THE LAST NUMBER
I was 12 years old when I learned, at school, that numbers went on forever.
“Numbers are infinite,” said the teacher.
“But what is the last number?” I asked. I wanted to know the last number.
“There isn’t a last number,” said the teacher. “Numbers have no end. They go on and on forever.”
“But there has to be a last number, there has to be, and I want to know what it is.”
This was my first encounter with the concept of eternity, and it scared the hell out of me. I thought, “How can anything go on forever? There has to be an end. Grandad died of a heart attack. His life did not go on forever. People have an end. How can numbers not have an end?”
Many nights I cried myself to sleep thinking these thoughts. I would never know the last number. I don’t remember how long it took me to stop crying and accept the concept of eternity, but eventually I did. I accepted that there was no last number, and realized that it made sense for numbers to go on forever. After all, how would the infinite Universe function if numbers were finite?