Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Astronomical, Economical and Geological ...

There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers. -- Richard Feynman (source)

That quote is from an age when huge -- economical! -- numbers looked powerful. But economic(al) phenomena can also negate it all, and drain the big numbers of all power and awedomeness:

At the height of Zimbabwe's economic meltdown in 2008 when Zimbabwe's world record inflation was running into the billions in percent annually and prices were climbing each hour, the 100 trillion bill scarcely bought a cart of groceries.

Teachers reported the printing of bank notes from millions to billions and then trillions skewed their pupils' sense of numeracy, making them fail to grasp the realities of numbers.

On one geography field trip, students scoffed at being told granite rocks swept over Zimbabwe by ancient glaciers were 700 million years old. That time frame seemed insignificant.

Back then in 2008, 700 million Zimbabwe dollars bought a loaf of bread. [source -- via]