Exploring Eternal Recurrence: Some Big Heckin’ Philosophy

As I get older my philosophies become less hypothetical and more palpable. So instead of asking myself, “What if this were true?”, I’m asking: “Since I believe this to be true, what are the implications?” Inquiries of this nature can hit pretty hard because mentally it’s no longer a drill, it’s the real thing – life – and you have to decide how you’re going to live it given what you believe. This is why philosophy is so weighty: because it’s the recognition that beliefs have massive implications for our existence. And the philosophy I’m writing on has greater implications for me than anything I’ve ever encountered or written about before. I know I have to write this, to lay this all out before me, to even move forward. It’s that heavy. I’ve never faced anything like this. For me, it supersedes the question of whether there is a god because it answers the question of what happens after death.

The philosophy is known as “Eternal Return” or “Eternal Recurrence”. In short, it’s the idea time is a flat circle and life is a wheel, going round and round, repeating itself, forever and ever. This may not sound compelling yet, but as I explain it further, I think you may find it is one of the most compelling arguments you’ve ever encountered. It’s certainly nothing new, as many ancient cultures, from the Egyptians, to the Hindus, to the Buddhists, to the Aztecs, all believed in some version of this. It wasn’t until Christianity that we moved away from this idea, but before I get into the ancient origins of Eternal Recurrence and why Christianity moved us away from it, allow me to explain it from my modern viewpoint.

13.7 billion years ago, the big bang happened – the sudden appearance of everything from nothing, from a single point, an initial singularity, wherein everything was compressed into a single mass without any laws of physics, which scientists estimate to have been somewhere between the size of a soccer ball and a skyscraper-filled city block. Since we know the speed of light, we can measure how far away everything in the observable universe is, and we can see that it has been expanding since the big bang. Based on that expansion, many scientists believe the universe will eventually reach a point where the gravitational pull of things will cause the universe to collapse onto itself. This is known as the big crunch. Together, the big bang and the big crunch form the big bounce, which is a cyclic model of the universe that states we could be living “at any point in an infinite sequence of universes, or conversely the current universe could be the very first iteration.”

The big crunch is just one cyclic or oscillating model of the universe. Einstein theorized “a universe following an eternal series of oscillations, each beginning with a big bang and ending with a big crunch; in the interim, the universe would expand for a period of time before the gravitational attraction of matter causes it to collapse back in and undergo a bounce.” The first photo of a black hole, produced by Katie Bouman’s team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the MIT Haystack Observatory, is an image of light from 55 million light years away, meaning, we are looking at that specific black hole 55 million years ago, since that’s how long the light took to reach us. This photo proves Einstein’s century old theory about black holes and how light would behave around them. As Space.com says, “Don’t bet against Einstein.” I bring this up to make this point. What I’m telling you is not pie in the sky stuff. It’s very likely the big bang is neither the first nor the last.

From my own first-principles thinking, the mere appearance of anything means it is possible, and in the words of Elon Musk: “The first step is to establish that something is possible then probability will occur.” So, if it’s possible to have a big bang, then it’s probable to have another. What that probability looks like is relatively unknown, but physicists Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University and Neil Turok of Cambridge University estimate that each cycle of the universe lasts a trillion years.

“Once the universe is emptied out, a weak attractive force brings our universe’s two branes together in a cosmic collision. Each collision is essentially a new Big Bang that infuses the aging universe with new matter and energy.”

An alternate study from theoretical physicists Andrei Linde and Renata Kallosh at Stanford university estimates that the universe could collapse in a “mere” 10-20 billion years.

Billions of years or a trillion years, you say, well, how irrelevant to me… only, if that multi-billion year or trillion year cycle passes while you are dead, you have no awareness of it. So if you die and trillions of years later, there is another big bang, then the next thing you know, you are born again. Of course, who is to say that the next big bang will produce the same conditions and the same DNA that led to you being born; however, if we zoom out further, on infinite big bangs, then just as the possibility of a big bang establishes probability of it happening again, so too does the possibility of you being born. So maybe it’s trillions of big bangs later. It doesn’t matter: you still come into existence again – and since the time between existences is passed in death or non-existence, then to you, subjectively, there is no gap between them.

