Harold Gardiner-SWEDENBORG-and-MODERN-IDEAS-of-THE-UNIVERSE-The-Swedenborg-Society-London-1936
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  • 1. SOME MODERN IDEASiftheNATDRE of the UNIVERSECompared withSwedenborgsPhtlosophical ConceptionsAddress given byHAROLD GARDINER, M.S., F.R.C.S.,President of the Swedenborg Society,At the ANNUAL MEETING, 1935SWEDENBORG SOCIETY (INcoRPoRATED)SWEDENBORG HOUSEHART STREET, LONDON, W.C. 11936
  • 2. Some Modern 1deas of the Natureof the Universe compared withSwedenborgs PhtlosophicalConceptions·WEDENBüRGS works cover such a vast fieldSthat it would be difficult to find a subject theywould not cover. Theology, Art, and Science,in all their branches, did not provide too large anarena in which to exercise his intellectual powers.1 was tempted to choose the poetry of his writingsas a subject for my address. The wonderful imageryof his language and descriptions has a truly poeticmind behind it, and the doctrine of correspondencesis a covering of the very soul of poetry. But mysecond thoughts led me to the harder and driervolumes of the Principia, and 1 propose to comparesorne modern ideas of the nature of the universewith Swedenborgs philosophical conceptions.3
  • 3. The Prineipia is one of a number of scientificand philosophical works written by Swedenborgbefore his spiritual illumination, and it is to be readand understood exactly as any other scientific orphilosophical work. The inspiration in these worksis not spiritual, but is ·that of a human mind ofexceptional powers of intuition and philosophicalinsight, and it is a severe test to expose theseworks to the searching light of modern scientificthought-a light which has been penetrating intothe secrets of nature for two hundred years sinceSwedenborgs time, aided by methods and instrumentsof precision unknown and inconceivable to hisgeneration.The methods and instruments of Science areessentially those of analysis, and their results dependentire1y on the accuracy of the instruments andapparatus available for experiment. In Swedenborgsdays they were crude, and even the ordinary chemicale1ements had only in part been identified. Asexperiment succeeded experiment, and instrumentalaccuracy increased, the analyses proceeded morerapidly, until, at the end of the nineteenth century,4
  • 4. matter had been resolved into its constituent elementsand the atomic theory of its constitution was regardedas the last word of science.This theory explained the structure of matter onthe basis of the atom which was indivisible anddifferent for each element. The philosophical resultof this theory was represented by the mechanisticview of the nature of the universe and aU that is init, inc1uding man. As everything had been analysedand reduced to its simplest components, and it wasknown how these could be combined to form anymaterial substance except the most complicated livingforms, it was an easy assumption that it would beonly a question of time before the citadel of lifeitself would be stormed, and scientists flattered them-selves that the time was not far distant when theiranalyses and syntheses would cover the whole ofcreation. Those were the days when Huxley andHaeckel thundered forth their mechanistic andmaterialistic theories, and refused to listen to anyopposing evidence that could not be measured andweighed in the laboratory. 1t appeared to be thetriumph of the scales and the measuring-rod. It is5
  • 5. _easy to criticise these men and to condemn scientistsfor refusing to admit any evidence that cannot betested by their own apparatus, but it must beremembered that natural science is essentially thestudy of those things that can be measured and testedin the laboratory, and it is only natural that menengaged in such work should push these methodsto their limit. Therein lies their strength and theirweakness. Strength in their determined pursuit ofscientific facts, and weakness in their inability toadmit the validity or even existence of realities outsidethe boundaries of the laboratory.But there have always been men of science-­and Swedenborg was one of them-who recognisethat there is a wider field of investigation than thatbounded by mechanical apparatus.The man whose brain takes no cognizance ofthings other than those that can be demonstratedand analysed by mechanical means, becomes as lifelessas the instruments he uses. Swedenborgs brainwas not one of those. -Throughout his scientificwritings the spirit of life can be seen inspirlng aHhis-thoughts and" theories. He never shirkeëf a fact:""----.- -- - - --~--6
