"Economical" Are The New "Astronomical" Numbers

“There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.” – Richard Feynman, 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics winner.

[via Science Is Beauty]


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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    You win, Richard Feynman.

    • magus_melchior says:

      If we go by Dr. Feynman’s assessment, each star on average is worth 1 dollar. He makes an interesting point, but he’s still comparing apples and oranges.

      I suppose economists can counter by indicating the number of metric tons, or the number of moles of helium in the universe– I’m sure those figures are far higher.

      • Conformist138 says:

        You may have missed the point. He’s not at all equating the worth of the stars to the national debt, just the the number, as a number, is no longer as big to us because we’re actually working with and seeing those numbers regularly.

  2. Kuonji says:

    Well, to be fair, there are quite a few galaxies out there.

  3. MonkeyBoy says:

    I miss Mr. Feynman (not Fenyman!). He was a lot of fun. Used to come to my high school every year & give a talk to any students interested. If you haven’t read his semi-biography, “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman,” do yourself a favor & get copy and read it.

    • You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

      I just requested it from my library. I better like it or it’s on your head! ;-)

      • MonkeyBoy says:

        If you don’t like it, there’s something wrong with you. Sorry. As wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, and perfect as you are – if you don’t like his book, there’s something wrong. :)

    • illusionmajik says:

      Man, I love that book.
      I actually bought the 3 volume Feynman Lectures set as a present to myself for quitting smoking 2 years ago. I would have LOVED to hear him speak. You’re so lucky MonkeyBoy.

      • MonkeyBoy says:

        Congrats on quitting smoking. The Lectures are awesome.
        The only bad thing was, when I was a senior and actually TAKING physics, he didn’t come that year. He was busy with the Shuttle explosion inquiry. Seriously, the man had no priorities. ;)

        • illusionmajik says:

          Aww Thanks.
          It was really amusing, cause I kept trying to quit and failing miserably.
          My physics professor knew I wanted to quit and knew of my voracious appetite for cool science books. He wouldn’t lend me awesome physics books (or give me their names) if I smoked during the week. I got motivated PDQ after reading Physics of the Impossible and Newton at the Bat.
          I’m such a dork :)
          Did you ever get a chance to hear him lecture after your senior year?

    • Algae says:

      He was my High School Physics Teacher’s Idol. He would give us extra credit if we read “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman.” I did, and I loved it so much I went ahead and read “What do YOU care what other people think?: further adventures of a curious character “

      I’m going to have to get his lecture series. Maybe for Christmas…

      • illusionmajik says:

        Oooh that’s the perfect Xmas present.
        Dr Feynman has always been an idol of mine. It would have been awesome to hear him lecture.

    • tinyhands says:

      Agreed, Feynman was awesome and his writing, even the physics lectures, is totally accessible to most people (the average Consumerist reader being above average).

  4. Holybalheadedchrist! says:

    We need to quit adding stars. We can no longer afford it. I mean, that’s what the teabag party keeps telling me. No New Stars! (end sarcasm)

  5. illusionmajik says:

    Always a curious character. :)

  6. trey says:

    “There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy…

    anyone else call bullshit on this number? Must be from the Ric Romero institute of interesting sounding numbers for the sake of sounding smarter than you.

    • TheGreySpectre says:

      Considering we spend a fair amount on astronomy, counting stars really isn’t that difficult for a computer, we are looking at for planets on each of the stars, the number has showed up in multiple places and richard feynman isn’t exactly a guy who learned his physics from the discovery channel, I don’t doubt that the number of stars in the galaxy is something similar to that.

    • MonkeyBoy says:
    • Dre' says:

      Way to make yourself look stupid.

      • trey says:

        and there were scholars that KNEW the world was flat, KNEW the earth was the center of the universe, KNEW that Pluto was a planet (I still dont believe they changed that one) and you dont want to questions this “scholar’s” numbers, that sir, would make you the fool.

      • trey says:

        and there were scholars that KNEW the world was flat, KNEW the earth was the center of the universe, KNEW that Pluto was a planet (I still dont believe they changed that one) and you dont want to questions this “scholar’s” numbers, that sir, would make you the fool.

  7. Consumeristing says:

    One more zero and we’d call it Obamatastical numbers.

  8. TehLlama says:

    For those of you not really grasping his point, 10^11 is within an order of magnitude of how many stars are within the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds, while this year’s budget deficit is definitely higher.

    The current administration really is without precedent for amount of inflation adjusted dollars spent, and utterly stands alone in spending so much money with such incredibly little positive effect, so we’re forced to go back and conclude that while Reagan made huge expenditures in defense in order to end the Cold War, and G-dub cheerfully blew through the revenue increase brought about by lowering taxes, this administrations insisting on distributing tax dollars only to those corrupt and well connected organizations and people would have the exact effect we’re already seeing.
    Given the asinine spending outlays already ahead thanks to unfunded social pet projects, those vertical tails at the end of the graphs ARP linked to would indicate that if congress is unable to defund the rainbows and unicorns projects from the last two years of bungled fiscal legislation then this gem may become far more relevant in the coming years.