In 1970, Alvin Toffler described the symptoms
of a new disease he called "future shock"-a
psycho-biological condition caused by "too
much change in too short a time." Technological
and social changes were taking place so rapidly,
Toffler argued, that individuals and society at
large could no longer adapt to them and were heading
for "a massive adaptational breakdown."
Since the publication of Future Shock almost
30 years ago, the rate of social change has radically
An article in the December 1998 issue of The
Futurist draws from Hyperculture: The Human
Cost of Speed, by Stephen Bertman, an educational
consultant and professor of classical and modern
languages, literatures, and civilizations at Canada's
University of Windsor.
The accelerated pace of life and work, says Bertman, is causing
the rampant illnesses of our society-including the disintegration
of the family, the degradation of the environment, unlimited
commercialism, and unrelenting stress. "Hyperculture"
is warping our morals and ethics, and the remedy, he argues,
requires nothing less than a drastic slowdown; we must reassert
control over the technologies that now dominate us in order to
ensure a humane future for our children and ourselves.
We are becoming overwhelmed by "the power of now"
and are losing our perspective and our ability to find our purpose
and meaning for the future, writes, Bertman:
Supporting by an electronic network of instantaneous communications,
our culture has been transformed into a globally integrated system
in which the prime and unchallenged directive is to keep up with
change....Without question, this speed can be exhilarating. It
brings us what we need and want faster than ever before. But
that same speed can also add stress to our lives....
As we travel at warp speed, we fall under the sway of a new force,
the power of now. The power of now is the intense energy of an
unconditional present, a present uncompromised by any other dimension
of time. Under its all-consuming power, the priorities we live
by are transformed in a final act of adaptation to electronic
speed. Our lives cease to be what they once were, not because
life itself has changed, but because the way we see it has been
The power of now replaces the long term with the short term,
duration with immediacy, permanence with transience, memory with
sensation, insight with impulse....
By assigning the highest priority to speed, the power of now
undermines the value of those experiences and activities that
require slowness to develop: psychological maturation, the building
of meaningful and lasting human relationships, the doing of careful
and responsible work, the creation and appreciation of the arts,
and the search for answers to life's greatest problems and mysteries.
At the same time, by encouraging the immediate gratification
of the senses, the power of now obscures the need to cultivate
those skills and virtues-patience, commitment, self-denial, and
even self-sacrifice-without which no civilization can long endure.
Today, society's highest goal is: "Get
as much as you can as fast as you can." The
long-term effects of this "hyperculture"
still remain to be felt.
Another trend of our time that is causing concern
is the information explosion. Far from making us
any wiser, say the experts, the Information Age
"could become a blank spot in human history."
Joel Achenbach's article reproduced in The Times
of India (March 23) warns against the gathering
Institutions and individuals alike are coping with a deluge
of books, journals, tapes, legal records, documents, electronic
mail and torrents of raw data. All this material is supposed
to be stored and preserved....
In 1472 the library at Queen's College in Cambridge, England,
had 199 books. At the height of the Renaissance there were people
who could claim plausibly to have read every important book ever
written. Today, no one can read everything. The world of knowledge
is a vast ocean; the best you can do is occasionally go for a
swim. More than 50,000 books are published every year in America
alone. The number of journals published globally is estimated
at 400,000. Soon every home will have access to hundreds of television
channels. The World Wide Web now has millions of sites. "It's
significant that we call it the Information Age, James Billington,
the Librarian of Congress, says. "We don't talk about the
Knowledge Age."...He says that in this era of data overload,
we may be going in the wrong direction. "Our society is
basically motion without memory."...
The Library [of Congress] has 113 million items, and every morning
20,000 more pour into the loading dock....Mr. Billington says
the library must play a role in saving the Internet from turning
into a dumb-bunny domain, a mere offshoot of what he calls the
"audiovisual culture." The Internet shortens attention
spans, he says... "It's inherently destructive of memory.
You think you're getting lots more information, until you've
found out you've made a bargain with the devil. You've slowly
mutated and have become an extension of the machine."
In this our Information Age, the stress is only on quantity; it does not
know the meaning of quality. It can in fact confuse
the mind instead of leading to clarity of understanding.
It deprives us of responsibility, judgment, wisdom,
enlightenment, and dwarfs our status as human
beings. T. S. Eliot has aptly summarized our dilemma:
"Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
There is today a philosophy of physics and a
philosophy of biology, but many philosophers have
until recently overlooked the field of chemistry.