  • 6. but his originality lay in his interpretation of themand in his wonderful power of induction, so thathe was for ever seeking the cause, and always aliving cause, of the facts he observed and knew.This is shown in a very marked way in his Principia.This work was written in 1734. It was anambitious work-aiming at a philosophical inter­pretation of the origin and structure of the materialuniverse. The method employed was that of pureinduction and reasoning, and the result cannot bedescribed as "light reading," but is remarkableenough to repay close study by any who are interestedin the mysteries of the natural world into which weare born and in which we have to live. What, then,do we find in the Principia? We find, first ofaIl, that Swedenborgs mind was working in ageometrical groove. He starts with the premisethat geometry is the fundamental science. His nextassumption is that change cannot occur withoutmovement. As movement is therefore the under­lying cause of aIl change, in tracing back the worldshistory to its origins we must determine w.haL.i§~he pure~t and simplest f_orm _of mov~ment or ~o~ion.7
  • 7. Swedenborg arrives at the conc1usion that this purestmotion is that of a spiral. This has no beginningand no end, and inc1udes aIl other movements initse1f. So far, so good-but the next step is todetermine the nature of the primary and most elementalthing that is moved or moves in this way. Thedifficulty we are up against is that what we areconsidering is the first e1emental form in whichmatter is produced. It therefore cannot have anydimensions such as we associate with a materialpartic1e, for otherwise, however smaIl, it would bedivisible into something smaller. Swedenborg getsover the difficulty by assuming that it is a point.Now a point is that which has position but nomagnitude. 1t therefore occupies no space. It cal?­only occupy space by moving. We are thereforea~ke~·Cto imagine something- which has no size butmoves and so occupies or circumscribes space. Atfirst such a conception seems an impossible one,but we are on the horns of a dilemma, because anyother conception is apparently equally impossibleand fulfils even less adequate1y the requirements oflogical thought.8
  • 8. -- -----Let us accept this conception and follow itlogically. In the first place, movement of any kindimplies force. So we are led to conceive of a forcecausing motion in something which has position butno magnitude. It looks, therefore, as though wehave to conceive of force or motion as being the soleprimary entity, and to dissociate it in our mindsfrom any material particle in the ordinary sense ofthe word. Swedenborg describes this primaryelemental force as a " conatus," or as we might say,an urge to motion and, as has been seen, to motionin _a pure spiral form.Swedenborgs next step is to trace the effects ofsuch pure motion, and he argues that if the centreof gravity of his moving spiral is not absolutelycentral the whole spiral will tend to describe a furtherspiral, and in this way will impinge upon other( similar spirals. He thetefore conceives of sorne ofthese spirals being forced together in sorne places)-- and being perfectly free to move in others. Hethus gets two conditions of spirals, one where theyare compressed and closely packed, and others, wherethey are free to move. The former he caUs finites,9
  • 9. 1and the latter actives. He then works through fouror five successive similar changes, calling the productsof the changes second, third, fourth and fifth finites-each of which has its corresponding active whichmoulds and fashions it. It is impossible to go intoany detail in a short address, but the ultimate resultis that matter as we know it in aU its forms is tracedby these various stages of finites and actives backto the original pure spiral motion.Other philosophers such as Leibnitz and Descarteshad conceived similar ideas before Swedenborg, butthe records 1 have been able to trace show that aUphilosophers other than Swedenborg conceived ofsorne primaI physical particle which was moved by) sorne external force, and that Swedenborg was thefirst to conceive of the particle itself as containingwithin it pure motion, and in fact consisting of pure(, motion or force. Swedenborgs theory, therefore,describes the origin of matter as force, and he describes- -~. __-./how, if points of force move with sufficient rapiditythey will produce aU the qualities of what we knowas _solid -ma~ter. - Such a theory is as far removèdfrom the mechanistic theories of the late nineteenth10
