Human senses

From Anthroposophy

The human senses represent faculties of Man's consciousness. Man has twelve senses that can be divided into two groups of six, six relating to the soul-life and higher Man, and six more material relating to lower Man. In the latter Man is more unconscious.

The physical senses organs give Man self-awareness of the physical body, and are underlying the Process of perception and waking consciousness. However the process of perception is not physical at all, but takes place in the Spectrum of elements and ethers as Man is placed in this spectrum with his whole being, and our body 'swims' in the etheric.

Besides the physical senses there are also higher astral senses of imagination, inspiration and intuition, see also Stages of clairvoyance

Mineral science and the purely materialistic physiology of Man can not possible understand the senses as they require a spiritual scientific understanding of Man's bodily principles, the Spectrum of elements and ethers, and the Process of perception (see eg 1909-10-25-GA115)


  • Man has twelve senses (1905-10-04-GA093a)
    • five are already physical: smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing
    • two others will become physical during further Earth development: they are located in the pituitary gland (hypophysis) and the pineal gland (epiphysis).
  • Man's twelve senses are maintained by twelve groups or classes of elemental beings that are servants of the higher hierarchies (SoF, SoM, SoW) (see notes about 1914-04-25-GA266/3 below)
  • relationship of the 12 human senses with the zodiac signs
    • see Rudolf Steiner's Notebook number 77 from 1921, as well as Notizbuch 210/12
  • relationship with the twelve senses, and the development of the active (eg ear) and passive (eg eye) organs used for the Process of perception
    • the 'filling of the pockets', the placeholders in our physical body with the actual sense organs, in Man takes place through influences from beyond the zodiac, whereas for the animal this is different (1921-11-05-GA208)
  • evolutionary perspective on the senses (across planetary stages)
  • the 'original design' of the senses has been by the impact of Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences on the lower bodies of Man (1916-09-02-GA170)
  • Man uses the physical body to share in the warmth conditions with the environment, and the etheric body to share in the light ether.
    • hearing sounds plays in the element air
    • seeing takes place in the light ether as an astral process, as the eye is astral independent and not in a direct relation with the etheric like the nerves. Astral thought substance flows out of the sentient soul and eye toward the object, streams toward the object, and when opposed by another astral element the conflict between these two engenders color. The genesis of color occurs at the boundary of objects, where the astral element emanating from the human being collides with that of the object.

Inspirational quotes


The true nature of the senses is the first chapter of anthroposophy.


Sense experience is Lucifer's deed, world experience is Ahriman's deed. During the day we are totally in our senses, we occupy them completely. .. That is why we see the physical body instead of the beings on our senses, that is Lucifer's deed.


Schema FMC00.399 is (a temporary or interim version of) a reference schema for the twelve senses (under development).

Note: The order or the senses, and their mapping to zodiac signs, planes, and others, has not been consolidated because the various sources include apparent contradictions or anomalies when trying to apply a certain logic. In the schema below this is apparent with the sense 'warmth' being in a certain frame of perspective in the order shown, but 'jumping out' of this order in other perspectives. This is most probably related to the impact of Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences being considered in such 'sequences' or not, see eg 1916-09-02-GA170.


Schema FMC00.178 (see Process of perception#1905-09-30-GA093A) describes active and passive perception and links with the process of producing rather than perceiving. See also Etherization of blood (eg quote from 1906-12-18-GA266/1 on the pineal gland becoming an active organ) and Man past and future.


Schema FMC00.077B is shown here from Creation of solar system, to have a simple drawing to depict how the spiritual hierarchies constituting the zodiac change between planetary stages of evolution (to relate, see eg 1914-04-25-GA266/3).


Lecture coverage and references


  • 1909-10-GA 115 provides a very good introduction
  • 1916-08-GA 170/171

Source extracts


.. This is why it is only the physical body as such that has self-awareness, not the other three bodies. In the moment when man closes his physical sense organs in sleep, awareness of self ceases: when he opens them to what is outside, self-awareness returns. Man gains consciousness of self because his organs enable him to observe his surroundings. Only the physical body is so far advanced that it is able to open its organs to what is outside. If the etheric and astral bodies were able with their organs to observe their surroundings, man would attain self-awareness in them also. But for this, organs are necessary. The physical body has self-awareness only through its organs. These organs of the physical body are the senses.

There are in fact twelve senses. Of these, five are already physical and two others will become physical during further development of the Earth.

The five senses which we already have are smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing. In time man will develop two other senses into proper physical senses. These two are located in the pituitary gland (hypophysis) and the pineal gland (epiphysis). These will develop the two future senses in the physical body which will then have seven senses.

To understand the successive stages of the senses we must make it clear that in so far as man is a being conscious of self, he is on a descending curve. So though the body is on an ascending curve, the senses are on a descending curve.

[Higher principles]

Of the higher principles in man, Atma developed on Old Saturn, Buddhi on Old Sun and Manas on Old Moon. There was a time when the Monad assembled itself bit by bit, and then in the Lemurian Age entered into its self-constructed house. Now the Monad has descended to the fourth stage, Atma, Buddhi, Manas, Kama-Manas. This descending curve is expressed in the development of the senses. Actually, in the beginning, on Old Saturn, only one sense was present, the sense of smell. The senses that developed later had to descend from higher to ever lower regions.

In Nature we differentiate the solid, the fluid, the gaseous, the warmth ether, light ether, chemical ether and the life ether. These are the seven stages of matter. In his descent man experienced these stages from above downwards. At the beginning of evolution the first human life-germ could only manifest itself in the Life Ether. What corresponds to this stage as sense, is the sense of smell. Then man possessed the first sense of smell, of which only an after effect is present today.

The solid has its life, as we saw a few days ago on the mahapara-nirvana plane, the fluid on the para-nirvana plane, the gaseous on the Nirvana plane, the warmth ether on the buddhi plane, the light ether on the mental plane [or spirit world], the chemical ether on the astral plane, the life ether on the physical plane. [table]

  • An object can only be smelt when it impinges on the organ of smell, comes into contact with it. The organ of smell must unite itself with the material. To smell means to perceive with a sense that enters into a relationship with the material itself.
  • As second stage we have the chemical ether. Here the sense of taste develops. This depends on dissolving what is to be tasted. We have to do, not with matter itself, but with what is made out of it. This is a chemical, physical process through which matter is changed into something different. The tongue can do this: it can first dissolve and then taste.
  • The third stage is to be found in the light ether. There sight develops. Now we do not perceive what is broken down by chemical, physical processes, but we perceive a picture of the object which is brought about by the external light.
  • The fourth is the warmth ether. In this, the sense of touch is developed. Here one no longer perceives a picture. Warmth is a passing condition of the body, a condition experienced only in the moment. We are speaking here of the sense of touch as the perception of warmth and cold; it is in fact a ‘warmth sense’.
  • Fifthly we have what is of the nature of air. This corresponds to the sense of hearing. Here we no longer perceive a condition of the body in question, but what the body says to us. Now we enter into the inner nature of the body. At the sound of a bell it is not the bell itself that interests us, not the outer form, the matter, but what it has to disclose of its inner nature. Hearing is a uniting with what reveals itself as the spiritual in matter. At this stage the life of the senses goes over from the passive to the active. The passively received sound becomes in man active in speech. Through speech man gives utterance to his soul being.
  • As the sixth stage we have the fluid element. The sense organ corresponding to the fluid is the pituitary gland. This is situated in the brain in an elongated cylindrical form.
  • As seventh stage we have the solid. The appropriate sense organ is the pineal gland.

Just as now, when man speaks he influences the air, so later he will gain an influence over what is fluid. The ‘I think’, and thought in general, will express itself in the air and indeed in forms, for example as crystals.

At the next stage feeling will also be involved with thinking. Development will work backwards. The warmth of the heart will then express itself in oscillations, and flow outwards together with thought.

And the last stage will be achieved by man when he will create actual beings which remain; when through the word he will externalise what he wills. The expression of feeling is merely a transition. When man becomes creative through the will, then the beings which he brings forth will have actual existence.

  • The sixth sense is the Kundalini light radiating warmth
  • the seventh is the synthesizing sense

the five senses (smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch) and the three (smell, sight, hearing) and the three Logoi. The radiations of the three Logoi (sound, picture, aroma), their beginning and duration.



Man's lowest member is the physical body that he has in common with the sensory world that is perceived through the senses and the sensory-physical mind. .. it is through his senses that Man acquires knowledge of the physical-sensory world.


