Is Science Proving Swedenborg’s ideas?

A physicist friend recently sent me a link to a New York Times article called Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally. You can access it at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02science/02angier.html

Recent scientific research seems to validate the amazing discoveries of the 18th Century scientist/theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg claimed that there was a causal link between physical and spiritual realities. He called this link correspondences. The essential idea of correspondences is that the natural world is a physical analog (metaphor) of the spiritual world. Since an individual’s heart and mind is a man or woman’s spiritual reality, the physical body is lawfully designed to respond to one’s feelings, thoughts and mental abstractions (higher order realities) in a corresponding (embodied) way.

Apparently, this topic is part of a growing and highly popular field in Psychological Science called embodied cognition. I will share several examples from the article.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen discovered that when participants were asked to contemplate future or past events, their bodies had measurable and corresponding reactions. Those who thought of the future leaned slightly forward while those thinking of the past leaned slightly backward. In other words, an abstract concept such as time found its physical equivalent in body posture.

At Yale, a test was conducted where participants were each given a packet of information concerning an imaginary person. Group A was given a warm cup of coffee with this packet and Group B received iced coffee with the packet. You guessed it. Group A had warmer feelings towards the imagined individual while Group B’s impression was frosty. Furthermore, at the University of Toronto, participants who were asked to recall memories of times when they felt socially snubbed seemed on average to believe that the room they were in was five degrees cooler than those who were asked to recall times of feeling social acceptance.

Swedenborg claimed, two centuries earlier, that psychological love corresponded to physical heat. We even use this similitude in our language—such as experiencing a “warming of the heart” or feeling the “heat of passion.”

This psycho-physical parallelism even extends into issues of morality. Another study showed that participants who dwelled on personal bad behavior such as adultery were more likely to ask for an antiseptic cloth afterwards (to cleanse themselves) than those who dwelled on their good deeds.

Swedenborg took the idea of embodied cognition (correspondences) into theology and biblical interpretation (exegesis). He claimed that the sacred rite of Baptism was a symbolic language for depicting a cleansing of one’s negative inner qualities. In fact, the entire Holy Word had this symbolic language of correspondences incorporated into the structured scaffolding of its narratives.

In another experiment researchers determined that the sensation of “weightiness” influenced the importance participants placed on certain issues. Those holding heavier objects placed more importance to the issues that their minds were being associated with. It is a common lexicon that things we perceive as important carry more “weight.” Weight and importance correspond. Powerful ideas affect the human spirit just as natural objects—with lots of mass—can affect the physical body.

Similarly we can feel miles apart from people who are physically close and very near to those who are miles away. What this means is that the body and mind are aware of another reality that makes use of an entirely different kind of metrics (standard of measurement). Swedenborg boldly stated that the spiritual world contained these non-physical metrics—measurements, boundaries and parameters that represent the quality of one’s love and its derivative thoughts (non-material trajectories).

My first book Sermon From The Compost Pile shows the reader how to employ this symbolic language of embodied cognition or correspondence to all things in the physical world of nature so that one can find spiritual wisdom right in their own garden or backyard.

My second book Proving God offers further insights to where this new science of embodied cognition can take us. It is the lawful and rational means by which science and theology will be ultimately unified!

http://www.innergardening.net

http://www.provinggod.com

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About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at http://www.staircasepress.com
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23 Responses to Is Science Proving Swedenborg’s ideas?

  1. intellectuallyfulfilledatheist says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/science/02angier.html

    In reality, however, embodied cognition can more simply be explained by the fact that the brain maps concepts in the form of neural networks which it must fundamentally associate with irreducible things which are best obtained from sensory input. Thus when we think about the future we use phrases like “looking forward…” and thinking about the past phrases like “reflecting back on…” and there is a tendency to lean forward and back respectively because the concept of forward and back are linked to our understated sixth sense, our sense of orientation and balance which is localized in the inner ear canals in order to give the concepts a definite and useful meaning. From this external sensory basis we can construct abstractions, but apparently in many cases and without conscious effort we don’t completely separate the physical sensory basis for the underlying concepts from the abstractions upon which they are built. This is a much simpler interpretation of why everything mentioned in that article had a direct conceptual link to the physical stimulus primarily because the explanation takes into account only what we know physically exists and does not rely upon the invocation of unprovable and untestable constructs such as spirits or any other supernatural thing.

    You should consider reading The Brain That Changes Itself. It explains a lot about how neural networks map to cognitive functions in the course of also explaining how these networks are capable of massively restructuring themselves when necessary, though obviously with limitations.

