I remember the grade-school game of one-ups-man-ship surrounding infinity. It was common-place when playing imaginative games to substitute numbers within the game (e.g. the amount of ammunition imagined guns had, or the amount of damage taken from touching lava) with infinity. This would turn into, “Infinity times ten,” or, “Infinity times infinity,” and from there things would just devolve into numbers we did not really have an intuitive grasp on.
The simplest way to see infinity is to count forever. An equivalent way would be to imagine the largest possible number and add one to it. In doing so, not only does a larger number emerge, but a larger imagination. Repeat. Infinity: It’s such a large quantity that it takes quite some time to get comfortable imagining it.
Our universes is infinite. The proof of this is rather simple to think about and impossible to see with one’s own eyes. Imagine standing at the edge of the observable universe and firing an arrow into space. The arrow either goes on forever, or it hits an object that is now the new edge of the observable universe; repeat the experiment until the arrow flies on forever.
One of the counter-intuitive things about infinity is that it’s possible to pick objects from infinite sets. Termed the axiom of choice, it allows for picking without sorting or searching. It would allow us to pick any number we want instead of counting to that number, or to pick an arbitrary piece of space dust out of an infinite universe. Or pick a single experience from a lifetime of experience.
Mathematics has largely accepted the axiom of choice.
My intuitive side has not.
I bring up the axiom of choice because it has a rather unexpected relation to asking me, “What’s your favorite band?” When faced with such a question, I end up freezing in panic. It’s not that I don’t listen to music, or like music in general, but that I don’t know how to make the choice from so many possible choices. How do you compare an awesome bass rhythm to a kick-ass drum solo or lyrics that speak at a truly deep level?
I’m only half-way down this rabbit hole of ranking songs when I realize that the question was not, “What’s your favorite song,” but, “What’s your favorite band?”
How does one even begin to rank artists, anyway? So many questions, so much overwhelming choice! I have to pick something to give an answer and yet I find myself flipping through artist after artist. Counting them. The clock’s ticking! Imminent, impending risk of embarrassment.
No time to filter for what’s socially acceptable.
I blurt out an answer that’s whatever is in my head at the moment. Most definitely not my favorite artist. Not even one that I really listen to all that often.
Why was that in my head?
Why was that my choice?
Others seem to know their favorites off the top of their head. They don’t seem to be stuck making the choice and can freely pick an artist out of thin-air. Meanwhile I enumerate a list in my mind and run through the list trying to choose by some arbitrarily, chosen-in-the-moment, means of selection.
Most ice-breakers are like this for me.
Make a choice.
If I say the wrong thing, am I forever nailed to that choice?
Lots of questions. Few answers.
Questions like these are a necessary part of human connection, which makes it difficult when I simultaneously recognize their value and dread their asking. The anxiety I feel in such situations is so palpable that others have to notice; how could they not?
Does anybody feel that anxiety?
They do, but rarely admit it.
Social conversation raises the same anxiety in my body as ice-breakers. I find social conversation so significantly difficult that hearing someone else say, “That’s difficult for everybody,” feels moderately offensive.
Watching people, it seems that the most interesting people can run conversations on the fly, changing topic without ever resolving prior topics — without needing to resolve them. I’m stuck trying to track what’s going on, and how to contribute in an interesting manner. For these conversations, like a needle in the groove of a vinyl record, everything is in the moment. I feel like I’m reading the same groove with a number two pencil.
Somehow my contributions to conversation are typically not well received. I know this because my contribution can disband the group, or have one of the “leaders” of the group restart the conversation in a way that doesn’t acknowledge my statement. Is it because I wasn’t following the group correctly?
I need to make sure I don’t get lost in my own depiction of what’s been said. So much easier to talk inside my mind than to stay in reality.
What I fear most when faced with conversation is the reaction of the listener: Will they forever label me as a result of what I say? How it will feel to forever reside in their mind. A common fear, I suspect, and yet the questions remain equally as common.
I guess it’s a sign of vulnerability to answer these questions.
By answering, I’m demonstrating that I can make a choice and allow another individual to label me according to that choice.
Such an intimate act.
I don’t like that.
Labels are often permanent.
It’s not that I don’t want people to know me. I do; I really do.
What I fear, though is the way that labels tend to spread. People gossip and information spreads. The information present when the label was assigned gets lost to time and all that remains is the label—-that’s its function after all. Should the individual rely upon this label going forward, they are operating on a caricature of me going forward.
With endless opportunities for growth surrounding us, why limit ourselves to just caricatures. Just memories.
Here and now, that’s how I want to be judged.
Here and now, that’s what’s important.
Look around. Look at me. See me as I am, not as I was.
I can’t go anywhere else but here.
I can’t go back to the past. Any time I do, it’s just a memory floating on the present neurons in my brain. The brain creates thoughts of the past as present thoughts; how unreliable they can be. How the stories they tell change with the passage of time. One day the past is painful, and the next, beautiful.
I can go into the future, but at time’s pace. If I try to rush the future’s coming, it’s yet another thought floating on the neurons of now. How beautiful the future in my mind may be; how different it is from the future that comes to pass.
Here and now, that’s where I want to live.
In space time, here and now is but a small point in the infinite vastness of the universe and the eternal nature of time. It really puts things in perspective to think you count as “0.000…1” and everything else is infinity. I cannot even comprehend how vast this box of space-time that I live in really is. It’s beyond experiential comprehension.
And yet, it’s easy to understand infinity and the vastness of space-time by coming to it from another dimension. In most social situations, I have a hard time predicting what other people are going to say or do; you could say there’s an infinite amount of unpredictability in people. Each new experience expands the limits of experience. I approach such situations with an open mind and don’t rule out any behavior from the other person.
Given that nothing is excluded, everything must be included.
Nothing is impossible.
“Infinity” was originally published in the book Mindfully Autistic by Robert Escriva.