Man or Matter
by Ernst Lehrs
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Introduction to a Spiritual Understanding of Nature on the Basis of Goethe's Method of Training Observation and Thought



Part I



The author's search for a way of extending the boundaries of scientific understanding. A meeting with Rudolf Steiner, and with the work arising from his teachings.


The self-restriction of scientific inquiry to one-eyed colourblind observation. Its effect: The lack of a true conception of 'force'.


Thought - the sole reality and yet a pure non-entity for the modern spectator. Descartes and Hume. Robert Hooke's 'proof' of the non-reality of conceptual thinking. The modern principle of Indeterminacy - a sign that science is still dominated by the Humean way of thinking.


Electricity, man's competitor in modern civilization. The onlooker in search of the soul of nature. Galvani and Crookes. Paradoxes in the discovery of electricity. 'Something unknown is doing we don't know what.'



Kant and Goethe. Goethe's study of the plant - a path toward seeing with the eye-of-the-spirit. Nature a script that asks to be read.


Spiritual kinsmen of Goethe in the British sphere of human culture. Thomas Reid's philosophic discovery, its significance for the overcoming of the onlooker-standpoint in science. The picture of man inherent in Reid's philosophy. Man's original gift of remembering his pre-earthly life. The disappearance of this memory in the past, and its re-appearance in modern times. Pelagius versus Augustine. Wordsworth and Traherne. Traherne, a 'Reidean before Reid was born'.


Ruskin and Howard - two readers in the book of nature. Goethe's meteorological ideas. His conception of the urphenomenon. Goethe and Howard.


The onlooker science - by necessity a 'pointer-reading' science. The onlooker's misjudgment of the cognitive value of the impressions conveyed by the senses. The Parallelogram of Forces - its fallacious kinematic and its true dynamic interpretation. The roots in man of his concepts 'mass' and 'force'. The formula F=ma. The origin of man's faculty of mathematical thinking.



Limitations of the validity of the concept 'inertia'. Restatement of Newton's first law. Introduction of the term 'magical' as opposed to mechanical. The phenomenon of the rising arm. Introduction of the term 'alertness' as opposed to 'inertness' (inertia). Van Helmont's discovery of the gaseous state of matter. The four Elements. The old concept of 'Chaos'. Young and old matter. The natural facts behind the ancient fire rites. The event on Mount Sinai.


The Contra Levitatem maxim of the Florentine Academicians. Ruskin's warning against science as an interpreter of its own observations. How man's inner nature and the outer universe interpret one another. The Solfatara phenomenon. The super-physical character of Levity.


The need of raising scientific inquiry to nature's upper border. The laws of Conservation, their origin and their validity. Joule and Mayer. Extension of the field-concept from the central to the peripheral field-type. Natural phenomena brought about by the suctional effect of the earth's levity-field. The different conditions of matter seen in the light of the levity-gravity polarity. Heat, the fourth state of matter. Procreation of physical substance - a natural fact. The case of Tillandsia. The problem of the trace-elements. Homeopathy, an example of the effect of dematerialized matter. The meteorological circuit of water. The nature of lightning.


The origin of the scientific conception of the chemical element. Study of some prototypes of physical substances in the light of the levity-gravity polarity. The functional concept of matter. The complete order of polarities - cold-warm, dry-moist - in the doctrine of the four elements. The position of sulphur and phosphorus in this respect. Vulcanism and snow-formation as manifestations of functional sulphur and phosphorus respectively. The process of crystallization. Carbon as a mediator between sulphur and phosphorus. The alchemical triad.


Geometrical considerations required by the recognition of levity. The value in this respect of projective geometrical thinking. Geometrical polarities of the first and second order.


Electricity and magnetism as manifestations of interacting levity and gravity. Electricity - a product of disintegrating matter. Modern physics, no longer a 'natural' science. Eddington's question,' Manufacture or Discovery?' Man's enhanced responsibility in the age of physical science.


Goethe's Farbenlehre - the foundation of an optical science based on the colour-seeing faculty of the eye. The modern physicist's view of the Newtonian interpretation of the spectrum. A short history of Goethe's search for a satisfactory conception of Light and Colour. His discovery of Newton's cardinal error. First results of his own studies. The 'negative' spectrum.


Goethe's way of studying the totality of the act of seeing. The 'inner light'.


Extension of Goethe's inquiry to a pursuit of the act of seeing beyond the boundaries of the body.


Purging optics from its onlooker-concepts. The role of foregone conclusions in the physical conception of light. The true aspect of the so-called velocity of light.


Evaluation of the foregoing studies for a new understanding of the prismatic phenomenon. The secret of the rainbow. Intimation of new possibilities of experimental research guided by the new conception of the spectrum.




From Goethe's seeing with the eye-of-the-spirit to Spiritual Imagination. Levity (Ether) as revealed to Spiritual Imagination.


The four modifications of ether. Their relation to the four elements.



The sentient (astral) forces of the cosmos as governors of the various interactions between levity and gravity. The astral aspect of the planetary system. Its reflexion in earthly substances. Beginnings of an astral conception of the human organism in modern physiology.


A Goetheanistic study of acoustic phenomena and of the sense of hearing. From hearing with the ear-of-the-spirit to Spiritual Inspiration.


Goethe's view of Kepler. Kepler's third law - a revelation of the musical order of the universe.





A The relation of the electrical polarity to Levity and Gravity

B The Spectrum phenomenon as conceived by Goethe

C Light under the action of a transverse field-gradient


I. Robert Hooke's 'proof' of the non-reality of human concepts

II. Leaf-metamorphosis

III. Leaf-metamorphosis

IV. Goethe's sketch of a cloud-formation

V. A Snow-Crystal

VI. A cluster of Calcite crystals

VII. Various species of bacteria

VIII. Various species of fresh-water algae

Author's Note

The author makes grateful acknowledgment of the help he has gained from other works in the wide field opened up by Rudolf Steiner, and of his debt to the friends who in various ways assisted him in preparing his manuscript.

Quotations have been made from the following books by kind permission of their respective publishers:

The Life of Sir William Crookes by E. E. Fournier d'Albe (Messrs. Ernest Benn Ltd.); Man the Unknown by A. Carrel (Messrs. Hamish Hamilton Ltd.); The Philosophy of Physical Science and The Nature of The Physical Worldly A.. Eddington (University Press, Cambridge); Science and the Human Temperament by E. Schrödinger (Messrs. George Allen and Unwin Ltd.); Centuries of Meditations and Poetical Works by Th. Traherne (Messrs. P. J. and A. E. Dobell).


In this book the reader will find expounded a method of investigating nature by means of which scientific understanding can be carried across the boundaries of the physical-material to the supersensible sources of all natural events, and thereby into the realm where is rooted the true being of man.

The beginnings of this method were worked out by Goethe more than 150 years ago. The nineteenth century, however, failed to provide any fertile ground for the development of the seeds thus sown. It was left to Rudolf Steiner, shortly before the end of the century, to recognize the significance of 'Goetheanism' for the future development not only of science but of human culture in general. It is to him, also, that we owe the possibility of carrying on Goethe's efforts in the way required by the needs of our own time.

The following pages contain results of the author's work along the path thus opened up by Goethe and Rudolf Steiner - a work begun twenty-seven years ago, soon after he had made the acquaintance of Rudolf Steiner. With the publication of these results he addresses himself to everyone - with or without a specialized scientific training - who is concerned with the fate of man's powers of cognition in the present age.


The reader may welcome a remark as to the way in which this book needs to be read.

It has not been the author's intention to provide an encyclopaedic collection of new conceptions in various fields of natural observation. Rather did he wish, as the sub-title of the book indicates, to offer a new method of training both mind and eye (and other senses as well), by means of which our modern 'onlooking' consciousness can be transformed into a new kind of 'participating' consciousness. Hence it would be of no avail to pick out one chapter or another for first reading, perhaps because of some special interest in its subject-matter. The chapters are stages on a road which has to be travelled, and each stage is necessary for reaching the next. It is only through thus accepting the method with which the book has been written that the reader will be able to form a competent judgment of its essential elements.

