Religion, Art, and Science Seek Unity

Submitted by Tom Last on Tue, 11/25/2008 - 8:35am.

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The Philosophy Of Freedom by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Chapter 2 The Desire For Knowledge
What is a the Origin of Thinking? (World View)

Two souls, alas, dwell within my breast,
And each withdraws from and repels the other.
One, in hearty lovelust,
Clings to the world with clutching organs;
The other lifts itself mightily from the dust,
Into the high ancestral spheres.
Faust I, Scene 2

Separation Between "I" And World
[1] In these words Goethe expresses a characteristic feature that is deeply based in human nature. As human beings, we are not whole in the organization of our being. We always demand more than the world, of its own accord, gives us. Nature has given us needs; among them are some she leaves to our own activity to satisfy. Abundant are the gifts we have received from her, but even more abundant are our desires. We seem born to be dissatisfied, and our urge for knowledge is only a special case of this dissatisfaction. Suppose we look at a tree twice. The first time we see its branches at rest, the second time in motion. We are not satisfied to have merely observed this fact. Why, we ask, does the tree appear to us now at rest, then in motion? Every glance at nature evokes in us a number of questions. Every phenomenon that comes our way presents a new problem. Every experience becomes a riddle for us. We observe, emerging from the egg, a creature similar to the mother animal, and we ask the reason for the similarity. We observe a living being grow and develop to a certain degree of perfection, and we seek the underlying conditions of this experience. Nowhere are we satisfied with what nature spreads out before our senses. We seek everywhere for what we call the explanation of the facts.

[2] This something more which we seek in things, over and above what is immediately given to us in them, splits our whole being into two parts. We become aware of our opposition to the world. We confront the world as independent beings. The universe appears to us as two opposite poles: I and World.

[3] We set up this wall of separation between ourselves and the world as soon as consciousness first lights up within us. But we never lose the feeling that we do belong to the world, that there is a connecting link between it and us, and that we are beings whose place is not outside, but rather within the universe.

[4] This feeling makes us strive to bridge over this opposition, and ultimately the whole spiritual striving of humankind is nothing but the bridging of this opposition. The history of our spiritual life is a continuous search for the unity between ourselves and the world. Religion, Art and Science all pursue this goal. The religious believer seeks in the revelation granted by God, the solution to the world problem posed by the I, which is dissatisfied with the world of mere phenomena. Artists try to incorporate the ideas of their I into various materials to reconcile what lives within them to the outer world. They, too, feel dissatisfied with the world of mere phenomena and seek to mold into it that something more which their I---transcending the world of phenomena---contains. Thinkers seek the laws of phenomena, striving to penetrate with thinking what they experience through observation. Only when we have made the world-content into our thought-content do we rediscover the unity from which we separated ourselves. We will see later that this goal will only be attained when the problem of the research scientist is grasped on a much deeper level than is usually the case.

What I have presented here is found historically in the conflict between the one-world theory, or Monism, and the two-world theory, or Dualism. Dualism pays attention only to the separation between I and World which the human consciousness has brought about. All its efforts are a vain struggle to reconcile these opposites, which it may call Mind and Matter (Spirit and Matter), or Subject and Object, or Thinking and Phenomenon. The Dualist feels that there must be a bridge between the two worlds, but is not in a position to find it.

In that human beings are aware of themselves as "I", they can do no other than think of this "I" as being on the side of the realm of Mind; and in contrasting this "I" with the world, they are bound to put on the world's side the objects perceived through the senses: the realm of Matter (Material World).

In so doing, they place themselves within the polarity of Spirit and Matter. They must do this all the more because their own bodies belong to the Material World. Thus the "I", or Ego, belongs to the realm of Spirit, as a part of it; while material  objects and processes, which are perceived by the senses, belong to the "World". All the riddles which relate to Spirit and Matter, human beings must inevitably find again in the fundamental riddle of their own essential nature.

Monism, on the other hand, pays attention only to the unity and tries either to deny or gloss over the opposites actually present. Neither of these two points of view can satisfy us, for they do not do justice to the facts. The Dualist sees in Mind (I) and Matter (World) two fundamentally different entities, and therefore, cannot understand how they can interact with each other. How should Mind be aware of what goes on in Matter, if the essential nature of Matter is entirely alien to Mind? Or how should Mind under these circumstances influence Matter in such a way that its intentions translate into deeds? The most astute and the most absurd hypotheses have been proposed to answer these questions.

Up to the present, however, the Monists have fared no better. They have tried three different ways to solve the problem. Either they deny Spirit and become Materialists; or they deny Matter in order to seek their salvation in Spiritualism; or they assert that even in the simplest entities in the world, Spirit and Matter are indivisibly united so it is not surprising that both of these forms of existence, which after all are never found apart, appear together in human beings.