Nervous system

From AnthroWiki
Overview of the human nervous system

The nervous system is a part of the nerve-sense system and is divided into two main areas, namely the somatic nervous system, which was predisposed on the Old Moon, and the vegetative nervous system, which was already prepared on the Old Sun. The somatic (animal) nervous system is primarily the direct physical expression of the astral body. The cranial nerves are subject to the I-organisation.

The structure, function and development of the nervous system is studied by specialised sciences such as neurobiology, neurophysiology, neuroanatomy and other neurosciences. The medical discipline that deals with the functions, diseases and healing possibilities of the nervous system is neurology.

Nervous System and the Members of Man

„In the sympathetic nervous system, which penetrates the digestive organs, the etheric body predominates. The nervous organs which come into consideration here are of themselves only living organs. The astral and I-organisation do not organise them internally, but from outside. Therefore the influence of the I and the astral organisation, which are active in these nervous organs, is a strong one. Affects and passions have a lasting, significant effect on the sympathetic nervous system. Grief and worry gradually destroy this nervous system.

The spinal cord nervous system with all its branches is the one in which the astral organisation primarily intervenes. It is therefore the carrier of what is soulish in man, of the reflex processes, but not of what goes on in the I, in the self-conscious spirit.

The actual cranial nerves are those which are subject to the I-organisation. In them the activities of the etheric and astral organisation stand back.“ (Lit.:GA 27, p. 40f)

This is not contradicted by the fact that the sympathetic nervous system, along with the blood, forms the main point of attack for the human I in the physical body, although this remains completely subconscious:

Drawing from GA 174, p. 126

„In order to illustrate the matter, I will now start from that which we recognise as essential for earth-humanity: from the I. I expressly remark that in pictorial representations it is very easy to come to misunderstandings, in that what was said earlier seems to contradict what was said later. If you look at things more closely, you will notice that such contradictions do not exist in reality.

Let us assume, then, that we are dealing with the I-nature of the human being, with that member of the human being which we call the I. This I-nature is, of course, entirely supersensible; it is, after all, the most supersensible thing we have to begin with, but it works through the sensuous. That through which the I works in the human physical nature, mainly in the intellectualistic sense, is the nervous system known as the ganglionic system, the nervous system that emanates from the solar plexus. Schematically we can indicate this nervous system, this ganglionic system, this solar plexus system in this way (see drawing, black). This unfolds an activity which at first seems to have nothing special to do with what one could call nervous life in the materialistic sense. Nevertheless, it is the actual point of attack for the real I-activity. That the human being, when he begins to see himself occultly, has to feel the centre of the I in the head, does not contradict this, since we are dealing with something supersensible in the human I, and the point in which the human being experiences the I is different from the point of attack through which the I preferably works in the human being.

The meaning of the word: The I works through the point of attack of the solar plexus - must be fully understood. This meaning lies in the following: The I of man himself is actually endowed with a very dull consciousness. The I-thought is something other than the I. The I-thought is, so to speak, that which rises as a wave into consciousness, but the I-thought is not the real I. The real I intervenes as a formative force through the solar plexus in the whole organisation of the human being.

Certainly one can say that the I is distributed over the whole body. But its main point of attack, where it intervenes especially in human formation, in human organisation, is the solar plexus, or rather, because all the branches belong to it, the ganglionic system, this nervous process living in the subconscious, which takes place in the ganglionic system. Since the ganglionic system determines the whole circulation of the blood, this does not contradict the fact that the I is expressed in the blood. In these matters one must take what has been said very carefully. It is something else to say: The I intervenes through the ganglionic system in the formative forces and in the whole living conditions of the organism, than when it is said that the blood with its circulation is the expression of the I in man. Human nature is simply complicated.“ (Lit.:GA 174, p. 126ff)

The nervous system as an inverted plant

„We see the plant keeping a direction radially. This is the same direction that we as human beings have in the waking state. Only we must be clear that in so far as we compare our vertical direction with the vertical direction of the plant's growth, we must not use both with the same signs, but must use both with opposite signs. There are many reasons that force us to use the vertical direction of the human being in the opposite direction to the vertical direction of growth of the plant. There are many reasons. I only want to point out the one I have already mentioned. It is that the process of plant growth, which ends with the deposition of carbon, is annulled in man, that it must be made negative in man, so to speak. That which the plant consolidates in itself must be removed by man. This and similar things force us to say: If we set the direction of plant growth in this way, we must set the corresponding direction in man in this way (Fig. 2).