  • 10. century as could weIl be imagined, and stood nochance of gaining a sympathetic hearing from thescientists of those days. But in 19II a discoverywas made which completely revolutionised scientificthought and opened up lines of research which havecontinued with increasing range ever since.. Thiswas the discovery by Lord Rutherford that atomswere not the solid and indivisible entities· imagined,but consisted of electrically- charged-particles.-PiO­fessor Eddington describes it as the most far-reachingdiscovery since the days of Democritus. It wasfound that atoms consisted of two forms of suchparticles, one a positively charged particle called aproton, and the other a negatively charged particlecalled an electron. The differences in the propertiesof the atoms are due to the varying number ofprotons and electrons forming them. The electronsare foundto revolve r<:.und· the protons very muchas the planets revolve round the sun. These particles .are so small that if the atom were the size of theearth the electrons might be represented by half adozen tennis balls travelling with an unimaginablevelocity within its boundaries. This discovery hasII
  • 11. replaced the old idea of atomic soliditYby a conceptionof particles of electrical charges of the most minutesize travelling at enormous speed with comparativelyvast distances separating them. It is difficult, atfirst, to c0!.lceive_ how matter com~o~ed in this waycan give the sense of soliditY commonly associatedwith it, but soliditYis after all only a sense of resistance,and if the points of force move with sufficient speed,as they are known to do, they will be felt as a uniformand continuous resistance and so give the feelingof soliditY. Very little of the nature of these electronsand protons has as yet been discovered, but nothingother than an electrical charge has been found inthem. They seem, therefore, to_sonsist solely~fpoin!s <:?f Jo!ce-electrical force.No conception more at variance with the oldmaterialistic atomic theory could well be imagined.Matter has definitely been dethroned and forcerecognised as the ultimate reality. Just as Science,using its own methods, arrived at an analysis ofmatter into force, so did Swedenborg two hundredyears ago, by using his methods of pure reasoninga;:d induction arrive at the conclusion, not, as other12
  • 12. - -- - - -philosophers, that matter was composed of sorneprimaI particle moved by an external force, but thatthis ens or beginning of things was force itself.Moreover, Swedenborg saw the necessity for twoforms of this-he called them actives and finîtes. Do not modern scientists calI them protons and( electrons ?Modern methods led scientists .to adopt the. conception that these revolve about each other asthe planets revolve round ·thê- sun:-aficr,-altIioughsorne doubt has been cast on the validityof thisconception, no other has supplanted it. One ofSwedenborgs boldest generalisations is that Natureis similarin large things as in small, and, therefore,that the motions of the smallest particles are.~similarto those of the planetary systems.But it will be remembered that Swedenborgstheory as expounded in the Principia, involvesa whole series of these finites and actives,""=""eachbec<2ming p~!~r and, as it were,_ more refined untilthe first finite is reached.Where exactly in his series the proton and electronstage lies is, as yet, impossible to determine;-but13
  • 13. it must be very late-possibly the fourth~ fif.thfinite and active._.Now these, according to his theory, are composedof and derived from the pre-existing and even moreminute actives and finites of the preceding orders.What has science to say that has any bearing on this ?Very little, but in a work by Frank A~en it is statedthat "mass, i.e., of the eleciron, is made up of1 exceedingly small particles, all of the same kind andvery sIp.~ll_ compared with even_ an electron, and that1 _ _ _these particles move with the velocity of light, and that when these particles are so moving they mightbe thrown into loops, i.e., into closed cü~ves withoutbeginning or end." Whether or not these closedcurves without beginning or end are spiral is notstated, but it is difficuit to imagine what other formsuch a curve can take.To go now a step further, let us consider thespace, which 1 have already described as beingenormous cornpared with the size of the electrons,that lies between these. Swed~nborg describes t~ewhole of space as being ~lled with finites and activesof sorne deg:ee _or other. Thài-between the firth14
