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Today’s post is some idle musing on the concept of infinity. Disguised as a piece of flash fiction.
He was washing dishes. She was reading. There was a dishwasher, but sometimes he just liked to get his hands wet and pruney. She wondered what the heck was wrong with him, but only briefly. There weren’t enough hours in the day to follow that particular road.
“Hey, come look at this,” he said.
“Look at what,” she asked, putting aside a really fascinating article on the rise of shamanism in non-indigenous cultures. Just because he asked her to. Maybe it was love, but she didn’t think about that. Over the years she’d learned that life went a lot smoother if you didn’t over-analyze everything.
“Bubbles!” he announced proudly.
“Bubbles in a sink full of dishes that would have been clean an hour ago if you’d used the dishwasher,” she said. “Imagine my surprise.”
“You’re cute when you’re sarcastic. No, I meant this particular arrangement of bubbles.”
He pointed to the glistening configuration in question, which was one large bubble…containing another bubble, which contained another, as far down as she could see.
“It’s almost…fractal,” she said.
“Indeed. Can you imagine? Bubble within bubble down to infinity?”
She shook her head. “Wouldn’t work. Fractals repeat in infinite iterations. A bubble within a bubble would eventually run up against electromagnetic barriers as it approached the atomic level. Besides, you can’t have a bubble with just one atom. That’s why I said ‘almost’ fractal. A pseudo-fractal, if you will.”
“I won’t. Either it’s a fractal or it isn’t. If the pattern cannot repeat to infinity and beyond, it’s not a fractal. Still darn remarkable, though.”
“There’s no “beyond infinity,” with all due respect to Mr. Lightyear. If there’s no end, there’s no beyond.”
“Semantics,” he said.
“Rubbish,” she said. “Either a word means what it means or it doesn’t, in which case it’s a different word. A fractal is one thing, infinity is something else…even though one has a relationship with another.”
“You mean like us?”
“That goes without saying. A fractal is a pattern each part of which is a representation of the entire pattern. Infinity means whatever you’re referring to goes on forever,” she said.
“Which I concede are different and yet related concepts. Drill down in a fractal, you get more fractal. It goes on forever yet is contained in finite space. It contains infinity, yet it is not infinite.”
“And your bubbles are not fractals,” she said.
“I believe you’ve already established that. Yet I’m still amazed at how casually we throw terms like ‘inifinity’ and ‘forever’ around. Does anyone really grasp what ‘forever’ means?”
“Sure do,” she said. “It’s the amount of time you’ve had me looking at soap bubbles instead of reading my article.”
“That’s in relative time. In actual time? Five minutes, tops,” he said.
“Seemed a lot longer,” she said.
“Naturally. That’s why it’s called relative time. Two different observers, two different perspectives.”
“Are we really going down that rabbit hole?”
“Nah. Linear time is an illusion anyway,” he said. “Besides, it would take forever.”
(c) 2021 Richard Parks
Related words, but not the same thing. In one final tribute to the departed Sterling, a rumination on the difference.
There’s knowing, and then there’s realizing.
Just as the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug, the difference between knowing and realizing is on that level. Supposedly Mark Twain was the first to make that observation regarding words. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. He usually gets the blame either way. It’s not fair, but then life isn’t fair, so I’ll blame him too.
I have to blame someone right now. For something. Doesn’t much matter what.
Knowing is the easy part. It’s all right in front of you. Your cat is sick; you know that. Your cat has an inoperable tumor, and you know that too. The steroids worked for a while, made his breathing easier, made him more comfortable, but wouldn’t fix the problem, and you knew that as well. There would come a point when the pills wouldn’t work anymore, and that a certain day would come. And it did.
Off to the vet because you’re out of options. The cat is suffering. You know it’s the right thing to do. Not easy, not pleasant, but right.
The cat has a name, by the way, and it’s Sterling. He’s gray with a little bit of white, like his brother. We named them Sterling and Sheffield because their coats reminded us of bands of steel. Together they were “Da Boyz.” Mighty hunters, even though Sheffield has delicate teeth and Sterling a congenital enlarged heart. Or maybe just a big heart. He was a sweetie.
We met them at the Mississippi Animal Rescue League. We hadn’t bonded with any of the other cats on display, and the lady said they had a pair of brothers that came in together. About ten months old, they reckoned. One or both climbed immediately into Carol’s lap. I think they may have drooled a little, and they both came home with us.
We knew then as we know now that cats have a certain range of lifespan, and that’s it. May be shorter, may be longer. But not forever, but you don’t think about that, you don’t realize that. It’s just one of those knowing things.
Like the hard decisions you know you’ll have to make. Sooner or later, it’s coming. And then it does, and you go to the vet, and you pet him one last time and you do not leave him, even for the needle. You say he’s a good boy and a brave boy and you’re telling yourself those things, because he doesn’t know, but you do.
Then you bring him home, and you bury him. And you know he’s gone because you dug the hole yourself and put him in it because it was the very last thing you could do for him.
Then it’s later. Sometime later. A day, a week, doesn’t matter how long. You’re doing dishes, mind wandering as it’s prone to do. You wash one kitty bowl, and then you automatically look for the other because they’re brothers, and there’s always two…
And then you realize.
In the movie reference sense. Will the Deathstar(tm) (45’s Admin) finally blow up? Will the new year be better than 2020? Danged if I know. It’s hard to imagine much worse, and I have a fairly decent imagination. Yet reality continues to surprise me…one of the wonders and drawbacks of being in touch with reality, even if you don’t always live there.
So here we are. Either at the tail end of chaos or just getting started. I’m optimistic enough to remain cautiously optimistic, and we will see.
It reminds me of a discussion of The Uncanny Valley (TUV) over on FB(and a previous post https://richard-parks.com/2012/10/15/yeah-though-i-walk-through-the-valley-of-uncanny/). For those who don’t know, TUV is a metaphor, usually applied to computer graphics. At the point where, say, a CGI rendition of a human becomes no longer “cartoonish” but yet not quite completely lifelike, not quite “right.” This is the Uncanny Valley, where many people might react to the image with unease and even fear, though they might not know why. Never had that problem myself, but I understand the reaction. Possibly there’s an evolutionary advantage, where a dappled patch of sunlight in the tall grass is actually a lion waiting to pounce, but the fact that it looks slightly “off” might prod an ancestor to avoid it, and thus live to reproduce.
Or maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with evolution at all. It occurs to me that TUV may be uncomfortable because it is, in the truest sense, a liminal space. A transitional condition between one thing and another thing, and thus not quite either one. This tends to put us off balance, and also explains why some people have aversions to such mundane things as bridges and thresholds. Ask yourself: are you more comfortable in a cozy room with a nice chair or walking down a long hallway?
And that’s what we are rapidly approaching. The end of one thing but not yet the start of another. Probably the reason our forebears thought the veil between worlds was weak this time of year. From now until 2021 is a liminal space. Something ending (we bloody hope) and something new beginning (we also bloody hope). A tricky time, for everyone, but hang on.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow, Hachette Book Group, 2019.
January Scaller is a young girl living in the mansion of the insanely wealthy William Cornelius Locke, a mansion packed with valuable collectables from all over the world…and some that apparently don’t belong in this one. Her father, Julian, is an employee of Mr. Locke charged with traveling the world in search of said wondrous objects, so he isn’t home very much. Sometimes Mr. Locke has to travel himself, and sometimes he takes January with him as a treat or distraction.
On one such trip, January finds a doorway between worlds. So much for plot summary, because what happens doesn’t actually tell you what’s happening. That’s a separate issue altogether. Suffice to say there are more doors where that one came from and January’s discovery of them leads into all kinds of trouble, and not just for her.
I picked this one up on the recommendation of people whose taste and judgment I trust. I’m also a sucker for portal fantasies, probably ever since I came across George R.R. Martin’s “The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr” in Fantastic Stories years ago. This is one of the best ones I’ve ever read. From the first page I knew I was in for a treat, for it was clear the author was a person in love with language, specifically language in the service of story. A sentence might be as long as it needs to be, and sometimes it may be convoluted, but it’s never clumsy. A sort of wordy precision which is almost but not quite a contradiction in terms, and so rare to find.
I don’t think I’m giving too much away to note that January isn’t quite what she seems, but then neither are most of the rest of Harrow’s cast. Of course their secrets are tied to the existence of the doors and the astute reader will winkle most of it out before book’s end, and that’s half the fun. There are elements that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror novel, but this isn’t one. There’s contemplation of the nature of story itself and its role in the world. Not to mention one adventure after another, which are all part of the same adventure: growing up, and self discovery.
Getting close to that time…meaning the holiday season. I know the actual number has been counted before, but I’m not looking it up now. Everything from Hannukkah to Bodhi Day, and that’s not even counting the Feast days. The point is there are a lot of holidays this time of year. If I know someone celebrates Christmas, I’ll say “Merry Christmas.” If I don’t know what they celebrate, then it’s “Seasons Greetings,” or as in the case here, “Happy Holidays.”
Yes, there are those who consider this offensively PC. People get bent out of shape over the silliest things.
All that aside, I’ll just mention that those of you on my Newsletter list will shortly get an early excerpt from The Seventh Law of Power. Though I did misspell “peek.” Serves me right for getting in a hurry, and that’s on me. As for those who aren’t on the list, what’s stopping you?
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