Rhythms and Cycles

By Willy Ph. Felthuis

It was at a large, internationally famous flower exhibit in Holland that I saw, as a child, for the first time a film of a young plant breaking through the soil, of a rose spreading its petals, a fern frond unrolling. Even at that age I sensed something of the miracle of the pulsating life, the spiraling urge of growth, the beauty of each groping leaf unfolding along invisible pathways, and the experience was never forgotten. Since then, both slow-motion and time-lapse photography have acquainted us with a whole new world, in which movements become far more graceful and rhythms far more pronounced than they normally appear to us.

We live in a force field of throbbing energies, of wheeling cycles. Some of these, such as our heart beat and breathing, are essential to our physical existence; others -- the ebb and flow of the tides, for instance -- seem to touch us only lightly or not at all; still others hold us firmly in their dominion, sweeping us along in their unwavering courses, the most obvious of which are perhaps the days and seasons. All are part of the eternal symphony of the universe, finding expression here in the gently lilting tune of a bee's wing, there in the forceful drumbeat of continents rising and falling. Cycles, rhythms, vibrations, waves . . . they are just different words for the same characteristic that marks every form of life. A few are picked up directly by our sense organs, while others have to be translated by our sophisticated instruments into wave lengths that we can perceive, among which are electric and radio waves, X rays and cosmic rays. But there must be many cyclic patterns still unknown, either because they are located in ranges of which we are ignorant, or because their rate of movement is too fast or too slow for us to sense or understand.

In this immensity of motion there are crescendos and diminuendos, melodies and counterpoints, all held together by the unfathomable score of the music of the cosmos. Although the limited mind of man detects now a chord, then a recurring note, the grand theme as yet eludes him. He is like the archaeologist who, having found just three shards, has to try to envision the whole jar to which they once belonged. Human curiosity being what it is, he is fascinated by these pieces and realizes that the only way to find an answer, however approximate, is to uncover more fragments. He cannot and should not jump to conclusions; after all, the parts could be of a cooking pot, or a water pitcher, or an elegant amphora. So, patiently, diligently, he goes on assembling data.

This is what Edward R. Dewey, president of the Foundation for the Study of Cycles (now affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh), has done for thirty years. In his book Cycles, (Cycles, The Mysterious Forces that Trigger Events, Hawthorn Books, Inc., New York, 1971. $6.95.) written together with Og Mandino, he presents some of his findings. Over the years he traced the varying cycles in stock market prices, the economy, wildlife abundance, prices of wheat, corn and cotton, precipitation, in wars, tree rings and fashion designs, and many, many more. It has become a very interesting report, though unsatisfying because the reader is left with a rather heterogeneous pile of potsherds with which he does not know what to do. But for this the author cannot be blamed. On the contrary, he shows admirable courage and self-discipline in not assuming relationships, in not posing hypotheses which could, at the moment at least, not be proven. Towards the end of the book it is clear that Edward Dewey, who in 1931 was appointed chief economics analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce with the special task of finding out what had caused the market crash two years before, has been haunted ever since by the same questions which now will be pursuing his readers.

Dozens of examples of cycles, ranging in time from a few months to more than a hundred years, pass by in parade, from the more obvious ones within our own body, to those of human affairs, and beyond to those in the universe. Whenever the author came across reliable records which had been kept for a sufficiently long time to trace and determine any possible regularity, he added these to his collection. Naturally, these data had to meet certain requirements of the laws of probability, so that the element of chance could be ruled out, before any definite cyclic trend could be established.

The emphasis in the book is on those patterns which are of interest to the average person, some of which were hitherto completely unknown, or had been reported only as an isolated observation. We are presented with graph after graph (somewhat simplified, though in a mathematically justified way, to make them easily understandable), showing the 2.75-year cycle in residential building construction, the 4.33-year cycle in precipitation in Baltimore, the 5.91-year cycle in stock prices and grouse abundance, a 7-month and a 7-year cycle in creativity of many well-known artists of history; but we are also told that quite a few events are influenced simultaneously by several cycles, such as cotton prices which fluctuate with both a 5.91-year and a 17.75-year regularity. International battles have occurred through the centuries with frequencies that seem to he involved with periods of 11.2, 21.98, 57 and 142 years! While in the latter case the smallest cycle, that of a little over 11 years, might well be connected with the sunspots (which apparently, according to the Russian professor, A. L. Tchijevsky, have an unmistakable effect on human excitability), any explanation for the other figures is still lacking.

And what about a 4-year cycle in plankton, an 8-year cycle in lynx and red squirrel abundance, a 9.2-year cycle in partridges and grasshoppers, which last also show a 15-year regularity? And what to make of the 18.2-year cycle seen in the United States in the number of marriages as well as of immigrants, in the thicknesses of tree rings in Java, and the flooding of the Nile? These are just a handful of the fragments with which we are left -- and those who have a lot of time and a mathematical bent can have a great deal of pleasure trying to find some answer to the mystery. For mysteries there are, in significant quantity, especially with regard to some cycles which not only adhere closely to their pattern, but also, after a man-made interruption such as a world war, resume that pattern exactly in rhythm, without distortion, as if there had been no disturbance at all. This was found to be the case, for instance, in the acreage of wheat planted and in the construction of residences.

