The Heart as an Organ of Cognition

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The Thinking Heart

The Anthroposophical Understanding of the Etheric Heart

In order to build up a ground of understanding for the hear as an organ of cognition, another view into the anthroposophical view of the developing human being is essential.

The Developmental Cycles of the Three-Fold Human Being – Understanding the Role of the Heart 

The Development of the Will: Birth to Seven Years (to the change of teeth)

The Young child learns through imitation on every level of its being, including the continuing formation of the organs, which is impacted by the outer environment. The whole of the child’s body is related to the outer world through the senses, and the child follows what is happening outside of them, and then internalizes the experiences. The child watches and imitates what is done around her.

Rhythm and routine, love and safety, are the optimal conditions in the environment for the healthy development of the human being. The child comes to know if the world is a good and safe place to be in during this time; the whole of the child’s body us related to the outer world much the way the senses are during the rest of human life.

The human being is getting ready to birth the etheric body, just as the physical body was born into the physical world. The loss of milk teeth and the emergence of the permanent teeth is one signal that the birth of the etheric body is happening. The forces that were tide up in the on going development of the physical body are now freed up to support the next 7 year cycle.

Rudolf Steiner offers that if one has the ability to see the etheric body as it forms and develops itself in the human being, one would see a universe in picture form. “At its circumference it manifests something in the nature of stars, and in its lower portion something that appears more or less as an image of the earth. It even has in it a kind of image of the sun nature and the moon nature.” (3H Steiner) This is seen as a result of the human being leaving the spiritual world, and descending to the earthly, where forces of universal ether are drawn to the etheric body and imprint in it an image of the cosmos, With the birth of the etheric body, those cosmic forms of the etheric body ray out, whereas before they were more like stars. Now the stars dissolve and become rays, which have a tendency to ray inwards rather than outwards. (GA 212)

The Development of Feeling: 7 to 14 years (the onset of puberty)

The child now begins to learn through what those around them say to them, rather than just what they do. No longer primarily a sense organ, the child can assimilate some of what is said, and take it as authority. Learning primarily thought feeling in response to the people, events, and environments in the world around them, the question that is being asked and answered in the child’s development on every level is – is the world a good and beautiful place?

At puberty the etheric rays tht have been gathering in the developing child have rayed ever more inward, and have grown together in the center to form a distinct etheric organ in the region of the physical heart. The young child had been given an etheric heart through the forces of heredity; this etheric heart gradually dissolves and is replaced with a new etheric heart which is a concentration of the whole cosmic sphere that the child brought with it through conception and birth.

In many ways this etheric heart is comparable to the change of teeth; we lose our inherited teeth (milk teeth), and have our own teeth. The etheric heart we have up to puberty slowly decays and we build up our own, which is condensed from the entire world sphere.

The physical heart of the adolescent is suspended in the middle of this new etheric heart.

The Etheric Heart as an Organ of Cognition

Along with the development and subsequent birth of the etheric heart at puberty, the astral body of the human being is also undergoing changes, and is beginning to take on new properties that have relevance for understanding the role of the etheric heart in the human being.

Before the birth of the astral body at puberty, the child has many single organs that are discernible in his astral body. Whereas the human being has brought with it an image of the outer universe in the etheric body, images of experiences undergone between the last death and the present birth are brought in the astral body. At this time the astral body is highly differentiated; it will become more and more undifferentiated as the human develops through puberty. What is held in the astral body as differentiated forms will slip by degrees into the physical organs that are primarily above the diaphragm. These astral forms and substances slip into the brain formation, and drench the sense organs of the human being, structures slip onto the respiratory system, and into the heart and circulatory system. Through the circulatory system they eventually go into the stomach and abdominal organs. The whole of the astral body dives down into the human being by entering into individual organs, and the periphery of this body becomes very diffuse – like a cloud of mist.

The heart is the only organ where both concentrated astral structures ad etheric forces enter at puberty. This has great meaning for understanding the activity of the etheric heart. As the human being things more and more their own thoughts, and directs its own actions, these activities are inscribed in the astral body. Our activity in many ways creates the form of our astral body, which has a tendency to meet inwardly, just as the radiations of the etheric body meet in the etheric heart An astral center is formed in the same place as the etheric heart, which holds together all our actions. All of the human being’s activity from puberty onwards is inserted into the etheric heart, which has grown out of the image of the cosmos.

“This is a phenomenon of untold importance. For, my dear friends, we have here a joining together with the cosmos of what man does in the world. In the heart, as far as the etheric universe is concerned, you have gathered up into a center while at the same time, as far as the astral is concerned, you have a gathering together of all that man does in the world. This is the point where the cosmos – the cosmic process – is joined to the karma of man.

This intimate correspondence of the astral body with the etheric body is to be found no where in the human organism except in the region of the heart.”

“Of all that goes on within the human being, people today know ‘heartily little’; and we can repeat the words with emphasis, for all these things, of which people are today ignorant, can relate to the human heart. They know what goes on here in the physical world, and they consider it in relation to moral laws. The real fact is that all that happens in the moral life, and all that happens physically in the world, are brought together precisely in the human heart. These two, the moral and the physical – which run so independently and yet side by side for modern consciousness today – are found in their real union when we learn to understand all the configurations of the human heart.”

Steuner, Dr. Rudolf. 1922. The Human Heart, Lecture, Dornach, Switzerland, May 26. GA 212, Page 7


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Rudolf Steiner named three prerequisites for thinking with the etheric heart:

  1. a feeling of responsibility in regard to true and untrue, that is a type of trained logical conscience. One restricts the tendency to believe what is ones favour, or what one wishes for.
  2. the life of feeling becomes tuned in such a manner that an experience of inner pain accompanies that which is untrue, ugly or evil, and what is true, good and beautiful evokes joy, whether we are personally involved or affected or not.
  3. the capacity to forego ones personal point of view and to look at oneself from the outside, with clear judgment.

Carmack, Elizabeth. Metaphor for Transformation. Anthroposophy Worldwide No. 5/06, Members Journal. Page 8

Steiner, Dr. Rudolf. 1992. The Human Heart. Lecture, Dornack, Switzerland, May 26. GA 212
Steiner, Dr. Rudolf. 1995. Intuitive Thinking as Spiritual Path, Hudson New York. Translated copy, Anthroposophic Press.
Steiner, Dr. Rudolf, 1996. The Foundations of Human Experience, Hudson, New york. Translated copy, Anthroposophic Press.
Klocek, Dennis. 1998. Seeking Spirit Vision, Fair Oaks, CA: Rudolf Steiner College Press.
Bott, Victor M.D. 1978. Anthroposophical Medicine, London, Rudolf Steiner Press.