Even in the matter of the human senses, anthroposophy has a different story to tell than has external observation. At the same time it is interesting to note how external science has lately been forced by material facts to go to work more thoroughly, seriously and carefully. There is nothing more trivial than the enumeration of the five senses: feeling (touch), smell, taste, hearing, and sight. We shall see what confusion reigns in this enumeration. Science, it is true, has now added three more senses to the list, but as yet doesn't seem to know what to do about them. We will now list the human senses according to their real significance, and we will endeavor in the following to start laying the foundations of an anthroposophical doctrine of the senses.

  • The first sense in question is the one that in spiritual science can be called the sense of life. It is something in the human being of which, when it functions normally he is not aware. He feels it only when it is out of order. We feel lassitude, or hunger and thirst, or a sense of strength in the organism; we perceive these as we do a color or a tone. We are aware of them as an inner experience. But as a rule we are conscious of this feeling only when something is out of order, otherwise it remains unobserved. The sense of life furnishes the first human self-perception; it is the sense through which the whole inner man becomes conscious of his corporeality. That is the first sense, and it must figure in the list just as does hearing or smell. Nobody can understand the human being and the senses who knows nothing of this sense that enables him to feel himself an inner entity.
  • We discover the second sense when we move a limb, raise an arm. We would not be human beings if we could not perceive our own movements. A machine is not aware of its own motion; that is possible only for a living being through the medium of a real sense. The sense of perceiving our own movements, anything from blinking to walking or running, we call the sense of our own movements.
  • We become aware of a third sense by realizing that the human being distinguishes within himself between above and below. It is dangerous for him to lose this perception, for in that case he totters and falls over. The human body contains a delicate organ connected with this sense: the three semicircular canals in the ear. When these are injured we lose our sense of balance. This third sense is the static sense, or sense of balance. (In the animal kingdom there is something analogous: the otoliths, tiny stones that must lie in a certain position if the animal is to maintain its equilibrium.)

These are the three senses through which man perceives something within himself; by their means he feels something within himself.

Now we emerge from the inner man to the point at which an interaction with the outer world begins.

  • The first of such reciprocal relations arises when man assimilates physical matter and, by doing so, perceives it. Matter can be perceived only when it really unites with the body. This cannot be done by solid or fluid matter, but only by gaseous substances that then penetrate the bodily matter. You can perceive smell only when some body sends out gaseous matter that penetrates the organs of the mucous membrane of the nose. The fourth sense, then, is the sense of smell, and it is the first one through which the human being enters into reciprocal relationship with the outer world.
  • When we no longer merely perceive matter but take the first step into matter itself, we have the fifth sense. We enter into a deeper relationship with such matter. Here matter must be active, which implies that it must have some effect upon us. This takes place when a liquid or a dissolved solid comes in contact with the tongue and unites with what the tongue itself secretes. The reciprocal relationship between man and nature has become a more intimate one. We become aware not only of what things are, as matter, but of what they can induce. That is the sense of taste, the fifth sense.
  • Now we come to the sixth sense, again there is an increase in the intimacy of the interaction. We penetrate still deeper into matter, things reveal more of their essence. This can only occur, however, through special provisions. The sense of smell is the more primitive of these two kinds of senses. In the case of smell, the human body takes matter as it is and makes no effort to penetrate it. Taste, where man and matter unite more intimately, is more complicated; then, matter yields more. The next step offers the possibility of penetrating still more deeply into the outer world. This takes place by reason of an external material substance being either transparent or opaque, or by the manner in which it permits light to pass through it, that is, how it is colored. An object that rays out green light is internally so constituted that it can reflect green light and no other. The outermost surface of things is revealed to us in the sense of smell, something of their inner nature in taste, something of their inner essence in sight. Hence the complicated structure of the eye, which leads us much deeper into the essence of things than does the nose or the tongue. The sixth sense, then, is the sense of sight.
  • We proceed, penetrating still deeper into matter. For example, when the eye sees a rose as red, the inner nature of the rose is proclaimed by its surface. We see only the surface, but since this is conditioned by the inner nature of the rose we become acquainted, to a certain extent, with this inner nature. If we touch a piece of ice or some hot metal, not only the surface and thereby the inner nature are revealed, but the real consistency as well because what is externally cold or hot is cold or hot through and through. The sense of temperature, the seventh, carries us still more intimately into the fundamental conditions of objects.
  • .. is it possible to penetrate into the nature of objects still more deeply than through this seventh sense when objects show us not only their nature through and through, as in the case of temperature, but their most inner essence; that is what they do when they begin to sound. The temperature is even throughout objects. Tone causes their inner nature to vibrate, and it is through tone that we perceive the inner mobility of objects. When we strike an object its inner nature is revealed to us in tone, and we can distinguish among objects according to their inner nature, according to their inner vibration, when we open our inner ear to their tone. It is the soul of objects that speaks to our own soul in tones. That is the eighth sense, the sense of hearing.

If we would find an answer to the question as to whether there exist still higher senses, we must proceed cautiously. We must beware of confusing what is really a sense with other terms and expressions. For example, in ordinary life — down below, where much confusion exists — we hear of a sense of imitation, a sense of secrecy, and others. That is wrong. A sense becomes effective at the moment when we achieve perception and before mental activity sets in. We speak of a sense as of something that functions before our capacity for reasoning has come into action. To perceive color you need a sense, but for judging between two colors you do not.

  • This brings us to the ninth sense. We arrive at it by realizing that in truth there is in man a certain power of perception — one that is especially important in substantiating anthroposophy — a power of perception not based on reasoning, yet present in him. It is what men perceive when they understand each other through speech. A real sense underlies the perception of what is transmitted to us through speech. That is the ninth sense, the sense of speech. The child learns to speak before he learns to reason. A whole people has a language in common, but reasoning is a matter for the individual. What speaks to the senses is not subject to the mental activity of the individual. The perception of the meaning of a sound is not mere hearing because the latter tells us only of the inner oscillations of the object. There must be a special sense for the meaning of what is expressed in speech. That is why the child learns to speak, or at least to understand what is spoken, before he learns to reason. It is, in fact, only through speech that he learns to reason. The sense of speech is an educator during the child's first years, exactly like hearing and sight. We cannot alter what a sense perceives, cannot impair anything connected with it. We perceive a color, but our judgment can neither change nor vitiate it; the same thing is true of the sense of speech when we perceive the inner significance of the speech sound. It is indispensable to designate the sense of speech as such. It is the ninth.
  • Finally we come to the tenth sense, the highest in the realm of ordinary life. It is the concept sense, which enables us perceptively to comprehend concepts not expressed through speech sounds. In order to reason we must have concepts. If the mind is to become active, it must first be able to perceive the concept in question, and this calls for the concept sense, which is exactly as much a sense by itself as is taste or smell.


Now I have enumerated ten senses and have not mentioned the sense of touch. What about it? Well, a method of observation lacking the spiritual thread confuses everything. Touch is usually tossed in with our seventh sense, temperature. Only in this meaning, however, as the sense of temperature, has it in the first instance any significance. True, the skin can be called the organ of the temperature sense — the same skin that serves also as the organ of the touch sense. But we touch not only when we touch [notes on translation] the surface of an object. We touch when the eye seeks something, when the tongue tastes something, when the nose smells something. Touching is a quality common to the fourth to seventh senses. All of these are senses of touch.

Up to and including the sense of temperature we can speak of touching.

Hearing we can no longer describe as touching; at least, the quality is present only to a small degree. In the senses of speech and concepts it is wholly absent. These three senses we therefore designate as the senses of comprehension and understanding.

The first three senses inform us concerning the inner man. Reaching the boundary between the inner and the outer world, the fourth sense leads us into this outer world, and by means of the other three we penetrate it ever more deeply. Through the senses of touch we perceive the outer world on the surface, and through those of comprehension we learn to understand things, we reach their soul. Later we will deal with other senses transcending these.

Below the sense of smell, then, there are three senses that bring us messages out of our own human inner being. The sense of smell is the first to lead us into the outer world, into which we then penetrate deeper and deeper by means of the others.

[higher senses]

But what I have described to you today does not exhaust the list of senses. It was only an excerpt from the whole, and there is something below and something above the ten mentioned.

  • From the concept sense we can continue upward to a first astral sense, arriving at the senses that penetrate the spiritual world. There we find an eleventh, a twelfth and a thirteenth sense. These three astral senses will lead us deeper into the fundamentals of external objects, deep down where concepts cannot penetrate. The concept halts before the external, just as the sense of smell halts before the inner man.


