Nietzsche: Eternal Recurrence (Part 3)

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Eternal Recurrence is the idea that time is a flat circle. History is not linear, rather it is cyclical, meaning that it repeats itself exactly again and again. Imagine a wheel that is constantly turning. The wheel is time. It will eventually repeat itself f- over and over and over again. There is no beginning and no end. Our universe and existence is not the first, and it is not the last. For those of you familiar with the Hindu concepts of reincarnation, Eternal Recurrence is pretty much the same the cycles of Samsara – except there is no ‘liberation’, you’re stuck in this loop forever.

Let’s say that you have an iPod with 200 songs, and you press the shuffle button and put it on repeat. For a long time the songs will appear random, and their order will surprise you. But eventually, if you leave it on long enough, the songs will repeat in a particular order. That is because there is only a finite number of songs and a finite number of combinations. Eventually, the randomness will end and it shall repeat. This is what cyclical time means. That eventually, everything will repeat in an exact order because there are only so many different combinations.

The Eternal Recurrence 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, hence the name ‘Eternal Recurrence’.

If Eternal Recurrence is true, then that would mean this isn’t the first tie you’ve read this post. You’ve read this post numerous times in your past lives. And this isn’t the last you’ll read this post either. Eventually, time will repeat, and you will read this same post again, and again, and again – for all eternity. The same thoughts occurring to you right now, the same physical movements, the same confusion or fascination with this subject – all of this has already happened before and will happen again – forever and ever. I have been condemned to write this essay again and again – for all eternity, and you have been condemned to read it again and again – for all eternity.

Eternal Recurrence is nothing new. The Hindu’s and Egyptians believed that time was a flat circle too – always going through cycles, eventually repeating itself. The Ancient Greek philosophers were also fascinated with the idea of reincarnation an eternal universe; this they question how they might be condemned to repeat their lives again and again. Nietzsche, who was an avid reader of Ancient Greek and Easter mythologies, soon brought the topic of Eternal Recurrence to a modern-day audience. He didn’t necessarily believe in it, but he was fascinated with the topic.

So, how does the Eternal Recurrence relate to the Ubermensch? Well, as you may recall, an Ubermensch must be willing to accept suffering, to accept pain and displeasure. But what if the pain you suffer will forever happen to you. What if every struggle, heartbreak, loss, depression – what if all of these pains are condemned to happen to you again and again, in the same way, at the same time – for all eternity? Does this thought scare you, or please you?

For Nietzsche, Eternal Recurrence was a test. It was a test of a man’s character, and of his strength. If you truly fear and despise life, then the thought of Eternal Recurrence will frighten you. It will seem like a form of torture, an endless cycle of suffering and torment. However, if you truly love life, then Eternal Recurrence will not be a curse – it will be a joyous gift. You will rejoice knowing that this life will repeat – again and again for all eternity.

As I mentioned in my last post, an Ubermensch must love life. They must be willing to accept this life and live it to the fullest. An Ubermensch loves life because it is full of suffering and pain – and this suffering is what gives us our strength. So, an Ubermensch should rejoice at the idea of Eternal Recurrence – because this means that their life will never end. It shall repeat, and with its repetition will come the same struggles and obstacles.

To quote Nietzsche “What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you 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 more and innumerable times more’ … 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.”

Nietzsche also tied Eternal Recurrence with the Latin phrase, Amor fati – literally meaning ‘love of fate’. Amor fati is when one accepts the events (both good and bad) in life, deems them necessary, and does not wish to change them. In other words, if someone were to ask ‘if you could go back in time and change anything about your life, what would you change?” The appropriate response would be ‘nothing’. There should be nothing in the past that you wish to change, because you have accepted that these events have happened, and you are grateful for them. A desire to change the past means that you are not happy and not grateful for previous events.

Eternal Recurrence is a feeling of satisfaction with one’s life an acknowledge of it, such that one could live the very same life, in all its moments of sorrow and joy, again and again for all time everlasting.

So, on the quest to becoming an Ubermensch, perhaps this your final test (technically not final, seeing as it will be repeated again). Do you love life? Are you willing to repeat this life – forever and ever? In the exact same way for all eternity? If you truly love life (as an Ubermensch would) then the answer to this question should be yes. “Yes, I am happy that I shall repeat this life, I rejoice in this idea!” If you said no, then perhaps you are not ready to become an Ubermensch. But don’t worry – for if time really is a circle – eventually, in one life or another – you will say yes.