Let’s talk numbers. Big ones.
But first, let’s get to the why. Eons ago, humans only needed to count how many rocks they had or how many saber-tooth scorpions they needed to bypass in order to get to their next place of interest. Limited numbers that could be expressed with the fingers on one or both hands, even with a couple of missing fingers (it was the scorpions, I tell you!).
In the meantime, we’ve developed written language and mathematics soon found itself unable to restrain its answers to a maximum of ten widdle piggies. Numbers were invented out of sheer necessity and had practical uses at first but by the time of Ancient Greece, people were already dealing with numbers far larger than anything physically countable. With time, the difficulty of mathematical questions increased and the answers had to be given using numbers previously unheard of.
Meet eight hot numbers in your area right now!
Despite its massiveness, this number still stands for a somewhat tangible value. It represents the estimated total number of subatomic particles in the known universe. Should you ever be approached by a mathematician, know that the technical name for this number is “One Hundred Quinquavigintillion”. Or you could mutter it if you want to avoid a tongue fracture.
Googol or 10^100
The name googol was coined by a 9-year-old in 1938 named Milton Sirotta. He was put up to it by his uncle, mathematician Edward Kasner. Its numerical value is mostly abstract but popular theory holds that in one googol years the last of the black holes will have dissipated, leaving the existing universe devoid of matter and energy. Completely empty. This theory holds only when considering the universe finite.
8.5 x 10^185
The smallest unit of length is known as the Planck length. Its exact size is 1.616199(97)×10−35 meters but let’s try a more visual description. Imagine a 0.1 mm (0.004 inch) dot. That’s about as small as the naked eye can see. Somewhere inside of that dot there is a Planck unit, obviously too small for us to see. Now zoom in on that dot until it reaches the size of the entire universe.
Remember the Planck unit? In this universe-sized dot, it’s as big as a 0.1 millimeter dot. So, naturally, people wanted to know how many of the smallest units known to man fit inside the biggest object known to man. The number 8.5 x 10^185 is the number of Planck volumes ( cubes with sides of one Planck unit) that fit inside the known universe.
If for some reason you decide to give yourself a mindfuck ( like I did), google Archimedes’ Cattle Herd Problem. It’s a light read but please don’t try to do the math. Archimedes talks about a four-colored herd of cattle and sets some specific relations between their numbers. Here, have a taste: “ Understand, stranger, that the white bulls were equal to a half and a third of the black together with the whole of the yellow, while the black were equal to the fourth part of the dappled and a fifth, together with, once more, the whole of the yellow.”
In any case, we’ve figured out how big a herd has to be in order to fulfill Archimedes’ picky conditions. The minimum is 7.76 x 10^206,554 cows.
257,885,161 − 1
As of January 2014, this is the largest prime number discovered. It has 17,425,170 digits and is a product of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search or GIMPS.
Most of you have heard of this number. If not, go watch Back to the Future. The number googol was a 1 followed by 100 zeroes. A googolplex is a 1 followed by a googol zeroes. If it seems like mumbo-jumbo, picture this: if we had a paper the size of the universe and used a size 10 font we wouldn’t come halfway into printing this number. That’s why mathematicians use a power tower in order to write out numbers as big as this. A googolplex is then 10^10^100.
I can’t walk you through Poincaré recurrence times but it can be effectively summed up to history repeating itself. All history in the universe, relatively speaking. The Poincaré recurrence time is the time it would take our universe to arbitrarily return to a state similar to its present one. How long would it take? About 1,1 x 10^10^10^10^10 years. Justin Timberlake was right all along.
Infinity could have been very well left out but I couldn’t pass the chance to use the ∞ symbol. And because it tends to do some funky stuff and I’ve also heard it goes well with psychedelics. Many scientists believe the universe is infinite. If that is the case, there must be an identical Earth out there, down to the position of every individual atom. Heck, if we’re going this way, there might be an infinity of identical Earths and infinities of slightly different ones.
Try finger-counting that.