Rudolf Steiner: The Fourth Dimension – Sacred Geometry, Alchemy, and Mathematics
How do we acquire knowledge about objects through our senses? We see a color. Without eyes we would not perceive it. Physicists tell us that what is out there in space is not color but purely spatial movement patterns that enter the eye and are then picked up by the visual nerve and conveyed to the brain, where the perception of the color red, for example, comes about. Next, we may wonder whether the color red is present when sensation is not. We could not perceive red if we had no eyes or the sound of bells ringing if we had no ears. All of our sensations depend on movement patterns that are transformed by our psycho-physical apparatus. The issue becomes even more complicated, however, when we ask where that unique quality “red” is located— is it on the object we perceive, or is it a vibrational process? A set of movements that originates outside us enters the eye and continues into the brain itself. Wherever you look, you find vibrational processes and nerve processes, but not the color red. You also will not find it by studying the eye itself. It is neither outside us nor in the brain. Red exists only when we ourselves, as subjects, intercept these movements. Is it impossible then to talk about how red comes to meet the eye or C-sharp the ear? The questions are, what is an internal mental image of this sort, and where does it arise? These questions pervade all of nineteenth-century philosophy. Schopenhauer proposed the definition “The world is our mental image.” But in this case, what is left for the external object? Just as a mental image of color can be “created” by movement, so, too, the perception of movement can come about within us as a result of something that is not moving. Suppose we glue twelve snapshots of a horse in motion to the inner surface of a cylinder equipped with twelve narrow slits between the images. When we look sideways at the turning cylinder, we get the impression that we are always seeing the same horse and that its feet are moving. Our bodily organization can induce the impression of movement when the object in question is really not moving at all. In this way, what we call movement dissolves into nothing. In that case, what is matter? If we strip matter of color, movement, shape, and all other qualities conveyed through sensory perception, nothing is left. If “subjective” sensations, such as color, sound, warmth, taste, and smell, which arise in the consciousness of individuals as a result of environmental stimuli, must be sought within ourselves, so, too, must the primary, “objective” sensations of shape and movement. The outer world vanishes completely. This state of affairs causes grave difficulties for epistemology. Assuming that all qualities of objects exist outside us, how do they enter us? Where is the point at which the outer is transformed into the inner? If we strip the outer world of all the contents of sensory perception, it no longer exists. Epistemology begins to look like Münchhausen trying to pull himself up by his bootstraps.10 To explain sensations that arise within us, we must assume that the outer world exists, but how do aspects of this outer world get inside us and appear in the form of mental images?