THE NATURAL BASIS
THE BRAIN--PART 2
The control of the body through the infundibulum and hypophysis cerebri is like the mediate presence of the Lord
308. The infundibulum and hypophysis cerebri or pituitary gland are
small organs of great interest. They are attached to the base of the brain,
the infundibulum being part of the brain itself for it contains many neurons
and the axons of neurons (see No. 271) whose cell bodies are higher in
the brain. The axons convey both nerve impulses and hormones (chemical
messengers) to the hypophysis cerebri or pituitary gland which is like
a small knob at the narrow end of the funnel-shaped infundibulum. See Figures
18 and 16. When the hormones reach the hypophysis they are either released
into the blood or they control the synthesis and release of other hormones.
The picture is further complicated by the observation that some of the
messenger hormones travel with the blood in a special system of vessels
that runs only between the brain and the hypophysis cerebri. This latter
is perhaps the most important gland in the whole body in spite of its small
size (It weighs only about 0.5 grams).
Somewhat simplified: the hypophysis cerebri is shown, as are also major structures and some nerves for comparison with the other figures, e.g. olfactory bulbs, optic chiasma (which is a good "landmark"), mamillary bodies, medulla oblongata, cerebrum (See Dr. Berridge's legend, Figure 20). The spinal cord is cut off just below the medulla oblongata.
309. For a time it was uncertain whether genuine
nerves could actually produce hormones, but it has now been settled. The
nerves are real nerve fibres composed of neuron bodies and axons and dendrites.
They produce volleys of electrical impulses in the typical fashion. Those
we are concerned with also synthesize hormones in the main cell body. The
passage of such hormones along the axons to the hypophysis has been demonstrated.
There are still many questions about what follows, but the general picture
of activity in the brain is now accepted: this activity is conducted to
the hypophysis which then affects other glands, which then affect the body.
However there are quite a number of these hormones, and some of them exert
their effect directly instead of affecting other glands. An example is
somatotropin which controls growth in childhood. As already mentioned (No.
308) some of the hormones that are produced in the brain exert their effect
by controlling the production
310. This is the shortest account that can be given of a very complicated physiological unit. It is fascinating in its ramifications and any one who finds it interesting is urged to study it in more detail in the many works that are available. It is particularly interesting at the moment to notice the dual nature of the influx of the brain into the body. On the one hand we have the instantaneous impulses of the nerves; on the other the slow but persistent effects of the hormones. Without the latter the body would not be in a fit condition to respond to the nerve impulses; for although we read that "the whole, that is, the brain and body together, by its origin, exists only from the fibres which proceed from their beginnings in the brains," we also find "that they are fixed by means of such substances and matters as are in the earths…and that this is effected by means of the blood" (DLW 367 and 370). It is perhaps worth more thought than we can give it at present to consider whether this is a correspondence of the immediate and mediate presence of the Lord (AC 9682e). For the brain is present everywhere in the body immediately through the nerves and mediately by means of the hormones of the hypophysis cerebri.
311. Reference was made above to the need for Swedenborg to write according
to the idiom of his time (No. 293). Incidental to our study of the infundibulum,
we find an example of the burdensomeness of this limitation. In the Diary
he writes that it is "so tedious to describe" (SD 9l4e). Such a comment
about a short paragraph made by one who has written so many long volumes
makes us pause. Why was it tedious? Was it because Swedenborg could not
really understand what the angels were trying to tell him? Is this why
he got some parts of it wrong? Is it why he repeated it all over again
in the second half of the paragraph? We notice next that it "was said by
angels to other angels" when in the beginning he says, "I was told." Precision
is not to be expected in private notes probably written in haste. The important
thing is that it was said by angels. The fact that all these things were
done under the Lord's auspices does not mean that every word or idea is
Divinely perfect; these ideas seem not to be the things Swedenborg had
from the Lord alone. It seems more likely that the effect of being under
312. The infundibulum was so named because it is
funnel-shaped. It was assumed at the time (and Swedenborg seems to have
accepted it) that this organ funneled the cerebrospinal fluid into the
hypophysis cerebri where it was processed in various ways. It was a reasonable
assumption by men who had no conception of a hormone, especially as the
cavity of the brain (the third ventricle) extends right down into the hypophysis
in some animals (for example the cat, though not in man, except at an early
stage of the fetus). In his notes already referred to (No. 296), Kenneth
Alden shows that Swedenborg probably thought that considerable volumes
of fluid were processed in, or through, the infundibulum (from Swedenborg's
work The Cerebrum). In SD 831, however, he only says
that a part of the fluid passes into the third ventricle and through the
infundibulum to the pituitary (hypophysis) where it is separated "in a
3-fold manner." "A part" is too indefinite to have much meaning, but in
SD 1798-1800 we find three humours mentioned, the third of which "is collected
in the lateral ventricles of the brain and is discharged through the infundibulum
and so on." This we now know not to be the case. Even the anatomy seems
inaccurate. The lateral ventricles are said to communicate with the third
ventricle through a foramen beneath the pineal gland (stated in SD 914,
implied in SD 831). This, however, is not quite right. Communication is
through two other openings at the anterior end of the third ventricle.
