Tag Archives: Convolution


Question: In the modern age we have resurrected the principle of observation in teaching. It now seems that when children leave school, they are helpless in the face of life. As a result of nothing but observation, they remain stuck with the image.

Rudolf Steiner: This question, the question of concreteness/pictorial   quality, specifically the exclusive focus on pictorial quality in teaching, is a very important pedagogical question for the present time. Now, in order to treat it thoroughly, this question should not be treated in isolation but rather in the context of a comprehensive pedagogical thinking. Here I would first like to state that teaching at the Waldorf school is built upon our knowledge of the human being’s development. The Waldorf school is definitely not the school of one particular world- view. But rather, we must put to use in the praxis of the Waldorf school whatever inspiration /support the anthroposophical soul-disposition can provide towards pedagogical deftness, method, and management of things. Indeed, the Waldorf school is intended to come into its own when integrated into practical life. For example, in a practical connection, there is the very important observation that in the child until the six-seventh year we are dealing with an imitative being. Until that time, children are imitators. This is so much the case during the kindergarten age that little can be learned in the conventional sense, but the teacher needs to rely on the child’s imitative capacity. People come and ask me all kinds of questions. A father came to me one day, quite distressed: “What shall we do? Our boy, who always was such a good boy, has stolen.” “How old is the boy?” I asked. “Five years old.” Then, I answered, “We need to investigate whether he really stole.” Investigation revealed that the boy had not stolen at all, despite the fact that he had actually taken money out of a drawer. Rather, he had observed how every day his mother would give deliverymen some money out of her drawer, and he thought to himself, “My mother does it, so it must be right.” And he simply took the money out of the drawer. He bought sweets, not to eat by himself, but to share with his friends. What he did was simply imitation, as fitted his age. It is very important for children of that age that the adults are careful to not do anything that children would not be allowed to copy. Then comes the age that starts with the change of teeth and ends at puberty, the age during which children go to primary school. This age demands simply—and this is something that various parties insist should not be obvious—that the child refer to an authority and learn to act accordingly. It is of the utmost importance for later stages of life, specifically in educating capacities for difficult developmental times to come and for all conceivable things in the course of a lifetime, that at this age, from the seventh to fourteenth year, children accept things based on authority. This relationship with the self-evident authority of a teacher and educator is irreplaceable. We can easily find confirmations of the things people cannot have later in life if they were unlucky enough to not have near them a self-evident authority. This is where this question of the object lesson for this age comes in. The current object lesson has grown out of materialism and has been pushed to the extreme. People just have to see everything with their own eyes. They do not believe in anything unless it is right before them; and so they believe that everything must be presented to children in this manner. The problems parents evoke are not the only ones; others arise from the teacher’s side. Take the Teachers’ Guides with instructions for the object lesson. The banalities and trivialities they dish out are downright monstrous. There is always a reflexive urge to reduce everything to the lowest possible level. These are the object lessons in which the teacher is never supposed to bring the child anything more than what the child already knows. This is the worst possible teaching. That teaching is the best that not only provides for the child’s present  age, but also for the entire human lifetime. If the course of life does not make it possible to have, at the age of forty or fifty, something left from the time of sitting on school benches, then the teaching was bad.

One’s retrospective view should contains living forces. After all, to grow means that our limbs become bigger, but other things are transformed too, everything in us is growing. If we bring the child static concepts, representations and observations that do not grow, that remain as they are, if emphasis is put to their staying the same, then we are sinning against the principle of growth. We must bring to the child things that become part of the living growth process. We cannot do that with the platitudes of the object lesson, but only when we truly encounter the child, Then imponderable elements come into consideration.

I often use an example like the following: Let us assume we want to teach the child the concept of immortality. It can be symbolized by natural processes, for instance with the image of the butterfly and the cocoon. I can say: The immortal soul within the person is like the butterfly in the cocoon; it develops into a spiritual world, just like the butterfly develops out of the cocoon. This is one image, but I can present it to the children in two different ways. The first way would be for me to think: I am the teacher; I am extraordinarily smart; the child is young and frightfully stupid. I will therefore present this concept to the child as a symbol. I am way beyond these things, but the child needs to understand in this way the concept of immortality of the soul. So I will explain in an intellectual manner. This practically guarantees that the child will not learn anything, not because what was brought was false as such, but because that is not the right way to teach children anything. If I fully familiarize myself with anthroposophical spiritual science, it will not be just an image that makes me feel smarter than the child, but it will be a truth. Nature itself offers us at one level the butterfly that evolves out of the cocoon, and at a higher level the passage through the gate of death. If I bring the child something that is truly alive in me, the child will get something from it.

