Here and There, Nowhere and Everywhere
There was an old vaudeville routine that went something like this: Speaker 1: “you are nowhere!” Speaker 2: “What are you talking about? I am here.” Speaker 1: “No. I am here. You are there.” Speaker 2: I can’t be there. You are there.” Speaker 1: “That’s what I mean. If you aren’t here or there, then you are nowhere!” Speaker 2: “Wow! I gotta go find myself!”
We’ve all had those days where we felt lost, like we were neither here or there. It is not a modern-day problem. The philosopher Anaximander proposed the philosophical theory known as infinite regress. At the time he lived, it was believed that the world was supported by a body of water. Anaximander asked: “If the world is supported by water, what supports the water?” In challenging religious and spiritual beliefs, the same question is often asked. “If God (or a group of gods) created the world, what was the origin of God?”
It is a similar argument found in discussions of cause and effect. If an action causes a reaction, what created the initial action? A much more common way of expressing this is the age old question: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” The chicken lays an egg which in turn hatches to become a chicken which lays another egg which hatches to become another chicken which lays an egg, etc. This unending chain of events which create more events is called infinite regress.
For many, infinite regress was proof of eternity. For others, it posed greater questions. Aristotle was not one who believed in the theory. “Some hold that, owing to the necessity of knowing the primary premises, there is no scientific knowledge. Others think there is, but that all truths are demonstrable. Neither doctrine is either true or a necessary deduction from the premises. The first school, assuming that there is no way of knowing other than by demonstration, maintain that an infinite regress is involved, on the ground that if behind the prior stands no primary, we could not know the posterior through the prior (wherein they are right, for one cannot traverse an infinite series): if on the other hand – they say – the series terminates and there are primary premises, yet these are unknowable because incapable of demonstration, which according to them is the only form of knowledge. And since thus one cannot know the primary premises, knowledge of the conclusions which follow from them is not pure scientific knowledge nor properly knowing at all, but rests on the mere supposition that the premises are true. The other party agrees with them as regards knowing, holding that it is only possible by demonstration, but they see no difficulty in holding that all truths are demonstrated, on the ground that demonstration may be circular and reciprocal. Our own doctrine is that not all knowledge is demonstrative: on the contrary, knowledge of the immediate premises is independent of demonstration. (The necessity of this is obvious; for since we must know the prior premises from which the demonstration is drawn, and since the regress must end in immediate truths, those truths must be indemonstrable.) Such, then, is our doctrine, and in addition we maintain that besides scientific knowledge there is its original source which enables us to recognize the definitions.”
Aristotle believed that some knowledge was acquired without demonstration; therefore, it had no cause and no resulting effect. It would be many centuries before Isaac Newton proclaimed that for every action there was an equal and just reaction but the theory of infinite regress did lead to greater schools of thought. For some it was the beginning of the so-called big bang theory regarding the beginning of the universe. For others, like Thomas Aquinas , it became a cosmological argument defending the existence of God, the one who created the first reason or cause.
Plato asked what knowledge really was. He called it justified true belief but the key word there was ‘justified”. In justifying the reasons given forth as proof or propositions, one would become caught in the infinite regression. This would give rise to the school of skepticism which we will discuss at a no too distant future time. For many, the battle over what knowledge was and how it could be proven or justified has led many to give up on philosophy all together. It is the same with the concept of peace.
For many people, peace is the absence of violence. For others, it is freedom. And for still more, it is simply the opportunity to live. They seek peace here, there, and everywhere, having been the chance to live it anywhere. The skeptics and naysayers often create the difficulties in achieving peace instead of supporting it. What is the point of our living if it is not to support life itself for all that lives?
I offer the words of Vincent Van Gogh regarding this. “If one feels the need of something grand, something infinite, something that makes one feel aware of God, one need not go far to find it. I think that I see something deeper, more infinite, more eternal than the ocean in the expression of the eyes of a little baby when it wakes in the morning and coos or laughs because it sees the sun shining on its cradle.” Life is all around us. It is, perhaps, the supreme example of an infinite regress. The potential life offers, the love and peace and future, is there, ours for the taking and living. We ourselves create the life in the here, the there… for everyone, everywhere.