"By the Law of Periodical
Repetition, everything which has happened once must happen
again and again and again - and not capriciously, but at
regular periods, and each thing in its own period, not
another's, and each obeying its own law... the same Nature
which delights in periodical repetition in the skies is the
Nature which orders the affairs of the earth. Let us not
underrate the value of that hint."
- Mark Twain
1. The Mystery and the Stage
For over a million years man has been trying to predict his
He has always failed - and his failures are buried in the dust of
history. Legendary fortune tellers, prophets, oracles, medicine men,
astrologers, numerologists, mystics, charlatans, and seers, all
claimed possession of supernatural and occult powers that enabled
them to see into the future. Wars were fought, kingdoms fell, and
civilizations were altered as a result of their pronouncements and
We are not without their counterparts today. They invade our homes
through the media of television, radio, and the press, claiming
hidden and mysterious powers that enable them to solve murders,
foretell earthquakes, and blueprint our days in advance. They play
on latent superstitions within all of us, piously predicting the
next political assassination, the next airline tragedy, the next
But, working quietly behind the scenes, thousands of scientists in
fields as unrelated as history, botany, anthropology, mammalogy,
terrestrial magnetism, sociology, and economics - to name only a
few - are accumulating facts and figures that promise to make this
age-old dream of foretelling the future at least a partial reality.
A new science which deals with the behavior of events recurring at
reasonably regular intervals throughout the universe may ultimately
enable us to predict, scientifically and accurately, the events of
The consequences and responsibilities represented by this embryonic
science are almost too staggering to comprehend.
Try to imagine a
world where we will know, in advance, the probabilities of when the
next war will begin, when the next civil unrest will erupt into a
riot, when the next panic will descend on the stock market, when the
next flu epidemic will strike, and when the next great flood or
earthquake will occur.
And what of lesser events?
How would the Parisian salons operate if
all of us could forecast what the fashions for milady will be next
How would Detroit's auto makers react if they could accurately
forecast that our choice in automobile colors for the next model
year will lean toward a variety of blues instead of this year's
Would movie makers abandon pornography and turn to
musical comedies if it could be predicted that the latter will be
our preference eighteen months hence?
We are just beginning to probe one of nature's basic
secrets-rhythmic repetitions of events.
And when we unlock the last
door to our quest we will have the answer to what may well be the
greatest mystery in the world - cycles, and their cause.
What Is a Cycle?
Place your hand on the left side of your chest.
Feel your heart beat? You are feeling a rhythmic cycle - something
that occurs again and again at a more or less uniform time interval,
Our world contains hundreds of similar cycles, occurrences that
repeat with predictable regularity. Tides ebb and flow every I2y2
hours. There is the twenty-four-hour alternation of day and night.
The moon reappears every twenty-five hours. Woman experiences a
twenty-eight-day menstrual cycle. The seasons come and go on
schedule. All these cycles, and countless more, are understandable
and explainable. There is no mystery.
But there are thousands of rhythmic cycles in our world for which
there is no logical explanation, no known cause.
At present we know
little more about cycles than was known about chemistry in the days
of Boyle, Cavendish, Priestley, and Lavoisier, the fathers of modern
chemistry, who made their pioneering discoveries only a brief 175
We know little more about cycles than was known about
germs before Anton van Leeuwenhoek, in 1675, looked through his
famous microscope at a drop of rainwater and saw his first microbe.
Until that marvelous day no living man had seen these little
wriggling creatures. No man knew that there was a whole subvisible
world existing under his very fingernails!
There is much in common between the new world discovered by
Leeuwenhoek and the new world discovered by early cycle pioneers.
Dr. Hyde Clarke, of England, was the first to notice rhythmic
ups and downs (cycles) in business activity
Ernest Thompson Seton,
the American naturalist, was one of the first to call the public's
attention to the rhythmic variation in the population of animals
Samuel Benner, in 1875, was the first American to recognize
rhythmic cycles in prices
These men, and many others, noticed regularities caused by
something, they knew not what.
But they glimpsed a hint of forces
abroad in the universe - forces surrounding us and influencing us -
that had hitherto been as unknown as Leeuwenhoek's bacteria. Their
discoveries opened up a whole new world in which to adventure. When
these forces and their laws have been removed from the realm of the
unknown it should be possible to throw light on the coming of
epidemics, on future weather conditions, on the future abundance of
wildlife, and on hundreds of other natural mysteries.
But far more important, if these unknown forces affect the behavior
of human beings as they seem to, we find ourselves at the very core
of the problem of wars and depressions.
For if wars and depressions
are not caused by generals, businessmen, or politicians, as the mass
of the people believe, but are the results of - or at least are
triggered by - natural physical forces in our environment, we are on
the threshold of a completely different and extraordinary way of
life for all mankind.
