To part 3
G.F.: I would like to ask you, Wolfgang, another question that also concerns the future aspect. In one of your books entitled Zeitbindung in Natur, Kultur und Geist (Time Integration in Nature, Culture and Spirit) you made a suggestion at the end that sheds new light on the trinity. For us, the Trinity traditionally has a religious content: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You related this term to past, present and future. As far as I have understood, you say: There is the origin, the Father aspect, the human past from which we come. Then there is the Son aspect. Through him the Presence enters us, at least that’s how I interpret you, and we can reach a new effectiveness through the impulse of the Son. When we respond to this impulse and attune our lives to it, the Holy Spirit aspect becomes effective, which enables the right step into the future. Could you explain something more about this?
Time and the Present
W.S: We live in a scientifically enlightened age. It includes the notion of a linear time that has only one dimension, a time that only ever progresses and in which the world runs in succession. It is called Newtonian time. If you draw it as an arrow of time, it is represented spatially as a line. In every time diagram of physics, chemistry and biology there is the t-axis (from tempus = time), the tempus axis. On it, you can measure how long the past has lasted in each case, and you can measure how far into the future you place your expectations. But if one asks whether one can also measure the duration of the present, then in this Newtonian time the present is zero, namely the tiny, infinitesimal difference between past and future. In every moment, the future becomes the past. If I imagine this down to the last detail, then the infinitely small is zero. That means that the present does not exist in this linear time, I cannot call it quantitative, I can only call it the zero point where past and future meet, but a point has no extension. The present has no extension in it.
Rhythm and the Present
But what is the present? There is excellent neurological research on this by the Munich neurologist Ernst Pöppel, who shows that the life processes in the brain functions have clearly distinguishable rhythms, that time is rhythmicised there. And it is only through rhythm that it becomes possible to experience the present. This experience means that the present is not just a zero, but that there is also a certain duration of the present. I don’t want to go into this in detail here, but I just want to connect a question to it. If the present becomes possible through rhythm, then we have to ask what rhythm is. Then we arrive at a wonderful solution.
Because rhythm is repetition, so with every rhythm there is a repetition of the past, a visualisation of what has already happened. In the repetition, the past is pronounced again in the present. However, this also happens with the beat of the machine, where the previous phase is repeated each time, but with the beat always at the same intervals and in the same quantities, both in terms of frequency and amplitude. In life, on the other hand, no two phases are the same, no two periods are the same. Each heartbeat is, precisely measured, different from the previous one, each breath is, precisely measured, different from the previous one. There is no physiological process that does not oscillate, that is, does not proceed rhythmically. In the process of life, there are no uniform beats, but rhythms.
Past and Future in Rhythm
In rhythm, the past is not only repeated in a certain length, but it is also constantly changed. In the next period, the repetition happens differently than in the previous one. This means that in rhythm there is an openness to the unpredictable, to the future. Through this openness of rhythm, future can be made present. And so it can now be well described that the processes of life not only take place as repetition, but at the same time also in an openness to the future not yet defined.
I can always neatly measure the duration of a phase or a whole period of rhythm, but these periods are not always the same, but change continually, though not to the point of being unrecognisable from those that precede them. The recognisability of the past remains, but the future has a changing effect in each period. And that makes it possible for me to arrive at a different concept of time.
“Condensed Time” – Time Integration
It no longer consists in the linear Newtonian time, but in the “condensed time” of past, present and future. This is what I have called time integration. It is a basic process with which I can also clearly distinguish biological processes from the lifeless chemical and physical ones in the realm of the inorganic. The inorganic also knows changed functions, but only in one direction, namely, for example, rusting, i.e. wear and tear. It cannot regenerate itself. The wonderful thing about the living is that organic processes can regenerate themselves as long as they are alive because they are obviously not solely dependent on their past.