The pineal gland is at the posterior end, and the opening beneath it is
the cerebral aqueduct which leads into the fourth ventricle. There may
be a few other points at variance with present knowledge but it is those
that seem to forecast later discoveries that are of special interest. Figure
18 offers a more modern view of the cerebral ventricles.
313. These entries in the Spiritual Diary are similar to one another; they both deal with the infundibulum and hypophysis cerebri. They are reproduced in part herewith.
Thus when the heterogeneous parts have been cast out from them they return again into heaven, exactly as is the case with the serosity in the ventricles, of which a part, as being the part that is cast off, is absorbed by the choroid plexus, a part transpires elsewhere, a part passes into the third ventricle beneath the pineal gland, and thus through the infundibulum toward the pituitary gland, where it is separated in a three fold manner, and the parts are afterwards carried by various passages, channels and sinuses toward the jugular vein, so that they may be at hand to meet the chyle coming up through the thoracic duct. There the two are consociated and carried toward the heart, thence into the lungs, and so back again into the left ventricle [of the heart], and so on; part is carried towards the head through the carotid arteries; part goes downward towards all the viscera of the body. All of this is to the end that the purer blood or animal spirit may be formed, and thus the red blood; namely, that material things united with spiritual things may effectuate their living a unanimous life. 1748, Feb. 18.315. From the Spiritual Diary No. 914:
I was told that such is the representative of the infundibulum of the brain, the nature of which is evident from its description: namely, that it receives spirits resolved from the blood, and besprinkled on the way with a suitable serum lest they exhale through the pores. They are then carried off through very many paths into the large ventricles, and thence through their own foramen under the pineal gland to the third cleft or ventricle, and from there to the infundibulum and so to the pituitary gland. There they are separated, and by determinate paths they are carried down through their fibres into the ventricles, and then through the infundibulum to the blood, that they may vivify the dry and lifeless blood in the extremities of the sinuses. After this they are born along to the chyle, fresh from the body, and being conjoined therewith in the heart, thus vivify the mass of the blood in the heart. All this, together with the process so tedious to describe, was said by angels to other angels in a moment, almost in a second.316. In thinking about SD 914 we need to understand "spirits resolved from the blood [globules]" and "new spirituous essences." In those days, when proper chemistry was in its infancy and serious scientists could postulate a substance of negative weight (phlogiston), some general term for the mysterious effects of unstable agents was needed: they seemed to evaporate like alcohol or spirits of wine. They certainly disappeared; the chemists could not get hold of them; they could not even condense them as they could spirits of wine. What was more natural than to call them spirituous essences, or just spirits? We still use the word in a variety of ways; there are thirteen meanings for the noun "spirit" given in The Concise Oxford Dictionary. One of these is "animating principle." This is probably the one most frequently applied in discussions of this kind, but it may not always be correct and the chemical meaning should also be remembered. All these considerations apply also to stable substances which eluded chemical recognition either because they were present in amounts too small to be detected by the methods
then available, or because it was not known how to test for them. The vitamins provide examples of both. For the present we will equate "spirits" and "spirituous essences" to the elusive chemicals. "Lest they exhale through the pores" strongly suggests some kinds of evanescent chemical substance. "Animal spirit" carries a different aura (see below, No. 320).
317. When one allows for the impossibility of expressing present knowledge in 18th century terms, one sees that "besprinkled on the way with a suitable serum" describes clearly enough what the neurons do with at least some of the hormones they produce. For example, vasopressin, mentioned above (No. 309) is combined with a much larger molecule of protein and sugar together, from which it is released when it arrives in the blood stream. Similar molecules proper to the blood then protect it until it reaches its spheres of use in the kidney and elsewhere.
