Friday, January 10, 2020

A Spiritual Theory of Creation: the Big Bang and the "Aether" Levels of the Universe

The best scientific evidence and theories indicate that about 14 billion years ago, the universe began with a giant explosion of energy known as the "Big Bang" which began from a point of singularity. At this moment, space and time was itself created.  And before that, there was no space, and there was no time - the Big Bang essentially started this rapidly expanding "space-time" cone that we call the universe. This cosmological theory is based on Einstein's theory of relativity of the 20th century as well as modern astronomical observations, summarized in a video below:

This brings about the inevitable paradox: what was there before the Big Bang?  For before the Big Bang, there was no space nor time.  As it turns out, among the heavenly visions that Swedenborg received in the 18th century, he was given accurate information on the creation and fundamental nature of the universe that provides remarkable insights for modern science, despite the limits of the scientific knowledge of his day.


The first insight Swedenborg was given is that before the creation of the physical material world, it was preceded by the creation of the spiritual world from the emanation of the Divine, who resides in a spiritual Sun of pure Love. Three levels or degrees were created in the spiritual world, which are also known as three heavens which Paul briefly described in one of his visions (2 Cor. 12:2). Although the theory of the Big Bang was essentially unknown to Swedenborg, he was told in his visions that following the creation of the spiritual world a "natural sun" or "sun of the natural world" which was of pure fire was created. This was followed by the creation of "three natural atmospheres":
" would be vain to conclude anything concerning the creation of the universe, unless it were first known that there are two worlds, one in which angels are, and the other in which men are; and that men by death pass out of their world into the other; and then also I saw that there were two suns, one from which all spiritual things flow forth, and the other from which all natural things flow forth; and that the sun from which all spiritual things flow forth is pure love from Jehovah God, who is in the midst of it; and that the sun from which all natural things flow forth is pure fire. means of the light and heat from the [spiritual] sun... spiritual atmospheres, which in themselves are substantial, were created one from another; and because there were three, and thence three degrees of them, three heavens were made; one for the angels who are in the highest degree of love and wisdom, another for the angels who are in the second degree, and the third for the angels who are in the lowest degree. But because this spiritual universe cannot exist without a natural universe in which it may produce its effects and uses, then the sun from which all natural things proceed was created at the same time and by this likewise by means of light and heat three atmospheres encompassing the spiritual... and at last by means of these, the terraqueous globe, the abode of men, beasts, and fishes, also of trees, shrubs, and herbs, was formed of lands consisting of soil, stones, and minerals." (True Christian Religion, n. 76)
What Swedenborg was shown only makes sense if what he called the "natural sun" of pure fire is the Big Bang - for the Big Bang was a big explosion of energy, and at the initial moments of the universe the universe was extremely hot. The suns of the various solar systems coalesced later. It is important to distinguish between the Divine spiritual sun from which proceeds all life and the natural sun from which proceeds only dead material things:
"Creation itself cannot be ascribed at all to the sun of the natural world, but wholly to the sun of the spiritual world; since the sun of the natural world is entirely dead, but the sun of the spiritual world is alive; for it is the first proceeding of the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom; and what is dead does not act at all of itself, but is acted upon. Wherefore to ascribe to it anything of creation, would be like ascribing the work which the artificer does, to the tool which is moved by his hand. The sun of the natural world is pure fire from which everything of life has been withdrawn; but the sun of the spiritual world is fire in which is the Divine Life. The angelic idea concerning the fire of the sun of the natural world, and concerning the fire of the sun of the spiritual world, is this — that the Divine Life is from within in the fire of the sun of the spiritual world, but from without in the fire of the sun of the natural world. From this it may appear that the actual existence of the natural sun is not from itself, but from the living force proceeding from the sun of the spiritual world" (Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 157).
Throughout the revelations it is revealed that life originates from spiritual influx from the spiritual Sun into the natural material world - the natural material world is not in itself the source of life. And this is why science cannot understand or explain the origin of life.


