Harold Gardiner-SWEDENBORG's-SEARCH-FOR-THE-SOUL-The-Swedenborg-Society-London-1936

1. SWEDENBORG TRANSACTIONS·SOCIETY (Inc.) NumberTwoSwedenborgs Searchfor theSoulAddress given byHAROLD GARDINER, M.S., F.R.C.S.,at Swedenborg Birthday Celebradon,London,…
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  • 1. SWEDENBORG TRANSACTIONS·SOCIETY (Inc.) NumberTwoSwedenborgs Searchfor theSoulAddress given byHAROLD GARDINER, M.S., F.R.C.S.,at Swedenborg Birthday Celebradon,London, January 29th, 1936
  • 2. SWEDENBORGS SEARCHfor theSOULAddress given byHAROLD GARDINER, M.S., F.R.CS.,at Swedenborg Birthday Celebration,London, January 29th, 1936SWEDENBORG SOCIETY (INcoRPORATED)SWEDENBORG HOUSEHART STREET, LONDON, W.C. 1193 6
  • 3. Swedenborgs Searchfor theSoul.WE are here this evening to commemorate thebirth of Emanuel Swedenborg, one of thegreat geniuses of aU ages. The record ofhis genius is contained not only in his writings, but inthe devotion to Truth and Duty which he upheldthrough a long and blameless life. The old definitionof genius as the infinite capacity for taking pains isparticularly applicable to him, and nowhere is it moreapparent than in the works which form the subject ofmy paper this evening. These were written before russpiritual illumination and with the avowed intent todiscover the soul, its habitation and its relation to thehuman body. With this end in view he devotedhimself to an exhaustive study of anatomy, physiologyand psychology, and the works on The Animal King-dom, The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, Organs ofGeneration, The Brain, and Rational Psychologywerethe result.5
  • 4. To appreciate the significance of these it is neces­sary to bear in mind their relation to the works thatpreceded and followed them.The early part of Swedenborgs life was devotedlargely to purely scientific pursuits, and during thisperiod he wrote extensively on a very wide range ofscientific subjects. 1 need not enumerate them, butthey included most, if not aB, of the subjects of scienceknown in his clay. These cuiminated in the Principia,which was an attempt to explore the ultimate Realityand mode of origin of the universe. 1 must saysomething about this work, as it has a very importantbearing on the subject of my paper.In the Principia, Swedenborg, by a process ofinteBectual induction, develops a system of cosmologywhich traces the origin of matter back to a primaImost pure force which is the first determinant of theInfinite, and from this he evoives a series of stages thelast of which is the formation of solid matter. Each ofthese stages is quite definite, is formed by a modi­fication of the preceding one, and corresponds to andis maintained by it. As these stages are successivelyformed they become relativeIy less and less active until6
  • 5. final1y the last stage, beyond which no further activitycan be withdrawn, is reached and dead matter iscreated. So that we have a number of stages of decreas­ing powers of activity between the primaI force-thefirst determinant of the Infinite-and the dead materialuniverse. These stages are the various auras of theuniverse. They form the medium for the transmissionof light-higher auras for the transmission ofgravitation and magnetism and even higher ones whoseactivities are not clearly understood, but about which1 will make further reference at a later stage.It was, then, after this monumental work that heembarked on his search for the soul. The writingswhich 1 have enumerated and which have given us theresult of his investigations are general1y described aspart of his scientific works, but 1 would suggest thatthey he not so regarded, but rather as belonging essen­tial1y to the philosophical. 1 want to stress this pointvery strongly because the soul lies far above andinterior to the truths of natural science, and Sweden­borg realized this even before his period of spiritualinspiration. That being so, his mind had to rise abovethe purely scientific plane in order to have any hope of7
  • 6. success in the quest. And so it must be with theminds of those who read these books. For this reasonyou will find that not only do they culminate in aprofound philosophical thesis on the nature of thesoul and its relation to the body, but the atmosphereof a high philosophical inspiration pervades the wholeof their writing. 1 feel therefore constrained to suggestthat these works be not regarded as scientific in theordinary sense of the word. They are essentiallyphilosophical. It is true that they are based on themost extensive scientific knowledge available at thetime they were written, but there is a superaddedphilosophical argument which is their very essence.This argument is one paraIlel with that contained inhis Principia. The one is a philosophical systemapplicable to the dead material universe, and the otherits correlated system applicable to the living universein man, his soul, and his body.It is quite clear that Swedenborgs mind at thistime was working entirely with this philosophical endin view, and aIl the scientific facts he investigated heregarded only as a means to confirm that end.He was already seeing, perhaps dimly compared8
