The Principles of Nature by Andrew Jackson Davis

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In the introduction, we’re given a description of Andrew Jackson Davis which would appeal to a phrenologist, as well as testimonials from his acquaintances. We’re told he was poor and barely educated, only attending a few months of school, so he only knows the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Although we’re also told he knows all the technical medical terms, so maybe he’s not as ignorant as they want us to believe. He’s only 20 years old.

William Levingston, a practitioner of animal magnetism (a precursor to hypnotism) “magnetized” AJ Davis, giving him clairvoyant powers. While in a magnetized state, he could reportedly read a closed book while blindfolded and describe places he’d never been. He eventually decides he’s able to heal people, contact spirits, and see the future. When not in a trance, he claims not to know about the things he said while in a trance and he also claims to have no knowledge of the fields of study his trance self knows about.

Jackson admits he uses defective grammar and mispronounces many words as he would in his normal state, but says this is because the spirit speaks through him. If the spirit can know things he doesn’t, why doesn’t this include proper pronunciation of words? William Fishbough, who wrote the introduction, admits he changed some things to make them clearer, so we’re not getting an exact transcript of what the spirit said.

We’re told another magnetizer Davis was associated with, SS Lyon, was a skeptic of clairvoyance (though not magnetism apparently) until he saw the proof. So you’d think he’d welcome skeptics, however Davis avoided the company of scientific men and his power conveniently doesn’t work when someone with an “uncongenial sphere” is present.

He claims to have predicted the discovery of Neptune which occurred in 1846. However, as the book wasn’t published until after Neptune was discovered, we’ll just have to take his word on that.

To magnetize someone, face them and do the “ordinary manipulations” (whatever those are) for three to five minutes. They’ll then act like they’ve received an electrical shock. Blindfold them to protect their eyes from the light. The subject will be quiet for about five minutes making occasional convulsions until the spirit wakes up. The subject will become rigid and almost stops breathing.

Let’s hear what the spirit has to say.

Part I

The first section basically says truth, happiness, peace, freedom, reason, and nature are good, while ignorance, sectarianism, slavery, and error are bad. He spends a lot of time repeating himself and not much time being specific. The spirit tells us everything is horrible now, but he has the solution to fix it, which he’ll reveal at the end of the book.

Physicians only care about making money. If they shared their medical knowledge, disease could be prevented. Drunkenness shouldn’t be allowed. If government was perfect, things would be perfect. Since truth is eternal and error is temporary, truth will ultimately win and paradise is inevitable. We should use our reason to decide what is true.

He condemns war and religious persecution. He thinks anatomy, physiology, and phrenology are true in general, but practitioners disagree on specifics. Doctors disagree with each other on diagnosis because you can’t trust the external appearances. Some things exist that you can’t verify, such as another person’s personal experience of pain. Therefore, all that is visible is caused by something invisible.

He explains how magnetism works using fancy sounding anatomical terms and jargon. He claims several classes of disease are caused by excess magnetic medium or positive fluid. A magnetizer can remove the superabundance of heat or magnetic ether to heal them.

There are four magnetic states. The first is not too different from waking. There’s a feeling of dullness and the subject is inclined to happy feelings. In the second state, the subject is deprived of muscular power and you can perform surgery on them without them feeling it. Their pupil expands, but they cannot see. The cavity of their ear expands, but they cannot hear. Their extremities are somewhat cold. Their state of consciousness is similar to that of someone dreaming.

The third magnetic state is similar to somnambulism. The subject can hear indistinctly. They can speak and have partial muscular action. They are connected to the operator through animal electricity and are completely under his control. The fourth state is clairvoyance. They can receive impressions of proximate objects. The mind is almost wholly disconnected from the body. Their body is nearly dead, kept alive only by the operator.

Even stone has a living and moving principle because stone decays and grows. Everything moves, but some things move in an invisible way such as metal rusting. He basically seems to be saying everything changes, therefore an invisible reality exists, but he calls this invisible reality spirit rather than microscopic. Particles advance from mineral to vegetable to animal. The sphere of Matter leads to Motion which leads to Life, Sensation, Intelligence, Mind, and Spirit.