318. The phrase "dry and lifeless blood" is an example of semantic difficulty. The meaning is fairly obvious though blood is not dry and it is no less living than arterial blood. As far as we can tell, it is just ordinary venous blood; and the blood sinuses are to the head what the large veins are to the body. Since the hormones in the blood stimulate so many organs to their proper activity, it is easy to conceive of the blood as life-giving in a restricted sense when it has its complement of hormones. In this sense, the hormones may be said to vivify it.
The rest is as we think of it today.
320.In No. 316 just above, we have interpreted "spirits resolved from
the blood" and "new spirituous essences" as elusive chemicals. Alden, however,
seems to equate them to "animal spirits," which, he says, are "agents of
the soul in the body which provide and sustain life in the body" (notes
for the SSA Brain Research Project (Brown, 1979, p. 356)). Animal spirits
would thus differ from hormones, each of which has a more limited function.
Nevertheless the numerous processes that go on in the body which are much
more complicated and interwoven than could have been imagined a short time
ago, have but one objective: "namely, that material things united with
spiritual things may effectuate their living a unanimous life" (SD 831).
It seems reasonable to call this life "animal spirit" or "purer blood,"
for it appears to be the result of a general influx from the spiritual
world, which influx we share with animals. It is true that SD 831 does
not define "animal spirit" as the "unanimous life" of "material things
united with spiritual things." But in searching for a term to cover this
wide general living force or unanimous life from the influx of spiritual
things into material things, we could hardly find a better expression than
"animal spirit," that is to say,
321. The infundibulum, together with the hypophysis cerebri into which it flows, is a supremely important link between the brain and the body (Nos. 308-310). These are the organs through which the brain produces a body in which it can exercise its uses. These organs are therefore a link between the spiritual matters of the brain and the corresponding ultimates of the body. They are a means whereby the brain is ultimated in the body so that later uses can come about on the same ultimate plane. Moreover the spiritual forces in the individual which are received in the brain (in part unconsciously), make for themselves ultimate forms in the body. This process is an image of the way heaven makes for itself a church on earth; or, rather, the way the Lord produces the human race. Secrets of creation here await the wiser Church to come. Thus the infundibulum is of such fundamental importance that its description in the Writings merited the utmost angelic wisdom. Probably such wisdom could be expressed and communicated only in pictorial forms, although we must not fall into the error of imagining them as mere pictures. It is to be understood that they are appearances and that such appearances are more real than things we see in this world (HH 175). A description of appearances is necessarily less adequate than the experience of seeing them, but we can at least supplement the words by a knowledge of representatives. The things that were seen are described as follows.
A certain face was first seen by me above an azure window, but presently withdrew itself within. I then saw a little star near the region of the left eye, and afterwards a number of ruddy little stars that sparkled with white. Afterwards I saw the walls of a house, but no roof, the walls being only on the left side; and lastly I saw as it were the starry heaven. As these things were seen in a place where there were evil ones, I supposed that some hideous sight would be presented to me. But the wall soon disappeared, together with the starry heaven, and then there appeared a well, out of which came forth as it were a great white cloud or vapour; and something also seemed to be pumped up out of the well. I asked what these things signified and represented, and was told that it was a representation of the infundibulum in the brain above which is the brain itself, which was signified by the starry heaven; and that what was next seen was that vessel, signified by the well and called the infundibulum; and323. A few general remarks may now be inserted before the details of representation are considered. First, it is important to notice that the pituitary gland (i.e., hypophysis cerebri) is not mentioned here, although it is included in the parallel passage in the Spiritual Diary. Differences between the Spiritual Diary and Arcana Coelestia provoke thought. They show, possibly, that Swedenborg was better informed when Arcana Coelestia was written, but more especially that Providence was more concerned over the choice of words that were soon to be published. This is not to say that Providence was not over the writing of the Diary, but that there may well have been more of permission for Swedenborg to express himself freely. In the passages now under discussion we note a very important difference. AC 4050 is almost certainly an account of the same experience as that detailed in SD 913 and 914. In the SD account we have "to the infundibulum and so to the pituitary gland." The pituitary gland is very important but it is omitted from AC 4050. Why? Perhaps because of its association at that time with phlegm which
association was completely erroneous and would not have the correct correspondences. Angelic influences would therefore bias Swedenborg against the use of a word which would suggest phlegm to his contemporaries. It is not, however, merely a matter of terms. Another, and quite important reason resulting from the anatomy as we now know it to be, is that nerves of the brain tissue reach right down into parts of the hypophysis cerebri. Also, the glandular tissue belonging to other parts of the hypophysis extends upwards over the outer layers of the infundibulum. There is, therefore, much to be said for the use of a single name and it is clear that both structures could be included in the term "infundibulum" as used in AC 4050. In the discussions below both organs will be considered as one unit.
324. We next consider a peculiarity of AC 4050. As
Alden pointed out, it seems strange that a bodily organ and its fluids
should be the subject of such a vision. Again following Alden, we observe
that Swedenborg "asked" and "was told that it was a representation of the
infundibulum." According to SD 914, it would appear that he was told this
by angels. In this connection one cannot avoid recalling AE 1061 where
an angel explains seven heads of the scarlet beast as meaning seven mountains
and seven kings. This is described as "an explanation in a sense merely
natural in which the spiritual sense lies concealed which is to be unfolded."
The reason for such an explanation was that "the Word in the letter must
be natural, in every particular of which the spiritual sense must be stored
up." AC 4050 seems similar, for what is more natural than the infundibulum,
the brain, and their fluids? This being so, it becomes a useful exercise
to find out whether a spiritual sense can be deduced from the particulars
given. As we are writing, printing, and reading, it will still be a natural
sense, but perhaps it can be what is called in AE 1061 "the natural sense
from the spiritual." It is a simple task to collect correspondences from
Swedenborg's Index to the Arcana, though a little selection has to be exercised.
We obtain the following result:
325. We are now in a position to see how the narrative may signify spiritual things and what those things may be. The withdrawal of the face from the window suggests the departure of interior things from the intellect. Previously, the face above the window must have represented the interiors within the good of the celestial heaven because it was a blue window. We wonder why it was a certain face. Whose? Perhaps it was even the Lord. The stars near the left eye show that, although interior things had withdrawn, truth was nevertheless still from good. This is confirmed by the red and white. The appearance of walls with no roof indicates again the absence (or perhaps remoteness) of inmost things from the intermediates. This is similar to the withdrawal of the face; possibly a correspondence of that withdrawal at this next lower, i.e., intermediate level. As before, these walls being only on the left suggest a continuing trend towards truth and away from good. The starry heaven that was seen last is prefaced by "as it were," as though it were a mere substitute for the genuine angelic heaven. The wall (now only one) and the heaven disappeared presumably because of the presence of evil ones. Clearly the trend away from internal good is continuing. However, instead of the expected hideous sight there appeared a well with a bright white cloud. At this point, therefore, the trend toward evil is halted by the Word in which angelic thoughts are presented at the lower level acceptable to men. Something other than the bright white cloud is pumped out of the well. The later parts of AC 4050 suggest that it may have been something not very nice.
326. This account can now be put together into a sort of historical internal sense which agrees with other parts of the Writings. We are reminded of the decline of the Churches, and it will be clear that the particulars of the vision represent the various states of that decline as described in more detail elsewhere. Thus when the MAC lost internal perception there were still means by which truths could be procured from the remnants of good (the ruddy stars were little ones). Then the intermediate truths lacked good (walls on left only) and the inmost goods (the roof) were missing. Next, as evil states grew, even apparent truths from good (the "as it were" starry heaven) disappeared. The disastrous result of this (a hideous sight) was anticipated, i.e. prevented, by the giving of the Word (a well). The literal sense of the Word is as a cloud, which can be truth accommodated to reception (with some) or obscurity (with others). Since it is a bright white cloud we are led to think that the truth is illuminated from heaven but not very greatly, for it is said "as it were."
327. It is noteworthy that both a well and clouds denote the literal sense of the Word, but in this case it was a bright cloud. In the Spiritual Diary (SD 913) it is said to be like smoke which is hardly seen. These things agree with experience, for there are different levels of the literal sense, some more, some less remote from the spiritual sense.
328. Since bright clouds appear when angelic thoughts descend to a lower level (AC 6614, 6615), we can see that there is here a representation of the flowing of angelic ideas through the ultimates of the Word. The bright cloud seems to come forth of itself, for such is the case when the Word is read by the innocent. That which is pumped up out of the well could be the laborious thought that we sometimes engage in when evils and falsities impede a clear understanding.
329. The above interpretation of the things that represented the infundibulum
and the brain begins, so it seems, a second part of the account. An earlier
passage (AC 3889) describes also an anatomical representation when the
angels formed a similitude of the heart and lungs by following freely the
flow of heaven. The reasons why anatomical details are given such prominence
in the Writings could be: (1) because Swedenborg was specially interested
in anatomy and the things seen in heaven depend on the state of the observer
(HH 156), (2) because heaven is in the human form, (3) because the human
form partakes, to some extent, of the Divine. These three reasons, however,
are only part of the truth. The whole truth is that it is the Lord's human
that is Divine and that from it descends Love-and-Wisdom which carries
every truly human quality in its bosom. Hence there come into existence
very many things, for example mutual love, mutual service, love of the
community, and an indefinitely great number of activities of use at many
different levels, all expressing nearly or remotely a love to the Lord.
The interplay of all
330. We have already seen that several details of the vision denote the withdrawal or removal of interior things. This includes the starry heaven which signified the brain itself. This obviously represents the withdrawing of brain-function from the infundibulum, although it still remains a part of the brain. Thus, unlike the cerebral cortex, it does not "think" or relay messages, or balance opposing influences, or command muscles, or receive sense impressions. The typical electrical impulses that have been observed in the nerves of the infundibulum serve, perhaps, to control the release of hormones into the adjacent blood systems. (However, a direct relationship has not been observed.) So instead of typical brain function the infundibulum is busy making or conducting a variety of hormones for the chemical control of the body below. It is even responsible for producing the body, since somatotropin, which controls growth rate in the young, is one of the most important secretions of the gland. These considerations show the infundibulum as the essential link ensuring the production of a system in ultimates which will correspond to the brain, and hence also to the spiritual entities residing in the brain. In other words, the infundibulum is the means whereby the brain forms the body. It seems likely, therefore, that it embodies the means used by the Lord through heaven for the formation of man in the sphere of nature.
331. We notice next that the well signified that vessel "called the infundibulum" and we have found that a well signifies the Word. Now that the functions of the infundibulum are known, it is possible to see that these meanings are the same. The Word enabled the highest spiritual things to be represented in the lowest natural objects and actions of the Jewish Church. The production of the letter of the Word was like the production of the body through the infundibulum. So spiritually there was heaven, like the brain, and beneath it the world of spirits through whose less heavenly offices the ultimates could be suitably arranged, and finally even the disorderly spirits who corresponded to "excrementitious lymphs." This, of course, was not a "once for all" production. Like the human race it is on-going. Whenever the Word is read, the spiritual infundibulum supplies spiritual hormones to strengthen the spiritual-natural man on the earth who must continue to fight his battles in ultimates, "as of himself."
332. From the well which represented the infundibulum, a cloud arose. This was the lymph "that passes through and is pumped out." In attempting to relate this account to modern concepts it is suggested, as before, that a lymph could be some constituent of a fluid. This is the only way that so many different lymphs could be together. The things which pass through the infundibulum and are pumped out are hormones. (Blood passes through, of course, but so it does through all other organs.) Since only hormones are pumped out, the lymphs cannot be other than hormones of the hypophysis cerebri. The adjective "excrementitious" can be interpreted according to usage in the Writings, which usage is connected with adultery and other foul evils. Then an excrementitious lymph would be a hormone that stimulates sexual activity, for hormones have no concern for right or wrong. They run "about hither and thither" in the blood stream throughout the whole body and stimulate an appetite which can be the ultimate of a most noble and heavenly love; but if this appetite is left to the hormonal influence alone it is foul, destructive and deceitful, like the spirits who have relation to the excrementitious lymphs.
333. The spirits related to excrementitious lymphs are not actually said to be deceitful, but the defiling of the truths of conjugial love with whoredoms and adulteries is a form of deceit. It so often includes a suggestion that the appetite stimulated by the hormone is conjugial love whereas it is only love of the sex (e.g., see CL 48). Sometimes it is even only self love. How often when a man says, "I love you" does it really mean "I want you to love me"?
334. The fact that Swedenborg's contemporaries, and perhaps Swedenborg himself, thought of the infundibulum as an organ of excretion has really nothing to do with the case. In His Providence, the Lord ensured that truth descended into the best terms then available. He also provided a multitude of clues by which coming generations would be able to follow His lead to an ever clearer understanding.