Friday, 27 June 2014

The Infinity Conundrum

Rainbow mosaic infinity
 (Photo credit: mag3737)
Professor Liddle seemed to appraise his visitor coolly. Urquhart wore a camel greatcoat and a trilby. Unbuttoning the coat revealed a moss green suit, on his feet brown brogues finished off the odd appearance of a man outside his time. Liddle may have expected to see such a figure at the finishing post of a 1960s race track rather than in the sparkling modernist chrome and smoked glass surfaces of the Advanced Physics Institute.

'It was regarding your Turing Memorial Lecture yesterday, I came, actually,' Urquhart helped himself to a seat in front of Liddle's neat desk. 'I hear it was fascinating.'

'It appeared to have been well received, I do flatter myself to think.'

'What was it? "On Infinity"? I'm surprised it wasn't endless.'

'Very droll, Mr?'

'Urquhart. What was the premise? We are all atoms, wasn't it?'

'Not at all. I explained that we have an altogether too finite view of infinity. We see infinity as being really very big, but rarely do we afford the concept sustained thought that would allow us to truly appreciate infinity as it really is. So when we regard the universe as being infinite, we think of it as an expanse of stars that goes farther than we can see or imagine. It's a little like primitive tribesmen regarding the night sky as heaven. The scope of our imaginations and experiences limits how we can possibly conceive of the infinity of infinity.'

'I'm certainly starting to feel small. You shared a rather fantastic illustration, though.'

'It's by no means fantastic. If you wish to begin comprehending the vastness of the concept of infinity, you could perhaps regard the sun as being an atom and our planets as particles surrounding that atom. If that were the case, then we would be part of a larger entity, so huge that we could barely conceive of it. We would possibly be an atom of Flourine. We might be an infinitesimal part of a very large frying pan, for instance. And that frying pan would be held in hand by a woman cooking in a kitchen on a landmass on a planet so huge that we, standing on a particle of a single atom of Flourine, would find it hard to even scale in our tiny minds. And yet she and her planet are part of another atom, an infinitesimal element of an even greater hand in a greater kitchen.'

Urquhart shifted in his chair. His brown eyes were alive and inquisitive and he waved Liddle on.

'So as we imagine this onion skin of worlds of infinitely larger size, we must also conceive that for them time moves at an infinitely slower pace. Our smaller size quickens us. We are correspondingly more volatile, you see? If the universe is truly infinite, even our concept of time has to give way to an infinite range of the passing of time.'

'I think I do. But you are talking of remarkable scales here. It all sounds, well, fantastical.'

Even his visitor's vocabulary seemed a little old fashioned, Liddle may have pondered, but his mind wouldn't really have been on his audience, but on his favourite subject and he would have been on a race to complete his thought process. 'Infinitity is by its nature fantastical. So we have dimensions to infinity, not just the planar infinity of a universe so large we cannot imagine it, but a universe so small we cannot imagine it. You see? And then we have infinity of scale and of time to take on board. How many thousands of lifetimes on our planet will pass before that frying pan containing its atom of flourine as part of its non-stick coating will be put on the hob and heated. And how long will the changes of that heating process take to manifest themselves in our solar system? You start to see the scale?'

'Yes, but-'

'And so it is for our own frying pan. We are on a scale, just one layer of this infinite onion skin of nested universes, our own frying pan contains countless million solar systems, each containing in its turn countless million more.'

'Which is all very well, but it doesn't explain the odd leap to nuclear-'

Liddle's animation took on an annoyed edge. 'Odd leap? Don't be a fool, man! Think about it! Our universe consists of a perfect amount of mass, which never changes. We might change the state of matter, but we don't change the amount of matter. And so there is balance across this whole infinity of universes. Except for one small problem: every time we split an atom for nuclear energy, we are releasing the power of the destruction of an infinite number of universes smaller than our own. That wondrous release of inexplicable energy is because we are inflicting infinite gigadeath on countless, increasingly infinitesimal, planets and systems. In our natural state we disturb nothing in the universe, but this constant atomic holocaust is inflicting untold destruction in the infinite layers below us. And I believe as an ultimately self repairing system, as all natural systems are, the universe will move to stop us in time.'

Urquhart sat forward, his face unhappy. 'It is a fascinating view of things, Professor, but it has sadly cost your whole audience their lives as, I am afraid, it will cost you yours.'

'I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean,' Liddle twisted in his chair to rise, but there was a gun in Urquhart's hand and Liddle would only have had a second to note the darkness of its little mouth when a sharp report followed by a tremendous impact to his head flared his world into darkness.

Urquhart placed the gun back in his pocket and peered over the desktop at the dead scientist splayed out on the floor. He died because he knew too much and talked too much and spread dangerous ideas that had all too much impact on the gullible and impressionable public. And someone has to weed out thinking like that before it gets out of hand and threatens our cosy view of the world, a view so important to the functioning of a healthy society. It's a job that knows no limits and is, like the universe around us, timeless. But someone, you'll understand, has to do it.

You might have worked out by now that I am Urquhart.

And I'm behind you.


Alexander McNabb said...

A small conceit that was in my head, as usual with these things, when I woke up but which doesn't fit into my current WIP...

Macthomson said...

Bugger! Love it! It will find its place.

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