What are we as humanity? Do we serve some universal purpose or is our existence something of chance in a chaotic cosmos? If there is order in this universe, to what is our evolution as races and civilizations attributed?
These are questions that often torment every
thinking person, especially as of late, for as we draw towards the end
of the opening decade of the 21st century, we can all attest to the
acceleration of changes both socially and geopolitically in the
"globalized" new world order. Perhaps an allegorically retrospective
look at our ever changing world may shed some light as to where we are
headed and what our purpose is in the universe.
Let us imaginatively liken the course of human history, as it has unraveled in Western Civilization (since the west's cultural and environmental role has predominantly affected the globe) to that of a pendulum swinging from a colossal, universal clock. Let us further imagine that the trajectory of each swing represents a two thousand-year segment of this course. The beginning of a swing marks the birth of an era, the middle marks its bloom and the end its death, whilst the directional shift of the swing signifies the birth of a new order and so on.
Thus far, the propelling force of our metaphorical pendulum has been man's desire for affinity with the divine. The various interpretations of what commands the universe have always ordained the spirit of every era. Western memory, from a Hellenocentric viewpoint (since Hellas is its cradle), can enumerate at least three era-ordaining swings of this epoch-recording pendulum:
The first age was marked by
terrestrial worship. Caves and chasms functioned as shelter, as well as
places of adoration. Sacrificial holes in the ground discovered in the
Greek regions of Elateia, Thessaly and Crete are indicative of an era
when humans attributed the origins of everything to the entrails of
Mother Earth. Snakes were considered as part of her divinity (e.g. the
Cretan snake goddess) and were worshiped as symbols of healing, rebirth
and immortality, probably due to their shedding of old skin for new one.
The caduceus staff (Greek kyrekeion) depicting intertwined snakes,
which today is the universal insignia of the medical profession, is a
remnant of that era.
The second age was to transfer the
divine to the surface of the planet, with man as the focus point. Of
great symbolic significance, marking the death of the terrestrial age,
was Apollo's slay of the serpent Python, son of Earth; hence the god's
epithet: 'Pythian Apollo.' So culturally traumatic was the shift that
the god had to be purified from the kill by serving a three year term in
exile from the region where he was later to establish the Oracle of
Delphi. The subject of serpent and monster killing is beloved throughout
world lore, since it suggests the emancipation of humankind from the
terrestrial forces. In Greece, the subject reoccurs when Heracles kills
the serpent-headed Lernaean Hydra, when Belerophonte does away with the
Chimera and when Perseus slays the snake-haired Medusa. Icons of
horse-mounted Saint George slaying the reptile-like dragon still echo
that gone-by era to this day throughout the Christian world.
Although Mother Earth's forests and mountains still held an allure of mystery for the ancients, now anthropomorphic forces like those of the Greek Pantheon reigned over the elements. Further attesting to this was the victory of the Olympians over the children of the Earth, the Titans, whom the former incarcerated in her depths - Tartarus. This interaction between man and nature thrived during the Archaic Age of Greece when our metaphorical pendulum was traversing the middle of its course. The spirit of the era was sung philosophically, poetically and artistically during the Classical Age, but the end of its course was marked by the expansion of the Roman Empire, when humans began to treat nature with impunity, literally 'plundering' it for fun. Forests were decimated to build fortresses and siege engines, while animals provided amusement in arenas.
The third turn of the pendulum coincided with the
advent of Christianity, whose era transported the divine to the Heavens.
The establishment of monotheism put an end to the earthly nature of
godliness. Since Nature had been stripped of her mysteries, people began
to seek spiritual salvation in churches. Natural locales like springs
and forests were no longer considered as Sanctuaries for worship. The
domes of churches that emanated the heavenly origin of God had replaced
them. The Middle Ages marked the culmination of this pendulum swing,
while the industrial revolution its demise. The maxim so fervently
embraced by the protestant mentality, "God Helps Those That Help
Themselves," supplied the Western World with the ethical grounds on
which to sustain mass industry, which created the shift from a
Theo-centric society to one that consumed what the industry produced - a
The drastic 'cosmogonical' changes brought on by the technological leaps of industry marked the end of the third swing and initiated the fourth. The 1990's spearheaded the current towards globalization, which meant the rapid decline of national economies and the birth of a "global village" in an economic sense, but not without social consequences, for national identities are now being tried as well.
As both observers and initiators of the fourth
'pendulum swing', our generation is plotting the course that will shape
the fate of things to come with an important advantage: Assessing the
last three swings may enable us to answer our initial questions, along
with another very significant one: Why have we developed to the point of
networking all the civilizations of our planet (e.g. Internet) in the
way a brain networks itself via neurons to think collectively? If we
assume that there is universal order, is there a possibility that the
universe needs thinking creatures like us to provide itself with a sense
of its own consciousness? How else could it know of its own existence
if not through intelligent life forms? Statisticians render it possible
that there may be at least 100.000 civilizations developing in our
galaxy alone! This would certainly vindicate Rene Descartes when he
said: "I think, therefore, I am."
Our very lives and each
planet hosting intelligent life forms (that with time network their
world to achieve collective thought) may very well be miniscule
explosions of cosmic reflection giving the universe a sense of
consciousness pretty much the same way our own brain generates
innumerable electronic charges per millisecond to function. This
likelihood is further supported if we consider that in universal time
the birth and death of a solar system does not exceed a fraction of a
cosmic second. Could this be our role then? That is to say, to
collectively mature to the extent of understanding the universe so as to
offer it a multifaceted thought of itself?
At this point one
might cynically ask: 'All that sounds fine, but if each of our lives is
an infinitesimal explosion of cosmic thought, what about those who don't
think and do not function intelligently?' One equally cynical answer
could be: 'Such creatures may also serve a purpose; that is, the produce
greater explosions amongst those who do think, pretty much the same way
that manure nourishes a flower to bloom.' Einstein is a novel example
of a thinker who was prompted by the masses who do not think to say:
"There are two infinities - the infinity of the universe and the
infinity of human idiocy." This echoes Anaxagoras (5th century BC), who
referred to the creative force of the universe as 'Nous' (The Mind) and
observed that "The Mind encompasses all creatures, but only few
creatures partake in The Mind." (Aristotle, On the Soul - 404, b1)
As protagonists of this fourth pendulum swing, therefore, let us consider the former three swings, which transferred the notion of divinity from the caverns to the surface, and from there to the heavens. Our metaphorical pendulum may very well have moved the hour hands of our own cosmic clock to the time of maturity. This means that the intelligentsia amongst humanity will form this swing to be that of self knowledge; that is to say, the wisdom that the divine is not to be found outside ourselves, but within us. For we comprise an integral part of cosmic impetus, intelligence and consciousness in the wake of a universe that evolves as it imagines itself.
Millennia are recorded in the Cosmic Pendulum swing,
Propelling human fate and all the changes it may bring.
On halting its momentum for another fateful run,
It strikes a blow onto the past and shapes what is to come.
Its last stroke brought untimely death to the Archaic Age;
Rome and Athens both succumbed engulfed in Christian rage.
Midway through its former swing the pious era grew,
Its founding fathers unaware of what was to ensue.
A twentieth century man am I, who's chanced to witness bear:
A pendulum stroke's ordaining end; I wonder what may fare.
As I into the future look, I shudder in dismay:
What lies beyond this cosmic turn and what may come our way?
(Excerpt from Panagiotis Terpandros Zachariou's book "Harmoscopesis," Dodoni Publications 2005. The poem "The Pendulum" was published in 1989.)