Sunday, September 28, 2008

Things That Make Absolutely No Sense to Me

Science News / Largest Known Prime Number Found:
"Here’s a number to savor: 243,112,609-1.

Its size is mind-boggling. With nearly 13 million digits, it makes the number of atoms in the known universe seem negligible, a mere 80 digits.

And its form is tidy and lovely: 2n-1.

But its true beauty is far grander: It is a prime number. Indeed, it is the largest prime number ever found."

Um. Great!


  1. I personally think that primes are amongst God's coolest "natural" phenomena: they exist in clusters, but are unpredictable.

    Paul Erdos' comment is awesome in this context: "God may not play dice with the universe, but something strange is going on with the prime numbers."

  2. What, that's not cool? I bet you're one of those guys who couldn't care less how many digits of π I can recite. Sad, so sad. So what do you do for fun, then?

  3. That really is a pretty number. (BTW: it should be 2^(43112609)-1 ).

    Primes are lovely. Just think, every integer is made up of a unique combination of prime numbers. They are the backbone of the integers, the structure that holds the whole set together.

    If it wasn't for prime numbers, you wouldn't be able to use your credit card safely on the Net. So they are both lovely and useful!

    And they are exotic. It's easy to tell if a number is prime, but very hard to find primes. In fact, the man who determined a systematic method for discovering primes was born in 276 BC, and in the 2200 years since, we have never found a better method than Eratosthenes developed!

    So, be grateful for primes. And math geeks. :-)

  4. For math geeks, I shall remain eternally grateful.*

    For primes? Well, I would have to know what they are first!

    *and for one in particular!

  5. A prime is a number that can only be divided by 1 and itself. So the first few primes are 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23.

    2 is the only even prime, all the rest are odd (or else they would be divisible by 2 and so wouldn't be prime).

    A previous commenter mentioned Pi. Now, Pi is a wonderful number. It is, of course, the ratio between the circumference of a circle (distance around) and its diameter (distance across).

    But Pi is irrational, consisting of an infinite, non-repeating sequence of digits. So you can't write down Pi exactly: it starts 3.1, but more accurately is 3.14, or 3.141, or 3.1415, or 3.14159, etc. The digits after the decimal point (14159...) are infinite, and not repeating.

    What does that mean? It means, formally, that any arbitrary finite sequence can be found within the digits of Pi?

    So what? Well, if you let 00 be 'a', 01 be 'b', up to 26 being 'z', then you will find the entire text of the Bible in the digits of Pi. That is, the KJV. Further down, you'll find the entire NIV. And the ESV. And the TNIV. And every other translation that will ever be done, even those not yet written. Cool, eh?

    (Ok, I'm going to restrain myself before I begin waxing rhapsodic about fractals. That's for another time.)

    (It's amazing at what one will do to avoid working on homework.)

    (But I better go back now.)

  6. Ahh, fractals. Those are cool. But then I'm no mathematician at all. In fact, on my ACT entrance exam for Calvin College I scored in the ninth percentage in the math section (couldn't even remember the Pythagorean Theorem) granted, it had been almost 5 years since my last math class. Thankfully for me, I scored in the 96th percentile in reading comprehension (I'm almost a pastor). But interestingly (for me only I'm sure) my poor ACT results forced me to take the most interesting and useful math course I've ever had. Thank you professor James Bradley, I'll never forget fractals, voting methods and Euler circuits (think garbage routes).