The human being is complicated. Obviously. Just for the fun of it, let’s look at how we see a red apple—not in all its detail, however, because we would never be able to consider here all responses to visual stimuli, etc., and all that this activity entails. So, we will leave alone all the structural properties of the eye and the optic nerve that communicate from our eyes to our brain.
Anyway, if we are not blind, we perceive the apple through our eyes; if we are not color-blind, we perceive its redness. If our brain works properly, we have the concept red apple that we match to the perception of the red apple. Our sense of smell may be stimulated, also taste and touch. We attach the concepts firm and sweet and crispy, which then may cause us to salivate. Thus, we get a glimmer, in an elementary way, of what the organ of the eye does in relation to its message to the brain and how the organs and bodily systems work together to “see” the red apple.
Additionally, we can also know that the apple has a particular atomic and chemical arrangement. The color red lies in a visual spectrum that appears at a particular frequency.
The color red is a symbol of danger. Red apples may be seen as a symbol of original sin, but also viewed as a student’s gift to a teacher. Each layer of understanding requires the activity of thinking. Even if we want to know about thinking itself, the only way to do it is through thinking. What, then, is thinking?
Let’s see what Rudolf Steiner has to say:
Man can only come to a true understanding of himself when he grasps clearly the significance of thinking within his being. The brain is the bodily instrument of thinking. A properly constructed eye serves us for seeing colors, and the suitably constructed brain serves us for thinking. The whole body of man is so formed that it receives its crown in the physical organ of the spirit, the brain. The construction of the human brain can only be understood by considering it in relation to its task—that of being the bodily basis for the thinking spirit. This is borne out by a comparative survey of the animal world. Among the amphibians the brain is small in comparison with the spinal cord; in mammals it is proportionately larger; in man it is largest in comparison with the rest of his body.
There are many prejudices prevalent regarding such statements about thinking as are present here. Many people are inclined to undervalue thinking and to place higher value on the warm life of feeling or emotion. Some even say it is not by sober thinking but by warmth of feeling and the immediate power of emotions that we raise ourselves to higher knowledge… In the case of thoughts that lead to the higher regions of existence… [t]here is no feeling and no enthusiasm to be compared with the sentiments of warmth, beauty and exaltation that are enkindled through the pure, crystal-clear thoughts that refer to the higher worlds. The highest feelings are, as a matter of fact, not those that come of themselves, but those that are achieved by energetic and persevering thinking.
Excerpt from Theosophy, The Essential Nature of Man: Chapter 4. “Body, Soul and Spirit”. 1904 by Rudolf Steiner
Steiner is saying that thinking is inescapable; every field of learning involves thinking. The only way to gain understanding of anything is through the activity of thinking—and the only way to understand thinking itself is to think about it, too. Period. So, spiritual science is understood through the same means that everything else in the world is understood.
We may put lots of instruments in between what is being observed and us as observers; we may imagine we can remove the “human element” from the process, but we can’t because we can’t eliminate thinking from the process. And if you’re thinking of AI now, you’re overlooking the thinking that went into the creation of that technological achievement. (If you need to know more about that, look up AI and Qualia.)
Steiner is saying that the processes of learning about the spiritual world are meditation, contemplation and grasping the concepts of the spiritual world. He has given us methods of meditation and contemplation and has provided concepts about the spiritual world in his books, articles and lectures. If we do pursue these suggestions, the “instruments” of spiritual perception we all possess will begin to open up.
Thinking is the basic activity by which we understand the physical world. It’s so obvious; it’s right under our noses. Our sense of reality comes through thinking. Our sense of anything comes through thinking. So, it should come as no surprise that thinking is also the basis by which we come to know and understand the spiritual world. Reading Steiner makes this clearer.
“Human Vision and Color Perception”
“The Dynamic Representation of Scenes,” Ronald A. Rensink