Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Our Own Wonderful Infinite Nature


“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me,” Shakespeare instructs us. But do we? Is there a part of us that is infinite, or is immortality just a longing? There are at least parts of our beings that are infinite, according to Shakespeare: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god.”


Our infinite nature is not just fodder for the poets. Einstein came to the conclusion that “the infinite nature of man includes the universe.” Kierkegaard explained our existence in this way: “Man is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two factors. So regarded, man is not yet a self.”


What do YOU think?

39 comments:

Gilles said...

I see these statements as the truth of mans essence. However, man finds self in this synthesis. Synthesizing heaven and earth, infinity and form, is what makes us who we are.

That is also my greatest doubt of reincarnation indeed. If we disconnect form from infinity, what remains?

However, I do not believe connecting heaven and earth is something purely human. In fact I believe form is inherent to existence. All beings have form and infinity inside them. We are just perceiving this in our own manner. We are able to be very rational and cool about it. It just is the universe we are a part of, just like any other cat, rat, or oak.

Karen said...

..i think what we have is a limitless imagination that coaxes us to believe we are not this body, not this brain, not our DNA, but in essence a formless being that's temporarily bound to matter. I think that is wrong, and inspite of beautiful musings from greater minds than my own, there's nothing that suggests i'm not right...

Jim said...

this is a very interesting quote "man is not yet a self". In that respect he probably never will be, for he is part of all else. A synthesis is a nice way to describe mankind, and the more we realize this the better it will be for all of us, or should that be - the more I realize this the better it will be for all of me?

Derek said...

I think what we are ("I-am" consciousness) is so purely abstract and experiential that words will come nowhere near describing it. Enlightened masters can often point the way to such consciousness, but we will not not know it, until we experience it for ourselves.

I feel that I've had glimpses, but that's all I can say, I cannot even describe this "being-ness", but those who have had such glimpses will know what I am talking about, but here it is still only talk. If I talk too much about it, I will try and seek it again, but it will elude me, there is no "again", because it is never the same experience twice, but even that is not saying how it is.

It is said it is/was/will be there all the time...

Gerda said...

When used in this way, I don't think that the notion of infinity makes any sense at all (although it has been used in this way by many great philosophers, Kierkeggard and Descartes included). These are the qualms of a math enthusiast, more than anything--I see infinity as a mathematical construct. I think that you could have an infinite amount of matter, space, or time, but I'm not sure what it would even mean for humans to be "part infinite". I mean, in one sense, you could say that we are definitely infinite, insofar as we are composed of a temporally bounded continuum of infinite points in time. This is an unremarkable sort of infinity compared to what you and other philosophers seem to be alluding to however.

Call the seemingly inexhaustible potential of the human spirit and of life itself by another name that has the same connotations of freedom and wonder, but none of the mathematical connotations. It helps me talk about the same thing that you an other philosophers seem to be discussing while simultaneously avoiding hairy philosophical issues about infinities. That word is "boundless". Experience shows us that there is always something fresh for the mind to do, some new place to go, some new dream to chase. I don't know if it's infinite or not, but from our perspective, it is endless.

We will certainly see no end of wonder, and I think that this isn't to far from what is meant when people talk about "infinite nature". From our perspective, there are many things that might as well be infinite, since we will never see an end of it. Interestingly, it is the fact that we are finite that allows some things, which are finite, to appear infinite to us. For the purposes of individual humans, and perhapse for humanity itself, depending on how long we last, days and nights are infinite--they have been occurring since before we were born, and will continue millions of years after we die. From our perspective, the cycle of days might as well be infinite. This is the real miracle--that a finite viewpoint gives meaning to inexhaustible experience.
__________________
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.--Shakespeare

Trevor said...

Here we are, caught between the infinite macro and microcosms. We are finite, but I agree that we are growing into our infinite natures.
I just heard a radio interview with a girl who asked her brother, who had a near death experience, after being declared clinically dead for three minutes, what he experienced "on the other side". For years whenever she had asked him he would not answer, but finally in this taped interview he answered her. He said that he had seen the door to heaven.
She pressed him further about his experience. He then said that he stood in front of God, Who had a white beard and said that he wasn't going to die and that he had to return back to his life. His sister then asked what it felt like, and he exclaimed that it was weird. She continued by asking why it was weird, and he answered that he had been walking throughout the whole experience. For years he had been bound to a wheelchair because he lives with Spina Bifuda.
Call it desire, wishful thinking, or imagination. I call it weirdly wonderful.

