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Human Organic
Lecture Notes by Hugo Lj. Odhner  

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 Part 1, Chapter III


    The central problem of philosophy has been to explain the facts of life and consciousness. How and why does it happen that we are alive? Descartes began his principles of philosophy by stating that the first conclusive fact was that man thinks, or even that he doubts: "Cogito, ergo sum". But Swedenborg shows that back of thought there is something still more fundamental, viz., a love or will, which he identifies with the very life of man.(33)

    Nature with its rocks and waters seethes with motion, yet does not seem to be alive nor to possess consciousness. Man, animals and plants, on the other hand, seem to live, and represent graded types of sensitive life. Man and animals are said to be conscious, plants to be sensitive. Man's body, after "death", shows chemical changes, and some of its cells may continue to grow; yet we deny that it can then feel or remain as an individual. What causes chemical matter to be ordered into a form of life- an organism:  Is consciousness, or life, able to exist apart from the bodily matter in which it was clothed? Is life lodged in a substance which death has no power to destroy?

    Three general theories or tendencies of thought on these questions are advanced as alternatives.(34)


    The evidence on which the mechanistic interpretation is based, may be summarized as follows:

a)     No apparent differences are discernable between the motions of material bodies and the movements of an organism.

b)     Life has never been observed apart from matter.

c)    Organic substances have the same chemicals (as their constituents) as are found in the inorganic matter of the earth, water, air, and the stars - e.g.,, O. C, N, S. P. Na, Ca, Mg. The phenomena of "life" are impossible except under certain physical conditions, and where there is a certain chemical balance in the blood, spinal fluid, and glandular secretions; and is possible only under certain temperatures and pressures. Synthetic chemistry has produced increasing numbers of compounds (like urea) which were regarded as producible only by organisms.

d)    Some scientists claim that there is no real discrete break between the non-living and the living, but that complex chemical compounds exist which form a bridge between the organic and the inorganic.

e)    Some scientists have claimed that simple "organic" cells have been produced in the laboratory from sterile matter.

f)    By calorimeter tests it is found that man gives out the same amount of energy that he takes in.

g)    The weight of the body is the same before and after death.

h)    Cells exhibit individual life independent of the organism in which they dwell on a basis of partnership in a common environment. Cells can continue to reproduce themselves by mitosis outside of the body from which they are taken. Hence it may be argued that there is no "soul" in a complex organism, but only a chance adjustment of cells.

    The conclusions drawn from the above considerations are in general that there is no sufficient reason to suppose that life is any added element, or that life is possible apart from matter, or that there is a "soul"; nor that there is any difference between motion and life, or energy and life.

    The living body would thus be conceived as a whirlpool of natural forces into which matter enters and from which it departs unchanged.

    To account for the maintenance of species, it has been thought that in the germplasm the inherent properties of the particular matter are so protected against environmental changes as to lead to the reproduction, by an organism, of a cell-colony similar to itself.

    Some have maintained that "life" is but a shadow or epiphenomenon of matter, or variously, that life is a "fourth dimension" of matter; but the exact meaning of these expressions is not clearly presented.


    The materialistic arguments may be answered from the point-of-view of the vitalistic school of thought as follows:

a')  In the changes and movements of organisms one may discern a purpose, a will, a living conatus, a striving for survival, an aspiration to a use, an adaptation, and perpetuation, which common sense sets far apart from mechanical motions. There is inconceivable variety in organic movements, but mere repetition in mechanical motion.

b') Obviously, life cannot be observed apart from matter so long as we live and are conscious in a material environment. This cannot disprove that life may be possible apart from matter.

c')  The marvelously complex combinations of C, O. H, N, S. P. Na, Ca, Mg, etc., which characterize the tissues of plants and especially animals and men, are found nowhere else except as the product of organic life or the deliberate effort of chemists who are of course also organisms. Synthetic imitations of organic chemicals are only approximations of the conditions under which life can manifest itself on earth. Chemicals serve only to "clothe" the living form or soul, or as tools of the spiritual.

d') No proof exists of any "bridge" between inorganic and living substance.

