92 Think about infinity like a child 13 Nov 2020
Space and time
Early in life I realized that I was not the same size as some people even though I looked much like them. Gradually I became aware of things beyond myself and developed a concept of small and large. That was easy with physical objects. Sensing different sizes of time intervals was a completely different experience. At first it seemed everything took a long time. Eventually I realized that some things take longer than other things. That probably was the beginning of comparing spatial to temporal measurement.
Because I see motion, I conclude that time is passing. Objects are not in the same position they occupied formerly. This is a basic physical principle: we sense passage of time from movement of objects.
After becoming aware of time, we progress to measuring time. Following many years of impatience with the slow passage of time, I learned to associate this passage with the position of hands on a clock. That consisted of measuring time by observing physical movement, distinguishing small and large time intervals according to small and large movements of the clock’s hands.
Frame of reference
College level physics classes took these observations to new heights. Timekeepers became atomic oscillations and the speed of light. Thought experiments demonstrated that time is not an absolute measurement. A beam of light bouncing between two mirrors appears to cover more distance if viewed by someone who is in motion relative to the mirrors. For example, if the mirrors are mounted one above the other on a train speeding by me, I see the path of the photons as a longer zig-zag pattern, whereas someone on the train sees it as a shorter simple line segment.
The above paragraph correlates time with motion. It introduces another principle: relativity. Measurements are relative to some frame. Two frames moving relative to each other yield different measurements of the same event. The train example is merely a contrived illustration. In atomic particle physics and astronomy, at opposite ends of human concepts of size, the subtleties are definitive. What we experience differs according to relativity and frame of reference.
A scientist recently interviewed on radio suggested that the laws of physics do not hold, or are different, around a black hole. I immediately rephrased that proposition to say that we are learning more laws of physics. The broken bottlenecks of article 70 are not about mistakes in science. They are the method we use (studying what does not fit) to improve our understanding of what is science. Apparent inconsistency in the interrelated web of all being is only my deficiency in understanding all being.
Newtonian physics recognizes the likeness of uniform motion to a state of rest. People inside the train do not feel its forward motion. They see landscape passing, but they are stationary relative to the train. Visual observation does not reveal which object is moving. We say the train is moving because at some point the people felt the train’s acceleration. They experienced forces. The object that accelerated is considered to be the one in motion.
Next, consider two trains moving in opposite directions. People inside one train looking at the other realize the two are moving relative to each other, but they do not know whether the wheels of both trains are turning. They look outside their system for some other point of reference. If the trees appear to be moving at one speed and the other train appears to be moving at a different speed, they conclude that both trains are moving—relative to the “fixed” trees, a chosen frame of reference.
What’s on the other side?
Armed with relativity, forces, and frame of reference, we can resume studying my childhood exploration. Along with learning about size, I was hearing words like eternal, forever and infinite. I was told that space extends infinitely. Since I could not see its outer edge, I blindly (pun intended) accepted the proposition.
In a spirit of doubting, I fancied that there might be a boundary beyond what I could see. With lively childhood imagination, I projected myself to that boundary, from which I could look back upon all of the universe. Then the question hit: what is on the other side of that boundary? I very quickly became a believer in infinity as something larger than the scope of my imagination. Article 88 reviews earlier articles explaining how I applied that thinking to the passage of time as well as to the extent of space. Distance goes on forever, and time goes on forever. Wanting to imagine both, I commenced my eternal-life stretching exercise.
I intentionally draw spiritual consequences from this reasoning. While Newtonian physics will still describe the phenomena for which it was developed, pursuit of infinity will break some bottlenecks. In my formal education, relativity expanded thinking beyond traditional physics. Now the universities are expanding beyond the first concepts of relativity. The traditional phenomena still happen while we become aware of new phenomena that are not explained by the old rules.
When my imagination goes to the outer border of the universe, it is not eliminating the known galaxies and solar systems. However, it is always freshly asking, “What is on the other side?”
The sublime to the ridiculous
I reversed the traditional words in this subtitle to prepare you for the examples I am about to raise. Readers will differ about which is sublime and which is ridiculous. Let me lead the way to the peaceful valley where both are sublime.
We will apply the force of reason within the traditional frame of reference and move on to the more subtle study of relativity. Relativity theory does not break Newtonian physics (apples still fall in the direction we call down). It does enable us to cope with a wider range of phenomena that are not explained by the simpler model.
Let us examine gender as our first example. The old theory is a static image of sexuality based on genetic capacity for reproduction. The combination of gametes still produces zygotes; that principle stands. However, closer observation establishes that there are unexplained bottlenecks. The simple model does not account for humans to whom the traditional pattern does not apply. It is well known that at birth sometimes gender cannot by determined because the infant’s body structure is atypical. Broader observation reveals differences in organs, chromosomes, chemistry, and psychology. The old theory is inadequate for some of the now known factors. Even though human eggs are still fertilized, the absolute gender binary is factually wrong, and traditional mores based on it conflict with the standard of truth as we now know it.
Our second example comes from the property rights allusion in article 90. Traditional practice motivates responsible care by assigning material assets to private ownership. People will take care of property if they own it. There is a bottleneck in that thinking. While the care and attention of ownership are laudatory (some people wax their cars), exclusive ownership underlies deprivation. If the earth is borrowed from our posterity, we are holding a stewardship for their benefit. That stewardship provides prudent care (we harvest forests sustainably) and also addresses distribution. Wealth cannot morally belong to the most powerful person to grab it. Any system of truth assigns resources equally to the whole population. We are not identical; I may need two computers while you need two cars. Nevertheless, a system that provides stability of work tools at the expense of other people’s needs (FISH, article 27) is skewed out of alignment with truth.
Call to action
If you are sitting at the farthest boundary, the periphery (alright, the apex) of well-being, I challenge you to ask what’s on the other side. In the infinity of which we are part, there is limitless expandability beyond what we can already see. In his specific field, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. climbed to the mountaintop and looked into the promised land. For me that lies ahead; it is on the other side of where I have been already. It is my choice to inhabit the promised land with freedom and equality for all my human family members. I think of infinity as a child in tune with article 88 being a freshman again—even in this life.
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash
Do you ever think about the outer edge of the universe? What is on the other side? That thought introduces you to infinity.
We gradually understand space. Moving through it we learn about time. Eventually this leads us to learn physics. There we learn about frame of reference, a concept for ordering our understanding. Eventually that surpasses Newtonian physics as we appreciate relativity. These technical terms have counterparts in everyday existence.
These laws of physics can prepare us for similar thinking in the spiritual sphere. There is always something higher than what we have so far learned. It goes on eternally, taking us above conventional thinking and to the promised land.