By Steven D. Malone
The speed of light is not the fastest speed. No matter how far it travels, no matter how long it travels, a particle traveling at the speed of light will always find that the empty darkness lays waiting for it.
They told me, when I was young, that you just can’t picture or even think about ‘infinity.’ I can’t picture forever.
I first heard this is church when the preachers told me that if I wanted to live forever I had to be ‘saved’. Saved for forever. They next told me that on the schoolyard. I couldn’t because my brain just wasn’t big enough the stuck up kids said. Not big enough to picture forever. Not big enough to picture infinity. Well, I was an arrogant son-of-a-bitch back then and to hell with that. I went straight home and contemplated the infinite forever.
I was warned, it was a queasy scary thing to do.
My first image was of me standing on some invisible solid thing staring forward into as black a blackness as I could picture. I did this knowing that if I looked back I would see another blackness equally dark. The same darkness to the right, to the left, below me, and above me. There would be no end to it but I tried to see an end. Maybe I did. Either way I felt, in my arrogance, that I did a fairly good job of picturing infinity – picturing forever.
Later, as my philosophies grew, I knew that all the stuff of the universe had to be there too. That would include all of the stars of all of the galaxies of all of the universes that physics could imagine. So, I stuck that into the blackness. Then I learned about all of the mathematics of infinity and the infinity of the large and the infinity of the small. I tried to stick all of those infinities in there also.
Did you know that infinities are equal and are equal in every way? That is what I learned about the ‘infinite number of points.’ A point in our three, or eleven, dimensional universe is so infinitely small that it takes up no ‘space’ at all. And, more strangely, there are an infinite number of points between zero inch and one inch that are exactly equal to the total number of points in the entire universe. And, if I add up all the infinite points of one inch with the infinite points in another inch the number you get is exactly the same, exactly equal to the infinite points in the first inch. That number is exactly equal to the infinite number of points on a line extending infinitely in both directions forever. Don’t worry, it is just as mind numbing to me too. Infinities are equal to each other and equal to all of them together.
I’ve heard it said that the number of infinity is the biggest number there is plus one. I’ve also heard that infinity plus one is exactly equal to the infinity without the plus one. Mathematicians say that to protect their jobs, I think.
Working the math of infinity is much like working the math with zero. Zero plus zero equals zero. Zero times zero equals zero. Infinity plus infinity equals infinity. Infinity times infinity equals infinity. The two are opposites with similar properties mathematically.
Opposites are equal.
I have come to believe that opposites are equal in my old age. The extreme political left is just as evil and dangerous as the extreme political right. Just ask an old person who lived in Germany in the 1930s as the right wing socialists of Hitler fought it out with the left wing socialists called Communists. The scorching of the sun is just as deadly to me as the chill of absolute zero. People die from good health just as much as people die from disease – none of us get out alive.
The infinity of the infinite small is just as ‘big’ as the infinite large.
As there is no edge to the infinite there is not supposed to be an end to forever. This of course brings me to the contemplation of ‘nothingness,’ a supposedly equally hard thing to contemplate much like that infinite darkness I tried at the first. Total absolute emptiness – can there be such a thing to be contemplated?
The fundamental mistake I made was confusing nothing with emptiness. They are not the same it turns out. When there is ‘nothing’, there is not even ‘nothingness’.
The best I can figure from my studies that, in my arrogance, I pursued in my efforts to prove the preachers, the schoolyard kids, and so many teachers wrong, is that fact that nothing and emptiness are not the same thing.
Apparently, if one is a big bang believer or even a creationist, when the beginning point of stuff exploded in an orgy of physics or a creative godly idea, not only did all the matter of the universe burst forth, the very emptiness to contain it in came into being at the same instant. They teach that, as the universe expands, the space to contain it expands also. There was not even nothing, not even emptiness, before that act of creation. Outside of that creation.
A Zen master would shrug at my puny efforts as he contemplates a similar thing he calls ‘the void’. Actually, in some counterintuitive work of nonworking, he abandons an act of perception for a non-act of some kind of passive perception of stillness and void. He would invite me to come to this place and reassure me.
Fear not the still void, he might say, for it is not actually empty. All the Buddha’s play there.
I am not satisfied. However, neither am I arrogant any longer. I grovel at the feet of understanding, humble and contrite. My finite mind cannot truly grasp at the infinite.
The contemplation of the infinite comes upon me sometimes as I ride my light speed vector amid this mortal universe. Most often when birthdays approach. Birthdays do that. And one approaches soon. Mortal is the operative term. The opposite side of the forever coin. I spend time thinking of my mortality in those nights.
The greater part of this post first appeared some years ago in this blog. Around an earlier birthday. Search through the archives if the original is of interest.
A treasure hunt of sorts.
Instead, in the bed tonight, give forever a thought. Or infinity. Or nothing. The real nothing where there is not even nothing. That may bring sleep or may chase sleep away.
Have any experiences with seeing infinity? With picturing forever? Have any comments at all? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org