Friday, January 6, 2012

Thinking outside the box

A person who believes in God, in the traditional way, has often been taught in his religion that God "always was and always will be." It is easy enough to accept that God always will be. Apparently the human mind can see that as reasonable. However, the other part, the part about always having existed, is something that we can't wrap our minds around, and must take it "on faith."

What is the universe? I don't know, but two of the properties the universe has, it seems to me, are all-encompassing and endlessness. I mean, everything that exists must be "inside" the universe, and (2) there is no such thing as the "far edge" of the universe. Again, we face the same paradox as we did with the nature of God: we can somehow believe (or accept) that every single particle that exists is somewhere in the universe, but that there is no "end" or "edge" to the universe takes a bit more work. It's not something our human minds can explain logically. Maybe we have to take that on faith too.

With God (or the universe, for that matter) we can accept that it has no end, but EVERYTHING has a beginning, right? Somehow, someplace, sometime. The logic problem with the universe is a bit opposite from the God paradox in that we have trouble believing it is endless. Our minds tell us that if we travel fast enough and far enough and long enough, we are going to reach the far "wall" of the universe. We seem to believe everything has boundaries. But if there is a wall, then there is something on the other side of that wall.

If it is not a wall, but some sort of Star Trek "barrier" or "force field" and we step outside the universe a couple of steps, then return... where were we?

Maybe nowhere. Maybe we were just at the library with our head resting on the table asleep until the bell rings.


  1. Heinlein said, "Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child." I tend to agree. The Greek gods were prone to the same mannerisms and failings as humankind. "All-powerful" monotheistic Gods since then require obedience and adulation for no discernable reason. I mean, if they were truly omnipotent and omniscient, our adulation would mean nothing and, if they were, instead, more like Heavenly Fathers (which never made as much sense as Heavenly Mothers given nature's examples around us), they would only prefer our adulation and unflinching obedience if they were bad parents, since good parents want their children to grow up and think for themselves.

    But I digress.

    I think the notion that human minds are limited making imagination of the infinite, truly infinite beyond most if not all of us. I read an interesting article in Science magazine once discussing that infinity had different sizes and our inability to visualize infinity made those different sized infinities harder to grasp. They had several examples but the number ones are the easiest to explain.

    There are an infinite number of real whole even numbers. But there are twice as many real whole numbers as there are even numbers, twice infinity, with one infinity a subset of the other. There are four times as many whole numbers (if we now include negative numbers) as there are real whole numbers and, if we include all numbers, fractional and otherwise, there are infinitely more, in fact, infinity x infinity since there are an infinite number of numbers between any two whole numbers. Are there more real numbers than whole numbers (infinity/2)? Of course, but don't try to put a number on it. How does one imagine infinities that fit within other infinities when one is already beyond imagination?

    Even infinities confined are hard to envision. Any distance can be halved an infinite number of times, but it become beyond our ability to measure or define those distances in any meaningful way.

    Reality does not have to have limits. People have limits and it's hard for us to imagine reality without imposing limits on them in order for us to make sense of them.

    Or so I think.

  2. @Stephanie Barr - Yes, not about God. About the human mind's (some minds, anyway) seeming inability to comprehend infinity except on an abstract level. Not to say your comments about God and good parenting weren't also interesting. They were. Even without trying, you give me so much fodder for other posts. :)

  3. @Adullamite - Why would you say that? I am my perfectly normal self. I only use space to try and make you think of something on a higher level than soccer playoffs. :)

  4. Heinlein fancied himself an erotic writer towards the end, after his brain cells had halved.

  5. There is only one God, and her name may very well be Elvira. She does not have the manners and morals of a small child.

    Here's and old one that is still funny:

    You know you are in trouble when you are lined up to enter heaven and you find yourself in line behind Mother Theresa and you overhear God telling her, "You know, you could have done more."

  6. Ummmm.....not having a particularly scientific mind, I tend to regard time as a construct of the human mind. It's a limitation we impose upon the infinite. Beyond my little brain and existence lies a universe that does not recognize my notion of time. Therefore, I'm not too concerned with trying to figure out when it all began (or will end). Does it really have to have a beginning?


  7. If we accept Einstein's general theory of relativity, then without mass, there is no time.

    I heard Steven Hawking's answer on the subject of what was there before the big bang or the creation, and he explained that as time references only the existence of matter, then there can be no concept of 'before' or 'after' the existence of the universe.

    I, obviously, can't fit my tiny brain around it, but I find it more satisfactory than a magic being who exists outside space and time.

