The topic of consciousness and selfhood presents many problems for neuroscientists with their current methodology of explaining mental activity solely in terms of physical processes or through third-person observation.
Lately, however, these scientists are looking into the importance of feelings as the key ingredient behind person-level experience. In this regard, 18th Century scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg was way ahead of his time.
He was not only the father of the neuron theory (brain cell with its connections), he theorized that the neuron itself contained deeper layers of structure where the higher cognitive functions of abstract, rational, intuitive and spiritual thought operated. (Current neuroscience is also moving in the direction of multi-leveled structure within the neuron as well as current theories in physics, which proposs that the universe is structured into layers of existence!)
During the course of one’s lifetime these layers of human consciousness were opened up according to new feelings, that is, new principles of love.
According to Swedenborg, personal consciousness consists simply of one’s likes and dislikes. On the lowest corporeal level of mind, an individual likes or dislikes things according to the comfort and physical pleasure something provided in the world. Higher up in the chain of consciousness, an individual likes or dislikes certain ideas that have accumulated in the memory. Above this level—called human reasoning and judgment—a person likes or dislikes more abstract notions of civility, ethics and morality. At the highest level, one cultivates likes and dislikes from things learned through religious or spiritual considerations. On this final level, what one likes and dislikes become issues of good and evil.
At each distinct level of consciousness described by Swedenborg, a different quality of feelings sits in the cockpit of mental activity. At each new or higher level in this model, personal level experience becomes nobler and one’s heart becomes more inclusive—moving from self-gratification and merely personal pleasure to concerns about others to spiritual love for others.
We cannot prove this hierarchical model in a laboratory, but we all respond with “gratitude” to those individuals who operate and affect our lives from elevated levels of heart and mind. Therefore, we can each prove to ourselves that who we are and how we think (person-level experience) is based on what we love.
Swedenborg found the principles of like and dislike represented in the dynamics of physical nature, human anatomy and in the human psyche. Physical objects expanded when they got warmer and contracted when they got colder. Similarly, the structures of the physical human body expanded (dilated) when the person was happy, attracted to, and warmed-up to something, but became constricted when a person grew cold towards something or found it repulsive.
Swedenborg called this similarity between physical actions and mental actions correspondences. In other words, the principle of like and dislike had its analog in all created things—from the mineral world to bio-complexity to the human heart and mind.
Such a model of reality would certainly be a lawful result of a God of Love!
I have explored Swedenborg’s amazing insights, which straddle and unify both science and theology in my new book Proving God. If nothing else, it will allow you to explore your likes and dislikes on deeper levels of your personhood!