Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg

BooksArticlesSermonsMagazinesSciencesBlogsVideoWebsitesSite

<<>>TitleContents

6.0 A Re-examination of Swedenborg's Journal of Dreams and his Theory of Localizations and of the Functions of the Cerebral Cortex.


I am now to concentrate on a remarkable manuscript of just forty four pages. Known amongst scholars as The London additions to The Brain and referred to as Codex No. 55 in the files of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Stockholm, it was written by Swedenborg during the crucial period of his crisis. This is quite significant because, although considered to be part of his scientific production, there are reasons to believe that its contents fit into the same category of startling anticipations of scientific discoveries recorded in his post-critical production. Wrote Dr. Alfred Acton in 1938:

I may add that it is in these Additions —almost the last of Swedenborg's philosophical writings— that the author gives forth, for the first time, that doctrine concerning the office of the anterior lobes of the cerebrum which has aroused the wonder and admiration of cerebrologists of our own day[54].

The doctrine mentioned is none other than Swedenborg's theory of localizations. It emerged under queer circumstances. These have never previously been seriously investigated. Yet, I do think they may be quite significant when contemplated from the angle of the discovery made in the spring of 1973.

6.1 Swedenborg's latest theories concerning the brain

The London additions... remained unpublished until Dr. Rudolf Leonard Tafel undertook in 1887 the task of having this brief manuscript printed. At that time it caused real sensation. Apart from the fact that the theory of the pre-eminent psychic role of the cerebral cortex appears propounded in that very paper for the first time in history, which is indeed an objective truth[55], it was discovered to the neurophysiologists' great perplexity that it also contains a correct version of the so-called theory of localizations. Swedenborg's version of the theory appears formulated as follows:

The muscles and actions which are in the ultimates of the body or in the soles of the feet seem to depend more immediately upon the highest parts [of the brain], upon the middle lobe[56] the muscles which belong to the abdomen and thorax, and upon the third lobe those which belong to the face and head... for they seem to correspond to one another in an inverse ratio. (BR 68)

This faithfully corresponds to the real anatomo-physiological facts about the brain and its motorial control. Both anatomical location and inverted position (correspondence of the higher parts of the cerebral cortex with the lower parts of the body and vice versa) coincide with physical reality (fig. 6.1.1).


1: Soles of the feet. 2: Abdomen and Thorax. 3: Face and Head.

Swedenborg's theory
(1745)
Insight gained by six modern researchers
(late 19th century)
Fig. 6.1.1 SWEDENBORG'S THEORY OF LOCALIZATIONS. Both the situation of the motorial centers in the cerebral cortex and the inverted order of the three parts of the body cited by Swedenborg, correspond to reality. An amazing theory for having been formulated in the 18th century.

What is amazing is the fact that this anticipates a discovery that was to take place much later (by the end of the 19th century), and had to be constructed bit by bit by a series of first-rank neurophysiologists (G. Fritsch, E. Hitzig, V. Horsley, D. Ferrier, C.S. Sherrington and H. Cushing) using advanced methods and techniques. How can this incredible anticipation of scientific facts be explained? This is exactly what Martin Ramström, a professor of anatomy at the University of Uppsala, asked himself.

6.2 Objections to Ramström's thesis

Whence did Swedenborg get all this? Whence the whole of this doctrine of localizations? In his first great anatomical work, Oeconomia regni animalis, nothing is said about it; first in his last anatomical work, De cerebro, it is advanced, and then —quite finished[57]!

No wonder Ramström should formulate that query! The sudden emergence of the theory overnight is amazing. But Ramström was not the type of man that could easily be taken aback. Infused with the positivistic spirit of our time, this Swedish professor and anatomist thought he could explain the apparently mysterious origin of the theory. He worked out a monograph on this subject, which he published in medical circles and presented at the International Swedenborg Congress  held in London in 1910. However, a critical review of his thesis —which, to my knowledge, has never previously been undertaken— leads to a totally different conclusion. To start with, Ramström thinks that:

Swedenborg's doctrine of localizations coincides in its leading features with the doctrine of localizations into which our own times have succeeded in obtaining an insight, after the most comprehensive and complicated work, during the last half-century. It therefore seems very puzzling that Swedenborg a century and a half ago, could advance this doctrine. But if we continue the study of the aforesaid presentation of Vieussens in his Neurographia universalis, we find the solution to the puzzle[58].

Such a solution does not exist! Ramström has operated with several misconceptions. First of all —why should a "most comprehensive and complicated work" be required in the 19th century if the solution was on hand in Vieussens' Neurographia universalis? And should this be true —how could six prominent neurophysiologists (Fritsch, Hitzig, etc.) have neglected so noted and medically popular a treatise as Vieussens'?

There are still further objections. Ramström has granted special relevance to plate No. XVI in Vieussens' treatise. His opinion is that Swedenborg conceived the idea of three 'lobes' by following the upward path of the nerves from the point marked 'K' (fig. 6.2.2); then the downward path which (hints Ramström, although he doesn't explicitly mention it) suggested to Swedenborg the connection of the nerves with the three parts of the body he mentions: head, abdomen and thorax, and the feet. But there are at least a couple of reasons for rejecting these presumptions.

First of all, Vieussens contributes no information from point 'K' of his figure and downwards, that may have put Swedenborg on the track to his theory of localizations. The second objection is still more stringent. It refers to one of the manuscripts Swedenborg never published himself because he was overtaken by the crisis: a paper containing a peculiar fibrilar theory posthumously edited in 1911. Ramström must have been unaware of this theory (his monographic studies on Swedenborg's theories were written in 1909 and 1910). As the theory goes, the path of the medular nerves descending from the encephalus and penetrating into the spinal column is thus described: the fibers originating in the brain penetrate 'indiscriminatingly' into "the posterior portion of the medulla spinalis" (Fib. 109)[59]. This idea is completely incompatible with any inference leading to the theory of localizations by the process imagined by Ramström; i.e., by a reconstruction of the downward medular path starting from point 'K'.

Fig. 6.2.2 VIEUSSENS' DRAWING. Ramström attached a disproportionate role to this figure, pretending Swedenborg derived conclusions which in fact do not follow from the data it contains.

Still more striking is the fact that all along his pre-critical production covering about six thousand printed pages, Swedenborg never missed an opportunity to back up his own inferences by quoting those authorities which could offer whatever theoretical or experimental support it might be. His theory of localizations is the only exception. Ramström thinks this was due to the fact that the manuscript contained in Codex No. 55 had not yet been made ready for the printers when Swedenborg gave up his career as a scientist and stopped the further publication of scientific papers. This, however, is an unconvincing argument because at that very time he also wrote about the skin and the sense of touch (table 6.3.1, [B]), and this topic was duly backed by all the critical apparatus of notes and quotations. However incredible this may seem, we are to infer that Swedenborg didn't quote any source of authority to back up his theory of localizations for the very reason that there was none! —at least, not in any normal sense.

The literature available at that time was plentiful but chaotic. It lacked the required degree of accuracy. Swedenborg had indeed access to such works as J.J. Wepfer's Observationes anatomicae ex cadaveribus eorum, quos sustulit Apoplexia, a work that was published in Amsterdam in 1681; or the Cyclopean compendium by Th. Bonet sinisterly titled Sepulchretum, which contains no less than three thousand autopsy protocols, as well as compiler J.J. Manget's Theatrum anatomicum and Bibliotheca anatomica. But actually, neither this literature nor any other then extant, offered modern formulators of the theory of localizations any truly workable basis. In order to reach their respective conclusions, these researchers had first of all to widen the experimental field. Consequently, that literature could far less have served as a basis for Swedenborg's conclusions. On top of this, Ramström incurred a logical flaw similar to a begging of the question, because he says:

Finally, however, it should be emphasized that, when Swedenborg collected his facts from the many separated fields of literature, he found them not at all presented in the large works as important "chief subjects", or even as lying plainly at hand. No, he was often, so to say, obliged to dig out his material from a chaos of erroneous observations, false intepretations and curious conceptions; and afterwards he had to still further sift and elaborate it, before he could draw his conclusions out of it[60].

In order thus to act, Swedenborg would virtually have had to know the conclusions before these were reached! Somehow, Ramström grew conscious of the fact that something was amiss, and receded in the last moment from his strident 20th-century positivism:

In view of all this one must say that it was in truth a work of genius [Ramström's italics] to search out of such a chaos the guiding threads which were concealed within it, and that, in spite of their imperfection in many points, nevertheless to be able to find so much of the truth[61]!

"Work of a genius... guiding threads... concealed within..." —what sort of things are these other than something which cannot be referred to regular sources wherefrom Ramström imagined Swedenborg must have derived his theory?

6.3 The Point of Zero Vision and The Journal of Dreams

The Journal of Dreams is the very document —a personal, intimate diary unique in all the world— that covers the full details of the breaking out and evolution of the crisis Swedenborg experienced in 1744. Although scrutinized from the crosswise angles of theology and psychoanalysis, scholars have contemplated it quite unilaterally: it has fundamentally been considered the testimony of a religious crisis. However, an iteration frequency analysis of key concepts renders the results shown in fig. 6.3.1. As may be appreciated, the main bulk rests on references Swedenborg made to a cognitive guidance aimed at scientific goals and problems. In other words: what Swedenborg actually underwent may be defined as a peculiar cognitive crisis. Some background information will serve to further clarify this point.

Fig. 6.3.1 ITERATION FREQUENCY ANALYSIS SHOWING THE DISTRIBUTION OF KEY CONCEPTS IN THE JOURNAL OF DREAMS. Swedenborg was expecting a cognitive guidance in matters of a scientific nature (see also table 6.3.1).

There is a particular turn in Swedenborg's scientific methodology which clearly shows what it really was that triggered the crisis. To start with, Swedenborg attached too great a trust to the speculative powers of the mind. Yet finally, he realized the empirical shortcomings of such an approach. An elementary process even makes it possible to ascertain the degree of his loss of confidence in the speculative method. We need only to compute how many times Swedenborg used the terms (and their synonyms) 'principle' (= theoretical speculation) and 'experience' (= empiricism) when expounding his methodology. For instance, in two of his main pre-critical works: Principia rerum naturalium... (Pr., 1734), and Oeconomia regni animalis... (EAK, 1740-41). Fig. 6.3.2 shows the results, and these are quite striking. As may be appreciated, from a confidence in speculative science of 6:1 Swedenborg veered in the opposite direction, to advocate experimental science in a 4.75:1 proportion.

Fig. 6.3.2 ITERATION FREQUENCIES OF KEY CONCEPTS IN THE PRE-CRITICAL WORKS, PRINCIPIA AND OECONOMIA. Computation shows a striking change of tactics: from theoretical speculation to the field of experimental science.

 
D r e a m s I n t e r p r e t a t i o n s
Stood behind a machine... the spokes entangled me... impossible to escape; wakened... ... perhaps it referred to the lungs of the foetus in the womb, about which I was writing. (n. 18)
It seemed I took a key, went in, was examined by the door keeper... Hesselius had another [key]... Many significations: as, that I had taken the key to anatomy; the other, that Hesselius had, was the key to medicine. Also that the key to the lungs is the pulmonary artery. (n 24)
... I got up on a horse, but by no means took the way I thought... the horse got tired with the load... became like a slaughtered and blood-red beast, and lay there... Betokens that I have got all that I had thought for my instruction; and that I am taking a way which is perhaps not the right one. The load was my remaining works that... on the way became of that kind, weary and dead. (n. 31)
I was dreaming the whole night... was taught in many things of which I have no recollection... ... it was told me also of the thymus and renal glands (n. 105)
Saw my sister Hedvig, with whom I would have nothing to do... ... Signifies that I ought on no account to busy myself with Oeconomina Regni Animalis but leave it. (n. 119)
Heard a bear growl... Did not dare to stay in the upper story... there was a dead body he would smell... This betokens... also that I am pursuing my anatomical speculations. (n 125)
Dr. Moraeus paid court to a pretty girl... She grew bigger and prettier... It meant that I should inform myself about the muscles and reflect upon them. (n. 126)
It seemed that women and men were set to go away in a ship... Betokens perhaps that I shall carry my work over to England. (n. 176) [ A ] The London additions to The Brain

**

In Harwich, which was on my arrival in England, I slept only some hours... ... and then there was shown me much that may perhaps concern my work here. (n. 192)
I saw a beautiful palace with wings... ... the palace may be my design for my work, which points to the groove, where I intend to look. (n. 205)
Seemed to take leave of her with particular tenderness, kissing. When another appeared a short way off... Signifies that an end has now come to what I have written on the senses... which, as it is projected, cannot be comprehended; and that I am now coming to the second part, on the cerebrum. (n. 212)
There met me one that told me that he had cut curtains to my bed; but said something against my science... Whether I shall take another way with my work or is in preparation for something else... is dark to me. (n. 225)
... some big beautiful light yellow horses came... afterwards more, with beautiful teams of horses... Signifies my work I have begun; the latter teams, that on the cerebrum, so that I now find that I have God's permission to proceed, and I believe He will help me therein. (n. 229)
Dreamt of small birds that sat around the head that should be plucked off... Signifies that I had not rightly arranged and carried out the subject of the Corpus reticulare Malpighii. (n. 232) [ B ] Skin/Sense of Touch

***

... was frightened, but it was said to me, "You shall go through it safely." Wakened... Something awaits me when I have gone through the first chapter on the sense of touch. (n. 241)
Saw a gable of the most beautiful palace that could possibly be seen; glory like the sun upon it... This referred to that which I have now brought to an end about organic forms in general, and chiefly at the end. (n. 243)
I thought that I lived in the gable of the palace... Meant that that which with God's help I have written lately about forms is such that it shall carry me on still further to that which is still more glorious. (n. 244)
* Selection of short illustrative fragments (original descriptions are fairly extensive).
** BR.
*** Senses.
Table 6.3.1 PASSAGES SELECTED FROM THE JOURNAL OF DREAMS. Swedenborg was dealing with scientific matters. At a certain stage marked [ A ], he concentrated on the human brain. Attention should be paid to the confidence with which he expected to receive supernatural help in the form of a cognitive guidance.

Then his agonies commenced! And this because of the instrumental limitations of his time, especially in the field of microscopy and, consequently, of microanatomy; and because of the inordinate magnitude of the research he had launched himself into: to explore the human body till the very soul[62]!

Swedenborg spared no efforts to gather as much information as he could, to overcome his time's experimental shortages. This even made him embark on the longest of his foreign journeys: to France and Italy, covering a period of four years (1736-1740). But in the long run he was forced to accept the cognitive limitations regarding known or fathomable objects related to his ambitious research project and —this is what became the actual crisis-triggering factor. Thus, having exhausted all available sources of experimental science and especially those of neurology, he found himself at the end of his run confronting a point of zero vision as exemplified by point 'K' in Vieussens' plate. As a consequence hereof, and contrary to Ramström's opinion, any further steps implied an incursion into meta-empirical territories. And this is where the documentary evidence subsequently discussed becomes significant.

6.4 Supernatural guidance whilst writing The London Additions to The Brain (Codex No. 55)

On monday 13th of May, 1744, being in the midst of the crisis, Swedenborg left Amsterdam to travel to London via Harwich. His first annotation in The Journal of Dreams just after crossing the English Channel reads as follows:

In Harwich, which was on my arrival in England, I slept only some hours; and then there was shown me much that may perhaps concern my work here. (JD 192)

This refers to the manuscript filed as Codex No. 55 at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences at Stockholm. That is: to The London Additions to The Brain. Now, regarding the fragments from The Journal of Dreams in table 6.3.1, let's concentrate on those indicated by [ A ]. Said Swedenborg:

I now find that I have God's permission to proceed, and I believe He will help me therein. (JD 229)

Whatever this may imply, Dr. Acton stresses in this connection:

... while engaged in writing these additions to The Brain, Swedenborg had several visions, not recorded in his Journal[63], in which he was 'admonished' or 'commanded' to make certain re-arrangements in the order of his work[64].

It was roundabout this period when he commenced to experience visions of lights and flames:

... such a flame appeared to me so often and, indeed, in different sizes with a diversity of color and splendor, that during some months when I was writing a certain work, hardly a day passed in which a flame did not appear as vividly as the flame of a household hearth. It was then a sign of approval, and this was prior to the time when spirits began to speak with me viva voce. (WE 6905)

That 'certain work' he mentions must in all probability have been The London Additions to The Brain. We may take it for granted that Swedenborg repeatedly made references to a supernatural guidance during the period he was engaged in writing his unique monograph on the brain. This is quite significant. It means that he knew very well that in spite of Ramström's opinion, available sources of empirical information were insufficient.
 

6.5 Conclusions

According to my conclusions, Swedenborg's theories contained in Codex No. 55 appeared 'bare' (that is, devoid of experimental references), overnight and —yet— 'complete' (Ramström's expression) because they are items of a seemingly scientific knowledge whose origin is, nevertheless, as mysterious as all the rest of brilliant and baffling anticipations of scientific theories and observations now detected in his post-critical texts.

Codex No. 55 is quite probably a veritable missing link: the first item that connects Swedenborg's post-critical experiences to an inspiration of a scientific knowledge about physical reality.

In the sequel, a paradigmatic example of just another item of this baffling sort is being presented, but this time stemming from an advanced period of Swedenborg's postcritical experiences. It was written in 1750 (or 1751 at the latest).


[54] A. Acton, foreword to Swedenborg's treatise, Three transactions on The cerebrum, Swedenborg Scientific Association, Philadelphia, Pa., US, 1938, vol. I, p. xxviii.

[55] Prior to any true and scientifically objective organological knowledge, there has always been a tendency to assign a secondary role to the cortical areas of the organs because of the intuitive, but quite often erroneous idea that the central zones must be primordial.

[56] Translators have rendered as lobe the Latin term curia used by Swedenborg, although it does not conform to the modern notion of cerebral lobe. Professor Ramström clears up potential misunderstandings by stating: "In this anterior region of the cerebrum... [Swedenborg] distinguished three lobes, or so-called curiae, the first one highest up, "in the crown", a middle one below it, and a third one lowest down, i.e., nearest to the fissure of Sylvius." M. Ramström, Emanuel Swedenborg's investigations in natural science and the basis for his statements concerning the functions of the Brain, University of Uppsala, 1910, p. 37. Cf. also fig. 6.1.1.

[57]Ibid.

[58] M. Ramström, Swedenborg on the cerebral cortex as the seat of psychical activity, in Transactions of the International Swedenborg Congress, The Swedenborg Society, London, 1912, pp. 67-68.

[59] Cf. also Fib. 115.

[60] M. Ramström, Emanuel Swedenborg's investigations in Natural Science and the basis for his Statements concerning the Functions of the Brain, University of Uppsala, 1910, p. 49.

[61]Ibid.

[62] Cf. AK I, 19.

[63] The so-called Marginal notes (cf. A. Acton, An introduction to The Word Explained, Academy of the New Church, Bryn Athyn, Pa., US, 1927, pp. 83-84).

[64] A. Acton, Op. cit., p. 84.


<<>>TitleContents

Up

Crown of Revelations
Rebirth, Reincarnation
Correspondency
The Holy Center
Salvation in the Gospels
Psychology of Marriage
Precious Stones
The Human Mind
The Moral Life
Saul, David & Solomon
Bible Lost & Found
The Human Soul
Genesis and Exodus
City of God
Swedenborg Cosmology
Ultimate Reality
The Pattern of Time
Means of Salvation
AIM
NC: Sex and Marriage
Book with Seven Seals
My Lord and My God
Philosopher, Metaphysician
Inspiration of Genesis
Words In Swedenborg
Book Expo
Missionary Talks
Tabernacle of Israel
Canaan
A Brief View of the Heavenly Doctrines
Ancient Mythology
Odhner: Creation
Ten Commandments
Christ and The Trinity
Discrete Degrees
Body Correspondences
Language of Parable
The Ten Blessings
Creation in Genesis
The Third Source
Noble's "Appeal"
Life After Death

 

• Back • Home • Up • Next •

Dreams and Cortex

Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com