Impossible infinity

Recently our group’s work has progressed a great deal; in particular we have managed to condense our work down to one specific element, and that is us reading a list of book titles from the library along with their numbers. The idea behind this is to show how ‘endless’ language is, and whilst we have advanced this even further recently, this particular part of our idea reminded me of a piece of work we were asked to write towards the beginning of the module.
It got me thinking – Is anything truly infinite? We read a passage from The Library of Babel, by Jorge Luis Borges, and this looked into the library’s ability to portray infinity and its reflection on human nature. Whilst this gave me insight into what we perceive infinity to be, it did not truly answer the question I wanted it to.
What is infinity? By dictionary definition it is simply a word used to describe something which we could not possibly begin to measure. However, when thought about in depth, does infinity in fact have infinite meanings? Or perhaps even no meaning at all?  It is powerful, yet it signifies weakness in the human race. It is supposed to represent everything we don’t understand, yet we have no evidence of it. Infinity is a contradiction.
Let’s first analyse the idea that there are infinite definitions to the word. Each and every one of us will have a different image in our heads as to what infinity is. Whilst one person might see it as forever, another may believe that infinity has an end, just not one that can be found. Infinity covers many unknowns. It could be used to describe the size of the universe, the number of atoms that make up the world around us or the amount of discoveries still to be made; all of these things are near to impossible to comprehend. This then poses the question: Is infinity meaningless?
Is it possible that infinity is just a word that we use to describe something that we, humans, as a race, are afraid to discover? Perhaps because we are unsure of the sheer of possibilities that something described as infinite has, we label it with this powerful name, creating an image that almost prevents us discovering what infinity truly is. Infinity is big, bold and bewildering to us; but should we be afraid of it? Should we use it as an excuse to stop seeking knowledge, merely because we believe we can never find an end? To put a simple answer to it; no, we should not.
Borges puts forward the theory of the infinite library, out-living the species that created it; it is a terrifying concept. He states in his musings:

“I am perhaps misled by old age and fear, but I suspect that the human species – the only species – teeters at the verge of extinction, yet that the library – enlightened, solitary, infinite, perfectly unmoving, armed with precious volumes, pointless, incorruptible  and secret- will endure.” (Borges 1998, p.118)

The human race has stuffed these buildings to the brim with all the knowledge that we possess, and we will continue to do so until the day that we cease to exist. It is hardly surprising that in history there have been attempts, some successful, to completely destroy these magnificent monuments. They are a considerable threat to our existence, whilst aiding in improving ourselves as a species, aiding our destruction also. The attempts to end the legacy of the eternal library were made in fear of what knowledge would do to our race; it was seen as being ‘against God’ to be so all-knowing. Perhaps those that held this view had a valid point. After all, is it natural for something so lifeless yet full of life at the same time, to out-last a species which is supposed to be at the height of intelligence? If we are so intelligent, so full of knowledge and wisdom, as we truly believe, why do we feel the need to keep everything we know in these libraries?

The reason we engage in this habit, so strange to all other existence on this earth, is possibly because of our fear of the infinite. Human beings are so determined to exist for eternity, to make our mark on this planet forever more, that we are seeking any method we can to try and beat the theory of infinity. However, that is all it really is; a theory – we do not know of the existence of infinity. It is simply a concept, put in place for we have fear of an end more so than we do of lasting forever. Either way, infinity will always be the powerful unknown that we live in the shadow of.

Our performance can somewhat represent our battle with infinity and what it means for the library to contend with potentially lasting forever. We are trying to create a seemingly endless list of books, labeled with numbers that could go on for infinity, using infinite methods of representing language. We have engaged with the concept of endlessness, and began to explore it’s impossibility by showing this in individual sketches. In trying to create an accurate representation of the libraries infinite aspects, we will no doubt face challenges, but we aim to demonstrate what humanity can understand from the word “infinity”. However it would clearly be impossible for us to exactly represent the extent of what infinity is. Maybe that’s what infinity is. Infinity is simply impossible.

Works Cited

Borges, Jorge Luis (1998) “The Library of Babel.” Collected Fictions, Trans. Andrew Hurley, New York: Penguin

Posted: March 27th, 2013
Categories: Borges, Library, Taking the Library Outside
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