I conjecture: The concept of infinity could not exist in a finite universe.
Part Two: The Possibility of Infinite Space
“The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest.”– Kurt Vonnegut
Douglas Adams called the universe “mind-bogglingly big.” But “mind-bogglingly big” pales next to infinitely big. And while the question of space being infinite may be somewhat easier to get around than time, it is certainly no bargain.
The first problem is that Vonnegut is dead-on right. Our universe is only possibly the biggest place. It used to be that “universe” meant everything. But then the concept of “multi-verse,” with countless alternate or parallel universes, began to creep into astrophysics and cosmology. To make matters worse, there is not just one potential level of parallel universe proposed, but four.* So far. Physicist and author Paul Davies argues that the concepts, while fascinating to contemplate, amount to philosophy–or even religious faith–if you can’t test them. David Deutsch, among others, disagrees and deduces that the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is the only one that makes sense, in terms of scientific explanation. I’ll have more background on the various arguments surrounding interpretations of quantum mechanics–particularly The Copenhagen Interpretation vs. all others–in future posts.
Getting back to the question of infinity of our universe and/or the multiverse, there is indeed some scientific investigation aimed at determining the potential infinity of our own visible universe. It involves the topology of its three-dimensional space and whether it is flat or curved. I can’t go into details, as it involves rather advanced calculations from observations of the Cosmic Background Radiation–the earliest remnants of the Big Bang we are able to detect with current technology. But the weight of the existing evidence seems to be pointing towards a flat topology that could be infinite. Add that to the possibility of countless alternate universes of various kinds, and I will assume for our purposes that space is at least potentially infinite. [For a discussion of actual vs. potential infinity, see the Wikipedia article]. In the final installment on this conjecture, I will address one dimension of existence that I feel without doubt is potentially infinite: human imagination. For an extended, if somewhat dramatic discussion of the possibility of an infinite universe, watch the video linked at the bottom of this article.
*As classified by MIT cosmologist, Max Tegmark
Text of this post ©2012 Mark Sackler.