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Last modified 05/26/2008

 Introduction
This series of webpages is a brief bird's eye view of some of the issues 
of the Axial Age and should be taken as no more than an introduction 
to the material in World History And The Eonic Effect.

 

 One of the enigmas of world history is the phenomenon of the Axial Age. The study of the eonic effect can throw especial light on the resolution of its riddle, and the complexity of its interpretation. The discovery of the Axial Age in the nineteenth century is one of the fruits of modern historiography as it has become a global study for the first time. The Axial data is a reminder to not take history for granted and to consider that the issue of historical evolution must remain open as long we are confined to short intervals of chronicle, or isolated streams of cultural emergence. And the question arises as to how we should understand this spectacular phenomenon in which multiple civilizations in parallel undergo a relative transformation of their content.

The classic work of Karl Jaspers, describing in broad strokes the basics of the Axial interval in history, nonetheless falls short of what would seem the true significance of the whole period in question. And yet he came close to seeing the eonic effect behind the Axial Age, actually describing it without drawing the probable right conclusion. Jaspers is, and remains, a complex figure, and his theological acumen was nonetheless steeped in the philosophy of history, whose problematic status in the history of philosophy conceals the clue to the Axial conundrum.

Jaspers' successors have, if anything, further confused, or even covered up the phenomenon, whether in sociological explanations that are scientistic, or religious interpretations which have run away with the data trying to fit the Axial Age into the metaphysical straightjacket of religious obsessions over an 'Age of Revelation'. But the data is stubborn and won't yield to the agendas of either scientific history (such as it is) or religious traditionalism.

Religious preconceptions have thrown observers of the Axial Age off the scent, and further have generated much confused thinking as to a possible 'second Axial Age' in some kind of postmodern challenge to modernity or secularism. The antidote is to take a closer look at the Axial period itself to see its broadest scope, and proceed to consider what we mean by the evolution of religion in the context of the emergence of civilization.

An approach using science, or pre-scientific exploration, is nonetheless indicated as long we can remain open to what the data shows and ask, as if for the first time, the meaning of the question, What is a science of history? The study of the eonic effect is a major step in this direction, and is facilitated by a simple type of model that can be a kind of 'theory prep', allowing us to first observe what we are trying to explain, and then compare this to known systems studied by systems analysis. Whether this preliminary model can proceed to a science can and should remain an open question. And that question is, finally, Is there a science of history? Or do we need to reformulate our assumptions to encompass a broader interpretation of what we mean by science. In fact, the data itself will provide the clues, leading finally to an extraordinary insight into the question of evolution itself.

This short series will attempt to consider the Axial Age in a larger context beyond the data that lies at its interior. That is, we will try to describe the boundaries and overall structure of the Axial period, without trying to give a final interpretation or synthesis of the religious, philosophical, or other data that seem to describe it. We can discover Taoism to have an Axial signature without claiming to have given a complete or final interpretation of what that is.