Friday, April 9, 2010
Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Eternal Return
THE THEORY OF ETERNAL RETURNhttp://erg.ucd.ie/arupa/ouspensky.html
A central belief of Ouspensky is the doctrine known variously as eternal return or recurrence. Surprisingly, in spite of the relative obscurity of this idea the theory has nevertheless had adherents throughout the ages and influenced many notable thinkers. The most recent well-known champion of the theory was James Joyce whose novel, Finnegans Wake, is based wholly on the idea. As a philosophical tenant we generally associate the name of Nietzsche with this view, and in spite of the relatively lesser impact this idea has had upon many of his academic commentators, within the corpus of Nietzsche's writings it has been recognized as central by certain influential reviewers.12 In Western thought the doctrine is associated by reference to Pythagorus through the commentaries of Eudemus of Rhodes, by Archytas of Tarentum, perhaps Plotinus, and the sixth-centurian Neoplatonist, Simplicius. With its emphasis on eschatology modern Christianity never supported the doctrine, although Ouspensky cites several passages within the Gospels which, in his opinion, indicate that Christ himself was conversant with the notion of repetition, and he offers a passage in Origen's On First Principles as an indication of early Christianity's attempt to discredit the idea.13 Recurrence as a cosmogonical hypothesis was never considered tenable, although as a moral foundation it possesses a certain appeal. That is, if all actions repeat eternally the imperative to maximize one's condition might be heightened. Still, with few exceptions this too was found lacking as suitable ground for any deontic theory and today the average man would be surprised to encounter the idea. Of course for Ouspensky recurrence was neither a physical nor a moral theory but was, instead, a metaphysical ground flowing from his metageometrical conception of the form of the world.
Looking back on our speculative discussion regarding the four dimensional representation of our life we recall that any four dimensional figure necessarily encompasses the entire life of a thing and is not just a series of discrete moments hung together by memory. To understand the relation of the theory of recurrence to Ouspensky's so called "new model" let us imagine a specific geometrical form in its relation to our life. We start with the line making up the life of a man. One point, birth, begins in the year 1900 while the line ends with the death of the subject in, say, 1970. The entire figure of the complete life of the man constitutes a four dimensional form. Now, let us curve the line into an angle of 360 degrees. Here, the end of the line connects to the beginning. Death ends in birth. A man is born in 1900, lives his life, dies in 1970 and is reborn again in 1900 encountering the exact circumstances of his previous existence. Consciousness limited to the three dimensional phenomenal form does not recognize an endlessness to the loop of existence, but only the static moment. A man understands his birth but never comprehends what could come "before" nor, with any real knowledge, does he understand what awaits "after" death even though, depending upon his life circumstances, there exist numerous "religious" expositions regarding the supposed afterlife which he might embrace with varying degrees of confidence.
Embracing the fixity of recurrence would seemingly negate any possibility of real change or evolution in the state of an individual man for if one is destined to relive one's life over in all aspects can anyone hope to escape the hand he or she is dealt? This is an open question but one Ouspensky attempts to address with the doctrine of possibilities. That is, at every moment in time various possibilities of action present themselves, at least potentially. As we move through time a set course unfolds consisting in the actualization of certain possibilities. Certainly, as long as we remain unconscious to the several possibilities inherent within each moment we are unwittingly carried along within our particular time. If alternate life circumstances are even possible it can only occur after the attainment of a level of consciousness which allows an individual to recognize the potential for change inherent within each moment of one's life. For Ouspensky, man tied to a particular line has absolutely no possibility of determining his condition, however it is the purpose of the esoteric idea to show a way out of our current unproductive cycle of recurrence.14
Posted by SM Kovalinsky at 9:00 PM