We cannot state flatly that we must do things in such or such a way, for it boils down to imponderable elements, a certain soul disposition that I have as the teacher and that is the most important thing. One also needs to consider other difficulties resulting from remaining mired in banal object lessons, which become ever more impersonal: At the very age when teachers should be playing the important role of moral authority, they take themselves out of the picture. Certain things should absolutely be taught to children from a place of authority. It is impossible to transmit everything by way of an object lesson, for instance moral concepts. One cannot proceed from object lessons, nor can one proceed from rules/laws; they can only be transmitted by way of a self-evident moral authority. And it is one of the most significant experiences for later in life to have accepted something when one was eight, nine or twelve years old because a respected individual considered it right. This relation- ship to the respected individual is one of the imponderables of education. And when we turn thirty, a particular experience brings back from the deep recesses of human consciousness something one had learned long ago; I can comprehend now what I had simply accepted twenty-five years ago. This is tremendously important. It is actually the experience of something growing towards me which I had accepted in childhood. As a result, all theoretical discussions about more or less “observation” are  futile. Things must come from the objects themselves.

Similarly discussions about thinking are also not very important or appropriate. The important thing is that teachers should be assigned to the right place, that human beings assembled in a school organization should be brought together in the right way. This should be our true goal. Curricula and anything else that can be reduced to paragraphs are useless in real life—and education is real life. For if you put together in a room three, or six, or twelve people independently of their predecessors, social origin, or prior education, they will be able to design on paper an ideally beautiful curriculum. Whenever we think up a curriculum this way, paragraph-by-paragraph, it can turn out inordinately beautiful and grand; it can contain the most wonderful things. Yet this is not the issue. The issue is that within the school, which has a certain number of teachers, life should be really alive; each of these teachers has particular capacities, and this is the concrete reality with which one must work. What good is it for a teacher to look and decide: such and such is my “teaching goal”? That is a pure abstraction. The real issue is what the teacher can be for the children as an individual with a particular stance in the world.

The “school-problem” in our time is primarily a “teacher-problem” and all questions about details, for instance, the question about the object lesson should be treated from this point of view. To put it bluntly, can one teach children through object lessons? I must say I feel a sense of silent dread when I see the tortures (children are subjected to) with calculators in a classroom, or when I see material being made into object lessons, material which really should be approached quite differently. If one simply keeps doing nothing but object lessons, one ends up with awkward children, and I say this based on observation. It has nothing to do with phenomenology or phenomenalism; if we truly want to teach phenomenalism we first need to know how to think. Schools are about pedagogical methods, not about scientific method. But we need to know how close the relationship is between sound thinking and not just the brain and the person’s head, but also the whole person. How a person learned to think has a lot to do with that person’s manual skills. For we really do think with our entire body. Nowadays people believe that we think with the nervous system, when in fact we think with the entire organism. And the reverse is also true. If one is able to give a child, in a natural way, quick and ready thinking and to some extent presence of mind, one is supporting (working for) physical agility, and if one drives this thought-nimbleness into the body, the children’s physical agility  is in turn strengthened.

The Origin of Speech and Language: Excerpts from Steiner Lectures

The Origin of Speech and Language

I told you the other day how we can observe human beings. We do not need to experiment; all we need to do is pay attention to how nature experiments with people whenever they have any kind of illness. If we know how to look at what happens to the physical body when a person becomes ill in any way, we discover that nature herself arranged such an experiment for us and that we can gain insights from it.

You know, don’t you, that when we remove the top of the skull, we can see the brain? This brain has convolutions. We call one of them the temple convolution because it is located near the temple. Well now, in every person suffering from speech impediments or. muteness, there is some damage in this left convolution of the brain. This injury happens when someone has a so- called brain stroke. What happens in that case? The blood, which normally flows only through the vessels, is forced out through their walls and enters the tissue surrounding the vessels, where it should not be. Such a hemorrhage produces the stroke, the paralysis. In other words, whenever blood flows into the wrong place, into this convolution of the brain, it ultimately disables this temple convolution completely and prevents the person from speaking. This is an interesting connection: Human beings can speak because they have a healthy left convolution of the brain. We must now understand what it means when a person has a healthy left convolution of the brain. But in order to grasp this, we need to look at something else first. When we examine this same area of the brain in small children who have passed away, we find that this portion constitutes a fairly uniform, mushlike substance, especially at the time before the child has learned to speak. As the infant gradually learns to speak, more and more small whorls develop here. They continue to form in an artful way. In other words, the left cerebral convolutions in the child who has learned to speak or in a fully grown adult are artfully structured. Clearly, this means that something happened to the brain while the child learned to speak. And we should not think about this any differently than we think in ordinary life. You see, if I move a table from there to here, nobody would say the table moved itself this way. It would be just as wrong for me to say that the brain has formed these convolutions by itself. Instead, I must think about what has actually taken place and what caused it. In other words, I must ask why the left temple convolution developed this way. You see, when children learn to speak, they move their body. In particular, they move their speech organs. Before that, when they could not yet talk, they were merely fidgety, cried, and so forth. As long as the child is only able to cry, its left convolution of the brain is still a “mush,” as I described it. The more the child learns not merely to cry but also to turn this crying into individual sounds, the more this convolution receives definite shape. As long as the infant simply cries, there is only brain mush in this area. When the child begins to utter sounds, this uniform mush is transformed into the artfully structured left portion of the brain we can see in healthy adults. Now, gentlemen, the matter stands like this: When children cry, the sounds they utter are mainly vowels such as A (as in “father”) or E (as in “gate”). When they merely cry like this, they do not need a developed left cerebral convolution; the children utter these sounds out of themselves, without having anything artful developed in the brain. If we pay some attention, we will discover that children initially make A sounds; later on they add those of U (as in “shoe”) and I (“bee”). Gradually, as you know, they also learn to utter consonants. First they form the sound A; then they add M or W and say MA or WA. In other words, out of their crying children gradually manage to form words by adding consonants to the vowels. And how do they form these consonants? All you need to do is to pay attention to how you pronounce, for example, an M. You’ll see that you must move your lips. When you were a child, you had to learn this through imitation. If you say L, you must move your tongue. Thus, you must always move some organs. From mere fidgeting the child must progress to regular movements, carried out by the speech organs in imitation. The more the child moves beyond the vowels formed in mere crying and utters consonants such as L, M; N, R, the more the left cerebral convolution is structured in an artful way. Now we could ask how children initially learn to speak. They learn to speak only through imitation. They learn to speak, to move their lips, by imitating out of their feelings the way other people move their lips. All of this is imitation. This means that children take in, see, perceive what happens around them. And this perceiving, this mental activity, forms the brain. Just as a carver shapes a piece of wood or a sculptor works on marble and bronze, so the child’s movements “sculpt” the brain. The organs the child moves carry their movements right into the brain. If I want to pronounce L, I have to use my tongue. The tongue is connected with the brain through nerves and through other organs. This L penetrates into my left cerebral convolution and produces a structure there. In other words, the L produces forms in which one section joins the next, resembling the intestines. The M produces spherical convolutions. So you see, these sounds work on the brain. The movements of the organs the child activates through observation are at work here in the brain. It is very interesting that since it became known that a brain stroke damages the left cerebral convolution, thus destroying the ability to speak, it became possible to know that the formation of vowels and consonants by the child continuously works on this convolution. This in turn is based on the fact that the eyes and other sense organs perceive what takes place in the world around us. And what happens in the world around us? Well, you see, whenever we speak we are also breathing. We breathe continuously. And in this process, every breath first enters the human body, moves up the spinal column and enters the brain. This means that even while the child is crying — though as yet unable to pronounce consonants — this breath moves up and enters the brain. What is actually entering the brain in this process? Well, blood, of course.

As I explained to you in the last few days, blood flows everywhere. Through our breathing, blood is constantly being pushed into the brain. This activity begins the very moment we are born and even before, except then it occurs in a different manner. Anyhow, when we are born, we begin to breathe. This intake of air begins, which then pushes blood into the brain. Thus we can say that as long as the baby’s breathing merely pushes blood into the brain, it can only cry. Children begin to speak when not only blood is forced into the brain, but when they also perceive something through their eyes or any other organ, especially the ears.

