One, Two, Three, Lots…

The Mundurucú are a tribe of hunter gatherers in the amazonian region of South America. While they have survived for centuries they only have words for numbers up to 5. This makes perfect sense, after all what more do we need. Each hand only has five fingers. So our base number system should be 1,2,3,4,5 and then lots. Everything else is approximation.

Can we realistically imagine numbers of million, billion or trillions. As a child one of my nephews was proud of discovering the word googleplex, this is a very large number.

A googelplex is the number 10^googol, which can also be written as the number 1 followed by a googol of zeros (i.e. 10100 zeros).

1 googleplex = 10^googol
= 10^10^100

We seem to have abstacted numbers to infinity plus one. Our ability to count doesn’t make us more human or more intelligent it just means we can add things up.

Recent news of the economic crisis indicates that too many people have been counting without really knowing the meaning of what they were adding up. Bankers and mortgage holders, credit cards and loans have created too much for us to keep track of.

Mundurucu Trophy

Mundurucu Trophy

Perhaps we should get some math lessons from the Mundurucú.