  • 7. with its later development, that the ultimate explana­tion of the infinite forms of nature, both living anddead, is to be found in the correspondence betweenthese forms and the use they serve. This philosophicalconception was after his illumination shown to bebased on the Universal Doctrine of Uses, but even atthe earlier period his mind had formed this conceptionand it shows itself throughout these philosophical works.It was for this reason that he set himself to learnaIl that the science of anatomy had to teach, hopingthat by studying the minute forms and relations of theparts of the body he would be able to penetrate intothe uses that underlay them, and so by degrees to thesoul, which he regarded as the very life and originatorof those uses. These books are, however, full ofwarnings that mere dissection, however assiduous anddetailed, cannot reveal the underlying truth and thatit is necessary, after learning aIl that the scalpel canteach, to employ the more deeply penetrating methodsof intellectual reasoning and philosophical reflection.1t was only when he had thus exerted all his powersthat he wrote the works we are considering. Theyare therefore built in a mould fashioned out of scientific9
  • 8. truths in a form determined by his philosophical con­ceptions. So we have a method firstly of deductionfrom the facts of science, followed by an analysis andinterpretation by philosophical induction.We find as a result of this that ifthe ordinary scientificinterpretation of the observed facts were not consistentwith his philosophical conceptions he provided a newinterpretation. These are, in many cases, very revolu­tionary and stated with a boldness that only a geniusconfident of his intellectual acumen could compass.He did not attempt to confirm these interpretationsby experiment. They appeared dear to him in thefacts viewed from the standpoint of his philosophy andthough since his time a great deal of experimentalwork has proved the truth of a large number of theseideas, there is a still larger number which to-day arenot proved and sorne which remain in direct contra­diction to accepted scientific thought. So much, how­ever, has been proved to be correct that he would bea bold man who would maintain that in years to comethe remainder will not also be shown to be true.This, then, is the reason why these works shouldnot be regarded as scientific but rather as philosophicalro
  • 9. -the results he obtained were subject to no scientificproof, but were the ofispring of profound philosophiethought, and to him the clear light of philosophy wasmore illuminating than the conflicting arguments ofScience. If these works are so regarded there is aclear progress of mental development shown in aIl hiswritings, from the early and purely scientific, throughthe philosophical or rational phase introduced by thePrincipia, to the spiritual which followed the openingof his spiritual mind-a progress corresponding exactlywith that expounded by him in his later inspiredwritings on spiritual development and regeneration.Now let us examine more closely the way in whichSwedenborg set out to search for the soul, what hefound on bis journey, and the goal he reached. Thephilosophy of the nature of the soul and its relationto the body involves a study of the highest work ofthe Creator, and a lifetime spent on it would not besufficient to compass it; aIl 1 can hope to do isto put before you sorne of the fundamental principlesunderlying it.Swedenborg, then, starts with the premise that thesoul is the purest essence of man, made of so pure aII
  • 10. substance as to be capable of receiving life direct fromthe Creator, analogous in the living creation to thatprimaI force mentioned in the Principia as being thefirst determinant of the Infinite. Now just as Sweden­borg conceived of matter being formed in descendingstages as described in the Principia, and as each ofthese stages is, as it were, a covering for the precedingone and is activated by it, so did Swedenborg regardthe soul as lying above or interior to the material bodyand as using the body as a covering and an instrument.The soul lies above the conscious mind andtherefore cannot be examined directly, as the mindcannot rise above itself. It is, of course~ for this reasonthat the human mind cannot form any complete con­ception of the Infinite. Swedenborg therefore sets outto explore the soul by a process of removing itscoverings-the outermost being the material body. Hethen discovers that aH parts of the body are fashionedespeciaHy for the use they have to perform-the eyefor the reception of light, the ear for that of sound, thearteries and blood aH adaptedin the most minutedetail for their respective uses.He then argues that, as it is inconceivable that suchIZ
  • 11. a perfect thing, perfect in its parts and in their har­mony with themselves, could be produced by merechance, it is the use or end itself that is the cause bywhich each organ is formed, so that it shaH be mostperfectly adapted not only in its general form but inits most minute structure to the use it has to perform.The truth of this philosophy of· use he tests by aminute exploration of the whole body and,when thisis completed, of the whole mind of man. As you willunderstand, this is a task requiring aH the knowledgeand wisdom of which the human mind is capable, andit would be the height of presumption to daim tograsp such a subject in its entirety, for although manis a finite human being and his body is material insubstance, the study of its structure and its relation toman himself, i.e., his mind and soul, is unending. AsSwedenborg says, the human body has relations withthe whole universe. 1t contains within it substancesand forms and forces which are related to the mineraI,vegetable and animal kingdoms, to the living and thenon-living, to aH the auras of the universe. In factit is the macrocosm in microcosm. How then can theattempt be made to understand such a subject? It13
  • 12. cannot be done by ordinary chemical and physicalinvestigations. They can carry us no further than theboundaries of the physical world. Such investigationshave been going on for centuries and the result is notto simplify the understanding of the body, far less ofthe mind, but rather to reveal more and more theirinfinitely complex structure and activities. The micro­scope instead .of simplifying the problem merely hadthe effect of extending the field of research a hundred­fold. Modern physical and chemical science has donethe same. This leads in passing to the suggestivethought that though each of us is a unit and, regardedas such, is as far removed from the Infinite as possible,this unit when examined is found to expand, to consistin the first place of a multitude of organs, these of astill larger multitude of cells and each of these to beinfluenced by its surrounding atmospheres of theworld; and the whole body contains within it powersof reaction so subtle that even a passing tremor offear in the mind sets up immediate changes in thematerial body; every emotion and indeed thought ofthe mind has its definite effect. Is there any limit tothese of which the mind is capable? and does not this14
  • 13. unit-each individual human being-thus approachto contact with the Infinite, expanding to apparentlyunlimited actions and reactions as it is more interiorlyexamined, in fact possessing the potentiality of per-fecting itself to eternity by expanding its consciousnessinto doser and doser rapport with the Infinite? Theonly hope of arriving at even an approximate under-standing of such a subject is to adopt the method thatSwedenborg did, namely, that of determining thegeneral principles governing it. He propounded threephilosophical principles for this end, namely, theprinciples of Degrees, Influx and Correspondences.It is by these that he correlates the working of themind with that of the body.The conceptions prevalent in his day, and whichhave persisted to a large extent since, involved theattribution of thoughts and desires as inherent pro-perties of the material partides of which the body iscomposed. Swedenborg attributed none of this powerto matter but regarded the material parts of the bodyas completely dead and becoming alive only when theywere subject to the influx of life. Life and matter areon distinct planes and the one cannot be converted15
  • 14. into the other though they both react on each other.So with the soul which is the inmost recipient of lifein man. He regarded it as being of the most primaIelementary and pure substance for the direct receptionof life from the Creator, but in order that it couldbecome fixed and stabilized it had to clothe itself anddescend into its material covering. It is, he holds, ofsuch a pure form that direct contact with dead matter .was impossible, and it had to interpose between itselfand matter coverings of a more refined nature whichwould modify not only the effect of the soul on itsfinal material covering, but also modify the influenceof matter upon it. These intermediate coverings arethe different planes of the mind.And so, just as the first substance of the materialuniverse, as explained in his Principia, passes throughstages of modification until solid matter is reached, sodoes the primaI living substance of the soul passthrough a descending series of mental planes until itreaches the material plane which it then vivifies.Swedenborg describes three steps by which thisdescent is made. First of all that from the soul tothe highest conscious part of the mind, which he16