The World of Cycles
The science of cycles deals with events that recur with reasonable
Such events may be in nature, business, or anything
else. The important thing about regularity is that it implies
predictability. And if you know an event is coming, you can often
prevent it or avoid it if you wish. Or if you cannot prevent or
avoid it, you can at least prepare for it so that its effect on your
life is lessened.
Most people do not realize the extent to which cycles and
regularities exist in the world. Here are only a few examples:
Atlantic salmon vary in abundance in a cycle that averages 9.6 years
from peak to peak. Starting with the year with the heaviest salmon
population, the fishing gradually gets worse and worse for four or
Then the fish start to increase in numbers. Fishing
improves each year for four to five years, so that eight to ten
years from your starting point the fishing is excellent again. These
years of good fishing have come at intervals averaging 9.6 years
apart for as far back as there are records.
In Illinois chinch bugs vary in population in a cycle that averages
The abundance of snowshoe rabbits in Canada varies in a cycle of the
same 9.6 years. So does the population of lynx, marten, fishers,
owls, and hawks.
Heart disease in the northeastern United States has been found to
fluctuate in a cycle of the same duration. The acreage of wheat
harvested in the United States varies according to the same cycle.
After this, it would probably not surprise you to learn that
grasshopper outbreaks and mouse plagues come in cycles that have a
duration of 9.6 years. But they don't. Grasshopper plagues come 9.2
years apart. Mouse plagues come four years apart - in
Presidential-election years. Why?
Pine cones are more plentiful in cycles. People join churches in
cycles. Prices of every commodity so far studied rise and fall in
cycles. Women are more amorous in cycles. Sunspots erupt in greater
numbers in cycles. Poets are more creative in cycles. The weather
fluctuates in cycles, and so do the fashions in clothes. Why?
The consumption of cheese fluctuates in cycles. The number of
international battles fluctuates in cycles. The number of
earthquakes fluctuates in cycles. Real-estate activities fluctuate
in cycles, as do the prices of common stocks. Why?
Male emotions fluctuate in cycles, as do industrial accidents. The
sales of every company so far studied fluctuate in cycles, as does
the incidence of many diseases. Why?
Cancer recurs in cycles, glaciers melt in cycles, and the levels of
lakes and rivers rise and fall in cycles. Advertising effectiveness
fluctuates in cycles, as do human intellectual activity and the
cattle population. Even political landslides and the number of
infants born per day fluctuate in cycles. Why?
In many instances the regular rhythm is undoubtedly the result of
But are all these cycles, some of them recurring time after
time for hundreds of years, merely chance phenomena?
arbitrarily blame them all on chance when we discover that many of
them, in phenomena completely unrelated to each other, have their
highs and lows at the same time - as if their rhythms were all being
controlled by a single gigantic metronome?
Somewhere Out There
Many cycles in nature seem to have the same wavelength as cycles in
human affairs, and some cycles found on earth seem to have the same
wavelength as cycles found on the sun.
The other planets may even be
involved, and the implications are strong that the solution to the
mystery of the cause of cycles will be discovered somewhere in the
universe - "somewhere out there."
The dimensions of the stage on which this search will take place are
awesome. Stand anywhere on the earth and you will be able to see
approximately 2,500 stars on a clear night. Imagine for a moment
that each star, actually a flaming ball like our sun, has been
transformed into a grain of rice. If this were so, you could hold
all 2,500 visible stars in a single hand.
But there are over 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone - and if
every star were only a grain of rice you would need more than forty
railroad cars to hold them all! And our galaxy is only one of 100
million galaxies, each rotating slowly in a cycle of its own, each
following its own path in the universe.
Just as grains of rice help us to visualize the star population, let
us borrow a few fruits and vegetables to reduce heavenly distances
to a scale we can understand. We will begin with one large pea, a
quarter-inch in diameter, as our earth. A small seed, one quarter as
big, placed only nine inches away, is our moon. Using this scale of
dimensions, our sun would be a giant melon, about thirty inches in
diameter, almost the length of a football field away.
Venus would be peas spinning around the sun between the sun and
earth. Now 423 feet from our sun let us place another pea, Mars.
Then we walk a quarter of a mile and drop an orange, Jupiter. We
travel another quarter of a mile and place down another orange,
Saturn. A mile from our sun we drop a plum, Uranus; Neptune, another
plum, is dropped at a mile and a half; Pluto, a pea, at two miles.
Merely to lay out our own solar system (remember, the size of our
earth on this scale is a pea) would require a field four miles
square. Then, of course, to make things complete you would have to
add dust to represent the 1,500 asteroids, the comets (more than a
thousand of them), and various moons, each with their cycles of
rotation and revolution.
Now the true immensity of our task is upon us, for in order to
position accurately the nearest star to earth we must leave our
four-mile-square field and travel 14,000 miles!
