04 Aug The Terror of Black Doubt and the Philosophy of Freedom by Timothy Nadelle
In a certain mood of soul, we can become aware of a gulf which separates us from everything which confronts us in life. This gulf appears to delineate insurmountable boundaries to what we can know. What can a person truly know with certainty – first hand, all anthroposophical literature aside! – about the being of a tree, the process of remembering, the inner experience of even his closest friends? This gulf can cast doubt upon everything a person thinks he knows, leaving him feeling estranged from the world. Even when life’s obligations or distractions intervene and awareness of the gulf fades, a nagging feeling can remain that he is unable to answer life’s most pressing questions.
Or perhaps an experience shakes him out of the sleep of everyday consciousness, as happens to Strader, the scientist or engineer, in scene one of Steiner’s first drama, when he witnesses a seeress in trance and hears her visionary words. His friend, Capesius, tells him, “I fear… that you are losing through this your certainty of mind; soon over everything for you black doubt will spread its veil.”
Strader confides, “The terror of such doubt – it often tortures me… often, when in agony with problems, a terrible dream figure like a ghost rises from spirit depths before my vision; it presses hard upon my soul, and clutches horribly about my heart, and speaks through me: Unless you conquer me with the crude weapons of your thought, you are no more than a brief, lying picture, formed by your own illusion.”
This doubt which Strader experiences also sets the stage for the knowledge drama which is narrated in the Philosophy of Freedom. Dualism, this separation between self and world, is not merely a philosophical point of view. It is a fundamental experience of the human soul on the path to knowledge. In treading the knowledge path which is implicit in the Philosophy of Freedom, our goal is not merely to grasp how Rudolf Steiner rebuts and overcomes the arguments of dualistic philosophers; it is to make conscious the gulf of knowledge which is an essential experience of every human being today – and to overcome through our own efforts our apparent limitations.
When we set out to observe our thinking, we discover a realm of experience which differs from all other forms of consciousness in life, a realm which Steiner characterizes in chapter three of the Philosophy of Freedom as a kind of “exceptional state”. In this exceptional state we encounter in the living mobility of thinking an activity which comes into being through our own efforts and is at the same time a universal, objective process. Through it, we gain strength and certainty for new beginnings, for exploring ourselves and exploring the world.
On the one hand, the process is simple… First, we observe something. Then we think about it. Then we observe the thinking we have done. The thing to observe at the outset can be whatever we choose, for example:
a physical phenomena
a verse for meditation
On the other hand, it is a trial, a seminal process of creative engagement and discovery which draws upon our deepest resources. The first transition – from observing to thinking – requires an exertion of will. The second transition – from thinking to observing the thinking – requires a higher magnitude exertion of will. And yet, with good will every healthy person is capable of entering this exceptional state and practically benefiting from the health-bringing forces which the activity engenders.
A woman observes something. A question arises and she seeks an answer, an explanation for what she has observed. Two bouquets of flowers are taken from the same shrub. Petals fall from one bouquet when it is placed in a vase. Why does the other bouquet drop no petals?
A man has a feeling. He observes it – recognizing, perhaps, that he is vexed and investigating the quality and form of that vexation. He examines the outer event which caused it. And he asks what in his personality brought about such a feeling, when perhaps another person might have felt differently.
Even a verse upon which a person meditates must be brought into motion through the activity of thinking. Perhaps the meaning of part of the verse is not immediately clear and a question arises which may be answered through a deeper exploration of other parts of the verse.
Typically, this is as far as we go with our thinking and we are content if we have uncovered an explanation, gained a new insight. But we can go farther. We can turn around and observe the thinking in which we have just engaged.
And when we do so, something immediately changes. Before, we were exploring with our thinking something which was separate from us. The flowers, the feeling, even, to begin with, the verse – were all outside us, part of the given world. When we now observe the thinking itself, we explore an activity which we know intimately and immediately, which we brought into being through our own exertions. The separation, the gulf between world and self now disappears. We experience the powerful, objective, active reality of thinking.
Our thinking becomes more vibrant, more alive. And now we have a choice about how to proceed. One direction would be to more deeply explore – with our enlivened thinking – the question with which we started. We experience this as a turning away from the observation of thinking, in order to repair or enhance or enlarge the thinking in which we were initially engaged. New insights appear to us, insights richer and more complete than those we initially uncovered. They appear with lightning speed, creative leaps and that joyfulness we experience when we really penetrate with our thinking into the depth of a question.
The other direction is to continue to work within the exceptional state. But nothing is static in this state. To move forward requires a further increase in will activity. The temporal distance between the thinking and the observation of thinking narrows, approaching simultaneity. There are many different ways to proceed at this point. In forging our individual pathways we live our way directly into the creative being of thinking.
In The Riddles of Philosophy (page 88, bottom), Steiner writes, “A world conception must express itself in thoughts, but thought only
then endows the soul with the power for which it searches by means of a world conception in the modern age, when it experiences this thought in its process of birth in the soul. When thought is born, when it has turned into a philosophical system, it has already lost its magical power over the soul. For this reason, the power of thought and the philosophical world conception are so often underestimated. This is done by all those who know only the thought that is suggested to them from without, a thought that they are supposed to believe, to which they are supposed to pledge allegiance. The real power of thought is known only to one who experiences it in the process of its formation.”
You are invited to join colleagues and friends in Thornhill, Ontario from October 23 – 25, 2015, for a conference devoted to the exploration and experience of the path of knowledge which is implicit in the Philosophy of Freedom. Interwoven into the fabric of the conference, TQuest Productions of Toronto will perform the first third of the Portal of Initiation. Accompanying us on this journey, Christian Community Priest Daniel Hafner will open and close the conference with lectures which are intended to awaken a spiritual dialogue between the two initiatives. Visit www.philosophyfreedom.ca to learn more.