Howard said...

An infinite essence bottled in a finite expression, destined to experience the truth of all forms. Continually prodded and nudged into a restless sense movement, forced to evolve by the winds of endless change.

Nathan said...

our infinite nature is where we will one day live experientially

John said...

I think that when we die our brain ceases to exist and with it, our identity as an individual ceases to exist and with that, we merge into the consciousness from which everything is made.

Ulysses said...

As the stars glitter in space individually they are all part of the grand scheme of the cosmos as are dust particles that move about suspended in air, some gather as blankets upon a surface. Such as it is for man, the individual mind moving about freely and sometimes gathering with other minds in unison while at the same time a part of all galactic particles. Man is a self, a self that is a part of a whole. What sets man apart is the faculty of reason, the awareness of being a self and a part of the whole. We are here but we are also there, in the parallel scheme, oft times realized only within our dreams. Even upon physical demise the senses go on to reside within the whole as I've often referred to as the soul, the continuum of self, the self, individually and as part of all things, as Albert would have it, the infinite nature includes the universe. This experience of living is merely tangibility of the self and does not negate the existence of self without physical representation. Such is the way of all things unseen, as the fragmentation of a whole into invisible atoms, the dispersing of the whole structure, still in a sense retaining a quality of the whole. Existence here seems, as Shakespeare relays, fascinating, however man's existence here has great many limitations, for the part has taken a fixed form that is mortal, where as the infinite nature of man has no boundaries, no limitations. Just as atomic particles come together to form a fixed mass that is confined to it's form as a rock or a piece of steel, either of which will erode in time, so has man taken form. Though our nature is a synthesis of the temporal and the eternal, our self in the physical form remains confined and limited.

Maggie said...

Heidegger- synthesized 'being and doing are the same thing' what else is there>?

Don said...

I think we are really smart animals. Really, really smart. We respond to pleasure and pain, punishment and reward much like the beasts but on a higher plane of thought(sometimes). We are infinite because we reproduce. We evolve.

Vamadevananda said...

Being can be without doing. You do nothing while you are deep asleep !

In fact, it is essential that you be not doing anything ( whatsoever -- physical, mental, intellectual, spiritual ) if you are to enter the deep sleep state.

But, doing cannot be without being.

Gabby said...

Being cannot be without doing. What do you think wakes you up the next morning?

Justin said...

One of the things I hear is that we are infinite in the sense that the universe is physically infinite. Whether it is infinite or finite and unbounded is a valid question but I think the infinity that Shakespeare is referring to is not infinite in that sense of the word. It's not infinite in the sense of "big without bound".

The term infinite is a negation but it is a negation of boundaries. The "finis" in the second part of the word is roughly "boundaries". Infinite then becomes without boundaries with the usual meaning a special case. In mathematics the concept of infinity has been separated from the concept of "without boundary" and there are finite and unbounded sets. But here we are speaking in the traditional - pre- topological - sense.

One then learns that the process of establishing boundaries is critical in the experience of experience as a space in which there are things. In fact "raising the object from the background" requires that we establish that part of experience that "is" or at least "is something" from that which "is nothing". The boundary is that surface where being ends and nothing begins (or at least another being). That which is not is space - a complete vacuum. This occurs when one interjects nothingness into ones experience. This is why the vacuum is - exactly - nothing. Even though modern physics has moved beyond these concepts superficially it still maintains them albeit in modified form. After all when we proclaim the presence of the so-called vacuum energy we are distinguishing it from a "true" vacuum in the pre- quantum sense.

The cessation of that interpretation, and the transcendence beyond space (and time) found fleetingly in mystical experience is the foundation of our immortality, our infinity, and our likeness to god. When space and time cease one experiences the truth that the universe is not distinct from us and in fact, in a sense we include it in us as much as it includes us in it, and one experiences god.

