Monday, April 18, 2011


     The other day, while riding in the car, Will asked me what the biggest number was.  It was such a simple question to him.  Little did he know that science and math geek within his dad would jump on the chance to stretch his mind a little with this teachable moment.  I was quite proud of Caleb, my 6 year old, for chiming in with, "It's pi Will, pi never ends!" I of course said that he was right, the string of decimals in number π never ended, but π itself was only a little more than 3 and so wasn't really very big.  I mentioned that someone might say that infinity was the largest number, but infinity wasn't really a number, just an idea of something that had no limit.  I then told them that the biggest number that anyone had ever named was a google.  That got their attention.  They had heard of Google before. Yes, before it was a synonym for a web search, a google did have another definition.  I explained that if you wrote down a 1 with 100 zeros behind it, that would be a google.  After that I started thinking of how I might help them understand just how big that number was.   When I finally got ready to enlighten them, I looked back to see that will had fallen asleep and Caleb was playing his Nintendo 3DS.  I however was just getting started.  I was lost in my own little world for a while trying to imagine for myself how big numbers could be and how I could make myself understand the sheer size of such big numbers.  Soon I was waxing philosophical.

     So here is a little essay on numbers.  Definitely not the most intriguing of topics, but for a nerd like me, kind of fun:
     I am 40 years old.  That's roughly 1.278 billion seconds old.  If I live to a ripe old age, my heart might beat about 3 billion times.  I probably have a little less than 100,000 hairs on my head.  There are about 10 trillion cells in my body.  There are currently about 7.1 billion people living on the earth.  The United States' debt is fast approaching 14.3 trillion dollars.  The unfunded liabilities of the US (the national debt plus money promised as payment to to Social Security recipients, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) is around $200 trillion.  The total value of all the assets in the US is around $110 trillion.  The total value of all the combined assets in the world is somewhere around $1000 trillion.
     We hear numbers tossed around so much that we take them for granted and never stop to think about their size.  Sure we can understand a hundred or a thousand, but once we start talking about millions and billions, it becomes hard for the human mind to comprehend such large numbers.
     How much is a million?  Well, a 12 ounce soda can would hold about a million grains of sand.  It would take 83 12 packs of sand to hold a billion grains of sand.  A large football stadium can hold around 83,000 people. (Arrowhead in Kansas City holds 81,425).  If every person in a sold out crowd held a 12 pack of sand cans, That would be about a trillion grains of sand.  If every grain of sand on the earth were put in soda cans and distributed evenly to every person on earth, we would each have 140 million 12 packs of sand stacked up in our back yard.  That's a lot of sand.  Psalm 139:17-18 says, "How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand'.  God must think of us a lot.  It is comforting to me to know that He cares so much about us.
     1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains of sand on the earth seems like an awfully big number.  It is, but there are 1000 times as many atoms in your body all working miraculously in perfect harmony to keep us alive.  Modern science would have us believe that this is all a product of chance.  Common sense tells me it speaks of an ingenious Architect.
      While the numbers of the minuscule are astounding, the numbers of the immeasurably large also are mind boggling.  The Earth, as large as it is (some 25,000 miles in circumference), is only a grain of sand itself on the scale of the universe.  It is one of 8 planets (poor Pluto no longer gets counted as a planet) circling our sun.  The Sun is one of 100 billion stars swirling around in the Milky Way galaxy.  The Milky Way is only one of 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.  That makes our Sun one of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.  That means that there are possibly almost as many planets in the universe as there are grains of sand on the Earth.   The observable universe is about 20 billion light years across.  That's roughly 5.9 billion trillion or 5,900,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles across.  Consequently, it is estimated that the universe contains about 1x10^79 atoms.  That's a 1 followed by 79 zeros!  Modern science tells us that all of this vast amount of stuff sprang out of nothing, spontaneously.  I believe that it was spoken into existence by an infinitely powerful Creator.  We know that the universe is here.  We know it had to come from somewhere.  Either it made itself out of nothing, or it was created by something or Someone.  There aren't a lot of other possibilities.  I guess it just boils down to a matter of which you chose to believe.  When you take it back to the beginning, all you have is your faith.
  Oh, and if you were wondering, it would take all the atoms in a billion trillion universes the size of ours to add up to a google.  That's about as many universes as grains of sand on the earth. So Will, if you are still wondering, I'd say that yeah, a google is about the largest number I can think of.