Scientific discovery of Spiritual Laws given in Rational Scientific Revelations

LOGOS Winter 1982



(c)1982 Leon James and Diane Nahl
University of Hawaii

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STUDENTS of Emanuel Swedenborg are well aware of the quiet but extraordinarily significant influence, which he has steadily exercised for the past two hundred years on the ideas of key Western philosophers, scientists, poets, and humanists. To name but a few: Goethe, Heine, Kant, Schelling, Tennyson, Blake, Coleridge, T. Carlyle, Emerson, Henry and William James, Jung, H. Keller, R. Frost, and many more (see Swedenborg Foundation circular and documentation). But for most, Swedenborg's presence is private, intimate and tacit -- sometimes denied (as appears the case with Kant), sometimes repudiated (as with Emerson). As scientists ourselves, we wonder at the absence of Swedenborg from the reference lists in history of science texts we require in our graduate-training program. One hypothesis we have for the total absence of Swedenborg in history of science textbooks of today is that no one knew where to fit him in the 'line of descent' in the history of ideas for the past two centuries. Swedenborg didn't quite fit like the others did: Was he scientist or mystic? Was his expertise engineering, government, theology, or neuroanatomy? Was his method intuitive or empirical? The world of science has known men who fit nowhere -- in which case a new branch of thought is initiated; but never has the world known a man who fits everywhere! Strange as this may sound it appears that since Swedenborg fits everywhere, he is put nowhere.

But this classification paradox is not likely to stop the oncoming revolution we foresee in the decades ahead. We agree with biographer Trobridge that the Swedenborgian revolution in human thought is likely to outdo in importance that of the Copernican or Einsteinian revolutions. Here is why we think so.


ONE of the most influential histories of science books in modern times is Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. As a result of Kuhn's analysis, the idea is now widely accepted in many disciplines that "normal science" progresses through discontinuous jumps from one theoretical system or "paradigm" to another. A few paradigms or schools of thought dominate the entire field for awhile, dictating to all what are to be the acceptable methods of research and the worthwhile projects to support or reward. Soon however, new facts emerge and accumulate which do not fit in the existing paradigm; thus, new knowledge outpaces old theory and old method. As a result, there arises disagreement and various battling factions are formed. Eventually an intellectual hero or heroine emerges who proposes a "paradigm switch": this is a new paradigm in conflict with the old. Because the new paradigm can account for the new and old facts better than the old paradigm, it eventually wins out. The old paradigm with its supporters die out and the new paradigm now dictates the new standards of research, new methods, new topics and the available funds, and the awards -- until the next revolution. Famous scientific revolutions were wrought by Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Darwin, and Freud. In our days and in our field, scientific revolutions were brought on by Skinner ("Behaviorism"), Chomsky (Linguistics), and Garfinkel/Goffman (Ethnomethodology/Sociology).


Our predictions for Swedenborgian paradigm switches in the coming decades are restricted to the fields with whose topics and methods we are directly familiar as a result of twenty years of academic and professional work in teaching and research. We hope to be able to document these claims in the near future. For the most part these fields are involved with applications in education, therapy, and information science. There is a special growing interest in these areas to provide professional services to the community and which has fostered in the past decades an enormous quantity of research activity in the bio-medical, psychological, and educational fields. And now the list:

Click here to see table 1

The data we are in the process of gathering will show that persistent problems and issues that have long baffled scientists and practitioners in these fields can now be resolved in a more effective manner within the Swedenborgian paradigm. We'd like to present two early findings, which appear promising to us.


