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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 69 No. 7, May, 1999

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 increased.

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 altered.

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 storm:

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. (I, 580-81)


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 emotional reactions."

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 discipline:

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 care team.


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 1998)

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 is faster....

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 right....

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.

-RUSSELL MITTERMEIER
(President of Conservation International) 



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