Apparently, saliva prepares food for the stomach, gets coagulated into gastric juice, and ultimately forms into blood. The impure particles not capable of being refined into blood are expelled as feces. Blood gets further refined into serum or lymph, then ultimately perspiration. Who knew saliva was capable of such transformation?

He says every effect has a cause, therefore there must be a First Cause, but it’s absurd for something to have caused the First Cause. He says nature is obviously designed. The laws of nature are eternally progressive, eternally producing successive states of perfection. Because the internal is infinite, the external also is. Since all things eternally progress, life after death is a sure thing, but it’s not like any afterlife previously described.

Theologians should only study science since that’s the only way to learn about the Original Designer. Since the First is perfect, everything he created must be perfect as well. Man is unable to know the truth since he is distracted by the outer world. The theories of man are therefore wrong. The Original Organizer of the Universe has been forgotten, as has Spirit. (He avoids using the word “God” but calls him things like the Great Omnipotent Producer or Positive Mind.)

One of my big take-aways from Part I is that Jackson is a big fan of rhetorical questions and arguments from analogy.

Part II

In the beginning, the Univercoelum was an ocean of liquid fire without form, motion, or parts. It was one particle, one sun without beginning or end. It contained Power, Wisdom, Goodness, etc. Everything else was formed from this.

This section gets a bit muddled. He says the opposite of Power is Gravitation, but then later says there are no opposites. Just like Part I, Part II is very repetitious. He uses words like “indescribable”, “inconceivable”, and “incomprehensible” on nearly every page. He goes on and on about how impossible it is for humans to conceive of the size or age of the universe, taking dozens of pages to say what could be said in a sentence.

There are six circles of blazing suns, but we can only see the fifth, which is the one we live in. The universe is perfect and harmonious. In addition to the newly discovered Neptune, there’s a ninth planet “that traverses the outermost circle of the Sun’s atmosphere” but that’s it. No more planets after Pluto, so he missed Eris and the other dwarf planets.

Neptune’s “density is four fifths that of water. Its diameter is unnecessary to determine.” Neptune’s atmosphere contains “little oxygen, being mostly composed of fluorine and nitrogen.” The light there is several hundred degrees lighter than the light earth receives from the sun. Neptune has six satellites like Uranus. Neptune currently has no life, but it will in the future.

Uranus has life, and it rotates so quickly, it appears motionless to human eyes.

Saturn’s rings will become globes. Its surface is two thirds water and one third earth. It’s entirely free of volcanic activity and catastrophic occurrences. Saturn has an even surface, except for a few prominences near the poles. Life inhabited Saturn thousands of years before Earth, therefore they have achieved a higher degree of perfection.

There are millions of animals on Saturn, but he only tells us about five of them. One elephant-like animal has joints only in its hind legs. Its fore legs are elastic and pliable when occasion requires, but strong and immovable when it uses its will. It builds large caves to shelter in during the long night at the pole.

There’s also an irritable amphibious saurian. Another animal has human-like hind legs, but seal-like fore legs. It has bone-like scales which are impenetrable by any earth instruments and it resembles an iguanodon. There’s a humanoid on Saturn which is smarter than earthlings, but is like an ape when compared to the humans of Saturn.

The humans on Saturn have nearly transparent skin. Weakness and disease don’t exist among them. Their heads are high and long. Their houses are as big as our cities, but there’s only a few of them near the equator. They can comprehend the entire surface of their country at a single glance and are aware of the movements of the whole nation.

Jupiter has a tree which produces juice “which flows freely from the cups existing upon its exterior” and another plant which is part animal. There’s a seal-like animal, but it’s amphibious and moves fast on both land and sea. The humans of Jupiter are closer to perfect than those on Saturn. They do not walk erect, but use their hands and arms in walking. Their lower extremities are shorter than their arms. They are incapable of lying and have no disease. “They do not die, but rather sink into a repose by an expansion of their interiors which seek more agreeable spheres.” As they’re composed of finer elements than earthlings, they only live thirty years. They live in tents composed of blue bark.

