1,000,000,000

Although it is not as large as one brazillion (which is 1 followed by as many zeros as it needs), one billion is still pretty huge.
It’s such a large number that our mammal brains have a great deal of difficulty trying to grasp the concept of 1 followed by nine zeros (for all you long-scalers out there, please note that I’m talking about a milliard — a thousand million –, not a million million, which we normal people would call a trillion).
At first glance, it may seem a bit useless or even unnecessary to understand such large amounts of zeros, but how are we suppose to comprehend the Avogadro constant, geological eras, the formation of galaxies and even Evolution otherwise?
I could tell you that 55g of iron has 600 times a million billion billion atoms until my feet hurt and that wouldn’t mean much to most people, because a number that large is exceptionally hard to visualize.
I would have the same problem if I was to discourse about the 4-billion-and-a-bit years the Earth has been around, or say that there are a billion billion planets in each galaxy (which, in turn, exist in even large numbers).
Can you imagine how long it took us to go from randomly floating chemicals to our current form as email-checking beings? I certainly cannot.
We are pretty good at understanding “ten of something”, but we lack intellectual capacity to perceive millions and billions.
That’s why we use analogies. For instance:
If you take five minutes to count to one thousand, keeping a steady pace, it will take you one hour to get to 12 thousand and you’ll reach 288 thousand at the end of 24 hours.
In one year, keeping the same rhythm, without ever stopping, you will arrive at 105 million: 365 days couting without rest or pause for breath would get you to a little bit over 10% of one billion, which would only be reached at the end of nine and a half years of incessant counting, at the pace of ten numbers every three seconds.
Or you could choose to go a number a second, if you have over 31 years to spare.
One billion minutes ago, around 100 C.E., Greek mathematician Ptolemy was being born, the wheelbarrow had just been invented in China, the last lions in the Balkan Peninsula were dying off, the Kama Sutra was starting to have its first pages written in India, bricks were the new trend in Roman housing development and, again in China, paper was though of being a pretty neat new idea.
One billion hours ago Australia was not inhabitated by humans and there was no agriculture and no domesticated animals. We were all basically living in Africa, chipping stones to slice meat off bones and fashion animal hide into early-days togas for our northbound walks into cold places. We would answer to erectus rather than sapiens and were just starting to develop language and music.
A strip of sand 10 meters long, one meter wide and 100 milimeters deep contains aproximately 800 thousand million grains of sand. 80% of a billion.
Due the curvature of Earth, It is impossible to see one billion people at the same time. That is so many people that even on the flattest land they would extend past the horizon.
The only way to fit one billion people into one’s field of view is to go up a few hundred kilometers above the surface of the planet 30-meter tree (thanks for the correction, Pierce!), from where they would look like a big blobby mass rather than separate individuals, much like what happens with our skin, which is formed by billions of individual cells.
By the way, one billion cells is equivalent to 350cm², or the skin of an adult human torso.
It is not necessary to repeat “one billion” billions of times like I did here in his article. One could also refer to it as: a thousand million, 10^9, one giga, bill, or a goddamn bucket-full.

By Igor Santos, original written here.

Discussão - 9 comentários

  1. Pierce R. Butler disse:

    It is impossible to see one billion people at the same time. That is so many people that even on the flattest land they would extend past the horizon.
    Eh? Say each human gets a hair over 4 sq ft: a billion of ’em would occupy a space of 12 miles x 12 miles (a bit over 19 km x 19 km, for you non-USAian weirdos).
    Having been thrown out of my trig class (for non-mathematical reasons) many years ago, I can’t offer any numbers on the curvature of that much area on this planet, but on a clear day a high perch in a mature oak tree should suffice to reveal everybody (except those enjoying the shade of your tree, of course).

  2. Igor Santos disse:

    That’s a 30-meter high oak tree. That’s a lot of furniture.
    I meant to say overweight people sort of moving around and… Blast!
    Damn cientists and their calculators!

  3. killinchy disse:

    A trillion dollars is nearly twenty cents a day, every day, since the big bang.

  4. Gray Gaffer disse:

    “A strip of sand 10 meters long, one meter wide and 100 milimeters deep contains aproximately 800 thousand grains of sand. 80% of a billion.” um Did you mean 800 million?

  5. Lassi Hippeläinen disse:

    “…please note that I’m talking about a milliard — a thousand million –, not a million million, which we normal people would call a trillion).”
    No, a million million is a billion. A trillion is million million million.
    BTW, what does that “submeter” button meter? I have to test…

  6. Igor Santos disse:

    Gaffer, that’s precisely what I meant!
    Mas, did I screw that one up…
    Lassi, a billion is a thousand million (10^3*10^6). That much I know.

  7. Evan Helker disse:

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  8. ranggaw0636 disse:

    one billion is very big number, but i think the people in zimbabwe can imagine it easily as their little change of money

  9. webdeluxe disse:

    To see one billion people into one’s field of view you only have to climb a 30-meter tree?? I tought it would be a lot higher …

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