But things are now changing. The chemists and
philosophers gathered at Cambridge University,
U.K., for the second meeting of the International
Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry "are
looking hard at the much-neglected philosophical
underbelly of chemistry for anything from grand
theories of matter to useful metaphors derived
from the everyday work of chemists toiling in
the lab over complex instruments and reactions."
"A growing number of people have begun
to consider chemistry from a philosophical viewpoint,"
writes Lila Guterman in New Scientist.
Among the few dedicated researchers in this field
is David Baird, a philosopher at the University
of South Carolina in Columbia, U.S.A., who believes
that "there's a whole pile of interesting
science and history of science that has been unexplored
from the philosophical point of view." Eric
Scerri, a chemist at Purdue University in West
Lafayette, Indiana, is another strong campaigner
for the philosophy of chemistry. Both Baird and
Scerri draw philosophical inspiration from chemistry
and are studying what it can reveal about our
understanding of the nature of matter. The researchers
believe that even looking at how chemists build
and use scientific instruments like lasers, detectors
and spectrometers can prove of help, because someone
must design them using their knowledge of the
Universe and its laws of physics, chemistry, optics
and electronics. "The very nature of the
material world is built into their instruments."
The Secret Doctrine speaks of "the
missing links of chemistry" (I, 82 fn.),
and calls chemistry and physics "the two
great magicians of the future" (I, 261).
Elsewhere ("Misconceptions," THE THEOSOPHICAL
MOVEMENT, May 1968), H.P.B. calls Alchemy the
"mother" and "soul" of chemistry;
and "as long as this truth is not recognized,
chemistry will continue to run in a vicious circle
and will produce nothing beyond materiality."
Says The Secret Doctrine:
It is easy to show...how Scientists, wedded
to their materialistic views, have endeavoured,
ever since the day of Newton, to put false masks
on fact and truth. But their task is becoming
with every year more difficult; and with every
year also, Chemistry, above all the other science,
approaches nearer and nearer the realm of the
Occult in nature. It is assimilating the very
truths taught by the Occult Science for ages,
but hitherto bitterly derided. "Matter
is eternal," says the Esoteric Doctrine.
But the matter the Occultists conceive of in
its laya, or zero state, is not the matter of
modern science; not even in its most rarefied
gaseous state. (I, 544-45)
There is but one science that can henceforth
direct modern research into the one path which
with lead to the discovery of the whole, hitherto
occult, truth, and it is the youngest of all-chemistry,
as it now stands reformed. There is no other,
not excluding astronomy, that can so unerringly
guide scientific intuition, as chemistry can.
All normal human beings are subject to periodic
changes of mood, from peaks of cheerfulness or
elation, to sloughs of despondency. "There's
a theory in psychology that contends that whenever
you feel an emotion, you later experience the
opposite emotion in a milder form," says
psychologist Charles Kimble of the University
of Dayton in Ohio, U.S.A. This phenomenon, he
comments, could explain why we feel exhilarated
after being very anxious, or feel unexpectedly
down after an enjoyable event.
Studies conducted by Dr. Kimble and his colleague
Lourdes Maria de la Uz are reported in Psychology
Today. They found that people can put themselves
in a positive mood by watching a skit or by listening
to classical music, or by reading something that
makes them feel full of energy or joy. But these
vibrations do not last long. After a while people
begin to neutralize their positive feelings, sometimes
by recalling negative memories from their own
lives. "I don't know why someone would want
to get out of a good mood, but we seem to have
a built-in tendency to restore a neutral state,"
remarks Kimble. When left to themselves, "people
are psychologically inclined to moderate their
The mood cycles may be short or long, depending
upon the individual, but most people are entirely
unaware of the progress of these psychic transformations
within themselves. Almost always, some external
explanation is devised for a fit of the "blues,"
and people are apt to believe that there is no
escape from these emotional cycles. Modern psychology
continues to discover the mechanisms of
psychic life, but is none the wiser as to the
causes of psychic or emotional experiences.
In contrast, students of Theosophy have the direct
counsel of W.Q. Judge-based on a knowledge of
the soul and its creative powers. Attention is
invited to his article "Cyclic Impression
and Return and Our Evolution" (U.L.T. Pamphlet
No. 24) where he writes about cycles in moods
and how we can use them to our advantage.