This likelihood obviously poses some questions.

As Neitzche writes of the eternal recurrence in his book ‘The Gay Science’, under the heading “The heaviest weight”:

“What if some day or night a demon were to steal 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 again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must 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 over 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 power over you, as you are it would transform and possibly crush you; the question in each and every thing, ‘Do you want this again and innumerable times again?’ would lie on your actions as the heaviest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to long for nothing more fervently than for this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

There’s a passage in psychologist Irvin D. Yalom’s novel, ‘When Nietzsche Wept’, where a patient, Dr. Breuer, is in therapy with “Nietzsche”, who encourages him to reflect upon the possibility of eternal recurrence:

Breuer: You suggest, that every action I make, every pain I experience, will be experienced through all infinity?

Nietzsche: Yes, eternal recurrence means that every time you choose an action you must be willing to choose it for all eternity. And it is the same for every action not made, every stillborn thought, every choice avoided. And all unlived life will remain bulging inside you, unlived through all eternity. And the unheeded voice of your conscience will cry out to you forever.”

What the author is conveying is that by making choices, we are establishing probability for their recurrence. So if one believes in the eternal return or eternal recurrence, then we must be aware that everything we do – that our life, as we live it now – we must be willing to choose for all of eternity.

As the Wikipedia for Eternal Return tells us, “If the probability of a world coming into existence exactly like our own is nonzero. If space and time are infinite, then it follows logically that our existence must recur an infinite number of times.”

I’ve provided a scientific model above for it based on the big bang. It most certainly “follows logically”. And I’m not writing this as a sci-fi thought experiment, but as a model for what I believe; however, long before we had a scientific model for an expanding and contracting universe, humans believed in Eternal Return. In ancient Egypt, the symbols of the snake eating its tail (The Ouroboros) and the scarab (dung beetle), both represented the concept of eternal return. The Aztec and Mayan calendar wheels represent this. The ancient greeks called it Palingenesis (From palin, again, and genesis, birth). The ancient hindus called it Reincarnation. The Buddhists called it Samsara. So what happened to this timeless idea?

Enter Christianity. A new myth is formed that says Jesus came down from heaven and saved humanity. Well, if you save humanity it doesn’t need to happen again. So, eternal return was done away with. While pre New Testament texts like Ecclesiastes tell us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”, giving us something that seems like it could hint at eternal return; only a few verses earlier, we read that “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.” (Something science tells us will not be true, for the sun will run out of hydrogen and die a heat death in 5 billion years, and the universe will collapse long after). I feel like I’m pandering to religious people by even mentioning these things, but my point is not to establish what the bible says as evidence for anything other than what it represents, and the Judeo-Christian myths do not give any validity to the idea of eternal return. If god created the world, he doesn’t need to do it again and he certainly didn’t create it to be mortal like us, which science tells us it is; however, the importance is not the difference between religion and science but the impact of religion on the collective consciousness of belief. For it wasn’t until Nietzsche that the idea of eternal return came into widespread discussion in the West again. Following Nietzsche, Albert Camus resurrected the ancient Greek myth of sisyphus in his philosophical essay of the same title, telling us the story of a man who is fated to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll down again, for all of eternity.

Camus writes:

“If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”

So, is it a tragic fate, to know, to be conscious, that you might repeat everything forever?

As Camus concludes his essay:

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” What a sentiment. It’s certainly heroic.

Nietzsche similarly adopts a heroic attitude in ‘The Gay Science’:

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that by my love henceforth!”

And in his last book ‘ Ecce Homo’, Nietzsche writes:

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.”

Amor fati is a Latin phrase that means “Love of one’s fate”. As Wikipedia explains:

“Amor fati (lit. “love of fate”) is a Latin phrase that may be translated as “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate”. It is used to describe an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary, in that they are among the facts of one’s life and existence, so they are always necessarily there whether one likes them or not. Moreover, amor fati is characterized by an acceptance of the events or situations that occur in one’s life.

