1.30.2012

We Are Infinite

We are temporal creatures. And life, well, life is temporal: it just keeps happening. That seems silly when I write it as it seems so obvious. And yet so much of how we think about things excludes time, excludes change. We think about change as something that happens after the fact rather than change being the fact. 

We are always and already changing, transforming, evolving at every moment in multiple ways — our bodies, of course, as blood and oxygen and shit pass through our veins and intestines and noses and lungs and skin is sloughed, continuously; and the rest of us, too, as moods and desires shift relentlessly.  Just think about your day: you are constantly, relentlessly, ceaselessly thinking, feeling, becoming something different — or at least I am.

Now, geometry deals with shapes in space. But what happens when time enters the equation and becomes constitutive of space? When change becomes constitutive of a shape, of an object?  That is the domain of calculus. 

And calculus gives us something incredibly interesting: the infinite series. That is, it gives us particular trajectories of infinity, different things winding and meandering and drifting infinitely in their own way.

So think about this. As we are temporal creatures — as we are always and already changing — we are not set in stone.  Our identities are not this or that per se; our identities are this trajectory of becoming, this infinite series.  Consider someone's life, all the ways that person went, all the different twists and turns — of spine, mood, liver, skin, diet, attitude, career. 

Time makes us unpredictable (within limits) and uncertain. But does it make us infinite?  I mean, sure, we are a series but we end in death, don't we? What makes us infinite?

Well, do we end in death?  And, no, I'm not talking about heaven or hell but I am talking about a kind of afterlife. I am talking about the way we live on — in effect, in affect, in the memories not only of individuals but in the memories of the world itself.

Think about it like this.  A star explodes in some distant galaxy. This explosion sets off a series of events throughout the cosmos as matter is fundamentally realigned, even if only very slightly.  That star may be gone but its effects live on, infinitely, as its very being has reshaped the cosmos forever.

Well, we are all stars and, yes, one day we explode but that does not mark the end of our series, only an inflection point within its infinite trajectory.

3 comments:

Glenn said...

I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the first and last paragraphs.

On the first par, it drives me bonkers that time seems not to exist (and/or the ability to change) to people in political debate. Modern politics (or media coverage of) is the realm of point in time promises. When a politican changes their mind they are a flip flopper. You can't learn more on a topic over a period and change your mind without being criticised. And that obviously goes beyond politics. Just ask my parents when I said I was an atheist!!

On the last par, I doubt I have a great novel in me, so how I am going to live on in memory is of real concern for some reason. I am only 33 but it has bugged me for way too long. Having two kids isn't cutting it. Probably because by the time they are grandparents I will be long forgotten, despite DNA. I need to get into the "history books" for something......

Linz said...

I hear some Joni Mitchell here...

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Linz: I was afraid of that as, yes, I am as constant as the northern star but isn't that actually Shakespeare? Anyway, I hoped the smart sounding reference to calculus would belie such comparisons....

@ Glenn: Forget human memory, human history. I'm talking mostly about cosmic history: you ARE this piece of the cosmos, shaping the cosmos for eternity — just as any star, planet, asteroid, black hole, nova, does. We all shine on, to invoke John Lennon's Instant Karma, like the moons, the stars, and the sun. I mean this literally. Fuck human history; embrace the cosmos.