To the Nth Degree

April 23, 2015

“Everyone has faith in God, though everyone does not know it.  For everyone has faith in himself, and that, multiplied to the nth degree, is God.  The sum total of all that lives is God.  We may not be God, but we are of God – even as a little drop of water is of the ocean.  Imagine it torn away from the ocean and flung millions of miles away.  It becomes helpless torn from its surroundings and cannot feel the might and majesty of the ocean.  But if someone could point out to it that it is of the ocean, its faith would revive; it would dance with joy, and the whole might and majesty of the ocean would be reflected in it.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi


Most of us have heard or used the expression, “to the nth degree” and understood it to mean taking something to its limit.  But how many of us know what “the nth degree” actually is?  The letter N is used to symbolize various mathematical concepts, which I won’t go into here.  By its most basic definition, N refers to the set of natural numbers.

The oldest number system is the set of natural numbers (also known as counting numbers):

N = {1, 2, 3…}

The first natural number is 1 and successive numbers are made by adding 1 to each new number:


2 = 1 + 1

3 = 2 + 1

So, if we use N to represent any natural number, the next natural number after N will always be N + 1.

This means that there is no largest natural number.  The set of natural numbers could be counted into infinity.

Therefore, taking something to the nth degree, when there can be no largest N, does not mean taking something to the limit, as the common colloquial definition of the expression brings to mind.  It means taking something to infinite levels of possibility.

In a recent blog for, cosmologist Max Tegmark argued that the idea of infinity should be done away with, because related concepts, such as inflation (the theory that our Universe began as a singularity and is forever expanding, i.e, the “Big Bang”), make the measuring and predicting part of physics difficult.  In fact, he would like to get rid of the idea of both the “infinitely big” and the “infinitely small”, arguing that there is no direct observational evidence of either.  In other words, if one cannot “see” infinity, if one cannot describe it, one cannot definitively say it exists.

I think that the infinitely big and the infinitely small probably describe each other.  In fact, by adding them together numerically, the infinitely big and the infinitely small can be seen as simultaneously infinite and containable within a finite structure: the circular mystery that is zero.

If one looks at both positive and negative numbers arranged into a line, with zero at the center, numbers fan out from zero endlessly in positive and negative directions:

… -9, -8, -7, -6, -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…

Then, by keeping zero at the center and adding each positive number to its negative counterpart zipper-style, positive and negative numbers will cancel each other out and, in doing so, contain themselves within zero:

-1 + 1 = 0, -2 + 2 = 0, etc.

Zero appears to be finite but infinity lives within it.

There is a saying from the Bible: “In my father’s house there are many mansions.” (John 14:2).  These words bring to my mind the idea of the infinite possibilities that can manifest within the finite structure that is time and space.

To use a smaller, more familiar example, let’s look at the structure of a seed and the limitless possibility contained within it.  A single tiny seed contains the potential of future life to the nth degree.

Water a seed and a plant sprouts forth from its shell.  That plant will grow and produce more seeds, which will grow into new plants that produce seeds, ad infinitum.  Seemingly endless expressions of life can manifest from within a singular finite structure.

So, the next time you feel stuck, frustrated, hopeless or trapped by your circumstances, remember that, even from within the smallest space, endless possibilities are waiting to be born…

… and that everything can come from nothing.


Protein-packed hemp seeds contain all of the essential amino acids.  This means that they are a complete source of protein just like chicken, fish or beef, making them an excellent choice for people on a vegetarian or vegan diet or for omnivores wishing to add more plant protein to their diets.  Shelled hemp seeds (or “hemp hearts” as they are also called) are soft, with a mild, nutty flavor, making them both a scrumptious and highly nutritious topping for Banana Coffeecake with Hemp Seed Streusel.


Banana Coffeecake with Hemp Seed Streusel
This is one of the most moist and delicious coffeecakes I’ve tasted!  Hemp hearts make the perfect nutty and crunchy streusel topping.  You can find Raw Shelled Hemp Seed (hemp hearts) at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, your local health food store or online.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled a bit
3/8 cup organic sugar
1 large egg
1 super-ripe large banana, well-mashed
Hemp Seed Streusel (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375°F

Lightly butter bottom and partially up sides of a 9-inch round cake pan.  Set aside.

Make streusel (recipe follows) set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine butter with sugar, beat in egg and mashed banana.

Add wet ingredients to bowl with dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Pour streusel evenly over top surface and pat in lightly.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tooth pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool in pan and cut into 6 wedges.

Makes 6 servings.

Hemp Seed Streusel

3/4 cup hemp hearts
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup organic sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork, then fingers, until fully combined and crumbly.




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