Studia Swedenborgiana

Vol. 6 January,  1987 Number 2 

Closing the Circle

by Steve  Koke

The Influence of Eighteenth Century Astronomy and Philosophy on Swedenborg's

Earths in the Universe

by Steve Koke

"Where are all the people?" a friend once asked me. It has become a classic question, inspired by a small but fascinating and frustrating book. In 1758 Swedenborg published Earths in the Universe, a description of human life elsewhere in the solar system and on five planets in orbit around other stars. The information was obtained from his spiritual world experiences. In the spiritual world, he explained, are all who have ever lived on a planet; they remain intimately related to those who are still living there and are aware of what is happening to them. Consequently, a lot of information can be obtained about life on other planets without having to go to them physically. Few subjects are more fascinating than life on other worlds, and for slightly more than two hundred years, Swedenborg's students delighted in his descriptions of a solar system full of human life.

But all that time dark clouds were gathering ominously over the sciences. As astronomical observations improved, the earthlike planets Swedenborg had described, with their forests and animals and very human inhabitants, surprised astronomers with barren surfaces, lethal atmospheres (if there was any atmosphere at all), and temperatures in some cases hot

enough to melt lead or cold enough to freeze hydrogen. The Swedenborgian reaction to the news was to say, in a number of different ways, that the evidence wasn't all in; it would undoubtedly turn around as the scientists pushed their research further. The inhabitants were undoubtedly underground or in protected areas, or they may have lived only in the distant past.

These ideas inspired hope for a very long time, even though they could not answer the question of why, in a universe intended for the human race. a planet should place its inhabitants in such limiting circumstances. Accordingly, they created a troubled relationship with Swedenborg's text: all of these explanations contradicted one thing or another in the book in order to save the rest of it. Swedenborg describes only life on the surface of a planet, and he might have wanted to remind us that the correspondences associated with life evolving underground are unnatural and hellish. And an early extinction of life on just one planet in our solar system implies an average level of instability among planets that is dangerously high.1 More than one early extinction in the solar system would have disastrous implications for Swedenborg's vision of a universe designed to support the human race. Furthermore, people in the spiritual world know what is happening on their planets, yet no empty planets had been reported.

What these problems really indicate is that the conflict that we were trying to resolve was very severe. There was no way out but to offer the book some expensive defenses, and there is still no clear way out of that dilemma.

In the last fifteen years or so, however, the debate has been decided. For all practical purposes, the scientific evidence is now in: no other planet in our solar system does, or can, support organisms as complex as we are. And no other planet has been able to do so in the past; Mars and Venus are still possible exceptions to this, but the possibility is very small.

That is my assessment of the point to which we have come. The most dramatic evidence that we are alone in our solar system comes from the probes we have sent to the planets; but behind the scenes and beyond the contents of magazines, newspaper, and TV documentaries is a massive pile of more technical evidence that rarely reaches the public, though it is readily available to people interested in astronomy and the new space sciences.

Now the question has been laid squarely on our shoulders: how can Swedenborg's work in this part of his theological system be best understood?

Earths in the Universe presents a unique problem: Can scientific knowledge, or knowledge of the natural world, be obtained from the spiritual world? Recent advances in astronomy seem to say no. Nothing that Swedenborg wrote about the planets anticipated any subsequent scientific discovery; in fact. Swedenborg stayed well within the scientific ideas of his time even when they were wrong. That suggests that Earths in the Universe was in its own way written by and for its own time. If we go back into the eighteenth century and look at the mood and the ideas that surrounded the book, we may be able to see why it took its special form. In particular, we will be able to see why Swedenborg's spiritual philosophy and experiences still required help from the current science in order to be able to comment on the planets at all.

Swedenborg opens Earths in the Universe with a chapter presenting his arguments for life elsewhere in the universe. Then in following chapters he presents his revolutionary spiritual experiences in which he encountered people in the spiritual world from other planets and our moon. We will take an analytical look at these things in turn.

Swedenborg believed that all moons were inhabited, but we will concentrate on the planets, as he largely does. There will be some rough spots where Swedenborg doesn't let us see behind the scenes. For example, he never reveals the process by which the home planets of people in the spiritual world were identified. In places like this, we will have to do some creative thinking, but it will adhere closely to his philosophical principles.

I hope other people will comment on the ideas in this paper, either for or against; it is intended to start some new lines of discussion, not merely to lay yet one more thesis on the table. But I would like at least to leave behind a good understanding of why the best way to probe the secrets of Earths in the Universe is first to place the book back in its time.

The Arguments

In three major arguments in the opening chapter, Swedenborg portrays a universe filled almost to

overflowing with human life. The universe, he says, was created so that an angelic heaven could be formed from the human race. Every star is a sun, every sun has planets, and every planet is inhabited. The picture and its arguments work together so well and are so elegantly put together that it has not been clear whether this cosmology is or is not revelatory. Is Swedenborg describing the content of an angelic astronomy that goes far beyond our own a kind of angelic superscience or does it have a more human origin?

Swedenborg begins by pointing out that the planets are so large that there must be some correspondingly important use for them. They cannot have been intended to shine with their feeble light for the benefit of Earth. Therefore, if one is to avoid a serious imbalance between means and ends, such means must have a correspondingly impressive end.

However, that point does not tell us what the purpose of a planet is. Is it the welfare of humanity, or is it something else?

