SWEDENBORGIAN THEOLOGY AND THE HOLOGRAPHIC MODEL
Friday, January 1, 1992
What I am going to talk about has become familiar enough to me that it can be a bit
difficult for me to realize that it may be unfamiliar to others. I'm hazarding the guess
that it may help to sketch briefly how this particular complex of ideas took shape for me.
This may serve to take you along the road from what I presume is more familiar territory
into what I presume is less familiar.
Without realizing it, I had been one of those individuals sufficiently impressed with the
coherence of our theology that I took it to be logically self-consistent. I paid little or
no attention to the warning posts set up here and there in the writings to the effect that
spiritual truths might not fit tidily into natural language, and it never occurred to me
that there might be a profound paradox involved in the familiar "as if of self" principle.
In retrospect, it seems as though I might have been quicker to wonder why I was supposed
to act one way and believe another, but whatever the reason, it took quite a while.
I was alerted to the possibility of ambiguity or paradox in the writings by
looking into the case of William Blake. He read Divine Love and Wisdom and reacted with
passionate enthusiasm. Then he attended the first General Conference at the Great East
Cheap in 1789, where thirty-two theological propositions--none drawn from Divine Love and
Wisdom--were solemnly debated and unanimously affirmed. His hostile attitude toward
Swedenborg seems to date from about the time of this experience; and I have since come to
the private conclusion that it is this experience which is described in The Garden of
I went to the garden of love
And I saw what I never had seen
A chapel was built in the midst
Where I used to play on the green
And the gates of the chapel were shut
And thou shalt not writ over the door
So I turned to the garden of love
That so many sweet flowers bore
And I saw it was filled with graves
And tomb-stones where flowers should be
And priests with black gounds were walking their rounds
And binding with briars my joys & desires
That is, Blake found in the Great East Cheap not the explosive sense of transcendent love
he had experienced, but the formation of an orthodoxy, which he was bound to regard as
"mind-forged manacles." He found his own "liberation theology" being dogmatized, and
dogmatized in the very words of the theologian he had seen as the liberator.
While this image was claiming my attention, I was also becoming acquainted with the
thought of Karl Pribram and David Bohm on the holographic model. It attracted me because
it contained statements that reminded me of statements in Divine Love and Wisdom. These
were statements that I had previously taken as presumably true in a philosophical sense,
but as basically too theoretical to be of practical use.--statements such as "The Divine
is the same in things greatest and in things least" (n. 77). It struck me that the same
idea was presented in very different language by Blake--
To see the World in a Grain of Sand,
The Universe in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand,
And Eternity in an Hour.
and also in the hologram, where, as I hope you have all had the chance to see, it is a
simple fact that the whole image can be present in each part, and that all the parts
together can still make a single image of the same whole. This, in my experience, was a
brand-new "appearance of truth," one which impelled me to think that descriptions I had
formerly regarded as literally adequate were themselves partial, and were perhaps even
less adequate "appearances."
The result is that I am coming to see our theology differently than I did before. I am
coming to see it as composed of a central concept of spiritual reality radically different
from traditional concepts, but entering a matrix of quite traditional pietistic
Lutheranism. True Christian Religion, in this view, is not so much a final summary as it
is a working out of how Lutheran theology has to be transformed under the impact of this
Squarely in the middle of this central concept, I would place the word "influx."
Swedenborg had a lot to say about it. In Potts' Concordance, there are forty-two columns
of references in Arcana Coelestia alone, and there is one I would like to select for
Since I have been in the company of spirits and angels constantly for nine years now, I
have very carefully observed what inflow is like. 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
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.
What this seems to imply is that if we want to understand influx, we should not look at it
in hydraulic terms--we should not think in terms of a flow of substantial liquid. We
should think instead in terms of waves, which behave very differently. Two substances
cannot occupy the same place at the same time. If they combine chemically, they form a
compound in which their original properties disappear. Water does not behave like hydrogen
or oxygen, and its properties cannot be accounted for as some kind of sum or average of
the properties of the constituent elements.
Waves, on the other hand, seem rather to enjoy overlapping. The most accessible examples
come from the domain of sound, where a single groove on a record can represent with
startling fidelity a full symphony orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the
Hallelujah Chorus. Not only that, the constituent elements do not lose their
individuality. A second violinist can still hear the second violins.
Light waves behave similarly, but with a speed and complexity that has made it nearly
impossible to visualize what is happening. The invention of the laser, though, has given
us access to light in a new form, a form in which the waves are all "in step"--all of a
single frequency--and it is this development which, for reasons I do not at all
understand, has made holography possible. To make a hologram, a beam of light from a laser
is split, using a half-silvered mirror, and is spread using concave lenses. Half the light
goes directly to a photographic plate, and the other half reaches the plate after having
been reflected off the object being photographed.
What is on the plate, then, is the interference pattern made when the two sets of waves
overlap. It is much like what happens when two pebbles are dropped into a perfectly still
pond and their waves overlap and form a complex but completely predictable pattern. Every
slightest slope of every ripple "tells" where the pebbles fell. That information is
recorded in every detail of the pattern.
This image of the way holograms are made rang some very loud Swedenborgian bells for me.
In translating Heaven and Hell, because "immediate" has come to be used primarily of time,
I had opted for "direct" and "indirect" inflow or influx instead of the usual "immediate"
and "mediate." One of the passages in that work reads as follows:
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 the
individual's 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 inflow. . . .
This is a kind of individualized version of a principle stated more broadly in Arcana
There are always two forces which hold anything together in its coherence and in its
form--a force acting from the outside, and a force acting from within. Where they meet is
the thing that is being held together . . . .
As one of those "every individuals," then, I am constituted by influx. I am constituted by
the intersection of two flows, one directly from the Lord and one indirectly from the Lord
through my environments. And a hologram is constituted by the intersection of two wave
flows, one directly from the source and one indirectly from the source, bounced off the
object. And the whole image is present in every part of the hologram, and (to quote Divine
Love and Wisdom)
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 than 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 . . . .
All this could be just coincidence, I suppose, but I rather doubt it.
It seems alien to us, and perhaps even a little unsettling, to let go of our images of
ourselves as solid and discrete beings. We may not know much about ourselves, but at least
we know where we leave off and the rest of the world begins. At least we can distinguish
what is inside us from what is outside us--or so it seems. When we admit how much trouble
we have distinguishing "objective" perceptions from "subjective" interpretations, though,
even this basic element of common sense seems shaky.
We do seem to be physically solid, but this, in good Swedenborgian terms, is actually "a
mere appearance." To quote from Fritjof Capra's The Turning Point, " . . . the pancreas
replaces most of its cells every twenty-four hours, the stomach lining every three days;
our white blood cells are renewed in ten days and 98 percent of the protein in the brain
is turned over in less than one month." How does this happen? Let me quote a recent
article from New Sense Bulletin, where Dwight Bulkley writes,
The fact that we are continuously changing our constituent atoms while at the same time
remaining essentially the same living organism does not fit very well with the
life-as-chemistry thesis. . . .
[Biosynthesis] is supposed to occur by a lengthy series of step-by-step chemical
reactions, with each reaction catalyzed (triggered energetically) by a different enzyme
catalyst. Enzymes are large protein molecules that remain unchanged while performing their
duties. They zip together the small molecules (substrates) to make the big molecules, like
stringing beads on a chain. This all happens in complex assembly-line pathways at the
incredible speed of thousands of reactions per second.
Bulkley is proposing that normal chemical processes are far too slow to account for this,
and that we must posit what sound like electromagnetic forms operating at the molecular
level. I find this pushing in a very congenial direction, namely toward a recognition that
it is the soul that organizes matter into what we experience as our physical bodies. I
would mention in passing that the British biologist Rupert Sheldrake is pressing farther
in this same direction from a different starting point.
This is a bit of a digression, though--the main point is that if we look closely at our
bodies, we find that their relative stability is formal rather than material. That is,
matter is constantly flowing through us, but our form, including that of all our various
organs, remains remarkably constant. This in turn reminds me of another bit of Swedenborg:
. . . there are connected stages from the First (that is, from the Lord) all the way to
the last things, which are in humanity, and to the very last things which are in nature.
The last things in humanity, like those in nature, are relatively dark and therefore cold,
and are relatively general and therefore hazy. We can see from this that through these
stages there is a constant connection of all things with the First Reality. Inflow is
patterned by these stages, for the Divine-True that emanates directly from the Divine-Good
flows in by stages, and in its course, or at each new stage, it becomes more general and
therefore coarser and hazier, and it becomes slower, and therefore more viscous and colder
. . . .
Arcana Coelestia 7270
Physically, we are discernible regions in the general flow of matter, regions whose slowly
shifting boundaries are determined by the formative power of our souls.
But I want to move back up the ladder of being, so to speak; and the easiest way I can
think of is to cite a passage from Soul-Body Interaction about the way we as thinking
beings intersect with the physical world around us.
Since the soul is spiritual substance, and by reason of order is more pure, more primary,
and more inward, while the body is material and therefore more crude, more secondary, and
more outward, and since it is in keeping with order for the more pure to flow into the
more crude, the more primary into the more secondary, and the more inward into the more
outward, it is therefore in keeping with order for the spiritual to flow into the
material, and not the reverse. This means that the thinking mind flows into the sight,
subject to the state imposed on the eyes by the things that are being seen--a state which
that mind, further, organizes at will. In the same way, the perceiving mind flows into the
hearing, subject to the state imposed on the ears by words.
Soul-Body Interaction 1
Our very perceptions are interference patterns. They result from the intersection of what
we might call the subjective energies flowing into sight or hearing, say, from the soul,
with the objective energies generated by such things as light waves and sound waves. They
are far more selective than we usually realize. The only area of the retina where the
photosensitive cells are densely-packed enough to register detail is an area in the center
called the fovea. It comprises one forty-thousandth of the total area of the retina. To
check this out, look unwaveringly at one letter on a printed page, and see how many other
letters you can discern. Any detail I may think I am seeing in the rest of the visual
field I am actually supplying.
The necessary conclusion from this is that when we look "out," part of what we are seeing
is ourselves, and when we look "in," part of what we are seeing is our whole life
environment. We are integral parts of an immense totality--and the word "parts" is itself
misleading. It suggests a definition of boundaries that turns out to be impossible. In a
phrase of David Bohm's that has won a place in my affections, I am a "relatively
autonomous subtotality" in the totality of creation.
This leads to one more digression before I conclude. My tendency is to emphasize
wave-models of our human nature because these seem to have been largely overlooked. I
firmly believe that the more familiar particle models are equally essential. We have to
draw boundaries--that is what our "understanding" is for. In fact, the Latin term
traditionally translated "understanding" resolves etymologically into "choosing between"
or even "reading between," and is much closer to the neutral sense of "discrimination."
There is further significant material listed in Potts' Concordance under the words
"boundary" and "determine" (which in Latin are closely related. The process of growth
involves a kind of pendular rhythm of distinguishing and then integrating what has been
distinguished, of faith dividing and charity uniting, of left-foot/right-foot progress.
The problems come when we draw a boundary for one purpose and then absolutize it. When we
own a piece of property, for instance, our theology urges us to regard its boundaries as
defining our responsibilities. By assuming title to this segment of our planet, that is,
we accept the obligation to devote it to its highest use. Our culture, however, urges us
to regard these boundaries as boundaries of our rights. In the United States, people are
going to court to resist laws that would limit ecological abuses on the grounds that these
laws violate their rights as property owners. As we begin to supplement our particle
models, our boundary models, with wave models, the folly of this misuse of boundaries
begins to become inescapably clear. Robert Frost caught the issue beautifully in his poem,
Mending Walls, observing that "good fences make good neighbors, but cautioning that before
he built a wall, he'd want to know what he was walling in and what he was walling out.
