Emanuel Swedenborg (January 29, 1688– March 29, 1772) was a true prodigy. He was an inventor and a mathematician. He anticipated Newton’s discovery of integral calculus and revolutionized the study of geometry. He was a metallurgist, a chemist, a mining engineer, and a mineralogist whose taxonomic classification of minerals is still used today. He was also an anatomist and physiologist and anticipated the discovery of the neuron (nerve cell) and was the chief engineer of the Swedish board of Mines.
Swedenborg’s study of geometry, mineralogy and metallurgy eventually led him to the belief that space, time and matter originated from a “natural dimensionless point that is itself devoid of all space, time and matter.” He further postulated that this point was “not limited in its location but is present everywhere.” Since this natural point was the origin of everything in our universe, “it remains the physical world’s nexus with the infinite and therefore must contain in itself infinite energy.”
No one in Swedenborg’s own day had any reason to believe this, and neither would anyone in our own day…that is, unless they are familiar with the outlines of modern cosmology and quantum mechanics. It is a rather amazing fact that modern physicists have reached the same conclusion as Swedenborg! Swedenborg’s “natural dimensionless point, not limited in its location but present everywhere” anticipated modern cosmologists’ description of the primordial singularity underlying the origin of our universe! (See book 1 of this series, Science, Math and God.)
Swedenborg had accomplished the remarkable feat of anticipating the “Big Bang theory” in the 18th century. Of course, no one in his own day believed a word of it, but Swedenborg was already a famous scientist and intellect who had written numerous books on natural science. He had been offered the chair of mathematics at Uppsala University but declined, probably because he was prone to stuttering. Most elites simply took his ravings about his dimensionless point as a bit of eccentricity to be ignored in an otherwise great man.
In the 1730’s, Swedenborg became absorbed by spiritual matters and decided to explore, first hand, the relationship of Spirit to matter. He was determined to approach this subject in the same way as he approached his other scientific endeavors, by keeping detailed records of his explorations. He went about this by developing a technique to enlarge his own psychic abilities.
Note that Swedenborg launched himself on this endeavor more than 40 years after Newton had published his Principia. Swedenborg was a renaissance man and a famous scientist. He knew and understood Newton’s new physical paradigm but chose to forge ahead with his spiritual studies in spite of the deterministic implications of Newtonian physics. In this respect, as in others, he was nearly 200 years ahead of his time.
In 1735, Swedenborg published a book entitled Philosophical and Mineralogical Works. In this three volume work, he combined the philosophy of the spirit with the science of metallurgy. The book made him famous, but mostly for his revolutionary ideas on the smelting of iron and copper. Even in his day, mainstream scientists were not interested in studying spiritual matters.
When he was about 55, Swedenborg started to see visions in which he sensed that his “inner sight” was being opened.
“Had also in my mind and my body a kind of consciousness of an indescribable bliss, that if it had been in a higher degree, the body would have been as it were dissolved in mere bliss. This was the night between Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, also the whole of Easter Monday.”
It is alleged by some critics today that it was at about this time that Swedenborg developed a condition which is known as Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE). Like other forms of epilepsy, TLE often causes clonic seizures (shaking), but TLE seizures may also bring about heightened mental states including intense elation and ineffable all-pervading bliss, often called an ecstatic aura.
Temporal lobe seizures usually last between 30 seconds to two minutes with postictal (drowsy or sleep) states generally lasting for less than an hour. If the incident quoted above was typical of Swedenborg’s visions, it seems to have lasted for the better part of twenty-four hours. Furthermore, no one ever witnessed him having a seizure resembling epilepsy. These episodes always happened in his private quarters. LTE seizures happen at random times and would have been quite noticeable to other people he might have been around at the time. This suggests that if Swedenborg actually suffered any form of epilepsy, it would have been an extremely atypical case.
Epileptics have no control over where they have their seizures, and their seizures never last more than 60 to ninety seconds without the likelihood of death by asphyxiation. Also, most people who suffer from TLE awaken from their seizures in a state of confusion. Swedenborg suffered no such confusion, but seems to have awakened feeling invigorated. In addition, People who suffer from temporal lobe seizures are more likely to suffer from insomnia, a problem that Swedenborg certainly did not have as he spent a lot of time detailing his dreams. It is also possible that what the critics call epileptic seizures actually were religious ecstasy and not related to a neurological disorder at all.
It is unlikely that Swedenborg actually suffered from TLE, but if he did suffer from an enormously unusual case, it is not clear that it would have been an entirely bad thing from the point of view of intellectual and spiritual insight. Fyodor Dostoyevsky suffered from a much more obvious (and diagnosed) case of TLE, and it is likely that much of his genius derived from it. It is very possible that without his temporal lobe epilepsy, he would never have had the spiritual insights that made possible the great works for which he is famous, and which are still read and studied today in spite of the fact that they were all written in the mid to late nineteenth century for an entirely different audience, (ex. Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov). Although Dostoyevsky’s spiritual insights may have been an indirect effect of his temporal lobe epilepsy, he never even hinted that the plots of his literary works sprang fourth as a result of his seizures.
And then, there is Wilder Penfield. Penfield was a Nobel Prize winning neurosurgeon who pioneered the use of electrical stimulation to completely map areas on the surface of the brain and correlate those areas with all the subjective sensations that people experience. He originally began this endeavor to locate the foci of electrical impulses that created epileptic seizures. After many years of exploring the brain through electrical stimulation and observing people with every form of epilepsy imaginable Penfield came to the conclusion that neither electrical stimulation of the brain nor any type of epileptic seizure was ever observed to directly affect the human mind. In other words, people’s opinions or cognitive processes are not affected permanently by epileptic seizures. There is no reason to believe that Swedenborg’s mind would have been affected by an undiagnosed and unnoticed case of epilepsy.
In any case, no ordinary mental disease process can account for the incredible lucidity, consistency, logic and creative genius that Swedenborg and Dostoevsky drew from their “episodes of bliss” (regardless of what caused them). As to the suggestion by critics that Swedenborg’s spiritual visions were merely the result of mental illness… Well…. That’s a major point of this book! Both genius and madness are heavily influenced by the world of spirit. By reading these chapters, it will become obvious just how intertwined the two worlds really are!
Apparently, Swedenborg developed a meditative technique that allowed him to maintain a hypnagogic state for many hours. Hypnagogia is the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep. Everyone experiences it for short periods as they fall asleep, and few remember anything about it. Occasionally, however, some people can experience it for more prolonged periods. During this state, the rational side of the brain, the left side, is quieted and the right brain, which is the subjective and more holistic side, is allowed to come to consciousness. During this state, the subject can experience what are called “lucid dreams” in which he or she remains conscious while dreaming. This makes it possible to consciously manipulate the dream and, more pertinent in Swedenborg’s case, to observe it consciously. Swedenborg developed a technique that allowed him to remain in this state for hours at a time.
Any psychic will tell you that the secret to receiving psychic insight (and messages from discarnate spirits) is to quiet the logical left brain and allow the intuitive right brain free reign. Swedenborg’s use of the hypnagogic state allowed him to achieve such extreme and prolonged psychic states that he was not only able to converse with spirits like an ordinary medium, but could also leave his body and travel with them psychically into the spiritual realm. This may sound like he was dreaming, however if these experiences were dreams, they were remarkably coherent and maintained absolute consistency for the last 29 years of his life.
During his hypnagogic states, Swedenborg beheld a spiritual dimension intimately but invisibly connected to the visible world in which we all live. In order to record his revelations, he began to keep his private Drömbok, or dream journal, in 1743. Since he was already quite famous and respected for his scientific work, his revelations attracted a great deal of attention, both positive and negative. He gained limited scientific respectability for his spiritual revelations because he kept meticulous records of his inner experiences and treated them in the same way he dealt with his published scientific papers.
On the other hand, even in his own day, mainstream positivists considered his revelations to be the ravings of an insane mind, especially revelations like the ones that led him to anticipate what we know today as the cosmological singularity. Scholars point out that Swedenborg was never considered insane by the people who knew him, and he died in 1772 at the age of 84 with a mind that his friends considered to be as sharp as it was in his prime.
There is evidence that in addition to his scientific credentials, Swedenborg was highly respected as a seer (what we today would call a psychic medium), although only four psychic incidents were recorded for posterity. One of those incidents happened in 1758 when Swedenborg visited Queen Louisa Ulrika of Sweden. During her conversations with Swedenborg, and knowing of his reputation as a seer, the queen asked him how her dead brother, Prince Augustus William of Prussia was doing in the afterlife. This was most likely a tongue-in-cheek request, and Queen Louisa was probably not expecting much from the conversation. However, when Swedenborg broached the subject the next day, he whispered something in her ear that “left the queen pale and shaking.” Later Louisa explained that Swedenborg had conveyed a message about a subject that only she and her dead brother could have known.
Another anecdote involves a Mme. de Marteville, the widow of the late Dutch ambassador in Stockholm. Prior to his death, the ambassador had purchased an expensive silver set, and the widow believed that he had paid for it before he died. Even so, the silversmith presented her with a large bill and demanded payment. She could not find a receipt, and therefore could not prove that the silversmith was defrauding her. She asked Swedenborg if he might be able to help with the problem, and he told her that he would ask her husband about the matter if he ran into him during one of his nightly trips to the afterworld.
After “sleeping on it” for a few days, Swedenborg dreamed of seeing the dead ambassador who told him that he would tell his wife where the receipt was hidden. Three days after she first spoke to Swedenborg, he came to visit the widow. Swedenborg told her that he had spoken to her husband and the debt had been paid seven months before his death. The receipt had been put in a bureau which was in an upper apartment. The lady replied that the bureau had been cleared out and the receipt was not there. Swedenborg replied that her husband had told him that if a drawer on the left side of the bureau was pulled out, a board would be observed which must be pushed away and a secret drawer in which he used to keep his secret papers would be discovered. The lady, accompanied by all of her friends, proceeded to the upper apartment and opened the bureau. Finding the board, she pushed it out of the way and found the secret drawer which was found to contain the missing receipt as well as a valuable diamond hairpin that she had lost.
Swedenborg’s books are infused throughout with Catholic doctrine and some channeled information which has since proven to be outright fantasy. Swedenborg was as much a product of his time as anyone else, and was just as prone to believe the angelic beings he met during his nightly wanderings as any of us would be likely to believe a respected friend. This again emphasizes one of the most important points about the study of spirituality. The act of dying does not confer purity or perfect knowledge on anyone.
When a good and virtuous person dies, he (or she) carries all the baggage of his own social upbringing with him. Both Swedenborg and the angelic beings he met were still infused with the religious doctrines of their day. While Swedenborg’s angelic beings were honest, virtuous and earnest in their beliefs, those beliefs were still distorted by the conventional wisdom of the times in which they had previously lived.
What we today call “political correctness” is not a modern phenomenon. It has always existed, even though each age has its own version which invariably is vastly different than the one that preceded it. The current “political correctness” of the age always dominates the “wisdom” channeled from spirits who have recently passed over, no matter how evolved they may be, or when their advice is channeled. Today, modern political correctness takes on the overtones of Marxist and Socialist doctrine, but in Swedenborg’s day, it was all about Catholic and Protestant doctrine. The things to take home about Swedenborg’s experiences are the things he observed himself, not the things he heard from his angelic sources!
The point of this book is to emphasize that the human spirit survives death, that spirits exist, and that discarnate spirits have profound affects upon living people. It is NOT to imply that the things that spirits say are always to be believed! True, bad spirits generally lie, and good spirits do their best to tell the truth as they understand it, but their understanding is only as informed as their own personal and spiritual experiences allow them to be. One should treat channeled information the same way one should treat advice from a friend. You “take it with a grain of salt”! You understand that your friend is trying to help, but her advice is based on her personal prejudices, experiences and knowledge which may be no more informed than your own. The same thing goes for channeled information. Take it as advice, and not as “divine” truth! I have written a chapter (19) on spirit lies and tall tales which enlarges on this theme.