"Scientific knowledge must pass through three stages before it can
reach full effectiveness. First, discovery by the experimental
researcher and his statement of the laws based upon it. Second,
publication of that discovery and the teaching that spreads the
information. Finally, the application of the discovery to some
- Roger Burlingame
5. The Invisible Messenger
Individual human beings are distinctly different from each other, as
you have seen.
But, in the mass, we all seem to march to the same drumbeat. We
conform, almost as if an invisible messenger appears among us from
time to time and gently whispers commands that we all proceed to
follow blindly and without reason.
This is one of the most important lessons we can learn from history.
Human beings, in the mass, have alternating periods of elation and
depression. They become belligerent in cycles, producing wars,
revolutions, and civil strife; this mass murder is then followed by
periods of passiveness, constriction, and inaction.
At one period they will flock to the financial centers of the world
and risk all their holdings on tulip bulbs, resort land, and that
intangible called a stock certificate. At other times they are
overwhelmed by plagues of doubt and they stampede to convert their
assets into cash and gold.
During one swing of the millennium's pendulum they elevate
creativity to a function approaching godliness. The artist, the
musician, the poet, become the princes of heaven. Later, ambitions,
instincts, and morality are submerged in the darkest of ages.
Why does our behavior alternate with such regularity?
Effect - Or Cause?
I lived through four years of college and well into the depression
of the 1930's before I ever heard the word "depression" in
connection with a business setback. The old word to describe this
state of affairs was "panic." When I first heard the word
"depression" I thought it was newly coined, but apt.
Sometime during that period, for some long-forgotten reason, I was
reading through some 1875 and 1876 issues of The New York Times
dealing with the severe hard times then being experienced in the
wake of the 1873 panic. To my great surprise I noticed that they had
used the word "depression" then. It wasn't new after all!
Are people depressed in a depression because business is poor? Or is
business poor because people are depressed? I suspect it is the
latter. Psychology defines depression as,
"an emotional state tending
to general inactivity."
What better term could be used to describe a
state of mind that might bring about a business setback?
As a specific instance, I remember that in 1930, after a stroke from
which he later died, my father was in what could be called a state
He had lost some money in the 1929 stock-market
crash, and it had become urgent that he immediately lower his
previous standard of living.
"Don't you realize that you must move to a cheaper apartment?" I
"Yes," he mumbled.
"Do you understand that you cannot possibly afford to stay in this
"Then, will you move?" "No," he answered faintly. "Why not?" "I
He knew that he should move. He knew that he must move - and yet his
power to act seemed to be paralyzed.
I conceive that human beings in the mass may be affected by forces
in the environment which first elate them, then depress them. Their
elation results in overexpansion; their depression, as in my
father's case, results in inability to think logically or to act
with any degree of common sense.
I also conceive that these forces, whatever they may be, also affect
plant life, animal life, and our weather.
That such forces do exist
is based on the following chain of reasoning:
Almost everything fluctuates.
Many things fluctuate in cycles or waves.
Many of these waves (like our alternating red and black playing
cards) repeat so regularly, so dominantly, and so many times, that
they cannot possibly be accidental or ascribed to "chance."
If the wave, or cycle, is not repeating by chance, then
something, some force, must "trigger" it.
When we discover the "force" or the "forces" we will have solved our
Internal and External Cycles
After we have ruled out the possibility that a cycle we have
discovered may be accidental, it must fall into one of two
categories. The rhythm has either an internal or an external cause.
Internal rhythms come in two varieties: dynamic or feedback. Dynamic
cycles are caused by actions within a system. Many of your bodily
rhythms considered in the previous chapter are dynamic. Like your
heartbeat they have no external cause. Heartbeats, of course, may be
momentarily influenced by outside forces - a pretty girl or a tiger
loose on the street - but the rhythm is not controlled externally.
Prices too may have internal or dynamic cycles. The price of gumbos
begins to climb. People note this and overbuy to protect themselves.
Then gumbos are no longer needed, for everyone is overstocked. The
demand slackens. Prices falter and begin to fall. People, seeing the
falling prices, hold off from buying in expectation of even lower
Prices eventually get too low and gumbos become a bargain.
