How to Develop a Sense of Scale

[…] Figures like housing prices and incomes are often given in terms of the median, since we want an idea of the middle of the pack. Bill Gates earning a few billion extra one year might bump up the average income, but it isn’t relevant to how a regular person’s wage changed. We aren’t interested in “adding” incomes or house prices together — we just want to find the middle one. […]

Hi Khalid, Just like that I crossed your site and it made me to park and browse through all your article. Simply fantasic man fantastic.

I could see that you use simple tool ( guess Word, Powerpoint ) to make shiny graphics.

I loved your articles!!! :slight_smile:

Hi maheshexp, glad you enjoyed it!

Loved the article.

It reminded me of a chemistry professor who tried to get us to wrap our heads around the number of atoms in a mole (6.023 X 10^23) by demonstrating that a mole of M&M’s would completely cover the earth (although I don’t remember the depth, it could have been 3ft or 3 miles). Either way, it was a pretty effective image.

Thanks Led – that’s a really nice example too! When numbers get to that scale, we need to find ways to relate it to everyday objects (the earth) and not just have some giant exponent.

Just for fun, we can do a quick calculation assuming a m&m is about 1cm x 1cm x 1cm. I figure you could make a layer about 4000 feet high! ( Thanks for the comment.

[…] Visualizing numbers (read more) […]

How Many TIE Fighters to Beat the Starship Enterprise…

One of the blogs I enjoy reading when I have time is  The guy there is a math genius, most of what he talks about is over my head.  But what I appreciate is that he’s taking the time to try and explain stuff in a way th…

[…] and economy October 31, 2008 Posted by pigletsa in Misc… trackback Just something to think about: From “Sometimes, a different type of scale may be useful. We know time and distance, which cover a surprisingly broad range of sizes. […]

I love the site. I’m really impressed by demonstrating the net worth of the super-rich on a distance scale.

Imagine asking a classroom of students to make a bar graph of three individuals’ net worth: an average Joe ($100k), Biff the millionaire($1 mil), and a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates (prior to the fall in the stock market–$65 bil).

If the bar graph’s scale is 1 inch: $1 million, then Average Joe’s height is 1/10 inch which is much smaller than Biff’s 1 inch. But they’re both DWARFED by the Buffett/Gates wealth, which at this scale would have a height of over 1 mile!!!

There is an re-make of the Powers Of Ten movie, “Cosmic Voyage”, narrated by Morgan Freeman.
It is available in 720p on bittorrent.

@Greg: Thanks for the comment! Wow, that’s really amazing, I like that visualization a lot – it’s amazing how much of a difference that is, an inch vs a mile!

@dt: Cool, thanks for the info.

reminds me of a quote by the president of coca-cola once, something along these lines: “a billion years ago life emerged. a billion minutes ago christianity was getting started. a billion cokes ago was yesterday.”

Hi, I just discovered this site and I love it!
This latest post is really great. I did my undergrad in biology, where we often lose track of the scale factor. We learn how one molecule behaves, not even=r being reminded that the phenomenon occurs a gazillion times a second in a given cell…

@Aaron: Thanks, that’s a great quote. I had no idea so much soda was consumed every day.

@Scientific Chick: Thanks! Yeah, when you think about it, our body is a giant ecosystem of billions of cells, each with countless reactions taking place. The whole operation is quietly humming along with scant notice from us :).

[…] I also found a fascinating article on developing a sense of scale. Sample this and see how the scale increases exponentially: 1 second is 1 second […]

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Although there still isn’t any intuitive explanation on big numbers like grahams number (g64). Even g1 is pretty unthinkable.

Similar to the Interactive Sense of Scale App is this: Scale of the Universe . It goes from planck length to the diameter of the observable universe. Pretty cool.

Great article Kalid! It’s unbelievable to analyze the scale of these large numbers in a way that our minds can actually comprehend. The star comparison video that you used has been removed by the user. I’m not sure if this is the one you used, but this video is great if you are looking for a replacement:

@Daniel: Awesome, thanks! That video was a great replacement.