It would not be fair to give the impression that Edward Dewey has given little thought to the underlying reasons for these cyclical phenomena. Though rightfully cautious in drawing conclusions, he is not afraid to investigate every avenue that might lead to a clarification. There is, for example, the generally accepted relationship between the periodical increase and decrease of sunspots and the variations in terrestrial magnetism, but there is none between the sunspots and crops, as had been supposed earlier. While involved in disproving the latter assumption, Carlos Garcia-Mata and Felix Schaffner of Harvard University found in 1934 that there was a correspondence with manufacturing and production. However, they observed an unexpected shift in timing: the peaks and valleys in industrial production came before, and not after, the highs and lows of the sunspot cycle. After careful study the two researchers discovered that the rate of change in the number of sunspots showed a dramatic parallel with the waves in production.

Dewey himself examined the work of Tchijevsky, mentioned earlier, whose Index of Mass Human Excitability he compared with the sunspot fluctuations. He was able to prove that here too the solar activity followed rather than preceded the highs -- by about one year. Can it be, he wonders, that the cycles on the sun and those on earth are caused by a third factor, to which the sun reacts more slowly?

Other studies of relationships of terrestrial happenings with solar and lunar phases are cited: Dr. C. G. Abbot's research on the slight, but apparently regular variations of 22.75 years in the solar constant (a measurement of the sun's energy received at the outer layers of the earth's atmosphere which had been believed to be constant) and parallel changes in weather, barometric pressure and precipitation; Professor H. S. Burr's investigations of the fluctuations of electric current and voltage in different trees, all behaving in unison, though separated by thirty miles or so. Dewey suggests that this phenomenon may well be related with the moon cycles and explain the belief popular in many areas that trees must be cut when the moon is waning. There are strong indications that all life forms on earth respond to the lunar cycles, even man. It was found that more births take place during the waxing than during the waning period of the moon, while deaths from tuberculosis increase after the moon is full. In addition, there are the revolutions and relative positions of planets and comets, and the waves emitted by quasars and pulsars, all weaving an intricate network of vibrations.

Towards the end of the book the author remarks that he feels like the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe who made copious notes about his observations of moon and planets, before the invention of the telescope, still assuming that moon and sun circle around a stationary earth. Yet his assistant, Johannes Kepler, later made one of the most significant breakthroughs in astronomy, basing his theories on the very notes of his teacher, whom he had succeeded as court mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. Is Dewey condemned to a fate similar to that of Brahe's? Looking at the wealth of material gathered, he asks: "Are there unknown environmental forces, predictable in their effects, that influence human beings and other forms of life and even nonlife here on earth -- and if so, what are they, and how do they operate?"

He sees as promising roads of further study the electromagnetic field of the solar system which affects our globe and all life on it. Even inorganic chemical reactions are somehow influenced by electromagnetic forces, as Professor Giorgio Piccardi, of Florence, Italy, noted when he measured the times needed for certain reactions to be completed -- and they varied with the time of day, of the year, the sunspot cycle and the strength of the electromagnetic field around them. Man is equally sensitive to these forces: the dowsing rod has been shown to react to electromagnetic fields, whether natural ones or those artificially set up without the dowser's knowledge.

The research of cycles is still in the primary stage -- characterized by the assembling of data, waiting for some pattern to unfold, some hypothesis to "fit." However, if the investigations are focused exclusively on surface appearances, it may be a long time before any true explanation will be offered. Just as the archaeologist assumes that the shards are part of some kind of vessel, which in turn belonged to a specific civilization, the student of cycles will have to keep in mind that his findings are but part of a larger structure. Edward Dewey himself hints at this when, observing that the sunspot cycle lagged behind that of production, he wonders whether there might be a common cause for both phenomena. It is certainly possible. But we should not forget that behind every phenomenon there is the noumenon, the unseen, causal force, and that the sunspots themselves may well be merely the outer signs of inner, unobservable pulsations which reach their peak of strength prior to the appearance of those dark spots on the solar surface.

To speak about forces without acknowledging some living unit behind them is like studying the pulse in our little finger without taking into account the rhythm of the whole body, heart, blood vessels, etc., not to mention the mental and emotional life of the human being who inhabits this physical frame. All laws of nature belong to a system which is not just a mechanical structure, but a system enlivened by a vital consciousness. All bodies we see, all forces we encounter and recognize, all physical laws we observe, are expressions of spiritual entities, large or small, semi-conscious, fully conscious, or of a scope of awareness so vast that it surpasses human imagination. Always there is Life, a living entity, behind every pulsation, wave, cycle and rhythm.

It is this spiritual aspect that we have to bring within the horizon of our thinking. As Toynbee states in Surviving the Future:

I believe that man is a spiritual being; but he is also a physical organism who finds himself in a universe that has a material as well as a spiritual facet.

Such a concept will not bring scientific explanation any closer, nor will it suddenly clarify the various observations and data collected through the years -- but it will center our thoughts on the one unifying factor now missing so deplorably in much of our scientific research. There is, no doubt, a spiraling out and upwards, and a spiraling in and downwards in every living entity, physically as well as spiritually. The surging and vibrating reaches of life, small lives within larger lives, encompass all, humans, animals, plants, rock strata and atoms, our globe itself, as well as the sun, moon and planets. Indeed, in it even the galaxies are immersed.

 (From Sunrise magazine, May 1972; copyright © 1972 Theosophical University Press)

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