The Infinite Wall

I – Nothing and the Infinite in one – just like everyone else. Climbing the infinite wall. Always halfway up.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Yellow Pill

Ask anyone who has seen The Matrix if they want to take the red pill or the blue pill, and you will invariably get the answer the red pill. They see themselves as truth seekers who are willing to see what really is, even though it may be a bitter realization.

But what are the pills in The Matrix really offering? Do we really think and listen, or do we all just want to run along with the hero, Neo? We know that one single person in the movie chose a re-take, to take the blue pill. Cypher, the grand traitor who almost killed Neo. But did we really listen to his reasons when he told us why, or did we write them off because we already knew he was a villain? Honestly!

Cypher's reasoning was not bad at all, and in fact he was a far more profound philosopher than Morpheus, Neo and Trinity put together. But he was the villain, and his choice was followed up by an act of murder portrayed as if that act was a logical consequence of his choice. QED: it was thereby demonstrated that taking the blue pill was wrong. Absolutely, horribly, utterly wrong. But was it? Formulate to yourself why Cypher's reasons were bad - if you even remember them.

The Matrix casts doubt on whether the world we live in is real, or whether it is artificially produced and whether another, real world lurks behind it, unseen and unrevealed except to the few. This doubt is not new, but harks in that form at least back to Rene Descartes' doubt about whether the world of the senses is a real world. Only... The Matrix falls a few yards short of that ...
When Neo takes the Red Pill, he wakes up in another world. Suddenly his philosophical doubts have totally worn off! He no longer doubts if that world is real. Suddenly his previously oh so unreliable senses are 100% reliable. His doubts did not go deep ... one is tempted to say with Nietzsche that they were "not even shallow".


But what is really the difference between the blue-pill world and the red-pill world? In both worlds, its inhabitants are running mindlessly around pursuing some fixed agendas. The only difference between the red-pillers and the blue-pillers is in other words that the red-pillers are mindlessly pursuing a different agenda. Both worlds are equally bleak, in each their way, and whichever world they have chosen, they have chosen it without the wisdom to discover the third world which is there and has been there all along: the world of themselves.

The yellow pill
What is the opposite of a mindless pursuit? Another mindless pursuit, of course. But aside from that, might it not be to take issue with the mindlessness itself? Might not not the opposite of mindlessness be to be mindful of whatever you experience, regardless of which world you experience it in? A flower by any other colour ... both the red and the blue flowers have their beauty and their alluring scent, but none of them will be seen by the man who is on a mindless pursuit of some fixed agenda.
What such a man needs is neither a blue pill nor a red pill, but this hidden alternative which does not even need to be put into the shape of a pill: mindfulness. But let us still call it a pill, though - a pill hidden in plain sight by a false dichotomy of blue lies vs red bitterness. Let us call it the yellow pill.
Will you take it? It is closer than even your own nose.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Buddha statue like the one we saw, but smaller

Pappa's Jesus is named Buddha

As we were shopping today, my youngest daughter saw a 3-4 feet tall statue of the Buddha, and exclaimed that "That looks like you 'pitating (meditating), Pappa!" Rather proud of the comparison, I told her that it was a statue of someone named Buddha (etc.) ... "And he's got biiiig ears!" she continued after Pappa's World Religious History For Tots In 5 Minutes got boring.
Later, in the evening, I heard her proudly explain to her big sister that "Pappa's Jesus is called Buddha!"

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Infinite Wall

I've been asked why I call my blog The Infinite Wall. The reasons are several fold, and the first thing I want you to do before I start explaining is to conjure up an image: You are in a landscape taken from a classic Chinese painting, with parabolic mountains, trees and not the least fog and clouds. Ahead of you is something that looks like a cliff wall on one of those parabolic mountains, except it keeps going on and on into the sky - and an ominous shadow on the third layer of thin clouds above you somehow tells you that this wall never stops rising. It is an infinite wall.

Some of you know I climb, and may have guessed that this wall represents and poses a challenge, a challenge which is intimidating, yet tempting to take on and promising the kind of joy only challenges can bring, but then yet again ultmately promising failure, since no amount of climbing can get you to the top of an infinite wall. Unless, of course, you are following mathematician Rudy Rucker through the White Light, halving the time taken to climb a unit for each unit climbed. But I am giving away too much too soon.

