THE NATURAL BASIS
SEEING AND UNDERSTANDING REQUIRE THE LIGHT OF TRUTH FROM GOD
Sight corresponds to many mental concepts connected with under-standing
16. It has already been noted (No. 9) that even in ordinary conversation "to see" often means "to understand." The Writings make it clear in Arcana Coelestia (AC) that sight is universally accepted as a symbol of understanding because there is, in the human race, an awareness, though often vague and weak and sometimes denied, of the most pervading effects of the spiritual world (AC 4406). So sight is more than a mere symbol of understanding because it is an actual correspondence. In fact, the closeness of the correspondence and its acceptance into the language make it difficult to write about understanding without using correspondences based on sight and light. This can be seen (!) from a short list of words frequently used in relation to mental things, e.g.: clear, dull, bright, short-sighted, point-of-view, imagine (from image), project, show, outline, adumbrate, black-and-white.
17. The complete process of seeing also involves understanding even on the natural level, for, unless the patterns of light, shade, colour, and the stereoscopic results of using two eyes are properly interpreted, there will be no apprehension of the surroundings; no real seeing. It is therefore true to say that sight not only corresponds to the understanding, but that it is understanding, though of a limited kind. This is confirmed by the experience of those born blind and later cured by modern surgery. They need to learn what the patterns on their retina mean and to connect them with their previous experience through the other senses.
18. At the level of being able to interpret the patterns on the retina, we have much in common with the animals, whose bodily processes are like our own; but in addition we have more interior (i.e., spiritual) things that correspond precisely with bodily processes. Thus we read that unless man's interior sight,
continually inflowed into his outer sight, which is that of the eye, this latter could not possibly apprehend and discern any object…It is his [man's] spirit that sees, not his eye; the spirit sees through the eye…The case is the very same in regard to this interior sight, or that of the spirit; this again does not see from itself, but from a still more interior sight, or that of man's Rational. Nay, neither does this see of itself, but does so from a still more internal sight, which is that of the internal…man. And even this does not see of itself, for it is the Lord who seesSeeing leads the attention away from self into the surroundings and can even make a man feel as though the spirit is being led out of the body
19. Sight can only take place when the eye and the brain function together,
and when they do so they constitute a complicated device by which the outside
surroundings are as it were brought right into the brain. There is no communication
between the separate strands of the optic nerve; they do not divide and rejoin,
though it has recently become clear that their inputs are to some extent integrated
in the lateral geniculate bodies (See No. 369) and possibly modified from an
inflow from the cerebral cortex. Even so, the pictures on the retinae are transferred
as a pattern of some kind to the visual cortex, and in the brain there is therefore
a stereoscopic representation of the surroundings: a little world in the head
corresponding to the big world outside. It is as though we take the environment
into ourselves and this, from the point of view of our own experience, is like
flowing out of ourselves and pouring and spreading our being into the surroundings.
We feel as though we are in the scene
20. This is an emotional, not a factual, experience, but it may have its roots also in correspondence; when we study the internal, i.e. spiritual, sense of "He led him forth abroad and said, `Look now toward heaven'…" we learn that the eye "is properly nothing but the sight of his spirit led forth abroad" (Gen. 15:5; AC 1806). This inward sight occurs whenever things seen by the eye of the body lead the man to think of things concerning the Church or heaven. Perhaps it is not straining the meaning of correspondences to think that by means of the understanding one is liberated and led out of oneself to explore the natural or spiritual world.
21. It was suggested above that the process of seeing is, as it were, a taking of our environment into our own brain (No. 19). This in turn suggests by correspondences that even in this world the spiritual function of the understanding is to take into the personality a true, useful, necessary representation of spiritual objects in the form of truths. The analogy of sight shows that by understanding these things we are not so much explaining to ourselves how they work as taking them into ourselves in the form of adequate images. An image is adequate when it enables the man to appreciate the real thing and to act appropriately towards it. Thus the humiliating fact is that we can have no real genuine truth in ourselves. We can comprehend only a mere image. Genuine truth is always limited by our own understanding or spiritual sight. Nevertheless, the image is formed according to the orderly way provided by the Lord who designed the eye and also gives the light.
22. No one can know the excellence, paucity, or limitations of his own or his companion's sight unless he knows what there is to be seen. It is the same with the corresponding faculty of the understanding. It is, as already mentioned, the function of the understanding to take in truths and to think about them. We have already considered how the eye takes into the brain an image of its surroundings, by means of light. Similarly, there is a spiritual light which enables the understanding to function. This also is called truth (because of the inadequacy of language). In order to explore the correspondences of sight and understanding we need to turn our attention, for a while, to truth.
