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The I-sense or sense of I - it may also called ego sense, sense of ego or sense of self - is one of the twelve physical senses that Rudolf Steiner spoke of in his theory of the senses. Through the I-sense we directly perceive the I or ego of another person. It is the sense organ of the I-perception.

„Today, when all things have been turned upside down in a certain sense, it has become quite common to say: When we are confronted with the alien I, we first see the human form. We know that we ourselves have this human form, that this human form accommodates an I in us, and so we conclude that there is also an I in the alien human form that looks like us. - There is not the slightest real consciousness of what lies in the whole immediacy of the perception of the other I if one bases such a conclusion on it. It is utterly senseless. For exactly in the same way as we stand directly opposite the outer world and encompass a certain area of it through our sense of sight, so too does the other I penetrate directly into our area of experience. If we ascribe to ourselves a sense of sight, we must also ascribe to ourselves a sense of I. It is above all the firmness of the sense of I that is important. It should be noted above all that this sense of self is something quite different from the development of the consciousness of one's own I. It is a completely different process, this sense of self. It is a completely different process, this becoming conscious of one's own I, which is not actually perception, and the process that takes place when we perceive an alien I as such.“ (Lit.:GA 206, p. 9f)

„This sense of I is not meant with reference to the ability of our own I-perception. With this sense of I we do not perceive our own I, that I which first came to us on Earth, but with this sense of I we perceive the I of other people. So everything that confronts us in the physical world with an I, we perceive with this sense of I.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 239)

„So by the sense of I is meant our ability to perceive the I's of other people. A particularly insufficient and inadequate statement of modern thought is that one does not actually perceive the I of the other person at all, but always more or less only infers the I of the other person. We see something approaching us - or so this way of thinking assumes - which walks upright on two legs, always leading one leg past the other or sitting one next to the other, has a trunk supported by these legs, two arms swinging from it, which perform various movements for various purposes; then a head sits on top of it, which utters sounds, speaks, utters gestures. And when something like that, as I have now described it, confronts us, we conclude: This is the bearer of an I. - This is what the materialistic view means. This is complete nonsense, real, genuine nonsense; for the truth is that just as we see colours with our eyes, just as we hear sounds with our ears, we also really perceive the I of the other. Without a doubt, we perceive it. And this perception is an independent one. Just as seeing is not based on an inference, just as hearing is not based on an inference, so the perception of the other's I is not based on an inference, but is an immediately real, independent truth that is gained independently of the fact that we see the other, that we hear his sounds. Apart from the fact that we hear his speech, that we see his incarnation, that we allow his gestures to have an effect on us, apart from all this we directly perceive the I of the other. And as little as the sense of sight has to do with the sense of sound, so little has the perception of the I to do with the sense of sight or the sense of sound or any other sense. It is an independent I-perception. Until this is realised, the science of the senses does not rest on solid foundations.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 241f)

The perception of an other I is a sensual perception like any other. The experience of one's own I, on the other hand, is a process of will. This makes a big difference.

„People today are inclined to throw everything into confusion. When one thinks of the I-conception, he first thinks of his own soul being; then he is usually satisfied. Psychologists almost do it that way too. They do not even consider that it is something completely different whether I, by taking together what I experience in myself, finally call the sum of this experience an "I" or whether I face a person and, by the way in which I relate to him, also call this person an "I". These are two quite different spiritual-mental activities. One time, when I combine my life activities in the comprehensive synthesis "I", I have something purely inner; the other time, when I face the other person and express through my relationship to him that he is also something like my I, I have an activity before me that flows in the interplay between me and the other person. Therefore, I must say: the perception of my own I in my inner being is something different than when I recognise the other human being as an I. The perception of the other I is based on the sense of I, just as the perception of colour is based on the sense of sight, that of sound on the sense of hearing. Nature does not make it so easy for the human being to see the organ of perception as openly in the "I" as it does in seeing. But one could well use the word "I" for the perception of other I's, as one uses the word seeing for the perception of colour. The organ of colour perception is external to the human being; the organ of perception of the I's is spread over the whole human being and consists in a very fine substantiality, and that is why people do not speak of the organ of I-perception. This organ of I-perception is something different from that which causes me to experience my own I. There is even an enormous difference between the two. There is even an enormous difference between experiencing one's own I and perceiving the I in another. For the perception of the I in another is essentially a process of cognition, at least a process similar to cognition; the experience of one's own I, on the other hand, is a process of the will.

Now comes that which might make a pedant feel comfortable. He might say: In the last lecture you said, after all, that all sense-activity is primarily will-activity; now you construct the I-sense and say that it is primarily a sense of cognition. - But if you characterise the I-sense, as I have tried to do in the new edition of my "Philosophy of Freedom", you will come to the conclusion that this I-sense does indeed work in a rather complicated way. What is the basis of the perception of the other person's I? Today's abstractionists say quite strange things about this. They say: Actually, one sees his form from the outside, one hears his sounds, and then one knows that one looks as human as the other person, that one has within oneself a being that thinks and feels and wants, that is, that is also a human being in soul and spirit. - And so one concludes by analogy: Just as there is a thinking, feeling, willing being in myself, so it is in the other. - An analogy is made from myself to the other. This analogy is nothing more than folly. The reciprocal relationship between one person and another involves something quite different. If you stand opposite a person, then it proceeds as follows: You perceive the person for a short time; he makes an impression on you. This impression disturbs you inside: You feel that the person, who is actually the same being as you, makes an impression on you like an attack. The consequence of this is that you defend yourself inwardly, that you resist this attack, that you become inwardly aggressive against him. You slacken in the aggressive, the aggressive stops again; therefore he can now make an impression on you again. This gives you time to increase your aggressiveness again, and you now carry out aggression again. You slacken in it again, the other again makes an impression on you, and so on. That is the relationship that exists when one human being faces the other, perceiving the I: Devotion to the person - inner resistance; devotion to the other - inner resistance; sympathy - antipathy; sympathy - antipathy. I am not talking now about the emotional life, but only about the perceptive confrontation. There the soul vibrates; it vibrates: Sympathy - antipathy, sympathy - antipathy, sympathy - antipathy. You can read about this in the new edition of the "Philosophy of Freedom".

