Wandering Thoughts



Chapter 1: A Human Life

From the moment that he sees the world’s light, a human being tries extract himself from its confusion, in which he also is tossed about along with everything else, and find himself.

But everything that comes in contact with the child also defends itself against these encroachments and maintains its own existence.

Consequently, since each one holds to itself and at the same time continually comes into collision with others, the battle for self-assertion is unavoidable.

Victory or Defeat—the fortune of the battle wavers between the two alternatives. The victor becomes the lord, the defeated one, the subject: the former exercises supremacy and the “rights of supremacy,” and the latter carries out the “duties of the subject” with awe and respect.

But the two remain enemies and always lie in ambush: they lie in wait for each other’s weaknesses, the child for those of her parents, parents for those of their child (e.g., fear), either the stick vanquishes the human being or the human being vanquishes the stick.

In childhood, liberation takes the course where we try to find the reason for things, to get at what’s “behind things”; therefore we spy out the weaknesses of all, for which, as everyone knows, children have a sure instinct; therefore, we find pleasure in breaking things, in rummaging through hidden corners, pry into what is covered up or out of the way, and try our hand at everything. Once we get at what’s behind things, we know ourselves with confidence; when we discover, for example, that the rod is too weak against our defiance, we no longer fear it, we “have outgrown it.” Behind the rod, more powerful than it, stands our—defiance, our defiant courage. We slowly get at what’s behind everything that was weird and scary to us, behind the weirdly dreaded power of the rod, the father’s stern look, etc., and behind all of it we find our—tranquility, i.e., imperturbability, fearlessness, our counter-force, superior strength, invincibility. Before the things that once inspired fear and respect in us, we no longer shyly withdraw, but take courage. Behind everything, we find our courage, our superiority; behind the sharp command of parents and bosses, our courageous choice or our outwitting cunning still stands. And the more we feel ourselves, the smaller that which once seemed insurmountable appears. And what is our trickery, cunning, courage and defiance? What else but—mind [Geist]!

For quite some time, we are spared a conflict that leaves us so short of breath later, the fight against reason. The most beautiful childhood passes without requiring us to fight against reason. We pay it no mind at all, don’t deal with it, accept no reason. We are convinced of nothing through persuasion, and are deaf to good reasons, principles, etc.; but we find caresses, punishment and the like hard to resist.

This sharp life-struggle with reason comes in later, and begins a new phase; in childhood we camper about without too much reflection.

Mind is the name of the first self-discovery, the first banishment of god from the divine; that is, from the uncanny, the spooks, the “powers above.” Our fresh feeling of youth, this feeling of self, is no longer impressed by anything; the world is explained to its discredit, because we are above it, we are mind.

Only now do we see that we have not viewed the world mindfully [mit Geist]1 at all, we’ve only stared at it.

We exercise our first powers on natural forces. Parents impress us as a natural force; later we say: father and mother are to be left behind and all natural forces considered as broken. They arevanquished. For the rational, i.e. the “intellectual [Geistigen] human being,” there is no family as a natural force; a refusal of parents, siblings, etc., appears. If these are “born again” as mental, rational forces, they are not at all what they were before.

And young people don’t just vanquish parents, but human beings in general; they are no obstacle to him, and he doesn’t take them into consideration; for now he says: One must obey God rather than men.2

Everything “earthly” steps back to a contemptible distance beneath this high standpoint, since this standpoint is—the heavenly.

Now the attitude has completely turned around; the youth takes up a mindfulthings, for example, to bring the data of history into his head, but rather the thoughts that lie hidden in things, therefore, for example, the spirit of history. The boy, on the other hand, most likely understands connections, but not ideas, the spirit; and so he strings together whatever he can learn, without proceeding a priori and theoretically, i.e., without searching for ideas. manner, whereas the boy, who did not yet sense himself as mind, grew up in mindless learning. The former does not try to grasp

If in childhood one had to overcome the resistance of the laws of the world, now in everything one plans, he bumps into an objection of the mind, of reason, of his own conscience. “That is unreasonable, unchristian, unpatriotic,” and so on, the conscious calls to us and—frightens us away from it. We fear neither the power of the vengeful Eumenides3, not Poseidon’s wrath, not God, as far as he sees even the hidden, nor the father’s punishing rod, but rather—conscience.

Now we “dwell on our thoughts” and follow their orders just as earlier we followed parental, human ones. Our actions conform to our thoughts (ideas, conceptions,4 beliefs) as in childhood they conform to the orders of our parents.

However, we were also already thinking as children, and our thoughts were not fleshless, abstract, absolute, i.e., nothing but thoughts, a heaven for itself, a pure world of thought, logical thoughts.

On the contrary, they had only been thoughts that we had about a thingSache]: we thought about the thing in this way or that. Thus we may have thought: “The world we see there was made by God,” but we didn’t think of (“investigate”) “the depths of divinity itself.” We may have thought: “This is true about this thing,” but we didn’t think about the true or truth itself, nor bring together in one sentence “God is truth.” We did not touch “the depths of divinity, which is truth.” Pilate doesn’t linger over logical, i.e., theological, questions: “What is truth,” but has no hesitation, therefore, in determining in the individual case, “what is true in the thing,” i.e., whether the thing is true. [

Every thought tied to a thing is not yet nothing but a thought, absolute thought.

