Eternal Recurrence vs. Progress


Nov 19, 2001
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One interesting contemporary philosophical argument about time and forms, is that of the more spiritual and philosophical Eternal Recurrence vs. the modern scientifically endorsed idea of progress.

Nietzsche says of his idea of eternal recurrence:
For time is infinite, but the things in time, the concrete bodies are finite.... Now, however long a time may pass, according to the eternal laws governing the combinations of this eternal play of repetition, all configurations that have previously existed on this earth must yet meet, attract, repulse, kiss, and corrupt each other again.... And thus it will happen one day that a man will be born again, just like me, and a woman will be born, just like Mary (Citation from Kaufmann's Translator's Introduction to The Gay Science, p. 16).

The Eternal Return is basically the theory that there is infinite time and a finite number of events, and eventually the events will recur again and again infinitely. Similar ideas abound in literature and Jung, as well as all Eastern Religions.

Yet there is that specter of progress. That capitalistic, Darwinian scientific idea that time is leading us somewhere: to progress, or new material things, greater scientific understanding, et cetera. A view shared by both Marx and a modern venture capitalist. This mechanistic, time and world-as-a-end idea is not only prevalent today, but it is the accepted view of time for all but a few aesthetes and dilletantes.

Thus, what are your views? Which side do you prefer? Is there an end, or is the world a cyclical place of changing forms?
speed said:
Yet there is that specter of progress. That capitalistic, Darwinian scientific idea that time is leading us somewhere: to progress, or new material things, greater scientific understanding, et cetera. A view shared by both Marx and a modern venture capitalist. This mechanistic, time and world-as-a-end idea is not only prevalent today, but it is the accepted view of time for all but a few aesthetes and dilletantes.

The soul is eternal: in every age, some decisions lead to a higher soul than others by the nature of mortality and thus significance of life. Progress is lies and deceptions.
Oh dear, eternal recurrance has been so badly abused over the years... :(

I would leave it well enough alone and put it down as one of Nietzsche's little episodes. He wrote some barmy stuff, not least in Zarathustra. Learning to forgive him a bit for things like that is part of the fun in studying such an enigmatic guy!

Darwain and natural selection too I suppose... (Bacteria are one of the best survivors on the planet). Something that has come out on top of natural selection isnt necessarily better, just more suited to survive.
Neither. There are far too many variables for the exact same event to happen twice, and if you take anything less than exact events, then you may as well dilute the concept to an everyday happening such as sunrise.
Equally, one cannot rely on time to define life, to be the 'parameter' if you will
Of course there is nothing inevitable about some kind of linear progress in evolution. Creatures adapt to niches, then they can stay in their same form or sometimes when they have to adapt they lose parts that they have evolved previously. Blind cave fish used to be able to see, but they lost their sight as it was unneeded in the dark cave.
The seasons are cyclical: spring, summer, autumn and winter - and civilisations are cyclical too. Like an organism, they have birth, youth, middle age and decay and die. Throughout history, great civilisations have come and gone.

Many basic inventions were first thought of in ancient times. It is thought that the Romans were about 20 years from inventing the steam engine at the time of Rome's collapse. The ancient Greeks used steam to open and close temple doors and blow horns.

There are even suggestions that the ancient Egyptians had invented the cathode ray tube, the lightbulb and an advanced kind of drill.
"The ancient Egyptians had many scientific technologies, with much being found in picture form and in three-dimensional models throughout Egypt".

But, although civilisations bring technological advances (which are lost when they enter the cyclical dark ages) they do not bring advances in genetic quality. In fact the opposite happens. Civilisation is a dysgenic influence and thus it sows the seeds of its own destruction. Civilisation saves the misfits (chandala, as Nietzsche calls them - ancient Indian/aryan term).It is a process in which the weak, the helpless, the morons and idiots are sustained by those capable of carrying the burden. Those that would have been culled by the ruthless, but cleansing, Laws of Nature are saved to reproduce.

There has been no social advancement in comparison with the technological advancement in our civilisation. There has been no comparable progress in government, religion,language and social organisation. Arguably, we are not even as advanced in these areas as were the ancient Romans under Caesar.

And now, scientists are saying that the rate of innovation is slowing and that it is likely to slow further, until it stops.

We are on our way to another dark age, yet this one will be worse than ever before, as we will have already used up natural resources like coal, gas, etc. We will be cutting down all the trees - the whole scenario mirrors the disaster of Easter Island. The history of Easter Island is like a microcosm of what humans are doing to the Earth. Once the island was covered in trees and the civilisation was fairly advanced. They built huge stone statues which remain to be seen today.

In "just a few centuries the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and confusion. Are we about to follow their lead?" Asks Jared Diamond in article "Easter Island's End", in Discover Magazine
As I read your comments Norsemaiden--which I for the most part agree with--I starting thinking that perhaps the idea of eternal recurrence is only applicable to humans. I say this, as almost every personality, government, etc, etc, has already been experienced by mankind--its scientific progress that goes forward while we merely adapt to it. Perhaps we are evolving; but apparently other than increased body size (due to better nutrition), i dont think mankind has really changed in the last 10,000 years.
I agree with you speed. There have been some animals that have evolved from sea dwelling animals to land dwelling animals and then gone back to the sea (whales and dolphins) which could be considered cyclical to a limited extent, but they didn't turn back into fish and remained mammals. That isn't progress either though, just change. Humans have made no "progress" sadly because that would imply changing into clearly better beings than we have ever been in the past. Instead we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. History doesn't seem to have taught humanity a lesson. We are not all the same though and in all the ancient civilisations there have been a small minority of wiser people who see the problems, but such people are substantially different to the majority and relatively powerless to stop the process of decline.

If there are intellligent aliens on other planets who have space travel then they would have had to break out of this cyclical process. We have had the opportunity to do that, but fate keeps knocking back the people who could have broken through that barrier for humanity's future. Now we are on what seems to be a hopeless decent once again.
I haven't read Nietzsche's work where he speaks in depth about the eternal recurrance but I was under the impression that it is a theory whose purpose is to express the significance of every action one commits, to emphisise that all one does resonates with them for the whole of their existance. Such a definition would relate directly to memory and hence the concept of resentment that Nietzsche emphasises as the foundation for metaphysics and in more generally the structure of western culture.

The original definition in the thread strikes me as exceptionally metaphysical for Nietzsche, almost hypocritically so...
I've always took such an idea to mean that somewhere in this infinite universe, assuming such a thing, there must be a planet perfectly imitating earth, a pure mirror of ourselves. Otherwise, the term infinity wouldn't be applicable. There must be a planet out there that was identical up until 1 second ago when I briefly misspelled a word. That would be the only distinguishing feature of that planet. Isn't infinity a wonderful concept?