Zero and Infinity: The True Paradox

I had written this a little while ago, but I wanted to put something up for now. I’m planning on writing more about art and more practical things than this metaphysical topic.

Zero and Infinity: The True Paradox

The contradictory title was made purposely. In trying to understand reality I started to realize how illusory the world I believed I was living in was. That at the core of it, existed an undeniable paradox. I understand why this claim is not easy for most people to accept and often gets immediate rejection, but I implore you to reevaluate the idea. It is not just the abstruse concepts of a young adult trying to understand more than is in his capability of grasping. While it might be that, I don’t believe it is just that, for though I did not directly just pick these ideas up from someone else, it is certainly not a new idea in the history of thought. And it is not from the ramblings of some New Age wack job trying to sell books. One example of a prominent thinker in this metaphysical field is Douglas Hofstradter. In the introduction of his book, I Am A Strange Loop, Hofstradter writes, “One day when I was around sixteen or seventeen, musing intensely on these swirling clouds of ideas that gripped me emotionally no less than intellectually, it dawned on me-and it has ever since seemed to me-that what we call ‘consciousness’ was a kind of mirage. It had to be a very peculiar kind of mirage, to be sure, since it was a mirage that perceived itself, and of course it didn’t believe that it was perceiving a mirage, but no matter—it still was a mirage.”

As long of an introduction as this has been, it is needed because reading these ideas will be pointless unless it is from the perspective of an open-mind, one that leaves open the possibility that these ideas could be right. To restate my main thesis; At the core of reality and consciousness lies a paradox, making this entire world, simultaneously, real and not real.

In Our Subjective Reality

Consciousness is an abstract concept, so when reading it, I could see many different interpretations from different people. In short, I just mean awareness, which is what creates everything we know of. Though I would like to make this accessible to everyone, I will be making the analogy of a brain to a computer. I could see how some religious people will not accept this analogy, and argue about the soul, but for the sake of simplicity, I will have to just leave an argument in that direction out. So, for you, reader who can accept the analogy and hopefully intrigued to see where this takes us, lets dive in.

Using the analogy to link the brain to a computer, it would follow that consciousness is sort of like the operating system to the computer. So, this operating system, which I will call iBrain, with it’s several applications takes in information from external stimuli and converts it to electrical responses. If I understand correctly, these responses are run entirely off of an immensely long code of one’s and zero’s (or trues and falses), but I am certainly not expert in computers. Whether that is true or not, it is obvious that the iBrain operating system just acts as a projection of what is really going on inside the complex and intricate world of the computer, and through this projection, we are able to use this medium to interact with this entirely abstract world. This is easily seen if you have ever observed a computer tech work, or even someone who is very handy with the computer, they are able to display and observe all sorts of processes going on, that the not so savvy computer user (like me) had no idea was going on, or how to access. I know this analogy is being pushed far, but hopefully you are still with me and ready for the other side, which, because of how much the first part was expanded, should be much easier to explain and relatable to you.

In the brain there are easy to observe applications (impossible to not, actually) creating our consciousness, which is that of the senses. But there are several applications going on that are not so easy to observe. So consciousness (the awarness of everything going on in the inescapable moment of now) is created as our brain is taking in information and organizing it, categorizing it, creating analogies, storing it, attaching emotional chords to it… and so on.

On both sides of the analogy there is a several layered and extremely complex world that creates a medium to reflect what is going on, so that it is possible for we the users to observe and interact. All these applications are battling with/against each other to become aware and to create this. Now, if you stopped and asked whether by “this” I meant the operating system of the one side of the analogy or consciousness on the other, then my analogy would have fully succeeded, but that would be a stretch. But either side, the creation of this is purely abstract, a reflection. Where does what is going on in the screen I’m looking at right now, and/or consciousness, exist?! This sentence deserves a second read. Where does THIS exist?

So, where does infinity and zero come in? Abandoning the computer analogy, I will now just focus on consciousness. Everything that you are aware of, which is creating what is going on right now, exists in a relationship. You are aware of the computer (You + computer). If you take the You out of the relationship, the computer will still exist, but if you take the computer away and everything else that you are aware of, than you don’t exist. At the center lies nothing, 0. How the world is created is our relation/reflection of this zero, to everything else. Now your identity manifesting only through relationship will probably strike most as either inaccessibly foreign or pointlessly obvious. But, I’d like to believe that with contemplation over this, everything (infinity) from nothing (0), it should reveal itself as not only possible, but essentially important, lying behind and within everything.

In the Objective Reality

In branching off of subjectivity, I would like to make one more point, dealing with the concept of a mirage. We are inescapably bound to our subjective perspective, through this we construct the objective world we live in. You can see this in a mirage, when a fatigued body and confused brain messes up in its reflection or representation of the world. You see a tree that is not really there, your brain inserted a tree into the world!, how is that possible? This is because the whole world we believe to be living in is all a mirage, it is just usually (hopefully) a correct reflection of what is going on outside of the mirage. With mirages, it is easy to see this because it is the senses (which what I described above, are the easiest applications to observe running) that the mistake occurs. I also described that there are many other systems, or applications, running that are not so easy to observe that create our world (literally). The largest process that molds our worlds, giving meaning to our life and creates (at least the appearance of) free will is that of morality.

I have no idea how the brain decides what is good or bad, and I am in no way trying to say it would exist distinctly from other processes. It does appear to guide our actions; as we constantly try to move toward what we believe to be good and away from what we believe is bad, while also simultaneously readjusting those polar opposites and our path between them. Unfortunately, though this process is what gives your life meaning, it is much harder to distinguish whether what you are seeing really exists out there.

Moral decisions can be extremely difficult, and admitting fault, or even more difficult, ignorance can be more than hard, but extremely scary. That is why it is easy to just accept an already existing moral system, without question. But doing that is giving up your free will. The biggst mistake I see people make is the bulking of things into either two polar opposites without any inbetween gray area. Being skeptical does not mean completely throwing out all beliefs either, it just means not fully accepting them. It is vital to sanity to believe your manifestation of the objective world corresponds to the real one, but we should be ready to change any belief (no matter how deeply rooted or foundational it may be)if it does not agree with reason.

Again, where does zero and infinity come in? Well forgetting my existence and moving on to existence of anything and everything in more general terms, it is easy to see a paradox form again. We are just matter; matter that has been recycled many times for a long time, that will continue in this same fashion, mixing with a giant ocean of more matter that stretches for extremely far in every direction. Now there are two different views here; either this massive ocean of matter stretches on forever in both time and space (infinity) or it was created (either from God or in the Big Bang-from nothing, zero) and it will eventually be destroyed (returning to nothing, zero). Again this could seem too foreign or pointlessly true. To me though, they both seem impossible but at the same time inescapable; creating the truest paradox.

Believing that I live in a paradox, that essentially all of this is a mirage, does not mean it is pointless. I actually believe that we are manifestations of God (though my idea of God is far from any dogmatic conception) and God is a manifestation of us… which again is sort of paradoxical, but that’s why I believe it. To keep this blog from stretching even further though, I will save expanding the God stuff. But in short, most important to my beliefs is that we live a very transient fleeting existence, but it is ours. We must choose what to make of it. These choices will never bring you to a climax in your life, you will never finish. Every action and decision will change your course, but this is not a bad thing. Embrace change and make the most of this fleeting existence. Don’t let mistakes or shame paralyze further growth, and realize how small your existence is. That letting your decision be guided by something larger than yourself, by transcendent motives, and being altruistic does have real meaning. Again, I can’t expand on all the moral implications of my beliefs and really expect anyone to read through it all, so I will wrap with acknowledging that I’m not sure where this path is taking me, but I am certainly enjoying my travel.

For anyone who was able to stick through all that to the end, thanks and I hope you enjoyed it.

Zero and Infinity: The True Paradox

Shawn Talvacchia

Joined October 2008

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

In trying to understand consciousness and reality, I discuss what I believe to be beyond our ability to grasp; zero and infinity. That beyond the abstract role these numbers play in math, as concepts, they play a paradoxical role in reality and understanding the world. Trying to expand on this paradox, I explicate how living in a paradox creates consciousness and effects everyday life.

Artwork Comments

  • Philosophy Lee
  • HamperRefuser
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