I have been pondering a question in my head. If Space and Time are infinite, then does that mean that Nietzsche's Eternal Return theory is true in the way that my life would recur, that when 'I' ('I' being the obvious fact that for me I see the world in first-person) die, 'I' will immediately be alive again?

For example, if the universe and/or time is infinite, then there would be exact copies of earth, histories, and therefore me an infinite number of times.

The question is would I be experiencing the world as those copies in the same way as I am experiencing the world as this version of me (and if the universe and/or time is infinite, then this me could be one of several copies)? Basically if the me experiencing the world in the first-person view is made of physical matter, how would a replica of me with the same properties that I have with my first-person existence not be a new person? Basically imagine that we brought in a future replica of me with the exact same properties into the room while I am still alive, would the replica of me see through my eyes and would I see through the eyes of the replica? Wouldn't this replica be just like other people? (Other people obviously cannot see through the eyes of each other) and therefore a new individual and not 'me'?

Therefore how would Space and/or Time make Nietzsche's Eternal Return theory true?


3 Answers 3


The eternal return not only requires infinite time but also a finite number of configurations that can take place during that infinite time. Wikipedia points this out by referencing Walter Kaufmann's quote of Heinrich Heine's earlier idea:

Walter Kaufmann suggests that Nietzsche may have encountered this idea in the works of Heinrich Heine, who once wrote:

[T]ime is infinite, but the things in time, the concrete bodies, are finite. They may indeed disperse into the smallest particles; but these particles, the atoms, have their determinate numbers, and the numbers of the configurations which, all of themselves, are formed out of them is also determinate. Now, however long a time may pass, according to the eternal laws governing the combinations of this eternal play of repetition, all configurations which have previously existed on this earth must yet meet, attract, repulse, kiss, and corrupt each other again...[ Kaufmann, Walter. Nietzsche; Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. 1959, page 376] [my emphasis]

One way around an eternal return is to imagine the possibility of an infinite number of these configurations so that they are not determinate.

Consider the question:

Therefore how would Space and/or Time make Nietzsche's Eternal Return theory true?

By itself, space and/or time would not make Nietzsche's Eternal Return true. One also needs a finite (determinate) number of possible configurations of concrete bodies.

The question in the title asks

wouldn't we still be gone after we die?

When we die we could be thought of as being outside space and/or time. The eternal return doesn't address what happens to reality outside of space and time.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, April 16). Eternal return. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:54, May 8, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Eternal_return&oldid=892764595


Part of the question is about personal identity but I will focus here on physical recurrence.

I can think of an obvious counterexample to this idea: imagine space and time are infinite, except that nothing really happens outside of a finite region. Then there's no return. However what you say would be true under certain conditions, assuming that your first person experience supervenes on physical facts. This is related to Poincaré's recurrence theorem https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poincar%C3%A9_recurrence_theorem However this recurrence only occurs with the laws of classical physics for closed systems, which means that time must be infinite but not space.

Also related: Boltzman's brains: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain

  • If my first person experience is from physical facts, how could it be replicated in a way that it won't be a new person but me in infinite space and time?
    – user202315
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 12:06
  • @user202315 well if it's the same physical facts it's the same experience. I thought your question was along these lines. Now if your question is about identity and stuff it's much more metaphysical and there are many different possible answers. Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 12:16
  • Maybe you should clarify the question Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 12:17
  • I clarified it.
    – user202315
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 12:30
  • Ok I don't have any answer to your new question. It's about personal identity/philosophy of mind, a subject I'm less familiar with. Maybe I'll remove my answer. Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 12:39

Exactly. It wouldn't make it true. The only way the 'other you' s would relate would be in terms of how your correct understandings of them affect your behaviour now. Your understanding of you possible futures affect your choices.

Nietzsche explicitly stated eternal recurrance as a thought experiment, not a proposal of literal truth.

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