Thursday, June 18, 2009

Origen on Eternal Recurrence

In the second issue of The Gnostic I'm including a long review of Anthony Peake's books Is There Life After Death and The Daemon. More on Anthony later, but I should add that a presentation that he gave on Philip K Dick will also be included in the issue.
I'm focusing particularly on the concept of eternal recurrence, to which Tony has added an entirely new twist, making it into what I call recursive recurrence, each lifetime repeating within the last.

The idea of recurrence found modern expression in the works of Nietzche and, particularly, P.D. Ouspensky. But it is an ancient, if marginal, view, to be found in Ovid and even Shakespeare. Origen rejected the idea as did Augustine (who I have not read on eternal recurrence.) Here is Origen's description and rejection of eternal recurrence. I wonder what his source for the idea was. His main objection is that humans have free will and so history could not repeat in the same way. Ouspensky allowed for some individual variation in people's lives, but felt that this was particularly limited in the lives of 'great men' whose deeds had such important repercussions and who were limited by the weight of history. This objection doesn't affect Tony Peake's view of recurrence. I wonder how chaos theory, with its sensitivity to initial conditions, might be applied to Ouspensky-style recurrence.

'And now I do not understand by what proofs they can maintain their position, who assert that worlds sometimes come into existence which are not dissimilar to each other, but in all respects equal. For if there is said to be a world similar in all respects (to the present), then it will come to pass that Adam and Eve will do the same things which they did before: there will be a second time the same deluge, and the same Moses will again lead a nation numbering nearly six hundred thousand out of Egypt; Judas will also a second time betray the Lord; Paul will a second time keep the garments of those who stoned Stephen; and everything which has been done in this life will be said to be repeated,—a state of things which I think cannot be established by any reasoning, if souls are actuated by freedom of will, and maintain either their advance or retrogression according to the power of their will. For souls are not driven on in a cycle which returns after many ages to the same round, so as either to do or desire this or that; but at whatever point the freedom of their own will aims, thither do they direct the course of their actions. For what these persons say is much the same as if one were to assert that if a medimnus of grain were to be poured out on the ground, the fall of the grain would be on the second occasion identically the same as on the first, so that every individual grain would lie for the second time close beside that grain where it had been thrown before, and so the medimnus would be scattered in the same order, and with the same marks as formerly; which certainly is an impossible result with the countless grains of a medimnus, even if they were to be poured out without ceasing for many ages. So therefore it seems to me impossible for a world to be restored for the second time, with the same order and with the same amount of births, and deaths, and actions; but that a diversity of worlds may exist with changes of no unimportant kind, so that the state of another world may be for some unmistakeable reasons better (than this), and for others worse, and for others again intermediate. But what may be the number or measure of this I confess myself ignorant, although, if any one can tell it, I would gladly learn.'
De Principiis Book II Chapter 4


Post a Comment

<< Home