The Infinite and the Eternal:

A Further Examination of Paradox THE VOICE September 4, 2002

If we turn our thoughts to Ultimate Reality, then we find ourselves considering that which generates and maintains the universe. From a theological perspective we make an immediate connection between this Reality and the divine. As we established in “Alpha-Naught” last week, the divine fits a logical contradiction which we denoted as A & ~A. As this formula captures the paradoxical notion of an immanent and transcendent divinity, we will now examine an instantiation caused by descriptions of Ultimate Reality which are both infinite and eternal. In this analysis we will focus on the relation between the transcendent ~A and the eternal, and then, we will recognize the contradiction between the eternal and the infinite.

We will begin with the definition of eternal as that which is timeless and unchanging. We see that this includes all time in the sense that for something to be eternal it must persist through the entire duration of our universe (from beginning to end)”?entirely unaffected by the process of the birth and death of everything. In the Tao we find that there is an unchanging thing that, “:appears to exist forever” (48). [1] This thing is “undifferentiated:[and] existed before heaven and earth” (49). Thus, we see that what Lao-Tzu calls, “Tao” (even though he does not know its actual name), fits our definition of the eternal. However, at the very beginning of the text he tells us that, “The name that can be named is not the eternal name” (47). The reason that we cannot speak of the eternal Tao is connected to the fact that what we seek to communicate is unknowable. Soren Kierkegaard recognizes that it is the unknown which defines the limits of our reason (32). [2] Thus, we can clearly see that what we cannot reason about, we cannot give a name to. That is, if we are unable to think about this unknowable thing, then we recognize that the name we give it actually refers to the limits of our reason, and not the thing itself. Therefore, it is reasonable for Kierkegaard to suggest that, from a Western perspective, many of us call this unknown thing “God” (29). In other words, like Lao-Tzu’s “Tao,” “God” is the name that we give the unknown, but this name does not actually refer to this eternal thing at all.

However, there are ways we can attempt to understand this unknowable thing. Using Moses Maimonides’ process of negation we can get at the correct description of God (14). [3] He tells us that God “:is above every attributive qualification” (13), and if we push this to its logical conclusion, then we arrive at a transcendent divinity. For, if this eternally unknowable thing were immanent (in the world), then we would be able to attribute qualities to it, and thus, we could have knowledge of it. However, as we have seen, this thing has no knowable qualities: we have to negate all possible qualities to get at it, and all possible qualities are derived from this world. In other words, even if we knew everything about our world (both of the universe and of our psyche) we can be assured that it is not God. Therefore, we must be trying to get at that which transcends the world. As Kierkegaard tells us, what we are after, “:is the different, the absolutely different” (32).

From the above we can see that Lao-Tzu is correct in saying that “Tao is empty” (48). If the eternally transcendent is unlike anything that we could ever conceive of with our minds or find in the depths of our universe, then, relative to this universe, we see that what is eternal is absolutely empty: it is nothingness. Thus, in a technical sense akin to our use of ~A, we can use the notion of the empty set, denoted O, to think of that which is eternal and transcendent. We are now in a position to see how the eternal contradicts the infinite, and this will show us how Ultimate Reality fits our formulation of paradox.

In contrast to O, an infinite set must contain an unending series of unique elements, where each element is differentiable from all the others. In other words, an infinity is far from the nothingness of the transcendent: the infinite is boundless with an inconceivably large plurality of being. Such a plurality can only be defined by reference to things in the universe (be these things mental or physical phenomena). Thus, we find an obvious contradiction between that which is eternal and that which is infinite, and so, the infinite in conjunction with the eternal precisely fits our A & ~A formulation.

Through a synthesis of three separate views we have come to see that all three thinkers are after an understanding of Ultimate Reality. In all three articles we find that there is a connection between an eternal and transcendent divinity, and we have seen that this idea of eternity contradicts the idea of an infinity. Lao-Tzu asserts that the Tao is, “Infinite and boundless” (48); thus, we see that Ultimate Reality also has an infinite aspect which we have only briefly touched upon in this paper. It is likely that there is a case to be made for the identity of the infinite with the immanent, but such an examination must be reserved for another time.

[1] References to Lao-Tzu are from “Philosophy of Religion,” compiled by Gary E. Kessler. Printed in 1999 by the Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, CA.
[2] References to Soren Kierkegaard are from, “The Absolute Paradox,” in the reading package prepared by B. Moran for Philosophy 331, University of Calgary, Spring 2001. Printed by the University of Calgary Bookstore and Printing Services, 2001.
[3]The References to Moses Maimonides are from, “Negative Theology,” found in the same reading package mentioned above.

b.e. hydomako is not sure whether his parents were human, and sometimes feels that the sun and the moon are his father and mother respectively (or vice-versa). He doesn’t have a belly button, and the operation to remove the alien implants is forthcoming. Sometimes he thinks that the world is a projection of some malfunctioning machine.