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The 4 Elements as Modes of Cognition

Christoph Hueck (DE)

The physician Friedrich Edelhäuser described the four elements - solid, liquid, air and heat - as four ways of knowing. I refer here to quotations from his very clear essay.[1]


"Usually we live in consciousness in contoured concepts, and the clearer, more manageable, more rigid, thing-like, fixed and immovable a concept is, the more alert and certain we can handle it in consciousness. This kind of representation corresponds to the earth element and is formed on it." (p. 134)

"The grasping of the earth element, the solidly joined bodies .... makes the concept itself pass over into solidification, into the firmly joined form. It is in this solidification of conceptions that the brightest and clearest consciousness can be developed. With every grasping and lifting of a single thing out of its context as a 'this' delimited from others, it is actuated." (p. 137)


"In following the flowing and streaming of the fluid and all its transformations of form, the contemplation and the formation of the concept itself must come into 'flowing' and 'transforming itself in contemplation'. We only partially succeed in doing this in our representational consciousness. By following a growing plant or a developing leaf from stage to stage, we create a picture of the lawful connection of individual representations. The coherence easily escapes our consciousness; anchor points are formed by the clearly contoured individual images of the growth stages." (p. 135)

"In order to grasp the water element and likewise the living element, the concepts themselves must become changeable, learn to go along with the transformations of form, comprehend the movement that transcends the change of form - the meta-morphosis -, comprehend living growth and becoming and make it possible to experience, thus becoming alive themselves." (S. 137)


"It is even more difficult to form adequate conceptions when grasping the air. ... The sunlit air ... remains itself quite imperceptible and forms, as it were, the 'space' or the 'opportunity' in which and through which the things of the world appear. Seen in this way, air is most comparable to attention in consciousness, which brings all observable elements of perception and consciousness 'to appearance' in their mutual relations. The sunlit air becomes the space of possibility for the context of appearance of things." (p. 135)

"In grasping the element of air with its gestures of making the perceptible accessible, the context of appearance in light, condensing and relaxing, the underlying conceptuality itself loses its contoured and descriptive character and initially becomes open, still unformed attention, which is able to take up references, characteristics and dynamics of movement, the manifestation of other beings in its own consciousness. In focused attention and in attentive opening, in concentration and meditation, it corresponds to the gestures of compression and relaxation of the air. Attention ... becomes the very light in perception, the source of comprehensibility in the sense world, comparable to the clearing air." (S. 138)


"The warmth ... is not representational, does not flow and stream like water, does not reveal a context of appearance like light and air. It contracts and congeals as cold (or absence of heat) and expands, animates and impulses as heat." (p. 136)

"In the apprehension of heat as an element and not merely as a property of bodies ... or of the other elements, the conceptual side becomes particularly prominent. Heat, with its ability to appear and disappear as it heats up or cools down and in the transitions between the elements, does not permit a conceptualisation that can be so clearly contoured in terms of perception as in the case of solid matter, but nevertheless requires a conceptualisation that is all the more certain and intentionally directed towards grasping the connection." (S. 139)

"At the level of warmth, the experience of the essential concept through the complete immersion of one's own activity in the concept and the comprehension of its formative content lead to the experience of the reality-creating and reality-forming potency of concepts and ideas., Self-acting thought and the specificity of the concept merge." (S. 140)


"In passing through the elements, the concepts transform themselves from the established, 'defined' to the living, flowing, then to the form revealing the conceptual content and finally to the initiating, setting in motion and creating reality. ... If in perceiving and imagining the earth element one is entirely on the form side of conceptual activity, then, in polar contrast, in grasping the heat element one is entirely on the formless will and activity side of the concept, ready to experience a new being, and ready to pour into a new, concrete shaping." (S. 141)

"It is striking that the physicists' modes of access and imaginings are developed according to the experiences of the earth element. The smallest solid spheres, thought to be rigid and non-deformable, form the basis for the model conceptions of all other elements. Here the greatest clarity and structure in the approach is achieved in the sense of the clarity of consciousness described above on the earth element. Ideas, conceptualisations and ways of knowing that correspond to the liquid, gaseous and thermal are not taken into account. ... A liquid-lively, an air-like-atmospheric and a heat-like-intuitive and impulsive mode of cognition have yet to be won for science." (p. 146 f.)


[1] Edelhäuser, Friedrich: Die vier Elemente als Veranlagung mehrdimensionalen Erkennens. In: Goetheanismus und Medizin. Dornach 2022, S. 129-160.

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