PART II: Goetheanism – Whence and Whither?
CHAPTER X – The Fourth State of Matter
When William Crookes chose as one of the titles of his paper on the newly discovered properties of electricity, ‘The Fourth State of Matter’, it was to express his belief that he had found a state of matter, additional to the three known ones, which represented ‘the borderland where matter and force seem to merge into one another, the shadowy realm between known and unknown’ for which his soul had been longing ever since the death of his beloved brother.1 All that has followed from his discovery, down to the transformation of matter itself into freely working energy, shows that he was right in thinking he had reached some borderland of nature. But the character of the forces which are thus liberated makes it equally clear that this is not the borderland he was looking for. Nature – by which we mean physical nature – has in fact two borders, one touching the realm of the intramaterial energies which are liberated by disrupting the structure of atomic nuclei, the other leading over into creative Chaos, the fountain-head of all that appears in nature as intelligent design.
It was Crookes’s fate to open the road which has brought man to nature’s lower border and even across it, although he himself was in search of her upper border. What he was denied, we are in a position to achieve to-day, provided we do not expect to succeed by methods similar to those of atomic physics, and do not look for similar results.
To show that there is a fourth state of matter, rightly so called, which represents in actual fact the upper border of nature, and to point the way that leads to it and across it, is the purpose of this chapter.
From our previous comparison of the older conception of the four elementary conditions of nature with that now held of the three states of ponderable matter, we may expect that the fourth state will have something in common with heat. Heat is indeed the energy which transforms matter by carrying it from the solid to the liquid and gaseous states. Not so obvious is the fact that heat, apart from being an agent working at matter in this way, is the very essence underlying all material existence, out of which matter in its three ponderable states comes into being and into which it is capable of returning again. Such a conception of matter was naturally absent from the age of the Contra-Levitatem orientation of the human mind. To create this conception, a new Pro-Levitate orientation is required.
Apart from producing liquefaction and vaporization, heat has also the property of acting on physical matter so that its volume increases. Both facts are linked together by science through the thermodynamic conception of heat. As this conception firmly blocks the road to the recognition of the role of heat as the fourth state of matter, our first task will be to determine our own standpoint with regard to it. Further obstacles on our way are the so-called Laws of Conservation, which state that no matter and no energy – which for present-day science have become one and the same thing – can ever disappear into ‘nothing’ or come into being out of ‘nothing’. This idea, also, will therefore require our early attention.2
In the light of our previous studies we shall not find it difficult to test the reality-value of the thermodynamic conception of heat.
As we know of mass through a definite sense-perception, so we know of heat. In the latter case we rely on the sense of warmth. In Chapter VIII we took the opportunity to test the objectivity of the information received through this sense. Still, one-eyed, colour-blind observation is naturally unable to take account of these sense-messages. To this kind of observation nothing is accessible, we know, except spatial displacements of single point-like entities. Hence we find Bacon and Hooke already attributing the sensation of warmth to minute fast-moving particles of matter impinging on the skin. Some time later we find Locke taking up the same picture. We see from this how little the mechanical theory of heat owes to empirical facts. For even in Locke’s time the connexion between heat and mechanical action, as recognized to-day, was completely unknown.
With this idea firmly rooted in his mind, modern man had no difficulty in using it to explain both thermal expansion and the effect of heat on the different states of matter, and so, finally, these states themselves. Thermal expansion was thus attributed to an increase in the average distance between the assumed minute particles, caused by an increase in their rate of movement; the liquid state was held to differ from the solid, and similarly the gaseous from the liquid, by the interspaces between the particles becoming relatively so great that the gravitational pull between them became too weak to hold them together.
Tested from a view-point outside the onlooker-consciousness, this whole picture of the interaction between matter and heat appears to run counter to the cosmic order of things in a way typical of other spectator-theories. Ancient man, if confronted with this picture, would have said that it means explaining the element Fire by the quality Cold. For each of those minute particles, in its solidity and state of spatial separation from the others, represents an effigy of the earth and thereby the element Earth itself. He would be unable to understand why phenomena of the ‘warm’ element Fire should be explained by its very opposite. Moreover, Fire forms part of the ever ‘youthful’ realm of the world, whereas anything which exists as a spatially discernible entity, capable of being moved about mechanically, must have grown cosmically ‘old’.
That Ruskin was as much on the alert in regard to this theory as he was in regard to Newton’s theory of gravitation, is shown by the following utterance from his The Queen of the Air. Obviously stirred by Tyndall’s newly published treatise, Heat as a Mode of Motion, Ruskin felt the need to criticize the endeavour of contemporary science ‘to simplify the various forms of energy more and more into modes of one force, or finally into mere motion, communicable in various states, but not destructible’, by declaring that he would himself ‘like better in order of thought3 to consider motion as a mode of heat than heat as a mode of motion’.
These words of Ruskin touch also on the law of conservation of energy, of which we said that it also called for a preliminary examination. What we now have to find out is the factual basis on which this law rests.
The conception of the law of conservation of energy arose from the discovery of the constant numerical relation between heat and mechanical work, known as the mechanical equivalent of heat. This discovery was made at about the same time by Joule in England and J. R. Mayer in Germany, although by entirely different routes. Joule, a brewer, was a man of practical bent. Trained by Dalton, the founder of the atomic theory, in experimental research, he continued Rumford’s and Davy’s researches which they had undertaken to prove that heat is not, as it was for a time believed to be, a ponderable substance, but an imponderable agent. As a starting-point he took the heating effect of electric currents. The fact that these could be generated by turning a machine, that is, by the expenditure of mechanical energy, gave him the idea of determining the amount of work done by the machine and then comparing this with the amount of heat generated by the current. A number of ingenious experiments enabled him to determine with increasing exactitude the numerical relation between work and heat, as well as to establish the absolute constancy of the relation.
This he regarded as proof of the mechanical theory of heat, which he had taken from Rumford and Davy. What simpler explanation could there be for the constant numerical relation between work and heat than the conception that transformation of one form of energy into another was simply a transmission of motion from one object to another? From the quantitative equality of expended and generated energy was it not natural to argue the qualitative similarity of the two forms of energy, which only externally seemed different?
It was by quite a different path that the Heilbronn doctor, Mayer, arrived at his results. To escape from the narrowness of his South German home town, he went, while still a youth, as doctor to a Dutch ship sailing to Java. When in the tropics he treated a number of sailors by blood-letting, he observed that the venous blood was much nearer in colour to the paler arterial blood than was usual at home. This change in the colour he attributed to the diminished intensity of bodily combustion, due, he believed, to the higher temperature of the tropics.
Scarcely had this thought passed through his mind than it induced another – that of a universal interrelationship between all possible forms of energy. This last idea so took possession of him that during the return voyage, as he himself related, he could scarcely think of anything but how to prove the correctness of his idea and what the consequences would be for the general view of nature. From the moment of his return he devoted his life to practical research into the connexion between the various manifestations of energy. It was in this way that he was led to the determination of the so-called mechanical equivalent of heat, shortly before the same discovery was made in a quite different manner by Joule.
If one considers how slender a connexion there was between Mayer’s observation on the sailors in Java and the idea of the quantitative equilibrium of all physical nature-forces, and if one contrasts this with the fanaticism he showed during the rest of his life in proving against all obstacles the correctness of his idea, one must feel that the origin of the thought in Mayer’s mind lay elsewhere than in mere physical observations and logical deductions. Confirmation of this may be found in what Mayer himself declared to be his view concerning the actual grounds for the existence of a constant numerical association between the various manifestations of natural energy.
So far as science allowed Mayer any credit for his work, this was based on the opinion that through his discovery he had provided the final vindication of the mechanical theory of heat. This judgment, however, was only piling one wrong upon another. Mayer’s destiny was truly tragic. When he began to publicize his conviction of the numerical equilibrium between spent and created energy, he met with so much scepticism, even derision, that from sheer despair his mind at times became clouded. When at last toward the end of his life he received the recognition his discovery deserved (not before being dragged through a painful priority dispute which Joule forced upon him and lost), the scientists had begun to use his idea for bolstering up a hypothesis directly counter to the idea which had led him to his discovery, and for the sake of which he had accepted so much suffering.
Mayer’s spiritual kin are not to be found among the heat-theorists of his time, such as Helmholtz and others, but among thinkers of the stamp of Goethe, Howard and Ruskin. His basic idea of the inner connexion between all forms of energy in nature corresponds entirely with Goethe’s idea of metamorphosis. Just as Goethe saw in the ur-plant the Idea common to all plant-forms or, in the various plant-organs, the metamorphosis of one and the same ur-organ, so was Mayer convinced of the existence of an ur-force which expressed itself in varying guises in the separate energy-forms of nature. In the picture of the physical universe which hovered before him, the transformation of one form of energy into another – such as mechanical energy into electrical, this into chemical and so on – was somewhat similar to Goethe’s picture of the organic life of the earth, in which the metamorphosis of one living form into another constantly occurred. ‘There is in nature’, said Mayer, ‘a specific dimension of immaterial constitution which preserves its value in all changes taking place among the objects observed, whereas its form of appearance alters in the most manifold ways.’
For the physicist, accustomed to a purely quantitative observation of nature, it is difficult to comprehend that Mayer could have arrived at the thought of a constant quantitative relation between the various manifestations of natural energy, without deriving from it the conviction of their qualitative indentity – i.e., without concluding from the existence of the mechanical heat – equivalent that heat is itself nothing else than a certain form of spatial movement. Mayer actually had a picture directly contrary to the mechanistic conception. For him, the arising of heat represented a disappearance of mechanical energy.
If this, then, was Mayer’s belief, what was it that convinced him of the existence of a numerical balance between appearing and vanishing energy, even before he had any experimental proof?
Later in this book there will be occasion to introduce a concept of number in tune with our qualitative world-outlook. What led Mayer to look upon number as an expression of existing spiritual associations in nature will then become clear. Let this much be said here, that number in the universe has quite different functions from that of serving merely as an expression for a total of calculable items, or as a means of comparing spatial distances. It is in the nature of the onlooker-consciousness that it is unable to interpret numerical equality between natural phenomena save as indicating the presence of an equal number of calculable objects or of spatial movements of equal magnitude. It was therefore consistent for such a consciousness to regard the discovery by Mayer of the mechanical heat-equivalent as a confirmation of the existing mechanical conception of heat.
