Emanuel Swedenborg: The Forgotten Scientist

The writer and specialist in the occult, Gary Lachman, has recently spoken about those who stigmatize Swedenborg as a Christian, failing to acknowledge his fascinating character and ideas.

In a recent interview for the Patheos by Jason Mankey, Lachman described public awareness of Swedenborg, suggesting that ‘If people know anything about him, its that he took trips to heaven and hell, and talked with angels’.

Lachman’s book, Into the Interior: Discovering Swedenborg reveals Emanuel Swedenborg as both a groundbreaking philosopher and a key figure in the development of eighteenth-century science.

Yet as Lachman suggests, it appears all too often that Swedenborg is forgotten within the scientific field. As a Christian, many tend to associate him with religion rather than science, which can mean that his early scientific achievements fail to gain the recognition that they deserve.

Swedenborg was a notable physicist, conducting investigation in fossils, salt and mineral production, longitude determination, magnetism and various chemical processes. He developed ideas for submarines and flying machines, and also designed practical materials such as dry docks and pumps, including a way to transport small ships to aid the Swedish royal fleet.

His early ideas in particular correspond with what later science has discovered. In 1734 he published Opera Philosophica and Mineralia, in which he argued that the modern atom was solid with rapidly circulating electrons, a theory with which modern science agrees. His ideas of intrinsic polarity in the constitution of particles is a remarkable anticipation of the notion of spin in modern particle physics.

Swedenborg also made discoveries about the brain and the nervous system which were way ahead of his own time. He noted the importance of the cerebral cortex as the seat of the higher psychical functions and discovered the importance of the ductless glands. Anticipating modern thinking, he conducted research on the left and right brain functions.

Many do not realize the extensive influence that Swedenborg had in the scientific field. More commonly recognized due to his later revelations as a philosopher and mystic, greater recognition of his scientific achievements is needed.

Contemporary research is attempting to change this, yet more writers and academics need to speak out for Swedenborg to attain deserved scientific acclaim. With a rise in forthcoming publications on Swedenborg’s scientific accomplishments such as David Dunér’s Cosmology, Matter, Mathematics, the Swedenborg Society hopes to encourage increased awareness of Swedenborg’s scientific studies.

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By Victoria Rood

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