  • 14. finites and actives is occupied by those of the fourthdegree and between these those of the third and so.on until we arrive back at ~he all pervading firstpoint of f~rce-.~Scienc-e has been trying to -explore, thls region and, as it -;as r~cognised that sorne. ~-.---.( medium was necessary in order to carry the electncal -~, forces through space so that they cotild react on oneanother, an ether was postulated. The idea of suchan ether that was completely elastic and very denseheld the field until recent years, when a great contro-versy arose as to its real existence. Doubts as tothe validity of the conception of such an ether arosewhen Einstein developed his Theory of Relativityand fourth dimensional ~space "was seriously studied.Researchers into this advanced mathematical realmproposed what they called the fourth dimensional. continuum as a substitute for the ether, but th_e difference is largely~~~of t~~ms, and Swedenborgs! explanation of this intervening space has yet to bei disproved. Modern science talks of electrical forceand does not know what it is. An atom or unit of- - - _._--matter has been proved to consist of centres ofelectrical force and nothing more. Is it not possible15
  • 15. that these units of electrical force may themselvesbe formed as the result of interactions of an even" more refined force, and may be points of interaction) or condensation, as it were, in a sphere composed1 of potencies which are undetectable by presentlaboratory instruments ?If, therefore, the fift~ and sixt~nites and activesof SYed~I)!>~rg are the protons and electrons, maynot his third and fourth be the ether? 1t is interestingto note that Swedenborg emphasizes perfect elasticityas being the property of these finites. What else has science to say as to the nature of these electrons and protons? They are generally11regarded as behaving sometimes like particles andJ sometimes like waves, and are accompanied andsurrounded by an electro-magnetic field of force.This suggests that magnetic force is the first of aIlforces acting on material substance and that otherforces are modifications of this. Swedenborg, inthe second part of the Principia, concentrates onthis magnetic prop~rty of matter and regards it asthe primary result of the interaction of the _~ctivesand finites. He therefore argued that in a mag!J.éc16
  • 16. field lay the inception of aIl other forces knownto science-a view that has smce been provedcorrect.Professor J. J. Thomson states that the massof an electron is entirely electric, and that the electricmass .is considered to be diffused throughout thesp~ surrounding the electron with a concentrationwhich increases toward its centres, becoming verygreat close up to it. This electric force shows itselfas an el~ctro-magnetic fie~d, and the description 1have just quoted coincides very closely with Sweden­borgs theory of the relation of the magnetic fieldsto the finites from which they are derived.A more exhaustive comparison between the con­( ceptions of modern science and those of SwedenborgJ with regard to the structure of the atom cannot bemade, chiefly because there are insufficien~ataprovided by scie~ce.With regard to the latter parts of the Principia,which deal with the birth of the solar systems, 1have come across no _~ore modern theory t~an_ .thenebular hypothesis which Swedenborg was the firstto propound. But if we study modern conceptions17
  • 17. - -------of the universe as a whole, i.e., proceed in the oppositedirection from the study of the minute to the studyof the gigantic, we come at once to EinsteinsTheory of Relativity. 1 do not propose to try toexplain this to you, but there are one or two pointsin this theory of very great interest to students ofSwedenborg.In the first place we have to realise that modernconceptions of the universe are entire1y mathematical.In the old days it seemed quite easy to imagine thesolar system as a number of planets revolving roundthe sun and to expand this to a conception of ourlocal universe revolving round a fixed point like thePolar star, and to continue this conception in a rathervague way until 1 suppose most of us imagined thewhole created universe as a system of whee1s withinwhee1s, as it were, rotating round themse1ves andround each other. The difficulty is, however, that~- - -. - - _._- -­this involves sorne fixed point relative to which suchmoti~ cap. be_d~~~rmi~ed and apparently th~~no sQch fixed point, so that we are left literally andfi~rative1y verymuch in the air. It is the old storyof the man travelling by express train to Edinburgh.18
