls oneself to one's feet and moves across the room. The astral body of the human body has returned to it and motivation or locomotion is possible for it. Not much thinking or planning going on for a few seconds or minutes, depending on how fast one wakes up. In the final stage the alarm goes off, and one remembers an early meeting with one's boss! The I, I-body, or Ego-body is activated and motion begins in earnest. Clothes are chosen for the meeting, bathroom activities are expedited, and nourishment is consumed in the kitchen. The equivalent of this stage for the computer system is the loading and execution of an application program to perform some useful task like printing an early morning report of the overnight activity on the company's global website. Careful calculations are made, graphs are created, and the printer spews out colorful diagrams that contain valuable information for the morning meeting.

Thus the metaphor is complete. To summarize:

Human Body _______Human Being Status

Physical Body       an immobile, unmoving corpse

Etheric Body       an immobile, but living and breathing human asleep

Astral Body        a moving, feeling human being

I-Body              a moving, feeling, thinking and motivated human being

Human ________ Computer System Equivalent

Physical Body        the computer chips and integrated circuitry [motherboard]

Etheric Body        this is what the motherboard becomes when the power is applied to it. The etheric body is the electricity circulating in the memory and processor chips. Nothing visible moves. Just some heat and blinking lights.

Astral Body        this is what the computer becomes when modems, printers, peripheral controllers, CD-ROM's, keyboards, Scanner's, monitors, etc are connected to the motherboard. Now things move and happen that is visible outside of the motherboard.

I-Body              this is what the computer becomes when operating systems and applications software are added onto the computer hardware.

Guardian Angel       this is the first level of the supersensible computer world. A human being who exists outside of not detectable by the computer (according to Turing's Test) and therefore supersensible to it who powers on the computer, presses the keys on the keyboard, places floppies and CD's into their readers, adds paper to the printer, provides new data and programming from time-to-time, and performs useful activities with the computer.

If you read Anthroposophy A Fragment you won't find this analogy mentioned for the very good reason that when Steiner wrote this manuscript c. 1910, the word computer referred to a person who does manual computations. Other than Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace's works on computers and programming at a theoretical level there was no such thing as the electronic computer we know today. In fact electronics itself was being given birth in Steiner's day by the burgeoning new technology known as radio.

Steiner has often said in other lectures what he says on page 74, "Every view can be a true view, if it faithfully reproduces what is observed." This came to me in an insight I formulated as Matherne's Rule #6 some twenty years ago (before I read Steiner): All Meanings Are True. (AMAT). Everyone has a perspective that they look at things from, and if they proclaim a truth from their perspective, one can only say, "I do believe you are right." But there are many possible perspectives and Steiner uses the metaphor of a tree to make his point:

[page 73-74] But the human way of knowing is not such that the nature of things can be imparted all at once; it is more like painting or photographing a tree from a particular side. The picture gives the full truth of what the tree looks like from a certain point of view, but, if we select a different point of view, the picture becomes quite different. Only the combined effect of a series of pictures from various points of view can give an overall idea of the tree.

There was already a science of the study of "material man" called "anthrop-ology" when Steiner came to name his study of the multi-faceted spiritual and material human being, so he was forced to choose a different name and he chose "anthropo-sophy." Rightly understood anthropology is the study of man from a single perspective, the evidence of our senses only. Like a single photograph of a tree, a study of man from one perspective leaves out more than it tells. Here's what he calls anthropology:

[page 77] In this context, we are applying the name "anthropology" to the totality of our physical studies of the human being, including not only what is often attributed to it in the narrower sense of the word, but also human morphology, biology, and so on.

As for what he calls anthroposophy:

[page 81] Anthroposophy will study human beings as they present themselves to physical observation, but in the practice of this observation it will try to derive indications of a spiritual foundation from the physical phenomena. In this way, anthroposophy can make the transition from anthropology to theosophy.

What can he mean by these words? Luckily we have an alternate text that he wrote for page 81 to refer to. In this he gives us a metaphor of a mountain and sets his meaning clearly before us as a picture:

[page 85] If theosophy could be likened to standing on the top of a mountain surveying the landscape, while anthropology is investigating down in the lowlands, forest by forest and house by house, then anthroposophy will choose its vantage point on the slope of the mountain, where individual details can still be differentiated but integrate themselves to form a whole.

With that prologue, it should not surprise anyone that while anthropologists account for only five senses from their perspective, anthroposophy accounts for twelve senses which includes seven additional senses. To understand how Steiner considers there to be more senses, we need to look at how he defines a sense:

[page 88] In an anthroposophical light, all that may be called a human sense which induces the human being to recognize the existence of an object, being, or process in such a way as to justify placing its existence into the physical world.

In my review of The Riddle of Humanity by Rudolf Steiner, I created two tables, one that detailed the Seven Processes of the Human Body, and another that detailed the Twelve Senses of the Human Being. Here is a list of the seven additional senses from the latter table: 1.) Sense of Life, 2.) Sense of Movement, 3.) Sense of Balance, 4.) Sense of Warmth, 5.) Sense of Thought or Concept, 6.) Sense of Speech, Word, or Tone, and 7.) Sense of I perception. The last one, the Sense of I perception is not an easy one to understand at first. It is the sense that is operating when we watch and listen to an audio-animatronic machine imitate a human being, like Abe Lincoln in Disneyland. We hear the words and watch the mouth move in unison with the words, but we are not fooled that there is a human being in front of us. Children, who have a sharp sense of "I" tend to be frightened of this ersatz Abe at first for the very reason that their "I" sense seems to be deceiving them!

[page 215] Arriving at the conclusion that "a human being is speaking" seems simple to naive consciousness, but is actually the result of very complicated processes. These processes culminate in concurrently perceiving within a tone, in which you experience yourself, another I. During this experience, everything else is disregarded; and - inasmuch as we turn our attention to it - we are focused on the connection from I to I. The whole mystery of empathy with the I of another is expressed in this fact. If this fact is to be described, this cannot be done without saying: we sense our own I in the I of the other. If we then perceive a tone coming from the other I, our own I lives in that tone, and therefore in the other I.

In closing, my hope is:

  • That with our highly developed computer technology, we humans of the 21st Century may be able to conceive how the spiritual world provides the substrate upon which our physical world is built, just like the computer's silicon chips and circuitry are built by engineers that are outside of and unknown to the computer.
  • That we will find it possible to understand how the etheric body livens a human physical body like powering on of a computer does to the computer's silicon chips and circuitry.
  • That the astral body brings motions and feelings to our I just like the peripherals of the computer bring interaction with the outside world to the application software of the computer.
  • That we come to understand how the Spiritual Hierarchy, especially our individual Guardian Angel, operates in our life like the User of a computer system: it directs, executes code, provides inputs, reviews outputs, and helps the computer live a healthy, satisfying life.

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