Sense of sight

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The human eye

The sense of sight is one of the twelve physical senses that Rudolf Steiner spoke of in his theory of the senses. Visual perception is also called eyesight in an outdated, but in the occult sense quite appropriate, way, because in visual perception the inner light meets the outer, as Goethe also pointed out in his Theory of Colours. Through the sense of sight we perceive light and dark and the world of colours; it thus forms only a part of the more comprehensive visual perception, in which other sensory activities are also involved. Shapes, for example, are first perceived by the eye's own sense of movement and related to the perpendicular by the sense of balance. Through eye movements, the fovea centralis, as the point of sharpest vision on the retina of the eye, follows the lines of strongest contrast, whereby the shapes thus scanned with the eyes are compared, usually largely unconsciously, with familiar, simple geometric shapes. Only binocular vision enables spatial, steroscopic vision through the coordinated movement of both eyes. However, even with monocular vision, a certain monocular depth perception can be achieved through appropriate mental activity.

The faculty for the sense of sight was created on the Old Sun together with the light ether.

The sense of sight is closely related to the higher regions of the astral world. The astral body, in which the desires and passions of man live, becomes visible to the clairvoyant as a supersensible body of light, which shines in manifold colours and forms. It is similar when we see colours in nature with the sensual eye. Just as behind the supersensible red in the astral body lives a desire as the actual spiritual reality, so also behind the sensually visible red of the flower is an astral desire. There would never be colours in the world if the things and living beings of outer nature were not permeated by astral beings.

The sense of sight is closely connected with the sentient soul of man, in which, however, there is already a subconscious thought principle that only becomes conscious in the consciousness soul:

„The next sense is the sense of sight. Here it is that what now works the etheric body and pours into it is the sentient soul. What happens here is of a thought-like nature. A thought principle is at work here. The sentient soul already has within itself what becomes conscious in the consciousness soul; however, the thought is still subconscious in it. It is thought in the sentient soul that flows out through the eyes. Here, then, real thought-substance flows out. It has a far greater elasticity than the other two substances which flow out through the senses of smell and taste, and it therefore reaches much further. It is so that astral matter really flows out of the human being and flows towards things. It is not etheric waves of light that enter the eye and then project the received image outwards! Someone would have to sit inside and do this projection work. This would be a horribly superstitious idea, this something that projects. Science, which is so proud of its naturalism, lets itself be helped out in a grotesque way by the much-maligned imagination. So an astral substance flows towards the thing as a thought-substance and penetrates so far until somewhere in the distance resistance is offered to it and another astral opposes it. The conflict between the astral and the astral that thus takes place outside forms the colour that we feel in things. The colour arises at the boundary of things, where the astral emanating from the human being meets the astral of things. Colour arises at the boundary of the outer and inner astral.

It is very strange to consider, for example, that there is actually already subconscious thinking in the sentient soul, which only comes to light in the intellectual soul and only becomes conscious to us in the consciousness soul. What in fact appears as two impressions when we look at things with our two eyes, is caused by a thought that does not at first come into consciousness. If this is to enter into consciousness, both thought-moments must work together; they must make their way up from the sentient soul into the consciousness soul. This path can be well illustrated by a parable: Here are the two hands. Each hand can feel for itself, but only when the two hands cross does this sensation, that one hand feels the other, come to one's consciousness, just as an external object is only lifted into real consciousness through touch. If the impressions gained by thought-work in the sentient soul are to enter the consciousness of the human being, then they must be crossed. In the case of vision, this is the result of the crossing of the two optic nerves in the brain. The reason for this crossing of the optic nerves is that a work of thought done in the subconscious, in the sensitive soul, is lifted up through the crossing into the conscious soul, so that one work can now be felt in the other. Thus the physical is built up out of the spiritual, and man can only be understood through Anthroposophy down to the finest anatomical details.“ (Lit.:GA 115, p. 43f)

The gaze or look

The gaze or the mutual eye contact between two people is of central importance for non-verbal communication. Hardly any other facial expression reveals the inner emotional experience in such a multi-faceted way. This is why the eye is considered to be the mirror of the soul, through which man recognises the other and at the same time himself, as Jean-Paul Sartre described in his famous phenomenological analysis of the gaze in his main philosophical work "Being and Nothingness": "Being seen by the other is the truth of seeing the other"[1].


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
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 - 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.


  1. Jean-Paul Sartre: Das Sein und das Nichts, p. 343