Divine Love and Wisdom and the Holographic Model
Friday, October 10, 1990
The basic idea that I will be dealing with this morning can be found most compactly in
parts of nos. 77-81 of Divine Love and Wisdom, as follows:
The divine is the same in the largest and the smallest things. This follows from the two
preceding sections, on the divine being in all space but not bound by space, and in all
time but not bound by time . . . .
It does seem as though the divine were not the same in one person as in another--that it
were different, for example, in a wise person than in a simple one, different in an
elderly person that in an infant. But this appearance is deceptive. The person is a
recipient, and the recipient or recipient vessel may vary. A wise person is a recipient of
divine love and divine wisdom more aptly and therefore more fully than a simple person,
and an elderly person who is also wise more than an infant or child. Still, the divine is
the same in the one as it is in the other . . . .
The divine is also the same in the largest and smallest of all created things which are
not alive . . . .
Banish space, and absolutely rule out a vacuum, and then think about divine love and
wisdom as actual essence once space is denied and vacuum ruled out. Then think spatially,
and you will perceive that the divine is the same in the largest and the smallest
[segments] of space.
In mechanistic modes of thought, this notion is elusive at best. For a good many years, it
seemed to me almost a kind of romantic hyperbole. In terms of mathematics, I did of course
know that infinity divided by anything is still infinity. I did know that if I had, say, a
perfect lump of clay, every bit of the clay would be just as clay-like as every other.
But I suspect I was not alone in my inability to "banish space" from my thinking, and in
the consequence that this passage did not lay much claim to my overt attention.
It must, however, have laid some sort of claim to my subconscious attention, for it sprang
forcefully to mind when holograms first began to register with me. In chapel last week, we
looked at a hologram puzzle. Each of the four parts had the complete image of a single
starfish, and the four pieces properly assembled also had a complete image of a single
starfish. 1+1+1+1=1. and 1*4=4.
In terms of physics, this is possible because we are dealing with a wave rather than a
particle phenomenon. The holographic plate is a recording of the pattern formed by the
overlapping of two sets of light rays. The pattern itself does not look like much of
anything, but it refracts incident light to form a three-dimensional image with a specific
set of spatial relationships to the plate--of which more later.
Particles and waves are quite different in a number of respects. Perhaps the most obvious
one is that two particles cannot occupy the same space at the same time (to use a couple
of words we will also run across later), while, to paraphrase Tigger, overlapping is what
waves do best. We have long since ceased to wonder at the fact that a single little groove
on a recording can represent the sound of a full symphony orchestra, and that if you want
to, you can still pick out the second violins or the piccolo. Each instrument has
generated its own distinctive and independent sound--some quite complex in their own
rights--and yet all the waves manage to combine into one without losing the individuality
of the components. On the record itself, they do occupy the same space at the same time.
The normal photograph is a particle phenomenon. There are little bits of photosensitive
chemical on the film, and there is a kind of one-to-one correspondence between these
particles and the light rays that come through the lens. If you cut the picture in pieces,
each piece will have a part of the whole image, and only a part. There are invariant
spatial relationships involved. I trust you noticed that with the hologram puzzle, as you
changed your perspective, the image "moved" on the glass surface. That is, there certainly
is some kind of spatial relationship involved, but it is relative to you as observer. If
you look at a snapshot from an oblique angle, there is a certain amount of distortion
(which we automatically compensate for), but the whole picture is still in view. As we
change our perspectives on a hologram, we see less or more of the whole image, and from a
wide range of perspectives, we see nothing at all. Is is there? And if so, where? If three
of you had been asked to point to the center of the starfish on the glass plate, you would
have pointed to different spots, and each of you would have been right.
This is not the usual Cartesian notion of space, where you can locate an object with
absolute precision by a set of coordinates. Six paces due west from the oak tree, then
twelve paces south, dig down three feet, and you will find the buried treasure. That won't
work with the hologram, because our positions as observers are more intimately involved.
That is, the hologram challenges our notions of the way in which perception interacts with
The following quotation is from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.
I chanced on a wonderful book by Marius von Senden, called Space and Sight. When Western
surgeons discovered how to perform safe cataract operations, they ranged across Europe and
America operating on dozens of men and women of all ages who had been blinded by cataracts
since birth. Von Senden collected accounts of such cases; the histories are fascinating.
