2.0 A lingua universalis?
Transcendence of the technological or scientific barriers of the cognitive horizon takes often place during dreamlike (hypnogogic) experiences which frequently take on an air of preternaturality. First point at issue refers to the imagery associated with these experiences. The images in question have been virtually classified by historians of science as odd and curious but quite unessential objects. Yet, their relevance is fundamental. A couple of examples will suffice to illustrate this fact from an unexpected angle. The first case refers to Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz.
Kekule's providential encounter with Justus von Liebig at the University of Giessen made him change his mind and study chemistry instead of following his original project to become an architect. However, structures continued to fascinate him so intensely that he pioneered the system of structural formulae still profitably used in our own time in organic chemistry. For seven years on end Kekule arrived at satisfactory formulations for a series of hydrocarbons by means of this system, and using an 'open chain' configuration paradigm for the atoms. However, in 1865 he got stuck and found himself facing a tricky problem when the benzene molecule refused to fit into that model: if of a linear structure, that particular substance would have been explosively unstable. This was a hard nut to crack. Especially, taking into account that atoms have only just recently become observable. In the long run, however, the answer to that problem came to him —and this in a very peculiar manner! Explains Kekule:
I put my armchair in front of the fireplace and dozed off. Suddenly, atoms revolved in front of me... moving like serpents. But —what is this? One of the serpents was biting its own tail, dancing teasingly in front of my eyes! I woke up as struck by lightning, and worked the rest of the night on the consequences of the hypothesis thus generated.
His experience was crucial and elucidative: the structure of the benzene molecule is actually like a ring: the very ring allegorized by the serpent that bit its own tail.
My second example stems from the field of technology. Elias Howe, a young American engineer, had gotten stuck with a problem that could indeed be solved in a very elementary manner. Namely, the location of the eye in a sewing-machine's needle. However, during millennia that tiny little hole had remained located close to the needle's butt end. Consequently, permuting this location to the tip to solve certain mechanical problems the machine posed, required a certain amount of imaginative power. According to Michéle Masson, the solution to the problem posed by the standard multi-millennial needle struck the mind of the young American engineer in the course of an experience similar to Kekule's, and just as queer:
Howe's machine was a total success. It competed against five professional seamstresses with ample superiority in 1845 at the premises of the Quincy Hall Manufacturing Company of Boston.
In both these paradigmatic cases the experiencers arrived at their respective solutions in dreamlike, hypnogogic conditions.
In the passages just quoted, Masson puts forth a most fundamental psychoanalytical hint when stating that the symbols involved would have been trifling or erotic to anyone but Howe. Indeed Sigmund Freud, for instance, looked at sharp objects as potentially 'phallic symbols' whilst Masson insinuates there is an area —we may term it 'heuristic' (from a Greek word which means 'serving to discover')— which is refractory to psychoanalytical methods. Masson's idea ought to have been evident; yet, it has received little or no attention. And there are still deeper implications.
Let's ask ourselves —how did the respective elucidative crepuscular dreams of Kekule and Howe originate? The answer would seem quite obvious: they must have arisen through some pre-conscious process, not at all mysterious but just taking place in the brain and then popping up at a conscious level. However, things have happened which I am now to discuss, that throw some very strange light upon this explanatory hypothesis that seems so straight and obvious we might hardly believe it could be wrong.
After the crisis experienced in 1744 which turned Swedenborg from scientist into a revelator, a retrospective entry in his Spiritual diary dated August 27th, 1748, refers to "Many visions when my eyes were closed, and light miraculously given" (SD 2951). When publicly disclosing his experiences at a later stage, he wrote:
When discussing "the relevance of dreams throughout Old Eastern cultures as a means for divinity to convey messages to man" (a subject obviously identical with the contents of AC 1122), Rev. J. Errandonea Alzuguren quotes A.L. Oppenheim's work, The interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East, and brings forward the following comments:
The root n. w. m., which in Accadian renders munattu = early morning time, points in the same direction [conveyance of messages from divinity to man].This is an exciting piece of information because, when dealing with the allegoric meaning of the biblical passages about the descent of the manna from heaven concurrently with 'the morning dew' (Numbers, 11:9), Swedenborg refers to the hypnogogic condition of the mind 'midways between sleep and awakening', and to its illuminating power! And as we shall see later on, certain voices by means of which prodigiously inspired details were conveyed to him, were also heard matutino tempore: early in the morning! Consequently, the 'hypnogocity' referred to by Swedenborg touches with an amazing historical genuineness upon such aspects as mentioned by Rev. Errandonea. And this is very striking because traditions here involved only became accessible two centuries later, when palaeographic science started to emerge by the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. And what is still more remarkable: it touches upon the very subject of the hypnogogic experiences through which the problems of Kekule and Howe were solved.
For Freud, who certainly mistrusted whatever claim of metaphysical inspiration might be alleged (e.g.: the insinuation of the signification of dreams induced, mentioned by Swedenborg in AC 1122 quoted above), the problem of signification was the very master element of all his analytical endeavours. And yet, there is a veritable hiatus in his doctrine of symbolic significations when it comes to the analysis of experiences of a heuristic nature: indeed, Freudian psychoanalysis is totally inoperative in cases such as exemplified by Kekule and Howe; and indeed —this is my thesis— by Swedenborg! The problem of signification will consequently and henceforward be the major element in my discussion of the hiatus found in both Freudian and non-Freudian psychoanalytical theories concerning the interpretation of hypnogogic experiences of a 'heuristic' nature.
Swedenborg mentions three significant dream categories, and a fourth one devoid of signification:
The first kind come from the Lord mediately through heaven; such were the prophetic dreams that are treated of in the Word. The second kind come through angelic spirits... from this source the men of the Most Ancient Church had their dreams, which were instructive (see n. 1122). The third kind comes through the spirits who are near when man is sleeping, which are likewise significative. But fantastic dreams come from a different source. (AC 1976)What is being discussed is not the fact that dreams may be instructive or significant. Psychoanalytic theory takes this for granted. Indeed, this is the very foundation of its operation, both clinical and theoretical. The essential point is: what signification or what instructive contents are supposed to be derived, and what analytical tools might be considered appropriate for such an operation in 'heuristic' cases?
Indeed, should Kekule or Howe have resorted to Freudian interpretations (granting spears to be a phallic symbol, and so on), the resolutive power of their respective crepuscular experiences would have come to nought. It is nevertheless evident that their dream interpretations were correct, which implies that psychoanalytical interpretations are wrong as far as this kind of heuristic material is concerned. That's an interesting conclusion for a start! But —what bearing has all this on Swedenborg's case?
In contradistinction to Kekule and Howe's flash-like experiences, probably lasting no more than a fraction of a second, the 'representative' images Swedenborg saw appeared in extended series —even for hours on end!
I could follow these representations by a kind of sight which I can never describe, and this in a long series from beginning to end and even for an hour and for two hours until the several scenes were completed. Thus, if only it were allowed to make public a single one of them, to wit, the representation concerning the pyramid which was so marvellously constructed and adorned (...) if this should be described, it would fill many pages. (WE 4917)This is an exciting but purely anecdotal statement. It hardly admits further analysis. But this circumstance changes when contents are specific. Then the essential question arises: whether the contents make sense, and in what manner this sense can be elicited.
It is worthy of mention that when after waking I related what I had seen in a dream, and this in a long series, certain angelic spirits (...) said that what I related wholly coincided, and was identical with the subjects they had been conversing about, and that there was absolutely no difference; but still that they were not the very things they had discoursed about, but were representatives of the same things into which their ideas were thus turned and changed in the world of spirits (...) They said, further, that the same discourse could be turned into other representatives, nay, into both similar and dissimilar ones, with unlimited variety. The reason they were turned into such as have been described, was that it took place in accordance (...) with my own state at the time. (AC 1980)What those 'angelic spirits' might be will be discussed at the end of this paper (Chapter 8.0) in order to concentrate for the time being on 'the very things they had discoursed about.' Supposing those 'very things' were not sheer fantasy but still, that they were 'things' that crystallize as ever-changing representative images 'with unlimited variety' —how might they be recognized?
Fortunately, the situation is not as hopelessly erratic as it might seem. Definite interpretations are possible provided there is a representative coincidence (such as mentioned in Swedenborg's note: 'they said that what I related wholly coincided'), and some tangible reference keys are given, equivalent to Kekule's atoms or Howe's needle. Kekule, for instance, would have encountered no difficulty in interpreting alternative images of pastry rolls turned into rings instead of a serpent biting its tail, provided he knew those rings bore reference to a chain of atoms. In other words: the whole problem boils down to the subject of graspable reference keys.
How were reference keys conveyed to Swedenborg? My answer to this question is so incredible that I must perforce start with its background. That is, with my earliest discovery which took place by sheer chance (?) in the spring of 1973.
I was at that time firmly convinced that the crisis Swedenborg had experienced in 1744 was the initial symptom of some serious mental trouble (my original diagnosis was paraphrenia). Yet, something completely irregular took place while rereading passages about the Maximus Homo dealing with the 'province' of the suprarenal glands. I was, like Paul on his way to Damascus, stricken by a thunderbolt when suddenly grasping the earliest indication that what seemed to be a strictly metaphysical entity, was actually functioning in straight concordance with physical reality: in a fraction of a second I realized Swedenborg had anticipated a major endocrinological discovery related to the medullary secretion of those small but very vital glands whose role, at that time, was quite mysterious.
For instance, during the scientific stage of his life Swedenborg quoted Lorenz Heister, a German anatomist and surgeon born in Frankfort, who, after describing the secretion of the above mentioned glands as "a brownish liquor of sweetish taste", admitted their operation was "not certainly ascertained" because "they have no known excretory duct" (AK 266). Yet he himself was not daunted by this fact. After dedicating a ten-thousand-words chapter to this topic, he ventured the hypothesis that the suprarenals work like control-valves regulating the blood-flux to the kidneys of the embryo and the testicles (!) in order to "hinder and prohibit the immoderate influx, downpour and seizure of the flower of the blood into those wanton and voracious organs" (AK 277).
That's a totally wrong doctrine. It even disregards the fact that women are equipped with just that same couple of glands. Things were finally to change when Sir Walter Bradford Cannon stepped into the stage in 1914, having successfully been able to establish the relation between the hormone synthesized by the medullary region of the suprarenals (adrenalin) and the circumstances inducing those glands to shoot the adrenalin into the blood stream: fear, anxiety and distress. To which it must be added that a massive adrenalin discharge also causes tremor. Summarizing, the adrenalin can be related —an is related— to situations of 'fear', 'anxiety', 'distress' and 'tremor'.
Now —watch and behold! On the 24th of February 1748 the very same
Swedenborg I presumed had been stricken with paraphrenia and thrown out
of the orbit of science, was to register the following in relation to the
succenturiatarum (the Latin name given at that time to the suprarenal
glands) in his Diary and publish it later on, in The Heavenly
Prone to anxieties... fearful of being disturbed... distressed... anxious feelings... tremor. (SD 970 & AC 5391)Absolutely perplexed, I realized these passages contained the very and modern terms which describe the psychosomatic effects of an adrenalin discharge (table 2.4.1).
* Drawing by Sylvia Treadgold, reprod. by
courtesy of Dr. A. Stuart Mason.
I was to become yet more perplexed when I gradually learnt this was no isolated case of random coincidence. The accuracy and anticipative nature of Swedenborg's post-critical organic and functional descriptions is a steady, general rule.
In Swedenborg's retrospective annotation of the full scope of strange experiences he went through during the post-critical stage of his life, we find that after his statement mentioning "many visions, when my eyes were closed, and light miraculously given", he adds:
Fiery lights were seen. Speech [was heard] in morning time, besides many other things; until a certain spirit addressed me in a few words. I was greatly astonished that he should perceive my thoughts, and afterwards wondered greatly when [my mind] was opened so that I could converse with spirits. (SD 2951)What is a true wonder is the striking contents —the very topics— of that 'speech' which was heard by Swedenborg 'in morning time;' that is, in a twilight or hypnogogic state of altered consciousness. Those verbal statements do fall outside the sphere of any matters we ordinarily would imagine would be the topic of conversation of discarnate creatures. For instance, the following example refers to a statement that served to convert images of Swedenborg's visions very precisely into a virus! And not just some indeterminate virus but one that is positively known to be related to a certain type of very specific cancers: the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). And wow! —this is what Swedenborg heard:
It was said that such contribute to the formation of cancers (dicebant quod tales ad cancrum contribuant)... (SD 4348)Really striking! Of course, the 'such' referred to ('hypocritical spirits' according to Swedenborg's own terminology) have not been identified as Epstein-Barr viruses on so meager a foundation as just this sentence, but on the basis of lengthy annotations to which, also, some highly interesting statistical criteria apply (table 2.4.2).
* Structural elements described by Swedenborg are in total
agreement with the type of virus the EBV belongs to (herpes-virus). Being
all of them reciprocally consistent, the structural data have been rated
equally and with a fairly low index of probability by chance.
The global probability for an alleatory assemblage of the data listed
Table 2.4.2 GLOBAL PROBABILITY of alleatory assemblage of these data, which are fully concordant with the characteristics of Epstein-Barr virus and its pathological action, is virtually like zero. This means that Swedenborg could not have imagined or collected by chance the data thus compiled.
This couple of examples (adrenalin / EBV) are only intended as a highly abridged preliminary notice on the kind of information Swedenborg recorded through a combination of hypnogogic experiences in addition to what, according to my knowledge, is absolutely peculiar to him: verbal statements in the form of 'voices heard matutino tempore.' (For more elaborate examples see chapters 6.0 and 7.0).
Kekule and Howe knew the object to which their respective hypnogogic experiences bore reference. Consequently, they had the immediate referential keys by means of which their visions became intelligible. To be able to grasp the contents of Swedenborg's experiences discussed, proper reference keys had to be given —and were given! For this purpose the voices he heard 'in morning time' (hypnogic state of consciousness) served to convey data of an incredible accuracy as keys of physical reference facilitating the identification of the objects or processes being described. Frequently, those keys refer to the Maximus Homo. For example: "it was said by the angels, that, in the Maximus Homo they relate to something in the spleen (AC 4663)." This makes it possible to investigate the texts in the light of our present knowledge about the organs mentioned. Further results obtained by means of this elementary operation that has never previously been carried out, are as spectacular as the brief examples just discussed (adrenalin / EBV); and indeed, the signification of each of the scenes recorded by Swedenborg becomes just as manifest in the light of the concrete reference keys thus specified, as it does in Kekule's and Howe's hypnogogic dreams or visions when these are contemplated from the angle of the concrete objects to which they refer: the benzene molecule and the sewing-machine needle.
Verbal statements were not the only means for conveying clues of concrete
physical references to Swedenborg. Another sort of means refers to some
peculiar 'influxes' he experienced, dealt with in the next chapter, which
are no less surprising than the extraordinary 'voices' he listened to 'in
 Quoted by A. Feldman and P. Ford in Grandes científicos e inventores, Hymsa, Barcelona, 1979, Vol. II, p. 22.
 M. Masson, La segunda ciencia del sueño, in the collective work Los extrasensoriales, Ediciones 29, Barcelona, 1977, pp. 205-206.
 J. Errandonea Alzuguren, Edén y Paraíso -Fondo cultural mesopotámico en el relato bíblico de la creación, Marova, Madrid, 1965, p. 189.
 Cf. WE 7006 and AC 3579.