This acceptance does not necessarily preclude an attempt at change or improvement, but rather, it can be seen to be along the lines of what Friedrich Nietzsche apparently means by the concept of “eternal recurrence”: a sense of contentment with one’s life and an acceptance of it, such that one could live exactly the same life, in all its minute details, over and over for all eternity.”

I find it telling that Camus also adopted a love of fate as a solution to life, writing in his journals:

“There is thus a will to live without rejecting anything of life, which is the virtue I honor most in this world.”

For to reject anything is to establish the probability to reject it forever and ever.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to predeterminism but I think if we believe in eternal recurrence, we have to accept that it is we who are establishing anything that will occur again. So we must choose our actions and choices as if we are to live with their occurrence and their consequences forever.

So I suppose the jaw-dropping shock of this leads me to conclude that I will write this again, maybe in billions or trillions of years. And I sit here thinking what I did last night, which is that if I am fated to live this life again and again, I want to do everything I can to decrease my suffering and to help others decrease theirs. For if I don’t manifest my gifts, which is to say, if I don’t utilize the unique talents that I have, then I will neither decrease my suffering nor that of others. But if I do, then I will forever and ever. And thus nothing is of more paramount importance than that – than contributing what I am able to contribute to improve life for myself and others on as large of a scale as is possible.

Postscript: It should be noted that within my philosophy, I currently have a few potential models of reality, which I wrote on here. The idea of eternal recurrence; however, has so far only existed in my ‘base-reality’ option; for if we are living in a simulation run by AI or a training program, then the arguments of the big bang etc, don’t have the same validity; although, it could be argued that even in a simulation, eternal recurrence will lead to the existence of the simulation again, so I guess it does hold for each of my theories. I think the neatest thing about this idea is that we are essentially immortal, but it’s entirely up to us how we are to spend our cycles of eternity. And even then, having written this, I’m still processing and digesting this big heckin’ philosophy in a meaningful way that I believe will bring me increased peace, acceptance, and drive for the life I am here to live.

Footnote: Eternal Return and Eternal Recurrence are the same, but I prefer the word ‘recurrence’ as it has a more specific, programmatic meaning for me.

2 thoughts on “Exploring Eternal Recurrence: Some Big Heckin’ Philosophy”

  1. Great article, and a meaningful synchronicity for me, as The Greatest Weight is my absolute most beloved Nietzsche passage. In fact, my first tattoo was inspired directly by that passage. I really appreciate how you connect it to cosmological science and also Christian scripture. I learned a lot reading this – thanks!

    As far as predeterminism goes, when I first was introduced to the idea of Eternal Return, I felt the way you do now – that it was more of an approach to life to live “as though” every moment would reoccur. Now, as I continue on my journey, I find that I am becoming more and more of a fatalist (though I dislike that term for obvious connotative reasons… well, the root word is “fate,” but “fatal” takes a different direction in our parlance… anyway…). I have no idea if I am actually correct in this perspective, but it is interesting to observe my own feelings about the idea changing over the course of, well, almost two decades of serious philosophical inquiry at this point.

    My astrological studies have greatly contributed to how I understand fate, but also, happenings in my life that I cannot explain or justify through any other means. Seems to me that suffering comes from struggling against one’s fate, or essential program or energy, whereas we can free ourselves from suffering by surrendering to What Is. Even on a moment to moment basis – we are compelled to make certain motions and actions in life – such as, we have to urinate, so we make actions or motions to do that. That is a fated thing. It’s not a choice – it’s a compulsion, on a basic level. Pretty basic argument example, I know, but hey.

    There’s also Ouspensky and his Tertium Organum, where he describes our life as sort of a film-reel (did he write that? or was it just my mental imaging of his idea? I can’t remember) that already exists – past, present, future – already all pre-decided, and we just move through it all, in Time, or the 4th dimension. Apparently he contradicts his ideas in the second half of the book that I’m not up to yet, though… so we’ll see.

