The I-concept or I-thought, the idea of one's own I, or the associated I-imagination, the mental representation of the I in earthly consciousness, arises from the fact that the I experiences itself in its earthly body and sees itself confronted with the sensual outside world through its organs. The I-concept is the first concept that the human being consciously forms in earthly life, around the third year of life. However, the I-concept is only an unreal image of the real I.
„We have to ask ourselves one question: Do we find the I among all those things that confront us in the outer world, that we experience from morning to evening? If you ask yourself this question in an unbiased way, you will be able to say to yourself: In all that I have as experiences of the outer world, on which my ideas, sensations and impulses of will lean, I do not find the I. From no outer world can the I be found. The I-thought cannot appear to me from any outer world, yet it is there from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. - What can that be which lives in the soul from the moment of waking until the moment of falling asleep, which can always be found in the flood of our ideas, states of mind and impulses of will, and yet which can be extinguished the moment we fall asleep? Since it cannot be found in the outer world, it must be sought for its origin in our own inner world. But our own inner world is again such that we extinguish that which we have as our own I in normal consciousness. There is not a single one in the whole wafting circle of concepts that man can form who could really bring such a fact to understanding except the one who assumes that this, which is given by no outer world, appears as the I-thought as the normal consciousness has it, is not a reality in the same way, for a reality could not disappear in the same way as the I-thought disappears in sleep. This I-thought is not a reality. What then is it? If it is not a reality, then there is no other way of understanding the matter than to suppose that it is an image, but an image which cannot become us in the wide circle of our world of experience, but which we can only arrive at through a comparison, the comparison of man with his mirror image. Let us assume that a person has never had the opportunity to see his own face. He would then feel the same about his exterior as he does about his I. The normal consciousness always experiences the I only as an image; it cannot find out what this I is, just as a person cannot look at his face on the outside. But when he steps in front of the mirror, his face appears to him, but it is the image of his face. And when he looks around, what is reflected? If he were to look around, he would see tables, chairs and the like. But not everything that is around him is reflected. But if he can say that it is something that he does not have in his surroundings, that is only reflected to him - for nothing that is there can at first be reflected in our consciousness in the way that the I shows itself - then it is our own being, to which, however, the I does not at first come in normal consciousness, but experiences it in the mirror image. And as true as that which is not there cannot be reflected, so true must the I be there, because it is reflected and because the cause of the mirror image cannot be something else. A single glance at the facts of the world suffices to prove that this is true. Therefore we must say: Since man's I is at first only given in the mirror image, it can disappear, just as the mirror image of our face disappears when we no longer look into the mirror. An image can disappear, reality remains, it is there, even though we do not perceive it. For anyone who wanted to dispute the correctness of the last sentence would have to claim that only what man perceives exists. He would very soon realise the absurdity of this proposition as soon as he followed its consequences.
Thus we must say: In the I-thought we do not at first have a reality. But we gain from it the possibility of presupposing a reality of our I.“ (Lit.:GA 61, p. 454ff)
„On what does it depend that man comes to the consciousness of his I at all? It depends on him using his physicality, his bodily organs, as he experiences them in the waking state, and confronting the whole outer world with his body. Man must experience his I in his physicality. For if man had never descended to earth to make use of a body, he would only feel himself for all eternity, for example, as a member of an angel or archangel, just as the hand feels itself as a member of our organism. Man would never be able to become conscious of his independence. That would be quite impossible. He could come to all possible contents of consciousness and to all possible great things of the world, but not to an I-consciousness, if he did not enter into an earthly body. From this earthly body man must get his I-consciousness. Even if you study the state of sleep and what the dream shows, you will see that something is working there without communion with the I. The I-consciousness is a part of the earthly body. Part of the I-consciousness is being imprisoned in the body, operating the sense tools and also the tool of the brain. But if man, as we have seen, can only make use of all that is given him in one embodiment to a very limited extent, it should not be surprising, but must seem quite understandable, that the clairvoyant consciousness says: Insofar as I really search through a human I, insofar as it shows itself to me in its true form, I find in it as the most predominant power and impulse first of all this: to come again and again to earth into ever new bodies, in order to train the I-consciousness further and further and to make it richer and richer.“ (Lit.:GA 115, p. 299)
The I-concept, which first lights up around the third year of life, is the first concept that the child ever consciously forms, only of course it cannot be nearly fully grasped at this time. But it is the point to which one can remember back in later life. The I-consciousness awakens because the essence of the etheric body now begins to be reflected in consciousness, with which thinking - and with it memory - also emerges.
„Only those ideas which have been received in such a way that the I was active, that an active force was present, in that the I felt itself to be a conscious I, only these ideas are remembered at all in ordinary human life, can only be remembered. So what does this I do when it is born, so to speak, let us say in the second or third year of childhood? In the past, it took in the impressions unconsciously, so to speak, and was not there itself. Then it begins to really develop as an I-consciousness, and with this I-consciousness the child then begins to link all the ideas that it receives from outside. That is the moment when the human I begins to put itself before its ideas and to put them behind it. You can grasp this almost palpably: Previously, the I was, so to speak, in its whole imaginative life; then it steps out and places itself in such a way that it now goes freely towards the future and is, so to speak, armed to receive everything that approaches from the future, but places the past ideas behind it.
If we hold on to what we have just said, what must happen at the moment when the I begins, so to speak, to take all ideas into itself, when the I becomes conscious? Then the I must connect with the flowing stream, with what we have called the etheric body. And indeed, at the moment when the child begins to develop its I-consciousness, the current of the soul-life has made its own impression on the etheric body. This, however, also gives rise to the I-conception. For consider for once that the I-conception can never be given to you from outside. All other conceptions that relate to the physical world are given to you from outside. The I-conception, even the I-perception, can never flow to you from outside. This will only become clear to you if you now imagine that the child, before it has the I-conception, is incapable of feeling its own etheric body; the moment it begins to develop the I-consciousness, it feels its etheric body, and it reflects back into the I the essence of its own etheric body. There it has the "mirror". While all other ideas that relate to physical space and to life in physical space are received through the physical body of the human being, namely through the sense organs, the consciousness of the I arises from the fact that the I fills the etheric body and reflects itself, as it were, on its inner walls. That is the essence of I-consciousness, that it is the etheric body reflected inwards.
What can induce the I to reflect itself inwardly in this way? This alone can cause the etheric body to attain a certain inner completion. We have seen that the astral body comes to meet the etheric body. It is therefore, so to speak, the I which fills the etheric body and becomes conscious of this etheric body as such, as through inner reflection.“ (Lit.:GA 115, p. 195ff)
- Rudolf Steiner: The Wisdom of Man of the Soul and of the Spirit: Anthroposophy, Psychosophy, Pneumatosophy. CW 115. SteinerBooks 1972. ISBN 978-0910142410 steinerlibrary.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Antworten der Geisteswissenschaft auf die großen Fragen des Daseins, GA 60 (1983), ISBN 3-7274-0600-3 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Menschengeschichte im Lichte der Geistesforschung, GA 61 (1983), ISBN 3-7274-0610-0 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Die Apokalypse des Johannes, GA 104 (1985), ISBN 3-7274-1040-X English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Anthroposophie – Psychosophie – Pneumatosophie, GA 115 (2001), ISBN 3-7274-1150-3 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Erziehung zum Leben. Selbsterziehung und pädagogische Praxis., GA 297a (1998), ISBN 3-7274-2975-5 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
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