Objective reality

We will never be able to discover the facts of the spiritual world unless we develop an attitude that acknowledges the facts of the physical world. The right way of experiencing the spiritual world must be developed here in the physical world. That is why we have been placed in the physical world: it is our task here to seek for ideas that are in harmony with objective reality, so that we acquire this ability and so that it becomes a habit we can carry with us into the spiritual world.

But today so many people base their assertions on nothing but emotion and are not in the least interested in whether they agree with objective reality. This is precisely the opposite of the direction in which humanity must move if it is to progress. And, especially in our materialistic age, the notion of thinking in accordance with reality has been so frightfully distorted by the influences we have been describing; thinking that is in accord with reality has become a rarity. And an honest attempt to think in accordance with reality today collides with all the contemporary thinking that is at variance with reality. 

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 170 – Riddle of Humanity: Lecture Thirteen: Dornach, 28 August 1916

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Apparent motives and real motives

In connection with a series of actions, a man once said to me that he had done them out of an iron sense of duty, out of infinite devotion to the cause he represented. I was bound to say to him in reply: “The opinion you have about the motives of your procedure and of your actions is no criterion whatever. Only reality is the criterion, not the opinion one may have. The reality shows that the impulse, the urge to these actions was to gain influence in a certain direction.” I said to the man quite baldly: “Although you believe that you are acting out of an iron sense of duty, you are really acting under the impulse to acquire influence and you misinterpret this way of acting as being selfless, done purely out of a sense of duty. You are not acting out of this motive but because it pleases you to act so, because it brings you certain pleasure — again, therefore, out of a certain inner impulse.”

Our opinion, our mental picture of ourselves may be extremely complicated; it may not resemble in the very remotest degree what is really dominating and weaving in the soul. it may be extremely complicated. You will admit at once that such things must be known when it is a question of living in a world of truth and not in a world of Maya; you will also admit at once that it is necessary now and then to speak of such things in a radical way! The reasons which as genuine, true reasons, drive us to our actions, can only become clear to us slowly and by degrees, when through Spiritual science, we really have knowledge of the secret connections existing between the human being and the world.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 161 – The Problem of Death: Lecture 1 – Dornach, February 5, 1915

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Illusion /Reality / Danger

I would like today to draw your attention to the fact that on the border between the sensuous-visible world and the invisible-extrasensory world, indeed, a certain danger lies in wait for the human being, and that someone who wants to become an initiate has to overcome this danger at first. It consists in the fact that it is exceptionally difficult to distinguish illusion from reality, dreams from reality, vision from the real view at the border of the physical and the supraphysical worlds. In this area, it is very easy to confuse own fantastic things of the soul with the objective reality. One needs different qualities that are explained in the following: keeping cool, retaining certainty of the soul, courage, perseverance and energy at the border. If the human being lost the clearness about that which is appearance and what is reality at this border, he would have lost his mind, then he would be a fool instead of an initiate.

Nowadays an immense greed, a true fury exists with most people indeed, if they hear of such matters to behold something of the higher worlds. However, with most human beings the perseverance and the will and above all the strength to overcome everything that must remove the indicated dangers do not exist. 

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 56 – Knowledge of Soul and Spirit: Lecture IV: Initiation – Berlin, 28 November 1907

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Thinking / Truth / Self-education

We have to take pains to stimulate and strengthen within us a mood that may be expressed as follows. It must be as though we were constantly saying to ourselves: I ought not to expect that my thinking can give me knowledge of the truth, I ought rather solely to expect of my thinking that it shall educate me. It is of the utmost importance that we should develop in us this idea, namely, that our thinking educates us. If you will really take this point of view as a practical rule of life you will find that there are many occasions when you are led to quite different conclusions from those that seem at first sight to be inevitable. […]

So long as one expects by thinking to come to conformity with some objective reality, so long as we give ourselves up to the belief that by thinking or by the elaboration of concepts or, let us say, by the elaboration in thought of experiences we have in the world, we can come to reality, so long are we indeed in desperate case, if someone comes forward and shows us that a particular statement and its exact opposite can equally well be proved. For if this is so, how are we ever to arrive at Truth? 

If, however, we have learned that where the situation demands a decisive pronouncement, thinking can come to no conclusion about reality, if we have persistently educated ourselves instead to look upon thinking as a means to become wiser, as a means to take in hand our own self-education in wisdom, then it does not disturb us at all that at one time one thing can be proved and at another time its opposite can be proved. For we very soon make the following discovery. The fact that the elaboration of concepts does not, so to say, expose us in the least to the onset of reality, is the very reason why we are able to work with perfect freedom within the sphere of concepts and ideas and to carry on our own self-education by this means. 

If we were perpetually being corrected by reality, then the elaboration of concepts would not afford us a means of educating ourselves in this manner in perfect freedom. I would like to ask you to give careful consideration to this fact. Let me repeat it. The elaboration of concepts affords us a means of effective and independent self-education, and it can only do so because we are never disturbed in the free elaboration of concepts by the interference of reality.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 134 – The World of the Senses and the World of the Spirit: Lecture II – Hanover, 28th December 1911

Previously posted on January 26, 2019

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Correct thinking and right judgment does not always lead to the truth

In the world outside, in so far as this world is ruled by external science, when people speak of knowledge, you will always find them say: Yes, of course, we arrive at knowledge when we have formed right judgments and exercised correct thinking. I recently cited a very simple example to illustrate how great an error is involved in this assumption that we are bound to arrive at truth when we make correct and reasonable judgments; and I would like to relate it again now, to show you that accuracy of reasoning need by no means lead to the truth.

There was once a small boy in a village who was sent regularly by his parents to fetch bread. He used always to have ten kreuzer, and bring back in exchange six rolls. If you bought one such roll it cost two kreuzer, but he always brought back six rolls for his ten kreuzer. The boy was not particularly good at arithmetic and never troubled himself as to how it worked out that he always took with him ten kreuzer, that a roll cost two and yet he brought home six rolls in return for his ten. One day a boy was brought into the family from another part and he became for our small boy a kind of foster-brother. They were of about the same age, but the foster-brother was a good arithmetician. And he saw how his companion went to the baker’s, taking with him ten kreuzer, and he knew that a roll cost two. So he said to him, “You must bring home five rolls.” He was a very good arithmetician and his reasoning was perfectly accurate. One roll costs two kreuzer (so he reasoned), he takes with him ten, he will obviously bring home five rolls. But behold, he brought back six. Then said our good arithmetician: “But that is quite wrong! One roll costs two kreuzer, and you took ten, and two into ten goes five times; you can’t possibly bring back six rolls. You must have made a mistake or else you have pinched one …” But now, lo and behold, on the next day, too, the boy brought home six rolls. It was, you see, a custom in those parts that when you bought five you received an extra one in addition, so that in fact when you paid for five rolls you received six. It was a custom that was very agreeable for anyone who needed five rolls for his household.

The good arithmetician had reasoned, quite correctly, there was no fault in his thinking; but this correct thinking did not accord with reality. We are obliged to admit the correct thinking did not arrive at the reality, for reality does not order itself in accordance with correct thinking. You may see very clearly in this case how with the most conscientious, the most clever logical thinking that can possibly be spun out, you may arrive at a correct conclusion and yet, measured by reality your conclusion may be utterly and completely false. That can always happen. Consequently a proof that is acquired purely through thought can never be a criterion for reality — never.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 134 – The World of the Senses and the World of the Spirit – Hanover, 27th December 1911

Previously posted on January 20, 2019

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