Science

# Watch the Mind-Boggling TED Talk That’s so Confusing and Fascinating We Had to Watch It Twice

How big is infinity? Seems like a rhetorical question, right? Everyone knows infinity is infinite, but leave it to the folks at TED to tackle discussing the ins and outs of what this means.

Dennis Wildfogel, according to the presentation description, “[uses] the fundamentals of set theory [to] explore the mind-bending concept of the ‘infinity of infinities’ — and how it led mathematicians to conclude that math itself contains unanswerable questions.”

Wildfogel first discusses how matching a fundamental method of thinking about a quantity without really counting. He offers the example of a packed auditorium to illustrate this point — the number of people sitting matches the number of chairs set out.

“What we mean when we say two sets are the same size is that the elements of them can be matched up one by one in some way,” he said, getting to the point that there are as many even numbers as there are whole numbers.

Continuing, Wildfogel points out “what still bothers us is our distress over the fact that the even numbers only seem to be part of the whole numbers.” He then starts talking about making a list of all the fractions, shows how the fractions match up with the whole numbers, brings up rational and irrational numbers . . .  and then we start getting lost in our after lunch food coma.

As Gizmodo puts it, this discussion will either “make you smarter” or “infinitely frustration.” Check it out to see which camp you fall into:

• ##### china clipper
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 8:40pm

Infinity is a concept. It means all there is and all there isn’t.

• ##### Moondogg
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 5:33pm

I took an Astronomy course in college. One day in class the professor made the comment that “the Universe is infinite and goes on forever.” I thought about that mind boggling concept for a moment, then blurted out “So does that mean that Earth is at the center of the Universe?”
Confused, my professor answered “Well, no. Earth isn’t at the center of the Universe.” I asked him if I could prove that the Earth was the center of the Universe would he give me an “A” for the course. He laughed a bit, then agreed.
I explained that for an object to be in the center of something meant that there was an equal distance on all sides of the object, so if the Universe is truly infinite and endless it meant that there was an equal distance of infinity and endlessness on all sides of the Earth. Therefore, the Earth, or any point in the Universe for that matter, is at the “center” of the Universe, having an equal distance of infinity on all sides.
He thought about it, then conceded that, using my logic, I was right…then gave me a “B” on the semester.

True story.

• ##### Sicboy
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 5:55pm

As any of my teachers would have said about me. Your too smart for your own good. You deserved a “B”. Another thing my teachers would have said under their breath, smart ass. I’ll have to use that one myself. If you don’t mind?

• ##### NunyoBidniss
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 6:50pm

Nope. You deserved the B. Your explanation equally applies to all points on the surface of a sphere. In order to reach the center, you have to leave the surface. Infinity, in this case, is the fallacious limitation of assuming N dimensions for an N+M dimensional system where the “infinite” universe is more likely a hyperdimensional surface and infinity is suggestive of your professor’s limited geometric reasoning.

When people try to characterize the universe (a la string theory, etc) and the equation blows up into infinity, it usually means they are missing at least one dimension.

• ##### Pontiac
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 11:54pm

• ##### sdps
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 1:20pm

You should have gotten a ‘D’. Your logic was correct, but incomplete. As the video clearly explains, while you can’t measure them to an absolute size, there are different sized infinities. Thus multiple vectors from the earth, while all being infinite, can also be unequal, thus the Earth would not be at the center of the universe!
But hey, at least you were thinking. And I like that! :)

Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:32pm

looking at the number line, the positive side goes to infinity, and so does negative side. Zero is considered then the mid-point of the number line, so infinity over 2 = 0. Since infinity is infinity, then infinity = zero. Something to think about. Or not.

The universe, however, is finite. Only our minds conceive of things that serve no purpose whatsoever.

• ##### rose-ellen
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 5:17pm

How could space be finite?

• ##### bluegoldnationdotcom
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 7:26pm

Your number line analogy doesn’t hold up because of the order that exists on the number line, you can determine the logical center point because of the property of the numbers on either side over the different mathematical operations…learned that in abstract algebra…surprised you didn’t know that. The universe on the other hand doesn’t have this type of order one infinite side vs. the other and so there is no logical center.

• ##### suz
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:26pm

i wholly appreciate this video even though half-way through it goes over my head. toward the end, though, i suspect there might be the quintessential infinite number that explains all infinites…

…G-d which/who, once again, brings the unexplained.

• ##### P C BE DAMNED
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:45pm

This is a bunch of mind diddling by mathematicians. I will give you that the questions are unanswerable by finite minds. Observe the Infinite in the ONLY way man can. Observe Gods only begotten Son. Jesus. It is the only way. FOOLS, Go Tea.

• ##### Gazoiks
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 10:09am

Well said “PC”

• ##### shekinah11
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:24pm

And to think…all of this evolved billions of years after “nothing” exploded and made complex laws of physics, mathematics and intelligent life forms…

• ##### pap pap
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:18pm

Infinitey is something that goes on forever and can’t be quanitfied. Trying to quantify it is stupid.

• ##### Meyvn
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 5:12pm

Nod.

• ##### rose-ellen
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 5:18pm

What do numbers[mental abstractions] have to do with space?

• ##### Calm Voice of Reason
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 8:43pm

@Pap: Anybody who had to struggle through elementary calculus would be inclined to agree. But those who made it through to the other side can tell you that “infinity” is every bit as manageable as any other variable.

• ##### Copo
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 11:45pm

Infinity isn’t a variable, a variable is a measurable value, is has a specific amount of space between its beginning and end. Infinity has no beginning or end to be measured. It is a concept, not a finite value, and to treat it as a finite value is ludicrous.

• ##### DudeFaceOfAmerica
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:11pm

Infinity is the sum of all numbers.

• ##### boomboom
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:36pm

That was fun……………and, I think I actually got it.

• ##### rose-ellen
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 5:22pm

What do numbers have to do with infinity?Numbers are concepts of our mind-math is really logic.Space itself may be a mental construct[time too].

• ##### OniKaze
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 3:43pm

If anyone needs an example of this in realistic means, then all you need is to simply look at our national debt….

That is our governments experiment to see just how big you can make numbers… Normally you would think that they would use “theoretical” numbers for this, but since many politicians can’t count above 20 (considering that they have all of their digits) they needed something that they can visualize in “real-world” terms.. Thus they decided to see how large you can make our national debt, thus proving how large you can make a number…

So far, infinity has not been reached, but did anyone 200 years ago even know what 14 Trillion dollars even was, let alone how much it was really worth??

• ##### Ayla_me
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 7:04am

Yet, it is not “worth” anything, as there is NOTHING concrete to show for the 14 Trillion they have squandered. So…it goes back to: “What is 14 Trillion worth?” and we STILL don’t know.

• ##### Larry E
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 3:16pm

Interesting, and not too hard to understand really. There is no number so large or so small that another number can’t be found that’s even larger or smaller. Great for the mathematicians, but nearly totally irrelevant for the rest of us who are stunned by the national debt or the distance to the farthest known galaxy or the size of a subatomic particle.

• ##### SerikFox
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:58pm

Interesting video, never knew about that theory. I did already know the conclusion though; it’s not hard to figure out. I personally consider infinity an “incapable concept” (something humans are literally incapable of understanding). Infinity has an infinite number of infinities in it, and each infinity within is the same. And I’m disappointed that it took mathematicians that long to come up with the answer that this infinity theory “cannot be proven true or false”. That’s the single most defined quality in any incapable concept.

• ##### ACTIONNOTTALK
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:50pm

Send this video to all the Obama voters you know. The resulting blown cranial cavities will shorten the lines at the polls in November.

• ##### themachinist239
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 3:18pm

If you’re a fan of TED Talks as I am, I’m sure you’re aware that the vast majority of speakers lean left. Not because of any bias in speaker selection but because Art, Science, Technology and Sociology are often the subjects discussed. These kinds of discussions aren’t typically embraced or promoted among conservatives abroad (though I would like to see more). This is putting it modestly. I’m not at all trying to say liberals are smarter than conservatives, please don’t misinterpret my point. I’m saying these discussions are not popular among conservatives as opposed to say…business, economics, law, religion, etc. Hence why your comment that aims to condescend doesn’t hold water. It would make more sense to hear a liberal make that very same statement. JUST SAYIN.

• ##### themachinist239
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 3:24pm

*that very same statement, but in reference to Romney voters.* is what I meant.

• ##### SILAS
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 3:52pm

Too late-you blew it

• ##### mauijonny
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 12:03am

Exactly, THEMACH… I also love Ted Talks – not really sure, though, how many are not Progs… To that point, though, I’d like to say that this re-introduction of “conservative values culture” thing is important, but so is the involvement with the science & tech thing…

