The brain is not a computer, and thinking is not information-processing.

Sharing an email response to a question I received about the possibility of explaining human consciousness computationally, and whether such explanations might be compatible with Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science.

I do not think the computational paradigm has much to teach us about the sort of Sophianic consciousness Steiner attempted to unveil. I summarized my thoughts on this in an essay back in 2012:

The computational paradigm does have something to teach us, but it is not what proponents of computationalism may intend. What it teaches us, I think, is that human consciousness and the thinking activity at its root cannot possibly be understood as a merely computational or algorithmic operation, or as information-processing. If our consciousness was explainable as computation, then we would not be here to understand the explanation. We’d be robots who only talk as if they are conscious, as neuroscientist Michael Graziano suggests (I address his views and the computational paradigm more generally in my recent journal article on the place of consciousness in the physical world). 

Thinking is a spiritual activity, an intuitive and transformational process, not merely the rearrangement or exchange of information between fixed transistor nodes in a finite network architecture. In other words, thinking is something we know from the inside and freely, not something that can be measured, objectified, or programmed. Even self-programming computers/machine learning algorithms cannot reproduce human consciousness. Human consciousness gives rise to such insights as Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, Heidegger’s Dasein, and Berkeley philosopher Hubert Dreyfus’ brilliant refutation of computational cognitive science in light of existential phenomenology (See his famous book What Computers Can’t Do, as well as the follow up, What Computers Still Cannot Do).

Human consciousness or Anthroposophia, like all spiritual entities, is an animate, intelligent, compassionate presence striving to participate in the further evolution of the world-process. Computers might be able to (re)program themselves, but they will never be conscious or be capable of thinking, never have aims other than those given them by their programmers. Computers are a product of thinking, not the other way around.

That said, the more we surround ourselves by screens and computer algorithms, the more our thinking becomes machine-like, the more we begin to imagine ourselves and other people as mere automatons. Thinking is not easy. Emerson as well as Steiner agreed that thinking is the hardest task in the world. But it is the task of our age. 

Foreword to an upcoming anthroposophical book on twelve ways of seeing the world

Below is the draft of a foreword I’ve coauthored with Robert McDermott. The book, Twelve Ways of Seeing the World by Mario Betti, should be out later this year via Hawthorn Press. Betti’s book builds fruitfully upon the ideas of Rudolf Steiner. You can read Steiner’s original lectures on the topic of the 12 human worldviews here:


Foreword to Mario Betti, Twelve Ways of Seeing the World

By Robert McDermott and Matthew T. Segall

February 4, 2019


Rudolf Steiner was one of the 20th century’s few true Renaissance men. While modern science, art, religion, politics, and philosophy continued to fall into increasing specialization, fragmentation, deconstruction, and narrow-minded conflict, Steiner labored tirelessly to create new integral approaches to education, agriculture, medicine, architecture, social reform, banking, visual and performance art, esotericism, and more, all inspired by a deep commitment to humanity’s spiritual potential. Mario Betti, a lifelong practitioner of Steiner’s anthroposophical method, has written a book that succeeds not only in its clear interpretation of a sometimes enigmatic thinker’s ideas but in its brilliant amplifications and applications of these ideas to our present day circumstances.

Betti offers his book as a stimulus or seed to support the growth of a still fledgling pluralistic society. Achieving a planetary humanity guided by freedom and love out of the ashes of the modern pathologies of fascism, totalitarianism, nationalism, oligarchism, and terrorism (the list goes on) will require more than a shallow, relativistic multiculturalism that settles for mere tolerance. Betti draws on Goethe to remind us that tolerance can only be a temporary position. Genuine pluralism, Betti shows, requires more than toleration: it requires a willingness to engage the whole of our being in deep communication with and mutual affirmation of other worldviews. We must strive to reach across our differences through an inner development that is capable of seeing their holistic interdependence. Betti’s amplification of Steiner’s twelve worldviews is a profound aid in this effort of inner development. Significantly, it shows the dignity and merit of each way of seeing the world at the same time that it reveals the danger of exclusivism. Every worldview becomes false the moment it claims to be the whole of the world.

Albert William Levy’s Philosophy and the Modern World, a particularly expert and readable account of 20th century philosophies, summarizes our present situation well:

…philosophical movements of the recent past are to be viewed as waves of successive reform beating upon an infinite shore, with each group of partisans committed to a conception of philosophy which assure them a virtual monopoly of its legitimate practice.… And to pragmatists, logical empiricists, and linguistic analysts alike, any alternative conception of what philosophy is rests upon a tragic mistake.1

Who would dare an attempt to overcome such differences of opinion, each supported by knowledge and powerful arguments? An ideal candidate would be a teacher whose thinking is lifted by creative pedagogy and artistic imagination. Mario Betti would appear to be such a teacher. Every page of this book reveals an author who teaches thinking as a contribution to individual lives, to relationships, and to a sane society. He is invested not in scoring philosophical points but rather in helping his readers cope with intellectual confusion and conflict.

Betti succeeds in his purpose by giving a positive account of twelve worldviews. He takes as his model Goethe who held in one view both universal harmony and plurality (8). We are led to appreciate that each worldview is convincing up to a point. His treatment of Idealism, for example, invites the reader to see that all reality is, or at least emerges from, ideas, from a realm that Plato described so convincingly. But then Betti draws on Aristotle, an equally brilliant and equally influential philosopher, to show the need for a more positive account of particulars, whether moments, thoughts, or objects. Betti refers to this combination of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy as Realism, the philosophy that occupies the topmost spot on the philosophical compass (more on this below).

In a similar way, the way of showing polarities, Betti makes a case for Rationalism, the philosophy of ethical order and proportion, and then shows how it virtually solicits its polar complement, the philosophy of Dynamism: structure needs process to be effective and process, in order to avoid chaos, needs structure. As an introvert needs at least a little extroversion to get through the day, and as melancholic and phlegmatic temperaments need at least a touch of choleric and sanguine temperaments, so does Psychism, a philosophy ready-made for psychology, need a little Phenomenalism, a philosophy that emphasizes the reality of external objects and events but is not sufficiently affirmative of the interior depths of the soul. “Psychism is the inner version of phenomenalism” (110). These pairs, furthermore, are not only complementary, as in two static halves that make a whole; rather, they need and benefit each other but also oppose each other—like individual and community, inner and outer, and of course, like gender. The twelve views are also like gender in that they exist not only as pairs of clearly demarcated opposites but as a spectrum with fluid boundaries, a perspective that contemporary social justice movements have made increasingly clear (134).

In addition to an emphasis on the conflict of worldviews, Betti emphasizes the importance of mutually enhancing polarities: “Each worldview is both a genuine opposite and an enhancement of its opposite” (110). By plunging downward into the domain of gravity, the Materialist worldview has produced marvels of human understanding like the periodic table of elements, just as the Spiritualist worldview has revealed its own “’levitating’ periodic table of spiritual elements”: the angelic hierarchies (151). While Materialism risks digging itself ever deeper into the sand like a crab, Spiritualism risks fleeing the Earth entirely. Such polar tensions are the engine of the evolutionary adventure that has produced all that we see around us and feel within us.

As was mentioned above, despite insisting on the equal value of each of the twelve views, Betti follows Steiner in giving pride of place to Realism. “All worldviews rest like a bud within [it],” as it is “the fundamental human outlook par excellence” (197). “Cognition,” Steiner tells us in his autobiography, “is not the depiction of intrinsic being but rather the soul living its way into this intrinsic being” (quoted by Betti on 205). In other words, an act of knowing is not an internal mental representation of an external physical world; rather, knowing is a participatory event that is immanent to the world-process itself. “If knowledge did not exist,” Steiner continues, “the world would remain incomplete” (quoted by Betti on 206). This is obviously not a naïve realism: it is a higher realization rooted in Steiner’s participatory approach to knowledge and reality. This higher or participatory Realism is a developmental culmination of the other eleven worldviews, whereby through a sort of alchemical transfiguration the distinct capacities of thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing (each emphasized by their respective worldviews) are etherialized into what Betti calls “a new earth substance” (209). In this primordial etheric life substance, Betti tells us, the opposition between spirit and matter is overcome so that human consciousness can be raised and transubstantiated by the power of the Logos-Christ.

Some readers may have trouble following Betti and Steiner at this point, as these are rather mysterious matters, to say the least. But Betti’s book succeeds at least in leading all spiritually striving individuals to the point where they are able to perceive the intrinsic value of all worldviews. At that point, it is up to each of us to discover the true integral potential of our human existence. “The whole world, apart from the human being, is an enigma,” Steiner tells us. “And the human being is its solution” (quoted in Betti on 206).


1 Albert William Levy, Philosophy and the Modern World (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1959), 444-45. 


Saul Bellow on Rudolf Steiner, Boredom, Sleep, and Death

Wanted to share this before going to bed. Here are a few words about “the famous but misunderstood Dr. Rudolf Steiner” from Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction Humboldt’s Gift:

It wasn’t that I minded giving information to honest scholars, or even to young people on the make, but I just then was busy, fiercely, painfully busy–personally and impersonally busy: personally, with Renata and Denise, and Murra the accountant, and the lawyers and the judge, and a multitude of emotional vexations; impersonally, participating in the life of my country and of Western Civilization and global society (a mixture of reality and figment). As editor of an important magazine, The Ark, which would probably never come out, I was always thinking of statements that must be made and truths of which the world must be reminded. The world, identified by a series of dates (1789-1914-1917-1939) and by key words (revolution, Technology, Science, and so forth), was another cause of busyness. You owed your duty to these dates and words. The whole thing was so momentous, overmastering, tragic, that in the end what I really wanted was to lie down and go to sleep. I have always had an exceptional gift for passing out. I look at snapshots taken in some of the most evil hours of mankind and I see that I have lots of hair and am appealingly youthful. I am wearing an ill-fitting double-breasted suit of the Thirties or Forties, smoking a pipe, standing under a tree, holding hands with a plump and pretty bimbo – and I am asleep on my feet, out cold. I have snoozed through many a crisis (while millions died).            This is all terrifically relevant. For one thing, I may as well admit that I came back to settle in Chicago with the secret motive of writing a significant work. This lethargy of mine is related to that project–I got the idea of doing something with the chronic war between sleep and consciousness that goes on in human nature. My subject, in the final Eisenhower years, was boredom. Chicago was the ideal place in which to write my master essay on Boredom. In raw Chicago you could examine the human spirit under industrialism. If someone were to arise with a new vision of Faith, Love, and Hope, he would want to understand to whom he was offering it–he would have to understand the kind of deep suffering we call boredom. I was going to try to do with boredom what Malthus and Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill or Durkheim had done with population, wealth, or the division of labor. History and temperament had put me in a peculiar position, and I was going to turn it to advantage. I hadn’t read those great modern boredom experts, Stendhal, Kierkegaard, and Baudelaire, for nothing. Over the years I had worked a lot on this essay. The difficulty was that I kept being over come by the material, like a miner by gas fumes. I wouldn’t stop, though. I’d say to myself that even Rip van Winkle had slept for only twenty years, I had gone him at least two decades better and I was determined to make the lost time yield illumination. So I kept doing advanced mental work in Chicago, and also joined a gymnasium, playing ball with commodity brokers and gentleman-hoodlums in an effort to strengthen the powers of consciousness. Then my respected friend Durnwald mentioned, kiddingly, that the famous but misunderstood Dr. Rudolf Steiner had much to say on the deeper aspects of sleep. Steiner’s books, which I began to read lying down, made me want to get up. He argued that between the conception of an act and its execution by the will there fell a gap of sleep. It might be brief but it was deep. For one of man’s souls was a sleep-soul. In this, human beings resembled the plants, whose whole existence is sleep. This made a very deep impression on me. The truth about sleep could only be seen from the perspective of an immortal spirit. I had never doubted that I had such a thing. But I had set this fact aside quite early.            I kept it under my hat. These beliefs under your hat also press on your brain and sink you down into the vegetable realm. Even now, to a man of culture like Durnwald, I hesitated to mention the spirit. He took no stock in Steiner, of course. Durnwald was reddish, elderly but powerful, thickset and bald, a bachelor of cranky habits but a kind man. He had a peremptory blunt butting even bullying manner, but if he scolded it was because he loved me–he wouldn’t have bothered otherwise. A great scholar, one of the most learned people on earth, he was a rationalist. Not narrowly rationalistic, by any means. Nevertheless, I couldn’t talk to him about the powers of a spirit separated from a body. He wouldn’t hear of it. He had simply been joking about Steiner. I was not joking, but I didn’t want to be thought a crank. I had begun to think a lot about the immortal spirit. Still, night after night, I kept dreaming that I had become the best player in the club, a racquet demon, that my backhand shot skimmed the left wall of the court and fell dead in the corner, it had so much English on it. I dreamed that I was beating all the best players–all those skinny, hairy, speedy fellows who in reality avoided playing with me because I was a dud. I was badly disappointed by the shallow interests such dreams betrayed. Even my dreams were asleep. And what about money? Money is necessary for the protection of the sleeping. Spending drives you into wakefulness. As you purge the inner film from the eye and rise into higher consciousness, less money should be required.            Under the circumstances (and it should now be clearer what I mean by circumstances: Renata, Denise, children, courts, lawyers, Wall Street, sleep, death, metaphysics, karma, the presence of the universe in us, our being present in the universe itself) I had not paused to think about Humboldt, a precious friend hid in death’s dateless night, a camerado from a former existence (almost), well-beloved but dead. I imagined at times that I might see him in the life to come, together with my mother and my father…hough I was about to leave town and had much business to attend to, I decided to suspend all practical activities for one morning. I did this to keep from cracking under strain. I had been practicing some of the meditative exercises recommended by Rudolf Steiner in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. As yet I hadn’t attained much, but then my soul was well along in years and very much stained and banged up, and I had to be patient. Characteristically, I had been trying too hard, and I remembered again that wonderful piece of advice given by a French thinker: Trouve avant de cher-cher – Valery, it was. Or maybe Picasso. There are times when the most practical thing is to lie down. …

Boredom is an instrument of social control. Power is the power to impose boredom, to command stasis, to combine this stasis with anguish. The real tedium, deep tedium, is seasoned with terror and with death.            There were even profounder questions. For instance, the history of the universe would be very boring if one tried to think of it in the ordinary way of human experience.            All that time without events! Gases over and over again, and heat and particles of matter, the sun tides and winds, again this creeping development, bits added to bits, chemical accidents–whole ages in which almost nothing happens, lifeless seas, only a few crystals, a few protein compounds developing. The tardiness of evolution is so irritating to contemplate. The clumsy mistakes you see in museum fossils. How could such bones crawl, walk, run? It is agony to think of the groping of the species–all this fumbling, swamp-creeping, munching, preying, and reproduction, the boring slowness with which tissues, organs, and members developed.            And then the boredom also of the emergence of the higher types and finally of mankind, the dull life of paleolithic forests, the long long incubation of intelligence, the slowness of invention, the idiocy of peasant ages. These are interesting only in review, in thought. No one could bear to experience this.            The present demand is for a quick forward movement, for a summary, for life at the speed of intensest thought.            As we approach, through technology, the phase of instantaneous realization, of the realization of eternal human desires or fantasies, of abolishing time and space the problem of boredom can only become more intense. The human being, more and more oppressed by the peculiar terms of his existence – one time around for each, no more than a single life per customer–has to think of the boredom of death. O those eternities of nonexistence! For people who crave continual interest and diversity, O! how boring death will be! To lie in the grave, in one place, how frightful!            Socrates tried to soothe us, true enough. He said there were only two possibilities. Either the soul is immortal or, after death, things would be again as blank as they were before we were born. This is not absolutely comforting either. Anyway it was natural that theology and philosophy should take the deepest interest in this. They owe it to us not to be boring themselves.            On this obligation they don’t always make good.            However, Kierkegaard was not a bore. I planned to examine his contribution in my master essay. In his view the primacy of the ethical over the esthetic mode was necessary to restore the balance. But enough of that. In myself I could observe the following sources of tedium: 1) The lack of a personal connection with the external world. Earlier I noted that when I was riding through France in a train last spring I looked out of the window and thought that the veil of Maya was wearing thin. And why was this? I wasn’t seeing what was there but only what everyone sees under a common directive.            By this is implied that our world-view has used up nature. The rule of this view is that I, a subject, see the phenomena, the world of objects.            They, however, are not necessarily in themselves objects as modern rationality defines objects.            For in spirit, says Steiner, a man can step out of himself and let things speak to him about themselves, to speak about what has meaning not for him alone but also for them. Thus the sun the moon the stars will speak to nonastronomers in spite of their ignorance of science. In fact it’s high time that this happened. Ignorance of science should not keep one imprisoned in the lowest and weariest sector of being, prohibited from entering into independent relations with the creation as a whole. The educated speak of the disenchanted (a boring) world. But it is not the world, it is my own head that is disenchanted. The world cannot be disenchanted. 2) For me the self-conscious ego is the seat of boredom. This increasing, swelling, domineering, painful self-consciousness is the only rival of the political and social powers that run my life (business, technological-bureaucratic powers, the state). You have a great organized movement of life, and you have the single self, independently conscious, proud of its detachment and its absolute immunity, its stability and its power to remain unaffected by anything whatsoever–by the sufferings of others or by society or by politics or by external chaos. In a way it doesn’t give a damn. It is asked to give a damn, and we often urge it to give a damn but the curse of non-caring lies upon this painfully free consciousness.            It is free from attachment to beliefs and to other souls. Cosmologies, ethical systems? It can run through them by the dozens. For to be fully conscious of oneself as an individual is also to be separated from all else. This is Hamlet’s kingdom of infinite space in a nutshell, of “words, words, words,” of “Denmark’s a prison.”

