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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2006, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
A Brief History of Infinity: Mathematics
First broadcast September 2006

A Brief History of Infinity: Mathematics

Human beings have trouble with infinity - yet infinity is a surprisingly human subject.

Philosophers and mathematicians have gone insane contemplating its nature and complexity - yet it is a concept routinely used by schoolchildren.

Presented by the renowned astronomer Heather Couper, these programmes take the listener on a journey with an endless audio horizon and feature contributions from musicians who write endless music; science fiction authors, who create infinite worlds and timeless beings; theologians; Buddhist lamas; astro-physicists and mathematicians.

It is infinity... in a nutshell.

Part Two: Mathematics

Imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms. Even if the hotel is completely full and there are no vacancies, another guest can be easily accommodated...

This is just one of the fascinating insights that Heather Couper will be exploring in the second part of her quest to think the unthinkable.

She is joined by mathematicians, psychologists, Sci Fi writers, theologians and a room full of monkeys to try and grasp a handle on how infinity can be seen in our world.

The programme looks at how infinity has troubled some of the greatest minds and thinkers, with sometimes deadly consequences. We also learn how Infinity drove one such mathematician to the brink of sanity.

Scary stuff indeed. But the entire concept of infinity in mathematics is maddening, and the deeper we go, the stranger the results become.

Infinity has also played an important part in the arts. Heather explores the music of Steve Reich, Michael Nyman and Philip Glass to see how endless repetition has inspired these great composers.

Join Heather on this tour of an endless audio horizon, where 1=0 and 2 is just a number bigger than 1.

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Ways to Listen

A Brief History of Infinity - Part 2: Mathematics

A journey of discovery takes us from the early origins of numerical concepts, such as zero to numbers which are too complex for the human mind to handle.

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