Tag Archives: Georg Cantor

BB #64: Systems Bubble

For the last two weeks I’ve written a number of posts contrasting physical systems with numeric systems.

(The latter are, of course, also physical, but see many previous posts for details on significant differences. Essentially, the latter involve largely arbitrary maps between real world magnitude values and internal numeric representations of those values.)

I’ve focused on the nature of causality in those two kinds of systems, but part of the program is about clearly distinguishing the two in response to views that conflate them.

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Sideband #54: Cantor’s Diagonal

mathsBe warned: these next Sideband posts are about Mathematics! Worse, they’re about the Theory of Mathematics!! But consider sticking around, at least for this one. It fulfills a promise I made in the Infinity is Funny post about how Georg Cantor proved there are (at least) two kinds of infinity: countable and uncountable. It also connects with the  Smooth or Bumpy post, which considered differences between the discrete and the continuous.

This first one is pretty easy. The actual math involved is trivial, and I think it’s fascinating how the Yin/Yang of separate units versus a smooth continuum seems a fundamental aspect of reality. We can look around to see many places characterized by “bumpy” or “smooth” (including Star Trek). (The division lies at the heart of the conflict between Einstein’s Relativity and quantum physics.)

So let’s consider Cantor.

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Infinity is Funny

You probably have some idea of what infinity means. Something that is infinite goes on forever. But it might surprise you to know that there are different kinds of infinity, and some are bigger than others!

As a simple example, a small circle is infinite in the sense that you can loop around and around the circle forever. At the same time, your entire path along the circle is bounded in the small area of the circle. Compare that to the straight line that extends to infinity. If you  travel that line, you follow a path that goes forever in some direction.

What if we draw a larger circle outside the small circle. If there are an infinite number of points on the small circle and an infinite number of points on the large circle, does the larger circle have the same number of points as the small one? [The answer is yes.]

To understand all this, we have to first talk a bit about numbers.

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