VII Human Thought and Its Discipline
Every man born is endowed by the Lord with two faculties the faculty of Liberty and the faculty of Rationality (DLW 240 etc., cp 259). These faculties are expressed through man's will and through his understanding. But since the will in man's sensual degree is defiled with hereditary evils, the Lord provides that before he comes into full possession of his native will20 he should unconsciously be gifted with Remains or states of heavenly good which temper his cupidities and enable him to feel certain delights of innocence such as a love of parents, nurses, and companions. These remains of good thus enable him to be gifted as he grows up with new states of spiritual truth, or remains of truth, through which his faculty to think and understand the goods and truths of civil and moral life can be exercised, even so as to enable him to receive spiritual faith (AC 1906: 3, 1707: 3). Through the reception of spiritual remains in childhood, the understanding is thus made active and the faculty of rationality can be exercised. We are therefore informed in the Writings, that "provided a man has, from a right education, become somewhat rational, moral, and spiritual," he can, in matters purely rational, moral, and spiritual, see truths from the light of truth itself; and this whether he is learned or simple, and whether he can confirm himself by proofs or not. For every man as to his spirit (and it is this that thinks) is in the spiritual world, and consequently in a certain spiritual light. "From this it is that man can think analytically; can form conclusions about what is just and right in judicial affairs; can see what is honorable in moral life and good in spiritual life"; and thus see truths which are apt to be obscured when the simple issues are confused by applications and confirmations (DP 317). From a perception of justice, men can from a few things that they know perceive whether a thing is just or not; but the perception of rectitude comes from a knowledge of the laws and from general information. The perception of justice amid rectitude "exists naturally" with men, as "common sense," and from this men are called "rational." But the perception of celestial good does not exist at this day; and the perception of spiritual truth comes only from an acquired conscience (SD min. 4644). It is to be observed that neither the perception of civil and moral truths, nor the ability to discern spiritual truths, can evidence themselves until man has been rightly educated. But in every stage of life the rational faculty engenders some affection by which it seeks to express itself. The first affection to show up is a love of knowing, or curiosity, which leads the child to learn to speak and read and acquire knowledge. From this there comes an affection of truth and of reasoning and forming conclusions on whatever subjects he may like. The affection of truth then leads to a love to understand, which (with those who do not stick in a mere affection of knowing) brings about a perception of truth. But the perception of truth from the endeavor to understand does not produce actual thought until man comes into the affection of seeing truth. There is indeed a species of thinking which is from the memory only and from which we converse in the world. There is also imagination and 'daydreaming.' Yet real thought is the internal sight of the rational man. It is described as meditation. It is the thought of the spirit, and it takes the form of tacit thinking which beholds below it the external thought of the memory, and draws therefrom either conclusions or confirmations. Such reflection or meditation is from an inner sincerity, within which dwells an affection of truth which is perceptible only as an effort of will from a feeling of pleasure (DLW 404). This tacit thought is the realm of man's freedom. And it is therefore revealed that man's new proprium (or sense of identity) is formed in the endeavor of his thought, and that the human begins in the rational (AC 1937: 3, 2l94e, 3570).
The process by which man extracts meanings from his sensory experience and ideas from these meanings, may be likened to the manner in which the human body digests its food, receives it into the blood, and incorporates it into the living tissues. The memory is indeed more like a ruminatory stomach such as certain animals have; but the understanding as a whole represents an alimentary canal into which our knowledge is introduced and whence its essence is distilled for use (TCR 173, SD min. 4789). In this process of mental digestion, our complex experiences are broken up, separated, and recombined; sensual appearances are discarded, truths and falsities are bared and examined, and so far as they are useful they are taken up into the currents of our affections and 'taken to heart' like the chyle enters the bloodstream. The body of our character is thus confirmed, sustained and built up from the knowledge which we select from the memory. What merely enters into the understanding does not affect our character; but only that which is made a part of the love of our life; just as the Lord said, 'Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man. . . . But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile a man' (Matt. 15: 11, 18). What, then, are the processes by which the human understanding prepares food for our spirit ?