Swedenborg then cites his cosmological principle:

Whoever believes, as everyone ought to believe, that the Divine Being has created the universe for no other end than that the human race may exist, and thence heaven -- for the human race is the seminary of heaven

he cannot but believe that wherever there is an earth, there are men. (n. 3)

The universe is under pressure to provide continually for an immense human race. Nothing in the universe will contribute any other final purpose.

Still, there is a gap between Swedenborg's previous observations about the planets and his cosmological principle, now coming down into the discussion from above. The cosmological principle makes us think (though not without help, as we shall see later) that people ought to be on every planet. But the huge masses that we have encountered so far look only remotely like human habitations.

That consideration brings in the analogical argument: the other planets are so like the Earth, which we know is inhabited, that we might as well conclude that they are inhabited as well. They have an earthly appearance like our earth, they have days, nights, seasons, and even moons, fully as if they too provide for living beings. These observations close the gap.

Swedenborg's third argument (n. 4) merges the grand cosmology built in the first two arguments with the infinity of God. Any universe so immense, and yet radiant with innumerable suns, must be the means to the ultimate end of creation, an angelic heaven in which the divine can dwell with angels and men. Such an immense whole mirrors the Infinite, and an infinite God would by no means be satisfied with the people of one planet only. Even tens of thousands of planets, all full of human beings, would be scarcely anything to an infinite being.

Swedenborg's arguments thus build passionately upward toward the grandest possible vision of the universe. But this vision was already about a century old.

In 1610, Johannes Kepler wrote:

The conclusion is quite clear. Our moon exists for us on the earth, not the other globes. Those four little

moons exist for Jupiter, not for us. Each planet in turn, together with its occupants, is served by its own satellites. From this line of reasoning we deduce with the highest degree of probability that Jupiter is inhabited.2

Kepler believed that "God does nothing useless," and his ideas on the planets influenced most later discussions.

In 1638, John Wilkins, a protestant clergyman who would later become an Anglican bishop, wrote an influential book, The Discovery of a World in the Moone. He argued that the moon could not have been intended by nature just for the illumination of the Earth, for it was spotted and therefore seemed to have seas and lands, as did the Earth. Therefore, it must have been made to be a fit habitation. This was an early form of the analogical argument.3

In 1657, Pierre Borel, a member of the French Academie des Sciences, wrote that there must be an infinite number of planets, though he felt they were all illuminated by our sun. That brought up the question of why there should be so many planets, and inhabitants were the best answer, as many others believed at the time. He wrote, "natural reason doth sufficiently disswade us to believe, that the greater things serve the lesser; and that those that are the noblest, serve the vilest."4

Richard Bentley, a theologian who delivered the first Boyle lectures, made a very nice statement in 1693:

All Bodies were formed for the Sake of Intelligent Minds: As the Earth was principally designed for the Being and Service and Contemplation of Men; why may not all other Planets be created for the like uses, each for their own Inhabitants who have Life and Understanding.5

In 1701, Nehemiah Grew said that the moon and planets were inhabited; and if the stars were to have a purpose, then every star must be a sun with inhabited planets.6

In 1746, an unknown author (said to be Male-branche) of the Traite de l'infini cree wrote it all out as a settled thesis: The universe is infinite, and there are an infinite number of planets with human beings on them, although the physical characteristics of these people are different.7

The question of whether God had made any worlds other than our own had been debated energetically for several centuries. Sometimes one viewpoint had the upper hand, sometimes the other. But by the end of the seventeenth century, the universe looked like too large a place to serve the interests of only one inhabited planet, and a great optimism about life on other planets continued well past Swedenborg's lifetime.

The critical turning point had occurred in 1543. All arguments up to that time were based on the idea that the Earth was at the center of Creation; the sun, moon, stars and planets all revolved around us. Other inhabited worlds could only be complete cosmoses or universes of undoubtedly the same kind, and the Scriptures were the only source of clues about their existence. Planets were not yet good candidates for other worlds, for they were known only as moving stars.

In 1543, Copernicus moved the Earth away from the center of the cosmos and set the Earth and planets in motion around the sun. That was a truly revolutionary idea, for it released the planets to become possibly like Earth, pushed the fixed stars back an undertermined distance (which suggested that they may be larger), and allowed the universe to be infinite.8

At first, Copernicus' ideas were ignored because they were too theoretical to be threatening. The astronomical telescope had not yet been invented, and no one could see his planets move around the sun. Except for an introductory section, his theory was also so technical that only mathematical astronomers could understand it. In 1609. Galileo built the first astronomical telescope, and in January of 1610, he turned it on the planets. Suddenly, the new solar system had dramatic, visible confirmation. Europe's picture of the universe expanded enormously, and it became clear to many that the Earth was too small to justify such a huge, elaborate environment by itself. An adequate purpose for such a universe required many inhabited worlds.

This grand thought spread rapidly during the rest of the seventeenth century. After Galileo showed everyone the planets, Johannes Kepler refined their orbits and enthusiastically added his vision of life elsewhere. Rene Descartes developed a theory that vortical forces in the vast spaces between the stars held the universe together. He avoided the other worlds debate, but the great generality of his theory encouraged other thinkers to believe that nature operates on the same principles everywhere. What is generally true of the Earth and solar system is undoubtedly true among the stars as well. Christian Huygens, one of the greatest scientists of the century, made one significant discovery after another and wrote his Cosmotheoros about the probable inhabitants of other planets. Finally Newton developed his physics, describing the force of gravity and other phenomena that gave much of the new picture the force of law.