In other words, whenever they see another person move, children inwardly repeat this movement. At this moment not only the bloodstream goes up to the head, but another stream goes there as well, for instance, from the ears — the stream of the nerves. In the left cerebral convolution, like everywhere else in the human body, blood vessels and nerve fibers meet. The latter are affected by what we observe and perceive. The child’s movements in uttering consonants reach the left convolution, that of speech, via the nerves. This area is structured by the combined effect of the breathing, which is carried there by the blood, and of whatever activity comes in through the ears and the eyes. In other words, blood and nerves together structure this brain mush beautifully. Thus we see that, at least in this particular region (and it will later be found to be the same way in others), our brain is actually structured through the combined activity of perception (via the nerves) and of the constant intake of breath, which pushes the blood into the brain. At this point, we need to understand also that this is how the child learns to speak, that is, by developing the left cerebral convolution.

Since left-handed children are not supposed to write with their left hand, my task is now to gradually direct everything previously carried out by the left hand to the right one. This way they will initially learn to do simple things with the right hand and get into writing much more slowly than the other children. But it does not matter if they learn to write a bit later. If I simply were to make left-handed children write as fast as the right-handed ones, I would make them less intelligent because I would ruin the development that has taken place in the right side of the brain. Therefore, I must make sure to treat left-handed children differently from right-handed ones when I teach them to write. This approach will not make them less intelligent in later life, but more so, because I gradually transform their left-handedness into right-handedness, instead of merely getting their entire brain confused through making them write with the right hand immediately. If you want to affect the entire human being through writing and force this change to the right hand, pedagogically speaking, you would achieve the very opposite of what you are striving for.

Nowadays we find a widespread tendency of teaching people to do everything with both hands. This is how we really get their brains mixed up. This tendency of making people do the same thing both with the right and the left hand merely proves how little we know. Mind you, we can strive for such an ideal, but before we could realize it, we would have to change something. Gentlemen, we would first have to change the entire human being! We would slowly have to shift activities from the left side to the right and then gradually reduce them on the right. What would happen then? You see, what would happen is that, below the surface, the left cerebral convolution would be more artfully formed; but on the outside, it would remain mush. The same would happen to the right convolution. Instead of distributing two activities between the left and the right sides, we would develop each convolution into an outer and an inner half.

The inner portion would be more suitable for speech; the outer one would exist merely in order to add the vowels and consonants in crying. However, speech is a combination of what happens in crying and in articulating. This remains the same throughout life.

You see, we cannot just tinker with human beings and their development. In education, even in the lower grades, we need an understanding of the entire human being. For with everything we do we change the human being. The really criminal thing is that nowadays people monkey around considering only superficial things and ignore the inner effects of what they do.

Actually, very few people have both sides of the brain fully developed. Usually the right convolution contains more blood vessels, whereas the left one has fewer and instead is more permeated with nerves. This holds true for the human brain generally; the right side carries more blood, and the left is more used for perceiving.

Once we realize that the brain is shaped under external influences, we can appreciate how important these influences from the outside are. We see that they are tremendously significant once we understand that they affect everything that takes place in the brain. Also, out of the understanding of what occurs in the brain when we speak, we can get an idea of how the human brain works.

You see, when we examine it further, we discover that there are always more blood vessels on the outside wall of the brain than inside it. Thus we can say that the exterior part of the brain contains more blood and the interior more nerves.

Let us now consider a child learning to speak in the ordinary way, a right-handed child. How is the brain of such a child being formed? First of all, the brain of a young child is surrounded by a layer or coat, so to speak, of blood vessels. Then nerve tracts begin to form. Because of this, gentlemen, because of these nerve tracts in there, the inner brain substance appears whitish when you take it out and look at it. However, when you take out the brain matter surrounding it, it looks reddish-grey because it contains so many blood vessels.

Now what happens in this region when the child learns to speak and consequently the left cerebral convolution is structured accordingly? What takes place, you see, is that the nerve bundles, as it were, gradually extend more toward the inside and less in the area where the blood system expands. In other words, in children who develop normally the inner part of the brain shifts more to the left and the remaining portion follows. The brain thus moves to the left side, where it turns ever more whitish. It shifts that way. All of human development is based on such artful details.

Now let us talk some more about speech. You see, there are languages that have many consonants and others that contain many vowels such as A, E, I and so forth. In some languages people squeeze out the sounds, like S, W, so that one barely hears the vowels. What lies behind all this?

We know that languages differ in different regions of the earth. What does it mean when someone lives in a certain area where people focus more on the consonants? It means that he or she experiences the outer world more, for the consonants are formed in the experience of the surroundings. Therefore, in people living more in the physical world the white portion of the brain shifts more to the left. In people experiencing life more inwardly, people living in a region where things are experienced more inwardly, the white brain matter does not move quite so far to the left. These people will tend to utter melodious vowels. This varies with the regions of the earth.

