The Eternal Recurrence

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Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 12:13 am
Arjuna;109015 wrote:
Big band is a type of music. If you ever see a big band in concert, it's important to request a Glenn Miller song so you can see their response. The whole band will look up in exasperation. They're sick and tired of Glenn Miller. It's their eternal recurrence. (I knew you meant big bang... and I appreciated your comment very much)

of course i know there is a big band! i mean that there is no theory saying the beginning of the universe was the 'Big Band" Laughing

not quite my style-except maybe les brown and his band of renown. i think they were the ones with jerry lewis in the nutty professor?

actually i often have this feeling of eternal recurrence-like the deja vu syndrome. sometimes i feel like i am telling this story to someone and it has already happened and finished...if we knew it was happening again and again and had no chance to change our behavior, it would be truly sickening. i cant see any reason why we would embrace such a concept, or how it would make us better people. i think it would drive everyone mad.
Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 07:29 am
The comparison between Repetition and Eternal Return (and Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in general) is definitely worth exploring further. I'm going to try to throw another rope between the two ships here.

Victor Eremita;108066 (Emphasis mine) wrote:

Kierkegaard posits repetition as a feature of the ethical life, contrasting with recollection a feature of the aesthetic life. In recollection, one just lives, statically, reflecting back on lost love for example, never doing anything with his life, always living and yearning for the past which never changes.

Repetition looks to the future, whereas recollection looks towards the past. Marriage, job, and responsibilities are types of repetition, and one continually chooses to maintain it and reaffirm it. In this sense, life is lived and constantly in motion. In an ethical life, one must not forget the past, but one must live for the future.

So whereas one interpretation of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence says a good life is a life worth repeating, one interpretation of Kierkegaard's Repetition says, a good life must be lived forwards, but understood backwards.

And here is another quote from Kierkegaard himself about living forwards and understanding backwards:


It is quite true what Philosophy says: that Life must be understood backwards. But that makes one forget the other saying: that it must be lived-forwards. The more one ponders this, the more it comes to mean that life in the temporal existence never becomes quite intelligible, precisely because at no moment can I find complete quiet to take the backward- looking position.

  • The Diary of Soren Kierkegaard; Kierkegaard, pt. 5, sct. 4, no. 136

The understanding backwards reminded me a little quip from Nietzsche:


"In order to look for beginnings one becomes a crab. The historian looks backwards; at last he also believes backwards."

- Twilight of the Idols - Apophthegms and Darts #24

Granted this is one brief "dart" by Nietzsche being compared to a more developed concept by Kierkegaard. One is referring to historians trying to understand world history and the other is talking about a person trying to understand their own life history. Macrocosm/Microcosm. Are they talking about the same thing?

Nietzsche is saying: Make history don't study it. Kierkegaard is trying to find a way to live his life and avoid getting caught up in the remembrance of things past (i.e. without becoming "a crab").

Given the context of the translations I do think there is a difference between "believing backwards" and "understanding backwards" that leaves room for agreement between the two philosophers. "Believing backwards" is definitely closer to Kierkegaard's recollection than it is to his repetition.

It is difficult to draw parallels between Repetition and the Eternal Return or between Nietzsche and Kierkegaard in general. However, through the "as-above-so-below" analogies of macrocosms and microcosms, personal histories and world histories, lifetimes and eternities, I think it can be done. It may be tenuous and a little convoluted but I still think it is meaningful. Anyone else want to try? (There has to be a more relevant Nietzsche quote than the one I provided.)
Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 10:33 am
I am working on a paper on the eternal recurrence and I am having an issue because of a key tension that is going on in Nietzsche's writings on it. On one hand, he seems to be putting becoming on a pedestal and telling readers to become who they are and make their character their life project. On the other hand, he is holding this idea of the recurrence that you are doomed to cycle through this life over and over again.

So while he seems to be telling his reader something to liberate themselves in this life giving a sort of metaphysical freedom, he als seems to be suggesting a determinism or metaphysical fatalism as well. There is this weird tension going on between these two seemingly incompatible views. Maybe this is what he meant by "the hardest thought?"
Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 01:19 pm
It occurs to me that by eternal recurrence we have all participated in this thread billions upon billions, in fact infinitely many, times before.

It does produce an eerie feeling. An extreme deja vu. Has anyone said this yet on this thread I mean besides me a kajillion times before?

I think the nature of time has a lot to do with what we're talking about.

It makes time less ephemeral. It makes time more dense. It makes time almost solid. It almost transmutes time into a fourth spacial dimension.

Reality seems more real. More important.

For a split second the thought of eternal recurrence is unbearable and crushingly heavy.

But why should this thought be so crushingly heavy? The thinker and his/her thoughts have also been made just as heavy and just as diamond hard by the eternal recurrence. Just as eternally real. Just as important. Just as absolute and just as indestructible.

Is fate more absolute than my decision? But my decision is infinite. It has no boundary. It is outside of time.

To make a decision is to step outside of fate.

To make a decision is to step outside of time.

Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 01:28 pm
I remember N suggesting the actual possibility of Eternal Recurrence, but I always understood him as presenting it as a myth. Could one affirm one's idiosyncratic life, with all its limits and heartbreaks, and affirm even a constant repetition of this same life? For Nietzsche, this would be an affirmation of his ill health, his works being ignored, his wrath and pity for mankind, the suicidal nights he hints at, etc.

Eternal Recurrence is the opposite of escapism and supernatural comfort. Could one say Yes to this world in the utter absence of anything beyond it?
Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 01:43 pm
Apparently, Nietzsche did not see a contradiction between Will to Power, and the freedom it entails, and his Eternal Return of the Same, which he set great store by (EH, Z, 1), which seems to require some sort of determinism. See WTP,1053-1067.

Many commentators have suggested that the ER, a "scientific" view of amor fati, was an attempt to supplant, or to suggest at least ("suppose that...), a different moral "categorical imperative": so act that your action could be repeated over and over again throughout time.

Even though everything that happens has happened in the past and will happen in the future, the argument runs, the Self at the time cannot know this, and must make authentic moral choices in a thoroughly creative way.
Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 02:00 pm
But I don't think Nietzsche was seriously presenting Eternal Recurrence. I always viewed it as a thought-experiment, a test of one's affirmation of contingency.
Reply Tue 8 Dec, 2009 09:42 pm
The infinite is a middle without a begining or an end...
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 08:14 am
Fido;109453 wrote:
The infinite is a middle without a begining or an end...

How does this seemingly contradictory and (in some philosophic circles at least) meaningless statement apply to the Eternal Recurrence in Nietzsche?
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 09:47 am
jgweed;109585 wrote:
How does this seemingly contradictory and (in some philosophic circles at least) meaningless statement apply to the Eternal Recurrence in Nietzsche?

I have always seen some sort of similarity between the infinite and the eternal...Perhaps you could explain the difference, since we are talking about the eternal as an infinite, though no one has troubled to prove it...I think no one should underestimate the power of imagination to confuse fantasy with philosophy...I am certain there must be a diifference...
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 10:10 am
Well, eternal in this case has nothing to do with the infinite. The fact that life is considered eternal means that we only have one life. The recurrence means that life is not of infinite duration, as the Christians would have eternal life, because a life that is of infinite duration cannot recur.
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 10:28 am
Theaetetus;109603 wrote:
Well, eternal in this case has nothing to do with the infinite. The fact that life is considered eternal means that we only have one life. The recurrence means that life is not of infinite duration, as the Christians would have eternal life, because a life that is of infinite duration cannot recur.

In the case of infinite recurrence the infinite is not infinite and it is not the life which by recurring infinitely that is infinte, and instead finite, but it is the recurrence which is infinite??? Are you serious, or do I not understand a bit of what you said????

People like to play this game called I wish I could do that over... The longer we live the more we find our success falling behind our regrets...So we live and learn, but to dip ones philosophy into fantasy in the hopes of raising some sugar is pitiful... Life is not eternal, except in the sense of society, and the possibility of learning from the collective mistakes of mankind, through morality, is slight, because youth is not only ignorant, but mad...Humanity survives its youth, and that is the best any individual can desire, for once beyond youth we can learn and teach, and then we die, forever...
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 02:20 pm
In my view, Nietzsche suggest an acceptance of that fact there is no do-over. I think the point of eternal recurrence is a denial of escapism.

Would we be horrified if an angel told us we had to live this exact life over and over again for ever? We forced to judge our finite particular life as good, with all its utterly in-erasable pain and error. I think this relates directly to Heidegger's concept of authenticity. Can we accept contingency? All the ugly little details that make us (all too often?) not want to live it again. Can we accept life on earth without any hope of afterlife or perfection beyond that which we can experience as our particular selves? (Presumably momentary feelings...)
Reply Wed 9 Dec, 2009 03:49 pm
Suzy is concerned about animal welfare. It pervades her experience. Every sacrifice she makes... makes her feel like she's doing something to help. She takes the role of the preacher... scattering condemnation every where she goes. All the while, her heart is eaten up by grief. Her secret fear of futility coils in her belly like a snake.

She really is working for animals. She's also manifesting repetition. Maybe as an old woman this will finally dawn on her. That what shaped her life was much older than she... evolving down through the ages.. revolving over and over. All she ever had to do was look back to see what would happen next: we will fail, and we will survive. No need for self righteousness. No need for drama. No need for tears and grief. But then, as a beautiful young protester, she couldn't possibly have let go of her angst. Life had no other meaning.

Suzy's best friend was Jim, a sensitive young man. What blew Suzy's ego up and made her feel important, felt like salt on a wound to Jim. Jim was afflicted with an open heart. His will to fight was undermined by poor coping skills. On the brink of being destroyed by life, Jim realizes the truth. The animals are going to be ok. Everything's going to be ok. The futility of their fight is ok. The realization of repetition is Jim's salvation. It makes it so he can live.

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