Now, modern science tells use that space and time were created at the time of the Big Bang, which produces a paradox here - what was before the Big Bang? According to Swedenborg, before the creation of the "natural sun" from which the material universe came the spiritual heavens were created - and there is no space or time in heaven:
"All things in heaven appear in place and in space, just as in the world, and yet angels have no notion or idea of place and space. Because this cannot but appear as a paradox, I wish to present the matter in clear light, as it is one of great importance. All going from place to place in the spiritual world is effected by change of state of the interiors, so that change of place is nothing else than change of state... In this way all the movements of angels take place; hence they have no distances, and if not distances, neither have they spaces, but instead of them states and their changes. As changes of place are made in this way, it is evident that approximations are similarities as to state of interiors, and that removals are dissimilarities. From this it follows that those are near to each other who are in similar state, and those at a distance who are in dissimilar state; and that spaces in heaven are nothing else than external states corresponding to internal." (Heaven and Hell, n. 191-193)
Essentially our idea of material space becomes "abstracted" into appearances of distance. As God is Love, those who love will be close to Him in heaven according to their state of love. Moreover, in heaven we will be with the ones we truly love, and with those who are similar to our own personality. The spiritual world is the world where our internal ideas and affections become true reality, in fact more real than this material world. In this world we might say "I feel close to you." Or "I feel distant from you."  These internal feeling manifest as apparent distance of space in the spiritual world, for all our internal states of feelings and thoughts have a substantial reality.

Similar to space, there is no time in heaven, but rather changes of state. Moreover, eternity in heaven is not infinite time, but an infinite state:
"That angels know nothing about time, though all things move onward with them as in the world, without any difference at all, is because in heaven there are not years and days, but changes of state; and where there are years and days there are times, but where there are changes of state there are states... Since angels have no notion of time, they have a different idea of eternity from that which men of the earth have. By eternity they perceive infinite state, not infinite time. I was once thinking about eternity, and by the idea of time could perceive what to eternity might be, namely, without end, but not what from eternity is, and so not what God did from eternity before the creation. When anxiety on this account arose in my mind, I was elevated into the sphere of heaven and thus into the perception in which angels are about eternity, and then it was made clear to me that we must not think of eternity from time, but from state, and then we may perceive what from eternity is" (Heaven and Hell, n. 163, 167)
Thus the state of the universe before creation was a state of no space or time, thus before the Big Bang we are thus now talking about the nature of the spiritual heavens beyond the material. Moreover, it does not make sense to think of "before" the Big Bang. Rather, the three spiritual heavens are higher dimensions outside of space and time which co-exist and permeate the lower material world which dwells in the plane of space and time. This is an important clue for scientists who are still investigating the true nature of the universe.

The spiritual concept that space and time are created things, and not the fundamental or original form or reality, is relevant to modern theories of science such as Einstein's theories of General Relativity and Minkowski Space-Time, which describe space and time as a "fabric" that was created at the time of the Big Bang.


Following the creation of the heavens and the "natural sun," which is probably more accurately described as the Big Bang, Swedenborg was told that "three natural atmospheres" were created in the natural world. However he is using the word "atmosphere" in a different manner than our modern definition, in the context of 18th century science. By "atmosphere" he is referring to a degree or level of what scientists in his time knew as aether - a medium in space through which light propagates, similar to how sound travels through air or waves through water. Here is a brief description of the 18th century idea of aether:

"The motion of light was a long-standing investigation in physics for hundreds of years before the 20th century. The use of aether to describe this motion was popular during the 17th and 18th centuries, including a theory proposed by Johann II Bernoulli... In his theory, all space is permeated by aether containing "excessively small whirlpools". These whirlpools allow for aether to have a certain elasticity, transmitting vibrations from the corpuscular packets of light as they travel through. This theory of luminiferous aether would influence the wave theory of light proposed by Christiaan Huygens, in which light traveled in the form of longitudinal waves via an "omnipresent, perfectly elastic medium having zero density, called aether". At the time, it was thought that in order for light to travel through a vacuum, there must have been a medium filling the void through which it could propagate, as sound through air or ripples in a pool." (from Aether (classical element)

These ideas of aether were disproven by the Michaelson-Morley experiments in the early 20th century. So another model was needed. It was at this time that Einstein developed his theories of relativity, in which the speed of light was shown to be constant, and fused the separate concepts of space and time into a four dimensional manifold known as "spacetime." This spacetime manifold could be warped by gravity. As such, Einstein considered calling it the "new aether," with the caveat that no substance or motion can be associated with this aether (see Einstein's views on the aether). However this term never became popular and so at the present day we still call it "spacetime." But for the purpose of understanding what was shown about creation to Swedenborg, lets call this four dimensional manifold of spacetime as the "aether" of gravity.

