Ode to the Infinity Symbol

Published: 2024-02-26

— “Honk them again! Honk!” — a beautiful girl with a proper oval face and chiseled cheekbones persistently commanded, reaching for the button on the steering wheel.
By the sloppy way her fingers moved it was clear that the girl was tense, — “Honk!”

— “Lady, you and I are stuck in Buffalo in the middle of a snowfall”, — a taxi driver answered her, — “The horn won’t do us any good right now.”

A passenger in the front seat had many times tried to reach the horn so that it would make a long sound and make other cars evaporate, but each time she ran into an obstacle in the form of the taxi driver.

— “What do you suggest?” — the girl said irritably, pulling off a bright cashmere scarf from her neck. It looked like she was ready to do anything to make the cars in front move forward at least for a few yards.

— “Stand here forever?” — out of the desire to support his companion a guy shouted from the back seat.

— “Infinite… Endless… Who even invented this infinity?” — the taxi driver grumbled, — “Infinity.”

The taxi driver was no longer surprised by any traffic jam, and it seemed that he was the only one of all those sitting in the car who understood that they would have to stand in this traffic jam for a long time. He tried to defuse the situation:

— “I’ve read somewhere that the infinity sign itself, in the form of a rounded figure eight, means a sign of absolute harmony, cyclicity and perfection of the universe. As if the universe itself is showing us that we need to look for harmony in everything, even in prolonged waiting.”

A passenger in the back seat moved and for some reason tried to open the window:

— “It’s surprising, but the symbol of infinity itself came to science from religious rituals. Once this symbol showed how a snake held its tail in its jaws,” — he shouted passionately, — “Probably this is really the providence of the Universe, since we are talking about the infinity sign right now.”

— “Maybe this is why the infinity sign is often associated with magic?” — the taxi driver said thoughtfully, trying to see the silhouettes of other cars through the windshield.

— “Maybe that’s why.” — the young man nodded in agreement, — “But after a huge amount of time, in the middle of the 17th century, the scientist John Wallis, a genius who studied mathematics on his own, published one of the most important works “The Arithmetic of the Infinite.” It was in this treatise that the symbol first received its mathematical concept of infinity.”

The young man fell silent because he paid attention to a passing truck, which illuminated the entire street with the light of its brilliant headlights. In this light, he saw the taxi driver who was thoughtfully drawing the silhouettes of a figure eight on his steering wheel.

— “Does it turn out that the mathematician chose a number that has a sacred meaning to represent the infinity symbol?” — the taxi driver asked in surprise.

— “Why Wallis chose this particular sign is unknown, but there are several interesting guesses…” — the young man leaned forward, — “so…”

He started a long story, but a girl intervened in his story:

— “There are two opinions why the mathematician designated the symbol in the form of a conventional eight,” — the girl interrupted her silence. — “According to the first version, the scientist meant “a set,” which was written in Roman numerals in those days as CIƆ, that is, the number 1000. Or perhaps, he drew the last letter of the Greek alphabet — ω, which meant “a lot”.

She had already given up the hope of quickly getting out of the traffic jam, and it was clear that she enjoyed the conversation in the car.

— “Yes, but it was the symbol of Lemniscate that was used to depict Ouroboros — a reptile which bit its own tail which I spoke about earlier,” — the young man objected to her, — “And this image symbolized the eternal nature of the world and the cyclical nature of life and death. An octopus and spider also have 8 legs. But I probably shouldn’t have remembered this now.”

— “If you look at the symbol of infinity for a long time, you can see how special eternal matters, opposed to each other, are connected together,” — the girl smiled,— “Isn’t this what John Wallis wanted to convey to us?”

The young man smiled back at her. And the taxi driver also smiled back at her, but in a completely different way:

— “I’m completely confused,”— he said doomedly, trying to see the young man sitting in the back seat in the rearview mirror, — “anyway, what kind of magic lies behind the infinity symbol?”

— “Very simple magic,” — the girl answered to him, — “in nuclear physics the number 8 is exactly called the “magic number.” And atomic nuclei containing 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82, 126 protons or neutrons are called “magic nuclei”.”

The word “magic” excited the taxi driver so much that now some exciting notes could be read in his calm voice:

— “After all, there is magic in the endless eight! I knew! I knew it!” — he exclaimed and slammed the steering wheel. It looked like he had made one of the important discoveries of his life.

— “Of course there is!” — the young man supported him, — “In the world, only 8% of money exists in the form of cash, everything else is electronic “money” in the form of entries in the accounts of financial institutions. Isn’t this magic…”

And they both fell silent. If this conversation had taken place at another time and place, one could have interpreted this silence as the beginning of a strong and endless men’s friendship. 

But the silence was again interrupted by the girl’s voice:

— “Of course,” — she chuckled smugly, — “the most beautiful phrase in the world written in numbers  – I love you forever – 5201314 in sum equals two eights, two infinity symbols.”

The men looked in her direction in surprise.

— “Indeed…” — the driver said slowly, — “five, two and one equals 8. And three, four and one also equals 8. Two infinities…”

— “Yes,” — the girl smiled mysteriously, twisting her scarf in the form of figure eight rings, — “like a single connection of special eternal matters, opposed to each other.”

This conversation took place between strangers who were connected by the universe in the cycle of time. For a long time they continued looking at the snowflakes that were quietly falling on the windshield accompanied by the rhythmic clicking of the wipers. And at that moment of the present, each of them was thinking about something different. Infinite.

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