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PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2017 7:33 am 
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The Second Biggest Number ~ Nov 14, '17

by Nick the Bookman, edited by Lamma-Gung

"Bible legend states that the trouble started after Eve ate the Golden Apple of Discord. This was the forbidding fruit. An angry God sent his wraith. Man fell from the space of grace. It was mostly downhill skiing from there".

This little gem (and a few others) are going to be strewn throughout this article. A bit of comic relief. They'll be italicised so you can jump over the possibly boring maths. They all come from a book titled "Non Campus Mentis", detailing genuine assumptions, bloopers and assorted alternative facts. Taken from the examination papers of college students. A joyous updating of "1066 and All That" - a collection of howlers from students at Eton. Published in 1930 and showing that creative stupidity is in no danger of decline. The authors all share the same name. Anonymous. If you've seen the photo of the book cover (see below) accompanying this piece, revel in the picture of the student who looks like Alfred E. Newman's smarter(ish) cousin. A nice touch.

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"Prehistoricle people spent all day banging rocks together so they could find something to eat. This was the Stoned Age".

And that was sort of how I was feeling one fine Sunday afternoon in the early summer. I was enjoying a state of beer enhanced brain bogglement and I thought that I'd ask you kind passers-by if you knew what the second biggest number is. A creative afternoon ensued. Phil wrote on Lamma Facebook that his answer is infinity minus one. Alan responded with infinities of infinities for infinity and beyond. Zero is the absolute aleph point. Dead centre, separating positive and negative numbers. Lamma-Gung was overjoyed that the erudition level of Lamma Facebook had risen for a few moments. My favourite answer came from the father of a two-year old daughter. She said the second highest number is nine, because she can only count up to ten. An absolutely correct answer for her math matrix which goes from one to ten. Out of the mouths of babes...

"Plato invented reality. He was teacher to Harris Tottle, author of The Republicans. Lust was a must for the Epicureans... Pythagorus fathered the triangle. U. Clid proved there is more than one side to every plain. Archimedes made the first steamboat and power drill".

So I started thinking about big numbers. Like Skewes (pronounced Skew-ease). The late and prolific, science fact and fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote an essay about Stanley Skewes. He was tasked to try and find the probability point where the number of primes would increase in the endless numerical chain, before decreasing again. Remember that there are an infinite amount of prime numbers. But just not as many as the infinite amount of all numbers. Or something like that. He came up with an answer which is ten to the power of ten to the power of thirty four. Which i think is the same as ten to the power of forty four.

"A tidal wave of Goths, Hungs and Zulus impacted Rome. Athena the Hun rampaged the Balkans where he plumaged and tortured people...Society was crumpity. Neo-Platonists celebrated the joys of self-abuse...In the early Middle Ages, female nuns were free to commit random acts of contrition and redemption and forcibly enclustered in harems".

Moving on up like Primal Scream, there's a wonderful film called "Powers of Ten" (1977) which may well have been updated by now. Anyway, it reveals that the totality of our SpaceTimeContinuum can be contained in the number ten to the power of sixty one. Going outward from a ten foot room, i.e. ten to the power of one, there are twenty six jumps, i.e. ten to the power of twenty six which is the scale of the observable universe. Going inward from Zero, there are ten to the power of minus thirty five jumps. That is the Planck Length and the most likely domain of the forces encompassing String Theory. Of course, this number could expand exponentially, if we accept the possibility of Parallel Dimensions and The Multiverse.

"Monks were assigned to monkeries where they were suppose to live as nuns... Fryers were required to take a vow of pottery... Metrification of the flesh was an important ritual... In the 1400 hundreds most Englishmen were perpendicular... A class of yeowls arose... Revolters ran apluck... The Black Death spread from inflected rats, was passed around by midgets and death rates exceeded one hundred percent in some towns... The Hundred Years War (1320-1600) was fought over English holidays in France... The Middle Ages slimpared to a halt".

