Lecture 5 – Dwarf and giant numbers

From the 1968 lecture programme:

Until now we have talked of size comparisons. Our arithmetic was the arithmetic of ratios - Gulliver was twelve times bigger than his Lilliputians hosts. But numbers themselves, not simply ratios, do enter into the events of ther world. One place we easily find them is in chance events; no one can produce a book by drawing lots (though Gulliver visited in Lagado a man who tried). Yet it is easy to write one word that way. Why? We shall explore this matter, which takes us far into the nature of life as well as of language. Changes in matter—bubbles rising out of a boiling pot, or the formation of snow crystals—must start small. But matter is atomic, so the number of atoms which allow a start is all-important. The importance of small numvers is a sign of the atom. 




Philip Morrison



All lectures in the series