Monday, January 31, 2011

In which I discover infinite regress in a cake

Years ago, when my two oldest daughters were small and my son and youngest daughter were merely unholy, demented gleams in my eye, my spouse, H, brought home a small cake.

Then she made the mistake of going somewhere with our daughters and leaving me alone with the cake. She thought the cake was safe, because she left what she thought were clear instructions. "Kuri," she said. "You can eat half the cake, but no more. Save half for us. Understand?"

"Yeah, sure." As soon as they left, I ate half the cake. It was good cake. I wanted more, but I'd already eaten half.

But then something occurred to me: H had said I could only eat half the cake, but she'd never said how many times I could eat half the cake. So I ate half of what was left.

It was good cake. So I ate another half. And then another.

By then there wasn't much cake left. But I'd never eaten more than half of it at one time. That's when I realized that I'd made an exciting discovery: no matter how many times I ate half the cake, there would always be half left! First I'd eaten half. Then I'd eaten half of the half. Then half of the half of the half. Then half of the half of the half of the half.

And I could keep on doing this as many times as I wanted! I could actually get an infinite number of halves from one cake this way! I could spend eternity just eating halves of cake, because I'd never run out! I'd discovered infinite regress in a cake!

I could hardly wait to tell H what I'd learned. But when she came home, she didn't share my enthusiasm. In fact, she was angry! All she seemed to care about was that fifteen-sixteenths of the cake was gone. My explanation that I'd never eaten more than half of it at any one time fell on deaf ears. And she didn't care at all about infinite regress.

She made me go out and get another cake. And I had to promise not to eat any of it. I love H, but some people just aren't very interested in science.

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  1. But before you can eat the first half of the cake, you must first eat half of the half. But before you can do that... etc. etc. Which means that not only can you never eat the whole cake, you can't even start.

    I'm sure H would like my way better.

  2. Why does this post bring to my mind the "mirrors of eternity" in the temple?

  3. Daniel,
    I'd have used that if I'd eaten the whole cake, because it would prove that eating the cake had been an infinite series of tasks. Since no one can perform an infinite series of tasks, my eating of the cake would have been merely an illusion, and there would have been nothing to get mad about.

    I always liked cake more than the temple. Perhaps that was my spiritual undoing.

  4. Nice one, Kuri. I'm gonna use your logic, though I'm pretty sure that I'm gonna get shouted at for doing so. But, after 16 years of marriage, I've learnt to deal with that, so it ain't no thing. Bring on the cake!



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