Aleph Infinity Plus Imagination
Imagination is infinite.
Yet, infinity, by definition, is that which is not finite, a realm abiding without end, beyond all bounds, beyond all reach. For imagination to be truly infinite it must reach that which cannot be reached. Nevertheless, imagination does reach the infinite--even if only by reaching toward the infinite.
A provocative tautology, perhaps. A literalist might like to demarcate infinity, define its parameters, if you will, as nothing more and nothing less than an endless quantity or uncountable set, an unbounded limit extending indefinitely. It has no real existence, no practicality of experience. That same literalist might even argue onwards by emphasizing that we obviously cannot even prove that the universe, itself, is infinite; therefore, nothing within the confines of the universe could be proven infinite--including the imagination of a single individual.
Other gainsayers of such an absurd, preposterous notion of imagination being boundless might also claim that a person’s imagination is nothing but a mere symptom of consciousness, made manifest by the physiological processes contained within the brain. Although the billions upon billions of neurons may make trillions upon trillions of connections over the span of a person’s life, the number of pathways for thought to take through the neural network, though vast, remains far from infinite.
Fatalistic skeptics might also proclaim that since a person’s physiological functions end at death, a person’s imagination cannot be endless. Once consciousness ceases, so, too, do any and all intimations of imagination. The mortality of man is imagination’s ultimate limitation.
Another provoking point is that a person’s imagination is limited by his or her human experience. It is subject to the limitations of language and expression as well as interpretation and interpolation--imprisoned by the impervious walls of conceivability, beyond which nothing exists which is not utterly meaningless to human comprehension.
All reasonable arguments and respectable perspectives. Nevertheless, I contend that imagination is infinite, capable of transcending all limitations and boundaries. Imagination may extend infinitely. So, imagination is, in strictest definition, infinite.
First, the argument that imagination is limited because it originates in the physiological processes of the conscious brain would be more compelling if it were better understood what exactly consciousness is. Current scientific certainty collapses at the mysterious thresholds of not only imagination but also cognitive awareness, intelligence, both biological as well as artificial, and the unfathomed depths of consciousness. No psychological test has yet to be devised which could ever precisely “measure” a person’s imagination--neither objectively nor relatively. Also, the argument of whether or not a person’s “essence” ends at death, including the source of imagination, is a whole other essay.
I would point out also that mathematics, itself, is a conception of imagination, collectively constructed, imagined and re-imagined, throughout human civilization. A simplified mathematical argument of infinity existing within the finite may be seen in recognizing that there are an infinite number of fractions, both rational and “irrational,” which abide between any two consecutive integers: say, zero and one. One-half, one-third, one-quarter, ad infinitum, all reside between a natural beginning and a natural ending; yet, at the very same moment they initiate a perpetual progression continuing without beginning and without ending between those two boundaries. The principle is called “density,” and it leads to the astonishing conclusion that infinity exists within the finite as well as it exists beyond the infinite.
It can be further demonstrated that the infinite can be composed of finite pieces and parts. Just ten familiar digits, zero through nine, can be utilized to represent the infinite. The same feat can be accomplished by an even fewer number of characters--Two. Using only the representations of zero and one, otherwise known as binary code, unending infinity can be expressed to an absolutely unlimited degree. Even fewer than two? Indeed. One. For the notion of infinity may be conveyed in but a single symbol-- ∞.
Imagine, for a moment, a library. (A library which has been imagined before.) This fabulous collection comprises all the books ever written: all the works ever recorded in the past and all the works ever to be recorded in the future. The library also includes a copy of every book in every language, and in every script, ever to have been and also ever yet to be, as well. It also contains seemingly innumerable copies of each copy, different, perhaps, by only a letter or a word or a sentence, altered ever so slightly by one mere jot or one tittle. The library would thus encompass every known expression. One could go on reading constantly and continuously for myriads of mortal life spans, scanning and scouring every possible page. The collection would be vast, indeed. Nevertheless, it would be finite. Only so many possible combinations of letters and words and sentences exist, and even expanded exponentially by their imperfect reproductions, still the number would remain less than endless. Yet, persist in wandering the shelves. Continue searching the stacks. By all means, keep reading. One would also come across volume upon volume of meaningless, nonsensical passages filling page after page after page. Still, to its author, such absurd wording--or wordlessness, as it were--is as revealing of imaginatory expression as any other. By extension, each and every reader in the universe, or in the multiverse, or perchance in the metaverse, just as with each and every author to contribute a work to the library, would necessarily interpret every single word and every individual work differently, through his or her very own imagination. Even so, in this Borgesian construct, the voluminous shelves would reach an end at some point. At that instant, however, reaching for the final book upon the final shelf, one is not forbidden from looking up and gazing onwards and envisioning the shelves continuing beyond all the books ever written--unto all the books never written. Thus, the infinite set is complete. For every one book ever written, there exists a whole endless host of books which are never written. However, because all the books never written is, in itself, comprehensively infinite, adding to it the set of all the books ever recorded makes it even more so. The infinite library is more than infinite. It reaches beyond infinity. Even if it is possible only in imagination. For in the boundless realm of imagination, all is possible--even the impossibility of nothing.
So it is conceivable that a person, although bound by a finite universe, within and without, is capable of transcending those bounds through engaging his or her boundless imagination.
Imagination possesses no limits, no restraints, and no confines--at least, none which cannot be overcome. All a thinker must do to hurdle any supposed boundaries is simply to think over, through, and beyond them, therefore reaching toward infinity itself. It is a person’s ability to envision himself or herself crossing any and all thresholds and reaching beyond any and all boundaries that allows the infinite to be reached. The ability to envision another step in an eternal journey, without end, extending forever, toward whatsoever a person dares to imagine, is what makes imagination infinite. A child’s propensity to disregard, innocently and ignorantly, any alleged limitations on his or her imagination is a perfect example. A child picks up a stick, and without being told that it isn’t, that same stick can be a sword, a sceptre, or a secret implement whose purpose is known only to its wielder. To the child, the stick is truly whatever the child wants the stick to be. Without any bounds apparent, a person’s imagination is truly free to traverse any reaches he or she would wish. In fact, the only boundaries to which imagination is subject are those which the imaginers place on it themselves. (One of Humanity’s tragic inclinations.) Even still, within our imaginations we are what we imagine ourselves to be. It is through the wonder of imagination that human beings can transcend themselves, therefore enabling imagination to be the vehicle which takes them across the very boundlessness of all unending horizons.
Lastly, does not the fact that infinity is conceived by imagination in the first place conversely make imagination capable of achieving the infinite?
Imagination is infinite. Were it not so, it would be something less than itself. To believe that imagination is not infinite is a failing of one’s own imagination. That is an infinitely oblivious state--one which I would not wish to imagine.
Devin Hodgins lives in Casper, Wyoming, surrounded by mountains, prairies, and wind. He writes both prose and poetry, along with the occasional essay, all running the speculative gamut. His principal influences include Poe, Kafka, Borges, and Archambault. Presently, he is composing a novel-length poem involving the awakening wonder of dream.
Copyright © Devin Hodgins, 2010, 2012, 2014
(A downloadable and printable .pdf is available at this site: Devin Hodgins - OneDrive.)