For this reason a great number of expositions given today, especially in physics, concerning the nature of sight and its relation to its surroundings may be regarded unhesitatingly as theories that have never reckoned with the true nature of the senses. Countless errors have arisen from this misconception of the nature of the senses. That must be emphasized, because it is quite impossible for popular representations to do justice to what has here been set forth. You read things written by people who can have no possible inkling of the inner nature of the senses. We must understand that science, from its standpoint, cannot do other than take a different attitude. It is inevitable that science should spread errors, because in the course of evolution the real nature of the senses was forgotten.


'Supersensible Processes in the Activities of the Human Senses' provides a spiritual physiological explanation of what takes places in the senses.

first explains that spirit-man, life-spirit, and spirit-self permeate the etheric body, and thus work on the astral, etheric, and physical bodies (see more: Human etheric body), thus relating to the sense of life, movement, and balance. (SWCC)


[first three senses of life, movement and balance]

Through the action of atma the physical body is contracted, through the action of buddhi it is stabilized, through the action of manas it is unburdened. The result is that at certain points it pushes out tiny particles, and this occurs in those three marvelous organs, the semi-circular canals of the ear. Such spreading out of physical matter does not arise from a forcing from within, but from a cessation or diminution of pressure from without, through the unburdening of the physical matter in question. This in turn enables the astral body to expand more and more. It makes contact with the outer world and must achieve equilibrium with it, for when this is not the case we cannot stand upright; we even fall over. If we would move in space we must take our bearings, and for this reason those three little canals are arranged in the three dimensions of space at right angles to each other. If these canals are injured we lose our sense of balance, we feel dizzy, we faint.



The reason for not occupying ourselves particularly with what science calls the sense of touch has already been indicated. As generally described, it is a mere figment of the imagination, an invention of physiology, hence we will disregard it. Because I can give but four lectures at this time I must pass rapidly over certain matters and utter many a paradox. In dealing with a number of senses we can speak of touch sensations, but not of a special touch sense in the way modern physiology does. All that takes place when we touch something is wholly comprised in the concept “sense of equilibrium.” If we press down on a table, stroke a velvet surface, pull a cord, everything that there manifests itself in pressure, stroking and pulling as a process of touch is nothing but a change of equilibrium within ourselves. While all this can be found in the sense of touch, the sense of touch proper must be sought higher up in the sense of equilibrium — there where this sense comes to fullest expression. An unimpaired sense of equilibrium provides the sense of touch. In science the most distressing theories prevail concerning this sense of touch.

What takes place in 'pressing'? What occurs in the sense of equilibrium? What compensation is effected by the astral body?

.. what we have to deal with here is an eminently spiritual process. The human being is so strong that he can push the astral body into the constricted portions and thereby re-establish equilibrium. When pressure is exerted, a little lump, as we may call it, always results, and this effect is so strong in the astral body that the latter, from within, overcomes the whole pressure of the outer air. In this realm the spirit is literally tangible.

[sense of smell]

After this short digression we will now return to the sense of smell. Here the human organism is taken in hand and affected by something other than was the case in the senses just dealt with, something less remote from human consciousness, that is, by the consciousness soul itself, which comes into action in the process of smelling. We shall see why all such things are accomplished by means of special organs. The consciousness soul not only effects an expansion and rarefaction at a certain place in the organism, but causes the astral body to extend its impulses beyond the organism. In proportion as the gaseous substance penetrates the mucous membrane of the nose, the astral substance presses outward, leaves the organism, penetrates the gaseous substance, and experiences something in it, not only in itself but in the substance. What it thus experiences it calls aroma, pleasant or unpleasant scent, etc., as the case may be. It is an antenna of the consciousness soul, projected by the latter through the agency of the astral body.

What is the nature of the stream emanating from the astral body in smelling? It is none other than the nature of will. The impulse of will that you feel within you streams forth to meet the inflowing matter. The process of smelling is one of resistance, an impulse to force back the instreaming matter. Spiritual science can tell you that this substance flowing in is but maya; it is external will. Your inner and your outer will attack each other and fight. Smelling is a conflict of will forces. Schopenhauer, who had an inkling that the interior and the exterior wills hinder and obstruct each other in the activity of the senses, built a philosophy of will upon it. But that is unsound metaphysics because this interplay of the two wills actually occurs only in smelling. In the other cases it is merely read into the processes.

In the fifth sense, taste, the intellectual soul is active. It pours its astral currents outward through the organ of taste, sending the astral substance to meet whatever matter comes in contact with the tongue. The resulting process in the astral body is of a special nature.

While in the sense of smell the outgoing stream is of the nature of will, it pertains to feeling when the current results from tasty food. What enters as food is also mere maya, an external image that is experienced as feeling. In the process of tasting, the interplay is between feeling and feeling. That is the real process of tasting; the rest is merely an outward image, and we shall see that the tongue is formed accordingly. For this reason this sense of taste is a sense of touch [note on translation], notably of feeling, agreeable or disagreeable, repulsive, and the like. The point, however, does not center in feeling as such, but in the clash of feelings and their interaction.


In the sixth sense, sight, it is the sentient soul that works on the etheric body and flows into it, this effect partakes of the nature of thought. It represents a mental principle, and the thoughts constitute the subconscious element of the process. The sentient soul subconsciously bears within it what the consciousness soul then raises to consciousness as thought. What flows out of the eyes is a thinking in the sentient soul. Real thought substance streams out of the eyes from the sentient soul. This thought substance has far greater elasticity than the other substances that flow out when the sense of smell or of taste is active. It can reach out much farther toward its objects — indeed, it is a fact that something of an astral substance streams forth from men to far distant objects, unchecked until some other astral element offers resistance.

It is astral thought substance that flows toward the object. An astral element leaves the body, streams toward the object, and continues onward until opposed by another astral element. The conflict between these two astral elements engenders color, which we sense as pertaining to objects. The genesis of color occurs at the boundary of objects, where the astral element emanating from the human being collides with that of the object. Color comes into being where the inner and the outer astral elements meet.

Here spiritual science leads us to a strange phenomenon. We learned that really a kind of thinking resides in the sentient soul, but that its first appearance is in the intellectual soul and that it only becomes conscious in the consciousness soul. In the sentient soul it is subconscious.

  • Now, when we look at an object with both eyes, we have two impressions that in the first instance do not reach our consciousness, although they originate in an unconscious thought process. Two mental efforts must be made, because we have two eyes. If we are to become conscious of these mental efforts, however, we must travel from the sentient soul by way of the mental soul to the consciousness soul. This path can be readily visualized by means of a simple analogy from the sense world.
  • We have two hands and we feel each one individually, but if we wish this feeling to become conscious, that each hand should feel the other, they must touch each other, cross. If the impressions gained in the sentient soul through mental effort are to enter our consciousness, they must cross. In that way you feel your own hand; you render conscious what you ordinarily do not feel. Just as you must touch an external object to become conscious of it, so contact is here necessary if objects are to enter our consciousness. That is also the reason why the two optic nerves in the physical brain are crossed. Through this crossing, an effort made subconsciously in the sentient soul is raised into the consciousness soul; one effort can be sensed by means of the other. That is an illustration of the way anthroposophy teaches us to know the human being down to the most intricate anatomical details.

Seventh is the sense of warmth or temperature, and again there is something in man that transmits it. It is the sentient body itself, which is of an astral nature. It transmits the sense of temperature by sending its astral substance outward. An experience of warmth or cold occurs only when the human being is really able to ray his astral substance outward, that is, when nothing prevents this. Such an experience of warmth does not occur when, for example, we sit in a bath of the same temperature as our own body, when equilibrium exists between ourselves and our surroundings. We experience temperature only when warmth or cold can flow out of or into us. When our surroundings are at a low temperature we let warmth flow into them; when our own temperature is low we let warmth flow into us. Here again it is obvious that an inflowing and outflowing takes place, and always the effects of the human sentient body are involved. If we are in contact with an object whose temperature is steadily increasing, our sentient body will stream out more and more strongly, until the limit is reached. When the object has become so hot that nothing corresponding to it can flow forth from us, then we can bear the heat no longer, and we are burned. When it is no longer possible for the sentient body to stream out, the heat becomes unendurable and we are burned. When we lack sufficient astral substance to equalize the outstreaming warmth ether, when we can send out no more sentient substance because the object cannot absorb it, it would seem as though in touching an extremely cold object we should have a burning sensation; as a matter of fact, that is exactly what occurs. In touching a very cold object we have a burning sensation that can even raise blisters.

