The past gives us knowledge and experience, and the present
gives us the power to change things; but, together, do the past
and the present allow us to envision and shape the future? The
future does not exist and cannot provide us direct knowledge
of what will happen, points out World Future Society President
Edward Cornish; but there is a "continuity of pattern"
which makes the future a little more knowable (The Futurist,
July-August 2001). The future, he explains, is an idea, not a
physical reality. All of our information about the future comes
from the past, but we can use this information to know some things
about the future.
It is important to recognize very clearly [writes Cornish]
that our ideas about the future cannot come from the future itself
because the future, by definition, is not a physical reality.
The future exists only in the ideas we have about it
The most important ideas of all-for individuals as well as
organizations-may be those that make up a vision of the long-term
future. Visions are the invisible blueprints that we use in building
our lives. We refer to them again and again as we shape our personal
and collective destiny. Our visions give birth to our goals,
energize our efforts, and guide our strategies. If the right
visions could be placed in the heads of the world's poorest people,
they might become the richest in a single generation
Basing our ideas about the future on information from the
past is possible because the future world emerges gradually from
the world of the past and present and is continuous with it.
This continuity gives us a basis for thinking about what will
happen in the future.
Cornish mentions four types of continuity between the past
and the future: continuity of existence, continuity of change,
continuity of pattern, and continuity of causation. The continuity
of causation, he says, is fundamental to our understanding of
the world. "Without this bedrock continuity in the nature
of reality-the continuity that gives us such things as the medium
of time and cause-effect relationships-we would be totally lost
is we tried to anticipate the future."
The past, the present and the future have been called "the
ever-living trinity in one." The future lies in the present
and both include the past. Says The Secret Doctrine (I,
The three periods-the present, the past and the Future-are
in the esoteric philosophy a compound time; for the three are
a composite number only in relation to the phenomenal plane,
but in the realm of noumena have no abstract validity. As said
in the Scriptures: "The past time is the present time, as
also the Future, which, though it has not come into existence,
still is," according to a precept in the Prasanga Madhyamika
teaching, whose dogmas have been known ever since it broke away
from the purely esoteric schools. Our ideas, in short, on duration
and time are all derived from our sensations according to the
laws of Association. Inextricably bound up with the relativity
of human knowledge, they nevertheless can have no existence except
in the experience of the individual ego, and perish when its
evolutionary march dispels the Maya of phenomenal existence.
What is time, for instance, but the panoramic succession of our
states of consciousness? In the words of a Master, "I feel
irritated at having to use these three clumsy words-Past, Present,
and Future-miserable concepts of the objective phases of the
subjective whole, they are about as ill-adapted for the purpose
as an axe for fine carving."
As regards the evolution of humanity on Earth, The Secret
Doctrine postulates a polygenetic origin-"the simultaneous
evolution of seven human groups on seven different portions of
our globe" (II, 1). A contentious debate has been raging
among anthropologists, one side believing that Homo sapiens
descended from a single pair, or a single female "Eve,"
whose progeny spread around the globe, replacing more archaic
species; and others taking the opposing view that humanity emerged
in many places as people colonized the world and gradually evolved
to their modern state.
Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan, U.S.A., is
one of those scientists who support the latter view. In an interview
with Discover magazine (June 2001) he said:
I think the evidence, both anatomic and genetic, has been
there a long time. It tells us that the Eve theory is wrong.
For instance, various skeletal features show continuity of form,
from ancient to modern, in several parts of the world. The Eve
theory predicts abrupt change.
Some people have interpreted Wolpoff's theory to mean that
certain races are more evolved than others. His response to this
I get deeply upset to think that I've ever contributed to
racism, even if it is only by people misquoting me. What people
are generally quoting is the idea that modern humans arose in
one place and then went around interbreeding with everyone else,
which opens itself up to a racist interpretation. What I've actually
said is that modern features developed everywhere and spread
everywhere because they were helpful
There are no pure races. Our populations are thoroughly mixed,
and we are related to everybody. The idea that one race could
be better at something than another race makes no sense. If a
trait is important, everyone has it.
The Secret Doctrine (II, 610) states categorically:
Mankind did not issue from one solitary couple. Nor was there
ever a first man-whether Adam or Yima-but a first mankind. It
may, or may not, be "mitigated polygenism." Once that
both creation ex nihilo-an absurdity-and a superhuman
Creator or creators-a fact-are made away with by science, polygenism
presents no more difficulties or inconveniences (rather fewer
from a scientific point of view) than monogenism does.
The interconnectedness of all life is true at all levels,
including the biological level. Our health depends on a healthy
planet. In other words, improving human health is inextricably
linked to ecological well-being-is the message from a new movement-of
doctors, scientists and activists. Kenny Ausubel writes in Utne
Reader (May-June 2001) about the coming age of ecological
There is a new understanding of health and illness that has
begun to move away from treating only the individual. Instead,
good health lies in recognizing that each of us is part of a
wider web of life. When the web is healthy, we are more likely
to be healthy
The first step toward a healthier future, I belive, lies in
ecological medicine. Pioneered by a global movement of
concerned scientists, doctors, and many others ecological medicine
is a loosely shared philosophy based on advancing public health
by improving the environment. Its central idea is that industrial
civilization has made a basic error in acting as if humans are
apart from rather than a part of nature. Human
and environmental health are inseparable. And in a biosphere
that is rampantly toxic and woefully depleted, a mounting number
of our health problems can only be understood as part of a larger
Ecological medicine suggests first doing no harm to the environment,
then going further, creating a medical practice that itself minimizes
harm. Like virtually all earlier healing traditions, it emphasizes
prevention, strengthing the organism and the environment
to avoid illness in the first place.
In addition to instructing healers first to do no harm, Hippocrates
also instructed them to "revere the healing force of nature".
By looking to the principles of ecological healing to restore
the Earth and ourselves, we create not only the conditions for
individual health, but also the basic for healthy societies.
Are altruism, generosity, fair play, willingness to share,
innate in us or acquired? To find out where our moral sense comes
from and how we can shape it, a group of investigators questioned
university students in cities all around the world, as also people
belonging to some of the most remote, traditional societies on
earth. The same question was asked to all: If you were given
a bundle of cash equivalent to a week's earning on condition
that you share the money with someone else you know, how much
would you offer the other person? New Scientist (10 March
The results reveal that people appear not to share a common
sense of fairness. Instead, what people from industrialized societies
consider fair is just one of a broad spectrum of perspectives.
"The way people play these games relates consistently to
the way they live their lives," says Herbert Gintis, an
economist from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. To
put it another way, our social environment shapes our sense of
morality. As the anthropologists look deeper, they are beginning
to understand what makes one society generous and another selfish.
And that, in turn, raises the possibility that we can shape our
societies to favour fair play
The most co-operative society is also the most generous, while
the least co-operative is the meanest. Could there be a pattern
emerging? After all, a society's level co-operation is central
to the way it runs its economy. The researchers suspected that
this and other economic variables might be the curcial factors
that determined people's behaviour in the ultimatum game
It might all sound rather academic, but the work has important
practical implications. If our moral values are shaped by our
lifestyle rather than by human nature, then we should be able
to promote good social behaviour in the correct social context.
In brief, the results of the investigations seem to show that
society, not the individual, is what counts. But what is society
made up of if not individuals? In our age, self-centredness,
acting for one's own benefit, rather than for others, is considered
normal and natural, yet people go out of their way to help others,
even strangers, and to share with them, much more often than
is normally believed. There is an innate sense of fairness, reciprocity
and sympathy in all; its roots lie in the basics of human nature.
The capacity for empathy, for deriving pleasure from other people's
pleasure and distress from their distress, is bred in each human
being. Its opposite is "an abnormal, unnatural manifestation,
at this period of our human evolution."
A Reuters report from London should be an eye-opener for those
who hanker after what are commonly looked upon as the "good
things of life." Fast cars and designer labels may be the
dream of many, but research released recently shows that craving
material possessions can cause depression and anger. Australian
academics found a positive correlation between materialism-or
an "excessive concern" for material things-and negative
Shaun Saunders, one of the authors of the report from the
University of Newcastle, Australia, said that it came as no surprise
to discover that money cannot buy you love. But what researchers
are looking for is "scientific evidence" to support
the truism. "While there is growing concern over the environmental
effects of materialism and global consumerism, little attention
has been paid to its psychological effects," he said. Saunders
explained that one source of depression among dedicated consumers
was the fact that what they acquired tended to lose its value
"If your self-worth is invested in what you own, as can
be the case in our market-driven society, then these things may
not hold their value very long," he said. In most cases
materialism is based on people using possessions to define their
place in society. "People want to compose themselves to
others. In our society the criterion tends to be what you own."
"This is the 'keeping up with the Jones's' idea. It
can be a very frustrating experience trying to stay ahead of
others, which can be a precursor to anger expression." It
also leads to conformity, based on the notion that the self in
a market-based society is treated as a commodity whose value
is determined externally.
That animals have intelligence of their own kind has long
been known, and now some behavioural scientists claim that they
also have culture. Scientists define "culture" as behaviour,
skill or knowledge-a way of life-that one shares with and acquires
from others on one's species but that differs from the way of
life practiced by those of the same species living elsewhere.
Just as immigrants adopt the accent and customs of the country
that they move to, so animals copy the local customs when they
join another group. This behaviour is neither acquired genetically
nor compelled by the environment. By this yardstick, researchers
are finding evidence of culture in chimpanzees and macaque monkeys,
in killer whales, humpbacks and birds-throwing into doubt the
centuries-long contention that humans are the only cultured creatures.
"There is so much resistance to the idea of animal culture,"
says primatologist Frans de Waal, "that one cannot escape
the impression that it is an idea whose time has come."
Newsweek (May 21) reports:
Pooling data on how chimps dig for termites, gather ants,
use leaves for seats and engage in other behaviours, researchers
identified 39 traditions that qualify as cultural variations.
The behaviours range from ways of greeting to ways of eating,
tool us to courtship
. "We had long thought that culture
marks us as distinct," says chimp researcher Andrew Whiten
of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "But now we
look across the animal kingdom and find whole suites of traditions
that we must recognize as cultures." If culture is not uniquely
human, then neither is it some deus ex machina that descended
from on high. Culture, instead, evolved. What fosters it? Intelligence
matters, of course-there had to be a first monkey to figure out
potato washing. But just as crucial is having the young stay
with their mother for years, giving them time to learn the group's