What is a number?

Akshay Raheja
5 min readMay 29, 2021


Think about 500!

What is 500?
In natural numbers, 500 comes after 499 and before 501.

In integers, there is a negative quantity of the same number that lies on the opposite side of zero.

But what constitutes 500?
Is 500 true?
Are all things that are 500 in quantity, 500? Can things that makeup 500 be more or less than 500?

The coastline measurement is a problem that states the smaller the size of the scale to measure the length, the higher the length of the coastline itself.

But 500 is always 500, right? It comes after 499 and before 501.
Or after 499.9 and before 500.1
Or after 499.99 and before 500.01
Or after 499.999 and before 500.001
Or after 499.9999 and before 500.0001

What is at the end of this progression? The infinite. What is infinite?
Can infinite be bent into the reflection of itself?

Say, two parallel lines meet at infinity. What if that point is 500?

Here are my thoughts about the book: Apeirogon by Colum Mccann.

In geometry, an apeirogon (from the Greek words “ἄπειρος” apeiros: “infinite, boundless”, and “γωνία” gonia: “angle”) or infinite polygon is a generalized polygon with a countably infinite number of sides. Apeirogons are the two-dimensional case of infinite polytopes.
Source: wikipedia


It is a true story of two fathers, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan who hail from Palestine and Israel respectively and have lost their daughters due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Smadar, Rami’s daughter, died by a suicide bomber on Ben Yehuda Street. Abir, Bassam’s daughter was killed by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. Both of them narrate their stories as a part of Combatants for Peace and Parent Circle Family Forum.

The passages are islands of words, pictures, paragraphs, scenes, context, biographies, and experiences. Imagine surfing the internet inside a book. The consumption pattern of shifting narratives, in-depth exploration of our fascination with nature, science, philosophy, mathematics, and human beings are illustrated by disjointed passages about birds, illustrations, artists, news, and, military weapons. Here are some extracts.

Being with you, and not being with you, is the only way I have to measure time.

Muhammad Ali was known in the Muslim world as a da’er one who strives to convey the message of Allah to the world. One of his prized possessions was a silver Timex watch, with a qibla compass hand always pointed in the direction of Mecca.

The Kabbalists, in their attempt to examine the nature of the divine, are known to envision two aspects of God. The first, known as finds God to be transcendent, unknowable, impersonal, endless, and infinite. The second aspect is accessible to human perception, revealing the divine in the material world, available in our finite lives. Far from contradicting each other, the two aspects of the divine — Ein Sof, one locatable, one infinite are said to be perfectly complementary to one another, a form of deep truth to be found in apparent opposites.

Borges, too, was fascinated by the Kabbalah. He suggested that the world might merely be a system of symbols and that the universe, in cluding the stars, was a manifestation of God’s secret handwriting.

At the World Peace Congress in 1949, Pablo Picasso unveiled a drawing of a dove carrying an olive branch in its mouth. The sketch inspired by the biblical story of Noah and the ark, the dove returning with a leafy branch signifying that the floodwaters had receded immediately became a universal symbol of opposition to war.

In 1974, Mahmoud Darwish wrote Yasser Arafat’s speech to the Ge eral Assembly of the United Nations: Today I have come bearing a olive branch in one hand and a freedom fighter’s gun in the other. Do not the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.

On his deathbed, Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov asked the patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church if he was responsible for the deaths of those who had been shot as a result of the design of his AK Kalashnikov was worried about his legacy: he had wanted to be remembered as a poet, not a gunmaker. The patriarch wrote back to say that the Church’s position was well known and if a weapon was used in defense of the Motherland, the

With a rubber bullet, kinetic energy is converted to elastic energy, then converted back to kinetic energy, whereas with an explosion it is an inelastic collision: momentum is conserved, but the kinetic energy is not.

In his book Pensées, a collection of fragments of theology and philosophy, the seventeenth-century French philosopher Pascal suggested that all of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to be alone, in one room.

Ullmann had once written that the secret of every work of art was the annihilation of matter through form.

Borges said that his despair as a writer came when he was unable to translate the limitless nature of the aleph: that point in space which contained all other points. While some fell back on birds and spheres and angels, he himself was unable to find the metaphor for this timeless repository of everything. Language was successive: it could not, by its nature, be frozen in one place and therefore couldn’t catch the sheer simultaneity of all things.

Nevertheless, said Borges, he would recollect what he could.

The bullet that killed Abir traveled fifteen meters through the air before it smashed into the back of her head, crushing the bones in her skull like those of a tiny ortolan.

She had gone to the shop to buy sweets.


It is a collection of 1001 passages that are arranged as illustrated.

1001 (page 231)

This means the reader could read from the beginning to the 500th passage. Then, one could begin again from the end and reach the middle. The book could possibly end in the middle. I read it in the descent progression.

The book made me wonder about progression in the story and eventually about numbers.

Stories progress towards an end and then possibilities collapse into one known end of a story. But when is the possibility of the story itself maximum?

My understanding is, it is in the middle.

(The beginning is the source of possibilities but there is no story yet, hence no possibility within the confines of a narrative)

The possibilities of stories make me wonder about the existence of numbers.
Are number facts, quantities, sets, extensions of concepts, or possibilities?

Concluding Remarks
Apeirogon is a heartbreaking book about the occupation of the West Bank. I think, ‘A number is a symbol that represents an abstract possibility for the existence of a linear progression’.



Akshay Raheja

theatre artist who wants to write some meaningful prose, occasionally