It is well known that there are many severe problems yet unsolved in the foundations of physics, not least the question of whether and how to unify the dynamic geometries of general relativity with the superpositions of quantum mechanics. There are even more difficult problems when it comes to understanding minds and how they can be related to the physical world. Most scientists these days want to accept some kind of "non-reductive physicalism," but there are still persistent debates about whether such a view is even internally consistent. And there is always the question of how to God can possibly be understood, and how anything Divine can be related to the physical world. Can we say anything scientific, for example, about how God could influence the evolution of life on earth? Most scientists and philosophers want rather to accept some kind of "dual magisteria," whereby science and religion are allowed to peaceably coexist within their own realms, and as long as they are not allowed to disturb each other.
These commonly held views are all based on the desire to leave science alone; to let it proceed autonomously and not to disturb it. However, the views are all based on ignorance of connections. They all reflect the fact that we do not yet have any scientific knowledge that connects general relativity with quantum mechanics, or connects minds with the physical world, or connects anything Divine with the universe. They are all therefore susceptible to revision if we do have some good theory about any of these connections. Many today say that there are no connections, but that again is from ignorance. If someone does propose a theory for these connections, then that proposal should be worked out as best as possible, as it may be a chance for solving our severe problems.
Developing such a connecting theory is what Ed Sylvia is trying to do in this book, based on some neglected ideas found in the works of Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg, a Swede who lived from 1688 to 1772, claimed to have received extensive instruction in philosophical, spiritual and theological knowledge after his "inner sight was opened" in his 50s. Before that stage, Swedenborg had demonstrated a very independent and penetrating scientific mind, and published a Principia to explain his theory of how physical objects may be constructed by the rapid spiral motions of microscopic points.
This is not the place to discuss the entire veracity of Swedenborg’s writings, but his ideas do certainly appear to be relevant to all our contemporary problems as listed above. This book starts by using Swedenborg’s early physics ideas to see how a more modern account of how a "pregeometric" realm might be constructed. Ed then works to link that account with Swedenborg’s later ideas about how a spiritual realm might exist, and how such a realm might function in relation to the physical world. In a most interesting manner, Swedenborg and Sylvia see the spiritual world as continuously existing "alongside" the physical, and continually generating the physical world to sustain it in apparently stable forms. This, they argue, gives the appearance of physicalism, as the world functions "as if" from its own powers; but the powers are themselves derived from some other (spiritual) cause. And it would go some way to explain the apparent autonomy of the physical world.
Of course, anyone can make such claims: the proof is in the details. And there are certainly many details known today about the world that could not have been known in the 18th century. It is therefore a challenge to present Swedenborg’s ideas again in relation to what we now know about physics, biology and neurology. Sylvia certainly rises to that challenge.
Ian J. Thompson
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California
and Department of Physics, University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom.
Aug 28, 2009.
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