Eight sense is the hearing sense. What active principle is it that participates in the process of hearing? The human etheric body. But this human etheric body, as constituted today, is in reality unable to serve us, as the sentient body still can, without incurring a permanent loss. Ever since the Atlantean time the etheric body has been so constituted that it cannot possibly give off anything, so that a more powerful action must be brought about by means other than through the sense of temperature. The human being can contribute nothing; he possesses nothing by means of which he might develop out of himself a sense higher than that of temperature. No higher senses, therefore, could come into being were it not that at this point something special takes place in man that provides what he lacks. Higher beings, the angels permeate Man and send their own astral substance into him. They place their own astral substance at his disposal, and what he cannot ray forth they supply for him. Essentially then, it is foreign astral substance that permeates man and is active in him. He appropriates it and lets it stream out. The beings active here, the angels, absolved their human existence in the past. Their astral substance enters us, and then streams forth from the sense of hearing to meet what the tone brings. On the wings of these beings we are carried into the innermost nature, the soul, of objects, so that we may know them. Beings of an order higher than man are here active, but they are of the same nature as his own astral substance.

As a still higher sense, the ninth, we mentioned the sense of speech, the word sense, the sound [note on translation] sense. To the functioning of this sense the human being can again contribute nothing by himself, can produce nothing. He has nothing to give, hence he must be entered and helped by beings of a substance similar in its nature to that of the human etheric body. These beings possess the corresponding astral substance as well, but this is forced out into the surrounding world during the process in question. They are the archangels, who permeate the human being with their etheric bodies, which he can then pour out into his surroundings. The archangels play a far more important role than the angels. They enable man to hear a sound. They are in man. They enable him not only to hear a tone but to perceive a sound, like “ah,” together with its meaning. Thus we can experience the inner nature of a sound we hear. These beings are at the same time the spirits of the several folk individualities, the folk spirits.

  • In the sense of hearing the angels give outer expression to their activity through the medium of the air. They work with the air in the ears, and this results in external activity of the air.
  • The archangels, on the other hand, produce activity in the lymphatic fluids, as in a watery substance. They guide the circulation of these fluids in a certain direction, enabling us to perceive, for example, the sound “ah” in its full significance. The outer expression of this work is the forming of folk physiognomies, the creation of the particular expression of the human organism as related to a certain people. From all this we can infer that the lymphatic fluids in man flow in a different manner, that the whole organism makes a different impression, according to the way in which the archangels of the people in question have imparted a certain sense of sound by means of the lymphatic current.


.. in order to perceive it in its spiritual aspect we have the sense of sound, which in a systematic enumeration of the senses is exactly as justified as the others. There are still deeper reasons why the senses must be listed in just this manner.


'Higher Senses, Inner Force Currents and Creative Laws in the Human Organism'

.. the sense of concept. The term “concept” is, of course, not intended here as pure concept, but in its everyday meaning. That is, I hear a word spoken and I visualize its meaning. This sense could also be called the sense of visualization. In order to understand how this sense comes about we must glance back once more to the sense of tone or hearing and to the sense of speech or sound, asking ourselves what it means “to have a sense of speech.”

How does the perception of sound come about? What particular process takes place when we perceive a sound like “a” or “i”?

To grasp this we must understand the apparatus of sound perception. In music we distinguish between the single tone, the melody, and the harmony. Harmony implies perception of tones occurring simultaneously, melody calls for the mental co-ordination of a sequence of tones. The mechanism of sound perception can be comprehended by studying the relation between the tonal element in sound and sound itself.

Suppose we could raise into consciousness what we accomplish subconsciously in perceiving sound. We would then no longer be dealing merely with a sense perception but with a judgment, with the formation of a concept. If we were able, in hearing a melody, so to crowd the single tones in time as to perceive them simultaneously, to cause past and future to coincide; if in the middle of a melody we already knew what was to follow, knew this so vividly as to draw the future into the present, then we would have consciously converted the melody into a harmony. We are not able to do that, but what we cannot execute consciously actually takes place unconsciously in the sense of sound. When we hear an “a” or an “i” or other sounds, a subconscious activity momentarily transforms a melody into a harmony. That is the secret of sound; it is melody transformed into harmony. This marvelous subconscious activity proceeds in approximately the same way as the various refractions in the eye are carried out according to physical laws, which is another process we can call to consciousness after it has taken place.

But this subconscious activity that instantly converts a melody into a harmony is not enough; something more is needed if the sound is to come forth. A musical tone is not a simple thing. A tone is a musical tone only by virtue of its harmonics (overtones) that sound with it, however faintly, in contrast to noises, which have no harmonics. In a harmony, therefore, we hear not only the separate tones but the harmonics of each tone as well. Accordingly, if we crowd a melody into a harmony, we have not only the separate notes of the melody crowded into simultaneity, but the harmonics of each note as well. Now, the final step. Through the agency of that subconscious activity, the attention of the soul must be distracted from the fundamental tones of the melody. These must in a sense be aurally disregarded, and only the harmony created by the harmonics be comprehendingly heard. A sound comes into being when a melody is transformed into harmony and then the fundamentals disregarded, attention being directed exclusively to that harmony of the harmonics. What these harmonics then yield is the sound “a,” “i,” etc. In this way we have explained sound perception as taking place in the same way that sight does in the eye.

The next question is difficult but important.

How does the perception of visualization come about?

How does it happen that when we hear a word we understand its meaning by means of the word itself? That this is a question by itself can be seen from the fact that in different languages the same thing is designated by different sounds. While the sound we hear is a different one in every language (amor and Liebe), it nevertheless points the path to an identical underlying conception. Whether the word used is amor or Liebe, it appeals to the sense of visualization underlying it. This underlying sense of visualization is always uniform, regardless of all the differences in the sound formations. But now, how is this perceived?

In studying this process, the perception of visualizations or conceptions, we should keep in mind our premise that conceptions reach us by way of sounds. To enable a conception to come about, attention must be still further diverted; the whole harmonic series must be ignored. At the moment when the soul as well is unconsciously distracted from the harmonics, we perceive what has incorporated in the sounds, what pertains to them as conception or visualization. This implies that the visualization reaching us through sounds — the visualization that, as something universally human, pervades all sounds and languages — comes to us slightly colored, toned down.

Incorporated in this harmonic series, which creates the timbre and intensity and the various sounds in the different languages, which vibrates into the human organism, are the Folk Spirits. These manifest themselves through the sounds of the language. Language is the mysterious whispering of the Folk Spirits, the mysterious work upon the fluids, that vibrates into our organism through the harmonics. But what underlies the harmonic series is the universal human element, the common spirit of man that suffuses the whole earth. The universal spirit of man can be perceived only when each of us, from his own particular locality, ignoring the harmonics, listens for what is inaudible, for what belongs in the realm of conceptions.

In the course of historical evolution, men did not acquire the capacity to comprehend what is universally human until they learned to recognize common factors by disregarding, as it were, the shades of sounds. Only in our life of conceptions can we begin to grasp the Christ Spirit in His true being. The spiritual beings whose task it is to proclaim Him in manifold forms — His messengers to whom He has assigned their missions and tasks — are the Folk Spirits of the various folk individualities. This thought has found very beautiful expression in Goethe's fragment, Die Geheimnisse.

That will give a picture of what the sense of visualization is, bringing us to an important milestone. We have exhausted what we have in the way of ordinary senses, finally arriving at the study of the subconscious human activity that is able, through the force of the astral body, to push from consciousness even the harmonic series. It is the human astral body that pushes aside this harmonic series as though with tentacles. If we achieve this power over the harmonics, which means nothing else than the ability to ignore them, it signifies increased strength in our astral body.

[astral senses]

But even this does not exhaust the capacity of the astral body; it is capable of still higher achievements. In the cases we have so far discussed, the appearance of a visualization has presupposed the overcoming of an outer resistance; something external had to be pushed back. Now we find the astral body to be endowed with still more power when we learn that its astral substance enables it not only to push back what is outside, but also, when there is no outer resistance, to stretch forth, to eject, its astral substance through its own inner strength. If one is able thus to stretch forth the astral tentacles, so to speak, with no resistance present, then there appears what is called spiritual activity; the so-called spiritual organs of perception come into being.

  • When the astral substance is pushed out from a certain part of the head and forms something like two tentacles, man develops what is called the two-petaled lotus flower. That is the imaginative sense, the eleventh.
  • In proportion to his capacity for stretching out his astral tentacles, man develops other spiritual organs. As his ability to thrust out astral substance increases, he forms a second organ in the vicinity of the larynx, the sixteen-petal lotus flower, the inspirational sense, the twelfth.
  • In the neighborhood of the heart the third organ develops, the twelve-petal lotus flower, the thirteenth, the intuitive sense.

