Intuitive numbers

There is something innately human about Roman numerals. They tend to describe quantities we can understand. Using only the symbols without artifice would not allow you to create a number bigger than 3,888. MMMDCCCLXXXVIII. They of course had a use for numbers larger so putting a bar over the symbols multiplied it by 1000. M with a bar is a million. even so the largest number is 3,888,000.

Large numbers confuse people. Million, billion, trillion, gazillion, brazilian all sound alike and people tend to ignore the difference.

That’s why politicians can toss around billions and trillions without fear of people understanding.

Let’s notice

If you count one number per second continuously 24 hours a day, you reach a million in a little less than 11 days and 14 hours.  A billion is 1,000 bigger so  11,574 day, or 31.7 years. a trillion is then just short of 32,000 years.

Still too hard. Suppose you make $1,000 per hour 10 hours a day, six days a week. A bit over $3.128 million a year. In 320 years you will get to a billion dollars earned. A billion is a lot of money. We cannot understand the number and the meaning of having a billion is beyond us.

Then there is Jeff Bezos at $192 billion. I doubt even he understands it. It’s just a number. For perspective, let’s suppose he decided his homes, toys, personal investments and income producing assets should be $20,000,000,000. You can live well on that much. What to do with the rest?

How about this exercise? Go to every household in Cleveland knock on their door and give them $1,000,000 each .  All done.

Try to keep things in terms of something physical. At university, one of my friends kept track of purchases in terms of cases of beer. “Four cases of beer for a physics textbook. Are they crazy?”

The takeaway

No one has an intuitive idea about a billion and almost none have any idea about a million.

People take advantage of your lack of intuition. Think about it.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email

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