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Is there a seven day cycle
in nature and MAN?

Society's seven day calendar week is the only major rhythm of human activity that is totally oblivious to external nature. This so-called "social week" rests on mathematical regularity alone. We may casually assume that our week is really a division of the moon cycle. If that is our assumption, we forget that the lunar cycle is not a twenty-eight-day cycle, but approximately twenty-nine days, twelve hours, forty-four minutes and three seconds -- or 29.5306 days between new moons. A precise quarter of the lunar cycle amounts to the uneven figure of 7.38625 days. So any week using that true length would begin at different times of the day every time the cycle started. There is just no way to neatly divide the lunar cycle into weekly blocks of complete days. [1]

Then what about the sun? Doesn't the cycle of seven relate to the center of our solar system? Again, no! The 7-day week is also independent from the annual solar cycle of 365 1/4 days. A "year" of 52 weeks would have just 364 whole days. Nor is the week in harmonic sympathy with the star year of 366 1/4 days. Star days or "sidereal days" are about four minutes shorter than solar days (an observer will see a particular star at the same position four minutes earlier on successive nights). In short, there are no known external rhythms in nature that could explain the near universal existence of the seven day social week.

Yet, the importance of the seven day week -- or heptad, a series of 7 -- is monumental. Eviatar Zerubavel, in his book The Seven Day Circle, notes that:

"a continuous week, for the establishment of settled life with a high level of social organization [is indispensable] . . . . Only by defining the week as a precise multiple of the day, rather than as a rough approximation of a fraction of the lunar month, could human beings permanently avoid the problem of having to handle loose remainders and, thus, introduce into their lives the sort of temporal regularity that they could never attain with the quasi week." [2]

Professor Zerubavel is saying that a regular, predictable week plays a major role in developing our civilization.

What is the history of the WEEK?

We take for granted the commonness of a world-wide seven day week, but that hasn't always been the case. "Weeks" varying in length from three to nineteen days have existed in past cultures. In parts of Africa three, four (especially along the Congo river), five, six and eight day weeks are found, and always in association with market days. In South America the Muyscas had a three-day week, the Persians and Malaysians a five-day week. [3]

The ancient Etruscans, who inhabited the land the Italians do now, had an eight day market week which they passed on to the Romans no later than the sixth century B.C. As Rome expanded it encountered the seven day week and for a time attempted to include both. But the coexistence of two weekly cycles was unworkable. The popularity of the seven day rhythm won out and the eight-day week disappeared forever. [4] Emperor Constantine eventually established the seven day week in the Roman calendar and in 321 A.D. set Sunday as the first day of the week.

Apart from the biblical record, historians have had difficulty placing the precise beginning of the seven day week. It is simply acknowledged as an ancient practice of very early origin in the evolution of civilization. [5] The historical record becomes specific, however, with the appearance of Israelite religion and culture. In the millennium before Christ the distinctive of Israel's (and Judaism's) seven day week became widely known. Its special seventh day devoted to worship and rest -- the Sabbath -- became an identity trademark that has endured to the present.

Jeremy Campbell, in his comprehensive inquiry into the human nature of time, jauntily titled Winston Churchill's Afternoon Nap, gives Israel full credit for introducing the seven day week:

"In all the ancient world, so far as is known, there was no seven day calendar cycle except for the Jewish week, which existed at the very beginning of the monarchical period in Israel [approximately 1000 B.C.] and perhaps even earlier than that. A seven day week was unknown among the ancient Greeks, whose holidays were held at very irregular intervals, since they fell on the days of religious feasts in different cities up and down the country."

Besides the Israelite heptad, or seven day period, another tradition contributed to the forming of our modern seven day week. Long before the Greeks, Babylonian astronomers began to identify and name the seven heavenly bodies (sun and moon included as "planets") which they observed moving about the sky. Lacking our modern telescopes, they did not spot Uranus, Neptune or Pluto. Neither did they name weekdays after those seven "planets." Assigning planets to the days of the week is attributed to the Egyptians. But once a planet became attached to a day, the seven day "planetary week" came into existence.

". . . The planetary week, however, was a relative newcomer compared with the Jewish week. . . [and] may have evolved from [it], and was undoubtedly influenced by it. Presumably the seven day structure of the Jewish week came first, and later people began to call the days of the week after the names of the planets. Our modern week is a blend of both traditions." [6]

Zerubavel concludes that:

"the astrological seven day week, which evolved in Alexandria during the second century B.C., was introduced to the West through Rome sometime toward the end of the first century B.C. If it was Alexander the Great's conquest of Greece, Babylonia, and Egypt that, in bringing those three civilizations together, was indirectly responsible for the evolution of the astrological week in the first place, it was Julius Caesar's conquest of Egypt that, in making Rome heir to the glorious Hellenistic heritage, was responsible for importing that oriental cycle to the Occident." [7]

He also concludes that while the Jewish and astrological weeks evolved independently, they were eventually joined together by another power:

". . . It was the Church that was responsible for integrating the Jewish and astrological weeks together and spreading the seven day cycle throughout most of the world. [8] Yet Christianity was by no means the only carrier that helped spread the Jewish week around the globe. Starting from the seventh century, Islam was responsible for importing this seven day cycle to the east coast of Africa, the Sudan, Central Asia, large parts of North and West Africa, and even as far as to the Malay peninsula and parts of Indonesia." [9]

Both Christianity and Islam inherited the seven day week from the Jews. Both established worship days separate from the Jews: Sunday for the Christians, Friday for the Moslems -- both days touching the original Sabbath. These three religions with their three worship days clustering together have played key historical roles in bringing the beat of a seven day week to all the world.

What were the seven day wars? [10]

Because of the bond between religion (Christianity especially) and the week, there have been two major attempts in modern times to obliterate the seven day week in favor of a different length week. The first attempt came in the late 1700s. The humanistic French Revolution promised the people a new Age of Reason to replace regressive religious superstitions. A new secular, "rational" week of ten days was devised and approved by the ruling Convention in October, 1793. [11] The ten-day "decade" was patterned after the decimal principle, having ten days divided into ten hours, of 100 minutes each with each minute divided into l00 decimal seconds. Every tenth day, the "decadi" was reserved for rest and celebration of various natural objects and abstract ideas. Notre Dame was renamed the Temple of Reason.

"The real target of the reform campaign," notes Zerubavel,

"was the Christian [Church]. . . and from a symbolic standpoint, the abolition of the seven day 'beat' expressed the wish to de-Christianize France far more than the attempt to make life there more 'rational.'" [12]

During the Reign of Terror the ten-day "decade" was imposed by force. Churches were closed and allowed to open only on the tenth day. People were even forbidden to wear their good clothing on the traditional Sunday, with severe fines and even jail sentences given to violators. Religion, however, proved too resilient and the attempt to destroy the seven day week (1793-1805) failed completely - as did the First Republic of France.

Not learning a thing from France's failure, the Communists ruling the Russian Revolution tried a second, even more radical experiment 140 years later. Their aim was the same: abolish religion by abolishing the seven day week. The Soviet scene was a five-day continuous work week which called for 80 percent of workers to be on the job on any given day -- a plan which left 20 percent to share a day off. There was no longer a national day off. The advertised reason for the new rotating five-day week was to increase production.

After eleven years of disappointing production and epidemic irresponsibility in the work place (1929-1940) Stalin called it quits and gave the Soviet people back their seven day week. Concludes Zerubavel,

"In both France and the Soviet Union, some desperate attempts were made by two of the most ruthless totalitarian regimes in history to completely destroy the Judeo-Christian, seven day week. In both societies, to this day, it still remains the dominant 'beat' of social life." [13]

Did Culture or Biology come first?

In light of these massive failures, we must face the question "why seven?" Since the seven day cycle is not a naturally occurring event in our external environment, can culture alone explain how a whole society six billion strong now beats to a seven day rhythm?

Tracking the development of the seven day week in human events, as we have briefly summarized above, has been a far easier task for historians than explaining how the cycle originated in the first place. Researchers really have only two choices:

  1. Say that the week is a cultural or religious invention of unknown date which gradually took root in the ancient world, evolving with time to the near universal acceptance we find today

  2. Take the biblical record of the origin of the week (Genesis, chapters 1 & 2) at face value -- it was made by God at creation.

For convenience we may call option one -- a standard, textbook explanation -- "the cultural/religious outgrowth model;" option two naturally becomes "the biblical model." It comes as no surprise that most modern historians reject the second, or biblical model, and spend their ink documenting the first one, attempting to explain the strange phenomenon of a seven day week.

However one rates those attempts, recent discoveries revealing innate body rhythms of about seven days now call that cultural outgrowth model into question.

The relatively new science of chronobiology has uncovered some totally unexpected facts about living things, as Susan Perry and Jim Dawson report in their book The Secrets Our Body Clock Reveal. Weekly rhythms -- known in chronobiology as "circaseptan rhythms" -- are one of the most puzzling and fascinating findings of chronobiology. Circaseptan literally means "about seven." Daily and seasonal cycles appear to be connected to the moon. But what is there in nature that would have caused weekly rhythms to evolve?

"At first glance, it might seem that weekly rhythms developed in response to the seven day week imposed by human culture thousands of years ago. However, this theory doesn't hold once you realize that plants, insects, and animals other than humans also have weekly cycles. . . . Biology, therefore, not culture, is probably at the source of our seven day week." [14]

Campbell summarizes the findings of the world's foremost authority on rhythms and the pioneer of the science of chronobiology:

"Franz Halberg proposes that body rhythms of about seven days, far from being passively driven by the social cycle of the calendar week, are innate, autonomous, and perhaps the reason why the calendar week arose in the first place." [15]

What a bombshell!

What are the rhythms around us?

Mankind has always been aware of rhythms -- they surround us. We live with daily rhythms of tides, light and darkness, monthly rhythms of the moon, seasonal rhythms of birth, growth, harvest, hot and cold, and annual cycles of the sun, migrations, floods and drought. We have also observed cycles in our bodies which interact with those around us such as our daily sleep rhythms, daily temperature and blood pressure fluctuations, and the menstrual cycle which follows the lunar cycle precisely averaging 29.5 days.

However, until recently science has been aware of only the more obvious rhythms. Now the new science of chronobiology has begun to roll back frontiers revealing a universe replete with rhythms.

Franz Halberg, the brilliant scientist and founder of modern chronobiology, first began his experiments in the 1940s and now heads the Chronobiology Laboratories at the University of Minnesota. He offers us this rather detailed description of his field:

"Chronobiology is the eminently interdisciplinary science of interactions in time among metabolic, hormonal, and neuronal networks. It involves anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, and pharmacology, at the molecular, intracellular, intercellular, and still higher levels of organization. The compounds coordinating a time structure -- proteins, steroids, and amino-acid derivatives -- provide for the scheduling of interactions among membrane, cytoplasmic, and nuclear events in a network involving rhythmic enzyme reactions and other intracellular mechanisms. The integrated temporal features of the processes of induction, repression, transcription, and translation of gene expression remain to be mapped . . ." [16]

Simply put: Chronobiology is the study of how living things handle time.

Chronobiology is no longer a minor science. Perry and Dawson note that it

". . . is now being studied in major universities and medical centers around the world. There are chronobiologists working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as well as for the National Institutes of Health and other government laboratories. Chronobiology is becoming part of the mainstream of science, and it is changing our way of looking at life and time." [17]

"Don't confuse the science of biological rhythms with the quackery of biorhythms," warn Perry and Dawson. "The two are as unlike each other as astronomy and astrology." [18]

What are the human body's five major rhythms?

There are five major rhythms that beat in our bodies to insure our health and happiness (see chart below). The daily or circadian rhythm (from the Latin for "around a day") is the easiest to detect and measure. We are born with our own set of circadian rhythms that in time become synchronized with our environment. Our rhythms vary slightly from individual to individual (23.6 hours, 24.3 hours, 25.4 hours, etc.) and they usually shorten as we age. For some unknown reason, women tend to have shorter circadian cycles than men.

Your Inner Rhythms

Type of Rhythm Length  Examples
Ultradian Less than
24 hours
 Heartbeat. 90 minute fluctuations in energy levels and attention span.  Brain waves.
Circadian About a day  Temperature.  Blood Pressure.  Sleep and Wake Cycle.  Cell Division.
Circaseptan About a week  Reject of organ transplants.  Immune response to infections.  Blood and Urine chemicals.  Blood Pressure.  Heartbeat.  Common Cold.  Coping hormones.
Circatrigintan About a month  Menstrual cycle
Circannual About a year  Seasonal depression.  Sexual drive.  Susceptibility to some diseases.

If all our individual cycles vary from a precise 24 hour day or 168 hour seven day week, wouldn't we in time get terribly out of sync?

"Fortunately," writes Perry and Dawson,

"our bodies are able to reset themselves each day to the twenty-four hour rhythm, thanks to many powerful time cues. Chronobiologists call these cues zeitgebers, German for 'time givers.' Some can be found outside our bodies, some are located within, and others are part of our daily lives . . . .

"As if we didn't have enough zeitgebers to keep our bodies in sync with the world, our internal rhythms also help synchronize each other, for none of the myriad rhythms within our bodies works in isolation. Some rhythms rise while others fall -- like a modern dance in which the dancers move seemingly independently of each other, but which actually has been carefully choreographed. The dance is so complex that chronobiologists are only beginning to understand the interrelationships of the rhythms." [19]

What are the mysterious weekly rhythms?

The most intriguing of all biological rhythms are those set to a clock of about 7 days. In his chapter "The Importance of Time," Jeremy Campbell reports:

"These circaseptan, or about weekly, rhythms are one of the major surprises turned up by modern chronobiology. Fifteen years ago, few scientists would have expected that seven day biological cycles would prove to be so widespread and so long established in the living world. They are of very ancient origin, appearing in primitive one-celled organisms, and are thought to be present even in bacteria, the simplest form of life now existing." [20]

One of Franz Halberg's amazing discoveries is that of an innate rhythm -- about seven days -- occurring in a giant alga some five million years old on the evolutionary time line. Because this microscopic cell resembles a graceful champagne glass, the alga (plant) is popularly known as mermaid's wineglass (Acetabularia  mediterranea). When this "primitive" alga is subjected to artificial schedules of alternating light and dark spans of varying length over many days, this single intact cell is somehow able to translate all that manipulation of light and darkness into the measurement of a seven day week!

As Campbell says, this inherent rhythm has to do with the internal logic of the body, not with the external logic of the world. Many more examples could be given. Involved experimentation with rats, face flies, plants and other life have revealed circaseptan rhythms similar to that of the mermaid's wineglass. [21]

If the seven day week is an invention of culture and religion, as most historians would have us believe, how do we explain innate circaseptan rhythms in "primitive" algae, rats, plants and face flies? These forms of life have no calendar, can't read the Torah and don't know Saturn from Santa Claus.

Is our modern seven day cycle a JEWISH invention?

In his book The Seven Day Circle, Eviatar Zerubavel plainly states:

"the continuous seven day cycle that runs throughout history paying no attention whatsoever to the moon and its phases is a distinctively Jewish invention." [22]

Modern attempts by the French and Soviets to erase the seven day week -- with its imbedded religious ties -- ended in complete failure.

But was it culture and religion alone that eventually moved earth's six billion people to now harmonize in a universal seven day rhythm? The new and respected science of chronobiology (the study of how living things handle time) says no. Its discovery of circaseptan ("about seven") rhythms in human and other life forms points toward a biological explanation for the mystery of the week. In his study into the human nature of time, Jeremy Campbell states:

"Inner time structure, in certain of its manifestations, seems to determine outer time structure, rather than the other way round. Rhythms of about seven days arose in living creatures millions of years before the calendar week was invented, and may conceivably be the reason why it was invented." [23]

Is the human body an orchestra of rhythms?

Chronobiology is continuing to document just how highly rhythmic we humans are. Most of our many ticking clocks are difficult to detect; they operate just below our conscious awareness. Innate and hidden in our cell structure, the mysteries of biological time have waited for the resolving power of modern computers to appear. Just as the electron microscope allowed scientists to peer deep into the structure of living cells, computer "magnification" and analysis now make visible internal clocks we didn't even know existed. The most surprising of them all is the circaseptan. Campbell explains that:

"certain biological clock systems have been discovered only through the use of sophisticated computer programs, and when they are brought to light in this way, often surprise us. By showing us these invisible restrictions on our temporal freedom, scientists modify our knowledge of human nature, and they do not always do so in predictable ways. They are drawing a new map of the temporal anatomy of body and brain, and the map tells us truths we could not know otherwise."

"It would be a big mistake to assume that this time anatomy is simple, that the clocks of the body all tick to a single measure, like watches in a jewelry store. A better image is that of an orchestra, a silent orchestra made up of numerous players under more than one conductor, each contributing in special ways to the harmony and complexity of the whole." [24]

These myriad synchronizing rhythms give substance to the well worn phrase "harmony of the body." The "loudest" of the body's oscillating frequencies is the 24-hour cosmic cycle of day and night -- and until recently this circadian rhythm received most of the attention.

The surprise appearance of an internally generated seven day rhythm, independent from all environmental influences, provides chronobiologists with intriguing possibilities for a new understanding of how the body's complex orchestra of rhythms works.

Our bodies are carefully designed for self-protection even in matters of time. On the one hand we are an orchestra of rhythms, on the other our bodies demand stability and sameness -- an automatic pull to homeostasis (the maintenance of a beneficial equilibrium, a self-regulated norm). Campbell explains:

"The two regulatory systems, one imposing sameness in time, the other providing orderly change, are complementary rather than being in conflict. A body function alters in a rhythmic fashion, and homeostasis stabilizes the altered state of that function.

"The clocks are able to generate regular periodic variations because homeostasis resists random, irrelevant variations. Both systems collaborate in maintaining the special time structure of the body rather than simply surrendering to the time structure of the environment." [25]

We organize time on our own terms and to our own advantage.

Most, if not all, of the millions (literally!) of daily functions that occur in our bodies are organized within some rhythmic system. Some bodily tasks occur quickly in seconds, minutes or hours, others slowly over months. How can this orchestra of cycles governing such bodily activities as diverse in time as metabolism, maintenance, growth, defense and reproduction possibly be coordinated?

What is our internal seven day clock?

What is our internal 7 day clock? Chronobiology has found the answer. As Campbell explains:

"A particular function of the body may have a spectrum of rhythms with a dominant frequency that is very different from the dominant frequency of the spectrum of rhythms in another function, perhaps widely separated in space. Yet no matter which frequency component is the primary one in any given function, all rhythmic systems of the body probably possess an innate circaseptan frequency so that when they cooperate to perform a specific task which is body-wide, say, an immune reaction, the reaction occurs on a weekly schedule.

"That schedule is a compromise between too much time and too little. A day and a night, which is the dominant frequency in the spectrum of many routine body chores, would not be long enough to complete the complicated array of chemical and other activities that compose the immune defense reaction, and a month would be too long." [26]

In addition to being the key coordinating rhythm for the rest of the body's many rhythmic interactions, a seven day cycle has been found in fluctuations of blood pressure, acid content in blood, red blood cells, heartbeat, oral temperature, female breast temperature, urine chemistry and volume, the ratio between two important neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and epinephrine, and the rise and fall of several body chemicals such as the stress coping hormone, cortisol. "In fact," Perry and Dawson note,

"weekly rhythms appear easiest to detect when the body is under stress, such as when it is defending itself against a virus, bacterium, or other harmful intruder. For example, cold symptoms (which are really signs of the body defending itself against the cold virus) last about a week. Chickenpox symptoms (a high fever and small red spots) usually appear almost exactly two weeks after exposure to the illness.:" [27]

Doctors have long observed that response to malaria infection and pneumonia crisis peaked at seven days. Organ transplants face similar crises as the body's immune system attack the foreign organ. Campbell explains:

"When a human patient receives a kidney transplant, there is a rhythm of about seven days, a predictable rise and fall in the probability that the body's immune system will reject the new kidney. A major peak of rejection occurs seven days after the operation, and when a serum is given to suppress the immune reaction, a series of peaks occurs, with increasing risk of rejection, at one week, two weeks, three weeks and at four weeks, the time of the highest of all." [28]

Chronobiology's pioneer, Dr. Franz Halberg, made another startling discovery -- a three and a half day, or circasemiseptan harmonic of the circaseptan (seven day) frequency. This phenomenon seems to occur when the living organism is under extreme attack or has somehow been critically altered. When the giant one celled alga "mermaid's wineglass" (described in Part One) had its nucleus removed, it doubled its seven day frequency to one of about three and a half days. [29]

He has also found that when cancer strikes humans our circaseptan frequency is doubled to its circasemiseptan harmonic. Why? Campbell believes there must be rhyme and reason:

"Circaseptan and circasemiseptan rhythms are not arbitrary, even though they seem to lack counterpart rhythms in the external environment." Dr. Halberg calls the move to a three and a half day harmonic of seven a "spectral compromise . . . the system does its own reshuffling." [30]

The deeper we investigate the inner workings of life, an even more complex, intricate and absolutely marvelous display of design begins to appear. Out of the mind-numbing complexity of life a certain organizing rhythm starts to surface. The millions of living parts begin to respond to a rhythmic resonance broadcast on certain set frequencies. These parts innately know to tune their receivers to the proper sympathetically vibrating frequency -- their beat. Just as we tune our radios and music suddenly springs to life, every living cell has imbedded in its primal genetic material a rhythm, a clock, a beat, a frequency, a resonance that helps it get in sync to live and function as designed.

Now we discover that the beat all life is tuned to is seven. "In Franz Halberg's view," summarizes Campbell:

"a central feature of biological time structure is the harmonic relationship that exists among the various component frequencies. A striking aspect of this relationship is that the components themselves appear to be harmonics or sub harmonics, multiples or submultiples, of seven, a number that has played a disproportionately large role in human culture, myth, religion, magic and the calendar." [31]

How did seven come to be imbedded deep into the ancient genetic building blocks of life? Why is seven the key coordinating rhythm for life's myriad complexities?

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