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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cycles of Time

The idea that time is cyclical is very old. To say that time is cyclical is to say that time just sort of goes round and round. It doesn't really have a beginning or end, it just progresses through various stages in the cycle and eventually gets back around to where you started at. Then you just keep going back around again and again. Today, most people typically think of time as linear. Basically it just appears we're going from point a to point b.

But time is cyclical, at least in the most basic form of the concept. The sun goes up and down every day. It's a cycle that continually repeats itself. If you count 365 of those cycles, you have a cycle of four seasons. Everytime you go through the 365 daily cycles, you go through the cycle of the four seasons….over and over again. Now most of us don't look to far beyond the cycle of four seasons, but if you're an astronomer or an astrologer, you can point out all sorts of other cycles, whether they're sunspot cycles on the sun, or cycles based on where a particular planet or star is in space at a particular point in time. All of these cycles just keep happening over and over again.

You could go into detail about the reasons why these things happen…position in space, the magnetism involved, and the speed heavenly bodies rotate and revolve at. But the reason why these cycles happen isn't the point I want to make, the point I want to make is that these things do happen, nevermind what is causing them to happen.

As for linear time, it's not really contradictory to the concept of cyclical time depending on how you look at it. Because even if time doesn't literally have a beginning and an end, you can still plot points on the timeline and draw a line from point a to point b. In other words, linear time can be used as a way to chart events, but linear time itself may not even exist. It may just exist as a way to keep records.

So with that said, what if there is more to cyclical time than just cycles based on positions in space? What if civilizations are based on cycles? As a history buff, I know that history definitely repeats itself – that's not just some old saying. Civilizations rise and fall, and you can find many parallels between them. But what if the cycle of historical civilizations rising and falling is just part of a much larger cycle – a cycle that isn't just limited to a tribe or geographic location, but a cycle of humanity? What if the rise and fall of civilizations is like the rising and setting of the sun, and the rise and fall of humanity as a whole is like the coming and going of the seasons of the year? Some people seem to think so.

Solon, an ancient Greek statesman, spoke of a time he visited some Egyptian priests and learned about the history of the lost continent of Atlantis. Plato later wrote about the history of Atlantis and described it as an advanced civilization that came to a cataclysmic end when the continent sank. The famous 20th century psychic Edgar Cayce later claimed to be the reincarnation of an Atlantean. Cayce described Atlantis and its history, noting that before its demise, the Atlantean people were an advanced civilization. Some have suggested that the Atlanteans had technologies that rival or surpass our own technologies today. It's has also been said that they had a Great Crystal they used to transmit energies throughout the land, and later they inadvertently caused their own destruction by tuning the Crystal's energy to high. The destructive frequency it was tuned to caused volcanoes to erupt, mountains to melt, and ultimately submerged the continent. It's said that a remnant of Atlanteans survived, and they influenced the early civilizations of our recorded history.

The book of Genesis in the Bible doesn't specifically speak of a civilization of people existing before Adam, however, some have pointed out what may be subtle indications of a civilization existing prior to Adam. It's suggested that there is an undisclosed gap of time that occurs between verses 1 and  2 of Genesis.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2 KJV)

It's suggested that the earth had existed for a long time, and verse 2 picks up after a catacylsmic event has occurred. While there is no way to prove that, the theory is based on how the events of the creation are described. In verse 1, it is said that God created the heavens and the earth. But in other parts of the story where God is in the process of forming the earth, the word 'made' is used numerous times. To us, these two words mean practically the same thing. But the words 'create' and 'made' are translated from two different Hebrew words with different meanings. In Hebrew, to 'create' something means to bring it into existence from nothing. However, something that is 'made' is something formed from something already existing. To clarify, think of sitting down at a table to eat a sandwich. If you just snap your fingers and a sandwich magically appears, then you created the sandwich. But if you have a loaf of bread, a package of ham, and a package of cheese and you put pieces of each of them together, then you've made a sandwich. So in other words, parts of the Genesis creation story seem to indicate that as God was creating the world, he was actually using some things that he had created at an earlier time and already existed.

That alone isn't proof of a fallen civilization that existed before Adam. But in the King James Version of the Bible, God tells Adam to be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28). God later told Noah to do the same thing after the Great Flood. But if was Adam was first, then what was there to replenish? Later translations of the Bible don't use the word 'replenish' in this passage anymore.

J.R.R. Tolkien also used a concept of cyclical time in his writings. He describes a legendary time of prehistory, with three cycles being completed and, at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the fourth cycle starting. At the beginning of the fourth age, the Elves and other races sail to Valinor, while the race of men remains in Middle Earth.

A more recent example of the concept of cyclic time being used in story telling is the new 'reimagined' series of Battlestar Galactica. The prehistory of the series describes the history of humanity beginning on a planet called Kobol. The people of Kobol reached a high level of civilization before having to leave Kobol due to some unexplained event or environmental catastrophe. Twelve tribes of humans then went and settled twelve other planets and started over. The twelve human tribes eventually reached a level of advancement rivaling or surpassing the level of advancement their ancestors on Kobol had achieved. Their advancements and greed turned out to be their undoing though, because the Cylons, the sentient robots they created to serve them, eventually turned on them and nearly destroyed humanity completely. Humanity's ancestors on Kobol had apparently already built Cylons of their own during ancient times. The Cylons built on Kobol left Kobol and started their own colony 2000 years before the humans of Kobol left to start over. Ironically, the original Cylons apparently suffered the same fate as their human counterparts though…they built their own robotic servants who eventually turned on them! Towards the end of the series, some of the Cylons join with the humans and destroy the other Cylons. The rebel Cylons and the human remnant settle on a planet they decide to call Earth.  They destroy their technologies by setting their spaceships on a course towards the sun. At the end of the final episode, the story skips 150,000 years into the future to Times Square in New York. On a TV screen can be seen a documentary about advances in robotics. New York City is reminiscent of Caprica City, the capital of the former human colonies. Despite the efforts of the 'ancestors' to stop the cycle of destruction (by destroying their technology and starting over), it seems the message of the story is that humanity is still following that same cyclic path of destruction.

So if we are to assume that there was a human civilization prior to us, why have we forgotten it? Perhaps that is just part of the cycle. In the book of Isaiah in the Bible, we are told that God will create new heavens and a new earth and that the "former things" will not be remembered. What if this is just part of the cycle though? Are there "former things" that we have forgotten too?

I think one reason that people are so intrigued by apocalyptic predictions of destruction is because we seek to escape the way things are now. I think most of us know that the way society is now, is not the way it is supposed to be. There is not supposed to be hate, war, famine, and greed. Yet, it seems it is difficult for us to break away from this mold. Perhaps we think that an apocalyptic 'ending' will give us the opportunity to start over fresh and set things right. Even if we dimiss the claims some have made of a civilization prior to Adam, we can still see this theme in the story of Noah. In Noah's time, humanity had grown wicked and depraved, but Noah was found to be righteous. Noah and his family were then given the opportunity to start over fresh when the Great Flood wiped out the rest of humanity. We see this same theme in Battlestar Galactica. The remnant of humanity that survived the destruction the colonies sought to start over on a planet called Earth. Is this the opportunity we are seeking? Are we seeking the opportunity to start over? Are we seeking the opportunity to end inequality? The opportunity to end hate, wars, famine, and greed? Is this why we want the cycle to start over?

If time is indeed cyclical and humanity is stuck in a cycle of destruction, maybe one day the cycle of destruction will end…but hopefully it will be a happy ending. Hopefully when the cycle ends, humanity can finally enter into an eternal peace.


  1. Fantastic and comprehensive post! I love to think about such things as time, whether it's linear or cyclical. I think if you really examine what time is, it's basically a way to measure parts of a day and parts of a month and parts of a year. But, humans tend to think of time as events. Today, I did this, and then that, and then that... That's events, not time. Time is nothing more than a technical way for all of us to be on the same schedule, but it's not an actual thing. Time for us as humans is marked by events. A birthday, an assignment, an anniversary, an age. If you take away seasons and the aging process, time really doesn't exist. It's our invention. When I start thinking about that, it overwhelms me, like the concept of eternity with no end. I loved your last paragraph--we repeat everything eventually. The 70s were all about save the earth and organic and natural and recycling--we're back to it again. The 80s were about synthetics, technology, artificial music, and foods. That'll come back again too. But, then again, those aren't time. Those are events and culture. Intriguing.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Autumnforest...glad you enjoyed it! Yes...it does seem that all we really do is measure the 'distance' between events. George Carlin said that there was no present, there was only recent past and the immediate future. So how do you really measure a moment anyways? Even a 'second' can be broken down into infinitely smaller fractions of itself.