Anthropologists tell us that periodically, our planet goes through periods of transition that they refer to as axial – a time of pivotal change, characterised by new ways in thinking in religion, philosophy and politics, striking parallel developments among cultures and civilisations that could have had no contact with each other.
The Milankovitch research saw physical axial shifts in the earth’s configurations. But over much longer time spans.
The “first” Axial Age saw the emergence over 500 years of monotheistic systems of thought and belief such as Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Pythagorism, Hinduism, Judaism, among others. The second centuries later saw us through the emergence of the Renaissance and the Reformation in Europe, going on to Newtonian physics, Einstein, non-Euclidian geometry, Freud.
It is as though the planet has an intelligence of its own that directs life, moving life and events on earth through a power and energy that controls everything. This putative transition does not happen all at once but over centuries. Of course it depends on how you define “time.”
Einstein was not the only one in a long line of thinkers who postulated that time, as we know it is merely a mental construct developed by humans who perceive time as being linear: one thing following another, which nicely follows another in its turn. That is, apparently because at this stage of human evolution our brains are so organised to experience events in that way. Our brains are, evidently, still limited in what we can perceive so as not to be overcrowded.
When you think of it, it becomes obvious. There are literally hundreds of TV and radio programmes going through the rooms we sit in every moment, but unless there is present an electronic receiver of some sort which is switched on, we can’t see or hear them. These waves of energy are also going through our bodies and brains as they go through the room, but our brains are not so constructed as to have the receiver capacities to enable us to be aware of them. But we know they are there because when we turn on the radio or TV receivers, there they are.
It is tentatively being put forward that we are now entering a third Axial Age characterised by electronic and artificial intelligence. The ancients had various names for the planet, which they thought was alive, and hence had these immense powers to cause earthquakes, tsunamis, firestorms, volcanoes, floods and other natural phenomena at will, and at the same time could direct human destinies through bringing variations in fortune, belief systems, avatars of one sort or another, plagues, “natural” disasters, and so on.
I am not sure that I understand the mechanics of how they thought all this was done, but apparently it had something to do with the creation and direction of energy fields. More or less what quantum physics and string theory tell us.
Not much wonder then, that theories are growing that the earth is moving us through another axial period right now.
But if that is so, it seems to be doing so through a telescoping of whatever time is.
One such transition period out of a period of recorded history, of at most 12,000 years, lasted between just 300 and 800 years, in which new forms of energy were harnessed using water, coal, gas and oil extracted from the earth itself, and simultaneously moved human civilisations from believing in a multitude of gods directing human fortunes to monotheism.
These were cultures as far apart as the Maya in South America to China to what is now India and Europe, gradually turning to monotheism. And over the same short period, forms of political organisation moved from autocracy, via monarchy and military or theocratic totalitarianism of one form or another through oligarchy (where many have stayed, just changing names) now known as democracy, socialism, and communism…sometimes muddling them all up together.
Nobody seems to know why this evolution followed so closely, as each culture thought it was unique, but there are lots of theories to keep you busy wondering during a lockdown, including whether all of this is really evidence that we are moving through one of those transitional axial periods. And if so, is the observable fact that institutions – political, religious and social – are crumbling worldwide evidence that we are? How do we plan, personally, socially, economically or nationally, for what comes next?
If we accept Einstein’s theory (and who am I to doubt Einstein?) that time is not linear, but as Prof Kow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently argued, “space-time is a block universe where past, present and future all exist simultaneously” (not a new theory , obviously but newly relevant).
Then take the current slogan that we are all in this together, inseparable by nationality, belief system, race, social status or intellect: and what is happening now makes sense and has a purpose.