Endless Possibilities

Last night I made the stupid choice of watching this week’s Horizon program before going to bed thanks to a tweet from Dan Atkinson (@DanAtkinson). There should be a small warning on such things stating that if you are ‘of a large imagination but a small brain in terms of science understanding, then please refrain from watching’. If you haven’t seen it, head to the iplayer now, as its worth a peek. Its all about infinity. I thought I knew about infinity haven’t spent most of my youth retorting to petty insults with it as a back. ‘Your mum’ was deflected with ‘your mum times infinity’. It was used so often that passers by of Stroud Green Junior School at break time would have been forgiven for thinking that there was a playground full of highly qualified mathematicians who’d just shrunk a bit and swallowed a lot of helium. Of course if you were the sort of person to decide this after hearing some school kids shout poor insults, then its clear you are not the sort of person who should be judging who is likely to be a mathematician as I would presume you would probably find it difficult counting all your own fingers.

It turns out I knew nothing about infinity. The show explained how infinity warps laws of addition and multiplication, but changes laws of subtraction in a hugely different way. I can’t tell you how as I tried to make sense of it and brain threatened to have an aneurism there and then but its something to do with a hotel that a beardy professor went in. Then there was the revelation that there are infinity infinities and that some infinities are bigger than others and infact they are infinitely bigger than others, all of which is very exciting and yet terrifyingly unimaginable as well. It is one of those things that when you try and think about it you just end up looking at yourself feeling hugely insignificant. I remembered one of my favourite moments of the Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy trilogy (in five parts) where Zaphod Beeblebrox is put in the Total Perspective Vortex, which shows him in relation to the entire universe, a device that is meant to completely destroy someone’s soul through making them feel so tiny on the scale of things, and yet Zaphod walks out feeling quite good about himself. I tried to use the fact that ants are even smaller than me, so they must feel super shit about things, as would starlings and germs. That made me feel slightly better. Its clearly an arrogant thing to do as ants aren’t really clever enough to say, ‘well at least we’re bigger than atoms’ and swap the whole perspective thing so it works for them.

The whole show was pretty great, and not just because Stephen Berkoff tried his very best to make everything seem as weird and as sinister as possible by growling in over dramatic tones in a black and white style that made it seem like another chapter from The Seventh Seal that was missing from the original. But my favourite bit was, not surprisingly the bit with monkeys and typewriters, but the knowledge that if the univese is infinite that there are infinite versions of us out there, some doing the opposite of us, some doing exactly the same, but altogether there are other Earths with other exact copies of us on them. That is so hugely insane and yet due to the infinite possibilities, hugely probable as well. I went to bed but stayed awake for hours thinking of all the other Tiernan’s out there. The ones who didn’t have beards, the ones with bigger beards, the ones who stayed in a day job, the ones who’d written their Edinburgh shows by now, the ones who were definitely bitten by radioactive spiders and became superheros. All of them. There must be loads and yet we’ll never meet. Which is a real shame because imagine if we all hung out and made an army of Tiernans. Of course the infinite possibilities would mean there would be some Tiernan’s I didn’t like and that would be bad. They would probably pronounce their name Tee-nan and really like reality television. I’m pleased that infinity is pretty far away. Buzz Lightyear didn’t really have a clue, especially as its impossible to get beyond infinity, because beyond infinity is infinity. Stupid fucking toy.

Today is Darwin Day and I can’t help but think that in alternate universes Darwin didn’t discover evolution, or discovered devolution, or he was discovered by a monkey or he discovered the missing link first but didn’t realise he was missing until he got lost in the supermarket. So so many possibilities. And its all because of evolution and progress that we can begin to think about these things. I would say thanks to Darwin and all the clever mathematician’s for this but I’ll be honest, its pretty much ruined my day as that’s all I’ll be thinking about for a while. Of course, there are other Tiernan’s out there who won’t be thinking about it, or enjoy thinking about it or can’t even spell infinity. Arggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (and so on, ad infinitum).

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