E. L.

Hawkwood College Easter 1950


Science at the Threshold



If I introduce this book by relating how I came to encounter Rudolf Steiner and his work, more than twenty-five years ago, and what decided me not only to make his way of knowledge my own, but also to enter professionally into an activity inspired by his teachings, it is because in this way I can most directly give the reader an impression of the kind of spirit out of which I have written. I am sure, too, that although what I have to say in this chapter is personal in content, it is characteristic of many in our time.

When I first made acquaintance with Rudolf Steiner and his work, I was finishing my academic training as an electrical engineer. At the end of the 1914-18 war my first thought had been to take up my studies from where I had let them drop, four years earlier. The war seemed to imply nothing more than a passing interruption of them. This, at any rate, was the opinion of my former teachers; the war had made no difference whatever to their ideas, whether on the subject-matter of their teaching or on its educational purpose. I myself, however, soon began to feel differently. It became obvious to me that my relationship to my subject, and therefore to those teaching it, had completely changed. What I had experienced through the war had awakened in me a question of which I had previously been unaware; now I felt obliged to put it to everything I came across.

As a child of my age I had grown up in the conviction that it was within the scope of man to shape his life according to the laws of reason within him; his progress, in the sense in which I then understood it, seemed assured by his increasing ability to determine his own outer conditions with the help of science. Indeed, it was the wish to take an active part in this progress that had led me to choose my profession. Now, however, the war stood there as a gigantic social deed which I could in no way regard as reasonably justified. How, in an age when the logic of science was supreme, was it possible that a great part of mankind, including just those peoples to whom science had owed its origin and never-ceasing expansion, could act in so completely unscientific a way? Where lay the causes of the contradiction thus revealed between human thinking and human doing?

Pursued by these questions, I decided after a while to give my studies a new turn. The kind of training then provided in Germany at the so-called Technische Hochschulen was designed essentially to give students a close practical acquaintance with all sorts of technical appliances; it included only as much theory as was wanted for understanding the mathematical calculations arising in technical practice. It now seemed to me necessary to pay more attention to theoretical considerations, so as to gain a more exact knowledge of the sources from which science drew its conception of nature. Accordingly I left the Hochschule for a course in mathematics and physics at a university, though without abandoning my original idea of preparing for a career in the field of electrical engineering. It was with this in mind that I later chose for my Ph.D. thesis a piece of experimental research on the uses of high-frequency electric currents.

During my subsequent years of stuffy, however, I found myself no nearer an answer to the problem that haunted me. All that I experienced, in scientific work as in life generally, merely gave it an even sharper edge. Everywhere I saw an abyss widening between human knowing and human action. How often was I not bitterly disillusioned by the behaviour of men for whose ability to think through the most complicated scientific questions I had the utmost admiration!

On all sides I found this same bewildering gulf between scientific achievement and the way men conducted their own lives and influenced the lives of others. I was forced to the conclusion that human thinking, at any rate in its modern form, was either powerless to govern human actions, or at least unable to direct them towards right ends. In fact, where scientific thinking had done most to change the practical relations of human life, as in the mechanization of economic production, conditions had arisen which made it more difficult, not less, for men to live in a way worthy of man. At a time when humanity was equipped as never before to investigate the order of the universe, and had achieved triumphs of design in mechanical constructions, human life was falling into ever wilder chaos. Why was this?

The fact that most of my contemporaries were apparently quite unaware of the problem that stirred me so deeply could not weaken my sense of its reality. This slumber of so many souls in face of the vital questions of modern life seemed to me merely a further symptom of the sickness of our age. Nor could I think much better of those who, more sensitive to the contradictions in and around them, sought refuge in art or religion. The catastrophe of the war had shown me that this departmentalizing of life, which at one time I had myself considered a sort of ideal, was quite inconsistent with the needs of to-day. To make use of art or religion as a refuge was a sign of their increasing separation from the rest of human culture. It implied a cleavage between the different spheres of society which ruled out any genuine solution of social problems.

I knew from history that religion and art had once exercised a function which is to-day reserved for science, for they had given guidance in even the most practical activities of human society. And in so doing they had enhanced the quality of human living, whereas the influence of science has had just the opposite effect. This power of guidance, however, they had long since lost, and in view of this fact I came to the conclusion that salvation must be looked for in the first place from science. Here, in the thinking and knowing of man, was the root of modern troubles; here must come a drastic revision, and here, if possible, a completely new direction must be found.

Such views certainly flew in the face of the universal modern conviction that the present mode of knowledge, with whose help so much insight into the natural world has been won, is the only one possible, given once for all to man in a form never to be changed. But is there any need, I asked myself, to cling to this purely static notion of man's capacity for gaining knowledge? Among the greatest achievements of modern science, does not the conception of evolution take a foremost place? And does not this teach us that the condition of a living organism at any time is the result of the one preceding it, and that the transition implies a corresponding functional enhancement? But if we have once recognized this as an established truth, why should we apply it to organisms at every stage of development except the .highest, namely the human, where the organic form reveals and serves the self-conscious spirit?

Putting the question thus, I was led inevitably to a conclusion which science itself had failed to draw from its idea of evolution. Whatever the driving factor in evolution may be, it is clear that in the kingdoms of nature leading up to man this factor has always worked on the evolving organisms from outside. The moment we come to man himself, however, and see how evolution has flowered in his power of conscious thought, we have to reckon with a fundamental change.

Once a being has recognized itself as a product of evolution, it immediately ceases to be that and nothing more. With its very first act of self-knowledge it transcends its previous limits, and must in future rely on its own conscious actions for the carrying on of its development.

For me, accordingly, the concept of evolution, when thought through to the end, began to suggest the possibility of further growth in man's spiritual capacities. But I saw also that this growth could no longer be merely passive, and the question which now beset me was: by what action of his own can man break his way into this new phase of evolution? I saw that this action must not consist merely in giving outer effect to the natural powers of human thinking; that was happening everywhere in the disordered world around me. The necessary action must have inner effects; indeed, it had to be one whereby the will was turned upon the thinking-powers themselves, entirely transforming them, and so removing the discrepancy between the thinker and the doer in modern man.

Thus far I could go through my own observation and reflexion, but no further. To form a general idea of the deed on which everything else depended was one thing; it was quite another to know how to perform the deed, and above all where to make a start with it. Anyone intending to make a machine must first learn something of mechanics; in the same way, anyone setting out to do something constructive in the sphere of human consciousness - and this, for me, was the essential point - must begin by learning something of the laws holding sway in that sphere. But who could give me this knowledge?

Physiology, psychology and philosophy in their ordinary forms were of no use to me, for they were themselves part and parcel of just that kind of knowing which had to be overcome. In their various accounts of man there was no vantage point from which the deed I had in mind could be accomplished, for none of them looked beyond the ordinary powers of knowledge. It was the same with the accepted theory of evolution; as a product of the current mode of thinking it could be applied to everything except the one essential - this very mode of thinking. Obviously, the laws of the development of human consciousness cannot be discovered from a standpoint within the modern form of that consciousness. But how could one find a viewpoint outside, as it were, this consciousness, from which to discover its laws with the same scientific objectivity which it had itself applied to discovering the laws of physical nature?

It was when this question stood before me in all clarity that destiny led me to Rudolf Steiner and his work. The occasion was a conference held in 1921 in Stuttgart by the Anthroposophical Movement; it was one of several arranged during the years 1920-2 especially for teachers and students at the Hochschulen and Universities. What chiefly moved me to attend this particular conference was the title of a lecture to be given by one of the pupils and co-workers of Rudolf Steiner - 'The Overcoming of Einstein's Theory of Relativity'.1

The reader will readily appreciate what this title meant for me. In the circles where my work lay, an intense controversy was just then raging round Einstein's ideas. I usually took sides with the supporters of Einstein, for it seemed to me that Einstein had carried the existing mode of scientific thinking to its logical conclusions, whereas I missed this consistency among his opponents. At the same time I found that the effect of this theory, when its implications were fully developed, was to make everything seem so 'relative' that no reliable world-outlook was left. This was proof for me that our age was in need of an altogether different form of scientific thinking, equally consistent in itself, but more in tune with man's own being.

What appealed to me in the lecture-title was simply this, that whereas everyone else sought to prove Einstein right or wrong, here was someone who apparently intended, not merely to add another proof for or against his theory-there were plenty of those already - but to take some steps to overcome it. From the point of view of orthodox science, of course, it was absurd to speak of 'overcoming' a theory, as though it were an accomplished fact, but to me this title suggested exactly what I was looking for.

Although it was the title of this lecture that drew me to the Stuttgart Conference (circumstances prevented me from hearing just this lecture), it was the course given there by Rudolf Steiner himself which was to prove the decisive experience of my life. It comprised eight lectures, under the title: 'Mathematics, Scientific Experiment and Observation, and Epistemological Results from the Standpoint of Anthroposophy'; what they gave me answered my question beyond all expectation.

In the course of a comprehensive historical survey the lecturer characterized, in a way I found utterly convincing, the present mathematical interpretation of nature as a transitional stage of human consciousness - a kind of knowing which is on the way from a past pre-mathematical to a future post-mathematical form of cognition. The importance of mathematics, whether as a discipline of the human spirit or as an instrument of natural science, was not for a moment undervalued. On the contrary, what Rudolf Steiner said about Projective (Synthetic) Geometry, for instance, its future possibilities and its role as a means of understanding higher processes of nature than had hitherto been accessible to science, clearly explained the positive feelings I myself had experienced - without knowing why - when I had studied the subject.

Through his lectures and his part in the discussions - they were held daily by the various speakers and ranged over almost every field of modern knowledge - I gradually realized that Rudolf Steiner was in possession of unique powers. Not only did he show himself fully at home in all these fields; he was able to connect them with each other, and with the nature and being of man, in such a way that an apparent chaos of unrelated details was wrought into a higher synthesis. Moreover, it became clear to me that one who could speak as he did about the stages of human consciousness past, present and future, must have full access to all of them at will, and be able to make each of them an object of exact observation. I saw a thinker who was himself sufficient proof that man can find within the resources of his own spirit the vantage-ground for the deed which I had dimly surmised, and by which alone true civilization could be saved. Through all these things I knew that I had found the teacher I had been seeking.

Thus I was fully confirmed in my hopes of the Conference; but I was also often astonished at what I heard. Not least among my surprises was Rudolf Steiner's presentation of Goethe as the herald of the new form of scientific knowledge which he himself was expounding. I was here introduced to a side of Goethe which was as completely unknown to me as to so many others among my contemporaries, who had not yet come into touch with Anthroposophy. For me, as for them, Goethe had always been the great thinker revealing his thoughts through poetry. Indeed, only shortly before my meeting with Rudolf Steiner it was in his poetry that Goethe had become newly alive to me as a helper in my search for a fuller human experience of nature and my fellow-men. But despite all my Goethe studies I had been quite unaware that more than a century earlier he had achieved something in the field of science, organic and inorganic alike, which could help modern man towards the new kind of knowledge so badly needed to-day. This was inevitable for me, since I shared the modern conviction that art and science were fields of activity essentially strange to one another. And so it was again Rudolf Steiner who opened the way for me to Goethe as botanist, physicist and the like.

I must mention another aspect of the Stuttgart Conference which Belongs to this picture of my first encounter with Anthroposophy, and gave it special weight for anyone in my situation at that period. In Stuttgart there were many different activities concerned with the practical application of Rudolf Steiner's teachings, and so one could become acquainted with teachings and applications at the same time. There was the Waldorf School, founded little more than a year before, with several hundred pupils already. It was the first school to undertake the transformation of anthroposophical knowledge of man into educational practice; later it was followed by others, in Germany and elsewhere. There was one of the clinics, where qualified doctors were applying the same knowledge to the study of illness and the action of medicaments. In various laboratories efforts were made to develop new methods of experimental research in physics, chemistry, biology and other branches of science. Further, a large business concern had been founded in Stuttgart in an attempt to embody some of Rudolf Steiner's ideas for the reform of social life. Besides all this I could attend performances of the new art of movement, again the creation of Rudolf Steiner and called by him 'Eurhythmy', in which the astounded eye could see how noble a speech can be uttered by the human body when its limbs are moved in accordance with its inherent spiritual laws. Thus, in all the many things that were going on besides the lectures, one could find direct proof of the fruitfulness of what one heard in them.2

Under the impression of this Conference I soon began to study the writings of Rudolf Steiner. Not quite two years later, I decided to join professionally with those who were putting Anthroposophy into outer practice. Because it appeared to me as the most urgent need of the time to prepare the new generation for the tasks awaiting it through an education shaped on the entire human being, I turned to Rudolf Steiner with the request to be taken into the Stuttgart School as teacher of natural science. On this occasion I told him of my general scientific interests, and how I hoped to follow them up later on. I spoke of my intended educational activity as something which might help me at the same time to prepare myself for this other task. Anyone who learns so to see nature that his ideas can be taken up and understood by the living, lively soul of the growing child will thereby be training himself, I thought, in just that kind of observation and thinking which the new science of nature demands. Rudolf Steiner agreed with this, and it was not long afterwards that I joined the school where I was to work for eleven years as a science master in the senior classes, which activity I have since continued outside Germany in a more or less similar form.

This conversation with Rudolf Steiner took place in a large hall where, while we were talking, over a thousand people were assembling to discuss matters of concern to the Anthroposophical Movement. This did not prevent him from asking me about the details of my examination work, in which I was still engaged at that time; he always gave himself fully to whatever claimed his attention at the moment. I told him of my experimental researches in electrical high-frequency phenomena, briefly introducing the particular problem with which I was occupied. I took it for granted that a question from such a specialized branch of physics would not be of much interest to him. Judge of my astonishment when he at once took out of his pocket a note-book and a huge carpenter's pencil, made a sketch and proceeded to speak of the problem as one fully conversant with it, and in such a way that he gave me the starting point for an entirely new conception of electricity. It was instantly borne in on me that if electricity came to be understood in this sense, results would follow which in the end would lead to a quite new technique in the use of it. From that moment it became one of my life's aims to contribute whatever my circumstances and powers would allow to the development of an understanding of nature of this kind.

1 The speaker was the late Dr. Elizabeth Vreede, for some years leader of the Mathematical-Astronomical Section at the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland.

2 The activities mentioned above do not exhaust the practical possibilities of Spiritual Science. At that time (1921) Rudolf Steiner had not yet given his indications for the treatment of children needing special care of soul and body, or for the renewal of the art of acting, or for the conquest of materialistic methods in agricultural practice. Nor did there yet exist the movement for religious renewal Which Dr. Fr. Rittelmeyer later founded, with the help and advice of Rudolf Steiner.


Where Do We Stand To-day?

In the year 1932, when the world celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Goethe's death, Professor W. Heisenberg, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of modern physics, delivered a speech before the Saxon Academy of Science which may be regarded as symptomatic of the need in recent science to investigate critically the foundations of its own efforts to know nature.1 In this speech Heisenberg draws a picture of the progress of science which differs significantly from the one generally known. Instead of giving the usual description of this progress as 'a chain of brilliant and surprising discoveries', he shows it as resting on the fact that, with the aim of continually simplifying and unifying the scientific conception of the world, human thinking, in course of time, has narrowed more and more the scope of its inquiries into outer nature.

'Almost every scientific advance is bought at the cost of renunciation, almost every gain in knowledge sacrifices important standpoints and established modes of thought. As facts and knowledge accumulate, the claim of the scientist to an understanding of the world in a certain sense diminishes.' Our justifiable admiration for the success with which the unending multiplicity of natural occurrences on earth and in the stars has been reduced to so simple a scheme of laws - Heisenberg implies - must therefore not make us forget that these attainments are bought at the price 'of renouncing the aim of bringing the phenomena of nature to our thinking in an immediate and living way'.

In the course of his exposition, Heisenberg also speaks of Goethe, in whose scientific endeavours he perceives a noteworthy attempt to set scientific understanding upon a path other than that of progressive self-restriction.

'The renouncing of life and immediacy, which was the premise for the progress of natural science since Newton, formed the real basis for the bitter struggle which Goethe waged against the physical optics of Newton. It would be superficial to dismiss this struggle as unimportant: there is much significance in one of the most outstanding men directing all his efforts to fighting against the development of Newtonian optics.' There is only one thing for which Heisenberg criticizes Goethe: 'If one should wish to reproach Goethe, it could only be for not going far enough - that is, for having attacked the views of Newton instead of declaring that the whole of Newtonian Physics-Optics, Mechanics and the Law of Gravitation - were from the devil.'

Although the full significance of Heisenberg's remarks on Goethe will become apparent only at a later stage of our discussion, they have been quoted here because they form part of the symptom we wish to characterize. Only this much may be pointed out immediately, that Goethe - if not in the scientific then indeed in the poetical part of his writings - did fulfil what Heisenberg rightly feels to have been his true task.2

We mentioned Heisenberg's speech as a symptom of a certain tendency, characteristic of the latest phase in science, to survey critically its own epistemological foundations. A few years previous to Heisenberg's speech, the need of such a survey found an eloquent advocate in the late Professor A. N. Whitehead, in his book Science and the Modern World, where, in view of the contradictory nature of modern physical theories, he insists that 'if science is not to degenerate into a medley of ad hoc hypotheses, it must become philosophical and enter upon a thorough criticism of its own foundations'.

Among the scientists who have felt this need, and who have taken pains to fulfil it, the late Professor A. Eddington obtains an eminent position. Among his relevant utterances we will quote here the following, because it contains a concrete statement concerning the field of external observation which forms the basis for the modern scientific world-picture. In his Philosophy of Physical Science we find him stating that 'ideally, all our knowledge of the universe could have been reached by visual sensation alone - in fact by the simplest form of visual sensation, colourless and non-stereoscopic'.3 In other words, in order to obtain scientific cognition of the physical world, man has felt constrained to surrender the use of all his senses except the sense of sight, and to limit even the act of seeing to the use of a single, colour-blind eye.

Let us listen to yet another voice from the ranks of present-day science, expressing a criticism which is symptomatic of our time. It comes from the late physiologist, Professor A, Carrel, who, concerning the effect which scientific research has had on man's life in general, says in his book, Man the Unknown: 'The sciences of inert matter have led us into a country that is not ours. ... Man is a stranger in the world he has created.'

Of these utterances, Eddington's is at the present point of our discussion of special interest for us; for he outlines in it the precise field of sense-perception into which science has withdrawn in the course of that general retreat towards an ever more restricted questioning of nature which was noted by Heisenberg.

The pertinence of Eddington's statement is shown immediately one considers what a person would know of the world if his only source of experience were the sense of sight, still further limited in the way Eddington describes. Out of everything that the world brings to the totality of our senses, there remains nothing more than mere movements, with certain changes of rate, direction, and so on. The picture of the world received by such an observer is a purely kinematic one. And this is, indeed, the character of the world-picture of modern physical science. For in the scientific treatment of natural phenomena all the qualities brought to us by our other senses, such as colour, tone, warmth, density and even electricity and magnetism, are reduced to mere movement-changes.

As a result, modern science is prevented from conceiving any valid idea of 'force'. In so far as the concept 'force' appears in scientific considerations, it plays the part of an 'auxiliary concept', and what man naively conceives as force has come to be defined as merely a 'descriptive law of behaviour'. We must leave it for later considerations to show how the scientific mind of man has created for itself the conviction that the part of science occupied with the actions of force in nature can properly be treated with purely kinematic concepts. It is the fact itself which concerns us here. In respect of it, note as a characteristic of modern text-books that they often simply use the term 'kinetics' (a shortening of kinematics) to designate the science of 'dynamics'.4

In the course of our investigations we shall discover the peculiarity in human nature which - during the first phase, now ended, of man's struggle towards scientific awareness - has caused this renunciation of all sense-experiences except those which come to man through the sight of a single colour-blind eye. It will then also become clear out of what historic necessity this self-restriction of scientific inquiry arose. The acknowledgment of this necessity, however, must not prevent us from recognizing the fact that, as a result of this restriction, modern scientific research, which has penetrated far into the dynamic substrata of nature, finds itself in the peculiar situation that it is not at all guided by its own concepts, but by the very forces it tries to detect. And in this fact lies the root of the danger which besets the present age.5

He who recognizes this, therefore, feels impelled to look for a way which leads beyond a one-eyed, colour-blind conception of the world. It is the aim of this book to show that such a way exists and how it can be followed. Proof will thereby be given that along this way not only is a true understanding achieved of the forces already known to science (though not really understood by it), but also that other forces, just as active in nature as for example electricity and magnetism, come within reach of scientific observation and understanding. And it will be shown that these other forces are of a kind that requires to be known to-day if we are to restore the lost balance to human civilization.


There is a rule known to physicians that 'a true diagnosis of a case contains in itself the therapy'. No true diagnosis is possible, however, without investigation of the 'history' of the case. Applied to our task, this means that we must try to find an aspect of human development, both individual and historical, which will enable us to recognize in man's own being the cause responsible for the peculiar narrowing of the scope of scientific inquiry, as described by the scientists cited above.

A characteristic of scientific inquiry, distinguishing it from man's earlier ways of solving the riddles of the world, is that it admits as instruments of knowledge exclusively those activities of the human soul over which we have full control because they take place in the full light of consciousness. This also explains why there has been no science, in the true sense of the word, prior to the beginning of the era commonly called 'modern' - that is, before the fifteenth century. For the consciousness on which man's scientific striving is based is itself an outcome of human evolution.

This evolution, therefore, needs to be considered in such a way that we understand the origin of modern man's state of mind, and in particular why this state of mind cannot of itself have any other relationship to the world than that of a spectator. For let us be clear that this peculiar relationship by no means belongs only to the scientifically engaged mind. Every adult in our age is, by virtue of his psycho-physical structure, more or less a world-spectator. What distinguishes the state of man's mind when engaged in scientific observation is that it is restricted to a one-eyed colour-blind approach.


'Death is the price man has to pay for his brain and his personality' - this is how a modern physiologist (A. Carrel in his aforementioned book, Man the Unknown) describes the connexion between man's bodily functions and his waking consciousness. It is characteristic of the outlook prevailing in the nineteenth century that thinking was regarded as the result of the life of the body; that is, of the body's matter-building processes. Hence no attention was paid at that time to the lonely voice of the German philosopher, C. Fortlage (1806-81), who in his System of Psychology as Empirical Science suggested that consciousness is really based on death processes in the body. From this fact he boldly drew the conclusion (known to us today to be true) that if 'partial death' gave rise to ordinary consciousness, then 'total death' must result in an extraordinary enhancement of consciousness. Again, when in our century Rudolf Steiner drew attention to the same fact, which he had found along his own lines of investigation, showing thereby the true role of the nervous system in regard to the various activities of the soul, official science turned a deaf ear to his pronouncement.6 To-day the scientist regards it as forming part of 'unknown man' that life must recede - in other words, that the organ-building processes of the body must come to a standstill - if consciousness is to come into its own.

With the recognition of a death process in the nervous system as the bodily foundation of consciousness, and particularly of man's conceptual activities, the question arises as to the nature of those activities which have their foundation in other systems, such as that of the muscles, where life, not death, prevails. Here an answer must be given which will surprise the reader acquainted with modern theories of psycho-physical interaction; but if he meets it with an open mind he will not find it difficult to test.

