Storm's Journal

If nature didn't want us to think, then why did she give us these lumps on the end of our spines?
(Caleb Howard)

--| THE ACT OF KNOWING |----- 
--| Rudolf Steiner, 1894 |----- 

The naive man accepts life as it is, and regards things as real just as they
present themselves to him in experience. The first step, however, which we take
beyond this standpoint can only be this, that we ask how thinking is related to
percept. It makes no difference whether or not the percept, in the shape given
to me, exists continuously before and after my forming a mental picture; if I
want to assert anything whatever about it, I can only do so with the help of
thinking. If I assert that the world is my mental picture, I have enunciated
the result of an act of thinking, and if my thinking is not applicable to the
world, then this result is false. Between a percept and every kind of assertion
about it there intervenes thinking.

The reason why we generally overlook thinking in our consideration of things
lies in the fact that our attention is concentrated only on the object we are
thinking about, but not at the same time on thinking itself. The naive
consciousness, therefore, treats thinking as something which has nothing to do
with the things, but stands altogether apart from them, and turns its
consideration to the world. The picture which the thinker makes of the
phenomena of the world is regarded not as something belonging to the things,
but as existing only in the human head. The world is complete in itself without
this picture. It is quite finished in all its substances and forces, and of
this ready-made world man makes a picture. Whoever thinks thus need only be
asked one question. What right have you to declare the world to be complete
without thinking? Does not the world produce thinking in the heads of men with
the same necessity as it produces the blossom on a plant? Plant a seed in the
earth. It puts forth root and stem, it unfolds into leaves and blossoms. Set
the plant before yourself. It connects itself in your soul with a definite
concept. Why should this concept belong any less to the whole plant than leaf
and blossom? You say the leaves and blossom exist quite apart from a perceiving
subject, the concept appears only when a human being confronts the plant. Quite
so. But leaves and blossoms also appear on the plant only if there is soil in
which the seed can be planted, and light and air in which the leaves and
blossom can unfold. Just so the concept of the plant arises when a thinking
consciousness approaches the plant.

It is quite arbitrary to regard the sum of what we experience of a thing
through bare perception as the whole thing, while that which reveals itself
through thoughtful contemplation is regarded as a mere accretion which has
nothing to do with the thing itself. If I am given a rosebud today, the picture
that offers itself to my perception is complete only for the moment. If I put
the bud into water, I shall tomorrow get a very different picture of my object.
If I watch the rosebud without interruption, I shall see today's state change
continuously into tomorrow's through an infinite number of intermediate stages.
The picture which presents itself to me at any one moment is only a chance
cross-section of an object which is in a continual process of development. If I
do not put the bud into water, a whole series of states which lay as
possibilities within the bud will not develop. Similarly I may be prevented
tomorrow from observing the blossom further, and thereby have an incomplete
picture of it.

It would be a quite unobjective and fortuitous kind of opinion that declared of
the purely momentary appearance of a thing: this is the thing. Just as little
is it legitimate to regard the sum of perceptual characteristics as the thing.
It might be quite possible for a spirit to receive the concept at the same time
as, and united with, the percept. It would never occur to such a spirit that
the concept did not belong to the thing. It would have to ascribe to the
concept an existence indivisibly bound up with the thing. . .

It is not due to objects that they are given to us at first without their
corresponding concepts, but to our mental organization. Our whole being
functions in such a way that from every real thing the elements come to us from
two sides, from perceiving and from thinking.

The way I am organized for apprehending the things has nothing to do with the
nature of the things themselves. The gap between perceiving and thinking exists
only from the moment that I as spectator confront the things. Which elements
do, and which do not, belong to the things cannot depend at all on the manner
in which I obtain knowledge of these elements.

Man is a limited being... It is owing to our limitation that a thing appears to
us as single and separate, when in truth it is not a separate being at all.
Nowhere, for example, is the single quality 'red' to be found by itself in
isolation. It is surrounded on all sides by other qualities to which it
belongs, and without which it could not subsist. For us, however, it is
necessary to isolate certain sections from the world and to consider them by
themselves. Our eye can grasp only single concepts out of a connected
conceptual system. This separating off is a subjective act, which is due to the
fact that we are not identical with the world process but are a single being
among other beings.

The all-important thing now is to determine how the being that we are ourselves
is related to the other entities. This determination must be distinguished from
merely becoming conscious of ourselves. For this latter self-awareness we
depend on perceiving, just as we do for our awareness of any other thing. The
perception of myself reveals to me a number of qualities which I combine into
my personality as a whole, just as I combine the qualities yellow, metallic,
hard, etc. in the unity 'gold'. The perception of myself does not take me
beyond the sphere of what belongs to me. This perceiving of myself must be
distinguished from determining myself by means of thinking. Just as, by means
of thinking, I fit any single external percept into the whole world context, so
by means of thinking I integrate into the world-process the percepts I have
made of mysel£ My self-perception confines me within definite limits, but my
thinking is not concerned with these limits. ln this sense I am a two-sided
being. I am enclosed within the sphere which I perceive as that of my
personality, but I am also the bearer of an activity which, from a higher
sphere, defines my limited existence.

Our thinking is not individual like our sensing and feeling; it is universal.
It receives an individual stamp in each separate human being only because it
comes to be related to his individual feelings and sensations. By means of
these particular colourings of the universal thinking, individual men
differentiate themselves from one another. There is only one single concept of
'triangle'. It is quite immaterial for the content of this concept whether it
is grasped in A's consciousness or in B's. It will, however, be grasped by each
of the two in his own individual way.

This thought is opposed by a common prejudice which is very hard to overcome.
This prejudice prevents one from seeing that the concept of a triangle that my
head grasps is the same as the concept that my neighbour's head grasps. The
naive man believes himself to be the creator of his concepts. Hence he believes
that each person has his own concepts. It is a fundamental requirement of
philosophic thinking that it should overcome this prejudice. The one uniform
concept 'triangle' does not become a multiplicity because it is thought by many
persons, for the thinking of the many is in itself a unity.

In thinking we have that element given us which welds our separate
individuality into one with the cosmos. In so far as we sense and feel (and
also perceive), we are single beings; in so far as we think, we are the all-one
being that pervades everything.	This is the deeper meaning of our two-sided
nature: we see coming into being in us a purely absolute force, a force which
is universal, but which we learn to know, not as it issues from the centre of
the world, but rather at a point in the periphery. Were the former the case, we
should understand the whole riddle of the universe the moment we became
conscious. But since we stand at a point in the periphery, and find that our
own existence is bound by definite limits, we must get to know the region which
lies out side our own being with the help of thinking, which projects into
I us from the universal world existence.The fact that thinking, in us, reaches
out beyond our separate	existence and relates itself to the universal world
existence, gives rise to the fundamental urge for knowledge in us. Beings
without thinking do not have this urge. When they are faced with other things
no questions arise for them. These other things remain external to suen beings.
But in thinking beings the concept rises up when they confront the external
thing. It is that part of the thing which we receive, not from without but from
within; matching up, uniting the two elements, inner and outer, brings about

The percept is thus not something finished and self-contained, but only one
side of the total reality. The other side is the concept. The act of knowing is
the synthesis of percept and concept. Only the percept and concept together
constitute the whole thing...

--| References |----------------

(Exerpted from: 'The Philosophy of Freedom'
 Chapter 5, Rudolf Steiner, GA 4, 1894). 

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SUBMIT AN ARTICLE posted: march 13, 1999 updated: december 2, 2004