Books, articles, sermons and blogs
online, based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
4.0 On Absolute Certainty and Flashes of Illumination
When discussing in the introduction to one of his pre-critical treatises how scientists suddenly grasp a new truth, Swedenborg draws this remarkable outline:
The origin was soon to become manifest to him. At least, this is what he maintains and I am to discuss here. And this is all the more interesting as the mysterious origin he mentions proves that he, as a scientist, was quite aware of the problematic haze that veils preconscious heuristic processes which precede the emergence of resolutive experiences. Curiously enough, the very elements Swedenborg mentions appear under similar circumstances in the very field of scientific research and with such a striking regularity that a list of homologous cases would fill many pages. Here is a brief series of examples:
States C. G. Jung quoting R. Mayer's letter to W. Griesinger dated 1844, in which he told him how the idea of the first principle of thermodynamics came to him:
"Some sparks of thought flashed through my mind and tenaciously hanged on."
States M.-L. von Franz, discussing how Charles Darwin and A.R. Wallace arrived simultaneously at the conception of the theory of evolution:
"In both cases a creative scientist had independently arrived at a hypothesis that was completely to alter the course of science. And they both conceived it initially in a sudden 'flash' of intuition."
States J. Hadamard, retelling Karl Friedrich Gauss' account of the solution he found for a complicated problem of the theory of numbers:
"The riddle was solved as in a flash of lightning."The recurrent reference to a dazzling light —is it just a figure of speech? Some of the persons that have had such an experience claim to have perceived such a light physically but, of course, this does not grant that this light has any existential status outside their brains. And yet —does it not have it? Firmer arguments are needed to sort out this question.
As was seen above, Swedenborg referred to that light during the pre-critical stage of his life as "a mysterious radiation, —I know not whence it proceeds..." Once fully transformed into a revelator, things changed radically: he grew confident that an answer had been given to him. In the Index of Arcana Caelestia he writes: "Lightnings (fulgura) denote the splendours which truths have from the good of love, which splendors dazzle and penetrate." And also: "Thunder (tonitra) denotes truths Divine." Or in a more elaborate fashion:
'And it came to pass there were voices and lightnings' [Exod. 19:16] That this signifies a Divine state in which there was revelation, is evident from the signification of 'voices,' which are sounds of thunders, as being Truths Divine. And from the signification of 'lightnings,' as being the ruddy glow and brightness of those truths, for Truths Divine shine and glow from the flame of the light that is from the sun of heaven. Hence it is that by 'voices and lightings' is signified a Divine state in which there is revelation. (AC 8813)One might shrug one's shoulders and just think this was written by a man who had left the ranks of science many years ago, a fact that in the eyes of most persons of our own time automatically spoils credibility. However, as far as Swedenborg is concerned, 20th century men have turned out to be very poor arbiters. As announced in the foregoing pages, after the first discovery made in the spring of 1973, it has gradually come to light that Swedenborg's post-critical texts contain an unparalleled and previously undetected scientific body of knowledge that was only to crystallize as regular science in later centuries. Thus, when Swedenborg contends that thunders, voices and lightnings denote "a Divine state in which there is revelation," this makes some very real sense in his case. Can other cases be discarded? To be more specific: can we discard those cases (Darwin, Wallace, Gauss...) in which —as Swedenborg worded it— blazing sparks of light "dart through some sacred temple in the brain" and a real and true expansion of the cognitive horizon actually takes place?
How I set myself against the power of the Holy Spirit, what happened thereupon; how I saw hideous spectres without life, horribly shrouded and moving in their shrouds. (JD 15)Or those referring to the night from the 6th to the 7th of April, 1744:
At ten o' clock I went to bed and was somewhat better. Half an hour after I heard a noise under my head. I thought that the tempter was then going away. Straightway there came over me a shuddering, so strong from the head downwards and over the whole body, with a noise of thunder, and this happened several times. (JD 51)What person being in his right mind would think that the 'spectres' are metaphorically representing passages of his scientific treatises which were 'dead'? That is: devoid of inspiration (the inspiration from the Holy Spirit Swedenborg mentions). And who would interpret the 'noise of thunder' as a sign of an incipient revelation? The neurologist, for instance, would immediately suspect that the trembling and the thundering noises must be the symptoms of an epileptic seizure, its probable source being located in the temporal lobe of the brain. Actually, The Journal of Dreams has given rise to countless psychoanalytical diagnoses (some examples in Table 4.2.1). They have all turned out to be fallacious!
