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Swedenborg’s Interpretation of the Human Body in the Light of Recent Research – Part I (reprint)

Pages: 18-21
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Bulletin of Structural Integration Ida P. Rolf


We hear much about “the whole man” yet who knows what the whole man is? He has been divided into the physical body (physiology), mind (psychology) and soul (theology), each a separate body. I have been in the healing art for over sixty two years and I have always considered man as a unit, physical, mental and spiritual. In my studies I wanted to see if, through the various sciences there was a way in which he was all I believed he represented.

In 1910 I was given some of the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and became interested in his scientific research as presented in The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, and The Animal Kingdom. It is a constant surprise to me to discover how few of the significant discoveries made by the old researchers influence medical thinking today.

Because so little is known of Swedenborg’s philosophy, I think it best to touch on the history of his life and work.

Emanuel Swedenborg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 29, 1688. His father, Jesper Swedberg, was court chaplain. As a child he showed a religious temperament. In a letter to a friend, Dr. Berger, he writes, “From my fourth to my tenth year, I was constantly engaged in my thought about God and Salvation and the spiritual affections of men. From my sixth to my twelfth year I was interested in my talks with clergymen about faith, contending that love was the life of faith and that this vivifying love is the love of the neighbor and that God gives the faith to everyone, but it is accepted only by those who practice that love.”

When Swedenborg was eight the family moved to Up sala, the Oxford of Sweden, where he graduated from the University at the age of twenty with a Ph.D. degree. His scientific works began to appear in 1716, although he wrote a few poems and other literature prior to that time. He left Sweden when he was around twenty five and went to London. There he studied languages and literature and learned several trades such as watch making, copper engraving, book binding and lens grinding. These activities only served to point up his philosophy which he stated as follows: “Use is like a soul and its form the body, for the learning of language is a study in acquired correspondence.” Special attention should be given to the word correspondence for it is a key concept throughout his work.

In 1715 he returned to Sweden and edited a scientific magazine. Daedalus Hyperborens, in which he presented some of his. own inventions: a magazine gun, and a slow combustion stove were among these. (Over one hundred fifty years later, when an American applied for a patent on his invention. It was refused because of Swedenborg’s previous patent). He also had plans for an airplane, a submarine, and a mercury air pump, which revealed his great talent for engineering.

In 1718 he carried through his plans for building sluices and locks at Trolh at ten Falls for the now famous canal from Gothenberg to Stockholm. This work demonstrates practical application of his doctrine of correspondence: every invention or discovery of anything useful from a spade to a television set corresponds to the idea that gave it birth within the inventor’s consciousness.

The family was elevated to the nobility by Queen Ulrica in 1719. which entitled the eldest son to take his seat in the House of Nobles. Here the name was changed from Swedberg to Swedenborg, and for the rest of his life Swedenborg served with distinction as a member of the Swedish Diet. In recognition of his unusual talents, King Charles XII appointed him Assessor Extraordinary on the Swedish Board of Mines. He made an extensive study of mining as practiced in the then known world and published the results of his investigations in three volumes entitles Philosophical and Metalurgic Works: Volume I, The First Principles of Natural Things; Volume 1l, On Iron; and Volume Il On Copper and Brass. In the first work he propounds the nebular hypothesis and anticipates the atomic theory. To Swedenborg, everything is a mode of motion or modification of pure or perfect motion, e.g., heat, light, electricity, are all modes of motion.

Swedenborg always finished one field of work before starting another, and one sees the fields he investigated, one must say that he had a collosal mind, and that he made good use of it.

In 1734 Swedenborg decided that he wanted to know where in the human body the soul resided, so he abandoned his work in material science and went to Italy, France and Germany to study with the great anatomists of that era. He stayed three years in Italy where the Pope had granted physicians freedom to dissect the human body. He then published The Economy of the Animal Kingdom and later The Animal Kingdom, both of which give an analysis of the human structure and function in detail. Later he published On Fiber, and two volumes on the brain which led him to write The Soul or Rational Psychology which completed the body analysis.

His great works on anatomy were written between 1735 and 1744 and instead of basing his works on his own studies he used the research of men like Eustachius, Ruysch, Malpighi. Leeuwenhoek and Lancisi, which anticipated the findings of Magendie, Crueveilhier, Key and Retius.

During his life there was a great dispute as to the nature of the connection between the body and the soul. The materialist said, “There is nothing but matter and all your sensations and intellectual experiences are only affection of matter.” The spiritually minded man said. ”There is nothing but spirit.” Some said physical sensations come from within, from the soul; others said they came from without and were solely affected by the world and the senses. In 1734, Swedenborg discussed this philosophical question in Outlines of a Philosophical Argument on the Infinite. He said, ”There is only One Power, the Infinite, but infinite as such cannot be in contact with the finite because there is no ratio, nor, therefore, relations between them. The finite is under the laws of time and space which do not affect the Infinite; but spirit is neither infinite nor under the laws of time or space.”

In the first volume of Principia Swedenborg gives us some light on his own philosophy. In the introduction he tells us there are three stages in philosophical inquiry, three degrees of progress in the pursuit of human wisdom: geometry (numbers), experience, and rational reasoning. However, the aim of a true philosopher should be to benefit his fellow creatures.

Swedenborg’s research was not done for the sake of honor or emolument, but for the sake of truth, which alone is immortal.

Swedenborg’s teachings deal with life as general and specific types. With reference to human life, let us start with conception. The new embryo is the product of the nucleolus and nucleus of united sperm and ovum. This material is universal. It is similar in animal, insect and plant life.

The body develops from internal to external. The inner pattern weaves the body’s structure according to its genetic inheritance. This union of sperm and ovum soon results in the cell division which begins to form the embryo of the new life. First for form is the grey matter of the brain, called by the older anatomists “formative substance” because it forms the cerebrum, medulla oblongata, medulla spinalis and cerebellum. The cerebrum and the sensory organs are formed first by the ”formative substance.

The “formative substance” creates the brain by means of the grey matter. The central nervous system is designed and formed as the embryo passes down through the tube propelled by the flagella of the tube. This motion increases heat and propels the embryo in a spiral. Thus a web of the most delicate kind forms the body.

Since the highest region of the body is formed, the rest of the body, inferior and external is formed in its own order. taking it sorigin from the brain. We see each development under the control of the primitive or “formative substance” which may be called an individual expression of the human soul. There is nothing existent beneath the cerebrum that was not primarily shaped by the fiber of the cerebrum. It is the fiber of the cerebrum that rules in the body.

Note: Any of Swedenborg’s books still in print may be obtained by writing The Swedenborg Philosophical Society in Boston or Philadelphia.Swedenborg’s Interpretation of the Human Body in the Light of Recent Research – Part I (reprint)

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