by Robert K. G. Temple (New York, 1976), pp.58-59
We tend to be unaware that stars rise and set at all. This is not entirely due to our living in cities ablaze with electric lights which reflect back at us from our fumes, smoke, and artificial haze. When I discussed the stars with a well-known naturalist, I was surprised to learn that even a man such as he, who has spent his entire lifetime observing wildlife and nature, was totally unaware of the movements of the stars. And he is no prisoner of smog-bound cities. He had no inkling, for instance, that the Little Bear could serve as a reliable night clock as it revolves in tight circles around the Pole Star (and acts as a celestial hour-hand at half speed – that is, it takes 24 hours rather than 12 for a single revolution.)
I wondered what could be wrong. Our modern civilization does not ignore the stars only because most of us can no longer see them. There are definitely deeper reasons. For even if we leave the sulphurous vapours of our Gomorrahs to venture into a natural landscape, the stars do not enter into any of our back-to-nature schemes. They simply have no place in our outlook any more. We look at them, our heads flung back in awe and wonder that they can exist in such profusion. But that is as far as it goes, except for the poets. This is simply a ‘gee whiz’ reaction.
The rise in interest in astrology today does not result in much actual star-gazing. And as for the space programme’s impact on our view of the sky, many people will attentively follow the motions of a visible satellite against a backdrop of stars whose positions are absolutely meaningless to them. The ancient mythological figures sketched in the sky were taught to us as children to be quaint ‘shepherds’ fantasies’ unworthy of the atttention of adult minds. We are interested in the satellite because we made it, but the stars are alien and untouched by human hands – therefore vapid. To such a level has our technological mania, like a bacterial solution in which we have been stewed from birth, reduced us.
It is only the integral part of the landscape which can relate to the stars. Man has ceased to be that. He inhabits a world which is more and more his own fantasy. Farmers relate to the skies, as well as sailors, camel caravans, and aerial navigators. For theirs are all integral functions, involving the fundamental principle – now all but forgotten – of orientation.
But in an almost totally secular and artificial world, orientation is thought to be unnecessary. And the numbers of people in insane asylums or living at home doped on tranquilizers testifies to our aimless, drifting metaphysic. And to our having forgotten orientation either to seasons (except to turn on the air-conditioning if we sweat or the heating system if we shiver) or to direction (our one token acceptance of cosmic direction being the wearing of sun-glasses because the sun is ‘over there.’)
We have debased what was once the integral nature of life channelled by cosmic orientations – a wholeness – to the ennervated tepidity of skin sensations and retinal discomfort. Our interior body clocks, known as circadian rhythms, continue to operate inside us, but find no contact with the outside world. They therefore become ingrown and frustrated cycles which never interlock with our environment. We are causing ourselves to become meaningless body machines programmed to what looks, in its isolation, to be an arbitrary set of cycles. But by tearing ourselves from our context, like the still-beating heart ripped out of the body of an Aztec victim, we inevitably do violence to our psyches. I would call the new disease, with its side effect ‘alienation of the young,’ dementia temporalis.
When I tried to remedy my own total ignorance of this subject originally, I found it an extremely difficult process. I discovered that I was reading coherent explanatory matter which I ‘understood’ but did not comprehend. For comprehension consists of understanding from the inside as well as understanding from the outside. Things that do not really matter to us, or into which we do not imaginatively project our own consciousness, remain strange to us; we have no inherent relation with the thing, and hence are ultimately divorced from its reality.
This increasing isolation and alienation, a cultural blight of which there is almost universal complaint in the ‘civilized’ world, is yet another consequence of dementia temporalis. For how can you get inside anything in the end if you have ceased to be inside your own local universe with its cycles and natural events? To be outside nature is to be an outsider in all things.