Ten thousand things may have been, or so it seems, in Ancient China, during the days of the sages Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, the equivalent of abundance; a number too large for simple humans to comprehend.
When I was a child, a million was such a number. Thus a millionaire was a person with as much money as one can ever dream of having. Some ten, maybe twenty years later, a million was replaced by a billion (that is, if you are wondering, one thousand million, or, one with nine zeros.) Yep, a billion was the new million, standing in for the finite number that in reality meant to represent the infinite. A billion, in turn, was replaced with a trillion (one with twelve zeros,) a mere five to ten years later.
What can we learn from this? That over shorter and shorter periods of time, the number we hold to as “very large,” grows exponentially larger. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu may be called from the place where sages go in the afterlife, to rewrite some of their scared passages, making adjustments to the current trend. Otherwise, the good news is that the Standard Dictionary of Numbers has already in tow many more large numbers, ready to carry on the burden of the unimaginable vast figure of the then-current infinite. These include Quadrillion, Quintillion, and a sixteen more such names, all the way to Centillion (one with three hundred and three zeros.) We should be well covered in this respect for the rest of our natural lives.
It does, however, make me wonder why we have such a hard time simply saying infinite. It seems like we prefer naming a fixed, albeit very large, number, to indicate numerous, as there is safety in knowing that, as large as it may be, there is still a limit. Infinite can be very scary, like lost in space, or time condemned in hell, or, God forbid, the calories count attached to our favorite food… Haaa… Now it is time for me to head out and start on my two Trillion nanoseconds workout…
Learned from: a discussion of a Chuang Chu text with my yoga instructors in training.