These three senses, the imaginative, the inspirational and the intuitive, are additional astral senses, over and above the physical senses. Beyond these there are still higher, purely spiritual senses, but let them here be merely mentioned.

The question now arises as to whether these three astral senses are active only in more highly developed, clairvoyant people, or has the ordinary human being anything that can be called an activity of these senses?

The answer is that everybody has them, but there is a difference. In clairvoyants these senses operate by stretching out like tentacles, while in ordinary people their effect is inward. At the top of the head, for instance, just where the two-petal lotus flower forms, there are tentacles of this kind that reach inward and cross in the brain. In other words, ordinary consciousness directs them inward instead of outward. All that is outside us we see, but not what is within us. Nobody has seen his own heart or brain, and it is the same with spiritual matters. Not only are these organs not seen, but they do not even enter consciousness. They can therefore not be consciously employed, but they function nevertheless; they are active. Here consciousness makes no decisions whatever regarding reality.

These senses, then, are active. They direct their activity inward, and this impulse directed inward is perceived.

  • When the imaginative sense pours inward there arises what in ordinary life is called outer sensation, outer perception of something. We can have an outer perception only because what appears in the imaginative sense works its way into us. By means of this imaginative sense we are able to “sense” a color, and that is not synonymous with seeing a color, or analogous to hearing a tone. When we see a color, we say, for instance, it is red. But through the activity of the imaginative sense we can also have a sensation connected with it — that color is beautiful or ugly, pleasant or unpleasant.
  • The inspirational sense also directs its activity inward, and this produces a more complicated sensation: feeling. The entire life of feeling is an activity of the inspirational organ streaming inward.
  • When the intuitive sense pours inward, thinking proper arises, that is, thought forming.

So the order of the processes is: We sense something, we have a feeling connected with it, and we form thoughts about it.

Thus we have ascended from the life of the senses to the soul life. Starting from without, from the sense world, we have seized hold on the soul of man himself in its activities of sentience, feeling and thought.

[even higher senses]

Were we to continue along this path, examining the still higher senses that correspond to the other lotus flowers — they can hardly be called senses any more — the entire higher life of the soul would be revealed to us in their interplay.

  • When, for example, the eight- or ten-petal lotus flower directs its psychic activity inward, a still more delicate soul activity is engendered,
  • and at the end of the scale we find the most subtle one of all which we call pure, logical thought.

All this is produced by the working of the various lotus flowers into the inner man. Now, when this inward motion is transformed into an outer motion, when the astral tentacles stretch outward and criss-cross, directing, as so-called lotus flowers, their activity outward, then that higher activity comes into being through which we rise from the soul to the spirit, where what normally appears as our inner life (thinking, feeling and willing) now makes its appearance in the outer world, borne by spiritual beings.

[streams creating organs]

We have arrived at an understanding of the human being by ascending from the senses by way of the soul to what is no longer in him, to spirit acting from without, which belongs equally to man and to surrounding nature, to the whole world. We have ascended to the spirit.

As far as we have gone, I have described the human being as an instrument for perceiving the world, experiencing it with his soul and grasping it spiritually. I have not described something finished, but something that is active in man. The whole interplay of forces and activities of the senses, the soul, and the spirit is what shapes the human being as he stands before us on earth. How does this come about? We can give but brief intimations, but such as we find substantiated on all sides.

What we see before us in observing a human being merely with our senses really does not exist at all; it is only an optical illusion. Spiritual-scientific observation actually perceives something quite different. Remember that sensibly we cannot perceive ourselves completely. We see but a part of our surface, never our back or the back of our head, for example. But we know, nevertheless, that we have a back, and we know it by means of the various senses, such as the sense of equilibrium or of motion. An inner consciousness tells us of the parts we cannot perceive externally. Indeed, there is a great deal of us that we cannot perceive unless the appropriate organs are developed.

Let us further consider the portion of the human being that he himself can perceive sensibly — with the eye, for instance — and let us delimit it. Through what agency is he to perceive it?

Actually, all that we can see of ourselves with our eyes we perceive through the sentient soul; the sentient body would not be able to perceive it. It is the sentient soul that really comprehends. The portion of the human being that he sees with his eyes, which the sentient soul confronts, is nothing but the image of the sentient body, the outer illusion of the sentient body. We must, of course, extend the concept a bit to cover those portions of the body we can touch though not see, but there, too, we have the image of the sentient body. Perception comes about through other activities of the sentient soul. The latter extends to every point at which outer perception occurs, and what it perceives there is not the sentient soul but the illusion of the sentient body. Could we perceive this, we would see that astrally something endeavors to approach but is pushed back.

This image of the sentient body comes about as follows. From back to front there is co-operation of the sentient soul and the sentient body. When two currents meet, a damming up occurs, and thereby something is revealed. Imagine you see neither current, but only what results from the whirling together of the two. What shows as a result of this impact of the sentient soul thrusting outward and the sentient body pressing inward from without, is the portion of our external corporeality that the eye or other outer sense can perceive. We can actually determine the point on the skin where the meeting of the sentient soul and sentient body occurs. We see how the soul works at forming the body. We can put it this way. There is in the human being a cooperation of the current passing from back to front and the opposite one, resulting in an impact of sentient soul and sentient body.

In addition to these two currents there are those that come from the right and from the left. From the left comes the one pertaining to the physical body; from the right, the one pertaining to the etheric body. These flow into each other and intermingle to a certain extent, and what comes into being at this point is the sensibly perceptible human being, his sensibly perceptible exterior. A perfect illusion is brought about. From the left comes the current of the physical body, from the right that of the etheric body, and these form what appears to us as the sensibly perceptible human being.

In like manner we have in us currents running upward and downward. From below upward streams the main current of the astral body, and downward from above the main current of the ego. The characterization given of the sentient body as being bounded in front should be understood as meaning that it operates in a current upward from below, but that it is then seized by the current running forward from the rear, so that in a certain sense it is thereby bounded.

But the astral body contains not only

  • the one current that runs upward from below as well as
  • forward from the rear, but also
  • the other one running backward from the front; so that the astral body courses in two currents, one upward from below and the other backward from the front. This gives us four intermingling currents in the human being.

What is brought about by the two vertical currents? We have one current running upward from below, and if it could discharge unobstructed we would draw it thus as in the diagram, but this it cannot do. The same is true of the other currents. Each is held up, and in the center, where they act upon each other, they form the image of the physical body.

Actually, it is due to the intersection and criss-crossing of the currents that the threefold organization of man comes into being.

Thus the lower portion that we ourselves can see should be designated as the sentient body in the narrower sense. Higher up lies what in the narrower meaning we can call our senses. This portion we can no longer perceive ourselves, because it is the region where the senses themselves are located. You cannot look into your eyes but only out of them, into the world. Here the sentient soul, or its image, is active. The face is formed by the sentient soul. But the two currents must be properly differentiated. The lower currents, streaming from all sides, are held down from above, and this lower part we can designate the sentient body. Below, the impulses proceed largely from without; while above, it is principally the sentient soul that makes itself felt. From above there streams the ego, and at the point where this current is strongest, where it is least pushed back by the other currents, the intellectual soul forms its organ.

Now, in addition to this U current we have one from left to right and one from right to left. Again the whole activity is intersected. There is further a current running through the longitudinal axis of the body, effecting a sort of split up above. At the upper boundary a portion of the intellectual soul is split off, and this is the form of the consciousness soul. There the consciousness soul is active, extending its formative work into the innermost man. Among other things, it forms the convolutions in the grey matter of the brain.

The nature of this spiritual being helps us to understand what exists in man as form. That is the way in which the spirit works on the form of the human body. It evokes all the organs plastically, as the artist chisels a figure out of stone. The structure of the brain can be comprehended only with the knowledge of how these separate currents interact in man; what we then see is the joint activity of the various principles of the human being.

Now we must go into a few details in order to show how these facts can be fruitful when they will have become the common property of a true science. We have learned that up above there came into being the organs of the consciousness soul, the intellectual soul, and the sentient soul. The I acts downward from above; the main portion of the astral body, upward from below. In their mutual damming up, a reciprocal action takes place that extends along the whole line, so to speak; it forms the longitudinal axis of the body, and the effect of this will be a different one at every point of the line. When the I, for instance, is called upon to perform a conscious act, this can only be done at the point where the sentient soul, the intellectual soul, and the consciousness soul have developed their organs. Through the intellectual soul, for example, reasoning comes about, and a judgment must be localized in the head because it is there that the appropriate human forces find expression.

