I’ve said before that I end up thinking a lot while I’m exercising. Recently, my mind has always seemed to wander back to the concept of infinity. Maybe it’s because I feel at home with numbers and math. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to using infinity in a mathematical sense. But I really hadn’t actually thought about what infinity is and means. Another thing that got the ball rolling is the fact that I’ve been listening to a lot of episodes of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio Podcast. Side note: if you’ve never heard him, I highly recommend listening to a podcast, his knowledge and intelligence is awesome.
Lets start with some weird things about infinity. Infinity is a concept, not a number. However, in some ways, mathematics treats infinity as a number (This is not true strictly speaking. However, one can use mathematical operators on it). There are multiple types of infinity: countable and uncountable. If you take infinity and multiply it by infinity, it’s still infinity. But that’s all things you can do with infinity. It doesn’t tell you what it is though.
The thing that really got me thinking about it was a quote from Tyson: “In an infinite multiverse, there is no such thing as fiction.”
When I first heard it, it seemed profound, yet intuitive. I was fairly used to infinity. But then that seed started to germinate in my mind. I started thinking about what that really meant. Nothing is fiction, everything is fact. Dragons exist in infinitely many universes. No life at all exists in infinitely many universes. Humans are silicone based life forms in many universes. Humans have driven themselves to extinction in infinitely many universes. Humans have saved themselves from extinction and become masters of space and time in infinitely many universes. I could keep going on, but there are infinitely many scenarios and for each one, an infinitely many number of universes meet those qualifications. And there are infinitely many scenarios which I won’t even imagine.
Even turning to really, really big numbers doesn’t help. First of all, a googolplex isn’t closer to infinity than 1 is. But thinking about these massive numbers might be able to help the mind ease into grasping infinity. Let’s take a googolplex. How large is a googolplex? well it’s a 1 with a googol zeros after it (A googol is a 1 with 100 zeros after it). Unfortunately, the upper estimate for the number of atoms in the universe is 10^82. So if you were able to express numbers with only one atom somehow, you still couldn’t express a googolplex without scientific notation. And a googolplex still isn’t close to infinity.
I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll probably never be able to fully grasp infinity. But I like to think about these things. It always pushes my comfort zone. It can even push my concept of reality and life. But I think that’s the only way to grow as a person. It’s also a reminder of how much I don’t know.
So what do you think about during runs? Have you ever really thought about infinity?