Wednesday 19 May 2021

Ultimate justifications for eternal living

One of the great contributions made by William Arkle to my own philosophy of living is to bring to the centre of concern, the question of what we would want to do forever, for eternity - The question of what could possibly satisfy us everlastingly? 

In his writing (and art) Arkle conjures a friendly and accessible God who is a real Father (and Mother) to us, and creates with our best long-term - indeed eternal - interests in his heart. 

Arkle therefore invites us to make the thought experiment of such a divine parent who wants his children to be motivated and fulfilled in an eternal life; and to consider what kind of life that might be - what kind of life is divine creation aiming-at? 

When I make this thought experiment, my conclusion is that there are significant differences in what people want in their mortal life; and that there are also differences in what people seem to want for eternity.  

Some people have what seems like a very deep sense of fatigue about living; and seem to want an eternity of 'rest' - much like being dreamlessly-asleep - an eternity when nothing happens. 

Others seem to want an eternity of joyous contemplation; a continuous state of gratitude, worship; a perpetuation of that aesthetic arrest when we fall in love, experience great good fortune, or encounter something of overwhelming beauty... We just want to stay in exactly this state, forever. 

So both of these want an eternal state to be unchanging - although the first wants to be unconscious, unaware (or barely aware) of his own existence; while the second want to be consciously aware of his own existence - but continuously and without-fading immersed in happiness, appreciation, gratitude. 

But among those who want an active eternity; the answer probably depends on their time horizon, and their capacity for anticipating what things would actually be like. Some desire a 'paradise'-life in which they repeatedly-and-forever do the kind of thing they most enjoy on earth - e.g. eating, sex, or something sinful - but without ever getting used to it, without experiencing the 'habituation' or 'tolerance' that makes repetition so unsatisfactory in mortal life. 

This, then, paradise is an eternal present - and eternity without memory; where each 'day' (or cycle) is started afresh and unfading. 

In paradise there could be no sense of 'self', and no developmental progression; because that depends on linear continuity hence memory; so what is desired is an 'arrested development' - to be fixed as a certain type of person at a certain stage in life (child, adolescent, young adult etc), doing a certain type of pleasurable activity, again and again - forever.. but not to know that this is what is happening. It is rather like being reborn every day - but reborn as the kind of person one wants to be. 

Paradise is a life of continual play; in which the situation is one in which we and the situation are set-up such that we never get fed-up of playing - but it remains maximally satisfying.  


But none of the above constitute the idea of Heaven as I understand it. In Heaven, eternity is for creating; and creating is distinguished from 'playing' because creation comes from love. So the set-up of Heaven is one in which there are many people, and they are bound together by love; and this love overflows into creating. 

This vision of eternity comes from people (such as myself) who feel that the most profound experiences of life, which would never ever fail to satisfy, are those experiences of creating - in which that which is created is appreciated by those we love and those who love what we love.

'Creation' (in this sense) ranges very widely indeed, from more obvious things like creating new appreciations, understandings and insights; to making things and performing arts; to the creating involved in a continuing marriage, or in playing games with one's children... 

There is no limit to the kinds of things this involves - but in mortal life such creating is contaminated with mad motives (seeking status, power, to manipulate etc), and by the fatigue and entropy of our condition. For creating to become eternal we would need purity of loving motivation and endlessly-renewed energies from love (not from other, lower, sources) - so, it is these which must distinguish a creative-Heaven from this mortal life. 

Such thought experiments may be of great value, if one can persist with them to keep asking 'and what then?' after each answer you give yourself. 

Eventually you may work down through superficial half-answers to reach the solid ground of what would be eternally satisfying to you, personally. 

And then explore the consequences of that.     


Lucinda said...

What I have enjoyed about this idea of "what would be interesting forever?" is the way it affects my everyday life. From doing laundry to working out my most important relationships, this question is a great touchstone for a satisfying today, satisfying memories, and a hopeful future, near and far.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda. Same here. Having retired a couple of years ago I have been surprised by what I still regarded as significant about those decades of work, and what has become a matter of indifference; and how these correlate so very little with what seemed significant at the time.

For instance, the science I did for my own satisfaction (often unnoticed, and certainly unrewarded) is often that which continues to give satisfaction - as being motivated (mostly) by truth-seeking and truth-speaking; whereas the various honours and esteem indicators I 'achieved' (or was dished-out for whatever reason) are so hazy as to be all-but forgotten - certainly I care nothing for them now.