The Age of Reason of the 18th century fortified the Baconian method (which until then was in the minority), ushered in the modern 'materialistic' conception of the universe, and laid the foundations for Darwin's evolution theory which was largely responsible for modern genetics, agriculture, and the highly visible bio-medical research enterprise of today. These achievements were made possible by the development of 'statistics' -- a powerful new research paradigm pioneered by Darwin's students of the Scottish school, Galton, Fisher, and Pearson. This paradigm now dictates research standards in medicine, genetics, psychology, business management and economics, agriculture, and many more. Its kingpin is the "null hypothesis" which is the modern version of the Baconian motto that nothing is to be considered as existing until it is proven to exist. Among the vicissitudes of this approach is its excessive negativity, to the point where it drove Descartes, the inventor of trigonometry, to doubt his own existence! The traditional drawbacks of the negative bias paradigm in science have been known to be reductionism and exclusion. In other words it excludes from research many of the most important topics for humanists and the religious namely, faith, wisdom, love, morality, life after death, goodness, truth, aesthetics, freedom; or, when these topics are being investigated, the tendency) because of the method1is to reduce them to operational measures which no longer represent adequately the topic under study. Many serious and well-known researchers recognize these traditional limitations of the negative bias method. Their general assessment is that these topics are beyond the scope of their investigation.

SWEDENBORG himself cautioned scholars to reject the Baconian paradigm of the null hypothesis, saw it as ultimately sterile, and urged the continuation of the classic Aristotelian paradigm of investigation. We have been calling this "the positive bias in science." It seems to us that it was held by every major scientist and discoverer in history (except Bacon) up until the Age of Reason when a split occurred in the ranks of European scientists. Swedenborg was unique in that he worked within the positive bias even during his earlier years of interest in the natural sciences. This is why his natural science contributions and methods were excluded from the history of science books, since the latter espoused the negative bias paradigm. However we predict that Swedenborg's influence in the natural sciences will grow after the paradigm switch in the social sciences which we are foreseeing. Swedenborg's positive bias paradigm in the natural sciences may also provide a viable alternative to "Creationism" in that it reconciles the Bible's spiritual meaning with contemporary science (Swedenborg is one of the originators of the nebular theory of galactic formation!)

The positive bias paradigm requires us first to accept something, which is asserted by a trustworthy source, and then requires us to confirm it through experience and experiment. Swedenborg clearly saw that there was absolutely no way to prove the existence of the spiritual and celestial worlds by first assuming they did not exist -- as is required by the negative bias paradigm. He was right in this as shown by the history of the negative bias paradigm in the past two hundred years, namely, that the spiritual and celestial worlds are still today being denied as real by the current paradigms in all the natural and all the social sciences. Swedenborg proceeded within the positive bias just as Aristotle had done long before him and all those in between. Thus, he first accepted what his rational mind discovered and then labored to confirm it by facts, observations, argument, experiment, and experience. It is wonderful to see his ingenuity in accomplishing this, as will be appreciated by those who read his works.

For example, his neuroanatomical studies went beyond his contemporaries by observing that the left side of the brain is influxed by intel1ectual impulses from the spirit world while the right side of the brain is influxed by affective impulses from the celestial world; similarly, that the cerebrum deals with the intellect while the cerebellum with the will or voluntary systems. All of Swedenborg's anatomical and neurological studies were excellent models of scientific observations through the positive bias paradigm. The extraordinary discoveries he reports on the relation between the spiritual/celestial degrees (or "The Grand Man") and the natural as observed in body functioning are still to be accepted and applied by those in the service professions today such as medicine, psychology, business, and education. To confirm these facts in practical applications now becomes the task of those in the sciences that are willing to start working within the positive bias paradigm. Clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen is a contemporary scientist who has already espoused the positive bias methodology, and no doubt there are others. We'd be pleased to hear from them!


BESIDES the switch to the positive bias paradigm, the second major development we foresee is the adoption of Swedenborg's triune system of analyzing events and ideas. This model is elaborated in numerous places in his writings (look up the entry "ORDER" in Potts), an example of which may be given:


"It is like the column mentioned just above subsiding into a plane, the highest part of which forms the innermost of the plane, the middle forms the middle, and the lowest the outermost." Angelic Wisdom Concerning Divine Love, n.205.