For Mayer such an interpretation was not necessary. His conviction of the existence of an ur-force, manifesting through metamorphosis in all natural forces, led him to expect a constant numerical relation amongst these, without requiring him to deny the objective existence of qualitative differences, as these displayed themselves in the field of phenomena. He was spiritually akin to Goethe, also, in that he guarded himself strictly against substituting for the contents of our perception conveyed by nature purely hypothetical entities which, while fashioned after the world of the senses, are, in principle, imperceptible. Mayer sought after a truly empirically founded concept of force, and his method was that of reading from all the various manifestations of force which were open to sense observation. One such manifestation, capable of empirical determination, was the balance between appearing and disappearing energy.
Science treated Mayer in the same way as it treated Howard. It took from him what it wanted for its purpose without concerning itself with the epistemological principle which had led him to his discovery. Thus it was that Mayer’s discovery led to most important consequences for the development of modern technical devices, whereas it was the fate of his guiding idea to be first derided, then misunderstood and finally forgotten. The consequence was that the knowledge of the numerical equilibrium between created and expended energy in the economy of nature has widened more and more the abyss separating spirit and matter in human life, instead of leading, as indeed it might have done, to a bridging of the abyss. The thought, therefore, regarding the appearing and disappearing of measurable cosmic substance, to which we are led when following Goethe’s method of observing nature, stands in no sort of contradiction to what Mayer himself conceived as the relation of the various forms of energy to one another, and the maintenance of the numerical balance between them.
Having thus determined our standpoint with regard to the thermodynamic theory of heat and the law of conservation, we may proceed to the study, first of the phenomenon of thermal expansion, and then of the effect of heat on the various states of physical matter, by applying to them, unimpeded by any preconceived mechanistic idea, what we have learnt through our previous studies. We must start by developing a proper picture of the dynamic condition of matter in the solid state.
In a solid body the material substance is centred on an inner point, the so-called centre of gravity – a characteristic which such a body shares with the earth as a whole. Likewise, two such bodies exert on one another the same influence that the earth exerts on each of them: they try to assume the shortest possible distance from each other. Since the days of Faraday science has been accustomed to ascribe these phenomena to the existence of certain fields of force, connected with each body and working on one another through the intermediary space. It is to this concept of the field of force that we must now give special attention. For the field-concept, in the form introduced by Faraday into scientific thinking, is one of the few scientific concepts which have been obtained by being ‘read’ from the corresponding phenomena themselves, and which therefore retain their validity in a science which is based on the method of reading.
According to the field-concept, terrestrial manifestations of gravity are due to the earth’s being the bearer of a gravitational field centred within the globe, and extending thence in all directions through space, across and beyond the earth’s body. Every point in space, both inside and outside the earth, is characterized by a definite intensity of this field, the so-called gravitational potential. This is subject to variations due to the presence of other physical masses, which carry their own fields of gravity. What happens between such masses and that of the earth, as well as mutually between such masses themselves, is brought about by the particular conditions in space resulting from the interpenetration of the various fields.
It is essential to realize that all fields dealt with by physical science, the gravitational, electric, magnetic – however much they differ otherwise – have this one characteristic in common, that they have a centre where the field is at its highest intensity, diminishing as the distance from the centre increases. Motion in such a field naturally takes place from regions of lower to those of higher intensity – in other words, it follows the rising potential of the field. This accounts for the tendency of physical masses to arrive at the shortest possible distance between them.
It was natural for the modern mind to picture a dynamic condition of the kind just described, that is, one in which the centre and source, as it were, is a point round which the dynamic condition spreads with steadily diminishing strength as the distance from the point grows. For such is the condition of man’s head-bound consciousness. The locus from which modern man watches the world is a point within the field of this consciousness, and the intensity with which the world acts on it diminishes with increasing spatial distance from this point. This is the reason why levity was banished from scientific inquiry, and why, when the field-concept was created by the genius of Faraday, it did not occur to anyone that with it the way was opened to comprehend field-types other than the centric one characteristic of gravity and kindred forces. To make use of the field-concept in this other way is one of the tasks we have to undertake if we are to overcome the impasse in which present-day scientific cognition finds itself.
To develop a picture of the type of field represented by levity, let us recall certain results from the observations of the last chapter.
There the volcanic phenomenon, when taken in its wider implications, made us realize that the upward movement of physical masses, in itself part of the total phenomenon, is due to a dynamic cause which we had to describe, in contrast to centripetally working pressure, as peripherally working suction. Of this concept of suction we must now observe that we may apply it with justification only if we realize that suction can be caused in two different ways. In the sense in which we are wont to use the term, suction is the result of a difference of pressure in adjacent parts of space, the action taking place in the direction of the minor pressure. Apart from this, however, suction can occur also as a result of the outward-bound increase of the strength of a levity-field.
It is in this sense that we may speak of the seismic movements of the earth as being caused by suction acting from without. In the same sense we may say that the upward movement of the saps in the plant (to which Ruskin pointed as being responsible for the apple appearing at the top of the tree) and with it the entire growth-phenomenon in the plant world, is due to peripheral suction.
Considerations of this kind lead one to a picture in which the earth is seen to be surrounded and penetrated by a field of force which is in every respect the polar opposite of the earth’s gravitational field. As the latter has its greatest intensity at its centre, which is identical with the centre of the earth’s globe, so has the levitational field its greatest intensity at its circumference which is somewhere in the width of the universe. (Later considerations will enable us to locate its position more precisely.)
As the gravity-field decreases in strength with increasing distance from the centre of the field, that is, in the outward direction, so does the levity-field decrease in strength with increasing distance from its periphery, or in the inward direction. In both fields the direction of movement is from regions of lower to those of higher intensity. This is why things ‘fall’ under the influence of gravity and ‘rise’ under the influence of levity.4
How does thermal expansion read as a letter in nature’s script when seen in the light of the two contrasting field-concepts?
Let us, for simplicity’s sake, imagine a spherically shaped metallic body, say, a ball of copper, which we expose to the influence of heat. As we have seen, it is the centrically orientated gravity-field which gives the ball its permanency of shape. Consequently, the dynamic orientation of the material constituting its body is directed towards the interior of the body itself.
Now, the moment we bring heat to bear on the body we find its surface moving in the outward direction. The whole mass is clearly under the influence of some suction which is directed on to the body from outside. Just as the plants grow in the anti-gravitational direction as a result of the suctional effect of levity (other factors which account for its growing into a particular shape, etc., being left out of consideration), so our copper ball grows in volume by being sucked away from its centre of gravity. It is the action of heat which has changed the ratio between gravity and levity at this spot in such a way as to allow levity to produce this effect.5
What we have thus found to be the true nature of the event perceived as a body’s growth in volume under the influence of heat has a definite effect on our conception of spatially extended matter as such. For a physical body is always in some thermal state which may be regarded as higher than another, and it may therefore be regarded as being at all times thermally expanded to some extent. Hence, it is all the time under the sway of both gravitational pressure and anti-gravitational suction. In fact, we may say ideally that, if there were no field working inwards from the cosmic periphery, the entire material content of the earthly realm would be reduced by gravitation to a spaceless point; just as under the sole influence of the peripheral field of levity it would dissipate into the universe.
To ordinary scientific thinking this may sound paradoxical, but in reality it is not. Observation of the nature of solid matter has led atomistic thought to regard a physical body as a heap of molecules so far apart that by far the greater part of the volume occupied by the body is just ’empty’ space. In the scientific picture of molecules constituting a physical body, of atoms constituting the molecules, of electrons, protons, etc., constituting the atoms, all separated by spaces far exceeding the size of the elementary particles themselves, we find reflected, in a form comprehensible to the onlooker-consciousness, the fact that matter, even in the solid state, is kept in spatial extension by a field of force relating it to the cosmic periphery.
With this picture of solid matter as being held in spatial extension by its subjection to gravity and levity alike, we proceed to a study of the liquid and gaseous states of matter, while taking into account the role of heat in bringing these states about.
Following out our method of seeking to gain knowledge of a phenomenon by regarding it as part of a greater whole, let us ask what sort of change a portion of physical substance undergoes in its relation to the earth as a whole when, for instance, through the influence of heat, it passes from a solid to a liquid state. Here we must keep in mind that it is part of the nature of a liquid to have no form of its own. The only natural boundary of a liquid substance is its upper surface. Since this surface always lies parallel with the surface of the earth it forms part of a sphere, the centre point of which is identical with that of the gravitational centre of the earth. The passage of a portion of matter from solid to liquid thus signifies that it ceases to possess a centre of gravity of its own and is now merely obedient to the general gravity-field of the earth. We can thus speak of a transition of matter from the individual to the planetary condition. This is what heat brings about when a solid body melts.
A large part of the heat used in melting is known to be absorbed by the substance during the process of melting. This is indicated by the thermometer remaining at the temperature of the melting-point once this has been reached, until the whole of the melting substance has liquefied. Physics here speaks of ‘free’ heat becoming ‘latent’. From the Goethean point of view we see heat passing through a metamorphosis. Whereas, previously, heat was perceptible to our sense of warmth, it now manifests as a gravity-denying property of matter.
In order to obtain an idea of the liquid state of matter corresponding to reality, we must take into account yet another of its characteristics. When the heat becomes latent, it goes even further in contradicting gravity than by robbing matter of its own point of gravity and relating it to the earth’s centre of gravity. This effect is shown in the well-known urge of all liquids to evaporate. Hence we must say that even where matter in a liquid state preserves its own surface, this does not by any means represent an absolute boundary. Above the surface there proceeds a continuous transition of substance into the next higher condition through evaporation. We see here the activity of heat going beyond the mere denial of gravity to a positive affirmation of levity.
With the help of this conception of the integration of the liquid state within the polarity of gravity and levity, we are now able to draw a picture of the earth which, once obtained, answers many a question left unanswered by current scientific notions, among them the question why the earth’s volcanic activity is confined to maritime regions.