Psychologists are saying that behaviour is a key
predictor of our physical well-being. Health psychology,
or how to prevent and treat illness through psychological
intervention, has lately been gaining ground in
some hospitals, reports Psychology Today
(January/February 1999). One proponent of the trend,
Ronald Levant, dean of the Center for Psychological
Studies at Nova Southeastern University in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, has this to say about the new
Clinical Health Psychology...promotes study
of the interaction between psychology and serious
illness, disease prevention, physical rehabilitation
and the general upkeep of good health....
Between 50 and 70% of all visits to physicians
are for problems rooted in psychology. And mounting
evidence proves that psychological intervention
can be useful in treating a wide range of problems,
from AIDS and asthma to obesity and osteoporosis.
I envision a day when psychologists will work
alongside doctors and nurses....Psychologists
should at least be part of the primary health
The age-old wisdom that mind affects body in diverse
ways is no longer in doubt, and fresh evidence is
pouring in. New research shows that psychological
stress-even a commonplace stressor like an exam-may
be just as harmful to a wound's healing as neglecting
physical treatment. (Psychology Today, November/December
If even a mild routine strain like exams can retard healing, conclude the scientists,
then surgical patients and others who suffer greater
anxiety face a major health risk. By inhibiting
immune system functioning, stress can lead to
infection and weakness in patients.
"Wounds with long healing times can be a
real drain if you've just had surgery," says
Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University.
Closing a wound "is an important-and exhausting-task
for the body." It is the stress hormones,
she explains, which can disrupt healing.
There is general lack of understanding about phobias,
obsessions and compulsive acts by the public in
general and even by many doctors. Quite often, people
having minor phobias or compulsions make a spontaneous
recovery, but for others they are serious problems
of the psyche that interfere with their daily lives
and that mere psychotherapy cannot cure, writes
neuropsychologist Vanit Nalva in Life Positive.
But even such cases can be nipped in the bud if
dealt with understanding and patience, he says:
An obsession is a recurring and involuntary
though, image, or impulse that evokes anxiety.
People who are obsessed regard the thoughts
senseless and even unpleasant, but are unable
to stop or ignore them....
Compulsions are recurrent actions that are generally performed
in an attempt to dispel obsessive thoughts. But the effect is
quite the opposite....
Phobia is a pathological fear of a particular class of objects
or situations that are unrelated or even disproportionate to
the threat they seem to present....
Obsessions and phobias generally result from severe stress, experiences
over time, a fear of fear, a thought pattern transmitted by another
person, severe trauma in the past....
Research indicates that these conditions may not generally be
relieved by interpretative psychotherapies such as psychoanalysis.
However, treatment that focuses on changing an individual's behaviour
could be effective. One such therapy is behaviour modification....A
behaviour modification therapist helps the affected person in
avoiding ritualistic activity by exercising self-control or carrying
out alternative activity....If, along with behaviour modification,
the person is also taught how to deal with stress, the progress
The crux is that you should be aware of your responsibility to
yourself. The solution has to come from you alone-a therapist
will merely show the way.
When the full effects of inharmonious mental attitudes are discovered by
the public and by the medical profession, an important
step will have been taken in diagnosing many an
ill afflicting our civilization. The remedy lies
in teaching people the truth about life and nature-the
truth that worries and fears and phobias and the
objects of sense which produce them belong to
but a small and inconsiderable part of the whole
being, and that regardless of what may seem to
the personal man the crash of worlds, Life,
which is himself, will continue to exist of its
own power and essence as it has existed through
the past eternities.
I COULD argue for the economic value of preservation-the
biotechnology that leads to the discovery of medicines
and so forth. But if you push me to the wall,
I'm for zero deforestation, zero extinction. I
believe we have a moral obigation to other species.
The only real reason for saving them is that it's
When you're alone in the forest, you're aware
that life is everywhere around you. I feel a part
of it. At the same time, I realize that I am just
one more form of life in a very complex system.
This is as close to a religious experience as
I get-which is why, when I see a rain forest being
bulldozed to make a few dollars for a logging
company, I feel like I'm watching Notre Dame or
the Louvre being hit with a wrecking ball. It's
strange, but wherever I am in the forest, I feel
that I'm home.
(President of Conservation International)