Visualizing large numbers and your holiday car trip

hedgeless_horseman's picture



My son was telling me that the human brain is not very good at comprehending large numbers.  He says that our minds do not do well with visualizing and manipulating more than five or six items.  For example, we do not know what eleven raspberries look like, and we cannot manipulate eleven raspberries visually, conceptually, or mathematically in our head.  Take a minute to try this, and determine for yourself if you think he is correct.

Now, I will ask you the reader to do what I asked my son to do.  Recall the last time you took a long car trip, say from Houston to Dallas, a distance of 240 miles.  If you average 60 miles/hour, then it is a four-hour drive.  Now, visualize in your mind a line of people standing pretty much heel-to-toe along the side of the road, and what this would look like as you zoom by at 60 miles per hour.  Can you pick out individual faces?  Sure.  Our brains are good at that sort of thing.

Next, imagine that you are driving all day, more than eight hours, or 500 miles with that line of people extending along the highway the entire trip.  Is it hot or cold outside your car?  Do you have a drink in the cup holder?  How much did the drink cost?  How many times will you need to stop to use the restroom or to get fuel for your vehicle?  What is the price of fuel?

Finally, if you can, imagine driving all day, every day, for 31 days.  That relentless line of people standing heel-to-toe passes by at 60 miles per hour for an entire month.  When you have reached your destination 15,500 miles away, the 47,000,000 people you will have passed is the number of people lining up for a meal every day in America's breadline, also known as food stamps, or SNAP.

Our minds may not be able to comprehend this huge number, but remember a couple of the faces you could pick out on the long drive, and keep these people in your prayers this holiday season.  The decision to debase the dollar was not their's, but the burden of bearing the government's largess and the resulting increase in food prices most certainly is. 

Merry Christmas,


1.75 = feet per person in line
47,000,000 = people on SNAP
82,250,000 = feet of breadline
15,577 = miles of breadline



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leo_21's picture

Thanks for a nice guide.It is very helpful post.thanks for sharing it.
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A Lunatic's picture

How long would it take to drive past a line of 47 million raspberries?

Drunken Monkey's picture

The US national debt, of say 15 trillion dollars would form a line of dollar bills laid end to end long enough to circle the earth 58,375 times, or from the earth to the moon (average orbit diameter) and back again 3,045 times, or from the earth to the sun and back (average orbit diameter) about 7.5 times.

Streched out in a straight line it would take a beam of light 2 hours and 10 minutes, moving at 186,000 miles per second, to travel the length of the line

ebworthen's picture

Now imagine the national debt, and instead of 47 million, 15 trillion.  YIKES!

The food stamp program makes corporations happy because they get guaranteed revenue from Uncle Sam.

It makes politicians happy because it increases the need for politicians "supporting" people who need the food.

Those who fall down the rabbit hole of politics rail about "hand-outs" (republicrats) or "compassion" (demicans), but above and beyond the political debate the food stamp program is an indicator of how sold-out the American dream is; of how we have sacrificed individual dignity for consumerism and McMansions. 

Both sides of the political spectrum don't really want individual responsibility and compassion for the downtrodden because it would mean an end to their personal path to the gravy; selling dependency or glorifying greed while professing the opposite.

Sequitur's picture

Attention men:

Do not have children. Not in the USA, not in this economy, not at this time. You need to maximize resources for yourself, and possibly your significant other. You need freedom and mobility, the ability to think clearly, coldly, rationally. You cannot afford to be bogged down with emotional attachments to offspring. Your freedom is as good as gold in this environment.

This is cold and calculating. But it is also true. The planet is grossly overpopulated. Resources are dwindling. The debt overhang is massive. As one famous move line says, "the young perish and the old linger."

Children are a serious millstone around one's neck, progeny that can no longer be supported by the individual, by the state, by the planet. Stay free, stay detatched. Do not have children.

Chump's picture

Attention Sequitur:

Some of us value emotional attachment and refuse to "give up the world to those one despises." (paraphrasing Ayn Rand)

In short, shut yer trap and worry about yourself if that's what you value.

lynnybee's picture

gee, i wonder why people need help to eat ! could it be that our elected officials in this country have destroyed any opportunity & off-shored millions of jobs ? this country isn't for the citizens anymore; what do you expect ? i guess we have to start growing our own crops & shooting small animals to eat OR go on S.N.A.P., especially if there are small children to feed.    this is a politically created situation here, people.    local communities, we have to go back to the way it used to be; everything revolved around the local community.   

Bearster's picture

They may or may not have explicitly supported inflation.  But most of them did and do support:
1) minimum wage laws which keep them unemployed

2) unearned goodies which are in excess of tax revenues, and thus the need for the Fed and its inflation to magically pay for it all

3) generous welfare benefits which provide a strong disincentive for people to work

4) regulations, taxes, lawsuits, and labor actions against employers that make it harder (or impossible to hire people)

5) protectionism and tariffs that reduce business opportunities and standards of living

6) environmentalism that, for example, blocks hundreds of thousands of jobs in oil and gas production 

7) paper money as such, thus necessitating a central bank to centrally plan it and cause the boom-bust cycle that in the bust has resulted in 46M people on food stamps


dugorama's picture

Your neo-con arguments are not just specious, but completely, 180 degrees, inaccurate.  

