Tuesday, July 7, 1984

Location - FNCA 1984

What I have to say this week will not be directly on the theme of health and healing, but

in my own mind at least, it is closely related to that theme, dealing with some

presuppositions about our nature as living organisms. It certainly has to do with the

basic notion of wholeness, a notion that is not easy to define, but which lies at the root

of a number of our ideas of health. I might be able to squeeze the whole thing into one

lecture, but I'm afraid it would wind up pretty dense; so I'm going to do it in three


In my years of familiarity with Swedenborg's writings, I've run across quite a few

statements that I pretty much accepted, but didn't really understand, certainly not to the

point that I could picture them in my mind. One of the most obvious of these, which will

serve as an example, is statement that heaven as a whole, and every community in heaven,

is in the human form. It's easy enough to grasp the idea that distinct communities have

functions analogous to those of the human body, but the image of a person made up of

people made up of people might seem a bit extreme. Yet as far as Swedenborg is concerned,

this is not just a figure of speech. If you back off far enough from a community in the

spiritual world, it actually looks like an individual. If you could back off far enough

from the whole of heaven, the result would be the same.

When holography came into popular view some years ago, though, it turned out that there

was a very similar phenomenon involved. A holographic plate is a kind of recording of a

three-dimensional image, and it is characteristic of such a plate that if you cut it into

little pieces, the whole image will be on every piece. What you lose is not any particular

part of the image in the usual sense, but some overall crispness or detail.

A neurologist named Karl Pribram found in this peculiarity an image of what had puzzled

him about the human brain, namely that memory does not seem to be localized in any

particular area. A surgeon cannot cut a particular memory out of the brain; or, as Pribram

very nicely observed, you don't get hit on the head, come home, and discover that you've

forgotten half of your family. He decided that we should begin to work on the assumption

that memory is holographic-- that every memory is recorded throughout the cortex of the


Pribram was also quite explicit about what we might call the mechanics underlying this

conclusion. Scientists, he said, in their effort to understand phenomena which they cannot

directly observe, use models drawn from things they can observe. For Pribram, the hologram

served as such a model. Because of holographic plates, we know that there can exist an

arrangement in which every part is a miniature of the whole. I might ask at this point

that you bear in mind that God is the ultimate reality, everything that really,

unconditionally is, and that each one of us is created in His image and likeness.

But I want to press this particular model a good deal farther, and in order to do it, I

need to present a little semi-technical detail about holography. When a hologram is being

made, a laser is used as light source. The beam from the laser is spread by lenses and

split, using a half-silvered mirror so that some of it is deflected and some is not. Half

the beam is then reflected off the object being recorded, and the other half proceeds

directly to the photographic film. What the film records, then, is the interference

pattern of two sets of waves. It doesn't look anything like the original object; but when

one shines the right kind of light through it or on it at the right angle, then there

appears "in space" a three-dimensional image.

This rang a couple of bells for me. It struck me eventually (though not at first) that a

laser emits "coherent light," and that coherent light is not a bad image at all for the

divine-true. But the primary bell rung involved Swedenborg's apparent fascination with

influx, both mediate and immediate, and with actives and passives.

Like many other people, I had wondered from time to time just what it is that inflows.

Swedenborg strongly implies (cf. D.L.W. 88) that no substance actually moves from one

discrete level to another, so we shouldn't think of influx as being like a river in any

literal way. It seems to make sense, then, to think of influx in terms of wave motion,

which you can see in slow motion, so to speak, if you go to the ocean and watch the waves

roll in while the tide is going out. Or for that matter, some day when the wind here is

northerly, you can go to the bank and watch the wavelets go upstream while the river keeps

going in its normal direction.

Then there are statements like the following from Heaven and Hell (n. 37). " . . . the

Lord unites all the heavens by means of a direct and an indirect inflow-- by a direct

inflow from himself into all the heavens, and by an indirect inflow from one heaven into

another." Then there's A.C. 3628.3, among many passages saying much the same thing, "There

are always two forces which hold everything 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." And finally, for the moment, there's A.C. 7004.2,

"Absolutely everything comes from the first Reality [Esse], and the design is so

established that the first Reality is present in the derived forms [both] indirectly and

directly, just as much in the most remote part of the design, therefore, as in its first

part. The actual Divine-True is the only substance; its derivatives are simply successive

secondary forms. This also enables us to see that the divine does flow directly into

absolutely everything . . . ."