23. It is a remarkable fact, and, to those who are unfamiliar
with the Writings, somewhat of a puzzle, that the internal or spiritual sense
of the Word is so often shown to be merely truth, or concerning truth. It is
even said in the Writings that everything has relation to good and truth (AC
4409) and, further, that truth is the form of good (AC 3049). This means that,
as to essentials, everything is good. Such a general statement needs particulars
to make the meaning richer.
24. Truth itself is an empty abstraction. Without some connection with good or use it means nothing. Therefore let us consider good for a moment. The purpose of truth (or its use) is that we may receive good. The Lord is good. It is His aim to bring us nearer to Himself so that we may delight in His good. As truth is the form of good, we may make use of the truth; by studying it with love and reverence we may approach a little nearer to the good which is its essence, and so to a life in which the truth is obeyed because the good within it is loved.
25. Truth is often thought to be a simple thing. It is so considered in the Courts of Law: "the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth…etc." People tend to think like this because they tend to confuse truthfulness with truth in spite of knowing that there are many truths. Correspondences show that there are many different kinds of truth. For example, stone, iron, silver, water, light, a son, a king, all correspond to truth, and as correspondences are not merely fanciful poetic metaphors but are the relation between natural things and the spiritual things that cause them, it must follow that there is a wide variety of truths. That which produces light cannot be the same as that which produces a stone, even though physics shows us the interconversion of matter and energy.
26. It is perhaps useful to begin a consideration of truth by taking it first at its lowest level. This level probably corresponds to stone. (Yet there are also many kinds of stone. Even gems are only stones; but at the moment we think of common pebbles or pieces of rock.) The lowest level of truth is the property of an ordinary factual statement, that it is true. It is interesting to note that even at this level the truth is abstract, but the test of it is concrete! At this level the statement to be tested will be about concrete things, and if the statement is true it can be used to plan successful manipulations of concrete things. For example, it is true that ice will melt if warmed above zero degrees Centigrade. So the Eskimo knows how to get a drink. It is also true that ice will melt a little below zero degrees Centigrade if salt is added to it. So after a frost, the skidding of a motor vehicle can be controlled because of the abstract quality of the truth in this statement.
27. We now contrast the lowest factual truths with the highest idea of truth that is available to us. The Lord Himself says that He is the truth and that He is the light. We learn also from the Writings that the Divine Wisdom goes forth from the spiritual sun (in which the Lord is) as light; yet it is not Wisdom alone, for as it proceeds, it is perfectly united with Love. This kind of Wisdom, Truth and Love is far more than a mere abstraction. We are accustomed through the Writings to think that the Lord Himself is in, or actually is His Love and Wisdom. For example, "as all Love is from the Lord it is the Lord Himself" (AC 1873); and "the things that are from Him, or which are of Him, are also Himself" (AC 10,336). Now this may be a difficult concept. How can that which proceeds from the Lord be the Lord Himself? Obviously, such Divine things will always be beyond our grasp and the Writings warn us not to try too hard to grasp them. For example we read: "But how the Divine Good of the Lord's Divine Love is accommodated to reception cannot be known by anyone, not even by the angels in heaven, because it is an accommodation of the Infinite to the finite; and the Infinite is such as to transcend all finite intelligence, so much so that when the understanding of the finite desires to direct its intuition thither it falls like one who falls into the depths of the sea and perishes" (AC 8644). Such a warning does not mean, however, that we are not to attempt to form some ideas about the subject, and we are instructed that correspondences are the means whereby we can form such ideas (AC 9300).
28. The Writings frequently use the correspondence of the natural sun to explain the nature of the spiritual Sun, of the Divine Good of the Divine Love which is in it, and of the Divine Truth and Divine Good which are from it. Thus we may use our knowledge of the sun and its light to help us visualize something of the Divine Love and Wisdom even if we can never fully understand them. We may, for example, form an idea of how that which proceeds from the Lord can also be the Lord Himself. We first call to mind the present general ideas in physics about the conversion of matter into energy and Einstein's famous equation (Energy = Mass multiplied by square of velocity of light). From this, we think about the sun where matter is converted into energy and is radiated. Thus every bit of sunshine we receive is really a little bit of the sun itself, which means that the sun is busily making itself into innumerable little packets (quanta) which travel out across space (but the packets are so small and so numerous that the light appears continuous). Similarly, but more perfectly, The Lord is able to send us something of Himself in His truth and good. As we can not be near the sun but must have the sunshine accommodated for our reception, so also the Lord's Love and Wisdom must be accommodated to our reception. There is much difference, however, between every natural thing and every corresponding spiritual thing. Thus the sun will expend itself and be used up in x million years, but the Lord is infinite. Nevertheless, the fantastically huge amount of energy in the sun compared with the tiny quantity we need for sight can give us an idea of the Lord's infinity; for although the sun is finite, the number of quanta it can produce is so large that for practical purposes we regard it as inexhaustible and thus, as it were, infinite.
