Cosmic Origin of Living Substances

The origin of organic molecules – proteins, carbohydrates and fats – which enable all life on the earth is found in the supersensible realm. These substances are a manifestation of invisible cosmic forces active through the medium of four basic elements of the organic kingdom: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon. These elements are carriers of cosmic warmth, cosmic life, cosmic astrality, and cosmic forces which shape the inner structure of the living substances.

MACROCOSMIC ORIGINS OF MOLECULES

All living organisms on the earth are composed of molecules, but the problem is when "the modern physicist or chemist says that there are molecules which are composed of atoms, that the atoms possess forces by means of which they act upon each other. Now this is a conception which simply does not accord with reality. The truth is that the minutest molecule is acted upon by the whole starry heavens. Suppose here is a planet, here another, here another, and so on. Then there are the fixed stars, which transmit their forces into the molecule. All these lines of force intersect each other in various ways. The planets also transmit their forces in the same way, and we come to realise that the molecule is nothing but a focus of macrocosmic forces. It is the ardent desire of modern science to bring microscopy far enough to enable the atoms to be seen within the molecule. This way of looking at the subject must cease. Instead of wishing to examine the structure of the molecule microscopically, we must turn our gaze outwards to the starry heavens, we must look at the constellations and see copper in one, tin in another. Out there in the macrocosm we have to behold the structure of the molecule that is only reflected in the molecule. Instead of passing into the infinitely little, we must turn our gaze outwards to the infinitely great, for it is there we have to look for the reality of what lives in the little. In this way (i.e. looking down instead of up) does the materialistic conception of things also affect other domains of thought. The nineteenth century materialism is not overcome so long as men still think atomically, so long as they fail to search in the great for the form and configuration of the small." [1]

This new way of looking at molecules is especially necessary when we want to understand the realm of organic life where we encounter three basic living substances: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. [2] The main elements which constitute these substances are: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. However, "chemists today actually know very little about these substances. They recognize their external appearances when they have them in the laboratory, but they know nothing at all about their inner significance for the world as a whole. What we understand about these substances through today's chemistry is actually no greater than the knowledge we have of people who we've passed on the street, people we've photographed perhaps, and whose external appearance we recall with the help of the photographs. What science does with these substances is not much more than take snapshots, and everything we learn about them through books and lecture courses is not much better. We need to get to know them in their essence, in their deeper nature." [3]

For that purpose we need to know that "the peculiarity of all that we have on Earth is that the spiritual must always have physical carriers. Then the materialists come, and take only the physical carrier into account, forgetting the spiritual which it carries. And they are always in the right – for the first thing that meets us is the physical carrier. They only leave out of account that it is the spiritual which must have a physical carrier everywhere." [4] If we want to overcome such a one-sided approach of materialistic science we need to look at the spiritual forces which are active behind the four elements that enable the existence of all life on the earth.

FOUR BASIC ELEMENTS OF EARTHLY LIFE

The 'four basic organic elements' [5] which enable the existence of all living things on earth are hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. "Let us begin with carbon. Carbon occurs today in nature in a broken form, as coal or graphite owing to certain processes which it has undergone. How different it appears, however, when we perceive it in its living activity, passing through the human or animal body, or building up the plant-body out of its peculiar conditions. Carbon, in effect, is the bearer of all the creatively formative processes in nature. Whatever in nature is formed and shaped be it the form of the plant persisting for a comparatively short time, or the eternally changing configuration of the animal body – carbon is everywhere the great plastician. There is a hidden plastic artist in carbon, and this plastician building the manifold forms that are built up in nature – makes use of sulphur in the process. Truly to see the carbon as it works in nature, we must behold the spirit-activity of the great universe, moistening itself so-to-speak with sulphur, and working as a plastic artist – building with the help of carbon the more firm and well-defined form of the plant, or again, building the form in man. Underlying all living things is a carbon-like scaffolding or framework – more or less rigid or fluctuating as the case may be – and along the paths of this framework the spiritual moves through the world.

