Gi-huge-ic numbers (why 10 kids is too many)Posted: May 9, 2012
Colloquial wisdom is that our human brains have trouble holding numbers bigger than 5 or 6. It appears that we want to clump any numbers bigger than that into smaller groups – for example, subconsciously we turn a group of 20 into 5 groups of 4, or 4 groups of 5.
One of the tricks to get our heads around big BIG numbers is to correlate them to physical / tangible things. Other folks have done this MUCH more cleverly than I could ever hope to (see the links at the end of this post). However, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring for some of the more… visceral comparisons.
- 100,000: a lifetime supply of diapers for 10 children would number on the order of this many. (Unless there’s a stomach bug going around. Then this is the daily supply for the same 10 children. PS: WHY do you have 10 children in diapers? What were you thinking?)
- 1,000,000: approximately the number of commercials you would see if you were to watch every episode of a show for 4,000 seasons. (That’s how many seasons CSI has been on, right? Well, what ELSE are you going to do while you feed your 10 children? Better get that DVR ready!)
- 1,000,000,000: it would take this many bellybuttons (standard width of 1 cm) to measure from Chicago to Tokyo. (This has nothing to do with your 10 kids. I just like the idea of using the bellybutton as a standard unit of measure.)
And some links to folks that do this so much better than I:
- Chris Jordan (mildly NSFW) – amazing photography to editorialize the big numbers of modern American life.
- The MegaPenny Project – using the common penny to help visualize really, really big numbers
- Wehr in the World – using the dollar instead
- Large Numbers via time / distance – a neat middle school lesson to help 6-8 graders with comparing big numbers
- Any way you stack it… – a npr story on the size of numbers & our changing perception of the national debt