A Rational Exploration of the Eternal

"The Method of Science, The Aim of Religion" - Aleister Crowley

The concepts of eternity and infinity are amongst the most perplexing ideas which human beings have ever turned their attention towards. They are also central to all of our religious and spiritual traditions. On the surface eternity seems like something which we simply cannot wrap our minds around - something best left to religious teachings and mystical poetry. But in actual fact, it may be possible to formulate a rational basis for an eternal spirit; and this article is my fledgling attempt to do just that.

Where is Infinity?

When we think about eternity we usually think of it as meaning 'existing for all of time', or 'existing for an infinite amount of time'. Likewise we usually think about infinity as occupying all of space - as 'going on forever' with no beginning or end. This is very confusing, and of course impossible to imagine.

But perhaps it would make more sense to think of it like this: eternity has no end in time, but it also has no beginning. In other words: eternity does not occupy all of time, but rather exists outside of time. An eternal existence does not continue throughout all of time, but instead it does not actually take part in time at all.

Some of you may now be thinking that this is even more confusing and hard to get your head around - but please bear with me.

The Watcher

"The world is my idea":— this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and knows, though man alone can bring it into reflective and abstract consciousness. If he really does this, he has attained to philosophical wisdom. It then becomes clear and certain to him that what he knows is not a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world which surrounds him is there only as idea, i.e., only in relation to something else, the consciousness, which is himself.((http://www.egs.edu/library/arthur-schopenhauer/quotes/)) Schopenhauer, Arthur and R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp (Translators). The World as Will and Representation. 1844.

The scientific method is built upon the philosophy of radical doubt1). This is the idea that we should put aside everything which can be doubted, and hold to be true only those things of which we can be certain. But if one is to follow this philosophy to its extreme, it becomes clear that there is no evidence, and nor could there possibly be any evidence, for the idea of a material world existing independently of our perceptions of it. In fact, as Schopenhauer taught, the entirety of human experience - the entirety of what we can say for sure exists - falls into two categories: the subject of perception and knowledge, and the object of perception and knowledge.

The object, or that which is known, is the physical universe. The subject, or that which knows, includes human consciousness at the least. The two are mutually dependent, but also exclusive. The subject is always that which knows and cannot itself be know - or else it would by definition become the object and cease to be the subject.

Space, as a description of the relative size and positioning of objects, and time, as a description of the order of changes in relative position of multiple objects, both belong to the object - and not the subject. The subject can therefore be said to exist outside of, or separate from time and space. It is eternal, infinite and ineffable - much like our descriptions of spiritual existence.

We therefore have a potential definition of the spirit, which adheres more strictly to the radical scepticism at the heart of science than does materialistic science itself. Tantalizingly there are even suggestions from quantum physics2) which suggest that the objective world does indeed require a 'subject of perception' in order to exist. And interestingly, any human experience of the pure subject, the perceiver itself separate from what is perceived, would seem to closely match the Buddhist descriptions of experiencing the emptiness or enlightenment.

Although of course all of this is largely speculative, and we cannot say for certain that it represents the fundamental reality of existence, it is interesting to note that it is not impossible to reach rational explanations for spiritual phenomena, and that such explanation may be defined with at least as much certainty as the concepts of materialistic science.

Categories: Religion | Buddhism | Esoteric and Occult

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