Friday, 12 February 2010

Infinite or Finite?

I watched an interesting programme last night. I’d recorded this week’s Horizon which was dubbed “To Infinity and Beyond”. Now I know these days many complain about the media dumming down science for the masses but this programme captured my imagination and got me thinking.

Firstly did you know that one of the largest known numbers is actually Graham’s number. Not named after yours truly but after Ronald Graham who used it in some proof or something in 1977. Mr Graham is suitably wacky for a pure mathematican in that he is also a circus performer and president of some juggling society! Of course I think that is such a good name for a number :-) Apparently it is so big you need some special notation to write it! It is massively bigger than a google which is 10100. And then a googleplex which is 10google which is a seriously big number. We are now well beyond the number of atoms in the entire visible universe!

Then the programme tried to explain infinity which was described by another wacky maths professor sitting in a suitably cluttered office as “a tricky little devil”. So ∞ + 1 = ∞ or ∞ - 1 = ∞ but ∞ - ∞ might = 0. Note the might! Think I should argue with the bank manager that Loan outstanding - £1 might equal £0?

Enough of the Maths nonsense. What about in reality (something these guys only fleetingly glimpse one might say;-)). Is the universe infinite or finite? I thought the excepted view now was that it was finite – but that is only what we can see I suppose. Apparently the inflation theory which is used to explain how we got from the bang to the big has a side effect that it shows the universe to indeed be infinite.

So now here's the conundrum I've always puzzled on this and the programme raised it. If the universe is infinite then my friends there must be infinite worlds exactly like this one with all the same people, things, places etc. on it right now doing exactly this now. Oh yes and an infinite number of worlds with all the same people doing exactly the same now but all wearing rubber boots, or naked or with pink nail polish of exactly the same colour on everybody... and an infinite number of worlds exactly like this but just missing me or you or him or her.

Does your flipping head in doesn't it?

Some guy claimed to be able to work out how far away one of these exact identical worlds would be. That presupposed that we actually do know the possible number of potential combinations of atoms I think.

So anyone still reading this?

What would you prefer for your head to cope with this? Finite universe and therefore possibly - actually probably only one Earth and one you and one me or the infinite universe and all those others out there being you?

For me I instantly prefer the finite - seems I can get my head around that, this expanding balloon that was driven by the big bang 13.7 billion years back. But then I stop and think - but what is outside the balloon? Other universes - would there be an infinite number of finite universes? Does your head in doesn't it... Kit Kat anyone?


  1. A parrallel universe is a possibility but those who suggest it's existence either have a grand sense of self worth or are lacking in imagination. I'm not suggesting that's you, I'm just talking philosophy here.

  2. was with you up to 'Graham's number' but didn't really pick it up again until 'Does your flipping head in doesn't it?'...;-)

    Si thi Sunday

  3. Finite/Infinite I'm happy with either - but there are theories and practice to prove disprove almost everything - bees flying, or the maths theory that nothing should be to actually make contact, ie: if an object is a 100 yards away from another - that distance can be halved infinitely 100 meters, 50 meters etc…. and so on infinitley.

    Have you checked out quantum physics - that's mind-frying stuff

  4. Beyond me Mondo - I leave that to my son who is studying Astrophysics at uni!! He must be nuts!

  5. Physics and cosmology fascinate me. I've read a theory that states the universe is sort of infinite in that it is expanding, so it must have a size, but its expanding into nothing. And nothing is literally nothing. It's not some empty dark void, because that would be 'something'. Its just a nothingness where known physics breaks down and that is the something beyond our everything, and that something is actually nothing. Fun stuff.

    And quantum theory is equally as wild. Basically anything that doesn't defy the laws of physics is possible, and in fact, will happen, if given enough time. Literally anything (it's just that the time factor may be ENORMOUS). Then there is the Uncertainty Principle, and particles existing in multiple locations (multi-verses?) at the same time, and on and on and on...

    There is indeed "more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy..."

  6. Infinity and eternity are just beyond our brains. We - well, I certainly - can't think of an end to the universe or time - because what happens then?