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Posts Tagged ‘infinity’

I started reading Anthony Kenny’s Ancient Philosophy yesterday evening, volume 1 of his A New History of Western Philosophy. It’s a great introduction, because he has a hundred pages of chronological history, and then nine thematic chapters that synthesise the key insights of the period (logic, metaphysics, ethics, etc).

Ancient Philosophy - New History of Western Philosophy v. 1

I won’t bore you with every discovery I make over the next few weeks (if I keep reading), but this one delighted me:

Since Xenophanes believed that the earth stretched beneath us to infinity, he could not accept that the sun went below the earth when it set… He put forward a new and ingenious explanation: the sun, he maintained, was new every day. It came into existence each morning from a congregation of tiny sparks, and later vanished off into infinity… It follows from this theory that there are innumerable suns, just as there are innumerable days… [p12]

What a wonderful idea! That a new sun is created each morning; that here on the eastern horizon is something seen for the very first time; that this is not just another day in an endless cycle of days, but an adventure in being that has never existed before. It highlights the sense of wonder experienced when we catch ourselves reflecting not on what something is but on the sheer fact that it is and that it need not be at all. The opposite of Groundhog Day.

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Circle line in meaningless composition (westbound) by fabbio.It’s true: The Circle Line will no longer go round in circles. I hardly believed it when I read the papers a few days ago, but now I have seen the official London Transport brochure detailing the changes.

From 13 December it will be a spiral. If you start at Edgware Road, you can still go all the way round — but then you spin out to Hammersmith. And the defining philosophy of the Circle line will be lost forever: The idea that you can step on anywhere in order to arrive anywhere else. Or, to look at it another way, that you can step on anywhere in order to go nowhere. It will now be impossible not to go to Edgware Road or Hammersmith.

This is profoundly unsettling for Londoners. I’ve never been all the way round myself (this is what I have to say in public…) But there is something reassuring about the knowledge that just below the pavement a train is going nowhere, endlessly. That people are there, apparently, in knitting clubs; and perhaps to play bridge, or on a blind date, or meeting their self-help group. That people are there to keep warm or kill time. And that people are there, with clipboards and microphones and counting instruments, doing sociological research into why all those other people are there in the first place.

There are minor delays on the Circle line... by fabbio.

There are minor delays on the Circle line...

No one uses the Circle Line to go anywhere, because everyone knows that there is only one train running in each direction — surely the only satisfactory explanation of why the gaps between the ‘trains’ are so long. But we all want to know that we can go around in circles if we so choose, and that within the thrusting purposefulness of city life there is still the option of going nowhere, in the company of civilised people, with a well-spoken announcer letting you know which stops you are passing through.

And it’s good to have physical evidence on a massive scale to prove to the mathematicians that two infinities (clockwise and anticlockwise) are greater than one.

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