Indeed, we have been using inappropriate analytical tools. His texts demand a heuristic approach, not a psychoanalytical one. And also, one of the most serious evaluation flaws incurred consists in having thoroughly neglected Swedenborg's own opinion about mental diseases. There is at least one good reason not to overlook his personal insight in this domain: evidence will be presented, which shows it is Swedenborg himself who contributes the elements upon which we ought to have reflected, instead of taking for granted that is was we that were in possession of the right insight.
As a scientist, Swedenborg maintained very physicalistic, quasi-neurological ideas about mental disturbances. For instance, when discussing 'fanatic imagination' (i.e., delirium) in the very eve of his crisis, he describes this ailment as follows:
... an internal sight —in the daytime almost without any use of the external sight or eye, except a very dull one—... the cortical substances of the cerebrum remain rigidly in a state that has been once induced, and do not suffer themselves to be bent therefrom into other states... The cause of so dire and dreadful a fantasy is every cause mentioned above as being the cause of mania, phrenitis, and deliriums... Moreover also from a most intense application and ardor of the mind, and from a confused convolution of ideas, and thus from the precipitation of the mind from a sphere of light into a sphere of shade. (Fib. 523-527)And he goes on using much the same terms to describe 'stupidity' (cretinism?), somnambulism and ecstasis energumene (demoniacism).Then, shortly after that, the very man who wrote these things started experiencing them himself! And this is where a very unexpected element enters; to wit: the sudden reversal of his derogatory criteria. States Swedenborg:
I formerly perceived, after speaking for some months with spirits, that if I were remitted into my former state, I could have fallen into the opinion that [these things] were fantasies. (SD 2951)What made him think they weren't? It is rather disconcerting to see that what he had previously referred to the area of pathology (mania, phrenitis, delirium), and to a "precipitation of the mind from a sphere of light into a sphere of shade" should all of a sudden be turned into its total antithesis; that is: into flashes of illumination. Yet, according to the Freudian researchers R. Prince and C. Savage, there is nothing strange about this:
Mystics believe they have discovered deep truths during their experiences, and drunk largely from the source of signification. Says Happold: [mystic experiences] create an insight into the depths of truth impenetrable to reflective thought. These introspections give rise to an enormous sense of authority.Thus, in Prince's and Savage's opinion this 'sense of authority' does not only skip demonstrability: it is outrightly fallacious —just an idea mystics have stuck into their brains. But circumstances have changed as things have turned up which Prince and Savage ignored. That is: the series of perfectly demonstrable, brilliant revelations of a scientific knowledge about physical reality recorded in Swedenborg's post-critical texts. Thus, there is at least one case in which the 'authority' of mystical experience is being fully endorsed. However, the authority itself so resolutely accepted by Swedenborg, involves a mystery. Indeed, thanks to scientific progress, an opportunity has been granted us to understand the true contents of the post-critical texts. But Swedenborg could not avail himself of the comparative references that were needed to carry out such an operation, because that was part of a scientific knowledge not yet attained. We must consequently ask ourselves: what made him grow confident that he had not fallen into a sphere of shade and was just recording some delirious stuff? , a particular item turned up in the collateral literature handled, which deeply engaged my attention. To wit: the way Charles Jules Henry Nicolle suddenly conceived that lice are the specific spreaders and transmitters of typhus. The most essential part of his peculiar account reads as follows:
I am now in a position to talk about that 'touch,' that sudden illumination, that instantaneous possession of oneself by a new fact. This is what I experienced, the occurrence that took place, and the way it was revealed to me how typhus is transmitted. A certain day like any ordinary day, in the morning, imbibed in the mystery of the ways of contagion of typhus (although I was not consciously thinking of it), and being about to enter the door to the hospital, I was arrested at the sight of a human body lying across the steps. Diseased persons suffering from typhus, delirious, feverish, dragging their feet laboriously along towards the hospital and falling extenuated at the entrance, was a familiar sight. As usual, I stepped over the body. In that very moment the enigma was solved. I knew there couldn't be another explanation. My certitude was total. That body lying next to the door had shown me abruptly the barrier which detains typhus.The series of arguments about hygienic measures adopted with patients admitted to hospital, with which Nicolle subsequently backs up the logical consistency of what he had suddenly grasped, clearly appears as a secondary stage separate from the previous process of conception of the naked truth by itself. And this I believe is a very relevant aspect. I think Nicolle's case is paradigmatically heuristic and illustrates the step which precedes the very moment in which the cognitive horizon is expanded. A step which is blind in a dual sense: empirical and logical, and does only turn into something rational in the subsequent stage. This point requires some further discussion.