Drawing from GA 323, p. 304 (Fig. 2)

Now the question is: What do we actually have in this direction? We have that in this direction which is connected with our growth from year to year, as long as we grow at all, that which therefore presents us with a process similar to that of the plant. But we can only manage if we imagine it: The plant grows radially upwards from the earth, towards the cosmic space; but we must imagine ourselves in such a way that a superphysical invisible grows against our physically visible growth, grows, as it were, into us from above downwards. We have to seek an understanding of the human form in a vertical direction by imagining it, as it were: The human being grows upwards, but against him grows a kind of invisible plant formation which develops its roots upwards, towards the head, and develops its blossoms downwards. It is a negative process of plant formation which is opposed to the physical process of human formation. In this direction (the two arrows), then, we have to look for similar movements. In the same way as the plant grows away from the earth, we have to imagine that this superphysical human plant grows out of the space of the world from the sun towards the centre of the earth. And we have - as I have said, I can only indicate the direction now, you can certainly follow it from the empirical phenomena - in what appears to us as a line directed in the same direction, a line of growth, only the one time positively reaching out, the other time negatively reaching back, we have to look for the connecting line between the earth and the sun in this. You will not be able to imagine it in any other way, it is even a rather trivial idea, than that you have to look for in it at the same time the lines of movement both for the earth and for the sun. So we have to look for lines of movement for the earth and the sun in the connection of the two, but in such a way that this line gives a vertical line for the surface of the earth.“ (Lit.:GA 323, p. 303ff)

Drawing of neuronal connectivity in the auditive cortex (Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1898)
For comparison: schematic of the root plexus of a plant[1]

„The thing is the other way round with the plant and with man. With the plant, the root is at the bottom and the flower is at the top. Man is an inverted plant. That which is root-like in the plant is actually in the head of the human being, and that which is flower-like is more towards the abdomen. You can already see this in the outer form. The human being has the head above and the organs of fertilisation below.

Drawing from GA 348, p. 334

The plant has the root at the bottom, growing out, and the flower has the fertilising organs. They are at the top. You can see that from this, for example: If you take a human being and you put the root of a correspondingly large plant in here (at the head), and the stem and the leaves in there, the flower will come just as far as the abdominal organs. There is a whole plant inside the human being, only it grows from top to bottom. The human being is also a plant in a certain way....

But it does not only look like that figuratively, but this plant is really inside the human being. Of course it develops in accordance with the human form. But suppose I draw this plant neatly, give it a neat tuber and then the various stems, that is, I make a real tree which only goes from top to bottom, then peaks again a little, and now I let it dry out a little, die a little - there you have the nervous system! That is the nervous system. The nervous system is an inverted plant that is inside the human being and that only dies a little at a time.

Now you see, we know that plants grow out of the earth. First there must be winter, then comes spring and summer. They attract the plants out of the earth, the spring and the summer. The winter force is inside the earth.

Drawing from GA 348, p. 335

This makes the plant bulbous, it has its root force. Then comes the summer force; the plant is lured out. Yes, it all comes from the earth's environment, that the plants are lured out of it. The metals are in there, let's say copper is in there. The sun could do nothing else but lure out a plant that is sitting in the earth. Then the plant defends itself against the Venus forces once it is lured out. From the winter power of the earth and the summer power of the whole world together grows this plant. Yes, gentlemen, but man must have this winter power in his head, for in him this root of the nerves is always growing downwards, and man must therefore have this winter power in his head in winter and in summer.

Drawing from GA 348, p. 336

Today, in summer, he cannot have the winter force in his head from outside. This means, then, that in earlier times, when man was still as I have told you, he must have absorbed this winter power in the primordial pulp in which the earth was still with the other planets, and he has inherited it to this day. So he has the winter force in his head from very ancient times. The human head was actually made in ancient times and has remained as it is to this day. This brings us back to the fact that man's head must be related to that which arose on earth in ancient times and has already hardened completely on earth today.