Maybe these sudden illuminations of mine were an effect of the metaphysical changes I was undergoing. Under the recent influence of Steiner I seldom thought of death in the horrendous old way.            I wasn’t experiencing the suffocating grave or dreading an eternity of boredom, nowadays.            Instead I often felt unusually light and swift-paced, as if I were on a weightless bicycle and sprinting through the star world. Occasionally I saw myself with exhilarating objectivity, literally as an object among objects in the physical universe. One day that object would cease to move and when the body collapsed the soul would simply remove itself. So, to speak again of the lawyers, I stood between them, and there we were, three naked egos, three creatures belonging to the lower grade of modern rationality and calculation. In the past the self had had garments, the garments of station, of nobility or inferiority, and each self had its carriage, its looks, wore the sheath appropriate to it. Now there were no sheaths and it was naked self with naked self burning intolerably and causing terror. I saw this now, in a fit of objectivity. It felt ecstatic.

I had no book to read, I took this opportunity to meditate briefly. The object I chose for meditation was a bush covered with roses. I often summoned up this bush, but sometimes it made its appearance independently. It was filled, it was dense, it was choked with tiny dark garnet roses and fresh healthy leaves. So for the moment I thought “rose,” “rose” and nothing else. I visualized the twigs, the roots, the harsh fuzz of the new growth hardening into spikes, plus all the botany I could remember: phloem xylem cambium chloroplasts soil sun water chemistry, attempting to project myself into the very plant and to think how its green blood produced a red flower. Ah, but new growth in rosebushes was always red before it turned green. I recalled very accurately the inset spiral order of rose petals, the whitey faint bloom over the red and the slow opening that revealed the germinating center. I concentrated all the faculties of my soul on this vision and immersed it in the flowers. Then I saw, next to these flowers, a human figure standing. The plant, said Rudolf Steiner, expressed the pure passionless laws of growth, but the human being, aiming at higher perfection, assumed a greater burden–instincts, desires, emotions. So a bush was a sleeping life. But mankind took a chance on the passions. The wager was that the higher powers of the soul could cleanse these passions. Cleansed, they could be reborn in a finer form. The red of the blood was a symbol of this cleansing process. But even if all this wasn’t so, to consider the roses always put me into a kind of bliss.            After a while I contemplated something else. I visualized an old black iron Chicago lamp post from forty years back, the type with a lid like a bullfighter’s hat or a cymbal. Now it was night, there was a blizzard. I was a young boy and I watched from my bedroom window. It was a winter gale, the wind and snow banged the iron lamp, and the roses rotated under the light. Steiner recommended the contemplation of a cross wreathed with roses but for reasons of perhaps Jewish origin I preferred a lamp post. The object didn’t matter as long as you went out of the sensible world. When you got out of the sensible world, you might feel parts of the soul awakening that never had been awake before.

Whenever Thaxter and I met we had at least one intimate conversation. I spoke freely to him and let myself go. In spite of his eccentric nonsense, and my own, there was a bond between us. I was able to talk to Thaxter. At times I told myself that talking to him was as good for me as psychoanalysis. Over the years, the cost had been about the same. Thaxter could elicit what I was really thinking. A more serious learned friend like Richard Durnwald would not listen when I tried to discuss the ideas of Rudolf Steiner.            “Nonsense!” he said. “Simply nonsense!            I’ve looked into that.” In the learned world anthroposophy was not respectable. Durnwald dismissed the subject sharply because he wished to protect his esteem for me. But Thaxter said, “What is this Consciousness Soul, and how do you explain the theory that our bones are crystallized out of the cosmos itself?”

A lover in the lockup gave Renata a classic floozy opportunity for free behavior. Because of my habit of elevating such mean considerations to the theoretical level it will surprise no one that I started to think about the lawlessness of the unconscious and its independence from the rules of conduct. But it was only antinomian, not free.            According to Steiner, true freedom lived in pure consciousness. Each microcosm had been separated from the macrocosm. In the arbitrary division between Subject and Object the world had been lost. The zero self sought diversion. It became an actor. This was the situation of the Consciousness Soul as I interpreted it. But there now passed through me a qualm of dissatisfaction with Rudolf Steiner himself.            This went back to an uncomfortable passage in Kafka’s Diaries pointed out to me by my friend Durnwald, who felt that I was still capable of doing serious intellectual work and wanted to save me from anthroposophy. Kafka too had been attracted by Steiner’s visions and found the clairvoyant states he described similar to his own, feeling himself on the outer boundaries of the human. He made an appointment with Steiner at the Victoria Hotel on Jungmannstrasse. It is recorded in the Diaries that Steiner was wearing a dusty and spotted Prince Albert and that he had a terrible head cold. His nose ran and he kept working his handkerchief deep into his nostrils with his fingers while Kafka, observing this with disgust, told Steiner that he was an artist stuck in the insurance business.            Health and character, he said, prevented him from following a literary career. If he added theosophy to literature and the insurance business, what would become of him? Steiner’s answer is not recorded.            Kafka himself of course was crammed to the top with this same despairing fastidious mocking Consciousness Soul. Poor fellow, the way he stated his case didn’t do him much credit. The man of genius trapped in the insurance business? A very banal complaint, not really much better than a head cold.            Humboldt would have agreed. We used to talk about Kafka and I knew his views. But now Kafka and Steiner and Humboldt were together in death where, presently, all the folk in Stronson’s office would join them. Reappearing, perhaps, centuries hence in a more sparkling world. It wouldn’t have to sparkle much to sparkle more than this one. Nevertheless, Kafka’s description of Steiner upset me.

the view, if you cared for views, was remarkable. I was very good myself at putting other people on to views for the purpose of absenting myself. Below, Fifth Avenue glowed with Christmas decorations and the headlights of the jammed traffic, solid between the Seventies and the Thirties, and shop illuminations, multicolored, crystalline, and like the cells in a capillary observed through a microscope, elastically changing shape, bumping and pulsatory. All this I saw in a single instant. I was like a deft girl, scooping all the jacks before the ball bounced back. It was as it had been with Renata last spring when we took the train to Chartres, “Isn’t that beautiful out there!” she had said. I looked and yes, it was indeed beautiful. No more than a glance was necessary. You saved yourself a lot of time that way. The question was what you were going to do with the minutes gained by these economies.            This, I may say, was all due to the operation of what Steiner describes as the Consciousness Soul.

“Trying to keep up with your interests,” said Thaxter, “I’ve been reading your man Rudolf Steiner, and he’s fascinating. I expected something like Madame Blavatsky, but he turns out to be a very rational kind of mystic. What’s his angle on Goethe?”            “Don’t start that, Thaxter,” said Renata.            But I needed a serious conversation. I longed for it. “It isn’t mysticism,” I said. “Goethe simply wouldn’t stop at the boundaries drawn by the inductive method. He let his imagination pass over into objects. An artist sometimes tries to see how close he can come to being a river or a star, playing at becoming one or the other–entering into the forms of the phenomena painted or described. Someone has even written of an astronomer keeping droves of stars, the cattle of his mind, in the meadows of space. The imaginative soul works in that way, and why should poetry refuse to be knowledge? For Shelley, Adonais in death became part of the loveliness he had made more lovely. So according to Goethe the blue of the sky was the theory. There was a thought in blue. The blue became blue when human vision received it. A wonderful man like my late friend Humboldt was overawed by rational orthodoxy, and because he was a poet this probably cost him his life. Isn’t it enough to be a poor naked forked creature without also being a poor naked forked spirit? Must the imagination be asked to give up its own full and free connection with the universe–the universe as Goethe spoke of it? As the living garment of God? And today I found out that Humboldt really believed that human beings were supernatural beings. He too!”            “There he goes,” said Renata. “What did you want to start him spouting for?”            “Thought is a real constituent of being,” I tried to continue.            “Charlie! Not now,” said Renata.            Thaxter who was normally polite to Renata spoke stiffly to her when she barged into these higher conversations. He said, “I take a real interest in the way Charles’s mind works.” He was smoking his pipe, his mouth drawn wide and dark, under the big Western brim.            “Try living with it,” said Renata. “Charlie’s kinky theorizing puts together combinations nobody else could imagine, like the way the US Congress does its business, with Immanuel Kant, Russian Gulag camps, stamp collecting, famine in India, love and sleep and death and poetry. The less said about the way his mind works, the better. But if you do have to be a guru, Charlie, go the whole distance–wear a silk gown, get a turban, grow a beard. You’d make a hell of a good-looking spiritual leader with a beard and those paisley nostrils of yours. I’d dress up with you, and we’d be a smash. The way you carry on and for free! I sometimes have to pinch myself. I think I’ve taken fifty Valiums and am hearing things.”            “People of powerful intellect never are quite sure whether or not it’s all a dream.”            “Well, people who don’t know whether they’re awake or dreaming don’t necessarily have that powerful intellect,” Renata answered. “My theory is that you’re punishing me with this anthroposophy. You know what I mean. That blonde runt introduced you to her dad, and since then it’s all been really spooky.” “I wish you’d finish what you started to say,”            Thaxter turned again to me.            “It comes to this, that the individual has no way to prove out what’s in his heart–I mean the love, the hungering for the external world, the swelling excitement over beauty for which there are no acceptable terms of knowledge. True knowledge is supposed to be a monopoly of the scientific world view. But human beings have all sorts of knowledge. They don’t have to apply for the right to love the world. But to see what goes on in this respect, take the career of someone like Von Humboldt Fleisher?            “Ah, that guy again,” said Renata.            “Is it true that as big-time knowledge advances poetry must drop behind, that the imaginative mode of thought belongs to the childhood of the race? A boy like Humboldt, full of heart and imagination, going to the public library and finding books, leading a charmed life bounded by lovely horizons, reading old masterpieces in which human life has its full value, filling himself with Shakespeare, where there is plenty of significant space around each human being, where words mean what they say, and looks and gestures also are entirely meaningful. Ah, that harmony and sweetness, that art! But there it ends. The significant space dwindles and disappears. The boy enters the world and learns its filthy cutthroat tricks, the enchantment stops. But is it the world that is disenchanted?”            “No,” said Renata. “I know the answer to that one.”            “It’s rather our minds that have allowed themselves to be convinced that there is no imaginative power to connect every individual to the creation independently.”            It occurred to me suddenly that Thaxter in his home-on-the-range outfit might as well have been in church and that I was behaving like his minister. This was not a Sunday, but I was in my Palm Court pulpit. As for Renata, smiling–her dark eyes, red mouth, white teeth, smooth throat-though she interrupted and heckled during these sermons she got a kick out of the way I delivered them. I knew her theory well. Whatever was said, whatever was done, either increased or diminished erotic satisfaction, and this was her practical test for any idea. Did it produce a bigger bang? “We could have been at the Scala tonight,” she said, “and part of a brilliant audience hearing Rossini. Instead, do you know what we were doing today, Thaxter? We went out to Coney Island so Charlie could collect his inheritance from his dear dead old pal Humboldt Fleisher. It’s been Humboldt, Humboldt, Humboldt, like “Figaro, Figaro.” Humboldt’s eighty-year-old uncle gave Charlie a bunch of papers, and Charlie read ’em and wept. Well, for a month now I’ve heard nothing but Humboldt and death and sleep and metaphysics and how the poet is the arbiter of the diverse and Walt Whitman and Emerson and Plato and the World Historical Individual. Charlie is like Lydia the Tattooed Lady, covered with information. You remember that song, “You Can Learn a Lot from Lydia”?”

Now Renata was, as a biologically noble beauty, in a false category–Goya’s Maja smoking a cigar, or Wallace Stevens’ fretful Concubine who whispered “Pfui!” That is she wished to defy and outsmart the category to which she was assigned by common opinion. But with this she also collaborated. And if there is one historical assignment for us it is to break with false categories. Vacate the personae. I once suggested to her, “A woman like you can be called a dumb broad only if Being and Knowledge are entirely separate. But if Being is also a form of Knowledge, one’s own Being is one’s own accomplishment in some degree…?            “Then I’m not a dumb broad after all. I can’t be, if I’m so beautiful. That’s super!            You’ve always been kind to me, Charlie.”            “Because I really love you, kid.”            Then she wept a little because, sexually, she was not all that she was cracked up to be. She had her hang-ups. Sometimes she accused herself wildly, crying, “The truth! I’m a phony! I like it better under the table.” I told her not to exaggerate.            I explained to her that the Ego had emancipated itself from the Sun and it must undergo the pain of this emancipation (steiner). The modern sexual ideology could never counteract this. Programs of uninhibited natural joy could never free us from the universal tyranny of selfbood. Flesh and blood never could live up to such billing. And so on.

…I devoted long hours to Steiner meditation and did my best to draw close to the dead. I had very strong feelings about this and could no longer neglect the possibility of communication with them. Ordinary spiritualism I dismissed. My postulate was that there was a core of the eternal in every human being. Had this been a mental or logical problem I would have dealt logically with it. However, it was no such thing. What I had to deal with was a lifelong intimation. This intimation must be either a tenacious illusion or else the truth deeplyburied. The mental respectability of good members of educated society was something I had come to despise with all my heart. I admit that I was sustained by contempt whenever the esoteric texts made me uneasy. For there were passages in Steiner that set my teeth on edge. I said to myself, this is lunacy. Then I said, this is poetry, a great vision. But I went on with it, laying out all that he told us of the life of the soul after death. Besides, did it matter what I did with myself? Elderly, heart-injured, meditating in kitchen odors, wearing Renata’s cloak in the biffy–should it concern anyone what such a person did with himself? The strangeness of life, the more you resisted it, the harder it bore down on you. The more the mind opposed the sense of strangeness, the more distortions it produced. What if, for once, one were to yield to it? Moreover I was convinced that there was nothing in the material world to account for the more delicate desires and perceptions of human beings. I concurred with the dying Bergotte in Proust’s novel. There was no basis in common experience for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. And I was too queerly haughty to take stock in the respectable empiricism in which I had been educated. Too many fools subscribed to it. Besides, people were not really surprised when you spoke to them about the soul and the spirit.            How odd! No one was surprised. Sophisticated people were the only ones who expressed surprise.            Perhaps the fact that I had learned to stand apart from my own frailties and the absurdities of my character might mean that I was a little dead myself. This detachment was a sobering kind of experience. I thought sometimes how much it must sober the dead to pass through the bitter gates.            No more eating, bleeding, breathing. Without the pride of physical existence the shocked soul would surely become more sensible.            It was my understanding that the untutored dead blundered and suffered in their ignorance. In the first stages especially, the soul, passionately attached to its body, stained with earth, suddenly severed, felt cravings much as amputees feel their missing legs. The newly dead saw from end to end all that had happened to them, the whole of lamentable life. They burned with pain. The children, the dead children especially, could not leave their living but stayed invisibly close to those they loved and wept. For these children we needed rituals – something for the kids, for God’s sake!            The elder dead were better prepared and came and went more wisely. The departed worked in the unconscious part of each living soul and some of our highest designs were very possibly instilled by them. The Old Testament commanded us to have no business with the dead at all and this was, the teachings said, because in its first phase, the soul entered a sphere of passionate feeling after death, of something resembling a state of blood and nerves.

Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Activity: Socrates, Jesus, and the Wisdom of Love

I’ve been asked to think about thinking, and to write about it. I’ve gotten myself tangled up in the middle of this kind of mess before, and so I’ll admit right off the bat that I cannot be sure which comes first, the thinking or the writing. Maybe my writing is just the trace of an ever-advancing spirit; or maybe my spirit–that in me which thinks–is just a character in a story, a name, given me by the people and the language into whose care I was thrown at birth. Heidegger spoke of being thrown, of waking up in the midst of the world in wonder of its historical depth, and of one’s own impending death. When and if my spirit advances, it does so thinking of such things.

Philosophy, according to Socrates, is learning to die. Not the loving metempsychosis of the Phaedrus, nor even the eros of the Symposium or the grand design of the Timaeus contains the secret of the Platonic teaching. The secret is in the Apology, where Socrates is sentenced to be executed and Plato first falls in love with Wisdom (and so begins to philosophize). The polis, it seems, will never understand the philosopher; to the extent that the people of the city do understand, they tend to take offense. Thinking is not taken kindly by ignorant people awash in gossip and stories. They cannot bear to look at what thinking reflects. It is a mirror too bright with the light of the Good. It blinds their sense-bound egos. They prefer the flat shadows of the cave wall to the eternal depths of the spirit. Socrates willingly accepted the verdict of the polis that he should die, and in so doing raised thinking forever above popular opinion regarding the meaning of ego death.

Death is always my own. I die alone, just as I think alone; though of course I leave loved ones behind after I die, and my thoughts, especially if spoken or written, become events in the world contributing to the new stories that spread in my wake. We can only tell stories, after all, even if we are thinkers, philosophers. Stories are the blood shared between souls, the sea that gives our spirit buoyancy during its passage through this life between birth and death. Though Socrates died to the stories of the city to be born a philosopher, he still believed Wisdom had a chance to enlighten the citizens of some future Athens. He did not give up on humankind. He became a teacher, a caretaker of souls awaiting the death of their bodies on earth and the birth of their spirits in heaven.

Socrates taught thinking, which is no easy task, since thinking is always one’s own. It cannot be taught like multiplication tables or proper spelling. To learn to think, I must remember how to do it for myself, to draw its power up out of my own soul-life. All that a teacher can offer are likely stories which might inspire a student to draw up wisdom from the as yet still waters at the bottom of their own soul. “Know thyself,” says Socrates. Look for the mirror within yourself, see the face beneath your persona reflected back at you: at first, it appears as the face of death, but in truth it is the Image of God.

There was another lover and teacher of Wisdom who walked the earth a few centuries after Socrates. His name was Jesus. He was born into the stories of Jerusalem instead of Athens, a Jew and not a Greek, but his teachings reach beyond any city. Jesus stood before a woman and asked for water out of the well (John 4):

Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” […] The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.

Jesus the Christ offered the drink of eternal water, the truth of the spirit, a Wisdom not bound by the laws of any city on earth. He offered the woman the gift and grace of God’s Love. I cannot think how such a gift should be possible with the sense-bound intellect. The reality of the Christ Event (as Rudolf Steiner called it) remains indecipherable to the abstract reflection of my ego. It requires faith, some say. But perhaps there is yet a way to know?

Steiner’s Anthroposophy is an attempt to bring the spiritual in the human to meet the spiritual in the universe. It is Christian in religious orientation, but also teaches a science of the spirit. It is not a gnostic path, per say, but it nonetheless seeks to overcome the limits imposed upon human cognition by the philosophy of Kant. Anthroposophy seeks knowledge of the spiritual world through direct experience in that world. The philosopher-poet S. T. Coleridge made much of the difference between “the Understanding” and “the Reason,” a distinction he said he learned from Kant. Steiner expands upon this difference, noting that the Understanding, and the abstract concepts through which it relates to the world, is supported also by another relation, the Reason, that:

“…does not, in its immediate specificity, reach into ordinary consciousness. But [this relation to Reason] does subsist as a living continuity between the human mind and the sensuously observed object. The vitality that subsists in the mind by virtue of this continuity is by the systematic understanding subdued, or benumbed, to a ‘concept.’ An abstract idea is a reality defunct, to enable its representation in ordinary consciousness, a reality in which the human being does in fact live in the process of sense-perception, but which does not became a conscious part of his life. The abstractness of ideas is brought about by an inner necessity of the soul. Reality furnishes man with a living content. Of this living content he puts to death that part which invades his ordinary consciousness. He does so because he could not achieve self-consciousness as against the outer world if he were compelled to experience, in all its vital flux, his continuity with that world. Without the paralyzing of this vital flow, the human being could only know himself as a scion comprised within a unity extending beyond the limits of his humanity; he would be an organ of a larger organism.” (from p. 55 of The Case for Anthroposophy (2010), ed. and transl. by Owen Barfield)

Those trapped in the benumbed world of abstract concepts cannot grasp the meaning of Socrates’ or of Jesus’ teachings. They lose all moral imagination and become utilitarian nominalists who drink only from the well of the senses. But as Steiner makes clear, it is only after we’ve become self-conscious by divorcing ourselves from the chaotic womb of cosmogenesis that we can hope to re-marry the life of the whole willingly. Without first securing an ego, we cannot crucify it to be resurrected in Christ. The only way to God is through me (and out the other side). Steiner teaches that the soul has another side, not opposite but dimensionally internal to the outward facing senses. To perceive the world of the spirit that lies hidden beneath the world of the senses, the soul must cultivate the proper organ. We are born with physical eyes, but must birth within ourselves the I of the spirit.

The stories of modern cities are materialistic. Stale and deadening. We are taught in school that the brain produces consciousness. Steiner offers another teaching, that behind or beneath neural tissue there is something to us not created in the cranium. He calls it the etheric, or body of formative forces, that which is not produced by the brain but in fact produces the brain. The brain’s mortal perception of external space and of the passage of clock-time are imaginations originating in the etheric body. If ordinary consciousness turns inward to contemplate its own limits, it finds there a door to the ethereal. This door is the Imagination, the first stage in the development of the organ of spirit. Imagination is akin to seeing the outside, the surface, of inner spiritual realities. Further development is needed to penetrate to the core. Seeing the reflected image in the still water at the base of the soul, one then hears the voice of what speaks from within it. This is the stage of Inspiration. We not only see the light of the Word, but hear it in our own heart. We are warmed by Its Love. Finally, in the stage of Intuition, the organ of spiritual perception/cognition is complete. We are born through the water of the soul into spirit. We become the Word.

