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THE CARTOGRAPHY OF THE BRAIN: a webinar series by David Lister

EVENT: THE CARTOGRAPHY OF THE BRAIN: a webinar series by David Lister

DATE: 12th May 2020 - 8th June 2020

TIME: 2.00-3.00pm


SPEAKER/S: David Lister

Tuesday 12 May, 19 May, 26 May, 2 June, 9 June| 2.00-3.00 pm | FREE | RSVP by emailing


Following the closure of Swedenborg House due to Covid-19, we are bringing many of our events online. We are delighted to have Dr David Lister return to repeat his summer seminar series ‘The Cartography of the Brain‘ via the video conferencing software Zoom. Dr Lister’s seminars were originally held in the summer of 2019.

Dr Lister is returning with his five-part series on the brain, to be held from 2-3 pm on Tuesdays, beginning Tuesday 12 May. Participants will be emailed the link to the Zoom meeting, and details will also be posted on our website and social media. Dr Lister will discuss map-making, the cartography of the brain, the infundibulum, EMDR therapy and Near-Death Experiences.

To book your place for these free webinars on Tuesday 12 May, Tuesday 19 May, Tuesday 26 May, Tuesday 2 June and Tuesday 9 June, just email All are welcome!

Dr David Lister is the author of The Feeling of What Happens / Smile or Die (no. 8 in the Transactions of the Swedenborg Society series) and Biblical Darwinism. Dr Lister is a qualified surgeon and has practised as a GP. He is also currently the Society’s Chairperson and has been a member for 25 years.

1. Map-making |

This introductory session will explore the formation of maps in a broader sense. Map-making capacity is shown by honeybees, who orient the position of flowers with reference to their hives using the sun’s position and perform a kind of dance on returning to their hive to send other bees in the right direction. Homing pigeons and migrating birds are examples of the same phenomenon. Humans use map-making on a grand scale; the pyramids of Giza map the stars of Orion’s belt and the Milky Way mirrors the course of the Nile as it flows past the pyramids.

As well as the purely physical aspect, maps have an emotional aspect. There is an interesting resemblance between the Sphinx, which guards these pyramids, and the cherub described by Genesis as guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden, and whose significance Swedenborg explains. To understand the maps of heaven and hell you need a certain moral or emotional orientation. Dante, a man in love with Beatrice, in his Divine Comedy describes the mountain of Purgatory jutting out like a cone into the southern hemisphere, making room for the inverted cone of hell. Dante takes off with Beatrice from the top of the mountain of Purgatory, the earthly paradise into an equally well-mapped series of celestial spheres each governed by a planet until he reaches the empyrean, the home of the Prime Mover, map-maker, or God.

2. Cartography of the brain |

This seminar deals with the cartography of the brain itself. David will use a model of the brain to describe its features, particularly the hippocampus. Swedenborg was one of the first to comment on the way the right hemisphere governs the left side of the body and vice versa, although he got this idea from the work of others. However, his comments on the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) are truly his own, as was his idea that CSF circulation mirrors a desire we all have for happiness. There is an interesting connection between the speech area of the cortex and the part that controls the hand, which explains why gesticulation, a form of map-making, is such an integral part of speech, and why the movements of the hands express many aspects of speech. In the context of the broader topic under perusal, cartography, the movement of the hands is particularly useful in the illustration of spatial metaphors. This seminar will also explore the ways in which the features of maps are used to describe psychological states. Mountains are used to describe joy and elation: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my help”. Valleys, conversely, are metaphors for depression: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil”. David will describe the hippocampus, which the neuroscientist John O’Keefe and others describe as the mechanism for a cognitive map-making, and discuss some of the details of its extraordinary structure.

3. The infundibulum |

This session will focus on Swedenborg’s vision (as described in Arcana Coelestia §4050) of the infundibulum and his comparison of the starry skies, the cerebral cognitions of faith and the way hormones or chemical messengers correspond to angelic messengers, and also the fiends of hell. The hippocampus is under the control of the emotional brain in the form of the amygdala, and via the cingulate cortex this emotion is brought to consciousness. The cognition as well as its emotional accompaniment is indexed in the hippocampus. The speech centre of the brain expresses in words and emotion the action of the amygdala and other centres of emotion like the nucleus accumbens. This enables the hippocampus to contact the speech centres of the cerebral cortex to describe the emotional state of the brain to others. This seminar will touch on oxytocin as the ‘spirit’ that binds humans and other animals to one another or to their offspring, and to many other aspects of the world. This has spiritual significance, such as in the depiction of Jerusalem as a woman (Revelation 17.22) coming down out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband, to get his oxytocin flowing! Swedenborg’s ideas are an introduction to a different way of looking at maps, including on a more spatially abstract level, through such ideas as the New Jerusalem, which refers not just to a place but a state of mind.

4. EMDR |

This session will be focused on the form of psychotherapy known as ‘Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing’, or EMDR. We will also touch on the effects of oxytocin. David Lister has found links between EMDR and the effects of oxytocin, but there are many other chemical ‘angels’ coming from near the part of the brain known as the infundibulum as was described in the last seminar, including serotonin, adrenaline, noradrenaline and acetylcholine. These hormones are able to alter the way we see the world. As a child Swedenborg learned how to suspend his breathing while meditating during family prayers. Holding one’s breath increases the serotonin in the cerebrospinal fluid, which can produce revelatory experiences. Dr Lister has treated a few people who during EMDR have experienced other-worldly events. There are other, more commonly known effects of hormones, such as depression, which is caused by a lack of serotonin in the brain, and schizophrenia, which is caused by an oversensitivity to serotonin, which alters one’s internal map of the world in irrational ways.

In this session, David Lister will discuss Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) and the afterlife. Advances in medical resuscitation methods have resulted in many people returning to this life after experiencing what we call death. Some have written lengthy descriptions of these, e.g. Bettie Eadie in Embraced by the Light, Howard Storm in My Descent into Death and Clinically Dead by Ian McCormack. Swedenborg describes Polhem, his employer, watching his own funeral with Swedenborg. An interesting book Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr Brian Weiss describes the 84 deaths and reincarnation experiences—and their accompanying geographical location, or maps—of a woman he treated for phobias using hypnosis. In Arcana Coelestia vol. 3, Swedenborg says that ‘man is both internal and external. When separated from the internal man, the external man is the body and is therefore dead; for it is the internal man that is alive and that causes the external man to be so’. It is the internal man who is the basis of consciousness. Sir John Eccles, a 1963 Nobel Prize winner for Physiology and Medicine together with Andrew Huxley and Alan Hodgkin, experienced an ‘other-worldly’ state when he was about 18. In his book How the Self Controls Its Brain he explores the quantum mechanisms that Dr Lister thinks may underlie NDEs. Dr Lister will describe this work and suggest that Eccles’s theories explain aspects of the soul which have been discussed over the last 3000 years but with little idea as to what they were dealing with. It throws light on Swedenborg’s experiences of the geography of the next world.

This session concludes the series.