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Israel Perez: on 5/24/14 at 20:54pm UTC, wrote Dear Matt Just to let you now that I read your essay. It is well written...

Peter Jackson: on 5/6/14 at 15:08pm UTC, wrote Matt, An 'infinitely perceptive' essay. I entirely agree we're virtually...

John Hodge: on 5/2/14 at 15:01pm UTC, wrote I agree a new approach to society is needed to grow. Interaction complexity...

Joe Fisher: on 4/30/14 at 15:46pm UTC, wrote Dear Mr. Illingworth, I found your essay truly absorbing and I do hope...

Eckard Blumschein: on 4/28/14 at 7:29am UTC, wrote Matt, You wrote: "the explosive growth of human population requires us to...

Tommaso Bolognesi: on 4/26/14 at 17:19pm UTC, wrote Dear Matt, this is one of the strangest essays I have read here. The idea...

John Merryman: on 4/26/14 at 3:35am UTC, wrote Matt, Sometimes the issue isn't nuance, but getting totally off track. In...

Michael Allan: on 4/25/14 at 3:53am UTC, wrote Hello Matt, May I offer a short, but sincere critique of your essay? I...


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September 18, 2021

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: An Infinite Game by Matt Illingworth [refresh]
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Author Matt Illingworth wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 15:38 GMT
Essay Abstract

In order for humanity to avoid existential threat - that is, to prolong our death as a species indefinitely - we must develop a new approach to the threat of existentialism as it pertains to life. In this paper, I posit that our difficulties as a species have their root in a basic misapprehension of the infinite; that our ambition to grow forever in size, ability, and accomplishment reveals a powerful discomfort with the concept of infinity, which compels us to play finite games for an ostensibly infinite length of time. Since we seem not to have any intention of ending play in said games, prudence suggests we either alter the rules of engagement or invent new games entirely. I outline various possible methods for restructuring our scientific, socioeconomic, and philosophical games in an attempt to reconcile them with the infinite game we call the human endeavor.

Author Bio

Matt Illingworth is a 22 year-old autodidact interested in various disciplines of mathematics, theoretical physics, and computer science, as well as the philosophical questions posed by them. A former film student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he is now pursuing a career in one or more of these scientific fields. You can read his new blog at

Download Essay PDF File

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George Gantz wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 22:15 GMT
Matt - Thanks for the fascinating essay. While there may be arguments about Dunbar's number there are clearly limits to the human capacity to maintain relationships. Bad news for Facebook. Despite this, humanity has managed to build large institutions (networks), some of which have significantly contributed to human wellbeing. This is a key focus of my essay, The Tip of the Spear, which addresses the complexity of these institutions from an evolutionary perspective. In short, how can we create fitness landscapes for our institutions that keep them beneficent - and by corollary how we avoid the "51% attack) you talk about. I'd be interested in hearing your comments.

I like the metaphor (and the game theory that backs it up) of finite beings playing infinite games as a solution to the human tendency for short term selfish thinking. In some sense this is a role that religion has played in civilization - for example by making this life an infinite game through belief in reincarnation or an eternal afterlife.

Cheers - George

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 00:32 GMT

An interesting and very broad minded manifesto. While you overlook, it is implicit in your construct that infinity is already balanced by the absolute and the extant is the resulting wave pattern of compounding and collapsing complexity. Finite theories simply focus on the peak of the more notable or current waves, while infinite/objective views try to see a bit further. Nature incorporates this through birth and death of individual organisms and DNA as the default setting.

While I do see there is a more immediate issue to be dealt with, that of our tendency to treat money as a commodity, rather than a contract, in my entry I also start off with a broad based, but much more simplistic description of reality, since it has to appeal to a very broad audience, in order to gain any hope of viral traction. Being a semi old geezer, I tell the youngsters I know that the future holds many opportunities for character building and no one gets out alive anyway. You seem to have a bright future ahead of you.


John Merryman

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Author Matt Illingworth replied on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 22:38 GMT

I absolutely agree with you about our tendency to treat money as a commodity; the concept of finance as capital motivates a single-minded pursuit of even more capital, which to my mathematical sense resembles an infinite sum unweighted by coefficients that would otherwise curb undue growth.

I also agree with you on the utility of simplistic reality models - and I actually imagine the grass-roots, communal organization I describe in my entry as a recognition of that. But as for the overarching theme: It may be the folly of youthful naivety, but I would hope that humanity could collectively develop a more subtle and nuanced approach to its own ontology.

Thanks for reading and commenting on my essay! I'll be doing the same for you shortly!


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John Brodix Merryman replied on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 03:35 GMT

Sometimes the issue isn't nuance, but getting totally off track. In which case the imagination has total freedom. For example, a simple point I try making in physics discussions is that we look at time backwards. Since we are singular creatures, we experience change as a sequence of events and so think of time as this point of the present moving from past to future, which physics then distills to measures of duration to use in the various models. The reality is that it is the changing configuration which turns future into past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the world turns. This makes time like temperature, not space. Time is to temperature, what frequency is to amplitude. It's just with temperature we think of the overall average, even though it's composed of lots of particular velocities/amplitudes. With time we focus on the particular measures of frequency and cannot seem to discover the universal clock, but like temperature, it is simply a composite effect of lots of little changes. A faster clock doesn't move into the future quicker. It ages/burns more rapidly and so recedes into the past faster. When we go from a determined past into a probabilistic future, the assumption is either the future must also be determined, since only one outcome will occur, or that the past remains probabilistic and must branch out into multiworlds. Fact is, events are first in the future, ie. probabilistic and then recede into the past/determined.

