Visualizing Infinity

The concept of infinity is all around us and is quite easy to grasp. Many people have difficulty visualizing infinity, because they try to define it through the eyes of their limited human existence, experiences or beliefs. Even scientists are limited, as they must turn to math and supercomputers to help define infinity. The easiest way to scratch the surface of infinity is to imagine life as a nanobacterium.

Nanobacteria are thought to be the smallest living, replicating organism, and are generally found living within certain diseased human cells (generally one bacterium to a cell) in arteries and kidney stones. To the nanobacterium, its cell, or minute piece of a kidney stone is its world. The cell a nanobacterium lives in equates to a human and his or her house. The artery, to the nanobacterium, is its world, the human body its universe and outside of our bodies, the unknown.

This won’t work if you look at nanobacteria through your eyes. Imagine you are just as small as they are, just under two-hundred nanometers. Two-hundred nanometers is the smallest object seen by a traditional microscope at its highest power. Imagine that you, the nanobacterium, have no assisted means of travel such as the circulatory system. Let’s say you had tiny legs and nubby little feet. How long would it take you to travel from a human toe to the top of its head? Would it be an impossible feat in your short life span of just a few hours?

To a nanobacterium, the distance from a human toe to its head might equate to the distance a human must travel to get into outer space, or sixty-two miles (100 km), or perhaps to Mars, or even beyond. Remember, nanobacteria would have a different and smaller means of measuring compared to its gargantuan human host.

Let’s take it one step further and think about the time it would take for the nanobacterium to travel to outer space, or to Mars, or to the end of the Milky Way Galaxy. Now picture a typical image from the Hubble telescope showing hundreds of galaxies in one view.

With that in mind, you are no longer a nanobacterium. You are now a human in the future travelling through space. Up until now, most scientists believed there was no end to space. All of a sudden, and many generations after the start of the voyage, your space ship leaves the familiar darkness of outer space and pushes out intosomething; unfamiliar territory. The “thing” you dumped your spaceship into could be what was encompassing the universe all this time, equal in significance to a nanobacterium leaving your human body and discovering your living room for the first time in nanobacteria history.

Were you able to follow all of that? To visualize infinity is to let go of our mortal egos and imagine that our world is encompassed in a single cell of something much grander and unexplainable. You can trade out the nanobacteria for a dolphin or any creature that would not live outside of its natural habitat for long.

A dolphin is familiar with the air outside of water and has seen the sky, but it does not know outer space exists, however that does not mean outer space does not exist. The Earth is encompassed in outer space, the Milky Way is encompassed by the universe, so then what encompasses the universe? Is science and math as we know it enough to surmise that nothing lies beyond the universe?

Would a sentient nanobacterium with its minute sense of measurement be able to calculate the distance from the human artery it occupies to Earth’s troposphere if it knew it existed? If the nanobacterium was aware of the outermost edge of the planet Earth thanks to its calculations, would it know the moon existed? Not necessarily. After all, a real nanobacterium doesn’t know that anything beyond its own cell exists. Talk about perspective.

Only when you realize how insignificant tiny living creatures are in relation to the size of the Earth, as well as just how insignificant humans are in relation to the vastness of the universe, will you begin to understand and properly visualize the concept of infinity. One doesn’t have to claim to know what lies beyond our reach and telescopes to fully understand infinity. Mentally stepping outside of one’s own perspective is a must.