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VI The Rational Mind

The Pure Intellect

Swedenborg presents in his Rational Psychology a most exhaustive analysis of all that the human mind contains. From an examination of man's five senses he proceeds to treat of sensation and memory and imagination, and the states of the cortical substances of the brain upon which the operations of these mental faculties depend. Except for the application of certain new philosophical doctrines which he calls the doctrines of forms, of order and degrees, of correspondences and representations, and of modification, his method is so far largely analytical and introspective. But his object was not merely to give a descriptive account of the mental processes. He stood in awe and wonder before the miracle of the human mind, within which the still greater miracle is to take place of the birth of the immortal spirit the soul, into the realm of which Swedenborg had not yet been introduced. Yet his wonder did not quench his love of truth. He wanted to know how the mind worked: what it was that reduced the objects or "material ideas" of the memory in a moment into such an order, form and harmony, that a certain rational analysis thence resulted whereby a thing could be known to be true or false. He perceived that sensations could not by their own initiative and power reduce themselves into new forms and in them observe truths, connections, and probabilities. He argued that neither was this accomplished by any process of conscious thinking for thought or reasoning and rational ideas are themselves the results of a prior cause. He pointed out that a child can sometimes speak spontaneously according to more perfect logic than the philosopher can learn to do by artificial rules (R. Psych. 129). Hence Swedenborg was led to conclude that there was in every man a faculty which he called the Pure Intellect, which acts as perfectly in the infant or the idiot as in the wisest sage, and gives man the power to think and reason; and which also secretly governs all the processes of the organic body with an intuitive wisdom directed by the soul and originating from God. The "pure intellect" is never instructed in these functions, which are not acquired nor ever in need of being perfected. While the conscious mind has no connate ideas, but must procure its ideas by sensations, imagination, and the processes of thought, yet in the "pure intellect'' there pre-exist the intuitive patterns of all universal truths, such as axiomatic or prime natural verities, i.e., the intuition of the laws of the natural realm. Its harmonies are "pure natural goodnesses" (165). It never deals with probabilities, but sees things either as true or as false. It does not build up conclusions by successive stages, but comprehends simultaneously that which our natural mind can comprehend only successively. Nor can its wisdom ever be expressed openly in human speech, but only represented by similitudes, parables, and symbols (R. Psych. 131-135). It is to be carefully noted that the Rational Psychology attributes to the "pure intellect" no spiritual intelligence, no metaphysical or theological patterns, but only the intuition of universal natural truths, or the prerequisites of reasoning and of philosophical thought.

The "pure intellect," by itself, only gives the faculty of understanding the significance of a mutation or change of state in the cortical substances for whenever there is a correspondence in the sensories, the "pure intellect" immediately concurs, and thus some new relation is perceived among the things of the memory a relation which partially reflects some universal of the "pure intellect" (R. Psych. 137-139, 165). Because this faculty of presenting to the mind new relationships amongst the things occupying the imagination concerns itself with interpreting natural truths and with causing natural reasonings, Swedenborg concluded that it must have an organic seat in the brain. He therefore claims: "In each cortical gland there is a certain substance analogous to the cortex of the brain, from which the simple fibres arise just as the medullary . . fibres arise from the cortical glands. For the cortical gland . . is a brain in least effigy" (R. Psych. 124'). An interpretation of his conception of the structure of the cortical gland can he gleaned from our diagram of the same. The cortical gland is a brain in miniature and thus it has (Swedenborg conceived) a miniature cortex with countless little invisible organs which he named "pure intellectories," which are the "eminent organs" of the "pure intellect." And just as imagination depends on the general changes of states, both external and internal, of the cortical gland as a whole, so thought involves an internal change of state within these cortical glands (Fibre, 524) and this implies external changes of the simple cortex and the simple fibres which make up the interior structure of the gland. If thoughts are born when the simple fibres and the simple cortex are affected externally, it is evident that the faculty of thinking in the natural mind requires the existence of the "pure intellectories" which send out these simple fibres and constitute the "simple cortex." The simple fibres act as "the intellectual rays of the pure intellect"; and Swedenborg suggests that so far as the body of the cortical gland is permitted to be built up of these simple fibres, and the more the interweaving vascular vessels (called "corporeal fibres") are withdrawn, the mind is capable of clearer rational ideas and more mature judgment, because its organ is freer from the disturbing and obstructing things of the outer world. And this clarification comes to pass so far as we withdraw our minds from external loves and limiting material conceptions (Animal Spirit, 19; R. Psych. 153, 154, 165). The system of the Rational Psychology presents the rational mind as the properly "human" intellect the intellect which mortal man uses while on earth and in which his character is determined. It is also called the "mixed intellect" because it stands between the pure intellect and the imagination, and thus draws its quality both from the pure realm of the intellectual and from the ignorance and the fallacies of the sensual (R. Psych. 32, 431e, 123, 136, 156, 127). In a similar manner, the pure intellect is described as intermediate between the rational mind and the spirit or soul, which also has a mind but a mind which is called "spiritual" because it is such as man will use as a spirit after death. This spirit or soul is purely spiritual both as to substance and form (R. Psych. 49g. 486, 516, 501, 303). All spirits, whether good or evil, are on this account endowed with a "pure intelligence" a faculty to perceive spiritual truths intuitively even though evil souls hate these truths (R. Psych. 137, 138, 525-530).

