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Human Wave Theory

Anyone who watches the ocean will be able to see the patterns of the waves. Waves are constantly forming and reforming throughout the ocean. However, as they encounter land, they begin to change. They gather together in a cohesive entity as they come into the shore, making one last powerful run, then at a certain point the waves crest and spray into pieces. As the poet William Butler Yates said, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

Humanity also can be seen as flowing in patterns resembling waves. Civilizations form, just as waves in the ocean. They start as a ripple somewhere in the middle of a sea, and the ripple grows larger and larger until it becomes a wave. The wave rolls along, gathering mass, and becomes its most majestic self when it reaches a crest. After the crest dissolves, the entire wave meets the shore and disappears.

If you held a historic video of some kind so that it focused on the entire earth throughout time, from the beginning of humanity to the present, you could see the waves of various civilizations forming and dying on the planet. If you speeded up the video, you could see the civilizations flowing along like ocean waves on various continents. You would see buildings here, wars there, roads here, and stadiums there.

When you look at the civilizations streaming across the earth over time, cresting high and splashing down, again and again in a multitude of patterns, the scene doesn’t seem to be something that was deliberately put together by anyone. Waves of humanity and collections of cultures form randomly, rolling this way and that. From this angle, nothing catches your eye that can be distinguished as human action and reaction.

Thus a wave theory can be offered, based on these images. Humanity does not decide anything or cause anything. It simply makes up reasons for why they are gathering in waves and people are eating groups are forming and cities are fighting; but these are not the real reasons. There is no real reason. It is but a random pattern of waves that stretches from horizon to horizon and from time to time.

The waves perhaps follow some law of the universe, some physical law, such as “Every action has and equal and opposite reaction,” or “any two bodies will be attracted to each other, with the force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between.” Most probably they follow numerous laws, forming and reforming a multitude of interactions. They follow universal rules and yet are seen up close by humans as following human rules, which are made up to give the universal interactions human meaning.

Thus a new group will form, or a new political movement, or a new country. And this entity will make up reasons why it is forming. It will say, “We are forming to rid our land of corruption,” or it will say, “We are joining together to find freedom of belief,” or it will pronounce for all to hear, “We the people are gathering together to insure that all people under the sun will be free of persecution and can enjoy the pursuit of liberty, prosperity and everlasting peace.” The new entity will state that it has only the noblest intentions and everyone in the group, political movement or country will be proud of those intentions.

In actuality, the entity did not form for any of those reasons. It formed because it was a human wave whose time had come. It was a human wave whose moment in history propelled it to crest at that particular time. It was a human wave among billions of other human waves waxing and waning through space and time.

Because humans make up reasons for their waves, they feel a sense of importance. Because humans make up reasons for their waves, they begin to see these waves as brave or ignoble, delightful or disgusting, good and evil. But the waves are none of these things; they are simply waves that “come and go, speaking of Michelangelo.”

It may be that the universe is comprised of waves; suns brighten and dim across the galaxies in waves. We humans think that the earth and other planets where life occurs are special. But from a universal perspective life is simply a minor aspect of the workings of the universe. There is nothing special whatsoever about life. We think life is special because we idealize human existence.

People who are caught up in the times will not want to see the waves. They will only want to see the outer manifestation of the waves, a manifestation they put there. They will want to see the goodness that is in their own eyes, or the evil in their own eyes. They will not want to see that the waves are waves, flowing this way and that until they crest near the shore and then are no more.

Human Wave Theory

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2019). Human Wave Theory. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Feb 2019
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