Threefold Human Being

The human being is composed of three systems of organs which enable different physiological and soul-spiritual activities. On one side we have the nerve-sense system which is providing the physical basis for the activities of thinking and perception. On another side we have the metabolic-limb system which is providing the physical basis for the deeds of the Will. As the mediator between these two systems the rhythmic system provides the physical basis for the activities of inner sensing and feeling.


One of the most important questions the human being can ask is: What are the relationships of my inner life of feelings, thinking and impulses of Will [1] to my bodily constitution? Is everything centred in the brain – as science interprets – or is there another explanation possible? Spiritual science provides the following division of the human organism into three systems with the corresponding soul-spiritual activities:

System Nerve-Sense System Rhythmic System Metabolic-Limb System
Organs Brain, Spinal Cord, Nerves, Sense Organs Lungs, Heart, Blood Vessels Organs bellow the diaphragm (Stomach, Liver, Kidneys, etc), Muscles
Communication from sense organs to the brain [2] Breathing, Blood circulation Digestive processes, Metabolic processes, Voluntary movement
Soul-Spiritual Activities Perceiving, Thinking Feeling, Inner Sensing [3] Willing, Doing

Thus we can distinguish in man “three members:

“The human being is made up of an organism of nerves and senses, a rhythmic organism, and an organism of limbs and metabolism. These three organisms work into one another. We may say that the organism of nerves and senses has its principal activity in the head. But the whole human being is, to a certain extent, functionally head. And the same may be said of the other systems, that of the rhythmic organism and that of the trunk, limbs, and metabolic activities. Now, when we take into account the threefold being, we could present the human being schematically in somewhat the following way. We have the nerve-sense organization, the rhythmic organization, and the limb-metabolic organization.” [5]

“Now as human beings we are manifestly divided into the head system, the chest system, and the digestive system with the limbs. But please notice that this division into organised systems can very easily be combated, because when men make systems today they want to have the separate parts neatly arranged side by side. If we say that a man is divided into a head system, chest system, and a system of the lower body with the limbs, then people expect each of these systems to have a fixed boundary. People want to draw lines where they divide, and that cannot be done when dealing with realities. In the head we are principally head, but the whole human being is head, only what is outside the head is not principally head. For though the actual sense organs are in the head, we have the sense of touch and the sense of warmth over the whole body. Thus in that we feel warmth we are head all over. Only in the head we are principally head, but we are secondarily head in the rest of the body. Thus the parts are intermingled, and we are not so simply divided as the pedants would have us be. The head extends everywhere, only it is specially developed in the head proper. The same is true of the chest. Chest is the real chest but only principally, for again the whole man is chest. For the head is also to some extent chest as is the lower body with the limbs. The different parts are inter­mingled. And it is just the same in the lower body.” [6]

“On the one hand we have to do with a threefold nature of the soul being: in forming mental images, in feeling, and in Will impulses. This threefold nature of the soul being, however, corresponds very precisely with a threefolding of the physical-bodily being; a kind of head system or nerve-sense system, a rhythmic system, and a metabolic-limb system. I must stress particularly that this constitution of the human organism must not be understood merely intellectually but through inner perception. A person would be unable to comprehend how matters actually stood if he remained with an external picture, if he understood the head system as something that simply ends at the neck. What is important here is that while the nerve-sense system is located primarily in the head, it nevertheless extends over the entire remaining organism as such. We may thus say that when we speak here with a spiritual-scientific purpose about the nerve-sense system, it is the system of functions in the human organism that is located essentially in the head; nevertheless the head activity extends over the entire human being so that in a certain sense the whole human being is head. The same is true for the other systems.” [7]


  1. The word ‘Will’ is written with a capital letter whenever it refers to human volition, to avoid confusion with the word ‘will’ as part of the verb structures.
  2. Although science divides nerves into two groups – sensory and motor nerves – in spiritual science all nerves are regarded as sensory nerves. In NUTRITION vs MOVEMENT arguments are presented for such an approach, including an explanation of the ‘mechanism’ which enables the voluntary movement of our limbs.
  3. Activity of feeling can be described as an inner sensing of the qualities of things we encounter and the qualities of activities we perform or we are involved in. This inner sensing can be divided into feelings of sympathy and antipathy, depending on whether the effects of things and activities are experienced as pleasant (beneficial) or unpleasant (harmful).
  4. Rudolf Steiner, Penmaenmawr, 23.08.1923; The Evolution of Consciousness, Rudolf Steiner Press
  5. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 31.12.1922; Reverse Ritual, Floris Books
  6. Rudolf Steiner, Stuttgart, 22.08.1919; Study of Man, Rudolf Steiner Press
  7. Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 9.10.1920; Physiology & Therapeutics, Mercury Press

Threefold Human Being
By Brane Žilavec