Now whether it is man or any other living being, the living being must always be permeated by something etheric – for the etheric is the true bearer of life. The carbon framework of a living entity must in its turn be permeated by an etheric principle, which will either stay still – holding fast to the beams of the framework – or it will also be involved in more or less fluctuating movement. In either case, the etheric must be spread out, wherever the framework is. Now this etheric principle, if it remained alone, could certainly not exist as such within our physical and earthly world. It would, so to speak, always slide through into the empty void. It could not hold what it must take hold of in the physical, earthly world, if it had not a physical carrier. This physical element which with the help of sulphur carries the influences of life out of the universal ether into the physical, is none other than oxygen. It is the weaving, vibrant and pulsating essence that moves along the paths of the oxygen. For the etheric moves with the help of sulphur along the paths of oxygen. In reality, oxygen is the bearer of the living ether, and the living ether holds sway in it by using sulphur as its way of access." [6]

Now we have two things: the carbon framework determining the form and the oxygen carrying the life. "These two must come together. The oxygen must somehow find its way along the paths mapped out by the framework. Wherever any line, or the like, is drawn by the carbon – by the spirit of the carbon – whether in man or anywhere in nature there the etheric oxygen-principle must somehow find its way. It must find access to the spiritual carbon-principle. Where is the mediator in this process? The mediator is none other than nitrogen. Nitrogen guides the life into the form or configuration which is embodied in the carbon. Wherever nitrogen occurs, its task is to mediate between the life and the spiritual essence which to begin with is in the carbon-nature. Everywhere – in the animal kingdom and in the plant and even in the earth – the bridge between carbon and oxygen is built by nitrogen. And the spirituality which is working thus in nitrogen – once again with the help of sulphur – is that which we are to describe as the astral. It is the astral spirituality in the human astral body. It is the astral spirituality working in the life of plants and animals, and so on. Thus, spiritually speaking we have the astral placed between the oxygen and the carbon, and this astral impresses itself upon the physical by making use of nitrogen. Nitrogen enables it to work physically. Wherever nitrogen is, astrality extends. The etheric principle of life would flow away everywhere like a cloud, it would take no account of the carbon-framework were it not for the nitrogen. The nitrogen has an immense power of attraction for the carbon-framework. Nitrogen is for ever dragging the living to the spiritual principle. As you know, we have around us only a small proportion of oxygen, which is the bearer of life, and a far larger proportion of nitrogen – the bearer of the astral spirit. Nitrogen is the sensitive mediator (in nature), as well as in our human nerve-sense system it is the nitrogen which mediates for our sensation. Nitrogen is verily the carrier of sensation.

Now, however, one thing more is necessary. There must be constant interchange of substance, and so it must be between the Earth – with all its creatures – and the entire Universe. All that is living in physical forms upon the Earth must eventually be led back again into the great universe. It must be able to be purified and cleansed, so to speak, in the universal all. To begin with, we have the carbon-framework. Then there is the ethereal, oxygen principle. And then there is that which develops as the astral, as the transition between the carbon and the oxygen principle. But now, all that is thus developed in the living creature must eventually be able to vanish again. In all these structures, the spiritual has become physical. After a time, however, it no longer feels comfortable there. It wants to dissolve again. And now once more – moistening itself with sulphur – it needs a substance wherein it can take its leave of all structure and definition, and find its way outward into the undefined chaos of the universal all, where there is nothing more of this or that organisation. Now the substance which is so near to the spiritual on the one hand and to the substantial on the other, is hydrogen. Hydrogen carries out again into the far spaces of the Universe all that is formed, and alive, and astral. It is hydrogen which dissolves everything away.

So then we have these five substances. They, to begin with, represent what works and weaves in the living – and in the apparently dead, which after all is only transiently dead. Sulphur, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen: each of these elements is inwardly related to a specific spiritual principle. They are therefore very different from what our modern chemists would relate. Our chemists speak only of the corpses of the substances – not of the real substances, which we must rather learn to know" [7] as something which contains living principles of cosmic form, warmth, life and astrality. And while we have on the front stage the four elements – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen – there is always in their background active sulphur which mediates between spiritual and material realms of existence. [8]

DYNAMIC 'FORMULAS' OF LIVING SUBSTANCES

The essential difference between the approaches of natural versus spiritual science in the fields of physics and chemistry can be summarised with the following words: "The way of observing the world of matter that is in vogue today describes the single substances (and compounds) according to their attributes: density, colour, form, (composition), etc. This way may be called a static, even death-like approach, for it describes only what a substance is, by and for itself. For the future, we need a dynamic approach that reckons with life and provides an understanding of what a substance means in the realm of life, and above all in the human body." [9]

Here is the summary of the essential nature of the four main elements which are involved in the creation of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats:

In accordance with this new dynamic approach the following 'formulas' for the three basic living substances were developed: [12]

Here we need to point out the fact that carbohydrates and fats don't contain nitrogen. This doesn't mean that in their case nitrogen has not performed the role of mediator between oxygen and carbon, for – as it is stated above – "Everywhere – in the animal kingdom and in the plant and even in the earth – the bridge between carbon and oxygen is built by nitrogen." However, there is a crucial difference in how nitrogen works in the animal organism (including the human) and how it works in the plant which "has only a physical and an ether-body; unlike the animal, it has not an astral body within it. Nevertheless, outside it the astral must be there on all sides. The plant would never blossom if the astral did not touch it from outside. Though it does not absorb it (as man and the animals do) nevertheless, the plant must be touched by the astral from outside. The astral is everywhere, and nitrogen itself – the bearer of the astral – is everywhere, moving about in the air." [14]

Therefore carbohydrates, which are the primary substances of plants, do not contain nitrogen in their chemical formulas because astrality works from outside (carried by the nitrogen in the air) mediating between the life principle and the carbon framework. Because of this, nitrogen is not incorporated in their structures. [15] In the household of nature things are rather complex, but we can say: Although carbohydrates and fats also need the action of astrality to connect the carbon framework with the oxygen, the carrier of cosmic life, they must not allow its physical carrier (i.e. nitrogen) to connect with the carbon framework. For if they had incorporated nitrogen into themselves they would turn into protein substances.

   NOTES

  1. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 24.04.1920; www.rsarchive.org
  2. In natural science calling them 'living molecules or substances' is avoided, although without them life would not be possible; they prefer to call them instead: (important) biological molecules, (organic) macromolecules, macronutrients, etc.
  3. Rudolf Steiner, Koberwitz, 11.06.1924; Agriculture, Bio-dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Kimberton, USA, 1993
  4. Rudolf Steiner, Koberwitz, 11.06.1924; The Agriculture Course, www.rsarchive.org
  5. Wikipedia/Composition of the human body, October 2012
  6. See note 4
  7. See note 4
  8. For the basic description of spiritual forces carried by sulphur see Creation of Protein from Cosmic Ethers.
  9. Wilhelm Pelikan, The Secrets of Metals, Lindisfarne Books, Great Barrington, USA, 1973
  10. Organic chemistry, by its definition, investigates only 'carbon-based compounds', thus recognising the ability of carbon to form structural skeletons to which are attached all other elements which produce organic molecules.
  11. Hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table, with atomic number 1. According to science, it is the most abundant substance in the universe, constituting roughly 75% of all perceptible matter. Sun and stars are mainly composed of hydrogen in its plasma state. On the basis of its chemical properties (e.g. it produces the hottest of all flames, etc.) Rudolf Hauschka in his book The Nature of Substance concluded: "If hydrogen (water-substance) were to be baptized with a name indicative of its inner nature, we would have to call it 'pyrogen' (fire-substance)." For a description of the special position of the element of warmth see COSMIC EVOLUTION OF SUBSTANCES.
  12. Source: Rudolf Hauschka, The Nature of Substance – Spirit and Matter, Sophia Books
  13. In modern scientific classification fats have been renamed as 'triglycerides' (as a subgroup of the main group lipids). On this website the traditional word 'fat' is still used.
  14. See note 4
  15. Plants do absorb some nitrogen into themselves, however not from the air, but from the soil. This nitrogen contributes to the formation of plant proteins. But even these proteins are evidently not the same as animal ones because of the fact that a plant consists of the physical and etheric bodies, while the animal has also its own astral body. For further explanation about this difference see PLANT vs ANIMAL FOOD.