Points become a figureDuring mathematics class in school, most people study geometry and learn about shapes such as the triangle, square, and rhombus; they also memorize various applicable formulas. Do you know where all these figures originate from? The point — that’s right, the single dot placed in the middle of the empty slate.
The Ancient Greek mathematician Euclid, known as the “Father of Geometry”, defined a point as that which has position but no dimensions such as size. It’s quite amazing to imagine something that only has location but has no dimensions — something which can’t be physically touched at all.
We can also look at the world we live in as a kind of a geometric diagram. There are numerous points we have marked within this space — this is my family, this is your family, this is my house, this is my future. More than anything else, though, that which we call our “self” can be compared to a gigantic, singular point.
Without fail, relative dimensions begin to appear for these points we have differentiated. The more tenacious our attachments, the more enduring our desires, and the more significant our regrets, the larger this apparent point becomes. We eventually come to firmly believe that this point actually has dimensions — it can be touched, and the bigger it grows, the better. Therefore, people endeavor to make their points as abundant and substantial as possible.
A long time ago I had a chance to meet the well-known Korean author So-yeon Lim, who is now director of an educational research institute dedicated to improving our world. Among other books, she wrote a mathematics textbook entitled A Theory of Mathematics for Life.
She was able to explain all of humanity, our lives, and this whole world in terms of mathematics.
At one point Ms. Lim stated, “A point has no dimensions at all.” In other words, that which we call our “self” is also originally without dimension.
A point is without size or weight. Therefore, it’s not in a fixed spot at all — it can be here, there, or anywhere.
I asked her, “What about this point we call our ‘self’?”
This world is merely a geometric diagram created by this mind of unlimited potential. The point which we call our “self” arises within that, but it has no dimensions at all itself. People mistakenly believe, however, that the point which we call “self” is something that actually exists — that it has a definite size, weight, and fixed characteristics.
She also talked about the reason for that.
The numerous attachments of human beings such as money and family make this point seem like a fixed thing. Therefore, people get caught by this point they call “self.”
This was quite surprising for me — that existence could be explained in terms of mathematics. I continued and asked her, “What happens once we realize that this point we call our ‘self’ actually has no dimensions at all?”
Ms. Lim’s eyes sparkled as she answered:
Once we realize that this point we call “self” is not a fixed phenomenon, infinite potential arises. This point can be anywhere, so it can depict a triangle, square, rhombus, or circle. It can depict any figure in the world. This is the infinite potential inherent in the mind and in all of creation.
Ms. Lim said that this kind of limitless energy is contained within the point we call “self.” In other words, the infinite potential to create anything at all in the world is within us all.
It’s only a problem when this point which forms our idea of self becomes fixed, since it becomes confined to that one position. Therefore, we have to understand ourselves just as we are — we are a point which is not set in stone, a point which can’t be defined. We need to completely realize that.
It was a really fascinating interview.
This world and the figures contained within it are originally not separate. Our egotistical self is the same as a single point — even this original mind which is its very essence is also not separate. Ms. Lim taught her students this way, and as a result they thoroughly enjoyed learning mathematics.
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo writer on religious affairs.