Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Purple Toupee and the Color of Infinite

I try to go running at least two or three times a week. I don't run for time like some people, but rather for distance. Since my sports days, running was always something you did to get from point A to point B faster than someone else, not something you do for a set period of time. While running, I pop in my ipod and set it to shuffle to give me something to listen to, as I find running on its own rather dull. It's always fun to see what songs my ipod plays. Most often I just use it as background music, but from time to time, I find myself actually listening to the song. Last week, when I went running, that happened.

I remember a couple of years ago my brother telling me that I had to check out a new video on homestarrunner.com. Lee got me interested in that site when I was in high school, but I don't recall whether I got Jeff into the site or if it was because it was such a huge phenomenon at BYU. It doesn't really matter either way. The video was for a song called "Experimental Film," by none other than They Might Be Giants, and the video was "directed" by Strong Sad. I remember watching it and thinking it was alright, but it didn't really grip me. It was well done and fun to watch, the song was alright, and it was something different. After it was done, I went back to watching Strong Bad E-mails and Cheat Commandos ("Commandos in the Classroom" still makes me burst out laughing).

While running last week, my ipod chose to follow "The Hand That Feeds," by Nine Inch Nails, with "Experimental Film." A slight change in genre, yes, but it worked and was enjoyable nonetheless. This wasn't the first time I'd heard the song outside of the music video, but it was the first time I ever actually paid attention to it. It's definitely a They Might Be Giants song in that it is somewhat nonsensical, but at the same there was something that really intrigued me about it, aside from the fact that whenever I try to sing it in my head, I always up end up singing "Purple Toupee" about halfway through. The particular line, "The color of infinite inside an empty glass" really made me think. I realize it's They Might Be Giants and thus I really shouldn't think too hard about it lest my face implode, but I can't stop trying to visualize it.

Have you ever tried to visualize the color of a mathematical concept as it would appear confined in an empty glass container? It's not easy. It's downright hard.

I analogize this to trying to visualize the 10, 11, or 26 dimensions that string theory predicts. String theory is still very, very theoretical, but how do you honestly comprehend something like that? I can visualize space-time as it is, with three spatial dimensions and time - even Special Relativity and the relativity of simultaneity paradoxes I can do - but I'm hopeless on this. Of course, I shouldn't really be upset about this, seeing as how no one can figure out what it would look like. It still bugs me, though.

As I was saying, there's something about the line "The color of infinite inside an empty glass" that's not only poetic, but mesmerizing. The concept of it is almost tranquil. It's like the old Zen koans, "
In clapping both hands, a sound is heard. What is the sound of one hand?", "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?" and the lesser-known "If a tree falls in the woods and lands on a mime, does anyone care?" that are meant to inspire deep meditation and lead the pupils to enlightenment (ok, that sentence was seriously a punctuation nightmare). I imagine in the future, when trees have been eradicated and no one knows what a falling tree is, Zen Buddhism will decide to modernize and adopt new sayings. I hope "What is the color of infinite?" is one of them; including the "inside an empty glass" part will have to be left out for a few centuries as I imagine it would cause more mental break-downs than enlightenments.

It just seems like it belongs on that list.

Someday, I hope I create a saying that ends up on that list. I'd feel pretty good about that, knowing that I contributed to people obtaining enlightenment. Helping them obtain low-interest loans just doesn't come with the same sense of satisfaction.

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