Infinite Life

By Oren Harman.

Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism And Mathematical Creativity

By Loren Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor

(Belknap Press, 239 pp., $25.95)

A starry firmament, or sand cascading through one’s open fingers, or weeds springing up time after time: the first conception of infinity, of the uncountable and the unending, is not recorded, but it must have been stimulated by experiences such as these. It may have merged in the mind of an ancient progenitor with thoughts of a God, a possessor of unlimited might, an infinite being itself. But whether or not the idea of God was born with the first thoughts of what cannot be counted, this wonderful book by an American historian of science and a French mathematician teaches us that eons later, the divine and the infinite remain closely entangled. A mathematical understanding of infinity was a conundrum for rationalists, who believed it could be mastered by using only the methods of scientific logic, unsullied by eschatology or religion. But as Jean-Michel Kantor and Loren Graham show, they were wrong. Centuries after Bacon and Descartes, and the birth of the scientific method of the moderns, mysticism came to the rescue of one of the most intractable problems posed by abstract human thought. It was mysticism, not rationalism, that helped to crack infinity… Read More>>

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