The four asteroids will form a planet someday. They currently only have plant life, but will get animals soon.

Mars has a tree shaped like a spiral with leaves that are a mixture of blue, red, and green. It has a coconut-like fruit the inhabitants use for bread. Its bark is used for glue, habitations, and garments. There are three nations on Mars. Martians have a peculiar prominence on the top of the head. The upper part of the face has a yellowish cast. Radiations proceed from the forehead, eyes, and cheeks. The lower face is dark and they have no beard. They have no disease, but they are imperfect. They have blue eyes and can exchange thoughts by making eye contact.

Planets seem to generally get more perfect the further they are from the sun. Venus has taller mountains than earth, because apparently, smoothness is better. Venus has a lot of water on its surface. Venusians are made from heavier materials than us. Those on the further side focus on externals like science and are knowledgeable, but are ignorant of internal truths, nearly like earthlings.

Those on the near side are very tall and stout, both savage and cruel. They don’t know what’s right and lack spiritual promptings. They are strong and giant and enjoy torturing, killing, and eating their opponents.

The plants of Mercury barely rise from the ground and don’t have flowers. One third of the planet is covered by desert and is devoid of life. Vents near the deserts eject boiling water. Winds are so powerful they prostate plants, animals, and men. The winds bring desert heat with them and great destruction. The animals there would be disgusting and repulsive to us and they constantly prey upon each other.

The humans of Mercury act like animals but have a great memory and are narcissistic. They focus on internal knowledge, rejecting rhetoric and only focusing on the substance of what is said. They surpass Venus and Earth in this way, but they’re inferior in all other ways. Mercury has only been inhabited for 8,000 years. They have no well-organized societies, only constant war. They use stones thrown from a sling. Their bodies are covered with hair and they have dark countenances.

He spends a lot of time discussing geology, biology, and chemistry in a way that would impress a common person of the time, but I suspect would be filled with errors from a scientist’s point of view. Even assuming he gets all the details right, why does the spirit waste so much time telling humans what we already know?

He says the moon doesn’t cause tides, but rather the rotation of the earth does. Marine fossils are found in mountains due to tides being higher back then. He tries to reconcile science with the Bible. For example, when the Bible says God creates earth in six days, it really means six geological epochs. Cain and Abel are the names of nations, not individuals. (Later, he says the Cain and Abel story is based on Osiris and Typhon.) The Biblical flood wasn’t really worldwide, although it was pretty big.

Apparently, the ichthyosaurus could breathe on land and the megalosaurus had two sets of fins, a tortoise-shell coating and wings that were mainly used for swimming.

All higher things are contained in the lowest, so plants contain the potential for becoming animals and humans if subjected to the proper conditions. Dirt is a lower degree of water, water is a lower condition of atmosphere, and atmosphere is an imperfect form of electricity. Animals evolve from one type to another in less than a thousand years. He speaks of unicorns as if they exist, and classifies negros as belonging to the same category as monkeys and apes.

When language first developed, the Central Americans were the most refined, followed by the Europeans, Africans, and finally Asians. (Although people in Central America were afraid of the sun.) Asians came to America by a land bridge and are the ancestors of American Indians. Humanity began in Asia.

Communication through expressions is perfect, but people started using language which led to misunderstandings. This made people cruel, envious, and deceptive.

He tells us the Bible is true, although some passages have been altered or expunged. Apparently, Chinese worshippers of Brahma created a brazen image to represent the sun with the head of a unicorn and body like a fish. Also, Jews got the idea of the trinity from Zoroastrianism, despite the fact there is no trinity in Judaism.

The spirit is unnecessarily vague at times, such as when he speaks about Galileo without naming him. Genesis was not written by Moses and isn’t literally true, although the other four books of the Pentateuch were written by Moses and are generally true.

He tells us Napoleon Bonaparte crossed the Red Sea the same way as Moses. It wasn’t a miracle, just the tide going out. The Tower of Babel was built to preserve humanity in case there was another worldwide flood.

There is no free will. The Divine Mind orchestrates everything. If this is true, nobody deserves either praise or condemnation, but he does both. Also, he exhorts people to change their ways, but if they don’t have free will, isn’t he wasting his breath?

