James Harvey Stout (deceased). This material is now in the public
domain. The complete collection of Mr. Stout's writing is now at
Jump to the following topics:
- What is a cycle?
find cycles in virtually every realm of life.
- How can
we use our understanding of cycles?
- Cycles can be
difficult to discern.
cycles seem to be synchronized with one another.
- Why do cycles occur?
study of cycles adds to our philosophical and metaphysical
What is a cycle? It is "a
periodically repeated sequence of events," according to The
American Heritage Dictionary. We can also call it a predictable
pattern of occurrences, as in the upward and downward sweep of a sine
curve. In some patterns, we see distinct stages of rising,
sustaining, falling, and dormancy.
find cycles in virtually every realm of life. They are in:
- Science. There are cycles in physics, biology, astronomy, etc.
- Psychology. There are cycles in emotions, brain activity,
various behaviors, etc.
- History. There are cycles in wars, politics, etc.
- Economics. "Business cycle research" is a vital study for many
governmental and private organizations, because a knowledge of
these cycles offers opportunities for business success, personal
wealth, and management of the economy. Some cycles are
unmistakable, like the yearly surge in purchasing prior to
Christmas, or the increase in swimwear sales in early summer.
Researchers have found cycles in stock-market prices, economic
depressions, manufacturing production, prices of various goods,
fads and styles, real-estate sales, agricultural production, and
other areas of economics and business.
- The human body. Whether we call it chronobiology or biorhythms
or "the biological clock," we can see evidence of our body's
- Miscellaneous cycles: the 28-day cycle of menstruation, the
90-minute REM cycle of brain activity during sleep, the rhythms
of the individual brain waves themselves, the cycles of
heartbeats and breathing and digestion, the 12-day cycle in the
muscles' proteins, the 128-day life-cycle of red blood cells,
- "Circadian" rhythms follow a 24-hour cycle in the liver,
blood pressure, kidneys, and other organs and bodily processes.
(When we disrupt this circadian rhythm through airline travel,
we experience "jet lag" while the body re-sets its inner clock
to the new time zone.)
- On a larger scale, perhaps life itself has a rhythm through
reincarnation, with life following death following life.
- Nature. There are rhythms in geology, weather, animal
behavior, etc. We can discern many obvious cycles: the seasons,
the tides, the moon's phases, and the daily alternation of day and
night. We have also found cycles in other aspects of nature:
- Miscellaneous cycles: tree rings, floods, rainfall, animal
migrations (including the lemmings' mass suicide in the sea
every 3.86 years), water levels in lakes and rivers, barometric
pressure, animal populations (among all types of animals --
mammals, insects, fishes, birds, etc., and even
microorganisms), and the 24-hour (circadian) rhythms of sleep
- There are geological cycles (which can be studied over a
history of millions of years) in the occurrence of earthquakes,
volcanoes, and sediment deposits.
- The solar system has cycles, in the planets' path around
the sun, the planets' rotations into their own day and night,
the rotation of our Milky Way galaxy, and so on. In a study by
the Foundation for the Study of Cycles, sunspots were studied
from 1527 to the present, and were found to vary in a cycle of
- Perhaps even the universe is in a cycle, expanding outward
from its Big Bang, and perhaps destined later to contract back
to its original point, only to repeat the cycle; this type of
cosmic cycle is one of the beliefs in Hinduism.
we use our understanding of cycles?
- We can prepare for events. For example, if we can pinpoint our
position in a cycle, we know when to buy insurance, sell stock,
protect ourselves against destructive weather (which would cause
floods or droughts), take measures against forecasted political
unrest, engage wildlife management to compensate for predicted
increases or decreases in wildlife populations, schedule our daily
activities to take advantage of the "highs" in our biorhythms
(including those of mental clarity, emotional vitality, general
vigor, etc.), and capitalize on the many other cycles which have
been discovered. In Talking Straight, Lee Iacocca said,
"As far back as I can remember, I've always been a strong believer
in the importance of cycles. You'd better try to understand them,
because all of your timing and often your luck is tied up in
- We stop fighting the inevitable. While we can prepare
for the inevitable, we no longer waste our effort in trying to
stop the cycles. For instance, on the upsurge of a cycle,
we don't resist "an idea whose time as come"; on the downturn, we
don't fruitlessly try to prop up something whose time has passed.
We adopt the attitude of "going with the flow" -- being attentive
to the cycles around us, and positioning ourselves within them to
gain the benefits during the increase, and then divesting our
holdings in them when they fade. The latter is a lesson in
detachment -- not the type of detachment which means uninvolvement
with life but rather a full involvement in life, savoring
whatever gives vitality and opportunity but then releasing it when
it no longer nourishes us. This strategy is well-known among
stock-market investors who want to buy a stock as it is rising and
sell it when it is falling; if we approached the other aspects of
our life with such "detachment," we might have less stress and
Cycles can be
difficult to discern. There are many reasons for this difficulty:
- A cycle may actually be a conglomerate of individual cycles.
For example, the "economic cycle" is a generalization derived from
many separate cycles -- the cycles of every commodity, every
stock, every type of business and industry, etc. Because the stock
market has stocks from hundreds of corporations (each having at
least one cycle of its own), one expert detected 111 cycles while
another found 230 cycles; overall, the stock market has a 9.2-year
cycle, a 40.68-month cycle, and other cycles. In nature, we find
an example of these "conglomerate cycles"; for example, the cycle
of ocean tides actually results from two cycles -- one
which is created by the moon's gravitation and another which is
created by the sun's gravitation.
- Cycles affect one another. We do not study a cycle in
isolation; it is part of a worldwide system which intertwines
influences from economics, nature, politics, etc. For example, if
the cycle of international conflict is rising, a war would affect
the price of stock in the defense industry.
- Random elements occur. For example, an economic cycle will be
disrupted if a nation discovers a huge deposit of gold ore in the
middle of a cyclic recession.
- Some apparent cycles are mere coincidences. For example, a
valley might be flooded every three years during a nine-year
period, but we cannot say that the phenomenon is indeed cyclic
unless we discern many periodic repetitions.
- Cycles are affected by trends. A cycle is not a
circle which starts at one point and returns to that same
point; some cycles never return to the same point. For example, if
we are experiencing inflation (which refers to the trend
in overall prices), the low point in the cycle of wheat prices
might be higher than the highest point of the previous cycle.
- Cycles have aberrations. Sometimes a cycle continues for
dozens of regular repetitions and then -- for unknown reasons --
suddenly skips a repetition, or it inserts a speeded-up repetition
which hurries through in half of the expected time.
- Many cycles are not symmetrical. A symmetrical cycle would
spend half of its time rising and half falling. However, many
cycles are asymmetrical; e.g., their consistent pattern might be
to rise 75% of the time, and then suddenly drop during the
remaining 25% of the time.
cycles seem to be synchronized with one another. They rise and fall
in the same amount of time, and also in the same time-frame.
- They have the same time-length. We might anticipate that most
cycles would occur in a random assortment of time-lengths (e.g., 2
months, or 3.5 years, or 14.83 years). However, researchers have
found apparently unrelated phenomena which have the same
time-length. In the book, Cycles, Samuel A. Schreiner,
Jr., gave many examples; they included:
- A 5.91-year cycle of business failures, combined stock
prices, grouse abundance, and sunspots.
- An 18.2-year cycle of real-estate activity, marriages in
the U.S., flooding of the Nile, and tree rings in Java.
- A 9.6-year cycle, for which Schreiner offered 37 phenomena,
including worldwide precipitation, British financial crises,
wars, U.S. cotton prices, U.S. wheat acreage, Canadian animal
- They occur in the same time-frame. We might expect each
phenomenon to have a cycle that rises and falls in a time-frame
which is autonomous from the others, except in cases where (1) the
phenomena affect one another (as when the cycle of rainfall
affects the cycle of flooding), or (2) the phenomena are both
affected by the same outside force (as when the yearly advent of
wintertime causes an increase in sales for both the manufacturers
of snow shovels and the manufacturers of ice skates). However,
Schreiner noted that all cycles of the same length turn at
approximately the same time; in the first example above, the
business failures, combined stock prices, grouse abundance, and
sunspots all increased or decreased simultaneously during their
Why do cycles occur? In some
cases, the cause is obvious; for example, the cycle of the seasons is
caused by the earth's movement around the sun. But we might wonder
(1) why other cycles occur at all, and (2) why some apparently
unrelated cycles occur simultaneously -- or, perhaps, why
all cycles don't occur simultaneously. The regularity and
synchronicity of cycles cannot be happening by chance; they suggest
an unknown force which governs the cycles. We can speculate on the
nature of this cosmic timing mechanism and how it exerts its
influence; in Cycles: The Mysterious Forces That Trigger
Events, Edward R. Dewey suggests that the cycles might be
controlled by the cycles of immensely long electromagnetic waves in a
variety of wavelengths. Instead of our familiar "megahertz" waves (in
millions of cycles per second), these waves would be measured in
years (e.g., 3.5 years or 9.6 years); the rise and fall of these
giant waves would cause the rise and fall of phenomena which have
somehow aligned themselves with those waves, whether the phenomena
are sunspots, or animal populations, or the value of a particular
stock. That is only one theory among many which might be presented.
study of cycles adds to our philosophical and metaphysical
- In cycles, we discern structure, order, and pattern -- in a
life which might otherwise seem chaotic and whimsical.
- We learn that there is balance. For every rise, there
is a fall; and for every expansion, there is a contraction. Then,
for example, if we judge "expansion" to be "good" (as in an
expanding economy), we recognize that every such "good"
must be balanced by something which we might judge to be "evil,"
although both are merely two halves of a cycle.
- We have an alternative explanation of cause-and-effect (i.e.,
"karma"). In various occurrences -- successes and failures,
prosperity and poverty, surges and declines -- we might look for
reasons, i.e., what we did right or what we did wrong. But if we
understand the cyclic nature of phenomena, we realize that no
matter what we do, cycles go on their usual course; for example,
an economic recession has to occur despite the bolstering efforts
of a national leader (who will probably be blamed and voted out of
office anyway). This is not to say that there is no
cause-and-effect in the phenomenon of cycles; something is causing
the cycles to occur, and then the cycles are causing something
else to occur -- but this is a different explanation from the one
which we might concoct if we were fruitlessly looking for a
material reason for an upturn or downturn.
- We can be at peace with our world. If a new car breaks down
repeatedly, we might wonder, "What did I do to deserve this?" but
if an old car breaks down, we shrug and say, "Well, it's
an old car." And if a child dies, we might cry, "Why did this
happen?" but if an elderly person dies, we say, "It must
have been his (or her) time to go." In the examples of the old car
and the elderly person, we recognize the end of a cycle; even in
the case of the child, we might recognize the end of a cycle --
perhaps not the expected cycle that would entail a certain number
of years of human life, but some type of cycle of "reason for