Sense of warmth

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The sense of warmth is one of the twelve physical senses that Rudolf Steiner spoke of in his theory of the senses. It gives us the sensation of warmth and cold. After the sense of hearing, it is the oldest of the senses and was already predisposed on Old Saturn, which was a pure world of warmth during the longest period of its development. Among the signs of the zodiac it corresponds to Taurus.

Warmth perception

„We cannot speak of the perception of warmth in the same localised sense as we do of the perception of light. But precisely by directing attention to something like this, we can arrive at something else.

What do we actually perceive when we enter into a relationship with the warmth of our surroundings? Yes, we actually perceive this swimming in the warmth element of our environment very clearly. But what is swimming? Please answer this question, what actually floats when you swim in the warmth of your environment. Consider the following experiment. You fill a trough with a moderately warm liquid, with moderately warm water, with water that you feel to be lukewarm when you put both hands in - don't put your hands in for long, you're just trying it out. Then do the following: First put your left hand into water that is as warm as you can bear, then put your right hand into water that is as cold as you can bear, and then quickly put your left and right hands into the lukewarm water. You will see that the lukewarm water seems very warm to the right hand and very cold to the left. The hand on the left that has become hot feels the same as cold that the hand on the right that has become cold feels as warm. Before, you felt an even lukewarmness. What is that actually? Your own warmth, which floats and causes you to feel the difference between it and the surroundings. What is it that floats in the heat element of your surroundings? It is your own state of warmth, brought about by your organic process; it is not something unconscious, your consciousness lives in it. You live within your skin in the warmth, and depending on what this is, you deal with the warmth element of your surroundings. Your own body heat swims in this. Your warmth organism swims in the environment.“ (Lit.:GA 320, p. 124f)

The sense of warmth and the sentient body

The sense of warmth is closely related to the human sentient body:

„Now follows next the sense of warmth. Here again is something that mediates the sense of warmth through its effect in the human being. This is the sentient body itself, which brings its astral substance into action and lets it flow outwards when an experience of warmth is to occur. This occurs when the human being is really able to send his astral substance outwards without being prevented from doing so. In the bath we do not feel warmed when it is as warm as we are, when there is a balance between us and our surroundings and nothing is absorbed by us. We only feel warmth or cold when warmth flows out of us or can flow into us. If the external environment is warm, we let warmth flow out into it. If we have little heat, we allow heat to flow into us. Here again we can see that there is an outflow and an inflow. However, when there is a balance between the outside and the inside, warmth is not felt. The experience of warmth always has to do with the effect of the human sentient body. This will, when we touch an object that becomes warmer and warmer, flow out more and more. More and more of what wants to enter is forced upon us, and the body of feeling must then flow out correspondingly more. But this only works up to a certain limit. If there is no longer the possibility of letting power flow out of the sentient body, then we can no longer bear the heat and we burn ourselves. It should also be the case that we feel burning every time we can no longer let substance flow out of our sentient body when we touch something very cold. If we touch a very cold body which prevents us from letting substance flow out of the sentient body because it gives nothing to us, the excessive cold also appears to us as a burning and produces blisters. Both are based on the same effect.“ (Lit.:GA 115, p. 44f)

Physiological basis of thermoception

Thermoception is mediated by warm and cold receptors, to which different sensory qualities correspond. When the temperature remains constant, they generate a certain constant spontaneous impulse rate of action potentials that are transmitted through the nervous system. Sudden changes in temperature alter the impulse frequency.

Warm receptors are active between just below 30 to just above 40 °C, with their spontaneous frequency initially increasing with increasing temperature, but then dropping steeply above the maximum. Cold receptors are active between about 5 and just under 40 °C, although the maximum pulse rate is at about 20 to 25 °C. To be distinguished from this are the heat receptors, which convey painful sensations from about 43 °C and are counted among the polymodal nociceptors (pain sensors), as they also react to painful pressure or tissue injuries. They are therefore more related to the sense of life.

Depending on the body region, the density of the receptors varies greatly, with heat points being much rarer in general.

Body region Cold points per cm² Warm points per cm²
!forehead 6,75 0,62
nose 10,5 1
tongue 16 - 19
lip 20
chest 9 0,3
upper arm (flexion area) 5,7 0,3
forearm (inner side) 6 0,4
back of the hand 7,4 0,54
Thigh 4,85 0,39

In addition, the activity of most mechanoreceptors of the skin is also influenced by temperature.


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 (by Steiner Online Library).
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.