Just as the conceptual activity has as its bodily foundation the brain, with the nervous appendages, so it is volitional activity which is based on processes taking place in the muscular region of the body and in those organs which provide the body's metabolism.

A statement which says that man's will is as directly based on the metabolic processes of the body, both inside and outside the muscles, as is his perceiving and thought-forming mind on a process in the nerves, is bound to cause surprise. Firstly, it seems to leave out the role commonly ascribed to the so-called motoric part of the nervous system in bringing about bodily action; and secondly, the acknowledgment of the dependence of consciousness on corporeal 'dying' implies that willing is an unconscious activity because of its being based on life processes of the body.

The first of these two problems will find its answer at a later stage of our discussion when we shall see what entitles us to draw a direct connexion between volition and muscular action. To answer the second problem, simple self-observation is required. This tells us that, when we move a limb, all that we know of is the intention (in its conceptual form) which rouses the will and gives it its direction, and the fact of the completed deed. In between, we accompany the movement with a dim awareness of the momentary positions of the parts of the body involved, so that we know whether or not they are moving in the intended manner. This awareness is due to a particular sense, the 'sense of movement' or 'muscular sense' - one of those senses whose existence physiology has lately come to acknowledge. Nothing, however, is known to us of all the complex changes which are set into play within the muscles themselves in order to carry out some intended movement. And it is these that are the direct outcome of the activity of our will.

Regarding man's psycho-physical organization thus, we come to see in it a kind of polarity - a death-pole, as it were, represented by the nerves including their extension into the senses, and a life-pole, represented by the metabolic and muscular systems; and connected with them a pole of consciousness and one of unconsciousness - or as we can also say, of waking and sleeping consciousness. For the degree of consciousness on the side of the life-pole is not different from the state in which the entire human being dwells during sleep.

It is by thus recognizing the dependence of consciousness on processes of bodily disintegration that we first come to understand why consciousness, once it has reached a certain degree of brightness, is bound to suffer repeated interruptions. Every night, when we sleep, our nervous system becomes alive (though with gradually decreasing intensity) in order that what has been destroyed during the day may be restored. While the system is kept in this condition, no consciousness can obtain in it.

In between the two polarically opposite systems there is a third, again of clearly distinct character, which functions as a mediator between the two. Here all processes are of a strictly rhythmic nature, as is shown by the process of breathing and the pulsation of the blood. This system, too, provides the foundation for a certain type of psychological process, namely feeling. That feeling is an activity of the soul distinct from both thinking and willing, and that it has its direct counterpart in the rhythmic processes of the body, can be most easily tested through observing oneself when listening to music.

As one might expect from its median position, the feeling sphere of the soul is characterized by a degree of consciousness half-way between waking and sleeping. Of our feelings we are not more conscious than of our dreams; we are as little detached from them as from our dream experiences while these last; what remains in our memory of past feelings is usually not more than what we remember of past dreams.

This picture of the threefold psycho-physical structure of man will now enable us to understand the evolution of consciousness both in individual life and in the life of mankind. To furnish the foundation of waking consciousness, parts of the body must become divorced from life. This process, however, is one which, if we take the word in its widest sense, we may call, ageing. All organic bodies, and equally that of man, are originally traversed throughout by life. Only gradually certain parts of such an organism become precipitated, as it were, from the general organic structure, and they do so increasingly towards the end of that organism's life-span.

In the human body this separation sets in gently during the later stages of embryonic development and brings about the first degree of independence of bones and nerves from the rest of the organism. The retreat of life continues after birth, reaching a certain climax in the nervous system at about the twenty-first year. In the body of a small child there is still comparatively little contrast between living and non-living organs. There is equally little contrast between sleeping and waking condition in its soul. And the nature of the soul at this stage is volition throughout. Never, in fact, does man's soul so intensively will as in the time when it is occupied in bringing the body into an upright position, and never again does it exert its strength with the same unconsciousness of the goal to which it strives.

What, then, is the soul's characteristic relationship to the world around at this stage? The following observations will enable us to answer this question.

It is well known that small children often angrily strike an object against which they have stumbled. This has been interpreted as 'animism', by which it is meant that the child, by analogy with his experience of himself as a soul-filled body, imagines the things in his surroundings to be similarly ensouled. Anyone who really observes the child's mode of experience (of which we as adults, indeed, keep something in our will-life) is led to a quite different interpretation of such a phenomenon. For he realizes that the child neither experiences himself as soul-entity distinct from his body, nor faces the content of the world in so detached a manner as to be in need of using his imagination to read into it any soul-entities distinct from his own.

In this early period of his life the human being still feels the world as part of himself, and himself as part of the world. Consequently, his relation to the objects around him and to his own body is one and the same. To the example of the child beating the external object he has stumbled against, there belongs the complementary picture of the child who beats himself because he has done something which makes him angry with himself.

In sharp contrast to this state of oneness of the child's soul, in regard both to its own body and to the surrounding world, there stands the separatedness of the adult's intellectual consciousness, severed from both body and world. What happens to this part of the soul during its transition from one condition to the other may be aptly described by using a comparison from another sphere of natural phenomena. (Later descriptions in this book will show that a comparison such as the one used here is more than a mere external analogy.)

Let us think of water in which salt has been dissolved. In this state the salt is one with its solvent; there is no visible distinction between them. The situation changes when part of the salt crystallizes. By this process the part of the salt substance concerned loses its connexion with the liquid and contracts into individually outlined and spatially defined pieces of solid matter. It thereby becomes optically distinguishable from its environment.

Something similar happens to the soul within the region of the nervous system. What keeps the soul in a state of unconsciousness as long as the body, in childhood, is traversed by life throughout, and what continues to keep it in this condition in the parts which remain alive after the separation of the nerves, is the fact that in these parts - to maintain the analogy - the soul is dissolved in the body. With the growing independence of the nerves, the soul itself gains independence from the body. At the same time it undergoes a process similar to contraction whereby it becomes discernible to itself as an entity distinguished from the surrounding world. In this way the soul is enabled, eventually, to meet the world from outside as a self-conscious onlooker.


What we have here described as the emergence of an individual's intellectual consciousness from the original, purely volitional condition of the soul is nothing but a replica of a greater process through which mankind as a whole, or more exactly Western mankind, has gone in the course of its historical development. Man was not always the 'brain-thinker' he is to-day.7 Directly the separation of the nerve system was completed, and thereby the full clarity of the brain-bound consciousness achieved, man began to concern himself with science in the modern sense.

To understand why this science became restricted to one-eyed, colour-blind observation we need only apply to the human sense system, in particular, what we have learnt concerning man's threefold being.

Sharply distinguished by their respective modes of functioning though they are, the three bodily systems are each spread out through the whole body and are thus to be found everywhere adjacent to each other. Hence, the corresponding three states of consciousness, the sleeping, dreaming and waking, are also everywhere adjacent and woven into one another. It is the predominance of one or other which imparts a particular quality of soul to one or other region of the body. This is clearly shown within the realm of sense activity, itself the most conscious part of the human being. It is sufficient to compare, say, the senses of sight and smell, and to notice in what different degree we are conscious of the impressions they convey, and how differently the corresponding elements of conception, feeling and willing are blended in each. We never turn away as instinctively from objectionable colour arrangement as from an unpleasant smell. How small a part, on the other hand, do the representations of odours play in our recollection of past experiences, compared with those of sight.8 The same is valid in descending measure for all other senses.

Of all senses, the sense of sight has in greatest measure the qualities of a 'conceptual sense'. The experiences which it brings, and these alone, were suitable as a basis for the new science, and even so a further limitation was necessary. For in spite of the special quality of the sense of sight, it is still not free from certain elements of feeling and will - that is, from elements with the character of dream or sleep. The first plays a part in our perception of colour; the second, in observing the forms and perspective ordering of objects we look at.