While the spirit or soul is purely spiritual, the pure intellectories are of the highest natural form, and the active vital essence which they generate and send out through thesimple fibres is derived from the highest aura of nature.19 But involved in the building of the supreme vital essence and of the pure intellectories is the substance of the spirit, which is internally present in this highest natural essence and operates through it, making the body to live (R. Psych. 127, 128, 166, 303).

The Rational Mind

We have reviewed the organic settings which the Rational Psychology gives to the rational mind. But what are the mental processes of the mind, and how are thoughts formed? Swedenborg describes how from hearing and sight especially there are formed composite sense-perceptions, on the basis of which a memory of "material ideas" is established which is made active and enriched by imagination. From imagination as a plane the mind begins the process of intellection, or understanding of new relations, which forms thoughts. Thoughts consist of immaterial ideas or rational ideas, from which a new type of memory is composed which should be called the interior natural memory or the memory of abstract things (R. Psych. 144). When such ideas are revolved in thought they fall at length into the form of an equation into which enter various analyses and analogies, and which is called a judgment; the parts of which are then resolved into a new form. But into this resolution there enters now a new element, which is free will or choice. From choice man concludes what he is to deduce from the judgment and send into the will. And what is accepted by the will is turned into determination, from which effort and action are the results (R. Psych. 24, 151; cf. AC 4247). This cycle of mental operations might be modernly called a "conditioned response." But Swedenborg shows that it is not a mechanical reflex, but one that is completed only after passing through the important gateway of free choice (R. Psych. 360). Indeed, this exercise of a choice in conditions of entire equilibrium of mind is the main purpose and function of the rational mind. It is therefore pointed out that, in order to be free, the rational mind is such that it originates no affections and possesses no connate loves. But it stands instead in the crossways between two main streams of affections. From within it is subject to the influx of the "instincts" which originate in the "superior mind" of the spirit operating by the medium of the "pure intellectories," through which truths can be perceived. From below, there stream the seductive currents of the animus, the cupidities of corporeal delights. Between these two stands the rational mind as an arbiter or umpire. (R. Psych. 308, 309. See diagram). The affections of the rational mind are therefore not native but acquired by man's consent, and become moral virtues or vices (no. 338). That mind thus becomes the man himself, and the embodiment of the soul (no. 344 if, no. 348). For the quality of the eternal soul or spirit is there determined (nos. 528, 475).

The foregoing summary of the teachings of the Rational Psychology has been presented without prejudice to the doctrines of the Writings, which we shall next consider, or to the findings of modern psychologists. It is necessary to observe that at the time when he wrote his Psychology, Swedenborg confessed himself to be ignorant of the spiritual world (R. Psych. 521, 522, 524e). He did not yet know that the soul or spirit of man must be distinguished into three discrete degrees, of which the lowest is pervertible while the two higher are in the order of heaven. Yet his keen mind partly compensated for this lack of knowledge. For he states that while the soul (or spirit) is either in good loves or in evil loves, no spirit is perverted as to the faculty of spiritual intelligence; nor is any man lacking in the faculty of natural rationality which is seated in the "pure intellectories" (R. Psych. 526, 527, 544). Besides, however much sin may stamp its mark upon the internal state of these "pure intellectories" and upon the supreme vital essence which is distilled in them, the perfection of their physiological function of building and maintaining the body in its order is never altered; so that hereditary evil has no power to turn the human race into a breed of monstrosities (2 Econ. 314, 315).

These philosophical concepts are at least suggestive of the revealed doctrine of the Writings that every man is endowed by the Lord with the faculties of rationality and liberty, and this by virtue of the fact that the two superior degrees of the human spirit remain in the order of creation and cannot be perverted or lost even with the devils of hell.