  • 15. caUs the intelleetory or purely rational part of themind; then from this to the animus or lower partmore nearly akin to the animal mind, and thence topurely physical sensations.AU these are distinct degrees, i.e., the soul cannotbecome the rational mind nor can this become thelower more animal mind or animus-nor can thisbecome bodily sensation, but each reacts on the otherand depends on the others for its existence.Thus there are the pure1y physical sensations bywhich the body transmits to the lowest part of themind the stimuli it receives from the outer world. Thislower mind or animus has no power of discriminationor judgment, and mere1y converts these sensations intomental images. This spate of sensations by which it isflooded is therefore controlled by the higher rationalmind and reduced by it to order, sorne sensationsbeing rejected and others used to assist in the formationof intellectual ideas and affections, the whole beingsubject to and animated by the sou!. There is there­fore, a constant descent of spiritual and living forcefrom the soul through the mind to the body and aconstant reverse process of ascent from the impulses17
  • 16. of the material world through the mind to the soul.In order that this ebb and flow can be carried out ina complete and orderly manner it is necessary thatthe communications between the different degreesshould be kept free and untrammeHed and, in fact,that aH parts of each degree must correspond in everydetail with those of the others. Now the form ofany part is affected by its use-and Swedenborg main­tained that if any part were used in a base or pervertedway its inmost form would be gradually distorted sothat it might ultimately become well nigh impossiblefor it to revert to its orderly use. That the form of theeye is adapted to its visual use needs no emphasis­nor indeed does the adaptation of the gross form of anypart of the body to its use-but Swedenborg made thebold assumption that the minute structure of everypart of the body, and not only its gross form, alsocorresponds exactly with its own particular use andconfirmed this as far as was possible by the descrip­tions of the minute structure of the body which wereknown in his day. But he did not stop there. Hisconception carried him still further into realms whichcannot be penetrated by any microscope, being, as18
  • 17. they are, above the kingdom surveyed by the eye.He predicates of the cell a constant motion of itsparts-presumably molecular and atomic-and evenbeyond this a subatomic motion or flux. This con-ception again corresponds very closely with those inthe Principia-eonceptions which are strongly sup-ported by modern investigations in the realm ofmathematics.It is probable that Swedenborg had tbis generalconception of the relationship of the soul to the mindand the body when he started his investigations. Inany event, the profound study of the minute structureof the body contained in these works is inspired bythe determination to raise it above the plane of deadmaterialism and fill it with a truly living philosophy.1t was in fact an effort to interpret the nature of thehuman mind and body in terms of ultimate Reality.1 can find no record of any actual dissection orexperimental work done by himself. It is, however,clear that he did sorne experimental work but gaveit up on account of the danger of his results biassinghis mind, for he says in his prologue to The Economyof the Animal Kingdom:19
  • 18. 1 have found when intently occupied inexploring the secrets of the human body that assoon as 1 discovered anything that had not beenobserved before, 1 began (seduced probably byself..;,love) to grow blind to the most acute lucu­brations and researches of others, and to originatea whole series of inductive arguments from myparticular discovery alone; and consequentIy tobe incapacitated to view and comprehend, asaccurately as the subject required, the idea ofuniversals in individuals and of individuaIs inuniversals. 1 therefore laid aside my instrumentsand, restraining my desire for making observations,determined rather to re1y on the researches ofothers than to trust to my own.He therefore studied aIl the works on the subjectavailable at his time and then used his powers ofinduction to interpret them. That his assiduity inacquiring this knowledge of facts was of the veryhighest order is shown by the number of referenceshe makes to writers old and contemporary. Thebibliography contains the names of over one hundred20
  • 19. writers, some philosophical, some religious, and some(at least half) anatomical.1 should mention here a very great difficulty thataccompanies the effort to read and understand fullythese works of Swedenborg, namely, the nomencla­ture. It is, of course, that of the eighteenth centuryand is very difficult to translate into modern scientificterms so that it is almost impossible for a reader withlittle anatomical knowledge to appreciate the signi­ficance of the arguments; and the advantage of amodern knowledge of anatomy is not so great as itmight be owing to this difficulty with the nomen­clature. Many of Swedenborgs statements for thisreason appear at first to be contradicted by provedmodern experiment, but a number of these discrep­ancies disappear after closer study. This search forthe soul in the realm of the body appears strange tous to-day, but in Swedenborgs time and before itphilosophers had devoted their greatest efforts tod
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