A Relationship with the Infinite

When I was a kid, I was overwhelmed by the concept of infinity.  I’d lie in bed at night, in the dark, and try to picture the infinity of space, each limit in my mind giving way giving way giving way until I achieved a kind of vertigo and my skinny little body would tremble as if in orgasm, a conceptual tantra.  It was exquisite.

And it was the beginning of my conscious relationship to the infinite.

What is the infinite?  It is the understanding — an understanding that is an experience, that is lived through — that this life is necessary, that there is no other life, that everything that happens resounds infinitely precisely because it happened, because there is no other way: there is nothing else but this. And this necessity makes every moment constitutive of the universe — everything you do, think, say, feel makes the world in this absolutely distinct way.  Everything you do, think, say feel resounds infinitely.

Of course, we often think of the infinite as out there — like my younger self discovering the infinite in space. It is no doubt easier to experience the infinite without the distractions of what seems finite — traffic, jobs, pissing, eating, cleaning, what am I gonna do Saturday night, does Sally love me, my parents are insane, etc.  So monks recuse themselves from the everyday and meditate day and night with the infinite.Kierkegaard called this “infinite resignation”: one gives in totally to the infinite, putting aside the “distractions” of sex, of the right restaurant, of job, of car maintenance.

But for Kierkegaard, the trick is not to live in the infinite alone but to live at once in the finite and the infinite — to move into the infinite and back with each step (he call this person the Knight of Faith — see Fear and Trembling, a truly fantastic little book).

Nietzsche may serve us better.  In “The Gay Science,” he gives us a test, what he calls “the greatest weight”: an angel — or daemon — comes to you and says: Everything that has ever happened and will happen to you — every thought, meal, pain, action — has happened an infinite number of times and will happen an infinite number of times.  How do you respond? Are you crushed by its weight? Or liberated by the call of necessity?

This is to say, for Nietzsche, our lives — what we do here and now — are absolutely necessary. Fate and chance are the same thing. We are what we do; the universe is what happens (ontology gives way to becoming).  When one lives as if this were so, as if every moment were necessarily perfect because there is no other way for that moment to be, then one is living in the finite infinitely.

Experiencing this kind of joy, having this profound knowledge of one’s necessity, is difficult to maintain day in and day out.  We get distracted by the humdrum, by the quotidian demands, by our neuroses and anxieties — what if, what if, what if, if only, if only, if only.  When one says “what if” and “if only,” then one no longer sees life as necessary but as contingent, as finite.

It’s not easy to let go of the what ifs and if onlies.  It is an on going job — well, at least for me it is.

And all I ask of those around me — my friends, my lovers, my family — is that they at least try to live infinitely, that they have a relationship with the infinite, that at least at some point in their lives they’ve experienced the necessity of this life, that they’ve lived through that trembling, that joy — and that that experience is something they actively seek and foster. TC mark

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  • Anonymous

    I think it might actually be too overwhelming for me. I’m not sure if I see infinite possibilities as liberating. That’s kind of depressing.

    • Anonymous

      Actually I read it again and it made me feel a bit more uplifted. Weird.

    • Anonymous

      Actually I read it again and it made me feel a bit more uplifted. Weird.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704016484 Joe Ott

    Fantastic explication of the temporality of existence. If one is not familiar with the vocabulary of the philosophy of the ephemeral, it can be quite a tricky concept to relate without neutralizing it’s liberating potential, or at least purpose–so bravo good sir.  Have you read heidegger? If not, your doing yourself a tremendous disservice!

    As to the poster above me–its not that the infinite should be liberating per se, but rather that the knowledge that every moment exists simultaneously as it is and precisely as it is not, that can allow the emergence of version of yourself that is not upset that your not complete. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704016484 Joe Ott

      Ah he has a phd from berkley…statement one redacted

  • Lou

    “The Voice”Thomas HardyWoman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
    Saying that now you are not as you were
    When you had changed from the one who was all to
    me,
    But as at first, when our day was fair.

    Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
    Standing as when I drew near to the town
    Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you
    then,
    Even to the original air-blue gown!

    Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
    Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
    You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
    Heard no more again far or near?

    Thus I; faltering forward,
    Leaves around me falling,
    Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
    And the woman calling.

  • Lou

    also this article is trite

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704016484 Joe Ott

      you’re trite 

  • guest

    I also used to freak myself out for fun by thinking about infinity. A few years ago, I got that same feeling again but instead of enjoying it, I panicked. I literally had panic attacks for months after this. With time (and therapy), my anxiety subsided. I’ve learned to not think too hard about anything – especially life itself.

  • Sdsadlk

    1)  This misses so much of F&T, let alone the rest of the Kierkegaard bibliography, I don’t know where to start.

    2)  So far as I can tell, the following phrases are completely devoid of any actual meaning beneath the posturing.
    “my conscious relationship to the infinite.”
    “everything that happens resounds infinitely precisely because it happened”
    “Everything you do, think, say feel resounds infinitely”
    “ontology gives way to becoming”

    3)  The statement “But for Kierkegaard, the trick is not to live in the infinite alone but to live at once in the finite and the infinite — to move into the infinite and back with each step ” is factually wrong.  For real.  Where did you get this shit from?  Cite something.

    4) “When one lives as if this were so, as if every moment were necessarily perfect because there is no other way for that moment to be, then one is living in the finite infinitely.”  So you’ve talked about people living obsessed with minor details, people living away from society to focus on the infinite, and given no actual suggestion that you mean anything by a life that’s a mixture of the two.  
    Do I level up when I live like saying absolutely nothing with rhetoric is preferable to saying something that makes sense?

    5) “And all I ask of those around me — my friends, my lovers, my family — is that they at least try to live infinitely, ” This is an example of everything that’s been wrong with every variety of sophist asshole since forever ago.  i)  Don’t study actual Philosophy or Theology.  ii) Have a vague sense that even though you can’t explain why exactly, you really totally get it.  iii)  Compensate for your inability to make a point clearly with overrunning sentences and citations.

    • Fecund Fred

      The casual bile that flows from people’s mouths is almost hilarious. Why such aggression? It seems bizarre and, frankly, distasteful.

      • Sdsadlk

    • Guest

      This is sad. 

  • Guest

    “I’d lie in bed at night, in the dark, and try to picture the infinity of space, each limit in my mind giving way giving way giving way until I achieved a kind of vertigo and my skinny little body would tremble as if in orgasm, a conceptual tantra.  It was exquisite.”

    I could never find the words to explain what this feeling was…and it never happened on command, it always just crept up on me some nights when lying in bed. It hasn’t happened for a very long time…

    • Brenna

      The same thing happened to me! But it scared me so then I’d start crying so I haven’t let it happen since I was a little kid

    • Jacqueline2194

      I think a lot of kids experience this feeling. I remember being able to put myself in this sort of state where I would just stare into space and sort of think “What am I? What else is out there? How do I know I’m real?” and shit like that.  I mean, I didn’t/couldn’t really articulate those questions, they just sort of formed this weird “feeling.” The first time it happened I don’t think was a conscious decision, but it became this thing I did sometimes.  I really enjoyed it. 

  • Guest

    “I’d lie in bed at night, in the dark, and try to picture the infinity of space, each limit in my mind giving way giving way giving way until I achieved a kind of vertigo and my skinny little body would tremble as if in orgasm, a conceptual tantra.  It was exquisite.”

    I could never find the words to explain what this feeling was…and it never happened on command, it always just crept up on me some nights when lying in bed. It hasn’t happened for a very long time…

  • yellow itsy bitsy

    first paragraph was great. and then everything flopped. write your own thoughts, not quotes/findings of other people.

    • RING

      everything is a quote. 

  • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

    It’s scary to let yourself delve that deep into the possibilities.
    But it’s necessary at least once in life to have that moment of awe.
    Quality article.

  • Joey

    This article is exactly similar to what I often think and scare myself thinking. But I just wish that you actually defined what you said. You can’t just throw out terms like infinity and such and expect people to get what you’re talking about. Everything was kind of vague and undefined. Started out relating and just ended up skimming and bored…..

