## Thinking About Infinity. Check My Math.

I have been thinking about infinity.

I was never good at math in school but I have always been fascinated by numbers. Here is what I have been running through my thoughts. Check my math.

infinity + 1 = infinity, which makes it seem like that 1 is a zero – no effect.

What about infinity minus 1? It has to be less than infinity. Right? So, what is the answer?

infinity + infinity = infinity

But infinity – infinity = 0

Two things inspired this infinitely frustrating thought experiment. First, I watched the film A Trip to Infinity (on Netflix). This 2022 documentary explores the concept of infinity through interviews with mathematicians and physicists.

The second inspiration was the much lighter sitcom Young Sheldon. In a recent episode, the precocious and young genius Sheldon comes to doubt the existence of zero. He is tutoring his not-very-bright neighbor Billy in math. During the session, Billy naively asks how zero can simultaneously exist as something but be nothing. The question causes Sheldon to have a kind of existential crisis. He turns to the two professors he works with and they can’t really answer the question and have some mathematical doubts too. It’s not unlike the physicist and mathematicians in the infinity film who have answers about defining infinity but don’t really agree or even seem very confident.

Sheldon rejects religion and God which is very important to his very Christian mother. Somewhat incongruously, when Sheldon talks with Billy again, Billy suggests they just pretend zero exists. Sheldon interprets this as an act of faith and that restores him.

It’s not that you can’t find a definition of “infinity.” It is that which is boundless, endless, or larger than any natural number. The ancient Greeks discussed the philosophical nature of infinity. In the 17th century, we get the infinity symbol and infinitesimal calculus. Working in the foundations of calculus, it was unclear whether infinity could be considered as a number or magnitude and, if so, how this could be done.

By the end of the 19th century, people were studying infinite sets and infinite numbers, and infinity was clearly a mathematical concept. In physics and cosmology, whether the Universe is infinite is still an open question.

There is a section of the film that I rewatched and it still doesn’t make sense. One physicist says that if you place an apple in a box it will decay into mush and then dust. Then, it becomes microscopic particles and then it becomes one with the universe. Whoa. Give it enough time, and it will become an apple again. What?

I think the connection between the film and the TV episode is the futility of wrestling with paradoxes. You probably will end up accepting that with all of our knowledge we will likely never explain or comprehend the greater existential realities of the universe.

Aristotle said that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Not that we shouldn’t think about these things. Just don’t expect an answer.

## Science on Celluloid

I loved science classes in school. Actually, I loved them up until high school when teachers took all the wonder out of science. In elementary school and even in junior high school, science was full of wonder.

Some of my strongest memories of science in school comes from actual images on films. Celluloid projected by 16mm projectors in a darkened classroom.

In writing about the Sun yesterday, I was reminded of a film I saw in those early years that I still recall fondly and surprisingly clearly. It was one of the Bell System Science Series which were nine television specials made for the AT&T Corporation. They were some of the earliest things broadcast in color between 1956 and 1964. We didn’t have a color TV then, but I remember them from watching them in school where they were shown as films on that pull-down white movie screen that every classroom had in the front of the room along with a few big maps.

The film I recalled first is Our Mr. Sun which uses the premise of a scientist explaining to a writer about the Sun’s importance to humankind.

It was many years later when I was studying film and video as a college student that I realized that the film was produced and directed by Frank Capra. By then, I had seen and loved a bunch of Capra films – It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe and others.

The film was a combination of animation and live-action in glorious Technicolor. Originally it was shown on TV in 1956 and 1957. I may have watched it. My father was working at Bell Labs in those years so he might have promoted it to us. But hundreds of 16mm prints were distributed to schools by the Bell Telephone System film libraries and they were shown (and reshown) for years after. Now, this and others in the series are in the Public Domain and available on YouTube and other sites.