It has already been noted that "all things of human thought and speech are analytical," in accordance with laws derived from the spiritual world (AC 4658). This term "analytical' is sometimes used to distinguish human thought from the mental activities with animals. Animals have indeed a 'soul' which is derived from the ultimate spiritual degree, the spiritual-natural; which is also the general degree of man's natural mind (DLW 346, 255, DP 74, 96: 4, AE 1201, 1202). Therefore they enjoy sensation; and the higher forms of animals even possess a certain imagination. (R Ps. 30, 109, 113, 386. Compare this with TCR 335.) But they do hot have the two superior human degrees the Spiritual and the Celestial; and as a consequence they can have no rational thought, such as comes from the elevation of the mind into spiritual light. They cannot view a lower thought from any higher thought; thus cannot analyze their own mind. Their 'thought,' if it can be so called, is not in successive order, but in simultaneous order. It is an instinctive and simultaneous comprehension of the things which their inborn love recognizes (DLW 255, 247). The external of man's natural mind is from the world of sensation and memory. "But the internal of the natural is made up of the conclusions drawn analytically and analogically from these things..." "By things analogical and analytical the natural has communication with the rational, and thus with the things of the spiritual world" (AC 4570, cf. 2657: 2).
Two modes of rational thinking are here mentioned, viz., analysis and analogy. But elsewhere in the Writings, two other characteristics of the rational are described, viz., (1) thinking from causes and ends rather than from effects, and (2) the elimination or abstraction of the notions of space, time, and person. Without embarking upon a long treatise on Logic (which with many remains an unpopular subject), it might be worth while to seek to understand what the Writings might mean by some of these terms. 'Analysis' comes from a Greek word meaning to unloose, to dissolve or solve a problem, and hence to examine, investigate. The rational mind must examine the sensual appearances which abound in the realm of experience, must extricate the truth from the appearance. In doing this it must collect its data, all the data which have a bearing on the question, then separate irrelevant facts and account for confusing factors. It must "evolve universals from the experience of singulars," and rise from phenomena to causes and principles (An. Kingdom, n. 7). This is also called the 'inductive method of reasoning.' If taken alone, it is a reasoning from effects, or from experience. It will never by itself attain to any absolute truth, because the conclusion which we draw from our limited experience can always conceivably be upset by a single fact that we may meet later. Yet with each new fact that is taken into account, our mind becomes more convinced, for the probability of error is thus constantly reduced. The Writings nowhere attribute any infallibility to the rational mind. Its virtue lies in being able to discern truths so far as it can penetrate beyond appearances. And when it has to some extent dispelled sensual appearances, it is still involved in the less dense shadows of its own rational appearances, which none but an infinite and omniscient Being could remove.
Even in the period of this scientific activity, Swedenborg recognized that the rational mind is "never entirely purified from the fallacies of the senses" and that its truths are only appearances of truth (AK 13). Still he believed that the long and toilsome way of analysis or induction by which man's thought mounts from facts and phenomena to causes and simple principles was the only road open to mortal men. For thus the mind, he said, rears her palace not in the air, but on solid ground (AK 12, 11). If we instead venture to argue by synthesis or deduction (that is, if we assume principles or preconceived generalizations and then simply proceed to confirm them by experience), human nature leads us to repress and set aside everything that is adverse. By such a mode which Swedenborg likens to a pleasing game in which you are at the goal even before you start for it nothing new is discovered (AK 7-10). Swedenborg here criticizes the authoritarian attitude of the scholastics who set up long arguments merely to confirm a preconceived dogma. He admits that the synthetic way of reasoning a priori, or from a universal truth, is allowable to angels, and that the Divine reveals truths which man can then confirm. And he also shows that after we have constructed principles or discovered laws by a careful analysis of the facts, we can then use such philosophical doctrines the fruit of analytic labors to open the eyes of the understanding to a better evaluation of the fields of our experience. Such doctrines, Swedenborg states, enabled him to pass over from the study of the material organisms of the body to a knowledge of the "soul" or spirit, which is a spiritual and immaterial essence. And while the Economy and the Animal Kingdom were chiefly inductions, or analytic in form21, the Rational Psychology contained a synthetic presentation (AK 14, 17, 19, 22, R Ps preface, 382).
To exemplify the use of analogical reasoning, Swedenborg in 1744 wrote a little work which he entitled A Hieroglyphic Key to Natural and Spiritual Arcana by way of Representations and Correspondences, in which he showed how a natural law can be transformed into a moral truth and this into a spiritual truth, and vice versa. And it was so that his mind was prepared to receive the doctrine of correspondences in the full form in which this is presented in his theological works. Among the philosophical doctrines which Swedenborg thus elaborated were the doctrine of Degrees and the doctrine of Eminent Analogy or of Correspondences. Without the use of these doctrines, Swedenborg conceived, the method of Analysis would lead only to physical generalizations, and nothing would be acknowledged by man to exist except what the senses perceived. By the use of analogy and correspondence, however, Swedenborg could make inferences beyond sensual experience; could picture the qualities of the interior substances of the body; could even attempt to describe the nature of the Soul or Spirit, which, though devoid of extension, motion, or parts, yet has something analogous thereto R Ps 498, AK 20). Without the use of analogies and comparisons, higher forms could never be grasped.