Kierkegaard's reference is particularly fascinating. His cataloging of the various modes of despair associated with the various possible relationships of infinity to the finite in us presumes a kind of identity that unifies the infinite and the finite in a sense. As the proverb says: "At first I saw a tree and it was a tree, then I saw a tree and it was the Tao, then I saw the tree and it was a tree." Ultimately, we are who we are with all of the finite limitations of our biology. We are a particular person with particular talents and capabilities. Yet we have this capacity to interpret our life in a sacred and not profane way. Kierkegaard's analysis of despair as sin,especially his analysis of what he calls demonic despair, the despair that is lucid and deliberate is most interesting. It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall of Hitler's mind to see if his "banality" was superficial and to find out whether in fact he was not completely aware but so totally in despair that he deliberately caused such suffering. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that he choose the Jews as the object of his hatred. Perhaps, at root it was hatred of god. Perhaps he wanted to be chosen and felt he was not. His relative asceticism, as compared to the orgy of indulgence in some of his supporters, seems to indicate that his soul was aware at some level. Ultimately it is not for us to judge but it would be interesting to know. It would have been equally interesting to be in Martin Luther King's mind when he went through his own motel-room Gethsemane. I wonder how he overcame his own despair and went on living the life he did when he could have just quit and had fun with the women around him instead of accepting the bullet.

So I think this issue is at heart the issue of an interpretation of our experience and when the ratio of those who have been enlightened to those who have not becomes high enough (if it ever does) perhaps we will then be able to face the real questions and not waste time quibbling over fundamentalist interpretations.

The real issue is not which fundamentalist interpretation is correct but whether the alternative to them is viable.

Chris said...

Wow!
Nice to see you again, Justin.

This is a particularly interesting point:

"The real issue is not which fundamentalist interpretation is correct but whether the alternative to them is viable."

What do you mean by viable? I'm wondering, because I see no problem whatsoever with throwing out all fundamentalist interpretations with a healthy exhalation, and living my life completely free of them. This seems perfectly viable to me.

Vamadevananda said...

One may take note of the occasion when one doesn't wake up, ever !

Maggie said...

"i saw a leaf floating on the water. it traveled softly down the current, stopping now and then, but continuing. the leaf floated until it was swallowed by the water and then another leaf floated by" it is finite physically and infinite universal motion. i want to concentrate on that one thought so that i don't get caught up worrying about the 'small stops'. it takes a lot of my energy to stay focused. i wish it were easier.

Richard said...

As Hamlet says, "I could be bounded in a nutshell/And count myself a king of infinite space." Although we are limited by our physical nature and the intellectual tools available to us at any time, our ability to explore with the tools available to us is not limited, nor is our ability to forge new tools for more powerful explorations.

Francis said...

We do not necessarily have to see the terms "limited" and "infinite" as mutually exclusive. Fractals are a good example; the Mandelbrot set is a good starting point(s!)

Justin said...

I guess ultimately what I mean by viable is "is true". I am concerned about some issues that have to due with questioning and answers and the effect of answers on questioning. Often "the alternative to fundamentalism" is expressed as an answer. I think that its not so simple. Why is it that one who experiences real enlightenment does not stay in that blessed state, or stay aware of it in the same way (because in fact we are always "in" it in a sense), even though the memory of it remains and determines ones world view? Yes I know that only recognition separates me from the truth... perhaps the answer is the foundation of ethics and what is needed most is courage. But intellectually I have trouble reconciling the notion of a truth that takes more than just knowing in a purely intellectual sense to realize. I have questions about the meaning of knowing in relation to these matters and more importantly I am afraid that I see that the process of asking and answering questions which is the foundation of philosophy itself, may be inadequate to the task. I am concerned that "Just In Truth" may be a distortion... that the "Just" is an unwelcome limitation or rather a limitation that prevents the "In Truth". Perhaps I need to change my name to "Hello" or something like that. The debates of Greece lack something.

