Friday, 24 June 2011

The meaninglessness of Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence

Imagine everything you do has been done before.  All the people that you meet, all the food and beverages that you have consumed; all such things have occurred in exactly the same way in the past and will be repeated in the exact same order in the future.  If you can imagine this then you will have some idea about Nietzsche's doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence.

Just as its name implies, everything that has, is and will occur, recurs eternally.  Why or how nobody knows, but Nietzsche was convinced of its profound effect.  He actually believed it to be a fundamental feature of the world.  And, I think, he wasn't entirely wrong about it, one just needs to delve into the strange world of Quantum Mechanics to see how his idea could be incoporated into the schizophrenic nature of the atomic realm.  But Nietzsche was writing in a very different time, a time where scientists believed in the mysterious luminiferous aether: an invisible substance that carried light.  We now know, of course, that light isn't carried by anything (except itself), and that it has a constant speed.

Nietzsche, it seemed, was also very interested in the notion of affirmation, and it has been argued that there is a sense in which his Eternal Recurrence is used as a mere psychological test for the affirmation of life: If you view your life with content then there must be a sense of meaning to it.  However, if you view it negatively: for example, as something boring, depressive, monotonous or a general waste of time, then it is likely that you don't hold an affirmative view of life.  The prospect of having to live the exact same life eternally should be as sweet as blowing your brains out.

So, depending on how meaninful you see your life determines your reaction to the Eternal Recurrence.

But why would Nietzsche care how I feel about my life?  What does it matter if I don't have a life affirming attitude? I can still enjoy the perks that life have on offer.  I can love the little things that make me happy, while having no life affirming attitude in the grand scale of things.  I can see that the world is inherently full of suffering.  To know this one only needs to read a basic history of the world; the theory of evolution and natural selection; and observe the cold silent killer of them all: the Universe.

It is through these readings and observations that I find the true meaning behind the Eternal Recurence: namely that it is a doctrine of meaninglessness, the meaninglessness of the way the world really is.  I do not believe in its use as psychological test, nor a doctrine that questions how one values life, for this seems to place affirmation to something prior to the actual 'test'.  Yet such a test presupposes meaning already, and, more importantly, assumes that it exists.  It is as if we hold the key to nature's lock, when we open her up we simply assess our findings with our feelings.  Yes, we would like to think that there is such a thing as meaning, we want to feel loved and important - even when we are not.  And if all else fails, we have God's love to fall back on.  In all honesty, meaning is a human concept, an idea, a thing that satisfies our ego.  Meaning is employed by us amid a world with no attitude nor opinion about life, death, or even existence.  Nature, it seems, is completely indifferent.

So it is only natural that we create meaning, for if we didn't we would go crazy.

Hence the Eternal Recurrence stresses the monotonous and sad everydayness in which the human is confined to.  With no meaning in itself, we are forced to create meaning, our own personal meaning.  Indeed, some people will create a life affirming attitude, while others don't, but this is just a subjective opinion which shares no relevance to the way the world really is.  The doctrine is thus an analogy for the  repetition of life's simply everydayness, a life that goes on and on no matter what.   It is designed to make you curl up and wonder what the hell am I doing here.

© 2011 Roberto Nacci All Rights Reserved

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