This use of Analogy by the rational mind is also mentioned in the Writings (AC 4570: 2). The simple actually "see better by means of comparisons than by deductions formed analytically from the Word and at the same time from reason" (TCR 131). The Lord taught by parables. The Writings use many comparisons to illustrate spiritual truths. And when so presented, the spiritual teaching is first nakedly stated in a rational formulation, and then the natural comparisons are added, so that there may be in the memory and the imagination a correspondent ultimate which shall afterwards suggest the abstract teaching. The rational loves to form such ultimates in the imagination and to use deliberate metaphors and representations; implying that the qualities of natural things, natural laws and situations, have their parallels in the spiritual realm; implying also that spiritual things can be described only approximately in human language.
But the use of analogy is far wider. For it is the part of the rational mind to recognize order and series in all things of life and experience. It sees relations, similarities, opposites; it senses harmonies and incongruities. From the recognition of incongruities comes the sense of humor which is one of the earliest symptoms of reason. But Reason delights in seeing things as a whole, in perceiving unity of purpose, universality of law, identity of method. It rejoices when it discerns some common plan within creation. This is indeed from an influx into every man's soul which predisposes his mind to see not only that there is a God but that He is one (TCR 8).
Because of this innate search of the soul for unity, the rational can see in nature and in events a constant recurrence of similar patterns. The life of man is seen to have its four seasons. The story of the race is seen recapitulated in the life of the individual. The analogues of birth and death are seen to be universal. The growth of the mind is seen as analogous with the growth of the body. We speak a language which is steeped in similitudes, and we think in parables and analogies. Yet the method of analogical thinking can head us far astray, unless we have recourse to the concept of discrete degrees, and take account of essential differences. "The natural sees from the effect, but the rational sees from the cause" (AC 3533). We must inquire into causes, lest we remain in the sphere of effects, and attribute all things to nature. We would then indeed see analogies and parallels among natural things see the homology within all the forms of organic life, see the likeness of pattern and law in nature. But we would seek for the causes of such phenomena in nature itself and remain blind to any spiritual forces or any intelligent guidance of a Divine Providence. It is therefore said in the Writings that unless it is acknowledged that there are discrete degrees, the real causes of things are never seen. For the causes of natural things are not the mere occasions from which natural changes seem to flow. The cause of speech e.g. is not the arrangement of the muscles of the tongue nor the tension of certain brain cells! But the cause of speech is the thought which seeks its correspondent form and expression in human words. And so in all things of this world. The causes are spiritual, the effects are natural. "Causes do not produce effects by continuity, but by discreteness." One cannot judge of causes "from an induction continuous with effects" (DLW 119, 185). Here, then, is a marked difference between the inductive or analytical method as generally employed in the service of natural science, and as employed in the interests of one who would become rational in the sense that the New Church uses that term. Induction from the facts of sense-experience must not stop after finding the instrumental cause, but must go on to unfold the efficient cause which is spiritual, and the final cause which is the Divine end within the spiritual. And this induction is aided by the doctrine of "correspondences" or of "eminent analogies" which enable us to recognize not only the functional similarities but also the essential differences between things of discretely different degrees. In this its acknowledgment of discrete degrees, the rational becomes humble. It realizes that while it can conclude the existence of spiritual causes, it cannot perceive the nature of the spiritual except by abstractions.
