A theroy by Georg Cantor might have ruined my life.

Postby Tailspin » Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:06 pm

I warn you right now that this particular post might sound completely bizarre. People have told me that I'm being silly, I'm worrying over nothing don't seem to be able to understand my situation at how many times I explained to them. And maybe this is the best place for talkie about this particular problem but I can't think of a better one.

All my life creativity has been my passion, especially storytelling. My life's ambition is to be an author.
One day about seven years ago, my father was driving me home and he told me something he thought I would find interesting but it to me it was the most horrific thing I'd ever heard.

He explained to me this theory, apparently based on the work by Georg Cantor, that there is an immensely large but finite number of possible different books that can be written, because all books are made out of combinations of letters and words on a page so there must be a finite number of possible books that can be written.
If you could only put one letter in a book you would have a maximum 26 different possible books. And the way things are is simply a much larger scale of this statement.

I was crushed.

At first I desperately tried to challenge this theory but I'm not a scientist or a mathematician and by what relatively little I do know it seemed airtight. I sank into a deep depression, I avoided any thing to do with creativity and ended up spending countless hours slumped in a chair playing solitaire on my computer. As far as I was concerned my life was ruined forever and if I had to fight to stay alive I don't know if I would have bothered.
For me, writing meant a world of infinite possibilities, freedom from all constraints of reality and creating something that only you could create. My father's theory took all that away from me and such sucked all the happiness out of my life. To me, the theory says that everything I could ever come up with is simply part of a pre-existing set of possibilities and eventually no one will be able to write anything without it being an exact copy of something else and everything I do write will bring into little closer to that time. People keep telling me that this event is theoretically billions of years into the future but that makes no difference to me because it means the freedom and infinite possibilities of creativity is a lie and I can't be a writer with this lie hanging over me.

Yes I know the creative possibilities of man and infinite but in this case it doesn't matter because human language is not infinite. It doesn't matter if we keep coming up with new ideas and concepts if we have no means left to express them.

Eventually I drifted out of it, though I don't know how. I never came to terms with it, never found a way to challenge it or had some kind of epiphany. But a few days ago I had a relapse.
I don't have anyone to talk to about this situation.
My father is a fanatical believer in this theory, he hasn't the slightest flicker of doubt about it, won't even consider the possibility that it is just a theory. To him it is up there with gravity and the laws of thermodynamics. He keeps telling me how I can live with the theory but I find that unacceptable. He believes that creativity isn't about creating anything but rather finding gems that already exist.

My mother is no help either, she simply doesn't understand the theory of matter how many times I explain it to her. It's like it just goes in one ear and out the other. And I cannot begin to describe to you the frustration and rage I've been feeling trying to get them both to understand how I feel and why I feel it and getting nowhere.

my therapist isn't helping me much so far either, he said that he had never encountered anyone with this problem and that made me feel isolated and alone.

What I need to get over this is to know that certain that this theory is not true. I know that's a huge demand but that's what I need. I know this isn't the sort of place for discussing mathematical theories but I can't think of anywhere else to go. Unless you know of a forum where you can discuss theoretical theory is that make you very depressed.
Please don't tell me how I should live with it because I find this just too appalling. If this theory is true then I cannot be a writer and if I cannot be a writer I will be miserable for the rest of my life.
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#1

Postby Jennifer Boyatt » Sat Jun 14, 2014 6:02 pm

Most people conceive of the universe this way:
> it is 'out there' (outside of us)
> it 'works' with laws and properties. I call this the mechanical universe
> that even if there was no sentience, there would probably still be the universe just sitting there, existing
> so in exploring this universe, you could maybe exhaust the exploration (not in any real lifetime, but theoretically, after infinity)

Here is how I conceive of the multi-metaverse:
> the multi-metaverse is US. Sentience, being, intelligence, and creating are the BEGINNING or foundation or egg of the universe (not an after-the-fact phenomenon). If something exists or can be experienced, it is because it was brought into existence by sentience (of some kind)
> the STORY is precisely what is endless and being created--the story of me, the story of you. And as a creative writer, you keep expanding that boundary of experience for yourself and for others

Not to mention that I'm sure there's an alphabet out there somewhere that has hundreds of letters. We don't have to stuff in the multi-metaverse into the English alphabet. :wink:

Write!
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#2

Postby Tailspin » Sat Jun 14, 2014 8:42 pm

i don't really understand that but thanks for the reply.
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#3

Postby Freudian » Sun Jun 15, 2014 8:25 pm

Hello again, Tailspin.