Many doctors had tested their patients' sense perceptions and ideas of space both before
and after the operations. The vast majority of patients, of both sexes and all ages, had,
in von Senden's opinion, no idea of space whatsoever. Form, distance, and size were so
many meaningless syllables. . . . Before the operation a doctor would give a blind person
a cube and a sphere; the patient would tongue it or feel it with his hands, and name it
correctly. After the operation the doctor would show the same objects to the patient
without letting him touch them; now he had no clue whatsoever what he was seeing. . . .
One patient, according to his doctor, "practiced his vision in a strange fashion; thus he
takes off one of his boots, throws it some way off in front of him, and then attempts to
gauge the distance at which it lies; he takes a few steps towards the boot and tries to
grasp it; on failing to reach it, he moves on a step or two and gropes for the boot until
finally he gets hold of it." . . .
In general the newly sighted see the world as a dazzle of color-patches. They are pleased
by the sensation of color, and learn quickly to name the colors, but the rest of seeing is
tormentingly difficult. Soon after his operation a patient "generally bumps into one of
these colour-patches and observes them to be substantial, since they resist him as tactual
objects do. In walking about it also strikes him--or can if he pays attention--that he is
continually passing in between the colours he sees, that he can go past a visual object,
that a part of it then steadily disappears from view; and that in spite of this, however
he twists and turns--whether entering the room from the door, for example, or returning
back to it--he always has a visual space in front of him. Thus he gradual comes to realize
that athere is also a space behind him, which he does not see.
The mental effort involved in these reasonings proves overwhelming for many patients. . .
. A disheartening number of them refuse to use their new vision, continuing to go over
objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair (pp. 25ff.).
Helen Keller once wrote of her disappointment at never learning to speak distinctly, and
saw her task as developing "the right use of my mind as a speech instrument." What the
newly sighted are faced with is the immense task of learning the right use of their minds
as sight-and-space instruments. "The mental effort involved in these reasonings proves
overwhelming for many patients." We think that space is what we see. Von Senden's accounts
indicate that space is rather how we see. We "see" depth in a two-dimensional photograph.
It is not there, but we see it. We judge on the basis of perspective and relative size,
with extraordinary sensitivity. I wonder regularly at our ability to judge whether we are
travelling faster or slower than a car two hundred yards ahead of us. The visual clues are
minute indeed. Or to quote Annie Dillard again, "Donald E. Carr points out that the sense
impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain: `This is philosophically
interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals
perceive the universe as it is'" (p. 19)
A hologram startles us because depth is represented there in a different and more
convincing way. The surface is still flat, two dimensional, but the image apparently has
some independence from the surface. It seems to be underneath it, moving when we move. In
fact, if we subject the plate two two lights at a little distance from each other, there
will be two images, and again, the who question is raised, "Where is `there'?"
According to Divine Love and Wisdom 69, "The divine fills all spaces of the universe
without [being bound by] space." The image is everywhere on the plate, but has a kind of
independence of it. In chapel, I called attention to the fact that on the individual
pieces, the whole image could be seen only from a very narrow range of perspectives. When
the puzzle was together, the whole image could be seen from a considerably wider range.
This has become a favorite metaphor for me, one that I think is borne out by the
experience of the astronauts. "The big picture" made a profound impression on them. They
became aware no only of the oneness of our planet, but of its beauty and its fragility.
Perhaps most remarkably, they testify to the awakening of a fresh sense of humane values,
of the folly of war and greed. I have no doubt that many have found it difficult to
maintain this perspective consistently after years of re-immersion in "the little
picture." From our everyday standpoint, one can see the underlying design of the universe,
the divine order, only by looking in very particular ways, from a narrow range of
The companion section to Divine Love and Wisdom 69 is Divine Love and Wisdom 73--"The
divine is in all time without [being bound by] time." At this point, I would observe that
we go beyond process theology (which has a great deal to recommend it) for the simple
reason that we can talk of process or change only in terms of time. If all time is "now"
to the divine, if all time is "the present," then we cannot talk in terms of before and
after. If we talk of foreknowledge, we are imposing our perspective on the divine.
