“The religious idea of God cannot do full duty for the metaphysical infinity.” ~ Alan Watts, philosopher
The concept of infinity is another one of those doors that I opened up once without actually knowing what it was and then quickly slammed it shut in fear upon realizing what I was looking at. I don’t recall how old I was at the time when I first had that revelation, but I must have been around fourteen or so, because I still held firm to a Christian understanding of the afterlife.
In school, they taught me that when you die and go to either heaven or hell, you go there for an eternity. One day, I found myself wondering about that. I imagined myself up in heaven, sitting on a cloud with God and angels plucking at their little harps. You know, heaven. Then, I thought about being in such a situation as that forever. So after all that had been done, then what? Still the same, with the singing and the clouds and the halos. Fast forward a million, billion, gazillion years (numbers that I couldn’t even fathom in their own right) and that still wasn’t the end. Fast forward a million, billion, zillion, bazillion years, … nope. Still the same spot.
I tried to stretch my mind to keep going as far into the future as I could. But intuitively, I knew that, no matter how far ahead I went, the situation would always remain the same. If heaven was being on a cloud with God for all eternity, then this is what it would look like.
At about that point, I started becoming deathly afraid. I realized, in that moment, that no matter how hard I tried, there would be no end to it. It would just keep going and going and going to the point of madness.
Truthfully, words like “infinity” and “eternal” have no meaning until you actually come face to face with the realities they describe. Only then do you truly realize how frightening the concept really is.
It’s just like how words like “heights” and “hundredth floor” don’t mean anything until you get up there and look down and the threat of imminent death is slammed into your face. You become like Eddie Murphey’s character in The Golden Child where, in one scene, he drops a quarter into a bottomless pit. He waits and waits for there to be a sound. He knows that it ought to make a sound if there’s a floor, but none is made. After a few seconds, he started to become confused. After half a minute, he becomes worried. The longer time drags on without a sound, the more frightened he becomes, as the more he realizes that there is no bottom!
Infinite time and infinite space are linked. But infinite time is less frightening when one is always living in the now. Infinite space, however, is another matter entirely.
In art, the principles of linear perspective and relative scale help define a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional medium. Such depth, especially infinite depth, is merely an illusion on the page. But the reality of infinite depth is potentially incomprehensible, and certainly very frightening.
To illustrate this point, consider the following parable I created.
Imagine a spaceman who travels out into the universe in search of God and meaning and truth and other such things. He knows that God is greater than anything there is, and this is all he has to go by. So he travels out into the depths of space until he loses all sight of the earth. He travels to the end of the solar system, until the sun appears as nothing more than a tiny dot. By now, he has traveled incredibly far, but space is vast and there’s still so much left. He presses on to the edge of the galaxy, until millions upon millions of stars are now within his field of vision. Still he trudges on until the whole of the galaxy now appears within his windshield. By this point, if he were traveling at the speed of light, it would have taken him over 100,000 years to see such a thing. In such a time, the ancient cavemen would have developed to the point where they could build ships like his. And there’s still so far to go.
Our spaceman turns to his left and sees Andromeda, the nearest spiral galaxy, through his port window. To reach it, it would take twenty-five times longer than it took him to go from earth to where he is now. Such a trip would be maddening. As he travels towards Andromeda, it would appear as though he wasn’t even moving at all. Andromeda would appear to stay exactly the same size and distance away.
But supposing our spaceman took pictures every few millenniums of Andromeda to prove to himself that he wasn’t losing it, but that he was, in fact, showing marked progress in gaining towards Andromeda. Such might encourage him to stave off madness and press on a little further (never minding how the hell he’s even still alive at this point).
So our astronaut friend has traveled about 2.5 million light years. The galactic equivalent of moving from one blade of grass to an adjacent blade of grass in a great big universal lawn.
In his millions of years of travel, he’s found no God. But he’s seen the wonders of the universe through his windshield and has grown quite bored of them. He decides that he will make a trip to the edges of the universe itself. Assuming our little spaceman was somewhere near the middle of the universe, it would take him about forty-six billion (46,000,000,000) years to reach the edge. The significance of such a number in terms of either time or distance is really lost on human beings. It’s just beyond our comprehension.
