The Infinite, part 2. Parsing infinity – In the Beginning.

In the last post, we looked a little at meanings. What do we mean by “finite”? And the answer was that it depends. If we are measuring size, it is a matter of counting: counting is just a matching exercise. Match numbers to the number of cows that pass the gate for example: one, two, three, . . . 25. 25 cows came through the gate. Our ordinary experience prepares us for such things. But when the number of objects becomes too large, the process becomes less meaningful. Scriptural accounts that suggest certain things are just too large to comprehend can be understood on several levels. Whether they entail the infinite will be examined later. Questions like “How many moons does Jupiter have?” and “How many water molecules are in a cup of water?” are not just different in scope, they are different in meaning. Abstraction and approximation are the only ways to deal with the second question. (The “answer” is *about* 8 x 1024. Ten to the 24th power is so large that we can only deal with it as an abstraction. But it is a finite number!)

Some cultures avoid counting things when they are too large in size. But the accountants won’t give us that luxury now. Budget and deficit and loss discussions bat around extraordinary figures. Our common experience does not prepare us to understand the idea of a trillion dollars and it may be impossible to do so. So we deal with these kinds of things as abstractions. Does that make you a bit nervous?
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