Visualizing large numbers and your holiday car trip



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