Thursday, 9 October 2014

Eternal life solves only one problem

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Some people say, and apparently believe, that eternal life is not something which interest or attracts them: that they can do very well without it (Thank you very much!).

They notice that eternal life has all sorts of problems about it - that leaves all sorts of problems untouched. This is correct, indeed, eternal life does not solve any problems: except one.

That problem, is the problem of mortality. And the problem of mortality is that it means that nothing really matters, ultimately.

And the problem of mortality is so fundamental that that unless it be solved, then nothing is possible, ultimately.

So eternal life is necessary for anything of significance to matter, or to be possible.

Other than that, eternal life is trivial.

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13 comments:

Nicholas Fulford said...

I disagree.

Mortality means that time has an importance that it does not have if we are immortal. To put it in economic terms, with one there is finite supply, and the other there is infinite supply. Something in infinite supply has no economic value.

Whenever I see people living as if they had all the time in the world, I see a lack of appreciation for life. It is when I am aware that my time is finite that I make the day count. (I simply do not have the time to waste being funked out over trivia and inanities when I have so little of it.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF. You are wrong about this. It isn't difficult - all children know the implications of death; but you have become confused by irrelevancies. One day, the nonsense will fall away, the meaning of mortality will suddenly and forcefully strike you afresh, and you will again understand. At least, I hope so.

ajb said...

"And the problem of mortality is that it means that nothing really matters, ultimately."

I don't understand what the 'really matters' means here, and it seems the 'really' is what bears almost all the import of this claim (as it is obvious that many things which are taken to be temporary have meaning or matter to people).

Crosbie said...

I have to give in now and ask if you have read The Master and his Emissary?

JP said...

@Nicholas,

People who do not believe in the afterlife do not behave as if each moment is precious and must be filled with highly meaningful thought and action. Instead they seek to fill every instant with pleasurable distraction - after all, why not? What else is there? You are here for a moment, and then lights out forever. Nobody is keeping score. In short, they do not make their time count. The prospect of imminent, permanent oblivion totally demotivates them.

On the other hand, those who believe in an afterlife have to make their time here count, not least because their behavior is being graded.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - If I was to say to you that you would feel totally and completely happy and fulfilled in creativity and love - but for just one millisecond when you were aged thirty-five - and you would have no prior knowledge of this state coming-up, and no memory of it afterwards - then how significant would you regard that millisecond?

Yet mortal life is less than that millisecond, in the context of eternity stretching in both directions.

Adam G. said...

To my mind, the minimum conditions for meaningfulness is that there is an eternal mind which knows and appreciates my acts.

We live in a universe that has an embarrassment of meaning. Because there is not just one such mind. There are or will be billions.

Joel E. said...

"then how significant would you regard that millisecond"

This is a powerful argument. But I think that we are missing something.

Make the millisecond an hour. Is there any reason to regard the hour differently from the millisecond? No. Or a day, or a lifetime? Not at all. In fact, that's your argument, Bruce.

Make the lifetime ten lifetimes of men. Or a million years. We still have no qualitative reason to regard it differently.

Stretch it out further, beyond our imagination of measured time, though still finite. In some way, it is still the same as the millisecond.

I do have a point. If simply stretching out the time does not bring any meaning, is eternity going to do that for us? Perhaps, perhaps not. I just don't see how to make this argument more illuminating against that question.

Instead, I think that we can talk about the problem of meaning in a different, more profitable way. All of us know what meaning is because we have experienced it. We experience it as children, or at work, or at various points in our lives and relationships. But the problem of meaningless is this: as men, we have the ability to inhabit not just the here and now, but in fact our imagination encompasses the world. And when we stretch our imagination to the fullest extent, and consider all the universe and all eternity, to the best of our abilities, the conception tends to destroy all of our sense of natural meaning. At least for modern man.

So to put the problem another way, in what manner could the universe, and eternity, and God exist so that we do not lose all sense of purpose and meaning to cast our minds on them and consider?

There are pagan solutions, of course. I think that these are ultimately empty though.

There is shrinking into one's own day-to-day life where we do find meaning. But that is empty too, as the author of Ecclesiastes argues so well.

So I think that it would be wise to dwell on what a universe specifically constructed by a creator to bring about meaning for all of us individually might look like.

ajb said...

@JP "Instead they seek to fill every instant with pleasurable distraction - after all, why not?"

Because there are more important things than pleasurable distraction?

It doesn't seem to make a difference whether the time frame is 100 years, or 1,000, or non-ending. We are always doing things that bring meaning, working on projects, sacrificing now for something better in the future, and so on.

That some make the non sequitur or thinking that if there's no eternity therefore they should just seek for distraction in the now is a mistake, not something entailed by finite time.

@BC,

Let's say it's a minute, to make it more psychologically plausible (I don't know how someone how feel something like that for a millisecond).

In itself presumably it would have meaning and significance. Since people are used to thinking of things in terms of years or more, though, it would be a small part of one's life - although even there, I could see people attributing high importance to something that lasted a short period of time.

Bruce Charlton said...

This is not something to debate - it is something that needs thinking about.

fraggle said...

"If simply stretching out the time does not bring any meaning, is eternity going to do that for us?"

There is a profound fundamental difference between a thing that ends and a thing that does not. Between the finite and the infinite. No amount of adding/multiplying numbers will ever get you to 'infinity'. Infinity is, quite literally, not a number.

Adam G. said...

*Stretch it out further, beyond our imagination of measured time, though still finite. In some way, it is still the same as the millisecond.

I do have a point. If simply stretching out the time does not bring any meaning, is eternity going to do that for us? *

If eternal,then there is no point where it makes no difference whatever I do, or even that I existed. If not eternal, then there is. It's that simply. Eternity isn't sufficienty for meaning itself, but it is necessary. Full stop.

JP said...

@ajb,

"Because there are more important things than pleasurable distraction?"

An overwhelming number of people in the West do not think so. It is not just "some" people who make this mistake, it is the great majority.

"We are always doing things that bring meaning, working on projects, sacrificing now for something better in the future, and so on."

Who is "we"? The readers of this blog probably are doing such things. Most other people, probably not.