So this leaves light, which Swedenborg also describes as travelling through its own "aether."  In the 20th century science was able to achieve a better understanding of light in Quantum field theory, which says that all fundamental particles are vibrations of fields that exist in all points in space and time through the universe. At this low level, particles do not travel through a medium, but rather they are manifestations of the medium itself. It is non-intuitive, so here is a summary of the theory:

These vibrations of quantum fields can be compared to sound waves traveling through air, which in the 18th century was also used as the model for the concept of aether for gravity and light. So essentially, quantum fields are the accurate and true representation of what we used to call aether - its just that in a quantum field, there is no separation between the manifestation of the particle and the field itself, as the particle is an excited state of the field. There is no separate "medium" as had originally been imagined. Again for the purpose of this discussion, lets also call these quantum fields "aether," as it will help us understand what Swedenborg was describing in what he called "natural atmospheres." For just as he saw that these natural atmospheres permeated all of space, so the quantum fields permeate all of space.


With this scientific background, we can now analyze what Swedenborg was shown regarding the three natural "atmospheres" or aethers that were created following the creation of the three prior spiritual atmospheres, as well as what he labeled as the "natural sun" which I interpret as the Big Bang. The first piece of information is that the three natural atmospheres are "discrete substances and least forms." They are distinct from the three spiritual atmospheres that precede them, and yet the spiritual atmospheres co-exist with them:
"The natural atmospheres are similar to the spiritual atmospheres in this, that they also are discrete substances and least forms, originating from the sun of the natural world; which also singly receive the sun and store up its fire in themselves, and temper it, and bear it down as heat to the earth, where men are; and similarly the light. The difference between the spiritual atmospheres and the natural atmospheres is that the spiritual atmospheres are receptacles of the Divine fire and the Divine light, thus of love and wisdom, for they contain these within themselves; but the natural atmospheres are not receptacles of the Divine fire and the Divine light, but receptacles of the fire and light of their own sun, which in itself is dead... wherefore within there is nothing in them from the sun of the spiritual world, but still they are environed by the spiritual atmospheres which are from the spiritual sun. That this is the difference between the spiritual atmospheres and the natural atmospheres is from the wisdom of the angels." (Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 174-175)
The second piece of information given is that the three natural atmospheres descend and become more "compressed and inert" until they cause the creation of substances:
"...there are three atmospheres in each world, the spiritual and the natural, which are distinct from each other according to degrees of altitude, and which decrease in their downward progression according to degrees of latitude... And because the atmospheres decrease in their progression downward, it follows that they become continually more compressed and inert, and at length in ultimates so compressed and inert that they are no longer atmospheres, but substances at rest, and in the natural world fixed substances, such as are in the earths and are called matter" (Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 302)
The third piece of information given is that the three natural atmospheres hold together the material substances:
"...the substances and matters of which the earths consist are the ends and terminations of atmospheres which proceed as uses from the spiritual sun... And because the substances and matters of which the earths consist are from that origin, and in their aggregation are held together in connection by the pressure of the atmospheres round about, it follows that they have therefrom a perpetual effort to produce forms of uses. The very quality of being able to produce they derive from their origin, which is that they are the ultimates of the atmospheres, with which they therefore agree" (Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 310)
The fourth piece of information is that in several passages, Swedenborg speaks of these three atmospheres as distinct from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms (see Heavenly Arcana, n. 3000, Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 225, True Christian Religion, n. 186, Apocalypse Explained, n. 1208.2, Spiritual Diary, n. 2360). So this is puzzling, what are these so-called three natural atmospheres? In an unpublished manuscript, Swedenborg spells it out further:
"There are three natural atmospheres arising from the sun of the world, and there are three spiritual atmospheres arising from the sun of heaven, which is the Lord. The three natural atmospheres arising from the sun of the world are the purer aether, which is the universal atmosphere, from which springs all gravity; the intermediate aether, which forms a vortex around the planets and surrounds the moon and other satellites, from which springs magnetism; and the lowest ether, which is air. These three atmospheres hold together all physical and material things of the earth, which have been composed in conformity to those three degrees." (Last Judgment Posthumous, 320; see also Spiritual Diary, n. 222)