But I want to conclude with some observations about the impact of the holographic model on
two relationships that are central to our theology--our relationship to heaven, and our
relationship to the Lord.
Remember the hologram puzzle, and imagine that I had brought two such puzzles, one of a
starfish and one of, say, a sea urchin. Obviously, there would have been no way to use the
sea urchin pieces to make a more detailed starfish. The only pieces that fit together into
the big picture are the ones that have a distinctive version of the big picture in
themselves. "The nature of the inclusive whole in fact determines the nature of the part
of the whole, since the parts must be like their whole in order to belong to it." Now let
me quote Arcana Coelestia 3633:
Further, heaven as a whole is of such nature that each individual is like a center of all,
In consequence, an image of heaven is reflected in each individual and makes that
individual like itself--that is, a person. The nature of the inclusive whole in fact
determines the nature of the part of the whole, since the parts must be like their whole
in order to belong to it.
Each part of the puzzle is the starfish seen from a different perspective. If two of you
pointed to the end of one of the legs, you would point to different places on the surface
of the puzzle, because of your different angles of viewing. You would differ, and you
would both be right.
This is no more than a hint of where the image may lead, but it will have to do if I am to
observe some temporal boundaries which, while perhaps not absolute, are at least generally
accepted as convenient.
I can also do no more than hint at the implications for our concept of the Divine and our
relationship to the Divine. Swedenborg is insistently explicit that the Divine is wholly
present everywhere. In his description, the Divine creates by establishing a matrix and
flowing into it, so that every distinguishable entity is constituted by an intersection of
forces or flows. Because of this, the Divine is wholly present everywhere, and we in our
way, like the universe in its way, are images and likenesses of the Lord.
This, for me, turns the problem of the incarnation inside out or upside down. People
usually have trouble understanding how the Divine could have been incarnate in the Lord
Jesus Christ. From what I would regard as the Divine Love and Wisdom standpoint, it is
harder still to understand how the Divine can fail to be incarnate in us. Yet I think the
answer is clear from another of my favorite passages, Heaven and Hell 302:
If only people believed the way things really are--that everything good is from the Lord
and everything evil from hell--then they would not make the good within them a matter of
merit, nor would evil be charged to them. For in this case they would focus on the Lord in
everything good they thought and did, and everything evil that flowed in they would throw
back into the hell it came from. But since people do not believe in any inflow from heaven
and from hell, and therefore think that everything they think and do is inside themselves
and therefore from themselves, they therefore claim evil as their own, and pollute the
inflowing good with a sense of merit.
When I reflect, I cannot believe that the Lord is saying, "George, you can't be divine
because I'm the only one." In the words of Psalm 84, "The Lord will give grace and glory:
no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." Or in the striking words of
John's gospel, "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be
one, even as we are one . . . . Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be
with me where I am" (John 17:22,24). Divine Love, by definition, wills a total
self-giving. This means that Divine Love wills to realize its total presence in each one
of us just as fully as in the incarnate Lord.
This is not the voice of arrogance or hubris. Quite the contrary, it is painfully obvious
that the total presence of the Lord is not being realized in me in the same measure as it
was in the incarnate Lord, and if the reason for this cannot be found in the nature of the
Divine, it must be found in my own unwillingness. If he withholds nothing from them that
walk uprightly, I must draw some unwelcome conclusions about the way I have been walking.
We like to look at ourselves in comparison to the general standards of the world around
us, and with the disorders that are surfacing during this present episode of the growth of
the new church, we probably come off pretty well. There is a certain amount of truth to
this view, because we are very much participants in our world. It is the source of the
objective flow whose intersection with the subjective flow constitutes our being. But if
we are to look at ourselves in this context, we must also look at ourselves in the context
of the subjective flow, the flow of the Divine directly into the inmost, and recognize
that at the center of the being of each one of us there is that same total self-giving and
that same limpid perception that we worship. We could not be part of the Lord's creation
if that image were not within us.
:Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising
Culture (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), pp. 271f.
:New Sense Bulletin, Vol. 17, No. 3 (December 1991), p. 2