Mobility of thoughts

I was overjoyed recently when I read that there are still people who, going beyond the ordinary routine of life, have already perceived the practical life as something important. Recently a news item spread through the world, describing how Edison tested the people he wished to prepare for some sort of practical work. It did not interest him at all whether or not a merchant was able to keep books. That, he said, can be learned in three weeks if one is a reasonable, intelligent person. None of these specialties interested him at all; these one can learn. 

When Edison wished to know whether people would be of any use in practical life, however, he tested them by asking them questions like, “How large is Siberia?” Thus when he wished to discover whether someone was a good bookkeeper, Edison did not ask whether he could conduct an audit properly, but he asked, “How large is Siberia?” or “If a room is five meters long, three meters wide, and four meters high, how many cubic meters of air are contained in this room?” and similar questions. He posed questions like, “What is standing at the place where Caesar crossed the Rubicon?” and so on, just general questions. And according to the extent to which a person could answer such questions, Edison hired him as a bookkeeper, or whatever. He knew that if a person could answer such a general question this was a proof that his schooling had not been in vain, that as a child he had developed mobile thoughts, and this is what Edison demanded.

This is how practical life really should be conducted, whereas in recent times we have steered precisely in the opposite direction, succumbing more and more to specialization, so that finally one could really despair of finding the people needed for practical life. It is impossible to get anyone to do something outside the pigeonhole into which he wants to fit. Already today it must be said that in this way too we must work toward the mobility of thoughts. If there is such a working toward the mobility of thoughts, then these thoughts will not harden, and Ahriman will be in a difficult position.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 205 – Therapeutic Insights: Earthly and Cosmic Laws – Dornach, July 3, 1921

Translations by May Laird-Brown, Alice Wulsin and Gerald Karnow

Previously posted on January 18, 2020


Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)


Abstract truths have magic power

We must remind ourselves as part of our endeavour in spiritual science that what may seem to us abstract truths have in them magic power which has only to be released for clear light to pour over the whole of life. And wherever we are placed, as scientists or practical workers in whatever sphere, however small our part, if we know how to quicken into life, for whatever that sphere may be, the abstract truths we take in during our meetings, we shall be fellow-workers at the greatest tasks of our time.

And our souls will then be filled with a gladness which is not superficial good cheer, but has its part in the life-giving seriousness that increases our strength; and instead of allowing life to degenerate into a mere excuse for enjoyment makes of us true workers in life. 

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 168 – How Can the Destitution of Soul in Modern Times Be Overcome? / Social Understanding – Liberty of Thought – Knowledge of the Spirit – Zurich, October 10th, 1916


A true philosopher should be a practical human being

One must be able to live in these higher worlds, but at the same time be able to bring oneself back again, so as to stand firmly on one’s own two feet. That is why in speaking of these things I state emphatically that for me as for a good philosopher a knowledge of how shoes and coats are sewn is almost more important than logic. A true philosopher should be a practical human being. One must not be thinking about life if one does not stand within it as a really practical human being. And in the case of one who is seeking super-sensible knowledge this is still more necessary. Knowers of the super-sensible cannot be dreamers or fanatics — people who do not stand firmly on their own two feet. Otherwise one loses oneself because one must really come out of oneself. But this coming-out-of-oneself must not lead to losing oneself. The book, Occult Science, an Outline, was written from such a knowledge as I have described.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 305 – Esoteric Development: Lecture IV: The Attainment of Spiritual Knowledge – Oxford, August 20, 1922


Life gains in worth and significance

The purpose of this book (Theosophy) is to give a description of some of the regions of the supersensible world. The reader who is only willing to admit the existence of the sensible world will look upon this description as merely an unreal production of the imagination. Whoever looks for paths that lead beyond this world of the senses, however, will soon learn to understand that human life only gains in worth and significance through insight into another world. He will not, as many fear, be estranged from the “real” world through this new power of vision because only through it does he learn to stand securely and firmly in this life and learns to know the causes of life. Without this power of vision he gropes like a blind man through their effects. Only through the understanding of the supersensible does the sensible “real” acquire meaning. A man therefore becomes more and not less fit for life through this understanding. Only he who understands life can become a truly practical man.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 9 – Theosophy – An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man: From the prefaces to the first, second and third editions

Translated by Henry B. Monges and revised for this edition by Gilbert Church, Ph.D


Exercise to get the right idea at the right time

There is another exercise that is to be practiced especially by those to whom the right idea usually does not occur at the right time.

Such people should try above all things to stop their thinking from being forever influenced and controlled by the ordinary course of worldly events and whatever else may come with them. As a rule, when a person lies down for half an hour’s rest, his thoughts are allowed to play freely in a thousand different directions, or on the other hand he may become absorbed with some trouble in his life. Before he realizes it such things will have crept into his consciousness and claimed his entire attention. If this habit persists, such a person will never experience the occasion when the right idea occurs to him at the right moment.

If he really wants this to happen, he must say to himself whenever he can spare a half hour for rest, “Whenever I can spare the time, I will think about something I myself have chosen and I will bring it into my consciousness arbitrarily of my own free will. For example, I will think of something that occurred two years ago during a walk. I will deliberately recall what occurred then and I will think about it if only for five minutes. During these five minutes I will banish everything else from my mind and will myself choose the subject about which I wish to think.”

He need not even choose so difficult a subject as this one. The point is not at all to change one’s mental process through difficult exercises, but to get away from the ordinary routine of life in one’s thinking. He must think of something quite apart from what enmeshes him during the ordinary course of the day. If nothing occurs to him to think about, he might open a book at random and occupy his thoughts with whatever first catches his eye. Or he may choose to think of something he saw at a particular time that morning on his way to work and to which he would otherwise have paid no attention. The main point is that it should be something totally different from the ordinary run of daily events, something that otherwise would not have occupied his thoughts.

If such exercises are practiced systematically again and again, it will soon be noticed that ideas come at the right moments, and the right thoughts occur when needed. Through these exercises thinking will become activated and mobile — something of immense importance in practical life.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 108 – Practical training in thought – Carlsruhe, January 18, 1909

This translation is by Henry B. Monges in 1949, and was revised by Gilbert Church, Ph.D. in 1966