I've become aware only recently, though, that in limited ways, we ourselves transcend
time. That is, "now" or "the present" is never an absolute instant, but a measurable span
of time. We do not experience life as a series of stills, but as a continuous flow of
motion. We do this with movies, even knowing that a movie is a series of stills. When we
hear a spoken word, we do not hear it as a sequence of distinct sounds. At our most
analytic, we may hear it as a sequence of syllables; but especially when we are intent on
meaning, we "hear" whole chunks--even phrases or sentences-- as single units.
In Space, Time, and Medicine, Larry Dossey goes a little farther that I would, which of
course does not necessarily mean that he is wrong. In any case, I seem to be going in the
same direction. I quote:
. . . we cling to the idea of a real time--a time that flows and is divisible into past,
present, and future. Our belief in a linear real time underlies our basic assumptions of
health and disease, of living and dying. But this kind of thinking is tied to an older
science, which depended on an external reality, a reality independent of our senses. This
view of the world has been discarded by modern physics. If we revise our idea of time in
order to be consistent with the modern physical views, we must say of it what we have been
forced to say of the external world: time is bound to our senses--it is part of us, it is
not "out there" (p. 43).
That is, as with space, time is not so much what we experience as how we experience.
What does this have to do with holograms? That is where this second kind of hologram comes
in. You'll notice again that it seems to be behind the plate (which in this instance is
cylindrical and translucent), suspended in space. You'll notice that I can pass my hand
through it without bruising my knuckles. But you'll notice also that you are not just
looking at the same three-dimensional image from different angles. There is motion
involved. The earth is rotating one way, and the shuttle is going the other way. If it
were possible to reverse the direction of the cylinder's rotation, the sequence would be
Our language doesn't deal with all this very tidily, because it involves a relationship
between space and time that we do not normally experience. Suppose we plotted the motions
of the planet and the shuttle in linear fashion, subdividing into, say, a hundred units of
a tenth of a second each. Which unit we are seeing at a given moment of our time does not
depend on when we look, but on where we look. If the cylinder were stationary, we could
move back and forth, reversing the flow of the action at will. The whole sequence is
simultaneously present in the cylinder, and the only reason we cannot see the whole
sequence at once is that we cannot see the cylinder from all sides at once. There are
similar holograms is museums of holography, but semi-cylindrical and stationary. As you
walk by, the action catches your eye. If you stand still, you see a still image. A
particularly wry one in the New York Museum of Holography is of a man's head. He seems
motionless even as you go by, but at the last instant, he gives you a sneaky little smile.
As with the hologram puzzle, no two of us are seeing the same thing. If we had enough
people to surround the hologram seamlessly, then the collective view would be a view of
the whole sequence at once. It is all there, but we, as individuals, aren't.
This has begun to suggest some non-linear ways of looking at time. Suppose yourself to be
a potter facing three piles of clay. One pile has dried to the point that you can't work
it, one pile is just right, and the third is too soft to hold a shape. The hard stuff is
the past, the workable is the present, and the too plastic is the future. It's all there
at once, but our intentions relate to it in different ways.
More literally, we could conceive of the past as that area of life where we can perceive a
fixed shape. We can see patterns, beginnings and endings, definite boundaries. We can
conceive of the present as that area of life where we can see details, but are obliged to
arrange them in patterns. We can conceive of the future as that area of life where we
cannot see details at all, and can see patterns only dimly.
In a somewhat more theological vein, we can look at ourselves, or at least at the people
we think we are, "right now." There can be no doubt whatever, I would maintain, that these
people are incomprehensible, meaningless, apart from their (a)experience and (b)their
intentions. The past is very much present with us, consciously in the form of memory or
learning, and unconsciously in the form of conditioning. The future is very much present
with us, consciously in the form of our intentions and expectations, and unconsciously in
the form of agenda items of which we have not yet become aware. On this latter point, I
would simply call attention to the way we can now look back on particular episodes of life
and understand for the first time why we behaved the way we did. We had been conditioned
in ways we had not recognized, yes, but we were also striving for goals we had not
recognized. Only now can we see why that particular boy or girl was so attractive to us,
what we were striving for.
I think my favorite way of using the sequential hologram as a model, though, is simply to
say that it reminds me that I can never experience myself all at once. I experience myself
a little at a time, and gradually assemble some image of the whole person. There is a lot
that I do not know about myself, because there are a lot of situations to which I have not
yet been exposed. Like most people, I tend to get so absorbed in a present mood that I
more or less assume that this is the real "me"; but with a little mental effort I can
recall that last week I was a somewhat different mood. This, incidentally, is why I think
the Meyers-Briggs tests need the complementary perspective of a Fowler or a Kegan.