Teilhard and Steiner: Cosmogenesis in Light of Anthroposophy

Teilhard and Steiner:
Cosmogenesis in light of Anthroposophy
Introduction: As Above, So Below 
  The human is a spiritual being of universal significance. If my reader lacks the courage required for such an affirmation, they need read no further, because though one may have ears to hear and eyes to see, without an open heart these sensory organs will remain deaf and blind to the wisdom I wish to share.
  I repeat, the human is a spiritual being of universal significance. History leaves record of a few special individuals who have realized the meaning of this essential truth, but their teachings have often been obscure and shrouded in secrecy. In what follows, I share my still limited understanding of the insights of two such illumined beings with you because I feel the time has come for the mysteries to be opened and made accessible to everyone. For both of these men, Rudolf Steiner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, human consciousness and the process of cosmic evolution are corresponding phenomena that cannot be understood in isolation.
  Knowledge of this correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm is not new. On the contrary, it is perhaps the oldest secret doctrine at the core of all subsequent esoteric science, first appearing in the Emerald Tablet of the “thrice great” Hermes: “As it is above, so it is below; and as it is below, so it is above.”
  It is this doctrine of correspondence that makes possible a synthesis between natural and spiritual science, between cosmology and theosophy. For Steiner, this synthesis took the form of anthroposophy, “a path of knowledge guiding the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.”[1] Anthroposophy attempts to situate the human within the complex and evolving interpenetration of mineral, etheric, astral, and spiritual planes constituting our total being. It is a direct response to the one-dimensional worldview of scientific materialism, wherein the human spirit is reduced to an anomaly in an otherwise disjointed world of purposeless matter in motion.
  Modern science has no doubt made many astonishing discoveries about the universe during the course of the last several centuries. The enchanted medieval cosmos, with its crystalline heavenly spheres and static hierarchies, represented, in many respects, an oversimplified and immature picture of the universe. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo re-situated earth and humanity in a far vaster and more mysterious universe, shattering the spheres and calling into question the Great Chain of Being supposedly ascending from dust to divinity. It was not long before Newton, inspired by the Hermetic doctrine of a correspondence between heaven and earth, unified terrestrial and astrophysical law.
  It would be a mistake to believe that the heliocentric displacement of earth or the law of universal gravitation somehow contradict the deeper truth of humanity’s universal significance. Nor do the more recent discoveries of thermodynamics and biological evolution in any way remove the human phenomenon from the heart of the cosmos. On the contrary, 20th century cosmology has re-confirmed another ancient Hermetic principle, that ours is an infinite universe whose circumference is nowhere and so whose center is everywhere. As Teilhard allows us to see, space and time, matter and energy, can now be understood as interwoven threads of single a living matrix that is irreversibly growing toward increasing complexity and consciousness. “The human is not the static center of the world, as was thought for so long,” writes Teilhard, “but the axis and arrow of evolution—which is much more beautiful.”[2]
  Nonetheless, the old conception of the macrocosm, according to Steiner, has died away, and for good reason. Human beings used to be as children, passively receiving the lessons of cosmic wisdom from the primeval macrocosm. It was as if the light and music of the heavenly spheres thought for a still unconscious human soul.
  “The old macrocosm had to die,” says Steiner, so “that [humanity] might sever [itself] from it with full self-consciousness.”[3] Earth is not a mere speck of dust in the endless empty expanse of physical space, however, but—with the participation of human consciousness—“in its unity an embryo—the seed of a macrocosm newly rising into life.”[4]
  A similar image is found in the Emerald Tablet, wherein the One which made all things opens an economy between earth and sky, what is below and what is above, in order to transform, through a series of steps, the grossness of earthly matter into the subtler substance of fire. The story is archetypal and runs through all of Western esotericism: matter is a fallen form of Spirit, the One become many; but in so falling, Spirit, though perhaps perfect in its transcendence, betrays a lack of completeness. Spirit, already All, desired to take on earthly flesh—to become human—so as to love and to know itself in All.
  In what remains of this short essay, rather than explicitly arguing in favor of the re-unification of science and mysticism, I will assume that, actually, the two have never parted company. I do not believe there has ever been a scientific genius whose insights were derived solely from the measurement of matter in motion. If human consciousness was uninformed by the higher senses of imagination, inspiration, and intuition, the Scientific Revolution could never have taken place. Instead, in what follows, I aim only to remind my reader of the spiritual evolution they have always been participating in by exploring, with both Steiner and Teilhard as my guides, the newly emerging correspondence between consciousness and the cosmos that, with the help of the Cosmic Christ, is unfolding upon the earth. This exploration will involve both anamnesis and metamorphosis, requiring both a meditative plunge into the depths of cosmic memory and a faithful leap to the heights of divine imagination.
Earth Evolution and the Human Spirit
  “Long ago,” writes Teilhard, “the precursors of our chemists worked furiously to find the lapis philosophorum—the philosophers’ stone. Today our ambition has grown.”[5] It is no longer enough to turn lead into gold, though the symbolism underlying such a procedure is not at all off the mark. Earth may at first have seemed to be made only of metals and minerals, but this was but the outer shell of a germinating seed still in the process of elemental transmutation.
  Teilhard describes the juvenile earth as already lined by an inner spiritual potential for life, adding that
“in rhythm with the awakening forces of synthesis included in matter, its activities, dormant until then, were set in motion…[as] over the entire periphery of the newly formed globe, the tension of internal freedoms began to rise.”[6]
  The earth has from its beginnings been developing from the mineral realm into progressively more complex and more conscious kingdoms of nature: first into the watery etheric body of plants, then to the air-like astral body of animals, finally becoming a vessel for the “essential fire”[7] of the human spirit. This is of course a symbolic and alchemical way of representing the movement from lower to higher kingdoms, but it does not at all contradict Teilhard’s more detailed paleontological account of the tree of life. He painstakingly recounts the entire history of life on earth, from the first pre-living polymers, to simple cells, to metazoa, on to fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, primates, and finally, reflective human beings. I say “finally,” because for Teilhard, unlike many natural scientists, the evolution of “the ‘galaxy’ of living forms” on earth “outlines a vast ‘orthogenic’ movement of enfolding,”[8] meaning that its processes are directed toward a specific end. The current state of earth evolution is, in this sense, the culmination of an anthropocosmogenesis.
  Having reached this point, the earth’s work is, strictly speaking, finished. Its cosmic will has now converged and been hominized.[9] The time for humanity to consciously participate in the full flowering of the spiritual seed that is our planet has arrived. As Teilhard describes it, the earth now awaits the “advance of a circle of fire around the spark made by the first reflective consciousness.”[10] For Teilhard, as for Steiner, this requires not only realizing the human being is “inevitably the center of perspective,” but also “the center of construction of the universe.”[11] In our age of the spiritual soul,[12] the spiritual forces of the cosmos are no longer thinking for human consciousness. This spiritual umbilical cord has been severed. Rather, out of the active freedom of our spirit-seeing consciousness,[13] the universe that once produced humanity is now being remade within us.
  The changing relationship between the human microcosm and the macrocosm is a result of the evolution of consciousness. Most historians mistakenly believe that human beings have always experienced themselves and the world in the same way we do today. The mythical beings and magical forces that were so important to earlier ages are explained away as projections or fantasies of a more primitive intellect.[14] In truth, primordial humanity was still immersed in a dream-like consciousness directly inspired from above by contents of the spiritual world. As Steiner puts it, this earlier humanity experienced itself “as a drop out of the sea of cosmic spirituality, a drop that has separated itself off for the time of this earthly life, only to unite itself again when the earthly life is over.”[15] Today, humanity is passing through a temporary period of separation from the spiritual world as a result of an increasingly sense-bound materialistic outlook. We no longer recall what came before our birth, nor are we sure what awaits us after death. Instead of cosmic thoughts streaming in from above, the main contents of experience have become sense perceptions of the surfaces of objects. Ideas now require the effort of our own soul-activity; our task is to become increasingly conscious of our inner spirit, our ability to think freely independent of the outer world. “What came from the heights,” Steiner writes, “has to be found again in the depths.”[16]
  Steiner is careful to point out that what is most significant about the age of the spiritual, or consciousness soul (beginning around 1500 CE) is not the ideas developed by modern science concerning the natural world, but rather the effect these ideas have had on the evolution of humanity’s self-knowledge.[17] The spiritual macrocosm died away only to re-appear within the microcosm as the spiritualized material of the earth—which is to say, as human consciousness.
  Despite the alienation from outer nature and spirit that this death-rebirth process has temporarily required, it remains for consciousness a crucial and necessary initiation into a higher form of being and knowing. The process is akin to wandering in the desert in order to purify the soul in preparation for the realization of an otherwise unimaginable future mission. Steiner teaches that we must have confidence in the world and the courage to persists in our longing for spiritual truth if this mission is to become clearer to us.[18] The next step of cosmic evolution requires the free participation of our consciousness. In other words, the full flowering of the earth depends upon humanity’s becoming conscious of the cosmic will that has unconsciously struggled through billions of years of evolution to give birth to us.
  Teilhard describes this rebirth of the cosmos within consciousness as
“the entry of consciousness, forever, into a framework of new dimensions; and consequently, the birth of an entirely renewed universe, simply by the transformation of its most intimate stuff, without a change of line or fold.”[19]
  Consciousness, or what might also appropriately be called the human spirit, is for both Teilhard and Steiner an “inner Sun” that not only illumines our sensory experience of the world, but confers upon the universe itself a “form of unity it would never have had if it had not been thought.”[20] As Steiner puts it, “human beings do not just understand what nature has produced; they carry nature further.”[21] Our thinking is not simply an inner mental activity mirroring or representing some state of affairs in an outside world. Thinking is a higher dimensional folding of space-time upon itself, which is to say that consciousness is both unique and continuous with the ongoing development of the universe. I do not represent a world that remains outside myself when I think; rather, the world process comes to know itself in my thinking.
  “Therefore,” writes Steiner, “thinking must never be regarded as a merely subjective activity. Thinking is beyond subject and object.”[22] In thinking, I do more than receive impressions of a finished world—I actively participate in cosmogenesis. On earth, this means contributing to the emergence of an entirely new envelope surrounding the biosphere: the noosphere.
The Role of Christ in Noogenesis
  As Teilhard sees it, individual consciousnesses are being forced to converge upon themselves into an “almost solid mass of hominized substance”[23] due to the spherical shape of the earth. In whatever direction we head, we find not more land, but more people. This psychic compression has been going on at least since the Neolithic revolution, when agriculture increased our population and commerce lead to cities, some of which became especially wealthy and developed into empires hungry for the spoils of war. Noogenesis has not been a peaceful process, but even in the most violent of attempted conquests, the interpermeable nature of the psyche resulted in the endomorphosis of conquered and conqueror: both were left forever changed, becoming less defined by particular cultures and more by their humanity.[24]
  The assimilative function served by the wars of the past is little consolation for our contemporary predicament: it is no longer spears and arrows powered by the human hand, but atomic missiles fired from orbiting satellites that threaten our earthly wellbeing. The future destiny of all life on earth still rests in human hands—but hands that, with the push of a button, could eradicate forever billions of years of accumulated evolutionary innovation. The evils of war, perhaps for several centuries now, have ceased to serve noogenesis. Today, war (whether waged by one human society upon another, or by human industry upon the earth) represents a vestige of our less than human past. The pressure is increasing, the temperature continues to rise, and it is becoming more and more apparent that “brought to its thinking stage, life cannot continue without structurally needing to rise even higher.”[25]
