Real life to the full

By Mathias Maurer, April 2020

We learn in images. It’s just that we’ve forgotten it. While the exact lexical concept encapsulates the point, an image requires context. If you say: “I’ve no idea what that means,” then the link to the concrete concept is missing. When you say: “I cannot picture that,” then the concrete connection with the whole is missing.

What was once literally grasped and understood with all the senses, quickly threatens to congeal into an abstract conception, indeed preconception, if concepts are not deliberately forgotten and always grasped anew, “sensed” and worked on. Fortunately, they tend to be forgotten over time by themselves, unless we keep practicing, and we have to start over again from the beginning. Or what do you picture when you hear “stochastics” (mathematics, class 11), “metonymy” (German, class 12) or “Art=Capital” (Beuys, art in class 12)? And when we think that we have finally understood, we hold fast to our ideas and resist creative new discoveries because, after all, the certainty of all our wealth of experience and knowledge is at stake, evoking resistance instead of curiosity and wonder. In contrast, what is really required is for concepts to be filled with life again to such an extent that they turn into images, continue to grow and expand.

That has consequences also for the life of society. In his Education as a Force for Social Change, Rudolf Steiner is critical of our failure to get away from our habitual abstract concepts which we use to describe the external world. It was much more important, he says, first to transform our concepts through our inward sense of them in order to change the external conditions. “We need different heads on our shoulders.” We had to return to imaginative thinking – Steiner says in the series of lectures Impulses of the Past and Future in Social Events – by attempting to “listen to the genius of language to learn about the concrete substrate of words”. Human beings felt greatly at peace when they thought in abstract terms because they were released from concrete reality of the senses; but this also produced great “gaps in our thinking” because we failed to “illuminate” reality by penetrating it with our pictorial sensitivity. We have to learn to think in images again.

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