This is a Very Big Number But Then So is My Cholesterol Level…

Mathematic Title Picture

While reading online news I came across an interesting (to a very small portion of the population) article entitled, Computer Finds new Math “Jewel” in the Rough from the NPR site.  I should have known better than to go to NPR, but that’s another issue.  What is this story about you ask?  It details the discovery of the latest number representing the 47th Mersenne Prime number.  Impressed?  Yeah, that’s about how I reacted, too.  Wait it gets even better – these people have their own association called Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search or GIMPS.  I’m sorry, I could do so much with this, but I’ll leave you to your own humorous devices on the name alone or we’ll be here forever while I make stupid lame jokes (sorry).

We all remember our basic math – prime numbers are only divisible by the number 1 and themselves so a prime number would be 2, or 3, or 5, or 7, or so on and so on.  This is heady stuff for mathematicians.  For bloggers, maybe not so much.  But wait…there’s more.

Apparently Mersenne primes are  not just any old prime numbers.  No, these are the creme de la creme of primes and a special formula is required to find them:


Does that formula mean anything to you?  Nah, me either, but apparently it really turns on mathematicians – this is better than sex to them.  Reading this article I found out that this started with the Ancient Greeks who were the first to describe the Mersenne primes and until recently only 46 of these numbers have been discovered.  That may be due to the fact that Ancient Greeks were busy with other things like chasing after boys, and of course there were some interesting little pieces of literature from that time, but I digress.

Recently a computer (a very big computer, not your average Dell) computed the most recent Mersenne prime (although it’s not the largest it’s the most recent – figure that one out) and it is almost 13 million digits long.  That’s right I said 13 million numbers.  That’s like taking a crayon and writing numbers on every wall surface in my house and I still wouldn’t get to 13 million.  I can’t conceive of this number, although I imagine our Government Treasury can since they use numbers like this in their stimulus packages all the time.

What boggles my mind is why someone wants to do this.  What a tremendous amount of electricity, time, and effort  is expended getting these huge supercomputers to multiply a 13  million digit number by a 13 million digit number and then do that about 13 million times.  Okay, now I’ll give props to the guy who programmed the computer — he’s the one who knew what to look for, but let’s face it, the computer did all the work.  If some Einstein guy sat down with paper and pencil or a whiteboard and did all the computations himself, then I’d be impressed.  I’d be a little afraid of him, but I’d be impressed.  This was the result of computers.

The guy who is getting the credit is from Norway – so maybe there IS something to the idea that fish is brain food – don’t Norwegians eat a lot of herring and cod?  I’m just saying…

At the end of the article there were actual comments sent in by other NPR readers, most of whom were so smart their comments made my ears bleed.   Someone noted that large Mersenne primes are only useful in number theory, purely conceptual.  Well, if they aren’t going to help me balance my checkbook, I’m thinking we’re wasting some valuable computer time.  Another lady wrote that the exciting part of this discovery is that “understanding mathematics is exciting because it serves as a window through which humans can understand the natural world, from viruses and bacteria to black holes and the lifespan of our sun.”  I don’t think so — mathematics helps me know how much fabric to buy for my kitchen curtains and how much flour to measure for the pancakes but I’m not using my calculator to figure out the lifespan of our sun anytime in the near future.  One last commenter wrote:  “there is joy in unearthing what has never yet been seen, even if the discovery exists only in the mind; for some, when the discovery lies in some remote area of existence it is even more exciting.”  He obviously doesn’t understand that my joy lies in unearthing the functions of my new cable remote.

The word “prime” to me relates to things such as the quality of beef, or a pump being primed, or the best seat in the movie theater for the next showing of Star Trek.  Devoted Spouse would equate the word prime with readying a weapon for firing.  And for those of us who are crafty “to prime” means to lay down the first coat of paint.

I passed College Algebra – that’s as prime as I get.


9 thoughts on “This is a Very Big Number But Then So is My Cholesterol Level…

  1. Wha??! Come again? Math was never my favorite subject in school. Although I will say that I enjoyed Algebra when I took it the 2nd time in technical college. That truly surprised me.

    OH, and I’m going to analyze that whole comment and comment response post soon (mine and Martini Mom’s) and then do a follow-up post. But my brain is exhausted from reading your great marsupial prime number post, so I’ll have to work on my blog another day… oh wait a minute, that was MERSENNES not marsupial… see what I mean? I’m fried.
    You think you’re exhausted? Do you know how many times I had to read it to understand it? LOL marsupial – you’re a stitch and a half!

  2. Okay, now my brain hurts and there’s blood coming from my ears. I am and have always been a math idiot.

    The only joy I find in unearthing things is in my garden, or, maybe the occasional unearthing of my rugs and floors.
    All I can say to this is Ditto squared.

  3. I am horrible at math….I mean bad. Somehow I made it through two semesters of statistics but I don’t know how.
    Yep – 2 semesters of Stats about made me want to pull out my eyelashes. It’s one of those things in life you are grateful you only have to experience once in your life. Hated it.

  4. Darlin’ as part of the academic sect (only recently mind you) we have to write all kinds of crazy ass things just to keep our jobs. Yeah, you do pay for that…thankyouverymuch. I do have to say that I listen to NPR over most anything except the classic rock station because the Beatles and Stones beats most anything.
    I enjoy listening to NPR some times but mostly they are too liberal for me – and this article just made me hurt all over the more I thought about it. Now if you tell me you are a mathematician I will have to rethink our relationship. I cannot see the beauty in numbers, only their necessity, sorry. Art is beautiful, mathematics is just one of those areas of life we all encounter and tolerate.

  5. I don’t know if you heard but I multiplied 3 x 5 on the calculator the other day. *sigh* OK, it was out of habit but math has never been one of my strong suites.
    Shoot, I had trouble finding the dang on/off switch on mine. Then I remembered it was solar powered…

  6. I read your post twice and still don’t know what it says! But I’m not going to need to use it so I don’t care…..isn’t that what we used to say?? Honestly I’m no math genius either and stats class nearly made my head explode…..people would walk into the room and I’d say/yell “don’t talk to me!! I’ll lose my train of thought!!” And yeah, I no longer trust myself to do any calculations in my head (sigh). And your comment on the comment about NPR being too liberal…….thought that was must me. 🙂
    Don’t feel bad – I’ll never use that info either and have made a major memory dump of it already! LOL

  7. Hi Linda,

    I am hoping that you can help us out here.

    I am shamelessly promoting a project at my website for everyone to see.

    Just click on my name and then I will also ask if you will join me to shamelessly join in and promote it too. The more who join, the more shamelessness for us all. This should be fun for everyone and we are doing something good.

    God bless.
    The made4aid button has been added to my sidebar as you can see. Good cause. Pleasure to help. I had trouble w/the code for some reason, but nice folks @ WordPress got it right for me!

  8. *yawn* snarkle snuff…..oh sorry I must have dozed off. What what that, again?

    I do know one thing and that is that I’m in my prime…….and want to be divided by nothing, not even myself. 🙂

    Of course you’re a prime number you smart little cookie you!

  9. I absolutely detest math and suck at it big time. Always have, always will. I couldn’t even memorize the multiplication tables yet I could memorize everyone’s lines from 2 hr. plays I was in in HS.

    I use a calculator for just about everything math related. :0)


    I consider math an evil plot against those of us that aren’t geeks. It is the scientific communities revenge for all the trouble they had in HS and college. Heck, they could make something up and we would never know it.
    We are truly sisters in mathophobia – in high school I could sing any song on the radio but couldn’t memorize a mathematical formula and it totally baffled my father (then again, he was a scientific type and I was more the artist in the family – oil and water.) Without a calculator and all my fingers I am lost. LOL BTW My Devoted Spouse actually can use a slide rule – ick how horrid is that???

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