  2. thegodguy says:

    Dear brain expert,

    Apparently you are not up to speed with the cutting edge of today’s brain science which is theorizing that their are deeper substrates to consider – that go beyond looking at cognition in terms of changing synaptic linkages between cerebral localizations.

    The reason for this (which I cover in a whole chapter of my book) is that the various cognitive functions of receiving external data, imagination, and reasoning are discrete rather than continuous operations. This suggests (and my book promotes) that distinct and deeper substrates are at work. Neuroscience is moving in this direction with its research into microtubules.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  3. intellectuallyfulfilledatheist says:

    That’s fine because I wouldn’t even think of suggesting that cognition is about changing synaptic linkages, but no brain study has ever shown concepts as existing in the brain as anything other than sets of synaptic links. Cognition is obviously more than just the neural networks which contain the mappings for concepts since it would encompass also the networks which receive and translate the input from sense organs, and operations that certain other neural structures have, in producing emotion hormones, for instance, and neurotransmitters, and how these hormones and the firing of other synapses effects the operations of networks.

    I was not, however, even trying to explain cognition, only pointing out that there is no need whatsoever to invoke anything supernatural to make sense of why it is that the physical body tends to interpret abstract concepts literally. It makes perfect sense without invoking anything supernatural if we consider that most likely the fundamental networks that map to these abstract concepts and make real world sense of them that we can all even be capable of agreeing upon would be linked to networks that deal with external sensory input. Which would explain more simply, and without invoking anything supernatural, why a person might lean forward when thinking about th future or backwards when thinking about the past. The concepts of back and forth would have little meaning unless in reference to data received directly from the balance sense organs in the inner ear canals.

    The proposal that microtubules have any effect on cognition, by the way, is based on a proposal by Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff which suggests that quantum level fluctuations which occur in microtubules which form the cytoskeletons of most cells, for one thing, allow for the propagation of information throughout the brain at rates which are faster than a chemically mediated neural network should be physically able to allow. This would suggest that, if correct, microtubules explain consciousness as the result of comparatively faster signal propagation between neural networks resulting not in unique cognitive functions necessarily, so much as sharper neurocognitive functions. It has been definitively demonstrated that when networks fire faster there is less opportunity for error. It could also further support the view that consciousness in humans is the result of faster neural networks, but would not lend support to the view of supernatural interventions to explain cognition.

  4. Bryan Williams says:

    The NY Times article has passed it’s 7-day posting limit and was no longer reachable from the link provided. Looking forward to reading the new book. Where can one purchase your first book?

  5. thegodguy says:

    Dear Bryan,

    Thank you for your interest. I will have someone get in touch with you shortly concerning my first book “Sermon From The Compost Pile”!

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  6. thegodguy says:

    Dear intellectually fulfilled atheist,

    I did not state that microtubules were an answer. Rather, I am suggesting that neuroscience is searching for deeper neural substrates. My book offers possible solutions to viewing a neuron as having its own nervous system with more interior sensory capabilities.

    The functions of seeing, imagining, reasoning, and yes, revelation are all distinct and hierarchical forms of “seeing.” This suggests that neurons have deeper sensory structures which raise “seeing” to higher powers (such as abstraction).

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  7. Glenn says:

    It may be interesting to note that Swedenborg asserted that scarcely anyone in his day and age understood what the spiritual is, then went on to, a) define thoughts and affections as being spiritual; b) likewise define the understanding and the will as being spiritual; and, c) clearly state that the mind is a person’s spirit.

    From Swedenborg’s perspective, then, it follows that if one is alive, has a mind, and spends time thinking and willing, then one is engaged in spiritual activities.

    It also may be interesting to note that thousands of researchers spend millions of dollars investigating natural explanations for supranatural entities (e.g., concepts and abstractions).

  8. Glenn says:

    I forgot to mention a third interesting item, i.e.,that The Brain that Changes Itself shows that rewiring in the brain occurs as a response to a person’s intending this, that or the other thing. Since intending is of the will, that is, as intending is an act of willing, and willing is a spiritual activity, it follows that the spiritual impacts the natural in an empirically verifiable, scientifically measurable manner.

  9. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Thanks for contributing. What few people know is that Swedenborg was the first to propose a neuron theory (brain cell with its connections). His multi-level model of human cognitive architecture includes a scaffolding of neural substrates that straddle everything from physical to spiritual bio-structure! Each substrate is activated by some quality of LOVE. I spend a whole chapter on this important topic in my upcoming book “Proving God.”

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  10. The Flinch

    Truth cries out, now and then,
    As if an echo were a friend,
    To flinch and shy away again.

