Double Nature of Human Individuality

The central part of our being is our ego which, in co-operation with the astral body, enables us to be conscious of the world around us and of our relationships to it. But we have also an inner world of our own organism of which we have only a very dim awareness. Nevertheless, in our organism our ego is active as a force which is influencing via blood circulation and autonomous nervous system the state of our body. Thus we have conscious ego-organization which enables activity of thinking and unconscious ego-organization which plays an important role in the basic life processes of our organism.

As it is described in FOURFOLD HUMAN BEING “man consists of physical body, life or ether body, and astral body, and the ‘I’ lives within these three human bodies as the inmost part of essential human nature.” [1] We cannot properly understand what distinguish us from the rest of the living beings without the knowledge of our ‘I’. Before we proceed with the description of some basic functions of human ‘I’ or ego we need to be aware that “the invisible nature of man, his ego, his astral body, his etheric body, work through his visible nature, so what is not manifest works through what is manifest. However, the manner in which what is not evident works through what is evident is very complicated. But if we work our way bit by bit through the various parts of this complicated process, and place them all together, we shall, in the end, attain an overall view of the being of man. Even this, though, will always remain incomplete, for the being of man is infinitely complex. But at least we can gain a certain basic knowledge of human nature as a valid foundation for self-knowledge.” [2]

Blood as a Physical Instrument of the Ego-Organization

We can start with the recognition that “man is easily inclined in accordance with the scientific results of his time to grasp his organism quite materialistically. Even if not always in theory, nonetheless the practical procedures that are undertaken (in relation to the body) have more or less the unconscious thought behind them that the human organism more or less consists of the physical body and the chemical materials as they interchangeably work upon each other. (In reality) the physical body as it stands before us is an expression for all man’s parts, also for the invisible members of man’s nature.

This physical body does, to be sure, consist of the same chemical materials which are spread out in nature. But the human being has higher members. Already the next part of the human being is supersensible; it has a higher reality than the physical body. The etheric body stands fundamentally behind the physical body; throughout the whole life it is a fighter against the disintegrating of the physical body. The nerve system is the expression of the astral body. Here the astral body is the motivator, the constructor. We can imagine that just as the clock or the machine are constructed by a watchmaker or a mechanic, thus the nerves are also constructed by the astral body. And the peculiar construction of the human blood circulatory system, of the activity of the blood, is the external expression of the ego-bearer, the bearer of the consciousness of self. Thus also the physical human body in a certain sense is four-membered:

The member that makes us human is “the bearer of the ego, the consciousness of self. Through this, man is the crown of creation; through this he rises above the things of the earth which surround him.” [4] This means, that our ‘I’ – the spiritual core of our being – enables us to be aware of our own individual existence and that we can reflect about our own activities. The presence of ‘I’ enables that I am aware of myself as a separate being in relation to the rest of the world. This is possible because of the existence of the highly developed brain with associated sense organs which enable me to perceive the outer world in manifold ways. [5] “In ordinary life this process is such that each influence transmitted by means of the nerves inscribes itself in the blood, as on a tablet, and in doing so records itself in the instrument of the ego. (For example), when we have a colour impression, which we receive through the eye, it passes into the optic nerve, images itself upon the ‘tablet’ of the blood, and we then feel what we express as a fact when we say: I see red.” [6]

Of course, this is a supersensible process, because for our waking consciousness we need the cooperation of the ego and the astral body, but this cooperation would not be possible without the existence of blood circulation and nervous system. And these would not exist without the basis provided by cooperation of the etheric and the physical body. In this way “man stands before us with three invisible members (etheric body, astral body, ego) and one visible member (physical body). These always work with one another and in one another. All work upon each single one and each single one works upon all the others.” [7]


Now we can proceed with the observation that “it is more or less known to everyone that the instrument of the so-called higher soul-activities is, in certain respect, in the brain – that these higher soul-activities are directed by the organs of the brain. Furthermore, it is recognised that the more unconscious soul-activities are directed from the spinal cord – that is, those soul-activities in which very little deliberation interposes itself between the reception of the external impression and the action which follows it.” [8]

Out of the spinal cord are branching numerous nerves which belong to the autonomic nervous system – that is, the nerves which play an important role in the autonomous regulation of the metabolic processes which sustain basic life functions of our organism. But these nerves do not convey to us what is happening in our body; on the contrary “everything that we live through in our inner organisation remains below our consciousness; for it would, indeed, be terribly disturbing to us if we were, for example, to share consciously in our whole process of nutrition. This is kept back from our consciousness by means of the autonomous nervous system. [9] Only when is not in order does something result which we may call a ‘glimmering through from the one side to the other’. This takes place when some irregularity in the activity of our digestive organs expresses itself in our consciousness in feelings of discomfort. In this case we have a raying into the consciousness, although very obscure, of the internal life of the human being.” [10]