I am a mathematician, and mathematics fascinates me not just in terms of proofs and research, but also in a recreational way. I love to see the ideas I know from my profession used playfully, in stories, philosophy, poetry and paradox. So when you know me from the angle of mathematics, the wall fades into grey slate (or concrete) and becomes merely the outer wall of Hilbert's hotel (surely a worthy item for Math Fiction).

But neither climbing nor mathematics are the origin of the infinite wall. Its origins are hidden within the strange recesses of Eastern mysticism, ch'an (zen) Buddhism. Bodhidharma is said to have gazed at a cave wall for nine years. Though said to be historical fact, I prefer to think of the wall gazing as an enlightenment metaphor. Any physical wall then becomes representative of the obstacles to enlightenment - obstacles that are perhaps identical to enlightenment itself. But the metaphor as metaphor for enlightenment becomes more transparent if we view the wall as being infinite. For in the tradition of instant enlightenment you are equally far away from enlightenment regardless of your practice; when you climb an infinite wall in discrete steps, only an instant and infinite jump can bring you to the top, regardless of how high you have climbed. When the wall is infinite, we see non-paradoxically that though practice does not bring you closer to the goal, it nevertheless has merit in lifting you higher off the ground.

So how do you scale this infinite metaphor, this wall? And why should you bother? These questions go together, in the spirit of not separating the goal and the road taken to get there. To answer the latter first: there is no should; you either choose to start climbing or you don't. If you climb because you somehow feel obligated to do so, you are better off doing something else you would enjoy more in our Chinese landscape, like going fishing. I bet there are wondrous carp in the ponds that are bound to inhabit a Chinese landscape.

Imagine the top of this infinite cliff. That is: Cliff's foot, lots of fog, more fog, ... fog fog fog in a double infinity ... some more fog, above the clouds, and there you are at the top of the infinite cliff wall. It's not very special, is it? Aside from the view, of course. It's solid ground. Rock. Just like at the top of any mortal cliff. There is no difference. What differs is not the top, but the stretch between it and the bottom. It's this stretch which comprises the infinity that makes the top special. The goal - the top - is nothing without the means, the wall itself.

Maybe some of you will now mutter something about "infinite fog" and "mystical mumbo-jumbo". You are more right than you think, but the infinite fog is not an indictment of the infinite wall, but part of what makes it interesting: you are never really able to see the whole wall as you climb, something the infinite layers of fog ensure in the metaphor and time and the limits of the mind itself ensures in concrete life itself, which is in the end what this is all about. Life, as seen through the eyes of a single man who loves his mathematics, climbing and meditation. Life, as seen through the eyes of a concrete man who has a family he dotes on - a beautiful wife and two daughters who consider pink to be the prettiest colour and "princess" to be the highest honorary title - a job, a loan and a slightly crooked index finger too often forced into the service of typing in a search for perfection.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

One of these rare pictures that fill you with a sense of wonder and - curiously enough - a strong desire that there should be fairies. The strange light promises to be even stranger when you walk through that portal; maybe it will be like Sebastian's journey in The Never-ending story (great book; horrible movie), or maybe Greg Bear's Sidhe are waiting for the unsuspecting traveller at the other side. Or maybe it is Mythago wood where you meet what your wishes and fears conjure up. Enter and see.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Mathematics is beautiful in itself; it is delightful when a piece of a structure falls into place, like when you understand or prove certain theorems. But mathematics can be beautiful in a more prosaic way, too, via being used as a tool to generate art of a visual or auditory kind. Fractal images have a special place in the pantheon of art derived from mathematics; I will in particular recommend the gallery I lifted the above image from, as the pictures are of exceptional high quality. Click the image, and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. --Nietzsche

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Paul Halmos, R.I.P.

Paul Halmos, author of some wonderful mathematical textbooks and the essay any student should read before even starting on their thesis, How to Write Mathematics, died on the 2nd of October. Short accounts of Halmos' life and works can be found here and here. An interesting man. I have asked the college library to buy his "automathiography" (a biography solely devoted to his professional life as a mathematician) I Want to Be a Mathematician, and look forward to a good read.