• ##### Gazoiks
Posted on August 9, 2012 at 10:08am

For me the solution to the problem is simple but controversial. Infinity can neither be proven, nor disproven. Sounds like the perfect description of God. When Moses asked Him who he was, His simple reply was, “I am that I am”. In other words, I have always been, and I will always be. I am infinity. The God of Israel has made the claim of eternally existing, with no beginning and no end. Those of us of this finite world, who have never experienced eternity, cannot comprehend such a claim. Therefor we dismiss it, and Him because the concept is too beyond our comprehension.
Mathematicians operate in a basis of faith, as do scientists who will not believe in God, but believe that they can prove our existence without any solid proof. I would rather believe and have faith in God, and that He infinitely is concerned in our affairs, than in men who cannot fathom the possibility of a creator. All of man’s “theories” are taken as fact, while the facts of our God are disregarded. All He asks of us is to love Him as infinitely as He loves us. Simple. Jesus promises us that there will be a day that we will know, even as we are known. All of life’s mysteries, whether science, mathematics, or just the important matters of the heart will be known, and all answers will be answered. Soon.

• ##### CoGod
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:34pm

Thanks TED.

I got it; but then again I’m an engineer and mathematician. Now, let us hope that the infinity of irrational people is not a greater infinity of the rational. Now, if the infinity of Obama’s lies are divided into descending subsets to create a greater infinity, and if these are combined with the irrational infinity – otherwise known as democrats and those freely crossing our open border to vote with them – and allowed to vote, will the US Treasury be able to redistribute the finite amount of money that the 45.7125342178645398012% of tax paying US citizens pay in taxes – even if the Obama dream rate is infinite? Apparently not. Unless of course we divide the infinite tax rate into descending subsets to create a greater infinity. If this gives you a head ache, then get off your backside (which will become infinite if you rely on Obama) and make your finite (one vote) count, unless of course you don’t have a voter ID. In that case, if you vote for Romney, let your multiple attempts to vote without ID be subdivided into subsets by precinct until your infinity approaches the infinities of Obama lie subsets and his irrational supporters combined. Look. Surely your math skills exceed Barry’s. So PLEASE VOTE.

• ##### TomArmstrong
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:27pm

Don’t forget the condescending subsets…infinite indeed….

• ##### Dismayed Veteran
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:32pm

I would prefer they figure out how I am going to pay for 2 weddings 4 weeks apart. Now that is a number I can use.

• ##### CoGod
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:41pm

I have four daughters so I feel your pain. You know, if you explain how important a great honeymoon is and how most newlyweds don’t have the resources – particularly after they spend sooo much on a wedding, you may be able to get them to follow the logic that a frugal wedding gives Dad the opportunity to bless them with a honeymoon. If you then begin to break the wedding costs and those of the delightful trip into subsets, you’ll give them a head ache. And you sit back and say “eeeehhh” Then talk to them about love – emphasize the LLLLLL part of love – the first and most important letter.

Then move to Hope. Combine all of these into MONEY FORM POP FOR A HONEY MOON AND EEEEEHH -LLL -OPE.

WELLAH. infinity mastered again.

• ##### Falcon67
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 3:02pm

Combine both weddings together. You will save tons of money on food, booze, music, video and pictures. It was very popular back in Russia when two sisters or two brothers had to marry around same time. After all, most guests on both weddings will be the same people.

• ##### CoGod
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:32pm

I got it; but then again I’m an engineer and mathematician. Now, let us hope that the infinity of irrational people is not a greater infinity of the rational. Now, if the infinity of Obama’s lies are divided into descending subsets to create a greater infinity, and if these are combined with the irrational infinity – otherwise know as democrats and those freely crossing our open border to vote with them – and allowed to vote, will the US Treasury be able to redistribute the finite amount of money that the 45.7125342178645398012% of tax paying US citizens pay in taxes – even if the Obama dream rate is infinite? Apparently not, unless of course we divide the infinite tax rate into descending subsets to create a greater infinity. If this gives you a head ache, then get off your backside (which will become infinite if you rely on Obama) and make your finite (one vote) count, unless of course you don’t have a voter ID. In that case, if you vote for Romney, let your multiple attempts top vote without ID be subdivided into subsets by precinct until your infinity approaches the infinities of Obama lie subsets and his irrational supporters combined. Look. Surely your math skills exceed Barry’s. So PLEASE VOTE.

• ##### idaho1
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:27pm

In short…. We don’t know what we don’t know.

• ##### Sy Kosys
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:57pm

Ah, but they are known unknowns ;)

• ##### RANGER1965
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:25pm

Chaos theory teaches us that regardless of the specific numbers, (they can be chosen at random), that a certain regularity, or sameness creeps in. Although the actual number sets might be different, they produce similar patterns.

There is an elegance and beauty to this that can be shown mathematically, and in nature.

• ##### the_system_disconnect
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:23pm

:D awesome video

• ##### jzs
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:19pm

Cool video.

