Sense organ

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Sense organs are specialised organs that serve the perception of the sensory world. Rudolf Steiner distinguishes between twelve human senses. The sense organs resemble physical or physical-chemical apparatuses. Through specifically constructed sensory cells, they are receptive to very specific physical and chemical stimuli from the environment or the inside of the body and convert these into electrical impulses that are transmitted via the nervous system.

The sense organs as physical apparatuses

„The first thing that becomes particularly clear to us when we consider the whole course of human development is that these sense organs as such have to do with what we can call physical effects. On the Old Saturn, the first organ of the senses came into being as a purely physical organ, and again and again the development of man's sense organs progresses through the integration of physical events into that which otherwise develops in man; so that essentially the sense organs as they are today are physical organs. You will easily notice that the eyes are physical organs, that the ears are physical organs, and so on. Certainly, the lower senses are like chemical organs, but nevertheless all this has to do with the physical-chemical.

This is how we must understand the matter, that man, as it were, as the outermost of his developmental members, stretches out into the world that which may be called his physical.“ (Lit.:GA 162, p. 263)

„All sensory instruments, all physical apparatuses in man have only reached the stage of a mineral. They follow quite the same laws as the minerals. Eye and ear belong to the mineral inclusions; even in the brain there are still such parts.“ (Lit.:GA 98, p. 137)

„It is the same with the other senses, but the matter does not come to light with the same sharpness for external observation, not as sharp as when one considers what is actually meant here for the sense of sight, for the eye. Consider that this eye, as a physical apparatus, actually lies inside the human skull as a quite independent organ and is actually only extended backwards into the human body by the appendages, the appendages of the blood veins, the appendages of the nerves.

The human eye. Drawing from GA 180, p. 91
The human eye. Drawing from GA 180, p. 91

One can say: This is the human eye, here is the extension (see drawing); but as an eye it lies here in the bony cranial cavity with a great independence, in so far as it is a physical apparatus, here the lens, the incidence of the light rays, the vitreous body, in other words everything that is a physical apparatus is actually very independent. Only through the optic nerve, the choroid, which extends into the body, does the eye itself extend into the body, so that one can say that this eye as a physical apparatus, i.e. in so far as it receives the external sense world in its visibility, is an independent organism, at least to a certain extent.“ (Lit.:GA 180, p. 91)

At the same time, every sense organ is nothing more than a modified little brain:

„What is the eye? The eye is a small brain that has been worked on by our spirit in such a way that the actual nervous apparatus has been pushed back to the back wall, where it has become the retina of the eye. This is how the builders of nature, the creators of forms, work. This is how they form. Basically, a blueprint prevails in all human organs, which is only modified in detail, according to need. If I could speak for weeks, I would show you how every sense organ is nothing but a modified little brain, and the brain in turn a sense organ on a higher level. Out of the spirit the whole human organism is built.“ (Lit.:GA 115, p. 66)

The seeing and the shining of the stars

„We have only ever heard it said when the question arose: What is light? Light is the cause of the luminosity of bodies. - Now you see, with this, of course, something hugely "mighty" is said about light when one says: light is the cause of the luminosity of bodies. But basically it is not much more than that, when today's materialistic physics says: one sees the bodies of the world when they radiate light. It is basically quite the same thing.

Now I have already mentioned on another occasion that it would be quite very surprising for materialistic physicists if they could go to the sun and see there what the sun actually is. I said that because in fact there is nothing at all where the sun is. Rather, what one would find would be a connection of purely spiritual beings and forces; there is nothing material there at all. Now, if one examines the stars with this clairvoyant consciousness and asks for the reason of their shining, then one finds that what is actually there and is called by us their shining, actually consists in the perceptive faculty, in the more or less coarse, as it is with earthly men, or more finely formed perceptive faculty of beings. And if any being on Venus or Mars were to look down on the earth, this being, when it saw the earth shining, would have to say to itself: this earth is shining, not because there are rays of sunshine reflected back, but because there are people on earth who perceive through their eyes. This process of seeing not only means something for our consciousness, but it radiates out into the whole world-space, and what men do by seeing is the light of the world-body in question. We see not only so that we may receive with our consciousness the results of what we see, but we see so that through our process of seeing the earth may shine out into the world-space. Thus, each of our sense organs not only has the task of being what it is for us, but also has a world task. Man is a world being through his sensory perception. He is not only the being he is through his consciousness as an earth-man, he is a world-being.“ (Lit.:GA 157, p. 295f)


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.