Sense of thought

From AnthroWiki

The sense of thought, thought sense or conceptual sense is one of the twelve physical senses described by Rudolf Steiner in his teachings on the senses. Through the sense of thought we grasp the thoughts of other people. The organ of perception for the thoughts of others is everything in our physical organism that is the basis for our active life. These are namely the dynamic currents in our fluid organism. The sense of thought must not be confused with the sense of life, through which we inwardly perceive our own overall vital condition, but we speak of the sense of thought in so far as the life in ourselves becomes the organ of perception outwardly.

„Sense of thought is not the sense for perceiving one's own thoughts, but for perceiving the thoughts of other people. About this again the psychologists develop quite grotesque ideas. Above all, people are so influenced by the connection between language and thought that they believe that thought is always taken in with language. That is an absurdity. For you could perceive thoughts through your sense of thought as lying in external spatial gestures just as you could in spoken language. The spoken language only conveys the thoughts. You must perceive the thoughts for yourself through your own sense. And once the eurythmic signs have been developed for all sounds, the human being need only eurythmise in front of you and you will read the thoughts from his eurythmic movements just as you hear them in the spoken language. In short, the sense of thought is something different from what works in the sense of sound, in spoken language.“ (Lit.:GA 293, p. 127)

The function of the sense of thought

The sense of thought is to be clearly distinguished from the sense of words:

„And again, it is another to perceive the thought of the other within the words, within the word formations and within the word contexts in particular. And again we must distinguish between perceiving the thought of the other and actual thinking. It is just that the coarse way in which soul phenomena are regarded today does not come to analyse in this finer way between thinking, which we develop as an inner activity of our soul life, and the outwardly directed activity which lies in perceiving the thought of the other. Certainly, when the thought of another is perceived, in order to understand this thought, in order to bring this thought into relation with other thoughts which we have already cherished, we must then think. But this thinking is something completely different from perceiving the thought of the other.“ (Lit.:GA 206, p. 10)

„When one understands a person who communicates himself through spoken language, gesture, etc., it is true that in this understanding judgement, memory, etc., have a predominant effect. But here, too, a right self-contemplation leads to the recognition that there is an immediate grasp, an understanding, which can precede all deliberation, judgement. The best way to gain a feeling for this fact is to realise how one can also understand what one has not yet been able to judge. For there is a quite immediate perception even of that which reveals itself in the concept, so that one must speak of a sense of concept. The human being can receive what he can experience in his own soul as a concept, also from an alien being. Through the perception of the concept one dives even deeper into the inner being than through the perception of sound. An even further immersion into another being than the sensation of what lives in it as a concept is not possible in a sensuous way. The sense of concept appears as that which penetrates into the innermost part of an external being. With the concept that lives in another human being, the human being perceives that which lives soulfully in himself.“ (Lit.:GA 45, p. 28f)

„In perceiving a concept, the concepts acquired in the human being's previous life prove to be that which takes in the new concept. The human being proves to have an understanding for a concept that approaches him, to the extent that he has previously absorbed these or those concepts. In the understanding of a concept, therefore, lies an opening up of the human being to the outside and a sinking of what has been received into the structure of the already existing organism of concepts. The life that unfolds there blossoms outwards and roots itself in the organism of concepts.“ (S. 65)

The organ of the sense of thought

The organ of perception through which we perceive the thoughts of others is the life we carry within us; more precisely, that which is our physical organism of life:

„What is organ of perception for the thoughts of the other? The organ of perception for the thoughts of others is everything that we are, insofar as we feel activity, life, within us. So if you think that you have life in your whole organism and that this life is a unity - that is, not in so far as you are formed, but in so far as you carry life within you - then this life of the whole organism carried within you, in so far as it expresses itself in the physical, is an organ for the thoughts which come to us from outside. If we were not formed as we are, we could not perceive the I of the other; if we were not animated as we are, we could not perceive the thoughts of the other. That is not the sense of life I am talking about here. It is not that we perceive our total condition of life inwardly that is in question here - that belongs to the sense of life - but in so far as we carry life within us. And this living thing in us, everything that is the physical organism of life in us, is the organ of perception for the thoughts that the other turns to us.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 242f)

The specialisation of the sense of thought by Ahriman

We should originally perceive the thoughts of other people much more spiritually. Simply by confronting the other person, we were supposed to feel and relive his thoughts directly inwardly. And it is only a coarse afterglow when today we perceive the thoughts mostly merely mediated by words. Even in Egyptian-Chaldean times, the thought life of the other was felt much more in the unspoken, in physiognomy and facial expressions, through gestures, even through posture and body positions, through the whole way of facing each other. At that time, however, the way of thinking was still quite different, namely more pictorial and inspired and not merely logical. Since the Greco-Latin period, we have practically only been able to communicate thoughts through words, but it was only through the ahrimanic influence that our life organism was made into a thinking apparatus for logical thinking.

„In so far as we are a life organism, we can perceive the thoughts of others. Again, we have been predisposed to perceive the thoughts of others much more mentally than we actually perceive them now. In the simple act of facing each other, we have been predisposed to feel his thoughts inwardly, to relive them. It is a crude physical reflection of how we perceive the thoughts of others today, even only in a roundabout way through language. And at most, if we train ourselves a little on the gesticulations and facial expressions and physiognomy of the other person, we can still perceive an echo of what we were predisposed to. We were predisposed to perceive the whole disposition of a person's thinking by confronting him, to live it and to perceive the individual expressions of thought from the individual gestures, individual facial expressions. Again, it is an Ahrimanic gift that has transformed this more spiritual way of perceiving the world of thought, which even in the course of human evolution has concentrated more and more on outer speech.

We need not go back very far in the development of mankind, only as far as the Egyptian-Chaldean period, not to speak of the Indian period, where this was still highly developed - we need only go back beyond the Greco-Latin period, there we still find a fine understanding among mankind for the life of thought, in so far as it expressed itself in the unspoken words, in what was expressed through physiognomy, through gestures, even through postures, through the whole manner of the confrontation of one human being with another. Man has lost his understanding of this. Less and less of it has been preserved, and today there is already very little understanding for eavesdropping on the inner secrets of man's thoughts from the way he confronts us. We listen almost exclusively to what comes to us from his thoughts, in his thoughts, by the fact that he communicates it to us through audible words. But because this has happened, we have received the ability to turn our life apparatus, our life organism itself, into a thinking apparatus. We would not have the gift of thinking if what I have said had not happened, if that ahrimanic influence had not come of which I have spoken.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 247f)


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 - 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.