The Cyclical Universe

Perhaps it’s because I build orbital simulation models in which planets and asteroids go round and round, or because I’m currently thinking about repetitive ice ages, but I tend to see everything as a cyclical process of change rather than something frozen in one state, or going forever in one direction.

And I think about human affairs in the same way, if only because we humans are caught up in cycles of of day and night, and of summer and winter. And we react to nightfall by falling asleep, and to daybreak by waking up, and to winter by putting on more clothes, and to summer by taking them off again. Even something as simple as hammering a nail into a piece of wood is a cyclical process of raising the hammer and then bringing it down sharply onto the head of the nail. Stirring a cup of tea entails moving a spoon round and round in the cup. Even smoking is a cyclical process of raising and lowering the pipe or cigar or cigarette to the lips. All our habits and customs are cyclical processes. The habitual is the cyclical.

So also with smoking and smoking bans. These also are cyclical processes. We recently passed the centenary of the end of WW1, and WW1 and WW2 were the occasion when the prevalence of smoking greatly increased, probably because soldiers are placed under considerable stress, and smoking relieves stress. But this upsurge in smoking prevalence generated its own reaction. The antismoking movement was a unsurprising response to an excess of smoking, And so after a century during which smoking prevalence first rose and then fell, we have seen a century in which antismoking prevalence has also risen in response to smoking prevalence. So if peak smoking prevalence in the West was in about 1960, peak antismoking prevalence seems to have been reached circa 2010.

But because this is a cyclical process, we’re now seeing the start of a third wave which is an inevitable gathering reaction to the current excessively high prevalence of antismoking. I am myself part of that gathering third wave, which I expect to bring a new peak in smoking prevalence sometime around 2060, a little too late for me to enjoy.

And that’s why I’m an optimist. I’m an optimist because I see everything as cyclical. If you’re in a trough right now, all you need do is wait for the next wave. And the waves come with monotonous regularity. By contrast pessimists (and a great many of my readers seem to be pessimists)  believe that the current high tide of antismoking will never ebb away, and things will just get worse and worse and worse for smokers. They’re like lost lovers who think that they’ll never fall in love again, ever. Theirs is a world in which time has stopped.

But nothing works that way. The wheel of fortune is always spinning, even if it spins very slowly. Nothing is forever. Time never stops.

The same cyclical processes are at work in politics. Empires rise, and empires fall. And the current new European empire of the EU is just one in a long succession of empires. It’s an empire that has gradually expanded over a period of about 60 years, but is now beginning to show signs of incipient disintegration (e.g. Brexit). One hundred years ago, Europe was also at the peak of empire, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 marked the point when its catastrophic disintegration began. The principal task of European politicians is now not so much to further expand the empire, but to prevent it from disintegrating, and from disintegrating suddenly and catastrophically.

The same cyclicity is found in religion, as beliefs wax and wane. After 2000 years of Christian belief, we’re now living in a period of disbelief. But this is just where we all our in the current belief cycle. Because disbelief always follows belief, and belief always follows disbelief. It’s just that what we believe at any one time isn’t the same as what we believed in a former time.

The antismokers have now become as oppressive as smokers ever were, particularly now when there are armies of public health activists set upon banning alcohol, sugar, salt, fast food, obesity, and so on. Even people who don’t smoke are beginning to get thoroughly sick of all these nannying tyrants. Reaction is inevitable. And it will be reaction on a global scale to what has been a global assault on the customs and habits of millions upon millions of people. And the longer that inevitable reaction is delayed, the more explosive it is likely to be.

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11 Responses to The Cyclical Universe

  1. RdM says:


    Another cyclic view is the live feed from the ISS, International Space Station.
    ~400km up, 27628km/hr or 7.674km/s according to the live view from
    (you can make full screen, live or dark or between views)
    and also track at


    • RdM says:

      I’m sorry;- I meant to mention – the ISS turned 20 today (that day).

      International Space Station turns 20, story of evolution goes on | Al Jazeera English

      And here’s a fascinating view of what life is like inside it:

      At time of posting, I’d shown a visitor, and left it full screen on in background of otherwise silent 42″ TV, it was great and I hadn’t even realised it was its 20th anniversary then.

      I find it … fascinating.

      As an aside.

  2. Roobeedoo2 says:

    So you’ll give ‘The Fourth Turning’ another go, Frank?

    I’ve been thinking recently that the end of the UK’s last Fourth Turning, started with the end of WW2, quickly followed by Partition of India in 1947, and was completed with the Queen’s coronation. The end of rationing marked the start of our last First Turning, which ended in 1963 and the assassination of Kennedy. A global turning point.

    • Frank Davis says:

      The Fourth Turning is a generational idea. But since all generations, from very young to very old, are always present, I can’t see how there can be generations of the sort they seem to be talking about. So it never really makes very much sense to me.

  3. Russtovich says:

    A much shorter read (about 24 pages) and free online is Sir John Glubb’s “Fate of Empires”:

    Click to access glubb.pdf


    • Frank Davis says:

      He likes empires, doesn’t he? And frowns on “the craze for independence”.

      I suppose he must think that America was crazy for wanting independence from Britain, Brazil from Portugal, and so on.

  4. Rose says:

    Ruth Clifford Engs

    “Over the past 200 years, a health reform movement has emerged about every 80 years. These “clean living” cycles surged with, or were tangential to, a religious awakening. Simultaneously with these awakenings, out groups such as immigrants and/or youth were seen to exhibit behaviors that undermined society. Middle class fear of these “dangerous” classes and a desire to eliminate disease, crime, and other perceived health or social problems led to crusades in each of the three reform eras against alcohol, tobacco, drugs, certain foods, and sexual behaviors. A backlash began to emerge from some segments of the population against reform efforts. After the dissipation of the activism phase, laws made during the reform era often became ignored or repealed. With a few exceptions, during the 30 to 40 year ebb of the cycle, the memory of the movement disappeared from public awareness.

    The desire for improved health and social conditions also led to campaigns in favor of exercise, semi-vegetarian diets, women’s rights, chastity, and eugenics. Engs describes the interweaving of temperance, women’s rights, or religion with most health issues. Factions of established faiths emerged to fight perceived immorality, while alternative religions formed and adopted health reform as dogma. In the reform phase of each cycle, a new infectious disease threatened the population. Some alternative medical practices became popular that later were incorporated into orthodox medicine and public health. Ironically, over each succeeding movement, reformers became more likely to represent grass roots beliefs, or even to be state or federal officials, rather than independent activists.”

    • Joe L. says:

      One couldn’t ask for a more on-topic discovery, Rose!

      It appears as though these “clean living” movements all disintegrate during wartime, which means they all gain steam during lengthy stretches of peace, when people have too much time on their hands and nothing better to do than manipulate the lifestyles of others. This is also interesting to view through the lens of Frank’s Idle Theory (“idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, etc.). Maybe there exists a “Goldilocks Zone” of idleness?

      I figured I’d reproduce the “Tobacco Addiction” excerpt of the book here for posterity’s sake:

      There has been recent press coverage about “Big Tobacco” allegedly covering up the fact that tobacco can be addicting. However, the dangers of tobacco use, including its addicting property, have been commonly known since the early 1800s. This resulted in many reformers and health professionals condemning its use during the last century.

      From Chapter III:

      From the 1830s until the Civil War period, health reformers operated on the thesis that tobacco was a deadly poison. In an effort to encourage individuals to quit, or not start its use, reformers portrayed the disgusting figures of tobacco chewers as intemperate, physically ill, and morally depraved. In 1849 as the result of reformers’ increasing concern over tobacco, and in conscious imitation of temperance efforts, the American Anti-tobacco Society was organized (Alcott 1835, 183-185; Trall 1855, 10-20; Numbers 1976, 40).
      Many reformers and physicians of the day discussed the health consequences of tobacco. Edward Hitchcock (1830, 314), of Amherst College, considered tobacco, as well as alcohol, as dangerous substances even when used moderately; he believed they caused moral deterioration and inherited weakness. Alcott (1835, 183-185) regarded its use as evil for similar reasons. Caleb Ticknor, a physician, (1836, 110-111) deemed tobacco “the most deadly, most noxious poison” and considered it addictive. Larkin Coles (1855, 7,58,64,88), a Seventh-day Adventist minister and physician, suggested tobacco did far more damage than alcohol to the health and welfare of Americans. Joel Shew (1855, 6-13), a hydropathic physician, published a tract listing 87 diseases caused by tobacco–the first being insanity and the last cancer. He considered chewing to be the most harmful form of intake.
      Like the “Gateway theory” of drugs during the late twentieth century movement, in which the use of tobacco was claimed to lead to marijuana, alcohol and “harder drugs,” tobacco use was implicated in the First movement as leading to intemperance and other immoral behaviors. This was also found in the Second movement. It was suggested that “while the use of tobacco continues, intemperance will continue to curse the world” (Baldwin 1855, 14-15). Catharine Beecher’s writings (1856, 182) argued “that tobacco destroys more than alcohol, because so many more use it, and so many are led to opium and alcohol by its influence”(Robert 1949, 107-111; Baldwin 1855, 14-15).
      The anti-tobacco movement, like most other health-reform issues of the First Clean Living era, waned by the time of the Civil War. During and immediately after the war there was an increase in tobacco use, from smoking cigars and newly introduced cigarettes (Robert 1949, 112; Fiske 1869, 8).

      • Rose says:

        Of course, from the beginnings of America and the adoption of maize as a staple of the poor, Pellagra, the niacin deficiency disease became endemic but the well off with much better diets were untouched. The mystery was only solved at the beginning of last century.
        When you find something that staves off the worst consequences of the deficiency you are instinctively not going to stop, no matter what anyone says, hence the mistaken appearance of addiction.

        “I was looking, once again for an English translation of – Introduction of tobacco in popular medicine of the country in treatment of pellagra in the preceding century

        When I came across this modern article from Jamaica asking for Pellagrins who used tobacco to ward the worst of the deficiency disease off , not to be criminalised for smoking but “for the minister of health to institute a rapid public education programme; in the proper use of niacin against pellagra.” In 2014 !

        “As proof, my grandmother was born on the 27th of August, 1898 and died on the 28th of February, 1988. Along with others her age and older in the adjacent communities, she started smoking tobacco, in her early 20s when she started to have children. Apart from pellagra — the disturbing symptoms of which they controlled by smoking tobacco — all these people lived healthy lives and respectively died in their old age without being affected by cancer and the other conditions that are wrongfully blamed on tobacco smoking.

        My grandmother grew her own tobacco and did what is called chain smoking with her chalk pipe. Apart from pellagra, she had never been ill and had never gone to a doctor and or physician throughout her 90 years, with the exception of getting the necessary immunisation shots.”

        “Therefore, with pellagra as the cause of the smoking of tobacco and niacin as the only antidote against pellagra, it is necessary for the minister of health to institute a rapid public education programme; in the proper use of niacin against pellagra.

        This process is the light to destroy the darkness of making criminals of the victims of pellagra by criminalising the smoking of tobacco that cannot cure pellagra.

        The minister would be doing the correct thing to control and help eradicate the disease so as to prevent the smoking of tobacco and whatsoever danger to health it caused in the mixture with the more and most deadly substances. ”
        Dr Basil R Simms is a biochemist and business consultant.

        The Pellagrins had a very bad time of it , vilified by the superior and moneyed healthist who had no idea what they were talking about.
        The Eugenicists were still pursuing them as late as 1916


        “Early in the spring of 1913 the desirability of the study of pellagra from the viewpoint of heredity as a causative factor was brought to the attention of the Thompson-McFadden Pellagra Commission by Dr. Charles B. Davenport, Eugenics Record Office, Cold Spring Harbor, N. Y.

        Under the joint patronage of the two offices fieldwork was begun in Spartanburg, June 1, 1913, and continued until Oct. 1, 1913. Through the winter the data collected were carefully reviewed, arranged in family groups and charted. It was found that in many instances more details were necessary, and the Thompson Pellagra Commission in 1914 decided that the results obtained were of sufficient merit to warrant another summer’s work. Accordingly, fieldwork was begun May 1, 1914, and continued until Sept. 1, 1914. This year the association of pellagrins with antecedent cases was also carefully noted for comparison.”

        “The great pellagra cover-up: eugenics v. poor white trash”.
        Now that’s a study I’d love to read but I can’t find as much as abstract.

        Having changed the name of nicotinic acid to niacin in 1942 to deliberately throw people of the scent when they wanted to fortify flour to prevent the disease, the confusion continues and we are the beneficiaries of their centuries of malice and misdirection.

        Imagine if this had happened to vitamin C

  5. Smoking Scot says:

    Now they want to “help” council house tenants quit smoking, by banning smoking in “their ” property.

    Too disgusted to scarify properly.

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