Most people can’t even last a single day without going mad from boredom (some of you probably won’t even make it to the end of this post). If our astronaut friend didn’t shoot himself in the head after 2.5 million years, he might do it in 2.6 million, or three million, or even five million; and that’s still only a fraction of the way to his destination. Even if he managed to make it as many as a billion years, that still leaves 45 billion more to go.
And we humans think we know what God is?! God is supposed to be greater than the whole of the universe, right? To be able to even see the whole of the universe in his windshield, we’d have to travel at least twice that distance, or close to 90 billion light years!
Again, such a concept loses all meaning in human minds. I could probably take you to the beach and say, “Here’s a billion grains of sand,” and have you line them up end to end. Now multiply that by ninety (good luck even imagining ninety beaches). That would make ninety billion grains of sand, but we’re talking in terms of light-years here, not microns. A light-year is 10^16 kilometers. To make just one light-year, you’d need like a million, billion, billion beaches. Yeah, ok. The human mind can imagine that, right? No!
So to reach the other side of the universe, you’d need like 90 million, billion, billion, billion grains of sand and … you see where this going. It’s just too much for any mind to comprehend.
And we’re still not even done yet!
Supposing our astronaut gets far enough away from the universe that he can see the whole thing in his windshield. Who’s to say there isn’t a multiverse made of a trillion universes, each about 90 billion light-years across and several trillion light-years between them? At this point, the only way we can talk about such things is through comparison and scale. To shrink down the universe through a metaphor.
Now imagine the astronaut gets to the end of all of that and sufficiently beyond (say 1.5 times the distance from the center) to see the whole thing in his front windshield. Is that God? I don’t know. It could be. Or maybe there’s even more to existence.
But for sake of argument, let’s say there isn’t. Let’s say that after the multiverse, there’s just nothing as far as the eye can see, except when you’re look directly at the multiverse.
Supposing also that our spaceman is a closed-minded, uptight, and arrogant little fucktard who’s not at all impressed with the fact that he’s got the whole of the multiverse in one glance. So he begins to wonder what’s “out there” in the emptiness of the void beyond existence. Is there just oblivion or is whatever it is just so far away that he can’t seen it? After all, he’s seen the universe itself become a spec within his window and that was pretty big. But he still hasn’t seen God yet.
He continues on and on into the void of space beyond the multiverse. Only this time, he has no visual reference to go by. There is no point of light appearing in the distance to mark his journey by, no matter how far out he travels. Because there is no secondary point, there is no time, since time requires a change in the relationship between two objects in space. He’s in solitary and time seems to stand still.
Eventually, he looks back behind him and sees that the whole of existence is quickly fading into the distance, appearing now as just a faint point of light.
Our astronaut begins to get worried. Like Eddie Murphy from the Golden Child, he is becoming more aware of the infinity before him. He starts to sweat now at the thought of there not being anything else out there. What if he goes to far and loses sight of the multiverse behind him? How will he knew which way to go to get back? He could be lost in the void for all eternity, too late to reverse his foolish and prideful decision to soldier on.
At this point, he has two options.
The first option is to admit to himself that he is afraid and will turn back in fear, returning to the multiverse. He will have to admit to himself that reality is an island in a void and that God is the sum total of it all and that meaning and purpose are self-defined. He will then return a changed man and have a new-found spiritual awareness. He will appreciate the universe for what it is, having seen every last bit of it and realizing that there never was an end point at all. He will feel at one with anything and everything there is. He will then travel to planets of lesser minds and cultivate them with this profound spiritual wisdom. Both he and they will be much happier for it and he will live out the rest of eternity in peace.
The second option is to continue on into the void and stay there for all eternity, living in abject nihilism. Since he will have existed for billions of years, he will no doubt have done a lot of thinking in that time and have unlocked all the mysteries of existence. This may be why he chose to carry on, because nothing in reality fulfilled him. So if there is nothing left for him in the universe, he will go on to create his own, using what he has available: his thoughts. He will divide himself and enter the realm of dualism and separateness where he is a fissure of mind, a fragmented consciousness, a veiled awareness. He shall either be the most enlightened soul in all existence, or the maddest.