  • 18. rIt seems perfectly clear to him that Edinburgh stayswhere it is and he moves toward it, but whenabsolute motion is considered it is just as possible" that he is stationary and Edinburgh is moving to! him. In order, therefore, to get as absolute a con­ception of the universe as possible, it is necessary---.to take aU this into consideration. The elementarymathematics that are sufficient to explain our ownlittle domestic planetary system fail when we go outinto the world. The mathematics necessary to getour bearings in that adventure are very complicatedbut it is not difficult to understand that such a formof mathematics is necessary. Swedenborg came tothe conclusion that the science of geometry wasthe basis on which aH others were built, and it isclear that geometry can only be understood andexplained by mathematics-a rather wonderfulexample of Swedenborgs inductive powers. Butwhere does this higher mathematics try to lead us ?The answer is, to fourth dimensional space. 1 amnot going to attempt to explain this here but itinvolves the amalgamation of space as we know itwith time.19
  • 19. l t is clear that our conception of time mustdisappear when considering the universe as a whole.Time and motion are inextricably mingled, and wehave s~en -that -motion -IS -entirely relative - weknow nothing of absolute- motion and so we can haveno means of estimating absolute time. Time, as weknow it, is purely a local matter, or at least itsmeasurement is.Now it has been shown that if, as we have beentrying to do, weget away from the local manifestationof time in our solar system and see how it behaves,as it were, when applied to the whole universe, wefind that ~e and space ~?_~cg~~ in~x!ricab!y_~er­~!ngl~~, and it is the addition of time as anotnerdimension to our three dimensional world that takesus into fourth dimensional space.l t is this world that Einstein and other mathe­maticians have been exploring, and one iilterestingresult has been that whereas this abstract conceptionof time cannot be measured by docks and watches,it can be measured, or at any rate indicated, bystudying the changes that take place in the behaviourof the electrical forces of which the universe is20
  • 20. --icomposed. In other words, this involves measurementnot by days, weeks, or years, but by changes of state.Another result of the study of fourth dimensionalspace is that events and objects in our three dimensionalworld are regarded as the manifestation of changesof entities in the fourth dimensional world.By this brief examination of modern physicaland mathematical science l have tried to show whata remarkable change has been wrought during thelast twenty odd years, and how these changes, founded. on accurate scientific observation, confirmin many! ways the philosophy contained in Swedenborgs( Principia. We are accustomed to regard Swedenborgsinspired works as unique because they were written( after his spiritual sight had been opened. Hisscientitic_woxks w~re WJittep. È~fore this Jl~E~ned,..., an,! Ye!-we J!ng th!l!.._.they__show an)n~jght int~t~erealm of natural philosophy that stamps his mind1 with th~ origi~ality~true genius. Evffiin those~ days he would not ~l1ow hisinductions to be influencedby the theories of others. He h3:~ the ~trength ofpurpose to put in writi~g the__r:esults of his ownreasoning powers, and how great these were I have~21
  • 21. ---- -- - - -tried to show. That any man in those days couidhave evolved a conception of the universe and itsorigins ~y pure induction, so clo~ely_~esemblin~_~here~ults of mod~r!l .scientific invest~~~!i.?n, is a proof,if any were needed, of his outstanding genius.Swedenborg has nothing to say in the Principiaof the fourth dimension. But it is a truly remarkableresult of modern thought that Science to-day, in(trying to reach the absolute, ha~ arrived at the conclusion that time can only be r~~k~nedas achange of state, and that the three - diniensionaiworld is only a man:ifestation of activityin another, - -- --- - - - ­i world which they _c~lljourth dimensional. 1t appears1 that scientists are now discarding the dead matter of which the world is composed as the ultimatereality-showing that it is only a manifestation offorce, and the further they advance the more potentand abstract does this force become.Lord Rutherford gave scientists the key to thisworld-the world which was described by Swedenborg,and who knows but that the time will come when----- -_.~l!ey will realise that Swedenborg two hundred yearsag~ ga~tÈem the other key, that ofthe-science of22
  • 22. correspondences which will open the last door leadingto an- under~tanding of--ihe- spirliuàî ~rigin-5>f theuni:ver~e-aknowledge which- will -êorrelate the resultsof his spiritual inspiration with those of their naturalphilosophy.23