The Use of Abstractions
Thus one more characteristic of rational thought is stressed in the Writings. Such thought is abstract or abstruse as to its quality. The word "abstract" means 'drawn away' or 'separated.' The question then is, separated from what? The Writings answer: From the ideas of Self, of Person, of Time and Space and Matter. One such abstraction has already been mentioned. The mind must be recalled "from the senses, from the lusts of the body, from the enticements and cares of the world" all of which distract it (AK 12). The understanding, in order to become rational, must be separated from the native will. This is an elevation of the thought above the sensual degree. And it therefore involves all the other "abstractions" which make rational thinking possible. It involves a removal of the limiting notions of space and of time, of matter and of person. We can readily perceive that such earthly notions are what tie our minds down to deceptive appearances. And it is a striking fact that the Heavenly Doctrine describes spiritual thought, such as the angels employ, in almost these terms. "To think spiritually is to think of things as they are in themselves, to see truths from the light of truth and to perceive goods from the love of good; also, to see the qualities of things and to perceive affections for them abstractly from matter. But to think materially is to think of those things together with matter, and in matter, and thus comparatively grossly and obscurely." A man who while on earth is as to his internal in the light of heaven thinks both spiritually and naturally, for his spiritual thought then flows into his natural thought and is there perceived (HD 39).
"With men, in every idea of their lower thought, which is merely natural, there is something from time and space. . . . It is otherwise in the idea of the higher thought in which men are when they revolve natural, civil, moral, and spiritual things in interior rational light; for then spiritual light, which is abstracted from time and space, flows in and enlightens. You can try this, if you wish, and so be confirmed, provided you attend to your thoughts. You will likewise then be confirmed that there is higher and lower thought; since simple thought cannot survey itself, except from some higher thought; and unless man had higher and lower thought, he would not be a man, but a brute" (AR 947).
The spiritual light which enables every man who is not entirely sensual and corporeal to abstract ideas of time and space, is the light which is present in the world of spirits. For the world of spirits, midway between heaven and hell, is the very plane on which our rational mind operates (HH 430). Therefore we are informed that every man after death begins to think spiritually, in that he no longer retains for the subject or starting point of his thinking the things of "matter, space, time, and quantity." He can still think about these, but not from them. His objective imagery is not very different from that which he enjoyed in the world of nature, but he does not interpret the things he now sees except as manifestations of the states of the wisdom and perception of the spirits about him. These states are the subject of his thought (Wis. vii. 5). Man, on the other hand, thinks from space and time and quantity. These notions are inwoven in his corporeal memory and are present in "almost everything" of his thought (AC 3387, cf. CL 328: 2, HH, 169). Spiritual thoughts therefore do not fall into natural ideas but remain abstruse, "with the exception that they do briefly fall into the interior rational sight, and this no otherwise than by the abstraction or removal of quantities from qualities" (Wis. vii. 5: 3).
This is not at all an impossible undertaking, but one which we are urged to persist in attempting. Even if we cannot maintain for long the effort to think with some degree of abstraction, yet all rational thought must have a certain withdrawal from personalities, from the pressure of time and space and material considerations. And a man may be able to handle abstract ideas and think rationally at times without being rational. In fact, only the regenerate man can be called truly rational. Yet it may also be said that no man can become spiritual without first becoming rational (DLW 330).
But in order not to strain our faculty for abstract thinking any further, let us arrive at the truth through examples. Let us reflect on some of the follies of human thought to see whether they could have been avoided by some 'abstraction.' After all, we are not expected to live out of contact with the natural world, with its time and space, nor to ignore personalities. We are expected, however, to act from a modicum of reason. Yet we see around us constant instances of superficial opinions, purposeless wranglings, obvious evasions, flimsy reasonings, impatient judgments, and stubborn inconsistencies; and with a twinge of guilt we presently realize that we ourselves are not immune to similar lapses. Politely we would criticize ourselves for a mental laziness; but the real meaning of this is that we prefer to follow the momentum of our natural affections or cupidities. In other words, our 'proprium,' with all its unanalyzed desires, its preconceived notions and self-conscious embarrassments, makes us reluctant to face all the facts or unwilling to draw the right conclusions. "Not to want to understand the truth is the same as not to be able to do so" (AR 765). Above all the laws of "logic" there stands the love of truth which must be greater than the love of self, of the world, or of fame. Behind all the errors of reasoning which every text book on Logic seeks to systematize and confute, lies the unconscious urge of our proprium to defend its self-interest and self-satisfaction against any truth which threatens to disturb it. We beg the question confuse the issue with trivialities. At last we shift the ground of our position without admitting it, so as not to appear to have been wrong. And when convinced against our will we are of the same opinion