## 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.

## Bid Time Return

Despite all the stories and films and my own best efforts, it doesn’t seem like we will be able to time travel in my lifetime. Readers of this blog know that time travel is a topic I write about rather often. I have come to the somewhat disappointing conclusion that there are only a few ways that I can travel back in time. (I haven’t figured out any travel to the future methods yet.)

One way is simply by using memories. They are, of course, somewhat inaccurate as each time we recall something from the past, we seem to alter it slightly. Still, it is the most common time travel tool.

In the 1975 science fiction novel Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson and movie version (Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour), the protagonist, Richard, finds a method of time travel (found in J. B. Priestley‘s very odd book Man and Time about many theories of time) that involves performing self-hypnosis to convince his mind that he’s in the past.

Richard in the 1970s is dying. He decides he wants to spend his last days back in time. He is motivated by a picture of a woman on a hotel wall that he finds himself attracted to – although she was a famous stage actress who performed at the hotel in the 1890s. He stays in the historic hotel and buys an 1890s suit to wear to help reinforce his traveling back to that place and time. He surrounds himself with that time and place. It works.

Photographs and video are also commonly used for traveling back in time. I often wonder how my grandchildren’s memories will be different than mine simply because of the unbelievable amount of photo and video evidence of their lives that already exist. My sons grew up with me photographing them with film cameras. Film and processing and printing were expensive, so I was a bit limited pre-digital. I also took a lot of videos. Most of that was on a big VHS camcorder. Those tapes were converted to DVDs eventually and now I suppose I should convert them to digital files if I want them to survive. The black and white photos my parents took of me as a child still exist in their original format and don’t require conversions – though I have scanned a lot of them so they could enter the digital age. When I look through old photo albums, it is a kind of time traveling to the past.

A third time-traveling method came to mind recently when my wife and I went to France. We were walking through the little town of Pérouges. This medieval walled town is northeast of Lyon and has been kept very much intact over the centuries. As we walked the narrow paths through the own and when I climbed the watchtower on this small hill that overlooks the plain of the river Ain, I did feel myself back in time.

No, I didn’t see ghosts from centuries past. I touched objects that were ancient. I stood where people had stood 900 years ago. I didn’t time travel, but I did feel something.

According to the archaeological findings, humans have been present at Pérouges since the Chalcolithic Age (about –2500 to –1800). They don’t know when the fortress was built but its first written mention appears in the 12th century, so it is assumed to have been built in that period.

It still looks like a place from almost 1000 years ago. Films set in medieval times are sometimes filmed there, including Les trois mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers)(1961), The Bride (1985), and The Hour of the Pig (1993)

This past week the James Webb Space Telescope’s photos of deep space became another kind of time travel. It is showing us light that began a journey towards us at the birth of the universe.

The line that intrigues me most in the graphic above is this: “If you were in a Virgo Cluster galaxy today, and you had a telescope powerful enough to study the Earth, you would be able to see the prehistoric reptiles.” It’s theoretical and probably not possible, but you could see the dinosaurs. You could see the past. From place in deep space, with that powerful telescope, I could see my past.

Richard Matheson’s original title for Somewhere in Time was Bid Time Return. That comes from a line in William Shakespeare’s Richard II (Act III, Scene 2): “O call back yesterday, bid time return.” At the conclusion of the novel, after Richard has died, a doctor claims that the time-traveling experience occurred only in Richard’s mind. It was the desperate fantasy of a dying man. Richard’s brother is not completely convinced and publishes his brother’s journal of the experience which is the novel.

We are all traveling forward in time. You’re traveling as you read this sentence. Do you want to go back? Go much further forward? So far, I have not found any ways to travel forward in time. I’m still searching.

## Macbeth and The Green Knight

“By the pricking of my thumbs,
something wicked this way comes.”
MACBETH

A new film version of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth directed by Joel Coen and starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, and Harry Melling will be released at the end of the year.

This will be Joel Coen’s first film without partnering with his brother. The Coen brothers have directed many great films in different genres and styles. I’m curious to see how Joel’s directing style and tone translate to Shakespeare. From the few tidbits of trailers I’ve seen, the cinematography looks great – cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel – but photography alone is not what makes a film great.

It will be in theaters on Christmas Day 2021. That seems to be an odd day for this dark play to premiere. (It will be streaming on Apple TV+ on January 14.) But that Christmas date immediately made me think of another recent film based on a classic.

The Green Knight directed by David Lowery came out earlier this year. It stars Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton. This classic, which I read in college, is one of the Arthurian legends. One surviving manuscript from around 1400 has survived. The author is unknown. It was only rediscovered 200 years ago and published for the first time in 1839.

The original Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain who is King Arthur’s nephew. He’s a bit headstrong and takes on a challenge from the Green Knight. He is a huge emerald armored stranger. (In the film, he seems to be green-skinned and more monster than man.) The Green Knight sets forth a challenge. Any knight can take one stroke at him. If he survives, the following year at Christmas the knight must come to the Green Knight and alow him one stroke.

Spoiler alert: Gawain’s beheading of the Green Knight has little effect on him and so Gawain has a year until he will meet his fate.

Gawain’s journey to the Green Knight involves ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers because the Green Knight test men and the journey is more about his character.

## Revise and Relive Your Past

I just finished reading The Midnight Library, a novel by Matthew Haig. In this story, a woman, Nora, is given the opportunity to revise some of her life choices. The opportunity comes on a night when she attempts suicide and she finds herself in a library managed by her beloved childhood school librarian. This library, where it is always midnight, is between life and death. It has an infinite number of books filled with the stories of her life if she had made decisions differently. By choosing another alternative path from her “Book of Regrets” she can try to find the life in which she’s the most content.

The opportunity sounds great but – no real spoiler – most of her alternate life stories are not ultimately much better than her “real” life.

I also discovered this weekend Reminiscence, an upcoming science-fiction film, via a clever piece of promotion that had me enter a bit of information about myself and upload a photo which was then animated and used to create a short “memory” of mine. A false memory, of course, but then as my memory deteriorates, maybe I would believe it to be real.

One of the trailers for the film

The promotional campaign says that “Nothing is more addictive than the past.  Nick Bannister (Jackman) offers clients the chance to relive any memory they desire. Looking into other people’s memories – especially people who you become romantically involved with – can turn up unexpected results.

This is director Lisa Joy’s first feature film.  She is best known as the co-creator, writer, director, and executive producer of the HBO science-fiction drama series Westworld. She is married to screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, the younger brother of director Christopher Nolan. Sci-fi must be floating in their home as Jonathan is the creator of the CBS science fiction series Person of Interest (2011–2016) and co-creator of Westworld. He collaborated with his brother, on the adaptation of Jonathan’s short story “Memento Mori” into the neo-noir thriller film Memento (2000), and they co-wrote the scripts for The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and the science fiction film Interstellar (2014).

The film is written and directed by Lisa Joy and stars Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, and Thandiwe Newton. It is scheduled for release by Warner Bros. Pictures in the United States on August 20, 2021, and will also have a month-long simultaneous release on the HBO Max streaming service.

The film and the novel share a pretty universal idea that if we could go back into our past memories and select a point of departure, we could lead a better life. Change the college you attend, change your major or your career, pick a different spouse or no spouse at all, have children or don’t have children. There are so many possibilities.

You can’t change anything without changing everything. You change your college choice and your major might change and so your career changes and also the people you meet and where you live and so you end up marrying someone else or not getting married in that life. Maybe your life is longer. Or cut short.

## King Arthur Will Return

I was fascinated by books and movies about the legend of King Arthur as a boy and it has continued into adult life. In college, I took a course on the Arthurian legends and we read Le Morte D’Arthur in its 15th-century Middle English.

Sir Thomas Malory’s prose tales of King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table were compiled and modified from French and English sources to make a complete story of Arthur’s life. Malory wrote it while in prison.

One thing that Professor Kellogg told us was that Arthur’s story has been reinterpreted many times in the centuries since Malory. Each interpretation and reimagining of the legend reflects the time the new author lived in and Arthur is seen in a different way, reflecting the time of the reinterpretation. Since there was a 19th-century revival of the legend, Malory has been the principal source.

For example, the love triangle of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot has been portrayed in ways so that each of them is to blame. Arthur is at fault. Arthur is a fool. Arthur is loyal to his friend and wife.