How is it possible that in this case the nerves perform the opposite role as they do in the head? The answer is in the role played by “the ego-nature of man, that component we call our ego. This ego-nature is, of course, entirely supersensible; it is the most supersensible part we have as yet acquired, but it works through the physical. The ego works in our physical being chiefly through the nervous system radiating from the solar plexus. This system is the actual point of contact for real ego-activity. This is not a contradiction of the fact that when we begin to see ourselves spiritually, we have to seek the centre of the ego in the head. Since the ego-component of the human being is supersensible, the point at which we experience our ego is not the same as the point at which it chiefly works in us (in our body).

Certainly we can say that the ego distributes itself over the whole body. But its main point of contact, where it particularly intervenes in the formative element of the human organism, is the solar plexus. A better expression would be the system of ganglia, because it is a process that lives in the subconscious and works in this system of ganglia. Since the system of ganglia plays its part in the circulation of blood as well, this does not contradict the fact that the ego expresses itself in the blood. The exact meaning of everything that is said must be considered. It is one thing to say: The real ego intervenes as a formative force in the whole human organism through the solar plexus[11] But something else is meant when we say: The blood with its circulation is an expression of the ego in the human being. The nature of the human being is truly complicated.” [12]

Now it can be evident that there exists a double nature of the core member of human being. “What we look upon as a conscious activity of the ego is after all only one part of man’s being; below the threshold of our consciousness there are processes which occur in the subconsciousness, and which are held back from our consciousness, by means of the autonomous nervous system. These processes which take place below the level of consciousness have also a certain kind of connection with our ego. Thus, out of the unconscious, an ego-organisation arises to meet the conscious ego-organisation. Man is thus divided, as it were, into two parts: from one direction the conscious ego-organisation works into the organism, and from the other there flows into man the unconscious ego-organisation.” [13]

This duality of human ego is evident also from the structure of the blood circulation. In anatomical books it is divided into systemic (also called great circulation or body circulation) and pulmonary circulation. If we leave aside pulmonary circulation which main role is to enliven the blood with the power of oxygen, then we can see the twofold division of the body circulation:

Thus we can see how in the upper part of the human organism the conscious ego-organization opens to the world outside via the brain , while in the lower part the subconscious ego-organization works via the autonomous nervous system inside our trunk. And while in the upper part the incoming world is impressed into my spirit via blood as a thought picture, the existence of the physical organism enables me to feel myself within the boundary of my body. Thus I am conscious of my own existence.

The knowledge of the double nature of human ego-organization is crucial if we want to properly understand any question of nutrition, because the majority of nutritional processes are happening in the subconscious part of our organism. On the other hand, there are many nutritional choices which are or can be done consciously – that is, in the light of knowledge provided by an effort of our own ‘I’.


  1. Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 25.03.1907; Original Impulses for the Science of the Spirit, Completion Press, 2001
  2. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 14.01.1917;
  3. Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 17.12.1908; Drugs, Poisons, Suicide, Alcohol & Stimulants, Digestion & Foods in the Light of Spiritual Science - Excerpts from the work of Rudolf Steiner, selected, translated and published by Richard Lewis, USA, no date
  4. As above
  5. In comparison with animals we have the most highly developed brain, but this is not true for our sense organs. Many animals have specific sense organs superior to ours (for example, the dog’s sense of smell in comparison with ours). However, it is just this combination of ‘weakened’ sense organs and the capability of thinking which enables us to be self-conscious.
  6. Rudolf Steiner, Prague, 21.03.1911; An Occult Physiology,
  7. See note 3
  8. Rudolf Steiner, Prague, 20.03.1911; An Occult Physiology,
  9. Although Steiner uses in lectures the expression ‘sympathetic nervous system’ it is evident from their content that he speaks about the nerves of the autonomous nervous system as a whole. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that in Gray’s Anatomy (1858) this whole nervous system is called ‘sympathetic’. Only around the turn of the 20th century was the term ‘autonomic nervous system’ introduced for the first time; still later others used terms ‘vegetative’ and ‘involuntary’ (nervous system). Source: reference/gray/subjects
  10. Rudolf Steiner, Prague, 24.03.1911; An Occult Physiology,
  11. Another sentence from the same lecture is: The ego intervenes through the system of ganglia in the formative forces and in all the life processes of the organism.
  12. See note 2
  13. Rudolf Steiner, Prague, 27.03.1911; An Occult Physiology,

Double Nature of Human Individuality
By Brane Žilavec