Regarding the distribution of land and water on the earth’s surface, we may say that to an observer in cosmic space the earth would not look at all like a solid body. Rather would it appear as a gigantic ‘drop’ of water, its surface interspersed with solid formations, the continents and other land masses. Moreover, the evidence assembled ever since Professor A. Wegener’s first researches suggests that the continents are clod-like formations which ‘float’ on an underlying viscous substance and are able to move (very slowly) in both the vertical and horizontal directions. The oceanic waters are in fact separated from the viscous substratum by no more than a thin layer of solid earth, a mere skin in comparison with the size of the planet. Further, this ‘drop’ of liquid which represents the earth is in constant communication with its environment through the perpetual evaporation from the ocean, as well as from every other body of water.
This picture of the earth shows it lying under the twofold influence of the compressive force of gravity and the sucking force of levity. Wherever land meets sea, there levity tends to prevail over gravity. It is in maritime regions, accordingly, that the inner strata of the earth succumb most readily to those sudden changes in the gravity-levity tension wherein we have recognized the origin of seismic occurrences.
Turning to the gaseous condition, we realize that although even here matter retains traces of a connexion with terrestrial gravity, levity is now the dominant factor. There are three characteristics of the gaseous condition which bring this out. One is the extreme readiness of gases to expand when heated; we see here how much easier than with solid substances it is for heat to overcome the influence of gravity. The second characteristic is the property of gases, peculiar to them, of expanding spontaneously, even when not heated. Here we find gaseous matter displaying a dynamic behaviour which at lower stages occurs only under the stimulus of heat. The third characteristic is shown by the fact that all gases, unlike solids or liquids, respond with the same increase of volume to a given rise of temperature, however diverse their other qualities may be. Once gases are mixed, therefore, they cannot be separated merely by raising or lowering the temperature. Here we find the unifying effect of the cosmic periphery prevailing over the differentiating effect of terrestrial gravity.
At this point we may recall Goethe’s reply to the botanist, Wolff, who had ascribed the metamorphosis of plant-organs from root to blossom to a gradual stunting or atrophy of their vegetative force, whereas it was clear to Goethe that simultaneously with a physical retrogression, there is a spiritual progress in the development of the plant. The fact that all Wolff’s efforts to see clearly did not save him from ‘seeing past the thing’ seemed to Goethe an inevitable result of Wolff’s failure to associate with the eyes of the body those of the spirit.
Exactly the same thing holds good for the sequence of physical states of matter which we are considering here. Observation of this sequence with the bodily eyes alone will show nothing but a reduction of the specific gravity of the material concerned. He who is at pains to observe also with the eye of the spirit, however, is aware of a positive increase of lightness going hand in hand with a decrease of heaviness. Regarded thus, the three ponderable conditions form what Goethe would have called a ‘spiritual ladder’. As ‘rungs’ of such a ladder they clearly point to a fourth rung – that is, a fourth state in which levity so far prevails over gravity that the substance no longer has any weight at all. This picture of the fourfold transformation of matter calls for an inquiry into the transition between the third and fourth states, corresponding to the well-known transitions between the three ponderable states.
Our observations have led us to a concept of heat essentially different from that held by modern science. Science looks on heat simply as a condition of ponderable matter. We, on the contrary, are led to recognize in heat a fourth condition into which matter may pass on leaving the three ponderable conditions, and out of which it may emerge on the way to ponderability.
Before showing that such transitions are actually known in nature, it may be well to discuss here an objection which the customary way of thinking might plausibly advance against our whole method. It could be said that to assume a continuation of the sequence of the three ponderable conditions in the manner suggested is justified only if, as solids can be turned into liquids and these into gases, so gases could be transformed into a fourth condition and, conversely, be produced from the latter.
In reply it can be said that the fact of our not being able at present to change gases artificially into pure heat does not justify the conclusion that this is in principle impossible. We know from previous considerations that the earth has reached an evolutionary stage at which all elements, including fire, have in certain degree grown ‘old’. This applies in quite a special degree to the manipulations to which man, led by his death-bound consciousness, has learnt to submit matter in his laboratories. To decide what is possible or not possible in nature, therefore, can by no means be left to the judgment of laboratory research. As is shown by the following instance, taken from the realm of vegetable life, a case of the creation of matter ‘out of nothing’ is already known to biology – though biology, bound in its concepts to the Law of Conservation, shows some natural reluctance to recognize the true significance of the phenomenon.
The plant which performs this strange feat is the Tillandsia usneoides, indigenous to tropical America, and generally known as ‘Spanish Moss’. Its peculiarity is that it grows and flourishes without taking from its support any material whatsoever for the building up of its substance. Its natural habitat is the dry bark of virgin forest trees. Since civilization invaded its home it has acquired the habit of growing even on telegraph wires, which has given it the popular name of ‘telegraph tresses’. Chemical analysis of this plant shows the presence of an average of 17 per cent iron, 36 per cent silicic acid and 1Â·65 per cent phosphoric acid. This applies to samples taken from districts where the rainwater – the only source from which the plant could extract these substances in physical form – contains at most 1Â·65 per cent iron, 0Â·01 per cent silicic acid and no phosphoric acid at all.
