Just googolplex it!

May 22, 2016
googol James

I’ve always been fascinated by subjects I have no particular aptitude for.

For instance, I am really rubbish at maths. Just scraped through my school exams and that’s about it. But even as a kid watching Scooby Doo on a Saturday morning TV, I’d occasionally switch over to ‘the other’ BBC channel and check out the weird and wonderful looking Open University professors lecturing in mathematics and physics to correspondence students across the nation. I didn’t understand a word, of course, but simply enjoyed the ‘look’ of the equations and the sound of the words. Ever since, I’ve been hooked on mind-bending trivia facts to do with maths and physics.

Recently I watched another BBC documentary called ‘Horizon – to infinity and beyond’ where a parade of ever-increasing ‘mega-brained’ boffins tried to explain the concept of infinity through the use of absurdly large ‘scientifically proven’ numbers. Numbers that really belong in the pages of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – but don’t because it would all be just a bit too silly.

The world of mega numbers starts off with the googol. Named, back in 1920, by the nine-year-old nephew of the maths guru Edward Kasner  – Milton Sirotta.

It is written as the digit 1 followed by one hundred 0s and it looks like this:


According to Karl Sagan, this is equates to more atoms than are in the entire observable universe but as mega numbers go its pretty rubbish.

Mega brat Milton then proposed a further number – The ‘googolplex’, which is one, followed by writing zeros until you get tired.

His Uncle Edward decided to adopt a more formal definition “because different people get tired at different times”  (tut tut, Milton – you should have thought of that). It thus became standardised to 10googol. Written out as 1 followed by a googol of zeroes.

Er… no room for a demo on this one!

But to illustrate the point in design for print terms – A typical book can be printed with 106 zeros (around 400 pages with 50 lines per page and 50 zeros per line). Therefore, it requires 1094 such books to print all the zeros of a googolplex (that is, printing a googol of zeros). If such a book would weigh 100 grams, all the books needed would weigh 1093 kilograms. The Milky Way Galaxy is estimated at 2.5 x 1042 kilograms. I think this means all the books would weigh about the same as a typical galaxy!

Or to put it another way, if a person can write two digits per second, then writing a googolplex would take longer than the accepted age of the universe!

But in the world of mega numbers this is still peanuts, a mere trifle.

Sure there’s  ‘Skewes’ number’ and ‘Moser’s number’ but the head honcho, the big daddy, the real numero uno is…..(drum roll please)

‘Graham’s number’  

Named after and ‘created’ by one of the world’s foremost mathematicians Ronald Graham, it is so large that the observable universe is far too small to contain an ordinary digital representation of Graham’s number, assuming that each digit occupies one Planck volume, which is the smallest measurable space. Too large to be computed in full, many of the last digits of Graham’s number can be worked out with ‘simple’ maths. Apparently, the last 12 digits of Graham’s number are …262464195387. Good to know!

So, you are probably wondering at this point, how does all this mega maths help anybody back on planet Earth? Specifically working in branding or advertising. Well, certainly it helped the founders of the world most pre-eminent search engine company find a name – calling themselves Google after accidentally misspelling “googol” and it certainly helps my creativity too. In that it’s good to get away from typical advertising and design ways of ‘thinking’. For a moment, stop using ‘the usual sources of inspiration’ and find wonder in completely different ways of looking at the world.

To paraphrase Paul Ardent’s book ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.’

“90% of inspiration for advertising comes from other advertising. To be original, seek your inspiration from unexpected sources” 


James Wood
Creative Director