When Matthew quotes Jeremiah, he says Matthew must have mistaken the return of Israelites for the occurrence said to have taken place under Herod the king, so he’s apparently never heard of midrash.

He’s not a fan of Hosea. He tells us the Old Testament books don’t really predict Jesus. The birth of Jesus was not a miracle and Mary wasn’t a virgin. He thinks the wise men following a star is ridiculous. The devils cast out into swine didn’t actually happen. Jesus didn’t heal miraculously but gradually.

There is no hell. When Christ speaks of it, he is only speaking metaphorically. There’s no reason to think the ancients possessed more knowledge than us. They actually knew less. If Christianity is true, why do Christians go to war with each other? He doesn’t believe in Original Sin because this means the creator made men imperfectly.

He doesn’t believe in the Atonement either because this would mean the Creator had to correct an error in his plan, but since the Creator is perfect, this is nonsense. Faith is also nonsense because it isn’t manifested in deeds. Why demand people believe in things without evidence? Why are Jews persecuted for crucifying Jesus when God’s plan required it to happen? His death didn’t atone for sins since sin doesn’t really exist. He points out a few passages where the Gospels differ.

He ridicules Mormons for speaking in tongues, since they use a language unknown to both the speaker and the listeners. He asks his audience if they believe the miracles in the Bible, why don’t they also believe in Mormon miracles? He ridicules people who claim to channel spirits, but I thought this is what he was doing. I must have missed something.

Apparently, Luke was an artist who painted the first portrait of Jesus which can be seen at the Roman Academy of Design in the present day. Luke was only writing to Theophilus; he did not intend for anyone else to read his gospel.

He thinks all Paul’s epistles are authentic (present day Biblical scholars think only 6 or 7 of the 14 epistles attributed to him were actually written by him). He points out that Revelation was added to the Bible late. The present canon was voted on by a council. There are several other gospels that didn’t make the cut.

The Bible gets the story of Jesus wrong. Mary and Joseph lost their house soon after Jesus was born and Joseph had a dream convincing him to go to Egypt. Jesus did lay in a manger, but only for 40 minutes and he wasn’t born there. They then came back from Egypt. Jesus was “admired for the perfect symmetry of his form and cerebral structure.” Is this a reference to phrenology? He says the name Jesus was not common because of its association with an Egyptian deity, but it was actually a very common name at the time.

He says there’s another wunderkind like Jesus in the eastern states even now who impresses with his vast knowledge. (Is this a reference to himself?) Jesus healed using medicine, not miracles. He acknowledges that the account of Jesus wasn’t in some early versions of Josephus and some consider the passage an interpolation, but he still thinks it’s genuine.

The teachings of Swendenborg and Charles Fourier are equal to those of Jesus. Apparently, taste and smell are really touch, so there’s really only three senses. There are also three degrees in the afterworld depending on how spiritually developed you are. However, he also seems to talk about six degrees, so I’m confused on this point.
Part III

Part III is the shortest section of the book in which he tells us how to make the world better. He explains that capitalists oppress the poor, don’t pay them a fair wage, and don’t do their share of the actual work. The solution? Just pay workers a fair wage and make sure everyone does their share of the work. Why didn’t we think of that?

The need for money causes men to be greedy. Tradesmen, mechanics, and lawyers take advantage of laborers because of greed. We should have all things in common so everyone gets what they need.

Physicians don’t want medical science to advance, because then they’d be out of a job. They treat the rich rather than the poor. However, the most corrupt profession is clergymen. All misery, war, and conflict is due to them.

If everybody reforms their professions to be in accordance with nature, if greed is eliminated, and if everyone helps each other, utopia will be achieved this century. (In case you hadn’t noticed, we aren’t currently living in a utopia.)

This book reminds me of the Urantia Book in a lot of ways: being longer than it needs to be, going on and on about how perfect God is, describing life on other worlds, telling us what ancient earth was like, and retelling the stories of the Bible. Reading about how magnetism works and life on other planets was interesting, but most of this book is dreadfully boring and repetitive.

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