Infinite Difficulties (Wenckheim VII)

The Professor, international expert on mosses, is back at Thornbush, and busy with thought-immunization exercises.

… not a single moment can be left to the brain to find some pretext in order to escape from the questioning gaze, namely, the brain is looking at itself, and this looking must be comprised of sheer mistrust …

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Facing deathly revenge from the bikers, he acquires an insane amount of gasoline and stages his own death in the flames, re-creating a Burning Thornbush. We are led to expect that he will escape.

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While busy with preparations, the Professor ponders the meaning of life and death in a long monologue (speaking to his dog Little Mutt), beginning with questioning the infinite, and accusing the mathematician Georg Cantor for thinking the infinite is real, which the professor refutes, based on the lack of empirical evidence:

…namely, no one has ever wished genuinely to confront the deeply problematic nature of empirical verification as such, because whoever did this went mad…

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The denial of the infinite leads the Professor further — thinking itself becomes suspect:

…the mere appearance of a thought hauntingly reminds us that the way a person thinks is but one concept of infinity,…

Existence beyond being extant in time and space is questioned:

…there’s only that which takes place…

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The denial of the infinite and with it anything transcendent however causes a problem: our universal fear of being finite, that is, our fear of death: 

… what we must deal with here is, namely, Cantor and his god — because if we’re dealing with this, then at least we’re dealing with something, namely we’re dealing with fear, and we have to deal with that if Cantor and his god are interesting — and they are interesting — and that’s why, at this point, we must refocus our attention on this, as fear is what defines human existence, …

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The Professor’s monologue culminates in what I would call his theology of fear:

… fear, if we regard it as a creationary force, a general power center, from where the gods evaporate, and finally God emerges, and yes, the God of Cantor too, because the fear of the cessation of existence is a force field which we can’t even measure, … 

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Strikingly, the Professor comes to the realization that fearing death and loving to live are identical:

 

… the fear that is within us and the joy of life that is within us, well, these two things are one and the same, two sides of one fact, because we are a web of events that seeks to sustain one thing and one thing only, namely continuity, … 

So he can, simultaneously, affirm life as a process that aims to constitute infinity, and deny the existence of anything infinite, including God.

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The simplest infinite set in mathematics, the set of natural numbers, is postulated to have the property that for every number there is a successor. Within mathematics, it is not stated what it means that such a set exists — but most of mathematics is based on the firm belief that there always is a number that’s by one bigger than the previous one, that there always is one more step, just as in life. 

 

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Has the poor Professor not understood yet that if you have lived you don’t fear death?

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