Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wonderful ever after

The human mind can imagine various sorts of infinities but it can't do so very well.  Many fairy tales and stories I heard as a child ended "and they lived happily ever after."  Those words satisfied me then and they are still pretty good.  However, "ever after" posits an infinity of time and I wonder if any couple actually lived, and lived happily, ever after.  

I am reminded of the writer Jasper Fforde (yes, two "f''s in a row - I think he is Welsh) and his books like The Eyre Affair , where nasties travel into a famous and beloved story, abduct a pivotal character for ransom.  I guess in Fforde's eyes, even "happily ever after" is not safe from threats and dangers.

When I hear about financial arrangements that will hold "in perpetuity", I have a taste of the doubts.  I have heard that the earth existed for 300 million years before conditions on it were such that life of any kind could exist.  I suspect that if the planet returns to such conditions, all deals about perpetuity are off.  Some scholar of financial and business history could probably track down the longest known financial arrangement and tell us how many generations, centuries or years it actually lasted.  I bet it might not be 300 years, which I admit, is more or less an infinity of time in some human activities and imaginings.

I am listening to Prof. Grant Hardy in his Great Course Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition describe the idea of heaven or paradise as imagined in various religions.  That subject relates to another infinity that is hard to wrap the mind around.  Prof. Hardy was attempting to state some of the details imagined in a very nice place, a place that was even better than that: "It was just a wonderful place", he ended saying.  Maybe you and friends or relatives have tried to consider infinity pleasant places and what they would need to be like to make you really happy and content.  

It is about the same problem as creating luxurious arrangements here on earth.  We usually specify gorgeous scenery, wonderful food, some great drinks, clothing that we like and that makes us look really good, etc., etc.  But we humans are built for change and maybe for at least occasional adversity.  That scenery will become invisible eventually.  It will just seem everyday.  It will actually be everyday, as will the other lovely features.  So, the designers of heaven will probably have to arrange for some rainy days, some dry wells, some breakdowns of the air conditioning.  The entire specification is not going to be easy.

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