Now, if you go out into the primeval mountains, into central Switzerland, you will find granite and gneiss in particular. In this granite and gneiss, the most effective substance is silicic acid, which is then in quartz by itself, silicic acid, silica. So this is also the oldest substance on earth. It must be related to the human head forces. That's why it's easiest to cure diseases of the head if you make remedies out of silica, because that's how you treat the human head. For in the time when the silica still played a special role on earth, was still in the primeval pulp, was not so hard - today it is hard in granite and gneiss - but at that time, when the silica still flowed like liquid, the forces that are in the human head today - the winter forces - were formed and have been preserved.“ (Lit.:GA 348, p. 334ff)

Flash at sunset (North Beach, Maryland, USA)

„There, people will say, when someone looks at the lightning: Is the lightning only up there? - Oh no, it is there throughout the summer, fertilising the plants, over the meadows, over the forests, everywhere there is the lower lightning. And in the end it is a lightning that is always going on in us. Inwardly we are completely interspersed with the same phenomena that we sometimes see when there is lightning, and our thoughts are a flashing in us. Only, of course, that which once appears as a powerful flash of lightning passes quite weakly in our thinking. But now you will also be able to say to yourself: It does make sense to say that when I look at the lightning, the thoughts of the world appear to me, because that is the same as what is in me. - You just have to look at things scientifically, not superstitiously....

You can build up so many universities today: if you go there - that which works in the human being will not be explained to you. But at the same time it is not explained to you how the process of plant fertilisation actually works. And in the case of mist rising and rain coming down, the matter is explained as if it were not much different from cooking on the cooker: that the vapours rise and then fall down again. This is not so, but as the vapours rise, they come up into a region where they are fertilised by the universe, and the proof that they are fertilised is the lightning. And then one sees the fertilisation which otherwise also happens.“ (Lit.:GA 350, p. 230f)

The nervous system and the shaping of the organism

According to Rudolf Steiner, the nervous system does not primarily serve the life of the soul, but rather the forces that shape and form the whole organism emanate from it. Only secondarily does it become a tool of consciousness and thinking, when a part of these forces is no longer needed for the shaping of the body.

„This sensory-nervous system is actually used for mischief in physiology. Forgive me, it is not meant so maliciously, I just want to express myself radically so that we can understand each other better. Of course, you must take everything with the familiar grano salis, but if I express myself too compromisingly, then we will actually understand each other less, so allow me to speak radically about things. In the human organism, for a supersensible observation, it is the case that when we look at any function which we can prove sensuously-empirically, this is, from a higher point of view, the sensuous image of a spiritual. The whole human organism is the sensuous image of a spiritual being. But the interaction of the spiritual-mental and the physical-organic in the human organism is not really as simple as one imagines in relation to the sensory-nervous system. It is based on the fact that if one looks only at the physical organisation of the human being, things are not as one would like to assume, that the physical organisation, with the exception of the nervous system and the senses, forms a whole, and that the nervous system is embedded in this structure in order to serve the soul separately. Of course, it is not imagined in this radical way, but if one then takes as a basis for practical observation that which one has physiologically as a theory, then it already amounts to something like this. That is why there is so little possibility of making a sensible judgement today about what is often called functional diseases, nervous disorders and so on. In the human organism there is nothing that does not belong to the whole organism and interacts with other organs. There is not a separate nervous system so that the organism can otherwise supply itself, and the nervous system is implanted in it - I don't know by which deity - so that it can be a soul. Look for the evidence, you can find it in the twinkling of an eye! In the first place, primarily, the nervous system is that from which the formative, the rounding forces of the human organism, as they were called yesterday, emanate. The shape of your nose, the shape of your whole organism is basically shaped by the nervous system.

The kidney system radiates the forces of the substance radially, and the nervous system is there to give the organism its inner and outer forms, has at first nothing at all to do with the soul, is the designer, the shaper of the human organism inwardly and outwardly; it is the sculptor. And already in the early stages of human individual development a special part of nervous activity separates itself, as it were, which the organism does not use for its own shaping, and to this the soul adapts itself - that is secondary - and adapts itself more and more. And when one notices, I would say, this tearing out of a piece of nervous process in the first infantile years and the adaptation of the psychic life to these principles of formation, then one really has the real empirical fact. There is really no question of the nervous system needing to be incorporated into the organism of man by some council of the gods and to underlie the life of will, feeling and thought. There is no mention of this at all. Rather, the sensory-nervous life is born with a kind of hypertrophy, something is saved from it, and the mental activity then adapts itself to this saving, while the primary thing in the nervous-sensory system is the shaping. All organs are formed out of the nervous-sensory system. If you wish to verify this empirically, begin with the senses which are localised in the skin and spread over the whole skin, with the sense of warmth, with the sense of touch, and try to see how through these senses the whole formation of the human organism is plastically formed, while through other senses special organs are formed in their shape. Even the fact that we see is due to the fact that something remains of the formative power which originally emanates from the visual tract for the formation of the brain organs, to which that which we develop psychically in the power of sight then adapts itself.“ (Lit.:GA 314, p. 145ff)