In our teaching at the University of Hawaii we use a particular kind of diagram when we explain Swedenborg's model. Thus, the quotation above may be diagrammed as follows:

Click here to see diagram 1

The triconcentric diagram on the right visually exhibits the three "discreet degrees of height" (A----> B ---> C) which Swedenborg calls "successive order", and the three "continuous degrees of breadth" which he calls "simultaneous order." Picturing the triconcentric diagram while reading a Swedenborgian sentence or paragraph greatly enhances our capacity to see the meaning distinctly. We predict that when Swedenborgian writers begin to make use of this diagramming method, the so called difficulty in reading Swedenborg will largely vanish, and this includes children's comprehension of it as well (as shown by our two children who love reading Swedenborg). The reason our graphic method is so facilitative is, we feel that the key to apprehending Swedenborg's thought is to figure out to which of "the three degrees of existence" any one concept or word belongs. For example:


"The human mind always dwells in the trine called end, cause and effect. If one of these is lacking, the mind is not possessed of its life. An affection of the will is the initiating end; the thought of the understanding is the efficient cause; and bodily action, utterance or external sensation is the effect from the end by means of the thought." Angelic Wisdom About Divine Providence, n.178 (2).


The first sentence may be graphically analyzed using the triconcentric method, as shown on the left of the diagram below:

Click here to see diagram 2

Note that the three degrees of existence are connected by "correspondences" which are functional relations as indicated by the arrows. Thus, "ends" (also called "essence" elsewhere) descend by correspondence into "causes" and these in turn descend into "effects," the three being in functional correspondence with each other, both successively and simultaneously. By adding the concepts in the third sentence of the quotation above, we can enlarge the graphic diagram to include them and obtain a slightly more complex form of Swedenborg's thought, as shown on the right of the diagram above. In theory, there is no limit to the size of the graphic diagram, but in practice we restrict each diagram to a particular topic or topic domain under study.

Swedenborg's writings are replete with sentences that mention one element of each of the three degrees of existence, as in the two quotations above. We've observed this phenomenon in the writings of Swedenborgians indicating that it is of a fundamental nature throughout his thought. We present below some of our findings by way of illustration. We use the tabular form of presentation but the reader is to picture the concepts in a triconcentric diagram.

Click here to see table 2

This kind of conceptual "matrix" reveals a great deal about Swedenborg's system of thought. The more a person studies his writings the more one gains in one's thought a new way of classifying ideas or concepts by which one can then apprehend phenomena in an entirely new way; that is, in an integrated rather than loose system. By running your eye up and down within a column of such a matrix, you get a good indication of the specific character of that degree as applied to a particular topic domain. In the above instance, note how the A-words are inmost in degree, hence highest or earliest in successive order. Note how the C-words are outermost in degree of existence, and thus are the lowest or ultimate in succession. When you run your eye across a line horizontally, you are getting a good indication of the mechanism of that particular phenomenon, how it comes into existence and what are its successive steps of existence from origin/end, through cause, to effect. For instance, the GOOD OF LOVE (second line) must occur first in order to externalize as RATIONAL TRUTH in the intermediate stage and as MEMORY or MEMORY-KNOWLEDGES in its ultimate stage. Or to take the last line, HELPING is a consequence or effect of prior UNDERSTANDING, which in turn originates from LOVING.

THERE is no room to present here in detail how this type OT model-building works to solve problems and issues which have baffled medical, psychological, and educational researchers, but we would be glad to share the findings we have thus far with any scholar who contacts us. The great advantage of this graphic method to Swedenborg's thought lies in its visual/aesthetic properties, which we found to be productive, creative, novel, and indefinitely large. There is tremendous potential, we feel, in this for each and every human community in helping to mine its discourse technology. We trust that in the next few decades the graphic methodology we've outlined will, in connection with the positive bias paradigm switch, create the greatest revolution in science ever, for the great benefit of humankind.

Click here to diagram 3

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