Scientific Achievements

Swedenborg has been rightly called "the last of the universal scholars." It was possible in the eighteenth century for a highly gifted individual to cover all the fields of the then known science. This is what Emanuel proceeded to do. He mastered one area after another making outstanding contributions in all of them. He also laid the foundation of several new sciences, including that of crystallography. In working his way through the sciences he studied mathematics, chemistry, engineering, physics, mineralogy, geology, palaeontology, anatomy, astronomy, metallurgy, cosmology, cosmogony, and psychology. By the age of sixty-one he had written a hundred papers - some book length, some brief - in these various disciplines

Modern experimentation, particularly in the field of atomic energy, has confirmed many of Emanuel's cosmological speculations. Svante Arrhenius, Nobel Prize chemist and founder of the 20th Century science of physical chemistry, concluded that Buffon, Kant, La Place, Wright and Lambert all set forth systems of creation which had been earlier suggested by Swedenborg in his Principia, so that rightfully the credit for first formulating a nebular hypothesis belongs to him.

M. Dumas distinctly ascribes the origin of the modern science of crystallography to Swedenborg. "It is then to him that we are indebted for the first idea of making cubes, tetrahedrons, pyramids, and the different crystalline forms by grouping the spheres". Magnetism absorbed much of Emanuel's attention at different periods of his life, and he is credited with anticipating many modern discoveries. Fifty years after the publication of Swedenborg's Opera Philosophica, speaking to a report of a commission to Louis XV that there did not yet exist any theory of the magnet, the Marquis de Thome responded indignantly and at length, declaring that the Opera Philosophica of Swedenborg was held in high esteem in all Europe and that the most celebrated men had "not disdained to draw materials from it to assist them in their work"; that "the theory of the Swedish author is a true theory of the magnet and all magnetism".

In his address as President of the International Congress of Anatomists in May 1903, Professor Gustaf Retzius drew attention to some of Swedenborg's extraordinary anticipations of modern science. The more than a hundred of the leading anatomists of Europe present were astonished at the facts placed before them. They were unaware that Swedenborg had localized several functions of the brain. Sensation was created when it was stated that in his work on the brain Swedenborg was more than a century ahead of modern anatomists. Of one of these discoveries it was said "He leaped a whole century ahead of his age by the announcement of another discovery, for he was the first to show that the cortical substance of the brain is the exclusive seat of higher physical activity, the point of attack of the soul."

"It is both curious and satisfying to observe that medical authorities have been for ages approximating to some of the principles put forth by Swedenborg. I cite one of these cases, the influence of the respiratory movements on and their propagation to the viscera and to the whole body. The law that the body in general and in particular respires with the lungs - that the perpetuation of all the functions and, in a word, corporeal life, depends on the universality of this action, as a law - is peculiar to Swedenborg. Another principle discovered by Swedenborg is the permeability of membranes, and the circulation of fluids through them in determinate channels. Some of the details of this are now grouped under the names of "Endosmosis" and "Exomosis" - two phenomena that are thought to be discoveries of the present day.

Emanuel was not only ahead of his age in science but in the use he made of his knowledge, for his physiological studies were only undertaken as a basis for his profound psychological speculations. Coventry Patmore truly observes, "We have had only one psychologist and human physiologist, at least only one who had published his knowledge, for at least a thousand years, namely, Swedenborg."

Emanuel may not have been aware that he was taking a giant step forward when he began in 1744 to describe mental experiences directly. This study is now called phenomenology. [It gathers raw data of experience and attempts to observe, understand and describe human experience itself.] He began writing down and interpreting his own dreams. His understanding of the structure of dream language two centuries ago is still ahead of what ours is today. Sigmund Freud is credited with a psychology based upon the interpreting of dreams, yet Swedenborg's treatment of the same phenomena more than anticipates his, as witness the Journal of Dreams and the Spiritual Diary.

Since childhood Emanuel had practiced a way of suspending breathing, and of drawing his attention inward, in what the East calls Pranayama and Pratjahara, limbs of Raja Yoga practice. He followed this way of intensifying inner processes. He did the most detailed and revealing study of the hypnogogic state ever done before or since. He explored the inward realm perhaps more than anyone else in the western world.

If there are any doubts about Emanuel's perceptive mind and his extraordinary contributions to civilization, we only need look at his inventions and discoveries. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, the impressive thing is the diversity:

  • Drawings for an Underwater Ship [forerunner of the submarine]
  • Drawings for a heavier - than - air Flying Machine [a model of which is in the Smithsonian Institute]. You can see drawings of it below or view a Chart which includes Swedenborg's proposal in the History of Flight.
  • Construction of Sluices to raise ships to any height
  • Produced an Airtight, Hot Air Stove once in common use
  • Constructed the first Mercurial Air Pump
  • Simple Jack
  • Hoisting and Shift Machine (see graphic below)
  • Crane
  • New construction of an Air Gun
  • Traction Machine
  • Drawbridge which opens and closes from within the gates and walls
  • A Tank for testing ships
  • Ear Trumpet for the deaf
Two sketches of Swedenborg’s Aircraft

Machine for raising ore, invented circa 1715.

His principle scientific attainments: First to propound a "Nebular Hypothesis", discoveries founded the science of Crystallography, anticipated the Doctrine of Energy, discovered functions of corpora striata and motor areas of cerebral lobes, Suggested particle construction of the magnet, discovered that the brain animates synchronously with the lungs, discovered function of the ductless glands, wrote and published first Swedish Algebra, first with hypothesis of numerous galaxies, researches founded science of Geology in Sweden, first exhaustive works on Metallurgy, discovered circulation and uses of the cerebrospinal fluid.

We are at a disadvantage to form a just estimate of Swedenborg's contributions in these areas as many of his hypotheses, discoveries, research, and leading edge probings, have until recently been credited to others.