Nerves and consciousness

„The sentient life of a simple being is thus an imprint of the cosmos, as the crystal is an imprint of its form. One has to do with a dull consciousness in such a simple living being. But what this consciousness has in greater dullness is balanced on the other side by its greater extent. The whole cosmos shines forth in the dull consciousness, in the interior of the living being. But in man there is nothing but a more complicated formation of those three bodies which are found in the simplest sentient being. Take the human being and look away from his blood, take him as a being which is formed by the substance of the physical world surrounding it, which, just like the plant, contains juices in itself which it calls up into living substance, and into which it incorporates a nervous system. This first nervous system is the so-called sympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system in man extends on both sides along the spine, has a series of nodes on each side, branches and ramifies, and sends its filaments to the various organs: lungs, digestive organs, and so on. It is connected to the spinal cord by lateral cords.

First of all, this sympathetic nervous system means the life of feeling which has just been described to you. But man cannot reach down with his consciousness to that which is reflected by these nerves from the processes of the world. These nerves are means of expression. And just as human life is built up out of the surrounding cosmic world, so this cosmic world is reflected in the sympathetic nervous system. These nerves live a dull inner life. If man could submerge himself in this sympathetic nervous system, he would, if he put his upper nervous system to sleep, see the great laws of the cosmos ruling and working as in a life of light. In prehistoric man there was a clairvoyance which has now been overcome and which can be recognised when the activity of the higher nervous system is switched off by special processes and the lower consciousness is thereby freed. Then man lives in a peculiar way in the nervous system, which becomes a mirror for the world around him. Certain lower animals, however, have retained this level of consciousness and still preserve it today. So it is a dull, twilight consciousness, but it is much more comprehensive than the present human consciousness. As a dull inner life, it reflects a more far-reaching world, not merely the small section that the human being of today perceives.

For the human being, however, something else occurs. If in the course of development up to the sympathetic nervous system the cosmos has found a mirror image, then at this stage of development the being opens outwards again: the spinal cord joins the sympathetic system. The spinal cord and brain system then lead to the organs that establish the connection with the outside world. When man's formation has reached this point, he is no longer called upon merely to let the original laws of formation of the cosmos be reflected in him, but the mirror image itself enters into a relationship with the environment. When the sympathetic nervous system has united with the higher parts of the nervous system, this is an expression of the transformation that has taken place in the astral body. The astral body no longer merely lives the cosmic life in the dull consciousness, but adds its own special inner life to it. Through the sympathetic nervous system a being feels what is going on outside it, through the higher nervous system that which is going on within it. And through the highest form of the nervous system, which is presently coming to light in the general development of mankind, the material is again taken from the higher-structured astral body in order to create images of the outer world, ideas. Man has thus lost the ability to experience the original dull images of the outer world; he feels his inner life and from this his inner life builds up for himself on a higher level a new world of images, which mirrors for him a smaller piece of the outer world, but in a brighter, more perfect way.“ (Lit.:GA 55, p. 53ff)

Motor and sensory nerves

[Coming soon]

Matter is constantly created in the nervous system

To the same extent that matter is destroyed in the metabolic-limb system, new matter is constantly created in the nerve-sense system.

„As I have indicated briefly in my book, "Riddles of the Soul", man is a threefold being: as nerve-sense man he is the bearer of the life of thought, of perception; as rhythmic being (breathing, circulating blood), he is the bearer of the life of feeling; as metabolic being, he is the bearer of the life of will. But how, then, does the metabolic process operate in man when will is ever more and more unfolded in love? It operates in that, as man performs such deeds, matter is continually overcome. — And what is it that unfolds in man when, as a free being, he finds his way into pure thinking, which is, however, really of the nature of will? — Matter is born! — We behold the coming-into-being of matter! We bear in ourselves that which brings matter to birth: our head; and we bear in ourselves that which destroys matter, where we can see how matter is destroyed: our metabolic-limb organism.“ (Lit.:GA 202, p. 211)


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  1. John E. Weaver: The Ecological Relations of Roots, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1919, p. 72