Finite Infinities

In 2006, during a time of turmoil in my life, my friend Jim and I created an Island. We imbued it with magic, building on it each week as both a therapeutic and creative exercise. It was a dimension alive within our shared imaginations. Into it, we placed everything we ever loved about islands, shipwrecks, buried treasures, pirates, tree houses, fairies, mermaids, and more. We could be who we wanted to be, too. We had costumes and magic. We could transform into whatever or whoever we wanted to be. There were no limits to our Island.

And we still go there today. For more than a decade, the Island has been a constant source of comfort and creativity. Any time we are troubled, any time we have problems we need to work through, we talk about what we will do on the Island to work through it.

I find it interesting that this has sustained us for so long. I’ve never met Jim in person. We were Buffy fans, long ago, when I was still writing Buffy fanfiction. We came together because of shared interests, and then we built a universe.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Finite Infinities. I get lost in the idea of the littleness and bigness of the universe, and how it’s relative to the space that confines it. At some point, the decimals just repeat into forever, far beyond our ability to calculate or comprehend. And beyond that exists… another infinity.

The other day, Kim Namjoon of BTS mentioned this in his V-Live broadcast. He sings about it in his solo rap song Reflection as well, about his body being the diameter of the earth. It reminds me of the book by Janna Levin, How the Universe Got Its Spots. I love that book and recommend it to anyone with an affinity for infinity. She writes about her history and how she and her husband fell in love while simultaneously explaining the infinity of bound space. The love story serves to illustrate her scientific narrative—that we are contained within a system that, for us, continues beyond the mind’s ability to understand, and in that way, it is infinite. Within it, we are free and unrestricted and connected to each other.

Not too long ago, my brother, Chris, and I, were talking about Hamlet. Actually, he was talking about discussing Hamlet with his ten-year-old son, Elliot. He was explaining the quote, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.”

Chris said he always thought that was Shakespeare’s own reference to finite infinity: a man’s world is defined not by physical space, but by the size of his mind. Which led my brother to consider inner worlds and the imagination in this context. Hamlet goes on to say that he would be a king inside a walnut shell, except that he has bad dreams.” Then he says that dreams are but a shadow of reality itself.

But our dreams, our internal workings, are yet another bounded infinity. Our minds go on and on, beyond what we can imagine, and some of us have whole worlds, galaxies, histories, societies—whole systems—alive and existing within the confines of our minds.

And within those societies, there are characters who dream and love and create. In each of their minds, they possess their own finite infinity. The intricacy, the complexity of it all, it brings me to tears.

In this midst of all this pondering, I recalled a time in Yongsan two years ago with our roleplaying group. We had ordered food, and while we waited for the delivery, we took a game break. Our characters were caught in a kind of Kobayashi Maru. The five of us were trapped inside a plain white room with no exits and no memory of how we got there. None of our efforts to escape had been successful, so during our break, we decided to play at something else.

Our characters started a game of D&D. During the course of that mini-game, one character found a Bag of Holding. Our character’s characters all climbed inside. Then, like our characters in the white room before, they got stuck. Then, one of our character’s character’s characters decided we should play Paranoia. Soon, our character’s character’s character’s characters became trapped behind a firewall. Therefore, those characters decided to play a game of Go Fish.

But therein lies the layers of finite infinities. It’s a concept toyed with in movies like Inception and Jacob’s Ladder. It’s in Hamlet and Futurama and Rick and Morty. Books such Stephen King’s Dark Tower series allude to inner worlds within an inner world. John Green talks about it in The Fault in Our Stars. We’re all tiny cells within a macrocosm, but even that is part of something larger, and smaller.

I think it’s important, too, to cultivate an inner world, to give it life and substance, to people it with whatever interesting events and beings our minds can conjure. We are not a void, and we are not alone. Our universe is full of universes. We are infinite, and that, for me, is infinitely comforting.


Reflection, by Rap Monster (BTS)
How the Universe Got Its Spots, by Janna Levin