TO INFINITY AND BEYONCÉ

Just to make it absolutely clear before we start, I am not a scientist or a mathematician, just ask Mr Faben-Ward, my touchy-feely-days-of-yore maths tutor who was known to squeeze my thigh in excitement and exclaim ‘It’s not rocket science Richard, it’s the nine times table!’ Thereby confirming my ‘not a scientist’ admission and explaining why to this day maths makes my leg tingle uncomfortably. This doesn’t mean to say that I have no interest in science or numbers. I love science and have a reluctant interest in money and that’s numbers, rather small ones in my case, but numbers all the same. I can’t help wishing that money was letters though, I think I would be far more successful in bending it to my will, at understanding it, I might not be able to smell the money but I sure could spell it. Money. See?

Not a scientist or a mathematician then, yet it doesn’t take either to point out that even the greats like Mister Einstein and Mister Hawking have on occasion been wrong. Mistakes are inevitable when making leaps based on one’s own expertise because in certain fields expertise is sometimes limited, relatively speaking. Neurosurgeons know very little about the brain, astrophysicists know even less about the universe and burgerologists know absolutely nothing about hamburgers. Of course they know an awful lot more than I ever will, though I do know that hamburgers are made of beef but were invented in Hamburg. The pursuit of new ideas outside of one’s own walled garden is often critical to human advancement, it is a shame then when great minds don’t think alike. It’s why assumption and not cooperation is the mother of all cock ups and the very brightest of us still descend into the quagmire of obstinacy, partisanship and vanity, wasting their valuable time bickering about definitive answers to impossible questions. Like is space infinite? For example. Yes, yes, this whole rambling bollocks was just to get us to this point. 

There are some things I am an expert at, like the contents of my Volvo’s glovebox or rubbing Libby’s feet and I am really good at guessing what I am going to say next. Orange. I am very knowledgeable about these things and feel this expertise qualifies me to throw my hat into the ring and offer my own unique perspective on the nature of space. After all the universe is a lot like the contents of my glovebox, depending on who you ask of course. Einstein believed that there was just the glovebox whereas Hawking seemed to believe that at the very least the glovebox was in a car. I like to think about where the car is parked because if it’s parked in an infinite space then my knowledge of Libby’s feet gives me every right to profess an opinion because where the infinite is concerned a foot rubber’s opinion is just as informed as anyone else’s. Dirigible, I was going to say dirigible.

There is no such thing as an expert on the infinite and though everything I say can rightly be treated with derision by those who know better, the truth is they don’t, know better, they only think they do. Confronted with the infinite all knowledge is irrelevant, I can with complete authority declare any and every opinion equally valid, including mine. Is it any wonder then that so many scientists and mathematicians hate the infinite? Hate the very idea of it. They want a small (though still massive) universe, something that can be contained, quantified, have a number applied to it. To them the universe can only exist if it can be measured, in increasingly esoteric ways using arcane systems they have invented, the origins of which were once ironically credited to the divine. Unfortunately in the face of the infinite everything falls apart, time, distance, logic all disappear down space’s theoretical black-rabbit-hole. Can time exist if there is no beginning and no end? Can space be curved when infinity demands it be flat? Can any reasonable assumptions be made about something that can never be investigated? Can calculation be applied to something that defies maths?

On this Earth no two packs of shuffled playing cards have ever been in the same order, ever. Even if the entire population of the planet had been shuffling non-stop since the invention of cards and kept shuffling until the sun exploded there would still never be two packs in the same order. However in an infinite universe there would be an infinite number of shuffled packs in the same order, as well as an infinite number of packs in every other possible combination and if you picked any one card at random there would be as many of that card as the total number of all other cards combined. No matter how unlikely something was it would happen just as frequently as something very likely. An infinite number of you would be married to Beyoncé, an infinite number of you would never even meet her, you would win the lottery an infinite number of times but you would also lose an infinite number of times, even though there is no such thing as an infinite number and by the way, infinity plus one is still infinity, sorry kids. Infinity eats numbers for breakfast, a million seconds is just over eleven and a half days, a billion seconds is just over thirty one and a half years and a trillion seconds is an incredible thirty one and a half thousand years. Yet in an infinite universe a trillion is a tiny number, in fact all numbers are tiny, one has the same value as one billion or one trillion or one billion trillion and anything with a finite value divided by the infinite is as close to zero as can be measured. So if humans are finite in an infinite universe statistically there isn’t anyone alive to marry Beyoncé or win the lottery and yet here we all are, thinking infinity into being and by doing so creating a paradox which demands we cease to exist while at the same time pretty much guaranteeing we all win the lottery. Somewhere.

To recap, in an infinite universe there is an infinite number of everything. All at once. If you think this sounds bonkers you are right, but you are also wrong. The infinite can never be anything more than a matter of opinion but having said that the universe is a very elegant place and the infinite theory of infinity isn’t. A tattooed man has just entered my shop wearing a tweed suit a waxed moustache and a brown bowler with a golden feather sipping aromatic coffee though the plastic lid of an almost black recyclable corrugated cardboard cup whilst tapping one of his leather wing-tips and photographing product labels printed in splendid 66 with an Android phone in a leopard skin case to Google at home later in order to find the products cheaper online while I frown at him quietly whistle Just Blew In From The Windy City and imagine him being eaten alive by his fake Gucci man bag. This is a moment so complicated with so many possible paths to it and from it that it could never happen in a contained universe, this is the kind of thing that requires the infinite in order for it to happen just once. In order for it to happen more than once it would have to happen an infinite number of times, which would require corroboration, because consciousness is the only reality. You would need infinite people able to study infinite Earths, at the same time, infinite distances apart, in their entirety, down to the sub-atomic level. As this can never happen for lots of fairly obvious reasons, it becomes pure conjecture and will always remain so. The infinite can never be studied or proved, of course it can never be disproved either. Which is interesting as it allows for the infinite to exist and not exist simultaneously, I am both singular, infinite and repeating myself and given that with enough monkeys and enough typewriters you will get Shakespeare just imagine what an extraordinary writer one of me must be. Not this one obviously.

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