Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Hundred Posts!

...but not quite yet.

Sometimes I have a tendency to generalize my world view, and assume that everyone else sees life in more or less the same way that I do.  Readers are welcome to call me out when I do this; I am always interested in cataloging evidence of my own insanity.  One day they will be collected in an eccentric autobiography, along with an apology for not having lived a more hilarious and salacious life.

In any case, it seems to me that people have a complicated relationship with finite amounts.  It's often said that humans are incapable of understanding infinity, thus providing justification for religion and philosophy and all of the wonderful mysteries of life, the universe and everything.  But I think that above a certain basic level, finity (which I hereby declare is a word) is equally perplexing, if not more so.

Assigning precise values to very large numbers is conceptually very simple, but the practical difficulties involved make the whole process appear random and arbitrary.  Statistics are very funny things: they simultaneously communicate very specific information (an amount or percentage) and very general, non-specific information ("a lot" or "a little"), and the extent to which a person absorbs either or both messages depends on familiarity with the subject.

For example, there are presently about three hundred and twenty seven million television sets in the United States (or at least there were in 2008).  That seems like a lot, and it is, considering there aren't that many people in the United States.  This information is useless to most people, but it carries practical information for others.  Suppose you were a radical anti-TV activist, and you made it your life's work to swing a baseball bat into every television screen in the country.  Unless you had help from similarly deranged accomplices, this statistic carries a sobering fact: you would have to smash a line drive into a TV some exact number between 326,000,000 and 328,000,000 times.  Only then would your mission be complete, having guaranteed the wholesome purity of our national culture, as well as our precious bodily fluids.

You couldn't stop at one hundred and call it a day.  You couldn't stop at a thousand and say you'd made your point.  You couldn't stop at two thousand either: either amount would be covered by more or less the same report on the national news (which could still be seen on anywhere between 326,999,000 and 326,998,000 TVs).  No, to truly accomplish your goal, you'd have to accomplish an extremely large and extremely exact feat of crazy.

I think comprehending anything as huge as 327,000,000 swings of a Louisville Slugger (along with a very thorough cross-country trek) is simply beyond the human mind.  I wonder if a typical baseball player could even take that many swings in a professional career.  But it's a very specific, very finite number that represents a very specific, finite task. 

I have a point: it's not very interesting, but it's still a point.  This is my ninety ninth post on this blog, and that number caught me completely by surprise.  On the one hand it seems too high, because I clearly recall my frequent periods of inactivity, and forget all the shorter, insignificant posts in contrast to the ones with substantial content.  On the other hand it seems too low, since I've been at this over two years and you'd think they'd add up faster than that.  Ninety nine is comparatively small in the cosmic sense, but it's the kind of exact, finite number that I really can't make sense of.

Anyway, since my next post is going to be another batch of poetry, and I'd rather not muddy that up with any anniversary gimmicks, I figure I'll go ahead and do that now.  Here's a song about ninety nine things.


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