Is it possible to comprehend eternity? I was thinking about this today and I realized that I cant comprehend eternity or forever. One friend told me to look at it like this: Take a normal small ball bering, now take one the size of the earth. Then have a small ordinary moth, and once a year this moth comes by the ball bering and brushes its wing against it, then flies away until next year. The next year it does the same, and the next. Now when that moth has worn that bering down to nothing eternity hasnt started yet. I was thinking about it and I cant do it. Maybe its because of my age being rather young and time seems to go on pretty slow at times. Im not sure. Am I alone here in not being able to comprehend it or is it impossible to comprehend?

Actually, I don’t think you’re alone on this. Eternity, by definition means forever, without end or beginning. That’s a concept which the human mind can grasp in terms of the definition, but can’t “visualize” if you like. In much the same way I don’t think we can’t visualize oblivion and if you ask somebody to try what they will actually imagine is being conscious of a void. Oblivion means absence of consciousness and therefore no awareness. Since we can’t imagine our own nonexistence I believe that’s a big part of the reason people believe in an afterlife.

Nomadic_One, I seem to remember you telling me that you weren’t coming back to the SDMB, because you thought it was “boring.”

I can’t wrap my mind around it either.

I also can’t fathom God having always existed.

Imagine that you’re in a supermarket, at the end of a Loooooooong line at the cashier. And it’s the girl’s first day there, and she doesn’t speak English. And everybody wants to pay by check.

Knock a couple of years off that, and you’ll have some idea.

Thats along the lines as to what I was thinking as well Pat. Well Said.

I don’t know about comprehending eternity, but I’ve always been astonished at how young the universe is. The whole thing is less than 20 billion years old! You’d think something as all-encompassing and majestic as the whole frickin’ universe would be, you know, 496 quadragintillion years old, give or take a couple hundred novemtrigintillion in either direction. Twenty billion years ago was just yesterday. Bang, hello.

On a much smaller scale, same with the species human. Damn, our historical period is no longer than 10,000 years and just a tiny handful of million years ago we weren’t even around!?? Heck, we’re scarcely even born yet, then! Lots of dinosaurs hung around for a couple hundred million, and frankly I see no reason we shouldn’t be able to persist as long as the turtles, do you?

Here’s something I wrote on eternity in an earlier thread:

Let me tell you a little story. Hold on to your bladders, folks, because we’re about to take a TRIP STRAIGHT TO HELL!!!

(BTW, I feel obligated to remind everyone that I am not a sicko. If I seem particularly imaginative on the hell issue, let me remind you that I recently visited a torture museum hosted by Amnesty International. If you want to suspect anyone of being a sicko, I’d suggest that you look to the people who actually believe in this stuff, and believe it to be a good thing, and even, at times, seem to delight in the idea that people who disagree with them will go to hell.)

Let’s say you have two coworkers living in 1930’s Germany. One is a Christian, and the other is a Jew. The Christian tries to convert the Jew (let’s call her Miriam,) but he’s an ignorant dork and doesn’t do a very good job of it. Miriam (who is, by the way, very orthodox and observant, and loves God with all her heart,) listens with an open mind, but isn’t convinced. Miriam concludes that God made a covenant, and that He would never break it. Besides, Christianity just seems blasphemous to her, and the supposed proof that she was presented with just doesn’t hold up. In her mind, Christianity is tantamount to an insult to God, and she would never insult the God whom she loves so much by believing that He would break His word- at least, not without damned good reason. The Christian shrugs and tells himself the typical excuse: “Oh well. The good news is that my skill at proselytization doesn’t matter one whit as to whether someone goes to heaven or hell. She chooses to reject God, and that’s not my fault.”

Then the Nazis take over. The Christian manages to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. He dies of old age, and spends an eternity of bliss with God in heaven.

Miriam, who has spent all her life working for charity, has a chance to get out but stays behind to help others, and is sent to a concentration camp. And now, we apply the spoiler tag:

While in the concentration camp, she sees her baby, still twitching as it is skewered on a bayonet, tossed into a vat of boiling lye and hears it scream as its flesh is boiled from its bones. She herself is brutally gang raped until the ligaments supporting her uterus tear loose, causing her vagina to flop inside out and dangle bloodily between her legs. She dies soon of blood loss, much to her relief, because her great faith in God tells her that she can rely on God to keep His promises.

Then she finds that she’s in Hell. Whups! I guess God can change his mind after all.

The demons rip away Miriam’s eyelids, so that she cannot avert her gaze as she sees her baby thrown into a vat of lye. His cries cut her to the core of her soul as his skin is stripped from him, his flesh eaten but not consumed, burned for all eternity. Maybe Christians no longer believe in infant damnation- but the demons are masters of illusion, and are clever in their tortures.

