THE NATURAL BASIS
THE INTERFACE BETWEEN THE SPIRITUAL AND THE PHYSICAL
There is a great difference between the form of a cause and the form of its effect
488. Throughout this work we have tried to see how strictly things natural
correspond to things spiritual and to learn something from the correspondences.
This has necessitated a degree of preoccupation with natural science. It
is clear, however, that there are additional dimensions in spiritual things;
and that a too rigid adherence to natural phenomena excludes those dimensions
and inhibits the appreciation of love and wisdom. But what is too rigid?
The study of digestion in its harsher aspects, as depicted above (Nos.
463-482) stimulates further inquiry. Obviously it is important to militate
against all merely materialistic notions of correspondences. Such notions
tend to arise when one tries to understand them strictly, as we have been
doing all along. On the other hand, they ought not to be used in a loose
and arbitrary fashion. When things are said "to correspond" and when it
is said that "Nature is a theatre representative, etc." (AC 3518 ),
it is not meant that our ideas of nature can be used as mere symbols, as
in mathematics, but that the things in nature are caused by those in the
The case herein is like that of the motion of the muscles from which comes action; unless there were in this motion an endeavour from man's thought and will it would cease in a moment;…this…endeavour…is the spiritual in the natural, for to think and will is spiritual and to act and be moved is natural…Nevertheless that in the will and thence in the thought, which produces, is not alike in form to the action that is produced; for the action merely represents that which the mind wills and thinks.489. An example from common experience enables us to apply these ideas to the digestive process. It is well known that in certain types of individuals, anxiety will stimulate overactivity of the stomach tissues that produce acid, so that gastric or duodenal ulcers arise. The cause is in the mind and is thus spiritual. It is but a small step to believe that benign spirits can stimulate the controlled production of all the juices necessary for healthy digestion. It is only one more step to think that, therefore, similar means are adopted by Providence to cause the growth in the body of the requisite glands. Thus we see how the spiritual cause is entirely different from the natural effect.
490. This "law" of correspondence has many natural laws corresponding to it. For example, the base sequence in the DNA molecules that controls the colours of dear old Mendel's sweet peas has no beautiful colour itself, and the other genes that shape the flowers have nothing that would suggest a flower. It is even more striking in the human organism, as we have already seen. Love produces a smile, willing service, and joy. Yet what is the form of the love? What is the form of the swarming myriads of nerve impulses in the brain that the love excites? Perhaps merely a pattern of minute electrical discharges in a bewilderingly complex sequence. We know only a little of the form of the nerve tissues in the brain (speaking spatially and chemically) in which these discharges take place. It looks nothing like a smile or a willing pair of hands. Spiritual things are even further from the everyday experience of our senses. What is surprising is not their difference but that we can be instructed at all about them from things of sense in time and space.
491. It is really very striking, if one has not thought about it before, to observe that the causes mentioned above are so different from the effects that they seem to have nothing in common with them. One is amazed that the cause can operate at all, but we see that it does so. Furthermore, it succeeds by adopting executive means from the realm of the effect: "in order that the cause may produce the effect, it must also adopt from the region where the effect is, executive means, by which the cause may produce the effect. These executive means are what correspond; and because they correspond…the cause can be in the effect and can actuate the effect" (AC 5131:2). It is the necessity for the means to be efficient that controls their form and is responsible, in part, for their great difference in form from the cause. To return to digestion again, the chemistry and physiology of the body is such that it cannot use most of its food unless the large molecules are broken down. Although the cause may sometimes be a gentle agitation and purification of souls for heaven, the corresponding nourishment of the body requires, or necessitates, the harsh means of complete digestion (except for the few items that do not need digesting).
492. It is the difference in form between the cause and the effect that renders an executive means necessary. So are all the tools of a workman; so are all the enzymes of the body. The intermediate nature of the executive means suggests a consideration of them as a kind of interface (or surface-between). This would be similar to the interfaces used to connect a computer to the various machines that it must operate; or, to use a very simple example, like the connectors between a stereophonic record player and the system of loud speakers it must operate. The arrangements of membranes and enzymes at the ends of nerves which control muscles are also a kind of interface.
493. Calling the executive means an "interface" solves no problems. It merely underlines some similarities between those means and the interfaces that occur in the body or that man has developed for the application of computers.
494. It seems likely that there is not one interface between the spiritual and the natural, but many. Truth Divine flows into the ultimates of order by successive degrees, but also without the mediation of such degrees (AC 7270:4). What can be the nature of the interface used by the Lord for this immediate influx? It must be quite different from that used by (or through) the angels who are our companions. It was perfected, one may believe, by the Lord's Glorification.
495. Even if the nature of the interfaces eludes us, we need to remember their existence, for difficulties sometimes arise with them which make some people doubt the reality of spiritual things. Possibly some mental diseases are examples of faulty function of the interface. See for example the booklet by Wilson van Dusen, "The Presence of Spirits in Madness." We also have the case of the partially healed blind man who saw people as trees to which they might have corresponded.
496. Because executive means are in the lower sphere where the effect is to be, they are further from the Divine, and therefore less benign. As Divine Truth (which includes Good) descends from the Lord, it is expressed in less gentle, and eventually in harsh and crude forms; even until in hell it is changed into the opposite. Thus in Genesis 29:31 the literal sense says that Leah was hated, whereas the spiritual reality is that the affection she represented was loved less than that represented by Rachel; "the affection of external truth was not so dear" (AC 3855). Similarly in regard to Esau hating Jacob; the internal sense of which is aversion but without any idea of hatred (AC 3605). The same effect of descent is described in AC 8823:
For the case herein is as it is with sound in elevated regions where the atmosphere is purer, and the sound is tacit; but when it descends to lower regions where the atmosphere is denser, it becomes louder and more sonorous. So it is with Divine Truth and Divine Good, these in the highest (regions) are peaceful and cause no disturbance whatever; but when they flow down towards the regions beneath, they by degrees become unpeaceful, and at length tumultuous. These things were thus described by the Lord to Elijah when he was in Horeb, in the first book497. From these particulars we can see why nature is "red in tooth and claw" and why natural digestion can be completely destructive, but spiritual digestion preserves the soul's identity, even while modifying it.
498. The closeness and regularity of correspondences might lead us to expect a one-to-one relationship between spiritual causes and natural effects, but it is not so. We have seen that spirits who, according to some passages must be correspondentially in the intestines, are also in the lower earth (AC 4728; 5174). This raises the question of how they can be in two such different "places," and emphasizes further the importance of understanding correspondences in a spiritual and not in a material way.
&499. There are a number of other representations recorded in the Writings that seem to conflict with one another. However, this conflict is often the result of our tendency to apply the limitations of time and space to spiritual things which are actually not so limited. This applies in the present instance, but there may well be additional reasons which explain why various representations are seen. Spiritual things that seem simple to us (or single) are often not really so and thus they have many different representations. We know also that representations in the spiritual world are not seen all the time, and that they occur by the Lord's will, good pleasure, or permission and according to the use to be served. Thus, for example, the spheres of spirits are changed into odours "when the Lord pleases" (AC 4626). Thus while the correspondences relate permanently to the production of phenomena in nature, they produce spiritual representations only according to the uses required. (Clearly the laws of Divine permission and use apply also in the realm of nature, but with a difference.)