  11. 1191. Because by thy sorcery have all nations been seduced signifies that by their wicked arts and persuasions they have compelled all the well disposed to believe and to do those things from which they have gained dominion and wealth. This is evident from the signification of “sorcery,” as being arts and persuasions, (of which presently); also from the signification of “nations” as being those who are in good, thus the well disposed (see n. 175, 331, 625, 1077); also from the signification of “to be seduced,” as meaning to be deceived by such arts and persuasions into believing and doing those things from which they have gained dominion and wealth. “Sorcery” has nearly the same signification in the Word as “enchantment,” and “enchantment” signifies such persuasion as causes a man to have no other perception than that a thing is so. Certain spirits possess a power of persuasion that closes up as it were the understanding of another, and suffocates the ability to perceive; and as the well-disposed men in the Babylonish nation are compelled and persuaded to believe and to do whatever the monks say, it is here said that “they have been seduced by their sorcery.” “Sorcery” here has the same signification as “enchantment” in Isaiah (47:9, 12), where Babylon is treated of; also in David (Psalm 58:4, 5). Enchantment is also mentioned among the arts associated with magic, that were forbidden to the sons of Israel (Deut. 18:10-11).
    P.R.= Perverse Reasoning.

  12. Some of it may be true!
    1014. Verse 18. And there were voices, lightnings, and thunders, signifies reasonings, darkenings of the understanding, and conclusions of falsities from evils. This is evident from the signification of “voices, lightnings, and thunders,” which in reference to those of the church with whom there is no longer any good of love and truth of faith mean reasonings, darkness of the understanding, and conclusions of falsities from evils (see above n. 702, 704). This signification in the Word of “voices, lightnings, and thunders,” is derived from the appearance of these in the spiritual world with those who are not in the good of love and in the truths of faith, but who talk with each other about them. Their discourse, which is reasoning, is signified by “voices,” the conflict of truth and falsity by “lightnings,” and consequent rejection of truth and good by “thunders.” And as such things come forth in the spiritual world by correspondence, it follows that the like things in the natural world correspond, and thus have such signification as has been said.

  13. thegodguy says:

    Dear leocorionsociety,

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

    However, you must be responding to some other article. The above blog post topic does not address “enchantment.” Help me out here – how does promoting spiritual love “seduce” men’s hearts and minds? What dark art or “sorcery” have you distilled from a web blog that promotes loving God and the neighbor?

    Need advice!

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  14. thegodguy says:

    Dear leocorinsociety,

    As I was responding to your previous comments you “zipped-in” another one! Now you have switched gears and seem to acknowledge that the spiritual and natural worlds can correspond to each other (seems enchanting to me). You are starting to sound Swedenborgian. Peace be to you brother!

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  15. I am an eighty-three year old student of Swedenborg. In this case a Devil’s advocate.
    Politics, Science and Madison Avenue have been our adversary for so long,
    I thought I would give them their due.

    As for our Founding Fathers belief in correspondence?

    MAXIMUS HOMO defines: “… … … new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, … … … “ ~The Declaration of Independence.
    As our Founding Father envisioned it!
    When we speak of a form of government; no one thinks of any external or visible shape, but of the nature and adjustment of the various parts composing the government, and by means of which it is administered. A person who reads and understands the constitution or organic law of the State, sees therein its form of government. We speak, also, of the form of society in a particular nation; and by this is meant the nature and relation of the several parts composing such society, the nature and arrangement of its social, industrial, commercial, educational, artistic, moral, and religious elements. Again, we speak of the form of a government; and by this we mean the character, connection, order, subordination, etc., of its various functionaries, the mode of their appointment, and their respective duties.
    When it is said, therefore, that our government is in the human form, the meaning is that it is in human order; that all its parts, or all the innumerable societies of which it consists, are so arranged and adjusted as to express most perfectly the truly human principles which constitute the essential spirit of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.. In other words, the relation, mutual dependence, and intercommunication of the societies composing the whole, and the uses they respectively perform, correspond to those existing among the various organs of the human body and their respective uses. One is a perfect type or representative image of the other.
    body.
    It should appoint its wisest and best men to preside over its interests, because every one is aiming to subject himself to the government of the highest good and truth. And so the form or order of that community becomes more and more human. All its corporate acts express more and more faithfully the human thoughts and feelings with which the minds of its individual members are imbued. Such community is in the human form, therefore, just so far as the individual minds composing it are human.
    The moment one ceases to do its work, or appropriates more that its share of the juices elaborated, or more than it needs to fit it for the performance of its appointed use, that moment comes disease to itself and disease to all the rest. And if it persevere in this abnormal course, sooner or later death inevitably ensues.
    Notwithstanding there exists authority and obedience, there is nothing like tyranny on the one hand or slavishness on the other. There must be perfect freedom.

