“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in the way in which our visual field has no limits.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 6.431 (emphasis added)
-- What is that even supposed to mean, “Finding eternity in the now”?
Pretty much like Eckhart Tolle described it.
-- Huh?!? But you . And you do not like Tolle precisely because you abhor nonsense such as Wittgenstein’s “take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness.” A weaseling reformulation of the religious and mystical weasels that aim to deceive common minds, promising eternal life but then delivering nothing but a redefinition in the small print that nobody reads. By definition, “eternity”, what we really desire to mean, what we ‘meant to mean’, is to be for ever in time, to be at all times into the future, and future never coming to an end, because: We desire not to die!
Yes, such would be called eternity, but that is an eternity which is never more than desired, always future. A more fundamental eternity however can be actually had in the now, much like some Zen, and perhaps some Scholastics for example, and Wittgenstein and many others claimed. You can find it, participate in it, share in it in the now, neither like the young Wittgenstein mostly on a dry intellectual level, nor and most certainly not just hoping that future is in some way, desperately holding on to faith about that a transparent religious promise is somehow true after all. Because, another part of enlightenment, that part that we demand beyond ‘enlightenment’ as the lifting of the heaviness from our heart, which is the end of suffering as the Buddha defined enlightenment, beyond that there is also ‘enlightenment’ in the sense of an intellectual understanding, ‘understanding’ meaning here that even a skeptic can accept it without becoming a traitor to intellectual enlightenment.
-- But if you find eternity in the now, and then you lose it in the next moment, surely, it is not eternity that you found. There cannot be a time after eternity, by definition.
Yes, there is only one experienced ‘empirical time’, speaking with Kant, and from this experienced perspective directly, as well as relative to a description based on it, say merely empirical science, eternity is as you say. However, Kant already glimpsed that there is another side to this, a side as fundamental as the conditions of experience as such are for how an experienced and thus “real” world can be. The eternity in the now is the ‘fundamental’ eternity, the one implied in the ‘fundamental description’ that is “fundamental” in the sense of a theory of everything, namely all-encompassing, being the “fundament” of everything, the ‘description relative to totality’.
-- But your very Kant said that “the world — the content of all phenomena — is not a whole existing in itself.” Bertrand Russell also rejected the existence of totality. I am not sure whether it makes sense to accept the existence of all things but not the existence of them all together, but anyway, there are cleverer people than me who reject the existence of totality.
It does not matter whether totality “exists”, or whether or not there even is ‘a matter to the fact’ of whether totality “exists” as more than a limit, a ‘Grenzbegriff’ in the Wittgensteinian sense, or whether the distinction is ‘verification transcendent’ in the sense of anti-realism. The description relative to totality is unaffected. It is somewhat strange that Russell did not see this although he emphasized so much that this is how modern mathematics came to be, namely by accepting infinity as a perfectly well behaved number.
-- Well, fine, so let us employ totality just like infinity in a mature fundamental description. What does it give us?
The tautologically true fact of that totality includes all times, all possibilities, all worlds; else it is not totality, simply by definition.
-- Do you mean to say that totality is not in time since all time is included in it, and that therefore totality is eternal?
Yes. It is not in or during time, which is precisely why under a suitable usage of “exist”, totality does not exist, but that is useless word-games again. It is not “timeless”, because it includes all times. Totality is eternal, this can be said without making much more of a mistake than we have to make inevitably whenever using language.
-- But is not this the mystic weaseling? In our experienced perspective from inside totality, time goes on; the now is fleeting. And that is our fundamental reality, a priori, metaphysically necessary; only such can be experienced.
Yes and no and yes and no. If you feel it that way, you experience it that way, and then it is that way. You expect the next moment and that the present will be gone, for ever, lost, and at some point, you die and all was for nothing. However, you are justified and able to feel differently. Be no longer preoccupied with feelings around the ill-defined concept of ‘flow of time’, which are nothing more than feelings, much like pains, feelings which we can switch off; we could even directly mechanically destroy the neural network modules correlated with them, although such is not necessary in order to find yourself in control of your mind in a meaningful, not obviously inconsistent way.
-- So you may feel it, and perhaps I already know what you mean, since a mushroom once gave me a similar feeling. But as I already said, there cannot be a point in time after eternity, simply by definition.
There is strictly no point in time after totality.
-- But we are inside totality. You feel whatever, but then time goes on and …
Yes, precisely, “then” time goes on, “then”, in the next moment perhaps, or a later one after, you find yourself again in time as if in a raging river toward death instead of finding yourself peacefully in another serene now. However, although you may even hear the clock ticking, time, the very time that we are actually worried about, the experiencing of flow as existentially threatening, does not go on in the moments in which you find yourself in eternity! Time does not go on for the now as something embedded in totality, and “fundamentally” so, in both senses of “fundamental” if the now is also felt – and thus experienced – as an aspect of totality. There is no time that goes on for totality! If your outlook is along the direction of time, there is the future, but if you do not stare like a frightened rabbit into the darkness of future interspersed with ruminations of the past, if you take your attention away from time and focus it on the here and now, if you are aware of that this crisply bright now is eternally in eternal totality, you know that you enjoy this brightness for eternity, you really do enjoy it eternally.
