When you think about people in history who went against the rest of society to conceive of an ultimate truth, what often comes to mind? Most people might of think of Galilelo Galilei or Nicolas Copernicus, who were declared heretics for promoting the heliocentric model, a model that seemed to directly contradict pre-existing Christian doctrines.
One name that might not immediately come to mind for most is Friedrich Nietzche; nevertheless, he most clearly defied societal norms. As a philosopher publishing numerous works in the late nineteenth century, he refuted traditional values and beliefs, mainly the one that human’s didn’t have much control over their lives due to a divine control.
This belief in the power (a word we see recur again and again in his philosophy) of humans lead him to devise a series of principles, which can be extrapolated to mean a series of actionable items and metaphorisms humans may undergo, or rather, a series of thought experiments outlining cosmological patterns in the universe not thought about before. With regards to human transformation, he believed in the superman, both a collective and individual term, representing the ability for humans to overcome ourselves and society to overcome itself (i.e. we are the obstacles for ourselves, and the same applies to society as a whole).
How does One become a Superhuman?
“THREE metamorphoses of the spirit do I designate to you: how the spirit becometh a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.” (Zarathustra: 1)
Ultimately, through a series of metaphors and symbolic representations, Nietzche conveys that the true path to a superhuman involves throwing off the shackles of societal values and truly becoming a free creature with original, authentic, and unique values. In essence, he questions the validity of absolutes in societal doctrine. These core beliefs can be summarized as existentialism.
The three stages of metamorphasis are camel, lion, and then child. Another crucial symbol apart from the aforementioned ones is the dragon. This dragon, with its numerous golden scales represents traditional cultures and societal values, both good and bad.
A camel works hard, does what it’s supposed, and toils in the long, hard, hot desert days.
- strong spirit
- harsh life
- good moral values (i.e. integrity, honor)
- is scared of the dragon and listens to it
- a prisoner and slave
- Make a list of societal qualities and find people you admire and look up to see which qualities they embody. Then work yourself to embody these same qualities.
No one even starts off as a camel and it’s still a metamorphosis. Camels are still ‘good’ people. They follow values that are already in the book, and this allows them to lead a comfortable, traditional life as per their wishes; however, the camel stage doesn’t allow anyone to truly change the world and have a larger impact.
The lion is capable of escaping whatever prison or shackles it’s placed in, though it may act reckless due to lack of self control.
- Destroys the dragon
- says no more often than yes, knows what it wants for itself
- Rebellious, especially against the dragon
- more access to self-mastery
- ignores any ‘thou shalts’
- make a list of everything you think is restricting your freedom
- think about how to get rid of or lessen the effect of those factors
According to Nietzsche, the transformation to a lion is gradual and often comes with certain costs, including the re-evaluation of relationships and priorities in life.
The child is at peace with uncertainty and not knowing much about the world around them. They focus on what they care about and build their own set of values, stemming from pure first principles rather than sources of external validation.
- creation of new values
- no resentments, forgets the past to create a future
- very easy access to the flow state
- doesn’t care about external environment
- Think about what you want and what makes you come alive, and make time for more of that in your life.
The most important aspect of a child is their ability to not stay tied to a certain identity, thus allowing them to grow past what they previously thought that they were capable of, constantly surprising themselves. In the child stage, people balance their Apollonion (logical, rational) and Dionysian side (emotional, creative, gut instinct) by means of this heightened access to the flow state. Children also have greater balance in terms of handling the good and bad in life, thereby internalizing the ‘harmonious totality’ of life that Nietzsche discusses.
Ultimately, with each of us passing through these stages of metamorphosis, we can collectivity become a superhuman society.
More General Doctrines
Here are three of Nietzsche’s main doctrines and how they intertwine with the transformation to superhuman.
Will to Power
The idea of Will to Power is a vague and ambiguous one. Scholars have interpreted it in different ways. Some interpret it in a biological context. Our neurons might collectively will consciousness to arise and our organs might will themselves to function as they’re supposed to.
The other contexts are the more obvious ones. One is related to the ability for individual human beings to will themselves to their full potentials, and the other is surrounding ideologies and their ability to spread through a large population and dominate a worldview.
Other properties of this Will to Power idea include the idea of force centers. Nietzsche argues that the reality might just be composed of different force-centers interacting with pushing against each other. This might mean (as a logical deduction based on the force-center thought experiment) that the interactions of the entities in each of the aforementioned examples results in a zero-sum game — the gain of one entity may be the loss of another.
This idea has a clear connection to the child metamorphosis stage. A child has the freedom to choose their passion and explore their interests without feeling confined.
Eternal recurrence is the general idea that events repeat themselves in the exact same details — not once or twice, but for the rest of eternity. This idea is a small variation of an idea also present in Meditations––Aurelius states that each situation in our lives is some variant of the past, and on larger timescales, each year or decade bears striking core resemblance to an earlier time period.
Scholars think about two main useful purposes for eternal recurrence.
- Thought experiment to measure happiness: Normally, when we experience a negative event, we’re glad to move on and never have to deal with it again. Phew, glad I’m done with that. If asked ourselves, would we want to leave this same day or year for the rest of eternity, many of us would say no due to the discomfort of these negative experiences. On the other hand, the goal is to become someone who embraces the harmonious totality of the good and the bad and is willing to live each day, year, or even decade for the rest of eternity. The response to this essential question can become a more direct and nuanced way of defining joy. A child would be the one most wanting to experience eternal recurrence.
- Cosmological interpretation: In this case, Nietzsche quite literally may have meant that events repeat themselves at some higher, course-grained levels (maybe in blocks that represent centuries or even millennia).
A yes, a no, a straight line, a goal
The quote above shows Nietzsche’s simple yet nuanced definition of happiness in just eight words.
- yes: say yes to opportunities when they come your way
- no: once your start receiving too many opportunities, you might get distracted; say no to what truly doesn’t matter to you
- a straight line and a goal: once you’ve said your yeses and your no’s, put in the hard and smart work to reach you final goals
That’s it for the essentials of Nietzsche! I’ll be posting an article once every two weeks on different philosophers so stay tuned.
Hey! I’m Mukundh Murthy, a 16 year old passionate about the intersection between machine learning and drug discovery. Thanks for reading this article! I hope you found it helpful :)
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