Biorhythms


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Biorhythms

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In the 1970s, within the larger New Age movement, the notion of individual biorhythm charts was introduced. These charts purported to show the activity of three biological cycles that all humans beings experience from birth. According to the theory of biorhythms, these cycles have much to say about fluctuations in our energy levels and psychological states from day to day.

The idea of biorhythms in human life was initially proposed by German physician William Fliess (1859–1928). He claimed to have discovered two operative cycles, and from his work the contemporary theory evolved. In the 1920s an Austrian engineer, Alfred Teltscher, proposed a third cycle. Subsequently, Austrian psychologist Herman Swoboda (1873–1963) tied the three cycles to an individual’s birth date. The discussion of biorhythms remained an activity of very few until the 1960s, when George S. Thommen authored a popular presentation of the idea and marketed it as a self-help tool for people seeking to improve the quality of their lives.

According to the theory, there are three significant rhythms to which one should pay attention. Each rhythm goes through a steady cycle, rising and falling. Because each cycle is of a different length, their highs and lows do not regularly coincide. The three cycles are: a 23-day cycle of physical strength and energy; a 28-day cycle of emotional and creative ability; and a 33-day cycle of mental activity. On any given day, one may feel (for example) physically energized, emotionally neutral, and mentally low. On rare days one can feel energized on all fronts or depleted on all fronts. By tracking one’s cycles, one can, for example, schedule important events on days in which two or three cycles are peaking and avoid making key decisions when two or more cycles are at their low points. A biorhythm chart allows one to immediately know where they are in their cycles on any given day.

Attention to biorhythms peaked in the later 1970s after Bernard Gittelson authored a massmarket paperback book that affirmed Thommen’s presentation, and a variety of devices appeared that greatly simplified the production of charts. The idea became a part of popular culture, and as charts of celebrities were calculated, famous events tied to highs and lows in their charts were publicized. At the same time, however, it also underwent closer scrutiny, its claim to quantify psychological states being highly verifiable. Unfortunately, the scientific texts of biorhythm cycles all yielded negative results. Anecdotal claims that tennis star Billy Jean King had scored her famous victory over Bobby Riggs when on a biorhythm high suggested that other outstanding performances would yield significant correlates. However, no such data was forthcoming. By theend of the 1980s, biorhythm charts had largely disappeared.

Sources:

Bainbridge, William Sims. “Biorhythms: Evaluating a Pseudoscience,” Skeptical Inquirer (summer/spring 1978): 41–56.
Gittelson, Bernard. Biorhythms: A Personal Science. New York: Arco Publishing Company, 1975.
Hines, Terence M. “Comprehensive Review of Biorhythm Theory,” Psychological Reports 83 (1998): 19–64.
Thommen, G. S. Is This Your Day. New York: Crown, 1973.
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