Boggled By Infinity

I dunno what's going on with this one

Boggled By Infinity

If I were one of the Less Wrong lads I'd put "epistemic status: this is literally just some ideas I'm trying to think through and we've not had an episode of Memhaz in a while" here. This is a bit wooly; I've been wandering down a trail of thought and I'm not quite sure if I've got to the end yet. That said:

He can watch whatever he wants, whenever he wants, limited only by the streaming services we’ve subscribed to and the “screen time” we’re willing to give him. The same goes for his peers. Time does not bind them in the same way: freed from the shackles of its necessity, no ritual can ever take place.

That's former Twitter fave @HealthUntoDeath writing in the FT about the ritual of watching The Simpsons on BBC2 at 6pm and how in an age of streaming his son won't have this experience. The whole piece is worth reading but the thrust is about how rituals facilitate communication and the decline in their prevalence can create mutual unintelligibility. Reading it, I found myself thinking that rituals also provide a sense of priority (an idea I will revisit at a later time) and a sense of boundedness. Their form and repetition helps tame the otherwise disconcertingly continuous expanse of time with which life confronts us. They're a natural response, in short, to being boggled by infinity. People want that boundedness, it makes sense to them. There is even a (non-mainstream) philosophy of mathematics called finitism that (to put it very crudely, don't @ me Tom) doesn't believe in infinity. See also Phil Gyford on finishability.

Shortly after reading the FT article, I saw someone talking about Jaron Lanier's idea that you should pay to send email in relation to the price for minting NFTs coming down. Thinking about both these things through the lens of being an attempt to limit the unlimited—to bring a measure of real-world constraint to the seemingly unconstrained internet— I think they make more sense to me than they did before¹, even if I don't 100% buy in. NFTs as an attempt to create some kind of ownership framework through tokens as an attempt to corral the internet's messy confusing infinity into something that has a measure of finitude to it; make it mentally tractable to humans—that makes more visceral sense to me than most of the other explanations I've heard.

I would consider myself broadly understanding of this as an objective, even if I don't necessarily share the enthusiasm for the method. My way of approaching it would be that I want to limit my personal use and exposure of infinite things, but that's obviously a different scale and applicability. Being one of those people who talks about moving away from streaming services and buying CDs or whatever is fine, but there's only so far that can take you, I suppose.

¹In Lanier's case I was going to say "because he's American, he is, of course, trying to do that via the medium of money", but I think I'm just confusing this with his imo more legitimately weird aversion to Wikipedia/FOSS in general.

Subscribe to Heed Not The Rolling Wave

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
[email protected]