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In a century which was ignorant of the existence of oxygen, the circulation of the blood, the composition of water, the makeup of the earth's atmosphere, electricity, spectrum analysis, photography, the concept of the conservation of energy, and the workings of atoms, Swedenborg propounded some impressive theories along with making some incorrect speculations. As his mind developed he became more interested in generalizing from the findings of others rather than conducting extensive experiments of his own. His thinking exhibited a philosophic rather than an empirical bent.
Nevertheless, in metallurgy and biology he made experimental discoveries which rank him with the original thinkers of these two disciplines. In metallurgy his conclusions regarding the proper treatment of iron, copper, and brass advanced both the science and the technology involved.
In biology, his studies of the nervous system and the brain earned him credit for supplying the first accurate understanding of the importance of the cerebral cortex, and the respiratory movement of the brain tissues. Modern scholars conclude that Swedenborg's findings pointed the way to "most of the fundamentals of nerve and sensory physiology." He is also praised for his insight into the function and importance of the ductless glands, especially the pituitary."
Had he spent all of his mature years in metallurgy and biology he might have gone considerably farther in these two fields than he did. He refrained from extensive research because he felt that he was not especially gifted in this type of activity. Furthermore, he found that, when he did make a modest experimental discovery, he tended to let it draw him away from philosophical generalizations into one-sided explanations too extensively dependent upon his own observation. He believed that there were two main types of mind; on the one hand, there were those gifted in "experimental observation, and endowed with a sharper insight than others, as if they possessed naturally a finer acumen: such are Eustachius, Ruysch, Leeuwenhoek, Lancisi, etc." And then there were others "who enjoy a natural faculty for contemplating facts already discovered, and eliciting their causes. Both are peculiar gifts, and are seldom united in the same person."
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