In order to approach the question of the Trinity, we must not only consider biological man, but also cultural man. Here I would like to cite the national economist Wilhelm Röpke. He held a chair at a university in Germany, was expelled by Hitler and emigrated to Switzerland. There he received a chair in Geneva and wrote his most important books. In one of them, entitled Die Gesellschaftskrisis der Gegenwart (The Social Crisis of the Present), he examines the concept of the present in society, in culture. And he comes to a wonderful discovery, namely that a society is only a cultural society if it does not lose the fruits of the past but continues to pass them on. Learning from the past is part of every culture. However, it is not enough to preserve the past; something of a culture that will develop in the future must also be there in its germ in the present.
A culture is therefore only alive if past culture, present culture and future culture are present in it at the same time.
If this can be found in a society, it is healthy. This means that Röpke discovered that time integration is also fundamental for cultural life. That’s why we can speak of cultural life, because it lives – through time integration.
G.F.: That sounds a bit abstract, if the future is to be lived in the present moment. What does that mean? What is that which is lived as the current future? One can only say that it is a potential that has not yet unfolded, a depth that rests in us human beings and also in all of nature. And that is the only reason why the future can confront us, because there is a possibility in us that we can still use, so that there is always hope.
Past and Future in the Now
W.S.: A formerly very well-known American journalist, Robert Jungk, wrote a book entitled The Future Has Already Begun. In it, he describes the biographies of the first atomic researchers and nuclear technicians, and above all describes this nuclear technology as the future. I don’t want to talk about the content of this book, I just want to point out the title. The future has indeed already begun in the now, and that is what Wilhelm Röpke meant. That was particularly interesting for me as an anthroposophist. Steiner describes in a lecture what must be there to live healthily in our present culture. Our culture is that of modern times. It began with the Renaissance, but the treasures of the Middle Ages and also of antiquity are still there today, thank God. They consist of the medieval religiosity and the science awakened in antiquity that we inherited from the Greeks. These treasures should not be lost. A culture is only healthy if the treasures of the past can become present again. This happens in particular through the education system with its schools, universities, etc.. There, the past is revived again and again. But it’s bad if it only stays that way. It is also part of a culture that the future culture, which will one day hopefully encompass all people in general, is already present on a small scale. Otherwise, the current culture is not healthy.
The one who also had a sense of this was Friedrich Nietzsche, however ambivalent he may be. He wrote a booklet entitled Unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen (Untimely Reflections). With this title he suggests that there are worthwhile reflections that are not considered timely at the moment, that the current public zeitgeist thus rejects, but which are nevertheless the seeds of the future that we need. These include the utopias, the visions, the expectations we have of the future. They are much more powerful than we think. With this we touch on the questions of pessimism and optimism.
G.F.: Are you a pessimist about the future?
The Potential of the Future
W.S.: There is a book written by Peter Ludwig, published in Stuttgart in 1991, entitled Sich selbst erfüllende Prophezeiungen im Alltagsleben (Self-fulfilling Prophecies in Everyday Life). Ludwig demonstrates here that many more of the prophecies we make about the future become reality than we suspect. The images we make of the future have an intense effect. He cites a large number of examples from everyday life. I would like to cite just one of them: In California there was once an experiment that was carried out on the radio. They simply deliberately broadcast the groundless news that petrol was expected to run out. As a result, many Californians drove to the nearest petrol station and not only filled up their tanks, but also filled up as many petrol cans as they could – with the result that petrol actually became scarce.
The statement that the future is already here as a possibility, as a potency, and can also be used, justifies optimism and makes a no-buck mood evaporate. And it is very important to learn about this possibility in adolescence, because we have had whole waves in the youth generations that have fallen into the no-buck mood. The expectations of the future that awaken in the youth soul, the question: “What am I going to do with my life?” can end in some dreariness. And this can be prevented by talking about the fact that the future is already there. “It is also present in you, dear young people, right now.” Every child, every adolescent, every young person is already a biologically existing future and even more so, of course, a spiritual, mental and cultural future. To make this clear to them and not to tie them down to the past through tradition, that is what brings freedom into human biography.
G.F.: Thank you very much for this interview, Wolfgang. I think also your final statements are of the utmost importance. Because there is also an enormous pessimism about what can happen in humanity and on earth. But we have by no means exhausted the potential that lies within us, and young people will hopefully use it.