Now let us assume that such an organ is to come into being, but one in which no reasoning takes place, in which the intellectual soul has no part, an organ independent of the work of sentient, intellectual and consciousness souls, in which only the physical, etheric and astral bodies and the I have a part — an organ in which an impression received from the astral body is immediately followed by the reaction of the I, without reasoning.

Suppose that these four members of the human being — astral body and I, etheric body and physical body — are to cooperate without any delicate activity such as reasoning or the like. What would be the nature of an organ in which these four currents work together? It would have to be an organ that would not reason. The reaction of the I would follow directly, without reasoning, upon the impression received by the organ in question from the astral body. That would mean that the I and the astral body act together. From the astral body a stimulus proceeds to the I, the I reacts upon the astral body.

If this is to be a physical organ it must be built up by the etheric body. From the left would come the current of the physical body, from the right, that of the etheric body. They would be dammed up in the middle and a condensation would result. In addition, the currents of the I and the astral body, from above and below respectively, would undergo the same process.

If we draw a diagram of such a structure, where in one organ the currents of the physical and etheric bodies are dammed up against those of the I and astral body, the result is nothing less than the diagram of the human heart with its four chambers:

That is the way the human heart came into being. When we consider all that the human heart achieves — the co-operation of the physical, etheric and astral bodies and the I — it will be borne in upon us that the spirit had to build the human heart in this way.

Here is another example.

We have learned that in visual activity there is really a subconscious thought activity present. Conscious thought activity comes about only in the brain. Well, how must the brain be built in order to make conscious thought activity possible? In the brain we have the outer membrane, then a sort of blood vessel membrane, then the spinal cord fluid, and finally the brain proper. The latter is filled with nerve substance, and when sense impressions are communicated to this nerve substance through the senses, conscious thought activity arises. The nerve substance is the outer expression of conscious thought activity.

When an organ is to be created in which not a conscious but a subconscious reaction to an external impression is to take place, it would have to be built in a similar way. Again there must be a sheath and something like a blood vessel membrane against the back. The spinal cord fluid must dry up and the whole brain mass be pushed back to make room for a subconscious thought activity undisturbed by a nervous system. Were the nerve substance not pushed back, thinking would take place there; when it is pushed back, no thinking can take place. Thus an external impression is first digested by subconscious thinking on the part of those portions not interlaced by the nervous system, and only later does it penetrate to the instrumentality of sentience, feeling and conscious thought.

The result of this pushing back of the brain, so to speak, to the rear wall is that the brain has become an eye. The eye is a small brain so worked over by our spirit that the nerve substance proper is pushed back to the rear wall of the eye and becomes the retina. That is the way nature's architects work. A single plan governs in building really all of the sense organs; it is merely modified in the case of each organ as occasion demands. At bottom, all sense organs are small brains formed in different ways, and the brain is a sense organ of a higher order.

There is one more detail to be studied, but first we will interpolate a few elucidating remarks in the nature of theoretical cognition, which in turn will clarify the standpoint of anthroposophy.

We have said that the standpoint of anthropology lies below, among the details of the sense life, that theosophy stands upon the summit, and anthroposophy half-way between the two.

In a general way, anyone can become convinced of the existence of the sense world by means of his senses, and with his mind understand the laws governing there. For this reason most people believe unhesitatingly anything resembling their sense experiences, which can be checked. It could easily be demonstrated that formally there is no difference whatever between the spiritual scientist's statements concerning the existence of spiritual worlds and the belief that there was such a person as Frederick the Great. Formally there is no difference between the belief that there are Spirits of Will and the belief that there was a Frederick the Great. When someone constructs for you the life of Frederick the Great from external data, you believe that there was a person with the attributes set forth. The human being gives credence to what is told him, provided it resembles what he finds in his own environment. The spiritual investigator is not in a position to deal with such things, but it is none the less true that there is no difference in the attitude assumed toward such communications. We have described the standpoints of anthropology and of theosophy. Ours is between the two. A feeling of confidence and faith in theosophy's message is fully justified by our sense of truth; there is such a thing as well-founded acceptance of theosophic truths.

Coming to the third possibility, the standpoint lying between the other two, we find that from this vantage point we can distinguish intelligently that there is a sense perception; I believe because I can see it. There is a spiritual perception; I believe because the spiritual scientist tells me it is there. But there is a third possibility. Here is a hammer; my hand grasps it, picks it up, and raises it from the horizontal to the vertical position. We then say that it was moved and raised by my will. That will not strike anybody as remarkable, for we see the underlying will embodied in the man that raises the hammer. But supposing the hammer were to raise itself up, without being touched by a visibly incorporated will. In that case it would be foolish to imagine such a hammer to be the same as other hammers. We would have to conclude that something invisible was at work in the hammer. What conclusion would we draw from this embodiment of a will or other spiritual force? When I see something in this world acting as it could not act according to our knowledge of the laws of outer form, I am forced to conclude that in this case I do not see the spirit in the hammer, but it is reasonable to believe in it; in fact, I should be a perfect fool not to believe in spiritual activity.

Suppose you are walking with a clairvoyant and encounter a human form lying motionless by the way. With the ordinary senses it might be impossible to determine whether it was a living being or a cardboard dummy, but the clairvoyant would know. He would see the etheric and astral bodies and could say that that is a living being. You would be justified in believing him, even though you could not perceive the etheric and astral bodies yourself. But now the figure stands up, and you see that the spiritual scientist was right. That is the third possibility.


is given through records A through F

1/ This lesson describes how the twelve senses of Man's physical body are maintained for human I consciousness by groups of elementals that are emissaries, messengers of the higher hierarchies. Specifically the SoF, SoM and SoW are mentioned.

So there are 12 groups or classes of elemental beings that are servants of the higher hierarchies. These elementals are under development, but in the Future Jupiter stage of evolution, they will be "the direct mediators of the gods of the zodiac of Future Jupiter", they "will be the zodiac constellations of Future Jupiter".

The beings that are currently the Earth's zodiac, developed our senses on the Old Moon stage.

=> See Schema FMC00.077B to appreciate why the SoF, SoM and SoW are referenced here: the SoF are the beings in CoC=9 that sacrifice, the two above represent the zodiac. Together they make up a system of Sun and Zodiac.

2/ Furthermore:

  • The elemental beings serving the SoW "work on the human heart and bring about the circulation of the blood".
  • During the Future Jupiter stage there will also be a Sun, and "behind it will stand the beings that work into our blood system today". "The beings that now regulate the course of our blood will one day regulate the course of the Sun in the Future Jupiter stage"

Again referring to Schema FMC00.077B, we see that the SoW are the highest level of influence, and they will rise to CoC=11 on Future Jupiter. Here is mentioned that it is the CoC=11 that regulates the course of the Sun.

3/ Record C seems to imply that there is a group of elementals behind each bodily principle.






temporary extract below to show the impact of Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences on the 'original design' of the senses

Luciferic influence has accomplished a similar alteration in the organs of the sense of life. For these organs, organs which enable us to experience our inner structure and inner condition, were originally meant only for the perception of our astral body as it works within our living organism. Now, however, the ability to experience the internal condition of the body in feelings of well-being or feelings of being ill has been intermixed with it. A luciferic impulse has been mixed in with it. Here the astral body has been linked to the feelings of well-being or illness that show the condition of our body, just as the I has been linked to the sense of touch.


Originally, we had a much greater gift for understanding the elemental language of nature and for perceiving how certain elemental beings rule over the external world. That ability has been lost; in exchange for it we have received our own capacity to speak. This happened because, during the Atlantean period, the ahrimanic powers set about altering the organism of movement that had originally been given to us. We have the ahrimanic powers to thank for the fact that we can speak; they gave us the gift of speech.



Man's Twelve Senses in Their Relation to Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition


Man as a Being of Sense and Perception – Twelve senses in Man (SWCC)

.. mineral science takes into consideration only those senses for which obvious organs exist, such as the organs of sight, of hearing, and so on.

  • This way of looking at the matter is not satisfactory, because the province of sight is strictly delimited within the total range of our experiences, and so, equally, is, let us say, the perception of the I of another man, or the perception of the meaning of words. Today it has even become customary to say that when we are face to face with another I, what we see first is the human form; we know that we ourselves have such a form, that in us this form harbours an I, and so we conclude that there is also an I in this other human form which resembles our own. In drawing such a conclusion there is not the slightest real consciousness of what lies behind the wholly direct perception of the other I. Such an inference is meaningless. For just as we stand before the outer world and take in a certain part of it directly with our sense of sight, so, in exactly the same way, the other I penetrates directly into the sphere of our experience. We must ascribe to ourselves an I-sense, just as we do a sense of sight. At the same time we must be quite clear that this I-sense is something quite other than the development of consciousness of our own I. Becoming conscious of one's own I is not actually a perception; it is a completely different process from the process which takes place when we perceive another I.
  • In the same way, listening to words and becoming aware of a meaning in them is something quite different from hearing mere tone, mere sound. Although to begin with it is more difficult to point to an organ for the word-sense than it is to relate the ear to the sense of sound, nevertheless anyone who can really analyse the whole field of our experience becomes aware that within this field we have to make a distinction between the sense that has to do with musical and vocal sound and the sense for words.
  • Further, it is again something quite different to perceive the thought of another within his words, within the structure and relationship of his words; and here again we have to distinguish between the perception of his thought and our own thought. It is only because of the superficial way in which soul-phenomena are studied today that no distinction is made between the thought which we unfold as the inner activity of our own soul-life, and the activity which we direct outwards in perceiving another person's thought. Of course, when we have perceived the thought of another, we ourselves must think in order to understand his thought, in order to bring it into connection with other thoughts which we ourselves have fostered. But our own thinking is something quite other than the perception of the thought of another person.

When we analyse the whole range of our experience into provinces which are really quite distinct from one another and yet have a certain relationship, so that we can call them all senses, we get the twelve senses of Man. The physiological or psychological treatment of the senses is one of the weakest chapters in modern science, for it really only generalises about them.

Within the range of the senses, the sense of hearing, for example, is of course radically different from the sense of sight or the sense of taste. And having come to a clear conception of the sense of hearing or of the sense of sight, we then have to recognise a word-sense, a sense of thought and an I-sense.

Most of the concepts current today in scientific treatises on the senses are actually taken from the sense of touch. And our philosophy has for some time been wont to base a whole theory of knowledge on this, a theory which actually consists of nothing but a transference of certain perceptions proper to the sense of touch to the whole sphere of capacity for sense-perception.Now when we really analyse the whole range of those external experiences of which we become aware in the same way as we become aware, let us say, of the experiences of sight or touch or warmth, we get twelve senses, clearly distinguishable one from another.


[inner and outer]

Customary thinking overlooks the fact that hearing, since its physical medium is the air in movement, takes us straight into the outer world. And you have only to consider how very external our sense of hearing actually is, compared with the whole of our organic experience, to come to the conclusion that a distinction must be made between the sense of hearing and the sense of sight. In the case of the sense of sight we realise at once, simply by observing its organ, the eye, how what is conveyed by this sense is to a great extent an inner process; it is at least relatively an inner process. When we sleep we close our eyes; we do not shut our ears. Such seemingly simple, trivial facts point to something of deep significance for the whole of human life. And though when we go to sleep we have to shut off our inner senses, because during sleep we must not perceive through sight, yet we are not obliged to close our ears, because the ear lives in the outer world in a totally different way from the eye. The eye is much more a component of our inner life; the sense of sight is directed much more inwards than is the sense of hearing — I am not talking about the apprehension of what is heard; that is something quite different. The apprehension which lies behind the experience of music is something other than the actual process of hearing.

Now these senses, which in essentials form a link between the outer and inner, are specifically outer senses (see diagram). The next four senses, the senses of warmth, sight, taste and smell, are so to say on the border between outer and inner; they are both outer and inner experiences.


the next four senses, the sense of balance, the sense of movement, the sense of life and the sense of touch, we come to the specifically inner senses. For what the sense of balance conveys to us is our own state of balance; what the sense of movement conveys to us is the state of movement in which we ourselves are. Our sense of life is that general perception of how our organs are functioning, of whether they are promoting life or obstructing it. In the case of the sense of touch, it is possible to be deceived; nevertheless, when you touch something, the experience you have is an inner experience. You do not feel this chalk; roughly speaking, what you feel is the impact of the chalk on your skin ... the process can of course be characterised more exactly. In the sense of touch, as in the experience of no other sense in the same way, the experience lies in the reaction of your own inner being to an external process.

[objective process]

But now this last group of senses is modified by something else. You must recall something I said here a few weeks ago. [ Lecture 3rd July, 1921] Let us consider the human being in relation to what he perceives through these last four senses. Although we perceive our own movement, our own balance, in a decidedly subjective manner, this movement and this balance are nevertheless quite objective processes, for physically speaking it is a matter of indifference whether it is a block of wood that is moved, or a man; whether it is a block of wood in balance or a man. In the external physical world a man in movement is exactly the same thing to observe as a block of wood; and similarly with regard to balance. And if you take the sense of life, the same thing applies. Our sense of life conveys to us processes that are quite objective. Imagine a process in a retort: it takes its course according to certain laws; it can be described quite objectively. What the sense of life perceives is such a process, a process which takes place inwardly. If this process is in order, as a purely objective process, this is conveyed to you by the sense of life; if it is not in order, the sense of life conveys this to you also. Even though the process is confined within your skin, the sense of life transmits it to you.

To sum up, an objective process is something which has absolutely no specific connection with the content of your soul-life. And the same thing applies to your sense of touch. When we touch something, there is always a change in our whole organic structure. Our reaction is an organic change within us. Thus we have actually something objective in what is brought about through these four senses, something that so places us as human beings in the world that we are like objective beings who can also be seen in the external sense-world.

Thus we may say that these are pronounced inner senses; but what we perceive through them in ourselves is exactly the same as what we perceive in the world outside us. In short, whether we set in motion a log of wood, or whether the human being is in external motion, it makes no difference to the physical course of the process. The sense of movement is only there in order that what is taking place in the outer world may also come to our subjective consciousness.

Thus you see that

  • the truly subjective senses are the senses which are specifically external; it is they which have the task of assimilating into our humanity what is perceived externally through them.
  • The middle group of senses shows an interplay between the outer and the inner world.
  • And through the last group a specific experience of what we are as part of the world-not-ourselves is conveyed to us.

We only have to become accustomed to the idea that the treatment of the senses must not be limited to describing them according to their more obvious organs, but that we must analyse them according to their field of experience. It is by no means correct, for instance, that no specific organ exists for the word-sense; only its field has not been discovered by the materialistic physiology of to-day. Or take the sense of thought — that too is there, but has not been explored as has, let us say, the sense of sight.

[six main senses for soul-life]

When we consider man in this way, it cannot fail to be borne in upon us that what we usually call soul-life is bound up with what we may call the higher senses. If we want to encompass the content of what we call soul-life, we can scarcely go further than from the I-sense to the sense of sight. If you think of all that you have through the I-sense, the sense of thought, the word-sense, the sense of hearing, the sense of warmth and the sense of sight, you have practically the whole range of what we call soul-life. Something of the characteristics of the specifically outer senses still enters a little into the sense of warmth, upon which our soul-life is much more dependent than we usually think. And of course the sense of sight has a very wide significance for our whole soul-life. But with the senses of taste and smell we are already entering into the animal realm, and with the senses of balance, movement and life and so on, we plunge completely into our bodily nature. These senses we perceive altogether inwardly.

If we want to show this diagrammatically, we should have to show it like this (see diagram). We draw a circle around the upper region; and there in this upper sphere lies our true inner life. Without these external senses, this inner life could not exist. What sort of men should we be if we had no other I's near us, if we were never to perceive words and thoughts?

On the other hand, the senses from taste downwards perceive in an inward direction, transmit primarily inward processes, but processes which become progressively more obscure. Of course, a man must have a clear perception of his own balance otherwise he would become giddy and collapse. To fall into a faint is the same thing for the sense of balance as blindness is for the eyes. But now what these other senses mediate becomes vague and confused. The sense of taste still develops to some extent on the surface. There we do have a clear consciousness of it. But although our whole body tastes (with the exception of the limb-system, but actually even that too), very few men are able to detect the taste of foods in the stomach, because civilisation, or culture, or refinement of taste has not developed so far in that direction. Very few men indeed can still detect the taste of the various foodstuffs in their stomachs. You do still taste them in some of the other organs, but once the foodstuffs are in the stomach, then for most men it is all one what they are — although unconsciously the sense of taste does very clearly continue throughout the whole digestive tract. The entire man tastes what he eats, but the sensation very quickly dies down when what has been eaten has been given over to the body.


[two types of processes]

... There is an immense difference between the content of what we have in our soul-life through the I-sense, word-sense and so on, and the experiences we have through taste, smell, movement, life-sense and so on. And you will understand this difference best if you make clear to yourselves how you receive what you experience in yourselves when you listen, let us say, to the words of another man, or to a musical sound. What you then experience in yourselves is of no significance for the outer process. What difference does it make, to the bell that you are listening to it? The only connection between your inner experience and the process that takes place in the bell is that you are listening to it.