According to one of Einstein's celebrated remark, "a theory can be tested experimentally, but there is no path that leads from experience to the creation of a theory." And Donald Campbell is very specific about this:
The step towards the unknown must be blind. If taken gradually, then it only implies a knowledge that had already been attained.Regarding the epistemological side of the question, the following should be stressed: We may take it for granted that Nicolle didn't observe lice in that flash of an instant when he grasped the role of those insects as transmitters of the typhus germ, but just a dead body lying across the steps at the entrance to his hospital in Tunis. Neither did Swedenborg see rickettsiae (the bacteria of typhus so extremely small that they were initially confounded with virus), but intestines of eviscerated animals and excrements. And yet, he described this germ! In both cases, the empirical and theoretical elements that would confirm the exactness of the elements grasped, cropped up subsequently: a fraction of a second later in Nicolle's case; and up to two centuries and a half later in Swedenborg's case! The difference is enormous and yet, the underlying process may still be essentially the same.
Let us now concentrate on those statements Nicolle's text contains, which are relevant in connection with the central topic being discussed. Namely:
... I stepped over the body. In that very moment the enigma was solved. I knew there couldn't be another explanation. My certitude was total.I shall never forget the day I read Swedenborg's passages about the adrenalin suddenly grasping their physical meaning. I did also feel a sudden certitude —and it was total! Only in the next second a rational reaction was triggered, that prompted me to find some trivial explanation or other. And neither Nicolle nor I are the only persons who have felt such an authority or certitude. I really think this is a universal aspect, and quite similar to the certitude Swedenborg must have felt when unwaveringly interpreting as real and objective such experiences as he shortly before had classified as mania, delirium, ecstasis energumene (demoniacism), and so on.
Apparently, there are three recurrent ingredients in the experiences through which one happens to hit upon, or apprehend, a new truth that was previously ignored: light, certitude and some instantaneous joy of an indescribable intensity. This latter item is not always mentioned, but I do suspect it is a common occurrence. As for the very certitude itself, and as far as I am personally in a position to report on it, it may be mentioned that it causes a disconcerting sensation because, on the one hand, it is absolute whilst on the other, it feels entirely alien to the rational sphere of the mind. Indeed, the reflective reaction starts with a time-lag of a fraction of a second, when one begins to question oneself what the origin and the basis may be, of the sudden certitude which is infused in that flash of an instant during which the cognitive horizon bursts open making conspicuous some deeper recesses. And I think Nicolle uses an expression which is excellent, and quite to the point: he refers to an "instantaneous possession of oneself by a new fact." This seems to indicate some influx extraneous to the person that experiences it. And there is indeed still another aspect pointing in the same direction, which I believe is closely related to these particular features. Namely, according to Hans J. Eysenck and Carl Sargent:
... hypnosis enhances ESP [Extrasensory Perception]. Better results are obtained through it than without it. There is also another interesting effect. Apparently, in some of the divination experiments with cards, hypnotized subjects know when they have made a correct choice. In a study reported by Karlis Osis, Head of Research of the American Society for Psychical Research, together with Jan Fahler, it has been ascertained that when hypnotized subjects divining cards make 'confidential calls,' their scores are exceptionally high.Something quite similar derives from the extraordinary research work carried out at Princeton University by Drs. Robert G. Jahn and Brenda J. Dunne, about the nature and frontiers of consciousness. Informing about the experiments addressing the topic of man-machine interactions, these authors report:
... most effective operators seem to associate successful performance with the attainment of some sense of 'resonance' with the device.In both cases certitudes —if they may thus be termed— are involved, which are neither rational nor empirical, and stem from a source which cannot be located in the brain of the individual in whom they arise.
