Ontogenesis (Greek: ὀντογένεση, from ὄν on "that which exists" and γένεσις génesis "birth, emergence") or ontogeny is, according to Ernst Haeckel (1866), the developmental history of the individual living being from the fertilized ovum to the adult stage. Phylogenesis, on the other hand, describes the phylogenetic development of the species. The basic biogenetic law, the recapitulation theory formulated by Haeckel, according to which ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis in an abbreviated form, is today considered to be refuted in the form advocated by Haeckel. Based on a collection of several hundred thousand sections of human embryos Erich Blechschmidt (1904-1992) already came to the opinion that the human embryonic development differs from the animal one already from the very first moment, so that there can never be a question of a "recapitulation" in the sense of Haeckel. Man is man from the very beginning and differs fundamentally from the animal.
L.F.C. Mees has shown, however, that just the repetition of important developmental stages in the animal kingdom can throw a new light on evolution, and that Blechschmidt's views and the basic biogenetic law are compatible - only it must then be applied in a different sense than Haeckel did. He bases this on statements of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner certainly acknowledged the facts underlying this law, but he considered Haeckel's interpretation of these facts to be erroneous:
„The facts are of course correct, because they are observed by the senses. But if we are to judge them, then we have to consider what is the power of the intellectual soul. It cannot approach what cannot be seen sensually. Therefore, if it does not have the disposition to truth within, it is necessarily subject to error. And here we have a glaring example of how the power of judgment, which comes from the intellectual soul, can sail into error [...]
What then does the fact show that man at a certain stage of his germinal life looks like a little fish? This fact shows that man cannot use that which is fish-shaped, that he had to expel it before he began his human existence. And the next germ form is again one that man had to expel because it does not belong to him, just as man had to expel all animal forms because they do not belong to him. Man could not have become man if he had ever appeared on earth in such a form as these animal forms are. He just had to separate them from himself, so that he could become man. If you follow these thoughts in the right way, you will also come to a right judgment. What do the facts show that man in the germ stage, for example, looks like a little fish? These facts show that he has never looked like a little fish in the course of his line of descent, that he has rejected the fish form in the very line of his development, that he could not use it because he was not allowed to look like it. Now take all the other successive forms which modern science shows you in the forms of germ life. What do these forms show? They show everything that man was not in prehistoric times, that he had to expel from himself. They show all those images which he has never seen similar. Thus one can learn in truth by the embryology, how man never looked in the prehistoric times [...] Just the reverse order of the evolution was assumed by the sailing into the error, by the fact that the mind has really proved quite unsuitable to think through these facts of the reality truthfully. Certainly these pictures of the past are extraordinarily important for us, because we recognize precisely by them how we have never looked.“ (Lit.:GA 115, p. 81ff)
According to Rudolf Steiner, man was not only ontogentically, but also phylogenetically man from the very beginning - admittedly not in his present form. He developed to his today's form just by the fact that he eliminated the animal forms in the course of the phylogenesis little by little from his being. In this sense not man descends from the animal, but rather vice versa the animals from the man.
- Erich Blechschmidt: Wie beginnt das menschliche Leben: vom Ei zum Embryo, Christiana Verlag, Stein am Rhein, 6. Aufl., 1989
- L.F.C. Mees: Tiere sind, was Menschen haben, J. Ch. Mellinger Verlag, Stuttgart 1987, ISBN 978-3880692237
- Rudolf Steiner: Anthroposophie, Psychosophie, Pneumatosophie, GA 115 (1980), Vierter Vortrag, Berlin, 27. Oktober 1909 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.
- Zebrafish embryonic development at single cell resolution - The development of a zebrafish embryo from the fertilized egg cell.