Contemplating Forever

Today’s post is some idle musing on the concept of infinity. Disguised as a piece of flash fiction.

Contemplating Forever

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

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