Qohelet: Time and Happiness

[Original German Blog Post]

Turn! Turn! Turn!
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

What is the essence of our life? It is the moment that we live to see. In it we find our expectations of the future as well as our memories of what has passed. Thus our life flows moment after moment through our consciousness. Everything that we experience has its moment in time – and by nature our life span is limited:
“Live is just too short, to mess about with bad things.” is one basic idea of this Slow-Media-Blog.

There is a book in the bible that that deals in general and at the same time in a practical way with this essence and the meaning of the limited life time: Qohelet (in Hebrew קֹהֶלֶת‎, chairman, thus Ecclesiastes in Greek, Preacher in the King James Version and Teacher in the New International Version). Qohelet is among the most interesting contemplations on the essence of time – as the season, as limit to our facilities and particularly on the paradox of the steady flow, that creates the illusion of progressing, of causes and effects, that emerges from the sequence of the events in our imagination. From these conditions of time – limitation, steady flow, pretended progress – Qohelet develops his ethics and is set next to the other time-philosophers of his time – Heraclitus and Parmenides. In our context, we look especially to the question of good life with the right time.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Eccl 3,1). And this says that also the joys and the beautiful things of life have their very hour that will not come again, when it has passed – and it’s a pity, for we shall never have enough of these (The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Eccl 1,8):

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry; (Eccl 8,15). Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. (Eccl 9,7-10)

***

.הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת, הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. (Pred 1,2)

Our efforts may not really change the world – but very well we ourselves get changed by our labour. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. (Eccl 10,9). So our pursuit becomes not futile – it changes merily the meaning of our actions in relation to the results. The quest for completion, for the final result as a goal, is meaningless; no item, also no intangible item like scientific knowledge or the creation of a work of art will redeem us, as long as we think, “If we had just achieved this or that, then we made it!”. Despite this bourgeois hope, life does not consist of fulfilment but of action, of labour and toil, of eating and drinking, of loosing and keeping, and so on. Only as long as we live, we can live to see: For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. (Eccl 9,4) So happiness does not mean fulfillment, it is not the purpose of life but being happy is a means to a good life: Simcha, שִׂמְחָה‎, the happy-being is in this concept of jewish philosophy – like with the Hassidic teacher Rabbi Nachman of Breslov the precondition of morally good life: “Mitzvah gedolah le’hiyot besimcha tamid” – it is the great commandment to always be happy.

And this is the core proposition of Qohelet: That our life is too short, to not seek for the beauty in it, for in just the consciousness thereof we are different from the animals: For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast; (Eccl 3, 19) And how dieth the wise man ? as the fool. (Eccl 2,16)
This however requires peace and quiet:

Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty. (Eccl 5,2)

Author: Joerg Blumtritt

Joerg Blumtritt (*1970) is data scientist and blogger. He co-founded the companies Datarella and BAYDUINO, based in Munich, Germany, and Baltic Data Science in Gdansk, Poland. Datarella develops data-driven products for the Internet of Things, BDS delivers data-science-as-a-service, BAYDUINO builds open source hardware. Before that, Joerg had worked for media companies in Europe and the US. Having graduated in statistics and political sciences with a thesis on machine learning, Joerg started as a researcher in behavioral sciences, focused on nonverbal communication. As political activist and researcher, Joerg works on projects regarding future democratic participation and open source IoT. He is co-author of the Slow Media Manifesto and blogs about media and art at slow-media.net, about data and the future of social research at beautifuldata.net, and about the IoT at datarella.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *