The problem of infinity

Our statistical formulas assume that we can take an average, or a mean, of the measures of a group of people on a given parameter. For height or weight, this is a straightforward proposition. For oxygen levels or white blood cell counts, we can arrive at a standard threshold, above or below which disease is diagnosed. But when we begin to examine parameters that are more abstract, a problematic situation emerges.

By using finite measures, we are limited to measuring finite traits of our human experience. But is it possible that there is a dimension of human experience that includes some experience of infinity, some “translation” of the nonfinite in the human mind and heart? This would help to explain Newton’s and Liebniz’s simultaneous discovery of calculus, for example, and the emergence of quantum physics. So far in psychology, however, we have no commensurate study of the infinite in human experience.

So when we use quantitative methods (numbers) or qualitative methods (words) to study the person, we are limiting our understanding to what can be numerated or expressed in words. But is there not a part of human experience which is beyond numbers, and beyond our ability to express in words? Our research, therefore, denies this possibility, by not explicitly acknowledging the limits of each given study.

So let us assume we are studying the phenomenon of high school dropouts. We can report percentages, and conduct surveys to determine the relative proportion of individuals who drop out for different reasons, and accurately report the results. But our assumptions are not made explicit—that we have limited our study to the reasons we think people drop out. We may even have used mixed methods, mixing interviews and surveys to determine the “full range” of reasons…. But one possibility, one reasons that students may drop out, are rarely considered: that school did not meet the emerging needs for a greater meaning in life, for a purpose.

Thus our finite methods, consciously or unconsciously, limit us to consider only finite reasons, finite measures, finite answers to finite questions. The problem of infinity is never addressed, and has gradually faded from view in our research, in our theories, in our methodologies, in our textbooks, and in our teaching.

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