Can you manage the human race to ever stop churning out new ideas?
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#4

Postby Tailspin » Mon Jun 16, 2014 9:09 am

Hello Freudian.

The problem is that while human imagination my be limitless the human written language is not.
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#5

Postby Freudian » Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:36 pm

Hello, Tailspin.

So is it the act of writing which draws you into writing and not the act of unleashing your creativity?

And you haven't quite answered my question: do you foresee a future where humanity has ran out of ideas? Time and again in humanity, the species have not failed to express their minds. To claim that some day humanity will run out of books to write amounts to saying they'll somehow run out of ideas.

You claim the physical limitation of the finite amount of letters we have and the finite amount of words we've created at any point in time is the cause of your disillusionment. Are ideas limited by the mere amount of words and letters we have in any point in time? We can draw, paint, create new words to help express new ideas, and so on. William Shakespeare certainly didn't find it a limitation, did he? I'm sure we are all familiar with how his existence flushed the English language with many new words and techniques of writing.
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#6

Postby JuliusFawcett » Mon Jun 16, 2014 4:29 pm

We can create an infinite number of new characters to continue to explain the infinite number of new things that we experience in the world. Your father could be more open minded.
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#7

Postby Tailspin » Tue Jun 17, 2014 10:47 am

Can we? Is it really possible to create an infinite number of letters and characters? If the alphabet continued to expand wouldn't it eventually become impossible to learn it all?

In answer to Freudian' s question it is the creativity I value more than the act of actual writing. I am a storyteller and I decided this is the best way for me to express it. And again for Eddie and problem is not with human imagination but the way it's recorded. Part of what I love about fiction is the freedom and endless possibilities. It is a world where you can do literally anything you can think of, completely unbound by time, space and the constraints of the material world.

I would love to believe that humanity would find a way around this problem but it sounds too good to be true. I don't know if I can go on until I can know this certain that this theory is true, there is simply no way I can find it acceptable, I don't even want to accept it.

When my father first told me about it he did it with complete assurance that the theory is 100% true, I don't know if I've ever heard anyone talk about something with such certainty and confidence, I simply couldn't argue with him. After that I rapidly sank into a deep depression lasted for weeks. Even then, seeing how much I was suffering, it never once occurred to him to tell me that the theory was just a theory, there wasn't a single flicker of doubt in his mind and years later he hasn't changed his opinion in the slightest.
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#8

Postby Freudian » Tue Jun 17, 2014 11:38 am

Even you can't straightforwardly admit that one day we'll run out of books and ideas. I'm quite convinced that there are doubts in your mind about the force behind the theory.

Are languages not the product of human imagination? If you can admit that human imagination is boundless, then you'll have to admit that human language is only as boundless as human imagination. And we don't need an infinite number of letters and words. The fact is that we can 'potentially' do as much over, dare i say it, an infinite period of human existence. The theory only addresses the state of human language at only a particular point in time - that is, since at any point in time we have an finite amount of letters and words, we can only do a finite number of things with them. If we were to freeze the state of language, or the 'evolution' of language, as though it were stuck in time, then your misery would be justified in such impossible circumstances. But if you allow change and don't ignore the variable 'time,' then we could potentially have a limitless supply of tools for expression over the course of human existence.

You ought to have a look at Zeno's Paradox.

It seems to me that you are taking a very narrow view of reality. The English language had its transitions throughout history, and with every new transition or stage which came along, new possibilities followed. The English language has adapted itself to social, political, cultural, literary and scientific changes, and so on. Do you envisage any end to the capability of language to adapt? Or, more precisely, can imagine a limit of human imagination to adapt language to the ever-changing needs of humanity?
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#9

Postby quietvoice » Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:00 pm

*
Traumatized by a concept.
Maybe you can write your way out of it.
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#10

Postby Furtive » Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:24 pm

There are a finite number of neurons in a brain
but the combinations of firing pattern vastly outnumber the stars in the Uni

Another way of looking at it is that it doesn't matter or detract from paintings
if the same colours occur in them.
Someone's blue period is no less valuable for the repetition of blue.
Indeed limitations are inspiring.

