What number comes after a googolplex

WE HAVE got used to the fact that numerical monsters are knocked on our ears every day: Turkey is promised 375 million ecu; Switzerland's current account surplus fell to CHF 23.5 billion in 1995. And we chat about the megabytes of our PCs as a matter of course. There are probably only a few people who have a natural feeling for numbers in the millions. We make do by comparing giant numbers with something familiar: If you read about four million refugees in the newspaper, you shudder to imagine ten times the population of the city of Zurich.

The physicist George Gamow was asked by his daughter how much was "an unimaginable amount". Then he created «googol», a 1 with 100 zeros: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Mathematics has at least a brief representation for the monster at hand, the hundredfold multiplication of the number ten by itself: 1 googol = (10 (to the power of 100)).

The joke number has become the epitome of “huge” in the USA. The mathematician Alexander Dewdney tells in his book “200 percent of nothing” how the National Security Agency (NSA) recently stumbled upon googol. The authority was looking for computer specialists and advertised googol in trade magazines with all hundred zeros: "We show googol for one simple reason: When you come to us, you have to think in terms of magnitude." And as an example, the NSA provided: "If you counted 24 hours a day, you would have reached 1 googol after 120 years."

One reader noticed that even the security agency cannot handle huge numbers. The 120 years contain 3.79 × 109 seconds. Therefore, you would have to count to 2.64 × (10 (to the power of 90)) within each of these seconds in order to create the googol in the given time. Whereupon he wrote to the NSA that he was frightened not only by the "huge orders of magnitude", but also by the horrific pace of work that the NSA apparently expects of him. Seconds. Therefore, you would have to count to 2.64 × (10 (to the power of 90)) within each of these seconds in order to create the googol in the given time. Whereupon he wrote to the NSA that he was frightened not only by the "huge orders of magnitude", but also by the horrific pace of work that the NSA apparently expects of him.

This article comes from the NZZ Folio magazine from October 1996 on the subject of "Beyond Washington". You can order this issue or subscribe to the NZZ Folio.