Learn To Make Sense Of Extreme Numbers Using Different Perspectives

When you hear stats and facts with extremely large numbers, it can be hard to wrap your head around what that number really represents. If you want to get a grasp on large numbers, you need to start changing perspectives and converting them into more understandable numbers.

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight.

Researchers Dan Goldstein, Jake Hofman at Microsoft and Pablo Barrior of Columbia University have been studying ways people can truly understand large numbers, be it distances, money, population or other common statistics. Their approach uses different perspectives to create useful points of reference. For example, a stat that reads "Americans own almost 300 million firearms" will have more impact if it's translated to "about one firearm for every person in the United States". Or when dealing with large numbers in relation to time, you can break things down into different periods. For example, it's hard to comprehend the difference between one million seconds and one billion. You know that one billion is obvious larger, but it's difficult to realise how much larger. Using different perspectives, you can establish that one million seconds is almost 12 days, but one billion seconds is almost 32 years. Suddenly, the gap between the two is much easier to grasp.

Jeff Karp of Brigham and Women's Hospital, who does research at the nanoscale, explains that it's like learning a new language. The more you can break extreme numbers down, the more comfortable you become and the better you get at quickly understanding them. You can read more about understanding extreme numbers at the link below.

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How to Understand Extreme Numbers [Nautilus]


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