"adjusting our conceptions to reality"

--| Practical Training in Thought |--------------------------------

Let us presume that someone, perhaps our neighbour, had done this or that.
We think about it and ask ourselves why he did it. We decide he has perhaps
done it in preparation for something he intends to do the next day. We do
not go any further but clearly picture his act and try to form an image of
what he may do, imagining that the next day he will perform such and such an
act. Then we wait to see what he really does since he may or may not do what
we expected of him. We take note of what does happen and correct our
thoughts accordingly. Thus, events of the present are chosen that are
followed in thought into the future. Then we wait to see what actually

This can be done either with actions involving people or something else.
Whenever something is understood, we try to form a thought picture of what
in our opinion will take place. If our opinion proves correct, our thinking
is justified and all is well. If, however, something different from our
expectation occurs, we review our thoughts and try to discover our mistake.
In this way we try to correct our erroneous thinking by calm observation and
examination of our errors. An attempt is made to find the reason for things
occurring as they did. If we are right, however, we must be especially
careful not to boast of our prediction and say, "Oh well, I knew yesterday
that this would happen!"

This is again a rule based upon confidence that there is an inner necessity
in things and events, that in the facts themselves there slumbers something
that moves things. What is thus working within these things from one day to
another are thought forces, and we gradually become conscious of them when
meditating on things. By such exercises these thought forces are called up
into our consciousness and if what has been thus foreseen is fulfilled, we
are in tune with them. We have then established an inner relation with the
real thought activity of the matter itself. So we train ourselves to think,
not arbitrarily, but according to the inner necessity and the inner nature
of the things themselves.

But our thinking can also be trained in other directions. An occurrence of
today is also linked to what happened yesterday. We might consider a naughty
child, for example, and ask ourselves what may have caused this behaviour.
The events are traced back to the previous day and the unknown cause
hypothesized by saying to ourselves, "Since this occurred today, I must
believe that it was prepared by this or that event that occurred yesterday
or perhaps the day before."

We then find out what had actually occurred and so discover whether or not
our thought was correct. If the true cause has been found, very well. But if
our conclusion was wrong, then we should try to correct the mistake, find
out how our thought process developed, and how it ran its course in reality.
To practice these principles is the important point. Time must be taken to
observe things as though we were inside the things themselves with our
thinking. We should submerge ourselves in the things and enter into their
inner thought activity. If this is done, we gradually become aware of the
fact that we are growing together with things. We no longer feel that they
are outside us and we are here inside our shell thinking about them. Instead
we come to feel as if our own thinking occurred within the things
themselves.  When a man has succeeded to a high degree in doing this, many
things will become clear to him.

Goethe was such a man. He was a thinker who always lived with his thought
within the things themselves. The psychologist Heinroth's book in 1826,
Anthropology, characterized Goethe's thought as "objective." Goethe himself
appreciated this characterization. What was meant is that such thinking does
not separate itself from things, but remains within them. It moves within
the necessity of things. Goethe's thinking was at the same time perception,
and his perception was thinking. He had developed this way of thinking to a
remarkable degree. More than once it occurred that, when he had planned to
do something, he would go to the window and remark to the person who
happened to be with him, "In three hours we shall have rain!" And so it
would happen. From the little patch of sky he could see from the window he
was able to foretell the weather conditions for the next few hours. His true
thinking, remaining within the objects, thus enabled him to sense the coming
event preparing itself in the preceding one.

Much more can actually be accomplished through practical thinking than is
commonly supposed. When a man has made these principles of thinking his own,
he will notice that his thinking really becomes practical, that his horizon
widens, and that he can grasp the things of the world in quite a different
way. Gradually his attitude towards things and people will change
completely. An actual process will take place within him that will alter his
whole conduct. It is of immense importance that he tries to grow into the
things in this way with his thinking, for it is in the most eminent sense a
practical undertaking to train one's thinking by such exercises.

(Excerpt from Practical Training in Thought, Rudolf Steiner).



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this page last updated: september 12, 1999