Here is repeated in a special way the threefold organization of man, for the seeing of colour depends on an organic process apart from the nerve processes and similar to that which takes place between heart and lungs, whilst the seeing of forms and spatial vision depend upon certain movements of the eyeball (quick traversing of the outline of the viewed object with the line of sight, alteration of the angle between the two axes of sight according to distance), in which the eye is active as a sort of outer limb of the body, an activity which enters our consciousness as little as does that of our limbs. It now becomes clear that no world-content obtained in such more or less unconscious ways could be made available for the building of a new scientific world-conception. Only as much as man experiences through the sight of a single, colour-blind eye, could be used.9


If we would understand the role of science in the present phase of human development, we must be ready to apply two entirely different and seemingly contradictory judgments to one and the same historical phenomenon. The fact that something has occurred out of historical necessity - that is, a necessity springing from the very laws of cosmic evolution - does not save it from having a character which, in view of its consequences, must needs be called tragic.

In this era of advanced intellectualism, little understanding of the existence of true tragedy in human existence has survived. As a result, the word 'tragedy' itself has deteriorated in its meaning and is nowadays used mostly as a synonym for 'sad event', 'calamity' 'serious event', even 'crime' (Oxford Diet.). In its original meaning, however, springing from the dramatic poetry of ancient Greece, the word combines the concept of calamity with that of inevitability; the author of the destructive action was not held to be personally responsible for it, since he was caught up in a nexus of circumstances which he could not change.

This is not the place to discuss why tragedy in this sense forms part of man's existence. It suffices to acknowledge that it does and, where it occurs, to observe it with scientific objectivity.

Our considerations, starting from certain statements made by some leading scientific thinkers of our time, have helped us not only to confirm the truth inherent in these statements, but to recognize the facts stated by them as being the outcome of certain laws of evolution and thereby having an historic necessity. This, however, does not mean that man's scientific labours, carried out under the historically given restrictions, great and successful as these labours were and are, have not led to calamitous effects such as we found indicated by Professor Carrel. The sciences of matter have led man into a country that is not his, and the world which he has created by means of scientific research is not only one in which he is a stranger but one which threatens to-day to deprive him of his own existence. The reason is that this world is essentially a world of active forces, and the true nature of these is something which modern man, restricted to his onlooker-consciousness, is positively unable to conceive.

We have taken a first step in diagnosing man's present spiritual condition. A few more steps are required to lead us to the point where we can conceive the therapy he needs.

1 This address and another by the same author are published together under the common title, Wandlungen in den Grundlagen der Naturwissenschaft ('Changes in the foundations of Natural Science'). Heisenberg's name has become known above all by his formulation of the so-called Principle of Indeterminacy.

2 See, in this respect, Faust's dispute with Mephistopheles on the causes responsible for the geological changes of the earth. (Faust II, Act 4)

3 See also Eddington's more elaborate description of this fact in his New Pathways in Science. The above statement, like others of Eddington's, has been Contested from the side of professional philosophy as logically untenable. Our own further discussion will show that it accords with the facts.

4 Both words, kinematics and kinetics, are derivatives of the Greek word kinein, to move. The term 'kinematic' is used when motion is considered abstractly without reference to force or mass. Kinetics is applied kinematics, or, as pointed out above, dynamics treated with kinematic concepts.

5 These last statements will find further illustration in the next two chapters.

6 First published in 1917 in his book Von Seelenrätseln.

7 Homer's men still think with the diaphragm (phrenes). Similarly, the ancient practice of Yoga, as a means of acquiring knowledge, shows that at the time When it flourished man's conceptual activity was felt to be seated elsewhere than in the head.

8 This must not be confused with the fact that a smell may evoke other memories by way of association.

9 For one who endeavours to observe historical facts in the manner here described, it is no mere play of chance that the father of scientific atomism, John Dalton, was by nature colour blind. In fact, colour blindness was known, for a considerable time during the last century, as 'Daltonism', since it was through the publication of Dalton's self-observations that for the first time general attention was drawn to this phenomenon.


The Onlooker's Philosophic Malady

In his isolation as world spectator, the modern philosopher was bound to reach two completely opposite views regarding the objective value of human thought. One of these was given expression in Descartes' famous words: Cogito ergo sum ('I think, therefore I am'). Descartes (1596-1650), rightly described as the inaugurator of modern philosophy, thus held the view that only in his own thought-activity does man find a guarantee of his own existence.

In coming to this view, Descartes took as his starting-point his experience that human consciousness contains only the thought pictures evoked by sense-perception, and yet knows nothing of the how and why of the things responsible for such impressions. He thus found himself compelled, in the first place, to doubt whether any of these things had any objective existence, at all. Hence, there remained over for him only one indubitable item in the entire content of the universe - his own thinking; for were he to doubt even this, he could do so only by again making use of it. From the 'I doubt, therefore I am', he was led in this way to the 'I think, therefore I am'.

The other conception of human thought reached by the onlooker-consciousness was diametrically opposed to that of Descartes, and entirely cancelled its conceptual significance. It was put forward - not long afterwards - by Robert Hooke (1635-1703), the first scientist to make systematic use of the newly invented microscope by means of which he made the fundamental discovery of the cellular structure of plant tissues. It was, indeed, on the strength of his microscopic studies that he boldly undertook to determine the relationship of human thought to objective reality. He published his views in the introduction to his Micrographia, the great work in which, with the lavish help of carefully executed copper engravings, he made his microscopic observations known to the world.

Hooke's line of thought is briefly as follows: In past ages men subscribed to the naive belief that what they have in their consciousness as thought pictures of the world, actually reproduces the real content of that world. The microscope now demonstrates, however, how much the familiar appearance of the world depends on the structure of our sense apparatus; for it reveals a realm just as real as that already known to us, but hitherto concealed from us because it is not accessible to the natural senses. Accordingly, if the microscope can penetrate through the veil of illusion which normally hides a whole world of potentially visible phenomena, it may be that it can even teach us something about the ideas we have hitherto formed concerning the nature of things. Perhaps it can bring us a step nearer the truth in the sphere of thought, as it so obviously has done in that of observation.

Of all the ideas that human reason can form, Hooke considered the simplest and the most fundamental to be the geometrical concepts of point and straight line. Undoubtedly we are able to think these, but the naïve consciousness takes for granted that it also perceives them as objective realities outside itself, so that thoughts and facts correspond to each other. We must now ask, however, if this belief is not due to an optical deception. Let us turn to the microscope and see what point and line in the external world look like through it.

For his investigation Hooke chose the point of a needle and a knife-edge, as providing the best representatives among physical objects of point and straight line. In the sketches here reproduced we may see how Hooke made clear to his readers how little these two things, when observed through the microscope, resemble what is seen by the unaided eye. This fact convinced Hooke that the apparent agreement between the world of perception and the world of ideas rests on nothing more solid than an optical limitation (Plate I).

Compared with the more refined methods of present-day thought, Hooke's procedure may strike us as somewhat primitive. Actually he did nothing more than has since been done times without number; for the scientist has become more and more willing to allow artificially evoked sense-perceptions to dictate the thoughts he uses in forming a scientific picture of the world.

In the present context we are concerned with the historical import of Hooke's procedure. This lies in the fact that, immediately after Descartes had satisfied himself that in thinking man had the one sure guarantee of his own existence, Hooke proved in a seemingly indubitable manner that thinking was entirely divorced from reality. It required only another century for philosophy to draw from this the unavoidable consequence. It appeared in the form of Hume's philosophic system, the outcome of which was universal scepticism.

As we shall see in due course, Hume's mode of reasoning continues to rule scientific thought even to-day, quite irrespective of the fact that science itself claims to have its philosophical parent in Kant, the very thinker who devoted his life's work to the refutation of Hume.