Note: The crystallizable viruses lately discovered are not real intermediates. They are in no sense living. But their great molecular weight may indicate that they are not the result of chance but are of organic origin. They reproduce only when in contact with living matter.(36)

e')  "Life" may be described as a spiritual influx received wherever suitable or "corresponding" substances exist. "Immediate creation" must have taken place at some time, but "spontaneous generation" never. Experiments which allegedly show "spontaneous generation" are generally discredited by scientists. (Compare DLW 342, which leaves to future research to decide how far "immediate creation" may still be going on.)

f')   Life, or the spiritual element can direct the organization of matter and the formation of it into forms of uses without the expenditure of energy, thus without upsetting the balance of ingoing and outgoing physical force in an organism. The activity of the soul and of the spiritual world is not an influx of energy but of conatus.(37)

g')  The test of body weight at death is irrelevant, since spiritual substances are beyond the force of gravity. Even the "limbus" of the spirit, though natural, is said by Swedenborg to be lodged in the first natural aura, in which the causes of all gravity reside.(38)

h')  Cultures of cells isolated from the body no longer exhibit the same purposiveness or use. The influx is then no longer from the individual soul, but from other spiritual sources: for influx is according to form and connections. The cultured cells go on living, however, and are very different from a mere heap of chemicals.

    Among other evidences in favor of the vitalistic position we note the following characteristics of a living organism:
i')  It has an intrinsic force or endeavor from which it acts and grows and reproduces itself.

j')  It assimilates food material.

k')  It "grows" by intussusception, while a crystal increases by external accretions.

1')  It reproduces its kind; is derived only from its kind (only the vitalistic theory can make this power at all intelligible).

m')  It is composed of cells which produce cell-products and act with a certain autonomy.

n')  In addition to chemicals, it obviously has something which we vaguely describe as "life". This "life" is not intelligibly defined in terms of matter or motion, nor can it be explained away as a mere term.

    Living substance, from protoplasm to the most perfect organism, seems to have three peculiar characteristics:
1.  A will to live, a tendency to be insurgent, self-adjusting. self preserving, self-perpetuating.
2.  An interdependence between the parts and the whole.
3.  An ability to learn by experience - a basis for adaptive behavior, a memory or instinct.

    The attempt to explain life-phenomena in terms of material particles is futile: if you try to conceive a sensation, for instance, atomistically, it loses all its significance. (Reflect on this assertion:  "If man is a mechanism, either all other machines must acquire rights, or men can have none."(39)

    Life is beyond the scientifically knowable, although its distinct nature can be concluded by induction from mental and spiritual experience. It is therefore the pertinent subject of Divine Revelation.

    It is also impossible to account for the beginning of life on earth by means of pure chance, as Du Nouy has demonstrated mathematically by the use of the calculus of probabilities.  And "all our scientific laws at present rest on chance, that is to say, on the hypothesis of an absolute disorder at the base".(40)

    Owing to researches into nuclear physics, many scientists have recently commented on the fact that the statistical laws of ordinary physics do not cover the haphazard or unpredictable behaviour of electrons. Some - like Schrodinger - believe that new laws will be formulated to cover the phenomena of intra-atomic and organic behavior.(41) Some have attempted to distinguish nature into a world of particles and a world of wave structure, speaking of the wave-structure as "immaterial".(42) This use of the term "immaterial" is improper, since it blinds the mind to the real qualities of the Spiritual.

    All life is an enigma from the view-point of natural law. The final argument for vitalism is that the ordinary laws of physics are entirely contrary to the observable laws of "life".

    Physical theory is based on the assumption that the entropy of a given closed system tends irreversibly toward a maximum - towards an even distribution of energy. (Second law of thermodynamics, or the Carnot Clausius law). But the condition in "living" matter is that there is a building up of energy and a decrease in [or, resistance to] entropy.

[This block is in the Weaber version only - ORO]:
(Question: Is 'entropy' if complete, equivalent to a state of absolute zero temperature ?)


Physical research shows that the action of single radium atoms in shooting off an electron is unpredictable. But when large numbers of units are acting in concert, there is statistical predictability. (Lillie, GBPO p. 22).

In living organisms, the indeterminate characteristic appears to become the essential factor which controls the whole complex system. (ib.)

Therefore, voluntary human action.

The second law of thermodynamics appears for a time to be successfully disregarded, only to resume its dominance later. (ib., p. 24)

Note: Our N.C. philosophy opens our eyes to see that the material world is open from within - thru the conatus.

    Superficially examined, the living body seems to obey the laws of physics.   "The living organism seems to be a macroscopic system which in part of its behaviour approaches to that purely mechanical...conduct to which all systems tend..."(43) In groups, arbitrary actions will fall into statistical patterns, such as come within the statistical laws of nature, and are thus predictable. But the classical laws of energy "relate solely to the behavior of systems consisting of many atomic units".  Prof. Ralph S. Lillie(44) therefore points out that vital action is due to intra-atomic factors which are independent of these classical laws. Psychically guided events always exhibit a quality of individuality, uniqueness, and unpredictability which we associate with various degrees of freedom.

    Various conclusions have of course been drawn from this body of vitalistic evidence.

    The extreme position is taken by those who react against materialism by adopting wholly idealistic concepts. These hold that the material body and the physical world are only a projection of thought or mind. Such idealistic monism logically would lead to "solipsism" - the view that only one's self exists - and is then reduced to an agnostic absurdity.

    The more reasonable conclusion from the evidence is to regard the living body as composed of chemical or natural substances held in form and functional flow by a current of spiritual force or creative conatus which is the essential man - the immortal mind, spirit, or soul.  This would accord with the concept which the New Church student gathers from the Writings.

        Because the formative force of the soul directs the flux of natural substances in the physical body, the spiritual is compared to what is fluid, while the matter of the body is likened to what is relatively solid and fixed.  Even the interior constituents of matter are not firm or fixed.

        An annotation in SD 242 discusses "the spiritual paradox that in man, especially in his internals, there is nothing but a fluid stream, as the breath (spiritus) outside of man... In internals not even the least part... even to the spiritual substances, interior and inmost,...is firm, but are most fluid..."

        In SD 2250e it is said that "in the inmost fibres there nothing but what is fluid, because spiritual."


    The theory of "emergent evolution" or the theory of "levels"(45) repudiates both Mechanism and Vitalism. It accepts Mind as a novel quality which emerges out of non-mental levels when the latter attains a sufficiently complex organization. By a sort of synthesis a whole new range of qualities then emerges which the parts did not possess. With living matter we obtain a whole new group of qualities, such as growth, reproduction, and sensitivity.(46) These new qualities are not conceived as due to any "alien influx into nature," but from an immanent power in the original elements or in primitive Space-Time.

    In effect, this involves a substitution of Space-Time for God.  S. Alexander classes even Divinity as a product - the highest and last - of emergent evolution, making the Divine an effect instead of a Cause of creation! a product of man's mind!

    The weakness of the theory is of course that no intelligible cause is assigned for the "emergence " of life and its qualities.

    In contrast to the idea that there is a power immanent in the cosmic elements (as Morgan holds), we find the statement in the Writings that in each and all things in the three kingdoms of nature there is an "intrinsic agency out of the spiritual world" by which productions occur. That which from the spiritual world is in natural things - although it is called (erroneously) a "force implanted from first creation"- is actually "an endeavor (conatus)" on the cessation of which action and motion cease.(47) This is not an inseated force but a perpetual influx

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33 W. 1.

34 See H.H Titus, Living Issues in Philosophy (1946), pp. 61-74. General reference - J.A.V. Butler, D.Se., "Man is a
Microcosm," (New York:1951).

35 See The Origin of Life On Earth, by All. Oparin, 1957, for the mechanistic theory with its claims. (Reviewed in New
Philosophy ( 1958), p.387)

36 See Du Nouy's Human Destiny(1947), pp. 36-37. Note the distinction between organic products and living substance, and
compare what w. 294 states concerning "spheres".

37 A. 5173; see New Church Life (1930), p. 647f.

38 LJ post, 312.

39 Titus, op.cit., p. 74.

40 Du Nouy op. cit. pp. 26ff. - see Chap. 3

41 Schrodinger, What is Life? ( 1946) p. 76 et seq.

42 Gustaf Stromberg, The Soul of the Universe, (Philadelphia: 1940), p. 45.

43 Schrodinger, op.cit., pp. 69-70.

44 Lillie, General Biology and Philosophy of Organism, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1945), pp. 131132; Butler, man is a
Microcosm (New York: 1951), pp. 110-112.

45 Sponsored by S. Alexander and C. Floyd Morgan

46 See Titus, op. cit., p. 72

47 AC 5173

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