The physical form of a human being reveals a head, a torso and the protruding limbs. In terms of bodily functions, the head is the centre for perceiving the external world through the eyes, ears, nose and mouth which constitutes the nerve-sense system as termed by Rudolf Steiner. The torso is the region where substances like air and food are brought in from the external world. The torso is the centre of the rhythmical system comprising of the breathing and blood circulation processes. The lower and periphery of the human being constitutes the metabolic-limb system where legs serve the function of mobility and hands that can be used freely by Man to work and leave his imprint on the world.
The human arms and hands are symbolic of the freedom in Man (Steiner 2000). This form of the human limbs differs from animals where often all 4 limbs are needed to support and move the animals from place to place. It is only in Man where the hands are free from basic physiological functions and used by Man for work and contribute to the world.
According to Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman, “All findings made in established modern science are essentially based on impressions gained through the human senses”. (Steiner and Wegman 1996)
There exists in addition to what can be perceived by the senses another inner world of sensations, feelings, dreams and struggles within the human being. Such an inner world cannot be observed on the outside by researchers but merely remain in the realm of the subjective personal human experience.
The sight of surrounding mountains, smell of the pine trees, the warmth of the sun’s rays all stir sensations and emotions that may be uniquely different from individual to individual. To one, the feeling of being surrounded by the mountains may be one of awe whereas for another, it may be one of great fear and entrapment. This inner world of sensations and emotions remain strictly subjective and is as real to the individual as the physical reality outside. It is only made conscious when one looked inwards into his or her own personal experience.
In addition, there is another layer to the human experience. This is the layer of morality and spirituality; a struggle internally often between the true and the good versus one’s own selfish desires. 2 streams seem to be working against each other, one towards the good and true whereas the other towards personal selfish desires. These 2 streams cannot be easily made visible regardless of how advanced scientific research may develop.
According to Steiner,
“We have seen that as human beings we belong to three worlds. The substances and forces that build up our bodies are taken from the world of inanimate matter. We know about this world through the perceptions of our outer physical senses. Anyone who trusts these senses exclusively and develops only their kind of perception cannot gain access to the other two worlds, the soul and spiritual worlds”. (Steiner 1994)
It is highly plausible to believe that Man has a body, soul and spirit. The visible physical body share some similarity with the mineral and plant kingdom: “like the minerals, we build up our bodies out of natural substances; like the plants, we grow and reproduce”. (Steiner 1994)
The soul can be described as the personal and subjective inner world. It is very fluid, often changing between the feelings of like and dislike. This soul world receives stimuli from the outer world, but creates an inner private world according to them. Bodily existence becomes the basis for soul existence. (Steiner 1994)
The soul needs the body to create this inner world as the body is the sensory channel whereby various stimuli like sounds, pictures, smells, etc are perceived that will later become sensations and feelings within the soul.
The spirit has the quality of transcendence, with the individual consciousness going beyond the physical body and the soul to the eternally good and true. In mainstream psychology, this concept has also been added. Abraham Maslow added the 6th need to his hierarchy of needs in his later years. Originally, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has only 5 levels and ends at self-actualization. This 6th need is termed self-transcendence defined by Maslow as “The self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality, which is essentially the desire to reach infinite”. (Maslow cited in wikipedia, 2017)
In major religions, spirituality is linked to the consciousness of a creator God and a realm which is higher than the physical world. Many meditative practices are helping individuals reach unity or cosmic consciousness where it is believed that all is one and everything is interconnected.
For a large part of human history the conception of Man as body, soul and spirit is closely held to be true. Healing practices were also closely linked to the spiritual world. The spirit was gradually separated from Man’s conception of itself. According to cultural historian Markus Osterrider (2017), this process is a gradual one, taking many centuries led by the evolution of modern, empirical natural science.
The final blow came in the 14th century with nominalism in Western scholastics, developing as a consequence of this evolution. This was the breakthrough for a purely secular view of the world. A science “without the need of God”. This scientific approach was purely empirical, experimental and material. It took over in the West in the 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment.