|Did climatic upheavals, such as scorching droughts,
bring about the collapse of civilizations in the
past, or was it cultural factors? Recent studies
have revived this old debate. Daniel Grossman writes
in Scientific American (December 2002):
For decades the dominant view has been that
cultural factors—war, religion trade,
palace intrigue—explain civilizations'
ups and downs. According to this view, if the
climate changes, humans adapt. "People
cope with remarkable tenacity," explains
Karl W. Butzer, an archaeologist and geographer
at the University of Texas at Austin.
Now the pendulum is swinging back to an earlier
view that emphasizes geophysical factors. The
shift is fueled in part by discoveries about
the climate since the end of the last ice age,
a period known as the Holocene....The discoveries
encouraged researchers to seek detailed regional
climate information by drilling sea and lake
sediment and glacier cores around the world.
Archaeologists began matching up important transitions
in civilizations with these climate records....But
many researchers are unwilling to cast climate
in a starring role again.
There is more to decline of civilizations than
just climatic and other physical factors. Cyclic
laws are ever at work, and what Mr. Judge says
about the dying out of races is equally true of
the collapse of civilizations. In his article
"Why Races Die Out" (reprinted from
The Path for October 1891 in THE THEOSOPHICAL
MOVEMENT for September 1968, he wrote:
The theory outlined by H. P. Blavatsky is that
when the Egos inhabiting any race have reached
the limit of experience possible in it, they
begin to desert that race environment and seek
for another, which, in the sure processes of
nature's evolution, is certain to be in existence
elsewhere on the globe. The Egos then having
left the old families, the latter begin to die
out through sterility attacking the females,
so that fewer and fewer bodies are made for
inhabitancy. This goes on from century to century
pari passu with mental decay....
At the time when the first steps toward old
age and decrepitude are taken by such a race,
the eternal cyclic laws that always bring about
a universal correspondence between the affairs
of man and the operations of cosmos cause cataclysms
to happen, and even in the seeming height of
a nation's power great numbers of bodies are
destroyed....After the lapse of more years the
natural cataclysms will increase in violence
and extent, engulfing more and more millions
of bodies and preparing for other cycles....
Hence I conclude that, like families, Races
disappear when they are of no further use in
the gaining of experience by the great pilgrim
Nature renders service to humans
in innumerable ways. There are powerful economic
reasons for protecting the natural environment;
but, argues Edward O. Wilson, evaluating individual
species solely by their known practical value
is "business accounting in the service of
barbarism" (Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2002).
There are deeper moral reasons as well which should
compel us to take responsibility for the natural
world, says the writer, who is Pellegrino University
Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology
at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative
Over the past half-billion years, the planet
lost perhaps one species per million species
each year, including everything from mammals
to plants. Today, the annual rate of extinction
is 1,000 to 10,000 times faster. If nothing
more is done, one-fifth of all the plant and
animal species now on earth could be gone or
on the road to extinction by 2030. Being distracted
and self-absorbed, as is our nature, we have
not yet fully understood what we are doing.
But future generations, with endless time to
reflect, will understand it all, and in painful
detail. As awareness grows, so will their sense
A much greater dependence on artificial means—in
other words, environmental prostheses—puts
at risk not just the biosphere but humanity
itself. Most environmental scientists believe
that the shift has already been taken too far,
lending credit to the folk injunction "Don't
mess with Mother Nature." The lady is our
mother all right, and a mighty dispensational
force as well. Ancient and vulnerable, she will
not tolerate the undisciplined appetite of her
gargantuan infant much longer....
Perhaps it is enough to argue that the preservation
of the living world is necessary to our long-term
material prosperity and health. But there is
another, and in some ways deeper, reason not
to let the natural world slip away. It has to
do with the defining qualities and self-image
of the human species. Suppose, for the sake
of argument, that new species can one day be
engineered and stable ecosystems built from
them. With that distant prospect in mind, should
we go ahead and, for short-term gain, allow
the original species and ecosystems to be lost?
Yes? Erase Earth's living history? Then also
burn the art galleries, make cordwood of the
musical instruments, pulp the musical scores,
erase Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Goethe, because
all these, or at least fairly good substitutes,
can be re-created.
The issue, like all great decisions, is moral.
Science and technology are what we can do; morality
is what we agree we should or should not do.
The ethic from which moral decisions spring
is a norm or standard of behaviour in support
of a value, and value in turn depends on purpose.
Purpose, whether personal or global, whether
urged by conscience or graven in sacred script,
expresses the image we hold of ourselves and
our society. A conservation ethic is that which
aims to pass on to future generations the best
part of the nonhuman world. To know this world
is to gain a proprietary attachment to it. To
know it well is to love and take responsibility
It is in man's own interest to become a co-worker
with nature instead of ever trying to exploit
In the coming year, NASA and
other space agencies are expected to intensify
the search for life on Mars and elsewhere in the
solar system. But the search is complicated by
the fundamental question: What is life? (National
Geographic, January 2003)
NASA has been using the definition: "Life
is a self-sustained chemical system capable
of undergoing Darwinian evolution." Other
scientists have circulated their own definitions,
such as, "Life is a chemical system able
to replicate itself through autocatalysis and
to make mistakes that gradually increase the
efficiency of the autocatalysis." Still
others say that life tends to elude capture
by any single definition. They are of the view
that "We will never have a good definition
of life as long as we have only one example,
The idea of universality of life is now gaining
increasing acceptance among scientists. At the
same time it is admitted that life on other stars
cannot be judged by the standard of terrestrial
life. What then is life? Is it just a chemical
system? Says an Occult Commentary: "From
the ONE LIFE, formless and Uncreate, proceeds
the Universe of lives" (The Secret Doctrine,
I, 250). "LIFE....radiates from the summits
of the Unreachable, to become a universally diffused
Essence on the manifested planes of Existence"
(S.D., I, 59). H.P.B. wrote in an Editor's Note
in The Theosophist for August 1883, under the
title "Transmigration of the Life Atoms":
Life, the occultist says, is the eternal uncreated
energy, and it alone represents in the infinite
universe, that which the Physicists have agreed
to name, the principle, or the law of continuity,
though they apply it only to the endless development
of the conditioned. But since modern science
admits through her most learned professors that
"energy has as much claim to be regarded
as an objective reality as matter itself"
and that life, according to the occult doctrine,
is the one energy acting Proteus-like under
the most varied forms, the occultists have a
certain right to use such a phraseology. Life
is ever present in the atom of matter, whether
organic or inorganic, conditioned or unconditioned—a
difference that the occultists do not accept.
Their doctrine is that life is as much present
in the inorganic as in the organic matter: when
life-energy is active in the atom, that atom
is organic; when dormant or latent, then the
atom is inorganic. Therefore, the expression
"life atom" though apt in one sense
to mislead the reader, is not incorrect after
all, since occultists do not recognize that
anything in nature can be inorganic and know
of no "dead atoms," whatever meaning
science may give to the adjective. The alleged
law of Biogenesis is the result of the ignorance
of the man of science of occult physics. It
is accepted because the man of science was hitherto
unable to find the necessary means to awaken
into activity dormant life in what he terms
an inorganic atom: hence the fallacy that a
living thing can only be produced from a living
thing, as though there ever was such a thing
as dead matter in Nature! (She Being Dead Yet
Speaketh, pp. 134-35
The love of freedom is innate
in man, but conceptions of freedom differ. We
need to enlarge our conception of its nature and
functions, says Manoj Das (The Times of India,
The 20th century has been one of the most memorable
periods in history. Imperialism, colonialism
and feudalism folded up and monarchy died a
natural death, showing that however powerful
a tradition may be, it becomes redundant once
its role in social evolution is over. The driving
force and the foremost objective of that process
is greater freedom for mankind.
If the time-spirit introduced democracy and
socialism in several nations, others imbibed
them spontaneously. Science and technology made
difficult tasks easy, allowing us more time.
Feminism paved the way for half of mankind's
emancipation from ancient taboos and prohibitions.
What the 20th century clearly established is,
in fact, the essence of a bio-psychological
need inherent in humanity.
The struggle for freedom begins in infancy.
The urge behind the child striving to walk is
an urge freedom of movement; behind its efforts
at articulation is the urge for freedom of expression.
As we grow, we also realize that much of what
we understand as freedom is a state of mind.
Freedom, therefore, is a relative experience.
Freedom at the physical plane is far less significant
than freedom at subtler planes....Freedom without
the right kind of knowledge can be ridiculous
as well as dangerous....
True freedom is liberation from ego, and not
its licentious demonstration. It cannot be tasted
unless one transcends one's ego, or at least
becomes conscious of the inevitability of this
Sooner or later one has to achieve this transcendence.
For most of us it is a long and painful process.
For some, nature accelerates the process through
disenchantment with one's ego....
Most values we live by today can be different
if we achieve freedom from ego and ignorance.
The 20th century blessed us with freedom external.
Should there be a collective aspiration, the
current century could well reveal to us freedom
internal, which alone can render the former
Individual freedom grows out of individual self-control.
Liberty is different from licence. There could
not be any real freedom except through self-mastery.
Says The Voice of the Silence: "The way to
final freedom is within thy SELF. That way begins
and ends outside of Self."
It is hoped that the ban on
human cloning in the U.S. will encourage other
nations to do the same. A news report reads:
After a lengthy debate on science and human
life, a bill endorsed by president George W.
Bush has been passed banning human cloning and
sentencing violators to prison and fines as
high as US$ one million. US legislators decided
to ban all cloning even as some urged for an
exception so researchers can continue to work
towards cures for diseases such as Alzeimer's,
Parkinson's and diabetes.
Lawmakers in the House maintained that all
human cloning research must be banned because
a cloned embryo is a human even before implantation
in a womb, and to destroy it for research would
In a previous book, Rattling the Cage, Steven
Wise argued the case for giving animals legal
rights. His follow-up, Drawing the Line: Science
and the case for Animal Rights, is an answer to
the questions often asked him about which animals
Wise draws a parallel between the fight for animal
rights and the formidable obstacles that faced
the opponents of human slavery. Slavery is not
a term applied to animals, but they are considered
property and that is enough for Wise to remark
that, "non-human animals are enslaved by
everyone." His thesis seems to be that the
more intelligent an animal, the more it is entitled
But even where less intelligent animals are concerned,
can there be any justification for cruelty? The
laws framed to prevent or minimize the cruelties
meted out to animals have many loopholes and man's
viciousness continues unabated. The apathetic
attitude of people towards this problem is shocking.
Even pet owners often ill-treat their pets. Animals
trained for circuses are also subjected to much
cruelty. However, international co-operation and
support has resulted in many successes against
the animal circus industry, reports Animal Defender
Cruelty is always bad, under whatever attempted
justification, and in every case among the injured
is the perpetrator himself of the cruel act. H.P.B.
pointed out in Lucifer for May 1888, answering
a question as to why animals suffer, "Every
philosophical Eastern system....inculcates kindness
and protection to every living creature."