On the basis of his investigations into human consciousness Hume felt obliged to reason thus: My consciousness, as I know it, has no contact with the external world other than that of a mere outside onlooker. What it wins for its own content from the outer world is in the nature of single, mutually unrelated parts. Whatever may unite these parts into an objective whole within the world itself can never enter my consciousness; and any such unifying factor entertained by my thought can be only a self-constructed, hypothetical picture. Hume summed up his view in two axioms which he himself described as the alpha and omega of his whole philosophy. The first runs: 'All our distinct perceptions are distinct existences.' The other: 'The Mind never perceives any real connexions between distinct existences.' (Treatise of Human Nature.)

If once we agree that we can know of nothing but unrelated thought pictures, because our consciousness is not in a position to relate these pictures to a unifying reality, then we have no right to ascribe, with Descartes and his school, an objective reality to the self. Even though the self may appear to us as the unifying agent among our thoughts, it must itself be a mental picture among mental pictures ; and man can have no knowledge of any permanent reality outside this fluctuating picture-realm. So, with Hume, the onlooker-consciousness came to experience its own utter inability to achieve a knowledge of the objective existence either of a material world be - behind all external phenomena, or of a spiritual self behind all the details of its own internal content.

Accordingly, human consciousness found itself hurled into the abyss of universal scepticism. Hume himself suffered unspeakably under the impact of what he considered inescapable ideas - rightly described from another side as the 'suicide of human intelligence' - and his philosophy often seemed to him like a malady, as he himself called it, against whose grip he could see no remedy. The only thing left to him, if he was to prevent philosophical suicide from ending in physical suicide, was to forget in daily life his own conclusions as far as possible.

What Hume experienced as his philosophical malady, however, was the result not of a mental abnormality peculiar to himself, but of that modern form of consciousness which still prevails in general today. This explains why, despite all attempts to disprove Hume's philosophy, scientific thought has not broken away from its alpha and omega in the slightest degree.

A proof of this is to be found, for example, in the principle of Indeterminacy which has arisen in modern physics.


The conception of Indeterminacy as an unavoidable consequence of the latest phase of physical research is due to Professor W. Heisenberg. Originally this conception forced itself upon Heisenberg as a result of experimental research. In the meantime the same idea has received its purely philosophical foundation. We shall here deal with both lines of approach.

After the discovery by Galileo of the parallelogram of forces, it became the object of classical physics - unexpressed, indeed, until Newton wrote his Principia - to bring the unchanging laws ruling nature into the light of human consciousness, and to give them conceptual expression in the language of mathematical formulae. Since, however, science was obliged to restrict itself to what could be observed with a single, colour-blind eye, physics has taken as its main object of research the spatio-temporal relationships, and their changes, between discrete, ideally conceived, point-like particles. Accordingly, the mathematically formulable laws holding sway in nature came to mean the laws according to which the smallest particles in the material foundation of the world change their position with regard to each other. A science of this kind could logically maintain that, if ever it succeeded in defining both the position and the state of motion, in one single moment, of the totality of particles composing the universe, it would have discovered the law on which universal existence depends. This necessarily rested on the presupposition that it really was the ultimate particles of the physical world which were under observation. In the search for these, guided chiefly by the study of electricity, the physicists tracked down ever smaller and smaller units; and along this path scientific research has arrived at the following peculiar situation.

To observe any object in the sense world we need an appropriate medium of observation. For ordinary things, light provides this. In the sense in which light is understood to-day, this is possible because the spatial extension of the single light impulses, their so-called wavelength, is immeasurably smaller than the average magnitude of all microscopically visible objects. This ensures that they can be observed clearly by the human eye. Much smaller objects, however, will require a correspondingly shorter wave-length in the medium of observation. Now shorter wave-lengths than those of visible light have been found in ultra-violet light and in X-rays; and these, accordingly, are now often used for minute physical research.

In this way, however, we are led by nature to a definite boundary; for we now find ourselves in a realm where the dimensions of the observation medium and the observed object are more or less the same. The result, unfortunately, is that when the 'light' meets the object, it changes the latter's condition of movement. On the other hand, if a 'light' is used whose wave-length is too big to have any influence on the object's condition of movement, it precludes any exact determination of the object's location.

Thus, having arrived at the very ground of the world - that is, where the cosmic laws might be expected to reveal themselves directly - the scientist finds himself in the remarkable situation of only being able to determine accurately either the position of an observed object and not its state of motion, or its state of motion and not its position. The law he seeks, however, requires that both should be known at the same time. Nor is this situation due to the imperfection of the scientific apparatus employed, but to its very perfection, so that it appears to arise from the nature of the foundation of the world - in so far, at least, as modern science is bound to conceive it.

If it is true that a valid scientific knowledge of nature is possible only in the sphere open to a single-eyed, colour-blind observation, and if it is true - as a science of this kind, at any rate, is obliged to believe - that all processes within the material foundation of the world depend on nothing but the movements of certain elementary particles of extremely small size, then the fact must be faced that the very nature of these processes rules out the discovery of any stable ordering of things in the sense of mathematically formulable laws. The discovery of such laws will then always be the last step but one in scientific investigation; the last will inevitably be the dissolution of such laws into chaos. For a consistent scientific thinking that goes this way, therefore, nothing is left but to recognize chaos as the only real basis of an apparently ordered world, a chaos on whose surface the laws that seem to hold sway are only the illusory picturings of the human mind. This, then, is the principle of Indeterminacy as it has been encountered in the course of practical investigation into the electrical processes within physical matter.

In the following way Professor Schrödinger, another leading thinker among modern theoretical physicists, explains the philosophical basis for the principle of Indeterminacy, which scientists have established in the meantime:1

'Every quantitative observation, every observation making use of measurement, is by nature discontinuous. ... However far we go in the pursuit of accuracy we shall never get anything other than a finite series of discrete results. ... The raw material of our quantitative cognition of nature will always have this primitive and discontinuous character. ... It is possible that a physical system might be so simple that this meagre information would suffice to settle its fate; in that case nature would not be more complicated than a game of chess. To determine a position of a game of chess thirty-three facts suffice. ... If nature is more complicated than a game of chess, a belief to which one tends to incline, then a physical system cannot be determined by a finite number of observations. But in practice a finite number of observations is all that we could make.'

Classical physics, the author goes on to show, held that it was possible to gain a real insight into the laws of the universe, because in principle an infinite number of such discrete observations would enable us to fill in the gaps sufficiently to allow us to determine the system of the physical world. Against this assumption modern physics must hold the view that an infinite number of observations cannot in any case be carried out in practice, and that nothing compels us to assume that even this would suffice to furnish us with the means for a complete determination, which alone would allow us to speak of 'law' in nature. 'This is the direction in which modern physics has led us without really intending it.'

What we have previously said will make it clear enough that in these words of a modern physicist we meet once more the two fundamentals of Hume's philosophy. It is just as obvious, however, that the very principle thus re-affirmed at the latest stage of modern physical science was already firmly established by Hooke, when he sought to prove to his contemporaries the unreality of human ideas.

Let us recall Hooke's motives and results. The human reason discovers that certain law-abiding forms of thought dwell within itself; these are the rules of mathematical thinking. The eye informs the reason that the same kind of law and order is present also in the outer world. The mind can think point and line; the eye reports that the same forms exist in nature outside. (Hooke could just as well have taken as his examples the apex and edge of a crystal.) The reason mistrusts the eye, however, and with the help of the microscope 'improves' on it. What hitherto had been taken for a compact, regulated whole now collapses into a heap of unordered parts; behind the illusion of law a finer observation detects the reality of chaos!

Had science in its vehement career from discovery to discovery not forgotten its own beginnings so completely, it would not have needed its latest researches to bring out a principle which it had in fact been following from the outset - a principle which philosophy had already recognized, if not in quite the same formulation, in the eighteenth century. Indeterminacy, as we have just seen it explained by Schrödinger, is nothing but the exact continuation of Humean scepticism.