The Tillandsia phenomenon is to a certain extent reminiscent of another well-known plant activity. This is the process of assimilation of carbon from the carbon dioxide of the air. If we leave aside the change in the chemical combination which the carbon undergoes, there remains the picture of the plant drawing this matter to itself from its environment and at the same time subjecting it to a spatial condensation. A similar but even more far-reaching process is exhibited by the Tillandsia as regards the three substances referred to above. From the conditions given, it follows that the plant cannot possibly get these substances elsewhere than out of the surrounding atmosphere, and that in drawing upon them it submits them to a high degree of condensation. A special role, however, is played by the phosphorus, which shows that the assimilative power of the plant is sufficient to transform phosphorus from a physically not traceable state into one of spatially bounded materiality. Following Goethe in his coining of the concept of ‘spiritual anastomosis’ for the pollinating process of plants, we can here speak of ‘spiritual assimilation’.
In this respect Tillandsia provides an instance ‘worth a thousand, bearing all within itself. For what nature here unmistakably demonstrates serves as an eye-opener to a universal fact of the plant kingdom and of nature in general. The problem of the so-called trace-elements may serve as an illustration of this.
Modern agricultural chemistry has found of a number of chemical elements that their presence in the soil in scarcely traceable amounts is necessary in order to enable the plant to unfold healthily its latent characteristics. All sorts of deficiencies in cultivated plants have led to a recognition that the soil is impoverished of certain elements by intensive modern cultivation, and that it is to the lack of these elements that the deficiencies are due. Much work has meanwhile been done in classifying the various deficiencies and in devising ways of giving the soil chemical substitutes for what is lacking.
A large part of the work here involved could be saved were it only to be acknowledged that the soil owes the natural occurrence of the proper elements to a process which the plants themselves bring about in the soil, if men refrain from hindering them by cleverly thought-out methods of cultivation which fail to reckon with the nature of a living organism.
Let us be clear what it is that occurs when a plant exhibits any of the observed abnormalities. Expressed in a Goethean manner, these are the consequence of an insufficient direction of the organic processes in the plant body by the spiritual plant-type underlying it. That which Ruskin called the ‘spirit’ of the plant, and to which he drew attention in his aphorism ‘Stand by Form against Force’ (by ‘form’ all the peculiar qualities of the plant are to be understood), is unable to express itself in full measure. Now we know that, in order to unfold its activities on the physical plane, spirit requires ‘young’ matter – that is, matter which is either in, or has just emerged from, a purely dynamic state. Normally a definite spiritual type co-ordinates the dynamic functions present in the superphysical sphere of nature in the manner required to give the plant-organism its appropriate form. As, through the action of the type, these functions are brought down from the sphere of levity into that of gravity, they condense to the corresponding material elements and thus reach the soil in material form via the physical organism of the plant.
The pattern as usually seen is now reversed; the presence of the various elements in the soil no longer appears as the origin of one or another function in the building up of the plant-body, but quite the reverse. The functions appear now as the cause, and the soil-elements as the effect. We may thus recognize the value of the latter as symptoms from which we can read the existence of a healthy connexion between the plant and the corresponding form-creating functions working on it from its surroundings.
With this reversal of the relationship between cause and effect it is not, however, intended to represent the commonly accepted order of things as entirely incorrect. In the realm of life, cause and effect are not so onesidedly fixed as in the realm of mechanical forces. We may therefore admit that a reverse effect of the soil-elements upon the plant does take place. This is plainly demonstrable in the case of phosphorus which, however, by reason of its appearance in the soil in proportions hardly to be called a mere ‘trace’, represents a borderline case. What may apply within limits to phosphorus is wholly valid for the trace-elements – namely, that they are playing their essential role while they are themselves about to assume ponderable form.
It thus becomes clear how mistaken it is to attempt to cure deficiencies in plants by adding to the soil chemical substitutes for the trace-elements. In the condition in which this material is offered to the plant, it is truly ‘old’ material. In order to be able to use it functionally, the plant has first to convert it into the ‘young’ condition. This indeed happens whilst the material is rising in the plant combined with the juices drawn by the plant from the soil under the influence of levity-force. Only when this has occurred are the chemical elements able to serve the plant functionally. Thus, by trying to give help to the plant in this way, we injure it at the same time. For by forcing it to perform the operation described, its general life-forces are diminished. A seeming success brought about in this manner, therefore, will not last long.6
There is, nevertheless, a way of helping the plant by adding to the soil certain material substances, provided these are first brought into a purely dynamic condition. That this can be done is a fact long since known, even if not recognized in its true significance. So far then, as serves the purpose of this book, we shall deal with it here.
The method in question is associated with the school of medicine known as Homoeopathy, founded by the German doctor, Hahnemann. The word ‘homoeopathy’ means ‘healing through like’; the basic principle is to treat disease symptoms with highly diluted substances which produce similar symptoms if ingested in normal quantity. Experience has in fact shown that the physiological effect of a substance taken from external nature is reversed when the substance is highly diluted.
The method of diluting, or ‘potentizing’, is as follows: A given volume of the material to be diluted is dissolved in nine times its volume of distilled water. The degree of dilution thus arrived at is 1:10, usually symbolized as Ix. A tenth part of this solution is again mixed with nine times its bulk of water. The degree of dilution is now 1:100, or 2x. This process is continued as far as is found necessary for a given purpose. Insoluble substances can be dealt with in the same manner by first grinding them together with corresponding quantities of a neutral powder, generally sugar of milk. After a certain number of stages the powder can be dissolved in water; the solution may then be diluted further in the manner described. Here we have to do with transfer of the quality of a substance, itself insoluble, to the dissolving medium, and then with the further treatment of the latter as if it were the original bearer of the quality concerned.
