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On the Eternity of the Mind and the Multiverse: 20 watts

There has been lingering dissatisfaction with Spinoza claim that some part of the mind is eternal and does not die, a diagnosis of his:

EV29 – The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but there remains of it something which is eternal.

Robert Lanza has a mediation on death and the illusions of time which perhaps helps position Spinoza’s claim, Does Death Exist? New Theory Says ‘No’. I’m not one for the New Age end of this nor loose appropriations of quantum physics, but the general scope of this kind of theorized eternity, combined with my own interpretation of Spinoza’s take of “mind” as information and organization fit well together (here on information and Spinoza: Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe). Einstein is invoked by Lanza, and of course Einstein was to some degree influenced by Spinoza:

Death does not exist in a timeless, spaceless world. In the end, even Einstein admitted, “Now Besso” (an old friend) “has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us…know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Immortality doesn’t mean a perpetual existence in time without end, but rather resides outside of time altogether.

I’ve discussed Spinoza’s thinking on the immortality of the Mind before: Spinoza, On The Immortality of the Soul, I think you can see the homology between Spinoza’s thinking and Lanza’s quantum depiction. At the very least we can see what Spinoza means, even if it is not granted.


Pythagorian Spinoza?

Leibniz’s Summation

Of some significance, here I post a summation of Spinoza’s philosophy, as passed through the mouth of a loyal friend, Tschirnhaus, and as relayed to Leibniz in 1675, originally published in English by Wim Klever. It draws out some curious Klever might say esoteric aspects of Spinoza’s thinking. Most distinct about it is the notion that Spinoza held a Pythagorian idea of a transmigration of the Mind. Besides the obvious distortions that can be brought about through one man telling another man what someone else believes, there remains the possibility that the account is somehow intentionally colored in details, either to couch Spinoza, or to put him in a personally favorable light:

As Klever relates:

“In spite of Spinoza’s warning that Tschirnhaus should be reluctant in communicating what he had received for private use, we know that Tschirnhaus nonetheless revealed many secrets to the inquisitive Leibniz. This appears from a note written by Leibniz which he must have made shortly after a meeting. I think it worthwhile to quote this note here in full because it enables us to see how Spinoza’s doctrine was perceived, understood, and explained by his friends and followers in or around 1675. A second reason is that this note which is not known by many scholars and iis not yet available otherwise in English contains several interesting points which cannot be found elsewhere and is also for that reason relevant:

Sir Tischirnhaus told me many things about the handwritten book of Spinoza. There is a merchant in Amsterdam, called Gerrit Gilles [Jarig Jelles] I think who supports Spinoza. Spinoza’s book will be about God, mind, happiness or the idea of the perfect man, the recovery of the mind and the recovery of the body. He asserts the demonstration of a number of things about God. The he alone is free. He supposes that freedom exists when the action or determination originates not from an external impact, but only from the nature of the actor. In this sense he justly ascribes freedom to God alone.

According to him the mind itself is in a certain sense a part of God. He thinks that there is a sense in all things to the degrees of their existence. God is defined by him as an absolutely infinite Being, which contains all perfections, i.e. affirmations or realities or what may be conceived. Likewise only God would be substance or a Being which exists in itself, or which can be understood by itself; all creatures are nothing else other than modes. Man is free insofar as he is not determined by any external things. But because this is never the case, man is not free at all, though he participates more in freedom than the bodies.

The mind would be nothing but the idea of the body. He thinks that the unity of the bodies is caused by a certain pressure. Most people’s philosophy starts with creatures, Des Cartes started with the mind, he [Spinoza] starts with God. Extension does not imply divisibility as was unduly supposed by Descartes; although he supposed to see this also clearly, he fell into the error that the mind acts on the body or is acted upon by the body.

He thinks that we will forget most things when we die and retain only those things that we know with the kind of knowledge that he calls intuitive, of which of which only a few are conscious. Because knowledge is either sensual, imaginative, or intuitive. He believes a sort of Pythagorical transmigration, namely that the mind goes from body to body. He says that Christ is the very best philosopher. He thinks that apart from thought and extension there are an infinity of other positive attributes, but that in all of them there is thought like here in extension. How they are constituted cannot be conceived by us but every one is infinite like space here (“Spinoza’s life and works” Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, 46-47)


I posted below some rough thoughts I had some time ago, and their related Spinoza texts. Klever’s evidence of a kind of at least percieved Pythagorian transmigration adds an esoteric meaning to Spinoza’s mathematization. And while I cannot conceive how such a transformation could be understood within the propositions of the Ethics [on what account is the preservation of identity maintained], it does give conceptual context for some of the more difficult to interpret passages on this issue.