1 In his book, Science and the Human Temperament (Dublin, 1935).


The Country that is Not Ours

The last two chapters have served to show the impasse into which human perception and thinking have come - in so far as they have been used for scientific purposes - by virtue of the relationship to the world in which man's consciousness found itself when it awoke to itself at the beginning of modern times. Now although the onlooker in man, especially in the earliest stage of our period, gave itself up to the conviction that a self-contained picture of the universe could be formed out of the kind of materials available to it, it nevertheless had a dim inkling that this picture, because it lacked all dynamic content, had no bearing on the real nature of the universe. Unable to find this reality within himself, the world-onlooker set about searching in his own way for what was missing, and turned to the perceptible world outside man. Here he came, all unexpectedly, upon ... electricity. Scarcely was electricity discovered than it drew human scientific thinking irresistibly into its own realm. Thereby man found himself, with a consciousness completely blind to dynamics, within a sphere of only too real dynamic forces. The following description will show what results this has had for man and his civilization.


First, let us recall how potent a role electricity has come to play in social life through the great discoveries which began at the end of the eighteenth century. To do this we need only compare the present relationship between production and consumption in the economic sphere with what it was before the power-machine, and especially the electrically driven machine, had been invented. Consider some major public undertaking in former times - say the construction of a great mediaeval cathedral. Almost all the work was done by human beings, with some help, of course, from domesticated animals. Under these circumstances the entire source of productive power lay in the will-energies of living beings, whose bodies had to be supplied with food, clothing and housing; and to provide these, other productive powers of a similar kind were required near the same place. Accordingly, since each of the power units employed in the work was simultaneously both producer and consumer, a certain natural limit was placed on the accumulation of productive forces in any one locality.

This condition of natural balance between production and consumption was profoundly disturbed by the introduction of the steam engine; but even so there were still some limits, though of a quite different kind, to local concentrations of productive power. For steam engines require water and coal at the scene of action, and these take up space and need continual shifting and replenishing. Owing to the very nature of physical matter, it cannot be heaped up where it is required in unlimited quantities.

All this changed directly man succeeded in producing energy electro-magnetically by the mere rotation of material masses, and in using the water-power of the earth - itself ultimately derived from the cosmic energies of the sun - for driving his dynamos. Not only is the source of energy thus tapped practically inexhaustible, but the machines produce it without consuming on their own account, apart from wear and tear, and so make possible the almost limitless accumulation of power in one place. For electricity is distinguished from all other power-supplying natural forces, living or otherwise, precisely in this, that it can be concentrated spatially with the aid of a physical carrier whose material bulk is insignificant compared with the energy supplied.

Through this property of electricity it has been possible for man to extend the range of his activity in all directions, far and near. So the balance between production and consumption, which in previous ages was more or less adequately maintained by natural conditions, has been entirely destroyed, and a major social-economic problem created.

In yet another way, and through quite another of its properties, electricity plays an important part in modern life. Not only does it compete with the human will; it also makes possible automatically intelligent operations quite beyond anything man can do on his own. There are innumerable examples of this in modern electrical technology; we need mention here only the photo-electric cell and the many devices into which it enters.

To an ever-increasing, quite uncontrolled degree - for to the mind of present-day man it is only natural to translate every new discovery into practice as soon and as extensively as possible - electricity enters decisively into our modern existence. If we take all its activities into account, we see arising amongst humanity a vast realm of labour units, possessed in their own way not only of will but of the sharpest imaginable intelligence. Although they are wholly remote from man's own nature, he more and more subdues his thoughts and actions to theirs, allowing them to take rank as guides and shapers of his civilization.

Turning to the sphere of scientific research, we find electricity playing a role in the development of modern thinking remarkably similar to its part as a labour-force in everyday life. We find it associated with phenomena which, in Professor Heisenberg's words, expose their mutual connexions to exact mathematical thinking more readily than do any other facts of nature; and yet the way in which these phenomena have become known has played fast and loose with mathematical thinking to an unparalleled degree. To recognize that in this sphere modern science owes its triumphs to a strange and often paradoxical mixture of outer accident and error in human thought, we need only review the history of the subject without prejudice.


The discovery of electricity has so far been accomplished in four clearly distinct stages. The first extends from the time when men first knew of electrical phenomena to the beginning of the natural scientific age; the second includes the seventeenth and the greater part of the eighteenth centuries; the third begins with Galvani's discovery and closes with the first observations of radiant electricity; and the fourth brings us to our own day. We shall here concern ourselves with a few outstanding features of each phase, enough to characterize the strange path along which man has been led by the discovery of electricity.

Until the beginning of modern times, nothing more was known about electricity, or of its sister force, magnetism, than what we find in Pliny's writings. There, without recognizing a qualitative distinction between them, he refers to the faculty of rubbed amber and of certain pieces of iron to attract other small pieces of matter. It required the awakening of that overruling interest in material nature, characteristic of our own age, for the essential difference between electric and magnetic attraction to be recognized. The first to give a proper description of this was Queen Elizabeth's doctor, Gilbert. His discovery was soon followed by the construction of the first electrical machine by the German Guericke (also known through his invention of the air pump) which opened the way for the discovery that electricity could be transmitted from one place to another.

It was not, however, until the beginning of the eighteenth century that the crop of electrical discoveries began to increase considerably: among these was the recognition of the dual nature of electricity, by the Frenchman, Dufais, and the chance invention of the Leyden jar (made simultaneously by the German, von Kleist, and two Dutchmen, Musschenbroek and Cunaeus). The Leyden jar brought electrical effects of quite unexpected intensity within reach. Stimulated by what could be done with electricity in this form, more and more people now busied themselves in experimenting with so fascinating a force of nature, until in the second third of the century a whole army of observers was at work, whether by way of profession or of hobby, finding out ever new manifestations of its powers.

The mood that prevailed in those days among men engaged in electrical research is well reflected in a letter written by the Englishman, Walsh, after he had established the electric nature of the shocks given by certain fishes, to Benjamin Franklin, who shortly before had discovered the natural occurrence of electricity in the atmosphere:

'I rejoice in addressing these communications to You. He, who predicted and shewed that electricity wings the formidable bolt of the Atmosphere, will hear with attention that in the deep it speeds a humbler bolt, silent and invisible; He, who analysed the electrical Phial, will hear with pleasure that its laws prevail in animate Phials; He, who by Reason became an electrician, will hear with reverence of an instinctive electrician, gifted in his birth with a wonderful apparatus, and with the skill to use it.' (Phil. Trans. 1773.)

Dare one believe that in electricity the soul of nature had been discovered? This was the question which at that time stirred the hearts of very many in Europe. Doctors had already sought to arouse new vitality in their patients by the use of strong electric shocks; attempts had even been made to bring the dead back to life by such means. . In a time like ours, when we are primarily concerned with the practical application of scientific discoveries, we are mostly accustomed to regard such flights of thought from a past age as nothing but the unessential accompaniment of youthful, immature science, and to smile at them accordingly as historical curiosities. This is a mistake, for we then overlook how within them was hidden an inkling of the truth, however wrongly conceived at the time, and we ignore the role which such apparently fantastic hopes have played in connexion with the entry of electricity into human civilization. (Nor are such hopes confined to the eighteenth century; as we shall see, the same impulse urged Crookes a hundred years later to that decisive discovery which was to usher in the latest phase in the history of science, a phase in which the investigating human spirit has been led to that boundary of the physical-material world where the transition takes place from inert matter into freely working energy.)

If there was any doubt left as to whether in nature the same power was at work which, in animal and man, was hidden away within the soul, this doubt seemed finally to have been dispelled through Galvani's discovery that animal limbs could be made to move electrically through being touched by two bits of different metals. No wonder that 'the storm which was loosed in the world of the physicists, the physiologists and the doctors through Galvani's publication can only be compared with the one crossing the political horizon of Europe at the same time. Wherever there happened to be frogs and two pieces of different metals available, everyone sought proof with his own eyes that the severed limbs could be marvellously re-enlivened.'1

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