The minute I begin to take this as a pretty literal description of the way things are, my

everyday view of things look inadequate. In the everyday view of things, I'm a kind of

self-contained unit that interacts with other self-contained units. I have my thoughts and

feelings that come from inside me, and I express them or not. You have yours, and you

express them or not. If we do express them, we may or may not pay attention to each other;

and if we pay attention, then in one way or another we react.

Now I wrote that simply in an effort to convey a common understanding of ourselves as

persons. I didn't deliberately design it for the use I'm about to make of it, namely to

look at the models it implies. They are mechanical models. "Self-contained unit" is an

obvious one. "Inside" and "outside" are the same. "Expressing" is a borderline case-- it

originally meant "squeeze out" (and still can), but it has lost a good deal of its

concreteness. The implications of "paying attention" are mind-boggling; and "action and

reaction" are straight out of Newton.

If we turn deliberately to the language we use to describe human relationships, mechanical

models abound. We talk about tension, friction, pressure, stress, overloads, breaking

points, meshing, clashing, and the like, as though these were literal descriptions of what

is going on. Bear in mind, though, that we cannot see, physically, what is going on.

There are no meters that measure this kind of tension or pressure. There are no psychic

engineering tables that tell us how much stress we are designed to take.

I'd be the last to deny that these have been and still are useful models; but I'm more and

more convinced that they are partial, and I should also mention that useful as mechanical

models may be, they have a distinct liability. Mechanics is the study of forces acting and

interacting, and when a problem is conceived in mechanical images, solutions to the

problem tend to be conceived in terms of the application of force. The kind of passage

I've been citing from Swedenborg suggests quite a different model, namely the model we can

now experience concretely through holography. It's probably an unfamiliar one to most of

you, but I think it's doctrinally sound, consonant with modern physics, and potentially

very constructive.

Physics tells us that matter has both particle properties and wave properties. I'm

suggesting that we take our own wave properties seriously, using as a guide our basic

theological understandings of influx. In this model, all reality is a vast and impossibly

intricate pattern of intersecting waves. It's a little as though there were an absolutely

still pond, and someone dropped in thousands of pebbles all over its surface. But let's

think of reality as being three-dimensional, and following our theological clues, let's

posit two basic kinds of waves. The primary ones are coming down from the Lord. The

secondary ones are coming horizontally. They are actually the vertical waves deflected.

Each one of us is a point or region of intersection, a place where the direct inflow from

the Lord meets the indirect inflow from our environment. These are the two forces that

hold us together-- immediate influx is the force from within, and mediate influx is the

force from without, to put it in more traditional terms.

At this point, there is already a significant difference from the mechanical model. It

will, I hope, be clearer as we go along, but I think you can already see that if we are

intersections, it is impossible to define ourselves solely from the inside or solely from

the outside. For example, I'm never just plain angry. I'm angry at something. I never just

plain love. There must be objects of love. Nor am I ever just the product of my

circumstances. Things don't make me angry, and people don't make me love them. It simply

is not an either-or situation, and to pretend that it is would be like trying to define an

intersection by just one of its roads.

There's another phenomenon very closely related to this. Listen to the following

description from Soul-Body Interaction (n. 1).

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.

Swedenborg is saying that we are neither passive receptors nor sheer hallucinators. He is

saying something that is in part obvious-- that sensory experience is a process of

intersection, but he is insisting that the primary energy of perception is from within.

To put it another way, there is no such thing as purely subjective or purely objective

perception. Perception is the intersection of subjective and objective forces, with the

subjective ones being primary. The primacy of the subjective forces is consistent with the

principle already cited, that immediate influx is primary and mediate influx secondary.

But there is another quite challenging way in which waves differ from particles. Waves

have no boundaries. If you think of a sine wave-- the perfectly regular wave that

represents among other things a pure tone in sound-- you can measure it, sort of. That is,

you can measure the distance from crest to crest. But you can also measure the distance

from trough to trough, or from any point to the corresponding point on the next wave: it

makes no difference. And if you happen to think of a sine wave as a two-dimensional view

of a spiral, then you realize that every point on it bears just the same relationship to

what precedes and follows it as every other point does. If you were climbing a spiral

staircase in a featureless tower, every step would look like every other.

Beyond that, waves just go on and on until they bump into something. If that something is

in the same medium, then the wave is altered-- that's the interference pattern-- but in a

very real way it is still there. There is a tendency for waves to decay over distance in a

physical medium, and the more viscous the medium, the more sluggish the wave, as anyone

can tell you who has ever stirred white sauce while it was thickening. We'll come back to

that later, though. Now let's see what is implied about our own wave properties by this

lack of boundaries.