Without seeing such ideas in the culture around us, we would see Swedenborg's arguments as the revolutionary expressions that one expects from a revelator. In our time, they stand alone, and some look very much like a kind of argumentative revelation. But we face ambiguous text here because he would not have mentioned that these ideas were already cultural possessions in an old debate; it would have been unnecessary to burden his own readers with the

obvious. Only a look at his culture can warn us that he wrote for his own time as if not able to address the future directly.

Nevertheless, he applied a characteristic touch of genius to his arguments. They provide perhaps a more concentrated and uplifting statement of the new wisdom than one could find elsewhere. He was also more aware of the universe as a foundation for the angelic heaven. Other thinkers believed that the universe was created for the human race; they didn't see beyond the human race to its own purpose, an angelic heaven in which a special relationship would be achieved between God and humanity. That left many statements about the new universe vulnerable to collective self-interest. By giving humanity its own purpose, Swedenborg gave the universe more to do than to support people; it also had to help them through a sometimes harrowing process of regeneration. That in turn eventually allowed other things to be inferred about it; but he didn't explore them in Earths in the Universe.

In building his ideas, Swedenborg was also limited to the scientific knowledge at hand. No superior cosmology lay discreetly behind his public statements. That is evident in the light of discoveries two hundred years later, but some indications that he was not taken even a small distance beyond the knowledge of his time appeared very shortly after his death.

Swedenborg believed with everyone else that the solar system contained only five planets other than Earth. They were all of the planets visible to the naked eye. Counting outward from the sun, they were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. These are the only solar system planets he discusses in his theological works, and he tells us in paragraph 42 that Saturn is indeed at the edge of "the solar world." In 1781, only nine years after his death, William Herschel made the first discovery of a new planet, Uranus. Since then, Neptune and Pluto have been added. All three planets are far beyond Saturn.

In paragraph 3, Swedenborg remarks that the rings of Saturn were apparently created to compensate for the sun's enormous distance from the planet. Much further away from the sun than Earth, Saturn does not get as much light as its inhabitants need, so the rings were provided to reflect more of the sun's light to the surface. That was an arresting thought in Swedenborg's time, for if the solar system extends only out to Saturn, such a device at the end would be ingenious and fitting. But his explanation was, again, destined to be upset by the discoveries of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto far beyond Saturn. None of these planets continues the required trend to larger and brighter ring systems.

But when he wrote the following statement, he did seem to come from a higher place:

He who believes, as everyone ought to believe, that the Divine created the universe for no other end than that the human race may exist, and thence heaven, for the human race is the seminary of heaven, must needs believe also, that wherever there is an earth there are men. (n. 3)

We have seen this statement before, but we will now take the promised closer look at it. The last part,

"wherever there is an earth there are men," has certainly helped to make the conflict between science and Earths in the Universe seem so absolute. It has a doctrinal look about it, and many of Swedenborg's students have treated it as if it were authoritative. But Swedenborg's reasons for asserting it were rooted in eighteenth century astronomy:

. . . it may be concluded from reason that such great masses as the planets are, some of which exceed this earth in magnitude, are not empty masses, and created only to be conveyed.., round the sun. and to shine with their scanty light for one earth, but that their use must needs be more excellent than that. (n. 3)

This argument precedes the previous one and makes it work. But it relies on the eighteenth century's picture of the planetary realm huge masses swing around the sun in virtually empty space which allows only heat, light, and basic Newtonian forces to move between the planets. The conclusion that humanity must occupy every planet is logically justified only because the planets in this picture are thoroughly isolated from each other. Since they cannot influence each other in any significant way, they must support human life right on their surfaces if they are going to support it at all.

The doctrine that the universe was intended to nurture the human race is aprinciple which, like other principles, does not tell us how it is going to take form in any specific application. It insists only that a particular intention will have been honored, however the universe has taken form. Where life is located in the solar system, and just what the planets do to support life, are therefore details of application left to the current astronomy to define. Swedenborg's picture of a universe in which all planets are inhabited was formed as much by the current astronomy as it was by his cosmological principle.

An alternative to the eighteenth century view of isolated planets in empty space is an active, nonempty space that allows the planets to participate with each other in a system of forces and interactions that could support life in one or more places in the solar system. An earthy example is the way in which the network of stores and services in a city supports life not necessarily within itself but in the city's residential areas.

No one can yet say whether modern planetary science will be able to accommodate Swedenborg's cosmological principle in any form. But it is interesting that modern ideas treat space as an almost fluid medium. Space has surprised us; it has structure, and it even curves. It carries a surprising number of interconnecting forces and materials, and in the modern field of quantum physics, it seethes with "virtual" particles which are a kind of ghostly pre-matter. Space looks like a vast womb out of which, it seems, everything may ultimately arise. But in Swedenborg's time, a relatively simple and undeveloped notion of space was an undeclared barrier to the unity of things. One could only try to accommodate it by making every planet ecologically self-contained.9

Eighteenth century astronomy provided all of the facts that Swedenborg works with in his first chapter. Consequently, his arguments here are attempts to unveil a meaningful pattern, a set of clues to Divine purposes, in the astronomy of his time. In our time, facing a different astronomy, he would have argued differently.

The Spiritual Experiences

After presenting his arguments, Swedenborg describes his encounters with people from various planets in the solar system and beyond. Before analyzing this material, it will help to describe the spiritual landscape that produced it. He doesn't give a systematic description of it anywhere, but one can put together a general picture from all three sources, Earths in the Universe, Arcana Coelestia, and Spiritual Diary.

