I’ve been thinking a lot about the finitude of the world recently. What I mean by that is this: While we interact with the physical world as if it were infinitely variable – everything can be subdivided, including time and space – it seems scientifically quite likely that this is not in fact the case, that rather the world is finite, that there are finitely many particles in the universe, that each of them has finitely many positions, and thus that the universe has finitely many possible states – an absurdly large number, but still finitely many.

This possibility disturbs me, and I think I’ve figured out why. Mathematically speaking, if we have infinitely many points, we can find only one equation that fits it, for it is a smooth curve, a definite function – the universe would have only one explanation. But if we have finitely many points, there are infinitely many equations that would fit the given data – for example, if we just have the points (0,0) and (1,1), the equations y=x and y=x^2 both equally well describe the data. If we have (0,0), (1,1), and (2,0), both y=-(x-1)^2+1 and y=-(x-1)^4+1 work. Et cetera. And those were all just polynomials – there’s lots of other kinds of equations out there. So a finite universe means that the universe has many possible explanations, and even at the end of time, when all is said and done, there’s no way to know which one was correct.

So finitude somewhat scares me. Then again – if the universe is finite, there are many possible explanations, but one will, I hope, be much more elegant than the others, and that will be the “true” one… that, or, since by “the universe is finite” I really mean only the physical world, the atoms and quarks and leptons and dimensions of space and time, meaning will in the end be found not in the physical, but the metaphysical. That is, I suppose, what I believe – but I’d would like to be able to find meaning in both.

Does finitude scare anyone else, or is it just me?


4 Responses to Finitude

  1. Brian Patrick Cork says:

    Don’t be afraid.

    Fear is the mind killer.

    Bold and fearless, says I.

    The more options, the greater the choices. This makes the possibilities for adventure, exploration and experience naught but endless.

    I jumped off my first radio tower when I was ten. I started my first, profitable, business at twelve. I’m open-minded enough to learn from much younger people like you.

    My understanding is that the universe is expanding by the second. If this is the case, we all have a lot of work before us, if we’ll ever hope to live life to the fullest.


  2. e7 says:


    Nope, i think that if world indeed is hmm… granular in a way… then there is no linear function underlying to your abstract problem. Probability might say that if (0,0) at 0 then 90% that (1,1) at 1. Linear function would be working as approximation, a damn good approximation, at larger scale. If world itself is not linear, how can there be any undrlying linear rules to discover?

  3. e7 says:

    BTW, we can split plane into square grid or hex grid. Or we can make tiles non uniform. If we perform something like Game of Life on squares or hexes, or some octagons/squares or any other crystalline board, we can notice directions. Fe. in game of life things tend to happen in straight direction, 1 of 4, vertical, 1 of 4 too, or skewed, 1 of 8 – and then you can split those things into left-aspect and right-aspect, each group happening in their own 4 directions.

    We do not observe anything special about directions (i did not pay much attention on physics, but perhaps there was this effect that could help us tell left from right, but only relatively to some plane described by “vertical” and “horizontal” axis) This only leads me to think there is some sort of field that, if reversed, would reverse the effect of that experiment.

    So, i suppose, our “underlying grid” is not ordered, it is chaotic (in area, maybe also in time) Effects taking place in that grid, when observed at large level, are not direction specific. Sum of chaotic grid is observed as infinitude (? my english ;p) on our level.

  4. Yeah, I think that’s basically it; a sufficiently large finitude is indistinguishable from infinity – but is, philosophically speaking, very different.

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