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Thinking and Eternity                          






Thinking (an/d) Eternity¡­






Thinking, (or writing) from ¡®the point of view of eternity¡¯/ (sub specie aeternitatis) does not mean, as with Benjamin¡¯s utopian or messianic (so¡­ religious) thought, from the purview of first or last things, of the ¡®All¡¯ or ¡®Everything¡¯ ¨C an ambition also found in the thought of Levinas ¨C this would be the point of view of the heavens, the downwards stoop of the gods at play. Yet nor does it mean thinking with ¡®Nothing¡¯, as in Heidegger and those who have followed him down this shadow-ridden, forest path, secular or sacred (or where both have become indistinguishable, now read as ¡®the Absolute Other¡¯). Nor again does it mean ¡®the Sublime¡¯, whether restricted, literary, aesthetic, experiential (Burke) or general, moral, intuitive (Kant); nor Nature worship nor essentialist intuitive religion (much the same thing). Nor finally does it mean ¡®universal¡¯ (to return again to the inclusive ¡®all¡¯), as in the formal use of this term, axiom, first principle, the ever-useful (but entirely fictional), logical ¡®All¡¯. Or it may mean all of these things (or ¡®no-things¡¯), places (or ¡®no-places¡¯). And ¡®no-times¡¯¡­


If we read ¡®eternity¡¯ and its synonyms and substitutions as the mark of a function, as the historical, textual trail of a psychological organ, whether of biological or cultural evolution, of our evolution into the human (animals too are frightened by fire, only we have seized it¡­). Persistent trace of an insatiable human desire for the absolute, of the fusion of feeling and the largest possible imagining; our neuro-cultural ¡®met-set¡¯ empty and awaiting fulfillment, filling out with a suitable candidate, even (sic) personified, a guru, ¡®teacher¡¯ or an anthropomorphic god or goddess, a genius loci (supporting a religious cult or philosophical system). A tool: witness its fecundity in the history of religion, or post-religion (Romanticism, Natural Law Ideologies) as in reason and logic in the guise of the universal or a-priori axiom (again as ¡®Nature¡¯ writ large or ¡®Natural Law¡¯). A human tool, a thought-tool. Which we nevertheless think of as other, as an other¡¯s, as others¡¯; as Other; something coming from another place (the ¡®Other Place¡¯). And how intuitive it is (and how logical) to use capitals to describe it - to¡­ name it¡­ Yet, in order to grant the efficacy of the operation, the usability of the tool, we must believe that it is coming from ¡®elsewhere¡¯¡­ somewhere ¡®real¡¯ ¨C but inaccessible. For this operation is more than just a mental prop, a convenient place holder; it quickly becomes the indisputable, unavoidable, irrevocable, and indestructible (because unlocatable) foundation of all we that believe and feel...




In everyday life¡­


Nature-first philosophies, religions, belief systems, ideologies or just plain doxa or public opinion (¡®everybody knows that¡­¡¯), are an attempt to return to Nature (always written in ideology exposing capitals), and to ¡®Eternity¡¯ as cause and proof, as first cause and last guarantor, the stability (illusory) of first and last things¡­(if a godless religion, often called a ¡®Natural Law¡¯ religion, effectively functioning like a Nature-first ideology or metaphysics). And always this is done by confusing, replacing, covering over¡­ cultural, human-made things or processes with natural, that is putatively, eternal, universal, biological, genetic processes (¡®Nature¡¯). Such that (for example); garden, parks and plantations are deemed ¡®Nature¡¯ even though man-made; many modern mountains are deemed natural, even if crisscrossed with highly managed, paths¡­ in effect National Parks. The former of course are examples of ¡¯Nature-tamed¡¯; designed and executed by human labour, mental and physical, in design and formation. Likewise the self, the individual cast as ego, the essential, natural, genetic, and so ¡®authentic¡¯ self, which one must at all costs find, preferably by ¡®going back¡¯ to Nature (to escape from urban life, a wholly cultural, social, animal, we still believe we can ¡®find ourselves¡¯ in nature), or by doing as one wishes, ¡®unalienated¡¯, ¡®liberated¡¯, no longer ¡®in-authentic¡¯, but acting according to ones (¡®true¡¯) instincts, or feelings¡­ the concept of ¡®freedom¡¯ reduced to unreflective whim. Whether in the (re)making of our environment, our ¡®second nature¡¯, as culture (from cities and architecture, our urban environment to farmland, parkland, what we usually deem, ¡®Nature) or in the (re) making of ourselves. Our selves: notoriously fickle, dependent, like words and sentences, on context for meaning and mood; evolving and ever bending to the winds of desire, of and for others, the promise or lure of satisfaction or distinction, whence the persistence of dissatisfaction; the seeking of the recognition of others, an incurable addiction, founded on self as other; our dependency on our intersubjective ¡®recognition¡¯ organ, the need for others¡­ the mirror of life ¨C ¡®the tain in the mirror¡¯). So it is that our identity, belief, stability, consistency, and, in all likelihood, our world-view, are all bought at the cost of truth, of reality; the stubborn denial -in the face of all physics- of how things are made¡­ ourselves included. Heraclitus¡¯ river is nowhere more in evidence than in the self itself; our self as this river¡­of whose flood we are often unconscious, as riding the current, and whose never-ending denial makes up so much of belief, reason, ideology, philosophy, metaphysics and religion¡­ For secularized, ¡®Nature-first¡¯, quickly reverts to a re-sacralised, ¡®Heaven-first¡¯.