I feel convinced that it was this type of certainty that made Swedenborg
accept that his pre-critical ideas about mental derangement did not apply
to the phenomena he started experiencing after the crisis.
4.4 The 'It-was-said-to-me' formula heralding the revelation of scientifically verifiable and advanced key conceptsAs discussed in section 4.1, thunders heard by Swedenborg at the outset of the crisis were transformed into voices heard in morning time (matutino tempore); and these, again, have turned out to contain the keys for the unveiling of the scientific contents of his post-critical texts, by referring to concrete frames of reference. What I would like to do now is to enlarge the series of examples of such verbal experiences quoted so far, putting the emphasis on a precursory formula that was systematically prefixed by Swedenborg. Here are some examples:
That these spirits pertain to the province of the thymus gland was indicated to me. (SD 1049)Around the basic prototype, dictum est mihi..., 'it was said to me...,' a series of variants is found (dicebant quod..., mihi indicatum est..., etc.). But variation is unessential. Really, what should be emphasized is the fact that whenever Swedenborg resorts to the formula, the verbal statement that follows is both true and verifiable. Furthermore, when he intercalates his own interpretations, opinions, theories or comments, he never makes use of the precursory formula. From this it may be inferred that the formula is like a hallmark warranting that the statement that follows contains an actual revelation. Also, it should be stressed that this greatly facilitates the discrimination between inspired and uninspired texts.
It is so general a rule that a statement always follows the precursory formula, whose contents of truth can be verified, that I know virtually of no exception but that of the 600,000 inhabited worlds which —as recorded by Swedenborg— were said to him to exist in our galaxy. There are no means whereby we might presently confirm or refute this piece of information, but yet, I feel this topic is sufficiently interesting to dwell on it at some length.
Swedenborg joined the philosopher Christian von Wolf's opinion and his finalistic argument (actually, a begging of the question), that every star is circled by worlds which must necessarily be inhabited, because this is what rightfully enhances God's glory. Indeed, Swedenborg believed all celestial bodies in our solar system are inhabited —even the Moon! And in his pre-critical treatise, De infinito, he advocates the idea that existing worlds are innumerable —indeed, infinite. Therefore, the limited number that was indicated to him after the crisis deserves keen attention.
In Arcana Caelestia Swedenborg describes some itinerant creatures which "journey through the universe... and are thus enabled to know more than others about the systems and earths beyond the sphere of our solar system." And he adds:
Pay heed to the twice repeated formula, 'they said that..., they said further...' The original text contained in The Spiritual Diary wherefrom these passages originate, is far more precise. As far as I believe, it refers to our 'local universe', our galaxy, and a very concrete number is mentioned:
It is quite startling that so specific and limited a number should now be mentioned, compared with Swedenborg's pre-critical speculations. But —beware! Once more the formula 'said [that]...' appears. Albeit, this is a problematic case. Even supposing there are inhabited planets in our galaxy, I can hardly imagine how their number can be counted. However, it may be mentioned that three probability estimates independently made arrive at maxima and minima fully compatible with the 600,000- inhabited-worlds' figure indicated to Swedenborg. Interesting?
