by Marinus Jan Marijs
The biologist Paul Kammerer wrote in 1919 a book “Das Gesetz der Serie” full of unexplainable coincidences, of occurrences which seem to repeat themselves in time. His theory of seriality deals with a-causal connections. That history is repeating itself has been many times suggested, but Kammerer was a systematic thinker who did a lot of research.
”Albert Einstein called Kammerer’s idea of Seriality “interesting, and by no means absurd”. There are many events that are cyclical, characterized by repetition like the days and the years, but they have a natural explanation the rotation of the earth around its axis, and the rotation of the earth around the sun respectively. These are causal connections. But what Kammerer suggested was not a series of events that had a natural, causal explanation but a connection by meaning, by similarity. His theory is about meaningful coincidences. Events that seem unrelated to each other but seem to influence each other or have a relation to each other. Kammerer was convinced that (similar) events were connected to each other by waves of seriality. This would be an unknown influence which would manifest itself in peaks and repeated clusters. While Paul Kammerer’s seriality deals with events that happen in the course of time, Carl Jung’s synchronicity deals with events that happen simultaneous. Carl Jung drew upon Kammerer’s work in his essay Synchronicity.
There are many how have suggested that history repeats itself:
“Historic recurrence is the repetition of similar events in history. The concept of historic recurrence has variously been applied to the overall history of the world (e.g., to the rises and falls of empires), to repetitive patterns in the history of a given polity, and to any two specific events which bear a striking similarity.
Hypothetically, in the extreme, the concept of historic recurrence assumes the form of the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence, which has been written about in various forms since antiquity and was described in the 19th century by Heinrich Heine and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nevertheless, while it is often remarked that “History repeats itself,” in cycles of less than cosmological duration this cannot be strictly true.
In this interpretation of recurrence, as opposed perhaps to the Nietzschean interpretation, there is no metaphysics. Recurrences take place due to ascertainable circumstances and chains of causality. G.W. Trompf, in his book The Idea of Historical Recurrence in Western Thought, traces historically recurring patterns of political thought and behavior in the west since antiquity. If history has lessons to impart, they are to be found par excellence in such recurring patterns.
Historic recurrences can sometimes induce a sense of “convergence,” “resonance” or déjà vu.
Prior to Polybius’ theory of historic recurrence, ancient western thinkers who had thought about recurrence had largely been concerned with cosmological rather than historic recurrence.
Western philosophers and historians who have discussed various concepts of historic recurrence include Polybius (ca. 200–118 BCE), Dionysius of Halicarnassus (ca. 60–7 BCE), Saint Luke, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), Giambattista Vico (1668–1744), Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975).
An eastern concept that bears a kinship to western concepts of historic recurrence is the Chinese concept of the Mandate of Heaven, by which an unjust ruler will lose the support of Heaven and be overthrown.
G.W. Trompf describes various historic paradigms of historic recurrence, including paradigms that view types of large-scale historic phenomena variously as “cyclical”; “fluctuant”; “reciprocal”; “re-enacted”; or “revived”.
He also notes “[t]he view proceeding from a belief in the uniformity of human nature [Trompf’s emphasis]. It holds that because human nature does not change, the same sort of events can recur at any time.”
“Other minor cases of recurrence thinking,” he writes, “include the isolation of any two specific events which bear a very striking similarity [his emphasis], and the preoccupation with parallelism [his emphasis], that is, with resemblances, both general and precise, between separate sets of historical phenomena.”
G.W. Trompf notes that most western concepts of historic recurrence imply that “the past teaches lessons for… future action” — that “the same… sorts of events which have happened before… will recur…”
One such recurring theme was early offered by Poseidonius (ca. 135–51 BCE), who argued that dissipation of the old Roman virtues had followed the removal of the Carthaginian challenge to Rome’s supremacy in the Mediterranean world. The theme that civilizations flourish or fail according to their responses to the human and environmental challenges that they face, would be picked up two thousand years later by Toynbee.
Dionysius, while praising Rome at the expense of her predecessors — Assyria, Media, Persia, and Macedonia — anticipated Rome’s eventual decay. He thus implied the idea of recurring decay in the history of world empires — an idea that was to be developed by Diodorus Siculus and Pompeius Tragus.
By the late 5th century, Zosimus could see the writing on the Roman wall, and asserted that empires fell due to internal disunity. He gave examples from the histories of Greece and Macedonia. In the case of each empire, growth had resulted from consolidation against an external enemy; Rome herself, in response to Hannibal’s threat posed at Cannae, had risen to great-power status within a mere five decades. With Rome’s world dominion, however, aristocracy had been supplanted by a monarchy, which in turn tended to decay into tyranny; after Augustus Caesar, good rulers had alternated with tyrannical ones. The Roman Empire, in its western and eastern sectors, had become a contending ground between contestants for power, while outside powers acquired an advantage. In Rome’s decay, Zosimus saw history repeating itself in its general movements.
Alexander von Wagner (1838–1919)
click on the painting to view a larger image
The ancients developed an enduring metaphor for a polity’s evolution: they drew an analogy between an individual human’s life cycle, and developments undergone by a body politic. This metaphor was offered, in varying iterations, by Cicero (106–43 BCE), Seneca (ca. 1 BCE – 65 CE), Florus (who lived in the times of Emperors Trajan and Hadrian), and Ammianus Marcellinus (between 325 and 330 – after 391 CE). This social-organism metaphor would recur centuries later in the works of Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) and Herbert Spencer (1820–1903).
Niccolò Machiavelli, about to analyze the vicissitudes of Florentine and Italian politics between 1434 and 1494, described recurrent oscillations between “order” and “disorder” within states:
when states have arrived at their greatest perfection, they soon begin to decline. In the same manner, having been reduced by disorder and sunk to their utmost state of depression, unable to descend lower, they, of necessity, reascend, and thus from good they gradually decline to evil and from evil mount up to good.
Machiavelli accounts for this oscillation by arguing that virtù (valor and political effectiveness) produces peace, peace brings idleness (ozio), idleness disorder, and disorder rovina (ruin). In turn, from rovina springs order, from order virtù, and from this, glory and good fortune.
Machiavelli, as had the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, saw human nature as remarkably stable—steady enough for the formulation of rules of political behavior. Machiavelli wrote in his Discorsi:
Whoever considers the past and the present will readily observe that all cities and all peoples… ever have been animated by the same desires and the same passions; so that it is easy, by diligent study of the past, to foresee what is likely to happen in the future in any republic, and to apply those remedies that were used by the ancients, or not finding any that were employed by them, to devise new ones from the similarity of events.
The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana observed that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Which raises the question whether those who can remember are not doomed, anyway, to be swept along by the majority who cannot.
Karl Marx, having in mind the respective coups d’état of Napoleon I (1799) and his nephew Napoleon III (1851), wrote acerbically in 1852: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.””
One of the paradigms of recurrence thinking identified by G.W. Trompf involves “the isolation of any two specific events which bear a very striking similarity”.
This deals with developmental phases and its historic recurrence, that simply follow a more or less steady developmental sequence, with progression and regression.
However Kammerer’s theory of seriality goes much further, it doesn’t postulate a more or less mechanical, causal chain of events, but a totally different process, a connection by meaning.
As to cultural development; Alfred Louis Kroeber an American cultural anthropologist, published a book “The configurations of culture growth”. University of California Press Berkeley, 1944; this was an extensive study into cultural wave motions. This study doesn’t show any regular cyclic pattern.
However that there is a remarkable pattern that I found in 1978 that becomes visible by arranging the dates of the 370 best-known mystics along a timeline, a cyclical pattern of 425 years emerges, (see figure 54) this is a serial pattern based upon historical data. And thus verifiable.
Remarkable is that a similar time period has been put forward in the bible:
Exodus 12:40 – 41: 40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years.
41. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.
This 430 years period is the period between the covenant with Abraham and the exodus from Egypt and with that the Mosaic Covenant. Whatever the historical accuracy may be, the 430 years that are mentioned in Exodus 12:40 – 41 and which are seen as very important, is almost the same as the 425 years period within the 425 year cycle.
Kammerer described his law of seriality as follows:
“A series manifests itself as a lawful recurrence of the same or similar things and events – a recurrence, or clustering, in time or space whereby the individual members in the sequence – as far as can be ascertained by careful analysis – are not connected by the same active cause”.
Kammerer’s theory is that, next to causality there exists another basic principle which tends towards unity: it correlates by similarity, affinity, resonance regardless whether the similarity is one of substance, form or function, or refers to symbols.
Seriality indicates the existence of an unexplained force. It deals with the relationship between the subjective mental world and the external world.
Not bound by cause and effect, but by something like “meaning”.