You cannot say the same thing when you consider the objective process in tasting or smelling, or even in touching. There you have to do with a world-process. You cannot separate what goes on in your organism from what takes place in your soul. You cannot say in this case, as in the case of the ringing bell, “What difference does it make to the bell whether I listen to it?” You cannot say, “When I drink vinegar, what has the process which takes place on my tongue to do with what I experience?” That you cannot say. There, an inner connection does obtain; there the objective and the subjective processes are one.

The sins committed by modern physiology in this sphere are well-nigh incredible, when one considers that such a process as tasting is placed in a similar relationship to the soul as that of seeing or hearing. And there are philosophical treatises which speak in a purely general way of sensible qualities and their relation to the soul. Locke, and even Kant, speak generally of a relationship of the outer sense-world to human subjectivity, whereas for all that is shown in our diagram from the sense of sight upwards, we have to do with something quite different from all that the diagram shows from the sense of sight downwards. It is impossible to apply one single doctrine to both these spheres. And it is because men have done so that, from the time of Hume or Locke or even earlier, this great confusion has arisen in the theory of knowledge which has rendered modern conceptions barren right into the sphere of physiology. For one cannot approach the real nature of processes if one thus pursues preconceived ideas without an unprejudiced observation of things.

When we picture the human being in this way, we have to understand that

  • in the one direction we have obviously a life directed inwards, a sphere in which we live for ourselves, related to the outer world merely in perceiving it;
  • in the other direction, of course, we also perceive — but we enter into the world by what we perceive.

In short, we may say: What takes place on my tongue when I taste is an entirely objective process in me; when this process goes on in me, it is a world-process that is taking place. But I cannot say that what arises in me as a picture through the sense of sight is a world-process. Were it not to happen, the whole world would remain as it is. The difference between the upper and the lower man must always be borne in mind.


.. The important thing is really to distinguish between what is subjective in man, what is his inner soul-life, and the sphere wherein he is actually asleep. There, man is a cosmic being in relation to all that is conveyed by his senses. In that sphere he is a cosmic being. In your ordinary soul-life you know nothing of what happens when you move your arm — not at least without a faculty of higher vision. That movement is a will-activity. It is a process which lies as much outside you as any other external process, notwithstanding the fact that it is so intimately connected with you. On the other hand, there can be no idea, no mental image, in which we are not ourselves present with our consciousness.


Thus when you distinguish these three spheres, you find something else as well.

  • In all that your I-sense, your thought-sense, your word-sense, your sense of hearing convey to you, thereby constituting your soul-life, you receive what is predominantly associated with the idea.
  • In the same way, everything connected with the senses of warmth, sight, taste and smell has to do with feeling. That is not quite obvious with regard to one of these senses, the sense of sight. It is quite obvious with regard to taste, smell and warmth, but if you look into the matter closely you will find that it is also true of sight.
  • In contrast with this, all that has to do with the senses of balance, movement, life, and even with the sense of touch (although that is not so easy to see, because the sense of touch retires within us) is connected with the will. In human life, everything is connected, and yet everything is metamorphosed.

discusses how the ancient oriental culture was based on the six upper senses, and current Western culture is based on the six lower senses.

Sense of hearing - the ear


is on the formation of the human ear



... the inner form for instance of an eye, or of an ear, is formed and moulded by the work man does between death and a new birth in cooperation with spiritual beings.

.. a human ear is formed and created out of the super-sensible world; and only after it has thus been formed can it undertake its task as a sense-organ — the task of physically hearing the sounds and notes within the atmosphere, within the sphere of Earth.

Observe the inner formation of the human ear. Passing inward through the auditory canal you come to the so-called tympanum or drum. Behind this you find a number of minute bones, or ossicles. External science calls them ‘hammer’, ‘anvil’ and ‘stirrup’ (malleus, incus, stapes). Behind these again, you come to the inner ear, of the configuration of which I shall not speak in detail.

The names of these minute ossicles immediately behind the drum — the names, that is to say, which external science gives them — already show that this science is quite unaware of what they really are. For this is how it appears when illuminated with anthroposophical spiritual science. Passing now from within outward, that which adjoins the inward portion of the inner ear, and which science calls the stapes or stirrup, appears in the light of spiritual science as a metamorphosis of a human thigh-bone with its attachment to the hip. And the little bone which science calls the incus or anvil, appears as a transformed knee-cap. Finally, that which passes from the incus to the tympanum or drum appears as a metamorphosis of the lower part of the leg including the foot. But the ‘foot’ in this case rests not on the earthly ground but on the drum of the ear. Within your ear you actually have a human member — a transformed metamorphosed limb. You might also describe it thus: First, the upper arm (only that in the arm the ‘knee-cap’ is undeveloped, that is to say there is no anvil), and then the lower arm — the other ossicle which rests upon the drum. Just as you touch and feel the ground with your feet, so do you touch and feel the drum of the ear with the foot of this little ossicle. Only the foot with which you walk about is coarsely formed. Coarsely you feel the ground with the sole of your foot, while with this hand or foot which is there within your ear you constantly touch and feel the delicate vibration of the drum.

Going farther back, within the ear. We come to the so-called cochlea or ‘snail-shell’. It is filled with a watery fluid, which is necessary for the act of hearing. What the ‘foot’ touches and feels upon the drum has to be transmitted back to this spiral cochlea, situated within the cavity of the ear. And now once more: Above the thigh we have the inner organs, the abdominal organs. The cochlea within the ear is none other than a beautiful, elaborate metamorphosis of these inner organs. And so you can imagine, there inside the ear there lies a human being, whose head is immersed in your own brain. Indeed, we bear within us a whole number of ‘human beings’, more or less metamorphosed or transformed, and this is one of them.

What does all this signify? If you study the origin and growth of man not only with the crude science of the senses; if you are aware that this human embryo as it develops in the mother's womb is the image of what went before it in the pre-earthly life; then you will also realise the following. In the first stages of development in embryonic life, it is above all the head that is planned and formed. The other organs are comparatively small appendages. Now — if it only depended on the inner potentialities inherent in the germ, within the mother's womb — these appendages, these little stumps which afterwards become the legs and feet, could equally become a kind of ear. They actually have the inner tendency, the potentiality to become an ear. That is to say, man might grow in such a way as to have an ear not only here, and here, but an ear downward too. I admit, this is a strange saying. Nevertheless, it is the truth.

Man might become an ear downward too. Why does he not?

Because at a certain stage of embryonic development he already comes into the domain of the earthly force of gravity. Gravity which causes the stone to fall to Earth — gravity, implying weight — weighs upon that which tends to become the ear, transforms it and re-shapes it. And so it becomes the lower man in his entirety. Under the influence of earthly gravity, the ‘ear’ which tends to grow downward is changed into the lower man.

Why then does not the ear itself change in this way? Why do not its ossicles change into fine small legs right and left?

For the simple reason that through the whole position of the human embryo in the mother body, the ear is protected from entering into the domain of gravity, as happens with the little embryonic stumps that afterwards become the legs. The embryonic ear does not enter the domain of gravity. Hence it preserves the plan and tendency which it received in the spiritual world in the pre-earthly life. It is in fact a pure image of the spiritual worlds.

Sense of smell - the nose


is called' The nose, smell and taste'


is called 'The sense of smell'

1924-08-09A-GA354 and 1924-08-09B-GA354

are on smelling and seeing

Seeing - the eye

See: Human eye


Related pages

References and further reading

  • Hans Erhard Lauer: 'Die zwölf Sinne des Menschen: Umrisse einer neuen, vollständigen und systematischen Sinneslehre auf Grundlage der Geistesforschung Rudolf Steiners' (1953)
  • Willi Aeppli: 'Care and Development of the Human Senses' (original 1955 in DE: 'Sinnesorganismus - Sinnesverlust - Sinnespflege : die Sinneslehre Rudolf Steiners in ihrer Bedeutung für die Erziehung')
  • Karl König
    • Der Kreis der zwölf Sinne und die sieben Lebensprozesse (1999; two lectures given in 1960)
    • Sinnesentwicklung und Leiberfahrung : heilpädagogische Gesichtspunkte zur Sinneslehre Rudolf Steiners (1971)
  • Georg Kühlewind: 'Wege zur fühlenden Wahrnemung: Die Belehrung der Sinne' (1990)
  • Albert Soesman: 'The twelve senses' (1995, original 1994 in NL: 'De twaalf zintuigen : De poorten van de ziel')
  • Ursula Burkhard: 'Das Märchen und die zwölf Sinne des Menschen' (1995)
  • Tom van Gelder: