Process of perception

From Anthroposophy

Sense perception is usually related to our physical senses of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch; and is the basis for contemporary waking consciousness. Man has twelve senses in total

Considering fourfold Man, the process of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching is done by our I-consciousness using astral senses that utilize the facilities of our physical body (eg our eye or ear). Perception therefore needs to be considered as a spiritual process across the four bodily principles.

What the I experiences in daytime through the astral body and senses gets imprinted on the etheric and physical bodies during the night-time process. It is important to realize that these perceptions and experience with the waking consciousness of our physical mineral body do not represent our true spiritual 'I', but are just a reflection.

Physiologically, the process of perception underlying conscious awareness is a filter system, holding back part of the spiritual streams. We sense-perceive only the part of the spiritual streams that we hold back by our bodily structure, the rest just streams into our body. (1910-03-28-GA119)

Higher perception consists of holding back 'more', for example the forces which form the organs in man for Imaginative consciousness come from the buddhi plane (re the development of the lotus flowers or chakras).


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


Lecture coverage and references

1905-09-30-GA093A here SWCC

One perceives sound with the ear and produces sound with the larynx,

The next step is connected with warmth. Man's activity is to be sought in what streams out from him as inner warmth. Out of what proceeds from warmth: passions, impulses, instincts, desires, wishes and so on, Karma arises. The heart takes up the warmth from outside and thereby perceives world warmth.

The parallel organ to the warmth of the heart is the pituitary gland, the hypophysis. The corresponding organ which we must have, in order to be able to produce warmth consciously, is the pituitary gland in the head, which at the present time is only at the beginning of its development.

One takes up the warmth of the world in the heart and lets it stream forth again through the pituitary gland in the brain. Once this capacity has been achieved, the heart will have become the organ it was intended to be. There is a reference to this in words from ‘Light on the Path’: (22) ‘Before the soul can stand in the presence of the Masters, its feet must be washed in the blood of the heart.’ Then our heart's blood streams out as today our words stream out into the world. In the future, warmth of soul will flood over mankind.

Somewhat deeper in evolution than the warmth organ stands the organ of sight.

In the course of evolution the organs of hearing, warmth and sight, follow in sequence;

  • the organ of sight is only at the stage of receiving, the eye has only an image
  • but the ear has the perception of innermost reality: the ear already perceives, for instance in the sound of a bell, its innermost being
  • Warmth must flow from the being itself: the perception of warmth is the receiving of something that rays outwards.

There is an organ which will also become the active organ of vision. This is today germinally present in the pineal gland, the epiphysis, the organ which will give reality to the images which today are produced by the eye.

These two organs, the pineal gland and the pituitary gland as active organs, must develop into the organ of vision (eye) and the organ of warmth (heart). Today fantasy is the preliminary stage leading to a later power of creation. Now man has at most imagination. Later he will have magical power. This is the Kriya-shakti power. It develops in proportion to the physical development of the pineal gland.

1910-03-28-GA119 provides a good introduction for sense perception. We sense-perceive only the part of the elementals or spiritual streams that we hold back, the rest streams in (eg eye). And higher perception consists of holding back 'more'.

[Sense impressions = organs ‘hold back’ part of spiritual/elementary stream]

For example, suppose the first sense-impression we have on waking is a blue surface, the colour blue.

What is the explanation of this impression?

Ordinary consciousness is completely at sea here. The reason is that when the I is passing out of the macrocosm into the microcosm, a kind of barrier is created against the in-streaming spiritual forces, against everything we call the astral world [Elementary World in original text]. Something is held back with the result that only a portion of the astral world flows in. If we see a blue surface in front of us, then, through this blue surface all these forces are flowing in, with the exception of a part of the astral world. The part of the astral world that is held back comes into our consciousness as a mirror-image, a reflection, and this reflection is the blue colour. The elements of fire, air, water and earth (spiritually conceived as belonging to the astral world) stream through the eye with the exception of what we actually see. Sense-perception arises through the fact that our eye holds back part of the light from the astral world, our ear holds back part of the sound, our other organs hold back part of the fire or warmth; what is not held back, streams into us.

