In this article the reversal of the relationship between sensual perception and concepts has been described. In one of his first books, Rudolf Steiner points again to this reversal. It is in 'The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception with Specific Reference to Schiller', GA 2. I quote the passages that are concerning this. First, the passage about the inwardly established harmony of all thoughts: truth. (GA 2, p. 57). After that, I quote the passage about the relationship of thinking to the outer world, to the sensual objects. (GA 2, p. 62). In my book 'Persephone', which is a collection of the lectures and exercises given in the Berner Oberland, summer 2015, I discussed both sides of knowing and tried to form this reversal of the position in knowing into exercises, to give this certain stability.
'How does our thinking manifest to us when looked at for itself? It is a multiplicity of thoughts woven together and organically connected in the most manifold ways. But when we have sufficiently penetrated this multiplicity from all directions, it simply constitutes a unity again, a harmony. All its parts relate to each other, are there for each other; one part modifies the other, restricts it, and so on. As soon as our spirit pictures two corresponding thoughts to itself, it notices at once that they actually flow together into one. Everywhere in our spirit's thought-realm it finds elements that belong together; this concept joins itself to that one, a third one elucidates or supports a fourth, and so on. Thus, for example, we find in our consciousness the thought-content “organism”; when we scan our world of mental pictures, we hit upon a second thought-content: “lawful development, growth.” It becomes clear to us at once that both these thought-contents belong together, that they merely represent two sides of one and the same thing. But this is how it is with our whole system of thoughts. All individual thoughts are parts of a great whole that we call our world of concepts.
‘If any single thought appears in my consciousness, I am not satisfied until it has been brought into harmony with the rest of my thinking. A separate concept like this, set off from the rest of my spiritual world, is altogether unbearable to me. I am indeed conscious of the fact that there exists an inwardly established harmony between all thoughts, that the world of thoughts is a unified one. Therefore every such isolation is unnatural, untrue.
‘If we have struggled through to where our whole thought-world bears a character of complete inner harmony, then through it the contentment our spirit demands becomes ours. Then we feel ourselves to be in possession of the truth.
‘As a result of our seeing truth to be the thorough-going harmony of all the concepts we have at our command, the question forces itself upon us: Yes, but does thinking even have any content if you disregard all visible reality, if you disregard the sense-perceptible world of phenomena? Does there not remain a total void, a pure phantasm, if we think away all sense-perceptible content?’
Then the second passage:
'Can I not, in the face of a reality that is incomprehensible to me, at once bring my thinking into action so that in fact it also develops, right on the spot, the concept I need to hold up to an object? The only ability useful to me is one that allows a definite concept to emerge from the thought-world's supply. The point is not that a particular thought has already become conscious for me in the course of my life, but rather that this thought allows itself to be drawn from the world of thoughts accessible to me. It is indeed of no consequence to its content where and when I grasp it. In fact, I draw all the characterizations of thoughts out of the world of thoughts. Nothing whatsoever in fact, flows into this content from the sense object. I only recognize again, within the sense object, the thought I drew up from within my inner being. This object does in fact move me at a particular moment to bring forth precisely this thought-content out of the unity of all possible thoughts, but it does not in any way provide me with the building stones for these thoughts. These I must draw out of myself.
‘Only when we allow our thinking to work does reality first acquire true characterization. Reality, which before was mute, now speaks a clear language.
‘Our thinking is the translator that interprets for us the gestures of experience.
‘We are so used to seeing the world of concepts as empty and without content, and so used to contrasting perception with it as something full of content and altogether definite, that it will be difficult to establish for the world of concepts the position it deserves in the true scheme of things. We miss the fact entirely that mere looking is the emptiest thing imaginable, and that only from thinking does it first receive any content at all. The only thing true about the above view is that looking does hold the ever-fluid thought in one particular form, without our having to work along actively with this holding. The fact that a person with a rich soul life sees a thousand things that are a blank to someone spiritually poor proves, clear as day, that the content of reality is only the mirror-image of the content of our spirit and that we receive only the empty form from outside.
We must, to be sure, have the strength in us to recognize ourselves as the begetters (Erzeuger) of this content; otherwise we see only the mirror image and never our spirit, that is mirrored. Even a person who sees himself in a real mirror must in fact know himself as a personality in order to know himself again in this image.
‘All sense perception dissolves ultimately, as far as its essential being is concerned, into ideal content. Only then does it appear to us as transparent and clear. The sciences for the most part have not even been touched by any awareness of this truth. One considers the characterizations given by thought to be attributes of objects, like color, odor, etc. One therefore believes the following characterization to be a feature of all bodies: that they remain in the state of motion or rest in which they find themselves until an external influence alters this state. It is in this form that the law of inertia figures in physics. But the true state of affairs is completely different. The thought, “body,” exists in my system of concepts in many modifications. One of these is the thought of a thing which, out of itself, can bring itself to rest or into motion; another is the concept of a body that alters its state only as a result of an external influence. I designate the latter kind as inorganic. If, then, a particular body confronts me that reflects back to me in the perception this second conceptual characterization, then I designate it as inorganic and connect with it all the characterizations that follow from the concept of an inorganic body.‘The conviction should permeate all the sciences that their content is purely thought-content and that they stand in no other connection to perception than that they see, in the object of perception, a particular form of the concept.’
The young Rudolf Steiner