Using Swedenborg to Understand the Quantum World III: Thoughts and Forms
By Ian Thompson, PhD, Nuclear Physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
In this series of posts, Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences has been shown to have interesting applications for helping us to better understand the quantum world.
In part I, we learned that our mental processes occur at variable finite intervals and that they consist of desire, or love, acting by means of thoughts and intentions to produce physical effects. We in turn came to see the correspondential relationship between these mental events and such physical events that occur on a quantum level: in both cases, there will be time gaps between the events leading up to the physical outcome. So since we find that physical events occur in finite steps rather than continuously, we are led to expect a quantum world rather than a world described by classical physics.
In part II, we saw that the main similarity between desire (mental) and energy (physical) is that they both persist between events, which means that they are substances and therefore have the capability, or disposition, for action or interaction within the time gaps between those events.
Now we come to the question of how it is that these substances persist during the intervals between events. The events are the actual selection of what happens, so after the causing event and before the resultant effect, what occurs is the exploring of “possibilities for what might happen.” With regard to our mental processes, this exploration of possibilities is what we recognize as thinking. Swedenborg explains in detail how this very process of thinking is the way love gets ready to do things (rather than love being a byproduct of the thinking process, as Descartes would require):
Everyone sees that discernment is the vessel of wisdom, but not many see that volition is the vessel of love. This is because our volition does nothing by itself, but acts through our discernment. It first branches off into a desire and vanishes in doing so, and a desire is noticeable only through a kind of unconscious pleasure in thinking, talking, and acting. We can still see that love is the source because we all intend what we love and do not intend what we do not love. (Divine Love and Wisdom §364)
When we realize we want something, the next step is to work out how to do it. We first think of the specific objective and then of all the intermediate steps to be taken in order to achieve it. We may also think about alternative steps and the pros and cons of following those different routes. In short, thinking is the exploration of “possibilities for action.” As all of this thinking speaks very clearly to the specific objective at hand, it can be seen as supporting our motivating love, which is one of the primary functions of thought. A focused thinking process such as this can be seen, simplified, in many kinds of animal activities.
With humans, however, thinking goes beyond that tight role of supporting love and develops a scope of its own. Not only do our thoughts explore possibilities for action, but they also explore the more abstract “possibilities for those possibilities.” Not only do we think about how to get a drink, but we also, for example, think about the size of the container, how much liquid it contains, and how far it is from where we are at that moment! When we get into such details as volume and distance, we discover that mathematics is the exploration of “possibilities of all kinds,” whether they are possibilities for action or not. So taken as a whole, thought is the exploration of all the many possibilities in the world, whether or not they are for action and even whether or not they are for actual things.
For physical things (material objects), this exploration of possibilities is spreading over the possible places and times for interactions or selections. Here, quantum physics has done a whole lot of work already. Physicists have discovered that the possibilities for physical interactions are best described by the wave function of quantum mechanics. The wave function describes all the events that are possible, as well as all the propensities and probabilities for those events to happen. According to German physicist Max Born, the probability of an event in a particular region can be determined by an integral property of the wave function over that region. Energy is the substance that persists between physical events, and all physical processes are driven by energy. In quantum mechanics, this energy is what is responsible for making the wave function change through time, as formulated by the Schrodinger equation, which is the fundamental equation of quantum physics.
Returning now to Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences, we recognize that the something physical like thoughts in the mind are the shapes of wave functions in quantum physics. In Swedenborg’s own words:
When I have been thinking, the material ideas in my thought have presented themselves so to speak in the middle of a wave-like motion. I have noticed that the wave was made up of nothing other than such ideas as had become attached to the particular matter in my memory that I was thinking about, and that a person’s entire thought is seen by spirits in this way. But nothing else enters that person’s awareness then apart from what is in the middle which has presented itself as a material idea. I have likened that wave round about to spiritual wings which serve to raise the particular matter the person is thinking about up out of his memory. And in this way the person becomes aware of that matter. The surrounding material in which the wave-like motion takes place contained countless things that harmonized with the matter I was thinking about. (Arcana Coelestia §6200)
Many people who have tried to understand the significance of quantum physics have noted that the wave function could be described as behaving like a non-spatial realm of consciousness. Some of these people have even wanted to say that the quantum wave function is a realm of consciousness, that physics has revealed the role of consciousness in the world, or that physics has discovered quantum consciousness.
However, using Swedenborg’s ideas to guide us, we can see that the wave function in physics corresponds to the thoughts in our consciousness. They have similar roles in the making of events: both thoughts and wave functions explore the “possibilities, propensities, and probabilities for action.” They are not the same, but they instead follow similar patterns and have similar functions within their respective realms. Thoughts are the way that desire explores the possibilities for the making of intentions and their related physical outcomes, and wave functions are the way that energy explores the possibilities for the making of physical events on a quantum level.
The philosophers of physics have been puzzled for a long time about the substance of physical things, especially that of things in the quantum realm. From our discussion here, we see that energy (or propensity) is also the substance of physical things in the quantum realm and that the wave function, then, is the form that such a quantum substance takes. The wave function describes the shape of energy (or propensity) in space and time. We can recognize, as Aristotle first did, that a substantial change has occurred when a substance comes into existence by virtue of the matter of that substance acquiring some form. That still applies to quantum mechanics, we now find, even though many philosophers have been desperately constructing more extreme ideas to try to understand quantum objects, such as relationalism or the many-worlds interpretation.
So what, then, is this matter of energy (desire, or love)? Is it from the Divine? Swedenborg would say as much:
It is because the very essence of the Divine is love and wisdom that we have two abilities of life. From the one we get our discernment, and from the other volition. Our discernment is supplied entirely by an inflow of wisdom from God, while our volition is supplied entirely by an inflow of love from God. Our failures to be appropriately wise and appropriately loving do not take these abilities away from us. They only close them off; and as long as they do, while we may call our discernment “discernment” and our volition “volition,” essentially they are not. So if these abilities really were taken away from us, everything human about us would be destroyed—our thinking and the speech that results from thought, and our purposing and the actions that result from purpose. We can see from this that the divine nature within us dwells in these two abilities, in our ability to be wise and our ability to love. (Divine Love and Wisdom §30)
When seeing things as made from substance—from the energy (or desire) that endures between events and thereby creates further events—we note that people will tend to speculate about “pure love” or “pure energy”: a love or energy without form that has no particular objective but can be used for anything. But this cannot be. In physics, there never exists any such pure energy but only energy in specific forms, such as the quantum particles described by a wave function. Any existing physical energy must be the propensity for specific kinds of interactions, since it must exist in some form. Similarly, there never exists a thing called “pure love.” The expression “pure love” makes sense only with respect to the idea of innocent, or undefiled, love, not to love without an object. Remember that “our volition [which is the vessel of love] does nothing by itself, but acts through our discernment.”
Ian Thompson is also the author of Starting Science from God, as well as Nuclear Reactions in Astrophysics(Univ. of Cambridge Press) and more than two hundred refereed professional articles in nuclear physics.
 Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schrodinger_equation.
 Secrets of Heaven is the New Century Edition translation of Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia.
 See, for example, https://quantum-mind.co.uk.
 Howard Robinson, “Substance,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/substance.
 Thomas Ainsworth, “Form vs. Matter,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/form-matter/.
 Michael Epperson, “Quantum Mechanics and Relational Realism: Logical Causality and Wave Function Collapse,” Process Studies 38.2 (2009): 339–366.
 J. A. Barrett, “Quantum Worlds,” Principia 20.1 (2016): 45–60.