This actually is rather an amazing insight. Gravity is a bosonic force in the spacetime field, which was considered to be a "new aether" according to Einstein. Magnetism is something we now know is part of the electromagnetic force mediated by the photon, and as stated earlier a photon is an excitation of its quantum field, which can also be considered to be an aether. But on the third atmosphere, Swedenborg confuses it with "air" which is a macroscopic representation of aether as sound waves travel through the medium of air molecules. We know its an error since Swedenborg distinguished the mineral kingdom from the three natural atmospheres. Moreover he acknowledged in this instance that his statements should be verified by experimental knowledge:
"...the statements we have made so far regarding degrees and atmospheres are for the most part theoretical. Yet all theoretical conclusions must be drawn from and based on empirical observations, and also verified by them. Unless the observations of experience guide a person's hand, so to speak, he may be deluded in his theoretical speculations, and from a premise seized on in his imagination or imaginary assumption he may easily be borne through a series of conclusions into falsities entirely contrary to the truth-falsities which he may then confirm by fallacious and deceptive appearances of every kind. For falsities can be confirmed by deceptive and fallacious appearances, even to the point that a person believes them to be absolute truths." (Last Judgment Posthumous, 323)
So from spiritual revelation Swedenborg knew that there were three degrees or levels of aether in the natural material world, but in trying to map this to his scientific knowledge he regarded it as theoretical until confirmed by empirical facts. But from his statements describing the three atmospheres, with our modern scientific knowledge we can propose that these three "atmospheres" or "aethers" refer to three degrees of the four fundamental forces mediated by bosonic particles in their respective quantum fields. The justification for this is as follows:
  1. The three atmospheres were described as "discrete substances" in their "least forms." Quantum particles and their fields are the least forms of atomic matter.
  2. The three atmospheres are responsible for making matter more "compressed and inert." The Higgs field gives fermionic matter mass, and matter in the form of quarks are further constrained by the strong nuclear force, and further by the electromagnetic and gravitational forces. The bosonic forces are responsible for fermionic matter becoming more constrained and inert.
  3. Matter is aggregated and held together by the three atmospheres, and this is now known to be caused by the bosonic forces.
  4. The three atmospheres are distinct from the mineral kingdom, and the mineral kingdom is composed of fermionic matter. Thus the atmospheres or aethers can only be the quantum fields that permeate all of space.
  5. Swedenborg also often describes the aethers as mediating light, and electromagnetism is mediated by the photon.
Moreover, Swedenborg explicitly stated that these natural atmospheres essentially become forces in their ultimate manifestation:
"Atmospheres in ultimates become such forces, by which substances and matters, such as are in the earths, are reduced into forms, and are held together in forms both within and without." (Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 311)
Now, why are there three degrees or levels of aether, or "atmospheres"? What was shown to Swedenborg is that all that exists can be divided into three degrees, modeled after the process of end, cause and effect:
"A knowledge of degrees is as it were a key for opening the causes of things, and for entering into them. Without this knowledge scarcely anything of cause can be known; for, without it, the objects and subjects of both worlds appear of such a sameness, as if there were nothing in them except what is seen with the eye; when yet this, compared to the things which lie hidden within, is as one to a thousand, nay to tens of thousands. The interiors which are not manifest cannot be revealed in any way unless degrees are understood. For exteriors pass to interiors, and by these to inmosts through degrees; not through continuous degrees, but through discrete degrees. Diminishings or decreasings from grosser to finer, or from denser to rarer are called continuous degrees — or rather the increments and increasings from finer to grosser, or from rarer to denser — as of light to shade, or of heat to cold. But discrete degrees are entirely different: they are as things prior, posterior, and postreme; or as end, cause, and effect. These degrees are called discrete, because the prior is by itself, the posterior by itself, and the postreme by itself; but still taken together they make one. The atmospheres — which are called ethers and airs — from the highest to the lowest, or from the sun to the earth, are discreted into such degrees" (Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 184).
This knowledge of degrees is not only useful for investigating scientific matters, but also spiritual theology, and it is part of the framework Swedenborg used to describe the theology of the New Church in a systematic and rational manner. It is also key to understanding the true meaning of the Trinity. Quantum physicists actually make use of discrete degrees, as "quantum" itself means a discrete degree of energy. But what are the three degrees of the bosonic forces? We can propose the following degrees:
  1. The space-time manifold, mediated by the graviton which has a spin of 2.
  2. The electromagnetic field mediated by the photon, the weak field mediated by the W/Z bosons, and the strong field mediated by the gluons. All of these forces have a spin of 1.
  3. The Higgs field mediated by the Higgs boson, which gives most other particles mass. It has a spin of 0.
One reason for this arrangement is that Swedenborg stated that the aether forces of the atmospheres get progressively stronger (Spiritual Diary, n. 418), and we can see this in the relative strengths between the forces:

In this arrangement, the weak, electromagnetic and strong forces form three discrete "subdegrees" within the intermediate atmosphere or aether. Also both the electromagnetic and weak forces have been mathematically combined into an electroweak force.

Other than this, what scientific justification do we have for creating three degrees or levels for the bosonic forces? Intuitively spacetime should be in the first degree, as that is often used as the independent background in frameworks for physics. Another clue comes from the discrete spin of the bosonic particle: it can be 0,1 or 2. In mathematics, these discrete spins correspond to tensors, vectors and scalars:
"The force carrying bosons of the standard model (gluons, photons, and the W and Z) have spin 1 since they go with vector fields. The Higgs boson corresponds to a scalar field so it has spin 0. If the particle of the gravitational field is ever discovered, it would be called a graviton and would have a spin 2 since it corresponds to a tensor field. A tensor is a mathematical object that's more complex than a vector, which is in turn more complex than a scalar. See the trend? A scalar field with no direction gets a particle with spin 0. A vector field with a direction gets a particle with spin 1. A tensor field that stretches and squeezes space in two directions gets a particle with spin 2. " (from The Physics Hypertextbook)
Most people have heard of vectors and scalars. But what is a tensor? Tensors have numerous applications in data analysis and artificial intelligence, and are used to model stress on 3D objects. Here is a visual representation:

Tensors, scalars and vectors each represent, lo and behold, three discrete mathematical degrees of order:
"The tensor is a more generalized form of scalar and vector. Or, the scalar, vector are the special cases of tensor.
  • If a tensor has only magnitude and no direction (i.e., rank 0 tensor), then it is called scalar.
  • If a tensor has magnitude and one direction (i.e., rank 1 tensor), then it is called vector.
  • If a tensor has magnitude and two directions (i.e., rank 2 tensor), then it is called dyad.
  • And so on…
Please note that there are differences between the term “direction" and the term “dimension." All the types of tensor (scalar, vector, and dyad) can be defined in a three dimensional space or co-ordinate system." (from Mechanical Vectors, Rotations, and Tensors)
There is another reason to consider the gravitational force and the space-time manifold as a prior discrete degree from the electromagnetic field mediated by the photon. This is related to some complex math involving a hyperbolic universe, otherwise known by the obscure name of "anti-de Sitter space."  It is called AdS/CFT correspondence, in which a complete string theory involving gravity corresponds to a formal quantum theory with one less spacial dimension:

The name of the theory itself is interesting because Swedenborg constantly used the word "correspondence" to show how lower literal concepts "correspond" to higher level spiritual ideas. For details of its applicability in solving several problems in physics, see AdS-QCD correspondence. The theory is a bit complicated and is most easily understood in the following two videos; the first one below gets to the meat of the matter at 12:19 --

This provides evidence that our universe is holographic, as further explained in the following video, especially beginning at 9:33 --

Ads CFT Correspondence describes how quantum forces are a discrete degree below gravity, similar to how Swedenborg described how electromagnetism is in a discrete degree of aether below the aether or gravity. The idea of correspondence, where the physics of higher dimensions correspond to another physics in a a smaller number of dimensions, is also very similar to Swedenborg's idea of the correspondence in which he discovered that all material things in the universe were a theatrical representation of higher level spiritual ideas.  It is a useful idea in science, and can help us achieve an overarching spiritual theory of the universe.

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