Infinity Reveals Itself
I was inclined to disagree, or perhaps I simply didn’t understand his meaning. I thought, “We are surrounded by the finite.” There are brick walls all around us, in every direction we turn. The vastness of the world may be beyond the scope of our true comprehension, yet it is nonetheless contained. And everything within and upon it is in some way likewise contained.
Even the limits of our imagination are constrained within the bounds of our own experience. You can imagine and dream beyond what you have done, seen, read, felt, heard – but only in relation to those experiences. Imagination can build upon what you already know, but can you really create something out of thin air, without reference of any kind?
Anyway, that’s where my thoughts carried me. The next day, I took this picture:
When I saw it, something clicked in my head, and my immediate thought was “infinity reveals itself in all things”.
I didn’t have a clear understanding of why that picture made me think, “That’s it!” It just did. There were fuzzy ideas in my head about the nature of decay and the tenacity of life; of the scale of the brick in comparison to the moss that grew upon it; that the brick was something else before it was a brick, that it used to be clay and sand and…whatever bricks are made of, and that it was headed back that way; that energy is neither created nor destroyed but is transferred from one form to another, of a small thing reaching out into the unknown…
In short, I had a lot of thoughts in my head, and whether they applied to the question at hand or not was of little concern to them. They had appeared without bidding and like any good uninvited guest, they ran around all willy nilly as if they owned the place. My only defense was to sort them out one at a time.
So, size: my first clear thought concerned size and atoms. Just as the world we see is bigger than we can comprehend, the world we don’t see is smaller than we can comprehend. As I looked at the size of the brick, small in comparison to myself, and I looked at the size of those tiny leaves of moss, small in comparison to the brick, I went further in, and further in…
Keep going – there’s more tiny stuff in there than you can imagine. And like you can peer further in, you can seek further out, from the leaf of moss to the brick to me to the city to the country to the world to the vast expanses of space. Perhaps to infinity.
But I can’t think about that very long because, I’ll tell you a secret: it’s the only question that scares me. How big is the universe? How far does it go? Everything we know about life involves limits, even life itself. If the universe has no end, what’s holding it in? It’s just not possible for something to exist that has no end – is it? But, if there is an end, a wall or a boundary, if the universe is boxed in somehow, then what’s holding the box? *shudder* I have to stop myself, I just can’t take it.
So…moving on to something happier, like decay. My second clear thought was that all materials are recycled, even us. At some point this wall was earth, it was clay. Who knows where it came from, who or what walked on it, what crawled through it – that alone is pretty exciting to ponder. So it was clay, and then it was a brick, and then a wall, and now…I guess it’s headed back to the beginning. Or maybe someone will take it apart and build something new with the pieces. It most certainly will change form, eventually, but it will not disappear. And it’s the same with us. I read once that, if you pull us completely apart, we would just be a pile of atoms, completely indistinguishable from any other thing in the universe, and that it’s quite remarkable that all those atoms came together in just the perfect way to make you, and not a chair.
Bill Bryson, in A Short History Of Nearly Everything:
Because they are so long-lived, atoms really get around. Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on it’s way to becoming you. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms – up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested – probably once belonged to Shakespeare. A billion more each came from Budda and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name. (The personages have to be historical, apparently, as it takes the atoms some decades to become thoroughly redistributed.)
So we are all reincarnations – though short–lived ones. When we die, our atoms will disassemble and move off to find new uses elsewhere – as part of a leaf or other human being or drop of dew. Atoms themselves, however, go on practically for ever.
Honestly, though, I had a hard time with this. We are created from within; we are inside another body and we develop there. When we come out, we keep growing, but it’s not like we’re picking up pieces here and there – again, it’s growth of what already exists inside us. But then I thought of all the atoms that we ingest, all the atoms that are added from the outside. We breath them, we eat them, we drink them. I can definitely imagine breathing in some Shakespeare and never knowing it. Or drinking him in the water. Very interesting. A little creepy.
But isn’t it a kind of infinity? To never disappear, at least on the uttermost basic level, but to continually change from one form to another.
Then there is just the tenacity of life itself. We cling to life, no matter how rocky it is, how many cracks or crevices score its surface. We will find a place and a way to exist, to hold on, to live. Sometimes, as with the moss in the pictures above, it is the fissure itself that provides what we need to continue growing, a new place to start from.
And though it starts as something that we can’t see, the moss doesn’t grow out of nothing. It is like us, in that we begin as sperm and egg, two separates coming together to form a new life. A life unique unto itself…and yet…an entity that carries within it a living record of what came before. Infinity is in our very blood, in our DNA, in us.
But where does that leave the brick, which is inanimate, unable to reproduce itself? Is it enough to be a part of the infinite simply because you exist, because you will eventually be recycled, because an atom that makes up part of you will someday make up part of something else? Maybe.
But I think there is more to be said for the brick. I think there is something beautiful in the simple idea of being useful, of having a purpose. There is beauty in being a part of something bigger than you are, of coming together with others to create…anything…to have lived a life that is larger than who you are alone.
And there is still something more. There is living a life less conspicuous, though no less significant: to have provided a haven, to have offered support to something yet smaller, something weaker than yourself. That is a legacy too.
I think that’s the one I like best – the idea of the perpetuity of our spirit, the passing on of yourself through your actions, your words, your beliefs…by simply being who you are.
I’m still not sure what atomsofthought meant. And that’s okay. Like the atoms we’re made of can take on new forms in each carnation, so too our thoughts. But even as a bud reaches out toward new possibilities, it remains rooted to the base, to what supports it. And so I am likewise rooted in the idea that “infinity reveals itself in all things”, even as I search for my own definitions.
Perhaps I do understand what I recognized in that picture: a bud of moss, tiny as it is, reaching out into what must be for it the equivalent of infinity, into a world beyond comprehension, a universe seemingly uncontained.
Item of interest:
- What is infinite? (smartblabcafe.wordpress.com)