This suggests a nice bridge into my concluding image. The third chapter of Divine Love and
Wisdom says just what I have been saying in different words--". . . the three vertical
levels are in every individual from birth, and can be opened sequentially" (n. 236). The
structural relationship between these levels goes by the name of correspondence, and the
dynamic relationship by the name of inflow. It is only since hologram-time that I have
realized that inflow is better thought of as involving not the transmission of liquid but
wave motion. A key passage is n. 6200 of Arcana Coelestia, which is should like to quote
at some length.
Since I have been in the company of spirits and angels constantly for nine years now, I
have very carefully observed how it is with influx. When I thought, I could see solid
concepts of thought as though they were surrounded by a kind of wave, and I noticed that
this wave was nothing other than the kinds of thing associated with the matter in my
memory, and that in this way spirits could see the full thought. But nothing reaches
[normal] human sensation except what is in the middle and seems to be solid. I have
compared this surrounding wave to spiritual wings by which the object of thought is lifted
out of the memory. This is what brings it to our attention.
I was able to determine that there was a great deal of associated matter in that
surrounding wave-substance from the fact that spirits in a subtler sphere knew from it all
that I had ever known about the subject, drawing out and absorbing in this way everything
proper to a person. The genii who are sensitive only to desires and affections draw out
things proper to one's loves. For example, when I was thinking about someone I knew, then
his image appeared in the middle as he looked when he was named in human presence; but all
around, like something flowing in waves, was everything I had known and thought about him
from boyhood. So that whole man, as he existed in my thought and affection, was instantly
visible among the spirits. Again, when I thought about a particular city, then the spirits
knew instantly from the surrounding sphere of waves everything I had seen and knew. The
same holds true for matters of knowledge.
Bearing in mind, then, that we can think of inflow as a wave function, how does that bear
on our own natures? The most concise statement I have located so far is in n. 297 of
Heaven and Hell, though the principle is implicit especially in the first two chapters of
Divine Love and Wisdom.
Further, in regard to the union of heaven with the human race, it should be realized that
the Lord himself flows into every individual according to heaven's design--into our most
inward and most outward [aspects] alike. . . . This inflow of the Lord is called direct
inflow, while the other inflow, which happens by means of spirits, is called indirect
As a conscious being, then, I am constituted by these two flows. There is the flow "from
within" which I think of as my own life. It reaches my consciousness filtered or focused
by the inner, supraconscious levels of my own being. Then there is the flow from without,
primarily through my physical senses. This is from the Lord through other people, animals,
plants, and objects, and it too has been filtered or focused by their natures.
A diagram of this is very much like a diagram of the way holograms are made, by splitting
and spreading a laser beam bouncing half off an object, and exposing a plate to the
interference pattern made when the uninterrupted or direct beam overlaps the reflected or
indirect one. We wind up with a "picture" which does not have the kind of fixed boundaries
we are used to. The boundaries are not tied to specific locations on the plate, but depend
on our point of view.
I am not suggesting that we are interference patterns, though I might suggest that that is
what Swedenborg would have called us if he had know of the phenomenon. I am suggesting
that this is a helpful way of looking at ourselves, a way that corrects some of the
distortions implicit in the "particle models" we usually take for granted. This, for
example, is where I would take issue with Larry Dossey. He says, If we revise our idea of
time in order to be consistent with the modern physical views, we must say of it what we
have been forced to say of the external world: time is bound to our senses--it is part of
us, it is not "out there." This implies a kind of absolute and fixed distinction between
what is within us and what is out there.
I would much rather say that there is something out there and therefore in here which we
interpret as space. Whether the newly-sighted person sees it as we do or not, it still
takes him an appropriate number of steps before he can reach his boot. There is something
out there and therefore in here which we interpret as time. The process of experiencing
myself bit by bit has an identifiable physical beginning and will have an identifiable
physical ending. What I call "my past" impinges on me in one way, what I call "the
present" in another, and what I call "the future" in another, and these modes of
impingement are invariant, not transferable.
To my mind, Divine Love and Wisdom more than any other of Swedenborg's works invites us to
rethink our most basic assumptions about who we are, singly and collectively, and I should
like us to use the rest of our time exploring the questions it raises and the directions
in which in points.