Formation of the Rational Mind

The Writings teach that man "is born into the ultimate degree of the natural world; then, by means of knowledges, is elevated into the second degree" which in general answers to the imagination; "and as he perfects his understanding through the sciences he is elevated into the third degree, and then he becomes rational" (DLW 67). There are also three degrees of ascent in the spiritual world, above the three natural degrees, but these do not appear until he has put off his earthly body (ibid.). How the elevation progresses from the sensual to the rational is described in the Arcana as follows: "From his infancy even to childhood, a man is merely sensual, for he then receives only earthly, corporeal, and worldly things through the senses of his body, and it is from these that his ideas are then formed. The communication with the interior man is not yet open, or at least only to the extent that he can grasp and retain those things. . . Through external innocence the Lord reduces into order whatever enters through sensual things. Without an influx of innocence from the Lord in that first age, there would not be any foundation upon which the intellectual or rational, which is proper to man, could be built. From childhood to adolescence a communication with the interior natural is opened, through his learning what is decorous, civil, and honorable, both from instruction by parents and masters and from studies" (AC 5126).

The "communication with the interior natural" here referred to is accomplished when the child begins to perceive within the symbolic things of his imagination some concept of abstract values, like that of honesty, virtue, moderation, fairness, mercy. He begins to draw out the moral lessons of life, and see that life is governed not only by customs but by laws of universal worth. He cannot as yet see these laws or handle these abstractions; but he senses their presence within the situations of life. He is as it were taught in parables and through examples. The "interior natural" which is thus coming into gradual focus, is the interior natural memory where abstract ideas are to be laid up for his later use. The teaching continues:

"But from adolescence to early manhood communication is opened between the natural and the rational, through this that he then learns truths and goods of civil and moral life, and especially truths and goods of spiritual life, through hearing and reading the Word. So far as he then becomes imbued with goods through truths, so far his rational is opened. . . (AC 5126).

A youth who, "as he matures, cultivates his rational, thus forms reasons from the things which are in the interior natural" (AC 5497). He is not content to think only from memory but begins to reflect from his own thought upon the things he learns (AC 3603). This is done from an influx from the rational faculty an influx which as yet has no "life of affection in it"; it is cold and perhaps brutal and scoffing sophisticated (cf. AC 5141). There is, however, an affection of truth from a love of a worldly kind without which much would be left unlearned (AC 3603). There is much self-conscious pride in the first manifestations of the ability to reason. Long before man really learns how to think he feels himself master of the art, and gains a peculiar self-confidence which belittles experience and relies wholly on native ability and on flashes of imaginative insight which are confirmed by things in the memory. "Some suppose that one is a rational man if he can reason ingeniously about a number of things and so join his reasonings together that what he concludes may appear true. But this faculty pertains even to the worst of men" (AC 6240). Nor is it a sign of rational thinking that a man may be able to confirm some view of his own or some borrowed opinion or principle; for false principles can be confirmed equally with truths. To confirm these is merely an exercise of ingenuity (AC 5432: 2, 6500).

The growth of the mind towards the rational state is possible only by the acquisition of knowledge. Everyone who is rightly educated becomes rational and moral (TCR 564; DP 317). His rational thinking can be delayed and impeded by lack of proper training. But it is impossible to hasten the natural process whereby the rational degree is actually opened. He must attain "adult age" before he can have "full exercise of reason and judgment" (AC 2636). For judgment is like wine which must be given time to ferment and settle and afterwards must be separated and aged. Rational thought cannot be procured except as the body and the mind ripen (AC 6089: 2, 6751: 2, 5470, 7233e, 10225: 9). Even so, adults differ among themselves most widely as to their degrees of rational thought and judgment and as to the manner in which these are used and the fields in which they are exercised. Rational discrimination grows with a man's uses, and increases with the actual exercise of the thinking faculty. But a wrong use of thought can destroy the rational mind.

The question may arise whether the art of thinking can be taught. It might be answered that any education which does not teach us how to think, is not worthy of the name "education," which means a "leading forth" into proper exercise of the faculties hidden within the child. But the Writings make clear that the laws by which thoughts are actually produced or generated in the mind are innate and spontaneous in their operation and cannot all be reduced to artificial rules. A child who has only an analogue of reason "speaks more things philosophically, analytically, and logically in half an hour" than an Aristotle could describe in volumes "because all the things of human thought and speech are analytical, the laws of which are from the spiritual world; and he who wishes to think artificially from terms is not unlike a dancer who wishes to learn to dance from a knowledge of the motor fibres and muscles . . ." (AC 4658). From observation of certain types of philosophers after death, Swedenborg concluded that the study of logic generally tends to destroy the faculty of thinking (SD min. 4578, SD 866, 3460, 3952). He was, however, not referring to the Aristotelian philosophy, but to the use of syllogisms by the scholastics. Certain laws of logic are obviously useful in laying bare common human errors of thought and warning us against drawing conclusions from false appearances. Swedenborg himself in his philosophical works elucidated certain general methods of analysis and synthesis which he employed to construct his system. Logic, rightly interpreted and applied, can, however, only define the most general and more obvious laws which govern the fundamental modes of our thinking while a myriad times as many arcana of the art and science of analysis lie hidden in the more intricate processes of human judgment (AC 1495, 2556, 4570, 2004). How, then, does man enter into the power to think rationally? Perhaps the first thing to consider is the fact that man is not only potentially a rational being, but he is also from the outset an emotional being. His conscious life begins as a vague realization of his inborn desires, his yearnings for food and comfort. His understanding is built up from special sensations which transfer his affections to the higher plane of knowledges and symbols, and thus evoke a realization of deeper loves and delights. But these still center around himself and around things which he adopts as his own, as his "proprium." and which he defends with all his might.