Le Morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur) was first published in 1485 at the end of the medieval English era. William Caxton published it and changed its title from Malory’s The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table (or actually The Hoole Book of Kyng Arthur and of His Noble Knyghtes of The Rounde Table).

In 1934, the Winchester Manuscript was discovered and that is an earlier version than Caxton’s. Like Shakespeare and other old texts, there are many different editions that show different spellings and grammar and changes to the plot.

I reread the book recently. It was the first time I had read it since college. I read the new version by Gerald Davis of Le Morte D’Arthur which draws on both the Caxton and Winchester manuscripts.  But the key elements of the story remain.

This is not a 21st Century “reinterpretation” but it is a version written for modern readers. The love triangle that forms when King Arthur’s wife, Queen Guinevere, has an affair with Sir Lancelot. This double betrayal breaks Arthur’s heart but it also starts a civil war and ultimately leads to the end of King Arthur’s kingdom.

My rereading is now overlaid with the many movies, TV programs and other books I have read since college about Arthur. When I read about young Arthur I see the Disney cartoon Arthur of The Sword in the Stone that I saw in 1963 and also the Arthur in the source book by T.H. White, The Once and Future King,  which is very good and not cartoonish or a children’s book.

White’s young boy Arthur is tutored by a wizard named Merlyn in preparation for a future he can’t imagine where he will be a king with the greatest knights sworn to chivalrous values, a beautiful queen and he would unite a country as Arthur, King of the Britons.

Arthur is the once and future King because the legend is that he will return when England needs him. Versions of the legend during the period of WWII see him as returning in some form to save England.

Malory writing in mid-15th Century was viewing Arthur saw a change in society that included the end of knighthood. He also would have one of the first books printed in England and reach new readers.

In 1509, Henry VIII, wanted to revive an idealized age of knighthood. He had the Winchester round table of Edward III painted over so that he was on now top as the new Arthur.

During the early 19th Century, Romanticism, Gothic Revival, and medievalism developed, and chivalry was appealing. Alfred Tennyson rewrote the Arthur’s story for the Victorian era in Idylls of the King. His Arthur was the ideal of manhood but he fails because he is human.

My wife brought home The Mists of Avalon in 1982. That novel reimagines the story from a feminist perspective.

I watched the film Excalibur multiple times with my young sons who loved that Arthur and Merlin. The love triangle kind of passed over them. The film, directed by John Boorman, takes a mythological and allegorical approach to the story.  Arthur is the Wounded King who can only be healed (along with his kingdom) by the Holy Grail. It is the cycle of birth, life, decay, and restoration.

There is some of that in the 1991 film, The Fisher King, starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. (It is one of my favorite Robin Williams’ performances.)

The Wounded King’s realm becomes a wasteland as does the Fisher (or Sinner) King. It is not Arthur or Lancelot who find the Grail, because both of them are flawed and unworthy. They are healed by Perceval.

John Boorman remarked that the Christian symbolism of the Grail is what “my story is about: the coming of Christian man and the disappearance of the old religions which are represented by Merlin. The forces of superstition and magic are swallowed up into the unconscious.”

In retelling the legend of Arthur, writers have acted like Malory and included elements from other stories. Boorman has the sword Excalibur between the sleeping Queen and Lancelet which comes from the tales of Tristan and Iseult. Perceval not only gets the Grail to Arthur but also returns Excalibur to the Lady in the Lake (rather than Bedivere as in Malory) and the characters of Morgause and Morgan Le Fay are made one character.

How would a 21st Century view of King Arthur be viewed? Would it address democracy, manipulation of the story presented to the public, deception, healing, loyalty…? What other stories might be mixed in with the Arthurian legends?

## What I Am Listening To: Film and TV

I have posted a few times about What I Am Listening To and the posts are not about music. They are podcast lists. At this point, I have so many podcasts in my app that I have started to do separate posts occasionally about podcasts around a genre or topic.

Here are the movie podcasts I am currently listening to and would recommend if you are a film fan. Since streaming has made the line between films and TV in more of a soft focus, buth appear in these programs. You should be able to find them on any podcast app (I use Stitcher) and some are available on websites if you’re not a mobile listener.

I don’t listen to every episode of most podcasts and I pick and choose people or films that I most interest me.