  8. As for Stephanie's comment, on infinity having several sizes?

    No. No. No.

    If it has a size it is finite.
    Infinity is in-finite, unbounded. The guy you're quoting is just talking about something big, not infinity.

    You can not have twice infinity, because infinity is indefinable, innumerate, and therefore not multipliable.

  9. @Red Dirt Girl - You make sense. I think time is a concept of man too. So is a klein bottle or, say, a wagon wheel. But, getting back to the post, I was only saying I can't comprehend the truly infinite, and I submit (most) other human minds have the same problem. I personally can conceive of something that has no end, but for some reason I can't conceive of something that had no beginning. Sometimes I can't even conceive of something that has no end. There are indeed such things, but I can't fathom them (hence this post.) I'm wasn't trying to say this was important, only interesting to me.

    I wish you would comment more often. You cut through the chase. :) Can I ask you something? Is an old man with flowing robes and a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere behind the moon REALLY the only possible concept or description of an entity that could be called "God"? See, because I don't think of God as that, and, knowing there are infinite possibilities in the universe, I am hesitant to discount the possibility of some sort of "causal force." The reason I ask is because I have this reader who often disparages the very thought of such an Infinite Intelligence because he can only think in terms of an old man on a throne. You I trust to be fair and balanced.

  10. @Soubriquet - I do accept Einstein's thoughts on "time" as far as I can understand it. Einstein still showed up every day for work at 9 a.m. though, just to make sure his (m)ass kept being employed. :)

    Stephen Hawking is a bit different. He seems to use big words to confuse, much like that Emergence guy. Or, as our favorite, Bertrand Russell of Barber Paradox fame, was fond of saying: "...I think it is clear that you can only get around it by observing that the whole question whether a class is or is not a member of itself is nonsense, i.e. that no class either is or is not a member of itself, and that it is not even true to say that, because the whole form of words is just noise without meaning."

    I'm sure you agree.

  11. Sony says my camera's zoom lens is infinitely adjustable within the two extreme stops.

    I dunno.

  12. People who refuse to believe infinity can't be doubled or halved are the same people who refuse to admit the possibility of multiple parallel (coexistent) universes, simply because that would entail suspending the belief that our current universe is truly infinite. Even Stephen Hawking is leery of what is at the bottom of black holes.

    I got that from A. so can't really verify.

  13. @Stephanie Barr - I really can't address all the points in your comment here, unfortunately. Neither could Stephen Hawking. :)

    Don't think that just because I don't respond to your entire comment that I don't know all that stuff.

  14. My mind is a black hole and nothing is coming out of it. Stephen Hawking is right to be leery of it.

  15. @ Soubriquet

    Heck no, infinity can have be bounded. Gotta disagree with you.

    There are an infinite number of numbers greater than one, but that infinity is bounded by one on the one side. There are an infinite number of numbers between 1 and 2 as well. There is a practical limit to how many numbers of divisions there are, but those are limitations we impose ourselves because we can't measure smaller. It doesn't make those limitations real.

    Our brain tends to freak out and infinities we can readily bound - how can it be endless? - but then we get just as freaked trying to envision the extent of forever.

  16. As for Heinlein, I loved his work before his brain leaked out and he all his novels became one big orgy.

    I'm fine with sex but the stories evaporated into - what? What happened to the actual story? And what's wrong with "special" relationships? Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, however, is a masterpiece. And entertaining to boot which is something I really love about Heinlein.

    Pity, because he'd always been brilliant in stories. His "All You Zombies" is my favorite (though most convoluted) time travel story ever. I usually hate time travel stories because I think they cheat.

  17. Oh Max,

    I do think the conversation about infinity and the universe is quite interesting. When I read your post and the comments that followed, I kept picturing our universe as all the space contained within a donut ... you know, how the sides curl up and over themselves. Living inside a donut, I wonder if we could ever reach the big hole in the center?? or even think it might exist ??? If reincarnation is real, I hope one day to come back as a physicist. Or a pampered pet :)

    As for the old guy in the sky theory, well ...... i have a poem up on my blog right now that identifies God as woman saying "YES YES YES." Boy, I can really identify with that notion of a deity. Soubriquet and I argue this question often. I do believe in a higher power though I sincerely have no idea what he looks like, where he lives, and whether he will ever manifest himself to us mere humans. I believe because it comforts me somehow when faced with all the incomprehensible suffering of life.

    You flatter me to call me fair and balanced as I am anything but ...!




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