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NHS invented a new type of infinity… June 21, 2008

Posted by Alexandre Borovik in Uncategorized.

My posts are likely to become shorter and sparser — as a result of a work trauma, I have developed a medical condition (see a photo) which makes typing very difficult, and I depend on the kind help of my wife with all my typing needs. On the bright side, my experience gave me a new understanding of infinity. From a mathematical viewpoint, indefinitely long waiting lists for treatment on NHS (National Health Service) were not something new, they were just a special case of potentially infinite natural series

Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, … etc.

going on and on in a very old-fashioned way. The real contribution of NHS to mathematics of infinity is that they make patients to wait (indefinitely again) to be included on a waiting list. It is an infinity of natural numbers enhanced by an additional constraint: you are not allowed to start counting.


1. George - June 22, 2008

Isn’t it akin omega + omega in ordinal arithmetic? One omega to get on the waiting list; one to wait for treatment? Of course, the omegas are only _potentially_ infinite – the NHS isn’t that bad!

2. Peter - June 23, 2008

I am sorry to hear about your illness. I hope you recover soon.

Your post reminded me of a Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams, in which Dilbert tries to buy a chair. But the shop assistant says that does not sell anything as mundane as chairs. Instead, she sells the hope that someday a chair will be made for him. When he asks her how long this will take, she answers that if she knew that then it would be the same as selling the actual chairs.

3. beans - June 28, 2008

Ach -sorry to hear that it hasn’t got better yet, and I must once again apologise! (For some reason I feel partially responsible for this.) I suppose you might want the picture when you were “showing” the world your temporary bandaged finger! (I’ll send it to you when I go on my own computer).

4. Mark Aufflick - July 9, 2008

Good luck with the recuperation – who says mathematics isn’t dangerous 😉

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