Infinity is the hugely misunderstood child of humanity’s struggle with the big questions of why we are here, what was ‘here’ before us, and – most importantly for many – what happens to ‘me’ when ‘here’ is finished with me.
We find it humbling and challenging when we come across the imponderable periods of time which the universe, or even the relatively-young Earth, presents to us. Are we really so insignificant in the face of the vastness of both space and time.
That which is infinite must be indivisible. We ‘reach’ 2 by adding 1 to 1. At 2 we ‘reach’ 3 by adding 1 to the 2 we already reached. Infinity is that number which when we add 1 to it, remains unchanged. Otherwise there would have to be a number somewhere along the addition process which, as 3 is ‘labelled’ half of 6, could be labelled “half of infinity”. So, infinity can have no “half” – and conversely can have no “double”.
But consider this – there is an ‘opposite’ infinity. Not a negative number… negativity depends on where you start counting from. When I was born, my dad was 41 and I was 0 – we started counting from different places. His birth was -41 years to me.
No, this ‘opposite’ infinity is the infinitesimally small.
Think of a number and make it a fraction of 1. 2 becomes 1/2 and 10 becomes 1/10 and so on. Now, take the large infinity and put it into the fraction and you will see that we can never reach 0, no matter how close we think might get to it, there is always a fraction which is not-quite-0.
While many people have trouble with the concept of numerical infinity, they often find the infinity of time easy to consider. They can appreciate that the universe “started” at some point which is considered to be the beginning of time. Correct – up to a point. The concept of the universe – “our” universe – having had a start is easy enough, but they also find it easy to consider that it might very well have no end. That it would – literally – endure for infinity.
The other night on television I came across the best description of the current thinking on the origin of the universe. It was in the Through the Wormhole programme hosted and narrated by Morgan Freeman. It dealt with the dilemma facing the String Theory concept – which posits that there are not 3 dimensions of space and 1 of time, but 10 dimensions of space and 1 of time. This theory comes from the current interpretation of the math involved in particle physics and the most-c0mmonly-accepted theories of the relationships between the ‘known’ laws governing the large and small things in the universe.
The newest theory is known as Brane Theory and it suggests – which some good cause (mathematically speaking) that the “Big Bang” start to our was just that – the start to “our” universe, but that it was caused by the contact of two different universes – ‘membranes’ if you will, which release the unimaginable force – and forces – which created the particles which created the atoms which we ‘see’ as the things in the universe. This theory would suggest that ‘our’ universe is only one of a possibly-unending series of universes to which ‘our’ membrane has been host, and will continue to host.
No matter how ‘we’ measure/divide the time in our universe it is but a tiny fraction of the overall ‘eternity’ which we may never be able to comprehend.
So, if the physical universe can make us feel small, how then do we react to the concept that our universe is tiny.
Is it any wonder that humanity created God in its image? Leave aside all the ‘morality’ aspects of religion, it would appear that being here to no purpose is something which people are not comfortable with pondering. It’s so much nicer to be “special”.
But “nicer” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.