Swedenborg’s transformation from scientific visionary to mystical savant was by no means simple, nor sudden. One might think that his entire world view was changed dramatically by a series of visions and mystical experiences which began in 1743; Swedenborg’s Journal of Dreams (1743-4) and Spiritual Diary (1746-65), neither intended for publication, describe such ‘interior’ journeys of the mind. However, Swedenborg’s progressive ideas were, in fact, heavily informed by what others had written. A Philosopher’s Notebook (1741-4) is a rich fabric of text interwoven with quotes, notes and reflections on philosophy, science and theology. Swedenborg challenges and reinterprets the philosophers of his intellectual environment, from Plato to Leibniz, whilst also examining countless passages from the Bible.
As he considers ‘will’, ‘soul’, ‘imagination’, ‘memory’, ‘logic’, ‘end’, ‘God’, ‘Gentile Religion and Islam’, ‘optics’ and ‘musical harmony’, among other topics, Swedenborg illustrates the devouring intellect of an eighteenth-century genius. He also shows that these subjects were never considered in isolation. Swedenborg’s science of the mind and his exhaustive search for the soul would soon lead him to a new and imaginative understanding of the Bible and of the world—in his theory of correspondences.