But something else is the case. As sympathy develops, you sleep into the other person; as antipathy develops, you wake up, and so on. This is a very brief alternation between waking and sleeping in vibration when we are facing the other person. That it can be carried out, we owe to the organ of the I-sense.

This organ of the I-sense is thus organised in such a way that it explores the I of the other person not in its waking but in a sleeping will - and then quickly passes this exploration, which is carried out while asleep, over into cognition, that is, passes it over into the nervous system. Thus, if one looks at the matter correctly, the main thing in perceiving the other is nevertheless the will, but precisely the will as it develops not while awake but while asleep; for we continually spin sleeping moments into the act of perceiving the other self. And what lies between is already cognition; that is quickly pushed off into the region where the nervous system dwells, so that I can really call the perception of the other a process of cognition, but must know that this process of cognition is only a metamorphosis of a sleeping process of the will. So this process of sense is also a process of will, only we do not recognise it as such. We do not consciously live all the cognition that we experience in sleep.“ (Lit.:GA 293, p. 124ff)

The Organ of the I-Sense

The organ of perception of the sense of I is the head, insofar as it radiates its ability to perceive the other I through the whole organism. The whole human form with the head as its centre is the organ of perception for the other self. Or to put it even more precisely: the organism as a whole is the actual sense organ of the I-perception, the whole nervous system forms the associated sense nerves, which connect with the activity of the whole brain. The sense of self is thus the most comprehensive of all our senses and it permeates the activity of all the other senses, which in turn use only individual parts of the whole organism. Completely inwardly with our whole organism we were originally supposed to feel the I of the other person; but today this is largely prevented by the Ahrimanic influence.

„Now the question arises: What is the organ for the perception of the other I? What does the other I perceive in us, just as we perceive colours or light and dark with the organ of sight, just as we perceive sounds with the ears? What does the other I perceive? The I-perception has its organ just as the perception of sight or sound does. Only the organ of I-perception is, as it were, so formed that its starting point lies in the head, but the whole region of the rest of the body, in so far as it is dependent on the head, forms an organ for the I-perception of the other. Really, the whole human being conceived as an organ of perception, in so far as it is sensuously-physically formed here, is an organ of perception for the I of the other. In a way, one could also say: the head is the organ of perception for the I of the other, insofar as it has the whole human being attached to it and its ability to perceive the I radiates through the whole human being. The human being, in so far as he is calm, in so far as he is the calm human form with the head as centre, is the organ of perception for the I of the other human being. Thus the organ of perception for the I of the other human being is the greatest organ of perception that we have, and we ourselves as a physical human being are the greatest organ of perception that we have.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 242)

Specialisation of the I-Sense through Ahriman

Originally we were predisposed to feel the I of the other person inwardly in a much more subtle way, because the whole human being is an organ of the I-sense. Ahriman, however, works very hard to specialise this I-sense as well. As a result, we only perceive the other I comparatively superficially and it would eventually come to the point that other people would remain completely external to us. In the end, we would only infer something like an I from the external impression of strange upright walking beings on two legs, and from this we would only infer further back to our own I.

„Then we were predisposed to sense in a subtle way the I of the other human being, not only to experience it, but to perceive it inwardly; for our whole human being is an I-sense organ. Ahriman is still working very hard today to specialise this sense of I, just as he has specialised and changed the sense of speech and the sense of thought. This is even in progress, and it is expressed in the fact that humanity is moving towards a strange tendency. One must say something quite paradoxical when one speaks of what is actually meant here. It is expressed today only in its very beginnings, actually even more in a philosophical way. There are already philosophers today who completely deny the ability to experience the I internally: Mach and others, for example; I spoke of this in the philosophical lecture I gave the other day. These people should actually be of the opinion that one has no ability to perceive the I inwardly, but that one perceives the I by perceiving others. And the tendency is to think in the way I am now grotesquely suggesting. People would come to say to themselves: others are coming towards me, walking around on two legs, as I described earlier, and from this I conclude that there is an inner self. And because I look just like him, I conclude that I too have an I. - Then one would conclude from the I' s of the others to one's own I. This is already in the nature of many things. This lies in the nature of many assertions that are made today, especially when the side I am referring to describes how the ego actually develops during our individual evolution between birth and death. If you read the psychologies of today, you will find a description of how this grasp of the ego develops in the other. Because we do not have it at first as a child, but perceive others, we transfer what we see in others to ourselves. The ability to draw conclusions about ourselves from others will, however, become greater and greater. Just as the ability to think has gradually developed from the sense of thought, and the ability to speak from the sense of language, so the ability to experience the whole world will develop more and more, alongside the ability to perceive others. We are dealing with finer distinctions, but one must already grasp them. So in a sense, at this end of the human being, the ahrimanic is very much at work - very, very much at work.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 248f)


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: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
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.