infinitude (and beyond)
if you look long enough into the abyss, the abyss will look back into you
when i was a little kid, about seven, eight, or maybe even nine i used to think about space a great deal.
all the other kids i grew up with loved cowboys. maybe that’s why i loved space. i even remember trying to persuade my mates to play ‘spacemen’ and aliens instead of cowboys and indians. yes. no political correctness back then. my parents noticed this and bought me lots of books on astronomy. i was very precocious. i remember a book written by patrick moore ‘the boy’s book of space’ in which he had asserted quite categorically (written in the ‘fifties i believe) that space travel was centuries off and certainly wouldn’t appear in his or even my lifetime. it’s quite a surprise to find that there are quite a number of millenials now who find it very difficult to believe that space travel took place at all. the moon landings certainly look historical, and hard to look like an established historical fact.
one night i fell into the ‘thinking about infinity’ trap. i lay in bed thinking about the universe, and the idea that it just goes on forever, without end, even if there were an end, i asked myself, what was beyond it? maybe another universe? but that just means infinity again. i even thought about the notion of the multi-verse (although not in name, i wasn’t that precocious) but it didn’t really help. and it suddenly terrified me.
it absolutely terrified me
i was eventually so consumed with terror that i burst into tears. it was real terror. existential fear. a sublime panic. my parents eventually heard my wails and tried to comfort me but i don’t think they believed it could be what i said it was. not at my age. i can’t really reconstruct this terror, but i think it might have been, this contemplation of what the infinite means, what lies at the base of all fears, like death, not that it means the end, but that it might not be the end, that there might be something much worse than the worst of this world.