Following the “rediscovery” of Emanuel Swedenborg’s contributions to renaissance science in the early 1900s, a number of studies have been made of the significance of his works. Those studies have examined, for example, Swedenborg’s contribution to the Kantian nebular theory, his intellectual development, and his religious contributions and spiritual cosmology. However, little attention has been afforded Swedenborg’s broader role in shaping modern physical cosmology. A prominent exception is an essay by Svante Arrhenius in 1908. This was before the modern era of general relativity (1915), the Shapley-Curtis “Great Debate” (1920), and the Lemaître-Hubble discovery of an expanding Universe (1927-1929). I am currently undertaking an exploratory investigation of Swedenborg’s original contributions in the “Principia” in light of modern physical cosmology.
There appear to be many parallels between Swedenborg’s concepts and processes, and modern inflationary Big Bang cosmology. The project will analyse similarities and differences, and trace to what extent Swedenborg’s predominantly rational method – in retrospect – may have been successful. Apart from the relevance for an understanding of the philosophy and history of science, this could also shed light on the scientific/epistemic status of cosmic inflation and string theory as scientific theories. In recent years, the scientific integrity of inflation and string theory have been increasingly questioned due to limitations in the conventional falsifiability of the theories. The value and validity of rational philosophy as a means for scientific knowledge, being an intermediate between empirical data and theory, has therefore gained new attention. Understanding Swedenborg’s rational approach in light of a much later world view might therefore provide new insights into this matter, through identifying how and why modern conceptions can be judged superior/preferable to Swedenborg’s.
The project is supported by Stiftelsen Nordenskjöldska Swedenborgsfonden of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.