In the first half of the fourteenth chapter of Darwin’s Watch, it’s time to talk mathematics and infinity. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld III.
So, I don’t have any super personal stories or anecdotes to share in relation to the first half of this chapter. Which is okay in my book, since I can’t relate to EVERYTHING here, and I don’t want to force that sort of stuff. Thus, this is going to be on the shorter end of reviews. But that doesn’t mean the content is less engaging. I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was to read this chapter. Part of that was because, as the text admits, this is all a little ridiculous. On a day-to-day basis, it’s not like many of us have a useful application for the concept of infinity. Often, we use it in a colloquial sense to me A WHOLE LOT, but I love that this chapter digs in to the notion of exactly how big that might be. The short answer: bigger than we can ever conceptualize. Because—and I had truly never thought of it this way—no matter how big of a number we could define, we can always just add one and have a bigger number. So, why infinity? Why does infinity even matter?
One of the many things I’ll take away from these Science of Discworld books is that there ARE ways to educate people on complicated scientific or mathematical concepts and still keep it entertaining. Am I ever truly going to have a practical need to explain infinity or talk about David Hilbert or Georg Cantor? No, not really, but it’s fucking COOL AS HELL to be able to talk about Hilbert’s hotel or the concept of aleph-zero and how to denote bigger infinities through counting. Oh my god, Hilbert’s Hotel was SO GREAT. And it’s yet another thing that I had never heard of in any capacity anymore, and I feel like that’s something people would love to learn about, even if it doesn’t really interest them? It’s so strange and fun, but it teaches a fantastic concept in the process. I think the googol is a great example of that. That’s something I did learn about in school (not until late in high school, though), and I remember learning that it was the nephew of a mathematician who came up with the term. I remember because it was taught to me in a memorable way, and I imagine there are going to be things spread out throughout these four Science of Discworld books that I’ll remember for a while because of how it was told to me.
That’s pretty damn cool. Anyway, I’m eager to see if the next section does indeed talk about the science behind multiverse theory. A certain film has come out recently that I want to apply this kind of science to, but I’ll say no more because: spoilers!
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