• Mustapha Mond
    8
    I've been reading a lot of Nietzsche lately, and what particularly struck me were his writings about the "eternal return", "amor fati" or "eternal recurrence" of things. This concept that, given time is infinite whereas the number of possible states are finite, events will recur again and again infinitely (such as me typing this very sentence) seems to be almost eerily echoed by some theories in physics and mathematics.

    In mathematics, the Poincare recurrence theorem states that "a system whose dynamics are volume-preserving and which is confined to a finite spatial volume will, after a sufficiently long time, return to an arbitrarily small neighbourhood of its initial state". Indeed, such a mathematical truth supports Nietzsche's belief that "in an infinite period of time, every possible combination would at some time be attained".

    Equally, the oscillating universe theory, originally supported by Einstein, speculates that that the known universe ends in a "big crunch" which is followed by another big bang and another crunch etc. etc. in a process which continues indefinitely. If quantum theory is true such that there is only a finite amount of configurations within a finite volume possible, then identical states of the Hubble volume should reoccur, due to chance alone.

    Having examined these ideas, Nietzsche's words seem almost prophetic. The idea that everything that has been, has already been, and will indeed occur again due to the infinity of time is extraordinary. Surely such a proposition completely and utterly obliterates the existence of man and every one of our lives into utter insignificant and meaningless nothingness?
  • apokrisis
    6.8k
    In mathematics, the Poincare recurrence theorem states that "a system whose dynamics are volume-preserving and which is confined to a finite spatial volume will, after a sufficiently long time, return to an arbitrarily small neighbourhood of its initial state".Mustapha Mond

    But the Universe is in fact an expanding-cooling space with event horizons. So recurrence has to be considered in the light of that.

    Time is not infinite in the Newtonian sense but instead winding down to a Heat Death. Earlier negentropic states won't be revisited because there will not be sufficient energy density left to permit it.

    Equally, the oscillating universe theory, originally supported by Einstein, speculates that that the known universe ends in a "big crunch" which is followed by another big bang and another crunch etc. etc. in a process which continues indefinitely.Mustapha Mond

    Recycling does open a door to such recurrence. But while still a very fashionable idea in cosmological speculation, the evidence is against it.

    Observations of dark energy or the cosmological constant say there will be an actual heat death for the Universe. So unless something can somehow switch off that guaranteed expansion, a big crunch cannot happen.

    And even recycling makes any exact repetitions of history infinitely improbable. Everything would get scrambled in a collapse. And thermodynamic considerations make it likely that each rebirth would be less energetic than the last.

    So invoking infinity always buys you every possibility it seems. But remember that every actual rebirth is as unlikely as it is possible to repeat the previous one. And so yes, the maths of infinity seems to suggest no problem. Even if rebirth itself spawns infinite variety, each variant will not only be repeated at some stage, but repeated an infinite number of times itself.

    The maths of infinity is handy like that. It imposes no limits on existence. But also it doesn't sound exactly realistic, does it? And if you are relying on infinite time, that is already a dubious kind of notion in being a Newtonian kind of conception of a dimension of change or entropification.
  • _db
    3.6k
    If I remember correctly, Nietzsche never explicitly endorsed eternal recurrence. He merely used it as a thought experiment.
  • Mustapha Mond
    8


    Some enlightening points, thank you.

    Do you have a background in mathematics and/or physics? If so, what is your opinion on multiverse theory; and its possible implications on the points made above?
  • apokrisis
    6.8k
    what is your opinion on multiverse theory; and its possible implications on the points made above?Mustapha Mond

    Well, as an extremum principle, the number of universes is either going to be 1 or infinity. Either creation is unbound, meaning an unlimited number of possibilities must exist, or there is instead a reason for creation being limited, and so only one generic outcome is possible.

    Examples of such constraints on fecundity would be a cosmic selection principle of some kind - creation starts with all possibilities trying to get going, but then in a winner takes all race, only one solution emerges. This is supported by quantum physics and its path integral or sum over histories approach. The least action principle applied to the entirety of existence would say that our universe must be the most optimal possible path in some sense. And that would tie in with ontic structural realism which says that the maths of symmetry breaking - as told by lie group analysis - has only one set of possible solutions.

    So in general, I would say it either has to be the case that the number of kinds of worlds is infiinite or just one. And what decides that is whether physics can say that reality is ruled by evolving constraints or whether reality is unlimitedly fecund.

    Then you have to add that multiverse thinking itself spans this range. So if you take Linde's eternal spawning inflation, then this is really a number of worlds = 1 story. It all begins with an inflaton field that cools locally to spin off a fractal distribution of world-lets. So this process of world-making is future-eternal - an infinity of daughter universes gets produced. However - as has been argued as a mathematical theorem - this kind of multiverse is past-finite. The ever-branching inflating field must itself be traceable back to some definite root event that marks its beginning in time. So in that sense, inflationary existence counts as just a 1 world solution (as why an inflationary field of just those properties and not every other? Some fecundity limiting principle must apply).

    So where I stand on multiverses is that I am generally against them because of a larger commitment to a physics where crisp fecundity is always in fact the product of crisp limits. You can't have definite possibilities except in the presence of definite constraints.

    An analogy is a die. A perfectly symmetrical object would be a sphere. Toss a sphere and you can't really say it lands on a face. It lands on an infinity of points and so it is always rather vague or indefinite as to what "number" you just rolled. But a cube is a broken symmetry - a shape now constrained in a particular fashion. It is designed so it must come to rest on one of six faces. So it is the definiteness of constraint that produces the definiteness of counterfactual outcomes - you can roll some crisp possible number between 1 and 6.

    Multiverses are popular because reasoning with infinity is fun. It produces every kind of weirdness you can imagine. And folk like it that science seems to be promising this kind of magic - a multiverse story where right now you are writing these words to me, rather than the other way round. And also an infinity of worlds where I am ending this post with bkdpot, and an infinity more where I end it with every other possible letter combination.
  • S
    11.7k
    If I remember correctly, Nietzsche never explicitly endorsed eternal recurrence. He merely used it as a thought experiment.darthbarracuda

    My understanding is that he used the thought experiment as sort of test and as a means of getting across a deeper moral lesson, principle, aspiration or outlook which can be drawn from it.

    There may well be some who interpret it as a metaphysics, but I don't find that interpretation as convincing or compelling as the ethical interpretation, and view it as either a misinterpretation or an aspect of secondary importance.
  • Wayfarer
    21k
    1 The words of the Teacher, a son of David, king in Jerusalem:

    2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
    “Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”
    3 What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
    4 Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
    5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
    6 The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
    round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
    7 All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
    To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
    8 All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
    The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
    9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
    10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
    It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
    11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
    will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.'

    Ecclesiastes 1

    I interpret such ideas as the realisation of being trapped in an endless cycle of repetitive and pointless actions, so it is actually the soul's yearning for release.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.1k
    I interpret such ideas as the realisation of being trapped in an endless cycle of repetitive and pointless actions, so it is actually the soul's yearning for release.Wayfarer

    I call this concept "instrumentality". It is the idea that we are striving-for-nothing. I mean that in two ways:
    1) We are striving-for-nothing meaning there is no definable goal that we are striving for except the mini-goals we pursue in order to stay alive (in our cultural/linguistic milieu), and to turn boredom into goal-seeking and pleasure to stave off angst and ennui.

    2) We are striving-for-nothing. We are alive and experience unwanted pain and deprivations, but we simply do this to do to do to do but we keep this going without much pause for reflection as to why. Instead of taking it to its logical conclusion, the idea is surrounded with all sorts of cultural mainstays (the hope for unity with existence/God, family, pleasure, knowledge, beauty, discovery, recognition, virtue, entertainment, community, etc.).
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k
    Striving-for-nothing is apt, though not in the way you or Wayfayer is talking about it.

    Eternal recurrence is the infinite meaning of logic reflected in the world. It's the occurrence of all "possible worlds," every conceivable meaning about the world happening over an over again, endlessly. We might say it's a last bastion of confusing the infinite for the finite that characterises pre-modern accounts of Being.

    A final step before we finally recognise the infinite of logic for itself, rather than trying to posit it in terms of the world or some other realm of things (e.g. God, ourselves). Recurrence is Eternal because, in the infinite, there is no stopping, ceasing or change. All meaning is present at any time. There is no striving for it, for it never leaves or begins.

    We are striving for nothing precisely because meaning is infinite, invincible, undoubtable to anyone who is paying attention. Far from the nihilistic failure you and Wayfarer (and even some of the wider philosophy Nietzsche) ascribes, eternal recurrence alludes to how striving for meaning is impossible-- meaning is infinite, so it's never lacking such that we could strive for it.

    Our striving-for-nothing is because meaning is inescapable. We can only be who we are. Those who chase the transcendent are quite literally trying to attain nothing-- to stop being themselves, to eradicate their meaning, to become nothing.
  • Mustapha Mond
    8


    A cold view of existence. We are just biological machines striving simply to survive for the sake of survival; slowly marching toward an inescapable end.

    One could posit that evolution didn't account for the fact that humans would end up yearning and searching for meaning, Gods and spirituality; rather than just cracking on and replicating our DNA...
  • schopenhauer1
    10.1k
    We are striving for nothing precisely because meaning is infinite, invincible, undoubtable to anyone who is paying attention. Far from the nihilistic failure you and Wayfarer (and even some of the wider philosophy Nietzsche) ascribes, eternal recurrence alludes to how striving for meaning is impossible-- meaning is infinite, so it's never lacking such that we could strive for it.TheWillowOfDarkness

    Too bad life as we perceive it is not eternal.. Just because we can make thought experiments does not mean that our humans-as-lived experience becomes that thought experiment. Actually, that might be my gripe with many religious/spiritual pipedreams that there is any other mode of experience than the usual ones we are used to. Perhaps there are people who have aptitudes/goals that lead to athleticism, or calm/meditative, or brilliant with music, but it all falls within the normal range of experience- no nirvana, no mystical union, no invincible eternal recurrence. Whatever the metaphysics that may or may not be true, the actual life as we feel it does not change.
  • Janus
    15.7k


    Yes, Nietzsche's 'Eternal Recurrence' was primarily a thought experiment designed to allow you to feel the degree of your own life affirmation.
  • Wayfarer
    21k
    One could posit that evolution didn't account for the fact that humans would end up yearning and searching for meaning, Gods and spirituality; rather than just cracking on and replicating our DNA... — Mustapha Mond

    Yes - but then one would fall foul of the thought police.

    Whatever the metaphysics that may or may not be true, the actual life as we feel it does not change. — Schopenhauer

    You know this how? You confidently proclaim what others do and do not realise, do and do not see, as if you somehow possess the benchmark, or the insight, which all others lack.
  • Janus
    15.7k
    Our striving-for-nothing is because meaning is inescapable. We can only be who we are. Those who chase the transcendent are quite literally trying to attain nothing-- to stop being themselves, to eradicate their meaning, to become nothing.TheWillowOfDarkness

    It's true meaning is infinitely there and must be listened for, but freedom, and not imprisonment or anything which needs to be "escaped', consists in the listening; and the listening of each individual and the meaning given to them when they listen is different.

    Of course, it is a facile tautology to say "we can only be who we are"; however who we are is never known in any determinate sense, but only via intuition, which is precisely "listening" or "paying attention". To try to see beyond what we currently see just is "chasing the transcendent"; and far from being an endeavour to "stop being oneself" is is precisely an endeavour to 'become who we are'; to realise (in the sense of 'make real') the meaning of our lives, not to eradicate it, and to become more, and certainly not to become nothing.

    The 'chasing of the transcendent' I think you have in mind is the chasing of a more or less hazy idea of some 'realm beyond'. This can be useful for certain kinds of people, to inspire their feelings, but it can also degenerate into fixed conceptions of the transcendent which are the roots of fundamentalism, of the belief that some determinate transcendental truth has been given; this is blind faith. Blind faith consist in taking hazy notions as concrete, immutable givens, it fixes the mind in a kind of stagnant, and potentially very dangerous (dangerous to one's own development and possibly even to others) stasis, so it should never be thought to be a substitute for rational and practical thought.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k
    I'm talking about the infinite of meaning, not any particular state of a person. In chasing the transcendent, one is not directing an action to end their suffering or become something be-- those are worldly. They are a change in oneself, even when involving transcendent beliefs.

    If someone's life becomes better following such a belief, it is them who have changed. What made life better was a state of themsleves, not the transcendent. The accurate description of these instance is not: "the transcendent saved me" but "believing in the transcendent made me feel joy." It wasn't another realm which made life better. It was them.

    "Chasing the transcendent" is seeking to become nothing because, in terms of the world understood, it aims to eliminate the infinite meaning expressed by the individual. It wants to turn the person who means in themselves into something else-- God who means, the mystical realm that means, etc., etc.

    When I say those chasing the transcendent are seeking to become nothing, I mean they are attempting to eliminate their infinite meaning. They are nihlists-- they and the world have no infinite meaning, so the transcendent has to ride to the rescue.

    The dissatisfaction with existence which Wayfarer likes to blame on loss of transcendenal belief isn't new with modernity. It's been there all along. The transcendent is the solution to those who believe Nihilism is true about the world.

    Any belief which chases the transcendent has Nilhism at it's core-- the transcendent is there to fix our and our world's inherent meaninglessness.

    The disruption modem philosophy has caused to accounts of meaning isn't because it's nihilistic, it's because the solutions used by nihlists in the past have been revealed as incoherent.

    Since the Death of God, the nihilist has nothing to fix their meaninglessness. If there is no realm beyond, they are stuck with themsleves in this world. The truth of Nihilism has no solution. They are doomed to this meaningless world. Of course, they don't stop to consider that Nihilism was never true in the first place, so no solution is required and the world is not meaningless.

    The abandoning of the transcendent is a step before realising the infinite meaning expressed by ourselves and the world. We learn we cannot mean by another realm, that the transcendent and mystical is fiction. Nihilism likes to hold tight though. Sometimes people get the former insight without over coming the myth the world is meaningless. To them the abandonment of the transcendent spells doom because it takes away the pretense of meaning they've used to solve Nihilism.
  • Janus
    15.7k
    I'm talking about the infinite of meaning, not any particular state of a person.TheWillowOfDarkness

    That sounds like some sort of transcendent. ;)

    I don't disagree with much of what you say, as such; but I think it is your own strawman version (apart maybe from the fundamentalists) of what people think spirituality and transcendence is. If most spiritualists really wanted to 'become nothing' in the sense you suggest; why would they not simply kill themselves?

    If, in fact, you have never been 'spiritually minded' yourself, then you are simply criticizing, from an arbitrary normative standard of your own devising and preference, motivations in others that you cannot possibly understand.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k
    Life isn't the question. That's just confusing the finite with the infinite-- wishing our lives would be a constant, free of change, uncertainty and death. And you are right, the "other realm" is frequently dissatisfactiory because it doesn't give us the infinite it promises. Even if God existed and their was a wonderful "afterlife" (really, it's just more life), we are still stuck with our world. It's suffering is not undone. God and the "afterlife" are just as finite as our lives here on Earth.

    Meaning is different question. It's an infinite, not our lives, but a logical expression of them-- "I am," "I mean," "the world means," "life means." It may be perceived and contains no false promises. To be infinite is not required to understand the meaning of infinite. Our particular form in the world doesn't matter to this.

    We might recognise meaning while playing sport, creating music, following fictions of the transcendent, drawing attention to our suffering, arguing against Nihilism, even as we are dying. Since meaning is infinte, it does not depend on us, on what we are, on who we are or even if we are at all.

    The mistake of the transcendent philosophies is to locate meaning in us. Supposely, meaning is for us, something we attain, something which makes us better, gives us life or undoes our suffering. Even Buddhism, which realises something about the self is at fault for lack of meaning, still poses meaning in terms of the self-- it says give up the self to understand meaning, but that is a self-focused goal. Meaning is supposedly there by me, a finite being, doing something. An understanding which is still built on a failure to understand the infinite of meaning.
  • Wayfarer
    21k
    deleted. D'oh.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k
    In a sense, the infinite can be said to transcend the world; it's a different realm, unaffected by what happens in the world.

    This is not the "transcendent" I'm talking about in my argument though. When chasing the transcendent, the infinite is veiwed as finite, as something to be obtained, as something which acts within the world. The logical necessity of the infinite is not respected. God is thought to be doubtable, of our world and a "mystery."

    The Fundamentalists actually have the more coherent argument here. They understand God to be a worldly state. For any reference to "infinite" they might make, God is of the world to them, utterly not transcendent. Now they might be wrong, but that's only because what they claim doesn't exist. Such a God (the sky bully) is at least possible.

    Not true of the transcendent.

    Again, you are missing the point. Becoming nothing is a question of infinite meaning, not of their life. They want to be nothing, not even dead, such that they and the world are without meaning--to transcend meaning themsleves and be the infinite. Killing oneself is all too worldly and meaningless.

    My argument is not a normative one. It's a logical one. It's about the logical consistency of transcendent beliefs and how they relate to meaning. I do not need to understand in the same way (clearly I don't, even if I'm aware of what it feels like and what motivates it, I'm still saying it's nonsense) to make this point.

    Of course, it is a normative position that we ought to make these arguments or respect them, but if you are arguing against that, it an attack on my ethics, not a defence of transcendent claims.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k
    I wasn't expecting you to understand it. The idea infinite meaning is necessary, rather than something to be obtained, is alien to you. It goes against you understanding of what's logically possible. Meaning without a transcendent force? That's just impossible to your mind.
  • Wayfarer
    21k
    The reson I 'don't understand' your posts are that they are totally unintelligible, they don't, and never have, made a lick of sense. The sooner everyone else on this forum realises that, the better off they'll be.
  • Hoo
    415

    I'm glad to see you quoting one of my favorite texts, Ecclesiastes. I interpret this book as suggesting the futility in seeking for fixed point or a Secret. It functions as an anti-Secret, the pseudo-Secret that either there is no secret or that it's not worth the candle. Life's too short, as Protagoras might say, to bother with gods that hide. To be fair, the text has been tinkered with, so it admits contrary readings. But I find a great comfort in "all is vanity." Kundera comes to mind. This is the (for-some-)unbearable lightness of being.

    In another post on this thread you mention the thought police. I'll grant that there is indeed "irrational" or emotional resistance to absolutes, precisely because they threaten us with the unbearable heaviness of being. Sure, there's "scientism" out there, too, but I think attachment to the terrible and wonderful freedom in "all is vanity/emptiness" also motivates suspicion toward absolutes and trans-personal authorities.
  • Janus
    15.7k
    In a sense, the infinite can be said to transcend the world; it's a different realm, unaffected by what happens in the world.

    This is not the "transcendent" I'm talking about in my argument though.
    TheWillowOfDarkness

    For me, this is an incoherent and empty notion of the infinite. Since the infinite is the dialectical partner of the finite; the spiritual dimension of the physical; why would it not be affected by what happens in the world?

    The Fundamentalists actually have the more coherent argument here. They understand God to be a worldly stateTheWillowOfDarkness

    Not true. Fundamentalists understand God to be infinite; infinitely benevolent, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.
  • Wayfarer
    21k
    I interpret this book as suggesting the futility in seeking for fixed point or a Secret. It functions as an anti-Secret, the pseudo-Secret that either there is no secret or that it's not worth the candle. — Who

    There is a famous New Age book called The Secred which made it's author a multi-millionaire. I don't believe in that kind of woo, either, but I don't think it has a bearing here.

    My interpretation is that the 'meaninglessness' refers to the meaninglessness of the world - worldly success, conquest, empire building, all the things that people generally put stock in. So maybe we find comfort in 'all is vanity' is because it gets us off the hook - 'oh well, it doesn't mean anything, anyway'. But I don't think that is what it's saying. In actual fact I think it is much nearer in meaning to the Buddhist 'emptiness', which, likewise, is not nihilism.
  • mcdoodle
    1.1k
    I imagine my ancestors a good deal lately. I imagine the mothers singing to their babies as my mother sang to me. Thus she passed on to me our history, our way of saying, our recurrent affection. I feel recurrence as an immanent feminist phenomenon. Mother to child, mother to child.
  • Hoo
    415

    For me there's a "spiritual" version of nihilism. It's not that everything becomes valueless, but that all value becomes finite and temporary. It liberates the self-concept. There is no X to be absorbed in or absolved by. But there is no X that can accuse or terrorize absolutely. Life appears more dream-like. I find this in late Schopenhauer. Spiritual youth is a sequence of fever-dreams. Then one sees the structure of all such heroic dreams, but only because one is still propelled forward through life's difficult days by the dream of wisdom. My theory is that self-esteem is propped up by participation in various hero images. It's a dynamic system of faces that stabilizes (for me but not for everyone) around the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Job, one gets a vision of God/Nature independent of human concepts of right and wrong. One trades a just kosmos for something more terrible and wonderful. A random string of bits forms the teeth in God's nowhere-differentiable smile.
  • Wayfarer
    21k
    For me there's a "spiritual" version of nihilism. It's not that everything becomes valueless, but that all value becomes finite and temporary. — Who

    Isn't that just plain relativism? Whatever suits you? You can dress it up with all manner of learned references but I think that is all you mean.
  • OglopTo
    122
    The reson I 'don't understand' your posts are that they are totally unintelligible, they don't, and never have, made a lick of sense. The sooner everyone else on this forum realises that, the better off they'll be.Wayfarer

    What I get though from TheWillowOfDarkness is that what he defines as 'infinite' is something that is ;transcendent' in a way that it is beyond human comprehension/experience.

    I interpret such ideas as the realisation of being trapped in an endless cycle of repetitive and pointless actions, so it is actually the soul's yearning for release.Wayfarer

    I have not really read about Nietzche's Eternal Recurrence and Buddhist/Hindu reincarnation but I have this preconception that it represents a cycle of pointless actions which is perpetuated even further by birthing new generations of people.

    I don't think these ideas are to be taken literally, but instead symbolically.
  • Wayfarer
    21k
    You've been saying such things for millenia.....
  • OglopTo
    122
    My bad, I haven't progressed much.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k
    I argue the opposite. The infinite is meaning which we can understand. Logical truths in comparison to states of existence.

    In the sense logical truth are never the existing states of ourselves (e.g. our body, the presence of our happiness, the sight of a truck, etc.,etc), they are of a different realm. A state of my body will never exists as the necessarily logical truth expressed by it.

    After I've finished making this post, my body will ceased to be writing it. As an existing being,the writing of this post will be dead. My existence will never achieve the necessity found in logic. The meaning expressed by the act of writing-- that Willow made this post-- this post will remain regardless of the rest of time. My body will never get to that. We may understand the distinction of infinite (logic) and finite (states of the world) perfectly. All it takes is to know states of the world (the finite) cannot be logic (the infinite). The infinite is entirely within human comprehension, just not applicable to any state existing state of a human.

    Insofar as we access the infinite, it can only be in understanding. The image of ideas is the only place logic occurs for us. States of ourselves (including the presence of our experiences) cannot ever be the infinite of logic-- to be saved from a meaningless finite existence by a "transcendent force" is logically impossible. To do so would require the infinite to act upon us. God would have to turn us into God.

    We might say "God is dead" because God was never alive and cannot be alive-- it would require finite presence. God cannot act upon us and be infinite. If we are to mean, it can only be in the ideas and infinite expressed by our existence. God cannot act to the work for us. Meaning must be without God taking action.
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