7. Conclusion

The Case of the Missing Centuries 


Section 7.5.4

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon





7. Conclusion  
     7.1 History and Evolution: A Paradox Resolved 
        7.1.1 Transition and Divide: A New Perspective on Modernity 
    7.2 The Eonic Effect As a Resolution of Kant's Challenge      
      7.2.1 Freedom’s Causality, Teleology and Politics  
        7.2.2 Free Will, Moral Action, and Self-consciousness       
     7.3 Will Democracy Survive? Toward A Postdarwinian Liberalism    
      7.3.1 Modernism, Eurocentrism, Imperialism, and 'Western' Civilization
        7.3.2 Ecological Endgames: A Tyranny Of Markets
     7.4 Ends and Beginnings       
     7.5 Critique of Historical Reason  
        7.5.1 Spengler, Toynbee, and Cyclical Theories 
        7.5.2 Is There a Postmodern Age?  
        7.5.3 Evolution and The Idea of Progress
        7.5.4 The Case of the Missing Centuries 
     7.6  Beyond Darwinism: A Theoretical Self-Defense
         7.6.1 The Meaning Of Evolution
         7.6.2 The Great Transition



    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     7.5.4 Case of the Missing Centuries 


We notice from our examination of world history the double appearance of Scientific Revolutions, and in clear correlation with our cyclical enigma. This example give us a perfect example of the stream and sequence effect that ratchets science up to its real place in world history, in the process preempting its dying out!

 Over and over again we find in the accounts of an historical process the need to work around or explain the existence of the eonic effect as if in disguise, in the form of a consideration of the cyclical nature of the long-term emergence of a process or cultural evolute. The case of science  and democracy are two examples. More specifically, author after author is forced to begin his discussion of origins in the period of the early Greeks, continue his account for the duration of this period, and then, without notice, jump to the modern world to complete the ‘evolutionary’ account of this process or historical sequence. We should note, having invoked the Darwin debate, that the ‘evolution of evolutionism’ also shows this double emergentism, witness the birth of the idea of evolution, not first with Darwin, but with the Greeks. Notice the timing of all of this.[i]

In general, the most striking example of this perception, finally explicit, and one that is driven to an attempt to wrestle with a ‘law of evolution’, whether successfully or not, is Arthur Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers, an account of the rise of science, or more particularly, the physical and cosmological sciences, whose history fits over the eonic effect like a glove. It is a fact that every history of science must reckon with. Less frequent than it used to be, denigration of the Middle Ages explains nothing, indeed omits the not inconsiderable developments in this deep source. But there is a clear discontinuity in any account of the rise of science.[ii]

Koestler’s account, notwithstanding its ‘debunking of medieval darkness’, is interesting for its extremely stylized outline of this pattern, and one whose particulars we do not necessarily need to accept, as it begins with the ‘heroic age’ of the Ionian Greeks, finds a ‘dark interlude’ in the period of the Middle Ages, and resumes its discussion in the sixteenth century with Copernicus and the ‘watershed’ era on its heels in the seventeenth century with Kepler, Galileo, and finally Newton. This pattern is evident in almost any history of science, and is not contradicted by the tremendously important alternate view that there were important prior developments in the Middle Ages. But it is useful to accept the broad pattern to see it for what it is, the more so as its obvious correlation with so many other parallel developments in the rise of modernism  show that the phenomenon is not a fluke, and has nothing to do with science.

The pattern can be extended backwards, in this as in so many other cases, to include the period of the rise of proto-science in the Mesopotamian and Egyptian periods, although here we do not see the critical period near the beginning, ca. -3300 onward, and cannot distinguish the earlier and later growth of this pre-science. But we can easily find the fall-off and gap in other aspects of culture in the period -2000 to -900. But the sudden discontinuity occurs twice, first among the Greeks, most notably, and then in modern Europe, both fringe areas for their time. The overall suggestion is of a recurrent emergence phenomenon.

This cyclical structure in the history of science itself is only one, but one of the most notable, examples of the actual discrete evolutionary process in action in the realm of human civilization, and its artifacts of science, philosophy and art. As Koestler notes, the creative rise of Greek science that had started ca. -600 as a ‘Promethean venture’, had, by the end of the third century BC, completed its most creative phase, losing its reputation as it began to fall into decline, to the point of being almost forgotten, for a millennium and a half. In his words, there is only one step from Archimedes to Galileo. He gives the image of a destroyed bridge with rafters jutting out from both ends, with a void in between. His explanation of this distressing gap is partisan, quite understandably and quite forgivably, to the viewpoint of the rise of science, and sees the cause in the ‘breakdown of civilization’ in the Middle Ages, and in the distinction of spiritual and material as such, the retreat from material considerations in the religious medievalism whose dominant outcome seems so surprising after the brief surge of progressive culture in the transitional era of the classical Greeks.

One difficulty with Koestler’s account is the thesis, so frequent in the many accounts of medievalism, of a ‘breakdown of civilization’ where there was none to break down, the fringe area of Gaul, Germania, and northern Europe having been relatively marginal throughout the classical era. It is the breakdown of the classical period in its own area that cannot be confused with the fringe growth emergence of the European. The history of science allows no geographical component, and yet tempts us to avail of its implicit assumptions, in seeing the rise of science from medieval technology, or such. In fact, we see a process that is periodic, and not only this, but in different places, at different periods. This point may seem debatable, but the fact is that the zone of the first advance and the resumption of advance are two completely different cultural geographical zones that we connect with an abstraction: ‘Western Civilization’, a strange entity with no easy map, for it refers to a tradition, or temporal baton effect, that passes through the Islamic world to maintain its continuity.

The second comment one can make is that the distinction of the material and the spiritual is not really the issue. We will see that this distinction applies reasonably well to the Greeks, but not to the creative period of the Persians and the Israelites, nearby, to say nothing of the Indian and Chinese Enlightenments occurring simultaneously. The issue of the decline of science is seen to be far more complex than the passage from worldliness to otherworldliness, although these express very well ‘symptoms’, to the partisan, of the phenomenon. For the same phenomenon of falloff is evident in what would be considered spiritual phenomena also. If we compare the period of Buddhism  and Jainism at their birth with that of the Vedantic Hinduism of the India n medieval period, we could well wonder what is going on. What is a middle age ?

It is in the epilogue to The Sleepwalkers, that Koestler, a well-known Darwinian critic, begins to really consider, somewhat more cogently, what is really involved in this long cyclicity of the ‘spiral, or jump-start emergence’ of science. Seeing that the model of continuous progress in the development of scientific knowledge will not work, he notes, “There occur in biological evolution periods of crisis and transition when there is a rapid, almost explosive branching out in all directions, often resulting in a radical change in the dominant trend of development.” And then he notes that this process seems evident in the evolution of thought in the period near the sixth century BC and the seventeenth AD This perception of two steps in a sequence should of course drive us to consider the question, for which we do not have sufficient data to really answer, of the early period of Sumerian civilization in relation to the rise of ‘proto-science’. It is there, but we do not perhaps recognize it for what is was, not yet recognizably the form of science as we know it, with elements of writing, commercial reckoning, astronomy, socio-religious politics, and divination mixed together as the political mythology of the first forms of the state.



   Web:  chap7_5_4.htm


[i] Cf. C. Leon Harris, Evolution: Genesis and Revelations, Albany : State University of New York , 1981. For the historiography of the ‘scientific revolution’, cf. A. Rupert Hall, The Revolution in Science, 1500-1750 (New York: Longman, 1983), I. Bernard Cohen, Revolution in Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), H. Floris Cohen, The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Enquiry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

[ii] Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers (New York: MacMillan, 1968)





Last modified: 10/04/2010