  16. thegodguy says:

    Dear leocorionsociety,

    You spent so much time and thought on your above comment that I had to approve it – even though it is not the topic of the above blog post. I have published other posts addressing political issues and the dynamics of government. But I agree with your Swedenborgian estimate of our current political predicament.

    I also respect my elders. I salute you and your studies!

    Perhaps we may have some disagreement on the value of science as the “bridegroom” of religion. Remember, Swedenborg was a scientist and his descriptions of the spiritual world were made from careful observations between physical and heavenly realities. A non-scientist would have been unable to grasp the non-local and non-temporal dynamics of the spiritual world in the way Swedenborg was prepared for.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  17. The tribe of Dan represented Science, and was said to be a serpent in the Path (to knowledge) an adder in the path. (there is poison in the pot.)

  18. thegodguy says:

    Dear leocorionsociety,

    I spoke to soon! You DO think science is poison.

    You are wrong! You are referring to scientism and materialistic philosophy. My new book “Proving God” shows how Swedenborg’s model of reality can unify science and theology!

    As far as serpents and snakes go, if you put one on a staff it represents science according to, and oriented to, Divine Order (like Moses did in the desert). Scripture is both a heavenly and scientific document. The science of correspondences would not work if all things in nature did not effigy spiritual realities. All natural law, forces and order are spiritual laws, forces and order extended into the constraints of spacetime.

    I hope you will order my new book next month – then we can have a real discussion.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  19. I was off message and I am grateful for your patience with an old man.
    However:
    I am very much concerned with:
    Deceases (that have no cure from medical Science )
    Pestilence, (from insects immune to insecticide),
    and I fear that the world will face world Famine.

    You are a brilliant young man and we must look to revelation to help us find an answer to the world’s demise.

    2 Ch. 36:16. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy.

    Disease, Pestilence and Famine.

    When the Mosquitoes become resistant to the insecticide treated BED NETS, or the children get cancer!
    Exodus 9:11-14 “For this time I am sending all My plagues:” means that it would be possible for the evil things yet to come to rush in on them all together.
    As: The killing effect of antibiotics is so strong that only the resistant bacteria can or will survive,* the same is proving to be true of insecticides and disinfectants. ~The Antibiotic Paradox ~Stuart B. Levy, M.D

    There is poison in the Pot!

    We look to you young men and women to find the answers!

    God bless us everyone!

  20. thegodguy says:

    Dear leocorionsociety,

    I share your same concern about the poisonous science that comes from human prudence.

    In 1979 I purchased some land in Southern Illinois so that I could grow my own food on organic principles. I built a solar home several years later. My first book was entitled “Sermon From The Compost Pile” which was inspired from the trees, fruits, and flowers that made up my earthly Garden of Eden. The book demonstrated how one could find God’s Wisdom from one’s own backyard or garden – with a knowledge of correspondences.

    I gave a talk about about this theme for the Swedenborg Scientific Association (SSA) last Spring and it is re-printed in the current issue of The New Philosophy.

    In spite of how bad things may look remember this – “GOD”S WILL BE DONE!”

    You are a thoughtful and good man.

    And I am no spring chicken either! ; )

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  21. “ I am that I am” spoke volumes to Moses; in effect saying that HE (and HIS servant Science) need no calibrating witness, they bear witness to themselves. Let us therefore make USE (without thought of recompense) our duty and goal.

    I have a BLOG: (Leocorionsociety’s Blog) and would like to hear your comments, if you wish to continue our congeniality.

    Thank you for your letter: there is work to be done, so let us get on with it.

  22. Correction!
    Swedenborg does bear witness. I believe that this is what you and I will agree on, and what you are trying to advance. Carry on!

  23. thegodguy says:

    Dear leocorionsociety,

    The purpose of my blog is to spread Swedenborgian thought in the world through innovative ways as well as promote my books. My newest book “Proving God” will be available to the public about mid-March. Much of my time is spent marketing this project to the world. It is a seven-year work that attempts to unify science and theology.

    Since you are Swedenborgian you don’t actually represent my “target” audience. All my efforts focus on non-Swedenborgians – with the aim to help the Lord usher in the Holy City, The New Jerusalem into the world.

    However, I promise to pay a visit to your Blog in the near future and make suitable comments as I see fit.

    I currently have an article published in the current issue of The New Philosophy entitled “God’s Ecology and Spiritual Gardening.” It is re-printed from a talk I gave at last year’s Annual Address of The Swedenborg Scientific Association. If you are interested go to:

    http://www.swedenborg-philosophy.org

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

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