You certainly don’t have to tell the truth, the whole truth to every question asked by your wide eyed offspring. In fact, as I wrote in another article sometimes embellishment is much more fun. However, there comes a time when the kids start asking serious questions. What’s the biggest number?
What’s the Biggest Number?
Dad’s must appear at all times to be a fountain of endless knowledge. Googling it on the spot won’t do much for your dad cred. Thus I present for your pleasure, the first in a series of posts with the intention of turning you into a knowledge hero the likes of which your children will cherish.
For this specific question, the temptation would be to answer: “Infinity, young Padawan”. Unfortunately, that’s incorrect. You don’t want them remembering that mistake in ten years do you? Infinity is a concept, not a number. In fact it embodies the idea of something endless and larger than any number.
Numbers are finite. Definitive in what they describe and thus not compatible with the concept of infinity. Perhaps, you should explain, a better question is what is the biggest number with a name?
A googol is the number 10 to the power of 100 – or 10, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000.
The biggest number with a name is the googolplex, which puts another power of 10 to a googol. That’s 1 followed by 10 to the power of 100 zeroes. Or 1 followed by a googol of zeroes. Don’t think about that for too long because it will break your mind.
A googolplex is so astronomically large that it’s impossible to write down. It outnumbers the amount of particles in the entire universe. Even if you put one digit on each particle it would be impossible. Not to mention the fact that it would take many, many human lifetimes to write all that out. Booooring.
Origins of the Googol
Mathematician Edward Kasner asked his nine year old nephew to name the huge number. Milton Sirotta, the nephew, suggested googol and it stuck! The googolplex was suggested by Milton to be “one, followed by writing zeroes until you get tired”. I think I’d fall asleep long before I got anywhere near the end.
Incidentally, the word googol is also where the name for Google, the search engine we all know, came from. Have your children asked any burning questions you’d like answered?
For more Hero Dad posts, take a little peek at the tag.