• ##### lylejk
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:17pm

I’m an aproximist myself. You can’t be exact on everything, so you design a 10% tolerance in your product and it will work 99.9% in most environments. Also, your designs can be designed a whole lot quicker if you take in considerations a tolerance. Heck, even quantum mechanics can only be described as a roll of the dice so you arrive at answers that fit withing a statistical bell curve and the likely chance will be at the peak of that curve. A distribution of possibilities; never exact. That’s what life is all about. Doing your best to be as close as possible and hopefully you are close enough. lol

:)

• ##### Snowleopard {gallery of cat folks}
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:21pm

Actually if anyone wants to try and explain the infinite; they only need to solve an answer to why do we every few years keep reelecting the same losers in Congress and managed to get a communist in the white house?

• ##### idaho1
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:46pm

I agree with you 100%. I myself feel the same. Problem with math as it is taught current day is that one must follow and demonstrate the teachers approach to problem solving. Thing is that there are many different methods that can achieve the same result. Most commonly taught methods don’t necessarily work for me with the way my mind works. Even though I could solve all problems and show work that achieved the solution, because it was not of the methodology taught, it was marked wrong. Open minds help to further solutions that were otherwise or previously unthought of. For the most part approximation works and has served me well throughout my engineering career.

• ##### THX-1138
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:07pm

My physics teacher in college started the first lab off with this:

You put a mathematician on one end of a couch, an engineer on the other end and a pretty girl in the middle. Then you tell them they can move half way to the girl each minute. What happens?

The mathematician quickly figures out that he can never get to the girl so he gives up. The engineer realizes that in a few minutes he’ll be close enough for all practical purposes and slides over.

He then asked us to be Engineers in his Lab.

• ##### lylejk
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 4:42pm

How did you guess that I use to be an Engineer (Electrical) THX? lol

Sad no more; just a computer contractor at large (with all but no work right now). Oh well. At least I’m still surviving in the sea of morasity (for now). :)

• ##### jzs
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 10:14pm

THX-1138, good joke. I think a quantum physicist would move directly over to her without crossing any of the of the space in between them.

• ##### MeteoricLimbo
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:17pm

OK, so if you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of pianos one of those monkeys is going to play Beethoven 5th and of course one will play it backwards…..

• ##### Sicboy
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 6:16pm

Nice, never thought of it that way. So does the car in the junkyard thing become a hybrid?

• ##### Nora
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:13pm

• ##### ThankBabyJesus
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:12pm

Ka-BLAM! that’s my head sploding. Awe, Psalm 147:4-6

• ##### ZAP
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:07pm

“infinitely frustration.” Like the national dept?

• ##### TEIN
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:03pm

Understand cycles and you start to understand infinity…..

• ##### One Man Mormon Blues Band
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 1:57pm

I notice no comments here. I guess that’s because it doesn’t warrant a personal attack and no one can argue with it.

• ##### trolltrainer
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:04pm

Or maybe that the article was just posted…

• ##### lukerw
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:04pm

The Universe is Finite… GOD is Infinite: EggHeads want to Know GOD, but cannot acknowledge GOD!

Posted on August 8, 2012 at 2:10pm

Okay, I’ll give it a shot..

Come on Blaze… nobody cares about these stupid intellectuals. Let’s get back to the ‘real news’, like stuff that matters to us. We want an article on the frustrating lies of the politicians on the other side of our personal aisle so we can keep on being mad at them.

Oh, and there are at least 5 punctuation errors in you’re article Liz, don’t the blaze editors catch it all or are you all too busy praying in your mormon temples and baptizing people for the sake of all the dead the american indians. [sorry, that's low, but typical]

Who care’s what communist Ted Turner thinks about infinity anyway. I’m a college professor or know one and your math is all wrong.

[how's that? it was as carthetic for me as it was typical of the comments section. sorry for any cliches or typos]

• ##### TedsOfBeverlyHills
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 5:29pm

What kind of idiot criticizes someone for punctuation errors and MISSPELLS (or uses the wrong homophone) in the SAME SENTENCE?!!

Quote:
“Oh, and there are at least 5 punctuation errors in you’re article Liz”

It’s YOUR, not YOU’RE. By the way, “carthetic” isn’t a word either. Did you mean to say “cathartic”?

What a moron.

• ##### P C BE DAMNED
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 7:27pm

Tedhillbilly
I don’t give a damn for a man who can only spell a word one way.

• ##### TedsOfBeverlyHills
Posted on August 8, 2012 at 8:42pm

@PC

You can connect the terminals of a car battery 2 different ways. And you’re a real dumbass if you do it the wrong way.