An Infinity of Beginnings

It will now be understood that, in using the phrase, ‘Infinity of Space’, I make no call upon the reader to entertain the impossible conception of an absolute infinity. I refer simply to the ‘utmost conceivable expanse’ of space – a shadowy and fluctuating domain, now shrinking, now swelling, with the vacillating energies of the imagination.

. . . It has been always either directly or indirectly assumed – at least since the dawn of intelligible astronomy – that, were it possible for us to attain any given point in space, we should still find, on all sides of us, an interminable succession of stars. This was the untenable idea of Pascal when making perhaps the most successful attempt ever made, at paraphrasing the conception for which we struggle in the word ‘Universe’. ‘It is a sphere,’ he says, ‘of which the centre is everywhere, the circumference, nowhere.’ But although this intended definition is, in fact, no definition of the Universe of Stars, we may accept it, with some mental reservation, as a definition (rigorous enough for all practical purposes) of the Universe proper – that is to say, of the Universe of space. This latter, then, let us regard as ‘a sphere of which the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere’. In fact, while we find it impossible to fancy an end to space, we have no difficulty in picturing to ourselves any one of an infinity of beginnings.

– Edgar Allen Poe (from Eureka)