    I suppose I may believe more in that our lives are NOT fated if I had not had so many events happen to me that have no other explanation than that of being fated, and also in seeing that no matter what I do, how much I want, what method I use to change fundamental foundational parameters about my life (such as where I live, for example) there is absolutely NOTHING that I can do to change them. Surrendering to them instead of trying to change them has made me infinitely happier. They have not ceased to be- I have not been able to change my fundamental scenery – but my life is much easier. Of course, in life, everyone has some limitations that they can’t change.

    Hmm… am I choosing to end this comment here, or is this just where I have to end it, because I don’t have any other choice? ;)

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  2. I consider that Vedic theory of eternal recurrence is lot more consistent, logical, and ronust. What Nietzsche has said has one important flaw. What science says have also major flaws. But before I describe Vedic theory I must point out that all of science is wrong. People believe in science because of the myth that science is the foundation of engineering.

    All of science is based on assumptions. You have used Einstein’s theory – light speed is constant. But that is one of the postulates of his theory, nobody has proven that yet. Another one of his postulates – inertial reference frame: A frame that moves in a constant velocity in a straight line. Note that straight line is an assumption also. Since all objects in the universe are continuously moving, a straight line cannot exist nature. This way you will find that assumption based science results are merely assumptions. Assumptions cannot become true, no matter how you manipulate them. No engineering experiment can prove any theory, because all experiments will automatically reject all assumptions. All experimental results are correct, because engineering is nature, but no result can validate corresponding theory, because of rejection of assumptions.

    It has been established scientifically that every material object has a soul, because it can interact with humans. Princeton University has demonstrated that an electronic circuit board can show changes in its behavior when you concentrate in front of it. Similarly water molecules change its crystal shapes depending on your intentions.

    It is also true that we are created by our own soul. Bible says – “God is spirit.” There are many examples to prove that. Thus every object which is created by its own soul must also die. Human body has three parts: (1) soul (2) subtle body (3) gross body. Items two and three are created by item one, the soul. It is the gross body that dies. Subtle body reincarnates, soul does not, but soul always stays with the subtle body. Since subtle body is a created object therefore it must also die one day. Only at that time the soul will become free, and there will be no more subtle or gross body. Thus there will be many reincarnations, but not eternally. Only soul exists eternally.

    Everything is periodic in nature, therefore recurrence will happen. But this recurrence will never be exactly same as Nietzsche pointed out, because we are guided by destiny, and the destiny is unique in every life. There is another factor, as Bible says – “We are made of dust.” This is not the dust on earth; it is the cosmic dust, which is also eternally existent, like soul. This dust has three properties: intelligence, ignorance, and energy. Normally it remains neutral, but when the soul joins it to create an object, it varies these properties. These properties are analogue, which can make destiny different and unique in every life. Nietzsche did not know about these dust properties.

    It is very easy to understand that we do not have freewill and choices. Every action we take has a reason for it, and since reasons come before we act; our present action is controlled by our past reasons. Thus we cannot have freewill at the present moment. Our mind is sequential; therefore we can process our choices only sequentially. Thus in every time slice we have only one choice and we process that with no freewill. These two concepts show that we are guided by destiny. A corporation is a miniature version the universe. Inside a corporation nobody has freewill. Because we created a project plan with all our colleagues, and we must follow that plan. Why would you try to exert your freewill there, when you participated in that plan? It simplified our life, every day we know what exactly we have to do, we just go and do that and then come back home. The universe is like that too for our souls, in every birth we learn somthing new, and eventually emancipate.

    Since life is periodic, and it has death period and also living period; the combination of all periodic events will become periodic also, only with a longer period. Therefore there will be a very long death period for billions of years when the universe will remain dark. Similarly there will be a very long period when it will be humming with life, stars, galaxies etc. These two periods will repeat eternally. There may be a larger period above this period also, because each period will have different destiny. A time will come when only souls and dusts will exist for long period. I do not see any flaw in this Vedic theory. On the other hand you can see that there are many problems in the big-bang-crunch theory. For more details and many proofs take a look at https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/

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