This story is a continuation of the blog post entitled “The Rope and the Ladder” published on March 14, 2010, which generated many comments.
Several days after their first encounter the Rope tracked down the Ladder with some new questions.
“Hello again,” said the Rope. “I went over to Rope University and asked Professor Lengthy Rope what he thought about whether discrete mental functions could be continuous or not. The professor pulled out some quotes from a book by Emanuel Swedenborg that seemed to offer evidence that the human imagination and thinking operations are both forms of reasoning and that they are continuous.”
“I think you are referring to Swedenborg’s Rational Psychology,” answered the Ladder. “The problem is that beyond these couple of passages Swedenborg offers further elaboration as to the distinctions between human imagination and human thought.”
The Ladder paused for a few seconds then continued. “Further along in the book Swedenborg adds a new twist to the discussion by describing a more precise term called ‘proper’ thought, which is his way of differentiating both true reasoning and rationality from the cognitive functions of imagination and ingenuity. Swedenborg makes it clear that sensing, imagining and thinking take place on different stratifications of brain and neural structure. Therefore they cannot be continuous.
“All mental concepts consist of ratio, proportion and analogy. These ratios are reproduced within the sensitive bio-structure of the brain and neuron as they change their states. However, the higher functions of human rationality and abstract thought require deeper orders of bio-structure capable of changing states to create ratios of ratio. In other words, what Swedenborg defines as proper thought is a superior operation that creates new ratios within a ratio produced by the function of imagination. So again, these operations must be discrete activities and not continuous. “
The ladder noticed that the Rope was becoming glassy-eyed from hearing all this.
“Perhaps I can make an analogy from the structure of your own body,” said the Ladder to the Rope. “You see yourself as a length of rope but you are made of twisted cords and each cord is made of twisted fibers. Each of these levels of your structure enjoy their own distinct existence and are contiguous with each other by forming specific boundaries. Each boundary touches the other but they are not continuous with each other. Using your own multi-level structure, Swedenborg would say that your external or most compound form was analogous to the ideas and operation of the human memory. The more interior level of your structure would be analogous to the structure that creates imagination and ingenuity. And on the innermost level, the fibers, are where proper thought, reasoning, and rationality occur. You cannot fully grasp these differences merely from a few quotes made by Swedenborg. These ideas that I am sharing with you come from a synthesis of Swedenborg’s work spanning dozens of his scientific and theological books. Swedenborg not only states that these various functions of human cognition operate on different stratum of neural structure but these multi-level structures are based on distinct geometrical principles including non-classical (non-Newtonian) forms.”
The Ladder noticed that the Rope seemed more lost by this discussion then ever. So he began to contemplate how there might be an easier way to show that the various functions of the human intellect were distinct rather than continuous.
“What would you want to have right now more than anything else,” asked the Ladder with all seriousness?
The Rope looked up at the hot noonday sun and said, “a triple-decker ice cream cone with sprinkles on top!”
“Let me go buy you that wonderful ice cream cone,” said the ladder with a big smile.
“Oh no, I can’t,” replied the Rope. “I am only able to maintain my thin and slender look by staying away from sugary and fattening foods.”
“So, how can your mind be continuous if you can house opposing ideas that are based on entirely discrete principles?” came the Ladder.
“I-I don’t know what you mean by discrete principles,” replied the Rope.
“Your corporeal/sensual imaginative mind loves only what offers physical pleasure and delight but your rational mind loves something which looks at a much bigger picture—your health and well-being. If these were merely continuous operations one could not oppose the other from a higher and nobler principle. There would be no temptations in life or the remorse of conscience if the human intellect were continuous. It is human rationality that opposes harmful behavior—even if it brings bodily pleasure. It is true that these distinct functions can become homogenous and correspond, but in everyday life we know that they don’t and we experience many inner conflicts. A person could never transcend his or her biological self unless the mind had a distinct level that could oppose its lower natural or worldly desires. Spiritual evolution is based on this inner combat,” said the Ladder with great conviction. “Swedenborg considered proper thought or rationality a person’s inner reality but imagination was tied to a more external or worldly reality.”
“I certainly can understand all this better when you put it in terms of things I can actually experience, “ said the rope. “No need to go back to the professor!”