To continue until we
have covered only the stars in our own galaxy on the same scale we
must travel 3i/2 times the real distance to our sun!
And yet evidence is mounting that there is "something out
there" - some force, or forces, that affect every living thing on
earth, and it does so with rhythms that have taken man through
cycles of war and peace, prosperity and depression, optimism and
despair, discovery and isolation, morality and degradation,
creativity and ignorance, famine and plenty.
Time - The Yardstick
While you are still trying to relate the size of your own
neighborhood to the vastness of space, let us consider time and age.
In all cases we measure the recurrence of cycles by time - fractions
of a second, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years,
Some electromagnetic waves have cycles so swift that they are
measured in billionths of a second. The sun, on the other hand,
makes its circuit of our galaxy in a cycle of 230 million years.
At the turn of the century many people actually believed that the
world was created in 4004 B.C. Today the generally accepted age of
our universe is approximately 15 billion years. Our earth, however,
is a youngster, only about 5 billion years old.
Do you know how long 5 billion years is?
Let's try to comprehend this planet's age through another simple
scale with proportions we can all understand. An effective method
that I used years ago when teaching was to load my students in my
car and say,
"Now we are going to take a twenty-mile drive to
such-and-such a monument. We will let this twenty miles represent
the time from the creation of the earth to the present. As we go
along I will point out when various things happened - such as the
solidifying of the earth's crust, the beginning of life, the
emergence of the earliest mammals, the appearance of the earliest
men, the beginning of recorded history, when the United States was
On our scale of twenty miles to 5 billion years it was quite
surprising to the students how many miles we had to drive before we
came to the first life on earth - some sixteen miles, if I remember
Man, however, did not appear until forty feet from the
end of our journey. Recorded history began only one inch prior to
"now"; and the United States appeared only in the last 1/20th of an
Peas, plums, oranges, rice, melons - and a twenty-mile ride in the
country. Did they help you, in some small way, to comprehend the
grandeur of That Which created and sustains the universe-call it God
or Nature or whatever you prefer?
Man's Great Mental Change
What you have been able to grasp in the last few moments required
thousands of years for our predecessors to understand. Revising our
estimate of the time of the earth's creation from 6,000 years ago to
5 billion years ago - from inches to twenty miles - is perhaps the
greatest revision in knowledge in human history.
This mental change also applies to our concepts of mass and space.
Three hundred years ago people thought that our little planet was
the whole universe except for a couple of lanterns hung in the sky
by God to give us light by day and by night, and a handful of
fireflies scattered up there for no particular reason. Since then
man's "universe" has changed, first from the conception of our
planet to our solar system, then from our solar system to our
galaxy, then from our galaxy to the entire universe.
The widening of our mental horizons has been accompanied by
revolutionary changes in knowledge and technology that are even more
startling. Twenty-five years ago all that was known about steroid
chemistry could be contained in one slim notebook. Today all four
walls of a large room, floor to ceiling, are required to hold the
books and papers recording our knowledge in this field.
In our grandfathers' time (l/50th of an inch ago on our twenty-mile
scale) it required six weeks or more for a letter to travel from New
York to San Francisco. Now we can watch athletes competing in the
Olympic Games halfway around the world as the events are happening.
A little over 1/100th of an inch ago we were earth-bound. Today we
not only soar in the air faster than any bird but we have broken our
bond with the earth and its gravity, confidently looking toward a
future of interplanetary space travel.
Further examples are superfluous. The point, I think, has been made.
The present - the last 1/100th of an inch - is the most exciting and
wonderful time to live in of all the ages since the beginning of the
Is Man Only a Puppet on a String?
Yet as man brushes away his cobwebs of ignorance, as man acquires
new knowledge of himself and his universe, he is swiftly approaching
a point in time when he will be confronted with what may be a basic
secret of nature, for the evidence is mounting that we are
surrounded by cyclic forces, of which, as yet, we know almost
These forces bounce us like marionettes on a string. They
make us fight; they make us love. And all the while we think we are
doing these things solely for rational reasons.
This is an unsettling concept. It ranks with the discovery that the
earth is not the center of the universe, that man is not a special
creature but has roots in the animal kingdom from which he
developed, or that many of man's actions result from subconscious
loves and hates of which he is ordinarily ignorant.
Since it is demeaning to his self-esteem, it is perfectly
understandable that man should resist any hypothesis that holds that
his life and his universe vibrate in rhythms that are regular and at
least partially predictable and are caused by a force or forces
still unknown and possibly uncontrollable by him.
Nevertheless, the evidence that man is not one step down from the
angels, sublimely in command of himself and his world, continues to
accumulate. He is more like a character in a Punch and Judy show,
pulled this way and that by environmental forces. And he will
continue to be so manipulated until he solves the mystery of these
Only then will he be able to cut the strings and become
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