So, after ten to the power of sixty one, we enter the Realm of Numbers that transcend the Reality Of our Totality. There's a Googol, which is ten to the power of one hundred and also a Googolplex. There's a higher Probability number which is the odds on a person achieving a perfect score on their SAT by guessing the correct answers. In a wonderful book called "What If?" and subtitled "Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions" by Randall Munroe he works out that the number in question is one in twenty seven quinquatrigintillion.
Spelt out another way it's an equation reading one over two point seven times ten to the power of one hundred and ten. (Sorry for writing out all these numbers. This keyboard can't provide the mathematical symbols to write all the words in figures.) By the way, Randall Munroe is also an excellent comic/cartoonist. He's praised as Totally Brilliant and Nerd Royalty on the cover of the book and his website is http://www.xkcd.com. He's done all the heavy lifting so you don't have to. Just lie back and wallow in the weird wisdom on his iconic webcomic.

"Nineteenth Century America was an unequal society where only white males could download access to the power serge... The major cause of the Civil War is when slavery spread its ugly testicles across the West... It began in 1830 and many soldiers repeatedly gave their lives up... United States Grant was a Civil War heroe who proved corrupulent as President and died after drinking up to twenty cigars a day... Meanwhile, culture fomented from Europe's tip to its top... Art plopped off the deep end and sailed up the creek without a paddle... Cubism and Splatterism became the rage... Picasso painted the Mona Lisa... Music reeked with reality... Children born to Europeans and Asians were known as Euthanasians...The Russo-Japanese War exploded between Japan and Italy... Teddy (J.R.) Roseaveld threatened with his big stick... Germany's William Two had a big chimp on his shoulder while Auto von Bismarck kept both sides from the middle".

"High up in the North in the land called Svithjod there stands a rock. It's a hundred miles high and wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to the rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has been worn away, a single day of eternity will have gone by".
I first read this mesmeric word picture by Hendrik Willem Van Loon in a novel of First Contact called "Fade Out" by Patrick Tilley back in the Seventies. The protagonists loved this "novel" way of expressing a very large indeterminate number. Patrick Tilley also wrote the six-part series "The Am-Trak War" and a stand alone book about a time -travelling Jesus who materialises, fresh from his execution, in current (then) day New York. Brilliant sci-fi and a stunning re-evaluation of our deepest faiths. It's called "Mission" and hopefully is still in print. Anyway, Randall has worked out that the eventual total eradication of the hundred mile high and wide hill, will take One Eternal Day. That's roughly equivalent to ten to the power of thirty two years. Times three hundred and sixty five Eternal Days for an Eternal Year. Times one hundred Eternal Years for an Eternal Century. Continue through an Eternal Millennium and then on to Ten Thousand Eternal Years. Which is about the same time it would take you to read every Twitter tweet that's has/is/will be published. That's a lot larger number than the SAT probability figure.

"Japan boomed Pearl Harbour, the main U.S. base in Southern California... American sailors watched in shock as the skies filled with Japanese zebras... The perverbial chickens laid by the poor peace treaties after World War One all came to roast... The Germans made a "Blintz Krieg" around France's Marginal Line... Hitler's attack on Russia was secretly called "Operation Barbarella"... The German invaders habit of slaughtering innocent civilians gave them an image problem... the Russians defended Stalingrad feercely as the city was named after Lenin... casualties sprouted on both sides... Hitler became depressed and crawled under Berlin. He had his wife Evita put to sleep and then shot himself in the bonker... The Second World War was not concluded until 1957".

It's starting to become apparent that really big numbers are best written as word pictures or in lengthy phrases. So, I'll try to wrap this piece up by saying that as far as I'm concerned the second biggest number is best stated as "The Second Biggest Number". Both precise and inexact at the same time. Thanks to everyone who played along. You're all good sports. And so to close, here's a couple of final thoughts....

"History grundled onwards. International relationships moved to the broodle stage... one index of this situation is a poor morality rate... another problem is lack of practise with self-rain... the plurious of wealth is uneven... the rural populus is reduced to tenament farming... pedestrians of rich countries should listen to their conscious more, thus making the possibility of better times less of a pipe steam... it is now the age of now. This concept grinds our critical seething minds to a halt."

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