In Our Mr. Sun, Eddie Albert stars as a writer who is learning about the Sun. Lionel Barrymore – evil Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life – is the voice of Father Time. But the star of this and 8 of the 9 films in the series is Dr. Frank Baxter as Dr. Research, the scientist who knows everything. As a kid, he was my image of a scientist or professor.

It was also years later that I learned that Dr. Baxter was not a scientist but an authority on Shakespeare with his doctorate in literature from Cambridge University, who taught Literature at USC.

It also didn’t register with me when I saw the Capra documentaries originally that Capra included some soft religious themes in his four films in the series. This first film actually opens with a title card with a quote from the Bible.

Another film in the series that intrigued me was About Time (1962). This was not a Capra production but came out of Warner studios.  Dr. Research was working with Richard Deacon (who I knew from, The Dick Van Dyke Show) and featured the famous scientist Richard Feynman who was also a consultant to the production. I think I might point to this film as the start of a lifelong fascination with the concept of time.

The third film I recall seeing is Hemo the Magnificent (1957)
about blood and the circulatory system. This was also written and directed by Frank Capra. All of Capra’s contributions to the series follow a similar structure.  This film has Dr. Research but Richard Carlson is the writer learning about circulation. Mel Blanc pops in as the voice of a squirrel and Marvin Miller is Hemo (as in hemoglobin).

I don’t recall seeing “The Strange Case of Cosmic Rays” (1957) which takes on the pretty heavy topic of what cosmic rays are and how they work. This one was co-written by Capra with Jonathan Latimer who was a crime fiction novelist and screenwriter. Their premise that cosmic rays are a mystery, like a detective story, got them to use the clunky idea of marionettes representing Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe (Huh?) who have to decide on the solution to the mystery. Bizarre.

The Unchained Goddess (1958) was the fourth and last film in the series that was produced by Frank Capra but directed by Richard Carlson, who also appears in the film. It is about the weather and climate but it has an early warning about climate change. The film was televised on February 12, 1958 and there was a smaller audience share and less than glowing reviews.

We leave the Capra years with Gateways to the Mind (1958) about what the five senses are and how they work. Dr. Baxter is still the “host.”

In The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959) has Dr. Baxter playing “Dr. Linguistics” which examines language and its history.  As an English teacher, I liked this film about a topic that doesn’t much interest most people. But they use characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  Hans Conried is the Mad Hatter!

Thread of Life (1960) is about heredity, and how DNA works.

“The Restless Sea” is only a half-hour film and the last of the Bell Telephone Science Series. This one about the oceans was produced by Walt Disney Productions and hosted by Walt Disney, with the actor Sterling Holloway replacing Baxter as the scientist.

And so ended the series.

## “Joe’s Violin” Nominated for Documentary Short Subject Oscar

JOE’S VIOLIN is a documentary short I saw screened at the 2016 Montclair Film Festival. It was produced and directed by two Montclair women, Raphaela Neihausen and Kahane Corn Cooperman, and began with a Kickstarter campaign.

It was nominated for an Oscar this morning for Documentary Short Subject.

At the screening, we met Joseph Feingold, a 91-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor who donated his violin of 70 years to a local instrument drive, and we met student Brianna Perez who was the recipient of Joe’s violin.

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation (MHOF) selected The Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls (BGLIG) for the violin donation. The screening in Montclair featured a musical performance and extended Q&A with the filmmakers and subjects.

Hurrah for independent films, local artists and the Montclair Film Festival.

For more information on the film, go to http://www.joesviolin.com/

You can also watch the film online at http://www.joesviolin.com/watch-now

## Mike Wallace Interviews

There is a great collection of old TV interviews now available online that were done by Mike Wallace in the late 1950s.  The Mike Wallace Interview ran from 1957 to 1960, but this collection held by the Ransom Center only has interviews from 1957 and 1958.

Wallace donated these materials to the Ransom Center. The 65 recordings are mostly kinescopes (films of the program made by filming a television monitor). Wallace also donated the related materials, including his prepared questions, research material, and correspondence.