Notable as well is the summation’s deviation from Spinoza’s theory of the three knowledges as found in the Ethics. Here, the trinity of “imaginary, rational, intuitive” has become “sensual, imaginary, intuitive”. Assuming an accurate translation of the passage, this may give some clue to the differences of Spinoza’s treatment of the Imaginary and Order (spoken about here, in Spinoza’s Two Concepts of Order). Professor Della Rocca in correspondence had affirmed his belief that Spinoza is somewhat inconsistent in his treatment of “order” in the various parts of the Ethics. What is suggested by the Leibniz summation, perhaps, is that even the rational, propositional conception of true and free in Spinoza is still imaginary; this may be linked to Spinoza’s variation on whether we can or cannot ever have wholly Adequate Ideas.

Spinoza, On The Immortality of the Soul

Controversially, the question of the immortality of the soul/mind arises in Spinoza’s writings, and with it the definition of personal identity. At one point he takes up thoughts about a poet who has, in an Altzheimer’s way, has lost contact with his person. In what sense is the poet still himself? To answer this, Spinoza argues for the existent essence of non-existent modes, a position which Deleuze sums as such:

“A mode’s essence is not a logical possibility, nor a mathematical structure, nor a metaphysical entity, but a physical reality, a res physica. Spinoza means that the essence, qua essence, as an existence. A modal essence has an existence distinct from that of the corresponding mode.” Expression in Philosophy (192)

Despite Deleuze’s assurance that this reality is not mathematical, Spinoza does take recourse to mathematical analogy to make clear his meaning, for instance (cited below), the existence of essence of an infinity of equal rectangles within the essence of a circle (Theorem 35, Euclid) which exist even if only one or even none exist modally.


So the essence of a mind is said to exist within the mind of God, eternally, despite its own limited duration. What this does is give the human mind a kind of eternity, an existence outside of the brief flicker of expression, but what this also does is place that eternal existence in relation to all other essences, of all other things, animate and inanimate, which are also produced by God/Nature. The human mind is eternal in essence as all other things are eternal in essence. But further, (as is shown in the note to EIV39 below), identity itself, our preservation of ourselves as ourselves in duration, is also not guaranteed, and is in fact likely an illusion of perspective. Just as his Spanish poet has died to himself, despite the continuity of his body, unable to recognize even his own writings, we too would only be an infinite series of eternal essences – slight modifications of a rectangle within its circle – defined only by our momentary consonance of parts – both ideational and extended. It is not so much that Spinoza has awarded undue eternity to the human mind, but rather has radically (categorically) undermined the basis upon which the human mind privileges itself to be unique among things in this world, given eternal life, but a life fused with all other things, capable as alien to its own “past” as akin to another thing. I list below relevant passages and definitions to this thinking:

EV29- The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but there remains of it something which is eternal.

(Proof) There is necessarily in God a concept or idea which expresses the essence of the human body, which, therefore is necessarily something appertaining to the essence of the human mind. But we have not assigned to the human mind any duration, definable by time, except insofar as it expresses the actual existence of the body, which is explained through duration, and may be defined by time – that is we do not assign to it duration, except while the body endures. Yet there is something, notwithstanding, which is conceived by a certain eternal necessity through the very essence of God; this something, which appertains to the essence of the mind, will necessarily be eternal.

EIV39note – …But here it should be noted that I understand the Body to die when its parts are so disposed that they acquire a different ratio of motion and rest to one another. For I dare not deny that – even though the circulation of the blood is maintained, as well as the other [signs] on account of which the Body is thought to be alive – the human Body can nevertheless be changed into another nature completely different from its own. For no reason forces me to think that the Body does not die unless it is changed into a corpse. And, indeed, experience seems to urge the opposite conclusion. Sometimes a man undergoes such changes that I should hardly believe that he was the same man. For example, I have heard tell of a Spanish poet who was struck by an illness; though he recovered, he remained so oblivious to his past life that he did not believe the tales and tragedies he had written were his own. He might have been taken for a grown-up infant had he also forgotten his native tongue.

EIp8 – By eternity, I mean existence itself, insofar as it is conceived necessarily to follow solely from the definition of that which is eternal. (Explanation) – Existence of this kind is conceived as an eternal truth, like the essence of a thing, and, therefore, cannot be explained by means of continuance or time, though continuance may be conceived without a beginning or end.

EIp24- The essence of things produced by God does not involve existence. (Corollary)… God must be the sole cause, inasmuch as to him alone existence appertain.

EIp25 – God is the efficient cause not only of the existence of things, but also of their essence.

EIIp8 – The ideas of particular things, or of modes, that do not exist, must be comprehended in the infinite idea of God, in the same way as the formal essences of particular things or modes are contained in the attributes of God. Note – If anyone desires an example to throw more light on this question, I shall, I fear, not be able to give him any, which adequately explains the thing of which I here speak, inasmuch as it is unique; however, I will endeavour to illustrate it as far as possible. The nature of a circle is such that if any number of straight lines intersect within it, the rectangles formed by their segments will be equal to one another; thus, infinite equal rectangles are contained in a circle. Yet none of these rectangles can be said to exist, except in so far as the circle exists; nor can the idea of any of these rectangles be said to exist, except in so far as they are comprehended in the idea of the circle. Let us grant that, from this infinite number of rectangles, two only exist. The ideas of these two not only exist, in so far as they are contained in the idea of the circle, but also as they involve the existence of those rectangles; wherefore they are distinguished from the remaining ideas of the remaining rectangles.

John Donne’s Material Monism of Love, and Spinoza’s Eternity of the Mind

John Donne’s “Valediction Forbidding Mourning” articulates a metaphysics which makes of a death an anchor point, upon which a living being can compass itself, creating a death-defying eternity of affection. He speaks in seemingly dualist terms of a sublunary love “whose soul is sense” contrasted with a love “inter-assurèd of the mind”. In this he seems to compose a rarification of affects such that when stretched materially, thinly enough, become etherialized, though substantial:

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
-Whose soul is sense- cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

But here is a certain monist clue in the description of sublunary love. The love whose soul is sense “cannot admit of absence”, since the very elements of its composition, if absent, destroy the very love which might do such perceiving. Much as in Spinoza, the idea cannot be torn completely away from its object (knowledge is merely a privation, and there is nothing positive in knowing, which is false). In just a few lines Donne sums up a physicalist argument of a sort, the very recognition of absence is itself the testament of the physical preservation of that love’s elements. In a certain sense, there can be no such missing (or missing is merely a misconception, as Spinoza puts it, it has no Being). The elements which preserve a state prove to its perseverance. Instead Donne proposes an “inter-assured” love of the mind, a presencing in which any separation is necessarily an expansion, and not “a breach”. The transformation of “breach” into expansion is the view of a monist assemblage, and not of a dualism; “mind” is still composed. Despite the abstraction of such a love, its spiritualization (compared to gold beat thin) by the same reasoning of compositional elements, is a material endurance, made clear by mind.


Though the love after death is not of “eyes, lips and hands”, it seems it must still be physical (just as beat gold is still gold, just as the mind has the body for its object), made of the elements of which it is an expression. In fact, instead of anatomical body parts, it is made now in part by text, in part by bodily afffections, and the relational compositions which preserve. Donne here, in the compassry of two legs, the geometry of a circle, makes an argument against Time (as breach), as the material going out is subsumed in a deeper circle. Like Spinoza he proposes a world where absence has no basis, sub specie aeternitatis, which is experienced through memory, trace, but also the material expansion of those traces in Time, as understanding.

Place Donne’s notion along side what some have taken to be controversial and inconsistent, declaration of the eternity of the Mind:

5p23: The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the Body, but something of it remains which is eternal.

Scholia: There is, as we have said, this idea, which expresses the essence of the Body under a species of eternity, a certain mode of thinking, which pertains to the essence of the Mind, and which is necessarily eternal. And though it is impossible that we should recollect that we existed before the existence of the Body-since there cannot be any traces of this in the body, and eternity can neither be defined by time nor have any relation to time-still, we feel and know by experience that we are eternal. For the Mind feels [sentit, senses] those things that it conceives in understanding no less than those it has in the memory. For the eyes of the Mind, by which it sees and observes things, are the demonstrations themselves.

Whereas Spinoza wants to make a distinction between memory trace, and “the eyes of the Mind,” Donne’s point seems a bit more refined, as he speaks of the experience of circular and timeless inscription, as compositional trace, the way that when one “foot” stops moving in time, the physicality that binds foot to foot moves it still, drawing it out, as it stretches so thin as to reveal a tremendous arc, the experience of ending where one has begun. There no absolute dichotomy of existence and Mind, memory and mental seeing. I believe that Donne captures something of Spinoza’s argument, that Spinoza himself is not here capable of.

To add to this account see Spinoza’s Letter 17 to Peter Balling (July 20, 1664):

…a father so loves his son that he and his beloved are, as it were, one and the same. According to what I have demonstrated on another occasion, there must be in thought an idea of the son’s essence, its affections, and its consequences. Because of this, the father, by the union he has with his son, is a part of the said son, the father’s soul must necessarily participate in the son’s ideal essence, its affections, and consequences…


Closely Related Post: Anselm’s Proof of God, Wittgenstein’s Lion, Davidson’s Belief