How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Maybe you've heard that question. Have you given it any thought? One? One thousand? Infinity? Do you think it's a trick question....? The truth is unknowable, for obvious reasons.
But there are many questions of a numerical nature that are known. And you should know if you want to be a serious thinker and want to partake in serious conversations. The number that comes to my mind these days is the number of Americans (Americans, mind you, not citizens of the world) who have died from Covid-19, to date. According to the NY Times, that number is roughly 688,000.
Is that a big number? Relative to what, you should ask me. And that's the point.
It's a matter of perspective. How many hairs are there on your head? More or less than 688,000? How many miles from Earth is the moon? More or less than 688,000? How many cells are in the human body, or how many days does the average human live? More or less than 688,000? If you want to understand Covid and other big things, you should know. How many years ago did dinosaurs go extinct? How many miles is it to the moon? More or less than 688,000? Do you sleep that many hours in a lifetime? How many days do you, an average human live? More or less than 688,000? (Hint: MANY fewer!! Many.)
How many times do you blink a day (multiply that by the number of days you live and estimate that number!)? How many cells are in your body? How many people were killed by the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history? How many miles is the circumference of the earth? How many words are there -- in common use -- in the English language? Which of these numbers is bigger or smaller than the others and by how much?
Which is the larger number -- the number of trees in the world or the number of thoughts in an average human's lifetime or the average estimated number of bricks in the Great Wall of China? The number of times you blink in a day or the number of cities, towns and villages in the U.S.?
When people throw big numbers at you, you should be prepared to understand them, especially relatively. Test yourself. Be humble. Be reasonable. Be ready and be prepared to be wrong.
And be kind -- to yourself and others. Because most of us are innumerate. We really don't get these big numbers. Also, please understand that 688,000 U.S. deaths in the last 18 months is a lot. A real lot.
Here's a list of some items just to give you a perspective (all courtesy of a few Google searches).
Number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin: ∞
Number of ants in the world: 1,000,000,000,000,000
Number of cells in a human body: 724,000,000,000,000
Distance to Proxima Centauri (the nearest star after our own sun) in miles: 25,300,000,000,000
Number of trees on earth: 3,040,000,000,000
Number of people on earth: 7,874,965,825
Number of bricks (estimated) in the Great Wall of China: 3,873,000,000
Number of thoughts in an average human's lifetime: 173,010,000
Number of years since dinosaurs went extinct: 65,000,000
Number of hours in an average human life (roughly 79 years): 692,040
Number of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S.: 688,000
Number of Americans killed in WW2: 291,557
Distance to the moon in miles: 238,900
Average number of hours humans sleep in a lifetime: 229,961
Number of years since modern humans appeared on earth: 200,000
Number of words in English language (commonly in use): 171,146
Number of people killed by largest known volcanic eruption (Tambora, 1815):100,000+
Number of hairs on your head : 100,000
Number of Americans who died in Vietnam: 47,434
Number of days in an average human life (roughly 79 years): 28,835
Number of miles in circumference of the earth: 24,901
Number of cities, towns and villages in the U.S,: 19,495
Average number of times you blink every day: 16,800
Number of colleges in the U.S.: 5,300
Number of Americans who died on 9/11: 2,977
Number of muscles in a human: 600
Number of countries in the world: 195
Deepest part of the oceans in miles: 7
Number of camels who can go through the eye of a needle: ∞
Remember this: These numbers are all meaningful in context but not, necessarily, relatively. Be a good thinker. Understand relativity and context especially when big numbers are presented to you.
Peace and love to you today and for the week ahead.