still. Especially is this so where our personal advantage is at stake. It takes a special effort to overcome the silent premises which we build up in a logic-proof compartment of the mind that our opinion is right, our needs greater than those of the neighbor. We make assumptions and proceed to confirm them. We are apt to think from fear, from panic. We strike out blindly against the most harmless ideas on the chance that they might injure our cause. Suspicion blinds us. We jump to conclusions. We draw the most unwarranted meanings out of a set of facts or circumstances. We become accusative and unfair in our thoughts. If we are ever to become rational, the first thing that we must 'abstract' from our thought is the pride and prejudice of SELF, or "proprium." Still, our natural affections do not always concern ourselves. We have friends and kinsmen. We have people whom we regard as authorities in their specific fields. We are inclined to think from friendship or social loyalty, or from personal bias, and can be misled by unconscious aversions or by pity or by personal admiration for others. The Writings teach charity, mutual love. They show that the highest form of thought is "the truth from good," or thoughts prompted by a love of the Lord and of the neighbor; and common experience testifies that the deepest understanding comes from sympathy and love for others. But our charity must be rational. It should be charged with the love of truth. It should be a love, not of the PERSON and therefore of his character, but of the character and therefore of the person. It should be a love of the good and the true in the neighbor (Cp AR 611: 7, TCR 417). The personal element binds the thought to particular circumstances and prevents the calm aloofness in which universal principles are seen. It prevents our appreciation of essential uses. It warps our judgment, takes away its freedom and obscures its illustration. Thus, in the reading of the Word, the rational mind must remove the idea of the persons to which the Lord spoke and see His teachings as given for all men. And not only for all men, but for all ages. TIME as well as Person must be abstracted from our minds if we are to see truth rationally. The idea of Time limits a principle. The circumstances of a particular age or period blunt our perception of what is eternally true and good. The sense of urgency tempts us to accept what is expedient instead of what is right. Thought from time dominates men in this world. We are children of our age. Yet only when we are released from its pressure and from the call of other things can we think calmly and deeply and maturely. To think "interiorly in the rational" is impossible if we have one eye on the clock. Impatience is thought from time. It refuses to weigh all sides of a question, refuses to analyze, and it often overthrows reason itself. It is immature thought, born of sudden enthusiasm and untutored emotions; and it rushes carelessly into decisions without waiting for states to ripen, or without considering the consequences. It is a judgment from appearances, or from insufficient knowledge. But along with notions of Time, the rational thinker must become independent of such mental strait jackets as are derived from SPACE. Truly rational ideas must transcend the bounds of space. The ideas of justice, of virtue, of liberty, of law, are applicable beyond the borders of our own country or our own earth! The rational deals not in quantities, nor in sizes, nor in physical dimensions; but in qualities, or relative states, laws, causes, uses, and ends. These ideas are built up as an interior natural memory within the mind, to serve as objects for interior speculation by the rational. And they are called 'immaterial ideas,' because they are not the images of material objects, but abstractions (R Ps. 144. AC 6814, 4408, l0551e, SD 3258).
The notion of MATTER is also to be 'abstracted' from rational thought. Matter is real enough! But we are not to judge by material values alone; for these are transitory, temporal. We are not to confuse the real things of life the spiritual riches of the mind which are eternal with the material things of this passing world. Especially are we to take care not to deny substance to spiritual things. The abstraction of notions of space and time and motion and matter enables the rational mind to entertain a truer idea of the discretely higher quality of that spiritual life for which the human rational is the entrance gate and preparation. But the question arises: Can a man think abstractly apart from space, time, person, etc.? The answer is given in the Writings. It is true that man's conscious thought in this world cannot be totally divorced from natural ideas of time and space, which are "present in almost everything of his thought" (AC 3387, cf. CL 328: 2). These ideas of time and space serve as a foundation for all his thinking and give a basic connective to other ideas. Yet his thoughts are limited and confined in proportion as they derive from such natural concepts (HH 169). We are entreated not to confuse our ideas with time and space when trying to understand spiritual things. And such abstraction is possible when a man thinks "interiorly in the rational" by "the removal of quantities from qualities" (DP 51, DLW 51, 81, 285, Wis. vii. 5: 3). The naive or casual thinker feels deprived of all reality if he withdraws his thought from spaces and times. Yet even the natural man can think abstractly if he pleases, and can thus see that things beyond space and time do exist, even though he cannot see their quality (HH 169, DP 46). Men who immerse their thought into sensual and corporeal delights gradually lose their rational insight. But every man can have his rational raised into a spiritual light so long as his perverse sensual will is held in check; and thus he can, if he will, see and acknowledge spiritual and celestial truths and receive a new love from the Lord a new field of motivations, affections and perceptions which spring from charity and love to the Lord (DLW 258, 266).22