1. RHYTHMS IN HUMAN NATURE
The story we tell ourselves about ourselves is
always one of opportunities taken or missed. We don’t dwell on how we
posed or strutted or thought or felt, but on what we did or didn’t
do. And we generally agree on the things that matter most.
Inwardly, in the actual texture of our lives as lived, we struggle with
the same priorities, because we share common physiological functions
that cause us to experience, in every historical and cultural setting,
the same passions and virtues. I hope to show that more than any other
of our endeavors, love and wisdom, whether we succeed or fail in them,
whether our cultures honor or suppress them, definitively shape our
sense of self-worth and tune our enthusiasm for life.
Love or the search for it is the
animating force in social life. Wisdom is the fruit of solitude. No
solitude, no wisdom. No sociability, no love.
I think of love and wisdom as the
vehicles that carry moral sentiments into the world. They’re not moral
sentiments themselves; they’re biological imperatives, primordial
rhythms that predate ethics. They even predate choice. The moral
sentiments they carry can vary enormously in content, strength and
resiliency depending on individual temperaments and historical needs.
Love is an Eros centered process that
oscillates on alternating legs of approach and separation. Wisdom is a Logos centered process that
moves by successive inward withdrawals
and outward returns. Through love, we find each other. In wisdom, we
discover ourselves. Love starts with a greeting. Wisdom begins with a
departure. While love finds its peak experiences in close communion,
wisdom gets its powers when a person descends alone from the surface of
life to the depths of inwardness to make a discovery there and return
with it. Alchemists called the process “rectification through going
processes are dynamic engines of change, not states of being. They
belong to the vita activa as
unfoldings in time. Only in retrospect do they enter the vita contemplativa as truths to
love and wisdom matter so much? What makes them so memorable to us?
They matter because they employ our evolved physiology in ways that
generate rhythmic resonances across many body systems. We experience
their biological rightness with an augmentation of energy that, in its
rhythmic consanguities, transmits a feeling of meaningfulness.
strength and wholeheartedness with which we enter our turning points in
love and wisdom, rightly understood, is a measure of their rhythmic
integrity. And rhythmic integrity can be measured by activity in
specific frequency bands that we will explore in the course of our
investigations (See # 7, 14, 19,
Love and wisdom are real only as ‘round-trip’
events. They move on legs to turning points. They intensify and
reverse. The leg of approach leads to separation. Inward withdrawal
provokes outward return.
Love Turning Point
Wisdom Turning Point
The phrases “perennial wisdom” and “eternal love” suggest that
we climb the virtues like ladders to states of high constancy. But we
don’t. Love advances through reversals. Wisdom travels through stages marked by
turning points. No single stage can stand for the whole. The worthiness resides in the
The approaches, separations, withdrawals,
and returns get their meaning because they join into dramas of
engagement and discovery. The dramas, though they disclose themselves
as events in time, can be illustrated graphically. I have sketched out
the main patterns in still pictures. You can put them into motion in
Both love and wisdom are vulnerable to
perturbation at the links between their mini-cycles, as illustrated to
the left, and even more so, at the major turning in the pattern, the
turning of turnings, where the temporal shape of the whole emerges from
the congeries of its parts.
Sex, belonging, touch, and affiliation all
move in the rhythms of approach and separation built out of briefer
units tied to frequencies in nature. When new life is conceived, always
in closest approach, it develops with its own rhythmic course in a
process full of frequency dependent stages leading to a specific
gestation period followed by birth.
Some species only come together to mate.
Others express approach/separation as they sleep and rise, feed and
rest, travel and settle, attack and defend together. Sometimes the
approach and separation occur in great flocking or herding populations.
In existing human hunter-gatherer bands, group members separate to
forage and hunt and then come together in the home camp to share food,
maintain family life, socialize and sleep.
South African San Cave Painting
Since the base-camp and the feeding range are often seasonal or even
more temporary, the oscillations are tied primarily to the group
members themselves, not to the place the group occupies; they approach
and separation from and to each other; the particulars of the places
can change but the good order of the troop persists.
Sam Keen caught the sense of the polar rhythms
of approach and separation well when he wrote in The Passionate Life,
“Loving is a continual dance between bonding and returning to our
boundaries, coming together and going apart."1
Distance and closeness enter not
extrinsically but at the heart of the rhythm of nature itself.
Where the stimuli for approach and separation
come mainly from outer sensation and involve sensory following and
motor responses, the dominant sensations for withdrawal/return come
from inside the body out of social view. Wisdom’s venue is rumination,
daydream, dream life, recollection, cognition, reflection, imagination,
meditation and contemplation.
The journey of withdrawal and return manifests
as a repeating series of inward-and-outward movements, pulsations
between the surface of life and the depths, a pattern that weaves on
until, after many dips and surfacings extending over many months, like
fractals set in time, a larger inward-outward pattern forms.
Though we have internal sensory experiences
regularly, in some situations, and at certain stages of life, they
dominate the screen of consciousness, obscuring or even obliterating
external sensory streams. This throws us into long inward journeys.
Well conducted, they take us to turning points in our own depths. From
them, by gradual shifts to outward sensory interests, we make our way
back to the consensual world. The inner adventure changes us. Sometimes
we are renewed by it. In happy circumstances, the world welcomes us
People vary greatly in the number of
mini-cycles that come together to constitute their love lives or wisdom
quests. The duration of the individual cycles and the overall pattern,
as well as its susceptibility to disruption depends on individual
differences in constitution, upbringing and education. And chance plays
It follows from this, that to understand love
and wisdom as they actually play out in a person's life we need to know
more about the biological rythms from which they form and how those
rhythms come together to shape behavior into larger patterns of
Here we enter unexplored territory and must
deal with new concepts. Chief among them:
1) Despite our individual differences, the rhythmic components of love and wisdom do not
express at all possible tempos in everyone. They cluster within certain common frequency bands.2
2) These frequency bands reflect the rhythms
of nature to which we were tuned by our early evolution.
That is to say, by long processes of selection, organisms have come to
mirror the rhythmicity of the earth environment. Its planetary
movements, tectonic rumblings, magnetic moments, flowing water,
cyclonic winds and radiant solar energies pulse through us.
We live in far-from equilibrium conditions.
Tipping points occur in life. Because of the complex makeup of the
components of love and wisdom, particularly in their rhythmoic
interactions as they amplify, diminish, pull on on each others
frequencies and sometimes extinguish each other, love and wisdom have
But not all tipping points are turning points.
A tipping point becomes a turning point only when the sensitive
nonlinear bio-oscillating systems of which it is comprised
meet perturbations with rhythmic restoration rather than
We can speculate that we have the power of
rhythmic restoration because:
1. Our thoughts and actions and all their
cerebral, neural, humoral and skeleto-muscular components
are designed to move in specific frequency bands with phase
relationships to other oscillators.
Imagined View of the
Wave Nature of Life
2. These unfold as events in a field of
nature that is itself resonant, suggesting
3. That reality is structured in such a way
as to generate resonances and dissonances that tune human nature (and
all living natures) to the environment and to each other.
4. Love and wisdom are the highest
expressions of these dynamics because they command the adaptive peaks
of our most consequential solitary and social undertakings. They're
what we care about most.
That's a mouthful. We have a great deal to
unpack here. But if we can do it we will come to understand how love
and wisdom emerge as meaning bestowing values in human life from the
substrate of nature. The effort will be well worth while. It will help
us know ourselves.