With wheels shod in red-hot iron the demons smash Miriam’s limbs to pulp, reducing her to a bloody, squirming, shrieking thing like some boneless sea creature hauled up in a fisherman’s net. They weave her limbs into the fence of the City of Dis, where she must watch as over and over again ravens smash their beaks of broken glass into her lidless eyes, only to have them grow afresh so that they might be ripped in bloody gobbets from their sockets without end. And over and over, without pause, the demons use her in unspeakable ways until her violated flesh is no more than bloody tatters quivering with pain.

After countless ages of her torment, when her entire existence seems nothing more than pointless suffering extending without end into past and future, just as her last, faded memory of her earthly existence flickers before being extinguished forever and she is cast into an eternal darkness in which suffering is all she knows, all she has ever known, and all that will ever be, at that moment she knows true despair, for she knows that she has no hope.

And she wonders: why has God turned his back on me? Didn’t we have a covenant? Have I not kept His commandments? Haven’t I loved God with all my heart?

But we all know the answer. There’s no point in blaming God. She turned her back on him. All her fault, really, so no use whining.

And then that last memory of life is put out, and she truly becomes a creature, a native, of hell. For hell consumes her entire consciousness. She knows nothing of anything but foulness and degradation and pain, and never will.

Oh, BTW, you can find a recent photo of Miriam at the bottom of this page.

That’s a pretty scary and depressing story Ben, and an even more scary and depressing site. What’s amazing is that so many people in the world believe things like that.

However, I think the OP was more along the lines of how can we imagine eternity rather than promoting any specific theological doctrine.

BTW, James Joyce has some great descriptions of eternity in hellfire in Portrait of the Artist, most of which were derived from contemporary Irish Catholic tracts.

William Blake understood, but only intuitively.

OK, now image the longest time you had to wait for something. Now double it. There you go, a nice approximation to eternity.

The problem is that our brains were designed to swing from tree to tree, escape tigers and count bananas; not understand complex mathematical concepts. The whole human race is nothing by a squeakly little footnote in the big 'ol history of the universe. How’s that for depressing :wink:
Holy crap Ben! :eek: Is there’s any need to put stuff like that in this thread?

Actually, I recycled it from an old thread where it was more relevant. (I actually cut out some of my commentary on the story, because I felt it was too harsh when pulled from its original context.) I hope Nomadic_One doesn’t see it as a hijack- I included it as a way of showing how eternity shapes up when you put it in the context of hell. Specifically, the idea that if a mere human really lived in eternity, then sooner or later you’d forget all your earthly existence, and you’d more or less become a native of wherever you’d been for, say, the last few thousand years. Thus if hell is eternal, ultimately the time you spend in hell which actually has anything recognizable to do with your time on earth, the part you were actually being judged for, is insignificant.

And hey, I did use the spoiler tag!

suave Ben, suave…

btw, Ben I leave the judging to God.

No one but God knows who is going to heaven and hell. …nice hijack btw… :slight_smile:

Nope, not just you. Whenever I try to comprehend eternity I end up getting a headache.

I’m sorry you view it as a hijack. Personally, I thought it was relevant.

Just to make sure I understand you correctly, do you believe that belief in Jesus isn’t the only way to go to heaven?

If you’ve ever sat through the movie Eyes Wide Shut you have no trouble comprehending eternity.

Aleph-zero? Ah, piece of cake. A little eternal addition and, voila, you’re done. Let’s start over…

Try Cantor’s theory of infinite sets and you’ll be even more mind-boggled Nomadic_one.

While not eternity as such, I did spend some 14 billion years as disparate atoms. I wasn’t bored once!

You see, eventually all the stars will go out, and all that will be left is cold white dwarfs (no longer white-let’s call them black dwarfs) and black holes;
the black dwarfs will tend to fall into the galactic black holes and make them even bigger.

  • at 10[sup]37[/sup] years or thereabouts the protons of any solid matter left in the universe will decay ;
    there will still be the slow fizzle of energy from the black hole hawking radiation, and the last galactic blackholes will evaporate at about a googol years 10[sup]100[/sup]…

if there is any way of preserving consciousness after this time, it may be an almost inordinate period before a new universe spontaneously forms within the event horizon of the old one- say a googolplex years…

if you are present at this event you might be able to introduce your consciousness into the new universe, and live a new lifetime in the new universe; keep doing this over and over again;

once you have seen a googol universes rise and fall, eternity has only just begun.

SF worldbuilding at