Regarding the infinite

The human power of abstraction, our ability to imagine something and then build upon that imaginary idea distinguishes us from lower animals. Brain physiologists might say such abilities reside within our frontal lobes, that area of the brain held responsible for higher thought, but whatever the dynamics of the physical brain, it is this capacity that allows us to regard the infinite.

Infinity, of course, taxes the mind. While we can accept infinity on a conceptual level, the actual experience of infinity is beyond conception. Accordingly, we constantly impose limits on our experience and the objects we encounter, treating moments as discreet units of time, objects as isolated, independently existing entities, and even objectifying ourselves into “individuals.” We can and do operate fairly successfully under this delusion, though it takes a monumental effort to maintain “control” over such a reality. The essential, underlying truth of the infinite constantly permeates everything, and from time to time entirely shatters our illusions of separateness and control.

The infinite can be equated with totality, the actuality that everything is connected in a seamless fabric. If indeed existence originated in a Big Bang, the notion of totality is simply nothing more than the truth of all things having once been an infinitely small singularity containing what we now perceive as space, time and matter. Having once been an undivided unity, it’s not illogical to imagine that after the Big Bang a connection between all the parts remains.

Fourteen-plus billion years have passed since the Big Bang, and in that time complexity has thoroughly increased and continues to increase in every moment. The trajectory of existence of each and every fundamental particle, from the electron up to the most massive celestial galaxy, traces a path through time. Imagine a visible thread denoting every particle’s historical path and one can quickly visualize the infinitely dense totality in which we reside; existence instantly regains it singular form.

There are other ways to regard infinity and it’s unique qualities. For example, we associate content with size, but infinity betrays common sense. Try this: mentally draw a line of two inches, and place a dot at each point on the line 1/16th of an inch apart. Then place a dot at each 1/32nd of an inch, 1/64th, and so on. As one can see, there will be an unlimited number, an infinite number of dots possible. Draw a four-inch line, twice as long, and proceed to place dots in the same manner. It is quickly obvious that despite being twice as long, the infinity of points on the four-inch line is no greater than the infinity of points on the two-inch line. The mathematical quality of infinity is such that it is equally contained within all lines regardless of length.

The esoteric Sufi faith regards unity, and thus infinity, as containing the mystical formula of enlightened mind. Accordingly, the deliberate use of geometric designs within Islamic mosques is not simply decoration, but intentionally explicates in physical form the truth of the infinite. So too the Hindu and Buddhist mandala is a two-dimensional representation of unity and the infinite multiplicity within unity, which is why the mandala is used as a contemplative tool.

Our western mind of separation tries to divvy-up the unfathomable reality of existence, but when it comes to infinity, there is no escape.