While reading RS medical lectures recently I came across this passage that clarifies his approach to the ‘Cosmic Etheric’ in relation to Plants and then to the Human.
Pg 44-45 Spiritual Science and Medicine
“The same forces, (Etheric Formative Forces) active and constructive from within, are also revealed among lower organisms in an interesting way.
Take, for example, any embryo which has reached the gastrula stage of development. You can cut up this gastrula, dividing it through the middle, and each half rounds out and evolves the potentiality within itself of growing its own three portions of the intestine-the fore, middle and hind portion, independently. This means that if the gastrula is cut in two, we find that each half behaves just as the whole gastrula would have behaved. You know that this experiment can even be applied to forms of animal life as high in the scale as earthworms ; that when portions are removed from these creatures, they are restored, the animal drawing on its internal formative forces to rebuild out of its own body the portion of which it has been deprived. We must point to these formative forces objectively ; not as hypotheses, assuming the existence of some sort of vital force, but as matters of fact. For if we observe exactly what occurs here, and follow its various stages, we have this result. For instance, take a frog, and remove a portion in a very early stage of development, the bulk of the mutilated organism replaces the amputated portion by growing it again. A critic of a materialistic turn of mind, will say ; Oh yes, the wound is the seat of tonic forces, and through these the new growth is added. But this cannot be assumed.
Suppose that it were the case, and I were to remove a part of an organism, and a new part grows on the site of the injury (b)• through the tonic force (c) located here ; then the new growth should strictly speaking be the immediately adjacent part, its neighbour in the intact and perfect organism. Actually, however, this does not happen ; if portions of the larval frog are amputated, what grows from the site of the injury are extremities, tails or even heads ; and in other creatures antennae. Not, that is to sav, the strictly adjacent parts, but those of most use to the organism. Therefore, it is quite impossible that the normally adjacent structure develops at the point of amputation through the specially localised tonic forces; instead, we are obliged to assume that, in these re-growths or repairs, the whole organism takes part in some way.
And so it is really possible to trace what happens in lower organisms. As I have indicated the path to follow you can extend its application to all the cases recorded, and see in all of them, that one can only achieve a conception of the matter along this line of thought .
And in man, you will have to conclude, however, that things do not happen in this way. It would be extremely pleasant and convenient to be able to cut off a finger or an arm, in the certainty that it would be grown again ! But this simply does not happen. And the question is : what becomes of those forces, growth forces, which show themselves unmistakably in the case of animals, when it comes to the human organism ? Are they lost in it ? or are they non-existent ?
Anyone who can observe Nature objectively knows that only by this line of inquiry can we arrive at a sound conception of the link between physical and spiritual in man. For the forces we learnt to know as plastic formative forces, which mould forms straight from the living substance, are simply lifted out of the organs, and exist entirely in the soul and spiritual functions.
Because they have been so lifted, and are no longer within the organs as formative forces, man has them as separate forces, in the functions of soul and spirit. If I think or feel, I think and feel by virtue of the same forces that work plastically in the lower animals or the vegetable world. Indeed I could not think if I did not perform my thinking, feeling and willing with these same forces, which I have drawn out of matter. So, when I contemplate the lower organisms, I must say to myself ; the power inherent in them, which manifests as a formative force, is the same as I carry within me ; but I have drawn it out from my organs and hold it apart. I think and feel and will with the same powers that are formative and active plastically, in the lower organisms.
Anyone wishing to be a sound psychologist, whose statements have substance, and not mere words, as is usual today, would have so to follow up the processes of thinking, feeling and willing, as to show that the very same activities in the regions of soul and spirit manifest themselves on the lower level as plastic formative forces.
Observe for yourselves how we can achieve within the soul things we can no longer achieve within our organism. We can complete trains of thought that have escaped us by producing them out of others. Our activity here is quite similar to organic production.; what appears first is not the immediately neighbouring, but one lying far removed. There-is a complete parallelism between what we experience inwardly through the soul, and the external formative forces and principles of Nature. There is a perfect correspondence between them. We must emphasise this correspondence, and show that man faces the same formative principles in the external world, as he has drawn from his own organism for the life of his soul and spirit, and which therefore in his own organism no longer underlie the substance.”