We can now supplement what was said in the previous lectures, that the 'eye is formed by the light for the light'.

That is to say, the eye is not formed by what is reflected, but by what comes to us with the light — and that is part of the astral world.

Moreover something also streams in from the lower spirit world [original text: World of Spirit], indeed from all the worlds of which we have spoken. Accordingly we may say: At this particular point certain forces are held back by the eye, and also by the other senses; what does not stream into us, what is held back, is the sum-total of our sense-impressions.


● it is what we do not let through that we see or hear; but

● what we do let through is what has formed the physical organism of the eye, for example. We hold back certain forces and allow certain others to pass through — these latter being forces of the astral world.

If we look at the eyeball in a mirror, then too we see only what it does not let through. Thus in the astral world there are forces which have formed our sense of sight and also our other senses.

As sense-beings we are formed out of the astral world; the world we see when we are able to look into the astral world is the world which builds up our senses.

At the inner “wall” of our organ of sight there is a kind of second mirror, for there, from a further world, other forces flow in — with the exception of those that are reflected. There the elemental forces themselves are held back and reflected; they cease to function and it is only the forces of the lower spirit world that stream through and are not reflected. These are the forces that form, for example, the optic nerve. Just as the eye has its optic nerve, so has the ear its aural nerves from the forces streaming in from the lower spirit world. From there stream the forces of beings who are the builders of the whole nervous system. Our nerves are ordered according to the laws of the planetary world outside, for the planetary world is the outer expression of spiritual realities and spiritual worlds.

... [and later in the lecture] ...

[Conscious awareness = a filter system, holding back part of the spiritual streams]

In what way are we able in ordinary life to be conscious of anything?

By being able to hold it back.

  • We become aware of a part of the astral world by holding it back. We are a product of the astral world in our sense-organs and in becoming aware of the activity and functioning of our senses we become aware of the astral world.
  • We are a product of the lower spirit world and become aware of that world — but only in reflection — when we become aware of the world connected with our nerves.

What does man know of the astral world?

As much as is mirrored for him by the senses: light, sounds, and so forth.

What does man know of the lower spirit world ?

Just what his nerves reflect for him. The Laws of Nature as they are usually called are nothing else than a shadowy image, a faint reflection, of the spirit world. And what man takes to be his inner spiritual life, his reason, is a weak reflection of the outer higher spirit world [original text: 'World of Reason', this maps to arupa-devachan in theosophy]; what is usually called intellect, intelligence, is a faint, shadowy reflection of the higher spirit world.

Of what should we have to be capable if we desired to see more than what has been described here?

We should have to be able to hold back more. If we wanted to experience consciously the influence of the buddhi plane [original text: 'World of Archetypal Images'] we should have to be able to hold back this world in some way.

  • It is only possible for us to have physical sense-organs — eyes, for example — by admitting the astral world into ourselves and then holding it back.
  • We can only have a nervous system by admitting the lower spirit world into ourselves and then holding it back;
  • we can only have a brain and reasoning faculty by admitting into ourselves the higher spirit world and then holding it back; thereby the brain is formed.
  • If higher organs are to be formed, it must be possible for us to hold back a still higher world. We must be able to send something towards it, as in our brain we send that which holds back the higher spirit world.


The synopsis:

Originally not the brain but the rhythm of the breath was to have been the foundation for cognition. A wonderful harmony exists between the rhythm of the human breath and rhythms in the cosmos.

Before the Mystery of Golgotha man had imaginative clairvoyance because the Angeloi were active in his intellect. Man's senses were then exposed to luciferic influences. After death the Angeloi were active in the memories of his earthly perceptions.

Now the Angeloi are active in sense perception and man's intellect is exposed to ahrimanic influences. After death the Angeloi are active in his intellect. There is no possibility for man to attain higher knowledge through processes of breathing. Since the Mystery of Golgotha the possibility exists to attain a higher consciousness by becoming aware of the Angeloi's activity in sense perception. Men can attain vision of the spiritual world through the Christ impulse.

Lecture extract (SWCC):

As human beings we have a relationship to the Angeloi and they in turn feel their relationship to man. It is not a matter of indifference to the Angeloi what kind of relationship they have to man. When we turn our attention to this relationship we can begin to understand the difference in human beings before and after the Mystery of Golgotha.

