John H. Smith, “Infinity and Beyond: How One Concept Reshaped Our Understanding of the World”

May 17, 2018

John H. Smith
John H. Smith, University of California, Irvine

In the seventeenth century, the notion of an infinite universe was so controversial that believers could be burned at the stake. Today, however, the concept of infinity is commonplace, integrated into science and math curricula, and used as a metaphor to describe the vast and immeasurable, the inconceivable and boundless. Fellow John H. Smith, Professor of German at the University of California, Irvine, is currently at work on a project examining how the concept of infinity not only gained acceptance but also reshaped our thinking in the seemingly disparate realms of mathematics, theology, philosophy, and poetry.
In this podcast, Smith traces the shifting understandings of the infinite across the long eighteenth century, with particular focus on German figures such as Leibniz and Hegel, as well as intellectual movements including Romanticism and the Enlightenment. His project ultimately locates the infinite at an interdisciplinary crossroads, demonstrating the interconnectedness of the sciences and the humanities.