Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Rudolf Steiner on the Sub-Nature we now inhabit

At the end of his life, Rudolf Steiner dictated a summary of the key ideas that he wished emphasise. These were not finished, but the very last things he wrote about - in a posthumously published book entitled Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts (Collected Works number 26) were some of his most insightful and prophectic statements - although difficult to understand without some background knowledge. 

These have been made much clearer by a 2020 book from Jeremy Naydler The struggle for a human future, which I recommend reading.  

The following blog post, written earlier today, is my current understanding of what Steiner is implying, but did ot live long enough to formulate and state explicitly.

Anyway, here is an edited excerpt from these final words, which can be seen in full here.

 

By far the greater part of that which works in modern civilisation through technical Science and Industry — wherein the life of man is so intensely interwoven — is not Nature at all, but Sub-Nature. 

It is a world which emancipates itself from Nature — emancipates itself in a downward direction. 

 

Entering the purely earthly element, Man strikes upon the Ahrimanic realm. With his own being he must now acquire a right relation to the Ahrimanic. 

But in the age of Technical Science hitherto, the possibility of finding a true relationship to the Ahrimanic civilisation has escaped man. He must find the strength, the inner force of knowledge, in order not to be overcome by Ahriman in this technical civilisation. 

 

He must understand Sub-Nature for what it really is. This he can only do if he rises, in spiritual knowledge, at least as far into extra-earthly Super-Nature as he has descended, in technical Sciences, into Sub-Nature. 

The age requires a knowledge transcending Nature, because in its inner life it must come to grips with a life-content which has sunk far beneath Nature — a life-content whose influence is perilous. 

 

Needless to say, there can be no question here of advocating a return to earlier states of civilisation. The point is that man shall find the way to bring the conditions of modern civilisation into their true relationship-to himself and to the Cosmos. 

There are very few as yet who even feel the greatness of the spiritual tasks approaching man in this direction. 

Electricity, for instance, celebrated since its discovery as the very soul of Nature's existence, must be recognised in its true character — in its peculiar power of leading down from Nature to Sub Nature

Only man himself must beware lest he slide downward with it. 

 

In the age when there was not yet a technical industry independent of true Nature, man found the Spirit within his view of Nature. 

But the technical processes, emancipating themselves from Nature, caused him to stare more and more fixedly at the mechanical-material, which now became for him the really scientific realm. 

In this mechanical-material domain, all the Divine-Spiritual Being connected with the origin of human evolution, is completely absent. The purely Ahrimanic dominates this sphere. 

 

In the Science of the Spirit, we now create another sphere in which there is no Ahrimanic element. It is just by receiving in Knowledge this spirituality to which the Ahrimanic powers have no access, that man is strengthened to confront Ahriman within the world. 

10 comments:

NLR said...

Very interesting and helpful.

Particularly good quotes are:


"In the Science of the Spirit, we now create another sphere in which there is no Ahrimanic element. It is just by receiving in Knowledge this spirituality to which the Ahrimanic powers have no access, that man is strengthened to confront Ahriman within the world."

and

"In reality, nothing that man experiences is an abstraction. He only fails to perceive whence it is that an experience comes to him; and thus he turns ideas about realities into abstractions. He speaks of the laws of mechanics. He thinks he has abstracted them from the connections and relationships of Nature. But this is not the case. All that man experiences in his soul by way of purely mechanical laws, has been discovered inwardly through his relationship of orientation to the earthly world (in standing, walking, etc.)."


Steiner seems to be saying that in order to avoid being overcome by the system, we have to think and act in ways which it cannot co-opt.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - "Steiner seems to be saying that in order to avoid being overcome by the system, we have to think and act in ways which it cannot co-opt."

Yes, that was my understanding too. Something in the opposite direction of the Ahrimanic - which is what I think he would term the Chist (or Michaelic) impulse. In practise, I think this section matches up with the wholesale corruption of all significant organisations, institutions, corporations etc. ...Including the Anthroposophical Society with its structures, rules, committees and procedures!

Bill Turgeon said...

Glad you are citing this, Dr. Charlton.

Over the past two years, I had meant to direct your attention to this particular entry you are citing, had you not seen it.

"...(Man must rise) at least as far into extra-earthly Super-Nature as he has descended – in the technical sciences – into Sub-Nature...Electricity must be recognized in its true character – in its peculiar power of leading down from Nature to Sub-Nature...(Man) must rise as high above Nature as in his sub-natural technical activities he sinks beneath her. He will thus create within him the inner strength not to go under."

To obtain an immediate experience of how the domain of electrical forces is "Sub-Nature," do this:

On some warm, early evening - with dusk just approaching - take a television set on a long extension cord and place it outside on a chair next to a tree on a nice green, trimmed lawn.

Turn the television on; observe quietly and attentively at various distances from the device.

The juxtaposition of the erratic, preternatural, other-worldly, flowing electronic images within the immediate context of the gentle living greenery and quiet nobility of Nature is a significantly jarring experience.

The point is to observe the cold, harsh contrast.

The device and its electronic images truly like they come from a Netherworld and have their 'life' from there.

Adil said...

Steiner's remarks on electricity are fascinating. He also terms Adam and Eve's fall from paradise as an electrical event, where death and life among opposites became possible. Light illuminates matter, whereas electricity traps it, in a downwards fashion. Therefore we can't remain morally neutral towards electricity, since it is an immoral force. Your modern physicist might scoff at that and say electricity is neither bad or good, just another form of energy. But such scientific arrogance robs the symbolism and inner meaning of electricity. This requires metaphysical considerations, a science in itself, which the modern world conveniently ignores. Thus, the physicist becomes king, and priest just another symbolic job. However, the physicist knows nothing of electricity's character, and might not even be able to relate to it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Eric - It all sounds very bizarre to the modern mind; but I believe it is a vital consideration. I myself didn't even begin to appreciate this until I read Jeremy Naydler (who is an Anthroposophist) - eg. https://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2018/10/review-of-jeremy-naydlers-in-shadow-of.html .

Karl W said...

Dr Charlton, this reflection on Bonaventure might be of interest and some relevance.

https://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/notes-on-st-bonaventure/?fbclid=IwAR2Ozx_29oHz0jqoRejbqfoHgXkiEz7gBv9R0n4ZI21l2S5ocyMdap4ynMg

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - I'm afraid I can't see any substantive relationship!

Karl W said...

Ah, apologies, Dr Charlton. I think it would have been more fitting in your previous post about metaphysics wherein I felt there was a connection between your warning about becoming caught in a web of metaphysic versus pure illumination which I think is what the author is getting at somewhat in the Aquinas v Bonaventure opposition.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - Well, at least I did not fall into the trap of seeing relevance where none had been intended!

Otto said...

Bill Turgeon,

I disagree.

The correct method of engaging with televisions is demonstrated in this instructional video (with subtitles).