I recently attempted to set up a kind of secular monastery. A place for Being. I had visions of those around me working together and being able to be alone when they felt the need to withdraw. Not a somber place but one full of art and culture. I envisioned beautiful private spaces where you could withdraw to be completely alone and public communal spaces that you could go to to be with those you love. Lots of gardens. I even bought a sizable piece of land to begin on. It was not a public thing. I wanted my friends to all be able to live together. What happened was the whole thing became a kind of clash of limitations. The finite aspects of everyone ... it was as if when confronted with each other we find we can't stand each other. Love is not transitive nor is it reflexive. Each wants to determine the other in order to determine his or her own self and their ideas conflict. I could not communicate well enough or maybe the whole thing was just my idea and not what others wanted. Why is it that we separate everyone into those with whom we wish to associate and those with whom we will refuse to have anything to do with? Why is this pecking order thing so big? Our finite beings can be either "pretty" or "pretty ugly" and when we get into a room there is such an arranging of everyone into those that are "in" and those that are "out". I have been so attracted lately to the ugly, old and infirm and so turned off by the beautiful lately. Where does that come from? God I sound like a whining teenager! Communal living can be successful but only certain forms have worked and even those, even in the monasteries there is trouble. Some day maybe we will understand better. I actually think that neurology may in the end help us understand although the path is so dangerous.

It seems that one of the things we do a lot of here is to "exchange opinions" - not just in this news group but in our whole culture. I wish I had a culture in which I could do more that that with people. We are all such porcupines but this pursuit of the truth in the philosophical sense ultimately needs to be.... augmented? is that the word? I read my own words and have a problem with them: "We have so little of the truth out now. How can you ask for less?"

The problem is that being and meaning and action and knowing all are beginning to loose their boundaries for me. I am tired of being Justintruth. I guess for me I see a kind of limitation to pure knowing. A lack of finitude and too much infinitude as Kierkegaard calls it. I bet I could find my form of despair in his book!

Oh well! As the Brits say... "Chin up!"... and as Galileo is reported to have said: "Yes!...but the world still whirls!" Form me the cure will almost certainly be agriculture.

Anyway...that's roughly what I meant by viability.

I am glad that you "... see no problem whatsoever with throwing out all fundamentalist interpretations with a healthy exhalation, and living (your) life completely free of them." It seems like the right thing to me.

Vamadevananda said...

It is my first, but I couldn't help rating this post 5 - star ! Thank you, Justin.

Don said...

Too much knowledge is a burden. We're all still paying for Eve's sin(what a wonderful allegory original sin is).

I have experienced many of the social problems you mention. As you say, most could be due to lack of communication but probably more because they just don't feel like you do. Which makes you unique; just like the rest of us. You are not alone.

Dude, you think too much.

Take a night sail if weather permits and if not; get a massage and shut your cranium off for an hour. Your starting to sound like one of those people in Hellraiser searching for........whatever.

Stay away from Chinese puzzle boxes.

Ulysses said...

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Molly Brogan said...

I can feel with you on this Justin, and wish that I could have taken part in your place of being. I have facilitated a great many groups over the years in myriad processes. I have a real love for group work and always come away (exhausted and) full of insight into myself and human nature. Whether the group is together for a few hours or weeks, there is a process that is always the same for it that includes coming together, deconstructing, and coming back together. During the deconstructing, we do tend to create our own categories and alliances. If instead, the facilitator can maintain cohesion, the coming back together can be quite inspiring.

The most recent group that I facilitated included a guy that was in charge of the telecommunications equipment in the Houston Astrodome while it was used as an emergency shelter during Hurricane Katrina. The strategic planning session was held shortly after the experience too. During the coming together phase of the group, he mentioned several times that the experience changed his life. During the deconstruction phase, I was trying some new things with the group based on James Redfield's Celestine Vision group energy ideas. I presented a short ditty on deconstruction as a natural part of group process, and consciously redirected and regrouped members so as to facilitate more trust, greater comfort zones and keep that Redfield flow of energy going. My friend from Houston, in the height of the deconstruction phase, began personally deconstructing to the point that he sat, eyes fixed, continually talking softly in an incomprehensible monologue. I kept the group going in the strategic planning and witnessed several members physically move closer to him, as if it would help them hold the space for him better. When he was finished, I suggested a short break and when we came back together, a team building exercise designed to relieve stress and inspire laughter. Afterward, the group rearranged itself in a way that broke up alliances, and paired folks with people they had appeared to be quite annoyed with before.