All of the people who have ever lived on a planet occupy a huge area in the spiritual world which we will refer to as a planetary region. People from the same planet have the same genius, or character type, while people from a different planet have a different one. However, the nature of space in the spiritual world brings people together in accordance with their degree of similarity. Consequently, everyone from a particular planet is in the same planetary region, planetary regions of similar character are near each other, and those which are very different are far apart.10 Each planetary region contains its own heavens and hells and undoubtedly its own intermediate world of spirits.11 But in the highest or third heaven, people from different planets are together, probably because the third heaven is characterized by values that make us all children of God, and these values are more fundamental than the things that distinguish us.12

Swedenborg therefore probably limited his inquiries about people from other planets to sources no higher than the second heaven. Only there, and especially in the world of spirits, would the special distinctions between planetary types be clearly evident. In fact, Earths in the Universe usually presents personalities who are rather ordinary or of mixed virtues.

Swedenborg saw what he called "the universal spiritual world" as a vast landscape on which many planetary regions were scattered. There is no empty space between planetary regions as there is between the planets; instead, there are huge abysses in ground that extends everywhere. The natural world is characterized by widely separated bodies whose surfaces curve around their own centers and close on themselves, while the spiritual world connects everything as if it opened up those surfaces, flattened them out, and connected their edges.13

The planets themselves do not appear in the spiritual world, for natural things cannot be seen there. Spirits and angels only imagine planets, and what they imagine sometimes appears in the form of a projected idea; thoughts can, as Swedenborg puts it, be presented in the spiritual world "to the life."14

Nevertheless, the angels identified some of the planetary inhabitants for Swedenborg, and we must consider the possibility that they possessed a very advanced knowledge of the solar system. Lurking behind the long controversy about the book has been an unanswered question: do angels have a superior science which allows them to be authoritative about material things? In paragraph 42, Swedenborg describes the picture of the solar system that angels and spirits shared with each other:

The planets which are within the system of [our] sun appear [to spirits and angels] according to a determinate situation in respect to the sun; Mercury behind, a little towards the right; the planet Venus to the left, a little backwards: the planet Mars to the left in front; the planet Jupiter in like manner to the left in front, but at a greater distance; the planet Saturn directly in front, at a considerable distance; the Moon to the left, at a considerable height; the satellites also to the left in respect to their planet. Such is the situation of those planets in the ideas of spirits and angels; spirits also appear near their planets, but out of them.

This scenario contains no more planets than the eighteenth century had recognized. As we have mentioned, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were still to be discovered. However, neither Swedenborg nor the angels anticipated any further discoveries. The moons are located near their planets, but Swedenborg says nothing more about them, which lets the reader assume that the moons are no more or less than those which were known at the time.15 All of this rather strongly suggests that the angels know no more than we do about the solar system at any given time, and the most logical inference to make at this point is that the angels get their astronomy from us.

Furthermore, Earth is not mentioned. The planets are arranged in astronomical order from the sun outward, and the observer is in the position that Earth would have occupied. That indicates that the observer was always a spirit or angel from our own planetary region, for it would not have made as much sense for a person from elsewhere to see the solar system from Earth's point of view and not take up his own. But if that is the case, then Earth's sciences are, again, the very plausible source of the scenario.

In numerous places in his theological works, Swedenborg explains that the angels cannot think in material terms.16 Material ideas of any kind are too gross to enter into the heavens, and we have already noted that the angels do not see the planets. Our sciences appear to be only a formgiver for them, a source of a vocabulary of forms and images into which the angels infuse spiritual meaning. Consequently, when an angel says that certain spirits are from Mars, he is not actually identifying them with the astronomical object which we call Mars. He is thinking instead of the state Mars, which is the overall character or planetary genius of those spirits. That state is in turn the complex of individual states that comprises a planetary region in the spiritual world.

How Were the Planets Identified?

Now we can define the basic problem of the book. All that can be observed in the spiritual world itself is that there are very many different types or kinds of people, each type living by itself in an isolated but huge area. Everything about their planetary origins is left to be inferred. Swedenborg's investigation of other planets then hangs on one central question: Given any particular planetary region, how does one determine which planet supports it?

Swedenborg says almost nothing in answer to the question, yet Earths in the Universe could not have been written without assuming a rather complex answer to it. The answer may not have been satisfactorily understood by Swedenborg himself, if only because his investigations did not actually yield accurate information about the planets. But if his understanding was limited, even if only by an underdeveloped astronomy, then we can explain the conflict between his work and modern discoveries very simply, although his spiritual experiences were genuine. Swedenborg and modern science have unwittingly been describing different sets of planets.

A commonsense way to determine which planet supports a planetary region would be to ask the spirits from the planetary region about their part of the universe. Did they see anything in their night sky that we can identify? How many planets does their solar system contain, and if their solar system looks like ours, how many planets lie between their planet and the sun? These questions are just astronomical versions of questions one would ask of someone from a strange town. In order to find out where the town is located, and thus identify it, the first thing one would want to do is compare maps.

But nothing of this sort could be done. Swedenborg says that the people of other planets haven't developed the sciences, including astronomy.17 They don't have maps. In fact, the very notion of a planet will be an elusive one for them, for it is not an instinctive idea. It is a painfully developed artifact of a fairly well developed astronomy. One has to look all the way through history up to our Copernican Revolution to find our concept of a planet, and we worked long and hard with old scientific ideas and cosmologies before we could achieve it.

The only thing left to do was to search for some overall relationship between the spiritual and natural worlds. By noting, for example, the location and characteristics of a planetary region in the spiritual world, one may be able in some way to derive the location, and therefore the identity, of the corresponding planet in the natural world. This approach was more complex and difficult, for it required an accurate knowledge of both worlds. Inevitably, the sciences would have to play a strong role in it.

Swedenborg discovered that our planetary region is part of a group of planetary regions, and he believed that this group belonged to the solar system. In paragraph 128 he writes:

Near the limit of our solar system, there appeared at first a shining bright cloud, but dense, and beyond it a fiery smoke ascending out of a great chasm. It was a vast gulf separating our solar world on that side from some worlds of the starry heavens.

The statement is about a gulf in the spiritual world; but for our purposes, its most important revelation is that Swedenborg placed our "solar world" (or solar system) all on one side of the gulf. There was also a definable "limit," or outer edge, to the solar system, placing its "worlds" in a local group. Since the phenomena involved can hardly be attributed to the material universe. Swedenborg actually refers to a group of planetary regions in the spiritual world, even though he uses the words, "solar system" and "world." That kind of ambiguity in his use of terms is rather common in the book. We will refer to these planetary regions as the "local group."

The existence of a local group is reinforced by the tact that it took hours, and sometimes days, to get to planetary regions in "the starry heavens" beyond our solar system; these planetary regions wcre so far away, and thus so strange to us, that the distance to them could be negotiated only in stages. The planetary regions that Swedenborg associated with our solar system were therefore much closer and more congenial to us and to each other. They must have formed a coherent group. However, these long transitions to distant planetary regions are caused only by distance. A planetary region near ours is therefore not necessarily from our solar system, nor is one far away necessarily from the starry heavens. Just what planet a region does represent must be settled by other criteria.18

Why, then, should one believe that the local group contained the people of our solar system? As we have mentioned, people who are near each other in the spiritual world have similar qualities. Planetary regions in a group would therefore bear a family resemblance to each other, and the most likely source of their similarity would be a common physical origin.

Planets which are neighbors in the same solar system have a common dependence on the same sun, they would have come into being from the same cause in the same location at the same time, and the physical environments in which life arose on each planet would therefore carry some general similarities to each other. That in turn would have given rise to appropriately similar forms of life, especially if life and its material environment, as Swedenborg taught, have a symbolic relationship to each other. Even before Charles Darwin took full advantage of the relationship between life forms and their environment, such connections were strongly sensed, and Swedenborg could draw some inspiration from his own nebular hypothesis (see his Principia, 1734) for the same general picture.

In the eighteenth century, only a common solar system could have explained a group of planetary regions in the spiritual world. No other kind of group that would produce a family resemblance between planetary races was known. But in the twentieth century that situation changed. Astronomy can now offer a strong alternative possibility, and we will consider it presently.

Now we have seen evidence that the angels know only as much about the solar system as we do at any given time. That idea has another implication: the angels could not locate planetary regions except in response to new discoveries in earthly astronomy. As soon as a new planet is discovered, the angels evidently go out and find its planetary region. But that seems puzzling; surely they could have looked around the local group at the beginning and found all of its planetary regions in short order. It seems logical enough; but if they had done that, they would either have been able to predict the discovery of new planets, or they would have found that the local group contains only as many planetary regions as the eighteenth century had planets and moons (sixteen). We would have to regard that a stupendous coincidence.

The problem is that it is difficult or impossible to make an objective survey in the spiritual world. In this world, one can. for example, climb to the top of a mountain, survey the valley below and make a count of all the villages and towns in it. In the spiritual world, however, one can see only those things that one is prepared to see.

Swedenborg gives us countless instances of this on a small scale: An angel of a lower heaven visits a higher heaven unprepared and sees no one. even though he is surrounded by people; an unfriendly spirit visiting the heavens sees the house of an angel as only a pile of bricks and straw. Not only does he not see the house, but the scene reconstructs itself to show other things in its place and even other ground (for it is unlikely that the pile covers exactly the same ground as the house). In his Spiritual Diary, Swedenborg describes how entire populations can disappear from a city:

Moreover, a vast multitude was able to conceal themselves in one city, by reason of the fact that a great part of them do not appear: for they who are of a different genius from others, or who turn themselves . . . to different loves, immediately become invisible. and only those are visible who are in a similar faith and love with the others. . Thus is it with things in the other life . . . (n. 5252)

When they disappear, their houses disappear as well. and one strongly suspects that the scene also closes up spatially as if there was no room for their houses, tThe city probably doesn't suddenly develop a rash of vacant lots, and it would be fruitless to feel around for

invisible houses.) In gencral, all sensual evidence of an alien presence vanishes.19

The phenomenon looks very much like an outer expression of one's philosophical outlook. If our idea of the world around us has no room for certain possibilities, then we will not see them. The spiritual world merely converts that into a concrete experience.

In place of the missing reality, we unconsciously substitute appearances, old beliefs, culturally inspired judgments, and so on, or simply assume that everything pertinent is already known, in order to "close up" any holes in the picture and leave nothing unaccounted for. The whole process is perfectly human and can't be avoided; we must build vcry comprehensive philosophies in order to feel that things are being properly cxplained, and it is prudent to incorporate all available ideas. The angels, looking around at the local group of planetary regions, would have scen only what they had been inwardly prepared to see, and the landscape would have closed up around it.

The shift from an old way of looking at things to a new one isn't forced by new information, although some preliminary evidence for a new reality will be present. The unfriendly spirit could be told all of the details about the angel's house and still not see it. The new facts define the direction in which a new outlook must be found, but the turn itself starts nonrationally from a shift in values or a change in the nature of consciousness itself. Thus. invisible regions and populations (unacknowledged states and values) can become visible (recognized and understood) as soon as a sympathetic relationship with them is created.20 As the notion of a six planet solar system full of life becomes an attractive possibility, it takes on spiritual meaning and opens the eyes of angels to five additional planetary regions.

The scenario in paragraph 42 was very probably built up as Europe's influential thinkers became more and more sympathetic with the notion of a very large, well populated universe. A number of spiritual and theological turning points occurred at that time, and many of them were announced with elation. One gets the impression from Swedenborg's writings that the atmosphere on earth in such matters is partly that of the heavens connected with Earth; men and angels may have become aware of the true character of the universe at about the same time..

Once other planetary regions around us were seen, the first very interesting thing to do would have been to give them planetary names. There is a straightforward method of doing that. One can conclude that a particular planetary region contains the people of Mars, for example, if contemplation of the symbolism in the planet's imagery and technical data, and especially its geological and ecological details, creates a picture of a new state of consciousness that in fact characterizes the region.

But Swedenborg was not able to apply that method directly. The eighteenth century had only the most general knowledge of the planets: their small, and often bland, appearance in the telescope, their relative positions in relation to the sun, their relative sizes, and some technical information about their orbits. The most revealing information about people and their psychological characteristics would be carried by surface features in as much detail as possible so that one could consider the actual surroundings of the inhabitants. That information, however, was almost entirely missing. Of the five planets that were known in Swedenborg's time, only one, Mars, had a visible surface, and details on the surface were vague and hard to interpret. The proper correspondences to apply to those details would have varied with their scientific explanation. The other planets were either too small to be seen in detail (Mercury) or were covered with clouds (Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn).

The planets were therefore not very informative, and I suspect that, beyond clues provided by the rings of Saturn, Swcdenborg did not gain much from them. The scenario in paragraph 42 seems to tell us what was regarded by the angels as the most important piece of information: the positions of the planets in relation to the sun. As we have seen, the order of the planets in the scenario is the same as their order in the physical solar system. They are depicted in a line from back to front with only minor displacements to the right or left. No other information about them stands out so clearly.

The scenario therefore emphasizes a certain kind of relationship between planets and thereby between the members of the local group. Let's surmise that the sun, which is the anchor or reference point of the line of planets, represents the ruling theme that ties the different planets together. In some solar systems, this theme will be emotional; Swedenborg describes suns which had a "fiery" color. In other systems, the theme will be more intellectual. Our sun probably represents a more intellectual theme. Since a sun is the source of light and heat in a solar system, it represents the driving force that moves any planetary populations around it to evolve in a particular direction.

Swedenborg's characterizations of populations in the local group seem to give them a common interest in the evolution of intelligence. Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, is, he says, almost purely conceptual, instinctually driven to develop knowledge for its own sake. Mercurians seem to have little individual consciousness. One can then see a pattern emerge as one looks outwards. Venus and Earth, the next planets, represent an attempt to bring to pure intellect a proper sensual base (Venus) and finally an appreciation of forms with a consequent awareness of self (Earth). Mars represents the need to open up the personal outlook thus created to a higher and more comprehensive wisdom. Jupiter and Saturn then develop that wisdom.

Now this interpretation is for illustrative purposes only; there are still unanswered questions about it. But with any such progressive scheme, one can place planetary regions in an order that yields useful distinctions between them without looking for direct clues from planetary surfaces. All that is needed is a governing theme which can be expected to develop in some fundamental way from planet to planet.

We have already seen why the local group of planetary regions could be accounted for in the eighteenth century only by associating it with the solar system. Because Swedenborg believed that all planets had to be inhabited, the distances of the planets from the sun could be considered equivalent to progressive differences in the relationship of the planetary regions to their own theme. It was then a simple matter to use the planets to signify those differences and to use their names to label one region "Mars," another "Saturn," and so on.

However, if a planet was actually uninhabited, it would still be identified with a local planetary region. That was a shortcoming in the method. But at the time there was no reason to suspect that any planet could be uninhabited. Again, the philosophy of Swedenborg's time played a critical role, filling in gaps between facts with philosophical considerations that were as yet unopposed and could not be denied.

Still, the planets sometimes did seem to be the ones that Swedenborg expected them to be. It seems impressive that the spirits of"Mercury" remembered seeing an exceptionally large sun, the spirits of "Saturn" seemed to remember the rings, and so on, just as they should.

If correspondences decree that inhabited planets in a solar system will be near or far from their sun in accordance with their relationship to the solar theme, then some astronomical sights will be common to all inhabitants who occupy similar positions in their respective systems. For example, any people who, like the Mercurians, experience an elemental immersion in the solar theme, would have been close to their sun. The large sun reported by Swedenborg's Mercurians may not have been ours.

Swedenborg asked the inhabitants of Saturn about their spectacular ring system. They replied that they did not see rings, as such, but a snowy light which shifted its orientation. The wording in the passage (n. 104) is unfortunately vague, but it seems to refer to a light that changes its position in the sky. In the Arcana's account, the light is described as a great nocturnal light which some Saturnians believed was the Lord. Swedenborg attributes the entire display to the rings and Saturn's moons.

The phenomenon encourages other interpretations. We now know that the rings lie in Saturn's equatorial plane and would not appear to move. As the planet rotated on its axis and carried its inhabitants on around, an observer would always be at the same distance north or south of the ring plane at any time of the day. The rings would therefore always appear in an unvarying shape and position above the horizon. The rings are also not visible at night; the vast shadow of Saturn darkens thcm (and some of the moons) on the night

side.21 Not only did the "snowy light" not behave like Saturn's rings, nothing else was mentioned that might have. Something more ringlike, if it were there, would have been spectacularly evident.

What is arresting is that Huygens described the position of the rings and the planet,s shadow in the late seventeenth century. Swedenborg may have felt nevertheless that the observation by the Saturnians remained highly suggestive. For whatever reason, he decided to publish it.

Swedenborg's problem with data did not end here; Jupiter presented a more severe problem. He reports that the Jovian day was only six hours long. However, Jean Dominique Cassini, one of the most famous astronomers of the seventeenth century, had already measured the length of Jupiter's day through the telescope; it was nine hours and fifty-six minutes, which is very close to the modern figure. Swedenborg may have wondered what to do with the discrepancy, for when he was a young man he had admired Cassini. The six hour figure was left unpublished; it exists only in his private Spiritual Diary.22

Swedenborg therefore experienced some unexpected conflicts with the science of his time. Not always has trouble come from the twentieth century. We would consider such things as preliminary evidence that Swedenborg was not actually dealing with planets in our solar system. But when contradictory evidence comes only in a few isolated packages, it is not yet time to change a whole philosophy. Only when one has been bombarded with contrary evidence, when nothing that Swedenborg expected has turned out to be true, does one look for a whole new way of understanding his experiences. Swedenborg actually saw the beginning of the contrary trend; but at that point he had no reason to believe that he was facing more than a few temporary puzzles.

In addition to this, there were some general limitations on his results. Very little of the physical information that Swedenborg acquired about other planets could be checked by astronomers. Most of the things he describes are trees, animals, dwellings, and other things that are very local. Of the few statements that could have been checked through the telescope, none uniquely identifies the planet it refers to; it is either too vague, it could have been attributed to planets somewhere else, or it was already contradicted by astronomers. We have just seen all those of the latter kind.

That may help us understand why the subject of life elsewhere in the universe plays so small a role in his theology, in spite of its intrinsic interest. He may have decided that the subject presented too many difficulties and uncertainties to justify more time and energy.

Furthermore, the angels were undoubtedly not primarily interested in the planets. The planets were instead only indices or signposts to the real objects of their interest, the planetary regions in the local group.

As long as astronomy could give them usable leads, the angels could move the boundaries of their consciousness (and eventually the boundaries of ours) far out into our common spiritual environment. What was important to them was the growth of the world of the mind and the heart. If that could be managed, the accuracy of statements about the planets was not a primary concern.

It was undoubtedly Swedenborg, then, who was intrigued by the scientific possibilities and wanted to extract from his experiences some elements of an exotic planetary science. Sometimes called "the wonderful one,"23 he was the only person who was able to live in both worlds at once. That placed him in an ideal position to pursue an old and worthy love; he had always tried to find ways to see the divine in nature, and it would have been characteristic of him to explore the spiritual life of people from other planets and then try to locate it in its material environment.

One major question remains, held over from several pages back: if the local group doesn't contain people from elsewhere in our solar system, then whom does it contain?

In recent decades, studies of interstellar clouds and the processes that create stars within them have revealed an intriguing process. We now know that suns are typically created in groups. For example, a star near a huge interstellar cloud will explode and send a wave of gasses and material from its outer layers slamming into the cloud along a broad front. The impact will jostle the cloud enough to cause its denser regions to contract under their own gravity. Over a long period of time, these regions will condense into hot protosuns and begin thermonuclear burning. If the cloud is composed of grains and molecules of elements much heavier than hydrogen and helium, planets will form around the new suns.

Undoubtedly our solar system is typical. But in the five billion years of its existence, it has been around the galaxy about twenty times. Our sister systems have drifted apart and are by now spread all around the galaxy. In the spiritual world, however, all inhabited planets in these systems would have planetary regions in more or less the same area. Our common origin has given us a family resemblance -- which amounts to a common theme -- although it comes from a number of suns, not just one. And it should have inadvertently given Swedenborg a basis for his own ideas.

Some Final Comments

Very early in this paper, we saw how attempts to defend Earths in the Universe were typically somewhat dangerous to the book. I commented that we nevertheless do not seem to be able to avoid that. I can only plead here that if Swedenborg put his thesis together very much as would a man of his time, then the inaccuracies of the book are very understandable and reflect less on him than outright errors in his judgments or his ability to keep track of his subject. It is just extremely difficult to get outside of one's one time, and there are even reasons why one should not. In the light of that thought, he handled his data and his task very well.

People often wonder if errors of fact in the book imply something terrible about Swedenborg's spiritual experiences. The evidence indicates that the errors have to do with special problems in the relationship between spiritual experience and knowledge of the natural world. Only in Earths in the Universe does Swedenborg try to tie his spiritual experiences so closely to a science. At the time, astronomy and natural philosophy were riding high; the dominant ideas were delightfully religious and the opposition was unusually quiet. At no time before or since has it been so clear that a bold attempt to bring the transcendent to bear on an established science could be enlightening. The fact that it still wasn't enlightening has surprised everyone.

The argument all along in this paper has been that if there are running similarities between Swedenborg's picture of the solar system and the views of astronomers and philosophers of his time, then we must look for influences, or an exchange of ideas and feelings, between them. If such a relationship then helps us to penetrate the old and frustrating mysteries that disappointed (and intrigued) Swedenborg's students, we have every reason to consider the lines of argument that result.

We have seen evidence that Swedenborg relied on the scientific ideas of his time even when they were wrong. His dependence on the sciences is apparent in many places in his theological writings, not just in Earths in the Universe. His belief in spontaneous generation (a theory that was disproved by Louis Pasteur in the late nineteenth century), his ideas about ether, matter, the primacy of suns in the natural realm, his cosmological ideas, and others, are shared with the scientific investigators of his time, except in cases where his own work as a scientist pushed some concepts in a different direction.

That would of course be possible only if no better science, particularly one from the spiritual world, was at hand. We then have to consider the possibility that the spiritual world does not give scientific revelations at all. Some observations have come into play which already suggest that: the planets cannot be seen in the spiritual world, and the angels in particular cannot think in material terms.

It looks as though each world is the preferred source of information about itself. The spiritual and natural worlds do not detect events and conditions in each other without a high probability of error. We rely on angels, or people with a strong presence in the spiritual realm, to map spiritual reality for us; that is an old thought. But we must now consider the possibility that the angels also depend on us for information about the natural world. If so, we will only get our own ideas back when we ask the spiritual world for scientific information.

It is a principle of Swedenborg's philosophy that higher things can see lower things -- truth can see falsity, good can detect and govern evil, and spirit can produce and control nature. That now seems to be quite true in the individual soul, and in divine actions, but not true in a sense that would satisfy the needs of an angelic science. When an angel looks down toward nature, he would encounter a horizon problem: for reasons slightly analogous to those which keep an observer in New York from seeing England, an angel's vision fades. He can see how the spirits of men and women in the world are affected by their experiences, and he can on occasion see the world through someone's eyes.24 But for systematic study of the natural realm, nothing has replaced the natural sciences.

But if the natural world cannot be studied directly from the spiritual world, might it not be possible to predict the precise character of the natural world from spiritual principles? There is a fascinating discussion of the origin of the sun in Conjugial Love n. 380. Swedenborg and an angel argue vehemently with a philosophical spirit for the principle that the center creates the expanse and not the other way around. The philosopher loses the argument, but Swedenborg lived too early to see the irony in it: the philosopher was right. Suns (and solar systems) are created from a preceding expanse; we have seen the process occur in many places, such as the spectacular nebula in Orion, where new suns are emerging from a huge surrounding cloud.

The lesson here may be that spirit does not produce a natural world without revealing aspects of itself that are not revealed when producing a spiritual world. Those hidden aspects may have a curious tendency to reverse known spiritual processes. Swedenborg was aware that matter reacts against spirit and contains it, just as the rind on fruit keeps the fruit from spilling out formlessly.25 But he may not have been aware of the precise ways in which that would occur. It seems that only the sciences can eventually tell us what spirit is actually doing in nature.

1 If our solar system is average, then the failure of I planet in 9 to go to its full term implies a failure rate of 1 1% elsewhere.

2 Dick. StevenJ., Plurality of Worlds, The Origin of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate from Democritus to Kant, New York: Cambridge University Press. 1982, p. 77.

3 Ibid.. pp. 97-105.

4 Ibid., p. 119.

5 Ibid. p. 149.

6 Ibid. p. 151. 7 Ibid. p. 139.

8 In his book The Copernican Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1957), Thomas Kuhn comments, "Copernicus tried to design an essentially Aristotelian universe around a moving earth, but he failed. His followers saw the full consequences of his innovation, and the entire Aristotelian structure crumbled." (p. 84.)

9 For more discussion of this and related points, see my "What Is Happening to Swedenborg's Cosmological Principle?" Studia Swedenborgiana, Vol. 4, No. 3, January, 1982

10 U 86.

11 U 168; see also Lastfudgment and Babylon Destroyed, n. 27.

12 A 6701.

13 D 5065. See D 5204-6 for more details

14 U 42. 105. A 1869.

15 Ten moons were known. Earth had one, Jupiter had four, and Saturn had five. Since then, two have been added to Mars, twelve more have been added to Jupiter, and fifteen more have been added to Saturn.

If the number of moons in the scenario was more than ten, then the eventual discovery of more moons would be predictable; if the number was less than ten, then some moons would have to be declared bogus. In either case, the news would have been dramatic; Swedenborg's silence about the number of moons therefore suggests that only the currently known moons were known to spirits and angels.

16 D 1577, 2285, 2356, 2609, 3356-7, 3916, A 1876.

17 U 136, D 4663

18 See U 127, 138, 158, and A10585.

19 See also D 5531. I suspect that we have yet to contemplate the full range of relativistic phenomena in the spiritual world. Swedenborg describcs most phenomena visually, and we have only to ask how they might also be experienced tactually or aurally. Depending on the observer, even what a person's body is doing (which is also a part of the scene) will be a matter of opinion.

20 The same process has been detected in scientific revolutions as well See Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a brilliant discussion of what causes the mind to change, and what the mind then perceives. (University of Chicago Press, 1962.)

21 U 104, A 8951-2. I asked Dr. George Dole to give me his translation of the description of Saturn's rings in U 104: He suggested that the snowy light appeared "'with shifting orientation." The Standard Edition says that it appeared "in various directions," and the Rotch Edition says that it appeared "varying in direction."

22 D 583.

23 D 102.

24 D 186, 203, 1905.5, A 1880.

25 W 260-3.