Safe to say, the most educated minds are not going to accept the basic logic of this, because way too many nuanced and complex models would be trash.

Keep an open mind.



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Wilhelmus de Wilde de Wilde wrote on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 16:22 GMT
Dear Matt,

The average age of people now is about 80 years, that is the reason that even when we have our children who may look like us, we still are short sighted and egoistic because when we would age 200 years we would be careful with the next 150 years...

This means that our care for our children is not okay, we are tooooo individualistic and not thinking about the earth that we are creating , not even for our descendants, just the short time PROFIT.

I hope that you will also find some time to read my contribution in this contest "STEERING THE FUTURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS ?" where i try to come to the essence of our created reality. Maybe you leave a post on my thread and eventually give me arating that is in conformity with your appreciation.

Good luck and best regards


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Author Matt Illingworth replied on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 22:57 GMT

Thanks for the read! To reply to your point, I believe that our society could take a radically different approach to inter-generational care. I seem to recall (though the memory is hazy, and thus a fact-check would be welcome) reading about an indigenous culture in the Amazon rainforest which habitually considers the effect of its actions many generations into the future.

It seems to me perfectly natural for any culture to comport itself this way, regardless of lifespan - since procreation itself is a biological means for finite creatures to endure infinitely. But it seems we both agree that Western society cannot continue to treat its children the way it does currently.

I look forward to reading and replying to your essay!


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Michael Allan wrote on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 03:53 GMT
Hello Matt, May I offer a short, but sincere critique of your essay? I would ask you to return the favour. Here's my policy on that. - Mike

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Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 17:19 GMT
Dear Matt,

this is one of the strangest essays I have read here. The idea to use the contrast between finiteness and infinity as a sort of interpretation key for the human endeavor is interesting. However, the feeling I got after reading it is that I must have missed some of the points, if not the general point you want to make. You make several interesting and original observations, but I do not see how to translate them into a coherent picture, or concrete recommendations about what should be done to implement your recipe. I wonder whether some concrete examples of human (individual or collective) behavior matching the finite and infinite game paradigm could have helped clarifying your thoughts. In spite of the high abstraction level, and some obscure (to me) internal logical links, I found the reading kind of pleasurable. Good luck.

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Apr. 28, 2014 @ 07:29 GMT

You wrote: "the explosive growth of human population requires us to one day leave the planet".

How do you imagine this? Who is meant by "us"? I wonder if it could be realistic to colonize a larger new place for life that is less than 100 light years apart.

The main reason why I prefer rejecting your suggestion is that you did not even take in consideration the possibility to limit the growth of population.


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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 15:46 GMT
Dear Mr. Illingworth,

I found your essay truly absorbing and I do hope that it does well in the competition.


Joe Fisher

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John C Hodge wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 15:01 GMT
I agree a new approach to society is needed to grow. Interaction complexity is counter to growth. Infinity of increasing complexity is incomprehensible to humans. Therefore, I suggest the interactions of the political sphere be made simpler of a finite, limited complexity. This requires a new type of organization.

You make several good points.

“…we must ask why only 7.5 billion humans can behave much the same way and yet perform so poorly overall.” Good question. I think the answer is war.

“…how do we attempt to remedy it?” see Steering humanity's growth by John C Hodge

Perhaps you could add a comment on zero sum games like chess and positive sum games such as is capitalism.

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Peter Jackson wrote on May. 6, 2014 @ 15:08 GMT

An 'infinitely perceptive' essay. I entirely agree we're virtually incapable of conceiving of infinity. Even our mathematical cardinalisation of nature has more infinite and transcendental numbers than 'real' ones. Most insist they're meaningless and irrelevant. I think infinity is fundamental. I do claim to be an exception in conceiving infinity as my post on brain cell re-ionization in recycling cosmology to Tommy Anderberg shows; "...eventually we'll be everyone and everything, just one at a time." (Publication of the paper is imminent)

That essay needed writing and you did a great job, well done, top marks. It deserves to be higher. I agree your other points too, and also have a firm interest in infinite curvature. If you're interested in how non-linear curvature (!?!) can provide a classical derivation of QM do please read mine and let me know if it makes sense to you.

Best wishes


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Israel Perez wrote on May. 24, 2014 @ 20:54 GMT
Dear Matt

Just to let you now that I read your essay. It is well written and balanced. I think leaders and policymakers who control and administer natural resources are very aware that resources are finite. These people compete to control these resources and this may give the impression that they desire more than available.

In my essay I discuss some of the most important problems we have and offer a solution. I hope you find some time to read it.

Good luck

Best Regards


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