To bring pure thought to light, or to cling to it, this is the desire of youth; and all the shining lights in the world of thought, like truth, freedom, humanity, the human being, etc., enlighten and inspire the youthful soul.

But if the spirit [Geist] is recognized as the essential thing, it still makes a difference whether the spirit is poor or rich, and therefore one tries to become rich in spirit. The spirit wants to spread out to found its empire, an empire not of this world, the world just vanquished. So then, it longs to be all in all in itself; in other words, although I am spirit, I am not yet perfectly spirit, and must first strive for the perfect spirit.

But with that, I, who had just found myself as spirit, immediately lose myself again, in that I bow before the perfect spirit, not as my own, but as otherworldly,5 and feel my emptiness.

Indeed, spirit is essential for everything, but is every spirit also the “right” spirit? The right and true spirit is the ideal of the spirit, the “Holy Spirit.” It is not my or you spirit, but simply—an ideal, otherworldly one, it is “God.” “God is spirit.” And this otherworldly “Father in heaven gives to those who ask him.”

The man is distinguished from the youth in that he takes the world as it is, instead of presuming that it is everywhere in the wrong, and wanting to improve it, to mold it to his ideal. In him, the view that one has to deal with the world according to his interest, and not his ideal, is established.

As long as one knows himself only as spirit, and puts all his value in being spirit (it becomes a light thing for the youth to give his life, his “bodily” life, for nothing, for the silliest point of honor), for so long he also only has thoughts, ideas that he hopes to be able to realize once he has found a sphere of action; thus, in the meantime, one has only ideals, unfulfilled ideas or thoughts.

Only when one grows fond of himself in the flesh, and enjoys himself just as he is—but it is in mature years, in the man, that we find this—only then does one have a personal or egoistic interest, i.e., not only an interest of the spirit, for example, but rather total satisfaction, satisfaction of the whole fellow, a selfishhimself more the center, than does the youth, who gets enthused about other things, for example, God, the fatherland, and so on. interest. Just compare a man with a youth, and see if he doesn’t seem harder, less noble, more selfish. Is he therefore worse? No, you say, he has only become more certain, or, as you also call it, more “practical.” But the main thing is this, that he makes

Therefore the man shows a second self-discovery. The youth found himself as spirit and lost himself again in the general spirit, the perfect, holy spirit, the human being, humanity, in short, every ideal; the man finds himself as embodied spirit.

Boys had only non-intellectual interests, i.e. thoughtless and devoid of ideas; youths had only intellectual interests; the man has bodily, person, egoistic interests.

If the child lack an object to occupy itself with, it feels boredom; because it does not yet know how to occupy itself with itself. Conversely, the youth throws the object to the side, because for him, thoughts arose out of the object; he occupies himself with his thoughts, his dreams, occupies himself intellectually, or “his mind is occupied.”

The young person deals with everything non-intellectual under the contemptuous name of “outward appearances.”6 If he nonetheless sticks to the pettiest outward appearances (for example, student club7 customs and other such formalities), it happens because and if he finds mind in them, i.e., if they are symbols to him.

As I find myself behind things, that is, as mind, so I must later also find myselfthoughts, namely, as their creator and owner. In the time of mind, thoughts grew in me until they were over my head, though they were its offspring; they hovered about me and shook me like the fever dreams, a horrifying power. The thoughts had become embodied for themselves, were ghosts, such as God, emperor, pope, fatherland, etc. If I destroy their embodiment, then I take them back into my own, and say: “I alone am embodied.” And now I take the world as what it is to me, as mine, as my property: I relate everything to myself. behind

If as spirit I pushed the world away in the deepest contempt, as owner, I push spirits and thoughts away in their “vanity.” They have no more over me, as no “earthly force” has power over the spirit.

The child was realistic, involved with the things of this world, until bit by bit he succeeded in getting at what was behind these very things; the youth was idealistic, enthused by thoughts, until he worked his way up to being the man, the egoistic one, who deals with things and thoughts according to his heart’s desire, and places his personal interest above everything. Finally, the old man? When I become one, there’ll be time enough to talk about that.


1 Geist and the related words may refer to spirit, mind or intellect. I will use whichever of these words seems more appropriate in context, but the reader needs to understand that all of this words are references to Geist and are, thus, connected.--Translator

2 A reference to Acts 5:29.—Translator.

3 The term literally means “the kindly ones,” but refers to the Erinyes or Furies of ancient Greek mythology who were goddesses of vengeance.--Translator

4 Vorstellung in the original. This word is often translated as “representation,” but has a far more active connotation than this English word. In this context, I chose to stick with Byington’s choice of “conception.”--Translator

5 Jenseitigen in the original. The word can be translated as “opposite” or “other,” but is generally used in theological contexts, this implying “otherness” in a specifically mystical sense.--Translator

6 The German word “Äußerlichkeiten” can also mean trivialities, superficialities.--Translator

7 A reference to often clandestine student clubs that appeared in German after the Napoleonic Wars, dedicated to national German unity and often also to more democratic institutions--Translator