In his imagination he gives wide scope to the representations of these delights of his heart, shaping ever new imagery to express them. His will is the controlling factor in his mental life, The first and foremost problem for the rational thinker is how to free himself from this tyranny of the native will. Rational thought must be able to do more than merely reflect the cupidities or ambitions of the will. The Writings teach two apparently contradictory things. On the one hand they say that man's understanding is produced or formed by the will or that the will prepares a bridal home for its future consort, the understanding (DLW 401, 402); and that the understanding is so adjoined to the will that what the will loves the understanding sees (AE 730: 2). On the other hand they reveal that by a special provision of the Lord, the understanding with men of our present race or of the spiritual genius is separated from the will; that the native will is closed up and that the determination of man's life has been transferred to the realm of the understanding (AC 640, 641, 1023). It follows from this that even with unregenerate men the understanding can be elevated into spiritual light, to draw breath from heaven, awaiting the time when the will might also be purified and lifted up into the heat of heavenly love (DLW 258, 368: 2, 395: 2, 413, 416 if.; DP 223; ISB 14; CL 269: 5, 6, 495; TCR 589, 602).

Man is born with the two faculties of rationality and liberty. These faculties are the results of a continual and immediate Divine influx through man's inmost soul. As faculties considered, they are Divine and are the Divine with man, which makes him a man. These faculties man never loses even though he may abuse his resultant freedom and refuse to accept truth (DLW 30, 116, 240, 264; SD 3094; AE 547, 970). Yet to possess a faculty is one thing, and to enter into its proper use is another. It is the faculty of rationality that enables the sensual will to represent its desires consciously in the imagery of the mind and to build up an "understanding" in its own likeness. For the influx of a faculty is always received according to the form of the vessel. The sensual will would use the understanding to confirm its own desires, not to see truth (AE 243). If a real understanding is to be formed, it must be held separate from the sensual will and be built up from another love. And this new love must come from outside of man, from something that is not his own, but which he still feels as his own. The only source of selfless love is the Lord, and He operates through the heavens, through the Word, and also through men. In infancy, the Lord builds up the states of delight which the babe experiences into "remains" remains of celestial good. But this can be done only when the babe's proprium is not active, and when his self-consciousness is not aroused. It is of Providence that even hardened human hearts are touched by innocence, ignorance, and helplessness; because the deepest "remains" are implanted when the infant is hardly conscious, or when he is yielding to caress or comforting, or when he is relaxing into slumber, secure in the near-by presence of those who love him. For "through external innocence the Lord reduces into order whatever enters through sensual things. Without an influx of innocence in that first age, there would not be any foundation upon which the intellectual or rational . . . could be built" (AC 5126). As has also been mentioned, these first "remains" are insinuated without the help of knowledge. Later remains are stored up by the association of material ideas with truths, that is, with concepts of order and form and religious ideas.

But the "remains" or echoes of infantile delights are stored safely beyond man's ken. They are appropriated to the child by the guardian celestial angels and are made the source of a new motivation a stirring of a new love which modifies and counter-acts the loves of the native will. All ideas in the child's mind which are not "closed" by being associated with moments of self-will, come to have roots which are nourished from the states of heavenly innocence, or celestial good. And by degrees they form for themselves a vast network of associated knowledges in the memory, which make it possible for the understanding to become more and more independent of the dictates of the sensual will. These "remains" are the medium by which man can come to see the things of experience and memory apart from selfish prejudice and blind sensual emotion. They provide a channel whereby the faculties of rationality and liberty can operate to make him perceive truths. Thus they enable him to think, reflect, and reason (AC 560, 977). They make his reformation and regeneration possible (AC 468, 628, 635, 2284, 2468). In short, they are what make him human (AC 530, 565e, 560, 1050).

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