12/03/2012 08:48 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2013

Do Solar Storms Influence Our Behavior?

From the late nineteenth century through today, a movement in Russian thought usually referred to as "Russian Cosmism" has devoted serious philosophical, theological, and scientific consideration to a number of topics traditionally grounded in science fiction or in occult literature and practice: the quest for human immortality, the resuscitation of the dead, the negation of gravitational force, the colonization of distant planets, the reconstitution of the human body, self-directed evolution, the emergence of a new age and new reality, the development of super-human capabilities, etc.

One of the more fascinating Cosmist thinkers, a polymath, interdisciplinary scientist now highly honored in Russia but still little known in the West, was Alexander Chizhevsky (1867-1964), a gulag survivor in the 1940s for whom an asteroid was named in the 1970s, a heliobiologist who began his academic career writing about eighteenth century Russian poetry, later considered a leading candidate for a Nobel Prize in chemistry. During the Stalin years, he was found guilty of incorrect thought, of trying to reverse the course of scientific progress, turn chemistry back into alchemy and astronomy back into astrology. His "crime" was to have published a seminal work on the influence of solar storms on human history. His other groundbreaking studies, in aero-ionizization, had led to more eggs from hens and higher worker productivity in factories -- investigations that had won him drawers full of ribbons and medals. But to have suggested that it was not great Comrades Lenin and Stalin and their correct understanding of historical necessity that had led to the Great October Revolution, but sunstorms? -- to the gulag!

Chizhevsky, of course, had never argued that periodic bursts of solar energy were the sole or even prime cause of human events -- just that they were an important contributing factor, and could trigger actions that had been building up from a variety of other causes. He called his study of the correlation between periodic cycles of solar and human activity "historiometry" and presented his ideas in a 1918 doctoral dissertation "Analysis of Periodicity in the Worldwide Process," which was published a few years later as "Physical Factors of the Historical Process." (English version available online.)

In this study, and throughout his scientific publications, Chizhevsky writes as a confirmed determinist. He finds that all that we think of as the sphere of intellect, culture, and history consists, essentially, of physico-chemical neurological interactions, and lies in the domain of ordinary natural phenomena. Further, as natural phenomena, all intellectual and social activities are affected by interactions with their natural surroundings, including powerful geophysical and cosmic forces. As human beings with only five senses and other limitations, even when aided by mechanical devices, we are aware of only a very small fraction of the innumerable rays, waves, particles, forces, and bundles of energy that constantly bombard our planet and us, forces from both within our solar system and beyond. According to Chizhevsky, these waves and particles of energy come at us in regular, measurable patterns of periodicity, in cycles and rhythms of which we may not be conscious, but which lend order, rhythm, and cycles of periodicity to our lives. As he writes, our blood flows with the "veins of the cosmos," and our heart beats with "the pulse of the cosmos."

As evidence for the correlation between cosmic and human periodicity, Chizhevsky produces graphs and charts showing sunspots and major historical events from the fifth century B.C. through the 1917 Revolution. He finds that the pattern of peaks and valleys of solar eruption are almost exactly identical to the peaks of war, revolution, and other manifestations of "mass excitability," and the valleys of peace, creativity, and "minimal mass excitability."

Chizhevsky writes: "In each century the rise of synchronic universal military and political activity on the whole of the Earth's territory is observed exactly nine times. This circumstance enables us to reckon that a cycle of universal human activity embraces eleven years (in the arithmetical mean)." He divides each eleven-year period into subsections exhibiting events of mass behavior building up to and down from the peaks of "excitability." In his graphs and charts, the great events in human history fall almost magically into the same pattern as the cycles of solar storms.

His theory is interesting and may be plausible when considered in general terms -- human history does indeed seem to show rhythmic patterns of rise and fall, widespread excitability and widespread calm. The problem is in the specifics, the details, the charts and graphs. In my book, The Russian Cosmists, I list many objections, only a couple of which I'll mention here. For example, Chizhevsky says he has given "minute scrutiny" to 2500 years of human history, but how can anyone minutely scrutinize "all the peoples and states known to science" from ancient times to the present? In the first place, science knows little more than the names of most peoples and states of remote eras, (e.g. Picts, Toltecs, Zapotecs, Sarmatians, Massagetae, Jebusites, Moabites, Edomites) And even in well-recorded modern times, if during a given year of maximum or minimum sunspot activity, peace and plenty prevail here while violent uprisings are taking place there, which one do we put on the chart? And how do we chart The Hundred Years War?

Nevertheless, when we see in our own times that maximum solar flare years have come in 1968, with all that was happening then, and came again just in time for the breakup of the USSR, and have come again in the past year, with the Arab Spring and consequences, we may not wish to be too quick to reject the general idea. Though if anyone wants to try to reformulate it, a nuanced discussion might be more persuasive than charts and graphs.

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