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Consciousness of Higher Animals

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by Hermann Poppelbaum
Originally published in Goetheanum Weekly, Vol. 7, No. 24
Translated and published in Anthroposophical Movement, Vol. V, #24, 1928 (England)


THE bodily form of the higher animals is best understood by treating the human form as origin and centre, of which the animal is a one-sided or stunted modification. Once this is recognised from a study of Goethe's and Rudolf Steiner's works, the thought lies near at hand to -attempt a similar treatment of the: realm of comparative psychology of man and animals. We should then start from the human soul as the centre and archetype, and represent the peculiarities of the animal soul as a falling-away or aberration from this centre in various directions. As a starting-point for such research we may turn to the book where Rudolf Steiner gives an all-embracing and unprejudiced description of the processes of the inner life of man, that is, the, Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. Strange as it may sound, this book also becomes the foundation-stone for a spiritual-scientific psychology of animals. Let us attempt an outline sketch along these lines.


Consider man to begin with from the aspect of cognition. A chaos of percepts, void of inner connections, would be given to his consciousness if he were not able to introduce order and division by his thinking activity. Rudolf Steiner describes the character of man's thought in deliberate contrast to the customary theory of knowledge. Human thought does not create an arbitrary order and impose it on the things of the world. It is rather an organ which reaches into the invisible inner structure of the world itself, and, by deriving thence the concepts, reconstitutes-from the unrelated and chaotic detail of pure sense-given perceptions-the original totality. The latter in itself is full of inner relationships and connections. Thought only adds to the world of percepts what has already been left out of it. It adds nothing foreign to the percept, but on the contrary, the indispensable complement. It is above all peculiar to man to bring this cleft into the world of Reality. It has nothing to do with the nature of things themselves. In the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity Rudolf Steiner gives frequent hints to show how this specifical1y human dis­memberment of Reality is connected with the structure and organisation of man himself (see, for example, page 82 of the 1921 edition). And it lies near at hand to connect this tearing-asunder of the two halves of Reality with the division which has taken place in the human body as between the head-pole and the pole of metabolism and the limbs. The head as center of the nerves-and-senses-system becomes the mediator of perceptions, yet inasmuch as it is the bearer of the senses it also conceals from us the "other half" of Reality. The uprightness of the human figure—the raising of the head above the horizontal posture of the animal—is also a bodily expression of the severance the human Ego makes between itself and the World, a severance it overcomes once more in the process of knowledge. When the human Ego unites concept and percept in Thought, it bridges over the gulf which has been opened wide by the very organisation of man's body.

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