You see, the foundation had been set for deep shadow work to be accepted. Everyone's comfort zone had been increased to include what previously made them uncomfortable. It was safe to work these feelings and personal ideas out within this group now.

I haven't ever had anything like that happen before to a member in a group. This guy opened the flood gate to his trauma and let it flow out like a dream, and we held the space for it. I can say that this group, at the end, had one or two hold outs for that group cohesion. These guys came into the group holding tight to their own resistance to the work and the process. They left the same way. I suppose, there is a part of me that often does this too, as I walk through life.

The longer I live, the more I understand that we don't need a monastery to explore our being, because we ourselves take our shadow everywhere we go. We can walk out the door and explore it with those we encounter just as well if not better than a collection of folks we admire. I have to say, I would prefer communing with this group than the group at the bus stop in Detroit's inner city. But I think the opportunity for the group comes up based on the possibility of becoming, and leads us to our own infinite nature if we do not resist. What parts of us are finite and which infinite can be presented in a clash of light and shadow, or in the whisper of the cool wind on our face. Recognition tells us which is which.

Francis said...

I have to disagree with you here, Don. I don't like the concept of original sin, never did, even during the decade I spent as a member of the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church (much of that time spent studying theology).

While I have great respect for myths, and the manifold underlying truths contained in many of them, the Eden myth has many negative aspects. God creates humanity free, with curiosity and a thirst for knowledge and then arbitrarily, without explanation, places a "Verbot." In fact, the story has many parallels to the Pandora myth, which pans out basically the same way. There is no way a human can resist the challenge to taste the fruit (especially as it grows on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) and remain (or be) human. The outcome is inevitable. The conclusion is to regard our freedom and thirst for knowledge as a basic flaw - yet it is integral to our nature. Thus original sin, our very nature leads to the destruction of the golden age. Yet the alternative is to be less than human - innocent lotus-eaters. No thanks.

Then, of course, there is the whole mysogenistic aspect. It is, of course, the irresponsibly curious woman who allows herself to be misled into tasting the fruit (the Pandora story follows the same plot). The only redeeming aspect of the Yahwist/Genesis story is the depiction of the typical male reaction, passing the buck onto everyone else available; "It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it" (Gen 3:12).

All in all, the myth is the product of a settled, patriarchal, conservative world-view, giving a warning against independence, free- thinking, innovation and perfidious women. And that's even before Paul and Augustine got hold of the story and perverted it even farther, to the extent that Augustine even defined sexual pleasure (concupiscence) as the mechanism by which this "original" sin is passed on. With all the connotations of women continually tempting upright men to sin by means of their sexual allure. The end result, in another Abrahamic religion, leads through hajib to the burqa, among other things.

I can appreciate Justin's frustration. One might even describe it as a satorial hangover (and I'm not referring to his dress style :-))! We remain human, even after experiencing "spiritual(?)" states. This is especially true, in my experience, of monastic communities. Despite the (mostly) high ideals of their members, they are microcosms of life in general - indeed, particular conflicts and feelings are often reinforced by monastic structures. I suspect, Justin, that a possible answer to your present mood might be; breathe in, breathe out.

Don said...

As with many myths, Original Sin deals with common human behavior and the consequences of defiance. Perseus comes to mind. I like it. The misogynistic side I can ignore easily. It's not so much Woman that is to blame but Man's willingness to defy God. Adam wants to know what that apple tastes like just as much as Eve does. You totally nail all the aspects of the story. I see the same things you do. God isn't fair. Neither is life. I see it more as a coming of age story with the unknown responsibilities that come with adulthood being thrust on naive children. I see the dangers of experimentation and defiance and I see the rewards. Apples are tasty.

Beats the heck outta what happened to Job. Now THAT's a cruel God.

Neil said...

People generally operate on principles of myth. The original sin is teaching our children what we have never really understood as though we know which from witch. There is a madness we don't recognise amongst us and much more hostility than we dare reveal. I despair of this. I can join academic sects that claim to understand, but essentially life goes on in nasty, brutish ways.

Edwin said...