29. In providing us with "inexhaustible" warmth and light (including that stored in fossil fuels), the sun is like an image of the Lord's Love. He has made a device which shall show His Love on the natural plane. Its distance from us, the intervening atmosphere, and especially clouds, show how the Lord accommodates His Love and Wisdom to our reception for the sake of our freedom. In His creation, especially in the sun, we see the Lord striving with all His power to show us His Love, to woo us to Himself. Yet, at the same time, He withdraws and hides lest His ardour should wipe us out or destroy our freedom, converting us into automata in which there could be no joy of life.
30. Returning now to the correspondence between the sun's radiation and the Divine Truth, we see that the highest kind of truth is something of the Lord that is continually flowing towards all of us, as AC 9399 states: "for the Divine Truth which is from the Lord flows in continually with man." We learn about its properties in many places in the Writings, e.g., AC 6032. We find that this Divine Truth not only illuminates the mind of man but also constitutes his intellectual or his internal sight which is understanding (AC 9399). It adapts or fits every one for reception. Without it man would be unable to perceive or understand anything whatever.
31. Even with the fallen natural man, the faculty of thinking and speaking depended upon the influx of such spiritual light "as could enter as it were through chinks" (AC 3167). Moreover, the evil spirits in the other life see by the light of heaven, except that with them it is changed into a light like that from a charcoal fire (AC 3195).
32. Even in hell the light still comes originally from the Lord, but by so many derivations that its character is changed. (We know that coal contains solar energy trapped by plants that have then become fossilized) (AC 4531).
33. It is obvious that in ordinary daylight we see by the sun's light, even if it is diffused by clouds or reflected from the walls of a room. In the same way, the image on our spiritual retina is formed by the radiating Divine Truth after it has been reflected by spiritual objects which are truths. Our spiritual eyes cannot otherwise receive this form of Divine Truth, just as we cannot gaze at the sun without being blinded. Many truths are necessary to provide a healthy spiritual environment, as well as beneficent scenery. Doctrine provides such truths; the Divine Truth shines on them and our understanding accepts an image of them. This concept is explained in beautiful and vivid language in AC 8707, part of which is as follows:
The understanding which the man of the spiritual church has is from the immediate influx of Truth from the Lord, from which there is no apperception of truth, but a light which gives the capacity of understanding. It is with this light as with the light of the sight of the eye; in order that the eye may see objects, there must be a light from which there is general illumination. In this light the eye sees and discerns objects, and is affected with beauty and delight according to their conformity with order. The case is similar with the sight of the internal eye, which is the understanding; in order that this may see, there must also be a light from which there is general illumination, in which appear the objects which are the things of intelligence and wisdom. This light is from the Divine Truth which proceeds immediately from the Lord (see AC 8644e). The objects presented in this light appear beautiful and delightful according to their conformity with the good anyone has.The last remark shows that the image we form for ourselves is always more or less inadequate since no one is perfect, but as our spiritual sight grows stronger the image becomes less inadequate. As our lives improve we move into regions where the Divine Sun is less obscured by clouds or the day advances and the light grows stronger.
34. In all our seeing it is really the Lord who is coming, in the form of His Light, into our understandings. The reflection of daylight by objects in the world does not destroy the daylight. Neither is the Lord's light destroyed by reflection from the truths of His Word, by which He chooses to reveal Himself. It is solely by His light that these truths can be seen, and they are there so that they may reflect His Light. Our attention focusses the light on the retina which then gives an image of the truths. The image even gives the relationships among the truths, which are near each other, above, below, behind, joined, or separated. This image is not the same as the truths themselves. In some ways it is less. In another way, it is more, for it is formed by the Divine Light. We have, then, in our "eye" not the truths but something of the Lord sent to us via the truths. In such a way even incorrect beliefs can mediate to us something of the Light which is the Lord, providing we are living where the Daylight is.
35. There seem to be no words for this substance that flows out from the Lord other than spiritual light or Divine Truth. We usually think of Divine Truth in connection with salvation and spiritual and celestial things. It seems very different from that quality in man which distinguishes a fact from a non-fact but, all the same, it is that exact quality.
36. The interior sight referred to here (Nos. 31-35) is the sight of the spirit, i.e., intellectual sight, which, as we have seen, is understanding. Thus we arrive once more at the point of AC 9399, namely, that without Divine Truth man would be unable to perceive and understand anything whatever.
&37. We are now in a position to notice clearly the difference between facts and Divine Truth. The facts are the objects of the internal sight. Divine Truth is the light by which they are seen. The same applies to spiritual things. They also appear only in the Divine Light but in a brighter light by which only those who are in love to the Lord can see.
&38. So we have the Truth which is the light and the truths which are the objects seen by that light. (These objects are really goods, but truths are their forms and appearances.) Since truths are innumerable there is no limit to the variety of intellectual objects that may be seen. There is only one Truth by which they are seen. This is the light "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9).