In their popular forms: conservative thought (already finding the market as Nature ¨C despite it being a specifically human, social, way of apportioning goods and services ¨C so moving away from simply grabbing or stealing what one is strong enough to grab) at its most populist rapidly rediscovers religion (or rather the worst aspects of feudal religion); left populism quickly reveals itself as a Nature First ideology, whether in the quest for the authentic, un-alienated in primitive tribal forms, the hippie commune, or in the historicised, teleologised, version of this as ¡®Communism¡¯. In all cases ¡®moving forwards¡¯ by moving back¡­ the future lines of evolution are refused in favour of a more comfortable, and more convenient, subjunctive fantasy, in which we all return to a prior state ¡®before the Fall¡¯, to ¡®the Good Old Days¡¯¡­ (just as in the first Nature-first philosophies, East and West, Mohism in China or in Plato in Greece). Moderate conservatives together with liberals and social democrats also have a model of what ¡®natural man¡¯ is (needless to say usually more reliant on a belief in universals than in science) and adjust their dogmas accordingly. Also in everyday life, gender roles, sexuality, various clich¨¦s about various ¡®other¡¯ religions, races and cultures, and the ¡®inherent¡¯ goodness and innocence of children (since the 19th century), all rely on the blind belief in the foundation of these in ¡®Nature¡¯ ¨C despite all experience to the contrary.


So just like the use of the concept of ¡®All¡¯ in logic and mathematics, which also find use for this evasion of cultural constructedness and local practice¡­ But what a useful one¡­ If provisional: for these strategies, the strategic use of the absolute ¡®All¡¯ or unreal numbers (infinity after the decimal point curtailed) is pragmatic, subject to referral, to empirical verification, to testing (and dependent on what we want¡­ on desire). True of all formal languages; as with speculation with reason alone. This later we often classify as metaphysics ¡®in the good sense¡¯: ¡®in the bad sense¡¯, we have ¡®Nature-first¡¯ as post-religious, neo-rational, stopgap, or reactive crutch¡­ rational twin to the neo-romanticism of Nature-first dogmas in other walks of life¡­).


And part of popular science as pseudo-science; as in the periodic returns of (the ¡®turns to¡¯) Nature as coeval with the Universal, as in ¡®Bio-sociology¡¯ (the 1970s) and its return via genetics, where anything desired to be above changeable cultural habit is simply classified as ¡®universal¡¯, must be found to be ¡®natural¡¯ and so requiring genetic origin (the 2000s in the wake of the new genetics). The idea is that anything that looks general (that we want to be universally true), must therefore be due to Genetics, to Evolution as choosing the best or resulting in the actual, and so to (¡®human¡¯) Nature¡­ By these means all manner of cultural arrangement are ¡®only natural¡¯ (one can only marvel at such a ¡®tautistic¡¯ methodology¡­(sic)).





Ideas flow in cycles¡­ a cycle that imitates our (micro) poles of belief and feeling, the ebb and flow of enthusiasm, inside and outside, feeling and manifestation, as well as the (macro) twists and turns - in effect, reversals - of the history of ideas¡­


