The Rope, the Ladder and the Ice Cream Cone

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!”


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
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9 Responses to The Rope, the Ladder and the Ice Cream Cone

  1. Glenn Schoen says:

    Dear TheGodGuy,

    Nicely done.

    However, the story continues (on a different level (of course))…

    “Hmm,” said the professor to himself as the stroked his beard with one hand, and adjusted his pince-nez with the other. “I was certain the rope would have returned, mostly likely trailing its tattered and frayed fibers behind it. Too bad! I had such delicious strands for it follow!”

    The professor, you see, had had a few more mind-numbing quotes for the rope to coil its mind around. Not so many, just three.

    There was the quote about how “there are three degrees of height in every man” from DLW 236.

    There was the one from DLW 230 about how “in man the three degrees are finite.”

    And the more lengthy one from DLW 237 about how “the [first] degree… grows in him by continuity according to his knowledges and the understanding acquired by means of knowledges even to the highest point of understanding, which is called the rational. Yet not by this means is the second degree opened.”

    “How about?” said the professor to the empty room. “Man’s mind can be developed to the highest point of understanding, which is called the rational. And yet–yet!–the second of the three discrete degrees in him is not opened by these means. And the two higher degrees in him may still be closed, even though his mind has been develop by continuity to the rational!”

    “Oh well,” thought the professor. “Perhaps it is best not to confuse the rope with Swedenborg’s later theological clarifications of the earlier scientific work he did before he himself had had the second degree of his mind opened.”

    The professor then experienced a sudden hankering for some Baskin Robbins ice cream.

    “Yes, I think I shall.”

    And before reaching home, the professor stopped off at Baskin Robbins, and bought himself some ice cream. He wasn’t sure exactly why, but instead of choosing his usual flavor of Rocky Road, he yielded to some impulse intruding from afar and settled for Nutty Coconut instead.

    “It’s a shame,” mused the professor, as he wiped ice cream from his chin. “The rope seemed to be coming along just fine. But it is spring, and the allure of infatuation is in the air, so I suppose it is understandable. Still, once the basic concepts had been laid down, I was going to introduce fractals, and then using an analogy based on the fascinating world of fractals, show how when things are looked at more closely, the more approachable, basic concepts can be seen to be working in a similar fashion at deeper levels.”


  2. Sue says:

    Re: your first line “Several days after their first encounter the Rope tracked down the Ladder with some new questions.”

    What’s up with this rope? I can’t decide if it’s sincerely interested in all this or just likes to ask stupid questions. It seems to change its mind a lot. The ladder is patient. And generous with its time and money.

    I don’t trust the rope – it might just wish it had asked for more than the cone. I think it’s going to run and ask the professor more stupid questions … and then come back and ask the ladder more stupid questions …

    Will there be a part 3?

  3. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    God loves the rope and the ladder. But there will be no part 3 from me. I will let Glenn handle that!

    Spiritually yours,

  4. Sue says:

    Part 3:
    “The ice cream refreshed me, thanks”, said the Rope, “I need to expand anyway; might as well try for a more ladderish shape. Maybe I’ll become a rope ladder.”

    “Your mind is rather stiff”, observed the Ladder, “but I can see it’s hard to get up off the ground with your limited support system. Continuous and finite and tightly coiled is no way to live.”

    “Well”, replied the Rope, “speaking of continuous and finite, I decided to begin at the beginning, so I read your very first post. You ended it with, ‘Convincing you that Scripture contains deeper levels of God’s Infinite Wisdom is the most important thing I can do while still on earth.’
    That was possibly the best idea of all time for blogging.”

    “Blogging is a discrete degree away from scientific inquiry you know”, said the Ladder. “Bloggers not only need to be correct, but also entertaining. It’s a fine art and I’m good at it. Have you ever read another blog about Swedenborg per chance?”

    “Well, I’ve tried, but I always go limply to sleep, so I see what you mean”, admitted the Rope.

    Then, because the Rope loves continual chatter, it continued, “Actually I wish the professor would blog because I’d love to read it. He is amazingly perceptive about Swedenborg. But, alas, he refuses to try to entertain us on a regular basis”.

    “Well, that’s where I stand up straight”, reassured the ladder. “I’m on a mission to bring modern spiritual thinking right to you, even if you are laying coiled and forgotten and covered in sticky spilled ice cream.”

  5. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    Swedenborgians have a reputation for being intellectually dry. I don’t know why my efforts at trying some right-brained thinking and creativity would draw fire.

    My upcoming book “Proving God” is an adventure in thinking. Readers will certainly be challenged!

    Spiritually yours,

  6. Sue says:

    Swedenborgians have a reputation? That’s news to me.
    Drawing fire is your friend. Don’t disparage it. It will help you sell books.

  7. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    I have heard Swedeborgians (ministers) themselves admit they were “dry.” And don’t worry for me, I am no shrinking violet.

    I guess I was wrong to assume that all Swedenborgians would back my efforts.

    Today’s religion is science. If I could show that Swedenborg’s scientific ideas are still relevant that would put some rocket fuel into the Swedenborgian Movement and create increased interest in his theological ideas.

    By the way, check out the debate “Does God have a future?”

    Spiritually yours,

  8. Sue says:

    The debate link was very nice. Cute. Sam Harris always fascinates me because he believes in God, you can tell, but fancies himself an atheist. Here’s his take on religion: “It’s embarrassingly lame. But, well, duh, we all believe in the REAL God.”

  9. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    The existence of God is a hot topic right now. It would be a shame if Swedenborg’s ideas were not brought to the table. That is what I am trying to do!

    Spiritually yours,

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