-- It still seems like weaseling. You state that time is not going on in those moments, but the clock is ticking.
Yes, in the implied physically-causal description, molecular processes for example tick an enormous number of times during your shortest moment. In this sense, time is ticking eternally in all the moments. In that description, time does not even have any “moments”. But there is no profound insight in dogmatically trying to appear sciencey and insist on a description that is, although it is in yet another sense “fundamental”, quite misleading. A physical description of experience cannot but must be about very many bits and pieces that correlate the experienced with my necessary embodiment in my experienced world, without which there could not be any physically-causal aspect to my experiencing of my world – in short, no world at all. Experienced time is therefore a priori always, relative to the implied physical, very coarse grained, in any conceivable world. But this just underlines that we should not confuse the time we are interested in, namely experienced time; with whatever other times in our theories. We want to experience eternity. Yes, time is ticking, but it does so eternally in all our moments.
-- I get that, but I feel like that is not Me in those past moments, precisely because I am now! I feel like being a surfboard on top of the time line, being taken along on a ride, and that ride is now here in time, but tomorrow, there I will be surfing on top of a future moment, and then it will come to the end some day and I die. I do see that there is silliness in this, because it would need a second time orthogonal to time, a further time that allows this zipping along the time line. But the main problem I have is this: I understand that there are all the past surfboards behind me, and all those in front of me; there is one on top of every moment. Nevertheless, it still seems as if only my surfboard is real. Even if all those other surfboards are zipping along, they are all not Me! I am this surfboard here now, and now I am here, and now here, and now here, and soon I will die.
So, not only do you prefer a description where any future you is not eternal but instead “always” relative to a nonsensical second time, which allows the flow of the first time. Moreover, although you thereby agree that any future you is “always” right there eternally in totality, still you insist that the future you is not You, but it becomes You for a fleeting moment once You arrive there? Don’t you see that this crazy way of identifying, although evolved to be common for obvious reasons, is quite arbitrary, quite inconsistent and the root of your fear?
-- But that is how it feels like!
Yes, if you feel like that, then that is how it feels like, that is precisely the point. Or you can start to ever more bathe in the feeling of that totality is eternal, which you can, because you know that it is, intellectually and especially once you have felt it – that mushroom did have a message. That now, in which you are aware of the now being eternal and you feel it, that now is not just eternally in totality as all moments are, but in that now, You are also in eternity, because you also experience it. You are no longer distracted like in most moments, in which you are eternally afraid of not being eternal, and in which You therefore do not participate in being eternal.
-- I see what you are saying. Precisely in as much as I am not in eternity in the way that I desire it, if I happen to be in eternity but feel that I am not, which would be hell rather than heaven if an afterlife were like that, in precisely as much I am truly in the actually desired eternity when I experience the feeling of this now being eternal.
Yes. All moments exist in totality, and so they are all eternal. The unenlightened ones too, but in those, you think it is only temporary; you do not experience it as eternal. You participate fully in the eternity in the enlightened moments. And if you even just only once felt it deeply that way, in its bliss, you know that the bliss that you were in is eternal, meaning that you are in the eternal for ever, because you are still there in it in the past moment.
-- If I identify with my past.
Well, if you did not identify with your past and future to some extend, there is no problem anyway.
-- Yes, true this, otherwise, what is the point in wanting time-like eternity if my future me is somebody else.
Which of course, strictly speaking, it is! And if identifying in that way, narrowly, strictly speaking, if You want eternity, You can anyway only find it in the now!
-- Yes, of course, but this is surely not what you mean. That would be even scarier, me always just dying, trying to desperately reach a feeling for eternity, sometimes having it, but then if I want to even just tell myself that I have it, it already was just somebody in the past. I don’t have the will to become a monk meditating himself to death.
Yes, correct, we do identify over time, we desire to identify over time, and we should identify over time, and that is not as much of a problem as a too narrow interpretation of wise thoughts, such as to some extent with Tolle, insists on. You may identify in many different ways, and you can participate in eternity at will as much as you need.
-- That sounds agreeable, almost too comfortable. And it still feels like weaseling, but then, I may simply not have felt eternity enough to feel differently. Surely, your weaseling is the most sophisticated weaseling about this yet, and most agreeable. I should try to feel it more.
As you already recognized yourself, hell is as you suggested it but minutes ago, namely to be in eternity but eternally feeling as if you are not. This is not just a conceivable afterlife, but your life. And so, hell is, it is as you said, and eternal heaven is, namely, it is the opposite. This is my ‘new good news’.
---------------------------------------Preface to Enlightenment Finding Eternity in the Now