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Beware the lure of Eternalism


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#1
starspawn0

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A common topic that I see on Twitter among modern Buddhist and post-rationalist philosophers has to do with the twin poles of Eternalism and Nihilism that suck people towards them -- some oscillate between the poles, never quite figuring out a good philosophy to follow; post-rationalists, "Level 5", and some Buddhists are beyond the poles, or between the poles, or in a state where the poles don't pull anymore. The purpose of this posting is to discuss one of these poles, namely Eternalism, and a few of its guises -- as well as related forms that don't exactly rise to the level of Eternalism, but have many of the same features.

Most of the World Religions

If you look at Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all have as a focus "the one true god" that lives forever-and-ever. The concept of the "eternal/immortal soul" figures in with Christianity and Islam.

Hinduism also has various Eternalist elements -- e.g. the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth; and the Platonist concept "Nonduality".

Philhellenism, and related concepts

You've probably heard people say, at least once, "The ancient Greeks had it all figured out." Usually this comes up when discussing philosophy at length, where at one point someone pipes up, and starts quoting Plato or Aristotle, and how everything you are talking about was there already in the works of the ancient Greeks -- nothing new under the sun.

Some people get really pulled-in to this line of thinking, and may even start using a few ancient Greek words. They begin to lose interest in the modern world, and retreat into "the classics".

Platonism

There is the world of matter and the world of forms. e.g. there are many different kinds of "dog"; but there is something common to all dogs, and that common thing is the "form" -- which sits in realm outside space and time.

At least that's what Platonists believe.

Grand Unification; finding the "right way"

Many projects in physics and math can be described as a search for "grand unifications" -- that is, formal mathematical systems from which one can elegantly deduce explanations for a wide range of observed phenomena. The quest goes on and on, and practitioners are never fully satisfied; but still believe in yet greater unities, just out of reach; and, often, believe in a supreme object or theory that would put an end to their quest.

Rationalism

I mean Rationalism here (in a non-standard use) as a tendency to take this view of Spinoza a little too far: that "explanations go all the way down"; and some explanations are very far-reaching, penetrating everything, for all time. I will label those with this tendency "Rationalists", who often want to push a given explanation to its limits -- and anticipate that it will go very far, indeed. For example, a new proposed theory of biology might cause some to say, "That's probably true of certain specific species, but it won't hold up in general."; but the dogged Rationalist will search through every animal species ever discovered, and see if it holds up, hoping and dreaming that it will -- that this explanation "goes all the way down".

Capitalism and Marxism

Many of the most famous economic systems offer up relatively simple prescriptions for how to justly run a modern economy. They have the Rationalist impulse of finding simple theories that "go all the way down". The reality is, though, that pure free market Capitalism and pure Marxism don't work -- they need lots of fixes and policy interventions.

Nationalism and excessive ethnic pride

Some people are too in-love with their heritage or their tribe. They trace their genealogy back hundreds of years, and maybe even reflect on how their tribe is thousands of years old -- all that history; all those generations. And then they imagine what it will be like to be X (where X = German, Russian, Jewish, Japanese, etc.) in the year 2500... or the year 3000. The tribe has always been there, and always will be there.

....


All these -- and many more -- are part of Eternalism and Eternalism-lite. They impress young men and women, with talk like, "unlocking the secrets of the universe". And then the young waste many years of their life pursuing it, only to later become disillusioned and feel cheated. And now they are old, themselves.

#2
tomasth

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What happen when they become disillusioned and feel cheated with being post-rationalists, "Level 5" ?

#3
starspawn0

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That topic has come up several times in interviews I've heard and read -- something like, "Aren't you just being hypocritical here? Isn't post-rationalism just another "system", no different from Eternalism, or even a form of Eternalism?" And one answer I often see is that they claim not to take their beliefs so seriously -- they avoid dogmatism.

One could also say that these are more like states of development than belief systems. For example, see:

https://medium.com/@...nt-d63f4311b553

#4
Outlook

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What is a post-rationalist?


Outlook's secret song of the ~week: https://youtu.be/6S20mJvr4vs


#5
starspawn0

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The answer is given in the first 3 minutes or so of this podcast:

https://soundcloud.c...t-david-chapman

An almost immediate reaction is, "But isn't that just another flavor of rationality, or part of a larger rationality?" And an answer is given to that question in the same podcast.

#6
starspawn0

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A few more places Eternalism pops up, that are special cases of the examples above:

 

* In Islamic tile-work, such as we see at The Alhambra in Spain

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhambra

 

walls are tiled with repeating patterns of shapes.  It has been suggested in the past that this is meant to suggest a divine order or plan -- it repeats on and on, out to infinity, if the wall were allowed to continue that far.

 

* Belief in "mathematical magic":  amateurs (and cranks) confronted with a problem such as discovering patterns in the digits of Pi, or finding harmonious order in the structure of the prime numbers, often begin by collecting a lot of data.  They do often notice certain basic patterns, but then tend to over-interpret them, and come to believe they have discovered a great order in the object they are studying -- and fill up many pages with investigations and attempted proofs.  This is similar to how many Rationalists operate, as I have suggested.  However, 99.9% of the time, the pattern is not that interesting, or breaks down when larger numbers are tried.  

 

Also, just because a method looks pleasing and you want it to work out really badly, almost certainly, it won't.  Progress often comes when people stop trying to fit their preconceived ideas of what they would like to be true, and broaden their expectations.






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