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The Main Sources of the Emergence of Civilizations

Of the many factors that spur the emergence, rise, and demise of civilizations, two are fundamental: the dynamism of the human mind, and the concomitant surfacing of new needs and necessities in human life.

The human mind is instinctively active, perpetually driven by a burning curiosity that confronts a never-ending chain of new questions to which it must find answers, or it will not rest or be content. But once a discovery is made, the new answers bring to view an untested world replete with new questions, an eternal cyclical process.

At the same time, humans strive to fulfill their material needs, which beckons them to seek greater mastery over the natural world through invention and innovation. The combination of the will to dominate nature and the will to create alters the material and psychological makeup of the human world, and this creates new needs and necessities.

The dynamism of the human constitution and the resulting search for answers to pressing questions or needs spurs a constant transformation of the human historical consciousness. The same two fundamental qualities of humans that underpin the inevitability of change are also the cause of the emergence and decline of civilizations. While other human, social, and natural factors slow down or accelerate the coming, going, and interchange of civilizations, the desire and need for change is the most important in this regard.

Every civilization is based on a specific world-view which is itself shaped by a people's idiosyncratic historical experience. For as long as the existing world view successfully addresses the fundamental questions and needs of a community, it remains intact. But when the collective consciousness and soul of a people outgrow the limitations of the existing civilization, the search for new ideas begins in earnest, often taking the form of turning to other civilizations for clues. This is the secret of the emergence, flourishing, and fall of all civilizations.

Adapted from the book: "Islam, Dialogue and Civil Society" by: "Sayyid Mohammad Khatami"

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