1) min wage only keeps them unemployed if  you allow min wage jobs to be offshored.  otherwise, we'd still need socks, even if it cost $3 / pair to make them in S. Carolina rather than $0.30/pair in China

3) not one of those 47 mm people would refuse a job due to the "generous" welfare benefits.  For ex., in AZ, the max benefit (that almost no one qualifies for) is $240/week.  Divide by 40.  That's $2/hr less than min wage.  Is that really keeping me from taking a min wage job?

4) we have, by far, the least restrictive job market of the 40 OECD countries

5) the US is the most open major economy in the world

6) yes, we have the toothless EPA.  do you want to live in China?  go visit Mexico City or Beijing before you claim you want to eliminate environmental protections.


RunningMan's picture

Dug - On point 3,there are plenty of people in this country who make the tradeoff of being paid to do nothing, even when they could make a little more by working. The effort of working 40 hours a week for the marginal $2/hr more seems to be not worth it to those with a poor work ethic.  People should be held accountable for their effort and productivity, not rewarded for doing nothing. Create opportunities for them, but put a shovel/hammer/drill/broom/etc. in their hands to help make this country great. We must stop the trend towards a larger welfare state (one will never eliminate the need for it completely unless we want Sanctuary like in Logan's Run).

konputa's picture

What a great way to visualize this. Thanks horsey!

shutdown's picture

In a few months Americans on food stamps will be able to circle the globe holding hands. And when one adds the impoverished, hand-out dependant masses begging for daily subsistence in other nations it'll be 25 rings around the world. Or is it 50 rings. 

Feeding them might be more efficient if they made one long queue, like an ever shuffling line of ants, wound 'round and 'round the globe each begging meekly with their hands outstretched. Feed me, feed me, feed me ... 

NB's picture

Thank you... an excellent visualization

DogSlime's picture

Eleven raspberries is possible to visualise - just have two rows, one with five and one with six.

47 million is mind boggling.  Horribly large  number... and this is just the start.  If this is what it's like now before the shit has really hit the fan, then what will it be like in three years?

Holy shit :(  Bad future.

BandGap's picture

Take time this Holiday season to help out in any way possible.  We are brothers and sisters in a common struggle. 

May the blessings of the season be upon all of you as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  Merry Christmas.

prains's picture

If you took the entire population of Canada, every man woman and child added another half the population, it would equal closely the number of people needing help to eat in the US. Merry Christmas.

AlaricBalth's picture

We are actually providing assistance to a population which is greater than the country of Spain.



kaiserhoff's picture

Nice job of keeping it real, HH.  And a MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours.

To hell with the Politically Correct.

New_Meat's picture

Classic work on human capabilities:,_Plus_or_Minus_Two and see the actual paper as well.

- Ned

Nobody For President's picture

Great image! Thanks. There are plenty of them in small-town, rural America where I hang out (when I go to town).  Looks like there are plenty everywhere.

But consumer confidence is up!

HH to you, HH.

WALLST8MY8BALL's picture

thanks H H. Every week I see more people line up for the free breakfast at Xavier Church in Manhattan on the weekends. There has to be a better way......

Sophist Economicus's picture

Point them to the upper east side and let the caring liberals feed them from their 5th avenue Co-ops?

RichardENixon's picture

They wouldn't make it past 14th Street.

flattrader's picture


Good job.

Note--You dropped a  4 in the "math" section at the end of the article.

>>>7,000,000 = people on SNAP<<<

hedgeless_horseman's picture

You are hired!  Fixed it.  Thanks.

Sophist Economicus's picture

I didn't realize there were that many illiterate or unskilled people in the US.   I do feel for their kids, who through no fault of their own, have been dragged into this world by these 'adults'


Happy Holidays

lynnybee's picture

I didn't realize there were that many illiterate or unskilled people in the US. I do feel for their kids, who through no fault of their own, have been dragged into this world by these 'adults'    .... that has to be the cruelest comment i've ever read on ZEROHEDGE.   Americans rise & fall as one people.    Anyone of us could easily fail given the current economic & political circumstances that have been DELIBERTELY created in this country by our so-called elected officials (criminals all of them) .    Never look down upon others.    There but for the grace of God walk go I .   


twotraps's picture

Sophist....there are no doubt horrible situations involving the children.  Foolishh to assume that they are due to reckless parents trying to up their monthly transfer payment.  I want to leave open the possibility that many don't know the difference in that they only know the dole themselves......another portion I want to believe that they only want their kids to do better than they have.  I personally have little time for anyone that would neglect a child on purpose, whatever your value system may be, to not appreciate the potential and at least give them a shot is criminal.

twotraps's picture

Perspective is always needed, don't often stop to think whats behind the numbers, but its staggering.

GeneMarchbanks's picture

There isn't a need to visualize this since the visibility is apparent. You just need to venture out of your usual day-to-day and you'll encounter most of this. I get it though...

Happy Holidays

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

That was very good h_h.  I would like to see more of your work!