Since the time of the ancient Greeks, the philosophical nature of infinity was the subject of many discussions among philosophers. In the 17th century, with the introduction of the infinity symbol and the infinitesimal calculus, mathematicians began to work with infinite series and what some mathematicians (including l'Hôpital and Bernoulli) regarded as infinitely small quantities, but infinity continued to be associated with endless processes. As mathematicians struggled with the foundation of calculus, it remained unclear whether infinity could be considered as a number or magnitude and, if so, how this could be done. At the end of the 19th century, Georg Cantor enlarged the mathematical study of infinity by studying infinite sets and infinite numbers, showing that they can be of various sizes. For example, if a line is viewed as the set of all of its points, their infinite number (i.e. the cardinality of the line) is larger than the number of integers. In this usage, infinity is a mathematical concept, and infinite mathematical objects can be studied, manipulated, and used just like any other mathematical object.
The mathematical concept of infinity refines and extends the old philosophical concept, in particular by introducing infinitely many different sizes of infinite sets. Among the axioms of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory, on which most of modern mathematics can be developed, is the axiom of infinity, which guarantees the existence of infinite sets. The mathematical concept of infinity and the manipulation of infinite sets are used everywhere in mathematics, even in areas such as combinatorics that may seem to have nothing to do with them. For example, Wiles's proof of Fermat's Last Theorem implicitly relies on the existence of very large infinite sets for solving a long-standing problem that is stated in terms of elementary arithmetic.
Infinite-dimensional spaces are widely used in geometry and topology, particularly as classifying spaces, such as dimensional spaces are widely used in geometry and topology, particularly as classifying spaces, such as Eilenberg−MacLane spaces. Common examples are the infinite-dimensional complex projective space K(Z,2) and the infinite-dimensional real projective space K(Z/2Z,1).
The structure of a fractal object is reiterated in its magnifications. Fractals can be magnified indefinitely without losing their structure and becoming "smooth"; they have
The structure of a fractal object is reiterated in its magnifications. Fractals can be magnified indefinitely without losing their structure and becoming "smooth"; they have infinite perimeters—some with infinite, and others with finite surface areas. One such fractal curve with an infinite perimeter and finite surface area is the Koch snowflake.
In physics, appr
In physics, approximations of real numbers are used for continuous measurements and natural numbers are used for discrete measurements (i.e. counting). Concepts of infinite things such as an infinite plane wave exist, but there are no experimental means to generate them.
The first published proposal that the universe is infinite came from Thomas Digges in 1576. Eight years later, in 1584, the Italian philosopher and astronomer Giordano Bruno proposed an unbounded universe in On the Infinite Universe and Worlds: "Innumerable suns exist; innumerable earths revolve around these suns in a manner similar to the way the seven planets revolve around our sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds."
Cosmologists have long sought to discover whether infinity exists in our physical universe: Are there an infinite number of stars? Does the universe have infinite volume? Does space Cosmologists have long sought to discover whether infinity exists in our physical universe: Are there an infinite number of stars? Does the universe have infinite volume? Does space "go on forever"? This is an open question of cosmology. The question of being infinite is logically separate from the question of having boundaries. The two-dimensional surface of the Earth, for example, is finite, yet has no edge. By travelling in a straight line with respect to the Earth's curvature one will eventually return to the exact spot one started from. The universe, at least in principle, might have a similar topology. If so, one might eventually return to one's starting point after travelling in a straight line through the universe for long enough.
The curvature of the universe can be measured through multipole moments in the spectrum of the cosmic background radiation. To date, analysis of the radiation patterns recorded by the WMAP spacecraft hints that the universe has a flat topology. This would be consistent with an infinite physical universe.
However, the universe could be finite, even if its curvature is flat. An easy way to understand this is to consider two-dimensional examples, such as video games where items that leave one edge of the screen reappear on the other. The topology of such games is toroidal and the geometry is flat. Many possible bounded, flat possibilities also exist for three-dimensional space.
The concept of infinity also extends to the multiverse hypothesis, which, when explained by astrophysicists such as Michio Kaku, posits that there are an infinite number and variety of universes.
In logic an infinite regress argument is "a distinctively philosophical kind of argument purporting to show that a thesis is defective because it generates an infinite series when either (form A) no such series exists or (form B) were it to exist, the thesis would lack the role (e.g., of justification) that it is supposed to play."
The IEEE floating-point standard (IEEE 754) specifies a positive and a negative infinity value (and also indefinite values). These are defined as the result of arithmetic overflow, division by zero, and other exceptional operations.
Some programming languages, such as Java and programming languages, such as Java and J, allow the programmer an explicit access to the positive and negative infinity values as language constants. These can be used as greatest and least elements, as they compare (respectively) greater than or less than all other values. They have uses as sentinel values in algorithms involving sorting, searching, or windowing.
In languages that do not have greatest and least elements, but do allow overloading of relational operators, it is possible for a programmer to create the greatest and least elements. In languages that do not provide explicit access to such values from the initial state of the program, but do implement the floating-point data type, the infinity values may still be accessible and usable as the result of certain operations.
In programming, an infinite loop is a loop whose exit condition is never satisfied, thus theoretically executing indefinitely.
Perspective artwork utilizes the concept of vanishing points, roughly corresponding to mathematical points at infinity, located at an infinite distance from the observer. This allows artists to create paintings that realistically render space, distances, and forms. Artist M.C. Escher is specifically known for employing the concept of infinity in his work in this and other ways.
Variations of chess played on an unbounded board are called infinite chess.
Variations of chess played on an unbounded board are called infinite chess.
Cognitive scientist George Lakoff considers the concept of infinity in mathematics and the sciences as a metaphor. This perspective is based on the basic metaphor of infinity (BMI), defined as the ever-increasing sequence <1,2,3,...>.
The symbol is often used romantically to represent eternal love. Several types of jewelry are fashioned into the infinity shape for this purpose.