I'd suggest that it turns out to be a very appropriate image for the ways our ideas work.

This whole lecture, for example, is using things I've seen and heard and read. It's using

them in a particular way, a way no one else could use them, if you want to be persnickety

about it. I'll readily grant that someone else might have very similar ideas, in fact,

I'll insist on it before too long; but I defy you to imagine anyone but me sitting down

and coming out with these particular words in this particular sequence. This means that it

is awfully hard, probably impossible, and quite probably pointless to try to draw a

boundary between what's "mine" in this lecture and what is "others'." These ideas are how

I intersect with some aspects of my environment, to put it crudely. To be more precise,

this lecture represents some of the ways in which immediate and mediate influx intersect

in my vicinity. I have to say "in my vicinity" rather than "in me," precisely because I

have no way of telling where the boundary is between me and others in this realm of ideas.

If that sounds a little odd, listen to the following from Heaven and Hell (n. 203).

To the extent that we are in the form of heaven . . . we are involved in intelligence and

wisdom. In fact, . . . all the thinking of our discernment and all the affection of our

intentionality reach out into heaven on all sides, according to its form, and communicate

marvelously with the communities there, and they with us.

There are people who believe that thoughts and affections do not really reach out around

them, but occur within them, because they see their thought processes inside themselves,

and not as remote from them; but they are quite wrong. As eyesight has an outreach to

remote objects, and is influenced by the pattern of things seen "out there," so too that

inner sight which is discernment has an outreach in the spiritual world, even though we do

not perceive it.

There was a spirit who believed that he thought independently-- that is, without any

outreach beyond himself and consequent communication with outside communities. To let him

know that he was wrong, he was deprived of communication with his neighboring communities.

As a result, he not only lost [the power of] thought, he even collapsed, virtually

lifeless-- just able to flail his arms about like a newborn infant. After a while, the

communication was restored to him, and bit by bit as it was restored, he returned to his

thinking state.

This is a graphic illustration from Swedenborg's experience of the basic principle that

all our thoughts and feelings flow into us, and that they are in some way also happening

outside of us. We are not life, we are just recipients of life. In terms of our wave

properties, we don't originate anything, and there is nothing we can legitimately call our

own in any exclusive sense.

But there is another aspect to us which I hope I don't have to cite doctrinal support for.

We're finite. That means we have limits in some way or another; and it also means that we

can't cope with the infinite, with anything that doesn't have limits. We must have some

sort of boundaries, and we certainly need them. So I want to spend the last part of this

first instalment exploring this matter of boundaries in terms of the holographic model,

with every expectation that it will recur later on.

In his poem, Mending Walls, Robert Frost cited the maxim that "good fences make good

neighbors," and then wondered about it. For me, the heart of the poem is his remark that

if he were to build a wall, he'd want to know what he was walling in and what he was

walling out (I don't have the poem before me, so I can't quote it). Since there are no

intrinsic boundaries in an interference pattern, and since we need boundaries in order to

function, we do indeed need to be careful what we are walling in and what we are walling

out, what we call "ours" and what we call "others'."

There's a kind of illustration of this quite close to hand. For as many years as most of

us can remember, the Assembly property stopped at the state line. Now we've sold off some

land at the Fryeburg end, and acquired some in New Hampshire. This doesn't change the size

and shape of Maine and New Hampshire. For their purposes, that boundary is still

appropriate. But our rights and responsibilities have changed. The state boundary has a

different meaning for us now.

There's another illustration close to hand that I like even better. The Saco is a

wonderfully clean river. It flows through two states and goodness knows how many

communities, all with their own regulations and enforcement powers. But all those legal

boundaries are irrelevant to the river. What is needed, and what in some measure has come

into being, is a kind of Saco Watershed Authority. It doesn't, and shouldn't, have to

control all civic functions within its boundaries, but it does need to oversee those

activities which affect the quality of the river, just as it would appear that we need

entities whose boundaries coincide with the rivers of air that bring in the acid rain.

I should quit now, though, so I'll just leave with this as a suggestion rather than a

conclusion, and next time I'll look at some doctrinal support which I hope will come as a

surprise. To summarize the suggestion, it is that we need boundaries, that the holographic

model is open to a multiplicity of boundaries, and that it is then vital that we stop

regarding our boundaries as somehow inherent in the nature of things, and start evaluating

them for their appropriateness.

I trust that there are questions.

contact phil at for any problems or comments