Swedenborg's figure would imply that one out of approximately every
166,000 stars would have an inhabited planet in some orbit around it. Thus
the figure he registered contradicts his deepest pre-critical creed about
the infinite size of the Universe and the finalistic purpose of Creation. Was
it revealed to him? My only comment is that I have acquired such a deep
respect for the precursory formula prefixed by him to such statements that
I incline to believe the figure he mentions might be objectively true!
Swedenborg states 'voices', 'thunders' and 'lightnings' denote "a Divine state in which there is revelation." His sureness and the hermeneutics he applies are probably not fallacious. Nicolle mentions an instantaneous and total certitude. Happold refers to a 'sense of authority' as an intrinsic feature of mystical experience. However, Freudian authors (e.g.: Prince and Savage) think this is unreal and subjective: a mere 'impression' of having grasped a truth which does not exist actually. Yet, an exceptional case has emerged: Swedenborg's. At the more advanced stages of his post-critical experiences, thunders were turned into voices and the verbal statements he thus listened to and registered, have turned out to be real and true.
The reliability of the 'it-was-said-to-me' formula is prodigious. Only a total certitude that what he heard was true and not a trick of his mind caused by phrenitis, mania or delirium, may explain the exclusive use Swedenborg made of this precursory formula on every truly inspired occasion, never intercalating it when expressing his own opinions or speculations. It must have been that certainty what made him change his mind regarding those phenomena he formerly referred to the sphere of delirium and mental confusion.
The meta-rational certitude implied in such a change of mind so closely
resembles the certitude experienced by Nicolle, etc., that it would seem
they are both one and the same thing. The triad composed by 'joy', 'light'
and 'certitude' seems to be a hallmark warranting that an inspiration has
actually taken place. In other words, inspiration is not an allegorical
concept. It certainly isn't in Swedenborg's case; and it probably isn't,
either, in any such cases as involve the ingredients of the triad.
 C.G. Jung, Det ubevisste (original title: Über die Psychologie des Unbewussten), J. W. Cappelens Forlag A/S, Oslo, 1963, p. 81.
 M.-L. von Franz, La ciencia y el inconsciente, in the collective book, El hombre y sus símbolos, Aguilar, Madrid, 1966, p. 306.
 J. Hadamard, The psychology of invention in the mathematical field, Oxford University Press, 1945, p. 72.
 I wish to stress here that Swedenborg's peculiar hermeneutics applied to the note AC 8813, discussed above, start with the verse Exod. 19:16: "and it was on the third day, when it was becoming morning..." The reader will find in chapter 2.0 (especially in section 2.2) interesting references about the hypnogogic conditions under which heuristic and mystic phenomena that lead to an expansion of the cognitive horizon tend to take place. Phenomena that lead to an unveiling, to a 'revelation'. Cf. also. WE 7006 and AC 3579. The concordance of Swedenborg's hermeneutics with ponderable facts is a very challenging and exciting fact.
 The contents of JD 13 are also quite relevant. To wit: "How I set myself against the [Holy] Spirit. And how I then favored it, but found afterwards that it was madness, devoid of all life and connection. And that thus a quantity of what I have written must be of the same kind, since I have to that degree forsacked the power of the Spirit; inasmuch as the faults are all my own, but veritates [the truths] are not mine." (G.E. Klemming's version corrected by collation with the Swedish original, Drömboken, edited by Wahlström och Widstrand, Stockholm, 1963, p. 13).
 R. Prince and C. Savage, Los estados místicos y el concepto de regresión, in the collective book, La experiencia mística, Kairós, Barcelona, 1979, p. 123.
 Cf. 3.3.
 Ch. J. H. Nicolle, Biologie de l'invention, Alcan, Paris, 1932, p. 70.
 Quoted by R. Riedl in Biología del conocimiento: los fundamentos filogenéticos de la razón, Labor, Barcelona, 1983, p. 215.
 Cf. 3.3.
 Cf. 2.4.
