One friend directed me to a subreddit called WTW (What’s The Word?), but the fast-acting users gave the same suggestions as my Facebook friends. After a few hours, the moderator asked me to mark my query as “resolved” if I was satisfied with an answer. I wasn’t, but I’m afraid of moderators, so I lied.
I flipped through a book I have called “There’s a Word for That,” about ultra-specific terms that exist in non-English languages. Nothing. Finally, I concluded that the word for “a space of infinite size” wasn’t on the tip of my tongue because it doesn’t exist.
“Can we call it ‘the everspace’?” read a Facebook comment from, of course, an editor.
* * *
“Forever” has always been conceivable, if not concrete, because time ticks relentlessly onward. The sun rises and sets. Seasons come and go. The world gives no indication that it won’t continue forever. But the physical spaces we encounter tell us the opposite: They all have edges, boundaries, sizes. How often do infinite spaces, which we never have to deal with, come up in conversation? Pretty much never, unless you’re having coffee with cosmologists.
But cosmologists in the 20th century did discover, for the first time, that such infinite spaces might exist. And not just one, but a Sears Catalog of potential ones. Our own space—the universe—might be infinite. The latest results from instruments like the Planck Telescope, suggest that dark energy—the repulsive, gravity-opposing force—will push the universe to expand faster and faster, making it grow always larger, forever. On top of that, as scientists have learned more about the first moments after the Big Bang, many have come to believe we live in a multiverse. In this view, our universe is one of many—perhaps infinity—other universes, each with its own special-snowflake characteristics. Some of these surely expand like ours, and some of those will expand forever. But even without the expansion and those unseen other cosmos, humans can conceive of a universe without geographical end. Looking out into that dark 3-Kelvin vacuum, it’s almost harder to imagine that it doesn’t extend forever.
In fact, that conception led the Greeks to first write about infinity. They even came up with a word for it: “apeiron”: a- meaning “without” and -peirar meaning “end” or “limit.” They created the term because they noticed three things: Space doesn’t seem to have an edge. Time keeps going no matter what. Time and space can be subdivided into tiny, tiny, tiny chunks, but no matter how small the chunks, they could always be smaller.
The Greeks were on to something. But before they had a chance to figure out the multiverse, their civilization fell, and Arabic scholars preserved and advanced their math. These Arabic mathematicians were experts at manipulating numbers that go on forever—including irrational numbers, like pi. The philosophy of that endlessness, though, they left alone.