  Both Steiner and Teilhard feel that only the cosmic love of the Christ impulse can safely carry humanity through this difficult transformation. Christ, for Teilhard, is a “universal Presence…, an expanding Center which is trying to find itself a sphere,” while earthly humanity represents “a sphere that is extending deeper and deeper, and needs a center.”[26] The coincidence is enough to convince Teilhard that our earthly mission has been seeded from above, that we are in no danger of suffocating as a result of increasing compression upon the earth. He recognizes that our violent and seemingly chaotic movement towards “a planetary Flux of co-reflection”[27] is supported from within by an incarnating divine axis.
  “What comes down to us from those heights,” writes Teilhard,
“is not merely air for our lungs; it is the radiance of a love. The World, therefore, is not simply a place in which a Life can breathe because its power to look into the future has been aroused; we can see its evolutive summit and so feel its absorbing magnetic attraction.”[28]
  Love, then, is the engine of evolution that is consummating the noosphere. As the universe becomes increasingly Christified as a result of earth’s noogenesis, the human psyche finds itself operating within a new charter, the details of which are a result of what Teilhard calls “the Divine Milieu.” As this milieu continues to manifest on earth, the difference between the universal and the personal will be broken down. The individual ego, while remaining unique, will begin to participate in the universal being of Christ.[29]
  “And so,” writes Teilhard,
“the possibility is disclosed for, opens out for, Humanity, not only of believing and hoping but (what is much more unexpected and much more valuable) of loving, co-extensively and co-originally with all the past, the present and the future of a Universe which is in process of concentration upon itself.”[30]
 According to Steiner, this process of concentration has hit a fever pitch during our age of the consciousness soul. As a result of telescopes giving us a better look at the stars, and the disenchanting effects of natural science generally, the inner human being “had to embrace the spirit of a sensory world—one that fills the spatial universe everywhere in the same way.”[31] Our expanded perception of outer space lead to a corresponding contracted perception of inner spirit. For many, the universe now seems to be a dead and empty place. As was discussed above, this period of alienation is necessary for the development of human freedom. The role of Christ, as Steiner sees it, is to provide a guarantee of this freedom, if only we “turn to Christ consciously in the spiritual frame of mind which [we] possessed subconsciously during the descent from supersensible spirit-existence to the use of intellect.”[32] This descent from our original participation in the music of the cosmic spheres to the dead way of thinking reigning at present can only be reversed by a movement of loving openness toward the world, an act of will which might also be termed “faith.” Noogenesis depends both on the strength of our collective bond and the courage of our individual will.
Christogenesis and Etheric Vision
  Teilhard and Steiner are Christ-centric thinkers, but in our increasingly interconnected planet, there are more spiritual paths available than ever before. They both feel there is something unique about the Christian spiritual impulse, that it serves the needs of our moment better than any other. Teilhard is quite aware, however, that imposing “a ready-made Divinity from outside” upon those of a non-Christian persuasion is no better than “preaching in the desert.”[33] Steiner is careful to point out that there is an experiential basis for Christian revelation, and that as more people begin to experience the Christ Event as “mystical fact,” our task will be to develop “an understanding for the possibility of entering the spirit world free of any religious denomination, going simply through the power of good will.”[34]
  In this section, I will attempt to articulate what makes Christianity unique and why it is that Teilhard and Steiner find it so important for the evolution of human consciousness on earth.
  Teilhard lists three attributes that any Divinity still capable of speaking to modern humanity must possess. This God must be: 1) vast and mysterious as the Cosmos, 2) immediate and all-embracing as Life, and 3) linked to our human efforts on the earth.[35]
  The first requirement is a result of Teilhard’s own experience as a scientist learning about the immensity and perplexity of the universe. As his knowledge of nature increased, his former faith began to seem childish. This tension between scientific facts and religious revelation allowed him, throughout his life, to share in the anxieties felt by so many non-believers. But like many Christian natural philosophers before him (like Aquinas and Hegel, to give two examples), he was able to bring together the Bible and the book of Nature. For Teilhard, there is “a secret message explanatory of the whole of Creation…allowing us to feel God in everything we do and in everything that is done to us”: the universe is Christ incarnate.[36] It is this secret that, when revealed within one’s heart (for it cannot be outwardly seen), demonstrates the conjunction of both humanity’s heavenly and earthly attractions. The vast Cosmos becomes the mysterious body of God.
  The second requirement stems from Teilhard’s plea for the priestly class to engage more fully with the world, rather than remaining merely “the people who bury you.”[37] He finds it imperative that the religious must not only study within religion in order to defend it, but apply their passionate religiosity to other fields, especially to science, where the disenchanting metaphysical assumptions of materialism are so often taken for granted. The natural world, studied religiously as the Body of Christ, may become, as William Law puts it, “a volume of holy instruction that leads us into all the mysteries and secrets of eternity.”[38] As Owen Barfield remarks in a similar spirit, “There will be a revival of Christianity when it becomes impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the incarnation of the Word.”[39]
  Aside from fully engaging science, Christianity must overcome the contemporary sentiment that religion ought to remain a private matter. Morality can no longer be narrowly individualistic, but must emphasize our responsibility to “political duties, social duties, international duties, and cosmic duties.”[40] Many secular humanists believe that religion should not interfere with politics and government. Steiner would agree, but would also point out that a society awkwardly divided between public and private spheres is doomed to disintegrate. Instead, he recommends a more balanced threefold social order, composed of political, economic, and cultural spheres.[41] Spirituality (which includes an integral education) would guide the cultural sphere, while the political would assure the rights of individuals and the economic would assure that our collective needs and desires are met. Each sphere would mutually inform the others, but our core values would, for the most part, emerge from the cultural sphere.
  To meet the second requirement, Teilhard also calls for a renewed appreciation of the power of love, which duty-based ethics tend to downplay. There is no more powerful force than love in the lives of human beings, and a religion that does not embrace its transformative potential has no future.
  The third requirement is related to the second, but is aimed specifically at the potential otherworldly tendencies of Christianity, concerned more with the salvation of the soul than with the evolution of the earth. Earthly life cannot be understood as a mere passage to the next world. There is no more important doctrine in the Christian canon than that of the incarnation, the presence of the divine in this world.
  In order to feel at home on the earth, and to take responsibility for its flourishing, it is also important to remember that what is below is like what is above, that time is not other than eternity, and that matter is secret spirit. Earth and humanity may be in the midst of evolution, but Omega is already and always ever-present. Earth is the site of our holiest action, but in eternity and in Christ, the Great Work has already been accomplished.
  As Angelus Silesius writes,
“Friends, when you let your spirit rise above place and time, you can be in eternity every moment…The rose that your outer eye sees here has flowered like this in God through eternity…Sit in the center, and you will see everything at once, what happens both now and then, both here and in Heaven.”[42]
  Silesius refers not to you, but to the Christ in you, when he speaks of your spirit rising above place and time. The Christ in you is the presence of the end, the anticipation of Omega within your heart. Christ is love at work in the world. There is no higher wisdom in nature than that within the human heart, moved “like a wheel revolving uniformly by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”[43] To save the earth, we must find the Savior in our hearts.
  According to Steiner, the Mystery of Golgotha cannot be understood in a merely historical or materialistic way; comprehending its meaning requires spiritual insight into earthly evolution,[44] such that the Christ Event is recognized as “a cosmic deed…springing from Universal love, intelligible only by the love in Humanity.”[45] The second coming of Christ will not be the return of God in physical form. Instead, the continued evolution of the consciousness soul will gradually (over the course of the next 2,500 years) allow human beings to begin to perceive Christ’s presence in the etheric envelope of the earth. The consciousness soul must develop beyond sense-bound intellectuality into the heart-thinking of imagination before this will be possible.[46] Steiner points specifically to the decade between 1930 and 1940 as the time when signs of new faculties of soul would begin to manifest in certain individuals.[47]
  Teilhard is undoubtedly one of these individuals. In letters sent to friends from China written in 1939 just as Germany was invading France,
“he tells us that he gave himself to the writing of The Human Phenomenon as his part in the combat—war being sublimated into a work to form new eyes, to enable the world to see and to become more.”[48]
  Steiner likens etheric seeing to the capacity to read the Akashic record. This record is a form of cosmic memory working just beneath the surface of the world of the physical senses to shape and form its living features. Teilhard’s attempt to form new eyes so as to perceive the within of things is an example of the kind of heart-thinking that our age is being called to develop.
  Steiner’s vision of the Cosmic Christ emphasizes the importance of earthly evolution. Developing the imaginative perception required to experience Christ’s presence in the etheric is only possible while incarnated in a physical body upon the earth (and multiple reincarnations may be required for its full flowering). The humanity of earlier epochs in the evolution of consciousness was able to see into the etheric realm bordering the physical world of the senses, but this dream-like clairvoyance obscured the material reality of the earth. Our task in the current age of the consciousness soul, after coming to experience nature entirely emptied of spirit, is to develop imaginative perception in a fully awakened, individuated state. Only then will Christ’s presence on the earth become apparent to us.
  “We are approaching an age when people will feel they are surrounded not only by a physical, sensory world,” writes Steiner, “but also—according to their understanding—by a spiritual kingdom.”[49] This spiritual kingdom is what Teilhard referred to as the Divine Milieu, wherein he “saw the universe becoming amorized and personalized in the very dynamism of its own evolution.”[50]
  “We have within us mirror images of the great cosmos,” says Steiner, “and the members of our constitution–material, ether, astral, and I-being–are really realms of divine beings.”[51] The human being has come during the past 500 years to feel increasingly disoriented and alienated from the numinous dimension of the universe. We have great trouble recognizing our reflection in the stars above, and for most, the human constitution has been reduced to but one real member: the physical body.[52] But, if Steiner is correct, a seed has already been planted in our souls with the potential to restore our vision of the spiritual world bordering that of the physical senses. Teilhard’s vision of cosmogenesis unified by Christ’s love is an example of the kind of etheric perception that Steiner predicts will become more prevalent in the coming years.
  “Driven by the forces of love,” writes Teilhard, “the fragments of the world are seeking one another so the world may come to be.”[53] Without love, the world itself would long ago have fallen to pieces. The human being now stands precariously at a fork in the road: either we will continue to feel the inertial pull of materialism and degrade further into a dehumanized techno-industrial wonder world, or we will answer the cosmic call to birth within ourselves an etheric organ of perception capable of granting us conscious access to the spirits of form (including Christ) at work behind sensory appearances. Only with the heartfelt imagination required for such perception will we overcome our materialist trance. With perception of Christ in the etheric comes also a release from the anxiety associated with death, as it becomes apparent that the spirit alive within us is immortal. If cultural anthropologists like Ernest Becker[54] are right, and death anxiety is one of the major reasons for most violence and intolerance on our planet, then the moral imagination granting one immediate experience of the non-physical aspect of their own and other’s being cannot develop soon enough.
 Humanity is struggling to become the Spirit of the Earth, but as Teilhard says, this Spirit
“can only be born from a universal human love–a love that is armed with the force we still only lend to violence.”[55] We are beings of universal significance, but this status can no longer be taken for granted. It is now up to us to take the reigns of evolution and guide it toward Omega through the power of conscious amorization. I pray that humanity can face the future with an open heart; if the longing in my soul is not mistaken, a divine Face there awaits us.
Barfield, Owen.
Ø  The Rediscovery of Meaning. The Barfield Press: 1977.
Ø  Saving the Appearances. Wesleyan University Press: 1988.
Steiner, Rudolf.
Ø  Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. Rudolf Steiner Press: 1973.
Ø  Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path. Anthroposophic Press: 1995.
Ø  Mystics After Modernism. Anthroposophic Press: 2000.
Ø  Outline of Esoteric Science. Anthroposophic Press: 1997.
Ø  The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric. Anthroposophic Press: 2003.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre.
Ø  The Human Phenomenon. Sussex Academic Press: 1999.
Ø  The Heart of Matter. Harcourt: 1978.

