solar maximumIt seems pretty much everyone agrees now that the earth is warming, and the extreme weather over the past week certainly seems to confirm that both the weather AND the climate is changing.  Steven Forrest’s July newsletter included an article about the current Solar Maximum which reminded me that I haven’t written on this topic for quite awhile.  Steven links to a chapter in his book The Night Speaks which discusses the research of Aleksandr Leonidovich Chizhevsky who divided the sunspot cycle into four phases that correlate to human behavior: 

Phase One: The solar minimum. With sunspot activity at its eleven-year low, humanity is in an easygoing mood, tolerant but lazy. People are occupied with personal concerns and little inclined to organize themselves into any kind of unified, history-shaping force.

Phase Two: The solar increase. Social energies begin to coalesce. Exciting new Ideas and charismatic spokes people appear, planting seeds that quickly germinate into mass movements. Alliances form. According to Chizhevsky, at this point in the cycle some fundamental problem arises and demands radical solution.

Phase Three: The solar maximum. Energies abound. Everyone is excited, eager to respond en masse to leadership or inspiration, for better or worse. An air of enthusiastic drunkenness suffuses the polity. Emigration increases. Wars begin. Tension is high.

Phase Four: The solar decline. Exhausted and often disenchanted, humanity now loses steam. The seductive easy answers of the previous several years break down. Unity and collective focus drop off. Disillusionment increases. Groups disband. People go back to tending their own gardens – and gradually we descend again into the peaceful lassitude of Phase One, the sunspot minimum.

Chizhevsky divided the four solar phases into periods of three, two, three and three years respectively. Due to the varying lengths of the cycle, it’s best to take those numbers as ratios. Once, two maxima were observed only seven years apart. Another time, seventeen years elapsed between maxima.

I first wrote about the sunspot cycle in 2006 when we were in a “solar minimum” – a period with very few sunspots.  The previous Solar Maximum had occurred in 2000 which certainly correlates to this four phase system, with the beginning of wars, financial difficulties and tensions across the globe.

By 2009 there were so few sunspots that scientists began to wonder if they had completely disappeared.  Talk of a new mini ice age began to be heard.  Then in 2010 the Sun began to wake up (Phase Two in the system described above).  There was a flurry of solar flares in 2011 but nothing that approached the level of a true Solar Maximum.  Some of the hysteria around the 2012 period was that the Solar Max was expected to take place during that year but if it did occur it was extremely weak.  In May of 2013 there was a flurry of solar activity suggesting that we may be on our way to a period of maximum solar activity, but so far there has been no real increase.

Personally, I don’t see the ebb and flow of solar activity as a reliable predictor of human behavior except as the resulting climate change affects the human experience and our ability to support our lives on Planet Earth.

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