Why are mathematicians in love with infinity

Nerd TV: The Simpsons' love of higher math

Higher math is particularly useful in moments of extreme excitement. The neighbors Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders argue. It's about who, if they lose in mini golf, has to put on a woman's dress and mow the lawn in this elevator.

Homer: This time tomorrow you will be wearing high heels. - Ned: No. But you do. - Homer: I won't. - Ned: They will. - Homer: I won't. - Ned: They will. - Homer: I won't get infinite. - Ned: Why don't you get infinitely plus 1. - Homer: Neiin!

The dispute was seen in the "Simpsons" episode "Der Wettkampf" from 1990, but the number gag was omitted in the German translation. It is not only interesting whether Homer with his ritual “Noin!” Recognizes the conclusiveness of Ned Flander's argument, that is, whether it seems to understand it. But also the question of whether the statement “infinite plus 1” is correct at all. The answer is no.

Mathematical infinity when shooting

To explain this, you have to go back to “Hilbert's Hotel”. The German mathematician David Hilbert (1862 to 1943) thus explained the concept of infinity. A hotel with an infinite number of rooms is fully booked. One evening a guest arrives without a reservation. He gets a room by simply moving all guests one room further. So the guest from room 1 sleeps in room 2, the guest from room 2 in room 3. Room 1 is now free - and everyone is taken care of. Infinite plus 1 is still infinite.

If there are an infinite number of newcomers, the guests move from rooms with even numbers to rooms with double the number, i.e. from 1 in 2, from 2 in 4, from 3 in 6. All of them are now even room numbers. An infinite number of hotel rooms with odd numbers become free. Infinite + infinite = infinite. There are terrifyingly complicated calculations and formulas, but we don't want to lose sight of the erring Ned Flanders and the gullible Homer Simpson.

The British author Simon Singh tried to find out who invented the Plus-1 gag from the "Simpsons". But the writers of the series couldn't remember, only that they had extensively debated mathematical infinity. For this reason, the script was even completed late.

The further unsolved P-NP problem