From science and objectivity via empiricism we have the dominance of facts and reason. But values need more to sustain them; feeling and belief, the subjective pole, then comes into operation; and we are into metaphysics and on the edge of religion, producing dogma (superstition or worse). We then have the contrary motion through suspicion to critique via reason and facts, and ultimately, back to empiricism and science¡­ Objective and subjective poles of the human experience, alternate, one seemingly in need of the other, providing what the other cannot (which is what you would expect from this ¡®other-kind¡¯ of ¡®torn halves¡¯ or binary division of a supposed whole ¨C in this case ¡®the whole¡¯ of human knowledge). As do their frameworks, contexts or supports, history and experience, and so too ¡®eternity¡¯, the ¡®no-place¡¯ that grounds - grounds all we use to think and understand, from universals to gods. A mini-cycle in our lived temporality, as we swing from one to the other depending on moment or need; and a mega-cycle, in which intellectual fashions constitute our intellectual history by alternating, or remixing (or reconceptualising) in turn. The history of ideas may be seen as this cyclic ¡®return¡¯, or periodic ¡®swing¡¯, as each is found lacking and the opposite pole turned to for succor, for correspondence or cohesion, and for ever-fleeing completion¡­ (the ever-desired ¡®whole¡¯). If our knowledge is self-contradictory, constituted as such, over the subject/object divide (or some other parallel or similarly functioning opposition that represents a real abyss in our being) then thinking is as a succession of ¡®moments¡¯ in a process oscillating around this divide¡­ As the awareness of the fictionality of ¡®eternity¡¯ (its truth-function) is put aside for its use-function: its requirement to underwrite our most general and most fundamental of concepts, intuitions and starting points¡­




And then there is the reliance on eternity for foundations, beginnings, for concepts¡­ As we see in the avoidance of everyday lived time, or temporality, in Heidegger and Bergson/Deleuze, in the lurch to metaphysical time... (again, not human temporality nor scientific time: but one other, ¡®another time¡¯, deeper, more fundamental¡­). In effect a rational, or rationalised, theory of time, beyond mere experience, so ¡®universal¡¯, the result of the process; so ¡®real¡¯, ¡®eternal¡¯¡­ Like the truths of Structuralism¡­ and Plato¡¯s forms (and like Romanticism and modern-day Nature First ideologies¡­). Temporality is elided for its shadow, brain function, ¡®eternity¡¯¡­ so that all may be ¡®put outside¡¯ as ¡®eternity¡¯ based¡­ the shadow of temporality reversed¡­ a function of the brain projected ¡®outside¡¯ - this operation as definitive of metaphysics. Perhaps all metaphysics (in the bad sense) is eternity based¡­ (via the necessary detour of reason¡­). Religion is the direct appeal to belief in Eternity and the entities dwelling ¡®there¡¯. Also (again via rationalism) all ideology may be read as eternity-based (as appealing to ¡®what is natural¡¯, to ¡®Nature¡¯). Again, part of the role of ¡®Nature First¡¯ in intellectual, cultural life; its history in all cultures and all philosophies.


Also found in ¡®the metaphysics of presence¡¯, as universal in implication, as best foundation, as authentic, etc., complement to ¡®the rhetoric of eternity¡¯. Both part of the excessive extrapolation from the sense of the present (the ¡®eternal present¡¯) into ¡®eternal verities¡¯.




Below, some graphs to help visualize the relationships discussed above.



First the place of eternity in human temporality: on the left to right axis of the default global arrow of time:


¡®Eternity¡¯ (outside/no-place)


>  Past (semi-present)  >  (Eternal Present/inside)  >  Future (semi-present)  >


                                                        Dreams (in and out)



Or in the format of a semiotic square:


A   B        present          past/future (in)

~A  ~B/~~A    dreams (in/out)   eternity (out)



Or again in truth table, format¡­


The four key terms of human temporality appear to fit neatly into the truth table format¡­ with their logical¡­ equivalents?


From:       ALL    /   /   1

                     SOME    /   x   -

                     SOME    x   /   -

                     NONE    x   x   0


If EP (the Eternal Present) neither past, nor future. But containing both: f(x): EP (pvf: if p, ~f; if f, ~p). Then:


To¡­        Set          0    All      EP    ¡­

                     Element1             2  Some    past    x

                     Element2       2   Some   future   x

                     ¡®Out¡¯                (O)  None     ~T   


Or¡­     0    /     /     z    (such that¡­

         (2) 1a    /     -    x(z)   =in z

         (2) 1b    -     /    y(z)   =in z

                X    -     -   ¡®out Z¡¯  =in z





p   f  (past, future)

Presence (P):         P    P   All  or  0   /  /   x^ y inclusive

         (p/semi-presence)   ~Px  p1   Some   2   /  x   xvy

                                             ~Py  p2   Some     2   x  /   yvx

~~P   ~p   None   ~T  x   x   ~x,~y



Plus ¡®Dream¡¯ (art and literary genre = Surrealism):


P  >P  ~P  (P=presence)              IN    All      in and ¡®out¡¯

P  f,p  ~P   (p=past)                      ¡°     Some }    {ALL ^~

EP f,p  ~T (temporal parts)             ¡°    Some     ~~P

                                                               ¡®out¡¯  None/~T   = ~(~~P)


                                                                      Such that; ¡®out¡¯ (like ~T)

                                                                      is found IN (P).








Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2020