Heaven in a Snowbot

Edward Snowden has become a household name as the famous or infamous National Security Agency (NSA) document leaker and whistleblower. He notoriously outed the mass surveillance of ordinary American citizens and people around the world by the United States and allied governments, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies. When Snowden revealed these mass surveillance programs to the public, it led to a major debate on privacy vs. security in the computer age—a debate that continues to rage right up to the present.

To avoid arrest and almost certain conviction on espionage charges that would likely mean decades in jail, Snowden is now in self-imposed exile in Russia.

But that hasn’t stopped him from appearing for lectures, debates, panel discussions, and committee meetings in New York, Princeton, and at many other locations around the United States and the world.

Edward Snowden via "Snowbot"

Edward Snowden via “Snowbot”

How does Snowden do it? For his appearances in the New York area, he uses a 5’2” robot called a “BeamPro.” It has two wheels, two legs, a flat screen monitor, a camera, and microphones, all of which Snowden controls from his computer keyboard at an undisclosed location in Russia. It was quickly dubbed the “Snowbot.”

For appearances farther afield from the Manhattan offices of the American Civil Liberties Union, where the Snowbot resides, Snowden speaks from screens and monitors on location through encrypted video teleconferencing.

For the full story, see “I, Snowbot,” by Andrew Rice, at nymag.com.

All of this modern robotic and communications technology gives Snowden a great deal of freedom, not to mention a decent income from speaking fees, despite his confinement in Russia. Although his body is confined to an apartment and neighborhood in Russia, he can go virtually anywhere he wants, meet new people, and engage in an active public life.

It’s a brave new world!

And yet, to long-time readers of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), it all sounds strangely familiar.

In the spiritual world, distance does not matter

Way back in 1749, decades before the development of the first technologically-based long-distance telegraphy systems, and centuries before the development of modern computerized telecommunications and robotics technology, Swedenborg wrote this about how people get together in the spiritual world:

The spirits we are thinking about—people we knew in some way during bodily life, for instance—show up instantly, when the Lord allows it. They are so close that they stand at our ear, in arm’s reach, or at a little distance. Although they may have been several thousand miles away, or even up among the stars, it is no obstacle, because the distance of a place does not matter at all in the other life. (Secrets of Heaven #1274)

A little later in the same book, he went into more detail—and he was well aware that it would sound strange and even unbelievable to his readers:

I have learned, both by talking with angels and by personal experience, that spirits as spirits are not in the place they appear to be, so far as the [spiritual] organic substances composing the [spiritual] bodies they have are concerned. They can be very far off and still appear in that place. I realize that people who allow illusions to fool them will not believe this, but it is still the fact of the matter. (Secrets of Heaven #1378)

He goes on to provide examples of how here on earth, we would have no idea that sights and sounds were not right in our eye and ear if we had not learned from infancy to determine their distance by various means. And he concludes the discussion by saying:

When spirits walk or move around or go from one place to another—a frequent sight—it is nothing but a change of state. That is, it appears in the world of spirits as a change of location but in heaven as a change of state. (Secrets of Heaven #1379)

By “state” here Swedenborg means the state of our mind and heart. In other words, the way we think and feel about things determines our “location” in the spiritual world. So people who think and feel similarly about life are close to each other, while those who think and feel very differently dwell at a distance from one another proportional to their differences. In other words, in the spiritual world, “birds of a feather flock together.”

Two more “marvels of the next life” from Secrets of Heaven #1274:

Communities of spirits and angels seem to occupy different positions, even though locations and distances in the other world are simply differences in state. . . .

No spirit or angel is too far away to be seen, and yet no more of them come into sight than the Lord allows.

In line with that second statement, elsewhere Swedenborg describes how angels and spirits can see and talk to one another over vast spiritual distances as if they were right next to one another.

The physical world is catching up with the spiritual world

All of this sounded very strange—even outlandish and irrational—to Swedenborg’s readers when he first published it in the mid-18th century, when such things were impossible here in the material world.

And yet today, in the 21st century, we do these things every day.

Through the use of technology, we can not only speak to loved ones and business associates around the world in real time, but we can see their faces onscreen as we talk to them, and even look around at their surroundings. And advancements in the field of holography promise to make full 3D projections of ourselves across vast distances a reality before long.

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden’s “Snowbot” is one of the newer technological means of achieving long-distance presence among people of similar minds. And once the people at the other end have gotten used to the technological delivery vehicle, it almost vanishes. It feels as if the person is actually present. Here is an excerpt from the nymag.com article linked above:

Needless to say, it is initially disorienting to hear messages of usurpation emitted, with a touch of Daft Punk–ish reverb, from a $14,000 piece of electronic equipment. Upon meeting the Snowbot, people tend to become flustered—there he is, that face you know, looking at you. That feeling, familiar to anyone who’s spotted a celebrity in a coffee shop, is all the more strange when the celebrity is supposed to be banished to the other end of the Earth. And yet he is here, occupying the same physical space. The technology of “telepresence” feels different from talking to a computer screen; somehow, the fact that Snowden is standing in front of you, looking straight into your eyes, renders the experience less like enhanced telephoning and more like primitive teleporting. Snowden sometimes tries to put people at ease by joking about his limitations, saying humans have nothing to fear from robots so long as we have stairs and Wi-Fi dead zones in elevators. Still, he is quite good at maneuvering on level ground, controlling the robot’s movements with his keyboard like a gamer playing Minecraft. The eye contact, however, is an illusion—Snowden has learned to look straight into his computer’s camera instead of focusing on the faces on his screen.