This fact alone shows that potentization leads into a realm of material effects at variance with the ordinary scientific conception of matter. Moreover, we can carry the dilutions as far as we please without destroying the capacity of the substance to produce physiological reactions. On the contrary, as soon as its original capacity is reduced to a minimum by dilution, further dilution gives it the power to cause actually stronger reactions, of a different and usually opposite kind. This second capacity rises through stages to a variable maximum as dilution proceeds.
A simple calculation shows – if we accept the ordinary scientific view as to the size of a molecule – that not a single molecule of the original substance will remain in the solution after a certain degree of dilution has been reached. Yet the biological and other reactions continue long after this, and are even enhanced.
What this potentizing process shows is that, by repeated expansions in space, a substance can be carried beyond the ponderable conditions of matter into the realm of pure functional effect. The potentizing of physical substances thus gains a significance far wider than that of its medical use.7 There opens up, for example, the possibility of stimulating deficient functions in the plant by giving it the corresponding elements in homoeopathic doses. By this means the plant is brought into direct connexion with the relevant spiritual energy, and then left to carry out for itself the necessary process of materialization, instead of being forced by mere chemical additions to the soil first to potentize the substance itself.8
The same principle holds good for man and beast. They also need ‘young material’ for their nourishment, so that the type active in them – which in animals is the group-soul of the species and in man is the single individual – can express its true form and character. (We saw earlier that the will requires ‘young’ material in order to penetrate into the material layers of the muscles, as happens when the limbs are set in motion). In this respect, the difference between ensouled creatures and plants is that, what is harmful to plants is natural for men and animals: when taking nourishment the latter are able to bring about quickly and purposefully a transformation of matter into the purely dynamic state. Their metabolic system is designed to enable them to take alien material from outer nature and to transform it through the forces of the various digestive enzymes; in the course of this process the material passes through a condition of complete ‘chaos’.
Having in this way established the existence of certain processes of materialization and dematerialization in single organisms within the earth’s vegetable and other kingdoms, we shall now turn to the earth as a whole to find out where – organic being that she herself is – she manipulates corresponding processes on a macrotelluric scale.
In an age following van Helmont’s discovery of the gaseous state of matter and the statement of the Contra Levitatem maxim, men were bound to think that the circulation of atmospheric moisture was limited to the three stages of liquid, vaporous (peculiar to the clouds, etc.) and the invisible aeriform condition. Yet the role played by clouds in the myths of early peoples shows that they were once given a quite different status, between the ‘created’ and ‘uncreated’ worlds. Our observations lead to a corresponding conception, but along the path of knowledge, guided by sense-perception, as befits our own age.
In discussing Howard’s discovery of the stages of cloud-formation we found something lacking, for it was clear that the three stages of cloud proper – stratus, cumulus and cirrus – have a symmetry which is disturbed by the addition of a fourth stage, represented by the nimbus. This showed that there was need for a fifth stage, at the top of the series, to establish a balanced polarity. We can now clear up this question of a fifth stage, as follows.
In the three actual cloud-forms, gravity and levity are more or less in equilibrium, but in the nimbus gravity predominates, and the atmospheric vapour condenses accordingly into separate liquid bodies, the drops of rain. The polar opposite of this process must therefore be one in which cloud-vapour, under the dominating influence of levity, passes up through a transitional condition into a state of pure heat.
Such a conception by no means contradicts the findings of external research. For meteorology has come to know of a heat-mantle surrounding the earth’s atmosphere for which various hypothetical explanations have been advanced. Naturally, none of them envisages the possibility of atmospheric substance changing into the heat-condition and back again. But if we learn to look on the chain of cloud-forms as a ‘spiritual ladder’, then we must expect the chain to conclude with a stage of pure heat, lying above the cirrus-sphere.9
The line of consideration pursued in the last part of this chapter has led us from certain observations in the plant kingdom, concerning the coming into being of ponderable matter from ‘nothing’, to a corresponding picture of the earth’s meteorological sphere. When discussing the plant in this respect we found as an instance ‘worth a thousand, bearing all within itself the case of Tillandsia and more particularly the surprising appearance of phosphorus in it. Now, in the meteorological realm it is once more phosphorus which gives us an instance of this kind. For there is the well-known fact of the presence of phosphorus in conspicuous quantities in snow without a source being traceable in the atmosphere whence this substance can have originated in ponderable condition. The phosphorus appearing in snow, therefore, brings before our very eyes the fact that the heights of the atmosphere are a realm of procreation of matter. (In our next chapter we shall learn what it is in phosphorus that makes it play this particular role in both fields of nature. What interests us in the present context is the fact itself.)
The knowledge we have now gained concerning the disappearance and appearance of physical water in the heights of the atmosphere will enable us to shake off one of the most characteristic errors to which the onlooker-consciousness has succumbed in its estimation of nature. This is the interpretation of thunderstorms, and particularly of lightning, which has held sway since the days of Benjamin Franklin.