Simplistically because I am a simple man, I rely on and believe in the natural laws of matter and energy. More specifically that they can neither be created nor destroyed. They can only change form. This strongly implies infinity and eternity and it's what I believe will carry us forward, not only in this physical universe but after our 'death' as well. It may be that that is what life does ... it bestows a unique identity to a certain quantum of matter and energy and perhaps that uniqueness carries forward in time and space and whatever else there may be ad infinitum ad nauseaum.

Neil said...

I stick with Russell that sense quali are strangely some combination of physical and mental, and with Whitehead that the bifurcation of nature is some kind of mistake. The reality hypothesis seems to work rather better than believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden and I ascribe hope to there being more to vastness than being barred from it forever by the speed of light. I suspect many of our problems with thought stem from the realisation we have been fed dross from birth and cannot work out just how much of our thinking is thus constrained.

Edwin said...

I think that vastness you speak of is definitely there. We may have measured the speed of light accurately but I don't think we've even come close to measuring the speed of thought which may just exceed the speed of light and approach infinity.

Have you ever read Orson Scott Card's "Ender" quartet? He introduces some very thought = provoking concepts in that series of science fiction novels. Ender's Game, Speaker = for the Dead, Xenocide and = Children of The Mind. I highly recommend them for anyone interested in exceeding the speed of light ... (watch for the ansible network).

Molly Brogan said...

Sci Fi has always seemed to point us to what is possible - like any other great writing. I do, agree, Neil, that somewhere along the line many of us have that "wait, what?" moment where we begin to question more deeply and sift out the dross. A fascinating process, really, and one that allows us to eventually include our finite and infinite natures if we can trust ourselves in the process.

Vamadevananda said...

What, in your experience, is our / your infinite nature, Molly ?

I have a feeling we are using the term " infinite " too glibly. Since you have quoted Swami Vivekananda before, I would like to point to his reasoning where he concludes that there can be only ONE infinite. The presence, the mere thought, of another, an other, would render it finite.

What is your experience of that ONE, Molly ?

Molly Brogan said...

My experience is that I am all others, which would bring the finite back to the infinite. My feeling is that I am (and we are) both in all time and within this ultimate paradox lies the stillness - no more questions or answers. But then again, what would we talk about? - so the exploration there and back again is sublime.

Gabby said...

What I criticise about your description of your relation towards others is the fact that it finishes at a model stage only to spiral up to the next relational experience. What you describe as perceived stillness within a process is what I make out to be your echo returning to you at the time you keep on saying the same thing over and over again. Same goes for Vam. )))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

Molly Brogan said...

How wonderful. The sound of the Logos. I hear you (hear you, hear you.)

Molly Brogan said...

I wanted to get back to your thought on this, Justin:

"Why is it that we separate everyone into those with whom we wish to associate and those with whom we will refuse to have anything to do with? Why is this pecking order thing so big? Our finite beings can be either "pretty" or "pretty ugly" and when we get into a room there is
such an arranging of everyone into those that are "in" and those that are "out". I have been so attracted lately to the ugly, old and infirm and so turned off by the beautiful lately. Where does that come from?"

I think here, you are still working your way toward the infinite, through the finite. I thought it was interesting that when you set up your place of being, you included so many aspects of the beautiful that I could see the beauty there reading your description. Yet, surrounded by beauty, up came the ugly. And now, turned off by beauty and attracted to ugly, you are hearing the same calling of the infinite. Because, I think, it is the charge we have on what is beautiful or ugly that restricts us to the finite and separates one from the other. That charge that tells us that our own shadow nature is drawing us into a transcendent experience so that we can include more of our infinite nature into our everyday living. Somewhere along the line, as we recognize ourselves in both the beautiful and ugly, it all becomes something more (yet the artists continue to call it beauty) and we can connect our individuality with that beauty in all of life.

Kat said...

Interesting proposition and well supported. However, I think once we die we turn to dirt. We are food for worms and our bodies decompose to the earth to enrich it. Unless we lived badly. Then we pollute.

Count Sneaky said...

May I, in the spirit of inquiry, ask all of you
to lay down your concepts, lay down the words of others, living and dead, lay down the burden of these selves you have created, lay down your books, lay down your fears, your mean hopes and vain ambitions and let what remains
speak! Count Sneaky