How Far Can You Count?
Date: Fri, 6 Jan 1995 14:09:20 +22305931 (CST) From: Leslie Rennie Subject: Ask Dr. Math Dear Dr. Math, My name is Danielle Hummer. I am a student at Converse School in Beloit. Miss L. Rennie is connected to the Internet and we have this question: "How far can you count after millions, billions, and trillions. In other words, what is the highest point you can count to?" I will look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for your help! Miss Rennie Danielle Hummer firstname.lastname@example.org P.S. Beloit is in Wisconsin!
Date: 6 Jan 1995 23:42:37 -0500 From: Dr. Ken Subject: Re: Ask Dr. Math Hello there! Your question is an interesting one. As you may know, there is no highest number. If there were some number that was the biggest number, we could just add one to it, and we'd get something bigger. So that couldn't have been the highest number at all. But you're asking what the highest number that you can _count_ up to is. What I think this means is "what is the highest number that has a name, and such that all the positive numbers less than it have a name?" To be honest, the answer depends on who you ask. Even the number "billion" can mean either a 1 with 9 zeroes, or a 1 with 12 zeroes. And that's all within the English language (the first is the American system, and the second is the British system). I was pretty shocked to find that out. Anyway, theoretically, you can count up as high as you want to. The names for the numbers are taken from the Greek words for numbers: If you look in most dictionaries under the word "number", you'll get a much better listing of high numbers than I can give you. They usually go up pretty high. In theory, you're not going to run out of names. But eventually, of course, you will. I mean, there are only so many names, and there are infinitely many numbers (I'm afraid that I don't know how high numbers have been named in the normal way). That's one reason that mathematicians don't often write out the word "billion" or the words "six billion fourteen million two hundred eighty thousand seven hundred and four"; instead, they usually write 1,000,000,000 and 6,014,280,704. I hope that I've said something useful to you. I guess most of what I said is "uh, I don't know. I try not to think about stuff like that. Those numbers are too big." Note that if you even tried to count to a billion, and you counted all day and all night, counting one number per second, it would take you over 30 years to do it. -Ken "Dr." Math
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