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The Battle for Intelligence, or the task of finding the right balance

Created by Florian Osswald | |   News
The title of the WTC 2023 is: The Battle for Intelligence - Mind the Gap. This short article attempts to give an insight into the questions underlying the conference title.

Rudolf Steiner's first teacher training course in Stuttgart in 1919 focused on the threefold structure of the human organism. He set out a description of the human being, firstly focusing on the spiritual aspect, then, the soul and finally, the physical. He connects the three aspects, or layers, with each other. Each aspect stands in a dynamic relationship to the other two, and together, they form the living human organism.

Steiner outlines his methodological indications through the elements of spirit, soul and physical body. His indications form the basis of the pedagogical approach, which addresses all three aspects of the human being. 

In this sense, Steiner’s pedagogical approach plays a special role in the development of the principles and practices of teaching. The inclusion and integration of all three levels of the human being offers a new perspective in learning and in education, generally. 

The exploration of the physical and bodily aspects was of great concern to Steiner. The process of embodiment is not regarded as a one-sided act in which something is incorporated into the body. Rather, it is a process of harmonizing the physical-bodily and the soul-spiritual. In the words of Steiner: «If you look, with sufficient impartiality, at the child that has grown into the world, you will perceive the following: Here in the child there remains an unconnected soul-spirit, or spiritual soul with a living, physical body. The task of education, understood in a spiritual sense, is to bring the soul and spirit into harmony with the life and body. These aspects, or bodies, have to come into harmony with each other, they have to be tuned to each other since, at birth, they do not yet fit together. The task of the educator, and also of the teacher, is to attune these two aspects.» (Steiner, 1996)

It is not only a question of how the human being enters into the body, but rather, how to find the right proportion and balance, how to bring body and soul into harmony. Health is created by achieving harmony between the different aspects of the human organism, by the ability to maintain a living balance. Fundamentally, health is dependent on healthy mutual relationships.

Relationships between the human being and the earth

From the theory of bonding we know that human beings are involved in a shared event. The nearby environment offers a sense of belonging and security which, in turn, provides a degree of certainty to explore and discover the environment. Our experiences in the world, in turn, strengthen our sense of belonging and security.

Being properly embodied is the prerequisite for entering into a relationship with the world outside the body. Only as embodied beings are people real for each other in real time. But the act of embodiment is also important for the earth: «Only if we inhabit our bodies will we be able to maintain the earth as inhabitable.» (Fuchs, 2019)

The essential task and question in life is the relationship that the human being forms with him or herself and the environment. Rudolf Steiner summarises the task in a saying:

To bind oneself in matter,

Is to grind the soul to dust.

To find oneself in spirit,

Is to unite human beings.

To behold oneself in humanity,

Is to build worlds.

In considering factual knowledge alone, matter may be a prerequisite. Yet, on its own, such knowledge can grind the soul to dust.

An understanding of the interconnectedness of things in the world and the grasping of all the manifold interactions, constitutes an essential work in progress. On this path, however, lies a tendency to see the world as a place where objects are only related to each other, and this leads to an "I-it-relation"

Looking at To behold oneself in humanity, one’s own self within the human being introduces a completely new way of seeing things. What do these objects in the world have to do with human beings? What does a tree, for example, have to do with me? This can lead to a "I-you-relationship". If we want to take responsibility for the world, we must allow such questions to arise as we seek to serve and do justice to a lively and animated world. These questions lead us to an insight regarding essential interdependence and a dialogical relationship with plants, animals and human beings. Health, for example, is sustainable if we take the health of animals, plants and soil as seriously as we take our own.


The same can be said of intelligence. For the time being it is experienced individually. So, our attempts to describe it must be described accordingly. What most theories of intelligence have in common is that they regard intelligence as an ability to find one's way in new situations through insight, and by the rapid grasping of relationships.

Rudolf Steiner expands this view, recognising that intelligence exists outside of the human being, and appears, or resurfaces in the human being in an individualised form.

The incapacity to penetrate the riddles of existence is due, fundamentally, to the fact that human beings are nevertheless prone to ascribe intelligence to themselves alone and can never answer the question: How comes it that I am able to apply intelligence to existence. But when we look around us and see that the things of space and time manifest in such a way that our intelligence can apprehend the existence of law, then we say: What lives within us as intelligence is also outspread in space and time, is actively at work in space and time. (Steiner, ???)

How do we relate to intelligence in the world? It can only be by recognising that a dialogical relationship - an encounter with the world – sits at the foundation of existence.

If there is not only ‘my’ intelligence, but an intelligence to which I join myself in relationship, then my gaze is directed in a new way towards the world.

And if all human life is an encounter, as Martin Buber has said, then the question of whether and in what way we meet each other determines our relationship to reality (Buber, 1984). Only the other person can free me from the cage of my ideas and projections, in which I only ever meet myself.


Steiner, R. 1996. The Fondations of Human Experience. Hudson,NY: Anthroposophic Press. S.39

Steiner, R. 1983. The Answers of Spiritual Science to the Big Questions of Existence. Berlin, November 10, 1910. GA 60

Fuchs, T. 2019. Verteidigung des Menschen. Berlin: Suhrkamp. S.14

Buber, M. 1984. Das dialogische Prinzip. Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider

picture: Charlotte Fischer