    • Melissak

      We need to make the infinite finite, mk?

    • Melissak

      We need to make the infinite finite, mk?

  • Enah Cruz

    Beautiful. No srsly, only the people who have thought about these and had these moments can understand. So don’t beat others up for not liking this article. Pity them. 

  • 299299

    I once had an experience of the infinite when I was actually going in deep, deeper, and deeper and I slipped into another dimension whereby I am the infinite and the infinite is me. It is indescribable. At the same time I also am fully conscious of the 3D space I was in and its surroundings. Simultaneously I experienced infinite compassion and wisdom. I was full of awe, trembling (not from fear but shear awesomeness of it all) and tears just flowed. Subsequently, I read the Heart Sutra and it made total and complete sense to me as like it described the experience I had. It is not something one can describe nor explain rationally, it is THE EXPERIENCE.

  • Christopher Allen

    Yo, this is a great effort at trying to describe something that is, in my opinion, indescribable.  I commend you.  Since the infinite is not finite by definition, the finite template that is the written page somewhat constricts it’s all-encompassing meaning. I must say I’d agree with poster number one that living for the infinite is all about the experience.  But each person’s experience is quite personal, so its hard for your infinite to mesh up with my own.  Trust me though, I’ve been in a love-hate relationship with my infinity (or the generic Infinity, who knows) for years, and I can relate to what you said.  Thanks for putting yourself out there.  

    One thing, though.  Some commenters mentioned being totally captivated in the first paragraph, and I think it’s because you brought your personal experience into it.  The line below, I felt, really successfully portrayed your relationship with the infinite.  I wanted more of this: 
    my mind giving way giving way giving way until I achieved a kind of vertigo and my skinny little body would tremble as if in orgasm, a conceptual tantra.

  • Kate

    i literally hopped up in bed and started getting unreasonably excited for this article. thank you so much for at least starting the process of attempting to explain the Universe. it’s much appreciated, and for anyone that is interested, read The Spectrum of Consciousness by Ken Wilber and be ready to be BLOWN AWAY.
    awesome work.

  • Anonymous

    there is something about almost all the articles that you have written for TC that just completely turns me off to you. i completely shut down in the first paragraph. the way you write is isolating and almost elitist somehow. WOW, you experienced the infinite as a small child. whatever. i’m just bored with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jacki-Isett/746225429 Jacki Isett

    “To infinity and beyond!” That always made me think…I like what Buzz is talking about and I have no freaking idea what he is talking about. Infinity is a cool idea to think about and you did a fine job trying to explain it, so props to you sir.

  • Waicool

    not

  • super guest

    part of me liked it, but it was overwhelmed by the part that couldn’t care enough to finish reading.  slightly pretentious and with little real substance.  you may actually have something to say but for the quality of your writing, i have no way to tell.

  • ems

    I read this at first solely  because I was prodded by someone that I am beginning to care for.  My first thought catalog experience actually.  Originally, being a scientist, I wrote this off as “off-the-wall”…  A bit too creative for my taste.  But after reading it a second time, I went to sleep last night trying to understand and take apart the infinite (if possible, just part of that science background).  Eventually, I laid there looking down upon myself in a crowd of an infinite amount of people.  There I was; a finite part of the infinite.  Looking down I realized that I was aware of where I, the finite, was although I was part of something undefinably more so (the infinite).  It was a surreal feeling, I must say.  And with that, I don’t know if I still can quite grasp the infinite yet.  

  • ems

    I read this at first solely  because I was prodded by someone that I am beginning to care for.  My first thought catalog experience actually.  Originally, being a scientist, I wrote this off as “off-the-wall”…  A bit too creative for my taste.  But after reading it a second time, I went to sleep last night trying to understand and take apart the infinite (if possible, just part of that science background).  Eventually, I laid there looking down upon myself in a crowd of an infinite amount of people.  There I was; a finite part of the infinite.  Looking down I realized that I was aware of where I, the finite, was although I was part of something undefinably more so (the infinite).  It was a surreal feeling, I must say.  And with that, I don’t know if I still can quite grasp the infinite yet.  

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