People begin to buy, prices rise, and the cycle starts over again.
Many of these dynamic cycles are of the utmost importance to
specific branches of medicine, economics, and science. However,
their existence and cause are known, for the most part, and in the
study of cycles as such they are little more than curiosities.
Closely related to the dynamic cycles is the feedback group. To
understand feedback consider the relationship between your furnace
and its thermostat. When the air in your home becomes too cool, the
thermostat clicks and the furnace blazes into action. When your
house becomes warm, the thermostat shuts off and your house begins
to cool, causing the cycle to repeat.
Another form of feedback cycle is the predator-prey relationship.
Let us imagine that a certain type of bird can eat only a certain
insect and this specific insect is eaten only by this type of bird.
We begin with many birds and many insects. The birds have plenty of
food and so they multiply. As the bird population increases, the
insects get pretty well eaten up. Then, with no food, the birds die
off. Now the insects have a chance and they begin to multiply.
birds have food again. They begin to multiply, and the cycle starts
over. Under fairly constant conditions, the time intervals between
the highs in this particular bird population can be very regular.
Also, under reasonable conditions of uniformity, closed doors,
closed windows, and a constant outside temperature, the intervals
between our furnace going on can be fairly regular - a cycle.
All dynamic and feedback cycles have characteristics that indicate
they are not triggered by outside forces. The only sort of rhythm
that commands our attention is the sort that could conceivably have
an external cause - a forced cycle.
Forced cycles are those where the regulating mechanism - the
"trigger" - appears to be outside the system.
You are forced to arise
every morning because the rotation of the earth on its axis produces
night and day. You are forced to put antifreeze in your car when
winter approaches and you are forced to wear cooler and lighter
clothing in the heat of summer.
I am using the word "forced" in the technical rather than popular
sense. Obviously, unless you have a very unusual wife, no one will
hold a gun to your head to force you to arise in the morning. You
don't have to get out of bed because daylight has appeared.
Theoretically at least you can lie in bed as late as you like or as
long as you like - several hours, days, months, or even years.
when you do resume getting up in the morning it will be at some
multiple of twenty-four hours from the time you did it last. Your
twenty-four-hour cycle has continued as a force whether you have
been responding to it or not, and when you finally do respond, the
timing is set for you by outside forces. It is the same with the
cycles of other lengths with which this book is largely concerned.
To be able to distinguish between accidental, internal, and external
cycles is of prime importance. If the cycle is accidental, we know
it will not continue. If for three successions every fourth car you
pass on the highway is a Volkswagen, it does not follow that three
cars later you will pass another Volkswagen, except by accident.
At the other end of the scale: Even if you don't know the cause, you
can count on the 12½-hour cycle of the tides, the twenty-four-hour
cycle of the day, the twenty-five-hour cycle of the moon, the
seven-day cycle of the week (man-made to be sure, but a forced
cycle, nevertheless), and the twelve-month cycle of the year.
Between these two extremes is the great body of rhythmic cycles, any
one of which may be accidental or dynamic or feedback or forced. If
a cycle is accidental, it has, of course, no forecasting value. If
it is dynamic or feedback, it has some forecasting value.
If it is
forced, it has a great deal of forecasting value.
Do External Forces Exist?
Despite evidence accumulated through many years, the case for the
existence of outside forces that may cause rhythmic cycles has yet
to be proved.
We do not know that forces of this sort surround us,
and if they do exist, what they are. No one has ever seen them, for
they are as invisible as radio waves. Few people have even
considered their existence and we can only assume they exist from
the behaviors we have observed.
Radio and radio waves offer an analogy that presents us with one
possible, though partial, explanation of our mystery. Before I
proceed, let me repeat the word "possible" so that there will be no
misunderstanding between us. I am only putting our clues on the
table for your inspection.
We all know about radios and, in a general way, how they operate.
You are aware that the room in which you are now sitting is filled
with radio waves. You can't see, hear, feel, or smell them, but you
know they are there because whenever you turn on your radio the
waves are converted into sound.
You also realize that these radio waves bouncing around your room
are not identical. Each broadcasting station transmits waves with a
different number of cycles per second, and your radio receiver will
respond to one or another of these vibrations depending on where you
set your dial.
Now imagine that a man from Mars is a guest in my house. He is a
good physicist but he knows nothing about radio or broadcasting
stations. He examines my radio and after some time he is able to
determine that when he sets the dial at 79.4, the radio will vibrate
79.4 thousand times per second. When he sets my other radio in the
next room to vibrate the same way, it plays the same tune.
With these facts it does not take our brilliant Martian long to
reason that both rooms are filled with a vibration to which both
radios respond and that somewhere there is something that causes
these vibrations. When he moves both dials to 98.2 and then 101.4,
the same thing happens... and he assumes there must be a second
generating force, somewhere, vibrating at 98.2 thousand times per
second and a third vibrating at 101.4 thousand times per second.
But he has absolutely no proof that these waves or their sending
stations exist. He has deduced their existence logically through his
observation of the behavior of the little black boxes!
Now suppose that my man from Mars, while awaiting dinner, comes
across some statistics and papers in my library that indicate that
every ten years or so Canadian lynx are more abundant, creating a
rhythmic cycle of great regularity, with their population increasing
for four or five years and then decreasing for an equal span of
He also discovers that rainfall in London and rainfall in
parts of India fluctuate in cycles of the same length, as does the
abundance of ozone at Paris, the number of caterpillars in New
Jersey, the abundance of salmon on both sides of the Atlantic, and
many other phenomena. What's more, he learns that other things act
as if they respond to forces with different time intervals - but still
With all his Martian enthusiasm he exclaims,
"This is amazing. What
I have read is exactly like that radio thing - except that these
different phenomena seem to be the receiving sets instead of those
little black boxes. The black boxes vibrated in fractions of a
second but there must be other external forces that vibrate in
months and days and years instead of thousandths of a second."
"Now," he adds, "I shall ask my host to explain all this to me. He
can tell me, I am sure, what makes the black boxes play the same
tune when they are set at the same frequency. And he can also tell
me what makes dozens and dozens of phenomena on this planet vibrate
together as if they were all subject to the same force."
My friend from Mars overrates me.
True, I can tell him something
about radio waves and sending stations. I can explain "wavelength"
as the physical distance, measured in meters, between two successive
highs of radio waves. I can also describe "frequency" as the number
of these waves, traveling at the speed of light, that will pass a
given point in a second.
But for the longer cycles I have no explanation, no proof of their
existence. All I can do is present for his consideration, and yours,
the probability that our environment is pervaded by longer
waves - perhaps of a similar basic nature as the radio waves - that,
like their faster and smaller "brothers," cannot be seen, smelled,
heard, or consciously felt.
The crests of these longer waves, if
they exist, might come at daily, weekly, monthly, even yearly
intervals instead of thousandths of a second. And if they are
similar to radio waves, their physical length will have to be
measured in miles or even light-years instead of in meters.
No instrument of crystal, transistors, and wire, with dials and
gauges, has yet been devised with sensitivity sufficient to detect
and record these ultra-long waves.
We cannot prove their existence,
we do not know their cause or nature, and we cannot pinpoint or even
guess their points of origin. In the scientific sense they have not
been reproduced or demonstrated in a laboratory and thus they are
not recognized by scientific men of good will. And yet the
circumstantial evidence that they exist is overwhelming, and we need
only call Professor Brown's oysters and potatoes to the witness box
to shake the unbending minds of dogmatic science.
If instruments cannot, as yet, detect these forces, how do we know
that they exist? Because human beings, plants, and animals are
apparently sensitive to them. We judge that they are sensitive to
these forces because, in the mass, their behavior fluctuates in a
way that could not be chance any more than the behavior of our
alternating red and black playing cards.
Some will argue that these various events that occur in cycles
behave as they do because of inbuilt reasons. They say that the
cycles are dynamic or perhaps feedback. But they remain mute when
asked to explain how Atlantic salmon, Canadian lynx, Indian
Tainfall, and Parisian ozone could independently and internally all
possess what appears to be the same cycle.
There is no
thermostat-furnace relationship here by any possible stretch of the
Power to Change the World
We have circled around our evidence and it remains an enigma.
these regularities, or at least some of them, derive their rhythm
from outside forces, and if these forces obey laws that man can
discover and learn, our powers of prediction can change our world.
The implications within this possibility cannot be reviewed too
often - for we will be able to forecast, with some accuracy,
everything that is affected by these forces. Meteorologists,
farmers, and sportsmen have been mentioned earlier, but many others
who would benefit from the solution to our great cycle mystery come
to mind. Bankers would know the probable increase and decrease of
interest rates and general business activity.
Manufacturers would be
able to compute the probable increase and decrease in the demand for
their products, adjust their production schedules, and avoid
The real-estate gentry would have homes ready
for occupancy when needed and avoid the costly construction of
unwanted floor space. Investors would know, if they paused to take
heed, when the prices of stocks and commodities were about to
increase and when they were due to decline. Governments would know
in advance when they were approaching a period of international
tension and would be able to take suitable steps for appropriate
defense. There is no phase of human activity that could not benefit
from increased knowledge of the future.
Obviously if these forces do exist, and if they have influenced
human affairs in the past, any theory of human activity that fails
to take these forces into account is deficient. History, economics,
philosophy, and every other area touched by man would need to be
reevaluated. As one sociologist suggested, even sociology might
become a science.
Circumstantial though it may be, our evidence that such forces do
exist refuses to be swept into a closet. Pattern does exist, and
something must act to create it.^for in the absence of order the
natural state of things is disorder. Witness a handful of iron
filings thrown casually on the top of your desk.
If the filings
should fall into a pattern similar to that in Figure 6, you know
that there must be a magnet hidden under the desk top.
Even if you were an aboriginal savage who had never heard of
magnets, you would know that something is at work to convert into
order that which otherwise would be mere chance distribution.
The Consequences of Predictability
Hopefully this has opened new vistas in your concept of cycles.
Perhaps the possibility that man will eventually be able to predict
the future quickens your pulse. On the other hand, you may have
grave misgivings. The late Frederick H. Ecker, former Chairman of
the Board of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, once spoke out
on this point.
Mr. Ecker had been a guest at a luncheon given for me by Robert
Struthers, who at that time was a senior partner of Wood, Struthers
and Company, investment bankers. At the luncheon, naturally, I
talked about cycles.
After the luncheon Mr. Ecker said to Mr. Struthers (as nearly as I
can remember his words, repeated to me later by Mr. Struthers),
"It's all right to play with this cycle business if you are sure
there is nothing to it. But if you ever come to believe that this
fellow Dewey has something, drop it like a hot potato. There would
be nothing worse for the human race than to be able to know the
Probably Mr. Ecker meant that complete knowledge of the future would
be bad for man. If so, I agree with him.
Suppose you had complete knowledge of your future. You would know
everything that was going to happen from now to the end of your time
in the world. Among other things you would know, if it were the
case, that tomorrow afternoon you were going to be involved in an
automobile accident which would kill you. Naturally, knowing the
result of your forthcoming tragedy, you would not ride in an
Now this would have many consequences. Your wife would not
eventually marry the man from Peoria because she would not be a
widow. Your assistant would not get that promotion because you would
still be alive. Lacking the promotion, he would quit and move to
Rochester, which he would not have done if you had died. He would
have a child he would not otherwise have had. So would you. And so
on. In time the cumulative sequence of events would change the whole
course of history.
If you possessed this foreknowledge (unless you have more restraint
than most of us), I am afraid you would exercise your powers for
your own benefit, no matter how much it upset the plan and pattern
of the universe.
But the study of cycles can never give complete foreknowledge. There
will always be accidental variations and non-cyclic factors that will
enter into every situation, no matter how much we know about cycles.
When the caveman learned that winter and summer alternated with
regularity he took a major stride forward in learning how to adjust
to his environment. Thereafter in warm times of plenty he could lay
up food and fuel for the cold times of want.
Is it too much to hope that a million years later we can learn and
make use of cycles similar to our caveman's simple cycle of the
year - but with other and more complex wavelengths?
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