To Infinity and Beyond: A Mind-Bending Documentary from the BBC

Infin­i­ty. It’s a puz­zling con­cept. Is it real, or a math­e­mat­i­cal fic­tion?

Aris­to­tle believed infin­i­ty could only be poten­tial, nev­er actu­al. To speak of an actu­al infin­i­ty, he argued, is to fall into log­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion: “The infi­nite turns out to be the con­trary of what it is said to be,” Aris­to­tle wrote in the Physics. “It is not what has noth­ing out­side it that is infi­nite, but what always has some­thing out­side it.”

Aris­totle’s log­ic rest­ed on com­mon sense: the belief that the whole is always greater than the part. But in the late 19th Cen­tu­ry, Georg Can­tor and Richard Dedekind turned com­mon sense upside down by demon­strat­ing that the part can be equal to the whole. Can­tor went on to show that there are many orders of infinity–indeed, an infin­i­ty of infini­ties.

But what rela­tion does the Pla­ton­ic realm of pure math­e­mat­ics have to the phys­i­cal world? Physics is an empir­i­cal sci­ence, but that has­n’t stopped the­o­rists from imag­in­ing the mind-bog­gling con­se­quences of an infi­nite uni­verse. To Infin­i­ty and Beyond, a one-hour BBC Hori­zon spe­cial fea­tur­ing inter­views with lead­ing math­e­mati­cians and physi­cists, is an enter­tain­ing explo­ration of a sub­ject which, by def­i­n­i­tion, you won’t be able to wrap your mind around.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dan­ger­ous Knowl­edge: 4 Bril­liant Math­e­mati­cians & Their Drift to Insan­i­ty

Futur­ist Arthur C. Clarke on Mandelbrot’s Frac­tals

Math­e­mat­ics in Movies: Har­vard Prof Curates 150+ Scenes


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Comments (8)
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  • José Eduardo says:

    I usu­al­ly like your sug­ges­tions, but this doc­u­men­tary is ter­ri­ble. Did you actu­al­ly watch it before rec­om­mend­ing it?

  • Mike Springer says:

    I sup­pose I can see where you’re com­ing from, José. The nar­ra­tion is melo­dra­mat­ic, and I have to admit I was a bit annoyed by all the count­ing aloud (“googol­plex­plex­plex five, googol­plex­plex­plex six…”). But they inter­view some very inter­est­ing peo­ple. And the sub­ject is cer­tain­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. So…
    Best,
    Mike

  • Z says:

    This is a ridicu­lous “doc­u­men­tary.” The only thing I real­ly took away from this is that infin­i­ty is what­ev­er you want it to be.

  • This was rub­bish. Low grade self indul­gent film mak­ing. Most of the com­ments on Youtube say the same.

  • Choco says:

    It is inter­est­ing to see that some peo­ple are not famil­iar with real artis­tic craft­man­ship. The BBC mak­ers actu­al­ly made an effort to go beyond bor­ing hyper­bol­ic docu’s mak­ing with a drum­beat of facts and fin­ish with an exact punch­line.
    For instance, the melo­dra­mat­ic scenes give this abstract sub­ject much need­ed feel­ing. Why would Can­tor oth­er­wise have gone mad? I love also the child inter­views where some of the kids real­ly think they know the biggest num­ber. How great to have that cer­tain­ty for some time..
    For that rea­son, I would con­sid­er also com­men­ta­tor Z here above sim­ply a Zeil­berg­er. The doc­u­men­tary has explained some lim­its on infin­i­ty, but If you don’t like the con­cept, no doc­u­men­tary is going to help you there.

  • Caio Marchi says:

    I dis­agree in some points:
    Infi­nite is the total of all. You cannnot add 1 to infi­nite because it’s already there.
    The hotel exam­ple was very weird.
    How could it be pos­si­ble infi­nite — infi­nite = infi­nite? It’s sim­ple:
    infi­nite = infinte, so, infinite-infinite=0.
    Peri­od.
    Infi­nite is absolute and has no end nei­hter start.
    So the infi­nite sym­bol is wrong, it rep­re­sents a course that ends and starts in itself.

    Just talk­ing…

  • Caio Marchi says:

    by the way…interesting doc

  • Paul Spinks says:

    The first 10 min­utes were a total waste of time. It might have improved lat­er, but I doubt it. Avoid.

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