Perhaps that's what your father was trying to get at - a positive slant on the otherwise insurmountable "where to start".
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#11

Postby JuliusFawcett » Tue Jun 17, 2014 4:04 pm

There is an infinite number of characters that could be created and learned. Your father could be more open minded.
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#12

Postby Tailspin » Tue Jun 17, 2014 9:24 pm

I'd love to believe what you are saying and disbelief my father's theory. But I feel like I can't, there's something holding me back.

Maybe I'm still convinced it's true.

Maybe it was the enormous yet quiet conviction with which my father first told it to me.

Maybe I'm afraid to not believe in the theory in case it turns out to be true.

Maybe part of me feels that our world of infinite possibilities is just too good to be true.

Maybe I'm afraid that if I do challenge the theory once and for all I will see that I wasted a good deal of time and energy on misery on myself and anger towards my father.

This theory isn't limited to language by the way. According to it, there is a vast yet finite number of ways that all matter can be arranged and so all possibilities are finite. Music, paintings, drawings, sculpture, DNA, neurons, to anything that can exist. Maybe even thoughts.

My father tried to comfort me at first by telling me that the universe would end before we ever filled out these possibilities anyway. But this is another one of my major hangups so it did nothing to comfort me. Besides, what I love about creativity is that you are actually creating something, not discovering something that was already an existing possibility.
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#13

Postby quietvoice » Tue Jun 17, 2014 9:55 pm

From "Philosophy: Who Needs It" by Ayn Rand
(on Creation)
The power to rearrange the combinations of natural elements is the only creative power man possesses. It is an enormous and glorious power—and it is the only meaning of the concept “creative.” “Creation” does not (and metaphysically cannot) mean the power to bring something into existence out of nothing. “Creation” means the power to bring into existence an arrangement (or combination or integration) of natural elements that had not existed before. (This is true of any human product, scientific or esthetic: man’s imagination is nothing more than the ability to rearrange the things he has observed in reality.)


From "Your Fondest Dream: How to Master the Power of Creativity" by Jim Leonard
What is creativity?
While it is true that "creativity" means different things to different people, I have a very specific definition of what creativity means to me. While I place a very high value on creative thinking, to me creative thinking is only one ingredient in genuine creativity. To me, creativity must involve getting a desirable result.
To me creativity means: On your own initiative organizing matter, energy, thought or relationships in a new way that aligns with your own values better than the older way did.
Because my definition of creativity involves creating something that is desirable to you, you need to have a very clear sense of your own values. You need to know your own values just in order to be certain of what would be an improvement! . . .
. . . My definition of creativity also requires that you take initiative. In other words you have to be intending to make things better by the actions you are taking.
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#14

Postby Freudian » Tue Jun 17, 2014 10:20 pm

Perhaps you'll provide an honest, straightfoward answer to this question: do you believe there is a limit to human imagination? If there are no limits to human imagination, what's keep humanity from creating unlimited possibilities?

Let's make a distinction here: the possibilities at any particular point in time is finite - in fact, it may as well be easier for me to say any particular interval of time, because the amount letters and words, to use your original analogy, is finite within a time period with two definite endpoints; whereas, if we do not assign any definite endpoints to our time period and allow an indefinite end (preferably in the same direction as the future), it is possible, in my opinion, for humanity to continue to create new possibilities until humans cease to exist. Here I am arguing for the idea that possibilities are at least boundless, which is quite different to saying that they are 'infinite.' They are boundless on the basis where human imagination is boundless and human existence is guaranteed.
Of course, the idea that one can have an infinite number of possibilities in any finite time period (a time period with definite endpoints) or in any particular point in time, is quite beyond the realm of my imagination (at least) and a cause for justifiable suspicion. But this is not what i've been arguing for.

It seems to me that from the way you've expressed the theory, it does not make the same distinction - it does not reveal whether it holds the variable 'time' to be indefinite or definite or quite simply not taken into consideration (absent). If it takes time to be indefinite, or it assumes language to be constantly influx, then it is flawed; if it assumes time to be definite or absent, or it considers language to be unchanging, then it is merely an exercise in the eccentric and the metaphysical hairsplitting, and quite compatible with my position.

If you still have your doubts about the falsity of the theory in relation to reality, do you mind clarifying to us where these doubts lay?

Maybe I'm afraid that if I do challenge the theory once and for all I will see that I wasted a good deal of time and energy on misery on myself and anger towards my father.


Would you like to waste more time? You may as well challenge the theory now in your own mind, as well as, perhaps, put the challenge to your father (since you hold his conviction with such authority), as soon as possible if this is truly a concern for you.
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