The remarkable fact is that before the Mystery of Golgotha an intimate relation existed between the activity and being of the Angeloi and the human intellect.

  • between birth and death, the Angeloi dwelt mainly in man's intellect . Man knew nothing of this but as a consequence he had, though in decreasing strength, atavistic, imaginative clairvoyance.
    • His senses were particularly accessible to luciferic powers. In ancient times man's consciousness in general was accessible to luciferic influences.
  • between death and new birth, the Angeloi, and especially the Angels belonging to individual human beings, dwelt in the memory man had of his sense impressions. They dwelt in pictures of what had surrounded man in the world of the senses on earth. The result was that in his life between death and new birth Man had a vivid knowledge of what took place on earth. In a sense one could say that the Angeloi carried up to man knowledge of what was happening on earth.

After the Mystery of Golgotha this relationship gradually changed. So what relationship does man have now to the beings of the Hierarchy of the Angeloi?

  • between birth and death, although we are not conscious of it, the Angeloi dwell in our sense perceptions . When we open our eyes and look around at everything that surrounds us affecting our senses we are not aware that our Angel dwells in the sun rays which penetrate our eyes making objects visible. The beings of the Angeloi live in waves of sound, in the rays of light and color and in other sense perceptions. The reason man does not know he is surrounded by the Angeloi is because he transforms his perceptions into mental pictures and into these the Angeloi do not enter. It has often been emphasized in our lectures that the spiritual world must be visualized all around us and not in some far away cloud-cuckoo-land. The spiritual world is literally everywhere about us and it is possible to explain quite concretely in what sense it surrounds us as in this case in regard to the Angeloi. Yet no consciousness of the Angeloi enters our intellect between birth and death.
    • the beings of the Hierarchy of the Angeloi who weave and move — borne on rays of light and color and on wings of sound — do not penetrate our intellect. As a consequence our intellect is exposed to the attacks of ahrimanic powers during our life between birth and death. Their main objective is to stifle man's consciousness of his connection with the spiritual world. All the tendencies to materialism that man develops in his life of thought stem from this direct relationship between his intellect and the attacks of Ahriman. And if the materialistic tendencies have the upper hand in our time, we must not forget that they originate in the confusion which Ahriman strives to promote in the human intellect.
  • By contrast man is at present very conscious of his relation with the Angeloi between death and new birth because then the Angeloi dwell in his intellect.


Since Mog, Man is to attain a connection with the spiritual world through the development of a higher consciousness. If we were able to cognize; i.e. attain knowledge through our breath, then with every inhalation we would be conscious, not of inhaling air, but of taking in the force of Jahve; and with every exhalation we would know we exhaled Jahve. In a similar way man is now to become conscious that the beings of the Hierarchy of the Angeloi approach him and retreat from him rhythmically; that the spiritual world flows towards him and again ebbs away as it were. But man will attain this higher consciousness only if the impulse of the Mystery of Golgotha influences him more and more.

1920-02-13-GA196 (SWCC) stresses that our sense organs are receivers (also with metaphor of transmission stations)

The processes of the eye have nothing to do with the inner truth of sight. The eye is simply turned on in the processes of seeing, and because it is 'turned on', the I is able to see through the process of sight. But the eye is absolutely not the thing that transmits or affects or does anything with the content in the process of seeing. It is simply the receiving device for the I. Paradoxically, we could say that our eye, as a sense organ, has nothing to do with sight, but everything to do with what our I has knowledge of sight. Sense organs such as the ones we currently possess are not there for seeing; they are there so that the I can know sight. I would like to write this sentence on the board: Higher sense organs are not there to transmit sense processes; they are there so that the I can know of sense processes.

1922-10-20-GA218 describes the process of sensory impressions, specifically how ('from above to below') from the experiencing I, astral impressions are inwardly penetrating with plastic shaping forces trying to make impressions on the etheric fluid (trying to make a shape with salt formation), whereas ('from below upwards') the etheric fluid waves have a tendency to dissolve. If the process succeeds one has the memory of an impression.



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