Analyzing Nietzsche’s “Heaviest Burden”
There are really only two fundamental stances on the nature of existence that can be taken: the first and most popular is that everything in existence was created from nothing a very, very long time ago, and eventually everything will return to nothing again some time in the future. There are three basic schools of thought which subscribe to this belief: Theists, Atheists, and Agnostics. While Atheists & Agnostics pose as “merely lacking belief in God” or “not knowing if there is a God”, Atheists and Agnostics alike have already accepted the fundamental question that God is meant to answer for Theists: that of a “beginning of existence”. All three camps are in complete agreement regarding the idea that the Universe (all of matter & space) “began” a very long time ago, and before that, there was nothing.
The second, more obscure view, is that existence is eternal and there is a cyclical quality to time. Ancient Indian and Egyptian religions held this belief, as well as early Greek philosophers including Heraclitus, who said:
“This cosmos, the same of all, no god nor man did create, but it ever was and is and will be: everliving fire, kindling in measures and being quenched in measures.”
As well as Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor, who said:
“What we do now echos in eternity.”
Why creation stories lack meaning
This notion of eternity quickly fell out of common thinking with the rise of Christianity, which was a religion based on a single continuous, human-centered narrative about reality with a beginning and an end to existence in general. Like our human lives, the Universe was born, it grew and matured, some “climax” occurs, and then we all either live happily forever after in Heaven, or we are punished forever in Hell.
“Scientific” atheists and agnostics are oblivious to how influential this narrative was upon them. There is a consensus among atheists, theists and agnostics that long long ago, there was nothing… then suddenly there were things. The Big Bang story is essentially the same narrative: the Universe started from nothing and then in a sudden burst, tiny little things formed which clumped into bigger things which clumped into even bigger things and then finally into really big things like stars and planets and galaxies. As Stephen Hawking, a foremost authority in mathematical physics states in his book The Grand Design, “the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”
Theists believe that God created the things, Atheists believe ‘nothing’ created the things, and agnostics aren’t sure how the things were created– yet they all still beg the question that things were created.
Common sense rationality eludes the Trinity of Creation that I listed above. The problem with creationism of any variety is that it requires action on the part of ‘nothing’. The claim that everything was created or “began” necessarily implies that there was not anything at all prior to this event. “Nothing” must perform the action of becoming something; an impossible metamorphosis, since, with nothing, there is no thing or being to morph, change, or “become” in the first place. Any action necessitates a thing (entity, object, form) to perform it. The object of action in Creationism is literally nothing. Creation narratives of any kind are devoid of rational meaning, and those who pretend to understand such nonsense stories are the worst sort of liars. Not only does it lack semantic meaning, it lacks any possibility of reference, since the acting object of this theory is supposed to be nothing at all.
Eternal is a concept of motion
If it is incoherent to suggest that there was once nothing, as I explained above, then it must be the case that there were always things in existence. This also necessitates that those things which exist were forever in motion. If things were not always in motion, then it begs the question, “What started everything in motion?” Anything that the “What” of that sentence might refer to would necessarily be an existing thing in order for it to impact and set into motion other existing things. This idea of a moving thing which sets everything else into motion creates an ad infinitum paradox of, “Okay, but what moved THAT thing?” and so on. The only coherent solution is that everything has always been in motion.
And everything always will continue to be in motion. Complicated arguments have been concocted by mathematical physicists regarding a concept called entropy wherein they explain how any system loses its energy (motion) and eventually diminishes to zero free energy. According to them, all motion will slowly grind to a halt with the Heat Death of the Universe.
This has been discussed in full by the author Fatfist at his hubpages, so I won’t repeat the entire argument here, but essentially the Heat Death argument is fallacious because Thermodynamics, energy, entropy and other mathematical concepts of measured motion are only meaningful when in reference to a bounded system with an external environment. Existence has no boundary so it is clearly impossible for it to have an external environment. Motion can and will continue forever because the Universe as a whole has no external environment to “lose” its energy to.
The finity of matter
Another piece of this puzzle is the finity of matter. Matter is necessarily finite, and there is no such thing as an infinite object or infinite number of objects. The term “infinite” has been given a mathematical mysticism to surround it, and even a cool symbol that every wannabe-intellectual white college girl has tattoo’d on her somewhere. But under close scrutiny, the term “infinite” really resolves to “we got tired of counting.” Even the phrase “infinite number” or “infinite set” is a contradiction in terms, since both ‘number’ and ‘set’ are terms which by definition are limited.
There is no rational definition of “infinite” that does not simply mean, “the number is too high to count.” In mathematics, the term has taken on an abstract meaning which is totally divorced from reality. In reality, we could count everything in existence if we had enough time. There must be a limit to that which is inherently bounded – i.e. objects in existence.
If matter and motion are eternal, and there was never a beginning and will never be an end, then it is irrational to suggest some universal progression of material structures, as the Big Bang and other creation theories suggest. What I would offer you as an alternative is this: There have always been planets, stars, galaxies, atoms, molecules, life, et all. The Universe has always and will always look more or less the same as it does today. Which particular planets, stars, galaxies, etc. exist in a given moment may differ, but they are all permanent features comprising the cosmic order.
Consequences of eternity
“Fellow man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, – a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things:- and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon”.
This, friends, is the consequence of eternity. Over a long enough time frame, all possibilities eventually become certainties… and eternity is a never-ending time frame. You are undoubtedly unique and your life is an undoubtedly unique event, but even that which is unique is still possible and possibilities are only certainties waiting to happen. The pre-conditions which are necessary for your life to occur are of the greatest Cosmic proportions. And when I use the superlative, “greatest”, I mean that in earnest. The entire course of action which led up to your life is one and the same as the entire course of all action of which you are a part, or, as Nietzsche says, a grain in the Universal hourglass which will be recycled and refreshed always and forever.
When you die, everything else keeps on going. Eventually planet Earth will disassemble, the Milky Way galaxy will crumble, everything will go on changing for an unthinkably long time. But eventually (inevitably), the cosmic cycle will begin to repeat. All of the galaxies that exist now will begin to form and arrange in relation to each other, the Earth will form, the Sun, Moon, all of the constellations we see in the sky, etc. etc. all will eventually re-align and re-engage one another. All of the history on Earth leading up to your existence will repeat, and then your life will repeat, and then it all begins again.
A limited amount of objects necessarily has a limit to the variety of ways in which those objects may assemble and interact. That, combined with eternal motion is a recipe which guarantees your own personal recurrence forever.
So make the best of your life, find some way to come to peace & comfort in it. Learn to love yourself, and your fate, and the people in your lives, because it is inescapable. Death is nothing but a reset button that perfectly refreshes everything. Every joy, fear, love, hate, horror, happiness and sorrow; every friend, enemy, lover, and relative; every stranger you meet for the first time, the sunset today, that bird in the tree, this raindrop as it falls; every detail no matter how great or small will return as entirely new things in exactly the same way you lived them. When you are laid upon your deathbed and your life flashes before your eyes, I hope you find comfort in the fact that it’s all you’ll ever get, and that you’ll get it over and over again as if it was new.