Before developing our own picture of a thunderstorm let us recognize that science has found it necessary to reverse the explanation so long in Vogue. Whereas it was formerly taken for granted – and the assumption was supposed to rest upon experimental proof – that the condensing of atmospheric vapour which accompanied lightning was the consequence of a release of electrical tension by the lightning, the view now held is that the electrical tension responsible for the occurrence of lightning is itself the effect of a sudden condensing process of atmospheric moisture.
The reason for this uncertainty is that the physical conditions in the sphere where lightning occurs, according to other experiences of electric phenomena, actually exclude the formation of such high tensions as are necessary for the occurrence of discharges on the scale of lightning. If we look at this fact without scientific bias we are once again reminded of the Hans Andersen child. We cannot help wondering how this child would behave in a physics class if the teacher, after vainly trying to produce a lightning-flash in miniature with the help of an electrical machine, explained that the moisture prevalent in the air was responsible for the failure of the experiment, and that he would have to postpone it to a day when the air was drier. It would scarcely escape the Hans Andersen child that the conditions announced by the teacher as unfavourable to the production of an electric spark by the machine, prevail in a much higher degree exactly where lightning, as a supposed electric spark, actually does occur.
To conclude from the presence of electric tensions in the earth’s atmosphere as an accompaniment of lightning, in the way first observed by Franklin, that lightning itself is an electrical process, is to be under the same kind of illusion that led men to attribute electrical characteristics to the human soul because its activity in the body was found to be accompanied by electrical processes in the latter. The identification of lightning with the electric spark is a case of a confusion between the upper and lower boundaries of nature, characteristic of the onlooker-consciousness. As such, it has stood in the way of a real understanding both of non-electrical natural phenomena and of electricity itself.
What we observe in lightning is really an instantaneous execution of a process which runs its course continually in the atmosphere, quietly and unnoticed. It is the process by which water reverts from the imponderable to the ponderable condition, after having been converted to the former through levity set in action by the sun (as usually happens in a high degree just before a thunderstorm). We form a true picture of the course of a storm if we say that nature enables us to witness a sublime display of the sudden bringing to birth of matter in earthbound form. What falls to the ground as rain (or hail) is substantially identical with what was perceptible to the eye, a moment before, as a majestic light-phenomenon. The accompanying electrical occurrence is the appropriate counter-event at nature’s lower boundary. Since the two form part of a larger whole they necessarily occur together; but the electrical occurrence must not be identified with the event in the heavens. The reason for their conjunction will become clear later, when we shall show how electrical polarity arises from the polarity between gravity and levity.
If one learns to view a thunderstorm in this way, its spiritual connexion with the earth’s volcanic processes becomes manifest; there is in fact a polar relationship between them. For just as in volcanic activity heavy matter is suddenly and swiftly driven heavenwards under the influence of levity, so in a storm does light matter stream earthwards under the influence of gravity.
It is this combination of kinship and polar opposition which led people of old to regard both lightning in the heights and seismic disturbances in the depths as signs of direct intervention by higher powers in the affairs of men. A trace of this old feeling lingers in the Greek word theion, divine, which was used to denote both lightning and sulphur. Influenced by the same conception, the Romans regarded as holy a spot where lightning had struck the earth; they even fenced it off to protect it from human contact. Note in this respect also the biblical report of the event on Mount Sinai, mentioned before, telling of an interplay of volcanic and meteorological phenomena as a sign of the direct intervention of the Godhead.
1 See Chapter IV. The other title of the paper, ‘Radiant Matter’, will gain significance for us in a later context.
2 Since the above was written, certain conclusions drawn from modern subatomic research have led some astro-physicists to the idea that hydrogen is continuously created in the cosmos ‘out of nothing’. This does not affect the considerations of the present chapter.
3 Note the expression!
4 For a vivid description of the interplay of both types of force in nature, see E. Carpenter’s account of his experience of a tree in his Pagan and Christian Creeds.
5 Note how this picture of thermal expansion fits in with the one obtained for the Solfatara phenomenon when we took into account all that is implicit in the latter,
6 This throws light also on the problem of the use of chemicals as artificial fertilizers.
7 See L. Kolisko: Wirksamkeit kleinster EntitÃ¤ten (‘Effects of Smallest Entities’), Stuttgart, 1922, an account of a series of experiments undertaken by the author at the Biological Institute of the Goetheanum following suggestions by Rudolf Steiner. Her aim was to examine the behaviour of matter on the way to and beyond the boundary of its ponderable existence.
8 Instead of using the trace-elements in mineral form, it is still better to use parts of certain plants with a strong ‘functional tendency’, specially prepared. This is done in the so-called Bio-Dynamic method of farming and gardening, according to Rudolf Steiner’s indications.
9 Note, in this respect, the close of Goethe’s poem dedicated to the cirrus-formation and the poem inspired by his sight of a waterfall in the Bernese Alps as indications of the fact that he was himself aware of the water-rejuvenating process in the higher reaches of the atmosphere.
- CHAPTER IX – Pro Levitate
- CHAPTER XI – Matter as Part of Nature’s Alphabet