Friday, May 1, 2015

Eternal Recurrence

The greatest weight.-- 

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 

"This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence - even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!"

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?

Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: "You are a God and never have I heard anything more divine.” 

If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you...

 Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

from Nietzsche's The Gay Science, s.341, Walter Kaufmann transl.

The illustration is from 


One of the things I love about Nietzsche is his unpretentiousness. He criticizes our view of the world quite harshly but he does it with depth, candor and an acceptance of his own eccentricities and the eccentricities of the human race.
In short, he's honest and invites us to not just rationalize life, as many philosophies do, but to look deeper, to understand that our motives aren't always pure but that they are human.

Thought experiments like this remind me that we can't rationalize everything. Some things are best understood with a question or a story. More than anything, he invites us to love life and to live for the present.

So, what would you do if this happened to you?
Would you curse the demon or thank it?
If you had to live life all over again and couldn't change anything, you couldn't rely on the promise of an afterlife. You can't even rely on reincarnation or the hope of coming back as something better.
No, this concept forces us to shift our perspective. There is no future, only an eternal now. Time is not linear but cyclical.
If the only thing you could change was your attitude, how would you choose to look at your life?
Would you choose to be stoic and cold?
Would you watch everything as one watches a movie, with the detachment of a Zen monk or would you passionately throw yourself into every moment and relive the joy and pain?
Would you love the spider and moonlight more?
Would you suck the marrow out of this repetitive cycle?
Would you appreciate or pay attention more?
Would you be more relaxed?
Would you be constantly laughing, delighting at this eternal joke?
When its over, will you torment yourself with the thought of having to go through it all again?
Will you sigh in boredom, "oh boy, here we go again."
Or will you enthusiastically scream, "what a ride! Let's do it again!"
I know my answer, as I'm pretty sure this isn't my first time around, and I'm pretty sure I know Nietzsche's.
What's yours?

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