 Chance, random coincidence, autoscopy. All these explanatory attempts had to be dropped one after the other because of cumulative and contradictory evidence. Autoscopy, for instance, was suggested by the observational material gathered by the French psychiatrists P. Sollier and J. Comar at the start of this century, based on a study of hysterical patients. It postulated an enhanced perception of somatic and cerebral processes. This seemed easily to explain how Swedenborg had been capable of sensing real aspects of the physiology of various organs. However, as the theory goes and in order to describe microbes, these would have had to be present in his own body in order that he could 'sense' them. But —how could germs like those who caused Ricketts and von Prowazek's death (cf. 3.3), the mortal rabies virus (cf. chapter 7.0) or the cancer-generating Epstein-Barr virus (cf. 2.4) have left Swedenborg unscathed? Whilst this obviously spoiled the autoscopy theory, it opened fascinating perspectives as to the nature of the source that generated Swedenborg's experiences, this topic being discussed in chapter 8.0.
 H. J. Eysenck and C. Sargent, Los misterios de lo paranormal, Planeta, Barcelona, 1984, p. 98.
 R. G. Jahn and B. J. Dunne, op. cit., p. 142.
 Cf. 2.4.
 In my opinion, Mercury is referred to in a symbolic sense, bearing no relation whatsoever to the planet, but to the Roman god Mercurius, regarded as the patron of travellers. Such symbolic and allegorical references are a common occurrence in Swedenborg's post-critical texts. This is why, in spite of his having registered the idea of a limited number of inhabited worlds, the further reading of those texts gives the apparent impression that all celestial bodies are inhabited. Even the idea of the existence of men on the Moon is seemingly being sustained! This has been a perennial stumbling-block for Swedenborg's followers, because —how could such passages be inspired? Yet, the answer to this query is quite simple: literal interpretations are wrong. Just as wrong as if Kekule should have thought his crepuscular dream of a serpent biting its own tail had really something to do with serpents instead of grasping that it was a representation of the benzene molecule being ring-shaped (cf. 2.1). Let's concentrate on the passages about men on the Moon (SD 3241-3245). Creatures thus described seem to make matters still worse: long-faced dwarfs! But this crazy image makes perfect sense in the light of the reference key subsequently supplied. Indeed, the 'spirits of the Moon' are said to refer to cartilages, a tissue requiring an oxygen-free medium during its embryonic stages of development in order that its cells may differentiate properly and become truly cartilaginous (Cf. A. I. Caplan, Cartilage, Scientific American, October 1984, p. 82). There is no oxygen in our satellite. This is why the Moon was selected as a symbolic celestial location for this particular occasion. And next, it is precisely a peculiar type of hereditary problem affecting the cartilages, that gives rise to the distrophic type of dwarfism Swedenborg has described. Further —and apparently no less ludicrous— details still also make perfect sense. Albeit, this topic exceeds the length set for this paper.
 It is interesting to note that this figure might be compatible with estimations made by various modern astronomers and cosmologists. For instance, the calculations made by L. M. Gindilis, of The Astronomical Sternberg Institute of Moskva University, using the formula Nc = N k1 k2 p1 p2 f[Tc] (a similar formula has been developed by Frank Drake, of Cornell University), Nc being the number of civilizations presently coexisting in our galaxy; N the total number of its stars, k1 a factor indicating the existence of planetary systems, k2 the probability of life-supporting conditions, p1 that of life starting in a planet offering such conditions, p2 that of intelligent creatures coming into being as a consequence of the evolution of life, and Tc the life span of technically advanced civilizations. According to one of the earliest calculations (1965), Gindilis arrives at the best at Nc = 105 (cf. L. M. Gindilis, The possibilities of communications with extraterrestrial civilizations, Zemlya I Vselennaya, No. 1, 1965). This does only represent 1/6th of Swedenborg's figure. However, N and k1 have been increased substantially since 1965 thanks to more advanced observations, thus rendering Swedenborg's 6 x 105 a proportionate figure in relation to Gindilis early estimate. Moreover, Swedenborg's detailed descriptions of extraterrestial beings are rather bucolic; i.e.: they are not depicting 'technically advanced civilizations'.