[1] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 13
[2] The Human Phenomenon, p. 7
[3] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 169-170
[4] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 170
[5] The Human Phenomenon, p. 176-177
[6] The Human Phenomenon, p. 37
[7] As Teilhard describes the human element on p. 177
[8] The Human Phenomenon, p. 90
[9]  The Human Phenomenon, p. 7
[10] The Human Phenomenon, p. 123
[11] The Human Phenomenon, p. 3-4
[12] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 167
[13] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 168
[14] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 62
[15] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 56
[16] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 57
[17] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 69
[18] Mystics After Modernism, p. 88
[19] The Human Phenomenon, p. 152
[20] The Human Phenomenon, p. 176
[21] Mystics After Modernism, p. 58
[22] Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, p. 52
[23] The Human Phenomenon, p. 169
[24] The Human Phenomenon, p. 144
[25] The Human Phenomenon, p. 163
[26] The Heart of Matter, p. 90
[27] The Heart of Matter, p. 91
[28] The Heart of Matter, p. 92
[29] The Heart of Matter, p. 95
[30] The Heart of Matter, p. 99
[31] Mystics after Modernism, p. 116
[32] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 73
[33] The Heart of Matter, p. 211
[34] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 104
[35] The Heart of Matter, p. 212
[36] The Heart of Matter, p. 216
[37] The Heart of Matter, p. 217
[38] The Works of the Reverend William Law, p. 117
[39] Saving the Appearances, p. 164
[40] The Heart of Matter, p. 220
[41] See Towards Social Renewal: Rethinking the Basis of Society
[42] From Cherubinic Wanderer, quoted in Mystics After Modernism, p. 122
[43] Divine Comedy: Paradiso by Dante, Canto XXXIII:143-145
[44]The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 224
[45]Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 149
[46] “Mere perception—perception without imagination—is the sword thrust between spirit and matter” –Owen Barfield (The Rediscovery of Meaning, p. 170)
[47] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 16
[48] The Human Phenomenon, p. xxiv
[49] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 104
[50] The Heart of Matter, p. 83
[51]The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 142
[52] Though the I-being is necessarily implicit in any knowledge of the physical world, most do not recognize their own thinking as a spiritual activity.
[53]The Human Phenomenon, p. 188
[54] See The Denial of Death (1973)
[55]The Human Phenomenon, p. 266, note 15