My friend Sydney forwarded a video clip circulating on the net which makes clear we – who have only two eyes, one body, and one brain, seldom –or never- understand the implications of large numbers. In the case of the video, the number is not infinity, but merely the relatively tiny population of China, which Wikipedia lists as 1,354,040,000 in 2012.
Watch the video clip: DANCE OF 1000 HANDS *
Who might predict that among 1.35 billion Chinese are so many deaf and mute women of similar age, size, and body type, who could and would devote so much of their lives to a dance group? Yet the number of Chinese says so! What do larger numbers say – a trillion – a quadrillion, Avogadro’s number? Infinity?
The closest I have come recently to a big number – for me big – was reading Victor Hugo’s 5000 page Les Miserables. And that’s a lie-that I read it all – I kindled and scanned much of Hugo’s many long digressions, of interest only to those for whom life had not yet been limited, like mine, by access to limitless electronic information. The movie was long enough, even as a re-statement, in a different medium, about a remote culture, and age, and I felt not miserable at all. But that number-5000 pages – is a miniscule. Unlike large numbers it’s easy to understand its implications. While I try, though, I can’t grasp the meaning of numbers that reflect, say, the population of China, nor what they imply – beyond the tangible evidence of (how many, 100? 1000 fingers sounds more reasonable, but poetic license can be excused.) deaf and voiceless dancing young women, I can’t guess what else that moderately big number suggests- let alone what really big ciphers might tell say.
To my tiny mind, infinity– the sleeping eight -– seems to require there is an infinite number of me; of you; of earths, of Victor Hugos. But do I really hear that infinite voice? No. Even dark matter, strings, the Beginning, the End, and ‘life everlasting’ are more real to me than infinity.
I can only cloyingly confine infinity to a mathematical symbol, the sleeping eight. There, like any unreal number, it can be manipulated, squared and so on. But I don’t hear its words. And maybe that’s just as well. What it seems to want to do to me — at the least — is to ruin my indefensible joy at being one, myself, alive, here, and now. So get thee behind me Satan, Don’t whisper at me with your infinite lie about infinity and knowledge. No wonder SHe kicked you out of heaven.
* The Dance of the Hands first major international debut was in Athens a the 2004 Paralympics. But it had long been in the repertoire of the Chinese Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe and had traveled to more than 40 countries. The lead dancer, Tai Lihua, has a BA from the Hubei Fine Arts Institute.