Here’s the really odd thing, though: After a while, you stop noticing that he is a robot, just as you have learned to forget that the disembodied voice at your ear is a phone. Snowden sees this all the time, whether he is talking to audiences in auditoriums or holding meetings via videoconference. “There’s always that initial friction, that moment where everybody’s like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’ but then it melts away,” Snowden told me, and after that, “regardless of the fact that the FBI has a field office in New York, I can be hanging out in New York museums.” The technology feels irresistible, inevitable. He’s the first robot I ever met; I doubt he’ll be the last.

Yes, here in the physical world, through amazing advances in technology, we are finally achieving the sort of long-distance human interaction that Swedenborg described over two and a half centuries ago as a matter of common experience in the spiritual world.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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7 comments on “Heaven in a Snowbot
  1. Brian says:

    Nice post, Lee 🙂

    I never really thought about it, but I guess our current digital age is in fact more spiritual in the way we can close distances for interaction.

    In the world of online video games, this is definitely something I’ve experienced often. As example: Four friends – myself in Florida, one buddy in California, one in Vancouver, and even one in Japan. All sharing some banter and laughs while going on a wild west adventure together. The wonder of it is certainly to be appreciated.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      Yes, I have come to believe that all of our developments in advanced technology are really an attempt to accomplish technologically here on earth what happens effortlessly in the spiritual world as part of its basic “operating system.” And the way it brings together people of like mind from all around the world is a mirror of the spiritual world.

  2. Tony says:

    hi lee

    i always wondered why we die and not able to live longer don’t get me wrong there are scientific advancements that will help improve our life spans but in heaven it seems you don’t die at all does that mean we are essentially immortal and can never die?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Yes, although our physical body obviously does die, our spirit–including our spiritual body–is immortal and can never die. We will live forever in the spiritual world.

  3. Tori says:

    If I was good friends with someone who was very different from me would we still be able to see each other in heaven?

    I’ll just make up a friend to help you understand by question: For example, maybe this friend prefers to draw realistically or maybe not draw at all, but I like drawing cartoons. Maybe we would like different kinds of music. Maybe we have different opinions on certain things. I have a couple of friends who like shooters, but I only like a couple of them (I think they get very repetitive).Of course, we may have a couple things in common, but we aren’t completely similar.

    Would I be able to see that friend in heaven?

    Also, would I be able to communicate with people in heaven the same way you would go on social media or Skype to talk to people? I’m kind of a mix between an extrovert and an introvert, and sometimes I want to talk to people. While I was in Disney a couple weeks ago, I was talking to so many workers my family tried to get me to stop, haha!

    But sometimes, I like being alone. Sometimes I would rather watch videos and draw. Sometimes I would rather text somebody than call them so I can listen to a video or a song or play a game while talking to them.

    Would there be technology in heaven? If I go to heaven, could I literally say hi to everyone on Heaven’s Facebook, haha!

    I have a bunch of questions, but I’ll get the bigger one out of the way. Its sort of unrelated to the heaven topic, but you know how Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth? If that’s the case, how did everyone else in the world get here? After all, there are only two humans. Even if they were to have children, they’d be the only human family on earth. Incest is a sin (or at least I think so. I’m just assuming it is), so I’m not sure if that would be the case, since incest would be the reason for people like Mary and John the Baptist (I think that’s his name?) and everyone else in the Bible, unless God made an exception for that time because it sort of happened for the greater good in a way…?

    I’m not sure if this was explained in the Bible or something, I’ve never read it, admittedly. I don’t come from a super religious family, so we usually just go to church sometimes and I make sure to pray at least once every day, and if I don’t it’s probably because I was tired and fell asleep or I was too busy or stressed out.

    But I was just curious.

    Sorry for this super long wall of text! Have a great day!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tori,

      On your questions about heaven:

      Yes, even friends who are very different from one another can see each other in heaven. They may live in different parts of heaven, but people in heaven can travel, too, if they want to, just as we can travel to see distant friends here.

      Also, even in the same community of heaven people are not identical. They have different interests, hobbies, likes, and dislikes. It’s more the underlying moral and spiritual goals and values that determine who’s in the same communities and who’s in different communities. Liking different types of video games is not really a core aspect of a person’s character. 😉

      And as far as social media, its capabilities have been built right into the “operating system” of heaven right from the beginning. In many ways, our advanced communications technology here on earth is just a rather clumsy way of achieving what’s been going on in heaven for thousands of years. It’s questionable whether we even need all that technology in heaven. But since people from this culture are used to it, I suspect it does exist in the heavens where the people of this culture go.

      And in general, we’re still the same people in heaven that we are here. We still go through the same types of changes from day to day and moment to moment that we do here. We’re a lot clearer on exactly who we are and what we’re doing. But we still live like . . . people there. We don’t become someone completely different. For more on this, see: “The Afterlife: It’s Not as Different as you Think!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tori,

      In answer to your other question, Adam and Eve were not two literal individuals created by God. Those first chapters of Genesis were never meant to be taken literally. Instead, they are symbolic stories (secular scholars would call them “myths”) that metaphorically tell the story of the spiritual and moral development and path of the earliest human beings on earth, and also of our own early spiritual development as infants and children.

      This, of course, is not what traditional Christian churches teach. But those churches believe all sorts of outlandish things based on an overly literal reading of the Bible. For more on this, see: “Can We Really Believe the Bible?

      Though there are a number of articles here that talk about Adam and Eve, I have not yet written and posted an article specifically about the spiritual meaning of Adam and Eve. But in general, they represent a whole early culture of human beings who were just becoming truly human. For a taste of what the symbolic or spiritual meaning of those early chapters of Genesis is like, see: “Noah’s Ark: A Sea Change in the Human Mind.”

      Of course, if there were no literal individuals named Adam and Eve who were the first humans, there is also no issue with their children having to commit incest in order to populate the earth.

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