Let us now assume the following, gentlemen: Let’s imagine the earth and people standing at various points on the earth. And one person, let us say, is given a language rich in vowels and another one a language rich in consonants. What must have happened in their respective regions? A lot may have happened, quite a lot, but I want to focus on one thing that may have taken place. Imagine that we have high mountains and a level area, a plain. Picture then steep mountains on one side and a plain on the other. Now, wherever there are flat regions, we perceive that the language people speak there is richer in vowels. Wherever there are steep mountains, the local language tends to be richer in consonants.

But you see, this matter is not so simple after all, because we must ask how the mountains and the plains came about. This is the way it is: We have the earth, and the sun shines upon it. At one time our entire earth was unformed mush. The mountains first had to be pulled out of this mush. All right then, the earth was basically mush and the mountains were pulled up out of this mush.

Well, gentlemen, what was it that pulled the mountains up? The cosmic forces that work out there did. We can say that there are certain forces of a cosmic nature that pulled up these mountains. In some places the forces were strong and developed mountains; in other places there were weaker forces coming in out of the universe that did not produce mountains. In this latter area the earth crust was not pulled up so strongly in primeval times. And the people born on those parts of the earth crust less affected by these cosmic forces use more vowels. Persons born in areas more strongly influenced by the cosmic forces use more consonants. We see now that the differences between languages are connected with the forces of the entire universe.

Now how can we support such a claim? Well, gentlemen, what we have claimed here must be considered in the same way we look at clocks to check the time. We look at the clock to see if we must start working or if it is time to leave. But we never say, “Now this is too much! This awful minute hand is a terrible fellow who whips me on to work.” We wouldn’t dream of saying that. All the clock does is tell us when we have to go to work, and so we cannot blame it for having to work, can we? In this case, the clock is completely innocent.

Similarly, we can look up to the sun and say that when we stand here at a certain moment, the sun is between us and the constellation of Aries. That is the direction where these strong cosmic forces work from. It is not Aries itself, of course. This constellation merely indicates the direction where the strong forces come from. If a person is standing in a different place at that same time, he or she is affected as follows: When the sun has moved to that place, it is in Virgo, let us say. The forces coming from this direction are weaker. Instead of going through the entire process now, I can therefore say that when someone is born in an area where at a certain time, let’s say at his birth, the sun is in Aries, that person will tend to use more consonants. However, when someone is born with the sun in Virgo, he will tend to use more vowels.

You see, I can read the entire zodiac like a clock from which I can see what happens on earth. But I must always keep in mind that it is not the constellations that cause these events; they are only indicators. From this you can see that the zodiac can tell us a lot, even about the reasons why the languages on earth differ.

Now, let us look at the earth and imagine that we put a chair out there into space and look back at the earth. Of course, this is only possible in our imagination and not in reality. When we look from our chair in space at the various languages on earth, as in a sort of language map, then we get a certain picture. When we then turn the chair around and look out into the universe, we get a picture of the stars. And the two pictures match.

If we study the Southern Hemisphere and the languages there and then turn the chair around and examine the southern firmament, our experience is entirely different from the one we would have if we did the same thing in the Northern Hemisphere. This means that we could draw a map of the starry skies above us, and from our study of the connection between the stars and language we would then be able to tell which language is spoken under a particular constellation.

You see now that as soon as we begin to observe human spiritual life, for example, the formation of our minds through speech, we must look up to the stars in order to understand anything. The earth alone does not give us an answer; you can think about why languages are different as long as you like, but based on the earth alone you won’t find an explanation.

If you want to know what takes place in your stomach, you must examine the earth, the soil below. If a region grows mainly cabbages, you will understand that people there must constantly re-enliven in their metabolism the heads of cabbage pulled out of the soil. In other words, if you want to know what people in a certain area eat, you must examine the soil. If you are interested in how people breathe in a particular region, you have to study the atmosphere. And if you want to know what happens inside the skull, in this brain of ours, you must look at the position of the stars. You always have to see the human being as an integrated part of the entire universe.

You see now that it is indeed mere superstition to say, “Whenever the sun is in Aries, such and such takes place.” This kind of statement is not worth anything. However, if you understand the full context, the matter ceases to be superstition and becomes science instead. And that will lead us from understanding the transformation of substances to an understanding of what is really happening and its connection to the vast universe out there.