I watched (at times, I just listened to them while I was working online) the ones with Steve Allen, Frank Lloyd Wright, Tony Perkins, Salvador Dali, Reinhold Niebuhr, Aldous Huxley, Erich Fromm, and Ayn Rand. They are amazingly intelligent conversations.

As an example, the interview with Aldous Huxley from May 1958 presents Huxley as social critic and author of Brave New World.  They talk about threats to freedom in the United States, overpopulation, bureaucracy, propaganda, drugs, advertising, and television.   You can watch the video and read the transcript.

## King Corn Versus An Urban Rustic

I heard a brief interview on the radio with independent documentary filmmaker, Aaron Woolf.  He directed Greener Grass: Cuba, Baseball, and the United States, and Dying to Leave: The Global Face of Human Trafficking and Smuggling. His latest film is King Corn.

King Corn is a film about this ubiquitous king of crops that ends up in everything from apples to antifreeze, body lotion to batteries, margarine to magazines.

The crop has come a long way in 6,000 years ago from Mesoamerica to your kitchen. It is grown on every continent (except Antarctica) and in the U.S. it gets 93 million acres of  land. Do we really eat that much corn? Well, yes – if you count all the corn that goes to high-fructose sweetener and to grain to feed cows that we will eat.

In the 2007 film, we follow two college buddies, Curt and Ian, to Greene, Iowa (home of their great-grandfathers) and watch them spend a year planting and harvesting one acre of corn.

The project is small time in the corn world, but they learn about subsidies, surpluses, and the nutritional aspects the industry of an industry that’s growing in proportion to America’s bellies.

Maybe you don’t think of farming as industry, but corn has certainly helped to eliminate the family farm with industrial farms. As with other industries, decisions about what crops to grow and how they are grown are often based more on economic considerations than their effects on the environment or consumer health.

There’s more on the film at kingcorn.net and pbs.org/independentlens/kingcorn

What actually interested me more in the interview I listened to with Woolf was his store  Urban Rustic, a grocery store in Brooklyn, NYC.

The store’s mission is to raise awareness about where our food comes from – and to sell groceries.

Here, things come mainly from local farmers, butchers, cheesemakers, and other producers. It’s got a general  general store look but with a  juice-and-coffee bar and an elevated dining area.

Everything sold has a story about where it came from and how it was produced.

One lesson learned and told in the interview is that some things turn out to be counter-intuitive. For example, the kiwi from New Zealnad might actually have a smaller “carbon footprint” than the tomato from southern New Jersey due to modern transportation systems.

## Bright College Years

Bright College Years is part of the “Sixties Legacy” series.  It’s a  feature length documentary on the “student revolution” at Yale University.

I recall that on May Day (May 1) 1970 there was Black Panther rally in New Haven, Connecticut with the ‘Chicago 7’ defendants Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and David Dellinger and Panther official David Hilliard.

Peaceful rally that ended up with police and tear gas, bottle-throwing protesters marching from Yale into town. More police and guardsmen.

I was finishing my junior year of high school, thinking about college and being a bit envious that I wasn’t involved in all the protests.

I watched it online this weekend before the inauguration of Barack Obama. A film full of Black Panthers, speeches, protests and rich Yale students trying to either do the right thing or look like they are doing the right thing.

I’m not sure what to think as I watch this today. I don’t feel nostalgia.  Who feels  nostalgia for a protester talking about how Charles Manson is innocent?

It really was a strange trip. It’s a road I don’t mind visiting, but I have no desire to park there for any length of time.

The documentary  won the Gold Hugo, Chicago Film Festival, 1972 and Cannes Film Festival Award for Best First-Feature Film, 1972.

It can be viewed online at an interesting website called snagfilms.com that features documentaries.

[clearspring_widget title=”SnagFilms Film Widget” wid=”4837b4759c19ccae” pid=”496d23145625a7ea” width=”300″ height=”250″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]